The McDonald Observatory sits atop one very cold mountain. Up at their viewing amphitheatre, you stand at the centre of a dome of stars that stretches low on every horizon. The constellations emerge so thickly at night that you can hardly see the deep blue of the sky behind them.
I love to spend an afternoon at the place when I’m visiting Marathon, Marfa or Fort Davis. In daylight hours you can explore their telescopes and exhibits. As the sun goes down, I wrap up in every layer of clothing I have with me, plus any spare blankets, to go outside for one of their Twilight parties. You watch the sun fade over the surrounding hills until small pricks of silver light begin to emerge in the dusky sky.
There’s something lovely about the gradual process of day turning into night, but the crowning glory of the Observatory is the Star Party. It takes place after dark, long after your body heat is all but gone. The stars and galaxies are astoundingly clear. Planets are visible. Constellations are traced with laser pointers that seem to reach the stars themselves. There is no light pollution, nothing to interfere with your view. You sit craning your neck backwards to see everything. You learn that you are viewing the stars as they were roughly in the time of fall of Troy.
After the Star Party, you can move between the various high-powered telescopes, all focused on different planets or phenomena. You may see Saturn’s rings or the death of a star. The Observatory is a place to return to, to watch how the universe shifts and changes around you, to reflect on the magnificent and the personal, the known and the hauntingly mysterious.