Stargazing in Texas: McDonald Observatory and Beyond
Story and photos by Charles Williams
Charles is the editor for Pursuits with Enterprise. Email the author.
West Texas’ dry climate and sparse population create ideal conditions.
The stars really do shine brighter in Texas.
Known affectionately as the Lone Star State, the nighttime sky in West Texas multiplies that number by thousands. So much so that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department now promotes a unique form of tourism — stargazing.
In collaboration with observatories and the International Dark Sky Association, the department hopes to promote and preserve night skies by hosting star parties, self-guided constellation tours and light pollution education programs.
The McDonald Observatory, established in 1932 and located in Fort Davis, is one of the best places in Texas to view stars. Located on Mount Locke with additional facilities on Mount Fowlkes, it’s a mecca for stargazing enthusiasts, drawing about 75,000 a year. The research facility also has one of the world’s largest telescopes — the Hobby-Eberly.
To fully appreciate the enormity of the research telescopes, take a daytime tour, which allows visitors to see the big telescopes up close, including the Harlan J. Smith telescope, built in 1968 and weighing 160 tons, and Hobby-Eberly, built in 1996 and weighing 80 tons.
Minimizing Light Pollution
Stargazing in West Texas is serious business for scientists, astronomers and amateur enthusiasts. But that business is threatened.
With the recent expansion of oil and gas exploration, the dark skies northeast of the observatory have brightened. Efforts to minimize light pollution are important to scientists, and many adjacent communities now use light fixtures that point downward, ensuring darker skies.
The McDonald Observatory is working with exploration companies to demonstrate that better shielding, placement and aiming of lights on oil rigs can prevent light pollution and improve working conditions.
If you’re planning a stargazing trip to West Texas, consider staying at the historic Indian Lodge, located in Davis Mountains State Park and just a 15-minute drive from the observatory. The lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and resembles a pueblo village.
If you find yourself in other areas of the state, there’s still an opportunity to admire the night sky. Three parks in Texas are certified as Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Parks, considered the highest designation — Copper Breaks State Park in northern Texas, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in central Texas and Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.
Consider the last time you looked up and saw thousands of stars and the Milky Way. Maybe it’s time for a trip deep in the heart of Texas.
RelatedView all articles
Read more stories about Texas.
Palo Duro lives in the Grand Canyon’s shadow
The second largest canyon in the United States is nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of Texas.”
Amarillo Attractions are Worth a Road Trip Stop
From buried Cadillacs to monster-size steaks, this Panhandle town offers a true taste of Texas.
Marfa, Texas, Offers Contemporary Art and Offbeat Accommodations
Small town mixes creative culture — vegan cafes, art galleries, funky coffee shops — with traditional honky-tonk bars.
Outside Austin: Fredericksburg, Texas
Small town Fredericksburg is in the center of the famous Texas Hill Country.
Stargazing in Texas: McDonald Observatory and Beyond
West Texas' dry climate and sparse population create ideal conditions.
Texas Bluebonnets in Bloom
Willow City Loop ranks high as a bucket-list drive for wildflower lovers.
Crossroads of Terlingua
Ghost town’s heartbreak creates colorful characters.
Big Bend National Park
Solitude and stunning vistas prevail in one of America’s least visited parks.
Nostalgic Route 66 Road Trip: Albuquerque to St. Louis
Choosing the “old road” opens up a world of appealing characters and beauty along the “Main Street of America.”
Get more road trip ideas.
Road Trip from Dallas to the Grand Canyon
Make the drive across West Texas, Santa Rosa, and Flagstaff on your way to the majestic Grand Canyon with this 2-day itinerary.
Drive from Houston to New Orleans
The drive along Interstate 10 from Houston to New Orleans offers so many fascinating things to do and see. Take the time to explore the region with suggestions from this road trip itinerary.
Driving from Dallas to Austin
Take a road trip from Dallas to Austin and discover the culture of Texas. Explore the history of the state, go for a hike, a swim, and much more!
Driving from Houston to Dallas
Find the best places to stop on your road trip from Houston to Dallas, including restaurants, museums, and more! Enterprise Rent-A-Car will help get you there.
Driving from Dallas to San Antonio
Rent a car from Enterprise and experience the best Texas has to offer by taking a road trip from Dallas to San Antonio!
Road Trip to Cadillac Ranch
Get ready to plan your next big road trip adventure with Enterprise. Here are some great travel tips and things to do in Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo TX.
Texas Road Trips
Begin your road trip in Texas and you'll have the opportunity to see some of most entertaining cities and destinations anywhere in the country. Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio are the gateways to a wide variety of regional destinations. Take a ride with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and start your journey from Texas today!
Drive From Dallas to Austin
Looking to go from Dallas to Austin? Driving may be your best option. Our neighborhood locations are open and ready to serve you with curbside pickup and modified cleaning procedures.
Drive From Dallas to San Antonio
Looking to go from Dallas to San Antonio? Driving may be your best option. Our neighborhood locations are open and ready to serve you with curbside pickup and modified cleaning procedures.
Drive From Dallas to Houston
Looking to go from Dallas to Houston? Driving may be your best option. Our neighborhood locations are open and ready to serve you with curbside pickup and modified cleaning procedures.
Drive From Dallas to New Orleans
Looking to go from Dallas to New Orleans? Driving may be your best option. Our neighborhood locations are open and ready to serve you with curbside pickup and modified cleaning procedures.
Start A Reservation
Enjoy fast and easy car rental bookings from Enterprise Rent-A-Car at one of our 7,200 branches in cities, airports and neighborhoods near you.Reserve Now
Don't miss an excuse to hit the road: our latest offers delivered to your inbox.Sign Up