STAR GAZING IN GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA

Residents of Gila County love to boast that the area surrounding the Mogollon Rim occupies one of only three pure air ozone belts in the world. What that means is some major stargazing!

 

The Town of Payson went a step further and created a dark sky ordinance that practically ensures that you’ll see constellations like Andromeda and Scorpius, not to mention planets like Venus, Mars, and Saturn.

The night sky is a spectacular scene, sprinkled with an abundance of glittering stars, planets, and nebulae. Everyone says "WOW!" when they look through the telescope or lay out under the stars.  

So come for the adventure during the day and others stay for the "WOW" at night!  Whatever you choose, Gila County will not disappoint you if you are a star lover!

WHERE TO STARGAZE IN GILA COUNTY?

There is no more beautiful place on earth at night than on top of the 7,000 foot high Mogollon Rim.  On top of this gigantic escarpment you will feel like you can literally reach out and touch the night sky and all the constellations.  There are several places you can access but our favorite it off of forest rd 300 on the way to Woods Canyon Lake.
 

Directions:

From Payson take Highway 260 towards Heber, Arizona.  

Turn left on on the 300 Rd/Woods Canyon Lake Turn off. 
About a 1 mile in you will see several pull outs where you can walk out on the edge of the rim.  Prepared to be blown away!

Rim Road 300

The first thing you need to know about this National Scenic Byway — officially known as the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Road but known informally known as the Young Highway — is that it isn’t a drive you can do before lunchtime. This 74-mile back road, from State Route 260 near Payson to State Route 188 north of Globe, winds through ponderosa pines and grasslands before shifting abruptly to the saguaros of Arizona’s high desert. Large sections of the road are unpaved or lack guardrails, so patience — along with a light foot on the accelerator — is a must. Pack a picnic lunch, and take your time. The scenery, particularly toward the end, is worth it.

If you plan it just right you can watch the sun set and the starry night sky on your trip.  Although the views are spectacular make sure you are prepared to travel this road at night. 

Directions

Heading south on Forest Road 512, past an aspen grove, you’ll come to the first of two areas hit by recent wildfires. Despite the devastation, you’ll see that saplings are springing up to replace the burned ponderosas. A little farther south, as you crest a hill at Mile 14, you’ll get a nice look at the Mogollon Rim on your right. It’s the first of many breathtaking views. Several pullouts line this narrow road, so stop frequently and enjoy the panoramas — particularly at Mile 19 — that show the stark contrast between the wildfire-scorched trees on the left and the dense forest on the right.

From there, you’ll descend into Young, an isolated community that didn’t even have outside electricity until the mid-1960s. Fewer than 700 people call Young home, and a drive through it is like traveling back in time. It’s a good place to stop for lunch, either the one you packed or the one you’ll order at Antlers, the town’s only restaurant.

South of Young, the road climbs again, and a vista point at Mile 31 provides another view of the Mogollon Rim, along with the town below. The canopy then begins to open up as small trees and bushes replace the taller pines, and on a clear day, the blue sky, combined with the silence of this isolated area, is spectacular.

At Mile 41, McFadden Peak (7,135 feet above sea level) dominates the view as you begin the descent into the desert. You’ll pass several lush riparian areas, and the streams offer excellent opportunities to see birds, deer and other wildlife. But the real payoff is an incredible panorama of Roosevelt Lake, with its surrounding red cliffs and mountains to the south. The jaw-dropping views continue for several miles, but be careful not to let them lead you off the road — there are numerous sharp turns as you lose altitude.

Before long, you’ll find yourself among the saguaros and prickly pear cacti that are the Sonoran Desert’s trademarks. Once you’ve dropped into the desert, it’s just a short drive to a one-lane bridge over the Salt River, and another short trip from there to the drive’s conclusion at State Route 188. After the leisurely pace that’s necessary on the Young Highway, the trip back home will feel like light speed by comparison.

By: Noah Austin - Pleasant Valley Ranger District

Young Highway

Roosevelt, AZ - Join Park Ranger Christa Sadler to explore the wonders of the night sky in an evening full of telescopes, constellations, and more at Tonto National Monument. 

Events will include stargazing, interpretive astronomy programs, and Junior Ranger Night Explorer activities for kids. Bring water and snacks, a flashlight or headlamp (preferably with a red light or red gel filter for better night sky observation), warm clothing, and closed toed shoes. This event is free and open to the public. Join us at the Visitor Center parking lot. 

 


Park After Dark - Event Schedule
 

Saturday, April 27, 2019 - Black Holes and Beyond - 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Discover some of the mystery behind black holes and the depths of the universe. Join astronomers from the Phoenix Astronomical Society and park rangers after the program for telescope viewing and constellation tours.

No camping is available at Tonto National Monument. The nearest camping is available at Windy Hill Campground in Tonto National Forest. For more information on camping visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/tonto/

Tonto National Monument 

As an increasing number of open spaces are converted to urban or suburban areas, the beauty and wonder of the night sky is disappearing. The universe becomes obscured by the dull electric glow of every street lamp, house light and neon sign that casts its light into the night sky, making places of undisturbed darkness like Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Gila County, Arizona truly spectacular.  A night visit to the like will leave you amazed at what you will see.  Constellations, shooting stars, planets - they are all on display at Roosevelt.

Directions:
 

Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
From Mesa: Take State Hwy. 87/Beeline Highway north for approximately 60 miles to its junction with State Hwy. 188. Turn right onto State Hwy. 188 and continue south for 27 miles to the site.
 

From Globe: Take State Hwy. 188 north for 30 miles to the junction of State Hwy. 88 and State Hwy. 188. Continue on State Hwy. 188 across the bridge for 5 miles to the site.

Roosevelt Lake - Cholla Launch

Vast and wide open these views will leave you breathless.  Take a scenic night ride along hard scrabble road from Pine, Arizona to Strawberry, Arizona.  There are several pull outs where you can pull over and admire the starry night skies.  

Directions:
 

Take highway 87 from Payson to Pine.  Turn left on Hardscrabble Rd. and follow the loop to Strawberry Arizona.  [ Map It ]

Hardscrabble Rd - Pine To Strawberry

Kellner Canyon Road
Really get away from the twinkling lights of the city. This is a rural area that features nothing but the natural sounds of Arizona and once-in-a-lifetime views. [ Map it ]
 

Old Winkleman Road
Located on the outskirts of town with big views. It’s another rural road that’s largely paved, but you might want to steer clear of the graveled areas unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. [ Map It ]
 

Six Shooter Canyon Road

Super quiet and isolated area for those unobstructed views. [ Map It ]

Stargazing Near Globe, Arizona