By Chris Fellows, Serenity Mobile Observatory
Visit a truly dark sky location in southwest New Mexico.
If you own an RV, and a telescope, you must visit Rusty’s RV Ranch, a Bortle 2, “truly dark sky” location. This park is located in the boot heel of New Mexico, at GPS coordinates N 31*55’43.30 W 109*02’10.02, or address 854 State Highway 80, Rodeo, NM 88056. Rusty’s phone number is (575) 557-2526.
The park has about 40 huge (200-foot-long) pull-through sites (obviously, big rig friendly) and two park model homes for rent. All sites are 50-Amp full service, and the park also has decent WiFi to keep you connected. Cell coverage at the park is available but only at 3G speeds and isn’t very reliable. My Verizon phone dropped several calls while I was there.
Rusty’s caters to astronomers and birders, two groups who basically completely miss each other because the astronomers stay up all night and birders get up and take to the mountains at dawn. The park has a small aviary with several types of bird enclosures. The aviary is set in a small walking park with a pond and a babbling fountain nestled under a small stand of fruit and flowering trees. It is a very nice feature that gives the park a magical feel. Rusty’s has also built a larger pond where some migratory birds and a few of the larger species stay in this desert oasis. I always enjoyed sitting by the pond watching the swans and frogs waiting for night to fall.
Rusty’s keeps a small store open at the park office where you can pick up necessities. This is a very good thing because it is a 55-mile one-way drive to any real shopping in Douglas. Douglas, Ariz. is a small town but has a Walmart and most other services you may require – just be prepared for at least a 2- or 3-hour round trip to get your groceries.
The park also has an immaculate bathroom/shower room, a nice laundry with several washers and driers, and a clubhouse with a giant screen TV where potluck dinners are held every Friday evening. Rusty’s rates are very reasonable and you can stay from one night or rent a site year-round. Weekly or longer stays do not include electric, which is metered.
All that is great, but the real attraction is the sky. All sightlines are unobstructed down to about 5 degrees and framed by majestic mountains in every direction. Watching sunsets or sunrises against this backdrop is a wonderful experience that you should plan on enjoying with friends and your favorite beverage. After sunset you can clearly see the Zodiacal light and the Milky Way blazed across the night sky. Sagittarius looked unreal with spots of nebulosity visible to the naked eye. The background sky is velvety black and the Andromeda – M31 and Triangulum – M33 galaxies were also easy naked-eye objects at the end of summer. If you have never beheld the universe from a place like this, it is an experience you will not soon forget.
The other great benefit, especially if you are a beginner amateur astronomer, is the other astronomers in the park. These people are generally very friendly, excited about their hobby, and ready to share opinions, experience and methods with anyone who will talk to them about the sky. I made several new friends while I was there, from rank beginners to accomplished and published astronomers. We have stayed connected via the internet and talk about our next trip to Rusty’s and that beautiful dark sky. If your travel plans include a trip to the deep Southwest I can’t recommend this park enough.
Chris Fellows, Serenity Mobile Observatory
Find Chris on Facebook (or, if you’re lucky, at your campground). (Editor: Check out his amazing photos on his Facebook page!)