Located only miles from Las Vegas, yet set among dark mountains and starry skies, Red Rock Canyon is an excellent place to view the night sky and related astronomical objects.
The darkest spots in the Conservation Area are located off of State Route 160 south of the Visitor Center. Trailheads at Cottonwood Valley and Late Night are located in dark, flat, expansive areas of Red Rock Canyon, and thus provide wide open views of the night sky. Before going, be sure to consult a sky chart, or your favorite website to determine what stars and planets are visible.
These dark areas also make for excellent meteor shower viewing. A wide variety of objects besides planets orbit the sun. These objects, usually comets or asteroids, may have orbits of thousands of years. When they finally approach the sun, they heat up and partially disintegrate, leaving a trail of dust and debris. As the earth also orbits the sun, it occasionally passes through these left behind debris trails. As we do, the space debris burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a meteor shower.
Although there are numerous meteor showers taking place yearlong, major events are more easily visible. Major yearly events include the Quadrantids on the night of January 3rd-4th, the Lyrids on the night of April 21st-22nd, the Perseids on the night of August 12th-13th, the Orionids on the night of October 21st-22nd, the Leonids on the night of November 17th-18th, and the Geminids on the night of December 13th-14th.
The best time see meteor showers are early in the morning, a few hours before sunrise. In the early morning the earth is turning towards the sun, and thus toward a warmer section of space. This warm area contains more meteors than in the evening when we are turning towards cold space.
Sunrises and Sunsets
Sunrises and Sunsets in the desert are interesting; visitors can see much farther in the dry desert air, towering mountains present complex light and shadows, but the lack of clouds can limit sky color. To see the best sunsets and sunrises, look for partly cloudy days and a location where you can remain far away from the appropriate horizon.
The Red Rock Overlook and the Highpoint Overlook are the best places to view sunrises and sunsets, as both points offer wide views to the east and west. The Red Spring Boardwalk also offers excellent views to the east. These areas are open at 6:00 a.m., please check closing times as they change during the year.
Best Places to view the Full Moon
Hiking under a desert full moon is a special experience. Generally, flat, open areas are best to view the moon. The First Creek and Oak Creek areas off of State Route (SR) 159 are excellent trails. Because mountains separate Red Rock Canyon from the Las Vegas Valley to the east, it is difficult to find a spot to see the moon initially rise over the eastern horizon. However, there are spots near SR 159 and the Moenkopi road near the Red Rock Campground that patient visitors can observe the moonrise. Remember, the full moon always rises at sunset, making for a once a month opportunity to photograph both the full moon and the colors of sunset.
Guided Public Start Parties and Hikes
Red Rock Canyon works in partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society to bring “Astronomy in the Park” to the public. Astronomy in the park occurs various times of year with a multi-media presentation on specific subjects such as “Jupiter”, “Meter Showers”, “The Rings of Saturn” etc. After these presentations the Las Vegas Astronomical Society provide various types of telescopes to view night objects. The members are amateur astronomers much like ourselves and are very happy to answer any questions from equipment to celestial objects.
Red Rock Canyon also offers “Astronomy Hikes” by a naturalist with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association; the hikes are on an easy trail with little elevation gain. These hikes offer an opportunity to discover astronomy in a small group setting.
For dates, please check the websites at www.redrockcanyonlv.org or www.lvastronomy.com