2018 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

The Milky Way from Dragoon Mountain Ranch
The Milky Way from Dragoon Mountain Ranch

An astronomy buddy of mine who has a home and observatory in the Dragoon Ranch area east of Tucson in southern Arizona invited a few of us from the local astronomy group to come down for a week of observing under dark skies in February 2018. This is the second year we will benefit from the very dark skies and high elevation this area offers. His very well-equipped observatory located much further south than we normally observe from are bonuses we are all eager to take advantage of!

Last year I took the Amtrak train from Seattle all the way to Tucson, but this year I decide to fly direct to Tucson to save travel time. Just a few weeks before leaving, I decide to splurge by renting a Tesla Model S instead of a regular rental car.

My full itinerary is listed below in my travelogue. Feel free to click on what location interests you, however if you click on the top-most locale, there are links at the bottom of each page (just above the Comments section) to take you to the next locale – from beginning to end. This is the best way to explore the whole trip as it happened, day by day.

If you simply want to experience the trip visually, by all means jump straight to my online photos to choose whatever locale interests you – Arizona, or view a slideshow of the whole trip.


Southern Arizona & Astronomy - gallery of all photos for this trip
Southern Arizona & Astronomy – gallery of all photos for this trip

How it started

Last year’s invitation from my friend who has a hobby ranch and observatory in southeast Arizona presented an opportunity to see southern Arizona and experience the ecology, history and culture of the southwestern USA. When he repeated the invitation for 2018 I jumped at the opportunity since I enjoyed myself so much last year. Although I enjoyed taking the train to Tucson last year, I decided to save the 3-days travel time (each way) this year by flying directly to Tucson and renting a car.

How it evolved

As I did last year, I wanted to see more of southern Arizona than just a week of observing at Dragoon Ranch. Having extra time in southern Arizona is important to me, because this is an escape from the winter weather at home, and also there is lots to see and do in the Tucson area. As I did last year, I decide to stay in Tucson for five extra days, and use it as a hub to explore the area. This all added up to 18 days – 3 days travel time, 5 days in Tucson on my own, and 9 days with my astronomy buddies.


My friend’s offer included free accommodation for the week while my astronomy buddies and I were at his place, providing we made our own meals, and arranged for our own local transportation with rental cars. Obviously, we also had to get ourselves to and from Arizona at our expense.

Overall, the trip cost me a reasonable CD$350/day including airfare, spending money, entrance fees, food, splurging on the Tesla car rental, and staying five nights in Tucson hotels. I am paying with Canadian dollars with the US$ costing me about CD$1.35.

So was it worth it?

Joe atop Kitt Peak National Observatory
Joe atop Kitt Peak National Observatory

This trip was a very rewarding. At this time of year, southern Arizona is not oppressively hot or windy, so just a light coat is needed during the day. At night in the high desert, it can get quite cold, approaching freezing some evenings, so a winter coat is needed. I spent my time in Tucson seeing some new sights and returning to others to experience them from a different angle.

Although we encountered poor weather while at the ranch, observing the night sky from a very dark part of North America is exceedingly rewarding for an amateur astronomer such as myself, and to be able to experience this with my observing buddies was very rewarding. I didn’t have to lug any heavy astronomy gear down with me, since my friend’s observatory is so well equipped. All I took with me was camera gear I normally travel with. I’m planning to return next year for the third time!