A panoramic image showing the wide expanse of mountains near Fort Davis
McDonald Observatory, located 16 miles from Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County, is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from noon-5 p.m. Photo by Christ Chávez.

When describing life on “the Mountain” at McDonald Observatory, employees of the West Texas astronomical research facility aren’t afraid to gush. “It sounds cheesy, but we often greet each other with, ‘Another day in paradise,’” says Katie Kizziar, the assistant director for education and outreach. “A lot of people use that phrase, but we actually mean it.” The 64 astronomers, scientists, and support staff who live on-site make up a self-sustaining community, complete with its own volunteer fire department and water and sewage treatment facility.

On April 29-30, residents of the Mountain will welcome the public to McDonald Observatory’s first Dark Skies Festival. “It’s a chance for us to try to engage our neighboring communities to come have fun, see what it is we do out here, and learn more about preserving our night sky,” Kizziar says. Set in the Davis Mountains, the observatory is currently working with Jeff Davis County and surrounding counties to become a certified dark sky reserve through the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). A coalition of local government entities, schools, libraries, and community groups are working together on light ordinances and educational campaigns to protect the celestial resource of darkness. “Not only are dark skies integral to our research, but they’re an important resource everyone can enjoy,” Kizziar says. “My favorite thing about our events is hearing people ooh and ahh over the number of stars they can see.”

Since we first covered dark sky initiatives in Texas for our December 2019 cover story, Fredericksburg has joined other Central Texas towns, including Dripping Springs, Wimberley, Woodcreek, and Horseshoe Bay, as IDA-certified dark sky communities. For citizens interested in talking with their communities about joining the cause, Kizziar recommends they find like-minded people and take advantage of resources on the observatory and IDA websites. “Whether it’s amateur astronomers or master naturalists concerned about protecting habitats, there are any number of angles to find people who are interested in keeping our skies dark and quiet,” she says. After all, she continues, “Nobody hates stars.”

The September 2022 cover of Texas Highways: Visual Wonders


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The October 2022 issue of Texas Highways Magazine


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