Stars shine bright at Big Bend Observatory

Dr. Grady Price Blount, professor of Astronomy and Physics at Texas A&M in Commerce, also spends time in Terlingua, where he owns Big Bend Observatory rental cabins. 

It’s no surprise that the Big Bend area’s nighttime skies attract tourists from near and far to experience one of the darkest regions in the Lower 48.

Many observatories draw large crowds of those eager to experience the night sky in a way they might not be able to in urban and suburban areas. For many visitors to the Big Bend, the dark sky is the star attraction, whether peering through a telescope or engaging with astronomers’ scientific pursuits.

For those who want to experience the cosmos in a more personal way, lodging at Big Bend Observatory in Terlingua offers an enjoyable way to encounter the dark skies in an intimate setting. Observatory owner Dr. Grady Price Blount,a Corpus Christi native and part-time Terlingua resident who holds advanced degrees in planetary science, is a staunch supporter of the dark skies initiatives in place in several counties in Far West Texas.

Big Bend Observatory was launched in 2016, and is managed by Big Bend Vacation Rentals. One cabin accommodates four people, and the other holds two, with a third cabin scheduled to open this summer. High tourist season starts around Halloween and goes to spring break, when the cabins are filled 80% of the time.

Each cabin features an elevated sky deck with telescopes geared for two types of guests - the novice and the more seasoned observer, typically an amateur astronomer working with a more high-tech telescope.   

“Everyone loves to go out there with their binoculars, and just hang out and see the dark sky,” said Blount. “Some people take their sleeping bag there, and they don’t have to worry about all the critters.”

With every new endeavor comes a set of challenges, and the dark sky issue doesn’t fail to stir controversy.

Said Blount, “There are a fair number of people here who are passionate about promoting this. We’re fighting an uphill battle to educate people about how valuable the dark skies are, but we have a substantial number of people who come here, and say, ‘It’s my property and I can do whatever I want. Its private property.’ That’s true, but when you start light pollution on other people’s property, that’s a different issue.”

Blount maintains a good relationship with Big Bend High School, and in the spring, he plans to donate a top-notch telescope for its science classes.

Being near Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, two international dark sky preserves, offers Blount a distinct advantage. He hopes to achieve more substantial public outreach in the future, such as hosting star parties and offering night sky tours, a welcomed addition where every guest is considered a visiting astronomer.

“That’s just something we need to treasure, and it make it a tourist destination,” said Blount. “If you really care about the night sky, there is no better place in the Lower 48 than the Big Bend.”

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