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Backpacker Magazine – May 2000

Stargazing In New Mexico's White Sands

The lunarlike landscape and dark skies of this preserve make White Sands one of the best places for star watching.

by: Dorcas Miller

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You'll probably feel like you're on another planet if you visit White Sands National Monument, with its lifeless landscape of rippling dunes, during the day. At night, though, you'll know you're firmly planted on Earth because the rest of the galaxy hovers above.

The lunarlike landscape and dark skies of this remote preserve make White Sands one of the best places in the Lower 48 for star watching, and fall is prime time. Backcountry camping at the monument is limited to designated sites, which are clustered in a spectacular section of the dune field about 2 miles from the park's only road.

The views of the heavens are stunning and have long inspired the native peoples of New Mexico and Arizona. Look for constellations known as Earth Doctor and Spider, figures in a Maricopa/Pima Indian creation story. Earth Doctor (the forepart of Scorpius) created the animals and people, and taught them how to live on Earth. His brother, Spider (Cassiopeia), imitated him, but the animals he made, including Scorpion (the tail of Scorpius), came out misshapen. The two quarreled, and they now live at opposite ends of the Spider's Web (the Milky Way). Or come up with your own stories-you have all night.

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