By Lydia Hooper
Summer in Colorado is special. We get plenty of sunny days for adventures outdoors, and just as many cool nights to relax and stargaze. There are also several incredible historic places in or near our state for viewing starry night skies! From urban observatories to ancient archaeological sites, these places boast campfire stories as interesting as those inspired by the constellations.
2930 E. Warren Ave., Denver
Humphrey Barker Chamberlin came to Denver from New York for health reasons in 1880. Over the years he rose in prominence, eventually serving as president of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade. When his fortune was replete, he had contributed much to the Denver community, including to the development of an observatory at the University of Denver. Designed by Colorado architect Robert Roeschlaub, the observatory was the fifth largest in the country at that time. For the past 60 years, public nights have offered Denverites views through its 28-foot-long refracting telescope.
3179 County Rd. 151, Chimney Rock
The calendrical knowledge of Ancestral Puebloans is evident at Chimney Rock National Monument. Observatories provide a solar calendar as the sun rises over the mountain peaks, as well as views of the full moon rising between the chimneys during the spring and fall equinoxes. Chimney Rock is perhaps best known as an observation point for the Northern Major Lunar Standstill, for the Great House stands at the only spot where moonrise can be seen between Chimney Rock and Companion Rock at the peak of the 18.6-year cycle. The national monument, a protected archaeological site, has received several grants from History Colorado’s State Historical Fund. The monument offers limited access via tours only from May 15–Sept. 30.
Florissant Fossil Beds
15807 County Rd. 1, Florissant
Fossilized 34-million-year-old redwood trees remind us of a time well before modern humanity, when the earth was nothing but a lush rock circling our own bright star. The present-day Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was also once the homestead of the quintessentially Coloradan Adeline Hornbek, who came to the area with her four children in the 1870s, and worked hard to own a prosperous ranch—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. About an hour west of Colorado Springs, this destination is accessible, yet far enough away from light pollution to observe planets, galaxies, and more. It also offers night sky programs.
Silver Cliff & Westcliffe
Silver Cliff, Colo.
In the 1870s, Silver Cliff was home to miners and the third most populous town in Colorado—after Denver and Leadville. The Silver Cliff mine, also known as the Geyser mine, was the deepest mine in Colorado at one point. It was also the unfortunate victim of stock manipulators—twice—and thus never turned a profit. In 1928 the county seat moved to nearby Westcliffe. Together these two towns formed the state’s first International Dark Sky Community in 2015. You can attend a public star party or book a free private viewing at the Smokey Jack Observatory in Westcliffe.
Pueblo descendants say that Chaco was once a special gathering spot. Today it remains a place to study both the people who lived there as well as the celestial events that they probably witnessed, like the appearance of the Crab Nebula Supernova of AD 1054 and the solar eclipse of AD 1097. The great houses built here by Ancestral Puebloans from AD 850–1250 are thought to incorporate lunar and solar elements. It’s suspected that astronomer priests used their vast astronomical knowledge to plan events at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. You might plan your own trip here this summer to coincide with such an event, like the total solar eclipse on July 2, or partial lunar eclipse on July 16.
Lydia Hooper is the digital content manager at History Colorado.
AAA Travel and History Colorado have teamed up to offer specially crafted vacations called Curated Adventures.