Frequently Asked Questions
What is there to do?
The Grand Canyon offers world class hiking through Earth’s largest canyon system. Even with summer crowds, the nearly 10 mile long west rim trail is blocked off to all but buses, and offers spectacular bicycling without worrying about traffic. Even those less physically inclined can spend days exploring the scenic vistas offered from every bend of the rim trails on foot, or from the roads from their cars or park shuttle buses. The place offers lots to explore for the history buff with many original structures preserved and a nearly century old train making daily runs to the rim. The area also offers:
- Astronomical day trips to Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, to see its historic telescope or learn about the new Discovery Channel Telescope, Lowell Observatory’s newest project to design and construct a powerful, 4.2-meter instrument. Tours are available. The new multimedia John Vickers McAllister Space Theatre is open for 20-minute shows about astronomy on the half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Day-trips to Meteor Crater, which is located east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40
- Scenic drives through Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, Flagstaff and Oak Creek Canyon.
- For those interested in Native American ruins and archaeology, the Wupatki National Monument north of Flagstaff is breathtaking.
- If you like volcanoes, the Sunset Crater National Monument has a fantastic cinder cone, and lava flows and cinders in the area still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed.
- The San Francisco volcano peaks just north of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest are the remnants of a huge stratovolcano. Skiing is available in winter at the Snowbowl resort.
- The new Hualapai Skywalk is a four-hour drive west of the GCSP’s South Rim location, and is accessed off of Route 93 between Kingman and Hoover Dam. This is the new skywalk where you walk out into the canyon with only glass under your feet, so folks with a fear of heights might not enjoy it! The contact numbers for the Hualapai Skywalk are 1-877-716-9378 and 1-702-878-9378. Note that t here are 14 miles of bad dirt road at the end of the drive to the Skywalk. Reservations are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED as folks have sometimes been turned away who don’t have a reservation.
As you can see, one could easily spend a couple of action-packed days or the entire week without repeating yourself.
How is the astronomical observing at the Canyon?
Conditions are excellent. The nearest town, Flagstaff (population 45,000) is 80 miles away, while Las Vegas and Phoenix are both about 170 air miles away making for very dark skies. (Blackout Wardens are on duty for your viewing protection!) Elevation at the South Rim is about 7,000 feet with the North about 8,000 feet. Seeing conditions are usually very good with the exception of very still nights when pockets of cold air move through slowly disrupting the seeing. Early June is Arizona’s clearest time of year. We have lost only four nights to clouds in nine years (72 nights) of observing!
Where do we set up our telescopes?
We set up and observe from the smaller of the commercial parking lots behind the Main Visitor Center. Setup/takedown is encouraged each night in this lot. Vehicle traffic into the area is banned except for astronomer vehicles, security vehicles, and daytime tour buses for the duration of GCSP. Personal vehicles may be driven into the area to drop off equipment for setup, then removed to a parking area in an adjacent tour bus lot unused in the evening. After 11 PM, if you intend to leave for the night, please complete all of your pack up prior to driving into the area to load; use parking lights only when entering, shut lights off when loading and use red lights to pack to keep from disturbing other observers and visitors, who generally stay until well after Midnight.
For larger instruments that require more effort to set up and take down, there is a reserved area on the Northwest edge of the lot for permanent setup, marked off by yellow nylon ropes and pylons which are taken down during use and restored when departing. There is also an area for live/near real time video setups at the entrance, also marked off by yellow nylon ropes and pylons which remain in place during the event; displays/monitors are placed along this rope line and canted toward the entrance so that visitors cannot interfere with your equipment trying to take shortcuts, and the equipment can remain set up for the duration of the event. For both the permanent visual setups and the live video area, it is highly encouraged that all equipment that might grow legs (eyepieces, cameras, cables, batteries, other ancillary equipment) be removed each night. This is designed to be a public event, and if you want to do photography or CCD imaging, this may not be the event for you until after the bulk of the visitor flow at 11:30 PM. For the star party, long extension cords are a trip hazard in the dark, and there is no external power available except for individuals own batteries and inverters. Park regulations prohibit generators other than Mather Campground and Trailer Village.
In the National Park, camping is not allowed anywhere but the campgrounds, so the options are to pack up your scope every night or leave it set up in the restricted areas. We are permitted two to three volunteers who wish to stay overnight in their vehicles in the telescope lot for security if they wish.
How do we get there?
With the distances involved from civilization and the need to haul your telescope, cars are still the best way to get around for this purpose. There are no restrictions on cars coming into the park. Within the Park, there is an excellent shuttle bus system; no waiting for parking spots, 10 minutes between shuttles, every point you’d want to visit is on one of the loops. The shuttle system extends out to the nearby town of Tusayan as a means of improving the parking situation. Cars belonging to persons with lodging reservations and star party registration information are always allowed. If you are traveling cross country, while you can fly into the Grand Canyon airport or Flagstaff, it is certainly less expensive to fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix, probably enough to pay for a rental car. Driving time from Phoenix is about four hours, while it’s about five hours from Las Vegas.
Are Any Special Activities Planned?
I’m glad you asked that. As part of our program, we offer:
- A twilight talk every evening at 8 PM in the Main Visitor Center Theater to entertain the folks while it gets dark. We always need volunteers to give these talks, so step up especially if you have an astronomical story to tell and have worked with crowds before.
- Special projects: We don’t have plans for that this year, though we are open to suggestions.
- One of the great joys every year is to set up a scope or big binoculars on the rim to show visitors canyon views or sunspots, while telling them about the viewing later in the evening. It is great fun to be one of these “static displays” during our week there.
- Every day, several of us will set up telescopes for solar, lunar, and/or planetary viewing in front of the Main Visitor Center, at Yavapai Geology Museum, the Canyon Café/General Store, or any other visitor concentration.
- We generally have a couple of social cookouts to get to know the astronomical folk who come and volunteer. These are great fun and you get to actually see the faces of the person you have set up next to the last few nights!
- The last couple of years, we’ve planned informal carpool trips to visit the IMAX in Tusayan, nearby Lowell Observatory and Meteor Crater around midweek, and will likely do it again, with the cookouts scheduled for the weekends. Otherwise, there is plenty to do. See the list of places to visit, above.
How do I sign up?
For more information or to RSVP for the South Rim star party, please contact me at:
Coordinator, South Rim component of the Grand Canyon Star Party
P.O. Box 457
Cortaro, AZ 85652
E-mail: gcsp [at] tucsonastronomy.org
Phone: 520 546-2961
For more information or to RSVP for the North Rim, please contact:
Coordinator, Grand Canyon Star Party, North Rim
53750 W. Prickley Pear Rd.
Maricopa, AZ 85239
Cell phone: 602-390-0118
E-mail: fester00 [at] hotmail.com