To the Stars and Beyond – Stargaze Inside Lost Dutchman State Park During Their Star Party Event
Have you ever looked up at the stars at night and wondered about their names or what constellation they form? How about which planets in our solar system are within viewing distance of Earth? It is not so hard to believe that the Apache Junction area is a spectacular place to view the spectacle of the night sky. On this adventure of Backpack Pat, we see what glistens above Earth during the Star Party at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Located off of the historic Apache Trail (SR 88), the 300+ acre Lost Dutchman State Park is part of the Arizona State Parks system and this park is more than just for hiking. In fact, the secret is out about this park as it topped the list as the Best State Park in Arizona by Travel + Leisure in 2023. Why is this park so special? Lost Dutchman State Park truly offers something for everyone including stunning open views of the Superstition Mountains, miles of trails for hiking and biking, various campgrounds for both tent and cabin camping and, best of all, year-round events that fill the calendar.
While this park has so many offerings for visitors during the day, this particular adventure was reserved for looking up at the sky with knowledgeable guides at the Star Party. My group signed up for the Star Party online as this event takes place after the park closes to the general public. Don’t worry, the park rangers allow for the registered guests to enter and your vehicle will be directed to the designated parking lot inside of the park. Once your vehicle arrives at the main gate, be sure to stop and provide your name as the park ranger will provide your group with wristbands and a tag for your vehicle. Your group will then be told where to drive to meet the rest of the Star Party attendees. Please be sure to drive slowly and carefully as wildlife roams through the park and campers are situated in their respective campgrounds near the main road.
After a mile or so of driving, you will see another park ranger guide all the vehicles into a parking lot near one of the ramadas. They kindly ask for all of the attendees to wait here until the registered groups arrive. While waiting, it might be a great opportunity to see the Superstition Mountain illuminated with the moonlight above or turn around and look west at the dazzling lights of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Once all registered groups arrive, a park ranger will take the registered guest to another part of the park. The rangers utilize a flashlight with a red beam as the color red will help the human eye adjust to the night sky illumination.
The white light from a cell phone light or a flashlight impacts the human eye and makes it hard for everyone within view of that particular light to see the night sky. It is strongly encouraged for attendees to not utilize their white lights while attending the Star Party.
When all the attendees arrive at the designated spot for the Star Party, everyone will first see an array of telescopes and operators that have their devices fixed to certain sections of the night sky. Attendees are encouraged to visit all of the telescope stations and interact with representatives from The Superstition Mountain Astronomical League. For this event, there were six telescopes set up to look at various aspects of the night sky. Two of them were fixed on two separate planets within our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn. Attendees can peer into each telescope and gaze up at the planets, moons and star constellations while volunteers stand next to their respective telescopes describe what is being shown.
One of the more memorable moments at this event was seeing Jupiter with a few of its moons all in one shot. There were a few factoids brought up by The Superstition Mountain Astronomical League representative that were shocking such as the size of Jupiter is 1300 times larger than Earth and one rotation around the Sun for Jupiter takes over 11 Earth years. The sites of the Star Party certainly help put our Earth and the sheer size of the universe into perspective. Another neat view to take in was looking at Saturn and its rings through another telescope. According to another representative, Saturn’s rings will only be visible to folks on Earth for a little longer since the rotation of Saturn and the Earth tilt in such a way that the rings “disappear” for a period of time in early 2025.
Since there are only just a few telescopes and about 25 people attending the Star Party, the attendees are encouraged to talk to the representatives and the park rangers while waiting in line for each telescope. Additionally, there are a couple of videos that are playing on low-light computers to help describe the night sky and how to best experience the stars, constellations, and planets. Moreover, be sure to look down and around the various telescopes as there are a few handouts that the attendees can take away. For example, there was one handout entitled, “The Evening Sky Map” that helps identify what stars, planets, and constellations people can see from the northern hemisphere. This map was even detailed down to the month and year my group and I attended the Star Party. After one views the various stars and planets through each telescope, it is suggested to just simply look up at the sky and take in all that the universe has to offer.
Attendees will certainly leave with new knowledge, memories and a newfound appreciation for Lost Dutchman State Park and the folks that help put events like this together.
Do note that events at Lost Dutchman State Park, such as the Star Party, are weather permitting. A park ranger mentioned to follow the Lost Dutchman State Park Facebook page in order to get real time updates if the weather is questionable. Should an event get cancelled, the registration fees get refunded to the person that signed up online. This area gets over 300 clear weather days which will surely helps each event take place. If anyone has more questions about this event or any other upcoming event, please visit the Lost Dutchman State Park website or call (480) 982-4485.