Los Alamos Night Skies Provide Perfect Backdrop For Winter Activities

Los Alamos, NM is opening up its night skies for visitors like never before.  At just under 7,500 feet in elevation and no air and light pollution, Los Alamos, New Mexico, has some of the clearest night (and day) skies in the world, and winter is one of the best seasons to enjoy the views.

Pajarito Mountain, first created by ski enthusiasts who worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, is currently experiencing some of the best ski conditions in the country. Pajarito has 300 skiable acres and 40 trails for a variety of skill levels. Ski lessons are available starting at only $33 for a two-hour session for all ability levels. The mountain backdrop is the perfect setting for star gazing, moonlit snowshoeing or just hanging out.  For more information on Ski Pajarito, visit skipajarito.com.

Neighboring Valles Caldera National Preserve offers everything from moonlit snowshoeing and cross country skiing; to sleigh rides through the Caldera to guided star gazing. The Caldera is one of the best places in the country to see endless amounts of shimmering stars in the black sky, thanks to minimal light pollution, because of the area’s arid skies and high altitude. Star guide James Maxwell shines a light on the fascinating universe during a 2-hour tour.  Spot a falling star or glimpse the Red Planet and distant spiral galaxies on the tour. Prices for adults range from $20 to $25; $16 to $20 for seniors; $10-$12.50 for kids between 6 and 15 years old; kids 6 years and under are free.

For those who would prefer to enjoy the Preserve’s evergreens and natural beauty on a sleigh rather than on their feet, horse drawn wagons are a great option. See the historical area along the edge of the Valle Grande and catch a glimpse of wildlife along the way.

Also at the Preserve, see the beauty of the wilderness at night during a “Moon Light Skiing” adventure. The cross country ski outing runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Adults are $10; seniors are $8 (62 years and older); and children (6-15 years) are $5. Children 5 years and under are free with paid adult. Fees include a moonlit permit for cross country ski or snowshoeing at night. The Preserve is open day times for snowshoeing and cross country skiing on any one of their groomed or un-groomed trails, extending 29 miles. Prices are $10 for an adult day pass; $8 for seniors (62 and older); $8 for kids under 15 years old and free for kids under 4 years. A 5-day pass is also available at $40 for adults. For updated weather and road conditions, please call the Preserve’s recreation hot line at (505) 216-2690. Event information is also available at vallescaldera.gov or by calling (866) 382-5537.

To warm up after a day of skiing or snowshoeing, soak in the warm, healing mineral waters of the historic Jemez Springs Bath House. The Jemez Springs are heated by the magma chamber of the Valles Caldera and were first discovered by settlers in 1860. The bath house itself was built in the 1870s, later becoming a State Historical Site. Therapeutic services at the Bath House range from mineral soaks, to massages, to herbal and blanket wraps. Prices start at $12 for a 25-minute soak. Jemez Springs is only 39 miles west of Los Alamos. Visit jemezsprings.org for more information or all (575) 829-3303.

While in Los Alamos, a must-see at any time of year is Bandelier National Monument. See an array of colors throughout the pottery, tools, dwellings and other artifacts from nomadic hunter-gatherers, dating as far back as 10,000 years ago, which are on display in Bandelier’s museum. Visitor will feel as if they’ve stepped back in time, as they walk amongst the ancient rock cliffs and see the petroglyphs and cavates of these ancient people. Visit nps.gov/band for an updated list of trail openings or closures.

Los Alamos’ colorful history can be better explained with a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum. The family-friendly Museum features more than 40 interactive exhibits that trace the history of the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos Lab’s’ research and defense projects, as well as the results of innovative research related to national, international, economic, political and social concerns. The Museum draws an estimated 80,000 visitors per year. For more information, visit lanl.gov/museum/index.shtml or call (505) 667-4444.

To plan the perfect Los Alamos get away, find great lodging deals and view other special events, go to www.visit.losalamos.com.

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Ryan Alford

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  • Actually, the main group of people that visitors will learn about if they visit Bandelier National Monument is the Ancestral Pueblo people, direct ancestors of present-day Pueblo people who still live near the Monument. Unfortunately, due to the Las Conchas Fire this past summer and resulting flooding in the canyon, the Bandelier Visitor Center is closed and all artifacts safely in storage in case flood waters enter the building; there is some possibility that it may re-open in the fall after the summer rains. Potential visitors should definitely check the park website, or even follow the park’s Facebook page, to keep current with what arrangements are in effect at any given time due to the effects of the fire and flooding. Right now, mid-January, the canyon is open to visitors, the Visitor Center is in a temporary location, the main trail to the archeological sites is open, and the book store, snack bar and gift shop are open too.