A History of the Cosmic Campground, 

North of  Alma, NM.

This account of the history of the Cosmic Campground is related by C. William McCabe (Bill), a local resident, October 22, 2013. Additions have been added since then.

Work on this project began in 2003. Bill, and his wife, Val, had retired and purchased the Alma Store in southwestern New Mexico. Business was slow in the off-seasons and Bill and Val were looking for ways to enhance the income of businesses in the area. While visiting with a friend, Bob Robinson, the subject of “Dark Skies” came up. Bob suggested looking up the term on the Internet. In so doing, Bill became aware of the great interest in Dark Skies by the Amateur Astronomy Community.

Realizing that this area had great potential as a dark skies site, Bill began searching throughout the area around Glenwood and Alma for a suitable site that would support the needs of astronomers. Prowling the area with a neighbor, Richard Weaver, several potential sites were identified. Major criteria were accessibility and shielding from highway lights. A campground was determined to be the most useful mechanism to draw astronomers. (Take only pictures, leave only footprints)

Eventually, a site was selected eight miles north of Alma, just one mile off of US 180. The site was down a two-track cow path in the Gila National Forest.

In order to verify the suitability of this location, Bill took to the Internet again, seeking a qualified reviewer. Contacting the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas, Bill was referred to John Wagoner, Observing Chairman for the Texas Star Party. After John reviewed the site and considered how it related to amateur astronomy, he agreed to travel to Alma.

John’s first night in the area turned cloudy. John said “Not to worry, we will go to the site and check for Light Domes”. Arriving at the site we were surprised to see the night sky turn clear. That night was amazingly gratifying. Attached is John’s review for consideration. This was in January of 2004.

With John’s evaluation in hand Bill solicited the support of the local US Forest Service office. Their personnel visited the site and agreed that such a project would be an asset to this area and that they would support developing a Dark Skies campground here.

About this time, Bill was invited to a Star Party on a local mesa conducted by Dr. Albert Grauer, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock  . Dr. Grauer is an advocate of amateur astronomy as well as a professional astronomer. He and his wife Ann became enthusiastically involved in establishing the campground.

Further evaluations were conducted by the Silver city Astronomical Society. An in-depth evaluation of the nighttime sky was conducted by Gary Emerson, President of the Silver City Astronomical Society. This evaluation was extremely favorable. See the web page on this site.

At this time, funding became the name of the game. The Gila District of the US Forest Service did not have discretionary funding to cover this project. Bill contacted State and Federal offices requesting consideration; there were significant letters of encouragement but funding was not part of the encouragement.

Small star parties, conducted by astronomy clubs such as a club from NM State University, mentored by Dr. Dan Klinglesmith and associate Jon Spargo, began frequenting the area. At the encouragement of teacher Terry Tackman, a star party was held for students of the Glenwood primary school by Dr. Al Grauer.

After three changes in personnel at the Glenwood District Ranger’s office, Ranger Pat Morrison took the helm.

Pat Morrison had contemplated a dark skies campground for years. She made it happen by  becoming aware of funding potential through Title II funds supporting Counties in SW New Mexico. The funds would be evaluated and released through a Resource Advisory Committee including local resident, Debra Krikorian. Debra was eager to review the request in committee. In December of 2010 a presentation was made to the committee that included an overall finished campground, with an auxiliary campground nearer the highway. Participants were awarded $50,000, the minimum required to build an all-weather access road and put the footprint of the primary campground on the map.

An Environmental Assessment was completed that decided to construct two campgrounds, with the primary campground, a group campground for astronomers and other groups as Phase One. Phase two will be the general purpose campground closer to the highway.

In November, 2012, a Forest Service crew began construction. The earthwork and surfacing, overlaying the two track cow path, were finished the following spring. This was an exceptional job for the money. See photos elsewhere on this web site..

The first official star party was held in October of 2013.

The sponsor was Lois Fuller for the WILLL, Western Institute for Life Long Learning, out of Silver City New Mexico. The Silver City Astronomical Society participated with around six telescopes. A good time was had by all.

In September, 2013, Pat Morrison convened a meeting to design concrete pads for the facility. Attending from the Forest Service were Pat, Forest Service engineer Tracy Weber, and Forest Service Maintenance supervisor Bob Shanks. Al and Annie Grauer, Bob and Elayne Bryant, Rich Wright and Bill McCabe represented the astronomy personnel. The discussion and design went very well with superb input from the astronomers. The first pads will be installed as funds and labor are available.

As of fall of 2013, the project is seeking additional funds to complete the job. Completing Phase one is estimated to be ~$74,000. Phase two construction is estimated at ~$85,000.

In 2014 the New Mexico Resource Advisory Committee awarded $40,000 for a CTX toilet.

In 2014 and 2015 Patricia A. Grauer  and Dr. Al Grauer collected data, prepared, and submitted an application to the International Dark Sky Association requesting that the Cosmic Campground be designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Please see the application for the details.

On January 14, 2016 The International Dark Sky Association Designated the Cosmic Campground as the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in North America.  

David Thornburg's Photographs.