The Many Layers of Tucson

Travel writers love Tucson. This New York Times writer loved Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Mi Nidito restaurant, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Kartchner Caverns and Kitt Peak — especially Kitt Peak.

As (very) amateur astronomy geeks, Scott and I had decided to splurge on the observatory’s advanced program. This allows visitors to stay up all night looking at sky objects with the assistance of a skilled telescope operator.

It costs $350 for one or two people, plus $55 each for a dormitory room where we would crash in the wee hours of the morning, just like the real visiting astronomers. A midnight lunch and breakfast are included. The program can accommodate just four people a night.

We dropped our bags in our spartan room, then joined the larger group with whom we would be spending the early part of the night. At a cost of just $36, the early nightly program takes advantage of the usually clear desert skies to offer an intimate glimpse of fantastically distant objects to as many as 34 visitors.

The Kitt Peak program is particularly extensive because it is one of of the few astronomical institutions financed by the National Science Foundation, and part of its mission is to engage the public in astronomy. Two of the 25 telescopes that dot the mountaintop are devoted to the public each night. The others are for working astronomers….

had seen some of the same objects through our starter telescope at home, but I was thrilled at their beauty as viewed through the high-quality equipment. The globular cluster in the Hercules constellation, 25,000 light-years away, seemed somehow mine.

After the early group departed at 9, Scott and I continued our night with the sightings of assorted stars, nebulae and galaxies. As our guide, Roy Lorenz, showed us the new sights constantly coming into view, we could practically feel the earth spinning. Since we were the only ones there that night, we benefited from the attention of another guide, Adam Bloch, as well, who helped us take two pictures of deep-sky objects with the observatory’s fancy camera.