Home to some of the most otherworldly landscapes in North America, New Mexico has more than earned its designation as the Land of Enchantment. But did you know that our skies are just as stunning?
Whether they’re fans of a pastel sunrise, a vibrant sunset, or a twinkling twilight, generation upon generation has made the trip to Northern New Mexico to marvel at Mother Nature’s light show.
How Angel Fire Got Its Name
At Angel Fire Resort, looking up is more than a beloved hobby. It’s our identity!
The Moache Utes were the first people to describe our jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets as “fire of the gods.” When the Franciscan friars arrived in the area in the 1600s, they substituted “angel” for “gods.” About 200 years later, Kit Carson (the legendary frontiersman for whom the Carson National Forest was named) dubbed our corner of the Moreno Valley “Angel Fire.”
And for good reason! Our high altitude, low population density, dry climate, and clean air help to ensure that our night skies stay remarkably dark year-round. But, as much as we love summer nights on our mountain, winter offers visitors to our family-friendly, four-season resort peak stargazing conditions.
First, the nights are longer in January, February, and March — although not as long as in December, when the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. The nights on and around that date can be as long as 15 hours! Nevertheless, in the months leading up to the Spring Equinox (March 20th, 2022), your stargazing window can remain open for more than 12 hours.
Secondly, cold air holds less moisture than hazy summer air, so crisp winter nights provide the clearest skyscapes.
Rocky Mountain Star Power
In fact, six of the 25 brightest known stars — and the constellations associated with them — play prominent roles in making New Mexico’s winter nights so dramatic.
To the northwest, Cygnus (the Swan) peeks its head over the horizon in February and March. That star is Deneb, a supergiant sun that’s also one of the most distant stars you can spot with the naked eye.
Due east, look for Regulus in the constellation Leo (the Lion). Although it appears to be a single, brilliant, blue-white star, Regulus is actually a set of quadruplets made up of two binary star systems. High to the southeast of Regulus, you’ll find another star twin: Procyon, in the constellation Canis Minor.
But the real show is to the south/southeast. Sirius (in Canis Major), Canopus, Rigel, and Betelgeuse (the last two both in Orion, the Hunter) — the first, second, seventh, and tenth, respectively, brightest stars other than our own sun — all shine bright through March.
Other winter sky constellations of note include:
- Cetus, the Whale (southwest).
- Hydra, the largest star formation of its type (southeast).
- Ursa Major, the Great Bear or Big Dipper (northeast).
- Gemini, the Twins (northeast).
- Perseus (west/northwest), which also features the Double Cluster: two “star fields” whose intensity can be seen with the naked eye even more than 7,000 light years away.
Additionally, if you focus on the northwest on a night when the moon is on the wane, you can get a glimpse of the more than one trillion stars that make up the Andromeda Galaxy. You can find this object by locating the constellations Andromeda (naturally), Cassiopeia, and Pegasus. However, your eyes must be fully adjusted to the dark. Avoid looking at artificial lights, including your cellphone’s screen, for at least 20 minutes before scanning the night sky. A pair of binoculars will provide an even more spectacular view. Binoculars (or a telescope) will also make it easier to spot the Beehive star cluster to the northeast, just above Regulus in Leo, and the Orion Nebula, a so-called “star nursery,” to the south. The latter is located just below the three stars that make up Orion’s instantly recognizable “belt.”
Astronomy Closer to Home
February 1st marks the first day of the Lunar New Year observed by cultures across Asia. (Happy Year of the Water Tiger!) So it only makes sense to provide a sneak preview of what the moon will be doing here at Angel Fire Resort over the next two months.
- Full moons: February 16th and March 18th.
- New moons, meaning even darker skies and more stars: March 2nd.
Finally, the planets will be getting in on all this celestial action as well. Mark your calendars for February 16th. That’s when Mercury will experience its greatest western elongation, meaning mid-month will be one of the best times to view the planet closest to (and most often outshone by) the sun. You’ll have to get up pretty early, but if you do, you’ll see Mercury reach its highest point above the eastern horizon. Bright white Venus and red Mars will also be visible then, thanks to what astronomers call a conjunction.
Every Star is a Lucky Star at Angel Fire Resort
Of course, you don’t have to have a PhD to appreciate the night skies at our resort. All you need to do is grab a steaming cup of hot cocoa at Zia Bar or a nice après ski at The Lift Café as the sun sets, then watch the sky bloom in spectacular shades of red, orange, pink, and purple.
As darkness sets in and the stars emerge, you can seize one stargazing opportunity that you won’t find anywhere else in New Mexico: night skiing! Night riding is a must for any ski, snowboard, or stargazing enthusiast. Coast down 50+ acres of groomed trails that stretch out under the sparkling Rocky Mountain sky. Even rippers will rediscover the childlike thrill of trekking across the snow under starlight. And, if you’re bringing the whole family along, your night-skiing adventure is sure to be an unforgettable experience — one you’ll reminisce about together for years to come.
You deserve some magic in your life, and Angel Fire Resort is truly overflowing with it this winter. Not to mention some fantastic lodging deals! Now through February 26th, book two nights at The Lodge and get the third night free. Or, if you book three nights at one of our Angel Fire Resort Vacation Rentals before February 15th, you can add a fourth night free. (Terms and conditions apply; follow the links for complete details.)
So what are you waiting for? Come stay, play, and gaze more at your family’s favorite mountain resort this winter!