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Benson, Arizona: Skywatcher's Inn (Gone)

The former Skywatcher's Inn was a B&B observatory for star-gazing buffs. Now under new ownership as the San Pedro Valley Observatory: No more sleepovers, observatory only, but you can arrange for all-night observing.

I-10 exit 306. Drive south on Pomerene Rd, then turn left at the stop sign onto the Frontage Rd. Quickly turn right, and cross the train tracks. The road will bend sharply left, then right. After another quarter-mile you'll cross a cattle guard. Directly in front of you will be a dirt road. You'll see the Inn ahead, on a hill. Follow the dirt road for a half-mile until you come to a white gate. On either side of the gate are two bright yellow metal poles. There's a door bell button on the poles, press the button to open the gate.

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Astronomy Bed & Breakfast - Skywatcher's Inn

Skywatcher's Inn is an observatory for star-gazing buffs -- a mix of New Agers and nerds. The house is densely decorated with themes... ancient Egypt, star stuff, outer space, aliens, astrology. They have a huge library of videos -- old tv series, Nat Geo and NASA specials, movies...

There are lots of smaller scopes for guest use, for indoor and outdoor observation. I am a novice and was surprised at all the gear talk. Some of the visitors scarcely care what's up in the sky. They put all their focus on the tracking, viewing, digitizing, and imaging equipment. Some people's equipment includes tarot cards.

If guests want to use the big telescopes and imaging equip, they have to hire an astronomer for the evening. The inn has a list of local guys. We shared an astronomer with a couple we met there.

One weird thing is that all house lights go out at dusk. It's very bad form to turn on a light. They have red bulbs here and there so you don't stumble. When the house lights went off at dusk, I decided to go outside and wander the grounds to watch bats. I was out there 20 minutes when my husband ran up to me in a panic. It seems there was a dangerous mother javelina and piglets in the area. No one should walk the grounds after dark.

The observatory rooms are just regular rooms (with black walls) in this expanded ranch house. When the lights go out, the ceilings slide open and you see the Arizona night sky. The staff is exceedingly nice and helpful.

[Val Craig, 04/28/2005]

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