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John McCaine | Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Copper Breaks State Park
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Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
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Rob McCorkle | Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Cooper Lake State Park
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Chris Emory | Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Copper Breaks State Park
The wide-open spaces in the Lone Star State also lead to wide-open skies, perfect for a stargazer’s bucket list. Try these spots for particularly captivating celestial sightings.
Marvel at the Milky Way From Enchanted Rock
Located 18 miles north of Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock is well-known for being beautiful by day, but it’s just as worthy of a visit at night, thanks to its status as an International Dark Sky Park—that means the park actively works to protect nighttime visibility.
One of the best times to drop by is during the Star Parties, offered year round every few months, when crowds of around 50 to 150 gather to discover what the night sky holds.
“On a clear night, one can expect to see anything from the Milky Way to Saturn,” says park interpreter Scott Whitener. “It’s a great place to watch a meteor shower.”
The park owns a couple of telescopes, and a group of local astronomers bring another dozen for the public to use. If you have a flashlight or a headlamp with red-light capabilities, bring it along, as white light can hinder visibility. Consider spending the night for an immersive experience.
“I always suggest people hike out to one of our primitive campsites and camp for the night,” Whitener says. “You can view Enchanted Rock from a distance and the sky aglow with starlight. If it’s clear, you can hike the trails without a flashlight, as the whole park lights up.”
Moon Over the Moon at Cooper Lake State Park
The stargazing programs at the South Sulphur Unit of Cooper Lake State Park, about an hour and a half northeast of Dallas, start in the afternoon with a discussion on night sky activities.
“We cover a lot of things, like constellations that we’ll be able to see that night,” says Jim Beach, a certified interpretive guide and state park police officer. “We look at a sky wheel, also known as a planisphere; I have one attendees can put together so they can have their own to look at back at camp.”
Beach also talks about the moon phases and gets everyone acquainted with the binoculars and telescopes so that when darkness falls they’re comfortable using the instruments without turning on a light. It’s a great family-friendly activity, as the programming appeals to all ages.
“It’s neat to have kids out there to start getting an interest,” Beach says. “Some of them come with this attitude of ‘What are you gonna show me?,’ but then they start looking through the telescope. They see it and go, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome.’”
While the kids learn a lot, there’s also plenty to hold adults’ interest. “We had an 82-year-old woman who looked through the telescope and saw the moon up close for the very first time in her life,” Beach says. “She started crying.”
Take a Walk With the Stars at Copper Breaks
Named an International Dark Sky Park in 2014, Copper Breaks State Park near Quanah in Hardeman County is serious about making the sky visible for visitors. In fact, the park has replaced many of its outdoor lights with more efficient, low-light fixtures and retrofitted others to keep light from emanating upward, which serves the dual purpose of keeping night skies darker and lowering energy bills.
“You’re wasting your money when you flash those bright lights in the sky,” says David Turner, park superintendent. From April to October, the park hosts a free monthly StarWalk, an event that’s been evolving for more than 20 years.
Located near the Big Pond campground, it starts with a naked-eye tour of the night sky, followed by a closer look through binoculars and telescopes. Depending on the time of year and the weather, you might see Scorpius, Orion or the Big Dipper. They cover lore and legend—stories based on the stars—and discuss the science as well.
“It’s our alternative to fireworks,” Turner says. “We’ve got the best fireworks you can ask for, made by the hand of the designer.”