South Llano River State Park: Where Earth Meets the Night Sky

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Tony Maples Photography


In roughly a two-hour drive from the urban settings of Austin and San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country, sits the South Llano River State Park. On the cusp of West Texas, this space has been designated a gold-tier Dark Sky Park. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) deemed it as such in 2017, and since then, many visitors have come to view the Milky Way as well as an intricate expanse of stars that appear to be endless. On moonless nights, the park (which ranks as a three on the Bortle Scale of darkness, with the number one being the darkest) continues its stewardship of the night sky, promoting the lack of light to guests and surrounding communities in general.

South Llano River State Park: Where Earth Meets the Night Sky

Photo: @LinaVeresk via Twenty20

South Llano River State Park, Copper Breaks State Park, and Enchanted Rock are presently the only IDA-designated dark-sky state parks in the Lone Star State. This one, in particular, works hard to impart the concept of dark sky viewing and enjoyment as urban areas in Texas continue to expand. Collaborating with Junction, a local community, South Llano River State Park welcomes astronomers from throughout the state to enjoy and help maintain this unique quality with which it’s blessed.

Following a day of hiking throughout the park, or rafting or paddling on the river, several guests set up telescopes to then enjoy the starry night presentation that naturally unfolds here. The South Llano River State Park interpretive staff, as well as its volunteers, also make use of additional resources made available to them thanks to support from the Meta Alice Keith Bratten Foundation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation for outreach events and star parties.

South Llano River State Park: Where Earth Meets the Night Sky

Photo: @Nodar via Twenty20

The significance of dark skies has successfully been imparted by the park through education. The South Llano River State Park outreach efforts include partnerships with the San Antonio Astronomical Society and the Hill Country Alliance, as well as presentations to kids in grades Kindergarten through 12 in nearby Junction. Students have often taken park in stargazing activities at the park as a result. In doing so, a need for a Stargazing tab on the park’s website became apparent, allowing youth and their families access to details they wouldn’t otherwise have known, in a setting which is close by that can easily be enjoyed. There are also links to Clear Sky Chart, the park’s real-time dark sky monitor, and additional resources.

The South Llano River State Park does an excellent job of educating youth about dark sky viewing, introducing a younger generation to truly seeing the multidimensional art that is the Texas night sky. When a kid excitedly tells their parents or grandparents that they just saw a planet through a telescope, it fosters an interest that will help further protect the night skies for decades. For more information around dark sky viewing at the South Llano River State Park, visit the park’s website at the link available here.