|The road to Clayton Lake State park.|
Boasting some of the best star-gazing conditions in the country the park is only one of four worldwide that is officially recognized for its incredibly dark skies.
“The conditions there are top notch,” says Scott Kardel, Director of Public Affairs for the International Dark Sky Association. “That puts them in a very exclusive club”
The Association bestowed its top honor upon the park in June 2010 for its efforts to preserve the dark skies, reduce surrounding light pollution and provide educational programs.
|Photo courtesy of Bosela & MorgueFile.|
“It’s a real feather in their cap,” Lipscomb says of the 3,000 residents of Clayton and those of surrounding Union County who passed light pollution ordinances to help preserve the area’s dark skies.”That shows you just how supportive they are of that observatory.”
The state park is located about 12 miles outside of the neat, little town of Clayton where cattle ranching on the surrounding plains remains king and the cowboys are for real.
|On the eastern plains of New Mexico cattle ranches dot the endless landscape.|
“They’re a great group of people and we just couldn’t do it without them,” Jordan says.
|Clayton State park Manager, Charles Jordan, shows off the park observatory's 12-inch Meade computer operated telescope.|
Hundreds of local school children of all grades have also visited the observatory under a “No Child Left Inside” initiative between the park and local school district.
And numerous scouting groups, astronomy clubs and campers have all enjoyed the benefits of the observatory, says Art Grine, 49, president of the Clayton Astronomy Club and the town barber.
“We’ve got people coming from all over the country to do astronomy here now,” he says. “And we’ve all come to appreciate just how special our night skies really are.”
|Pronghorn can frequently be seen roaming the plains of eastern New Mexico.|
“It’s totally awesome to see,” he says.
It was the same for him when he first went out to the park on a field trip with his son and his junior high school class many years ago and saw Saturn through a telescope for the first time.
And now he’s the astronomy club’s president.
The park’s $75,000 Star Point Observatory opened in June 2006 and features a 12x16-foot building with a retractable roof that houses a 12-inch, computer operated telescope and remote television monitor which allows for group viewing.
The telescope and monitor is powered by a solar charged battery system.
The club also has several additional 8-inch telescopes that its volunteers set up on concrete pads outside the building which allows other guests to observe selected targets in the night sky too.
|The Clayton Lake State Park observatory.|
The agency would like to construct two more when finances become available, one in the northwest corner of the state at Heron Lake State Park and another at a yet to be determined location in the southeast quadrant of the state, Gatterman says.
Clayton Lake State Park and the local astronomy club will also entertain private groups. Anyone interested in making use of the observatory, camp sites or group shelters at the park can contact them by phone at 575-374-8808 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the observatory, the park is well known among anglers for producing record sized walleye as well as good sized bass, trout and bluefish.
The lake currently holds the state record for a walleye caught in 1989 by G.L. Peppers that weighed in at 16-lbs and 9-oz and measured over 32-inches in length.
|Former NM Dept. of Game and Fish Conservation Officer, Kelly Dobbs, shows off a record breaking walleye discovered in Clayton lake State Park in 2010.|
The park also features a new visitors’ center constructed of straw bale and recycled steel beams and while utilizing the latest in green energy techniques.
The visitor center also features an interpretive display inside which highlights the park and surrounding area’s history and other interesting information.
|Clayton Lake State Park's state of the art, environmentally friendly, visitors center.|
There are seven sites with electric and water hookups and two large group shelters.
Showers are available inside the main restroom while numerous vault toilets are located throughout the park.
The park’s boat ramp is currently closed due to low water levels because of the ongoing drought but fishing from the bank is easy and good.
A ranger lives on site to help maintain the park’s family friendly atmosphere and camping this time of year is especially enjoyable with warm days, cool nights and only light breezes.
|Clayton Lake State Park features great fishing and camping, fabulous scenery and spectacular night skies.|
Door prizes will be given away all weekend long too and there will be a hotdog eating contest, childrens’ sand dig and a horseshoe pitching contest.
The annual event attracts about 5,000 visitors and is fast becoming one of New Mexico’s best homegrown attractions.
For more information about the fishing derby contact the park or the Clayton Chamber of Commerce at 575-374-9253 or on their website at http://www.claytonnewmexico.org
If You Go: Take I-25 through Las Vegas and turnoff at Wagon Mound onto NM 120. Follow through Roy and continue on this remote and lonely stretch of two lane blacktop to the intersection of US 56. Head east on US 56 to Clayton. Take NM 370 north out of town to the turnoff to Clayton Lake State Park. About 250 miles one way.
|NM 120 between Roy and the intersection of US 56.|