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10 Great Camping Spots for Star Gazing

Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico

Stargazing aficionados know New Mexico is a wonderful spot for sky-peeping, thanks to a small population and blessedly clear skies. And within the state, Clayton Lake is tops. In 2010, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) named Clayton Lake a Certified International Dark Sky Park, one of just a handful of parks in the world to earn that distinction. The IDSA only recognizes parks that have extraordinary views of the night sky and a natural nighttime habitat [source: IDSA].

The designation was bestowed upon the park in part for opening the Star Point Observatory in 2006, which features a computer-operated telescope and remote TV monitor to allow group star gazing through the building, which sports a retractable roof. The local astronomy club also set up several smaller telescopes outside the building [source: Moffatt]. Measurements of the night sky's brightness also show that it's of exceptional quality [source: IDSA].

The campground at Clayton Lake is on the smaller side, with Chicano Beach and Peach Point campgrounds lying the closest to the observatory. During the day, while you're waiting for the stars to be visible, check out the hiking trails, outstanding fishing and dinosaur footprints along the spillway -- there are more than 500. The tracks are best viewed in the morning and late afternoon [source: New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department].