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Stargazing in Colorado: Constellations Visible In The Rocky Mountains 

March 30, 2022

Colorado is known for having 300 days of clear skies a year, and they only get more breathtaking at night. In the Colorado mountains, at higher elevation and free from light pollution, the cosmos above the world reveals its truest beauty. Up here, the Milky Way is rich and near-tangible, and the stars are so brilliant and bright that constellations become easy to spot. As you can imagine, the Colorado mountains are the perfect place to stargaze. 

As the stars wheel overhead, each season brings a different host of constellations into view. In Colorado’s sky, however, there are four constellations you can always spot with a little time and an open sky. 

Read More: When Is The Best Time To Go On a Dude Ranch Vacation?

stargazing in colorado mountains

Constellations That are Visible Year-Round in Colorado

Ursa Major and Minor (The Dippers)

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor mean “Great Bear,” and “Little Bear” in Latin, though these constellations and their place in astral mythology date back to prehistoric times. Today, this pair of constellations is commonly referred to in North America as “The Big Dipper” and “Little Dipper,” due to their resemblance to ladles – they have also been referred to as plows or wagons. The Big Dipper is actually a separate star pattern (called an “asterism”) from Ursa Major, with the Dipper only containing seven of Ursa Major’s twenty main stars. 

The Big Dipper is without a doubt the easiest grouping of stars to find in the night sky. Look up, and the outline of a ladle should appear to you, with four stars making up the bowl, and three extending to form the handle. From the Big Dipper, you can locate the Little Dipper. By following the line formed from the two stars on the outside edge of the Big Dipper’s bowl, you should be able to spot Polaris, the North Star, and the brightest star in the night sky. Polaris is the final star in the Little Dipper’s handle, and the rest of the constellation is inverted above the Big Dipper. The Little Dipper also contains four stars in its bowl and three in the handle, but these stars shine so dimly that they can be near-impossible to spot without the proper light conditions provided by the dark countryside.  

big dipper in the mountains
Constellation Ursa Major (big dipper or Great Bear) in the night starry sky

Cassiopeia and Cepheus

Cassiopeia and Cepheus are a Queen and King from Greek mythology. They were the rulers of ancient Aethiopia, and sired Andromeda (the namesake of another major constellation, as well as a galaxy located within the constellation). Legend tells that Cassiopeia angered the gods with her vanity, but Andromeda and the hero, Perseus, pleaded that Cassiopeia and Cepheus be spared the gods’ wrath. As a show of mercy, the Queen and King were placed in the safety of the stars.   

Cassiopeia’s five main stars can be found in close proximity to Polaris, and they appear like a zigzag (or a chair). They will always be on the opposite side of Polaris as the Big Dipper. 

Cepheus is faint, and circles Polaris counter-clockwise throughout the night. Cepheus consists of seven main stairs, which take on the appearance of a crude “house” – a square-topped by a triangle. The tip of the triangle will usually point toward Polaris.

Draco

The stars of the Little Dipper once formed the wings of the night sky’s great and powerful dragon, Draco (with Draco being the Latin word for serpent or dragon). The story goes that the Greeks “clipped” Draco’s wings after Phoenician sailors demonstrated that the seven stars of the Little Dipper were better utilized as their own asterism for navigational purposes. 

Because of their former relationship, the fourteen main stars of Draco can be spotted wrapping around the Little Dipper. Because Draco is a great serpent, his body stretches over a colossal swath of sky, with his tail ending near the bowl of the Big Dipper, his main body wrapped around the Little Dipper, and his head doubling back to end near Vega, the fifth brightest star. 

Not The Only Legends: Read About Western Legends of Colorado

The Best Place to See the Stars This Year

Of course, to see these sights and everything else the cosmos has to offer, you’ll need a Colorado country sky free of light pollution… and as long as you’re headed to the mountains, you might as well plan an excursion as big and exciting as the night sky itself. That’s where C Lazy U Dude Ranch takes the reins. You and that special someone can watch the stars like the cowboys did (albeit with a big dose of comfort and style), at a private Conestoga Wagon campout – or bring the whole family and warm yourselves after all that stargazing in front of a roaring fire in a five star cabin. From horseback rides with a horse specially paired to you and your ability, hiking, skiing, amazing farm-fresh meals, one-of-a-kind spa experiences, kids’ programs – and so, so much more – there’s a wealth of adventure to be found on the ranch. Spend your days experiencing the best of the thrilling American West, spend your nights with good company and a blanket of stars, and see why C Lazy U dude ranch resort is one of Condé Nast’s top ten resorts destinations in the entire world. 

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What image do you think of when someone mentions the great American West? Cowboys? Horses? An eagle on the wing? Or, do you picture amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain?  The West is synonymous with awe-striking, wide-open spaces to be explored. Here at C Lazy U Ranch, we have … Continue Reading »

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