Marking Time, A Prehistoric Style Solar Observatory

Astronomy is a big deal here in the boot heel of New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.  Arizona Sky Village, Rancho Hidalgo, Granite Gap are just 3 of the places in the area where astronomers come for observation and astrophotography.  The Painted Pony Resort has hosted repeat astronomy groups looking for open dark skies combined with creature comforts of a resort.  In honor of these groups and to create something on the landscape dedicated to astronomy, a prehistoric style solar observatory was constructed at the Painted Pony Resort.

Prehistoric and modern solar observing practices in southwestern Pueblo peoples are well documented and alignments of both natural features and human constructions are used to make observations. The best known examples of solar observatories in the southwest are from Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico.  While other observatories are documented in the US, many observation sites remain unnoticed.   For example, this lava feature (click on satellite for the imagery) in Animas valley, aligns with sunrise and sunset of the winter Solstice.  The basalt floor of this collapsed lave tube shows wear suggesting use and is located near another circular ring feature approximately 60 ft in diameter marked by differences in surface vegetation adding support for this notion.

Using the tallest stone surrounding the recently constructed fire pit as a center point, the alignments of apparent sunrise and sunset were marked using basalt blocks.  The locations of both summer and winter Solstice as well as the Equinox sunrise and sunset locations in the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountains were marked creating a horizon calendar centered on the tallest stone in fire pit.  While the recent winter solstice allowed direct observation for stone alignments, the summer solstice and equinox locations were more difficult.  Instead of waiting for another 6 months to make direct observations a handy online application was employed to find the locations for the additional sunrise and sunset alignments.  SunCalc was used to find the apparent locations in each mountain range for sunrise and sunset as viewed from the fire pit at the Painted Pony Resort.

horizon calendar
Basalt stones marking sunrise and sunset for the Solstice and Equinox

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