Afternoon Drive up to Kitt Peak National Observatory

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Buenos Aires NWR

We spent the early part of February camped in an isolated area of Southern Arizona known as the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It is a high grassy plain (elevation around 3700ft) southwest of Tucson dotted with small scrub brush and dry washes. If you want to get away from it all and hang out in a very peaceful, laid back environment then this is a great place to do it.

They say there is a herd of Pronghorn Antelope there, but they evaded our efforts to spot them. We did see many types of birds, coyotes, and a few mule deer though. At night, the coyote packs would yip and yap up a storm under the extremely starry sky. Given the elevation and the lack of nearby cities the density of stars was incredible!

Camped in Buenos Aires wildlife refuge
Camped in Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge


There are about a 100 primitive campsites varying in size and accessibility. We found several big rig friendly ones #37-41, just off the road to the tiny town of Arivaca, between the 3 and 4-mile markers. For more info on the boondocking spot have a look at this excellent post by Nina over at the Wheeling It blog. Her review was one of the reasons we decide to check out the area.

Buenos Aires NWR campig map

The plains area flanked on either side by many barren looking hills and mountains, the most noteworthy being one called Baboquivari Peak. This interesting shaped mountain can be seen for many miles and dominates the landscape. It also has some interesting history native history to it.

This mountain is regarded by the O’odham nation as the navel of the world -— a place where the earth opened and the people emerged after the great flood. Baboquivari Peak is also sometimes referred to as I’Itoi Mountain. In the native O’odham language, it is referred to as Waw Kiwulik, meaning “narrow about the middle”. The O’odham people believe that he watches over their people to this day –

We spent several relaxing happy hours sipping our cool beverages and gazing at the vast grasslands and far off mountain scenery. One evening I noticed through my spotting scope some white domes clustered on one mountain to the north of us. With just a little research on the Google I quickly became aware it was the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

They listed a free self-guided tour of the property and dogs on leashes were allowed! Cool! Since the afternoons were getting pretty hot, it would make an interesting little trip for us up the Kitt Peak where the temps would be much cooler. We packed a lunch, grabbed our hound, fired up “Big Blue” and headed out. Oh, and we also took our passports as there would be two border check locations for us to pass through to get there. One thing about RVing within a hundred miles or so of the Mexican border is you have to get used to US Border patrol checkpoints. We don’t mind and feel safer that they are on the job.

Kitt Peak Walking tour map

The road up the mountain is a little windy and 12 miles long, but not really too bad, just a constant grade. It starts around 3500 feet and tops out a nearly 7000 feet and along the way are lots of pullouts to admire the amazing views. The day we visited was nice and clear and you could see for hundreds of miles in all directions.

Road to Kitt Peak Observatory
Road to Kitt Peak Observatory


Once we reached the top we checked out the little visitor center and grabbed a map for a self-guided tour around the property. There are several telescopes that have public access and there are paid guided tour options but this day we just wanted to give the dog a walk and check out the views. It was a gorgeous day up there and the views were fantastic.  We had a good time wandering around between the many observation domes, reading the information plaques and chomping down our picnic lunch.

Kitt Peak Observatory visitor center
Kitt Peak Observatory visitor center


Unfortunately, the grounds close at 4 PM, which was kind of a bummer. Watching the sunset up there would be really nice I imagine.  As we were leaving a bunch of cars pulled into the parking lot. Huh? Are all these people unaware of the closing time? Turns out they were arriving for a special night observing program. Now that would be too cool and is down on my bucket list for a return visit. I could see Anne wandering around photographing the evening stars and mountain landscapes while I was in full geek mode with all the telescopes and astronomy stuff.

The drive down was as breathtaking as the drive up and we stopped a few times to get out and explore the mountainside terrain before making it back to our Buenos Aries NWR boondocking spot just after sunset. If you’re ever traveling in the area I highly recommend the drive up to the Kitt Peak National Observatory even if it’s just to stretch the legs or cool off from the desert heat below.

Video Highlights of Our Visit to Kitt Peak

Photos from Kitt Peak

Follow our RV adventures! Sign up for the free monthly Love Your RV Newsletter – Receive the eBook “Tips for the RV Life” as a gift. Also head on over to the Love Your RV Forum and chat with me and other RVers about all things RV. – Cheers Ray

Afternoon Drive up to Kitt Peak National Observatory | Love Your RV! blog - #Arizona

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