For maybe the first time ever since moving to Monticello just over 7 years ago, there were two different things happening on a Friday night that I wanted to go to! Now I’m not complaining, this is a good problem to have- I’m just not used to there being multiple things to do on a Friday night here!
But last Friday night was different- there was an outdoor movie showing at Veteran’s Park and Stars & S’mores at the Canyon Country Discover Center. Luckily they are both ongoing events throughout the summer, so I knew there would be many more chances to go to both, but I really try to support ANYTHING that’s going on in town in hopes that if there’s a good turn-out, maybe things will be held more frequently. And I do mean anything! I drag my family to any and every concert in the park- doesn’t matter what kind of music it is- we go! We go to open houses, ranch roping, free lectures & films, gas station grand openings, (don’t even get me started on the Maverick Grand Opening back in 2011! In the 7 years we’ve been here, this might still be the biggest event we’ve been to in town!) you name it, we’re there!
So, faced with the dilemma of choosing which event to attend, I finally decided… to go to both! (My husband was not thrilled with this, but I eventually broke him down!) So just as we would have normally been putting our son in bed for the night, we got in the car and headed to the park to catch the first 30 minutes or so of the outdoor movie. Last week the movie was an old John Wayne western- Hondo. I’m not a fan of western movies, so that actually helped make the decision to go to Stars & S’mores that much easier!
At about 8:30ish we made our exit and got back in the car to head up to the Canyon Country Discovery Center on the hill on the north end of town. This was the 3rd weekend that they’ve held their Stars & S’mores program and I had heard from some friends who work up there that it had been going pretty well and that they’d been getting a mix of people from town and visitors staying in the hotels. When we pulled into the parking lot, I was actually kind of surprised by the number of cars that were there! It was more than I was expecting, but I was happy to see that word was starting to get out, and that people were taking advantage of such a cool program being held right in town.
San Juan County, Utah is home to four Dark Sky Parks; Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. Each of these parks is just about an hour from Monticello, and Monticello sits smack-dab in the middle of them, so you know we have great night sky viewing here! (It’s said that we have one of the darkest night skies in the lower 48!) Each of these parks holds Ranger-led Astronomy Programs on a regular basis throughout the summer, and the programs I’ve been to have all been awesome. I’m not even into astronomy, and I loved them! The only drawback to attending them is if you’re not camping at the parks, it’s a bit of a drive back to town late at night after the programs end.
We haven’t attended one of the park programs in the 4 years since our son was born for that very reason- they start late at night, then we’d also have to add an hour of driving to get back home, so we’d likely not get our son to bed before about 11:30 or so, which is much too late. But don’t get me wrong, the programs in the parks are seriously amazing, and I highly recommend them to anyone visiting our area. They are just a little bit hard to take little kids to, which is why I was so excited that the Canyon Country Discovery Center started doing the Stars & S’mores program- it’s right here in town, which makes it much more doable to bring little kids to! Hooray!
We went into the center and paid at the front desk, (it’s $3/person and well worth it!) and were then directed down the hall past the rock climbing wall, to a door that led out to the courtyard and pond. It was still twilight as we stepped outside, and we could see that the marshmallow roasting was already well underway. They had a table set up with marshmallow roasting sticks, s’mores fixin’s, and drinks that people could help themselves to. And let me tell you, there were a lot of kids there, and they were definitely helping themselves! My son was no exception- he immediately stuffed a marshmallow in his mouth, then got to work roasting not one, but two marshmallows!
*Notice my son’s shirt in the photo above? He wanted to wear it that morning when I told him that we were going to a Stars & S’mores party that night!
My son is not quite four yet, and still has no patience for the process behind making the perfect s’more, which is by far my favorite summertime tradition! He’ll usually roast one marshmallow himself which he may or may not make into a s’more, then he’ll want my husband or I to roast the next one, then he just moves on to eating them straight out of the bag!
By the time we’d roasted a few marshmallows each, it was dark enough to get the telescopes set up and to look at some planets. They had 3 telescopes set up and focused one in on Jupiter, one on Mars, and the last one on Saturn, which is my son’s favorite planet. I was so excited for him to get to see it through a telescope- it was small, but you could definitely see the rings!
Another really cool thing they had for us to use, was a whole stack of ipads with the SkyView app installed. You could point the ipad anywhere in the sky and it would show you which stars, planets, constellations, and even satellites were in view.
I’d had a similar app on my cell phone at one point which didn’t work that great and I ended up just taking it off, but I really liked the SkyView app. The constellation feature on SkyView showed illustrated pictures of whichever constellation you were looking at, which was really cool since I’m horrible about remembering what’s what up in the night sky, (Sorry Dad, despite your best efforts in trying to get me interested in astronomy, I just can’t remember more than about 4 constellations!) and I think it definitely made it more interesting for the kids since they could see a picture for each constellation.
Although you probably can’t tell from my photos, about 16 people came throughout the course of the evening. The way they have it set up, people can come and go throughout the evening and go through everything at their own pace, which is really great for people with little kids. It could be challenging to try to get your young child to sit through a long astronomy talk, especially at a time that they’d normally be in bed, so I thought the set up of the Stars & S’mores program was perfect for little kids.
I also want to mention that I’ve never been to an astronomy program that was so laid back before… I’ve been to programs at several National Parks & Monuments, I’ve been to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, and other special events where they had telescopes set up, and they’ve always been a little bit uptight about making you stand in line for your turn and making sure that nobody touched the telescopes, but at the program at the Canyon Country Discovery Center, aside from a container of handwipes sitting on the table with the food and maybe one reminder to make sure to get all the marshmallow off our hands before using the telescopes, they were extremely laid back about the kids looking through the telescopes, which I really liked.
I had initially been thinking that since this program is held so late in the evening (it currently starts at 8:30pm, but I’m wondering if it might start earlier by the end of the summer when it’s getting dark earlier?) this was going to be our one visit for the summer, but we had such a good time, we’ll definitely be going back again before the summer is over. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen about it, so hopefully we’ll be able to recruit some friends to go with us next time!
**The Canyon Country Discovery Center is currently open, but will be holding their Grand Opening Festival on Saturday, August 20th, 2016 from 10:00am-10:00pm. Guest Speaker John B. Herrington, the first Indigenous (Chickasaw) astronaut will speak about the importance of education in science, technology, engineering, & mathematics (STEM).
Grammy Award nominated Native American flutist of Navajo/Ute heritage, The R. Carlos Nakai Quartet will perform, as well as several local bluegrass and folk bands. Vendor and artisan booths, games, contests, scavenger hunts, bike rides, educational programs, and other fun events are planned throughout the day! This even is FREE, and you definitely don’t want to miss it! (*I think it’s going to be even bigger than the famous Maverick Grand Opening of 2011!) 😛
- Monticello: 0 miles/0 km
- Blanding: 21 miles/34 km
- La Sal: 41 miles/66 km
- Bluff: 46 miles/74 km
- Mexican Hat: 71 miles/114 km
- Monument Valley: 94 miles/151 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
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