The Morongo Basin is one of the best places in California to truly see the night sky. But until relatively recently, it lacked an observatory.
Visitors to Jerri Hagman’s Homestead Inn in Twentynine Palms would often marvel at the clusters of stars that illuminated the sky, and she dreamed of opening an observatory in the area. That dream started turning into reality when Hagman and Jerry Mattos secured financial support from the Basin Wide Foundation.
With the help of an astronomer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the location for the observatory was chosen along the Utah Trail near the southernmost edge of Twentynine Palms. Originally, seven acres of desert land was acquired for the observatory. Additional land was added over the years, and now the observatory campus encompasses 15 acres.
Today, Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center in Twentynine Palms is one of the best places in the state to see the stars. The center shares a border with Joshua Tree National Park and was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2017.
One of the most notable and special attractions at the observatory is its orrery. An orrery is essentially a model of the solar system. These are usually depicted as balls that rotate clockwise, typically used as a desktop showpiece. The orrery at the observatory is known as a human orrery, because the scale and motion of the solar system is demonstrated as participants walk through the model.
By walking around the massive stones, visitors can follow the various paths planets take to orbit the sun. Each stone represents four days of travel. This wondrous creation is also known as a true scale and position orrery. This entails that everything is relatively the same scale as in the solar system—just 20 billion times smaller.
Visitors will find many of the inner planets close to the orrery, however, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are off in the distance. Around the orrery are various markers and information signs that guide guests to the location of the outer and dwarf planets, as well as a few asteroids.
Sky’s The Limit also features an observatory dome that is home to a Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. A few other major features at Sky’s The Limit are a solar calendar that marks the hours, solstices, and equinoxes, along with a meditation garden based on Zen design. There is also a nature trail that showcases 33 species of native annuals, perennials, and cacti.