Dear Students,

Sgt O’Brien sent an email about how beautiful the night sky was in Afghanistan. I wish I could see the brilliance of the stars the way he can.

Milky Way Part II

The night sky over Afghanistan photo by workingindust (flickr)

He said the stars and the mountains were the prettiest he had ever seen. There is no light pollution and the stars look like jewels dumped from a velvet bag. He said the mountains were sharp and bare of vegetation. The combination of the stark mountains, the vast sky and the quiet was awesome.

The closest I can come to Afghanistan is Flickr.

Purple Mountains Majesty

Mountains in Afghanistan, photo by Medic 119 (Flickr)

Looking at these pictures remind me that we live in a desert with beautiful mountains as well. I love how big the sky is here and at night I can see more stars than I could on th East Coast. I want to go stargazing and soak up the big sky.

Night Sky

Phoenix Night sky

Maricopa County shares their stargazing schedule online. The talks are hosted by the husband and wife team of “Star Gazing for Everyone” Tony and Carole LeConte. This hard working couple puts on over 300 shows a year and their passion is star gazing. I read about them online and it’s time to meet them in person. The LeConte’s travel all over the valley visiting regional parks, you can find a show near your house. The shows are best for children aged 6 and up. Look through telescopes (setup for your viewing pleasure) and enjoy a slide presentation under the stars. Learn the names of stars, see the constellations, and listen to stories of the night sky. When visible, view the craters of the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. Bring lawn chairs or blankets for your comfort. Information about the Challenger Learning Center of Arizona will be provided. Bring your own binoculars if you have them.

Moon through Stargazing for Everyone’s telescope

The Riparian Preserve in Gilbert has an observatory. The programming is run by the East Valley Astronomy Club. They are open the second Friday of each month or by appointment. This post is East Valley centric, but it should serve to give you an overall idea that star gazing is popular and accessible all around the valley. For more star gazing resources, check out this list of local astronomy clubs.

Librarian Note: My favorite book for children on stargazing is, “Find the Constellation” by Curious George author H.A. Rey.

Another unique to the Valley place to visit is the unwieldy named Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Visitor Gallery, located in the Interdisciplinary A building on ASU’s Tempe campus. You can view a piece of moon rock that is on long term loan and is billions of years old. Kind of awesome and of course, free. This is definitely going on my list of beat the heat destinations this summer.

To get a map customized to the date and location, enter your address on the longitude and latitude finder at Then plug that data into the Starry Night Sky Chart and voila, a personalized map of the constellations for tonight. If you have an ipad or iphone consider the Star Walk 5 Stars Astronomy guide. It labels the night sky when you point your screen at it. Amazing.

Like a diamond in the sky,
Mrs. Kenney

Activist Note: Phoenix was once considered one of the best places in America to see the night sky. With the increase of  light pollution the folks at are fighting to keep our stars bright. I was surprised to learn that digital billboards are sources of light pollution. Dark sky conservation might be an interesting topic for a student science fair project. AZ Republic published a recent article about the fight to keep the skies dark.

Gilbert Parks: Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Climbing the Walls at Riparian Preserve

I like this park for several reasons. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a park-library combo. I love the public sculpture, feeding the ducks and the dinosaur dig area makes this unique. Did I mention it is free?

The 110-acre Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a  public park in Gilbert, Arizona. It is behind the South East Regional Library. The library was designed to benefit from it’s proximity to the park with enormous glass windows facing the park.

Riparian Preserve - 9915

photo by AZDew found on Flickr

Why the funny name? Riparian Preserve? This park was designed to conserve water and provide a wildlife habitat. Read more about the intention behind the park.


Great Egrets by BrainPie picture found on Flickr

In the fall and winter when we visit, my boys love to climb the winding walls that undulate along the hills of the park. Don’t forget to bring your digging tools and a little dustpan and brush for the Dinosaur Dig area. Your kids can uncover dinosaur skeletons if you bring the right tools while you sit on the bench under the ramada.

Check out the desert landscaping behind the dinosaur dig area. We always explore the climbing walls and dinosaur dig area first, but near the front of the park is an observatory and a lake with a pretty boardwalk. You can enjoy the ducks and admire the gorgeous wetland habitats. My scanty photos don’t do this place justice. This park is in our repertoire of favorite local parks. You could also try the Desert Path Walk provided by Nature Quest AZ.

Hummingbird - 4925

I stood still and he slowly worked his way toward me. He was well camouflaged with the bushes in the area. Riparian Preserve, Gilbert Arizona. Photo by AZDew found on Flickr

This park has a busy schedule year round. I encourage you to explore their website before you visit to make sure you take advantage of all it has to offer. I focused on activities for younger kids in this post but an older child will love the observatory, trying their hand at photography, the programming and maybe creating an addition to the park. I saw an Eagle Scout project as well as an addition from the Gilbert Leadership Program here. What can you dream up for your community?

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is located at 2757 E. Guadalupe Road east of Greenfield Road, next to the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert, Arizona.

Don’t forget your digging tools for them and book for you!

If you go to the park during the summer you can look for respite inside the library. The South East Regional Library has a small bookstore in the front of the library. Buy or browse the collection and sit along the back wall and look out on the pond. I suggest Last Child in the Woods. You can feel good about your parenting as you read it under the Ramada at the Dinosaur dig.

Where do you like to go to climb the walls?