Washington’s State Park System boasts many fine parks, including this often-overlooked gem.
Originally opened in 1973 as a city-owned facility, the observatory was purchased by the state in 1980 and since then has continued to offer public observation sessions and educational programs to all who have an interest in the starry sky above us. Day-to-day (night-to-night?) operations are conducted by an informative and largely-volunteer staff.
The observatory’s primary instrument is a massive, custom-built Cassegrain-pattern reflector; at 24.5 inches in aperture, it’s one of the largest telescopes available for public use in the United States. A number of other instruments are on site, and on the evening of my visit several amateurs (myself among them) set up their own portable telescopes, allowing visitors to skip waiting in line to peer through the big Cassegrain.
In 1979 the observatory was briefly the focus of international attention when it served as the National Astronomical League’s official headquarters during a total eclipse of the Sun, which occurred on February 26th. Approximately 15,000 people came to Goldendale on that date to observe the eclipse.