In the heart of the East Valley lies a hidden paradise that seamlessly blends the wonders of the cosmos with the tranquility of nature. The Rotary Centennial Observatory and the surrounding Riparian Preserve stand as a testament to human ingenuity and our connection to the universe, offering a unique opportunity for stargazing enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Tucked away at 2757 E Guadalupe Road, this extraordinary site is conveniently situated beside the Gilbert Public Library, making it easily accessible for curious minds seeking a glimpse into the mysteries of the night sky. The observatory itself is a tribute to the centennial of the founding of the Gilbert Rotary Club in 2005. While the Town of Gilbert takes ownership of this architectural marvel, it is lovingly managed and nurtured by the dedicated members of the East Valley Astronomy Club, who generously open its doors to the public twice a week for celestial exploration.
The observatory’s iconic white dome punctuates the landscape, towering above the lush mesquite and willow trees that adorn the grounds. Adjacent to the observatory, a grassy expanse equipped with picnic tables invites visitors to savor outdoor meals while basking in the celestial grandeur they’ve just witnessed.
Approaching the observatory, one ascends a wheelchair-accessible ramp, flanked by the observatory’s sign—a gateway to the universe. Stepping inside, the main attraction awaits—a 16-inch aperture Meade Richey-Chretien telescope, mounted on a Paramount ME equatorial mount and masterfully guided by a computer. This extraordinary piece of technology, funded by SRP, promises to unveil the heavens like never before.
But that’s not all—two solar telescopes crown the central observatory, introducing eager viewers to the fiery majesty of the sun itself. A “white light” solar telescope casts the sun in its full spectrum, revealing mesmerizing sunspots that paint the sun’s surface. Meanwhile, a 60mm Lunt hydrogen-Alpha telescope peels back the layers of our nearest star, showcasing intricate textures and captivating prominences extending from its edges. These solar telescopes unlock the sun’s enigmatic beauty, inviting observers to witness the very essence of our solar system’s life force.
President of the East Valley Astronomy Club, Claude Haynes, elaborates on the observatory’s mission. “We do solar observing for astronomy day and occasionally for other special events.” Regular viewing sessions with the 16-inch telescope are held every Friday and Saturday, from sunset to 9:30 PM, drawing an average attendance of around fifty enthusiasts. The 2nd Friday program complements these sessions, offering additional telescopes and captivating lectures that enrich the experience.
Entry to these celestial soirées is free, although a suggested donation of $3 for adults and $5 for families is appreciated. For a more intimate celestial encounter, private viewings accommodating up to six people can be arranged from Sunday to Thursday, for a minimum donation of $40.
As Claude Haynes underscores, the observatory showcases celestial objects that are easily observable and explainable—planets, star clusters, nebulae, and the occasional globular cluster from the Messier list. This catalog, compiled by Charles Messier in the 18th century, spotlights celestial wonders that grace the night sky.
Beyond its astronomical pursuits, the observatory passionately champions the need for reconnecting with the celestial realm. “It’s something we as humans have done for thousands of years,” says Haynes. With urban lights increasingly obscuring our view of the cosmos, the observatory serves as a portal to the awe-inspiring artistry of the universe—a reminder of the beauty that envelops us.
But the Rotary Centennial Observatory is not the sole jewel in this crown of nature’s wonders. The Riparian Preserve envelops the observatory, weaving an intricate tapestry of diverse ecosystems within an urban oasis. Spanning 110 acres, this refuge embodies the harmony between water management, wildlife preservation, and recreational opportunities. Seven recharge basins, constituting 70 acres of the park, recycle treated effluent water into the aquifer—a testament to Gilbert’s dedication to sustainability.
Within the preserve, a captivating artificial stream mimics the meandering course of a desert brook, while one of the lakes has been designated an urban fishing resource, teeming with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, sunfish, and channel catfish. As you explore the preserve’s trails that span over four and a half miles, you’ll encounter diverse vegetative zones that shelter a myriad of species, from birds and insects to amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
A floating boardwalk, paleontology dig site, butterfly and hummingbird garden, and a plethora of restrooms, play areas, and ramadas further enhance the preserve’s allure.
Discover the magical confluence of celestial wonders and natural marvels at the Rotary Centennial Observatory and Riparian Preserve. Whether you’re gazing upon distant galaxies or witnessing the intricate dance of native wildlife, this unique destination invites you to embark on an awe-inspiring journey of discovery and connection.