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GNTO is really a story about community, rather than just about telescopes and viewing dark skies. It's a story about the community sharing its treasures and resources so that the whole community continues to grow. It's a story about Lt Col Bill Isengard, USAF (Retired) sharing a wonderful telescope and land being donated in honor of a father.

Around 1980 Wilma Isengard made a suggestion to her husband, Bill, an amateur astronomer, that has had a profound and long lasting effect on The Albuquerque Astronomical Society.

Due to failing health, Bill Isengard was no longer able to use his 16-inch f/6 Cave-Astrola Telescope and the thought of this wasted instrument troubled him. Wilma suggested he donate the telescope to the Albuquerque Astronomers (now TAAS), a group he had belonged to for years. Bill presented the Albuquerque Astronomers with a proposal: "Find a dark location and build a secure building to house the telescope and it's yours." This proposal began the development and ultimate creation of the General Nathan Twining Observatory.

In 1988 Nathan Twining Jr., after hearing of the need for an observatory site, offered to donate four acres of land southwest of Belen. In January 1989 TAAS accepted donation of the four acres and ownership of the "Isengard" telescope. The new observatory was named after Nathan Twining's father General Nathan Farragut Twining, who was a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Eisenhower, and who had passed away in 1982.

By June 1989 the first hand drawn map to the observatory site was published in the Sidereal Times and TAAS star parties began to be held there on a regular basis. On 31 March 1990 Bill Isengard, Nathan Twining Jr., and then TAAS President, David Finley, with shovels in hand and TV News cameras rolling, broke ground for the new observatory. A groundbreaking speech was given by George Pellegrino.

The dome, an old grain silo cap, was donated by former member Alan Otterson and arrived in September 1989. On 24 April 1990, construction began with the digging of the foundation. When construction funds started running low Nathan Twining Jr. made an offer to donate up to $5000 in matching funds. TAAS members donated $2,653 and construction continued.

Pouring the foundation

First day of laying block

Finishing the floor

Installing the upper deck

Second floor decking

Constructing and welding the dome framework

Building the stairs

Aligning and dropping the dome

The observatory dedication was held on 8 August 1992 with about 300 people in attendance. The Keynote Speaker was former U.S. Senator and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt. New Mexico Governor Bruce King proclaimed 8 August 1992 to be General Nathan Twining Observatory Day.

Site Improvements

In the spring of 1996 the outhouse was installed.

In August 1997 the area to the south of the Observatory was graded and graveled, providing a safe, level observing area.

In January 1998 the lower floor of the dome building was rebuilt, insulated and painted.

In the spring of 1998 the Isengard telescope was renovated by removing two finder scopes and numerous counter-weights. The "new" lighter telescope was rebalanced on the rotating rings and freshly polar aligned, while the finder scopes were later converted into loaner telescopes for use at GNTO.

In August 1998 Theodore Schuler-Sandy, a Boy Scout with Troop 444 choose GNTO as the venue for his Eagle Scout Project. Theodore managed 59 volunteers over a three-day period to enhance the viewing area with concrete pads, paint the observatory, and add picnic and lecture areas to the site.

The end of 1998 saw the replacement of the Isengard rotating rings, the installation of a manual shutter control system, and the anonymous donation of the Astrophysics refractor.

In February 1999 Energia Total Ltd installed the solar electric power system. This 20 kw photovoltaic (PV) power system was funded through a grant from Public Service Company of New Mexico. GNTO was the first site to receive funds from the Enchantment Energy Trust - part of PNM's "green energy initiatives."

In 1999 additional major improvements included a manual crank system for dome rotation, new decking and paint for the upper dome level, additional grading and graveling of the GNTO grounds, enhancements to the Isengard drive motor and NGC-MAX, acquisition of high quality eyepieces, and installation of donated computers and associated software.

In October 2000 the Robert O. Ortega Building (ROOst) was constructed by TAAS members.

In the fall of 2001 the Imaging Dome was installed. It was donated by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

In the summer of 2014 the La Cocina Galactica was installed. The building was purchased. TAAS members completed the interior and installed the heater, cabinets, sink, and oven.