Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 15: Impact!

Tuesday, May 10

There was frost on the windshield as we headed out to the van at 7:28. It was a brisk 33 degrees, with an expected high in Flagstaff of 47 and 64 in Alberquerque, our destination for the night. More gropple fell as we left the Grand Canyon.

Driving south down the Arizona highway, the Jedi spotted two cowboys on horseback, traversing their range. I wasn't quick enough to get them on camera, but I did get some of the country side.
And a little piece of road side Americana.

Our first stop was the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. This was ranked number one on Sweetlings list of things to see during our return trip. As we pulled into the observatory, its gates proclaimed it as "Home of Pluto."

We arrived at 9:30, and had sometime to explore the small science center before the first tour started.

One of my favorite displays was a small tube that you could look through that framed lights which were suspended from the ceiling to form the big dipper. Then, the display challenged you to walk to a different spot and look at the same set of lights. The lights were all hung to represent the stars distance from Earth. Viewed from Earth, they look like the Big Dipper we recognized, from elsewhere, of course they didn't. It really helped Toa understand that concept much better than I ever could with words alone.
And of course, having a piece of the huge meteorite which had formed Meteor Crater was also very cool.
We gathered by the info desk for the tour, and the tour guide was asking us where we were from. I thought we would win the prize for distance traveled, but no, the family of three who was standing next to us were from England!

Lowell itself isn't used as a scientific research station anymore. Even though nearby Flagstaff has enacted strict lighting ordinances to minimize the light pollution, its still too much for the sensitive equipment today's astronomy needs. Instead, the Lowell scientists have a few different, more removed, locations where the actual research is conducted. As they were relocating equipment to those locations, the casing for one of the telescopes was too heavy to be transported across the unpaved roads. It would sink the truck it was on into the earth. So, the casing was left behind, and a new casing was forged at the new location.

The founder of the observatory was Percival Lowell. He came from a wealthy, well-educated family, who believed each of their offspring should find some way to make a contribution to better the world. So, Percival, who was interested in Mars, went west to find a spot to found an observatory to study our nearby planetary neighbor.

He dedicated his life to astronomy, and when he passed, he was entombed on the hill...

....right beside his original observatory.
The observatory is open a couple nights a week for the public to come in for a stargazing session. We weren't able to be in town on one of those nights, but learning about the observatory, its history and construction, was fascinating.

One of my favorite stories was the construction of the roof. Percival Lowell went into Flagstaff, which was at the time, still a very rural Western town. He saw a sign in the window of a bicycle shop which advertised "We can build anything." Percival went inside, and took the brothers who owned the shop up on their claim. They set to work building and designing the large domed roof of the observatory.
At first the roof rotated on huge cast iron wheels and required several strong men to move the roof around so that the door opened to reveal the appropriate slice of sky. Later, when electricity came to Flagstaff and to Lowell, small motors replaced the manual operation, but they had to be plugged in, unplugged, then replugged, as the roof rotated to different positions. Occasionally, someone would forget to unplug a motor in time, and a cord would get ripped out, generating dangerous sparks inside an old pine timber building.

One of the other attempts at designing a system to move the roof on was a narrow canal full of water built at the top of the side walls that the roof was supposed to float in on little pontoon feet. However, the water would get sloshed over the sides of the canal and saturate the wooden walls of the observatory, causing water damage and risking rotting or warping the wood.

Today, the roof rests on a series of large tractor wheels. The wheels themselves are stationary, and several of them are connected to motors. When the motors are turned on, those wheels turn, and the whole roof turns on top of the tractor wheels.

Our guide described all this and demonstrated how the roof would spin around, how the large doors would open, and how the telescope could be turned and aligned for viewing. Against the side of the observatory was the chair and ladder arrangement used for viewing objects when they were close to the horizon (which required a more horizontal position of the telescope.

The Lowell Observatory telescope was also one of the first in the world to be outfitted with a camera, and the first to take a picture of Hailey's comment. I would never have recognized the bronze tube enclosed in its glass case as a camera, but that's what it was.

After our awesome tour of the inside of the observatory, we spent some time in the gift shop, before hitting the road again at 11:20.

Our next stop was Toa's top pick for the return trip, Meteor Crater. Located in the country outside of Winslow Arizona, the land was flat cattle ranches,

and yet still at 1600 meters in elevation. I was also impressed by the weird, molten looking, red rock that filled the land. It was the perfect set for some low budget science fiction movie. Or the filming of an old Star Trek episode.

So, flat, cows, molten red alien rocks, high elevations, Captain Kirk, and, just in case all that wasn't enough, possible Indian ruins on the horizon.

Oh, and a giant impact crater. Let's not forget that.
Meteor Crater, if I remember correctly, is still privately owned.

It was used for astronaut training during the Apollo missions to the moon and it retains its strong connection to the astronaut program.

This wall of plagues represents the names of all the American astronauts who have flown in one of our space missions, the first column of three plaques, the top plaque of the second column, and the first four names of the middle plaque all the names of all the astronauts who flew in all the programs before the space shuttle. ALL those other names, all of them, were astronauts who flew as part of our shuttle program.
Inside, we learned that the rim walk tour had been canceled due to some dangerously high winds, but we had fun watching a short film about the Crater, and participating in a brief question and answer session about meteors, craters, and impacts.

And, of course, we had to ham it up a little in front of a "bottom of the crater" photo op wall.
Outside, the first thing we learned was that distance was deceptive. See that tiny little white spot at the middle of the crater? See the fence surrounding the remains of a mine shaft? No, that's ok, it's a tall chain link fence, so probably hard to spot in the photo. How about the six foot tall astronaut and the 3'x5' American flag next to him? You can see those, right? No? Don't feel bad. I couldn't either with my naked eye. That's right, to clearly see a man at the bottom of the crater, you need binoculars. That's how far away the bottom is, how deep and big this crater really is.
Even when we went up to the upper viewing platform and could see the people on the lower one, it still doesn't give the proper sense of perspective.
We had learned during the presentation inside that one reason meteor crater was really valuable to the astronaut training program was the unique way the rock layers get flipped at an impact sight. The scientists wanted to collect some rocks from deeper down in the lunar crust, to see what traces of metals and minerals might be buried on the moon. However, sending up drilling equipment to obtain rocks from a hundred or more feet under the surface would be too expensive, too impractical, and too dangerous to be feasible. However, at the sight of an impact, the rock layers are flipped. The upper rock crust gets buried by lower layers that are flipped over by the force of the impact. NASA brought the astronauts to Meteor Crater in Arizona to train them to be able to recognize this flipping, so that they could distinguish the proper types of craters on the moon, and collect rock samples that represent the lower layers of the lunar crust.

Here, you can see the red rock which is the surface rock of Arizona, which we stared at for miles on the drive to the crater. On top of it, the paler rock of a layer that had been flipped over at impact.
Or, if you are Toa, you can just climb around on the red rock layer.

We stayed at the Crater till 2pm. From the Crater, it was a short drive to Winslow, which began our tour of a few more of the Historic 66 sites.

Also of note, I managed to get through the whole day without singing, or excessively humming, the line from that Eagle's song. Otherwise, I might have found myself standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona watching the van drive away without me. There is a 'Standing on the Corner" Park in Winslow, but we did not make a detour to see it.

What we did visit in Winslow was La Posada Inn, another building by architect Mary Colter.

Since the Inn still operates as a hotel and a restaurant, we didn't go intrude upon the interior of the building, but we did enjoy wandering through the beautiful gardens.
I love secret gardens.

Especially when they contain beautiful settings like this.

From Winslow, we drove a short distance to Holbrook, where we drove through the parking lot of the famous Wigwam Motel.

They did a great job of finding several classic cars to display with the Wigwams. It also looked like at least a few of the wigwams were still in use as rooms that could be rented. Have you slept in a Wigwam lately?

The Jedi was thrilled to see a Studebaker. (I don't even know what a Studebaker is.)

And, of course, they had to play up the Cars theme.

We ate a late lunch, early dinner at Joe & Aggie's Cafe.

It was a great little place with good food, big servings, and excellent and friendly service. The Jedi tried several different flavors of Jones' soda. I ordered and managed to finish a huge "Navajo Taco".

After stuffing ourselves with yummy food, we headed out toward Toa's second most anticipated stop, one of Arizona's famous 'rock shops'....Jim Grey's Petrified Wood.

On the way, we happened to pass by a street named "Bucket of Blood Road." No kidding, that's what was on the street sign. Sweetling happened to spot it, and we all took a turn speculating on how it might have gotten such a name.

The rock shop was a little boy's dream come true. In addition to the fountain, gold fish pond, and spacious planter area in the center of the shop, the place had aisle after aisle after aisle of all sorts of rocks, minerals, fossils, and carvings, furniture, windchimes, knick knacks, bowls, and decorative items made from petrified wood, precious stones, crystals, and what have you.

It was just amazing. We bought several souvenirs for other people in here. (I bought small torquoise cross pendents for the girls in my small group.) Toa got his very own, break it open when you get home, geode. That, as far as he was concerned, was one of the best parts of the trip. If we had had 5 to 10K to spend on a table, plus the several hundred it would have cost to have it shipped home, we would have gotten a big petrified wood coffee tables. Those were just beyond gorgeous.

We finally managed to drag ourselves out of the store, past the cool classic car in the parking lot, and were on our way again.

Our goal was to drive through the petrified forest, making one short hike along the Giant Logs trail, and then drive north through the park to see the painted dessert at sunset.

It turned out to be a great plan.

The Giant Logs trail was a perfect short hike. There was plenty to see and experience as it made a loop through the park's highest concentration of petrified wood.

The high winds were still blowing strong, and the temperatures had dropped, so we were happy the hike was a short one.

We drove through the park, taking a couple of photos of the 'petrified dunes' as we passed them.

And reached the painted dessert just at sunset.

Another Mary Colter creation, the Painted Desert Inn, sits perched on the edge of these lovely dunes.

Even the dry desert vegetation seemed to light up in the evening sun.

We finally had to tear ourselves away from this...

...and this...
....and head back to the highway.

Read from Day 1
Back to Day 14
On to Day 16

1 comment:

Breezy Point Mom said...

I am thoroughly enjoying armchair traveling with you! Even more excited, because we might be hitting some of these places next year, fall of 2012. I would have really liked seeing that observatory. You guys must have had a blast. The Painted Desert was incredible.