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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, of course, we had to ham it up a little in front of a "bottom of the crater" photo op wall.
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.
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.
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.
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