June 7, 2020

Week 22: Back on the Road and into Arizona

Astro-sculpture sighting:

Urania, the Muse of Astronomy in Salt Lake City

(All photos by the author).

They say that you can never go home again, but sometimes, you can still visit those old stomping grounds. This past week we’ve been heading in just such a direction as we crossed the border from Utah back in to Arizona.

Not that our stay in Salt Lake City wasn’t a much needed respite from the road. We actually used our week of ‘down time’ to write like the wind and catch up on those essentials, such as laundry, oil changes and bill paying. Yeah, those sorts of glamorous things tend  to follow you, even on the road.

Still, it is a relief to be back in the land of astronomy, dark skies and greater than 3.2% beer once again. We felt like a scene out of the movie SLC Punk when we drove across the remote, dusty border into Arizona to be greeted by a solitary, but well stocked liquor store. (OK, they headed to Wyoming in the flick for real brew).

The historic dome at Lowell that (usually) houses the 23″ refractor.

After a stunning drive and an end run around the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff was our first stop. A base of ops for many a tourist exploring the northern half of the state, Flagstaff is everything that Phoenix and Tucson to the south aren’t, with cooler climes and pine tree covered hills. Flagstaff is also the first city to receive an international dark sky rating from the International Dark Sky Association for its efforts to combat and curb light pollution.

A smaller dome at Lowell used for public observing.

One mandatory stop for us is always Lowell Observatory. A short drive up to the hilltop from the center of town, this was the site where Percival Lowell carried out his historic search for the elusive Planet X, which culminated in Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of the planet Pluto in 1930. The grand old 23” refractor was dismantled and was undergoing refurbishment while we were there, but we did manage to track down a plaque laid on the grounds a few years back honoring Robert Burnham Jr., the author of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook:

A small plaque on the Pluto walk honoring Robert Burnham Jr.

Burnham was a huge influence on the astronomical community, and this minor tribute and recognition was long overdue. Before there was an internet and the wealth of data that we have at our fingertips today, there was Burnham’s three volume guide to the night sky. This landmark work is one of the few reference resources that has survived digitization and remains on our desk top to this day.

Meteor Crater is also a short daytrip from Flagstaff, and you can see a large iron fragment of the fall at the Lowell observatory visitor’s center.

A large fragment of the Barringer Crater meteorite.

From there, we headed south of the Mogollon Rim to Scottsdale. Just outside of Phoenix, Scottsdale is Miami Beach sans the beach part, a playground in the foothills and welcome respite from the heat of city. For an authentic Mexican dining experience — complete with tequila tasting flights and flaming coffee — head to the La Hacienda restaurant:

As I write this, we’re wrapping up our stay at the W Hotel in Scottsdale. The ultimate in uber-friendly modern style, its like a stay in “The Capital” out of The Hunger Games

Mmmmm… sushi at the Roku Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.

And it looks like we’ll be based in Tucson for the final eclipse of 2014 this Thursday. More to come!


  1. [...] This past week, we returned to that world once again for the very first time in almost eight years.  We’ve certainly managed to see Arizona from a different perspective this time around as we entered the state from the north, crossing into Flagstaff and into Scottsdale last week. [...]

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