Flagstaff Part Two
We managed to fit into our schedule a couple more Flagstaff sights while in town: the Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, and the Walnut Creek National Monument, where a civilization once lived and farmed 1,000 years ago.
Percival Lowell had a theory about life on Mars, mainly, that water flowed through what he thought were canals. Although controversial, Percival was undeterred. Using a 24-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope installed in 1896, Lowell spent fifteen years mapping Mars and creating hand-drawn globes of the planet that showed details of the canals.
Later, he was devoted to searching for Planet X, a planet located beyond Neptune having a gravitational impact on Uranus and Neptune. The Pluto Discovery Telescope, currently under renovation, was built in 1928-1929. The year before Lowell’s death in 1916, astronomers at the observatory photographed what would later be identified as Pluto, which was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. The scope is an astrograph with three 13 inch diameter lenses and designed to take photos of the night sky for survey purposes and to detect objects, such as meteors. Today, I understand astronomers are searching for Planet Nine which could be ten times the mass of Earth. Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii and its Subaru Telescope is one such tool being used to find the elusive planet.
Other discoveries made at the Lowell Observatory include V. M. Slipher’s observations that lead to the theory of an expanding universe and the measurement of motions and properties of stars, some of which were used in the 1960s to create maps of the moon.
While at the observatory, we had an opportunity to view the sun through a solar telescope. After a lifetime of being told not to look directly at the sun, I had a strange feeling as my eye focused on the orange ball for a minute or so. Although the sun was quiet that day with no solar flares evident, it was still an awesome sight to see.
Other buildings of interest include the Rotunda Museum where the public can view the first telescope Percival Lowell received when he was 15 years old, his hand-drawn Mars globes, instruments built by Lowell scientists, and classic scientific books.
The Putnam Collection includes Percival Lowell’s state-of-the-art horseless carriage, a 1911 Stevens-Duryea still in working order.
And don’t forget Percival Lowells Mausoleum, a perfect resting place for the astronomer.
Daytime guided tours, films, and evening programs will please the amateur and professional astronomer alike.
I admire Percival Lowell for embarking on his pursuit of water on Mars and a new planet. His theory of water on Mars may not have panned out, but his persistence led to further searches for objects in the night sky beyond what we can see with our naked eyes.
Walnut Creek National Monument
Walnut Creek National Monument, established in 1915, is accessed a few miles east of Flagstaff off Highway 40.
The Island Trail takes visitors into the canyon 185 vertical feet on 273 stair steps. The reward for this effort is to walk among the 25 cliff dwelling rooms where the Sinagua people made their home among the cliffs 1,000 years ago.
Views of other structures etched into the surrounding cliffs are also visible. Were these rooms used only for storage, or did the people make their homes in the small structures? I tried to imagine how the people accessed the caches. Did they use ropes? Or maybe they constructed ladders? Either way, it must have been treacherous.
The self-guided Rim Trail follows the canyon rim to two overlooks, and loops around to a pit house and pueblos set back from the rim. This is the area where the Sinagua grew their crops. Signposts along the way describe the vegetation and other information about the people who lived there.
I think I would have felt more comfortable living in a pueblo like the two-room structure below, but I’m sure there were other dangers there as well.
Across the path stands a pit room where, presumably, the people stored their food and other possessions. Or, perhaps this was someone’s home.
I tried to imagine the sounds and smells of life when the Sinagua lived on this land: the squawk of birds overhead, the echo of children laughing, men joking while they work, meat cooking over an open fire. How would I have managed along the cliffs with a baby swaddled to my body or toddlers underfoot and in constant fear of a child falling into the canyon abyss? Not very well, I guess.
Flagstaff has so much more to offer visitors than what we were able to see during our short stay. When the desert valleys turn hot, head to Flagstaff to beat the heat, go on a hike, or explore the downtown. Or visit in winter to shuush down slopes, cross-country ski, or set out with snowshoes strapped to your feet. Any time of year would be a great time to visit Flagstaff.
Next stop? Prescott, Arizona.