May 7, 2011

Arizona, Day 3: To Flagstaff and Beyond...

April 20, 2011: Some time around the year 48,000 B.C., a pinpoint of light appeared in the northeastern sky over a land that would one day be called Arizona. As this light approached the Earth, it grew into an iron-nickel meteorite 150 feet across, weighing several hundred thousand pounds, and traveling at a velocity of 26,000 miles per hour. It passed through the atmosphere in a flash and struck down on the rocky plains with a force greater than that of 20 million tons of dynamite. The meteorite instantly vaporized and, as a result of these explosive conditions, a crater deeper than a 60-story building and 2.4 miles in circumference was formed in less than a few seconds. This feature, known as Barringer Meteorite Crater (or simply Meteor Crater), remains the most well-preserved impact site on the planet. It is a source of great scientific study and a NASA-designated training site for Apollo Astronauts.

My third day of adventures in Arizona began in a remote area 35 miles east of Flagstaff at the Meteor Crater museum complex. Upon entering the gates, I came to an outdoor area that featured a monument called the "American Astronaut Wall of Fame." As I scanned the etched stones, I was excited as several familiar names popped out at me.

Next, after a walk through the museum and education center (where I got to watch a 10-minute movie on the formation and history of the site), I stepped out on to the observation decks to be met by an awesome scene. The museum's brochure claims that Meteor Crater could accommodate "twenty football games being played simultaneously on its floor, while more than two million spectators observe from its sloping sides." To give you an idea of just how enormous the crater is, take a look at this first photograph and see if you can pick out the people standing on the observation deck stories below the spot where I was standing. It's humbling, to say the least...

After having my breath taken away by Meteor Crater, I headed back to the Flagstaff area to visit a few places. My first stop was the Arizona Historical Society's Pioneer Museum. The main building showcases many exhibits, though I was most intrigued by a series of black and white photographs that hangs in one of the rear rooms. For me, these pictures really capture the essence of the pioneering spirit and lifestyle.

On the museum's grounds, I found many relocated cabins, barns, and root cellars, as well as farm machinery dating from the 1930s, and even a steam locomotive with caboose. It was a fun place to stroll around and explore.

Just down the road from the Pioneer Museum, I came to my next stop: the Museum of Northern Arizona. Upon stepping through the lobby, I entered a room called "Ethnology" where I learned about the native peoples of the region. Such names as the Yavapai, Hualapai, Havapai, Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo are present. I love this quote by an member of the Havasupai Nation named Lemuel Paya; it really shows what life must have been like on the Colorado Plateau in days gone by: "We used to climb a little hill at the end of the day, all work done, and look out over the land and just feel good to be alive."

The museum continues through a series of galleries exhibiting local arts, textiles, jewelry, and pottery. The displays give a colorful glimpse into the local cultures of Arizona and I marveled long at the exquisiteness of it all.

Next, I headed over to the Arboretum at Flagstaff, which I had seen advertised on billboards as "America's Mountain Garden." Just minutes after I had programmed the coordinates into the GPS system, it directed me on to a long, bumpy dirt road that was surrounded on both sides by miles of dense forest. I had a good feeling when the wooden sign finally appeared out of the greenery, however, I was disappointed to discover that my visit to the arboretum was a bit premature in the season and most of the wildflowers were not yet in bloom. With the Arizona temperatures reaching into the 90s, I simply forgot that it was early April and not mid-summer. Though, all was not lost; the grounds have some other really nice features: Tree Ring Maze (which I climbed through with glee), Elderberry Pond (with its meandering streams and soothing waterfalls), a Horticulture Center, Fibber the Gnome (guests are prompted to put their hands in his mouth with the promise that they will get them back if they are truthful), and an absolutely majestic view of the San Francisco Peaks.

After having visited Meteor Crater earlier in the day, I was really looking forward to my next stop; another space-related destination and the place responsible for the discovery of the recently-reclassified dwarf planet, Pluto: Lowell Observatory. Upon arrival, I signed up for the Mars Tour and joined the group on a guided walk through the many domed structures that the compound offers. At first glance, I was completely captivated by the Alvan Clark Refractor. While this telescope no longer stands at the pinnacle of space studies and is mostly used nowadays for public stargazing on clear evenings, it is still a very impressive sight nonetheless.

Sitting on the Flagstaff city limits is a place called Elden Pueblo. This ancestral site holds 60+ stone ruins that were home to a people called the Sinagua from the years 1040 to 1275. At that time, Elden Pueblo was an important trade center; it was a place occupied by many skilled artists who would exchange goods and ideas regularly. Among the structures found here are several pithouse dwellings, a plaza, a ceremonial kiva, and a community room. As I strolled through this elaborate system of crumbling rock walls with afternoon beginning to turn evening, I was able to imagine the Sinagua people of the distant past finishing up a day of employing their masonry talents to create such a village. In my mind, I could see them gathered around the roasting pits awaiting the evening meal. The Sinagua people are long gone, but their presence still echoes at this nearly 1000-year-old archeological site.

I made one last stop before my eventful third day in Arizona came to a close; it was at the Grand Canyon Deer Farm & Petting Zoo in Williams. With a cup of pellet food in hand, I stepped into the yard to be greeted by dozens of friendly deer. This pleasant experience looked something like this:

"God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth."

~Matthew 5:5