Arizona in September
"From Hoover Dam to Route 66"
Leaving Laughlin early, we headed north on 93 to see the Hoover Dam. Took the $20 tour, down into the depths to see the generators, and into the visitors centre to learn about the building of this man-made marvel. It took 6 1/2 years to fill Lake Mead following its opening in 1937. Also of interest to me, an amateur astronomer, was the celestial map built into the pavement below the Oskar Hansen statues at the top of the Nevada side of the dam. Work on the new bridge was in progress, with the highway complete on both sides of the gorge and just the span to install.
"Hoover to Kingman then Route 66 to Segilman"
An uneventful drive back the way we came on 93 to Kingman, then straight on to the old Route 66 and a step back in time. The railway runs alongside much of this road and we saw several multi-loco trains pulling 100 stackcar units (flatbeds with double stacked containers). The first 50 miles is a very lonely 2 lane blacktop until we got to Hackberry. Even here, there was little sign of life, but here and there were remnants of bygone days, when the westward migration that characterized the Great Depression was underway. Just past Truxton we entered Injun country, the Hualapai reservation which skirts the south rim of the Grand Canyon for over a hundred miles. We gave the Grand Canyon Caverns a miss, and motored on to Seligman where we stopped for an hour. And what an hour! We were entertained by the Delgadillos, who seemed to have their finger in most of the town's activities.
Angel and Vilma run the Route 66 Giftshop which was packed with souvenirs, whilst their nephew John down the street at the Snow Cap Drive-In served up smoothies to die for. Angel was once the town barber.
Onward and upward, we move back onto I-40 and our destination for the night, Williams. Fine food at Cruiser's cafe. Stayed at Grand Canyon Country Inn.
"Sunrise over the Canyon"
Up at 4.30am for the 60 mile drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim. Nothing else on the road at that time, until we got close to the canyon. It was getting light when we got there at about 5.50am, but just before dawn, so we parked at the Bright Angel Lodge and got prepared for our first glimpse of the Canyon. What an experience; we were able to get a grasp of the enormity of it all just before the Sun rose above the rim. Then as the sun's rays hit the North rim and the various outcrops and canyon walls ... an awesome sight! It just got better and better. We walked round to the head of the Bright Angel trail where more early risers were preparing for their mule ride down into the canyon. As the first mules started down the trail, something scared one of the animals and threw its rider onto the path, luckily not on the precipice side, otherwise she would have had a fast ride to the canyon bottom. She came back up bruised but otherwise unhurt. Needless to say, she declined to mount up again, and with her husband, went for a refund. It also put the wind up another rider on the next trip, who decided not to go.
During the rest of the morning and early afternoon we hiked the West Rim trail, catching the shuttle for part of the way.
"Flagstaff - Lowell Observatory"
We arrived in Flagstaff in the late afternoon and enjoyed a pizza in the main square near the Courthouse. A local band were playing 50's/60s Rock. Later we made our way up to Mars Hill.
I was surprised by the large crowd of people gathered outside the visitor centre waiting for the 7.30 opening. It had been a long day as we had been up since 4.30 a.m. . Nevertheless I was wide awake as I queued outside the darkened dome of the 24” Clark refractor. When my turn came the object in the eyepiece was one of the sky’s brightest globular clusters, M15. This fine instrument is, alas, feeling its age; problems with the RA slow motion drive. Time at the eyepiece was short as the queue stretched back out of the building and down the path to the visitor centre. I then entered my details on the visitor’s centre PC and signed up for their email newsletter, which was waiting in my inbox when I got back home. There were all the usual astro goodies in the shop, but I resisted temptation until I saw “The Explorers of Mars Hill” in the book section. This was a “must have” and is the centennial history of Lowell Observatory. Our extended visit to the Grand Canyon prevented us from visiting and exploring the Observatory during daylight hours.
Flagstaff is a small town, and the railroad runs right through the centre, with 100 car freight trains thundering through every few minutes, horns blaring at every crossing. The Observatory is just outside the town centre on Mars Hill, but there is little light pollution as the local authority makes maximum use of low pressure sodium lighting (LPS) and rigorously enforces its outdoor lighting ordinance; one of the strictest in the US. Percival Lowell built the Observatory on Mars Hill (7257ft.) in the 1890s to study the “canals” of Mars. In addition to the 24” refractor, the Alvan Clark Co. also supplied a 40” reflector and the 13” refractor used by Clyde Tombaugh to discover Pluto. I was told that just 12 miles to the SE of Flagstaff is Anderson Mesa, where naked eye seeing is around mag 8, and where several new telescopes have been positioned. And a few miles further east is Meteor Crater, but no time to spare for a detour as we were head North. You might guess from this chapter that I'm an astronomy fan. For more on this subject see California and our drive up Mt Hamilton to the Lick Observatory.
"Flying high over the Canyon"
Next day was a little less effort as we didn't get up till 6.30. Off to the canyon again and this time a look a little further east. On both days we saw Californian condors, riding the thermals in the canyon. There were two pairs seen on both days, They are part of the release scheme which now has 55 condors in Northern Arizona, with several breeding pairs and some fledglings. Not all survive the harsh winters.
Condors are not alone flying over the canyon. At 1.00pm we joined them, courtesy of Grand Canyon Airlines. Our $99 flight lasted 45 minutes and took us on a hundred mile journey over the canyon, with fabulous views only seen from the air. Much better than the short helicopter flights. Back on terra firma it was time to drive to Desert View and a climb to the top of the watchtower to experience a brilliant last view of the canyon.
"125 miles to Page"
Away from the canyon, but the scenery no less impressive, especially the extensive view of Echo Cliffs and the glimpses of Marble Canyon. In Page we stayed at the Quality Inn, with brilliant views over Paria Plateau.
As dusk fell, we made a short journey to the Glen canyon Dam and its hydro plant, with Lake Powell fading into the distance. Ate well at the Dam Bar & Grill.
Tomorrow we leave Arizona and head for Utah's National Parks.