Eclipse T-6 days (Part 2) : Taking it easy
So, part two of this blog, or I’m going to get behind schedule! Tuesday was an amazing day and I had fun on Wednesday too, but Tuesday was where I did all the ‘big stuff’. So I’ll concentrate on that.
Grabbing breakfast (bacon and waffles!) at the Arabella Hotel in Sedona, which is where I’ve been staying, I headed up the interstate towards flagstaff, refuelled the car (after I figured out how US fuel pumps work!) and then turned East on I-40.
The weather was lightly overcast, but with a line of blue sky in the distance. My original plan was to go to Meteor crater first and then to Winslow, but I decided to go all the way east first and then head back a bit at a time. Winslow it was. 🙂
Those familiar with the Eagles band will already know why I’m heading this way. For those who don’t there’s a famous song “Take it easy” by this band which features the line “I’m standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” and yes, you can stand on that very corner. Apparently up until a few years ago there was nothing really here, only since 1999 did the town raise the money to commemorate the song. The corner in question is also on the old ‘Route 66’ so there’s a lot of old Americana to celebrate. Winslow was one of those towns that was bypassed when the interstate opened and struggled financially as a result. You can still get a sense of that as you drive around the outskirts.
At the site itself is a wall with a mural painted on it that looks like a shop window featuring the ‘girl in the flatbed Ford’ and there’s a bronze statue of a man with a guitar. The floor is paved with stones from all those those donated due to their fondness for Winslow. It’s actually quite subdued, though it may have been because it was quiet when I arrived. I parked just across from it.
There’s a couple of gift shops (one has Eagle’s songs on endless repeat) and an ice cream parlour (Root Beer Float was good).
I enjoyed the visit as I’ve loved that particular song since I was a kid. But then it was back in the car to head back west.
Meteor crater can be seen from the interstate, it looks like a low line of hills from that perspective, just before you turn off onto the aptly named ‘Meteor Crater Road’. You’re about 7 miles away at this point, which is, as I found out later, pretty much the zone of immediate incineration for anything that happened to be about when this impact occurred. The meteor slammed into the ground at about 26,000 mph somewhere around 50,000 years ago.
It’s the best preserved impact crater on the Earth (which I was told atleast 4 times during the tour! – I think I’d be proud of it too 😉 ). Photos simply cannot express the scale of this site. It feels much bigger in real life. The distant edge of the far side of the crater is over a kilometre away, but your brain has difficulty processing that when you look at it. It’s only when you look back and see people on the viewing decks that you can get an impression of the size.
This hole was blasted out in just 10 seconds by the impact of a iron/nickel meteorite about 50 metres in diameter. As an astronomer the sense of drama was palpable. At the site is a small museum and theatre which go over the history of its discovery. Barringer, after whom the meteor is named, went broke mining for the big lump of iron he assumed was deep in the crater somewhere. Unfortunately for him it was vapourised on impact.
There is a ‘hike’ around the rim with advertised health warnings about elevation and those not in the peak of physical fitness. In actual fact it’s what I would call a very short stroll along a well tended path for about 200 metres. Plenty of opportunities for taking photos though.
Sadly you’re not allowed into the crater itself, which would be a stupendous thing to see. I hope they allow this one day, but it’s off limits right now.
Then further east, back to Flagstaff, Arizona. This is also on the old ‘Route 66’ and features in the famous song too. Route 66 ‘wound from Chicago to LA’ (Los Angeles) and Flagstaff looks to be about two thirds of the way. I was here to visit the Lowell Observatory from where Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, and from where Percival Lowell sketched some very imaginative pictures of Mars full of canals and wonderful inventions of the life that existed on the surface, which, alas, turned out not to be there at all.
The site is still in active scientific use with a few astronomers doing research. The site hosts the ‘Clark’ 24 inch refracting telescope that Lowell used, still in its original housing. It remains fully working to this day. The telescope that discovered Pluto is not on site at the moment, as it’s being refurbished. We were shown around by an enthusiastic but slightly astronomically inaccurate tour guide. One thing was clear they, they are extremely miffed that Pluto has been demoted to a ‘Dwarf Planet’. 😉
Then it was back to the hotel. I drove into Sedona and the sun came out. The clouds seemed to ‘evaporate’ in a matter of minutes and the amazing red rocks of this area showed their natural beauty. I stopped to take a look at a scenic view and discovered that there was a climb to one of the summits. I had my walking boots and a bottle of water and the ‘what the hell’ gene took over. An hour later I was at the top (well, nearly) and treated to one of the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen in my life. All it needed was a wagon train and a posse of gunslingers.
In the evening I found a more local look up point and, since the sky was clear, watch the sun go down and the stars spring into the sky. Even right next to the town the light pollution was minimal and the milky way put on the grandest vista I’ve ever seen. With the greater southern latitude of Arizona compared to the UK I could see the whole of the Scorpio constellation. An amazing end to an amazing day.