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Flagstaff Sedona

14th July 2010

Cliff Dwellers, Meteor Crater and Lowell Observatory Followed by Celtic Bands

Panorama of Walnut Canyon      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama of Meteor Crater      (please use scroll bar)

Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings
    My breakfast passed new culinary skills this morning: black coffee and porridge. After being whisked to paradise and back by this divine concoction, I had a chat with an elderly fellow who was pitched nearby. He had a mobile home, one of the manageable sized varieties, which used a 5-cylinder Mercedes chassis with the home built on top. He was pleased to be achieving 15 m.p.g. (American gallons are six pints!) out of it. He told me the larger furniture removal vans only managed to obtain 8 m.p.g. He and his wife were up from Tucson doing a little touring in the relatively 'cool' climate up here. When he told me the temperature was exceeding 115 deg. F down in Phoenix, I figured it was cooler here after all.
    Today, I was heading east along the I40, my first stop being Walnut Canyon. In densely-wooded plateau country southeast of Flagstaff, the small seasonal stream Walnut Creek had carved a 600' deep canyon as it flowed east, eventually joining the Little Colorado River en route to the Grand Canyon. The exposed Kaibab limestone that formed the upper third of the canyon walls occurred in various layers of slightly differing hardness, some of which had eroded more rapidly forming shallow alcoves. During the 12th to 13th centuries many were used by the local Sinagua Indians who constructed cave-dwellings along the steep well-protected ledges, high above the canyon floor. Today, the appearance of the canyon and ruins was quite reminiscent of the more well known Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, just on a smaller scale, but the proximity to Flagstaff ensured a steady stream of visitors.
More Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings
    Many of the ancient dwellings were built around a U-shaped meander in the canyon, where the creek circled around three sides of a high rocky plateau, almost creating an 'island', and this region now formed the central attraction of the national monument. There were many other ruins in the 20 by 10 mile area but none were accessible to the public. The dramatic location of the buildings and their good state of preservation made Walnut Canyon perhaps the most interesting of the NPS historical sites in Arizona to explore.
Banana Yucca
    Walnut Canyon's farming community flourished between roughly 1125 to 1250. By this time, people across the Southwest were united by corn, cultivation and village life. But their architecture, pottery, and tools differed across space and time.
    Archaeologists used these differing traits, which occurred in patterns on the landscape, to describe and label cultural traditions such as Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) and Sinagua (the two Spanish words, sin and agua, combined to mean without water). Walnut Canyon, with its compact villages of adjoining, rectangular room blocks (called Pueblos by the Spanish), and plain brown pottery, laid within the heart of the Sinagua tradition.
    Walking around the 'island', observing the ancient dwellings, a turn introduced a noticeable change in light and temperature. This was the sunnier, warmer, drier side of the 'island', and the change was reflected in the vegetation.
    Pinyon pine and juniper replaced the fir, and grew further apart so each could capture enough moisture. Now yucca, prickly pear cactus, and other desert plants covered the trail. The shady forest was now across the canyon, where Douglas fir and ponderosa pine thrived on cool moist slopes.
    From Walnut Canyon, I headed further east for another 40 miles to Meteor Crater. The crater was the first to be identified as an impact crater. Between 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, a small asteroid about 80 feet in diameter impacted the Earth and formed the crater, which was the best preserved crater on Earth and measured 1.2 km in diameter. For many years, scientists had denied that there were any impact craters on Earth. The origin of this crater had been a source of controversy for many years. The discovery of fragments of the Canyon Diablo meteorite helped prove that the feature was in fact an impact crater.
Meteor Crater from the Air
    The crater was privately owned by the Barringer family via their Barringer Crater Company. Daniel Barringer thought there must be a huge source of iron below the surface of the crater, and took out mining rights (typically these were for a two square mile area), with the intention of mining the iron, smelting it, and selling it to the railroad company. The impactor itself was mostly vaporized; very little of the meteorite remained within the pit that it had excavated. Barringer almost lost all the family fortune in his futile attempts over 28 years.
Storm Out Over the Desert
    Meteor Crater laid at an elevation of about 1,740 m (5709 ft) above sea level. It was about 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in diameter, some 170 m deep (570 ft), and was surrounded by a rim that rose 45 m (150 ft) above the surrounding plains. The center of the crater was filled with 210-240 m (700-800 ft) of rubble lying above crater bedrock. One of the interesting features of the crater was its squared-off outline, believed to be caused by pre-existing regional jointing (cracks) in the strata at the impact site. The object that excavated the crater was a nickel-iron meteorite about 50 meters (54 yards) across, which impacted the plain at a speed of several kilometers per second. The speed of the impact had been a subject of some debate. Modeling initially suggested that the meteorite struck at a speed of up to 20 kilometers per second (45,000 mph), but more recent research suggests the impact was substantially slower, at 12.8 kilometers per second (28,600 mph). It was believed that about half of the impactor's 300,000 tons bulk was vaporized during its descent, before it hit the ground.
    The crater was a whacking big hole, and the earth around the edges had been physically lifted up 150' by the explosive force of the impact. I had seen the Grand Canyon that was carved out over six million years, and now this huge crater created in a few seconds. Arizona's minimal rainfall in the area, about 6" rain per year, had helped to conserve the crater. Having said that, a huge thunderstorm was visible on the horizon and heading this way. Seeing such storms chase across the flat desert is quite something, rather beautiful in a way. As I left the crater, a hot wind had picked up, and 10 mins. into my journey the storm caught up with me; cats and dogs would have been an understatement.
    I headed back into Flagstaff, stopping at Aquaplex just off Route 66 to see if I could buy a shower. The guy at the desk said sure, just go take a shower. I offered money, but as far as he was concerned I could take one for free. There was a very large climbing wall just inside the sports complex, and I was itching to have a go, but I thought, "Do I really want to break a few bones at this stage of my trip?".
    Cleaned and refreshed I headed through Flagstaff to the Lowell Observatory. This was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, who was researching into the canals on Mars at the time. That turned out to be a fruitless task, but he went on to propose that the universe was expanding, now an accepted fact. One of the historic telescopes was used in the discovery of Pluto. The observatory was still used in active research. The centre had a marvelous exhibition with multimedia shows.
    As it was evening, a crescent moon could be observed as well as Venus. Two portable telescopes were set up outside, one to observe the moon, the other Venus. The craters and seas on the moon stood out very well through the telescope trained upon it, the detail was remarkable. Venus was a bright blob in the other telescope. However, I saw something with Venus that I had never seen before and had thus never anticipated. It was partially through a phase. Mercury and Venus were 'inferior' planets, they had closer orbits to the sun, which meant they would also go through phases similar to the moon, and I had just witnessed one of these. It was obvious that there should be phases when I thought about it. There was also a 20" telescope, but the real show stopper was the Clark telescope, a classic 24" refracting telescope built in 1896. This telescope was last used in earnest in the lead up to the Apollo moon shots. The astronauts would need highly detailed maps of the moon's surface, and it was this telescope that was used to create those early maps. This telescope would have been trained on stars later in the evening assuming of course that clouds did not obscure them. However, I didn't want to hang around for another hour, so I left this fascinating centre and headed into town for some food.
A Telescope at the Lowell Observatory
Clark 24" Refracting Telescope
20" Telescope
    I called in at the Weatherford Hotel for a bite to eat. Inside I was instantly transported to Scotland. The place was full of men in kilts playing bagpipes. There were dozens of them scattered across the hotel on all floors, playing as groups or as individuals. I learned these were workshops leading up to the Arizona Highland Celtic Festival to be held over the weekend. Sadly, there were no Scottish accents among them. On the top floor there was also a room with a large jamming session going on with squeeze boxes, fiddles, banjos, guitars, drums, and spoons. I ordered some food and got chatting to a guy at the bar in the process. He had detected an English accent, and he wanted to tell me he was doing a trip to London, Edinburgh and Paris in a couple of weeks.
    I went out onto the balcony to find a table to have my food, and there was the same chap with his wife. They insisted I join them. The chap went on and on, and I could tell he wasn't really listening when I talked to him. I think his wife got embarrassed and left the table to look out at the town from the balcony. I finished my food and just wanted to escape, so I wished him and his long-suffering wife a safe journey and left.
    I had enjoyed my two days out and around Flagstaff. The mountain town was an easy going, laid back university town with a lot going on at every corner and square, be it a salsa band with dozens of couples dancing away, to busking groups. There were oodles of good restaurants and bars, something for everyone. It was a good base to explore the surrounding area, and I would recommend it to future travelers.
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Flagstaff Sedona

Uploaded from Raven Cafe, Prescott AZ on 16/07/10 at 10:35

Last updated 16.7.2010