Saturday
Jul162011

Our Best Trip Ever - Part 8 - Flagstaff Area

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 7 - Chasing From Winslow to Flagstaff)

Day 4

Spacing Out and Getting Squirrelly

When I set out planning this trip I looked for activities that Deb would enjoy. Next to hanging out with me track side, shooting photographs of passing trains ad nauseam, one of her true passions is astronomy. Fortunately, Flagstaff is home to an historic and working observatory. That observatory, the Lowell Observatory, became one of the surprise side trips that I planned especially for Deb.

My plan called for surprising her by driving right up to the observatory proper and then cluing her in on we were about to do. Everything worked out okay until we got there. She was excited and looked forward to seeing all that the observatory had to offer. The problem was that I mixed my days up and the observatory was not offering night viewing through their telescopes the evening we arrived. Bummer.

Abert’s Squirrel (sciurus aberti)
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

All was not lost though because we already had a camp site at the Flagstaff KOA and we could just come back tomorrow evening to take the tours and look through some of the telescopes.

As detailed in the previous post, Our Best Trip Ever - Part 7 - Chasing From Winslow to Flagstaff, we instead headed down to the Flagstaff Depot in old town for a bit and then went to our camp site.

The next day, as we made preparations to leave our camp site, we were entertained by a hungry squirrel unlike any we have seen before. Typical in all other respects, what made this squirrel unique were the rather long and hairy ears on the squirrel. He was apparently a nervous eater and would take a nibble, then do a dance or roll, then jump back on the tree stump and eat some more only to repeat it all again. After consulting our trusty nature guide of the southwest, we learned the species of this type of squirrel — Abert’s Squirrel (sciurus aberti).

Out in Space

After a leisurely departure from the Flagstaff KOA, and our squirrel show, we headed to the observatory to take in some tours and exhibits. The road to the top of the hill where the observatory is situated affords visitors a spectacular view of Flagstaff from an overlook at a wide spot in the road. This spot was the guise under which I sold Deb that we needed to climb this hill.

I parked the rig and we got out to take it all in and fire off a panorama of what we saw: 

Mars Hill Overlook, Flagstaff, Arizona
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Flagstaff Depot From Mars Hill - A view of the old downtown area of Flagstaff, Arizona with the depot and a BNSF westbound intermodal train in the scene.
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Immediately opposite the overlook, on the road leading uphill, are two pillars on the side of the road which denote the entrance to the Lowell Observatory.

Once we had our fill of the view from the killer vantage point, we entered the Lowell Observatory grounds, once again.

This visit was the real deal and much more productive than yesterday’s failed attempt. 

We paid our fees and began to see some of the exhibits, at least until a school bus full of 5th or 6th graders arrived — or perhaps it was ten buses, weren’t not sure. The noise and clatter of semi-disinterested kids made further viewing of the exhibits impractical.

Fortunately, a docent was setting up a telescope outside the exhibit hall equipped with a filter to safely view the sun in all of its glowing glory. With extreme haste and determination, we made our way through the morass of misbehaving minors and got in line to see the sun like we have never seen it before. It was quite a cool sight, especially being able to make out a visible sun spot on the surface of the sun as well.

Next, we joined a guided tour describing the history, the present scientific work being performed, and the future of the observatory. I won’t go into the details of all what we learned, nor what the observatory has to offer each visitor, however, I will tell you that this is where Pluto was first discovered! Suffice it to say that I highly recommend a visit for anyone interested in historical places or history and/or space and science.

Weather permitting, the entrance fees also cover the opportunity to actually look through one of the observatory’s historic telescopes after dark. We took in all the exhibits and tours we could during our afternoon visit but we really wanted to look through the big scopes so we left to chase for bit around Flagstaff with plans to return at sunset. Upon our return, we were treated to a fantastic view of Saturn and some of her moons through the historic 24-inch Clark Telescope which was built in 1896! Way cool.

Lowell Observatory Polaroids
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Time-Out for Some Chasing

Since we had a few hours before sunset and no idea of where we were going to park the camper for the night I was able to convince Deb to leave the observatory for a bit and try to find a spot to spend the night once we finished our night viewing. We headed west on I-40 in the hopes of finding something suitable. I really wasn’t up for another night at Walmart!

I wanted to find something that was close to the tracks in hopes of catching a sunrise near the Arizona continental divide just west of Flagstaff, near Riordan. Driving through the target area I did not find something that seemed like it would work for us. We continued west.

Passing through the area at Bellemont, Arizona, we were taken by the scenic opportunities that the area provided. I bounced off at the Bellemont Army Depot exit and worked my way towards the tracks. The area was cool with stands of Ponderosa Pines and we spent about 30 minutes track side and didn’t see a single train. However, the area showed some signs of misuse (beer bottles and trash) which led me to rule it out as a possible camping location.

The track of our fourth day on the Seligman Sub. The black camera icons indicate the locations that I shot.

I recalled a trip we made to Canyon Diablo back in August of 2010. During that trip we stopped at a nearby location called Maine and I wanted to try shooting some shots there again. I made my mind up that we would leverage a local truck stop at Bellemont for some overnight rest and head to Maine for the morning sun.

With my concerned of a camping location taken care of, and as we made our way back towards Flagstaff, I followed the tracks best I could and we were able catch a few trains tackling the grade. We also returned to a location that I had shot in the past to see what might have changed. Here are a few photos from those efforts:

BNSF 7201 West - BNSF 7201 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 4234 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 6672 (GE ES44C4) lead a westbound manifest upgrade out of Flagstaff, Arizona on BNSF’s transcon in April 2011.
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

BNSF 8214 West 1 - A rare EMD SD75M, in the form of BNSF 8214, leads an interesting lashup of motive power to include BNSF 7696 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 5354 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 1087 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 2333 (EMD GP38-2) on the point of a westbound manifest moving through Flagstaff, Arizona on April 20, 2011.
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

BNSF 8214 West 2
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

BNSF 8214 West 3
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

BNSF 8214 West 4
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

BNSF 8214 West 5
[4/20/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

As described previously in this post, we returned to the Lowell Observatory and were able to view Saturn through an amazing telescope from the 1890s. After the long day, and after the sun had long ago set, we headed west for the predetermined rest spot of the truck stop at Bellemont. Time for a quick bite and then off to bed because I think the altitude was getting to us both and I was scheduled to be up to shoot the sunrise, which will be the subject of our next post.

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