Saturday, April 20, 2013

Babymoon Geek Style. Flagstaff, Arizona.


This is the most famous hole in the ground I had seen!

Even though the term babymoon implies sadness, over our time as only the two of us disappearing. At least until the kids leave the house to create their own lives. We personally consider it a celebration of things to come. We couldn't wait for Orion to be in our arms as he was in our minds. This just the last time he gets to travel for free!

Flagstaff, Arizona was chosen as our destination because its a strategic vacationing point for visiting geeky places in the zone. We planned to use it as stepping stone to visit the Grand Canyon, the Meteor Crater and the Percival Lowell's Observatory and some peaks, volcanoes, elevations and Native American settlements. All in one week or less!

We decided to make the trip on train instead of a plane. Neither hubby or I ever traveled by train. I know is crazy but I'm still not over fear of flying so I jumped at the chance of moving in safe land as a secondary benefit from traveling by train.
That turns into a bed. Here I though I was savvy.
We didn't wanted to leave our car in the parking lot of the bus station for a week. So I was in charge of getting us from home, to Union Station in Los Angeles using the bus. Hubby has been driving since High School, but since I can't drive the way I move around when he is not available, is taking public transportation like I used to do in Dominican Republic.

The bus trip was pretty straightforward and easy and cheaper than gas. Of course it took twice the time, this is the reason most people end up getting a car and I will be driving soon enough as well. We had time to take a light lunch before the Amtrak train arrived, since we made it a few hours before time, calculating for the unavoidable vacation 'problems'. Hoping missing our train wouldn't be one of them. Sadly they are never what you expected them to be. We only had three inconveniences in this trip, so we consider ourselves lucky.

The trip in the Amtrak train was delightful. For the price of your tickets , they serve you a delicious warm dinner, like in old movies in a common dinning wagon. I love small talk with strangers, we meet a nice lady with whom we talked about cats and living in the center of the country where she was going to.

The sleeping arrangements were comfortable enough I usually cling to my husband all night long and we usually can share a fairly small space since we are both lightweights. But, with seven months pregnant bump I settled for the down bed and had the chance to enjoy an spectacular view of the desert at night and later on an electrical storm. Worth it in the end.

We arrived around 12 hours later we arrived to Flagstaff, got our reservations. The room was comfortable and functional except for problem #1.
No vacation trip should be without a leaky toilet.

They offered us another room,but once the bathroom was fixed we decided to stay. Being close to the lobby with coffee, tea 24/7 and in the first floor it meant less walking time for the heavily pregnant lady aka me. Never mind how much walking and hiking for several miles I did  in the days to come...

We went to the Meteor Crater first. Its full name is Barringer Crater, named after the first scientist that suggested it was created by a meteor and not a volcanic explosion. Back in the day, many scientists were convinced it was a volcanic crater and considered the alien origin unlikely. The zone is full of volcanoes it surely made sense back then. But later with time and tests Daniel Barringer was proven right.

The museum explains everything about the history of the crater and has exhibits showing other meteor impacts around the world. It also features one of the biggest pieces of the meteor they found, is not even chained. Our tour guide joked that anyone that could carry the rock was welcomed to take it home.
You think Cthulhu will eat us first?
We are posing here with our meteor rings. Hubby has a meteor iron band and I have a Moldavite* stone in my wedding ring. I call this my 'gifts from the stars' photo.  In hindsight sounds like the beginning of a horror sci-fi movie: "The stars are right. When two unsuspecting tourists bring together three fallen pieces of the sky, they awaken an ancient evil." Maybe a B-Movie.
Tip for Orion, this why you always buy the insurance when you rent a car. A.L.W.A.Y.S. In our way back we had problem #2.
I should had kept it as a souvenir... or spare parts
Our next stop: the Grand Canyon.  We don't have canyons in Dominican Republic so I didn't have any idea of how it will look in person. Of course you can guess how many movies, TV series, cartoon and comics show some bits of this masterpiece of Mother Nature. Nothing in comparison with the real deal though.

Most people visiting the Arizona Grand Canyon National Park starts on Mather Point which has the big museum, the cafe and the exhibits and later go East to the other points. But since the guide we had warned us about parking issues, we decided to go backwards in the tour in case we couldn't find a parking spot. It was a great idea.

Honey? I think your country is broken...

From the first barely visited point, to Desert View impressive watchtower, we ended on the most visited area. The warming up to the other views just made us more awed with the beauty of Mather Point. I definitely recommend the backwards approach for any visitors. It also makes for a quicker return home.

We almost though we will spent our vacation in the hotel reading and watching movies due to Problem #3 Tornado warning. But thankfully we only had to take one day to rest and continued with our trip as planned.
I'm the only one that though The Roadrunner was a jerk?
The Lowell Observatory was the next stop. The Clark Refractory Telescope* and the Astrograph are two of the most important attractions, the whole complex is devoted to astronomy and has at least two telescopes in active use and the other as educational tools. The tour guide walked us over a scale solar system represented by plaques in the terrain. We got a solid idea of how far away our brothers and sister planets are and why . The museum has all sorts of testing gear to demonstrate the planetary science. They also host star parties in a regular basis with instructors detailing several astronomical facts, of course the classic tale of how Pluto was discovered and a brief explanation about its 'demotion'. The gift shop has quite humorous T-shirts about the whole issue with Pluto not being a planet anymore.
This was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Also save the Clark!

We got lucky in this visit. The day of our visit was the first night during our stay, clear enough to get the telescopes out and see Saturn and other constellations and planets. And they had an special event  celebrating the week of the anniversary of the moon landings. Flagstaff played a crucial role for the Apollo Program*. The town hosted a team of scientists that taking advantage of the nearby volcanoes and the meteor crater went to run experiments and studies. The astronauts of the Apollo program went there, to learn geology so they could pick the most geologically telling rocks from the moon and bring them back to Earth.


Neil Armstrong hand print and the original practice Rover they used at Cinder Lake

The coordinators of the space program took a nearby cinder lake and several pictures of Mare Tranquillitatis, the place the Lunar Module was planned to land and using explosive charges they created a reproduction of the terrain.  The future astronauts practiced geology and how to drive around the craters in The Rover.
The geological society even has Neil Armstrong's hand print and the practice vehicle in exhibition.

Later, we did a Google search and found out the cinder lake still had some of the craters made back in the 60's and it was just a few miles out of town. You can probably guess what we did next day July 20...

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: The first woman to walk in a reproduction of the moon!

The same day we visited some impressive volcanic craters. We decided to take it easy the rest of our trip and visited local attractions, the other Planes of Fame Museum and Native American settlements and we even spent the last hours waiting for our train to arrive playing Settlers of Catan in a nice little store called The Geekery.
That hairdo seems familiar somehow Mmmm...


Orion this was a memorable trip. Maybe we can go back when you can enjoy it all with your own eyes.

*The Clark is in need of repairs. Go to indiegogo to help maintain this scientific instrument for the generations to come.
* Moldavite is not a meteor rock. But it formed when a meteor hit Earth 15 million years ago. I like to joke that since is green and 'fell from the sky' is actually Kryptonite. Superman you better keep your distance.
*Another point against the moon landing hoax believers.  Ocam's razor says that they if NASA spent years, resources and recruited places like this, with clear evidence of research, practice, studies and even a reproduction of the landing site. The more simple explanation is that we went to the moon.

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