I braved the switchbacks along Oak Creek Canyon and drove at a snails pace to Flagstaff. Snow was still piled high in the streets, separated as if biblically, to form tracks. I strode up Mars Hill to the Lowell Observatory (the institution which discovered Pluto in 1930) www.lowel.edu, a hill that a librarian advised me not to attempt, ‘it is a steady sharp gradient…..best drive’, she said. She obviously never got out from behind the bookshelves or had never spent any time in San Francisco. I had a 12noon appointment with the Sun.
Jerry, the cheery volunteer, was waiting outside with a portable telescope pointing at the sun, moving it every minute or so to track it whilst the earth was revolving. The eyepiece introduced me to a huge orange ball. The Sun. Jerry told me to look for the Sun spot. A tiny dark ball where magnetic battles were being waged. After the others, middle-aged couples and a pair of sullen Goth teenagers, had had their fill, I vocally admitted to my disappointment at not seeing those fiery wispy things around its parameter (not the technical term!). Jerry, eager to please peered down the scope again and came up trumps. Two miniature twin towers of wispy looking vapour were present at the two o’clock position. I was v.excited. And may of even appeared slightly loopy as I clapped at the wonder of it all. I did not care if I did.
I wondered back down into Flagstaff, marvelling at the volcanic San Francisco peeks, lording it over its smaller neighbours. I cradled a cup of hot tea in Macy’s European Cafe www.macyscoffee.net. A cosy place, full of chatting friends and roasted coffee smells and mid Happy Hour, so tea was a steal at 98c, affording me the ability to leave a substantial tip!
The sky started to turn pink and the roads started to conjest. Back up the hill I went. The observatory car park was empty. A huge telescope, about 2 foot diameter. was set up, pointing towards bright star in the sky. Jupiter and four of its 63 moons were visible. As a bonus the friendly guy (it was too cold by this time for me to indulge in such niceties as asking his name, etc.) let me step up and view the narrow crescent of the moon and its pock marks and mountains. AWESOME!
When I arrived home. The milder temperature in Sedona, a balmy 40 f, allowed me to lie in the hammock outside my door and gaze at the stars, smiling. Arizona is a jewel I’m a little sad to leave.