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Day 15 :: October 04, 2004: 01:56 PM

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004
Day Fifteen
By late Friday it was obvious people were showing up for the weekend so we thought Saturday might be a good day to take off and look at some of the other sights, not too far away (that is, no more than a 300 mile round trip - distances have come to have a whole new feeling a bout them!)

We set off out of the park after a leisurely breakfast. Mike had declared the previous breakfast, bought in Market Plaza as: ” so deeply unsatisfying (he) felt that nutrition had been removed from (his) body.” We cooked our own. Bacon and scrambled eggs, preceded by grapefruit juice and cereal and lots of coffee. We were set for the day!

Odometer reading for the trip as we set off: 4222.

We left the park a little before 10a.m. and traveled due south to Williams and turned east towards Flagstaff. Just a few miles on the road we passed Lance Armstrong’s bicycle tour promoting the need for cancer awareness/ funds for finding cures going north as we were headed south. They were going to be at the internet café where we will be uploading this tomorrow morning.

The Campsite at Grand Canyon National Park has internet access, at least, a chance to browse the web but no wireless and no opportunity to input from CD, plus the service is only available during the day when we have been busy. Show how things are changing though!

Our agenda for the day was to visit the Meteor Crater first and then whatever else we had time to do.

I have wanted to visit this crater since I was about 6 years old. A friend of the family, Alf, introduced me to a few constellations and gave me a guide to the London Planetarium and a book about the stars and the stories behind the naming of the constellations, both of which I still have. From that point on I have loved the stars and the visible planets. I never walk outside without looking up, even when I know it is raining, I just do it.

Just a few years later Telstar was launched. Followed by other artificial satellites. At the time, being so novel and so few, the passage times of these satellites were printed in the family’s newspaper; the Daily Telegraph ( hey! Don’t blame me I was still in single digits remember!) My father was dragged out into the yard to help me locate them, night after night. I now wonder if that had something to do with the switch to the Daily Mail (I know! But thsi was pre- tabloid format, had Big Chief I-Spy in it, a good cryptic crossword puzzle and at the time was politically favorable to the DT at least. )

As a teenager I was insistent I did not want to visit America except to see this crater, the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest and the big, big trees…

Traveling along we realized we had the now novel experience of having cell phone service! In fact, both cell phone systems suddenly cranked up. I called the 2 stateside daughters, one was not answering; the youngest was in and having computer problems. So once we got a good and crackle-free reception in the outskirts of Flagstaff, Mike walked her through some steps to try and locate the problem, which she had basically worked out already.

After that was done, and it took a while, we set off again for Meteor Crater, east of Flagstaff.

As you approach there is a sudden patch of greenery and trees in the scrubby flat desert. The Barringer family who have owned the carter site for a hundred years also have a gas station, a couple of Subway franchises and a camping site, hence the trees. You take a right off the interstate and head 5 mile sup the road to the crater which looms ahead, a shallow rim across a slight mound of debris in the flat landscape.

We were concerned it might be poorly done or amateur but that was far from the case. The scientific display was excellent; the store was the usual mix of items for school groups and tours but with some nice meteorite pieces and meteorite dust from the site itself. There were a couple of larger pieces of the meteorite discovered long ago – most of it vaporized on impact. And you get to walk out on a little of the rim and just look at the huge hole before you.

The scale is enormous and hard to take in except they did one thing which we had jokingly said was needed at Grand Canyon (where the 8 – 12 mile view across the canyon is hard to grasp) – on the crater floor, in the middle, they have stuck a 6 foot astronaut figure and a large US flag (like the moon-walk image from long ago). Fixed telescopes look at this and other objects. Having seen it in the telescope and still finding it hard to locate without it, really helps to make the point: this carter is huge (one mile across). I loved it, though it was hot and the sun uncomfortably bright now we were out of the canyon area.

We shared a Subway sandwich before leaving and setting off for two national monuments on one piece of land with a glimpse of a third!

Sunset Crater National Monument was not created by a whopping big meteorite but by volcanic action. The whole area is covered in volcanic ash, dust and amazing lava formations. This volcano did not explode – it oozed. Between the mid 1000s to the 1200s A.D. this volcano created cinder cones in the area and created waves of lava which today look like what happens when you break up a road surface: plates of black, tarry looking rock. On the hillsides there is a fine ashy dust which, in many places, is only now beginning to be populated with plants. Yet another odd landscape in this vacation of wild and weird scenery.

As you go on further in this park you start to get glimpses of the Painted Desert: pink and peach rocks and sands and, in the misty distance, strange cone shaped rock formations.

We continued round as the road turns into Wupatki National Monument, a park with Hopi ruins. The Hopi lived here until almost the time when the volcano became dormant. They lived in the red clay and brick structures people call pueblo dwellings though that is not a word they would have used, arriving later with Mexican Indians who followed them on this land. There are around 10 sets of ruins in different shapes and conditions, 4-5 are named and have information on hand. It was getting darker but we got to all but one of the named ones.

The Wupatki set are the largest and best preserved. The part I loved most was - what a surprise! a geological feature. The village had a blow hole. We knew about blow holes in seaside situations (caves where water rushed in and expels the air from the cave up onto the cliff) but this one is all about air pressure. There is a cave beneath the desert floor. When air pressure is high outside and low inside, air is sucked in, only to be expelled when the air pressure drops outside. We were fortunate in that the air pressure was low and after a thousand years the blow hole was still doing its thing and a breath-like puff of air could be felt escaping. To the Hopi this was one of their gods breathing his life on them….

As it became dark we returned to Flagstaff still hoping to find a place to get on the internet and put the previous 3 (actually 4, that’s why they are in the wrong order, I thought I had done day 11 already) but found nothing. Did find Starbucks and a New Mexican restaurant where the food is lighter and high cuisine but at really decent prices. We both had things we had not had before and they were excellent.

Flagstaff is the world’s first Dark City – home of the Lowell Observatory, the streetlights are a pale orange, do not throw light into the sky and are generally much dimmer than usual. There is none of the ghostly and ghastly glow which usually heralds you are approaching an urban center. Not knowing the place it took us some time to locate a central area for this meal and to buy a few necessities for the evening: ice, wood, wine…

Back to the campsite, late. It looks like there may have been a nice sunset in the canyon, though maybe not. Each evening clouds have rolled in minutes before sunset and there were clouds around when we were leaving Sunset Crater and Wupatki. Tomorrow is our last chance for a good sunset….

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