Motorcycling the Southwest: Day 2

Day 2: Flagstaff, AZ to Kitt Peak National Observatory, AZ

Distance: 590 km
Duration: approximately 11 hours
Picking up from the last post, I woke up for day 2 of riding feeling a little negative. I knew how cold it was outside, and I knew that I was going to have to ride through it, and bear it. On the plus side, the Sun was up, which makes it warmer, and I bought a pair of winter gloves at the gas station the night before. In order to keep out the cold I wore several layers both top and bottom, including my motorcycle rain gear. I put the winter gloves OVER my riding gloves (double layer gloves) and I hit the road. Though not before I noticed there was frost on my seat:

In the morning, my motorcycle was covered in a layer of frost. Gives you an idea of the temperatures.

In the morning, my motorcycle was covered in a layer of frost. Gives you an idea of the temperatures.

This time I was going to finish what I started: see Meteor Crater. Here’s a map of that trip:

The roughly 55 kilometer trip from Flagstaff to Meteor Crater

The roughly 55 kilometer trip from Flagstaff to Meteor Crater. Click for Interactive Map.

By the time I got to Meteor Crater, my hands had frozen again (even with both gloves on), but it was much more manageable. I’ve really wanted to visit Meteor Crater¬†for a long time. I’ll let me explain why it’s so cool:

As you can see the crater is HUGE. Actually you may not be able to see; there is a huge depth perception issue when looking into the crater. Trying to picture the opposite rim of the crater being over a kilometer across is very difficult. The crater is also the site of some in-field geologic training the Apollo astronauts took in the mid 1960s to prepare for working near craters on the Moon.

This is a small chunk of many found near the impact site of Meteor Crater. It's an iron/nickel mixture.

This is a small chunk of many found near the impact site of Meteor Crater. It’s an iron/nickel mixture.

I bought this small chunk of the meteorite from the gift shop of the museum. Meteor crater has been outfitted with a wonderful visitor centre. It has a museum, movie theatre, gift shop, guided tours, and other artifacts strewn about the complex. For instance, they have lunar test capsule you can at:

lunar capsule

A test capsule for training astronauts going to the Moon.

Honestly, I could have spent all day at this facility, but I had to put kilometers on the motorcycle otherwise I wouldn’t make my next target: the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Here’s one last picture:

yup

yup. The crazy thing is, from about 30 kilometers away from it, on approach, I could see the crater walls lifting above the plains.

The rest of the trip, while relatively short on the map (again you should look at the interactive map I have here), took me all day. That may partially be due the detour I took through Sedona, Arizona. Instead of taking the same I-17 south that I took north into Flagstaff, I took the scenic route, which features a large number of switchbacks down from the mountain area. This actually had two upsides: scenic, and got warmer quicker.

Here's a shot just starting out the switchbacks down into Sedona, AZ. That's what my road looked like for the next 30 kilometers

Here’s a shot just starting out the switchbacks down into Sedona, AZ. That’s what my road looked like for the next 30 kilometers

Stopping to take in the scenery.

Stopping to take in the scenery.

It was a long boring drive after that to get to Tucson, AZ, where I met up with another astronomer to get set up for my night on Kitt Peak. Unfortunately, I was behind schedule again and started my last leg of the journey out to Kitt Peak right when the Sun was going down. This means I had to ride nearly 2 kilometers up a mountain in the dark. This wasn’t as bad, however, as it was much warmer where the observatory is, and I had been there before. When I finally summited, the (almost) full Moon was bright in the sky. It’s pale glow bouncing off of the nearby observatories.

The Steward Observatory's Bok Telescope (foreground) and the Mayall 4-meter telescope (background). This image is entirely light by the Moon

Ghosts of telescopes in the Moonlight. The Steward Observatory’s Bok Telescope (foreground) and the Mayall 4-meter telescope (background). This image is entirely light by the Moon.

Once arrived, it was time to get into observing mode: stay up as late as I can to push my body into a night time rhythm. After my day of riding, I only made it to 1am. Not bad!

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