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!

Motorcycling the Southwest: Day 1

Background

I have been sent down to the Kitt Peak National Observatory just outside of Tucson, Arizona to lend a hand in an observing program. This project makes use of the Steward Observatory’s Bok Telescope, which is located right beside the biggest telescope at Kitt Peak: the Mayall 4 meter. Over the 7 night observing run I will be trained on how to use the telescope, and then operate it myself.
I decided to take advantage of this business related trip by tacking on to the beginning of it a small motorcycle tour. Fortunately, my brother, Bryan, lives in San Diego and happens to own a motorcycle. So instead of flying straight to Tucson and heading to the observatory, I decided to fly to San Diego, see my brother, and borrow his motorcycle for a week. Below I chronicle day 1.

Day 1: San Diego, CA to Flagstaff, AZ

Distance: 787 kilometers
Duration: approximately 10 hours
This was a sort of ‘get there’ type ride. My goal, originally, was to make it all the way to Meteor Crater, which is an impact crater just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. So I hit the road at about 8:30am PST.

This is me sitting on the backed-up bike, ready to hit the road

Packed and ready to go at 8:30am February 10th, 2014.

Bryan’s bike is a Yamaha V-Star 650. The above pics shows me ready to hit the road. The context: Bryan took this pic from inside his car as he was showing me the way to the highway (he was going to work). As previously stated, my original goal was to get to Meteor Crater, which is located about 55 kilometers east of Flagstaff. This ended up being too loftly a goal so my plans changed to just getting to Flagstaff itself. Here’s an image of the route I took on the first day:

Where I went on Day 1 of the tour of south west united states

Where I went on Day 1 of the tour of south west united states. Click for Interactive Map.

—> Or you could check out this interactive map I made of the entire trip <—

The trip started off driving through the mountains of southern California. It was beautiful scenery to start the trip with: here is a picture I snapped just after I got moving:

This was the view from a rest stop in the california mountains.

This was the view from a rest stop in the California mountains in Cleveland National Forest

I also took a picture of my bike in the early morning Sun:

Checking out the bike and the road to be travelled

Checking out the bike and the road to be travelled

Unfortunately, my fun was short lived as the beautiful mountains quickly gave way to boring desert. Referring to the map above, from about El Centro, CA to Phoenix, AZ the drive was relatively boring. It contained wide flat deserts filled with small shrubbery and tumbleweeds. There were very few gas stations (I almost ran out of gas once heading into Yuma). Happily by the time I got to the other side of Phoenix, the roads got much more fun: windy, mountainous, trees, clouds. It was natural art.
However, as I was making my final approach into Flagstaff, things got very tough. I had been running behind, so still roughly 100 kilometers out, the Sun had almost set. This meant that I was going to be riding in the dark. Riding in the dark in this context is not a great idea because a) I’ve never been in the area before so I don’t know what to expect on the road, and b) I’m tired from a whole day of driving. The Sun going down ALSO makes it colder. This may not have been a huge deal had it not been for two other factors. The first, I was heading north, which means the further I drive, the colder it gets. Secondly, Phoenix is at an elevation of 331 m and Flagstaff is at 2106 m, a difference of 1775 m. As I climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the temperature plummeted. Compounding the Sun setting, my growing latitude, and my climbing altitude pushed the temperatures into the single digits Celsius. Keeping in mind I was also driving at 120 km/hr (serious windchill). The last 15 kilometers before Flagstaff were torturous; my riding gear was only meant for hot weather. Upon arrival, at about 7:00pm MST, I spent 15 min at a gas station inside warming up. The lesson here is: do your research before you travel.
I got myself a hotel room and settled in for the night. Slept like a log (after I finished shivering).

Rubbing it in

Jen is currently travelling out west (Vancouver Island) to see a friend of hers. I sent her a text wondering what she’s up to today. I get this in response:

(I love this girl)

Rolling the 25k

I’ve rolled over 25 000 kilometers on my motorcycle! Always a good feeling to be putting clicks on the bike. I got my bike back in 2009, which was actually the topic of my second blog post ever [side note: the first blog post ever was about my family’s jeep cherokee…I miss that truck]. When I first got the bike, the odometer was at (or near) 4 500 km, so I’ve put on just about 20 000 km since owning it. I’ve covered lots of highway stretching from Brampton, Orangeville, Caledon, Bolton, Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, London, Guelph, Pickering, Parry Sound (here’s a post about that route), and all the way out to Halifax and back (I should really write a few blog posts about THAT trip). Here’s hoping I get to put another 25 000 km on it before I have to give it up.

A picture of my odometer 13.4 kilometers after I rolled over 25000 km. I didn't want to stop in rush hour to take the pic ...

A picture of my odometer 13.4 kilometers after I rolled over 25000 km. It doesn’t say 25 000 exactly because I didn’t want to stop in rush hour to take the pic.

 

Visiting Niagara Falls