Walnut Canyon National Monument
After watching the introductory video we had to decide how much of a hike to tackle. Scott was determined to do the 1.3 mile hike that included 200 steps down and 200 steps up. I quickly gave him the raised eyebrow at the thought of Cody climbing back up 200 steps. The park ranger wisely offered the borrowing of a Kelty backpack. Sold! Cody was a real trooper. He did the entire hike except for the 200 steps back up. Sometimes Cody would get tired, but we would try to lizard hunt and that would get us through for quite a while. “Here lizard lizard.” Cody asked why none of them were coming when he called…
Thankfully a few lizards did poke their heads out to keep Cody motivated. The trail took us across to the island in the center of the picture on the right. There were cliff dwellings all along the paths. The signs stated that most of the cliff dwelling bricks and mortar were modern day constructions replicated to look like they did before erosion returned them to the ground they came from.
Scott and Brooke were able to travel a little faster than Cody and I. This provided them with a little extra time to work on the extra hard Junior Ranger book. You can spot them in the picture to the left much lower than where Cody and I were. The Walnut Canyon had two versions of the Junior Ranger Book, which was brilliant. Cody just had a few matching, circling, and coloring activities. Brooke wanted the more challenging book which included writing poetry in both the Hopi and English languages among other high level activities. Scott mentioned that “we” as in the parental units might not be able to handle the high level activities at every park we visit. Brooke on the other hand kept asking what she got to do next in the book. The picture in the middle is of a HooDoo. The rock underneath the cap is more easily eroded away leaving a little top hat balancing on the rock column. The cliff dwellings were stained with black soot from the fires the indigenous people would have inside their homes.
We stopped at a descriptive sign to work on the Junior Ranger packets as we hiked along. Cody took a break from being exhausted to get some dirt on his hiking boots. Somehow he always has energy for dirt.
Brooke is surrounded by the Yuccas that the indigenous people related to the modern Pueblo/Hopi people used for weaving. The people who lived here are sometimes called the Sinagua. That looks all fancy until you realize it is the Spanish word sin – without and agua – water, meaning people without water. Scott was doing a great job of listening and heard the bats tucked away in the little crevice in the middle picture. He tried taking a picture underneath, but without flash (we didn’t want to disturb the little guys too much) the picture didn’t turn out. They were hanging upside down, snuggled little furry body to little furry body. Their soft squeaks were the only evidence that they were “hanging” out. The picture on the right shows Cody in the backpack ready for the last 200 steps.
The ranger took an impressive amount of time to explain to the kids about the dry farming that the cliff dwellers did, how they determined the age of the civilization, and other interesting facts. Dendrochronology – determining the age of an object utilizing tree rings. This topic came up twice today: once with the ranger at Walnut Canyon and once at the Lowell Observatory. Although we can’t remember why it came up in the presentation at Lowell. They used dendrochronology at Walnut Canyon to determine the timeframe of the indigenous people in the area. Anyway, we had to mention dendrochronology because we had never heard of using tree rings to determine the age of indigenous civilization’s artifacts and we heard it twice in one day. Another Junior Ranger Badge!
First we viewed exhibits on comets and meteors. Then we watched a movie on the Lowell observatory and toured the Clark (Mars) telescope. Next we pushed Cody’s now four-year-old limit of attention. We went for another hour guided discussion about the planets and the search for Planet X or Pluto that ended at the Pluto telescope. We learned that Neptune was the only planet discovered using math not just a telescope. Cody spent a lot of time on our backs. When he was on my back he would “do” my hair. Mostly this meant me strengthening my neck muscles as pulled my hair, but it kept him entertained and he thought he was being nice.
The platform building around Clark telescope is made of Ponderosa pine. The 1950 Ford truck tires acted as bearings as the dome moved around for the telescope to change position. The Lowell Observatory makes sure the mold for the tires is always on hand just in case they get a flat. The next two pictures are of the library/ rotunda. They had presentations in here at night. The portable telescope we viewed Saturn through at night was stationed in front of the rotunda too. I empathized with the presenter at night. He was being asked questions from kids through astronomy professors. I love teaching about the universe and planets, but it is a lot easier to explain that you don’t know everything and can look things up to sixth graders than it is to explain to astronomy professors at the Lowell Observatory.
The Pluto telescope was actually an astrograph or a telescope employed exclusively to take pictures. It was used to discover Pluto in 1930. I had to ask what the boxing glove was for. The guide said that the astronomers kept getting hit in the head by that piece of metal in the dark, so they put a boxing glove there so it wouldn’t hurt as badly. The poster on the right is of other dwarf planets including Pluto, but there are more not listed on the poster. The guide had an acronym for all the dwarf plants, but I can’t remember it. I’m not teaching planetary science anymore, but this is a reminder to look the information up and share it. There are criteria for a planet to be a planet. Pluto lost it’s planet status because it does not have enough gravity to clear its debris field due to its limited mass. I thought about taking notes on the trip because usually when we get back to the car Scott and I both look at each other and ask, “What did we learn again?” However, I decided I would have enough distraction with the cuties, and I was right. It may not have been ideal for other listeners, but we managed to get both kids through two one hour presentations.
We also learned about NASAs New Horizon, a spacecraft that wil fly by Pluto. It was launched in 2006, the year Brooke was born, and will reach Pluto in 2015.
We ate a dinner of spaghetti at a park in Flagstaff. Scott cooked dinner while I played store and bank with the kids. They were able to make some friends so I didn’t have to keep dreaming up more things to purchase. This evening I was in the mood for pretend shish kabobs and ice cream.
Brooke and I dropped Cody and Scott off at the same campgsite tonight as we were at last night. It is three miles down a gravel road called Elden Springs Road in Flagstaff. Then Booke and I headed back to the Lowell Observatory for night sky viewing. It was odd to be driving at night. I haven’t driven at night in at least three weeks.
Flagstaff is the only international “dark sky city”. Once the lights of a big city encroach a telescope that means the death of the telescope. Flagstaff dedicates itself to using yellow rather than white lights, covering lights so they don’t shine up, and educating the public to try to preserve their observatory. They do a pretty good job. Even five miles out of the city you couldn’t see a single light.