Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Starting North - Flagstaff

I was anxious to get to Reno to see an old friend who is not doing well, and I let that cloud my judgement about when to travel.  I saw there was a camp space at Zion NP for four nights over Fourth of July, so I grabbed it.  What was I thinking??  Leaving Tucson on July 1st, I planned to spend two nights in Flagstaff and one at Jacob Lake, then on to Zion.  I had made reservations at the KOA in Flagstaff, not my favorite place, but the others were full already, and it is convenient for activities around town. Besides, it was a holiday weekend upcoming, so choices were limited. The best laid plans . . .  . About 30 miles south of Flagstaff on Highway 17, making a pretty good climb, I heard my husband mumble, "Uh oh".  Not a good sign. A few seconds later the truck just died.  Thankfully there was a wide enough shoulder that we could get our 50'+ long rig off the road.  What a nightmare it would have been had we not been able to get out of the traffic lanes as we were on a blind corner with big trucks and other vehicles whizzing by.  Naturally, cell service was almost non-existent.  We were, however, able to get a 911 call through and the dispatcher sent a deputy.  He arrived in about 20 minutes and called a tow truck for us.  About an hour later, the tow truck arrived and before long we were on our way to Flagstaff - truck, trailer and all.  The driver took us to the GMC dealer where we left the truck, then he hauled us and the trailer to the KOA.  Our driver was unflappable and the tight turns, narrow roads and trees in the park didn't bother him a bit.  The GMC dealer sent a shuttle driver to take me to Enterprise to rent a car, and I just made it there before they closed.  They were very busy and it took half an hour or so to get out of there.  Needless to say, by then I needed a drink!

Later in the evening, we left for dinner, but Jay wanted to stop by the GMC dealer first and see if they had looked at the truck.  He spent half an hour chatting with the technicians about the issue, trying to impress upon them the need for a speedy repair, then it was off to dinner at Fat Olives, a bustling, comfortable pizza place.  So nice to relax after such a crazy day.

With only two nights reserved here, and no spaces available after that, we wondered what we'd do if the truck didn't get fixed in time.  Oh well, might as well go do what we wanted to do and not worry about it. I love old downtown Flagstaff for its history, charm, great architecture, hip restaurants and bars and great people-watching.  And, oh, were we happy to be parking the little rent-car instead of the big Duramax! Mart Ann's on Highway 66 was our choice for breakfast and a good choice it was!

Leaving downtown, first on my list was the  Arboretum at Flagstaff, which looked close on the map but proved to be about 9 miles on a dirt road, with very poor signage.  But the drive was worthwhile as the arboretum was really lovely.  Showcasing native Colorado plateau plants in various gardens, they also had a bird program, a gift shop and greenhouses where many plants were being propagated.  The gardens and buildings were the residence of the Arboretum's founder, Frances McAllister.

Even with large groups of school kids there for educational programs, the grounds were peaceful and inspiring.

Next stop, Lowell Observatory.  Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell and famous for the discovery of Pluto, among many other achievements.  High on  Mars Hill overlooking Flagstaff, the observatory continues state-of-the-art research by acquiring and upgrading its telescopes and facilities, while honoring and preserving its history.

I think the kids from the Arboretum followed us here!

I was on the Pluto tour, and it seems the kids were going the same place we were.  We let them pass and then made our way along the path lined with busts of astronomers and a line depicting the distance of the planets from the sun and from each other.  Big, black thunderclouds filled the sky and I was sure were in for a downpour.  At over 7000' in elevation, Flagstaff is pleasantly warm in summer with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.  Our group of perhaps 20 was led by a docent who was a retired high school science teacher.

As we got inside the small observatory, a huge crack of thunder signaled nearby lighting.  The docent didn't seem too nervous as he told us we shouldn't be in there since the building wasn't grounded, but, oh well, we were there and where else could we go? The entire dome sat on a metal track that rotated, allowing viewing in all directions.  Built in 1928-1929 for the purpose of searching for Planet X, the elusive ninth planet that Percival Lowell thought must exist, the Pluto Discovery Telescope is one of the most famous in American astronomical research.  Examining images from this scope, Clyde Tombaugh made the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

We also toured the Putnam Collection Center, where many historical instruments show just how far we've come in the scientific world, and the visitor center's excellent exhibits.  There's so much more to see here on this famous hill, but it'll have to wait for another day.  Our truck is ready! Yay! We can leave tomorrow as planned and won't be out on the street.  A new fuel line, fuel filter, $500 and she's ready to go.  The great guys at the GMC dealership even hosed the red dust off the rent-car so it wouldn't be so obvious we were on dirt roads.

I'll have to say that every single person we dealt with in Flagstaff could not have been nicer and more accommodating.  They made a stressful situation so much less painful.

We were on the road early the next morning, and I'll admit to some trepidation about whether the truck would really get us there.  I was constantly looking for where we could get off the road if we had to .  The saga continues in the next blog.