Just a couple of hours north of Phoenix, in the beautiful city of Flagstaff, there is an important astronomical research center that not many people know about, the Lowell Observatory. This complex is home of the Clark Telescope, was responsible for building the the Discovery Channel Telescope located 40 miles from Flagstaff, and it is the place where dwarf planet Pluto was discovered by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930.
To visit this interesting site, just 5 minutes away from Flagstaff’s downtown, follow the signs from Historic Route 66 and drive up Mars Hill until you reach the Observatory. It is open from 9:00 am to 9:30 pm Monday through Saturdays and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Sundays, during the winter, and from 9:00 am to 10 pm daily during the summer. If you intend to stop by only for an hour or less, my recommendation is to visit it at night. That way you can take a look at the telescopes placed around the courtyards to watch the stars and maybe you can even see a planet.
If you have a little bit more time to spend there, the Observatory has enough information and activities to keep you busy for a while. The first place you’ll step into will be the Visitor’s Center where, besides the ticket counter and the gift shop, you’ll find an interesting hall with temporary exhibits and multimedia shows. You will also see a mounted space suit where you can stand behind and pretend to be an astronaut and of course, take some funny pictures for Facebook. I certainly did it myself.
The Rotunda Museum, which used to serve as the Observatory’s library for quite a few decades, is a beautiful place to wander around. The old artifacts, maps and modern devices that are displayed in that room will definitely catch your attention. Sometimes they use the facility to host small educational lectures for visitors. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
The Observatory also houses the impressive Clark telescope built in 1896 and used for research for many years. Unfortunately, beginning January this year and until mid 2015, the telescope is closed for renovations. You can still tour the dome where the telescope is located, but you won’t be able to look at the infinite sky through it. We visited the Observatory last year, before the Clark telescope was closed, and we were able to watch Saturn through it. Since we were the last people in line, they let us watch for a couple more minutes and Jon was lucky enough to get a picture of the planet through the lens with his cellphone.
Flagstaff is a city that has a lot to offer, too. It is a great place to go skiing during the winter months and to escape from the heat during summer time. We have been there quite a few times and you can expect a post about it sometime soon.
All photos are owned by Sandra unless otherwise noted.