Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lowell Observatory - Flagstaff, AZ

     Pluto was once known to the world as the 9th planet of the Solar System but this far away object has recently lost its planetary label and now is classified only as one of three dwarf planets along with Ceres and Eris.  Whether a planet or a dwarf planet is for the astronomers to decide, but the discovery of this little piece of our solar system is an Arizona story, a Flagstaff, Arizona story to be exact.
     In the 1890s interest in astronomy was high all across America.  Of special interest were those “roads” or “canals” first seen in the planet Mars in 1877.
    American astronomers needed a place where the nighttime sky was still crystal clear and very dark.  The sky above the 7000-foot high town of Flagstaff, Arizona Territory was determined to be such a perfect place.  As early as 1892 Flagstaff was begin called America’s Skylight City.
    In 1894 American scholar, businessman and astronomer Percival Lowell decided that Flagstaff would be a perfect place to build his new observatory.  The town of Flagstaff pledged to Professor Lowell its total support, including good wagon roads and excellent railroad facilities. 
     The town even agreed to sell Professor Lowell a 15-acre mountaintop just west of the downtown area for the grand sum of $1.00!   The deal was made and construction of Lowell Observatory began in late 1894. 
     By 1896 Professor Lowell was gazing upon those “canals” on Mars from his Flagstaff observatory.  So involved did Lowell become in the study of Mars, that the hilltop upon which his observatory was built was given the name Mars Hill.
    In 1902 Professor Lowell stunned the world by stating that he believed another planet existed beyond the orbit of Neptune.  Between 1902 and until his death in 1916, Lowell tried to prove that the ninth planet did truly exist. 
     Proof of that ninth planet now fell to one of Dr. Lowell’s students, Clyde Tombaugh.  On March 13, 1930, the 75th anniversary of Professor Lowell’s birth, Dr. Tombaugh announced the discovery of the ninth planet of the solar system.  The name Pluto was given to this new planet since the first two letters of the name Pluto honor the man who first suggested the planet existed – Percival Lowell.
     Over the many years Lowell Observatory continued it work in the exploration of the solar system. In 1965 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.  Today the observatory is still an active and vibrant scientific community whose mission remains the study of the solar system and to share the results of their astronomical research to educate the public.  Public tours and educational programs are daily events for visitors of the observatory to enjoy.
     Whether Pluto is a planet or a dwarf planet is for the astronomers to debate and decide.  Nevertheless, Lowell Observatory is an Arizona treasure and a place to see whenever visiting the cool, high county of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Lowell Observatory is located at 1400 West Mars Hills Road in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The GPS coordinates for Lowell Observatory are N35 12.101 W111 39.914.  For more information about visiting Lowell Observatory visit  For more information about Pluto visit

Visitor Center

The Original Observatory

Lowell's 24 inch telescope

Visitor gallery

Lowell Library

Dr. Lowell's tomb

Original frying pan dust cover

Flagstaff as viewed from Mars Hill

Humphreys Peak viewed from Mars Hill

Humphreys Peak with an early fall snow

Friday, June 21, 2013

Arizona Lavender Summer Festival

    A lavender farm in Arizona might seem about as likely as a cold day in July, but the fact remains that the Red Rock Ranch & Farm near Concho, Arizona does exist and its 130 acres of 45,000 lavender plants are about ready to explode into bloom again.  Mid-September is the second  blooming season for the 13 varieties of high-altitude, organic lavender, which is processed and shipped from this Arizona farm throughout the aroma-loving world.
    Ahh….the smell of lavender!  For lovers of this fragrance the smell brings a sense of relaxation, calmness and peace.  Lavender lotion, lavender oil and lavender potpourri all bring into the home a sense of well-being. 
     For over 2000 years this invigorating fragrance has been used for healing purposes. In addition, Christine and Mike Teeple, owners of the Red Rock Ranch & Farm, have even come up with a variety of recipes that use their lavender in the preparation of many culinary delights.
     Provence, France is the most famous location for the growing of lavender.  At an altitude of 6273 feet, this French area is the highest location in the world where lavender is grown.  Lavender grown at high altitudes possesses a higher ester content than lavender grown at lower altitudes.  The higher the ester content the more fragrant and the more valuable the lavender becomes for use in medicine and therapy.
     The Red Rock Ranch & Farm is located at an elevation of 6100 feet in the pristine air of the White Mountains making this Arizona lavender the second highest altitude lavender grown in the world.  The ecosystem and environment of this area of the White Mountains produce intensely fragrant lavender with a scent that lasts and lasts.
    Thirteen varieties of lavender are grown at the Red Rock Ranch.  French varieties include Provence and Grosso.  English lavender varieties include Royal Velvet, Buena Vista and Pink Melissa.  The growing and harvesting of all these varieties of lavender are done by hand.
    The ranch is also home to the lavender oil extraction process.  With a state-of-the-arts distillation system, 100% pure high altitude lavender essential oil and lavender hydrosol are produced.  With the oils now extracted a myriad of commercial products are made using these well balanced, superior fragrances.  The lavender oils of the Red Rock Ranch are a favorite of aroma therapists from around the world.
    In addition to lavender, the Teeples grow a variety of organic vegetables and fruit on their land.  Their orchard consists of cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, pears and apples just to name a few.  At the large ramada by the ranch pond, guests are often treated to Mike’s grilling of freshly picked vegetables and are heard to exclaim, “My goodness, this taste is incredible!”
    The Red Rock Ranch & Farm is about 225 miles from Anthem and is located near Concho, Arizona.  The GPS coordinates are N34 29.806  W109 36.262.  For more information about this Arizona lavender farm visit  

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Get Your Kicks, On Route 66"

     With the high heat of summer returning to the Valley of the Sun, now is the time to discover and enjoy Arizona's high country.  Check out all that you can do in the Holbrook area - you will enjoy your time there!  

      “Get Your Kicks, On Route 66” was a popular song written in 1946 by Bobby Troup.  Nat King Cole’s rendition of this Troup’s tune rang out across the many small towns of northern Arizona for the next 30 years.  America’s “Mother Road”, Route 66 entered Arizona from New Mexico in the high desert area of the Navajo Reservation and quickly brought travelers to the historic railroad town of Holbrook, Arizona.

      Holbrook, Arizona is a town alive with history and adventure.  It was once the headquarters of the famous Aztec Land and Cattle Company whose cowboys were known as the Hashknife Gang.  It was the site from which many events of the 1887 Pleasant Valley War played out.  And any town with a local hangout named the Bucket of Blood Saloon must surely have played an important role in the naming of the Wild West.

    Today’s Holbrook, now located on Interstate 40 some 3 hours from the Valley, is far more peaceful than its historic roots.  But fun and adventure can still be found everywhere.    

     Historic Route 66, now called Hopi Drive, is still main street of today’s Holbrook. It is on this old road that the “must-stay” motel of Holbrook is located, the Wigwam Village Motel #6.  “Have You Slept in a Wigwam Lately?” is the ad that entices modern visitors to stay in this 1950 motel.  Fifteen, concrete wigwam rooms make this overnight experience one of the most unique and nostalgic sleep-overs in all of Arizona and America.

     Now the teepees are a little snug by today’s standards but they are very clean and well maintained. Each is furnished with the original hickory log furniture.  No telephones nor 3-pronged plugs to be found, but modern cable TV and air conditioning have been added.

     Holbrook, Arizona is the Gateway to the Petrified Forest National Park.  Rock hounds will find Holbrook to be their rock and mineral Disneyland.  There are so many outstanding rock shops found in the Holbrook area but Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company may just be the finest.

     Here visitors can find the largest selection of Arizona Rainbow Petrified Wood in the world.  The beautiful shop contains a huge selection of fossils, minerals, gemstone jewelry and gifts from around the world.  The store’s museum features “Wild Bill”, a 2.9 million year old alligator fossil.  A working lapidary shop allows visitors to watch raw gems be transformed into beautiful jewelry.

     The heydays of Route 66 may be gone but the small Arizona towns that line the ol’ historic highway are still there and very much alive.  You can still “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and Holbrook, Arizona is the perfect place to start. 

The GPS Coordinates of the Wigwam Village Motel #6 is N34 54.150 W11010.108.  For information about staying at the Wigwam Village Motel visit  For more information about historic Route 66 and in visiting Holbrook, Arizona visit  For information about Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company visit

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Arizona's Annual Summer Solstice Celebration

    When the summer solstice returns again on June 21st, residents from across Arizona's Valley of the Sun will gather together and celebrate this important solar event just like the ancient Hohokam.  This annual gathering now takes place in the Great Reading Room on the 5th floor of the Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library on north Central Avenue.  At noon on this special day and in this special solar room the wicks of 22 structural “candlesticks” will again re-light by the power of the summer solstice sun!

The sun has made its summer home in the Sonoran Desert for more years than recorded history. The ancient Hohokam farmers knew of the sun’s yearly journey and celebrated its far northern wandering from the equator each year.  For over 1700 years the Hohokam built their temples and performed their festivals to mark this all-important solar day. 

When Americans began to build their homes and cities atop the ancient Hohokam civilization, they too recognized the power of the desert sun. They lovingly nicknamed their land the “Valley of the Sun.”.

When architect Will Bruder was chosen to design this central library of the Phoenix library system, Monument Valley inspired his architectural design.  His library building was made to look like a curving copper mesa split by a stainless steel canyon.  From the 1st floor atrium, known as Crystal Canyon, to the 5th floor Great Reading Room, this library was designed to maximize the solar energy found in the Valley of the Sun.  

The 43,000 square foot Great Reading Room is the largest library reading room in North America, larger than the reading rooms of the New York Public Library or the Library of Congress.  It is here, in this beautiful reading room, that Will Bruder designed a special place for the Valley’s Midsummer’s Day celebration.

In the ceiling above the 22 structural “candlesticks” are 22, six-foot diameter skylights covered by a lens the color of an Alaskan glacier to give the feeling of coolness.  Light filters through each of these skylights and moves along the floor.  Within each skylight’s lens is a six-inch dot whose design purpose is to “light” the wicks of the structural candlesticks each June 21st at solar noon in the annual celebration of the Valley of the Sun’s summer solstice. 

The ancient Hohokam people had solar observatories throughout our Valley and all across the beautiful Sonoran Desert.  We today have our solar observatory in the Great Reading Room of the Burton Barr Central Library.  This year’s summer solstice celebration begins again at 11:00 a.m. on June 21st. Now don’t be late, for this candle lighting spectacular only happens for one special moment each year!

Burton Barr Library, Phoenix, Arizona

The "candles" glow again on another summer solstice day.