Tuesday, June 25, 2019

America's Dark Sky Parks

Here is a story we recently wrote for the Live Science website - https://www.livescience.com/    Great places for a Summer 2019 Roadtrip!  Hope you enjoy it here too!

Credit:  NPS
1.    "The treasures hidden in the heavens are so rich that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment” wrote 17th-century Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer, mathematician and astrologer best known for his laws of planetary motion.  For Kepler and all people of the 17th-century seeing nightly the magnificence of the star filled nighttime sky was ordinary.  But current estimates suggest that the Milky Way is no longer visible to one-third of modern humanity because of light pollution.  That number becomes even more alarming when that one-third expands to 60% of Europeans and 80% of Americans no longer nightly see the Milky Way.  Shown above, the Milky Way spans the chasm of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

"Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”
-- Theodore Roosevelt


Credit:  NPS
2.  But a non-profit group known as the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has been working since 1988 “to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.”  They have worked as advocates to protect the night sky, to educate the public and policymaker about nighttime conservation, promote environmentally responsible outdoor lighting and empower the public to help bring back the night sky.  By May 2019 IDS had declared 115 communities, parks, reserves and sanctuaries around the world with their International Dark Sky designation.  Not only does light pollution limit human enjoyment of the night sky but research has shown an ecological affect such as affecting the activity of phytoplankton and the egg laying cycle of sea turtles.  Shown above, the silhouette of an ancient pueblo at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona highlights the splendor of a natural, dark sky.

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
-- Les Brown (author)

Credit:  NASA
3.  The places in the United States where the darkest skies are still found are located on the Colorado Plateau, the 240,000 square miles (386,242 km) region of the American Southwest that straddles the Four Corners area of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.   Home to 28 national parks, national monuments and national recreation areas, the dark skies of the Colorado Plateau are as pristine as any found across America.  Eight of America’s national parks located on the Colorado Plateau now hold IDA Dark Sky status.     

"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."
-- Sarah Williams (1837-1868)

Credit:  Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher
4.  Sunset Crater National Monument is found on the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau near today’s Flagstaff, AZ.  The cinder cone is just one vent of the San Francisco volcanic field, a region that encompasses some 2,000 square miles (5,180 square km) and contains over 600 extinct volcanoes.  The cinder cone gets its name from the reddish-brown patches of oxidized iron and sulphur found on its slopes and near the summit.  The Bonita Lava Flow is found within the national monument and is one of the largest lava flows in the region.  It is a basaltic Aa flow and varies in thickness from 5 feet (1.5 m)  to over 100 feet (30 m) and has created many lava tubes and lava ravines.   

"Two things inspire me to awe -- the starry heavens above and the moral universe within."
-- Albert Einstein

Credit:  NPS
5.  The night sky above Sunset Crater National Monument, shown above, is one of three International Dark Sky Parks in the Flagstaff area; Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments being the other two.  Flagstaff was the first city in the world to enact outdoor lighting restrictions in 1958 in an attempt to protect the dark night sky for Lowell Observatory which is located within the city limits.  In 2001 Flagstaff, Arizona was the first location in the world to receive the International Dark Sky designation by IDA. 

"Be humble for you are made of earth.
Be noble for you are made of stars."
-- Serbian proverb

 Credit:  NPS
6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is found in northwestern New Mexico at the southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  The pueblo ruins found at Chaco are the largest, best preserved and architecturally advanced ruins of all the ancient villages of the American Southwest.  The Chacoan villages were interlinked by a vast network of roads that extended for more than 100 miles.  Ten major pueblo ruins are found in Chaco Canyon and at its zenith in the ninth century, a population of 4,000 individuals lived across northern New Mexico.   The ancient Chacoans were renowned for their early astronomical petroglyph designs as well as aligning many of their pueblos with the solstice and/or equinox celestial points.  Located in such a remote part of New Mexico, the night sky above Chaco has long been considered by many to be the best place in America to view the night sky.  On August 13, 2013 Chaco Culture National Historic Park was designated an official Dark Sky Park by IDA.   

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another."
-- Plato (427-347 B.C.)

Credit:  NPS
7.  Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah and near the center of the Colorado Plateau.  Canyonlands is one of the “Mighty Five”, the five awe-inspiring national parks of Utah along with Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Arches.  Best known for its colorful landscapes of canyons, mesas and buttes, the magnificent geological formations found here were created by the Colorado and Green Rivers and their many tributaries.  On August 15, 2015 Canyonlands National Park was granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky status, an honor bestowed only on such locations that have “the darkest of skies and the most stunning of starscapes.”  

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.   And the pismire is equally perfect,..."
-- Walt Whitman

Credit:  NPS
8.  The breathtaking nighttime views of the sky above Natural Bridges National Monument are said to be of some of the darkest skies in North America.  Located on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah, Natural Bridges National Monument is a testament to the power of flowing water.  The three huge natural bridges found here all have Hopi names - Owachomo meaning “rock mounts” and shown above,”  Sipapu meaning “place of emergence” and Kachina meaning “dancer.”   Here at Natural Bridge National Monument visitor to the night can see upwards to 15,000 stars compared to less that 500 stars seen in urban settings.  So spectacular is the nighttime sky above Natural Bridge National Monument that it hold the distinction of being the first IDA designated dark sky park  in the world when so designated on March 6, 2007.  Stargazers from around the world have been flocking the Natural Bridge National Monument ever since.  

"The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Credit:  NPS
9.  Other North American locations, not located on the Colorado Plateau, are also know for their dark, nighttime skies.  Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is located in central Idaho in the Snake River Plain.  Its out-of-this-world landscape and dark skies are both spectacular.  The landscape was formed during eight major volcanic eruptions some 15,000 and 2,000 years ago.  Hot lava flowed from the Great Rift, a series of deep crevices and freely flowed to the southeast for a distance of over 52 miles (84 km).  Over the years a lava field that cover 618 square miles (1,600 square km) was laid down.  Craters of the Moon was designated a national monument in 1924 and is known to preserve one of the best flood basalt areas in North America.  

"Ye stars! Which are the poetry of heaven!"
-- Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Credit:  NPS
10.  But the spectacular natural wonders of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve do not end at sunset.  The nighttime sky found here is stunning.  Park rangers have stated that "The Milky Way stretching across the park's incredibly dark night sky is a sight many visitors will never forget.”  The rugged wilderness of Central Idaho and forbidding environmental conditions of the Snake River Plain have and should continue to limited settlement for years to come.  Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was designated a Dark Sky Park on September 5, 2017. 

"No one regards what is before his feet; we all gaze at the stars."
-- Quintus Ennius (239-169 B.C.)

Credit:  NPS
11.  Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park is often  referred to as Colorado’s Grand Canyon.  The swift flowing Gunnison River drops at an average of 43 feet per mile as it rushes through the towering cliffs of Black Canyon.  This drop in river elevation is six times greater than the Colorado River drop as it flows through the Grand Canyon.  Massive granite walls rise upward of 2, 700 feet (823 m) above the river and span just 40 feet (12 m) at the canyon’s narrowest point.  Many parts of this narrow gorge receive only 33 minutes of sunlight each day.  Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park received it official Dark Sky designation on September 8, 2015.  The picture above showns the Gunnison River flowing through Black Canyon with the Milky Way and a massive display of stars shining above.

"Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of the heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, 1847

Credit:  NPS
12.  Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mohave Desert and received its silver-tier Dark Sky designation on July 29, 2017.  Joshua Tree now becomes the 10th Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park system.  What makes Joshua Tree’s designation so unique is the fact it is located only 140 miles from the massive Los Angeles basin where the Milky Way and nighttime stars were washed out of the night sky long ago by the cities massive expanse of lights.  The park’s western edge has poor nighttime darkness due to the nearby Coachella Valley cities, but the eastern edge’s nighttime sky remains spectacular and pristine.      

"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."
-- Vincent Van Gogh

Credit:  fs.usda.gov
13.  Not all the magnificent places to marvel at the stars are found in the national parks or upon the Colorado Plateau.  But most dark sky places are found in the American West.  Shown above are the Maroon Bells, two 14,000+ foot (4,267 m) peaks composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone located just 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Aspen, CO in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest.  In 2017 over 320,000 wilderness enthusiasts came to hike, camp and photograph for themselves the natural beauty of the Maroon Bells.  

"Come quickly, I am tasting stars!"
-- Dom Perignon (1638 - 1715), at the moment of his discovery of champagne

Credit:  NPS
14.  And for those wise enough to spend the night camping at Maroon Bells, their view of the Milky Way and surround night sky, shown above, is - well, just undescribable.  Dr. Carl Sagan most assuredly, would describe the view above Maroon Bells and all the International Dark Sky Parks as being from the “shore of the Cosmic ocean.”  He concluded Episode 1 of his epic series, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, by stating that “ Some part of our being knows this (the Cosmos) is where we came from. We long to return, and we can because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”  Luckily the Dark Sky Parks of America still gives us all an opportunity to know the Cosmos and ourselves.

"The stars are the jewels of the night and perchance surpass anything which day has to show."
-- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Summer Reading 2019

     The heat of summer usually forces Valley residents to spend more time indoors.   With all that extra indoor time, why not catch up on some reading - historical reading that is.  The following list of books will not be found on today’s New York Times Best Seller list, but if you have an interest in Arizona and of learning about its history and natural environment, here is a list of historic books  that you might find interesting.  Some of these books are over 100 years old but they will give you a tremendous insight into how Arizona was established and became the amazing state in which we all live today.  Many of these books can be found online or ordered through the Maricopa County Library system.  In my opinion, they are the classic books in learning and understanding Arizona.  Enjoy!

1.  Arizona: A Panoramic History of a Frontier State, 1977 - Marshall Trimble is the guru of Arizona historians.  “The greatest ever” according to Barry Goldwater.  Any Marshall Trimble book is an excellent read in learning about Arizona.  Arizona’s Official Historian since 1997, go see Marshall speak and/or entertain while you still have the chance.  We all are growing old. 

2.  History of the Conquest of Mexico, 1843 - William Hickling Prescott - yep, the man for whom the City of Prescott is named. Since the history of Arizona begins in the Valley of Mexico, Prescott’s magnificent epic of Hernan Cortés's conquest of Motecuhzoma (Montezuma) and the Mexica People (Aztecs) between 1519 - 1521 is a must read for all who want to understand the origins of modern Arizona.  

3.  Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, 1936 - Herbert Eugene Bolton - the classic biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino by the leading American historian of his time.  Father Kino first brought the world of Spain and Christianity to what would become Arizona in 1687.  He is honored to this day by the Native People with whom he once worked and the governments of both Arizona and Mexico.  Bolton’s history of this Arizona legend is the best rendition available.

4.  Coronado - Knight of the Pueblos and Plains, 1949 - another classic history written by Herbert Eugene Bolton but this one dealing with Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold in 1539 - 1541- just 20 short years after Cortés conquered the Mexica .  Coronado and his army were the first group of Europeans to enter Arizona.  Members of his army were also the first Europeans to gaze into the depths of the Grand Canyon, first to dine on the meat of the American buffalo and the first to walk across the vast plains of today’s Kansas.  If you love Arizona’s history, you will love this book! 

5.  Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico, 1973 - T.R. Fehrenbach - Learning the history of Mexico helps us understand the history of Arizona and all of the American Southwest and California.  T.R. Fehrenbach, a son of Texas, does a superb job in helping us grasp Mexico’s role in the past, present and probably the future of this region of the North American continent.

6.  Conquest - Moctezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico, 1993 - Hugh Thomas - A modern look at the 1519 Conquest of Mexico through newly discovered artifacts, translations and writings by English author Hugh Thomas.  If when you finished
Prescott’s book and wanted more about those two great empires locked in an epic battle, Hugh Thomas will expand your knowledge of the events with 150 more years of historical research and perspective. 

7.  The Gila - River of the Southwest, 1951 - Edwin Corle - Once upon a time, it was Gila River that crosses Arizona from New Mexico to California that was the most important river of settlement.  Even though today it is mainly a dry bed of rocks, the Gila once flowed across the state allowing explorers, armies and families to move into and across Arizona.  The first recorded birth of an Anglo child occurred while floating down the Gila River to the Howard family.  Appropriately, the child was named Gila Howard.  Corle’s book is a classic to understanding a once great river and the settlement of modern Arizona.

8.  The Voice of the Desert - A Naturalist’s Interpretation, 1954 - Joseph Wood Krutch - I do believe that this book changed my life.  As a young science teacher arriving to Arizona in 1971 from the farmlands of Illinois, I was immediately fascinated by the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert.  I knew little to nothing about this Arizona desert - then I came across Dr Krutch and The Voice of the Desert. His book began to teach me some of the simple knowledge I needed to know about the Sonoran Desert but more importantly, it taught me how to feel about and understand and cherish living in the Sonoran Desert.  I love this book and the impact it made in my life.  For me it was one of the “game-changers” of my professional and personal life.   

9.  The Desert, 1904 - John C. Van Dyke - One of the first books written by an American author dealing with the magnificence of the Great American Deserts.  He had crossed the deserts of Colorado, Arizona, California and Old Mexico mostly alone for three years then wrote of his experiences in this book with insightful, sensitive and thought provoking text. Early writers had a unique way with words and Van Dyke’s narrative about the desert he came to love is special.

10.  Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life of a New England Woman, 1908 - Martha Summerhayes -  “I have written this story of my army life at the urgent and ceaseless request of my children” - so wrote Martha Summerhayes in the preface of her classic book documenting the American settlement of Arizona after the Civil War.  A most amazing story told through the eyes and perspective of a brave and bold army wife. 

11.  Arizona’s Names: X Marks the Place, 1983 - Byrd Howell Granger -  There are several great books explaining just how the towns, mountains, canyons and remote places of Arizona all got their names and we like one the best because the Arizona places are listed in simple alphabetical order.  Dr. Granger expanded on the first such work by Will C. Barnes who had spent thirty years collecting information about the names of Arizona and published his classic Place Names of Arizona in 1935.  Both books are treasures and a must for anyone wanting to know, “Why did they name it that?”

12.  Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968 - Edward Abby - Who can know the desert without reading Edward Abby? - no one.  A rebel to the depths of his soul, Abby had an limitless passion for his desert home.

13.  The Desert Smells Like Rain, 1987 - Gary Paul Nabham - A more modern day look by a naturalist at the Sonoran Desert habitat and the native people who have always called it home. “His eyes assure those of a scientist, his prose and vision a poets: spare evocative, respectful of both facts and mysteries” wrote a reviewer of Dr. Nabham’s portrayal of the Papago’s (Tohono O’odham) desert world.

14.  The Buried Mirror: Reflection on Spain and the New World, 1992 - Carlos Fuentes - An award winning novelist and essayist, Mexican author Carlos Fuentes was ready for the 500th anniversary of Spain’s contact and conquest of the Americas with his 1992 release of the BBC TV series and book, The Buried Mirror: Reflection on Spain and the New World.  Acknowledged as “A sweeping history of Hispanic culture on both sides of the Atlantic, set in the context of Spain's own multicultural roots. "The freshest and most inspiring . . . history in this year of a thousand Columbian offerings. . . “.  There is no better resource anywhere that helps understand the many challenges that the 500+ year old Spanish conquest of the Americas caused and continues to present to the modern world.  If you want to understand the Hispanic cultures of  Arizona, California and all the American southwest, Carlos Fuentes The Buried Mirror is a must see/read.

15.  Rain of Gold, 1991 - Victor Villaseñor -   The Rain of Gold has been called by critics the Hispanic-American Roots.  In this book Villaseñor traces three generations of his family’s struggle to become a part of the American dream.  With all the political rhetoric that occurs today over the southern border, reading Rain of Gold will offer new understanding and insight into the issue.

    So there you have them - my 15 suggestions for gathering an understanding  and knowledge of our wonderful Arizona.  Most of the books are still available through the public library, online or even from Kindle.  So many other books deserve to be on this list as these are just one ol’ man’s opinions and favorites.  One thing for sure, reading these books will keep you out of the summer heat!  Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I once did.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Arizona Summertime Swimming Holes

  We first wrote this article for the IN&Out of Anthem magazine, http://www.anthemnews.com/, in July 2014.  We share it here again...  

One classic activity of summer, enjoyed everywhere in the world and by people of all ages, is to discover and to take a cool dip in a local swimming hole.  Arizona has some incredible swimming holes! Many are located along local high country rivers and streams within two hours of driving time from the Valley of the Sun.  Some can be driven right up to while others require a little hiking.  All are a fun, refreshing and cool way to spend another year of summer vacation.  Here are a few of Arizona’s most popular and free swimming holes…

Payson area…

    1.    Water Wheel Falls and Campground are found just 10 miles north of Payson on Houston Mesa Road.  Located on the banks of the East Verde River, this is a great family swimming hole and easily to access with a short hike.   Link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/water-wheel-falls
    2.    Ellison Creek is another popular East Verde River swimming hole about 1 mile north of the Water Wheels Falls.  It is near the Houston Mesa Campground and requires a short hike to reach.  Link: http://www.azswimmingholes.com/ellison_creek.html

Camp Verde area…

    1.    Clear Creek is one of the easier swimming holes to reach, as it is just a few hundred yards from the Clear Creek Campground.  The swimming areas are not as deep as other swimming holes but the easy access makes it a popular destination. Link - http://www.azswimmingholes.com/clear_creek.html

    1.    Fossil Creek is one of two “Wild and Scenic rivers found in Arizona.  Here over 30 million gallons of water gush from a series of springs under the Mogollon Rim each day at a constant 70 degrees.  The swimming holes are located some 30 miles southeast of Camp Verde.  When swimming hole traffic gets too heavy, the Forest Service will close the access road. Link - http://www.azswimmingholes.com/fossil_creek.html

    1.    “The Bull Pen” on West Clear Creek is one of the classic swimming holes in the Camp Verde area.  The sandy beach and rope swing makes this a very popular destination for swimming. Link – http://www.azswimmingholes.com/bull_pen.html

    1.    Wet Beaver Creek has an excellent swimming hole for kids with a fun-filled rope swing.  It is located near the intersection of AZ-179 and I-17, just ¼ mile from the Beaver Creek Campground. Link - http://www.dreamsedona.com/beaver-creek-campground.html

Sedona area…

    The Sedona area has many wonderful swimming holes including central Arizona’s largest swimming hole known as “The Crack”.  https://sedonaverdevalley.org/favorite-swimming-holes-sedona-verde-valley/

     Please remember your good swimming hole etiquette that includes to not use any glass containers, to take out anything you take in and to always be courteous to other swimmers.  You will want to wear tennis shoes or sturdy, water shoes that you can get wet when you swim.  You do not want to take off your shoes as the swimming holes can be slippery and contain sharp items.  Some swimming holes are shaded, some are in full sunshine – sunscreen is a really good idea!

All pictures belong to the Town of Payson

Water Wheel

East Verde River

East Verde River

East Verde River

East Verde River

East Verde River

East Verde River

Fossil Creek


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Grand Falls of Arizona - See Them Now!

     One of the great natural events of Arizona is about to reappear when the Grand Falls near Flagstaff roar to life once again as the winter snows in the Little Colorado River watershed begin to melt.  Below is a summary we once wrote about the Grand Falls which are also known as the Chocolate Falls.  The falls do not normally run for a long period of time - by mid-April is spectacular will be over.  So, plan now and get out and discover for yourself the Grand Falls of Arizona.  

Name:  Grand Falls/Chocolate Falls

      Located across the Little Colorado River in the high desert region of the Navajo Reservation northeast of Flagstaff, this waterfall roars back to life each spring during the annual snowmelt from the slopes of 10,064 foot Mt Baldy and the White Mountains in Arizona and New Mexico.  These falls are also known as the Chocolate Falls because of the brownish color of the cascading water.  The turbulent rush of water falls downward some 185 feet which is greater than the drop of the world famous Niagara Falls.   

Why You Should Go:  Waterfalls are not common in the desert regions of Arizona, so visiting these falls when they are gushing is a unique adventure in Arizona.  The roaring energy released by the surging waters creates dancing rainbows in the rich, foaming display of chocolate colored water.

When To Go:  March and early April during the annual White Mountains snow melt

Insight:  These falls are in an isolated and rustic part of Arizona.  There is no drinking water nor restroom facilities available.  They are located 32 miles from Flagstaff.  Take I-17 north to Flagstaff.  From Flagstaff follow AZ State Route 89A North past the Flagstaff Mall turning right onto the Townsend/Winona Road - the falls are 31.7 miles from this turn.  Travel 8 miles before turning left onto the Leupp Road.  Travel another 14.7 miles and just after entering the Navajo Reservation, turn left onto Navajo Road 70 (Watch for a sign advertising the Grand Falls Bible Church).  Travel 8.5 miles on Navajo Road 70 (which is a wide, cinder road) . At the 8.5 mile mark, a small passable dirt road will veer off to the left toward the Little Colorado River.  Just before the river, a small road to the left leads to the overlook.   Warning: Do Not Attempt to drive across the Little Colorado River in a vehicle.  A rustic trail leads from the overlook down to the river level of the falls.

History:  The Grand Falls are a natural creation of an ancient lava flow from the local Merriam Crater that filled the 200 foot deep Little Colorado River Canyon gorge some 100,000 years ago.  After the lava cooled, a natural basalt dam was formed blocking the original river channel.  Seasonal river water would pool behind the basalt dam while continually seeking a way to escape and rejoin the ancient Little Colorado River channel. After cascading over the wide spillway of basalt, the water finally plunges over a final wall, forming the Grand Falls.
    The chocolate color comes from the river water having to travel some 150 miles through this high-desert region picking up tons of sand and clay.  The silt-laden water then tumbles over the waterfalls creating the distinctive brownish color.  Once over the falls, the water reenters the original Little Colorado River channel and continues on a 70-mile journey to the Grand Canyon. 

Distance from I-17/Carefree Highway:  157 miles

Good advice - contact the Flagstaff Visitor Center for latest information about the flow of the Grand Falls - 928-213-2951

Cost: Free

Hours open:  24/7/365

Website:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bQlpJaqWJU

Location: 32 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Az 

GPS Coordinates:
N 35° 25.675’
W 111° 11.975’

Navajo Highway 70