Monday, April 9, 2012

Beacons In The Sky

Ever look up into the Tucson sky and see white objects on top of mountains?  Well it's not a UFO, but one of the many space observatories that are located on our mountain tops.  While on a wildflower and wildlife hunt, I passed by Kitt Peak and decided to stop by.....
As stated, I had been searching for the amazing California Poppy displays around this mountain range, but I was disappointed to discover that I had been too early for the show.  I'll be heading back that way again and crossing my fingers that they will be in bloom this month.  This photo series was taken in March.  The story I tell today was a strange one.....but hey, I replaced my chapstick that I use on my hikes during the dry season.
While the trek wasn't a complete waste, it wasn't the most exciting.  Thankfully I went on the tour with our guide by the name of Bill.  He was a retired man with a wonderful smile and patient heart.  Sounds like I love him.  I just recognized the fact that he is an excellent educator for the public.  Someone who likes people and likes what they do.   First.  If you plan on going to Kitt Peak(south of Tucson) during the day, you need to take the tour.  Second.  Be prepared for chilly weather on this sky island.  It doesn't look like it's high up, but it is.  And the wind can be COLD!!!  Wear pants and a jacket during this time of year.  Kitt Peak is the most accessible for visiting the observatories.  Did you know?  Tucson has a light ordinance to help reduce urban light pollution for our space observatories?
Grey-headed Dark-eyed Junco
I went to see what kind of birds were hanging around the mountain tops.  And I wasn't disappointed.  The Grey-headed Juncos and Mexican Jays were all over the place.  And the Chihuahuan Ravens were majestic in the wind.  Beautiful birds.   Before the tour, I walked around the several observatories enjoying the fresh air.  The tourists visiting this day were a little bizarre.  A group of nasty smokers had a difficult time with the higher altitudes and couldn't breathe well.  I wonder why?  Even though one of the space observatories was  nearby, several of them complained about walking less than a block to visit one!!!  They got back into their cars and lit another cigarrette and drove off.  That's okay because they were annoying.  But why drive all that way just to drive back down again??? And smoking is bad for you. The smell annoys me as does a Southern drawl or a Wisconsin, "Hey der!" I rid myself of my Cheesehead accent years ago. I still have to make a concentrated effort on pronouncing words like "bag, flag, etc."  Open vowel sounds....not closed.  It's not "beg" It's "b-aaahh-ggg".  Some habits are hard to quite I guess:) My family has a strong and thick accent so I have to be careful when I'm home visiting not to slide back into that German/English mishmash.  I don't always succeed. Okay den, let's focus more on da topic, ya?
Kitt Peak was created in 1953 and funded by several universities around the country.  Today many observatories are located on top of this Tohono O'odam run land and are funded by the various universities around the country and the world!  Without the tour, it was boring....but the birding part was fun.  Some of the structures look like they need some work.  One observatory looked like it needed some updating.  The Solar Observatory, in my opinion, was depressing.  There was termite damage inside one of the telescope areas.  You can visit some areas but not many.
 I suppose to give it a fair shake, one would need to visit the observatories at night when the place "comes alive".  Like finding life in the Amazon Rainforest or searching for owls, the night is when stargazing is done by astronomers.  And that makes sense.  Several of my friends have done the dinner, overnight stays and telescope viewing from Mt. Lemmon and Kitt Peak and had loved the experience.  So to get the real experience, set up a stay for the night via their websites.
But if you go during the day, you may be disappointed.  Check out this empty basketball court below.  It looks like it hasn't been used in a hundred years!  In fact, it reminded me of my trip to Gamboa in Panama.  Do people really use this place to look up into the night sky?  I was doubtful.  So instead of me making a snap judgement, I took the tour at 1:30 and was glad I did..... 
It put a human face to the barren white domes. The people in this tour group were B.I.Z.A.R.R.E.  Well there were a couple cool people in the the nice couple from Washington.  I think everyone I've met from this state has been really wonderful.  But I know there are always a few bad the couple from Minnesota!!!  Seriously.....Minnesota.  Most people from this state are really amazing as well.  Bill, our guide, was friendly and answered every question as if it were important.  One of the telescopes on Kitt Peak is monitoring for incoming asteroids passing by Earth's orbit.  The female version of crazy asked if they would be able to see a shot of an asteroid  hitting Earth!!! She was serious. Everyone in the group chuckled except Bill.  He answered the question as if it were important.  Must be the scientist part of him.  Or he goes home afterwards, cracks open a beer, writes down the quote of the day in the book and laughs to himself.  Hey we all get one of those moments don't we?  Once, when I was younger, I asked an incredibly stupid question on a submarine.  At the end of the tour, I innocently asked our guide, "Is this where we started?"  I won't forget that moment.
On the way to the observatory during the tour,  male version of crazy starts rattling off strange facts about nothing.  Once inside the observatory, there were annoying kids running around while our tour was going on.  Crazy guy turns to an older couple...they looked like Grandparents....and asks them if those were their 5 or 6 year old kids!!!????  Again everyone in the group just kind of looked at each other.  My final opinion is that they were not human but instead.....Martians.  Martians from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I was also thankful for this sign.  It was a reminder that a cliff was right next to me and that I could fall off. 
So like this Mexican Jay, I took off from Kitt Peak adding two more birds to my list for the year.  And with a bit more knowledge on telescope design. But mostly that I could tell the difference between a Junco and a Warbler:) And that there are Martians posing as human.
And the wildflowers?  Major fail on my part.  Kitt Peak really is a great place for wildflowers...especially in April in May.  But because it's a bit cooler there, the flowers don't develop until later.  My best bet would have been to go up Hwy 77 in March.  There were wildflowers...just not in the mass groupings I was hoping for. I'll try again because this is definitely a hotspot for them! More tomorrow....
Scorpion Weed


  1. Cute shot of the Junco and the Scorpion Weed is a pretty color. I am sure the wildflowers are beautiful when they are in bloom. Now you must go back to see them and share with us. Interesting post on Kitt peak. Great shots, have a wonderful week!

  2. you made me laugh, but i personally love to hear the wisconsin accents. ya, hey...

  3. I was there once many moons ago. They didn't have tours then.

  4. I've been to Kitt Peak with my brother who lives in Tucson before and you're was cool there. Weather-wise and otherwise. Hope you get those wildflowers.

  5. It would be nice to see these during the day and again at night.

    On most tours, there's at least one dumbass. And yes, we do go home and write them down to share with fellow staff.

    My best to date: While leading a cave tour I'm asked, "Is the cave really underground?" And while other visitors are tittering I answer with a professional smile, "That is the nature of caves."

  6. When we went on a night tour of the Sutherland observatory we had a young woman with a new camera - who kept firing the flash in our eyes. When the evil looks didn't work, I made sure I always had my back turned to her. Night vision anyone?!!

  7. What a beautiful day to remember, it was really. Shame about the smokers, they are pests.

  8. An interesting place. I had not thought about the observatories around there. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Hi Chris, oh Kreesh! I love this post among all your older ones. I laughed at the crazies, i am glad you took pains in telling us the details. And the photos are great as well, i love that bird shot, haven't seen anything shot that way. I really had a good laugh. But you will say i am the craziest of all, because i can't get what you mean about your question on the submarine! If in a group, at least i don't easily open my mouth!

  10. Hi Chris, I love the Junco and the Mexican Jay... Sorry you missed some of the wildflowers.. You will just have to go back.. I have found that every year is different --when it comes to flowers/wildflowers...

    Thanks for the 'tour'.. It's hard to believe that so many young kids these days are so rude...

    Have a great Tuesday.

  11. Beautiful series, love the Jay getting away!

  12. Really interesting post Chris. Loved the bits about people on the tour - they did make me laugh. Its amazing the thoughts that can go through your mind on tours like this! Hope you get chance to go back and see the wildflowers - it looks as though there will be a lovely display.

  13. Oh, I learned so much from this post. I had no idea you could spend the night. I know just the person who would love doing that next time they come to visit. I think I saw a junco on our walk in Venice, but I am not sure. The photo is not great, but I will post it one day.


Thanks for stopping by!