At the Hadrian Hotel

At the Hadrian Hotel

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Arizona Day 2 - The View from 6875 Feet

To start off our second day in Arizona we took a trip to the Kitt Peak National Observatory. You can probably tell how high above sea level the observatory is from the title of this entry.

We arrived shortly before the 10:00 AM tour of the Solar Telescope, which started in the visitor's center with a brief history of the observatory. The land on which the observatory sits is leased from the Tohono O'odham people. The conditions of the lease require that only astronomical research be done on the site, with no military or commercial ventures (such as a snack bar). The only exception is the gift shop, which is also an outlet for craft items produced by the Tohono O'odham.

The Solar Telescope is built into the top of the mountain at an angle of 32°, which is the latitude of the location. At night, the telescope points directly at the north star. During the day, there is a heliostat at the top of the telescope which tracks the sun and sends its light deep into the mountain where it is reflected by a pair of mirrors into the observation room. The body of the telescope is sheathed in copper with system of tubing filled with ethylene glycol and used to keep all of the air inside the telescope at the same temperature. This keeps the air from moving within the telescope which keeps the image from getting distorted.

Our tour guide told us that there are about 26 telescopes on the site. Among these are the 2.1m reflector pictured here and a 12m radio telescope dish. The guide only gave us an approximate number for the telescope count because different groups are always bringing in new instruments or taking out old ones.

On the way up to the observatory, we saw a man riding a bicycle up the long twisty road. As we were getting ready to leave we saw him and I asked him how long it took to do the climb. He told me that it took him 2:45, but that he used to be able to do it in 2:13. He left shortly before we did and we didn't see him until we were back on the highway. He must have gone down hill a bit faster than the 35 MPH speed limit.

After leaving Kitt Peak, we headed over to the Old Tucson Studios - the home of many American westerns including "Arizona," "Rio Bravo," "The Outlaw Josie Wales" and "Tombstone."

Randee's theory is that Old Tucson Studios used to be just a working studio site but that when the western became less popular the decision was made to turn it into a tourist attraction as well. Now, they seem to have the best of both worlds. It is still a working studio site and it is open daily for visitors. As an added bonus, if you happen to be there on a day that they're filming, you can watch the action or maybe even be pulled in as an extra.

We took a walking tour at the studios and our guide knew quite a bit about the history of the studios and the movies that were made there. He told us about which actor stood where and did what during what movie. Unfortunately, as I write this a few days have passed and I remember almost nothing of what he said. That's what I get for packing so much into a vacation that I have almost no time to write about it. :-)

After the tour, we took in the wild west shoot-out show (Eric took some video) and then roamed around for a few hours. It was a pretty neat place and even the boys had a good time. If you're in the are and have any interest at all in movies, you should check it out.

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