Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pine trees, playing in snow, and planet watching!

Winter does not exist in Phoenix like it does anywhere else I have ever lived. But after five winters, we have adjusted our expectations and really have grown to enjoy the fact that for a couple of months we can wear closed-toe shoes and possibly a jacket. Or not.

But the littlest Shrader has begun asking about snow. She can not imagine what it is like to live where you have to wear a coat -- or shoes with socks for that matter! This little desert baby wears flip-flops unless I absolutely insist otherwise!

This weekend, we decided to give her a taste. Dad had a clinic in Flagstaff, Arizona -- a couple of hours north of us. So we loaded the crew and tagged along for a day in the pines.

A welcoming pine at our hotel.

For this girl who grew up reading every pioneer book written by her beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder, Janette Oak and any others I could find, driving to Flagstaff is a treat. The climb to pine country carries us past towns and landmarks with names such as Bloody Basin, Bumble Bee, Horsethief Basin....all named for events that occurred there! (And while your imagination can probably fill in the blanks for the basins...I should tell you that the town of Bumble Bee is so named because the pioneers who settled there discovered an apparently abnormal amount of bees around. I had to look that one up!)

The legend of Flagstaff itself, is that early pioneers settling there found a lone tall pine tree, stripped it bare and attached a flag to let other pioneers know it was a safe place to stop for a rest. I love that.

Cate was less interested in the pioneer stories and more interested in the snow. We had barely stopped the van at the hotel when she jumped out and tried to make a snowball. (Sadly for her, the snow had been there a while, and climbing temps during the day had started the melting process, then falling temps at night the snow was packed ice that was slippery and too hard to make a snowball!)

Another of Flagstaff's claims to fame is the Lowell Observatory -- built in the late 1800s. This observatory and giant telescope led Mr. Lowell and his fellow scientists to be convinced of life on Mars. Thus, you will find all sorts of welcoming signs for Martians in this northern Arizona town. So when we got to Target for hot cocoa supplies and found Yoda shopping, we were not a bit surprised. Not a bit! (Though my boys quickly pointed out that Yoda is NOT a I might not know that! ha)

The courtyard behind our hotel had some inviting snow. After we took Daddy to work and bundled everyone in layers -- it was 21 degrees -- we went out to see if Cate could play in that snow. Alas, after slipping, sliding and some bad "breaking the ice" jokes by my 13-year-olds (the entire thing was a sheet of ice), we decided to take our adventure in another direction.

The day marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Tragedy. I was a senior in high school on January 28, 1986 and running around like the completely self-absorbed 17-year-old I was. Seeing the launch about to take place, I chose not to watch, I had seen it so often before. Ironically, I spent the next three days watching the replay over and over again. Mourning the lives lost and praying for the families impacted.

I remember the first shuttle launch after the tragedy. I watched mesmerized, holding my breath and praying that nothing would go wrong. My dear boyfriend by that time, was an aerospace engineer major and we watched with hope that the Space program would continue. (I would watch subsequent flights as his wife, while he worked at NASA and monitored the flights much more technically!) So yesterday, I wanted to do something that would help my kids understand. We talked about the tragedy -- they have heard so much about it through the years -- but I wanted more. Since we were in Flagstaff, a field trip seemed in order.

So we climbed the mountain to the Lowell Observatory. I was not sure what to expect. But it was absolutely perfect -- we enjoyed ourselves, learned a lot and will return. Often.

First, we were able to use a special telescope to view the sun. I had never done anything like that and it was amazing!

Once our vision oriented to the bright red dot in the viewfinder, we were able to see the surface of the sun. We could see this cotton-candy looking substance shooting off of one side. The guide explained we were seeing solar flares. It was absolutely breath-taking!

And I have to say -- you do realize of course, that the sun is the exact distance away from Earth that it needs to be to warm our planet without completely cooking us? Right? That is not a coincidence. Oh the majesty of our Creator!

While at the Observatory, we were able to tour the building where Pluto was discovered! The story was fascinating -- and I knew at least two of my kids were enthralled with the details. Cate was ready for more snow and I was afraid Benjamin had tuned out. But as the guide is re-counting the details of the discovery, the naming, etc. I hear my boy say something. I look at him and he is smiling, and says, "That is the same year, Walt named Mickey's dog Pluto." I am like, "Really?" And Benjamin is just smiling.

About that time, the guide says, "Another strange part of the story is that that same year a man in California named his dog Pluto. Walt Disney."  Never underestimate the details my kid stores in his brain.

Where Pluto was discovered...the planet!

Mr. Lowell hired bicycle shop owners in Flagstaff to build his observatory! It is fascinating more than 100 years later!

The telescope...

And finally, the little girl was able to make a snowball with the much softer snow found around the grounds of the Observatory. And that made for a very happy five-year-old.

We finished the day with dinner at a local Mexican restaurant where we laughed until we cried at everything from the story-sharing with Dad about our day, to the silliest topics imaginable. (I'm fairly certain the other patrons alternately wanted to join us and wanted us to leave!)

And so the blessings were countless on this little get-away -- because family-focused time is always just my favorite thing of all!


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

What a wonderful adventure and marvelous story! SO glad Cate saw and touched Real Snow! And the story about the observatory is amazing. We've been to Flagstaff but didn't have time to visit the observatory. I WANT to test out that sun-viewing telescope! GREAT pics, dear! LOVE THIS!

Claire's Calico Corner said...

I loved reading about the legend of Flagstaff... how amazing!
I enjoyed our trip,too! And I LOVE your photos!! I love you,
Claire at the Corner