Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kitt Peak National Observatoryv-- Post 1

Before leaving for Arizona, I not only worked on my speech that I am giving at the Tucson Showplace today, but I also spent even more time preparing my speech for the international agate show coming up in Minneapolis, Mn the end of July.  After researching the topic of my talk (The Story of Silica: Cosmic Source through Agate Genesis), I became completely hooked on astronomy.  In the July talk, I will start with the Big Bang and summarize how the elements silicon and oxygen came to be, how these elements became part of the earth, and how they formed into agate.

During my research, thanks to a referral from one of my blog followers, I found out about Kitt Peak National Observatory.  Since they have lost a lot of their federal funding, each night as not only a fund raiser, but as a sincere effort to share their technology and understanding with the public, they initiated a nightly observatory program.  On Sunday night, I decided to participate.  It costs $48 per person, but that includes a box dinner.  The program started at 4:45pm and did not end until 9:30.
Back in the late 1950s, it was decided that we need a national observatory for the United States.  The first task was to select the location.  Because of the more favorable weather, several mountain peaks in the southwest were considered.  It was decided that Kitt Peak, located 45 miles west of Tucson in the Quinlin Mountains, would be the perfect place – except for one thing:  the mountain is owned and sacred to the Tohono O’adham Nation.

Negotiations took place and the Native Americans finally agreed to lease the land.  Construction began in 1958 and the first telescope was installed.  Today there are over 25 different telescopes nestled on top of this rugged mountain.  The visitor's center was built in 1964 allowing tens of thousands of visitors per year to learn about astronomy.  The mission of the visitor's center is to inspire a sense of wonder and awe about the Universe, through exhibits, tours, and public programs.  The Nightly Observing Program is one.

From our campground in the Tucson Mountain Park, I headed west down Aho Way.  As soon as I turned west, I figured that the mountains that I could see housed the National Observatory.  In Photoshop I zoomed in and spotted one of the telescope domes.  Notice the arrow below.

I am driving the RV, so I was nervous about driving 12 miles up to a peak that is nearly 7,000 foot tall -- but I did it.

Here is the view of the peak from the access road.

I stopped in a pull out half way up the mountain to get a few shots.

In the parking lot is a decorated mirror from one of the telescopes.

There are 23 different universities and groups that operate equipment on Kitt Peak.  Some of them operate their telescope remotely, such as one that is in Florida and works from there.

This is a shot of the visitor's center.

In the visitor's center is this awesome meteorite that was recovered in Argentina.  Scientists believe that this meteorite hit earth a few thousand years ago.

Outside the visitor's center is a display with this Native American artifact.

Here are a couple of shots from the top of the mountain looking out over the valley floor.

After orientation and dinner, they walked our group of 42 up to the west side of the mountain to watch sunset.  Wow.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Agate Hunting in Arizona

We woke up yesterday after camping on BLM land to a glorious morning.

Gerald took off by himself to trek up the mountain you can see in the photo below.  Jill and I walked the flats looking for chalcedony roses and fire agate.

This is the nicest chalcedony rose that I found.

A view of our spot looking west.

Jill and I agate hunted for about an hour and a half.  On our way back to our vehicles, I spotted this prayer circle.  It was not near any of the two-track roads -- just out in the middle of nowhere.  I am not sure, but it could be an artifact left over from Native Americans.  There was a sign posted as we drove in saying not to disrupt any artifacts.

Jill found this shed snakeskin.

I had a request to take pictures of the inside of my 23 foot rented RV.

In this high desert field, there are holes in the ground everywhere.  Most of the holes are just an inch or two wide, but this one was a foot in diameter.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Arizona Adventure -- Quartzite and Agate Hunting

Yesterday morning we started at first light and had breakfast. Even though it gets into the 70s during the day, it is chilly at night. So I have been using the heater in the morning to take the chill off. The dealers in Quartzite, as I think I already explained, stretch over a three mile area. We heard that there were more rock dealers down at the other end, so we headed there. One of the first dealers I met was George Sechler, who owns Oasis Prospecting.

I must admit that George is the most adventurous rockhound I have ever met. He not only travels the world, but he spends weeks and months using Google Earth to find old mines, ancient river beds, and other geologic features that can lead him to incredible finds. For example, he found some jasper chips in the Sahara desert and after studying aerial images, determined that there was an ancient river bed that existed even before the Nile had carved its full path. Once he determined the path of the old river, he was able to find the source of jasper. He has also found minerals in Cambodia, Brazil, and many other places.

I spent around six hours meeting people, buying rocks, and lugging them back to my RV. By that time I had pretty much spent my budget – and I have not even been to the Tucson Show yet. That is OK, though, since I found so many great deals in Quartzite. I purchased a lot of new and different things that I have never carried before including perfect pyrite cubes in matrix, a whole flat of incredible Mexican Laguna agates, Royal Sahara Jasper, some bizarre iron concretions, more ocean jasper, a lot of pendants, calcite, spook rock, selenite swirls, obsidian, lots of slabs for making art, more polished stones including some great quality, Botswana agate, snakeskin agate, and more.

Mid-afternoon my friends and I decided it was time for us to get out into the field and do a little rockhounding. Gerald had bought the new Gem Trails of Arizona book and selected a site near Saddle Mountain, which is located half way between Quartzite and Phoenix. After an hour and a half drive, we pulled off the highway and headed to BLM government land.   

The land was littered with rocks as well as cactus and scrubby desert bushes. In amongst the rocks are small pieces of macro quartz as well as chalcedony. Some of the chalcedony is formed into rose-like structures, and some actually have some fire agate. Considering that the rest of the desert rock, most of which is sedimentary, is monotone in color – the quartz and chalcedony are extremely obvious. In about an hour I collected a gallon bag.

The peaks of the mountains in this area are rugged and jagged.   It is a cool place to camp.

Do you see the chalcedony?

This is the mountain that is sitting right in front of us.

Of course there are cacti.

The rock strewn desert floor.


The moon...

For the first time I used my camera's zoom to get a picture of a planet.  I'm not sure which one, and the picture is not in focus, but I enjoyed trying.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Arizona Trip -- Post 1

I flew out of Marquette on Thursday and tried to do a blog update from 28,000 feet up. I was just ready to send the data when the free wifi ended. I didn't want to pay, so I'll finish the frozen waterfalls posting later.

In the mean time, I would like to share with you the first pictures from the Arizona trip. I am sitting in my rented RV in a dirt "dry camping" area right in the middle of the chaos at Quartzite. There are over 100,000 RVs and lots of other people. The dealers are spread out throughout the city, but mainly on this one 3 mile long corridor. There are not just rocks for sale -- but everything you can imagine.

In Marquette two years ago a stolen Russion plane landed for refueling and repairs.  It was discovered that it was stolen and there the plane still sits.  I heard that someone purchased it, but for what ever reason it is still there.  The snowplows just go around it.

Here is a shot I took after we took off.  You can see the airport and that same Russian plane.

When I worked in Corporate America and flew a million and a half miles, I saw many sunsets from my airplane seat.  It  has been a while....

You know you are in Arizona when you see palm trees.  My friends, Gerald and Jill, who left Grand Rapids last weekend, picked me up in Phoenix and drove me to the RV rental place.  By the time we went grocery shopping, it was too late to try to drive across the desert to somewhere we had never been.  So we found a campsite.  Thus, the first night I only drove my rented RV about 10 miles.

Scenes from the campground....

Then the next day we drove the hour and a half to Quartzite.  What chaos.  But we found the Rice Ranch and paid our $7 to dry camp.  The picture below is my rented RV.

Here are both of our RVs, side by side.

In three hours or so I spent half my budget.  There is no question that the prices are better in Quartzite than at the Tucson show.  Here is a shot of part of the Western Woods booth.

There are more non-rock booths than there are booths that sell rocks and minerals -- at least where we were yesterday.  This is an ice cream maker that we saw.

And here is a sphere maker.  I have a lot of people ask me what they look like.  You can see the rough cut rock in the middle of the three grinding surfaces.

The sunset over the mountains lit up the sky.