Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Arizona! Day 3: OdySea Aquarium and Lowell Observatory

On Monday morning, December 17, we were still in our hotel room when Barry got a phone call from OdySea Aquarium in the desert. Barry had bought us tickets to go there on Sunday, but since the open hours listed on Google were not accurate, we did not arrive until after it was closed for the day. Barry had then inquired about whether we could exchange our unused Sunday tickets for Monday tickets. They called him back Monday morning to say yes, we could get in on Monday with our unused Sunday tickets.

So, after helping ourselves to another elaborate and delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel and packing all our stuff into the rental car (because we would not be coming back to this hotel the next night), we drove to Scottsdale to visit the aquarium. OdySea Aquarium in the Desert could equally well be called OdySea Aquarium in a Shopping Mall. It was an anchor store of a large mall. There were kids sitting on Santa's lap and kids playing in a pile of snow that had been manufactured for them with a snow machine or perhaps hauled down from Flagstaff. There was a candy shop that we walked through, though we didn't end up buying any candy. There was also a place called Butterfly Wonderland that I decided we should visit if or when we go back to Arizona again. We looked around its gift shop, but the full Butterfly Wonderland experience was quite expensive, and we didn't have enough free time to spend there to justify the money.

Mostly we just spent our time at the aquarium. We saw fish! We even petted a lot of the fish. Or at least I did. Barry is more fish-averse and only petted a couple of them. But here is Barry petting a fish.

Barry at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And here I am petting a ray.

me at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And posing with the ray.

me at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Have you had enough of these rays yet?

rays at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here are some other rays, with other fish.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here are some turtles.

sea turtles at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


An alligator.

alligator at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


An axolotl.

axolotl at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


An eel that struck Barry as acting particularly "chill."

eel at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And another eel, not so chill.

eel at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Would you like some holiday decor with your fish?

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


I petted sea anenomes and starfish.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


I was amused by these fish, hiding together in a rock with big frowns on their faces.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We saw a crab.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And some lobsters. Lobsters are scary. They're like humongous insects. Do not want.

Although I didn't get good pictures of them, the aquarium also had several species of cockroaches behind several different glass windows. But I was much more bothered by the lobsters than by the cockroaches.

lobsters at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We saw seahorses. Seahorses are nice.

seahorse at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

seahorse at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And walking batfish. Barry objected to these: "Fish are not supposed to have huge biceps."

walking batfish at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


More walking batfish.

walking batfish at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We saw a tank of jellyfish.

jellyfish at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

jellyfish at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We attended a talk about the giant Pacific octopus. We learned that this one is young, only about a year old, not full grown yet, and has a particularly "feisty and playful" personality. She is more active than most, which still means that she sleeps almost all day long. They are white when they are asleep. She slept through the whole talk about her.

giant Pacific octopus at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We also attended a talk about otters. These otters apparently spend vast amounts of time playing, but they weren't very active while we were there. They had all piled into a used tire to sleep together.

otters at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We could have gone to a talk about penguins, but it was at the same time as the octopus talk. So we just looked at the penguins. They were hard to capture in photographs, because they moved extremely fast underwater. Here they are above the water.

penguins at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here they are underwater.

penguins at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here is a wide shot of the entire penguin enclosure, including an employee feeding the penguins.

penguins at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Penguin closeup.

penguin at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Final penguin shot.

penguins at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


There were also other birds and other animals, some of which seemed a bit out of place in an aquarium. There was a sloth that I didn't take a picture of because it didn't wake up or uncurl itself to pose for pictures. And there were these toucans.

toucans at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


But there were also lots and lots and lots and lots of fish.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert

Near the end of the aquarium tour, we rode in a pretend submarine. The submarine was really a room with a rotating floor that turned to face various different fish tanks. A member of the aquarium staff played a recording of the "captain" saying we were going to a new ocean depth or location each time the floor rotated. The staff member pretended to converse with the recording, and other supposed crew members' voices also appeared n the recording at times. The remaining aquarium pictures here are all from the "submarine." Here is a ray with some other fish.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here's a sea turtle.

sea turtle at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


And another sea turtle. The sea turtles at the aquarium were rescued after suffering crippling injuries that made them unable to live in the wild anymore. The one below suffered from a permanent condition called "bubble butt." This means that an injury has caused it to develop an air pocket under its shell that keeps its back end afloat, preventing it from being able to dive for food properly. The aquarium places weights on it to counteract the lifting effect of the air bubble, but the turtle cannot return to the sea because it needs the weights continually adjusted as it grows.

sea turtle at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Here are a shark and some other fish.

OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


More sharks.

shark at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


Still more sharks.

shark at the OdySea Aquarium in the Desert


We had a good time at the aquarium. Toward the end of our visit, though, I became aware that I was developing a sore throat. I had picked up a cold, probably during the plane flight Saturday morning, and it was now showing itself. So that was a bit annoying.

Now it was time to drive to Flagstaff. The drive took a little over two hours, and I spent most of it staring out the window and commenting on the changing biomes - gradually fewer cacti and more conifers, but with a lot of intermediate stages along the way. We took I-17 for the entire drive, but we were later advised that it's worth taking half an hour longer to arrive via a scenic detour through Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89A. We'll keep that in mind for any future trips.

We arrived in Flagstaff around 3:30. There was snow on the ground! We stopped to eat at La Vetta Ristorante Italiano. This was pretty much the perfect fancy restaurant experience. We were the only customers there! The waiter gave us a central location in front of the fireplace and made us feel special. The food was a little pricey, as was to be expected with the atmosphere and service we received, but it was delicious. Barry ordered the Hatch Chile Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese: penne pasta and hatch green chiles baked in a rich smoked gouda cream sauce and topped with herb crumbs. I ordered something from the seasonal winter menu, which isn't available online, so I can't confirm the details - but it was something like "Apple Poached Pork" or some such thing. Sliced apples baked between slices of pork. It was wonderful. I told Barry he should just start throwing sliced apples into everything he cooks, because it's hard to go wrong with them.

The dessert menu looked exquisite too, and I was not too full to want to eat dessert. But the prices were sufficiently high that I restrained myself, especially since I could see that Barry was less tempted. I did kind of regret the self-restraint later, though. Their dessert menu isn't available online either, which is unfortunate, since if it were, I would consult it now and seek out cheaper versions of everything on it.

At about 4:00, we headed to Lowell Observatory. This is the place where Pluto was discovered! They make a big fuss about pretending to be offended by the notion that Pluto doesn't count as a full planet anymore. We got our hands stamped at the front desk and then set out to wander the grounds. Well, first we stepped into one of the buildings to check out the Putnam Collection - a mini-museum of Percival Lowell's old stuff, including various books and instruments, hand-drawn Mars globes showing what he believed were canals dug by Martians, his first telescope that his mother gave him when he was 15, the spectrograph that V.M. Slipher used to capture the first evidence that the universe was expanding, and a very old car that Percival Lowell once owned, which had been subsequently sold and then eventually bought back for museum purposes. Then we set out to wander the grounds! We walked on the Solar System Walk, which is a scale model of the solar system that illustrates the relative distances between the various planets. Here I am with the Pluto marker at the end of the Solar System Walk.

me at the Lowell Observatory


Here is a wider shot of the building at the end of the Solar System Walk. We didn't go inside this building, but it houses the telescope that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto with.

Lowell Observatory


There is also a scale-model Galaxy Walk - obviously using a different scale - but it was closed for renovations while we were there. I think we were in the vicinity of the Galaxy Walk when I took this picture of Barry.

Barry at the Lowell Observatory


Next, we walked over to Percival Lowell's mausoleum.

Percival Lowell's mausoleum at Lowell Observatory

Percival Lowell's mausoleum at Lowell Observatory


Here is one of the statements printed on his mausoleum: "Astronomy now demands bodily abstraction of its devotee . . . to see into the beyond requires purity . . and the securing it makes him perforce a hermit from his kind . . . . . he must abandon cities and forego [sic] plains . . . . only in places raised above and aloof from men can he profitably persue [sic] his search. He must learn to wait upon his opportunities and then no less to wait for mankind's acceptance of his results . . for in common with most explorers he will encounter on his return that final penalty of penetration the certainty at first of being disbelieved . . . . ." Mars and Its Canals, Percival Lowell.

I can't understand why they built him such a nice mausoleum but then marred it with such poorly edited text. What's with the apparently completely random numbers of dots in the ellipses? And why did they have to wrap the lines in the middle of the words? Also, good luck, Mr. Lowell, in your extremely long wait for mankind's acceptance of your belief in Martian canals. But I don't think you're going to stop being disbelieved about that anytime soon.

Percival Lowell's mausoleum at Lowell Observatory


Here is another statement on his mausoleum: "Everything around this Earth we see is subject to one inevitable cycle of birth growth decay . . . nothing begins but comes at last to end . . . . though our own lives are too busy to even mark the slow nearing to that eventual goal . . . . . today what we already know is helping to comprehension of another world. In a not distant future we shall be repaid with interest and what that other world shall have taught us will redound to a better knowledge of our own and of the cosmos of which the two form part . . . ." The Evolution of Worlds, Percival Lowell.

At least this quote has stood the test of time better than the Martian Canals thing.

Percival Lowell's mausoleum at Lowell Observatory


Near the mausoleum, we had a nice view down the hill toward Flagstaff.

Lowell Observatory


I zoomed in on the streets of Flagstaff.

Lowell Observatory


We could also see some mountains in the medium distance.

Lowell Observatory


We started heading back toward the observatory's many buildings when a man stopped us, demanding to know whether we were paying visitors. We showed him the stamps on our hands, and he started profusely apologizing, explaining that sometimes people show up and start walking the grounds without paying. He invited us into a building to look at the huge Clark telescope that was custom-built for Percival Lowell, which has a lens that is two feet in diameter and weighs 15 pounds. He said it has since been discovered that there is no actual benefit to having a lens as big and expensive as this one - the increasing benefits of large lenses top out well below this - so, as a result, there are no other telescopes in the world with lenses quite as huge as this one.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory


We then headed back toward the other buildings at the observatory.

Lowell Observatory


We almost went to a talk in this one, but we decided to leave without attending. We waited outside for the previous talk to end, but then we left before it did.

Lowell Observatory


We went back into the main building, the rear entrance of which is below, and browsed its gift shop. We were each independently thinking about getting my mother a Christmas present from the gift shop, because my mother loves astronomy. We eventually picked out a sort of pocket star map that Barry bought for her.

We also went to a talk in this building. It was billed as a series of "science demonstrations" to explain the nature of the sun and the various planets. The guy giving the talk was quite young (although old enough that he said he had a degree in astrophysics) and said he really loves his job and hates to think that someday he'll eventually have to get a more boring job. His job, at least for the duration of this talk, consisted of getting paid to play with fire and dangerous chemicals, which he indicated was his favorite thing to do even when not getting paid for it. He put a rubber mat over his podium and poured alcohol on the mat and lit his podium on fire, then poured dry ice and other extremely cold substances to put out the fire, then set more fires and put them out with vacuum suction, and so on, while talking about how each situation resembled some planet or other, but also talking about how much he loves getting paid to set his podium on fire. It was quite entertaining - the highlight of our visit.

Lowell Observatory


Snow started falling while we were at Lowell Observatory. Darkness also started falling, and since the stars were obscured by snowclouds, the darkness didn't add anything to the experience as it otherwise might have. We got back on the road and drove through the falling snow to the Bookmans store in Flagstaff - our third and final used bookstore visit of our four-day Arizona vacation. Barry managed to sell a few more of his old books that the Bookmans stores in Phoenix and Mesa hadn't wanted, and I used up his store credit (and paid the remainder with my own cash) buying The Cost of Lunch, Etc: Stories by Marge Piercy.

Next, we stopped for dinner at Freddy's Custard & Steakburgers, where we each had a cheeseburger, fries, and a sundae. The sundae was quite helpful in calming the sore throat I'd had all day.

Snow was still falling when we left Freddy's and headed to the AirBnB that Barry had picked out for our final night in Arizona. The AirBnB was a family home but also a recording studio that has been used since the '70s by many big-name acts . . . and I'll say more about that in my Day 4 entry. For now, I'll just say that the road to the AirBnB was closed to all but local traffic because of snow, but since we were "local traffic" of a sort, Barry continued forward, even into the long driveway that was so covered in snow that we couldn't see any of the ground through it. We were a little concerned about whether we'd be able to get out of here in the morning, since snow was still falling, but our hosts said that since the weather report hadn't called for snow at all, whatever snow they got overnight was unlikely to be much, and it would melt away quickly the next morning. So we took comfort in that and quickly went to sleep.
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