2015 has been the Year of Pluto, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft hurtles through our galaxy and finally arrived this summer at the distant, cold and icy domain that has shrouded Pluto in mystery since its discovery in 1930. So it only made sense to visit Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona as I made my way around the United States earlier this spring.
The observatory is perched on a hill overlooking Flagstaff, a city that defies every stereotype I held of Arizona. Instead of finding a dry desert city or retirees, I found an outdoorsy town of youth and vigor at 7,000 feet and carpeted in pine forests. I even biked through Flagstaff’s extensive trail system in the midst of a spring snowstorm, which was oddly exhilarating.
Lowell Observatory is open to the public and tours take you into the observatories where astronomers once peered into the mysteries of space, contemplating life on Mars (Percival Lowell was convinced he saw a canal system through the Clark telescope) and searching for Planet X, the elusive Pluto, discovered by a dedicated groundskeeper named Clyde Tombaugh. Back in town, I sipped my way through laid back coffee houses and brewpubs among the fleece and Patagonia-clad local crowd.
It’s easy to visit Flagstaff without a vehicle. Amtrak calls once a day from both the east and west at the historic station right in the center of town. Multiple Route 66-era motor inns are within walking distance, as are historic hotels and a small hostel. I could walk or bike to all the major sites, and hiking trails lead from the city into the surrounding mountains.
To enjoy my photos of the observatory and city, click on the link: Flagstaff, Arizona