Snowbirding 101

Welcome to Kitt Peak

Check out the observatory with Lynne Benjamin—the drive is worth it

Kitt Peak
The observatory stands out against the natural backdrop. — photo by Lynne Benjamin

It all started with Steve—the fellow we met first at the Escapees Park near Wickenburg, Arizona, whose whole life revolved around his telescope and astronomy. We talked about the observatory at Kitt Peak and decided that on this trip we just had to check it out.

We thought it was close. We left Why, Arizona, at 7:30 a.m. to catch the first tour at 10 a.m. It is about 90 miles from Why to the turn-off but it is an additional 12 miles up a mountain road to the observatory. It was white-knuckle driving for Fred— curves that compete with the hair-pin turns on the Going to the Sun Road through the Logan Pass in Glacier—only this time we had to drive up the outside lane for 12 miles up to the 7,000-foot elevation.

What a great view. When I suggested that we pull over to look, I got an emphatic, “I don’t think so.” Then I looked over at his hand and realized he was hanging onto the steering wheel like he was going to fall off. I offered to drive and got, “that would be even worse.”

The observatory is the largest in the world and consists of 23 separate telescopes (very few are accessible to the public). It sits on Kitt Peak on the Tono O’Odham Reservation in the Sonoran Desert and is part of an International Astronomical Community Organization.

The one thing I can verify for sure is that it is cold up there. With a climb of about 4000 feet comes a fall of about 20° F.

We ended up not taking any of the tours, but instead wandered around on our own.

I can see why anybody who has any interest in the skies would be so fascinated with it.

The night observation tours must be incredible, but I tell you, if we had a tough time with that road during the day—can you imagine what it would be like at night? There are no lights on the road at all and you would be travelling down in the dark. I don’t think so!

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