Jun 7

Letter to friends

Category: Arizona,Lowell,Work

Here is a letter I sent to friends recently – I’ll put it here as a catch-all for people I might have missed.

Greetings all!

If you find anyone that I’ve left off of this email, please forward it to them. Omission from this list is accidental!

It has been a few months since I left the Lab and I have been thinking about all of you. After a 6-week marathon session of home refurbishing, car purchasing and all kinds of last-minute details, we (Holly and myself) rented our house to a great lady (who is taking care of our dog) and hit the road. We drove for about two weeks, eventually landing up in Flagstaff, AZ. Along the way, we stopped to see the creation museum in Kentucky (it was like the twighlight zone), Arches national park, monument Valley, many smaller parks, friends along the way, and of course too many interesting roadside sights to mention here. The trip length was 2900 miles.

I have been at my new job for three weeks. The assignment is as challenging as any I have faced at JHUAPL, but the conditions of work are very different. Lowell Observatory is like a big family. There are only 80 people on staff. Everyone knows everyone else. Although I have many tasks, they are all for the same project. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to be doing next month, and don’t have to fill out a weekly time sheet. Among the staff, there is a sense of work/life balance, but also an intense feeling of dedication to the work and to the institution. There is a sense that the work is important, and a sense of the history of the institution. The campus is situated within a national forest on a small pine-covered mountain overlooking Flagstaff at 7300 feet. There are breathtaking views of mountains and many animals around the place. It is dog-friendly and some people bring dogs to work. In three weeks, I’ve purchased one tank of gas, and probably won’t need another one for a week or two unless I go on a trip.

We have been living in temporary quarters in a historic building on campus; the building is filled with historical curiosities dating back to the 1890s when Percival Lowell began his investigations on the planet Mars. We’ve found a special apartment of our own, less than a mile away from Lowell, and will soon move into it. The observatory is the local center of public science education, in the same way as the Baltimore aquarium (only smaller), so there is a constant stream of visitors. The facilities are open until after dark, and if the weather is good and the sky clear (which it usually is) visitors can look through the historic 24-inch telescope which dates back to 1896. Flagstaff has just the right balance of small-town and large-town features. The place has an old town district with many locally-owned businesses, restaurants and art galleries. On the outskirts there is a wal-mart, supermarkets, etc. It is a resort town, but with all the conveniences needed. The grand canyon is 1.5 hours away. Many of the country’s most famous national parks (Zion, Canyon de Chelley, Meteor crater, petrified forest, etc.) are weekend trips. It is a very outdoorsy society and almost everyone you see is athletic and tanned, but in a mountain way, not a Miami way. The city is full of trails; mountain biking, climbing and skiing are big here. In the summer, people come from the desert cities (Phoenix, Tuscon, etc.) to get out of the heat. In the winter, people in Flagstaff can be in the desert in an hour or so to get some alternative weather. Simply walking around the streets on an errand, you can see breathtaking sights like a pink sunset over volcanoes. Like any place it has some problems (traffic from tourists, transient homeless, the danger of urban sprawl) but there is nothing like this in Maryland, even counting the wonderful eastern shore and mountainous western portion of the state.

When I left I promised I’d keep up with my friends back home. Although you are out of sight, you are definitely not out of mind. I am still in the process of processing pictures and writing about our adventures, but some of them are on my blog. Here are the main links. If you’d like to keep up to date, take a look at the blog periodically. I post something at least every week, and will be posting about our trip out here for weeks to come.

http://spleen-me.com/blog (the blog main page)

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=853 (daily maps of progress and short descriptions of that day, keep hitting “next”)

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=869 (creation museum, this stirred up a minor controversy. See comments at end of post, and also http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=1075 )

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=1032 (St. Louis)

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=998 (monument valley)

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=1161 (the telescope)

http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=978 and http://spleen-me.com/blog/?p=1082 (pictures of where we live)

Fondly, Dan


2 Comments so far

  1. Michael Berman June 7th, 2009 6:26 PM

    Glad you are having such a great adventure…

  2. Denise Flynn June 28th, 2009 3:56 PM

    Your site is quite impressive, but why should I be surprised.
    Glad you are enjoying your new endeavor.
    The birds are interesting. I have been trying to get pictures of the birds at my feeder. 3 types of wood peckers, juncos (spring), cardinals, finches, nuthatches, sparrows, and the pesky black birds and blue jays. The Red Tailed hawk is around, we found a feather in the grass along with some poor morning doves’.

    See you in the funny pages

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