On our trip to the Grand Canyon, the first leg of our Eclipse Promotional Tour, we spent two nights at Flagstaff. I visited Lowell Observatory during the day and then again in the evening.
First and foremost, I was impressed with the quality of the staff there. During the day I interacted with the front desk receptionist and a telescope operator leading the tour I took. At night I met and had exchanges with several docents and volunteers, as well as other visitors. For me it was a bit different being on the visitor side of things. But then again, I had no responsibility for the event.
The grounds, the staff and the equipment were all top notch. It is a research institute, although a small one. It has a great history, being founded in the 1890s by Percival Lowell. (I must admit that the commonality of name gives me a great affinity for the place to begin with.) The highlight of the daytime tour was the 40 minutes we spent in the original dome with the Clark 24″ refractor telescope. We had visited last year, but the telescope was being refurbished and not available for guests. This year it was fully restored to its original shine, if not color. (In the restoration they had to remove 600 pounds of lead based paint.) The lens was cleaned and polished and the gear box on the mount was taken apart, cleaned, restored, replaced where needed, and reassembled to operate more smoothly than it had for decades. This telescope was retired from research in the 1980s and is now dedicated to outreach and education, a noble endeavor.
Since the observatory was established before the automobile, all the materials had to be hauled in by horse train. The dome itself was created from local pine trees and has a lovely structure and patina. The dome rotates on automobile tires, which, while not original, have been in use nearly 70 years. The tour guide commented that this is the only observatory that has to change a flat tire.
In the evening, there were at least 6 telescopes available for visitors to look through. The staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. If I were a young person interested in astronomy, this is a great job to get into the field.
I have seen three Clark refractors but this was the first one I got to look through. Very nice. I highly recommend a visit to this observatory if your are ever in or near Flagstaff, Arizona. If time permits, go both during the day and return for evening viewing.