Sunset at Kit Peak heralds another evening of fabulous star gazing. Kitt Peak National Observatory
Until recent decades, educational travel was largely the domain of the young. Today, regardless of age or accumulation of formal credentials, people in their mature years more often choose to treat education as a lifelong quest, an opportunity to learn for the pure pleasure it brings. When the world is your classroom, the possibilities are virtually limitless! As the oft-quoted anonymous saying goes, “People don’t mind growing older as long as they can keep growing.”
For many visitors who love to learn as they vacation, Arizona offers a satisfying combination of diverse education mixed with holiday fun! Here is a wee sampling from the broad-ranging current menu of Arizona’s short-term learning vacations, ranging from archaeology, astronomy, and wine blending to tracking migrating hummingbirds and discovering Mexico’s border cuisine and distinctive culture.
The Elden Pueblo, located on National Forest land northeast of Flagstaff, is the ruin of the prehistoric Sinagua culture and a Hopi ancestral site that was probably inhabited between 1070 and 1275 AD. This ancient structure, much of which is still unexcavated, played a groundbreaking role in making archaeology and the history of Arizona’s earliest residents more accessible to the public.
Though the site is open year round, visitors should check the Elden Pueblo web page to learn about professionally supervised dates offering a more enriched, intense program of education and participation. These programs focus on past and present pueblo cultures by investigating the clues people left behind through hands-on mapping, excavation, laboratory and analytical experiences. Public Archaeology Days, Family Excavation Week and the Arizona Archaeological Field Society’s Summer Field School are a few examples of opportunities to learn about the region’s ancient history. Nearby Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument will further stimulate visitors’ archaeological and historical interests.
Excavations at Elden Pueblo reveal extensive trade over great distances. Peter Pilles, USDA Forest Service
Petroglyphs and pictographs add valuable information to the archaeological record.
Lee Rochwerger Archaeological Adventures is an educational discovery program dedicated to the preservation and documentation of Arizona’s archaeological sites. Its tours offer guests exciting opportunities to touch history while participating in a hands-on working field program to map and record unexplored sites. Working in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Archaeological Adventures leads expeditions to some incredibly scenic sites on public lands that BLM does not have the resources to excavate. As a bonus, participants can take their place in history, as their names are recorded in the official documentation records as members of a specific archaeological field project.
Participants measure contours of a new site before the excavation begins. Lee Rochwerger
Archaeological Adventures excursions range from one to 10 days [minimum three participants] and can be tailored to all age groups and ability levels. The overnight trips include evening seminars on related archaeological and historic topics. Priced at US$169, a one-day program, including a professional archaeologist guide and lunch begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Five- to ten-day programs vary in price depending upon group numbers and inclusions such as accommodation and number of meals provided.
Cathedral Walk is a Sedona Eco-Spiritual Travel Adventures guided one-day option. SpiriTravel.com
Led by soul counsellor and spiritual expert, Tobias Lars, Sedona Eco-Spiritual Travel Adventures offers walks and hikes customized to the participants visiting the Sedona area of Northern Arizona. These range from slow gentle walks enjoying the beauty of nature and magnificent vistas to a selection of more rigorous hikes to ‘mini vision quests’ and opening to the spirits of nature. Participants may encounter quail, flowering cactus, ancient twisted pine trees, a deer’s sleeping place from the night before, maybe an old homestead or some ancient Indian ruins, rarely visited. Through over 17 years of exploring this area Lars knows many unique, hidden places.
In addition, Sedona Eco-Spiritual Travel Adventures offers several one-day customized experiences:
Nature Spirits Personal Message This is a private or couples experience where Tobias listens to the Nature Spirits for direction to a place where participants may receive a personal message about their Soul’s Journey (2 to 4 hours).
Private visit to Anazazi Ruins Participants are guided to seldom-visited ruins of the Anasazi or Ancestral Pueblo people who first occupied the region nearly three thousand years ago. The guardian spirits of these ruins are particular about who visits these timeless spirit places. A private visit may be arranged, and there may well be a message from the ancient guardians (4 to 6 hours).
Sonora Desert patterns of light and shadow change throughout the day, creating an artistic challenge for photographers. The Boulders Resort
The Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa offers three learning programs to enrich guests’ knowledge of Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert lands. The Desert Photo Safari is a guided nature walk where participants capture the stunning flora and fauna with the help of expert photographer, Linda Covey. Held at sunrise and sunset, the two-hour exploration surveys the desert’s most pristine scenic areas with the morning tour kicking off 30 minutes before sunrise. The evening tour begins 30 minutes prior to sunset and ends with a complimentary glass of wine where attendees can discuss their best shots with the group. Cost is $85 per person.
The resort’s onsite art gallery, created by the Trail of The Painted Ponies, an organization dedicated to promoting artistic excellence through exhibitions of original fine arts, workshops, demonstrations and signings, is a living gallery featuring the works of the American West’s most established and emerging artists. Further enriching the program for visitors are art workshops, special exhibits, private artists consultations, and an Artist-in-Residence program.
In addition, guests of The Boulders Resort may turn their attention to the desert sky and experience the onsite stargazing program led by Astronomer Richard Allen. Depending on the time of year, attendees participating in the one- and two-hour sessions can locate Jupiter, Saturn, the Orion Nebula, Mars and other stellar sights using state-of-the-art telescopes and star charts as they listen to Allen’s awe-inspiring stories about the night sky. The experience is complimentary for resort guests. Arizona is well-known as a birding paradise and migratory freeway for many species.
One of the most incredible events each year is the hummingbird migration. Hummingbird diversity in the U.S. reaches its peak in southeast Arizona, where 18 species have been recorded. This diversity creates participation opportunities for research and education. The Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve and the San Pedro House at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona are dedicated to generating knowledge about hummingbirds that can guide habitat conservation efforts for these tiny, always-fascinating creatures.
The greatest diversity of hummingbird species in the United States is found along the U.S.-Mexico border from western Texas to southern Arizona. Kay Daggett, Arizona Office of Tourism
Guests are invited to watch and assist research associates in weighing, banding and feeding the delicate creatures. By learning more about the hummingbird biology, it is hoped that this research will lead to the protection of the breeding, wintering and migratory habits that hummingbirds and other species require.
Dates and times vary between the two locations, but the banding is typically done between March and October. There are also a number of hummingbird field clinics and workshops offered throughout the year where you can increase your knowledge of these birds and your identification skills.
When learning about earthly matters becomes mundane, visitors can take a galactic approach at Kitt Peak National Observatory, located just south of Tucson. Professional astronomers the world over aspire to visit Kitt Peak and with the observatory’s public evening program, the general public can also experience the wonder of hands-on astronomy. Professionals review the most recent advances in the field, and provide an understandable perspective of our place in the cosmos, followed by a visual journey to the stars with two of the observatory’s multi-million dollar telescopes.
Founded in 1958, Kitt Peak supports the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the Sun. Kitt Peak National Observatory
If the evening session is only enough to whet one’s appetite, Kitt Peak also offers an Advanced Observing Program. This program is geared towards the amateur astronomer interested in using a large telescope with state-of-the-art instruments. No previous experience in astronomy is necessary and guests have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe at the world’s largest optical observatory. Participants in this program are treated as visiting astronomers and have complete access to the Visitor Center’s considerable resources. Observe from an excellent site, dine with other astronomers, and above all enjoy exploring the universe.
Got an Arizona learning vacation to recommend for this Travel with a Challenge collection? It must be suitable for mature travelers and have a measurable track record of appealing to older people [50+]. Send us an email with your suggestion and a website address, and tell us about your personal experience of it.
For complete Arizona travel information, including more educational vacation ideas, visit www.arizonaguide.com.
Tucson Visitors Bureau, www.visittucson.org.
Check out these other richly illustrated articles on Arizona featured in the Travel with a Challenge collection: Sleeping with History in Tucson, and Miraval, An All-Inclusive Resort with a Healing Touch.