Opinion: Sen. McCain doomed sacred Mount Graham
"Mount Graham attracted astronomers for the some of the same reasons it harbors unique wildlife and is revered by the Apache: it is wild, remote, tall and steep. Indeed, although it's not the tallest mountain in Arizona, Mount Graham is the steepest, rising more than 8,000 feet off the desert floor.

The University of Arizona fixed its attentions on Mount Graham in the early 1980s. It had gotten into the astronomy game in the 1920s and had put observatories on several of the peaks in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside Tucson, including Mount Lemmon, Mount Hopkins and Kitt Peak.

The University's Seward Observatory touts itself as one of the top astronomy centers in the world. It not only mans observatories, but also has its hands in the lucrative business of building and polishing the giant mirrors used by modern telescopes.

But the star-gazing business is akin to the expanding universe: staying on top means constantly building new scopes, claiming new, higher peaks, extending your empire.

It turns out that Mount Graham isn't a very good place to probe the secrets of the heavens. There are updrafts of warm air pushing off the desert that distort the images, making them as jittery as the first snaps that came back from the Hubbell space telescope. Plus, Mount Graham is a sky island and though it rises out of one of the driest stretches of land on the continent it is often cloudy on the peak.

"Any Apache could have told the astronomers that," says Vittorio. "It is a stormbringer mountain, summoning up all the moisture from the desert below, pooling it at the peak in a nimbus of clouds.""

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