Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mesa Verde National Park

IMG_1590Mesa Verde National Park is different from any national park we have visited in the past.  It’s purpose is to maintain, research and discover new archeological sites/relics from the ancestral Puebloans.  The park has over 4,500 sites of which 600 are cliff dwellings.  This time of year some of the bigger cliff dwellings are closed and will not open until May.  But, again, we prefer the less crowded and more comfortable weather in early April.  So, we were perfectly happy limiting our exploration to the cliff dwelling a short hike down into the canyon behind the Chapin Mesa museum.  What is especially cool about this cliff dwelling. Spruce Tree House, was you are able to walk into the structures and climb down in the underground kivas. 

IMG_1596It is so remarkable how organized the Puebloans were.  Each area of the cliff dwelling is designated for specific functions for the community—communal place to grind corn, individual sleeping areas, cooking, weaving, etc.  It seems like a very comfortable place to live protecting you from the winter snow and winds and the cliff overhang shading in the hot summer.  There must have been something significant happen to make someone abandon a home like this back in 1200 AD.  No one really knows why.

IMG_1597The park has also done a wonderful job of designing their modern structures in a style that complements the Pueblo structures with the same shades of tan and copying the small windows.  The Chapin Mesa museum was not large, but contained a lot of finds from the ruins—woven sandals, baskets, even stored corn from over 100 years ago. 

The twenty miles you must travel to get to Visitor Center is extremely steep and contains many hairpin turns.  It took us an hour to drive.  Before we went to the park, it was hard to imagine the cliff dwellings were not “found” until 1888 over 600 years since they were abandoned, but after the difficult way in it is not so hard to figure out why! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Last Day in Sedona

IMG_1586Today was our last day in Sedona, and we do not want to leave.  But, we have places to go and things to see.  Our RV Park here, Rancho Sedona was very nice with a great location. It is within walking distance from some of the best shopping and food. This location also puts you less than 5 miles from pretty much anything in Sedona.   The premium sites are very generous with room to park, a concrete pad for your table and lots of big shady trees.  Oak Creek runs through the park keeping temperatures cool and the cheery sound of small water rapids.  Reservations are definitely needed—this is a popular park—we were lucky to get nine nights. 

Another note, although your GPS may tell you to take Highway 89A, do not take this highway with your rig.  Great to travel in your vehicle only for gorgeous sightseeing, but not with your large RV.   It is steep with hairpin turns, no shoulder and the low-hanging branches from the trees will scrape off anything on the top of your rig.  Take I-17 and turn at Highway 179.  You will be glad you did.

Something interesting to note for Sites 60-65 in the RV Park are the roosting herons in the trees above.  We were in Site 60 and we got bombarded with big twigs (the birds break off branches for their nest building) and splashes of poo.  They are fascinating to observe, but watch out!  There were approximately a dozen huge nests and a couple dozen big herons.

IMG_1583One last hike today.  We combined Bell Rock trail and Capitol trail to make a 4.5 mile hike with some elevation challenges.  Again, stunning views all around.  The area almost looks like someone professionally landscaped with beautiful yuccas, varieties of cactus, pinon, juniper and cypress trees.  Really incredible.

Tomorrow we head towards Gallup, New Mexico for an overnight stay (break up the drive) and continue on to our next destination--Cortez, Colorado.  We will be close to Mesa Verde National Park and the Durango-to-Silverton railroad.  Maybe we can squeeze in a horseback ride, too. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Huckaby Trail

IMG_1576I know you are tired of hearing about red rocks and hiking, but I have to say the Huckaby Trail was another good one.  It is listed as moderate and long, but we both felt the up and downs of the path was just as challenging as Munds Wagon Trail.  The trail along the cliffs give you a great view of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.  When you walk down into the canyon, the forest becomes much thicker and cooler from the creek. 

Spring is finally here!  The creek was full and the deciduous trees all have their new leaves.  The weather was perfection at 72 degrees. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sedona Shopping

IMG_1572Mike’s brother, John, and his wife, Debi, drove up from Wickenburg, Arizona and we all spent the day exploring a few shopping areas in Sedona.  We started with a stop at a little place off Highway 179 just outside of Sedona.  The place looked interesting to us when we first arrived in town several days ago.  Something along the lines of “American Picker” with old fashioned advertising signs, large rustic metal sculptures, outdoor art, and a little bit of this and that.  Fun place with fragrant pinion wood burning and interesting things to look at.  We bought some of the wood to burn one night in the fire pit.

secret_garden_cafe_sedonaLunch at the Secret Garden Café in the Tlaquepaque (pronounced “Tah-lockey-pockey”) shopping area was excellent; the restaurant specializes in fresh salads and desserts, and we were not disappointed.  I love a restaurant with an interesting courtyard for dining outdoors, and most of the eating area for Secret Garden Café is outside surrounded by flowering trees.  To take the chill off, each seat has a Mexican blanket for you to drape over your shoulders. 

Shopping ended today at the Fudge Shop in Sedona Old Town.  The amaretto flavored fudge is was to die for. 

Thanks John and Debi for a fun day! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Strenuous and Longer

TheHikeHouseThe Hike House in Sedona has just about everything for hiking, and they have something I have never seen before--an interactive trail finder for hikers.  You input the length of time you like to hike and the level of difficulty.  The owner of the store helped us plan some hikes for the next week.  He really thought we should try one of the longer and more strenuous hikes, the Munds Wagon Trail.  The hiking time is approximately 4.5 hours, 8 miles and climbs 1,100 feet.  Okay, we are in.

IMG_1570We started out at 10 a.m. walked up and down on this path, but ultimately we were climbing in elevation over 1,000 feet.  It pushed us, but the effort is worth it for the views of the mountains and the city below.  The trail this time of year includes waterfalls and water running over slickrock at the bottom of the canyon--an added bonus for today’s walk.  The green forest with the backdrop of the red rocks we saw is a color theme in much of the local art and rightfully so, it is beautiful combination.

DSC_0069 (5)Instead of continuing to the very end of the trail , we opted to take the side trip to the Cow Pies trail heading out to the tall rock formations looking like stacked “cow pies”.  Still about 8 miles round trip.

Great hike, but we are dragging tonight!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oak Creek Canyon

Call of the CanyonMy stepfather, Tom, loves western books and movies.  After spending just a short time in areas of Utah and northern Arizona famous for filming westerns and inspiration for western novels, I get it.  I completely understand his love of all things “western”.  I am currently reading “Call of the Canyon” by Zane Grey (free download for your Kindle) set in the location of Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff.   I love his descriptions of the area, and the fictional plot woven into local history is fun to read.  And we drove through the Zane Grey book setting today.

Oak Creek Canyon RoadThe 89A route between Sedona to Flagstaff is certainly one of the most beautiful we have encountered in Arizona and in the western United States. Our road trip today started in the canyon and awe-inspiring red rock formations around Sedona, Arizona and ended in the lush forests of conifer trees near Flagstaff.  As we drove through the higher regions of the Oak Creek Canyon we passed through forests of aspen, oak and maple trees.   We left pleasant, warm weather in Sedona and arrived to snow in Flagstaff.  There is a lot of scenery diversity in the short 30 miles.

We absolutely love the Sedona area—many green trees, rivers, and everywhere you look towering rock with the famous Southwest golden sunsets bouncing off the cliffs.  We cannot afford to live in pricey Sedona (home to Senator John McCain), but we love it.  There are over 200 hikes near Sedona, a large art community with many galleries, horseback trips, the nearby ghost town of Jerome, and the Tuzigoot National Monument (ancient Native American ruins).  We will be busy here until we leave on March 30.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Warm Stopover

IMG_1551IMG_1550Grand Canyon was getting too cold and windy for us, so we moved south about 100 miles and got closer to our next stop, Sedona, Arizona where we have reservations from March 21 through 29.  We were able to get a site in the Distant Drums RV Resort in Camp Verde, Arizona for two nights.  Much warmer.

Not much here except the Montezuma Castle National Monument.  Cliff dwellings are fascinating.  It seems the ancient ones knew the view property was prime real estate, too.  The location has a pretty little river running through a green valley.  This would have been a pleasant place to live in the northern Arizona high desert so many years ago.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grand-daddy Canyon of All

DSC_0045 (8)All the canyons we have visited so far are little appetizers to the main course, the Grand Canyon.  As we drove in from the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park yesterday, we caught our first glimpse of the 18-mile wide, 6,000 feet deep canyon.  We both let out a, “Oh My God!” and sucked in air with the realization of how high and how close to the edge we were.

DSC_0042 (8)Today, we walked about three miles along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The easy paved walk takes advantage of the best views of the canyon, but to do so requires that you are seriously close to the edge of cliffs with drop offs up to 1,000s of feet down.  The trail for most of the way does not have railing and along the way are signs stating you must stay on the path and the dangerous circumstances if you do not.  I must say right now, that people can be idiots.  Not only do they walk off the path to the edge of the cliff for a “once-in-a-lifetime” photo shoot; they let their young children out there.  There have been over 600 deaths at the Grand Canyon, often due to over-zealous amateur photographers.  Stupid.

IMG_1528We did not consider that this time of year may be crowded.  Spring Break.  The sights and shops are relatively un-crowded until noon, but after that the train and buses filled with tourists pour into the Park.  Our plan today included eating breakfast at the historic El Tovar hotel, a short visit to the Hopi Arts and Crafts shop and a walk along the South Rim—all completed before noon.  We avoided the crowds and missed the wind/rain this afternoon by following our plan.  Came home to our RV for a snack of chardonnay, cheese, crackers and apple.  Life is good when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rainbow Bridge

DSC_0025 (10)The Rainbow Bridge is about 50 miles from our campground and only accessed by water.  We took a tour boat from the Wahweap Marina around 9 a.m. and traveled through channels of red rock cliffs and viewed large mesas and buttes in the distance.  The ride was great not only for the Rainbow Bridge destination, but also seeing Lake Powell.  This lake is huge with close to 2,000 miles of shoreline!  There are small lake canyons branching off from the main body of water deep everywhere you look.

This would be a fun place for a family to rent one of the big houseboats and anchor off in some private little cove.  The houseboats have water slides off the back for the kiddies and hot tubs on top for the adults.  Most come loaded with jet skies and all kinds of water toys.  This lake has to be big for the number of houseboats available in the marinas.

DSC_0030 (10)Rainbow Bridge was spectacular, of course.  The lake water is down, so you cannot reach the bridge totally by water.  But we only had to hike in about 3/4 of a mile from the dock to get to the bridge.  Did you know it is called an arch if it does not have water running through the feature?  Incredible how the bridge stays intact…for now…someday the wind and rain erosion will prove too much and it will come crashing down.  Better come see it!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Antelope Slot Canyon

IMG_1446There are experiences and places that will forever be etched into your memory.  The Antelope Slot Canyon is a place I will always remember.  It is one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen.  When you walk into the narrow opening of the canyon, the ethereal light reflects off the golden, burnished walls making them glow.  The sides are smooth from the rushing water that often races through the canyon during a rain storm.   The wave-like curves bend and ripple creating a sensuous feel as you weave through the canyon.  The way becoming narrower and narrower as you walk deeper into the rock chamber.

DSC_0135 (5)The canyon is located on the Navajo Reservation and visitors are required to hire a Navajo guide.  Our guide, Josh with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours, was not only a talented photographer, but an accomplished musician.  At certain stops in the canyon, Josh would play his original songs on a wooden flute.  The gentle notes echoed off the walls with perfect acoustical balance.

IMG_1435Before entering the slot, Josh was able to instruct us on the appropriate camera setting for the canyon—low light, no flash.  The flash will actually reflect back the sand crystals in the rocks, destroying your picture.  The only negative is you must have a steady hand to avoid getting a  blurry picture.   It looks like I am holding a flame in the picture to the right.

Incredible day.  A must see if you visit Lake Powell.


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lake Powell

IMG_1420Lake Powell and the Wahweap RV Campground have got to be up there in our top locations to visit.  The combination of a large body of water branching out over hundreds of miles of deep canyons is a sight to see.  Our site (Loop C, Site 11) is one of the best we have ever had—30 feet wide, it can easily hold two RVs and vehicles plus a large personal picnic area complete with an oversized table, BBQ and fire pit.  To top it off, the view of the lake, cliffs and marina is amazing.  Nothing to block the view at all.

288px-USA_Antelope-CanyonI really do not understand why no one is here.  There are maybe 10 RVs in a campground with 200 sites.  Our weather is perfect in the mid 60s and there is lots to see and explore.  Not complaining; we enjoy the peace and quiet.  Our camp site is so great we only left this morning to get a few more groceries.  The rest of the day was spent laying in the sun like a lazy cat.  We suspect the lake is all about the hot weather, water sports and house boating.  Sounds fun, too.

Later this week we will take a tour boat up 50 miles to see the rainbow rock bridge (one of the top 10 natural wonders in the world) and venture down into the Antelope Canyon.   It is famous for countless photos taken of its beams of light and smooth, undulating walls.  (Photo from Wikipedia; we hope to capture our own pictures during the visit.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Let’s Go Racing!

IMG_1407As Mike was setting up the VCR to record his NASCAR races last Saturday, I asked him if he would like to drive to Las Vegas to watch a live NASCAR Sprint Cup race the next day.  “Are you kidding me!?  I would love to go.”  Within minutes he was on the phone getting tickets and we snagged two seats in the Richard Petty Terrace, Section 103, Row 42, Seats 28 and 29.  Perfect view of turn one.

IMG_1404The start of the race builds to a mind-blowing roar as the tightly bunched cars fly around the first turn.  Everyone stands for the start and any re-starts.  It was a long race with 266 laps, but with the number of  incidents like Kyle Busch’s engine blowing up and Jeff Gordon hitting the wall after a tire failure the whole event was never dull all excitement and fun.  The race on Sunday was close between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards near the end.  But, Carl won out.  Yeah!  (We like Carl.)  Carl did his famous backflip off his winning car and the crowd (estimated over 100,000 fans) cheered.

One of Mike’s happier moments.  We have to do this again—maybe on the trip down south in the next year or two?  Daytona, perhaps?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red Coyote

imageLaid back Saturday watching the NASCAR Nationwide race on television and then a quick bite afterwards at the Red Coyote Café less than a mile down the road.  Great little place in Virgin, Utah.  Cozy atmosphere with chairs made out of rough bark branches and distressed pine tables.  Locals get together here for fresh, homemade food and music on Sunday afternoons. 

Talk in the restaurant was all about Charlie Sheen coming to town…looking for the virgin hookers.  Truthfully, the Virgin Hookers is the local crochet club that meets in the café.  What a hoot!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Emerald Pools

After two days of 60 degrees and sunshine, the snow is gone at Zion.  The muddy trails are drying up.  Today we hiked three different, but connected paths—most notable was the Emerald Pools trail.  The emerald pools trail were closed until today and well worth the wait.

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Lower Emerald Pool

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Middle Emerald Pool

(source of the waterfall in the lower pool)

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Upper Emerald Pool

(never seems to get sun here—a bit of snow left)

Can you tell we love this stuff?  Getting the opportunity to experience all of this is simply incredible.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Kolobs Canyon

DSC_0064 (6)Just 20 miles north from the Zion National Park west entrance is the Kolob Canyons portion of the park.  It was an easy drive from our RV park almost all on the I-15 freeway.  We gained another 3,000 feet in elevation and hit a lot more snow.  Our day was sunny and close to 50 degrees, so the roads were completely clear.  This time of year the canyon seems to be quiet and traffic-free.  More glorious red cliffs and narrow canyons to enjoy in the fresh, cool pine-scented air.

DSC_0047 (7)Only one trail was open, the South Fork of the Taylor Creek, with about 6-8 inches of snow.  The trail descends steeply down to the stream.   We both enjoy hiking in snow—the area was hushed with only a slight breeze occasionally shaking the snow off the tree limbs hitting the ground with a soft thud.  The path follows the valley upstream, at first on the south side but later on either side as it crosses the creek several times--the water is fast flowing but shallow and easily crossed.   Since we were unfamiliar with the trail, we were relying on a previous hiker’s footsteps.  The footsteps ended after a mile and we were unable to reach the narrow canyon at the end of the trail.

I get to gawking at all the red rock cliffs, the pretty bubbling stream, and animal tracks in the snow.  Before you know it, Mike is way ahead and yelling that I will soon be cougar bait if I do not get going.  Yeah, yeah, I hear you….then I got nervous and picked up the pace.

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