Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Visiting Arizona: Sedona

The drive from the Grand Canyon to Winslow is as desolate as it gets. Once we got through Flagstaff, the trees fell away and the desert stretched to the horizon, interrupted only periodically by random rock formations and jagged hills.

We got to Meteor Crater in about 2 hours. The wind was howling over the rim and in the bowl, and we wandered around for a bit on the paved pathways and in the small museum. The exhibits on meteors, asteroids, comets, and general space stuff were actually pretty impressive considering the size of the place.

The gift shop had a variety of expensive trinkets, and like all the other gift shops in the state of Arizona, a large selection of rocks and gem stones. I passed on all of the collectibles except for a sticker to put in my scrap book.

It's a quick detour, but I encourage everyone to visit Meteor Crater as it is quite a rarity!

After the crater we drove to Sedona and checked into the Wildflower Inn, a cozy and convenient little motel in the town of Oak Creek. We dropped off our luggage and headed to Jerome, a ghost town my Dad visited in the 70s while he was living in Tempe. We stopped at the visitor center first and I picked up a few post cards. We made conversation with the park ranger at the visitor center and he explained how Jerome has changed since my Dad's last visit.

Apparently the term "ghost town" has two meanings when talking about Jerome. 30 years ago, Jerome was like the set of an old Hollywood western with abandoned buildings and tumble weeds blowing down Main Street.

Today, Jerome is a hot spot for arts and shopping, and the historical society offers ghost tours after dark as there are many haunted hotels and buildings down town. The Wild West atmosphere is gone.

Dad seemed a little disappointed by this shift but Jerome is still a pretty cute little town with boutique stores and souvenirs galore.  By the time we left, it was after 4:00 and a storm was rolling in. The clouds were dark and heavy, as they would be for the rest of our trip, and wisps of rain were visible on the horizon - not a great omen for the early morning balloon expedition we had planned.

We called the hot air balloon company to find out whether our balloon ride was cancelled. It was. Because of the increasing wind and rain, the pilot decided it was too risky.

We ended up spending the morning hiking around the red rocks, despite the bad weather. We drove to a few scenic overlooks and picked a trail near Bell Rock and Oak Creek. Even though it was gloomy and overcast and the colors are very vibrant, we found several impressive scenic views and enjoyed a few hours out exploring. The sun did peek out every now and then, which at least offered a few rare spots of blue sky.

Back in the car on our way to another stop, we found a family of Roadrunners in our path - two adults and three tiny babies. They scurried across the road in front of us. I so regret not getting a picture of them, but at least now I can say I've seen one!

We went to Montezuma's Castle and enjoyed a quick view of some high-up cliff dwellings from a long forgotten people.  At the recommendation of the gift shop cashier, we ended up at Montezuma Well a few miles down there road, a natural spring in the middle of the desert and the only known habitat for five microscopic species which thrive in high carbon dioxide levels of the water.

After a late lunch at the Blue Moon CafĂ©, the weather forced us to call it a day, but we took a quick detour through downtown Sedona and found a really awesome store with a huge selection of art and gifts. We spent an hour or so there before heading back to the hotel for the night, and just like that our trip to Arizona was over!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Visiting Arizona: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon

There's nothing like a hike on Bright Angel Train to remind you how out of shape you've gotten. We started early in the morning on Tuesday, June 2, at about 7:30. We took the shuttle bus from Yavapai Lodge right to the trailhead. The shuttle at the canyon is really awesome. There are three lines that take you clear from one end of the south rim to the other which makes it so easy to explore without worrying about parking.

There were some mules at the trailhead prepping to carry people down to Phantom Ranch, an excursion that is definitely on my list for next time!

Bright Angel Trail was pretty steep going down with a mixture of packed dirt, loose gravel, boulders, and logs (set into the trail as stairs in some parts). The view was ok but not necessarily anything to write home about. I was much more impressed by the views along the Rim Trail.  On Bright Angel we were situated in a sort of corner of the canyon with cliffs surrounding us on three sides.

We made it about 1.5 miles down the trail before I decided I was ready to turn back. I knew the climb up would be much more difficult than going down and I didn't want to go any further into the canyon especially if we would just be looking at the same rocks the whole time.

We made it back up to the rim shortly before 1100, so it took us about 3 hours to go 3 miles.  Once we were back up at the rim, we grabbed a quick breakfast at one of the hotels. Dad got a giant burrito and I enjoyed some fruit and cheese grits.

After that, we explored the Rim Trail for the rest of the afternoon. My FitBit said I walked 30,000 steps, 13.62 miles. We stopped at several view points and I must have taken a billion pictures. The view from the rim was great and we had perfect weather. The sky was bright blue and the light on the cliff faces was awesome. It was like nothing I've ever seen before. Dad and I climbed around several outcroppings off the path to get the better views. The wind was howling, which helped cool us off in the 100 degree heat, and if I got too close to the edge it really felt like I might blow away.  I also had a run in with an adorable new friend - one of the canyon squirrels. Cute as he may be, he also is apparently a carrier of the PLAGUE, and they had multiple signs posted warning tourists not to pet or feed the squirrels. This is something I don't have a problem with as it always saddens me when animals in popular areas become accustomed to human food and attention. We have to keep the wildlife wild!

Our second day at the canyon we took a helicopter tour over the north rim - something I definitely recommend. It was a 45 minute flight but it felt like 15 minutes. I'd never been in a helicopter before and it was the coolest sensation. I also got to sit front and center which worked out because they assign seats based on weight distribution of the passengers. It was me and Dad, plus five other riders.

You really get an entirely different perspective of the canyon from up above. The layers of rock are so pronounced and the colors are so vibrant. I could have flown around up there for hours.

Once we landed, we took a shuttle to the west end of the south rim to explore a different part of the rim trail and to scout out a good location to take sunset pictures.

Getting to the canyon feels like driving through an alien planet. You go from high flat desert to an almost alpine setting, and then the south rim is like a combination of the two. We saw several elk (including babies!) hanging out near our hotel. We also saw a jogger get chased by a mama elk after he accidentally started them on his morning run. The trees were mostly Juniper, but there was another type of tree that looked really dramatic in photos. I don't know if it was just really old Juniper or another species, but they were all over the rim, these bare and mangled trunks with twisted branches that look almost like deer antlers.

We ended up watching the sunset from Powell's Point on the rim trail. We got there more than 90 minutes before official sunset time to try to stake out a good spot. We'd found a rock ledge earlier in the day and it turned out to be the perfect place. Dad and I were pretty much alone except for a German couple who also came to watch the sunset. The man was a photographer with a tripod so we sort of had an unspoken agreement to share the handful of good view points and we rotated back and forth as the sky dimmed into twilight. One of my favorite pictures from the evening is actually of that couple silhouetted against the setting sun.

We stayed until about 8:00 watching the colors change from red to purple as the shadows grew and the haze turned blue. The 100 degree day quickly faded to a 50 degree evening and I was glad I'd changed into jeans. The varying temperature was really unusual for me - I'm used to like a five degree variant over the course of the day, but at the canyon it goes from Summer to Fall in a matter of hours, so I advise you pack a light sweater, even if you go in the middle of August.

Northern Arizona was really spectacular.

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