Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ

December 9, 2019

The drive to Horseshoe Bend took us through Oak Creek Canyon this morning. As always, the 14 mile drive through the canyon is stunning, and today was no exception. It rained most of yesterday, so Oak Creek was flowing strong – we could hear it several hundred feet above.

The first time we took this drive, about 7 years ago, we noticed what looked like a knot on the GPS. It was intimidating that first time, especially since it was close to sunset. After driving it a few times, though, we were handling it like the locals. The road has been freshly paved, so it’s a dream now.

It’s hard to take this drive without stopping a few times to enjoy the views. We also pull over to let followers pass so we can dawdle and gawk at will. Oak Creek Vista hosts a Native American vendor project, providing a welcome shopping opportunity.

As we drove north through the Colorado Plateau, east of the Grand Canyon, the shrubbery almost disappeared, replaced by colorful buttes and mesas, formed of Navajo Sandstone, the largest sandstone layer in the United States.

Horseshoe Bend is a 270° entrenched meander, of the Colorado River as it flows through Glen Canyon and around a sandstone escarpment. Although this is off season, there were still quite a few people making the 1.5 mile round trip trek from the parking lot to the viewing area. We heard East Indian, Chinese, and Northern European languages, and even saw what appeared to be a Buddhist priest visiting the site.

We enjoyed the view from several hundred feet above (the canyon is about 1,000 feet deep). This was at mid-afternoon, it’s probably even more amazing when the sun is overhead.

 

 

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I Love a Parade!

December 7, 2019

The city of Prescott, AZ holds an annual parade on the first Saturday of December, although we didn’t know that when we set out this morning. We drove from Sedona to Prescott via Cottonwood and Jerome so we could enjoy the scenery along the way. We reached an altitude of about 6,000 feet before descending again on the far side of Jerome.

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There’ve been several times in our travels when we’ve been surprised by parades. A St. Patrick’s Day parade in Biloxi, MS which provided us with several pounds of beads and goodies, including bananas; an Hispanic Day Parade in New York City where we enjoyed costumes an cultures of many Hispanic countries as well as an eyeful of a topless woman across the road; the Feast of Candelaria in Puno Peru, all of about three blocks long. It’s always a delightful surprise.

This year is the 37th year for the Prescott Annual Christmas Holiday Lights Parade. It  takes place in the early afternoon of the first Saturday in December. The Yavapai County Courthouse, which sits at the center of town, was lit up that night, but we didn’t stay long enough for that. The courthouse is over 100 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Senator Barry Goldwater announced his candidacy for President from the courthouse steps in 1964. The building was closed today since it’s a Saturday, so we weren’t able to look inside.7C55E9AA-7F38-4922-96D0-5E54FE2D1638

We were early for the parade, so while waiting, we walked down Whiskey Row where we enjoyed some shopping and lunch. Lunch was at the historic Palace Bar. Opened in 1877, famous patrons include the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. It’s been featured in a few movie such as “Billy Jack,” which I’ve seen, and “Junior Bonner,” which I haven’t. Bar personnel are dressed in period costume, causing me look for Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty. The food was pretty darn good.

The parade was much like many small town parades, advertising local businesses, highlighting the firefighters, police departments, and other service organizations, plus several high school marching bands from around the area. We were even entertained by one band which performed in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the Catalina Foothills High School Marching Band of Tucson, AZ.

I can’t forget the ubiquitous Shriners as well. All in all, it was a very pleasant afternoon.

This evening, we enjoyed an improv show by Zenprov Comedy at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, home to the Sedona International Film Festival since 1995. Indie movies and other shows are shown here throughout the year.

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Montezuma Well, Rimrock, AZ

December 5

A few places around here are named for Montezuma, the Tenochtitlán ruler from the 1500s, although there is no evidence that he ever visited this area. We visited Montezuma’s Castle in 2012, but weren’t aware of Montezuma Well at that time. We set out to find it on this sunny day in Sedona.

Shortly after entering the site, visitors can stop at an ancient pithouse, built around 1050 AD. Several families may have lived here, or it might have been used as a community facility. There are several holes in the base, the largest of which would have held the support timbers for the house. Smaller holes show the boundary where the wall posts were set up.

The Hopi called Montezuma Well “Yuvukwa” (sunken spring) or “Tawapa” (sun spring); the Yavapai called it “Ah-hah-Gaithersburg-gygy-gah” (broken water). This place is considered a holy place of emergence in some tribal stories.

Montezuma Well, a National Monument, is a natural limestone sinkhole formed thousands of years ago. The water comes from the nearby Mogollon Rim, having fallen there 10,000-13,000 years ago, and seeping through rock and limestone before reaching this location. Each day, 1.5 million gallons of water come up from two vents 150 feet below the surface. The water flows out through and underground passage to Wet Beaver Creek about 150 feet away. Sometime around 1050 AD, the local people created a ditch to divert water to their fields. The ditch continues to carry some of the overflow.

During its journey from Mogollon Rim, the water became saturated with carbon dioxide, so much so that fish cannot live here. There are only five species living here, and they are endemic to the well, meaning they are not native to anywhere else in the world. These are a water scorpion, a shrimp-like amphipod, a leech, a snail and a diatom (single-celled alga). Birds and waterfowl do stop here, though, to enjoy a swim or drink of water.

Humans have lived here in the past as evidenced by the cave and cliff dwellings as well as the water diversion ditch. This was probably not the healthiest location – arsenic has also been found in the well, but it was occupied for quite a long time.

Bats live in the cave dwellings now. In the past, some local entrepreneurs painted signs on the walls to advertise their products.

 

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Red Rock State Park, Sedona

December 3, 2019

Our resort is located just a few miles from Red Rock State Park. The park was established in 1991, several years after the land had been transferred to the state. The land, consisting of 700 acres, had been purchased by Jack Frye (president of Trans World Airlines) in 1941, as a retreat for him and his wife, Helen. They named it the Smoke Trail Ranch. Oak Creek flows through the property.

Jack and Helen Frye began building a home here  in 1947, House of Apache Fires, designed to look like a Hopi Pueblo. Red rocks quarried nearby were used for the exterior walls. Much of the house was built by members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation who camped along Oak Creek. The house’s name was inspired by their campfires. The Fryes divorced before the home was completed, although Helen did live on the second floor for some time. She attempted to sell the property to a development company in the 1970s, but that deal fell through. She then sold it to a religious group. In 1980, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt was hiking here with friends when he was told they were trespassing. Recognizing its potential for park land, Babbitt arranged a real estate transfer of 286 acres to the state.

Red Rock State Park has 5 miles of hiking trails and an abundance of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might see coyotes, javelina, bobcats, mule deer, even rattlesnakes and tarantulas. We saw only birds, bugs and a small herd of mule deer.

We had also believed that minnows were simply young fish that are used as bait in Minnesota. Today, we learned that there are many species of minnow, over 3,000 in fact, including the Colorado River Pikeminnow, which was native to Arizona, but disappeared in the 1960s due to extensive commercial fishing and displacement by imported sports fish. They are slow growing, and could grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 80 pounds over a 40-year lifespan, but the average size today is only 2-3 feet, and up to 10 pounds. Red Rock is one location where the Pikeminnow has been reintroduced to Arizona. We weren’t fortunate enough to see any of them today.

December 4

It’s a rainy day, so we took in a movie, Knives OutI do enjoy a good mystery, and this fit the bill. It was almost as much fun as Murder on the Orient Express with Kenneth Branagh and his mustache. It was disorienting, however, each time Daniel Craig opened his mouth. His character spoke with a Foghorn Leghorn accent. His smile was a little creepy, so unnatural looking especially considering his James Bond never smiles. Anyway, it was a lot of fun.

We had dinner at Mooney’s Irish Pub following the movie. Mooney’s is a small pub with good food and drinks. We recommend the Shepherd’s Pie (one of the best I’ve had yet) as well as the Bangers and Mash.

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Sedona, Arizona

November 29 – December 2, 2019

We’ve already been to Sedona a couple of times, the last time was to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary in 2012. When looking for a way to use up some vacation ownership points, we decided to return to this beautiful part of our country.

Snow was forecast in Minnesota for the day after Thanksgiving, but we managed to get out ahead of any storms. Yay! However, when we landed in Phoenix, we learned that Sedona was getting snow – several feet according to the clerk at the car rental counter – so we upgraded to an all wheel drive vehicle. The sky was dark to the north and we were concerned about making it to our destination. We checked in with our lodging and were told the sky was clear, so we kept going. The big storm was farther north. There was some snow in Sedona, but it was rapidly melting.

On the other hand, it was cold! It wasn’t much warmer than what we had been trying to escape back home. We spent our first full day stocking up on groceries, settling in, and trying to warm up our little “cottage.” We are staying at Sedona Pines Resort, a vacation timeshare located just a couple miles outside of Sedona. The cottages are of modular construction, yet cozy and comfortable. The resort offers many activities, with a swimming pool, hot tubs, restaurant and entertainment.

Sunday, December 1

This was a day of exploration. We stopped at a local Farmers Market, which we always enjoy. It’s a great way to find out what the local produce is like. We picked up some sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, something we hadn’t had before. It’s a root vegetable, related to sunflowers rather than artichokes, and they taste more like jicama than an artichoke. Can’t wait to try them.

Mark wanted to see the Tesla superchargers at Oak Creek Village. We didn’t bring the Tesla with us, but we always like to find out what’s available. There are fourteen charge stations at this location, and we did see a few Teslas while we were there.

The US Ranger station was just another mile or so farther. We stopped there to pick up some trail maps so we can plan our days.

Monday, December 2

The sun was shining, and the temperature was more comfortable, so we decided to venture out. We drove to Bell Rock, located near Oak Creek Village. There are several trail options here, and we stuck to something easy since we haven’t completely acclimated to the change in elevation. Sedona sits at about 4,350 feet, so it only takes a couple of days to get used to it.

There is still some snow clinging to the shrubs and cacti here. Most of the snow has melted and there were many rivulets of water along our path.

The views are stunning here, as they are all around Sedona.

Following our gentle hike, we stopped downtown to wet our whistles. While sitting at an outdoor deck, we were treated to several sundogs. We’d never seen any double arcs (tangent arcs) or even one arching away from the sun before. One set of sundogs actually resembled a set of lips. The most stunning of all was a Circumzenithal Arc, which resembles an upside down rainbow. The technical term for a sundog is parhelion. At home, we’ve often seen them on either side of the sun, and usually they’re just white. A sundog forms when light rays pass through high cirrus clouds.

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“In the Distance” by Hernán Diaz

November, 2019

It might be a stretch to call In the Distance a road trip book, as there is very little detail about the lands traversed by Håkan Söderström, who set sail as a lad from Sweden with his older brother, bound for New York. Confusion led to separation when Håkan later boarded a ship to San Francisco.

Unable to speak or understand English at first, his one goal is to go to New York and find his brother. Along the way, he meets people who help him as well as those who would prey upon his youth and strength. He doesn’t know where he is, so neither do we. He soaks up knowledge when given the opportunity, learning skills that help him survive in a harsh environment. He learns to mistrust people, and spends years alone as he tries to navigate to New York. Over time, he realizes that he will never find his brother, and decides to return to San Francisco, where he meets another person who helps him on his journey.

Over the years, Håkan becomes a legend for his size and rumored feats. As a man of indeterminate age, he decides to tell his story. Most of what people have heard about him are lies, and he wants them to know the truth. In the Distance tells his truth. The plains, deserts and canyons of the west were not always friendly; the inhabitants were not always honorable, yet Håkan survives in spite of tremendous odds.

The books’s language is often as stark as the landscape Håkan has lived in and with for many years. We see the world through Håkan’s eyes. He didn’t have names for many of the places he traveled through, or for things that he saw (such as railroad ties or telegraph wires). We must use our own imagination to fill in the blanks.

I found the book mesmerizing, hard to put down. The end of the story left me wanting more. As Håkan sets out in a new direction, I want to know if he gets to his desired location.

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Leisurely La Jolla

October 10, 2019

On this, the final day of our surprise trip, we had time to explore on our own. We took an Uber to La Jolla, about 12 miles from our hotel. It would have been possible to get there by trolley or bus, but that would have taken almost two hours, time better spent enjoying the weather.

This lovely seaside community, which is located within the borders of San Diego, is home to several art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Native Americans called this area “mat kulaaxuuy,”  meaning land of holes, not sure why. Spanish settlers called it La Jolla, which may derive from their pronunciation of the Native American name, or simply be a misspelling of “la joya,” meaning the jewel. In any case, La Jolla’s nickname is “Jewel City.”

We walked to Ellen Browning Scripps Park to see the sea lions. This park was named for the female scientist, teacher, and journalist who moved to La Jolla in 1897. Along with her brother, James, she published the Detroit Evening News in the 1860s. Other newspapers were added as part of the Scripps Publishing Company. Ellen later invested in another brother’s (EW Scripps) chain of newspapers. Ellen had been educated as a scientist and mathematician at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, one of the few colleges to admit women in the 1800s. Her love of science led her to leave much of her fortune to the Scripps Institute of  Oceanography. She was a founding member of the La Jolla Women’s Club, which still functions today. Ellen Browning Scripps was inducted into the California Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Both seals and sea lions enjoy the beaches of La Jolla, but today, we saw only sea lions. There is a difference. Seals have shorter front legs compared to those of the sea lions, and can only creep on land while the sea lion can raise its body and use its fins to navigate. The sea lion has visible ear flaps compared to the seal’s ear holes without flaps. Most noticeably, the sea lion is noisy, as was evidenced by several today.

A little shopping, a little lunch with a view, and back to the hotel to pack for our return home.

I must say this experience was delightful. We was very impressed with The Vacation Hunt and don’t hesitate to recommend them. The only surprise was the destination, all else was handled with great attention to detail. All we had to do was show up!

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