A Grand Day by Plane, Chopper and Boat

December 17, 2019

Grand Canyon National Park, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, is a destination for millions of visitors each year, coming from all over the world to view what many consider to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Our first visit was fifteen years ago, by helicopter from the South Rim. The memories are still vivid. We were moved to tears by the stunning landscape below and beside us as we flew into the canyon.

Stretching 227 river miles, with an average width of over 10 miles, the canyon is not fully contained in the park. The West Rim lies outside the park, operated by the Hualapai Tribe, whose land includes a part of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The name Hualapai means “People of the Tall Pines,” referring to the Ponderosa Pines found here.

To drive to the west rim would have taken about five hours each way, a bit longer than we wanted to spend on the road. Fortunately, Sedona Air Tours offered a day trip from nearby Cottonwood. We flew out this morning at 8:00, headed to the Grand Canyon West Airport near Peach Springs, AZ. The day was sunny, though cold, and we were treated to some lovely views of northwestern Arizona.

Then we hopped on a helicopter to take a ride down to the Colorado River, where we boarded a skiff for a short ride up and down the river. Again, the scenery was awe-inspiring.

After the boat ride, we headed back to the top to walk on the Skywalk at Eagle Point. Taking 18 months to construct, the Skywalk was ready for visitors in 2005. It’s a cantilever bridge, consisting of 46 glass panels, weighing over 40 tons, with each glass panel capable of supporting 800 people (not that they could all fit physically)! A cantilever bridge is supported on only one end, in this case by eight columns that support box beams anchored 45 feet into the limestone bedrock.

Although photos online make it look quite large, it actually extends only about 70 feet over the canyon, somewhat disappointing. Granted, it is 4,000 feet above the floor, and that’s impressive. The Skywalk is located at Eagle Point, so named for a rock formation in the canyon.

We weren’t allowed to take cameras onto the Skywalk, but there were official photographers there to take cheesy photos if you wished. We succumbed, but I’m really not sure why. They really were cheesy.

Our final stop was at Guano Point, which proved to be more interesting for the views and the history. Back in the 1930’s a boater on the Colorado River discovered a guano (bat poop) cave, and thought this would be a good source for fertilizer. Guano was big business, in fact, and the 1856 Guano Islands Act claimed that the United States could claim any island that had seabird guano on it. Midway Atoll was acquired under the aegis of this act.

The U.S. Guano Corporation bought the property and cave, thinking there was more than 100,000 tons of guano in the cave. After spending $3.5 million to build a tramway system to extract the guano, they found there was only about 1,000 tons. A 7,500 foot cableway crossed the river from the cave to what is now called Guano Point. The cableway was destroyed some years later when a U.S. Air Force Fighter jet crashed into it.

After lunch, where we were visited by hungry ravens, we hiked a short trail to Guano Point, where there were great views of the Colorado River as well as the surrounding rock.

We did enjoy the day, and think this was the best option from Sedona. Similar trips go out of Las Vegas as well, although it is a much shorter drive from there.

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West Fork Trail, Sedona

December 16, 2019

We thought we would be escaping the cold in Minnesota, but today the temperature didn’t get much above 40°. Of course, that’s still quite a bit warmer than home, where it’s hovering close to zero. The sun was shining, so we decided to brave the temps for a hike in West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon, a trail recommended by good friends of ours.

The West Fork Trail is considered to be one of the top 10 trails in the United States. It’s a little over 6.5 miles round trip, following Oak Creek for most of the way. If you hike the entire trail, you will cross the creek in thirteen places, using rocks and fallen logs as your bridges. Those rocks and bridges can be slippery, as we found when a foot ended up in the freezing water (once or twice for each of us.)

A portion of the trail is named The Call of the Canyon, for a book of the same name by western writer Zane Grey. Grey set several of his novels in Arizona, and even built a cabin in Payson, AZ, about 80 miles southeast of Sedona. The Call of the Canyon was adapted for a silent film in the early 1920s, and much of the filming took place in Oak Creek Canyon.

Flagstaff photographer, Carl Mayhew, worked on the film, and he was so enamored of the location that he purchased a cabin and property here. Mayhew then developed a lodge, the Mayhew Lodge, near the current trailhead. Several famous people stayed here while it was in operation, including Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Walt Disney. Mayhew operated the lodge until 1968 when it was acquired by the US Forest Service. The structures were destroyed by fire in 1980.

We’ve driven through Oak Creek Canyon so many times, and stopped at lookout points along the way, but this was the first time we got to see it up close. While it was very cold, that just presented a new type of beauty – ice forming on the creek and icicles hanging from the ledges.

We probably hiked less than half of the trail because of the cold, and we regretted not coming here on a warmer day. I guess we’ll just have to come back.

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Airport Loop Trail, Sedona

December 13, 2019


The Airport Loop Trail is a little over 3 miles in length, circling the airport mesa, or Table Top Mountain. It’s considered a moderate trail, with an elevation gain of just over 400 feet. Rarely is the incline steep, which does make it a fairly easy hike. You do need to watch your step, though, as the path can be very narrow along some cliffs, and there are plenty of rocks to negotiate.

The day was sunny and beautiful, so we could see most of the city, and for miles beyond, even as far as the Village of Oak Creek.

The trail took us alongside as well as on top of the red rocks.

We passed very close to the airport runway, and watched a jet, helicopters and a few planes land and take off just over our heads.

December 14, 2019

19E6F294-EC75-4AA0-9971-91D8C086ED3DWe returned to the airport mesa to hike a couple of short trails today. The first, Summit Trail, short but steep, took us to the top of a small hill just east of the Airport Mesa Loop. From here, we could easily get 360° views, a feature that Mark took Full advantage of.

This spot identified as one of Sedona’s five vortexes. (Personally, I prefer the spelling of vortices, but “when in Rome…” or when in Sedona.) Apparently, twisted juniper trees indicate the vortex energy is strong here.

The other trail took us up to the airport, where we stopped at the Mesa Grill for lunch. Following that, we headed to the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village. The area was set up with luminaries for their annual holiday lighting ceremony tonight. We did a little shopping and left before the lighting.


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Chimney Rock, Sedona

December 12, 2019

Most days are at least partly sunny here in Sedona, with temps in the 50’s. It’s the perfect weather for hiking. Mark has been in charge of finding trails, and today’s was just a few miles from our condo.

Chimney Rock trail is about two miles in length, ascending from 4,592 feet to 4,489 feet in elevation. Average ascent is 7%, and the maximum is 34%, so it provided a bit of a workout. At home, there are few opportunities to walk up and down hill except perhaps in the back yard.

This hike took us around Chimney Rock and alongside Thunder Mountain. It also provided some lovely views of Sedona.

The trail meanders through juniper trees, yucca plants, prickly pear (don’t touch – I’m still picking out some spines), shrub oak and other greenery. The recent rains have caused everything to green up.

We took a side trail, not marked on the map, that led us to a lovely arch and more fabulous views.

Tonight, the last full moon of the year rose above Sedona around 6pm. We drove to the Airport Mesa to watch, then enjoyed cocktails at the Mesa Grill.

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Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ

December 10, 2019

Antelope Canyon, with two slot canyons, upper and lower, sits within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, just a few miles from Page, Arizona. A slot canyon is a long, narrow, deep water channel with sheer rock walls, in this case, eroded into sandstone. The Navajo names for Antelope Canyon are Tsé bighánílíní, (the water runs through it) for the upper canyon, and  Hazdistazí (spiral rock arches) for the lower canyon.

Although the Upper Antelope is more popular, we opted to tour Lower Antelope, which is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top than Upper is. It is also less accessible, as there are five ladders to climb through the tour. So far, the lower canyon is less crowded than the upper, but that is changing. We visited at a less crowded time, and were fortunate to be the only two people in our tour group. Our guide was able to take time to help us get some very good photos.

While waiting for the tour to begin, we were entertained by a Navajo Hoop Dancer.

When rain comes from the south, it floods the canyon, continuing the erosion that has created this underground treasure. It twists and turns through about 2,000 feet of length. Each turn brings a new opportunity to “ooh and ahh.”9E9643D1-A3C7-493A-9605-3BD498CA5151

Using a fairly steep ladder, we descended about 80 feet into the canyon. The maximum depth is about 120 feet. Before ladders were installed, hand and footholds were carved into the rock to allow access. In some places, you can still see these footholds next to the ladders.

Many of the formations have been given names, like The Chief, Fish, Rocky Mountain Sunrise, the Belly Button (where a large rock juts out of the side wall.)

This canyon cuts through layers of Navajo Sandstone, the largest layer of sandstone in the United States, covering parts of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. It’s responsible for so many of the beautiful rock formations we see in those areas. Iron oxide creates the different colors, including black, brown, red, orange, pink, gold, and even white. We could see many of these colors in Antelope Canyon. Our visit was entirely too short.

Following our visit to Antelope Canyon, we drove to Marble Canyon, where we stopped by the Navajo Bridge to view the Colorado River flowing beneath us.

We drove alongside the Vermillion Cliffs, and came upon what appeared to be pueblo ruins on the side of the road. These “ruins” actually date back only about 100 years. Blanch and Bill Russell came to Arizona to treat Bill’s tuberculosis. While driving near Marble Canyon, their car broke down, so they camped among the rocks.  Upon waking up, they were so impressed with the beauty of the area that they purchased the land. They then constructed a stone house under a large boulder, using wood to frame doors and windows. The Russells built a trading post and restaurant nearby in the village of Cliff Dwellers, but left after about a decade.

This was a pretty clever way for the Russells to make the most use of their surroundings.

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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 from 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.


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 movies 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, 2019

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 had 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. The technical term for a sundog is parhelion. A sundog forms when light rays pass through high cirrus clouds.

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. At home, we’ve often seen them on either side of the sun, and usually they’re just white.

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