Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WOW!!! The Grand Canyon

Sunset over the canyon
Looking at the North Rim.
The Colorado River
The river gorge.
Jim & Nanc on the edge.
South Kaibab Trail
Bright Angel Trail
Historic Buildings designed by Mary Colter;
Watchtower, Hopi House
Lookout Studio, Inside Watchtower
Wildlife of the Grand Canyon

Now that we have shown you all these pictures you need to read this quote by C. O. Hall, an 1895 visitor who describes the Grand Canyon perfectly. "No language can fully describe, no artist paint the beauty, grandeur, immensity, and sublimity of this most wonderful production of Nature's great architect. [Grand Canyon] must be seen to be appreciated."

We are now staying at Trailer Village in Grand Canyon National Park. Don't you think the park service could come up with a more appropriate name for their RV campgrounds than Trailer Village, the same name they use in Big Bend? In another comparison to Big Bend, the Grand Canyon has more "bars" both on the cell phone and in the many lodges and restaurants. That said, this place is fantastic beyond description. We walked to the rim upon arrival and were completely blown away by the sight of the canyon. It is hard to believe as you look down into it that the Colorado River carved this massive canyon out of the solid rock. It must have been unbelievable for those first people who discovered the canyon. As you approach from the south across the Colorado Plateau there is nothing to indicate that you are going to come to this 277 mile long, 10 mile wide, one mile deep scar in the earth. It is so large that it's impossible to comprehend the scale. We went over the rim and hiked the South Kaibab Trail and after two hours and 2000 feet down we decided to turn around realizing we were not even half way to the bottom and it was going to be a steep climb on the return. On another day we hiked a portion of the flat Rim Trail which runs along the edge for 12 miles. This is a great way to see the canyon because a shuttle bus runs parallel to the trail so you can go as far as you like in one direction and then return on the bus. It is also paved, except for a very small portion, which makes it easy for walking. We also hiked three miles and 2100 feet down into the canyon on the very popular Bright Angel Trail. Even though it was steeper, we liked the South Kaibab Trail the best since it runs out along a ridge and gives much better views of the canyon. The views of the canyon are spectacular and ever changing as the shadows and light 0f the sun moved. We can't put into words how fantastic this place is and we hope the pictures will help, but realize that they only capture a small portion of this vast expanse. You have to see it to experience the real beauty of this incredible place. One rule to remember here is what goes down must come up. If you decide to hike down there is no alternative but to walk back to the top. It also gets hotter the lower you hike into the canyon with the temperature being 80 degrees at the point where we turned around and in the 60's when we returned to the top. This would be a real factor in the summer when it can be 80 degrees at the top and 100 degrees at the bottom.

We were also lucky enough to see several California Condors soaring in the canyon. These giant birds with 9-foot wingspans are still on the edge of extinction with only about 170 surviving in the wild at this time. One afternoon we watched as 8 to 10 condors took turns roosting in trees and on the canyon walls, then gliding on the air currents in the canyon below. While these birds are really ugly up close, they are beautiful and graceful as they sail through the sky. Other wildlife we saw included birds, deer, elk, lizards, and squirrels, most of which are very used to people thus giving really up close views.

Many of the lodges and buildings in the park are historical landmarks that were built a hundred or more years ago for the first tourists. Mary Colter, an architect for Fred Harvey the original concessionaire, designed most of these older structures with native materials that naturally blends into the surroundings. She designed a fireplace in the Bright Angel Lodge that creates a geological model of the canyon by using stones from the different levels, bottom to top, in its construction. One evening we went to dinner in the lounge of the historic El Tovar Lodge and had an interesting encounter. As we stood looking for a table, two ladies asked us to join them. We said, "You must be from Europe because most Americans would not offer to share their table." From their small act of kindness we had a wonderful evening with Marie from France and Lolita from Spain. We talked about everything from traveling to politics and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. These kinds of experiences are just another great part of being on the road.

Here is another little story our RVing friends will relate to. We have seen literally hundreds of rental RVs on the road in the west, especially in the national parks, and we are always a bit concerned when we see one approaching on the narrow park roads. One day on the shuttle bus the driver actually stopped upon seeing a rental coming down the road and announced, "I would rather face a rattlesnake than a rental RV." While we have yet to encounter a rattler, we do know what he means.

This has been a spectacular visit but our one and only disappointment was that we did not get to hike to the bottom and stay at Phantom Ranch. We learned you have to make reservations at least a year in advance to get a room at the bottom. We look at that as a reason to return and experience this wonderful place again in the future.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red Rocks

Hilltop view of Sedona.
More Red Rocks
Bell Rock
We liked this little house.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
At an outdoor art gallery we found this chair that made me feel like Barney Rubble but it sold for more than $10 a pound so it was both too costly and too heavy for the motorhome.
Montezuma Castle
Jerome, Arizona
The homes on each side of the ridge road are built down over the hill.
Connor Hotel
View from the Haunted Hamburger.

We are slowly moving north and are now staying in Camp Verde, AZ at the Krazy K RV Park located near Sedona. We drove to Sedona through Red Rock Country in the Coconino National Forest where every turn offers a new and more beautiful view. We did a couple of short walks to the high rims overlooking the valley. These red rock walls are the southwestern extent of the vast Colorado Plateau that extends into four states and includes the Grand Canyon and the national parks we visited in Utah last spring. In Sedona, there are art galleries, shops and restaurants occupying buildings that blend well with the surrounding countryside. There are many fabulous homes packed into the town. Among the art galleries we visited was the Sedona Arts Center where we stopped to see two paintings our friend Sharon Frey had on display and also enjoyed the work of other pastel artists in the show. Sedona, nestled among this red rock splendor, is well worth the visit and offers something for everyone.

We toured Montezuma National Monument near Camp Verde, one of the country's best preserved cliff dwellings with 90% being original. The view of the 19 room structure, built under a huge alcove, is quite impressive. It was built by the Sinagua people who occupied it until around 1380 when, for unknown reasons, it was abandoned. It was built with masonry walls and sycamore beams to support a roof of reeds, grass and clay. Ladders were used to climb from the valley floor and the entrances were in the roof. It is believed that 35 to 50 people were housed here. Another structure nearby, Castle-A, once had 45 to 50 rooms but it is in almost total disrepair with only a few low walls remaining. The inhabitants of these cliff side homes relied on the water from Beaver Creek for crops and to attract animals for hunting. This is an interesting site, but, even though we understand why, we were disappointed we could not get an up close look.

We also drove to Jerome, a mile high old mining town that is now a major tourist destination. This was at the suggestion of Sharon and Allan, who told us not to miss a visit to Jerome and we are certainly glad we took their advice. There was a large copper mine here from the 1880's until 1953. It was once the fourth largest city in Arizona with a population of 15,000 in 1920. In its heyday there were many bars and bordellos to entertain the miners. After the mine closed, the few (50-100) remaining residents promoted it as a ghost town. Today the population of about 450 consists of artists, craftsmen, hermits, musicians and B & B owners who operate a variety of galleries and shops. The town is built on a 30 degree slope and a few buildings have fallen from years of neglect. One street runs across the ridge of one of the hills and all the houses are built down over each side. The other streets in town are switchbacks working there way up the mountain. The ghost theme is still used today in the Spirit Room at the Hotel Connor, an old bar were we stopped to listen to the band Cadillac Angels playing great music. We also stopped at a restaurant called the Haunted Hamburger where we dined and enjoyed a beautiful view. This is an interesting little town with wonderful shops and galleries and great views of the valley below and the mountains in the distance.

As we often say when we visit an area, we did not know there was so much to do here and we should have stayed longer. Oh well, hopefully we will make it back here some day to enjoy the area at a more leisurely pace. One thing we did notice in New Mexico and Arizona is that there are a lot of Steeler fans. We have not seen a single car with a Cardinals logo but we have seen many with the Steeler's. This area is definitely part of Steeler Nation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Valley of the Sun

Tom Mix Monument
Jim, Linda Rocks & Nanc
Sharon & Allan Frey
Entrance to the grounds at Taliesin West.
The low profile of Taliesin West against the mountains.
Pool and Lawn
The Walkway
The Studio
Cacti and trees at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Reflection on Ayer Lake.
Desert plants and a "skeleton" of a dead saguaro.
Among the eucalyptus trees.
Collage of arboretum flowers

We have travelled to Apache Junction near Phoenix and are staying at the Carefree Manor RV Park. On the drive here we passed through more saguaro forest and continue to be fascinated by these large desert plants. Along the way we also stopped at a monument to Tom Mix. When I saw the sign I said we have to stop and Nanc said, "Who is Tom Mix?" Obviously, she never watched the Saturday morning westerns when she was growing up. I was a bit surprised myself to see that the plaque marked the spot where Tom, who was born in PA, had died in 1940. Oh well, I still remember him as a great cowboy even before The Duke and Roy Rogers. In Apache Junction we got together with Allan and Sharon Frey who have become fulltimers since we met them in Rockport in December. They are pursuing their passion for art by taking classes and painting. From these classes, Sharon had two pieces chosen to be put on display in a gallery in Sedona that we hope to see when we visit there. Included in the things we did together was to go to an Indian restaurant. It was our introduction to Indian cuisine and we are so glad they suggested it. We really enjoyed the food and look forward to trying it again soon. We also dropped in on Linda Rocks who I taught with in Washington. Linda moved to Mesa 22 years ago but has often visited family and friends in PA. We reminisced about the old school and our "old" friends back in Wash, PA.

On another day, we toured Taliesin West ,the winter home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright and his school of architecture. The school is one of only four accredited non-university schools in the country that offer bachelor and master degrees in architecture. The students study here for six months and during the summer they attend Wright's school in Wisconsin. We have toured several buildings he designed and love his work so for us it was like going to Mecca to see where the master worked. The tour included his office, the grounds, the theater and the family living quarters. His students built the buildings here in the 1930's when he was looking for a winter home away from the cold of Taliesin in Wisconsin. They were supposed to be camping in the desert so, originally, there was no glass and the roofs were made of canvas that was removed each spring when they returned to Wisconsin. The first students lived in tents and today students design modern living quarters that must fit on the same small tent footprint to help preserve the desert. Wright originally purchased over 600 acres 30 miles from Phoenix in the middle of the desert and designed the buildings using mostly local natural materials that blended into the side of the mountain. The Wright Foundation still owes 500+ acres and it is now a natural island in the urban sprawl that is Scottsdale and Phoenix. Wright would be appalled if he could see the area today that included only six distant lights the first winter he lived here.

On Earth Day we went with Allan and Sharon to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in nearby Superior. It was created in the 1920's by mine owner Boyce Thompson to be a museum of living plants to allow "experiment, research, study, and investigation of plant and animal life." There are plants from around the world that can survive arid conditions. A trail follows Queen Creek where plants requiring more water grow, like the giant eucalyptus trees, then continues to the top of the hill where desert plants thrive. There are herb, legume, cactus, succulent and butterfly gardens and exhibits with plants from Australia, South American, and the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts. The creek trail offered a respite from the high temperatures that have hit the area this week. The plants attract a large variety of animals including many birds and reptiles. This is a great site to see plants from around the world growing in one place. It is a surprising, beautiful oasis tucked in the canyon of the Picket Post Mountains in the middle of this arid land. After our hike, Sharon and Allan took us to another wonderful restaurant in nearby Superior. The Toast Bistro boasts fresh baked items and everything made with fresh ingredients. They were making homemade pizza on the day we were there and we all enjoyed a terrific meal and left feeling fat and happy. This is a must if you are visiting the area.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Wild Wild West

The sunset lighting up the mountains in the East.
Rick & Terry Traver
Stagecoach on the main street in Tombstone.
Gun fight in the street.
A desperado goes down.
Poor Les
Victims of the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Young saguaro and its nurse tree.
Old saguaro and a dead nurse tree.
A couple old species
Saguaro Forest

We spent four days at the SKP Saguaro RV Park in Benson, AZ where we got together with Rick and Terry Traver and John Kayartz who are class of 2007 members. We first met Rick & Terry at RV Bootcamp in September of 07 and we met John at the 07 reunion in Texas this spring. It is always great to see familiar faces when you visit a new place. From the campground we were able to see the most spectacular sunset we have ever seen. The sun setting in the west lights up the mountains to the east like someone had lit millions of candles.

We drove to Tombstone one afternoon and enjoyed this old Western town that looks very similar to the way it was in the 1880's. The big difference is that many of the old bars and brothels now sell t-shirts and entertain the tourists. There are several places that offer reenactments of the large number of shootouts that occurred here. We chose the Six Gun City show and it was well worth the price of admission. After getting a short history on some of the more famous characters in town, we got to witness a few of them in action including Lester Moore whose demise is illustrated in the epithet above. Of course, the most famous gunfight here was at the OK Corral where Wyatt Earp, his brothers, the Clantons, the McLaurys and Doc Holiday went head to head. No visit to Tombstone would be complete without stopping at Boot Hill to see the graves of the famous and not so famous residents of this wild west town. Unfortunately, none of the original tombstones remain but it was still an interesting stop.

Another day we visited Saguaro National Park near Tucson to see the cacti that grows only in the Sonoran Desert and have come to symbolize the Southwest. As the park service brochure states, the saguaros are plants with personalities because of the almost human like shapes they assume. As we drove and walked through the park we stopped many times and took pictures of these wonderful giants of the desert. The saguaros dominate the landscape using the shade of shrubs and trees as nurse plants when they are young, then spreading out a large shallow root system as wide as the plant is tall. These roots absorb so much water that the saguaro kills the nurse plant as the it grows. A mature plant can soak up as much as 200 gallons of water, a year's supply, in one rain. They don't really know their exact age but they are between 60 and 75 years old before they begin to grow arms and may live for 150 to 200 years. The cacti are the homes for several species of birds who use the holes made by woodpeckers as homes that are cooled by the plant in the summer and warmed in the winter. Like each park we have visited, this one is unique with the large saguaros dominating the surrounding desert and mountains and is a worthwhile stop.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Exploring New Mexico

Nanc looking for the perfect rock.
Jim with hammer in hand.
Early tank used in the expedition against Pancho Villa.
The army was still using wagons.
The plane used in the Punitive Expedition was the Jenny built by Glenn Curtiss whose museum we toured in Hammondsport, NY. The car is like the one used by Pershing who was a horseman until this campaign.
The old train station is the home of the Columbus Historical Museum.

We have made a big change in our spring travel plans because of the weather. We were going to go to Santa Fe, Durango, Mesa Verde, and Four Corners on our way to the Grand Canyon but those areas are still getting S__W. So from Alamogordo, rather than heading north, we traveled west and are now at the Escapees Dream Catchers RV Park in Deming. Here we enjoyed an Easter potluck dinner with our follow travellers including, Ted and Lois, a couple we met last summer in Illinois. Even after only 20 months on the road we often run in to people we have met previously. From here we will be going to Benson, AZ for a few days and then we plan to travel to Apache Junction to see Sharon and Alan Frey, who we met in Rockport, TX. We have reservations for the Grand Canyon at the end of April (we hope the s__w is gone) and then will be going to Las Vegas where we will meet Mike and Sherri Sharp, friends from Wash, PA, who are flying there to start a western vacation. We also learned this week that my brother Rick and his wife Denise will be sailing to Alaska from Vancouver, BC in late July and we will have a chance to get together with them since we will be in the Northwest at that time. These are two of the great things about having a house on wheels, we can change plans based on how the wind blows (which it does a lot in the spring in the Southwest) and meet up with friends and family on the road.

While in Deming we visited Rockhound and Pancho Villa two unique New Mexico state parks. At Rockhound you are encouraged to not walk on the trails while collecting the 15 pounds of rocks each person is allowed take home. It was cool walking around with a hammer and smashing big rocks into little ones while looking for attractive stones. We think Nanc found a hollow egg but since I am a real good smasher we aren't sure. We did keep a couple of very small stones totaling about 2 ounces well within the fulltime RVer's weight limit. This is a great little park that gives nice views of the valley and the Florida (flo rita) Mountains.

Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, NM may be the only place in America named for a person from a foreign country who attacked the United States. The visitors center has excellent displays of the March 9, 1916 raid by 485 of Villa's troops on Columbus while looking for food, arms and clothing. This was the only ground invasion on the US since the War of 1812. The US Army camp there had many more soldiers than the Mexicans believed and even though a couple of buildings were burned and 18 Americans, including eight civilians, were killed the rebels losses were 70 to 75 men because the US soldiers had modern machine guns. The real significance of the raid was the Army's expedition into Mexico that followed. The Punitive Expedition included the last use of cavalry forces and the first use of mechanical forces - tanks, trucks & planes - in combat. This paved the way for these modern machines of war being used in WW I. The expedition which went 500 miles into Mexico searching unsuccessfully for Villa was lead by General John "Black Jack" Pershing who within a few months of his return in 1917 was leading many of the same troops in Europe. Among the junior officers in the campaign were George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower who were generals in WW II. It was interesting seeing the pictures and displays that illustrated this turning point in history away from horses which armies had used for hundreds of years. There is also a a very good Columbus Historical Society Museum in the train station that shows what the town was like in 1916.