Monday, May 24, 2010

Whirlwind tour of western national parks (again?)

A long time ago, I read a column by Art Buchwald called the 10 Minute Louvre. In the column he explained how he located the 3 most critical works to see in the Louvre and he could either give people directions or take them himself and they could see all they had to see in 10 minutes. So when we lived in Paris, I did that too and was able to race people through the museum with stops at Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. What else do you need? (Just kidding!)

Anyway, I felt a little like I was on that tour as we raced through 5 National Parks/Monuments in 4 days (although we had already visited 2 of them)

On our first day out of Sedona, we traveled north, crossed the Navajo Bridge (NM) near Lee's Ferry on our way to Bryce Canyon(NP). We just had time to get a flavor for Bryce and definitely will be back. The Under the Rim trail looks great. BTW, it is amazing how many foreigners are visiting our western national parks. It really is an awesome place. It is different from the other parks with "hoodoo" like formations everywhere. Check it out.

We spent the night in Provo, getting there pretty late, and headed for Jackson Hole the next day. We arrived in time to visit the Grand Tetons (NP). It was cloudy and rainy most of the day and things looked pretty grim. After checking into our hotel, we took off to get a look at the scenery. At first, we could only see half of the mountains, but after a while things cleared up and we got a good view of the sun setting in the west.

The next morning we had breakfast in Jackson Hole and walked around the town. Here is a picture of an archway made of antlers in the common in Jackson Hole. There are a lot of antlers and there are several archways on the common.

Then on the way out of town, we saw our first Moose in the wild. There were a few of them feeding in a field not far from the road.

We headed back through Grand Tetons and through the south entrance of Yellowstone. Once again, like last year, some of the roads were closed, this time for road work.
We stopped at the West Thumb hot springs area. The hot springs empty into Yellowstone lake. There is a definite acidic, rotten egg like smell here. Here is one of the springs. Maybe you can see how deep it is.

And, of course, the obligatory bison....

From Yellowstone, we headed east and passed through the Bighorn National Forest and the Bighorn Scenic By-way. We shouldn't have been surprised, but we were very impressed with the beautiful scenery there. You'll have to pardon the photos as it was pretty overcast and my new camera was in the shop. I had to use the one with the sand blasted lens.

So, what is next on a trip across northern Wyoming? We had to stop at Devil's Tower NP. I was anxious to see this place as it rises up 800 or so feet above the otherwise rolling hills. It was pretty impressive. Maybe you recognize if from a sci-fi movie!

A little closer view...

Can you see the climbers in this photo? It is a well known place to climb. In the summer, climbing is prohibited as the Native Americans, who revere this place, have ceremonies and events during that time. Click on it to enlarge.

Here are a few photos of some of the local wildlife...

There were tons of these guys.

And, loads of these too.

And isn't this guy cute?

From the Devil's Tower we had a 4 hour drive to the Badlands NP in South Dakota. On the way we passed through towns like Sturgis and Spearfish, SD. We checked into a very rustic cabin inside the park near the visitor center. It is the only accommodation inside the park so it doesn't have to compete with anyone. No phone, tv or internet, although I glommed onto someone's wireless network. Probably a worker, nearby. We noticed tissues wedged between the window frame and the rotted screens, not a good sign. So I dug out our packing tape and made it official by weatherstipping the whole screen. It seemed to work. Judy was dying to get back here as she really finds it "otherworldly". It really is. We took a nice hike up and down the rocky formations. The trail was wide open but had yellow metal posts in the rocks to mark the way as you could get disoriented and it would be difficult to find a clear way back to the trailhead. Some more photos of that stop.
First, another critter outside our door.

Our cabin....

Judy on the Door trail...

On leaving the park..

Then off to Wisconsin. We ate lunch in Al's Oasis on rte 90 a couple hundred miles east of Wall. Al's seems to be a poor man's Wall Drug, but it filled the bill. We got into La Crosse in time for dinner at Piggy's and some great entertainment, see previous blog...

I'll have another post about our last tourist spot on this trip, Taliesin in Rock Springs Wisconsin. See you then.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mississippi Blues

So, today, we had a long drive from the Badlands of South Dakota to La Crosse WI. I will do another post with photos from our trip from AZ to SD. But, I wanted to get this one in so I don't forget.
I had made reservations at a Marriott right on the Mississippi to, at least, have one night in a nice hotel. It is in a great spot situated on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. Here's a photo from our room.

So, we went across the street to a place called Piggys for dinner. We had a glass of wine at the bar while waiting for a table. We were finally seated right next to a keyboard and drum set which I hadn't even noticed. But Judy said maybe we'll be gone before the band starts to play. It was 10 of 8.
At 8pm, on the dot, 3 guys came out of the kitchen with beers in their hands. Now, I've worked in a lot of restaurants in an earlier life. I've worked as a waiter, busboy, dishwasher and short order cook. I know what kitchen help looks like. These guys looked like the dishwasher and his 2 friends who came in for a free meal. The dishwasher was about 80, one friend had his Harley t-shirt on and the third had his hat pulled down over his eyes. When they sat down at the instruments and started to play, I was pretty shocked. The 80 year old was the keyboard player, the t-shirt sat at the drums and the hat played harmonica. Wow, these guys could play. They were the ultimate old time blues professionals. I'll bet this was one of the first time they actually played together as they had to pass the musical key down the line and were deciding what to play on the fly. But they didn't miss a beat. The keyboard guy did a sound check by asking me if they were too loud and could the guys in back hear OK. They played Louisianna, Chicago, Mississippi and Georgia blues and sounded as good as could be. All had played professionally for years with local and national blues bands. When their set was over, the keyboardist (octagenarian)came by and shook our hands and said, "thanks for hangin' in." It was our pleasure.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Final Hike of the Season and Last Coffee Break

We checked out of 125 Tranquil Ave on Saturday morning and headed for Bill and Sarah's place. The last thing we did was pack up some of the leftover liquor that we could not throw out. We had some booze left by our visitors plus I had what was left of a bottle of gin I bought on arrival. I packed the bottles to bring to the Sullivans house and Judy suggested I just put the gin in a water bottle and throw out the big bottle. I did that and we brought the remnants to the Sullivans.

For our last hike, Sarah had done a little research and found an interesting place north of Flagstaff called Red Mountain. As it turned out, it was 60 miles from Sedona, but, in the west, that is just around the corner. This was a real "find". It was a 1.5 mile hike into the partial crater of a volcano. There were many volcanos in Northern Arizona that erupted around 1000 AD. This may have been one of them. Anyway, the ash from the volcano gave way to a soft sandstone-like rock that made for a beautiful and interesting formation with the grey ash merging with the light tan sandstone. Here are a few photos of the Red Mountain trail.

Here you can see the grey volcanic ash with the lighter sandstone in the background.

This one shows Bill climbing into the sandstone layer.

Now, I suppose you are wondering why I brought up the liquor... Here goes. Judy made coffee in our downstairs guest suite from some of the water in our leftover water bottles. Day one, the coffee was fine. On the second day, she told me to taste the coffee, but to do it over the sink. I should have been suspicious, but I just drank it anyway. I nearly gagged and did a spit take and said, "did you make this out of some old medicine?". She said she had just used the water in one of the water bottles. Click! I knew instantly what was wrong. She had made the coffee with the gin. Not something I would recommend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Well my bags are packed, I'm ready to go"

Just a couple more days before we leave so we are getting things packed. It's hard to pack things while you are still using them, but that's what you've got to do. I needed to pack my paints so I finished off one last work before I put them away. If you read in an earlier post about the perils of plein air painting, you may remember that I started a small painting along the highway that leads up to Flagstaff along Oak Creek. The creek was high at the time so it made it difficult to get to the edge. But there was a snow-melt runoff coming down from the opposite side of the canyon from the creek. I decided to try to find a place to set up, out of the severe wind, to try to capture a small scene. After trying a number of spots, I finally crawled down to a location where a drainage pipe carried the water under the road and into the creek. I was below the road and just a couple of feet off of it at this point so I thought I would be sheltered from the wind. What I didn't count on was the amount of dirt/sand and debris kicked up by cars as they barrelled along above me. I got my easel set up (actually one that George Ransom loaned me)and balanced myself on a few small, shakey boulders to try to capture a very small scene of the water running over the rocks on its way under the road to the creek. As the conditions seemed to worsen as the wind and traffic picked up, I blocked in the composition, took some references photos and climbed out of the drainage ditch to paint another day. Here is my 8x10 attempt at capturing falling water....

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bonnie and Chelle's Excellent Adventure

Last Wednesday, cousin Bonnie and friend Chelle arrived for a few days. Judy, Bonnie and Chelle usually get together for a weekend, normally cultural, somewhere around the country. This time it was to be Sedona. They started their cultural weekend with margarittas then dinner at the Enchantment resort. Ladies Only. I stayed home to watch the Bruins. They had a great time catching up.
The next day we had a pretty full schedule. We started the day at the Airport Cafe for breakfast then drove to Walnut Canyon which is another National Park noted for its ruins of cliff dwellings. Unlike Mesa Verde, you are able to walk along and through many of the ruins (once you hike down the 240 steps to trail). There are ancient ruins in more or less good condition all over the area. Many are in parks but there are still many just out in the wilderness. You may have heard me say that before.
Here they are inspecting accomodations for next year. Looks pretty solid.

Later, they posed with their friend Barbie who always joined Judy, Bonnie, Chelle and their friend Cathy on their trips. Sadly, Cathy passed away recently but her daughter sent Barbie on to continue the tradition.
The cultural excursion continued at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Besides its permanent exhibit of the history of the settlement of the southwest, there was a terrific exhibit of water colors and oils by Gunnar Widforss, a Swede, who painted the southwest landscapes in the early 1900's. There were excellent paintings of the Grand Canyon and other notable landscapes of the area. (no photos allowed). Then lunch, of course.

The next day, the ladies went to Jerome for part of the day. Having been there a few times already, I stayed home to finish a painting I had started earlier. This was one I began one morning looking across towards the east near downtown Sedona. (if you've been here, Snoopy Rock is just to the right). The sun was coming up and all the formations were back lit. The photo isn't the greatest. I was pleased the way it turned out.

Saturday was the highlight of the trip. It was just packed with adventures. Bonnie, who won the NCAA pool took some of her winnings and she and Chelle booked a sightseeing flight in a red bi-plane. Here are the two Red Baronesses all ready to take off.

This is a great shot from the plane of Cathedral Rock from the air.

This is what Cathedral Rock looked like later in the day from ground level.

Here is another great shot from the cockpit. I love the look of this one.

Finally, the three pilots make their way back to the hanger after a tough flight.

But, the day was not over. We planned on a picnic at our favorite spot out near Sycamore Canyon. We passed by our favorite cadaver which was still there, although less of it. We set up our chairs to read/sketch and things went well until Chelle stood up and walked into a Prickly Pear Cactus. She nearly fell into it but regained her balance. I would have taken a photo but I had to go get the first aid kit to find the tweezers. Chelle and Bonnie pulled out dozens of big and small cactus spines. Blood was flowing everywhere...well not everywhere, but it was flowing. The bleeding stop pretty quickly. Things were getting back to normal when Judy came back from her hike with a big needle sticking out of her surgery scar. I figured we needed a photo of that. Curt Schilling isn't the only one with a "bloody sock".

Otherwise, the landscape was beautiful as usual. We really like this spot. This spot is where we normally turn around and then "park" on the side of the dirt road near the little canyons.
We finished off the day with dinner at Heartline. Normally, a great place to eat but we are finding that it is slipping in quality and service. However, Barbie enjoyed her dessert.
Alas, the trip was too short. The next morning, after breakfast, Bonnie and Chelle headed to the airport for their trip home. One final check of the directions was fortuitous as they would have been headed in the opposite direction from Phoenix. But, they both made it home safe and sound, although Bonnie's luggage did not.

Monday, May 3, 2010

4 Day Road Trip -this is a long post....

A place that we had not visited but was on our list, was Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Bill and Sarah hadn't been there either, so Sarah did some research and put together a 4 day Road Trip for us that would take us to interesting places on the way up and back from Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde has the greatest number of Native American cliff dwellings in North America. The trip would take us all around the 4 Corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. (BTW, I overheard a guy say in the hotel lobby that he had been to "4 Corners" the previous day and it was CLOSED. Seemed funny as it is really just a spot on a map. But, they have found out that the marker for the intersection of the 4 states is in the wrong spot and they are changing it. Oh well.)
Day One - we left Sedona and headed up Oak Creek Canyon to pick up I-40 in Flagstaff. We headed east and got off the highway in Winslow, Arizona. Route 66 goes through the town and there are spots that highlight the line from the Eagles song, Take it Easy, "I was standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, such a fine sight to see." There's a huge logo of Rte 66 in the center of the intersection.

From there we found a nice little town picnic area along Clear Creek, which has a boat landing but doesn't live up to its name. Our first adventure was a visit to Rock Art Ranch located somewhere down a territorial road (read "dirt" road) east of Winslow. One needs an appointment to visit the site as the owner is not always there. We arrived at a locked gate with a threatening "No Trespassing" sign and had to call the owner to let us in. We interrupted his lunch but he showed up about 15 minutes later. (The mailbox at the gate had a sign that said, "US Male". We thought it was pretty clever until we saw some of his other spellings. For example, "thanks for comming!"). Click on the photo to read the signs. BTW, the mailbox is sitting on petrified wood.

Brantely Baird was the owner and he brought us and another car load to his museum, a large open floor building that contained tons of cowboy and pioneer equipment, clothes, furniture, etc. He then let us into a locked room that contained ancient artifacts that had been found on his ranch. He had a picture of himself with the first pot he found when he was 12 in 1948 (you do the math). He probably had millions of dollars worth of artifacts in that room. He also had some antique guns. One caption was, "Indian said only used to shoot one white man."

He raises some cattle and buffalo on the ranch and sells them for meat once a year. He rode his horse to and from school as a kid. He's the last of a dying breed.

Anyway, from there we headed to the Chevellon Canyon where the Rock Art is located. His dog hung out the driver's side window with a paw on the rear view mirror and looked like he was about to fall out, but didn't. We stopped at an old ruin that had its own sweat house, looked more like an oven but I'll take his work for it. He also pointed out "loco weed" which I didn't think really existed, but evidently does. On the dirt road to the canyon, we stopped to see the buffalo that were grazing. Brandy, the dog, jumped out of the car and started to chase the lead bull. The bull charged the dog and Brantley jumped in front of the buffalo with his hands in the air. The buffalo stopped in his tracks. This was all about 10 feet from us (we were still in the car though). That was pretty amazing. To us it seemed either heroic or stupid, but I'm sure Brantely knew what he was doing.

Does this guy look threatening?

We arrived at the Rock Art site. We had to descend a home-made, rickety, metal stair case that was so shaky that OSHA probably wouldn't even bother to inspect it. It took the place of the hand holes in the rocks so I guess it was the lesser of two evils. But once down the stairs and across a swaying, sagging metal bridge across Chevellon Creek we were amazed at the number of petroglyphs carved in the rocks.

This site has the most rock art in all of Arizona. They were so many, so varied and so clear. Brantely and Brandy led us over the rocky shore to point out the artwork on both sides of the narrow canyon. The art work, along with the artifacts, dated from 800-1000AD. This site was a very nice surprise and a real treat.

From the ranch we headed to the town of Snowflake to stay in a B&B there called the Heritage Inn. I told Brantely that we were heading there and he asked if we had any relatives there. I said no, but it turns out he did. In fact, the B&B used to be his uncle's house. Brantely is related to the Flakes (Flake as in Snow and Flake, the two men who founded the town) Snowflake was founded as a Mormon town in the late 1800's and is still 60+% Mormon. Brigham Young had sent out some men to find suitable, arable land and after finding no water in much of the area of NM and AZ, stumbled on a large ranch with water and land for sale. They bought a large parcel of land and then sold plots to church members who farmed the land and lived in the town of Snowflake. The Inn is owned by a nice couple. She is a Brit and he is from Las Vega, an unlikely duo.
Day Two - We left Snowflake and headed towards the Petrified Forest National Park (once again, the only thing good about getting old is that lifetime get-in free pass for the national parks. I'm sure we've already saved enough to buy a walker and a wheelchair.) I was not sure what to expect, except the unexpected. When I think of a forest I think of standing trees. Well, in this case the trees may have been standing at one point, but were all knocked down over the millennium by wind and oceans. When covered with layers of sand and water, silica seeped through the bark of the submerged trees and converted the cellulose in the tree to stone. Other metals seeped in too and converted to stone, so you have slices of tree that contain different types of stone. They are laying all over the barren area (looks like the Badlands) and some can be seen sticking out of the sides of formations still in the process of being exposed. Many of the petrified trees had been carried off before the area was protected and they say that they still lose 1 ton of petrified wood per month now. Their video of the area shows a guy getting arrested for picking up a stone. Outside the park you can buy petrified wood that was found on private land.

Bill took his life in his hands to take this one of the Agate Bridge.

From there we headed east into Gallup, New Mexico, stopped at MacDonalds, then headed north to Colorado. All day the wind had been fierce and we had heard the I-40 had been closed between Flagstaff and Winslow due to sand storms. Luckily that was in the opposite direction from where we were heading. But, we still hit tremendous sand storms blowing across the highway. At times we could barely see and had to almost come to a stop. It was like a snowy white out with sand. It wasn't til after we got home that Sarah noticed that the painted logo on the hood of their Beamer had been sand-blasted back to bare metal.
But we finally reach the town of Cortez, CO, then up to the top of Mesa Verde to the lodge. It was so windy and cloudy that we couldn't see much scenery. We ate dinner in the lodge and could hear and feel the wind rattling the windows. The whole room seemed to shake from the wind. Bill and I both had rather chewy buffalo steaks. I had eaten buffalo burgers before. I was expecting a nice tender cut, but it had a little too much gristle, even for me. Then off to bed for our tour of Mesa Verde the next morning.
Day Three - Day three started out a little confused. The lodge had just recently opened and the new help really wasn't up on the different packages that were offered for tours. We finally got everything squared away and were met by our tour guide, Marty, a semi-retired veterinarian. We got into his van, he stopped at the exit of the parking lot and told us that he normally starts the tour at that point for people to see the layout of the mesa but we really couldn't see much because we were in the middle of a BLIZZARD. The weather changed all morning from windy to snowy to sunny to snowy to windy, etc. It gave the whole tour a different ambiance. Marty was very knowledgeable about the history and archaeology of the area. He explained the damage done by a series of forest fires (caused by lightening) from the mid-90s up to 2002. The types of trees that burned, mostly Junipers, take hundreds of years to reach maturity and that the reseeding of the trees was only done naturally by the wildlife in the area. We will not see these trees again in our lifetime. The elevation was between 8100 and 8400 feet so getting around took a bit of an adjustment.
The main part of the tour was to visit and understand the dwellings and to see the progression of life from living in underground pit houses, above ground stone houses, adobe walled houses and finally the large cliff dwellings that dot the walls of the canyons.
Here is the Square Tower house. A moment after Bill took this picture the wind blew a snow storm up the canyon.

The most impressive part was climbing down off the mesa top to the cliff dwellings at Cliff House, climb up and down replica, wooden ladders to get to the different levels of the "town" and then climb out over a chain of rocks and wood ladders that took us through a crevice for about 100 feet back to the top of the mesa. Bum leg and all, Judy made it through all these descents and climbs.
Here's a view of Cliff House from the top of the mesa.

Getting out was a bit of a challenge.

It was really fascinating to stand on one side of the canyon and look across to the other and see numerous cliff dwellings everywhere up and down the walls on the other side. Click on the photo to see the people standing on the top left to give an idea of the size.

Like the Sinaqua in the Sedona area, the Anasazi, just sort of moved out of their homes and headed somewhere else around 1300 AD. We don't know why, for sure, or where they went. They probably left due to a prolonged drought and eventually merged with other tribes further south in NM, AZ or Mexico. As an aside, the name Anasazi, means "ancient ones" or "ancient enemies" in Navajo. The Anasazi descendants, the Hopi, Zuni and other pueblo Indians wanted their own term to describe their ancestors, so they tried to come up with a better name. Unfortunately, the closest thing that archaeologists could come up with, that not everyone likes, is "Ancestral Puebloans".

Day Four - The storm cleared overnight and the moon was so bright I thought the sun was coming up. I stood on our balcony for a while at 3am to see if I could spot any of the deer who had passed through earlier in the evening.

From Mesa Verde, we headed west to another Anasazi site called Hovenweep in southeast Utah. On the way, we passed through some beautiful countryside which was a combination horse country and mesa country. Hovenweep was one of the last sites of the Anasazi sites constructed. It is mostly made up of towers that were probably used as lookout towers to protect and defend their crops. There are some residential sites but mostly towers. It is felt that by this time, late 13th century, there was actually warfare between tribes and that defense was more of an issue than before. There is a very nice walk around the canyon.

Then it was only 275 miles or so to get home (but we did pick an hour due to time zones). It was pretty uneventful until I had to use the facilities at the MacDonalds in Tuba City. This is in the middle of the Hopi Reservation which is in the middle of the Navajo Reservation. I waited a while for the stall to free up until we realized that it was unoccupied. Some kid had locked the door from the inside and crawled under the door to get out. I had to get another kid to crawl under and open it up for me. Everything is an adventure out in the wild west.