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April 18, 2010

Southwest Road Trip--Day 1, Vegas and Zion

After collapsing last night and waking much too early, we hit the breakfast buffet at the Doubletree. Which was like any Doubletree breakfast, but with worse coffee. At least I was able to get a fresh omelet with spinach and tomato, plus quite decent salsa. We threw our bags back in the car and drove up The Strip.

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You're kidding, right?

What possessed people to build casinos in the shape of pyramids, Disney-style castles, French castles, a Colosseum, New York (wanna buy a bridge?), Venice...and what draws millions of people to them? I'm the first to admit that I don;t get the gambling thing--I can somewhat understand the risk-taking adrenaline rush in playing poker with real people, but computer-driven slot machines? And why the theme-park atmosphere, copying famous sites?And considering all the abandoned building sites we saw, there's some trouble in Paradise. I think I just don't have the Vegas gene, although I can appreciate the hilarity of it all.

We stopped at a Vegas-sized Whole Foods just outside town to stock up on some snacks, and hit the road to Zion. Some nice wildflowers along the way.

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We eventually arrived in Springdale, a cute one-street town lined in hotels, restaurants, and gift shops; with those lovely red striped rocks looming above. We had a family suite at the Zion Park Motel (not to be confused with the Zion Park Lodge or Zion Park Inn) which was simple, cheap and spacious. You take a little shuttle bus through town to the Park, then another through the Park.

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We did three shorter trails. The Narrows was closed because of high water, but we did the 1 1/2 mile walk through the canyon along the river to where your only choice is to continue through the river. This was closed because of flash-flood danger, since there's no where to go if the waters rise. A spectacular walk, with the canyons above and water below. And a nice long waterfall, with a micro climate supporting tiny Zion snails and maidenhead fern. The parents encouraging their children to try to pet the aggressive squirrels were making me crazy--I used my best Teacher Voice with more than a few of them that yes, they do bite.

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We took the shuttle to the Weeping Rock Trail and climbed the short but very steep trail up to another waterfall. We also went about a mile up a longer, steeper trail, but turned back. Yes, I am a wimp.

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Down at the Visitor's center we took the 1-mile Archaeology Trail to some ancient ruins. I'd seen hints and photos online that there are petroglyphs in Zion, but the Park Service doesn't advertise them because of their fragility. Unfortunately the Visitor's Center closed at 5, so we couldn't ask a ranger. Hopefully tomorrow if we have time after Bryce.

Found this cute guy, though.

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Dinner at the Zion Pizza and Noodle, a casual place with decent pizza and good microbrews.

April 19, 2010

Day 2--Bryce Canyon. You do Hoodoo?

A sunny Sunday, yay! The weather report for Bryce (which is at almost 9000feet) showed that it was currently 30, with a high projected for 55. We bundled up. While Evan showered, Larry and I went in search of breakfast and some sandwiches for lunch. Not much was open in Springdale at seven in the morning, but we figured the coffee shop would be. The Mean Bean (there's definitely a funky granola subset in Springdale) had some nice sandwiches on their blackboard, so we ordered some breakfast wraps and sandwiches.

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We took the road north through Zion. Oh my goodness, yesterday didn't even hint at how lovely this canyon is. High sweeping red rocks, and then as you continue there's a different rock, more striated and deeply layered.
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I was still on my Petroglyph hunt, so we stopped at the ranger station outside the tunnel. From the hints I'd seen online, I'd guessed they were in this area. We were told that yes, there are all sorts of ruins, petroglyphs, even native burial grounds. But. After some remains were vandalized, the Park Service stopped telling people about them, and even the new rangers are not given the locations. If you really want to see them, you need to apply, make an appointment, and be briefed on how to visit to not leave an impact. Food for thought.

We continued on, driving the switchbacks leading further up to the top of the canyon, and past Checkerboard Mesa. The landscape flattened as we headed over the plateau and out of the Park. And yes, still plenty of patches of snow! Turned at the bustling crossroads (not), and then headed down to Bryce. A long dreary road, through a narrow strip of valley with scattered ranches and ramshackle towns. A bit faster than necessary, and when doing 75 in a 65 zone we were pulled over by one of Utah's finest. Larry was contrite and polite, (and only 10 over the limit, probably a small ticket) so the officer ,who looked Dan's age, let him off with a warning.

Drove through Red Canyon, where the red hoodoos gave a small sample of what was to come. With more time in the area, this would be a nice little park to visit.

At Bryce, we first stopped at the Visitor's Center. Don't waste 20 minutes of your life on the orientation video, filled with so much ponderous purple prose any English teacher would give the writer a C. We grabbed our maps and fled. Our plan was to do the combination of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queen's Garden Trail, about 3 miles down into the canyon and then back up. Even the sight from the rim was amazing, and someone not interested in hiking would have a fine visit just strolling the paved rim trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points, as many people were doing.

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We headed down the steep trail. And down, and did I mention steep? And snow?
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Continue reading "Day 2--Bryce Canyon. You do Hoodoo?" »

April 20, 2010

Day 3--Out of Utah

We packed up and again hit the Mean Bean for breakfast to go, and headed out the South entrance from Zion. I had put together some of the information I'd found about the location of one of the more easily-accessible petroglyphs, and we went hunting.

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If I can find it, so can you! We'll definitely return some day to find some others.

We stopped at Observation Point on Route 9, and took the steep trail up. Beautiful views down into the canyon. Marta, the flower shot is for you.

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Past Checkerboard Mesa is the Zion Ranch, where there's a herd of buffalo. And Buffalo jerky, for those who partake.

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Headed south toward Kanab. We saw a sign for Pink Sands State Park, and figured we'd take a look. Yes, it's a few acres of pink sand dunes. We took the 1/2 mile walk through the dunes, lots of fun.

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Continue reading "Day 3--Out of Utah" »

April 22, 2010

Grand Canyon to Sedona

I was awakened by Larry nudging me at 5:30, asking of I really wanted to go see the sunrise. What the Hell, I was awake now. We made some coffee and headed to Mather Point. It was quite chilly, I was glad I'd packed the longjohns and arctic fleece. The sun emerged from the clouds, to the sound track of many clicking cameras. We watched as the sun gradually brightened points to the East, bringing out the canyon's pinks, russets and whites. We'd been joking that every time we go to the Grand Canyon the clouds show up.
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We returned to the room and rousted Evan, then headed to Bright Angel for some lousy coffee and a stale pastry. We wanted to go on a Ranger program focusing on fossils, so hung out waiting for it to start. As we were watching the Japanese tourists taking photos with passing strangers, I noticed a woman staring at us. I smiled at her, and she came over and asked in a strong southern accent "Are you from New York?" I said no, from Boston. "Well, I can always tell you East Coasters. You just have that look about y'all." I restrained myself from commenting that I'd thought all southerners had gracious manners and telling Larry to whip out the tallis and yarmulke. Instead I cheerily told her it's great we don't all look alike, isn't it.

Hoo boy.

Anyway, Ranger Ted showed up for the Fossil Walk. Like all good teachers, he started off with questions, and gradually led us to the fossil beds along the trail as the discussion continued about the geologic history of the canyon. We had a sheet of illustrations of the common fossils found in the area, and one by one, found the various specimens. We really enjoyed this, it's quite cool to notice what you usually walk right over.
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We did some of the outer Rim walk, and then headed back to the room to pack up.

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The drive to Sedona was uneventful. We entered the top of Oak Creek Canyon, and pulled off to go to the Vista Overlook, where Indian artisans sell their jewelry. Woohoo, first shopping opportunity! Evan rolled his eyes so hard I'm surprised they didn't fall out. I bought a simple bracelet and a beautiful necklace of unpolished turquoise and lapis, at very good prices.

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Then the lovely drive through the Canyon, with red rocks looming up through the forest. There are many nice homes alongside the creek, and this looks like a great place for a rental. We stopped at one of the state trailheads, and bought a Red Rock Pass from a machine. You need one of these to park at trailheads in the area, and it's $5 per day.We were getting hungry by now,and I had a recommendation for a Mexican place in South Sedona called El Belote. Which may mean "so off the beaten path no one can find it." Instead we found ourselves in a restaurant called Maria's, where we had a forgettable lunch. Oh, Sedona seems to still be changing around all the bad intersections so they're even more unworkable traffic circles. Trust this Boston driver, traffic circles are a very bad idea. But hey, they seem to be employing a lot of construction workers, so some folks are happy.

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Continue reading "Grand Canyon to Sedona" »

April 23, 2010

Sedona to Santa Fe

The day before we had called the ranger station at the Palatki Heritage Site to make a reservation to see the ancient cliff dwellings and rock art. Larry and I woke early, so we left Evan snoring and went off for breakfast. We landed at the Coffee Pot Restaurant down the road on 89. An amusing menu with "101 Omelets!" Well, the spinach-mushroom-zucchini with eggbeaters hit the spot. Good coffee, too.

The Palataki ruins are down a 5-6 mile dirt road, a slow, rattling drive. At the end you park and register with the rangers, and then take the short walk up.

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Interestingly, the site is run by volunteers, passionate amateur archaeologists. Two elderly gentlemen who have been studying the local ruins for years give the tours. It was also great to see these guys nimbly hopping up rocks on the quite steep walk to the cliff dwellings.

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The site with the rock art has been decorated for many thousands of years by several different peoples, everything from scratched patterns of the very earliest to a "calendar" showing sun and moon positions and shadows on the surrounding mountains which show planting and harvest times. This was a fascinating visit, well worth anyone's time.

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By now it was 12:30, and we headed to Phoenix where we had a 5 pm flight to Albuquerque. Stopped off at Wildflower Bread in the Pinon shops for sandwiches. We'd wanted to be able to go to the Phoenix Botanical Gardens for a short while since its close to the airport, but traffic was heavy, and we decided to not chance it. Uneventful flight, although we were lucky we hadn't booked the earlier flight, which was delayed because of mechanical problems and left after ours did. We stopped in Albuquerque for dinner near the University, some brew pub with decent burgers. Arrived at our rental in the hills on the outskirts of Santa Fe, and relaxed with a glass of wine. The little house is comfortable, charming, a bit quirky. Beautiful views down to Santa Fe.

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April 24, 2010

Taos

We'd been watching the weather forecasts that promised snow during the week in higher elevations, so it looked like today would be a good day for Taos. This morning was nice and bright, and we had a pretty view from our rental.

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We scooped up my parents who had arrived in Santa Fe a few days earlier. Their first night at La Fonda on a cheap winter rate was spent in a tiny first floor room overlooking the garbage, but after begging for another room they were given palatial digs on the Concierge floor.

We took the High Road, which winds slowly up through the mountains, past tiny villages. We stopped off in Chimayo, where families have woven traditional blankets for generations. At the Ortega workshop I bought a simple long hanging in the Chimayo pattern in shades of grey and white. We also stopped at the Santuario de Chimayo, a 19th century adobe church known for healing miracles. There's another lovely old church further up in Truchas.

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The road into Taos ends at a line of strip malls, but you're soon in the village, with plenty of t-shirt shops and restaurants. I had a recommendation for Doc Martin's, in an old adobe house. The food was fantastic. I had a cup of wonderfully spicy green chile stew, and then an appetizer chile relleno. The relleno was actually crispy, something few restaurants manage to do.

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After lunch we drove to the Pueblo. You park and then go to register, pay for admittance and to take photos, and get a map. There are also residents offering short tours, and we opted to do that. Our guide was a young man who gave a history of the pueblo, explained a bit about their past and current lives, how their traditional beliefs have become mixed with catholicism after a very uneasy beginning.

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Nowadays, less than 100 people live fulltime in the Pueblo, but others hold on to their family's rooms for ceremonial purposes but live in modern houses out of the walls. In the Pueblo there's no running water, water is taken from the stream; and refrigerators, lights and stoves are powered by propane. Several homes have been turned into stores selling local crafts and baked goods. We especially liked the Morning Talk Indian Shop, whose father-son owners carry some nice jewelry and pottery at good prices. We also had some excellent pie from a shop, and my father was befriended by a lovely dog who tried to follow us home. Be warned that the pueblo is on uneven ground and there are rough steps into the shops.

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We had early dinner reservations, so headed back to Santa Fe, this time on the Low Road that runs along the Rio Grande, through a valley with many fruit orchards.

Dinner was at Cafe Pasquale, with a mixture of contemporary American and New Mexican cooking. I had a vegetable enchillada that was pretty good, but Larry's lamb special was wonderful. Evan took a plunge with tofu mole enchilladas. He liked the sauce, but later admitted he'd have liked the dish better with chicken instead.

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And the forecast was correct--here comes the snow!

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April 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home

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Back home to find the wisteria and cherry tree blooming. I'm frantically catching up and treading water. We had a lovely slower-paced few days in Santa Fe, and I'll blog that portion when I catch my breath.

June 5, 2010

Tent Rocks, New Mexico

About an hour outside Santa Fe is this fascinating area with strange geologic formations. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is down a dirt road past the Santo Domingo/Cochiti lands. We really enjoyed our hike through the slot canyon and up through the "tents." There are two trails, and if you do both as we did it's about four miles, with one area of steep climb and descent. I made a little video of our photos. You can get more info on Tent Rocks here: http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/rio_puerco/kasha_katuwe_tent_rocks.html


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