Saturday, May 30, 2009

Painted Desert/Petrified Forest

One more stop! With barely enough time (well, really not enough time at all), we drove through Petrified Forest National Park. It's pretty amazing that most of this isn't visible from I-40, the highway that cuts right through it.

A piece of the Painted Desert (and badlands), which we had also seen while driving through other areas of northeast Arizona, just never this close:

This jalopy kicked it in on Route 66:

More badlands:

Jasper Forest, littered with hundreds of petrified tree pieces:

A much closer view of petrified trees - they are more colorful and interesting than I had expected:

The largest one in the park, called "Old Faithful" - like John says, you always know it will be there (as opposed to other pieces of petrified trees) because this one's so big and heavy that NO ONE is going to steal it:

A slice of petrified tree that was sent to Barre, VT for cutting and polishing - and apparently this stuff is way harder than granite!

Phew! What a tour. We thoroughly enjoyed all of it, and now we're enjoying being back in Howie in Flagstaff. This next week is devoted to training, exploring the local area, and trying to avoid the daily rainstorm (maybe it will stop soon?). Looking forward to it!

Canyon de Chelly

Next stop - Canyon de Chelly and another free night at a nice campground. Arizona sure has its share of free campgrounds with running water. The next morning we drove both rims of the canyon and checked out all the overlooks - time well spent.

Someone with a high-quality camera would have a field day with the angles and shadows from all the possible viewing points. Our little Minolta would have to suffice:

Some of the many cliff dwellings that existed low and high:

Spider Rock:

More amazing vistas:

This vehicle/moving hotel carried a German license plate and a gaggle of sightseers who presumably sleep at night in their "Rotel"? Wow!

Running down the one accessible trail to White House ruins - fun trail!

White House ruins - the room at the top is lighter in color from all the other ruins we saw:

Many people told us we had to go to Canyon de Chelly, and now I know why.

Monument Valley

It was only a slight detour through a tiny slice of Utah to get to Monument Valley - and if we weren't already highly motivated to go see Utah, you can believe we are now!

The Mittens!

Camel Butte (not Camel Butt, as I initially read):

Big Chair, with Totem Pole in the distance on the left:

View through the North Window:

The Thumb (of course!):

John said he would look in his mirrors and be startled by what kept showing up:

It was a bumpy 17-mile tour of the valley, but it was totally worth it!

Navajo National Monument - Keet Seel

I'm not sure where I first heard about the Keet Seel cliff dwellings and guided tour, but the more I read about it, the more I knew we had to go. It requires an 8.5 mile hike (and another 8.5 miles back), plus reservations made in advance. We decided to day-hike it instead of camping there overnight - no need to make things more complicated when we could get a good training day in instead.

After our Wednesday afternoon Keet Seel orientation and permit issuance, we walked a short path to an overlook where we could view the other cliff dwelling ruins in Navajo National Monument, called Betatakin (binoculars highly recommended):

After staying overnight in the free (!) campground, we set out down the trail at 6:30 am. It was a fun run down 1000 feet to the creek, then a good fast hike with multiple (like, many many) creek crossings. Good for feet conditioning. We arrived 2 hours and 20 minutes later, somewhat to the surprise of the ranger living there who isn't used to people arriving before 9 a.m. Soon another day hiker showed up as well, and the ranger started our guided tour.

I'm not sure I can describe just how awesome the tour was. Our guide's grandfather had worked as an archeologist at Keet Seel during its restoration, so it was very personal to him and that really showed in his enthusiasm and detailed explanations. Plus the feeling of the whole area is very special - quiet, peaceful, sacred. We are lucky to have had this experience.

Keet Seel cliff dwellings:

Pottery sherds - look but don't touch :)

The ladder we used to climb up to the ruins:

John walked upright up and down the ladder without using his hands (because he's a sherpa/mountain goat), which caused our guide to remark that he didn't know of anyone else doing that - besides he himself (because he used to be a chimney sweep)!

Some of the living rooms and kivas, along with many of the original tree poles - from 800 years ago:

View of the valley from inside Keet Seel:

We enjoyed the tour so much, but eventually it was time to go and let another set of hikers have their turn. Back down the creek trail! It was warmer on the way back (as opposed to being downright chilly on the way out) but never too hot. It seems to rain around noon-2 pm every day in northern AZ these days, so we were motivated to get on back.

Some of the pretty views of the canyon:

What a wonderful way to spend a morning! Time to change socks and move on...

Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki NM

We spent 3 sight-filled days driving around the northeast corner of Arizona, exploring National Monuments and Parks and visiting Navajo Nation. Our road map of that area looks mostly blank, and some of it is indeed lonely prairie land, but for the most part we were treated to amazing, ever-changing scenery and wonderful places to learn about Native American history. I took so many photos that I need to break this part of our report into several pieces.

We set out heading north from Flagstaff, stopping first at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The volcano erupted around 1100 AD, but this area is so dry that much of it looks as recent as parts of Hawaii's Big Island. John was happy to hang out on a lava field again for a few minutes:

One of the cooler visitor center interactive displays we have come across - create your own earthquake!

Strong limbs:

A lava field with the San Francisco peaks in the background:

Sunset Crater (so-named because of its colors):

A loop road led us to another nearby National Monument called Wupatki. Here lie numerous ancient pueblos - and yes, the owners lived here around the time of the volcanic eruption. One wonders what they thought about that! A story passed down through generations of one tribe basically described it as "the gods are telling you to get your act together ASAP."

The Wukoki Pueblo was built on a giant rock - it must have been an imposing structure:

Wupatki Pueblo is an extensive set of rooms, partially restored but still in great shape for being out in the open and exposed to the elements (as opposed to protected cliff dwellings):

A possible ball court:

Overall an interesting combination of nature-made and man-made features.

Time to drive up to Navajo Nation...

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Prescott loop

First a big shout-out to Team Vignette for their win at the Spread Your Wings race last weekend - way to go, Team V!

Now back to the Beard Travelogue...

We took a couple days to drive up to the Prescott area, again leaving the trailer in Phoenix because of twisty, windy roads (especially through Jerome). It rained (!) for a couple days, apparently dropping a "deluge" of half an inch on Tucson and causing people to talk about an early start to the monsoon season here. We had planned to hike on Friday afternoon but instead waited out the rain by wandering through Prescott art galleries. I discovered these awesome little butter creme chocolates at a praline shop; some things are better eaten only once (or twice) in a lifetime, or as long as I step on the scale in the morning.

We found a free "dispersed camping" site in the hills above Prescott and spent a cool, quiet night with rain pattering on Tug's roof. I love National Forests.

The next morning looked much better, so we hiked/ran the Groom Creek Loop trail. Ahh, pine forests! I love pine forests.

We found a fire tower at the top and got to talk with Susie who was working there. She spends hours watching for fires and reporting the weather, plus entertaining visitors like us with explanations about triangulation and controlled burning. We could see ourselves doing that someday.

At first these looked like bunches of berries:

But upon further inspection - actually gagillion ladybugs! They just like to hang out at the tops of mountains around Prescott.

Did I mention I love running in pine forests?

John loves using his tools. We did a bit of trail clearing along the way, although there were so many downed trees that we couldn't get them all, so John was a little sad.

Prescott had a Wildlife Art exhibition going on - amazingly talented people had some beautiful items for sale. We wandered and oogled for a bit, munching on our second butter creme chocolate...

Then we drove north toward Jerome, checking out some beautiful scenery along the way:

Jerome made me laugh - I had heard it was a "town built into the side of a mountain" so I wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out to be a typical European alpine town, complete with narrow streets, little walkways down to the next switchback, and funky (although much more Americanized) shops. Oh, and American tourists.

Next stop: Tuzigoot National Monument, remnants of a Sinaguan village from around 1100-1400 AD. Some photos:

On the way back down I-17, we stopped for the night at Aqua Fria National Monument, another free dispersed camping area. We took a nice little walk down a trail, spotting nervous rabbits, nervous quail, lizards (not as nervous), and turkey vultures (the reason everyone else was nervous) along the way to the creek:

Gila Monster! Really, this time:

I found another use for the cup holder in our camp chair:

Back to Phoenix and one last time at The Good Egg to cash in our "Best things in life" card - contentment is a good breakfast :)

We picked up Howie (hello home!) and drove north, stopping along the way at Montezuma Castle National Monument. The sycamore trees there are really pretty:

And the cliff dwelling is really impressive:

On to Flagstaff! We have enjoyed our first hours here, including a walk around downtown, getting Howie set up for a couple weeks, and a free movie (Mall Cop) with root beer floats at the campground :)

Later this week we're going on a driving tour in and around the Navajo area of NE Arizona. Plus a bunch of training/exploration in Flagstaff and Sedona. Still so much to see!