Friday, May 20, 2016

Arizona

You see images of a familiar place so many times you feel as if you've been there.  This is especially true when 4K resolution 72" television screens allow views of texture so close as to almost be uncomfortable.  I'd seen shots of the Grand Canyon on T.V., in films, and in magazines my entire life.  The rest of Arizona is also seen quite frequently in all manner of pictorials.  It ain't the same as being there.

There are some pictures in this entry, but really, they're not even close. I truly was stunned as I stood on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Even as I walked around the Botanical Gardens in Papago Park in Phoenix, seeing several varieties of plant and bird life, I felt as if in another world, on an alien landscape.  When you hail from the flat (and wet-) lands of Florida, a mere elevation is a novelty.  Arizona has elevations and canyons.  As our tour guide in Sedona remarked, "Here you look up, there (Grand Canyon) you look down."

We in fact began out recent vaca in Sedona, spending two days wandering trails near our resort, The Sedona Summit - recommended.  After selecting one of the one hundred and one advertised omelets at The Coffee Cup, we walked around the very quaint business area, amused by all the New Agey places about.  The town is known for its mysticism, and the "vortex" is a spiritual convergence reputed to junction at Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon, among others.  We did not make it there, or to Devil's Bridge, a narrow stone shelf off Dry Creek Road.  A fair amount of our time in Sedona was rainy.  During said tour we drove right up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, but did not enter due to the weather.  Next visit.

We did gaze at Red Rock Crossing several times:

On Monday morning we moved on to the town of Williams, about an hour outside of the Grand Canyon.  We lodged at a hundred plus year old hotel called, The Grand Canyon Hotel, right on the famed Route 66.
We did not find a room for $3.50 a night. 


The G.C. Hotel is a bed and breakfast without the breakfast.  The hosts were very friendly.  The rooms are adorned with old furniture and the bed covers looked ancient.  Loved the chipping wood floors, too.  A very comforting place to be.

We ate at Rod's Steakhouse, a decent restaurant that's been around for seventy years.  The clientele was mostly retiree, with some families.  Nothing fancy.  We posed with the cow out front for a pic but it was too dark.  The second night we dined at Red Raven, a quaintly decorated, warm place with good seafood and attentive service.

We drove to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday and Wednesday, completely enthralled both days.  Opened mouth astonishment, I tell you.  Nothing else like it, at least in my experience.  There is a reason why so many cross the globe to visit.  In fact, most of the folks we encountered there were foreigners.
The first day was spent on the aforementioned South Rim, then down and back up the Bright Angel Trail.  We turned around just short of three miles.  While a straight drop from top to the bottom of the canyon is one mile, this trail winds some fifteen miles down.  Many camp out along the way, though you need a permit for this.  If you make it to the bottom you can go white water rafting on the Colorado River, apparently quite treacherous.

The climb down the Trail was deceptively easy.  Coming back up, not so much.  It was steep but the altitude change (the top of the rim is near 7,000 feet) really affected my breathing.  I had to stop several times, not from burning or fatigued legs but labored breath. Meanwhile, people much older than me blew by like pros.  We did speak with one guy in his 70s or so; he said his son (around 40) was "not doing well" on the trail.  If you try it, bring lots of water and be aware of the temperature changes: it was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the top and almost thirty degrees warmer at our turn around point. Many people have to be rescued from the trail each year.  Heed the sign's warnings!
The next day we took one of the Pink Jeep Tours.  Our very well read and amiable guide Chris took us to several lookout points we had not seen the day before. Formations in the canyons that resembled cartoon characters and coffins.  Millions of years of bedrock.  When you stare at the formations you think about the impossible amount of time this rock has been there. 

It makes you feel insignificant, a bit sad too as you consider the slow erosion that has occurred, how much of this rock has disintegrated.  You think of the future, when someday it will all crumble.  The IMAX movie we watched at the end of our tour attempted to consider the peoples who lived in the bottom of the canyon thousands of years ago.  Fascinating.

During the Jeep tour we even braved one rock that jutted a bit further than good sense beckoned - Chris took a shot of us that I've yet to see on our camera.  It was a scary moment, one wrong footstep and this entry would've never been written.

Before and after the Grand Canyon we hit the town of Flagstaff.  The downtown area has lots of cool shops and a college campus.  Between there and the canyon, we stopped at a pass/cliffside where several American Indians were selling their wares.  We bought some cool jewelry and a unique bookmark from a lady named Margie Laughlin.  Let me put in a little plug for her:

Margie Laughlin Southwest Jewelry
P.O. Box 2086
Page, Arizona  86040
P: (605) 517-2207
Email: mrglaughlin@gmail.com

We headed back to Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon for my annual audiology convention.  You can go back a few postings to read about it.  We stayed in the Palomar Hotel downtown.  Very modern and comfortable.  I could see the stadium where the Diamondbacks play from my window.  My wife visited an old house/museum a few blocks over and went horseback riding while I was at the Convention Center.

The convention wrapped up at noon on Saturday and we headed to the Desert Botanical Gardens.  For botanists and would-bes, you'd be hard pressed to find an area with more cacti and agave.  Some of the plants are rare and endangered.

The trails and gardens also house quite an aviary, with several species of hummingbird visible (signs alert you as to when they're most likely to be present).  You may also luck into seeing a curve-billed thrasher or Gila woodpecker. Round tailed ground squirrels were everywhere and quite fearless of visitors.  We also saw a Desert Cottontail.

Our final night (my birthday!) in Arizona was spent in a unique hangout called The Duce, just outside of downtown Phoenix.  It's housed in an old warehouse.  I think the slogan was "Where gritty meets pretty" and that was apt.  We met an old high school friend of mine who has lived in nearby Chandler for some time.  We ended up with a large group, many of whom were friends of my high school friend's friend (got that?) who was also celebrating a birthday. I drank Olde Style beer.  The Duce is part restaurant, part gift shop, part club, and part game house with folks playing bean bag toss over the gymnasium floors while others watch them from the bleachers.
You order your grub in the back patio area.  They announce your name, encouraged to be something cute, when it's ready.  Inside, there are a few different bars, one of which specializes in alcoholic desserts.  The atmosphere was friendly and sometimes rowdy, but it's essentially a family spot and had a very mixed crowd.

We're ready to go back to AZ.  Next time we'll go back to the Grand Canyon at night, to see all the stars in the sky that city lights normally wash out.

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