We scheduled a full week in the Flagstaff, Arizona area so we could do a lot of sightseeing while getting some bird watching in and visiting our friend Kathie. Oh, I almost forgot, we also needed to do laundry and get some rest.
So, our first full day took us to the beautiful town of Sedona, Arizona. The journey was for me the highlight of this day trip. To get to Sedona from Flagstaff we traveled down US 89A which goes South through Oak Creek Canyon. The road is steep with many switchbacks and even more awe inspiring views. There were simply no good places to get off the road and take any photographs. So, you will have to take my word for the beauty of the drive.
Sedona is a pretty town that has attracted many artists and a lot of wealth. Some refer to it as Vail South; Vail, Colorado being the referenced location. I suppose Jackson Hole South would also work. The town is virtually end to end with galleries, restaurants, tourist shops and real-estate offices. I shouldn’t leave out the numerous Jeep and Humvee tour offices. In fact, Connie and I were nearly run over by one of the Jeep tour drivers. I had to laugh as the operator had an employee standing on the corner to stop the walking traffic in favor of the Jeep getting out of the driveway. She was a little slow to notice Connie and I were approaching at the same time the Jeep was. The Jeep driver had no intention of stopping for mere pedestrians. That process seemed a bit backwards to me. But, I am not trying to make money carrying folks around in a Jeep telling them who lives where or whatever it is one learns while whipping around the streets of Sedona.
I don’t want to sound too negative about Sedona. We were only there for one afternoon and much of the town’s reputation made it to our ears before we made the trip. I am sure that had we stayed in town for a few days we would have found many good things to say about it.
We did enjoy walking through the downtown area and watching people as it is our habit to do. We found a pretty good place to have lunch. The lunch was good, but the view from the back porch was just wonderful. Photos from that location are in the album linked to this article.
After our walking tour of the town we drove out near the airport where there is a wonderful overlook. More photos from that location. We ended our visit to Sedona with a drive to the east to meet up with Interstate 17 where took the northbound lanes back to Flagstaff. All in all, Sedona was beautiful. A little rich for my blood, but the sights were worth the drive.
The link below will take you to the album I have setup for the Sedona area. Remember, when you are done looking at the photos simply hit the back button on your browser and you will come back to this point in the Blog.
Monday evening I checked the weather forecast for the rest of our stay. I was disappointed to learn the Tuesday and Wednesday were to be windy. Thursday looked pretty good, but we had a date with Kathie for Thursday and our destination for the day would be up to her. We wanted to go the Grand Canyon and we also wanted to do some birding in the area. We decided we should go to the canyon on Tuesday and take our chances that the wind would be a bit better for bird watching on Wednesday.
The drive from the Army Depot to The Grand Canyon was pretty much non-stressful and downright beautiful in places.
We entered the park at the East end and worked our way to the West end. Just inside the East gate is the first viewpoint at a place called Desert View featuring the Watchtower which was designed by Mary Colter in 1939 as part of a larger project that included gift shops and rest areas in the area. Of course the Watchtower gives visitors a wonderful vantage point for what has to be one of the most fantastic views one has ever seen. By the way Mary Colter was the first woman architect in the United States. She was hired by the Santa Fe Railroad to work in the park.
Not only does the Watchtower offer wonderful views of the East end of the canyon, but the structure itself is just stunning. I took photos of the tower and its interior as well as the wonderful views from within. The best of those images are in the album linked to this article.
From the Desert View area we ventured to the West stopping at each and every pullout to see the ever changing views of the canyon. The wind was just horrid. The steady state breeze was 25-35 miles per hour. However, there were frequent gusts that had to approach 55 to 60 miles per hour. There were several occasions when I was nearly blown off my feet by unexpected gusts.
The images I have included in the photo album do a much better job of describing the grandness and enormousness of this natural wonder of the world. So, rather than wade through a bunch of my gibberish, I encourage you to take the tour as seen through the lenses of my cameras. When you go to the album, please select slide show and then just sit back and relax while it takes you on a journey that words cannot describe. There are a lot of photos to see, so I have limited the captions to allow faster scrolling. Enjoy! Remember the back button.
We had lunch at one of the several dining facilities that for some reason seem to be concentrated in a very small area of this vast park. All the concessions in the park were originally operated by Fred Harvey. Mr. Harvey was an immigrant from Great Britain. He made his fame by humanizing the American railroads. Initially he built dining facilities at the depots, then moving the food service to the trains. Mr. Harvey was a perfectionist. His goal was to ensure that anyone who dined on a train that he was providing foodservice for would come away from the experience with positive memories regardless of how bad the actual trip may have been. I later learned that he was such a perfectionist that if a scratch were put on a piece of china he tossed the entire set as it must have been defective. He brought his view of great service to the National Park System with flair. He built wonderful hotels and restaurants in areas way off the beaten path. His name still adorns many of the gift shops at The Grand Canyon National Park. All the gift shops sell a variety of items with his name, such as tee-shirts and ball caps.
Of course, Mr. Harvey has long since passed on. The corporation he once led is now known as Xanterra Parks and Resorts. This modern day company operates concessions all around the country.
We had lunch at a deli operated by Xanterra. It was good, but not exceptional. However, how do you make a turkey sandwich exceptional? The deli was in a large grocery and gift shop. The grocery store portion of the building rivals most major chain supermarkets. There was very little one could not purchase there.
Lunch was a late lunch because we had driven the entire length of the park and then retraced our steps to the Market Plaza area. After lunch and some wandering through the gift shop and grocery store we exited the park and drove South on highway 64 to the town of Tusayan, Arizona. The big draw to Tusayan has to be the National Geographic IMAX Theatre featuring the film Grand Canyon.
The film discusses the early exploration of the canyon in a way that makes you think you are traveling down the river with the explorers. The film moves through time to the present ending with a flight along the river in an ultra light plane that leaves you feeling as though you just got off a midway ride. It was a great way to end our tour of the canyon. If we were to have been in the area longer and had the weather been better, I am certain we would have taken a trip into the canyon. I would have preferred hiking, but I am sure I would have been persuaded to take the mule trip instead. I guess a great compromise would be to hike down and ride up.
I had visited the Grand Canyon many years ago and sort of remembered the basic canyon, but I was super impressed with the views we had, even with the strong winds.
Now, for a few words about the much advertised Grand Canyon Skywalk. When I told my sister, Mary Ann, we were going to the canyon she wanted to know if I intended to go out on the Skywalk. I told her that I did. Well, here is what we learned. As it turns out, the Skywalk was built by the Hualapai Indians and is located well outside the national park. From the park you have to travel some 250 miles. In fact it is much closer to Kingman, AZ (where we had been before going to Flagstaff). Worse, the price is remarkable. First you have to pay $49.95 per person to go to the site. Then if you want to go out on the Skywalk you pay and additional $25.00 per person. I was willing to pay up to about $25.00 for the experience, but I was not willing to backtrack 250 miles and then pay another $75.00 for the experience. My sister will be sorely disappointed, but that is life.
Our Grand Canyon experience was absolutely wonderful. I have absolutely no remorse for missing the Skywalk. I hope my photos illustrate the great time we had, even with the horrible winds.
We were exhausted yet satisfied when we returned to our motorhome Tuesday night.
As mentioned, Wednesday was to be a bird watching day. We drove back to Oak Creek Canyon and stopped at the visitor center to purchase our parking pass. Parking passes are required for any vehicle parked alongside the road in the canyon. This is a revenue source for the state and also I suspect a bit of a deterrence. With no restriction on parking I am sure it would be hard to drive the canyon for all the parked cars alongside the road. That is, of course, speculation on my part. Unfortunately we were early and the center was not yet open. So, we ventured down the canyon to Cave Springs State Park. We went to the office and told the camp hostess that we were there to do some bird watching. She was very accommodating and told us where we could park. With our day pass provided by the hostess we were assured to not be hassled by the police. We spent the next three hours wandering around this relatively small campground sighting a wide variety of birds. One of the first birds we saw was a Great Blue Heron. We certainly did not expect to see this large bird on such a small body of water. The highlight birds were Painted Redstart and Summer Tanager. We also saw Pygmy Nuthatches and House Wrens. One of the camp hosts had several hummingbird feeders set up, so we camped out at their picnic table and got some great looks at male and female Costa’s Hummingbirds and Black Chinned Hummingbirds. I have included some photos of the males in the album.
We spent the afternoon driving from one lake to another and not finding much of anything in the avian world. We had a good time looking around, though.
Thursday would be one of the fullest days of our recent travels. We met Kathie at her home in the northeast side of Flagstaff around 9:00AM. She toured us around the house and yard pointing out the embellishments she is either in the process of making or has in the planning stage. Her home is beautiful and she is making it an absolute haven for all sorts of wildlife, especially birds.
Kathie’s plan was to take us to Navajo National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater National Monument. While all are located in the Flagstaff area, there was a lot of driving involved in getting us from Kathie’s home to each and back.
Fortunately for me Kathie was driving. We first went to Navajo National Monument as it was the furthest from Flagstaff. Before I get too far, I have linked you to another photo album that takes you on a photo journey through the monuments we visited this day. The link will appear in a few paragraphs.
Navajo National Monument offers the visitor a snapshot into the life of the ancestral Pueblo cultures which flourished in the area from as early as the 900s or earlier to the mid 1800s. The monument offers views into history through three primary village sites.
Betatakin, a Navajo word for “ledge house” is a naturally occurring alcove in the canyon wall. It was occupied between 1250 and 1300. Keet Seel is from the altered Navajo word meaning “broken pottery scattered around.” Keet Steel was occupied much longer than Betatakin. Evidence exists that puts people in the village by the year 950. By about 1300 the last of the inhabitants departed. The villages are also known by their Hopi names, Talastima and Kawestima. The Hopi refer to the people who lived here as Hisatsinom while the Navajo refer to them as Anasazi meaning “ancient one” or “ancestors of the aliens” These imprecise terms group many different peoples under the same name and some find the term offensive. Modern descendants of these people prefer the term Ancestral Puebloans. Both these villages are accessible by foot. Betatakin can be visited via free guided hikes with a park ranger. Keet Seel is accessible only with a backcountry permit. Either hike is several hours in duration and very difficult. Given our schedule the hikes were out of the question. However, there is a great overlook at the Memorial Headquarters that offers a long distance view of the villages. I took some photos that appear in the album.
The third ancient village in the memorial is Inscription House. I was unable to learn much about this village except that like the other two it was occupied by a distinct clan. The early settlers in the area were hunter gatherers. As such they migrated with the seasons and the availability of food supply. Eventually, with the introduction of corn and other food crops by traders from Mexico the Ancestral Puebloans slowly developed agricultural practices allowing them to remain in one place.
Not all the ancients who lived in the area lived in the cliff dwellings which remain today. The early migrants lived in temporary brush shelters. Then as they became settled farmers they first lived in pithouses which were circular, below-ground houses. These were separate family dwellings usually built of stone but sometimes of sticks covered with mud, a construction method now called “jacal” By 1200 the land surrounding today’s Navajo National Monument was dotted with the farms of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
Our visit was brief, but the impact large. My photos give only a small glimpse of a very small portion of what little remains of these ancient people’s vanishing heritage.
From Navajo National Monument we drove southwest to Wupatki National Monument with a stop at the Cameron Trading Post for lunch and shopping. The Indian Reservations of the Southwest are dotted with trading posts. For centuries these trade centers have been social and cultural centers. While the modern trading posts are just that, modern, they do still provide an outlet for the products of the various tribes in the area. Cameron Trading Post is a unique place. It has existed for years. Through those years at has evolved with the times. Today, a visitor can enjoy Navajo style food as well as American favorites and shop for souvenirs. The souvenirs can be mass produced trinkets or one of a kind hand woven rugs and everything in between. Truly every income strata can be satisfied at the Cameron Trading Post. According to Kathie the folks working there are very adept at relieving one of his wallet’s contents in quick order regardless of how many bus loads of people happen to be in the post. There were clerks everywhere ready to stop what they were doing to help find that special item or to ring you up. It was truly amazing to just walk around and watch what goes on. I am not being critical here. I was very impressed with the approach that has been taken to maximize the experience for the visitor while at the same time hopefully ensuring that the Indians make a living.
We were there to eat then shop. Kathie strongly recommended the Navajo Taco. We had never heard of this dish before, but as it turned out this would not be the last time we encountered it. A Navajo Taco starts with a round of frybread which is traditional Navajo bread that as the name implies is not baked, but deep fried. The resulting product looks similar to a pizza without the toppings only very oily. Then depending on whether you order your taco with or without meat you get most of the makings of a deep tostada, beans, meat, lettuce, cheese and a salsa that is quite different from Mexican style salsa. I got the full sized taco and was sorry as soon as it was put in front of me. There must have been a quarter pound of frybread and then at least that much in toppings. I could not eat the entire thing. Connie was smarter. She got the smaller version of the vegetarian model. I enjoyed mine to a point. After getting about half way through it the richness of the oil started to get to me. Connie did not make it even that far into hers. She very quickly started avoiding the bread and eating only the toppings. As it turned out the richness was more than either of our systems are accustomed to and we both had a pretty miserable afternoon and evening. I guess we need to try more new things or something.
The dining room was really a great old room. First, it was huge. It had incredibly high ceilings that were tin lined. Of course the tin was hand formed and stamped with a design making it stand out. Around the walls were samples of the hand woven rugs that can be purchased at the post. There were some amazing works of art in that room. They were also priced appropriately for the intricate work that had produced them.
Out in the main part of the trading post we watched a woman weaving a rug. The effort that she was putting into the creation would ensure a good price I am sure.
We walked through the trading post for at least half an hour. It is impossible to describe all that was available. There were hand painted tiles, pots of all sizes and shapes, bows with arrows, copper cutouts of various animals and ancient peoples, rugs, cross-stitch patterns, puzzles, lamps and the list just goes on and on. One could spend as little as a few dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars for any one of several of the high end rugs. All income levels can be satisfied at the Cameron Trading Post.
Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument together tell the story of the coexistence of people and an active volcano. In fact, when the volcano gave up the ghost the people left. Once again I jumped to the end. The Memorial brochure states: “The remains of masonry pueblos, or villages, which dot the landscape of Wupatki are the most obvious evidence of the human endeavor in this expansive land. They tell of the 1100s when Puebloan peoples came together to build a vast farming community. Some of these villagers may have migrated from drought stressed areas on the Colorado Plateau to join people already living here. With the first eruption of Sunset Volcano, the agricultural potential improved because the thin ash layer absorbed precious moisture and helped prevent evaporation, and a climate change provided mere rainfall during the growing season.
“By 1180 thousands of people were farming on the Wupatki landscape. By 1250, when the volcano had quieted, pueblos stood empty. The people of Wupatki had move on and established new homes. Many people traveled the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau over time, but few stayed long. Those who did adapted to the region’s challenging environment. Their descendants still live nearby, including Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo people.” (From the Wupatki Pueblo trail guide.)
We arrived at Wupatki late in the afternoon making photography really neat. I took many many photos of the various remains we were able to visit. One village which has been partially restored offered the most complete interpretation of the lifestyle of the ancient people who once occupied the pueblo. Visitors are not allowed to walk within the ruins, but countless photo opportunities exist. An interpretive trail starting at the visitor center and traversing the entire pueblo tells the story of this fascinating place. Starting in the 1100s what began as family housing grew into this 100 room pueblo with a tower, community room, and ceremonial ballcourt. Its location near the crossroads of east-west and north-south travel routes caused the pueblo to evolve to serve a community heavily engaged not only in farming but also in ceremony, trade, and crafts specialization. By 1190, as many as 2000 people lived within a day’s walk and Wupatki Pueblo was the largest building for at least 50 miles.
I did my best to try to capture the construction techniques used to build the pueblo. I hope you enjoy the album.
As we moved on down the road toward the crater we came to other ruins where visitors are allowed to walk within the now leveled remains and get a feel for what it must have been like to live in the area during this period.
Finally, as light was fading we made our way to Sunset Crater Volcano. I was able to get a few sunset photos from the crater along with just a shot or two of the now dormant volcano.
From here we drove back to Flagstaff. Connie and I were pretty well exhausted and went right home. We spent the next day getting ready to continue our venture to the east and north. Our next stop would be Holbrook, AZ, gateway to the Petrified Forest National Park. You can read about that excursion as well as view more of my photos in the next posting.