Arizona – July 2014

Selfies

Selfies are all the rage, everyone is doing it, and why not? – they’re fun.

We hopped on the Selfie bandwagon and took a ton of them on our one thousand mile road trip through the deserts of the Southwest.

So here you go; our road trip selfies:

Las Vegas Venetian selfie

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Sunrise Grand Canyon selfie

Rain in Grand Canyon selfie

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There’s a new sheriff in town selfie

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On a mule selfie

H climbing ladder to the mesa verde ruins, selfie

Climbing a ladder to a MesaVerde cliff dwelling selfie

H crawling through entrance  to ruins, selfie

Crawling through entrance to ancient Mesa Verde cliff dwelling selfie.

in the car selfie

Monument Valley driving selfie

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Right Mitten Monument Valley shadow selfie

Cheto selfie with the sisters mesa, monument valley

Monument Valley Three Sisters Mesa Cheeto Selfie

Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Sunrise

Helen is not a morning person (to say the least), so I was surprised that she wanted to get up for sunrise at all, let alone more than once during our road trip around the Southwest. Helen really loves her sleep and hates to be woken up; I’ve discovered that the quicker you can get coffee in her, the better. But on this trip she was motivated and ready for the early alarm call.

Grand canyon sunrise

Grand Canyon – South Rim Sunrise

First stop on the trip was the Grand Canyon South Rim. The thing to do at the Grand Canyon is to watch the sun slowly rise above the canyon; The early morning sun is supposed to bring out the rich colors of the canyon and is not to be missed. We arose when it was still dark outside, quickly got dressed, made coffee and ran outside. The eastern horizon was just starting to brighten and in the low light the canyon looked like a black and white picture. But as the sun rose, it turned every shade of red. However, the colors were definitely at their best an hour after sunrise, when the rays of the sun lit up the canyon walls.

Damn, we could have stayed in bed longer.

canyon de chelly

Canyon de Chelly – Spider Rock

The Canyon de Chelly is in the Navajo Nation and off the beaten path; it lacks amenities and is seldom visited. There is only one trail down to the bottom of the Canyon where a Navajo guide is not required; the White House Ruins Trail. We did not have a lot of time there, so if we wanted to do the hike, it would have to be early, really early.

Sunrise canyon de shea

Canyon de Chelly sunrise

As we descended into the canyon, the sun rose above the horizon. The trail switchbacked down the canyon wall, through small tunnels dug into the rock. The steep rock walls were rose-colored, smooth to the touch. Before long we were on the canyon floor, walking past small farms and hogans, the traditional Navajo houses, with small plots of vegetables, a few goats, no electricity or running water. A woman was selling her Navajo jewelry along the dry creek bed. We chatted and Helen bought a few beautiful necklaces. It’s great to see, but hard to believe, that people are living in this canyon the way they have been for thousands of years.

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Navajo Hogan

At the end of the trail, the White House Ruins are at the base of a monstrous cliff; they were abandoned centuries ago. They get their name from one of the rooms plastered white, high up in the canyon wall. Except for the fact that pick-up truck has maybe replaced the horse, this canyon is from a different time; ancient ruins, hogans; this is a truly unique and beautiful place.

White house ruins

White House Ruins

Next up, Monument Valley Tribal Park. At 5:30 am the sun started to rise as we started The Wildcat Trail around the left Mitten, in Monument Valley, also in the Navajo Nation Reservation. We walked by monster mesas made famous by John Wayne and John Ford movies. The trail weaved through the desert, across dry river beds and around a mammoth sandstone butte. As the sun rose, the light first hit the buttes turning them bright red. We passed a couple of little Navajo family compounds with their packs of barky dogs that ran out at us to defend their territory.

Monument valley, left mitten, sunrise

Monument Valley, The Mittens – sunrise

With all of the beautiful scenery and the canine distractions, my eyes weren’t always on the trail, but luckily I looked down just in time to see a snake coiled up in the middle of the trail; Too small to be a rattler, but it definitely  startled me.

I kept my eyes on the trail after that.

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Snake on the trail!

On the last night of the trip, we were back at The Grand Canyon, but this time on the North Rim. We had to drive back to Vegas to fly out the following evening and so had to get on the road early, but we decided to get up one last time for sunrise; it is the Grand Canyon after all. So at dawn we stumbled out of our cabin and walked out to Bright Angel Point that juts out into the canyon. The sun rose above the canyon and bathed the canyon walls in orange sunlight… Amazing sunrise… blah blah blah…Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world….yeah yeah…. seen it all before.  Whatever, … I need a coffee.  We went  and got a early breakfast (with A LOT of coffee) and were on the road by 8 am.

North rom grand canyon, sunrise

North Rim Grand Canyon sunrise

In the end, I was the one having a hard time getting up early, not Helen. By the time we boarded the plane in Vegas,  I was exhausted from the lack of sleep.  The early mornings have taken their toll, but it was worth it; We saw some of the most spectacular sunrises one of the most scenic areas of the country.

We can always sleep when we get home.

Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Searching for the California Condor

The largest, most endangered and ugliest bird in North America is the California Condor, and I wanted to see one bad. The average weight of these condors is 26 pounds with a wingspan of 9.5 feet; one of largest birds on the continent.  Condors have been released in and around the Grand Canyon for  years but they still remain one of the rarest birds in the world. In 1987, only 22 California Condors existed in the wild; they were on the edge of extinction and something drastic had to be done. So they captured all of the existing condors, bred them in Californian zoos and then started to release them back into the wild in 1991.

While just over 200 now exist in the wild, it’s still one of the most miraculous come-backs from the brink; a rare conservation victory.

Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon.

Our recent road trip included both rims of the Grand Canyon and the surrounding countryside and so I was hoping to see one high in the desert sky. But it was now the second to last day and we had still not seen one. Helen is (fairly reluctantly) my birding co-pilot and she had read that a few sometimes hang out under the Navajo Bridge in Glen Canyon.

So we drove to where the bridge spans the canyon with its red vertical walls, high over the Colorado River. Right when we arrived, we looked under the bridge, in the criss-cross steel trusses, and immediately saw a large black bird!

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First sighting.

So we walked out on the parallel pedestrian bridge for a closer look. It was a massive black bird with a hunched back; menacing looking; A juvenile Californian Condor with a dark head and a face only a mother could love.

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Then I walked to the opposite side of the bridge and looked down into the gorge. Ten feet below me, perched under the bridge was an adult condor who cocked his featherless, colorful head to look back at me. Score two!

Every bird is captured, tagged with a number and small radio transmitter.

It got even better, just a few steps further down the bridge was a third condor, sitting with its wings out-stretched.

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F1.

With only 200 birds left in the wild we were lucky to see just one, let alone three.  And I was expecting to see them soaring far, far in the distance, not up close on the underside of a massive steel bridge. I’m not complaining.

The condor won’t win any beauty pageants but is a magnificently unique bird. Add it to The List:

California Condor
7-12-2014
Glen Canyon, Arizona, USA.

Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Getting our kicks on Route 66

What are you going to drive on historic US Route 66? A Prius? That would be sacreligious. It would have to be American and convertible; it’s Route 66 after all.  So we rented a Mustang convertible.

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Traveling Route 66 is like driving a road back through time; neglected and forgotten, but still an American classic.We stopped at numerous trading posts and roadside attractions that have been there since the glory days.  From a distance, they look about the same, but when you get up close, you can see how they have aged.  For starters, the twenty-year-old clerk is now actually sixty. There are pictures and artifacts lining the walls, all of the establishments are half-Museums. And they all have random Route 66 nostalgia to sell.

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Helen and I were both excited for Bedrock City, Valle, AZ. It’s basically a scrubby grass/dirt lot with all your favorite Flintstones characters living right there in the Arizona desert; who knew? We went to the Caveman Beauty parlor,  but The Rubbles house was a dump.  Surreal isn’t even the word.

Betty's head is bigger than ever

Betty’s head is bigger than ever. Am I having fun yet?

In Holbrook, Arizona, we stayed at the Wigwam Motel in one of a dozen small concrete teepees that are like small cabins, complete with a small shower and bathroom. All of the furniture inside was original, but it might be time for a refinish/replace. Originally built in the forties and fifties, these little teepee hotels littered the highways, now only three exist in the US. Probably not a big surprise to anyone. but we have now stayed at two out of three, and Helen is already planning our trip to the third in Kentucky.

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Near the end of the road trip was Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation. The best way  to view the sandstone buttes was along a seventeen mile dirt and sand road. I probably should not have taken the Mustang on a 17 mile off-road excursion, but whatever, it’s a rental, right? We only bottomed out a few times but did almost get stuck in the deep sand. I got the hang of it after a few miles and was soon passing 4x4s. Giddy up, Mustang.

 

Off road monument valley

Off-roading in Monument Valley.

Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How to Celebrate the Fourth of July!

At the start of our anniversary road trip through the southwest, we flew into Vegas, where we got married, and so I envisioned champagne on The Strip and dinner at a fancy restaurant. But Helen had a different idea; go to a derelict old mining town in the desert, where they were holding the 24th annual fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk contest; mmm…sounds romantic. But it didn’t take long to convince me; less than 24 hours in Vegas and I’m already done and ready to go.

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Driving through the desert along old Route 66, we turned onto the neglected road to Oatman, Arizona. Oatman was a booming gold mining town in the early 1900’s, but by World War 2, it was all over and the mines were shut. The town has not changed much since and now lures travelers with its authentic old west feel; clapboard buildings, abandoned mines, saloons. There are also free-range burros that roam the streets, offspring of the burros used during the mining days. When the mines closed, they let the burros free and decades later they are still around; not just a few, there are dozens of them all over town, blocking streets and trying to get in stores.

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Burros have also been known to grab things out of your back pocket.

It was high noon and the egg frying contest was about to start. It is usually well over one hundred degrees in Oatman this time of year, but on this July 4, it was overcast and in the low 90’s, not the best conditions to fry an egg on the sidewalk. The competition was tough: mostly kids under age ten! but there were also a few people taking it very seriously with magnifying glasses and mirrors to enhance the rays of the sun. None of this worked; after ten minutes the eggs looked the same as when they came out of their shells; and at the end no one’s egg was remotely close to being cooked. However, in this contest, everyone’s a winner! Helen got a gold plastic metal for being the contestant from the furthest away, England. She did try to explain that we live in Seattle, but they could not understand her accent.

Winner

Winner!

After the contest, as per usual, Helen looked round the shops along Main Street and I went to find the local dive bar. I ended up it the old Oatman Hotel, where randomly Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had spent their wedding night in 1939. The hotel had a saloon wallpapered with signed dollar bills from patrons dating back decades. I chatted with a biker and his wife; he had on a Harley Davidson tee with the sleeves cut off and a tooth pick in the corner of his mouth. They gave me top tips on where to go along Route 66.

Feeling overly chatty on this day, I then struck up a conversation with an old-timer sitting next to me. He had on a Korean War Vet cap and a red, white and blue patriotic shirt. He introduced himself as Uncle Charlie and  handed me his card.

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He said that he had started life as a professional taxidermist but got bored and switched professions throughout his life and now his favorite thing was to be the local Reverend and do all the wedding ceremonies in Oatman. He also worked part-time at the saloon and lived in a small trailer out back.  I realized he was the unofficial mayor of this town as all the locals that walked by shook his hand. Then Helen walked in and Uncle Charlie was not shy; I think he was a little smitten.

Uncle Andy and Helen

Uncle Charlie and Helen

We were celebrating a few things on this July Fourth; Independence Day, Helen recently becoming a US Citizen and our tenth wedding anniversary. I briefly wondered how many couples visit Oatman for their anniversary, (probably zero), but it made perfect sense to us; we like the unconventional. As we pulled out of town on the dirt road avoiding the burros, I thought to myself, that was random but pretty great; so glad we escaped Vegas.

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Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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