December 22, 2012

12/6/12 - Boyce Thompson Arboretum SP

Last year I bought an annual pass to Arizona State Parks.  It's due to expire soon, so before it did we headed out to Superior to visit Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

In the early 20th century, financial magnate* Boyce Thompson built a desert arboretum below his house. 

Rich people name their homes--this Castle on the Hill was called "Picket Post House" after a nearby mountain.  I don't know how the mountain got its name...
The plant collection consists of plants from Arizona, of course, plus arid places all over the world.  There are quite a few plants from Australia--with funky names like "Wichetty bush" (otherwise not a particularly impressive plant).

"River Bushwillow" isn't very descriptive for a tree with a unique knobby trunk.  You'd think those creative Australians would have come up with something better.

My favorite is the "Boojum tree", which came from Baja California.  The tall one below was 10' tall when it was planted in 1927.  The one in the blue shirt isn't quite that old.

Crow's Claw Cactus
Adjectives for cacti never include "beautiful"--except for the blossoms.  December isn't bloom time.  We saw exactly one cactus with a flower, AND it was labeled!

Ayer Lake was created to supply water to the arboretum.  Apparently it's a great place for birding.  All we saw was a couple of coots.
*Please note:  I have never had occasion to use the word "magnate" in a sentence before now.  Apparently I don't know the right people.
Be sure to look for the animal benches that are scattered around the park--I like the horned toad best but I don't think it would be very comfortable to sit on. 

November 23, 2012

11/08/12 – Wupatki NM

Wupatki National Monument is just 14 miles past Sunset Crater Volcano NM on a loop road, so we got two national monuments for the price of one.  (Actually, George's Senior Pass gets us in for free anyway, so I guess it's really two free parks for free.)
There are a bunch of ruins scattered over the desert in the park, several of them conveniently located next to the road.  Besides Wupatki, there are 4 others to explore; all the rest are off-limits.  (Oh, for Pete's sake!  How many pueblos do you think you need to see???  We skipped one ourselves.)

Wukoki Pueblo is a couple of miles down a spur road, then a short stroll from the parking lot.  It's up on a hill and looks a lot like a castle.  We had the whole thing to ourselves.  I think I liked this one best.
Wupatki Pueblo is right behind the Visitors Center.  With over 100 rooms, it's the largest dwelling in the monument.  Consider it a 12th century condo.
Sometimes big rocks are incorporated into the walls of the pueblo.   Think how many bricks they didn't have to haul up the hill!
A whole bus-load of kids from the Peach Springs reservation school had come halfway across the state to learn clan history.  They were down at the community circle doing a circle dance when we first got there, then they set off to explore the game circle and the blowhole.  (There's a cavern underground, and the air blows out in a small blast.  I thought it was fun too. )
Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos are together.   Nalakihu has been reconstructed.  The Citadel on the rim of the mesa has only been stabalized.
Nalakihu Pueblo

Citadel Pueblo
There were signs at each of the pueblos saying  not to pick up pottery.  We didn't see any pottery not to pick up.  (And you know I wouldn't anyway.)
The expected storm was heading our way, so we scooted out of there. 

11/08/12 – Sunset Crater Volcano NM

Seems it never rains in southern Arizona.  (Or is that California???)   Either way, it wasn't going to be the standard “hot and dry”.  The weather guessers forecast a rain and wind and snow storm by the weekend, so we figured that if we wanted to see a couple of national monuments north of Flagstaff, we’d better get going.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is the most recent volcano to erupt in the Flagstaff area.   As with many geological events, time is relative.  It’s been about a thousand years since the last eruption...but that’s almost yesterday to geologists.   They think in millenia instead of decades. 

Some early Puebloans actually lived nearby.  Smarter than the folks at Pompeii, they left town when the earth started shaking and flames shot out of the ground.  They managed to get on the bus before it left, watched safely from someplace else, and their escape (as they say) "lives in legends." 

The volcano is a 1,000’ tall cinder cone.  In 1928 some filmmakers wanted to blow it up for an early version of special effects for a Zane Gray movie.  That got the people of Flagstaff all riled up, and eventually resulted in preserving it as a national monument. 
We hiked the Lenox Crater Trail to the top of a smaller volcano.   It's not a very exciting hike--walking on cinders is worse than walking on the beach.  Throw in a 300’ elevation gain at 7,000’ and the ½ mile hike took longer than expected.  Coming down is quicker, but those little rocks roll, and suddenly, I did too!
Tourists could climb Sunset Crater until 1973, but now it’s off-limits.  You can still see hiking trails on the slopes, even after all these years.   The Lava Flow Trail is at the base of Sunset Crater, so we saw more cinders and different kinds of lava, some splatter cones, and lots of signs that say “stay on the trail”. 
I know this is a boring post--lava rock mostly comes in black or gray.  But Wupatki National Monument is just down the road, and their pueblos are made of red rock.  We headed there next.
More pics here:  Sunset Crater Volcano NM

October 20, 2012

10/14/12 – West Fork Trail Hike

You never know when or where you’ll meet a new friend.  We went to Ace Hardware last week, and started talking to an employee, comparing notes about retirement and travel.  John invited us to go on a hike on the West Fork of Oak Creek with him and his wife Mary.  Between us, George and I’ll talk to everybody! 

The West Fork Trail is a popular one—especially in autumn—so you need to get there early to get a parking place.  We met at 8:30; George had to get up earlier than he has in quite a while!  It's good for him occasionally.

Near the start of the trail is where the Mayhew Lodge used to be.  It burned in 1980, so there’s not a lot left there.
We just naturally split up with Mary and I usually taking the lead.  Apparently we can walk, talk AND take pictures.  The trees are ablaze with the sound of music.  Um, no, wait!  I don’t think that’s quite right…anyway, the trees were real pretty. 
So were the canyon walls.
 Saw some interesting fungi too. 
We seemed to be doing a do-si-do with a woman who was taking as many pictures as we were.  Eventually we got to talking about more than just colored leaves.  Turned out she had been an avionics engineer; now she’s a medium.  (After working at PAC, I knew avionics is a stressful industry, but that’s quite a career change!)

The trail is 3 miles long.  You cross the shallow creek several times, on rocks if your balance is good.  About halfway in, John and George decided to wait for us at an overlook while Mary and I continued on to the end of the trail.  Actually, you can go farther down (up?) the canyon, but you have to wade.  We went as far as we could on dry land but since we didn’t want to get our feet wet, we turned around back to wake up the guys.
Hope we can do this again!

10/1/12 – Catstair Canyon Hike

The ranger at Glen Canyon Dam recommended this hike.  He said it was one of his favorite hikes.  We weren’t terribly impressed…

It's a short drive to GSENM (Grand Staircase-Escalante Natl Monument).  Once you find the right guardrail on the right curve, just open the gate and drive through, the trail goes right up the Catstair Canyon wash.  (Don't forget to close the gate.)

When you actually get to the canyon, there are lots of petroglyphs and pictographs up on one section of the wall. 
Some pop out; some are really hard to see.   Some have been obscured, and some are just plain grafitti.
My favorite was the deer reflected in water, but you need to know what it’s supposed to be and then use your imagination a bit.  I have a really good imagination. 
There were some flowers I hadn't seen before alongside the trail, so of course I took pictures.  Don't have a clue what it is, but I like it!
 It was a mighty short hike.

September 30, 2012

9/23/12 - Grand Canyon NP (North Rim)

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets only 10% of the visitors that the South Rim does.  We were at the South Rim last November.  Let the crowds go south--we headed to the North Rim!

It's about 10 miles across the canyon, "as the crow flies", though I've never seen one fly a straight line.  By road, it's 215 miles; not a lot of bridges across the Colorado River. The North Rim is about 1,000 feet higher so it's cooler than the South Rim.  And I think it's a lot prettier.  (Of course, that could be because there are fewer people and you can actually see it--see paragraph 1.)
The approach to the park is through open range and a high meadow surrounded by forest.  Various signs warn to be on the lookout for cattle, elk, deer and bison (only they're not buffalo--it's a beefalo herd...which we also didn't see).  I think we saw a cow or two, but none of the good stuff. 
After checking out the Visitor Center, we headed out behind the Lodge to Bright Angel Point.  If anybody asks, it's really a long way down! 

While we were having our picnic, I saw a condor looking for his own lunch.  Just imagine a really ugly bird with a 9 foot wingspan flying in lazy loopy circles cruising for carrion.  George thinks it was a raven.  It was a condor!!!  But I didn't get a good picture.

We took the Scenic Drive to Cape Royal.  There's a little detour to Angels Window--check out the Colorado River through the window!  The trail leads right out to the top of the arch. 
We stopped at Walhalla Overlook, and waited for a rain squall to go past.  It was definitely worth the wait!
From the Vista Encantada overlook, you're supposed to be able to see all the way to the Painted Desert.  Of course, it requires a clear day, which we definitely didn't have.  The vibrant red canyon walls are from iron oxides.  (Since we've been on our trip, I've decided that half the country is rusting away--and the other half is blowing away!  See it while you still can!)
We ended at Point Imperial--this is the highest viewpoint at the Grand Canyon.  Even without bright sun and blue skies, I really liked this one.
 Link to more pics of the North Rim