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USA 2008

From Las Vegas to Phoenix in an open-topped Mustang...  

Viva.... Las Vegas!

I’m currently sat on our balcony at the Majestic View lodge in Springdale, Utah, drinking a bottle of Springdale Amber Ale and relaxing having spent the day hiking in Zion National Park… but more of that later, here’s the story so far…

We got up early on Friday morning and caught a taxi to Manchester Airport, where we intended on enjoying a full cooked English breakfast before catching the flight to Chicago and our connection to Las Vegas. The idea was to build up our tolerance for large meals prior to arriving in the States, where we know portion sizes tend to be somewhat on the large size. Only we didn’t have much of an appetite, and the greasy spoon deli in Manchester’s terminal 3 had the effect of turning our stomachs, rather than making them rumble. So we settled for a couple of cereal bars instead. The flight to Chicago was uneventful, providing ample time to catch up on some reading. I read a book Tracy has just finished called “Looking Up” about a guy who suffered a broken back and was paralyzed – the parallels with Tracy’s own experience are marked, though thankfully she is not confined to a wheelchair like the author. I recommend the book for anyone who wants to really understand what someone goes through following such a trauma.

On arriving at Chicago we had the pleasure of passing through US border control and then collecting our bags before passing customs. Despite Tracy having got a letter from her GP about the scaffolding in her back, up until this point the airport metal detectors had failed to notice, so she finally got the chance to brandish the letter to the US customs lady that took her to one side for a thorough going over, after the paranoid American detector went “beep”. The customs lady wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in the letter, though, but she did make allowances for Tracy’s lack of arm movement when frisking her. Convinced she wasn’t a threat to national security she was allowed on her way. Shortly after that we’d dropped our bags off again and we boarding our plane to Las Vegas. By now, Tracy had realised we’d be flying over the Grand Canyon and was getting very excited. That lasted until we got to our seats and opened the window blinds only to find a ruddy great big engine outside completely obscuring any view… she wasn’t best impressed, especially when they started the engines and we realised we would be sat in the noisiest seats possible (and that wasn’t because we were surrounded by loud Americans, although that was also the case!).

Arriving at Las Vegas we grabbed our luggage and headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the collection point for our hire car. We’d booked a convertible as we didn’t want to be cooped up in a tin box for 2 weeks, and when we started chatting to the guy in Hertz, he offered us a Mustang convertible instead of the cheaper Sebring, so we were well chuffed. It’s a big V8, and sounds great, but is actually pretty sluggish and handles like a blancmange. But with the roof down, driving into Vegas on the Strip was pretty special. We both decided at that point, we’d made the right choice of car!


Arriving in Las Vegas...



Despite never having driven in America, never having driven a left-hand drive car, and having very little experience of automatics (none, until I drove Tracy’s Mini the other day), I quickly got used to the feel of the car and cruising down the Strip to the hotel. Like most big hotels in Vegas, Bally’s has free parking, so we dropped the car off in the car park and lugged our rather heavy bags through the casino to reception. The scale of these hotels beggars belief, and I’m sure I walked for a mile with my big yellow bag on my back whilst Tracy pulled her wheeled suitcase behind her. It wasn’t long before we were checked in and found our way to our room on the 18th floor… and what a room! King size bed, large bathroom, and a big telly that I managed to ignore the whole time we were there…

Having dropped off our bags and had a quick shower and change it was time to paint the town red. Only having been travelling for 16 hours and been up for considerably longer, the best we could manage was a slight shade of off-white. A beer in a bar on the strip and then back to Bally’s for our evening meal – a Chinese – and we even managed to stay awake long enough to eat it! But not by much…


First beer outside Flamingo...



Saturday

Waking up in the very small hours of the morning is inevitable when we’ve gone back in time 8 hours, so it was no surprise that by 7am we were up, showered and ready to see the sights. Walking through the casino was eerily quiet, with just a few die-hard gamblers at the slots or playing poker… where they get the stamina (and money) from is beyond me. We wandered down the strip to the Venetian, and then through the still-closed shopping mall before stopping for a coffee and croissant. It was at this point that Tracy decided to check how full her cup of coffee was by taking off the lid, then not replacing it properly, before pouring it all over her shorts. Her white shorts. Having made sure she hadn’t scalded herself (good job it was a latte and not an Americano!), we made a hasty exit and caught a cab back to the hotel so she could get changed. Refreshed, and leaving the now cream shorts in the sink to soak, we headed back off out again, only this time to the car.


Tracy washes her dirty shorts...



We’d already walked up and down the strip a couple of times, and made next to no headway. It’s amazing just how far apart the casinos are, despite appearances. Their enormous size makes them look much closer than they really are, so we made the decision to drive up and down a couple of times so we could see them all. And that’s where an open-topped Mustang comes into its own. Cruising past the famous sights under a blazing sun with the roof down, trying our best to look rich and famous… it didn’t work, obviously.


Tracy enjoys the sights, here outside New York, New York...



We then went in search of retail therapy - not something Tracy and I are particularly fond of, but she’d been given a shopping list by Katie (Crocs, a kind of trendy sandal) and Carlie (little brown bag). The huge shopping mall we found seemed to be full of shoe shops, but despite our best efforts we failed to find either item on the list, although we did buy me another pair of shoes and a lead to allow us to plug my iPod into the car stereo… Bored with shopping we went back to the hotel for a nap, first stopping at Treasure Island to pick up our tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show we’d booked (Mysteire).

Feeling much worse for attempting to get some sleep, but refreshed from a shower and change of clothes, we headed back out and wandered through Caesars Palace and the Forum Shops (still no crocs or little brown bags) and grabbed a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream before taking our seats for the show. I’d seen a Cirque du Soleil show on trip to Vegas in March, but Tracy hadn’t and anyway, this was a different show. And what a show! It’s really hard to describe these shows, as they’re unlike anything else, but it was fantastic. A mix of gymnastics, ballet, dance, and comedy. Simply stunning. Following the show we had a Vietnamese meal in the restaurant in Treasure Island before heading outside to catch the performance of the “Sirens of TI” which is enacted on pirate ships in the moat surrounding the hotel. It wasn’t a patch on the show we’d just seen, but we can’t complain as it was free… Following that excitement we made our way to the Bellagio where we caught a performance of the famous dancing fountain, that was really quite spectacular. It was only mildly ruined by the “whooping” of an American woman stood just behind us… better get used to that sort of thing, I guess!



And finally to bed, completely exhausted…

Sunday

The day dawned bright and sunny (surprise!) as we checked out of the hotel and squeezed our luggage into the boot of the Mustang (good job we travel ‘light’!). And off we set, heading first to the Hoover dam. By now we’re veterans of negotiating Las Vegas’ traffic and so it posed no problem as we found our way South and via Boulder City to the dam. Here we parked up and grabbed a couple of bottles of water before taking a few photos of this enormous and rather spectacular piece of engineering.


Tracy peers down the massive Hoover Dam...



Having satiated our desire for listening to another piped, and very patriotic, American monument’s history, we dropped the hood and headed North, back via Vegas and onto Interstate 15 towards Zion. It didn’t take long for me to suss out the Mustang’s cruise control, and so with my iPod playing a rock selection playlist, and the sun beating down we headed along the desert highway, cool wind in our hair, etc…

We stopped only once, for some more bottled water, and finally arrived at the Majestic Lodge confused by the time. We had 3.30pm, but the hotel had 4.30pm. That’ll be Mountain Time, then. Crossing time zones in a car will take some getting used to! But what a hotel. This place is beautiful, and our room is just fantastic, with furniture hewn from solid logs, including a massive bed. No wonder the Yanks are so large – they have so much space to fill!


View from the balcony, as I relax...



Our room at the Majestic View



Washed and changed, we headed to the bar. Sorry, saloon, in search of a cold beer. We knew that the Majestic Lodge was home to the Zion Canyon Brewing company, so our lips were already wet at the thought of a long, cold, fresh, beer after our drive. Only Utah has this rather peculiar law. It states that alcohol can only be sold with food. And we weren’t hungry. And we know how large the portions are, having so far failed to finish a single meal between us. But, thirst can be a strong motivator, so we ordered a couple of side dishes and a couple of beers. And they were both excellent. After a couple more beers we thought it best to go for a gentle stroll back to our room and try and sober, sorry, freshen up before dinner.

Dinner was a large steak each, washed down with a nice bottle of red wine. And we managed to eat most of them, and drink most of the wine too.

Monday

And so to today...

Once again waking early after a restless night, Tracy went to collect the packed lunch we’d ordered whilst I went onto the Internet to find details of Zion and the park pass we need to buy. With lunch sorted, and our plans in place, we went to breakfast. Already we’re getting fed up (literally!) of eating, but it seemed to be the right thing to do, as we had a long day of hiking ahead. Tracy ordered a small plate of pancakes, and when they came she was relieved to find only 2 of them on her plate. The only problem was, they were both the size of the plate. Which was in turn the size of a large wheel. With a bucket of maple syrup. They made my mushroom and Swiss cheese omelette seem healthy by comparison, which I’m sure it would have been had it not been for the pound of sautéed country potatoes and 2 slices of toast that accompanied it. That, and the fact that it was made with about 2 pounds of cheese. And 3 eggs. And a forest-full of mushrooms. Still, could have been worse. We could have ordered a “large breakfast”…

Stuffed to the gills, we packed the rucksack and caught the shuttle bus into the park. Here we bought our “Interagency Pass” that should get us access to all the National Parks on our trip – all for just $80. We then caught the in-park shuttle bus from the visitor’s centre to Zion Lodge, where we did our first trek up to see the Emerald Pools (which sadly were short of water at this time of year). After this 2.8mile hike, we caught another of the frequent shuttle buses to the end of the road and we then walked the Riverside Trail to the end of the canyon (or at least as far as we could go without wading up the river!), and then a further bus to the Weeping Rock walk.

Rather than me waffle on about how beautiful Zion National Park is, I’ll let a few pictures tell the story…


Zion National Park



Zion National Park



Zion National Park



Zion National Park



Zion National Park



Quite beautiful, isn’t it…

After a long day’s hiking we caught the return shuttle bus back to the hotel, and so here I am, catching up on the blog whilst enjoying a beer or two…

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

 

From Zion to Bryce Canyon

It’s only been 5 days since my last post, but we’ve done so much that it seems like a very long time ago…So in future, I’ll be back-dating the blog entries to the days to which they relate…

My last post concluded with me sat on the balcony at the aptly-named Majestic View lodge enjoying a cool beer. In reality, I started the post that way, but finished it after dinner when we returned to our room stuffed full of large burgers…


Good job she’s got a big mouth!



Since then, the end of each day has seen me more than a little exhausted as my senses have been bombarded with one great experience after another. I’ll try and recall a few as I bring you up to date with our latest adventure…

Tuesday

Once again we woke relatively early before grabbing breakfast in the lodge restaurant, and hitting the road. The drive through Springdale in the early morning with the roof of the Mustang down (as we’ve had it most of the time) reminded us that it can get quite chilly at these altitudes when hidden from the intense rays of the sun, and after stopping at the bank to get some more cash (good job Tracy has her card with her, as mine blocked itself when I tried to take out a large number of dollars), we had to put the roof up in order to prevent icicles forming on our noses.


Paul posing in the Mustang outside Majestic View Lodge



The drive back into Zion and onto the scenic route 9 through the tunnel and on towards Highway 89 was punctuated by frequent photo stops (I’ll post a large gallery when I get home, as there’s too many to include in the blog). The landscape constantly changing as we made our way towards Bryce Canyon…


First of many photo stops – Checkerboard Mesa



Here we are entering Red Canyon… wonder why it’s called that…


Red Canyon




Red Canyon – passing through a rock tunnel



When we arrived at Bryce Canyon, we took a leisurely drive along the canyon road, stopping at the various view points to take yet more photos. Here the scenery is very different to Zion, with fantastic long-range views and the most remarkable rock formations – “Hoodoos” – which are the unique feature of Bryce Canyon. Again, photos speak a thousand words…


Long range view over Bryce Canyon



Bryce Canyon



One of the many naturally formed arches at Bryce Canyon



The infamous amphitheatre at Bryce Canyon – the scale can be gleaned by the size of the other tourists admiring the view on the right



When it was time to leave the canyon and head for our hotel, we took the canyon road back out of the national park, only to have our journey interrupted by a small group of Longhorn deer crossing the road…


Longhorn deer crossing the road in Bryce National Park



When we finally arrived at the Stone Canyon Inn in Tropic (found eventually after Tracy had asked for directions as it was down a dirt road out of town), we were met with yet more great views – this time from our bedroom!


Our first bedroom at the Stone Canyon Inn, Tropic



The view from our bedroom window



Having checked in, we went into town for a meal, before heading up to Bryce to try and catch the sunset. Only we arrived a bit too late, and whilst the sun was still up, the canyon was in shadow. Not too disappointed, we made our way back to the inn and watched a DVD in our room whilst drinking a couple of beers we’d bought from the shop in town. Before turning in, we headed out of the inn to look at the mass of stars – with the air so clear and so little light pollution the sky was simply full of them… Quite a sight before bed!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

 

A walk in the park (or rather, Bryce Canyon)

After a sound night’s sleep we packed our stuff, as we could only book one night in the “Ivy” room and so are being moved to the “Garden” room whilst we’re out today. Then it was down to breakfast, which was a big surprise – delicious pastries cooked by our hosts John and Wendy, served with fresh coffee, orange juice and a smoothie. As soon as we’d finished breakfast, John came and asked the other guests and us what our plans were before imparting some really sound advice on how to get the best out of our day. His nugget of advice for us was to take the “Moss Cave” walk before entering the park – a walk from a small car park on the side of the road to Bryce Canyon that we’d passed before and wondered what it was.

So we set off and found the trail leaving the car park and heading into the wilderness on a narrow trail through some stunning desert scenery…


At the start of the Moss Cave trail, Bryce Canyon



The path wandered along the side of a stream that had been created by the Mormon pioneer, Ebenezer Bryce, who with his wife, Mary, had established their home here and given their name to the canyon. In order to establish a reliable source of water they had to dig a ditch along the high plateau to feed water into this stream. The ditch took them 2 years, but meant that there is water here all year round some 110 years later. It’s quite beautiful, especially in the early morning before the trail sees many visitors – Tracy and I had it all to ourselves…


The stream Ebenezer Bryce made sure carried water all year round… 110 years ago…



From the waterfall at the end of the trail we followed a side track to Moss Cave, so named because of the extensive moss that surrounds the cave all year round, a side effect of Ebenezer’s work. The peace and quiet of this spot was fantastic, and we sat and admired the scenery for a good few minutes before heading back along the trail to our car.

From here we drove back into Bryce Canyon National Park and parked up at Sunset Point, where the Navajo trail starts. Our intention was to hike along the Navajo loop, and then see how we were bearing up before deciding on whether to return, take the Queens Garden trail or head out onto the Peek-a-Boo trail, which heads right into the depths of the canyon and in amongst the hoodoos, but would be seriously challenging for both of us, Tracy in particular, given it’s only 9 months since she had her spine fused…

The start of the Navajo loop is very steep as it descends quickly in a series of zig-zags into a narrow slot canyon before opening out amongst the weird shapes of the hoodoos...


The start of the Navajo Loop trail, zig-zagging into the canyon



Hikers on the lower part of the Navajo loop get closer to the slot canyon leading into the valley



Tracy takes a rest in the slot canyon at the start of the Navajo loop trail



Once clear of the slot canyon, the valley opened up in the sunshine, and it wasn’t long before we were wandering along, enjoying the fresh air and the feeling of being outdoors doing something physical. Tracy was more than happy, her back not giving her any grief (yet!) and so we made the decision to do the full walk – all 7.5 miles of it.


Tracy – doing something that 9 months ago was way too much to expect…



The walk didn’t stay in the valley for long, though, and started winding its way up and down amongst the strange hoodoo shapes, sometimes reaching almost the same height as the canyon rim before heading back down into the next valley. Certainly challenging walking, in blistering heat, but with such spectacular views that it was worth every step. On several occasions we were passed by groups enjoying horseback trekking on the same narrow, steep, paths. The leaders of these groups were real-life cowboys, with a cheery “Howdy Folks!” when they saw us, and a “Thank-y’all, enjoy your day!” when they were safely past us (as we stood still at the side of the trail, scared in case we frightened the horses into jettisoning their cargo into the woods below!).


Encountering horseback riders on the narrow paths high in Bryce Canyon



After what seemed like an eternity of walking up and down and between these spectacular rock formations, we arrived at a junction in the path that we took for the half-way point of the Peek-a-Boo trail. We stopped here for some lunch, high energy protein bars we’d bought at the general store washed down with yet more water (we’d packed around 4 litres and knew we were going to need it all). Whilst sat at the side of the path, we recognised a couple of women we’d seen on the trail earlier. When we enquired as to how they had got here so quickly, we realized that we were well past the half-way point, and that certainly lifted out spirits, as we were both getting fairly tired and knew that from the end of the Peek-a-Boo trail we still had a few miles to go, including the long climb back out of the canyon…


Tracy at the ‘half-way’ point on the Peek-a-Boo trail



Back on the trail and with our energy levels restored we continued to climb up and down, seeking shelter from the intense heat of the sun whenever the opportunity arose. At one stop we were joined by a couple of chipmunks, who didn’t seem in any way shy of hikers – but they went hungry as there are warnings throughout the park about the dangers of feeding them – to both humans and chipmunks…


Tracy takes shelter from the sun



One of our visitors during the hike…



After a very long final climb out of the canyon, on the Queens Garden trail, which was fortunately not as steep as our initial descent, we emerged at Sunrise Point, just a short half-mile walk back to the car… but before then, Tracy wanted to take a well earned rest…


Tracy celebrates arriving back at the top of the canyon by lying down for a well-earned rest…



The sense of achievement at completing the walk was fantastic, and once again my remarkable wife had astounded me with her resilience and determination. I was totally exhausted after the walk – it was certainly not easy – but she’d done it without complaint just 9 months after having an operation on her spine, and 6 months after she’d just started walking again. Quite a woman… To celebrate (and prove that I really was on the hike with her!) we grabbed a passing tourist and got them to take our picture…

All smiles despite the exhaustion!



Suitably worn out we headed back to the Stone Canyon Inn and checked in to our new room – which was just as beautiful as the one we had the previous night…


Our second bedroom at the Stone Canyon Inn, Tropic



After a long soak in the Jacuzzi bath (in which Tracy put slightly too much bubble-bath, meaning we had our own foam-party!), we headed back out to catch the sunset at Sunset Point, and watched as the colours of the hoodoos changed from orange to deep red…


Bryce Canyon at sunset



After taking hundreds of photos (I’ll save you the chore of spotting the difference for now!), we made our way back into Tropic and to Clarke’s restaurant where we’d eaten the night before. The waiter recognised us straight away (might have something to do with the large tip I left yesterday) and we once again enjoyed stuffing our faces with good food. This time it was onion rings to start (lots of them!) followed by trout for Tracy and a big steak for me. It wasn’t too long before we were satiated and made our way back to the inn. After watching TV for a while we finally turned in, tired out after the day’s trek, but feeling very pleased with ourselves…

Thursday, 4 September 2008

 

A long day's drive...

We woke early after another sound night’s sleep – the walk yesterday must have tired us out a fair bit. After we’d packed and put the bags in the car, we sat down again to another of John & Wendy’s special breakfasts – warm pastry followed by cranberry’s with French toast. As neither Tracy nor I can eat cooked fruit, we had to make our excuses, but the other guests seemed to really enjoy them! Once paid up we wrote in their guest book and set off again, with some of John’s advice on where to stop etched in our minds.

First of our recommended stops was a coffee house called “Kiva Coffee House” where we stopped after less than an hour on the road.


Tracy enjoys a strong coffee in the Kiva Coffee House



The coffee was excellent, as was the view, and we listened whilst the only other customer, a cyclist, recounted his story to the coffee shop owner. He was busy cycling from LA to Chicago to raise money for pancreatic cancer, a condition his “mom” had been suffering from until she passed away recently. A professional artist, he was doing portraits of other pancreatic cancer sufferers on his way, and then holding an exhibition and auction when he arrived in Chicago. He was even booked on the Oprah Winfrey show… check out his website at http://scottglazier.com/crossingforcancer.html

Full of caffeine and inspiration, we got back in the Mustang and rejoined the highway.


On the highway…



The scenery was stunning as usual, with a few “lookouts” at the side of the road where we could pull over to catch out breath and take a snap or two…Here’s Sheep Creek Overlook (though we couldn’t see any sheep…)


Sheep Creek Overlook…. But no sheep in sight…



We then joined Highway 24 at Torrey and made our way into Capitol Reef National Park. As this was going to be our longest day driving, we didn’t want to just be on the highway trying to get to Cortez (our stop for the night) without seeing anything, so we took the turnoff into the Visitor’s Centre at Fruita. Here we bought a guide to the scenic drive that winds its way for 17 miles into the national park, and then headed off exploring, with Tracy reading from the booklet as I drove and admired the scenery…


Tracy concentrates on her geology lesson…



The first stop on our ‘guided’ tour was to examine the interesting rock formations which can be clearly seen in the layers of the cliffs – here we can see Wingate sandstone (at the top, formed by wind-blown sand dunes some 208 million years ago) then Chinle formation (formed from sediment at the bottom of lakes and rivers some 245 million years ago) and finally Moenkopi formation (formed from sediment deposited from coastal plains and tidal flats even before that)…


Just one of the many interesting rock formations that show geologic time…



The dirt road then wound its way deep into the rock formations, past an early uranium mine (no longer in use for ‘Health and Safety’ reasons), passed a formation known as “Cassidy Arch” where it is said that the outlaw Butch Cassidy hid out when being chased by the law (you can just make it out at the top of the rock cliff on the right of the picture below). Towards the end of the road we were joined by some Desert Bighorn Sheep, although they didn’t pay much attention to us, preferring the desert bushes…


The dirt road winds its way past Cassidy Arch – at the top of the cliff on the right… no sign of Paul Newman, though….



Desert Bighorn Sheep on the side of the road



After a really interesting hour or so we made our way reluctantly back to the highway and continued our journey East. John had warned us that once past Capitol Reef National Park there was pretty much nothing to see – in his words “it would be a great place to dump our nuclear waste”. I have to disagree, though, as whilst the landscape was pretty barren, it did bear a passing resemblance to the surface of the moon, and kept Tracy and I enthralled for hour after hour as we drove through this weird landscape between Henry Mountains and the San Rafael Desert…


The weird moonscape between Torrey and Hanksville…



By now we were starting to get hungry, so we pulled over at a small roadside café in Hanksville and ordered a burger and fries. And it was good… very good! Suitably refreshed we joined highway 95 south through yet more moonscape before we rounded a corner and nearly crashed the car such was the spectacular sight in front of us – the start of Glen Canyon at Hite…


The view at the start of Glen Canyon near Hite



Approaching Hite at the top of Glen Canyon



For the next hour or so we followed a really scenic road all the way to Blanding and then on to Monticello before heading further east on highway 491 to Cortez. By now we were getting tired from the drive, so were stopping much less frequently (hence the lack of photos!), and eventually we found our way round the streets of Cortez to our motel. Up until now you will have noticed that I’ve posted photographs of our hotel rooms. That’s not because I’m some kind of hotel-room-pervert, it’s because they’ve been simply fantastic. Well, the Days Inn at Cortez was just a roadside motel, and a chain one at that, so I didn’t even bother to take a picture of the room…

But it was late, we were tired, and it had a bed and a bathroom with a hot shower, so we weren’t complaining. It also had a fridge and an ice machine, so in short order I’d put the remaining beer bottles “on ice” and we’d showered and changed ready to head out for tea. Oh, and Tracy had done her mother-hen trick and managed to suss out the washing machine and dryers on site and washed the rather large and smelly bag of smalls we’d been accumulating…

Suitably refreshed we went out in search of some food – nothing fancy, just something tasty. We settled on Chinese and found a place not far from the motel. The food was ok, and the Tsing Tao beer excellent…


Tracy enjoys a cold beer waiting for her Chinese in Cortez



After eating our fill we made our way back to the motel room, where “Batman Begins” was just starting on the TV and the beer was cold. Suffice to say we relaxed completely after the long drive…

Friday, 5 September 2008

 

Mesa Verde and beyond...

After a reasonable night’s sleep, helped no doubt by the beer and staying up to watch the movie (made ten times longer due to all the adverts every time it got exciting!), we once again put our luggage in the car and hit the road again. Heading further east some 10 miles or so we arrived at Mesa Verde National Park, showed our “Interagency Pass” which by now had more than paid for itself and made our way into the park itself.

The drive to the visitor’s centre in Mesa Verde is worth the trip in itself, as it winds its way up the mountainside for 15 miles or so, whilst all around are spectacular long-distance views across the Colorado plateau. Once at the visitor’s centre, we grabbed a couple of guide leaflets and made our plans. Using the excellent free guide provided on entering the park, we reasoned that in the time we had available – we thought it best to be on our way around 2pm – we could fit in a trip to Spruce Tree House, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, Mesa Top Loop road (including stops) and with a bit of luck Far View Sites complex too. All of which would avoid the crowds at the most popular sites – which as they all had ladders to climb/descend were off our list (Tracy’s lack of movement in her right arm one reason, my hatred of ladders another!). And so, armed with all sorts of interesting stuff to read we set off in search of Spruce Tree House.

For those of you not familiar with Mesa Verde, it means “Green Table” and refers to the “mesa” or table-like hill which here is topped with vegetation and good soil. It was populated some 1,400 years ago by the “ancestral Puebloan” peoples, who settled here for almost 700 years. Initially they lived in “pithouses” which were little more than holes in the ground with small walls and roof made of timber and covered in mud. Eventually they started to make “cliff dwellings” in the shelter of the overhangs of the cliffs, and that’s what Mesa Verde is most famous for. Spruce Tree House is one such dwelling, and we found it easily following a short trail through a wood. It had been discovered in around 1880 by a couple of ranchers looking for lost cattle – and it would have been an incredible find, all but lost to the forest.


Spruce Tree House from the wooded trail



Arriving at the site we discovered a remarkable structure that had a number of rooms and was probably home to around 100 people. There were living rooms, storage rooms and even underground “Kiva” (not named after the coffee shop we visited yesterday!) which were round ceremonial rooms entered via a ladder in the roof.


General view of Spruce Tree House with ladder leading into Kiva



Kiva with open roof showing general structure…



General view of Spruce Tree House



Having explored the house and read the very informative booklet we rejoined the trail and made our way back up to the archaeological museum that was at the start of the trail. Here we learnt more about the culture of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples who created these amazing dwellings and who, it seems, simply moved on following 24 years of drought – I guess that would cause any farming community to question the viability of staying!

By now the sun was high in the sky and it was very hot. With the roof down we headed off on the scenic “Mesa Top Drive” which forms a loop round the top of the mesa and has a number of marked spots where archaeologists have unearthed more evidence of the culture and life of the Ancestral Puebloans. First up was an excavated “pithouse” that showed clearly how they were dug into the ground, and where the 4 roof poles would have been placed to hold the short walls and roof – and the antechamber used for storage. In the centre of the room was a fire-pit for cooking and heating (and apparently for burning down the house as several of the remains found showed clear evidence of being burnt down!). Nearby was a “kiva” following a similar design to that we’d seen at Spruce Tree House although built out of mud as they hadn’t yet developed the technology to use bricks/stones in building.


Early Ancestral Puebloan pithouse



Moving on from the pithouse we passed close to Square Tower House overlook from where we got an excellent view of this multi-story dwelling built under an overhanging cliff. What is amazing about these dwellings is to think that the residents farmed the land at the top of the cliff – making their commute to work a rock-climbing exercise using hand and toe-holds pecked into the cliff walls… They really must have needed the shelter and shade from the cliff to resort to living below their land!


Square Tower House – another rock-climbing commute to tend to the crops…



Back on the scenic road the next stop was to look at some more Pithouses and early Puebloan villages which showed evidence of the changing culture of these early people, and the consistency of some of their buildings – Kivas are very consistent, and still form part of the building approach of the current Indian populations.


Later pithouse showing use of stones in its construction…



The final sight on our tour was Sun Point View from where we could clearly see Cliff Palace (one of the houses that can be visited but only by using several ladders). From here it is clear to see how a large community would exist living in this small town built into the rock-face… but still hard to imagine them growing their crops on the top of the mesa, high above their dwellings and having to make trips up and down the sheer rock-face in order to tend to their crops…


Cliff Palace – imagine a large community living here…



Suitably “cultured out” and with time passing, we left Mesa Verde National Park and made our way back to the highway. We stopped in Cortez for a late lunch – in a place offering “Loadsa Pasta” and “That’za Pizza”. Tracy had Macaroni with 5 cheeses (brave girl!) and I had a Pizza with various toppings. And both were excellent, although as I still had a fair bit of driving to do, I had to make do with lemonade while Tracy enjoyed a Peroni… We then made our way via the back roads to Bluff, where we were staying for the night. On arriving in Bluff it didn’t take us too long to find our B&B, the “Calf Canyon Inn”. And once again we’d struck gold. Our hosts, Monty and Kathy were most welcoming, and we were very soon settled in our hotel room. As with several of these B&Bs they have wireless internet, so Tracy took full advantage of it to check on her emails, whilst I made excuses to avoid updating the blog (the driving and sightseeing having taken it out of me…).


Tracy checks her email in the excellent Calf Canyon Inn



After a short rest we decided to head out and try and catch the sunset at the “Valley of the Gods” which was billed in our guidebook as a mini Monument Valley. A short drive down the highway led us to the start of a dirt road that lead out into the wilderness, winding its way towards some great red-faced mesas of various shapes. Enviously passing a couple parked up in their 4x4 with their tent out and thinking what a spectacular place to camp, we continued to follow the road whilst enjoying the early evening sunshine.

Valley of the Gods… aptly named…



Sunset in Valley of the Gods



Before long we reached a dried up river bed that the road crossed, but not before it dropped several feet. Having got out to have a look, I decided that on this occasion discretion was the better part of valour, and turned the Mustang round. Another passing 4x4 headed out across the river bed, bouncing hard on its long-travel suspension and I congratulated myself on a sensible choice, before flooring the throttle and leaving a satisfying cloud of dust in our wake… boys will be boys, after all!


Boys will be boys… Paul gives the Mustang its head in the Valley of the Gods…



With one last photo stop to capture the setting sun, we reluctantly left the dirt road and headed back to Bluff…


Sunset in the Valley of the Gods – worth another picture…



By this time our lunch had finally settled sufficiently for us to consider at least stopping for a bite to eat, and when we saw the steakhouse on entering Bluff there was little debate. Settling for a pitcher of beer to share (it being only a very short drive back to the B&B…) we ordered a Steak and Shrimp combo and a “share plate” which was basically an empty plate with the “sides” (in this case, refried beans and potatoes) so we could share the meal for once. That proved to be a great decision too, as the food was excellent but filled us both – had we ordered a meal each we’d have had to leave at least half of it!


Tracy and Paul relax with a pitcher of cold beer…



We then bought a few cold beers “to go” and headed back to the B&B where we sat out on the back patio, enjoying the stars and the beer and generally chilling out before bed…


Beer before bedtime… on the patio at the Calf Canyon Inn, under a blanket of stars…


Saturday, 6 September 2008

 

Yee-Hah! Taking a Mustang through Monument Valley...

The following morning dawned bright and sunny (again!) and we packed our bags before heading down for breakfast. It was here that we met our fellow guests, an Italian couple doing the same trip as us, although they were heading back to Vegas from the Grand Canyon. They were having trouble finding accommodation in the Grand Canyon area, so Tracy dug out the details of the motel we’d booked and passed them on. Then Monty (our host) revealed a real talent for cooking scrambled eggs, using a technique I’d not seen before. With no salt or pepper, he simply broke the eggs (6 between Tracy and me!) into a frying pan with a knob of butter and then broke and folded them with a spatula until cooked. And they were delicious – at least a match for mine – so I’ll be trying that technique when we get home…

Once again with our stomachs fit to burst, we bade our farewells (and had our photo taken for the “Monty and Kathy guest scrapbook”) and set off south. It wasn’t long before we passed the turn off for the Valley of the Gods and then saw the fantastic sight of Monument Valley – so familiar from all those Westerns – in the distance…


First glimpse of Monument Valley…



We then drove into the park, paying our entrance fee (the Monument Valley park is part of the Navajo nation, and so not covered by our Interagency Pass) and parked up at the visitor’s centre to admire the view. And what a view…


Tracy and Paul in front of Monument Valley’s famous Mittens…



We then took the dirt road that winds its way round the park, stopping very frequently to take endless pictures of these famous rock formations. Once again, I think it best to let the pictures do the talking, as words can’t really convey how beautiful these weathered red rocks are, or how bizarre the shapes they take, shaped by endless winds over the millennia…


 Objects in the mirror are more beautiful than they appear …



3 sisters rock buttress



Right Mitten and Merrick Butte



Thumb rock… Wonder why it’s called that?



A different kind of Mustang appears in this Western…



When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from this wonderful landscape, we rejoined the highway and made our way on via Katenta and Tuba City before heading on to Grand Canyon National Park, entering the park at the East entrance. Armed with the usual park brochure and newspaper giving basic information, we made our way along Desert View road to… Desert View overlook… and it was from here that we caught our first sight of the Grand Canyon…


The Grand Canyon from Desert View…



Now, like almost everyone else on the planet, we’ve heard about how “awesome” the Grand Canyon is. And it is. As we’d been warned, its scale is simply astonishing. Whilst the above picture looks like many other landscape photos that have appeared in this blog, it’s worth taking a moment to examine it in a bit more detail… If you look in the middle of the picture, there’s a brown river running down from the upper right and disappearing behind the hill on the left. That’s the Colorado River, and it’s about 100 yards wide at that point. The rim in the distance on the left is the North Rim, and from here, it’s over 10 miles away. So yes, it’s big. Very, very big.

But then we were in for something human and almost as impressive. We’d noticed a Ranger hanging around, and within minutes of us arriving he started giving his talk – a once-a-day talk on the geology of the canyon. Now I’ve noticed that some Americans can be a little animated, but this Ranger had a style all of his own. He first started by explaining that he was going to teach us an easy way to remember how the canyon was formed, using the acronym DUDE. D is for Deposition – the upper layer of the canyon (Kaibab Limestone) being deposited over millennia as the sediment at the bottom of a vast ocean that covered the Colorado plateau – basically the remains of millions of sea creatures. U is for Uplift without which the canyon would not have existed – as the continents moved and collided, the Colorado plateau was formed by the tectonic plates pushing together and raising the whole plateau (out of the ocean). D is for Downcutting (I love how Americans make up words!) which is where the Colorado river, which originates in the Colorado rockies at 14,000ft and reaches sea level at the ocean over a relatively short distance erodes the rock with its enormous energy (unlike most rivers, which lose their height over vast distances, the short distance travelled by the Colorado means it had much greater energy and so eroded the canyon). Finally, E is for Erosion. But not by water (that’s covered by the 2nd D) but by wind, rain, snow and ice, carving out the vast canyon walls and leaving what we see today. He demonstrated this process using a pile of books… and it obviously worked, because I can still remember it several days later!


 The Ranger shows how Uplift affects the books, sorry, rocks of the canyon…



Full of this new and entertaining insight, we went inside the Watchtower. This structure contains some examples of Navajo and Hopi Indian art and affords spectacular views down into the canyon, and despite the height, once again Tracy was fearless and stood close to the windows to admire the view…


Tracy looks down on the canyon from the watchtower…



All along the Watchtower… Indian art on the walls…



The Watchtower at Desert View Point



Once we’d had our fill of the view for today, we reluctantly left and drove the Desert View road through the park to the South entrance, and on to Tusayan where we had booked into the Red Feather Lodge for 3 nights. As with the Days Inn at Cortez, this was a case of “affordable, available and in the right location” rather than “a great place to stay”, so I neglected to take my usual photo of the room. It was comfortable, though, and with an en-suite bathroom, huge bed (I get the feeling American couples mustn’t like being close at night) and a big TV. We were soon showered and ready to find somewhere to eat, so loaded up the laptop and tried to find some recommendations on the Internet. They were mixed to say the least, so in the end we plumped for the Café Tusayan which was next door to the motel. There was a weird smell in the restaurant, which reminded Tracy of a public toilet, which didn’t bode well, but the food was edible, if a little bland, but the cheesecake was good. Once again stuffed to the gills, we decided we’d find somewhere else to eat the following night…

Sunday, 7 September 2008

 

Flying over the Grand Canyon...

Woke up early and excited, as yesterday when we arrived at the motel, I had searched the Internet comparing companies that offer helicopter flights over the Grand Canyon, and booked one for a 9am flight this morning. Tracy was a bit nervous, as she’s not the best when it comes to heights (have I ever mentioned that before?), but it didn’t stop us going in search of the complimentary breakfast, which, oddly, is served in a hotel room in the main part of the hotel. It was very crowded, with lots of greedy Americans piling their plates high with muffins, bagels, toast, yoghurt, etc. We settled for a Danish pastry and a coffee each, and managed to find a small table in the corner where we could eat and watch the ‘mercans gorging themselves…

When finished, we made our way back to the room, grabbed our stuff and jumped in Sally (as the Mustang had become known for obvious reasons!) for the short drive to the airport, which is situated just at the edge of Tusayan. Watching lots of helicopters coming and going was certainly getting us excited and we checked in with the woman I’d spoken to on the phone – her opening words were “It’s Paul, isn’t it?” – like I was a regular… wonder how she knew it was me? Anyway, we were weighed (didn’t like to ask what our weight was, as we’ve been stuffing ourselves silly for over a week) so they can balance the aircraft properly, and then sat getting more nervous whilst watching the safety briefing. I half expected this to be along the lines of “it doesn’t have wings, so in the event of engine failure, it won’t glide but come crashing down, so you best stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” but it wasn’t…


Our helicopter awaits…



When we were suitably terrified, they called out our names and we joined the other 4 passengers on the short walk to the helicopter. Here they stopped us in turn and took our photos – I guess so they’d have something to show the next of kin – and we were boarded and belted up, then cocooned in our headsets so we couldn’t hear each other scream. All we could actually hear was Coldplay on the in-flight music system, and the pilot talking us through the emergency procedures again “for those that missed the briefing”. I think it was all a ploy to ensure we were full of adrenalin before take-off.

When it came, take off was pretty uneventful, by which I mean we took off. And then turned and headed out over the forest, flying pretty low and affording us excellent views of the trees below. By now, Tracy’s smile was so big it almost didn’t fit in the helicopter, and I was able to relax, safe in the knowledge that if she was happy, then I’d be a wuss if I was anything but. And to be truthful, it was brilliant, much smoother than a small airplane and skimming just above the trees was really cool.


 Tracy, grinning like a Cheshire cat, enjoying the flight



After a few minutes, the pilot spoke to tell us we’d be banking and then flying over the canyon. And that’s when it got really exciting, like flying off the end of the world.


Flying off the end of the world, entering the canyon



The view of the canyon from up here – probably no more than 100ft above the canyon rim – was absolutely stunning. We flew for around half an hour doing a tour of the canyon (the flights are restricted to certain canyon areas in order to preserve the peace, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less spectacular). Again, the photos probably speak louder than my words ever could…


Flying over the Grand Canyon



Those little yellow dots are rafts on the Colorado River



View from the middle of the Grand Canyon



The Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon



The Colorado River winding its way through spectacular scenery



Before long it was time to head back towards Tusayan, which meant once again flying over the forest, and this afforded me the chance to take a photo showing how the canyon has carved out its place on the Colorado Plateau – it just seems to be a massive gash in the forest, like a crack in the surface of the world…


The Grand Canyon, starts abruptly in the middle of the Colorado Plateau and the surrounding forest



On the way back to the airport we flew parallel to the main road through Tusayan, and past our lodge, which meant the inevitable “you can see our room from here” comment (although Tracy later told me she was glad she had the headphones on as she couldn’t hear me!).


Tusayan from the air, with the Red Feather Lodge (and our room) in the centre



And so back to terra firma, where Tracy’s newly “blade-swept” hairstyle gained admiring comments, before we were ushered away to make way for the next lucky group to take this spectacular trip. We both agreed that the flight had been the highlight of the trip so far, and with so many great experiences, that shows how brilliant it really was…


Tracy shows off her “helicopter blow-dry”…



As we made our way to the car, the helicopter that had whisked us safely over the canyon took off again… Now all I need to do is save up and learn to fly one, and then I’ve found my ideal job…


 Helicopter pilots wanted…?



By now gibbering like fools following the overdose of adrenalin and excitement, we made our way back to the hotel to grab our gear for a short hike we’d got planned for the afternoon. First, though, we decided to go in search of a new day-sack as we’d only brought Tracy’s and it was a bit too small for me, meaning I’d got a rash under my arms (and besides, I like buying stuff!). We searched in the general stores in Tusayan before finding the market place at the Grand Canyon where there is a large store selling all sorts of exciting stuff (and not too expensive). Here we found an ideal day-sack, with an in-built 3ltr Camelback that would be perfect for carrying the water we need when waking in the desert heat. And so I parted with some more dollars, and we made our way to the car park at the start of the walk, only to discover that the dozy shop assistant hadn’t removed the security tag, so we had to go all the way back again. And then I got held up in the queue behind a large black American lady who had been buying the shops entire collection of tasteless garbage – here’s what I can recall from watching as the shop assistant rang them through the till… 3 wooden thermometer plagues with copper angels, 3 cheap tee-shirts, a decorated candle, 2 jars full of bubble-bath rocks, a sack of ‘gemstones’, 5 fridge magnets (all the same), 2 big bags of sweets (presumably for the journey to the bus), 6 litre bottles of water, 2 decorated carrier bags – and I’ve probably forgotten half of it…. Anyway, by now time was getting on, and it was getting even hotter outside. When Tracy and I finally made it to the start of the walk, and transferred everything from one day-sack to the other, the sun was well and truly baking… so we took the path through the wood at the side of the road to the trailhead. On the way, we saw a sight that we’ve been arguing about ever since. I reckon it’s a young Coyote, but Tracy disagrees (even though she doesn’t offer up an alternative explanation). It’s in the picture below, crossing the path just in front of us…


The young coyote crosses our path…



Soon we reached the canyon rim and headed down the steep, and rather exposed, trail. This was the first time in a long time Tracy’s been anywhere that exposed, and I think the combination of the steepness of the trail, the heat, and the very, very, long drop freaked her out a bit. But we continued down for a while, stopping frequently to admire the view, before finally calling it a day when we rounded a corner and saw the trail continuing on down for mile after mile (knowing that out here, what goes down must go back up!).


At the start of the trail with our route zig-zagging away



 Tracy on the trail, with our route back up behind her



On the way back up out of the canyon, I noticed that Tracy’s breathing was uneven, and commented that the secret to making walking in the mountains easier is to establish a rhythm with your breathing that matches your walking. I also remarked about the signs at the start of the trail that had advised that “if you’re able to hold a conversation and walk, your pace is good”. They also gave lots of examples of people who had died trying to do too much, but I didn’t comment on them (as they’d freaked us both out). To help establish a breathing rhythm, I asked Tracy to speak. In fact, I asked her to recite some nursery rhymes. What other hikers thought as they passed this crazy English couple going up to the sound of “Mary had a little lamb its fleece and white as snow ” is anyone’s guess…

Still, it worked, and Tracy mentioned that it would have been helpful if I’d told her that when we were hiking in Zion or Bryce… can’t win, can I?!

Back at the car we took a short drive to some of the overlooks, and stood admiring the view and taking yet more photos… We even managed to cajole a passer-by into taking one of both of us…


Tracy and Paul with a large hole in the ground



And then it was time to head back to the lodge and get showered and changed and head out in search of food. This time we went to the “Spaghetti Western”, a themed Italian restaurant across the road from the lodge. The food was ok, nothing special, and the service was dire. The only memorable part of the meal was desert, and that’s only because I ordered the cheesecake and Tracy a lemon meringue pie. The desert itself wasn’t memorable, but what was, was quite why Tracy’s portion was so much larger than mine which was the subject of debate long into the night…


Tracy’s pie portion dwarfs my cheesecake


Monday, 8 September 2008

 

Another walk in the park... well, nearly...

Following the excitement of yesterday, or perhaps just in order to sleep off the lemon meringue pie and cheesecake, we had a bit of a lie-in, getting up close to 9am… With another full day in the Grand Canyon area, we planned to do a bit more hiking, learning our lesson from yesterday’s adventure and sticking to the rim walk heading from the start of the Bright Angel trail towards Hermit’s Rest. Well, at least that was the plan until we looked at the Grand Canyon guide we were given on entering the park. Currently, the road to Hermit’s Rest, on which we hoped to return via the free shuttle, was closed to all road traffic, which meant the round-trip would be far too long. Never mind, we reasoned, we’d simply head half-way, to a viewpoint called Maricopa Point or Hopi Point (2.9miles and 4miles each way respectfully).

So, with our plans sorted, we went to the “breakfast room” to run the gauntlet with the mass of ‘mercans and this time were able to get some bread to toast and a sachet or two of “grape jelly” which is like Bramble Jam and actually quite nice. With a decaf in hand, we went back to our room to eat, in order to avoid the overbearing crush and noise of hungry ‘mercans stuffing themselves ready for a days wobble about on the trails…

With one final piece of preparation to do before our long hike, we once again hit the shops. I’d noticed that Tracy’s only headgear was a baseball cap, which left her ears flapping in the breeze. Now, whilst she’s lucky to have ears like a normal person, not an elephant like me, they were still subject to the sun’s intense rays and in danger of turning crimson. So we searched for a proper trekker’s hat like mine (see earlier pics for how fetching it looks). But we couldn’t find one, so we had to settle for a floppier version with “Grand Canyon” written on the front (something Tracy was keen to avoid for fear of looking like a tourist… quite what she thought we looked like was beyond me…). With yet more dollars spent, we parked the car near Bright Angel Lodge and set off on our walk… only to get about 2 miles in and find the trail closed along with the road… Damn. Still, at least the views were good, so we took some more pics and sat and admired the view before turning round and heading back the way we’d come…


Tracy admires the view once again…



Looking back to the Bright Angel Lodge and the start of both the rim trail, and the more serious Bright Angel Trail…



In fact, the views were so spectacular, even the local wildlife stops to admire it from time to time…


The view is so good, even the local squirrels stop to admire it…



By now though, it’s fair to say we were getting a little “canyoned out”. Having the helicopter ride yesterday gave us such wonderful views of the canyon, that walking round the rim, or driving to other viewpoints along it, simply didn’t provide anything new, and so we reasoned it was time to move on. Good job we’re planning something very different for tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, showered and changed, we made our way to the Steakhouse for tea. Here we were served with a good sized, and reasonable quality, steak, and washed it down with a half-decent bottle of “Cowboy Cabernet” (I kid you not) and for appetizer “Rattlesnake Ale” – which was served, for some obscure reason, in a jam-jar with a handle!


A bottle of Rattlenake in a jam jar, please barman…



Once again having eaten our full, we headed back to the motel and another night in a bed large enough for all Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear, Baby Bear and all their Bear relatives…

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

 

Getting our kicks... on Route 66!

As mentioned yesterday, today is a different sort of day… Since we left Vegas, seemingly ages ago, we’ve been out in the National Parks – Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon – and we’re, quite frankly, ready for a change. Not that we’re bored with the outdoors – quite the opposite, we love being outdoors – but we really do want to do something a little different.

When we planned this trip, Tracy found a “petrified forest” nearby that looked interesting (and no, it’s not full of scared trees, but more of that tomorrow!). Then I noticed it was near Holbrook, which is on Route 66. And that was it. We had a new thing to do – cruise Route 66 in our Mustang!


At the start of one of the last remaining sections of Route 66, on the way to Seligman…



So we packed up and said farewell to the Red Feather lodge and drove the 50 or so miles to the Interstate before heading in the opposite direction to where we were staying, in order to visit the town of Seligman. This little town is a famous stop on Route 66, and home to one of the Mother Road’s most famous characters – Angel Delgadillo (see here). And what a great little place it is, too! First, we drove through town before stopping at the garage next door to the “Roadkill Café” and outside some old saloon buildings, including an old jailhouse which seemed to suit Tracy quite well…


Tracy said I was to hurry up and take the pic… think she was worried she might be asked inside!



From the saloon, we moved into the centre of town (about 100 yards!) and then went wandering round the 3 or 4 old cafés and shops selling Route 66 memorabilia. Round the back of one we found old cars that looked decidedly like the cartoon ones in the Disney movie “Cars” (more of this later).


Doc Hudson?



I can’t find the name of this one!



Mater?



After a coffee in one of the shops we sought out and found Angel’s place, and what a treasure-trove it was. It was full of old photos, signs, books, even his original barber’s chair and shaving gear! There was also a picture on the wall of Buzz Lightyear and Woody, signed by 2 of the execs at Pixar, makers of “Cars” with the dedication “To Angel, thanks for keeping Route 66 alive!” (or similar, I forgot to write it down!). Here’s a pic of Tracy looking through one of Angel’s many photo albums…


Tracy inside Angel’s famous barber’s shop turned museum, Seligman, Route 66…



Finally, before we left Seligman we took the opportunity for a few more souvenier photos – as it’s such a bizarre place, part ghost-town, part themepark…


An alternative to the coach party on Route 66 – the Harley Davidson bikes lined up outside a cafe…



An example of the weird kitch in Seligman …



Tracy hangs out with a couple of Seligman’s resident dummies…



It’s hard not to look cool on Route 66… but Paul manages it somehow…



From Seligman we returned on Route 66 to the Interstate, with the roof down, naturally, and “Mustang Sally” blaring out on the radio…

After a short trip on the Interstate, we pulled into Williams, another town with a remaining section of the “Historic Route 66” intact, complete with a few old-fashioned cafes. Our tour book included some advice on where to go for a more “authentic” experience (although to be honest, Williams doesn’t have the authentic feel of Seligman, which has definitely seen better days). And so we cruised up and down until we found our target – Twister’s Soda Fountain – and boy, what a find! This was exactly what Tracy and I were looking for…


The fantastic café – Twister’s Soda Fountain in Williams …



Here we ordered a burger and it was, without a shadow of doubt, the best burger I’ve ever had, home-made ones included…. Must be the atmosphere, I guess!

From Williams we rejoined the Interstate for a while before stopping again in Winslow, Arizona. Now, if you’ve not already started singing “Standin’ on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona…” this is probably going to be lost on you. So here’s what you need to do. Go and dig out your old Eagles LPs (or CD, if you’ve you’ve upgraded). Seek out the track “Take it Easy” and play it. Second verse… got it? Cool. Let’s carry on…


Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona…



Having posed for the traditional photograph (we had to queue to use the lamp-post!), we bought a couple of tee-shirts and jumped back in the Mustang for another open-topped rendition of a Route 66 song – this time “Take It Easy” naturally!

From Williams we headed on to our overnight stop… now this was something I’d been really looking forward to. Remember the movie “Cars”? The cartoon film about a racing car that gets lost in small-town America, on a road by-passed by the Interstate and in sad decline? How he discovered what was once a vibrant community that provided welcome succour to travellers before they lost interest in travelling and became obsessed by getting to their destination? Remember the motel run by the “female” lead? Well, it’s based on a real motel on Route 66, here in Holbrook. Which in turn was based on an earlier design and copied (this was actually the 6th version, there were eventually 7 in total, although now only 3 remain). The WIGWAM MOTEL!!


Tracy outside our home for the night, our concrete wigwam!



And it certainly lived up to expectations, from the friendly (and very funny) old lady that checked us in, to the old cars parked up (and rusting) outside the wigwams. I was like a little kid, excited at sleeping in a wigwam (even if it’s not made of canvass and surrounded by wailing Indians fighting with cowboys). Inside (and I know you’re dying to see this!) was a large bed with a small toilet/shower room behind a portioned wall at the back, but the ceiling didn’t go all the way to the top of the point, much to Tracy’s disappointment…


Tracy inside our wigwam …



The one thing that we did find disappointing about the Wigwam Motel, though was nothing to do with the accommodation. Whilst we were there we saw a coach turn up and disgorge its contents of tourists who spent a good 10 minutes taking photos before getting back on their coach and heading off again. They were followed by a few cars and a good number of bikes, all doing the same thing. Yes, it’s a great photo opportunity, but none of these people, who clearly recognise the value of this unique place, contributed anything to stop its demise. And it is starting to get run down. So if you’re in the area and want to take some pictures, do yourself and the Wigwam Motel a favour. Book a room (it was remarkably cheap). Or buy a tee-shirt. Or donate something to the upkeep of this historic place, before it’s too late…

Lecture over…

That evening we went just down the road for dinner, and had some excellent Mexican food in a fast-food joint. As we were settling, the owner got out a small selection of photos from when another film that had been made here (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of it!) and talked proudly about how she’d survived the demise of Route 66 and was still “thriving” (a relative term, there were only 4 tables with people while we were there). And then it was time for a night-time photo of the wigwams before turning in for a good night’s sleep…


The wigwams look great at night…



In the morning, we had to get moving in order to see the Petrified Forest (scared trees, remember?) but first, time for a couple more photos of this fantastic place…


The best place to stay in Holbrook – the Wigwam motel …



Check the Karman Ghia in the reception area… I know Sally (in Cars) was a Blue 911, but…


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

 

Scared Trees… and Microwaved Boiled Eggs…

What a mixed day!

We woke in our Wigwam after a restful night, although we’re both suffering a little from all the changes of beds and bedrooms, as it is taking us at least one night to get used to being in each place. As we’re only staying here for one night, we won’t get the chance for a full night’s sleep in a wigwam… perhaps next time!

When we were up and showered, I took the opportunity of my first mobile phone signal since Vegas to make a quick phone call to our Estate Agents. You will recall that we’d put our house on the market, well, last Wednesday we had a couple come to see the house and the initial response was excellent. We had a very brief call with the Estate Agents on Friday in Cortez and they were optimistic and going to get a response the following Monday (ie a couple of days ago). We also had some more people coming to see the house on Saturday. So, all excited, I made the call… only to be disappointed as the “really interested” people from last Wednesday have gone cold and the Estate Agent hasn’t managed to get hold of the other couple. Disappointed to not having sold our house, we were determined to continue our holiday and stop calling home!

Without even grabbing a breakfast we made the short drive to the Petrified Forest National Park. Now, I know they sound like scared trees, but they’re not. Well, they might have been scared once, but now they’re actually “petrified” which according to Wikipedia is “the process by which organic material is converted into stone or a similar substance without decaying”. And in this case, what happened a long time ago is trees were felled in the forest and then buried under layers of sediment, which eventually seeped into the wood, replacing the cells of the tree. The effect is quite amazing, as what looks just like a fallen tree is actually ‘rock’. And as it’s layers of rock, the ‘rings’ are replaced by beautiful coloured rock, whilst the ‘bark’ still looks like bark… weird to say the least… and if you don’t believe me, check these pictures out…


A fallen tree that has become petrified…



An end-on view of the same ‘tree’ showing how it has now turned to stone …



Another petrified tree clearly showing the fantastic colours of stone it has now become…



Ok, so that’s the tree, what about the forest? Well, I had been expecting a forest (unsurprisingly, I guess!) but as these trees had all fallen down before becoming petrified, I really should have been expecting something different. And that’s what it is – a lot of fragments of trees, scattered across the ground, all of which look like the pictures above. Why were they in fragments? Well, again that’s down to natural forces, and a result of water getting into cracks in the trees and freezing, causing them to break into segments. From a distance, the ‘forest’ looks like this:


The petrified forest – not quite what we initially expected…



As we drove further into the National Park, we started to enter an area where the hills around we mostly made of rock, but striped with different types of rock, creating another weird and surreal landscape…


Colourful rock hills in the Petrified Forest National Park…



Further into the park we stopped to admire the petroglyphs – drawings chipped in to layers of “desert varnish” (weathering) on the rocks by the ancient puebloans who lived here 1400 years ago… there were lots of them across the rocks scattered around various points, including the remains of a small village (complete with Kiva).


Petroglyphs on the rocks near an old village…



Making our way even further into the park we came across another pull-in area where there was another of the information signs, so we pulled over to check it out. Unlikely as it may seem, it was a sign for Route 66 – the original road running right through the centre of the park!


A sign in the Petrified Forest marking the site of part of the original Route66…



An abandoned car, sits on the original site where Route66 passed through the park…



Leaving behind this monument to the most famous road in the world, we continued on to where the Petrified Forest gives way to the “Painted Desert”… this is a viewpoint over a vast expanse of land that is made up of little hills all of a very bright red colour… This is one occasion when the photo doesn’t really do justice to the colours…


The Painted Desert…



Having had our desire for scenery and weird sights suitably satiated, we made our way to the visitor’s centre, for a cup of coffee and a much-delayed breakfast. As with so many places around here, there was a Route66 theme, from the coffee cups to the tablecloths, although the chilli burger I had wasn’t a patch on the more basic cheeseburger I had yesterday in what felt much more like a “real” Route66 café.

With time getting on, we hit the Interstate for the drive to Flagstaff. By now we could also see a big storm approaching, with grey skies appearing on either side of us. We wanted to go and see the “world famous crater impact site” that we’d seen signposted off the Interstate, and were relieved when the weather improved as we approached the junction, but as we pulled into the car park the heavens opened again. Not a good time to go and stand outside looking into a hole in the ground, so we gave up on that idea and continued on our way. Flagstaff was a necessary fuel stop, which gave us the chance to drive through the old part of town (and down a little bit more of “historic Route 66”). With the weather improving, we headed into Oak Creek Valley towards Sedona, and took the first opportunity we came across to stop at a “scenic overlook” to stretch our legs and take a couple of pics…


Oak Creek Valley, on the way to Sedona …



Here the scenery had changed dramatically, as you can see, with lots of trees (not scared, either, by the look of them!), and a river in the bottom of the valley. Within minutes of getting to the far end of the overlook, the heavens opened again and we made a dash for the car (for once, we’d been driving with the roof up!). And then we joined the rest of the traffic threading its way through the valley and on to Sedona. We had booked ourselves into a B&B in Oak Creek Village just south of Sedona town, and they had provided us with excellent directions, meaning we found them without problem and pulled into the gravel drive. Here we were met by our hosts, Carrie and Mark, who immediately made us feel at home. But the big surprise was when we walked through the patio doors and out back, where the view (which was also the view from our room) took our breath away…


View from the patio at Cozy Cactus B&B, Oak Creek Village, Sedona …



But that wasn’t all. When Tracy had chosen this B&B, I’d only paid lip-service to checking it out before booking, so had no idea what to expect. She’d chosen the best one on the whole trip – as the photos show!


Tracy grins at the size of our suite…



Our bedroom, complete with huge bed and a machine that makes soothing noises for us to fall asleep to …



As we had such a superb room, in such a fantastic location, we decided that we’d try and get some supplies in for dinner, instead of eating out, so hit the local supermarket. With beer and wine to drink and fresh corn-on-the-cob and various cheeses and eggs and salad stuff we returned and Tracy set about sorting out something to eat whilst I sat drinking what some would say was an appropriately named ale…


My beer… a bit strong, but not surprising, given its name…



Whilst Tracy cooked up a storm, one was brewing outside, giving me reason to move and some excitement as I watched the lightning striking the not-too distant hills…


There’s a storm a’comin’…



Now, you will recall the title of this blog refers to “microwaved boiled eggs”. But Tracy also somehow managed to “boil” fresh corn on the cob with just a microwave to hand. Don’t ask me how she did it, but they were delicious, as was the cheese and boiled egg salad. The wine wasn’t too bad either…


Tracy prepares our first meal in for almost 2 weeks…



And so to bed, another great day over…

Thursday, 11 September 2008

 

A truly relaxing day...

After a good night’s sleep, no doubt helped by the slightly lighter evening meal (and the wine, of course), we woke to a very sunny morning. The view from our bedroom window was nothing short of beautiful…


Imagine waking up to this view every day…



We joined our fellow guests on the patio for breakfast, and Carrie & Mark served up a corker… warm home-made banana and walnut muffin followed by a plate of fresh fruit then pancakes with maple syrup and bacon… all washed down with superb decaf coffee… Having once again failed in our attempt to ensure we weren’t too full at the start of the day, we decided to make an early start on our walk…

Leaving the car at the front of the B&B we walked directly to the start of the “Courtbouse Butte and Bell Rock Loop” walk that we’d chosen from the books that Carrie & Mark had lent us. To be fair, it was their advice that this was a good walk that swung it, and they weren’t wrong! Once at the start point for the walk (a car park no more than 5 minutes walk from the Cozy Cactus), we followed a clearly-marked sandy path into the scrub bush, heading towards the imposing red rock formation of Courthouse Butte.


The start of the path leading to Courthouse Butte…



With the sun shining hard it was warm, but the walking very easy on the level ground, and we ambled along chatting and stopping occasionally to listen to the silence and drink some water…

Tracy on the path during our early morning stroll…



The walk took us round Courthouse Butte where we got a fantastic view of another of Sedona’s famous rock formations – and another of its claimed “vortex” sites – Cathedral Rock…


Cathedral Rock



If you don’t know, Sedona is famous not only for its beautiful surroundings, but also because there are claimed to be a number of “vortex” sites here that are supposed to be energy sites where the earth’s energy can be felt. This has led to a burgeoning spiritual and new-age tourist industry in the area, and several books have been published on these vortexes – particularly those around Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon, and Schnebly Hill. With Bell Rock being so close to the Cozy Cactus and our general sense of well-being here, perhaps there is something in it…

The walk then continued further round Courthouse Butte and on to Bell Rock, where we took a detour so we could climb a little way up the rock to the site of the Bell Rock vortex. The pamphlet we had with us told us that we would know when we were near the vortex as the juniper trees would have twisted branches instead of the more normal straight branches. This is believed to be caused by the swirling energy field as it leaves the earth. To be honest, though, we saw juniper trees with straight and twisted branches throughout the walk, but not to be too sceptical we headed to where on the map the vortex was marked. Here we sat down and just took in the view. It was very, very relaxing, despite the proximity of the road from Sedona to Oak Creek Village. But whether our relaxed state was caused by the vortex or simply the joy at being outside in such beautiful countryside on such a fantastic day, is hard to say…


Looking over Sedona’s beautiful countryside from the Bell Rock vortex site…



From here the walk took us back to the village, and we stopped at the garage for an ice-cream before heading back to the B&B. By now it was only just 1pm, and we’d already done a 5 mile walk and worked off our breakfast, but as tonight is our last “proper” night on holiday we were going to save ourselves for dinner. We therefore sat in the sun, reading and catching up with the blog over a cold beer…

As we’ve been a bit disappointed with the food in the US so far, we asked Carrie & Mark to make a recommendation. They promptly brought out a box full of menus from all the best local restaurants! Faced with such a choice, we asked them for their personal favourites, and that narrowed the field down to just 3, of which one was in the village. And following a short discussion about the quality of the fillet steak, we made our decision. Carrie volunteered to make a booking for us and that was it settled – the Cucina Rustica it was.

After we’d finished relaxing, popped to the bank for yet more cash, and showered and changed, we set off to the restaurant. Our table was outside on the patio, under a clear sky and it was still plenty warm enough as we ordered a bottle of the local “Rhone style” wine (made just down the road). As we were hungry by now we made our selections from the excellent menu – Tracy ordering cold Giant Shrimp Cocktail followed by an Asian dressed Salad and then Beef Borginioun, whilst I went for , Mussels in white whine, the same Asian dressed Salad and the highly-recommended Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola sauce. And we were not disappointed, they were simply excellent, and for once, not too large that we couldn’t manage dessert! I plumped for warm chocolate cake with vanilla pod ice cream whilst Tracy went for the amoretto Crème Brulee. With the desserts matching the quality of the starters and main course, we were very pleased with Carrie’s recommendation… if you’re ever in this area, it’s certainly worth seeking this restaurant out…

Friday, 12 September 2008

 

Our last full day in the US of A…

At last I slept properly as my body has finally adjusted to being on US time… so much so that Tracy had to wake me up in time for breakfast. Typical, as early tomorrow morning we’ll be heading for home…

Once again we joined our fellow guests for breakfast on the Cozy Cactus patio with the beautiful red rocks of Sedona as our backdrop. And again Carrie and Mark did us proud with a superb breakfast – freshly baked orange muffin, plate of fresh strawberries and pineapple, followed by a breakfast burrito filled with scrambled egg and ham. Once again with full stomachs we headed back to our room to pack the bags and load them into the boot of the Mustang. Saying goodbye to our hosts was very difficult – made all the more so by our desire to stay here in Sedona, a place we’d relaxed into so fully…

Once again Mark had made a recommendation that we simply couldn’t ignore. His advice was to head 10 miles north of Sedona and take the gentle West Fork trail, a walk that would take us a couple of hours and be in the shade of the woods – quite important as it was already very hot. So off we set, roof down, through the winding countryside to the car park at the trail head. Another early morning trek was just what we needed, and with the sun on our backs we headed off on the trail and over the bridge into the woods. Just here was an old derelict house that had been built by an early settler, as well as a cave in the rock that had once had a wooden door on – the frame still being in place. An ideal photo opportunity…


Paul in the doorway of the cave at the start of the West Fork trail…



Now I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but the ‘mercans are very fond of singposting everything. Some of these signs are very informative, some are very necessary, and one or two are a little bit annoying. High up on my list of pet hates is the great big “Wilderness” signs that mark the start of the wilderness by completely ruining it with a ruddy-great big sign. Here was no exception, although at least this sign wasn’t the usual huge rusting rectangle – but even so, it still looked out of place in this beautiful wood…


Another ugly WILDERNESS sign ruins the wilderness…



But even such crass stupidity could not detract from the beauty of the walk through the woods alongside the creek. Actually, the path didn’t follow the creek so much as criss-cross it, with several interesting stepping-stone crossings and a few where tree logs had been laid down in a makeshift bridge. With Tracy’s balance still not quite back to normal, I naturally held back, camera at the ready for the inevitable splash…


Tracy makes her way across another makeshift bridge…



After several crossings it became apparent that her balance was actually pretty good, and my attempts to encourage an action photo were being met with a less than enthusiastic response. So I gave up and concentrated on the scenery and the rocks walls that had been formed into stunning curves by endless erosion.


Tracy admires the sweeping curves of the rocks on the West Fork trail…



With me no longer bothering to whip my camera out every time we crossed the creek, it was inevitable that I’d miss the moment when Tracy’s balance let her down… and I did. I’d just turned round to check she was ok, when she slipped on a rock and her foot went into the water. Then she over-balanced before I could either offer help or get my camera out (I lost time trying to decide what was the appropriate action!) and she ended up sitting in the river. Of course, she blamed me. Her reasoning was that as it was the first crossing I’d not been taking the mickey with my camera out, that must have been the cause. Either way, she ended up with a wet bum…


Tracy following her slip – at least in the heat it would dry quickly…



With me suitably chastised, we continued the walk, admiring the scenery and listening to the gentle sounds of Tracy’s shoes squelching. And what a beautiful place this is…


The beautiful scenery… how we’ll miss this…



Sadly after about an hours walking we had to turn round and head back, as we’ve still to get to Phoenix today. Before long we arrived at the crossing where Tracy had slipped and I decided to be gallant and show her the way across. Only I slipped on the same rock she had, and ended up with a very wet foot (I chose not to sit down in the river, though)!

Back at the car we drove into Sedona, so we could have a look round and buy a few last minute tee-shirts (the intention was to buy an ice-cream, but the “Life is Good” tee-shirts proved too good to resist). From Sedona we headed out on the scenic route through Cottonwood (where we got lost), Jerome (which was a very old copper-mining town with wooden houses), Prescott (where we got lost again) and finally on to Phoenix. The final few miles of the journey into Phoenix were along a very wide and dull highway, which at least had some interesting cacti to break up the boredom…


Classic cacti at the side of the highway on the way to Phoenix…



On arriving at the outskirts of Phoenix we realised that we’d not printed off a map of where the motel was. All we knew was that it was close to the airport, but we didn’t have a map that showed where the airport was, except that it was somewhere to the South of downtown Phoenix. Not wanting to drive into the centre of another major US city, we managed to find our way onto a ring road and before too long we’d found the airport. Just as I was congratulating myself on my excellent route-finding skills, we realised that we had no idea how to find the motel. So we drove around for a while with the sun gradually going down trying to find any sign of our motel – or any others – without success… By now the petrol gauge was back in the red (much to Tracy’s concern, as this was the 5th time I’d run it very low before finding a gas station!), so we found a garage and stopped. With a splash of fuel in the car we found a map in the shop and checked out the details – it was then we worked out that the motel’s address “3037 E. Van Buren Street” meant that it was between 30 East and 31 East on Van Buren St. Like most US cities, Phoenix’ streets are laid out in a grid, with the streets that run north-south are numbered from the centre, depending on whether they are to the East or West of the city – so 30th East was the 30th street running North-South to the East of the city centre. The streets running East-West were all named, and Van Buren St was one of these. So, all we had to do was get on 30th East and head up and down until we found Van Buren St and then head east to the motel… Easy, peasy. Even in the dark, we managed to find the motel fairly quickly (the only complication being the airport complex took up a sizeable chunk in the middle of the grid, so the theory wasn’t quite perfect). Once we’d checked in we decided to order a pizza to be delivered – largely because the area around the motel looked dodgy and there were no signs of any restaurants. So I dug out the number for Dominos and ordered a pizza and a bottle of sprite, and was talked into a portion of “hot wings”. Whilst we waited for it to be delivered we re-organised our bags ready for the early start, squeezing everything we’d bought alongside all the stuff we’d brought with us…


Tracy stands looking at all our stuff and wonders how we’re going to get it all back in the bags…



With the bags repacked, and the beer finally cold (having been sat in a bucket of ice since we arrived), the pizza arrived. It was a large pizza, but it was the 2ltr bottle of sprite that caught us by surprise – we were expecting a small bottle! So once again we turned in with our stomachs fit to burst, only this time with the alarm set for the early start tomorrow…

Saturday, 13 September 2008

 

Home sweet home...

So, with the holiday drawing to a close we woke after a restless night just before the alarm was due to go off. After a quick shower we threw the bags in the boot of the Mustang and put the roof down for the last time, before heading off towards the airport. With a vague idea of where the rental car return area was following our trips around the airport whilst looking for the motel yesterday, we were confident we’d left enough time. Until we got stuck at a railroad crossing as the barriers came down in front of us… and then the freight train started to make its snail-like way past us… the engine followed by no less than 128 carriages… yes, 128… it took over 10 minutes before the train had cleared the crossing and the barrier was lifted…

But we had calculated our journey time to arrive in plenty of time to hand the car back, and with a last blast of “Mustang Sally” on the iPod we parked up and bade her farewell, before catching the shuttle bus to check-in. On arrival we noticed the signs proclaiming Phoenix to be “America’s Friendliest Airport” and I remarked that wouldn’t mean much, based on my experience! But it proved to be true, with helpful and smiling check-in staff and even chatty customs men who waved us through. Even Tracy’s back scaffolding didn’t set off the alarms and it wasn’t long before we were sat having a drink and waiting for our flight.

The rest of the journey home was relatively uneventful, despite the deluge in Chicago that had left the runway awash with several inches of water. We even managed to find our taxi driver not too long after getting back to Manchester airport…

And so, after a truly fantastic 2 weeks, we arrived home just before 9am on Sunday, and went straight to bed for a few hours to try and ward off the worst effects of the jet-lag… It didn’t work…

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