Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eleven! Part 5

Our last day in Flagstaff we woke up later than the previous day.  We talked about going to the Flagstaff Arboretum but instead headed to Sunset Crater after eating breakfast at the hotel and checking out.  A. wasn't too sure about the crater, but she's pretty game for anything and didn't object, so we set out.

I plugged our destination into our cars GPS (the closes thing I have to a computer when I'm away from home LOL), filled up with gas and pulled onto I-40 E.  Things were going along really well.  We're driving and talking and having a good morning.  GPS tells me I was to turn right, so I turned right, onto a Forest dirt road.  That's ok.  I remember driving on lots of dirt Forest Service roads growing up.  There was signage to Sunset Crater, it must be the way.  We're driving along and before we know it our dirt road becomes bumpy, then steep and kind of washed out.  It was still passable but it wasn't exactly what I'd call the best road for a mini van. :)  We continue along bumping and braking and very carefully inching our way along these roads all along I'm thinking, "Thank goodness it's not raining right now or else we'd be in trouble!"  Arizona has a stupid motorist law for people who get caught in flash floods.  I could see A. and I on the news being rescued from a flash flood on this crazy road we were on with the reporter mentioning that "Stupid Motorist" law. LOL

We finally picked our way through the miles until, like a voice from heaven, our GPS tells us to make a sharp right turn in a quarter mile.  We begin to make out the road through the trees and cinder.  As we get closer, the road becomes clearer into view.  A little bit further, we see the road perfectly and discover it's a beautiful, smooth paved road complete w/ painted lanes!  Our GPS took us through the forest and through the woods for no good reason.  Up the road a few miles further there was a perfectly good state route that we could have taken and saved the undercarriage of our car, not to mention a few extra gray hairs in my head.

We made our sharp right onto this beautiful road paid for by AZ tax payers, thank you all, and drove just a little further to Sunset Crater National Monument.  Along the way you begin to see lava runs, which are really, really cool.

We made the short loop along the trail, A. w/ her sketch pad in hand.  I was reading the brochure at each stop point but A. kept on walking.  We made it half way around and I asked her if there was anything she wanted to draw.  We're in the middle of this ancient lava flow w/ the most amazing rock formations around us, Sunset Crater looming over us on one side and the San Francisco Peaks towering in the distance on the other side and she declared, "There is nothing to draw here."  Ah, perhaps the first glimpse of my preteen daughters attitude a few years down the road.  This was the first time she complained about anything on the trip, which took me by surprise.  Not the lack of complaining but the sudden complaints.  She really, really, really didn't like Sunset Crater! LOL 

A. in front of the lava flow and Sunset Crater behind

We decide we'd go ahead and head further down that beautiful paved state route to Waptuki Indian Ruins.  The sign said it was only 12 miles further.  The sign lied. 

Up to this point we were still thinking we'd make it back to the Arboretum for the Raptor show, which is what A. really had her heart set on and which is why I think she had a little attitude about where we were.  I told her there was a show at 2 we'd  probably be able to make instead of the noon show if we just take a quick trip over to see the ruins.  Turns out, I lied.  Only my lie wasn't intentional, it pure and simple ignorance. LOL

In our ignorance we blindly followed the state route thinking 12 miles is nothing on this beautiful paved road and drove on.  We saw the backside of Sunset Crater and then as we crested a hill we saw the Painted Desert ahead of us in the distance.  We continued on and on and on, about 12 miles until we came to another state route that had us turn north to continue our jaunt over to the ruins.  The Painted Desert loomed to our right, beautiful vistas and rock formations were all around us, it was a really pretty drive, even if it was longer than 12 miles. ;)

Painted Desert in the distance

We came to another ruin before Wupatki, called Wukoki, and decided to pull in there and take a look.  A. was pretty antsy about now, really wanting to go to that raptor show and here I have her out in the middle of N. Arizona talking about going further and actually seeing the Painted Desert.  Totally not what she had in mind.  I told her if she was really not liking this whole ruin thing we would go to this one then head back down into Flagstaff for the arboretum.  Once we got out and she was able to go to the ruin, her whole attitude changed.  She really liked it. :) 
A at Wukoki

The Big House

After walking around, on the trail, we got back in the car and drove over to the main ruins in the area, Wupatki National Monument.  Wupatki is a whole village and has been part of the parks service for decades.  There is a nice museum with all sorts of artifacts from the area and a lot of information about the people who lived there.  I asked A. if she wanted to do the Jr. Ranger badge there and we got the sheet to fill out.  We both really enjoyed walking around Wupatki.  This time, when I read the info off the self guided tour map, A. stopped to listen and asked questions. 

A and Wupatki
Looking down to the Kiva and far right is the ball court
Ball Court


Her favorite part was the blowhole.

A enjoying the cool air coming up through the blowhole 
We learned that a blowhole is an opening (in this instance in the Kaibab Limestone) that inhales and exhales air moving through interconnected underground caves. (taken from here)  The air was so cool and clean.  It felt like an airconditioner was blowing on you.

With another storm moving in, we decided to keep moving along.  The rain started to fall just when we finished our tour around the ruins.  A. finished up her ranger badge pages and got sworn in. :)

 The rain stopped and we headed further up the road to look at a few more ruins that are part of the Wupatki National Monument.  When we got to the first, the black cloud looming overhead started to rumble.  The wind was incredibly strong and loud.  We decided to just take a picture from the car and head back into Flagstaff for a late lunch and head home.

The Citadel w/ storm cloud   

One thing I read about the Painted Desert is it's much more impressive w/ polarized lenses.  My sunglasses are a little polarized and the desert did look a little different w/ them on than w/ them off, so, I decided to take a picture or two through my glasses!  A polarizing camera lens would have been better, but when you're out there in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, you use what you've got! LOL  You have to keep in mind that The Painted Desert is still pretty far away.  I'm sure the details would be much better if we were closer. :)

The Painted Desert through sunglasses
Normal view

Same view through my sunglasses :)
After another drive through a torrential downpour, we pulled into Flagstaff, found a spot to eat and enjoyed sitting outside just a little longer.  We were soaking up the cool breezes and wonderful Ponderosa Pine scent before we headed back home.

It was a wonderful, fabulous 3 days spent with one of my most favorite people in the world.  I am tucking this special time I've had with my sweet daughter into my heart where I can pull it out through the years and remember with great fondness our special trip away together.

I love you sweet A. Thank you for making our vacation together extra special just by being you!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Eleven! Part 4

When A. saw the brochure for Bearizona she knew she wanted to go there.  I was expecting it to be an overpriced tourist trap.  Bearizona is just off I-40, right before you get to Williams.  The turn off for the GC is to the north, Williams is to the south.  In other words, it's right there! LOL  Since the weather was so bad leaving the canyon, I told A. we'd see what it was like by the time we got to the Interstate.

You probably know where this is going, why else would I be writing a post about an attraction we didn't see?  Yes, the skies cleared up, the sun came down and there was a rainbow shining w/ the end right over Bearizona!  Okay, that last part was made up, but, the skies did clear and the rain did stop, so I told A. we'd check out how much it cost and if it was crazy expensive, we'd have to pass.  She was good with that and I think was happy that I was at least willing to give it a try.

As tourist places go, the admission wasn't too bad (but you probably already knew that since I'm writing this post and why would I be writing a post about someplace we didn't go? Right? :) ).  It was $11 dollars to drive through, spend as long as we wanted looking at the animals.  I asked the gal at the entry how active the animals would be given the torrential downpour and thunder and lightening storm that had just hit and she said, "They love this weather!"  Good enough for us.  We paid our admission, rolled up our windows and headed through the gates.  We saw all sorts of animals, most of them large domestic types like, bison, sheep, goats.  The website mentions wolves, but that enclosure must not be finished yet as the only wolves we saw were baby cubs at the visitor center.  The last enclosure you go through was for the black bears.  They have 9 bears and they were active!  One was pacing the fence, obviously wanting to get the heck out of there.

A few more were lounging on the ground.  A couple more were eating apples.  One bear gave us a treat.  He (maybe a she? I don't really know) was away from the other bears and grunting around a tree.  Just as we drove by he stood up on his hind legs and started to scratch at the tree.  A. thought he was going to climb it. ;)

At the end of the drive they have a gift shop, snack bar, restrooms and, the real draw, bear and wolf cubs.  They were so cute.  The wolves were sleeping but the two baby bears were pacing back and forth trying to figure out how they could jump over the electrical wire and ditch.  A. spent a long time watching them and drawing one of the cubs.  We stayed until the thunder started rumbling overhead again and decided it was time to get back into the car before we got drenched.  We left Bearizona as the first drops began to fall and by the time we were back on the freeway, it was another downpour.  We enjoyed our time at Bearizona and were really glad that the weather cleared up long enough for us to enjoy it. :)

Here are some pictures from Bearizona.  Most aren't great because we had to take them through wet glass! LOL

Big Horn Sheep

American White Bison

Dall Sheep

Black Bear eating apples

Wolf cubs
Bear Cubs

A. studying the cubs

A.'s painting of the cub

We drove back to the hotel, had a light dinner and since the sky had cleared up again, A went swimming while I read my book.  The pool was a little cold for A. so she ended up sitting in the hot tub.  I didn't have my bathing suit, so I sat on the edge with my fee in.  We had hiked so much that day, the warm bubbly water felt really good on our muscles. :)  

Later that night, A. painted her drawings, I read my book.  We talked about what we were going to do the next day, our last day up in Flagstaff and the day we needed to drive home.  We hadn't really decided what we were going to do before we went to bed but we had some ideas to think about.  I fell asleep early while A. painted long into the night. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eleven! Part 3

We got up early, got dressed and headed out for our trip to the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon is about 1.5 hours north of Flagstaff and I knew we wanted to get there as early as we could.  We grabbed something to eat at Wildflower Bakery and ate in the car.  We arrived at the South entrance just before 9am, got in line and paid our entrance fee, $25 for the week.  That had gone up since the last time I'd been there 4 years ago.

We drove towards the Canyon to Yavapai Point, parked our car (went to the bathroom ;) ) and walked to the edge of the world. :)

A.'s first view of the Canyon

I could tell A. was inspired with her first glimpse of the majestic beauty of the Canyon.  The layers of rock with hues of reds, orange, greens, blues, has inspired many artists, including my own sweet girl.
We started walking down the trail along the rim towards the lodges, missing the observation point completely! LOL  What started out as a quick jaunt a little ways down the walk way turned into a several hour adventure.  I thought we were going to quickly look at this point then go back to the car and drive it down to the lodge area.  Instead, we kept on walking, leaving our water and food and money back at the car!  When we walked the 2.5 miles to the El Tovar Lodge, we jumped on the shuttle to take us back to the spot where our car was.  What I didn't realize at the time was just how many stops that shuttle takes (map was left in the car as well).  It was well over an hour and a rather circuitous route before we finally made it back to our car and water.  It would have been faster if we'd walked! LOL  However, the shuttle ride gave us a glimpse at some wildlife we wouldn't have seen otherwise as well as a lesson on human nature.  We saw all sorts of people on that bus and I'd have to say a good majority of the Americans certainly fit the sterotype of the "Ugly American" :(  Oh my goodness!  The complaining, the swearing, the general nastiness to each other and others around them.  It made me so sad to see.  Here they are at one of the Wonders of the World, surrounded in God's majesty, and all they can do is swear and yell at each other? :(

In spite of the nastiness and the very long bus ride back to our car LOL, we had a lot of fun and were so thankful to see our car and get some water! We drank our bottles and ate some peaches and plums we'd brought along then headed over to the observation deck that we'd missed previously. One wall of the observation station is all glass which gives you incredible views of the canyon.  You can see down to the river and the ranch from this vantage point.  Very cool. :)

When we had walked to the ranger station/gift shop by El Tovar Lodge earlier A. grabbed a Jr. Ranger badge book and started to fill it out.  We were  planning on going back to the station to listen to a program so she could fulfill all the requirements for the badge but by the time we actually made it back to our car and then back to the lodge, almost 2 hours had passed and the canyon was now packed with visitors!  There weren't any parking spaces left.  One thing we learned on our bus trip is that July is the busiest month for visitors to The Grand Canyon.  Who knew? LOL  As we drove further from the lodges looking for parking, the big black clouds that had been to our south much of the morning were now threatening overhead.  The first clap of thunder and we knew a downpour was imminent.  It was now close to 2 in the afternoon, we hadn't eaten lunch besides our pieces of fruit and we were in for a good old mountain downpour.  We decided we'd head over to the Market Plaza in the park and grab something to eat there.  As soon as we parked the drops came down.  Huge, drenching drops.  We made it to the cafe just as the thunder clapped again and the skies opened up.  It was pouring!  We sat in the cafe by the window watching the rain pour down eating our soggy sandwiches and talking about what we were going to do next.  We checked out the gift shop attached to the cafe, bought a t-shirt and baseball cap and decided to brave the storm and head on out of the park to another tourist stop in Williams, Bearizona!  
The storm was pretty bad, lots of rain and ground lightening.  I have since learned that there was flooding not too far from where we were (and where we ended up going the next day) and a 12 year old girl fell into the flood waters and drowned. :(  We were happy to be snug and dry in our car and by the time we made it over to Williams, the sky cleared so we were able to check out Bearizona. I'll share about that next. :)

Here are our pictures from the canyon along with A's painting (she drew it at the canyon and then painted it back at the hotel that night). (click on pictures to make them bigger)

Close to the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail

 We had just been on this ledge a few minutes before

 Hopi House one of the original buildings at the Canyon
El Tovar Lodge, 
another historic building at the Canyon built in 1905 
by the Santa Fe Railroad Co.
Cool old tree along the trail

 Hawk soaring over the canyon
 Elk we saw from the shuttle
 Donkey's all saddled up and ready to hit the trail

 View from the observation deck
 Phantom Ranch seen from the observation deck
Western Scrub Jay

A's. Canyon Painting

Eleven! Part 2

With the thunderstorms rolling in, we headed back down the mountain.  It was past 4 by then so we headed to our hotel and checked in. 

Little America in Flagstaff is a great place to stay.  The rooms are dated but spacious, comfy and clean.  The staff is pleasant and helpful and the grounds are nice.  They were doing some construction on the property while we were there.  It looks like they were doing some more landscape design.  The area outside our window wasn't under construction, thankfully.  Our view was quite a welcome sight to our desert dwelling eyes.

Our Room

View from our balcony

We unpacked, called home, then set out to walk around the grounds.  We went by the pool, which you can catch a glimpse of in the last picture, just beyond the fir trees.  It was a nice pool area, lots of decking a huge pool and hot tub.  We continued on our walk around the grounds looking for the walking trail.  We found the playground and horseshoe pit, sand volleyball court and just beyond those, the trail head to their walking trail.  

A month earlier there had been a couple of huge forest fires that were around Flagstaff.  We knew one was just south of the hotel but we weren't sure exactly where.  On our drive up to Flagstaff and the little bit of driving around the area, we hadn't seen any signs of recent fires, until we went on our walk. 

In my last post I mentioned one reason we picked Little America was because of this 3 mile trail.  We were saddened to see the remains of the trail.  For more info on the Hardy fire that threatened Little America and the surrounding neighborhoods, click here

The beginning of the trail
 One of many huge piles of burned trees
Trees were tagged w/ colored tape for removal
Where the trail begins to loop back around there is a field.  Across the field you can see all the trees in there are burned. :(

Even though the fire had been out for a few weeks, the smell of smoke was still strong in the air.  Instead of the refreshing pine smell, it smelled like a smoky fireplace.  Even with the majority of trees burned and slated for removal, we saw plenty of birds, mainly huge ravens, picking through the trees looking for something.  My nature lover spotted a couple of blue birds flitting around in the trees as well.  
Can you make out the blue blur in the tree? That's our bluebird. :)

 By the time we looped back around to the trail head, it was late and hadn't eaten yet.  We decided instead of going out to eat we'd eat at the hotel restaurant.  We ate over in the lounge area, right by the window and enjoyed the antics of the Abert Squirrels that were scampering around outside.

After a light dinner we headed back to our room where we painted our nails and talked about where we wanted to head the next morning.  Looking through all the information I brought, A. picked The Grand Canyon!  Knowing we had a big drive and hiking day ahead of us the next morning, we went to bed and we both slept really well waking up the next morning early and eager to head out to The Grand Canyon. :)