Category Archives: Arizona

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 – 03/23/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 03/23/2016 Photo Album

While eating dinner at the Thai restaurant in Cedar City, UT on Tuesday night, snow began to fall, but the flakes were quite large. Large wet snowflakes are usually indicative of a brief snow squall, so we were not very concerned about the condition of roads for our planned drive to Bryce Canyon National Park on Wednesday. What did worry us was the weather report for Bryce Canyon which projected highs in the mid forties and strong wind.

The Pass on the Way to Bryce Canyon

After breakfast at the B&B on Wednesday morning, we gathered our bags and transported them to the Santa Fe. We heard someone scraping their windshield before breakfast, so we were pleased to find only a small accumulation of snow on the ground when we finally poked our heads from the inn and walked across the icy sidewalk. Once we started, it did not take long before we found the main highway that led us to Bryce Canyon. One thing we did, however, omit from our thoughts was the steady climb over a mountain pass between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. As we gained elevation the amount of snow on the ground increased until it peaked at five inches, but the snowplows were patrolling the pass, and we made the trip without incident albeit at a relatively slow safe pace.

Our next surprise was the long line of cars ahead of us at the entry gate to Bryce Canyon National Park. We assumed that tourist traffic would be light in the middle of the week with cold temperatures, wind and snow present. We were wrong. The entrance gate and the visitor center were crawling with people including a substantial number of international visitors. Fortunately once we left the visitor center and drove the main road, the density of guests spread out. The experience was comparable to a day of skiing at Vail. Upon arrival one is overwhelmed by the crowd of enthusiastic skiers and boarders tromping about in boots, but as the day progresses, the masses spread out over the vast expanse of terrain until one sometimes feels alone in a remote backcountry location.

Jane on the Trail to Queens Garden

Our first stop was Sunrise Point, and after gazing in amazement from the overlook at the layers upon layers of canyons and rock formations, we embarked on a brief hike on the Queens Garden Trail. The trail was somewhat muddy, but we each had the foresight to pack hiking boots, and they were secured on our feet for the entire day. We did not descend the entire trial, but turned around once we reached a point where the slope leveled out. After we climbed back to the top of the canyon rim, we hiked from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Sunset Point offered the best panorama of the vast Amphitheater area. Rows upon rows of curved canyons, walls, and hoodoos create the impression of the largest amphitheater in the world. The dusting of snow added even more interest to the spectacular vista before us. Come to think of it, perhaps the fresh snow is what brought the mid-week crowds to Bryce Canyon.

The Depth of This Place Is Amazing

Once we returned to the Santa Fe, we continued to the turn for the two mile drive to Bryce Point. Bryce Point is situated southeast of the Amphitheater, and it provided additional spectacular views of the natural wonder. Rather than continue on the main road to the south, we decided to eat lunch. The map indicated there was a picnic area near the North Campground across from the Visitor Center, so we negotiated our way to that area and found a cluster of picnic tables that were partially covered with snow. We expected to make our sandwiches on the table and then retreat to the car; but the sun appeared, and we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, so we had our first picnic in the snow. I found the ice scraper in the car, and pushed all the slush off the table and bench. It actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, as we reveled in our outdoor toughness.

A Picnic Lunch in the Snow

After lunch we returned to the main street and drove the full length of the national park paved road surface. I was navigating while Jane drove, so I made sure we stopped at each of thirteen overlooks. Each displayed its unique beauty, but none were as magnificent as the Amphitheater. By the time we reached Yovimpa Point at the southern end of the park, we were saturated with hoodoos and canyon formations.

Natural Bridge

After reaching the end of the trail, we reversed direction and exited the park, and then we drove north to Interstate 70. By now we were hearing dire reports of a major snowstorm in progress in Denver, so we decided to interrupt our journey and stay in Grand Junction. Jane called a La Quinta Inn on the western side of Grand Junction and reserved a room. This proved to be a prescient move as Interstate 70 was closed in both directions for periods during Wednesday night. The five hour drive on Thursday was uneventful, and we were pleased to arrive home, although the sixteen inches of snow surrounding our house was a bit of a shock after enjoying ninety degree temperatures in Phoenix.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 – 03/22/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 03/22/2016 Photo Album

Tuesday March 22 marked the beginning of our return from Arizona to colder northern climates. Learning from our difficulties finding lodging during the spring break time period, Jane reserved a room at the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT for Tuesday night. The bed and breakfast was mentioned in Jane’s western national parks guide book.

Two experiences stand out in my memory from our eight hour trip from Phoenix to Cedar City on Tuesday. A cold front moved into Arizona and Utah, and the change in weather spawned high velocity gusting winds. We were listening to a spring training broadcast on the radio, and the announcers mentioned the drop in temperature and strong winds as far south as Phoenix. By the time the front crossed our paths, we advanced north on highway 89 between Flagstaff and the crossing of the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. Jane drove, and as I looked ahead in the distance, I stared in amazement at brown clouds sweeping across the dry landscape.

Drifting Sand

The blowing sand and dirt was similar to drifting snow except that it was brown and much more dense than snow. The force of the wind pushed against the side of the Santa Fe, and when we eventually passed through the brown cloud, we could hear the tiny particles glancing off the automobile. It sounded like we were being sand blasted, and sand and dirt swirled across the highway just like snow. Perhaps the most significant positive was that the sand was gritty and not slick like the ice and snow comparison.

Dust Storm in Northern Arizona

Fortunately these conditions only persisted for a half hour, and eventually we were north of the dust storm area. We turned left onto highway 89A and traveled west and then north toward the border with Utah. During this leg of our trip we passed the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Jacob Lake and then continued until we reached route 389 in a small town called Fredonia. As we motored along 389 we saw a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument, and we were in need of a rest area, so we stopped. We were on track for a timely arrival in Cedar City, so we decided to investigate the small national monument.

Jane and I have been checking off national parks and monuments at a rapid clip, and we discovered that many of the more obscure places are quite interesting. Pipe Spring proved to fall into the latter category. We watched a short film at the visitor center, and then we strolled around the small ranch and refuge featured on the park grounds. Pipe Spring was a valuable source of water in the vast high desert between the Grand Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs of northern Arizona. As one might expect this attracted inhabitants, and the first known settlers were the Pueblan peoples who lived in pit house villages between 1000 and 1250. For some reason this culture moved on, and the next native Americans to call the location home were the Kaibab Paiutes. The Paiutes were mainly hunters, but they also cultivated maize and beans using the nearby water source.

Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring Ranch

The Paiutes were present when Mormon ranchers began settling the area in the 1860’s, and these settlers built the Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring ranch, and this structure covered the spring. Of course the native Americans objected to this confiscation of their key water source, and as one would expect, conflict ensued. Eventually in 1933 an agreement was reached whereby the water was shared among the tribe, the local cattlemen, and the National Park System.

The Much Desired Spring

Jane and I casually strolled down the path behind the visitor center to the ranch area where we observed examples of the Paiute huts, the livestock area next to Winsor Castle, the building itself, and the two ponds where the spring water bubbled to the surface in this arid area of northern Arizona. Pipe Spring was a surprise discovery on our path to Cedar City, and we greatly enjoyed our one hour visit.

Our B-B Room in Cedar City

After our brief sightseeing detour we returned to our travel itinerary and crossed into Utah and reached the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT near dinner time. Jane called Scott, the owner, and he greeted us and showed us our room and provided some dinner options. Once we lugged our suitcases to our room, we found a Thai restaurant near Interstate 15, and unlike the Saing Thai in Tucson, this establishment was open and ready to serve us. We savored an excellent Thai dinner and returned to our room where we crashed in the old fashioned king size bed. We rested in anticipation of a new adventure on Wednesday.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 7 – 03/21/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 7 03/21/2016 Photo Album

Monday was another travel day. We bought our tickets for the Monday night Cactus League game between the Brewers and Diamondbacks online on Sunday, but we had quite a bit of time to kill during the day. I used my smart phone to search for parks and hikes in Phoenix, and found two likely destinations. One was Camelback Mountain, but I was discouraged somewhat by numerous comments about crowds and limited parking. It was Monday and a weekday, but we were learning that the time of the week was not very relevant during the spring break and spring training madness of Phoenix.

The second option was North Mountain Park. The location of this park was near our hotel, and also reasonably close the the ballpark, so we chose this as our Monday place for outdoor adventure. We arrived at the South 7th Avenue trailhead in late morning and quickly lathered up with sunscreen. The park appeared to be similar to Saguaro National Park but with far fewer saguaro cactus. The landscape was covered in many more low growing cactus, but as we looked north we saw two fairly imposing mountains. It was already quite warm, and the environment appeared to be even more imposing than the trails we hiked near Tucson.

Jane Ready to Ascend to the Towers in the Desert Heat

Nevertheless we set out with hydration bladders and trekking poles. Our rattlesnake radar was set on high alert, as the terrain struck us as the perfect setting for an encounter. Fortunately we learned at the desert museum presentation that rattlesnakes seek shade during the hottest part of the day, and our trail rarely crossed this scarce commodity. We climbed a steep path over a saddle and then dipped and resumed the climb until we peaked at Shaw Butte. We curled around the butte to the north side and enjoyed some spectacular vistas, and then we reversed our steps. When we reached the Y near the parking lot, we turned left and hiked on a .2 mile spur, and then returned to the trailhead. In total the hike was four miles, and we were quite ready for it to be over due to the sun and the heat.

Looking North from North Mountain Park

Once we were settled in the car, we skirted the western edge of the park and circled on to Thunderbird Road and then turned right on 7th Street, until we found the North Park Mountain Visitor Center. Near the front of the parking lot we spotted a round pergola structure that had a large round concrete table in the middle. We adopted this space for our lunch, and munched our typical snacks while resting in the perforated shade.

Beer and Baseball

After lunch we continued south and found the Best Western Metro Center Inn, and the woman at the counter allowed us to check in. After reading some negative comments on Yelp, Jane and I were both concerned about the quality of the room, but it ended up being one of our favorites. The lobby and breakfast area was bright and clean, and the pool was very inviting. The room itself was clean and spacious, and the only negative we could find were the large groups of high school baseball and softball players present. Their behavior was fine, but they tended to take up space and contributed to the high noise level at breakfast.

Preparing the Fields for a Game

Once we were situated, we turned our attention to the baseball game. We checked the map, and Salt River Fields were nearly due east. We got off to an early start so we could inspect the relatively new spring training complex and grab some food. Everything worked out according to plan, and we savored some excellent grilled bratwurst sandwiches while waiting for the game to begin. The air temperature dropped into the low 80’s, and it was a perfect evening to watch the Brewers and Diamondbacks play to a 2-2 tie. It was a great finish to our stay in the warm temperatures of Arizona. On Tuesday we would brace ourselves for the cold of Utah.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 6 – 03/21/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 6 03/21/2016 Photo Album

Our destination on Sunday was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and this proved to be the highlight of our trip. The desert museum is located on the west side of Tucson on North Kinney Road just south of the entrance to Saguaro National Park Tuscon Mountain District. The facility is called a museum, but this is really a misnomer. 90% of the exhibits are outdoors, and I would consider it a hybrid zoo and botanical garden.

Entry requires a fee, but Jane and I felt it was well worth the expenditure. The grounds are expertly landscaped and well maintained. The managers were careful to preserve the desert landscape, while at the same time compressing nearly every imaginable organism that lives in the desert into the compact area. Volunteer hosts are scattered about the area, and they provide in depth information and answer visitor questions.

Barn Owl

One of Many Agave Varieties

A number of special programs are scheduled throughout the day, and we particularly enjoyed the birds of prey presentation in the morning and the reptile demonstration after noon. Our favorite botanical areas were the cactus and agave gardens. The creators did a fantastic job of preserving the natural look while introducing many additional varieties of each species.

A Lobo, Mexican Wolf


Native birds, mammals, insects and reptiles are on display throughout the area. Unlike most zoos I have been too, it seemed like the animal areas were nicely buffered by vegetation and other displays. This created the feeling that each had its own separate natural zone and space. We were excited to finally see javelinas, even though they were confined to a captive area. Other unique sightings were the Mexican black bear and the wolf or lobo. A hummingbird aviary enabled us to observe and photograph several species. For some reason I am particularly intrigued by these tiny birds with non-stop wings.

Great Shot of Horned Owl

Jane and I gathered with the attending crowd at 11AM for the birds of prey demonstration. An announcer introduced the stars of the show, and then each bird was released sequentially. First a raven appeared, and it swooped and fluttered overhead while periodically perching on a trainer’s gloved hand. Next a great horned owl was released, and this majestic bird went through the same trained routine. Even though the birds were trained to follow a sequence of stops, it was nevertheless exciting when they swooped within a foot or two of our heads. The last performer was a falcon, but in the middle of flying from perch to perch, it got distracted by some natural hawks in the area.

River Otter Appears

The second show that we attended was a reptile lecture in one of the theaters. This was scheduled for early afternoon, and being inside was a nice respite from the midday heat. Two presenters displayed a gila monster and rattlesnake on a rectangular table at the front of the auditorium, and they were extra careful to use long metal poles to continually reposition the reptiles and prevent them from escaping the table. The gila monster was particularly interesting to me as it is a fairly large venomous desert dwelling lizard. We learned that gila monsters predate lizards on the evolutionary path. Jane possesses an extreme snake phobia, so I was proud of her ability to endure the rattlesnake talk. She even admitted that she learned quite a bit, and the knowledge will enable her to better understand how to avoid the poisonous serpents, but her phobia remains as strong as ever.

Jane Not Happy

By 2:00 we covered nearly all the displays and areas within the desert museum, so we moved on to the Tuscon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Similar to the Rincon District, there was a single one-way loop road that we were encouraged to drive. The name of the road was Hohokam. Near the start we found a picnic area that contained one covered ramada in the center. We backed into a parking spot there and once again carried our cooler and food bin to a table and enjoyed a quick lunch. After lunch we continued on the loop to the Signal Hill area. We parked and completed a short hike to an area that contained numerous petroglyphs, and then we returned to the car and exited the park.

Tough Love

Once again we were both feeling very lethargic from the unaccustomed sun and heat so we returned to the Baymont, a shower and some rest. Since we learned that one cannot take lodging and baseball game tickets for granted during the middle of March, we busied ourselves with reserving a room for Monday night in Phoenix and also purchased seats for the Monday night baseball game at Salt River Fields. The effort to find reasonably priced lodging in Phoenix did in fact prove to be a challenge. Eventually we settled on the Best Western Metro Center Inn at a cost of $100 per night. Some derogatory reviews on Yelp caused us concern, but lacking other attractive alternatives, we made the plunge.

For dinner we both hoped to try some Thai food, and I found a small family owned restaurant called Saing Thai Cuisine. It was rated very high, and we were both excited to give it a try. Unfortunately when we arrived a sign on the door informed us that the restaurant was closed even though the web site noted that closing time was 8:30, and we arrived at 7:00. While we sat in the car consulting with our smart phones attempting to find another nearby option, a woman appeared from the small establishment, and she informed us that she closed early because it was her mother’s birthday. How can one be upset with that excuse?

We settled on another restaurant in the vicinity called the Happy Wok. We both rated it average, as it offered the normal Chinese dishes in fairly heavy sauces. It was not our favorite, but it fulfilled our need for sustenance.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 5 – 03/20/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 5 03/20/2016 Photo Album

Saturday March 20 was all about needles, pins, spikes, thorns, and spines. Can you think of any other synonyms for the sharp pointy extensions that protrude from a cactus plant?

Jane and I decided to visit Saguaro National Park on Saturday and saved the Sonoran Desert Museum for Sunday. Saguaro National Park is divided into an eastern area (Rincon Mountain District) and a western area (Tucson Mountain District). The city of Tucson separates the two. Since the Sonoran Desert Museum is just outside the Tucson District, we combined those two destinations on Sunday and explored the Rincon Mountain District on Saturday.

A Small Barrel Cactus

The eastern Saguaro National Park is less visited than the west, and only a small portion of the total acreage is easily visited without a long hike. Since we only had a day to devote to the eastern park, we followed the herd and drove the Cactus Forest Drive starting from the visitor center. The circle is mostly one way, so we slowly cruised the loop and stopped at several points along the way. We were surprised by the number of bicyclists pedaling the hilly desert terrain. When we began our visit, the temperature was in the eighties, but it quickly climbed into the nineties by the early afternoon.

Half way around the circle Jane and I parked at the Loma Verde trailhead and completed a 3.4 mile round trip that combined several trails. This was a relatively easy hike with minimal change in elevation. The heat and bright sun were the main factors to be aware of, so we lathered up with sunscreen and carried plenty of water.

Dave Prepared for Heat

The Sonoran Desert is an amazing place to me. How can so many plants and animals inhabit such a forbidding environment? The soil is sand, rocks and gravel; and moisture is a rare commodity. Yet the ground is covered with a fairly dense array of plant life that adapted to this harsh environment and even appears to thrive. The most striking plant of course is the saguaro cactus, and we passed through numerous cactus forests. Just typing the term cactus forest strikes me as odd, since I grew up associating forests with leaves, and it is quite a stretch to call saguaro needles leaves. But in reality they are the cactus’s answer to leaves. Unlike normal leaves, the needles serve a different purpose in the life of a saguaro. They shade the plant, shield it from drying winds, and discourage animals.

Gnarly Saguaro

We also learned that the pleated surface of the saguaro trunk and limbs allow the cactus to rapidly expand and hold water captured during rare rain events. The spongy flesh in the trunk and limbs enable the saguaro to store water in a gelatin form that is slow to evaporate. The saguaro is an amazing adaptation to the harsh desert environment. Of course I could not help matching the saguaro shapes to human forms. In many cases the branches appear to be arms, and it is fun to visualize the cactus taking various human poses.

Ocatillo Near Full Bloom

In addition to the namesake saguaro, many other cacti and desert plants covered the Sonoran landscape. We learned to identify barrel cactus, chollo, ocatillo, and prickly pear as well as the palo verde and mesquite, which are non-cactus desert trees. Walking among this dense population of desert vegetation in an arid forbidding environment was a unique thrill for Jane and I. Because it was early spring, there were also many low flowering shrubs that displayed yellow flowers, and this added quite a bit of color to the cactus forest.

Plenty of Yellow Flowers in the Desert

Near the end of our loop we pulled into a parking space at the javelina picnic area, where we found a ramada and prepared our lunches. Several birds entertained us by perching on the nearby cactus. I put my binoculars to good use and concluded that they were cactus wrens, although I am not a bird identification expert. We were guardedly hoping to see some javelina, but that never happened, and we were probably better off since they travel in packs.

A Type of Chollo

Since we came from Colorado where it was still winter; the sun, heat and dry air took its toll, and we departed the park by 2:30. We both felt extraordinarily drained despite drinking liberal quantities of water. We returned to our air conditioned hotel room and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, and then we decided to explore downtown Tucson for dinner.

Fortunately we began this adventure early. I found a brochure describing the Old Town Artisans block, so we parked nearby and explored the shops that surrounded a courtyard. From here we walked south to Congress Street and followed it eastward toward the University of Arizona. This street was comparable to Colfax Avenue in Denver with numerous restaurants and shops distributed among abandoned storefronts. There was a similar mix of pedestrians ranging from nicely dressed diners to street people asking for charity handouts.

Our Saturday Night Restaurant. Delicious.

We did not find a restaurant that appealed to our Saturday night appetites along Congress Street, so we retreated to an establishment across from our parking lot called El Charro. The Mexican restaurant spewed delightful smells from its chimney, and a crowd of diners milled about on the sidewalk waiting to be seated. We expected to have a long wait, but amazingly our buzzing device beckoned us after only fifteen minutes. The choice proved to be fortuitous one, as Jane and I enjoyed one of the best meals on the trip.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 4 – 03/19/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 4 03/19/2016 Photo Album

Day 4 of our road trip to Arizona took us from Flagstaff to Tucson. After our Thursday lodging scare, Jane went online and reserved a room at the Baymont Inn and Suites near the Tucson Airport. We were set with a hotel for the weekend, and we were relieved to avoid concerns on that front.

One of the goals of our trip was to attend several spring training baseball games, and we made that happen on Friday. Phoenix was along our path to Tucson, so we decided to view the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The Rockies and Diamondbacks share the same spring training complex at Talking Stick; however, when I reviewed the schedule, I realized that the Rockies games took place over the weekend while we stayed in Tucson. Tucson is two hours from Phoenix, and we did not relish the thought of a four hour round trip to see the Rockies.

I saw the Salt River complex in 2011, when I spent a long weekend in Phoenix with Dan, but Jane missed out on that trip, and she hoped to see the modern facility. During my schedule review, I noticed that the Dodgers played the Diamondbacks in a day game on Friday at Salt River Fields, so we made it our destination and programmed the iPhone app to guide us there.

The View from RF

In theory this was a fantastic plan, but in reality it did not happen. We exited Interstate 17 and merged on to the 101 loop, but when we exited near the ballpark, we noticed several signs that informed us that the game was sold out. What was going on? First we had difficulty finding lodging, and now a spring training game was sold out. Needless to say we were disappointed with our foiled plan, so we pulled into a dirt turnout near the stadium parking lot to consider our options. I reopened the Cactus League schedule and scanned the afternoon games. The Angels vs the world champion Kansas City Royals stood out as an interesting option, and the ballpark was on the northwest side of Phoenix in a suburb called Surprise. We reset the map app and made our way back across town to the Royals spring home.

This Resulted in a Fly Ball

The field at Surprise was not as new and modern as Salt River, but it was very well maintained and provided intimate seating on a bright sunny day with many enthusiastic fans in attendance. It was Cactus League baseball, and we enjoyed every minute of it. With my Phillies and Rockies struggling to assemble competitive teams, I adopted the Royals as an American League favorite. I love their style of play which features strong relief, excellent defense, contact hitting and speed on the basepaths. Jane and I purchased Italian sausage sandwiches for lunch and then escaped to the shade with temperatures spiking in the high eighties while the Royals trounced the Angels. Surprise field was the relaxing pleasant atmosphere that we yearned for when we made our plans to visit Arizona.

Surprise Stadium Views

After the game ended we drove west until we found a road that skirted the perimeter of Phoenix. We headed south and mostly avoided rush hour traffic and then continued for another two hours to Tucson. We arrived around dinner time, and since we had a room reserved, we headed directly to Barrios Brewing Co. on the east side of Tucson. I found this brew pub when I searched my phone. Jane and I each enjoyed a craft brew and inhaled some tasty casual fare and then continued on to the Baymont Inn. We could now unpack a bit and settle in for a weekend in Tucson.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 3 – 03/17/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 3 03/17/2016 Photo Album

The third day of our road trip took us from Cortez, CO to Flagstaff, AZ. The focal point of the day was our stop at Petrified Forest National Park. Jane and I passed this point of interest several times in our rush to reach Phoenix, but we never exited Interstate 40 to explore. Our son made a southwest road trip in June 2015 with a pair of friends, and they reported that Petrified Forest was a worthwhile sightseeing destination.

We spent the morning driving south from Cortez through the northwest corner of New Mexico, and then we headed west into Arizona. We exited Interstate 40 at exit 311 and immediately headed north to the Painted Desert area. Tawa Point was our first stop after the Visitor Center, and we peered from a high ridge into the depression below. The landscape was covered by light red-pink mounds and layers of multi-colored ridges and rocks. The view was indeed a painted desert with barely any vegetation visible, or perhaps the striking rock formations and pastel color diverted our attention away from the mundane details of plant life.

Red Mounds

After snapping a few photos we proceeded to the Chinde Point picnic area, as it was now 1PM, and we were feeling repressed hunger pangs. The picnic area consisted of five ramadas arranged in a semicircle along the base of a vertical rock wall. We moved our cooler and food bin to a table and prepared our lunches. We packed lunch and breakfast essentials to save money for lodging and a daily splurge for dinner at a restaurant. As we slowly ate our lunches in the shade of the metal overhead roof, two large ravens circled and landed on some rock ledges on the wall behind our lunch spot. It was actually somewhat unnerving, as we both expected one of them to speak at any moment. In actuality they were scanning our actions carefully in case of an opportunistic dropped crumb. We actually did them one better, as we tossed a few bread crusts their way. I was certain that this action evaded their scrutiny, but as we gathered our belongings to return to the car, one of the scavengers swooped to the ground and snarfed the food morsel from its resting place.

After lunch we circled around a curve and passed a series of lookouts. Just before passing under the interstate, we stopped at a roadside marker in front of an old rusted carcass of an automobile. The marker contained a Route 66 highway image carved into concrete, and text explained that we were at the former location of the famous highway before it was decommissioned in 1985. A rusty Studemaker remains as a memorial to the once bustling highway through northern Arizona.

Commemorating Route 66

Our first stop on the south side of Interstate 40 was Puerco Pueblo, where we hiked to the top of a knoll that contained the remains of a pueblo built by Hopi native Americans. Here we viewed a few petroglyphs etched in the black coating on natural rocks. We then stopped briefly at Newspaper Rock, a large jumble of angular rocks with numerous petroglyphs providing accounts of early North American life.

A String of Petrified Logs

At the Blue Mesa area we parked and hiked a one mile loop through a desolate badlands that contained many examples of petrified wood. When I looked at several chunks along the trail, I reached down to touch them thinking they were logs that washed up during heavy thunderstorms. I was surprised to learn that my fingers felt the smooth hard surface of rock instead of the softer feel of bark or rotting wood.

A Huge Petrified Log

The last major stop was the Long Logs area and Agate House. By this time it was late afternoon, and we were uncertain we had enough time to do the 2.6 mile loop that enabled us to view petrified logs and Agate House. We decided to do the shorter Long Logs trail and then decide on the longer spur when we encountered that junction. The trail was fairly easy, and we made good time, so we covered the combined trail. This area contained the greatest concentration of large petrified logs as well as many rock hard stumps. The stumps would make great coffee tables, but the park is justifiably protective of its natural wonders, and removal of any natural or geologic features is against the law.

Petrified Stump

Our last stop was Agate House, which is a seven room pueblo reconstructed from petrified wood which are bound together using adobe mud as mortar. Can you imagine having a petrified wood wall in your home? It would certainly be a conversation piece.

Agate House, Made with Petrified Wood

Our last adventure on Thursday was finding lodging in Flagstaff. As I drove west into the setting sun, Jane attempted to get a jump on the night’s stay by using her iPhone to search the options. When we planned the trip, we decided to improvise the lodging after Montrose and Cortez, because we were traveling mainly during weekdays. Retirement entitled us to ad lib, and we wanted to avoid a tight preset schedule that obligated us to be at certain locations at defined times. Unfortunately Jane discovered that the timing of our road trip and our hope for carefree travel neglected to account for some obstacles. The third week of March apparently is prime spring break time, and Flagstaff is a popular jumping off point for tourists heading to the Grand Canyon.

Jane grew frustrated with the lack of rooms and the prices of the options that remained until she finally quit in despair. I suggested that she halt efforts, and we then decided to exit before Flagstaff and seek a room in person. We followed this plan and took the first exit off the interstate that advertised hotel chains. Little did we know, that this exit connected with Route 89, which is the main highway north to the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless we persisted and followed the signs that pointed us toward a Days Inn and Country Inn and Suites. We had our eye on the Country Inn and Suites, as it showed a price of $129/night, and I recalled that the quality was comparable to a Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn. The price was actually higher than we expected, but it was getting late and options were vanishing.

When we walked up to the check in counter, two women were ahead of us, and they were staying at the Days Inn and reserving rooms at the Country Inn for the weekend. The young lady behind the counter offered them a room at $100/night, so when I approached, I announced I would take that rate for tonight if an acceptable room was available. Fortunately we got a decent room at that rate, and as we paid, the clerk received a call and rented the last room available. Whew, we were very happy to fall into our hard earned beds on Thursday night in Flagstaff, AZ.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 2 – 03/16/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 2 03/16/2016 Photo Album

Wednesday was devoted to spending time with our son, Dan. Jane and I awoke early and took advantage of the breakfast provided at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose. Dan’s flight was due to arrive at 11:30, so we had some time to kill. Initially I identified some short drives and hikes in the surrounding hills, and we were about to embark on one of these trips to nearby vistas. The guide book that I picked up in the hotel lobby suggested these destinations for viewing the gorgeous sunsets that are apparently prevalent in the area.

Before we left the parking lot, however, I glanced at the map and spotted a nearby park that bordered the Umcompahgre River. The area was named Baldridge Park, and Jane and I both agreed that we preferred hiking nearby. Of course I leaped at the opportunity to scout a river for possible future fly fishing trips.

Inviting Fishing Water

We hiked the trail that followed the river for a half hour and then returned to the Santa Fe. The park was very nice with soccer fields, baseball fields, picnic areas, a roller blade rink, and exercise stations. There was even a water park with man-made stream improvement structures to create interest for kayakers. The same structural features probably enhanced the fish habitat, but I did not spot any fish during my cursory survey of the stream. A light dusting of snow from the previous evening left its mark, and several shaded spots along the trail retained patches of remnant snow cover. On our return trip we passed some ponds, and a small cluster of large birds hovered along the edge of the water. Eventually we heard the telltale squawk of sand hill cranes. The crane call reminds me of a hoarse turkey gobble, and it also prods me to recollect our camping trip among the sand hill cranes at Steamboat Lake last June.

After our Baldridge Park hike we continued our journey and found the nearby Montrose Airport. Unlike large urban airports, this one was small and provided free close by parking. When we entered the foyer, we discovered that we were at the gates, baggage claim and restaurant; as the small building made everything conveniently located near the entrance. The main generator of air traffic through Montrose is apparently Telluride Ski Area, as a fleet of shuttle vans were stationed just outside the entrance.

The Box Canyon at the End of Colorado Avenue

Eventually Dan appeared off to the side of the baggage claim area, and we quickly collected his luggage and departed for lunch. Dan consulted his phone and chose a small Mediterranean bistro along Main Street and slightly south of Townsend Avenue. We enjoyed some gyros, and then returned to the car for the 1.5 hour trip to Telluride. We were not sure whether Dan’s lodging for the week was in the town or on the other side of the ridge at the ski area base, but we decided to explore town a bit as our first stop. We found a parking space along Aspen Street and then strolled along Colorado Avenue; the main thoroughfare in the old mining town. As we were doing this, we checked out restaurants for dinner possibilities.

On the return along Colorado Avenue we gazed down a side street and spotted the loading station for the gondola, so we approached and noticed a sign that stated that the ride was free. It was not dinner time, so we leaped at the opportunity to enjoy a free gondola ride. The aerial transportation car carried us high above the town and over the next ridge until we eventually off loaded at a large developed base complex that included bars and restaurants and condominiums. We paused here for some photos and then reloaded for the return trip. Quite a few skiers were also gathered for the ride back to Telluride, as the clock advanced to 4PM.

Birthday Boy Having Fun

Once we reached the gondola base, we resumed our walk, but this time we followed Pacific Avenue which was closer to the boundary with the ski area. Dan had the address of the lodging, and by now we determined that it was in Telluride and not at the ski area base. After a fifteen minute stroll we approached the sought after address, and once Dan placed a call to his friend Adam, voices and faces appeared on the second floor balcony. We turned the corner and found the entrance and climbed the stairs to the destination condo unit. Five of Dan’s friends were already present, and Adam offered beers while we received a tour of the unit. The number of skiers exceeded the capacity of the condo unit we were in, so Adam led us up the street to a second accommodation that he rented for the same period of time. This unit had a better picture window view of the mountain, so we remained here and drank our beers while chatting for thirty minutes.

Once we finished our beers, our appetites took control, so we bid our farewells and returned to east Colorado Avenue to a Mexican restaurant that we flagged on our initial walk. The restaurant was named La Cocina De Luz, and it proved to be a delectable find. We inhaled the chips and salsa and then consumed our favorite entrees before declining dessert, since we stretched our bellies to their limit. I ordered my favorite Mexican dish, tamales, and I was not disappointed.

After dinner we dropped Dan off at his condominium, and then Jane and I proceeded on a two hour drive to Cortez, CO, where we found the Hampton Inn and the room that we reserved for the night. A half day with Dan was a great bonus to our nine day road trip to Arizona.

Road Trip to Arizona Day One – 03/15/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day One 03/15/2016 Photo Album

Jane and I were anxious to undertake a road trip to Arizona in the spring of 2016. In 2011 Jane presented me with a spring training trip as a birthday gift, but at the time she was employed by a bank in Denver and unable to get off work, so my son Dan accompanied me on a long weekend escape to Phoenix where we attended two spring training games involving the Colorado Rockies. The Sunday game took place at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and Dan and I obtained a look at the brand new complex that was shared by the Rockies and Diamondbacks located just north of Scottsdale. The weekend was a blast, and Jane was jealous of our getaway.

I was feeling sufficiently recovered from my January 27 surgery, so we made the last minute decision to embark on a mid-March road trip to the sunny climes of Arizona. As it turned out, our son Dan scheduled a ski trip to Colorado from March 16 – March 20. He planned to fly into Montrose, CO and then travel south to Telluride. Interestingly his airfare was less expensive to fly to Montrose compared with Denver DIA. Dan’s ski equipment was stashed at our house in Denver, so Jane and I decided to time our trip so that we could transport Dan’s gear, shuttle him from Montrose to Telluride, and spend some time with him before continuing on to Arizona.

Jane made reservations at the Holiday Inn Express for Tuesday night March 15, and we made the five hour drive across Colorado. The weather was cooperative, so we decided to stop and explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park along the way. The side trip to the national park was only five miles off the main route, and we arrived at the first pullout along the South Rim in the late afternoon. Despite the recent mild March weather, a thin layer of snow remained and covered the canyon walls.

Visitors Check Out the Canyon

After a brief peek over the canyon rim, we proceeded to the parking lot outside the visitor center, but here we were disappointed to discover that the center closed at 4PM, and it was 4:10 when we arrived. Despite this minor setback, we were resilient travelers, so we parked and hiked down a short trail to another overlook. Some of the trail was snow packed, so we exercised considerable caution with each step. This visitor center overlook was far superior to the first stop, and when we moved to the small platform at the point of the canyon rim, we peered deep into the chasm. Here we saw the clear turbulent flows of the Gunnison River as it rushed and tumbled along the rocky canyon floor. I am convinced that this section of the river receives light fishing pressure due to its remote and deep location. This of course conjured images of large uneducated trout willing to rise and slurp large attractor patterns. Perhaps some day I will explore the river downstream from the East Portal, but on Tuesday I could only dream.

Best View of the River

Jane and I snapped a series of photos of the amazing natural wonder and then returned to the car. The remainder of South Rim Road was closed for the winter, so we retraced our path to highway 50 and continued a short distance to Montrose, where we found the Holiday Inn Express and checked in for the night. For some reason there was a mix up with the online reservation that required correction, but after a few minutes of confusion, we possessed our keys and found our room.

Dinner on March 15

On Tuesday evening we found the Horsefly Brewing Company and chose it as our dinner option. The restaurant was a small casual eatery, and we enjoyed some tasty fare along with a craft brew before retiring for the evening. Tuesday was a great start to our nine day road trip to the southwest.