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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

OOOF 96 Degrees and Counting

A sudden heat wave has whomped down on Virginia and caught us all by surprise. We've had such a cool beautiful spring that I'd sorta forgotten what's up ahead - Hot Hot Hot summertime. Many beloved friends of mine live for this time of year and I'm trying to take my cue from them this summer. In the spirit of "If you can't escape it, leap into it" the plan is to spend More Time Outdoors. Especially in the river. It's almost criminal that I live along the riverbank and sometimes go weeks without ever going swimming. Mind now - I can't actually walk down to a beach - but I can walk down to a pier and get in a canoe and be on a great swimming beach in 10 minutes. All the summers I had children around me I managed to do that, because children won't buy the excuse that you're too tired after work. Or in earlier days, before the pier and the canoe, I'd play on the beach in front of Grandma's house pretty much daily.

So. This summer the plan is to go swimming every day after work unless it's actually dark when I get home. The other part of the plan is to drink my coffee on the pier in the morning. By golly - I live along a magical waterway and I've still got the balance to get down our gymnastical pier. I'm not going to let this luxury go to waste.

I'm also doing some work on my porch - and spending some $$$. The glider is getting new cushions - there is a two layer weather capable cabinet going in the east corner, in the bottom of which I can store my fiber dye stuff, while the top can hold such al fresco dining paraphernalia as plastic cups and table cloths. ThePrince promises to mend the two screens with tears, courtesy of an ambitious squirrel who insisted on chewing through both metal and plastic in his quest for black oil sunflower seeds. (I keep winter bird food in a metal trashcan now.One with a tight lid.)

We should be set for company in a week or two.

What with these home improvement plans - and outdoor living plans - you might wonder if there is any Knitting going on. Well. Yes. There is - though I'm not ready to dazzle you with pictures. I have about 600 yards of slinky green rayon ribbon from Trendsetter - bought nigh on to a decade ago.  The label on the box says "knit by August of 2011 or get rid of" so yesterday I pulled it down, dug out some #8 needles and cast on.  I think it will make a wonderful tank top.

Unfortunately, knitting with ribbon bores me to tears. Even stretchy high end pretty green Trendsetter brand ribbon. It seems that no matter how many hours I spend knitting on it it never grows any length at all - it's as if it shrinks with every row. When I knit with wool it's like a caressing sort of dance between the fiber and my fingers. When I knit with ribbon it's a teeth gritting experience and to date - no fantasy of a chic fashionable Finished Object has been able to surmount my dislike of knitting with ribbon  yarn. So the question remains ... Will TheQueen be giving away some yarn in August or will she be wearing a cool top with a tiny lacy detail? Only time will tell.

But, just so you'll know I still have a camera that works (though I suspect it's time to charge the battery again) here are some photos of what's just outside my front door.

This little rose is one of those potted valentine miniature plants you pick up at Walmart in wintertime when you're starving for Color and Life and Freshness.
This is the ligustrum bush  in bloom with a hungry bug dipping into the nectar pool. that dark thing in the corner is a leaf. In shadow.

And below? The promise of salads to come. Yum.
And now I see it's after 8 If I don't get hoppin' I'll be late for work. Thank goodness for 4 day workweeks.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Geology Day in Arizona

Easter Monday, April 25 – and we are driving east along I40 towards the Meteor Crater. Today we are going to see, at last, those geological formations we learned about in earth science, lo those decades ago in public school. Like everything else in Arizona – there is an awful lot of space between one place and another. The Meteor Crator is 33 miles from Flagstaff, the only site we visited that wasn't a National Park. The turn off on is just one more small road heading south, but you can see the slight crater shape, and certainly it's width, from the interstate.  

On that same road we also see one of those oddities (to me) which are so common (out there) – a juniper bush growing right out of a rock!  

The crater site has a good movie theater (yes, we watched the movie) and a gift shop, rim walks as well as guides to take you further around the rim of the crater. We opted only to walk only in the open parts of the rim – which were impressive enough. The tour took an hour and we wanted to take in the Petrified Forest and Painted Dessert today too – both of which were east of Winslow.  

If you stay quiet as you look at the crater, and open yourself up to the sensations, you can get a feeling of the earth as part of outer space. Suddenly I whispered “we are not alone” as I shivered with a tiny bit of extra terrestrial presence. I know it's just rocks – and dirt – but ... it is different.  

We spotted a little lizard, dining on (and drinking from) this blossom.

There is a large bit of meteor on exhibit in the building that houses the gift shop and it was here that I picked up some (legal) pieces of petrified forest and a few other rock souvenirs. I wanted bits of tree that still had bark on them because I remembered, as a child, how disappointed I was to be shown .... just a rock ... and nothing that remotely looked like a tree, the first time I saw a sample from the Triassic era.

For that matter – I remember being completely flummoxed by the concept of a tree scared stiff – after all, I thought petrified meant scared and trees are already stiff. Ahh well. Children are often mystified by things adults say. So – It wasn't long before we were driving through Winslow AZ – just a couple of miles long and maybe 3 blocks deep, with only a single intersection of tourism to pay homage to the Eagles, amidst desert scrabble. The town is on the Little Colorado River, which had a little water in it – perhaps the only reason the town exists at all. The soil was a pale yellow and all around were wide vistas of course tufted grass, sparse growth, not even any junipers.

The only loop along I 40 between Winslow and Holbrook took us through the little town of Joseph City ... with this beautiful petrified forest wall and plaque. I took a lot of petrified wood photos and did come away with a few colorway idea shots – but none of them showed off the gleaming, deep, rich beauty of these mineralized fossils. Still – I'll try to paint with words their utter beauty.

The Petrified forest and Painted Dessert is one of the first national parks. We gave it more than half a day and thoroughly savored the vistas, walks and arid scenery. The trees are absolutely gem like. At the first visitor center we watched the short movie which was laced with warnings about the price you pay if you try to drive off with pieces of the trees in your pocket. I, too, lusted for a piece and completely understand the urge that prompts people to loot. I didn't loot, of course. But I sure wanted one of those big hunks of tree/rock. I know why it's wrong and I even agree that it's dreadful. Over 1 ton a month is stolen from the park still. So, I'm only saying I grasp what makes people lust for it. As for me, my hands touched and stroked and petted all afternoon long.   

These are Triassic trees – so they predate the dinosaurs. Their organic matter was replaced by silica so I wonder if there were volcanoes here. I could believe almost anything about this landscape. We took our time, this windy blue-sky day, moseying around the pathways that lead you through the bones of this ancient forest. The reds and golds were the most common colors but the blues and blacks and translucent whites gleamed beneath the unrelenting Arizona sunlight

Ancient peoples lived out here in more recent times. It feels funny to write recent and ancient in the same sentence but the petroglyphs we saw as we drove north through the park definitely have that prehistoric look. This rock is called Newspaper Rock. Park literature states that many of these sites were used as "solar calendars" to track the yearly movement of the sun across the sky through the interplay of sunlight on the petroglyph. They function the same today as they did when they were created almost a thousand years ago. 

The sun was aiming at the western horizon as we traveled the last bit of parkland, through the most distinct and vivid examples of the Painted Desert. Though it reaches as far west and north as the areas around Cameron – where we were on Saturday – it was here that the layered formations were most beautiful. And oh my – the distances one could see – in every direction there was just more more more open spaces with mounds, ravines and cliffs around every bend. 

Alas – as we neared the end of our park tour it dawned on me that I was coming down with Somebody's cold. I popped some ibuprofen to relieve my symptoms, but I knew it was no cure. Ahh well. This much wind and dry air and sleeping in strange beds and riding in a car with cold germs – it was bound to happen. Happily, it never got too bad and didn't take too long to get rid of – but it did have an impact on what we decided to do the rest of the trip.

We spent the night in Winslow, where we asked the desk clerk's advice about a good Mexican Restaurant. It was different, certainly, and spicier than the food we'd had in Williams but truth? It was as heavy as lead. Not a place I would recommend, even if I make allowances for my incipient cold. We went to sleep leaving our plans for the rest of the trip wide open.

Friday, May 27, 2011

As Gawd is Mah Witnuss!

I'll post the rest of the travel log this weekend. and get back to the serious business of writing about Yarn. And Knitting. And the Life-0-TheQueen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Changes in attitudes

Nothing remains quite the same.

I'm feeling very Jimmy Buffett-ey these days. It's the light - and the humidity  - and the 90 degree days. Summer whomped down on us big time this week and all I can think of right now is ocean beaches. Not, mind you, that I've planned for this with a reservation at VaBeach or Nags Head as we roll into the Memorial Day weekend. But even if we don't change latitudes I am going to make sure to don swimsuit and dive underwater sometime between now and the first of June.

Yes I know. I haven't finished telling you All About My Trip out west. I hope I can finish telling all about it with some of the freshness I was feeling when I began it 3 weeks ago. I hadn't intended to let it drag on like this but then .... I hadn't any idea of how many family surprises were going to fold into the packed days of an already full Month of May. We've had weddings and funerals, really - and surprise birthdays and planned ones - graduations and, oh yes, both my parents ended up in hospital - then rehab. This in addition to a week and a half conducting tours of the library for 600 elementary school children. Wanna fry your brain? Try stuffing that into 6 work days when you're short staffed - for (weep weep) our young college graduate employee left us on May 1 and we won't have his replacement on board till July 1.

Isn't it wonderful I love fried brains?


Of Course there's knitting in TheCastle -  just ...  not very much knitting. Here is proof, though - a photo of the trip sock I stitched away at on the airplane. (There was zero knitting while actually touring the west - I had Other Things to look at and gush over and think about) This is some Spirit Trail yarn ... maybe Sunna but I'm not sure since I gave the label to the knitting seatmate I had on the flight back from Nevada. It feels like it has something soft in it - definitely not a crunchy sock yarn. Still, it does display stitch definition in a pretty way. I don't think cables would hold up unless they were part of a cable & lace design, but these knit and purl patterns really do pop out - even in a cloudy day photograph.

And so  - spring is rolling into summer and the schedule will change along with the weather. I plan to be back on more of a regular posting schedule but, then, I also plan to lose 20 lbs and keep an always orderly house and redo the bathroom. It's not as if there's no hope for any of these things, but the timetable for them is ... um ... flexible.

But to tease you with Great Arizona Eye Candy - and also an interesting colorway ... ( can't you just see this in a fair isle design?) here is a favorite picture of rocks & flowers. Not sure what the flower is ... maybe an Emory's Globemallow, Sphaeralcea emoryi - but the rock is really a petrified tree.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Calendar Challenged Queen Celebrates a Birthday

Yesterday I logged onto TheInternets and sent a Jacquie Lawson birthday card to a Special Boy.  Around 7:30 I dialed a certain phone number and hollered up to BD to pick up the extension. When we got the answering machine we both cried out Happy Birthday and sang the song and gushed out our love and wished him a wonderful day and promised to call again later that evening. And 10 minutes later we got a return call from LD, who said "Thanks, Mom and Dad. But I thought I was born on May the 12th"

I knew that. I was just testing the system. 

I knew that. I am just calendar challenged.

I knew that. Because 35 years ... and about 45 minutes ... ago a Perfect, Angel-Baby, Darling, Only Son was born in a hospital in Richmond. Without a doubt the most powerful day in my life, and the happiest, even if I did sleep through most of it. May 12 is a day engraved on my heart with all the joy one woman could ask for. 

And yesterday evening, about 7 o'clock, I heard the dogs barking outside. They often do so when they want to come in so I opened the door, only to see someone walking up the lane - a man with a dog. And since we are the only people around here who ever go visiting on foot, I couldn't imagine who it might be, until I recognized a familiar lope. I stood open mouthed a moment and then shouted for joy! Because that special boy had decided he wanted to spend his birthday with his family and had tooled up the highway to be with us. 

The final bit of calendar challenged goofiness was that not 30 minutes after he'd talked to us on the phone yesterday morning, his boss had walked up to him and said "Isn't this your birthday? Why not take the rest of the week off."  Glad to know I'm not the only one having date book issues. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Life Swoops In and Captures TheQueen

Don't get me wrong. I seriouslymy real life - but whew! This Coming Back from Vacation is wiping me out. Yes yes yes - there are still 4 more days of my trip to tell about but I can't seem to get to it - what with remembering how to run a library, swapping out the winter stuff for the summer stuff, getting the porch ready for summer, oh - and May's plethora of celebrations - which are much more fun than anything else I could be doing - even remembering a fabulous vacation.

And there is knitting. Yes. TheQueen still knits - and even spins now and then. I promise. There will be a travel update, knitting pictures and lyrical paeans about wheat dolphins coming soon.  Promise

Thursday, May 5, 2011

TheQueen finds Shagri la

Driving back to Flagstaff on Saturday, BD studied the map, discovering Wupatki National Monument on the east side of 89. “Want to see it?” he asked, to which I replied, it would depend on what the guide books said. We had 3 more touring days left plus a day to blast back to Nevada so we could catch our plane on Thursday – and Arizona is an enormous state. And the truth was – I was tired and just a little homesick. Himself was even worse off since he dreaded the flight back. He hates flying, which makes him feel constrained though he feels a sense of freedom when traveling by car. I, otoh, feel constrained by distance when traveling more than 2 days by car so when there's a lot of miles to cover, I prefer flying. Long marriage. Much compromise.

But when he confessed he was ready to go home I pointed out that, in fact, we had trip insurance. We didn't have to see anything else. We could go to the airport, change our tickets and be home in 2 days. Two days of something as mind boggling as the Grand Canyon is really enough to put into your brain. Adding more can sometimes blur the new information. Data overload, sensation overload too, is not always a refreshing vacationing experience.

In the end, though, we decided to stay and explore some of the other wonders in Arizona. Native American wonders. Geological wonders. With so little organic mass out there, whatever is there doesn't tend to wear away – at least, not in a human sized timeline. And when I flipped open the DK Eyewitness travel guide to Arizona & the Grand Canyon there was Wupatki NM with a photo of a 12th century publo – and I was captured.

The guidebook also had a photo of the cliff dwelling at Montezuma's Castle, south of Sedona and that NP opened at 8 a.m. So after a good night's sleep we decided to head south, down 89A, instead of the faster interstate 17. (We're suckers for the scenic route) BD drove and I tried to figure out how to find the highway as we idled at a stoplight when a police car pulled up beside us and honked. I have never really gotten over that feeling that I might be doing something wrong whenever I encounter a policeman in a car – though I never feel that way when I meet them anyplace else, all the policemen I've known have been really nice people and I don't drive recklessly. There's just something about cars and their machine parts and rules and Other People that I don't fully trust so that when I'm on the road I always feel a little like I'm ... underage. Anyway – the man asked if we needed directions, I told him we were looking for 89A, he asked “Sedona?” and I nodded. He turned us around and we were on our way in a flash. Just one more experience of the friendly people of Flagstaff – and of AZ altogether.

The road snaked along Oak Creek Canyon, with so many switchbacks it was like the S. Kaibob trail for cars. It lead us through the most amazing rock formations. These were mostly deep red, much more rounded than the huge flat faced red rocks in the GC. Many of them looked like fortresses or cathedrals and I laughed when I discovered the most obvious formation, anchoring the Sedona landscape was called just that - “The Cathedral”
Sedona is the only really beautiful town I saw out west. I saw beautiful things everywhere we went, but they were 100% nature made, not man made. I suppose when there is so little building material, it's difficult to build beautiful things. Of course, if there is enough money, you can make almost anything beautiful and the folks in Sedona have carried their good taste and aesthetic eye even to the gas stations and convenience stores. The little town of Oak Creek, just south of Sedona is equally pretty and either one looked tempting enough to get me back out west.

But I wanted to see a cliff dwelling. I have actually wanted to see a pueblo ever since 4th grade, when I saw my first photograph of one, in my geography book and we still had a good many miles to go. South of Oak Creek we had to rejoin fast I-17 and drive another dozen or so miles to Middle Verde where signs directed us to the park. And here I found the most exquisite microcosm in the entire trip.

A feeder creek into the Verde River flows through a narrow valley, making the ground wet enough to support sycamore trees and blossoming flowers, as well as the ubiquitous juniper and the twisty pinion pines. There's a short walk from the visitor center to the opening of this narrow valley and then you see it.

What you see is a cliff dwelling some 75-100 feet above the valley floor. It will take your breath away. In its way it's as impressive as the GC. It dates from about the 12th century, like all the native American structures you'll encounter. Humanity seems to have slid into this dessert world around the year 1,000 and was mostly gone by 1400. Speculation about both arrival and departure includes both societal pressure and climate change. All I know is that – here was the only place where I felt like I could move right in. This was another place where I didn't just look, but opened up my soul to whatever residue of times gone by still lingered. Everything about this little valley felt welcoming.

I have no romantic illusions about the primitive life. It's a hard, monotonous and frightening world. To think that ancient societies were somehow as free as the birds is, while silly, also accurate – because both have to spend almost every waking hour struggling for food. Both are utterly subservient to weather. One bad year of drought will lay them low – a few in a row will wipe them out.
Still – this place? Lawsie – something about this place is just so perfect, so beautiful, so gentle in such an incredibly harsh landscape – I can only call it – Shangri La.

We went back out onto the interstate, and north, to visit Montezuma's Well. This is a volcanic lake surrounded by cliff dwellings – still considered a holy place by the Hopis, as would be expected, since finding deep blue water in the middle of this brown world always seems a little heaven sent. As we found in all the parks, the rangers were extremely well informed and very personable. I'm sure they are screened for brains and personality because 100% of the ones we met added richly to our travels.

At the entrance booth there was a herpetologist's who had captured a 4 ft. rattlesnake and put it into a long clear tube. He was measuring it and tagging it so its movement could be monitored. I'm not creeped out by snakes. I trust them to slither away from me if they have any opportunity. Still – with it's buff color a perfect camouflage, I'm glad he was not lying across my path.
The well is a deep lake of clear blue water. There is 19th century graffiti along the rock walls at its base, where more dwellings were once built into the cave like rock formations. There are also turtle traps – because non-native turtles have been released into the water and they compete with the native turtle. I found it a little bizarre to think someone would drive this far out into the dessert to get rid of an unwanted pet turtle but there you have it – how else could one get so far? We covered all the paths at this site, again, opening up to whatever spiritual messages we might encounter.

It was after noon by then and we headed north, this time taking fast I-17, to visit Sunset Crater and Wupatki NP, north of Flagstaff on 89. The crater was created during the most recent eruption in this part of AZ, about 1100 – right when everything seemed to be happening out here. The information pamphlet we picked up at the visitor center told us a little history and a little geology but nothing prepared us for that first view of the lava fields. My goodness! They look like coal slag – black rocks spewed everywhere. What little life has come back in the past 900 years seems almost artificial as it pops up out of the black cinders. Right beside this little yellow flower I dug down 4 inches with my finger, through ever shrinking little balls of rock. Obviously there's some organic matter down there somewhere, but I didn't find it.
And then it was north, along the 35 mile long loop road into the land of pueblos. We visited them all, the Wukoki, The Wupatki, the Citadel and the Lomaki as well as the dwellings in Box Canyon. The most amazing was the Wupatki, because it was so big. It included 2 kivas, one circular, one square, a ball court and a “blow hole” a geological anomaly that taps into underground air and, depending on the air pressure, either sucks in or blows out. On our visit it was blowing out and children were leaning over it as their hair blew back. So did I! It was fast blowing and cool. The ranger told us there had once been 3 springs around this pueblo but after 19th century cattle grazers tried to enlarge the springs, they disappeared.

That's me waving in the doorway
Here we were able to get inside the now roofless houses of these ancient people. The rocks they used are all flat, 4-6 inches thick, weighing between 75 and 125 lbs. For the most part the informational material produced by the National Parks is extremely good but now and then an unctuous comment slipped in as in when the tour pamphlet claimed that “women played an important role in the community.” Well, duh – as half the village, and the only half who could give birth, I should hope they were.

All that day a tremendous wind blew. Sometimes it blew chilly, sometimes the sun warmed it up a bit, but the power of that wind was something I'd never experienced before. At the Citadel – a very high rock formation with the remains of a pueblo on top – it blew so hard I couldn't hold the camera to take a photo. In fact – it blew so hard I heard its message to get off that rock – and believe me – when nature tells me something that succinctly, I obey.

There was none of that feeling of homecoming here, in this bleak landscape, that I'd found in Montezuma's Castle. There had been only 1 inch of rain since January 1. It was hard to imagine living in such a landscape, much less traveling to and trading with the different villages. Yet – people are both indomitable and societal – and legs can carry them far and wide. And these ruins certainly offer a window onto that world of 900 years ago. One of the constant emotions pulsing through me during this whole day was a thankful respect to those who had come before, living a life that had meaning and joy and power in a landscape so vast and open.

We headed back to Flagstaff around 7 o'clock, coming in on the east end of town, after seeing only half of the things we'd mapped out the night before. We stayed in the Howard Johnson – which had been given more stars than it deserved on the travel booking websites. It was okay – but eh – not as nice as the Econo Lodge University on the west end of town and, unbeknown to us, was right next to a restaurant/club that booked a raucous mariachi band who played unceasingly and loudly till 2 a.m. No. I did NOT get much sleep that night. Eh. Travel. It makes you tolerant.

I'm still loading More Photos on my flicker page so if you're curious click here. And tomorrow? The Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Grand Canyon Day 2

We backtracked our way up to the canyon again, 180 north out of Flagstaff to Valle, through the heavenly San Francisco mountains, where the road undulated between 6 K and 7K feet. We had left early springtime in Virginia, with baby green leaves unfurling on the larger trees and here were snow capped mountains. These beautiful mountains watched over us almost the whole time we were out in Arizona. In the far east and west portions they slipped down below the horizon, but from east of Williams, almost to Winslow, from Sedona to the Grand canyon, they stood somewhere along the skyline – majestic, elegant, reassuring.

The possibility of rain lurked throughout the day but there was plenty of blue sky – and of course – the constant blustery west wind. Our first thought was to park at GC Village, take the red bus out to Maricopa point, where we got on the day before, and finish the walk out to the end of the trail at Hermit point. Wrong. The buses will load only 40 people at the start and end of the trip – as many as there are seats - though they'll accept standing room passengers at any of the other stops. The lines waiting at the GCV were so long we'd have waited in line for almost an hour, even though they run every 15 minutes.

Instead we decided to walk east, the shorter trail, only about 3 miles, with fewer overlook points, way fewer tourists, even a rougher path. About 1/3 of the total 15 mile rim path is paved. The rest of it is a very smooth dirt path with the worst rocks eliminated but definitely not wheel chair accessible.

A word here about just how fit you have to be to visit. While I do a lot of walking, I'm not really in tip top shape. I thought I'd get myself in better shape during the winter, but of course, I didn't. Definitely, I wasn't fit enough to hike all the way down to the bottom and back up on any of the trails – but I wouldn't have been able to do that even if I'd been a marathoner. It was too scary. After a couple hundred feet down, my inner child was crying “take me home, mommy”. I have notoriously bad ankles and I'm delighted to report that I never had any problem covering any of the trails. Sure – I took ibuprofen when I got in the car on the way from the canyon to Flagstaff that first day – just to be sure my flatlander legs wouldn't stiffen up – and they never did. But that was the only thing I had to do to make the adjustment.

As for the thinner air – it's true. Now and then I'd get a sort of shaking sensation in my chest which told me I was breathing too shallowly – and I'd stop, slowly breath in and then let the air out. Once was always enough to adjust the system to this higher altitude.

Today's trail was the South Kaibob Trail which is supposed to be steeper than Bright Angel Falls – and maybe it was – but for some reason, it was easier for me to walk down. Perhaps because I was going east so I had the inside of the trail on my right - perhaps because I had more confidence in myself – perhaps because there was a friendly couple from Boston who chatted confidently about how they'd hiked down and back the day before on the BAF trail – anyway – I could go a lot farther down this trail and here is photographic proof!
We hadn't brought water with us today. We were only walking 2 miles and doing a tiny bit of the trail, but we did stuff our pockets with apples. They're juicy enough to quench thrist and sugary enough to give you a little energy boost. As we munched on our treats at the top of the trail, this girl came up on her mule, bringing trash out of the campsite below.

There is very little animal life visible – in part because it is so dry and in part because, of course, wild animals hide from humans. I only saw 2 squirrels, 1 condor, and 3 or 4 ravens in all the time we were at the canyon. Perhaps that's why I couldn't resist snapping this little fella's picture. BD did mention that I could photograph hundreds of squirrels in my own front yard, but it wasn't the same. This was a Grand Canyon squirrel.
As thrilling as the canyon views are, the landscape around the trail is equally impressive. It is all Pinion pines, low growing juniper and the surprise of alpine flowers. These pines are amazing, all twisted and sculpted by the fierce winds and they are ancient. We counted 500 rings on this branch – so we calculated the tree was here when Coronado, himself, bumped into the canyon.
The blustery weather was a dramatic backdrop to the breathtaking vistas. Time and a again we saw a rain shower move over some monumental rock formation, fading it from view, then exposing it once again. Once or twice a few sprinkles fell on us too – and I was really glad I'd brought my jacket with me. Though the temperatures were pleasant – perhaps high 60's – the wind, especially when clouds blocked the sun – had a feel of ice in it. Brrrr. 

The further east we went, the more views of the Colorado river revealed themselves. 

At Yaki Point, it all ended with 5 minutes spent on the far tip – very windy, spitting showers. Today, with the first crazy flush of excitement expressed, I took a little more time to open myself up to that Something More I was hoping to find out west. The first few days of the trip I had been, not exactly tense, but On Alert. All the Pay Attention sensors were flickering as I made sure to meet other people's deadlines, find my way through unfamiliar territory, follow Other People's Rules. Now I had the time and opportunity to just experience – to open myself to whatever spiritual lessons the earth had to teach me. I would still my racing mind, draw inward, feel my body relax and then let it absorb the essence of this most grand of canyons. Typing these words now I can still feel that sensation of bigness – of open - of being able to trust earth – of belonging. I can smell the last of the winter's snow in the wind. I can feel the heat of the sun on my cheeks. This was what a tiny voice inside had promised I'd find, if I would only make the effort to take this trip. I hope I can keep this with me forever.

For all that we had walked so few miles, the afternoon had flown. It was about 3 o'clock and we wanted to take the eastern drive out to Desert View and the Watchtower, so we hopped on the bus and rode back to the visitor center. Of course – just because we were driving doesn't mean we had no canyon views. There are points at Grandview, Moran, Lipan, Navajo as well as the magnificent outlooks from Desert View and the watchtower. For all that it looks old, the tower dates from the 1930's and the paintings are modern work, but who cares. They're beautiful. And here is where we did some of the very little souvenir shopping of the whole trip. Truth is – we aren't big on souvenir buying and we sure didn't want to lug around a lot of stuff that was likely to be broken in our packed suitcases and besides – with TheInternets, it's hard to find something unique anymore. I wanted a piece of pottery that held the colors of the canyon, though and the gift shop at Desert View had just the thing.
From floor to ceiling Native American symbols inside the Watchtower
We took the east entrance back to Flagstaff, driving through the Navajo Reservation down through Cameron. I did the driving and I found that western mountain driving is a whole lot more intimidating than our east coast mountain driving. Here, if the road lifts up to a peak, there are always trees and buildings just behind the hill, giving you a hint of what the road will do next. Will it curve to the left – you can tell by what's behind it. Will it go straight? Ditto – you can tell. So an unfamiliar road gives you hints of what's coming. Out west – where there is nothing on the other side of a rise but 20 miles of emptiness and a mountain 100 miles away .... whew! Scared me almost as much as walking down the trails. Who knows what car will be driving towards you at 75 mph around an outside curve? I always slowed down as I neared a rise just in case...

So here's another thing about driving out west. The other drivers are very courteous. Though the speed limit was 75 or 65 almost all the time, the little rental car we were driving really rattled above 60 mph and yet, nobody ever tailgated us or passed us dangerously or revealed the slightest hint of rudeness. Yea Arizona!

We came into Flagstaff on the east end. This gave us an opportunity to drive through the length of the town and, my goodness, it's a welcoming comfortable place. I could imagine getting to know and love it. The old part of town is very attractive and I wish we'd had more opportunity to visit. One could spend a whole vacation in Flagstaff. We never did get to the Lowell Observatory – which I had thought BD would jump on. But he just wasn't feeling all that hot and walking is always easier on him than standing inside museums.

We found a Chinese buffet a few blocks from our motel and loaded up on their vegetable dishes. Then it was collapse into bed for a long hard sleep.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Grand Canyon at last (a post almost as long as the Colorado River)


We were up and on the road before 8 on Friday the 21st, driving the 50 odd miles to the canyon on Rt. 64. Gas was $4.05 a gallon. Whew. We could feel the excitement mounting as we wended our way north. Somewhere around 10 miles out of Williams we crested a hill and thought we saw the North rim of the canyon. All the time, we were being watched over by the enormous, and still snow capped San Francisco Mountains to our east. I fell in love with these watching behemoths who dominate the landscape within 100 miles of Flagstaff. They reminded me of our own Peaks of Otter out in Bedford County, VA. Of course, the undulating landscape lifted us high enough and droped us low enough to make our ears pop and swell and we both experimented with ways of releasing the pressure. My favorite was to fake a yawn, BD's was to blow his nose – which, alas, had stopped up too – for he had caught a bit of a cold. Air travel and the change from swamp to desert climate had its effect.

We were soon in the Kaibob National Forest and as we rose higher towards the canyon the Ponderosa Pines took over. These trees are thicker at the base than either our native Rosemary pines or the ubiquitous Loblollies of the local tree farms. Their branches extend from the entire trunk, though they are short and curved. They seemed slightly taller than our trees, but in VA pines are farmed so they usually get logged by the time they're 40 years old. It may be that they'd grow taller if they weren't cut.

The air was crisp and fresh and that set the tone for the day. We parked at the visitor Center and walked straight out to the rim at Mather Point. It was a heart stopping moment and it brought a gasp and then tears from my eyes. That first view of the canyon is an indescribable experience, though I am going to try anyway. I just stood there, feeling the enormity hit me like a wave – my lungs sucking in the cool air – my whole body absorbing the bigness of the canyon. Stretching before me was a landscape of rocks and crevices, peaks and cracks and windows, paths and cliffs, overhangs and strange formations in colors of rusty red, cream, grey, black and tan. Because we arrived after sunrise we missed the vivid colors brought out by the slanting rays of the sun at the horizon, but anytime you glimpsed a portion of the canyon in shadow you could see how the colors would intensify and contrast each other. I didn't mind, though – because the canyon is more than colors. It is an adjective turned into a noun. Think of every descriptive word you've ever used to describe something huge and that is the Grand Canyon.


I stood a long time, clutching BD's arm and whispering to him “We did it! We did it! We're here!” I am sure I repeated that phrase a thousand times over the rest of this trip and I know he felt the same way because he always responded with the same wondering enthusiasm. After a while we walked down to the edge of the point, joining other tourists as we peeked over our first edge. A charming young family from Miami was snapping photos and they offered to take one of us. We returned the favor and chatted a little. They had 2 little boys, about 5 and 8 and the older proudly informed us that his younger brother was “From Virginia”. His mom explained that he was born in Charlottesville and I remembered how I always insisted my sister was a yankee because she'd been born in upstate NY. Some things don't change.
This family was typical of all the tourists we met, overheard, or even just saw. Friendly and completely in awe of the magnificent place they had the good fortune to be visiting. It was an amazing experience to realize I was feeling the same thing as the hundreds of strangers with which I was mingling. Every conversation I overheard echoed my own wonder at this marvel. It didn't matter if they were from here or abroad, everyone was kind, courteous and protective. Litter was virtually absent. In the 16 miles of rim trail we walked we saw only 2 pieces of litter and we picked them up to throw away at the next trash can.

A word here about the crowds. The guide books all advised that the crowdedness would be within a mile of the GC Village and they were right – the farther away you walked from either the visitor center or the GCV, the thinner the crowds. And yet – you were never more than a mile or two from a bus stop and yes, the paved road does come close to the walking paths at times, but I never once felt herded. In fact, none of the national parks we visited had a “Don't Touch” feeling about them. Of course there were signs that said you were not to remove bits of nature from the park but it was not oppressive or scolding. There was this sense of trust in humanity – in crowds of humanity – that made us feel welcome.

The path between the visitor center and GC Village is paved, making for easy walking. And for all the enormous vast grand vistas there are also small miracles to see as you stroll along. Out on the very edge of a rock, a tiny flowering plant would sprout, somehow, and bloom, in spite of the fierce canyon weather.

At the last jutting point between the visitor center and the village we came to a geology museum where we chatted with 2 park guides and an author who had written a book on how to safely climb down and out of the canyon. I meant to at least get the title, but I admit – I was still too giddy from the many incredible views I'd been absorbing, through eyes, skin, nose and lungs. Yes. You can see with your nose and your skin – when it's something that colossal, you need every part of your body to take it in. Later, after lunch we bumped into one of them walking up Angel Falls trail and he pointed out petroglyphs we would have otherwise missed.

It's hard to figure out how far you're walking along the trail because there are a hundred places where you'll stop and gawk and gasp and gaze and just experience the canyon. All I know is that I was hungry by the time we reached the Grand Canyon Village – where lodgings, mule rides, and restaurants cluster. Oh – and bathrooms! I was really really hungry and insisted on lunch. I could tell BD was feeling a little off. He wasn't very hungry and didn't really want to go indoors but I insisted. In spite of the crowds – and there were plenty of people about, we were seated right away, by a window, where we could watch people walk by, and I had the best meal of the trip! A simply heavenly smoked corn chowder and a half a pastrami sandwich big enough to feed a quarterback.

There are several really lovely places to stay in the GCV and I wished I'd gotten my courage up earlier so that I could have booked something. El Tovar would be my first pick, but Bright Angel Lodge was a close second. Alas, by the time I'd screwed my courage up to actually pick one, all the rooms in our budget range had been booked. In fact, by the time I'd wrapped my brain around the realization that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and yes I can pop for the pricy room, they had all been booked. I didn't realize it was National Park week or that it was the last week of off season travel in the GC. Ahh well. I am a newbie tourist and I'll know better another time.

 Another attraction at GCV was a demonstration of Navaho dancing. We came upon the dancers as they were getting ready and commented on their lovely costumes. They really were pretty, but alas, political correctness has it's tentacles  in everything and evidently the word “costume” among the tribes is taboo. Perhaps they have never heard the expression “native costume” used to describe ethnic dress and only assume that costume means Halloween. When the dancers came on stage the singer gave a rather lengthy lecture on never calling their regalia a costume but instead, tocall it an outfit. I'm glad I didn't pick up on the fact that he was aiming his scold at me and only realized it that night in my hotel room as I thought back over the day. Well. We shall never meet again and I certainly didn't mean to offend but I also think that, while language is important, if one is working with tourists, one should cut them a little slack.

And the dancing was very interesting and the singer told the myth (Hmmm. Is that a taboo word too?) of the eagle. There were once 4 monsters and the people fought them and finally defeated them. The eagle asked for his life and in return promised that he would swoop down to the people, gather up their prayers and then soar up to God to deliver them. A wonderful story and a very convincing dance.

GCV is also where you pick up the Bright Angel trail down into the canyon and yes! I did go down it. Not very far – but a few hundred feet.

These trails are folded with switchbacks and they have no railings along the edge. There are signs that say pedestrians must give way to mules, so you can believe I was glad we never encountered any. Walking west, we had the outside edge of the trail whenever passing anyone, but here I refused the courtesy and clung to the rock wall. I do have vertigo issues – not outrageous ones – but nonetheless, I get a slightly dizzy head walking along a precipice. I discovered very quickly that if I wanted to look out, or even down into the canyon, I had to stop walking, put my back to the rock face and take several deep breaths first. Otherwise, I mostly had to look at the path as I walked. I got through the stone doorway and down to the next jutting point before I had to turn back, but I'm proud to claim I went down into the canyon. It was here the friendly trail guide pointed out the petroglyphs, as we neared the rim of the canyon again.
That's an elk, I'm sure - look at those antlers

 Believe it - that trail looks a heck of a lot narrower when you're on it than it does in this photo! I'm about 100 feet below the top now and, though I'm smiling, I'm also scared. 

By mid-afternoon we continued walking west on the rim trial covering several more miles. At points along the way there are railings where you can step up close to the edge but there are also ledges where you can step out and feel the thrill of danger. Nobody was behaving recklessly, but you could see that some folk were absorbing the sensations of boundlessness that viewing the canyon without any railings offered. I found that as long as there were railings I never minded the sheer drops – and even, now and then, I could go out to a rock ledge. Just never too close to the edge. I liked a little shiver up and down my shins, but I had no desire to be terrified.

At each designated point along the trail a shuttle bus will pick you up and by the time we'd made it to Maricopa Point, I, at least, was ready to hop on. The buses show up every 15 minutes but we found them always crowded. Lots of people visit all the lookout points only by bus. Add to that the tired people who have trekked the paths, and there never did seem to be enough buses. That was, perhaps, the only think lacking in the Grand Canyon. I wonder if they have more of them during the high tourist season which begins today.

As for TheQueen, she was done for the day. We took the red bus back to GCV and the blue bus back to the visitor center and headed out of the park, down 64 to Valle where we picked up 180 that goes southeast through the San Francisco mountains and into Flagstaff. I'd booked a room at the Econo Lodge University because it was so cheap and got such good reviews on Expedia dot com. We weren't disappointed either. Though not a new motel, it was not decrepit. Rather, we got an enormous king size bed in a scrupulously clean room – good TV reception, coffee maker and, bless me, a hair drier! The one bad review this motel got was that it's pillows were “awful” and evidently they took heed, because our pillows were obviously new.

I can't even remember whether we ate dinner anyplace – I didn't make note of it if we did. I am sure I was just flat out exhausted. What I remember was that I slept like a baby, ready to head back for Day 2 at the canyon - which I will tell you about tomorrow. But if you want More Photos - visit me at Flicker dot com, and click on the set Grand Canyon 2011. ( Please leave a comment if the links don't work)