California Dreaming – Day 8 Grand Canyon, Arizona

Michael rose early, perhaps too early, to photo sunrise over the canyon. He walked to the edge in pitch dark and set up his tripod by starlight and headlamp. I am told it was very spooky – especially the idea of walking up the canyon edge in a blanket of darkness.

We headed into the local ‘shopping village’ for a McD’s breakfast – pretty lame. Back at the hotel room we prepped to head out for the day. We hit the entire east bound Desert View Drive alternating waking and taking the shuttle bus (note on the map is post Covid!). Our several stops started with the South Kaibab trail. There is a hike down into the bottom of the canyon but we decided to skip all such trails. The conditions on the trails were still snow and ice covered and given our short time here we preferred to do the top rim. We bussed over to Yaki Point which had just reopened following a ‘jumper’ incident. They were still finishing up the investigation but we were able to access most of the lookout point from the eastern, steepest section.

Next off to Grandview Point where the first tourist hotel was built – a log house. Due to lack of train access in the day, it eventually failed. When another hotel with easier access was built and eliminated the many hour bumpy wagon ride, the first hotel could not survive. There was also a copper mine partway down into the canyon at the ‘horseshoe mesa’. Again, a snow and ice covered trail discouraged us. Hopefully it eventually dissuaded the 2 ill-prepared young guys in their smooth soled runners also.

Moran Point was next for more scenic views and then on to the Tusayan Museum and ruins. We had a personal guided tour of the ruins due to the low volume of tourists who strayed away from the canyon edge. These ruins again dated to the 1200’s and were only used for about 30 years before the inhabitants moved on. Their ancestors believed that they came from the dark canyon depths and that Gods lived in the distant mountain tops (in Flagstaff) which their site had been selected for its view of.

The site had about 30 people, an extended family with their leader. The main building was a circular room accessed thru a ladder which was over the fire. The purpose being to allow the smoke to cleanse the person entering the room. The main building was not the one used for habitation – it was used for significant events such as births, marriages and deaths. But all the buildings had central roof access which also ensured a secure, insect/ vermin free environment and was symbolic of the rising sun every morning. The group moved on after a lengthy drought and also since their beliefs required that they travel N, S, E and then W routinely.

Finally to Desert View watch tower which as built in the 30’s by ‘the lady in pants’ architect. It is very sympathetic to native style and culture. Inside the walls were beautifully decorated with native art. It really is a spectacular tower building on the canyon edge.

On the drive back we encountered a female elk with the entire herd off in the bush roadside. After a short rest at our hotel, we headed to the nearby village for Mexican for dinner where we shared an appetizer and a main. Neither of us have been overly impressed with the food quality nor value – pretty mediocre quality for pretty high prices. The Yavapai Lodge however is great. Much better than the ‘basic’ description it was given. I am guessing the low rating is due to the lack of wifi and TV channels and breakfast – all benefits perhaps!

Tomorrow a last blast around the canyon and then on to our destination – Joshua Tree!!!

California Dreaming – Day 7 travel to Grand Canyon, Arizona

What a fantastic day! We started with a relaxed hotel breakfast. Our drive took us past the entrance to Meteor Crater, aka Barringer Crater – which boasts itself as the largest intact meteor crater on earth. It is a mile across and 500 feet deep. We took the drive into the entrance way, but the only entrance fee was for the full experience and we didn’t feel that we had time to do it justice. They have done a superb job of blocking any view of the crater from outside the museum grounds, so our detour in to the entrance became just that; a detour.

Next stop – Williams, the gateway to the Grand Canyon and the best preserved Route 66 stop. It is a charming place with great character. We had a classic diner lunch a bit early at 11am. We walked around the town where we ran into a woman whose father-in-law in the 1940’s helped build the building we were contemplating. Rum running tunnels were built into the foundations of most of the buildings post prohibition and this building was the only one where the tunnels had not been filled in. They are now used as a cold cellar for storing the booze!

Finally to the Grand Canyon. WOW is the most commonly used word I heard today. Just WOW. I thought I knew what to expect, but just WOW when you are physically there.

It was busy but not crowded – hard to imagine what the busy season must be like. Everywhere there were so many happy and friendly people from all corners of the earth. We walked the rim trail and stayed through sunset. Every turn provided a new vista. The amazing thing is that you approach via flat, non descript land and then BOOM – it’s there. WOW.

We supped at the Yavapai Lodge where we were staying where one meal easily fed us both. With no wifi and no phone service it made for an early bedtime – which was perfect to ensure an early awakening to catch sunrise over the canyon in the morning.

California Dreaming – Day 6 travel to Petrified Forest and stay in Holbrook, Arizona

We left Santa Fe by 7:30am and headed to the Petrified Forest National Park. Michael’s grandfather had been to the Petrified Forest in the 1970’s when they were contemplating retirement in Arizona. He brought back a sample of a petrified tree which Michael has always been enthralled with. Unfortunately the southern end of the park where the best petrified trees are, as well as the ‘crystal cabin’, was inaccessible from the north end due to road work. But not to worry, there were still plenty of amazing sites to see.

We arrived around noon, and after a bowl of soup at the café we headed into the park. We stopped at several ‘look out’ points including the old Route66 car and an ancient ruins village, again from around the mid 13th century (~1250). The village would have housed about 200 people with up to 100 rooms all built in a square. The central area would have been secure and there were many hieroglyphs of their art.

The highlight of the park however was the Blue Mesa trail. We took a short hike through the valley full of fallen petrified trees and amazing views of the stratified hills. The layers were formed over millions of years, each varying in colour based on temperature and the chemical makeup of the rocks. The blue layer is the oldest. As layers erode, the petrified trees become exposed. They are extremely dense and heavy and hard, so it is interesting how they break, or don’t break and often form bridges.

We planned to stay at the nearest town of Holbrook to allow for Michael to get photos’ during the twilight hours. But alas, the park closes at 5pm so although the lighting was fine around 4:30, we were not able to stay for the ‘blue hour’.

Dinner this evening was a mediocre, costly event. We headed to an Italian spot in Holbrook where the food was sub par quality and portion (which was fine!). Dinner ended with an under calculated bill, which I pointed out to the waitress. With little acknowledgement of my generosity, she supplied me with a black pen which proceeded to leak all over the folder for the bills and subsequently my hands.

Not to worry – the next day would bring the Grand Canyon and should be good weather again – was up to 10C today!

California Dreaming – Day 5, near Santa Fe, New Mexico

Finally hiking! Day 5 had us checking out the nearby Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

The tent rocks, or ‘tepees’ as Michael referred to them were an unexpected delight. They are amazing rock formations and the current weather had us scrambling through them having to navigate through patches of snow and ice. And coming from our low lying home, we could certainly feel the altitude. We needed to wind our way through wind formed channels in the rock – sometimes no wider than your shoulders with the walls towering to either side.

The views from the top of the peninsula were spectacular, and the tops of the ‘tepees’ were very interesting – many with their protective cap rocks on. The holes in the sides are a result of bursts of volcanic steam (fumaroles) early in their formation. At the site we also visited a local cave dated back as far as ~1200 which early Native Americans had further carved out and lived in (indicated by the fire soot on the ceiling).

We took some time in the late afternoon to relax and I checked out the local ‘Hobby Lobby’ shop. We had dinner at the adjacent Applebee’s where we played trivia and did quite well. We had a very cheap $27 deal for 2 with 1 appetizer, I had ribs (quite good) and Michael had chicken/seafood combo (not so good).

And today was just a glimpse of the geological wonders to come.

California Dreaming – Day 4, along Route 66 sights to outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico

To escape the Canadian winter, we had left a couple days earlier than originally planned with the thought of taking more time driving down. At some point we decided that we could push through the early driving to get out of potentially poor driving weather, and take a couple days at the Grand Canyon. In hindsight, this was a fantastic decision! Covid stopped us from any return adventures at all.

Day 4 had us push from Oklahoma to New Mexico. The old ‘Route 66’ wound its way back and forth across the new highway 40, and we were drawn to pull off a couple of times for the irresistible sights. Michael captured many of the historic buildings and surrounds with their vibrant graffiti – and yes, they were that colourful!

We popped up to Santa Fe for 2 nights with the hopes of checking out their local artisans and to visit the ‘Tent Rocks’ which Michael had discovered on his photo op research. Unfortunately, it was off season and we arrived too late in the day to check out very many of the artisanal offerings, and the next day was slotted for hiking at a nearby site. Santa Fe was unique, amazing – and COLD! It went down to -10C that night. So walking around town was very chilly with empty streets due to the 5:30pm ‘off season’ shutdown of shops. As luck would have it, the local food promo was in full swing, so there were several dining options for good prices. We passed on the Coyote Café as we were not overly hungry, so could not do it justice. This was a restaurant George & Marucia had visited and met the chef many years back – and I now own the signed cook book which Marucia kindly passed my way. Instead we opted for the $25 option at the Apothecary. We skipped the Oxygen Treatment but enjoyed the ‘Weary Traveler’ tea and fusion food offerings (Pad Thai for Michael, Green Curry for me) which was rounded out with appetizer and dessert – great food and a very good deal!

On to the next day when we finally had a chance to stretch our legs!

California Dreaming – Days 2 & 3 on to West Memphis, Arkansas, then to Clinton, Oklahoma

Sat Feb 23 & Sun Feb 24, 2020

Not much to say except we drove, and drove, and drove! On Saturday after a quick bite at the hotel we were on the road by 8:15am. A quick fill-up stop at Wendy’s for a salad and gas for the car we pushed on to West Memphis, Arkansas just over the border from Memphis Tennessee. Our only screw up of the day was using Hotel Tonight to book a hotel which incorrectly was marked as being in West Memphis but in fact was in Texas. They do not make it easy to resolve incorrect bookings on their website – no human interaction is intended! After much frustrating communication which was compounded by our sh*!#$ phone card, I was finally able to get the phone number for the booking site from the hotel staff. I could not get a refund, but managed to at least get a credit for a future booking. In the meantime we landed at a Quality Inn which was not great but just fine. Had dinner at a local Mexican chain where the meals were also quite fine. The $0.99 Marguerites certainly helped.

Sunday was another drive day with a quick breakfast and we were on the road by 7:30am. More drive thru’s at Wendy’s and McD’s along with gas stops filled the day. We did pass a few interesting sites including out of commission oil rig and many cattle, not to mention a surplus of casinos on native lands. The day wrapped up with another Mexican meal which was very good and very affordable.

Our phone frustrations continued. It was quite ‘fun’ to start receiving US election spam as soon as we crossed borders though (check out the photo)! After endless drops from Michael’s 6 year old phone, we switched the phone card to my phone which improved reception marginally.

By end of Sunday we had travelled 1,670 miles (2,688 km).

California Dreaming – Day 1 travel to Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

So one year later, I am going to attempt to post our truncated vacation experience to Joshua Tree. I started to create the postings upon our return, but never did get it done for many reasons. So time to get down to it!

We were unable to complete our wish list of sites to see, and hope to return someday to experience it all. But as this article describes, even if we return, it may never be the same. Just as Canadians are flocking out of the cities with the pandemic, so are the Hollywood crowd to Joshua Tree and surrounds. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/were-getting-out-of-l-a-and-going-to-joshua-tree-why-the-desert-area-is-booming.

So here it is, one year on.

Friday February 21, 2020

Little did we know this would turn out to be a less than routine vacation! We could not have dreamt this type of Californication! But that all happens later….

Our journey actually started on day 0 with the 276 km drive to Burlington for a pre-trip visit with Mike’s parents and a birthday book delivery to Dan (finally!!). We rose early on Friday, Feb 21 (day 1) and were out the door before 7 am, without even waking George & Marucia. As was to become our pattern, Michael drove the first couple of hours, then we switched drivers. I crossed the border smoothly into Michigan which took about 10 – 15 minutes. It was a perfect driving day with lots of sun and light traffic. We did manage to hit Cincinnati about 3:30 pm for Friday rush hour but even that was mild.

We purchased a ROAM mobility card for use in the states – and it seemed to suck! We had very poor reception using Michael’s One-plus (which is now 6 years old, so that is a bit suspect). Unfortunately despite my research, the reception was quite spotty. I’m not sure what provider may be better??? At this point it was ‘ok’ for navigation, and luckily our route was straight forward. But internet communication is not dependable. Wifi at accommodations will be necessary!

We lunched in Dayton, Ohio just past Toledo where we found a great Pho spot. We filled up with diesel and after another driver swap we were on to Cinci’ where we swapped again. We almost stopped at the Armstrong Space Museum there (Neil Armstrong’s home town), but it was 3pm so we decided to skip as the museum would likely close and we wanted to push on.

Our ‘in flight entertainment’ consisted mostly of podcasts which we had previously downloaded. I had selected ‘Habitat’ the Mars simulation in Hawaii, and Michael ‘The Office Girls’ re-watch podcast by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. Both were engaging and entertaining. Our driving did take us through some weather with interesting skies including rainbow entertainment also (see next post for the photos).

We used HotelTonight the app Michael had found for last minute hotel bookings to book our first night. It was $100 Cdn+tax for a King room with breakfast, so reasonable – but the same price as other sites. The staff were great and very helpful – especially in picking our dinner spot.

We went to the local favourite, Greyhound Tavern which was a splurge. The onion rings were insane! 5 inches around and 2 inches thick monsters! The pecan crusted chicken was excellent and the spinach salad was well done. We added a couple of local draft beers which were also very good. It was a nice dinner binge, but we can’t keep this up for both the waistline and the pocketbook!

Heading back to the hotel, we decided to skip a stop at the PEECOX bar across the street and opted instead for some TV time with cookies from the lobby.

757km under our tires today…. more tomorrow so early rise on the alarm.