Sunday, October 25, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park

Finally the unsettled weather broke, we had no rain in the day's forecast and nothing but blue skies on tap.  Ron has his Senior National Parks Pass and we are ready to enjoy one of America's most scenic National Parks (and one of our favorites).  Our first visit to the Grand Canyon was in 1984 and our last one in 1998.  Again, we were surprised at all the expansion and changes for the Park in the last 13 years.  Most notably was the new shuttle bus transit system now used to transport visitors to some of the lesser known scenic viewpoints as well as to some of the most popular ones.  We saw an updated Visitor Center, improved walkways and a lot more tourists.  However, one important thing has not least as far as we could tell..the spectacular views!

We drove about 80 miles from Flagstaff, therefore it was about noon when we arrived.   Photos to describe the depth of the canyons, rock colors and formations are best created with early morning or evening shadows.

Gorgeous views are everywhere.  Eye candy for the artist!
"Please don't get too close to the edge Ronnie."

A view of the popular viewpoint, Mather Point.

I took way too many photographs.

One addition to the Visitor Center we really liked were the television screens that played taped video corresponding to the location of the Colorado River as it traveled through the canyon.  It gave you an idea of the landscape, the sheer scope of those canyon walls and the powerful force of the river water.

We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Arizona Room, strolled along the Rim Trail, enjoyed an ice cream cone, canyon watched..and people watched.

We rode one of the shuttle buses out to Powell Point.  Great, the late afternoon shadows are starting to create better visual depth for the canyons.

El-Tovar, a classic place we just had to visit one more time.  The interior of the lobby is stunning with it's black log walls.

Don't let this photo concern you, I'm not standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. I'm close to the edge of a rock ledge that's not far off the ground.  Several folks were taking photos here..safely.

The Grand Canyon has to be one of our most favorite places visited..ever.

I barely made the sunset view at Mather Point before my camera battery died.

More later..

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Sedona Sampler

The weather in Arizona has been unsettled for the past several days.  Lately, we have experienced thunderstorms, hail, sleet, overcast rainy days and some chilly night time temperatures.  We are enjoying our stay in Flagstaff yet there are still a few points of interest that are on our list to visit while we're here.  Sedona, a town surrounded by surreal red rock formations, was one place we wanted to revisit.  Our first trip there was a brief stay in the summer of 2001.  No doubt, we were surprised at how much this town has grown since that last visit.  Sunny, blue sky days make for the best photographs of the red rock formations and since our weather has been cloudy and rainy our day's visit was with limited sunshine.
Oak Canyon Scenic Drive and Oak Creek Canyon Vista Point
Oak Creek Canyon Vista Point's view of the very curvy road leading to the bottom of the canyon.

Once you reach Sedona, you're greeted by the towering red rock formations..and traffic.

Clouds on both days of our trip didn't give us the best photo opportunities.  Still, the cliffs and surrounding landscapes are just beautiful.

 The unexpected and visually striking architecture of the Chapel of the Holy Cross catches your attention as it sits against the red rock cliffs.

We started out driving the Schnebly Hill Road, said to be one of Sedona's most scenic.  Ron drove 2 miles in an hour's time before turning around.  The road surface can only be described as teeth-rattling and rock-exposed.. not for our Jeep.

The bumpy drive did however give us a little experience of the red rock back country.  We drove on to the town of Cottonwood, enjoyed lunch, then drove up the hillside to visit the small mining town of Jerome.  Again, we were so surprised at the growth of this tiny town.  Our memorable visit in 2001 of one restaurant, a few artist studios and some rundown buildings was way different from this trip.  Jerome now has souvenir shops, more artist galleries, a hotel, wine tastings, restaurants and... that same unbelievable view of the Verde Valley.

A roadside view, north of the town of Jerome.  You can see Sedona at the foot of the red rock formations and Cottonwood in the Verde Valley.

We also enjoyed a ride on the Scenic Chairlift at the Arizona Snow Bowl.  The ski lift takes you to the top of the San Francisco Peaks with what is suppose to be sweeping views.  The aspen were colorful but our view was ..well..cold, misty and cloudy.  In spite of being cold and damp, we still enjoyed a memorable trip to the top of the mountain.

More later..

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Exploring The Flagstaff Area

Flagstaff will be our home base for the next couple of weeks.  Our campground has tall ponderosa pines, it is quiet and convenient to many services.  Located on Route 66 and close to downtown Flagstaff, it's also centrally located to many of the places we are interested in exploring.  One of the first places we wanted to check out was the 
and the 
Both Monuments have very interesting and informative Visitor Centers.
When you enter the Sunset Crater National Monument, you immediately notice the dormant volcano.  It is estimated the eruption occurred somewhere around 1040.
The barren landscape looks surreal with few plants and trees that survive in the harsh rock and soil.  That's Ronnie in the lower, right corner.
The Loop Road, through both parks, winds around the lava fields and provides for an interesting drive.
The lava flow came from the base of the volcano.
There are hiking trails and visitors are strongly encouraged to stay on them.  Walking around all those sharp lava rock can be dangerous.

The Loop Road that travels around the dormant volcano also transports you to the Wapatki National Monument.  It's about an18 mile drive through lava fields and dry, desert land. There are some groves of juniper and pinion pines along with low scrub brush.  These Ruins are believed to be the home of "Ancestral Puebloans", ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people.  These puebloans were excellent masons.  Archaeologists estimate these ruins were built around 1100, shortly after the eruption of the nearby volcano.
It is suspected that this ruin could have had as many as 100 rooms.
The pathway around the ruins allows for a good up close view of the rooms and the masonry work.

You can even walk inside some of the rooms.

Interesting how they worked their bricks around that rock.
This ball field was also built by the pueblo people.

Further down the Loop Road one can see more ruins, some of which have not been excavated or explored.  One that is available for public view is the Wukoki Ruin.

You can also walk around and explore the interior of these rooms as well.

This pottery, recently excavated in 2009, is evidence that this area still holds much to be learned about the Ancestral Puebloans.

Another site we were interested in visiting was the Lowell Observatory.  We selected a clear day to visit because your ticket also gets you into the evening telescope viewing activities.  The Lowell Observatory is most noted for the discovery of the planet Pluto.  We learned a lot about this event as well as the exciting news of the New Horizons Space Probe that has just flown by Pluto.  
We were able to see the sun through a specialized telescope.
The Rotunda Museum held many interesting photographs and exhibits.  We found this Michelin Tire, from the Space Shuttle, that was made in Norwood, North Carolina.  Who knew??

This is the Pluto Telescope Dome, built in 1902.
We were allowed to touch and even move the astrograph (a type of telescope employed to exclusively take pictures).  This is the scientific instrument, located in the Pluto Telescope Dome, that was used to photograph Pluto.
Our guide, Emily was very knowledgeable.  She holds a degree in astrophysics.  Here, she is showing us the film plate and where it was placed on the astrograph.  It was here that Pluto was first seen as a dot of light.
The Clark Telescope Dome was built in 1896.
The 119 year old Clark Telescope 

We were fortunate that this restored, historical telescope was available for their evening telescope viewing open house.  Ron and I were able to view a nebula that was 7500 light years away.  The Lowell Observatory had other telescopes out for night viewing too.  We were able to see the planet Saturn and the Andromeda Galaxy.

To the left, Hubble Telescope's
view of Pluto.  To the right,
New Horizon's view of
the planet Pluto.

More later..