Saturday, May 11, 2019

Eight days in Arizona

(Virginia and Bill at Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona)

Over the winter I researched southwest U.S. options for our 2019 trip, because I hoped to visit Native American cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and red rock country. I forwarded my proposed itinerary to Bill.  I knew he would approve.  After all, he had been a cultural anthropology major in college.

In April, we flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove north.  We began with Montezuma's Castle National Monument, a partially-restored cliff dwelling in the Verde Valley.  Between 600 and 1000 years ago, the dwelling was 5 stories high and housed a community of 150-200 Sinagua people. Below the cliff, the Beaver River offered water and a flood plain for farming.

Near the Visitor Center, a man played an Indian flute. The serene music floated through the site on this beautiful 70-degree sunny day.

(Montezuma's Castle)

From the castle, we drove to nearby Montezuma's Well.  This amazing pond comes from an underground flow of water to a spring here which fills the pond with 1.5 million gallons of water each day.  From the pond, the water briefly goes back underground and comes out into Beaver Creek where it added to the life-blood of the Native American communities.

Because the pond is isolated between the influx and outflow of water, it is home to five species of aquatic life that exist nowhere else in the world.  I thought this small area of water, caught in time, was fascinating as well as beautiful.  Having visited the castle and the well, we became very aware of Arizona's historic and ongoing need to be water-thrifty.

(Montezuma's Well)

We had had an eventful day so Bill chose to relax at our lodging, where he researched dining options on his phone.  It was too early for me to settle in, so I picked one of many appealing hikes for a late-afternoon activity.

Earlier, I had run into a couple of people who recommended hiking the Chapel Trail to Chicken Point, set farther into Sedona's iconic red rock terrain.  According to the couple, teenagers would drive jeeps up to the point from a road on the far side, and dare each other on the rock ledge, playing chicken.  They did not tell me if anyone had been killed doing this and I didn't ask....

(The Chapel Trail leads into the red rock terrain)

Western trails are such a treat for those of us who come from the Northeast.  This root-free hazard-free trail of red sand made it possible for me to keep my eyes on the view that changed with every turn. Eventually, I could see a rock shelf above me and hear voices. I followed the trail around the biggest rocks and scrambled up a few smaller boulders.

By the time I arrived at Chicken Point, I had the place to myself.  An open panorama of rocks and cliffs going far in both directions greeted me.  Sedona is famous as a film location for mid-twentieth century western movies.  I could imagine a lone film cowboy on his horse here at Chicken Point scanning the wide horizon.

(The rounded red rock of Chicken Point)

Our next adventure in what I began to call "our study of Native American agrarian culture" was Tuzigoot National Monument, the largest and best-preserved pueblo ruin of the Sinagua. On a hilltop overlooking the Verde Valley, this structure was once three stories high.

(Tuzigoot is on a high hill overlooking the Verde Valley)

Besides the Verde River not far away, this agrarian community had a marsh.  I looked into the distance, seeing nothing, and thought the marsh must already be dry even in April.  Still, we walked the trail to an overlook, reading the signs and admiring the wildflowers. One of the descriptive plaques talked about birds, otters, herons, and other water animals that lived in the marsh. I was skeptical. Herons, otters, really?? At that moment, a heron flew over my head!  With renewed effort, we were able to distinguish water from the field.  Even this small water body had provided the Sinagua with a more varied and healthy diet.

(Tuzigoot National Monument)

Thanks to tour books I had perused over the winter, I expected that the town of Jerome would be a fun place to visit and a perfect lunch location after our morning at Tuzigoot.  Jerome, once a copper mining village, and now in the process of renovation as an artist community, has a bohemian character.

(Jerome is built on a steep hill)

We walked many streets that rose steeply up the hillside and found the Flatiron, a tour-book suggested lunch spot.  Just four tables and a short counter alongside the kitchen filled the room.  A few people seemed to know one another and conversation covered events around town, current creative projects, and personal stories about friends and family.  In such a small place, privacy was impossible so I enjoyed overhearing the others' chats...and the food was good too!

(The old western town of Jerome)

I was excited about our final Native American location, the Palatki Heritage Site.  Reservations were required, so I had called the previous day.  During miles of driving through inhospitable terrain, we were surprised that motorhome campsites were filled on these desolate dirt roads.  In contrast, when we came upon Palatki, beautiful red rocks and lush green foliage were a welcome relief.

As part of a small group, we were directed up red rock stairways to the largely unimproved cliff dwelling where a docent met us.  This dwelling had had 9 rooms and housed about 40 people. To our amazement, we learned that the entire extended community here eventually grew to 8000 or 10,000 people!

The possibility that the community outgrew this location may be one reason why it left the area. When the docent showed us the small size of the foods that grew here, we knew that such a large community would need a lot of good farmland.

(Palatki's cliff dwelling)

From the cliff dwelling, we walked back down and up to a different cliff area where a docent showed us a grotto and petroglyphs. The oldest human marks here are lines made about 10,000 years ago. Other drawings are about 1000 years old.

The docent pointed out diamond markings that represented a snake.  Drawings blackened by fire are thought to be the creation story.  The docent admitted that experts do a lot of guesswork when they try to identify the drawings' meanings.

(Blackened drawings are possibly the creation story)

In the early 1920s, a homesteader came to this property, built a house and planted an orchard.   Even today, some of the trees still produce apples, pears, apricots, and quince.  Small streams and the sudden heavy thunderstorms brought water to the communities, but enough for fruit trees to grow for 100 years?  The docent said, "This summer I want to taste a quince."

(Petroglyphs at Palatki)

Before we left Sedona for our next lodging in Oak Creek Canyon, we had one more place to visit, Red Rock State Park.  When we drove to the park's entrance station, the attendant told us, “This is a hiking park, not a driving park.”  Perfect!

Bill had mapped out a 4-mile perimeter route that covered most of the park. Like so many trails, these were red sandy dirt with few rocks and no roots to trip over. Switchbacks and occasional stone steps made the hiking easy. Alongside of the trails, I saw numerous wildflowers in the morning sun, as well as a great variety of evergreens and desert plants.

(Northeasterners like me crave smooth trails like this one at Red Rock State Park)

We reached a summit called the Eagle's Nest where we could see now-familiar mountains and rock formations in the distance. A side trail led us to the House of Apache Fires, built in the 1940s by a TWA airlines executive and his wife. Even though the house was fenced off, we could see enough to imagine how the owners would have entertained celebrities and wealthy friends on this stunning promontory with its patio barbecue and terraces.  Another trail took us to the green grasses and trees bordering the creek and to a bridge back to the parking lot.

(Red Rock State Park, Sedona)

I was thrilled with our little place in Oak Creek canyon, with its tiny balcony looking down on the creek and views of surrounding canyon walls.  When I asked the owner about hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek Trail, he emphasized a few times that we would not find parking at the trailhead unless we went very early.  "What do you mean by early?" I asked. "8:00?"  "8:00 at the latest," he said. The next morning, we were out of the house by 7:15 and on the trail at 7:25.  We had no problem finding parking.

(Stunning views in Oak Creek Canyon)

The 3.3 mile trail with its 13 stream crossings would take us to a canyon pool, the end of the maintained trail. When we began, the sun had not yet risen over the top of the canyon walls.  After a while, it filtered down to the creek, lighting up the rock and sparkling on the water.

Every bend in the trail offered a new view.  White sandy limestone beaches edged the creek's curves and wildflowers grew in the woods. A small white butterfly with orange on the edges of its wings fluttered as it settled on a flower.

When the trail became more rugged, we knew we must be near the pool. Towering red rock encircled the small water body. I took my boots off and sat on a rock with my feet in the water.  I wondered how long ago this water had had ice in it -- my ankles ached with cold!

(Fascinating cliff formations in Oak Creek Canyon)

The next day we were up and out early again, heading to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some years ago, we had visited the North Rim. We had been satisfied with our Grand Canyon experience. The North Rim was gorgeous. Still, with the South Rim only an hour and a half drive away, we figured we should check it out.

(The Grand Canyon near and far)

We were struck by the magnificence of the canyon, as far as the eye could see. We walked to the next overlook and then alternated between walking and taking the shuttle. The canyon from the south rim was so vast that the view varied little from point to point.

(A portion of the Colorado River winds through the canyon)

We walked a short section of the famous Bright Angel trail that would eventually lead to the canyon floor. The trail begins with numerous switchbacks as it descends the steep terrain.

Back on the rim, we could see the Colorado River and its rapids far below and deep in the rocks.  The Colorado River is barely visible from the North Rim, so I had looked forward to seeing it here. Visiting both rims gave us a greater sense of the Grand Canyon's magnificence.

(Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail)

On our last day, we did not have to get up and out early.  It was nice to turn on our gas faux woodstove and move slowly into the day.

By mid-morning, I decided to hike the Harding Springs trail that would go up the side of the canyon to the top of the rock. The short trail had the usual switchbacks, a steady but not awfully strenuous uphill, and views along the way. Weather was cool “sweater” weather, perfect for hiking.

In only 30 minutes, I reached a summit meadow.  I glanced around hoping to see elk or deer, but I was alone.  I continued to a rocky overlook where I admired Oak Creek Canyon views both north and south.  I shouted across the valley, hoping for an echo, but my voice did not come back to me. I was thrilled to fit this hike in on our final day.

(Indian Garden in Sedona)

When I returned to our lodging, Bill had decided that we would take a drive back through Sedona and eat at the Indian Garden Market and Cafe where we had stopped a few days earlier.  Indian Garden is surrounded by mountains and has a backyard patio under the trees. What an oasis!

Back at our lodging as evening fell, brilliant stars filled the sky above the creek.  Then the 2/3 moon came up over the mountain top and outshone the stars.

In the morning, we would be out early to begin our drive back to Phoenix airport and home.