A pilgrimage to the golden arches

Friends are always asking where we’re traveling next. Several contemplate joining us somewhere on the road. A few actually plunge in and show up, ready to travel along with us.

Californians, Carolyn and Robert, joined us a few weeks ago at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and continued on to Canyonlands National Park with us. DeAnne and John drove west from Colorado to join us in Moab, Utah. We had grown from two of us to six to visit Arches National Park.

Certainly the lure of National Parks and the golden arches of Utah added to the appeal of a camping trip with friends.   Photo: Double Arch.

Carolyn and Robert walked through a narrow canyon to reach…

…one of the smallest arches we saw but one that had a powerful, spiritual feel in the enclosed space: Sand Dune Arch.

Another day, another hike, and on this outing we headed off to see just how many arches we could see. Everywhere we looked rock formations loomed, the snowy Lo Sal peaks glistened, and lizards scurried across the path.

Wildflowers frequently lined the path, and we tried to limit our photo stops to new-to-us plants. (Otherwise, how would we have gotten anywhere?)

Some arches loomed as massive, almost permanent, structures that required us to stand at some distance to appreciate them.

Other arches provided the perfect setting for portrait photography. John and DeAnne obliged.

The beauty of the park and the accessibility of so many arches within walking range defined a great travel destination. The time we all spent together was a true gift. We think we speak for our group of six when we tell you the trip was a great success.

At day’s end we headed back to Up the Creek Campground, our home while in Moab.

Travelers might want to gather a few friends and make their own pilgrimage to the golden arches. It worked for six of us.


May 2017

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Better than expected

We reviewed the photos we’d taken on our first three days at Canyonlands National Park/Needles District. It was our last morning there. Somehow the collection seemed incomplete. We’d missed taking some iconic, “big” scenery images. You know what we mean: the magnificent, striated reddish rock walls under a bright blue sky….

We still had time though. We saved the last few daylight hours on our last day for the task.   A ranger at the visitor center directed us to the right place to go for photography at dusk: head for the amphitheater at the campground, then climb the steps up to a rocky lookout facing east.

The late afternoon sky turned dark as we drove through the park. We saw a flash of lightening far in the distance. Our first thought was, “The storm will ruin our chance to take photographs.” But as the sky turned darker and darker, we started to think of the possibilities. Was there any way we could actually capture a lightening bolt in one of our photos? It was worth trying.

We got to the amphitheater and threw on our rain jackets. The sky grew quite dark, and the wind picked up as we climbed the steps to the top of the rocks. It hadn’t started to rain yet which was a surprise. The lightening continued to flash every few minutes many miles away over distant mesas.

We each tried our own method for capturing lightening in a photograph: Joe took panorama photos of the sky, one after another; Beth snapped continuous images of the most likely spot on the horizon.

After many, many photos – Beth got the first photo of lightening. We ended up taking 271 photos to achieve that photo! Joe’s pano strategy didn’t work.

A few rain drops started to fall, and we decided to duck into the car and head back to the campground.

All of a sudden the rain stopped, and the almost setting sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the rock walls and landscape to our east.

A minute later a magnificent double rainbow appeared.

The next day we reviewed over 300 images taken in less than 20 minutes the evening before – and made a surprising discovery.

Hidden in all the images was a second photo of lightening!

Well, it would have been nice to get a few “iconic” shots of Canyonlands, but our photo session up on that rock thrilled us, and those images of lightening will bring back great memories. We’d say we did better than expected.


May 2017

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Preparation required

Some travel destinations are easy. You pack; you go. All is so simple when you arrive. Take this advice from us: do your homework before you take a trip to Canyonlands National Park (Needles and Maze Districts).

Canyonlands, located in southern Utah, is all about rocks…piles and piles of rocks in wonderful formations.

It’s a park with stunning scenery, but it’s also remote and has limited facilities. That’s where the homework comes in.

There is no lodge, and the camping facilities in the park are very limited and fill up quickly. We saw a woman banging on the door of the Visitor Center in the late afternoon wanting to get a camping site. The visitor center had closed at 4:30pm, and she was frantic. We told her what we had learned about the two campgrounds outside the park, which are also small and limited.   She raced off to snag one.

Many parks have small towns nearby, but not Canyonlands’ Needles or Maze Districts). So, there is no dashing outside the park to grab a restaurant meal and no internet cafes. This is a park that is best to arrive at fully provisioned.

Need a shower after a hot hike? None are available within the park.

Cave Spring was one of only 4 short hikes in the “easy” category in Canyonlands’ Needles District.   Those 4 hikes only add up to less than 4 miles.

Be warned that Canyonlands National Park is part of a large desert region on the Colorado. Plateau. It’s dry and dusty. Summertime temperatures can be 100 degrees F. Imagine doing a strenuous hike in those conditions? We think our trip in early May was already hot enough.

We saw very few birds in the park and only several deer. Lizards were everywhere.

Were we prepared? Well, we did have a reservation at a campground just outside the park. It was very hot and dusty, but the little campground store had showers and every day after a long hike we purchased popsicles for 50 cents each. We arrived at the park with a relatively full tank of gas and lots of food, so in that way, we were prepared for our four-day visit.

We hiked to an overlook with a sliver view of the Colorado River. No matter where we looked in Canyonlands, the beauty of the rock formations made us glad we’d traveled to get here.

Canyonlands National Park (Needles and Maze Districts) is well worth a visit, but careful pre-planning – or lack of it – could make or break this trip.


May 2017

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The painted trail

We wanted to take a good long walk, but there was only one hiking trail in the entire national park. Really?! It seemed impossible that there would only be one, and that one would be a short trail: 2.5 miles (4 km) roundtrip with 600 foot (183 m) descent. Since there was no choice really, we parked at the overlook in Canyon de Chelly National Monument and started down.

What a surprise! The path was mostly a winding rock ramp with really spectacular views the entire way down. The easier-than-expected walk led to the White House Ruins.

The Ancient Puebloans lived in the White House between 1060 AD and 1275 AD. By 1300 AD a drought forced the Ancient Puebloans to leave the canyon.

As we photographed the ruins, we experimented with the watercolor setting on Beth’s camera, a Sony Cybershot RX100 II. The landscape, the ruins, and the place just begged to be “painted.”

We then photographed the White House Ruins from a different perspective, using the camera’s regular manual settings for comparison. Somehow, the standard style just didn’t work as well for us.

Since we had decided to take most of our photos on the way back up the trail as a way to take breaks and get a little rest, the camera setting stayed on watercolor. Now, looking back at our photos, we think the day took on a romanticized look.

The canyon walls rise up 600 feet from the sandy wash.

The flowing Chinle Wash runs through the canyon and small trees flourish, including some old peach trees. Still, it is hot at the bottom and cacti also thrive.

Huge red entrada sandstone boulders dotted the bowl.

Almost at the top of the trail we saw one lone yucca plant wedged against the stone wall in afternoon shade. The color of the lush flower against the deep red canyon wall was the reward at the end of the hike.

Generally, when we take photographs, we just snap and don’t really think of matching a photography style to the occasion. In the case of the hike to the White House Ruins, we think our choice of a “painting” style matched the occasion.

A further note: Navajos still live in Canyon de Chelly so access to visitors is limited. That might explain the limitation to one hiking trail.


May 2017

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The little-known Canyon de Chelly

Raise your hand if you know Canyon de Chelly. Almost no one we know has any idea what it is or where it is, but we think it’s a worthy travel destination to consider. Canyon de Chelly (d’Shay) is a National Monument located within the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. The closest town is Chinle. The Basketweaver people occupied the canyon five thousand years ago. Since then, Ancestral Puebloan people (formerly called Anasazi), Hopi, and Navajo have lived in the canyon.

We drove along the south rim of the canyon in the late afternoon and stopped at overlooks, like this one to observe Spider Rock, an 750-foot spire.

There is only one hiking trail in the National Monument. It drops down into the canyon to view the White House Ruins. The only other way to get down into the canyon itself is by jeep or horseback, led by a Navajo guide. We chose the 4-hour jeep tour with our friends, Carolyn and Robert.

The jeep drove on rough roads, as well as through the Chinle Wash, to take us to a series of historic ruins.

The first ruin we saw was appropriately named First Ruin.

Almost all the ruins had petroglyphs (rock art) on the sheer walls nearby. The petroglyphs were carved or painted by the people who lived in the canyon – first the Basketweavers, then the Ancestral Puebloans, followed by the Hopi, and Navajo. The petroglyphs, though sometimes separated by centuries, were often side-by-side.

Our guide, Don, mentioned that we could make a detour to a weaver who lived in the intersecting Canyon del Muerto. Katherine Paymella greeted us and escorted us into her hogan for a demonstration of the steps to make a finished woven piece. She raised her own sheep and used the wool for her weaving.

Her loom was set up with finished pieces for sale draped over the top.

She demonstrated how she prepared the wool and her weaving technique. Her designs are her own, based on intuition but also tradition.

If you are wondering, yes, we wanted to buy the small piece in the middle of the photo. So did our friends. Who would get it? Fortunately, there was another rug, similar to the one we’d all chosen. We each paid for a rug and then “flipped a coin.” Carolyn and Robert won. Ah, the memories and stories we will be able to tell about our Navajo-woven rug!

We had one more demonstration in the canyon and this involved handmade arrows and a cottonwood-carved atlatl (spear-thrower).

We had always assumed Indians all used bows to shoot arrows. One of the Navajo guides showed us his skill in using the atlatl to hurl the arrows quite some distance toward his target.

We thought a four-hour tour would be quite long enough to see the sites in Canyon de Chelly, but maybe we should have taken a longer tour? There was just so much to see.


May 2017

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Time in Tucson

We never feel guilty about all the wonderful things we know we missed at a travel destination. There is no way to do it all. Better to have a leisurely pace and enjoy what you can do. It’s enough. Family visits often leave even less time for exploring the area, but, during our week in Tucson with some of Beth’s family, we managed to see a few memorable sights….

…like street art. Who doesn’t love walking down a street and seeing artwork which blends in with the buildings and the neighborhood.

This was one person’s solution for what to do with a tree stump on a busy city street. Glorious colors!

We walked into an appealing shop, Santa Theresa Tile Works, and discovered that we could make our own creations, using many little tiles in all shapes, colors and sizes. Beth and her sister-in-law, Pat, spent a few creative hours choosing tiles and creating their own works.

We didn’t want to miss the March for Science. People in so many places gathered that day, and we wanted to be counted in that number. As soon as we arrived in town, we headed for the downtown plaza to join the gathered crowd.

Beth’s brother, Jim, suggested we visit San Xavier del Bac, founded in 1692. The church is just south of downtown on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation.

Afterwards we sat nearby in the shade on a very hot afternoon, eating Navajo fried bread purchased from a vendor.   A unique Southwestern experience….

Tohono Chul Park was one of our last stops. The gardens were pleasant to stroll through, and we appreciated things we don’t see in most places – like this 4,650-pound azurite and malachite.

The most exciting moment at the park was seeing a large snake slither across the path, and, as it approached a hole in the ground at the base of a tree, a mouse leaped out to safety. The mouse literally flew into the air in its attempt to get away from the snake. We guessed the mouse had sought just that place for a little shade on a hot day.

We enjoyed Tucson and had a good visit with family. Now, it was time to start our drive north for some camping in a more rugged area. Stay tuned…


April 2017

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Endangered and in danger

If we were to rate museums – one of our all-time favorites is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Our first visit – four years ago – was memorable, but we ran out of time to see everything. This time we were determined to have plenty of time for all the exhibits and to beat the heat expected to climb to 90 degrees. Our group of 8 extended family members arrived as the museum opened at 7:30am.

Nine-year old Michaela was quite taken with a great blue heron, convalescing from a broken leg.

Everywhere we walked, the paths were lined with cactus and native flowers. (It was hard to keep moving. We wanted to photograph just about everything.)

This iguana beauty, named the San Esteban chuckwalla, is from a small Mexican island in the Gulf of California and lives nowhere else in the world in the wild. Local island people hunted them, and they are now an endangered species. They do have an interesting way of protecting themselves: “When disturbed, the chuckwalla wedges itself into a tight rock crevice, gulps air, and inflates its body to entrench itself.”

In the aviary we saw a bird we’d never seen before. We asked a volunteer and were told it was a type of quail called the masked bobwhite. Really? It wasn’t listed in either of our bird books.   So, what was it?

When we googled the masked bobwhite, we discovered that the bird is functionally extinct, and the last birds may only live now in protected spaces.

We read an article from “The Arizona Republic” recounting all the methods used by scientists to save this species for over 40 years. We wondered if this would be our last sighting of a living masked bobwhite?

Predators abound for these species, so we thought it odd that, just a few moments after we saw the masked bobwhite, we spotted a snake in a nearby tree in the same aviary.

Two doves in the same tree were squawking in alarm at the presence of the snake. One of the doves was on a nest, and we decided that either the eggs or baby chicks were what the snake was looking for.

But where was the snake’s head? It appeared near the base of the tree in the separation between the two trunks.

We watched the snake for a while and then got distracted by some hummingbirds nearby. A few minutes later, two of the museum’s staff were seen looking for the very same snake, which had found its way into the enclosure, despite fine mesh all around. They were anxious to find the snake and remove it. We showed them where we’d seen it just moments before, but it had completely disappeared from view.

When we left they were still searching.



April 2017

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