Sunday, January 2, 2011

Snowy Arizona

Got back last night from a week in Arizona, which is a state I've decided I need to spend a lot more time in.  All things considered, the trip worked out pretty miraculously.  Having stood through the longest check-in lines I've ever seen at BWI, we made it to our gate at 6:59 for a 7:00 flight, one of the last flights off the east coast before the impending snow began to shut everything down.  Arriving in Phoenix, we even found that our bags had arrived with us, despite the extra waiver the airline had made us sign due to our late checking.  From that point, the week continued to be filled with instances of fortunate timing, whether intentional on our part or not.

Driving north from Phoenix to Prescott, we stayed with family for the first few days while making day trips out from there.  Much as we had narrowly missed the East Coast snow, the weathermen were predicting a large mid-week snowstorm in that part of Arizona, giving us two days to figure out what we really wanted to see before the roads became too bad.  We drove the first day up to Sedona, stopping along the way in Jerome to visit Caduceus Cellars, a winery owned by Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Puscifer.  The wine was good, especially the dry reds, and it was a nice change from the overly sweet wines of the places we've visited near the Great Lakes.  While parking was a pain, it's worth the stop for anyone passing through town.

Continuing on to Sedona, I was amazed at my first sight of the town.  While the main streets had the tourist trap feel of Estes Park in the summer, the red rocks rising in every direction made the crowds easy to overlook.  Running short of daylight and wanting to get out for a walk, we drove down to the base of Bell Rock and hiked most of the way up.  Bell Rock is supposed to be one of the area's four major vortexes,  places where the earth's electromagnetic energy are particularly focused.  As a result, many of the people who walk there do so for meditation, or simply in an attempt to "feel" the energy.  But whether going there for metaphysical reasons or just to see the sights, it was one of the most gorgeous short hikes I've ever taken, and I found myself literally giggling as I walked because I was so amazed at what was around me. 

Emily walking up Bell Rock

Emily looking toward Courthouse Butte

Looking out toward town
Coming down from Bell Rock, we made a quick stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Catholic church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built up on a platform of rock, with huge glass window in front to allow views over the valley.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Inside the chapel
The next day we made our way up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  Even having seen it from the air, I was totally unprepared for the experience of seeing it from the rim.  I quickly found that I lost any concept of distance when looking in, and was overwhelmed by how much there was to see.  And that was just from any one spot along a 277 mile canyon!  Walking along the rim trail, I particularly enjoyed the fact that they had rocks from each layer on display for us to see and touch as we walked, giving us a much better understanding of what we were looking at.  Not to mention making me almost drool at times as I felt some of the rocks and imagined climbing entire cliffs of them.  After a couple miles of spectacular views, we decided to walk down into the canyon a bit along the Bright Angel trail.  While criticized as the most touristy of the canyon's trails, it was well worth the few minutes we spent on it, and I loved how the views changed as we walked, now seeing the canyon simultaneously from both above and below.  We were short on time though, and Emily's mom wanted to show us the her favorite views from the eastern end, so we walked back up and made the drive just in time to see the rocks glowing a spectacular red in the final light of day. 

Walking along the rim trail

Another view from the rim trail

Mather Point

Sunset at Desert View

The next morning we started south toward Tucson just as the snow began.  In another instance of fortunate timing, we pulled off I-17 to use a gas station restroom, and saw the sign for fresh baked pies at Rock Springs Cafe.  Deciding that their restroom would serve our purposes just as well, we took a pie and coffee break, and picked up a delicious Jack Daniels pecan pie for later.

Arriving in Tucson just before the main body of the storm, which at that point was far enough south to be rain, we estimated that we had about an hour of daylight and dry weather left.  We headed up toward Gate's Pass for some bouldering, and although it turned out we were looking on the wrong side of the road for the boulders, we did enjoy walking across what was essentially the inside of an old volcano.  Hopping back in the car, we headed a few minutes up the road to Saguaro National Park and took a short hike through the cacti before the rain hit.  An amazing place to walk for sure.

Emily and me channeling our inner cacti


Mama cactus hugging her babies

Ever had a cactus talk to you?
The rain that night changed our plans of going out for a walk the next day, so we made a stop at the San Xavier del Bac mission to tour the church and see if the weather improved.  Despite the small size of the church, the painting and sculpture inside was unbelievably detailed, and I could have spent hours more just trying to take everything in.  In yet another instance of good timing, it was time for lunch when we got out, and there just happened to be a fry bread stand nearby to take care of that for us.

San Xavier del Bac

Inside the church



The grotto

Even statues pray sometimes
On our way back up to Phoenix, we tried to make a stop to see Biosphere 2, only to find it closed due to the snow.  Instead, we found ourselves driving back down the access road taking pictures of cacti in the snow.  How often does that opportunity come along?

Cacti in the snow

A very confused cow

Emily's snowy cactus patch
Our last stop on the way up to Phoenix was at Casa Grande, the ruin of a Hohokam village with a very nicely put together museum.  We only had about half an hour, but I easily could have stopped there for 2-3 hours.

Casa Grande
On the drive up, Emily and her mom had been cryptically talking about the surprise they had for me when we met up with their cousins, which turned out to be a trip to Airworx, an indoor trampoline park.  So much fun!

We finished out the trip with incredible Irish food at Rula Bula, pasties and quarts of Guinness at Cornish Pasty Co., and the best Vietnamese food I've ever had at Cyclo.  Even if I knew the weather would be horrible, I would go to Phoenix just for the food!

Full of pasties and beer, we headed to a New Years Eve party, intending to leave early enough to get home before midnight.  We ended up celebrating the new year right as we pulled back into the driveway, and I headed off for a few hours of sleep while Emily and her mom celebrated in the hot tub with their cousin.  Another early flight and we found ourselves back in Baltimore, bags once again miraculously making the trip with us.

Here's to a great 2011!

No comments:

Post a Comment