Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Monumentally Grand Trip - April 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009
Bakersfield, California to Las Vegas, Nevada -
Mirage Hotel and "LOVE"

We settled our birds with their bird sitters on Friday afternoon, said goodbye to the puppies by 8 a.m. on Saturday, and set out on a very nice sunny day for Las Vegas, driving through boring Boron, booming Barstow, and the barren Nevada desert. We stopped at Buffalo Bill's in Primm (at the California/Nevada border for the buffet lunch and arrived at the Mirage Hotel by about 1:30 in the afternoon. (Hey...wasn't I just here?!)

We got settled into our room then went down to Roy and Siegfried's Secret Garden so Rob could see the white lions and tigers. I was so glad I went back, because most of the animals were considerably more active than they had been the previous week when Mom, Babs, Laura, and I saw them last week. The dolphins were hilarious, playing ball with each other all on their own, tossing a big beach ball up in the air and chasing it around the big pool. The leopards were sleeping, but the three huge white male lions were up and about, the golden tiger was roaring and roaring...oh, and little Java, the new leopard cup, was in an outdoor cage, playing with big cardboard boxes and cute! We spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the pool, with its big waterfall...which was strong enough to give us a nice back massage!

Then we cleaned up, had dinner in the Mirage buffet, and headed down for the Cirque du Soleil show, Love, which is all set to the Beatles music. It was absolutely wonderful! Spectacular and amazing, with the gymnastics and feats of derring-do that you can always expect from a Cirque du Soleil, including four young men on roller skates who went leaping up and down a series of steep ramps, flipping and turning high in the air and gliding back down the ramps, other gymnasts leaping over high barriers from trampolines, girls on flexible ropes dangling from the ceiling. But what made it really special, of course, was the Beatles theme. Various characters from their songs...Father MacKenzie and Eleanor Rigby, Lucy, Jude, Sgt. Pepper, etc...weaved in and out of the show, there were snatches from many songs, some from the Beatles' albums and some modern retellings...and it ended with a montage of the Beatles during all the years I was such a fan that just brought back so many happy memories and a lump to my throat...completely thrilling.

We left the show and went across the street so Rob could see the new Winn Hotel. I had another of those wonderful cucumber-ginger collins drinks that I had discovered last week and then lost $20.00 in the same slot machine where I had made $54.00 on the previous trip. They always get their money back!

Sunday, April 5
Las Vegas to Winslow, Arizona -
Hoover Dam, Meteor Crater, La Posada Hotel

We had breakfast at the Mirage, then set out for a loooong day of driving across the top of Arizona.

We stopped briefly at Hoover Dam to see the amazing new suspension bridge that is being built across the gorge just south of the Dam. It is quite a feat of engineering, but it also looks like it will be pretty scary to drive across when it is finished!

Late in the afternoon, we stopped for a half an hour to view Meteor Crater, which Rob had never visited, then continued the short distance to Winslow.

Winslow is NOT impressive...a dry and dusty little town on the old Route 66, and famous only for the Eagles’ song, “Take It Easy,” but it hides a real treasure...the La Posada Hotel, which was designed by Mary Colter, who built many of the Fred Harvey Hotels...and this one is considered her masterpiece.

It had its real heydey during the golden years of Hollywood and was visited my many celebrities, including Lombard and Gable, Amelia Earhardt, Will Rogers, Victor Mature...and many others...and all the rooms are named for them. We were in the Lionel Barrymore room.

The rooms are not modern or spacious, but they are beautifully decorated with Spanish mission style furniture and southwestern touches...

and the Turquoise Room, where we had a delicious dinner, is supposed to be the best restaurant in the entire Four Corners area. We had a nice visit with the chef, John Sharpe, when we gave him our compliments on the dinner.

Another treat of our stay at La Posada was meeting Tina Mion, whose interesting artwork is displayed all thoughout the hotel. She and her husband bought the hotel when they discovered that it was going to be pulled down, and they have worked for the last decade restoring it…work that continues still.

Tina’s paintings are fascinating. She has a series on all the presidents and their wives, and is going to have an exhibit at the National Gallery in the Smithsonian Museum soon. Our meeting was by chance. A young woman was walking down the hall with her lovely big dog, and naturally, Rob stopped to talk with the dog! We got to talking with the woman and discovered that she was Tina. It was very exciting, as we had just been walking around the hotel admiring her artwork.

The entire stay at La Posada was a real treat. We spent much of our afternoon there just wandering around looking at Tina's artwork and the other southwestern art displayed throughout the hotel.

Monday, April 6
Winslow, Arizona to Monument Valley, Utah -
Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelly, and Gouldings Lodge

I woke poor Rob out of a sound sleep this morning, as we had a pretty long, full day ahead. We had a nice breakfast in the Turquoise Room, then checked out of the La Posada and set off for the Petrified Forest. The landscape between Winslow and Holbrook was pretty uninteresting…just a lot of flat, scrubby land…but the weather was perfect. Clear blue skies and just slightly cool temperature, perfect for hiking and exploring.

We entered the south entrance of Petrified Forest and took a stroll along the Long Logs Trail. I knew from past visits that this had once been a steamy, tropical area filled with the trees that are now strewn around the park, but what I didn’t realize is that that ancient swamp had NOT been in the location of Arizona. This very land was located near the equator (225 million years ago!) and shifted here over the eons as the continental plates drifted. So the trees were here, but HERE wasn’t here!

We drove through the park, stopping at various sites of interest. The most interesting was the hike into the badlands…an amazing moonscape, with almost no vegetation, layers of color striping the rocks, very beautiful in its own austere way.

I was also fascinated by the way that some of the petrified trees still look exactly like fallen logs. It is not until you go up and touch them that you can tell that they are solid rock!

We also stopped at Newspaper Rock, an area covered with petroglyphs from the people who had inhabited this region about 600 to 1200 years ago. We didn’t get to walk right up to them, but there were telescopes trained on the most interesting rocks and there was a ranger there to explain the history of what we were seeing. It is hard to tell in this photo, but this is actually a huge boulder far below us whose flat surfaces are covered with petroglyps. I was especially interested to see the large Kokopelli etched into one distant rock…quite visible through our binoculars. You see so many art items, tourist t-shirts, etc. stamped with his image that it was fun to see evidence that he really did figure into the ancient legends.

The last stop of the morning was an overlook of the Painted Desert with it vivid red rocks.

Then we headed on to Canyon de Chelly, another hidden treasure. It was quite a long drive over a two lane highway that was sometimes fine and smooth and sometimes a real washboard, but as there was almost no traffic, we made good time. We stopped for lunch in the very small town of Ganado (where we had to ask directions for a place to eat…there was a little gas station, a lovely big school, and a hospital but not much else.) We were directed to a Burger King a few miles down the road.
Along this highway, it became clear to me that we were in Navajo territory. Many of the houses had hogans, the traditional round houses, in their yards. It was interesting to see that the hogans are no longer the primary living space…which ranged from some nice little homes to tumble-down shacks to RVs on pedestals…but exist as out-buildings on the property. I wonder if they now have a ceremonial purpose.

We arrived at Canyon de Chelly around 3:00 in the afternoon. I remember visiting here when my family lived in New Mexico (50 years ago!), but I really didn’t remember much about it other than I had enjoyed it.

The views of the canyon from above were beautiful - the photos don't really give a sense of how big it is -

but the real treat was hiking down the steep trail to the canyon floor ...

to see the White House ruins perched above us in the cliff.

The views on the way down and on the canyon floor were really stunning, with the sheer red walls of the canyon looming over us and the amusing little dunes of sandstone below. They looked as if they had been squeezed out of a pastry tube in pretty little swirls.

The hike down was easy…the hike up was a bit more difficult…but I reached the top just a few minutes behind Rob. It was already about 5:00, and we still had a long way to drive, so we had to miss driving along the entire rim of Canyon de Chelly, but I was happy to have seen it again.

It was another long drive the rest of the way to another historic hotel, Gouldings Lodge, perched on the cliffs just outside of Monument Valley, although I didn’t mind the drive, as we went through more spectacular country. We arrived just as the sun sank below the horizon so I didn’t realize until the next morning that we actually had quite a spectacular view from our little room. We settled in quickly and had dinner in the Lodge restaurant. Dinner included Navajo fry bread, which I also remember as a special treat when we lived in New Mexico! After dinner, we turned in early…it had been a LONG day!

Tuesday, April 07
Monument Valley, Utah to Grand Canyon, Arizona

After going to sleep so early, we woke up by 7:00 – and finally noticed the great view of some of the monuments of Monument Valley from our balcony.

After breakfast, we spent a few minutes exploring the little museum that tells the interesting history of Gouldings Lodge.

Upstairs were the old living quarters of the Gouldings. They had started this place as a trading place in the 1920's and during the Great Depression, they convinced John Ford to come here to make some of his movies...and the rest is history! The hotel itself was actually first built to house the cast and crew of those early movies.

One room was devoted entirely to the movies that had been filmed here (with a special emphasis on John Wayne and John Ford). The original guest book was filled with signatures of and comments from many of the stars who had stayed at the lodge while filming in the valley…John Wayne, Henry Fonda, etc.

Outside the museum is preserved a cabin used by John Wayne's character in one of those films. (I have forgotten which one.)

Monument Valley is just such an amazing place. I know that many people immediately think of this special landscape when they think of the American west (due to the many movies that were filmed here, I’m sure), but the reality is that this is a very unique area.

Rob and I started first by taking the three mile hike around the base of the West Mitten, the only place where you are allowed to walk off the road and actually hike into the park.

The sun was in the wrong place for taking the best photos, but this one should show why the names "The West Mitten" and "The East Mitten" are appropriate.

Once again, we had perfect weather…sunny but cool - perfect for hiking. It was a gorgeous hike! The monuments looked different from every angle and changed also as the sun moving across the sky lighted up different rock faces and created varying shadows...

and every few feet brought new peaks and pillars into view. This group is called The Sentinels, as they stand guard near the entrance to the park.

(It was a great hike, but I was discovering one problem with hiking in canyon country! All of our hikes started at the tops of the hills and went down into the canyons…so the second half of the hike was always UP when I was already tired.)

After our hike, we drove the 17 mile loop of the interior of Monument Valley (along a VERY bumpy unpaved road….we were very grateful for our four-wheel drive truck, which made the bouncy trip very manageable.) The drive was filled with more fabulous sights…the Three Sisters...

the Totems,

and many others.

We ended our Monument Valley visit with lunch in the restaurant at the brand-new View Hotel, which is actually within the boundaries of the park. It is owned and staffed by the Navajo people and is built to blend in with the environment. All of the rooms (and the restaurant) look out over the valley.

Our drive to the Grand Canyon went quickly. We drove through some really desolate landscape just past Tuba City, but as we climbed toward the Canyon, the trees appeared and the last half of the trip was very pretty. We were especially impressed with the views of the “Little Colorado River Canyon” which is quite a grand little canyon itself!

We entered the park’s east entrance and stopped for our first look at the canyon at the Overlook Tower.

The canyon was a bit filled with haze, but the first views are always awe-inspiring.

We walked a little way along the rim...

and climbed to the upper level of the Watchtower, then drove the last few miles to our final destination.

We finally checked into the Bright Angel Lodge at around 6 p.m. Bright Angel Lodge is another of Mary Colter's Harvey Hotels, and - like the La Posada - she designed it to fit in with its surroundings. The lobby has a huge fireplace with stone taken from different levels of the Grand Canyon, with a great Thunderbird, her "bright angel of the skies" handing over the fireplace.

Our cabin was very simple, but comfortable. We had a nice dinner in the Bright House Restaurant and turned in pretty early after our very long day.

Wednesday, April 08
Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail and Rim Trail

We woke up around 7 and went for a good hearty pre-hiking breakfast at the Bright Angel Restaurant. The weather was extremely windy and the temperature had dropped dramatically from our previous days, but the weather prediction had been snow, so we were actually happy to see a bright, sunny…if cold and windy…day.

After breakfast, we walked over to the Tovar Hotel, the “fancy” hotel of Grand Canyon. The lobby was very western in flavor, with moose heads on the wall and big beams. We had a nice chat with some of the sales ladies in the gift shop, then returned to our cabin to get ready for our hike into the canyon. While we were in the cabin, our housekeeper stopped by with towels, and we ended up talking with her for about 15 minutes. She seemed quite taken with us and thought the story of how we met was so nice. Rob was just charming with her, and after she left, she returned to our cabin a few minutes later with some maps and brochures for us, saying that we had just made her day…that no one ever talked to her. Rob and I both think that one of the best parts of traveling is talking to the people we meet, and we try to never forget that even the maid is a person with a story.

We set out at 10:30 down the Bright Angel Trail, which you can see winding down the canyon on the far side of this photo. My goodness…I was complaining about how hard the 600 feet back up Canyon de Chelly was? Today, we descended 1,500 feet to the mile and a half rest area.
Of course the going down was easy. There were many people on the trail, but Rob and I passed many of them up. The views were gorgeous, and the cool temperature – once we were out of the wind up above – made the hiking very pleasant.
I have visited the Grand Canyon three times, but this was the first time I had ever gone below the rim.
Along the way, we encountered the famous Grand Canyon mules. Someday I'd like to hike all the way down, then take the mules back UP!

We reached the rest stop in exactly 40 minutes and stopped for a snack of trail mix and lots of water for about 20 minutes. At 11:30, we started back up. I told Rob to go on ahead and I would meet him back in our cabin…and from then on, it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other – slow and steady wins the race! We had been told to figure that however long it took to go down, it would take twice as long to get to the top, so I was actually proud of myself when I made it to the top (with numerous rests for water and recovery) in only 70 minutes…ten minutes short of the double time. But Rob made it to the top in only 47 minutes – only 7 minutes longer than his downhill time! He said that his second wind kicked in about half way to the top and he walked up at a brisk pace the rest of the way.

We both collapsed on the bed for a few minutes of rest, then had a good lunch, sharing a hamburger and a spinach salad. After an hour or so of rest, we headed out on the Rim Trail, which winds along the rim of the Grand Canyon for 12 miles, with amazing views the entire way. After our rigorous hike of the morning, we were not quite up to 24 miles, so we went as far as Mather Point, 2.5 miles east along the trail, enjoying the awesome views of the canyon.
The air was incredibly clear after the strong winds that had been blowing all day, and the haze that had obscured the view yesterday when we first looked out on the canyon was completely gone, so the views were great.

On the way back, we stopped and browsed in "The Hopi House," a gift shop across the the El Tovar, also designed by Mary Colter. By the time we finished our five mile hike - on top of the steep climb this morning - I was thoroughly exhausted and could hardly keep my eyes open during dinner in the Arizona Room. We came back to the room after dinner and enjoyed a nice quiet evening listening to music and reading.

Thursday, April 9
Grand Canyon to Bullhead City, Arizona

We got up and again had breakfast in the Bright House Restaurant, then packed up and headed off to Bullhead City for a visit with Rob’s old friends, Buddy and Linda Haworth. The drive was very uneventful until just before Highway 95, where we were stopped in a huge traffic line due to a major accident several miles down the highway.

The traffic didn't move for over half an hour, but the time passed quickly, as everyone was out of their cars talking, laughing, and trying to see what was going on below.

We arrived at Buddy’s around 2:00 and had a very nice visit. Their house is so beautiful, decorated with southwest touches everywhere, and perched up on the hills looking across the river at Laughlin, Nevada. Rob had a dip in the very cool pool, and had a wonderful time playing with their huge white lab, Barney. Barney was a delight…at two years old, still very much a puppy and extremely friendly. We took Buddy and Linda to a good Mexican dinner at the Iquana Restaurant, and went to bed early.

Friday, April 10
Home Again

We headed out by 9 a.m. and got home a little before 2 p.m., where we were greeted ecstatically by the doggies. Of course the first thing on the agenda as soon as we unloaded the car was going to pick up the birds. Lily and Molly were both very glad to be home, and spent most of the evening on our shoulders. Being reunited with our "children" was a great ending to another great trip!