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Archive for March, 2009

Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge. The Rio Grande runs through it, but it is managed to an incredible degree to enhance its value to migrating birds. An area is selected for flooding, but before the water is let in, plants that the birds like to eat are planted. Some birds like to feed while wading; others prefer marshy habitat or fields. The refuge works out when to plant, when to let the water in via ditches and when to let things dry out. It’s amazing. We missed the huge flocks of snow geese or sandhill cranes on their annual migration. But we did see a variety of birds: a Peregrine Falcon, a Roadrunner, a large Blue Heron, and a lot of ducks and coots. It was a quiet, peaceful afternoon there.

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Our first visit to White Sands National Park occurred in 1983 during a blizzard. It was cold and snowy. Today worked out much better. It was windy, but not too bad. It was great seeing the pure-white dunes (gypsum makes them white). The picnic area, with it’s space-age shelters, had barely changed in 26 years. The ambiance here always reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting. We hiked into the dunes about a mile and only bumped into one other hiker. It was busier when we got back to the parking lot, with lots of kids riding sand sleds down the dunes. A great morning.

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A big windstorm held us up at Show Low, AZ for an extra day. It was just as well we didn’t go barreling across the 7,000-foot plains in our 10-feet high RV with wind gusts up to 65 mph. We had a quiet “down day”. The highlight was shopping at Walmart and watching some woman’s toilet paper package go sailing across the parking lot.

We settled down in very empty campground at a 7,200-foot altitude and went to see the Very Large Array, a collection of 27 radio telescopes that explore radio transmissions from deep space. I don’t understand much about it except that sometimes radio transmissions provide clearer pictures than light transmissions. They are each 230 tons and are 82 feet in diameter. The High Plains of San Augustin, flat and grassy, make it easy to move around the huge telescopes via an internal railroad system. The 27 are reconfigured according to what they are tracking. It’s an amazing system.

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Yesterday we visited Arcosanti, an “urban habitat” created by Paolo Soleri in the middle of the desert, 65 miles north of Phoenix. Soleri immigrated to the U.S. from Italy to work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesan West in Scottsdale. Wright eventually invited him to work on his own, and after a while Soleri began designing and building Arcosanti, a prototype “arcology” in 1969. It’s intended to house up to 5,000 people, by “combining compact urban structure with large-scale solar greenhouses”. Only 80 or so people live there at any one time, so it’s not a success in that aspect, but architects and other interested people visit constantly. Their primary source of income is the bronze or ceramic windbells that are created onsite. We had a good tour guide, a sculptor from Rochester, who visits Arcosanti off and on. It’s a little run down (some structures are 40 years old) and not self-sufficient in every way, but very interesting, with a peaceful feeling.

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We just plain lucked out today. We visited V-Bar-V Ranch, a defunct ranch that contains an amazing collection of petroglyphs. The rock panels contain images of cranes, sea turtles, bear paws, corn stalks and human figures. The lucky part was that today was the vernal equinox and we had sunshine. The Sinagua, who created the petroglyphs maybe as early as 850 A.D., used some of the images as a planting calendar. The vernal equinox was an important planting day, and possibly (one theory goes) they juggled a boulder above the rockface so that a shaft of sunlight would strike a certain bullseye figure today. And as explained by Ken Zoll, an archaeoastronomer, different wall petroglyphs cover planting information for most of the year for the ancient farmers. As a large crowd watched, just as he predicted, a shaft of light hit the bullseye around 1:37 today. This calendar has been indicating the spring equinox for at least 1000 years! If you want to find out more, Ken Zoll’s website is http://www.sinaguasunwatchers.com

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Yesterday we went from free backcountry to a fancy-pants RV park in Sedona. After doing the laundry (mundane), we moved on to drinks and chow at a local sports/Karaoke bar (fairly sublime). We both toasted St. Patrick: Dave had some Guinness (an Irish drink) and I had margaritas (a green drink). We sat above it all on an outdoor veranda, gazing at the red rocks, a lovely sunset and the traffic on the highway. (Can’t have it all, I guess.)

Today we got up pretty early (is 7:45 early?) and went out for a 4.5-mile hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. We saw an area with quite a few Ocotillo, which seems a little far north for this area. It was a nice trail; not spectacular, but okay. It was pretty warm today, so we guzzled a lot of water, but got back before we were hungry for lunch. We stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an incredible edifice designed by Marguerite Bruswig Staude and Frank Lloyd Wright.

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We hung out for a while in the very pleasant Rancho Sedona RV Park, and then Dave noticed a gigantic blue heron in the tree above us, tugging at a bare branch until it broke off. It then flew off. Figuring it was nesting and wouldn’t go too far for nesting material, we walked all of 12 yards before we saw about 8 nests in a few tall Sycamores in the middle of the campground. There were about 7 or 8 blue herons huddled over nests. The campground is a heron rookery! It was so cool seeing all those birds. When they are flying, they have an enormous wing span. In itself, this is a good reason to come back to Sedona in spring.

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Later in the afternoon, we went out to Red Rock Crossing that has trails going along Oak Creek (this creek is everywhere!), with great afternoon views of Cathedral Rock. The air was balmy, the vibe was relaxed, everyone was having a great time. The views were spectacular, only getting better as the sun dropped lower in the sky. What a place. It’s not listed as a vortex (Sedona has several vortices (Sp.?) defined as “areas of enhanced linear energy flow”) but it certainly left us feeling good.

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Sedona is wonderful for hiking. Saturday, we did one of our favorite hikes – the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. Oak Creek has cut a tremendous gorge – the red, sandstone walls are about 200 feet tall. The trail runs along the stream, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. The light wasn’t perfect for photography; it was intermittently cloudy, but we enjoyed the walk anyway. I got to test my new hiking sticks that Dave got me for Christmas. I have a little problem crossing streams (I’m terrified of falling in) and the sticks worked like champs. We probably did about ten stream crossings, some over stones, some over big logs, many over a couple of skinny logs, some of which were pretty unsteady. The trail was busy and a few people fell in trying to cross. No problem for me. Although the weather was warm, there was still quite a bit of snow further into the canyon.

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Yesterday, we went to Devil’s Bridge. The unpaved road is 1.3 miles off the paved road, but is very rough. We found a place to park in the crowded trailhead area. It’s a short hike, only 2 miles, with a 400-foot rise. The terrain is very similar to Capitol Reef with red and white striped rock. We climbed up the rock steps, enjoyed the canyon view, and then rose a little higher and all of a sudden, there was the bridge. We ate lunch while people tried to decide whether or not to go onto the middle of the bridge. Then a brash young guy went out on the bridge, jumped up and down a few times, and all of a sudden, everyone was going out there. Dave and I took our turns; it wasn’t very scary; and headed down. The weather was perfect, blue sky and warm, with a cool breeze. Every group we passed was very friendly. After the hike, we drove a loop along Boynton Canyon Road and an unpaved road. We saw lots of RV’s parked off the road, and decided we would drive down from our high, cool campground, and get a free day of camping on BLM land.

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So today we’re camping for free, courtesy of Uncle Sam. It’s a nice spot, with a view, and it’s much warmer than the 5,500 foot Pine Flat campground. We heard coyotes this afternoon. That’s the first time in years we’ve heard them. What a great sound. We had an okay hike at Red Rocks State Park. The highlight of the visit was a 3-foot black tail rattlesnake sipping water at the Visitor Center fountain. It was a beauty. He looked pretty calm, but did coil up and rattle when Dave got too close to him.

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We took off on Monday on a beautiful day. We’re hoping that lots and lots of rain will fall on the Bay Area and snow on the Sierras while we’re gone. The hills are all green in the Central Valley and the fruit and nut orchards are blooming on I-5. It’s quite lovely, except for the part when you go past the Harris stockyards. Phew! Our driving pleasure has been greatly enhanced by Rick and Mary. My early birthday gift was a Sirius radio and subscription so that we can listen to Sirius in the vehicles. Even though the Ipod has about 3,000 songs on it, it’s very nice to listen to some live DJ voices. We also listened to a chapter of some book read by actor Joe Mantegna. There’s lots of options now.

Yesterday, we combined driving with sightseeing. We went to Calico Ghost Town, an old mining town that has been so well restored, that you can’t tell the original buildings from the newer ones. In 1979 (almost 30 years!), 7 or 8 of us spent Thanksgiving there, in a campground, with my friend, Mary, who brought a complete Thanksgiving dinner. This trip, Dave and I arrived early in the morning, and so got to see all the “characters” who run the shops and cafes show up to work in their “old west” outfits. I saw a couple of dicey-looking guys who I thought were Wild-West gunfighters, but no, they were dicey-looking German bikers. Calico is a nice little ghost town, full of calico cats slinking around, but Bodie, CA is a lot more authentic. Nevertheless, we wandered around for a couple of hours, basking in the sun, and then started to drive east again.

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It’s been many years since we drove through Mojave National Preserve, so we cut south off of I-15 onto the Kelbaker Road. The landscape includes lava fields, Kelso Train Depot and the Kelso Dunes. This is one truly remote road. When we stopped for lunch, it was preternaturally quiet and there was a slight whiff of fresh greenery in the breeze. We decided not to trek out to the Dunes, but we did take a look at the restored Train Depot.

003dg2710kelsotraindepot We’re in Flagstaff, Arizona this afternoon. The weather has changed dramatically. Yesterday, in Needles, CA, we were sitting outside, nibbling appetizers at cocktail hour. As we rose into the mountains, virga turned to showers, to sleet, and back to rain, with a dollop of lightning here and there. Things should improve for the weekend. We’re looking forward to a short drive to Sedona tomorrow.

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