Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Trip Part seven – Monument Valley

As promised my replacement hat, which I bought during the next part of this trip,
so it is out of sequence, but a promise is a promise.
Click to enlarge any image
The following Morning we headed back up route 89 towards Monument Valley. We passed by Sunset Crater again and debated if it would be worth a visit. I was not convinced it was a good idea, commenting that because it had last erupted only about 800 years ago, I had no intention of going anywhere near it.  It is billed as an extinct volcano but in my mind something quiet for that short a span, short geologically that is, was not in my opinion extinct, only dormant. My argument convinced certain of the others of our party, or maybe they just humoured me, and so we gave it a miss.

Some tumble-weed we passed on our way, often featured in Hollywood Westerns 
The area we were driving through is a part of the Navajo and Hopi reservation and as you drive along this route you pass numerous roadside stalls selling Native American Jewellery and genuine locally made ornaments and souvenirs.  Some stalls consisted of a simple open counter with an awning and others were housed inside a building that could hold several stalls.
A Navajo house we passed
  We stopped for lunch at Tuba City having turned onto route 160 just before this small town, which is famous for its dinosaur footprints. We did not look for these, but ate our lunch and then headed on along the 160.
The entrance to Goulding's Trading Post, which provides accommodation , a store and  a museum.

Goulding's Trading Post, Lodge and and Museum.  We stopped here for a comfort break
Highway 160 has the unique property of passing through, or very close to, the junction of the four corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico’s state boundaries where, because they all have perfectly right angles to their boundaries at this point, the four corners all come together. This is a unique situation and exists only at this one place in the whole of the USA. At the junction, there is a monument that consists of a circle with the state lines passing through it and you can stand in a marked circle and by placing both hands and feet on the ground you can be in four states at once. We did not quite make this landmark because we were heading into Monument Valley which is on the 163, so we left the 160 and joined this road which heads north up across the Utah state line and then curves back around to re-join the 160 after it has entered Colorado just past the Four Corners.

The Four Corners monument
Monument Valley is another WOW! area, all Wily Coyote country with mesas and isolated mountains rising suddenly out of the desert. We did not see any road runners or coyotes either, but what we did see more than made up for this lack of visible wildlife.

Kayenta the start of Monument Valley

Arizona had been suffering some fairly widespread fires in the weeks before we started out on our Grand Tour and we pass by evidence of some of these fires with some hills entirely denuded of trees. For much of the time we had been in Nevada and Arizona, the air was hazed blue from the residual smoke still in the air.
A burnt out hill in Arizona

In this part of the country there was a haze too but it was a different colour and was caused by dust.

A particularly dusty stretch of road

Here and there, there were road signs warning travellers that there could be dust storms.
We saw a few dust devils over in the distance, thin spirals of dust whipped up by the wind like miniature tornadoes. At one point one of these came across the road in front of us. TS slowed down to let it pass but misjudged it slightly and it just brushed us as it went by and it rocked the car alarmingly. I had always thought these things were just a rotating gust of wind and had not realised how strong they could be. I have seen them in the distance before in other parts of the world and they always looked quite harmless but had never gotten this close to one before.

You can only just see the dust devil in this picture as a hazy patch  between the centre two pylons

Seeing a quite promising rest stop, we took a break and had a short wander around one of the small Native American stores. Some years before on a visit to the USA, TBH had bought a pair of Kokopelli earrings and a couple of years or so ago had lost one of them.  Kokopelli is a mythical spirit figure which turns up in many parts of America. He is often depicted with a hump back and playing a flute. He is a trickster but was often worshiped as the spirit of music and fertility.
A typical image of Kokopelli

 He is featured in many kinds of jewellery and appears in most tourist shops in one form or another. He is also the name of many hostelries all over the south west.

One of the many establishments using the Kokopelli name

TBH loved her original earrings and was heartbroken by the loss, so we were interested in seeing if we could find another pair. We did not find anything suitable on that occasion but we bought some different souvenirs and jewellery for family whilst we were there.

Passing into Monument Valley we started to see some of the amazing rock formations that make it a must for a national park.

The climb up to Monument Valley Pass

Coming down from the pass.
This must have been a tricky route before Highway 163 was blasted through this ridge.  

The next place on this route is Mexican Hat, which is down in the San Juan River valley and as we descended we were presented with the most spectacular rock formations, where folding and weathering had created huge wave patterns in the mountain overlooking the San Juan river.

The San Juan River

The spectacular patterns in the rock strata of these ridges
As we drove up the other side of this river valley, we discovered how Mexican Hat had got its name.

The Mexican Hat rock formation

The rippled ridge was still visible some miles after passing Mexican Hat

By the time we got back on highway 160, we had gone from Arizona through Utah and had arrived in Colorado and were now back on Mountain Time, so had to put all our watches forward an hour. We should have done that as soon as we entered Utah but we had not thought of it until we had to check the time of our planned arrival at our next stop. This was to be in Cortez at the Baymont Inn and Resort. We arrived in good time to find an eatery and check in for the night.
Cortez is a popular tourist centre but has nothing much to offer other than its proximity to several famous tourist spots.  It is is the county town for the Montezuma county and boasts a lot of accommodation for a small town of a little over eight thousand inhabitants.
The Baymont Hotel was a probably the nicest hotel of the trip, providing good accommodation and with a balcony outside our room overlooking the nearby mountains.

The view through our hotel bedroom window

One of those weird coincidences that happen when you are on holiday occurred whilst we were staying there, we met a couple who were on a coach trip and who came from a little village adjacent to my old hometown where I lived as a teenager. Not only did they come from the same small corner of England, but the lady had worked in the same offices as my father.

A similar encounter had occurred when we were there on our last visit to the family in 2009. Whilst having coffee in a Borders book shop in Kansas City, a man with an English North Country accent asked us if we were English and we started talking. He told us how he had left England and was now living in the USA and it turned out that when he was last in England, he and I had both worked in the same place for the same organisation, although at different times.

Our next destination was Mesa Verde, an abandoned Pueblo Indian ruin and after breakfast we set off for this fascinating archaeological site.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A trip part six

The Grand Canyon
After the memorable and amusing checkout from the Luxor, we headed from Las Vegas towards Boulder, where we intended to visit the Hoover Dam. This is quite close to Vegas and so we were able to get there quite soon. At one time the main road went over the dam but due to its age and the accumulated vibration of heavy trucks passing over it, it was decided to build a bypass, so the main road crosses the Colorado River on high bridge below the dam and you now have to divert off route 93 if you want to visit the dam itself.
It took four years to build

Looking up  Lake Mead.  Low water levels due to lack of rain

 The old road still passes over the dam but it is blocked from re-joining route 93 on the far side, so you have to turn around and come back across the dam again if you cross it. Once over the far side, you enter Arizona and at certain times of the year the time zones are an hour different each side of the dam, because unlike Nevada, Arizona does not have daylight saving.

From the Arizona side of the dam, you can see the road crossing along the top of the dam
There are car parking spaces on either side of the river and you can then walk down to the dam itself. Whilst it had been hot in Vegas it had been dry heat, here on the dam the temperature was at 110F (43C) but humid so we did not stay very long. We also chose the multi-storey car park, which was one of the furthest away from the dam because there, the car was parked in the shade.
Back on route 93 after our visit we crossed the new bridge and headed for Arizona.

The new bridge below the dam
After leaving the Hoover dam, we stopped at Kingman for our lunch. Kingman is a town which was on the old route 66, now often referred to as the Historic Route 66. This road once ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, a stretch of over two thousand miles. It was removed from the highway system in the 1980s and has been mourned by the people of the US ever since.

It has had a song written for it, a TV show named after it and is trekked on by nostalgia seekers from all over the world. It is now a tourist attraction at Kingman and the town lays claim to being on the longest remaining stretch of the road. Leaving Kingman, the I-40 heads straight east whilst the old Route 66 loops north-east up to Peach Springs and curves south again, merging with the I-40 about one hundred miles east of Kingman. This part of the I-40 then follows the path of Route 66, that stretch having been improved to Interstate standard and renumbered, which means that we have driven along some of Historic route 66 whilst heading from Kingman to Williams.

Williams is a favourite spot for tourists to stay who are visiting The Grand Canyon and there is a railway link from this town to the Grand Canyon Village.
From Williams we headed north up the 64 which takes you to Grand Canyon Village, a distance of about 60 miles.

The scenery along the way was different with mountains covered in small bushes but little grass. The land was still dry and arid but as we approached the Grand Canyon, the trees became larger with more grass and other foliage growing beneath them.
As we approached the canyon, the trees got bigger and more frequent
The Grand Canyon is very long, stretching for over two hundred and seventy miles and we were headed for one end of this vast hole in the ground.
Arriving at the Information Centre we looked at the geological information about the creation of the canyon and the kinds of strata exposed in the canyon walls and then walked to the rim.
The model of the strata found in the canyon

Around this part of the canyon you are around seven thousand feet in altitude, so the air is a bit thin and walking up a few steps became a major challenge for someone as unfit as myself and TBH. However, we spent some time simply walking along and gazing and photographing the incomprehensibly vast ditch we were seeing and felt a growing sense of awe as the sheer size started to penetrate our numbed brains.

After getting our fill of the view, we drove along the rim and stopped at another view point further east and went through the WOW! Factor again and then again.

Walking along another viewpoint, the wind was picking up and it was beginning to get a bit late but we were still looking at the canyon as the shadows started to lengthen and the view changed from pale pastels to hard dark shadows that emphasised the ruggedness. I had been wearing a white hiker’s sun hat which I had owned for some time, it was a good sun hat and entirely necessary for someone of thinning hair whenever there is any sun, because lacking a thick thatch, I now burn easily on top. Standing near the rim, a gust of wind suddenly took off my hat and blew it into the canyon. It fell a long way down and we could see it stuck in a bush but without climbing gear there was no way to get it. So it is probably still there, a lasting token of my visit until is rots away or someone much more agile than me finds it.
Further along the rim is a tower built in the 1930s by the architect Mary Colter to provide a view across the canyon and designed to look similar to the Anasazi Pueblo architecture found in Colorado and Arizona. Anasazi towers are much smaller than this one but exist at several sites once occupied by the Anasazi people but no one sure what their purpose was. They are often referred to as watchtowers.
The Watchtower

We eventually had to leave this impressive place and head for Flagstaff, where we were booked in to a hotel for that night. Driving east towards route 89, the 64 follows the Little Colorado River which has carved a much smaller canyon, but which is still quite impressive scenery. Joining route 89, we headed south towards Flagstaff. It was starting to get late and the sun was quite low as we headed south and the sun created interesting shadows.

The Little Colorado 

We were paced by this shadow car for some miles
On our left as we approached Flagstaff, there is an extinct volcano, known as Sunset Crater. This was very appropriate because the sun was setting as we drove past and it was side lit by the low sun.
Sunset Crater near sunset
We were booked into a Howard Johnson motel and had a little difficulty finding it, discovering there were two in Flagstaff as we searched, but we finally got to the right one.
Flagstaff is not very far from the Barringer Crater, the first terrestrial meteor crater to be recognised as such and something of a turning point in geology. I would like to have visited this but unfortunately we did not have enough time.
We ate in a restaurant called The Cracker Barrel, a chain found only in the south of the USA, which are themed to be a real old time country store and you walked through a scene from a Hollywood western to get into the dining area. Cracker Barrel had the most wonderful menu we had experienced in any of the eateries we had been to so far on this trip.