Farewell Arizona

When we left Winslow, we just had one night left before our flight home, which we spent in Flagstaff. On the way we stopped off at Meteor Crater – 550 feet deep and 2.5 miles in circumference, the result of a collision 50000 years ago. Today, there’s a small museum and a short trail along the rim which you can hike with a guide.

Flagstaff itself is a charming town – we wished we’d allowed some time to explore it properly, but there was just too much to fit in. We visited the Riordan Mansion, built in 1904 for local timber barons Michael and Timothy Riordan – each brother and his family had a separate wing. We also had our first taste of American B&Bs (Inn at 410), an experience from which we’ve never looked back.

Riordan Mansion
Riordan Mansion

The next day, we headed for Phoenix and the airport via Montezuma Castle National Monument.  This is nothing to do with Aztecs, nor is there a castle – there are, however, two impressive ruined pueblos, an abandoned settlement from the 14th century. One was set 100 feet up the cliff in  a shallow cave – we’d seen this arrangement several times already, and I still can’t imagine how people lived like that. A few miles away is Montezuma Well, a spring-fed sinkhole about 65 feet deep and 360 feet across.

And then we went home! Packed in our luggage was a map of Utah which we’d bought on our visit to Monument Valley. It looked even more intriguing than Arizona, and we vowed to return to continue our journey – which we did, the very next year.

Standin’ on the corner of Winslow, Arizona…

Our next stop was Winslow, via the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert – remnants of 225 million years ago when Arizona was a swamp. Minerals in the water seeped through fallen trees and turned them to stone as well as giving the landscape its distinctive colours.

There’s not much to Winslow – it’s a place that’s managed to build a tourist reputation out of a brief mention in a song! In Take it easy the Eagles sing about “standin’ on the corner of Winslow, Arizona” and the town has immortalised this with a mural and a statue. These take about ten seconds to look at – however, the real reason we stayed there was to experience La Posada, one of the Southwest’s historic railroad hotels, and its wonderful restaurant, the Turquoise Room. After a couple of weeks of Navajo fry bread, this was a culinary highlight. The year we were there, 2009, it was rated as one of the top three restaurants in the U.S. in the Conde Naste Gold List. Yum!

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay) is easy to get into – it’s less than 1000 feet deep – but there is only one place you can do it unaccompanied, the White House Ruins trail, because it’s sacred ground to the Navajo, many of whom still have summer homes there. The Canyon is full of their history, much of it heart-breaking, e.g. Massacre Cave where more than 115 people were killed by a Spanish military expedition in 1805. If you don’t want to walk, you can hire a guide to take you down in a 4WD or you can stop at several overlooks along the rim. We used all three methods and were rewarded with close-up views of ancient ruins (from about the 10th to 13th centuries) built into the cliffs and several petroglyphs and pictograms on the cliff walls. Click on the bottom two pictures to enlarge and see these drawings.

We stayed in the nearby town of Chinle on the Navajo reservation, an area which crosses state boundaries. There are noticeable differences from Arizona – you can’t buy alcohol, for example, and they observe daylight saving time, which the state doesn’t, so we had to reset our watches. From Chinle we also visited the eponymous rock of Window Rock, capital of the Navajo nation, which is less than a mile from the New Mexico state line. According to the map, the road we took passed into New Mexico for a short time but, because there were no state signs, we missed it. I don’t therefore feel I can add this to my tally of US states visited – shame!


The Grand Canyon

What can I add to the torrent of words that have been written about the Grand Canyon? How can I describe it? I’d seen pictures, of course, but my eyes could never make sense of it and, to tell you the truth, even in real life it was difficult to comprehend such awesomeness.

We stayed a couple of nights at the South Rim, and on our full day there we hiked 1.5 miles down into the Canyon and back up. We were still quite jet-lagged which meant we could set off at 6am and  be back up before it got “really” hot. That may not sound much, but it was enough for me. We spent the rest of the day hiking along the rim itself.

The North Rim is only ten miles away as the crow flies, but it’s over 200 miles by road which means it’s much quieter – the big population centres of Phoenix and Las Vegas are such a long drive away. The route goes via Marble Canyon where a new bridge was opened in 1995 – the old Navajo Bridge (1929) is now open to pedestrians and has an Interpretive Centre.

We stayed three nights at North Rim, and definitely liked it better – although “quieter” is a relative term: it was still very busy. It’s also 1000 feet higher than the South Rim so the vegetation is different – much greener with what could almost be Alpine meadows at the highest points. As before, we spent most of the time hiking. It was wonderful!

I’ve already written about the two stops after the Grand Canyon during last April’s A to Z Challenge. Yay, I’m ahead of myself! See P is for Page and Lake Powell and U is for Utah. I’ll pick up the story a few days later in my next post…


Back in the days when this blog was young (2011), and I thought it would be an easy job to write a retrospective travel diary, I started with our trip to Arizona in 2009. I wrote one post! (Memories of Phoenix.) It’s time to fill in the rest.

From Phoenix, we headed north to Sedona – our first taste of the magnificent red rocks with which we would become so familiar. The town itself is nothing special, but the surroundings are spectacular. We hiked the four mile trail around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte and drove up the dirt road at Schnebly Hill for superb views.

The following day, we set off for the Grand Canyon via Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki, ruins of a pueblo built by the Sinagua people around the 12th century. All fascinating – but nothing to what we would see next. I don’t intend to leave it three years before the next instalment!

P is for Page and Lake Powell

We visited Page after we’d been to the Grand Canyon in 2009. Between 1960 and 1963, the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona was constructed, resulting in the creation of Lake Powell – though it took a further 17 years for the lake to fill to capacity. Page was originally a camp for the dam workers, and it’s a fairly nondescript town even now, but in beautiful surroundings. It’s the best base for boat trips on the Lake (if you don’t hire a houseboat that is) which take you to view Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest natural bridge at 290 feet high with a span of 275 feet. On the outskirts of town you can also visit Antelope Canyon, only a few feet wide and sometimes called Corkscrew Canyon for obvious reasons.

From here, we went on to U is for Utah.

Memories of Phoenix

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

For the last few years, our holiday pattern has been the same. Just after Christmas, we look at the BA website to see which North American city near a National Park we can reach on air miles. In 2009, the answer was Phoenix. I had wanted to see the Grand Canyon for years but was afraid of the climate: my peely-wally Scottish skin burns in the sun and I wilt in the heat. However, as I get older, I have learned to take the view that if I want to see wonderful places I have to put up with the inconveniences, so we booked. Once the destination is decided, two or three enjoyable weeks of route planning and booking accommodation follow, then we forget about it till we get there and it all comes as a lovely surprise.

We only had one day in Phoenix but packed in two major sights. Because we’d just arrived the night before we were jet-lagged and woke up early enough to get to the Desert Botanical Garden when it was “cooler”, not long after it opened at 7am. It’s a fabulous place with more than 20,000 desert plants from around the world. We then crossed town on the METRO to the Heard Museum of Native American art and culture. We enjoyed the exhibitions – and were especially pleased to fortify ourselves when we arrived with lunch in their amazing cafe. I would get quite fed up with South West cooking by the end of the holiday, but this was the first, and very classy, example.

Below are a few more shots from the Botanical Garden.