October 31, 2009

Williams, Trains, and Volcanic Mountains

We've been in Williams, AZ for the past couple of days. We originally planned to come up here simply because it was one of the only places where we could get Hilina the swine flu vaccine. But, what looked like a 90 minute trip for that one purpose has turned out to be a nice little excursion.

We are staying at the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel and RV Park. While not the cheapest place we've ever stayed at, it certainly is the best. This place has very nice, clean, spacious bathrooms, gives you access to their swimming pool and fitness center, and then there is of course the trains.

The Grand Canyon Railroad is a train that runs 60 miles north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Hilina is in love with trains, so we have spent a great deal of time in their gift shop and looking at the big train when it leaves for the day and arrives back in the evening.

We've all enjoyed just strolling around this cute little railroad town. We also took a trip up to the top of the 9300 foot Bill Williams Mountain at the edge of the San Francisco Volcanic Field. The view from the summit was spectacular, as we could see across to the 12,700 foot San Francisco Peaks (which we climbed once I should add).

Also visible was 10,000 foot Kendrick Mountain and numerous volcanoes and cinder cones. To the north, we could see the edge of the Grand Canyon 60 miles away. To the west is the edge of the Mogollon Rim as it peters out and grades into the Basin and Range province near Kingman.

To the south was Chino Valley and Prescott, with its Granite mountains and the canyons of Sycamore Canyon heading into the Verde Valley. We could even see the metamophic summit of the Mazatzal Wilderness in the far distance.

What made this especially interesting is that we'd been to all of these places in previous hikes, so to see all of them from one spot made it all come together geographically! Also, when you think of how it takes in virtually all of the amazing geology of Arizona from sedimentary layers in the canyons to volcanic summits, metamorphic core complexes, and basin and range uplift!

Here, you can see Williams below and the Grand Canyon in the distance (the faint light break in the trees on the horizon).

Here is a little friend we saw on the mountain

October 28, 2009

Vultee Arch, Coconino National Forest, Sedona, AZ

Today we did the 3.4 mile round trip to Vultee Arch. The weather changed over quickly from the 70's to snow in just 24 hours. We were under the impression it would be raining or snowing this morning, so when we woke up and saw blue skies and sunshine, we decided to get in a quick hike before the weather soured.

The 4 mile dirt road to Vultee Arch is in terrible condition, with huge rocks and ruts all over the place. Luckily for us, we have a high clearance 4x4 truck, so we did not bottom out. When we arrived at the trailhead, it was chilly, but not too cold. Hilina walked maybe 3/4th of a mile before we picked her up to finish the trail, as it was chilly in the shadows of the increasingly narrow canyon.

The trail itself is very nice, as it follows a dry wash filled with Arizona sycamores, ash, walnut, sumac, Alligator Juniper, some canyon maples, and a beautiful stand of large Ponderosa pine and Douglas firs.

There was a fire not long ago that left the large trees of the north-facing slope of the canyon charred. But, many of the largest trees survived the fire and the riparian trees of the wash seemed to have avoided it altogether.
Upon reaching the arch, you can see a wonderful view up Sterling Pass into the canyon and that looks like it would be a fun hike to do all the way to Oak Creek Canyon. Back the way we came is a spectacular view of the red rock cliffs of the Sedona area.

After a brief stop, we noticed that the clouds really started rolling in. So, Linda put Hilina on her back and we cruised back to the truck. Shortly after we started driving out, snow started falling! Nothing stuck, but it was a sureal experience after sweating just a few days ago.

Amazingly, they are predicting it will be in the 50's on Friday and then 76 again on Sunday! Crazy! We'll be heading to Williams to get Hilina's swine flu shot on Saturday. As for Sunday, we are debating between heading up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or heading down into the Verde Valley.
We'll decide on Saturday, but we'll probably spent 1-2 weeks in the Verde Valley in early November.

October 27, 2009

West Fork Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona

We've moved our operations to Sedona, AZ. We came down to warm up and to see the fall colors of the famous West Fork Oak Creek Canyon. We apparently came at the nick of time, as a storm is rolling in expected to bring snow to Flagstaff.

One thing I do not like is that they charge $8 for parking YET would not take our National Interagency Pass. This upset me because I was under the impression that the Interagency Pass would cover all entrance fees to all federal sites. I suspected this had to do with making sure the private concessionaire would make a profit. After some research online, I found this was indeed the case. Apparently, the Interagency Pass does work on all federal lands, unless the government decides to give a private company a license to run a site so they can make a profit. I think this deserves a letter to the DOI to protest. It is not about $8, but rather the principal of being told our pass works everywhere, unless a private person wants to make a profit.

As for the fall colors, we came about a week late, so many of the colors had faded and many of the leaves had fallen. But, it was still nice enough, and the reds and yellows of the canyon maples, Arizona walnuts, ash, and sycamores, as well as, the large Douglas firs, white firs, and ponderosa pines against the backdrop of spectacular red and white walls of the canyon was beautiful.

We finally got a full family shot, as a photographer with her equipment set up offered to take our photo.

Hilina set a record, walking at least 2 miles. She was having so much fun climbing up the rocks and over the roots and playing in the creek. She was just really enjoying herself and just kept walking. She would have kept going too... Eventually, when she got tired, we put her in the pack for the walk back and she took a nap. Here you can see how dirty she got from the dusty trail, especially crawling over the rocks and roots.

The weather was cool, offering a real fall feel to the canyon. But, we could warm up in the sun.

October 24, 2009

More of Wahweap Wash near Big Water, UT

Today is our last day in Big Water before we head south towards Flagstaff and Sedona. We've been soaking up the scenary.

Hilina has become a real climber. Here you see Linda guiding her down the rocky slopes. She climbed all the way to the hoodoos above (probably 40 feet in elevation) all by herself. We call her "spidey"

Hilina loves rocks and we think she is probably going to be a rock climber given she seems to have absolutely no fear.

Here, the dynamics of life unfolds in the stark and desolate desert. The ground, too alkaline and dry to support much plant life, has hundreds of these rocky ant mounds. Somehow, they find a way to make a living in this landscape.

After a solo climb up some very steep rocks, this was my view down the other side into the wash behind the rocks. In fact, the slope I went up was so steep, I did not feel comfortable going back down again. I was forced to take a 1 mile detour to find a safe way back to where Linda and Hilina were.

Here is the view from the top. Linda and Hilina were hiding in the shade of the white-rocks in the middle of the photo. Since I could not get down the way I went, I had to follow the ridgeline 1 mile to an alternative descent down a sand dune.

Here, you can see Wahweap Wash has a small amount of water flowing in it from recent rains 50 miles north near Bryce Canyon NP.

Some beautiful shots of the sandstone cliffs and side canyons just a short walk down Wahweap Creek from Big Water. When we lived here, places like these were our daily evening strolls!

Can you see why we might want to return?

October 19, 2009

Aspen Trail, Navajo National Monument, AZ

About 90 minutes from Page, in the heart of the Navajo Reservation is a national park service unit called Navajo National Monument. It protects three ancestral puebloan ruins which date back to the 12th and 13th century. The Inscription House site is not open to the public and Keet Seel is only open for tours in the summer. The Betatakin site does have guided tours leaving at 10am on weekends in the winter. So, that was our goal, to get there in time to do the 5 mile round trip guided tour of the ruins.

So, we take off and rush across the landscape and arrive at the park at 9:45am. However, something struck me as we entered. Dang-it, the Navajo Reservation is not on the same time zone at the rest of Arizona. It was not 9:45am, it was 10:45am and the tour had already left for the day.

Oh well, we looked around the visitor center, watched the film, explored the model hogan and sweatbath used by the Navajo before modern conveniences, and then did the 1 mile round trip trail to the Betatakin Ruins Overlook. Standing 700 feet above the Tsegi Canyon floor, the ruins sit in the opposite alcove. To the left there are some aspen and Douglas firs visible in the upper canyon.

These ruins were only occupied for about one or two lifetimes in the late 1200's  before the people left following a 20-year drought that made life marginal. What is interesting is that the place was left habitatable and the grain stores full. This indicates they planned to return, but never did.

Cultural evidence indicates they moved 50 miles south to the site of the current day Hopi reservation. It is known that the Hopi and Zuni tribes are the descendants of the ancestral puebloan peoples. The other name commonly referred to is Anasazi, which is a Navajo term for "ancient ones" or even sometimes translated as "ancient enemies".

We also did the Aspen Trail, which descends 300 feet into the canyon where large Douglas firs and a stand of aspen are visible. This stand at 7000 feet, 2000 feet lower than one would expect at this latitude, is a relict stand protected from the sun by the steep cliffs of the canyon.

October 14, 2009

Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Track Site, UT

One day while I was working in the trailer, Linda stopped by the Kanab Chamber of Commerce and say something indicating dinosaur tracks at a place called Moccasin Mountain. She then inquired further about it at the BLM office and found out there is a site near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, right on the Utah-Arizona border that has some outstanding dinosaur tracks.

This site is down a 2-mile long narrow, very deep sandy road. We almost got stuck on the way out, but luckily the 4WD-Low setting got us moving again. But, wow, well worth the visit! The tracks are 185-million years old.

In fact, there are six different species present and literally hundreds or thousands of foot steps of varying sizes. It was an amazing place. Some are small enough to imagine them being the size of large birds like turkeys or even smaller birds like quail.

Others are quite large and were probably 15 foot tall carnivorous Dilophosaurus. (The three-toes give it away as a Theropod, the family that also included T-rex and Allosaurus).

One set seemed like a four legged creature with peg-legs.

This was the landscape where those trackways were found