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Sedona Arizona for Art, Pictures, and Tourism
November 29-December 4, 2017Dear Diary and Friends and Family,
Written November 30+
We are on a road trip! It seems like forever since we have really set out in the car for destinations farther than a few hours from Fresno, and we definitely have looked forward to a return to our old on-the-road lifestyle. Ever since our very long European Road Trip in 2001 and 2002, we have felt an urge for extended (road) travel. Currently, "extended" can not be more than a week or two, but we'll take it. At least we will take in once we get our ducks in a row.
These ducks include getting the house in order, and it is. I also needed to make sure the Jeep was reliable, so I moved up the oil change and routine check. All ok. It is hard to believe we really have 43,000 miles on "my" car, but we do and, since it is the beginning of winter, that meant new tires. I ordered a set on-line from Costco, scheduled a mounting appointment two days before we were leaving, and hoped everything would happen on time. It was close, since not all four tires showed up in time for the appointment, confirming my doubts about the new on-line ordering process. Nonetheless, just hours before we left, the last tire showed up and we could start the trip with enough tread for anything we would encounter.
(Our other last minute almost-problem concerned Marianne's medicine - a duck that was important to line up. The night before we were to leave, she concluded that the supply of one of her meds would not last the trip and we went through an hour of panic trying to figure out how to fill the gap. Eventually, she called the Kaiser help line and explained the situation. The nurse arranged for a doctor to write the prescription, which we could pick up at the emergency room, if we made it there by midnight. Another late-night hospital visit, but a solution. Then, the nurse said: "I have a record that you just picked up your renewal, did you?". A light went on. Marianne had indeed put this duck in order days before, only to forget about it in the final worry of trip preparation. End result: she found the bottle and we avoided the hospital trip, and we laughed. Really.)
Now we were ready.
Day 1, Fresno to Kingman, AZOur first day would be 450 miles from Fresno to Kingman, Arizona. We started with a breakfast stop at Apple Annie's in Turlock, a tradition whenever we travel south. It's nice to have traditions.
The drive itself is quite unremarkable, first past miles and miles of San Joaquin Valley farms and vineyards and then out into the Mojave Desert, always escorted by giant trucks. Up over the Tehachapi Mountains we went past hundreds of windmills, only a few of which were spinning. I'm not sure California has really figured out how to incorporate all the renewable energy generation that has been installed.
Our next stop was at Najah's Desert Oasis. Nowadays, Interstate 40 carries the traffic that Route 66 was once famous for, but there are still remnants of the old highway's support industry. Najah's survives because it is close to I-40, whereas anything much farther from the interstate has been boarded up years ago. Some day we should use the old road, but not today.
Near Needles, CA, we turned off onto a side road, crossing the Colorado River, and passing by a surprising number of nice river-front homes. Further along were farms whose green fields contrasted with the browns we had been seeing for miles.
Just outside Needles, we entered the Havasu National Wildlife Reserve. We turned off the road to get close to the Topock Marsh, where we hung around taking pictures as the sun moved lower in the sky. Too bad we needed to keep going, but these are good-enough pictures to encourage more photography as we go.
Back on I40, we could see the jagged peaks of the Needles Range, just before we crossed into Arizona proper. Shortly before we reached Kingman, the red sunset was so special that we pulled over on the side of the Interstate to grab a shot. Not safe, but satisfying.
In Kingman, we found our motel among the dozens still operating. The Best Western Wayfarer's Inn was all we could ask for - convenient, roomy, clean, and relatively modern. The friendly staff gave us dinner recommendations and we quickly headed "downtown" to the Rickety Cricket Brewery for a great hamburger and pizza. Road food at its finest. Really!
And that's how we ended the first day of our Great Arizona Adventure: well-fed and settled in a comfy Route 66 motel.
We had plenty of time for the three- or four-hour drive to Sedona, so we started the day with a tour of a pair of Kingman museums. Like many of the towns and cities in the American Southwest, Kingman started life as a 19th Century train service stop. The Kingman Train Museum occupies a 1907-modern station that served for the three decades of thriving train travel. Nowadays, just one east-bound and one west-bound Amtrak train still pass through, not stopping, leaving the passenger terminal available for a small collection of travel memorabilia and three model railroads. (Freight trains still roar past, just feet outside the station windows.)
A couple of blocks away, the Powerhouse Museum houses the local tourist center and a Route 66 museum. We picked up an Arizona map (old-fashioned, I know, but so are we) and a few brochures for later destinations.
The Route 66 Museum featured displays from the whole history of the route, starting from when it was developed in the 1850s as a winter road for early settlers' prairie schooners and as a Civil War link between the Union and the new state of California.
In the early 1900s, the wagon route was rebuilt as one of the first transcontinental automobile roads and it received the iconic Route 66 name, at least here in Arizona. Finally paved in the late 1930s, Route 66 earned fame as the route Steinbeck's "Oakies" used in their search for new lives in the California farm fields.
In World War II, private travel on Route 66 was displaced by military travel between the dozens of bases sprouting up along the train and highway corridor. After the war, manufacturers shifted from army transports to private cars and Route 66 became key to the quintessential "family road trip." This 1950 Studebaker Champion could have been bought for as little as $1,487.
The Route 66 Museum also includes a ground floor display of electric vehicles, not modern Teslas, and not the first commercial electrics from the early 1900s. Mostly they were small vehicles used in Arizona as "NEVs", Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. The fanciest of the NEVs was Willie Nelson's boxy red "Rolls". Cute. There was also a "Henney Kilowatt", a 1959 effort to convert a French Renault Dauphin to battery power. I learned to drive in my mom's Dauphin, gas-powered of course, so I could relate.
At this point, our museum visiting was cut short by a mysterious weakness that hit Marianne. It all seemed to go away in a half-hour, but it made us anxious to get on the road toward somewhere with more potential medical care than Kingman might offer. By the time we had spent a couple of boring hours on Interstate 40 getting to Flagstaff, she was well enough for the worry to get pushed farther back in our consciousness and we headed straight for Sedona.
Actually, "straight" is not the right term, since Highway 89a linking Flagstaff and Sedona is a twisty two-lane path, offering glimpses of spectacular canyon walls, but only for the passenger. The driver needed to concentrate.
Our Best Western for the Sedona stay turned out to be a nice facility, with all the amenities we could expect, plus views out our front windows that were spectacular:
Oak Creek runs in the gulch behind the hotel and, that and the neighboring streets, gave me one more chance at Fall colors. Not spectacular, but fun to do.
While I was warming up my cameras, Marianne was warming up with a portraiture lesson at the neighboring Sedona Arts Center.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, she will be part of a much larger painting course at the Center, but this was a great way to get in the mood.
Day 3 - Friday, Class for Marianne and a Climb for John
Mornings come early on our Arizona trip, maybe because of the time zone change, but most likely because senior citizens just get up at the crack of dawn, at least I do. The dawn view from our room and the excellent breakfast buffet helped.
Task number one was getting Marianne settled into Day 1 of her three-day class on contemporary mixed media techniques. Joan Fullerton is the instructor and a favorite of Marianne's. About two-dozen class participants were all anxiously setting up in the Art Center space. Good luck to all!
This left me on my own, with no particular plan, other than taking my cameras to see what was out there.
The easiest and most obvious local photo targets were the red rocks. I suppose I would have preferred a day with puffy white clouds, or romantic light from the setting sun, but that's not what the day offered and one must take what is available, even on a gray day. Five minutes from the hotel, I pulled off the Upper Red Rock Loop Road and started a day of rock pictures.
Fortunately, the Loop Road leads to Red Rock State Park, "a hiking park", as I was told by the gatekeeper as he took my $7 admission fee. A hike would do me good, so I headed to the visitors' center to get a map and instructions.
There are over five miles of hiking trails in the park, divided into several named paths, all classified as either easy or medium. This sounded exactly my style and, as you can see on my walked course, I covered a good fraction over the next couple of hours. Please join me on my walk.
The "Horse Barn Trail" was a very easy start; wide, flat, and level, passed the original Schuerman family 1940s homestead. It was remarkable to me that this land was available for homesteading as recently as 1942.
Farther along, I joined Smoke Trail, which runs alongside Oak Creek. At this time of year, the water is pretty quiet, but I can imagine a different scene during Arizona's famous monsoons. Maybe on another visit.
Several of the trails in Red Rock also feature poison ivy, not something I wanted anywhere near. I have not had a case of poison ivy or oak rash in 50 years, and I didn't want to ruin that record. So far so good.
Along the flat creekside path, a sign directed hikers to look up at Indian petroglyphs. It was remarkable to me that these ancient carvings were still visible on the red sandstone wall, despite centuries of weather and tourists.
From here, I followed Smoke Trail along an easy ledge, across a pair of simple bridges, and over to Eagles Nest Trail. Eagles Nest is one of the park's longest and highest trails, but still less than a couple of miles long and not so steep as to present a barrier even to amateurs like me. Not far up the hill, I ran across my first and only indication that there were indeed wildlife in the area: scat carefully(?) left on a trail stone.
The main point of the Eagles Nest trail is to get wonderful views of the Sedona Valley red rock monuments, and I'll cover that later. For now, I'll just say that the Eagles Nest provided as-promised vistas and very little danger before it wound its way back down to the park's largest grassy wildlife viewing area - empty as far as I could tell. Animal pictures would have to wait for another time.
Along the trail, I could not help but take pictures of the trees and plant life. Some day I will devote enough time to determine names for each species, but for now I will just describe them as colorful, prickly, gnarled, and tortured.
In a very literal sense, the crowning glory of Eagles Nest Trail, and all of Red Rock Park, were the vistas of the surrounding rock monuments. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
As a bit of a post-script, I have to comment on Red Rock Park's neighbors. I can only imagine how much these homes cost. For the most part, they are carefully designed to blend in, as much as huge homes can indeed "blend". And, no, we are NOT looking to get our own Arizona red rock bungalow.
After all this walking (>13,000 steps according to my Fitbit), I was glad to get back to the hotel and rest as I waited for Marianne to get out of her class. At about 5:00, she came into the room and woke me, exclaiming that I was missing the great sunset she just shot (right) and a dramatic moon rise. Still groggy, I grabbed a camera, stepped out on our patio, and snapped a few shots of the (almost-super) moon. After a bit of post-processing, these may have been some of my best pictures. I should be groggy more often.
The day ended with a stop at the Art Walk open studio over at the Arts Center. We admired much, but bought nothing (until the next day). There was also free food and wine, but no pictures of that because my hands were full.
We left the Art Center looking for any interesting evening attractions, Art Walk-associated or otherwise, but mostly struck out. Other Art Walk venues were closed, and Uptown Sedona just didn't offer much to our tastes. Maybe things will improve on later excursions.
We started our day as we should, getting up early and heading over to the breakfast buffet. I am afraid this high calorie start will become habitual, and the cause for regaining some of our lost weight. Oh well, we know how to take it off again.
After breakfast, Marianne headed over to the Arts Center. I tagged along for a few pictures of the first day's products from Marianne and Dawn and Jan, her table mates.
Now I need to apologize, once again, for putting out far more pictures and detail than anyone but we really want, but my next adventure was truly remarkable - I went on a train ride through the most beautiful 20 miles of track I could imagine. It deserves detail, at least for my own memories.
The back story: When Marianne signed up for the three-day art class, I looked for activities that might occupy a few hours of my alone-time and ran across the story of the Verde Canyon Railroad. Not only could I ride the train, there was one seat available up in the cab. Wow, just what any nerd would want! I was excited for weeks.
Hours before we left home, I received the safety paper work for my cab ride-along. "No electronics ". Oops, does this mean cameras? I called my engine-tour coordinator Roman to seek clarification. In the nicest possible tone, he said that, indeed, no cameras. I groaned. He volunteered to hand me over to his manager Robin for any hope. She was pleasant, but firm, noting past trouble they had encountered as a cab-rider posted iPhone pictures on Facebook. The train safety bureaucrats in Washington were not happy.
I expressed my disappointment, but I understood the reason for the safety regulation. After thinking it over, I decided against the special seat and asked Robin if I could change from the cab to a more photo-friendly train car. She quickly agreed to a First Class seat and a beyond-any-expectations reduced price. And Roman chipped in that he would show me the engine before we left the station. A better offer I could not imagine.
The Verde Canyon train uses General Motors FP7 locomotives that started service in 1953, on the Alaska Railroad (note the front snow blades). In the 1980s, they were "retired" to a California museum before reentering pulling duty for a Wyoming-Colorado tourist train. In the 90s, the engines were transferred to the Verde Canyon Railroad for more tourists.
I met Roman at the Clarkdale Train Depot and he equipped me with gloves and a reflective vest, safety equipment needed just for getting near the big machinery. (This was an abbreviated version of the safety lecture my ride along would have required.) Out at the locomotive, I was like a kid at an amusement park as he unlocked the door and we grabbed the rails to enter the tight side door. The gloves were required to make this climb. No slipping allowed.
After passing by the massive diesel engine, we toured the cab where I saw "my" simple chair that would remain empty this trip. Next to it was the engineer's seat and controls and Roman explained which levers did what. Good for engineers. (I learned that locomotive brakes are applied using air pressure, whereas car brakes are activated by loss of air pressure. In engineering school, we learned that the air-loss brakes were invented by an engineer named Westinghouse and they formed the foundation of his company's fortunes for a century. Until nuclear power pushed it to bankruptcy. Sorry.)
Meanwhile, back in the engine room, Roman showed me the various parts and pieces. The 16-cylinder GM diesel reminded me of the emergency-power service these same types of engines had served in a few of my power plants, back when I really worked for a living. It is remarkable that these complex machines still run reliably after 64 years. Roman noted they have never had a failure to start in his twenty-years at Verde.
Roman then asked me if I wanted to start the engine. Sure!
As part of the preliminaries, he opened up the cylinder vents, the step called for on the hand-written note next to the simple start and stop buttons. With the cylinders vented, I followed instructions and pushed the start button two or three times and the trapped moisture wheezed out. Kind of like 64-year-old folks waking up. Then I closed the vent lever, pushed the start button, and listened to the 16 cylinders come to life. Surprisingly quiet, but it still felt powerful. I can see how working with these locomotives becomes addictive.
With that, my locomotive tour was over and it was time to get ready to be just a regular passenger.
A cute little boxcar train museum provided the history of the Verde Canyon line and the Clarkdale area. The line originally was part of the infrastructure for the Jerome copper mine, the largest copper mine in the world in the late 1800's. After a ragged 1880's start and stop due to transportation difficulties and falling copper prices, the operation was bought by William A. Clark, an already successful mining businessman from Montana who saw the potential. In the mid 1890s he built the standard gauge rail line connecting the copper smelter with the outside world. The 186 curves made the Verde Canyon road "the crookedest line in the world." Today, the copper mine and smelter have long gone quiet, but Clarkdale still has a cement and building materials plant, the remaining freight customer for the train line. Enough background.
I wandered up and down beside the train, scouting out my base for the next several hours. The caboose looked particularly fun, but is available only for groups, not just my party-for-one. My first class car would be the Wickenburg, named after Henry Wickenburg, a locally-successful German gold prospector in the mid 1880s.
Inside the Wickenburg, attendant Lisa welcomed everyone aboard with an explanation of all services available on our trip: a tiny rest room, comfy seats, a cold buffet, and drinks to order. I opted for a bottle of Verde Canyon wine - from Lodi, California I was told. The car next to us was even fancier, with original Southwest-themed decorations and friendly bar service.
This definitely was first class travel, I could get used to it, even as a party-of-one.
However, as nice as my soft chair was, the best features of the whole train were the open viewing cars. I spent 90% of my time out here, looking from side to side, trying to decide photography targets, hard work in such a target-rich environment.
Here is the Google Earth path my gps drew of our twisty ride, never faster than 15-miles an hour. I will try to tell the story in train-order, from lower right to upper left on my map.
Right at the beginning, the train passes a 40 acre slag pile, courtesy of the original copper smelter. The old time engineers had created a wall to protect the train lines by erecting a wall of sheet iron, cooled by now-rusted pipes. It worked, all an engineer hopes for.
A mile past the slag heap, up high on the naturally-layered rock, is a Sinagua cliff dwelling, perhaps dating from almost a thousand years ago.
A few miles farther along, we pass over a curved bridge, originally built as part of the Prescott roundhouse. Still later, we cross S.O.B Canyon bridge, at 150-feet high, the tallest of the route's bridges. ("S.O.B" stands for "Superintendent of Bridges". I'm sure you knew that.)
For much of the rest of the trip we run with steep hills or vertical cliffs on our right. This line is well over 100 years old, so I looked for signs of train scrapes. Nothing found, so the cliffs must be stable and the rock slides rare enough.
The Verde River runs along the other side, always lower and offering views that change mile by mile
Across the river, the cliffs hold a variety of attractions. Several of the rocks have their own names. Can you see Elephant Rock, Eagle Rock, Turtle Rock, and Butterfly Rock?
The cliffs also hold further indication of local native population, including rock carvings on brown stone walls across the river and three levels of cave homes on the track side.
The surroundings change continuously, from layered rock canyon walls to steep towers looming above our heads.
At Milepost 22.5 we squeezed through a 680-foot tunnel. The passage was blasted in 1911 by a crew of 25 Swedes in just six months. I can imagine their practices may not have been OSHA-compliant.
A mile from the end of our 18-mile run we passed over a substantial steel-frame bridge before entering Perkinsville, originally the mid-way water stop for steam engines. The base for the large tank remains, although the story is that the tank itself was blasted away during 1960s filming of How the West Was Won. To add further insult to (building) injury, the scene was cut from the final film.
As we passengers paused before our return trip, the train crew moved the locomotives from the front of the train to the caboose end. Everyone was REQUIRED to take pictures. And we did. And it was fun.
The return trip was mostly guidance-free, leaving us all a chance to view the Verde Valley in the day's fading light. In keeping with the comment-free spirit, I'll show pictures without more words.
Throughout the trip, we had an added passenger: Sonora the Bald Eagle. She came to us courtesy of the Liberty Wildlife eagle-rescue folks and showed off on each of the open cars. Even as comfortable as she was with her two handlers and with the ogling crowd, Sonora managed to have a look in her eyes indicating that she was still the always-aware boss. Maybe we were performing for her.
And, with that, my train day was over. A wonderful experience, thanks to Robin, Roman, Lisa, Sonora and a happy crowd of train travelers.
Driving back home, the Winter "Super Moon" crept over the horizon, with a slightly pink halo above. It was impressive enough to cause me to stop the car and take the camera out again, but, as often happens, the images are not as good as the memory. But it helps. Something to remember throughout the diary-making process.
Sunday - Rest for John, Art Finale for Marianne
This was the last day of Marianne's contemporary art class and the walls of the classroom were filled with school work, hers and that of the two-dozen artists.
Of course, I am partial to Marianne's work:
The very last class activity was hugs and promises to cross paths again.
My own Sunday activities were limited. First, I needed to review the almost 900 pictures from Saturday's train trip. Phew. I try to make the diary pages within a day, but sometimes it just isn't possible, even with a rest day. I suppose that's a good sign.
My one tourist activity was a walk up to the Sedona Heritage Society's headquarters and museum. Here, I read the story of local farmers who used the waters of the Verde River and the relatively mild climate to raise apples and peaches for Jerome, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, and even cities as far away as San Francisco and Seattle. Eventually, the land became more valuable than the crops and farms were sold to developers, except for a few acres surround the Jordan family home that houses the museum. Not the Smithsonian, but friendly and interesting enough.
After my not-too-tough day and Marianne's last class, we sought out a better restaurant than we had found so far. The Chamber of Commerce guy had recommended the airport restaurant and, although we had doubts, we knew the sunset scenery would be nice. As it turned out, The Mesa Grill offered good views and interesting food; interesting, but a bit too rich for our tastes.
Across the parking lot from Mesa Grill was the office for Sedona Air Tours. We had been considering a helicopter tour and, to preclude last-minute cowardice (or excess frugality), I walked in and arranged for a "Hog Wild - Doors Off" tour for mid-day Monday. Now we were committed.
Monday - Catching a plane, or rather a helicopter
We started Monday like the other days, with a too-generous breakfast. However, today we at least had an excuse: there would be no mid-day lunch. The Big Event of the day would be the Hog Wild - Doors Off helicopter ride at 1:30 and we figured it would not be wise to have a lot in our tummies on takeoff. It would be our first helicopter flight after all.
Before heading to the airport, we put in an hour or two at Tlaquepaque, a Sedona landmark for shopping. Now, I am not the (mostly-window) shopping enthusiast that Marianne is, but I have to admit Tlaquepaque (TLA KA PA KEY) offers interesting shops in a very special environment.
Tlaquepaque was started in 1974, but was designed to resemble a story book Southwest village from centuries before. There were several plazas, arch-covered walkways, and even a chapel that would fit in any mission. This rather elegant setting was in stark contrast to the t-shirt and pizza strip malls around our hotel.
The shops are heavy on art and home decor. We visited plenty of places, but one of my favorites was Kuvato Glass Gallery, with shelves and tables filled with creative and colorful works, including a few pieces from Fresno's own Klezewski Glass. My other favorite was Azadi Fine Rugs for even more household color. Fortunately, we already have rugs enough to cover our whole house, so new purchases could be avoided. Even Marianne managed to look, feel, and even try-on some store offerings, but we came away with nothing more to pack in the car.
As flight time came closer, we drove over to Sedona Airport, a simple facility with no scheduled airlines, just private planes and a couple of helicopter-tour operators. I had chosen Sedona Air Tours by chance, but what criteria would I use in any event. After checking in and paying, we were weighed. I won't say what the result was. (More than when we left California!) After that, I left with "John", the flight loader, as he went over to the flight line to remove the Bell Ranger's doors. This gave me plenty of time to check the seating. Looked ok, but that "doors off" stuff does leave big holes.
After taking doors off, John and I returned to the Sedona Air Tours office to join Marianne and Stan, the other passengers, and Nolan, our pilot. By this time, Marianne had already grilled him on his experience (extensive) and judged his demeanor (calm and friendly).
We all went back to the flight line where John buckled us in. Stan, Marianne and I checked our cameras. And almost instantly, Nolan took us airborne. I really didn't know what to expect, but I have to say the takeoff and the whole flight were far smoother than the drive to the airport.
For the whole flight, Marianne and I were clicking away with our cameras, essentially nonstop. This gave me no end of difficulty in creating this diary! I think we had over 700 pictures and a half-dozen short video clips for the flight. I decided to relegate the photos and the video clips to their own, finish-when-I-could, diary page. This simply lets me move on and have a small chance of getting back to my goal of staying within a day or two of events.
However, I do have to show a few pictures. On the left, Stan is shooting out the open door, just to give a feel for the implications of this option. Photography is far, far easier. Staying calm (at least for me) is harder. It is a big hole and Stan and I had just simple seat belts between us and the desert floor.
The most exciting bit of the flight was when Nolan brought the Bell Ranger through a notch called Gunsight Ridge. (I am not certain of the name, since I was not listening too closely to Nolan's chatter. Just praying.)
Away from the rocks, it ws interesting to me to see ordinary parts of town, such as a golf club and several of the housing and commercial areas. Maybe this is why fliers feel superior to the folks on the ground.
Far quicker than I wanted, the flight was over. We landed, John took the required happy tourist photos and helped us out, and Nolan scooted the helicopter over to the fuel tank so Sedona Air Tours could send more folks on the trip of a lifetime..
Later in the afternoon, we celebrated with cocktails and tapas at Mariposa, a very nice restaurant not far from the airport. We sat on the patio and looked out at the same mountains we had crossed just a could hours before. Since it was about sundown, and there were other photographers testing if the sunset would be properly red, I set aside my drink for a moment and joined them staring at red rocks. As it turned out, the sunset was not red, just a little pink, but as my last photo of Sedona's Red Rocks, it was a nice finish.
This ends our Sedona time and I will put the rest of our Arizona story in a subsequent diary.
Stay tuned for that and the addition of flight pictures and videos for this one.
All as time premits!
John and Marianne
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