Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cottonwood & Flagstaff

We had to move camp at the end of our week with the Lawrence's because we couldn't get a spot at the campground in Sedona for the second weekend. So we moved out to Cottonwood, to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, where we had really enjoyed staying before.

After saying our goodbyes to our dear friends, we settled in to enjoy a quiet weekend, trying to keep cool as temperatures soared to nearly 100 degrees. Our air conditioner has a hard time when it gets over 90 - we're lucky if it cools us by 10 degrees, but it still feels good compared to being out baking in the sun.

One of the visitors to our camp, a Gambel's Quail:

We also had jackrabbits, desert cottontails, hummingbirds and a roadrunner.

I loved the mountain bike trail loop at this park, and was determined to ride it again, so both of the next two mornings I got up early and was on the trail before 7:00AM. Hot air balloons were visible each morning as well - I guess the aeronautics of ballooning are best before the desert heats up. Anyway, the trail was great as ever: a fairly gradual climb of about 3 miles, with great views of the valley and the mountains to the west...

...then another 3-ish miles of rolling terrain, and then the last 3 miles of brilliant downhill singletrack, chock full of sweet turns, ledges and drops - such a blast!

We pretty much holed in during the hottest part of the day, heading out when the sun got lower late in the afternoons to walk the dogs and let them swim in the Verde River that flows through the park.

Our next stop was just over an hour's drive up (literally, over 3000 feet higher) to Flagstaff. Our friends Tommy & Danielle live there, and we were happy to be able to visit them again, see their home and home-town.

Tommy took us on a mountain bike ride, one that suited Nancy's tastes - Campbell Mesa. Danielle, 30 weeks pregnant, has wisely hung up her bike until after the little one emerges. At the trailhead we found that there was a controlled burn going on, which closed most of the trail system to us, but we made the best of it and still enjoyed a nice ride.

The next day we ventured into downtown Flagstaff, and really liked it. Lots of art shops and galleries, outfitters and restaurants. It had a vibrant atmosphere, friendly and unpretentious. It's proximity to real mountains (12000' Humphrey's Peak is practically in the city) gives it a mountain town feel, yet a half hour drive gets you down off of the plateau and into summery southern-Arizona weather. Sedona is close; the Grand Canyon is close. There's trails everywhere, and most people use them. Flag is added too our short list of favorite places - one's we'd like to get to know better.

Scenes from Flagstaff:

Car paint ruined? Try duct tape as an exterior finish:

Tommy and Danielle then took us up the mountain where the four of us, along with Toby and Haley (T&D's charming hiking shih-tzu) and we went for a nice gentle hike, perfect for little white dogs and pregnant ladies! Back down in Flag, we settled in for a great evening at their house, were we were served grilled steak tacos - mmmmmm!

Our last day in Flag the weather turned ugly. Although the day dawned clear and mild, the wind picked up, scudding clouds filled the sky, the temperature dropped into the 30s, and all day long we got alternating rain, sleet, snow, hail, and sun! We did some laundry and shopping, then met T & D downtown for happy hour drinks and sushi at Karma.

It was a wonderful few days with great people in awesome Flagstaff. "I pledge allegiance to the Flag..."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sedona with the Lawrences

Wow, what an amazing week in Sedona... We loved this place when we were here last, but this time we made some lasting memories. What made it special was that our friends Gene, Theonne, Austin and Athena flew in from back home to join us for the week. We got into town a day early, to beat an ugly weather system, which worked out well, because the next day it was cold, windy, and alternating between rain and snow. At times the snow was so thick it was near white-out conditions, like when we went to the grocery store. We salvaged the day with a return visit to one of our favorite restaurants Elote Cafe - for margaritas, elote, shrimp enchiladas and smoked pork cheek (snicker snicker). Soooo gooood!

The next day, our first day together, it was cool but clearing, and we were able to go for two nice hikes, one around Bell Rock and another up to the Cathedral formation.

Here's the gang, with Bell Rock and The Courthouse in the background:

After a steep scramble on the upper half of the Cathedral trail, we stood among these...

...and admired this view:

We ate the first of many meals together that night, and were happy to include our friends Tommy and Danielle, who we met at Bryce Canyon last year. They live in nearby Flagstaff, and we'll see more of them after we leave Sedona. It was a great evening of reunion.

Monday the six of us went mountain biking together in the morning, riding the length of the Bell Rock Pathway:

Us boys thought it was a good idea to ride again immediately after the family ride, heading out the Slim Shady trail, to Templeton. These are great trails, and we had a blast. Unfortunately it was a bit much, and my legs started cramping about half way through. I had to nurse them all of the way back. Very painful.

Speaking of painful, Gene was riding along on a flat bit of slickrock, and suddenly his bike flew out from under him! The small stone he was rolling over could never have caused such a crash, no, not to someone so skilled! So, we all decided that Gene must have ridden head-on into one of Sedona's famous vortexes! Sought out by millions looking for health and well-being, these vortexes are generally thought to be beneficial, but we know differently.

Other mysterious happenings were the sudden disappearance of all of Theonne's cell phone contacts, and the appearance of halos of light in her photography. Another vortex, perhaps?

The three amigos rode again on Thursday, did the same two trails plus the Baldwin loop, and we all felt great that time. Except that time one of the two rental bikes was a real stinker. An older Santa Cruz trail bike, certainly very good when new, was in desperate need of a complete overhaul, if not a one-way trip to the landfill. Blown shocks and crappy shifting makes for a miserable riding experience. Austin took the bike for about half of the ride, and was able to have fun despite its unsavory nature. It seemed to hate Gene, though, and we know he hated it! Then, on a particularly rough (therefore fun) downhill I punctured a tire and we had to stop for repairs. Anyway, despite these difficulties we had two days of amazing mountain-bike riding on Sedona's world-class singletrack.

Tres Amigos on one of Sedona's awesome singletrack trails:
Yours truly launches a drop: (Austin did this too, with more style, but this is my blog, so I get all to choose the photos!)
Here Austin rails a turn:
Bikes aloft on the Baldwin trail:

Another notable expedition we took was up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Nancy and I had been to the north rim, but team Lawrence had never seen this amazing place, so we took the two hour jaunt to give it a look. One of the countless amazing things about the Grand Canyon is how close to it you can get without any indication that there is a mile-deep, 18 mile-wide abyss in front of you. Even within the park boundaries, among the buildings of Grand Canyon Village, at the visitor's center - nothing. Not even a glimpse. Walk the trail up to the rim and finally, less than 100 feet away, through the trees, the north rim appears, looking like a watercolor painting on the horizon, all washed out and indistinct through miles of atmosphere. Not until your toes hang out over the edge does the vastness of it all slam into your consciousness, leaving you speechless.

Thanks to Austin's sharp eyes and my binoculars, I was excited to see a California Condor soaring beneath us in the canyon - quite likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lawrences gaze into abyss:

We wandered along the rim trail, taking it all in, then dropped down a ways on the Bright Angel trail, to get the perspective that can only be gotten by descending the steep canyon walls.

Back in Sedona we took several more hikes, including one to Devil's Bridge, and up Boynton Canyon. The ladies enjoyed massages at the luxury Enchantment Resort while us manly men rode our bikes, then we joined them and were generously treated to lunch by Gene's cousins Bob and Kristen who work there at the resort. So nice! Thanks, guys! We also wandered around the former mining town, current artisans/tourist town of Jerome, enjoyed a meal at the Haunted Hamburger, and and checked out the ancient Pueblan ruins of Tuzigoot.

Yep, an amazing time in spectacular Sedona.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gallup, New Mexico

We were looking forward to staying at Red Rocks Park, near Gallup, New Mexico. Nestled in the shoulders of towering red sandstone cliffs, the campground offered spectacular scenery and access to great hiking and mountain biking trails. When we pulled in, the 200-site campground was empty. We pulled into a site with our rear window facing the beautiful scene:

Two more campers came in after us, and wouldn't you know, out of the entirety of the vast campground, they both settled in right near us. One almost directly behind us! Annoying! I know we're attractive and all, but please! Just a little space!

Anyway, the predominant and defining factor, by a huge margin, of our short stay in Gallup was wind. Wind so strong it rocked us with all jacks down, opening doors was difficult and scary, and the air was full of sand and grit. It was like being in a sand-blasting machine! Well, I imagine that it was like being in a sand-blasting machine - I haven't actually been in one... Anyway, it was brutal.

I took Toby for a walk anyway, but felt bad for him because the closer you got to the ground the higher the sand to air ratio. Also, we're back in goat-head territory - those pea-sized hardened and sharply pronged seeds. They pierce rubber and flesh. I pulled many out of Toby's poor tender foot pads. Thankfully they only grow near pavement, so as soon as we were a ways onto the trail it was just flying sand to deal with. And once we progressed up into the canyon, and gained some elevation, the wind became virtually sand-free. So, we had a nice hike in the middle, a little rough at the beginning and end.

In the morning we looked at the forecast. It was calm, but predicted to be even more windy for most of the day, and the following day was to be as windy but also very cold and snowing. So, we reluctantly chose to drive on the nicer day, to avoid driving to Sedona in blowing sleet and snow. Too bad, but I think it was the right choice. I know now that more than 5" of snow fell in Flagstaff, which is directly on our route.

So perhaps we'll find our way back to Gallup, and do justice to the hiking and biking opportunities there. Meanwhile, we've got an awesome week coming up, in Sedona, with our friends the Lawrences joining us! Very good times ahead!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Santa Fe Revisited

When we visited Santa Fe the last time we only spent one afternoon in the city, and left feeling that more time was needed. So this time around we spent four days, and still barely scratched the surface. What a great city and surrounding area.

We stayed at a KOA campground, based on good reviews and a promotional deal which reduced their usually too-high prices down to reasonable. After driving over from Tucumcari and gaining 3000' of altitude, (from 4100 to 7200') we pulled in and threaded our way into our narrow, but nice, site.

During our stay we walked around the city center and it's Plaza, and out Canyon Road, lined with countless galleries. We enjoyed fresh margaritas and tapas in a courtyard eatery. We took Toby on a nice hike up Apache Canyon in search of an elusive hot-spring. And I rode the Dale Ball trail system, where I learned what it's like to ride at 7500' without sufficient acclimatization (searing lungs; racing heart).

So, what follows is a photographic essay of our time in the excellent city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Remember that the photos will enlarge when clicked on.

Looking from the Plaza down to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis:

House margarita - rocks - salt:

Adobe (Faux-dobe?)

What an ass!

Have I gotten taller?

Side street off of Canyon Road:

One of many, many galleries:

Mailbox set in adobe, typical in this city:


Riding Dale Ball Trails:

Country houses, Santa Fe style:
Property line walls, Santa Fe style:

Hiking up Apache Canyon:

End of the trail: