Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Arizona Rocks!

Total Distance: unchanged.

By Yana:

After Sundance dropped his bike off on Tuesday at a bike shop to get the rear gears and bottom-bracket looked over, and some faffing around on Wednesday morning at Chuck and Cheryl's place, we managed to get ourselves a rental car with Enterprise. It's funny though, you can tell that they vary a little from state to state - we immediately found the customer service in El Paso way better than it was in Tucson.  We did manage to arrange to get picked up though, and the fellow who picked us up in the little yellow beetle we were going to rent was very friendly indeed.  In fact, Dave was the friendliest Hoosier we had ever met, and he very quickly earned himself a place on our list of people we at least mean to write postcards to along the way.

Once we were decked out with our fabulously cute little rental car, we headed north.  The idea was to make it at least to Sedona, where our friends Jeff and Annette had some friends who might be able to put us up.  Unfortunately, that didn't end up eventuating, as the people in question were in the midst of a frantically busy couple of days.  By the time we had established this, it was reasonably late, and the hotels prices were inflated, what with us being in a tourist town.  We ended up going for a drive in hopes of finding somewhere to park and and just sleep in the car.  We did find such a spot, but it was basically on the outskirts of Flagstaff.  Oh well, at least we were closer to the Grand Canyon that way.  Our night in the car was reasonably comfy as well, as the seatbacks actually wind down quite far.  We did wake up in the morning with a layer of ice on the inside of the windows - the frozen condensation of our breath!  Eek!  That took a little bit to clear up.

After a quick brekkie at Denny's (which was more for the sake of my long-standing curiosity than anything else), we headed through Flagstaff to the Canyon itself.  It was, of course, breathtaking.  The snow along the rim of it only enhanced the beauty of the place.

We did that first look into the canyon itself from the rim, like all tourists do, and then pondered what to do with the rest of our time there.  It was early afternoon by then, and we decided we had time to do at least part of one of the little day walks into the Canyon itself.  We decided on the Kaibab trail, which first took us through some thick snow and some steep slippery bits - but we managed just fine, even without the crampons which we had been recommended to attach to our shoes - we were glad we didn't bother with those, as we would have had to actually buy them, and we're already lugging enough gear with us as it is.

Once past the snow line, the beautiful vistas opened to us even more, now in more detail, as we were a little closer to it all.  We watched several ravens sail past us quite close, as we were actually still pretty far from the bottom of the Canyon.  Of course, we knew that we were doomed to only scratch the surface of the place that day, but we are already determined to come back for probably at least two trips: one hiking through, the other one kayaking.

Once out of the Canyon, we headed to the Desert View point, as we had been told the sunsets over the Canyon are just amazing.  Honestly, that part was a bit of a disappointment, as it basically just got dark inside the canyon, and we just sort of watched the sun set over the darkness.  It was also really cold by then, so we fled back to the car, and headed back to Flagstaff.  We went in search of the Thai restaurant which Jeff had recommended to us, but ended up finding a different one instead, and opting for that, as it was getting late.  We then drove back to Sedona, found ourselves a more convenient parking spot, and had a somewhat warmer night in the car, what with our elevation not being quite as high any more.

The next morning, we went for a drive through Sedona and the surrounding area, as we had only seen it in the dark on our previous run through.  The trip back had definitely been worth it, the place is absolutely beautiful.  A tourist trap, yes, but still very charming.  There were some beautiful mountains and rock formations around the place, as well as a bunch of mountain bike trails - another thing we shall have to come back for, it seems.  Yes, there was a certain irony in our not having our bikes with us on that part of the trip.

We also went on a brief jaunt through the town itself, admiring some of the cute shops and eclectic sights.

Once we had had our fill of Sedona, we headed back up to Flagstaff, stopping briefly to actually find the correct Thai place and have lunch there.  Then it was off eastwards towards the Meteorite Crater.  We arrived just in time for one of the guided tours, which was quite informative in terms of the history and geology of the place,

After the tour, we had a look around the museum, which boasted a video game in which you could manufacture a meteorite impact, as well as chunks of meteorite and other informative displays.  The gift shop was a bit of a blast from the past for me, as it had several fossils for sale which my parents had bought versions of on their own trip through this neck of the woods 20-odd years ago.

By the time we were finished with that, it was too late to still check out the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, so we left that for the next day, headed onward to Holbrook, and found ourselves the cheapest motel room yet.  Apparently stand-alone businesses owned by Indian (dots-not-feathers) folks are the way to go.  We also rang Chuck and Cheryl to let them know when we'd be back, and were informed that they'd made plans to be out over part of the weekend, so we'd have to hurry back the next day to collect our stuff and find alternate accommodations. We rang another warmshowers host, Sally, who said she'd be glad to host us, then set about cooking dinner on the path in front of our hotel room. We also, conveniently, discovered that pretty much the most cost-efficient way of getting fuel for our camp stove is to go for the kerosene pump at petrol stations - 67 cents for the bottle.

The next day, we extended our car rental over the phone, and found that because the place is closed on Sundays, we had to rent the thing for one day more than we wanted it.  Annoying and money-sapping, but there wasn't much we could do about it.  We headed on to our next sight-seeing destinations.  Conveniently enough, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest are part of the same National Park, and right next to each other.  We checked out the Painted Desert first, and discovered a ranger showing off some flint-knapping skills.

Unfortunately, he was about to pack up, so we couldn't give it a shot ourselves.  Crying shame, although we did learn a little bit about it, as he was nice enough to explain some of the theory behind it to us.  We then headed into the desert itself, which admittedly wasn't as colourful as I had expected, but very spiffy nonetheless.

The nifty thing about that place is that there aren't actually any paths per se, and you can meander pretty much any way you like.  Pretty unusual for a wilderness area, as people just wandering all over the place tends to be a problem when it comes to preserving a bit of untouched nature.

There were all sorts of pretty rocks which we found, and that's aside from the chunks of petrified wood which littered even this part of the park.

We headed into the Petrified Forest itself, making stops along various points of interest, and then taking walks through the actual "forest" parts.

It's really quite amazing what a variety of minerals can seep into an old log of wood.  We found ourselves thinking that a slice of one of the larger logs would probably make a beautiful coffee table, if you have that kind of money to fritter away.

Once finished with the Petrified Forest, we headed back to Holbrook, and let our hosts in Tucson know our status.  It was late afternoon by then, and we would be able to make it back to Tucson somewhat, but not too ridiculously, late.  Unfortunately, a wrong turn tacked two extra hours onto our itinerary, which Cheryl and Chuck were not going to put up with, so we collected our gear and opted for the sleep in car option again, this time very late, as it took us a while to find a spot where nobody was going to run us off.  It was a pretty embarrassing incident, as it's not fun to realise that you're the chump.  But that's how it goes sometimes.

Luckily, we had already contacted our next host, Sally, as we knew Cheryl and Chuck had other places to be anyway.  Sally was quite accommodating, and had left the gate to the backyard open for us so we could dump our gear, and then explore a little bit of Tucson.  We ended up checking out the Saguaro National park, which is just on the outskirts.  Yep, more cacti than you can shake a stick at.

I must admit that I still haven't really warmed to those Saguaro cacti.  While I admit that they are kind of cool, I find them somehow aesthetically unpleasing.  Still, their vaguely anthromorphic appearance makes for some amusing photo opportunities, which we of course took:



After the park, we decided to go for a drive along the way through the mountains we had taken to Tucson, as we had gone through there in the dark, and thus missed the scenery.  We got to appreciate just how far we had come that day, but also realised that we hadn't really missed that much scenery-wise.  It was getting reasonably late in the afternoon by then, so we just stopped at a grocery store for some melon slices, and then headed back to Sally's.  On the way there, we stopped to examine the ghost bike I had spotted there earlier that day:

 For those of you not in the know, there has been a worldwide Ghost Bike project going on for several years now.  Whenever a cyclist is killed, their bike is painted white and left as a sort of tombstone on the side of the road where they were killed.  I saw my first one in Melbourne, actually, though it was removed after a few weeks, probably because it had been chained to a piece of public art.  Since then, I hadn't seen any more of them, until this little one.  It's chilling as it is, the thought of having one's own bike painted white and left as a monument, but it's also especially saddening to see this particular one, as it is obviously a child's bike.

Sally wasn't home yet from her errands when we got to her place, so we plonked ourselves down in her lovely eclectic backyard, and had a look at the various magazines she had left for us to pass the time with.  Sally arrived not too long after us, so we finally go to meet her in person.  She turned out to be absolutely lovely, and sort of reminds me of some of my great-aunts, but more so.   The kind of lady I hope to be somewhat like when I hit my grey-haired years.  We all cooked dinner together and had a very nice chat.  I also found out from Sally that the ghost bike we had spotted had belonged to a ten-year-old boy who had been hit a year ago by a drunk driver, who was now in jail.  I guess some manner of justice had been served, though it won't bring the kid back.  According to Sally, there are several ghost bikes dotted throughout Tucson - not too surprising, I suppose, as Tucson is a pretty bike-aware community.

We spent the next day picking up Sundance's bike from the repair shop, returning some maps to Chuck and Cheryl, returning the car, and doing general getting-ready-to-leave things.  That night, we made some of our home-made pizza to have with Sally, which she enjoyed immensely, and Sundance also baked some more bread.

And today is the day to leave, with still a little more packing up to do.  It's not so much further to go now, and that west coast is really looking quite attainable now.

Addendum by Sundance:

Just as a side-note of trivia, we've passed through a couple of places I'd only heard about in songs during this jaunt. One of them is Benson, Arizona which pops up in a song on the soundtrack of the extra-low budget science fiction movie Darkstar. The other is Winslow, Arizona from the Eagles song "Take it easy", as in;
     Well I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
     such a fine sight to see.
     It's a girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford,
     slowin' down to take a look at me...

It's kinda interesting to experience these places as real locations, not just abstract names, and know that people really do grow up, live, work, and love in these places.

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