Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 5

Northern Arizona

Tuesday 4/19:  This morning we saw that our iPhones had adjusted themselves to Arizona’s peculiar time zone; but, to our confusion, our car’s clock had not. It’s complicated, and we’ll be in New Mexico in two days; so we’re putting up with it.

I went down to check our motel’s kidney-shaped pool with five fountains. The water was just right. This reminded me of an incident on a 1991 road trip thru Oregon with our teenage girls and April and Domenique. We’d stopped at a motel that advertised a heated pool; but when I put my hand in it, it was cold. I went to the office to complain. “It is heated, by the sun,” the manager explained. I’ve finally thought of a comeback; “I’m tipping you, with these words.” Back in the present, I managed 20 laps in the mid-sized pool with frequent breaks for panting. It was in full sun, so I wore my hat. The wet hat was comfortably cool for an hour afterward.

Lower Antelope Canyon

We drove to the Navajo LeChee reservation east of Page AZ to join a walking tour of Lower Antelope Canyon. Set in a broad orange desert dotted with little shrubs, Ken’s Tours’ modest visitor center sits at the head of a dusty parking lot in the shadow of a power station’s three giant smokestacks. Self-guided exploration of the canyon was once allowed. But today, entrance is only permitted with guides, due to a flash flood in the ’90s in which 11 people were killed. In addition to the permanent canyon structures, rope ladders are available for evacuation. The operation is prepared to evacuate the canyon in an emergency; and they did so last Friday during a rainstorm, although it didn’t cause a flash flood. The average flood level in the narrow canyon is five to seven feet, and the canyon has been known to fill to the brim with torrential floodwater.

antelope topFrom above, the canyon looks like a slight depression paved with lumpy purple slickrock. From inside, it’s an organic pink-orange cathedral, the most beautiful canyon I’ve ever seen. We’d switched from our reserved photography tour to a general tour, feeling intimidated by the requirement that each participant have a DSLR camera and a tripod extending to three feet or more. Instead we used our phones, as did most of our group of 15. We befriended a German-speaking Swiss couple and took pictures for each other. Our young Navajo guide also took peoples’ pictures, pointed out good vantage points, and gave camera-setting advice. In addition to being the prettiest slot canyon ever, Lower Antelope was the easiest; there was no wading, scrambling or squeezing here. Dry sand floors and sturdy steel stairs made the trip easy (for the able-bodied)–a good thing, because I could hardly tear my eyes away from the swirling walls to watch where I was going. Afterward, one of the German women gave us hugs, knowing that we could hardly speak and would never see each other again. “Have a wonderful life!”

This adventure was followed by a long, dull drive to Cottonwood AZ, south of Sedona. Sadly, this motel had a dinky pool fit only for children.

Wednesday 4/20:  This was a less good day, tho it ended okay. I hurt my back while getting out of the shower. An allergy, some pollen I suppose, had me sneezing and sniffling; the antihistamines that I’ve had good luck with in Seattle barely affected it here. It was hot too; in Cottonwood the temp hit 91 F.

Huckaby Trail

Huckaby trailWe drove to the Forest Service’s Huckaby trailhead, east of town. This trail traverses a mountainside overlooking Sedona and the impressive mountain north of it. It was like a garden path, copiously lined with pale blue flowers and paddle-shaped cacti. The fragrance of the wildflowers was powerful; I could hardly do anything but blow my nose. We gave it up and had lunch (spring rolls for me) at Thai Spices in Sedona, Cottonwood’s wealthy, tourist-infested cousin. We drove past Red Rock State Park and retreated to our cool motel room.

In the evening we went out in search of Old Town and had dinner there at Bocce, a lively pizzeria. We sat at the counter and watched the cheerful gang of chefs move pizzas in and out of a flaming oven with a long-handled shovel. I had a pesto chicken pizza and ate the whole thing.

Tuzigoot and Montezuma Well

TuzigootThursday 4/21:  We visited two pueblo sites on our way to New Mexico. Tuzigoot National Monument, outside of Cottonwood, is a hilltop complex overlooking a floodplain where the 12th-century residents grew their crops. It was excavated and restored in 1932, providing jobs to the area. Apache Tribe members who worked on the project were upset at the prospect of disturbing ancestors, and conducted purification ceremonies. On the other hand, the project brought to a halt theft and damage by “pot-diggers” seeking Anasazi artifacts for the black market.

potTuzigoot, like nearly all of the southwest’s pueblo communities, was abandoned by 1300, long before Spanish missionaries and American pioneers came on the scene.  We looked at an exhibit here that diagrammed the growth of the Tuzigoot pueblo; many buildings were added around the central tower later in its history.  This parallels what we saw at Mesa Verde National Park (CO) on a previous trip; a population explosion, followed by abandonment.  It’s as if, in response to food shortages and external threats, a stone-age feudalism set in and ultimately failed.  The conventional explanation for the exodus is drought; and the modern-day southwest drought gives credence to the theory.  However, in the small museum here we read about a different theory.  Some Hopi and Pueblo descendants of the Anasazi say that the southwest’s pueblos and cave dwellings were meant to be temporary, and that a further migration had been intended.  What was the ultimate destination?  Was this further migration attempted?  I don’t know any more about this; it’s an intriguing mystery.

We also visited Montezuma Well National Monument to the east. Montezuma had nothing to do with this site, nor with nearby Montezuma Castle; they were misnamed by impressionable settlers. The pond is illogically located at the top of a barren, rocky hill in a steep-walled circular basin. This spring-fed pond is 55 feet deep, and another 45 feet of “fluidic mud” (quicksand?) extends below the water to its true bottom. The briny-looking water supports tiny shrimp and other such creatures who probably imagine that their wet little world is the universe. A ranger offered peeks thru a telescope focused on a horned owl’s nest.

We turned east on I-40, and crossed a vast sandy plain on which scattered bits of grass struggled to survive.  On the horizon we saw long, low buttes turned blue by distance. Now that’s a desert. On the Interstate, it became clear that our Chevy Trax was a gutless car. “It makes motor noises, but it doesn’t actually do anything,” Pat grumbled. Occasionally we passed abandoned tourist traps and long freight trains. We crossed the New Mexico border at dusk, losing the hour we’d gained when we entered Arizona’s nonconforming time zone.

New Mexico again

Friday 4/22:  We set out from Gallup NM on the final leg of our trip, eating up our food and giving or throwing away our guidebooks, Styrofoam cooler, etc. to fit our stuff into our luggage for flying. We were looking for a gas station where we could scrape the bugs off our windshield. We stopped at a Shell station; but, while I was filling the tank, Pat found out that somebody had stolen all the squeegees.

I shut off the pump, and we moved on to a Philips 66 on Route 66 in Grants to finish our fill-up. When I went in to get my change, the man ahead of me was wearing a cap with “Route 66” printed on the back. He bought a lottery ticket, asking for number 6. This prompted me to read up on The Number Of The Beast. Apparently, Route 66 is the road to hell.

We picnicked in a windy softball park outside of Albuquerque, turned in our car and caught the Seattle plane. This trip was nearly all good. We had lots of fun with Alice, but for the most part we missed Jenn. We’ve never before seen such climate extremes, from snow to 90 degrees, during the same trip. We learned to be skeptical of Google Maps. I charted a course to Cottonwood’s Old Town only to end up at the Old Town RV Park. “She” also delivered us to a dead-end behind a park and the featureless back wall of a supermarket. I barely used my hiking boots or DSLR camera, and I never used my tripod (though Pat did). These things probably won’t be invited along next time.

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