Northward!

639When we left Phoenix this morning, our first stop was Montezuma’s Castle. The name is misleading, since it isn’t a castle, and has nothing to do with Montezuma, but it was a neat stop, nonetheless. I had never seen a cliff dwelling before, so I was especially impressed. The interior of this dwelling is closed to the public (looking at the cliff face, I’m not exactly sure how it was once open to the public), but they had an excellent volunteer docent at the base of the cliff who showed us artifacts and models of the interior. He has been inside a number of times and had some fantastic stories about exploring the rooms inside. He also had some colorful stories about his attempts to rid his garden of javelina. There was a short hike from the castle down to Beaver Creek, which was the first natural running water I’ve seen in Arizona.659

We left I-17 shortly after that to head for Sedona. My disappointment in leaving my saguaro behind lessened as we got higher up and began to see the red rock formations around Sedona. Some of the mountains look as if someone took a knife and cut the tops off cleanly – it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Sedona is surrounded by these red stone cliffs and pine forested mountains on all four sides. I even took pictures while we were filling up the gas tank and wondered how anyone ever gets anything done, living in such an amazing landscape.

665Sedona was fun to walk around – lots of art galleries and touristy shopping. The bookstore we wanted to check out was closed, but the Heartline Cafe was open for lunch, and a little chocolate shop down the street provided chocolate covered pretzels. 685

From Sedona, we headed up Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. Rather than going back to highway 17, you can follow route 89A along the base of the canyon, and then up a series of switchbacks to the rim. Even in this dry season, Oak Creek was running, and we stopped to walk short distances along it several times. The further into the canyon we got, the deeper the snow became. At the overlook at the rim of the canyon, the drifts were two or three feet, even though the temperature was in the upper 40’s. 629633705

We reached Flagstaff in time for a quiet dinner in our room. Tomorrow, we tackle the Grand Canyon!

You can see all of today’s photo’s here.

Tucson, Arizona

We started our first morning of vacation on our own in Tucson bright and early, thanks to my talent for waking up exactly when my east-coast alarm clock would be going off. This is not entirely a bad thing, since we’ve been able to see some amazing early morning light, and this morning was no exception.

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Our drive took us through Gates Pass and up to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, just west of Tucson. It was still fairly early, and the light was behind us, making the mountains breath-taking. The photos we took were on the way back, so the light isn’t as impressive, but it was still worth looking at.

One of the most impressive things about the drive to the museum and the museum grounds are the saguaro cacti. I’ve seen pictures, of course, but I hadn’t really understood how impressive a 10 foot cactus that is hundreds of years old could be. I also hadn’t really pictured the density. Out in this part of the Tucson mountains, the saguaro grow fairly thickly all the way up the summits. They don’t begin to grow arms until after they are seventy years old, so some of these must have been impressively old.

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The museum itself was all it had been promised to be. Everyone who heard we were going to Tucson suggested the desert museum and everyone was right. We started out by buying hats (a necessity for the sun on such an amazing day) and watching a falcon show. We saw some amazing displays of gardening with native plants and some really well planned animal habitats. The almost free-range javelina were really interesting, although the tips on keeping them out of your garden may not come in handy any time too soon. The hummingbird aviary was also impressive – the hummingbirds here are so different from the insect-looking ones on the east cost.

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After spending most of the day at the museum, we made a quick trip out to the Colossal Cave, on the southeast side of Tucson. The drive was pretty, but the cave was a little disappointing. It is a dry limestone cave, which means it’s no longer ‘growing’ (a man on our tour group was never quite convinced that the naturalist wasn’t referring to some kind of mold when she talked about growing caves and was quite pleased that this one had stopped). I’ve never been in a wet cave, but Nathan tells me the colors are far more spectacular. Nevertheless, is was impressive to be six stories below the surface in entirely natural caverns. We also stopped quickly at the park’s tortoise enclosure, but sadly, like those at the desert museum, the tortoises were still hibernating.

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We had dinner back in Tucson, at the La Parilla Suiza. Dinner was delicious, but most notable for me were the oranges growing in the parking lot. That’s how I know I’m far from home. Tonight, we head on the Phoenix, and by tomorrow night we’ll be in Flagstaff. I’m excited to see the Grand Canyon but sorry to be leaving the saguaro behind.

You can see all of our pictures from today here.