Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chinle, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque

Entrance to Canyon de Chelly
Our stay in Page had come to an end, even tho there was lots more to see and do there.  We left early and drove to the tiny town of Chinle (pronounced: chin-lee) on the Arizona/New Mexico border in east Arizona.  The trip to Chinle was a ride thru no-man’s land for most of the day, surrounded by desert land, prairies, and savannahs, passing occasionally thru small villages with interesting Navajo names.  Basically, the ride was long stretches of road followed by long stretches of road.  When we reached Chinle, we had logged the better part of 300 miles on our rented Toyota Camry.

Navajo Frybread
Ever since we hit this part of the country, we’ve been hearing the term “frybread” everywhere we went.  Tonight, it happened to be on the menu, so we got to try some of the famous Navajo Frybread at dinner.  Very delicious, but probably very high in calories.  It tasted much like a soft fluffy version of funnel cake, but instead of confectionary sugar, the Navajo top it off with honey.  

Anne downs a hamburger
wrapped in Frybread

As we found out, they also use frybread as the sandwich bread for hamburgers, hotdogs, and other deli sandwiches.  It was very different eating a burger between two pieces of frybread.  We could probably get used to it quickly if we lived in this part of the world!

Canyon de Chelly from the South Rim

Canyon de Chelly

Our main focus here in Chinle was to see the famous Canyon de Chelly. The canyon is located entirely within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.  In fact, the Navajo people control all the activities within the canyon, and in order to tour the canyon, you need Navajo approval and a Navajo guide.  Only Navajos can own land in the canyon, and only Navajos can homestead there as well.

Stunning view of Canyon de Chelly from the South Rim
We first drove around the rim of the canyon on our own, visiting the many beautiful overlooks that were along the rim road.  There were many Indian artisans at each of the pullovers, selling their handmade wares.  

Buying horsehair pottery from a Navajo artisan
(out of the back of his car)

We bought a marvelous “horsehair” vase from one of them – they actually throw horsehair on the pottery right before the final firing to create striking, swirly lines.

Ready to enter the Canyon with Irene in her jeep
Later, we met up with our Navajo tour guide Irene, who would be our escort into the floor of this great canyon.  Irene was a frail 61-year old Navajo woman who spoke fluent English and Navajo and was very knowledgeable about the canyon and Navajo life.  She had lived on the reservation all her life and loved driving her 4-wheel jeep in and out of the canyon.  She owns land in the canyon and hopes to live there someday even though there is no electricity and no drinking water.  We were her 3rd tour-group thru the canyon on this day alone, but despite the lengthy day, and the fact that her daughter had dinner on the table, she was more than happy to take us in.  We never got the feeling that we were just a routine endeavor with Irene; perhaps that’s why she’s rated an excellent guide!

Canyon floor with Chinle Washbed
Irene was a bit scary behind the wheel.  She appeared to be a careful driver, as she drove slowly over some very bumpy, wet, muddy spots down in the canyon, and across the Chinle Washbed that flowed like a river between the 700 foot canyon walls. Fortunately, the wash was shallow and Irene’s high clearance 4-wheel jeep seemed to negotiate the washbed without problems.  But it didn’t help when Irene told us that she just got out of the hospital for rolling her last jeep down a mud bank in the canyon!  She also pointed out areas of quicksand along the wash, but reassured us that she knew where all the quicksand deposits were, and that she would try to avoid them!  Just try?

Irene pointed out some of the common flora of the canyon, showing us cottonwood, Russian Olive Trees, Tamarisk (Salt Cedar Trees), and Coyote Willows.  Most of the flora was useless as timber, and amounted to not much more than scrub brush.

Ancient petroglyphs on canyon wall
Our first stop was by a canyon wall where Irene pointed out some very old petroglyphs emblazoned in the rock wall.  There were pictures of horses mostly but also a snake and some symbolic Navajo designs.  She pointed out some contemporary graffiti too. Irene also warned Frank away from a mound of fire ants that he was standing near as he was shooting some of these photos.

Roaming the canyon along Chinle Washbed
Irene gave us much info about the Navajo, but one of the things that caught our attention was that since the Navajo language is a tonal language, it is thought that the ancestors of the Navajo came from Mongolia, crossing over the Bearing Straits and then south to the mid United States. We are certainly no language experts. But when Irene spoke some Navajo for us, it sure sounded similar to some of the Chinese we had learned years ago! There are many other commonalities to support this theory, and the language is just one.

Anasazi cliff dwelling as viewed from the canyon floor

We visited some of the Anasazi cliff houses down in the canyon, people that Irene called the “ancient ones.”  These multi-room dwellings were built like apartments houses into the sheltered alcoves of the high cliffs, often high above ground level. The houses were so far above us, they looked like miniatures, much like ancient dollhouses.  We had to wonder how the people got up to their dwellings.  Irene told us they used ladders and still-visible handholds chiseled into the rock. But the ground level was also closer to the dwelling floor when the ancient ones lived here.

Sheer 700-ft. cliffs loom over Chinle Washbed
We continued to truck over washes, up and down sandy hills, and over roadless terrain thru the canyon.  Frank hung on to the overhead passenger bar and feared getting stuck somewhere in the main river. Spending the night in Irene’s Jeep in some remote corner of Canyon de Chelly was definitely not something we wanted to do.

Several Mule Deer cross the wash in front of our jeep
As we exited the canyon, we saw 8 or 9 mule deer dashing across the wash, seemingly bewildered by our presence.  Even Irene was thrilled and said she does not often see a sight like that.

Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe

After a fun time exploring Chinle and Canyon de Chelly, we drove 300 miles and relocated for some down time in the quaint, easy-going shopping mecca known as Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We stayed near the old town, so hoofing it into the center of town was an easy task.  Our friends Jim and Kathy joined us in Santa Fe for a few days of R&R. 

Georgia O'Keeffe painting of New Mexico
 desert and mountains 
Two cultural highlights were a visit to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and attending a Beethoven concert in Santa Fe’s Lensic Hall.  Georgia, one of the most significant and intriguing artists of the 20th c., lived in New Mexico for the last 37 years of her life, dying at the ripe old age of 98 here in Santa Fe. She was quite a feisty character, and the museum did a good job of showcasing her painting and describing her eventful life.  She traveled to many lands (Peru, India, Japan, etc.) painting as she went along. She is also well-known for her unique colorful abstract paintings of flowers such as calla lilies, which many critics have described with suggestive, Freudian sexual interpretations (much to her denial and disgust). 

In the Mezzanine ready for the Beethoven performance
The four of us thoroughly enjoyed the Beethoven concert which featured 3 major works of Beethoven including the iconic “Choral Fantasy.” Two young men stole the show: Ryan McAdams, the animated conductor and a world class pianist named Sean Chen. We felt as if we were watching two rising stars of classical music. What a lively performance!

First look at Tent Rocks
Note: boulder caps on top of "tents"

Tent Rocks

But the call of the wild once again beckoned.  Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument was close to us, and a perfect sight for the four of us to explore. Located approximately 50 miles west of Santa Fe, the Tent Rocks slot canyon lies between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  Tent Rocks are natural rock formations caused by a geological process thought to be the product of volcanic eruptions 6 million years ago. The resulting pumice and ash ended up in thickly heaped-up deposits that look like tents. 

Anne and Kathy explore the tents
These curious formations are quite peculiar to see.  An interesting phenomenon with the “tents” (also called hoodoos) is that a boulder seems to have rested atop each preserved tent.  Geologists believe that these “capping boulders” formed somehow after the volcanic events of long ago, protecting each of these tents from erosion, and prolonging their tent-like appearance thru time.

The loop trail was a fairly easy 3-mile hike out and back through the slot canyon Tent formations, and the scenery along the route was dotted with all kinds of colorful desert flowers in bloom.  There were many smaller Tent Rock “tents” along the loop trail which we stopped to examine, but the larger, more evocative Tents were at the end of the loop circuit, along with an ancient man-made cave of unknown origin.  

Dramatic capped tents form
slot canyon wall
The loop trail winds along the base of the giant Tents, giving great close-up views of the cones, the hoodoos, and the gullies in the rocks.  Of course, there is always a threat of poisonous snakes, so we were constantly on guard from these dangers while enjoying the wonder of this sight. 

At the High Noon Restaurant with travel friend David


On our last evening of the trip, we had dinner with our good friend and fellow world traveler David who lives in Albuquerque.  We had met David in Dubrovnik, Croatia a decade ago (circa May, 2006), and continued our friendship thru the years, meeting at various places whenever our paths happen to intersect.  Last year we met him for dinner in Paris -- this year it was at the Mexican Pueblo Restaurant called “High Noon” in old town Albuquerque, NM.  Always a pleasure to spend time in his company.

More pics:

Above Canyon de Chelly

Chinle Washbed against canyon wall

Anasazi ruins in alcove of canyon wall

Antelope petroglyphs on canyon wall at Canyon de Chelly

Along the floor of Canyon de Chelly
Note: The Cottonwood trees on the right

Anasazi ruins known as The White House

The four of us at Tent Rocks
Picturesque Tent Rocks line canyon walls

Greetings and salutations from Tent Rocks! 

 OK folks, that’s all she wrote for this trip.  Thank you for traveling with us, and hope you enjoyed our escapades as much as we enjoyed sharing them.  See ya in the fall for our next getaway!


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Around Page: Antelope Canyon, White Pocket and More

Glen Canyon Dam
The small town of Page is located in northern Arizona near the Utah border. Page is a bit touristy with many opportunities to employ outfitters that will take you to the many sights around the area, both natural and man- made.

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. – 186 miles long with depths of over 500 ft.  The Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963, and it took 17 years to fill the lake to the planned level of 3700 ft. above sea level!

Lake Powell from Wahweap Overlook
We had visited Lake Powell years ago with our boys Keith and Ben, so we did not feel the need to explore it again.  We did however, visit the new Carl Hayden Visitor Center and walk out onto the overlook alongside the Glen Canyon Dam.  The water was very low behind the dam, indicating a tremendous water shortage in this area. 

We also took a drive to the top of the Wahweap Overlook which allows the viewer to see the Wahweap Marina and Lake Powell from the west side.  Again, the lake was noticeably low in water volume because of the recent lack of rain.  The winds atop the viewpoint were so fierce, we could scarcely hold a camera steady for any serious photography.

Energetic young Navajo Hoop Dancer
Antelope Canyon

We have wanted to see Antelope Canyon ever since we first saw photos of this spectacular sight, a vision of swirling rocks in various shades of red. But all the photos in the world could not prepare us. This is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The canyon can only be visited by employing a certified Navajo tour guide, and we had arranged ours with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. We met at their office where they kicked off the day with an energetic hoop dance by a Native American. A hoop dance uses several hula-hoop rings, smaller in diameter than the hula hoops of the late 50’s.  The young Navajo boy doing the dance expended more energy in his moves than we had energy to watch.  It may be just that we are starting to feel our age, but wow, what a show – it was a fast-moving expenditure of youthful stamina and flexibility!!  He leaped and jumped wildly, spinning multiple hoops while weaving them quickly in and around different parts of his body.

Slot entrance to Antelope Canyon
After the dancing hoopla, we climbed into the back of the outfitter’s turquoise blue trucks for the bumpy, open-air 10-mile ride out to the entrance of the canyon. It was a bit nippy this morning on this drive, and we wished we had brought jackets!!

Antelope Canyon looks pretty unassuming from the outside, but once inside, it is like entering another dimension. 

Many onlookers admire the canyon walls
Despite the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and the frenzy of visitor photography, the most impressive thing about the ¼ mile long Antelope Canyon was that, not even the hordes of people could diminish the ambiance and spirituality that we felt as we entered this place. The unique red, chiseled-rock beauty of the canyon walls was unduplicated by any other sights we’d seen.

Sunlight from overhead opening illuminates
canyon walls
We were there at one of the best times of the day, when the sun’s rays overhead would shine down thru the slotted ceiling and illuminate the rock formations of the canyon to the fullest.  Marissa, our Navajo guide, led us thru winding passageways that were about 10 feet wide at the widest, and maybe 3 feet wide at the narrowest. Sometimes it was so narrow, we could not fit 2 people abreast and had to take turns passing oncoming people.  The slot was completely cut thru, and so we were able to hike to the other side of the mountain thru the slot and then back the same way.  

This is one site where the pictures really do not tell the story. We had such a tough time choosing which of our many hundreds of photos to use:

Interesting designs on canyon wall

Anne studies the sandy canyon wall

Other-worldly effect as light penetrates the canyon
Ribbons of sandstone in the canyon
Hiking out to see the toadstools


We hiked a mile or so back off Utah Highway 89, where we made a brief stop at the Toadstools, giant mushroom-like formations that are part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We followed a trail lined with many desert wildflowers to get a view of these odd formations. 

Whimsical toadstools
The white columnar supporting tower of the Toadstool is called a “hoodoo,” and the flat balanced rock on the top makes it look similar to a toadstool. Amazing what time, erosion, and the right colors can do.

Our first view of White Pocket
Wavy rock formations at White Pocket 

White Pocket

One of the top experiences of our trip was our day at White Pocket, a stunning, lesser known natural wonder tucked away in Arizona just south of the Utah line. White Pocket is not easy to get to, and luckily our private tour guide, Steve, was skilled at driving his 4WD into the desolate high desert. The ride out was a thrill in itself as we wound our way in the deep sand with Steve making some miraculous moves up and down both wet and dry gullies, plowing our way through with his high-clearance vehicle.  Getting stuck out here in this desolate no-man’s land was always in the back of our minds.

Frank savors the solitude of White Pocket
White Pocket has only recently gained attention, and Steve, the owner of Paria Outpost and Outfitters, was one of the first to bring people here. One of the best things about this adventure is that for the first few hours, we had the place to ourselves! All told, we saw maybe a half dozen people all day long on our hike. We also appreciated that Steve would give us a general direction (head left to that outcropping) and then let us take the lead, blazing our own trail, at our own speed. We felt like Lewis and Clark!

"Nimble Annie" braves a difficult descent
Words cannot do this place justice, and even our photos struggle to capture the eerie magic of that inhospitable, but beckoning land.  White Pocket is a rock-covered expanse with both hilly and flat areas that are challenging even to the nimble, but relatively safe to climb for most.  The slopes could be steep and tricky to negotiate in parts, but with less daunting alternative hiking routes as easier choices. 

Eerie "rock pillows" of White Pocket
Frank was especially fascinated by the white rock “pillows.” Yes, they looked a bit like fluffy, white quilted pillows. These remarkable rocks were connected, yet broken into irregular polygon-shapes, which were etched into the white rock. These rocks and their etchings reminded us of the cell structure of human skin under a microscope. The more Frank studied this phenomenon, the more convinced he became that this regular pattern of white rock must be the work of aliens!

Undulating red sandstone creates a bizarre effect
Another unique feature of the rock formation was the squiggly ripple effects of the sandstone that looked like frozen eddies cast upon a sandy beach by the last big wave.  Wave after wave, swirl after swirl form the sides of some of the canyon walls in an unusual undulating rendition of red rock. The scenery was truly quite artful, displaying many geometric oddities.

Anne contemplates going swimming in mountain
pool at White Pocket
We also saw animal trails, smooth paths worn in the rock by Big-Horned Sheep, Mule Deer, and even Mountain Lions. We were especially lucky to see pools of water in the rock which are uncommon at this time of the year. Steve led us to a hidden area with three of these pools where we found “natural” seating on the rocks and sat to eat the provided bag lunch. What a location -- one of our all-time favorite lunch spots! Of course, as good conservationists, it was required that we collect all our trash and take it out of the park with us.

5-foot long snake bars our exit from White Pocket

As we exited the natural wonder, we spotted a 5’ long snake on the path in front of our jeep.  Steve, ever the naturalist & conservationist, waited until it slithered to safety.

The fun and joy of this day will forever be with us.  Once again, we had a hard time limiting our photos, but here is just a sampling:

Strange swirly White Pocket rock formations

Rock "fan" at White Pocket
Anne treks along exploring White Pocket
Frank decides to take a snooze on the "pillow rock"
Balanced rock at White Pocket

Coral colors of White Pocket

"Wave" of rock at White Pocket

Dimpled white rock befits the name
"White Pocket"