If we were going to be in Tucson, we were going to Saguaro National Park, that was quite obvious. But there are TWO sides to the Park, which means decisions must be made! Okay, the truth is that some decisions are very easy to make. I was NOT up for hiking. It was late June. Hot. Sunny. Already past 10 am. We were going to do a drive-through tour, not a walking tour. That means the East side of the park – the Rincon Mountain District.
When my son moved out to Arizona 3 years ago, he and his friend stopped in Tucson. Adam, his friend, is a marathon hiker – totally fit, used to hiking high elevations, low elevations, acclimated to all types of trails. My son – not so much. They began hiking on the west side – the Tucson Mountain District. As it happens, I was “watching” them on my Life360 app on my phone at the time. I’d made them promise to have it on the whole trip from Orlando, FL to Tempe, AZ.
I saw the little dot moving in the middle of nothing. I zoomed in. Still just nothing. Zoomed, zoomed, zoomed – finally a skinny little white line indicating a path in the middle of NOTHING. It was July, it was mid-morning. My son turned back at his half-water mark. Adam made it all the way to whatever is at the end of that trail and back. 🙂 Adam rocks but we are NOT Adam. We drive.
It’s always fun to drive to the trails. Long before you get to the rangers’ welcome center you are always deep into the desert/park and surrounded by beauty. We did stop at the welcome center to make sure our water bottles were full. Even in an air-conditioned car it is dry dry dry. I knew I’d be bopping in and out for photos so enough water was a must.
Truth to tell, I don’t remember any individual WOW moment on the loop. While it is starkly beautiful, it did not move me the way the red & white rocks of Sedona do. What I did love were the flowers holding their own against the climate, the way the bushes twist and grow, the unexpected green in the midst of dust.
When we started the loop we were alone – no other cars entered just before or after us. Shortly after our first few pull-offs, however, a van from NC caught up to us. Two women and children in the car. We began by nodding and waving as we passed in the pull-offs, but did ultimately progress to chatting. We talked cameras, national parks, travel in general. 🙂 It was quite companionable and NOT intrusive. Of course, I LIKE chatting with people.
There was another car that came in shortly after we did but I think they either had different expectations or they’d taken a wrong turn. I don’t recall them pulling off and shortly after seeing them they sped off. I know there were not a lot of other vehicles nor did we see any wildlife, but even for this NJ gal who can really open up on the NJ Tpke, I think they were going a bit fast for the venue.
I’m so lucky I do these trips with my son. Either I’ve brow-beaten him into submission or he enjoys the stops as well as I do (unlike my husband and my friend Honour, both of whom seem incapable of slowing down or stopping when I call out -ooo THERE!!). He was doing the driving and he was very patient about pulling into the side spaces or stopping in the middle of the road. Maybe one day I’ll have a very good camera, some talent/instruction, and his forbearance will be rewarded by excellent photographs.
Until then, you get what you get. 🙂 Yes – getting a new camera IS still on my to-do list. The NC van tired before we did and soon disappeared in the distance. We continued along until even I had had enough of rocks and cacti. I’d expected a lot more cacti than we saw. One of the pull-outs had a sign by the viewpoint explaining that there HAD been many more cacti decades ago. Grazing and fires and invasive plants had killed off a lot of the saguaro cacti. The fires were actually a bonus because they killed off the invasive flora. Once the cattle were removed as well, the saguaro began to thrive.
One day I would like to go back and do some hiking on the western side. I’ve learned in the last 3 years, howev16er, that hiking in AZ is nothing like hiking in NJ. I need to get in better shape to deal with the altitude and I need to stop trying to hike in the hottest months of the year. 🙂 One of these days I’ll get out there in the cooler months.
Although we did take a LONG time to traverse the 8 miles, when we had finished we still had plenty of time left in the day. We checked to see what there might be to see in Tucson that was close, easy, and didn’t require preparation. We discovered we were not too far from John F. Kennedy Park, which had a LAKE! After the sere beauty of the cacti, a lake sounded perfect.
We got there with no trouble, but had to do a bit of circling to find the entrance. This is where relying solely on your phone for guidance can land you in the wrong spot. AFTER we extricated ourselves from the gravel behind the Pima County Public Library, we ignored our phones and relied on our inherited sense of direction (thank you, Ernie!). That was MUCH more successful. As you can see, JFK park is lovely. There is fishing, boating, swimming and ducks. 🙂 Not to mention a view of the mountains. Once we’d relaxed and cooled down in the shade of the tree, we headed out to Culinary Dropout for dinner!
If it’s June it seems to be that I am in Arizona. I’m not sure how I manage to always pick the hottest months to go to Arizona, but perhaps that’s just one of my many superpowers. 🙂 I needed to pick my dates carefully because I had a VERY important 2nd birthday for the cutest grand-niece in the world, and then commitments on the coming home end as well. I took an early morning flight out on Monday morning. The last 2 early morning flights (I’m talking 9am here, NOT 5am) both had the sleeper seats – the kind that recline nearly horizontal. Last time that was a complete waste for me as I was not tired, but this time I thought – why not? I reclined and slept. 🙂 That does make the flight go faster. What I want to know is why I NEVER have those seats on the red-eye coming home. That flight has the old basic seat, but that’s when I want to sleep the entire flight. Go figure.
I picked up my rental car and headed to my Arizona ‘home’ – the Chandler Hilton. I have to give them a call-out – they are always so helpful and pleasant. I really do enjoy my stays there. I’d booked us a room on the executive level so we had a balcony, and access to the lounge (water and coffee and snacks all day long!). We also had a view of the pool this time instead of the parking lot. 🙂 I do so love a water view! 🙂
My son and I both planned to work the beginning of the week, and then take off from Thursday through Sunday for vacation activities. I always get a kick out of having him stay at the hotel with me and then “commute to his office” in the morning – his office being his bedroom since he’s been WFH for over a year now, like many of us. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were fairly uneventful activity-wise. We did go out for a celebratory dinner on Monday. We were celebrating my son’s latest promotion (just learned that morning) and the up-coming vacation. We had dinner at Stone & Vine Urban Italian. We’d eaten there my last trip and both loved it. It has great ambience, outdoor dining beside a lake and wonderful waitstaff, not to mention the delicious food. It was a great start to the week!
I was out in Arizona to relax and refresh. When my son mentioned that the hike he picked for us was up in Sedona, my first reaction was dismay. Although I love Sedona, I was SO TIRED. Driving up and back in one day is exhausting. I’d already booked my hotel in Chandler for the entire week. But as I thought on it my attitude changed. I love Sedona. It sounded like a great hike. My hotel wasn’t costing all that much. We needed a break. I decided that we would drive up to Sedona (after all, isn’t that a perfect trip for a convertible Mustang?) AND we would stay overnight. Yes, I’d be paying for 2 hotel rooms at the same time, but I decided it was worth the cost. I started flipping through “What to do in Arizona” sites, and saw that up by Flagstaff there was something called Meteor Crater.
I like looking at holes in the ground. 🙂 After all, what are the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon but big holes in the ground? Okay – maybe they are more like wide cracks in the ground, but still – ‘in the ground’, not above. I liked the Ramon Crater in Israel – another hole in the ground. I suggested that we drive up to Flagstaff and see the Meteor Crater, and then drive down to Sedona for dinner and stay the night. We’d get up refreshed and go hike, hang about Sedona, then drive back to Chandler. My son agreed with that plan. (He’s actually very agreeable.)
I went to chat with the front desk at the hotel and told them my plans, and asked if maybe they could help me find a place at a “sister” hotel and maybe get me a better rate. They explained that they did not partner with any of the other hotels up there, not even ones owned by Hilton. But, she said, what I can do is help you out here. How about if I take off one night here for you, would that be okay? Would it be okay? It would be delightful. We had a long chat about Sedona, hiking, scenery, vacations. The folks at the front desk of the Chandler Hilton are so friendly and helpful. With this plan I didn’t have to pack up and check out and then come back and check in again. Not only that, but we’d not had room service yet. I scheduled room service for the Monday we were leaving. That way we’d come back to a nice clean room and if there were any germs floating about, they should have settled/evaporated by the time of our return. (Again – all the hotel personnel wore masks and followed all the social distancing protocols.)
Hotel rooms in Sedona are expensive and not plentiful, even during a pandemic. I checked out several and finally went with one of the less expensive ones, right near the lower center of town. It was a Hilton property as I thought it only fair. 🙂 We packed up our backpacks, made sure we had suntan lotion and water, and started out after breakfast Monday morning. *laughing* I think we ended up making 3 trips back to my son’s house for things we forgot before we finally got out to the highway.
We saw the sign for Montezuma Well and made our usual jokes. We saw a sign for Walnut Canyon and thought we might stop there during this trip as well. When I’m in NJ, I have a fairly accurate sense of how long a given trip will take given the mileage and the roads. For some reason I misjudged the distance to the crater. I kept thinking “Flagstaff” but it’s actually located 35 miles east of Flagstaff. Given our late start, and the slower driving with the top down, it was around 1:30-1:45 when we arrived. We were just in time to join the 2:10pm tour.
Obviously the website will give a much better description of the crater and why it is so cool to see, but I’ll try to do some of that here for you folk who don’t click through. 🙂 Oh – and for one of you – “The Meteor Crater RV Park is located just off Interstate 40 exit 233, less than a 1/4 mile to the right. The large parking lot includes a Mobil Gas Station and Country Store for checking in.” The brochure says this is “the best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth. 50,00 years ago a huge iron-nickel meteorite, estimated to have been about 150 feet across and weighing several hundred thousand tons, struck the northern Arizona rocky plain with an explosive force greater than 20 million tons of TNT. In seconds, the result of this violent impact was the excavation of a giant bowl-shaped cavity (550 feet deep and 4,000 feet across) known today as Meteor Crater.”
The land is privately owned, although surrounded by much tribal land. The guide told us that astronauts have used the site for training and they have used the site for film locations as well. You can no longer go down into the crater – the change in air pressure is so extreme (it actually gets thinner at the bottom) that many people cannot get back out. When that happens they have to call in the US Air Force to medivac them. That gets extremely costly. There is a tour on the rim, but for only a small part. Thank goodness! I can’t remember the exact distance but I know there is no way I could do a hike around the perimeter.
The tour was very interesting and just long enough, although I was a bit apprehensive from the very first things the guide said once he locked the door behind us. “We are at 5710 feet, higher altitude than Denver, CO (5280 feet). ” If you remember my post last year, I discovered that I am NOT used to high altitudes and had great difficulty attempting to hike in the Superstition Mountains for that reason. I had visions of me fainting and falling into the crater, which is 560 ft deep, and a very, very rocky descent. Obviously I was alright. *grin* For me the most interesting fact was finding out what happened to the meteor. Something that big you would think would still be around. It is. Although one good sized chunk (maybe a foot long) is on display in the museum, the rest of the meteor is underfoot. The guide did a wonderful display of scooping dust and then showing with a magnet that the dust was the meteor – completely disintegrated into the dust under our feet. Definitely a fascinating discussion and explanation.
I recommend Meteor Crater. Time-wise I think you might want to allow half a day. My son and I thought we’d go to Walnut Canyon on our way to Sedona, but we overheard 3 other groups talking about meeting up at Walnut Canyon. *grin* We decided that maybe it was getting a bit late in the day for another major excursion, and we still had another 90 minutes ride to get to Sedona. We’ll get to Walnut Canyon another time. 🙂
I usually try to write & post in chronological order. That isn’t working for me these days. The malaise I attribute to life in a pandemic means that I took many photos and could never bring myself to write. My vacation to Arizona has refreshed me and ‘cleared my cache’ so I can again look on the bright side of life. I’m trying to catch up with all those old photos and dreading trying to put my love of Sedona in words. Sedona is beyond words. I may simply end up with nothing but pictures. In the meantime I’m going to stick my toe in the metaphorical water and write about Montezuma Well.
My son and I had seen the signs for Montezuma Well last year on our way to Sedona. It tickled our fancy and made us imagine ridiculous scenarios for what it might be. We didn’t know if it was a place or a thing or both. It reminded ME of that town along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, that is named Jersey Shore. Montezuma (or more properly Moctezuma II) was an Aztec ruler. The Aztecs were not in northern Arizona. Yet there along Rt 17, as we headed up to Flagstaff, was that sign for his well. We couldn’t stop on our way north, but we did have time to stop on our way south.
Montezuma Well, together with Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, is part of the National Park Service. They are the remnants of the Sinagua people. The well began forming more than 10,000 years ago from snow atop the Mogollon Rim. That snow melted through all the rocks over the millenia, but hit a vertical wall of volcanic basalt. This volcanic basalt acts as a dam, forcing the water back towards the surface. Ultimately (remember – millenia), it formed the sinkhole that is there today. The water remains at a constant temperature (I believe around 74 F) and near constant volume. You’d think this was a wonderful source for drinking but it is highly carbonated with a very high arsenic content. Quoting Wikipedia: “At least five endemic species are found exclusively in Montezuma Well: a diatom, the Montezuma Well springsnail, a water scorpion, the Hyalella montezumaamphipod, and the Motobdella montezumaleech — the most endemic species in any spring in the southwestern United States.” (Yes, I had to look up ‘endemic’ – native and restricted to a certain place.) Wikipedia says the water was used for irrigation, which I find puzzling because of the arsenic. I need to research why the plants do not absorb the arsenic.
Besides those 5 endemic species, we saw a lot of ducks having a peaceful time paddling about the water. As always, the view from the top of the well is beautiful – flat land stretching out to looming mountains. There are 2 paths but only 1 is open currently – the path down to the swallet. (I learned a lot of new words on this adventure: swallet = sinkhole.) From the top that path looked steep and a bit rocky but I decided to brave it anyway. I’m glad I did because the top view was misleading. Although it is somewhat steep, it was easily manageable – no need to traverse it on my tush. 🙂
There are interesting rocks, and views of the dwellings on the far wall, and finally you arrive at water level. There you can see where the water drains from the sinkhole into a small cave to appear above ground outside the formation to provide irrigation. There was a volunteer ranger there as well to answer questions. Down at water level it is delightfully cool and shaded, with a bench for resting. There are at least 2 petroglyphs visible on the rocks.
Since the longer trail is currently closed for safety reasons, our visit was perhaps 30 minutes in total. We hiked to the top, read the signs, took pictures, and then hiked down to water level. We spent a few moments there chatting with the ranger and taking photos, and then hiked back up. Although it’s a short stop, it is well worth the time. We agreed that we needed to leave more time our next time heading north so we could see Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.
Like many people these days, I have been feeling frustrated living during a pandemic. I will say straight out (making every gesture and speaking every saying that averts the ‘evil eye’) that I really have no reason to complain. My husband and I both work from home and have been fully employed. My parents, may they rest in peace, are no longer here and I don’t have to worry about them. I have no children of school age so I don’t have to make the crucial decision of whether or not to let them attend classes in person. I live in NJ where we fought the virus and brought it under control. Well, we did, but now apparently many New Jerseyans are feeling mask fatigue and have stopped doing all the things that protected us all for so long. But I miss my son. I haven’t seen him since the very beginning of February. No trip back home for Passover in the spring, no trip for me to him in the spring or to spend Rosh Hashanah with him. Arizona brought its infection rate waaaaaaay down and I decided it was time to take action.
I booked myself a trip to Phoenix. I got a round-trip first class ticket for a ridiculously low price, using all of my accumulated airline points. I booked myself into a hotel only 15 minutes from my son’s house. The rates were VERY low for the room – on the executive floor, with a walk-out balcony, and access to the concierge lounge. I’d stayed at this Chandler Hilton before and enjoyed it. The people there are lovely – helpful and cheerful! I even had a reasonable car rental. I decided to go for an entire week, and spend some days on vacation but other days working from the hotel. I thought I was taking this trip to reset MY spirits, but as departure day got closer I realized that my son was also in true need of a complete and utter break from his life.
He’s been in his house since mid-April, working from home, hanging out with his housemates. Other than trips to the grocery store once a week, he really had no place to go. For many months Arizona was not enforcing mask usage, and the infection rates were soaring. His friends were sheltering and he didn’t want to risk infection. By mid-July Arizona had followed the example set by the northeastern states and had shut-down all indoor activities. His work, while interesting, had become pressure-filled with deadlines and changes and other elements that can make employment truly seem like “work”. I’d imagined we’d hang out at the hotel, around the pool, but when I got there I learned that the hike he’d planned was up in Sedona. So twist my arm. *grin* We’ll go to Sedona.
The trip was wonderful. I began describing it as the two of us clearing our cache. Those of you who understand browser terminology will understand that. We cleared out all the stale information cluttering our brains, and started fresh. Flagstaff and Sedona rate their own posts, but you can see the view from the hotel, and the ridiculously expensive self-indulgent car I rented. They were wonderfully nice and helpful at the Budget car rental at Sky Harbor in Phoenix. When I booked I was told no convertible was available, but when I asked at the desk, they managed to find me one and work a deal. 🙂 We put over 600 miles on that little beauty.
It was a very indulgent, relaxing, enjoyable week. We started slowly – cruising about Tempe on Saturday to find nearby spots that could refresh and renew (check out Tempe Town Lake and Beach). Downtown Tempe showed the effect of ASU doing classes remotely. Many closed restaurants and stores. There were still many students around, however, and music and food. (And of course the Tempe Butte, backdrop to Sun Devil Stadium games, is always there.) All restaurants followed the mask and social distancing protocols that have become the norm. Friday night (my arrival) we found outdoor seating at The Keg in Chandler, an excellent steakhouse. Saturday night we ate outdoors at Four Peaks Brewery, a favorite spot. Sunday was spent hanging out at the pool for a few hours reading. We were so relaxed from the heat and the water and reading that dinner was just a little bit of takeout (well, really delivery – the hotel no longer has a restaurant and bar and has worked out a delivery service with a nearby restaurant).
We both feel refreshed and renewed. I LOVE Arizona. I would move there tomorrow if it only had an ocean. But I am too much a Jersey girl to move too far from the Atlantic Ocean. As much as I am lost in the splendor of the desert, ultimately it is the ocean that brings me complete serenity. Ah, to have them both. Since I can’t, I’ll keep heading out to Arizona to soak in that sun.
That statement probably doesn’t surprise some people who know me, it may surprise others. I used to swing on an extreme emotional pendulum when I was much younger. Somewhere over the years I did learn moderation and to try to skirt too much extremism. But by golly I DID hike up to Devil’s Bridge back in June and that hike is rated moderate by the USDA Forest Service. Yes, I was terrified during the steep ascent and descent, and frozen in fear at the top, but I got there and back. So when I knew I was heading back to Phoenix in September, I thought that I could handle hikes rated ‘easy’ or ‘moderate’. I’ve begun following “Hike Phoenix”, a blog about hiking in Arizona. I read several of her suggested hikes and the Peralta Trail up to Fremont Saddle sounded beautiful and do-able. She rated it ‘moderate’ and said it would take approximately 2.5 hours to hike 5 miles. I thought about that and figured it would probably be more like 4 hours for me, but if we went slow and steady I would be okay. My son agreed with my selection. We packed up water, and sun screen, and some light snacks and headed up the highway.
I make my son crazy when we are driving out there. The same way I make Honour crazy. I am oooo’ing and ahhhh’ing at the scenery and trying to take photos through the windshield and through the side windows and begging him to drive more slowly and oh oh just slow up over there! We headed up the highway and soon enough we could see the Superstition Mountains. Once again we were probably starting out later in the day than most serious hikers, but we’d already proven to ourselves that we carry sufficient water and we’re not foolish about over-staying.
You turn off the paved highway onto a fairly well-packed dirt road. We traveled that for awhile, and we did see other cars. We also saw incredible scenery so it did take us awhile to make progress since I kept insisting we stop the car so I could take ‘just one shot’. We finally made it to the trail head at about 1 pm or so. We reapplied our sun screen, shaded the inside of the car best as possible, drank some water, and took photos of the sign boards. I always figure that if nothing else my phone can serve as a map should we need it. We were going to do Trail 102 – up to Fremont Saddle and then back the way we came. You are probably much wiser and more observant than I and you might see what I did not. We finally stepped out a little after 1:00 pm.
It was gorgeous. We met some other hikers – both heading out and coming back. I was envious of the young man who passed us – he had not one but TWO walking sticks. I said to my son that we needed to invest in some walking sticks for ourselves. It wasn’t warm, but not unduly hot. Sunny but there were shady spots on the trail. I took pictures of course. I figured we had 4 hours total. We’d get as far as we could in 2 hours and then turn back, even if we hadn’t made it to the saddle. That saddle was beginning to look quite a ways away.
We’d been walking 10 minutes and I thought – I need to rest. I stopped, sipped some water, felt my pulse calm. I started up. I was beginning to feel stressed. My knees were fine (they have been problematic in the past). My foot was good too – I wasn’t feeling insecure in my footing, nothing hurt. And yet – I couldn’t seem to keep pushing on. Every 10 minutes I needed to stop and get my breath. My son is wonderfully patient. He never gives me a hard time about “let’s get going” or “you can do this”. He is supportive and says we’ll take it at whatever works for you. We’d been heading up for probably 30 minutes by now. I didn’t feel like we’d gotten anywhere but I also didn’t feel like I could keep going. By this time I was saying to myself that we would just go as far as we could go in an hour and then turn back.
We met people coming down the trail from the saddle. 3 young women and their dog. They were fairly exhausted. When they met us they were saying “oh my aren’t we at the bottom yet?” They told us it was much more strenuous ahead, that it was a stiff climb, upwards, always upwards. In their opinion it wasn’t going to be worth it to me to keep trying to get up there because beautiful as it was, it was a beautiful view right where we were there.
It was already after 2pm. I dreaded going any farther up the trail. I might have been petrified with fear on Devil’s Bridge, but I never doubted that I could get there or back. I was starting to fear that I wasn’t even going to be able to make it back to the car once I decided to turn back here. I simply could not get enough air. Nothing hurt, it wasn’t too hot, I just could not get enough air to breathe. New Jersey girl – meet the mountain elevations!
I looked at my son and said “I can’t do this. I’m very sorry but I don’t think I can go up any higher. I’m not having fun. It’s not worth it to me. If I push myself to keep going I’m afraid I won’t be able to get back home.” He said it was my call and he was fine with turning around right there and heading back to the car. So we did.
I made it just over 60 minutes on that trail – basically 30 minutes up with lots of resting, 30 minutes back. It’s beautiful. I’d love to do it some day. I was extremely disappointed. Obviously walking for 4 miles through the Rutgers Ecological Preserve is NOTHING like walking in the mountains of Arizona. 🙂 There is a HUGE difference between walking about and walking UP. If we’re talking walking ABOUT, hey, I can DO moderate. If we’re talking UP, I’m not a moderate. *grin*
Although I absolutely LOVED my time at The Boulders in June, when I headed to Phoenix in September I wanted to stay a bit closer to my son’s house. Remembering the tips I got from my SuperShuttle drivers, I checked to see if I could get a room at the Arizona Biltmore. I remembered them telling me that the Biltmore had Marilyn Monroe’s FAVORITE pool. It is a historical site as well, with the architecture and grounds designed by Albert Chase McArthur, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (who consulted on the design). I could indeed, and there was even a “special” rate. Keep in mind that this ‘special’ rate was more than half again as much as I paid per night for The Boulders. That fact will become important in the telling. Although it was a bit more than I’d hoped, it was for fewer nights so I figured it would all be fine.
Let me say that the grounds are GORGEOUS! The architecture is stunning. All the people working there (with one exception) were lovely, friendly and helpful. The pools are stunning. The views are sensational. Every grouping of rooms has its own pool and gardens and signature. I was staying in the Terrace Court section of the resort. There are many maps out there on the internet showing the grounds of the resort. I was given one when I checked in as well. It would have been helpful to have familiarized myself very carefully with the aerial view right from the start. I didn’t and maybe it would have helped, but maybe nothing would have helped. Anyway, the Terrace Court was pretty much as far from the check-in desk as you could be and still be on the grounds. 🙂 (That is a slight exaggeration but not a complete fabrication.) Even so – it wasn’t far. Once I understood the layout, and once I found my shortcut, it looks farther from things than it is.
I got in around 1pm Arizona time, 4pm ET. I wanted to get to my room, have something cold to drink, maybe a small nosh to eat, and relax. I was only carrying my bag and my rolling carry-on luggage – not too much to handle on my own. The sweet young thing at the check-in desk gave me a map and told me to head to the right once I was outside, and then continue bearing left to get to the Terrace Court. That would have worked. But unbeknownst to the check-in clerk, the grounds on Friday afternoon no longer resembled the grounds on Thursday night. They have begun digging up the gardens in the center of the grounds. At the point where I should have headed left, there was a construction wall up. I kept heading straight. I ended up in Ocatilla. I knew I was not in the right place but I really didn’t know how to get to where I needed to be. The ground crew and room staff were very concerned, and wanted to help but, alas, they did not speak English and my Spanish was not up to this task. (Hola Paco, Como esta usted? really doesn’t get you very far in most day-to-day conversations.) I could tell by their reactions that I was nowhere near where I should be. I backtracked and found a walkway that led left but it appeared to end at a wall. I figured I had nothing left to lose so I walked that way. Lo and behold – there was a walkway to the right, along the construction wall. I followed that and made it to my room. I was hot and cranky at this point. All I wanted was to relax.
I always check out my room before I unpack – bathroom, safe, doors, locks. I couldn’t lock the balcony door. I’m not stupid nor am I incompetent. I was pretty sure the door was broken. I called to the front desk. They assured me they would send someone to help me with the door. Indeed, it was probably only about 10 minutes or so before 2 men came to help me with the door. It took them only 5 minutes to realize they could not help me – the door was indeed broken and they’d need to drill out the entire lock mechanism. They called down to the front desk and explained that I should be given a new room. So I sat and waited for the next person to come help me.
This was Pete from the bell staff. Pete is a star. He alone made up for all that happened so far and that would happen after. He was upbeat, funny, helpful. We walked down the hall to another room. We went in, checked the balcony door. He headed out and I walked into the bathroom. Where there was water running. Loudly. Except – there was no water running. Just the sound of water gushing down. I ran to the door and shouted down the hallway to Pete, who was still in sight. He came back. He heard the water. He suggested that it was the people above me taking a shower. I said, possibly, except we are on the top floor and there is no one above me. He acknowledged this and we both looked around trying to figure out where the water might be. I said “this is not going to work for me.” He said, not a problem, we’ll get you another room. I’ll be right back.
Ooooookay. So much for kicking off my shoes and making a cold drink and eating a nosh. Another 10-15 minutes and Pete returned. He led me to a room on the other side of the building. The first 2 rooms had views of the interior grounds, which are lovely, but under construction, whereas this third room had a view of Piestewa Peak. It also had a view of roofs and roads but Piestewa is a magnificent sight, and exactly the kind of thing I WANT on my vacation balcony. Pete and I checked every door. We turned on the shower, we turned on the bath. We turned off the bath and the shower. We flushed the toilet. We hardly dared to look at each other. I went to try the room safe. It was locked. A room safe should be left open when the previous occupants leave. Pete called for security, because locked room safes were beyond his authority. At this point we could do nothing but laugh. I mean really??? For what I’m paying per night for this fabled hotel and nothing in the plant is maintained properly??? I told Pete he owed me a drink and that if I had to change rooms AGAIN he was going to owe me chocolate and flowers. He smiled triumphantly and said “I’m on top of this” and handed me two drink vouchers.
Two security men arrived, one of whom it turned out was the head of security. They fiddled with the safe. Nothing. They fiddled more. And again. Finally AHAH!!! The safe OPENED!! It was, of course, empty. So with all 3 men watching me, I locked the safe, and then reopened the safe successfully. Finally!!! It only took 3 hours to get me a room where everything worked. I waved goodbye to my entourage and finally unpacked. I locked the door with a do-not-disturb on the knob, changed my cloths, grabbed my snack and went out onto the balcony to stare at Piestewa and read my book.
My son was joining me after work. I told him I would meet him in the lobby because I didn’t think he would EVER find his way to the room, given all the wrong turns I took, especially because it would be after dark by the time he came. He called to tell me he’d arrived and that he’d just given the car to the valet to park, because he didn’t feel like dealing with finding the self-park garage. I met him in the lobby and escorted him back to the room with only one wrong turn on the way. It was dark, and that walkway that appeared to end in a wall was tricky to see.
We were both very tired. We knew we wanted to head out hiking the next day, and we had plans for eating out to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, so we thought we’d simply take advantage of our free drink vouchers and eat in the hotel, although neither of us found the menu all that appetizing. We found our way to the outdoor restaurant with no problems. We had a pick of tables. We sat. And waited. A hostess came by and apologized and said things were busy and gave us menus and took our drink orders. That was the point when we noticed our drink vouchers were for “up to $15/drink” and most of the drinks were over $20. Seriously? I no longer remember every single detail (thank goodness for that) but dinner was a flop. Our waiter, when he finally showed, was terrible. Service was worse. We needed water desperately and I got up to try to tackle someone somewhere to give us water. On my search I ran into one of the security men from the safe episode. He promised to get us water. When our check finally showed up, I had my son figure the tip and bill it to the room. We were both disgusted with the whole meal and with everything up to that point. As we started away I asked if the drink vouchers had been applied. No, they had not. We turned and went back and I cornered the waiter. I explained about our drink vouchers, that the hostess had taken them, but that they should be applied. He not only applied the vouchers but he comp’d us the drinks completely. Honestly – at that point it had reached the point for us of ‘well yeah you’d better comp us’.
We headed back to the room. I HAD laid down a trail of breadcrumbs so we could find our way back but it was very dark at this point and there were NO LIGHTS along the construction wall. We took that misleading walk to the wall and turned right into the dark and were nearly run over by the room service bicycle. Thank goodness he saw us because we weren’t expecting him. We got back to the room totally astounded at the terrible grounds conditions and the crummy meal. The room was nice but we were both a bit disgruntled when we went to sleep.
The next morning we wanted to get a relatively early start so we could have breakfast before we headed out for a hike. I picked up the phone to call the valet to have the car readied. No dial tone. I switched to another line. No dial tone. THE PHONE DIDN’T WORK!!!! Pete and I had not thought to check THAT! At that point I thought this is simply the pits. I’m paying nearly twice for this room for what I paid in The Boulders, where everything was exquisite. This is a fabled historic ballyhooed hotel and NOTHING WORKS. We headed to the front desk. My son went to get his car and I headed for the concierge. I went through the entire litany of misery. I figured they owed me something at this point. Indeed, they did end up comp’ing me an entire night stay. Part of me feels they should have been sending fruit trays and flowers to us as well but I suppose I shouldn’t be greedy.
As I was talking to the concierge my son came up. Pete had guessed that he was my son and asked him if I had gotten the chocolates that Pete had sent me. My son, who had seen a candy bar I’d brought with me, said yes. When my son relayed this whole story I went out to Pete and said “Chocolates? You sent me chocolates? I never got them.” He said “Not only did I send you chocolates but I sent you a cupcake as well!” Jumping to the end of THAT story, because I had a do not disturb on my door and because my phone was out of order, room service had no way to tell me that they wanted to make a delivery. For the want of a phone the cupcake was lost. Needless to say, when we returned later that day we had both chocolates and cupcake in the room. AND a working phone.
From Saturday night on I have no complaints about the hotel. Things worked as expected. They FINALLY put up signs directing people around the construction so that you could find Terrace Courts without having to use a GPS. They also mounted lights all along the construction walls so that you could see oncoming traffic in the narrow walkway. What we also realized in the daylight was that had we turned LEFT once we were outside and bore to the RIGHT around the gardens, we’d have gotten to Terrace Court with no problem. They like to send you to the RIGHT because all of the stores are on that side. 🙂 We ended up using the left walk for the rest of our stay.
On Sunday I rented us a cabana for the day. We made a run to the local Walgreens after breakfast and I made sure we had extension cords so we could power all of our electronics while we were at the pool. (My son wasn’t really on vacation – he had work he had to be doing. While I was lounging in the refreshing water and napping on the chaise, he was working away at the table.) The pool food and service was wonderful – as far from our Friday night experience as possible. The cabanas at the Orlando Hilton give you more food and drink, but the Arizona Biltmore cabana has its own bathroom. 🙂 That IS a plus.
By the end of my stay I could see why Marilyn liked the Biltmore so much. I didn’t swim in HER pool – I was quite happy with the Paradise pool and the Terrace Court pool. I’d like to see what they end up doing in the middle court. It had beautiful gardens. I saw the broken up walls and churned up clods of dirt. Pete assured me that he had seen the plans and it would be spectacular. He told me I would have to come back when it was completed. It’s a possibility, Pete, it’s a possibility. 🙂
After viewing Taliesin West it’s a bit of a challenge to find something to do that is as stupendous. So we switched gears entirely. We moved from architecture and bringing the outside geology and flora in, to getting up close and personal with the fauna. We went to Butterfly Wonderland (we also made a stop at DSW for shoes, but I’m guessing you won’t be much interested in THAT stop – the shoes were for my son. Oy, shoe shopping with guys is just NOT shoe shopping. *rolls eyes*).
I’m not sure why Butterfly Wonderland is described as a “tourist attraction”. It seems to me that it is an attraction whether you are a tourist or you are a resident. Nearly everyone loves butterflies and enjoys seeing them up close and personal (we’ll discuss the exceptions in just a moment). Butterfly Wonderland not only has butterflies but, as we discovered to our great surprise, it has fish and reptiles as well. It also has a honeybee hive but that is not, in my opinion, an especially exciting attraction.
So who doesn’t like butterflies? Well, butterflies are a lot like moths. In our family, the word “moth” is a very, very bad word. You see, long long ago, when I was a mere child, there was an incident. Oh, not MY incident. *I* slept (happily) through the entire event. No, it happened to my sister. She was doing that teenage thing and was out at a party. An outdoor party. I don’t know how this happened and as she is traumatized to this day it’s difficult to get a coherent description, but apparently a moth flew in her ear. I understand that in fact this is NOT that uncommon. Apparently our ears are warm and smelly and there is warm smelly air from our ears that attracts flying insects, including moths. It does leave unanswered how they can actually fit. Anyway, at the time when my sister was the main attraction we were not so well informed.
My father had to get my sister from the party and take her to the emergency room. This is where the truly horrific part of the story happens – the part that to this day elicits a bitter cry from my sister, who is unable even now to forgive. My father said to the ER doctor: “She SAYS a moth flew in her ear.” Oh the pain!!!! The betrayal!!!! He DOUBTED the existence of a moth in her ear. Now understand that we both loved and adored my father immensely, and he adored us, so to have him DOUBT us???? Salt in the wound.
Anyway, as it became evident, there WAS a moth in her ear. The doctor extracted the moth, cleaned her ear, and she was all better physically. The emotional scars have lasted til this very day.
This event proved soooooo traumatic to our family (okay, not to ME *grin* I laugh. Remind me to tell you the story about how Mary and I ran across the floor at the Y, and my sister walked and SHE fell and broke her ankle. *laughing* ), so traumatic to our family that MY SON now has a slight phobia about moths and butterflies. He’s a lot like my sister. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he inherited this. Whenever we visit a butterfly world, my son cringes as the butterflies swerve near him. Should they land on him, rather than enjoy the experience he begs me to get it off of him. *grin* Okay, maybe not BEG, but trust me – until it’s OFF he is NOT happy. He recites the sister/moth story and empathizes. The shoulder that serves as a resting spot for a butterfly in these photos is his unhappy shoulder. 🙂
When we entered Butterfly Wonderland we were just in time for a movie about the life cycle of monarch butterflies. The movie was okay, but it didn’t answer my question – WHY do monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico? Apparently all monarch butterflies do NOT migrate, and of the families that do, not every generation migrates. My understanding from the film is that the 3rd generation migrates back to Mexico. The film never explained what triggers the migration.
After the film we went into a room where there were cocoons and emerging butterflies. It is fascinating to see how difficult it is for the butterflies to get out of the cocoon. They have a matter of seconds to get free and clear before their wings are hardened in a crimped position. We cheered the ones that made it out safely and felt very sad for the ones that just couldn’t do it, even in such a protected environment. They told us that these butterflies that had just emerged would be released into the exhibit in about 30 minutes.
We headed into the big butterfly enclosure and wandered about. There were some stunning electric blue butterflies but they moved so quickly and so high that I could not get a picture of their open wings. I have many shots with their wings closed but the outside (underside?) of their wings is brownish/black, not that electric blue. We did stay and enjoy (well *I* enjoyed) the exhibit for quite a bit, waiting to see the newly hatched insects released. After that we headed out and discovered the fish and reptiles. Pictures for a different day. This post is butterflies. (and moths)
I have nothing I can say about this experience except that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Everything we saw at Taliesin West was fascinating, engaging and desirable. The absolute genius of the man takes your breath away. It must have been close to unbearable at times to live with him or interact with him, but his work makes heaven on earth.
I loved the tour so much that I signed up to become a member of the FLW organization, I bought gifts for every member of my family, and I ordered a wall hanging for my house. If I could have bought every single item in the gift shop I would have. This has strengthened my resolve to get to Falling Water this year before it is too late for either me or it. 🙂
The pictures here are in the order of the tour. We started in the gift shop (it was air conditioned) and then moved past the large triangular swimming pool to look out on the once-unbroken vista, then to the entry courtyard for the living quarters.
We saw the living room, the family courtyard, FLW’s study, the indoor meeting room/movie theater, the first stage theater they built, and then the second, larger theater/stage area. We could look into the communal eating area but we did not enter there or into the working studio, although we could look in somewhat through the windows as we walked by.
About this point in time I began to give up on trying to take photos. 🙂 It was ALL so magnificent and I wanted to remember EVERYTHING. I knew that none of my pictures were doing justice to what I saw. Even with that resolution, I kept taking pictures anyway.
We learned so much about the man, the work, this location. I contemplated trying to put some of that in this post and realized I’d be writing for ‘pages’ and I’d undoubtedly get it wrong. If you can get there or to any other of the FLW organization sites, take a tour. There are so many features tucked away that you might not notice on your own. FLW had recessed lighting and lighting in the floor and so many other features that we think only came about recently.
On the third day they rose early, filled the car with fuel, filled the backpacks with water and headed north to Sedona.
Words fail me. Of course I’ll use several score attempting to describe the beauty anyway, but be aware that nothing I say will truly capture how I felt. My photos also fail. To be fair – no photo can capture for me the splendor of the mountains in Sedona. For starters – the mountains are so perfect and the sky is so blue that no matter who takes the picture, it’s going to look fake. Nothing can be that perfect, that awe-inspiring, that breath-taking. But the mountains of Sedona are all those things and more.
I had three reasons to go to Sedona. The first was a bit snarky and pretentious. I’d heard how it was so new-age, all about energy and crystals and vortexes. It’s not that I’m not a believer. It’s more that I think I’m not receptive in the least. In the last several years either I’ve become more sensitive or less-blocked. There’s no question that it seems to me that some folks radiate “bad energy”. But other than that, I’ve not ever noticed crystals having much impact on me. I wanted to see if I would be able to “feel” Sedona. The second reason was much like the first. EVERYONE says that you MUST go to Sedona. How could I take a vacation in Arizona and confess that I missed Sedona? (Yes, Mom, if all my friends were jumping off a cliff I WOULD jump with them.)
The third reason goes back to my wonderful Super Shuttle drivers. Not only did they wax enthusiastic about Sedona, the non-driver pulled out his phone and started showing me pictures he’d taken in Sedona. They were enough to convince me it was worth a trip, even though it would take a good 2 hours to get there. I was intrigued by his picture of the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the rocks. He recommended that we hike up to Devil’s Bridge. He told me that it was not a difficult hike until the last quarter of a mile, which was steep. We’d heard that description from our waitress the day before. (Oh I should add a postscript to that post – we had a great lunch at a local brewery after hiking South Mountain – Four Peaks Brewery on 8th Street.) She had also said it was an easy hike until the last quarter mile, which is steep. It certainly sounded do-able and after our success at hiking in South Mountain we were ready for more of a challenge. Hah.
We rose very early and I took over the driving that day as I wake up “better” than does my son. 🙂 The directions couldn’t have been simpler: go straight on this road until we reach Interstate Rt 17 and then go north til we reach Sedona. 🙂 Wikipedia calls Interstate Rt 17 one of the most scenic highways and I am in full agreement. It climbs a mile high on its way from Phoenix to Flagstaff, passing through desert and forest. Like my dear friend Honour, my son also refused to take photos out the window of the car so you will either need to drive it yourself or believe me and Wikipedia that it is scenic. 🙂
We took Dry Creek Road to Vultee Arch, which has a parking lot for the trail to Devil’s Bridge. It was just about 9:00 am, but the lot was full. A car pulled out but that spot was taken immediately by another. I found a place that I figured could be a spot as long as no one had to use the passenger side door. I tucked the car into the brush and dirt and we headed off. There were families and solo hikers and folks with dogs and folks wearing babies. There was all manner of attire. As we walked along Vultee Arch (which seems also to be called ‘the unpaved part of Dry Creek Road’) we were passed by the occasional jeep – tour groups going to Devil’s Bridge. There is obviously another way up there because the jeeps keep going along Dry Creek Road when we pedestrians all turn off to follow the path.
There were still flowers in bloom, and we saw an adorable lizard, who posed. Unfortunately I still have not done anything about getting either a new camera or a photo app for my phone, so no cute lizard pictures. We walked slowly, drank water, and conserved our energy. We met people returning from their hikes. Either they live a lot closer or they got up a LOT earlier than we did. We were impressed that we had actually made it to the trail by 9:00 am, our goal. 🙂 We figured it would be a good 90 minutes up and a good 90 minutes back, and that was just about what it took. The hike was easy until, as expected, the final ascent. That was steep. And narrow. With significantly increasing drops on the left.
I found that I don’t really trust my legs on uneven, steep, rocky, loose gravel paths. I’ve had 2 surgeries on my right foot and I damaged my left knee decades ago. They do just fine for most of my life but steep ascents and descents can be strenuous. I was doing fine until I happened to glance to my left at one very narrow, very steep part of the trail. There was a lot of ‘nothing’ to my left. Oh sure, a tree or two and then nothing. I would have said that kind of view wouldn’t bother me but I happen to have a very deep fear of falling. The strength of my reaction stems from an early childhood event and to this day I have dreams where I reach the top of a hill and there is nothing there. In my dreams I have learned how to take control and ‘fix’ the dream so I don’t fall. There on the side of the mountain there wasn’t too much I could ‘fix’. My face reflected my stress as did my comments to my son. We met people who were on their way down who would encourage me and tell me we were almost there – hang on. As the only other option was to turn around and go back down, I kept going up. We reached the top, the high point of the trail. Devil’s Bridge was below us. It was stunning. If I looked OUT, I was fine. If I looked down, my stomach turned over.
From the high point of the trail you need to move down again and out to get to the bridge. There was a steady line of people doing just that. On the bridge itself we could see people lined up for their turn at being alone on the bridge for their experience and photo op. I sat down on the rocks with some other folks to catch my breath before we headed to the bridge.
I could not get up. I was frozen.
I looked at where I had to walk, and despite all of the people navigating that path in front of me, in spite of all the people walking there and back safely, I could not make myself get up. I knew I was not moving until we headed back down. And I knew that heading back down was not going to be fun either. I had no idea that I would freeze like that. My son joined the procession of folks heading down to the bridge and I watched. Well, mostly I watched. When I saw 2 young children jumping up and down on the bridge I nearly threw up. So I stopped watching a lot of things. My son reported that walking out onto the bridge was easy – that it felt wider than it looks from above. He said that when he stopped walking he could feel the wind pushing on him, and there was an illusory effect of the trees below moving. Why does that not sound like something that I want to experience?
The woman on my right was in worse shape than I. She wouldn’t even look at the bridge at all. Her family was heading down there and she simply could not look. The woman on my left told me that her first time up there she did the same thing I was doing – stayed on that rock until it was time to leave. This was her fourth time and she had been down on the bridge and back. I thanked her for telling me that. I don’t know how to explain to you how bizarre it was for me to be sitting there saying to my body – just stand up, and to not have any part of my body move in response. My logic might have been ready to go to the bridge but my primeval soul knew better. I was able to take many pictures of my son out on the bridge, but I could not stand. I was on the verge of tears because my body was so tensed and coiled. Don’t misunderstand – I LOVED looking at the scenery, I loved a lot of it. But there was simply a part of me that was deeply deeply unhappy.
As I sat there and waited some young women asked me if I could take THEIR picture when they were on the bridge. I said sure, as I had no idea if I was ever going to leave my rock. I wondered how many people needed to be rescued from that spot, frozen and unable to leave. By the time the young women were at the bridge, my son had returned. He pointed out to me that the women were waving at me to take a picture of the 2 people on the bridge currently – they were all together. I looked to do so and saw that THOSE 2 people had moved to the edge of the bridge and were sitting down with their feet hanging off. I swear to you I was overcome with nausea and had to turn away. I couldn’t stand to look at them. My son did the honors. They came back, collected their camera and headed back down the mountain. It was time for us to do the same. I waited until there was a break in the steady stream of arrivals so we could leave. When it came to leaving I could stand, thank goodness.
The path down was steeper than the path up. 🙂 Really. As my son’s landlord said: “going up it’s all muscles, going down it’s all joints”. I do NOT trust my left knee, no I don’t. A very awkward time to realize this. On the way up I’d seen many people coming back down on their tush. I knew that would be me as well, and it was. Every now and then we’d reach a spot where the path was sufficiently wide so we could let someone pass us on the way up or pass us on the way down. At one point as I paused on my way down (very easy to pause when you are on your tush) a HUGE yellow butterfly came and sat on my shoulder. It was large enough that it actually cast a shadow across my eyes as it flew. I don’t know what it was telling me but I decided to take it as a vote of confidence and encouragement. *smile* Shortly after that I was able to stand and do the rest of the descent on my feet.
The trip back to the car was uneventful but we both agreed that it was MUCH longer than the trip from the car to the path. 🙂 We headed back to town looking for some place to eat, and for me to browse for crystals. We found a place called Tlaquepaque, which is probably a huge tourist ‘trap’ but it had parking and restaurants. That’s what we wanted. We even found a spot in the shade! We were so hungry and tired that we walked into the very first restaurant for lunch, The Secret Garden Cafe. It was delicious and just what we needed. We ate outside in a shaded courtyard and relaxed and re-hydrated. Afterwards we wandered about the shops. Most of what I liked was too expensive AND too big to carry on an airplane so I was saved from myself. We did finally find a store selling all types of crystals for all different needs. Unfortunately it was the kind of place that also believed that putting scents and odors into the air enhances the shopping experience. Perhaps that is the case for some, but it causes me to sneeze and my sinuses to clog up and hurt. We had to flee the store without seeing very much at all, and certainly without buying a crystal. I am still crystal-less. We found an ice cream store and treated ourselves. As neither of us thought the ice cream was all that special I won’t share it. But if you are at Tlaquapaque I’d suggest you go elsewhere for ice cream. *wink*
The ride home took much longer than the ride there as there was a multi-car accident on Rt 17. Now here is one of the disadvantages of Arizona. If I was traveling on a major interstate in the greater NJ area, there would be multiple options for other routes. Not in Arizona. It’s Rt 17 or it’s Rt 17. So we were in bumper to bumper traffic for much of the way. Honesty compels me to admit that at one point I drove east-coast style and cutoff another car as I changed lanes. Just as in NJ, changing lanes really didn’t accomplish much, but at least I was behind a car and not an SUV so my sight lines were better. 🙂 We made it back home in time for showers and a change of clothes so we could meet my son’s landlords for dinner. We had a VERY tasty sushi dinner at Sushi Ken. The presentation was excellent and the rolls were large and filling. We had a bottle of saki as well. Like mead, this will not become my go-to drink, but it was enjoyable and suited the food. We got back to the hotel and crashed. It had been a long day and we had great plans for the next day as well!