For those of you who might be interested, here’s a little synopsis of Linda's and my week-long vacation to Arizona. It was a fun trip.
We left Saturday morning from National Airport, (I will NEVER refer to it by the new name). I’ve had a lifelong preference for Dulles, but that’s changing. I think my prejudice was primarily due to the lack of parking at National, but the major facelift it went though in the 90’s changed that. It’s a shorter ride for us, (and cheaper if done by taxi), the parking I’ve experienced that last few times has been decent, and it’s a smaller airport than Dulles – this is important when travelling with heavy baggage, as we always seem to do. You can easily put in a mile or two at Dulles, going from car to ticket counter to bus to gate, etc. And while I’ve had both good and bad experiences with airline people at both locales, the TSA guards at National are MUCH nicer than the ones at Dulles. In fact, every airport I’ve been to has had nicer guards than at Dulles, (although O’Hare’s may have been the laziest…). I suspect that Turkish prisons have nice guards than Dulles. And I am still convinced that when the District closed down Lorton, they just gave all the thugs uniforms and told ‘em to hang out at Dulles and yell at me.
But I’ve gone off track here, apologies. The flight started off a little iffy. We were stuck out on the tarmac for about 75 minutes due to a messed up plane computer that needed to be worked on, (and finally rebooted). (The gods mock software testers constantly.) Why the airline waits to check a vital computer, (we were told it controlled the rudder), until after it’s loaded and ready for takeoff remains a mystery to me. But we finally did launch and the rest of the ride went fine. We landed in Phoenix to a blustery 100 degrees. We roared up Interstate 17 as fast as possible to gain elevation and escape the heat. It was tough going; there are speed cameras and traps everywhere. I suspect this is to try to keep people from leaving, (I have no love for Phoenix – it’s hot, the sections I’ve seen have no more personality than a K-mart, the traffic sucks and the traffic lights are perfectly coordinated to turn red at each intersection.) Flagstaff
was great – cool, relatively green, etc. The old downtown is small but with several nice craft shops, studios, and restaurants. It’s also bordered by a portion of the old Route 66
, which I’m something of a fan of. The town hosts a wonderful Arboretum
, which we toured extensively. They had a special showing of various raptors that a local wildlife group had rescued from various calamities. These included a large owl and hawk that soared through our little audience, inches from us. (Linda was actually brushed by the tip of the hawk’s wing as it glided down!). The tour we took was very good and we really enjoyed ourselves – highly recommended. My only caveat is that the road there is two miles of some of the worst washboarding
I’ve ever experienced, (and my many trips to rural Colorado give me some authority in this matter). Jarring doesn’t begin to describe it. I’m sure my name is going in a big black book somewhere at the rent-a-car company once they check out the tires, shocks, and alignment of our vehicle.
Another stop was the Museum of Northern Arizona
. This is a Must See. It is not huge – it does not need to be. But I consider it probably THE best museum devoted to the Southwest that I’ve ever been in. The Indian archaeological displays were first-rate. The pottery and other collections were really extraordinary. Of all the places I’ve been in Arizona, Flagstaff and the area North of it is the area I like the best. It’s very pretty, and that mountain pine scent that permeates the area is almost spiritually calming to me. It’s a cool place.
After two nights in Flagstaff we moved on south for a day in Sedona. Now, there’s no doubt that the town is located in an awesome valley, surrounded by truly beautiful scenery – some of the best in the West. But it’s crowded, (it’s not a large valley), and extremely touristy. But we had a nice motel that backed up to one of the “wilderness trails” in the area. And the morning we were there, Linda and I got up at dawn and strolled for about 45 minutes on it. There were just the two of us, a family of jackrabbits, and some beautiful scenery and wildflowers. One of my favorite parts of the trip.
One thing I’d recommend in Sedona
, besides getting out of town and into the scenery is a place with the unpronounceable name of Tlaquepaque
. It’s a rather artificially created “village” of arts and crafts shops, galleries and restaurants. For our kind of tastes and shopping, it was pretty good, and probably the only place actually in town that I’d visit again.
From Sedona we continued South to Jerome
. The last time we’d travelled this route; we’d left no time to explore the town, and didn’t know how neat it was. Jerome was once a copper mining town, and fairly good sized – clinging to the side of a mountain. The mine went bust a few decades back and the place became a ghost town with no more than a few dozen inhabitants hanging onto the side of the mountain. But the last couple of decades have seen it slowly but surely resurrected as an arts and crafts center. Almost half the little buildings in town are shops or restaurants, and it is very cool. There were a variety of places we made purchases in, but our fave was a place called Nellie Bly
. Linda and I’ve always had a soft spot for kaleidoscopes, and this was by far the best such shop we’d ever seen, both in quality and quantity. I don’t know how long we lingered, but we could have spent the whole day looking over the hundreds of beautiful pieces, some as big as easy chairs! A stunning collection, we’d return to Jerome just to visit Nellie Bly’s. Besides being a (former) ghost town, many of the buildings in town are supposedly haunted, and this has influenced a certain amount of marketing, with various ghost tours and books offered. Readers will not be surprised to know that I just HAD to have lunch at a place called the Haunted Hamburger
, (and ordered its mascot item, which was delicious). We stayed at the best hotel in town, the Grand Hotel
, which was a former hospital that sits at the very top of the town. We ate at its restaurant, The Asylum
, which was also good. Our room faced out over the mountainside, and across the town and valley below, I’m sure the view was a good 70 miles, with peaks a hundred or more miles away still visible. That late afternoon and the next morning we just sat out on our little room terrace watching the dusk and the dawn. Another wonderful and relaxing moment.
I really do recommend Jerome; it’s just a cute town. And I always laugh when I start driving its twisting and turning streets. It really is just hanging on for dear life to the side of the mountain there, and the steep grades, sharp hairpin turns and super-narrow roads resemble something more out of medieval Europe than early twentieth century America. The drive alone is worth visiting there.
After Jerome, we drove down the infamous Highway 89A
, (not for the squeamish), to the town of Prescott
. I like Prescott, it’s drier and hotter than I prefer, but it’s a nice town with a pleasant downtown, including the remnants of its miner and rancher past – Whiskey Row
, a series of Victorian era bars that have survived, (or been revived), up to the present.
After a day in Prescott, we went to spend two nights with my cousin Lynnae at her husband Pat’s ranch. Wonderful! We’re talking REAL ranch here, folks. Ten thousand acres, cattle, saddling up the horse for that day’s activities, etc. It’s 5 miles to the nearest neighbor, (as the crow flies, not by road); and a forty-five minute ride off the regular road to get there – all dirt, and as bone-jarring as the one in Flagstaff. Totally off “the grid”, electricity is by solar panel, water from a well, etc. And all in a stone house built by Pat’s father when he started the ranch. This is a lifestyle fast becoming extinct, I feel privileged to have witnessed it for real. Wildlife was plentiful. On the ride there we saw havalina pigs, (a first for both of us); and while at the ranch house we delighted in the many lizards and hummingbirds, both outside, (and occasionally inside) the house. We saw deer coming in to graze and Linda got to see her first scorpion and tarantula, (as both tried to enter the house one evening – I don’t think she slept too well that night….This is a place where you always check your shoes before putting them on.). Very cool. While there, Lynnae arranged for us to take a tour of an open pit copper mine just outside the town of Bagdad
(sic). It’s something rare nowadays – a company town. All run by Freeport-McMoRan
. The tour was great fun, the pit is HUGE and the equipment used in mining makes me envious. Trucks with tires 15+ feet in diameter, and weighing many tons would make travel around Annandale so much easier and more entertaining….
The best part of course was just hanging out with Pat and Lynnae. Sitting out on their stone porch at night, with no background noise other than the birds and crickets - that was wonderful.
The next day we travelled back to the traffic and irritations of Phoenix and caught our flight home the day after. It was a nice trip.
There were three things I might point out about aspects of our little voyage. The first two involve food. Now, the gods know I love to eat. But the portions we were getting at some of the restaurants were truly staggering, and I speak as a professional hedonist. One or two of the single meals I ordered were easily the equivalent of what I eat in an entire day. And then the waitress would come by acting surprised that we didn’t want dessert! There was one Indian restaurant we ate at in Flagstaff that was unbelievable what they expected me to eat. No wonder they’re starving over there – my dinner could have easily have relieved famine for the population of Hyderabad for a week! And another thing – I wish the local restaurants offered more local fare – or any local fare. We stay away from chains, in the hopes of such regionalism coming though in the menu. But it was rare and very limited. I’d love to see prickly pear cactus, havalina, mountain trout, elk, quail, mutton, etc. But practically none of the restaurants had any to offer. In fact, if I had to say there was any “traditional” food that’s universally offered in central Arizona, (other than hamburgers and Mexican food), it’d be shrimp! Every place seemed to offer a full complement of seafood. I swear – its’ easier to find sushi in Arizona than anything native. And that’s a shame, I consider anyone going to Arizona to eat seafood an idiot.
And finally, it’s interesting to see how trips can act as benchmarks for you. Twenty five years ago, hiking around at 7000 feet elevation was a literal breeze – no more. The sun burns hotter for me than it used to. Talking with my cousin about old times can be bittersweet, quite a few of the people and places we grew up with and talked about are now gone. But it was a good trip, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others.