Sunday, March 26, 2017

Scenic Highway 89 ~ Gateway to North Arizona and the Navaho Nation!

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     Scenic Highway 89 ~ Gateway to North Arizona and the Navaho Nation!
     Taking a scenic drive in the Southwest is entertainment in itself.  The panoramic landscape in the wide open spaces can change dramatically every few dozen miles.  Views of rolling grassy hills with snow capped mountains mesmerize travelers, then red desert sands with towering sandstone cliffs appear like magic.  All along the way there are interesting roadside sights that pass by so quickly that they are easy to miss.  Catching a glimpse of an eagle fighting its prey in the sagebrush or briefly seeing a work of native art painted on an old fence post that passes by in a blur is part of the open road experience.  Catching a fleeting glimpse of something that one does not see everyday back home is enough to make one wonder if the sight was real or just a figment of the imagination.
     There is a little bit of magic involved when traveling north from Flagstaff, Arizona, through the Navaho Nation on U.S. Highway 89.  This area has been occupied by native tribes for thousands of years and there are plenty of good signs that welcome interested visitors along the way.  This section of Highway 89 offers plenty of natural history to experience, unique geology and opportunities to learn from cultural exchange.  
     The trek north on Highway 89 from Flagstaff begins with climb over a high mountain pass.  Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument is located in this area.  The Sunset Volcano Crater is the result of a violent eruption that occurred less than 1,000 years ago.  This sky high volcanic cinder cone is in pristine condition and the jagged black lava flows that stretch into Ponderosa Pine forests create a surreal landscape that is like no other place on earth.  Plenty of information can be found at the visitors center and Junior Ranger activities are available for children.  This is a daytime use area and there are hiking restrictions.  Campsites are available just outside of the National Monument boundary, so spending a few days exploring the volcano is an option.
     On the other side of the mountain range, the landscape changes from high altitude forests to rolling grassy hills that seem to stretch out forever.  This is a good area to spot wild horses and antelope.  A few miles further down the highway is where the entrance to Wupatki National Monument can be found.  The Wupatki access road actually loops all the way around to the back entrance of Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument, so this is an alternative route from Flagstaff to this stretch of Highway 89.  
     Wupatki National Monument is located where the grassy plains drift off into the rugged multi color sandstone landscape of the Painted Desert in the distance.  This area looks inhospitable, yet there are several ancient pueblos located in this area.  Three ancient pueblo building sites are located just a few miles past the National Monument entrance.  The Citadel Pueblo towers over the serene desert landscape and this ancient archeological site offers a glimpse into the lifestyle that the native culture lived long ago.  
     The Wupatki Pueblo Buildings are located next to the visitors center, which is a museum that provides a glimpse into the history of this sacred site.  Wupatki is the largest of the ancient stone block pueblos and it is well preserved.  Thousands of people lived in the towering Wupatki stone buildings, so this ancient cultural center actually was a civilized city.  The spirit of the people that built Wupatki was strong enough to do far more than just merely survive in this desert climate.  A stone circle amphitheater and a ball court are located on the grounds that surround Wupatki.  Wupati is the farthest point north where the ancient game of Mayan Hip Ball (┼Źllamaliztli) is thought to have been played.  
     The Wukoki Pueblo is located just east of Wupatki and this is another ancient archeological site that must be seen to be believed.  When visiting these ancient native pueblos, it is best to do so with great respect.  These sites are sacred and many people from many tribes visit these old pueblos for spiritual reasons and chanting often takes place.  The wisdom of the forefathers provides cultural insight to all who visit this place.                   
     While driving toward Cameron on Highway 89, a few old remnants of tourist traps from back in the golden age of Route 66 tourism can still be seen.  A shuttered 1950's style resort motel, old RV campgrounds and abandoned trading posts provide a view of the past that once prospered on station wagons full of tourists so long ago.  Many of the old trading posts are boarded up, but occasionally they reopen, just like magic.  Even if an old trading post building is abandoned it is still worth stopping to check these places out.  Many Navaho artists use the old buildings and rusty water tanks as a canvas for painting unique works of art.  Often the artwork is so intriguing, that one must simply admire the colorful message that is being communicated.  There truly is plenty of spirit in the unexpected artwork that captivates passers by on this long road.
     Cameron is where the east entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be found.  The Historic Cameron Trading Post Hotel Resort is located next to the Little Colorado River.  Cameron is a great place to fuel up and grab a good bite to eat.  The Cameron Trading Post offers Navaho and western cuisine specialties.  Cameron is a great place to do some fine native silver and turquoise jewelry shopping too.  
     Just north of Cameron on Highway 89, the landscape changes to Painted Desert bad lands.  The eroded sandstone and ancient clay deposits look like they belong on another planet.  This part of the drive moves along fast, because there are few places to stop, so the signs for Tuba City soon appear.  The road to Tuba City is the gateway for Navaho Tourism.  This side road runs past the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks archeological site all the way to Kayenta and beyond to the Four Corners Monument.  Tuba City offers all amenities and there is a modern Southwestern style resort hotel.  This town is where tourists can learn something about Navaho and Hopi cultures.  Further east is the the Navaho Code Talkers Museum and the town of Kayenta.  Kayenta is the gateway to Monument Valley, which is one of the most picturesque destinations in the west.
     North of Tuba City there are a few small towns along the way to Marble Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  This entire region has magnificent red sandstone mesa cliffs that touch the cobalt blue sky.  The side road that crosses Marble Canyon leads to the Vermillion Cliffs BLM Area and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  It is well worth stopping to take a walk on the Navaho Bridge, which spans Marble Canyon.  The views of the green Colorado River in Marble Canyon are simply spectacular, especially with the Vermillion Cliffs in the background.  Visiting the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is only suggested for experienced desert survivalists, because many people get lost in this area where GPS navigation does not work and they never return.
     From Marble Canyon it is a fairly easy drive to Page, Arizona, near the Utah border.  Page is a large city that offers all amenities.  Campgrounds, RV parks and plenty of motels can be found in this city.  There is a great old fashioned BBQ restaurant and a few other interesting places to get a bite to eat in this town too.
     Page is where Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are located.  Lake Powell is so large that the shoreline actually is longer than the entire shoreline of California.  Glen Canyon is a haven for campers and boaters year round.  Horseback tours and boat tours are the best way to explore this place, because road access is very limited.
     On the other side of Glen Canyon is where Highway 89 leads to nearly every National Park in Utah.  Driving from Flagstaff to Page only takes a few hours, but with so many interesting sites to see and ventures to do along the way, it is best to plan on spending a day or two on this scenic drive just to get the most out of the experience.  While working at the Grand Canyon for six months, I had plenty of time to explore this region.  Many Navaho Nation Tourism destinations will be published in future articles.  Till then, fill up the coffee mug, roll the car windows down, turn on the radio and enjoy the scenery along Highway 89 in beautiful Northern Arizona!                

Monday, March 20, 2017

Grand Canyon Village Wildlife!

     Grand Canyon Village Wildlife!
     Spotting wildlife at National Parks is always a good experience for visitors.  Wild animals in panoramic landscapes present good picture taking opportunities.  Wildlife viewing is easy to do at the Grand Canyon Village during the early spring season, because young doe with foals and young Elk feel safe where humans are present, because out in the wild they are under a constant threat from hungry predators, like Mountain Lions, Coyotes and Wolves.  
     Caution must be exerted when watching the wildlife, because it is all too easy to forget that these animals are truly wild.  Many wild animals may look docile, but as soon as they feel threatened their demeanor changes to a defensive stance.  The best defense for a wild animal is to charge at threats that are too close or simply run away.  Even mild mannered herd animals like Mule Deer can become a formidable threat when they feel cornered.  Young Elk can become especially dangerous when approached, because these animals know that they are larger than humans and a human is easy to trample down.  
     Gambling on whether a wild animal will flee, charge or remain docile simply is not worth the risk and people that push their own luck often end up with serious injuries.  The National Park Wildlife Rangers advise that it is best to keep 200 yards of distance between yourself and dangerous wild animals.  Keeping a 100 yard distance from less threatening animals like raccoons, skunks and deer, is usually plenty of space.  Always use a flashlight at night, because Elk sometimes sleep on the ground in populated areas and tripping over a sleeping male Elk will result in being gored by sharp antlers.       
     I was working at a restaurant in Grand Canyon Village last year during the spring season.  My living quarters were in an old building near the Grand Canyon Trail Burro Corral.  The building was also next a grassy field that led straight into the thick forests of the National Park.  This area in Grand Canyon Village was a primary pathway that wild animals followed, so at any time of day or night, seeing wild animals up close was commonplace.  During the daytime, many young doe with foals fed on grass along the pathways in Grand Canyon Village.  These young deer were used to being around humans and they were quite docile when walking by.  Stopping to observe for too much time sometimes spooked the young animals and they would scurry away to a safer distance.  Even so, little Mule Deer foals are so cute that one simply has to stop to admire them.  
     One thing that I noticed was that when the young deer in a grassy area pick up their heads to listen alertly all at one time, it pays too look around for trouble that is on the way.  While chatting with a fellow employee next to a group of young deer that just went into an alert mode, the employee and I looked at each other and said, "I wonder what is spooking the deer?"  All of a sudden a huge young Elk rounded the corner of the building in full gallop and nearly mowed us both down while running scared off into the distance.  We just looked at each other and said, "Wow!  That sure was a close one!  I wonder what got that Elk spooked out of its mind?"  
     Male Mule Deer and Elk are easy to identify by their antlers.  These male herd animals will stand their ground no matter what during the rutting season.  There was a ditch by the railroad tracks that I had to cross on the way to the job everyday and the big Elk liked to wallow in the mud to get rid of biting insects.  Many times that I tried to cross that ditch, I ended up having to take the long way around because a big Bull Elk was in the way.  
     Most of the up close photos of Mule Deer Bucks and Elk with big antlers in the slideshow above were taken while driving to the Grand Canyon Village General Store.  The safety of the car acted as a defensive barrier that these wild herd animals did not mind.  Taking photos of these animals from inside the car is okay as long as stopping the car does not impede vehicular traffic.  Being inside a car is a lot safer than stepping outside when very close to a herd animal with a full rack of antlers.
     This may seem strange, but the most dangerous animal at the Grand Canyon National Park does not have antlers or fangs.  The little gray squirrels may seem docile, but these little creatures carry a variety of nasty diseases, like rabies and the bubonic plague.  On the average, one person is bitten by a squirrel at the Grand Canyon each day.  Most visitors are bitten by squirrels while trying to feed them, even though signs are posted that state that it is against the law to feed wild animals on every path.     
     As one can see, safety cannot be stressed enough, even when in a docile wildlife viewing area like the Grand Canyon Village.  Feeding wild animals is taboo and this will result in a big fine.  If the local wildlife is treated with respect, plenty of great opportunities will arise to view and photograph wildlife up close when visiting Grand Canyon Village during the spring season!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Route 66 Arizona ~ Winona & Winslow!

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     Route 66 Arizona ~ Winona & Winslow!
     While working at remote location resorts in Arizona, travel excursions on my days off became a regular thing.  While living in the Grand Canyon Village for six months, I became fairly proficients at planning day drip ventures in a vast desert region that required plenty of driving time just to get anywhere worth going to.  There was nothing like just packing a light camera bag and water, then driving into the wide open spaces after working all week.  
     Arizona is a big territory and it pays to plan day trips in a way that eliminates excess travel time or wasted time of any kind.  There are plenty of distractions that can slow the trip down to the point of not having enough time to enjoy the primary destination once there.  Eliminating distractions from the start is the best way to go.  Plan the trip the night before and write the travel route details down on paper, because GPS and smart phones do not work in remote locations.  Charge up the cameras the night before the trip.  Eat a filling breakfast before hitting the road.  Leave the computer behind and turn the smart phone off.  By eliminating these distractions, at least one or two hours of wasted time can be eliminated during a long day trip!  Now you can roll the windows down, turn the radio on and cruise long distances like you are riding a big jetliner!    
      Eliminating lengthy side trips also ensures that a long day trip will go as planned.  For example, if the planned destination is a couple of towns along Route 66, then taking a side trip to a state park might not be a good idea.  This is especially true if the state park has ancient cliff dwelling structures that require several hours of hiking to see.  It is better to save such a state park venture for another day.  Just make note of the interesting side trip destinations that are discovered along the way and put them on the travel bucket list.  Maintaining a travel bucket list will provide plenty of future day trip excursions, so there is no pressure to try to see everything in the entire territory in one day.    
     Living in a remote wilderness location, like I did while working at the Grand Canyon, does present day trip excursion challenges.  RV enthusiasts that set up base camp at a trailer park know what is meant by this.  Limiting the travel time to daylight hours can be a necessity.  Starting a day trip venture early in the morning ensures that the return trip will end before dusk.  Traveling only by the light of day when living in a remote wilderness area like the Grand Canyon greatly increases travel safety.  Before dawn and after dusk, the large herd animals, like Elk and Mule Deer, start crossing the local roads and after the sun sets, these large wild animals can be dangerous obstacles when the eyes are bleary after driving all day.  Those who break the speed limit in such areas just after dark will usually pay a heavy price when a collision with a large Elk occurs.  Driving during daylight hours ensures that the large wild animals will be seen long before they become a dangerous obstacle.   
     One simply cannot go wrong when taking a scenic day trip to a couple of Route 66 destinations in Arizona.  It takes about one hour to drive from the Grand Canyon to Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Doing the Flagstaff Route 66 scene is an all day venture of its own, so I decided to save the Flagstaff Route 66 topic for an article at a later date.  
     Today's scenic travel article focuses on two historic Route 66 towns, Winona and Winslow.  A great Navaho casino resort that is just east of Flagstaff is part of today's travel article venture.  All three of these destinations can be experienced in one day trip and there will be plenty of time for photography, shopping and dining along the way.   
     Interstate 40 is Route 66 just about anywhere east of Flagstaff.  This high speed highway greatly reduces travel time to old Route 66 points of interest along the way.  Winona is located just east of Flagstaff on the other side of the mountain.  Traveling by Highway 40 from Flagstaff to Winona may be fast, but this route only offers a couple of nice views.  Walnut Canyon National Monument is located at the Winona exit on this highway.  Walnut Canyon National Monument is an all day venture of its own that features ancient cliff dwellings and plenty of great hiking trails.  The other direction leads to Winona, but there really is not much to see other than a great view of the snow capped Humphrey's Peak.
     The better way to get to Winona from Flagstaff is to follow Highway 89 north to Townsend-Winona Road.  Townsend-Winona Road winds through high altitude ranch country all the way to Winona.  There are plenty of great scenic views along this road less traveled and one of the only businesses in Winona is along the way.  The historic 2 BAR 3 Saloon is well worth checking out, especially if motorcycle rally tourism is your bag!  
     Further on down the line the little unincorporated town of Winona appears and the old steel bridge can still be seen.  There is really not much to do in Winona, other than hang out at the gas station, so why is Winona such an important Route 66 destination?  The lyric "Don't forget Winona" is one of the easiest to remember in the classic old song "Route 66" that was composed in 1946 by Bobby Troup.  To be in Winona is to be part of this classic song!  
      After the scenic drive through the mountains from Flagstaff to Winona, old Route 66 becomes Interstate Highway 40 going east to Winslow.  There are several points of interest along the way and it is always a judgment call as to whether to check some of these places out.  The Twin Arrows Navaho Casino Resort is the first major destination along the way, but this place is better saved for the return trip, because there are relatively few dining options in Winslow.  Taking photos of the old closed Twin Arrows Trading Post by the highway is what many nostalgia buffs do.  Photos of old closed Route 66 tourist traps like this say a thousand words.
     A little further east on Highway 40/Route 66, the Two Guns Ghost Town appears at the far end of Walnut Canyon and Diablo Canyon.  This is a great picture taking area that is interesting beyond belief.  Two Guns has old Native American ruins and remnants of the old Route 66 tourism village at Diablo Canyon Crossing.  Two Guns is a prime example of how the major highway project doomed this little Route 66 town to dilapidation and only rubble remains.  This is Navaho territory and the extensive interpretive artwork on the old water tanks is worth checking out.  It is all too easy to spend too much time exploring Two Guns, so I saved this ghost town article for another day.
     The Meteor Crater is located a little further on down Highway 40/Route 66 on the outskirts of Winslow.  Meteor Crater is the best preserved major meteor impact site on earth and this destination certainly belongs on the lifetime travel bucket list.  There is a museum, gift shop and guided tours of the big crater.  This is a natural history site that is like no other!  Meteor Crater is an all day venture, so this trek is best saved for another day trip.
     Finally, the signs for Winslow appear on the horizon!  Winslow began in the late 1800's as a major railroad crossover town.  The Little Colorado River was nearby and the water kept the steam engines running.  Railroad tourism became the primary Southwestern market back in those days and Winslow evolved as a great stopover that provided plenty of luxury.  Winslow was home of one of the greatest historic Harvey House Railroad Resorts in the entire territory.  Oddly enough, I was working at one of the original Harvey House Resorts at the Grand Canyon when I went on this Route 66 venture.  Being familiar with the legacy of Fred Harvey added an interesting perspective when touring Winslow.
     Eventually the age of automobile tourism left railroad tourism behind.  During the peak of Route 66 tourism from the late 1940's through the 1960's, Winslow was still a bustling tourist destination.  Winslow was close to nearly every major tourist attraction and National Park in the region, so this town was well known nationwide.  A lot of famous people stayed in Winslow and this city truly was a Route 66 cultural center.
    Eventually the Interstate Highway 40 project tragically laid Winslow to waste, like so many other great Route 66 towns.  When Winslow became a ghost of the past, it was like the heartbeat of America died.  Bypassing Winslow with a major highway resigned this old historic town to be nothing more than a time capsule of the past.  
     Fortunately, Winslow is one of the best preserved Route 66 time capsules.  The tall buildings and historic sites from the long gone railroad days have survived.  Because Winslow is now considered to be out in the middle of nowhere along a major highway, relatively few tourists visit this place.  The streets of Winslow are rarely jammed up with traffic and there are few waiting lines.  Winslow is a great place for those who seek plenty of elbow room.    
     Many of the old Route 66 towns have been revived in recent years and Route 66 tourism is stronger than it has been for many decades.  The renewed interest in old Route 66 has helped to rejuvenate Winslow in recent years, yet this old historic town has gained more strength as a modern Navaho community.  The Navaho certainly respect tradition and Navaho Nation Tourism has grown tremendously in recent years.  Navaho Tourism may end up being the saving grace for old historic Route 66 towns like Winslow in this region.
     The Homlovi State Park is located in Winslow and this landmark is famous for ancient petroglyphs.  Homlovi State Park is a great place to spend an afternoon.  There are several interesting tourist shops in Winslow and there are a couple of places to grab a bite to eat.  Touring Winslow is like visiting a modern ghost town that is locked in a time long gone by.  Upon a first impression, it is easy to see that Winslow has the potential to return to its former glory, but because Winslow was bypassed by the major highway, the slow trickle if tourist dollars keeps this old Route 66 a relic of the past.  It really is a shame to see this old great town sit idle, but the bigger shame was the planning of the major highway that left this town in the dust long ago.
     After visiting Winslow, the trip back home to the Grand Canyon was underway and there was plenty of time to stop by the Navaho Twin Arrows Casino Resort to grab a bite to eat.  Twin Arrows truly is an impressive modern Southwestern style resort.  The pace is much more relaxed than Las Vegas and the resort is much nicer than the dingy casinos back east.  This resort exudes Navaho pride, which is reflected in the positive guest experience.  In other words, Twin Arrows is a modern Navaho casino resort that is really worth checking out!
     I was hungry after traveling all day and Navaho restaurants are notorious for serving big food for big people.  A big hearty plate of Navaho style food suited me just fine, so I ordered the Chili Bread Bowl at the sports bar on the casino floor.  Native American style chili with big chunks of local Navaho Beef in a Sourdough Bread Bowl was as satisfying as a simple afternoon meal could be!  A meal like this is definitely a great choice while traveling on old Route 66!  
    Of course I liked the Twin Arrows experience enough to return a few more times in the following weeks, while touring other places along this stretch of Route 66.  On one such visit, Pozole was the daily special at the sports bar in Twin Arrows.  The Navaho bartender remembered my name from the previous visit, so we had a good conversation right off the bat.  I jokingly asked if the Pozole was made with the original Aztec ingredients and the Navaho bartender laughed while saying, "I wish!"  I laughed too, because Aztec Pozole was originally made with the flesh of their enemies and it was no surprise to see that this was a well known fact in this part of the country.  Anyway, I ordered the Pozole and the Navaho chef's version was one of the best that I ever tasted and yes, in civilized modern times Pozole is made with pork! 
     Winona to Winslow or vice versa.  A Route 66 day trip or a week long venture.  In a sense it does not matter, yet it matters a lot.  These places are relics of the past that seem to wait for the golden age of Route 66 tourism to return.  Taking the time to venture off the major highway is what keeps these places alive.  There is plenty to see and plenty to learn along this stretch of old Route 66!