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Entries about arizona

The Graaaaand Canyon

sunny 85 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

Ahh, Grand Canyon, ubiquitous entry on the itineraries of tourists of America from all corners of the globe. As you candidly admit in your visitor center information, you may not be the longest, the widest, or the deepest canyon in the world, but you might be the grandest, if only there were a way to empirically measure grandness in scientific units.

In my frenzied pre-roadtrop planning, I had of course booked us a campsite ahead of time, and as we pulled in at 11PM, we remarked at how crowded together the campsites seemed. This was explained the next day when we discovered the nearest tents were actually taking up the spot where we would have pitched a tent, had we not installed a bed in the back of our car. A trio of guys (one from West Chester, PA, of all places) had assumed we weren't taking our campsite, since we arrived so late, and put it to good use. No harm, no foul -- they were friendly and apologetic, and it didn't inconvenience us.

Being an idiot, as I was talking to them, I let the milk I was heating for my morning chai boil over. Something about the high altitude, perhaps, made it behave rather differently than milk normally does when overheated: it shot in a perfect cylindrical stream, as though from a garden hose, from the kettle's spout, right onto my arm. It didn't seem to hurt at first, but after the guys cleared out, I realized my arm was actually scalded pretty badly. Application of cold water and first while chanting the mantra "Stop whingeing; I am a trooper," did the trick, and it stopped hurting, though the burn looked like a huge port wine mark. (Now it looks like peeling zombie skin.)

And of course, seeing the canyon from the ground for the first time made both of us forget everything else in our heads. Writing this a few days later, I can say that as we have traveled, seeing gorgeous and unique landscapes wherever we go, we've become a little bit immune to all of the beauty, but we have still run into sights that have made our jaws drop, and the canyon was one of them, despite all the pictures we've seen.


In my last entry, I talked about nearly hitting an elk on the way into the park late at night. Once camped, we were to discover that our space was shared with a herd of elk and unkindnesses of ravens - in fact, the Grand Canyon has given us our closest encounters with wildlife on the roadtrop so far. It is surreal to be walking through the campground, round a corner, and find your way nearly blocked by a creature the size of a van, eating a tree. Elk are so huge, I can't imagine anything preying on them besides packs of wolves, which don't exist in that area, and fast cars on dark country roads. They looked at us puny humans with what can only be described as complete indifference, or perhaps dismissive contempt, as we inched our way around them a mere five feet away, frantically taking photographs.


In the next 40 hours or so, Matt and I did some walking on the Rim Trail, built a campfire to roast marshmallows, and finally hiked 1.5 miles into the canyon (and back out again) on the Bright Angel Trail. Hiking into the canyon was easy, but the climb out was pretty killer.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Grand Canyon

Neither of us was really prepared for how much high altitude affects breathing and exertion, but the worst of it was probably the fast-rising sun, which achieved an uncomfortable blaze by 9:30AM, making the most difficult part of the hike a race for shade as well as a climb.

We had no idea how relatively easy that hike was. We were to learn our lesson a few days later in Yosemite.

Posted by mormolyke 22:59 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon arizona Comments (0)

Utah, Arizona

Once again, insert my usual excuses about not blogging often enough.

View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

When I left off, we were watching solar eclipse. After the annularity, we jumped back in the car for a longish night drive all the way up to Goosenecks State Park in southern Utah. It was yet another campsite of convenient location, which had the added advantages of being open 24 hours and costing nothing. On the way up, via a long, straight, unlit country road through a night that was thick pitch black except for the reflected glow of the 70mph speed limit signs, I had the roadtrop's first dangerous encounter with large animals when I narrowly escaped plowing my car into some horses.

Yeah. Horses. Free-range horses. Crossing the road close to midnight on a moonless night.


Above is a free-range horse we passed the next day that looks similar to one of the horses that nearly totaled our car in the dark.

Goosenecks State Park was likewise very dark when we pulled in, and we couldn't make out any scenery at all, but for the outline of a few RV's parked nearby. Matt had read something about the park being perched on a sheer cliff, so I drove extremely slowly, and imagined scenarios whereby I accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake and sent us shooting over the edge like a reluctant Thelma and Louise.

This is what we woke up to when Monday dawned:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Goosenecks State Park

OK, Goosenecks State Park. That was pretty awesome. And a good warm up to our subsequent drive through Monument Valley.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Monument Valley

Unfortunately, by the time we realized we had missed the turn for East Mitten Butte, we were in Arizona, d'oh. I guess we'll have to come back someday.

A couple of years ago, we made a rather spontaneous trip to Phoenix and Sedona, so we had seen some of Arizona's landscape before. The first thing we wanted to check out this time was Meteor Crater, which we ran out of time to visit in 2009. It's an eye-popping hole in the ground that makes you realize we're all doomed to destruction from outer space. I do find it a little disconcerting that the site is privately owned, because as far as I'm concerned, something this significant should be public land.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Meteor Crater

We also whipped down south for a look-see of Montezuma Castle and a speed run through Sedona, and finished off the day with a continuation of the space theme that's run through much of the roadtrop: a stop at the famous Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, which is open at night for telescope observation. On Monday night, the telescopes were pointed at a star cluster (damnit, I can't remember the name. M5? Something like that.) and Saturn. A couple of nights previously, Matt actually found Saturn through our wee Orion SkyScanner, and we could clearly make out the ring, but of course, the 32-foot-long two-foot aperture telescope did a better job, go figure. Saturn wasn't much bigger than it was in our telescope, but the resolution was such that we could differentiate a couple of bands.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Montezuma Castle & Sedona

Monday night was a repeat of Sunday night: a long lonely drive on dark country roads, but this time our destination was the Grand Canyon, and the large animal I nearly hit as it crossed the road was an elk.



More about our Grand Canyon adventures, including additional elk encounters, in the next entry.

Posted by mormolyke 07:30 Archived in USA Tagged arizona utah sedona elk monument_valley flagstaff montezuma_castle lowell meteor_crater goosenecks Comments (0)

What time is it?

Solar eclipse time!

View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

I have to get this off my damn chest.

What. Is. Up. With. Time. Zones.

Time zones: they're not rocket science, right? You'd think not. And yet, they have several times stumped two otherwise reasonably intelligent people.

Here is what I knew about US time zones before going on this trip: there are four of them, Eastern (EST), Central (CST), Mountain (MST), and Pacific (PST), and they are each an hour apart. I always figured time zones went by state. I also figured all the states on our Roadtrop Map participated in daylight savings, so the time zones we'd deal with would be EDT, CDT, MDT and PDT.

The first WTF moment involving time was on our drive from Knoxville to Nashville, both in Tennessee. When I hopped into the driver's seat in the morning and loaded up the GPS, I thought it was odd that the drive was shorter than it appeared to be in my notes. A couple of hours into it, I suddenly realized that to complete the journey by the time of arrival, I would have to drive at 140mph. Wait ... Nashville is in a different timezone to Knoxville? Yes, apparently so, even though a world clock website that Matt looked at suggested otherwise. Western Tennessee is on CDT, while the east of the state is on EDT. I guess the divide is between counties or something (not enough precious bandwidth for me to Google the answer).

The second WTF moment was yesterday, the day of the solar eclipse. At the City of Rocks visitor center in the morning, we picked up an information sheet that said the eclipse would start at 6:30PM, with annularity around 7:37PM. I had in my notes that the eclipse would take place an hour earlier, so we realized that Arizona was on PDT, not MDT. OK, that's an easy adjustment.

Then, as we were driving to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where we wanted to view the eclipse, I noticed that, according to the GPS, we were short on time. We bypassed Petrified Forest and kind of rushed the end of the Coronado Trail to make sure we were in place to view the eclipse on time. However, at about 4:00PM PDT, I realized that something was off in the opposite temporal direction. I was driving a 60-mile-long stretch of highway at about 80mph (shh), but the GPS was telling me I needed two hours to reach the end.

Oh, good lord. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is on a Navajo nation reservation, which does not observe daylight savings. So my notes were in PDT, but our eclipse observation site, they were marking PST, which is actually the same as MDT, so in practice, the info sheet from City of Rocks was correct after all.

Shoot me in the face.

Anyhow, it all worked out for the best, because we arrived at Canyon de Chelly early, and could get set up in time to witness the start of the eclipse. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the T-adapter for my telescope working with Matt's camera (would love to Google a solution when I reach civilization i.e. decent wifi), but I got some pretty great shots by screwing basically every filter I own onto my PowerShot, and sandwiching a grade 5 welding goggle lens between my ND4 and UV filter. Then I shot at ISO 80, shutter speed 1/4000, and with the manual focus at infinity (I think the camera was having a helluva time autofocusing through all those filters). Here are some pix of the set-up:

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Ready for the eclipse

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Ready for the eclipse

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Filters for my Canon Powershot, and sleeve adapter

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Filters for my Canon Powershot, and sleeve adapter

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 10mm, 20mm and 4mm eyepieces

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 10mm, 20mm and 4mm eyepieces

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 2x Barlow with T-ring adapter

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 2x Barlow with T-ring adapter

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Welding goggles with number 14 lenses

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Welding goggles with number 14 lenses

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Orion SkyScanner

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Orion SkyScanner

And here's the eclipse itself:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Solar Eclipse at Canyon de Chelly

Posted by mormolyke 10:24 Archived in USA Tagged arizona eclipse time solar canyon_de_chelly time_zones Comments (2)

Seven hundred to OVER NINE THOUSAND

Carlsbad caverns and the Coronado Trail

sunny 80 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

Friday was a fairly light day for us, with only one major stop: the Carlsbad Caverns. Good god, am I glad it was our only stop.

For as long as I can remember, I have been susceptible to a mild variety of Stendahl syndrome that manifests usually when I visit art museums and try to see too much of them in a single visit. I can go about three hours before I space out, and if I try for much longer than four hours, I start to freak out. The worst case I can remember was the time we tried to do NYC's MoMA in one day. About 3PM, I could feel a kind of hysteria, as though I were about to throw up or have some kind of panic attack. "NOW. WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW. EXIT. NOW." I had a splitting headache and couldn't think for the rest of the afternoon/evening.

You can probably guess where this is going. The Carlsbad Caverns are like visiting an immense underground art gallery, with the added complications that you are 700 feet below the surface, so there's no easy exit, and it's about 13 degrees Celsius. (Aside: weird thing, I still think in Celsius below 20 degrees. Above that, I now think in Fahrenheit.)

The 9AM ranger-guided tour was full, so we opted to hike all the way into the caverns (a couple of miles) via the Natural Entrance. Approaching the entrance itself, it's very easy to understand how one might believe in concepts of mthological giants and their modern-day fantasy descendants, such as Balrogs. The earth opens into an enormous gaping mouth like a grouper fish, and cave swallows (seriously, cave swallows) dart in and out from their mud nests on the cave wall. Actually, they do more than dart; they dive and defecate. Matt has the white streak on his had to prove it.

The National Park Service has installed an extensive system of trails inside the caves, all nicely paved and provided with hand rails, and they've taken the trouble to artfully light all the interesting cave features. It's easy to forget that without the lights, the cave would be utterly dark. Matt and I were amazed by how silent the cave trail could become, despite the nearby presence of far too many indifferent and loudly chattering schoolchildren, just by rounding a few corners in the limestone passageways.

I think the pictures speak louder than anything I could possibly say to describe the caves, and they don't even do the caves justice. After a couple of hours of gazing with my mouth looking like the cave entrance, I was completely wiped out and unable to process anything I was seeing, but I still took photos. My left hand was bundled into my hoodie pouch, but I remember my camera hand being painfully cold.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Carlsbad Caverns

Two days later ... uh, that's yesterday ... we were up in the mountains at the highest altitude either of us have ever driven. We drove from City of Rocks State Park up through Arizona via Route 191, formerly Route 666 (truth), aka the Coronado Trail, aka the Devil's Highway. OK, when I say "we," I mean Matt did the driving, because I come from a very flat country where I grew up driving in the city, and just looking at mountains scares me, never mind driving on them. The first accident I ever had was on a winding country road.

Good news: Holy crap, views. We went from dry desert to a fascinating yet disturbing vast copper and gold strip mine to the fire-ravaged Apache National Forest, with mountain vistas all around. Also, we survived hundreds of hair-raising white-knuckle switchbacks with no guardrails. My kingdom for a guardrail. Bad news: the GoPro gremlins didn't want to cooperate with us, so we won't have a time lapse of our Coronado Trail drive, which really sucks. But we do have pictures we took with our regular cameras along the way:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Coronado Trail

N.B. More photos to come! Tough time finding good internet around here ...

I think we topped out at around 9200 feet elevation, but I snapped a picture at OVER NINE THOUSAND, because internet:


Posted by mormolyke 08:36 Archived in USA Tagged arizona caves new_mexico carlsbad carlsbad_caverns coronado_trail route_191 Comments (1)

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