Our national parks are, without a doubt, among our country’s greatest treasures. A stop at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park confirmed this as we toured the totally unexpected landscapes straddling Interstate 40. Beginning at the Painted Desert Visitors Center, we followed our map into the smaller northern part of the park where multicolored landscapes stretched for miles.
At one time Historic Route 66 passed through a portion of the park. Today a few reminders remain. The Painted Desert Inn, once a host to weary travelers, is now a museum with exhibits featuring memories of bygone days. What’s left of a rusty old 1932 Studebaker sits alongside old telephone poles that once lined the famous route.
We discovered our favorite walk in the larger southern part of the park. The Blue Mesa Badlands mile-long walk is not to be missed. A paved path leads down through the unusual blue and purple hills where chunks of petrified wood are strewn about.
Farther down the road there is ample opportunity to view a phenomenal amount petrified wood…all that remains of what was once an ancient tropical forest. Trees buried millions of years ago have reappeared as beautiful polished stone. What Mother Nature can do is simply unbelievable. Don’t miss this park!
Arizona’s Homolovi State Park may not draw crowds, but we felt it was worth a stop as we ventured off Interstate 40 to check it out. Not far east of Flagstaff, the remains of a once thriving 14th century community are scattered about the land along a section of the Little Colorado River.
It is illegal to remove any artifacts from the park. The Hopi people of today consider Homolovi their homeland and believe stones and broken pottery pieces are part of the land. As you can see, many pieces of pottery remain. Eagle-eyed visitors place found items on rocks along pathways for all to enjoy.
Centuries later, in 1876, a group of Mormon pioneers arrived in the area hoping to establish a new settlement. Not much remains of their brief time along the Little Colorado River. A short path took us out to Sunset Cemetery where a few headstones stand as a reminder of the harsh life the desert offers.
Flagstaff, Arizona welcomed us yesterday with some bitterly cold snow and ferocious nighttime winds. We huddled in bed under two blankets and a thick quilt as the trailer rattled and shook. What would the morning bring? We awoke to sunshine and temperatures expected to soar into the 50s. Perfect hiking weather.
Before heading east, Reg was hoping to sample a section of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, a trail that stretches 800 miles through Arizona from Mexico north to the Utah state border. We found the Fisher Point trailhead just south of town. The relatively short 8-mile out and back piece of the Arizona Trail promised an endpoint view high above nearby Walnut Canyon.
Our guidebook warned us of an 846-foot overall elevation gain, but as we followed the trail it seemed to take us more downhill rather than the uphill we were expecting. We marched on until we came to a fork in the trail. As we turned to the left, Fisher Point rose from the valley floor. It looked like we were going to make the majority of that elevation gain all at once.
We climbed up through evergreens, stepping over rocks and around downed trees until finally reaching the top. It is a gorgeous view, however Walnut Canyon lies far below, mostly hidden by the trees and steep walls. We were able to catch a glimpse by creeping up to the edge where the rocky ledge offered a natural bench for our picnic lunch. It was a good day!
We couldn’t wrap up our stay near Sedona without a trip to the Granite Dells. Located about 4 miles north of downtown Prescott, Arizona, day hikers will find miles of trails winding up and down through forests of large boulders. The feeling is a little unworldly.
We chose to explore the curiously named Constellation Loop Trail, a 2.4 mile hike up, down through a variety of landscape and rock formations. Although there is a bit of climbing, this is not too challenging of a walk. We saw people of all ages wandering…picking and choosing their route from the many intersecting trails. Reg and I couldn’t help but think how much our three boys would have loved racing each other along the dusty paths – back when they were young enough to make a competition out of anything and everything!
At the end of our loop we learned the history behind the Constellation Loop trail name. The large plaque serves as a nice memorial to the five servicemen who will be remembered by all who walk this trail.
We bumped into a couple from Montana the other day while hiking an off-the-beaten-path trail outside of Camp Verde, Arizona. Both raved about the nearby Bell Trail, claiming the hike was beautiful and led to an intriguing feature not to be missed. “Be sure to go to the end of the trail to see The Crack,” they advised.
The trail became rougher and rocky as it climbed higher. Soon we found ourselves among towering red rock cliffs, with the creek far below us. As we came around the last bend there it was. We saw several groups of people gathered above it…The Crack. Reg found a perfect lunch spot and we settled in to watch who might be brave enough to take it on.
From our perch we could see the deep channel the creek cut between the rocky cliffs. What appeared to be a deep pool of water flowed between rapids both upstream and downstream, creating a tempting swimming hole after a long hot hike. We had heard that only the bravest jumped from the cliff, a plunge of about 20 feet.
We heard whoops and screams as a few hardy folks made their way to the water’s edge and took a dip. Cold was the consensus of the courageous few.
It’s impossible to capture the vastness of the Grand Canyon with a simple photo. However, that has never stopped me from trying! Wandering the Rim Trail, we worked up an appetite and soon found refreshments in the El Tovar Hotel restaurant (be sure to ask for a table with a view). We wandered through the Hopi House (below right), built in 1904. The gift shop showcases Native American arts and crafts.
As we headed back to the parking lot, were reminded of our last trip to the Grand Canyon 13 years ago. Our sons were all well into their teenage years, and we wanted one last family adventure before they all headed off in different directions. The 2-day mule ride down to Phantom Ranch for the night, while not easy, remains a grand family memory.
We normally prefer circular hikes that allow us to avoid retracing our steps, but there was only one way out of Boynton Canyon…at least only one safe way out. We followed the dusty red trail in until it dropped us down into the forest, beneath a cover of evergreens. Climbing began toward the end of the trail where we scrambled up a narrow channel of boulders, emerging onto a large, smooth rock outcropping, scattered with handful of other determined hikers enjoying the view.
I try to remember to stop and look up every so often when hiking rather than carefully watching where I put my every footstep. The views were on our return trip were incredibly rewarding.
To secure a parking spot, an early start is mandatory for any of the Sedona area trailheads. The Big Loop Trail, Courthouse Loop Trail and part of the Llama trail led us around 8 miles of spectacular scenery.
This big horn sheep proudly posed for a crowd at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, while I posed with the resident vulture. A combination zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, aquarium and art gallery it’s an attraction not to be missed.
Tubac was established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio and was one of the stops on the Camino Real (the “Royal Road”) from Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California. Thanks to our RV Park neighbors, full-timers Bill and Heidi, who mentioned the charms of the tiny town, we managed to squeeze in a visit on our last day. Now a thriving artist colony, shopkeepers are a trusting lot. On the door of one closed shop (center left) were instructions to drop cash or checks through the mail slot for any purchase of wares displayed outdoors.
The Pima Air and Space Museum entertained us for several hours with nearly 300 aircraft spread over 80 acres. Tram tours are offered, but not required, for the outdoor displays. Indoors, numerous volunteers are scattered about to answer any and all questions.
We hadn’t planned on spending so much time in Arizona, but after a chance conversation with another couple several days ago, we found ourselves exploring the Chiricahua (Cheer-i-ka-wa) Mountain region of southeastern Arizona. As the U.S. expanded westward, establishing a southern route to San Francisco brought the U.S. Army into direct conflict with the Chiricahua Apaches (including such famous figures as Cochise and Geronimo) who claimed the land as their own. Chiricahua National Monument and Fort Bowie National Historic Site were both well worth a couple extra days in this wind blown part of the state.
Chiricahua National Monument offers early morning rides to the top of Echo Canyon from the Visitor Center. We took full advantage of the opportunity, enjoying a leisurely 4 mile walk back through towering pinnacles that seem to defy gravity.
A short drive up a dirt road led us to the trailhead for the mile and a half hike to the remains of Fort Bowie (Boo-y) where we would learn the history of the 20 year fight for control of Apache Pass. Markers along the trail told the history of the tumultuous times. Both Americans and and Apache are memorialized in the small cemetery.