Sunday, July 23, 2017

Trip Story: Monument Valley and Surroundings

In my last post about our 2017 Summer Road Trip, I wrote about our visits to Walnut Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

Not long after we left the Grand Canyon, we came to the Little Colorado River Gorge overlook. We were tempted to skip it. After the Grand Canyon, it was sure to be underwhelming, right? No, it wasn't. I'm glad we stopped. It is a much more compact gorge, but also a beautiful spot.

The gorge

Near the gorge.

Our next stop was at a set of dinosaur tracks just outside of Tuba City. There is something awe-inspiring about standing and looking at the tracks of creatures so long extinct.

Dino track

However, Petunia, our resident dino-lover, was underwhelmed. I think she prefers dinosaur bones.

Or maybe she was just getting hungry. We were running a bit later than I'd hoped, and she'd been promised McDonald's for lunch. She got her Happy Meal once we got to Tuba City, and perked up for our visit to the Navajo Museum, which was across the street from the McDonald's. This museum was not in existence the last time I came through Tuba City, and I was glad we got a chance to visit it. It provided a great introduction to Navajo culture and history.

From Tuba City, we headed toward Kayenta, where I'd read there was a Codetalker museum in the Burger King. There was indeed a small, but really good, museum in the Kayenta Burger King. The owner's father was a Codetalker and had supplied the core items for the exhibit.

On our way to Kayenta, we stopped to admire the Elephant Feet:



The drive to Kayenta and from Kayenta to Monument Valley was beautiful. I can't do justice to describing the scenery, with dramatic mesas and buttes, red rocks, and a brilliant blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds. It was the sort of scenery that made me wish I could paint. I could imagine retiring to the area and living out my days trying to capture the colors.

We pulled into Monument Valley not long before sunset. We had booked into The View, which is the only hotel in the tribal park, and promised that every room would have a spectacular view of Monument Valley. That promise was definitely fulfilled. I put the view from our balcony in the awards show post, so here I'll put a sunset picture Mr. Snarky took from the viewing area near the hotel restaurant.



The next morning, we got up to watch the sunrise from our balcony. It was beautiful and would have been peaceful, except Petunia was annoyed at being woken up early and periodically let us know that. Lesson learned: we should have just let her sleep while the rest of us watched the sunrise!

After breakfast, we met up with our guide from Dineh Bekeyah tours, who took us on a 2.5 hour tour of Monument Valley. This was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. The tour took in a lot of famous monuments, a visit to a hogan that included a demonstration of traditional weaving techniques (sometime, I'll visit the Navajo Nation when I'm feeling wealthy enough to buy a rug... they are simply gorgeous), a look at some petroglyphs, and a chance to lie back against the cool rock while looking up at "the eagle's eye" and listening to our guide play his traditional flute.



It was a great morning.

After our tour, we checked out of the hotel and headed north. We drove to a little town just outside the reservation, called Mexican Hat. It is named for a rock that looks like a sombrero. We saw its namesake rock as we drove out of toen, but our only stop in the area was at The Old Bridge Grille Cafe, where I had my last fry bread of the trip for lunch.

From Mexican Hat, we drove straight to Moab, a two hour drive through pretty country. We had thought we might try to watch the sunset at the Delicate Arch viewpoint in Arches National Park, but we arrived in Moab to discover that roadworks were underway in the park, and the road would be closed at 7 p.m., well before sunset. So we had a swim and had dinner, and saved the visit to Arches for the next day.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Heading to a Wedding Edition

I don't get to rollerblade today, because we have a wedding to go to. I thought maybe I could still squeeze in an outing... but no luck. Oh well.

Instead of a rollerblade, I took a short post-lunch nap. My husband found an interesting looking new mystery show on Acorn, called Loch Ness. He pitched it to me as a mix of Hinterland and The Brokenwood Mysteries, which sounded great. So we started watching it, and... it is good, but it is not like Hinterland and Brokenwood! Each episode in those series is a self-contained mystery. In Loch Ness, there is one mystery stretched across the entire series. This makes it harder to stop after one episode. It also increases the chances that I'll end up having weird dreams involving the show. So we stayed up too late last night watching the first three episodes and I still had weird dreams. SIGH. Hence, the short nap so that I am not a grumpy mess for the wedding we're going to.

Anyhow, on to the links for the week.

I found the Pod Save the World episode with Julia Ioffe ("Why Did Putin Do It?") really interesting and a bit scary. I recommend it, though, if you want to try to understand what we're up against.

Speaking of scary, this Brian Beutler piece... yikes. But also true. And then James Fallows' note about it is depressing, because I can't honestly say I have confidence that three Republicans in the Senate will step up if it comes to that.

If you, like me, have been reading Josh Marshall on the Russia connection since during the campaign, you'd probably be unsettled by the fact that he is now arguing it is probably worse than we think. But I can't argue with his points. We're in scary territory.

Meanwhile, healthcare... the Senate repeal effort came back from the dead. Even though the CBO found a big problem: some of the plans it would create violate existing laws. Of course, those laws could be changed, but maybe not via the reconciliation process.

And speaking of the reconciliation process, the "Byrd bath" has begun... here is an explanation of what that means. But details of what BCRA provisions are not going to make it through are not yet out anywhere I can find to link to them. This tweet thread has some early details:




To be honest, I am having a hard time keeping up on what is going on with healthcare. That is may be by design, I don't know. I do know that if I lived in a state with a Republican senator, I'd be calling every week to reiterate my opposition to this mess.

In other healthcare news, it looks like the Trump administration used taxpayer money to run ads undermining the ACA.

Moving on....

I hadn't seen this story about John McCain and Mo Udall before.

This book on the decline of White Christian America looks interesting, and would probably help me understand why so many white Christians feel under attack. I will try to make time to read it.

In personal promo/cross links news:

Here's the cover reveal for Water into Wine, the next Annorlunda Books release. It will be out September 27, 2017 and available for pre-order August 30.

I made a beach lounger I made for Petunia's teddy bear.

And now my husband is hovering wondering when I'm going to get ready for the wedding... so I'll close out. Here's this week's cute bunnies:


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trip Story: Camp Verde, Walnut Canyon, and the Grand Canyon.

I think it is time to start posting stories from our 2017 road trip!

Our vacation this year started from Mesa. We'd left our kids there the week before, after celebrating my grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary with my family. We enjoyed a kid-free week at home before once again making the ~6 hour drive to Mesa to pick up the kids and start vacationing.

The plan was to leave Mesa mid-morning and drive to Sedona for lunch. My Dad warned me that there were often traffic jams on I-17 and maybe we should take a different route, but I was sure we could handle it. I must officially admit that my father was right. There was a several hour traffic jam on I-17, caused by a car fire. We ended up having to give up on Sedona and instead had lunch in Camp Verde.

(Aside: including the burned out hulk left after the traffic jam-inducing fire, we passed the aftermath of at least five car fires on this trip. Hot weather and mountain climbs are not a good mix, I guess.)

Anyway, our detour to Camp Verde turned out to be a nice one. We had lunch at Verde Brewing Company, a very good brewpub. It was so good that Mr. Snarky was tempted by the lifetime beer offer.



That is not an economical option for people who live in San Diego, though, so he contented himself with what the described as the best BLT ever and a pint of IPA.

We hadn't really acclimated to the heat yet, so no one had much interest in exploring Camp Verde. Everyone whined at me when I wanted to walk half a block to see this old building, which turned out to be the old prison.


We got back into our air conditioned car and drove on to Walnut Canyon. This is a National Monument, so was our first chance to use our 4th grader parks pass. This pass was awesome, even if you don't consider the amount of money it saved us. Every ranger who saw that pass was very enthusiastic about it, and made Pumpkin feel special. I hope the program is still around for Petunia's 4th grade year.

Walnut Canyon is a beautiful spot, but what makes it really special is the chance to see and even go inside of the remains of Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings.

The cliff dwellings are those holes in the cliff.

I always marvel at how people lived in these canyons. They must have been very good climbers. The ranger explained that one of the reasons Walnut Canyon was a good place for the Ancient Puebloans to live is that the cliffs both offered protections from storms and made it easier to gather water.

After our short hike in Walnut Canyon, we drove on to Tusayan, a small town that is basically a base camp for visits to the Grand Canyon.

The next morning, we took the park bus to the Grand Canyon. We could have driven in, and were in fact up early enough that we would have been sure of getting parking. But the bus stop was right outside our hotel, and we liked the idea of helping to reduce traffic and pollution in the park. This time of year, the road that goes to the most popular overlooks and the in park hotels is closed to anyone not actually staying in the park, so we would have just been driving in to park our car, anyway. I think this is great: the buses ran frequently and the lack of cars made the visit a little more peaceful, even though there were still hordes of people.

I am rather pleased with how my plan for our Grand Canyon visit worked out. We started at the visitor center to pick up our Junior Ranger books. Every National Park, Monument, or Historic Site we visited had a Junior Ranger program: the kids complete some easy exercises, take a somewhat hokey pledge to protect the park and educate others about it, and then they get a badge. Our kids love collecting those badges!

After we collected our books, we set out to walk a portion of the Rim Trail. This was a long walk, but there were plenty of places to refill our water bottles, and I'd brought lots of snacks. We stopped frequently to admire the view, take pictures, and work on the ranger books.



Visibility wasn't terrific for our visit, due to a wildfire in the region. We still got some nice views, though.

Mr. Snarky usually waits patiently to get pictures without other people in them,
but in this case, the people give a sense of the scale.

We did not do any hiking into the canyon, but we did get a great view of the famous Bright Angel trail. This is the trail that goes to the canyon floor.

The trail is the ribbon of read running down the slope.

Bright Angel is, unfortunately, a killer trail... literally. People die trying to hike to the floor and back in a day, particularly in the summer. It was a warm but not uncomfortable 90 degrees on the rim. On the floor, it was probably over 110. The signs the park service puts up warning people about hiking into the canyon are really explicit about the risks, and still people do it and get in trouble. People die of heat exhaustion and also of hyponatremia. People who are not accustomed to a dry heat don't always realize how much they are sweating! Still, some day, I'd like to hike that trail. I would not try to make it back up on the same day. The people I know who hike it and enjoy it always spend at least one night on the canyon floor.

Anyhow, we didn't do anything like that, and just stayed on the nice, flat, paved Rim Trail. We made it to the Village by lunchtime, and had lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge. The food was nothing special, but the old lodge is pretty cool. After lunch, we boarded a bus to Hermit's Rest. The wind had picked up, and so we didn't end up lingering at this stop or doing the short walk part of the way back that I'd planned. Instead, we had a snack, I failed to buy the water bottle in a leather pouch Petunia really wanted (I was sure they'd have it back at the shop at the Visitor's Center. They did not. I heard about this for the entire remainder of the trip.) and we got back on a bus. We got off to admire a couple of viewpoints, but then went back to the Visitor Center to get the kids their badges. From there, we got back on the bus back to the hotel.

On the way out of the park, the bus screeched to a halt. A car had stopped in the middle of the road. This seemed odd... but it turned out the occupants were admiring some wildlife.

Well-documented wildlife

The kids got their swim in the hotel, and we had dinner and decent margaritas at Plaza Bonita, a Mexican restaurant near the hotel.

Then next day, we drove into the park. We turned right at the Visitor's Center and drove to see the Tusayan ruin (pretty cool, the grown ups thought) and then the Desert View Watchtower.

The watchtower

Pumpkin in the watchtower. The paintings on the wall are reproductions of the type
of rock art found in the region.

The kids were more impressed by the Desert Watchtower, even though it is not nearly as old as the ruin. They liked climbing all the stairs, and Pumpkin liked taking pictures of the view. The watchtower was built in the 1930s, and was designed by architect Mary Colter, who drew from inspiration from the Native American buildings she had seen in the region. Some of the interior artwork was done by a Hopi artist named Fred Kabotie. It is an interesting reminder of the history of tourism at the Grand Canyon, and of our changing opinions about how to accommodate it. If you're curious, you can read more about the watchtower on this NPS site.

The view from the watchtower includes a good view of the Colorado River.
After admiring more views of the Grand Canyon and the desert to the East of it, we headed on out of the park. I'll pick up that story next time.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Getting Back to Work Edition

So, we're back from vacation. I'm revitalized by the time off, but also struggling to catch up and to convince myself that yes, I really should be working and not out hiking in the Sierras or something. This morning, Petunia had a meltdown right before it was time to go to camp. I think she may be missing vacation, too. She really likes her camp this week, but sleeping in and eating ice cream is more fun than just about anything, really.

Anyhow, I've been pretty productive this week, but not so good about reading things and finding links for you, so this will probably be a short post. Also, Petunia's camp has a final performance and I need to wrap up early to go see that and then go for my rollerblade because nothing motivates me to make sure I get my exercise like seeing the pictures of me from vacation.

First a little promo: right before vacation, I dropped the ebook price for Love and Other Happy Endings. You can now try out one of my anthologies of classic short stories for just $0.99.

On to the links:

Alexandra Petri on Donald Trump, Jr., is spot on.

A great, thoughtful post about Appalachia and poverty, from someone who grew up there.

This is an interesting op-ed about the current state of politics in the US.

California has really cut its maternal death rate and North Carolina has cur the racial disparities in its maternal death rate. If only we were talking about how to expand and build on these programs, instead of facing the possibility that Medicaid will be gutted and those of us with pre-existing conditions will be facing uncertain access to insurance.

The Cook Islands have just created one of the world's largest marine preserves.

Hee Hee




Bunnies!




Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Politics on Vacation

This morning, an article came across my Twitter feed about Salt Lake City losing a big outdoor retailer convention due to the State government's lack of support for public lands. (Here is a more in depth article on the subject forwarded to me by Bad Mom, Good Mom.) I would like to read more about the local politics of this, but probably won't because time is finite, you know? But it did make me think of these signs we saw as we walked around Salt Lake City:

The sign on the right says "Utah Stands with Bears Ears"

For those who haven't followed the Bears Ears saga, one of the arguments in favor of making that area a National Monument is that the local Native American tribes consider it a sacred place and have asked for National Monument status to protect it. For me, that is the only argument we should need. The land was theirs to begin with. But American (and specifically, American West) politics being what they are, it was always going to be a controversy.

What was interesting to me while traveling in the area was that the controversy doesn't necessarily sort cleanly on Republican-Democrat lines. I saw those "Utah Stands with Bears Ears" signs in yards that also sported signs for an upcoming city council election, and the Bears Ears signs co-existed with signs from competing candidates. I also saw postcards the tribes had put out urging people to contact the Department of Interior in support of Bears Ears in many places, including some places I wouldn't have expected, like the little bar and grill we ate lunch at in Mexican Hat.

I didn't ask anyone about the issue, though, because I didn't want to bring up politics on this trip. Honestly, I never do: that's not the type of traveler I am. But this year, in particular, I thought it best just to avoid politics.

But what could we do when we came across this sign outside the Utah State Capitol?



We saw some people taking photos, and thought they were getting a weird angle on the Capitol. But when we crossed the street, we saw that the Capitol wasn't the subject of the photo at all.

We didn't get a photo of our favorite political sign, though. This one was on the small road we took out to see the southern tufa formations at Mono Lake. We passed an "adopt-a-highway" sign that announced this stretch of road was cleaned by "One of them June Lake liberals." That is a direct quote.

Although I was avoiding discussing politics, the vacation was over the 4th of July, and like many Americans who are worried about the Trump administration, I found this year's 4th a weird one. I thought a bit more than usual about patriotism, and what makes me proud (and not so proud) of my country. The times on the trip I felt proudest of my country were the visits to the national and state parks and historic sites. We have so many beautiful and special places, and I am proud that we are protecting them and working to make the accessible to everyone. Also, every park ranger we spoke to was great: helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic. Our kids did the Junior Ranger programs wherever they could, and collected quite a few new badges. Every ranger who talked to them as a part of those programs was great and encouraging. With the exception of the traffic jam in Yosemite, I was impressed with how the parks were run. A lot of care goes into making sure visitors of all types have a good experience.

The time I felt the least proud of my country was actually on the 4th of July. This wasn't because of the general sadness I felt about the state of affairs. It was because as we walked back to our car after watching the parade and seeing some of the sights in Virginia City, we passed a house that was displaying a giant Confederate flag. I'd seen several trinkets with Confederate flags on one of the shops in town, too. Now, Nevada was never part of the Confederacy. In fact, its state slogan is "Battle Born" because it joined the Union during the Civil War. There is no "heritage" in flying the Confederate flag in Nevada, or in selling trinkets with that flag on them. There is just hate. I am ashamed that flag is being flown more and more often in places without even the tenuous claim to be treating it as part of their heritage.

On the flip side of that experience, though: One of the groups marching in the Virginia City parade was a group representing the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, and they got one of the biggest cheers of the parade. The juxtaposition of those two things is probably a pretty accurate representation of the state of things right now.

And that's enough about politics for now. Next week, I'll get into the stories about the wonderful places we visited.

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