Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grand Canyon Sunset ~ South Rim ~ Yaki Point ~ Arizona

We entered the Grand Canyon National Park for our sunset experience from Tusayan, AZ where we were staying in the RV park. The Grand Canyon Camper Village is only a couple of miles from the park entrance. We’ve purchased a pass for the park, at a cost of $25 and that will allow us to enter the park any number of times for a week.

The South Entrance Road to the Grand Canyon
We then drive for a few more miles that will take us to the first large parking lot at the Visitor Center and then catch the free shuttle bus that will take us out to Yaki Point, which we’ve heard is one of the best to view a sunset from.  This point is only accessible when you use the shuttle, so this is our first visit to this point, and a great one it is. 

The rugged formations of the Grand Canyon, AZ
Many people gather here, most with the intention of watching the sun set.  The shuttle bus runs frequently so there are more people coming all the time but many leave to return to other locations as well, undoubtedly for a beautiful sunset, as well.  I don’t think there could be a bad sunset in the Grand Canyon !

Enjoying the setting sun over the Grand Canyon at Yaki Point
We are looking towards Cape Royal from here.  The evening light gives it a very hazy appearance and this would be the result of smog.  Daily tests are done to test and monitor the haze as part of a national research program.  The average winter visual range is 210 km (130 mi).

The golden color highlights the Inner Gorge in Grand Canyon
The Colorado River isn’t visible from this vantage point but it is flowing through the Inner Gorge that we can see from here, the canyon the river has taken thousands of years to create.  I was able to get some pictures of the river on our visit to Desert View at the eastern entrance to the park.

The sunset shadows add interest to the Grand Canyon
Our visit is at the South Rim, which is open all year but there is also the North Rim on the other side of the Canyon.  The rims are only about 10 miles apart ‘as the crow flies’ to use an old expression, but is 356 km (215 mi) by road.  We didn’t visit the North Rim, it doesn’t open until May 15.

The layers of orange begin to appear in the darkened gorge
The free park newspaper, The Guide is available at many locations and has a lot of information about locations, activities and all things going on in the park.  They even have the exact time of the sunrise and sunset for current dates and where the best places for viewing those are.

Dusk is coming quickly and sunset will soon be done
As the sun disappears, the evening quickly gets cooler.  We are visiting in April and the average temperatures range from 15C (60F) down to 0C (32F).  Our days are sunny so we can feel the heat and it isn’t cold but we did have frost warnings for overnite.

The final colors quickly fade from Yaki Point viewpoint
We are looking at the Tonto Platform and as the sun sets lower in the sky, the color of the formations gets deeper and deeper until it almost glows in the distance. What beautiful colors we see.

The last moments of the Grand Canyon setting sun
I caught the last of the setting sun just as it was about to disappear from view after leaving us with the incredible experience of seeing a sunset in the Grand Canyon.  I will always have my photos to remind me of those beautiful moments, but it shall forever remain etched in my mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunset ~ Sedona ~ Verde Valley ~ Arizona

Sedona, AZ is a beautiful little town, nestled in the northern part of Verde Valley at the mouth of the Oak Creek Canyon. We’d been there many years ago and had spent a couple of days looking through art galleries and shops during a winter visit, enjoying the beautiful views but we hoped to see it again.

Majestic red rock in Red Rock State Park, AZ
Now all these years later we are making Sedona a stop on our RV trip home from our winter holidays.  We’ve arrived in Camp Verde and set up the RV before we headed out for an evening drive.  The sky was blue and the sun was still shining so why not drive up to Sedona, about a half hour away, to see the sun setting on those red rocks.  Wow !  did we do the right thing!

Sedona homes are scattered throughout this valley
There could be no bad time to visit this pretty place but there are some times that will outshine the others and we happened to be there for one of those.  The morning sunrise and evening sunsets are said to be the best time of the day to enjoy the red rock, so we’re pretty excited with our timing, we couldn’t have planned our visit any better.

Layers of rock formations and colors above the green in Sedona, AZ
Sunset is happening as we arrive in Sedona and as the sun sets, the color of the rocks glow with brilliant oranges and reds.  The sky is a clear blue, giving a great background and everywhere we turn, we see another beautiful formation standing there for all to see. I fear we won’t see enough before the sun sets, though, so we must keep moving to be where the sun is still shining! 

Paths leading to more beautiful sights in Sedona, AZ
Over millions of years, iron oxide has covered the grains of sandstone which then naturally turns to rust form and this is what makes the beautiful colors of this Red Rock Country.  The red rock of Sedona is very unique and absolutely gorgeous!
Sunset in Sedona, AZ brings out the best of the color in Red Rock Country
If you follow Hwy 179 off I-17 and you are driving through Red Rock Country, as it is often called.  You will pass through the Red Rock State Park for the 25km (15 mi) to arrive in Sedona.  There are some great parking areas that give you a chance to stop and get great pictures and enjoy the views around you.

Spires formed in the rocks surrounding Sedona, AZ
There are hundreds of hiking and mountain bike trails to follow.  We also saw some trails marked for  horses as we wandered through some trails leading from one parking area, seeking great viewpoints.  There are guides available for tours which would be the best way to see and learn more about the rocks of Sedona, but we didn’t have time on this visit.

Endless natural beauty in Sedona, AZ
Sedona is a place that one should plan to stay awhile.  There are so many places to see whether you would like to go on jeep tours, air tours, horseback rides, golfing, camping or fishing, so much to enjoy. These are plenty of choices for family fun, too.

Setting sun shines on the Prickly Pear cactus
The art community offers even more than the famous scenery and outdoor activities with the many galleries and shops.  Sedona is also known as a spiritual mecca with the vortex energies found here and that is a draw for many. Sedona is one of the most popular places in the world for weddings and honeymoons and has over 4 million visitors a year.

Beautiful vista surrounds Sedona, AZ
This little town has a population of just over 10,000 people. The elevation of 1372M (4500’) has seasonal weather with some but not a lot of snow or rain. There are pinon pines and junipers that scatter the area and sycamores and cottonwoods near the creeks, so there is great color to complement the red rocks.

Sunset in Sedona has been a beautiful sight to see. We will definitely be making another visit to Sedona one day to enjoy the many things it offers and some of those beautiful sights we have missed on this visit. To see directions how to get to Sedona and learn more of the many things that Sedona offers, click here and visit this link.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Montezuma Castle ~ Verde Valley ~ Arizona

We had visited Montezuma Castle many years ago and I was excited to see it again so I could take some pictures to share on the blog, seems I didn't take enough pictures back then.  My biggest incentive these days is sharing this way, and I can never have enough pictures!  As we approached the parking lot, I realized that either my memory had failed me or things had changed, I’m going to go with the changes.

Large Arizona Sycamore welcome us to Montezuma Castle
These huge Arizona Sycamore are lining the area with only winter branches to show at this time of year, it would be great to be here later in the spring or summer to see them all dressed.  We enter the site for the Castle through the Visitor Information center to see the park, a $5.00 fee, which also houses a great museum of the artifacts and story of the Sinagua culture.  

Pathway leading us to Montezuma Castle in Verde Valley
This was named Montezuma Castle when it was thought that the Aztec people had come in and built this for their Aztec Emporer of the 1500’s, but it was later learned that was not the case, but his name has stayed with it.  It was declared a National Monument in 1906 by Teddy Roosevelt when only a few artifacts remained, but at least it was now sure to be protected from more losses.

Montezuma Castle in Verde Valley in Arizona
The Montezuma Castle is quite a sight to behold.  It is hard to believe that this cliffside dwelling built from limestone has been here for over 800 years.  There has been a protective layer put on the exterior to prevent the wind and rain from any further damage but the castle remains 90% original and is considered one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the U.S.

Closer view of Montezuma Castle, a National Monument
The castle sits 30 meters (100’) above the floodplains and once housed 35-50 people with 19 rooms and 3 levels.  They built into the deep alcove then added rooms in stages.  They would climb the cliff with ladders then access the castle through a hole in the roof using a ladder, then pull the ladder inside to prevent anyone from invading their home.  The Montezuma Castle was part of a large community of people in the Verde Valley.  It is believed there were as many as 6,000 to 8,000 people living in villages no more than 2 miles apart.

Viewing Montezuma Castle from under the Arizona Sycamore trees
It is difficult to get the scale from the pictures but this one will show better with people walking below it on the pathway.  There has been a viewing patio set up to ponder the story of the Sinagua culture.  After living here for 300 years, they left mysteriously in the 1400’s, never to return.   It is not known if they left due to drought, disease or perhaps invasion, although there appears to be no sign of warfare.  Hopi Indian legend suggests they may have joined them to the northeast. 

The ruins of Castle A in Verde Valley, Arizona
There are other old ruins here, Castle A was excavated in 1933 and many artifacts were found that offered some information on the Sinagua.  There were 45-50 rooms in this castle on 6 levels, much like an apartment dwelling but most of it was destroyed in a fire in the 1400’s.  Castle A had been built near the base of the cliff.  Information says they were related to the others, sharing the land and the food with them.

Beaver Creek runs through Verde Valley, Arizona
Beaver Creek offered the water source for irrigation and made for rich farmland in the Verde Valley. The crops the Sinagua did plant were corn, beans, squash and cotton and they supplemented their crops by gathering from the plantlife in the valley and hunting the wildlife that wandered the area. They appeared to live well and flourished in the Verde Valley.

It is amazing to hear how these people did survive back then, and to actually see their Castle and the work that was done to accomplish this. They raised generations of their people and worked this valley for centuries. We can only marvel at their hard work and then wonder why they would leave. With all that they had invested it would have had to be a necessity to leave their home. Although we have learned much about the Sinagua people, we may never find the answer to that question, not even on Google :).

There are several ruins in this area of Arizona, not all are as preserved as these are.
We also visited Montezuma Well and will share those pictures and story with you, too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Grand Canyon ~ Arizona, USA ~ Natural Wonder

There are many places we have on our list to visit and the Grand Canyon was one of them.  We love rv’ing to these locations so that we can enjoy the journey on the way, which we did, but there was no way that I was quite prepared for the sight we saw on our arrival to the Grand Canyon.

Afternoon sun cast shadows in Grand Canyon
We have all seen pictures, heard stories and likely even seen parts of it in the movies but it still took my breath away.  That may have been caused by a slight fear of heights that I do seem to have developed over the years, but that would have only been a part of it.  I approached that first viewpoint with  excitement and weak knees.  I was not disappointed, the view was absolutely breathtaking! 

Incredible colors of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world and is over 445 km (277 miles) long, 16 km. (10 mi) wide and 1.6 km (1 mi) deep.  The average winter visual range is 210 km (130 mi) and explains why we might find the distance to be hazy, but air pollution also plays a part in that. It is being monitored and the parks promote doing our part in conserving energy to avoid pollutants.

The profile in Grand Canyon
Our first visit was on an afternoon that there were clouds in the sky but the sun was shining and made the chilly day very pleasant.  We parked in one of the main parking lots that is located at Yavapai Point, also the location of the Yavapai Geology Museum and walked along the paved paths to see as much as we could see.  This profile isn’t marked but the rock in the center of picture sure looks like one to me.

Grand Canyon views enjoyed by brave hikers
There are many viewpoints with rock walls or barriers of some sort to stop at and enjoy the view but there are also many places that you can just walk out to the edge and either test your fear level, pose for pictures or just get a better look at the Grand Canyon.  These people had to do some climbing to get to this location. Click on picture to get a bigger one and then go 'back' to return to blog.

Rock Squirrel at Grand Canyon
There is wildlife in the Grand Canyon but we didn’t see any where we were, except this little guy.  There are different kinds of squirrels in Grand Canyon, depending your location.  We are at the South Rim and I believe this one is a rock squirrel and he appeared way out on this rocky ledge from seemingly nowhere, he must have a room with a quite a view. 

Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon
There are some marked trails to follow for those who wish to do some hiking.  Hiking was not on our agenda, but it was amazing how many people were taking this trail into the canyon to see more.  I understand it is quite a challenge and if you wish to learn more about hiking to the canyon bottom, clik on this link and scroll down a bit.

Kolb Studio at Grand Canyon South Rim
In 1904, the Kolb brothers built their home and photography studio at the very edge of the South Rim to take advantage of the visitors to this area.  They were one of the first tourist and commercial sites in the canyon.  The brothers operated their studio for over 75 years, being two of the earliest photographers to specialize in national park tourism and have been credited with how we view national parks.  The studio is now a National Historic Landmark.  More interesting history on the Kolb brothers is found on this link.

Lookout Studios at the Grand Canyon South Rim
Mary Colter was the architect who designed several buildings in this area, including the Lookout Studios, built in 1914. The ‘parkitecture’ design style that she used means that it blends into the natural surroundings and is built with local stones and wood. The Lookout Studio is now listed on the National Register of Historic places.

We were lucky to have another great day visiting the Grand Canyon as well as an unforgettable sunset before we were on our way, I will be sharing these with you later.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The First Tee ~ Golfing ~ Rabbits ~ Ground Squirrels ~ Egret ~ Turtles ~ Hawk ~ Singing birds

We have visited the First Tee golf course in Palm Desert, California many times and enjoy this 9 hole course for a fun golfing day.  For those of us who have limited golfing skills but enjoy the experience without the pressure of a big course, this is the one.  And for those with better skills, the course still has its’ challenges with ponds and sand traps.

The First Tee Golf Course ~ Palm Desert, California

What more could we ask for when we have this beautiful view to enjoy?  The snowcapped Santa Rosa and San Jacinta mountains in the distance, the blue sky and sunshine and the serenity of this little golf course with the birds enjoying the pond. 

Rabbits at the First Tee Golf Course

There is no need to book a time here, we just wait in line, if necessary, to play our game. We’d sure like to keep the First Tee a secret but it appears that the word has gotten out there! It has gotten busier over the years of our visits but we rarely have to wait for long.The bunnies nibble the grass a few feet from our green.
Turtle on Palm Desert golf course

The course is next to a ‘wash’ and is likely the reason why we meet so many new ‘friends’ every time we’re here.  Today was a bit busier with visits from some we hadn’t seen up close before, including this turtle.  I was lucky to get this picture, his visit was short.
Note:  the 'wash' is the area for natural drainage, left free of construction to carry the water that runs during the occasional heavy rainfall.

Ground squirrels in shade at First Tee Golf Course

It is great to share the course with our furry and feathered friends and they do seem to be oblivious to most of us and carry on with their daily chores.  They are not begging for food so they have not been fed by those golfing, and that is a good thing.  The ground squirrels have scurried over to the shade in case they need to hide.

Hawk watching for lunch in Palm Desert, CA

We’ve never seen the hawk here before but he would be watching the wash closely to see what he’d like for lunch.  He was a long ways up in the tree, making it difficult to get a clear photo but this sure gives him a great viewpoint to watch the activity from.

Ground squirrel on the grassy golf course in Palm Desert, CA

I did use my zoom for this photo but he really was not far away as I lay down on the grass to get this picture.  He was keeping an eye on me as I was between him and his shady retreat but he wasn’t too nervous at all.  He is about 30 cm (12”) long and lives in burrows he has made on the hillside of the wash, each squirrel has his own entrance, even if they live together.

Egret with her young at golf course

We had not seen an egret at this pond before but this one seems to have a young one and had stayed here for a few weeks, teaching him to fly.  Our last visit they were not there, so the young one was strong enough to fly to their normal habitat, wherever that may be.

The birds can hide their nests in the marshes that fill parts of the ponds on the golf course and sing their hearts out while we golf nearby. I am sure they have some babies in there, too, but have yet to notice any. Click on the video to hear the singing birds.

The First Tee Golf Course ~ Palm Desert, CA

I am sure it is easy to understand why we enjoy this small golf course so much.  We had very few others golfing with us when we first began golfing at this course but over time that has changed.  The great thing is that it hasn’t chased away the little furry ones that live in the wash nearby and visit the grass to nibble on or others that go for a swim in the pond.  We can only hope that it stays this way and these furry friends don’t chase us away from our favorite golf course!


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