Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Grand Falls

The Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River is a waterfall that formed where the Little Colorado River cuts through layers of sandstone where that rock meets ancient lava flows. The fall are indeed “grand” — when the river is flowing. But more often than not, when I’ve flown over in the past, the water was just a trickle and the falls weren’t very Grand at all. 

Located about ten miles from pavement on a gravel road that switches from washboard to mud to the crushed volcanic rock used so often for road beds here and back to washboard more times than I can count, the Falls are within the Navajo Reservation in Northen Arizona. The are not easy to find without directions or the help of a GPS; there are no signs. GoogleMaps got me there and even then I almost missed the turn for the parking area. It was only because I knew what I what I was looking for — the shaded lookouts and pit toilet building — that I was able to navigate the final quarter mile and avoid Google’s misdirection.

The sky was overcast — I’d actually driven through thick fog for the first five or so miles from pavement — and the day was gray. But the Falls were flowing — no surprise considering the rain overnight — and putting on quite a show for the handful of intrepid tourists who had made their way to the site. Reddish brown water, heavy with silt, cascaded over the wide rock shelves, filling the air with thunderous sound. It’s no wonder the Grand Falls are nicknamed the “chocolate falls”; as one friend who saw the photo I posted on Facebook said, “It looks like chocolate milk.” 

I took photos from several angles, walking right up to the edge of the cliff more than a few times. These shots were from my iPhone and include a panorama image, but I also had my Nikon with me and made use of my 10-24mm lens to fit the whole Falls in. We stayed for about an hour. At one point, I thought the sun might break through — it was shining down canyon — but the clouds moved quickly to close the gap. It was just starting to rain when we left.

I need to note here that the Falls are a lot grander in the spring, when runoff fills the river with water. On those days, you can see mist rising from the Falls long before you reach them. Don’t be disappointed if you come and find them nearly dry.

Grand FallsGrand FallsGrand Falls

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Tsakurshovi

As I blogged elsewhere, I have a collection of five Hopi-made traditional style kachinas. I bought all of them over a period of 3 or 4 years in the early 2000s. Over time, due to aggressive dusting by a cleaning lady and multiple moves between my old AZ home and my new WA home, they were slightly damaged. Since I planned a trip to Winslow, which is about 60 miles from where I bought them, I shipped them to AZ for repairs. I picked them up today. 

I bought them at a shop called Tsakurshovi (and no, I can’t pronounce that) on Second Mesa, 1-1/2 miles east of the Hopi Cultural Center. I had a nice visit with Joseph & Janice Day, the owners, who opened the shop just for me before leaving on a trip to New Mexico. While I was there, I bought another kachina for my collection (and almost bought another one!), which I neglected to photograph before Joseph packed it up for me. I did, however, remember to take some photos of the shop’s interior. The place is tiny and jam packed with kachinas and other works of art. 

I can’t recommend this place enough. If you go, tell them Maria the Helicopter pilot sent you. 

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: La Posada, Part 1

For the past four or five years, I’ve been wanting to spend New Year’s at La Posada, a historic Route 66 Fred Harvey Company Hotel designed by one of the southwest’s greatest architects, Mary Colter. Every year, I book a room for two nights and every year I cancel my reservation. I was on track to make it last winter when truck trouble delayed me up north. But this year I was determined to come. I even turned down two other New Years Eve invitations for spending the evening with friends.

What’s the attraction? A few things draw me here again and again. First, the history of the place and its ties to the railroad and southwest tourism. Next, the ability to see an active restoration — heck, the first time I came here in the early 2000s, only the restaurant and a handful of rooms and public spaces were open! Now this work in progress is nearly done and I’ve gotten a chance to watch its progress with my occasional visits throughout the years. Then there’s the restaurant, the Turquoise Room; I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of my top 10 favorite restaurants in the U.S. and finally, there’s the artwork, not only by resident artist Tina Mion but by others, as well. The gift shop is full of work by local artists and much of it decorates the walls throughout the hotel.

Anyway, I was up early this morning (as usual) and took the opportunity to snap a few images of the public spaces. I’ll add more in another post. 

If you’re ever in the area, I urge you to stop in.

Inside La Posada Inside La PosadaInside La PosadaInside La Posada

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Yarnell Hill Sunset

I happened to be driving from Prescott to Wickenburg around sunset when Mother Nature put on a good show. I stopped at the little rest area/lookout point on the downhill side of Yarnell Hill for a better look and a photo. 

I first stopped at Yarnell Hill around sunset way back in 1995. That was the year I’d decided I was sick of the New York Metro Area’s harsh winters and spent three months in Arizona. I lived in a tiny apartment in Yarnell that season and the road between Congress and Yarnell was one I’d take regularly on a trip to Wickenburg or Phoenix. 

Much later, after I moved to Wickenburg with my future wasband, the road and its viewpoint were on a regular route between Wickenburg and Prescott and points beyond. As I stopped for this shot, I had a crystal clear memory of stopping in the parking area on a summer day after a motorcycle ride to Prescott. We’d douse ourselves with whatever water was left in our water bottles, relying on evaporative cooling for the last 20 miles in temperatures that were often above 100 degrees. Soaking wet in the parking area 1500 feet above the Sonoran desert, we’d be bone dry before we got home. 

It was cold and windy when I stopped for this shot. I watched the fading colors from the comfort of my truck. But I remember how the spot was on all my previous stops, with the sound of the wind or of cows in the dairy farm far below. Quiet desert solitude and a view that goes on for miles and miles, all at the side of the road. 

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Mormon Temple Christmas Lights

I’m spending a few days at a friend’s house in the Phoenix area and she suggested that we go see the Christmas lights around the Mormon Temple in Mesa, AZ. I’d never been to the Mormon Temple — in fact, I didn’t even know there was a Mormon Temple in Mesa. I’m always game to try something new, so we went.

My friend told me that she has good parking karma and she wasn’t kidding. The place was crowded and full of traffic, yet she managed to find a parking spot almost right in front of the temple. They were hundreds of people there, mostly families, all walking around lighted pathways and trees with the obligatory manger.

What impressed me most, however, were the reflecting pools at various places around the temple. The building itself was evenly lit with bright, white light and it reflected magnificently in the calm water. The colored lights added a sort of magic to the scene.

I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a few to give you an idea of what it was like. (I put an interactive panorama on Facebook.) If you’re ever in the area around Christmas time, I highly recommend visiting it — but not necessarily on a Saturday night.

When Home Isn’t Home Anymore

How I feel about living in a town that was my home for 15 years without actually living in the house that was my home.

My visit to Wickenburg again this winter brings up something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: how Wickenburg was my home but isn’t my home anymore. This wasn’t really an issue in past visits, but is really on my mind this year.

What’s different? Well, I made friends with the folks who bought my old house.

New Friends in My Old House

It was Mary who started the dialog earlier this year. My wasband had left behind a metal sculpture she thought I might want. She tracked me down online; between this blog, my business website, my Twitter account, and my Facebook account, I’m really not that difficult to find. I didn’t want the sculpture and explained why. We started a dialog in email. I thought she and her husband might like my friends Jim and Cyndi (who I house/dog sit for in Wickenburg) so I made introductions via email. They really hit it off. We became friends on Facebook. And the other day, when I arrived at Jim and Cyndi’s, I got to meet Mary and Jeff in the flesh. I think it’s safe to say that we hit it off, too.

We’ve been hiking with the dogs at least once every day since I arrived.

The other day, I went to their house (formerly my house) to lead a hike on one of the horse trails I used to take. I thought it would be a nice introduction to the trails near where they lived. (That turned into a bit of a fiasco when the trail was longer than I remembered and obviously hadn’t been used in some time so it was hard to follow. And what’s with the fences?)

Palm Tree
This Mexican fan palm, which was about five feet tall when we planted it in 1999, is easily 30 feet tall now.

I’d flown over the house in October on my way to Chandler to drop off the helicopter for overhaul. That was the first time I’d seen it in 3-1/2 years. Oddly, I didn’t feel any emotional pangs looking down at it from about 500 feet up. It was just a nice looking house with a well-kept yard and a very tall palm tree.

Still, I thought I’d feel weird about actually going to the house. After all, it was what the court referred to as my “marital home.” But again, the weird feeling never really sunk in.

Mary and Jeff have made some changes to the house and yard that really improve it and make it look better than it ever did while I lived there. They’d increased the height of the wall around the yard and installed some really pretty yet simple metal gates where needed. Whatever vegetation had survived since my departure in May 2013 — a lot died when my wasband turned off the irrigation before deserting the place in the summer of 2012 — had really grown. The single palm tree, the mesquite (Spot’s tree) in the back yard, the two saguaros, the desert willows, and the palo verde that I’d nursed from seed were all at least twice the size I remembered them being. All the overgrown plants and weeds had been cleared out and everything was nicely trimmed.

All these things combined made the house seem different.

Is that why I didn’t really feel any weird emotions while I was there?

Or is it because my mind has completely closed that chapter of my life? Because my mind closed that chapter on the very last day I was there, when I drove away for what I thought would be the last time?

Marital Home?

In all honesty, it really wasn’t much of a “marital home.” How could it be? More than half the time I was there during my short, ill-fated marriage I was there by myself while my wasband played house in his Phoenix condo with a roommate or went back to New York to spend time with his mommy. It was my home, the home I’d painted and furnished and decorated the way I saw fit. Where I worked and played and relaxed, mostly alone.

There had been very little input from the man who occasionally lived there with me before abandoning it for a walled-in tract home in a decaying Scottsdale subdivision. The man who, for some reason, tried to keep me out when I returned that last autumn by changing the locks and fighting me in court when I got in anyway. (As if an $8 lock would keep me out of my own home.) The man who was so desperate to get me out after the divorce trial that he agreed to give me every bit of personal property in the house and his condo that I wanted. The man who wanted it so badly in the divorce that he eventually paid me half of its court-appraised value.

And then he never moved into it, neglected it, incurred huge expenses getting it ready for sale, and wound up selling it for less than his appraiser told the court it was worth.

(Yeah: I made more money on the sale of the house than my wasband did. I did mention elsewhere in this blog that he made a lot of really stupid decisions, right?)

Anyway, although I thought I’d feel weird about going to the house, I didn’t. It was just another house. Sure, I’d lived there for fifteen years, but I’d moved out and I’d moved on. Any fond memories I had about the place had been pretty much erased by the abuse and neglect I dealt with after I married the man who seldom lived there. My mind was on my current home, a home not haunted by a failed relationship and false marriage. My old house was no longer my home and I had absolutely no regrets about leaving this one behind. I was much happier where I lived now.

The “Then” Photo

One of the things I did before leaving home this November was to track down one of the framed photos that had hung on the wall in my old house. It’s an aerial image of the house, shot in 2000, not long after I’d started the landscaping in the yard. All the trees and other plants I listed above are still quite small. My horses are down in the wash — you can see almost all of Cherokee, but just Jake’s butt sticking out from under the shade that is no longer there. I’m standing near the front door, holding my aviation radio, wondering why a helicopter is hovering over my neighbor’s house.

I packed the photo that last winter mostly because I didn’t want to leave it behind, but when I got to my new home, I had no desire to hang it. So I packed it when I headed south.

The other day, I remembered to give it to Mary and Jeff. Part of me was worried that they’d think I was just getting rid of my old junk. I was prepared for a very unenthusiastic response. But to my surprise, they liked it.

I promised them a helicopter ride to get another shot just like it, so they can get a sort of Then and Now comparison. (I hope Mary or Jeff won’t mind riding with a door off to get reflection-free photos.)

I thought I had the original floor plans for the house, too. I distinctly remember them being rolled up and stowed away in one of the poster tubes I had in my office closet. But when I went through the poster tubes I packed and brought to Washington, I couldn’t find them. Maybe my wasband has them. Maybe when his old whore reads this — she follows my blog and tweets because her own life isn’t very interesting — she’ll ask him to look for them and send them to Mary and Jeff. He knows the address.

More likely, he threw them away, as he threw away the rest of his life.

How Do I Feel?

So how do I feel about being back in Wickenburg? Great!

My hosts here have given me a very comfortable place to stay while I watch their dogs and house. I get to enjoy daily hikes out in the desert I know so well and drive my truck down the desert roads I used to bump along in my Jeep. I get to eat at the restaurants I remember and like — the pollo asado burrito I had at Filiberto’s the other day was just as amazing as I remember it and I can’t wait to get up to Nichols West, “the best restaurant in Wickenburg.” (The joke is, it’s not in Wickenburg.) I get to see old friends who are all genuinely glad to see me. And of course, I get to soak up the sunshine in warm temperatures that let me wear t-shirts so I can start working on my summer tan.

What’s not to like?

Best of all, I don’t have the burden and responsibility of owning a home here. And I don’t have to deal with local politics and policies, which are apparently as close-minded, crooked, and skewed to favor the “good old boys” as they ever were. (Seriously, Wickenburg: do you really think hanging a digital sign on the Community Center is going to get the Phoenix/Vegas drivers to stop? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people stop at destinations. Hanging a tacky sign does not make Wickenburg a destination.)

I’m not tied to Wickenburg anymore and I like that. When I’m ready to move on — or my friends start hinting that I’ve overstayed my welcome — I’ll put my camper back on my truck and head out to explore other places. And when all my friends die or move away, I’ll likely stop coming here. By then, I’ll have other places I prefer to spend my winter time — possibly places a lot farther south than Arizona.

So “home” really isn’t home anymore — and I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: A Desert Drive

I took my truck out to an old favorite destination near Wickenburg this afternoon: Box Canyon. This is literally a box canyon on the Hassayampa River, partially hidden by massive salt cedar trees. Upriver from there is a narrow slot canyon that the river is always flowing through. I drove through that, too, then exited on another road I know to make a loop drive. 

I was scouting for tomorrow’s trip with friends who are new to the area — I wanted to make sure it was possible to reach Box Canyon in my truck before I tried bringing my friends. I can. I’m beginning to think my truck can go anywhere

Here are a few photos from the drive. I’ll likely have better ones if the canyon tomorrow, since we’re going at midday.