Friday, May 21, 2010

Essay assignment: Describe your favorite vacation

I don't want to go home. I've been here a week and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to do and see. I used one of my deposited time-share weeks for a unit at The Ridge in the Village of Oak Creek. It's a lovely time-share property, with units that go beyond nice to down-right luxurious.

Photos here: Sedona Trip

To begin this adventure, I drove 1200 miles from Houston to Sedona, taking the southern route on I-10 through New Mexico, Tucson, up through Phoenix and then to where I am right now. On the way I stopped near Anthony TX for the night and stopped in Tucson to have lunch with a couple of MTF friends at a most excellent restaurant called El Charro.

I arrived at the resort, checked in, unloaded my stuff and then went back out the nearby grocery store and stocked up for the week. Fruit, cereal, coffee, steak, shrimp, salad makings, water, wine...

I was pretty tired and was ready to call it quits for the night. The long 2 days of driving plus the 2-hour time difference made 9 PM feel like midnight or later.

But then, of course....of course...the ridiculously early sunrise - 5 AM - had me awake at 5:15 AM! Sunlight streaming in the windows, birds chirping, dry mouth and nose, and the need to pee got me out of bed and made it difficult to go back.

My ambitions for this trip are to stay active running, hiking, visiting as many state and national parks as humanly possible, all in the space of 6 days. So, first order of the day was to put on running gear and head out for a run. Looking at a map, I could see a pretty decent route of about 3 miles, with the only two possible difficulties being 4500 foot elevation and hilly terrain.

I was gasping within the first 100 yards! A very steep initial grade of 15% (yes, there's actually a warning sign with this information!) had me walking for about 0.1 mile, but it leveled off momentarily and then catapulted me down the other side. Once beyond that initial hill I managed to endure running one mile of gentle uphill grade followed by 1/2 mile of flat, turn around, do the 1/2 flat, coast down the one mile gentle grade which is now downhill, then walk up the 15% grade and run that last steep downhill to the finish. Yay! I survived it!

Breakfast and a shower later, I was ready to get out and explore! This first day I decided to drive over to a trail head that would take me to a pretty view of Cathedral Rock, with Oak Creek in the foreground. But first I headed south a mile or so to the Red Rock Visitor center, where a little time spent with a state park ranger, some brochures and some maps, and I was able to get a good overview of the area, and start to formulate some plans. He answered some questions I had regarding the hiking trails and it was from him that I learned about the trail to Cathedral rock and the red rock loop. The road to get there was great - North Red Rock Loop. The trail is picked up at Red Rock Crossing and winds along the banks of Oak Creek for about a mile where it opens up with a fantastic view of Cathedral Rock.

Back at the car, I continued on North Red Rock Loop to where the pavement ends and continues as an unpaved road of dirt and gravel until it connects with South Red Rock Loop. I drove past the entrance to Red Rock State Park, considered spending some time there, but decided it was getting hot and I was getting hungry, so I returned to Village of Oak Creek and my beautiful timeshare condo. There was a little shopping center at the entrance to the resort, so I walked back down the hill to check out the offerings. One little cafe in particular caught my fancy, so I had a small bowl of minestroni and a prosciutto panini and purchased some jelly, a jar of roasted red peppers, and small box of gray salt chocolates to take back with me.

By now it was blazingly hot, so the sensible thing to do was relax in the comfort of the timeshare unit, while forming up plans for the next several days' sightseeing and hiking.
Monday night a sirloin steak, wild rice, and a salad for dinner, followed by a few pieces of that gray salt chocolate. Interesting...
Tuesday morning and another 5:00 AM wake-up! Sheesh! Today would be a good day to drive up Oak Creek Canyon, visit Slide Rock State Park, and continue up to near Flagstaff where the road exits the north end of the canyon a couple thousand feet higher in elevation than where I started in Sedona.
Slide Rock State Park is just a few miles north of Sedona on 89A. Here I ran into my first challenge, where the entrance fee is $10, and all I have are $20 dollar bills. The drill is this: Go park the car, walk about a half football field distance back to the entrance gate, take an envelope out of the little plastic box, fill it out with car description (license plate #, state, name, address, etc), put the money in the envelope, and then drop it through a slot in a concrete pillar. Well...first of all, I had to stand there and wait for someone else to show up and then ask that person if he had change for a $20. Boy, did that sound like a flim-flam scam or what?! He was very nice and was able to oblige without leaving himself without $10 for his own entry fee. Then I had to walk back to my car to get the license plate number. I keep this info written on my motorcycle insurance cards but for some reason didn't do the same for the car. Back to the entrance station now, to drop my sealed envelope into the slot and I was now free to proceed onto the trails that would take me up to the ridge overlooking the slide rock area of Oak Creek, and then down into the Oak Creek canyon itself. I offered to take a photo of two couples and they reciprocated in kind, offering to take my photo. Turns out the gentleman who took my photo was a professional photographer with his own studio. He loved my Canon EOS camera!

Back in the car, I continued north on 89A where the road began a steep ascent by switchbacks to the top of the canyon. It was wonderful! At the top, not too far south of Flagstaff, is a pull-out view point with large parking lot, restrooms, and a trail that hugs the top of the ridge giving fabulous overlooks of the canyon to the east and to the south. A Native Indian arts and crafts show was being held on the grounds and on my way back up the trail from the overlooks, I stopped to chat with one of the vendors. To participate in this and other shows held on state park properties, the artisans join an organization that maintains the master schedule of the shows. This particular vendor does 2 or 3 a month, alternating between this one at Oak Creek Canyon, and another near Flagstaff.

After spending some time in the cooler air of the higher elevations, I began my drive back south on 89A toward Sedona. Along the way I overtook a man on a giant painted horse headed in the same direction. His horse was loaded with saddlebags, bed roll, and other on-the-road paraphenalia. He was dressed in chaps, jacket and cowboy hat...I sure would have like to know who he was and where he was headed but this stretch of road was narrow and twisty with nowhere safe to pull over. Oh well, I can let my imagination fill in the blanks.
Tuesday night I decided to have jumbo shrimp, a salad and wild rice. Nice! Then it was time to settle in front of the large flat-screen TV to watch The Biggest Loser.
Wednesday morning I headed out again for another run, re-tracing the same route I did on Monday. It was a little easier this morning, perhaps because I was getting acclimated to the higher elevation. I know that the cooler temps were helping a lot. It's been in the high 50's in the mornings.
This day, after getting a run in, having breakfast and then showering and getting cleaned up, I plan to drive down to Montezuma Castle, Campe Verde to visit Fort Verde State park, and then do the winery tour. This general area, just to the south and west of Sedona, has been discovered as a good wine growing region. Apparently the soil, climate, and exposure are perfect for certain grape varieties. There are more than a dozen wineries in the area, several of which have visitor centers and tastings. I had picked up information and a magazine devoted to the wine cultivation in the area, when I stopped at the Red Rock Visitor Center. I selected three that were near each other on Page Springs Road near Cornville.
With an early start toward Montezuma Well, I arrived there early, while it was still comfortable temps and not crowded. The trail to the top of the well and then down into the bottom of the natural well provided numerous photo opportunities. The well fills from underground springs at the rate of 1.5 million gallons of water a day. From inside the well, one can see where the water exits - a swallet -then climbing back up the natural walls of the well to the top, I could follow a trail that took me down the other end of that swallet, where the water exits the well and flows down a hand-dug channel created by indigenous indians in the area hundreds of years ago.

Leaving Montezuma Well, I continued south on I-17 to Montezuma's Castle. Walking the short trail to the base of the cliff in which the castle is built, I took some photos and then returned to my car to then head to Ft Verde where Captain Crook and his army established a base to protect settlers from indian attacks. The visitor center was closed, but I was able to see and photograph the reconstructed buildings of the fort.

I crossed I-17 and headed toward another national park: Tuzigoot. After walking through the ruins, I settled into a shady place and had lunch before continuing north and then through the cute town of Cottonwood toward 89A and then north to pick up the north end of Page Springs Road.

Driving south on this really scenic and twisty road I first came to Leaping Boar winery and tasting room. The adorable little building, rose gardens and display vineyards were enticing. But once inside the cramped little tasting room I was pretty much ignored while the sole staffer - a woman - chatted up a gentleman who apparently owns a locally reknowned restaurant and was tasting his way through their offerings. After standing there for about 10 minutes with not a flicker of acknowledgement from the staffer, I left the winery and continued just a few yards further south to the next winery: Oak Creek Vineyards.

There was a very nice tasting room, with a small selection of accessory snacks like crackers, chocolates, and the like. The woman staffing the tasting room was outstanding! Two other couples arrived while I was there and she managed to handle each of us with individual care and attention. One could taste 3 wines for $5, but she gave me a fourth at no extra charge. I purchased two of the more unusual wines.

Leaving this winery I continued about a mile down the road to Page Springs Winery, another very nicely set-up tasting room with a beautiful deck off the back with fabulous views. The woman staffer was very helpful and attentive and I tasted two different wines before chosing one to purchase. I also bought a jar of unusual jelly while I was there.

It was an excellent day of sightseeing and wine-tasting!
This night I would have the other sirloin steak, more salad and rice, with a glass of wine to go with.
Thursday morning and yet another (but not quite so early) early rising with the sun high in the sky and I had breakfast, got showered and dressed, packed a lunch, and then got back out there to explore more of Sedona.
I was told that the views from the airport are excellent, so I had that on my agenda, along with Red Rock State Park, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the side of one of the buttes near town. This was my first stop, as I headed north on 179 toward Sedona and 89A. The road got narrower and narrower as it wound its way up to the chapel, where I parked and then walked the last steep little bit to get to the chapel. It's an architecural feat, for sure, built by an architect who was once a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. On my way back down the road, I pulled over to get a photo of the chapel from the front looking up at it...the best view.

Now to 89A south toward South Red Rock Loop and the entrance to Red Rock State Park. I read somewhere that this park was going to be closed in late June. Arizona is in a cash-crunch and has closed nearly all of the rest areas on the interstates. Can this rumor about the park really be true? It sits right in the heart of the Red Rock tourist area, so this is a surprise to me.

I entered the park, parked and walked to the very nice visitor center where a volunteer gave me advise on trails. I did not have sturdy hiking boots with me so her suggestion would give me a good 2 mile hike on level trails that followed along Oak Creek.
The trail started from behind the visitor center and was in open sandy terrain until it crossed Oak Creek via a lovely wooden pedestrian bridge. Then I turned right onto the trail and followed it for more than a mile as it alternately disappeared into heavily wooded alluvian terrain along the creek and emerged into open sandy lands rimmed by red rock cliffs. At one point, as the trail came up against the cliffs, small waterfalls were visible working their way down stairstep rocks in the cool shade.
The trail crossed back over the creek on a primitive wooden plank bridge and then continued in the other direction along the creek. The volunteer told me where to look for some pictographs along this part of the trail and I think I found them, and took a photo. A longer lens would have been useful here.

An hour later I was back at the visitor center, where I settled in under a picnic pavilion and had a small picnic lunch. The pavilions were positioned perfectly to catch cooling breezes and the contrast was startling between the coolness of the pavilion and the blazing heat under the sun.

Leaving the park I had one more stop to make before returning to the condo. Returning back up 89A before reaching the center of the town of Sedona, the road to the airport heads off to the right and immediately climbs up to the top of a butte. The views were lovely! a nearly 360-degree view of the entire red rock area. Chimney Rock, Coffepot, and many others.

I need to hurry, because I had an off-road jeep tour scheduled for late this afternoon.

I was picked up at the resort at 5:00 PM by Red Jeep Tours. There was supposed to be another person on our tour but he/she was a no-show and the driver wasn't sure he'd be able to proceed with only one passenger, but I lucked out! We proceeded back up toward Sedona then south on 89A where we soon turned off to the right and shortly arrived at the trail-head.

This was awesome! I'd never been in an off-road jeep and since it was only the two of us, the driver was able to take a few more risks and we even went deeper onto the trail for a ways before turning around and heading to the first of the designated stops on the tour. This was an area called Seven Apaches Pools, a naturally formed series of circular pools created by boulders swirling and twirling in the rampage of water run-off through this narrow gorge.

After some hair-raising climbs up slick rock with narrow passes and steep fall-offs on either side, we arrived at a giant sink hole, one that first formed in the 1950's and has had additional cave-ins with another one imminent.

Along the way, the driver pointed out some interesting nature phenomena including trees struck by lightning, trees killed by borers, a cactus serving as a "closet" for a pack rat.
Before he returned me to my condo, he took me up to the airport overview and pointed out some formations and sights I wouldn't have known about otherwise. He shared with me all sorts of information about trails, a monks sanctuary, restaurants, and other things that have convinced me that I definitely need to come back to Sedona!
Friday morning and one more opportunity to go for a run in the thin, cool air of Sedona. This day I decided to go further and make a large loop that would bring me up to 89A in the center of the village and let me run downhill on 89A to a little coffee house near the condo. It was the best run of all, as I had clearly acclimated to the altitude and it was magical to be running along deserted roads with views in all directions of red rock formations. Too soon I was at the coffee shop where I ordered a decaf latte and a pastry and carried it all back to my condo unit where I sat out on the balcony, feet up, and enjoyed the treats.
I spent the rest of the late morning assembling my belongings and doing some preliminary packing. Today I would drive down to Prescott to meet up for dinner with a group of women riders, all fellow members of the Rumble Sisters, who have ridden in from other locations in AZ and from UT and CA. We have reservations for a private dinner at a restaurant in downtown Prescott AZ.
Saturday was a lazy day with no plans and plenty of time to do nothing. I walked down to a little mexican restaurant at the bottom of the hill and then stopped back in at the coffee house to see what they might have for dessert. Beyond that, I did nothing else all day, but relax and savor my new and fresh memories of a great week spent in the red rock region of Sedona.


  1. Wow, inspirational..Your photos and journey is awesome.

  2. Jill aka Silver PenguinJune 7, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Beautiful photos and great descriptions. Sedona is truly a magical place. We're looking forward to returning there this fall.

  3. The wife and I were in Sedona and the Flagstaff area just three weeks ago. Your photos are beautiful and bring back memories. I can still smell the sweet Ponderosa Pine fragrance in the air from our campground west of Flagstaff at 7500'. Enjoy all your adventures.
    Marty & Roz Hill