Ray and Jean's 2000 Vacation

This page is a summary of the great days we spent in the USA, between July 1st. and 14th. 2000.

We flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (via Philadelphia) and spent our first night and the next whole day at Scottsdale, getting adjusted to the time and the temperature.

On Monday July 3rd. we set off for Sedona, with a couple of goals in mind. Rather than just bash up the Interstate, we rolled off Interstate 17 and took the 279 and 89A (scenic route) which was a very pretty drive. The distinctive red rock looks particularly impressive in bright sunlight, then even more so when lower sun enhances the textures and shapes, as in this example from Jean's camera:

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From our accommodation, we had a good view of "Elephant Rock" - but it was not until early morning (with the particular light direction that brings) that you could see how it had earned its name:

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The following day we visited Lois Hutchison (another long-time DHN Group Leader) and spent a pleasant hour chatting. We then set off for Lake Montezuma and spent most of the rest of the day with Light and Adonea. During this time we were shown around the Montezuma's Well area and Jean was able to walk a labyrinth:

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Wednesday July 5th. saw us set off from Sedona, driving through Oak Creek Canyon and visiting Slide Rock on the way. After a bite to eat at Flagstaff, we set off for Canyon de Chelly. This little-known canyon is really unusual and well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee. It contains some very different features, apart from still being farmed and occupied by the local Navajo Indians. It's name "de Chelly" is a corruption of the Navajo word "Tseyi," which means "In the rock." The word "Chegui" was found in Spanish diaries, referring to the canyon and was probably spelled according to what was heard. It was first established as a National Monument by Herbert Hoover in 1931 and is a site of about 130 square miles. It has many sheer rock walls and ranges in depth from 30 feet at the mouth to over 1,000 feet at its furthest point. Its formation was partly by water and partly by land upheave and four-wheel drive vehicles can travel the canyon floor. We viewed it from a variety of points along the rim and met one of the local farming inhabitants on the way. Here's a typical view:

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After spending the night at nearby Chinle, Thursday July 6th. found us on our way again, this time to Mesa Verde, Colorado. On the way, we called in at "Four Corners" monument, the only place in the USA where four States (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah) meet. After passing through Cortez, Mesa Verde loomed up on our right. Established in 1906, it was the first National Park set aside for the "preservation.. of the sites and other works and relics of prehistoric man.." It is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discovered in 1888 by two cattle ranchers, Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason, it was first scientifically documented by Gustaf Nordenskiold in 1890. The main mystery of Mesa Verde is that it was successfully inhabited by around 4,000 people between 600 and 1300AD, who farmed the land, hunted, made baskets, distinctive black-on-white pottery and weaved. Suddenly they left everything they couldn't carry, crops, homes and belongings and moved on. To this day, no-one knows where they went, or why they left.

Mesa Verde contains some really stunning Pueblo ruins, this one is the Square Tower House:

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Another comfortable night - this time in Cortez - and off we went again, heading for Canyonlands National Park, Utah. This 527 square mile site was established in 1964 and is a very varied and interesting place. The site is split into three main areas by the Colorado River and the Green River, which converges with the Colorado in the center of the site. There are lots of wild animals, including desert bighorn sheep, the collared lizard, foxes, squirrels, ravens, hawks and coyotes. Because of its shape and configuration, it is a little difficult to get around the whole site, the south-east third (The Needles) being the easiest to access. In order to see the northern part of the site, known as the Island in the Sky, you need to travel a considerable distance north along the 191 north of Moab, then head west until you hit the 313. We were so tired after exploring The Needles section that we gave this opportunity a miss - next time, perhaps? The west section, known as The Maze, can only be accessed by an overlook near Hans Flat, itself 46 miles off the 24, between Interstate 70 and Hanksville. Suffice it to say that this area was stunning in a completely different way, with well-planned self-guided walks amongst some really unusual rock formations. We didn't expect to climb rough-hewn ladders during our walks, but we did anyway and the view was well worth the effort!

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After heading north again on the 191 and passing the awesome Wilson Arch, we spent the late afternoon sorting out our accommodation in Moab and made a wonderful find at the north of the town's main road - the Cottage Motel. This delightful little place was so comfortable and welcoming that it's worth a special mention. We heartily recommend it if you're ever that way! After a rest and some food at the nearby and also excellent Moab Diner, we drove up to Arches National Park, 5 miles north of Moab, in order to see this area during sunset.

Arches was set aside in 1929 as a National Monument and declared as a National Park in 1971. It is the most amazing place to see weird rocks and rock formations. A good example is Balanced rock - how it stays where it is is simply a mystery:

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As its name implies, erosion arches are a major feature of this park. There are many to see, all beautiful in their own way. The park contains good roads for self-guided tours, plus a variety of trails, some quite strenuous, to reach less accessible places, such as the well-known "Delicate Arch." By the time we reached the trail-head to discover that we were in for a three-mile hike, we decided to take the less strenous option and viewed it from the more distant point along the road - not as exciting, no doubt, but all that we could manage by that time! As the sun began to set, the low light gave some really interesting tones to the rocks. Here's Jean's picture of Skyline Arch:

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Here's one of the Tower of Babel, with Jean at the foot to give an idea of scale:

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Arches was a really awe-inspiring place and a wandering coyote at sunset was quite a fitting end to an enjoyable, but very tiring day.

After a very comfortable night, we had a nourishing breakfast at the diner and began our trip south, heading for Monument Valley. Our daughter had told us about a particularly amazing view, so instead of simply travelling along the main 191 then the 163, we took the more scenic 95, a few miles south of Blanding. This led us to Natural Bridges National Monument, discovered in 1883 by prospector Cass Hite, who instead of finding the gold he was seeking, found three magnificent bridges that water had sculpted from sandstone. The National Geographic Magazine publicized them in 1904 and in 1908 President Roosevelt established the National Monument (Utah's first National Park). The bridges have had several names over the ensuing years, but as the park expanded to protect nearby Puebloan structures, the General Land Office assigned Hopi names. These are "Sipapu" - meaning "the place of emergence," an entryway by which the Hopi believe their ancestors came into the world; "Kachina" - named for rock art symbols on the bridge that closely resemble those found on kachina dolls and "Owachomo" - meaning "rock mound," a feature atop the bridge's east abutment.

Whilst this is an interesting place, it is not as spectacular as others, because the main viewpoints are - in general - above the level of the bridges, so that they blend in with their background, sometimes making the actual arch of the bridge difficult to distinguish. Perhaps this picture makes the point better:

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There are hiking trails, enabling visitors to get right down to the base level, where the view must be great. Unfortunately, these trails were a little daunting for us, especially with the thermometer at 110 degrees!

Returning along the 95 for a short distance, we turned south along the 261, known to some as the "Trail of the Ancients." This was the route recommended by our daughter, although at first we wondered why, as the road continually undulated and the only horizon was the top of the next small hill. What we didn't appreciate was that we were gradually climbing all the while along the rise of an escarpment. When we reached Muley Point we fully realized why Julia had sent us that way - we were at the top of a sheer 1300 feet cliff, with a view acros the Valley of the Gods towards Monument Valley that absolutely takes your breath away. Probably 220 degrees of lateral view, plus around forty miles ahead is not something you can easily photograph, although - of course - you try! Well, you try after about five or ten minutes of standing speechless looking at it - there's not much you can say at a view like that - words don't express the sheer size and wonder of it at all. Here's one effort, anyway:

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We stayed at Gouldings, at the head of Monument Valley, where although the main hotel was full, we were able to stay in an external apartment building which was suitable and spacious. After our evening meal, Jean captured this sunset:

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Sunday July 7th. was a bright, hot day after some overnight rain, as we headed for the 17 mile self-drive route through Monument Valley itself. We were surprised to learn that it is not a National Park, but a Navajo Tribal Park, not that this makes any difference at all to the view! The roads are primitive, to say the least, but so what? - who's in a hurry with views like this on offer:

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Although there were better times to visit than we had chosen, as the sun was climbing towards mid-day, making any feature-adding shadows and texture almost non-existent, we still had a fabulous visit to this well-known, but nevertheless peaceful place. Here's some more of it:

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No apologies for even more. This one is "The Setting Hen":

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Here's Jean's picture of "The Thumb":

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And a shot of a well-known view (but you have to be there!):

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So, where do you go after that? There really is only one place that is comparable, the Grand Canyon. Although we had been there twice before, we intended to re-visit, so off we went at a leisurely pace, arriving around 4pm to find that it was absolutely teeming with visitors. No surprise, it was a Sunday, after all, but we had simply lost track of time, days of the week, etc. After a bit of a struggle, we found accommodation at the Maswick Lodge (their last room!) and set off on foot for another view of a truly grand canyon. Although it was still very hot, there was some breeze and - to our surprise - some vertical cloud formation in the canyon. We didn't intend to photograph at this venue, as we had taken loads on previous visits, but how can you resist this:

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We rode the South rim Western Drive shuttle all the way, then ate and retired, tired but happy! We wondered what other lunatics had visited Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon in the same day?

Monday morning brought the only trouble-spot of the tour - a puncture awaited us as we returned to the Buick. Still, there was a public garage within the near distance, so soon all was well and we were off again, this time for Las Vegas, Nevada.

When we were last in this curious place, the "New York, New York" casino had been built, but not opened. This time, we had a number of new buildings to inspect, after booking into the Mirage Hotel - best swimming pool in the town!

We first had a look at the "Venetian," having seen a TV program about its construction back home in the UK. This is a strange mixture - fabulous and disappointing all at the same time. On entering, the main ceiling is spectacular, without a doubt. The Grand Canal, complete with gondolas and gondoliers, costumed roaming players, etc. is an engineering feat as it's all on the third floor, but at its innermost end gives the impression of having been completed in a rush - some of the water had been sand-bagged off to enable a large crack in the balustrade to be fixed. The inner "St. Mark's Square" is also very well thought out and has a ceiling of sky and clouds that gives an impression of the outdoors. Overall, though, it's an expensive shopping mall with little - if anything - that we could afford!

The following day we had a look at the "Paris" which has a 520 feet replica of the Eiffel Tower at the entrance, two of the legs rise from the sidewalk outside, the other two climb through the foyer ceiling. Again, the ceiling is of sky and clouds, but totally fails in the outdoor idea, as the other lighting is completely wrong. Crammed and claustrophobic was our overall impression here. "New York, New York" was a totally different kettle of fish, consisting of a microcosm of the city's main parts. In one entrance, you're in the Village, steam up through the gratings included. Turn a corner and it's Queens, complete with sidewalk shops, cafes and so on. A roller-coaster has been built outside, but this loops inside the hotel too. Out front are two fire-fighting boats, spraying water everywhere, plus a very realistic Statue of Liberty. Quite an exciting, but too noisy, place.

"Bellagios" was altogether different. Built behind a lake at least a block long is a very large three-wing hotel, but along the lake shore are five Italian-style buildings, each diferent, each well-constructed amongst trees and shrubs and each - as it turned out - an expensive restaurant, all with a common inside walkway entrance. This did not detract from the overall view though, just like looking ashore when on Lake Como, Italy. The lobby was very impressive, a blaze of color from a ceiling completely full of glass flowers, lit from behind. A left turn and a huge indoor conservatory allows a cool walk, complete with all manner of plants and shrubs, flowing water, calmness and this was a really pleasant surprise. Even the casino lighting was absolutely right - a very well constructed and tasteful building from every angle, not forgetting to mention the fountains in the lake which perform to music in a crowd-stopping manner.

A new hotel, the "Desert Parade" is alleged to be opening on August 17th. It still looked like a building site to us on July 11th - shades of the rushed building that another premises suffered from, perhaps?

Having visited, swum and rested, we returned to Scottsdale on Wednesday evening. Our original hotel was full, so we went to another nearby, the Radisson, which turned out to be better and more reasonable. Here's the view from our room:

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We did some last-minute shopping on Thursday morning, spending most of Thursday afternoon in the pool, talking to a local 81-year-old about Scottsdale, Arizona, the Navajo Indians, his wartime experiences, pretty well anything he chose, really! A tan was acquired almost accidentally, then some careful packing took place, stowing useful items for the trip home.

Having returned the car to Alamo at Phoenix Airport, we checked in and boarded our flight for Philadelphia. This turned out to be a quite scary flight as we neared our destination, as thunderstorms had encircled the airport and the aircraft did some most unusual and unwelcome aerobatics flying through the weather. Lightening may look attractive in some circumstances, but it doesn't when it's right outside the aircraft window, rattling down the wing!

When we got into Philadelphia, an hour late, but relieved, the place was a complete zoo as passengers had been held there since about eleven that morning - it was now after ten in the evening, local time. We had hoped to eat during our layover of an hour and a half, but that was not to be. Firstly, we no longer had the time, due to the late arrival. Secondly, we arrived in Terminal D and departed from Terminal A - do they do that on purpose? Having walked the entire length of the airport, nowhere suitable was still open, but we managed to get a couple of muffins and a soda, then it was off to the check-in desk and aboard our trans-Atlantic flight.

Two older, wiser and much more tired individuals landed at London Gatwick at eleven on Saturday morning, July 15th. Our vacation over, we were delighted to see our two cats again that afternoon. Julia visited in the evening, by which time we had collected the developed photographs, so we had a "mini-tour" around where we had been. Julia had visited almost all of the sites, so it was a good re-visit for her, even if only in pictures.

The vacation was great - if only we didn't have to travel so far!