Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Courting the Morning Sun

Driving to and from our campground, we have passed the La Verkin Overlook just off Route 9, wondering where it led and what one could see from it. Curiosity finally won.

A dust-producing, mile and a half drive to the overlook rewarded us with this view, looking west with the town of La Verkin, UT, below.

A couple of hiking trails connected with the overlook. Not far from the overlook was this large crevice with the red cliffs to the east. These mountains are outside Zion National Park.

Walking across the desert-like terrain, I was checking for snakes and other critters. I was looking for plants to photograph and came upon this scene.

Continuing our efforts to find good vantage points for sunrise photos, we took these two photos of the Court of the Patriarchs. Shown here (above) are the peaks Abraham and Isaac; Jacob is not shown.

In 1916 Frederick Vining Fisher, a Methodist minister, gave the religious names to the sandstone peaks. (Isaac is shown here.)

Instead of hiking to reach and photograph Jacob, we opted for photographing more cliffs with the sharp light of the morning sun.

We wondered if people living near Zion ever took the cliffs and their beauty for granted.

"Every day is something a bit different," was the usual type of response.

These last three photos were taken from overlooks as we drove the length of the scenic drive through Zion.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mesmerizing Sculptures

Yesterday, Chuck wrote about our early morning excursion into Zion National Park to photograph sunrise on the canyon walls. After two hours of driving, walking (well, Chuck walked – I hobbled on my bad foot), and photographing, we were ready for breakfast and lots of it.

After a web search, I learned that our reasonable options--for reasons of either quality or price--were few; we chose to eat at the Historic Pioneer Restaurant located in the Historic Pioneer Lodge in Springdale, UT. (I am not sure what makes it so historic other than, at one time, it was owned by the movie actor Cache McCall, an actor so obscure that a Google search failed to find one entry about him.)

The breakfast menu offers the usual: dinner-plate sized pancakes, French toast, three egg omelets, eggs with meat of your choice and potatoes, and a breakfast buffet. I sent Chuck past the rooster on the wheel hub on the wall to scope out the buffet (remember, I am hobbling), and he returned with the comment that it would be O.K. if it were three dollars cheaper. So back go the menu we went; there we saw the list of three Pioneer Skillets. All begin with a base of Pioneer Potatoes (see a pattern developing here?) which are cubed, skin-on potatoes mixed with onions, peppers, and seasonings (always a secret).

Chuck chose the Chicken Fried Steak Skillet, which was a generous serving of Pioneer Potatoes topped with a large piece of meat and covered with gravy. And, one scrambled egg was the final addition. Chuck chose the toast over the English muffin or biscuits. Even though he forgot to ask for the gravy on the side, the batter on the steak stayed relatively crisp throughout the meal, and the cubed steak itself was tender and had good beef flavor. All in all, a satisfying meal.

I chose the signature Pioneer Skillet. I said in the opening paragraph that I wanted lots of breakfast. Boy, did I get it and then some. This started with the same Pioneer Potatoes, and then the kitchen added two strips of very good crisp and smoky bacon and two excellent and mildly seasoned sausages. On top of the potatoes was a mélange of vegetables – carrots, celery, onion, green and yellow squash, green pepper, broccoli, and cauliflower – mixed with about a half cup of cubed ham. This was topped with cheese which in turn was topped by two eggs over easy. I knew I was defeated before I began. When our server checked on us five minutes after bringing the food, I told him then I was going to need a “to go” box. The following morning I had an equally large second serving of the Pioneer Skillet—at home.

Incidentally, the Pioneer offers a Veggie Skillet which contains everything in the Pioneer Skillet, except the three meats; it is also available without the cheese and eggs.

The Historic Pioneer Restaurant offers straightforward food at slightly high prices. I don’t plan to hurry back, but I did not leave disappointed and will give this restaurant 3.5 Addies.

Exiting the Pioneer Restaurant, we noticed the sculptures displayed on the lawn outside the Worthington Gallery across the street. We picked up a brochure describing the Wind Sculptures™ of Lyman Whitaker. The sculptures are fabricated from copper, steel, and stainless steel. An applied patina advances the natural weathering of copper.

The lawn must have had a display of nearly 50 of the Wind Sculptures™, varying in style (some 37 choices are listed in the brochure) and height [as many as seven choices, from Small (60 inches high) to X-Huge (256 inches high)].

The effect of watching just one of the sculptures silently spiraling in the breeze was hypnotic; the effect of viewing an entire forest of the slowly-rotating sculptures was overwhelming.

I thought that the sculptures with water trickling over stones or into a tiny pool produced a relaxing environment, but I think even those soothing sounds could become annoying after an extended period of time.

Conveniently-placed benches invited us to view the spirals while seated so that falling asleep would not result in toppling over from a standing position. Each completed spiral seemed to remove one degree of tension. Soothingly amazing.

In the brochure, Mr. Whitaker describes the effect of these sculptures: "...(they) offer a comforting release from our fast-paced lives with their calm serenity and playfulness."

Note: I believe the sculptures shown in the photos above are entitled: (1) Oval Twister, (2) Single Helix Oval, and (3) Single Helix Star.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dawn at Zion

"A good spot for sunrise photographs?" the Park Ranger stated, echoing my question. "Try the space behind the Museum."

Conditions were not the most conducive to taking a leisurely walk behind the Museum to set up photographs--the temperature was in the high 30s and it was windy. Nonetheless this was an excellent site from which to welcome the sunrise. The sun had barely cleared the opposite cliffs when we arrived around 8:30.

This was the scene that greeted us.

On the left in the photo above is the formation called the West Temple. Shown in this close-up (left), the West Temple is one of the three named monoliths rising from this rock wall.

The photo on the right shows the formation called the Altar of Sacrifice (the section on the right with the rust-colored surface). Had it been warmer, we would have sat on one of the benches facing the cliff and watched the shadows retreat down the wall.

On the far left in this photo is the formation named the Sundial.

In the photo on the right, there is a white rock formation with cylindrical shapes rising from its surface. This formation is called the Beehive.

This is a little different view of the Beehive.

We wanted to see more areas of the Park at dawn, so we gathered the equipment and continued our search for sunrise scenes.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Introduction to Mukuntuweap

The year was 1909--the year that Mukuntuweap National Monument was established.

Although as early as 1861 several hundred families had moved to the canyonlands included in the National Monument, the canyon's inaccessibility kept it relatively unknown. It wasn't until 1908 that Leo A. Snow, a United States Deputy Surveyor from St. George, Utah, completed a general land survey of the area. His report to the Department of the Interior was so impressive that it was brought to the attention of President Taft with the suggestion that the area should be set aside and preserved--and the following year it was.

The Park has witnessed many changes in landscape and climate over the centuries. At times it was covered by the sea; at other times broad rivers traversed its surface; at still other times it was swept by desert winds. Many of the rocks were laid down by water as gravel, sand, mud, and limy ooze. These were consolidated into conglomerates, sandstones, shales, and limestones by the weight of layers above them and by the lime, silica, and iron that cemented the grains.

Improbable as it may seem, the evidence clearly reveals that the canyon is the result chiefly of the work of the Virgin River. The River's tranquil beauty and life-giving waters belie the tremendous power by which it has sliced through ageless rock layers to carve the canyon.

The Navajo Sandstone (White Cliffs) is the most visible of the Park's formations. From it the temples and towers, the cliffs and canyon walls have been carved, making the Park unique. The Navajo is basically a huge mass of remarkably homogeneous, fine grained, friable sandstone, laid down about 170 million years ago.

The beauty of the sheer canyon cliffs changes with the light. The midday photos portray rock formations that are less dramatic when compared to the striking early morning and late afternoon views.

We spent our first two visits to the Park exploring sites for the more dramatic photos.

Regarding the Park's name, in 1918, the locally unpopular name "Mukuntuweap" was changed to "Zion" and in 1919, the area was made a national park. Today, Zion National Park is visited by more than 2.5 million visitors annually.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Long Day's Journey

We're enjoying a complete change in landscape from the desert surrounding Phoenix.

Leaving Phoenix, we had to decide between heading north to Flagstaff and Page, AZ, (via I-17 and AZ 89) on the way to our destination at Virgin, UT, or head to Kingman, AZ, and then to Las Vegas (via AZ 93, I-40, AZ 68, NV 63, and NV 95). We opted for the latter route because the route had less of a change in altitude, and it took us around Hoover Dam so that we did not have to deal with the matter of carrying propane over the Dam.

Route 93 is also called the Joshua Tree Forest Highway, and the trees we observed (photo above) provided an interesting change from the Saguaro cacti that surrounded our campground.

We had over 400 miles to cover in our travels to our next campground, but even a start at 7:00 a.m. put us an hour "behind"--Arizona does not move to Daylight Savings Time, so even though we were heading north, we lost an hour as we "sprang forward" in Nevada and Utah.

The route we chose was devoid of towns, which means there were no gas stations. Fortunately, there were short stretches on two interstates (around Kingman, AZ, and Las Vegas), so we used their truck stops wisely.

Now, I plan the route and driving assignments and map out 50-mile blocks of driving responsibilities for each of us. The driver changes would occur at fuel stops and rest stops.

Usually, this works quite well. Key word: usually.

On this trip, Kate got all the challenging segments. First of all, she had injured her "gas-pedal" foot at the Cubs' game the day before leaving Phoenix, so she was in some discomfort the whole day.

Then it seemed that any hilly section of the drive occurred during her segments, making it impossible to use the cruise control function. (Note how small the semi at the botton of the photo appears.)

Then came Las Vegas.

The rest stop before Las Vegas had been closed. This meant that the scheduled driver switch did not occur. Kate was behind the wheel when we entered I-515 around the city.

Kate was doing very well. Then we saw the sign: "Entrance to I-15 closed." This meant exiting into city traffic--something we both have so far avoided--and hoping the detour signs would take us on major roadways.

Fortunately, we were moved onto a four-lane road through northern Las Vegas. We found a large parking lot and changed drivers. Some lucky guesses about turns put us onto I-15, heading into Utah.

The photos here were taken from the truck. The driver may slow down to reduce the movement of the truck, but even this was not always possible.

We arrived just before sunset. The views (the three previous photos) from the highway (Route 9 north of St. George to Virgin) were stunning--and we hadn't even entered Zion National Park. The views from the campground served to build the anticipation of visiting the National Park.

These views near Virgin have us looking at rising peaks instead of hidden desert wildflowers--both beautiful scenes, but very different.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Batting Clean-Up: Joe's Farm

Since time and space did not permit more timely writing, today I am going to finish reviewing restaurants and meals in the Phoenix area. I am not sure how often you will be hearing from me in the next few weeks; restaurants in national park regions tend not to be bastions of gourmet dining, but I am hoping to be surprised.

First, a brief review of our breakfast at the Daily Dose in Scottsdale. It was a beautiful spring morning, blue skies, and temperatures in the mid 60’s, and no humidity. So we were excited to see that the restaurant had an outdoor covered patio facing the street and Old Town Scottsdale. I won’t tell you about Chuck’s meal. The less said about it the better.
It is my sandwich – The Hangover – that merits any attention.

Take sourdough toast and top it with apple-smoked bacon, spicy turkey sausage, caramelized onions, jalapeño peppers, and an egg cooked as you’d like it (I chose over easy). Talk about waking up the mouth at 10:00 a.m. The runny egg made this a knife and fork sandwich and the meld of flavors was stupendous. I am not usually a fan of breakfast sandwiches but this may make me a believer. Instead of the home fries I chose the Daily Dose Hash, a mélange of caramelized red onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Absolutely delicious and left me wishing that the portion were not so small.

I give the sandwich 5.0 Addies, the hash 4.0 Addies (too small a serving), and Chuck’s breakfast 2.0 Addies.

We made two return trips to Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ, one for an early supper with Dora and Rebecca after a Cubs game and the second for breakfast with Raina and Jesse. Dora, Rebecca, and I all ordered the Thai Salad – Dora with chicken (left) and Rebecca and I with grilled ahi tuna (below). This was a mammoth serving of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mung bean sprouts, carrots, and radishes topped with fried rice noodles and tossed with the same Asian dressing that graced my slaw on the ahi tuna sandwich (on an earlier visit). This salad was so large than half came home with me for a late night snack.

But it was at Joe’s that I had one of the best breakfasts ever. We arrived at about 10:15 and Raina decided that she would wait until 11:00 and order lunch, but Jesse, Chuck, and I went the breakfast route. Chuck had the grilled vegetable scramble (lower right)--three eggs scrambled with grilled onion, peppers, and aspargrass that was served with a side of herb hash brown potatoes and garlic frybread. He raved about the eggs, and only being allowed a small taste, I do admit that they were good.

But Jesse and I went with the Ham and Cheese Fritters (upper left in photo on the left) (the “Monte Cristo Fritters” listed on the menu and referred to in an earlier blog had morphed into Ham and Cheese Fritters). The order brought six larger than golf ball sized balls of fried batter stuffed with ham cubes and a mild cheese that melted and oozed throughout each bite. On the side was a small cup of very tart boysenberry syrup that cut through the richness of the fritters. I don’t remember ever having a breakfast dish that I enjoyed more. My fritters came with a side of fruit--large juicy strawberries and huge blackberries that I dipped into the remaining syrup.

Eleven o’clock arrived and Raina, accompanied by Chuck, went to order one of Joe’s grilled pizzas--the barbecue chicken.
I tried a taste and thought the grilled crust--crisp and with a smoky flavor--was very good, but I thought that the barbecue sauce on pizza didn’t work. Remember--I AM a pizza purist.

But thanks to Chuck, my wish came true. He came back with the ice cream stuffed cream puff, topped with a mountain of whipped cream, and served with a cup of wonderful hot fudge. And not only did he bring the cream puff, he also brought a slice of wonderful blueberry cheesecake.

What a beautiful morning! (Did I mention that temperatures were in the mid 60’s, the skies were blue, the humidity was low, and that we ate at one of the picnic tables under a fragrant grapefruit tree?)

I loved Joe’s Farm Grill, I loved everything Chuck and I ate at Joe’s Farm Grill, I loved the bucolic setting of Joe’s Farm Grill. Joe’s Farm Grill is a 5.0 Addie “Diner, Drive-In, and Dive.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sinagua Sunwatchers

Cousin Raina and Jesse were Tour Guides for the Day, and we began our adventure with a stop at the V-Bar-V Heritage Site, north of Camp Verde, AZ, 2.8 miles east of the junction of I-17 and SR179 (FR 618).

It is the petroglyphs (drawings that are scratched into the rock surface) that draw visitors to the V-Bar-V Site. Although archeologists have known about the petroglyphs since 1945 when Albert Schroeder reported them, it was not until the U.S. Forest Service obtained the land in 1994 that an intense study began.

On the basis of projectile points found in the Verde Valley, archeologists date the earliest inhabitants back 2000 to 10,000 years ago. But it is the people known as the Sinagua who developed a dynamic culture between 800 to 1400 A.D. and produced about 1,035 petroglyphs on four main panels in the faces of the sandstone bluff. It is the Solar Panel (above), the shadow stones, and its 125 petroglyphs that have received the most interest.

This panel lies almost in a true north direction and shortly after 1:00 pm daily the shadows cast by the two shadow stones [two boulders (left) protruding from the cliff] cast shadows that were used to establish a calendar. Only 11 images have been interpreted. Some relate to in marking the calendar.

Seven sets of concentric circles (four are shown here in the upper third of the panel along with a portion of a fifth) were drawn to mark the Vernal Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox, and Winter Solstice. (Double click the photo to see an enlarged image.) It was the Vernal Equinox (March 21) when we visited the Site--about two hours early to observe the shadows cast marking that position of the sun touching the left-most concentric circle. But we had to press on.

Other images include: 1) the falling spiral (upper left in photo on the left; upper right in the next photo; and upper right in second photo below) is believed to relate to the three times for corn planting,

2) the two quadraped images (center, top in photo on the left and close-up in the photo below) may be a symbol of the Water Clan which produced the official sun watchers, and 3) the two centipede-like symbols (center and right in the lower third) may represent corn.

This figure may represent the impression of what a shaman experienced as a result of either self-hypnosis or a chemically-induced altered state.

Our docent (expert guide) was very knowledgeable and answered all questions with detailed information. He was also the person who introduced Kenneth Zoll to these petroglyphs, and Zoll went on to write Sinagua Sunwatchers.

Our two tour guides then drove us to the Palatki Red Cliffs Heritage Site near Cottonwood. As we approached the Site, we passed scenes shown here.

On the trail headed to the pictographs.

Some of the images on the walls represent human occupation some 12,000 years ago. The Sinagua pictographs (drawings made on rock) shown here date from 600 to 1300 A.D. These images appear on the walls of a fire pit. It is believed that the images are black because as the fire heated the original image, the animal fat used as a binder in the paint, burned or retained the soot and turned the white images black.

This space was occupied by Charles Willard from 1923 – 1925. He had moved to this area at age 65, following the death of his wife, and lived in this protected area in the cliff while building a home and several other buildings at the base of the cliff. He planted over 5000 fruit trees in the field that the Sinagua people planted corn, squash, beans, and cotton. He died in 1957 at age 99.

We concluded our day’s adventure with stops (noted in earlier blogs) in Jerome, AZ, and the Rock Springs Café near Black Canyon, AZ, for some fabulous pie. Kudos to Raina and Jesse for an educational, fun tour.

NOTE: This entry was delayed due to problems with the park’s WiFi signal. Our air card will not work and we are not able to use our cell phone.