Saturday, October 25, 2008

31-08 Meteor Crater Arizona


Meteor Crater, Flagstaff AZ

Well I’ve been able to extend my stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park for two more weeks. One of the volunteers coming in has been delayed so I‘ll fill in for until they get here.

We had a pot luck dinner the other night in honor of those volunteers leaving at the end of the month, they have over 10 couples and a couple of us single volunteers here in the park. We of course had the pot luck at one of the large Ramada’s (you know that’s a covered picnic area). The sun set early and we all anticipated that it would cool off quickly.
But it was one of those perfect evenings. Not a chill in the air. Lots of good conversation about travel and our favorite places to camp and visit.

On my days off I took another ride up to Flagstaff, then east on hwy 40. Hwy 40 parallels parts of the original Route 66 which is so cool. When I get to the exit for hwy 40 it says, Los Angeles or Albuquerque. Odd to see that I’m that close to LA that the signs point to it.

But I’m heading east towards Albuquerque and the Meteor Crater. It’s privately owned and maintained. As I head east, the high desert goes from being dotted with cedar and Pinion Pines to dry desert with grasses that have dried and become a golden straw color. Flat would be a good description with hazy mountains ranges far off in the distance.

It’s a windy day, Rv’s are being pushed around by the wind, tumble weeds are on collision courses with our vehicles as I climb to an elevation of 6 and 7,000 ft. It’s cold. The highs for the day never reached above 56 degrees and I only had a sleeveless jacket with me. Burr. Now one must ask why a person would pay $15 to see a big hole in the ground. Well, it all boils down to curiosity. I’ve never seen a meteor crater and I just felt it was something I needed to see in life.

After paying, I climbed up the couple flights of steps to the museum which is on the edge of the crater. They have some really good displays and a short movie describing asteroids and meteors. Did you now there are meteor showers hitting our atmosphere all the time? They are usually so small that they burn up in the atmosphere before hitting land. I remember as a child seeing a shooting stars over a couple of evenings.

What makes this meteor crater important is that it was the first proven meteorite impact site and it’s the best preserved. And for being 50,000 years old that’s saying a lot. My own impressions were like most, seeing a meteor crater for the first time, awe inspiring. Inside the museum, I was able to touch the largest remaining piece of the meteorite, a solid piece of iron, a crater pocked piece of metal sitting simply at the entrance to the museum.

After seeing the movie and walking through the museum, I exited and walked around the building to the edge of the crater. Talk about a huge hole in the ground. Wow! Two of the viewing areas descended down over the edge of the crater and provided shelter from the cold wind blowing at surface level. The sun feeling warm on this cold day. I like many of the other visitors just stood looking from various vantage points trying to absorb what it must have been like at impact. Looking down into the crater which is 60 stories deep and 4,000 feet across.

For more info check out their web site at:

It may be just a big hole in the ground, but for me, it was exciting to see. It reminded me of the dynamic large universe we live in. The changes that were made to our planet when a large meteor hit. It’s now believed that dinosaurs and most plant life died after large meteors hit with devastating impact. Impact, about every 50,000 years… hmmmm, it’s been about 50,000 years since the last one?

Or did one hit Russia 100 years ago? And was it big enough to qualify as a 50,000 year event? Discover for yourself at:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

30-08 Sunset Volcano more Pueblos Flagstaff Arizona

Sunset Crater Volcano

Wupatki Heritage Site

Palatki Heritage Site

Flagstaff AZ

This past week has been one of the most pleasant weeks out west. The crisp fall air has arrived with sunny blue sky days. My work at Dead Horse Ranch State Park continues to go well. I’ve been able to take my days off and I continue to tour the area. I decided to take the back roads through Sedona and on up into the Coconino Forest on my way to Flagstaff. I was hoping to see some change of color, but little was evident as most of the trees are evergreen. But the day was still breathtakingly beautiful. One of those days you just want to go for the proverbial Sunday drive. Thanks to my friend Ron in Cadillac Mich. for sending me some great photo’s of fall color in Michigan, so I didn’t miss the change of seasons too much.

By the way, Flagstaff is at an elevation of around 7,000 feet and Cottonwood where I’m staying is at an elevation of 3,000 feet. The drive up was on a winding mountain road and the drive back along hwy 17 was a dramatic continual straight drop down, down, down which provided for some spectacular vistas. They tell me Flagstaff is in the 70’s most of the summer and they do get below freezing during the winter with a dusting of snow.

Flagstaff has a number of geological attractions and I ended up heading into Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. For the price of the entrance fee, I got a loop tour that also included the Wapatki Heritage Site. Now, being so close to the Grand Canyon (about 90 miles away) this is one of those parks that doesn’t get huge crowds unless your staying in the immediate area.

It was a cold day since it was one of the first cold spells in the area. As I drove through the Sunset Crater park, viewing the recent lava flows (1,000 years old) it was like observing one that had occurred much more recently. Much of the lava had little or no growth on it, so it appeared really new. Huge hills of lava rock from small black and to pebble size that had spewed from the volcano to larger flows that were solid streams running along the ground. These are some of the newest volcano’s in the continental U.S.

Taking the loop road through the park, the landscape changed from Pine forest, to lava fields and volcano cones to desolate dry desert and there in the desert were the ruins of a number of ancient Indian villages. Wupatki being the largest and having the visitors center near by.
This site in northern Arizona showed how far the influence of Mexican culture went. At Wupatki, in the middle of this desolate land, with only a small spring for water the Native Indians created a 100 room Pueblo, an unusual ball court below the pueblo as well as a large Kiva. The ball court was fashioned after the ones in Mexico where this Indian tribe had learned to play the ball games.

The day I visited Wupatki, the light was such that everything in the desert appeared richly colored. The adobe structure, made of the red sandstone and clay appeared so rich in color, I actually took off my glasses a couple times to see if I something had happened to them. It was the most unusual feeling. As if I was walking in an Alice in Wonderland type experience.

I loved the story of how when the Gov. made Wupatki into a National Monument, they rebuilt two or three of the top rooms in the pueblo so that a park ranger husband and wife could live on the property. This of course would never be done today. As soon as the couple moved into the two rooms (no electric, heat, or water except for a 50 gallon drum that they had to fill by hand), the Gov. began to charge them $10 a month to stay there!

More photo's at:

Yesterday, I took a drive through high country desert on SF 252, a dusty well graded forest road of dirt and gravel. This is a gorgeous part of the desert landscape and is a part of the Coconino Forest. It’s surrounded by those awesome red stone mountains that make Sedona so enticing to so many people. I saw a number of the Pink jeep tour vehicles out in this wilderness and was glad to be exploring it on my own. I stopped numerous times just to take in the scenery and take a few pictures. I noticed a couple places where there was undesignated camping sites. One had about 4 RV’s parks in an awesome site. No hook-ups, but then again no fee for camping either. I love taking these dirt roads. I’m just going to have to get a 4 wheel drive one of these days. It’s like exploring places the average person never gets too. (Of course the truck was covered in red dust by the time I got home)

Heading towards the Palatki Heritage site, I had to make reservations ahead of time, as the site has a small parking lot and they only permit so many to hike around the area at any given time. Two couples (camp-hosts) had their big rigs parked next to the visitor center. Talk about a fortunate location to be camp hosts. The visitor center is in the old white clapboard siding house built by a pioneer who came out here at the age of 68 and started a fruit orchard. Planting over 2,000 trees.

More photo's at:

The site has yet another cliff dwelling and a good number of pictographs. The pictographs were well worth the effort and they have some great guides who really know their stuff. Really helped to understand the rock art which was produced by multiple waves of Indians migrating in and out of the area. Each having their own style in creating the pictographs. One could actually see the layers and differences between each group that created the painted art on the walls.

I’ll post some of them on my Picas web site.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

29-08 Exploring Verde Valley Arizona train ride

Verde Valley, Cottonwood AZ

One of the interesting things I’ve learned in exploring the history out west, is that the Native American population was seemingly everywhere. In the Verde Valley where I’m staying, there were over 50 pueblo villages most on the tops of hills.
Even though this valley is very arid, these ancient communities filled the valley. Of course the Verde River as well as the deep well at Montezuma’s Well provided the needed water for these communities.

Just think, if this valley contained over 50 communities and you multiply that by the rest of the land out west, there was a huge population containing many varied Indian tribes out here.
I did take a short day trip over to Montezuma’s Well. It’s the site of a few small cliff dwellings overlooking the well which was created when a limestone cavern caved in thousands of years ago and created the well. It has a constant 76 degree spring water flowing through it. This is just one of the many historical sites in the area. I’ve visited many of the others on previous trips to this area.

Walking along the rim of the well and descending into the well along a stone stepped path, I was able to view the cliff dwellings from both on top and down next to the deep pool of water. Passing under shade giving shrubs and mesquite trees along the edge of the deep blue water, I discovered a few more stone carved dwellings tucked into caverns on the south end of the well itself. Signs written on the limestone walls from the early 1800’s let me know that early explores also discovered the ruins.

Just being able to have the time to explore in depth these sites and at my leisure is such a joy. And to contemplate the immensity of the cultures that lived out here thousands of years ago helps me to understand our world a bit better. I’ve even had the opportunity to read some books on the history and even a novel or two about the ancient cultures out here, bringing these sites to life.

Some of it is not always pleasant. Like finding out that many of the Indians believed in witches, some may have been cannibals and when they left the area for good, some believe they went into outer space on space ships. Strange stories passed down around campfires late at night.

Train Rides. Verde Canyon Railroad:

Yes, I’ve been on another train ride. This one is called the Verde Canyon Railroad and is my 4th or 5th train I’ve been on. I’m dedicating this whole article to my buddy Ray Vargas who is an avid train buff. After seeing the Vintage FP7 Locomotives, (numbers 1510 and 1512), I can see why train aficionados get hooked on trains. All of the other trains I’ve been on have been steam locomotives and fit a particular era in time with their coal fired steam hissing and belching thick black smoke, they provide a visual sign of the power it takes to pull a train down the tracks.

The FP7 on the other hand is a diesel engine with a sleek design from 1953. They were built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors and there are only 12 in existence. It takes two of the engines to pull our train and the first surprise of the day was at how quiet and smooth the engines were. Originally built for an Alaskan rail line, through a number of transactions they’ve ended up here in Arizona.

I talked to a train buff before boarding the train as a few of us were scrambling to take pictures of those awesome engines up front. The guy told me he and his wife along with only about 8 others have reserved 4 private cars on a train that will travel out west for Christmas this year and end up in Santa Fe. A dream trip for anyone into trains.

But my trip was on the Verde Canyon Railroad and it started out pretty comfy in 1st class. Of course I got a discount 10%, so I paid $71 for the 40 mile round trip ticket. I sat at a two seater copper covered table with a great window view, others had loveseat couches facing each other with a coffee table in between. The couches were so comfortable that some passengers ended up dozing off. As the train left the station, as smooth and quiet as could be, a gentle rocking of the cars back and forth, we were offered a full breakfast buffet. I was only two seats away from the buffet and was right up front to be one of the first to enjoy the breakfast along with a champagne toast to start the day.

The canyon follows the Verde river to Perkinsville, passing two or three homesteads still remaining in the canyon which is now a part of the Coconino National Forest. One of the homesteads belongs to the Rosendo Alvarez family. Of course I thought of my good friends Trine and Linda Alvarez and wondered if Trine was related to this Alvarez family. Their story is told in the magazine given out at the beginning of the trip.

The train has an excellent PA system so one could hear the special recorded messages about each section of the trip. The Train attendants also got on the PA and provided additional info as we passed by Indian ruins, eagles nests, the rock formations, the few homesteads along the Verde River and all the other attractions. It was seamless and I really enjoyed the music that was played periodically throughout the trip as well. One song in particular sang about the journeys we take in life, the journey to find ourselves, the journey to find our souls, to find our way through life and those we meet along the way. A journey that is never ending but always moving forward. It was kind of haunting in a sense, looking out the window of the train car, seeing the canyon walls pass by, looking down into the cotton wood trees and the shallow Verde River below, realizing I was on that journey. Where would it lead, what would I find along the way.

Each train ride I’ve been on has been different. This one had an overall sense of being comfortable, pleasant in a relaxed way. The music and narration for the ears, the sights of the canyon filled the visual need and walking out on the open air viewing cars I was able to feel the breeze and still warm fall air as it brought the smells of dusty rock canyons, Cottonwood trees, dry cactus desert land, the Verde River and sunshine as we traveled the rails to Perkinsville.

It sure beat watching the stock market this past week.

Your traveling reporter, Doug p hoping you get to take a walk in the wood, or along the beach and refresh your mind and soul.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

28-08 Cottonwood Arizona

28-08 Cottonwood AZ

Sedona AZ (all pics are of the Sedona area)

Jerome AZ

I’m back in the land of Enchantment. The area is a blend of western dessert, Red rock mountain ranges, and forested mountains. It’s a rugged landscape where a Cottonwood lined river looking lush and green, boarders a dry dessert landscape.

I’m working as a camp host at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a month, giving me time to explore the area on a slower pace. I drove into Sedona, only about 15 miles north of where I’m staying into the Coconino National Forest. I’m doing a bit of pre-exploring to determine the best time to see the change of colors out here. The best time should be the 3rd week in Oct, as they’ve had a wet summer and fall (I believe around 7” total), so the trees aren’t expected to peak until mid to late Oct. I’m hoping to get some great pictures of Aspen changing color.

Sedona is a striking town surrounded by the red rock mountains. Of course it is a pricey destination, so if your camping, try to stay at a campground like Dead Horse and drive up to Sedona. Lots and lots of hiking trails right from the edge of town and up through the Coconino Forest.
My favorite town to visit out here though is Jerome. It sits above Cottonwood and is only about 10 miles from my current location. Jerome is an old mining town built on the steep slope of the mountain. The drive up to Jerome is a breathtaking road which if I could take my eyes off of the road would provide great vistas. I’ll wait until I reach the old mining town, park and then take in the scenery. It’s billed as the most active ghost town out west. Lots of artsy shops and restaurants, a few bars with entertainment most nights and the neatest old buildings I’ve ever seen.

Watching local Tv, I get the Phoenix stations. Phoenix has the highest rate of car thefts in the country. Lots of shootings and stabbings are reported on each night. They even mention there are many houses used to hide illegal aliens in and to call if you see anything suspicious.

Phoenix also has the deepest drop in house prices in the Nation with lots of houses foreclosed on and many more about to be foreclosed. And of course heavy congestion and accidents on their highways circling the city. Glad I’m out here in the country.

Here at the Dead Horse St pk, we have a busy weekend. It’s Biker week in Cottonwood and we also have boy scouts in the park along with all the bikers, quite a mix. My camp host duties are going fine, cleaning our 8 cabins, restroom duty and cutting firewood. Nice group of folks to work with, so I expect this month to fly by rather quickly.
Enjoy your week and find a little adventure along the way.