Thursday, 27 November 2014


Sedona and Red Rock Country

The Red Rock Country and Sedona, on to Phoenix The landscape around Sedona is stunning, with its bright red rock formations, formed from iron infused sandstone, topped off with pale yellow sandstone. There are several clusters of massive outcrops, or vortex, in the valley. The New Age spiritualists and artists that flocked to live here believe that there are spiritual centres or vortex in the rocks. Now I would respect all this if it weren't for the commercially insensitive development of the town, with its hundred of art galleries, gift shops, cafes and high-priced restaurants. We counted jeeps from four different Jeep Tours spewing out into traffic! We thought we'd opted for the more sedate, environmentally friendly trip in a trolley bus, but, to our surprise, were treated to a frenetic, whistle-stop tour of a few of the rocky marvels and trails, and couldn't hear our guide for the sound and speed of the traffic! We visited at a very quiet time but had to queue in traffic to try to enter one of the canyon roads. Well, we didn't, we turned the car round and went to visit the Oak Tree Brewery instead! That was good, with local ale, Nut Brown Ale, and a tray of seven samples, a Mahi Mahi spinach salad and a shrimp salad. Good value. Nice surroundings, but set in a court that had a distinct Disneyland feel to it. A load of shops dressed up to look like a Mexican village. It's marketed as a spiritual stay, but is a world away from our experiences in Chinle, where we'd enjoyed walks and insight into Navajo culture and hadn't been required to spend a farthing! It's like Bakewell in Sedona, you have to buy a pass to park near most of the trails! That moan out of the way, the views of the surrounding Red Rock Country are superb, if only a lot more restraint had been taken with Sedona. The Cottonwood trees were glorious, bronze and yellow. Marlene had told us about them in Chinle, and said it was a shame we'd missed them because they'd looked like they were on fire, but the leaves had all dropped being at about 2000' difference in height. The following day we descended from the Colorado Plateau, where we had spent the previous five days at a much higher altitude and therefore much cooler. Immediately warmed up and soon hot again. We made for the Heard Gallery in Phoenix, which housed a private collection of Native American artwork, ranging from intricate basketry to painted ceramic pots, red on clay painted in cochineal, to beautiful rugs, blankets and clothing. Dozens of katsinas, doll-like depictions of various spirits, adorn two walls. We went on a guided tour and learnt, no holes barred,about the shocking treatment of the native children, taken from their families in the 1860s and forced into boarding schools, with a dreadful disregard for their culture and intelligence. Hair forcibly cut short, which they did as a sign of mourning in their own culture, meaning that they literally went into a grieving state. A form of social engineering reminiscent of Victorian England and Australia. Well worth a visit. I picked up a book on Navajo weaving, and promised myself to resurrect my loom at home, inspired by the spirit of the Spider Woman! Set off tomorrow , flying to San Fran. Can't wait to see all the family, especially Lily and little Glo-worm aka Charlotte, who we've nicknamed after the Glow-worm on the Gas advert!

Walnut Canyon and Flagstaff

Our journey over to Sedona would take us closer to Phoenix and our flight to San Fran. We decided not to stop off at Meteor Crater, about ten miles from Winslow. There were negative reports of an expensive, showy tourist experience, which boiled down to paying a lot to stare at a very large hole in the ground! So the book says that the crater is the largest on the planet, created some 22000 years ago, a mile across and over 500' deep. That's about it. We headed towards a large mountain which strangely rises up from the flat desert, the highest point of the San Francisco Peaks being 12600'. It's nowhere near San Francisco, maybe just a nod to the Saint, himself. We stopped off at Flagstaff on Route 66. As with Winslow, the railroad runs right through the centre of this interesting little town. You really feel like you're in a Western, with low-rise wooden buildings. We had lunch at the Beaver Brewery Pub, with good ale brewed on the premises and reasonable bar food. Nice to get out of the chilly, windy weather. At 7000' up, Flagstaff is bitter in the winter, and has a feeling of being a ski station. One of many impressive, bright yellow trains came by, pulling dozens of freight trucks that seemed to go on forever, pushed on by another massive engine at the rear. We drove on with the gusty winds blowing spiky tumbleweed balls across the freeway! Next stop, Walnut Canyon. Yep, another canyon, but this time one visited primarily for its dozens of examples of Puebloan houses built into the rocks. Some restored and some in ruins, they run along several shelves of rock along the Island Loop trail in the park, with soot still covering the back walls, caused by ancient fires. The Sinagua tribe lived here, in this steep-sided, pine clad canyon. Only needed a short visit, but still glad we went. Our final destination was Cottonwood, with its historic downtown. We stayed in the less romantic, but much cheaper Best Western, which is a great base for visiting the very expensive Sedona, in the Red Rock Country.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

La Posada

La Posada, Winslow, Route 66.
On the way here we drove through the Painted Desert, famous for its bright coloured rocks and for the way the sunlight and shadows affect them. This hotel, residence and private museum and gallery is situated in a fairly unassuming location. A little one-horse town, with apparently little to see or do. We chose it, again because Ian had researched it well, and it was a staging post on the way to Flagstaff and Sedona, where we headed. It was historically a staging post along Route 66, which runs all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Located right by the railway line, it was occupied by the Railway company as offices, in 1961. There are thoughtful benches so that railway buffs can sit and watch the trains coming through, but it was too chilly for that, with temperatures near freezing in the chilly wind, even though there was blue sky and sunshine. It has been restored in the manner of a Spanish Hacienda, and houses loads of hand painted, Mexican-influenced furniture, lighting in metal work, antique leather chairs and hand carved furniture. The couple who own also live in a wing of it. The guest rooms are faithfully restored and contain antique, painted furniture and artefacts. Tina Mion is an artist and an extensive collection of large canvases she has painted are hung all over on two floors of the building. We spent a few hours the following morning, wandering around gazing at her wonderful paintings, reading the helpful descriptions of what inspired these original works. Stunning colours and haunting expressions on many of the faces in the paintings. She explains how the bright light and colours in the desert inspire. What a fantastic place to come! Only stayed one night and splashed out on an expensive but lovely meal in the Turquoise Room. The chef is English, which makes you proud. Cameron, the bar man/jack-of-all-trades was attentive and welcoming. We ate traditional Hopi piki bread with hummus as a starter, a thin, light as air wafer,and green, made from juniper root, ash and water! I had elk in black currant sauce, and Ian had steak. Superb. Just when you're beginning to feel a bit burgered out and need a change from very good but very standard budget accommodation experiences, this place really hit the spot! La Posada is rated no.3 in the whole of the US for bargain hotels by Trip Advisor. The Turquoise Room is rated the 2nd best hotel restaurant in the whole USA by Conde Nast. For once, they're not exaggerating.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Photos Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly

Chinle and the Canyon de Chelly
From Tusayan, we drove for about 4hrs, covering 250 miles East, deep into the deserts of Arizona.  With the high plateau of the Black Mesa to our right, and nothing but scrub and desert all the way, with occasional small ranches and shacks and a few corralled horses.  Hard to see how you could live out here, but apparently there is some meagre farming.  The Navajo nation territory extends all the way from about 40 miles outside the Grand Canyon, all over the northeastern region of Arizona- Tuba City, Kayenta, Chinle, all the way down to Window Rock in New Mexico. The largest of all the Native American tribes and the most widespread.  During our stay here we have come across references to the Hopi, Havasupai, Sinagua, and the Cahuilla in Palm Springs.  The Navajo are famous for their trading and commercial skills, the craftsmanship in weaving rugs and baskets, and their skills in jewellery making.  Turquoise features in most of their beautiful silver bracelets and necklaces.
We pulled up at a hotel for the night, the Holiday Inn, known as the Garcia Trading Post, at Chinle, a very small town in the desert, very close to the Canyon de Chelly, pronounced "Shay".  We'd arrived by lunchtime so had time to head straight for the Visitors Centre in this National Park, always a mine of helpful and welcoming information.  Ian had done his usual thorough research and knew that the drawback of this visit would be the fact that this site is of great religious significance to the Navajo, so there was only one self-guided walk you could, but it was to be a very interesting one.  We were excited to find out that, as part of the Native American Awareness Month, there was to be a final Saturday walk into an otherwise forbidden area of the park, guided by one of the Rangers who was Navajo and had grown up in the Canyon and played there as a child!  It was to depart at 8am tomorrow and the limit was 20 people.  We put our names down, but tried not to get too excited as we were told it was dependent on whether we could carpool, as we didn't have an SUV, or high clearance vehicle!
We drove along the South Rim, and then descended steeply down into the Canyon, on the White House Ruins trail, the only route allowed.  Very different to Grand Canyon, much smaller, beautiful rock shapes and curves in a orange and red coloured sandstone.  Very magical.  Then we were on the valley floor, which used to be farmed by the Navajo, before the nearby dams were built and redirected the water.  There used to be peach trees here and the Navajo would grow squash and beans, and farm sheep.  About 1/2 mile along the valley you come to a dead end and the White House ruins, built and occupied centuries ago by the Anasazi, or "ancient ones", named after the White plaster which was used to cover the walls.  You can also see ancient drawings on the walls in the distance, but it's fenced off to stop souvenir hunters getting too close. I bought a stone painting from an artist there, who explained to me that there is a growing desire for the Navajo to be known as Dine, "dinneh", because it captures the essence of the Navajo people. The Dine still live in and around the Canyon, their physical and spiritual home.  It is where the Navajo returned after the Long Walk, when in the 1860s, they were driven out of their homes, which were then burnt to the ground by Kit Carson.  They were forced to march over 300 miles, known as the Long Walk, to live a miserable existence on a Reservation in New Mexico, until eight years later the government allowed them to return to their homeland.  So little wonder it has such a sacred place in their hearts.

That night we had a hearty meal with non-alcoholic beer, which tasted OK, and non-alcoholic wine, which didn't!  No alcohol to be consumed or sold in Navajo territory.  Had some Navajo fry bread, which was delicious, a bit like a doughnut mix, but much lighter and flatter and drenched in icing sugar.  We were up at 6.30am, breakfasted and waiting at the Visitor Centre hoping to catch a lift.  Fortunately for us, Marlene a Navajo woman from Shiprock, New Mexico and her friend, Alexis, an attorney from Aztec, New Mexico, had a very big SUV and we all drove in line over extremely rough terrain about five miles to the start of the walk.  There was no obvious route and it would have been impossible with the Rangers car to follow.  Once at the start of the walk, the ranger explained to us that this was a rare visit, maybe only once or twice a year that non-Navajo were allowed to do this walk.  He warned that it would be strenuous.  The route would take us 1000' down into Bat Canyon, rarely visited, and a bit trickier than the usual easy trails.  Rough under foot with a bit of scrambling, but then we were on the Canyon floor, with views up to ancient dwellings carved into the rock, high up in the distance.  Then the highlight of our walk, Spider Rock, which rises about 1000' straight up like a giant reddish brown finger, looking striking against the bright blue sky.  Nearby is another iconic rocky finger known as Talking Rock.  The story goes that Talking Rock would tell Spider Woman who lived on the top of Spider Rock, about children who had been naughty.  Spider Woman would catch them in her woven web and take them to the top of the rock, eat them and grind their bones to white powder, and that is why the top of the rock is white!  Petrifying!  Other stories say that it was Spider Woman, who lived in a home at the base of the rock, whose ruins you can make out, taught the Navajo weaving skills.
Spider Rock has featured in several Westerns, and we remembered watching Mc.Kenna's Gold, made in the 1960s.  There is an unforgettable scene when at a specific time of day, Spider Rock casts a long shadow and a gap in the rocks is highlighted, which is supposed to lead the Cowboys to a golden treasure.  Or something like that!
  We spent some time listening to the guide telling these stories, as we gazed up at this amazing site, brilliant blue sky and chilly temperatures.  Then we returned to the jeeps, climbing quite steeply back up.  There were about 14 of us on the walk.  Good company.  A marathon runner and his wife, who were teachers in New Mexico, who lived at 7000'. An ophthalmologist from Chinle Hospital.  Alexis and Marlene worked for the same legal department that dealt with cases of discrimination against Native Americans.  Our guide, William was accompanied by his brother, who was training to be a Park Ranger, and his girlfriend, who were all Navajo.  They were very informative and attentive, and it was a great experience.  We promised to come back here again in November on one of the other guided tours they do.  Two great walks and we hadn't spent a dime!  Which reinforces the fact that they're not trying to make money out of it but educate and share.
We made it back to the car by lunchtime and set off to Winslow on Route 66 and the historic  La Posada Hotel, and the widely renowned Turquoise Room fine-dining restaurant!  This requires a page to itself!!

Grand Canyon Photos

Grand Canyon

Tusayan and the Grand Canyon
The next week or so would be a road trip sightseeing in Arizona.  We started with a seven hour trip from Palm Springs 430mls to the Grand Canyon, pausing for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Kingman.  There's no direct route because there's a vast expanse of rock and desert in the way!  So generally headed in a NE direction.  Hundreds of miles of vast scrub land and desert.  Eventually climbed up to a high level plateau of forests of conifers and significantly cooler, about 8'C.
It was dark when we arrived, so the trip to the Canyon would have to wait until the following day, the park being closed at dusk until dawn.  Cloudy all day today but good forecast for tomorrow.
Having done a long hike here a few years ago, we knew carrying plenty of water was essential, so we carried a couple of litres each.  As it happened there was water at Indian Garden, about halfway through our hike.  Lovely sunny but chilly day as we parked at the Visitor Centre and then warmed up our muscles on the  2 1/2 mile hike to Grand Canyon Village and the start of the Bright Angel trail, a hike along the South Rim, gazing down into the expanse of the Canyon.  Still truly awesome!  That word should be reserved for sights such as this, which describe it literally.  Magnificent!  The Bright Angel Trail drops gradually 3000' over 6miles to Indian Garden and on to Plateau Point with views down to the Colorado river below, a further 3 miles down.  It's possible to hike all the way down and back in one day, but all the signs warn it's not recommended!  So of course that made us think it might be something to do in the future!  Some people break the trek by camping down in the bottom, or at Indian Garden, and we saw plenty of people who had done just that, but were put off by the massive rucksacks they were carrying, and the forecasted drop in temperature to minus degrees tonight and early morning.  If you going to do it, go for it, travel light with plenty of water at a cool time of year, like now. we climbed back up, and tried to stay ahead of a fit, lean French couple, so pushing on quite speedily, I remember thinking, "don't let me think of doing this whole route down to the river".  It would be possible but challenging!  And as the sign says, "Descending is optional.  Returning is Mandatory!"
We were pipped by the Frenchman, with only a few yards to go, but he'd clearly had us as much in his sights, as we had him!  The upside was that we got back up to the top from Indian Garden in just less than 2hours.  Felt better than the last time we did it, when I sent Ian out for a McDonalds, cos I couldn't face going out.  Went out for yet another Mexican meal, and a massive pint of local lager/beer!  Plaza Bonita- good food.
Really cold at night.


Walking in Murray Canyon Palm Springs

Monday, 24 November 2014

Palm Springs

New York to Palm Springs
A long day ahead.  5 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix, Arizona, and then a 4 hr drive into the desert to Palm Springs, California, arriving in the dark, gaining two hours time difference on the flight and a further hour on the drive, and much warmer temperatures.  Staying at a Best Western Las Brisas right in the centre for three nights.  Brilliant location, within a few minutes walk of Downtown.  Dumped the bags and went to our favourite Mexican, Las Cazuelas.
A warm bright blue sky welcomed us the following morning.  Up, breakfasted and in the car driving just up the road to Indian Canyon, by 8.30am.  Thank you jet lag!  Walked the Palm fringed trail through Murray Canyon, following a stream and waterfall and lush vegetation all the way up the canyon to the Seven Sisters and the end of the trail, and the very last Palm trees, green lushness giving way to dry, barren, harsh, sun-baked Rock.  I love walking in the desert.  It's so strange and dramatic.  By 10am it was already getting hot and sticky and after five miles we'd had enough and set off back to the hotel and the pool.
Later that night we facetimed Andrew and family.  Busy building bunk bed to do over head of double bed, ready for when we come and share with Lily.  An excited Lily wanted to know whether I was bringing some "pieces puzzles" with me ie. Jigsaws!  A little podgy Charlotte put in an appearance, looking bemused!  Looking forward to seeing them all soon.
The following day we drove up to the Living Desert, which we've visited a few times before.  It's always worth repeating because there's so much to see.  This time we spent more time visiting the animals.  They have a reasonable number of big cats:  three leopards, a mother jaguar and two large Cubs and cheetah.  Giraffe, bighorn sheep, warthogs, wild dogs,ostrich,Eagles, owls.  The enclosures are imaginatively landscaped, with a Savannah area, tranquil pools and impressive planting showing the different climate zones and the plants they support.  The desert plants are most interesting, chollas, ocotillos, cacti etc.
A coffee in town, people watching!  There's a wide mix of visitors to Palm Springs.  A lot escaping snow in their hometowns of eg Vancouver and beyond, the older pensioners, the very rich sitting at white-table clothed restaurants enjoying Californian fine-dining, whatever that is, a big gay community, homeless veterans,sleeping rough in a warmer climate.  It's vibrant and colourful.  In the bar later, we got talking to a couple over from San Fran for a few days, publicising and launching a comic-strip book she had drawn, in collaboration with a Frenchman, who was the writer, sending up the Palm Springs scene, in a light-hearted un-pc way.  We took her card and promised to look it up.
Off to Tusayan, close to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, a long 7hr drive, back towards Kingman and the North, stopping at Kingman specifically to visit a Cracker Barrel to enjoy a great brunch in traditional ranch style setting, with rocking chairs on the porch, waitresses dressed in long apronned frocks with mop caps, the works!


On Brooklyn Bridge
Laura in Lakeville, Connecticut

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

New York

Trip to USA  November 2014

New York.
Set off to US later than usual, in order to be with Andrew and Lizzy for Thanksgiving, for the first time since they moved to US.  First of all, stayed with Emma and Laura in New York.  Their baby boy is due early December.  Weather warm enough to sit on their roof top in the sunshine, but much colder weather is forecast!
The day after our arrival, we walked across Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Weather not great but still exciting. The day after we visited Laura at her new offices in Manhattan.  A spacious, bright 16th floor in a high-rise building with far-reaching views across the city.  We met her boss, Mandeep and other members of the team.  Laura and Ems had a hospital visit at nearby Mount Sinai hospital, and we went off to the Museum of Modern Art, affectionately known by locals as Moma.
There was a feature exhibition of the works of Matisse, specifically his "cut outs".  I've never been particularly struck but it was a very informative and enlightening feature, which gave you a really good understanding of the technique of cut out and how he achieved body shape and form from cutting, pinning and folding bits of bright blue paper, and used the gaps between the blue pieces to allow the background to emphasise movement and shape.  Fascinating.  Apart from that, there was an extensive collection of Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Dali, Picasso. Then the less inspiring minimal stuff by Mondrian et al!  A lot of stuff by Warhol, including his famous baked beans pic and Marilyn.
Met up with Ems in the Irish bar next to the offices, Laura having gone back to work.  Baby's lying cross-ways, and if he doesn't turn, it's looking like Emma will be having a C-section the first week in December.  With Xmas looming, Emma is trying to get things organised well in advance, because she knows she's going to be very busy soon.  Xmas decorations out in the corner of the room ready to trim.  Cake made, but unable to find marzipan in the shops, as well as some spices, double cream, caster sugar, to name just a few.  So between us we looked up Delia and now home-made marzipan sits in the freezer, ready for assembly nearer the time!
After the usual long 12 hr day, Laura rejoined us and we all went off into Chinatown to Shanghai Asian Manor.  Great, good value food and helpful, courteous staff.  Tried the famous soup dumplings, soft doughy dumplings filled with pork and broth, which oozes out when you pierce them. Also the lovely "pot stickers", which I've made with Lizzy before now.
The following day was a chilly start, with a drop in temperature of about 12'degC.  Laura had booked the day off.  Caught the tube to Grand Central Station, a wonderful temple of a building, softly lit with dozens of opulent chandeliers, gateways to trains resembling doorways into rooms in a museum or national library.  Very Grand indeed and well worth a visit, even if you're not catching a train.  A little time to kill, so we all sat with a coffee, listening to a couple playing fiddle, called the Poor Cousins.  Really relaxing Irish folk music.  All this before 9am! Caught the northbound train to Wassaic, Connecticut, a couple of hours away, and then a short, not very fragrant taxi ride to Interlaken Resort hotel, where we spent the night.  Accommodation generally around here is very expensive, but Emma had done some research and found this taste of the country outside NY.  The countryside is hilly but not mountainous here, quite swampy and wooded, East of the Hudson River, with pretty wooden traditional houses.  The hotel is situated near a lake with an impossible Native American Indian name, but it was a bit too cold for a walk down there, so we opted for a more sheltered one in the woods nearby.  A recent dusting of snow and frost gave the landscape a very fitting winter feel, to suit its Swiss name!  Back to the hotel and a rest for Emma, whilst Ian and I went off for a session in the gym, and my first one mile run in years!  The evening meal was excellent, with a wide variety of starters and entrees. I opted for Swiss chard and Granny Smith apple salad, followed by Arctic char, which is a bit like cod but tastier.
We returned in time for lunch back in Brooklyn, the following day, and caught up with news of home and relatives on the journey back.  Had lunch at a great little cafe in Fort Green, called Olea,specialising in tapas. Very busy, and buzzing atmosphere.  Everything we ordered was so tasty and reasonably priced, including wine in a carafe, rather than the often overpriced bottles!

Felt sad to be leaving but the girls have a busy few weeks ahead of them, with friends from UK staying, baby shower to attend and baby to prepare for!  Strange to think that before we leave to come home, there will be another little baby in the family!