Tuesday, April 13, 2010

All done

Final day on the road. We travelled from Williams via Route 66 to Oatman, home of the stray asses... Then to Las Vegas via Chloride and across the Hoover Dam. These two so-called ghost towns provide very different pictures of off the grid living.

The weather turned poor for a while - rain and thunder and lightning - but it was clear enough later to go up the Stratosphere Tower and see the city by night after "All You Can Eat" at Circus Circus.  At the Stratosphere a few brave souls - all girls! - go on the rides at the top. John and I have, of course done it so many times we don't need to prove ourselves again...

All well and in the morning we head for the airport and our return home. It has been a great trip.

Only when we get back do we learn of the volcano and that we missed being stranded for two weeks in Minneapolis by about half a day.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Breakfast at Smokies - huge - followed by the drive to the Grand Canyon, the final National Park of the trip and one of the traditional highlights. Last year we were bedevilled by rain and wind, but this year is clear, if a little overcast. We arrive and after a few alarms with the vans (JB's refuses to start for a while and I get into an identical van parked next to ours and wonder why the key refuses to start the engine - to be fair, the owner tries to get into my van too) we see the first overlook - dramatic as ever. We try a hike down to Horseshoe Mesa, but the trail is muddy and snowbound so we move on to the Bright Angel Trail which is wider and safer.  Students descend quite far and enjoy the achievement of it, not least coming back up. Meanwhile, I have a beer with a student who has vertigo. We stay later than usual and see the sun slant across the canyon, bringing out the mesas in relief. The drive back is long but through the sunset. Taco Bell beckons to most of the students - the perfect end to a day...

Tomorrow the final full day, via Route 66 and Chloride...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Windy Wupatki

Slow wifi here last night. Weather set to be better Sunday, so we go with the morning off for the students to explore Williams - pleasingly most did wander around and discover things. In the afternoon we go to Wupatki and Sunset Crater. Last year it snowed, this year it was windy and a bit cold, especially at Sunset Crater. We skip the climb. Some of the students have brought curious versions of the walking shoes the handbook lists as essential... The various ruins at Wupatki have been tidied up a little, which is good, but access is more restricted, which makes it a bit more "look don't touch" than it used to be. Still a great scenic drive through the park. We drive back to Williams and the students are released for the evening, though I fear Saturday night in Williams if you can't drink is a bit slow. Tomorrow the Grand Canyon, with the weather set to be good.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Driving John Crazy

The morning begins with a seminar from Romero Brown, the Navajo owner of the motel and an important local figure. Excellent and informative for the students, especially about local politics. A short drive takes us to Window Rock proper and the tribal HQ. We visit the rock and tour the council chamber (not in session this year.) Window Rock is in the rear view mirror as we reach I 40 for our 190 mile  3.5 hr drive to Williams. John has an encounter with a crazy American driver who swerves across lanes and provokes some sweet language from him. Trucks stops are decorated with fibreglass dinosaurs. We arrive in Williams in brilliant sunshine in the early afternoon after making excellent time. Motel 6 and Safeway await us as ever. After de-canting we drive up the highway to take a short hike on the Keystone trail to a small box canyon, with a waterfall and petroglyphs. Snow still on the ground in places and deep in patches. Back to Williams and the students are free for the night. Tomorrow a morning off and then Wuptaki.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Time for Navajo

Mancos, the discovery of the trip. Oh how I love thee and thy breakfasts Mancos. JB and I get up early to investigate if the bakery cafe is open and it is. Glorious early morning slanting sunshine. We eat and John meets the Western hatmakers over coffee. Back at the motel students rouse and we walk them round the town, stopping off at the hatmakers. Two great guys give us a long talk and demonstration of how to make stetsons, etc. General view on Mancos and the motel is double plus. We leave and drive South down 491 and stop at the Ute Mt casino - not much there. Long, classic drive through NM down into the Navajo reservation and Window Rock. We leave the highway for a rural detour and climb through the snowline yet again, down into the town. We stop at the cemetery above the town which we saw very briefly last year. It subdues us - the expanse of tattered Stars and Stripes of the dead veterans especially. In town the museum is open, but has no knowledge of us, despite the faxes, emails and even the letter I sent to them... so we look round on our own, sans a guide.  Good exhibitions, especially the current one of Navajo photography which impresses us all and makes me think about the role of the museum for the community here. Then to the motel - all rooms good - and a seminar outside in the sun. We arrange to meet with the Navajo owner Romero Brown, but business keeps him away. No matter, we reschedule for tomorrow, before we visit the tribal HQ. And then to Williams...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

$5 regained and sunshine at 7,500 feet

We leave the San Juan Inn after an early morning start for some (I get up early to catch the sunrise.) The drive out involves a novelty, the Valley of the Gods road, which turns out to be every bit as scenic as Monument Valley but for free and much more remote, with genuine dirt road.  The $5 refusal is vindicated. A long leg then to Mesa Verde National Park via Cortez (OK, if a bit grim) and past Ute Mt casino. The weather is magnificent and we arrive at Mesa Verde in time to wend our way along the 20 mile drive to the Spruce Point cliff dwellings, rising through the snowline (deep remnants) to the top of the mesa.  The views are incredible - in my van Holly never stops snapping. The visit to the dwellings is conducted, but is done well. and includes a descent into a Kiva - shafts of light. We then drive the 20 miles out of the park to the unknown quantity of Mancos and the motel, both of which turn out to be fine. Mancos is a nice little ranching town with an old brick centre and enough facilities to get by, while the motel is clean, comfortable and has HD TV. A content crew. Tomorrow to Window Rock.