Survey of Arizona, Late Winter 2011

Ocotillo on the cusp of blooming at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Teddy Bear Cholla backlit close to sunset

A view of the vast Sonoran Desert at Organ Pipe

All my other trips to Arizona have been later in the spring, in the fall or once in full-blown winter.  Deron only had one whirlwind trip to Arizona the September that we got married here.    While the calendar still says winter as we haven’t yet reached the Vernal Equinox, the weather most of the places we’ve been has been downright spring-like.  We flew in on Wednesday February 23rd and drove down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  I’d been there for a few days more than a decade ago and the feeling of the place was quite different.  Back then, occasionally you might see a border patrol vehicle now and then, but on this trip one morning on the drive between our hotel and the Monument, we counted 20 border patrol vehicles, not including the ones at the checkpoint.  Back then, you could also drive the full 51 mile Puerto Blanco loop and the spur out to Quito Baquito.  Now you can drive to mile 12 on that loop and turn around.    I was sorry that we didn’t get to mile 18 where there are some Saguaro Cacti with the rare cristate mutations.   We occasionally encountered other hikers and in the morning encountered Border Patrol vehicles with trailers where the agents had obviously gone off into more remote parts of the park by ATV.  They do at least provide some guided van trips to Quito Baquito by reservation on some Saturdays.  It would pay to check ahead in the future.  Still, we did manage to hike most of the accessible trails in the park including the one up to Bull Pasture and another trail where there was a nice view at sunset.  Friday, we returned to the Phoenix area and hiked at Cave Creek where we did locate a Saguaro with a cristate mutation and I was so glad that Deron had the opportunity to see one of them.

Saguaro with Cristate Mutation

Picket Post House at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Saturday we had plans to visit with my friend Melanie whom I’ve known since college and her family including her sister Jane.  Saturday morning, we stopped by Jane’s condo and picked up Jane and one of Melanie’s boys for a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum where they were hosting World Food Day.  We walked their trails and sampled some of the food.  I was most interested in the Sonoran Desert exhibit where they had ginger snaps made with mesquite flour.  I bought some mesquite flour as well as some pomegranate syrup.    We were late for pomegranate season, but saw some rather desiccated pomegranates hanging from trees elsewhere in the park.  We met the rest of the family in downtown Phoenix for the family symphony program which on this occasion featured Cirque de la Symphonie which included a contortionist, some magic, juggling, the most impressive hula hooping I’ve ever seen as well as a strong men act which seemed to have all the children in the audience asking, “Are they naked?”  Which only resulted in them being “shushed” and them asking again after a little while, “Are they naked?”  That was amusing and the feats of strength were amazing.  After an early dinner which was quite welcome since we hadn’t had time for lunch, we returned to their home in Mesa and visited until well after dark.  Sunday morning after meeting other friends for breakfast, bound for Payson and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park we drove into the snow on Hwy 87, the Beeline.  We arrived early enough in Payson that we went directly to the Park thinking that if there was enough to do we’d go back in the morning.  As it turned out, due to the snow and excessive melt water running through the canyon, there were only two short trails to hike.  We were able to get a good look at both ends of the world’s largest travertine bridge, but the trail that runs through it wasn’t open.

View through Tonto Natural Bridge

I found myself wishing that we’d spent that time in Sedona which is at a lower elevation and would have been warmer, but ultimately we were glad we saw the natural bridge, but opted to find hiking elsewhere in the Tonto National Forest the following day.

Fast Water at Bell's Crossing

Wednesday on leaving Payson we went north and lower in elevation and hiked the Bell Trail which follows Wet Beaver Creek to Bell’s Crossing.  I’d been there the last day of September in 2003 when it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  February hiking was much more pleasant and with the recent snow, the creek was running very high.  I’m sure no one will make the Crossing for several weeks due to the fast, high, cold cloudy water.  We also took the spur trail to the Wier where the water was running so high it almost obliterated view of the dam.  Once we’d completed that hike, we drove north to Flagstaff, walked around a bit and enjoyed a beer at the Flagstaff Brewing Company.  I like the food at the Flag Brewing Company too, but we were ultimately headed for Winslow that night and were saving our appetites for The Turquoise Room at La Posada.

Morning sun on the west wing of La Posada

If you’d been to Winslow any time after the heyday of Route 66 and before 1999 like I had when it was home to mostly dirt cheap and awful accommodations, you might say, “Winslow is the last place on earth where I’d like to stand on a corner,” and that’s still mostly true,  but I’ve been past Winslow on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on three different trips to Arizona and they always mention that La Posada which was designed by Mary Jane Colter and which was originally a Fred Harvey Hotel was restored over the last decade.  It also didn’t hurt that Melanie reminded me about it when she stayed there while traveling on business several months ago.  La Posada is reason enough to visit Winslow.  We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and walked around looking at the wonderful job that Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion have done renovating La Posada as well as viewing Tina Mion’s artwork which displayed in several of the common rooms.  I’d actually like to live at La Posada for a few weeks and do nothing but read and write, but I guess that won’t be happening in the foreseeable future.  We stopped into their martini bar for a drink before dinner and then moved on to the dining room where we enjoyed some of the best food we’ve had in a while.  Indeed, La Posada and the Turquoise Room receive wonderful reviews from publications ranging from Arizona Highways to Condé Nast Traveler, Sunset Magazine, National Geographic Traveler and The New York Times.

Badlands on the Blue Mesa Hike at the Petrified Forest

Cross-section of a Log in the Crystal Forest at the Petrified Forest

We left Winslow in the morning and drove toward the Petrified Forest.  On the way into the park, we toured Desert View Inn which has been mostly restored to the condition where they accepted guests in their charming but spartan rooms and if they actually did accept guests at this time, I would have been happy to stay there.  From there, we thought we’d hike down to find the Onyx Bridge in what they call “The Black Forest”.  Two problems with this goal:  the Onyx Bridge fell a while ago and it is hard to find.  We did get a few miles down that way and saw interesting petrified wood and a rock that seemed to have a lot of copper alloy in it.  We didn’t carry out any of these natural items.  We did carry out some non-prehistoric broken glass as well as a plastic pen cap.  After completing this hike we finished the drive through the Petrified Forest and really enjoyed the Blue Mesa Hike as well as the Crystal Forest and another hike where some of the largest logs are in the park.  There were two more hikes totaling 2.6 miles that we would have liked to do, but by that time we were pushing 6 p.m. which is closing time at the Petrified Forest at this time of year.  We also had quite a drive once we left the Petrified Forest since we needed to head south and really, the closest place to stay was Show Low.  We hadn’t planned ahead for Show Low, but we found decent and  fairly cheap lodging across the road from a Mexican restaurant with decent food and all too potent margaritas and we were glad that all we had to do was cross the highway to find our bed.  Leaving Show Low in the morning, we were indecisive about food and buckled in for the ride to Globe, driving through the Fort Apache Indian Reservation through the beautiful Salt River Canyon and into the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  We stopped in Globe for a late breakfast at an independent coffee shop and continued on to Peralta Canyon to hike up the canyon to the Fremont Saddle.  It was a beautiful hike, possibly our hottest day on the trip.

View on the Peralta Trail Looking North from the Fremont Saddle

We then checked in to one of the most awful hotels we’ve ever been in.  (I thought Travelodge had standards but apparently I was wrong).  At least it wasn’t infested with bedbugs.  Basically we just wanted to re-pack ourselves for the plane after spreading out in the rental car and to have our last dinner at a good Mexican restaurant where they have nice outdoor seating before we took off for home.

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