Sedona – Path Less Traveled

I had wanted to hike Soldier’s Pass, but we were 30 minutes late arriving to the tiny parking lot, which meant no parking for us.  So we headed over to the Fay Canyon trail head, which is billed as a easy hike but with a spectacular vista at “the end”.

The hike was truly a walk in the park, with a flat terrain and rock walls to the sides.

This rock wall looks like a choo-choo train…

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The trail was flat up until the end of the maintained trail.  Then you’re looking at hiking up this…

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Must scale this to see the view…

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Most people stopped right here, but we kept going only because we wanted to see what was beyond.  After a certain point the trail grew thinner and fainter.  At one point, the trail was no longer obvious, but we saw cairns and started following those.  We ended up against a cliff wall, and this is the view everyone else missed…

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Resting and enjoying the view…

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Where’s Waldo?  This shows you the sheer size of the place.  There were darker marks along the rock walls indicating water falls.  I can only imagine how pretty this place would be when there’s water flowing.

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Again, where’s Waldo?  The best part was that we had the whole place to ourselves.

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This was a hike that was billed to be an easy hike, and was supposed to only last 55 minutes, but ended up taking us 4 hours to complete.  I’m so glad we kept pushing on because it felt more like an adventure than just any old hike.

Back to the spot where everyone else had turned around…

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After 4 hours, we were both hungry and a cold beer sounded like the perfect remedy.  The plan was to hit another hiking trail, but after 2 beers each we were done.

We did manage to check out the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village before our dinner reservation at Mariposa.  Joe really liked a piece by Robert Charon he saw at the Renee Taylor Gallery, and I’m thinking it might be a good 45th birthday present come September.

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Casa Sedona Inn

Casa Sedona Inn is a boutique hotel with 16 rooms.  We were lucky to snag the last room available for Memorial Day weekend.

We ended up with the Sierra Vista room.

Bathroom with a jacuzzi tub, which we never got a chance to use.

The room had it’s own patio entry.

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Dining, patio, and ‘lobby’.

They serve breakfast (except Mondays and Tuesdays) with some interesting items such as truffle brie scramble eggs, savory ham and cheese waffles.

After we checked in, I took a 2-hour nap before venturing out again.

There’s an iconic image of Cathedral Rock I (along with everyone else) wanted to capture, and the place to be is the Crescent Moon picnic area located within Red Rock Crossing.

We got there about an hour and a half before sunset.

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As did everyone else including a wedding party…

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Since we had dinner reservations at Dahl & DiLuca, we didn’t get to stick around for the Cathedral Rock to turn orange.  Dinner was yummy though…

Sedona

Sedona is one place that keeps drawing us back, and there’s always something new to explore each time we’re there.  Our first trip to Sedona was in 2006 when we had just moved to Tucson, and were in awe of the red rocks as we were driving into town.

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Our second time there was in 2008 when we stumbled upon the West Fork hiking trail.

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Since moving to CA in 2010, we’ve been busy exploring places locally, and hadn’t been back to AZ in 8 years.  Joe wanted to bring the car on a road trip, and living in coastal CA one only has a few options – go north toward Napa, south to Mexico, or inland.  Mexico’s out given how dangerous Tijuana is, and Napa we’ve been not too long ago, so we opted inland.  Palm Springs, which is 2 hours away, didn’t sound exciting enough.  Neither did Phoenix and Tucson.  Personally, I think the most beautiful area in all of United States is in the southwest – southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Since we’ll be heading to Vegas and southern Utah in October, we thought, “why not Sedona?”

We cobbled together a last minute trip for Memorial Day weekend.  Snagged the last room at Casa Sedona Inn, and we were off to do some hiking.  FYI, avoid Sedona Memorial Day weekend – too busy and crowded, good luck trying to find a parking spot at the trail head if you arrive 30 minutes after gate opens.

We left home a little after 11PM Friday, and drove 7.5 hours to Sedona – best thing about driving at night, no traffic.  We got to the Mescal trail head parking lot @ 6:45AM – early enough to still get a parking spot, and we were off towards Devils Bridge.  For those with high clearance vehicles, they can drive right to the Devils Bridge trail head.  For the rest of us we had to either park at the Mescal trail head or the Vultee Arch entrance, and then hike towards the Devils Bridge trail head.  Of the 2 options, I recommend parking at the Mescal trail head, as the hike in is shorter.

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Devils Bridge…

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We were fortunate enough that there wasn’t a huge crowd by the time we got to Devils bridge – if you want to hike this and avoid the crowd, start early.

We witnessed 2 proposals on the bridge.

Us, old married folks, on the bridge…

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Before reaching Devils Bridge there’s a path that splits off to give you a view of the underside of the bridge, which I think it’s totally worth checking out.  A lot of people bypassed this…

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By the time we got back to the car, it was only 10:30AM, so we were off to the next hiking trail since check-in wasn’t until 3PM.

Cathedral Rock.

We had more fun with this one because it was scrambling up the rock.  But first, we needed to find parking, which the lot was full.  It took some driving around – going to the overflow parking lot, Yavapai Vista, which was not ideal; looping back to the Cathedral Rock parking lot, and tracking hikers who were heading back to their cars.

Beginning of the trail…

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Going up…

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Photo op along the ledge…

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The vista from the top…

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By the time we were done I was ready to crash since I had gotten 1 hour of sleep in the last 30 hours.

Time to check in…but not before checking out Chapel of the Holy Cross…

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Valentine’s in Cabo

Work has been demanding for both Joe and myself, and we were overdue for some true R&R.  We’re not talking about a vacation that requires flying across the world, jammed pack with sight seeing and activities.  What we needed was a vacation that asked as little from us as possible.  That meant, taking the shortest possible flight and sitting on the beach.  Sure we could simply drive down the hill and sit on the local beach, but it’s just not the same.  Staycations somehow are not true vacations – you’re constantly distracted by ‘chores’.

Any flight time over 3 hours just becomes tedious at this point in our lives.  Hawaii is a 6-hour flight, but Cabo is 2 hours away.  So we decided to go to Cabo for Valentine’s week.

Now, we also wanted to get rid of the hassle of driving around looking for places to eat while on vacation, so we opted for an all-inclusive package.  Luckily, CostcoTravel has a good selection of these packages to choose from.  We ended up going with the Marquis Los Cabos All-inclusive package because it was a great deal, and it was adults only – again, I have nothing against children, I’m just accustomed to peace and quiet.

Plus, how can one resist a hotel lobby that looks like this…

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Here’s what it looks like at night…

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We flew out early Monday morning, and checked in to the hotel by 11AM.  Since our room wasn’t going to be ready for another 3 hours, we headed down to Dos Mares for lunch.

Here’s the view of the central pool looking out toward the ocean from our table.

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Crab Tostadas…

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Yucatan ceviche – I had this every single day, it was that yummy!

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We walked around after lunch waiting for our room to be ready.  Here’s a view from above.

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Some other views of the property…

Everyday was essentially the same – wake up, eat breakfast, hit the gym, lounge poolside, eat lunch poolside, more lounging until it was dinner time.  Rinse and repeat.

We did get a glimpse of breaching whales as well as stingrays leaping out of the water while lounging poolside.  I don’t have a picture of the flying stingrays, as they are hard to capture, but here’s an image from BBC Earth….

It is not known why mobula rays leap out of the water (credit: Octavio Aburto / iLCP)

It’s an amazing sight to behold as it is just so out of the ordinary.  It took me by surprise when I first saw one leap out of the water.

This is the view we got when things were less exciting…

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Different shades of blue…

The only variation to the routine was dinner.  They have 4 restaurants on site for dinner – Sakke (Japanese), Pergola (Italian), Vista Ballena (Mexican), and Canto Del Mar (French).  Sakke was the first night and it was very average.  We tried to get in to Pergola the next night, but it was a wait so we ended up ordering room service as we really had no other option – Vista Ballena and Canto Del Mar were closed that night, and we didn’t want to repeat Sakke.

For Valentine’s, all the ladies were handed a rose…

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We made reservations for Valentine’s 6-course tasting dinner at Canto Del Mar ahead of time.  This is probably the fanciest Valentine’s dinner the two of us have ever had in the 17 years we’ve been together.  Sure beats Chipotle that one year in Tucson…

For our last dinner we made sure we got to Pergola early to secure a seat.

You can’t go wrong with this view while enjoying the yummy seafood risotto.

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Capturing palm trees reflected off the infinity pool during sunset…

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All in all, this was a great, albeit short, relaxing trip.  Am I ready to go back to work now?

Not quite…

Sichuan – Pandas Galore

Our itinerary brought us back to Chengdu for our flight home.  We were to spent the night in Chengdu and fly out early afternoon, which meant we had the morning to do whatever.  And that ‘whatever’ ended up being the main Giant Panda Breeding Center outside city center.

We made sure to get there first thing in the morning since we really only had 2 1/2 hours to burn.  By the time we got there the pandas were just waking up to their morning feeding.  This place has pandas of varying ages – babies to adults.

Juvenile pandas…

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They squeal like puppies…

Baby panda head looks to be too big for its body…

And of course the adults…

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Something about the way they eat bamboo is mesmerizing…

Different eating technique…

An of course you have the red pandas…

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In all honesty we could have spent all day if we could, but we were happy we got a chance to visit this facility before leaving China.

Xian – Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors!  This is the highlight of Xian.  It is on some people’s bucket list that they’d fly into Xian from other parts of China (usually Beijing/Shanghai) for the day just to see the Terracotta Warriors.  The warriors are burial soldiers accompanying Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇, the first emperor of China in 220 BC.  There are reportedly 8,000 warriors, and only 2,000 have been unearthed.  They’ve held off excavating the rest as they’re trying to figure out how to preserve the colors once the ceramic is exposed to oxygen.  Apparently, the oxidation process destroys the pigments within minutes after the terracotta are unearthed.

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There are 3 pits, and the first pit is the largest…

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What’s amazing is that no infantryman has the exact same features.  If you look closely, they all look distinct.  We joked that the one on the bottom right looks like dad.

Each figure stands at 6 feet tall, and the generals are even taller.

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The terracotta warriors were discovered in 1974 when farmers were digging wells due to the drought.  One of them came upon some ceramic pieces during the digging process.  Some believe that had he dug further north of the site the terracotta would have never been discovered.

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The work is not complete, as they are still working at putting the pieces together.  Apparently the warring factions back in the days had looted and smashed the burial figures when they came upon the site.

Pits 2 and 3 weren’t quite as impressive in terms of size, but they did exhibit the standing/crouching archers, as wells as the mid/high ranking officers.

Check out the details on the sole…

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Chariots…

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If one can only visit China once in his/her lifetime, this would be it.  The sheer size and craftsmanship from more than 2000 years ago is mind boggling.  If this doesn’t impress, then nothing will.

Xian – Sights

Xian is rich in history – not only did it serve as the capital for numerous dynasties, it was also the starting point of the silk road, making it an interesting city to visit due to all its foreign influences.  Any Chinese history buff would love spending time here, but even non-history buffs like us could appreciate the richness of this city.

On the way to our first sightseeing, we saw tons of high rises on the outskirts of Xian proper.  Some were in the process of being built, and most seemed unoccupied.  Our tour guide told us that half of the buildings are in fact empty.

The government just keeps building to promote growth regardless of demand.  I suspect Xian can accommodate all the homeless in California with its empty buildings.

The following is just a collage of places we visited during the day…

Qianling Mausoleum where Wu Zetian 武則天 is buried.

My very first two hump camel!

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Tang Dynasty (618-907) SanCai “three coloured” glazed burial wares…

Famen Temple

 

 

When we got back to the city of Xian, we had our tour guide drop us off at the South gate of the city wall so that we could explore the city on our own.

This ancient city wall is completely intact, and one can bike atop the wall and complete the loop in 1.5 to 2 hours.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time (a recurring theme on this trip) so we just walked around and enjoyed the city night scene from atop the wall..

The next stop was the Muslin Quarter for some night market eats.  On our way there we got a chance to ogle at the beautiful bell tower.

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I must say the city is definitely very photogenic at night.

 

The Muslim quarter was teeming with people.  Rule of thumb – if you see a line in front of a food stall, you make sure you get in on that line no matter how intimidating that line looks.

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China is slowly becoming a cashless society.  Everywhere you see are QR codes.  Just scan the code with your Alipay app on your phone, and money is deducted directly from your bank account to pay for that pomegranate juice.

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These guys leave no meat behind on that lamb carcass.  They put vultures to shame…

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Here’s a collage of the food offerings at the night market…

I wish we could have spent more time checking out the night market, but in consideration for the 2 elderly parents we had to call it a night.

The next day was the big day – the Terracotta Warriors…