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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Lesson Learned

I get the daily NYT news alert featuring “California Today” – features and stories that matter to Californians.  This past Friday’s “California Today” featured Borrego Springs, a Dark Sky community that draws stargazers thanks to the low light pollution levels.  It’s also known for it’s quirky metal sculptures, the work of Ricardo Breceda, scattered around town.  Since it’s a couple hour drive from where we are, I decided last minute that we would take a day trip out there this weekend.

Ideally, we should have left first thing in the morning so that we could spend most of the day there.  However, we had to get our regular exercise in – one hour with our personal trainer, and another 45-minute run for me, and an hour of BJJ for Joe.  This meant, we didn’t get to leave until 2PM.

The drive ended up being 2.5 hours given the usual traffic on the 5.  By the time we got to town, it was 4:30PM.  We had about an hour and a half of daylight left to check out the sculptures.

First stop was the Mammoth.  This was the only spot where we got sunlight.

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Next up were the dinosaurs.  The sun had already dipped behind the mountains.

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T Rex

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The car offers a perspective to the size of these sculptures.

We hit the Scorpion and the Grasshopper next.

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For the star of the show – The Serpent.

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Unfortunately, there were a whole bunch more sculptures we had to bypass as we were short on time.

Since we didn’t have to wait long for night fall, we stuck around for some stargazing.  We had never seen so many stars in our lives.  When we lived in NYC, the only celestial object we could see was the moon.  Tucson opened up our eyes to starry nights, and I routinely got the chance to trace out the big dipper and Orion’s Belt, but we never could make out the Milky Way.

Borrego Springs is on a whole other level.  The sky is FULL of stars, and we got to see the Milky Way for the first time in our lives!

Of course I had to attempt shooting the stars.

Here’s a screen grab of the NYT photo of the Milky Way in Borrega Springs…

Here’s my shot of the Milky Way…

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EPIC FAIL!  Talk about ‘photo does not do justice’.

I could not for the life of me figure out how to sharpen the image, other than shortening the shutter speed, but then I wouldn’t get enough light.  Increasing the ISO only made the image too grainy.  The specs for this epically bad photo was ISO 6400, 10mm, shutter speed of 30 secs.  Using the ‘500 rule’ (500/focal length, which in this case is 10mm), my shutter speed should have been set @ 50 secs, but my camera ‘does not go there’.  Later I realized that my settings should have been ISO 3200, 24mm, shutter speed of 20 secs.

Oh well, next time…

 

Fall @ Home

Joe and I were debating which season is our favorite.  Being in SoCal, we really don’t get 4 seasons, or at least it’s not as apparent as it is in the Northeast.  However, after having lived here for 7 years we’ve picked up on the subtleties of changes in seasons – we do in fact have 4 seasons, albeit a change in a few degrees, humidity, colors of the surroundings, and crowds in town.  Yes, we do get cold when it hits 60, and the cashmere sweater does make its appearance in 50-degree weather.  I don’t really care for temps under 60 these days.  Call me soft.  Call me a wimp.  But ideal temp for me is 68-78 degrees.  And when you live in paradise, that’s what you get.

Being fall, I decided to change up the décor in the living room.  I switched out the orange pillows with white and grey to welcome the fall/winter season.

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Our lovely neighbor just gave us a white orchid this evening, and it matched perfectly with the white pillows.

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The dog making his appearance…

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The wide angle lens is able to capture the entire living room in the frame.
Fall is in fact my favorite season in SoCal.

Debarkation Day

We opted to sign up for the free luggage valet program offered by the port of Seattle.  Our bags were directly transferred from the ship to our Alaska Airline flight, which meant we would not see our luggage (after being left outside the stateroom the night before debarkation) until we arrived in LAX.  This program is to encourage tourists to go into town (and spend some money) as opposed to waiting in the airport.

With no packs to carry, we were free to roam the Pike Place public market for a couple of hours.

Wall street has the bull, Pike Market has the pig…

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Check out that line out the door of the original Starbucks…

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Here’s the famous fish toss…

 

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, famous for the Klondike gold rush and the building of the White Pass train to the Yukon.  Naturally, the excursion to do was to ride the train and watch the beautiful scenery pass by.  That’s not what we did.  We chose the helicopter dog sled tour.  We booked the 2-hour tour directly through Temsco, and the only available time was 11:15AM.  This was quite unfortunate timing, because basically the tour was sandwiched between two 3-hour slots, which wasn’t enough time to do anything else (most of the interesting tours were 4-6 hours long).  So we took our time in the morning and walked through town on our way to the Temsco office.

Temsco runs a brisk business.  They offer glacier landing as well as the dog sledding trips.  Even while at breakfast on board the ship, we would see 5 helicopters take off one right after the other.

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After safety briefing we were fitted into our snow boots.

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All passengers were assigned seats based on weight.  It appears to me that they put the lighter folks up front with the pilot, because Joe and I got a front row seat to the spectacular views.

Finally, the dog camp atop Denver glacier.

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So the dogs are relocated atop the glacier for summer training, and everything you see in camp (including the dogs) is transported by Temsco.  They told us it takes 85 helicopter trips to transport everything.  At the end of the summer season, they have to pack up and bring everything back down – including pet waste and dog hair.  Nothing is left atop the glacier.

Stars of the show in various states of repose…

and in action…

Our musher Dre races in Norway, but comes to Alaska during the summer to work with these dogs.  She told us that the Alaskan huskies are like marathon runners – lean with high endurance.  All the dogs want to do is run.

You can see how excited the dogs are right before their run, and as soon as they get into the run, all is quiet.

There were 4 people to a sled and we got to switch places so that we could all experience mushing and staring at the dogs’ behinds.

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There are usually 12 dogs to a team.  The two up front are the brains – they are the ones listening to the musher’s instructions and leading the team.  The two (brothers) in the back are the brawn – they are the strongest and are carrying the brunt of the weight to get the sled going.  The rest of the dogs in the middle are cruising, and just enjoying the run.

Of course no dog sled trip would be complete without puppies!  This little guy is 8 weeks old…

Dogs are bred based on lineage and racing abilities, and all the puppies in a litter are named according to ‘theme’.  This helps the musher keep track of siblings so they don’t accidentally breed brothers with sisters.

It was really interesting to learn about the dog sledding culture, and wished we could have stayed longer, but our helicopter arrived to pick us up.

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Helicopter take off from the Denver glacier.

View of the ships from the helicopter – Solstice is on the right.

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The town of Skagway is small, so there really wasn’t much else to see.  On our way back to the ship, we stumbled across Pullen Creek where tons of salmon were swimming upstream.

While back on board, we ate our way up to the top since we had missed lunch.

Started with dessert at Al Bacio…

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Burgers and fries at the Mast Grill…

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and ice cream at Ocean View Café…

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The sun finally came out, giving us a beautiful view of town…

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