My 10th came 8 years after my 9th

September 9, 2017

I’ve finally replacing the 2009 desktop computer in my home office, which was my 9th home computer system since 1980. The old thing still has plenty of life in it, but it can’t run Windows 10, and I’m ready to move on. I had extended the life of my old system by replacing its spinning hard drives with speedy solid state drives. But my old system is not compatible with Windows 10: I tried dual-booting with that new operating system years ago when Microsoft was giving it away for free, but my system always freezes up a few minutes into using it. I presume some driver in the system is not compatible with my old hardware.

A 150 year-old system?

2009: Velocity Micro Vector Z35

Eight years is a long time for a computer nerd to keep a system. Some claim that would make my home desktop equivalent to a 150-year-old person. But I figure the solid state drives were like giving a granny bionic limbs; they kept her going quite well!

With that boost in 2014, the Velocity Micro Z35 I bought in 2009 has lasted longer than any of my other nine desktops since I began using computers 37 years ago. The previous record holder was a 1993 machine by Gateway 2000, which held out until 2000…naturally! I have often bought higher-end desktop machines so they would last longer, and back in 2009 I invested about $1,800 in what was then a high-end system.

A $225 Chromebook versus a $2,600 Surface Book

My portable options

I recently spent $2,600 of my own money on a top-of-the-line Microsoft Surface Book, thinking I would want that for work. But I’ve found that I can happily use my district-supplied $225 Chromebook at meetings and for presentations. I simply don’t use the pen or touchscreen of the far more powerful Surface Book, love how easy it is to carry around the small Chromebook, and prefer to use multi-monitor desktop systems in my work offices. So I considered using my additional $150 purchase of a Surface Dock and video adapters to hook my Surface Book to the desktop monitors and keyboard in my home office instead of buying a new desktop CPU. But I decided to keep the Surface Book ready at hand at work, trusting that it will eventually prove useful when I’m working away from the office. At home my mobile needs are fully met by my iPad Air 2, which has even superceded my sixth Kindle, a Voyage, as my e-reader of choice.

Costly or cheap? CHEAP!

My new Dell XPS 8910

My tremendous overinvestment in the Surface Back left me in no mood to buy a top-end home desktop computer. So my new system is a fairly cheap one that is a generation behind the current leading edge: I took advantage of an online deal to get a Dell XPS 8910 for only $600.

It has a decent microprocessor, plenty of RAM (although I’m still going to double it to 16 GB), and a decent but not spiffy graphics card; I’m not a gamer. I’ll scavenge my existing solid state and optical drives to replace its spinning hard drive, but I am going to build up from a clone of its fresh install of Windows 10 Pro. A detailed comparison of my old and new desktops is at the end of this post for my fellow nerds.

Moving from Windows 7 to 10

I was prompted to finally switch because I’m now using Windows 10 at work. Almost all of the school district’s computers still run Windows 7. With Microsoft ending security updates for Windows 7 in 2020, any new machines we buy really need to be Windows 10. Like corporations, schools are loathe to update operating systems since that inevitably incurs additional training and support needs, plus there may not be updated drivers for our many old peripherals.

So I decided to be a guinea pig and move to Windows 10 in my work office, noting the incompatibilities I encountered. The good news is that I’ve seen no problems with any of our usual services and have found that, with perseverance, I can print to various older devices around the building…no thanks to the simplified (meaning dumbed-down) printer setup in Windows 10. I actually hedged my bet by having my work systems dual-boot to Windows 7, but I find I never use the latter.

Spinning vs. solid state

For me, solid state beats hard drives

I also pushed the district to buy new systems with solid state drives. I was impressed by how the solid state drive in my 2010 MacBook Air made that system really fly. So in 2014 I upgraded my desktop computer’s storage to solid state. That dramatically improved boot time and extended the usable life of the system by several years.

During my last year in the classroom, the old computer at my teacher desk truly foundered, taking forever to boot up and often lagging in playing videos and more. I know the old and slow spinning hard drive in it was the culprit, burdened with the usual Windows cruft from years of installing different programs. So I’m determined that we shift to solid state drives in the district. Our increasing reliance on Google cloud services and its new Drive File Stream reduces my concern over the limited capacity of the solid state drives we can afford.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

I’ve come to like Windows 10, although I make little use of its improved start menu, built-in apps, or Cortana features. Windows 7 certainly doesn’t seem antiquated. So why switch? It really isn’t confusing to use Windows 7 at home and Windows 10 at work.

Well, my old system still has an old processor and graphics card. So I can tell the difference in its responsiveness compared to my newer machines at work, especially if I’m rendering video or other processor-intensive tasks. And the build-up of Windows cruft in my home system from many years of playing around with programs is immense.

The simply dreadful Outlook Web App

But perhaps the strongest motivation is that the upgrade would allow me to use the Windows 10 mail app to access my school email. You see, our district still uses the ancient Exchange Server 2010 for Outlook. That means we’re stuck with the simply dreadful light version of the Outlook Web App on a Chromebook or a Windows 7 computer since the full version of the old Outlook Web App is no longer compatible with modern web browsers.

I am pushing Tech Services to finally address this issue, either by upgrading our Exchange Server or finding a way for us to use Outlook in Office 365. But I’ve waited years for them to fix this, and I’m simply done. Years of having far better access to email and my appointments on a phone or tablet than on my home desktop machine have taken their toll.

Ultrawide vs. multiple monitors

Dell Ultrawide Monitor

Since I saved a bundle on the desktop upgrade, I decided to try using an ultrawide monitor. I’ve used two monitors at home for years: currently I have a 24″ ViewSonic that is 1920×1080 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio and an old Dell that is 1280×1024 pixels in a 4:3 ratio. And at work I’m spoiled with two big 16:9 monitors. I love having different apps on each screen, which greatly improves my productivity.

But I was intrigued by the ultrawide LG monitor that TechMoan, my favorite YouTube guy (should I admit that Miranda is my favorite YT gal?), recently demonstrated.

So I decided to buy a used 34″ Dell UltraSharp U3417W with 3440×1440 pixels in a 21:9 ratio for $589. It reportedly has great color calibration out of the box, and it will be interesting to see if I like having one huge wide curving screen. I hope its Dell Easy Arrange layout controls are useful, but I will of course have the use of Windows 10’s Snap Assist.

10/6/2017 UPDATE:

I’ve had some time to use the new computer and monitor, and both have worked out great. The monitor is beautiful, and I like how Dell’s Display Manager lets me divide the screen into areas and simply drag windows to them, which then snap to fit. I like the continuity of working in Windows 10 both at home and at work.

I love how the new system is almost silent, making it practical to set it on the credenza beside my desk. That keeps it off the floor and hopefully will reduce the dust that accumulates inside it.

I haven’t really tested the increased processing power of the new system; that will probably have to await some future video editing.

IMG_8073 (Edited).JPG

My iPad Air 2, Dell UltraSharp U3417W, Kindle Voyage, Dell XPS 8910, Asus Chromebook Flip, and MacBook Air

Comparing my 9th and 10th Home Desktop Computers

2009 System 2017 System
Brand Velocity Micro Dell
Model Vector Z35 XPS 8910
CPU Cost $1,796 $600 (plus $76 RAM upgrade; replacing hard drive)
Microprocessor Intel i7-920 with four 2.66 GHz cores (2.93 GHz max), 8 MB Cache; 4.8 GT/s bus; 130 watts Intel i7-6700 with four 3.4 GHz cores (4 GHz max), 8MB Cache; 8 GT/s bus; 65 watts
RAM 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM 2133 MHz SDRAM 8 GB (2x4GB) DDR 2133 MHz SDRAM (doubling to 16 GB with $76 second set of RAM cards)
Motherboard MSI MS-7522 (X58 Pro-E) ?
Graphics Card AMD ATI Radeon HD 3450; 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 730; 2GB DDR3 memory
Primary Storage Two 1 TB 7200 rpm Raid 1 SATA HDD replaced in 2014 with a Crucial M550 1 terabyte SATA solid state drive (SSD) with 500 GB USB 3 external SSD Will replace its 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA HDD with same solid state drives
Optical Drive Original 20x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner with LightScribe Labeling replaced in 2015 with Asus 24x DVD-RWB1ST 8x DVD burner
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1) Windows 10 Pro
WiFi none 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.0 dongle 4.2 built-in


Posted in technology | Leave a comment

So, do you miss it?

September 2, 2017

So, do you miss teaching?

That is the question I am asked repeatedly now that I’ve concluded 28 years of teaching physics at Bartlesville High School. I’m still at the school several times each week supporting the rollout of student Chromebooks and the Canvas learning management system, but the only classes I have taught since May have been computer lab training sessions for teachers. So I get that question from district employees, former students and their parents, and other folks I encounter in the community.

My standard response has been, “I’ve been too busy to even think about it.” My new role leading districtwide technology and communications has indeed kept me scrambling: I was working 60 hours each week throughout August. But on Labor Day weekend, a couple of weeks after the intense start of the new school year, I finally have some time for contemplation.

No, I don’t miss teaching.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved teaching physics. I landed my dream job back in 1989 and had a rewarding career in the classroom. But there are several reasons I am content with my transition to administration.

One is that my interests and reach had long extended beyond the walls of the classroom. I’ve held demanding side jobs in the district for decades and earned my master’s degree in administration back in 1999. Teaching physics was always job one, but I had many others. The bars below my career timeline visually summarize my other long-term commitments.

My career timeline

Another reason I was happy to leave the classroom was that I had met a challenging goal. I told my evaluators back in May 2016 that my teaching goal for my last year was simple: End strong. I was determined that I would not let the huge demands of the transition year hurt my students. I gave everything my all, working 60 to 80 hours a week for months, and it paid off. In July 2017 I found out I had hit a career high with 25 of my students earning passing scores on either the Physics 1 or Physics C: Mechanics exam, beating my 2006 record of 20 passing scores.

A powerful emotional support was a moment of closure a student surprised me with back in May. It put me in the right frame of mind for a new phase of my career.

When I began teaching in 1989, I made the word problems more interesting by making them about the treacherous adventures of Fluffy the Physics Feline. I tortured her mercilessly with lawnmower chases, frozen pond pulls, and more. The kids liked it so much that they gave me a real Fluffy at the end of the year. She sat on an intercom in the room and it eventually became customary for her to be catnapped by kids each year.

When she moved with me to our new lab in 2003, she got her own locking glass cabinet, but clever kids still managed to steal her annually. She has been skiing, to Europe multiple times, been the star of videos, the subject of ransom notes, returned at prom, etc. Two years ago she never came back, and even the town newspaper and magazine carried word of her disappearance. She finally reappeared at the start of the next school year.


Dear old Fluffy was catnapped again during my final school year of teaching, with funny photos on Instagram of her adventures about town and silly notes slid under the classroom door. And then she returned, only to soon disappear again for the remainder of the school year. As classes wound down, I couldn’t help wondering if she would ever return.

At the Class of 2017’s commencement in May, I led the faculty onto the field one last time in my long-standing role as teacher line leader. After the graduating seniors filed by, we took our seats. I knew this was the last graduating class where many students would be my own. Talented students sang and spoke to the crowd on a beautiful Oklahoma evening.

And then in the middle of her speech, Sr. Class President and physics student Shay Stayton surprised me by pulling Fluffy out from behind the podium. She said it was finally time for Fluffy, wearing a glittery mortar board, to graduate. I laughed and grinned at the time, but I’ll confess my eyes can tear up at the memory. It was the perfect ending to my teaching career. Thank you, Shay.

So in June I was ready to clean out and pack up. I took cartloads of paper and rubbish to the dumpster:

To the dumpster!

Over a quarter century of lesson plans

I also tossed over a quarter century of lesson plans. I gave my able successor the physics curriculum I sell, Wendy helped me copy and organize hard copies of all of the quizzes and tests, and I organized a file drawer filled with AP exam packets and resources. So the new physics teacher has access to everything from my classes to use, edit, or discard as he wills. I trust him to make the courses his own.

Some of the items I took to the ESC

I hauled additional items, including Newton, Einstein, and of course Fluffy, to my new office at the Education Service Center.

I see that the median job tenure in the USA is just over four years and that the baby boomers of the generation ahead of mine held an average of a dozen jobs when between the ages of 18 and 48. I only had four jobs during that 30-year stretch. After three temporary jobs during and after my bachelors degree, my first permanent job lasted almost three decades. So I was ready for the change.

The ESC is a far quieter place than the high school. We are very lean, and every administrator has to wear multiple hats to keep the district running in this era of abominable state funding. So there is very little socializing or relaxation; everyone is busy, busy, busy. But I am happily drawn out to the schools on various missions; I’ve already been to all nine sites in the first two weeks of school. Everywhere I go I see teachers, secretaries, custodians, administrators, and other employees putting kids first, fulfilling the district mission: educating and enriching lives.

No, I don’t miss teaching. Everything I do supports it. My wife and I talk about her classes and my challenges every evening. Teaching children remains job one. I am proud to be a Bruin.

Posted in physics, random | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Conclusion: Santa Fe


Santa Fe Plaza with the Hendersons

Day 8 of our Grand Adventure was our final day with the Hendersons, who would be heading back homeward.

Palace of the Governors

Wendy was tired and slept in while I took Betty and John to Tia Sophia’s near the historic plaza for breakfast. Then we walked over to the plaza so that they could peruse the wares on offer by the Native American vendors along the veranda of the Palace of the Governors. On their first pass they did not purchase anything, but later returned for John to purchase a lovely bracelet for Betty.

We walked around the plaza area, seeing the public rooms of the historic La Fonda hotel. Santa Fe bought the property in 1925 and leased it to the Harvey company. For a major expansion, Mary Colter did the interior design and decorating. La Fonda is still operating today and was the most successful of all of the Harvey hotels.

Betty, John, and I also peeked into the Cathedral, being careful not to interrupt a funeral that was underway, and walked through Cathedral Park, which featured a series of large full-scale reproduction canvases of paintings by Goya. The originals are housed in The Prado in Madrid. My favorite art critic, the late Robert Hughes, adored Goya’s work, which I find challenging to love.

All too soon it was time for the Hendersons to head home. Wendy and I stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, which was adjacent to the Santa Fe Motel & Inn where we have previously stayed in their casitas. The next time we are in Santa Fe we will likely return to Casita 22 at the Santa Fe Motel & Inn, enjoying its privacy and little patio. Downsides to our latest lodging included taking the elevator up and down to the third floor, the lack of an in-room coffee maker for Wendy, an annoying locking mini-bar/fridge, and outrageously priced breakfast options. But the facility was clean and nice, and couldn’t help that each night some idiot on a very loud motorcycle kept zooming along the downtown streets, disturbing the peace.

Museum of International Folk Art

One day during our stay in Santa Fe, Wendy and I visited the Museum of International Folk Art, gaining free admission via the NARM badge on our Woolaroc museum pass; we are both members of that fine institution near Bartlesville.

We skipped the Girard Wing, which we’d toured back in 2014. We focused on a tramp art exhibition displaying art formed from small pieces of wood, often discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, whittled into layers of geometric shapes having the outside edges of each layer notch carved. This art form was popular from the 1870s to the 1940s.

They had wooden and metal wall pieces, intricately whittled chains and more, works of shells and peach seeds with little rhinestones, and various larger pieces of furniture. I was impressed by Charles Steijen’s crown of thorns frame with photographs of actresses from the London stage, carved in Rhode Island in the 1890s.

Celebration by Freeland Tanner

I watched parts of an interview with Freeland Tanner, who carved the intricate Celebration and Sabrina’s Gift in 2006.

Another temporary exhibit had flamenco costumes. Wendy and I had enjoyed the shows in Santa Fe by Entreflamenco in 2014 and 2015, so we recognized photos of Antonio Granjero and Estefania Ramirez. But what caught my eye was the energetic painting Vicente Romera at El Farol by Roland van Loon and the brooding photo on the cover of the old record album Antonio and his Spanish Dancers. Was it a young Antonio Banderas? Nope, it was Antonio Ruiz Soler, half of a dance duo which gained fame from 1928 to 1953.

Outside on Milner Plaza we revisited the Doris and Arnold Roland Sculpture Garden. Wendy liked Acceptance by Retha Walden Gambaro, who sculpted it as a self-portrait when she was 80. A year later, she sculpted Courage. Gambaro said she considered the “daily observation of spirituality in art forms” during her childhood in Arizona and Oklahoma to be her greatest education. She was born in 1917, with the doctor arriving by horseback, in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma, where Creek Indians had been “resettled” from the southeastern United States in the late 19th century. Her father eventually settled in Phoenix.

Standing Strong, with my Feet Rooted to Mother Earth by Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman

Wendy also photographed Standing Strong, with my Feet Rooted to Mother Earth by Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman. Whitman said of the materials in that work, “I used steel, stone and recycled materials.  I chose these because they represent us as Native women. The steel is tough, strong, resilient; the stone consists of all living beings from Mother Earth; and, the recycled materials are about resourcefulness and taking care of Mother Earth.”

Wendy put me on to a shot of Craig Dan Goseyun’s immense Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer sculpture, which dominates the plaza and is a favorite sculpture of mine. The dancer seemed to be looking out toward the moon visible in the clear blue sky.

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer and moon

Hike at Hyde Memorial Park Above Santa Fe

During our stay we drove east up into the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe for a hike. We’d hiked on the Aspen Vista trail back in 2015, and on the way to the trailhead had passed Hyde Memorial State Park. So I examined its online trail map and decided we might try a short trek up to a waterfall and back.

Hyde Park Trail Track

The weather was fairly warm in Santa Fe during our stay, and Wendy was leery of hiking in the heat. I figured it would be cooler up in the mountains, but it turned out it wasn’t that much cooler. Our hotel was about 7,200 feet above sea level, and our hike began at 8,386 feet and climbed fairly steadily to 8,880 feet.

Hyde Park was New Mexico’s first state park. It was named for Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde, whose family donated 350 acres to the state for the park in 1934. He was the grandson of the Babbitt of Babbitt’s soap. He and his brother financed Richard Wetherill‘s excavation of Pueblo Bonito. The park has a picnic area, campground, skating pond, and sledding area. The latter two features were not functional in the summer heat, for some reason.

There were already several cars at the Hyde Park Lodge trailhead when we pulled in at 9:15 a.m. after a breakfast downtown at Tia Sophia’s. Most of the hikers headed for the West Circle Trail, which is more difficult, gaining 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of a mile. Our hike would only gain about 500 feet, but up at that altitude, that was enough for us Bartians; we live around 700 feet above sea level.

Hyde Park Trail

There was a nice map at the trailhead and the trail climbed immediately up the hillside and kept on doing so. A trio of young ladies were on the trail as well, reaching the waterfall ahead of us.  We passed shelters built into the hillside below us, eventually reaching the waterfall trail fork.

That trail climbed more steeply and was quite rocky in places as it wound its way up the mountain along a small mountain stream. We passed a rocky extrusion of pink granite, which allowed the sky to open up a bit amidst the forest. Insects swarmed around the water in the trail here and there.

We finally reached the waterfall, which was a thin flow down a rocky bluff.

Thin waterfall

Both of us were tired and hot and ready to turn back. We retraced our steps, now heading almost always downhill. When we made a pit stop at a toilet below the trail fork, I noticed flowers growing along the banked terraces and was glad to see bees buzzing about them. I’d imagine that on this hike Wendy found a few rocks to add to her collection in our hotel room.

Busy bee

So we managed to get a few short hikes in our vacation despite the heat. I’m eagerly looking forward to autumn, hoping that my new job will allow me to devote more time to hiking on the weekends when my favorite season arrives.

Home via Amarillo

After five nights in Santa Fe, we headed back along I-40 to home. Back in Amarillo, we made our usual stop for burgers at Blue Sky before spending the night. The next morning, we gave Calico County another try. Thankfully our breakfast there was much better than the dinner we’d endured earlier in the trip.

This time we did not stop in Groom, Texas for a break from driving, but I was glad to see the silly leaning water tower near there featured in a tile mosaic at a Texas rest stop.

66 tile mosaic near Amarillo

We again visited my parents in Oklahoma City and spent a night in my hometown before finally returning to Bartlesville, 14 days after setting out on our adventure. I doubt we’ll take any vacations that long for years to come, given my new administrative calendar. But we hope to take some shorter trips, both on our own and with the Hendersons, in the future. Life was meant for good friends and great adventures!


A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & the Ice Cave

Collection of all photos from this summer vacation

Posted in art, day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & The Ice Cave


On Day 7 of our Grand Adventure we traveled to Santa Fe with long stops to hike at El Morro and to explore the Bandera volcano and its ice cave.

After the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2017, I was approached by Barbara Davidson, who taught at Bartlesville High for many years and now is a valued substitute teacher. Knowing we were headed to the Grand Canyon, she recommended we visit the Land of Fire & Ice, a volcano and ice cave in New Mexico. So in our hotel room in Gallup I checked the route to the attraction and noticed that if we drove south on Highway 602 out of Gallup into the Zuni Reservation, we could divert east on 53 to visit the El Morro National Monument before we got to the volcano. I’d never heard of El Morro, but noted it had a hiking trail, something which appealed to me greatly. So after breakfast at the hotel I led our two-car caravan there.

Day 7 Trip Map

El Morro

El Morro is Spanish for “the headland” and denotes a cuesta (a long rock formation that slopes gently upward and then drops off abruptly) situated along a main east-west trail in what is now west central New Mexico. It is known for having over 2,000 inscriptions along its base made over the centuries by Native Americans, Spanish colonials, and Americans. I wonder how long it takes for graffiti to transform from vandalism into historical artifacts?

El Morro

The Zuni indians have lived in the area for 3,000-4,000 years. Back in 1275 they established the Atsinna pueblo atop El Morro. Atsinna means “place of writings on the rock”, so there were already petroglyphs along the steep outer walls of the cuesta by then. For about 75 years between 1,000 and 1,500 people lived atop the cuesta before the settlement was abandoned.

The Most Famous Inscription

Onate’s inscription

The first European to carve his name on the rock was Don Juan de Oñate in 1605, writing, “There passed this way the Adelantado (conqueror) Don Juan de Oñate from the discovering of the South Sea on the 16th of April 1605.” He had led several expeditions across the southwest, confirming that the region we now know as New Mexico lacked precious metals but could sustain colonists willing to work the land. No doubt he stopped at El Morro because of the pool of water which collects at its base.

You may wonder about the color of the inscription. In the 1920s the first superintendent of the monument went over some of the inscriptions with a hard pencil in an attempt to preserve them, since the soft sandstone deteriorates over time. These days the conservation efforts are less intrusive.

Oñate’s stop at El Morro was six years after he had ordered the Acoma pueblo destroyed in retaliation for the deaths of a party of 12 Spanish soldiers. Hundreds of natives, including women and children, perished in the massacre, and it wasn’t long after visiting El Morro that he was finally held accountable. In 1606 he was recalled to Mexico City as he was laying out the plan for Santa Fe. Oñate was tried and convicted for his cruelty towards the natives and was banished from New Mexico and Mexico City. He eventually returned to Spain to live out the remainder of his life, dying there in 1626 at age 76.

The Inscription Trail

We arrived at the monument around 11:30. After using the facilities and exploring the gift shop, we registered at the desk for the hike, receiving a laminated book on the carvings to be found all around the headland.

Our demanding work schedules led to Wendy and I only going on a few hikes since November 2016. I blame that for my forgetting to activate my iPhone’s MotionX GPS tracking app for the hike. Later I reconstructed the hike by hand in Google Earth.

El Morro Trail Track

Some ladies ahead of us on the paved trail made much of the possibility of sunning snakes, but we never saw any. The vertical cliffs above us had interesting darker patches hanging onto the cliff face.

Pool at El Morro

We soon reached the pool at the base of the headland, filled with water from runoff and snowmelt. Originally there was a basin hollowed out by water cascading from above. The first caretaker of the monument deepened and dammed the pool in the 1920s. A rockfall destroyed that dam in 1942, and a new one was constructed.

Some of the inscriptions overlapped each other, with a mix of petroglyphs and modern writing. A particularly beautiful one was by E. Pen Long, a member of the U.S. Army from Baltimore who was a member of the Beale caravan of 1857-1859. Reportedly he had the use of tools for carving gravestones, allowing him to sculpt fine details in the soft sandstone. Lt. Edward F. Beale′s group was experimenting with using camels as Army animals in the southwest. Beale’s group included 25 packs camels, part of the Camel Corps, and he was quite impressed by their endurance and packing abilities. The Civil War interfered with the project, and it was abandoned. Unfortunately that didn’t prevent me from seeing the regrettable comedy film based on this project, Hawmps!, back in 1976. I’d already suffered through The Apple Dumpling Gang a year earlier, and am thankful that I remember little of either film over 40 years later. If I have to watch a comedy western, please make it Blazing Saddles.

E. Pen Long’s inscription at El Morro

Speaking of humor, some of the inscriptions are funny. One translates as, “The 14th day of July 1736 the General Juan Paez Hurtado, Inspector, passed by here.” Right below this was added, “And in his company, Corporal Joseph Trujillo.” I’ll wager the General had his back turned. You can see many more images and descriptions of the inscriptions in a blog post by Wayne Chatfield.

Graffiti at the tip of the headland

Wendy’s vertical panorama

As we rounded the tip of the cuesta, there were many inscriptions both high and low, including some that were boxed. Ones ending in U.P.R. were carved by a Union Pacific Railroad survey crew that came by in 1868. That project wasn’t carried through, since the Santa Fe Railroad went through 25 miles north of El Morro, ending its place as a stopover on the route west. Otherwise, El Morro might today be adjacent to I-40 and would no doubt have even more graffiti.

Wendy took a neat vertical panorama shot of the tip of the monument with her iPhone, with the sun glaring down. That illustrated how it was getting pretty warm, and both John and Wendy decided they would prefer not to continue the hike up to the top of the cuesta to view the pueblo ruins. So they took a side trail back to the visitor center while Betty and I forged onward.

The Mesa Top Trail

We passed a nearly vertical smooth face of the monument, unmarred by old graffiti. Up near the top edge of the cuesta we could see a huge slab of rock that would someday separate and fall.

Cavelike openings

Cavelike openings in the side of the wall are formed when rain atop the mesa enters cracks in the rock, runs down the joints, and comes out of small openings on the side. The seeping water and freeze/thaw cycles weaken the sandstone and forms large holes. The sandstone in this area is only sand grains held together by kaolinite clay, since it was never buried deep enough for pressure to fuse the grains into more solid rock.

A slab about ready to go

We rounded the point where the huge slab of rock will someday collapse and the trail began climbing to the top of the mesa in a series of switchbacks. Up top we had a panoramic view of the broad flatland separating El Morro from another mesa, with the highway running between them.

Eroded flatland around El Morro

The flatland was formed when water gradually wore away the softer rocks of the Chinle formation, with the harder sandstones of El Morro and the other mesa resisting the erosion. More than ten thousand feet of sedimentary rocks have been removed over the last few million years to form this landscape, which was under the water of an ancient ocean about 100 million years ago. 40 million years before that, the sand that makes up El Morro was accumulating on a broad desert-like plain.

This geologic history explains the color variation in the layers of El Morro. The dark upper layers are ocean sands, while the light colors below that are from earlier stream and dune sands of the desert period. The valley floor also has a veneer of volcanic basalt that was laid down 100,000 years ago. To the east is the Chain of Craters area of El Malpais National Monument, including the volcano we’d soon be visiting. The most recent eruptions there date back 3,000 years.

Box Canyon at El Morro

Up top we could see how El Morro is a hollowed out headland, with a box canyon eroded behind that. The trail ran along the top of the remaining headland around the box canyon to eventually reach the excavated pueblo ruins atop the far side of the cuesta, although there were unexcavated ruins on the near side as well.

Pillar in the box canyon

A huge pillar of uneroded stone remained near the center of the box canyon. We walked along the rim, following a marked line across the stone. Tilted shrubby trees grew up top, and we crossed the long joints in the top which erode to create the cuesta’s sharp vertical headland. To our left was a panoramic view of the countryside.

Pueblo indians enlarged potholes on the top of the mesa to capture rainwater, in addition to relying on the pool at the base of the cuesta. Parts of the trail ran along the joints in the rock. I had Betty pose in one joint and at a saddle connecting the two halves of the headland.

Betty at the saddle of the trail

Kaolinite layer hoodoo

We passed by the end of the box canyon, with its flat floor displayed below. The top of the formation had a white layer that had eroded in one spot into a hoodoo. The park service has carved steps and stairways into this layer in various locations, making the trail more accessible and fun. The white layer was its own trail marker, leading us over to the Atsinna ruin. Betty gamefully tagged along behind me as I eagerly scrambled over the rock face.

Steps carved into the kaolinite layer

As we approached the excavated ruins, we could see the line of white stone behind us. This white layer is bleached Zuni Sandstone, formed when active erosion and weathering over 50 million years attacked green clay minerals and feldspar, altering them to white kaolinite clay. Iron dissolved and percolated to form dark crusts and bands lower down. The removal of the iron and alteration of the green clay produced the white bleached zone. Kaolinite is used in many products, including paper, toothpaste, light bulbs, cosmetics, and the old formulation of Kaopectate I grew up with. I will never forget its chalky taste.

We finally reached the ruin of the Atsinna pueblo. The entire pueblo, mostly unexcavated, is about 200 by 300 hundred feet long and parts of it probably were three stories high along the north side. The pueblo was terraced down to the south, providing a southern exposure. In 1954 twelve of the rooms and both a round and a square kiva were excavated by Richard B. Woodbury and a Zuni work crew. The entire pueblo probably had more than 800 rooms.

The excavated part of the Atsinna Pueblo

Today’s hikers are actually walking on the second level of the pueblo, about ten feet above the original ground level. The ground level was filled with debris from the collapse of the upper stories after the settlement was abandoned.

It is speculated that crop failures may have led to that decision, since the people seem to have moved west and founded Zuni villages known in historic times. There, around the present Zuni pueblo, the growing season is longer and irrigation can be practiced.

The pueblo had a commanding view of the lands to the east. We could see the Visitor Center below, where Wendy and John were patiently awaiting our return.

View from Atsinna Pueblo

A conquistador’s pareidolia profile atop El Morro

We followed the trail down the side of the cuesta. Pareidolia, our mental habit of seeing faces in nature, had me seeing the profile of a heavily beaded conquistador at the right edge of a formation atop the hillside above us.

Wendy and John were relaxing on the porch at the Visitor Center, having visited with the ranger and conversed with each other while Betty and I sweated our way across the top of the cuesta. I had water while hiking on the trail and at the visitor center, but I was yearning for a cool soft drink, which the monument did not offer. So I was glad the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano tourist attraction was only a 25-minute drive to the east, as I knew they offered snacks at their trading post. We left El Morro at 2:30 pm.

Ice Cave & Bandera Volcano

Back in the 1930s a trading post was built here with a saloon and dance hall. They mined ice from the ice cave to cool the beer! In 1946, Dave and Reddy Candelaria began operations as a tourist attraction, halting mining of the ice.

While the others in our party explored the artifacts, rocks, pottery, and so forth in the trading post, I found the soft drinks at the rear and enjoyed a cool and freshing can of Coca-Cola. We paid to hike the trails and opted to do the crater trail first. That way we could recuperate from a warm hike up into the crater of the volcano by visiting the cold ice cave.

Trails at Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave

The crater was northwest of the trading post. The trail went past a spatter cone. When a surge of hot air rushing through lava forms surface tubes and minor vents, it splashes out when the air breaks through to the surface, forming this sort of blow hole.

Climbing the side of the cinder cone

Soon we were slowly circling and climbing the side of the cinder cone. John commented on how the benches all along the trail were always placed in full sun, making them less than desirable on a hot sunny day like we were having.

Eventually we rounded to where we could see where the side of the crater had blown out. The trail led on past jagged lava formations, and the ladies briefly sheltered in a trailside lava overhang.

Leaching lava

Beside the trail we could see colors from various elements leaching from the lava. White areas were calcium, yellow were sodium and sulfur, and red was iron.

The El Malpais region has 29 volcanoes, and Bandera is the largest. Its cinder cone developed 10,000 years ago. Then a massive lava flow broke out on one side and extended 23 miles across the landscape. The extinct crater is about 1,400 feet wide at the top and about 800 feet deep.

Bandera Crater

Panning for gemstones

We made our way back to the trading post to enjoy its restroom and some cool drinks. Before setting out to see the ice cave, Betty bought a couple bags of dirt spiked with gemstones, arrowheads, and more. She and John have expertise in panning for gold, and Betty showed Wendy how to pan for the gems using a the large sluice set up beside the trading post. John and I sat in the shade nearby and chuckled as Wendy delightedly panned for her rocks.

Then we took the shorter trail south to the ice cave. A long wooden stairway led down into the cave, which was in part of the Bandera lava tube. When molten lava pours out of a volcano, the porous lava is a great insulator, so the surface hardens while a pipeline of lava flows beneath. The Bandera tube is 17.5 miles long, and most of it has collapsed. I had a memorable adventure back in 2009 hiking over a mile through an intact lava tube at the Newberry monument in Oregon.

The Ice Cave

The cave temperature never rises above 31 degrees Fahrenheit because it contains a 20 foot thick well of ice that has accumulated in a well insulated cave shaped so that the frigid air is trapped. The Pueblo indians knew this as Winter Lake and mined the ice. The thick ice is green with algae and its deepest layer dates back 3,400 years. Mining of ice before 1946 left an ice wall against the back of the cave that reached 12 feet high, but since then the floor has risen as ice accumulated, the rate varying with annual rainfall.

After hours up in the sun, we all loved the cold air down above the ice. We could feel a dramatic shift in temperature as we descended below the overhanging cave mouth. It was startling to see icicles hanging from the lava given the hot day above us. I got a shot of little domes of ice formed by water drips.

Onward to Santa Fe

It had been quite a day, but we had missed lunch and were hungry. So at 5 p.m. we set course to find dinner on I-40. I wanted something filling, so we ended up at the Pizza Hut in Grants. The train track was nearby, and when one of the many trains we had seen throughout the trip rumbled toward us, Wendy whimsically gestured for the engineer to blow the horn. She was overjoyed when he obliged.

Our party arrived at the Hotel Santa Fe at 9 p.m. Wendy had fun arranging the petrified wood she had purchased, along with the gemstones and arrowheads she had panned, in one corner of a countertop in our room. Kion guarded her treasures.

Kion guarding Wendy’s treasures

The next day would be the last day of our vacation shared with the Hendersons, as they would be heading home in the afternoon while Wendy and I stayed on for a few days in Santa Fe.


A Grand Adventure, Conclusion: Santa Fe >

A Grand Adventure, Day 6: Winslow & Holbrook

Posted in day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Day 6: Winslow & Holbrook


After breakfast on Day 6, it was time to begin the homeward journey. We still had new sites to see in the days to come, including a hike at a monument we had never visited, a volcano and ice cave, and a visit to Santa Fe. But Day 6 was focused on rocks for the ladies.

Both Wendy and Betty love stones, including petrified wood. We had whetted their appetites with our visit to the north end of the Petrified Forest a few days earlier. It was time to take them to Holbrook, Arizona near the south end of the Petrified Forest. That town has several rock shops that boast ample amounts of legally acquired petrified wood from the region outside of the national park.

Day 6 Trip Map

Taking it easy in Winslow, Arizona

So we headed south on Highway 64 and then east on Interstate 40, back through the south end of Flagstaff toward Holbrook. That was a 172 mile, 2.5 hour drive. So we made a couple of pit stops, including my decision to pull off at Winslow, Arizona. I was influenced by a song by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey:

Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.

I was fortunate to see Glenn Frey perform Take It Easy with the Eagles in Tulsa’s BOK Center back in 2013, thanks to board of education member Rick Boswell, whose family generously invited me to join them at that stop on the History of the Eagles tour. The song was the group’s first single back in 1972. Little did the Boswells and I know in 2013 that we would lose Glenn Frey in January 2016 due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis.

Back in 1999, Winslow built Standin’ on the Corner Park on a street corner, with a mural and a statue of a young man with a guitar. That was enough to get me to drive the historic Route 66 through downtown, which was bypassed by I-40 in the late 1970s.

Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona

There was a crowd of people taking photos on the street corner, with Take It Easy playing on a speaker. I didn’t want to stop and fight the crowd for a picture, but was able to capture a shot of a new statue leaning on a nearby lamppost…one of Glenn Frey which was erected in June 2016. Take it easy, Glenn.

The Hendersons were separated from us in the traffic in downtown Winslow. It took awhile for us to rendezvous, and  I took the opportunity to look at La Posada, the last of the great railroad Harvey Hotels. It was built in 1929 as the final link in a chain of hotels for the southwest tourist trade. Architect Mary Colter considered it her finest work.

The Great Depression and the end of the passenger train era doomed La Posada, and it closed by the end of the 1950s. The railroad auctioned off its furnishings, which Colter had hand-picked, in 1959. By then she was 89 and sorely disappointed, saying, “There’s such a thing as living too long.”

The railroad hid the building’s interior beauty, partitioning it into office space. It eventually tried to get rid of the property by offering it to the city for $1 in 1992, but the city declined. Local residents Marie La Mar and Janice Griffin applied for and received a $350,000 federal grant to save the building. When asked how they expected to raise the required matching funds, they replied, “By the grace of God and the spirit of Mary Colter.”

College student Allen Affeldt answered the call, securing seed money from a backer to provide the $150,000 match required for the grant. Affeldt, his wife, her brother, and a college friend moved into the hotel and began to restore it. Years of work have brought La Posada back to life: “The gardens are back, guest rooms are open, and fireplaces, faux-adobe walls, arched ceilings, and period furnishings await the visitor.”

La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ

Wendy posed by the charming entry to the grounds. The pastel front facade is beautiful, with a lovely desert garden out front, complete with braying donkey. The cool interior looks great, too, with much attention to detail.

Artwork is featured in multiple public rooms, with many intriguing works by Tina Mion. I was struck by the often humorous political content in her Ladies First series of paintings of the wives of U.S. Presidents; this was art with a message. Her The Ace of Clubs painting of Mary Todd Lincoln was quite striking, with its slot machine imagery regarding that troubled soul.

Mary Todd Lincoln painting by Tina Mion

Holbrook Rock Shops

Dinosaurs in Holbrook

It was too soon after breakfast to stay for lunch, so we left La Posada and headed east to Holbrook, where we had lunch at Tom & Suzie’s Diner. My initial plan after lunch was to let the ladies scrounge through the rocks at the Rainbow Rock Shop while John and I enjoyed the silly dinosaurs outside.

Sadly, the dinosaurs were there, but owner Adam Luna was not. John inquired at a western wear store on the corner, and reported back that the rock shop had reportedly been closed for months. We did not despair, since just down the road was a large and professional operation, Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company.

Jim and Cathy Gray started the Petrified Wood Company more than 48 years ago. They own the mineral rights to several sections of land near the Petrified Forest National Park. They do their own digging, cutting and polishing, creating full rounds, tabletops and bookends, and more. Their family-run huge store is packed with beautiful stones of all types, with quite reasonable prices.

Wendy and Betty had a blast, scouring the comfortable air-conditioned store before venturing outside to spend a long time in the hot sun trawling through hot piles of unpolished rough cut petrified stone, priced at two dollars per pound. John and I moseyed around inside the cool store, and he mentioned enjoying watching a fellow have a huge petrified stone loaded into a pickup, with what appeared to be his wife nearby. She was watching the operation with an expression that told its own story. Fortunately for John and me, Betty and Wendy selected small stones as their acquisitions.

Through the Petrified Forest

Crystal City rocks

It was a few miles eastward on Highway 180 to the south entry to Petrified Forest National Park. We had only covered its northern tip in our earlier visit, so now we would drive all of the way through the park to see more of the landscape. We stopped at the Crystal Forest Museum & Gifts just outside the park, not to shop, but to pose by their pyramidal display of stones and crystals.

We had spent a long time at the rock shop, and it was getting quite warm, so we did not stop to walk around sites in the Petrified Forest, but dallied along the drive through park, snapping photos of the varied terrain.

Driving through a weird eroded terrain

Mounded ash layers and eroded ash sediments formed banded hills of grays and blacks and browns, sculpted by time.

Eroded layers in the Petrified Forest

Out by I-40 we saw a 1932 Studebaker shell placed where historic Route 66 once ran through the park. The Mother Road was decommissioned in 1985. It was superseded by I-55, I-44, and I-40, and over in California by portions of I-15, I-210, and I-10. I like to think it took six interstates to replace that one two-lane road from Chicago to Los Angeles, which was dreamed up in the 1920s by Tulsa’s Cyrus Avery.

1932 Studebaker on the remains of The Mother Road

We made our way back onto I-40 to resume our eastward trek. Wendy captured a shot of one of the trains passing through the landscape as we drove onward across the state line into New Mexico. We stopped in Gallup for dinner at The Cracker Barrel and spent the night at the Best Western Plus Gallup Inn & Suites. The next day we would make our way to Santa Fe, stopping along the way to visit El Morro and a volcano with an ice cave.


A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & the Ice Cave >

A Grand Adventure, Day 5: To Desert View & Marble Canyon

Posted in art, photos, travel, video | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Day 5: To Desert View & Marble Canyon


We managed to get on the road earlier on Day 5, heading out at 8:30 a.m. to re-enter the park and head east on Desert View Drive for a series of viewpoints strung along the 20 miles between the visitor center and the Desert View Watchtower at the southeastern edge of the Grand Canyon. After that we drove 100 miles to Navajo Bridge across Marble Canyon.

Day 5

There were relatively few tourists at the first four viewpoints, although we had crowds when we arrived at Desert View around lunchtime. Two short video clips Wendy shot at Mather Point on Monday afternoon and at Lipan Point on Tuesday morning show the difference. I slowed the clips down, so if you turn up the volume, you’ll hear what sounds like a wailing man, but it was actually just a crying baby!

Desert View Drive

Grandview Point

John at Grandview Point

Grandview Point, the southernmost view on the South Rim, offered a tremendous view of Horseshoe Mesa below us. That is where Pete Berry operated the Last Chance Mine from 1893-1907, extracting copper ore which was hauled by teams of mules up to the Grandview Point. It was one of the few profitable mines in the area. There is still a trail leading down to the mine, which relies upon log cribbing and other tricks to shorten the trek. The view to the west was also tremendous, and I took snapshots of John and Betty with that background. Grandview gets more rainfall than the other viewpoints, so there were actually some flowers here, which Wendy captured with her lens.

View eastward from Moran Point

Moran Point was next. I presumed it was named after Thomas Moran, whose spectacular landscapes are among my favorite paintings. But it is probably named for his brother, Peter, who traveled to the South Rim in 1881. There were quite different views to the east and west from this viewpoint. Since I am pulling together photos from four different cameras for this post (my Canon EOS Rebel T6, Canon PowerShot SX700 HS, and both Wendy’s and my iPhone 6 cameras), which were not time-synchronized, I sometimes have to look up a location online for verification. That led me to a beautiful daybreak photo Adam Schaullau captured at Moran Point. I don’t pretend to have the patience or skill for such a shot, but I certainly can admire it.

Kiva at Tusayan Ruins

The Tusayan Pueblo Ruins were next, on the opposite side of Desert View drive from the viewpoints. These were used for about 20 years, starting around 1185, and are one of the 4,300 archeological sites in the park. The bases of the walls are stabilized in place, and there are traces of a large kiva at the site. The little museum dates back to 1928 and is an interpretation of a Hopi structure. The ancestors of the Hopis who occupied this and similar sites were once referred to as Anasazi, a Navajo term for “ancient enemies”, which offends contemporary pueblo dwellers. So the term “ancestral puebloans” is now used.

The Colorado from Lipan Point, including Hance Rapid

Lipan Point was our next stop for viewing, which had a good view of the Colorado River to the west, including Hance Rapid, where the river falls three stories and side stream boulders make it a challenge for those running the river. There were also good views to the east of the Colorado, and sharp-eyed John spotted a boat going down the Colorado far below.

Desert View Watchtower

At Navajo Point, which also had beautiful views of the canyon, we could see the Desert View Watchtower visible on the rim to the right. The Watchtower was our last stop in the park, just in time for lunch. Mary Colter’s tower has intricately designed stonework, which was left rough to blend better with the landscape. Here is an interesting example of her demanding attention to detail:

At one point she had to leave for a day and the workmen continued to put on stone, completing two layers. When she returned, she was not satisfied with one stone on the newly laid layers, and the men had to take the whole thing down and re-do it to her exacting specifications.

The crowds were back with us, with so many people in the tower that I only made it to the second level to view some of the paintings on the walls by Fred Kabotie. There were so many people on the narrow stairs that I did not care to climb higher.

Hopi life mural by Fred Kabotie with a young tourist gazing upward at more of his work above

Wendy pointed out the Reflectoscopes, black mirrors mounted beside some of the windows. Back around the start of the 19th century, landscape painters would use similar devices of black onyx to condense and simplify the views they were sketching. Much like the filters used in Photoshop, the devices could emphasize the colors and lines in a view.

Back outside, Wendy spotted a lizard as we made our way over to the Desert View General Store for a lunch of Indian tacos. Ready to leave the crowds behind, we set out on a 100-minute drive to Navajo Bridge across Marble Canyon.

Gorge of the Little Colorado

We exited the park on Highway 64 and soon reached the Gorge of the Little Colorado River. It drains the Painted Desert and most of it is a dry braided wash which only has water after heavy snowmelt or a flash flood. The lower 57 miles are the Little Colorado River Gorge, which reaches a depth of 3,000 feet by the time it joins the Colorado River near Desert View.

The Navajo Nation had a scenic pull-out for the gorge, and we discovered it was a short hike to get a good view of it. While Wendy and Betty examined trailside rocks, John and I forged ahead for the view. We saw a dry wash at the bottom of the steep walls of the gorge.

Gorge of the Little Colorado

The Powell Geographic Expedition, on August 10, 1869, was one of the first American parties to sight the Little Colorado River. Two members of the party were singularly unimpressed:

It is a lo[a]thesome little stream, so filthy and muddy that it fairly stinks. It is only 30 to 50 [yards] wide now and in many places a man can cross it on the rocks without going on to his knees … [The Little Colorado was] as disgusting a stream as there is on the continent … half of its volume and 2/3 of its weight is mud and silt. [It was little but] slime and salt … a miserably lonely place indeed, with no signs of life but lizards, bats and scorpions. It seemed like the first gates of hell. One almost expected to see Cerberus poke his ugly head out of some dismal hole and growl his disapproval of all who had not Charon’s pass.

-George Bradley & Jack Sumner, August 1869

It turned out they were seeing the effects of a rare flash flood. When and where it flows, the river is normally a bright blue color caused by dissolved travertine and limestone in the water. The main Colorado River is green these days instead of reddish-brown, something we’d noticed from the various overlooks. This is because the Glen Canyon Dam above Marble Canyon traps sediment.

Landscape near Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon is north of the Grand Canyon, being the segment of the Colorado River that lies between Lee’s Ferry and where the Colorado joins the Little Colorado. We were headed to the Navajo Bridge over the canyon.

Volcanic layers on the way north

Wendy was fascinated by the varied landscape as we traveled north on Highway 89. Contrasting gray layers of ash told of a volcanic past that varied over time.  Higher up were brown and red layers of more recent times, giving way to still lighter tones. Small settlements were dwarfed by the background rocks.

Navajo Bridge

The two spans of Navajo Bridge

The newer spandrel span

We finally reached the dual Navajo Bridge. The older of the two steel spandrel spans is to the left in the photo and north of the later span. The old bridge was built from 1927-1929, is a 834 feet long, but only 18 feet wide. It was finally replaced by a new span built from 1993-1995, which is 44 feet wide. The old span is still open for pedestrian use. Both spans are about 470 feet above the Colorado River.

Beautiful organic architecture of the Navajo Bridge Visitor Center

I was fascinated by the visitor center, which beautifully integrates with the landscape. It is an extension of the 1930s Wayside Observation Shelter which was built in the rustic southwestern style by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Colorado from Navajo Bridge

We walked out on the old bridge to look down at the Colorado. I was struck by how narrow the bridge was, and glad we had crossed on the much wider span to the south. The cliffs west of the bridge were quite beautiful in a formidable way.

Cliffs west of Navajo Bridge

Just four miles north of the bridge was Lee’s Ferry. We turned off the highway and ventured up to the crossing.

Lee’s Ferry

Lee’s Ferry provided boat service across the Colorado for sixty years. John Lee, a Mormon who had participated in the Mountain Meadows massacre, established the service in 1873 to serve Morman settlers traveling from Utah to Arizona. He only ran it for four years before he was executed for his role in the massacre 20 years earlier. The Morman church bought the ferry in 1879, and it continued to operate under different polygamist managers until the Navajo Bridge was completed in 1929.

Lee’s Ferry

We did not find any historic signage or buildings at the ferry crossing, just the spot where some rafts are put into the river. The slope across the river was Lee’s Backbone, a dangerous incline wagons once traveled to climb up the south side of the valley. We missed the turn leading to the Lonely Dell Ranch where Lee lived, which does have structures from the time he and others ran the operation.  The area could certainly use some more prominent signage and should offer maps and brochures at the pay station.

There were large roadside hoodoos in the park and vicinity. Wendy scrambled out to pose beneath one to provide scale.

Wendy is dwarfed by a hoodoo

We drove a bit west on highway 89A past Navajo Bridge, the route to the Grand Canyon’s less visited North Rim, to see the Vermilion Cliffs. But it was growing late, so after a quick look at one stretch of the cliffs we turned back to return to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Some of the Vermilion Cliffs

Cameron Trading Post

Cameron Trading Post

On the return trip we stopped at the Cameron Trading Post where highway 89 crosses the Little Colorado. This large facility was busting with tourist trinkets and had a large dining room and hotel area. There really isn’t much else for tourists along the route, so the trading post was busy.

Traders Hubert and C.D. Richardson opened the post in 1916 after a suspension bridge was built nearby. Early visitors were mainly Navajo and Hopi Indians who bartered hand-made goods for food staples.

We weren’t ready to eat, so we returned to Tusayan and ate at We Cook Pizza & Pasta. We turned in, knowing that the next day would begin our return eastward, including a stop in Holbrook, Arizona for the ladies to purchase petrified rocks before we headed north through the Petrified Forest.


A Grand Adventure, Day 6: Winslow & Holbrook >

< A Grand Adventure, Day 4: The South Rim

Posted in photos, travel, video | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Day 4: The South Rim


Most of our party slept in the next day to recover from two long travel days, although John was up early. We had breakfast in the same Canyon Room restaurant we had dined in the previous evening. Then all four of us hopped into my car. We knew parking was limited at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so carpooling made sense, and that also meant we only needed to buy one car pass into the national park.

Our first stop, however, was the National Geographic Imax theater. I remembered the exciting and well-made Imax film on the canyon which I’d seen there with my father back in 1991. It turned out they are still showing that same film to this day, even though it was shot back in 1984, when I was just graduating from high school.

I was playing tour guide since I’d been to the canyon long ago. I decided we should park the car at the visitor center at Mather Point and then ride shuttle buses to other points on the rim to the west. That way we could take shelter from the wind in the old lodges at Grand Canyon Village.

We parked in one of several lots at Mather Point and grabbed a lunch of cold sandwiches. It was an uncomfortably windy outdoor meal, with cool and strong gusts from the north. So we were wearing jackets, and I had my Tilley hat strapped down when we got our first look at the canyon. We had to walk over towards Mather Point, whereas I remembered it being right off the road. The Park Service reworked the area back in 2010.

Panorama from near Mather Point

The view was, of course, quite stunning. I remember feeling disoriented upon my first view of the canyon with my father back in 1991, and Wendy had a similar experience upon her first sight of it. She felt dizzy as her mind struggled to interpret the immense chasm, with the North Rim 10 miles away and the canyon bottom a mile below us. The view was literally vertiginous. We exchanged taking couples photographs to celebrate our arrival.

It was a Monday afternoon, but the South Rim was busy. There were loads of tourists like us, of various nationalities, all along the rails at Mather Point and points beyond. We made our way out to the point, where Little Kion joined in the fun, trying to act big.

Mather Point is now the first view of the canyon for most tourists, and it is fittingly named after Stephen Mather. He was the energetic first director of the Park Service in the early 20th century. He was bipolar, so his manic efforts on behalf of the parks were often followed by nervous breakdowns, but he accomplished much, and he was one of the main advocates for establishing a Grand Canyon National Park.

View from Mather Point

Bright Angel Trail photo by Michael Quinn

I could see the Isis Temple prominence poking up from the North Rim five miles away, with the line of a trail visible across one of the mesas on our side of the canyon. The Park Service photograph at right by Michael Quinn shows the many switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail, which leads down to the canyon bottom.

The Temple of Isis formation

We boarded a shuttle which took us to the Yavapai Geology Museum. This small facility was built in 1928 and rededicated in 2007 after a renovation. It had a large topographic relief map and a rock layer display. We scanned them, but I think John had the right idea: sit down and enjoy the view. The Temple of Isis was directly across the canyon from there. Our couples again took snapshots of each other outside, and Wendy posed near the rim for me.

Wendy on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Cave at the canyon

We had all noticed a large cave-like opening in the side of one ridge, and my superzoom camera provided a better look at it. 335 of the estimated 1,000 caves in the canyon have been recorded, but only one can be toured.

John is quite observant. His sharp eyes spied a bridge across the Colorado far below. I used my superzoom on that as well. It is a 440 foot span that carries hikers and mules 70 feet above the river to Phantom Ranch.

Another shuttle bus ride took us to Grand Canyon Village, where there are several lodges. I’d checked on rooms there many months back, but they were all booked up, and the crowds along the rim and in the lodge lobbies made me glad we stayed at the Best Western in Tusayan.

El Tovar Hotel

We climbed up from the train depot to visit the lobby and gift shop at the El Tovar Lodge, which was designed by Charles Whittlesey for the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe and opened back in 1905. It has a rather dark lobby, and its exterior was designed as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian Villa in a mishmash of styles in the manner popular in that era. I much prefer the more cohesive rustic style of Mary Colter‘s Bright Angel Lodge of 1935. Both hotels were Harvey Houses, with the Bright Angel created as a less expensive alternative to El Tovar.

Colter designed many structures along the South Rim, including the Hopi House, which opened in 1905 adjacent to the El Tovar as a gift shop of Native American items, and it still serves that function. It has a striking exterior with its varied windows and intricately stacked stones. The interior is so crowded with tourists and wares that one struggles to make out its architectural details.

Hopi House

Along the rim we could see a prominence on our side of the canyon somewhat like the Isis Temple. Below it we could see the Bright Angel Trail following Garden Creek to a grove of trees which mark the Indian Garden campground. John’s sharp eyes picked out buildings down there, confirmed by my superzoom camera. There is a trail leading out across the top of the mesa that dead-ends at the canyon drop; that is a side trail from Bright Angel to Plateau Point and takes hours to hike. From the rim it is difficult to gauge the distances below.

To the right of the prominence the Bright Angel Trail goes through Indian Gardens; a prominent trail above that in the photo goes to Plateau Point

Another view from Grand Canyon Village; this is why the lodges are positioned here

We walked along the Rim Trail for the beautiful views at Grand Canyon Village. The desert air was drying us out, and the water we carried was now warm, so we hoped to find some cool refreshments. Verkamp’s Curios Store from 1905 was still selling items, but not refreshments. So I led us back west along the Rim Trail, knowing that Bright Angel Lodge would surely offer something.

We passed the back side of the El Tovar, which had a bunch of plants growing in protective cages. Farther along the rim we could see Colter’s Lookout Studio perched atop its mountain of rock. I could see tourists on its various levels gazing out into the canyon.

Lookout Studio

We passed the uninspiring Kachina and Thunderbird lodges of the 1960s and, sure enough, found an ice cream stand at the Bright Angel Lodge. After that treat, we toured the Harvey House room in the lodge, which I remembered from my 1991 visit with my father.

Outside, we located the Bright Angel Trailhead where hikers and mules make the hours-long trek to the bottom of the canyon. John goes on trail rides with his own mule, but none of us had wanted to book a mule ride down into the canyon. After one last look out at the canyon, we were ready to call it a day.

A parting shot for the day

We took the shuttle back to the car and had dinner at the Big E Steakhouse in Tusayan. They had a neat slideshow running on the stage, but I suggest you avoid their mushroom & cream cheese wontons. Our servers kept forgetting to bring them and, when they finally did, I wish they hadn’t. But we enjoyed our steaks.

Wendy and I returned to our hotel room to discover we had been left only decorative pillows on the bed, and none of the ones for sleeping. I notified the front desk, and a bellboy delivered some to us. But Wendy noticed they felt damp and one had the odor of someone’s bottom. We made do with the three that were least objectionable, and the next morning she wrote a note to the housekeeper about the problem in both English and Spanish. I included the usual nice tip with it, grateful that my wife knows some Spanish, whereas I only retain a tiny bit of Latin, which is of little use in everyday living. Wendy’s note yielded a sincere apology, written in Spanish, that indicated gratitude for our tips and our bed was outfitted with new pillows for the next night. The pillows were still too squishy, collapsing to a thin layer when you rested your head on them, but at least they were dry and smelled fresh.

For our second day at the canyon, we got up earlier for a morning drive east along the rim to Desert View, hoping to avoid some of the crowds, and then headed north in the afternoon to see the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon.


A Grand Adventure, Day 5: To Desert View & Marble Canyon >

< A Grand Adventure, Day 3: The Petrified Forest

Posted in photos, travel | 2 Comments