Bryce Canyon National Park Main Area

Bryce Canyon National Park Main Area

Bryce Canyon park is enormous! We spent all day exploring the main part of the park and didn’t get to all we wanted to do.

We drove to Sunset Point and gaped at the main amphitheater.  The scale is immense, but this photo tries to give you an idea. Because the altitude in the park is 6600 to 9100 feet, there are sub-alpine trees and cool breezes.

We hiked the Navajo Loop Trail down into the canyon. It was a steep descent, but we really started to get an idea of how tall the formations and the canyon walls are. The colors changed with every angle of the sun and as each cloud passed by. You could really spend hours in one spot watching the changes.

     

Loved the hoodoos! It was fun to guess what each one looked like, and then check with the official names. The one on the left below is Thor’s Hammer.

This one is “Queen Victoria” and does indeed look like the statue of her we saw in front of Kensington Palace.

     

We took the Queen’s Garden trail back up to the rim. This was an easier ascent than going up the Navajo Loop would have been, and it takes you close to many fascinating formations.

We learned that the best way to do these parks is to drive or take the shuttle to the farthest point and work your way back to the entrance or visitors center. You avoid some of the crowds and can gauge your progress and how much daylight is left. So, after a remarkably good lunch at the park lodge, we drove to the far south end of the park  to Rainbow Point and hiked the short Bristlecone Pine Loop and a spur to Yovimpa Point.

The bristlecone pines are the oldest living organisms on earth, some up to 1000 years old.

We worked our way north through the park and stopped at the Natural Bridge and Farview Point.

    

Fairyland Point was magnificent! We must return and do the hikes in this canyon.

Wow! And this was only in the main part of Bryce Canyon NP! More to come…

 

 

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Cedar Breaks and Cedar City, Utah

Cedar Breaks and Cedar City, Utah

The drive from Vegas to Utah was stunning as we drove through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona. A taste of views to come!

Imagine our surprise when we set out on May 18th for Cedar Breaks National Monument, only to find that the entrance road and all trails were closed due to snow! From a nearby scenic point, we saw the breathtaking canyons with snow-topped peaks. The formations are similar to Bryce Canyon, but Cedar Breaks is reportedly much less crowded during high season. We’d love to come back in warmer weather and do a lot of hiking.

      

Consoling ourselves, we investigated Scenic Byways 14 and 143. I highly recommend driving this loop and enjoying amazing views of the Markagunt Plateau/canyons and Dixie National Forest (Yankee Meadow and Navajo Lake). Streams were gushing with the snow thaws and the birches were starting to leaf out at lower elevations.

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Cedar City seems to be the most vibrant spot in this part of the state, probably due to the presence of Southern Utah University. We think it’d be the best place to stay when going to Cedar Breaks and Zion (especially the Kolob Canyons area)–that is, if you’re not agile enough to book the Zion Lodge in the park a year in advance!

We ate (twice!) at Centro Woodfired Pizzeria. We really enjoyed the pizza, draft beer selection, and salads. They won me over with their homemade gelato and the fact that they are open until 10 in an area that often closes up early. We wanted to visit the winery across the street, but it was never open when we were there. Presumably, they are getting ready to open for summer.

 

Vegas, Baby!

Vegas, Baby!

We started and ended our hiking trip with nights in Vegas–definitely a culture shock!

Our first night was at the original pyramid at the Luxor, just because we had never stayed there. It is certainly not as neat as when it had the floating disco, but it was fine for a low-to-mid level stay. The best part was that it was next to the Cosmopolitan and Mandalay Bay.

We ascended to the Skyfall Lounge at the Delano tower of Mandalay Bay and enjoyed drinks and appetizers with a fabulous view of the Strip.

Next, we went to the Bellagio to see the Chihuly ceiling. This Chihuly fan isn’t going to miss that! I wish I could have afforded something from the Chihuly store. Maybe next time, when we win big!

  

We also enjoyed the flower show depicting Japanese spring (we think).

  

Finally, we checked out The Cosmopolitan. I think I’d like to stay here next time! The Chandelier Bar was something else!

We had dinner at China Poblano, Jose Andres’ Mexican-Chinese fusion concept. The shrimp tacos were very good and their specialty Siu Mai (tiny dumplings) were good, but not great. The best part of the meal for me was the Salt Air Margarita with a salty foam on top instead of a salted rim. I don’t think we’d eat here again, but would probably enjoy Social Hour (Sun-Thurs 3:30 to 6) for margaritas and snacks.

Then we were off the next morning to Utah. (Upcoming posts!)

Our last night of the trip, we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. It is much larger than in past years. The room was fabulous, but the casino and lobby were really smoky. I loved the directions to our room in the Paradise Tower, “…then take a left at the tattoo parlor.”

As you can imagine, the piped-in music is very loud. The demographic target is definitely younger people, but the music is almost exclusively from our time.

We ate at Nobu in the Hard Rock. This pricey restaurant serves delicious tastes and reminded us of Qui in Austin. We had their signature yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, which was delicious. Steve’s ceviche “taco” and my tuna one were very small, but the crispy rice “taco shell” gave a wonderful crunchiness to the delicious fish fillings. We finished with skewers of salmon with teriyaki sauce (excellent) and scallops with Peruvian anticuho sauce (the sauce completely overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the scallops). And Steve’s success in the casino paid for the meal!

Hasta la vista, Vegas!

 

Fort Davis Area

Fort Davis lies about 45 minutes north of Marfa. It’s a cute town with shops, restaurants, and small inns.

The National Historic Ft. Davis site is an interesting mix of restored buildings and ruins that give you an idea of what this outpost was like. “From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. Today, Fort Davis is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest.” It seems like it’s a pretty exposed spot for attacks from above. The weather is often freezing cold or horribly hot. Not a garden spot assignment!

We decided to hike the trails up to the ridge. Although the distance isn’t much, the elevation change is substantial and we had the bad luck to be hiking in 90+ degree weather. But we were rewarded with a great view over the fort grounds/town and over to the Davis Mountains. Next visit, I’d like to explore the Davis Mountains State Park.

  

We went to the star party at the McDonald Observatory on Saturday night. Make sure you make reservations if you’re going on a weekend! We sat in a circle around the speaker, who used a powerful laser pointer to trace the constellations that were in the sky that night. After his presentation, we circulated between eight or so telescopes trained on different items, including Jupiter (saw its bands and four moons), the “Whirlpool” galaxy, star clusters, etc. Because this is a “Dark Night #1” location, you can see amazing numbers of stars even with the naked eye. Although the evening was cold and windy, we loved it! I hope to return and take the daytime tour of the research facility.

I didn’t have the proper camera equipment for capturing the scene, but this one from the observatory’s website is representative:

Visitors enjoying a star party at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald

Don’t miss this opportunity if you find yourself in West Texas!

Marfa? Yes, Marfa!

Though I’m a native Texan, I’ve never explored the western half of the state. When dear friends invited my book club to their place in Marfa, I was excited to check the area out. Their place is lovely and is available via Airbnb. The five of us were very comfortable and the house is within easy walking distance of everything in Marfa.

       

If you’re more into a camping experience, El Cosmico was made for you! You can choose from tents, tepees, yurts, or vintage trailers. Even if you don’t stay there, you must check out this latter-day hippie heaven.

  

  

I first heard of Marfa as the filming location for the uber-Texan movie Giant. That is probably the single biggest thing that has happened in Marfa since railroad days. The cast stayed at the National Historic Landmark Paisano Hotel, which is decorated with fabulous photos from the filming. We had a wonderful time relaxing in the bar and taking in the surroundings.

  

Marfa is much like Taos must have been in the day: a sleepy town that was first discovered by artists and, now, tourists and hipsters. Art is the center of the culture, fueled originally by Donald Judd, who founded the Chinati Foundation to acquire land to display his huge installation artworks.

From Wikipedia: “In 1979, Judd purchased a 340 acre tract of desert land near Marfa, Texas which included the abandoned buildings of the former U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. The Chinati Foundation opened on the site in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation, dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries…Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor works in concrete and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two painstakingly renovated artillery sheds.”

There are several striking buildings all over Marfa that are part of the Chinati, but they are not all open to the public and even the ones that are have strange hours. I think I will take a guided tour next time to learn more.

    

In typical Marfa style, an old service station has been converted to the Marfa Contemporary. The current exhibit was Naomi Safran-Hon‘s Fragments of Place series. She printed large-scale photos of an abandoned Palestinian neighborhood, then painted and added concrete protrusions and lace textures to produce a haunting, but hopeful, look at that conflict-ridden area.

I enjoyed the delightful buildings and quirky artwork throughout the town.

  

   

Of course, we had to check out the (in)famous Marfa Lights! The weather was cool and clear–perfect for viewing this mysterious phenomenon. And we got lucky! We saw several lights and were amazed at how they brightened and dimmed and moved around. These lights were first mentioned by Native Americans and have been studied since the 1880s, but no concrete explanation has been proven by scientists–though I gravitate to the “mirage produced by sharp temperature gradients of warm and cold air” explanation. Whatever they are, it’s fun to spot them and speculate!

There are some fabulous restaurants in Marfa, many of them open only on weekends. We enjoyed:

Stellina  Fresh, delicious Tuscan specialties. Don’t miss the cauliflower cakes and the house-made burrata–if they are on that day’s menu and IF they haven’t sold out!

Squeeze Marfa  Luscious juices, awesome smoothies, and fresh salads and sandwiches. This is the perfect lunchtime spot, especially when it’s patio weather. The owner’s father founded Vollenweider Chocolate in Switzerland and her brother continues to run it, so make sure you pick some up while you are here!

Marfa Burrito  This little dive reminded me of Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, including the long line. Order (in Spanish) at the door to the kitchen and watch them roll out your fresh tortillas and fill them with delicious goodies. Water and (sometimes) coffee are provided as a courtesy. Best burritos EVER!

Though the drive is long, the last couple of hours are through rugged “really Texas-like” landscape. I found the length of the trip worth it, though, for a look at a unique town.

Upcoming post: Fort Davis area

 

 

 

Hill Country Escape

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days housesitting for friends at their beautiful place in the Hill Country. Their home is perched atop a hill outside Spicewood with a view of Lake Travis.

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Each day, I had a few fun chores to do. First, feed the cats who sleep in the rafters of the shed.

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Next, I headed down the hill to feed and water the miniature donkeys Jaques and Lulubelle. They munch away in a field of bluebonnets next to the log cabin.

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Next door are The Girls. They loved the veggies I brought them, but were way too worried about this stranger to lay any of their delicious fresh eggs.

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Another important task was to fill the bird feeders and birdbaths. A huge colony of avian friends provided hours of entertainment.

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The only tough decision I had to make was where to hang out and read. On the porch watching birds and the changing sky over the lake?

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In the gazebo by the garden?

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By the pool?

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In a field of bluebonnets under an ancient oak at the lakeshore?

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A tough decision, so I chose all of the above! What a lovely sojourn and extended Artist Date in the Hill Country.