Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Wadi

A lovely quiet Saturday morning; the cats let me sleep in a little bit, I rise relaxed and happy to feed them and to read The Lectionary before my day gets fully underway.

The Old Testament story is David and Goliath.

 

1 Samuel 17:31-49

31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. 32David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’33Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ 34But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ 37David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’

38 Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. 40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’ 45But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

 

So it’s an interesting story, and, as it turns out, plausible. When we lived in Tunis and in Amman, we often saw young men with slings, and they were amazingly proficient.

What caught my eye in this reading was that David picked up five smooth stones from the wadi, and that one work brought back so many associations. We often camped, in Tunis, and in Jordan, and from time to time we set up camp in a wadi. It always made me nervous, thinking that a sudden, unexpected, unseasonal, and, frankly, totally unlikely storm could come along and wash us to a tragic death. That kind of timidity came with motherhood, and an understanding of how little control I had as a mother, protecting children from all the possible ways children can be injured, sometimes fatally. Lucky for me (she says wryly) she was always outvoted by the testosterone in the family, and the dearth of likely camping spots.

In Tunisia, the Tunisia before Tunisia became developed, we would drive around to old ruins, Roman, pre-Roman, ancient ruins, and camp. There were no toilets, no showers. We had a Volkswagon bus. From time to time when nature called, I would turn to AdventureMan and say “I need a wadi.”

He knew what I meant. He would find a bridge over a wadi in a seemingly deserted place, and I would jump out, pee quickly, and run for the bus. I always wore a wrap skirt or a jean skirt, so much quicker.

“Why the hurry?” you might ask.

We learned, from the very beginning, that no matter how deserted a place might appear, that within two minutes of stopping curious children would begin to show up. Mostly they were just interested that something different was happening, sometimes they wanted “bonbon.” We always  carried a package of hard candy; anything else would melt in the heat, in these days before Volkswagen buses had air conditioning.

 

As for showering – we didn’t. At least most of the time, we didn’t. One time, one December, just after Christmas, there was a desert festival in Douz, and we went on a week-long camping trip. We camped in an oasis / field just outside of Douz, and right next to the Bedouin campers, who would come to sit with us around the campfire. During the day, there were parades of camels, and at night, huge bonfires and poetry contests.

The desert nights were cold, so bitterly cold I’ve never been colder, not even in Alaska. I zipped two sleeping bags together and had my son in mine with me; the cold was so intense it robbed the heat right out of our bodies, and I could protect him with mine. AdventureMan said it was the only time in his life that he considered peeing in his sleeping bag rather than leaving it’s small protection to walk outside the camp (he braved the walk!)

When the festival ended, we drove across the Chott al Jerid, a great salt flat, huge and empty, and then up into the mountains. I think we headed to Al Mitlawi, and from there, followed a crude map to a waterfall, near which we camped. On New Year’s Eve day, we got up early and headed to the waterfall, which we had all to ourselves, for a shower. It’s one of the most amazing memories I have, showering under that waterfall in a dry and arid part of the world. It was so early, and so remote, no children showed up. 🙂

Update: As I am reading the news, I see that in May the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for Tunisia, specifically the southeastern and mountainous parts, because of terrorism.

July 15, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Saint Hotel, New Orleans

What you see is the trips we take.

What you don’t see is the planning and the occasional agony of trying to find just the right place to stay, which restaurant to try. We live in an age of information, sometimes too much information, sometimes false information. You can read reviews, and you have to filter through what they like to glean nuggets pertaining to what you like.

I was looking for a hotel in New Orleans. There are a lot of hotels in New Orleans. We stay frequently at the Westin, at the foot of Canal, for one reason. It is perfect with the grandchildren – the room is spacious, there is parking close by, the kids LOVE the elevator on the outside of the hotel, we can walk to restaurants in the French Quarter, it is close to Magazine street, and a short drive to the Zoo, and it is right next to the Aquarium. (It is also right next to the Algiers Point Ferry I just told you about.)

We have another hotel, the French Market Inn, which we love, but it is noisy, and the rooms we love are actually the noisiest. Others are dark, and smaller.

I found a special offer on a new hotel in the Marriott chain, which is a chain I love because of their customer service training. It looked . . . intriguing. Not like any place we have stayed before. So I booked at The Saint. I liked the location; I liked the novelty.

 

And, as it turned out, I totally loved the hotel.

The entry to the hotel is at least two floors high, with long flowing panels breaking up the space. The lines are clean, the colors soothing – and bold.

For some reason, I think of the room as cobalt blue, when in reality, as I see the photo, the walls were white, with just a small portion of cobalt, and the rug was cobalt. There where long flowing white sheers, and the combination of the cobalt and the white was serene.

The receptionist was welcoming, and efficient, and gave us a couple good ideas for dinner. Meanwhile, it had started raining, and we loved the room so much we took a nap. Even overlooking Canal Street, the room was quiet and . . . serene. The bed was lovely, the bathroom was spacious and sparkling clean with a clear bowl sink – we just loved the room.

 

This was the door to our room – every door was different:

The hallway had blue lights.

It was pouring rain when we went out to eat, and it didn’t matter. We were near so many good restaurants, and we had this lovely room to come back to.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Building, Customer Service, Hotels, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

Herbsaint in New Orleans

One thing leads to another, and while we just finished a large adventure to the glories of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, we also need to get to New Orleans before the Nazi Propaganda exhibit at the World War II Museum finishes. Fortunately for us, there is a three day weekend, New Orleans is a close drive, and there is a new hotel we are eager to try.

Our trip is short, peaceful and GoogleMaps gets us where we need to be, and there is even a parking space. We start to pay the meter, but friendly New Orleans types passing by say “You don’t have to pay today! It’s a holiday!” We have a restaurant all picked out, Marcello’s, Italian, and the web page says it is open, but when we get there, it is closed.

Right next door to it, however, is Herbsaint, and we had just passed to to get to Marcello’s. We really like the look of Herbsaint; it looks French, it looks casual-elegant. As we go in we are greeted and seated quickly, and our waitress shows up with menus. Sometimes, it’s hard to explain, but you just like the FEEL of a place. Herbsaint was a place we liked the feel of.


 

We used to know a lot about wine, but now there is so much wine, so many labels, we don’t know anything anymore. We do know what we like – dry, red and complicated. The waitress recommends a wine, when it comes, it is exactly right, a red Zinfandel from California.

The menu has soups, salads, small plates and entrees. We grinned. We could eat at this restaurant many times; there are so many options we like!

I started with a roasted beet salad; it was marvelous.

 

AdventureMan had the spring green salad, and he said it was equally satisfying.

He then had the Homemade Spaghetti with guanciale and a deep fried farm egg, which he said was awesome. The guanciale is a thin slice of pork; you can see it at the right, and the mass in the middle is the deep fried farm egg. We tried to figure out how they did that – they must have poached the egg, then breaded and fried it. It was interesting, but my husband says the best part of this dish was the sauce, which was delicious.

I had the Sicilian beef with capers and anchovies. I know, I know, some of you are retching, but I am odd, and while I don’t care so much for beef, I adore capers and anchovies, and with that and all the dill, I even loved the beef. This is what a small plate is all about to me; you don’t need a lot of food when the flavors are so tasty and they dance together.

We can’t wait to revisit this restaurant. Every single thing about it was to our delight. The service was cordial and informed, there was a home-baked crusty French bread on the table with great butter (yes, it matters). We loved the high ceilings and the subdued decor, the artful simplicity in the presentation of the dishes, and the excellence of the wines. Stumbling across this restaurant was a highlight of this trip.

Herbsaint is near the World War II Museum. You can find it here:

Herbsaint

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Santa Fe, Here We Come

We spent one night in Santa Fe two years ago, and knew we had to come back. We put a three day stay at the end of our parks visit to give ourselves some play time, we really love Santa Fe.

This was not a bad day, but I will not tell you it was another best day of the trip. Some days, you just have to drive to get where you are going. This was mostly that kind of day.

We came south back to Kayenta, turned left, and stayed on the same highway until Farmington, where we had lunch at the crossroad where we turned south. On the way, we saw flashing lights ahead, and were afraid it was an accident but it was a marching group. We didn’t know why they were marching. Then about ten miles later, we saw a similar group marching towards us. We gave them a big thumbs up; YAY! Marching for a healthier lifestyle! They all looked about our age 🙂

We were about to turn south when we saw this sign: Serious Texas Bar-B-Q.  Who could resist that sign? Not us!

We each ordered a sandwich. When they came, we discovered that SERIOUS meant huge. We couldn’t begin to eat the whole sandwiches, we had to leave about half behind. The restaurant was full of big burly cowboy types who seemed to have no trouble packing away that kind of serious sandwich.

All the following photos seem to be about food, but we did other things, too!

Checking in at the Hotel Santa Fe and Hacienda, AdventureMan reminded me we had one of the best meals of our lives at their Amaya restaurant. We reserved for that night, and AdventureMan had their duck, and I had the salmon.

 

As we were eating, we overheard another table talking about the Farmer’s Market the next day. We love Farmer’s Markets! We asked the waitress if she knew where it might be, and she didn’t know, but very soon, another waiter came over and told us how to get there – it was right across the street. After dinner, we took a walk, found where the market would be, and came back to the hotel, had coffee and dessert while we listened to the hotel musician, who plays Spanish guitar and Indian flute, then headed upstairs for some much needed sleep.

Although we were near the elevators, the rooms are so quiet, we never heard another guest. I love that the hotel has coffee service for guests on each floor; early the next morning while AdventueMan slept, I could creep out and fill my cup without him even missing me.

He was awake soon, and we headed for the Farmer’s Market, only to learn that there was also a Crafts and Artists Market in a separate row. Oh, what heaven! I found some wonderful gifts and AdventureMan and I found wonderful quiche and croissants at the Farmer’s Market, which also has baked goods and crafted goods, plants, all kinds of things. We loved the Santa Fe market.

I asked one of the vendors I was buying from where he and his wife eat when they come to Santa Fe, and without hesitation he said “The Pantry” so we put it on our list of places to take a look at. Meanwhile, we headed out Canyon Road, which we loved, with all the art shops and cute restaurants, then went to explore San Miguel’s, billing itself as the oldest church in the United States, with an altar that dates from the days of the Spanish exploration.

 

 

AdventureMan had heard of Jambo, an African fusion restaurant he thought we should try. It was wonderful. We ordered too much. We ordered a hummus appetizer, salads and a peanut chicken stew to share. The hummus was huge, and beautiful, with hummus, and also lots of veggies and olives, and pita bread, and then the salads came, huge and delicious . . . when the stew came with the rice, it was also delicious, but we were so full! We ate a few bites, then packed it up to take it back to the hotel for dinner. We love that our room has a fridge and a microwave, and we have plates and utensils and napkins, so we will feast again tonight in the glory of our own little suite.

xxx

(Forgot to take a photo of the peanut chicken stew, which when we first had it many many years ago was called Ground Nut Stew. This was a little different, but equally delicious.)

 

We were lazy on Sunday and didn’t get up until seven thirty or so, to get to the Pantry while there still might be tables left on a lazy Sunday morning. Oops, my bad, Santa Fe must get up early, all the tables are taken and there is a line to get in. The waitress says it will only be ten minutes or so, we decide to wait. In almost no time, we are in, and have a great table.

This looks like a picture, but it is actually a quilt someone did of the Pantry.

AdventureMan ordered biscuits and gravy – and beans!

 

I ordered blue-corn pancakes. Sigh. They were good, but they tasted like . . . pancakes!

 

At a nearby table was a friendly man who told us we might want to try Maria’s for dinner, that it was another good place where people from Santa Fe eat. He also told us he was a musician and an Elvis impersonator. Almost everyone we met in Santa Fe was very welcoming and glad to give out information. It was a lot of fun, being in that kind of atmosphere.

We visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum, walk around a little, but AdventureMan’s banged up leg make it hard for him to walk easily. That’s OK, we are in Santa Fe to kick back and rest up, so we spend the afternoon reading and snoozing. Later in the day, we hit Maria’s. Most of the people coming in were heading to the bar, evidently Maria’s has like 99 different kinds of Margaritas. We just wanted dinner – and our server was efficient, and sort of brusque. The restaurant wasn’t that busy, but getting busier. Maybe he had though he would get a break between lunch and dinner, and was just tired. He did the job. He did not make us feel welcome.

 

As much as we like Santa Fe, we are ready to start heading home. First step: get to Denver, where we will be staying with my sister and her husband, mother and father to Little Diamond, grandparents to the little little diamonds. From Maria’s, we head back to the hotel and organize our suitcases, take out the big ones and just keep the small overnighters. Sorting through now helps us plan for our time in Denver and for the trip back to Pensacola.

 

May 28, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Eating Out, Faith, Food, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Hotels, Pensacola, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monument Valley: A Day to Remember

When we decided to go to Monument Valley, we decided to go all out, and we are so glad we did. We had read you can go down and visit many of the places in Monument Valley on your own, which we often like to do, go places on our own. On the other hand, doing Monument Valley on your own, you could very well miss something important.

So we signed up with Majestic Monument Tours, for a morning in Mystery Valley and an afternoon in the regular valley below the hotel. Bright and early we met our guide, Hope, in the hotel lobby and our day began.

Immediately we were so glad to be with Hope. For one thing, she is knowledgeable, not showy but quiet and modest and full of good information, if you want to know. Second, she is a really great driver, and some of the places she took us needed four wheel drive. Third, many of the places she took us were also off-limits to people who did not have guides. Last and not least, the roads were as bad as any we have ever driven in Africa or the Middle East, and our little rental car might have suffered damage had we tried these excursions on our own. Going with a guide was the right decision, for so many reasons.

This was another best day of our entire road trip.

While it was still cool, we hiked up to some dwellings, straight up the red rock. I didn’t have any problem going up, I wasn’t worried about going up, it’s always going down on rock where I worry – loose pebbles can make your foot slip, and there are no soft surfaces on the way down. I did fine, and I thought AdventureMan did, too, only to learn when we got back to the hotel at the end of the day that he had actually slid and tumbled badly down one rock slope when he had gone up to photograph some hand prints in a location that I would not attempt.

This is the rock hill I climbed, early in the morning, while it was still cool. By later in the day, it was too hot for me, I would hike, but hide in the shady areas.

This is Hope, our guide, with me at the top of the hill, and the truck down at the bottom of the hill.

I risked it all for petroglyphs.

I was cooing and babying him, so sorry I had no idea that he had hurt himself, but he said “I didn’t want anyone to know, and the most important thing is I didn’t damage my camera.” LOL, so stoic, and here we are bumping around all day in hard seats mounted on a truck, like we are riding really difficult hard horses most of the day, and he doesn’t make a peep!

 

This is the cliff AdventureMan fell down. He had gone up to take photographs of family hand prints and petroglyphs on the wall. He was the only one who climbed up with Hope.

 

The day was full of wonders, including backdrops from old cowboy movies. When we cam back, AdventureMan reviewed a lot of the movies mentioned and would call me in and say “Look! Clint Eastwood is climbing that rock formation!” or “John Wayne is there with those cliffs in the background!” That was a lot of fun.

 

 

I love pictographs and petroglyphs. Can you see these?

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I find interesting about the following two:  each one has a right hand that is enlarged. I wonder if it is co-incidence, or if the enlargement of the right hand has significance? Look at the line coming out of the head of the top figure. That doesn’t look accidental, it looks intentional. What could it mean? These were intelligent human beings, problem solvers, artists. We have to give them credit for having as much capability of expression and intent as we have – or do we?

 

 

At one of the hollowed out areas, Hope pulled out her flute and played a haunting melody, echoed off the wall. It was a wonderful moment.

I liked this formation below a lot; it is called Three Sisters, and I am one of three sisters.

I think this was called God’s Eyes

And this was called God’s ear.

One of the classic cowboy movie backdrops.

Late in the afternoon, we got back to the hotel, grabbed quick naps (hey! it’s vacation!) and then headed to Amigos for a truly great dinner.

I woke up early to take this photo for you. This is sunrise in Monument Valley. You want this on your bucket list. Look, you can even see a star and the dim lights of the first trucks heading down into the valley to capture the early morning light.  🙂

 

May 28, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Local Lore, Road Trips, sunrise series, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Zion National Park to Monument Valley: AZ or UT?

“Look! Look! Grab your camera! Grab your camera!”

“It’s just turkeys,” I grumble to myself, I’m not even settled in the car, I don’t even have my seat belt on and AdventureMan wants me to take photos of turkeys? I take a couple shots, then we head to the lodge and check out.

This time, the camera is in my hands. This time, when we see three turkeys, and two of them are male, trying desperately to get the turkey chick to give them the time of day, so to speak.

 

This was actually a great way to start a day which will have a lot of driving before we reach our goal, Monument Valley, which is sort of in Utah and Sort of in Arizona, or at least the hotel where we are staying is in Arizona, but the road to get to it starts in Utah. Because it is Navaho Nation, they have gone on Daylight Savings Time, in spite of the technicality that they are in Arizona, a peculiar state who does not go on Daylight Savings Time.

Farewell, beautiful Zion.

 

This is the route we will be taking today. Our maps tell us it has some scenic routes. Remember, cell phone coverage is spotty in this area, and physical maps are a really, really good idea.

 

We know where we will stop for breakfast – The Thunderbird, In Mt. Carmel Junction, where we had lunch the day before. It is right on our way. Actually, I had a healthy breakfast, but I had to order this cinnamon roll, which AdventureMan and I nibbled on, and then took the rest with us in case we were stuck somewhere in a remote place and needed some sugar-energy. This roll had a lot of sugar-energy.

 

On the road, after the glory or Arches, and Bryce Canyon, and Zion, we are spoiled. It is harder to appreciate normal beautiful vistas. As we drove through a forest, however, AdventureMan spotted a deer running, not a pronghorn, not a mule deer, we don’t know what it was. I am sorry it is fuzzy; he was running!

Maybe it was a mule deer, now that I see the ears. I am not sure.

We stopped to look at this vast overlook, and I was sort of thinking “ho-hum” when an Asian family drove up, a dad and his three daughters, and the daughters all had iPads and were taking photos and one of them said to me “Just look! This is right out of the old West! Can’t you just see an enormous herd of buffalo stretching all the way to the horizon, and what if they get spooked and stampede??”

And then, I saw them, thousands of buffalo in the valley below, nibbling on the new green grass, stretching to the horizon. I owe that girl. She gave me a great gift, a major shift in perspective.


AdventureMan said “Why are there so many contrails?” and he was right, there were contrail everywhere. We were close to the Northern side of Grand Canyon, which is still closed at this time of year, so maybe they were planes coming and going out of Phoenix? Maybe the air is so cold that the contrails form more easily? I don’t know, but he is right, the sky is streaked with them.

I think these are the Vermillion Cliffs, fabulous, but . . . we are jaded after the glories we have seen. We drive on.

 

 

We stop for gas in Kayenta, and we go into the Basha Market to buy water. Two things, one is that we have this totally deja vu feeling, like we have been in this shopping area before. AdventureMan says we had lunch at that Subway store, and I kind of remember. Second, all the people in the market, mostly local Navaho, have carts full of sugary foods, sodas, sugary cereals, snacks and candy. It’s like the don’t know that sugar is the new poison, that it leads to obesity, that it rots your teeth and inflames your gums. Or they know, and they don’t care.

But we are starving. We see Amigos on the side of the road as we are heading to Monument Valley, and decide to give it a try. As soon as we get inside, we know we are in the right place. There are local people. There is a lunch special up on the blackboard. The smells are wonderful.

AdventureMan had Tostada and Enchilada. See that salsa? That salsa is one of the best salsas we have ever eaten. In the photo it looks red, but it actually was very green.

I had two tacos. The tacos were enough, I didn’t need the rice and beans and I left them, but I did ask for another salsa, it was so good.

We liked Amigos so much that we came back here again for dinner the night after we had been out all day in Monument Valley.

 

The name of our hotel is The View. It is a Navaho owned and operated hotel in Monument Valley proper, where all the tours start. We chose it for so many reasons, for one, because every room has a view, for another, that it is Navaho owned and operated, and last but not least, they advertise that they have some of the best star-gazing because there is no light from nearby cities; there are no nearby cities (Kayenta is about 30 miles away.)

At check-in, we are delighted; the lobby is lovely! It is light and bright and full of art works. We are also chagrined, the receptionist is rude to the people in front of us, and not at all welcoming to us. She wasn’t rude to us, just very businesslike and unsmiling. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

 

This is the area where people met up with their tour guides for the morning, afternoon and evening tours.

 

This is our room. It was lovely. We loved the art work, we loved the very spacious bathroom, and oh my, we loved the view.

 

 

The view, straight out:

 

The view to the right

The view to the left

 

As the late-afternoon sun begins to mellow, the colors morph and darken

 

 

Staying in this hotel is SO worth it.

 

The hotel has a fabulous gift shop, full of lovely jewelry, art items, artifacts. AdventureMan looked at a beautiful knife for our son; the cost was over $500. Oops! They also had more affordable things, one of our grand children’s favorite gifts was a bag of colored rocks, LOL. They had some good books, with Indian legends, written for children, and of course, T-shirts.

 

We ate dinner in The View restaurant, it was packed, full, with lots of families with young children and lots of tourists, some in groups. The servers did their best, but it was chaotic. AdventureMan had the “famous” green chili stew, which he said was not very interesting, and I had a taco salad, which was equally not very interesting. Our breakfast there, the next morning, was equally not very interesting. It was a breakfast buffet with a very limited selection.

There is another downside. During the day, the hotel facilities are dominated by the day-trippers. The hotel area is sort-of separated from the more public areas, but the feeling is chaotic. It all calms down dramatically when the last bus leaves. Wait to visit the gift shop after the teeming hoards have departed.

The upside of The View is the view. The upside is that the view at sunset is gorgeous. The upside is that it truly is magnificent star gazing. The upside is that the sunrise is beyond magnificent.

May 28, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, Hotels, Living Conditions, Photos, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zion National Park, Mineral Gulch and the Coral Sand Dunes

Wake up to grandeur in Zion National Park 🙂

 

It’s a little chilly for breakfast on the terrace, but the inside restaurant is nice, the wait staff is exceptional, professional, helpful and quick. When I saw blueberries available on another dish, and asked the waiter if I could add them to my oatmeal, it was a done deal. Don’t you just love it?


Most of the hiking groups who are tackling the higher peaks have already departed, but there are some elderly hikers getting a later start. We hike, but we are not group hikers. We like to set our own schedule and our own pace, but we admire the groups that have been hiking for years and adapting to one another’s styles. They have a great camaraderie.

We have to take the shuttle to get deeper into the park, so we go all the way to the end. Our plan is to do the Riverwalk hike, then work our way back to the hotel. At this time of the morning, there are only adults, no children. The children arrive on buses, hundreds of school children brought to the park nearing the end of the school year, to show them the wonder of our country’s natural beauty.

The Riverwalk is awesome. It is glorious, and relatively easy, and relatively safe. You reach a point where it says “no wheelchairs beyond this point due to the grade” and realize that even to this point, there have been steady ups and downs.

The beauty is so totally different from Bryce Canyon, we are in another geological era and we are viewing it all from below, rather than from above. This reminds me very much of Yosemite, with Capital Dome, and all the granite. The color mixtures here are wonderful to behold.

You can see that the path is mostly smooth, and paved, with an obstruction here and there to keep it interesting and natural.

There are rockfalls along the path, giant rockfalls. Anyone with an inkling of imagination can realize how short life can be, how unpredictable, how chaotic.

 

It is so early that the river itself is mostly in the dark.

 

Wonderful plants and flowers find enough nutrients in crevices and eroded places to explode into life.

Look at those trees, clinging to life at the tops of these cliffs!

 

I spotted this, and followed the line up.

AdventureMan, with his sharp eyes, spots an anomaly on the side of the cliff:

We think this is one of the park employees, creating safe climbing areas for those who like to go straight up, using ropes and pitons and you know, climbing stuff.

 

Leaving Zion, we are exploring Mineral Gulch, just outside Zion National Park, where we are told there are pictographs. I will tell you the truth, but do not do what we did, it is not safe. AdventureMan went one way, and I went another. I found a dry stream bed that looked promising, and I followed it.

Doesn’t this look exactly like where pictographs would be?

Or this? Oh, I wish AdventureMan were with me, with his sharp eyes. Even as I am thinking how very wrong and stupid it is to be off exploring separately, not together, I keep going a little further, a little further. Every now and then AdventureMan and I shout back and forth, but it’s been a while since I have heard him. I know I need to go back, I know it, but maybe, just around the corner, are the pictographs.

 

We never found the pictographs. I found a lot of places where I think they should be, but if they were there, I didn’t see them. Hot, tired, dehydrated, we headed for Mt. Carmel Junction, where we found this crazy funky restaurant, and got our orders in just before the Korean tour bus arrived.

Club Sandwich for AdventureMan:

Taco Salad for me. Very different, lots of peppers, lots of salsa. Very tasty, not a lot of beans or meat.

 

AdventureMan has spotted another remote road going to Coral Dunes State Park. I keep thinking we are on the wrong road, and he keeps insisting this is the road, it is the only road it can be. We are not arguing, we are just not on the same page. He was right. We find the Coral Sand Dunes, and they are beautiful.

He has shown me the road on the map, and we THINK we can make it, but his rental is a little low to the ground. I notice that the road number obscures the fact that for four miles, going into Arizona, the road is actually a track. We hold our breath, as the pavement ends, the road turns into washboard, the road forms crevasses, and we just hope the road doesn’t wash away. This is one of the longest four miles ever.

Safely off the track, we hit Springdale, just outside Zion, for ice-dream, and for sandwiches for dinner. They have a mercantile shop with a sandwich shop inside, with gourmet sandwiches. AdventureMan has an Avocado Veggie special, and I have a Reuben, and we find some crazy great T-shirts for all the little ones.

Back in Zion, the light is fading fast.

The horses are being taken back to rest up for the next day.

My feet are sore from the uneven smooth rocks in the creek-bed, and I am still a little dehydrated. Sure wish we had found those petroglyphs.

 

 

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Eating Out, Environment, Exercise, Food, Geography / Maps, Photos, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bryce Canyon Pines and Dinosaur Tracks en Route to Zion National Park

We hate to leave Bryce Canyon Inn, we really love staying in this cabin, but the road beckons, so we get up early and find Bryce Canyon Pines on our route. Bryce Canyon Pines is a motel and restaurant, with a cowboy theme. As soon as we walked in, we knew we had come to the right place.

I wish you could hear the country music radio playing old old classic country and western tunes. I wish you could smell the buttery smell of pancakes and waffles in the pans, and the bacon frying. This is about as down-home as you can get.

 

I ask if I can have my veggie omelette made with 2 eggs, not 3 and the waitress says “of course!”

AdventureMan says these are the BEST biscuits and gravy!

I take photos quickly, before the restaurant starts to fill up.

 

This is a really cute place, and we heard they are also good for lunch and dinner.

We can actually get to Zion very quickly, maybe an hour and a half, but we decide we want more adventure. AdventureMan finds a road through the mountains, to another interstate, which we are hoping will take us to some other dinosaur tracks, more accessible, south of Zion. We have the time, and it sounds like fun.

First out, AdventureMan spots a Pronghorn Deer. “Take a picture! Take a picture!” he shouts, knowing I keep my camera in my lap, available for just such an emergency. The Pronghorn ignores us, so we shoot, quickly, and leave him in peace.

 

This is one of those photos that doesn’t work. High in the hills (once again, we have snow flurries at the higher altitudes) there are small groves of shining white birch trees among the pines. The white against the green is so beautiful, but it doesn’t translate in photos.

Did I mention it was cold? This lake, at a resort along the small Utah road, is still partially frozen. It is beautiful.

We hit the interstate, and quickly get to Hurricane, don’t you love the name? AdventureMan is looking for a particular site with dinosaur tracks, so we stop at the local historical museum for information. They told us just where to go and how to get there.

We follow the directions, and end up on a very rural road. It is so rural, it is open range and cows are on the road. The pavement ends, and it is sandy and rough. It is also hot, really hot, thank goodness we have water with us. There are no signs.

Finally, we pass Fort Morgan, which was part of the instructions, so we keep going, making a right where the track splits here, and then a sharp left a half mile later. We go up a steep hill, and finally, we find a sign. We are out in the middle of effing nowhere.

 

Looking back down the road we came in on. Of course, to get to the tracks is an uphill hike. Did I mention it is really, really hot? We are like in the desert!

 

This time, I am the one who spots the tracks. They are set aside, sort of protected, except that you can see people have chiseled out parts of the tracks and taken them for their own use. That just breaks my heart.

The signs tell us who made which track, and once you know what the tracks look like, they are easier to find.

Yep, this is it. These are the tracks. Maybe three good ones, and it was a long, hot drive followed by a long hot hike. Actually, it was a lot of fun, as adventures go, we survived, but I still get to tease AdventureMan about it.

 

We are starving. We head back into Saint George, UT, where we find this really fun restaurant with a bear theme, and pretty good salmon. I’m a happy woman.

Our reservation packet from Zion National Park included a red tag to hang from our rear view mirror. It allows us to drive to the lodge in our own car, since we are staying there. It also allows us in and out of the park, which comes in handy for us restless types. Check in is perfunctory; some lodges have chirpy, friendly receptionists, Zion has slow, surly receptionists. We like our spacious room and balcony, but we miss the privacy of our cabin.

 

We have dinner later on the terrace in the Lodge, salmon cakes and a salad for me, the salad bar and soup for AdventureMan. There are still tourist buses loading up in front of the lodge around 7; guess they are the last ones out.

 

Once the last bus leaves, you would think it would grow more quiet, but the lodge is full of hiking groups, many with wine, and they are having a fine time, everyone out on the balconies, hopping from room to room. Fortunately, they are early risers, and so also go to bed rather quickly. By nine, all is silent. We check for stars, and we can see a few, but it is hazy, so the stars are not so bright.

 

I know I have mentioned before the National Parks special card for seniors. My friends, this card is such a deal. You buy it once, I thin it costs 10 or 20 dollars. It covers you and the whole car every time you enter a National Park. It is such a deal that both AdventureMan and I each have one – we have Fort Pickens nearby, which is a national seashore park, and we often take visitors out to see the fort. These passes are good for life. It is a way the United States Park Systems honors aging US citizens. How cool is that, especially when the major parks charge $25 entry per car?

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Beauty, Eating Out, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spectacular Beauty in Bryce Canyon, UT

We wanted to see the sun rise in Bryce Canyon, so we chose to have an early breakfast at the rustically beautiful Bryce Canyon Lodge.

“Why didn’t we stay here?” asks AdventureMan, although we really love the cabins where we are.

“I can’t remember,” I reply, miserably, because I really can’t remember. When I was originally making plans it was for earlier in April, and I discovered all the best places were already booked! It was Easter, and Spring Break, and although I thought I was booking way early, no, I wasn’t.

AdventureMan also reminded me about the snow-in-the-pass issue, so I moved the trip almost four weeks later, and we are still running into snow-in-the-pass as well as snow almost every place else, too. It’s just little patches of snow, and occasional flurries of snow, which quickly pass and leave no trace.

Plus, I’m an Alaska girl, remember? I have a wardrobe of hooded sweatshirts and jeans, beautiful German boiled wool coats, which I considered investment clothing, knowing we had a house waiting our return to the Pacific Northwest in Edmonds, WA. While I may be a sartorial fish-out-of-water in Pensacola, FL, I KNOW how to dress in the chill mountain temperatures, and I am happy!

But I will let you decide for yourself. Temperatures are, indeed, chill, but just look at this light! Look at the sunlight, the blue skies, the way the patches of snow make the greens look greener and the gives the reds more depth. This day is one of the happiest days in my life; there is beauty on this earth which no human hand can create nor capture.

Breakfast at the Bryce Canyon Lodge was a lot of fun. I had the Bryce Canyon Breakfast, two eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast. I asked the waitress just not to even bother with the potatoes, and she listened. She also kept my coffee cup filled, and was efficient without making us feel in the least bit rushed.

Bryce Canyon Lodge exterior

Bryce Canyon Lodge entrance from parking lot

Bryce Canyon Lodge lobby

Bryce Canyon Lodge display of local arts

 

As soon as we had finished breakfast, we walked straight out from the lodge to a place about half way between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. This early in the morning, before too many of the tour buses arrived, we were able to take advantage of the light and have a great walk, from Sunrise to Sunset 🙂

I can’t help it. If you were in Bryce Canyon with me, you would also be taking photos like crazy. You know capturing such beauty and such grandeur is just not possible, but something within begs you to try; you want to take a little bit of it all back with you. I am sorry for you, you are going to have to put up with all my photos, my babies, my pieces of grandeur, which one would you have me sacrifice?

 

There is beauty to the left and grandeur to the right, everywhere you look. This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places I have ever been.

Rainbow bridge

 

This reminds me of the Heidelberg Castle, like a huge long castle defense

There were a surprising number of children in this park. I say surprising, because it truly is dangerous, on the same scale as Grand Canyon, this is nature, not Disneyland. Not everything is roped off or gated, you are expected to use good judgement and not get too close to the edge. In my opinion, unless you keep your child on a leash, you are taking a chance taking a young child to Bryce Canyon. Wait until they are 10 or so, and understand the dangers.

At Yovimpa Point, I was taking a photo, near the edge, and was steadying myself against a tree. When I stood up, fast, I whacked my forehead on a tree limb. First it swelled, then it showed a long cut and gorgeous bruise. I felt like a true wild woman, or a pirate, with my colorful head wound.

Bryce Canyon is a wonderful place to walk, with great walkways. Yes, this one has rails. Not all the trails do.

All these viewpoints have cute names. This one might be Balzac? Or Queen Victoria? I took it because I loved the contrasting greens, and snow, with the rusts and oranges, and the mountains dim in the background.

These eroded sandstone pillars are called Hoodoos. You can buy all kinds of sweatshirts and T-shirts (we didn’t) that say “I hiked the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon”

 

I’m pretty sure this is Thor’s Hammer.

 

This narrow canyon reminds me so much of our camel trips in Wadi Rum, near Petra, in Jordan.

 

After another best morning of the trip 🙂 we have lunch at the Bryce Canyon Lodge; I have a particular reason, they have an elk stew. We used to eat elk when I was a kid and I didn’t remember what it tasted like. There wasn’t a lot of meat in the stew, mostly carrots and potatoes. The elk seemed a lot like ground beef.

 

There is no such thing as “enough” when you are taking photos at Bryce Canyon. We loved all the places we travelled on this trip, but in retrospect, Bryce Canyon was the most stunningly beautiful place we visited. We were glad, really glad, we did it in May, before schools get out and there are even more people in the park. Many many were from other countries, and we were happy to see them. Astounded, really, at how many Chinese there were.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Eating Out, Exercise, Hotels, Jordan, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment