Happy 2008. Apologies for the long hiatus: we were on vacation in Arizona, which exceeded all expectations. Below are shots from my crappy cell phone camera (better quality photos will be posted at Mrs. Octopus's site).
The stunning cliffs in Sedona. These formations are composed of bright red rock striated with white streaks, and topped with greenery. They rise in all sorts of bizarre shapes around Sedona -- it's quite beautiful.
Lake Roosevelt, from Tonto National Monument, up on the trail near the Lower Cliff Dwelling. Tonto National Monument is about an hour and a half north of Phoenix. We got there taking the incredibly scenic Apache Trail, which is a winding gravel road through the mountains for about 46 miles.
We had reserved a Camry with Hertz for the trip, but ended up with a Prius, which we ended up liking quite a bit. (I want to mention here that the rental car facility at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is nicer than many regional airports.) We averaged about 47 mpg for the entire trip. The car did feel a bit flimsy, and it often felt like we were part of some science project, cruising around silently on battery power through cactus forests under the midday Arizona sun. Still, it had surprisingly good pick-up, plenty of room inside, and pretty much handled like a standard car. It gave me great pleasure to pass SUVs and pickup trucks doing 85 in the Prius on the I-10.
The Lower Cliff Dwellings at Tonto National Monument. I was excited about seeing cliff dwellings during our trip to Arizona. I had become fascinated with cliff dwellings back in first grade, when we learned about Native Americans in different regions of the country. I remember a textbook or slideshow on the Native Americans of the Southwest, showing massive cliff dwellings, sometimes four or five stories, with multiple rooms. I found this incredibly compelling for some reason -- it looked so fantastic, so bizarre and interesting. Basically, they looked like the greatest forts/treehouses ever, and I wanted to live in them. My first visit to cliff dwellings was in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, back in 2004. The cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument were built about 700 years ago by the Salado, a group related to the Hohokam who built the cliff dwellings at the nearby Montezuma's Castle (see below).
View of saguaro cacti (pronounced "sah-wah-roh") from Tonto National Monument. We later visited Saguaro National Park in Tuscon to see whole forests of gigantic saguaro.
View of Lost Dutchman State Park from a tourist trap (but fun) mining "ghost town" along the Apache Trail. We stopped off at this park early on our route up the Apache Trail and went for a short hike. There were a bunch of people there. There were two women, who looked about college age, sitting on a rock near the destination of our short hike -- the Green Boulder. One woman was telling the other, as they looked out over a valley of scrub and cactus, that her current job, as a secretarial assistant to a professor in the theology department (at ASU in Phoenix? at U of A in Tuscon? back east at Yale? -- who knows) was the greatest job she would ever have and she wished she could just keep it for ever.
Gigantic saguaro in Saguaro National Park, in Tuscon. Saguaro grow about 1 to 1.5 inches for the first years of their lives, and can grow to heights of more than four stories (50 feet). They are considered adult at about 125 years, and are generally believed to live between 150 to 175 years, though some may live beyond 200 years. Adult saguaro can weigh up to 6 tons. [Saguaro fact sheet]
The cliff dwellings at Montezuma's Castle National Monument, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix on the I-17. These cliff dwellings were built by the Hohokam about 1,000 years ago. The site was mistakenly named Montezuma's Castle by a Spanish explorer who came across the dwelling and thought it might have been an Aztec structure. We also visited the nearby Montezuma's Well, which was just as impressive. Montezuma's Well was a large sinkhole reservoir, around which the Hohokam built dwellings, directly into the cliffs of the sinkhole, and constructed irrigation canals to water nearby fields of crops.
Sunset somewhere in Tuscon.