Tucson (Mar 2017)

Greetings Blog Fans.  We’ve just returned from Spring Break in sunny Arizona and as usual, I’m documenting it here.

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For this trip we’d thought we would give Tucson a try.  We’ve been to Sedona twice and the Grand Canyon and Page once so why not head south?  Tucson is about 2 hours southeast of Phoenix (which is another 2 hours from Sedona).   Logistics and pricing had us flying into Tucson and out of Phoenix.

tucson mapMy grand plans hit a slight speed bump as our flight out on Friday was severely delayed (we actually de-planed in Indy).  We rebooked for Saturday morning/afternoon and ending up losing a half day (bye-bye Pima Air & Space Museum).  Due to some commitments on the back end, that left us with 5 nights and 4 full days of activities.  We spent most of our time hiking (surprise, surprise).

Tucson is very spread out so there isn’t really a central location.  We chose to stay in the Catalina Foothills in a great VRBO.  It was a bit of a splurge but we did enjoy the extra space.

Our itinerary corresponding to the map above:

Day 0:  (arrival day) Mission San Xavier del Bac

Day 1:  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum & Saguaro National Park (West)

Day 2:  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 3:  Sabino Canyon

Day 4:  Ventana Canyon & Catalina State Park

Saturday:  Mission San Xavier del Bac

From the website:

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.
The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.
The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.
It’s required some very intensive restoration work over the years.  Glad we got to see it.  Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective), we were too late for the guided tours so we just had a bit of a walk around ourselves.
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the view walking in from the parking lot
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an interior shot (we’ve seen a lot of churches so it’s hard to get too excited I’m afraid)
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interior courtyard
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better side view with a little elevation
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Alex was the only one willing to scramble to the top

Sunday (Day 1):  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

For the first full day, we headed to the west side for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Being early risers plus operating on east coast time allowed for an early start.  The museum is essentially a desert-themed zoo.  It was a bit pricey for 4 of us, but worthwhile nonetheless.  A sample of the photos are below.

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the walking path weaves between some natural scenery

 

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inside for this creepy guy — fortunately didn’t see this one in the wild
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mountain lion chilling in the shade
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bear trying to find the hidden food (not the best shot) — bigger than I was expecting
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feeding time (dead and thawing rodent)
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working it — we lost interest after awhile however
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flowers are always a big hit, especially in the contrasting desert
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we particularly enjoyed this cactus garden
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mountain goat
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and a very young one
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hard to tell but that’s a baby hummingbird

Sunday (Day 1):  Saguaro National Park (West)

Two sites in one day.  How about that!  For the afternoon we stopped at the Saguaro National Park since we were close by (per the plan!).  As you might have gathered, there are 2 districts for the national park (separated by about an hour’s drive) which both protect portions of the Sonoran desert.  The west side encompasses some of the Tucson Mountains.

Saguaro (suh-whar-o) is the type of traditional-looking cactus that the region is famous for.

We stopped at the visitor’s center to get recommendations and decided on the hike to Wasson’s Peak via the Esperanza trail.  This allowed us to take in the Bajada Scenic Loop (and then some).

1-Saguaro West map
out and back hike up to the peak–Esperanza trail to the Hugh Norris Trail
2-Wassons Peak
just under 8 miles with a 1700′ in 4:12 (3:30 moving)–nice one!
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that could be our destination — I just liked the view
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as I said, flowers are a hit
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we liked this unique (to us) fuzzy, stick cactus
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this yellow flowering bush was fairly common
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the views back after a little climb
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my favorite teens
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near the final climb
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almost there
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waiting for us as usual
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my crew at the top
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Look, I made it too!
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rattlesnake round 2 (see below)

We had a little bit of extra excitement on this hike.  On the way up, with the kids slightly ahead of us, Nicole startled herself and a rattlesnake.  Only the kids saw it, but we all heard it.  It was loud!  Fortunately it sought refuge under the bush while we scrambled over the rocks to get by.  Needless to say, Nicole was a little shaken up (oh, but what a story!).

Oh the way back, she was on the lookout in the same area and saw it again (that’s it slithering away in the photo).  Both were ready this time so no rattle.

Monday (Day 2):  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 2 — off to the east side to the Rincon Mountain version of Saguaro National Park and another hike.  We lazed around a bit to time the opening of the visitor’s center (9 am) and see what hikes were recommended.

The east side has more interconnected trails which allows you to make things up as you go.  The signage was very good as was the map.

1-Saguaro East Map
we did the scenic loop here as well — the trailhead was up top (Loma Verde)
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this map was a little more detailed (we went clockwise)
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we stayed fairly level for the first 3 miles and then got a little climb in for a better view–7.6 miles (450′) in 3:50 (3:06 moving)
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good size saguaro at the beginning of the hike

 

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short and sweet flowering cactus

 

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how’s that for scale?
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quintessential view (minus the slight clouds)
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mountains off in the distance (north I think)
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This is my poor attempt to capture the gila monster that Alex almost ran into (they each scampered in opposite directions).  I did see him but didn’t get him in the photo.
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kinda looked like this (trust me)
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another nice view
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I like this one–nice shot guys!
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the usual view for Kuk and me

I really enjoyed the varying landscape, greenery and views on the east side.  Most of the rest of the crew preferred the west side hike to the peak though.

Tuesday (Day 3):  Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson and was our hiking destination for day 3.  There’s a tram to take folks into the canyon and there are numerous trail options.

We eschewed the tram (and the $40 cost) and hiked up Blackett’s Ridge while taking in the Phone Line link connector to make a “lollipop” loop coming back.  More rocks and “big steps” involved in the climb which slowed down the vertically challenged among us (i.e. Kuk).

1-Sabino Canyon map
you’ll have to settle for my GPS map for this one
2-Sabino Canyon Blacketts Ridge
this was a healthy climb (1750′) for an overall hike of again, just under 8 miles (5:03/3:48)
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plenty of energy early in the morning!
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great views even before the climb
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looking back across town
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kicked out the mountain lion for the nice, cool perch
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lots of saguaros poking up
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first of many nice shots with my #1

 

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and another
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starting to change the vantage point as we climb
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looking down the canyon (where the tram goes)
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family shot with an ominous sky–taken by a family from Plainfield who also made the climb!
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another nice family shot

 

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solo Nicole
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one more with Kuk (who is surprisingly still happy!)
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the view back down trail
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these guys were waiting for a stumble
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semi-artsy shot
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more saguaro on the hillside (in the dark — sorry)
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meep-meep (road runner)

Nice rewarding hike though certainly a little tougher.  It was slow going during some parts of the climb but we were all glad we made it.

Wednesday (Day 4):  Ventana Canyon

Last day.  We had ambitions of potentially doing two 5-milers but given this was the 4th day in a row that wasn’t likely.  The first stop was in Ventana Canyon off the backside of the swanky Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.  The in/out trail goes quite a ways out and up but we just took it to the Maiden Pools.

The trail was very rocky and was hard on the feet even with hiking boots.  It had a much more overgrown feel and lots of bees a buzzin on the way back.  Probably our least favorite of the 4 big hikes.

1-Ventana Canyon
just over 5 miles in 4:02 (3:24 moving) with 1300′
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look at those saguaros and blue skies!
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saguaros peppering the hillside
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cactus skeleton — pretty cool
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looking back down the canyon after a partial climb
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farther up
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chilling on the rocks by the pools (no pictures of the pools as there were lots of folks about)

Wednesday (Day 4):  Catalina State Park

The stretch goal was to make it to Catalina State Park and perhaps do another medium hike to the Romero Pools.  We weren’t feeling it.  So, we had a quick drive into the park and walked one of the short loops (the Nature Trail).  We’ll have to come back another time.

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had some big-ins here
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Pima County Sheriff’s office (no time to chat them up Tim!)
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great big saguaro (same as on their postcard)

Bits and Bobs

We also had the great pleasure of meeting up with some old friends who winter here.  Thanks for dinner Dave & Jan–it was great to see you!  It would be easier to meet in Indy though — we’ll have to do that too.  🙂

Dave gave me a nice tip about the International Space Station.  We were able to see a 4-minute pass on Tuesday in the clear night skies.  Very cool!

The weather was great (70s during the day down to 50 at night).  Summers would take some getting used to though.

We enjoyed El Minuto Cafe for some classic Sonoran food.  Glad I got to try the local specialty carne seca.  We flew out of Phoenix so I was able to take the family to one of my favorite places (Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe) for lunch.

And finally, it’s hard to write this blog without thinking of my biggest fan.  I always imagine myself talking to my mother when I write these as she always enjoyed them so.  I started the UK blog (and continued with this one) as a way to communicate back to her and the rest of the family and will always imagine her reaction and comments even though she’s no longer with us.  Love you Mom.

Summary

We enjoyed our trip and could have used a few more days.  We certainly left plenty for another trip or two.  Our inclination is to want to compare this to Sedona but it’s really apples/oranges.  Sedona definitely has more of the wow factor for us.  In terms of future retirement options, more research is required!  🙂

Hike rankings:

Kids:  Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Ventana Canyon

Kuk:  Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Ventana Canyon

Steve:  SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, Ventana Canyon

Enjoy — see you next time (back to the UK in July).  We’ll have a high school graduate by then!

Sedona (Nov 2016)

Greetings Blog Fans!  This is our third Thanksgiving since returning from the UK and we continued the tradition of heading west and enjoying the outdoors for the full week.  This year we returned to Sedona where we also visited in 2014.  (Last year was Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns).

Sedona is absolutely beautiful and a serious contender for a retirement landing spot depending on where the kids end up.  We’ve got a while to consider that.  For now, we are enjoying the research!

I’ll try not to babble on too much as the pictures do most of the talking.  As with last time, hiking was the focal point.  We had some repeats as well as some new hikes.  We also took a couple of days to visit a handful of National Monuments in the area.

Saturday (11/19)–National Monuments

We had an early (really early) flight that gave us most of the day for sites.  We decided to visit 3 Native American National Monuments on the way to Sedona:

Each involved a short, paved walk with info boards along with the main attraction.  Interesting factoid:  the Montezuma sites had nothing to do with the Aztec ruler; they were just misnamed by the explorers that “discovered” them.  All date back ~800 years.

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Montezuma’s Castle
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Montezuma’s Well (odd site in the desert for sure)
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a top the Tuzigoot settlement
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looking down at the various Tuzigoot rooms/settlements

 

Sunday (11/20)–Mescal/Long Canyon + Fay Canyon

Our first full day and one dedicated to hiking.  We didn’t want to jump to the biggest hike of the week straight away so we thought we’d do a semi-repeat 5 miler and a new 2 miles to work up to it.

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The map above is of the Sedona area (the “Y”) from my GPS map.  The pink trails are from 2014 and the light blue trails are from this year.  We had 4 days of hiking.  Sunday was obviously day one and we did the 1A and 1B hikes.  We had done the Mescal trail last time but this time we continued on to Deadman’s Pass and finished the loop with the Long Canyon trail.  (4.9 miles in 2:25).

The second hike was a short in/out hike into Fay Canyon (2.1 miles in 1:03).

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Obligatory photo at start of Mescal Trail
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kids are always out front as the parents are now too slow
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taking the low road–amazingly people actually bike this trail
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a rare cloudy day (the rain would come the following day)
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a repeat photo op from 2014

 

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2014 version
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heading into Fay Canyon
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typical view as we walk among the red rocks

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Monday (11/21)–Rainout

It rained most of the day (as predicted).  We puttered about some shops and then went to see Dr. Strange (the movie).  One rainy day isn’t too bad.   Besides, I doubled up on some hikes later in the week.  🙂

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Tuesday (11/22)–HiLine Loop around Cathedral Rock

Big day as we attempt our longest hike of the week and a new one at that.  This involves a big loop around Cathedral Rock (Trail #2 on my map above).  We started at Yavapai Point and worked our way to the HiLine Trail.  We continued on the Baldwin Trail, around to Templeton, and then back down Slim Shady to complete the loop.  We also took small spurs to Red Rock Crossing and partially up Cathedral Rock.

This was our favorite of the week and tops our Sedona list.  The views were spectacular and the early climb was greatly rewarded.

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10.1 miles in total in ~6 hours (4:38 moving).  Proud to say we were all in good spirits at the end too!  Looks like we’ve successfully pushed the comfort boundary.

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pre-hike shot — typical early morning (8 am) start
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early morning shadows as we start our ascent
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great views north back to Sedona
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Kuk liked the multi-colored branches
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higher still — looking out over the forest

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red rocks, green trees/bushes and blue skies — the colors of Sedona

 

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a truly happy bunch!
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first view of Cathedral Rock once we rounded the corner

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moon shot — you can just barely see it
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Cathedral Rock
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Cathedral Rock + Sedona
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back towards the Village of Oak Creek
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another of Cathedral Rock as we move around

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nice shot, albeit looking into the sun
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family shot — I had hoped to get Cathedral Rock in view but my instructions weren’t clear
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and one more — this time of the happy couple
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ahhh . . .
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heading down and around now

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finally made it to Red Rock Crossing (though there was probably a better spot)
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Cathedral Rock from the other side
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onwards!

 

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this hike has it all!

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the 3 of us sans Kuk climbed part way up Cathedral Rock; decided not to go all the way
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on Cathedral Rock
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Courthouse Rock as we walk back towards the trailhead
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one more of Cathedral Rock

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Wednesday (11/23)–Wupatki & Sunset Crater NMs

Given the big hike yesterday, I thought we could have a day of (some) rest and head north on a road trip to Flagstaff.  We didn’t actually spend much time in Flagstaff, however, as we were really after a few more national monuments.  I had grand plans for 3 NMs and the Museum of Northern Arizona.  In the end we were cultured out and decided to just visit 2 and then drove back to see a movie.  (Fantastic Beasts).  See, I’m flexible!  🙂

The two sites were Wupatki and Sunset Crater.  (Walnut Canyon didn’t make the cut).  Wupatki is another ~800 year old Native American site (out in the middle of nowhere).  Sunset Crater was more about the extinct volcanoes in the area.

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Wupatki–and that was about the extent of our collective attention spans unfortunately
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a view of the San Francisco mountain peaks from Sunset Crater
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looks like overturned soil but its actually dried lava
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lava + forest + snow peaked mountain
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more lava
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and standing in the (dried) lava
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another at Sunset Crater
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and another
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Check out this guy — not sure how Kuk spotted it.  I had this video in mind when taking the photo though.

Thursday (11/24)–Bell Rock/Courthouse Loop + Broken Arrow

Thanksgiving!  Naturally, we were going to do a hike (or two).  Since we had the rainout on Monday I had us squeeze in both the Bell Rock/Courthouse Rock loop (4.4 miles in 1:57, Trail 3A on map) and the Broken Arrow/Submarine Rock hike (3.9 miles in 2:27 with lunch, trail 3B).

After 3 years we’ve fine-tuned our new Thanksgiving experience.  Back in 2014 we hiked and then went out to a restaurant which we gave mixed reviews.  Last year, we assumed we’d do something similar but found out nothing was open in Carlsbad except for Walmart and Sonic (yuck).  This year, we planned ahead a bit and ordered a pre-cooked turkey and sides from a local grocery store.  We actually had round 1 on Tuesday and round 2 on Thursday.  We had enough for sandwiches for 2 days as well.  So, for Thanksgiving lunch, we had a turkey sandwich on Submarine Rock.  Cool!

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Bell Rock from the parking lot trailhead
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and another with my wonderful daughter
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Bell and Courthouse — our trail was a very nice loop around both
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early on before turning to the right to loop around counterclockwise
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ahhh . . .
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the kids hung out together most of the time (again waiting for us slow folks)

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quintessential Sedona
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still smiling and its towards the end of the week!

 

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Courthouse from the back side
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hey, there’s Cathedral Rock again (from the east side of the road this time)
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dog attack!
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likely Christmas card (we nabbed the dog owner to get our photo!)

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starting out on Broken Arrow (after moving the car to the trailhead)

 

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another Christmas card option (I was more aggressive about getting our photo taken)

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We actually missed our intended Broken Arrow route and ended up on the Twin Buttes and High on the Hog trails.  It worked out well as we were able to get to a higher vantage point.
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see what I mean?
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can’t get enough of this
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lonely kids on Submarine Rock
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trying the selfie thing — still needs practice

Friday (11/25)–Brins Mesa/Soldier Pass

Last fun day in Sedona.  We took it relatively easy with “only” a 5 miles hike.  We started at the Soldier Pass trailhead, walked over to the Brins Mesa trail head, up Brins Mesa and back down Soldier Pass (5.4 miles in 2:52, trail 4).  This was a repeat from last year although we did it in reverse.  This was the only one that felt like a significant climb and some might say the view/effort ratio was a little low compared to others.

 

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setting off
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red/blue/green — everywhere you go
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not a bad view as we start our climb

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one lone pine cone hanging on (a rare artsy shot for me)
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post climb, up on the mesa

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here’s that climb for reference — not a big deal but it felt like one!

 

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Sunset on our last night — from Upper Red Rock Loop Road looking back at Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Rock (we drove back out later in the afternoon)

Miscellaneous

I planned ahead a little better for this trip.  For both this one and in 2014, we used our timeshare exchange for a place to stay (Sedona is a good option for that).  Last time, I left it a little late and had to split our stay at two resorts.  This time, I got a full week at the Sedona Springs resort and we got a spacious 2-bedroom which worked out really well.  We ate in most nights by choice and had ample space to stretch out (and separate).  The only downside was that we were in a bit of a wi-fi deadspot.  Fortunately, the lobby was close by.  That’s where the kids would hang out after the walks and before dinner.  A typical pose is below:

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gotta stay connected ya know

Summary

We all truly enjoyed our stay in Sedona.  I was surprised how much the kids liked it.  Nicole was particularly happy with it and I can see us coming back in 2 years when it’s time to use the timeshare exchange again.

South Dakota (June 2016)

Well, I’ve not done a very good job of retro-blogging past trips.  The least I can do is keep up with the current ones.  We just got back from a great trip west to the Black Hills area of South Dakota.  Not only was it our first time to the area (well, except for Kuk) but it was our first extensive road trip out west.  The trip was inspired by a Badlands photograph that Nicole saw in our National Parks calendar.

We spent a night in Sioux Falls, SD; 5 in Custer, SD; one in Wall, SD (Badlands) and another in Sioux Falls on the way home.  I didn’t track the mileage but it was a lot!

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First day was a slog to Sioux Falls (comfort breaks only).  A truly boring drive across the Heartland, but we made it to South Dakota.

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Day 2 simply had us traversing the plains of South Dakota.  We took time visit Sioux Falls and to stop in Mitchell for the Corn Palace, Chamberlain for the Lewis and Clark info center and Wall for the touristy Wall Drug.  Our only Rapid City stop was to stock up on food for the week at Walmart.  We then rolled into Custer; our home for 5 nights.

black hills map

This is a better view of the Black Hills and Badlands in the western part of the state.  You can also see Devil’s Tower (Wyoming) in the upper left.  Our cabin is the star to the east of Custer.  Mount Rushmore is near Keystone.  The Badlands are a couple hours to the east so we moved “camp” for that.

Nothing to mention on day 1, so we’ll put on our tourist hats for

Day 2:  Driving west across South Dakota

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Before setting off, we decided to take in Falls Park in Sioux Falls.  It was quite pleasant and certainly worth a stop.  Glad we got there early before it got too hot.  The first few days of our trip were in the 90’s.

DSCN3340I was able to sneak into a few pictures this trip.

DSCN3342A slightly different perspective

DSCN3348Nice view from the tower (no charge to go to the top!)

DSCN3351Next stop was the “World’s Only” Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.   It’s your typical touristy road-side attraction and worth the price of admission (free).   From the 1880’s to the 1930’s, at least 34 “prairie palaces” sprang up in 24 Midwest towns.   Entrepreneurs pummeled the newspapers with exaggerated claims of life in the prairie.  Only one remains.  It actually a multi-purpose gym with corn art inside and out.

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Here’s a closer view of one of the murals.  Those are full ears of dried corn (rather than individual corn kernels).

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A few shots above to keep with the corny theme

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Next stop was a rest area near Chamberlain (and the Missouri River).  Nice views like the one above and a nice mini-museum on Lewis and Clark who stayed a few nights at this location (unfortunately for them, before the rest area was established).

DSCN3365We had some time, so we also stopped at Wall Drug.  There are signs all throughout the state leading one here.  It’s over the top and way too crowded for us but many must like it (2 million annual visitors according to the linked wiki article).

DSCN3366After 2 days on the road, we made it to “our” cabin in the hills outside of Custer.  It proved to be a good base though a touch small for our family (we’ve had a lot of bonding time lately, that’s for sure).   The kitchen was well equipped so we were able to eat in every night which our family actually prefers after a long day of activity.

Day 3:  Custer SP (Wildlife Loop, Prairie View Trail, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake/Sunday Gulch Trail, Iron Mountain Road) and Mount Rushmore!

Wow, what a day.  We really packed it in, particularly for us.  Lots of car time though as we took in all 3 scenic drives in the park while also doing 2 hikes before heading off to Mount Rushmore.

custer spOur cabin was near the “tunnel information” graphic just outside the state park.  We started the day doing the blue Wildlife loop with a short walk along one of the stops.  We then proceeded along the “brown” Needles highway to get to the Sylvan Lake area for another hike.  We then back tracked down 89 and re-entered the park and cut across to do the “gold” Iron Mountain Road south-to-north to get to Mount Rushmore.

DSCN3367What do you know, heading towards the Wildlife Loop, we see our first 2 buffalo/bison along the roadside.

DSCN3370a few prairie dogs too

DSCN3373Next stop was the Prairie View trail, a short (2.2 mile) loop that took just over an hour.  Our hope was to see some more bison (at a distance) but that wasn’t the case.  It was a nice stroll but not too exciting.  The poison ivy warnings were a little disconcerting particularly since there were quite a few overgrown bits.

DSCN3374and we were off — it was a warm day but fortunately this was still fairly early

DSCN3375a nice flower along the way

DSCN3381back in the car and another bison sighting–slightly bigger herd this time

DSCN3382the famous wild burros

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DSCN3384close the window! (we forgot to bring carrots)

DSCN3388a much bigger herd, albeit at some distance

DSCN3391pronghorn antelope (still on the Wildlife Loop)

DSCN3394our last bison on the loop; fairly close to the road this time

DSCN3397this is the famous needle’s eye at the top of the Needles Highway — though fine, it was my least favorite of the 3 drives (one-way tunnels and congestion)

DSCN3400the very pretty Sylvan Lake

DSCN3402another couples shot, albeit a little backlit (it was turning into a scorcher)

sunday gulch graphI decided to bypass the “Lover’s Leap” hike along the Wilderness Loop and head straight for the stretch goal of the “Sunday Gulch”.  Rated as difficult, it lived up to billing, particularly on this very hot afternoon.  As you can see from the chart above, we set off down into the gulch and climbed our way back out.  We went “backwards” (counter-clockwise) which avoided climbing up the steepest bit — good call.  It still wiped us out.  4.1 miles in 2:43 (30 minutes of that was rest due in large part to the heat).  About a 700′ climb (it seemed more).  Did I mention it was hot?

DSCN3404down, down we go

DSCN3405Down some more — I thought this might be a cooler walk since they mentioned some areas can have snow/ice into June due to the lack of sunlight.  We didn’t find any of those!

DSCN3408one of the views on the climb back out

DSCN3412Next was the Iron Mountain Road.  It’s important to do this one south to north because as you approach Mount Rushmore, the monument starts to come into view through the tunnels and other viewpoints.  It’s there in the distance in the photo above though it didn’t come out that well.

DSCN3413still on our way — it was neat to see it from afar

DSCN3414another viewpoint

DSCN3417 (2)and we made it!

DSCN3418I have to say, this was pretty impressive.  This was completed in 14 years (1927-1941).  A lot more dynamite was used than I expected (for the close in work).  They had a nice exhibit explaining how the scale model translated to the real deal using the “pointing” system.

DSCN3419a cleaner close up

DSCN3420and a final one with the kids

Phew, what a day!  The plan was to hang around until the evening lighting ceremony but we were just too pooped.  We settled for ice cream and a 30 minute drive back to our cabin.

Day 4:  Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway & Devil’s Tower

We had another long day planned, albeit with a lot of car time again.  The weather forecast around Custer SP was a little dodgy but things looked better to the northwest so we decided to take in the scenic drive to Spearfish and then carry on to Devil’s Tower National Monument.

spearfishSpearfish is close to 2 hours from Custer but it was a nice drive.  We set off early as usual taking 385 through Hill City and then up to Lead where we jogged down to pick up the southern end of the byway.   There are a number of waterfalls along the way as well as a couple of short hikes that we took in.

DSCN3425We got a free sneak peak at the Crazy Horse Monument.  We (literally) paid it a proper visit later in the week.  In hindsight, this would have been sufficient!  (oh well — considered a donation to the cause)

DSCN3426and another — still a long ways to go

DSCN3430First stop along the scenic byway was the Roughlock Falls hike.  It was a very pleasant 1-mile stroll (each way) along the (Little Sioux?) river.

DSCN3434and one at the falls

DSCN3435and another sans family

We tried to also see the Spearfish Canyon Falls across the street from the trailhead but the trail was under renovation so we weren’t able to see much.

The next stop came from a guidebook but wasn’t in the official brochure.  So glad we found it.  Further up the canyon, off Cleopatra’s Place, was a hike to the Devil’s Bathtub.  It involved numerous crossings of the stream until we reached our destination and it ended up being one of our favorite walks.  It was probably a mile or so out and another back as well though I didn’t capture it.

DSCN3440hard to see, but there is a small green snake slithering under the bush in the middle of the photo — more excitement!

DSCN3442And the actual bathtub (presumably up top — we cut it short at this point).  This really was a great walk/hike.  I was too busy having fun to take photos!

DSCN3444The most popular pullout was for its version of Bridal Veil Falls.

DSCN3445We continued on to Spearfish and saw this gal along the way.

We made a stop at the DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and enjoyed a nice walk around (no worthwhile photos though).  Since we were only an hour away from Devil’s Tower, we of course had to go see it.

DSCN3448The tower stands an impressive 867′ from its base.  It was the very first National Monument (1905).

DSCN3449characterized as an “igneous intrusion”; the tower is made up of many 6-, 7- and 8-sided protrusions

DSCN3453We of course had to walk the 1.3 miles around the base and were afforded some nice views along the way.  (Alex was having a hard time working in extra training for cross country so he took the opportunity to run around it 1.5 times).

DSCN3455Here’s a closer look at some of the protrusions.  While living in England, we had the opportunity to visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  This is same type of geological formation albeit on a much taller scale!

DSCN0772bonus pic from Giant’s Causeway — Alex has grown a little!

DSCN3457one more looking up, up , up

DSCN3460some cute prairie dogs on the way down the hill

DSCN3461and a final view from a distance — very impressive!

DSCN3463more bison on the way back to the cabin, though these were livestock I believe

DSCN3465a cute little one having a scratch

Day 5:  Wind Cave National Park

Again, the weather forecast was a little dodgy (though fine in the end) so we decided to put off the big hike and take in Wind Cave NP, one of two “national” caves in the area.  We also took in two small hikes within the park boundaries.

DSCN3466Only guided tours at Wind Cave.  Ranger Earl starts us off at the natural entrance where the cave’s pressure differential caused wind to blow in and out.  Fortunately, there was an easier entrance for us!

DSCN3471Wind Cave is known for its “boxwork” and was the first cave to be named a national park.  Here’s my crappy photo of it (my cave photos never turn out).  Much better examples here.  At any rate, it was pretty unique, even for us cave snobs.

Since the weather turned out okay, we decided to take in a few short hikes.  The first was a rather unimpressive 2.7 mile in/out roundtrip on the Cold Brook Canyon trail.  The hope was to see some bison but we had to settle for prairie dogs.

The second hike was much nicer.  The Rankin Ridge Trail was a short 1.0 mile loop that had great views.

DSCN3479this guy was going off — that tail was wagging for every “bark” he made

DSCN3480another one — the walk went through a “dog town” and there were plenty around

DSCN3481nice flowers (for Kuk)

DSCN3482combined with thistle flowers this time

DSCN3483a sample of the rather nondescript (some might say boring) trail–universally our least favorite unfortunately

DSCN3489random bison while driving between trailheads

DSCN3495the much better view along the Rankin Ridge trail

DSCN3497a deer to join us

DSCN3502more Rankin Ridge

DSCN3504and walking back down

DSCN3506a really lonely bison in the field by himself

DSCN3511We finally hit the bison motherlode on the way back from Wind Cave.  We were going to circle around the Wilderness Loop again to try our luck but we didn’t even have to go around before seeing the stereotypical herd blocking traffic.

DSCN3512there were quite a few close ones as you can imagine

DSCN3514some babies too

DSCN3515maybe 40 or so?

DSCN3518we patiently waited for them to cross

DSCN3523as did others

DSCN3524looking right at me

DSCN3529and a final little one

Day 6 — Harney Peak! and Crazy Horse round 2

Big day.  This is one I’d been looking forward to since I started planning this trip.  Harney Peak is tallest elevation east of the Rockies and would make a nice capstone for my recovery.  [Guadalupe Peak in Texas is taller but I guess it is considered the Rockies for this purpose.]  (For those that don’t know, I had a heart attack at the end of February).  It’s a nice challenge though not too hard in the grand scheme of things.

harney peakI’ll pull out the geeky stats for this “real” hike.  We started from the Sylvan Lake day-use lot and hiked up trail 9.  On the way back, we used a combination of trails 3 & 4 with a side jaunt to the Cathedral Spires before returning.

harney peak graph8.3 miles in total over 5:06 (about an hour of non-moving time for rests and lunch).  About a 1100′ elevation change.  Cathedral Spires is around the 5.5-6 mile mark above.

DSCN3532Here we go.  As usual, we are one of the first ones to the trailhead (7am or so).  The morning started off cool and cloudy.  The Frey clan was well prepared.

harney peakour destination from early in the hike (we didn’t have the big arrow in the sky though)

DSCN3539lots of dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle (nasty bugger); makes for some blight but also enables views in the distance

DSCN3543bonus marmot along the way to the summit (Alex was in the lead and spotted this one)

DSCN3544a look back at the Cathedral Spires from (near) Harney Peak

DSCN3549and there you have it

DSCN3550great views from the top

DSCN3552and another

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7258′ according to the GPS

DSCN3557my wonderful kids who shared this experience with me

DSCN3559rare solo shot

DSCN3561my Father’s Day portrait a few days early

DSCN3562and finally the whole family

DSCN3573sun’s out as we walk back toward the spires

Great hike and very rewarding, especially considering my recent health scare.  So glad we did it.

Since we got such an early start, we had some time in the afternoon for another activity as long as it was low energy!   We decided to pay the piper and actually go inside the Crazy Horse Memorial.

From the wiki link:

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.   If completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture, as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967.

DSCN3578not much different than my roadside shots, but I guess it’s a little closer

DSCN3582Here’s an overlay of what it will someday (hopefully) look like.  As you can see, they have a long way to go.  They’ve been going at this for 68 years and the original artist and his wife have passed away.  They had 10 offspring and the majority of them are involved in the non-profit foundation.  Perhaps it was the original wish of Standing Bear and/or Korczak’s own political views, but the project is vehemently against government funding.  I can appreciate that especially given the broken treaty history with the Native Americans but at this rate this memorial isn’t going to get finished in my kids’ lifetime.  That’s not really doing it justice.

DSCN3583One with the 1/34 scale model in the foreground.

DSCN3585and a final parting view

Day 7:  Jewel Cave & Badlands NP

Our final day from our Custer base.  We checked out of our cabin early in the morning (again! we were somewhat operating on Eastern time the entire week) so we could get in line for the limited tickets to the cave.   The Visitor’s Center opened at 8:30 and we got there at 8 but there was already a long line.  It took an hour but we got our tickets.

DSCN3589Sorry, another crappy cave photo.  The formations were more varied at Jewel which was nice.  Our ranger guide, however, was horrible.  Kuk thought she was new and nervous.  I thought she shouldn’t work with people.  Unfortunately, that colored things for me.

In the end, we enjoyed both caves and the variety they provided.

DSCN3634On to the Badlands NP!  Nicole was super excited as she had picked this out.

badlands map

The entire NP is pretty large but the main bit is the stretch along 240 from roughly Interior to Wall.  We drove the ~2 hrs from the Black Hills and decided to start from the “main” entrance in the east.  Due to the super hot temps, we just did a few short walks (viewing points really) and the scenic drive to Wall where our next cabin awaited.

DSCN3598very first pullout — you can get a good idea of what it looks like

DSCN3600here’s another — we all liked the ones with some green grass for contrast

DSCN3604I believe this was on one of the short walks (Door or Window)

IMG_9922we did happen to see this cute little guy (photo credit:  Nicole)

More great views below:

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DSCN3628towards our last stop we did see a herd of big horn sheep

Day 8:  Badlands Hike and Minutemen Missile Sites

We started the day by packing up and heading out early to queue for the free Minutemen Missile tour tickets.  The ticket office opened at 8 but I got there at 7 (second in line).  They had 6 tours that day (some days are fewer) and only 6 people go on each tour so I didn’t want to miss out.  I selected an afternoon tour so we could get our one Badlands hike done in the morning before it got crazy hot.

badlands hikeThe hike as a nice and easy 4-miler that traversed the Medicine Root trail and a portion of the Castle Trail.  We also diverted at the halfway point to see the Saddle Pass trail from the prairie side (no climbing required from that direction).  It took slightly under 2 hours.

DSCN3637Being desert rookies, we were a bit unnerved by the warning sign.  We kept a good lookout as we were walking through the prairie grass but I bet we would have missed them anyway.  We were also hoping for a rattle warning!  Fortunately we didn’t find any (though I honestly wanted to see one from a safe distance).  Nicole sure didn’t.

DSCN3635fatter bunny at the start of this trail — must not be any snakes around, right?

DSCN3639a good example of the prairie portion of the trail–think you could spot a snake off to the side?

DSCN3642we liked the mixture of the rock/dirt formations and the various grasses

DSCN3646more thistle flowers

DSCN3647I love lagging behind and snapping a quick shot of my favorite 3

DSCN3652nice view!

DSCN3654cactus flower

DSCN3659the view from the top of the Saddle Pass trail

DSCN3661Nicole taking in a photo — she had a good eye for them

DSCN3664heading back

DSCN3665cactus terrarium

DSCN3667the dried mud was like walking on potato chips (sorry too lazy to edit out my shadow)

Minuteman Missile Sites

There are 3 Minuteman Missile sites located along I-90 near the Badlands: the Visitors Center (exit 131), Delta-01 launch control (exit 127) and the Delta-09 missile silo (exit 116).  They are National Historic Sites and run by the National Park System.

DSCN3630as mentioned, we got there early for tickets so we got to see the flag go up

 

 

DSCN3673Prior to our tour at Delta-01, we decided to check out the missile silo at Delta-09.   This is either an artsy shot of me looking down the silo at the existing trainer missile or a really poor photographer.  Take your pick.

delta-01Next up was our tour at the Launch Control.  Credit NPS for this photo.

DSCN3681Our guide was a former Missileer who worked on the site in the early 70s and has been giving tours for the last 6 years.  It really added to the experience.

DSCN3675a little ICBM humor painted on the door

DSCN3680and a hefty door it is — this is below ground leading into the control room

DSCN3676control room for 2 people on 24-hr shifts

DSCN3677And here’s a close up — the big red button isn’t what you think.  The two padlocks on the upper right were actually combination locks in the day.  That was to get to the code books.  The launch key is to the left of the phone.  Just like in the movies, there is a second one 12 feet away for the other guy to activate.  There were 5 sites in total.  All would have been given the code and at least 2 sites had to agree to launch (though there were still override possibilities).  Fortunately, none of this was ever used.  It’s hard to argue it wasn’t an effective deterrent.

This was a really interesting tour; I’m not doing it justice here.  Oddly enough it made me think of my dad and his involvement with fallout shelters, etc. as a Physics professor at Davidson.

DSCN3597There was a nice (new) museum at the Visitor’s Center.  Check out this near miss (and great save) on the Soviet side.  It makes you wonder how many times we came close to WW III.

Well there you have it.  From there we drove back to Sioux Falls for another overnight an then on home.  It was a really nice, relaxing trip.  We all had a good time.

Family favorites:

  • Harney Peak
  • Devil’s Bathtub creek walk
  • Badlands views
  • Devil’s Tower
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Minuteman Missile Launch Control Facility Tour
  • animals:  bison, pronghorn, deer, bighorn sheep, marmot, bunnies and prairie dogs

Not sure I would want to drive that much further, but it was nice to have our own car with our own stuff.  Least expensive full vacation in quite some time too!

Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns NPs

selfie

Greetings blog fans!  This past week we embarked on our second annual (i.e. traditional) Thanksgiving hiking vacation.  Since the kids’ fall breaks don’t line up and we see family over Christmas, we’ve decided we like heading outdoors to stretch our legs and hopefully soak up some sunshine.  This year certainly fit the bill.

texas_map

Our trip was to a previously unvisited part of the country and involved 3 National Parks in southwest Texas and southern New Mexico.  We also fit in a stop to a renowned astronomy observatory.

 

After flying into Midland Airport, we drove ~4 hrs to Big Bend NP where we stayed for 4 nights.  We broke up the 5-6 hr drive to Carlsbad, NM with a stop at the McDonald Observatory.  We stayed 2 nights in Carlsbad to visit Guadalupe Mountains NP and Carlsbad Caverns NP before heading back to Midland for our last night.

Day 1 (Sunday) — Big Bend NP:  Windows & Lost Mine Trails

Map_of_Big_Bend_National_Park

Big Bend is a large national park in southwest Texas that borders Mexico.  I was surprised to find out that it is only the 15th largest NP in the country.  There are 5 visitor centers and essentially 3 main areas:  Ross Maxwell Drive, Chisos Basin and the Rio Grande Village.  I had a “stretch goal” of hitting all 3 but came up short on the latter.  There is only one lodge which is in Chisos Basin so that’s where we stayed.

chisos_basin_map

We had a fairly aggressive first day planned with two 5-6 mile hikes in the Chisos Basin area (nothing like jumping into things).  The first was The Window (purple box above) and the second was The Lost Mine (red box).

DSCN3071

Here we are at the start of the first hike (all smiles).  The “Window” is the illusion of the two mountains coming together as a V in the center of the picture.  As you can see, crisp, blue skies on this day.  It was probably 50F or so starting out.

DSCN3073

A closer shot of the Window.  All the sticks are local agave plants called Lechugilla.

DSCN3074

Obligatory cactus shot.  Aww, it’s heart shaped.

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As you can tell, I like to get shots of the crew up ahead of me, particularly if the scenery is interesting.

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I guess this is the actual window though it isn’t where the two mountains touch (they don’t actually).  Rare couple shot (hats off this time!).  The rocks were pretty slick so we didn’t venture any closer.

DSCN3083

Heading back on this in-and-out hike.  Nice clear day with wispy clouds.

 

DSCN3085

After a well deserved lunch break, we headed to the Lost Mine trail.  Nothing like a mountain lion warning sign to get your attention.  Fortunately, we didn’t see one on the trail.  We think we may have seen on on the drive in (at night) but we weren’t 100% sure.

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The trailhead is further up the road so once we started hiking up we got  a different view of the Window.

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bumpy hills and mountains

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another nice view on our way up

DSCN3093

not sure we found the actual “Lost Mine” but there was a nice plateau that offered these views

DSCN3095

Nicole and I went off to explore a little more (still no Lost Mine) while the other two decided to park it

DSCN3097

living on the edge (the sun generally out-matched my photographic skills on this trip)

DSCN3098

one more view into the distance

DSCN3099

I’m always amazed at trees growing out of rocks.

window

lost_mine

Geeky stats time.  The Window ended up being 6.0 miles with 1000′ elevation change that we did in 3:00 hours (2:36 moving).

The Lost Mine was 5.0 miles, 1134′, and 2:58 (2:31 moving).

So, 11 miles, 2100′ and 6 hours on the first day.  Good job Team Frey!  That was a good warm up for our big day on Tuesday.

 

Day 2 — Monday:  Big Bend NP, South Rim Trail

chisos_basin_map

Today’s adventure was to tackle the South Rim which some call the best hike (and best views) in Texas.  This would be our longest family hike to date (green box) and would involve another 2000′ ascent.  I knew it would be a challenge but I really wanted to give it a try.  Fortunately, we could jump on the trail right outside our cottage and shave a few miles off the total trip.

DSCN3100

Deer sighting before we got started.

DSCN3103

Start of hike = happy (Kuk did come, she just passed on photo op this time)

DSCN3104

Overcast day with the sun peaking through (those aren’t the mountains we climbed though).  The views would be damped without the glorious sunlight but we were glad to have cooler temps on this day.

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That’s essentially the mountain to climb.  The hike involved climbing early and then getting to a plateau while we walked to the back (south) side for the views.

DSCN3107

Yet another view of the Window

DSCN3108

Another well deserved rest

DSCN3109

I liked this wispy, long grass.  Much better looking than the ornamental grass in our yard!

DSCN3110

able to see past the Window now that we are higher up

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another mountain in the distance

DSCN3117

and another

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DSCN3123

up on the plateau now — we were surprised to have an Indiana-like woodsy walk in the middle

DSCN3124

rocky ledge now

DSCN3129

another deer spotting — can you see both?

DSCN3130

and finally the south rim — too bad it was a bit hazy and overcast (but still an impressive view)

DSCN3131

another view into the expanse

DSCN3134

resting at the south rim

DSCN3135

Though I needled Kuk about her (lack of) conditioning, it was her feet that bothered her the most.  She had hiking boots and these tennis shoes and neither prevented [multiple] blisters.  She did well to carry on (though I will admit she wasn’t Miss Sunshine at the end of this walk).

DSCN3136

nice one of the kids at the rim

DSCN3138

rare shot of them walking together (on our way back, but still on the plateau)

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Big Bend bumps

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this angle didn’t show it that well, but we all thought this looked like Pride Rock from the Lion King

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heading home — you can just make out the red/orange roofs of the lodge buildings

south_rim

And here are the (impressive for us) stats:  11.8 miles, 2000′, 8:32 (6:40 moving — needed a few more breaks on this one!)

Day 3 — Tuesday:  Big Bend NP, Santa Elena Canyon, Mule Ear Springs (abort) and Balanced Rock

santa_elena_map

Day 3 allowed us to venture to different areas of the park.  The plan was to drive to the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Santa Elena Canyon and work our way back for a few other short walks.  The drive took about an hour which gives you an idea of the size of the park.

DSCN3147

Cool beans:  a momma bear and cub on the way out of the Chisos Basin (from the safety of our car).  I took this quick shot and moved along though.

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Can you tell I like lagging behind for photos?  This  walk would take us into a canyon along the Rio Grande.

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Much brighter sun today!  I assume that’s Mexico on the other side of the river.

DSCN3151

Apologies for the sun blast but I still wanted to keep this one.

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Looking back east.  You can see the mountains in the very far distance (on the left) which I assume is where we were hiking the first 2 days.

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walking into the canyon (looks like Trump already has his wall covered here)

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nice, easy, change of pace walk for the morning

DSCN3163

a higher vantage point (again looking back east; canyon is west)

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nice one of the “girls” — we had to walk through that thicket after crossing a stream to get to the canyon walk (though there was a trail); this photo was on the return

santa_elena_canyon

short warm up hike 🙂  3 miles in 1:21 with a 600′ total climb (I think that dip at 2.1 miles is bad data — too lazy to clean that up)

DSCN3170

The second walk of the day, Mule Ear Springs, was about halfway back up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.   You can see the Mule Ear Peaks in the shot above.  We weren’t going to walk that far but in the end we didn’t make it to the springs either.   It was an intense 75F or so and we were under-prepared for the sun (no sunscreen except for faces) so many of us were keeping our long sleeves on.  The scenery was constant desert and it seemed like a slog so I suggested turning around after a mile.  No complaints.

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cool pineapple looking plant at least

chisos_basin_map

Next up, after lunch and a trip to the Panther Junction visitor’s center, was Balanced Rock.  That required about a 7 mile drive out the Grapevine Hills gravel road (yuck) — see orange box above.  The hike was worth it though.

 

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different type of cactus here

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the hike wasn’t too long (about a mile out) and then a scramble of sorts to the top and there we were at Balanced Rock

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How about that?  I made it too.  We actually met a very nice (and talkative), recently retired, southern gentleman from Memphis who took this photo.  He was starting his retirement journey with 2-3 weeks camping in the park (I think he was going to do all the trails) before moving on to the next one.

Hike stats (no plot):  2.1 miles, 300′, in 1:30.

Totals for the [light] day:  7 miles over 2.5 walks.

DSCN3186

we saw a lot of road runners on the drive today and didn’t have the photo opportunity for most, but I did capture this one (pretty sure this is one)

Day 4 — Wednesday:  McDonald Observatory (drive to Carlsbad)

DSCN3187

Time to say goodbye to Big Bend.  As mentioned above, we didn’t make it to the Rio Grande Village (and the Hot Springs) but we got to see and do what we wanted to.  The 4 nights/3 days seemed about right.

Upon leaving it was really neat to see the clouds literally rolling over the one set of rock formations.

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different, closer view

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Not the best shot, but we did see a pair of javelinas on the way out as well — I blew by them and then turned around to get this photo.  When I turned around again they scampered off.

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We went slightly out of the way to visit the University of Texas (Austin) McDonald Observatory.  (we are 450 miles from Austin though). A couple of the big telescope enclosures are shown above.

Interesting story on how this got started.  Basically a rich guy (William McDonald) with no heirs and no real scientific background gave UT a bunch of money in his will for the purpose of starting an observatory in the 1930s.  They picked this spot in the middle of nowhere and brought in some folks from the University of Chicago to run the place (and teach them).  Now, it’s run by UT.

We signed up for the daytime tour which involved a brief movie, a solar viewing program and a tour of 2 of the large telescopes.  The tour was given by a UT astronomy professor who was visiting.

This was super cool and a really pleasant surprise.  Wished my Dad was around to share this with him!

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This is looking live (at the time) at the sun.  The red mask has been applied to better see the prominences.  The one above is the size of about 3 earth diameters!

Pardon my geek out here, but I found this really interesting.  We also saw sunspots (not photographed).  Sunspots are magnetic in nature (ionized plasma from the sun).  We could see how the gases around sunspot gravitated towards the sunspot poles.  This magnetic activity can also lead to arcs/loops away from the sun (called prominences).

We also learned about the connection between sun flares, etc. and the aurora borealis (northern lights).  Cool stuff!  (It wasn’t just me, either).  A nice explanation is here.

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this is the larger, newer Hobby-Eberly Telescope (360″)

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This is the 110″ Harlen J. Smith Telescope built in 1968  — the globally renowned spectograph that is contained in the floor below.  They moved the telescope in numerous directions and rotated the outer wall as well.

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I was amused that they took out the Exit sign above the door — it needs to be dark after all!

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here’s a view with the outer dome rotated around — they didn’t open it yet because the climate control is set for that evening’s predicted temperature; letting in hotter air now will distort the imagery.

I thought of Kuk and her challenges with getting her data for her PhD.  These astronomy graduate students may just need a few more days on this machine and finally get their shot only to have it be a cloudy week and back in the queue they go.

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This larger telescope didn’t photograph well.  This one was partially a stunt.  They were losing the best students to programs with larger telescopes so they needed to build one but had limited funds.  It works but it doesn’t move around like the smaller scope does — they have to schedule around the stars being in a particular location.

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They can’t make the mirror for a scope this size in one piece.  Instead they have 91 (?) 1-meter mirrors that are each articulated to the appropriate angle (they use laser sightings to line it all up).  This one is a partial cutaway to see the mechanism.

We spent about 4 hours at the Observatory and really enjoyed it.  It made for a stressful nighttime drive up to Carlsbad, but it was definitely worth it.

Day 5 — Thursday:  Guadalupe Mountains NP near Carlsbad

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Guadalupe Mountains NP is about an hour away from Carlsbad, NM and is actually back in Texas.  The original (stretch) goal was to climb the highest point in Texas, the Guadalupe Peak.  It is about 4.5 miles up with a gain of 3000′ (to roughly 8500′).  That would have been a challenge under normal circumstances.  Given Kuk’s blisters and also admitting that might be a little out of our league, I picked an easier one for us to walk (on Thanksgiving).

We did the McKittrick Canyon Trail on the eastern side of the park instead.  (Good choice).

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Guadalupe Mountains on the way in.  Clouds seem to be hovering over the peak.  It turned out to be a really nice day though.

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the typical start-of-hike photo

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the hike was generally flat and had a little more vegetation than our Big Bend hikes

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actually had a stream to cross too

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a nice look back

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a nice mix of scenery

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blue sky and white clouds providing some nice color contrast

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7.2 miles, 300′, 3:25 (again, ignore the one spike) — it’s great that this classifies as a low-key (“easy”) hike for us these days

We were on a bit of a schedule as we hoped to make it back to Carlsbad to see a movie (Mockingjay).  That was quite an experience in its own right.  The theater was small (3 screens) but was also undergoing renovations.  The lobby was ripped apart (no carpet, etc.) and the toilets were portalets outside!  At least the movie wasn’t bad.

We had also lowered our standards for Thanksgiving dinner.  It turns out they weren’t low enough as most restaurants, even fast food and grocery stores were closed.  I had to fight the Thursday-Black-Friday madness at Walmart to pick up a few things to eat in the hotel.  The Sonic drive in was also open so we got some chicken nuggets for the kids there as well.   Yum (not).  Oh well, it’s not the food, it’s the experience.

Day 6 — Friday:  Carlsbad Caverns NP

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Here comes the weather.  A front had moved in and dropped temps about 40 degrees (to the mid 30s) with freezing rain predicted.  Good thing we were spending the day in a cave!  Had this happened the day before we would have been miserable (or stuck in a hotel room).  Lucky break!

The cave is famous for it’s resident bats that fly out every night but they’d left for warmer climes by this time of year.  Here’s what we missed.

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We had a short walk to get to the mouth of the cave.  Really, really cold.

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They have an elevator but it’s been out of service for awhile.  This was actually a good thing as you got a nice perspective walking down through the “Natural Entrance” (it goes much farther than the picture implies).  It took us about an hour to get down, an hour and change to walk around the Big Room and surprisingly less than an hour to get back up (we were haulin’).

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The pictures kinda look like crap and it’s hard to tell what up and down but we all really liked the cave.  We had been to Luray Caverns in the spring and the smaller Crystal Cave in Sequoia in June.  It’s been 10 years or so but we’ve also been to Mammoth Cave so I wasn’t expecting to be amazed.  But we were!

The Big Room was huge (the largest, readily accessible cave in North America) and there were different features throughout to keep things interesting.

Again, the pictures aren’t great but here they are.

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DSCN3274One final photo as we were leaving — frozen cactus spikes!  You don’t see that every day.

Summary

All in all, it turned out to be a great week.  The hikes were about right and we caught a break with the weather.  I think we spent the right amount of time in each location too.  I’m glad we were able to tackle some of the “stretch goals”, particularly the South Rim in Big Bend.  Even our backup hike in Guadalupe Mountains NP turned out well.  The McDonald Observatory was a very pleasant surprise and the Carlsbad Caverns exceeded our expectations.

We don’t have a burning desire to return (it’s not that kinda place) but we did enjoy our time there.

I’m leaning towards returning to Sedona next year but maybe something else will pop up.

Thanks for reading!

Sedona (Nov 2014)

Welcome to my first “retro” post.  In my quest to document our travels, I wanted to go back and capture trips that occurred when I wasn’t blogging.  For my first attempt, I thought I’d try one of the most recent one in hopes that I would remember that one best.  In addition, I had culled and compressed the photos for Facebook already so that made it easier too.

sedona_AZLast Thanksgiving we spent the entire week in Sedona, Arizona.  Sedona is 1.5 – 2 hrs north of Phoenix; not far from Flagstaff though we spent time in neither.  This was all about enjoying the clear blue skies and red rocks of Sedona.

sedonaNot sure the above map does much for those that haven’t been.  This is known as “The Y” and represents “downtown” Sedona.  Our two accommodations (marked with stars) were in West Sedona a few miles out and were convenient enough.

The Village of Oak Creek is slightly to the south and Oak Creek Canyon is slightly to the north along the way to Flagstaff.  Our entire week was spent walking/hiking in the National Forest area.  I was proud of the crew as we logged over 40 miles of hiking for the week.

The kids’ fall breaks did not align so that left us with Thanksgiving.  Nicole had the week off and we yanked Alex out of school early so we could enjoy a full week outdoors.  I had been to Sedona a handful of times on “business” but this was the first time for the family.  It was a great escape from the gray skies and impending winter of Indianapolis.  I’ve told Kuk this is retirement Plan A but I’m not sure she believes me.

Day 1 (Saturday) — Sedona Airport Loop

DSCN2085Though we would make it to the Airport in Sedona for a walk, we didn’t (couldn’t) fly in there as it is pretty much just for private airplanes.  After taking an early morning flight into Phoenix we drove north and worked out way to Sedona.  Our first viewpoint was at the National Forest Ranger Station on the way into town.  Get used to the blue skies and red rocks.

DSCN2086Another great view

airport1The airport is fairly close to the “Y” just west on 89A.  It offers a nice circular walk with views of the area.  Since we only had a 1/2 day, I thought it would be a good warm up walk prior to checking in to our “resort”.

airport24.7 miles with ~900′ elevation gain over 3 hrs (2:28 moving) — the geek stats are back

DSCN2092nice family shot with a view — good first walk

Day 2 (Sunday) — Broken Arrow / Chicken Point / Submarine Rock

airport_submarineFor our first full day out, we decided to hike some of the Broken Arrow Trail out to Submarine Rock, one of the more famous formations (there are plenty out here).  This is also popular with the “Pink Jeep” tours (but we of course hiked it for free 🙂 ).  The starting point is closer to the Village of Oak Creek rather than Sedona, but you can see if proximity to the airport (as a crow flies) from the map.

submarine2longer walk today:  7.3 miles, 1363′ elevation, 4:39 elapsed time w/ 3:26 moving (and a nice picnic lunch)

DSCN2099heading out on the trail

DSCN2101a view of the Chapel of Holy Cross from the trail — we opted to see that later in the week rather than take the spur route on this walk

DSCN2106The one downside to visiting this time of year is that it is out of season for most of the flowers.  I did capture this agave plant though.

DSCN2107Chicken Point (I believe)

DSCN2110looking back towards our starting point

DSCN2113a nice family shot with Submarine Rock “surfacing” in the background (to the right of Alex down below)

DSCN2118walking towards me on Submarine Rock

Day 2 (Monday a.m.) — Mescal Trail

I did the bulk of my research by purchasing a map and reading “Great Sedona Hikes” prior to our trip.  I was contemplating doing the Secret Canyon hike but I was concerned by the amount of off-roading required to get to the trailhead.  I decided to send the author, Bill Bohan, a note that morning.  He responded immediately.  In fact, he did one better and invited us to join his hiking club for that very day.  So, we walked the Mescal Trail with his group and had a great time.

bear_doe_boyton_mescal_devilsThe Mescal Trail is the red one marked above (off Long Canyon Road).  The adjoining trail on the other side of the road (in Cyan) is Devil’s Bridge and our afternoon activity.

mescal24.5 miles, 600′ elevation, 3 hrs (2 moving)

DSCN2126a rare flower

DSCN2127along the trail

DSCN2129nice family shot (even I made it into this one)

DSCN2132Alex waiting for us to catch up

DSCN2134another agave, this time up the canyon

P1010499asand here’s the hiking club crew (or the half that went this route) — fun times!

Day 2 (Monday p.m.) — Devil’s Bridge

After saying goodbye to Bill and the hiking club, we had our picnic by the road before setting off for Devil’s Bridge.  It was nice that the trailhead was right there; no moving of the car required!

devils_bridge24.3 miles, 864′ elevation, 2:39 with 2:12 moving.  Gave us 9 miles for the day which was definitely a work out!

DSCN2138along our way — not sure which rock formations these are though

DSCN2145and here is Devil’s Bridge — pretty scary looking, huh?  The wind was whipping around pretty good.  Kuk didn’t make the final climb for this one and the photographer didn’t see the need to go out there.

DSCN2147and from another angle, though back lit

DSCN2149heading back (I think)

Day 4 (Tuesday) — Soldier’s Pass

soldierpass1This was a nice loop walk that I pieced together by combining sections of the Soldier’s Pass Arches Trail, Brins Mesa Overlook, Cibola Pass and Jordan Trails.  You can see we didn’t exactly follow the planned [magenta] route but we got close.

soldierpass25.8 miles, 1400′ elevation, 4 hrs w/ 3:09 moving — taking it easy today 🙂

DSCN2151starting off on Soldier’s Pass

DSCN2154and another

DSCN2157Alex ahead of the pack — my how times have changed

DSCN2163Nicole’s solo shot

DSCN2166great views as usual

DSCN2171another rare full family shot — we bumped into a few people but this trail was pretty empty

DSCN2173famous formation that I can’t remember

DSCN2175and another nice view

Day 5 (Wednesday) — Aborted Bear and Successful Doe

bear_doe_boyton_mescal_devilsThe plan for the day was to try to two trails down Boyton Pass Road.  Bear Mountain was going to be our toughest hike with a pretty steep climb (It’s the trail on the left).  As we were going up, Kuk decided she wasn’t comfortable with it due to the big steps required (and heights).  We aborted and walked the shorter Doe Mountain trail across the street instead.  Afterwards we drove on down the road to take in some ancient native sites.

DSCN2181starting off towards Bear Mountain — we got up a ways and then turned around

doe2Doe Mountain:  2.7 miles, a steep 650′, 2:47 (1:37).  As you can tell we walked straight up onto a plateau that we circled and then came back down.

DSCN2184Partially up Doe, looking back at Bear.

DSCN2186on the plateau

DSCN2189happy family

DSCN2195The two archaeological sites were somewhat ho hum.  The drive out wasn’t though.  Kicked up quite a bit of dust.

Day 6 (Thursday) — Boyton Canyon

Happy Thanksgiving!  Fine by me to start a new tradition of hiking a few miles under clear, blue skies.

boyton1out and back trail at the top

boyton27 miles, 1000′ elevation, 4:51 (3:51)

DSCN2203I think this is the Boyton Vortex near the beginning of the trail; maybe it’s “just a view”

DSCN2204on/near the “vortex”

DSCN2205Heading into the canyon

DSCN2210easy to find a scenic place to sit

DSCN2211back down the canyon

DSCN2217sitting atop the last scramble at the end

DSCN2219another view on the way back

Day 7 (Friday) — West Fork

west_fork 2We headed up Oak Creek Canyon for our last day hike.  West Fork was quite different than the others as it was a shaded, wooded hike with much less red rock.  It was a nice contrast.

west_fork3probably lost my GPS signal for a portion of this — 5.8 miles, 3:38 (3:21)

DSCN2227lots of stream crossings and a slight chill in the air at the start

DSCN2228relatively bundled up in the canyon

DSCN2229tall canyons and trees

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Day 8 (Saturday) — Driving By

Time to head home, but before we did we thought we’d drive around and see some of the iconic formations in the area.  I’m afraid I don’t remember all the names though.

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DSCN2241we did make it to the Chapel of the Holy Cross

DSCN2245Bell Rock

DSCN2248Courthouse Rock

DSCN2251Cathedral Rock

Summary

We had a great and relaxing trip.  We didn’t try to squeeze too much in and enjoyed the outstanding weather.  Sedona is beautiful and I really could see moving out there.  I’ll have to spend some time in the summer to get the full picture though.

Hopefully you enjoyed this “retro” post and I’ll see if I can’t get some of our earlier trips up on the blog as well.

Costa Brava, Spain (July 2015)

For part 2 of our Spain adventure, we set our sights on the Costa Brava region of Spain.  I selected the small, medieval town of Begur for our base.  It’s about 2 hours or slightly less away from Barcelona (see map below).

We picked up our rental car in Barcelona rather than head out to the airport (in the wrong direction).  That part went fine.  I should have bought a map instead of relying solely on my GPS but we eventually got there.  (After realizing my rookie mistake of having toll roads turned off on the GPS, a leftover from my UK days.  We got to see some unexpected country side.  🙂 )

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Talk about a major change of pace!  After the hustle/bustle of Barcelona, we slowed way down.  We arrived around 2pm with a few hours to kill before checking in to our villa at 4pm.  The whole place was pretty much shut down for siesta time.  Time to relax!

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We made a few day trips to Figueres and Girona but we mainly stayed in town, took some walks in the morning and chilled by the pool in the afternoon.  All this with our good friends from England, the Connells.  It was great to spend the week with them.

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Our home for the week was “La Chumbera“, shown above.  It was a little “tired” and certainly not fancy but it was well located, had enough room, a great pool, a passable grill and lots of outdoor seating.  On the downside, it didn’t have A/C (which we knew about) and not enough fans to go around to all the bedrooms.  The WiFi was more miss than hit which was a little frustrating as well.  All in all though, we were all satisfied.

The days wonderfully melded together so I won’t give a day-by-day blow but rather I’ll highlight the various activities.

A Walk into Town — Begur Castle

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One day early in the week, all 7 of us walked into town to explore the “square” and walk up to the castle.  The map above isn’t that helpful if you haven’t been to Begur but the red line is what we did.  We walked down from our neighborhood, crossed a park and then hiked back up into town (it is a bit hillly).  From town we walked farther up the hill to the castle.  We completed the loop and took a slightly different way back through town.  About 4 miles in total.

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On the road around to the castle, a quick peek of the Mediterranean Sea. Begur is 3-4 km (couple of miles) from the water. We would hike to various beaches later in the week.
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a different view of the sea with a little haze on this day
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Mas d’en Pinc — a Catalan farmhouse with a fortification tower. Owned during the 1960s by a famous flamenco dancer; it now belongs to the Begur Town Council.
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the kids, with the sun at their back, atop Begur Castle
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sea view from castle
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hey, there’s La Chumbera (our villa), with a little zoom, from the castle

Back at the Villa

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our sea view from the villa
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the castle from our villa
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Begur village/town
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sun rise from the villa

Figueres — the Salvidor Dalí Museum

Prominent Spanish surrealist painter Salvidor Dalí was born in Figueres which is about 90 minutes up the road from Begur (Dalí wiki).  He decided to turn the Figueres Theater, which had been severely damaged during the Spanish Civil war, into a museum dedicated to, well, himself.  Though not the most modest gesture, it has worked out well for the town (city?) that draws many visitors to the museum.  We joined the masses for one of our day trips.

The museum is very unique.  As you know, we are not really “art” people and this surrealist stuff is hard to grasp for us knuckle-dragging engineers.  I read that Dalí felt that if you needed help interpreting his work, then basically you weren’t worthy.  Well, I guess we weren’t worthy.  It would have been nice to have some of the history and backstory (and, yes, some of the interpretation) to help us understand it better.  I think we would have gotten more out of it then.  As it was, it was still an interesting day out.

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Museum entrance
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Dalí statue out front with some “Oscars” on the roof
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the courtyard in the center of the museum (the rest was indoors)
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need a little help with this one
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interesting ceiling shot, presumably a play of sorts on the Sistine Chapel but I really haven’t a clue

A second part of the museum, in a different building, housed some of Dalí’s jewelry designs. Nicole grabbed a view snapshots on her phone.

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this bedazzled lips seemed to be famous
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as did the long-legged elephant
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crown jewels? ruby heart?

Walk to Sa Riera

There are a number of small beaches and coves around Begur which makes it a particularly nice base.  Andrea and I set out to walk to the closest one, Sa Riera, the next morning.

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It’s the blue trail above; pretty much a straight shot north through some nice woods.  We had a hard time finding the trail head (operator error X 2) but we got there.

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I even had my geeky GPS.  Just over 4 miles round trip from the house.  600′ downhill to the beach and 600′ back up.

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Looking back up the beach at Sa Riera — the sand here was very coarse. Our early start beat the crowds (and helped with the heat).
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another Sa Riera shot
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and one of the calm waters w/ 1 swimmer (and Andrea touching the Med)

A Note about Dinners

One nice aspect of the villa was our ability to casually eat in.  I enjoyed venturing to the local grocery and with a valiant team effort we ate in all but the last night.  Derek manned the barely adequate (open) grill and I took care of the rest.  We ate burgers/sausages, chicken, fish, paella (sort of) and various meats/cheeses supplemented with fruit, vege, and salad.  It was great; all the better with the great company!

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and here’s that great company: Nicole, Alex (with his mouth full), Kuk, Annabel, Derek and Andrea with the lovely Begur in the background

Aiguafreda/Sa Tuna

We aren’t really beach people so there wasn’t a huge pull to get to the beach, particularly with our own pool.  However, we did want to continue to check them out during our morning walks.  On the next morning, Derek and Kuk joined Andrea and me for a walk to Aiguafreda and Sa Tuna via Begur.  We left the kids to sleep in and roll into the pool when they felt like it.

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This is the “pink” walk on the map above.  Again, probably not that helpful, but you can see we are checking out the next main coves.

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A little over 5 miles this time and about the same down and up from before since neither the house nor the sea changed elevation!

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can’t remember where I took this, but you can see we had some overcast skies — good for walking!
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Aiguafreda — very clear waters; not much of a beach to speak of but more for snorkeling and water activities
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the crew at Aiguafreda
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me and my sweetie (and our hats)
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another view of Aiguafreda as we walk up and over to the next cove
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looking back to Aiguafreda — not very big at all
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we made it to the next cove over: Sa Tuna

In all honesty, we should have kept going a little bit farther around the coast but we decided to head back instead.   I was unnecessarily worried about the kids since I didn’t know how long it would take to get back and I didn’t want them to freak out (we didn’t sort out the workable phones before leaving).  Oh well. It turns out we made really good time coming back (going out was a little trickier until we fully figured out the signage) and we even had time for coffee in town.

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a view from the other side of the castle that we saw on our way back
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some more group shots at dinner that night with the Med in background
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and another one with Begur in the background

Girona

Our next day trip took us to the city of Girona (pop. ~100,000) with its city walls and Gothic architecture.   We opted for, yes, another walking tour.  This one was led by the Tourism Info Center and a very passionate guide, Anna, who was very proud of her city.

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view of Girona across one of the rivers near the start of the tour
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along the river Onyar (?)
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and another (both river shots taken by Nicole)
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the “lioness” that one is supposed to kiss for good luck and happy returns
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not everyone likes every walking tour

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Girona’s gothic cathedral entrance (we didn’t go in this time)
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witch gargoyle — legend has it she wouldn’t stop shouting nasties at people so she was turned to stone
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a different view of the cathedral
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and another

Though I didn’t blast you with a bunch of photos from Girona, we did have a good time. We had a nice lunch and some ice cream after the tour and then headed back to the pool.

More Coastal Walks: Aiguablava

On our last day, the adults decided to do one more coastal walk.  This was started a little farther away in Aiguablava (we drove there) and then proceeded up the coast to Fornells, Platja Fonda and most of the way to Cap De Begur (though we may have technically stopped short).

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Had a decent climb up from the beach to get to the viewpoint before turning around.  Just shy of 4 miles but a little more vertical than before (and warmer).

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Aiguablava before the crowds. Though still not large, this was the closest to our definition of a beach with fine sand.
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looking out from Aiguablava into the sun and water
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looking back after climbing out; notice the clear water (and empty beach)
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a little higher, looking back over the rooftops
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a nice, little harbor nearby
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this infinity pool was really cool; I think it was for hotel guests only though
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we’ve done a bit of climbing, that’s for sure
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a couple of fancy houses on the point
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odd to see the fog (or low clouds) roll in while we were there
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the hardy hikers with the “fog” in the background
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my turn
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and the two of us–pretty cool shot
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another with the eery fog
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a pensive, or at least resting, Derek
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Catalonia flag as we are walking back
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looking back at our foggy hill (glad we got some unobstructed views in as well)
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Wow — the beach filled up while we were gone. Not much sand left.

We did manage to eat out one night; at least the adults did!  We decided to treat ourselves to a nice night out at Restaurante Aiguaclara.  The food was outstanding (maybe even better than Hisop) and the service and atmosphere were perfect.  Great night out with 2 great friends.

I had the “puff pastry with wild mushrooms” and suckling pig (positions 4 & 5 below).  Everyone was happy with their choices.
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Summary

As you can probably tell, we had a wonderfully relaxing holiday and a great visit with the Connells.  The laid back nature of the trip combined with the great company really suited as well.  It’s too bad we are thousands of miles apart, but I certainly look forward to our next co-vacation wherever that may be.

Two more photos below that adequately sum up the week:

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BFF’s

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Each girl is sporting their own Derby High GCSE class of 2015 shirts with all the girls’ names.  I thought it was really nice of the class to include Nicole who schooled with them for 3 years but only 6 months or so at GCSE levels.  Nicely done!

Barcelona (July 2015)

We made our first return trip to Europe since moving back to the US.  The primary objective was to visit our British friends, the Connells, while also visiting some place we have yet to see.  We spent 5 nights in Barcelona by ourselves and then joined the Connells for a week in the Costa Brava area (covered in a separate post).

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Barcelona (and Costa Brava) are in the Catalunya region of Spain in the northeast part of the country not far from the French border.  Previous trips to Spain were to Madrid, Gran Canaria and Andalusia (Sevilla/Granada/Malaga).

Day 1 (Monday) — walking off jet lag

After our overnight flight and jet-lagged state, the plan for the first day was to check in to our apartment and wander around to get our bearings (and hopefully stay awake).  No major activities planned.

Our apartment was in the El Born neighborhood so we started there.  We visited our neighborhood church (Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar) then the Citadel Park, Arc de Triomf and a walk down La Rambla.  We were suitably worn out!

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Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic church built in the 1300s. It was very weird to be in a Gothic church that was hot given our UK experience!
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outside the antique market (I think)
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big wooly mammoth in the park
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Cascada Monumental
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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, built for the 1888 World’s Fair
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a sample of the mass of humanity on La Rambla
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the crazily (over)crowded market La Boqueria. We walked in and walked out. Too crowded. The market closer to our apartment (Santa Caterina) was more to our liking.

Day 2 (Tuesday)–Old City Walking Tour, City Museum

We love walking tours. Tuesday’s activities centered around an “Old City” (Gothic Quarter) tour from Runner Bean.  We attempted to visit the Barcelona Cathedral beforehand and we took in the City Museum afterwards.

DSCN2717At least we got to see the outside of the Cathedral.  Apparently the ladies in the family dared to not cover their thighs so we were not allowed to go in (we would later in the week).  In addition, our tour guide had some coverups so we were able to go into the courtyard as part of the walking tour.

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Pretty example (and also the oldest?) of sgraffito (layers of plaster) in the old city.
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Shrine to the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia a 13-year-old Roman Christian virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians in the reign of emperor Diocletian
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Barcelona version of the Bridge of Sighs
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courtyard inside the Barcelona Cathedral
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towers that date back to Roman times (at least the foundations do)
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back to the Cathedral
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an opportunity to sit down during the walking tour
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Placa del Rei (I think)

After the tour, we went to MUHBA, the Barcelona city museum. The best part of the museum was extensive Roman ruins that lay underneath. It reminded me of a similar exhibit in Sevilla.

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example layout of the ruins
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mosaic
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part of the fishery (?), or winery
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fishery
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I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this. It was part of the museum and reminded us of the Christopher Columbus museum we saw on Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

DSCN2764Here’s something unique:  the caganer, [from wiki] a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighboring areas with Catalan culture. The name “El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the “barretina”) and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.  Apparently, it is quite an honor to have your own Caganer.  I couldn’t resist, despite the fact that it is obviously touristy.  We brought home Messi.

That’s not the only fecal Christmas tradition either.  There’s also caga Tió (poo log) that craps out presents when beaten around Christmas.  Learn something new on all these trips.  🙂

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We capped the day off with a nice tapas meal at el Tapeo which turned out to be our favorite. Shout out to our kids who ate (and enjoyed) squid, cuttlefish, octopus, oxtail, rabbit ribs and other adventuresome items. Must be the parenting. 🙂
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yes, I exist — is the lady in the corner trying to escape the photo?

Day 3 (Wednesday) — Montjuic Castle & Catalan Art Museum

On Wednesday we ventured over to the southwest part of the city to Montjuic.  It was our first experience with Barcelona’s public transportation.  We used the Metro, a funicular, and an overpriced cable car to get to the top of the hill.  We used a bus to get to the museum to save a little walking and then took the metro back.

The castle allows for nice views of the harbor and city though it was a little hot and hazy on our trip. From Wiki:   In the last 350 years Montjuïc Castle has played a decisive role in the history of Barcelona becoming a symbol of submission after the Catalan defeat to Spain in 1714. Since then the Montjuïc canons have bombarded the city and its citizens on various occasions and Montjuïc has been used as a prison and torture centre repeatedly for three centuries.

The castle is infamous in Catalan history books because of its role in the civil war from 1936 to 39 when both sides of the conflict imprisoned, tortured and shot political prisoners at Montjuïc, among them Lluís Companys, who was the former president of the Generalitat de Catalunya at the beginning of Spain’s civil war. Companys was executed by the dictator Franco’s regime at Montjuïc castle in 1940.

The afternoon was Catalunya National Art Museum (MNAC) which also has nice views of the Magic Fountain and the city.

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Castle entrance. The castle’s current form was largely built in the late 1700s.
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a hazy view of La Sagrada Familia (a Thursday destination)
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inside the castle looking out to the city
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the harbor
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the entrance from the inside
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another hazy city view

Prior to entering the art museum, we took the bus down the hill and stopped off at the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1992 Olympics.  The stadium was originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition and received a significant face lift for the Olympics.  Recall that the Olympic cauldron was lit via an arrow (YouTube).

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the stadium has obviously seen better days 🙂
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dirt shaving, as far as I could tell
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funky artwork near the stadium — I’m sure some bright spark can tell me what it is
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view from behind of the Art Museum (MNAC) — about where we had our picnic lunch