Friday, July 20, 2012


Enduring Tragedy at a Movie Theater in Aurora

Most of my dad's family hale from Colorado. Over the years I have spent many happy summer's (and a few Christmas') there. 

It is always beautiful. 

It is filled with independent thinking, hearty, hard working, and artistic people. Many of whom are deeply in love with nature. I have been lucky enough to return there over and over for work and pleasure.

So today when a senseless tragedy exacts a terrible price with innocents purposely harmed, as a traveler I urge everyone to carefully disassociate tragedy with place. 

Norway is not at fault any more than Virginia Tech, or Columbine, or Tucson, or Oklahoma City, or Ground Zero. 

So at least for today lets all agree...

We are not from one nation or another. 

  We are not from one state or another. 

    We are not from one political affiliation or another. 

      We are not from one religion or another. 

        We are simply brothers and sisters...

          Who grieve.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Grand Canyon Railway

A Very Civilized Journey Indeed

Somewhere in Arlington National Cemetery rests the remains of Bucky O'Neill.

O'Neill was an Irish immigrant who ventured west becoming a leader in territorial Arizona. He served as Mayor of Prescott, Sheriff of Yavapai County, and one of Teddy Rosevelt's original Rough Riders. He was also an energetic advocate for the development of a rail line to the Grand Canyon.

His death in Cuba in 1898 deprived him from realizing the fulfillment of his railroad dream with the completion in 1901 of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Grand Canyon railroad.

The railway was the key to the mass access of the Grand Canyon, opening some 7 years before the Grand Canyon's designation as a National Monument (now a National Park.)

The rail service served miners, explorers and tourists alike for 67 years smoothly connecting with daily rail service from Chicago to Los Angeles. 

A View From The Dome

In 1968, on its final run, carrying just 3 passengers, the Grand Canyon railway quietly ceased service. 

It lay dormant for two decades, until in 1989 efforts began to re-establish service. And, in 1990, rail service was resumed.

Today the Grand Canyon railway reduces 40,000 auto trips into the park annually.

The rolling stock is all meticulously maintained. Our "Grand View" vista dome car was renovated in 2011 and originally served as part of the legendary California Zephyr.

There are four comfortable classes of service. Coach has big bench seats. First Class has recliners and includes refreshments. The Vista Dome and Parlor cars are limited to Adults.

If you are a member of AAA (and can snake your way through a convoluted website to find the discount) you can save 10% on your fares.

The train departs Williams for a relaxing 2 hours trip to the South Rim. Northbound there are singing cowboys onboard. Southbound there are desperado's who hold up the train.

I have always wanted to enjoy a meal in the El Tovar historic dining room. So at 11:30 AM as soon as the train doors opened at the Grand Canyon Station (which is just below the historic El Tovar hotel), I sprinted up and booked tables.

Lunch, service and atmosphere were perfect.

El Tovar

An El Tovar Dining Room Mural

A Fourth of July 
Chocolate Taco!

After lunch we still had plenty of time to gasp at views of the Canyon itself. I've returned to the Canyon many times, yet nothing prepares me for that view. 

The Seventh Wonder of the World

Everchanging Colors

For those not staying on at the park, the train departs at 3:30 for its return to Williams.

The train does offer its own "hotel" in Williams, but it is overly priced and devoid of any real genuine character.

This rail trip isn't for everyone. It is not the way to visit the Grand Canyon if you are in a hurry or find no particular allure in rail travel.

For me it was a joy.

I vowed to make the trip again in the middle of winter when the ground is frosted and the desert trees are dusted with snow.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

The People Without Water

Sunset Crater, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon

I briefly escaped the summer heat of Phoenix this week with a mini visit to spectacular Northern Arizona.

I had three goals, find temps in the 70's, revisit some national monuments and ride the train to the Grand Canyon (which will be a separate post).

To those who have visited the four corners region, the history of its ancient people is fascinating. They had advanced cultures, built elaborate pueblo's and cliff dwellings and developed various farming techniques.

Wupatki Pueblo
(Click to Enlarge Any of These Photos)

Most of the tourists visiting the region go to the Grand Canyon, zip up to Las Vegas, maybe loop back to Mesa Verde or Sedona. Few will venture just outside of Flagstaff to the three fascinating and easy to reach destinations showcasing the power of nature and the remarkable engineering skill of Arizona's first residents.

Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments are just north of town and Walnut Canyon National Monument is just east.

Wupatki National Monnument
Wupatki was established by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 to preserve the Citadel and Wupatki Pueblo's. Years of vandalism and theft had taken a stiff toll.

Pueblo Detail

Access to the site was enhanced when in 1933 some of the 2 million men working in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) began working throughout the Grand Canyon region. At Wupatki they stabilized the pueblo's themselves, built roads, trails, and much of the facilities and infrastructure that serve the monument's today.

According to National Monument literature:
"For its time and place, there was no other pueblo like Wupatki. Less than 800 years ago, it was the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around. It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. And it was built in one of the lowest, warmest, and driest places on the Colorado Plateau."  

Although human history in the region spans 10,000 years, settlement at Wupatki was the direct result of the volcanic activities of Sunset Crater a hundred years earlier which forced inhabitants near the present day crater to abandon their pithouses near the volcano zone.

The location of the new pueblo's were suited for the trade networks of the time (copper, turquoise, shell jewelry and parrots.) Wupatki residents arrived around 1100. By 1250 they were gone.

Fragments of The Wupatki Community Pueblo

The pueblo's are easy to reach by foot and offer a rare glimpse into an amazing society.

Sunset Crater
In 1930, 6 years after Wupatki National Monument was established, President Herbert Hoover (spurred by local pressure) designated Sunset Crater as a National Monument to protect its geological formations. His protective efforts were triggered by the 1928 attempt of a movie company to blow up the crater.

In year 900 Sunset Crater literally emerged before the eyes of the inhabitants of the region. They had lived in pithouses and farmed amidst the rich pine forests and meadows of the region. After the eruption they moved on to Wupatki and Walnut Canyon. Their descendants are now the Zuni, Hopi and Navajo tribes.

Anyone walking the trails at Sunset Crater is rewarded by views of its moonscape lava fields and the  deep colors of the cinders lining the banks of the crater itself.

The Lava Fields

Sunset Crater's Cinder Fields Appear Almost Like Water

Walnut Canyon
My favorite stop of the day was Walnut Canyon National Monument. The oldest of the three National Monuments, Walnut Canyon was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915.

In 1125, at the very same time the Wupatki Pueblo was being constructed, the Sinagua (Spanish for "People Without Water") people were creating elaborate cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon where they farmed, hunted, traded, and gathered useful plants

Similar to Wupatki, Walnut Canyon was abandoned in 1250 with the Sinagua relocating southwest to new villages along the Anderson Mesa (eventually assimilating into the Hopi culture.)

The key to a visit here is walking the Island Trail (also created by the CCC) into the Canyon itself. The trail requires some effort (240 stairs) but amply rewards visitors with direct access to cliff dwellings, views of amazing rock formations and wildlife sighting.

The "Island" of Walnut Canyon

A Typical Cliff Dwelling Formation

Along The Island Trail

Swirling Rock Formations

As I walked through the cliff dwellings and considered how its residents had to continuously climb up and down the canyon itself (at 7,000 feet in altitude) to accomplish all of their daily activities, I found myself stunned at their tenacity. 

Also as I walked I witnessed hapless souls staring at their smartphones complaining that they could not get enough coverage in the canyon to text while hiking. 

I stopped and actually had a good laugh. We have become a society of such jerks.

For those that want to visit there is a special "Flagstaff" pass available to allow a years of access to all three sites.

So, grow up! Leave the smartphone in the glovebox and spend a day experiencing real life while hiking in these three national treasures!

Roadboy's Travels 2012