Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lake Powell

View across Lake Powell from our camp site
Ever since the Colorado River flooded in 1904, creating the Salton Sea, California had been pushing for dams to control and regulate the river's flow.  This also facilitates Cali, along with Arizona and Nevada getting "their share" of the Colorado as worked out in negotiations way back in 1922.  Boulder Dam was finished in 1936 and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was working on plans for several other dams upriver.  One of these was in Echo Park, Colorado, near Dinosaur National Monument.  This raised the hackles of the Sierra Club and, in particular, their Executive Director, David Brower.  They felt flooding this area would be a tragedy and initiated a 6 year national battle to prevent a dam on the Green river.  Finally, the Bureau agreed to scrap the Echo Park Dam providing the environmentalists would not give them any trouble over another little project they were working on, the Glen Canyon Dam on the border of Arizona and Utah.  The Sierra Club and their allies happily agreed and declared victory, even though they had never actually seen Glen Canyon.  There were, after all, no roads to it until Hwy 89 was constructed specifically for the dam project.  By the time Brower took a boat trip down the Colorado to see what he had bargained away, it was too late.  A much more scenic canyon than Echo Park was now committed to going under water and David Brower spent the rest of his life kicking himself over it.

Boat tour from Lake Powell Hotel
The original plan was to put in a fairly low dam, but to make up for the water storage loss from Echo Park, they raised the height to 710 ft, a massive undertaking.  President Eisenhower pushed a button on his desk in the oval office on Oct. 1, 1956 and detonated the first charge of TNT to build the diversion tunnels that would reroute the river around the dam site.  They started pouring concrete on June 17, 1960 and poured around the clock until the last bucketful was in place on Sept. 13, 1966.  Over 5 million cubic yards of concrete made up the dam and then the reservoir it created, Lake Powell, took 17 years to fill.  The haggling over how much water will be released downstream and who gets it will carry on much longer.
Water scoured rocks in a narrow side canyon
Local resident
Meanwhile, the dam created a water-sporting paradise that we visited for a few days after we left Tuba City.  Staying in the Wahweap camp ground, we had a magnificent view of the lake just outside our front door.  Renting a house boat when you are traveling in a motor home seemed silly, so we forwent that adventure but we did take a boat tour for half a day out of the Lake Powell Hotel.  What you see when you travel on Lake Powell is the tippy tops of the former canyon, gigantic rock formations of granite and Navajo limestone.  Some of the side passages are very narrow and many of the the rocks are covered with desert varnish.   The natural beauty is astonishing. 

So is the unnatural beauty of the house boats docked at the marinas along the way.  Many of these are apparently owned by large corporations for the use of their executives and/or employees, some are rentals, some are time shares.   The boats can moor there year round but, because the lake is entirely within a national park, any given individual can only be there for 2 weeks at a time and a total of 30 days per year.  So owning a boat for personal use here is an indication of having way more money than you need.  That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of those as well.  Some of these floating vacation homes are 75 feet long with 3 or 4 decks.  I'd love to get on one of those but they are a little out of our price range.  Top boat on the lake is valued at 2.1 million dollars.

Glen Canyon Dam
While we were there we visited the dam visitors' center but it was a case of too much information.  The main exhibition hall is chuck full of information posters, maybe 50 of them.  And the print is small, so there is a lot of info there.  As much as I like to be educated, my eyes pretty quickly began to glaze over and I slipped outside to just gaze at the dam.  I don't know whether it is an engineering triumph or an environmental disaster, but it is damned impressive to look at.  Right next to it runs the Glen Canyon Bridge which is something of a marvel in its own right.

Balanced rock on the road to Lee's Ferry
The master plan called for three more dams along the Colorado, but right now we don't have enough water to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell both full at the same time so it isn't clear what problems more storage would solve.  The other projects are off the drawing boards for now.  The Navajo built a big coal powered generator right next to the lake that sends electricity to 3 different states.  They figure it is likely to be more reliable than hydroelectric here in the long run.  It is supposedly the cleanest coal burner in the world and they are in the process of spending tens of millions of dollars on upgrades to make it even cleaner.

They used to say that the Colorado River was too thick to drink and too thin to plow.  It carried huge amounts of silt to the Gulf of California every year.  Now, when the water enters the lake and the flow rate drops to nearly zero, all that dirt falls out giving Lake Powell some of the clearest,   cleanest water in the country.  The Colorado River below the dam is a beautiful blue and through the Grand Canyon it is dark green rather than reddish brown.  It turns out this isn't that great for the river ecology.  They've recently tried periodically releasing large amounts of water from the lake to try and mimic the effect of spring run-offs scouring the canyons down stream but it hasn't really worked that well.

The new Navajo Bridge
In the 19th century there was no easy way to get across the Colorado River.  There were a couple of crossing points in Utah which are now at the bottom of Lake Powell.  And there was Lee's Ferry, a point about 16 miles below the current dam.  Here the river bed flattened out briefly and the shear walls that characterize much of the Colorado's course widened so a road could be built just barely big enough to carry a wagon up out of the canyon.    The other alternative was going 260 miles around the Grand Canyon.  John D. Lee arrived in 1873 and established the ferry with a boat called The Colorado.  Lee was on the run from the feds for his involvement in the  Mountain
Rafts lined up and waiting at Lee's Ferry
Meadows massacre in 1859.  (This is an interesting story you can read about here if you are interested.)  Four years later they finally caught up with Lee and he was tried and executed by firing squad, leaving behind his name on the ferry which continued to operate until 1928 when its services were replaced by the Navajo Bridge.  The site of the ferry now serves as the launching point for river rafting expeditions through the Grand Canyon.  We did not sign up for one.

The original Navajo Bridge was an 18 ft wide, two lane steel arch bridge that was designed for a  capacity of 22.5 tons, then posted as having a weight limit of 40 tons.  Doesn't that make you feel all safe and secure?  By the 1990s the bridge was clearly inadequate for its purpose and a very similar looking 44 ft wide bridge was built right next to it with much higher weight tolerance provided by modern materials.  The original bridge was converted to use for foot traffic so you can walk out to the middle of the canyon and take pics over the edge.  The two spans sit about 470 feet above the river, perfect for Vicki's fear of heights.  The dogs didn't seem to mind a bit.
The Colorado River from the old Navajo Bridge

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Hopi Mesas

From Williams we took I-40 east through Flagstaff, then headed north up Hwy 89 onto the Navajo reservation.  This is the largest Indian reservation in the US, covering 27,425 sq. miles of northeastern Arizona and slopping over into both Utah and New Mexico.  Some of you may recall that we spent 3 months working with the Navajos at the medical clinic in Chinle a few years back.  But smack in the middle of the Navajo land is another reservation, that of the Hopi tribe who claim 2532 sq. miles southeast of Tuba City as their ancestral lands and are buying more whenever they can get the funds together.  We parked our rig in Tuba City for 3 days specifically to visit the Hopi Mesas, which we had not done when we were here working.

It is natural to assume that the Navajos and Hopi are closely related since they were found living in more or less the same place.  But the Hopi are descendants of the ancient Puebloans.  Anthropologists estimate that their people have lived in this area for over 10,000 years.  Their language is related to that of the Aztecs in Mexico and they have their own culture and religion.  The Navajo, on the other hand, are relative johnny-come-latelies, having migrated to the area just in the last few centuries.  They originally came from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska and their speech is derived from the Athabaskan family of languages and ultimately related to the tongues of eastern Asia.  The Navajo and Apaches traveled together and when they got to Utah and Arizona some groups learned farming from the locals while others continued to be primarily hunters.  The farmers were named by the Spanish as Apaches de las Nabahu, "Apaches of Cultivated Fields", which got shortened to Navajo.  Both groups refer to themselves as Na Dené or "the People".

We signed up for a tour of the Hopi Mesas, of which there are three.  Each mesa is the traditional home of 3 to 5 clans.  While individuals may move to a different village or mesa, they can't change clans which are matrilineal, which means you are a member of your mother's clan.  The clan affiliation is announced with any introduction.  "My name is xxx, a Hopi of the clan of the Water Coyote."  We were never really educated as to what that meant in practical terms.  Apparently each clan has certain responsibilities within the overall tribe.  And one cannot marry a member of one's own clan.  It's like marrying your sister.  Eww!

Moenkopi Legacy Inn and Suites in Tuba City
The tour began at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, a hotel which was built and is owned by one of the clans (not by the tribal council) and looks quite posh from the lobby.  We piled into a van with three other adventurers and headed for Hopi country.  On the way we stopped at Coalminers' Canyon, touted as the "Hopi Grand Canyon" (but they're kidding themselves).  You can see in the photo near the top layer is a black stripe.  This is almost pure coal and was mined here for awhile.  But they discovered the coal seam broadened out a few miles up canyon and mining operations moved there and continue to this day.  Enjoy these pictures.  Most of the reservation forbids photography.

Coalminer's Canyon

Oraibi circa 1899 - it looks considerably worse now
We visited Oraibi, once the largest of the Hopi villages.  Traditionally the Hopi built apartment-like structures 3 and 4 stories high.  Today the stone houses on the "ground floor" are actually what used to be the third floor, the lower levels having been gradually filled in and are now buried underground.  Most of the homes have no electricity or running water.  They are not absolutely opposed to these things but they feel strongly about disturbing the homes of their ancestors.  So some of the houses have solar panels and satellite dishes.  But they don't allow any holes to be dug to put in electric poles or water pipes.  Hopi who want modern amenities have to move away from the village, and there is a small enclave of modern homes with utilities out on the edge of town.  The year round population of Oraibi has fallen to less than 100, but during religious ceremonies tens of thousands drawn from the whole reservation will crowd into the village plaza to dance and eat and celebrate.

Hopi Taco
We ate lunch at the Hopi visitors center where we discovered that, foodwise at least, the Hopi and Navajo have much in common.  They eat the four things that can be dry farmed in this arid environment, corn, squash, beans and sunflowers.  After the Spanish arrived they also learned to herd sheep and when the American palefaces came and introduced them to wheat flour, they learned to make fry bread.  If you are a tourist, the main source of nutrition is "Hopi tacos" which look amazingly like the Navajo tacos you can get on the reservation next door. 

After lunch we went to visit a Hopi artisan who makes silver jewelry.  We watched as he produced a pair of Bear Claw earrings and it was, admittedly, fascinating to see how it is done.  He did have an electric polishing wheel but otherwise used hand tools and a blow torch for soldering.  One of the other ladies in our group nabbed the earrings he made while we watched but Vicki got a similar pair he had in his shop.

On the way back we stopped at a place called Prophecy Rock for a lesson in Hopi mysticism and superstition, then went to view a canyon full of petroglyphs dated to the 6th century AD.  These we could take pictures of but not publish.  I don't really consider this blog to be "publishing" in any meaningful sense of the word so here, enjoy a few petroglyphs.   What they mean is anybody's guess.
Petroglyphs circa 600 AD

Back in Tuba City we went to visit a Navajo museum that was originally designed as a traveling show but now sits permanently on the back lot of the Quality Inn hotel.  This is actually a very well done introduction to Navajo culture and religion and if you do ever actually find yourself in Tuba City for some inexplicable reason,  it is definitely worth an afternoon's exploration.  Associated with this is a small museum covering the Navajo Code Talkers from WWII.  We broke both the Japanese and German war codes in that conflict, which greatly contributed to our victory over the axis powers.  Not wanting to have the same thing happen to us, we recruited native Navajo speakers to develop a code using the Navajo language.  This was never broken and was a major factor in our island hopping victories in the South Pacific during the war.  Interesting stuff.

I guess it is fine that the Hopi choose to live by traditional means on their traditional lands but I can't escape the feeling that in the 21st century that traditional lifestyle translates as inconvenience and squalor.  I could chose to live like a 15th century European peon I suppose, but to me respect for my ancestors is just so much superstition and living like a serf was not really all that great.  No, I'll take my electric tooth brush and air conditioning, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The 5'er

 I have come to learn that a lot of people don’t know what a Fifth Wheel is.  It is considered a trailer, but the hitch is in a truck bed. But you say, “You don’t have a truck.”  Yup, you’re correct.  We had it delivered to our site at Jojoba Hills.  We don’t plan to tow it anywhere anytime soon.  The Forza we told you about is our “travel rig”, just like many other Jojobians have.
 Roger & I had been thinking about having a travel rig and a stationary rig for a while.  The leaking in the Monaco just tipped our hand a little sooner than we planned.  The advantage of our travel rig, as I had mentioned is that we can go places that a bigger rig can’t go.  But I don’t think we could live full time in a rig that is only 35 feet long.  Many people do, but we do like some space.  However, by living part-time in our stationary rig, I think we can enjoy traveling for 6 or 7 months at a time plus taking a number of month-long trips each year.

So what did you get, you ask?  A Heartland Newport.  It is considered to be 42 feet long but that is from the rear to the hitch so it is really a couple of feet longer than that because there is space, i.e. our closet, in front of the hitch.  There is also more space than the Monaco had because there is no cab space up front taking up room that you really can’t live in.  However, Abby and Ziva would disagree with that because the dashboard is their favorite place to sit and watch what is going on in the world.

The room that we are sorely missing in the Forza is the half bath.  Fortunately we have it in the 5th wheel.  Another wonderful thing we have again is recliners in the form of theater seating, plus we also have comfortable seating for guests.  It feels more like a house, a tiny house to be sure.  Theoretically we have a dining table and chairs that can seat 4 people but it is pretty cramped.  As you can see we again have the fake fireplace like we had in the Allegro, but we found that we really enjoy it.  In fact we have one in both rigs.

The other thing we have is better access to our view of the Palomar Mountains.  The back window views a tree but we decided to take advantage of that by adding bird and hummingbird feeders.  We already have quite a few birds feeding, but no hummingbirds yet.  We are told there are hummingbirds around Jojoba so we will wait and see.

Like everyone else we have been accumulating more stuff over time.  You would think that with having 2 rigs plus a shed we would have plenty of room to store stuff, but somehow it didn’t work out that way.  We do have extra room in the 5th wheel but it is mostly in hard to get to places.  There is also extra room in the Forza right now but that will mostly be filled with stuff that comes from the 5th wheel--food, clothes, medicines and one-of-a-kind things that we need in both places depending upon where we are living at a given time.  I’ve moved things out of the shed and into the rigs, but I’ve organized it more for craft work so I don’t have more storage space there.  I am still doing some polymer clay and jewelry work but I also started decorating gourds.  There is a gourd farm near Fallbrook which is our source of gourds and supplies.  Like polymer clay, it is amazing the number of techniques one can learn and master.  But I digress.  Now I have to figure out what to do with my finished gourds.

The Grand Canyon

In 1540, Commander Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was chasing his dreams across what is now the American Southwest.  Specifically, he was dreaming of Seven Cities of Gold and the land he was searching in was too big for him to do all the looking himself.  So he sent out a party of about a dozen of his underlings along with a couple of Hopi guides to explore off to the west.  These lucky soldados
An impassible barrier
were the first Europeans to stumble across what we now know as the Grand Canyon.  Of course, they didn't see it that way.  To them it was a Grand Pain in the Trasero with no easy way to get past it and no golden cities in site.  They sent a few of the nimblest in their party to try and climb down to the river but to no avail, so they went back and told Coronado there was nothing worthwhile in the area and went to look elsewhere.  The sight of the canyon so impressed the Spaniards that no one went back to take a second look for over 200 yrs.

Today we see things a little differently and the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.  We did not actually stay in the Grand Canyon, but camped instead in Williams, "The Gateway to the Grand Canyon" and took the train.  We had done this before, about 5 or 6 years ago, but it was a fun enough day that we decided to do it again.  After all, it's only money.

A disagreement over breakfast
Dispute resolved
While they waited for their passengers to gather, a group of local cowboy neer-do-wells got into a shoot-out over where they were gonna get breakfast and had to be pacified by the town sheriff.  Nothing like a little gun play in the mornin'.    One drawback of black powder however, is that it blows out a sizable quantity of smoke that shows exactly where the gun was pointed when fired and this was generally nowhere near where the shot supposedly hit.  Oh well, at least it was appropriately loud.

The train goes around a bend
After they had finished shooting each other, we piled onto the train and headed out.  It is about a 90 minute trip each way between Williams and the canyon.  They last time we went much of this was a uniform brown, but with the wet winter we just had, the landscape was varying shades of green and generally much more scenic this time around.  When we reached the Grand Canyon Village we hopped onto a bus and took a tour of the west side of the south rim.  The air was not perfectly clear, but was a lot better than the last couple of times we were there so the viewing was pretty good.  See photos.

The Colorado River a mile below us
It just goes on forever

The El Tovar Hotel
When the bus tour ended, we barely had time to have lunch at the El Tovar hotel before train departure.  We love the Tovar.  On our last visit I mostly just sat out on their porch and gazed out over the south rim.  The hotel was built in 1905, predating the National Park itself by 11 years and was originally a Harvey House, that great hotel chain operated in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railroad in the days before auto travel redefined America.  It was an early example of American "National Park Rustic" architecture and has been well maintained over the years.  However, with a motorhome parked in Williams, we did not opt to spend the $263 to stay the night.

On the way back we had a modicum of excitement.  Thirty minutes into the trip, one of our pair of diesel engines blew up and had to be shut down.  We stopped for about a half hour while they figured things out.  It is mostly downhill from the south rim to Williams so the remaining engine was able to get us moving again, mostly coasting.  Meanwhile, they sent another diesel from the roundhouse to meet us.  About 20 minutes from the station they stopped to hook this onto the train to help haul us the last uphill portion back to town.  At about this time the same cowboys we had seen in the morning, some of whom were supposedly shot dead, decided to rob the train.  We were terrified.  Fortunately the sheriff showed up to haul them all off to the hoosegow.  We were glad that justice had been served, but I was mostly glad I didn't have to walk 40 miles back to town.

Second trip to the canyon by car
A couple of days later we returned to the south rim, this time traveling by car, to try and get some evening pictures of the area east of the hotel.  While there I hopped along a trail pretending to be a young man and managed to fall on my face.  I really shouldn't do that anymore.  No major damage but getting back on my feet was embarrassingly difficult and there was a large audience.  The scrapes and bruises will eventually go away but my shirt was not salvageable.  On the way out of the park we passed a herd of elk grazing contentedly by the roadside, paying no mind to the passing cars and hikers.  Do you suppose they know they can't be shot there?

While we were in Williams, Vicki had to send some hard copy paperwork back to the home office in Riverside (don't ask me why) and FedEx is not a thing to be found in Williams, so we drove the 30 miles east into Flagstaff.  While there we stopped to visit the Museum of Northern Arizona, not realizing we had been there before some years ago.  It is a nice facility, but this time around about a third of the space was closed down, presumably for updating or maintenance or something.  The pride of the hall is the skeleton of a locally discovered dinosaur, Nothronychus graffami,  a member of a dinosaur group previously known only from China.  This animal is related to T. Rex but based on it's teeth, had evolved into a plant eater.  It retained, however, a set of enormous claws on the end of each upper limb.  Strange critter to look at.

The museum also has fairly extensive collections of Indian pottery and jewelry and was showing a traveling exhibit of area quadrupeds from the National Geographic Society.  It serves as a pretty good introduction to the Colorado Plateau if anyone is interested.

As far as entertainment in Williams, unless you really enjoy watching cowboys pretend to shoot each other, the pickings are pretty slim.  There is a gas station museum where you can look at a couple of old cars and some old style gas pumps and that's about it.  The town does have a large assortment of restaurants of varying quality but if you are ever in the area, do not miss the chance to dine at the Red Raven.  This is an upscale eatery that we had sampled on a previous trip and were eager to return to.  This time around I had duck, which was delicious, and Vicki got a lamb kabob.  Somewhat more expensive than the Pine County Restaurant up the street, but definitely worth it.

Duck at the Red Raven... yum.

Bonus Pics

Grand Canyon Railway in flight entertainment
Another view into the abyss
Schnoodles visit the canyon
The Gas Station Museum

Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff

Hopi Jewelry

Monday, May 8, 2017


Wpdms arizona territory 1860 idx.pngAfter the Mexican/American War and the Gadson Purchase, all the land of present day Arizona and New Mexico was lumped together as the New Mexico Territory.  The local government in Santa Fe quickly realized that this huge land mass was too unwieldy to govern effectively from so far away and they talked about splitting it in two.  But instead of putting the resulting territories next to each other, they proposed placing the New Mexico Territory on top of Arizona with the border being a horizontal line at the 34th parallel.  As a side benefit, the New Mexican legislature also proposed moving all of the Indians to Arizona.  Nice.

The US congress pretty much ignored all of this.  The whole territory aligned itself with the confederates during the civil war, but were too far away from the action to have much impact and at the war's end congress sort of pretended the confederate states of New Mexico and Arizona never existed.  They reset the boundary line in a north-south direction and gave the then territories the shape the states have today.  President Lincoln appointed John Gurley to be Arizona Governor and he was so excited he promptly died before taking office and was replaced by John Nobel Goodwin. 

Goodwin toured the territory and selected an area near Granite Creek for the capital of the territory, an odd choice given that there was no town there.  But there were already mining operations underway, and that seemed important.  The town was surveyed and laid out in 1864.  In May they held a public meeting and chose the name Prescott, after a local historian, and in June they started selling lots.  The town wasn't officially incorporated until 1880.  Prescott was only the territorial capitol for 2 years, when the government moved to Tucson.  It returned to Prescott in 1877 and remained there until it finally relocated  permanently to Phoenix in 1889.

The magnificent Governor's Mansion
Much of this history can be gleaned from a visit to the Sharlot Hall Museum, a collection of buildings in downtown Prescott.  The original governor's "mansion" sits there where it was built.  Other buildings were either moved to the site or built new.  The whole complex covers about 1.5 acres in the middle of downtown, basically the entire 400 block of Gurley Ave.  The reason for the scare quotes around "mansion" above is that the building was essentially a  largish log cabin.  Nice but hardly a mansion in any normal use of the word.  The fear of Apache raiders impelled them to protect their livestock by keeping it in the Governor's bedroom, forcing him to move upstairs into the attic.  Government meetings were accompanied by the smell of manure, much like today. 

The main museum building houses exhibits covering archeology, paleontology and town history.  Buildings include Fort Misery (the oldest log cabin in Arizona), a local ranch house, a tiny school house, the one time home of John Fremont (a nice Victorian home) and several others.  Going through everything takes at least a couple of hours and is time well spent.

Our campground was just north of town in the Granite Dells.  This area is a combination of several lakes and large granite boulders.  There is
Vicki and schnoodles in the Granite Dells
hiking, of which Vicki partook more than I, and the lakes allow fishing and boating, but no swimming.  A few miles further up the highway is the Phippen Museum, a western art museum.  We spent an hour and a half going through this art gallery.  Western art is a rather specific genre that we expected to laugh at, but the paintings and sculptures were really quite good.  They had a special display of night scenes and a variety of collections of the work of specific artists.  We enjoyed it.

Whiskey Row is a city block just across from the courthouse that was at one time solid saloons and brothels.  There are still some saloons and restaurants but no brothels I could find.  The most famous is the Palace Saloon, where you could wet your whistle and conduct business in comfort.  We ate there one night. The food was actually pretty mediocre but the ambiance was fabulous.  It has a huge wooden bar in the main room. 
120 year old wooden bar, definitely worth saving
The last time the block burned, in the early 20th century, the patrons risked their lives to carry the bar across the street to safety in  the court house square.  Then they sipped their drinks and watched the rest burn to the ground.  When the building was rebuilt (of brick this time)  they moved the bar back in.  The Palace is the oldest continuously operating business in the state.

While we were in town the local theater group staged a performance of Alice in Wonderland Jr., a version of Lewis Caroll's classic based primarily on the Disney Movie and designed to have as many cast members as possible.  There were, for example, three Alices (big, little and normal) and three Cheshire Cats.  The piece was clearly specifically written for schools and community theaters and contains reworked versions of many songs from the movie as well as, for some unknown reason, Zippity Doo Dah from Song of the South.  It was about what you would expect for a children's production but was a lot of fun and we were happy we went.

After the curtain call

Grand dining room at the Governor's Mansion
Lovely Governor's Bedroom

John C Fremont house
Local Indian basketry
Images from the Phippen Gallery


Vicki standing at the entrance to the Palace Saloon
Local Indians didn't make pottery.  They traded for these with their neighbors.