Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thu 31 Jan - Oak Creek / Sedona, AZ

Cool morning, 0 degrees Celsius at 6am, but clear blue skies and no wind. All good for hiking.

However, the morning started with a Big Bang, Bang.

When we sat down for breakfast in the lobby 4 Mexican middle class young men turned up for their brekkie. The Views Inn Motel had hard boiled eggs on offer, and one of those blokes decided to heat it up in the microwave oven. You can figure out the rest... It was not pretty.

Today's hike was recommended by the lady at the Ranger Station as a great morning walk, called Munds Wagon Trail, 11.3 km according to Runkeeper.

The trail markers were a pile of rocks in wire as per below...

Early morning shot at the beginning of the hike... Great light with the shadows.
A couple of shots to show how dorky we looked at the beginning of the hike, even more than normal... It was not yet 9am and about 3 degrees...
We found this digging on the trail, which we think may come from a desert animal called javelina, a sort of wild pig.
We found this interesting, snow on cacti. They are tough these plants, having to cope with some extreme temperatures.
Suddenly, we saw this sign. Guess which way Hans chose? We went our separate ways for about 100 metres . Hans survived the slide rocks but from the safety of the road Di could hear some comments of "hmmm" and "aahhh". Too easy!
OK, it was certainly slippery for a little while... There was ice and snow on the path too from time to time.
Hans needed to take a leak and Di expressed a classic line of that there is a tree over there... Hmm, Hans looked around and could see bush and trees all around him. He chose one direction to go - the one with the best view.
Munds Wagon Trail finishes up half way up this peak at a rock feature called the Merry-Go-Round and it kind of looked like one too.
Self-portrait from the Merry-Go-Round.
Top of the world... Well, it kinda felt that way, but not quite. This walk was a fantastic gradual climb up the valley.
This is Sedona from a distance.
This is very spiritual... man...

A side comment on this topic - there are psychics and spiritual healers everywhere in this town because of 3 or 4 "vortex" which are believed to occur around Sedona. The vortex is supposed to be a hot spot where you can feel the earth's energy and get a heightened sense of awareness and balance. These people should get out more and hike! All hikes make you feel connected to nature not just 3 or 4 spots you can easily reach! You can guess we think its all hooey.

This hike created a new expression for us, Pink Jeeper. A Pink Jeeper is somebody who is too lazy to hike and sees and photographs the attractions from the comfort of a... Jeep. There were many businesses like this one, with Jeeps and Quad-bikes and who knows what, but these guys stood out with their... Pink Jeeps.
The 11.3 km hike took us almost 5 hours so not a great speed, but it was very pretty all around and parts of the hike back was quite muddy and slippery as the ice had then melt and the trail follow creek beds for some of its duration. Plus we took heaps of photos.
Back to the motel for shower, change of clothes and lunch and then out for some touristing. First off nearby was Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Catholic Church built on a rock cliff and backed by a rock wall.
Here is Di outside the church, with nature reflected in the glass.
And this is how Chapel of the Holy Cross looked from the road. Interesting and if you were going to get spiritual this might be a better place than a vortex. Really lovely.
We then went to the Wells Fargo branch in West Sedona to sort out our fantastic plastic that were sent to Australia rather than to Vineet's place. Barbie took great care of us and told us that the cards will be sent to Vineet's place within 7 days. We hope that she is right...
After that, we drove to Cottonwood, the small town west of Sedona. We found signs to Old Cottonwood so we drove there to see if we could get a cup of coffee (which we got at Orion Cafe and Bakery, since 2007).
Espresso machine was kaput, but coffee from the thermos was available. However, these guys baked sourdough bread and the place smelled fantastic. We didn't buy anything, but geez, really good bread has been hard to get in the US so far.
Here is the strip of Old Cottonwood.
We liked the name of this place, Kactus Kate's. They were advertising a Super Bowl party for this Sunday 3 Feb, but we will be gone by then. Oh well....
Even in a quaint little place like Old Cottonwood, there is a weapons store. Note the sign about price hikes on ammo...
At 4.30pm, we decided to drive back to VOC, Village of Oak Creek. We went another way directly east passing through a "pedestrian friendly" (their words) town called Cornville (great name by the way, no corn in sight). Pedestrian friendly was just a slight exaggeration in our view... No footpaths and no way to cross the local bridge without walking in a traffic lane.
Back to the motel for a Mexican pre dinner snack consisting of margarita, Corona, corn chips and salsa before tonight's fine dining, Sludge in our room.
Sludge is the popular term for instant microwave one pot risotto. Starts with a microwaveable packet of rice and add stuff. The recipe was invented in Madrid one desperate Sunday night when every shop was shut but has been perpetuated because it is fast, tasty, cheap and filling. It can be varied with extra ingredients like chicken, peas, tuna, canned soup, canned champignons. It works and made for a relaxing night.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wed 30 Jan - Oak Creek / Sedona, AZ

We think Hunter (and perhaps even Vineet... ;-) were not happy seeing us pack up to leave. We had a great time together and promised to return for a few more days later in February. Well, we have to return our car at Scottsdale's airport on the 28th of Feb which coincidentally is Di's birthday.
Hunter's sad face...
The drive on I17 was pretty uneventful although you climb, climb, climb. Scottsdale elevation is 380 meters and Sedona is 1319 meters (well, at least if you believe in Wikipedia)
We stopped in Camp Verde for a coffee and although a bit of a boring town, it has some historical features - including this very small jail. 2 cells and a front room for "hearings".
Any comment about whether this is the correct place for Di? Hmmm...
We arrive in Sedona about 2 hours ahead of hotel check-in time so we explore a little in the Main Street and find the cheapest option for lunch. This is definitely a tourist town and reminds us of Thredbo. We prefer the Village of Oak Creek (VOC) where we are staying, which is more like Jindabyne. A small community that feels a bit more "real".

Mind you, the backdrops are fantastic in both Sedona and Oak Creek whichever way you look. Stunning mesas and buttes.

Here is Di at our lunch location in Sedona.

Main Street of Sedona...

After lunch we headed to the national park ranger station for walking information and were soon overwhelmed by the number of hikes available here. To give the hikes justice, we would need a month, not 4 days! The hiking trail information and rangers are really helpful.

A little grocery shopping and then back for check-in and an hour or so of rest before mandatory "sunset viewing".

What can we say - from 5 to 5.45pm, Oak Creek Valley was fantastic with the colours of Cathedral Rock and the surrounding valley features changing every few minutes. Then at 5.45pm or so someone turned out the lights. It got dark and cold quickly. Here are just a few of the photos we took.

Cathedral Rock.

We are sure this feature also has a name but we don't know what... Doesn't matter, still beautiful.
And then the sun goes behind the mountains and lights off.
Doesn't this look a bit like a car commercial...?
We proceeded to have an early dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant, Cucina Rustica, proved to be more fine dining than we expected - but delicious. Lovely decor too. Pasta, red wine and good company finished off the day nicely.


Back to the motel and some warmth as the temperature drops very quickly after sunset.
We did give Wells Fargo a call to check why our fantastic plastic had not arrived at Vineet's place despite 10 days since they were shipped. Reason, they were shipped to... Australia!!?? Despite we stressing umpteen number of times at the Wells Fargo branch in downtown Los Angeles that we wanted them shipped to Scottsdale, and that we would not be back in Oz for the rest of 2013, they still stuffed it up.
Furthermore, it could not be fixed over the phone as we do not have social security numbers that can be verified (of course not, we are not US citizens), but that we have to go to a Wells Fargo branch to,have the cards reissued. Not happy, Wells Fargo. It started so well, but...
A glass of BD wine followed (BD being barely drinkable, some low end Shiraz we picked up at Wal Mart in Scottsdale).
Lazy night, big hiking day to follow tomorrow (of course, that's what you need to do here)


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tue 29 Jan - Scottsdale, AZ

Finally, we wake up to a sunrise of sort in Scottsdale, not one of those stunning sunrises that Vineet publish on Facebook, but at least clear skies and no rain. Cold though, at 9am it was still only 3 degrees Celsius.

Today, we will be picking up our new car rental. The car was not going to be available until 12pm, but at 9.30am or so, we decided to walk the 6.6 km (according to Google) from Vineet's place to Scottsdale Municipal Airport (SCF) where we were getting the car from. Why not?
First we have to pass underneath ring road 101. Even the concrete work and the landscaping there is very tastefully done.
Tomorrow Wednesday, the Phoenix Open PGA tournament in golf is starting, actually very close to Vineet's place in Scottsdale rather than Phoenix, and the preparations were in full swing. Roads were closed off, people and vehicles everywhere and with quite a bit of security arrangements.
To get to Scottsdale Municipal Airport, we also pass over the Arizona Canal.
Alamo's car rental services are inside the airport terminal, and here are a few pictures from there. Apart from all the smaller aircrafts, the airport reminded us a lot of Ballina / Byron airport in northern NSW.
We had a fantastic car hire experience with Alamo.
Not only did we pay about $22 less than expected they upgraded us to a standard car - being a full mod cons Chevy Impala. Leather seats adjust with a multitude of electronic buttons, it's a 3.6 litre V6, and it even has wood burl panels on the dash. For the same price as a Nissan Versa 1.6 litre V4 from Hertz.
Well done Alamo, if no sudden hiccups while on the road, we will be using your services in future. Driving is a pleasure and we now feel like we blend with the locals. The Nissan Versa stood out like a sore thumb. Far too small for here.
After a trip to Walmart to get a few things for our trip north out of Scottsdale tomorrow, and lunch back at Vineet's place, we took the car for a local drive.
We drove south on 101 to Tempe, south east of downtown Phoenix and bang in the middle of ASU Arizona State University grounds. We parked the car and went for a walk. All very pleasant with a true university feeling. The Tempe area reminded Hans of Berkeley University area in San Francisco.
We ended up behind this car... I think that we may leave comments unsaid on this one...
The Hayden Butte is right in the middle of the university district and you can walk up to its top through a couple of reasonably steep paths.
Hans with the "A" on Hayden Butte. Story below.
We walked up the top and took a few photos... Yep, it's a bit windy.
This next photo show Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and Phoenix downtown to the right.
Down from the hill, we passed the metro lines and one of the stations. Looked very classy.
We didn't expect to see a mosque with a minaret in Tempe, but there it was...
Now, whose Alfred Hitchcock lookalike shadow is in the centre?
We drove west and right through the centre of Phoenix, which looked like a smaller version of Los Angeles downtown, a bit soulless, and across to I17, which we drove north to 101 and then east back to Vineet's place. We finish off with a sunset picture to complete the day and complement the sunrise picture from earlier.
Dinner at home, followed by some television. The first we've seen in a while and luckily land on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in an episode where Matt Damon has taken Jimmy hostage for the night and is hosting the show with help from Robyn Williams, Andy Garcia, Sheryl Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Gary Oldman etc etc.
Very funny. We laughed a lot. Good night.