Archive for December, 2012

Little Blue Hill, 12/9/12

Late Fall in New England. Great, convenient short hike – just 45 minutes up and down. But great views off both sides of the summit, and the gift of a stone bench with views north -with this memorial on the back, in tribute to Augustus Hemenway, 1853 – 1931 “He lived on this land. He loved these woods.”

“Exempt from public haunt

Finds tongues in trees

Books in the running brooks

Sermons in stones

and good in every thing.”

The open rocky summit looks up at Great Blue Hill across 138. Park in the Park&Ride lot on Rte 138 at Rte 128/I93 – next to Suffolk Grille/Dunkies in Canton, MA (used to be Howard Johnson’s). Trail starts at the back end of the parking lot.


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Phoenix, AZ – Desert Botanical Garden, Arizona Biltmore

Phoenix is an odd city, with a number of mountains inside the city limits. Not sure if it was always that way, or if the city boundaries kept being extended as development expanded out to and beyond the mountains.

Also in Phoenix is The Desert Botanical Garden  – a feast for cactus-fans! So many different types of cactus, and great educational signs about the ways different plants have adapted to life with little water. Did you know that the tall saguaro cactus has those vertical ribs as part of its water-conservation system? The ribs allow the cactus to expand, like stretching out accordion pleats, to store more and more rainwater. One big saguaro can hold  a ton of water!

Another fun spot is Hole in the Rock, a short hike up and through a… hole… in a rock. Then off to another city mountain, for a hike starting at the “40th Street Trailhead” – how urbane!

We also stopped at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, the Jewel of the Desert, built in 1929 by a team that included Frank Lloyd Wright as a consultant.

Last dinner in the southwest – at Lucille’s BBQ.

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Montezuma’s Castle-Taliesen West

It’s Architecture Day, on the way from Sedona to Phoenix. First stop is Montezuma’s Well and Castle, with cliff dwellings roughly 800 years old, built by the Sinagua peoples. The well is a huge freshwater pit, fed by an underground spring, in the middle of the desert, with some cliff dwellings (and graffiti from the 1800s). Geologic, historic, and zoological marvel.

A few exits down the road is Montezuma’s Castle, a massive, 5-story cliff dwelling. They no longer allow tourists to climb ladders into the castle for safety, vandalism, and preservation reasons, but researchers have found evidence of a thriving trade culture here with South American parrots, seashells, jewels, plants and other non-local materials.  Apparently ancient people came here for the valuable local product – salt!  mmm…

Our next stop was another architectural marvel – Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, studio, workshop, and school, Taliesen West. The entire place was built by his students, practicing design and building with local materials. Many features were experiments, some that worked, some that didn’t, many showing signs of students’ on-the-job learning. Most of the furniture was designed by Wright, more for the look than the comfort!

Checked in in Phoenix, then headed to Mesa, AZ, home of Arizona State, for the shopping/dining/drinking mecca.

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Sedona – Spiritual Day

Yesterday we rode the wild jeep – on this, our last day in Sedona, we surf the spiritual waves.

We start the morning at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, framed around a huge crucifix built into the red rocks in 1956.  Beautiful views, inside and out, with the cross embedded in floor-to-ceiling wall of windows. The sanctuary is small, peaceful. Ironically, part of the view is filled with a massively ostentatious mansion/estate across Chapel Rd., complete with landscaped waterfall. It might be Satan’s house, plunked there to mock the church-goers. Or is the owner trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle by living near the chapel?

On to the final hike – a steep trail of switchbacks creeping back & forth up the side of Doe Mesa, until we reach the huge flat top to enjoy the views around all sides. But unlike Mt. Caribou in ME where the summit is solid rock above treeline, the top of Doe Mesa is a desert garden – cactus, yucca, trees, grasses, with some open rocky areas. And at the perimeter, a vertigo-inducing drop but beautiful vistas. We attempted to circumnavigate the top, and walked, and walked, and walked. Hmmm… now where was that trailhead back down? No marked trails on the mesa, no visible cairns, the two tiny sign posts we saw on the way up are nowhere in sight. Turns out the mesa is even bigger than we realized, as we spend about an extra hour trying to find the way down. Once we keep walking further past where we thought the trail should be, then we finally spot a cairn even further ahead. Whew! Important safety tip – use the Find My Car app on the smartphone to set the position of a location I want to find easily. We’ve renamed the place D’oh! Mesa! Hiked back down pretty easily and gratefully (prayerfully?).

So off we went to the Amitabha Stupa, a Buddhist shrine up near Thunder Mountain for meditation, peace, and the views. It’s a sacred site, and feels it.

And finally, we get to Crescent Moon Park, which has the trail to the opposite side of Oak Creek which we saw on our Cathedral Rock hike on day 1. Past the old wooden water wheel, and a small irrigation dam, the trail opens to a wide area of flat red rock along the creek – the beginning of the Vortex area. The views alone, the colors, the sound of the rushing creek – it does all pulse with energy. And we start seeing cairns, more and more cairns, as we continue down the trail towards the Creek – they call it “Buddha Beach.” Cairns on every surface – on the ground, the leaves, tree branches, in the water. Eerie, spooky – almost like the final scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds, as we step carefully, quietly, between the cairns crowded together, trying not to disturb them. Then we found a small spot near the water, and built our cairn with rocks we’d been gathering on our different hikes. There’s now a Halpern Family Cairn on Buddha Beach at the Oak Creek Vortex, enjoying the views.

Sunset. Dinner – fantastic – at Elote. Then a quick spin back to the Chapel, to see it lit from inside at night.

“Can you feel the spirit, now….”

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Sedona – Pink Jeep ride on Broken Arrow Trail

After Boynton Spire, we picked up salads for lunch, then went back up to Long Canyon, and hiked in a little ways to sit on the rocks of a dry creek for a picnic – avocado ranch dressing, yum! Then back to town for our Pink Jeep tour. We had thought the reason to take a jeep tour was for the fun of the wild jeep ride – but, duh, the jeep got us way out into backcountry that we just didn’t have the stamina (or hours) to hike to on our own. We did see hikers, and mountain bikers, out there – but we appreciated the chauffeured trip! And as for the “fun” of the ride? I’m already nervous riding on the twists and turns of Boston’s Jamaicaway, so the jeep’s wild sharp turns, and steep climbs and plummets, had my knuckles bright white clinging to the grab bars. And my eyes closed tight for good chunks of the ride. But once we stopped, the views were spectacular. But the plunge down “Devil’s Staircase” felt nearly vertical – I could only look back at where we’d been. I just could not look forward to see how steep the dive ahead of us was. We were out on the jeep for a good two hours – well worth it to get to a hard-to-reach beautiful spot. We returned to town just in time for the “golden hour” of late afternoon sunlight, making the red rocks glow almost neon orange.

Followed that up with dinner at the historic Cowboy Club restaurant, and topped an amazing day with a visit to Sedona’s best ice cream shop.

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Sedona – Boynton Spire

Morning hike to Boynton Spire, another vortex area, another climb with amazing views. Met a local character named Robert who retired to Sedona in his 50s a few years ago. Now he hikes Boynton every morning, handing out heart-shaped red rocks – either naturally-shaped, or carved with his help. He enjoyed explaining the importance and spirituality of the place, and Ralph enjoyed asking him questions so they hiked on and talked ahead while I kept a slower pace to enjoy the quiet scenery. We eventually reached a ledge just below the summit, and sat for snacks and view while Robert continued up.

Suddenly, the sound of a flute starts floating over the red rocks – and there, perched on the summit, is Robert playing the flute. For about 30 solid minutes. At first the sound added to the other-wordly ethereal quality of the space, enhancing the aura of the vortex. But after a while, the flute became too much – disrupting the natural peace with a man-made soundtrack. We waited him out, and finally enjoyed more quiet scenery. Well-intentioned fellow who loves the area, and wants to share what he finds so special about Sedona. I appreciate the introduction to the area, but perhaps each of us needs to find our own personal connection to the place. Your path may not be my path, but each has its own meaning and validity. Hike on, traveler, to your own inner sound-track.

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Sedona – Cathedral Rock, Trolley, Sunset

Now we’re in the heart of Sedona. Started the morning with our in-room breakfast buffet (coffee, peanut butter & banana sandwiches, cheese, crackers, hummus – there’s a supermarket in the hotel’s backyard). Then it was off to a highly recommended trail to Cathedral Rock. We parked at the trailhead, began the hike along Baldwin Trail, then onto Templeton Trail which skirts Oak Creek for a while. On the opposite shore we saw dozens of rock cairns folks had built  on the land, in the water – an oddly beautiful sight.  That area is one of 4 vortexes, which are believed to be hotspots of natural/spiritual energy. The vortex culture is part of what draws folks to Sedona – and there’s a whole industry of metaphysical, spiritual healing & enlightenment, aura-reading, meditation, psychics, and much more.

After the trail leaves the creek, it continues on through a series of switchbacks, climbing higher and higher, till we’re out of the woods and onto exposed red rock. The trail eventually meets up with the Cathedral Rock trail, a steep scramble up to or near the summit of Cathedral Rock. We’d already been hiking a while, so we followed the wire-basket trail-marking cairns up just a few more switchbacks, sat to enjoy the views, chatted with a couple from Scotland, then retraced our steps back to the car – about a 3-hour hike total. Stopping to gawk and “oh, wow!” at the views takes up time!

In the afternoon, we took the Sedona Trolley tour. Our guide was a fellow who had retired to Sedona about 5 years ago, in his 50s, and just loves telling the history and geology of the place. Finally, with his directions, we drove up to the Sedona Airport, atop a mesa, to watch the sunset and get the widest view of the Sedona landscape. Lots of people gather for sunset there, and just a short way below the airport at another Vortex area. We also caught another moonrise on the clear cloudless night.

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