Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe
marypcb

Through the desert to CES

I found out that the areas of Arizona we passed through around Phoenix are known as the Golden Corridor and the deep orange sunset we saw is a local specialty; sunsets have been paler and pinker since. Scottsdale was also our last urban area for a while. We went back to Solari Square in the daylight and discovered it's a giant sundial, only inverted; the red girder that extends the red walls of the bell-hung gateway also marks the gnomon's beam of light (a bright finger in the middle of a broad bar of shade cast by the bridge supports) at solar noon, the silt-cast panels echo the designs on the bronze bells (which came from Cosanti, the predecessor of Arcosanti) and the whole space must feel scorched in the summer. At 11am on a January morning, the sun was enough to drive us into the shade. First we played inside the giant kaleidoscope formed by three mirror-backed doors tilted in a sculpture and then we remembered The Breakfast Club (a breakfast/lunch place we'd solemnly promised not to forget when we drove past the night before). Eggs benedict with spinach and thin slices of filet mignon steak smothered in mushroom bordelaise? Tasty if different.

Driving out of Scottsdale involves a lot of urban sprawl before you start to climb the slopes towards Flagstaff. We stopped to enjoy the open country at a viewpoint; not sure if the orange jumpsuited convicts working the road gang were enjoying it as much. We turned off the main road to visit Montezuma's Castle; no south american connection at all, this was a Sinagua native American cliff pueblo - 40-odd rooms built into the side of a creamy limestone cliff, starting with a few natural caves and adding supports and walls and ladders and adobe in darker colours to form a vertical village within earshot of the river, surrounded by walnuts and tall trees with white bark that glow in the sunset light. A second pueblo was burned out centuries ago; only the caves remain, with the occasional masonry to firm up an opening - one has a giant honeycomb in. Looking for the holes for support posts I saw the undersides of the overhangs were studded with rock wren nests - darker round mud nests with circular openings freckling the pale rock.

We stopped a little before sunset to catch the red rocks outside Sedona catch fire in the light and drove through the stunning red slopes and the, um, extravagant new age establishments and up the twisty hairpin road that leads out of Sedona and on to Flagstaff. This was cold and dark and anonymous and it was a shock to see drifts of snow on sidewalks and in parks. We stayed in the cheaper outskirts and drove to the historic downtown for dinner; the Beaver Street Brewery is one of (I've heard) four microbreweries ringing the changes on a range of beers. The IPA was tangy and not too sharp, the Hefeweizen was nice but a bit forgettable, the golden ale was a nice lager by any other name, the red ale was rich and pleasant, the stout was a little nutty but not quite smoky enough for my taste and the raspberry ale was excellent - sweet but not to sweet, fruity but not too fruity, not in the slightest bit lambic. The food was good, although chicken fried chicken is not fried chicken and my excellent chicken pot pie was actually an excellent chicken vegetable stew with a pastry hat.

The place I found on Yelp for breakfast turned out to be literally opposite the brewery although we drove right round the picturesque downtown first (the red stone makes the older buildings look very solid and brick like). Macy's European Cafe got good reviews for biscuits and gravy and coffee. The coffee was excellent and after days of drip coffee it's delightful to get a latte. The biscuits were crisp without and fluffy within, the gravy was tangy and could only have been improved by the addition of sausage - I'd found a vegetarian restaurant for breakfast ;-)

We stopped not far out of Flagstaff to wander around Elden Pueblo, which is a community archaeology site; you can't see much of the digs under the snow and at least half of the buildings are labelled as having been put back together wrong by the previous set of amateur archaeologists but it was interesting to wander around what's basically a 13th century village and wonder how they stood the weather - anywhere you weren't in direct sunlight it was distinctly cold.

The signs at Montezuma's Castle and Elden speculated about why the pueblos were abandoned. No such mystery about the much larger pueblo we saw at Wupakti; when the volcanoes that surround Flagstaff started up again in the 11th century, I'd have moved out sharpish. That resulted in Sunrise, which shows up as you drive past a large meadow, looking exactly like a volcano with the top blown off but there have been millennia of lava flows and eruptions here. Some of the slopes have snow and trees on but you can see the other slope of the same volcano is still red or grey cinders with nothing growing. Some cinder cones have developed a ridge of trees on what looks like a sand dune along the top, like the mane on a horse. There's a sea of volcanoes and cones with lava flows that look like Lanzarote or Hawaii drifting across land you expect to be high prairie - quite disconcerting.

There are several pueblo ruins; the most complete we saw was Wukoki, which reminds me of Hopi House in Grand Canyon village - Mary Colter knew the architecture that fits into these landscapes. It was like a small manor house - set on the high ground in an open plain with views into the Painted Desert and across the plain, with multiple rooms and an open area I'd call a deck or a terrace and the signs called a plaza. The rock is dark and red, the same colour as the humps of rock around it but looking darker up against a bright blue sky. You can squeeze into a couple of the rooms or just soak up the sun and enjoy the view.

The road climbs again and we saw the beginning of sunset painting in the cliffs of the Lower Colorado Canyon, with the Painted Desert scarlet and pink and gold behind it. And then we were into Grand Canyon park and at the Watchtower at Desert View just in time for the sunset light to paint glowing gold over the Desert Palisades and the stubby tower and the scrubby trees on the slope. Navajo Mountain was clearer than I've ever seen it and we spotted Vermillion Cliffs looking tiny. The light had left the river, which is full and green, although once the sun was down below the rim of the canyon more light bounced into the folds of rock and the river was brighter. You get a bright yellow and orange edge as the sun drops to the canyon rim and below and a misty pink glow over the Painted Desert as the sky darkens and the moon brightens, and then as we drove into Grand Canyon village the sky kept the sunset glow, lemon and apricot and peach. Oddly, there were 'rays' of blue cutting through the sunset colours like negative rays of light; we think they're the shadows of mountains, where the peaks block the sunset light out.

It was cold but there was less snow here than any year we've visited; the temperature was in the high 50s and we didn't have to clamber and slither over slopes of packed ice to get our sunset photos. The stars were bright in the village, but we were tired; dinner at Bright Angel Lodge and into our cosy room to juggle the CES calender for the umpteenth time before bed. And then up and down the rim for view after view of grandeur in canyons; I'm far more impressed by the Grand Canyon after having seen it several times than when we first visited. Bright Angel canyon was clear, every temple spire was standing out in the bright air and we could see all the mountains and landmarks in the distance across the North Rim, 50 miles and more away.

We stopped in the village for lunch in the lounge at El Tovah; I would have said a great chili and navajo tacos, but while it tasted fantastic, it gave both of us mild nausea and stomach pains and I slept all the way back to Vegas and felt a little subdued for the first few exhausting CES days.

Tags: beer, food, travel
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