Sunday, November 25, 2012

Desert Garden Stroll

A few months ago, a friend and I had tea at a charming tea room in the equally charming town of Carefree, Arizona.  The tea room, called "English Rose," was a delightful experience and I've been wanting to go back ever since.  Yesterday, I discovered that the town has a 4 acre desert garden, so I drove over to explore.

The drive itself, once you get within 6-8 miles of the town, is a botanical education with flora- and fauna- identification signs posted by shrubs, trees, and cacti.  The signs are large enough to read as you drive by.
When I arrived at the town center, I found an Arts & Crafts Festival going on, so the Desert Garden was a little cluttered for optimal picture taking.  Still, I don't think I've ever seen more beautiful cacti!

The town of Carefree is fairly new, incorporated in 1980s.  The following information is from its website.
  • In the 1950’s, two entrepreneurs K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington, formed a partnership and acquired the land now known as Carefree.
  •      In the 1960’s, SkyRanch Airport and the Desert Forest Golf Club opened.  The first shops and restaurants were constructed and business commenced within the TownCenter.
  •     In the 1970’s, a total of approximately 300 homes had been constructed.  Many of the roads in   and around Carefree were paved.
  •      In the 1980’s, Carefree incorporated as a Town.
  •      In the 1990’s, the population of Carefree increased to over 2,500 residents.
  •      Today, Carefree’s population is approaching 4,000 residents.  The Carefree Desert Gardens and Amphitheater hold numerous community concerts and events such as world class art shows throughout the year.  Carefree celebrates 50 years of history and 25 years of incorporation.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gratitude Unlocked...

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~Melody Beattie

The day after Thanksgiving has dawned bright and beautiful.  For the third time in my life I did not spend Thanksgiving Day with family and even though I did pass a delightful afternoon with the families of two colleagues, I still felt a little bit empty.  For so many years Thanksgiving Day has meant lots of family--upwards of 30 people from four very connected families have gathered together to ask the Lord's continued blessing.  And of course they still gathered...but without so many this year.  The two oldest members of the group and one other are no longer with us, having passed away within the past year (one most recently a week ago). My youngest sister and her family, my oldest niece and her new husband, and a nephew were not there, nor were several others.  I missed them all.  And I imagine those who were there realized the absences keenly, too.

And yet.  There is much to be grateful for. My aforementioned close-knit family.  My colleagues and friends who make each work day a pleasure.  My students--past and present--who keep me going day after day.  My church family that is loving and nurturing.  My cats, faithful companions for the past decade.  My friends--near and far.  The list could go on an on.  I am truly blessed.  And for the actual Day of Thanks, even though I was not home with family, it was enough to be with my work family, with people who love me enough to count me family, and with the promise of being home soon for Christmas.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

South Rim Birding

I spent a few hours stalking birds during our long weekend at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  While my friends were hiking, I roamed the area between the El Tovar Hotel and the Kolb Studio trying to get  good pictures of the birds I saw.  I got several, but missed the Stellar Jay and the California Condor.  Maybe another time . . .

A Grand Time at the South Rim

A month prior to our trip to the North Rim and environs, my two adventure-buddies and several other colleagues and I spent a long weekend exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  This time, we were doing an exploratory visit to check out the possibilities for an interdisciplinary field trip  for next fall.  We spent most of Friday with one of the rangers from the education department, but the rest of the time we were on our own.  Happily, we had Linda with us--and she had spent the past 20 years living and working in the Park, so we had an expert in our midst.  She added so much to what was already a fascinating visit!

We made our way up to north in small groups, but by the time we met up at our headquarters, there were an even dozen of us--including a teenager from Taiwan and a 2 year old--although circumstances back at school called two back the next morning.  Thursday was spent getting there and getting settled, but Friday was full, starting with several hours with our Park ranger, who took us through the woods and along the rim, showing and telling us things we'd never get on our own.  By mid-afternoon, we were ready for food and a rest, but there was so much to do, we didn't want to give over too much time to that.  So, on our own, we shopped and explored further.

Saturday morning, several of us got up early to see the sun rise over the canyon, and then some went hiking for a few hours.  I spent some time birdwatching along the rim.  We met back at the Kolb Studio for an art show, complete with the artists side by side with their art work.  Later in the afternoon, our "camp" was invaded by a small herd of elk.  The elk are, apparently, quite unafraid of humans and are very bold about grazing in populated areas of the park.

We spent a crazy and enjoyable evening at the El Tovar restaurant (porch seating) drinking hot chocolate and playing a somewhat rowdy game of "Mafia."  Much to our dismay, we were so noisy that some of the guest of the hotel sent down word asking us to be quiet!  Our students would certainly find that amusing!  To be fair, though, there were a few other guests who were at least as loud as we were, so it wasn't all us ;)

Unfortunately, we had to leave early on Sunday to get back for a mandatory staff meeting.  But we came away knowing that there was plenty of good material and opportunity for a full-fledged outdoor teaching unit.  Never mind, just plenty to see and do, period.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Grand Re-Entry

It's been more than four months since I last blogged!  Not good for one who teaches writing and who preaches nulla dies sine linea (Not a day without a line).  It's not that I haven't had good things to blog about either.  There have been quite a few--including trips to Florida, Tennessee, California, and the Grand Canyon.  Twice!  Then there's been the usual family stuff.  And school stuff.  More than enough to write about.  And so, without further ado, I will attempt to catch working backwards, from most nearest to furthest, in both place and time.

I've teamed up with two colleagues from school to explore Arizona as often as possible.  Working at a boarding school doesn't allow for a lot of that, but we've managed to do a bit in the past month, most recently during our October Home Leave.  Linda, our girls' dean, Jill (our health/PE teacher), and I took off on Thursday afternoon, October 18, for Marble Canyon, about an hour east of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Normally a 5 hour drive, it took us close to 7 1/2 hour because of the stops we made--for gas and for souvenirs at the Cameron Trading Post.  This historic site is, according to its website, "more than an Indian lodge or Grand Canyon hotel. Established in 1916, the Cameron Indian Trading Post has become a showplace for fine Native American art and Southwest art. The unique central location of [its] Grand Canyon lodging is perfect for exploring the Grand CanyonLake Powell, and Native American Indian Country, but there is much to see right here. [The] Gallery, with its beautiful and unique Native American Indian decor, houses some of the finest Native American Indian art in the Southwest, both contemporary and antique Indian art including Navajo rugs, Hopi kachinas, and Pueblo pottery. [The] Gift Shop offers a wide selection of Southwest art, Native American art, and Southwestern decor."  As you might imagine, we enjoyed this stop ;)

The Marble Canyon Lodge, our headquarters for the next three days and nights, was a charming place with affable people--both the workers and the visitors.  We had interesting conversations with each over the time we spent there--including a surprising revelation that the people in the rooms next to ours knew one of our graduates from last year and his grandpa!  One of the men had been a fighter pilot during WWII, on the Italian front.  His girlfriend had been active as one of the early female pilots, barnstorming all over the country, flying in competitions and exhibitions!  From this strategic point, we had great options in two directions:  Lake Powell to our northeast and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to our southwest, and several interesting sites in between both destinations.  We chose to go to Lake Powell on Friday, so after a leisurely breakfast and a quick visit to Lee's Ferry, we made our way to Page where we took a hair-raising trip to Antelope Canyon and closed out the day on a luxury houseboat on Lake Powell before dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  The details:

Lee's Ferry, according to Wikipedia, is a site on the Colorado River about 7.5 miles southwest of the town of Page, Arizona and the Glen Canyon Dam, and about 9 miles south of the Utah-Arizona border. It is the former location of a ferry established by John D. Lee, a Mormon settler. Today, the site is used primarily for fishing and launching rafts.  We got some nice photos there and then moved on to a Native American jewelry and pottery stand nearby.  Most of the artists were at Tuba City for the last festival of the season, but there was enough goods there to interest us.  I had an interesting conversation with one of the women, who told me a lot about Navajo culture.

Then we journeyed onward in Linda's trusty vintage VW camper, arriving in Page, after a brief stop at the Glen Canyon Dam, with enough time for a deli lunch before our tour of Antelope Canyon, one of several "slot" canyons in the area.  Our guide was a native named Henry and for the first 30 minutes of our acquaintance with him, we thought he must be possessed as he gave as the craziest ride in an open truck from town to the canyon.  Terrified doesn't quite describe my feelings, but that's close.  And I wasn't alone.  We had twelve out there in the back, all of us hanging on for dear life, often gasping as Henry careened around corners and swerved wildly once he got us off road.  Once we arrived and scrambled off the truck, he herded us into the canyon and proceeded to amaze us with his knowledge of both the canyon and how to photograph it.  He gave tip after tip for the best lighting and setting for capturing the insides of this canyon carved by raging torrents of water over the centuries.  Turns out he was just trying to get us there ahead of others so we could get the best shots.  Our feelings about him mellowed greatly once that realization sunk in.  And our return trip to town was much calmer.

We got lucky at Lake Powell because we found that the boat rental place had several houseboats open for show, so even though it was by then near sunset, we took our time going through several houseboats ranging in size from 50 to 75 feet.  They were amazing, with upper deck jacuzzis and grills as well as highly appointed kitchens and living spaces.  We watched the sun set from there, then went back into town for supper at a charming Mexican restaurant that Linda knew before finding our way back to Marble Canyon.

The next day, Saturday, we drove out to the North Rim, stopping at Vermillion Cliffs and Jacob Lake on our way.  Vermillion Cliffs are, well, very red!  One of the roadside attractions there was a small house made out of giant rocks.  It was, at the very least, quite ingenius, but I can't imagine it kept the sand and wind out very well!  The drive up into the various mesas to get down into the North Rim was beautiful.  We did see, at the last, evidence of two devastating forest fires which we later learned were at least 5 and 7 years ago.

We stopped for breakfast at Jacob Lake Inn, one of the oldest inns in the canyon--going back to 1923.  It is famous for its pastries, and we found out why.  The whole breakfast was delicious.  Everywhere we went, the vintage VW camper caught people's attention.  They would always stop and ask questions about it...and often, it seems, the questioners were bikers.  Linda is a biker, too, so you can imagine the attention we drew (or should I say she drew)!

Then, it was on to the North Rim Lodge.  Unfortunately, it was already closed for the season, although normally it wouldn't be just yet.  But they were having some kind of meetings with "important people" so it had been closed to the public earlier than usual.  Undaunted, the three of us sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the view and the sun for awhile.  It was a bit smokey there because of another fire, this one prescribed, that was filling the canyon with smoke.  It was still beautiful.  We wandered around the lodge area for awhile and then drove out to Point Imperial.  At 8,803 feet, Point Imperial is the highest of the North Rim overlooks, and the northernmost.  We could see our Marble Canyon Lodge some 50 miles away if we looked hard enough at the horizon!  We literally camped out there for a few hours, napping and reading in the brisk, cool air--so refreshing from the near-100 we had left in Scottsdale! It was rather windy up there, so Linda and Jill holed up in the camper, but I braved it out for awhile, wrapped in a blanket.  We stayed there until just about sunset and then drove down out of the high elevation a few thousand feet to watch the sunset before going "home" to our lodge.

The next day we left after an early breakfast as we needed to get back to school for parent/teacher conferences by 4 p.m.  We had good plans, but for us, those plans went awry about an hour into our journey home when the trusty VW ran out of gas!  Happily, we were at the top of a hill with a native american jewelry post at the bottom, so we were able to coast most of the way there.  Jill jumped out and pushed us the last bit.  Also, happily, the post was on the owner's property and there was someone at home who could take Linda a few miles away to get gas.  Meanwhile, Jill and I made it worth their while to help us out as we spent several pretty pennies there!  The rest of the trip home was uneventful and we arrived back in Scottsdale with about 45 minutes to spake--time enough to clean up a bit before meeting with parents and students for the next three hours.

All in all...a pretty amazing trip to northern Arizona.  One I hope to do again and again...