2015 Arizona & New Mexico Road Trip

Our retirement celebration road trip started with the idea of driving to The Hay Hacienda in Cave Creek for a few days of warmth and relaxation. We added the Grand Canyon for a little South Rim hiking, the birding in southern AZ, where the spring migration had started, walking through the desert of blooming cactus, then 3 days before we left, we added a tour at Carlsbad Caverns and a stop at the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM. Timing was perfect, as spring break was almost over, and roads were clear. The weather was lovely the whole time.
Grand Canyon Phoenix Tucson Sierra Vista Carlsbad Caverns Roswell
Map of route, dates, places of interest and attractions we visited.  We spent the first night in Cortez so we could leave early and drive to the Grand Canyon in time to see the sunrise.

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We decided on Navajo Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (far right) to watch the sunrise.  We got on the road out of Cortez at 1:30 a.m. to make it to the point by 6:15.  It was cold, windy and softly cloaked in first dawn.  The Grand Canyon experience is utterly breathtaking.  We eventually stopped at all the points along the road and started down Bright Angle Trail (far left) later that day.

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So happy to be at the Grand Canyon for sunrise.

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As light opens up the view into the canyons.

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Early morning mists and the Colorado River shining below.  Note Desert Watchtower in upper right.

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Desert View Watchtower as seen from Navajo Point.  The tower was constructed in 1932.

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Interesting pinion/sage on the top of the rim, such as this tree, almost stretched horizontally toward the great chasm.

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Another angle of the vegetation on top;  RJ warming his cold fingers.  The top is usually 20 degrees cooler than the floor of the canyons.  That morning, we had to have our hats tied on tightly.

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It's getting lighter...  Looking NE at the Colorado River toward the head of the Grand Canyon.

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... here comes the sun!

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Colorful formations begin to light at the top, and within a few minutes the wall is fully lit.

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Canyon fully lit and framed further along the South Rim Drive.

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Next stop --- "Duck on a Rock" formation.

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Mists rising.

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The beginning of a beautiful, blue-sky day.  Another stop, another remarkable view.  Panorama 1 of 3, looking NW

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Panorama 2 of 3, looking N across the canyon.

This vista encompasses rock layers and that were formed over more than a two billion year time span in a succession of environments that ranged from oceans to costal deltas to deserts.  I included a diagram of the different rock layers and some geological references below.

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Panorama 3 of 3, looking NE.

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Same image as above...  Are those people sitting on that ledge across the way?!  (box in upper right)

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Yep, They just can't help themselves!  (zoom in to area of box in the previous photo)

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Headed down Bright Angel trail, warm and happy on April 1, 2015!  Walked down about 4.0 miles 0.4 miles before we decided it would be prudent to head back up to the rim.

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The image above provides a fairly good illustration of the enormous 'layer cake' of formations that the Colorado River has cut through and exposed.  I created a page with more information and references on the Grand Canyon here.

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Out of the Canyon and South through Flagstaff to Phoenix.  Relaxing on the patio at Hay's Hacienda in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. That wonderful yellow-blooming tree, the Palo Verde, is the Arizona state tree.

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See the hawk atop the Saguaro?

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Our first new bird sighting was the funny and beautiful Gambels Quail.  They are a common bird in Arizona. They stay on the ground and are fast!

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Quail under bush.

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There were a number of Arizona flora in bloom, like this Cholla...

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...and this amazing flower, the Yellow Bird-Of-Paradise -- wow look at those stamens!

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We visited an interesting garden and gift shop near the Hay's place.  Here we saw marvelous Arizona flora, like this Saguaro in bloom...

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Whimsical Saguaro.

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Crested (or cristate) Saguaro.  The interesting gnarled top is caused by a mutation.  There is even a society dedicated to the study of this phenomenon.

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Map of Saguaro National Park and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (just south of the park).

We hiked for a while on the Sendero Esperanza Trail and then visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum before driving to Sierra Vista.

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Imagine hills and acres filled with many species of cactuses, especially the Saguaro -- we are now in Saguaro National Park just west of Tucson.

The average life span of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years. A 20 foot tall saguaro weighs approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds). They often begin to sprout arms at about 75 years old.

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Many of the cactuses were in bloom -- what a joy and blessing for us to be there at that moment!

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Red/yellow cholla blooms

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Yellow cholla blooms

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A brief encounter with this granddaddy.

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Didn't realize RJ was this short.

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Gila Woodpecker.  They and other woodpeckers make holes in the Saguaros that other animals use for homes, as well.

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Beautiful examples of the Teddy Bear Cholla and the Fishhook Barrel cacti.

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Barrel again and prickly pear on the right.

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What a day -- high clouds, blue sky, 78 degrees and cactuses in bloom!

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Water Sherpa.

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Zebra-tailed lizard.  They were everywhere in profusion and extremely fast.  We saw no snakes on the entire trip.

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There is just something serene and comforting about standing in the middle of this desert environment!

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Binoculars spotted this bee hive in the Saguaro.  We had been warned about the African killer bees, so we hi-tailed it out of there after taking this photo.

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"The trail goes that way, no I mean the other way."

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Here lies a fallen Saguaro.  Since they live to about 200 years, this one must have been a baby just about the time trappers and traders were beginning to arrive in Arizona.

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Sandy path in Saguaro Nat'l Park -- everything lives in sand there.

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The orange-blooming Ocotillo were everywhere -- a stunning and elegant cactus.

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Hummer sitting on the nest at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum aviary. There are about 30 species of hummingbirds that migrate through southern Arizona.

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Hummers use spider web to hold their nests together.

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Can you spot the Collared Lizard?

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New (and unexpected) arrival at the desert museum.  More big horn sheep photos comin'.

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The Prickly Pear bloom looks almost like the paper-like poppy bloom, only yellow.  It was magnificent!

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San Pedro House Trail in the San Pedro Riparian Preserve.  The pictures below were taken along the green part of the trail.

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Tent Caterpillars!  Wow,  these nests were hanging in many of the trees along the San Pedro river.  We had never seen anything like it, but some folks from Michigan who were hiking in the same area (the San Pedro Riparian Preserve), said they had the Eastern version of this pest.  They eat the tree leaves and produce a moth.  We did not see much damage to the trees, and hoped there were enough migrating birds to take care of some of these pests.  We did not see any adult moths - image to the right.

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They were crawling along outside of their sacks as well.

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The Curve Billed Thrasher, San Pedro Riparian Preserve.

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The Vermillion Flycatcher.  Exquisitely bright orange with a dark cloak.  San Pedro Riparian Preserve.  Looking West from stop 5 on the river trail toward Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains. 

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I'm calling this a Gold Finch, can't quite see the wing stripes.

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Gold Finch.

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Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Vermillion Flycatcher feeding insect to offspring.

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Enlargement of previous picture.

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Vermillion Flycatcher -- again.  In case you hadn't noticed, we enjoyed watching these birds.  Today was Easter, and in the company of colorful Vermillion Flycatchers, Cardinals, Gold Finches and humming birds, we felt as though we were participating in a flying Easter egg hunt.

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Vermillion Flycatcher, taken by Mr. Chan who came to the San Pedro Riparian Preserve seeking this one bird and shared his photos with us. He had a 500 millimeter telephoto lens.

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Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Northern Cardinal, female.

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A view of Green Kingfisher Pond at the San Pedro Riparian Preserve.

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Beautifully symmetrical Soaptree Yucca.

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Northern Cardinal, male.

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Curve Billed Thrasher.

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Tombstone Arizona -- the real deal!

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Flying Leap Vineyards -- tasted and bought a wine that was a 'duet' of Voignier and Symphony grapes, highly floral, crisp and excellent.

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Female Magnificent Hummingbird.  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Nature Conservancy.

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Male Magnificent Hummingbird.  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Nature Conservancy.

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Stream that runs through Ramsey Canyon Preserve part of the year.

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This picture was taken from the road driving up to Carlsbad Caverns, where we saw a herd of big horned sheep ambling up the mountain.

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Herd of big horn sheep.

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Herd of big horn sheep along the ridge

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Herd of big horn sheep gathering in rocks, trying to hide just below the rim.

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Hiding and blending in -- without even falling!   Enlargement of previous image. 

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We rode the elevator down to the rest area 755 feet below the surface --- far easier than walking in on the 1.25 mile natural entrance trail.  From there we were able to visit a small fraction of the caverns including part of the Big Room (self-guided) and a delightful and informative ranger guided tour through the Kings Palace and other chambers --- the trails we took are shown in green above.  Another depiction of the cavern layout can be found here.

The Big Room is a natural limestone chamber that is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point.  By comparison a NFL football stadium is about 900 feet long, 700 feet wide and roughly 290 feet high (if roofed).

Some interesting Carlsbad Caverns history and geology can be found here.  A description of different cave features can be found here.

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The next 30 or so photos were all taken in two large caverns, the Big Room and the Kings Palace area. It was cool, dark and effectively lit.  We were totally blown away by these caverns!  Some of the pictures were taken with the flash, and some used only the cavern lighting.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to indicate the scale of these images.  Some will be of a small area perhaps six feet high, and other pictures will encompass large areas, maybe 100 - 200 feet high.

Pictures simply can't do justice to the experience of walking through the caverns!

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Giant Dome (62 feet high) and one of the Twin Domes - in the Hall of Giants, west side of the Big Room.
Cave lighting - mostly

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Breast of Venus feature --- a smooth, wide stalagmite formed by rapidly dripping water at the south end of the Big Room

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Drapery formations and stalagmites.

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Rock of Ages formation.

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Flowstone formations.

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The walkway provides some scale to the image.

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Drapery formation.

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Pool on King's Palace Tour.

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Fossil Nautilus or Ammonite on the wall in Carlsbad Caverns.

It is a remarkable experience to walk on the inside of an ancient reef looking at fossils of organisms that lived in the Permian period over 250 million years ago

  • before there were flowering plants, mammals or birds
  • even before dinosaurs evolved, lived and then became extinct.
  • when all terrestrial life existed on a single land mass (Pangaea) instead of on the separate continents we see today
  • when all marine life was found either in the global ocean (Panthalassa) or in shallow inland seas like the Delaware Sea in which the reef that eventually formed Carlsbad Caverns thrived for several million years. 

It may be a bit difficult to picture how our world might have looked 250 million years ago, so I included several references on the Delaware Basin, Pangaea and plate tectonics -- including an animation that illustrates continental drift over 600 million years.  In the animation you can watch the Permian Basin (arrow in left image below) which includes the Delaware sea form then dry up between 300 and 250 million years ago in the region that would eventually drift away and become North America, including the Carlsbad area (arrow in right image below).

 
Images from the continental drift animation
From a Permian reef to Guadalupe Mountains.
The ocean fossils here reveal a detailed picture of life along a coastline of a shallow inland sea some 240 to 280 million years ago. These fossils show that the "Capitan Reef" was built mostly of sponges and algae, not by coral like many of today's reefs.

Other marine fossils found here include ammonites, crinoids, snails, nautiloids, bivalves, brachiopods, and the occasional trilobite. This coastline eventually became a horseshoe-shaped limestone layer of rock over 1,800 feet thick, 2 to 3 miles wide and over four hundred miles long. By the end of the Permian age, the Capitan Reef was covered by thousands of feet of newer sediments, burying the reef for tens of millions of years.

Local faulting and stresses of the earth's crust, especially over the past 20 million years, have uplifted these reef sediments almost ten thousand feet. Wind, rain, snow and time eroded away the overlying younger sediments and now the ancient reef is exposed once again. The park's deep canyons and caves now provide visitors with unique opportunities to view this fossil reef from the inside. 
More details: http://www.nps.gov/cave/learn/nature/geologicformations.htmtm 

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Fossil Nautilus or Ammonite??

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Fossil Nautilus or Ammonite.

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Trilobite Fossil.

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Since we were so close, we had no choice but to see for ourselves if there really was an alien space ship that crashed near Roswell, NM in 1947. 

It was like entering a counter-culture world.

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Every minute detail of the 'event' has been meticulously documented in the Roswell UFO museum in addition to records of other alleged alien encounters.  Wikipedia has a fairly good skeptical description of the incident for those who are interested.

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According to Erich von Däniken, the sarcophagus lid of Mayan Emperor, Pacal the Great, represents an "ancient astronaut" ascending to the stars in his spaceship.  Additional details on the sarcophagus lid can be found here.  You can read a skeptical analysis of this theory, and another article that questions von Däniken's conclusions.  Click here to see a larger image so you can better view the details of this advanced 1,300 year old "spaceship".

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Von Däniken's intricate and highly imaginative "spaceship" details!  Click here to see a larger image so you can read the labels of Von Däniken's whimsical speculations.

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The spaceship interpretation becomes a 3-D model so we can see exactly how it worked.  More details here --- and, of course, the History channel provides us the Truth!

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Another Roswell activity!

Thanks to our dear family, who gave us great encouragement to break away from home for awhile.  Both of us enjoyed the trip immensely.

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