Today was an easy day for us–not too much driving, and not much to do.  Our drive on I-70 from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs, CO was very scenic all the way.


We had a hard time getting to our motel in Glenwood Springs.  We needed to leave I-70 at Exit 116, but it was closed due to construction of the SR82 overpass, which connects north and south Glenwood Springs.  We had to take Exit 114 and follow detour signs.  The exit took us to the south side of I-70; our hotel was on the north side of I-70.  It was crazy!!  Traffic was heavy, many streets were one-way, and there were at least half a dozen traffic circles–some two in a row–at which we had to determine when to leave the circle.

Traffic cops were stationed all over (two were in Hallowe’en costumes–Darth Vader and the Wicked Witch of the West), and the roads were filled with orange and white traffic cones that either:  (1) outlined a path to follow; or (2) blocked entrance to a path.  With everything else going on, it was even hard to determine what the traffic cones were trying to do!  We finally made it to our hotel–nearly an hour after leaving I-70.  This road project has apparently been underway since early August and won’t be finished until late November.  Ted and I wondered if the traffic cops are on duty all day every day.  We bet they are.

Glenwood Springs is named for its hot springs.  Our hotel has a hot spring pool and spa, and it was very tempting to get into the warm water and just relax after maneuvering our way through the traffic snarls.  Unfortunately, the air temperature was only in the 50s, so we chickened out of getting wet and warm and then having to shiver our way to the locker rooms.  The people in the picture below were braver than we were.


We planned to visit the Railroad Museum this afternoon, but it’s on the other side of I-70 and wasn’t going be open very long after we fought our way back to it.  A little research showed that it’s only a 0.4 mile walk one way from the hotel, and there is a pedestrian bridge over I-70.  That bridge is open.  Our new plan is to visit the Railroad Museum in the morning before we leave Glenwood Springs.  We’re adaptable, but if you’re planning to visit Glenwood Springs, I suggest waiting until the road project is finished.

We left Moab, UT this morning via scenic highway 128.  Scenic.  Definitely scenic.

Highway 128 is apparently popular with bikers.  We passed a lot of them.

Every curve (the road was 45 mph and all curves) had a beautiful view of red rocks.

The highway follows the Colorado River, so we had pretty river views along the way as well.

The fall colors we’ve been seeing over the past week have been gorgeous.  The trend continued along highway 128.


Our first destination in Colorful Colorado was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, near Montrose, CO.  We visited this national park many years ago with our kids on a Colorado vacation, but decided it was time to see it again.  This canyon was named “Black” because it is so deep, so sheer, and so narrow that little sunlight can penetrate it.  It has been described as “impenetrable” for humans and shows no evidence of human occupation except at its rims.  The Black Canyon is so steep that the Gunnison River drops an average of 96 feet per mile over its 48 miles in the canyon.  One two-mile stretch drops 480 feet.

The overlooks were perched on the tops of the steep, sheer canyon walls.  It was so far to the bottom (at least 1,500 feet in most places) that I was too scared to go all the way to the edge of the overlooks.  The heights didn’t bother Ted, so he took all the canyon pictures for us.  You can tell how far back I had to stand to feel comfortable.  I’m a coward, I know.

We could hear the river at all the overlooks, but it was sometimes difficult to see.  At one spot, Ted had to look straight down to see the river.  I didn’t get close enough to see that view, but this one was visible from farther back.

This is one of the trails we took to the overlooks.  I always walked as far from the outside edge as I could, and I never, never looked down.


Here are some views of the rock walls of the canyon.  I took the first and fourth pictures because I could see the canyon from my safety zone.  Ted took the second and third photos from the overlooks.


This part of the canyon is called the Painted Wall, for obvious reasons.  It is the highest cliff in Colorado at 2,300 feet–almost twice the height of the Empire State Building.  That’s why I was always afraid to look down.  What if I’d fall?  I know it was emotion over logic, but if I tried to look straight down to the bottom, my knees felt weak and I got a nervous feeling.  At this point, the Gunnison River is at 5,000 feet elevation.  Add the 2,300 feet of canyon wall, and Ted and I were standing at 7,300 feet above sea level.


Even though I kept my distance from the edges of the overlooks and the trails, I still enjoyed re-visiting the Black Canyon.  I’m glad Ted was able to take some very nice pictures of it for us to enjoy after our visit.

Copy Paste Check Mark Symbol  Canyonlands–number five of Utah’s Mighty 5® national parks.

Ted’s and my first stop in Canyonlands NP was the Mesa Arch.

We’re not far from Arches NP, so it’s not surprising to find a similar erosion pattern in Canyonlands.

Here’s a canyon view through the arch.


It’s easy to drive from place to place in Canyonlands, because the park’s scenic drive goes over the top of a mesa.  The canyons are eroded at lower levels and the mesa provides a good viewing point of them.  We took pictures of scenes we liked, so I don’t have names for all of them, but the first one is called The Maze.  I wonder why.  The pictures below are representative of what Ted and I saw on our day in this national park.


I think the photo below looks like an underwater view, with formations above and below sea level.  Maybe that’s how it was before the erosion began millions of years ago.  The solid, level blue is a distant mesa, and the sun shining into my camera lens created the hazy look.


Notice the dirt road at the top of the cliff wall on the left in the picture below.  Then look at the second picture, which shows how that road winds down into the canyon.  Ted and I counted 8-10 cars navigating the road very carefully and very slowly.  It’s steep and has tight curves, but no guardrails.  The third photo shows the road straightening out (a little) at the bottom of the canyon.


The trails we walked on today were marked with rock cairns.  I think that might have been necessary because there was more rock than dirt on the trails, making it hard to follow a specific path.


We missed what was probably the best trail and the best view of the entire park because we’d already walked short trails for almost four hours before we arrived at Upheaval Dome.  It was getting late in the day and this trail looked steep and difficult.  The syncline loop trail around the rim was rated primitive and strenuous and required topographical maps.  The information board noted that this trail requires more rescues than any other trail in the park.

The trail to the second overlook, where we would have gone, looked pretty tough and was estimated at an hour’s time (minimum) to hike.  We just didn’t have the energy for that level of hiking for another hour or more.  Darn!  The information on the board said there is controversy over whether this formation was created by volcanic activity or by an impact.  Current opinion leans toward an impact.  This would have been amazing to see!


My lesson for today was botanical.  One of the trees growing in this area is the two-needle pine.  Look carefully at the needles in the picture–each one is paired at its base with a twin.  Cool!


Fun fact of the day:  It looked like Mickey Mouse was visiting Canyonlands too.


Before leaving the park just before sunset, Ted and I took time to sit on a rock (there were a lot of them in the park) and admire the view while we ate a snack.  A nice ending to our day in Canyonlands.

A shadow selfie.

Ted and I spent today in Arches National Park–number four on our tour of Utah’s Mighty 5®.  The park has over 2,000 arches (if the visitor center information is accurate), but nearly all of them must be insignificant or inaccessible, because only 19 are identified on the NPS map of the scenic road and trails in the park.  Speaking of trails, there seem to be only two kinds of trails in Arches NP:  easy trails that are a mile or less in length; or strenuous trails that are three miles or longer.  A few trails are described as “primitive.”  These trails are not necessarily difficult or long, but are marked only by rock cairns.  Hikers are encouraged to look carefully, as the trails might be difficult to find in some places.

You can see the rocks lining the primitive trail in the center of the picture.  This is the trailhead.  I assume the number of rock markers decreased as the trail went on.


The only strenuous trail we considered would have taken us to Delicate Arch–the poster arch of Utah (it’s on the license plates).  We would have trekked the three miles without shade (it was only in the upper 60s) and the 480-foot elevation increase, but then we found out there are ledges and were told, “If you can make the ledges, you can make it.”  The word ledges convinced us to settle for the trail that let us view that arch from a distance.  It would have been nice to be right up next to the poster child of the park like the people we could see over there, but we know our limits.

This is as close as we got to Delicate Arch, and it’s a zoom-in shot.  The arch is 60 feet tall.  You can see tiny people to the left and right of it.


Arches NP is different from the other places we’ve been visiting.  It has the now-familiar-to-us eroded red rock formations, but they seem to jut up out of the ground at random, rather than filling a large space.

This is a close-knit group of individually jutting rocks.  In most of the park, the rock formations are relatively widely scattered.   The center formation includes Turret Arch.  (Seek and ye shall find.  You can see the purple mountains through it.)

This is a very large isolated rock fin.  Isn’t it odd that so much land around it would erode and leave an obviously harder piece of rock like this to stand alone?

Here are some more isolated rock formations. Guess which one is named Balanced Rock.


North and South Window arches were pretty, and they were fun too.  We climbed through each of the Windows to the other side.

This is the South Window.

The North Window has a pretty view through it.

When you look at the Windows together, they look like eyes with a big nose between them.  All they need is a pair of dark-rimmed glasses and a mustache.

This good-looking couple keeps appearing in our pictures.  As we were walking on the trail, an Asian lady going in the opposite direction apparently told her husband (in Asian-speak) to take our picture, because he stopped us and said he would take our picture.


Turret Arch was near the Windows and was an interesting arch.

Turret Arch looks like this from the trail.  We climbed over the rocks to the other side of it.  You can see other people climbing through too.  Look for the pink T-shirt to find them.

This is what Turret Arch looks like on the other (sunny) side.

If you see Turret Arch in shadow, the rocks surrounding the opening seem to signal A-OK.


Sand Dune Arch was an easy walk–0.3 miles round trip.  The trail was deep sand, so it was like walking on a beach.  A lot of little kids were making sand angels and sand piles.  Too bad there wasn’t any water available to make red sand castles.

This is the entrance to the Sand Dune Arch area. That’s Ted wriggling through it.

And here’s Sand Dune Arch rising over its sandy “beach.”


Our final arch of the day was Double Arch, the highest and third widest arch in the park.

The sign at the trailhead was a little confusing.  Three openings in a double arch?  Define “double,” please.

Double Arch lived up to the NPS description of “spectacular.”  Ted and I chose it as our poster arch of the day.


Tomorrow:  Number 5 of Utah’s Mighty 5®–Canyonlands National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park was today’s trip highlight.  To reach the park, we had to drive Utah Scenic Byway 24–not a hardship.  After leaving the park, we drove Scenic Byway 95 to get to Moab for tomorrow’s hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Basically, it’s the old “you can’t get there from here” thing if you want to go east from Capitol Reef to Moab, because there are no east-west roads through the rocks and canyons.  To get 100 miles east of Capitol Reef, we took Scenic Byway 95 130 miles southeast, then Utah SH 191 125 miles northeast to Moab.  It was a  beautiful drive so, again, no hardship.  Scenic Byway 95 was dedicated in 1976, so it is also called the “Bicentennial Highway.”  Whatever its name, it was a pretty drive.

Here’s a typical scene from Scenic Byway 24.


Near the end of Scenic Byway 24, we drove through Luna Mesa.  These pictures show how easy it was to name this area.


Scenic Byways 24 and 95 meet at Hanksville, UT.  Since it’s the intersection of two state highways, there are three gas stations at the corner.  This one was the most interesting.

The owner had a convenience store-sized hole blasted into this rock formation and built his store inside the rock.

There’s a rock wall separating the store from the rest room area–probably for structural support.  The attendant told me they never heat or cool the store because the rock provides good insulation.  All they need is a fan to keep the air circulating.


After the Hollow Mountain gas station, we started our journey on Scenic Byway 95.

We saw this curved wall of rock along Scenic Byway 95.

This is Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River in Utah’s Glen Canyon.  We are at a turnout on Scenic Byway 95.  The road then goes downward to the left, around rock formations and mesas, and eventually crosses the bridge you can only see if you zoom the photo and look hard for the blur.  The bridge is silver and it’s at the far end of the visible water.  It took us about a half hour to get from this point to that bridge.

Glen Canyon was probably the prettiest part of the scenic byways today.  Here’s a scene from a rest stop in Glen Canyon on Scenic Byway 95.

At this point, it was probably highway construction that created a pillar beside the large rock.  An arm of Lake Powell is on the right.


Capitol Reef is a beautiful national park.  I learned that it was formed by a huge mountain-building event.  The rock to the west of the buried fault was uplifted 7,000 feet higher than the rock to the east of the fault.  As layers of strata accumulated on the rock, the pressure of the overlying strata folded the rock layers over the fault.  Erosion exposed the strata, and the result is the rock formations we see today.

Ted and I narrowed our photos of the day down from nearly 100 to the ones you see in this post.  Every rock formation in the park and along the byways seemed worthy of a photo, even though they all shared many common characteristics.  I don’t know the names of the rock formations (or if they have names), but I believe the first one below this paragraph is called “Capitol Dome,” for obvious reasons.


We saw an interesting tree as we were driving through the park.  I assume that, given the altitude and the color of the leaves, it’s a member of the aspen family, but I’m not a botanist.  Maybe one of my attentive readers can provide positive identification of the tree genus.  I noticed it because the bark was unusually formed.


Ted and I have now visited three of Utah’s Mighty 5®:  Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef.  Tomorrow, we’ll visit the last two:  Canyonlands and Arches.  We visited the first three in the early 2000s, but have never been to the last two.  The weather looks great for the hikes we’ve planned for the next two days.

It’s Ted’s and my second day of Utah’s “best week of our lives,” and the catch-phrase is living up to its name.  We had a beautiful day of scenery from start to finish.  We began on Utah’s Highway 12, an All-American Road, that took us to Bryce Canyon National Park and to Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.


Highway 12, an All-American Road

To be recognized by the USDOT as a National Scenic Byway, a road must have one or more of six intrinsic significant qualities:  archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic.  To be designated as an All-American Road, the road must go through a nomination/ approval process and must already be recognized as a state scenic byway.  In addition, it must possess at least two of the significant qualities listed; it must have features that do not exist elsewhere in the U.S.; and its features and qualities must be important enough to be a tourist destination in itself (i.e., driving the road must be the goal, like the Pacific Coast Highway).


Highway 12 begins just west of Bryce Canyon NP and ends at Torrey, UT, 40 miles east of Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.


Utah State Highway 12 meets the All-American Road qualifications in every possible way.  Every time we went around a curve, there was another photo-worthy view.  Luckily, there’s not room to pull off the road except in designated areas, or we’d probably still be driving it and remarking on its scenery.  The road goes up and down and curves around mountains, canyons, and plateaus.  Curves are plentiful and speed limits are necessarily low, so it’s not a quick drive, but who would want to hurry past this kind of scenery?  We don’t think there was a straightaway longer than one-half mile the entire 123-mile length of the highway.  We highly recommend this road as a tourist destination.  Here are a select few of the beautiful views on Highway 12.

The scenery at the west end of Hwy. 12 looks similar to Bryce Canyon, with red hoodoos.  It keeps changing along the road.  This is just east of Bryce Canyon.

Even farther north and east, the mountains become higher and denser.

Another beautiful curve.

Red rocks everywhere.  Gorgeous in the sunlight and even better at sunset.

We came to the end of Highway 12 at sunset.  Still beautiful.


Bryce Canyon National Park

The last time Ted and I visited Bryce Canyon (October, early 2000s), it was cold and had nine inches of snow.  Only a few miles of the park road were plowed and open.  We have stunning pictures of the red rocks of Bryce Canyon sprinkled with evergreen trees and topped with white snow.  Today it was sunny, clear, and in the 50s, so we took some different, but still stunning, pictures of Bryce Canyon.  This time, we drove the roads we were unable to access last time and we thought these views were even more beautiful.

The end of the road in Bryce Canyon is at 9,600 feet elevation, so I started the day with a cup of hot chocolate.  It came in a Christmas-themed cup.

Snow poles were placed along the road and in the parking lots.  Judging by how tall they are, Bryce must get some incredible snowfalls.


The tall, thin, spire-shaped rocks that rise from the dry basin of Bryce Canyon are called hoodoos.  They are also referred to as tent rocks, fairy chimneys, and/or earth pyramids.


Ted and I voted this to be the most spectacular view of Bryce.  It’s called “Natural Bridge,” but is really an arch.  The people in the second picture below are also spectacular.  Or at least the view behind them is.


Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase is not actually a staircase or anything that looks like one.  It’s a term used to describe the cliffs, slopes and terraces extending 150 miles northward, from the Grand Canyon to the top of Bryce Canyon–a rise in elevation of more than 6,000 feet.  The topographic layers have different colors and, as they erode, these layers and colors appear in the canyons.


Highway 12 runs through Escalante National Monument.  Ted and I had low expectations of Escalante, NM because it is widely known for its huge plateau (1.9 million acres in the park) and for its dinosaur fossils.  What a wonderful surprise to discover that Escalante is the most beautiful 28-mile stretch of Highway 12.  The road in the first picture below is Highway 12.  On the right (where we were headed), it’s high; then it winds and drops through the center and left of the picture.  (Note:  That’s one of the few straight portions of Highway 12.)


Tomorrow:  the third day of the best week of our lives.

Today was Ted’s and my first day of what Utah tourism calls “the best week of your life.”  It’s a seven-day road trip that includes Utah’s “Mighty 5″® national parks–Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.  Ted and I are including Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument in our itinerary.  The best week of our life includes driving the All-American Highway, Utah SH 12, which is so beautiful, it’s a destination in itself.  (Really.)  We’re looking forward to starting that tomorrow morning.

Today, we spent over five hours hiking in Zion National Park.  We started by following the Emerald Pools Trail to see three emerald pools-so named because at certain times of the year, the algae in the pools makes them look green.  As pools go, they weren’t very impressive, but in Zion NP, there is no such thing as a bad view, so we saw nothing but spectacular scenery during the entire time we hiked and rode the shuttle through the park from stop to stop (no private vehicles allowed from March 1-October 31).

The steep red cliffs in Zion are a result of the uplift associated with the creation of the Colorado plateaus that lifted the region 10,000 feet 13 million years ago.  The canyon itself was created by the Virgin River.  The stone cliffs are mostly sandstone, which erodes quite easily, so maybe that’s why the walls are so vertical and form a canyon far more narrow than that of the Grand Canyon.  The cliff walls rise 6,000 feet above the canyon floor and are breathtaking.  It’s probably impossible to take a bad picture in Zion, so scroll down and enjoy some of Ted’s and my favorite scenes from our hike today.

We gave our new hiking shoes and trekking poles a good workout.  It’s great to be our age and buying items like that!


There are no words to describe the grandeur and impressive size of the rocks in Zion NP.


Definition of a pool:  a small area of still water.  Here is a view of the first Emerald Pool from a higher point on the trail to the second pool.  All three pools definitely fit the “small” part, although they were larger than puddles.


The fall colors are at their peak in Zion.  I think some of these pictures are pretty enough to put on a calendar.


Ted and I thoroughly enjoyed the Grand Canyon, but we agree that it ranks second to Zion for grandeur, majesty, and just plain natural beauty.  Imagine our pleasure hiking through all of the above scenes today.  Mm-mm good!

Las Vegas:  city of excess.  If it can be overdone, I’m sure the Las Vegas Strip area has overdone it.  Still, the energy of the Strip has a magnetic attraction for tourists, including Ted and me.

The last time we were here (late 1990s), we set aside some money to play the slot machines, only to discover that the one-armed bandits had long since given way to putting a credit card in a slot and pushing a button.  That didn’t seem like much fun, so we spent our gambling allowance on a high-end dinner instead.

Slot machines.  No one-arm bandits.

Players at tables where Ted and I are not gambling.

Dealers waiting for us to take our place at their tables.  Still waiting.


This time, we decided we’d skip the gambling in favor of buying tickets to whatever show interested us and had available seats.  Our choice was Elton John, but he is only performing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and we’re only here on Sunday and Monday nights.  Apparently, our message to EJ didn’t get through.  We tried to pick another show, but nothing really interested us at the given prices.  Tickets cost $150-$200 each–and that was for the “medium” seating area, dropping to around $100 where binoculars are needed, and going up to $200-300 to sit anywhere closer.  That was too much for a performance we were settling for just for the sake of seeing a performance.  We opted for the same thing as last time:  we used our ticket money for two high-end dinners instead.  The food was out of this world and much better than a “settled for” show.

Here’s the first restaurant we chose in place of a show (Prime, on the lower level, center of the photo).  It overlooked the pool with the Bellagio fountains.  A beautiful show!

This is the second restaurant we spent our ticket money on.  This time, the show was watching the chef and his helpers prepare the diners’ meals.


Temperatures were above normal (90 degrees), so daytime walking on the Strip was not that much fun, even it if is a dry heat.  We waited for the heat of the sun to dissipate, then did the Strip-walk until dinner time.  People-watching on the Strip is a tourist attraction in itself.  I made Ted promise to never dress like an older man we saw while we were eating lunch:  sandals with navy and white polka-dot socks, green plaid shorts, and a red polo shirt.  Eeewww!  That was hard on the eyes!  As we strolled down the Strip, Ted was offered several opportunities for entertainment tonight.

Decisions, decisions.  Ted decided to have dinner with me instead.  Aww, how sweet!


We’re staying at the Bellagio, and the decorations are gorgeous.

This glass-flowered skylight ceiling was one of our memories of the last time we were here.

The Bellagio has five huge pools, plus several hot tubs and lots of cabanas, as seen from our 16th story room.  Quite a few people were trying to keep cool in the pools this afternoon.

Here’s the nighttime view from our hotel window.

The hotel decorations are fall-themed.  This hallway featured over-sized, colorful peacocks.

The peacocks’ tails were made out of flowers–just like the floats in the Rose Bowl parade.

Another seasonal decoration covered with flowers.

And one more Hallowe’en guy with flower-based construction.


The Bellagio is not the place to look for cheap souvenirs, although the usual mugs, T-shirts, and sweatshirts are plentiful.  There is an entire wing of designer shopping.

Some hotel ceiling decorations and the entrance to the Via Bellagio–the upscale shopping area.

Dior, Prada, Gucci–you name it and there was a store.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything I liked, and neither did anyone else.  Whenever we walked by, there were no customers in any of these stores–only salespeople.

Finally!  Harry Winston had a bracelet I’d like to wear.  I inquired, but decided not to buy when the salesman said “$30,000.”


The lights on the Strip have become brighter (LEDs now) and more numerous, but the Bellagio fountains are just as beautiful as we remember.

It’s the Las Vegas Strip, not Paris, France, but you knew that.

A passerby offered to immortalize this moment for us.  (The bracelet I’m wearing cost less than $30,000.)

Aaahhh, the Bellagio fountains.


We didn’t stay up all night to verify it, but I’m sure that, like New York City, this town never sleeps.  Things will be much quieter for us in Zion National Park tomorrow.

Last night in Flagstaff (elev. 7,000 ft.), the temperature dropped to 26 degrees.  Luckily, we were in bed and, when we went out into the morning sunshine, it was already in the low 50s–much nicer.

We drove from Flagstaff to Las Vegas today, which included crossing the Hoover Dam.  It’s been many years since we visited Hoover Dam, so we decided to stop again and check it out.

The dam still looks the same, and the water level in Lake Mead is still low, but the café has expanded, the number of visitor tours has expanded, rest rooms have been added along the pedestrian walkway, and the visitor center has its own building.  In addition, there are now 12 parking lots, so the number of visitors must have increased greatly.  Even at closing time, when we arrived, we had to troll the parking lots to find an empty spot.

The biggest change was the re-routing of US 93.  It used to cross the dam; now there’s a new bridge that takes US 93 over the tailrace of the dam.  Naturally, security has been added, so we had to stop to let the guards decide that we were not a threat before we could drive to the actual dam.  We passed.  We arrived too late in the afternoon for a tour, but the parking was free, which saved us $10.

The new Hoover Dam Visitor Center is on the left.

These sculptures have been added on the NV side of the dam.  There is also a larger-than-life sculpture of a dam builder working on the dam in a safety harness, but I couldn’t get a good picture of it.

This is the beginning of Lake Mead, the reservoir immediately behind Hoover Dam.  The top of the white rock is a high water mark.  If I remember correctly from our previous visit, life is good when the water level covers the lower portion of the intake towers on the left.  When it’s low like this, there’s a drought going on.

Here’s the selfie of us at Hoover Dam.

This is the new US 93 bridge over the tailrace.

Ted and I spent today at the Grand Canyon.  Last week we visited Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Amarillo, TX–the second largest canyon in the U.S.  It is definitely a distant second to the Grand Canyon.  As my brother Tom said, “There are many canyons, but only one is Grand.”  It was a beautiful, sunny, calm day.  We were at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, so it was cool, but we had jackets, so temperatures in the 50s were no big deal.

We spent most of our time walking on the south Rim Trail.  At one point, we saw people on burros at the bottom of the canyon, nearly 6,000 feet below us.  A man with binoculars found them and pointed them out.  With the naked eye, you could only see them if you knew where to look because, at that distance, they were tiny dots that moved along one of the trails.

One part of the Rim Trail is called the “Trail of Time.”  It’s a 2.83-mile-long interpretive geographical timeline, and has received national recognition.  (It sounds self-congratulatory for a national park trail to receive national recognition, doesn’t it?)  The displays along the trail are well done and include rock samples from each layer of the Canyon walls, set at appropriate markers along the time line.  Basically, the trail is a short course in geology.  In fact, a high school class was walking the trail for a field trip.  Each meter of the trail equals one million years of geologic history, and there are markers set into the trail at every meter to mark the time.  The trail begins at “today” and ends at 4,560 million years.

Start walking the Trail of Time here.

Pause here, a million years ago.

Congratulate yourself here before walking the next two billion years of the Grand Canyon’s geology.  The Canyon is “only” 6 million years old, but the trail continues for 4,560 million years–the age of the earth’s geological development.


We also listened to an NPS Ranger Talk about the geology of the Canyon.  He said that real geologists would hate him for simplifying the development of the Grand Canyon to the word you say when you first see it:  DUDE.

D for deposition–the soil deposited in the Grand Canyon that later turned to rock.

U for uplift–the movement of the tectonic plates that raised the Grand Canyon.

D for down–what the river did to the rock:  wear it down.

E for erosion–what wind and water have done to the rock.

Why didn’t the Colorado River go around the mountains during the “D” portion of the Canyon’s development (wearing it down)?  Because the river had the right of way, so it cut right through them.


Of course, we took a lot of pictures and they all show beautiful (grand) views.  Here are a few of our favorites.

I like the color contrasts in this photo.  The brown in the sky is smoke from a nearby prescribed burn.

Again, the colors of the different rock layers make this a beautiful place to visit.

This was a very deep/steep area.  Of course, depth never shows very well in photos but the rock formations are interesting.

We stayed until the sun was setting.  All the colors became more golden and red, and the shadows grew larger.

Another great day together for Ted and me.

We arrived in Grand Canyon Village late this afternoon, checked into our hotel, and searched the internet for restaurants and restaurant reviews.  The results were, as our President would say, “sad.”

We checked reviews for about 10 restaurants–steak houses, pizza parlors, and family dining.  No matter which restaurant we were checking, the reviews were terrible.  Even worse, they were similar for every restaurant:  the food was overpriced; everything tasted terrible (dry, overcooked, or even as if it was out of a can); the service was extremely slow (30-90 minute waits for the food); and it wasn’t worth the time or money.  A number of people even qualified their reviews by saying they have never reviewed a restaurant online, but this one (whichever it was) was so bad, something had to be said.

Almost unanimously, the reviewers mentioned that the food would have been better and, although still overpriced because they were taking advantage of the captive tourist market, more reasonably priced at McDonald’s or Wendy’s.  McDonald’s was two doors down from our hotel.  Here’s a picture of our dinner tonight.

The food was overpriced (captive tourists); everything tasted like it always does at McDonald’s; service was fast (about a two-minute wait); and we were satisfied.

Identifying plants

The Sonoran Desert surpasses all other North American deserts in lushness and in variety of life, even though it is one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent.  The pictures below are some of the plants I’ve learned to recognize.

Here is a picture of one of the seven varieties of cholla (cho’-yah) cactus.  This one is the teddy bear type because it looks soft and cuddly.  Prickly pear are on each side, and the tall spire is a young saguaro cactus.

This is a close-up of a jumping cholla.  You can see how the dried stalk would break at a joint and “jump” onto you if your clothing brushed against it.

Here’s a barrel cactus with some drying blooms.

Look at that network of protective thorns the barrel cactus puts around itself!

This is an ocotillo (oh-koh-tee’-oh) cactus.

Here’s a close-up of the ocotillo’s vicious thorns.  The ocotilla sprouts leaves within days after a rainstorm, then drops them as the moisture disappears.

The bushes with the tiny green leaves on each side of the prickly pear are creosote.  Creosote can leave black marks on your pants legs if you brush against it.  I didn’t brush against any creosote, but I touched a prickly pear thorn very, very gently to test its sharpness, and it pierced the skin on my fingertip.  Yikes!  Those thorns are really sharp!

The large, multi-spired plant in the center is an organ pipe cactus.  The low, whitish one in the foreground is an agave.  Agave roots are used to make tequila.

The palo verde (green stick) tree looks very lacy, probably because of its tiny leaves.

The palo verde got its name because all of it is green–even its bark.

City gardens in the desert (this one is at a museum) don’t look at all like Midwestern gardens.


The saguaro cactus

Saguaro (sah-war’-oh) cacti grow only in the Sonoran Desert in California, Arizona, and Mexico.  Saguaros grow very slowly and might be only 1/4-inch tall after the first year.  At about 30 years, they begin to flower, and they might begin to sprout their first branches (arms) at about 75 years.  The saguaro bloom is the state flower of Arizona.  Saguaros can live 150-200 years, reaching 50 feet in height and weighing 8 tons.  They are the largest cacti in the United States.

Saguaros must begin their lives under the shelter and protection of a nurse tree in order to survive.  This center saguaro is as tall as its nurse tree.  The one on the left is just beginning to grow its first arm (above the tree), making it about 75 years old.

Saguaro cacti can grow in forests.

Here’s another saguaro forest.  The accordion-like pleats of the saguaro cover a spongy center.  The saguaro collects water with a network of roots that lie about three inches below the desert surface.  When it rains, the spongy center of the plant fills with water and the pleats expand and flatten as the stalk swells.  A saguaro can soak up as much as 200 gallons of water–enough to sustain it for a year.


The desert is a fascinating place, but I’m a hard-core Midwesterner.  It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

Ted wasn’t feeling his best today because he’s beginning to catch a cold.  It’s a mystery how that happened, but that doesn’t keep it from being a fact.  His energy level was low, so we opted for easy sightseeing in the Tucson area.

Yesterday, we were at the Desert Museum and saw a little bit of Saguaro National Park West, so today we went to Saguaro National Park East.  There is an 8-mile loop drive with lots of turnouts for viewing the desert landscapes.  We considered hiking, but Ted didn’t really feel like it and I was tired too, so we chucked the hiking idea.  After all, this is our vacation, so we get to do what we want (or don’t want) to do.

After the national park, our next activity of the day (following a lunch break) was a narrated tram ride through Sabino Canyon, northeast of Tuscon.  There were beautiful views throughout the canyon and both of us felt it was time well spent.

You can see the two stone railings of a narrow bridge in the lower right center of the photo.  It was about six inches wider than the tram, but the driver got both tram cars safely across all eight water crossings on our journey.  The rocks at the top of the center mountain are called the Acropolis Ridge because of their shapes.

Saguaro cactus are growing among the red rocks.  The tree on the right is a palo verde (green stick) because everything on the tree is green, including the bark.

Another pretty view of the Sabino Canyon.

Ted and me, having fun on our tram tour viewing stop.  We’re getting pretty good at selfies, aren’t we?  How about those two guys you can see between us at the back of the tram?


We hoped to drive the Catalina Highway along a mountain ridge for some spectacular views, but we ran out of time, so we checked into our hotel and freshened up for dinner.  We had a special dinner in Tucson with my cousin, Bob Lorenzen.

Both Bob and we thought he might have visited us once in St. Charles, prior to 1979, but none of us could remember for sure.  If not, the last time we’ve seen each other was at Ted’s and my wedding in 1969.  My youngest brother (Russ), Bob, and our cousin David were all born within a year, so they hung out together at Ted’s and my wedding.  They also signed our wedding guest book as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Superman.  If I had the book with me, I’d scan the page to show you this wedding artifact.  It’s been a fun memory for Ted and me over the years.  Bob is more mature now and we had a great time together for several hours.  As soon as we saw each other, both Bob and I said, “You look just like you used to.”  Of course, we look older, but yes, it was easy to recognize each other, even after nearly 50 years.

Can you believe that–even without planning it–we all wore blue shirts?!  It was so good to see each other and to catch up on all kinds of extended family news.

 What are the odds that, on the same day I visited the Kitt Peak Observatory, Google would celebrate an astronomer with a Google doodle?

The doodle recognizes Indian astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics, for his work related to the evolution of stars.


Ted, Dan, Vernie, and I spent the afternoon at Kitt Peak Observatory.  I will shamelessly name-drop that Dan is an astronomer and did work at Kitt Peak on his sabbaticals as a professor of astronomy.  Who better to take us to an observatory?

We took a tour with a very knowledgeable docent.  His only mistake was starting his tour by asking (somewhat playfully) if anyone in the group was an astronomer.  Personally, if I’d been in his place, I’d have been intimidated to be giving a tour to an astronomer who had previously done work at Kitt Peak, but the docent seemed to take it in stride.

Until today, I didn’t realize that there was more than one telescope at Kitt Peak.  Actually, there are three operating night telescopes, two radio telescopes, and 22 optical telescopes on the premises.

Here are some of the telescopes on Kitt Peak.


There is also a solar telescope that is no longer in use.

This is the solar telescope.  I was trying to figure out what was inside this building, because I never saw a telescope that looked like this.

From inside the solar telescope building, you can look upward toward the sky to see where the light enters the telescope.

The focal length of the solar telescope is 285 feet.  The light is reflected deep into the ground (arrow).  I had to take this picture through a window, so it’s not great, but the telescope was very impressive.


Kitt Peak is one of the sites for the Very Long Base Array.  The VLBA is a system of ten radio telescopes that are operated remotely from the Array Operations Center in Socorro, NM (home of the Very Large Array).  These ten telescopes work together as an array that forms the longest system in the world using interferometry (simultaneous observations made by many radio telescopes, then combined to yield data as if from one extremely large telescope).

The telescope facing upward in the center of the picture is the VLBA radio telescope.


Kitt Peak’s four-meter telescope was installed in 1973.  There was a lengthy delay in completing the mirror, so a concrete model of the mirror was built to the exact size and weight of the actual mirror.  This allowed some of the other work on the telescope to progress.  At the time it was completed, this telescope was the second-largest in the world.

When the actual mirror was installed, one person suggested the 15-ton concrete model be rolled down the mountain.  Instead, a mural was painted on it and it was placed at the entrance to the visitor’s center.  Check out my trusty scale model (Ted) to see how big a 4-meter mirror is.

The building on which the telescope dome revolves is constructed of ten hexahedrons and is architecturally beautiful.

This is the 4-meter telescope.  They were shifting the position of the telescope while we were inside, so we actually saw it moving.  The black part within the white circle at the top is the piece that will look outside the building when the slot on the dome is opened.

Our tour took us to the level of the vents inside the dome.  The vents are needed because the temperature in the dome must always match the temperature outside; otherwise, the mirror might cloud up when the door is opened and that would not be good for seeing stars.


Dan told us that when the Kitt Peak Observatory was built, location and access were important.  In the digital age, however, no human actually looks through the telescopes; all of the visual information is transmitted electronically, so it doesn’t matter where the telescope is placed.  As a result, remote Chile is a popular place for telescopes now because it is dark and high.  I know that today’s technology will greatly increase our knowledge, but doesn’t it take the fun out of a telescope if you can’t look through it?


Note:  Dan, if you are one of my select few readers, please correct any errors or misunderstandings I’ve made.  Thanks.  And thanks for taking us to Kitt Peak.

This morning, Dan and Vernie took Ted and me to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum–a definite “must see.”  It’s an outdoor museum with paths that took us through true desert.

A variety of cacti are visible in this photo. The center plant is an organ pipe cactus; the lower center is an agave cactus (they make tequila from these roots); and just above the agave is the stalk of a young saguaro cactus.  I don’t remember the names of the leafy one on the left or the bare-looking one on the right.

The short plants are cholla cacti, but Vernie said they are called “teddy bear cactus” because they look fluffy.  (They’re not.  They’re sharp!)

The cactus on the left is called a “jumping cholla” because if a branch dies, it will “jump” onto your clothing if you brush against it.  It doesn’t really jump; it breaks off of the plant and sticks to your clothing.  How do you get cactus out of your clothes?  Vernie said you use a comb.  In the center of the photo is a prickly pear cactus, and behind it is a saguaro that is probably over 100 years old, since they don’t sprout arms until they are about 75 years old.

Here are many young saguaro cacti (no arms), some prickly pear, a cholla on the right, and the mystery (to me) cactus that looks like a bush of sticks.


There is a hummingbird house on the museum grounds.  I didn’t know until today that hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, and in the U.S., only west of the Mississippi River.  (The docent admitted that with climate change, there might be a few hummingbirds just east of the Mississippi.)  Arizona has 18 kinds of hummingbirds; Missouri has one, maybe two kinds.  There are about 300 species of hummingbirds.

The hummingbirds fly all over in the hummingbird house and are easy to spot, but getting a picture is harder.  They move very quickly and they are hard to see when they alight on the dense foliage.  I got a lucky shot of this one.


Finally, here’s a photo of the people with whom I had a wonderful desert museum experience.

This morning, Cheryl and Dave took us for a hike on the Dripping Springs Trail in Organ Pipe National Monument.  Dave knew a lot about the geology of the area, but I don’t remember the details.  Basically, this part of the National Monument is volcanic lava that hardened in a unique way.  The peaks rise to 9,000 feet and are called the Organs because their steep spires resemble the pipes of an organ.  The walls in this part of the area “weep,” so the trail is called Dripping Springs.  It was a beautiful hike.


Yesterday, while we were driving, I thought I saw a huge circle on a mountainside.  A circle seemed geologically improbable, so I decided it must have been a shadow effect from the rocks and plants.  Today, Dave showed us that there really are circles in these mountains.  The lava that spewed out of the volcanoes was liquid, but hard “chunks” also spewed into the air.  The soft lava hardened around the chunks and, when it eroded, the chunks appeared as circles in the rock.

This is a small chunk of rock surrounded by hardened lava.

According to Dave, Native Americans living in the area long ago would cut the chunk out of the rock.  This left a rounded hole that could be used as a mortar and pestle.

Here is a larger embedded chunk of rock.

We saw a small cave along the trail.  It was higher inside–maybe 10 feet high, 40 feet wide, and 20 feet deep.  The ceiling was covered with soot from fires made by people who sheltered in the cave.


Our hike was followed by lunch, and then it was time to say good-bye to Dave and Cheryl.  All of us wished our visit could have been longer, so we’ll plan more time together the next time we meet–either in St. Peters or in Las Cruces.

While driving to White Sands yesterday, and again west of Las Cruces today, we experienced something that doesn’t happen in Missouri:  border patrol.  A dog sniffed each vehicle and the guards looked inside.  Yesterday, the guards asked if we are United States citizens.  Dave was driving, so he answered “yes” for all of us.  That was the end of the patrol portion of the program.  Today, the guard simply waved Ted and me by without a word to us.  Dare I use the words “racial profiling”?


All along I-10 on our way to Arizona, we repeatedly saw signs warning us of possible dust storms.  At one point, we saw a dust devil.


We arrived in Green Valley, AZ mid-afternoon and began our visit with Dan and Vernie (Ted’s brother and sister-in-law) with some catching up time and dinner.  We haven’t seen them for five years, so it’s good to be together.  They have a full day planned for us tomorrow, and we’re all looking forward to it.

As Ted and I were driving south on I-25 to visit our friends, Dave and Cheryl, guess what we passed.

It’s the Oscar Mayer wienermobile!  Wouldn’t this be fun to drive?  It would make everyone look and smile.


New Mexico has very Southwestern-styled rest stops.  They are designed simply:  a small building with men’s toilets on one half and women’s on the other, plus 6-8 picnic shelters, and rock landscaping with no grass to mow.

Most of the rest stops we’ve seen have been constructed of red adobe, but this one was more colorful.  These are some of the picnic shelters.


We found Dave and Cheryl’s Las Cruces home without any problems and had a happy reunion with them.  The four of us met on our 2015 Grand European Cruise and have stayed in touch ever since.  Dave told us they take all their visitors to nearby White Sands National Monument, and that was a perfect plan for us, because we wanted to see it.

As we drove to the park, I noticed that the dirt in the ditches gave way to white sand in the ditches.  Before long, we were at the park and saw white sand everywhere.  Dave said the ridge road in the mountains to the east of White Sands provides a beautiful view of the white landscape from above.  I hope we’ll have time to see that on our next visit.


In addition to sightseeing, we took time to play in the sand.  Dave and Cheryl brought along their snow saucer, so Ted and I took some rides down a dune.  Whee!

Here goes Ted . . .

. . . and here I come.


The sand dunes are constantly moving with the wind, so plants have found ways to survive the shifting of the dunes.

As the wind blows around the plant, it begins to dig a circle around the base.  The plant adapts to the shifting dune by growing increasingly deeper roots.

When the dune has completely moved away from the plant, the deep roots help the plant survive for a period of time, but it eventually dies from a lack of water.

This plant has died, but you can see the remaining stump of its roots.


We drove the loop road around the park and stopped at a boardwalk, where we walked to the end for a view of the dunes.


When we got to the end of the boardwalk, the blue of the distant mountains reminded me of views on Lake Michigan beaches, with the blue of the mountains substituting for the blue of the lake water.


Just before leaving the park, we asked a fellow visitor to take a picture of the four of us.


In the evening, Dave and Cheryl took us for a walk in historic downtown Las Cruces and then we went out for dinner and spent the rest of the evening catching up with each other.  There is less light pollution at Dave and Cheryl’s house than at ours, so we spent some pleasant time star-gazing and identifying constellations.  Dave showed me how to recognize the Summer Triangle and the Northern Cross of stars, so that’s two more groups for me to look for the next time Ted and I see dark night skies.

Roswell, NM

Question:  Has life from other planets visited Earth?

Answer:  Some people say “yes’; the U.S. government says “no.”

In 1947, a farmer who lived 40 miles from Roswell found some unusual metal-like wreckage in his field.  When he had a free day from farm work, he took the wreckage to the local sheriff for examination.  Eventually, the wreckage was the subject of a U.S. government investigation that concluded the wreckage was a portion of a weather balloon.  Years later, the government declassified the documentation from the investigation, revealing that the wreckage was from a U-2 test plane.  The controversy over what the wreckage really was continues.  Many people believe it was material from outer space, and witnesses provided affidavits describing the spacecraft and the living beings they had seen.

The UFO Museum and Research Center is an interesting place.  The many exhibits include copies of the affidavits from the original Roswell event, newspaper articles, government documents, and scientific opinions, as well as cartoons, artwork, and displays featuring alien beings.

The UFO Museum has had over 3 million visitors.

This is one of the alien displays.  Every 15 minutes, the “spacecraft” above spews red and green smoke as if it is taking off, lights flash, and other-worldly music plays.

“Star Wars”–the ultimate modern alien culture.

Remember E.T.?  Roswell doesn’t forget.

Little green people are everywhere in Roswell.  Here are two at a gas station.

Even Roswell’s street lights have an alien appearance.


Smokey, the bear

Question:  Was Smokey, the bear, real?

Answer:  The people say “yes.”  The U.S. Government agrees.  It made Smokey a representative of the U.S. Forest Service.

After our visit to the UFO Museum, Ted and I drove the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway out of Roswell.  It goes through Capitan, NM where Smokey Bear is buried.  In 1950, some kids were playing with matches and started a huge forest fire.  A five-pound, two-and-a-half-month-old bear cub was rescued from the fire and named Smokey.  He was referred to as Smokey, the bear and his name later became Smokey Bear.  (The old joke about “What is Smokey the Bear’s middle name?” is inaccurate because he didn’t have a middle name.)  Smokey became the U.S. Forest Service spokesperson for fire safety.  When he died, he was buried in Capitan, NM near the place where he was first rescued.

Smokey’s final resting place is in a very pretty little park in Capitan, NM.

Smokey with his well-known slogan.

Smokey is buried within this ring of rocks.

Of course, there are Smokey souvenirs available for sale.

And of course, Ted and I had our picture taken with Smokey.


Socorro, NM

Question:  What’s out there in the universe?

Answer:  Most people say “I’m not sure”; the U.S. government says “It’s worth a lot of money to find out.”

Ted’s and my last stop of the day was the Very Large Array, west of Socorro, NM.  I can’t help wondering why the U.S. government is reluctant to accept citizens’ reports of UFO sightings, but is willing to spend a lot of money to find out what’s in outer space.  The VLA cost $78.6 million to build in 1972 and $81.5 million to operate in 2016.  I find it ironic that Roswell and Socorro are barely 200 miles apart.

There are three reasons this site was selected for the VLA:

  1.  It is a 55-mile wide, flat plateau, allowing for easier movement of the 27 antennae on railroad tracks.  They are moved four times each year.
  2. The plateau is ringed by mountains (I counted nine ranges on a map of New Mexico), and this eliminates man-made radio interference.  (All electronic devices must be turned off when visiting the VLA.  Digital cameras may be used.)
  3. The altitude of this site minimizes the blurring effect of the atmosphere.

We have arrived at our destination: the VLA Visitor Center.

This antenna is just behind the visitor parking lot.

One of the first things we passed on the self-guided walking tour was an interesting sundial. It keeps time from 8:00 am-4:00 pm and has markings on the ground so that it even tells the date.

At the next stop on our walking tour, Ted and I had a chance to better understand how the VLA disks magnify radio waves.  Two disks are set about 50 feet apart facing each other, and each has a narrow tube extending from its center.  If Ted and I faced each other and shouted, we could barely hear each other, but if we whispered into our respective tubes, we could hear each other clearly.  Ted is whispering into one of the disks.  That was fun!

Each of the 27 antennae of the VLA is 94 feet high, has a diameter of 82 feet, and weighs 235 tons.  Ted is my scale figure here.

This is the maximum number of antennae that fit in my camera viewfinder.

[cf the Fifth Dimension’s 1967 hit, “Up, Up and Away.”]

The alarm went off at 5:00 am and, by 5:30 am, Ted and I were started on the 40-minute walk from our hotel to the Balloon Fiesta.  (Sunrise was at 7:11 am, just to give you some perspective of how early I can get up if I have to.)  A local TV station was broadcasting from the Fiesta grounds and we heard the traffic announcer say that I-25 was backed up a mile-and-a-half at the exit for the Fiesta.  That’s why we walked.

The Dawn Patrol, a group of a dozen hot air balloons, ascends before dawn (6:30 am) and stays up until they can see a landing site.  Their purpose is to determine wind speed and direction at different altitudes to make sure conditions are safe for the mass ascension.  Over the years, the Dawn Patrol has become a balloon glow “event” in the pre-dawn hours.

On cue, the Dawn Patrol turned on its glow lights.

There were twelve Dawn Patrol balloons.  Some went high to the right and didn’t fit in the picture.

Here we are, wide awake before sunrise.  We are wearing three jacket layers.  The morning air is cold in Albuquerque, although it warmed up quickly after 9:00 am.

The sky is lightening, but the sun is still behind the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque.

When the sun cleared the mountaintops, it was like a switch turned on, instantly making the balloons bright and colorful.  Look at all the people in the background who got up this early to see hot air balloons.

The balloons seemed to have an order in which they inflated and took off, so some are in the air, some are ready to launch, and some are still inflating in this area.  The TV station announcer said the organizers decided several years ago that 550 balloons was the limit for what this area can handle well.

When we walked among the balloons, we were dwarfed and completely surrounded by colored nylon.


The air was very calm, so the balloons didn’t go far.  In fact, many of them seemed to rise and slowly spin in place.  At the end of the three-hour mass ascension, balloons were often coming down very close to the chase vehicles where they had previously been inflated.  Sometimes the crew would manually pull the basket closer to the truck for loading because it was easier than moving the truck through the crowds.  The chase teams had an easy day, and we had great views of the balloons.

The red circle shows a crew walking its balloon to their truck.


I overheard someone say that it’s unusual for all the balloons to have a chance to launch before the wind picks up later in the morning.  We lucked out, because every balloon was able to launch today.

The mass ascension is off to a good start.

Today’s tickets included breakfast.  This was our view of the mass ascension from our breakfast table.



Here are some of the specialty balloons that launched today.

These three bees went up as a joined group, then separated in the air, but still flew close to each other as a trio.

The alligator seems to be watching the vampire inflate.

We assume Smokey the Bear was looking for forest fires from the air.  That pink spot to the right of Smokey is a distant fish balloon.

The back of this baby’s head said “My daddy is a pilot.”  I overheard a toddler say, “That baby has a binky.”

Darth Vader was the crowd-pleaser.  You could tell when you got near this balloon, because there was a ring of people with cameras pointed upward at it.


Ted and I have attended St. Louis’s Great Forest Park Balloon Race and Balloon Glow events several times.  I think the St. Louis balloon race is the second largest in the nation, but it doesn’t come close to the number of balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  Words cannot describe how beautiful the mass ascension is, but you’ll have a clue if I say that, as much as I dislike getting up early, these four hours were worth it.

Ted and I planned our entire Southwest trip around our Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta ticket dates.  We had evening tickets tonight for the “special shapes” Balloon Glow.  Our hotel is close enough to walk to the Fiesta and, given how many shuttles were lined up in the traffic and the number of intersections at which police were needed to direct backed-up traffic, I think we easily beat the shuttle time by walking.

Unfortunately, as we were walking to the Fiesta under a sunny sky, a single cloud started to sprinkle on us.

Those are raindrops, not snowflakes, dotting the photo.  You can see the approaching shower in the background.

We stood under a tree for the 5-minute shower and saw this beautiful double rainbow ahead of the rain.

A few minutes after we arrived on the Fiesta grounds, we had another 5-minute shower and another double rainbow.  (The double part is faint–look for it.)

An hour later, we had a picture-postcard New Mexico sunset over the balloon field.

I have no idea how many food and souvenir booths were set up at the Fiesta, but I’d guess well over 100.  The crowd was so thick, it was sometimes hard to make forward progress.


Our tickets included a New Mexico dinner and seats in a great viewing area for the fireworks tonight and for the balloon launch tomorrow morning.

Little Anita’s of ABQ catered the meal–tacos, refried beans, nachos, and other Southwest favorites.

Here’s the eating/viewing area.


After dinner, we walked among all the balloons and watched the crews inflate them.  Just as most of the balloons reached nearly full inflation, the wind picked up and put a damper (no pun on the showers) on the balloon glow portion of the evening.

This crew just unloaded.  The balloon is in the duffel bag on the blue tarp.  Can you believe it folds up that small??!!

I’m not sure what this balloon was going to look like when it was upright.

Here are Ted and I, surrounded by balloons.

I thought this one was cute.  The “glow” part of the evening is just beginning.

When the wind picked up, the crews couldn’t hold the balloons in place, so they turned off the fans and the burners.  In less than 60 seconds, the entire field was deflated.  After having so many huge balloons around us for over an hour, the landscape suddenly looked very flat.

The laser light show was followed by the fireworks, and then everyone went home.  The morning activities begin at 5:45 am. (Yawn.)

Ted and I went to a local Albuquerque restaurant for lunch today.  They had a Hollywood theme, which was fun to look at.


This was a picture I liked–especially the Three Stooges.


How did the hostess know I’m an Elvis fan?  She seated us in the area she called the “Elvis Corner.”

A Highlight

Yesterday, while we were at the awesome Texas rest stop, we learned about Palo Duro Canyon, located about 25 miles south of Amarillo.  It looked like it was worth a detour, so we decided to visit it today.

Palo Duro Canyon is touted as “one of the most renowned destinations in Texas” and is described as a “mysterious terra-cotta badland.”  It is also referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.”  Neither Ted nor I had ever heard of it before yesterday, but we’ve learned that it is the second largest canyon in the United States.  (Guess which one is the largest.)  Palo Duro Canyon is about 120 miles long, with an average width of 6 miles (although some places are 20 miles wide), and a depth of 820-1,000 feet.

The canyon has dramatic geological features, including multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon.  A weird thing about it is that, as you’re driving along, gazing at the redundant flatness of the Texas prairie, the landscape abruptly changes and you see this beautiful canyon.  Apparently, the flat ground is at an elevation similar to the mesa tops of the canyon, because there’s no advance notice that a canyon is going to appear.

Our schedule for today included a six-hour drive to Albuquerque, so we limited ourselves to frequent stops on the 16-mile driving loop and skipped trail hiking.  We could see some of the trails leading to what were probably beautiful vistas, but we resisted and kept our visit to three hours.  Below are some of the beautiful views we saw in Palo Duro Canyon.


Another Highlight

For many years, Ted and I were stuck at having visited 47 states.  We checked off North Dakota in August, and we checked off New Mexico today.  That leaves only Hawai’i–coming up in January 2018.

We are ready to be enchanted.

The welcome center gave us a hint of what/who we might see in Roswell next week.

Naturally, we were reminded that we are traveling on historic Route 66.


The Lowlight

Ted and I were looking forward to driving the Musical Highway, located about ten miles west of Albuquerque.  In 2014, rumble strips were strategically placed on a short section of Route 66 near Tijeras, NM so that rolling tires play “American the Beautiful.”  The tune can only be heard at 45 mph, a tactic designed to slow the traffic on what is described as “an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Route 66.”  The music only plays eastbound, but drivers often circle around to repeat the performance.


Over the years, the rumble strips have deteriorated.  Ted and I made three passes over the road, but never heard more than just enough notes to recognize the tune.  Bummer!  What a disappointment.

Jeff has won the Honorable Mention Award for his response to The Blogette Reader Challenge.



Jeff is more creative than I am.  I’m too literal to “get” this.   Had the waitress written “Preciate cha” rather than “Perciate cha,” I would have recognized it as a contraction.  Way to go, Jeff.

There is no cash prize for winning this challenge, so please help Jeff achieve his 15 minutes of fame by re-reading this post several times.

We continued on Route 66/I-40 from Oklahoma City to Amarillo, TX today.  We all know from our grade school geography that Texas is at the southern end of the Great Plains, and my blog readers know that Ted and I were at the northern end of the Great Plains when we visited the Dakotas in late summer.  The southern Plains look a lot like the northern Plains.

This is about 100 miles east of Amarillo.  I think I can see South Dakota in the distance.

This is what the South Dakota Great Plains look like.  Or is this another photo of Texas?  (Answer: It’s really SD.)


We weren’t planning any stops on our way to Amarillo and didn’t expect to see much of interest except the Great Plains.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we discovered that Oklahoma has no rest areas along I-40 westbound for the 144 miles from Oklahoma City to the Texas state line, and the first rest area in Texas is 40 miles west of the state line.  Needless to say, we stopped.  What a good decision.

We had a chance to visit one of the best rest areas we’ve ever seen.  (Kansas has a good one too, on I-70 eastbound, with a Kansas History Museum inside.)  The scenery changed abruptly from Great Plains flatness to deep gullies and small canyons just before the rest area.

We went from the scene above to this kind of landscape.  Beyond the rest area, the gullies became longer and deeper, like small canyons.


The rest area is constructed as a tornado shelter (no big shock in the Texas panhandle) and included an interesting display of the history of the Texas Panhandle, from the free range to barbed wire which ended the free range, to the Dust Bowl years, through the oil years, and into the green energy years as the Panhandle moves to wind energy.  We learned that the Panhandle is the windiest place in Texas and we traveled westward through many miles of wind farms.

This is the highway-facing side of the rest area/tornado shelter building.  The visitor space is all under the ground level.  The metal flag above the picnic shelter has a Lone Star in it.  Notice the star cut out of the building wall.

The white area at the top of the wall is sunlight; the dark portion is shadow.  The white star is sunlight shining through the cut-out star in the wall (see the photo above).  The blue star is sky, showing through an identical cut-out on the opposite wall.

This side of the building looks like the front, but is facing away from the highway.  Tornadoes will come from across the highway, so the earthworks that protect the rest area building need to be on that side.  You can see through the inside of the building to the space between the “star walls” on the highway side.

The rest rooms have mosaic decorations and are marked as tornado shelters.  That’s probably why the baby-changing table on the left and the walls of each toilet stall are made of granite.

Here’s the view from the picnic tables.  You might be able to see that the grill in the lower left center is shaped like Texas.

Since we spent the night in Oklahoma’s capitol city, it made sense to visit the State Capitol today.  It was a unique visit.  It appears that the entire Capitol is undergoing rehabilitation.  Crews are working on one entire side of the exterior, and they are also replacing windows, doors, HVAC, wiring, plumbing, etc. in the entire building.  If it can be updated, I think it’s being done.  As a result, many areas were restricted to construction workers, and others were in varying states of disarray.  The entire first floor is under construction.  To enter the building, we had to pass security at a first floor door and then wend our way through a lengthy maze to an open stairway that took us to the second floor.  Many doors throughout the Capitol were marked “Construction Workers Only.”   We took a guided tour, which helped us find our way around the construction areas.

The OK State Capitol is the only one in the U.S. that has a working oil rig on the grounds.  That’s it in the far right background.

The Great Seal of OK has 45 stars in the blue fields to represent the 45 states in the Union prior to OK’s statehood.  The large center star is for OK.  The five points of the center star depict the five tribes of OK:  Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

The Hall of Governors has a bust of each OK Governor, including the first woman governor, who is currently serving her term.  The construction crew was busy in this room.

This is called the Blue Room.  It’s the room in which the governor holds press conferences and signs bills.  The wall on the right is covered for construction.

The tour included the state art gallery.  This was my favorite picture.  I like the colors and the impact it makes when you see it.

This painting has a name, but I dubbed it “A Good Start.”

It’s no surprise that one of the stained glass windows in the building recognizes the oil workers of the state.

Each of the four wings of the Capitol is decorated like this with beautiful moldings, arches, and art depicting qualities of Oklahoma. The upper part of the photo is the lower part of the dome.

Ted and I have been enjoying the light-hearted attractions we’ve visited on this trip, such as the Blue Whale of Catoosa, the Golden Driller, Pop’s, etc.  Today, we visited a somber remembrance:  the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

This memorial was created in memory of the April 19, 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.  Reading the texts; listening to a tape recording of a hearing in the building that was interrupted by an explosion and screams; watching videos and listening to survivors describe their experiences; and looking at the pictures of destruction, were emotionally difficult.  If you have ever visited a Holocaust exhibit, you know what I mean.

After more than three hours, Ted and I had not seen every exhibit, but I asked him if we could leave.  I couldn’t bear to hear any more about such a tragedy and I was afraid I was going to begin sobbing if I heard one more personal story about that day.  My mind cannot comprehend how people (e.g., Timothy McVeigh in this case, mass shooters today) can do such horrendous things to other people.  While I understand that thoughts and prayers are supportive actions and that we must never forget, I cannot help but wonder when we, as a nation, will finally find the courage to make changes to help prevent these tragedies.

Having said that, the exhibit is extremely well done and deserving of visitors’ time.

The entrance to the Memorial includes a colorful tile wall and chalk and chalkboards on the plaza for visitors to write messages.

A close-up of the tile wall.  Thousands of tiles were sent by children from around the world to Oklahoma in 1995.  Some of those tiles were included as part of this permanent display.

This is a well-known photograph of the destruction caused by the bombing.  The crater created by the bomb’s explosion in front of the building was eight feet deep.  The two day care centers (children) were on the second floor.  One woman said that the eight other women she was talking with simply disappeared from in front of her when the bomb exploded and the floor collapsed beneath them.

Here is one example of what the destruction of ordinary objects looks like.  There were other displays of bomb-ravaged building components and of personal items such as watches, key chains, jewelry, purses, etc. that had been collected from the rubble.

This Wall of Honor includes photos of the 168 people who were killed in the bombing.

The wall on this end of the reflecting pool is called the “9:01 Wall.”  It represents the minute before the bomb exploded and changed the lives of so many people.  At the opposite end of the pool is the “9:03 Wall,” representing the minute when the healing began.

“The Field of Empty Chairs.”  The 168 chairs represent the 168 people who were killed on April 19, 1995.  They are arranged in 9 rows, symbolizing the 9 floors of the building.  Each person’s chair–with small chairs representing children–is positioned in the row that corresponds to the floor on which they worked or were visiting.  The 5 chairs on the westernmost end of the Field designate those who were killed outside the building.  The wall surrounding three sides of this Field is the original wall of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

One of the stops Ted and I were looking forward to on Route 66 was Pop’s–a gas station/ restaurant featuring over 700 flavors of pop.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Pop’s, looking at the displays and partaking of the fare.

A 66-foot tall bottle at the roadside announces that you have arrived at your destination:  Pop’s.


If you want an idea of how tall a 66-foot pop bottle is, check out my scale figure–Ted.

Ted is less than five bottle rings tall.


The front and back walls of Pop’s building are wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows filled with shelves of (empty) pop bottles.

It’s a colorful way to decorate, but who dusts all those bottles?  They were clean, so I know someone does.


Six-pack carrying cartons are ready for customers to fill with whatever flavors they choose–if they can make a choice from such a plethora of fizzy favorites.

Each of the coolers along the wall is stocked with a specific variety of pop:  lemon, lime, cherry, grape, orange, etc.  Which of the 40 or 50 shades of grape would you choose?  How would you make your decision?


Since Pop’s is on Route 66, some of the walls are decorated with iconic scenes from along the route.  One of the pictures showed the Blue Whale of Catoosa.  Another showed the Coral Court Motel in St. Louis.  In 1989, the Coral Court Motel was designated on the National Register of Historic Places as a magnificent example of art deco architecture.  It was at its peak during the heyday of automobile tourism on Route 66, but declined when I-44 bypassed the motel.  Many people in St. Louis (including Ted and me) remember a phase of its decline when it was available at hourly room rates.  (Ahem!)

Naturally, Route 66 souvenirs are available at this roadside attraction, and so are Pop’s-specific items.  This Pop’s sweatshirt was Ted’s and my favorite.


Before leaving, Ted and I decided to complete our pop experience with a childhood summer favorite:  an ice cream float.

They tasted just like we remembered.  Can you even buy flavored pop in the grocery stores any more?


And now, a special offer for you, one of my select few readers.  You could be the winner of the “Blogette Reader Challenge.”

The Blogette Reader Challenge

When Ted and I finished our ice cream sodas, the waitress brought our check to us.  Neither of us knew what her handwritten message meant, so we asked her.  If any of you readers know what “Perchiate Cha” means, please email me.  If you are correct, your first name will be given Honorable Mention in an upcoming blog post.



Ted and I started our day by visiting Tulsa’s tribute to Oklahoma’s oil industry:  the Golden Driller.  The 75-foot tall Driller was created for the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition and is the fifth tallest statue in the United States.  It was built to withstand Oklahoma’s 200 mph tornadic winds and its paint is supposed to last for 100 years.  It is now the Oklahoma State Monument–utility wires and all.


The Center of the Universe is not too far from the Golden Driller.  As a passer-by remarked to us, “This thing is just weird.”  The Center of the Universe produces a mysterious acoustic phenomenon.  My internet search told me that if you stand in the middle of the circle and make a noise, the sound is echoed back several times louder than it was made–as if you are in a private amplified echo chamber.  According to legend, a foghorn could go off in the center of the circle and those on the outside wouldn’t hear it.  Human voices are distorted when heard outside the circle.  Although there are several theories about this phenomenon, there is no clear consensus about what causes this natural sonic distortion.  (Note:  Ted and I both experienced the amplified echo effect, but we could also hear each other’s voices outside the circle, although the sound was much fainter than it would normally have been.  We think a foghorn blasting from the center could be heard outside the circle.)


Seventy-five feet from the Center if the Universe, stands a 72-foot tall sculpture called the “Artificial Cloud.”  The artist based this sculpture on the premise that more people would look at a naturally rusting steel cloud than at the real thing.  He also wanted to call attention to air pollution.


After all this artistic stimulation, we were ready to get back on the Mother Road and head for Oklahoma City.

This is a typical scene from Route 66 in Oklahoma.  The original sections we drove are rural and dotted with small towns.

This round barn is on Route 66 near Arcadia, OK.  There are also round barns in Wisconsin.  They are round so the devil cannot sit in the corner to watch you work.

I think I hear my mother calling.


In Oklahoma City, we planned to walk across the Sky Dance Bridge.  This is a pedestrian bridge that crosses I-40.  It’s 380 feet long and has a 197-foot tall sculpture inspired by Oklahoma’s state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.  The bridge is illuminated from dusk to dawn.  Except right now.

Civic improvement necessitates completely renovating the land on the north side of the bridge, so there is currently no access to it. . . . But isn’t it a pretty bridge?


We finished our day by googling “restaurants near us” and picked a locally-owned establishment that advertised a nautical theme.  The food was good, but the nautical theme was minimal–not even seafood on the menu!

Well, the center piece does resemble the prow of a ship and the rafters are painted blue, but we didn’t see anything else remotely nautical.

Today, Ted and I drove Route 66 from St. Louis to Tulsa.  Route 66 in this area is also I-44.  In Oklahoma, a portion of Route 66 just northeast of Tulsa is a 60+-mile byway off I-44.  We drove the byway in order to see The Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma.

My pre-trip internet research described the Blue Whale of Catoosa as one of the most recognizable sights along Route 66.  It was also referred to as a “quirky attraction.”  That’s probably like “kitschy.”  The wife of the Blue Whale creator collected whale figurines, so her husband built the Blue Whale as a surprise anniversary gift for her.  The pond in which the Blue Whale sits used to be a popular swimming hole, but the signs we saw said “No Swimming.”  Times have apparently changed.

Here’s the entrance gate at the little park.  Visitors enter the whale (at the end of the sidewalk) through its gaping mouth.

The Blue Whale!  There is a second floor in its head (see the row of windows) and stairs to a diving platform at the top of its tail.  It has a white chute on each side to slide into the water, and ladders on the sides and at the back of the tail to climb out of the water onto the whale.

Emerging from the whale (or entering it) takes you over its tongue and between its teeth.

Visitors can walk through the whale from its mouth to its tail.  Here’s Ted leaving the belly of the whale.

A (literally) 5-minute shower started when we arrived at the whale site.  When it was over, a rainbow appeared and was perfectly reflected in the whale’s pond.


Our next stop was a visit to the largest praying hands in the world.  This 30-ton bronze sculpture resides at the entrance to Oral Roberts University and is surrounded by the “Avenue of Flags,” with flags from 34 countries.  The hands were donated by a couple in memory of one son and in thanks to God for the healing of their other son.


The day was sunny and hot (around 90 degrees), which created late afternoon thundershowers when the cold front approached.  We saw some awesome clouds as the thunderstorms began to build.

This beautifully lit cloud was just beginning to develop into a towering cumulus cloud prior to becoming a thundershower.

We watched this cloud build for several hours as we drove through Oklahoma.

You can see a local shower on each side of this picture.

Kathy and I saw this shirt when we had our September “Columbia Day” together.  We both laughed when we saw it because it made us think of Thom.

Since neither Jeff nor Ted bought the colorful spring suits they found, Ted wondered if the darker fall colors might appeal to Jeff as a second chance to buy matching father-son suits.

Badaboom!  Matching jacket, tie, and pants, with lots of color.

This one has an added feature:  a purple lining!

Oh, happy evening!  After spending most of the past week intensively planning our Southwest trip day by day, we finished the task tonight.

We contacted the people we want to see, and they will all be around while we are in their areas.  We have 33 days of activities planned, including driving portions of Route 66, visiting and hiking in national parks, spending some city time in Las Vegas, attending the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and visiting with friends and family.  We even found a few kitschy things to do.

Just because the planning was going so well, we moved directly from the October/ November Southwest trip to the January Hawai’i trip and finished that up as well.  We’ll be taking an 8-day cruise of four islands (Oaha, Maui, Hawai’i, and Kauai), so we selected excursions at every port.  Then we planned five days on our own to do things not included with the cruise.  We still had energy left, so we made our flight reservations for Hawai’i.

All that’s left to do is leave home and follow our itineraries–or not, as the mood strikes us.  Retirement is the best!