West 2015- The Itinerary, Part Four

After 2 awesome days in Grand Canyon National Park, I headed south Flagstaff. On the way, I re-visited two more of the National Park units I’d stopped at in 2003.

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Main Dwelling, Wupatki NM

Wupatki, which stands for ‘tall house’ in Hopi, is one of the best preserved kiva based dwellings in the area. Occupied as early as 500AD, the site was greatly effected by the eruption of the nearby volcano, Sunset Crater. The National Monument preserves a few different sites, but the most impressive is the main sight near the visitor center, which is a pueblo that had more than 100 rooms.

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The Ballcourt, Wupatki NM

One of the most fascinating features of the site is the ‘ball court’. Little is positively known about the games played in these circular structures, but similar sites have been found in a few other sites in the Southwest.

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The nearby Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument preserves the relatively young volcano (last eruption in 1064 or 1065 AD) that forced the temporary evacuation of the Wupatki settlements. The hiking paths to the rim of the crater have been closed (due to damage to the cone left by previous hikers), but there are a couple of good hikes around the base of the volcano, as well as a couple other through the vast lava field left by the eruptions.

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An hour down the road, I returned to ‘civilization’, that being the town of Flagstaff, Arizona. At over 135,000 residents, it was by far the largest city I’d visited since leaving Albuquerque a week earlier. My evening was spent visiting the many microbreweries the city had to offer. (A detailed post on Flagstaff’s breweries is coming soon.)

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Oak Creek Canyon overlook

I continued south the next morning, through Oak Creek Canyon, one of Arizona’s most popular and scenic drives. The route leads through both Slide Rock State Park and the kitschy artist community of Sedona, but my destination for the morning lay slightly east of these two.

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Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well is small, spring-fed body of water that has been important to local Native American communities since the 7th Century AD. The Well maintains a constant level of water, even through the periodic droughts this area experiences.

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Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Well is part of Montezuma Castle National Monument. The Castle is a few miles south of the Well, and was built quite dramatically into a cliff face. The structure contains 5 stories and more than 25 rooms, and was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans between 1100 AD and 1400 AD. The name of the site is misleading, as there is no connection between the legendary Aztec emperor and the dwelling. The name speaks to the ignorance the first European explorers who found the site back in the mid-1860s.

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Tonto Natural Bridge

For the first time in nearly a week, I was going to travel into an area that I had not previously visited on any of my trips, as I headed east into the Mazatzal Wilderness of Eastern Arizona. I stopped briefly at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

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Tonto National Monument

The landscape changed as I drove further south, from high elevation pine forests to cactus covered hills. I reached Tonto National Monument late in the afternoon and had just enough time to make the mile long hike uphill to the ruin at the top. The Salado people built a series of structures here in the 1300s to 1500s AD. Despite being in the baking Sonoran Desert, the Salado were able to find year-round water in the Salt River, which made habitation possible.

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The hike up to the cliff dwelling was not a whole lot of fun in the heat, but the views from the top of a storm rolling in over Lake Roosevelt and the cactus covered mountains made it worth it.

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Casa Grande NM

The next morning I visited the last of the Indian ruin sites on the trip, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and hour south of Phoenix. Casa Grande, “Big House” in Spanish, refers to the main building, a four story structure build by the ancient relatives of the Hohokim people. The day was extremely hot and it made me wonder why people would find this area and attractive place to live sans climate control. This site was occupied for less than 200 years.

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The border wall with Mexico in the distance

Then it was off to San Diego, but I had a long drive through the Sonoran Desert to get these. I passed less than a mile from the wall on the Mexican border.

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The stretch of Interstate 8 between Yuma, Arizona and San Diego was one I had never done before. The road first passed through flatlands covered with windmills, then went up and through some strange boulder covered mountains, before heading downward toward the ocean.

 

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June Gloom

The main point of my days in San Diego was to visit a number of the area’s well-reputed microbreweries. I’d also hoped to mix in some sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and some sightseeing. The weather did not cooperate on the sunset front.

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A rare sunny moment of the Pacific

On my second day, I traveled out to the Pacific Beach area. The sun made a brief appearance when I first made it to the beach, but the clouds and marine fog returned before sunset. While San Diego sees more sunshine than any city in the United States, June is typically the most overcast and cloudy time of the year. Locals call the phenomenon ‘June Gloom’. I’d done plenty of reading about the area, but had inexplicably missed this term. While temps were pleasant, I didn’t see any more sun while along the coast in the next 4 days in San Diego.

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General Store, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

The gloomy skies didn’t stop me from enjoying San Diego. While I spent a great deal of time visiting microbreweries (post upcoming), I also had a chance to do some sightseeing. I visited Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which preserves many of the historic buildings from the mid-1800s, when San Diego grew up as a city. The park was very touristy, but still did a good job of conveying the frontier feel of the era.

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USS Midway

On my third day, I took a long walk along the San Diego waterfront. The major site on the waterfront is the aircraft carrier, USS Midway, which had been made into a museum. I’d planned on visiting, but the wait on this Friday afternoon caused me to change my plans.

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In the evening I caught a game at Petco Park between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a very attractive park, with the city’s skyline rising beyond the outfield stands.

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Cabrillo Monument

Out on Point Loma lies Cabrillo National Monument, which preserves the spot of the first European Landing by the Spaniard in September of 1542. Splendid views of Coronado Island and the skyline are prominent across the bay.

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Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Also on the sight is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Built in 1855 shortly after California became a state, the lighthouse is no longer in commission, but retains it’s status as one of the cities most prominent icons. The building are now a museum dedicated to lighthouses and area history.

My days in San Diego marked the halfway point on my trip. I was heading north toward LA, but the drive back eastward was on my mind….

West 2015- The Itinerary Posts

 

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