Sunday, July 24, 2011

Arizona - Day 7

Today was my short day, the day that I flew home.

I woke up around 7:00am and it was already quite warm. I finally decided to get in some geocaching, even if it was just one cache. I took off and headed toward the large sundial in Cave Creek.


After poking around and finding the cache I was looking for, I worked my way South and stopped at The Good Egg for breakfast. I had the Huevos Rancheros, and they were quite good. Different than the ones I'd had earlier in the week at the hotel, but the addition of potatoes was nice. I left there and took surface streets all the way to the airport. I got to the airport a bit early, but better than late! With no problems returning the car, getting to the terminal, or getting through security, I found myself on the way home.

I still feel like there is something just beneath the surface out in the Phoenix area, but I hope I get to explore it further in the future. The area is a huge change for me, and I really liked it a lot. Phoenix has this bizarre feel as if a million people decided to move to the desert 20 years ago, it's very clean, very modern, and it was so hot while I was there that it seemed as if no one was around. North of Phoenix, as the desert faded out, more people were out and about, and the scenery change was nice.

I can't wait to revisit this area! There are a few more pictures online from this day.

Arizona - Day 6

Saturday, after a refreshing sleep the night before, was slated to be my day to discover Northern Arizona and the Sedona area. I had mapped out a route that I intended to follow using Forest Service roads the entire way between Williams and Sedona, so I set out early. I checked out, scarfed down some bread and fruit, and then took off.

Less than 2 miles from the hotel, the road turned to gravel. It was a very weird gravel, dark red in color, not at all like the grey limestone that is used in our neck of the woods. It seemed to track very well, not liking the normal ball bearing feel I'm used to. I REALLY wish I had my motorcycle today! I made it about 18 miles down the road before started to get very rutted and rocky. I was forced to turn around before I ripped the oil pan out from under the rental car. I'm not sure if I was on Forest Service land or BLM land, but it was a different setup than I am used to. Near where we live, the FS lands (the BLM has no/little East Coast presence) are all seperate lands that were gathered up with old roads, usually on a geologically segregated piece of land. Here, there were actually houses, pastures, farm land, tree farms, etc, that used the FS roads as driveway connectors. There were houses that I passed that were probably 10 miles from pavement. To my eastern seaboard mind, that is a LOT. It's really quite neat, I think it would be great to own some property like that, off the grid.


So, after I turned back, I wound my back North toward Flagstaff and ended up jumping on the interstate. I was a bit bumped by this, but I was not in an area I knew, still don't quite trust my GPS software on my phone, and didn't want to run into any problems. I jumped off the interstate just South of Flagstaff, heading down AZ-89 toward Sedona. This was an AWESOME road, reminding me of the twisty mountain roads in the Smokies, but with more elevation change. It was here that I began to spy the Red Rocks.


I stopped a few times on the way into Sedona to snap some more pictures, and then parked to check out the "strip" in town. The touristy area reminded me very much of a smaller, hotter Gatlinburg. It was all the usual touristy stuff. I think I went into one shop that was selling minerals, left unimpressed, and then walked back up the street. Not much for me here. I had been advised that taking a tour around Sedona was the best way to experience all that it had to offer. I was interested in an ATV tour, but they were a little more pricey than I hoped. There were also several Jeep tours available, but then I saw it. Helicopter tours! It took some deciding before I settled on it for sure, but I've owned a Jeep in the past, never a helicopter. I drove up to the airport and signed up.


It was GREAT! So many very cool pictures, a really great experience, I can't wait to take another helicopter ride. I loved it! The company also does bi-plane tours, I would love to do that with Karen some day. Very cool stuff! The pilot was quite knowledgeable about the area, pointing out tons of cool rock formations, telling stories, etc. Completely worth every dime.


After my helicopter flight, I wound my way down from the Mesa and found myself at ChocolaTree Organic Eatery for lunch. The place had my kind of vibe to it, and it was nice and relaxing inside. I had the soft tacos, they were quite tasty and very filling! I got an order of vegan banana bread to go, and ate it on my drive south later.


I took an indirect route back to the Interstate, but eventually was forced to decide between getting on the interstate, or driving 70 miles further to avoid it. I wanted to avoid it, but I didn't want to drive for nearly 2 more hours to do so. I jumped onto I-17 and worked my way toward Carefree for the night. I was staying at the Carefree Resort after booking a great rate on I got there in the late afternoon and decided to take a nap before heading out for the night. I watched some TV (finally watching enough of a James Bond movie to think that I might like it), and then feel asleep.

For dinner, I drove back South to Scottsdale, and found myself at Fresh Mint. I had the WONDERFUL vegetable citrus spare rib. It was great, one of the best meals I've had for a while. So good, makes me drool thinking about it! After dinner, I started back toward my hotel. It seemed a little lame to be going back at 8:00pm on a Saturday night, but in a quick search for something fun to do, I did not turn up much that looked great to me. In the desert, it almost seems like everyone just crawls home as the sun goes down. I often felt like no one was out, even during the busy part of the day. So strange.

When I got back to the hotel, a pool party was in full swing, but I didn't bring swim trunks, so I went up to my room. The music from the party was quite loud, but at around 9, they turned it down finally. I was able to get a great sleep in the huge comfortable bed.

More pictures from today can be found here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Arizona - Day 5

Since Thursday marked the end of my training and testing, I had Friday and Saturday to do with as I pleased. I was flying back to Nashville on Sunday morning, but I planned to make the best of my two days here.

I got out a little later than I planned initially, but I was well rested and good to go. I was now on my own dime, so I hit up a Fry's Signature grocery store. It was sort of surreal. Fry's was apparently bought out by Kroger a while back, so it was like a very upscale Kroger in many ways. The layout was similar, they carried Kroger brand products and it just had this feel like a nicer Kroger. It had a ton of fruit and vegetables that we don't get back home, partially due to the fact that it was an upscale place, partially due to the local natives fruits. Very cool stuff!

I bought a few pieces of fruit (apple, peach, donut peach, avocado, etc), some bread, a tomato, and a mozzarella cheese ball. This was to be my breakfast for the next two days and lunch for today. If I had a way of keeping it cool, I could have made it two days lunch, but the cheese got really hot that day, so I opted to not make my tomato sandwich the next day. I ate some bread, a pluot and an apple and hit the road.

I made much faster time than I expected to on the way to the Grand Canyon. The drive up was very neat, passing signs that indicated the elevation every 1000 feet in upward movement was very cool. I started the morning off at just about 1000 feet and crossed 7000 feet a few times throughout the day. Driving north, out of the desert, was very revealing as the brown slowly shrunk away, taking cactii and sand with it, slowly replacing rocky open expanses with scrub brush and then small trees, ultimately seeing large tall pines as I reached Flagstaff. The brownness of Arizona landscapes was still there, but much more muted, showing through in the ground cover beneath the trees instead of being the dominant trait of the land. It was all very neat to witness the change from lowland Northern Sedona desert to mountainous Ponderosa Pine forest.

Flagstaff seemed like an interesting area, but I didn't slow as I passed through here, my goal being the Eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon. I made my way North on AZ-89 toward Cameron. I passed the Sunset Crater National Monument on the way, a place recommend to me by two friends. I intended to visit, but decided to go the next day. I didn't. I guess I have something to look forward to on my return! I passed through Cameron, and then into the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation has a cool park at Little Colorado River that was only a few dollars to visit, so I swung in. It was a great primer to the Grand Canyon. There were artisans selling their wares here, and some very nice views of this smaller canyon that is still very impressive.


I then made my way to the GC National Park itself. After paying my $25 for a 7 day pass (the minimum) I stopped at the Desert View overlook, the "first look of the Grand Canyon" in the park. It was really quite busy, and apparently it's much busier on Weekends. I made my way down the vantage point, snapped a few pictures, and then attempted to take it all in. The Grand Canyon.... hum... it's HUGE. It's so big, and there is so much going on, it's just difficult to even process everything there. I looked at a ton of the rock structures, ideas from my geology classes coming to life in the field, noticed the large groups of people filtering in and out at a fast clip, and debated whether I wanted to brave the long lines to get an even better view from the tower on site. I passed on the tower.


I continued West on Desert View Drive, stopping 4-5 times at various overlooks to try to soak in some more of the canyon, take some photos, and try to catch glimpses of the Colorado River. I made it to the Tusayan Ruin and Museum and jumped up to experience this glimpse into the lives of the people that once inhabited the canyon lands. A brief, but very neat, look into a structure built over a thousand years ago, and a quick overview of the different people that called this area home.


I eventually reached the town of Grand Canyon, where the large visitor's center, camping, resort, train station, etc, are all located. I quickly got out of that area, after attempting to find the Geology museum which apparently does not exist (?!?! I found the parking lot and a cool vista, but no building other than a bathroom). a quick look at one of the maps I had indicated a Forest Service dirt road went 15 miles out of this area and back to the main connector between Williams (my destination for the night) and the park. I found the dirt road and cruised out, taking my time and not passing another soul for the 30 minutes or so I was on the road. I considered trying to find more roads, but my GPS was not cooperating completely, and I didn't want to chance tearing up the rental car. It was about this time that I really wished I had my motorcycle.


When I reached blacktop again in Tusayan, I stopped at a gift shop and got some shirts, and then made my way to Williams for the night. I found my hotel, the Grand Canyon Hotel, and discovered that it was the older hotel in Arizona. I had booked through and secured a single room with shared bath for less than $40 for the night. Nice, basic room, no TV (a good thing by this point in the trip) and close to several food options. I was also pleased to notice that Williams was significantly cooler than much of the rest of Arizona. My room had no A/C, but it was not needed. The ceiling and window fans were more than adequate. I checked in, and crashed for an hour long nap; it was nice!


When I woke up a while later and was catching up on email and talking to Karen, I heard a lot of noise outside my window and took a peek out. There was some sort of show involving cowboys, so I ran down to check it out. There was a group of four actors doing a play about cowboys, shooting blanks, and having a good time, apparently. It was a pretty funny show, and I was glad to place a few bucks in their collection chest.


After the street cleared, I set out to find somewhere to eat. I walked around for a while, noticing that Williams is apparently obsessed with steak. This town of less than 3,000 has at least six steak houses. Not what I was in the mood for. I settled on DaraThai which has some affiliation with the hotel I was in, and it was the best choice. I had the Dara Tofu, which is spinach, potatoes and tofu in a red curry and peanut sauce. I didn't think I wanted Thai initially, but it definitely hit the spot. I love Southeast Asian food!

After dinner, I walked around the town some, checking out the Route 66 memorabilia, various gift shops, dinners, etc. I perused a few stores, nothing jumping out at me as a must have, but I did like the little town. It's obvious that tourism is a big force here, the place was hopping well into the night, lots of people on the street, live music at several bars. I ended up walking the length of the strip of the town (maybe a mile walking from end to end and back) and stopping to get a strawberry malt at Twisters 50's Soda Fountain. It was pretty good, and a nice treat on the walk back to the hotel.

Once the music quieted down across the street from the hotel, I fell out for the night. It was a long, hot, and bright day, but totally worth it!

Here are some more photos from today.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arizona - Day 4

Today was mostly uneventful at training. We wrapped up both of the classes today and took our final test. The last test has me worried, but I think I passed it (Update - I passed with a 95%).

After we completed our work for the day, I dropped my boss off at the airport and then texted Mitch to let him know I was free for the night. I went back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit, and he got in touch later, saying that MikeyB, another member of was available to hang out. Sounds good!

Mikey recommended a good Mexican restaurant, so I made my way to Garcia's in Tempe. It's a regional "chain" based out of Arizona with about 10 restaurants, but it was really good. It's not street food quality (I still think that's a positive trait) but it was damn delicious. I had the Pork Tacos, tasty! The three of us sat around talking technology, cars, people, etc, etc, etc for nearly 3 hours that night. It was great to hang with both of the guys, I hope I get to meet them again in the future.

Headed back to the hotel, and tried to get to sleep early. The next day, my real adventure started!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Arizona - Day 3

No pictures from today, when I'm in training, it's not worth it to lug the camera around.

So, had training all morning, and went to Elephant Bar for lunch with him today. Sort of weird place, but pretty good food. They have a weird mix of foods from around the world, but seem to focus on South-East Asian foods. I had the Crispy Honey Orange Shrimp and it was pretty tasty.

After wrapping up training for the day, I got in touch with my online friend Mitch, the owner of Mitch and I first talked to each other when I discovered his website about Mitsubishi Mirages (I've owned 2 and a 3 other Mitsubishis) in 1999. We've communicated on and off since then, and finally got a chance to meet in person. It was very cool. I swung by his place to meet him, meet his girlfriend and check out all of his projects (He bought a house a year or two ago and has been doing tons of work, and he has 4 project car; two Mirages; a Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Turbo, and a IH Scout II). From the start it was really cool, sort of bizarre meeting someone face to face that I felt like I knew fairly well already.

Mitch had talked about a good German restaurant that he had had a few times, so we made our way to Bavarian Point. Holt cow, the food was good. I had the Jagerschnitzel, a good old German standby, and it was, hands-down, the best schnitzel I've ever had. Normally, around here, it's simply a flat-pounded pork cutlet that is breaded and fried, and then it is served with a brown gravy that has onions and peppers in it. It's really good, but the stuff at Bavarian Point was amazing. It was a non-breaded sauteed pork cutlet, and the sauce was much more complex than usual. The sauce had onions, peppers, mushrooms, tons of other stuff, and was marvelous. I hope to experience more good schnitzel in the future.

So, Mitch and I continued to hang out, the restaurant was empty, and the bar area (where we were) only had a small group of guys hanging out with the owner. We realized that they were just hanging out, not waiting for us to leave, but that they were definitely closed. It was sort of cool. Eventually, we got up, everyone else still hanging out and talking, and I dropped Mitch back off at home. We discussed possibly hanging out the next night and I headed back to the hotel to crash out early.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clarification on my last post

I was going to edit my last post, but I'm not going to, as I think it's mostly correct. I did want to reiterate that I am not at all disappointed by my trip thus far, everyone I've talked to has been very nice (as most people everywhere are), it's VERY pretty out here, and quite different to what I'm used to. I am very excited about getting out and seeing more things. The desert is really weird for me, with the combination of the mud walls (very pretty), low buildings and small scraggly brush, I felt as if I'm missing something just below the surface of everything. Hopefully I will discover it this week!

Arizona - Day 2

Training started today. I am not going to delve into it heavily, but I like the program and today tied up a lot of loose ends on how things work. Can't wait to move onto the next program tomorrow.

Lunch was brought in by the vendor today, we had Jason's Deli, apparently regarded as a pretty good place to eat lunch around here. I had a club sandwich, it was pretty decent, but the meat was all stacked in the middle and it had FAR too much mayo and mustard. My boss had a salad and only ate like half of it, saying that it wasn't very good.

After training, I dropped my boss off at the hotel, and then headed out to the desert. I drove the loop below, just scoping things out and taking some pictures:

View Larger Map

I drove around this mountain in Troon, it was really neat. I noticed several things on the way out there, some of it very neat (lots of dirt roads! Wish I had my bike!) and some very weird, unusual and even sort of disappointing. The election for mayor of Phoenix is apparently soon, and I don't think I've ever seen such politically aligned signs for an office on that level before. Things like "THE conservative choice" or "The Republican candidate". Found it sort of weird. I saw a plot of land that had a ton of signs that said "No Dumping" "No Trespassing" "I love my Country" "Keep off my land" and some large signs that I couldn't make out but something like "I've fought for the last 6 years." Not sure what they were about, but I just got this vibe. It's just weird, because there is definitely an air here that reinforces some of the political decisions that have been made in Arizona in the last few years, but everyone I've met is so kind, so it's hard to balance it all in my head. It's just bizarre to see so many gated roads (that have public road signs on them 20 feet before the gate), so much political tension, so much of this feeling that many people are afraid that they are fighting against everyone to keep what they have. It's even weirder to think that the people doing so much to keep so many people out have had roots in this area for significantly less than the people that they've been trying to keep out. There seems to be this "We won the war" mentality. Just weird. Lots of walls everywhere too.


I ran into this one bizarre gate. I first passed a sign that pointed out where a town was at in two miles, but then maybe .5 miles later, the road enjoyed at a gated community. The road definitely went on, and according to Google Maps had at least three connectors back out to major roads, just seemed so strange. It feels like people are gating public roads. Maybe it's just the area I'm in???


Anyway, enough ranting. Out in the desert, there are a bunch of communities around the Scottsdale area. It was really neat to see this seemingly thriving artists communities out in what appeared to be not much of anything. Lots of real estate North of Scottsdale is for sale, so I hard a hard time determining what was manmade and what was natural, but I think that's good, makes the man made stuff seem more natural than the heavily groomed areas I'm used to from the East.


I got back to the hotel, and my boss texted me saying she was hungry. We'd heard that this Mexican place, Los Olivos, was quite good, so we headed there. I had the Combo #1, which was a Taco, Enchilada and Tamale with rice and beans. It was pretty tasty, but to be honest, I expected something different than what we have at home. It was different, but not a ton different. I liked it fine enough.

Click HERE to see the photo album from today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Arizona - Day 1

No pictures from today, but here is a quick writeup of my trip to Arizona, and some initial thoughts.

I am in Arizona this week, attending a 3 day training class with my boss. We left Nashville at 1:15pm, and arrived in Arizona about 2:30pm. We actually made pretty good time on the way out and knocked about 30 minutes off of the flight. The flight was mostly uneventful, just some small turbulence as we came across this mountain range into the Phoenix valley. There was a cloud head hovering over the west side of the mountains, as we flew through it, there was some cool lightning just a little bit outside of the window I was sitting at. Pretty neat.

As we descended into the valley, I began to see a bunch of desert roads and trails running back and forth. I am going to seriously wish I had my bike with me out here, I can tell already. Desert riding never really jumped out at me before (seemed like it'd just be gritty and hot), but after checking there area out, I think I'm going to have to come out here and ride some time in the future, spring or fall.

We got off the plane, and walking down the jetway revealed how hot it was in Arizona. I mean, the walls of the jetway were HOT. And that was in the jetway that was connected to the air conditioned airport. Made it to the rental counter, got checked out quickly, and then went down to find that I got to choose the car I wanted and then just drive off. Pretty cool idea. They even had some SUVs, but I didn't feel like they offered any advantage of a car being only 2wd, so paying for gas on one didn't make any since. I ended up choosing a Honda Accord. Nice car so far, sort of plain looking, but decent.

Besides the noticeable heat (don't worry, it's a dry heat, whatever that means! 112 degrees is hot, dry or not!) it was really cool checking things out. We drove from the airport to the hotel in Scottsdale, checking out the building and outdoors along the way. There are a bunch of VERY cool rock formations in the Phoenix area, some really cool fracture boulder piles on the mountains and hills, things like that. They hide water tanks that are painted brown among the hills, making it very neat looking. The architecture here is very neat as well. All of the buildings are low, like they are sinking to the ground to avoid the sun as much as possible. I don't think I've seen a building (outside of the "scrapers" downtown) that has been taller than about 5-6 stories. Many of the houses and strip mall buildings seem to be short; maybe they are dug into the ground some? The stone walls, adobe work, and tile roofs are all very different to me, but I REALLY like the look of it all. Some of the buildings are quite square, and others do not have a straight wall on them. Very cool.

We got checked in at the Scottsdale North Hilton Garden Inn and I chilled out for a while in my room. We decided to head out to dinner and ended up driving down Scottsdale Avenue (the main drag) looking for somewhere to eat. Scottsdale is ENORMOUS. It's really weird to see a suburb of a city that seems to be like twice as big as the city. Anyway, we ended up going to Fogo de Chão for a Brazilian Gaucho meal. It was quite good, and a nice change for me. They have a really large and tasty salad bar (the mozzarella balls were not very good though) and then the grilled meats started flowing. I sampled a lot of the meats, probably 4 different grilled beef cuts, sausage, bacon wrapped chicken, and Parmesan crusted pork loin. It was all pretty tasty, but the garlic beef was probably my favorite.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed it looked really dark and like it might rain. Instead, it was a dust storm. Some of the locals were calling it a Haboob the next day, but it just seemed sort of dusky and dark, went back to the hotel and sort of forgot about it. Later, I was watching the news and realized it was apparently a quite large dust storm. A week or two ago an even larger one hit this area, but this one was a weird one as it was the third large one in about a month, and they don't usually happen this frequently here. Kind of cool to see it, even cooler to see the pictures on the news the next morning.