Arizona, 2020

March 3-11, 2020, Arizona for Friends, Golf, and Touring

Following our quick trip to Florida, Karen and I ventured forth to Arizona to visit with our friends Mike and Di, to play some golf with them and visit in their new home, and then to visit Sedona and the Grand Canyon. I especially wanted to see some of the great sandstone buttes and again view the Grand Canyon. I also wanted to see some of the early mountainside settlements of the Palatki Indians near Sedona.

Using American Advantage miles, we booked First Class round trip tickets for nearly no charge (a couple of fees), and a stay in Sedona and at the Grand Canyon. The hotels were blind choices, but as you will see, they all worked out superbly. Our flight, car rental, and our drive to Peoria were all without hitch. Peoria is a Northwestern suburb of Phoenix in Maricopa county. Mike and Di bought a brand new home there this winter and have it completely decorated and occupied. It was our distinct pleasure to be their guests. It is a beautiful home with an outstanding view. They belong to Blackstone Country Club and they are avid golfers. Mike has been my Mens’s League partner at RiverCrest for some years.

The evening of our arrival, friends Joanne and Ken had Mike and Di and Karen and me over to their home for dinner. A great feast, really, and we all drank so much of Ken’s fine stash of wine. Fortunately, they are in the same development surrounding the Blackstone Golf Club as Mike and Di, so the drive back was a couple of blocks or so. The next morning we set out for a round of golf at The Boulders, a beautiful course in the Sonoran Dessert foothills. It is laden with massive boulders (hence the name), and some of the homes surrounding the course have their own giant boulders... they had to have built the houses around the boulders. The course is great, except for hole fourteen, where I couldn’t keep the ball out of the water.

Below: A boulder at The Boulders; Another view of the course; and a scorecard image of hole 14 where I drowned my ball:
The Boulders View Hole 14

The next day, the four of us drove to the Wickenburg Golf Course and Country Club, maybe an hour drive from Peoria. Wickenburg is an absolutely beautiful course.

Below: A view of one of Wickenburg’s beautiful scenes; and Mike & Di at Wickenburg:
Wickenburg View Mik & Di

Below: Karen & me with a beautiful hole behind us; and Karen & Di:
Chuck and Karen Karen & Di

The following morning Karen and I drove to Sedona. Now if you haven‘t been there, I don’t want to spoil the moment you start to near Sedona, but here goes.... We absolutely gasped at the views. I cannot tell you how many times we said "Oh, wow!" as yet another butte or mountain came into view. The area is very beautiful.

Below: Traveling through Arizona; and a view approaching Sedona:
Traveling AZ Approaching Sedona

Below: A butte (or mesa, plateau, hill, mountain, or tableland - I could never distinguish them); and a herd of mule deer (see mule-like ears):
Butte Mule Deer

As we drove into Sedona, there are endless roundabouts and there is a lot of traffic. We finally arrived at the town center and luckily found a convenient parking spot. We wandered into a cantina, 89Agave, for lunch. We ordered a simple lunch, but omigod, how delicious. The absolute best queso I have ever had. We were dining al fresco, so we could view what was happening in the middle of Sedona, but with the marvelous views surrounding the town. 89Agave was a great accidental find.

We then drove to A Sunset Chateau, one of our blind hotel selections, but one that was actually spectacular. Karen had researched where to stay in Sedona (and at the Grand Canyon), and chose this place based on the website and reviews. I was worried that it might be too artsy/hippie, but upon our arrival, I put that fear away. We had selected the Royal Hacienda Suite, and it was a 1,000 ft2 suite with everything you could imagine, from large hot tub, to full kitchen, to working fireplace, to a balcony with the absolute best view imaginable. This place had everything, from a pool and outside hot tub, to a hammock, to outdoor sitting areas, bocci court, and so on. Every inch of the place was beautifully decorated and maintained, with the owner’s artistic taste well-evident. Once we arrived, we wished we had booked more time here.

Below: The breakfast area (full and complimentary) of A Sunset Chateau; and the view from our suite:
Breakfast area Our view

Below: Inside our suite; and me relaxing in the courtyard:
The  suite Relaxing

Shortly, we were picked up by Tracy in the Pink Jeep we ordered for our tour of the area... the reason we had come to Sedona. Our driver was a hoot, very talkative and informative, and knowledgeable of the area. We shared the jeep with one other couple and proceeded on the tour. As we drove toward Honanki where the Sinaqua people lived between 1100 and 1300 AD, having occupied parts of Arizona from as early as 650 AD. They are the pre-Columbian ancestors of the Hopi Indians. Honanki is one of the largest prehistoric pueblos in the Verde Valley. We visited the Palatki archeological site to look at their dwellings. These consisted of Pueblo-like structures of some significant sophistication, being stone walls fronting the cliffs, and having many rooms for differing purposes: kivas, living, community rooms, ball courts, courtyards, and food storage. The were hunter-gatherers who learned to grow crops and developed irrigation techniques. They hunted elk, bear, rabbits, turtles, and fowl, and they grew beans and squash, and their northern neighbors grew maize. They gathered pine nuts, walnuts, fruits, various grains like aramuth, wild grapes, and cactus fruit. The settlement we visited was estimated to produce six times what they consumed and used the remainder to trade with other tribes. The Sinaqua drew pictographs on their walls, though some were found to have been put there as early as 2000 BC. The pictographs are enthralling.

Below: On the road to Honanki; and a placard as the park is entered:
The ride Placard

Below: A wall of a Sinaqua Pueblo; and a sample of pictographs:
Stone wall Pictographs

Below: A panoramic of us at the site (the trail is a rigorous walk along the cliff dwellings):
Us at the site

Below: A butte as we rode by in the Pink Jeep; and another with cylindrical rock formations:
A butte Rock formations

After the jeep tour returned us to the Chateau we went out for some more self-touring and then on to dinner. Our self-tour was to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is a small chapel with a spectacular view. One sits in the chapel looking at the cross and behind it through a glass wall to the view. It is awe-inspiring. When we arrived there was a mob of cars and no place to park. Generally, one parks at the bottom of the very steep hill and walks up or is taken up in a cart (for elderly), but I drove up and dropped Karen off for her to visit the Chapel. My plan was to descend and drive around and drive back up to pick her up. But just as I turned to come down a parking spot opened up and I got a perfect spot. What luck. In one photo below, you can see a monstrous house in the view, formerly owned by Nicholas Cage.

Below: A view from the Chapel of The Holy Cross; and the Chapel:
The Chapel Chapel view

Below: Karen at the Chapel; and another beautiful photo:
Karen at the Chapel Karen

We then looked for and finally found (it wasn’t easy) the restaurant that absolutely all the locals said was the place to eat, The Hudson. We got seated immediately at a table with a great view, next to a visiting family on one side and a group of golfers on the other. We all struck up conversations and had a great time with our stories and laughter. And the food lived up to its local reputations. A cannot miss place. We went back to our palace, er, suite and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

Below: The Hudson:

In the morning we went for the included breakfast. It was outstanding, of course, and we chatted for a while with the owner, a Belgian gentleman who seems to wander from table to table to make sure everyone is happy. We were. We went to visit Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. The was a delightful, relaxing, and interesting gallaria, where we looked at art, sculpture, glass, rugs, and more. After a while I sat and listened to a guitarist in one of the verandas while Karen continued to look. She found a gift for our hosts in Peoria (our mission that morning) and came for me to agree, which I did. That settled, we were off to the Grand Canyon. But first, we stopped for lunch at Miley’s Cafe in the Village of Oak Creek, just on the edge of Sedona. Very nice fish tacos and great service. Enjoyed it so much that we stopped again for lunch on the way back from the Grand Canyon to Peoria.

Below: Two photos taken from Tlaquepaque’s website that illustrate the sense of the gallary:
Tlaquepaque Gallaria

Below: Miley’s Cafe interior view:
Mileys Cafe

The glory of the Grand Canyon cannot be overstated. We drove from Sedona to the Grand Canyon, arriving late afternoon. We checked into the The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, the only three-diamond hotel in the Grand Canyon region. It resembles a giant chalet and has an immense dining area, a large bar, and a very rustic-looking lounge full of taxidermiced heads on the walls (Western animals, not the tourists). Karen selected the place because it seemed to be well-located and it was upscale. As we checked in, the staff member informed us that we had been upgraded to the “special suite”, the largest of the Grand Suites. Well, it was and had a large living area with a complete kitchen, a master bedroom with a en suite bathroom, and a second bedroom and bath. We went down to the massive dining room and had a nice dinner and then relaxed for the evening.

Below: The Grand Hotel Fireplace (note the mountings); and our suite’s living room:
Living Room Suite Living Room

Below: The second bedroom; and the Master bedroom:
Second Bedroom Master Bedroom

In the morning we were met by Bob, our guide for the personal tour we had reserved from First Class Charter & Tours. It was, indeed, first class. Bob was very personable and likeable, and he was absolutely knowledgeable about the area and the Grand Canyon. If we had tried to do the tour ourselves, we would have missed so much. Bob kept us informed and he had a plan for us to see the most for our time. Our tour was of the South Rim, and his plan was several major stops, starting at the westermost part of the South Rim and then working east.

Below: The sign at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park:
Karen and Chuck at The Grand Canyon

Below: Bob with Karen and me; and Bob and Karen (taken at different views of the canyon):
Bob, our guide, with us Bob and Karen

Below: one of the first scenes we were reward with; and yet another:
Our first magnificent vista Another vista

Below: Looking down into the canyon to see the walking trail one mile below and the ranger/stopover building:
The walking trail

Below: Note the interesting rock formation on the left; and take a look at the Colorado flowing through:
An interesting formation The mightly Colorado from above

Below: Take a look at this stunning view; and us posing at the edge:
A stunning view Posing at the Canyon

After a while, at lunchtime, Bob drove us to The El Tovar on the South Rim, a hotel and restaurant built in 1906 for the, you know, rich and famous. It is quite a place, and Bob introduced us to the Maitre ’D as important people, so Karen and I were led to the best table in the place. Our lunch there was part of our tour package and so Bob had given his AMEX charge card to Karen and told her to use that for lunch. Of course, we overdid it! Wine, full course meal, great view. Wow. After lunch Karen wandered over to Hopi House, a stone building built in the style of the Hopi Indians by architect Mary Coulter in 1904. It was noticed that the Hopi’s sold their artwork to tourists and this building was built as a gift shop.

In approaching El Tovar we saw where they kept the mules that were used for the trail rides, and we saw the train stopped by El Tovar. The train was normally packed, but it was empty. We had noticed that there was nobody touring the Grand Canyon and most venues were empty. Nobody walking the trails, nobody on the roads, no tour buses. This was right at the beginning of the Coronavirus scare, so the Chinese and other international visitors were absent, as were all student visitors and most adults. Bob said that normally there were wall-to-wall buses of tourists, but there were zero buses. We had the place nearly to ourselves.

Below: The El Tovar entrance; and its lobby:
El Tovar The lobby

Below: Karen enjoying lunch at El Tovar; and the Hopi House:
Karen at lunch at El Tovar Hopi House

After the break we continued our tour, Bob took us eastward toward some spectacular views. I will only show a few of the many photos we took, but you will get the idea of the beauty of this natural phenomenon.

Below: A view framed by nature; and another version of that spot:
A framed view Another version

Below: Two more views, the first showing the river; and a look at that rock and sediment strata:
The river Rock and sediment strata

Below: The mules (no riders today); and a view down to the river:
The mules View of the river

Below: Finally, a panorama of the view:

At the beginning of our tour, I told Bob what I would love to see is an elk and possibly some deer. On the ride back to our hotel, we saw several gangs of elk and also several herds of mule deer. No, honestly, a number of elk living together is called a “gang”. Who knew? But for deer it is a herd. Anyway, I was thrilled. The elk are large, very large. The bucks did not have horns, which they lose and regrow each Spring. So, the photo is of a buck without horns yet.

Below: a buck elk; and a herd of mule deer:
Elk Herd of mule deer

The we checked out an drove back to Peoria to Mike and Di’s house. We had a feast with Vicki and Kelly at Mike and Di’s. Mike roasted pork and had brussel sprouts and au gratin pototoes, and various other accutriments, plus (of course) plenty of good wine. In the morning we played at their club, Blackstone Country Club at Vistancia, a 7,000 yard course by Jim Engh..

Below: The Blackstone clubhouse as seen from the course; and a view of one of the holes:
Blackstone Blackstone

The four of us had dinner at the club for the last night, and we said goodbye before we went to bed. Karen and I were up and on our way to the airport by 5:30AM and we had a non-eventful flight home. Got our car and there was little traffic due to the beginning onslaught of the virus. We got home without incident, and we have settle into our ‘shelter in place” rooutines. All in all, a great trip and a great time.

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