Arizona trip notes, March 16 – 23, 2007

March 27, 2007

We arrived in Tucson a day and a quarter late due to a big storm in New York, thus missing most of our touring time and two of our three planned dinners. But our luggage was all there and our Avis car was ready, a surprisingly pretty Burgundy Chevy Impala. We arrived at the Loews Ventana Resort and Hotel quite late, but there was a warm and efficient welcome. It is an enormous facility, mostly for meetings and conventions, but was our choice as our friends Barry and James live five minutes away. The Roundtable of North American Dry Cleaners; and the General Managers of the Packaging Corporation of America were much in evidence with their name tags during our two night stay. There are six restaurants, ranging from The Ventana Room, the highest rated restaurant in Tucson in the guides, through The Flying V, the steakhouse we had reserved at for our original arrival evening, down to an informal snack place around the pool. There are two eighteen hole golf courses, two swimming pools, a spa, two lighted tennis courts etc. Our deluxe room was spacious, but not a bargain.

We went to The Saguaro National Park and arrived before the crowds. We drove slowly around the eight-mile loop, stopping frequently at overlooks or when we saw a bird or whatever. We walked the little circular Ecology Trail seeing many desert birds. We went to the Visitors Center after it opened at 9:00, watched the film etc. The Park is an enormous area covering six entirely different ecological zones as one rises to higher altitudes and lower temperatures along the hiking trails in the Rincon Mountains. We only saw the little, low corner of it which is accessible by car.  We stopped by the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area on the way back to the hotel, using my new Senior National Parks and Forests Pass to get in, as we would at all National Parks on this trip. We had planned to take the shuttle bus up the canyon and walk back, but a flood had cut off the more interesting upper areas. There were huge crowds on this nice Sunday; so we decided to forget about it. 006jpg-a.jpgWe lunched that day and dined that night chez Barry and James. The cuisine was good, as expected. They served Arizona wines, which were quite nice. The white was a Riesling/Viognier blend and the red a Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Cabernet blend. 

The next morning we stopped at the Tucson Botanical Garden en route to I-10. It is an interesting little mish mash of small themed areas: ie: herbs, children’s, Hispanic, cactus, composting, whatever. It attracts many kinds of birds. There is a fine gift shop. The drive to Phoenix on Interstate 10 wasn’t entirely boring as there is some good rock scenery, interesting agriculture etc. But in general, I find the Sonoran Desert landscape, or chaparral, to be quite unattractive. While an individual, well-formed, healthy saguaro can be quite beautiful, most are not. Due to competition for scarce water, they space themselves at awkward intervals and, due to their size, break up any possibility of vegetative harmony. The human invasion of the last fifty years has destroyed the aquifer; that limits the natural growth that used to be there. 

Greater Phoenix: 


Linda’s nephew Jeff, his wife Lora and their three children live in Chandler, a growing suburb southeast of Phoenix. They had both taken the day off to be with us so we were able to have a nice lunch at the nearby Pomodoro. We spent time with the kids when they came home from school and went to our hotel, an adequate Courtyard by Marriot. It was close enough to our good restaurant for that evening that we were able to walk, a New York custom that seems to be unknown in Arizona. (For the dinner see the separate post on Roy’s.) 

The next morning we got back on I-10 and made the surprisingly long drive to the Phoenix Art Museum. We visited the permanent collections and were surprised to find they were so weak in American, particularly Western, art and had only a small Mexican collection. One highlight was the small Harrington collection which included a lovely, sunlit Vuillard. Another was the exquisite collection of 28 miniature rooms in the Thorpe Collection; (64 others are at The Art Institute of Chicago.) The Museum has obviously invested much more in buildings than in art. But it is obviously doing something right as there was a line to get in and people all over. School groups were much in evidence. We had bought tickets via the internet to the exhibition: Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. It was disappointing with only one A-list Rembrandt painting, four B or C list Rembrandts and a wide variety of 17th century Dutch artists. So we went north on I-17. The scenery became more interesting as we gained altitude. 


We stayed two nights in Sedona at the Arroyo Roble Resort where Connie and Jerry, Linda’s brother, have a time share arrangement. It was very pleasant to have our own little townhouse in a calm area backing up to Oak Creek. After we settled in, Jerry and Connie took us up to the outlook by the Sedona Airport to watch the sunset. This is a regular local custom and there was a small crowd there. It wasn’t Key West, but everyone was having a good time. Unfortunately, big grey clouds moved into the west and there wasn’t much of a sunset, but we could see the entire valley. The floor has been filled in with development and it is encroaching on the hillsides. But the scenery all around the valley is spectacular: great colored rock formations. Old Sedona has become a very tacky mishmash of tourist shops. We had a good bottle of Fumé Blanc at Jerry and Connie’s town house and went to dinner at L’Auberge de Sedona (see the separate blogpost.)

The following morning we took the two-hour “Rim” Pink Jeep tour, which climbed a not bad road from which we could see the backside of what one sees from uptown Sedona. This is recommended over the “Broken Arrow” tour which is what the Pink Jeep people push in order to provide roller coaster thrill jeep rides. The scenery was sensational, particularly the formations in the limestone layer. (One can reserve the seat by the driver in advance, but you cannot get an exclusive jeep without buying seven seats; we had only one other fellow tourist along with the four of us.) We had lunch at The Cowboy Club. The barbequed ribs were good, as was the local Oak Creek Amber Ale on draft. We went up to The Holy Cross Chapel, a modern Roman Catholic chapel in a special site with a great view. We went to The Red Rock State Park and walked a bit, but the wind had ruffled the usual reflective view of Cathedral Rock in the pools of Oak Creek. 

That evening we dined at René ( in the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. The cuisine was a mix of very rene-wine.jpgtraditional French (ie: escargots, onion soup) with modern American (ie: spinach salad, crab cakes, rack of Colorado lamb.) We all had a good time there. I have the impression that we ate at two of the three serious restaurants in Sedona; the third is El Portal, whose dining room is only open to outsiders when the hotel guests have not reserved all the tables.  


The California Chardonnay with the punny name and the Colorado lamb rack for two at René.


We left Sedona by the Oak Creek Canyon to its east. This was an interesting drive, putting us in pine forest as the road climbed to an overlook at 8,000 feet. We went on to Flagstaff and lunched at Bun Huggers, where the burgers are mesquite grilled and you help yourself to fixins. There was then a two hour drive through a high plateau with pine forests, some of them recently logged, and huge open meadows with a few steers.   

The Grand Canyon: 

We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park about 3:00 and were predictably awed by the size of the canyon, its width, depth and length; no photos can convey this immense grandeur. We walked along the rim trail for a while stopping at outcroppings for the view. We checked into El Tovar, the hotel built in 1905 by the Santa Fe railroad at their new railhead. Following its centennial celebration, El Tovar was closed for two years of renovations, but is now open again in all its faded splendor. It is operated by the Xanterra group, which has the franchises of many National Park hotels. I was skeptical as our one previous Xanterra experience, in the Everglades, was a disaster. But they do a very nice job here of maintaining a certain standard while being inundated by sightseers and restricted by being beholden to the government. Fortunately we had reserved eight months in advance on the internet and had a nice room. ( Xanterra’s other nearby hotels and lodges looked okay and would certainly be preferable to staying outside the park.

We walked to the western end of Grand Canyon Village and took the shuttle bus along the rim to the west. Private cars are not allowed along this road from March through October. We got off at Mohave Point and walked the rough one mile trail along the rim back to Hopi Point. The sky was overcast which deadened some colors and brought out others. There was a combination of little green pines and vermillion rocks that was particularly pretty. We were almost alone on this walk, which was amazing as our walk a little earlier along the middle rim trail had been quite crowded, including many of that disruptive species: the American Teenager.
. zion-004jpg-a.jpgAfter taking the bus back to the village, we gathered with the crowd at the rim in back of the hotel for the festive sunset viewing. It was heavily overcast, but suddenly the sun shone horizontally under the clouds and lit up rock faces opposite us with a beautiful light; they glowed in contrast to the dark rock around them. And after the sun had actually gone down, there was a bright red sunset in the western clouds.


We ate that evening at the El Tovar Dining Room with Jerry and Connie. The large room is magnificent, retaining its 1905 atmosphere with a big fireplace, wooden furniture, large Indian art and retro Arts and Crafts chandeliers and sconces. Most of the cuisine is too complicated and the portions too large. The traditional dishes were best.




Jerry’s black bean soup was pretty as well as delicious. 


The next morning it was raining at sunrise, but a bit later the sun shone directly on some rocks surrounded by low clouds, which was a pretty effect. We saw quite a few mountain bluebirds. Linda and Jerry took a walk east of the hotel and saw the same three mountain sheep that Jerry and Connie had seen the afternoon before. We left the hotel about 10:00 planning to see the Eastern Rim, but it started to snow; the canyon was completely filled with pea soup fog and one could not see anything below the rim. So we drove on out to US 89 and turned north. The landscape was somewhat lunar, but was marred by pathetic, ugly, unsanitary Navajo settlements and houses scattered about. This area is the west end of The Navajo Nation.   We stopped for lunch at The Dam Grill in Page; the pulled pork sandwich was excellent. Page was built in 1957 on land swapped from the Navajos to house the construction crews for the Glen Canyon Dam and now is a prosperous modern town for the area which benefits from the Lake Powell Recreation Area. North of Page there is a stunning scenic overlook. One sees the immense plateau marred by the lake with its marinas, the dam and the Navajo Power Plant with its smokestacks, the three highest structures in Arizona. They are belching fumes from coal which is hauled on a 90-mile private railway from the mines in Navajo country south of Monument Valley.  

One Response to “Arizona trip notes, March 16 – 23, 2007”

  1. jerry vance Says:

    Great summary Mike we will have to get down to the parks you mention in Tucson one of these days, enjoyed the visit.

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