Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Zion National Park

We set out for Zion, forty miles from our home, early in the morning when it was still dark. We’d heard about how busy the parks are, and it was a Saturday. This picture of the park and its sign were taken on the way out of the park, when we were going back home.

Dawn was just breaking over the rocks when we entered the park. Seeing the huge boulders looming above us as the sun climbed higher, we knew it was going to be a special day. Not far inside the East Gate we stopped for our first adventure at the Canyon Overlook trail. This is one of the oldest trails in the park. The trail was only a mile in, but the surface was rocky and we had to climb a bit. It was probably a good thing that we missed the sunrise because we might have tumbled down a cliff if we hadn’t been able to see! This was the only time in the day that we were looking down. For most of the visit to Zion, we were looking up while passing through the bottom of Zion Canyon.

View from under an overhang; is that a cave over there?
Walking the plank around a cliff

We were hiking above the narrows of Pine Creek, which forms a “T” with Zion Canyon at the end. There is a view of Zion at the top right of the above picture, and the road we would be taking into it. Looking back on this hike later, we were so glad we did it. It felt the most like our normal hiking in nature, had the fewest people, and was the only one that we went on all day that wasn’t either nicely paved or soft dirt. The morning was quiet, and the beauty was all around us.

Back on the road, we soon disappeared into this tunnel. Like the trail we had just hiked, it was completed in 1930 and is 1.1 miles long. There are a few great windows cut into the mountain, but otherwise there are no lights and no ventilation.

The road through Zion Canyon itself is closed, and the only way to experience it is to ride a shuttle from the visitors center. This we did, getting off at stops that we were interested in, which made for a relaxing day of exploration. The shuttle comes and goes every few minutes, is included with the cost of getting into the park (actually, our Lifetime Pass), and doesn’t need advance reservations. We were still early so there was no wait.

We got off to look at the Court of Patriarchs. From left to right, they are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, named by a Methodist minister.

We were always craning our necks to view the immense sandstone rocks overhead, beautiful in their various colors of tan, ochre, and white. The Virgin River carved this park millions of years ago.

The next shuttle stop was for Emerald Pools; we took the hike to Lower Emerald Pool.

Picture taken from a bridge on our way to Emerald Pools

The water dripping from the high cliffs glistened in the morning light. Emerald Pools is named for the color of the algae that grows here. At the top of the cliff are streaks in various colors; those are caused by water passing through the natural chemicals in the rocks. You can also see this effect in the photo at top of the blog.

Looking up at a wet, mossy cliffside

Back on the shuttle again, we rode to the end of the road and took the Riverside Walk. The crowds were growing. This is a very popular trail.

The two most popular trails at Zion are Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Although strenuous because it is a high altitude climb up the rocks, Angel’s Landing now requires a permit because the trail has often been so crowded. Riverside Trail leads right into the Narrows, where the cliff walls rise high above the river on both sides. The hike is totally in the Virgin River, and it’s possible to follow it for several miles. That would have required us to rent equipment, something we did not want to do on this Zion exploration day.

This couple is unwittingly modeling the equipment that can be rented for the Narrows: waterproof coveralls and backpack, shoes, and thick wooden walking poles. The rocks are large in the Narrows and I’ve heard the walk can be compared to walking on slippery bowling balls. In April, the water is waist deep farther up the canyon. It looks like great adventure. That’s for next time – if we don’t wait too many years to return, that is!

The view above the river gives a hint of how beautiful it must be up in the Narrows

There was a steady stream of folks heading into the Narrows, and it picked up as we watched. Later, as we hiked back, Riverside Trail was even more packed with people on their way in than it was when we came. I would not like to be here in the middle of summer. Looking at the view up the river, though, it must be an incredible hike.

There was all kinds of merchandise for sale in the Visitors Center with the logo “I hiked the Narrows!” So Cal took my picture here in the river, so I can also say “I hiked the Narrows!”

Unbelievable for all the people around, but a couple of deer appeared for their morning walk. One of them wore a tracking collar. They looked like they were used to this scene, and were careful about where they were fording the river.

Back on the shuttle bus, Zion Lodge was a great place to stop for snacks and to supplement the lunch we had packed. As the day wore on, the shuttles became full, but never so bad that we had to wait in a long line for them. We agreed that the last day of April was a very good day for a visit.

The Watchman
The Great Arch – a blind arch, since it is recessed into the cliff

Zion is a very easy way to experience a National Park, if one doesn’t have a lot of hiking experience. With the shuttle and the paved paths, it’s possible to have a relaxing day at the park. With all the trails added up, we walked about 6.5 miles in the day. It was very easy walking except for Canyon Overlook trail. As with all National Parks, arriving early or later in the day is key. We recently spoke to someone who said Zion is his favorite park. The only thing he did in Zion was to hike Angel’s Landing, awesome in itself. His day was very different than ours!

Next time – exploring near Bryce National Park, Utah

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

On the Road, Arizona To Utah

Saguaro in bloom, Phoenix

If you ever find yourself on the road between Flagstaff, Arizona and Kenab, Utah, please do not hesitate to take US State Route 89. The route has some of the most beautiful scenery we have enjoyed on a travel day. We might not have even been on the southern part of this drive, were it not for a last-minute change of plans.

Palo Verde trees in blossom, somewhere near Tucson

To back up just a bit, on the day we were to leave Ft. Huachuca, we received news of a Covid crisis with our family in Denver. The next day I was on a plane heading from Phoenix to Denver to provide some needed day care for our grandchildren. Cal stayed at Luke Air Force Base for a week, having a time watching the F-16 and F-35 training pilots continually take off on the runway. Life turns on a dime, doesn’t it?

A couple of planned stays were completely eliminated, and that is how we ended up taking 89 all the way from Flagstaff to Kenab. The scenery changes here from high mountain ponderosa pine to desert shrub, rolling hills, buttes and mesas, and odd piles of rocks. There are turnoffs for both the South and North Rims of the Grand Canyon. We drove through Navajo Nation, where there were wooden stands for selling Navajo crafts. Most were empty, some falling apart, but a few were occupied selling mostly jewelry from what I could see. I’m speculating that they will disappear one day in the future, when artisans have so many other ways to take their creations to market.

There was a scenic turnoff for a beautiful overlook and off in the distance were the Vermillion Cliffs. The whole vista was a feast for the eyes. Cal could not stop because we had Sam behind us and there was no room to park.

Near Page, we stopped at Horseshoe Bend. The park is run by the city of Page which charges for its huge parking lot; happily, there was room for us. We generally do not make stops on travel days, so I was surprised when Cal turned in. It was just over a half mile walk to the most amazing view:

Horseshoe Bend, on the Colorado River

In the view above, you can just barely see the Vermillion Cliffs rising in the background. Route 89-A is another scenic route for seeing them, and this road would go also to the North Rim.

Rocks are so interesting. I saw these on our hike to Horseshoe Bend. They look just like…well, I will leave it to your imagination. I was looking around for Paul Bunyan’s ox.

In the parking lot was this ensemble. We had crossed paths with them earlier in the day:

Someone has been doing a lot of boondocking in the desert

It looks like they have everything they need right there.

On the other side of Page, we came to Glen Canyon Dam:

We’ve been reading a lot in the news about Glen Canyon, and Lake Powell that the dam creates. The water levels are dangerously low due to a 25-year drought. If you look above the dam, the white cliffs will show you how much the water has dropped. On one side of Lake Powell, the water is completely gone. We drove for many miles past the dam and were pretty sure that we should have been seeing beautiful views of the lake. What will happen when the dam can no longer produce power or water for life downstream? These are difficult problems that are being encountered across the Southwest.

Looking downstream from the dam

We crossed over into Utah, which was our first new state in many months, except for Hawaii. We’d been in Arizona since December and were a little sad to leave the state. We will be back.

Our stay while in the Kenab area was at Dark Sky RV Park, our destination for the day. It is fairly new, family owned, and every site is designed for maximum enjoyment of the night sky. We visited a bit with Rick, “Dad” in the enterprise. He had a brief experience with towing a 5th wheel and decided that none of his sites were going to be back-ins. There is a “cocktail table” with two log seats, a regular size table with a cover, and even a propane fire pit. Lights must be off after dark. With our pull-through site, we were able to enjoy nothing but the desert.

View from our RV

We also had this view across the road! It was a fine stay in which to begin our Utah adventures.

Next time – Zion National Park

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Riding the Rails to Grand Canyon National Park

It didn’t seem right to leave Arizona without seeing the Grand Canyon. Cal and I have been there a few times in our lives, separately and together, so I looked around for a different way to see it. Riding a train seemed like a perfect idea.

The depot is in Williams and they have quite a set up: besides the train, there is a hotel with all the amenities plus the RV park where we stayed for just two nights. It was a packed park. We were right in front of some railroad tracks, separated only by a ditch and a fence. You either love the sound of the trains, or you hate them. I don’t mind if they are off in the distance, but the train horn blowing woke me up once each night.

Small price to pay for the convenience, though. We were able to walk to the depot in the morning of our excursion. Before we boarded the train, there was a shootout outside the depot. The sheriff was having a little trouble with the Cataract Creek Gang. This was a huge event; why did I not see it in the morning news?

Silliness aside, we enjoyed the two hour ride up to Grand Canyon. Our host in our car told us about the trains and the scenery we were passing, there was a little snack buffet, and a singer came by with guitar in hand to entertain us with a few songs. Before we knew it, we were at the Grand Canyon Depot.

The 64-mile Grand Canyon Railway was originally completed in 1901 and was instrumental in the development of Grand Canyon Village. It was built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. With the decline of the railway, the last passengers rode the train in 1968. Developers purchased the line and restored operations again in 1989. Today the train runs 364 days a year. Our car was full and it looked like the others were too on the day we rode.

Of course, the Grand Canyon is the main attraction. We climbed up a lot of steps from the depot, and there it was. I had forgotten. Forgotten how it takes my breath away and almost brings me to tears every time I see it. I’m struck, every time, by its beauty. It truly is grand.

A National Park Service informational sign says much of what I was feeling:

Gazing upon this view, one is struck by the canyon’s vastness. The mind struggles to comprehend it. Try to describe the canyon’s size in words. Try to measure in your mind the canyon’s depth, width, and length. Measurements like 1 mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 river miles long leave us scratching our heads. Perhaps the best we can do is just feel the canyon’s enormity. Measure yourself up against it. We are miniscule in comparison…”

We rode the park shuttle to Hopi Point and hiked back along the Rim Trail. That was a good way to get some quiet trail time. We appreciated our host’s suggestion for this; our walk from Hopi Point was all down hill.

From Hopi Point, we could see the Colorado River far below.

The view of the canyon was dizzying in some spots, as there was no barrier rail in many places of this part of the trail:

Maricopa Point looked like a good viewing spot, although we did not hike over to it.

If one wants to hike down inside the canyon, Bright Angel Trail is the trail to take, and it will be four to six hours to the bottom. It is a long and strenuous hike, and hiking back up takes twice as long as venturing down. If one is overnighting, Phantom Ranch has basic accommodations at the bottom. I think it would be fun to hike down and stay at Phantom Ranch, if someone could come by and pick me up in the morning! Before we hopped on the shuttle, we passed the Bright Angel trailhead.

As we got closer to Grand Canyon Village on our hike, we could see the trail far below.

Looking down on Bright Angel Trail closer to the beginning of the trail head:

This little squirrel posed nicely for me. Or it was looking for a handout, I can’t be sure.

You wouldn’t think you’d see much wildlife so close to all the humanity around, but this bighorn sheep was oblivious.

I visited Grand Canyon with my parents when I was twelve, and again in my late teens with a friend on our way back to Texas from Las Vegas. Each time, I loved to see the Hopi House on the edge of the canyon. I wondered if this was a real Hopi house. Did Hopi Indians once live here? At the time, I received no answers, or I don’t remember that I did.

Fast forward to the Internet age. Our host on the train told us that the Hopi House was designed by Mary Coulter for the Fred Harvey Company which was instrumental in promoting tourism in the canyon. In the early 1900’s, she was revolutionary in the field of architecture. Her designs blended the natural landscape with whatever building materials were local. The Hopi House was finished in 1905.

The Hopi were a native canyon tribe and at the time were considered more civilized because they lived in permanent pueblos and created beautiful arts and crafts. The Hopi House was built as a place where Hopis could work and live, and visitors could observe and purchase their goods. It’s built like a true Hopi home, where several families could live, enjoy the rooftop terraces and vistas in the evening, and enjoy the company of fellow artisans. The exception to this is that there is a door in the front on ground level; the Hopi would not have had one. At one point, three generations of one family lived here. A dance platform was built in the 30’s but the evening Hopi dances ended in the early 1970’s with resentment by many Hopi for having their culture on display for tourists. Today, we know that several tribes once lived in the Canyon, not just the Hopi, and we celebrate their cultures as well.

I found much of this information on and for further reading you can visit their site with a search on “Hopi House”.

The Hopi House has been refurbished. True to its original conception, it is a shop and art gallery that sells mostly native crafts. The items for sale are beautiful, and I also tried to look past them to see the original house as it was.

My parents were also here on their honeymoon in 1938, which was probably the heyday of the Hopi house. I faintly remember my mother saying that the Indians would be sitting along side of the road selling their wares as they traveled. I would love to see the Hopi house as she saw it then.

All too soon, it was time to board the train back to Williams. We had a different singer this time, who billed himself as “The Rock-n-Roll Cowboy.” And then we were held up by the Cataract Creek Gang! We saw them on their horses as we passed and soon the train stopped. The robbers actually got away with some of our cash, which was in reality tip money.

The sheriff just before the robbers boarded our car, certain that the passengers ahead of us knew of their whereabouts

The train was great fun and we liked not having a car at the Canyon, but I would not recommend it if it would be someone’s first visit there. I was surprised that, even as a repeat visitor, our time at the Canyon felt a little short. Or maybe I just got lost in the Hopi House. Some passengers had luggage and were staying at the Canyon with a return trip the next day. I wish I had thought of that earlier! The train ride would also be a whole bunch of fun for school-age kids.

The town of Williams is on the original Route 66 and was one of the last towns to be bypassed by the highway. We were able to walk over the tracks for a little visit.

Our time in Williams was brief but with much to look forward to on the road ahead, we were ready to go. I’ll leave you with one last view of the Grand Canyon.

Next time: on the road to Utah

Destinations · Uncategorized · US Travel · USTravel

Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

Morning snow cover on the Huachuca Mountains

We arrived at Ft. Huachuca early in February. After a week, we were off to Hawaii. Frodo and Sam (our truck and 5th wheel) went into storage for a month in a lot on post close to Apache Flats, our RV park. We were there another month after our trip to Hawaii. I was working on the Hawaii blogs the whole time, so none of the fun excursions we did were posted. Perhaps I will catch them up at a later date.

Ft. Huachuca is an old Army post that dates back to the 1800’s, when new trails were being explored across the West and the Indian wars were happening. Today, it is the home of Military Intelligence (MI). There is a training school for mostly new recruits fresh out of basic training and a handful of MI battalions, among other units. It’s tucked up into the foothills of the Huachuca mountains, and sprawls all the way down to the Sonoran desert. The whole post is quiet and relaxed, although maybe not for the students at the MI school.

Looking at the Huachucas from the historic side of post

The RV park on Ft. Huachuca is in the foothills on the edge of civilization before the road goes off into the brush. There was nothing but nature all around us, and we started to think of the mountain as “ours”, in all its moods.

We called Ft. Huachuca home for a couple of years back in the 80’s, and loved it here. It was the only military assignment Cal had, after we married, in which we lived in government family quarters. It was a quiet, laid-back place to live. We were at the end of a 6-plex row of homes, and became friends with several of the neighbors around us. There were game nights, dinners together, and plenty of chats on the driveways. I went to school on my GI Bill and was one semester short of an Associate’s Degree when Cal received a “can’t miss” chance for reassignment in Washington, D.C. I always thought we’d at least come back for a visit, but this was our first time here in all the years since.

The rows of 6-plexes are gone now, replaced by beautiful new housing, schools, and a daycare facility. There is a larger emphasis on taking care of soldiers’ families in the military today, and I’m happy to see that. Our quarters were old even when we lived in them. Two rows of the 6-plexes were saved from the bulldozer for use as maintenance offices.

Looking down the row of the 6-plex. The front yards would have been grassy with the occasional prickly pear cactus.

The “A” unit was ours, on the end. I checked the address on the side of the building and it was not the one we lived in. That would have been a huge coincidence. Since all units were identical, I stood on the front entryway of the “A” unit and felt just a touch nostalgic for what had been.

This was our view when we lived here, minus the new buildings. Our unit was on the edge of the desert.

Ft. Huachuca is home to a lot of wildlife. Deer are numerous, and we often saw javelinas. We had a sighting of a coyote one evening, and I stumbled on the huge flock of turkeys on one of my walks one day. I counted at least a couple dozen.

This deer and I had a stare-down contest. I lost the game.
Sort of reminds me of the Beatles walking across Abbey Road. But wait, there’s one missing!
Ah, there’s the little straggler.
They’re easy to miss because they blend in, but there is a whole row of turkeys behind the one in the front

The birds! There were so many of them. The mountains of southern Arizona are “sky islands” in the Sonoran desert. The birds migrate up from Mexico along the chain of mountains. Sierra Vista, the town outside of Ft. Huachuca, is known as the hummingbird capital of the U.S. for all the types of hummingbirds that come. For a while, a couple in an RV with three hummingbird feeders were parked across from us. They would be gone all day, and we could enjoy the hummingbirds from our lawn chairs when we were home. They told us they had seen 8 varieties while sitting at dinner one night. Even without the feeders there were plenty of them zipping around the park at any time. And this little red bird came to visit us often.

We took many hikes into both Huachuca and Garden canyons, right on the military post. I don’t remember this from when we lived here. We visited many beautiful places while we lived in Arizona; how did we not know this was in our own back yard? I guess it was a combination of the pre-computer era, and also the busyness of daily life, plus only having weekends for exploration. If we didn’t know anyone who hiked the canyons, we just wouldn’t have known about it.

Garden Canyon even had some petroglyphs.

Before getting deep into the canyons, we would pass multiple picnic areas which are no longer being maintained. I couldn’t understand why not, at first. I finally decided that they hearken back to an earlier era when government family quarters didn’t have air conditioning. Parents might’ve been happy to get up into the cooler canyons to let the kids play and have a picnic on a Sunday afternoon. I never saw anyone using the facilities.

We also attended a rodeo at the only rodeo arena in the world that is inside a military installation.

There was a competition in which four teams of military guys had to put panties on a bull. It was hilarious to watch their efforts!

Ft. Huachuca also has horse stables. Back in the day, you could go up to a window at the stables, show your ID card, give them a few bucks, and “check out” a horse. Cal and I did that several times, just riding the horses up into the hills by ourselves. We would always put a carrot or two in our pockets for them. Sadly, you can’t do that anymore. You have to go on a trail ride. We went on a sunset ride, and although it wasn’t the same, it was still enjoyable. We’ve heard that there used to be around 90 horses, and now there are only 16. They stopped individual check outs because too many people were getting bucked.

Back in the Midwest, spring was my favorite season. I loved the arrival of spring flowers and the budding and blooming of the trees. Here at Ft. Huachuca we have enjoyed a spring season also, but it’s just a little different. It started back in February when I saw a barrel cactus in bloom in Tucson:

The cholla cactus was in bloom throughout our entire stay at Ft. Huachuca. At Apache Flats, we enjoyed watching a bird building a nest in one of them on our evening walks.

This huge agave was sprouting inch by inch. I would’ve liked to have seen it when it reached full growth.

When March turned to April, the ocotillo went into bloom. Their flowers are only at the top. On a desert hillside full of ocotillo, they look like orange waving flags. Usually the rest of the ocotillo stems are black, but in spring they turn green.

Interestingly, I read on Wikipedia that ocotillo is more closely related to tea and blueberries, even though it is semi-succulent and a desert plant.

The trees by our site went into leaf a little more slowly than I would have liked. I think we need to stay an extra couple of weeks into spring the next time we are here, so we can finish watching everything come into full bloom. Yes, there will be a next time, but as always, we don’t know how many years down the road it will be. We’re on the road again!

Next time: Grand Canyon

Destinations · Hawaii

Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and back to Waikiki – Oahu

Diamond Head Crater: Photo by Nick Michael on

Hiking Diamond Head crater was at the top of my list for Oahu; a bucket list item, if I had a bucket list. I pulled this picture off the WordPress site to give you a better picture of what the crater looks like. I’ve never taken Uber to a trailhead to hike, but that’s what we did. And the Uber driver knew just where to drop us off. We walked through a tunnel to the inside of the crater:

After we paid our entrance fee, we were on the trail. Right away we started going up from the crater floor. The trail is only .8 mile long, but it is steep. Once we climbed high enough, we could see over the crater to Honolulu.

Ocean in view and a precarious lookout

Diamond Head was used for military coastal defense from the early 1900’s right up through the 1960’s, and on the crater floor are two buildings still in use. This tunnel was used for fire control.

This hike was beginning to feel like a fun obstacle course.

A view of Waikiki from Diamond Head
Looking out to sea from a military pillbox
Diamond Head Lighthouse

Later on in the day we went on the whale watch that I’ve already blogged about and saw Diamond Head from the sea. It was pretty amazing to think we had just been on top that morning.

We couldn’t leave Oahu without paying our respects to the sailors and marines who lost their lives on the Arizona and at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor is a national monument called “World War II Valor in the Pacific”.

Pearl Harbor Memorial, Ford Island

The memorial is sitting directly over the remains of the ship. We rode a boat over to the memorial, and then we could walk inside and look down on it.

The base of gun turret # 3

There was a lot to ponder while on the Arizona and at Pearl Harbor. We watched active duty military ships leave the Harbor. At the time we were here, war clouds were just starting to gather in Ukraine. I worried about what Putin was going to do, while at the same time feeling the weight of the events that happened here.

The USS Bowfin

We also went through a submarine, the USS Bowfin, which saw action during WWII. She was nicknamed “The Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

The spaces inside were pretty cramped!
How could anyone work in this tiny kitchen?
On the Bowfin

We did it all at Pearl Harbor, including the USS Missouri. It was possible to walk around most of the ship, above and below decks.

The Arizona memorial as seen from atop the Missouri. An active-duty naval ship can be seen at top right.

The Missouri was commissioned in 1944 and was the last battleship built. Her guns were fired in WWII, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is that the documents ending the war with Japan were signed on her deck in Tokyo Bay.

Exploring below the decks was the most interesting part for me. There would be thousands of men living on this ship for months at a time, and bunks were stuffed into every nook and cranny.

A room dedicated to supplying everyone with enough bread

The Missouri was decommissioned in 1992, and so it was a bit of a time machine from that era. We came to the Finance Office, where sailors could get all their money-related items taken care of. I was in Finance when I was in the Army, so this room looked very familiar! I could picture myself at one of those IBM Selectrics on an identical desk typing checks. My time was a little earlier, though, so I had no computer, and used earlier model calculators.

We slowed our pace way down for our last day or two in Oahu with a picnic dinner at Ft. Derussy Park, some time on the beach, and a last meal of shrimp in Waikiki.

An acacia koa tree. I enjoyed seeing many of these while on Oahu; some were massive.
Shrimp dinner, complete with pigeon
The “cultural area” at the Honolulu airport

Next time – On to Maui

Destinations · Hawaii

Polynesian Cultural Center – Oahu

A postcard from the Polynesian Cultural Center

Is the Polynesian Cultural Center a tourist trap?

Let me explain first what it is, in the words of the PCC themselves: “The purpose of the Polynesian Cultural Center is three-fold: 1) to protect and promote the beautiful cultures of Polynesia; 2) to support our student workers as they gain a degree that will assist them and their home nations to progress and thrive; and 3) to share the spirit of aloha with the world.” It has been run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 1963. Brigham Young University – Hawaii is next to the PCC.

Simply put, there are six Polynesian “islands” to move through in the afternoon, a buffet dinner or a luau, and an evening show. The villages are Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, and Hawai’i. There are also tourist shops, food trucks, and restaurants in the front.

The first village we visited was Samoa. We watched a funny guy splitting coconuts (he had a lot of good jokes), another shimmying up a palm tree lickety-split for said coconuts, and another making a dish out of green bananas and coconut milk. It would be like mashed potatoes, he said. It had to cook over a fire. We didn’t get back to Samoa for a sample.

Here’s our tree climber

Each island has a presentation, either on the hour or half hour. You can wander around in between, but you really get a feel for everything by attending as many island presentations as possible. When I started paying attention to the schedule, it was easier to figure out what to do.

In another island we watched a “villager” make poi out of taro. Taro is still a staple on the islands and it is a root vegetable comparable to potatoes. Poi is baked taro pounded to a paste. I had a sample and it’s pretty bland.

Servin’ up the poi
Dishes of poi and taro

On the island of Hawai’i, there were young male hula dancers to watch. As explained, their dance was pre-European contact, which meant no ukeleles. They were accompanied by vigorous drumming.

Also on Hawaii, we looked at the Iosepa (Joseph). It is a 57 foot double hulled sailing canoe, made for the open sean, which was built by two master carvers with assistance by Brigham Young students. The voyage to Hawai’i by ancient Polynesians was 2,400 miles long and was accomplished by canoes such as this, called a wa’a kaulua. The canoe is navigated only by the stars and has been out to sea. It was huge, and I couldn’t stand anywhere to get a picture of the whole thing.

We walked by a chief’s hut and stopped in:

On the wall were pictures of past Hawai’ian kings and the queen:

We hopped on a “canoe” for a ride through the islands.

The yellow flowers are the Hawaiian hibiscus, the state flower
I thought this gentleman walking by looked quite stately and elegant

In Tahiti, we attended a wedding ceremony and renewed our vows. Our own tradition in weddings is to say “Yes, I will take you to be my spouse”. In Tahiti the question is “Will you ever leave this woman you love?” and the answer is “No!” We were in the back of the crowd, so there are no pictures, but I did get one of the band, and the priest after the ceremony.

Tonga is the only island out of the six that was never colonized by any other country. We listened to drumming there, although I was a little disappointed that they used mostly audience participation for their presentation.

We looked at some native Tonga crafts:

We had purchased a package which included entrance to the islands, a buffet dinner, and the evening show. Another option was to attend a luau. We passed on the luau not only because it was so expensive, but also because we were planning to go to a luau elsewhere. I later heard, though, that the PCC’s luau is the one in all the islands that is most culturally authentic. Maybe another time.

I have no idea what was on my buffet plate. I tried everything that I was unfamiliar with along with some macaroni and cheese in case the native foods didn’t pan out. As it happened, I was too full to eat the mac and cheese. I tried some different types of poke. By Merriam Webster’s definition, poke is a Hawaiian salad made typically from cubed pieces of raw seafood (such as tuna) marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil and mixed with onions or other ingredients. I had a fish poke, and a shrimp poke. Along with that, there was some ahi sashimi (raw tuna), a guava roll, and a whole lot of other stuff that I don’t remember the names of. It was all delicious.

The evening show as called “Ha (line over the a) – Breath of Life”. There were no pictures allowed so I have uploaded a picture of the program. The story line of the show follows a young boy from birth through his life. Each stage of life is on one of the six islands. It was a great show. The dancing, songs, and special effects were beautiful. There were fire dancers, fire eaters, and an act where they were jumping and sitting on fire, putting the fires out. How did they do that? The boy was in Tahiti when he married, so there was the Tahitian wedding ceremony. There was hula dancing, of course. 400 different costumes are worn nightly.

Back to my original question: is the PCC a tourist trap? When I was looking for more detail on it, I read just a few negative reviews on Trip Advisor that called it that. Most reviews were overwhelmingly positive. It’s not an inexpensive day, but the buffet and show are, in my opinion, top quality and great entertainment. If you just skim the surface of the various islands, or visit the shops at the front of the complex, you might think it is. I learned a lot, though, and appreciated both the professionalism and the effort to keep these cultures alive in an authentic way. Plus, it was just a lot of fun!

Next time: Diamond Head

Destinations · Hawaii

Circling Oahu’s North Shore

Near Halona Blowhole, Oahu

We did not rent a car in Oahu, figuring that we could easily work out some sort of transportation for wherever we wanted to go. To visit the North Shore of Oahu, we signed up for a tour. Cal likes the ease of not having to drive, and I like having someone point out what we are seeing. We chose a small group tour, less than 20 people, so we were riding around in a van as opposed to a huge bus.

Our very first stop was not far from Waikiki, at the Diamond Head lookout, for a great view over Kuilei Cliffs. Diamond Head was up and behind us here, and it is where throngs of people stood to watch Amelia Earhart be the first person to fly solo from Hawaii on the US mainland in 1935. A marker here commemorates the occasion.

The waters off Kuilei Cliffs are popular for surfing, and people from all over the world come to surf. The spot is also known as “Seven Continents” for that reason.

There were surfers in the water, but they look like tiny dots from this vantage point.

Next stop: Halona Blowhole. If I’ve ever seen a blowhole before, I don’t remember it, and it is pretty fascinating to watch.

A blowhole is a sea cave in which water is forced landwards and upwards by the action of the waves. The water comes up through the hole, and creates a dramatic geyser effect. Above, the hole only has a small puff of water to the right of the bottom-most person that is standing there, like steam through a teakettle, but then the big wave that you see creates the geyser in the picture below.

Whoosh! It was fun to watch how high the water would go!

We had a stop at the “Tropical Farms of Hawaii”. It’s billed as a stop at a macademia nut farm, but their trees aren’t here. This is really just an outlet. I’ve been on tours before where they make these commercial stops and I always see them as a bid to get our tourist dollars. They know us tourists are going to spend money, and usually we oblige. They had many flavors of packaged macadamia nuts with samples for us. I would rather have been able to see the trees, but the nuts were delicious. The honey roasted and the cinnamon sugar were our favorites. They also had some coffee samples.

While waiting for our group, I walked around outside and admired this bird of paradise:

This thicket of greenery was so tall:

Chinaman’s Hat is a basalt island named for its resemblance to the peasants hats worn in rural China. The Hawaiian name is Mokoli’i, which means “little lizard”. I just call it beautiful.

We were at Kualoa Regional Beach Park to see Mokolii

As we rode up the coast we passed beach homes, parks, and gorgeous ocean scenes. We had to remember to look out the other side of the bus, the mountain side, which was just as beautiful:

Lunch on this tour was a stop at a shrimp farm. We received an incredibly huge pile of shrimp, which we had to peel, plus rice, corn, and a wedge of pineapple. This was one of my favorite meals on our trip.

We had a long stop at Hale’iwa beach. We were supposed to snorkel to see turtles, but the waves were deemed to be too high. When we arrived at the beach, it was decided that it was okay, but by that time we had left our suits back in the van. We missed the boat on this one, but we enjoyed the beach anyway. And we did see turtles.

Hale’iwa Beach

Watching the waves, we caught sight of a flipper here, a foot there, and occasionally a head bobbing up. Then – full view!

While driving, we had gone past excellent surfing beaches: Hale’iwa Alii Beach Park, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline, which was having a competition while we drove by. We also passed Waimea Bay, which put the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA” in my head for a while. There were many surfers and paddle boarders on Hale’iwa as well.

We still had plenty of time because this was a long stop. Cal wanted ice cream, so we walked over to a nearby beach town. I enjoyed looking at some of the murals painted on the buildings while we were there.

Last stop: the Dole Plantation. Pineapples used to be a huge cash crop in Hawaii. In 1901, James Dole opened the first pineapple plantation, named the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. The Hawaiian Islands were exclusive producers of pineapple until the 1960’s, when pineapples began to be available in other nations around the globe. It is still grown here in Oahu, but mainly for Hawaiian and US consumption.

I could have learned all this on their train tour, but as I realized when we arrived, there was no time for the train tour. I had wanted to see pineapples growing in a field but our stop here was only 15 minutes. I guess I should have done my homework better on this one, but it was only a minor disappointment. We stood in line to share a Dole Whip, which is the thing to do. They are absolutely, delectably delicious and a cool refreshing treat on a hot day. I found them available everywhere both in Oahu and Maui.

There were some gardens next to the gift shop and treat truck, and we raced through. I was able to see some pineapple plants with a pineapple growing on one of them. Only one, but better than none.

We ate a lot of pineapple in Hawaii, of course, and every bite that I tasted was so sweet and juicy.

In the garden, it was interesting to see what cacao trees look like:

I caught this chicken strutting its stuff in the Dole Garden. I mentioned that we heard roosters crowing from our condo in the previous Oahu post. We saw feral chickens running all over Hawaii. The first chickens were a red jungle fowl brought several hundred years ago by Polynesians colonizing Hawaii. Chickens were also brought to Hawaii from the European colonists, cross bred with the Polynesian chickens, and escaped from coops during hurricanes. They’re fun for the tourists, not so fun for people that own property.

It was a long drive back to Honolulu. We arrived just in time for rush hour traffic, happy that someone else was doing the driving!

Next time: Polynesian Cultural Center

Destinations · Hawaii

First Days – Oahu

Waikiki and Diamond Head

Admittedly, blogging while being in a beautiful destination such as Hawaii was impossible for me. As I’m writing this, we are still here, but the trip is winding down. It’s getting easier to find some time for it.

To reel it all back to the beginning – we started in Oahu and landed smack dab in Tourist Zone Central, in the Waikiki I had always heard about and never been. It was beautiful and I soaked up the scenes that I had only ever seen pictures of.

We heard many times that it was not as crowded as pre-Covid. The Japanese are not visiting right now, and they used to be a big part of the tourist crowds. We moved as we wanted to, but masks were a must for transportation and inside restaurants and stores.

Our condo was a couple of blocks away from most of the hotels and shopping district, and sat to the side of the Ala Wai canal:

The view from the balcony, 19th floor

We liked being high in the air in order to survey our kingdom. Despite the height, we could hear roosters crowing in the dark every morning.

Just down from our condo, we could walk into Fort Derussy Beach Park, with beautiful trees and flowers.

A spider lily

The park opens on to Waikiki beach, and we joined that day’s crowd of people to enjoy the sunset, plus the gift of a rainbow over Diamond Head:

On our first full day, we met with our friends Kathy and John to catch up on plenty of years past, and to go to the Honolulu zoo together.

Photo credit : Kathy Jarvis

We were all hot and tired, so ice cream was in order. At a little ice cream stand, Kathy talked us into an acai bowl. We had seen these the night before on the beach. Cal wanted some ice cream and we saw a sign that said “healthy treats”. Cal and “healthy treats” just don’t go together, so we passed. With Kathy’s recommendation, though, we gave it a try. The bowl that Cal and I shared had organic acai, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, granola, honey, coconut, and peanut butter, and it was delicious.

Cal and Kathy with their acai bowls

A few days later, we met up with their whole family for a whale watch. Whale watching, if you’ve never been, involves a whole lot of waiting for whales to show themselves. And when they do, it is breathlessly exciting. There are many whales in the waters off Hawaii right now. It’s their winter break, and they come to mate, calve, and nurse their young after making the 3,000 mile trip from Alaska. They’ve been gorging themselves in Alaska, and don’t need to eat when in the warmer waters of Hawaii. On a whale watch, the boat is required to maintain a 100-yard radius from the whales when they are seen.

The first indication that a whale is nearby is the puff of water that is coming out of its blowhole. They are above water only briefly unless you are lucky to see them totally jumping full body in the air. I’m a very amateur photographer, and all I have on hand at present is my phone. I try to be prepared for that special moment but what I get is a whole lot of pictures of nothing but water!

See the whale in the water?
I got the whale’s tail this time!

The whales were hanging around not far off of Waikiki Beach and the one we were watching came very close to some kayakers. If a whale is spotted, boats have to stay outside a 100-yard radius to watch it. Nothing can stop the whale from coming closer to the boat, however. We weren’t that lucky this time.

While waiting for whales and enjoying the boat ride, though, it was fun to get pictures of the family, and Kathy and John’s very cute granddaughters, Hanna and Kate.

Hanna and her Dad, Nick. Photo Credit: Kathy Jarvis
Kate, the ship’s captain! Photo credit: Kathy Jarvis
Enjoying our whale watch! Photo credit: Kathy Jarvis
Coming back into port

The Hawaiian word for humpback whale is kohola, with a line over the a. Their culture sees the whale as an ancient being, revered as a physical manifestation of Kanaloa, god of the sea.

Next time – traveling to Oahu’s north shore

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Saguaros in the Desert, and An Announcement

Saguaro National Park West, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro cactuses have been all around us during our stays in both the Phoenix and Tucson areas. They are the sentinels of the desert and I never tire of seeing them. They don’t all grow straight and tall, with two or more arms up. Just as humans do, they all have their personalities, and it began to be fun to look for the “different” ones.

First, I have for you five fun saguaro facts:

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson
  1. Young saguaros can best survive when “nursed” by trees which shelter them. Above, these saguaros in Saguaro National Park East are being sheltered by a palo verde tree.

2. Saguaros only grow an inch or two in their first six to eight years. These “babies” are really older than you would think.

Saguaros and the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix

3. It may be 70 years before they sprout branches, or arms. These saguaros near the Superstitions are very, very old. And, some saguaros never sprout arms.

Saguaro National Park East

4. Saguaros reach full height of about 40-50 feet at about age 150. The tallest can be as high as 75 feet. How old do you think this saguaro, with its many arms, is?

Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson

5. Birds find food and homes in saguaros. Raptors perch on the tallest branches to search for prey. The long beak on this little fellow seems well suited for saguaro drilling!

My favorite saguaros:

Teddy Bear Saguaro
Saguaro Stacks
Saguaro on the Rocks
Bunny Ears Saguaro
Dead Saguaro ( and most of these others don’t have arms. From a distance, they look like telephone poles)
Dead Saguaro 2, with a flair
Confused Saguaro

The best is last. This is a “crested saguaro” which lives at the Desert Museum in Phoenix. It’s a very rare mutation, and there are only about 2,500 of them spread throughout the saguaro habitation zone. I only saw one other during our time here, and it was not nearly this beautiful. I happened to catch it at sunset.

Glam Saguaro

An Announcement

We are leaving the land of the saguaros for awhile and going to Hawaii! Frodo and Sam will be going into storage for a month. This is a long-planned, Covid-delayed retirement celebration. We will be in Hawaii three weeks before going to Denver for some time with our grandchildren.

I am hoping to not go totally dark with this blog during that time, and would like to think that I may blog while I am there. But I’d rather live the journey while I’m there than to be holed up and on a computer, of course! If all else fails, I will be back, and will write about the whole trip then.


Next time – Hawaii!

Destinations · Uncategorized · US Travel · USTravel

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon, Esperero Trail

After spending a month at Gold Canyon, we moved a little further south to Tucson. This is a city we were very familiar with years ago, but time changes things and we didn’t see much that was familiar. Several people we talked to told us to go to Sabino Canyon, which was not a place we had heard of.

The proper name for this place is “Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Coronado National Forest”. It is not far from Tucson so it is a popular place to hike. There is a whole network of trails in here. In an effort to ease congestion, a shuttle service was installed years ago. There’s a one-hour narrated 7.4-mile roundtrip tour into the upper end of the canyon, with nine stops to get off sooner to hike various trails. There is also another shuttle route with service to Bear Canyon which is shorter and not narrated.

It is an error these days to think you can just show up and ride a shuttle. When we arrived at Sabino Canyon, all the shuttles for the day were full. We should have booked ahead on-line. They’ve recently converted the pollution-belching gas shuttles to electric – but several don’t work. However, a volunteer ranger was ready for us. He mapped out a route for us from the visitor’s center with several interconnecting trails – just over two miles, he said. I think it was further than that. I had 12,000 steps on my Fitbit at the end of the day, which is about six miles.

No matter, once we hit the trail we left everyone behind, and mostly had it to ourselves.

This little ledge overlooking a creek was a great spot to have a picnic lunch
An old dam is gone, but has left a pretty waterfall
Another great way to visit the trail!

Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls

We thought our first hike at Sabino Canyon was fun, but we actually missed the one that everyone talks about: the Seven Falls hike. It was a longer trail than we had wanted on our first visit: 8.6 miles. The distance can be reduced down to about 5 miles by taking the Bear Canyon Shuttle. We returned the next week to give it a go. The Bear Canyon Shuttle isn’t as busy as the Sabino Canyon Shuttle, but I still made sure to get tickets this time.

The sun was still coming up over the higher mountain peaks as we walked.

Soon we were following a creek–

And then, we crossed the creek. And then crossed back. And back again. The river got deeper, the rocks farther apart. Finally I consulted our trail map: there are seven creek crossings before reaching Seven Falls! Which means, of course, seven crossings back, since this is an out-and-back trail.

We looked back behind us, and saw an arch in the rocks:

On trails in the Southwest, I’ve learned that a sign like this means switchbacks are coming, which means going up. Shortcutting is going off-trail and climbing straight up, as opposed to the gentler zig-zagging on the trail. We did indeed hike upwards, and then around the edge of the cliffs, and the trail narrowed. It was a little treacherous, so there are no pictures on that part!

Our first glimpse of Seven Falls:

The view is breathtaking. I counted them and indeed there are seven waterfalls. The distance from top to bottom is of considerable length and couldn’t be captured on Cal’s phone or my camera well, especially with the sun in the wrong spot. Trust me…it was worth the hike and all the creek crossings. Looking at the above picture: from here, we climbed down to the right, crossed the creek, and then back up to the first rock in the sun on the left to enjoy the waterfalls and the view. In the picture below, you can see people in the bottom left, and that’s where we sat for awhile.

Coming out of the falls, we passed a group of young college students (judging by their t-shirts and ballcaps). By the time we reached the cliff above the falls, they had stripped down to bathing suits and had jumped into this pool (above) under the waterfall. This was accompanied by much whooping and hollering, as we could hear even from our vantage point! The water must have been cold!

Next time – Saguaros, and an announcement