Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Northern Arizona road trip Part 2: the elf cottage, condors, the Grand Canyon, and a night sky

My husband Eric & I went wandering around northern Arizona on Saturday. I started the story yesterday, talking about seeing a condor and its nest at the Navajo bridge. http://tangibledaydreams.blogspot.com/2017/05/northern-az-roadtrip-part-1-navajo.html

So, after marveling at the condor and the view of the Colorado River, we headed westward along 89A, skirting the southern border of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Vermilion Cliffs is one of the national monuments that President Trump has put up on the chopping block to have its monument status reviewed, and I wanted to see what was at stake for myself. For the record, it was a gorgeous drive, and I wish we had been in a sturdier vehicle so we could take more of the interior roads. But, I digress.

So, soon after leaving the bridge, we came to Marble Canyon, and a strange little view. On a whim, we turned off into a dirt parking lot, and found the ruins of this strange little house.
There was an outbuilding too, also built right up against one of the huge boulders strewn about.
There were no signs posted saying to keep out, so I wandered right in. Eric took a picture of me taking a picture.

I felt like I was in a magic fort, squirreled away from the world. I could see setting my blankets on the ledges on my left, and curling up, protected from the elements.

I wandered around the main house, too. The roof was missing, save for some remaining beams, but there were still wood frames around the door and windows. The front window gazed out onto the road.

So, what was this place? There was a sign, up against another boulder, but I'm not sure that it is quite right. The original text is missing, and instead someone had scrawled:
"Point of Interest: Elves live in the house behind you. They consume soley pickles and weed. (The elves R us)"

Well....not exactly. Internet to the rescue. This was the home of the Ziegfeld Follies dancer Blanche Russell, back in the prohibition era. Her husband Bill was diagnosed with tuberculosis, so they decided to move to the southwest climate for heath reasons. On their way, their car broke down in this spot one night. When they woke up, Blanche loved the spot so much that they just bought the land, and built the house. They started selling food and such to travelers, and ended up running a restaurant and trading post for a decade. You can read more about the story here: https://frametoframe.ca/2014/10/blanche-russells-rock-houses-marble-canyon-arizona/ and here: http://theproperfunction.com/the-cliff-dwellers/.

I love the story about the elves, but I think I like the real one better.

Anyway, back to our own travels. After leaving Blanche's place, we drove to the western edge of the Vermilion cliffs, and up to the condor viewing station. This is where the endangered California Condors have been being released back into the wild. It was a gorgeous drive!

This road was dirt, but very well maintained, and our car handled it with no issues. When we came to the release site, there were in fact several condors to be seen soaring above the cliffs!
I'm presuming that, just like at the cliffs by the Navajo Bridge, the droppings on the cliff face indicate possible nesting sites. Knowing that we were down to under 30 birds total in the 80's, it was amazing to see the birds living wild and free here, and making their slow comeback.
Also? Condors are BIG. I hadn't appreciated just how big they were, until I measured my wingspan against theirs, at this sign posted at the viewing spot. Just wow.
When we were done with marveling at the condors, we drove through the Kaibab National Forest, and to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. There were meadows flanking the roadway, and they were filled with herds grazing. They were quite back from the road in the late afternoon sun, but when we drove back after dark they were right up at the road side. It made for some tricky driving, making sure to spot them before there was trouble, but we got through with nobody hurt.

At the Canyon, we got down to the reason that we had actually made the trip. I've been weaving ruanas for the Etsy shop, and I thought that it might be a fun idea to take some product photos, showing the garments as they'd be worn. Eric manned the camera for these shots, while I modeled.

And then, business done, we just enjoyed the views!

We watched the sun down, and then made our way back through the deer and back to Flagstaff.

Well, with one more stop. Just north of Flagstaff is the Wupatki National Monument, which we know from past trips is very, very dark at night. And so, we turned off the highway into the monument a little ways, just far enough to get away from the lights of the passing cars. And, I made my first stab at night sky photography:
Not bad for a first try!! I put the camera on a tripod, and set the focus by hand. I set it to f4.8 for 10 seconds, with the ISO cranked up to 12800. Next time, I'll do more reading ahead of time, and make sure I use the remote trigger on the camera. And there will be a next time. Because this shot really, really tickles me!

So, all in all, a most excellent adventure!


  1. wow, incredible photos. Amazing.

    1. Thank you! I am so fortunate to live where I do, where this rugged beauty is just a drive away.

  2. Great place to photograph your weaving - one of my favorite places on earth.

    1. I grew up in the midwest, in Chicago suburbs. I don't know that I'll ever get tired of exploring this amazing landscape that I find myself in now. I still miss real trees, and green, but having the Grand Canyon within day trip distance? Just wow.

  3. Wow! That shot is PRICELE$$!
    Thank you so much for sharing@

  4. Wow! That shot is PRICELE$$!
    Thank you so much for sharing@