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Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado

Travels from Las Vegas through Arizona to Colorado: November 6 to November 13 
(Pictures are thumbnails. Click on them for a larger view. You may click on the subjects listed to go directly to them.)

Subjects:    Las Vegas    Hoover Dam    Phoenix    Flagstaff    Oak Creek Canyon    Montezuma Castle    Grand Canyon    Meteor Crater    Petrified Forest    Canyon de Chelly    Four Corners    Hovenweep    Valley of the Gods    Mesa Verde    Wolf Creek   

The Rich Odyssey continued through October and November with lots of fun along the west coast of California and onward during our return trek to Colorado.  We are now in Colorado planning our upcoming Around the World Odyssey Part II.  Keep checking this web site to keep track of us as we depart on December 1st bound for the Panama Canal and points west.   

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Here is the Rich Odyssey Team in front of dependable Betty, the Bounder, our RV, at the conclusion of the first part of the journey.  Denny, Jennifer, Stephanie and Java, the cat, are happy to be home.  Betty and our Jeep are very dirty from the last leg traveling from Cortez, CO all the way to Englewood, CO.  Both will clean up fine and be ready for more journeys in the future. But, for now, we are unloading, getting re-organized and finishing plans for our trip Around the World!

This update consists of two parts: the first is our West Coast trip from Lake Oswego, OR (Jennifer's brother's home) along the west coast to Highland, CA (Denny's sister's home).  The second update covers our return Back to Colorado through Las Vegas, Arizona and the remaining beautiful trip to our home in Colorado.

Please click on both updates and the newest maps to share what we got to see and experience.  You can also click on our Itinerary to learn about our plans for the Rich Odyssey Around the World.  As always, we have provided you with all our New Maps of the last journeys and an update on our day to day Trip Log.  Enjoy!

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Las Vegas

After a relative speedy trip across the desert from Southern California to Las Vegas, we arrived after the sun had set and were treated to some of Las Vegas' lights which you see below. You might be interested in the fact that Denny was stopped by a California Highway Patrolman.  You see, California has speed limit signs that are a little confusing.  It says 70 MPH and then there is another sign right after that that says 55 MPH Trucks or Autos with Trailers.  Well...  what are we?  Denny presumed (wrongly) that we were not a truck or an auto with trailer and was moving along at about 68 MPH.  When the officer stopped him, he clarified the position that anybody towing anything must travel at 55 MPH.  Not many states require that.  Most let RVs just move along at the same speed as cars.  Anyway, Denny just got a warning.  Thank goodness.  This trip costs enough already!!

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Here you see the Luxor hotel (translated, Egypt) at night.  It is amongst the coolest of those on the strip. Next, you can tell the picture is of New York, New York complete with the Statue of Liberty.  It looks cool from the outside, but is a little tacky once you venture inside, which we did...  to ride the roller coaster that you can see wrapping around the 'hotel skyscrapers.'  After parking Betty at Circus Circusland (honest), we went to Paris [Casino] and up in the Eiffel Tower, a 1/2 scale model of the real thing.  Sorry, we don't have a picture of it, but you know what it looks like anyway.  This scene, along the strip, is from the Tower. You can see some of the glitter continuing nearly a mile each direction.  This is a major change since the last time Denny visited here some 13 years ago when the strip was glittery, but not even close to the scale it is now.  

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The next picture shows the tallest tower in Las Vegas, the Stratosphere.  It was built in the sixties, but ran out of money, and sat ignored until recently, and is now pretty successful.  The last picture, taken from the Eiffel Tower shows the performing fountains at Bellagio, one of the fanciest. Quite a show: variations are done every 15 minutes, accompanied by classical music and opera.  

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Inside the Paris casino, Stephanie checks out the slot machines after descending the Eiffel Tower elevator.  (By the way, it is not free.)  Next, you see a scene inside the hotel which shows the shops along a Paris Boulevard. Jennifer hustles from one shop to the next.  Last you see a shot inside the Luxor showing a typical, if not totally realistic, Egyptian scene.

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The next day, we checked out New York, New York and rode the Roller Coaster, which you can now clearly see wrapping around the hotel New York buildings.  Stephanie was happy because she made the 54 inch height requirement.  (Actually, she is only 53 and 1/2 inches, but she has tall shoes and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  She is a Roller Coaster fanatic.)  We walked back to our Jeep, rather than wait for the Monorail (!), and went by Excaliber, which is a hotel set in the days of the Crusades.  Denny and Stephanie enjoy a 'ride' on the horses.  We then went inside the Venetian, which is absolutely first class, compared with other hotels we visited.  You see here the strolling minstrels and singers who entertained a growing audience for some time.  Jennifer window shopped at some of their upscale shops while Denny and Stephanie were happily entertained.  

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The ceiling of the entrance to the Venetian is very elaborately painted, perhaps by a real Venetian!  Lastly, we walked to Treasure Island, a hotel in the Caribean pirate motif.  Every hour and a half, they present a battle between the pirates and the British, complete with cannon, explosions, and sinking ships.  You can guess who won.  It appears to be a good draw to get people inside to give up their wages (in Lost Wages, of course).  We held onto our money, except for entertainment and meals.  Las Vegas is much more now than just a gambling city.  It is real, frequently Disney Approved, entertainment.

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Hoover Dam

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After our stay in Las Vegas, we left Circus land, adjacent to Circus Circus and VERY noisy from the road traffic, and began our journey across the desert to Phoenix.  Along the way, the road actually crosses Hoover Dam which creates Lake Mead.  Since we had taken a tour at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, we only paused long enough to enjoy the sights.  The first picture is on the approach to the dam, where you can see the traffic crossing the top of the dam and next the spillway on the east side of the dam.  There is an identical one on the west side which is only used when Lake Mead gets too full and the water can't all be channeled through the generating pumps and on down the Colorado river. Through Arizona we followed a road called the Joshua Tree Highway, named after the trees and scenery you see in the picture here.

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We got to Phoenix, stayed in a nice RV park and spent some time touring the city.  We discovered, since we were in Tempe, that Arizona State University and the Phoenix Cardinals both play in Sun Devil stadium.  Both days we were there, there were games and lots of people coming and going.  Sorry, we didn't take a picture.  The stadium is nestled between two hills.  Hills like that rise up from the very flat Phoenix desert every so often.  We spent a lot of time at the Heard Museum, which gives tribute to the 21 Indian Nations that are represented in Arizona.  Arizona's culture owes a lot to these Native Americans.  Click on the next picture for some background on the Indians.  In the museum, there is some fabulous art work.  This picture depicts an early Hopi Indian family.  

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Next, Stephanie (on a computer) and Jennifer tour some of the art work on display.  There is also a lot of hands on activities for kids, giving them an opportunity to create just like Indian kids might do. Finally, we see a picture of Rick Scrivner, an old friend of Denny's from High School days, at his house in Phoenix.  We enjoyed a nice dinner out with him. 

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After leaving Phoenix, we proceeded to Flagstaff. As we got there, it was snowing quite a lot, as you can see.  Stephanie actually found enough snow, mixed with gravel, to make a big snow ball. When it melted, it left a nice "moraine" we could compare to the glacial valleys we have seen.  Jennifer took some time, since our cell phone internet connection was working, to do more planning for our upcoming trip around the world.   We have a terrific travel agent, Mary Humke, at Boulder Travel, who is helping us pull it all together.  Our good friends, the Schmokers, recently moved from Englewood to Flagstaff, and we got an opportunity to spend some time with them.  Stephanie's friend, Michelle, in the red scarf, attended Cottonwood Creek Elementary with her and played on the Wildcats soccer team. Mom, Cheryl, sister, Megan, are left of Stephanie, with their new puppy Ellie, and Jennifer.  They told us that, had the dog been a male, it would be named Elway.  Good Bronco fans! Michelle visited us in our RV, and she and Stephanie put on a play in the imaginative costumes you see here.

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Oak Creek Canyon

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One of Arizona's treats was Oak Creek Canyon, on the drive from Flagstaff down to the lovely town, Sedona, AZ.  It was a treat and brought us back into fall colors again.  The start of Oak Creek Canyon drops precipitously.  Denny is surveying the drop and the canyon from the initial overlook.  Further on, you see a scene showing the walls of the canyon and some remaining fall color.  At a stop along the way, Denny and Steffi survey a swimming hole, called Slide Rocks, which is very popular in summer.  

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The last two scenes show some of the spectacular Arizona scenery along the canyon.

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Montezuma Castle

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One of the fun things we have been able to do on our Odyssey is to study maps and find numerous National Monuments or Parks that none of us had ever heard of before.  This also gives Jennifer a chance to get, yet another, postmark stamp from the National Park Service rangers. This stop was at Montezuma Castle, which, as you can see is an early Pueblo cliff dwelling.  This was named because the early settlers thought that the people who lived here must have come from Mexico and were part of Montezuma's empire.  They were wrong.  They were the same early Pueblo Indians, dubbed the Anasazi (meaning Ancient Ones in the Hopi and Navajo languages) or early Pueblo Indians.  Stephanie studies a cutaway model of what the 'Castle' would have looked like with people in it.  Like all the other cliff dwellings, the natives left around 1300 for reasons that are not clear. There was a drought from 1274 to 1299 (learned primarily from tree ring dating methods), and this was probably a major factor in their departure. The last picture shows an Arizona Sycamore tree trunks, abundant at this site. Their speckled and mottled trunks are very pretty up close.  

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Grand Canyon

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No trip to Arizona and the American Southwest would be complete without a trip to the Grand Canyon.  As you see on every license plate,  Arizona IS the Grand Canyon State.  We were not let down.  Denny has flown over the Grand Canyon in an airplane about 100 times, but never had seen it from the ground.  Being able to stand in one spot and experience the view, the silence and to be able to easily concentrate on any one aspect of the canyon was well worth it!  Just two weeks before we arrived, the Park Service had completed their new Visitor's Center, which you see in the first picture.  It is well done and is a testament to the fact that the increased entrance fees over the last three years and fee retention by the parks have produced great things. Stephanie and Jennifer and then Denny experience the canyon from some of the many overlooks that abound on the South Rim. The difference now is that you get to these spots by riding one of the Park Service buses, or walk.  We did a combination of both and it was a good experience. You don't have to put up with traffic and cars as you would have in the past.  Even though we were there in November, there were still a lot of people and the buses worked reasonably well.  

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You can see Stephanie waiting at the bus departure point for the trip to the west, dubbed the Hermit's Rest Loop.  At a stop on this loop, you can see the Inner Gorge, which runs along the Colorado River today.  If you were in a raft, this would be all you could see most of the time, since the inner canyon is very steep and blocks views of the outer rim. Similarly, you can't really see much of the Colorado River when you are standing on the rim.  Stephanie poses atop one of the monuments depicting the voyage of John Wesley Powell as he explored this canyon for the first time, by dory,  in the Nineteenth Century.

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At the end of the day, we proceeded east out of the park toward Desert View.  At one of the stops, you can see some of the many black ravens that soar over the canyon walls. Desert View has a reconstructed Watch Tower looking towards the eastern desert.  And, finally, you can easily see the Colorado River as it enters the eastern part of the Canyon. The scenery, with the setting sun reflecting on the canyon walls took your breath away.

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Meteor Crater

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One of the more recent natural events (50,000 years ago) was an iron-nickel meteor striking the earth in Arizona.  The nearly 3 mile wide crater shown here was created when this strike occurred.  Everything for 100 miles would have perished in the aftermath of this impact.  We had a good time touring the privately run visitor's center and learning more about meteors which will strike the earth again and again in the future.  The day we were there, the wind was really blowing, especially on the rim of the crater, as you can see as Stephanie makes her way back up the hill to the museum and visitor's center.  One interesting aspect of this crater was that it was originally labeled (wrongly) as volcanic in origin. The scientists spent over 20 years drilling in the center of the crater to find the buried meteor.  We now know that the meteor would have disintegrated in the initial impact and blast. Though the meteor itself vaporized, there is plenty of evidence of the shock it caused to surrounding rock.

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Petrified Forest

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Further east of Flagstaff is the Petrified Forest National Park.  We toured the park and not only saw some great examples of wood that had been buried and petrified, through the process of replacing the wood with minerals, but also some very fabulous scenery.  The first picture is of an old petrified tree called Old Faithful.  It was struck by lightning in the 1970s and had to be repaired.  Next, Denny walks down the path from the visitor's center which shows many examples of beautiful petrified wood.  You can buy petrified wood at numerous gift shops, but it comes from areas outside the park: only 10% of the total in the area is within park boundaries. Just north of the Petrified Forest is an area called the Painted Desert.  You can see why it is called that in the next picture.  It appears as if a giant artist has just taken large paint brushes and stroked across the desert with paints of pink, red, gray, blue, white, black and green.  Quite spectacular.

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Canyon de Chelly

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Another example of a National Monument we (except J) had never heard of is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'Shay) in eastern Arizona. It is another example of culture from early Pueblo people, dubbed the Anasazi, who lived in the canyon from 200 to 1300 AD. About 150 Navajo still live there in the summer only as it gets well below zero in the winter. The first picture shows petroglyphs (rock carvings) from the Navajo people in the 1800s after they acquired horses, which were introduced by the Spanish to the area after 1540.  The next picture is of White House Ruins, probably the most famous of those in the Canyon.  It is named after remaining white paint covering the plaster on in the upper floors.  The floor of the canyon is river mud, sand and dirt, and you can only go up the canyon floor in a 4X4 with a Navajo Indian guide. Without a guide you would be limited to the overlooks from roads along the rim of the canyon and a hiking train to White House ruin.  We saw much, much more.

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Next you can see a picture of the erosion, wind and water, that has shaped the canyon over the years.  The Navajo Indians in this area are very poor. This picture of one of their houses actually shows a home that is more substantial than most, on lands which have spectacular formations and vistas.  

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Four Corners

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On the way to Colorado, US highway 160 goes right by the Four Corners area, the only area in the country where four states come together.  The last time Denny visited this place in the 1960s, all there was was a marker showing the spot. Now the Navajos have made a great tourist area out of this surveying point.  There is a $2 per head entrance fee and many stalls are around to sell Indian crafts and art work.  We were there on a very cold and gray day and there were very few people present, tourists or Indians.  Jennifer and Stephanie have fun straddling all four states at one time.  Stephanie was very excited because this was the first time she had been back to Colorado since leaving last May.  She was anxious to complete the journey back through Colorado to Denver.  We did squeeze in a side trip into New Mexico to see Ship Rock, a very large rock formation rising well into the sky. 

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After settling in at Cortez, CO, we studied the map again and discovered Hovenweep National Monument.  This is another monument in testimony to the ancient Pueblo, or Anasazi, Indians who lived here from 500 AD until 1300 AD when they abruptly left.  The building of the dwellings took place from 1200 to 1300, just as it did in other parts of the area.  We took a long hike around the canyon that marks these dwellings.  The name Hovenweep, was given by an early explorer meaning "deserted canyon" in the Hopi or Navajo language.  Stephanie enjoyed checking out the dwellings, here looking at one called Twin Towers.  She especially liked hiking and climbing on the abundant rocks, however.  You can see her hiding under a rock overhang on our hike. As with many of the NPS sites, much of the history is lying around you, unexcavated: Jennifer found a pottery shard, thinking it was a painted rock, and was told to return it to where she found it! She did.

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Valley of the Gods

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We continued from Hovenweep into Utah to get a view of the Valley of the Gods, a part of the larger Monument Valley.  The scenery was gorgeous, and we took many pictures with our digital camera ('film' is free, so we do take a lot of pictures!).  Here you see our jeep on a plateau at about 6,600 feet ASL.  We then proceeded down the very steep cliff (yes, there is a gravel road, but RVs and trucks are NOT recommended) to the valley you see below which is at about 5,200 feet ASL, a 1,400 foot drop.  The country is really an eyeful and we will come back, especially since it is relatively close to Denver.    

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Mesa Verde

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We certainly HAD heard of Mesa Verde, and it was one of the spots we eagerly looked forward to visiting.  There had been snow in the area making the viewing all the more spectacular. This summer, we had heard of the huge fires that had plagued not only Montana but Mesa Verde as well. There are a lot of very black Mesquite and Pinion Pine trees, but Mother Nature will be working hard next spring to recover.  This will not take as long as Yellowstone to get back to its original state.  In the meantime, the contrast of the very black trees against the very white new snow was quite something.  Jennifer probably took about 100 pictures of this...  here is one.  We saw deer and even wild turkeys on our trip into the park.  The turkeys weren't apparently all that wild because some of them would come right up to the windows of the car looking for a handout.  The view as you climb up the steep mesa is wonderful, especially with snow showers still going on. 

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At the main visitor's center and museum, there is a spectacular ruin called Spruce Tree House.  With a ranger, you can visit the ruin and actually get very close.  Our ranger, Michael, was excellent in explaining things, here showing a T shaped door, which apparently has its heritage all the way from the early Toltecs of Mexico.  During the winter, the Anasazi would place a limestone slab over the door to keep the cold out.  These early Indians had buried rooms called kivas, which they used for ceremonies and as gathering places.  We were able to climb down the ladder into one.  Stephanie is standing by the opening where fresh air would come in and be deflected around the little rock wall to provide ventilation for the fire that was always burning.  The smoke exited out the hole in the roof where the ladder is standing.  Smoke was just one of those things that the early Indians put up with and viewed as a cleansing.

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After touring Spruce Tree House, we waited for the snow plows to clear the upper road and then continued on to view more of the cliff dwellings.  The first is a view of the Sun Point Ruins with its four-story square tower and the next is the very famous, Cliff Palace.  The road to the top of that area is not open in the winter so we could only view it from across the canyon.  Nonetheless, this was Stephanie's favorite!!

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Wolf Creek

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The route home along US 160 in Southern Colorado takes you over Wolf Creek Pass.  This is a very steep pass and we were glad that the snow had come a day earlier because the roads were in pretty good shape.  Betty Bounder pulled us up and over with no problem. Just to show that we ought to have a pretty good ski season, this is a shot of Wolf Creek Ski Area as we passed it.  Unlike last year, there is not a rock in sight and the crowds looked good, especially for a weekday in southwestern Colorado.

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