Friday, August 30, 2013

What's the Point?

August 6th was National Night Out and I attended the neighborhood BBQ around the corner from where I live.

As I understand it, National Night Out was started in crime-ridden neighborhoods in an attempt to "stand-up" to criminals and "take back" the streets.  Sounds good. 

But what in the world does that have to do with closing down Westmount Street and giving away free hamburgers in West Hollywood?  What a colossal waste of time and money.

Yes, I saw a few of my neighbors and I chatted up some strangers but how in any way does that make my neighborhood safer?  It was nice to see 3 city councilmembers ready to shake hands for a few minutes (West Hollywood had a total of 12 National Night Out events scattered around our tiny town.)  But again, what good does it do?

It just seems like an entrenched bureaucracy has taken this on and the reason they do it each year is because they did it last year.

The weather was nice and the free burgers from Kitchen 24 were tasty, but what a serious waste of taxpayer resources.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Go West, Middle-Aged Man

All good things must come to an end and after visiting the Phoenix Museum of Art it was time to end my Southwest Roadtrip.  I checked out of the hotel and steered my car, Lena, due west on I-10 for the 7 hour drive home.

About of third of the way home I pulled off the freeway in Blythe, California for dinner at Rebel BBQ.  There aren't many "non-chain" choices in Blythe and Rebel BBQ turned out to be pretty good.

After a short stop I headed home and even though it was a Friday evening the traffic was pretty light the whole way.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Painted Desert

After breakfast I visited the Phoenix Museum of Art.  I was impressed by the size of its collection and the interesting mix of modern and  classical art.  In fact I was there for over three hours and didn't come close to seeing it all.  I'll have to go back.

I took two Docent-led tours while I was there.  One tour focused on the museum's collection of modern and installation art and the other featured three favorite parts of the museum selected by the Docent.

I always enjoy Docent led tours.  First off, I learn a lot more about the art than I ever would just walking around.  Secondly, Docents are always interesting people and I find it fascinating just to hear what they have to say.

The Phoenix Museum of Art also has a unique collection of miniature rooms -- something like elaborate rooms in a doll's house perfectly realized.  So cute!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Go Big But Never Go Home

After dinner in Sedona I was back in the car to drive on to Phoenix.  I wasn't in Sedona for longer than 3 hours and I really want to go back.

The drive to Phoenix was an easy one but I wish I'd done it during the day.  The freeway clearly went over a major mountain that must be pretty scenic but that'll have to wait for another trip.

I checked into the Westin Hotel in Downtown Phoenix and was very pleased to be upgraded to a very large corner suite.  I've stayed at this Westin twice and am very impressed with this hotel's modern design, comfort and very friendly staff.

The next morning I had breakfast in a restaurant that was featured in Diners, Drive-ins and Dives -- Matt's Big Breakfast, a great combination of a hip setting and a classic menu.  Matt's is focused on fresh ingredients and creative combinations.  And as you can guess from the name, the portions are not dainty.

It was hopping on a Friday morning in August so I bet it gets very crowded on the weekends.  But well worth the effort to go there.

Monday, August 26, 2013

My People Call It Ah-Maze-ing

I got back to Williams, Arizona late in the afternoon and drove to Sedona, Arizona.  Since the days are long this time of the year, the entire drive was in sunlight and I arrived in Sedona as the sun was going down.

I'd never been to Sedona before and was blown away by its beauty.  Coming down from the high plains of Northern Arizona, through a lush green valley and into the red rocks of Sedona was breathtaking.

I headed for dinner at a restaurant I'd learned about via Yelp -- Elote Cafe.  What a find!  I was impressed by this restaurant is so many different way.

First off there was about an hour wait for dinner early on Thursday night.  But it didn't feel like a "we're important and we're going to make you wait" kind of wait.  The restaurant was busy because lots of people want to eat there.  The staff did a terrific job of making me feel welcome and kept everyone informed about the wait for a table -- providing a comfortable area to wait your turn.

And then the food!  "Elote" means "corn" in Spanish, and it's the featured ingredient on the menu.  My appetizer had corn, so did the entree.  Even my delicious dessert had corn.  As Big Edie would say, "Jerry likes my corn."

And finally, the energy in the room was so memorable.  Customers at adjoining tables compared items they'd ordered and swapped tips back and forth.  I had a delightful chat with the owner/chef, Jeff Smedstad, and it was instantly obvious from his terrific energy why this place is such a success. 

I don't know if karma exists, but if it does the center of good vibrations must be Elote Cafe in Sedona.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Big Reveal

The relatively flat topography around the Grand Canyon creates an interesting phenomenon.

You don't see it until you're right on the edge.  And then WOW!  Very dramatic.

After arriving at the train station in Grand Canyon Village (the commercial center on the South Rim) I took the very convenient, free National Park Service shuttle bus to the Main Visitors Center and walked to Mather Point for my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon since I was last there in 1970 with my grandparents.  Breathtaking!

After some time walking along the edge I returned to Grand Canyon Village (about a mile and a half down the rim of the Grand Canyon) and had lunch at the El Tovar Hotel -- built in 1903.  The food was so-so but the setting was terrific.  It doesn't seem like the El Tovar has changed much since it was first built.

After lunch (which meant I was fortunately inside during a brief afternoon thundershower) I spent some more time gazing at the Grand Canyon.  Because of its depth I never did see the Colorado River running at the bottom.

After a little over four hours it was time to return to the train station for the trip back to Williams, Arizona.

What a lovely day!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Choo Choo Charlie

After breakfast and walking around Williams, Arizona a little bit I got to do something I've wanted to do for a very long time.

I took the train to the Grand Canyon.

Over 100 years ago the Southern Pacific Railroad built a spur line to the Grand Canyon that revolutionized local tourism.  Before the introduction of the train, visiting the Grand Canyon involved a long and expensive Stagecoach trip.  Train travel made it possible for the masses to visit.  Fortunately, there's still a tourist train that traverses the same tracks every day.

The train leaves Williams at 9:30 in the morning and backs into Grand Canyon Village (after an interesting "Y" maneuver) two hours and 15 minutes later.  This leaves four hours and 15 minutes to look at the hole before the train pulls out of the station to return to Williams.

Obviously, I didn't want to miss the train that Thursday morning.  I left my hotel in Flagstaff early in the morning and left myself plenty of time for breakfast and a chance to explore Williams.

I parked my car in the free (!) parking lot across the street from the station and noted I was more than an hour before the train was scheduled to leave the station.  I was excited to see the train (including an impressive steam locomotive that used to pull a Circus Train) already on the tracks.  I was admiring it and taking some photos when, suddenly at 8:30 a.m., the engineer blew the whistle and the train, filled with passengers, pulled out of the station.

I started to panic but what could I do?  I wasn't about to run alongside and jump on the train (despite seeing it done many times in the movies).  I went inside the station and got some good news -- the train I'd just seen leaving was a special Charter for Train Aficionados and the regular train I was booked on was leaving as scheduled at 9:30.  Whew!  (Except who do you have to know to get on the Aficionado Train?)

The train offers many different levels of service and cars ranging from an opulent luxury car (the type you expect a President to campaign from) to coach class with no AC but windows that open.

I had considered my options and decided that since it is only a 2 hour trip and the high elevation of the Grand Canyon makes it much cooler than most of Arizona I'd be perfectly fine in the coach car.

I'm glad I made that decision.  In addition to being less expensive, it was less crowded than the other cars and the blowing breeze from the open windows felt nice.  The particular car I was in did service nearly a century ago on the San Jose to San Francisco commuter line and had been beautifully restored.

The Grand Canyon Railway keeps folks entertained with strolling musicians and each car has a host or hostess.  The hostess in my car was both informative (she gave me some good advice on how to use my precious time at the Grand Canyon) and she was funny.

For instance, as the train rolled past some cows in the pasture she pointed out that cows in Arizona are considered to be some of the smartest in the nation.  She said we could see for ourselves by looking out the windows that they "are outstanding in their fields."

The Grand Canyon Railway even offers a free Cowboy Show before the train departs.  Yes, it's cheesy but in a very nostalgic way.  And then on the way back from the Grand Canyon the same cowboys ride up along side the train on horseback, stop the train and rob the passengers (for tips).  The kids on the train loved it.  So did I.

I'd definitely recommend the train for anyone considering a trip to the Grand Canyon:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's Your Rush?

Thursday morning I was up early and made my way to Williams, Arizona -- known as the last Route 66 town to be bypassed by the Interstate.

What a terrific, historic downtown to wander through.  Imagine all the families that passed through on their journeys west. I wonder if my Grandparents, Mother and Uncle stopped in Williams when they moved from Rhode Island to California in 1953?  I know they at least passed through because Williams is the gateway town to the Grand Canyon and I've seen the photographs proving they went there.

Had a delightful breakfast at the charming, tiny Grand Canyon Coffee & Cafe.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Spy with My Little Eye

Late in the evening I had an enjoyable visit to the Lowell Observatory high above Flagstaff, Arizona.

For obvious reasons they keep it very dark at the Observatory at night.  It was fascinating to wander around looking at the various telescopes including the historic one responsible for the discovery of Pluto, formerly known as a Planet.

It was a cloudy night so you couldn't see much in the sky but that didn't really matter to me.  Most impressive was the friendliness of the staff.  I know nothing about astronomy and they were more than willing to answer all of my questions to the best of my ability to comprehend (without making me feel more stupider).

I was also fascinated by a meteorite on display in the Visitor Center's lobby -- a giant chunk of metal that at some point flew out of space and hit the Arizona desert.  For decades it was on display in a gift shop in the Grand Canyon Village but a few years ago was given to the Lowell Observatory when the gift shop finally closed down.  Even meteorites have to exit through the Gift Shop.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Spicy Hot

While in Flagstaff I had dinner at the casual Mexican eatery Salsa Brava which first came to my attention on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The food was excellent and the staff was very friendly.  It's not in the heart of town but certainly worth a little drive down Route 66 for a meal.

Here's a little video from the show:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Marking My Territory

After a night in Las Vegas I was off to Arizona -- first stop was the Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff, Arizona.

What an interesting, eclectic collection -- much of it dating to before Arizona was a state.

I enjoyed wandering through the main building (formerly the County's Poor Farm) and checking out the collection of cabins in the back.

A surprise thunderstorm caught me off guard and I took refuge in the garage along with a Model T Ford. 

Flagstaff is much cooler and wetter than most of the rest of the state and first boomed as a source of timber.