Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Prescott, AZ: "Elementary, My Dear Watson (Lake)!" In Arizona's Christmas City

Prescott is a bustling north-central Arizona city afforded the title of "Arizona's Official Christmas City," and even the scroogiest scrooge would have trouble avoiding the holiday spirit here!  And lookie here .... jackets!!!  How 'bout that!

The northeast area of Prescott (pronounced "Press-kit", like "biscuit," not Pres-scott like you might think) is super-dee-dooper old (like 1.4 billion years old) and is known as the Granite Dells.

Right in the middle of this huge rockpile is Watson Lake, a popular spot for outdoor recreation and quiet contemplation.  Bonus:  really cool lake reflections at all times of the day!  It's criss-crossed by an extremely extensive network of dog-friendly hiking and biking trails.  Score!

The Point of Rocks RV Campground backs right up to this area and was the perfect location for exploring with our long-time camping buddies, the Weed Family.

Geologically speaking, the huge boulders and weathered mass of granite were formed over millions of years by the cooling and stressing of deeply buried molten plutonic rock that came from cooled magma deep in the Earth's crust.

"Rounded yet lumpy, wrinkled yet smooth, these sculpted rocks rise from the water and then ramble off across the shore."  So says the Arizona Republic with more eloquent word skills than me.

The 4.8 mile Watson Lake Loop hiking trail follows the shoreline, goes back behind the man-made dam that created the lake, through the big cottonwoods of the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, along a recycled railway bed and the scrambling through the big boulders of the dells, with spectacular views every step of the way.

It is gorgeously woven together and so very different from not only other parts of Prescott, but especially from the Arizona desert landscape just a couple hours south.

Prescott is known for it's gorgeous central courthouse square (think: Marty McFly in Back to the Future) and historic downtown including "Whisky Row," attracting tourists and locals alike.  The courthouse has stood in this location for more than 140 years!  Named one of America's Great Public Spaces in 2008, it has an extensive tree canopy, a painted historic timeline, statues, and a historic well and bandstand.   

This year's annual Prescott Christmas Parade was themed "A Cowboy Christmas" ...

But nowhere have we ever heard of Cowboy Zebras or Cowboy Llamas!  

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful holiday-filled event in a beautiful homespun setting, with tumbleweed snowmen, elk-antlers on the truck bumpers and a dude on the front of the Santa float, checking his Snapchat.  C'mon, man!!!!

It was a down-home good time for our group of 2-legged and 4-legged creatures!

While Phoenix has drive-through light attractions (with huge wait times), Prescott has FREE drive-through light attractions!  The one-mile-long twinkling Valley of Lights at Fain Park in Prescott Valley was a fun holiday diversion.  There were tons of great displays but our favorites were the light tunnels!

This particular weekend happened to be the only "Supermoon" of 2017.  Supermoons occur when a full moon coincides with a point in its orbit that is the closest to Earth, making the moon appear up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than an ordinary full moon.  We enjoyed it from several vantage points and the clouds only enhanced the display!

The final, crowning event of the Prescott holiday weekend was their time-honored tradition of the  "Courthouse Lighting Ceremony," which is in its 63rd year and a huge favorite.  Happy crowds flooded the square.

The traditional birth-of-Jesus story ("In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree" etc etc) was narrated aloud and a fantastic choir on the courthouse steps sang relevant hymns and carols at regular intervals in the story.  In many cases the majority of the gathered crowd was singing along too.  It was very moving!

Then, the switch was flipped, the city officials and electricians whose necks were on the line held their breath, and VOILA!!!!  The darkened courthouse was changed from this .....

... to this!!!!!!

The surrounding grounds and trees were all lit up as well!  It was gorgeous and something well worth doing at the start of the Christmas season!


We took another Arizona getaway to the outskirts of Phoenix just last month in White Tanks Regional Park, where the hiking was great but the Arizona sunrises right outside our RV window were even greater!

One of the campground visitors had a sense of humor! They told us they had to add "Not For Hire" to the bottom of the sign because people kept bringing them their dogs to watch for the day!

Next up, the Lucky Charm will be going back to Southern Arizona and the Patagonia Lake region.  Then, February 8 through March 30 we'll be heading eastward through various parts of New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma!  We're excited for new charming adventures, as we've never headed EAST before! 

 Prescott and the Granite Dells were wonderful and we'll be sure to go back again!  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Crater Lake National Park, OR: Bigger Than Big, Bluer Than Blue

Our travel "bucket list" is very, very full -- overflowing, really.  But near the tippy-top of the list was Crater Lake National Park.  Superlatives cannot adequately describe this geologic marvel.  Cooler than cool! Bigger than big! Bluer than blue! (Isn't that a country song?)

Brace yourself, because this post is gonna be a doozy! Photos and facts and stories galore! You're probably gonna wish you packed a lunch during the reading of it.  At least a snack.  But this place was so chock-full of interesting tidbits, that I just couldn't hold back from sharing!

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,943 feet, and is considered to be the cleanest large body of water in the whole wide world.  It holds 4.9 trillion gallons of unmatched super-pure water, meaning executives at SmartWater and Arrowhead are searching far and wide for an Oregon senator they can bribe into giving them water bottling rights.  Look at that color!

It is fed by rain and snow, but no rivers or streams lead into it nor out of it, so being super deep, with very few particulates = very blue and very clear. It’s also really big, at 5 miles x 6 miles.  To drive around the rim of the caldera is a 33-mile route with more than 30 pullouts to gaze at Crater Lake’s epic beauty, and though you are gazing at the exact same thing the whole time, every angle has a different view! 

Discovery Point is where, on the back of a mule in 1853, gold prospector John Hillman was the first European-American to spy what he ceremoniously named “Deep Blue Lake.”  (What John apparently lacked in creativity, he made up for in adventurousness.)

There are only three things sticking up out of the water at Crater Lake, and only two can be seen from the rim. WIZARD ISLAND is a 764'-tall cinder cone formed by subsequent eruptions a mere 7,300 years ago (to the original 7,700 that formed Crater Lake). See that "little" crater on the top?  It's actually more than 300 feet wide!

PHANTOM SHIP is a lava island and remnant of one of the mountain’s original cones.  Though it looks like a tiny toy boat, sailing away, it’s as tall as a 16-story building!

Lastly, the OLD MAN OF THE LAKE is a full-sized tree (now a stump) that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for over 100 years, due to the water temperature slowing decomposition of the wood.  This can only be seen from a boat tour, which we declined to take. So since I don't have a photo of the Old Man of the Lake, Bella has agreed to be a stand-in as OLD LADY OF THE LAKE!

The lake is inside a “caldera” which was formed 7,700 years ago when a 12,000 foot tall volcanic mountain, Mount Mazama, erupted.  But this mountain didn’t just erupt, it erupted with STYLE.  Rather than just blowing out a hole in its top, it also blew in a ring around the base of the mountain; and when it couldn’t support its own weight (like a WWE wrestler at a buffet), the whole thing collapsed under its own weight, forming the rim of the lake.

And its motto was “GO BIG OR GO HOME,” with the eruption likely being the largest in North America in the past 640,000 years, and probably instantly killing every person and animal within a 30 mile range.  If you took the ash from that eruption and spread it evenly over the entire state of Oregon, it would form a layer 8” thick.

The lake itself makes up only 10% of the National Park’s area.  The rest is gorgeous mountains and forests, and because snow covers the park 8 months a year, summer wildflower season is a scant six weeks.

 Annual snowfall averages 533 inches!  Thick snow still remained throughout the park in late July!

The “snow measuring sticks” (though they probably have a better scientific name) were skyscraper tall! That means the snow on the road gets that high each winter!

I mentioned the depth of Crater Lake, which was confirmed in the year 2000, but even more amusing is the prior depth estimating expedition.  I present to you:  the GREAT CRATER LAKE SCIENTIFIC MATCHUP!

One day: 1886
Six guys in a rowboat (the “Cleetwood”)
Rigged up a section of pipe attached to a piano wire (below)
Final determination:  1,996 feet deep

 Years: 1988-1989
Full scientific team in a sonar-equipped, computerized submersible (the “Deep Rover”)
Used computers to make detailed topographic map of ocean floor and created 16 million soundings
Final determination:  1,943 feet deep

CONCLUSION:  Those old-school guys in the rowboat were pretty bad-ass scientists!  Only 53 feet off! The U.S. Geological Survey Dept. could have saved a shit-ton of money by just accepting their findings in the first place.

Calling all math majors!  Here’s a story problem for you.  Crater Lake gets an average of 80” of water per year (mostly snow that falls on the surface).  It loses about 30” of water per year to evaporation.  So, how to account for its nearly constant water level?  //cue the Jeopardy theme song//

The answer is seepage!  Water leaks out the caldera walls at a rate of 2 million gallons per hour!  Yikes!  Mostly through a specific permeable area of rock along the northeast wall.  That’s right!  CRATER LAKE IS A GIANT BATHTUB with an “overflow drain” built right into it!

Back outside the bathtub: the Sinnott Memorial Overlook is above a sheer drop of nearly 900 feet and offers amazing views of reflections on the water, which change by the hour.

Cloudcap Overlook is the highest paved road in all of Oregon.  Shout-out to my Assistant Photographer … always willing to go the extra mile for a great shot!

200-foot-tall Pumice Castle features a layer of orange pumice rock that came from a gas-rich volcanic explosion, not from a flow of lava as you might think.

These signs are not a joke.  We spoke with a member of the Crater Lake Search and Rescue and he said just last week, a 20-year-old man was killed when he fell down the edge! People are falling in all the time!

With the Mazama Campground inside Crater Lake National Park serving as our final wooded camping spot on our journey back home, we soaked up the fireside ambiance and relished our last date with our sweatshirts.

Our (too) few days at Crater Lake were filled with awe and wonder.  
We hope you'll add it to YOUR bucket list, too!  

We're heading home over the next week,
 with a stop in Flagstaff for a family celebration of my mom's 75th birthday!
She's been fighting breast cancer, so it will be a very special celebration indeed!

It's been a wonderful 6-week Northwestern US adventure, and we loved every single one of the 4,251 miles we traversed.  Our next long trip will be heading east (something we've not done yet) next February and March, where we will remain true to two of the mementos (below) we picked up along the way on this trip!