Monday, April 23, 2018

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Here are a few photos from my lovely trip to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden on April 17. 

Prickly Pear flowers:


Butterflies at the special spring exhibit:

Early sahuaro blossoms:

Palo Verde in bloom:

The "yellow snow" of fallen palo verde blossoms:

Beautiful desert spiny lizard:

The Desert Botanical Garden is a great place, especially in spring (mid March through April).  If you go, plan to spend a few hours.  Don't go when it's hot.  And save money by checking out a culture pass at your local library.  It'll give you two free entries, worth almost $50.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Petroglyphs, Petrified Forest National Park

Awesome petroglyphs, some of the clearest and closest I've seen, 
at Puerco Pueblo in the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park

There are others here, like at Newspaper Rock, but I found these the most interesting.  
At Puerco Pueblo you can also see the amazing summer solstice marker.
Plus, of course, there are ruins and lots of great information

Park website:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch--A Great Slot Canyon

Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the WORLD...but I had never even heard of it until I started researching hikes near Page, Arizona.

The Gulch is in Utah, just north of the Utah/Arizona border, between Kanab and Page, and there are various routes you can take.  One classic is a two-day backpack trip from White House trailhead down Paria Canyon and up Buckskin Gulch to the Wire Pass trailhead or the Buckskin Gulch trailhead.  Intrepid and experienced and well prepared backpackers can follow the gulch all the way to Lee's Ferry.  I took the easy day hike from Wire Pass trailhead down to Buckskin Gulch and then just explored as much of the gulch as a wanted before returning to the trailhead.

DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY OF THESE HIKES DURING MONSOON SEASON OR IN ANY OTHER PERIOD OF REGIONAL RAIN.  A serious flash flood would mean certain death in many stretches of the gulch.   The BLM's Paria Contact Station will have current trail and weather conditions.

I started at Wire Pass trailhead, a bumpy 8.3 miles south of highway 89 on House Rock Road.  You have to pay a day-permit fee here (currently $6 per person, envelopes provided at the fee station, interagency passes not valid).  There's a pit toilet and some informational signage. 

Cross the road and follow the wash left.  After about a mile, it narrows to a wonderful little slot canyon, where you can almost always touch both sides of the wavy smooth red rock walls. 

At one point rock jams create a 5-8 foot drop.  People had set up a rather sketchy-looking "ladder" out of a big old tree branch and some stacked rocks.  Hikers braver than I went down first and helped me down.  It wasn't a big deal with help.  However, the configurations changes after floods, and if you're alone or scared or have mobility problems, you can backtrack out of the slots.  Once it opens up, look for cairns to your left (headed out of the slots) and follow them up the hill to bypass this drop.  However, the bypass trail is no walk in the park, especially the descent on the other side.

About 1.7 miles from the trailhead, you reach the confluence with Buckskin Gulch.  There's a massive stone cliff and alcove with petroglyphs at the base (though I suspect some of these petroglyphs are rather recent.  Shame, vandals! 

I headed downstream (right) in Buckskin Gulch, but was soon blocked by a pool of water.  The ranger at the Paria Contact Station had warned that some of the pools were currently waist or chest deep (the beginning of April, with good rain a couple of weeks previous).  I hung around, wondering if anyone would try going through.  The four guys who'd helped me at the rock jam arrived and decided to try it.  I put on my river shoes and went with them.  The water was icy but not even to our knees, so we forged ahead.  One pool after another blocked our way. 

The canyon walls soared high, straight above us, yet sometimes I could touch both sides, and it was rarely more than about ten feet wide.  Amazing place. 

The pools started getting deeper, our feet were getting pretty cold, and a group hiking the opposite way told us that it just keeps going this way.  My new friends decided to turn around, but right then a Utah family arrived (mom, dad, young adult daughter, teenage son).  I wasn't quite ready to turn back, so they kindly accepted me as part of their group.  We went on, past an invisible bird squawking at us from on high, through pools that were up to mid thigh, some with mud sticky enough to almost steal our shoes.  The family was looking for a sunny lunch spot, but the canyon walls blocked out the sun.  Finally, our toes so numb we couldn't feel where we were stepping very well, we turned back. 

All told, we crossed about 14 major pools and a few little ones.  I've heard that water can be neck high here sometimes, and you have to swim, but that by summer it's mostly dried out.  This section goes for miles, but we probably only explored about a mile and a half of it.   

If you look hard here, you can see me in one of the iced-chocolate-milk pools. 

Once back at the Wire Pass junction, I headed upstream along Buckskin Gulch.  If the lower narrows are too wet for you, try these.  Though not as narrow or deep or long, they're still awesome, with fewer and shallower pools. 

Going upstream, once you get out of the narrows, keep following the wash.  You'll soon get up close and personal with some magnificent sandstone mountains, buttes, dunes, and fin rock, much of it striped red and white, a bit like a less-showy cousin of the famous Wave (which is just south of here).  It feels like you're on another planet.

The ranger called this area Edmaier's Secret, but it's hard to know exactly where it starts and ends.  I think this is just the edge of it.  If you explore any part, be VERY careful where you step.  You don't want to break any of the delicate sandstone fins and ridges.  Preserve it for all the future hikers.


It was an amazing trip.  I'd go back in a heartbeat. 



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Author Interview with Eleanor Glewwe

Several months ago, I read a great middle grade novel called Wildings.  I loved the sad and twistedly relevant premise, the creative setting, and the powerful but not preachy themes of prejudice and segregation.  And...very refreshingly...the characters fight for social change without violence.  I highly recommend the book.  Recently I read the companion book, Sparkers, which was written before Wildings and which also takes place a few years before.  I decided to reach out to the author because I like her work so much.  She obliged with an author interview!

So, without further ado, I present Eleanor Glewwe and her answers to my questions:

-Did you have the idea of Wildings before you wrote Sparkers?  Or did your characters and land just beg for more of their stories to be told?

No, the idea for Wildings came much later, when Sparkers was on its way to being published and I was starting to write my next book. I originally intended to write a direct sequel to Sparkers, with the same main characters, but my agent and editor encouraged me to write about new main characters, and through brainstorming I came up with the idea for Wildings. I think of Wildings as a companion to Sparkers, set in the same world, a few years later, but with new protagonists. I was glad I got to give Caleb, the little brother from Sparkers, a bigger role in Wildings, and it was also fun to show what the main characters of Sparkers were like when they were older.  

-Were there any big differences between writing Sparkers and Wildings?

Writing the two books was very different. I wrote the book that would become Sparkers when I was fourteen and revisited it a few times over the years. So the path from the initial draft to publication took about nine years (though I was spending time on a lot of other things in those nine years). On the other hand, I was contracted to write Wildings, so I had to produce it much faster. I started writing it toward the end of my first year of grad school and was editing it into my third year of grad school. Also, since I had an agent and an editor through the whole process of writing Wildings, from conception to final draft, I had input from others from the beginning, which I didn't have writing Sparkers

-Who is your favorite character to write?

Hm, maybe Marah, the protagonist of Sparkers, because she's probably the most similar to me. But I also really liked writing Azariah in Sparkers, Caleb in Wildings, and Aradi Imael, the music teacher, in Sparkers, because her character was inspired by a beloved music teacher I had. 

If you could sit down to dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Right now, I would pick Madeleine L'Engle. Her books are so warm and humane, and I think she would be an excellent conversationalist about children's stories, speculative fiction, and religion. 

-Tell us a little about your road to publication.

As I mentioned, I originally wrote Sparkers (it had a different title then) when I was in high school. My sophomore year of college, I accidentally found out about an Amazon-sponsored novel contest, which had a YA category and for which the top prize was a publishing contract with Penguin, I believe. I decided to enter the contest with the novel that would become Sparkers. The contest had thousands of entries and many rounds, and I made it much farther than I expected and got positive feedback from contest reviewers. I also met some other young writers on the contest message boards and decided it would be wise to try to get an agent (before that, I'd been considering submitting directly to the few publishers that take unagented manuscripts). The summer after the contest, I did a lot of online research (mostly reading publishing industry blogs), and then I started querying agents. There was one in particular who asked me to do a couple of revise and resubmits, and my senior year of college he offered me representation. We went on to do more revisions, and the year after I graduated from college, we sold Sparkers

-What are you writing now?

I'm sort of working on what I hope will be my next novel, though I'm spending more time on grad school and dissertation writing these days. This project is YA fantasy, set in a different world from that of Sparkers and Wildings. But like those books, it features a lot of music. 

-How can readers find out more about you?

My website is and I blog there pretty regularly. 

-Do you have any books you'd like to recommend?
I'm a huge fan of Rachel Hartman, author of SeraphinaShadow Scale, and the just-released Tess of the Road. I also really like the Frances Hardinge books I've read, Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree, and I want to read her more recent books. I love The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. And last fall I really enjoyed reading Philip Pullman's highly anticipated new book set in the world of His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. 

Thanks, Eleanor, for your answers and your time.  I look forward to reading your next book.
To my blog readers, if you're interested in these books, click here:

Read Sparkers
Read Wildings

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Fantastic.  Surreal.  Magical.  
I could go on and evidenced by the photos below, just a fraction of the ones I actually took.  But I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  

Antelope Canyon has been on my bucket list for years.  Back when it first appeared on my radar, every German traveler I met was like, "Yeah, I've been to Antelope Canyon" and all my Arizona friends were like, "What's Antelope Canyon?"  Its fame seems to have spread a bit.  And now, I finally made it.  So worth it.

If you go:
-Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons are separate tours of separate parts of the canyon.  Many sources say that if you're only going to one, go to Lower.  I have not been to Upper, so I can't personally compare.  

-You have to go with a tour.  Currently, two companies do tours at Lower Antelope Canyon:  Ken's Tours and Dixie Ellis' Tours.  I went with Ken's Tours and was satisfied.

-Reserve ahead.  You may luck into a spot if you just show up, but it will likely involve long lines, waiting around, and chance.  Reservations can be made online, but you'll only pay when you get there. 

-Tours are on the expensive side  Mine was $50 including tax and the $8 Navaho Park Permit Fee, which must be paid in cash.  You may also want to tip the guide.

-According to the rules, you can't take in purses, other bags, or backpacks (except small camelbaks).  Just take a bottle of water and your camera (tripods not allowed).  In reality, they let some people in with small bags.

-Your tour may be cancelled due to flash flood danger during monsoon season (roughly July-August).  Don't protest.  Flash floods here mean death.  

-Tour and check-in times are in Arizona time, though your cell phone may be confused and give you Utah time.  Set your phone manually to Phoenix, Arizona time.  Or use an actual watch.  

-Read the tour website for other important information.         

-Enjoy this wonderful experience!


After you do this tour, if you're hungering for more slot canyons, bring your kayak or other small watercraft or rent one from Antelope Point Marina (reasonable rates) and paddle up Antelope Canyon as far as you can go.  I have no pictures of this because I didn't want to risk my camera getting tipped into the lake (we have a tippy old canoe and I'm rather attached to my camera), but it's beautiful:  twisty narrowing passage, tall, sheer walls, beautiful reflections.  

At the end, beach your kayak and hike further up.  You may have to brave some truly serious mud at first, but it's worth it.  The canyon narrows into something not as impressive as your Lower Antelope Canyon tour but still very cool.  And you may have it almost to yourself.  Take your time and really soak it in.  Again, do not attempt this in monsoon season or if it's been raining in the surrounding area.  Flash floods can be deadly.  And take your camera.  I certainly will next time.        

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Amazing place...but pretty nerve wracking with all those people blithely dangling their legs over certain death.

This is the mighty Colorado River that carved out the Grand Canyon, and there's nothing shabby about the carving it's done here. Sheer cliffs drop a thousand feet to the water below. 

Here you'll see me NOT standing two inches from the edge or letting young kids in my care run around and jump between rocks:

If you go:

For how spectacular this is, it's sure easy to access.  

The trailhead is near milepost 545 on Highway 89 just south of Page (near the Utah border).  There's a largish parking lot, but you may have to park along the highway.  It's very popular.  Pit toilets are available.  

It's a walk of less than 3/4 mile one way.  For those with mobility challenges, be aware that there is a lot of sand and some elevation change, but it looks like they may be putting in a paved path.  

If you go during the summer, go early, carry water, and be prepared for heat with no shade.   

Use extreme caution around the sheer drop-offs. There are no railings and this is fragile sandstone that may look stronger than it is.  A cool photo is not worth your life.