Monday, June 23, 2014

Flagstaff Day 2: Craters, Canyons, and Pueblos

Friday, June 20, 2014 - Our second camping adventure since we got married turned out to be much better than our first! Last time, we camped in Albuquerque in October, it was freezing cold and we had no air mattress. Both of those problems were easily fixable by camping in Arizona in June, and buying a little twin mattress to fit in our tiny tent. Curtis said that the mattress wasn't blown up enough and he was touching the ground all night, but I was fine - it's nice to be the smaller one sometimes ;)

We were up at dawn, around 5:20. We were okay with that - it meant we had more time to enjoy the day! After enjoying the warmth of our sleeping bags a bit longer, we packed up and began the dreaded drive down the mountain. Well, I was dreading it at least, but Curtis drove slowly & safely and we were down and on our way in no time.

Curtis' friend gave him this Sasquatch air freshener. I know you're all so jealous of me, getting to ride in a truck that smells like a big hairy beast… ;)

It was only 7am when we were on the road that loops around from Sunset Crater National Monument to Wupatki National Monument off of highway 89. We had some time to kill before the park opened, so we did a little letterboxing. After getting 3 boxes and doing about a mile of hiking for those boxes, we headed over to the visitor's center for Sunset Crater.

After getting our National Monument stamps, we began driving through Sunset Crater, noting the lava flow as we drove along. We came to Lenox Crater Trailhead and decided it'd be a good one to use for practice for Humphrey's. The trail was a mile long, and literally went straight up the mountain - no switchbacks, just walking up a steep and sandy path! It was honestly kind of a disappointment though, we were hoping that the crater would be a bit more obvious to see. The mountain did however give us a good view of Mt. Humphrey's, again! 

Here's the same view, just zoomed out. As you can see, the ground is all covered in cinder, which is like walking in sand. It made walking back down the trail interesting, but much faster and easier than walking up. A bit disappointed with what this park had to offer, we decided to just continue driving to the next National Monument on the loop.

Above - the black rocks all over the ground are lava flow. There were some trails that took you to see more, but we felt like we saw enough just by driving through.

Above - this is the volcano, with the best view we got of it. We decided that being able to hike up there is what would have made the monument so much better! 

The view facing North at around 8:30 am. Beautiful and a perfect day weather wise for touring the greater Flagstaff, AZ!

One of the best views we got of a crater in the above picture. Not sure what the name of this one was, but we just saw it as we were passing by. We continued on our way, letterboxing over to Wupatki!

Pulled over for a picture with the view - we look so small compared to everything! We propped my camera up on top of the Yeti, and after losing half of the seconds with it on timer mode, Curtis made a mad dash to get in the picture, but it still ended up pretty cute. :)

We finally reached Wupatki National Monument. While Sunset Crater ended up being a disappointment, Wupatki was a pleasant surprise for us! These first pictures are from the short loop trail at the visitor's center.

The biggest pueblo - Wupatki Pueblo. It had so many little rooms, doors, and windows. I loved the color of these!

Us & our pueblo. Yes, ours. We conquered these too. ;)

Peeking through the door! Oh, and wishing we could walk inside, too!

We got our wish! I thought this would make a cute picture, so I set up my camera on timer on the ground, and we sat there and awkwardly smiled at it as other people were walking by and staring at us. I'm glad we stuck it out though because I think it's a cute picture. :)

One last look at the main set up. There's a smaller pueblo behind, and the circular structures were game areas, at least that's what the pictures & descriptions in the visitor's center told us!

This is the Wukoki pueblo, a short drive away from the visitor's center - it's smaller, but you can actually go inside this one!

Oh hey Humphrey, didn't see you there… Just kidding, we see you everywhere!

We ducked through this tiny 3 foot door to get in the secret pueblo room!

We're inside! Okay, maybe not as cool as we thought it'd feel… but this was still pretty fun!

Just so that you get an idea of how tall it is - Curtis is 6'3'', it's taller than 2 Curtis'!

Here's the window view that Curtis was looking through in the before picture. 

One last look at the small & mighty pueblo. Now on to our next adventure! We drove back into Flagstaff and had a well deserved brunch at Village Inn after having to skip dinner last night. We were excited that it was only 11am at that point, which meant we were doing much better than expected on time and would be able to see many more places! Not only that, but we were also doing very well on finding letterboxes - we had found 5 for today already and no strikeouts! After brunch, we headed East on I-40 - first stop, Meteor Crater!

It was a half hour drive on the interstate, and then another 6 miles South - not the most interesting drive, until we got to this point - in the above picture, you can see the outer rims of the crater!

Even though it's a National Landmark, they only let Curtis in for free with the military pass. That was the only real downside we had for this landmark - it's expensive, especially if you don't have a pass! At least the crater is really as big and exciting as they make it seem. In the above picture, you can see most of it. There's a cloud starting to go over the crater creating the creepy, dark shadow!

Even creepier picture, with more clouds over top. I wish I could have gotten a panorama of the whole thing! We could have taken a guided tour, but we could go just as far on the rim on our own, without having to be with a group, and that was definitely preferable for us.

Zoomed in on the bottom of the crater. Curtis thinks it would be so much cooler if he could go down there...

So he hiked right on down to the bottom of the crater! ...

Oops, never mind. :) This was just us having fun in the museum. I love his expression in the second picture. That's really where he'd rather be though!

Humphrey came with us to the crater, too. Funny how no matter where we are, it's still the most important thing to us! I was getting pretty nervous about hiking it at this point. I had been telling myself that this was probably the only chance I'd ever have to hike it, and I was hoping that knowing this would be enough to make me push through to the top. The closer it got though, the more nervous I felt, wondering if I could actually do it!

We did some more letterboxing on the way back, but opted to not go farther East to get other questionable boxes. Instead, we stopped at the sketchy town of Two Guns, AZ. Here's what there is to see there!

A stop along Historic Route 66. Sometimes the road is well maintained and traveled, other times it is a mess and no one dares to drive on it. This is one of those times. However, there was a letterbox...

This is not a sign I like to see. ;) This actually used to be a zoo though? Thankfully we saw no such creatures.

We continued going East, making a brief stop in Winona, AZ, and we decided to finish up our tour of the greater Flagstaff area by visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument.

First view of the canyon - So beautiful & unique! After getting our National Monument stamps, we set off on the mile long loop trail that goes into the canyon. What you can't see from this view are the cliff dwellings - but you'll see them soon!

It was HUGE… these pictures are of the loop down and around the center section. There weren't any other longer trails that we could have taken, so we had to be content with this one!

Beginning the walk into the canyon - taking it easy because we knew we'd have to have enough energy to walk back up!

See the holes? Those are the cliff dwellings!

Because of the trees, it's difficult to tell how far the canyon goes - trust me, it goes pretty far, and very deep!

Us inside a dwelling - again with setting my camera on timer and smiling as others pass by. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get the once in a lifetime picture. ;)

The trail was paved the whole way through, and thankfully there was some shade to protect us from the sun, which had definitely heated up the area but not as bad as back at home!

Several rooms lined up together under the cliffs.

"Enjoying the shade at Walnut Canyon" selfie. :)

We finished the trail, then after cooling off in the visitor's center, we went off for one more letterbox for the day. This one took us just down the road to a trailhead for the Arizona Trail.

We've done so much hiking on different parts of this trail that stretches across our state, but that's not enough for Curtis - all he wants is to be able to take 3 months off and hike the whole thing! Poor Curtis. :)

We found our letterbox then took this silly picture before heading back to Flagstaff. We checked into our hotel and rested for about an hour as we waited for our friends & hiking buddies to arrive in town. That night, we introduced them to Cracker Barrel for a delicious dinner, (a great day-before peak hike meal, filled with carbs!) then we ran some errands to get last minute necessities for the hike, and went to bed early. Thanks to not getting as much sleep while camping, sleep came easy to us that night, even though we were anxious to wake up and begin!

Summary of day 2: 4 National Monuments/Landmarks, 8 letterboxes, about 5 miles hiked.

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