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2004 Travelogue #32 "Whiskey Red" Thousand Trails Park at Verde Valley
Arizona: Clarkdale, Jerome, Douglas Mansion, Sedona, Red Rock State Park, "The House of Apache Fire".
9/4 We had breakfast at the Thousand Trails, Verde Valley Family Center, did a few household chores and then headed to Clarkdale to catch the one-o'clock train on the Verde Canyon trip. This particular rail line was built by William Clark to move the copper out of the United Verde Mine; when he set it up he named the town Clarkdale.
Each Pullman-style car has doublewide seats on either side of a center aisle plus a snack bar and an adjoining covered open-air viewing car with two back-to-back benches running lengthwise down the center. The train is pulled by two FP7 vintage diesel engines built by General Motors in 1952. These two particular engines once spent their days on the Alaska Railroad.
Seeing the engines brought back memories of when I was a boy in the early 50's and my uncle worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in Gainesville, TX. At that time, the railroad industry was converting from the steam locomotive to diesel and this was the first diesel engine I had ever seen. Uncle Miller helped me climb the ladder into the engine room and then, he let me sit in the engineers' seat while he moved the engine to another track. Was I in "tall cotton" or what?
Shortly after 1 pm the whistle blew, the wheels turned and there was a mass exodus from the Pullman to the open-air car. As we rolled down the tracks a gentleman began describing the various sites. At first, I thought he was a recording but later in the trip, he came out of hiding to greet the guests. He was a colorful old codger, a Walter Brennan wiry-type, in big western hat and clothing. After shaking a few hands, he whipped out his harmonica and played Dixie, then back into his hole he went for the remainder of the trip.
As we made our way up the Valley into the Upper Sonoran Desert, we entered an area of abundant ocotillo cacti. Ocotillos have long, thin, wavy arms, which leaf and bloom very quickly after a rain. Just as quickly, the very small leaves drop and the plants go dormant, appearing to be dead. In reality, they're avoiding the desert extremes, waiting for better times. We happened to be passing through an ocotillo patch after a rain; they were covered in leaves and yellow blossoms. At this time, they were about as impressive to me as the other native cacti in the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro.
It was a ride through the high desert country, up the canyon between two national forests. The limestone layers, along the canyon walls, were so distinctive that it was no problem visualizing the sediment layers that formed this ancient lakebed. The sediment had turned the limestone to reddish orange, an iron ore color. Old Gus, our guide, had interesting narration, and the panoramic views were wonderful.
We passed cliff dwelling ruins, alongside the Verde River and eventually came to a 680-foot mountain tunnel opening into Perkinsville Ranch. Here in Perkinsville we sat on a sidetrack as the engineer reversed the engines for our downhill return trip; 30 minutes later, we were on our way again.
It was a 2-hour trip to Perkinsville but we were informed it would be a faster return, at a13-mph speed instead of the 12-mph going uphill. However, that would not be true for our trip. Since I was riding outside, every now and then I'd get a whiff of something burning. Leaning over the railing, I kept looking fore and aft and finally saw smoke coming from a rear axle a couple of cars behind us. Before long the conductor stopped the train. The passengers in that Pullman were getting a good shot of fumes and were moving into other cars for relief.
We stopped and waited; soon the engineer said that the car was losing a bearing and it needed to cool. I'm amazed at the lack of some people's manners and understanding in this type of situation. We were 10 miles from the station, up a canyon, with a bearing going bad and passengers were getting on the staff, as if it was their fault. The poor lady running the concession stand in our Pullman was most upset with a few of the folks. One thing about the first class club car, they felt no pain up there. We finally rolled into the Clarkdale station a little before dark, an hour and a half late.
We decided to stop in Cottonwood for dinner. The other day when we were in Jerome at the Douglas Mansion, we visited with the Park Ranger, Linda Howk. She said that she and her husband, Randall, owned a café in town, named Randall's, and we should stop for dinner or breakfast. She told us to be sure to try their Verde Green Chicken Fried Steak. Since the dinner rush was over, their son and cook for the evening, Joe, visited with us. Indeed, they do have a special recipe for this creamy green chili gravy over a chicken fried steak and it is excellent.
9/8 We drove to Sedona this morning. This is the place of origin, the beginning of our full-timing experience. Here, on a scenic overlook some 12 years ago, we met a couple that was full timing and they shared their lifestyle. I thought, just maybe, we might be able to do the same thing. Sure enough, here we are, living the lifestyle and seeing the USA.
We made the drive, about 20 miles, from Cottonwood to Sedona. Our first stop was the Red Rock State Park on US-89A in the Coconio National Forest, considered to be a nature center. We collected information at the Visitor's Center and viewed a DVD of the Park and the surrounding Sedona area.
This whole area was an ancient sea at one time and over the millenniums the limestone and sediments in the limestone turned the rocks a brilliant red and orange. Erosion has carved buttes and pinnacles, creating temples against a dark blue sky. The canyons and mesas are very sacred to the Indians and there is a mystical feeling and uniqueness in this sagebrush country.
The Park, with its 286-acres and good hiking trails, was once part of the Smoke Trail Ranch property, acquired by Jack and Helen Frye. Jack was the President of TWA Airlines and in 1941, when flying through these canyons, he decided this would be a good place to build a getaway retreat home. They began acquiring land and by the end of the war in 1947, they had accumulated 700 acres and started building a home.
Helen designed it to resemble the Hopi Indian pueblo homes, using the thin flat native stones quarried in the area. The rooms had pine vigas (beams) with latias laid crosswise for the ceilings. It was two stories high and every room was on a different level. The front of the house faced northeast, overlooking the buttes and pinnacles of Sedona and since this was Apache country, the house became known as "The House of Apache Fire".
Jack and Helen divorced in later years and Helen received the property, turning it into a religious/meditation-type retreat. Later it was sold to a mining company, which traded the house to the State of Arizona along with 286 acres in exchange for mining rights in another part of the State. So, with the trade, we now have Red Rock State Park.
The Park has more than 5 miles of excellent marked trails, one of which we
followed across famous Oak Creek, meandering through the riparian habitat, up
the switchbacks to "The House of Apache Fire". On our climb, we hiked
through three levels in this Red Rock Biolic Community in the upper Sonoran
Desert biome or "transition zone" between the Colorado Plateau and
the Sonoran Desert. The first level is the aquatic, small water plants in the
creek, then riparian, the bushes, shrubs, and trees that line the creek beds
and thirdly, the pinon-juniper woodlands.
The views were breathtaking. As we walked up the switchbacks, we'd pause to look across the expanses and understood why they call this "Red Rock Country". The unique geological structures of massive red rock monoliths, the giant fire-red buttes and mesas contrasting with the green patches of pinon and juniper uplifted our eyes and spirits. I can see why the "New Age" religious movement gravitated to Sedona. There's an energy here not felt in many other places.
Upon returning to the Park's Information Center, we spent time in the Gift Shop as usual and then asked the Ranger for lunch recommendations. He suggested the Sedona City Airport Restaurant on top of a mesa, for its atmosphere and good food.
Driving though town, we found the airport turnoff and followed it up a steep incline to the top of a mesa. Sure enough, on the very tiptop were the Sedona Airport and also the restaurant, a single story structure that looked like something out of the 50's. We were seated in the back, overlooking the runway with the red buttes and mesas in the distance.
During lunch, I couldn't help but notice a single engine biplane taxi down the runway and take-off. So, after lunch we went next door to a hanger and inquired about several different flying excursions, one being the Red Rock Biplane Tours. We discovered that there are only a few biplane-touring groups in the country.
Fortunately, there was availability for one last flight of the day. It was already 3:30 and we had a choice of a 10, 30 or 45-minute flight. We chose the 30-minute "Mystic Canyon Tour", which covered the whole Sedona Canyon and Valley, including such classics as Bell Rock and the famous Cathedral Rock.
Completing our paper work, Bing, our young pilot, met and ushered us to the tarmac. The plane was a bright red classic Waco, open cockpit biplane; it was # 74 of 102 that were built and one of the few still using a wooden propeller.
Bing climbed onto the wing and demonstrated the boarding technique, which was backing into the cockpit, turning around, and sitting or falling into place with "heavy lunch" being first. Once strapped in, we were instructed to put on leather aviator caps that had earphones in the side flaps. After squeezing them on, we looked at one another and Peggy said, "All we need is a long white neck-scarf and we'd look like Snoopy, The Red Baron" (from the comic strip, Peanuts). I had to agree; we both had that World War I pilot look.
Bing said, "Okay folks, time for me to go out and wind up the rubber band." Meaning, he had to hand crank the prop to get it started. As I looked around the cockpit, into which we were snugly tucked, I saw only two gauges, one being a compass and the other for wind speed, two-foot pedals, but no stick. Glad Bing was a young chap, didn't need a heart attack back there with no controls up front.
Taxing down the runway, swinging from left to right and back again as Bing tried to see where we were headed, we noticed rain showers popping up all around. We might experience a little rain as well as wind turbulence.
Receiving clearance for "Whiskey Red" to take off, Bing revved the rpms, released the brakes and we immediately picked up speed as he said, "Let's fly folks". With his words, the wheels left the runway and we began yet another first adventure.
As we started climbing, the first thing we saw was the end of the runway and a cliff straight down. This airport really is on a mesa. We climbed in altitude and banked to the left. The tour company installed a sound and video system to record our personal biplane experience. Two cameras were attached to the left wing with one facing outward, catching the scenic front view, while a 2nd camera was aimed at us in the cockpit. The pilot operated both cameras while narrating a commentary through our headsets of the sights below, the rock formations and landmarks. When Bing wasn't talking, we had background music fitting the occasion, such classics as Travis Tritt's, "It's A Great Day", and that it was.
It was exhilarating to soar over this red rock country of Sedona and experience the thrill of a lifetime in a cockpit of a biplane. We'd ascend, sometimes on a wind draft, up and over rising mesas and then drop into the canyons below, often banking 90 degrees as we dropped. Peggy and I commented later, that we were living an IMAX film.
This was one of the fastest 30 minutes in my life. All too soon, we approached the runway for landing. Bing came on the speaker saying, "Due to the 28 knot winds and gusts, we're going to come in high, about 100 feet and drop onto the runway." Thanks for the warning. Down we went a safe drop and safe back and forth weaving, as we taxied to the terminal and the anchoring down straps.
We climbed out of the plane, took some photographs, and Bing gave us the videotape of our trip. We were grateful and thrilled to have a filmed memory of this serendipity afternoon in Sedona, Arizona, the place where it all began 12 years ago.
Bob & Peggy Woodall