Eagle Update

UPDATE: Back in October of 2010 when this blog was still hosted by Blogger, I posted that an injured Bald Eagle had been spotted by the Verde Canyon Train Crew and rescued. The  Eagle was taken to a Wildlife Rehab Center in hopes of saving it and returning it to the wild. The train crew had noticed it’s mate keeping watch when they came to collect the injured bird. They hoped to be able to return it to the wild to reunite with its mate. Sadly the story did not end well. The rescued eagle was suffering from lead poisoning and did not recover. It is believed that the surviving eagle eventually found a new mate.

Eagles and condors both are subject to the risk of lead poisoning. Both birds tend to scavenge for food and sometimes the dead animals are ones that have been shot by lead bullets. As the birds eat the meat they ingest bits of lead from the bullets. If they eat enough of this tainted meat they develop lead poisoning and die.

There are bullets available that are not made of lead. Not being a hunter myself I can’t tell you what they are but I do know that there is a movement to encourage if not force the use of non lead  bullets when hunting near National Forests or other protected habitat.

Memorial Day Thanks

As we enjoy the wonderful weather and a day off from work to barbecue and party, take a moment to give thanks to those brave men and women whose sacrifices make our life style possible.

Remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives that we might have ours. For them there is no tomorrow, no second chance at life or love, but thanks to them we have our life, our freedom and our chances to live.

Remember those who returned but suffered unspeakable injuries to body, soul or mind. Brave men and women traumatized by their injuries or the injuries to others that they witnessed or perhaps by the actions they had no choice but to take.

But these actions and sacrifices paid for our freedoms. They kept our shores safe. They stood up for our way of life.

As I think about Memorial Day and all that it stands for I am grateful to all who have done their duty to safeguard this great nation and our freedoms but I am sad too. I feel for the families left behind or the soldier who once able-bodied is now missing a limb or worse. My heart aches for those who returned so stressed and traumatized that although their body is sound, their emotions and  feelings are forever scarred. This is the price we pay for our freedom. This is the price our soldiers paid for us.

 On this Memorial Day honor them, thank them and pray for them. Keep safe those who even today are  fighting for freedom in foreign lands. Pray that someday we will gain the wisdom to be able to put down our weapons and live in peace and respect throughout the world.

Always remember…

Verde Canyon Railroad

After 2 early mornings to get to the Grand Canyon we took it easy this morning and got a late start. We thought we could go to the Blazin’ M Ranch before we took the Verde Canyon Railroad so we would have time to visit their Old West display but when we arrived at the ranch there was a sign that it didn’t open until 4pm. No problem, we took a leisurely ride over to the Verde Canyon Railroad depot to collect our train tickets and visit the gift shop.

We arrived around 11:30 and were surprised to see other passengers arriving too. We thought we were early. The desert smelled like rain and the weather report was for “showers”. We were keeping a close eye on the sky. The wind that had plagued us all week was still with us and still had a cold edge to it.

When I made the reservations the operator said they had a special for people doing the combo with the Blazin’ M dinner show. The special upgraded us to First Class. I jumped at that even though I expected that we would spend a good part of the trip on the open air viewing car. Now with weather threatening I was glad I made that decision.

We had time to spare so decided to have lunch before we got on the train. Neither of us realized that the First Class upgrade included lunch! Anyway, while we were eating it started to rain so we finished off our lunch quickly and headed to the little museum on the property along with about 30 of our closest friends. If they weren’t friends when we went in they certainly must have been when we got out. It was crowded with everyone looking for someplace dry to wait out the storm.

The museum was small but interesting with artifacts, photos and history of the Verde Canyon railroad spread out in front of us in cabinets and in displays. It only takes a short time to go through the museum depending on how long it takes you to read the captions.

Since the rain wasn’t showing any sign of letting up the railroad was considerate enough of their customers to start boarding us early. It meant a longer wait in the cars before we pulled out of the station but at least we were dry. Once again we heard how unusual the weather was for May, normally a dry month for this area.

It wasn’t too long before we heard the “All Aboard” and we began to slowly roll out of the station.

We passed the huge black slag mountain left over from the days of copper mining and heard the story of the former boom town of Jerome that became a ghost town and is now a thriving artist colony. Many buildings in the town have been rescued and restored to maintain its historic appearance. Even now, on my 2nd trip to the area, I still haven’t visited the town. They say 3’s the charm so maybe on my next trip!

The Verde Canyon Railroad trip is a 4 hour rail journey celebrating the glory days of the Iron Horse.  Travel is in vintage cars that have been painstakingly restored to invite today’s traveler to “step back in time”.

 There are 3  types of cars: Pullman  Standard, Budd Stainless Steel  and a refurbished  AC&F caboose. The AC&F identifies the builder of the caboose. It’s like saying a Pullman Car.

When you ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad you are really getting 2 seats for the price of one. Each seat purchased gives access to a 2nd seat in one of the open air viewing cars. In nice weather more people are outside than in so they can enjoy the beautiful canyon and watch for wildlife. Prefer indoor seating, don’t worry about the view; all of the enclosed cars have panoramic windows.

Everyone watches for wildlife starting with the engineer all the way back to the last attendant on the last car plus all the passengers! When something is spotted word flys through the cars as each attendant is connected by ear piece to the next. On this trip we were lucky enough to get good views of not one but 2 bald eagles. One was perched on a craggy bluff, the other in a tree right next to the track! Unfortunately the only picture I was able to get was of their empty nest. I’ve seen the Bald Eagles on both of my trips and failed to get a photo either time. Like I said 3’s the charm…maybe next time.

The Verde Canyon has been occupied for a long time starting with the cliff-dwelling Sinagua. The train passes some of these ancient cliff dwellings but you have to keep your eyes open to catch them.. After the Sinagua came the nomadic Yavapai and the Tonto Apache followed by the farmers and cattlemen. And speaking of cattle, see that cow laying down over there? Out here that’s called Ground Beef! ( yes you can groan)

Many of the acncient cultures left thier mark throughout the canyon by petroglyph and pictograph.

According to local Native American lore, the Verde River is female. She provides an oasis in stark contrast to the surrounding arid countryside. The Verde River is fed from 5 creeks which flow down from the Colorado Plateau: Sycamore, Oak, Beaver, Clear and Fossil Creek. When it rains on the plateau the Verde gets fed the runoff.

The ride reaches its half way turnaround point at Perkinsville station at milepost 18.5. At its peak Perkinsville had  10-12 families living in the vicinity. It even had a small school, a general store and a post office but when the smelter closed in the 1950’s and the railroad switched from steam to diesel the  town became a ghost town.

In the 1960’s a few movie companies came to visit filming scenes for some of the classic westerns of the day like How the West was Won. The story is that during that filming the water tower that had stood by the tracks was blown up for one of the scenes but for some reason did not make the cut. The footage ended up on the editing room floor.

To turn the train around the engine is uncoupled and switched to a side track to pass by the train to the other end and be re-coupled. It’s a pretty amazing sight to see that engine passing by the window.

The return trip was as lovely as the outbound. We even saw a small rainbow as we passed in and out of the rain showers.  Back in Clarkdale we said goodbye to the railroad and headed to our car for the short drive to the Blazin’ M ranch.

The Bottom of the Grand Canyon

As we left the Hualapai Visitor Center we entered the reservation.  The houses were small and many in various states of disrepair. Almost all had old cars and what we white folk would call junk piled in the yards. Joe explained that we had to remember the Native American culture is different from ours. It is deeply ingrained in the Native Americans to not waste anything. Throw something away and you are bound to need it later. He also explained that the housing was supplied by the tribe. This tribe also supplies medical  services to its members. Each tribe works differently supplying different goods and services to its members but the bottom line is that they take care of their own.

It would have been rude to take pictures so none of us did plus the road, like the roads on the reservation in South Dakota, was dirt so we were bumping around  quite a bit. We didn’t linger in the village. Our permit would only allow us to get out of the van twice. Once at a spot of Joe’s choosing and again at the bottom of the Canyon. The tribe has a ranger patrolling the roads  so Joe said it was important to comply with all the  regulations and restrictions.

As we started the downward grade Joe continued to point out the geological sights and even gave us a lesson on the ” Great Unconformity” a gap in time in the geologic record of the Grand Canyon of over a billion years. The missing layers of sediment were first noted in the Grand Canyon by the explorer John Wesley Powell. Unconformities are not unique to the Grand Canyon but like the Canyon itself, it is one of the largest known.

 Not too much after that  Joe said he saw the ranger coming so he pulled over and got our paperwork out. It was a reminder that when we are on a reservation we are in another nation. Native American Reservations are sovereign nations unto themselves.

Back on the roads again, papers in order we bumped and slid for a while longer before Joe pulled the van over to the side of the road. We all got out for a quick leg stretch and he turned us lose to take pictures with one stipulation. We were NOT to leave the road.

So far the month of May had been unusually wet in the area. It’s normally one of the driest months but there had been a lot of rain and the desert was blooming. There were predictions of showers all day too but so far none had hit us. Joe pointed out different plants and their uses one of which is called a Wiki up. The Indians used it to make shelters by bending the long stalks over and then covering them with grass and shrubs.

Back in the van Joe explained that even if we didn’t get rained on, we still had to be aware of the possibility of a flash flood. By now we were following  small creek called Diamond Creek. It meandered along next to the road even crossing it now and then. It didn’t look like that  big a stream but Joe pointed out where previous flash floods had rushed down depositing huge boulders, rocks and gravel. The last bit of road actually was in the creek.  Then we turned a corner and we were there.

 I was looking at the Colorado River.

 I was in the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon! Even today only about 1% of the people who visit the Canyon ever make it to the bottom. What an awesome feeling!

Joe pulled out coolers with sandwiches and water and pointed out where the “facilities ” were located then we were turned loose to explore.

 A raft was pulled up on the bank as we watched two more rafts come down the river running the rapids.

Another raft pulled in that was a science vessel. The people on that raft were doing a count of bugs that had been released in the canyon to combat another invasive species. They wanted to be sure the bugs were not out of control compounding the problem they were supposed to correct.

Where Diamond Creek entered the Colorado a Great Blue Heron settled in to look for its lunch.

Some of the other passengers climbed up to a cat walk around the bluff. The rest of us received permission from the Native American at the river to cross Diamond Creek where Joe showed us some fossils in the rocks.

 Crossing back I spotted a fish that swam right over my feet. Since my shoes where now soaked I had to make it official. I waded in the river. I can now retire those sneakers and say they waded in the Colorado River at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon!

There were no flash floods today and pretty soon Joe said it was time to start the climb back up out of the canyon.

We made one stop again for pictures and met the ranger a 2nd time. Back on top Joe took us to Snow Cap on RT 66 for ice cream and more chances to get pictures.

 This time of the RT 66 memorabilia.

Back in the van for the last time Joe started the stories of the Native Americans.

It is not a pretty history and it is not they way we are taught in school. In many ways it’s very sad. Often I felt a sence of outrage and shame at the arrogance of the white man and their disrespect for the Indian. The van was silent as he talked. Joe said he didn’t mean to depress us but he felt it was better to tell the truth.  His stories lasted until we pulled into Sedona and would take up far more room than I have here but one of the biggest truths for me was that the Indians learned to murder and torture from us. They learned to scalp from the Mexicans. Native Americans were a peaceful people. We, the white people, caused the bloody Indian Wars, not the other way around.

I am also happy to report that Dave, from Native American Journey’s honored the original quote and processed a credit of $40.00 for the over charge. Also since he used the wrong bank card resulting in an over draft fee, he refunded the $27.00 bank charge. The refunds were processed promptly and without any hassle. I must admit that after all the confusion I am happy to say I can recommend them.  Joe was great and the tour delivered everything they promised. It was worth the cost and they acted responsibly in responding to my issues.

Native American Journey’s Tour

Up bright and early we met the Native American Journey’s Tour at reception at 7:10am. At least they are picking us up so we don’t have to make that drive again today. I will be able to sit back and enjoy the scenery too.

They were right on time. They had already picked up two couples from the Sedona Pines resort. We were traveling in a van. Our driver and guide’s name was Joe. He didn’t appear to be Native American but the web site was a bit “iffy” on that. As long as he knows the history as promised that will be fine.

Our drive took us through Sedona and up RT 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. In all my travels up and down this road I had never seen the bottom of the gorge. If I had I would have been in it  (Ha Ha). Now sitting high in a van I could see well into Oak Creek Canyon. WOW! I think maybe it was a good thing I didn’t know how steep and deep it was when I first started driving this road.

Joe is a bona-fide “rock hound”. I have never seen anyone get so excited over rock formations! He would pull the van over to the side of the road, pull out a white board and start writing information on  it while he explained what we were looking at, just like a geology teacher. He had a pile of different colored sponges that he had cut to represent a fault so he could demonstrate the way the earth shifts when a fault line moves. He would have made a great teacher.  

As we passed Flagstaff Joe told us a story of how the city got its name. The story goes that the early settlers were going to have a big party to celebrate the 4th of July. So that everyone would be able to find the location they picked the largest tree and stripped off all of its limbs then hung a flag from the top. They told everyone to come to the celebration where the Flag Staff was standing.

It was quite a long ride part of which was on the famous RT 66. I’m not sure I could find my way back on my own even though Joe said you can get a permit without going with a tour. The section of the Canyon we were going to and the road that would take us there is on a Reservation so we had to stop at Peach Springs at the  Visitor Center for the Hualapai Tribe to pick up the tour permit. We had a brief rest stop while we were waiting for Joe. There was a gift shop and rest rooms.

When Joe came back waving the permit we all clambered back into the van but we didn’t head out right away. Joe said we had “bookkeeping” to do. He handed out all of the charge slips. As he did he said if we didn’t sign them he would leave us at the Visitor Center so we could find our own way home. I don’t know if he was joking or not but turns out that it put me in an awkward position.

When I tried to make the reservation several months ago, I had my tax refund money in the account so I used that card. When the charge never went through I called them back. They told me they were just using the card # to “Hold” the reservation and wouldn’t charge it until the trip. ( This was actually my 3rd call as I had wanted some more information before I booked the tour and there had been 1 email. ) Before we left for the trip, I wanted to consolidate everything in one account so I could keep track of my expenses. I made my 4th call to them at that time. I said since they hadn’t charged the card yet, could I change the one I was using. I was told yes, just email the new card #. I started to protest that it wasn’t safe to do that but finally gave up and complied. I also asked for the “Bottom line” as the ad said $179.00 per person plus tax and tip and I was getting a AAA discount as well.

I was told the real cost of the tour was now $229.00 plus tax and tip per person. I protested and said I would cancel as that was not what was advertised and that in spite of numerous requests, no one had been able to give me a final figure for the tour. They back tracked quickly and said ..Oh that’s right you saw the web page plus we can give you the AAA discount. He threw a number at me as he said he had to go to a meeting. I wrote the amount down and sent off the email with my card #.

Now here we were in a van in the tiny town of Peach Springs on a reservation miles from Sedona and the tour guide is saying I have to sign the charge slip or get out. My charge slip was for the wrong credit card( bank account) and over charged by $40.00. Since I was in the back of the van I couldn’t discretely speak to the tour driver. I had to yell it out so everyone could hear.

Joe told me to go ahead and sign it and call Dave, the owner /manager later after the tour and he would straighten it out. That didn’t leave me with many options if I didn’t want to walk home. I had a feeling the damage was already done anyway and the signature was just a formality for the tour operator so I complied and resigned myself to having to deal with that after the tour was over. Since there was nothing more I could do now, I might as well relax and enjoy the trip down, especially if it was going to be more expensive than planned.

With that out of the way (for now), Joe pulled the van out onto the road and our journey to the bottom really began at that point.

Now I don’t want you to think I always have these financial difficulties. This was the first time I’ve had so many things messed up over money. I always travel on a very tight budget so I must have all my little ducks in a row or there’s no way I can go on these vacations . These issues from Payless Car rental to Native American Journey’s are the exception, not the rule. They just happened to all come up on this trip. I have tucked the experiences away and will now be even more diligent before I book a tour or reserve a car.