Friday, April 30, 2010

Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

When a cold front blew in on Thursday, touring the Riordan Mansion was a nice way to spend part of our day indoors. Built in 1904 by brothers Michael and Tim Riordan, the mansion includes two mirror-image homes connected by a 1000 square foot common room, and easily became the largest duplex in the Arizona Territory.

You may be wondering how the Riordan brothers' wives felt about having their home adjoining another family's home. Since the Riordan brothers married sisters, the arrangement was as natural for the ladies as the men. The common area was one large room where both families could comfortably meet to relax around the fireplace or billiard table. With 40 rooms and 13,000 square feet of living space in the entire structure, each family had plenty of privacy when they desired it.

Although not exact mirror images of each other, the floor plans of the homes had more in common than not. Tim's side of the mansion was furnished like it would have been when the family lived there, but photographs are not allowed in those areas. The interior photos I have were all shot on the first floor of Michael's home, which now includes many posters and displays concerning the families and their influence on the community of Flagstaff. Karen and Gretel are in the fireplace nook (inglenook) of the reception hall in this shot.

The formal dining room is in the foreground of this shot, while the girls are looking over some items in the informal dining area. On the dining table is a scale model of the lumber mill that first employed the Riordans as managers, and which they eventually purchased and ran successfully for over thirty years. The mansion was built over the winter so workers from the lumber mill could be employed in its construction during a period of the year when there was normally little work performed at the mill.

You may have noticed in the preceding photos that the house is an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts style. The architect, Charles Whittlesey, also designed the Hotel El Tovar on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and many pieces of furniture were designed and produced by Gustav Stickley and Harvey Ellis. There is no record of who produced the stained glass panes that crown many of the first floor windows, but Michael's home was adorned with the poppies shown above, while Tim chose tulips.

Typical of Arts and Crafts, there are many built in cabinets, seats, and storage areas. The homes possessed several modern features including electric lighting, central heating, and indoor plumbing featuring both hot and cold running water.

Each home has its own formal entrance on the front outside corners of the mansion, but Michael once wrote that the family almost always uses this arched entry leading to the porch in front of the common room.

Like the interiors, each exterior possesses its own unique features, while mirroring its neighbor in many respects.

Quite obvious on the back of the homes is the log cabin look achieved by siding the frame house with fall-off pieces from the lumber cutting operation. Michael added more living space to his home on the second floor as his family grew.

What is used as a visitor's center today was once the six-car garage in the rear of the property. Although there are glass windows in the middle section today, the original doors are still attached in the interior of the building. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montezuma Well National Monument

Just a few miles down the road from Montezuma Castle is another little oasis in the Arizona desert: an amazing natural spring called Montezuma Well. We weren't expecting much, but were pleasantly surprised again by the natural wonder of this unique place.

The main feature of the well is a basin of water 55 feet deep and 368 feet in diameter fed by a couple of subterranean springs at its bottom. Geologists think this sink was once a water-filled cavern that collapsed, exposing the water source to the atmosphere and creating the bowl shaped feature we see today. In the middle of the image above is the swallet where the water exits the basin, but we'll get to that in a little bit. Meanwhile, you might be interested to know that the growth on top of the water is Illinois Pondweed that must be removed periodically lest it prevent the water from flowing out of the well.

The girls are making their way down from the rim around the well to a section of shoreline that's accessible. The temperature of the water entering the well from below remains at 76°F all year round.

This is part of the walking trail near the water level that was amazingly lush compared to the desert less than 100 feet away. Karen thought this part of the trail was almost like the path behind the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg.

This view from the edge of the well reveals more cliff dwellings on the east wall of the well. Because of the high levels of carbon dioxide in the water, there are no fish in the well, but tiny shrimplike amphipods feed on the algae, and are themselves food for leeches, water scorpions, turtles, muskrats, and many other animals.

The placard shown here explains how the water runs out of the well into an irrigation ditch below. Over 1.5 million gallons of water flow out of the well every day! That source of water made a huge difference in the ability of farms to survive in this region.

This is the irrigation ditch where the water flows out of the well, and it was surprising how much cooler and lush it was in this protected area. Notice the huge sycamore tree growing at an angle out of the ground near the well's outlet.

Here's another view of the irrigation ditch and the relaxing environment it creates just outside the well.

Finally, here's 21 seconds worth of video so you can get a slightly different perspective on this unique section of the site. Thanks for visiting!

Montezuma Castle National Monument

When one is looking for an outdoor site to visit on a windy day in northern Arizona, we recommend the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Some of the earliest miners and soldiers to discover this cliff dwelling believed it to be an Aztec ruin built for their emperor, Montezuma. Hence the name. Archaeologists now believe it was the Sinagua people that built and inhabited this structure.

A short walking trail below the castle affords views of the cliff structure and rare protection from the sun and wind. The bottom level of the castle is about 100 feet off the valley floor, and past visitors used ladders to access the rooms, much like it is believed the previous inhabitants did.

Here's a closer view of the five levels of living and working quarters. Before 1951 visitors were allowed to climb ladders up to and inside the building, exploring each of the rooms as they were left hundreds of years ago (excepting the looting and vandalizing that occurred earlier). By 1951 it was apparent the structure was being loved to death, so only Park Service personnel are allowed access now.

This pleasant little oasis in the desert was a delightful surprise both in its comfortable climate and abundance of vegetation. The white-barked trees along the path above are Arizona Sycamores that seem to be pretty prolific in riparian regions like this.

This is Ranger Laura describing another structure to some guests. The foundation walls visible here are only a few hundred feet from the cliff dwelling, and may have been part of a larger housing structure. Unfortunately, we have no written history of the original structure since it had collapsed by the time of the first recorded visitors.

This beautiful little meadow appears to fare well in the Arizona climate, and may have been the location of gardens or orchards for the Sinagua that lived here. The cliffs are partially composed of limestone, which when washed down into the meadow, probably acted as a natural fertilizer for the valley floor.

Beaver Creek runs less than 100 yards from the dwellings, and was doubtless an important aspect of the success of the community.

What does one do with spare time back at the timeshare? Sewing, of course! Doesn't everyone travel with a sewing machine in tow? Here's Karen working on her quilt block...

... while Lily creates a mockup of a new dress on the living room floor. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sedona & Oak Creek Canyon

We were still a little tired on Tuesday, so we decided to do some "sedentary hiking" in the Red Rock Country around Sedona. We define sedentary hiking as driving around in the van viewing beautiful scenery and occasionally stopping for photos. I don't have any pictures of the girls "hiking" today since they didn't get out of the van much.

There are lots of beautiful rock formations around Sedona, but it appears the best photos are found by those who climb the rocks for good vantage points and wait for sunrise or sunset when the rocks are purported to glow with color. We didn't do that. Do you see the little hiking trail in the foreground of this picture? It beckoned, but we ignored it.

Like other parts of Arizona, pictures don't really do the landscape justice. As we traveled about, I decided a movie shot out the van window might come closest to capturing the variety and magnitude, but I doubt many of you would be interested in viewing three hours of driving around the desert.

One thing is for certain: I haven't seen roads like this in Illinois. But then, in the end, you've seen one red rock, you've seen them all.

My brother from Phoenix had told me about Oak Creek Canyon, and how he joins friends there for the weekend to take a break from life in Phoenix. We were halfway through it before I realized this was the same place he was talking about. It seems to be unique for Arizona, and a nice change from the high desert or pine forests we've seen so far -- there were actually deciduous trees with leaves on them! This view is from the rim at the north end of the canyon, and if you look closely you can see the highway running along Oak Creek. This 10-12 mile drive reminded me of similar roads we've driven in Montana and Tennessee, except the cliffs were a bit more steep here, and the red rocks were evident even in this canyon. A pretty drive, but hard to photograph sufficiently.

This shot shows the road from the rim to the creek, including a minor traffic jam near the top. Google maps only shows four true hairpin turns on this section, but when you're driving it, it feels like you are constantly making sharp turns. Good idea for this section of road: Bonine. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grand Canyon National Park

This was the primary reason we traveled all the way to Arizona: the Grand Canyon. No other place on earth bears testament to the Great Flood like this canyon does, and yet it is so vast it's hard to believe it's real.

This is one of our first views of the canyon. I couldn't help but imagine myself a traveler in the early 1800s making my way north across a gentle desert plain and then suddenly facing this. Your options at that point are few and painful.

In order to make the canyon seem more real, we decided to hike down into the canyon a short distance. The NPS warns against trying to hike to the Colorado River and back in one day, and since the river was 5,000 feet below us, we decided to heed that advice. Our alternative: hike down for 30 minutes, and then plod our way back up. The picture above shows the girls near the beginning of the South Kaibab Trail, and you can see several switchbacks below them. Looking at this picture now, I get a stronger sense of vertigo than when I took the photo.

This is the view down to our turnaround at Ooh Aah Point, the rocky point in the middle of the image with steps beneath it.

Here's a view from the point, 780 feet below the rim. There's still a long way down to the bottom!

Here we are making our way back up. The beginning of the trail is just in front of the leftmost little cloud on the rim, several hundred feet above us.

Another view of the canyon from the South Kaibab Trail. I was impressed with the quantity and variety of vegetation in the canyon.

This is how we all felt on the shuttle bus back to our car.

Some friends in Tremont recommended this restaurant in Cameron, Arizona east of the GCNP. If you're ending your visit by exiting the east end of the park, we recommend this little oasis in the desert, especially since we were not in a mood to delay dinner another hour until we arrived back in Flagstaff.

Another good idea that accompanies us on most of our vacations is bath salts for aching muscles. We tired flatlanders appreciate a little help in recovering from a day of hiking. Thanks for visiting!

Walnut Canyon National Monument

After worshipping with Sovereign Grace Bible Church in Flagstaff, we drove a few miles east to Walnut Canyon National Monument, an operation of the National Park Service to honor the people that lived in cave homes in the cliffs of the canyon several hundred years ago.

Here's Karen on the path that descends about 180 feet to the level of the cliff homes. Fortunate for us that the trail is now paved with concrete steps and handrails.

Most of the cliff homes we observed seemed to be at the same level in the canyon, possibly due to the natural caves already carved into the hillside. In this picture you can see some remaining walls in the cave in the middle of the picture. I don't think sleepwalkers lasted long in this community.

The girls demonstrate the height of one of the taller rooms in the homes we visited.

In addition to viewing the neighbors' homes across the canyon, the walking trail afforded beautiful views of the cliff faces where the layers of sandstone (lower) and limestone (upper) were obvious. I liked the look of the cliff in this shot in that you can see juxtaposed layers of sandstone indicative of turbulent water when these layers were laid down in the great flood.

This image of visitors to the site in the 1890s illustrates the popularity of exploring these abandoned homes. This photo was taken before the area was claimed by the U.S. Forest Service, so there were no paved paths or carefully maintained steps. It's images like this that make us laugh at folks that think hiking in a skirt is unthinkable. Look at the ladies in this image: they're dressed in long skirts, poofy blouses, corsets, and cute little hats, and they've just scrambled 180 feet down into the canyon for an afternoon outing. And we today think we're tough! Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Images from the road

We're on the road again for our annual spring adventure. We've collected a few more states for the girls' "states-we've-visited" list, and our photos this week should be a bit different than last year's images.

Our first night stop was a Holiday Inn Express in the middle of Missouri, and I was tickled to start the next day with "dangerously high intellect." Don't worry, we did proceed with caution.

Our next night's stop was outside Oklahoma City at the home of our good friends, the Bowers family. All the kids have grown so much since we last saw them, and it was a pleasure to experience each of their blossoming personalities. Our time with Eric and Erika was a blast as always, and in many ways it feels like it was only yesterday when we talked with them last (maybe telephones, email, and Facebook help in that respect).

Anyone traveling west on I-40 through Texas is inundated by dozens of these signs, which caused us to ponder, "How many of our friends require more than 72 ounces of steak to feed the whole family?" As much as I would like to see how big a 72 oz steak is, I don't think I'd enjoy watching a single person trying to consume that thing. Is it a sin to tempt someone to gluttony?

Finally, our view from our deck at our destination for the week. Those are the San Francisco Peaks, and Humphreys Peak is hidden out of view behind this one. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Was last winter unusually cold?

I've heard several people around our area comment about how cold our last winter was. When one remembers the days in January when the high temperature was barely above 0°F, or the 95 days we spent below 50°F, it seems like the fair-weather crowd has really suffered. Compared to the historic averages for Peoria, Illinois, has it been colder than average? No.

For those readers that are averse to data, graphs, math, and any technical tools that enable us to actually understand our surroundings, I advise you to stop reading right now. You will only be bored and confused, and will likely leave comments about how bored and confused you are. Leave now after you leave happy comments about how warm the weather is. The rest of us will examine the data that led me to the conclusion that our winter in Peoria was warmer than typical.

This first chart shows average mean temperatures for our area from the beginning of August 2009 to the present. That data is represented by the blue curve. The red curve represents the actual mean temperatures we've experienced over that period. When the red curve was lower than the blue curve, the mean temperature was lower than average, while means that are warmer than average are represented by the data that shows the red curve above the blue one. The mean temperature is the average of the daily high and low temperatures, regardless of what time of day those extremes occurred or how long the temperature lingered near those values.

An overview of the chart shows a period at the beginning of October when the mean was well below average followed by about a month and a half that was almost always warmer than average. Likewise there were stretches in January and February that were consistently colder than average, and significant periods in March and April that were warmer than average. How can we tell whether the season as a whole has been colder or warmer than typical?

Answer: the Heating Degree Day. Heating degree days (HDD) are defined relative to a base temperature, and give an indication of how much energy would be required to heat a building on any given day. A common base temperature is 65°F, although almost any base would give you the same kind of relative measure. Given the base temperature of 65°F, our heating season would not technically begin until the average mean temperature drops below 65°F. For Peoria, that condition does not occur until about September 19. The chart below shows data from August 2009 since temperatures were cold enough at the end of that month to actually record HDD at that time. In terms of HDD, our heating season is still ongoing, and won't officially end until about the middle of May. Even though we haven't used our furnace the last few weeks, our historical average mean temperature is still below 65°F.

The purple bars on the chart indicate the difference between the actual HDD and average HDD for each day. The positive bars on the chart indicate the mean temperature was colder than average, and the negative bars indicate mean temperatures warmer than average. The orange curve is the cumulative difference, and is an indication of whether the season to date has required more or less heating energy than average. As you can see, we are over 200 HDD warmer than average for this time of year, although as recently as March 18 our heating season was colder than average.

At this point, a good cold snap in May could bring us right back in line with an average heating season, but I don't know many people that are wishing for that. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Heard today...

... at the American Vision Midwest Regional Worldview Conference at Providence Church in Morton, Illinois.

"You will not change the world as President of the United States; you will change the world with the heart of your little boy." -- Kevin Swanson

"The question is: Who is teaching the fear of God in the chemistry classroom?" -- Kevin Swanson

"Charity never, ever belongs to the state. Every time we send a brother or sister to Caesar for help, we rob Jesus of glory." -- James Lansberry

"Stealing from your neighbor is wrong." -- James Lansberry