Tuesday, September 27, 2016

And then came Moab. . .Utah, that is.

The name Moab is a Biblical name for a land just short of the Promised Land.
The Moabites were historically regarded as the perpetual enemy of the Israelites, "God's Chosen People." Physically, the region was a green, verdant valley in the middle of a serious desert; an emerald in the sand, so to speak. Because of those similarities, our little town was dubbed Moab by Mormon settlers in the 1800's.
                                                                           -- Moab-Utah.com

Sunset in Moab, Utah
Our heart rates were finally returning to normal after traveling that breathtaking section of roadway through the Monument Valley. We were headed to Moab (MOE-ab), Utah our own ‘Promised Land’ where after an eight-hour day on the road, we were ready for our two night stay in this small town. We were heading to the Fairfield Inn and Suites, just outside town near Arches National Park for this segment of our Southwestern road trip.

Fairfield Inn is dwarfed by the surrounding cliffs - Moab, Utah
At the time we decided to stay there – about two days in advance of the trip -- we didn’t know much about this small town of less than 10,000 residents nestled tucked in alongside the Colorado River in Southeastern Utah. But a bit of on-line research had convinced us it was time to visit – and to give ourselves an extra night there.

Colorado River, Moab, Utah
During the 1800’s the area around what is known as Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail. That 700-mile-long trail is a historical trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico with those of Los Angeles, California and southern California.

Moab Valley
The downtown, as with most tourism-oriented towns, is lined with galleries, restaurants and gift shops. There are dozens of retail outlets that focus on the out-of-doors, from selling gear for outdoor adventures to offering tours. The area is an outdoors paradise with whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Colorado River, canoeing on the Green River, mountain and road biking, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking and camping.

Working up a hunger and thirst:

The lone food truck in Moab, Utah
With only a single full day we packed as much into it as we could: a visit to Arches National Park, and during the afternoon we tried out the hotel’s pool area and then headed into town to explore its many stores and find a place for dinner. (There is no end to the food options.)

Moab - Margaritaville, Utah!
We chuckled at the headline in one of their tourist publications: “How to Get a Drink. . .in Moab, Utah”.  As it was a question that had crossed our minds as we set out on this route.

Utah, with its Mormon population and influence has long been recognized by travelers as a place than can be difficult to find and consume alcoholic beverages. But the times are changing even in this ‘dry land’.  The Moab Brewery – yes, a real micro-brewery in downtown Moab – is the only place in town you can buy full-strength beer to go.  Beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% can be purchased at food stores and convenience stores.

The Utah State Liquor Store is the only retail outlet that sells bottled liquor, wine and beer with an alcohol content above 3.2%. You don’t find the beverages with that alcohol content and above in grocery stores.

However, Moab now has two local wineries:  Castle Creek Winery, located at Red Cliffs Lodge, 15 miles from town on Scenic Highway (The River Road) and Spanish Valley Vineyards, just off Highway 191, south of Moab.  Both wineries have on-site tasting rooms and wine is available for sale.
La Sal Mountains - Utah
With only a day we didn’t have time to drive the scenic loop road that would have provided a close up view of the La Sal Mountains, a part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, just 20 miles south of Moab. With peaks reaching nearly 13,000 feet this alpine ranges is the second highest range in Utah. We also had to put Canyon Lands National Park a bit to the north on the ‘next time’ list.  But we did visit Arches National Park and that’s a whole post in itself.

As always, the time you spend with us is most appreciated! And another big thank you to those who’ve shared our posts on FB with your friends and family there. Hope to see you back next week.

We’ve just returned to our Stone House on the Hill in Greece where we plan to spend the fall. I know a number of you are waiting for more road trip tales from here so as soon as we finish up with the Southwest trip tips and tales, I’ll tell you about some of what the Peloponnese has to offer! And of course, I've got tales to tell 'from the hill'. Safe and healthy travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with: 

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monument Valley: “Awesome ~ Simply Awesome”

AWESOME – adjective – extremely impressive or daunting,
inspiring great admiration, apprehension or fear.

“Awesome!” responded the young telephone sales clerk when I placed an order for curtains.

“Will that be all?”  We said yes and the young waitress replied, “Awesome!”

Neither of those things were awesome.  But on our Southwest Road Trip we found something that  really was:

Awesome is the Monument Valley that stretched from Northwest Arizona up into Utah.

We revised our route north while in Arizona's “Valley of the Sun” (as the Phoenix area is known), after reading a travel article in the local paper. The area sounded too good to miss - and it was! 

We were barely 25 miles beyond Kayenta, a small ‘census designated place’ of about 6,000 people (not even a ‘town’) in the Navajo Indian Reservation, when we come over a rise in the road and were met with an ‘AWESOME!’ sight – the kind that gives you goose pimples and a shiver even on the warmest of days.

The Monument Valley from Highway 163
We were traveling a stretch of Highway163 that cuts through the vast, remote Monument Valley, a region of the Colorado Plateau famous for its clusters of vast sandstone buttes (the largest reaching skywards for 1,000 feet). This area is part of the 16 million acre Navajo Reservation. The number of outdoor hiking, rafting, horseback riding and camping opportunities are endless. 

There are even two hotels in this somewhat lonesome landscape – The View Hotel and Restaurant and the Monument Valley Trading Post, both just off Highway 163. One warns that because of the remote location, Wi-Fi might be a bit lacking in speed and quality.

Monument Valley straddles Arizona and Utah
The Anasazi, the Ancestral Puebloans, are believed to have settled in this region in 120 BCE; the cause of their disappearance is still being speculated upon by historians. Then came the Navajo culture centuries before the Spaniards arrived in 1581.

Monsoon season made a lush green carpet on the valley floor
The Navajo Visitor Center is about four miles from the highway. As Monument Valley is a part of the Navajo Tribal Park, there is an entry fee required for those who leave the highway and spend time exploring by jeep, hiking or horseback. All tours can be arranged in advance or at the Visitor Center. 
Entry fee is $20 per car with up to four occupants.  National Park passes don’t work here.

Mind-boggling in size and shape - the Monument Valley rock formations
We’d considered staying at one of those two hotels but our last minute itinerary change brought us here the Thursday prior to Labor Day weekend when rooms were scarce and the few that were still available cost many more hundreds of dollars than we wanted to pay. So our 'touring' was limited to the time we spent driving the highway through this wild, usually-sunbaked desert. However, as I told you earlier we traveled in early September at the end of the area's monsoon season which made for lush green landscapes.
Monument Valley - Arizona and Utah
In fact rain clouds skirted past and drizzled on us before we left the area.

A two-lane highway bisects the Monument Valley
Highway 163 is a two-lane roadway – it was nearly empty on this Thursday afternoon.

A mitten perhaps?
The land and monuments are considered sacred to the Navajo. There is something about this place - even just driving through it - that makes you understand why.

Monument Valley
While normally road construction delays are a source of frustration, we welcomed the one we encountered just as we were leaving the area.  It gave us a chance to get out of the car, feel the strong desert breeze that was pushing the rainclouds above us and get one final glance at that magical, no, make that, “Awesome!” place – Monument Valley!

A long and not so lonesome highway leads to Monument Valley
If you are planning a trip here in the near future check out the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park website as it is full of information about accommodations, and guides that have been approved by the Tribe for hire.

Up close and awesome!
Monument Valley is 146 miles from Moab, Utah or 380 from Salt Lake City, Utah, 395 miles from Las Vegas. Rent a car and set out on a road trip – it is one you won’t forget!

Our destination that day was Moab and its amazing Arches National Park - an area that turned out to be equally as 'awesome' as here. We'll tell you about it soon. And, as always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and hope that your travels are healthy and happy ones. 

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Through My Lens

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Utah to Greece ~ Taking Another Detour of sorts. . .

This has been the year of detours. Sometimes even the most well-thought-out itinerary needs an adjustment and sometimes so do blog posts.  I told you last week I’d be writing about our Southwest U.S. road trip this week and in a sense I am, but not quite from the perspective I had planned. . .because Wednesday morning everything changed. . .

I was up early sipping a cup of coffee and watching the morning sky lighten over the ski resort town of Park City, Utah, where we were in our second week of ‘timeshare life’ during our Southwestern road trip. Park City is a post-card perfect ski village about a half-hour outside Salt Lake City.

On this laid-back morning, I decided to check Facebook while I awaited The Scout’s emergence from slumber. . .

The first photo that came up in my feed was from Kalamata, Greece:

Kalamata, Greece
Kalamata. The big city just an hour from our place in the Mani region of the Greek Peloponnese.  The photo just didn’t compute. . .

I remembered reading a friend’s post the day before urging drivers to use caution on the roadways; it was raining -- a much needed rain but because it had been dry for so long – but she’d cautioned of slick roadways.  Not slick enough to cause that pileup though!

A car on the beach in Stoupa, The Mani
The next photos to scroll across my FB page were from the village Stoupa, much closer to our home, posted by the same friend, Maria Korma, who’d cautioned drivers the day before. Maria operates Mani Rental Cars in the village, and that red car above - we were to learn - was a new one in Maria’s fleet – just a week old. It had been parked on the street only hours before.  There were others:

Flood waters where the street should be
The morning calm in that Park City condo ended. Who could watch a sunrise in Utah when having visions of our Stone House on the Hill, its garden and/or grove being washed down the hillside?

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook and its feature, Messenger, I called my friend Sue who lives just down the valley from us in The Mani and we spoke face-to-face (at no cost, thank you, Facebook!) about what had happened.  By the time we talked – my early morning Wednesday and her late afternoon Wednesday – the storm had subsided and the clean up process had begun.

The aftermath - Stoupa
Sue and her family had made it through with little damage to their home and property. Still sounding a bit shaken though, from the ferociousness of the storm, she said Greek news was reporting roads blocked or destroyed, homes and businesses flooded. Some had lost crops; some had lost ages-old olive trees. Cars had been tossed and trashed by flood waters.

Divers were called in to locate cars in the bay
The storm that some are now calling the ‘100 year storm’ dumped 5.5 inches of rain in a single hour.  The Kalamata Airport closed; flights were cancelled. The Mayor of Kalamata was quoted as saying he’d never seen anything like it. Four people died as result of the storm that passed over our area as it moved northeast toward Thessoloniki.

Rallying to Recover

The communities went to work cleaning up streets, cars, homes, businesses and beaches.  The government declared five municipalities as being in a state of emergency and photos showed military troops and heavy equipment helping with the restoration and cleanup.  A call for volunteer help was issued in our area and the community responded.

Clean up efforts began immediately 

And the response from volunteers was immediate and enthusiastic. . .

Pantasi Beach, just below The Stone House on the Hill

Another view of Pantazi Beach
Back in Business

By Saturday, my friend Maria had posted the photos below saying that the sun was shining and tourists had returned to the beaches.  Recovery efforts had been swift at the beach-front town.

Stoupa - three days later
Beach-goers basked in sunshine
And the fate of the The Stone House on the Hill . .  .

Relief at seeing The Stone House on the Hill right where we'd left it
My friend Sue posted the photo above on FB a few hours after we talked on Wednesday to assure me our Stone House on the Hill and the four to its left were still in the same place they had been when we left last spring.

Many of you recall our friends Chuck and Marti from Kirkland who’d visited us last year had decided to move to our area this fall for a year’s ex pat adventures.  By a quirk of fate, their arrival brought them, their two cats and dog, to Stoupa late Wednesday evening. There they saw cars floating in the bay and recovery efforts underway. And they learned the road to their rental home had washed out.

The Road to the Stone House on the Hill - this was paved
After a night in town they moved to our Stone House on the Hill until they could get to their home. They reported we had water in the living room and curtains will need to go to the dry cleaners after we get back. They dried soaked things and mopped up the water.  The garden and grove – they tell us – look good, perhaps the olives look even better than they did when they visited last fall.

The road to our place was among those hard hit. . .it is bad, but so far (fingers-crossed that it gets no worse) we’ll be able to reach our house.

Sections of our road washed out
They were able to move to their home on Saturday, but are getting a different rental car – a 4-wheel drive) to navigate their road. You can see why from the photo below:

The 'road' to our friends' home is worse than ours
Obviously the photos in this post are not mine.  A huge thank you to Facebook (and real-life) friends, Maria Korma, Stavroula Nikoloudi, Chuck and Marti Bartlett, and Sue and Don Beattie and an unknown source (Kalamata car photo) for posting these photos of theirs on FB over the course of the last few days.

It won’t be long now before we are back in Greece but for the last couple of days, even as we  completed our road trip through the Southwestern U.S. our hearts and heads were with our many friends in The Mani. . .

And that’s why this week’s road trip tale took a bit of a detour!

As always, thanks for the time you spend with us each week. And another thank you to all who follow TravelnWrite on Facebook or who are FB friends and who have provided such an outpouring of support and concern for not only us, but the villagers and our friends in The Mani. It meant a lot to all of us ~ hugs to you all!

Linking up with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

South, then North by Northwest – An Autumn Road Trip

“To travel is to live”
- Hans Christian Andersen

It was time to travel.  We’d had the travel itch for days and the suitcases had been in various stages of packing for a few weeks. We’ve been in one place – our Pacific Northwest home – since early May – the bags unpacked and stowed away - an unusually long time to be anywhere for us. It was definitely time to hit the road.

[Sorry about the print size this week. Blogger and Surface don't mix well and makes travel n writing a bit frustrating when it refuses to enlarge the font size.}

A scene from Scottsdale, Arizona
We are kicking off the ‘travel season’ with a trip to the Southwestern United States – Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The road trip began following a flight to Phoenix, Arizona and a week spent living our ‘timeshare life’ there.

Not everyone thinks Arizona in August is the most desirable of destinations. It is still a summer sizzler and it is monsoon season in ‘The Valley of the Sun’ (as the greater Phoenix area is known). But we decided to take a chance on the weather.

An Arizona rabbit that thought he was hiding in the desert

Monsoon season in the desert has an average starting date of about July 7th and ends approximately September 13th. Our visit was near the end of the season which is determined by the number of days with an average dew point of 55 degrees or higher.

Storm clouds threatened but we avoided the Arizona monsoon

The monsoon is a thunderstorm that can sweep across the valley bringing heavy rain, wind and lightening. Flash floods often close roads. It can cause an event called a haboob, an enormous dust storm that can envelope the valley with dust and debris. An advisory handed out at check-in, warned that if a dust or rainstorm should happen while we were outside to move inside immediately. If we were on the road, we were to move well out of the way of traffic. 

How green the desert can be in monsoon season in Arizona

We made it through the week without experiencing a monsoon or haboob, but were excited to leave the desert’s penetrating heat behind us. Daytime temperatures reached  107F and that made outside activities somewhat limited. However, a travel bonus of the desert this time of year is the lush green desert scape that surrounds instead of the dusty barren brown carpet.

Sand dunes in northeastern Arizona

Of course that isn’t to say there weren’t places along our route that reminded us of Egypt’s pyramids (like the dunes in the photo above)  in Northeastern Arizona en route to Moab, Utah. Our ultimate Utah destination was Park City, a popular outdoors destination (home to the 2002 Winter Olympics Alpine and Snowboard events) southeast of Salt Lake City that sits high in the mountains - 7,500 feet elevation, in fact. In the winter skiers and snow enthusiasts flock here; mountain bikers and hikers the rest of the year.

Map picture
Beginning in Phoenix, AZ then Moab, Park City, UT, and Las Vegas, NV
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
- Lao Tzu

We’d not planned to visit Moab when we left the Northwest. Half way through our stay in Phoenix we read a newspaper article about Monument Valley and decided it was high time we see it. We cancelled our previously made hotel reservation, switched our route and headed northeast instead of northwest. And decided to spend two nights in Moab, just the other side of Monument Valley.

Mother Nature's canvass in northeastern Arizona

It took eight hours to drive from Phoenix to Moab; much of it on two-lane roads, punctuated with passing lanes every few miles. Elevations changed like a roller coaster, 4000 feet at Flagstaff, then 5,000 then 6,000 by the time we neared Sedona 30 minutes later. We passed or traveled through  towns named Kayenta, Tuba City and Cameron, the latter which proudly proclaimed itself, “Home of the WWII Navajo Code Talkers”.

Afoot and light-hearted
I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me.
    -- Walt Whitman

The desert landscape in Northern Arizona near the Utah border
The hours and miles passed quickly with such an ever-changing and stunning landscape. We congratulated ourselves on changing directions - and not being tied to an itinerary. After a summer of being bombarded with presidential politics on television, it has been good to be reminded of America's beauty, small towns and friendly people. While western Utah reminds us of Arizona’s vast flat lands, the monuments and mountains that make up eastern Utah are simply spectacular. We’ll take you on a pictorial tour of them next week.

Again, thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today. Wishes for healthy and safe travels to you and yours.  We hope to see you back here next week - please bring a friend!  Have you taken a road trip lately? Are you the type to change plans in the middle of a trip or must you follow a set itinerary? Tell us about it in the comments below or shoot us an email.

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