Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My World: Flagstaff, AZ

Gandy Dancer Sculpture by Clyde "Ross" Morgan October 21, 2000

Photo by Kathie Brown 12-14-08 Nikon D80 18-70mm lens.

(Click on any photo to enlarge for the best view.)

As the train pulled out of the station on December 14th, taking mom back to New England the cold light of a snowy dawn illuminates the sky. The Amtrak train rumbles past the sculpture of "The Gandy Dancer," a tribute to the men who built these tracks so long ago. Beneath the sculpture a plaque tells me that these men were called Gandy Dancers because they sang songs to keep the rhythm as they worked the rails and built the tracks with tools manufactured by the Gandy Tool Company. Beside being a stop on the railroad line, Flagstaff is also home to Northern Arizona Universty, as well as being the gateway to the Grand Canyon, one of America's most popular National Parks. I have yet to visit there myself, though I have driven past numerous times and we are so close now...but the day is cold and the drive home is long.

So, we pull out of the train station to head back to the La Quinta Inn where we hope to catch a few more winks of sleep before the long ride back to Tucson and warmth. As we head south on South Milton Road, the main road towards our hotel, Gus and I are looking around us at the snow covered town. We are lost in conversation and before we know it, we miss the turn. Normally, this would not be a big deal, but in Flagstaff the main road becomes interstate 17 as you head south. We soon find ourselves on a divided highway with all of our stuff and our poor little dog back at the hotel and no way to turn around! I start to panic as the roads are bad and the snow too deep to cross the median. I have no idea how far south we will have to travel before we finally find an exit but, just a few miles down the road we spot one.

We get off the highway and cross over the interstate to the north-bound on-ramp. As we do, the panorama of the San Francisco Peaks comes into view bathed in the soft light of dawn. My panic subsides with the beauty before me. We would have missed this if we had not missed our turn. A soft gray cloud hovers over snow-capped Humphrey's Peak, the highest point in Arizona with an elevation of 12,633 feet.

We are soon back at our hotel as the morning clouds blush in the first light of day. We grab some breakfast in the lobby and head up to our room. I read for a bit as Gus drifts off to sleep. All the while the birding itch grows more intense. Finally, I can stand it no longer. I bundle up and head outside to see what birds I can find around the parking lot.

The sun brightened sky does nothing for the temperature, which hovers around 20 degrees F. Though I walk the perimeter of the parking lot, all I find are crows and ravens trying to find some warmth in the sun. Though crows are common across most of the United States, we don't have them down in Tucson. These are the first crows I have counted in Arizona. I count 12 in the immediate area.

Later on when Gus is up we pack up the car and check out. Gus promised me we could spend a little time birding while we are here, so, he humors me by driving around town as I try to find more birds to count. It appears the birds are smarter than I am, for I can't find anything other than crows and ravens. Finally, we stop at Thorpe Park on the west side of town, where I find this lone white-breasted nuthatch scooting down the bark of a pine tree. It's nearly noon now and I admit defeat. There will be no more bird watching in Flagstaff today for me.

Standing in the snow amongst the towering pines these tree bones laugh at me in their nakedness while I am bundled in coat, hat, and gloves...

...And Gus calls his folks in Maine and tries to convince them he really is standing in snow. Then, it's into the car as we head south back down the same highway that has now melted off with the peaks of the San Francisco Range in our rear view mirror and the hope of warm temperatures ahead.

Other Flagstaff Attractions:


Anonymous said...

Stacey and I spent a little time in Flagstaff and we always loved the views of the San Francisco Peaks. They seem kinda of magical. We hiked up there in the winter too and they are quite fun to explore.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great photographs. I haven't been to Flagstaff in years.

Anonymous said...

I love the nuthatch photo. They must be among the world's cutest birds.

You mentioned you hadn't been to the Canyon. Have you been to any of the other area attractions?

Kathie Brown said...

Natural Moments, you are braver than me!

Hi Yogi! Welcome! And come on back to Flagstaff 'cause its beautiful here!

Hi Wren, No, I have not been to the canyon or any of the other area attractions. Flagstaff always seems to be a place we drive through. After this visit I want to go back to explore. I am pressing Gus to make it to the Grand Canyon this year. If I went nearer to springtime I'm sure I would see so many birds! Flagstaff itself has so much to see. They have an urban trail system but it was just too cold for me to go hiking and our time was so limited. We did try out a different park called Buffalo Park but it was just too snowy to hike in.

Gaelyn said...

I like the Gandy Dancer statue and story, especially with that gorgeous sky for background. And Humphreys looks exciting all in white. I looked at all summer with no snow.
Come to Grand Canyon North Rim this summer and I'll give you the royal tour.
A great tour of Flagg with wonderful captures.

Beth said...

Oh Kathie, what a nice trip. I have been in that area several times and have hiked the Grand Canyon 3 times, ran it in a raft in 1976 and been to Sunset Crater and Coconino National Forest. It is all beautiful. I want to go back and climb Humphrey's Peak one of these days. Happy New Year.

Larry D said...

Wonderful photos! We have not been to Arizona but I plan on it some day.

Margaret Cloud said...

What a nice post, the picture of the mountains is so beautiful, I guess I will have to come into the modern world and trade my 1950 camera in on a new fangled one. When Gus was calling his folks, did he have a camera on his phone to take a picture of the snow to show his folks? I am wishing you and Gus a very Happy New Year.

Arija said...

A lovely post Kathie! See, when you least expect it, God gives you a present, the blush of morning light on snow capped peaks and a lenticular cloud as well.
Isn't it funny, once you start watchin out for bird you get hooked and become almost fanatical about it. It is like drugs or gambling but much more positive.
Glad you got home safely, tired, but safe.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

For a moment there I was worried about your getting on the wrong road,but that mountain scene must have made it all worthwhile.

kayleen said...

The San Francisco Peaks are beautiful. Several years ago we took the train from Williams to Grand Canyon. Was a neat train trip, but if I ever did it again I would want to spend at least one nite, so I could see the sunrise and sunset.

Kathie Brown said...

Gaelyn, I may just take you up on that offer. I have heard the North rim is beautiful and less visited. As I don't like crowds, this would be perfect for me! When will you be working there?

Beth, if you come back to climb Mt. Humphreys you'd better call me! I would love to go with you! So glad to bring back such happy memories for you!

Larry, I hope you get to come because the reality is even better than the photos!

Margret, Gus' phone does not have a camera but I had ours and took lots of pictures which I can email to them! Thanks for stopping by!

Arija, it was a precious gift and yes, bird watching has become an obsession. I counted birds at every fast food restaurant along the way. I never counted so many house sparrows and pigeons before in my life, but now and then I would get a surprise, like a gorgeous male Northern Harrier soaring low over a vacant lot behind the Burger King in Casa Grande!

Ruth, it was acutally the right road at the wrong time. We traveled the same road home later in the day. Thank you for your concern though, and we did make it home safely.

Kathie Brown said...

kayleen, if the sunrise I saw was any indication of what is in store, then I would tend to agree with you!

Mary said...

Ahhh. California and Ravens. That nuthatch is a pleaser, too.

What fun, Kathie!


Celeste said...

That beautiful view of the mountains was almost missing your turn for, I think. Although your little dog was probably a bit worried!

Larry said...

That's funny-The birding itch really got to you.-You really are a dedicated birder!

Unknown said...

Great photos. I'm trying to get some birds but not as easy as I thought!

??? said...

Lovely photos and I think I would have freaked after missing that turn, I hate it when that happens. I'm glad that you got to see such a beautiful sight for it :)

TR Ryan said...

Oh that blue sky reminds me of days in New Mexico. The nuthatch photo is a piece of art.