Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last Week's Adventures: San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Winter is the time to go on adventures in the Phoenix area. The weather is beautiful all day long (highs in the 50s and 60s, lows in the 30s and 40s--you know, spring and summer weather in many other places lol) and it's still sunny and clear just like every other time of year. Last week, I went on two outdoors adventures.

The first was San Tan Mountain Regional Park. I'd never been there or heard of it before. I was just looking to explore somewhere different. It seems to be a park that isn't very well known. Barely any information is listed on it anywhere. The only facts I can seem to find about it are that it is 10,200 acres in size and that it is a good example of the "lower Sonoran Desert." I kind of laughed about that  because the Sonoran desert extends down into Sonora, Mexico, which is quite a bit further south than Queen Creek, Arizona, so I'm not really sure what is meant by "lower Sonoran Desert." I spent some time researching and I can't find that phrase written anywhere else when describing different areas of the Sonoran Desert region. Maybe it refers to the range of plants found at this particular elevation? I'm not sure. I guess it will remain a mystery for now.

Anyway, back to my adventure. I drove down to San Tan Mountain Regional Park in the afternoon so I could catch the sunset. When I stopped to pay the fee at the front of the park, I told the woman at the gate that I wasn't looking for any trails in particular. She remarked that I was just "looking for an adventure." She knew! lol.

San Tan Mountain Regional park is not set up in a loop with several trail heads like you may see in some of the other Maricopa County Parks. Instead, it appears that there is one main parking lot at the entrance where you can access most of the trailheads. If you want to access other trailheads or start the trails from the opposite direction, you have to exit the park and drive around it to the other parking lots. I decided to park at the main entrance. I looked at the trail map and picked the Goldmine Trail. You'll see why by reading the description that was on the back of the map:

Trail Length/Distance: 2.4 miles
Trail Rating: Difficult
Description: If you desire adventure, then you will love the Goldmine Trail as it takes you to the highest point on any trail at roughly 2,300 feet in elevation. The trail begins at the San Tan Trailhead near the visitor center and ends at the Goldmine Trailhead located near Skyline Drive near on the north side of the park. Enjoy a nice workout with breathtaking views from Goldmine Mountain. Don't forget to visit the graves of two miners Mansel Carter and Marion Kennedy, buried near the Goldmine Trailhead as you learn about their unique way of life.
There was more factual information about the park listed in that hiking trail blurb than on anywhere on their website! I always know to take it with a grain of salt whenever any Maricopa County Park lists anything as "difficult" or "steep." Generally, their trails are only "difficult" or steep if you've never hiked a day in your life. Turns out, I was right (not that I was complaining lol).

The trail map. "GM" stands for goldmine.

The trail near the beginning stretch. It's really well established and used by horses often.

Some "horse puckey" as my dad likes to call it. I took a picture because I was perplexed by the rocks on top. Any ideas?
The view of San Tan Valley from the park. The air in Phoenix has been very dirty during the last couple of weeks.
Some cholla hanging out in some volcanic rock.

It was nice and cool outside, but the late afternoon sun was still blazing!
I'm not sure what these are, but they were all over the place in among the tiny blades of grass.
I will say, it was kind of a grueling climb up this hill. It wasn't too steep or treacherous, just a long ascent up the hill with few places to rest. This is the view of Queen Creek and the Superstitions to the north.

I made it up the hill just in time to catch the sun beginning to set over the San Tans. It was a race!
A 360 panoramic view from the spot where I was standing. The farthest right section of the picture is where I just hiked from.
More sunset.
The last bit of light before the sun disappeared completely.

After the sun began to go down, I had to turn around and head back to my car before it got too cold. The air here is very dry and does not contain enough moisture to prevent the temperature from fluctuating dramatically from day to night. It was about 70 degrees when I started my hike, but dropped to about 55 degrees by the time I returned to my car. The low that night was 40 and the lows a couple of nights later were in the 20s. I'd definitely like to go back when I have more time. I want to see the miners graves and the other side of the park. 

Check back later to hear about my adventure with Bill in the Superstitions!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Downstream Photography

As you may or may not know, I've started taking classes in web design. In one of my classes last semester, I had to create a website from scratch using HTML5 and CSS3 and a notepad editor only. For my first website created without the help of a website editor, I created a website for Bill's photography business, Downstream Photography. I made two versions of the site, a desktop and a mobile version. If you click this link from a desktop, you will see the desktop version, and if you click this link from a mobile device, you'll see the mobile version:

These are snapshots of what the homepage looks like in the mobile and desktop versions. As you might have noticed from the "Vote Now" button on the homescreen, Bill has entered a contest to photograph Soundgarden in L.A. The contest is decided through a combination of popular vote and a decision by the judges. In order to vote, you must have a Facebook, Twitter, or be a member of Talenthouse (The site running the contest. It's actually pretty cool. If you become a member--it's open to artists, musicians, etc., you can enter their various contests. Membership is free.) If you'd like to give Bill a vote (I'd love it if you would!), click this button:
Vote Now

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Many Faces of Arizona Winter: Part 2

On Christmas Eve Eve, Bill and I went to Kingman to visit his dad and grandma. On our way out of town, we saw some hot air balloons with this beautiful sunset as a backdrop:

The next day, we left Kingman for Winslow. We decided to try to go to the Grand Canyon since I hadn't made it there on my trip with Angel and Isabel. When we hit Williams, we were in snow. After about fifteen minutes on the highway toward the Grand Canyon, we ran into an accident that had the highway blocked. We were determined to try and make it to the Grand Canyon, so we decided to try and find a road that was a shortcut between the highway we were on and the other highway that we could take toward the Grand Canyon.

This is what we found. The snow was pouring down and the only path was a deserted, muddy, and icy dirt road through the forest. We admitted defeat...for now...
As we continued on the drive between Williams and Flagstaff, the road conditions only got worse and the snowfall was relentless. This is my view out the passenger window.
And this is my view a little later in the trip.

This is some video I took on our drive. The smacking sound you hear the windshield wipers making  about halfway through the video are from them hitting ice that has built up on the windshield. At one point, Bill and I were rolling down our windows and pulling off chunks of ice while we were driving to keep the windshield wipers working.

The ice that built up on the headlights and front bumper.
Melting water from the windshield that re-froze while we were driving.

After we passed flagstaff, the snow disappeared and we had a normal drive the rest of the way to Winslow and back home. The next day, Christmas, we went to my aunt's house. Here are some random pictures from the day:

Bill as Napoleon in his paper "popper" crown.
Do you like my festive necklace? It lights up :)

Dad and Michael discussing the jokes from the poppers.
Mom modeling her poinsettia hair clip.
Aunt Debbie, Aunt Jeannie, and Dick enjoying their stocking stuffers.

  The whole group. We're holding up the gifts that my cousin made for us for a picture since he doesn't live in state. Yes, that is a giant bow on my head lol.

On New Year's Day, Bill and I went on a drive to find cool sunset pictures, and we found them :) .

Yes, it really looked like this. I didn't do any photo editing on these.

Below are some panorama shots I stitched together:

This is the beginning of the sunset. You can see a small glimmer of red light beginning to break through the clouds in the middle. Bill and I were ready to give up at this point. We thought the sunset was being blocked by the clouds and started to turn around and head back to the car.

We turned around after a couple of minutes and this is what we saw.

This is the sunset a few minutes later.

The view of the sunset from the same perspective as the first panorama shot.

If you missed The Many Faces of Arizona Winter: Part 1, you can read it here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Many Faces of Arizona Winter: Part 1

So it all started when Angel, Isabel, and I decided to go to the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks before Christmas. We thought, "Oh, how cool! It will be covered in snow. We'll be able to see it without all the tourists and get a cool view that no one else gets." Then we hit a snowstorm an hour outside of Flagstaff.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it does snow in Arizona, and we even get snow storms. We took this drive in a Toyota Yaris with snow tires. We had chains in the trunk, but we were really hoping to not have to try and put them on.

The view from the backseat. We saw lots of cars that had skidded off the road into the embankments. Arizona drivers don't know what to do in the snow (us included lol). 

The view out my window.

Look at that lovely, icy road...


On the way to our hotel, we went skidding while turning left in an intersection (I told you we didn't know what we were doing lol)  and landed in a snow drift. Luckily, we didn't hit anything hard. Although, we carried this chunk of snow to the parking garage underneath the car. Her car isn't white by the way, that's all snow.

We reached Flagstaff a little late, but we decided to see if we could get to the Grand Canyon anyway.
The road was empty and covered in snow, so we stopped near this field for a freezing cold photo op and then headed back into town.

The road. There's pavement under there somewhere lol.
  Angel and Isabel.
We stayed at the Hotel Monte Vista. We'd heard it was historical and haunted and thought it would be a fun adventure. Turns out that historical just meant old and cheaply done and the only people who might be haunting the place are former customers who were disgruntled about the bad customer service. The rude woman working at the front desk actually gave us directions to the janitor's closet on the second floor to go hunt down a plunger so we could plunge our own toilet. Seriously?? We were staying at the Hotel Monte Vista, not the Hostel Monte Vista (I've been treated much better at hostels, by the way).

Anyway, the bar at the hotel was nice and served some tasty drinks (above and below)


Flagstaff the next morning. A beautiful winter wonderland!
We decided that we were ill-equipped for more snow driving, so we decided to spend the next day in Sedona.

The highway was much more inviting this morning.
Beautiful Sedona red rock capped with snow.
We couldn't resist heading out for a short hike.
Isabel and I getting the perfect shots.
The look on our faces is "Thank God it's not 15 degrees here."

Taking it in.
Isabel found me an awesome dead tree to photograph. I am a fan of the dead trees.

I had to use the zoom on my camera to figure out if that was, in fact, a person up there.
"Angel! Pull over in that parking lot that has five 'Gallery Parking Only' signs! We have to take a picture!!"

People actually live here.

I think this picture speaks for itself. I found it hanging in the middle of a huge indoor/outdoor shop. I'm not actually sure where it's pointing. There was a tree over <== there with some wind chimes hanging from it.

After finding some cool things at the shop, we headed over to a couple of the new age crystal hippie shops and then headed home. We didn't get to the Grand Canyon, but we had an adventure!

Check back for The Many Faces of Arizona Winter: Part 2 with footage from a snow storm and an awesome New Year's day sunset!