This Week In Awkwardness

I left Arizona and have now made it across New Mexico and half of the Texas panhandle.  I-40 parallels Route 66 through this area so even though I’m not on that road I’m passing through the same towns, most of which still embrace their Mother Road history with many hotels and quirky tourist traps from that era, and of course plenty of memorabilia.

I feel like the land is getting progressively flatter and emptier as I go.  Still looking forward to trees.

I woke up at 5:30 one morning to a nearly complete lunar eclipse that I had totally forgotten about.

I’m always surprised by how many abandoned buildings there are on the plains.  Maybe it’s just because they’re out there in the open, not hidden by plant growth, but they seem to be everywhere.  Trespassing has never been something that bothered me much, but these places always feel so exposed I can never bring myself to explore them.  I get questioned by the police often enough as it is.

Book Finished:

The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan

This was a fascinating look into the sudden rise of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the everyday lives of its residents.  The town grew up around the nuclear enrichment factories that were part of the Manhattan Project, an organization so secretive that most of the workers had no idea what they were actually working on.  Many of them were women out on their own for the very first time.  The stories were a little heavy on the women noticing how many single men there were around them, but I guess if that was what was going on, that was what was going on.  Amongst the experiences of the female employees and their feelings about the work they were doing, Kiernan does a good job of explaining the history and science behind the rise of the Manhattan Project and its role in World War II.

Favorite Quote:

“And if you got your M voltage up and your G voltage up, then Product would hit the birdcage in the E box at the top of the unit and if that happened, you’d get the Q and R you wanted.  It was that simple.” – they seriously had NO IDEA what they were working on.

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Destination: Petrified Forest National Park


Unfortunately for me this isn’t really a hiking sort of park.  There were a couple of short trails but it seemed like one of those places were you drive through, stopping at pull offs to see a few things.  A few minutes there, a couple of pictures here, on to the next.  I read in their guide later that “off the beaten path” hiking is apparently OK in some places, but I had seen so many signs telling me to stay on the paved paths that it just got confusing.  Anyway I never really know what to do in these kinds of places.  Like am I supposed to dive out of the car to examine every single one of the bazillion petrified logs that are laying all over the place?  They’re interesting, but they’re not THAT interesting.


There were some things that I DID find really interesting, like the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock and a handful of other pull offs.


The park is arranged as a 28 mile drive between the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center at the north end and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south end.  I started at the south end, but either way is fine.


I stayed about 20 miles away in Holbrook.  It’s one of those desert towns with a profusion of Route 66 memorabilia and goofy dinosaur statues.  (I loved it)


Route 66 was replace by I-40 long ago, but once upon a time it ran through where the park is now.  The pavement is gone, but the telephone poles remain, and there’s even a rusting Studebaker to mark the spot.



Gallery: V-Bar-V Heritage Site

V-Bar-V gets its name from the ranch that used to occupy the land.  Having been private land for so long, the petroglyphs here are remarkably well preserved.  The site is believed to be a solar calendar – the sun falls on certain drawings at certain times of the year, telling the people who made them when to plant & harvest crops, or when to expect rain.

This Week In Awkwardness

I learned how to throw spears using an atlatl during V-Bar-V Heritage Site‘s Archaeology Discovery Days.  After a half-dozen throws I was getting halfway decent at it; my last spear actually hit the board, although not any of the ground sloth targets painted on it.

I discovered a PBS show called Time Team America that follows a group of specialists helping out on archaeological digs all over the United States.  They spend three days on a site, using high tech gear to help the group conducting the dig accomplish a specific goal, like finding evidence of a building they’ve been looking for.  The show covered a wide range of topics from throughout history – everything from 13,000 year old Paleo Indian sites to Civil War era prison camps.  If you’re into history or archaeology it’s definitely worth a look.

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Clark Memorial Clubhouse, Clarkdale, Arizona

Added to the Travel Map:

A Train Wreck in the Woods, Near Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

RKK Energiya Museum, Korolyov, Russia – space museum.

Museum of Soviet Arcade Games, Moscow, Russia – pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Star City, Russia – once secret cosmonaut training/residential facility.

Gallery: Crescent Moon Recreation Area

Crescent Moon is a small but very pretty recreation area just outside of Sedona, right along Oak Creek.  In hot months it would be good for swimming.

Other people’s trash that I packed out:



Gallery: West Fork Trail (Call of the Canyon)

This is easily one of my favorite hikes.  The trail follows the west fork of Oak Creek for almost three and a half miles as it flows down through the canyon.  The trail is fairly flat, with soaring cliffs on each side as a backdrop to the forest.  All along the trail were signs of flood and fire damage, and even a few patches of snow.  It crosses the creek 13 times, including several that require wading through ankle deep (and ICE COLD) water.  The first ford turned back at least two large, obnoxious groups of hikers, so I wasn’t too broken up about having to get my feet wet. >:D




Other people’s trash that I packed out:



This Week (and Last Week) in Awkwardness

I attended the Sedona St. Patrick’s Day parade & festival (which is apparently a big deal, even though I’ve never seen a single reference to anything Irish anywhere in Arizona before) where I saw this gem of a float, labeled “Flags for Freedom”:


Book Finished:

Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi

I was generally aware of the Manson Family murders but had never studied them in depth.  Bugliosi prosecuted Charles Manson & a few of his followers in the trial of their most famous crime spree, the Tate-LaBianca murders, so the book is an in-depth, mostly first person account of one of the most sensational events in recent history.  I didn’t expect to be genuinely creeped out, but the idea of one crazy person so thoroughly controlling his followers is pretty terrifying.

Favorite Quote:

“‘I think historically the easiest way to program someone into murdering is to convince them that they are alien, that they are them and we are us, and that they are different from us.’ [Dr. Joel Hochman, psychiatrist for the defense.]

Krauts.  Japs.  Gooks.  Pigs.”

Crossed Off the Travel Map:

West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona
West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona

Sedona Heritage Museum, Sedona, Arizona

Added to the Travel Map:

Memphis, Tennessee – just because I’m heading that way I guess.

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California – sand dunes & whatnot.

Fort Carroll, Edgemere, Maryland – abandoned, now a bird sanctuary.

Destination: Out of Africa Wildlife Park


Out of Africa is a different experience from most of the zoos I’ve been to. General admission is $30 and includes all of the different shows.  For an extra charge they also offer small-group safari tours on unimog trucks ($20) and a zipline tour ($90) over the animal pens.


The first thing I did was the 10 o’clock safari tour through the Serengeti section of the park.  Getting on the bus our guide handed us each a stick of celery. We didn’t keep our celery for very long because Kivo the giraffe was waiting at the gate to take them from us. If you’ve never gotten a sloppy kiss from a giraffe, this is your chance. Stick that celery in your mouth and let Kivo slobber all over your face when he reaches for it with his 18-inch tongue (I declined this particular opportunity and held my celery in my hand like a normal person). The guide also had a bucket of treats for the other animals so there were zebras, an ostrich, highly endangered addax antelope, and others coming right up to the bus. We even got to see a tiny, week-old baby zebra.


After the safari bus I took a tram up to the main part of the zoo.  The tram circles the whole thing, stopping at a few different places before heading back to the gate every twenty minutes, so you don’t really have to walk farther than you want to.  This section is where you’ll find the large predators and smaller animals that can’t be in the safari pen.  There’s a reptile house & yard, a prairie dog habitat, a marmoset garden (which was empty the day I visited – boo, I love marmosets 😦 ) and several species of big cats.  The shows are held near tram stop #2, mostly at the Critter Court.  Go here for giant snakes and the Creature Feature, where you can pet whichever animals they bring out that day.  The day I was there the show featured a black & white tegu, an green & yellow hybrid anaconda, and a Patagonian cavy, which was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they have the predator feed, where you basically walk along with the keepers while they throw big chunks of raw meat over the fences.  Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays they do the Wonders of Wildlife Show in the splash arena.


My favorite thing about Out of Africa was the Tiger Splash show.  Supposedly they are one of only two zoos in the world to do this (the other being Australia Zoo in Beerwah, Queensland).  There’s no training or schedule involved; basically, they let one of their full-grown tigers into a large pen with several zoo employees and they just play for half an hour.  The toys were mostly trash bags & shredded inflatable pool toys stuffed full of balloons.  That day’s tiger, a 340-pound white one named Chalet, had all of her claws so every time she tackled one of her toys all the balloons would pop.  The splash part of the show came into play when they held the toys out over the small pool in the middle of the pen, sending Chalet flying through the air and into the water.  I was surprised how similar the games were to ones you’d play with a house cat.  At one point an employee pulled out a long rope with a large ring on the end of it and started running around the pool trailing it.  His goal was to make it around two or three times, he almost made it before Chalet caught the ring, and that was it for him.  She didn’t budge during the tug-of-war that followed, even with two guys pulling on the rope and a woman trying to push her forward.  Chalet was very good-natured and the employees weren’t afraid of her at all, playfully pulling her tail and messing with her.  After the show everyone had the opportunity to go up and feed her ($5) through the fence with tongs.


Given the zoo’s emphasis on tigers & lions, it was funny that the very first animal I saw was a housecat. 🙂


Destination: Phoenix Zoo


Arriving at the zoo just after opening, I expected to spend a few hours, maybe get lunch and go to the botanical garden next door.  I ended up not leaving until closing time.  General Admission is $20, but I went with the $28 Value Ticket which includes the safari train ($5), stingray bay ($3), and 4D theater ($5).  The $36 Total Experience also gets you onto the carousel ($3) and a camel ride ($6).  Any of the added experiences can also be paid for separately.


The zoo is arranged with a savanna/desert section on one side and a tropical section on the other.  Going straight in from the entrance brings you to the African savanna exhibit, which contains several species all mingling together.  One of the giraffes seemed to have a crush on a common eland, he was following her around the whole time I watched them, while she smacked his legs with her horns.  From there you can turn left to continue with the savanna or right to head for the tropics.



The desert section has an exhibit of Arabian oryx and large display on the zoo’s efforts to rescue them from extinction.  Oryx are beautiful animals that were hunted down to just 10 individuals.  The Phoenix Zoo’s breeding program has been successful enough to release 300 animals back into the wild, in a sanctuary in Oman.  For some reason they keep the Sumatran tiger over here as well, but they’re building him a big new exhibit in the tropical section.  There are other big cats, a massive rhino, monkeys, a giraffe feeding station ($5), and plenty of other African animals.



Just off the main trail is the Arizona Trail, with displays of animals native to the area.  In the aviary I noticed a vulture sitting in a tree right above the prairie dogs.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he was contemplating eating one of them.  The Arizona section had more than it’s share of reptiles and nasty bugs.  There’s only so many sleeping lizards and coiled up snakes I can look at so I didn’t spend a lot of time in those buildings.  I always feel bad for them because they’re usually in such tiny boxes.  You’d think even a tarantula would notice that it really doesn’t have anywhere to go.



The centerpiece of the tropical section is a large lake with three islands where the lemurs and gibbons live, along with a menagerie of birds.  No doubt some were captive, but quite a few were obviously wild.  I saw one woman sit down with a bag of popcorn and immediately had two Canada geese trying to get it away from her.  On the Forest of Uco, the South American section, I watched an Andean bear trying to get comfortable on an extremely uncomfortable looking tree.  He had a nice hammock and plenty of other places to sleep, I have no idea why he wanted to be on that branch.  This was also the section with the most stunningly beautiful birds.  Parrots, flamingos, toucans, hornbills, numerous colorful doves, all just steps apart.  I stodd for a while watching the two juvenile orangutans play in their large habitat.  One of them kept running around with a sheet over his head, falling off of walls while bothering his friend.  The other half of the habitat holds the adult orangs and their 4-month-old baby.  He stayed at the top of a tower hidden by his mother, but the male one came down and sat by the window picking his nose.



One the other side of a second small lake is the Children’s Trail, but don’t be fooled, it’s not just for kids.  This is where they keep emus, bald eagles, more monkeys, and a couple kinds of smaller cats.  There’s also seasonal pedal boats to rent ($10) and a petting zoo (free) neither of which I personally checked out.

They had two movies going in the 4D theater, a documentary about grizzly bears and a shortened version of Ice Age 3, which is the one I went to.  They run every half hour so it’s easy to catch one of them and they aren’t very long.  You can go to both, the package tickets only include one so you’d have to pay for the other.  I had never heard of anything referred to as a 4D theater before, turns out it’s a 3D movie with seats that vibrate, water that sprays in your face,  snow that blows out of the ceiling, and a thing that pokes you really hard in the back, which I didn’t like one bit and spent the rest of the movie dreading that it would happen again.  It might be a little scary for young children – I was surprisingly terrified the first time a huge carnivore showed up and my seat vibrated along with its footsteps, and one little boy started flipping out when a dinosaur sneezed and water sprayed in his face.

The safari “train” was a bit of a disappointment in that it was really an airport tug pulling several trailers with benches on the same road I had already walked, but it was still a fun break and very informative.  Our guide seemed to know everything there was to know about the animals, their ages, names, when they arrived at the zoo, I was impressed but really she could have been making it all up and we’d never know the difference.  Still, kudos to her.  The kid in the back of our car kept asking his grandma if I was a “real cowgirl” because of the hat that I was wearing.  Fortunately they never asked me because I couldn’t think of a single witty response except to tell them it wasn’t really a cowboy hat, but that probably wouldn’t have gone over well because I don’t actually know what the style is called.

I’m not sure I’ve ever passed up an opportunity to pet a stingray.  Their skin feels so cool, I can’t get over it.  According to the stingray bay workers the rays actually enjoy getting petted and will headbutt your hands and slow down in front of you to get attention.  I found out as I was leaving stingray bay that they like to have the middle of their backs petted rather than their wings, which probably explains why so many of them seemed to hate and avoid me.  At least they weren’t splashing me, one guy got completely soaked, I guess they do it when something touches their tail and freaks them out.  At some times of day you can feed them ($2).

My favorite part was the monkey village.  There are several large aviaries scattered throughout the zoo where you can walk freely with various birds, but in the monkey village you share the enclosure with common squirrel monkeys.  You can’t interact with the monkeys at all but they’re an active species and it’s so much fun watching them without a fence to block the view.  Apparently it’s the only walk-through monkey exhibit in the country, but seriously they should do this everywhere.  Being surrounded by adorable yellow monkeys while they scamper around is the best thing ever.



By the time I left my pedometer said I had walked a hair over four miles, and I was way too exhausted to go to the botanical garden.  I had no desire to do that at all anyway because the lakes, creeks, flowers, and birds singing everywhere make the zoo so beautiful it’s basically a huge garden with animals.