Get Out Of Your Car

Hitting the road again

Hitting the road again

My residency for the Artist in Residence was 12 to 25 July 2015. I had intended to do regular blogs during my time there, but I was too busy exploring the amazing park and there just weren’t enough hours in a day. I actually did more shooting and hiking than I thought I would, and now that I’m home, I have thousands of images to go through and process.   Almost nothing was processed while I was there.Now that I’ve been home for 3 days, I’ve had a chance to go a quick scroll through the pictures, pick a few to process and upload and I realize I have a LONG way to go. I owe Petrified Forest National Park one piece of work in exchange for my residency. I “think” I’ve picked my favorite image out – I KNOW it will be a night sky image. I want to give them the best one from my time; I want to represent the park and myself well so I won’t keep the best for myself. I know they will use my image for something they have in the works.

I’ve had some time to reflect on my 2 weeks there and I learned a lot about that park that I didn’t know before. Even though I’ve visited 3 times before, like other visitors I never strayed far from the road and never explored areas not on the park map. My theme for my residency updates in the future will always be GET OUT OF YOUR CAR AND AWAY FROM THE ROAD! 95% or more of the visitors never see what this place has to offer. Many never even leave their car, except for a ‘happy snap’ at an overlook in the Painted Desert. It’s a shame. I’ve seen reviews where people talk about how pretty it is, but complain, “There isn’t a lot of hiking space”. Oh really???? Forget about the map they give you when you enter the park. Ask about the “off the beaten path” hikes. If you have ½ a day and enjoy petroglyphs, take the Martha’s Butte hike. Have a whole day? Try the Onyx Bridge hike – be sure to explore past the bridge when you finally reach it. Do you love amazing landscapes, and think it would be cool to find a dinosaur bone? Try the Historic Blue Forest/Tepees hike – but bring your hiking sticks! Want to see some really amazing petrified wood? Forget Long Logs and Crystal Forest – head for the First Forest hike. After doing THESE hikes, then come back and whine that there’s not much hiking here. If you want more, how about the 8-mile Red Basin/Clam Beds hike? There is so much more than what the park map shows you. Did you know that you could CAMP out in the wilderness areas, if you’re into backpacking?

My favorite hike was probably the Martha’s Butte hike – It’s covered in petroglyphs and I just love searching for them! It’s a pretty easy hike, but you do walk through some washes and brush. I also liked the First Forest hike – the petrified wood here is beautiful. It’s such a shame what they did to those logs before they were protected. Logs were blasted with dynamite and shards are laying everywhere. The Historic Blue Forest trail is actually an old CCC trail from the 1930s. Much of the gravel that was put down then has washed down the sides of the hills, but hiking up in the tepees to the Blue Mesa is almost “otherworldly”. If you’re afraid of heights, you might want to pick another one.

The Tepees

The Tepees are more colorful early in the morning after a rain.

Onyx Bridge and Clam Bed hikes offer GPS coordinates, and it’s a good thing because you’ll need them. I use “MotionX GPS” on my iPhone, and had no problems finding them. At Onyx Bridge, be sure you look behind you as you leave the trail below the Painted Desert Inn before heading into the ‘wilds’ of the Painted Desert. OH! Did I mention the almost straight down descent from the top of the mesa into the floor of the Painted Desert? Easy getting down, but it kicked my butt getting back up! Pay attention to where the trail is when you’re down there, it’s not right below the Painted Desert Inn, the landmark visible almost everywhere you’ll go. I made the mistake of walking back right below the Inn only to be too far over away from the trail, and spent quite a bit of time searching for the way back up. Exploring the Black Forest, Lithodendron Wash (if you can call something that’s as wide as a 4-lane freeway a “wash”), and all the mesas on the other side of the flatland will fill you with wonder! The Clam Beds hike will take you around the base of Blue Mesa out to the “wilds” in the southern part of the park. You’ll see a lot of petrified wood, many mesas, cross some grasslands (might want to wear long pants) and marvel at all the fresh water clams in the desert!

As if all this exploring wasn’t enough – I had the opportunity to see it under the stars! The park closes at sunset, so not many people get to see what I did. I experienced a magical moment up in the tepees as I sat there one night shooting the stars–the moonlight bouncing around the white sandstone hills, illuminating all the valleys and curves. Walking the base of the Blue Mesa in the dark was pretty cool too. An experience I’ll never forget.

Falling

Petrified “Log fall” under the Blue Mesa

Living in the park in a historic cabin, and enjoying (almost) free reign to roam where I wanted was incredible. I was like a kid in a candy shop; I wanted to see and do everything! It was a constant battle against time, weather, clouds and the moon for me to get out and shoot the stars. I wanted to photograph scenes that represented Petrified Forest National Park, but I also wanted images of great landscapes that many had never seen. I think I succeeded in getting both. I did two programs while I was there – one in a historic hotel in Winslow, AZ, and one at the park. First in Winslow, I took a lot of my images to show and talked for two hours about night photography. Then I hosted a night sky workshop at the Painted Desert Inn, and taught people how to shoot the stars and moonscape. I hope people walked away with new knowledge, that I was able to inspire them accomplish their own night sky photographs.

Sunrise in the Painted Desert

Inside the historic cabin. COZY and comfy!

The Artist in Residence program is a mind-blowing experience. I know I will apply again for another one. I’d love to do one again at Petrified Forest, and I’m also looking at other parks, I’ve got a few in mind. If you’re an artist – visual or performance – I highly recommend this program. It’s good for you and for the parks. It’s a great opportunity for you to get away and focus totally on your art, and find inspiration in nature.  Many of my images will be posted on Flickr, and the ones I like will be available for purchase in my website as well.

Night Shift in the Petrified Forest

Walking back to my car after a night shoot, I saw the Milkyway over it and couldn’t resist this shot.

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Petrified Forest or Bust

11 July 2015 – On the road

I’ve been preparing for my artist residency at the Petrified Forest National Park for months. I applied for the Artist in Residence program in early January and received notification in early February that I’d been accepted, and I start tomorrow! I’ve poured over maps and Google Earth and found a few books on the history of the park, the cultures that lived there and how the landscape was formed. The archeologist’s reports have piqued my curiosity! There are places I want to see, things I want to know.

I’ve gone through all my photo gear to figure out what I’ll need and got everything packed. My hubby is going with me, and I requested permission to bring Sandy – our sweet little handicapped Corgi. I’m allowed to have her in the cabin with us, so we’re all packed in the Jeep and drove to Albuquerque, about ¾ of the way today. Tomorrow will be a short 3-hour drive.

For months, I’ve been formulating idea for my two required presentations. I knew the park closes at sunset, so I wasn’t sure night sky program would be an option for me, so I was thinking about a sunset photo hike, maybe talking about composition or recreating one of the amazing shots on a post card from the gift shop. Soon, I learned that the park would like to be designated at a dark sky park, and a night sky program fits perfectly with their plans! I started working on images, making prints and mounting them. Now I have 20-something prints ready to show. I have a night sky program planned inside the park and also a show at a hotel in Winslow, so I can show my prints and discuss how to find the constellations, how to use the moonlight, processes we use in night photography, etc. In no way do I consider myself a night sky photography expert.   I’m sure someone will be there that knows more than me, but I’ll be happy to share what I do know. I remember how frustrating it was trying to shoot the Milky Way, and it was so nice when I finally found someone to show me what I needed to do. That’s what I hope to accomplish. I enjoy being out under the stars, and it’s a lot more fun when I’m not there alone.

I’m excited to get there and start exploring! It’s the monsoon season there now, so I’m sure I’ll get some great weather pics. I bought a recorder so I can record the sounds of nature and hopefully use the recordings in time-lapse videos. I also brought my Gigapan, so I can get a HUGE panorama photograph made from hundreds of images. The only limitation I have is the power of my computer to process them. Of course, I’ve got wide angle and zoom lenses as well as a macro.

I love geology and history, and I’ve been reading books on the park, it’s geology and the prehistoric sites they’ve found there. Over 600 Pueblo sites within the park, dinosaur bones, clams (in the desert?!) and of course lots of petrified wood. And then there’s the Painted Desert and those amazing colors. I hope two weeks is enough time!

I’ll do my best to make time for a blog each day. Maybe I can even include pictures! It’s hard to believe that the adventure starts tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to “living” in a National Park for two weeks with the “job” of taking pictures. J

Lake Arrowhead State Park, Wichita Falls Texas

Lake Arrowhead campground

A panorama of 4 images of the campground circle where we camped – we were the only campers there for awhile!

Lake Arrowhead is about 20 minutes outside of Wichita Falls Texas (my hometown), and a great place for boating and fishing. The area is in the middle of a years long drought right now though, and the lake is sadly very low, too low to dock a boat, so if you’re goal is simply a quiet campsite with no crowds, this is a good time to go. There is a boat dock in the park, but it’s currently closed. There’s also a public beach for picnics and swimming, and a fishing pier. The park has a tackle loaner program where you can borrow stuff you need to go fishing, and no license is required to fish in any Texas state park.

Prairie Dog Hole in Campsite

Prairie Dog hole is almost as tall as the bench on the picnic table!

The campground is nice, there are lots of prairie dogs throughout the park, and lots of holes in the sites so be aware of where you walk! It’s fun to watch them. There’s also a prairie dog town in the park, but I guess some of them decided to move out of town into the campsites. I don’t blame them! The sites are located on different circles and areas based on if you’re tent or RV camping and if you need water, electricity, etc. There are no sewer connections but there is a dump station and 30 & 50 amp power is available. The site we had, #37, was very level, we didn’t need much leveling at all so setup was a breeze. We also had a pull-through site, but not all are pull-thrus. We had a large site that included a picnic table under a shelter and a fire ring. Getting in/out with the rig and toad was easy. A 20-minute drive to town to visit the folks makes this a great place for us, and cheaper than a hotel in town. There are bathrooms and showers available, but we didn’t use them. The camp host is an Airman stationed at nearby Sheppard AFB. He said he’ll be there for about 2 years, and works his park duties around his military duties. He’s very friendly and does a good job keeping the campgrounds orderly, trash emptied, etc. He appeared and welcomed us to the park within minutes of our arrival.

The sites are surrounded with mesquite trees and another type with red berries (not sure what they are). The only downer in the sites is the ground is covered with burs – not as bad as stickers – but they will stick to your feet and pet fur, and get all over your rig. We were constantly taking shoes off and on as we went in/out to keep the carpet clean, even with a large 13” outdoor rug.

Our Campsite

Figures, we arrive in the middle of a drought and bring lots of rain with us. This is our campsite in the deserted campground.

As a astrophotographer, I’m always interested in the night sky. While Wichita Falls does put out a lot of light, you can still see the stars from your campsite. If you point your camera away from town and above the horizon, you’ll get a decent shot of the night sky.

Pleiades over Lake Arrowhead

Not a bad night sky shot, facing away from town and above the horizon! The little constellation is Pleiades

  • $20.00 a night, cheaper than a hotel
  • 20-minutes from town
  • large campsites
  • prairie dogs entertain you!
  • Covered picnic tables
  • Fire rings
  • Level sites
  • Paved pad
  • Free dump station

CONS:

  • Water level is very low
  • Burrs all over the ground
  • No sewer connection

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco Canyon) Gallo Campground

Chaco Culture National Historical Park isn’t exactly easy to get to, but it’s worth the drive. Do not depend on your GPS! Many of the roads coming from the south are 4-wheel drive roads. Follow directions from the Chaco website, the roads are clearly marked as well. Located 21 miles off of US 550, the route includes about 18 miles of rough, dirt roads. It’s not impassible for rigs, but be sure and fasten everything down. The roads are washboard and small ruts, be sure and slow down to 5-10 MPH, and you’ll get there just fine – expect a bumpy ride! We kept the Jeep connected on the way there, but decided to not hook up until after the rough road on the way out. It’s much easier without the toad. There’s a large pullout on the right just before entering US 550, that’s where we hooked the Jeep up before hitting the road again. It might be a good idea to contact the park before heading up, just to get an update on the road conditions – especially if there’s a chance of rain. You will cross a dry riverbed, which can flood in rains. Be sure all your windows are completely closed – otherwise, your rig will be covered in dust. It will probably be so anyhow.

Check-in was a piece of cake. I had online reservations so it was just a matter of paying entry fees. Mr. Cornucopia has worked there over 20 years, and is a wealth of knowledge. There’s also a lady who has been studying the petroglyphs since the ‘80s. I forget her name, but she has evening talks weekly. I wish we’d been there when her talks were scheduled.

BE SURE and fill up your fresh tanks with water before leaving the visitor center! The only water in the campground is non-potable. There are no hookups in the campground, but there is a dump station. Our site (#15) was relatively level – we didn’t even bother to put down the leveling jacks. We had a beautiful view outside the back window, and also upon walking out the door. Our Sprint service was non-existent while there – plan to not have contacts with the outside world while there. If you’re lucky, you can get a call out – at times, we did manage to get out with one bar. There are restrooms in the campground, but no showers. Be sure to take enough food and water with you. Nothing is available in the campground, and it’s a LONG drive back to the store. There is a picnic table and fire pit at each site, but that’s it. NO shade.

Our campsite
Campsite 15 at Chaco Canyon

View across the campground
Campground at Chaco Canyon

The ruins within the campground

Chaco Canyon Ruins in the Campground

Beautiful tall canyon walls surround the campground. There are two ruins right there – Gallo Cliff dwellings, built between AD 1150-1200, under these walls within the campground. Walk the trail around the perimeter of the campground, and look for the petroglyphs. Start at the community fire pit, and walk all the way over to the tent areas. They’re not marked, and I wouldn’t have seen them if the petroglyph lady hadn’t told me about them when I checked in.

Petroglyph depicting a T-Shaped door, and a photo of the T-Shaped door

Petroglyph showing a T-Shaped Door T-Shaped Door in Pueblo Bonito

I have only one disappointment from my visit to Chaco Canyon. Designated an International Dark Sky Park, and bragging on their site to be one of the best places in America to stargaze, I was looking forward to getting out and shooting some amazing night sky photos. Sadly, we were restricted to the campground after sunset. The park closes then, and all the trails, sites, and the loop road are all off limits. There is nothing I can do (legally) outside of the campground after sunset. Why brag about the night sky, if you don’t let your visitors enjoy it? I did leave a comment card as I left.

Moonscape, shot late at night from inside the campground
Window To The Sky

Despite the rough roads, no utility or electronic connections and restrictions after sunset, Chaco is such an amazing place that I’ll put this on my “must return” list. I’m not sure if we’ll bring the rig back, but I do own a tent. We spent two nights there, but it wasn’t near long enough to explore as much as I’d like. If you’re short on time, Pueblo Bonito is a MUST see.

Pueblo Bonito panaroma, shot from the overlook trail (Highly recommend this trail!)

Pueblo Bonito from Chaco
“The Door” obligatory photograph
Doorway To The Past

PROS:
Beautiful scenery
Cool ruins and petroglyphs right in the campground
Scenic loop
Two trailheads right inside the campground
Dump station
Water for tanks at visitor center
Pueblo Bonito
Pueblo Bonito Overlook Trail
Chipmunks 🙂

CONS:
Nobody is allowed outside the campground after sunset (a HUGE con)
Very rough road to get into Chaco Canyon
Dusty
No shade in campground
No Hookups
No Showers
No shade

“Chip” looking for treats
What's in Here?!

Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground, Moab Utah

Canyonlands RV Park is in the middle of Moab, Utah on the main road, within walking distance to downtown, restaurants, shops, and a grocery store. Moab is a popular, congested destination – and right next door is an ATV shop for rentals, etc. Many of the campers have Jeeps, 4-wheelers, and motorbikes so it can get pretty noisy and busy in the campground, especially on weekends. Be careful when you pull into and out of the campground. There’s a pretty big dip on the edge of the road, and our levelers dragged as we went through. I saw several cars bottom out because they didn’t slow down.

Canyonlands Campground

The campground is very congested, especially around the reception office. This can be a problem when new arrivals park their rigs in front to check in – there’s no other place for them to park. Traffic coming in/going out of the campground can be noisy if you’re in a site near the office like we were. The sites are all pull-ins, and are very close together. There’s not much extra room in your site to park a toad, so we parked our Jeep very close to the side/rear of the rig, just to get it out of the road. Many people didn’t bother getting their vehicles out of the road, making it tough to get a rig through the grounds. The sites are concrete pads, and are relatively level.

Canyonlands Campground

Full hookups are available, as well as cable and free Wi-Fi. The cable worked pretty good and we had lots of channels. Wi-Fi can be slow at times. I had to call the company for Internet when we first arrived; they reset the towers because the Internet speed was almost non-existent. Often, I’d lose my Internet connection. It worked find for basic email – but I did manage to upload a photo or two, as long as I kept the files very small and did it early in the morning before everyone else accessed the net.

There are many trees in the campground, which provide a lot of shade. Each site has a picnic table. Be aware that branches can blow out of the trees during windy conditions! We were sitting outside in our chairs when a small branch came down and landed right between us. Luckily neither of us was hit.

Canyonlands Campground

The campground has a convenience store onsite that sells gas, propane and typical convenience store things. They have an onsite laundry and a heated pool. There is a car wash nearby.

Everything in town that you’ll need is within walking or biking distance. Arches National Park is only about 15 minutes up the road. While the location is nice, because of the noise and congestion in the campground, I doubt if I’ll stay here again. If you decide to stay here, be sure you don’t get a spot up by the entrance/reception office – try to get one closer to the back. Do NOT let them put you in site #41, unless you like the hustle/bustle/noise of the entrance/exit of the park. The one positive about this site is it’s close to the pool.

PROS
Convenient location
Pool
Laundry onsite
Gas Station onsite
Shade
Picnic Tables
Full Hookups
Cable TV

CONS
Crowded
Congested, especially at the entrance
Small sites
Noise
Wi-Fi sucks

Goulding’s Campground at Monument Valley

 

Guildings Campground is just a few miles up the highway from Monument Valley. Check-in is easy; the hardest part is finding a place to park your rig while you go inside. Not a bad place to stay, but the sites are packed pretty close. You will be saying “hello” to your neighbors during your stay! The campground itself can get congested, especially if there are a lot of campers with large RVs. Be sure you get your toad out of the road when you get in your spot! There were a few sticking out while we were there, and they were in the way of people trying to drive through. Spaces are assigned according to your rig size, if you’re towing a vehicle or not, or in a tent. Smaller RVs without toads were packed into one area (lots of rentals were here.) The larger rigs with toads got the center spots with pull-through sites.

Checkin Office at Gouldings Goulding's Campground in Monument Valley

The site itself was relatively level, although there was a gentle slope towards the front, right of the rig. Putting a couple of blocks under the tire seemed to fix it. The sewer dump was in a weird spot – way at the back of the drive, while the electric was up in the middle. We had to park the rig towards the back of our pull through spot to stay close to the sewer drop. It was a little awkward, but it worked. If your sewer hose will go backwards behind your rig it will be fine – ours only goes forward and to the side. Full hookups include sewer, electric, water and cable. They offer free Wi-Fi, but even their website says that they don’t have high speed Internet. Reception to Wi-Fi is crappy, to put it mildly. IF you can get a connection, it’s good for checking email, and that’s about it. Forget about sending/uploading photos or large files. Just plan on being without and anything you manage to get will be a pleasant surprise. I think your connection is better, as you get closer to the reception center. We have Sprint cell coverage, and we got spotty coverage. 3G was non-existent and we did manage to keep a few bars to make phone calls.

Goulding's Campground in Monument Valley

There is an onsite laundry and showers right at the campground. Guildings also has a grocery store, convenience store, car wash, and restaurant right up the road near their hotel. Nothing is cheap here, but there’s nothing else nearby, other than the restaurant in Monument Valley. They have an indoor pool right next to the reception center, but we didn’t use it. There is a post office about a block up from the campground entrance. Gouldings offers Monument Valley tours, but beware if you don’t want to get stuck on a ‘safari truck’ that seats 20.

Monument Valley Post Office

There is an onsite laundry and showers right at the campground. Guildings also has a grocery store, convenience store, car wash, and restaurant right up the road near their hotel. Nothing is cheap here, but there’s nothing else nearby, other than the restaurant in Monument Valley. They have an indoor pool right next to the reception center, but we didn’t use it. There is a post office about a block up from the campground entrance. Gouldings offers Monument Valley tours, but beware if you don’t want to get stuck on a ‘safari truck’ that seats 20.

The view from the campground is very nice, canyon walls surround you, and there’s a nice view down into Monument Valley from the end of the campground drive. There is a nice hiking trail (hard to find) in the camp, which leads to a pretty arch. Ask at the reception desk; don’t rely on their crappy map to find it.

View of Monument Valley From Gouldings

If you’re staying at Monument Valley and you want hookups for your RV, then Gouldings is your only option for now. The old campground inside the park has been taken over by The View hotel, and now has a few cabins and dry camping spots – it reopened four days before we arrived. They’re working on electric and water, so soon they will have RV hookups inside the park! Keep checking the Monument Valley website.

Oh! And on your way, be sure and stop at mile marker 13 just north of the entrance to Monument Valley for the iconic “Forrest Gump” shot. This is the place where he finally stopped running.

Forrest Gump Monument Valley View

Pros:
Hookups
Close to Monument Valley
Great views
Hiking trail in camp

Cons:
Crowded
Crappy Wi-Fi

San Felipe Casino Hollywood RV Park

The San Felipe Casino Hollywood is located right in the middle of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, just off I-25, exit 252.  The location is perfect if you’re visiting both cities, or if you’re traveling from Albuquerque up to the four corners area along Hwy 550.  If you’re in this general area and need a place to stop for the night, this is perfect!  This is our third visit here; the first two were just stopovers between home and Colorado.  This trip we’re visiting Albuquerque and Santa Fe, so we spent four nights here.  I’ve compared prices in expensive Albuquerque, and this no frills RV parking is a bargain, unless you’re looking for a campground with campfires, lakes, playgrounds, etc.  In that case, this might not be the place for you.
San Felipe RV Parking
The RV lot is simply a large parking area with plenty of spaces for large rigs.  Each hookup area can accommodate two rigs with electric boxes on each side of the slip.  Someone parked in our area last night, despite empty bays elsewhere, and there was enough room between the rigs (at least their door wasn’t facing ours.  A dirt and gravel lot, spots are pretty level, electric hookups have 50, 30, 1-20 & GFCI outlets.  RV parking rates are $20.00 per night, it used to be 10.00, but they’ve doubled since last summer, still cheaper than staying in Albuquerque.  There are no water or sewer connections, but there is a water spigot at the dump station to fill your water tanks.  Dump station is free if you pay for overnight parking, $10.00 otherwise.  There’s a meter at the station to pay with credit card, cash or token. This machine is something else new; it wasn’t here when we were here last summer.  The area is patrolled by Pueblo security.  Check-in is easy.  Simply find your spot and park.  Go inside the casino and tell the staff at the customer service desk (right in front of the door as you walk in) your spot number.  They’ll send the security folks out to unlock your electric meter.  Usually it’s unlocked before you get back to your rig.  Wi-Fi is free, and we didn’t have many problems picking it up in our rig, we were surprised.  We were able to access many local TV channels without even raising our antenna on windy days.  We don’t have satellite TV.  Our Sprint network picked up decent signals.

San Felipe RV Parking Dump Station

There’s a 24-hour travel center in the compound, right next to the RV lot.  Cheap gas, snacks, a smoke shop (cheaper than buying them off the Pueblo.  They have a pretty good restaurant in the travel center (I like the Pueblo Taco, and breakfast burritos are very good).  There’s also a buffet in the casino that serves brunch and dinner.  We’ve eaten there once and we weren’t impressed.  Grab a breakfast burrito or go for dinner at the travel center instead, or just fix something in your rig.

San Felipe Pueblo Travel Center

There’s not a lot to do here, if you’re not interested in the Casino, but Albuquerque or Santa Fe are only 30 minutes in either direction.  If you do happen to see horses nearby, consider yourself lucky for seeing WILD horses.  These are not tame/broken horses.  If you have time to kill, and want some New Mexico history and culture that not everyone can experience, and absolutely NO crowds, I highly recommend a PRIVATE Jeep tour with New Mexico Jeep Tours. Tell Roch that Mel sent you.  I’ve been out with him three times now, and he is well worth his price – you’ll see wild horses, petroglyphs, ghost towns, fossils and scenery up close and personal.  He is a wealth of historic, geological, and cultural knowledge.  His tours are on private land, not the Pueblo, and it’s amazing!

Wild Horses Petroglyph

Pros of San Felipe Casino:

  • Outside of town
  • Not crowded
  • Right off I-25
  • Cheap gas – with big rig friendly pumps
  • Good food
  • Free water and dump for customers
  • Great location if you’re headed between Albuquerque and Santa Fe
  • Nice people
  • Inexpensive
  • Patrolled by Pueblo security

Cons:

  • Out of the way if you’re not headed between Albuquerque and Santa Fe
  • Nothing to do if you’re not into casinos
  • No water or sewer hookups
  • Can get dusty if it’s windy
  • No shade
  • No picnic tables
  • Stickers – be prepared for them if you bring your dawg

Bottom line – this isn’t a “destination” but it’s great for a stopover or staging spot if you want to visit Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Day 4, 18 July 2013

David, the Trinity and new shoes. 

Our day started out early again, with Accademia and David first on the list.  Probably the highlight of our trip!  Our Firenze Card made something possible that otherwise would never have happened!  Because we had the card, we didn’t have to make an appointment to get inside, nor did we have to buy a ticket.  Everyone else has to 1.  Make an appointment, and 2.  Stand in line at the appointed time to pay for their tickets.  The really LONG hours-long line is for those without appointments.  While everyone else was purchasing their tickets, Tony and I walked right in, as soon as the gallery opened.  We had at least 3 minutes ALONE WITH DAVID!  If you’ve ever seen pictures, the hallway is usually packed with people trying to see him.  It was surreal!  We knew to make a beeline for the David soon as we got in, and look at “the Prisoners” by Michelangelo afterward.  Too bad photography isn’t allowed inside the gallery.

After Accademia, we headed across the Arno River for the Brancacci Chapel.  This ended up being Masaccio day for us.  We saw his “Adam and Eve Banished from Eden” and “Tribute Money” frescos.  That was about all I was interested in, to be honest, and what led me to walk all the way across to the other side of the river to see.  We were finished with the first 2 sites well before lunch and getting hungry, but the restaurants here don’t open till noon, so we headed towards the Medici Chapel to have lunch in the neighborhood of our next destination.  Upon getting there, we decided to go inside and have lunch afterward.  The Medici Chapel is impressive!  Totally wallpapered with ornate stone.  The alter was covered with scaffolding, but WOW!  Our main goal, was Michelangelo’s New Sacristy, The tombs of some of the most important Medici.  His statues that represented Day, Night, Dawn and Dusk are here, along with the “Medici Madonna” on the unfinished Lorenzo the Magnificant’s tomb – the Medici who took Michelangelo in as a 13-year old boy and raised him as his own son.

Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine
TributeMoney
We had lunch in the restaurant across the street from the chapel, a touristy place with a friendly waiter and “ok” food for high prices.  Tony had Carbanara, something he’s been waiting to try, and I had gnocchi with pesto.  I think Tony’s was best, but he really liked what I had, we spent the whole meal eating off each others plates.

After lunch, we headed for Santa Maria Novella church, for more Masaccio – The Trinity.  This was on my “Must See” list for Florence.  After inventing linear perspective, Brunelleschi taught it to his friend Masaccio to apply in his paintings.  The architectural inspiration is very obvious by the arch behind God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in this awe inspiring fresco.  I’ve always been attracted to this one because of the colors – not bright, but very pretty.  Lots of pink; I wonder if it started out as red.  And also the architecture details in the arch are very realistic.  I saw two of my “biggies” today!  The Trinity and David.

Photography Prints

We walked across the street to the train station so I can find the ticket machines and understand the line layout.  We’re heading to Pisa tomorrow for the day, and I don’t want to be lost trying to figure the train station out early in the morning.  I think I had it figured out, so we headed back to the hotel around 2:30, after spending all morning on our feet.  A few hours break, then we’re off to the Medici Palace just a few doors down from our hotel – this is where Michelangelo lived with his adoptive family.  I learned to day that the hotel is a former palace occupied by a Medici relative – the crest still hangs above the entryway to the hotel.
Medici Crest on Hotel Casci

I’m glad we didn’t have to walk far or wait long for the Medici Palace – sort of a disappointment.  The courtyard was interesting, but the rest was sort of zzzzz.  It was fun to imagine teenage Michelangelo sitting on the windowsills or in the courtyard, talking to Botticelli.  It started raining soon as we came out, we bought a purple umbrella from a street vender and headed down for dinner and our final destination for use with the Firenze Card – “The Springtime of the Renaissance”, a special temporary exhibition that has some really cool pieces from Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Lots of Donatello, some Michelozzo, Masaccio (!), and Lippi.

We had dinner at a nice restaurant, La Grotta Guelfa, and sat outside under an old arcade, sheltered from the rain.  The temperature had cooled off a lot, a breeze felt good, and it was nice to watch the rain, as I drank wine and ate Carbanara (my turn!) and Tony had Arrabiatta (spicy spaghetti).  A very nice, relaxing dinner.

The Springtime of the Renaissance show was very worthwhile!  Much of this stuff is on loan from the Louvre (thanks to Napoleon, who stole it from Florence and took it to France).  The Submissions for the baptistery door completion from Brunelleschi and Ghiberti (won by Ghiberti) were there.  They were supposed to be in another gallery here in Florence, but only a photo was there instead, we were surprised to see them there.  Donatello’s bronzes were amazing!  Many original pieces that were originally from the Orsenmichele (where we went on day 1) were here.  I learned something cool!  I knew that Filippo Lippi was a Monk (and not a very good one) who had some kids with a Nun (LOL) but I didn’t know he was a Monk at the Santa Maria del Carmine church where the Brancacci Chapel is.  He met Masaccio there while still a monk and Masaccio was working on his frescos.  Pretty cool!  Photography wasn’t allowed in this exhibit, DARN!

As usual, we looked for Gelato on our way back to the hotel, and found Grom, one of the best-rated gelaterias in Florence.  I had apricot (yum!)  Tony got ½ apricot and ½ lemon – too lemony for me, but he liked it.
Grom
We’re back in our room now, getting ready for another day tomorrow.  Our next destination:  PISA to climb the tower.  (Ug, another climb)

Florence, Day 3, 17 July 2013

Our first night in the new hotel was very comfortable.  The twin sized beds are comfy, marble floor feels good after being out in the heat all day, and the spotless shower and hot water was very welcomed.  Breakfast here was good – Cappuccino, bread with spreadable cheese (I don’t know what kind it was, but it was good) fresh fruit, and some yogurt.  A great start to the day.

As we headed out for our day, I made a mental note that the Cathedral area, normally packed with tourist, was pretty empty around 0800.  I need to go back there early when I have time for photos.  We didn’t have time this morning; we were heading for the Uffizi!  We got to the door 10 minutes before opening, with only a few people in front of us – this is one of the “big” galleries in Florence, and many people wait HOURS to get inside.  We were in as soon as they opened, thank goodness we bought the Firenze Card, which gets us in many of the museums free and allows us to skip the ticket purchasing lines.  The “with tickets” line that we were in was much MUCH shorter than the ticket purchasers.  We beat the crowds and annoying tour groups to many of the exhibits.  The highlight for me – Botticelli and his “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”.  These are 2 paintings I’ve admired since being introduced to them in Art History class.  My thoughts:  They are HUGE, larger than I expected, and the colors aren’t as bright/vibrant as I thought they’d be.  We also saw the only canvas painting that Michelangelo did (his other paintings were frescos), several Raphael paintings, and a few Caravaggios.  Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” was out on loan to another museum, to my disappointment.  Some of the rooms themselves were works of art; one had mother of pearl all around the tops of the walls and on the ceiling, along with an elaborately decorated tile floor.  Tony was starting to whine before we were through “I’m tirrrred!” – GEEZ.  I told him “you sure whine a lot”, and I think he realized that he was LOL.   We finally made it to the exit, which of course leads visitors through a gift shop.  I bought a print and coffee cup with Birth of Venus (Venus on the Half Shell) on them.  I knew I’d come home with a print of this piece!  We headed out, and turned toward Santa Croce Church.

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Santa Croce Church was built in 1294-1442, and was Michelangelo’s childhood church and now contains his tomb, as well as that of Galileo.  We didn’t spend a lot of time there, my goals were these 2 tombs, and I got a few other photographs inside.  We headed to 67 Via Ghibellina, which was once the entrance to Michelangelo’s home.  Originally we planned to tour Casa Bounarroti, a museum ran by his nephew’s (heir’s) descendants, but we were tired and getting hungry.

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We found a wonderful “tratorria” a few doors down from Casa Bounarroti, and Oglio Olio e Peppericino was the lunch special (spaghetti with oil, garlic and peppers).  This is one of our favorite meals at home, and Tony wanted to try it here – he knows he was in for a treat!  It was wonderful and filling, and a bottle of cold water was just what we needed.  After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for a little break (nap) before heading to Palazzo Vecchio, and back to the Cathedral for some evening photos.

We decided to have dinner first, and found the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor, a little sandwich shop near the Palazzo.  There are lots of meats – many I don’t know what they were, cheeses and veggies.  I told him to just make us what he likes, and he made 2 different sandwiches for us – HUGE sandwiches.  I still don’t know what we ate LOL.  I think mine had Prosciutto, some cheese and some kind of lettuce with a peppery flavor.  Very good.

Palazzo Vecchio is a fortified “old palace” that has served as the town hall, and palace of Cosimo I (de Medici).  Groundbreaking was around 1300; enlarging an existing palace to the building it is today.  After the Medici tyrants were ran out of Florence, Michelangelo’s David was placed in the piazza in front of the Palazzo, a symbol of Florence’s victory over tyranny (Goliath).  The original was moved in 1873 to the Accademia to preserve it from the elements, and a copy now takes its place.  There’s a lot of ceiling paintings, and frescoed walls by Vasari; the first Art Historian and not a bad artist himself.  The best work of art IMO was a statue by Donatello – a bronze Judith and Holofernes.  The surprise of the day was the tower in the palace.  My guidebook by Rick Steve’s didn’t say anything about climbing that tower.  We finished our tour and came to another flight of stairs.  A guard there asked for our Firenze Cards, scanned them and gave us another ticket, then took down the rope and invited us up.  Only about half as high as the Duomo that nearly killed me, this one was pretty easy.  We came to a small prison room about halfway up, that held Lorenzo de Magnificent at one time, before he was expelled, and also the crazy monk Savonarola.  He preached against the riches and “unholy” art that the Medicis loved.  He organized huge bonfires in the square in front of the Palazzo where riches, jewelry, and artworks were burned – even Botticelli got caught up and burned most of his secular paintings L Eventually, he was arrested, executed, and burned in the exact place that his bonfires were.  We climbed up to the top and had some good views of the city, but the wall was too tall in many places for good photos.  There’s a plaque in the square that marks the spot of the bonfires, but we haven’t been able to find it.  I asked the guard up on top of the tower, and she didn’t know either, but radioed to her colleague and found it.  We were able to look down from the tower into the square (now most of the tourists were gone) and saw it.  She didn’t even know it was there!  Imagine a Florentine being taught local history by an American!  (Thank you Dr Ogus)
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Fresco on the Ceiling in Palazzo Vecchio

 Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio    Perseus By Cellini

After climbing down from the tower, we found the plaque – just a round bronze marker that reads “Here, Girolamo Savonarola and his Dominican brothers were hanged and burned in the year 1498.

Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria

Tony said that this was his favorite tour so far – probably because some of the artwork in the palace rooms was dedicated to Greek stories, like the Odyssey instead of biblical scenes.

We stopped by the Cathedral again for more photos on our way back to the hotel.  This thing is so tall, and Giotto’s bell tower beside it is so tall, that I can’t get a shot without serious distortion – and I’ve quit trying.

Basilica de Santa Maria del Flore

We did our usual gelato stop, and found a new place – Leonardo’s Gelato to try.  Tony decided to go for something he’s never had – Fig and mint.  I got peach and “kibanana” (kiwi/banana).  Mine was very good; he threw his in the garbage without finishing it.  It must have been really bad for him to throw away ice cream!

We’re back in our room.  We really like our hotel, the price is right; the room is spotless and comfortable to come back to after a busy day being a tourist.  Something else I’ve decided today – tour groups are a big pain in my butt!  I haven’t been on a tour, but there are a LOT of them in the sites.  They are rude, inconsiderate, and totally self-absorbed.  I’m amazed at how many times I’ve seen the groups standing in the middle of the road (roads are usually covered with tourists, but cars and busses still drive on them) oblivious to cars coming by.  Very irresponsible on the part of the guide.  Also, in the sites, I’d think the guide would attempt to keep the group together and out of other’s ways, instead they block doors and works of art while listening to the guide.

I have a video that we made as we walked through the crowds at the Cathedral complex – pretty entertaining!