Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Freedom Traveled to New York City with the Black Family

Freedom took a ten day trip with the Black family to New York City.
She traveled by car and stopped for one night in Virginia, then saw some cousins in Maryland before staying with family in the city. The first city day included the Museum of Natural History, where Night at the Museum was filmed, and the Planetarium. She also took a hike in Central Park and saw some rowers.

The next day was in the Bronx, where the New York Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays at the new Yankee stadium. Go Yanks!!

Tuesday, we went to the borough of Brooklyn and to the 9-1-1- call center. The building walls are made of the same material that's in bullet proof vests and security was very high. Freedom passed all background checks and was allowed on the floor to visit with the brass.

Tuesday night we went back into Manhattan for Shrek the Broadway musical. Great performance!

Wednesday was a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue is made of thin sheets of copper. It is only 3/32 of an inch or the thickness of two coins! She is an amazing site and Freedom was in awe. To the left is a photo of a life-sized replica of Liberty's face. On the right we are with a park ranger in front of the original torch from the Statue of Liberty. It was replaced with a new one in 1986.

Other sites Freedom visited included Saint Patrick's Cathedral, FAO Schwartz toy store, and Rockefeller Center where she took an elevator up 70 stories to the top to see the entire NYC skyline. Good thing Freedom isn't afraid of heights! What a great trip for Freedom, Lauren, and Gregory Black along with the rest of the Black family. Can't wait to go back!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Freedom's Summer Vacation in Sedona, AZ with Mrs. Rizzo

My summer vacation this year was in Sedona, AZ. I went with Mrs. Rizzo and her husband. We landed in Phoenix and then drove two hours north to Sedona. When you arrive in Arizona, one of the first things you notice is that the scenery is very different from what we are used to seeing on the east coast where we have lots of trees and green grass. Arizona, because of the hot, dry climate, is mostly dessert. Green grass generally grows only where man plants it. Instead, you see plants that require little water and can withstand the summer's triple digit temperatures. (One night when we were there, at 9PM, it was still 103 degrees!)
As we headed north and into unpopulated areas, we saw lots of saguaro cacti growing in flat areas as well as up the sides of hills and mountains. The saguaro grow naturally only in southern Arizona, and northwestern Mexico, though a few stray plants can also be found in southeast California. When we were about two thirds of the way to Sedona we no longer saw any saguaro.

The saguaro (pronounced "sah-wah-roh") is a very slow growing cactus. A ten year old plant might only be one and a half inches tall. It might take fifteen years for the plant to reach one foot in height! The average life span, however, is usually 150 to 200 years. They start off growing straight up and may take up to 75 years before they grow their first side arm. The arms allow the cacti to have more areas onto which to grow flowers as the flowers only grow on the top of the plant. This cactus flowers from April to May and the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures by late June. The flowers are creamy white with yellow centers and its major pollinators are bats because it is a night blooming plant. It is the state flower for Arizona. They are an important part of the desert as they are used for shelter by birds. Woodpeckers drill holes in them and they and other birds live in them. Even after the plant dies, it is useful. Its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. Mrs. Rizzo bought a doll made from saguaro. To learn more about this fascinating plant you can view a short video on this website: http://www.desertusa.com/video_pages/saguaro_movie.html.

Mrs. Rizzo was disappointed when the saguaro disappeared from view as they continued to drive to Sedona, but she didn’t have to wait long to see more of nature’s beauty. As we were driving into higher elevations, there were mountains around us and then it seemed like we turned a corner and the red rocks of Sedona suddenly appeared. We were speechless! Their beauty is beyond description and these photos cannot begin to show their magnificence. These red rock formations are unique to this area of Arizona. After doing a little research, we learned that the rocks in this area have six layers of sandstone, two thin layers of limestone and on top of all of these is one igneous layer of basalt stone. This area, millions of years ago, was underwater. (The shells from sea creatures made the layers of limestone.) When the land was underwater, the abundant iron in the water easily leeched into the porous sandstone and then it rusted. That’s why the rocks are so red. Over the years, the land shifted and caused cracks to form. Rivers flowed between the cracks and carved out the rock formations we see today. They have names such as Bell Rock (below right), Cathedral Rock (above), and Steamboat Rock.

The first pioneers in this area settled in Oak Creek Canyon in 1876. It wasn’t until a few years later that Sedona, just a few miles north, also became settled. It got its name in 1902 when Theodore Schnebly submitted his wife’s name when applying for a postal permit. Today, Sedona is famous not only for being Red Rock Country, but also for being an artists’ community. We visited one art gallery and saw bronze sculptures, paintings, pottery, jewelry and many other beautiful things.

Though visiting the art gallery was lots of fun, Mrs. Rizzo’s main desire was to get up close to the red rocks so we decided to take a hike up to Cathedral Rock. We walked about three quarters of a mile and then it began to get really steep and we realized we couldn’t go any further. We rested for a while, admired the scenery and took a few pictures.

That is the top of part of Cathedral Rock behind me. If you look at the photo or Cathedral Rock above, you can see this same area. Click on the picture to make it larger and see if you can see two people. They will give you an idea of how tall the rocks are. It took us about 30 minutes to get where I am in the photo to the left. We climbed a little higher after this but not much since we are not rock climbers!

On the way back to the car, we stopped to take a good look at this Century Plant which was blooming. Though called a Century Plant, it is not 100 years old. It blooms only once, after anywhere from eighteen to thirty years. The flower stalk grows five to six inches a day to a total height many times taller than a man. The yellowish flowers bloom June through August. It takes all of the plant’s energy to grow this fast and this tall so when it is done blooming the whole plant dies, but new plants begin to grow from the roots. Native American used this plant as a source of soap, food, fiber, medicine, needle, and weapons.

Native Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years. We visited Montezuma Castle which was built by the Southern Sinagua who flourished and lived peacefully here from the 1100s to about the 1400s. It was discovered in the 1860s. This five story, twenty-room pueblo is one hundred feet above the valley. There are forty-five rooms in a six story dwelling to the left, but it was not as well protected from the elements and has deteriorated over the years. Living here was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The Sinagua were skilled farmers and grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton. They used the nearby creek for irrigation. The last record of the Sinagua occupying this part of Arizona is 1425. No one knows why they abandoned the area.

One day we took a trip on the Verde Canyon railroad. This canyon is accessible only by rail. The thirty-eight mile long route goes from Clarkdale (east of Sedona) to the ghost ranch of Perkinsville. This thirty-eight mile route, using 250 men and 200 mules, took only one year complete finishing in 1912. It was built to support Arizona’s richest copper mine in nearby Jerome. The four hour nature show tour travels between two national forests and is adjacent to a designated wilderness area. Over thirty bald and golden eagles winter in the canyon, but only one pair of bald eagles lives there year round. We saw where they nest, but they weren’t home at the time we rode by. The train ride also goes through a 680-foot man-made tunnel. It was pitch black when we went through. You couldn’t even see the hand in front of your face! When we got to the end of the route in Perkinsville, the engines were moved from one end of the train to the other and then we headed back on the same tracks to Clarkdale.

There was one other thing about Sedona that was unusual.... the McDonalds! Look at the arches. They aren't 'golden'; they're turquoise. This McDonalds is supposedly the only McDonalds that doesn't have golden arches.

I will never forget my trip to Sedona. Even without these photos, I can close my eyes and remember how beautiful it was. Mrs. Rizzo says she hopes to go back there in a couple years. Maybe I'll get lucky and get to go with her again!