The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Saguaro National Forest
Saguaro cacti are apparently native only to southern Arizona, so Dan and I went off with family to Saguaro National Forest. It was a forest like I've never seen - a veritable desert garden.

I had no idea that saguaro can be well over 100 years old. Some were as tall as a three storey building. Birds dig holes in them and nest in them. But most of all - they represent the Old West to me: a sign of untamed land and the promise of adventure.

We arrived at dusk and were on the lookout for coyotes and rattlesnakes, but the only wildlife we ran across were birds and small snakes who had come out at night to warm themselves on the asphalt of the road that runs through the park. As we walked through the park, not only did we find saguaro cacti, there were cacti of many different varieties: water barrel, prickly pear, and teddy bear, to name just a few.

So, as the sun spilled its golden light over the prickly desert landscape, I couldn't help but think - "I hope no one ever falls over on these trails!"

Click on photos to enlarge:


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posted by Melanie O. at 8:07 PM - 0 comments
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Tombstone, Arizona
As a kid, I loved Westerns. My favorites included The Wild, Wild West, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Laredo, The Rifleman, and The Cisco Kid. (Anyone with me here?)  I am sure there were others, too.

As an adult, I loved Western themed films like Tombstone, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. So, I got excited when it was planned for us to visit Tombstone, Arizona.

I expected that history would refute much of what I had learned about Tombstone from the movie that starred Kurt Russell; however, the movie was fairly accurate in its portrayal of major events. I saw photos of the lovely women of the bird cage and the Bird Cage Theatre, which was home to a bordello and gambling den. Josephine Marcus worked in the theatre (and some say, in the bordello) and won the heart of first, the mayor of Tombstone, John Behan, whom she later dumped to be with Wyatt Earp, the new marshal.

We attended an outdoor play that humorously portrayed the tension between the Cowboy gang and the marshal. It became even more fun when a family member was picked to join in on the mayhem.

Lunch was had at the Crystal Palace- the place where Virgil Earp was wounded. The OK Corral is just down the street, and while we didn't go see the re-enactment of the famous "30 shots in 30 seconds" shootout, we walked inside the entry and had a look around.

We stopped at Boot Hill Cemetery where sheriff Fred White and the McLaury brothers are buried. The headstones to the graves are very telling and well... much more colorful than you'll read in many a cemetery.

Everywhere we went, there were signs of history, and with a history of so much violence, the town is reportedly very haunted. We didn't experience anything paranormal, but we did experience a bit of history and I'll never watch the movie Tombstone in quite the same way again.


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posted by Melanie O. at 7:59 PM - 1 comments
Friday, October 23, 2009
Sedona, Arizona

Sedona has a reputation for attracting crystal-seeking New-Agers (and there's nothing wrong with that), but don't go to Sedona for the vortexes. Go to Sedona for the scenery and the ancient Native American history.

Dan and I set off to Sedona with son #4 and his wife, who had organized a Pink Jeep tour for us, and we spent the day taking in the scenery. Dan bought himself a couple of dirt shirts with Southwest designs on them, and I liked the look of them so much, I had to buy a couple as well. If you aren't familiar with dirt shirts, they're T-shirts dyed in the local mud. They come out a gorgeous russet color (like the one my son is wearing).

We strolled down the main streets, looking for kachinas for me (Native American dolls that represent different dancers) and cold drinks. I love how the city has ordinances that make developers comply with building designs that blend with the natural environment. Nothing garish or ugly here. Despite the calendar saying it was the end of September, temperatures were well over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Our water bottles came in very handy!

After a stroll through the shops, it was time for our Pink Jeep tour, led by our intrepid driver and tour guide, Jason. We had signed up for the Ancient American ruins tour, and headed out into the bush. We zoomed past celebrity homes and found ourselves into wide open ranch land, surrounded by red rocks. It was stunning!

The Native American dwellings were built into the native rock using mud brick and rocks. In their day, they would have looked like a somewhat modern apartment building, with rooms built on top of each other. Built high into the native rock to keep away enemies and predators, I could just imagine what it would have been like to live here, off the harsh land. Life expectancy was around 40 years (less for women.)  Each clan marked its presence with a shield with an animal icon painted on the rock face. Around us were petroglyphs - paintings of animals on the rocks: deer, coyote, and coatis. Some people think that the natives, by drawing on the rocks, ascribed some kind of magical hold over these animals, as they were food sources, but part of me likes to think that they just liked to replicate what they saw in nature, to their abodes, much like many of us do today.

It was a fascinating tour, although hot and thirsty work, walking to and around the site. I left only reluctantly, although it did mean that I got to see more red rock and bush on the way back to base. I leave some photos of the day for you to enjoy.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)


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posted by Melanie O. at 7:35 PM - 2 comments
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Grand Canyon
Upon our arrival to Tucson, we loaded up the car (after a quick shower) and headed north towards Flagstaff. No flight recovery time for us - we were on the go. We were going to see the Grand Canyon!

I was concerned that we hadn't allowed for much time on the site, but, as it turned out, the timing was perfect. We arrived late in the afternoon and witnessed the changing colors of the canyon. First, beiges, pinks and gold, and then turning to darker blues and purples as the sun descended. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would have thought that I was looking at a painting, and I can well understand the inspiration for "Southwest" colors. I never before thought of the Grand Canyon as a spiritual place, but, once there, my insignificant humanness became emphasised and I felt humbled by what my eyes beheld.

We walked the rim of the canyon for a few hours, did a bit of local shopping, and then returned again for sunset. To say that the Grand Canyon is magnificent, is an understatement. This "hole in the ground" hides millions of years of history. It's at once a hostile environment that still manages to teem with life. While we were there, we saw desert rats, eagles, and elk. At dusk, the elk came out to forage for food and they took my breath away. I've never seen such a magnificent animal in all my life. Too see bull elks in the wild made me think of my pagan ancestors who revered the wild stag.  At that moment, I understood why.

The whole trip turned out to be an amazing experience, one that I hope to repeat in my lifetime.

(Click on photos below to enlarge.)


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posted by Melanie O. at 6:23 PM - 0 comments
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Road trip!

Dan and I just returned from visiting family in the good ol' USA, and this year, we decided to be a little crazy and rent a car and drive from Arizona, to Connecticut, to South Carolina, and then back again. In between, we saw the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Tombstone, Long Island Sound, the Outer Banks, Charleston, Asheville, and Graceland. We racked up over 6,000 miles of highway driving and saw bits of disappearing America. Thank goodness for cars that average 30 miles to the gallon or more!

In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we rode the Ocracoke ferry and saw shoreline that hadn't changed in hundreds of years. In Charleston, where descendants of West African slaves still make sweet grass baskets like their great-great-great-great aunts did, development is destroying the sweet grass. I guess future generations could find other materials from which to make the baskets, but it's sad to think that one day this could be a lost art. I purchased a basket from a young male basket-weaver, which is a pretty rare sight. Basket weaving is traditionally a woman's art.

In Asheville, we once again stepped back in time to get to the top of Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, in the thickest fog I can recall. I remarked to Dan that I wished I could capture the smell of balsam and Douglas fir trees with my camera. I've never been able to find an essential oil or incense that truly captures this fruity-piney smell. I look forward to Christmases with my house filled with the odor of fir tree, so I'm determined to find that elusive fragrance.

In Memphis, we visited Graceland and its surrounding exhibits. I was never a huge Elvis Presley fan growing up. By the time I was a teenager, Elvis was performing in Vegas and seemed to own the domain of middle aged women. I was more into David Bowie. Now that I'm a middle-aged woman, myself, I find myself fascinated with the world of Mr Presley - where he came from, what his values were ... and I confess that one of my guilty pleasures is to sit and watch Elvis movies. Visiting Graceland was one of the highlights of our trip.

Back in Tucson, I introduced Dan to the world of Halloween at Old Tucson. There, the old film studios are transformed into a world of zombies with haunted houses and live performances. Dan and I never laughed so much or had such a great time being "spooked."

To say that it was difficult to come back, knowing that work awaits us both tomorrow, is an understatement. I may live in Australia, but my heart is in my homeland and I can't wait to go back again. Sadly, road trips are a disappearing event in many people's lives now - with the price of fuel, concern over the environmental impact of long trips, and few people being able to take sufficient time off to "see the USA in your Chevrolet." I'm glad we did this as we may never get the chance again.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing about my impressions of things we did on our journey around the United States. I hope you'll come back to read about it and see the photos.

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posted by Melanie O. at 1:37 PM - 1 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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