November 26

Sunset Crater National Park

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Our flight into Phoenix was actually ahead of time, and the only checked bag came out among the first items onto the carousel. At Hertz we were awaited by a beautiful new red Pontiac Vibe. It didn't set off any bad vibes, but when traveling with a big photo backpack I do prefer a classic, opaque trunk, so Cheryl at the Hertz counter traded the Vibe for a Mitsubishi Galant. She also explained that The Wife doesn't need to be explicitly added to the rental contract as a co-driver. Ducky.

We blended into the speeding Phoenix traffic and headed north towards Flagstaff, and beyond to the Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument. Being the good citizens that we are we purchased the annual National Parks Pass for $50. If nothing else I felt guilty since I never had to pay two months ago in Yellowstone. With this purchase we depleted 50% of our cash for the whole trip - credit cards not accepted.

When I was at the Sunset Crater six years ago the place was completely deserted, covered with a thin layer of snow, and most importantly the hiking trail was not paved. It has proven to me much harder to frame pictures in such a way that the trail doesn't show when instead of black dirt it sports a fresh white concrete surface. Kinda reminded me of a story my dad told me from his time in the military service when his battalion was sweeping paths in the forest because a general was to visit. Truly roughing it...

Somehow my memories of the crater were more impressive than what I saw front of me today. The light wasn't quite right, it was very hazy to say the least, while in 1997 visibility was almost unlimited. Also today when looking through the viewfinder things just didn't look good. I could not put my finger on it, but it just wasn't right. With this we completed the "long loop", full 1.1 miles long, and continued north to the Wupatki ruins. Even though the light should have been perfect the haze made it almost impossible to see the impressive canyons further north. I managed to convince Essan to go with me back south to the crater, but the 18 miles took too long to drive; no sunset at the Sunset Crater for us, or let's face it, mainly me.

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With daylight gone we moved on to drive north towards the Monument Valley, where I had my mind set to be for the sunrise. In Tuba City we ventured to Hogan's diner, which looked less sketchy than the local Chinese restaurant and definitely much more adventurous than KFC next door. Essan experimented with some Navajo labeled food, while I stuck with the only dish which I could both recognize and take digestive chances with - a ground beef steak. Yes, you laugh, I didn't. To make things worse I made the consequential mistake and poured artificial sweetener into my tea, a move which was to haunt me for many hours to come.

We retired at a motel in Kayenta, where I went on to diagnose my camera problems. All pictures seemed blurred, out of focus, and in general crappy, but all indoor test shots were ok. Utterly frustrated I gave up, not being able to do anything about a bad camera or lens anyway. Besides, the light was bad and the weather was hazy, so the pictures would not have been all that great anyway. The alarm clock was set for 5:30, to make sure that we catch the sunrise at 7:10, or at least that was the thinking.

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