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This year, Loraine and I spent Christmas in the desert with the Lundquist Family.
To add Christmas cheer to the hotel suite, we had a few decorations, a small "tree" (if you look closely, you can see it on the fireplace mantle), and plenty of gifts!
Loraine's dad opens up one of his gifts.
Loraine's brother, Gil, models his recent acquisition.
Here is a really odd shaped saguaro cactus, the Arizona state tree. The hotel and the granitic outcropping of Pinnacle Peak can be seen in the background.
We spent much of the time lounging around. Here, Loraine's aunt Valerie, uncle Jerry, and cousin Richard relax as Gil contemplates the sun.
The Lundquist family.
Sunrise view from outside our room.

One day, we took a day trip up to the Grand Canyon with Loraine's mom.
We stopped at various overlook sites (this one is Mather Point -- look how crowded it was the day after Christmas.
I love the shape of this tree.
Loraine and her mom admired the view from this vantage point.
Despite the fact that the canyon has been carved by the action of the mighty Colorado River, glimpses of the river itself are rare. Here we found a spot where we could see a calm section of the river.
We took a ranger-guided walking tour about how Native Americans used different plants for food and supplies. The ranger called this yucca tree that jutted above the snow "the Wal-Mart of the West" because it can provide fiber for rope and clothes and sharp points for sewing.
A beautiful view.
We went to Hermit's Rest to wait for sunset and it was very cold. Loraine and her mom did some dancing to stay warm while we waited... Click on the image to see the whole movie (3.6 MB).
The color of the setting sun makes the canyon look even more gorgeous.

Another trip included a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesan West.
When Wright first came to the site, they discovered these fantastic petroglyphs.
Wright liked the petroglyphs so much, that the site's "logo" (seen on the right) is based on one of the designs in keeping with his philosophy that architecture should come from the original landscape.
Loraine's mom is sitting in a chair designed by Wright. The chairs were originally designed to be built from a single piece of plywood but today are produced from a factory in Europe and retail for $4000!
The family after our tour.

On our way from Arizona back home to New Mexico, we made several stops. Here is Gil at Meteor Crater, a huge impact crater.
Here I am at Meteor Crater.
Meteor Crater.
The next stop was Petrified Forest National Monument. The rocks I'm standing with were Triassic pine trees that were buried faster than they could decompose (probably in a flood plain). Groundwater, rich in silica from sediments dominated by volcanic ash, infiltrated into the logs and slowly replaced the tree's tissue. Today, the trees are strewn all over the present-day surface and you can see them in the background.
Loraine is pointing to a knot in the tree where a branch used to be. None of the petrified trees have branches, suggesting that they fell in a place where there was something that broke the branches off -- probably a flowing river or perhaps even a volcanic blast. You can also see the shape of the tree behind her -- note how the trunk gets wider at the root stock.
And here is a tree today. It looks like chert and it's basically the same material (silica). Look at the pretty colors.
Here, a tree fell across a triassic stream bed and was eventually petrified. The cover was eventually eroded away, with the old river-bed preferentially eroded. The tree, once again, forms a bridge across a narrow stream channel.
Loraine and I appreciate the site.
Something a bit more modern can be found on these fallen blocks. See anything?
Here's a closer view of what they call Newspaper Rock. The dark desert varnish made an ideal canvas for the native people living here a few hundred years ago (long after the trees had been petrified, but they were likely at the surface by that time).
Within the Petrified Forest NM is the Painted Desert. It was a bit cloudy when we visited, but you can still make out the fantastically bright colors behind us. The reds and pinks come mostly from weathered iron in the sediments.

We eventually made it to Loraine's home in White Rock, New Mexico. Her house is on a mesa capped by volcanic tuff from eruptions of a HUGE volcano. After its last eruption a little over a million years ago, the volcano's magma chamber collapsed and formed this big valley called a caldera. This picture only shows a tiny fraction of the caldera, which is said to be the largest visible caldera on earth and is called "Valle Grande."
Cutting through the tuff are many small rivers (and one large one, the Rio Grande). Here, Loraine poses in front of Frijoles Canyon in Bandalier National Monument.
We descended into one of the steepest valleys in the area where an abandoned Pueblo Indian village is found. The valley is fertile with volcanic-derived sediments and has a beautiful flowing stream in it, making it an ideal location for people to live here.
The two-story city is circular shaped with a central courtyard.
About 400 people once lived here, using the inner courtyard as the center of their culinary, and spiritual lives. Here, I pretend to grind corn and acorns (corn that is farmed in this valley and acorns that are collected). The walls are made out of volcanic tuff bricks, probably collected from the talus that fell off the hill side. A keva, a building where religious ceremonies are held, is behind me out of the picture.
The cliffs above central buildings look a lot like swiss cheese with lots of natural caves.
The Pueblo people enlarged many of these caves for habitation. According to tree ring dating, the caves were occupied at about the same time as the main city below and deciding where to live was probably a matter of preference.
At several locations, we were allowed to climb into the caves to have a look around. Most were too small to stand up in. The ceilings were covered with soot from the original fires used to light and heat the caves. The walls and floors were covered with plaster that was sometimes decorated with designs. There were small indentations in the wall that looked like little shelves for people to put things.
The experience of climbing into a cave directly from a ladder is actually a bit inaccurate. In many cases, the caves were simply "back rooms" for talus-brick houses like the ones in the main city. Here you can see evidence for these houses where "vigas" (round wooden beams) were connected to the cliff wall in front of the caves.
You can see evidence that this particular building, called the Long House, was three stories high (three rows of viga holes) and had two cave rooms behind it. A round petroglyh is carved between two viga holes in the upper left portion of the image.
Another cliff dwelling was built 150 feet above the valley floor under an overhang in the cliff wall. You can see how we're above the level of the tree-trops in this picture -- we had to climb up 4 very steep and somewhat frightening ladders to get to this spot (the warning sign at the bottom indicated that people who are afraid of heights should not venture up...). A reconstructed keva is shown on the left.

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