My five days in Flagstaff were filled with hiking, walking Rudy and Gretchen, and eating home-cooked meals… well, except one night, when I splurged and dined at Brix, an excellent restaurant in Flagstaff’s old Nob Hill neighborhood. I enjoyed Washington state oysters as an appetizer, fresh French bread with Hawaiian sea salt butter, and Cavatelli with lamb ragout as a main course, and a quite palatable Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. To burn off the extra calories, I hiked most of the Kachina Trail from the Snow Bowl ski area the next morning.
The trail started at 9,500 ft. near a ski area, and descended gradually to 8,700 feet, where I turned for the return march, and was much easier than the steep Elden Lookout Trail I had hiked the day before. The hike started in a pine forest, but soon the trees changed to aspens, one of my favorites. Winding through the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, elk are often seen in Autumn, but I was elkless this day.
The mouth of a small cave with a narrow opening beckoned, but my better judgment overcame any thoughts of spelunking into a bear or cougar’s lair and possibly disturbing the principal resident’s blissful slumber…
It was hard to believe that I was only ten miles outside of Flagstaff. There were no houses in sight, nor power lines, roads or even lean-to shelters. One of the additional blessings of a “Wilderness” designation is that mechanized travel is not allowed, not even mountain bikes, so there are no rumbles of jeeps or 4 wheel drive trucks, and of course there is no logging. Hikers, rangers and wildlife are all you see, sometimes for days on end. By the end of my hike, thunderstorms had developed, and I decided to deploy my new trekking umbrella for the first time. It worked quite well, but I haven’t decided whether to carry it on a regular basis. One looks somewhat eccentric with umbrella deployed on a mountain trail, but the utility of keeping dry offsets the odd looks you receive.
My last hike before departing Arizona was on the Arizona Trail northeast of Flagstaff, in a much more open area at lower elevation, about 7,000 ft. The views of the east side of Mt. Elden were impressive, but again I found no elk or mule deer. It seems they had migrated to better pastures, or perhaps were sleeping in late while I was hiking. Nevertheless, the scenery was fabulous, and I only saw one other person after the first mile from the trailhead, a mountain biker out for a 10 mile ride.
The next leg of our journey took us from Flagstaff to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Suzanne would fly back from her highly successful conference in Chapel Hill, NC. She was the opening night keynote speaker at the Association for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (ASCS), and enjoyed every minute she was there. But Rudy, Gretchen and I were very glad to see her waiting curbside at the ABQ baggage claim, and now she’s back with The Pack.
From Albuquerque, we drove to Santa Fe. On the way, we watched towering cumulonimbus clouds building, and they seemed to be on a collision course… and just 15 minutes from our campground, we entered the associated thunderstorm, with heavy rain and hail making driving an “Isn’t that interesting” experience. Fortunately, there was no damage to either the coach or the toad (our car being towed astern).
Our sole purpose in visiting Santa Fe was to meet Jim and Jann Oliver. Jim is an Emmy Award-winning composer and musician. Suzanne had spoken to him several times on the phone while working on their joint meditation project, for which Jim had graciously created amazing, spirit-guided music, but this was our first face-to-face meeting. Jann is also a highly spiritual person. She was trained and worked as a massage therapist, and her energy perfectly complements Jim’s. They make a great team. They hosted us for dinner in their beautiful home in the El Dorado neighborhood overlooking a greenway and arroyo often frequented by bobcats and other desert creatures.
After dinner, we adjourned to Jim’s professional recording studio for an original meditation session where he sat at his seven keyboards and proceeded to improvise some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, all without any sheet music – completely inspired by spirit. (I reckoned that this was what Heaven sounded like.) After the music ended, we didn’t want to even speak, the moment was so divine.
We were happy to host Jim and Jann in the coach for lunch. Jim had spent many years as a professional musician performing in high end venues like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, and I think he might have enjoyed traveling to and from his hundreds of gigs in a comfortable motor coach even better than by car and staying in hotels on the Strip.
We also got to hike on the greenway behind the Olivers’ home. Due to frequent rains, there were many desert cacti and wildflowers blooming… but no bobcats were out that early in the day. Darn…
For dinner, Jim was again put to work in his alternative job as GrillMeister. He did such a superb job that My Lovely Bride suggested quietly that I get some tips from the expert. Hey, I could be a lot more proficient with lots of practice on a big grill on a wide deck overlooking the desert in Santa Fe! (I tried to remind MLB that BBQing wasn’t a frequent event aboard Navy destroyers in the North Atlantic in the dead of winter…)
Just as we were finishing dinner, Mother Nature gave us a gift to complement the hospitality of Jann and Jim Oliver and the gift of Jim’s awesome, inspired music… this gorgeous sunset, which confirmed that they had made an excellent decision in moving to Santa Fe.
The scene became even more dramatic with the last minutes before darkness, a fitting way to end an unforgettable visit with the Olivers. You can learn more about Jim’s exquisitely beautiful music at http://www.jimolivermusic.com/