Saturday, June 30, 2018


Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa
Sunset from our Sanctuary terrace
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa is aptly named.  It fits the description of both dictionary meanings for sanctuary:  1) a place of refuge or safety, and 2) a nature reserve.  We were road weary when we arrived at Sanctuary and were ushered into a cool, comfortable suite with a terrace overlooking the sunset.  Our Durango friends wondered why anyone would head to Scottsdale from Durango during the heat of summer, but we were using the excuse of a one-day travel agent conference to escape from the Smoke of the 416 fire and also vacate our house while our kitchen was being re-tiled.  While the heat in Arizona topped out at 111 degrees, the locals kept telling us that it was a dry heat and we would get used to it.  I didn't believe them, but after three nights at the Sanctuary with summer rates to assuage the heat, we definitely felt cool and comfortable.

A Sanctuary suite.  Note the butterfly on the wall which
honors Sanctuary's status as a nature reserve
The resort began its life as John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch.  It was built during the 70's heyday of the sport and served the rich and famous such as professionals Ken Rosewall and Billie Jean King and Hollywood luminaries like Clint Eastwood, Liza Minnelli and John Carson. The featured event during its heyday was the Senator's Cup, a charity event which pitted Democrat and Republican Congressmen against each other back in the days when political rivalry was still a friendly competition. The resort gradually lost its focus on tennis as the popularity of the sport faded, but to keep the resort from disappearing and becoming just another upscale development, fans bought the land and dedicated it as a nature reserve so the resort could continue to provide refuge for man and beast. It's even a dog-friendly resort, so you don't have to leave your best friend at home.

Butterfly blessing
There's really no reason to leave the Sanctuary since it has a well-known and locally popular elegant restaurant in Elements, a comfortable bar in the Jade Bar, an absolutely gorgeous infinity pool, and a magnificent spa.  We did decide to leave, however, to check out the unique Butterfly Wonderland, where Dwight was blessed by a butterfly.  Summer time in Scottsdale -- elegant accommodations at good prices, good food, neat attractions -- great destination for an old-fashioned road trip.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


 I'm leaving Africa behind for a short while to take a detour on an old-fashioned American road trip.  A one-day travel conference caused us to schedule a trip to Scottsdale on a Wednesday of the last week of June.  That is not an ideal time for one to leave the clear mountain air of Durango for the hot desert sun of southern Arizona, but it provided us with an opportunity to get out of the house while our kitchen was re-tiled.  It was also an opportunity for us to get out of the smokey fog surrounding Durango from the 416 fire.  So we packed our bags and headed south.  Our plan, since we wanted to be gone at least a week, was to take two days to complete the journey to Scottsdale,three nights there, and two days coming back.

Our first decision was where to stop on the first night out.  We, of course, opted for detouring through the Grand Canyon, but were uncertain if we could find reasonable lodging.  I remembered some controversy earlier about incorporating a town just to the south of the National Park, so we drove through the park and, sure enough found the town of Tusayan.  It almost all looks brand new!  According to Wikipedia, it was only recently incorporated with a total population of 558, but the incorporation was unpopular with some and they are fighting it.  Typical Western politics.  I stopped at the Holiday Inn Express; they had a room, but it was $250 for the night. 
I thought that too extravagant for a Holiday Inn and drove away, but next door found a little gem of a motel from the 50's called the 7 Mile Inn.  The "vacancy" sign was lit, so I walked in.  A friendly, smiling woman came from a back room that looked like her living room and signed us in for $109 plus tax for the night.  The motel was almost engulfed by two new behemoth hotels which surrounded it.  I think we had found the incorporation opposition.  The 7 Mile Lodge accepts only drive-in traffic, so it doesn't have the expense of a reservation service or on-line booking engine, but they have old-fashioned friendly owners, meticulously clean rooms, and all the amenities including free wi-fi at a great price. 

Brunch at the El Tovar Hotel

The next morning we rose early and drove back into the Park (thank you, Golden Passport) for breakfast and to feed on the view once again.  I had forgotten how spacious the "Grand Canyon Village" was with markets, hotels, overlooks, and trail heads. We ended up at the old El Tovar Hotel which was built as a Harvey House at the end of the railway in the early 20th century.  It's been recently remodeled and proudly occupies its prime spot at the edge of the South Rim.  The hotel itself reminded me of the Strater Hotel in Durango with its period furniture. And, best of all, breakfast was superb.  Good detour!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Sand River Maasai Mara Tented Camp

Keekorak Airstrip, Maasai Mara National Reserve
We departed the Laikipia plains and flew southwest to the Maasai Mara National Reserve on the 16 of April.  The Mara became a National Reserve in 1974.  It is contiguous with the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania and the Kenya government wanted to take advantage of the tourist attraction known as The Great Migration.  The Great Migration takes place year-round as zebra, wildebeest, gazelle and other plains game follow the rains and the good grass.  And, of course, where the plains game goes, the big cats (lion, leopard, and cheetah) are sure to follow.  The circle begins (or ends) in the southern Serengeti from December to May and reaches its peak in the Mara from October to November.  Without hyperbole, I can say that it is the most stunning display of wildlife to be seen on earth.  Because there's always migration going on at some point between the Serengeti and the Mara, it makes for a perfect vacation from May through the winter. The equator passes through the center of Kenya so the temperature typically doesn't vary much.  Much of the country is also at altitude; if you can read the Keekorok sign you can tell it is over 5500 feet.  There are two rainy seasons, however, the short rains in the fall and the long rains in the spring and the long rains are the only time not recommended to visit, although we saw all the game we could handle.  If the Great Migration is not on your bucket list, it should be!

Room at Sand River Masai Mara Tented Camp
Of the three camps we visited on our Study Tour, the Sand River Tented Camp was my favorite.  The 16 spacious tents are spread out along the banks of the Sand River which marks the boundary between Kenya and Tanzania.  Since the surrounding area is not fenced, wildlife can wander freely through the entire area.  Each tent is furnished in a style matching early 20th-century colonial furnishings evoking the romance of early explorers, complete with a Hemingway-style writing desk in the sitting room, canopied beds, and a huge footed bathtub.  Perhaps it was the bathtub which made it my favorite since a hot bath qualifies as my cure for whatever ails you.  If a bathtub isn't to your taste, however, Sand River tents also offer an outside shower. 
Hippo in the river

While it doesn't have the great soaring vistas of Loisaba, Sand River is the perfect place to sit with a sundowner on your patio while watching hippos wallowing in the river waters and monkeys jumping through the trees on the opposite bank.  The river was running high since we were there at the height of the long rains which have been particularly heavy this year.     

We had all booked a sunrise balloon ride over the Mara for the next morning and after signing documents and getting a briefing on the balloon adventure, we all went to bed early.  We were to leave the Sand River Camp at 4:30 the next morning and were told to expect an hour's drive to the balloon launching.  We were really looking forward to the adventure.  Little did we know how much and what kind of adventure awaited us.