Friday, August 19, 2011

Back into hell - according to my daughter

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the long delay since last post but reality has hit with a vengeance. Work is extremely busy, we ran up to New York City and back for a family wedding (lots of fun but lots of traffic – driving to the city is no fun anymore) and my house is once again the disaster I dread having to deal with. Mornings have been a steady stream of rushing to get out of the house while I’m screaming at the kids to hurry up and get moving.  I sooooooo miss being on vacation.  So I’m ready to delve back into our two week vacation and relay more of our wonderful adventures while I sit here lamenting the 11 months that must pass until we can “vacate” again.  I’m thinking of a month long trip next year…….

Anyway, it was with much crying and pleading that we got our daughter back into the SUV laden with our outdoor paraphernalia.  She really wanted to stay with her friend in the giant hunting lodge.  I don’t get it – who wants to stay in a big house with lots of electronics, a refrigerator, beds and indoor plumbing when you can camp in a tent with your family? 

We headed southeast to Arches National Park for our final sight and our final night of camping. Along the way I had us stop for lunch at the Westwinds Truck Stop in Green River, UT.  Why a truck stop you ask?  Because they have really amazing chicken fried steak.  Considering none of us had ever had it before, I figured we should start with the best.  And it really was the best we ever had.  We were asking the waitress some questions about the chicken fried process when a female truck driver at the next table overheard our conversation.  She was blown away by the fact that we’d never had chicken fried steak before.  She’s from Texas and chicken fried steak is like one of the state dishes there.  She was further baffled when we said we were from Virginia until I explained that we’re originally Yankees and our idea of comfort food is a lobster roll.  I bet miss Texas truck driver never had one of those.

After we were done, we tried to find the Crystal Geyser which we saw a picture of on the walls of the Westwind Truck Stop on the way to the restroom.  This geyser is very interesting because it’s not a hot spring.  It’s a soda spring.  What I mean is that the spring is powered by carbon dioxide rather than a typical hot spring which occurs near a volcanic area.  For some strange reason we couldn’t find it and we wanted to get moving.  We did stop off to buy a melon.  Apparently Green River and the surrounding areas are known for their melons. Yeah, not touching that one.  So my husband pulled into a stand and bought us a melon to have the next day at breakfast. I can’t explain it but all of a sudden our car smelled of melon farts. That Green River melon stunk to high heaven, but not in a rotting way, just in a melon farty kind of way.  Must be that dry Utah soil…..
Everytime we’d leave the car and come back in, that melon fart smell would just smack us all in the face.

We finally arrive at Arches National Park.  The entrance isn’t very noticeable – you could pass it if your GPS isn’t screaming at you to turn in 800 ft, 600 ft, 100 ft,  g-ddammit you’re passing it, dipsh*t. Sorry, I lost myself.  We pulled into the entrance and walked into the Visitor Center.  Actually we ran in because several of us had to us the restrooms immediately. After that we looked around a little and decided to move on.  We wanted to get to the campsite and set up.  The moment we opened the door to exit from the Visitor Center, a giant sandstorm blew in.  Now I know how all those people felt who were caught in the Haboob – sand everywhere. In our hair, up our noses, in our ears – it was gross.  And the grungy camp feeling definitely returned.  We tried to stop along the way to take in some of the scenery.  Each time we got out of the car to see a new arch or rock formation, the wind and the sand would drive us back in.  The sand would sting us like hundreds of little pin pricks – my children were not happy.  I was willing to keep on visiting different spots but no one else was.  Luckily the storm blew over fairly quickly and we were able to hike to a few arches and then set up camp.

Okay, we were only in civilization for a few days but when we got to the new campsite it was like we’d never camped before.  The kids and I saw these black beetles with what looked like stingers on the end.  We completely freaked out and refused to set up the tent near the bugs.  My husband was yelling at us, telling us we were ridiculous. I thought he was going to lose it.  He completely blamed me for setting the poor parental example but these bugs were scary looking.  And on top of that, the bathroom was really far away.  I knew I was going to get eaten while on my way to the middle of the night peepee trip. I was extremely close to insisting we pack up and find the nearest hotel.  However, the view from our campsite was absolutely incredible.  I took a deep breath, put my camping brain on and told the kids to get ready to set up the tent.  My daughter fixed me with a look as if to call me traitor.  In fact I think she actually called me a traitor. She was horrified by my insistence that we stay. My husband was appeased and we began to set up.  The beetles seemed to have disappeared so for now, life was calm.  We got ready and went to dinner.  We went into Moab – a decent sized town for the area – and had dinner at Buck’s Grill House. It was a decent place.  Everyone had meat – big surprise.  We had an interesting appetizer – skewers of elk, boar and buffalo sausages.  I divided them up so we could all try each of the different meats.  They were all delicious but we all had different favorites.

After dinner we drove farther into town to get supplies.  My husband wanted to cook for our final camp breakfast.  There is a real downtown with lots of interesting looking restaurants.  If we should ever get back to that part of the world, we would definitely check out some of them.

That’s all for now.  More later.  I’ve got photos coming soon so we can relive the fun together!

Next: on our way to Colorado and the end of our trip L

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My birthday - yay-ish

Hi everyone,

Ugh.  I’ve adjusted to being home but my brain is still out West.  Wishful thinking, I guess. So my dad came to visit this week – I basically guilted him into it because it’s been awhile since the kids have seen him.  I kept the kids home from camp so they could spend the day with him.  They planned to go to the nearby zoo and then to the town center (nice, big outdoor shopping area).  I get a call from them about 10 minutes before I was planning to leave work for the day.  They had lunch (sushi, no less) and now they can’t find the car. Oy.  I drove to the town center and picked them up.  Then we drove slowly through the garage – there are four of them, I figured they had the wrong garage – until, lo and behold, I found the car.  Yeah, dad, you’re not losing it are ya?

Anyone, when last I posted we had found the perfect pies from the perfect pie shop. The next day, after a peaceful, comfortable night of sleeping indoors with a bathroom I didn’t need a flashlight to find, I woke to the nightmare that is my birthday. I shouldn’t sound so melodramatic.  I actually like my birthday unless someone dares to ask me how old I am and then I have to figure out how many times I’ve turned 39.  We’re up to 5 times at this point.  This means 43 – most people forget to count the actual year I turned 39 when trying to calculate my age.  

I try to be on vacation when my birthday occurs.  Since it falls in August, I can usually manage to plan to be away when August 2nd rolls around. To me, nothing’s more depressing than having to work on your birthday.  So even if we can’t be away, I take the day off and do something special for myself. I highly recommend this strategy.

The reason I’m rather dreading this birthday is for two reasons.  First, I never mentioned my birthday to my hosts and I don’t want them to feel obligated to do anything special.  I try to downplay the day and verbally announce that I don’t think of the day as anything special. Second, my husband has been dying to get back at me for what I did to him on his last birthday.  We had taken him out to a very nice restaurant for his birthday dinner but he decided he’d prefer Dairy Queen for dessert.  No problem, we drove over to the nearest Dairy Queen and everyone ordered cones and blizzards, etc.  After we all had what we wanted, I decided that he needed to be sung to by everyone in the store. This meant all of three tables but it was still necessary.  I raised my voice and announced to everyone in the place that today was my husband’s birthday and would they all please join me in singing the birthday song.  I believe we sang at least two verses.  Ever since, my husband has been threatening to retaliate – even more so because as I was outside getting the car, a rather large man insisted on giving him a birthday hug. That pushed my husband over the edge and has kept me worrying about what might occur today.

We ended up going into Salt Lake City and touring the Mormon temple and the surrounding buildings.  I won’t comment on another’s religion except to say that the architecture we saw was beautiful and the history of the Mormon settlers is fascinating.  For those of you who’ve never traveled through Utah, the land is dry and very harsh.  I thought about what we drove through and couldn’t imagine attempting those miles without paved roads.  The settlers attempted to farm in arid, desert climates and had to contend with icky things like rattlesnakes and scorpions.  Those people were made of strong stuff.  I could never have done it.

On a food note, I dragged everyone to Bruge’s because we had all seen it on Man vs Food so it must be good, right?  Besides, it’s my birthday and I knew there’d be really good chocolate there.  One thing we either didn’t realize or simply forgot about was that they only sell one sandwich.  It’s called the Machine Gun and is “a hearty lamb merguez sausage served on a French baguette stuffed with our world famous fries and topped with Bruge’s favourite Andalouse sauce …. give it a shot!”  It was delicious, although spicier than I was expecting.  But that’s all they sell unless it’s dessert waffles – but I’ll get to those in a minute.  So not everyone in our group was thrilled and I apologized at least 5-6 times.  Then I sat down and enjoyed my machine gun with gusto and some lemonade soda.  I think if I ever got to go there again, I’d order just the fries, or frites as the French and Belgians call them.  There are lots of interesting sauces to try with them, including the SLC famous fry sauce.  Fry sauce is just mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together.  I’ve been making that for years but I just called it Russian dressing.

After we finished our “guns”, we shared the Torpedo waffle.  This is two layers of thin, oval Belgian waffles with two bars of melting Belgian chocolate in between. Let me just say I’m so sorry I shared this with others.  The experience was over too quickly and I wanted more, damnit. Next time I’ll know better.

My day finished nicely with a quiet dinner at home and the two heavenly pies we brought from our new favorite place, The Village Inn.  I did get sung to, but only by my family and our friends, and I got a lovely card my kids made and had everyone sign.  All in all, a lovely 5th annual 39th birthday.

Next: headed back into the wilderness

Monday, August 8, 2011

A day for pie - Pieday.

Hi everyone,

First day back at work and I’m beat.  I don’t think I’ve adjusted to the two hour time difference yet ….

When last we “spoke” the fam’ was finishing our day at Capitol Reef National Park. Everyone was looking forward to the next day when we headed to our friend’s parents place in Heber City for real beds, showers and bathrooms – and to visit with our friends of course.

I wouldn’t let anyone eat breakfast this morning because I had a special place for us to go.  Amazingly no one complained.  I guess because I promised pie after breakfast, not something my kids were going to turn down.  We went to Mom’s in Salina, which was directly on our way to Heber.  Mom’s comes recommended from the god and goddess of road food – Michael and Jane Stern.  They travel the country finding the best road food and write about it, both in books and on their web site - I used this web site to find interesting places but southern Utah isn’t exactly the Mecca of great restaurants, road food or otherwise.  Most of the Stern’s Utah finds are in and around Salt Lake City, but they did have this gem of a place in Salina (sort of rhymes with saliva) called Mom’s.  We had a great breakfast there.  The eggs were done perfectly and tasted nice and buttery.  They’re also known for their scones which, quite frankly, aren’t really scones but another incarnation of fried dough.  What is it about fried dough that everyone goes so nuts for?  Once again, my daughter loved it.  I actually liked them.  Unlike their Navaho fried bread counterpart, these tasted like they were fried in butter instead of oil.  They weren’t greasy and were much lighter. So I forced myself to eat one (wink wink). My husband, trusting this restaurant was as good as the Sterns said, decided to order biscuits and gravy. Now let me say this.  We do live in the South if you can consider Northern Virginia to be the South. But my husband and I are both from the New York/Connecticut area and aren’t really familiar with such Southern treats as biscuits and gravy. In fact, I’ll never forget the first time my parents, brother and I took a trip to North Carolina to check out colleges and we excitedly ordered grits with our breakfast.  We all grabbed our spoons, took a big scoop and opened wide – only to discover that grits barely have a taste on their own.  We called over to the waitress since clearly we had done something wrong in our grits experiment. This is when we learned that you’re supposed to add something to the grits.  Grits are merely the background while additions like cheese or butter or honey play the starring role.  It’s like eating a dry bagel (an analogy a Northerner like me can relate to).

So back to the biscuits and gravy which I don’t think I’ve ever tried. They were delicious.  Best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had! Okay, the only I’ve ever had but they were really good and I think I’ll order these again sometime when I return to Virginia. But the really great part of the meal was the pie. One of their signature pies is a German chocolate so we all shared a piece.  Yum!  We were all smiling, happy campers.  The pie was creamy and chocolatey without being too sweet or rich.

We rolled out of Mom’s and continued on our way. But I’m not done with my treatise on pie yet because we were on a quest for pie.  We were supposed to show up at our friend’s parents’ house and my momma taught me that you don’t show up empty-handed.  It’s just rude.  My original plan was to buy a whole pie at Mom’s and bring that.  Wouldn’t you know it but Mom’s doesn’t sell whole pies, just slices.  If we wanted a whole pie, we should have called in an order an hour before we wanted it and then, if we were lucky, we’d have a pie to go. We didn’t have an hour to spare so we hit the road and kept our eyes peeled for bakeries with pies. It took us until we got to Provo and then the clouds parted and the sun shone down on a little slice of heaven.  In truth, the heavens did open up, and then it began to pour, with a vengeance.  Not to be discouraged, I asked at a diner if they sold whole pies.  They said no but said we should turn around and go back a quarter mile to The Village Inn.  I had seen The Village Inn a few times. It’s usually in a bright orange building and seems fairly unimpressive.  But desperate times called for desperate measures.  Back we went and out into the deluge I ran to The Village Inn.  I opened the door and stepped into pie nirvana. You know you’ve got the right place when you see glass counters filled with pies of all kinds and there’s a special pie of the month. I practically cried with relief and quickly ordered the month’s special – lemon blueberry.  Then it occurred to me that not everyone likes lemons or blueberries, I’d better get another type that would appeal to the non-fruit people like my husband.  So a French Silk pie quickly joined the lemon blueberry as I happily handed over my credit card and took my bag o’ pies to the car.  I was still a bit apprehensive.  These weren’t Mom’s pies after all.  My husband basically told me to quit my worrying and get my butt in the car, which I did.

We continued on our way and arrived at Heber Springs around 2ish.  Words cannot adequately describe the incredible house our friends’ parents have.  The term “hunting lodge” would be more accurate.  It was huge and beautiful and wooden and detailed and full of stuffed animals.  I don’t mean teddy bears.  Our host has a penchant for hunting and has done so in the US and Africa. There are various heads stuffed and mounted on walls and full animal bodies stuffed and standing on the floor. It’s quite a sight and a little daunting. The rest of the house is meticulously designed and absolutely beautiful. It’s the type of place that should be featured on HGTV.  It was such a dichotomy from our grubby camping existence.  We must have looked pretty grubby too since the first thing our host said after greeting us was to take off our shoes before we walked into the house!

Our friends were very happy to see us, especially my daughter’s friend, which is how we know them in the first place. Isn’t that how we parents meet most of our friends these days, through our kids?

Heber Springs is near the skiing towns of Park City and Deer Valley. We drove over to Park City and saw the Olympic training areas that were built for the 2002 Olympics.  People were there practicing ski jumping into the pool. Very interesting.  We walked down to get a better look and then took a ski lift to get back to the top. It’s been a long time since I skied and I was a bit nervous trying to remember how to get off the lift.  I know you’re supposed to put your tips up but what if your tips are nothing more than flip flops? Luckily, we all managed to get off the lift without incident.

Next, we went into Park City itself and walked up and down the charming streets before having dinner there.

We finished our evening by crawling into real beds with real mattresses with real indoor bathrooms a mere few feet away. Life was good.

Next: A few remarks about my birthday in Salt Lake City.  Yes, I dragged everyone to Bruge’s.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Capitol Reef - Don't rain on my parade

Hi everyone,

We made it home alive and in one piece.  I’m so tired, mostly due to my Dramamine cocktail, but I can’t seem to take a nap.  The kids are dutifully playing all the video games they’ve been missing and my husband is on his computer checking out the pictures from his 30th high school reunion weekend he had to miss because I planned this trip. He insists he didn’t care because he’d rather have the trip out West, but during our trip he would tell me what activities he was missing each day. Way to make me feel like c^*p, babe.

When last I posted – about 5 minutes ago – we had finished our full day at Bryce Canyon and my love of Bryce was reaffirmed. The next day we broke camp and headed to Capitol Reef. It’s a short 2 hour 45 minute drive from Bryce to Capitol Reef but it is one of the most spectacular. We drove through Escalante State Park.  I’m sorry I didn’t know of its existence before the trip.  Perhaps we could have scheduled a day here, too.  However, the highway does allow you to see lots of beautiful views.  We stopped several times to take pictures.

Right about lunchtime we pulled into Torrey, Utah and began looking for our campground.  We’re staying in a private campground, not the park, due to the only campground at the park being first come, first serve. (you know my rule about no reservations) We did arrive fairly early and Capitol Reef isn’t the most popular national park so we probably could have gotten a spot, but I really liked our private campground.  First of all, we were the only tent campers at our campground – only one RV was there and one family was renting the 2 cabins on site – so our lovely hostess gave us the group site. Second, they had the cleanest, nicest bathrooms with the best showers we’ve seen so far. Ah the showers we all took.  We felt almost human again this evening. Third, there’s nothing like renting from people who chase the chickens away and sneak into your tent to close your “windows” when they see rain approaching. I know this sounds super creepy, but while we were at lunch, some nasty clouds were coming through.  We had opened all our “windows” so that just mesh “screens” were there, not thinking that rain was on its way.  When we returned after our visit through the Park, mysteriously all of our “windows” were zipped closed. My husband learned that our host, Duane, concerned about our sleeping bags and cots getting wet, came into the tent and zipped all the openings shut for us.  We didn’t know whether to thank him or call the police.  In the end we decided that we’d rather sleep with dry gear than worry about the tent “breaking and entering” incident.

By the way we had a lovely lunch at the Capitol Reef Inn and Café.  This place was very laid back and relaxed with a lovely native garden and signs for a kiva in back.  I’m not sure what a kiva is except I think that’s where a bunch of people died a few years back when they overheated in one on a vision quest run by some nut. But I digress again. The restaurant was empty except for us and a pretty waitress named Cameo. She looked like a Cameo if you can picture it. I really can’t remember what I had for lunch but I do remember we all ordered the lemonade which was sweetened with honey instead of sugar.  It was good but needed more honey.  My husband had the ten vegetable salad but he swears he can only count nine. My son says he had a taco.  My daughter had smoked trout on a bagel with cream cheese. I think the owners might be Jews from Brooklyn.

After lunch we drove into Capitol Reef National Park to check out the sights.  We only have the rest of the day here since we leave tomorrow for Heber and a real house. The drive down the main road through the park is perfect for seeing most of the great rock formations, our favorite being Fern’s Nipple. I’m not sure who named these things but if I were Fern I’d be feeling pretty good about myself and what others thought of my nipple – nice and perky. As for the rest of the Park, there were so many other rock formations that could have used names.  Our family created a few, none of which I can repeat here.

We drove down to the farthest end of the Scenic Drive (yes, the scenic drive is called Scenic Drive.  Except for the Nipple, Capitol Reef does suffer from a serious lack of imagination in the naming department).  We wanted to drive down the unpaved Capitol Gorge road to the trail at the end.  We were warned not to make this hike if the weather looked severe since flash-flooding could occur. But this was a fairly short trail that fit in to our afternoon and gave us a chance to see the Tanks, which are supposed to be pretty pools of water.  Starting to sound familiar to any of you who read my Zion Emerald Pools blog?

The hike was about a mile into the rock formations.  The trail is the dried up bed of a river that forms when a storm occurs – hence the warning about the flash-flooding. There are some great spots along the way including some petroglyphs made by Native Americans from the Fremont Culture and can date anywhere from 600 – 1300 AD. We also saw pioneer graffiti.  Apparently writing your name on public property isn’t a new idea.  Pioneers who passed through Capitol Reef liked to carve their names and dates of visit on the rock walls.  Funny how when the graffiti is old enough it’s historical but when it’s from the past few decades, it’s just rude. 

We reached the end of our trail and saw the sign for the trail to go up to see The Tanks. I swear I didn’t push this hike.  I was perfectly happy to turn around and walk back to the car, especially since I saw some darker clouds starting to roll in and visions of flash flooding danced before my eyes. Either my husband or my son started walking up the trail and it wasn’t long before we completely lost our way.  Then my son noticed a stack of stones artificially standing up.  We had seen these in Bryce and thought it was some tourist’s idea of a joke, creating their own hoodoo or something. Turns out they’re trail markers.  So using them as our guides, we attempted to follow the trail.  I say attempt because we would climb a bit and then completely lose the trail.  Then, usually my son would find a trail marker in some out of the way spot that I would look at and say, out loud, “How the hell are we supposed to get there?”  At which point my son would admonish me for swearing and run up to the spot. Then the rest of us try to follow, me in the rear.  This went on for 2/10 of a mile, which on a flat surface isn’t very far.  Climbing up a cliff, however, seems endless.  We finally make it to The Tanks which turn out to be a few puddles of water.  Have we learned nothing from our hike to the Emerald pools? No, we have not.

The trip down is much easier and then we walk quickly to the car.  The clouds are rolling in and we’ve become so paranoid about being washed away in a flood that we’re practically running.  Meanwhile, perfectly sane and balanced people are calmly walking down the trail on their way into the formations. We think they’re nuts and are convinced they’re on their way to certain doom.

With a sigh of relief we reach the car and get the heck out of the park and back to the “safety” of our campsite.  After dealing with the weirdness of having our tent violated, we take nice hot showers, get dressed and go to dinner across the street.  Conveniently enough, Café Diablo, the designated restaurant for this evening, is, in fact, across the street.  However, we decide to drive there because the rain finally started and we’re still concerned about being washed away.

Café Diablo was very good and a great choice to eat good food in a relaxed atmosphere.  We tried the rattlesnake patties but we all agreed that the patties were too breaded and only tasted good when dipped in the accompanying sauce.  The rest of the dinner was much better. First, the presentation was fantastic.  I’m looking for any pictures I have of my dinner.  Dessert was the best part of the dinner.  The chocolate cake and Oreo Cheesecake we all shared were rich but not too sweet.

More tomorrow – return to civilization, sort of.

Bryce Canyon - if you hoodoo what I hoodoo

Hi everyone,

So here I am sitting in the airport waiting for my metal tube of death to arrive. I’ve run to the bathroom at least 4-5 times already and I could only choke down three bites of a muffin for breakfast.  Other than that I’m doing fine.  Luckily the kids seem to be handling everything much better than me, although we did purchase some Dramamine for all three of us.

I’ve decided to continue the blog with the daily updates as if I were still actually on vacation.  I’m doing this for two reasons.  One, I’d like to finish what I started.  Two, it’ll make me feel like I’m still on vacation instead of stuck in my stupid office doing my stupid job. I’m not really worried about my boss reading this.  All of you who read this get it from my Facebook postings and I defriended my boss months ago.

Last I left you, we were going to be spending our full day at Bryce. That morning I continued to get an earful about what hikes I would be choosing for the day. I literally had to convince the kids we were taking the easiest trail listed – the Queens Garden Trail.  Of course it does connect to the Navaho Loop which further connects to the Rim Trail, making a nice three mile hike.  That part I left as a “wait and see”.

We were a little slow moving this morning but we got to the trailhead around 11ish. Luckily, the trailhead for the Queens Garden trail is right at the General Store where they sell…….. ice cream!  Not the good scoops in a cone stuff but the cold stuff on a stick.  Either way, my kids were thrilled and I could see a fabulous carrot on a stick opportunity to get them to finish the trail.

Let me just say there’s a reason Bryce Canyon is my favorite.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and fascinating and just plain cool.  We headed out on our easy trail which brought us down into the canyon.  All I kept thinking was that the trail was rather steep going down. At some point we were going to have to walk up to get out of here.  And this was the easy trail.  Oh well, no one else seemed to notice or at least no one said anything – unusual for my group. We reached the bottom where the trail diverges to the right to see the queen.  Well, we’re on her garden trail, I figured we should go visit her.  About 50 feet in, you see this great rock formation that really looks like a queen!  I think they named her Queen Victoria.  Everyone was feeling good so we continued on the trail.  The Queens Garden extends beyond the little side trip to see the queen and we were enjoying the sights.  Incredibly, no one complained.  However, this would not last.  We got to the end of the trail.  Now we had the option to either turn back and repeat what we’d done, or we could continue and do one side of the Navaho Loop which would take us up the canyon.  I almost forgot, I had spoken to a ranger before starting the hike and she suggested we take the Wall Street side of the Navaho loop going up because it was open today and it’s often closed due to rock slides, etc.  We would be lucky to take it and see that trail. Perfect – let’s take the trail that’s usually closed because of the danger. And so we did! 

The minute we started to go uphill and things got a little tough, my son decided it was time to complain that he was hungry and we should stop for lunch. Ugh!  We hiked up a little farther and then we actually found a nice shaded spot to stop and fuel up for the up hill hike ahead. I don’t know why, but I found hiking more difficult after we ate.  I guess all of my bodily resources were being reserved for digesting lunch instead of muscling up the trail.  But the energy kicked in after a while.  Thank goodness because the switchbacks started.  I don’t know who invented switchbacks but obviously someone with a sadistic streak. Switchbacks are these trails that go back and forth very steeply and seemingly without end.  Back and forth we went, up and up the side of the canyon. My kids, who normally complain about everything (see every other post), thought these switchbacks were great and proceeded to run and then yell at us for not moving fast enough. The nerve of those little brats ….

We made it to the top in record time, unbelievably. I’m thinking, but not verbalizing, that the Zion hikes whipped them into shape and made little hikers out of them whether they’re willing to admit it or not. We continued across the Rim Trail to where we originally started and to where the ice cream lay. Of course that’s what was on my kids’  minds and we dutifully obliged.  It’s now about 1:30 and I’m thinking we still have the whole afternoon ahead of us – surely another hike would be in order? The looks of disgust directed my way were frightening to behold.  Instead I reminded them that a geology festival was going on in the park this weekend and we had about 30 minutes to get to a talk about the development of the canyon. The looks were less hostile but no one was exactly jumping to go. But I dragged them anyway.  The talk was confusing but we did learn a few things.  We already knew that the funky points in Bryce are called Hoodoos but the ranger talked about how they form and how one day they’ll erode away.  Good thing we visited now instead of 20 million years from now.

After the talk we hung out at the Bryce Lodge.  They have internet there so I was able to begin posting again, much to the relief of my mother who was beginning to believe my husband’s Facebook post that I was eaten by an elk. It was a nice break and revived us enough to decide upon the dinner place about 40 minutes away. I had it on our itinerary to go to the Café Adobe in Hatch and we went for it.  Best place of our trip so far.  We had delicious chimichangas with a green chile sauce that was tdf. I was expecting the chimichangas to be greasy since they’re fried but they weren’t.  They were tasty with the right amount of crispiness. The refrieds were a great compliment but I couldn’t eat the rice because I can’t have cilantro.  I’m allergic.  I won’t die or anything but I do feel like I can’t breathe for a short period of time.  This makes me anxious and then it’s impossible to enjoy my food.  So it’s like an allergy and psychiatric condition all in one.  For dessert we all wanted to try fried ice cream.  It was weird but good.  There’s this coating of coconut and something else that covers the scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Then the whole thing sits in a yummy pool of caramel.  My husband didn’t want dessert and my son doesn’t do caramel so that left way too much for my daughter and I.  We plowed through like troopers and eventually finished.

More tomorrow – our trip to Capitol Reef and more hiking!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Heading toward Bryce - a little sore but wiser, sort of.

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long day but I wanted to get you up to date a little bit.  We’re currently in Grand Junction, CO but I left you in Zion at last posting.  I’m getting bummed about the vacation being nearly over. And the terror of the upcoming flight home is beginning to loom.  I can honestly say I could stay out here and travel around for at least another two weeks.  I’m not anxious to return to work and I’m not thrilled about getting on a plane.  I really like our SUV.  I’m wondering how many favors I’d have to offer my husband to convince him to drive the SUV to Virginia instead of Denver ….

Back to the trip. So we woke up the next morning after our hike from hell.  The kids were fine and my husband seemed fine, too.  Me, I could barely move for the first few minutes.  I gingerly got out of the cot and began stretching.  Visions of my uncle who likes to stretch in the nude came to mind. When I was about 10, I walked in on him and now he never lets me forget it.  Personally I think he’s proud that every family member and nearly all of his children’s friends have caught him this way. But that’s another blog.

My husband insisted on cooking breakfast for us.  He loves eggs, bacon, toast and coffee made over a campfire.  In this case it was over a camp stove but you get the idea. It took forever – these stoves aren’t the fastest, hottest things in the world.  Meanwhile, my daughter was hanging out with the 13 year old boy from the site next to us.  Before I realized what was happening, they were taking pictures and exchanging numbers for texting.  Love in the campgrounds.  Can I tell you – it’s been over a week since that occurred and this boy has texted my daughter over 25 times! She’s getting a little freaked out.  I think the word “stalkerish” has come out.  Stalkerish is a word my daughter invented over the course of her first year in Middle School to describe the behavior of certain boys who texted and called entirely too much.  Don’t these boys have video games to play?

After breakfast – which was really good – thanks honey – we packed up and prepared to leave for Bryce Canyon. The trip was fairly short but beautiful. We arrived at our new campsite and quickly set up our tent.  We’re really getting the hang of the whole setting up the tent, getting the cots in and putting in the sleeping bags.  We only had to yell at the kids 5 times to quit horsing around and come help, down from 12 at the last location. This new site was in the park itself and was far more woodsy and secluded. The bathroom wasn’t too far away but I kept getting turned around every time I came out and couldn’t find our tent.  I swear I never took the same path twice trying to come back from the bathroom.

By the time we finished setting up and waiting for me to return from the bathroom, it was already around 2-3 ish.  We stuck to the itinerary and visited the various viewpoints of Bryce along the shuttle road.  We decided to drive because the shuttles, unlike in Zion, didn’t come often enough.  There would be a ten minute wait between shuttles and I wanted to make sure we saw as much as we could.  Bryce is my favorite canyon, mostly because it’s so beautiful.  Everyone oohed and ahhed as we made our way to the various stops. However, there was some walking to be done to get to the tops of the scenic outlooks. Oh yes, the whining started again.  Mostly I heard how I had promised them no hiking today, and that I should be punished for forcing them to walk so soon after their last day of great struggle.  Oh please, the walks were tiny little uphill climbs that only left us mildly breathless and begging for water. If my kids had their way, they’d have their own servants carrying them on those comfy mattresses with poles through them with curtains they could close so they could nap while being whisked away to the parts they wanted to see. I was tempted to start the stories of how I had to walk to school uphill both ways when I was their age. At least everyone agreed that Bryce was breath-taking.  We got the added treat of seeing lots of wildlife including at least one Pronghorn which jumped out in front of our car.  Luckily Pronghorns are the fastest animal in North and South America and are only outdone by the cheetah in Africa and India. Otherwise, it would have been a hood ornament.

The only disappointment of the day was dinner.  The restaurant I had chosen wasn’t all the reviews had promised.  Foster’s was a mediocre restaurant at best.  We should have guessed when we went to the salad bar and all they had was – and I’m not joking – a bowl of iceberg lettuce, some whole baby carrots and sliced cucumbers, and then pineapples, cottage cheese, and a pasta salad. That’s it except for the salad dressing and some croutons, I think. Maybe I’m being snobby but I expect more from salad bars.  Things like, oh I don’t know, tomatoes, peppers, and other things that fall into the vegetable category. Foster’s is supposed to be known for its steaks, especially its prime rib, so that’s what we ordered.  It barely had any taste and there was no good roasty part – which you know is my favorite if you read a few entries ago. The kids got steak from the Children’s menu.  I always like it when restaurants have real food on their Children’s menus instead of the obligatory chicken fingers, burgers, mac and cheese, and pizza.  Unfortunately my daughter complained that the meat was tough and not very good. She barely ate hers and shared our prime rib instead.

The one shining star in this meal was the pie. I’m not sure where we got room for it, but we ordered two pieces of pie.  One was the coconut cream and the other was the mixed berry with vanilla ice cream.  I was told these pies are made on site. OMG, they were amazing.  We all wished we had just ordered the pies and had them for dinner.  Certainly we’d have all been happier despite our pancreas’ pleas for insulin shots.

More tomorrow: Our day in Bryce and a hike we liked! Plus a restaurant worth the trip.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Zion National Park - lots of fun until someone chooses the wrong path

Hi everyone,

We woke up in our private campground.  There are good and bad things about private versus public campgrounds – at least in the minimal experience I’ve had so far.  For one, we’re definitely more out in the open.  Basically we’re in a parking lot with a few trees.  Our neighbors are really close by, but so is the bathroom!  Our campground is part of a motel, RV and tent camping complex.  The absolute cool part of this is we get to use the swimming pool.  Trust me, this is a very good thing.  There are also decent laundry facilities, also a very good thing. I wouldn’t let anyone bring too many clothes.  We’re already on Day 6 and running low on clean shirts and shorts (but not underwear!).

We ate breakfast and caught the shuttle into the National park.  There’s a town shuttle that brings you to the edge of the park.  You get off and walk along a path which brings you to the Visitor Center and the entrance gate – where you must pay to enter, unless you’re clever like us and have already purchased your Annual pass.  Once you walk through, you catch Zion’s internal shuttle buses.  The buses run every few minutes and take you to all the stops within the park.  The system is relatively new and works like a charm.  On the way in, there’s a recording throughout the shuttle bus telling you what to look at and what stop with what trailhead is coming next.  We went to the opposite end of the park and got off for the Riverwalk trail. Loved it.  The walk was easy and there were a lot of shaded parts of the trail.  It ended where the Narrows trail begins.  The Narrows is a more difficult trail with a lot of hiking done through water.  On hindsight, I wish we would have done a little of that trail.  It’s really pretty and interesting. Instead we caught the shuttle a few stops back and took the Weeping Rock trail.  It’s very short but all uphill and it brings you to a lovely little overhang of rock where the water gently comes down and gets you wet.  This would be positively wonderful except for the sign which warns you not to drink the water because it could be infected with a bacteria called Giardia.  Fabulous.  There we were admiring the scenery and I’m a nervous wreck thinking the kids are going to swallow some of it.  “Wipe it away from your mouth” I’m practically screaming at the kids.  The other tourists were looking at me like I’m nuts while I’m pointing to the sign to prove I’m not and if they were decent parents they’d be doing the same thing as me.  Okay, none of that actually happened except in my mind because I decided to panic internally and closely watch my children for possible ingestion.  I wanted to shout out but I really was worried about embarrassing myself and the family.  I knew if I took it too far they’d start pretending not to know me and run away.

After our nice two trail hikes, we had lunch under the trees – basically because there were no tables left in the outdoor eating area.  Hundreds of people come to visit everyday and they have like ten tables outside the cafeteria.  Who planned this?

Okay, we’ve hiked about 3 miles total and had a nice lunch.  That would make a good day with lots of happy memories, right? Nope, mommy had one more hike planned.  I had the Lower Emerald Pools, Upper Emerald Pools, Kayenta  Loop on the itinerary.  Everyone eagerly agreed and we headed off to the trail which started right outside the cafeteria. How convenient.  We continued on and after a while we made it to the Lower Emerald Pools.  We were expecting more than three greenish large puddles of water.  Emerald was not the color name I would have used to describe these “pools”.  More like puke green or scum green or even ugly toad green, but emerald, not so much.  Not to be daunted, I insisted we continue on to the Upper Emerald Pools.  Surely they are much more “emeraldy” and interesting.  Oy.  The trail was all uphill with lots of rocks and things to climb over.  I had to stop every few minutes for water and my kids were screaming to turn around.  However, this was no longer a hike, it was a quest.  We had to make it to the top.  We kept asking hikers who were coming down and they all assured us we were almost there.  That was a load of c^*p. Finally my husband insisted I stop and that we should all turn around.  For some unfathomable reason, my son threw a fit and insisted we continue to the end. He ran on ahead so my husband and daughter went with him, leaving me in a fit of heat exhaustion.  But from somewhere deep inside I pulled together all my strength and rose from the ashes – or the rock I was sitting on – and began climbing. Bit by bit I climbed, willing myself to go on. Finally, just shy of hallucinations and heat stroke, I made it to the Upper Pools.  They weren’t emerald either but at this point they could have been Technicolor and I wouldn’t have cared.  I found the nearest unoccupied rock and threw myself down, thanking G-d and praying I wouldn’t faint since I was really dizzy.  The kids were thrilled to see me – yay kids.  My husband was mad that I forced myself up – boo husband. We hung out there for awhile – it was shaded and eventually I noticed how pretty it looked.  Eventually we began the climb down.  It took us 1/10 of the time to go down as up and the whole way all I heard from everyone was how we can never do trails like this again and what was I thinking.  I was thinking that they should all shut up and finish the damn hike.  We made it to the bottom and then to the end of the Lower Pools trail and to the Lodge where the cafeteria was.  We collapsed onto some chairs and vowed to never move again – except to get up and buy the ice cream calling our names from the cafeteria.

We were truly exhausted so we made our way back to our campsite and went in the pool.  That helped a lot.  My husband and I practically passed out but the kids got their second wind and splashed around.  We got out, got dressed and looked for dinner.  However, I insisted we stop for a bottle of Ibuprofen and quickly took two pills to stave off paralysis the next morning.  I decided we’d go to the restaurant that was actually slated for the next morning.  The Park House Café is a great local joint and a perfect choice for four tired hikers.  The menu isn’t unusual – burgers and sandwiches for the most part – but everything was delicious.  My husband and I had Buffalo burgers with avocado which were juicy and tender.  The kids had grilled chicken sandwiches with bacon which they ate right up.  An excellent casual choice.

After dinner we bought supplies for my husband to cook breakfast and then we tumbled into bed.  Oh, actually the kids tumbled into bed. My husband and I did laundry and then tumbled into bed.  A great but exhausting day.

Next: Cooking at the campsite and our arrival at Bryce Canyon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leaving Grand, Heading for Zion. What a long strange trip.....

Hi everyone,

Time to move on to Zion National Park.  We survived our first leg of the camping experience – rain and vicious elk aside.  I wanted us to get a quick move on.  It’s a 5 hour drive to Zion and we have two food places to stop at along the way. But no, my husband and I are barely aided by our two lovely yet lazy children.  All this despite the fact that I told them they weren’t getting breakfast until about an hour into our drive.  I don’t get it.  We were up at 6:30 and didn’t leave until about 9:00.  It doesn’t take 2 and ½ hours to get dressed, take down a tent, fold cots, unload the car and reload the car – am I right?

We continued on to Cameron for our breakfast.  We put the address into our GPS and it kept saying we wouldn’t be there until around 11am, despite my Google maps assurance that we were only an hour away.  Just as we were approaching Cameron, the strangest thing happened.  We traveled forward in time a whole hour.  We were still in Mountain time, though. What cosmic wormhole did we slip through?  Apparently Arizona is a bit weird.  The people at the Grand Canyon assured us that we were in Mountain time when we noticed that their time didn’t change from the Pacific time we came from in Las Vegas.  We were told that they don’t subscribe to the Daylight Savings adjustment so they are the same as Pacific time for half the year.  However, part of the state obviously does believe in this country-wide adjustment since we were suddenly catapulted into the future – which only made the kids hungrier.

If I can say something about Navajo tacos.  I’m sure the Cameron Trading Post does a great job of making them.  I just don’t like them.  First of all, I’ve never eaten so many beans in my life. Ugh.  And the little ditty is true, let me tell you.  Second, the portions are so huge that even though my husband and I ordered the Mini Navajo tacos, two to three people could have eaten each one. My kids didn’t want the tacos so I let them each get the Navajo fry bread.  Again, they could have shared just one portion.  My daughter loved it.  No kidding.  These things are nothing more than the same fried dough you get at the state fair.  The shape is different but the taste is the same.  My son didn’t like it and he wasn’t feeling well.  I have to remember to buy some Dramamine (sp?) for him and me.  These longer trips are hard on both of our gentle constitutions.

After our less than stellar experience for breakfast, we continued on toward Kanab to our next stop.  Okay, here’s where I get totally confused and a little pissed. I had our way mapped to Zion.  However, you can take a slightly more Eastern and Northern route that meets up in Kanab like my original way.  I’m not sure why my husband chose the other way but after 20 miles or so, I start seeing signs for Lake Powell and the place I originally had us staying before I rerouted us to Salt Lake City because I had confused which state it was in.  And here we are passing it!! With a few changes, we could have actually visited and stayed.  BUT, it wouldn’t have been on my birthday which I’m insisting on as a day of rest. Or at least a day of no camping.  So I’m still pleased with my change but baffled none-the-less by my inability to plan how to get here from there.

We made it to Kanab in record time.  Everyone was a bit hungry and looking forward to Nedra’s Too for machacas and chicken chimichangas.  Considering we had no idea what machacas was, I was impressed that my kids were getting excited to try it.  We pull into Nedra’s parking lot and it was looking strangely empty.  In fact, Nedra’s Too is closed on Wednesdays.  Wednesdays?  I do plan on checking to see if there are any special Mormon edicts that Mexican restaurants in Kanab should be closed on Wednesdays because nothing else makes sense.  We were all disappointed, especially since Cameron was a bust.  I noticed a sign for Prickly Pear frozen yogurt and all of a sudden my kids decided that’s all they were hungry for.  We drove up and went in to the Prickly Pear Frozen Yogurt and Art Museum.  I kid you not.  Two great tastes that taste great together – yogurt and art.  One is good for the gut and one is good for the soul.  I like that – and it keeps you guessing as to which is good for which.  Maybe I’ll mail them my idea.  BUT, wouldn’t you know it.  They don’t have prickly pear yogurt.  It’s just a name.  They do have banana pudding yogurt, birthday cake yogurt, pomegranate yogurt and white chocolate yogurt.  Who owns this place? Well, we actually met the owner’s mother who was in from Georgia to help out her son. Normally this time of year she and her husband are in France at their chateau where they run some type of logging business.  They have people who do most of the managing for them. I’m not sure I believe all this.  Maybe it’s something she tells herself to feel better about being in Kanab, Utah.  I don’t know.

My husband insisted on some actual food for himself so we stopped at the Big Al’s burger and shake shop.  He had a green chile burrito because that’s what you order at a burger shop in Kanab, UT.  We all tasted it and it was really good.  So if you’re ever in Kanab on a Wednesday, I highly recommend Big Al’s.

Finally we made it to Zion National Park.  If you can, approach from the east so you can drive down the Zion-Mount Carmel highway. (I need to check on the name for that)  It’s a glorious ride in with breath-taking scenery.  Zion is a beautiful park.  Unlike the Grand Canyon where you’re up top looking in, Zion rises up all around you.  I’ll be adding pictures later for you to see.

I’ll be telling you more about Zion tomorrow.  Let me just end by saying that we finished our day at The Whiptail Grille as scheduled.  It was the best meal of the trip so far.  We had the goat cheese chili relleno as an appetizer.  It was to die for.  Crispy on the outside and cheesy on the inside with a wonderful goat cheese filling.  They were out of the spaghetti squash enchiladas which was par for the course for today.  But dinner was still delicious. The kids had fish tacos which they liked.  Although, much to my husband’s delight, they told him they liked his better.  My husband and I had the chicken chipotle enchiladas.  I’m allergic to cilantro so they made it with a different sauce especially for me.  I like that in a restaurant.  The place was super casual.  We ate outside in our shorts and t-shirts and were right at home.

Tomorrow – Zion – the most visitor-friendly place I’ve ever seen.  Plus the difference between a National Park campground and a privately owned one.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Monsoon season in Arizona? Really?

Hi everyone,

We woke up in the Grand Canyon to two different yet equally fascinating events.  The first event was the discovery of elk wandering through the campgrounds. Obviously they are quite used to humans since they just hung out, eating whatever scrungy food they could find.  In fact, they’re obviously used to stupid, moronic humans since every last one of us who saw this band of wild animals traipsing around grabbed our cameras and started snapping photo after photo of them. Carol reminded us that while elk are herbivores, they had big nasty antlers and could turn and charge at you whenever the mood struck them. It was at this point that we ushered the kids away and hoped the elk would leave and bother someone else.  But we still got lots of great pictures!!!

Shortly after that the rain started.  And not just some sweet little rain.  I’m talking about driving rain that sent us into our tent and had me cursing that I ran out of time last night to apply the tent sealer.  Apparently, it’s monsoon season in the Arizona desert.  What?! Monsoons?!  I thought those happened in SE Asia not in Arizona and not during my perfectly planned vacation!

We hunkered down in the tent for about 30 minutes.  When it became clear that we might be stuck with this all day, it being monsoon season and all, we decided to go into Tusayan and see the IMAX movie we ran out of time for the previous night.  The movie was kind of campy but the scenes of the canyon were beautiful and so were the times when the film made you feel like you were flying through or over the canyon itself.  This was a good thing to do during the rain and it had significantly lightened by the time we got out.

We hit the Bright Angel Trail as scheduled for the day.  We hadn’t even seen the canyon in person yet so you can imagine how excited we were when we pulled up to the rim to begin our hike……and we couldn’t see a darn thing.  The fog/clouds were so thick you could barely see two feet into the canyon.  I thought I would cry.  Instead we put on our backpacks and began the hike. We must have gone about 1/10 of mile when the whining began.  “We can’t see anything, let’s go back.  I might fall off the edge of the trail.”  My son’s diatribe lasted for another ¾ of a mile before we couldn’t take it anymore.  We decided to eat our packed lunch along the trail.  We found a nice spot with some good sitting rocks.  We watched hikers go by in both directions and even saw a few good views of the canyon as the fog would thin out here and there.  One thing I will say about trips like these is you have to know your families’ limitations.  Apparently ¾ of a mile was my son’s for that day.  We turned around and walked up the canyon.  The walk wasn’t bad.  One thing about hiking in bad weather was that it was cool and cloudy.  We barely needed water and no one broke a sweat.  If my son had been more willing, we could have done the 3-mile round trip hike easily.

We made it back up and had the obligatory ice cream that was promised at the end of the hike.  Carol, our campsite neighbor, had innocently mentioned this to my kids and my son had fixated upon this.  We tried to use this as incentive to hike further with no success.

Once we finished our ice cream, I suggested we take the Hermit Trail Shuttle to see the different sights.  The weather was clearing up and we hoped we might get some better views.  The shuttle was one of those things I had scheduled for the previous day that we ran out of time for.  It turned out to be an excellent idea.  We stopped at various points along the way and were treated to some amazing views.  The shuttles came regularly enough that we moved easily from one stop to the next.  When everyone had enough, we caught a shuttle going in the opposite direction and ended back at the lodge where we parked the car.

We decided to go to the restaurant we had missed from the night before – The Coronado Room.  My daughter and I had the elk and it was really good.  Tender and perfectly made, we were treated to a great dinner. My husband, on the other hand, had the prime rib which wasn’t very good.  That great roasty part was salty and ruined.  However, we all had the mashed potatoes made with smoked gouda and green chiles. That was really good.  I couldn’t taste the smoked gouda but the green chiles were flavorful and added an interesting dimension to the potatoes.  My son was relegated to the Kids menu which was typical and boring.  I wanted him to share with us but he said he was fine with spaghetti and sauce.  Geez, this was a meat place, they should have had some interesting elk or buffalo meatballs at least.

We came back to our campsite and spent some time chatting with our friend Carol and then went to bed.  The clouds had mostly parted and we got to see an incredible view of the night sky that we never get to see in our light polluted town. It was a great day.

Tomorrow: Off to Zion and with some good luck and some bad luck and some frozen yogurt.

Still alive and at the Grand Canyon

Hi everyone,

I know you haven’t heard from me in days and probably believe my husband’s post that I was eaten by an elk.  No worries – I’m alive!  We haven’t had internet for days and I’ve been too tired at night to even write anything.

So I don’t overwhelm you all, I’ll still break down the posts into each day and make them separate posts.

Where did I leave off?  Oh yes, we’re about to leave our air conditioned hotel for the ruggedness of the wild…..

The drive to the Grand Canyon was long but okay.  We stopped at the Hoover Dam for a quick look.  With the ongoing drought in the Southwest, there wasn’t much to see.  In fact, my husband mentioned that on two separate occasions he saw women crying – supposedly due to the tragedy of the drought.  I think it was the lack of good parking.  Most spots require you to walk up or down a staircase which means you have to walk it the other way at some point.  There’s a new bridge that routes the highway away from the Dam in case you don’t want to see it. What this means is that you take the old road from Nevada into the Dam and then instead of continuing on through to Arizona, you have to go back the way you came and then go over the big new bridge.  It’s stupid but I guess they want everyone to experience the new bridge.

One thing I’ve definitely learned is everything takes three times longer than you think.  By the time we reached Seligman, AZ to eat lunch at the Road Kill Café, it was already 3:30 and everyone was yelling they were hungry.  I wouldn’t let them stop sooner, insisting we had to eat there since it was on my list.   Before I mention what it was like, has anyone seen the Cars movie?  Remember Radiator Springs?  I swear, we drove through the inspiration for that town.  The people there say it’s really Peach Springs about 35 miles away but I don’t believe them.  Maybe they’re embarrassed to be the focus of a Pixar film for kids but Seligman is right on Route 66 and, well I’ll have to post some pictures and let you be the judge.

Now for the Road Kill Café.  First off, all those great names for dishes like the Swirl of Squirrel and the Splatter Platter were just names.  My kids were so disappointed ( me too).  We were looking forward to various bits of meats made to look like they had tire tracks running through them.  No such luck.  This was just a regular hamburger joint.  I will say that the “Skunk” dish, really jalapeno poppers, were delicious and the highlight of the meal.  Crispy on the outside and yummy cheesy on the inside with a juicy (my daughter is making me use that adjective but it’s accurate) jalapeno pepper that wasn’t too hot and had lots of taste.

All was not lost.  I did get a mug that says “You Kill It, We Grill It”.  And while that was patently untrue, it still looks dang funny on a mug.

A few hours later we arrived at the campsite at the Grand Canyon.  We couldn’t see the canyon yet and my husband was yelling at us all to get the tent up before we lost daylight.  Luckily we had a great campsite neighbor – always very important.  She lent us a hammer for the tent stakes.  Apparently our tent mallet wasn’t in the tent bag.  She lent us her lighter so we could get our lantern lit.  She also showed us where the bathrooms were. Thanks Carol!!

No one was hungry for dinner since our road kill lunch filled us right up.  I think we just ate some dry boxes of cereal, if memory serves.  It was much cooler than we expected so we dressed warmly and went to listen to the Ranger Program.  I usually have an awesome sense of direction but it was totally baffled by the complete darkness of the park.  I kept taking us in circles and could not get my bearings.  After passing the same buildings for the third time, I conceded defeat and let my husband figure out where we were going.  Much to my disgruntled pride he found the outdoor amphitheater and we arrived only ten minutes late for the Ranger’s talk on the various levels (strata) of the canyon walls, what they were made of and how they were formed.  I thought it was fascinating and could have stayed for the whole hour.  My family had other ideas.  My son fell asleep, my husband looked like he was nodding off and my daughter, after determining that the Ranger wasn’t hot nor were there any hot guys in the audience, kept asking to leave.  We woke my son up, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, and quickly guided him out of the amphitheater before he woke up long enough to inquire where he was in his too loud for indoors, outdoors, or loud stadium voice.

Thus ended our first day of camping at the Grand Canyon.

Tomorrow: There’s a monsoon season in Arizona.  Really?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Full day in Vegas

Hi everyone, (adding photos later)

Our first full day started off around 4 am when my son decided he was no longer tired. Dammit.  I talked him back to sleep – or rather I talked to him until I fell back to sleep.  He woke me up again several more times until I gave in and told him to play with his Dsi in the bathroom. Ugh…

Remember when I mentioned we’re not buffet people?  Well we are coupon people and we had coupons for the buffet – kids eat free – so we forced ourselves to get in line with the sea of humanity streaming into the buffet and grabbed some plates. The buffet was pretty good although they didn’t have any strawberries in the fruit section.  Who doesn’t have strawberries in the fruit section?  Isn’t there some unwritten law that all buffets should have strawberries?  Other than that we all liked it!

After that came Wal-mart. Oy. I do have to say that the Wal-mart on Charleston Blvd is very impressive.  It’s very clean, the people are extremely helpful and they all understand and speak English fluently unlike the crappy Wal-mart where I live where you could have a heart attack and die in the middle of the store and no one would help/notice/or be able to understand your pleas for an ambulance.

The site to store method worked like a charm.  Everything I ordered was there and Jill, my amazing Wal-mart helper, brought it all out for me, did all the paperwork and even took care of two returns when we realized we only needed one cooler instead of two and 6 pillows instead of 8. But holy cow, it’s a good thing we got the bigger SUV.  It is filled to the gills with all our stuff.  Poor Dan can’t see out the back window.  We keep praying we won’t hit anyone.

We got almost everything else we needed, too, but we held off on the food. We decided to wait until tomorrow or Tuesday.  There isn’t a lot of room and we’re worried we can’t keep the food cool enough. I have to say, this whole camping thing is starting to feel overwhelming.  I hope we haven’t bit off more than we can chew.  I guess we’ll see…..

Next we hit the strip and walked through The Venetian and Caesar’s.  OMG, you’ve never seen anything like these places.  They both have these huge, very upscale “malls” for lack of a better word inside of them.  The architecture is over the top with sculptures, fountains, and ceilings that look like the sky and change the time of day every 30 minutes or so. The highlights were seeing the gondolas in The Venetian and the circular escalators in Caesar’s.  We walked so much our feet, calves and tushies were sore.

Once again we didn’t dine at the specified location.  Gilly’s was in Treasure Island where our show was but they had a lot of young women in skimpy clothing getting ready to ride a mechanical bull.  While my husband found this exciting, the rest of us did not and we chose to go to Kahunaville instead  - mainly because we had a coupon for this place.  It’s a Caribbean-style joint also in Treasure Island.  The food was good enough and the prices are what I’d expect from a “moderately priced” restaurant in a Las Vegas hotel/casino.  I ordered the coconut shrimp special and it came on wooden skewers sticking out of a pineapple top.  Pretty cool.  The kids shared a Hibachi shrimp and chicken dinner.  I’m so proud of them.  The kids menu had 4 crappy things on it and when I suggested they share an adult meal, they jumped at the chance.  No chicken fingers or mac and cheese for my little foodies.

The best part of our day was the Cirque de Soleil Mystere production we saw this evening.  It was absolutely incredible and a great choice for the kids. The show was funny and the acrobatic feats were beyond description. What these performers can do with their bodies defies explanation. While the story line was perplexing, it didn’t matter. The sheer entertainment made that unimportant.  If you are with your children and looking for a show, we all recommend Mystere whole heartedly.

Tomorrow we leave the comforts of air conditioning, electricity and real beds and head for the canyons.  Wish us luck!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We're here!!

Hi everyone,

We made it!  This is no small feat considering that at every moment until the plane takes off I’m contemplating running up and asking to get the heck off.  But I held my tongue, bit the bullet and spent 4+ hours alternating between panic and a nervous resignation that there’s nothing I can do so I’d better suck it up and pretend I’m just fabulous. I think I was mostly believable for the kids. Unfortunately as we’re landing both my son and I were overcome with nausea and wanted to vomit.  This feeling lasted for quite some time.

On the happier side, check out the pictures I snapped from the plane of the kids enjoying the flight.  We kept trying to figure out what we were flying over – once I calmed down enough to look out the window.  We figured the plane took a southerly route since we were treated with an amazing view of the Grand Canyon.  My picture doesn’t do it justice but take a look.  Considering we’ll only be seeing a small section of the canyon when we visit, it was a great opportunity to see almost the whole enchilada.

It’s always stressful when you travel, especially when you’re flying and half your family is nauseous and one of the remaining half is coming down with a migraine.  But we persevered and went to pick up our rental car.  If you remember, I decided to go with a smaller name because the prices were far more reasonable and they weren’t charging me the drop off fee. Now Las Vegas airport has a bus you take to the car rental hub.  All of the car rental places are in this one place.  So you can imagine my panic when we get off the bus, enter the hub and I don’t see a Fox Rental desk.  

 Luckily I have my handy dandy notebook (like in Blues Clues!) and I check my confirmation e-mail.  I read a few paragraphs down and see that there’s yet another bus we have to take to get to Fox’s since they are off site.  My son and I suck it up and all four of us get on the Fox’s shuttle and travel about 2 miles down the road.  Bill, our very nice driver, tells us how the other major rental companies, if you ask them where the Fox counter is, will tell you that Fox’s is about 20 miles away and that they just missed the shuttle which won’t be back for 2 hours, but they (the major company) would be happy to rent you a car.  Meanwhile, because Fox’s is off site, they don’t have to charge you a whole bunch of taxes and fees that these other guys do, running about 30% less than the major guys.  I saved even more. Yes, we did have to take another bus and yes I did have to stand in line, BUT
they were out of my standard SUV and upgraded us for free to the large size with no fuss.

We then looked for some lunch because it was now past 2 o’clock EST and most of us were hungry.  We found an interesting looking “Nevada Style” pub called Steiner’s.  We learned what “Nevada Style” meant when we walked in and they informed us they didn’t serve children.  We weren’t hungry for children but left immediately since we didn’t think it fair to make the kids sit and watch us eat. We were exhausted and hungry and went to the next nearest restaurant, Chili’s. Not exciting but it did the job.

Then we headed for the hotel.  We got to drive down the strip – very cool!  I’ll get pictures for the next post. We saw the Luxor pyramid, the fountains in front of the Bellagio, the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty from the NewYork, NY hotel and lots of people.  Our hotel, Circus, Circus, is just beyond the busiest part of the strip.  Check in moved quickly and we were in our room in no time.  Upon which we promptly fell into bed and took a 2 hour nap.  This was the smartest decision we made all day.  It refreshed us, got rid of the nausea and headaches, and prepared us for staying up late since even 8pm was going to feel like 11pm.

One last note.  We didn’t go to the Hawaiian fusion restaurant.  I did my least amount of research on Vegas and didn’t realize that Roy’s was out of the price range we wanted.  I pulled out the laptop and we found a local Italian restaurant that got very good reviews – Nora’s Cuisine.  It wasn’t fabulous but it was still good.  My daughter’s spaghetti and meatballs were as delicious as advertised and my son’s pizza was also very good as was the really garlicky garlic bread. The cannolis were yummy – we brought those back to the room to eat – we should have ordered only one instead of two because they were large.  My dinner was okay – I had the orange roughy fish which wasn’t bad but they served it with a big glob of angel hair pasta which was inedible.  My husband ordered a pasta dish with chicken, artichokes and capers which he said was good but nothing special. He said he’d return if in Vegas again.  I don’t know if I would.  I would make a reservation next time, though, because that place was packed.  They seated us right away because we were willing to sit in this little area along the kitchen.  Very noisy but we’re with kids so I didn’t care.  Also, this meant no one forgot about us!

More later – Our first full day in Vegas.  Everyone up around 5-6am.  Getting used to the time change!