Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Unlimited Mileage!

I've finally got myself settled in again enough to write a bit about our trip. This year's vacation was certainly a special one, as we toured many spectacular areas in and around Arizona. We flew in and out of Las Vegas, from where we rented an '07 Dodge Charger (no hemi, alas) that took great care of us for almost two weeks.

Somewhere in northwestern Arizona.....

We took tons of photos on this vacation, many of which I'll hopefully get posted to my Flickr site in the next few days. Indeed, halfway through the vacation our camera fell of a restaurant table and broke, so we actually had to buy a new digital camera in the middle of the trip. Ah well, we'd been hoping to buy one before this trip anyway before deciding to hold off for a bit longer, so it wasn't bad karma.

I'm going to break this up into a few posts, but I'll post them chronologically reversed starting(/ending) here so that the trip can be read in order top-to-bottom from this post down.

Leaving Las Vegas.

We started off on September 19th with two nights in Vegas' Mandalay Bay resort, and that was wonderful. We aren't into the gambling thing at all, we just wanted somewhere fun to stay while we got acclimated where we'd all have something fun to do. The Vegas House of Blues is in the Mandalay Bay resort, so my first beer of the vacation was of course served there. Not a great assortment, unfortunately, but a couple of bottles of Sam served me just fine. Momma and Buster went back upstairs after dinner while I stuck around for an hour to listen to the first set of that night's blues band. I regret I don't recall the name but I saw a Swedish guitarist who used to back Junior Wells late in his career, playing there with his own band. Good stuff!

Another unexpected treat was the aquarium in Mandalay Bay, "Shark Reef". Most of the newer resorts have some family friendly features, from the mid/late 90s push to making Vegas more of a family destination. That never really caught on but there's some cool things to do there. This aquarium was actually much better than we'd ever expected it to be, frankly rivaling if not surpassing the Living Seas pavilion at Disney's Epcot. We had a great time there, and we almost had to drag Buster out as he was having so much fun petting the sting rays!

Friday the 21st we hit the open road, bound for Sedona, AZ about 4.5 hours away. The drive took us over the Hoover Dam so we stopped there for an hour or two... we didn't do the full tour (down inside the dam) though we did check out the exhibits and viewing areas along the top. Mighty impressive!

The drive south down through northwestern Arizona was fun, with long stretches of flat highway going through dustbowl-like landscapes. At one point we drove through a small dust storm, complete with dust devils (small tornado-like dust swirls) running through the adjoining fields. Very surreal and very cool! We also found a bunch of large locusts (I wouldn't call them a swarm, though there were a few dozen around that we saw) at one of the restaurants we stopped at during the drive.

The drive into Sedona was absolutely awesome. Coming in from the north the road goes down into Oak Creek Canyon... and really down. The road down was something out of a Bond movie, hugging the side of the canyon wall and constantly switching back on itself; 15mph was pretty much tops all the way down and the scenery descending from the top to the bottom was beautiful. Then on into Sedona itself, famous red rock country with towering rock formations overlooking everything.

We had a condo here that was to be our base for the next week. The resort adjoined the Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tla-keh-pah-keh) "arts and crafts" village, a cool little specialty shopping village with art galleries and studios. And also, a brew pub right there, yay! The Oak Creek Brewery was pretty good with food and had some very good beers, including their Amber Ale which became my favorite for the vacation. It was also served at quite a few other restaurant in the area so I had plenty of this during the trip!

Baseball and Hot Dogs... Well, Pizza

Saturday was a bit of a get-away day... I left Buster and The Momma in Sedona for the day and traveled south to Phoenix, where I met up with my friend Doc (who "winged in" from LA for the occasion) to see a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. Always fun to see another ballpark of course! The Dbacks were playing the LA Dodgers, who had former Sox (amongst others) pitcher David "Boomer" Wells starting for them. Boomer wasn't good. The Dbacks won the game handily, the same night that (as I found out the next day) the Red Sox came from behind (well, after giving UP the lead!) to beat the Devil Rays and clinch a playoff berth. (They would go on, of course, to clinch the division title a week later.)

Great night, even if they DID have to cancel the post-game fan appreciation fireworks show due to high winds! Doc & I had dinner at Pizzeria Uno's afterwards, then spent the night in an area hotel before I dropped him back at the airport Sunday and rejoined the family in Sedona that afternoon. Beauty side trip, eh?

Yup, It's GRAND....

Monday was a Big Day for the vacation. That morning we left the condo fairly early and drove north again, to see the Grand Canyon! We had an overnight booked in a lodge at the south rim, so we'd have a couple of days to explore. With a 10-year-old, and with never having been there before, we weren't looking to go down into the Canyon this trip (alas), but we had a great chance to hike along the rim trail, and I was able to go at least a little ways down (maybe a half mile or so) one of the bigger trails myself Tuesday morning.

Words and pictures don't, of course, express this place well but yeah, it's everything it's said to be. (Having said that we do have tons of pictures, a couple shown here and more will soon be on the Flickr site.) I'm so glad to finally get this one off the to-do list, and already looking forward to getting back in another 6 or 7 years when Buster is older and we can hopefully get down deeper into this amazing place.

It's funny how everywhere we went seemed more stunning and beautiful than the last. Vegas has its own beauty of course, at least at night on the Strip... but then Hoover Dam was cool, Oak Creek Canyon was amazing, Sedona was spectacular... then there's the Grand Canyon, beyond description. Then going back into Sedona, it seemed even more beautiful again. Great countryside down there!

Slipping and Sliding on Red Rocks

Back in Sedona on Wednesday, we went to a place just north of town called Slide Rock State Park. A small rocky area of Oak Creek that runs through many smooth and slippery rocks, creating absolutely beautiful landscapes with many different colors... oh, and the rocks make for small rapids that act as natural water slides! If you can stand the chill, hop in and slide on down... Buster and The Momma did! (I had the camera to think about, of course.. yeah, that's the ticket, that's why I didn't go in!) Momma even got in a bit of cliff-diving at one point. The place was great, and one of the (if not the) best days of the vacation!

Thursday we hit a better-known spot, Cathedral Rock, supposedly one of the most photographed landscape spots in America. And yup... beautiful. Go figure! We hiked most of the way up to the rock base, though Buster tired out before we got all the way up. Still, beautiful trails through a forest and along a creek, then up the mountain towards the rock base. We also successfully located a geocache in the area and exchanged items there.

NORTH, Ms. Teschmacher!!

Friday the 28th, time to leave the condo - and Sedona - behind. Sigh! Next time we'll devote more days exclusively to Sedona. And yeah, we're pretty sure there'll be a next time, some year in the not too distant future! This time it was another loooong drive north, heading up east of the Grand Canyon, through part of the Painted Desert (uh, beautiful!) and back over the Colorado River via the Navajo Bridge at the Marble Canyon. Uh, beeeee-eautiful!!

On Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River.

Now on the other side of the Colorado River we passed by the Vermilion Cliffs (uh, beautiful!) and into forest country, climbing up and eventually going to the north rim of the Grand Canyon! We spent a night just outside of the national park (in Jacob Lake), then another in one of the Grand Canyon Lodge's cabins, less than 50 yards from the actual don't-go-sleepwalking-out-there rim.


So we had one full day on the north rim... I will say, it was spectacular as well but unlike what I've heard from some, we thought the south rim was more stunning. In fairness though, we didn't have as much time to just explore on the north rim and didn't make it to what are considered the most beautiful overlooks on that side... both driving distance away from the Lodge where we stayed. The Lodge has two outdoor "porches", with stone wall edges hanging directly above the Canyon. In planning the trip I'd had visions of grabbing a beer at their saloon and drinking it on one of these during sunset... mission accomplished!

And bonus... the saloon had its own North Rim Amber Ale. Good stuff, and it tasted suspiciously familiar... sure enough, it turned out to be brewed by Oak Creed from Sedona, almost 300 miles south of us now... it was their Amber Ale! Yay!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Last, Long Drive.....

Sunday it was, sadly, time to head back to Vegas in prep for our Monday evening flight home. But we managed one more side trip on the way... we hadn't been able to visit two other beautiful national parks out that way, Bryce Canyon and Zion, both in Utah. But we did find that it wasn't too far out of the way to at least drive through part of Zion on the way back, so that we did!

It was beautiful.

We didn't get a chance to really explore it but the drive through the main road (cutting through the south end of the park) was fantastic, and we stopped at a few spots for photos and a better look-see. Also hit their visitor center for a bit.

Got back to Vegas around 4pm, and spent that night in the Monte Carlo... it was okay, but only just okay, especially when compared to Mandalay Bay the week before. And naturally after all the nature we'd seen it was almost wrong to now be back in that bright lights/big city environment now!

Incidentally, I titled my lead post on this trip "Unlimited mileage"... I imagine the reason is obvious by now! That quickly became our catch-phrase for this entire vacation as we drove from one incredible place to another, with the drive itself being nothing short of spectacular. (Well, okay, Buster got a bit bored with all the car time.) By the time we returned our Charger in Vegas, we'd logged over 1500 miles on it! But no problem of course... Unlimited mileage, baby!! I'd have to say that the driving itself probably left the biggest impression on me from this vacation. I've always loved driving, and going from one type of climate to the next so frequently was just fascinating and beautiful.

One more post to go....

Leaving Las Vegas?

We checked out of the Monte Carlo around 11am Monday, and my last order of business for the vacation was to check out the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. This I did solo, which I'd later regret, but it was a fun take... a great little museum of props and costumes from the various Trek series and movies (going all the way back to the 60s), and two shows. The first - older - one was Klingon Encounter, a "Star Tours" style motion simulator, aboard a Starfleet shuttle as the Enterprise-D battles a Klingon warship nearby. Though the sim was no big deal, the ending was cute as they bring you "back in time" to present day Vegas and the starship battle continues in the skies over the Strip hotels!

The best part by far though is the pre-show, where you get beamed up to the Enterprise-D. Neat effect as the waiting room you're in suddenly, after a flash of bright light and then a few seconds of darkness, morphs into the Enterprise transporter room! They escort you through an Enterprise hallway and onto the bridge itself, where you get a briefing from Commander Riker on the main viewscreen. Walking these sets are by far the best part of the whole experience and worth it on their own. They then take you in a turbolift down to the hanger deck where you board the shuttle for the actual sim ride.

The other show is "Borg Invasion", an immersive 3D Voyager-era movie. Also not an overly exciting concept, but the movie itself was very cool and the effects were terrific, especially when the Voyager drives into and through a Borg cube... nice! (And nice work by my friend Mojo, who worked on that project.)

After seeing the shows and the museum I stayed for lunch in Quark's restaurant and bar. Great food and a fun atmosphere, and, uh, good drinks.

Ah yes, the drinks... I had too many good drinks! I generally stick to beer these days, but here I had several "James Tea Kirks", basically a very yummy, blue take on Long Island Iced Tea. (I STILL think it should have been called Romulan Ale, which everyone knows is blue! But the Romulan Ale they had was beer.) I was talking with others in the bar (Klingons, Romulans and others roam the bar from time to time to chat, and there were some other fans there as well) and enjoying the blue brew, not really paying attention to how many I'd had.

I guess I had five of them! I completely let my guard down and by the time I left, I realized, oops...! This wouldn't be a problem normally but I definitely wasn't going to be in good shape to fly. After hooking back up with the family we decided to suck it up and spend an extra night, and we ended up coming home Tuesday night instead. We got a fairly inexpensive room in the Imperial Palace, though of course changing the airfare ran me a pretty penny! Ah well, The Momma wasn't upset about it as I was at myself for getting caught offguard like that. And we did get home fine the next day (despite a delayed flight). No trip is perfect, and hey, at least I got my Vegas story! (And yeah, I was tempted to leave it there but what the heck!)

So that was the trip. Except for that extra day lay-over at the end it was pretty damned near as perfect a vacation as you'd ask for, and I'm sure we'll get back to that area again. Though, lots of other places to see as well! Our next family vaca is expected to be next summer, an extended family cruise (extended family, not extended cruise!) to Bermuda to celebrate my folks' 50th wedding anniversary. Should be fun!

Having a beer after leaving Zion Nat'l Park, Sunday 9/20.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back from Vacation....

We had an incredible time, now back and settling down into life again. Stories to follow over the next week or so I hope.