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Archive for the ‘Wild West 2015’ Category

— 1 —

Here’s a link to my interview with  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, on her daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

The link to listen is right here!

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— 2 —

Our town, perhaps like your town, has what many towns used to have: an ornate downtown theater, A “Showplace of [insert state or geographic region here]” 

 And like many of those ornate, state-monikered theaters, it occasionally shows films – during December and the summer, to be exact.

When I was growing up in Knoxville, the Tennessee Theater revived itself and began showing classic films and oh, it was glorious. I think for a time, they did it year-round, not just during the summer, and in those mostly pre-cable and pre-VHS days, this was my introduction, in real life, to the films I yearned to see, from the Marx Brothers to Casablanca. My most vivid memory was a showing of Gaslight in a packed theater – packed because Gaslight was on a double bill with Casablanca, and everyone had come to see Bogart and Bergman (although I had come to see Rains…more my type).  Gaslight ended up surprising everyone, and the thrill of  that collective gasp from the audience at various points in the film taught me all I needed to know about the difference between solitary and communal experiences.

We’ve been able to hit only a couple of showings at the Alabama this summer, and both in the last couple of weeks – the first was Singin’ in the Rain, and the second, last Saturday, was The General with a score composed by the organist.

As per usual, the mostly older volunteers at the door marveled over the presence of anyone younger than 25, and asked of the boys, “Have you ever seen a silent movie before?” They nodded – they’ve seen Chaplin, and a few weeks ago the ten-year old and I watched Keaton’s The Camerman when his brother was off somewhere else.

What a great film – (I’d never seen it either) – very funny, astonishing physical dexterity, and some visual humor that is a subtle as you can get without sound – the opposite of Kathy Selden’s accusation of  “dumb show” in Singin’ in the Rain, of course!

And yes, the boys liked it. Kids learn to appreciate culture in whatever context their sensibilities are formed in, which is why it’s careless and irresponsible to just let them watch anything and everything. If they grow up exposed to increasing level of complexity and subtlety, a well as just  quality – they’ll ultimately be bored by stupidity and (hopefully) turn from it, not out of outrage or offense, but simply because they have better things to do with their short time on earth, and they know it.

— 3—

…or they could be the group of no older than 10-year old girls at the pool this week talking about how great Dumb and Dumber II was…sigh….

— 4 —

I FINALLY finished the trip report of our late May trip out West.  You can find all the post by clicking on this, which takes you to all posts in the category, “Wild West 2015.”

Ended with Las Vegas.  Hated it.  Boys weren’t impressed either.

— 5 —

We started watching the Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.  One episode in, and I like it very much. It’s funny, a little magical and quite humane, knowing rather than know-it-all. It looks as if it might be a win.

.— 6—

New high school son has Fahrenheit 451  as his summer reading, so since I’d never actually read it – as much as I liked Bradbury as a teen, I never got to this novel – I decided to read it, too.

It’s quite different from what I expected, based on the use of the books by contemporary “anti-censorship” activists. (I put that it quotes because most READ BANNED BOOKS movements are pretty happy to ban Bibles and religious materials, so I find it difficult to take them seriously)

Have you read it? If you haven’t you should, and if you last read it 30 years ago, give it another look, because it might strike you a little more powerfully in this Internet Age.  It’s not as much about “book burning” for specific ideas, but more about the differences between the act of reading, period and the state induced by visual and audio stimulation. 

Basically? The act of reading and the time and space we live in when we read encourages and enables actual thought, contemplation and an individual, unique relationship to ideas and reality.  The culture which Bradbury creates that stands opposed to that is instantly recognizable: people plugged in all the time. All the time. Living room walls turned into screens peopled by characters whose lives consume the public’s attention. Walking and sleeping plugged into earbuds.  The reader, the thinker, the wanderer, the dreamer, suspect and exiled.

Written sixty years ago, the book is eerily prophetic.  The modern reality of the plugged in world is a little different from what Bradbury creates in that it’s missing the communication aspect – his vision is that the power of technology is even more damaging because it emanates from a central source that uses it to keep the public uncritical, unaware and stupid. One could argue that our modern scene is the opposite – we don’t have a centralized source of technology, and in fact our lives are marked by a cacophony of voices that rain upon us from our screens and earbuds.

But somehow, even in that is uniformity. Because it’s still noise, it’s still a distraction, it still distorts our perspective and pulls us away from silence, contemplation, stillness and our purely individual encounter with words, ideas and images in the midst of that stillness, a stillness that affords us the mental space to relate, mull over, decide and, if we choose, close the book and walk away.

— 7 —

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Insert Metaphor Here

Pinball Hall of Fame or Whatever. Las Vegas.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, here we are.  It’s Friday, May 29, and it’s time to go back to Las Vegas, and then the next day, home.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we got up early to try to see some things in Death Valley before it got too hot – so it was at this point we went to the Devil’s Golf Course and found the spot where my son posed in the steps of R2Ds, and then, on the way out, the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point.

Back in Las Vegas I stopped at a car wash.  See, I had this little incident..at the Grand Canyon…

It happened on that drive along Cape Royal Road, when we had parked and hiked a bit. We got in the car to continue on, I backed up and BAM.  Panicked that I’d hit another car, and I was very relieved to see that it was only a very skinny tree that had snuck up into a blind spot. About a two inch irregular patch of paint had come off, and of course there was a good bit of tar on the bumper.  I had gotten a lot of the tar off with some stuff I’d purchased earlier, but I still wanted to spiff the whole machine up before I turned it in and walked away, whistling, No, no problems, everything’s fine! 

As it was, there were already some scratch on that back bumper, although my damage did stand out a bit, even  in that context.  So I washed the car, just to be safe. I guess. I don’t know. It probably all stood out even more on a clean car.  But no matter.  The guy inspecting the car when I turned it in didn’t blink twice at anything, and no one’s demanded damages.  Honestly, I imagine that the volume of cars rented in Las Vegas is so great, with a good many of them taken out into the desert and to the parks, the loss of two inches of a paint job is probably nothing.

Okay. So, car washed, one more In n’ Out lunch consumed, and then to the Strip to the hotel.

This would be our last night, so I’d thought, well…might as well stay on the Strip. Let’s have that experience…

Preface that: Las Vegas has always been one of those places – one of the few places – I’ve had no interest in visiting.  Sure, I’ve been curious…what is it like??? But I could have died, fully content, without ever having been to Vegas.

But here we were.  We stayed at Excalibur – the castle-themed hotel, across from New York, New York and the MGM and near Luxor, the Egyptian themed hotel.  I figured it would have the most interest for the boys, Because Knights,  plus it was one of the cheapest.  Now, let me add that it wasn’t super cheap  because it was a Friday.  If we’d stayed during the week, I could have gotten a room there for under fifty bucks, but, of course, this was the weekend, so it was more.  Not exorbitant, but not cheap, either.

But since we got to Vegas before check-in time, we made a stop:

The Pinball Hall of Fame.  I had misunderstood what I’d read about it, and went into it thinking that all the games were just a quarter, but not so. The games that were originally a quarter were still that, but everything else was what you’d expect to pay for pinball and a few vintage video games.  It was a decent way to spend an hour. Nostalgic, for sure.

DSCN4942But this was the game that they played the most…..

Then to check in.  Oh, I don’t want to give an hour-by-hour account.  Because you all want to know why I’m so judgy about Vegas, right?

Here’s the thing. Well, here are the things.

  • I’m not a prude or puritanical.  I’m super protective of my kids – more so, in fact, than some parents I know who are more personally prudish than I am.  Weird. But in terms of myself, it takes a lot to offend me or upset my equilibrium.  I tend to view life from a human interest perspective, not as someone who think she’s ( or would like to be) the Deity on the Judgment Seat.
  • I had told the boys before we got to Vegas, “In Las Vegas, you are probably going to see adults at their worst.”  Wasting time, wasting money, drunk, hooking up (in so many words), just Randomly Satisfying Hungers. Prepped. Ready. Realistic.
  • I was curious about the Strip – the architecture, the themed casinos, and so on.  And although I’ve been to NYC, Paris & Venice for real, and we’ve stayed in an actual castle, I was determined not to be snobby about all of that.  I was interested to see how the experience would be compressed for the Vegas clientele. Like Epcot, right? Even though I don’t like Epcot either. But still! Have fun! Look at the cool things creative and inventive humans do!

Ooooh, boy.

The plan was to check in, the walk up the Strip.  I wanted us to see the various casinos, and then end up at the Bellagio fountains, and see all that.

Here’s what happened:

We checked in, then walked down to the Luxor, saw that.  Walked back up to New York, New York.  Saw that. There’s a roller coaster that goes in and out of the casino, and inside the shops and restaurants are arranged in faux NYC neighborhoods.

I was so weirded out, this was the only exterior photo we took.

Walked across the street, went to the M & M Store. Got back out on the street. Walked half a block north toward the rest of the stuff…I paused. We paused.

My ten-year old looked up at me. He said, “I don’t like this. It’s creepy.”

Exactly.

Back to the room. Screw the Bellagio fountains. Get ready to go back home.

What was it? A combination of things.

  • The general depression that results any time you’re one of thousands of people milling around  noisy, brightly colored structures built solely for the purpose of manipulating you into spending mo money.
  • The slot machines, everywhere, powered by slouching humans in turn fueled by cigs and drinks.
  • Energy fueled by consumption of lots of cheap booze being consumed everywhere, sitting, standing, lying down.  It’s a different, distinct kind of energy.
  • Folks chugging in the middle of the M & M store.
  • Young women strolling down the strip in string bikinis. Young women in micro-minis with tops falling open to expose almost everything.
  • Bros in packs. Enough said.

And then there were the porn slappers. I had heard about the porn slappers, and stressed about the porn slappers, and posted questions about the porn slappers on a travel discussion board that I frequent. This was of great concern to me.

“Porn slapper” is a term for people who stand on the trip with small cards advertising escort services. They hold the stack of cards and slap them against their skin, making a bit of noise, getting attention.  I had wondered how pervasive this was, how obvious the message of the cards were.  I got lots of answers which clarified nothing and led me to believe either that these escort service cards would constantly rain upon our heads or that it was an overblown problem and not an issue, and your kids see Victoria’s Secret in the mall, right? No difference.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The “porn slappers” were definitely out and about.  And since I was obviously not a potential client, when we approached, they held the cards still and looked another way.  But…here’s the thing…the cards littered the ground.  Everywhere.

And here’s what really made me sad.  These “porn slappers?”  All, without exception, middle-aged Latino men and women of indigenous stock.  Shorter than I am, stocky, Spanish speaking.  Probably illegal immigrants.  I was probably making a lot of assumptions here, but all I could think when I saw them was, “Okay, Catholic Church, defender of the immigrant…where are you? Do something to find these people are truly dignified means of work…somewhere.”

Oh, the whole scene was just so weird. It was such an odd vibe of wandering, waste and loss. It made me want to pull everyone together, close, and talk about what we all really yearn for, and if I couldn’t do that, to run away and shake it off, hard.

Vegas was terrible. But in that revelation, maybe Vegas was not so bad.

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Insert Metaphor Here.

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I’m going to try to finish this up today, with a post on Death Valley, and then one on Vegas, baby.

(Which I hated. /spoileralert)

(Keep up with all the posts on this trip here.)

Death Valley is about two hours northish and west of Las Vegas. When Thursday began, we were in Saint George, which is about two hours east of Las Vegas. So this was going to be a big driving day, but also remember that because of the time change, it would, in the space-time continuum, be only three, not four hours between here and there.

There were times in the run-up to the trip I had regretted casually mentioned Death Valley, even though I wanted to see it.  Once I brought it up, the other two had decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without it, but it was on the opposite side of all of the rest of the trip.  I wondered if we would have been better off with another day in Zion instead.  And that would have been great, but that said, in the end, despite the slight hassle, I’m glad we went.

Even though…it was…hot. 

Duh.  Of course it was.  It was late May in one of the hottest places on the planet! And I do like hot, and would not be too sad if I never spent time in frigid climes again.  But still…this was something else.

So that’ my first recommendation – if you do go to Death Valley, don’t go during the summer. Take everyone’s advice. They know what they’re talking about. If you go during the winter, you can probably stay outside and actually do some hiking, which is really almost impossible and not advisable in the summer.

Once we got to Las Vegas, I believe we hit an In n’ Out for lunch, and then drove on.  I took the northern route in on 95 instead of the more southerly route through Pahrump, mostly because I wanted to hit the ghost town called Rhyolite.\

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Really interesting, and a valuable lesson in the reality of ghost towns. Rhyolite existed for less than ten years, but during its existence, it was quite a busy place after gold was discovered nearby….

The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. The red light district drew women from as far away as San Francisco. There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital.

The town citizens had an active social life including baseball games, dances, basket socials, whist parties, tennis, a symphony, Sunday school picnics, basketball games, Saturday night variety shows at the opera house and pool tournaments. In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. That same year an enterprising miner, Tom T. Kelly, built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.

And then…bust.  The San Francisco Earthquake and  the 1907 financial panic brought everything down, and by 1917, the town was basically abandoned. A really good lesson in the transitory nature of life and achievement and….stuff….

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Below are photos of the Bottle House

Around 1905, during the Gold Rush, Tom Kelly built this famous house in Rhyolite, NV. It was built with 51,000 beer bottles and adobe mud. Bottles were also used in the walkway to the house. Kelly chose bottles because “it’s very difficult to build a house with lumber from a Joshua tree.” It took him about a year and a half to build the three room, L-shaped building with gingerbread trim. He spent about $2,500 on the building with most the money for wood and fixtures. Some of the bottles were medicine bottles but most were Busch beer bottles donated from the 50 bars in town.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Rhyolite Bottle House Rhyolite Bottle House

(Where did the town building go? People were frugal..they wouldn’t just leave the structures..they dismantled them and used the materials elsewhere.)

There’s an outdoor sculpture installation nearby and a tiny little museum staffed, the day we were there, by a retired history teacher.

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I don’t remember in which town his school was located, but…BUT..he told us something quite exciting…while he was teaching in the 1970’s, several of the children from his school were used as extras in STAR WARS, which was filming in Death Valley.

Okay, now, we were all definitely on board for Death Valley. The search for filming locations was on.

First, the entrance.

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And then you drive….down, down…down.  I saw a lot of fascinating sites on this trip, but this drive down into Death Valley was, oddly enough, near the top of the list, partly because went into this with no expectations other than “hot.”  I had never seen the television show “Death Valley,” and had never thought much about the place.  I had never considered that it is an actual, well, valley, and what that means.  From that north entrance, you head down into this vast, shallow basin surrounded by mountains, and it really is like you are driving into another world.

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First stop was Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, which are the only dunes in Death Valley, and where some Star Wars stuff was filmed.  It was..hot.

Then on to Stovepipe Wells, which is a tiny settlement and the location of one of the few accommodations in Death Valley. Stopped at the little store, looked around, saw a tiny bird outside on the sidewalk, wings spread, panting, got back in the car to drive to our accommodations in the Furnace Creek area. 

This is the most historically developed area of the park – it’s where the Borax mining operations were centered. (And yes, this is where your “20 Mule Team Borax” got its start.

We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch – the less expensive and more available of the two lodgings in that area.  I had absolutely no problems getting a room, and I don’t think I even booked it until a couple of days before we got there.  To Death Valley.  The Furnace Creek Inn is the fancier, more expensive, and more historic lodging – an interesting history is here. The borax had been mined out, but the railroad company didn’t want to waste the investment in had made in the transportation into the valley, so they decided to try to make it a tourist attraction.

As I said, the Inn is pricier and was always booked up when I checked, so we settled for the Ranch, which was fine – us an the Europeans – mostly Italians this time, which was unusual. For most of the trip, we’d been following Germans and Asians. I don’t know why Italians suddenly popped up at Death Valley.

The Furnace Creek Ranch is on NPS property, but of course it is privately managed, and I do want to talk about this for a bit. As I had mentioned before, we had stayed at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, also on NPS property, and managed by Forever Resorts.  It was fine, and you can’t beat the Grand Canyon, but there were certain aspects of the experience – mostly the value-to-quality ratio of the food that you are forced to pay for because you are a captive audience. It was overpriced and not that good (in the restaurant, at least).

The Furnace Creek Ranch is run by a different company – Xanterra – and it was a different experience.  Just as the case at GCNP, there are no other options for dining other than what’s at the hotel, but here, the food was pretty good and reasonably priced.  In other words, I didn’t feel taken advantage of or ripped off, and yes, I made a point of mentioning this on checkout.  So thumbs up for the Furnace Creek Ranch. (Very nice pool, too…in Death Valley, anything cool and wet is a nice pool, though)

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After we checked in and once it had cooled off a bit, but before it got dark, we set off to see a few things.  We also so a few things the next morning – as early as I could possibly rouse them, so we could try to beat the heat.  I won’t go moment by moment, but just offer some photos:

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History of Borax and Death Valley

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Badwater Basin, lowest point in North America. In the photo above, he’s pointing to a sign marking sea level.

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Star Wars Death Valley

In the steps of R2D2

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The Devil’s Golf Course.  It’s all salt.  Hardened, dried salt. Would be very painful to fall on this!

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Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley was fascinating, quite beautiful and haunting, and I would love to go back and hike in canyons and so on…in December.

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One of the many things I learned on this trip was that if you are really in the know, you leave out the “the” – which makes sense, you know, since it’s called “Grand” not because it’s big, but because the Colorado River used to be called the Grand River.  And you don’t say “The Bryce Canyon” or “The Cloudland Canyon.”

So we’re all cool now, because we say “Yes, we went to Grand Canyon.”

(Not really)

As I think I said before, it really is Grand, no matter why it’s named.  All of my anticipatory cynicism was blown away by the real thing.  But because this series has gone on just too ridiculously long, I’m going to finish up the Grand Canyon portion – Sunday, May 24 to the morning of Tuesday, May 26 – as succinctly as I can.

Bullet points!

  • Our Sunday route, as I explained before, was a rather convoluted one from our AirBnB near Fredonia, Arizona, back up to Kanab, Utah for Mass, and then back down to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, which has a famous bakery, bought some baked goods, saw snow (the North Rim Lodge had opened on the 15th..in the midst of snowfall)  and at that point, it was still a little early.  As I recall, it was before noon, and we couldn’t count on getting in our rooms until four, and we would have a full day tomorrow and as much time as we wanted on Tuesday for the Canyon, I decided to take a little detour – to the Vermillion Cliffs.
  • All we did was drive (I had bought the boys sandwiched at the Jacob Lake Bakery, so they had sustenance..after having risen at, um, 6:30 AM or whatever it was. But it was a stunning drive.  There’s a point at which you pull around a curve on 89A, having just driven through woods – you see an overlook, and beyond you, to the north, you see them. 
  • We drove down and around a bit, but there was really nothing to “do” in the area in which we drove except be amazed, and I’m the only one who can sustain that for longer periods of time, so early afternoon, we turned around and headed back.
  • Remember, we were at the North Rim. The entrance to the park is about 12 miles or so from the Lodge. You drive and drive – hoping to see the famed bison and deer in the meadows (we didn’t – they are probably active at night) – and finally you’re there.
  • We checked in, got into our room even though it was a little early, took in that first amazing view from the lounge in the Lodge, and then got into our cabin, which I liked a lot. (See this entry for more on the accomodations a lot )
  • Then our first “hike” – the ritual Bright Angel Trail hike. This begins at the Lodge, is paved, and follows a short portion of the rim out to Bright Angel Point, which juts into the Canyon.  Along the way are various other jutting points, unguarded, on which people like to stand and do daring things.  I was nervous just watching people I didn’t know pull these stunts.

  • After a dinner of pretty good pizza from the café, we settled in for the night. I went to do laundry at the campsite, the boys took a screen break.
  • The next day, we drove and walked. You can see a lot of the North Rim via driving to various points, and considering the North Rim is less visited, and it was quite early in the season, it was very easy to do – efficient!
  • We first drove down the Cape Royal Road – this is a great outline of the drive, giving you all the stopping points. When we stopped at the Cape Final parking lot, I’d thought we might do that hike, which is pretty long – but then my 14-year old said, “Why don’t we just walk up that hill over there?”

So we did:

They spent a lot of time searching the rocks.  The older boy found a geode early on, so the competition was on….

This was also the parking lot where I backed into a small pine tree that jump behind my car. I took a bit of paint off and left some tar.  I worked hard to get that tar off before I dropped car off and waited for several weeks for some demand for restitution, but apparently either there were enough other scratches on the bumper or those car rental agencies in Las Vegas are used to cars being returned in much, much worse shape than with a quarter-sized patch of paint missing….

  • It’s a great drive, and the odd thing is that even though you think, “Why do I want to stop and see the Grand Canyon from different viewpoints? I mean…is it really that different every time?” Answer: yes.
  • As I recall, after all of that, we returned to the Lodge for lunch. Sandwiches, which were good and not outrageously priced.  After that, a bit of a rest, then back on the road.  We drove to the parking lot for the North Kaibab Trailhead – this is one of the trails that goes into the canyon and by gosh, we were going to do it!  We wouldn’t, of course, go all the way to the canyon bottom, but I wanted to attempt to get to the Supai Tunnel (are you laughing yet?) – four mile round trip.  It would be our only activity for the rest of the day…..
  • I’ll add at this point that I was annoyed that the visitor information in the Ranger station didn’t tell us much about this trail. The information was certainly there for the asking, but it wasn’t being suggested – but why? Why were they holding back? What did they think we were? Wimps from East of the Mississippi?
  • It didn’t take long for me to figure out why, in fact, this trail wasn’t pushed on the casual hiker. It’s hard for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s really hard coming back up. Because, of course, you’re coming up the canyon walls. As it turned out, we got to Coconino Overlook (.7 mile down) and that was enough. We all agreed that the hike back up was going to be challenging enough at that point, and we had no need to triple the distance. We couldn’t even.
  • The second reason is that this trail is also used by the mules. You also share trails with mules and horses at Bryce, but there’s a difference:  Bryce is dry and deserty, and the trails are wider, sandy and gravel-y.  The North Kaibab trail is narrow, is in forest and is mostly dirt, which means in the spring it is muddy and also that the animals have no room to do their business (which they do frequently on the trail rides) except on the trail.  It was kind of a mess. It was a pretty gross mess at times, with no way to avoid it all except by stepping into Grand Canyon.
  • Despite the relative difficulty and the mess, I’m glad we did what we did – I would hate to have gone without hiked even just a bit down into the canyon.
  • Finally, we headed up to Imperial point. You could see so much of the canyon, plus so much of what lay to the north, including the Vermillion Cliffs.

And that was it….you can see that even if you’re not a big hiker, you can easily see what the North Rim has to offer in a (long) day.  I suppose it’s a copout for the backcountry folks, but that’s not us, and I although I harbor thoughts of someday, if I stay healthy and in shape, attempting a Rim-to-Rim, I was very satisfied with what we experienced in a day and a half.

Next up: Ranger Jake!

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When we last spoke (about this, anyway), it was Saturday evening, and we were snug in our bunkhouses somewhere west of Fredonia,Arizona.

The next day we’d make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but first things first: Mass.

Kanab, Utah was really our only choice in the area. Yes, there would be backtracking from our Saturday night space, but we would have to go almost all the way back to Kanab anyway to get to the road south, and it’s gorgeous country, so I won’t complain.

Mass was at 9.

Now, those of you who are familiar with the area are probably already thinking….uh-oh….

I’ll try to explain to the rest of you. And I may still get it wrong, so feel free to correct the details.  But I’m pretty sure this is what happened:

We were sleeping in Arizona. Arizona, like Utah, is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so at the time we were there (late May), when we were in Arizona, we were in the same time zone as we had been in Las Vegas, the origin of our trip, and where the rental car was obtained. Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.

We would be going to Mass over the border in Utah, which is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does observe Daylight Savings Time.

So, Mass was at 9am, but that would be 8 am according to where we were sleeping.

No problem.  I mean, going between time zones is a given when you’re traveling, and being that where we live (Alabama) is in a different time zone from places we go often on day trips (Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), this is not rocket science.

So.  Church was about 30 minutes away.  Just to be safe, I said, let’s leave at 7. Which would be 8 Church Standard Time and would get us there, if we drove at a leisurely pace, about 20 minutes early.

Yay.

So, I set my phone – which functions as my alarm clock, as I’m sure it does for many of you – for 6:30 am.

In the morning, it went off, I got up, got myself ready, then awakened the boys.  We packed up, I called the owner to check out, as instructed, we piled in the car, I turned the ignition, the dashboard lit up, and the clock – set to Las Vegas/Arizona time – blinked on.

6 AM.

(Translation: 7 AM Utah time. 2 hours before Mass. We could have slept another hour.)

So…..how did this happen?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

The day before, I had not used my phone from the time we drove out of Utah to the time we arrived at the bunkhouses.  Most of that drive was through an sparsely populated Native American reservation, and there, as here at the bunkhouse itself was….NO SERVICE.

My phone had never connected to Arizona cel service, so the clock was still on Utah time.

That time when your Mom apologizes a zillion times for getting us up at 5:30 for no reason? Yeah, that.

There was no sense in unloading and going back in the bunkhouses for just an hour.  I wasn’t tired, so I told them I was just going to drive around and see more of the country around Kanab.  Eating wasn’t an option because by the time we actually got to Kanab, we’d be hitting close to the 1-hour pre-Communion fast, and that cuts it close for me – I prefer the three-hour fast anyway.

So…I drove around.  The 14-year old fell back asleep pretty quickly, but the ten-year old stayed awake, and got to see a huge jackrabbit for his trouble.

Live, as they say, and learn.  Sheesh.

The Catholic church in Kanab is called St. Christopher’s, and I was very impressed with how they welcomed visitors.  Friendly greeters were at the door, and they had this as well:

St. Christopher medals and a prayer card for travelers.  It’s a great idea for any parish in a heavily-touristed area.

They did do the “raise your hand and tell us where you’re from” thing at the beginning of Mass, but I will say that it was actually before Mass started, so I guess I can accept that.  (I didn’t raise my hand, though, and the boys knew better…not that they’d want to enter that fray, either.)  They had donuts, etc., after Mass, but we didn’t go because, hey, I wanted to drive even more before noon.

So… today’s lesson: welcome your travelers. And don’t assume your phone is always telling you the truth. That’s trouble.

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Well, we’re up to Saturday, May 23….at this rate, I might get this trip report finished before the next trip.

Maybe.

As you might recall, we’re finished up our stay at the spindly Bryce Canyon, having survived being taken to the edge by quadrupeds.  Time to move back south…

The destination would be the Grand Canyon, but not until Sunday.  Why? Well, I’ll recap the “planning” process:

Pin down rooms at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, which I had believed would be the most difficult to obtain (in retrospect…no. But more on that when we get to Sunday). Then work everything else around that.  The difficult issue was that Memorial Day Weekend falls right in the middle of this, and I had a heck of a time finding rooms that weren’t $300 a night for that Saturday night. (Sunday and Monday were GCNP nights, and I checked many times a day, but nothing ever opened up for Saturday.  It if had, I certainly would have grabbed it).  There are two lodgings not ridiculously far from GCNP North Rim – in Jacob Lake, about 45 minutes out, and then another lodge a big closer. Neither of them had Saturday night vacancies.  I thought I had checked Kanab – just over the border from Arizona in Utah –  out pretty thoroughly, and nothing reasonable ever came up. However, I’ll say now that when I drove around Kanab both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning…I didn’t see packed parking lots in the hotels.  I’m going to guess that the chains that came up on Kayak were either indeed unavailable or too expensive for me, but there might have been independent motor lodges and such that weren’t listed on those aggregate engines.

It turned out fine, and we had an adventure, but staying in Kanab would have saved me a bit of driving…a trade-off.  But that’s the way it is with [insert Life Lesson and Metaphor here].

SO, where we ended up for Saturday night was this, via AirBnB – two little “bunkhouses” just a bit south of Colorado City (does that ring a bell? Well it just might….). That would be our goal for the end of the day, but in between Bryce and that spot was a lot of space and all day, so…time to set out and find stuff to do!

First stop, very close to Bryce, is Red Canyon – which is certainly red! We only spent about thirty minutes here – a place where Butch Cassidy is supposed to have used for a hideout – but you could certainly spend all day, at least.

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Then we’d catch 89, and take it to Kanab.  Every town along the way had at least one historical marking, each telling the tale of yet one more Mormon settlement.  Rock shops are also very common, not surprisingly, and we stopped at one where we learned all about the Septarian Nodule – Geode-like, but not really – and bought a few things, including some small pieces of petrified wood.  The owners gave us restaurant advice, but we didn’t take it, continuing on down to Kanab.

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Kanab is a small town, but it’s a pretty busy gateway, with several hotels, including the Parry Lodge, famed for the movie stars who stayed there back in the day –  the area was a popular location for shooting movie Westerns.   I actually thought I’d gotten a room there when I was on the search for Saturday Sleeping, but the woman called me back five minutes later and said, oops, she’d made a mistake.   Alas, no spirit melding with Tyrone Power (my mother’s favorite) this time.

There’s a terrible “Little Hollywood Movie Museum.”  I mean – it’s the worst.  You don’t pay to walk around the purported sets collected behind the shop,  but you know things are in a sorry state when you feel ripped off…. by a free attraction.  I hadn’t heard of any of the movies except McCabe and Mrs Miller , and all it was was a collection of shacks and false fronts (which is all it would be, I know).  There seemed to be a small foreign tour group there that was being led through and being invited to dress up and play with fake guns, but I didn’t stick around to see. It was just awkward.

Lunch was good – at this great little pizza buffet called Lotsa Motsa.  Just what everyone needed.  I always tell my kids when we travel that when they have a chance to eat…EAT A LOT.  Because they never know when they’re going to get a chance to eat again.  Sound sad?  Well, that’s just how our days tend to go on the road, and it’s especially how it can go when you veer into “picky eater” territory.  So they’ve learned: eat what’s there, when it’s there.  A pizza buffet was perfect, and the pizza was actually good. It was a popular place, too – crowded with obvious tourists from all over world, although the group of Asian tourists walked in, then walked right out, back across the street to McDonald’s.

It was early afternoon by then, and we had plenty of time to Do Things, so I decided that we should head back up north a little ways to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. 

On the way, we made one stop, however, at the Best Friends Animal Society.  This is a huge no-kill sanctuary spread over thousands of acres. Folks go and spend days or ever weeks volunteering at the facility.  They do offer tours, but they are lengthy, and you have to reserve them ahead of time – we missed the opportunity, but that’s fine.  I respect the work that they do, as well as their decision to be a refuge and a sanctuary and not a zoo, open to drop-in gawkers like us.

We did see these guys, though:

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Such an interesting place.  The red rocks from two more or less parallel mountain ranges blow off into this valley and form enormous dunes of, well, pinkish sand.  What’s unique is that the park is open to both foot traffic and ATV’s (you can see the tracks in the photo), so while you are not going to get a peaceful afternoon in the dunes, ever, probably, everyone seems to respect each other and make way.

We probably spent two hours there  – the boys had a great time wandering and playing their imaginary games, whatever they are about.  I walked a bit, and then just sat and sand dune and people watched.

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There’s a small visitor’s center with super nice folks who talked to me about one of the things that had started to obsess me – finding petroglyphs and dinosaur tracksites.   The woman told me of a couple of near-ish sites and I filed them away for consideration.

Now on to the bunkhouses…finally!

Yes, it was a drive, but it’s what we had to do, and I didn’t mind – I would be driving through places I’d never seen, and they are beautiful places, so why not?

The bulk of the drive took us through the Kaibab Paiute reservation – unfortunately we were too late to go through the Pipe Spring historic site. But we did stop at the convenience store, and very weirdly, saw (as fellow customers) the couple who ran the rock shop we’d been to earlier – which was about fifty miles away…

When I booked these rooms, I hadn’t understood how close they were to Colorado City and Hildale. As we drew near, I saw that it was just a few miles, so I said, “Time for a detour!” and I explained, as best I could, what the FLDS was all about.

(And there’s a restaurant in Hildale – called the Merry Wives Cafe – that I’d hope to get to – but alas, they’re closed on Saturday evening, not surprisingly. I was disappointed.)

Trying not to think of Big Love, we reached the area, and I took a quick drive up and down some main streets, curious, I admit, to see what I would see.   It was early evening, so there weren’t a lot of folks out, but I did see a couple of typically dressed women – in the long dresses and big hair – and the really huge, sprawling, but somewhat ramshackle houses, clearly added onto over time – were quite noticeable, and everywhere.  The place had a shabby, tired, feel about it.

Yup, a quick view was good enough, so it was time to shoot back down the road to our home for the night:

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They’re tiny and immaculate and have absolutely everything you need, including little solar-powered lights (that’s the panel on the roof on the picture directly below- they are good, I think for three hours at a high level and five at a low – I’m pretty sure this was it), bunks inside, a chair, a side table, and a propane space heater.  The toilets were in a separate small outhouse/building and the shower was outdoors (behind a fence!).  The boys had their own pad, and I had mine. It was fun.

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Supposedly this bag containing water and pennies repels flies. Hey, I didn’t see any, so maybe. 

This was the cooking/device-charging area.

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The only unfortunate thing was that it was rainy.  If it hadn’t been, the boys would have spent a lot more time outside playing, and we would have been able to sit outside around a fire (the other people in the other bunkhouses tried to build one, but with no success.) But it was fine – very snug and a lovely little respite.

And dinner? Cheese, crackers and fruit. I warned you, didn’t I!

Now, on to Sunday and…WHAT TIME IS MASS ANYWAY?

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Welcome Committee.

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Friday, May 22….

Time to ride!

At some point on Thursday, I’d booked a horse/mule/general quadruped ride down into Bryce Canyon.

You have two options: a 2-hour, or half-day trip.  The half-day is really just about four hours. We opted for the latter.  It wasn’t cheap, but it really was worth it.

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Despite my near-terror at times.

You might already know this, but the thing about these creatures and the trails down into canyons involving switchbacks on ledges and cliffs is that their preferred path…is the edge. As in the outer edge of the path. With you perched on top of their hundreds and hundreds of pounds, looking down, watching them pick their way delicately along (did I mention?) the edge, dislodging gravel that you can hear tumble many feet in a downward direction.

It’s the same at the Grand Canyon, and I read that there are something like 140 switchbacks going down (on the south rim, I’m thinking, since that’s the steeper side), and I know now I wouldn’t be able to handle that.

All right, let’s backtrack.

The ride left very early – we were supposed to be there by 7:45, and we were, gathering first at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, and then heading down to the corral where we’d be matched with our rides.  There was one trail guide for about every 6 or 7 riders, it seemed. I got a mule – I don’t know what that says about me, but I did.  The boys got horses, and they, being the only children in our group, rode right up behind the guide then me, then the other 4 riders.

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Various pieces of advice were given, the most important being:

  • Don’t be afraid, nothing will happen, it’s safe, etc., etc.
  • Don’t get too far behind because you don’t want your ride to start running to catch up. Because……?

Better not think about it.  Just keep up with the pack.

The guide was a very nice, super-polite young man, who gave us a few tales about the canyon and what we were seeing, but honestly, not as much as I had expected or hoped – somehow, I thought it would be just a bit more informative regarding the geology and history of the area. Like anything else, it all depends on your specific guide, I suppose.

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And yes, I was a little nervous. It’s just nerve-racking, as the heavy beast plods along on the edge of a cliff. (Did I mention the edge?).  It’s bad enough when the path is straight, but then you get to the switchback where the animal is going to turn, if not on a dime, at most on a half-dollar, and the gravel is rolling around and dropping..

The woman behind me was on a horse named Comanche, and, well, better her than me.  It was fine, of course, but Comanche was just a little more rambunctious than I would have been comfortable with, and there was one point at which he paused and saw something decent to eat right over the edge, and with his weight, there was a little bit of slipping and sliding, and…

…I’m glad I wasn’t on Comanche.

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But of course it was all fine. Every time. But I won’t deny that I was breathing easier when we finally hit the bottom of the canyon.

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And that’s another thing.  Looking at Bryce from the rim, I had thought that the hoodoos represented the whole of it – that the base of the hoodoos reached the base of the canyon.  But no!  Not at all, not even one bit.  The hoodoos actually begin far above the canyon floor, which is lightly forested with some mostly dry creekbeds. (Remember Bryce “Canyon” exists because of a freezing/thawing cycle more than water flowing at the bottom).  It’s where we stopped for a restroom and water break.

Despite my terror, I am really glad we did this.  The boys claimed they weren’t scared at all, so good for them. I mean…good for them. 

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I’ll write more about this later, but after going to the Grand Canyon, I can see a Rim-to-Rim experience somewhere in my future, but…I’ll walk it, thanks. No question.

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After lunch in Tropic (here – the boys really liked the hamburgers), the older boy was wiped out and was ready for a rest, but the ten-year old wasn’t near finished, so he and I headed back to the park to do some more hiking.

First we tackled the Navajo Trail.

(I thought I had photos, but I guess not…)

Then, as we left the park, I saw the turn-off for the Fairyland Loop (which is actually before the pay entrance to the park), so we decided to check that out.

If we ever go back, I would finish this one out.  We just walked a little way out on it, since we needed to get back but the landscape and trail itself (see how it goes out in the middle there?) was distinctive enough, I think it would be quite interesting to follow.

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It’s otherworldly.

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Navajo Trail was quite crowded with all kinds of folks, individuals but most in tour groups (Germans, Japanese & Backroads, I noticed in particular)

Back to the hotel – there might have been swimming that night – it was either then or the night before – in the substantial indoor pool at Ruby’s – but no overpriced buffet for dinner.  There was a Subway a couple of miles away, so that would have to do – with no complaints from anyone.

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A common sight in public places in Utah.  Everything you need.

Tomorrow…heading south, on our way to the Grand Canyon….

thinking)

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First, a digression about research and preparation for this trip.

On my part, it was the usual mix of following discussion boards on Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Death Valley on Tripadvisor, Frommer’s and Fodors, as well as a few other sites, especially those related to family travel in those areas.  I read the history and scientific/geological background sections in a few guidebooks, brushed up on my Mormon history and read Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy through the Grand Canyon. I had the boys read a few shorter books on the national parks, and one on Powell’s journey.

I had great hopes of watching this American Experience episode on the Hoover Dam, but never got to the right library to check it out.  In retrospect, though, it all might more sense to us now having actually been there.

So…

After I had risen before 7 and gone through the contortions to get the car (hotel shuttle to airport, airport shuttle to car rental center), the boys had breakfast, and we set out on a short drive, first just up and down the Strip – a first for all of us, I’ll add.  We were all sort of stunned in an ambiguous way, and found the stretch of road, even this initial brief introduction, to be very strange and not compelling.  On this first exposure, what surprised my 14-year old sports fan was the proximity of UNLV to the Strip.   I mean…it’s hard for me to imagine sending a kid off to college just a few blocks from that environment.  An education, to be sure.

"amy welborn"Hoover Dam is only about 45 minutes from Las Vegas, and therefore a popular day trip.  We were there on May 20, and the crowds weren’t bad at all, but I would imagine they’d get worse as the summer wears on and tourism to Lake Mead increases – this really only being an issue for two reasons:  the line of traffic through security, and the ability to get on the dam tours you want without eating up your whole day. There’s one tour you can book ahead of time, but the other, you can’t.

The drive to the dam takes you through Boulder City, which came into existence for the thousands of workers on the dam. It’s a nice little town, scattered with statues, both of contemporary art and historical nature, the latter depicting various types of dam workers.

Once you arrive at the dam, there are a couple of options for parking.  First, there’s a pay garag"amy welborn"e on the Nevada side. But if you drive over the dam, there’s a free open lot on the Arizona side (seen at right)  – and since you’re probably going to want to have the experience of walking over the dam anyway, you might as well.  That’s what we did.

Walk over the dam, find the border between the two states, admire the Art Deco design.

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There are two different tours of the interior of the dam:

The Power Plant Tour is the shorter of the two. It lasts about 45 minutes, takes you in a group of about 40 into a short introductory film, then down into the dam to view some of the huge intake pipes and then the power plant.  You can purchase tickets for this tour ahead of time. 

The Dam Tour is longer, and takes you to just one or two more stops. This is the one I had wanted to do …because..longer? So it must be better?  I guess.  But you can’t buy these tickets ahead of time, only on site, and when we arrived (around 11), the next available Dam Tour was at 2:30, and the ticket seller basically told us on the down low…hey, it’s not worth the wait.  You really don’t see that much more.

So Power Plant Tour it was.

Hoover Dam Power Plant TourIt was interesting, and the guide was fine, but honestly, I am so tired of jokey tour guides. They are everywhere.  Caves, historical sites, what have you. The jokes are invariably lame and awkward, and everyone sort of chuckles nervously and wonders why we’re being talked down to like this and can we please move on.  The fellow at Hoover Dam wasn’t the worst, by any means  – those, I repeat, then to be at show caves…they don’t tell you a blasted thing about the geology, but shine their flashlights up to a formation and say things like, “I call that up there my cupid. If you look at it from here, can you see it? Watch out, or my cupid might shoot you! Oooh…did you feel it?”  And other stupid nonsense.  And it’s always my Whatever Formation with those cave guides, like they own the rocks.  I don’t get it.

Back to the dam. This guide had his share of awkward jokes, but he was also informative and, most importantly was able to answer the intelligent questions tossed at him by engineering/historian types in the group.

After the tour, you’re spilled out into the Visitor’s Center (for which you must pay to visit, even without the tour, by the way), for some views of the Dam.  It’s from inside, glassed in at that first level, but nonetheless, there was one middle-aged man, who couldn’t handle it. Clearly terrified, he was being pulled toward the window by his companion, but couldn’t look out. I felt badly for him.

There’s a small history museum, which does a good job of laying out the process of building the dam  Why was it constructed?  The power generation is a side benefit.  The foundational reason behind Hoover Dam was flood control – the "amy welborn"Colorado was so unpredictable and destructive in its flooding, especially as agriculture was developing, something had to be done.  The power generation has, of course, been a boon, and has been what has enabled the Dam to pay for and support itself.

I was particularly interested in the preparation work that had to take place before the first cement could be poured: blasting tunnels so the river could be diverted and the area for the dam itself could be dried and dug out to the bedrock level.  I was also interested in the human stories of families resettling, of the camps that grew, and then Boulder City, and even of the support you don’t even think about, but is absolutely necessary.  There’s a statue in Boulder City of a man with a ring of rolls around his neck.  We passed by and had no idea what it was until we got to the Dam, where we learned that it represented one of the men who took care of the latrine areas for the workers – truly an essential role, with appropriate historical credit given!

After you finish at the dam itself (or before…we just did it after), you can drive back just a couple of miles to the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge that now takes the bulk of traffic crossing the area. It’s a great view and the walk up to the bridge from the parking lot is marked by signage with tons of information on this, the longest single-arch bridge in the United States, and the second-highest bridge in the United States.

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Finished at the dam, we had to backtrack – even though Hoover Dam is east of Las Vegas, and so was Saint George, Utah – our next stop – there was no direct northeast route from Boulder City up to Saint George.  We’d have to backtrack to the east side of Las Vegas to catch I-15, which would take us back up.

After a lunch at Scratch House in Boulder City, and some ice cream….we were on our way….

Previously: 

Part 1: Itinerary

Part 2: The flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas

Next:

Part 4: Saint George, Utah

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You can read Part I – an overview of our itinerary – here. 

If I had not been hamstrung by some uncertainty regarding dates, the way out and back would have been clear: Southwest from Birmingham, direct. We probably could have done it for around 200 bucks a ticket.  However, that uncertainty meant that by the time I could commit to dates, the cheapest tickets on Southwest were no longer available.  Darn.  Then none of the timing for the other Birmingham-based flights were good (You know how it goes – the decent outgoing flight is never paired with doable return flights.), so I turned to Atlanta.

(The Atlanta airport is about a 2-hour drive away from here. It seems as if, with fairly good air connections from Birmingham, you wouldn’t even consider Atlanta anymore, but believe me, it has its attractions  When we came back from Germany last year, the complications and delays on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Birmingham meant that we would actually have gotten home sooner if our flight had ended in Atlanta, and we’d been able to simply hop in the car and drive 2 hours home, rather than waiting around, re-checking our luggage after it went through customs, waiting for a delayed flight to Birmingham…)

Again, because of scheduling (since we were flying out of Atlanta, I didn’t want a super early flight out, nor a terribly late flight back), I ended up booking two 1-ways on 2 different airlines – total cost around $200 a ticket.

The first airline was Spirit – a super budget airline that sells itself based on the “bare fare.”  The fare is for your seat and then everything else – even carryons and water on the flight – is extra.

Which is fine, because they are up front about it.  We had two carryons that I paid for ahead of time..

(Oh, another thing.  What did we take?  For a ten day trip, each of us had a backpack kind of thing, plus we took two suitcases.  If we hadn’t had to pack jackets for chillier temps at the Grand Canyon – we would be there from May 24-26, and the North Rim had only opened on May 15, and it had snowed that first day – we could have gotten away with just one, I think.  I planned on doing laundry (which I did, twice), and none of us are averse to wearing the same thing two days in a row.)

….and we didn’t pay $3.00 for Cokes or what have you on board, so it worked for us.  Yes, the seat pitch was the smallest I’ve ever experienced, but none of us are big people, so it was okay, if weird.

The couple heading for a two-week hiking/camping vacation in Zion  sitting behind us, however, wasn’t as accepting.  Apparently they hadn’t read the fine print, which is actually in big bold font all over the Spirit website, and were totally shocked by the extra costs – didn’t know they were going to have to pay for carry-ons, drinks, etc, and were prepping for Big Protests.

Eh.

Anyway, our flight left Atlanta at 9:30pm – I parked in one of those off-airport parking lots, and the service was amazingly prompt – the van to take us to the airport pulled up even before we could get ourselves fully out of the car.  As I said, the quarters were tight, but it was mostly fine, except for the loud, continual complaining from behind us.

Got to Vegas on time – around 11, despite some delays on the ground in Atlanta.

Caught a taxi to the hotel, which was this one – the McCarran Best Western – super cheap at $50/night, and a very good value. It was clean, close to the airport, had free breakfast.  They also have a free shuttle to and from the airport, but it only runs until 11, so we couldn’t catch it when we arrived.  I did, however, use it the next morning, when I got the rental car.

I knew I wouldn’t want to bother with getting the car right when we arrived so late at night.  Hauling the kids with the luggage onto the shuttle that takes you several miles away to the off-airport car rental facility, dealing with the inevitable high pressure from the counter agent, and then driving through a strange city back to the hotel at midnight didn’t seem like a fantastic end to that first travel day. So instead, I booked the car for Wednesday morning, got up early, got the free hotel shuttle to the airport, found the shuttle to the car rental facility, walked right up to the counter (no line at 7am), got the car (Nissan Rogue SUV, Hotwire rate, less than $300 for ten days), drove back on largely empty streets, and was back by 7:45. With Me Time inhe car as an extra bonus. Hey, I take what I can get

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.

Next…off to Hoover Dam!

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A great experience, riding down into Bryce Canyon. Although I will say that it cured me of any curiosity I had of ever doing the same down the Grand Canyon.  The animals are partial to the outer edge of the trail, which is just a little nerve-racking on those switchbacks.

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