Posts from the ‘American Southwest’ Category

Southwest Splendor ’07: Going Home and Reflection

We had done most of our packing last night so we were able to sleep all the way until 6am for a 7am baggage pickup. After a quick breakfast (1 more chance for those awesome cinnamon rolls before we went back to healthy food), we loaded the motor coach and were on the road by 8am.

The drive from Moab UT to Grand Junction CO (another state I had never visited!) was about 2 hours in the rain. Yep, after absolutely perfect weather every single day of our trip, it finally was sucky and miserable on our day of departure. Cold (40-something degrees), wet and dreary. Welp, if it had to happen, let it happen today.

A dreary, wet, cold, miserable day

It was hugs all around when we left the bus…Tom had another bus tour to do, Chris and Mike were spending 1 more day in the area to finish up paperwork, some people were renting cars to continue their adventures (or just to fly out of Denver Airport) and the rest of us were flying towards our final destination. Janet and H., Tom and Melissa and Joe and I all had long (5-6 hours) waits for our planes (Janet & H. were actually going to be on the same plane as us, on the way to SLC) so we decided to take a Cab into the town of Grand Junction to walk around and maybe find something to eat, since the airport was tiny and only had a small snack bar that, as it turned out, was closed (the person who was supposed to man the snack bar apparently called out today. We’re talking TEENY TINY airport. Like “you can’t get to your gate early because the X-ray machine doesn’t get turned on until 45 minutes before your flight” teeny tiny). The taxi company couldn’t accommodate 6 people (there were only 3 drivers and no one was driving the van today) so Ed and Diane, who were renting a car, offered to take 2 people downtown.

After waiting for the taxi for 45 minutes, we finally met downtown. Janet & H immediately went shopping since they still needed to buy gifts for family. The rest of us had lunch at Weaver’s, a local tavern, where Joe and I both had bowls of chili. After that, Joe and Melissa decided to check out the Oktoberfest celebration they were having in town, while Tom and I decided to relax in the warmth and dryness of a local hotel lobby (Sharon + 40-degrees in Crocs in a sweatshirt = not good). Tom & Melissa left for the airport about a half-hour before us (their plane was actually after ours, but they had had bad plane karma so they wanted to give themselves plenty of time).

Grand Junction airport

If you turn your head to the left:

On the way home

The flights home were uneventful, except for the happiness of having an old “Song” plane as our flight from SLC to MCO, so we were treated to free music, videos, games, etc. My FIL picked us up at the airport and we picked up Pippi the following day.

Home

==========

MY IMPRESSIONS

This was our first Adventures by Disney tour and turned out to be one of the best vacations we ever went on. And we go on a LOT of vacations (grin). I think that Adventures by Disney definitely has a “winner” with this concept and hopefully they won’t dumb it down to mediocre quality as the years go on. I don’t think they will though….as with DCL, they have a LOT of competition out there so they have to keep the quality up in order to keep the Guests coming. Whereas at the parks, especially at WDW, they’ve “allowed” themselves to decrease the quality because other parks, like Six Flags and even Universal, don’t have that quality to begin with…with no competition comes complacency (the best thing that could have happened to WDW, from a Guest’s POV, is that USF would have lived up to its hype so that WDW would have to work to “keep up” with their neighbor down the road. The second best thing that could happen to WDW, which hopefully might happen someday, is that Lasseter turns an eye our way). Their being run by Imagineering, who tends to have their act together better than most other divisions of the company should also help to keep exceeding guests’ expectations. At least let’s hope so.

Our Adventure Guides, Chris and Mike, were just amazing. Friendly, funny, knowledgeable, always thinking ahead and and always willing to take that little extra step (or sometimes that medium-sized step) to make our vacation as magical as possible. They were hand-picked from hundreds upon hundreds of applicants and the quality really showed. We also lucked out that our bus driver, Tom, and just about all of our “local experts” were particularly good at what they did (which bus driver and “local expert” you got was the luck of the dice…who was working that week).

Chris B.

Mike C.

Tom K.

Tom at work

We like the bus!

Not that anyone could have planned it, we also couldn’t have asked for better weather. Pleasant temperatures, no rain, barely any clouds. Chris and Mike told us the horror stories of being in the desert in 110 degrees in the summer, or being on tours where the rain just never stopped. Our weather was just perfect.

Finally, we also couldn’t have asked for better people to tour with. Having an option of going on an Adults Only tour was a beautiful thing. We were lucky in that our group was small, so instead of being 40 people who broke up into smaller groups, we were 16 people, ranging in age from 30’s to 60’s, who switched between each other most of the time. Everyone was friendly and pleasant…no freaks, no drama queens, no pricks, no personality disorders. So I also thank Cindy & Mike S. from Oveido FL (our neighbors!), Diana and Ed P. (a.k.a. “Steve’s mom” and “Doc Severinsen”) from Ube PA (Bucks Cnty), Maribeth W. & Stephen K. from Canaan CT (nowhere near New Canaan), Janet and H. B. from Hudson Valley NY (our old neighbors!), Marcia V. and Chuck J. from Orange Cnty CA, Jackie G. and Mark J. from Arlington MA (near Boston) and Melissa (a.k.a. Gail H.) and Tom C. from Indianapolis IN (hopefully to be retired soon ). Without you guys, our vacation wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun as it was. Thanks so much and we hope to travel with you again, on future Adventures by Disney vacations!

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Southwest Splendor ’07: White Water Rafting and “On Our Own” Time

Our last day. And for me, the most exciting day. You know how you have a mental list of the things you want to do before you die? Your “bucket list”? Today would be the day that I completed my list. I’ve had a dog. I’ve seen Billy Joel in concert. I’ve seen all 4 Monkees in concert at the same time. I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert (twice). I’ve gone to the Grand Canyon, Alcatraz, and the other side of the world (twice. each.). And today I would go white water rafting down the Colorado River. I was PSYCHED!

We got to “sleep in” today. 7:30am! Yee-ha! Geez, who would ever think that I would be grateful for a 7:30am wake-up call? Breakfast was again buffet style, the same style food as yesterday (Joe talked me into trying one of their cinnamon buns and WOW were they GREAT!) and was available from 6:30am (hardee-har-har) until 9am. With just T-shirts and shorts over bathing suits, we got out of the room fast enough and were ready to board the bus at 9am.

Tom drove us a few miles upriver to the drop off point for Adrift Adventures. One of our rowers, Lance, gave us a quick debriefing of what to expect and how to put our life jackets on and after a little more preparation, we split roughly in half into the 2 rafts. Ours was (wo)manned by a nice young lady named Jane (you know you’re getting old when you refer to someone in her early 20’s as a “young lady”).

Getting ready for rafting

We started off slowly because the wind was blowing HARD upstream. Jane and Lance both had really strong arms and slowly but surely we floated down the river.

Jane doing her thing

And Lance doing his

Here we go!

We hit Class 1 and 2 rapids; mostly Class 1’s but the one Class 2 was just AMAZINGLY fun. We all got wet (some more than others; I got REALLY wet on the Class 2) and that water was COLD…probably somewhere in the 60’s.

Mike and Chris and, later on, Mark, actually went INTO the water for a few minutes. Word of the day = “shrinkage”

Chris enjoying a cup of hot cocoa after his little dip

We could see the Red Cliffs Lodge from our rafts!

Some more gorgeous scenery

And not so gorgeous. This area was known as “Dead Man’s Curve” and with good reason. Someone drove their car off the cliff.

Chris and Janet (our raft) and Mike and Marcia (the other raft) all took tries at rowing. All in all, WOW, was it fun and everything I hoped it would be!

After a quick change of clothes from 12pm to 12:30pm, we enjoyed sandwiches, chips, oranges and mini candy bars on the porch by the teepee’s. After that, it was “on our own time”…I had a 1:30pm massage with Felix scheduled, while Joe went on another arches tour.

North Window

Joe sitting in North Window

North & South Windows

Turret Arch

Double Arch

After my massage, I relaxed, walked around the resort, took more photos and wrote more blog stuff on the back porch of the lodge, facing the beautiful scenery.

Our shoes after 2 hikes and walking through sand after a rafting trip

Some teepees on the property

Now THIS is the life!

Dinner was scheduled for 7pm and was a cowboy-style affair, with BBQ steaks, chicken breasts, beans, corn on the cob, potatoes and coffee and vanilla ice cream with all the fixin’s for dessert. We were entertained by Sand Sheff, the foreman of the ranch who used to sing professionally in Nashville.

Cooking the steaks

Grub’s on the table!

Sand Sheff

Following dinner, we gathered together in the Colorado Room for a wrap-up session. On our first night, Mike and Chris had asked each of us to share what our expectations of the trip were and what we were looking forward to the most. Tonight we again went around the room and discussed what our favorite memory of the trip was. We all agreed it was a wonderful vacation that went by WAY too quickly. The finale was a special creation that Chris and Mike had worked on.

We all exchanged e-mail addresses and spent another hour or so chit-chatting. What a great group of people we shared our vacation with! I really hope we can all keep in touch!

And in case anyone was wondering…what do you do when you’ve done everything on your bucket list? You add to your list, of course! Recent additions include Class 3 rapids and possibly skydiving…if Joe ever lets me (grin). And if you thought there was any other possible answer to the “What do you do when…” question, welp, tough shit, I ain’t goin’ nowhere! (grin)

Southwest Splendor ’07: Arches National Park, Canyoneering

We woke up at 5:45am for a 6:45am buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, yogurt, breads and pastries. Tom picked us up at 7:45am and brought us on our first adventure of the day.

We picked up our local guide, Dave, at 8:20am. He works for Adrift Adventures and gave us the history of the area (the history of Uranium mining in the area and the geography of the formations), as well as pointed out a variety of interesting rock formations.

Here’s Dave

“The Three Sisters”

Several rock formations

Our first stop in Arches National Park was Balanced Rock, which is a hoodoo formation (a large rock protects the smaller rock under it from the elements, which decreases the rate of erosion).

Balanced Rock

Our next stop was a hike up to Delicate Arch. It was a long, difficult 1.5 mile uphill hike up but the arch was truly a beautiful site. The round-trip hike took about 2 hours.

We hiked…

…and hiked…

…and followed the trail

Almost there!

We made it!

We all made it!

This thing is freakin’ HUGE!

We bumped into these people when we were on the way down, and they were going in the opposite direction, right before Delicate Arch. How they made it up with a baby stroller is beyond me

On the way down, we made some quick stops to see petroglyphs from circa 1650 to 1850 and then the ruins of the John Wesley Wolfe family cabin.

Petroglyphs

The cabin

After dropping Dave off, we were dropped off in the town of Moab which, happily, had cell phone service. We ate lunch on our own at Peace Tree Juice Bar, a juice and wrap cafe. I had a Peanut Butter Wrap (peanut butter, granola, banana, apple and blueberries in a whole wheat tortilla) while Joe got a Club Wrap (turkey, ham, bacon, avocado, tomato and lettuce in a whole wheat tortilla). We also got some unusual smoothies that were really yummy.

After about 45 minutes of power shopping, we all went our separate ways…some went horseback riding, some went ATV riding, etc. As for Joe and I, we went canyoneering! Now, we had gone rappelling one other time: going up and down a huge pile of rubble rock at a 45 degree angle in Natural Bridge Cavern in Texas, last year. This trip was even MORE adventuresome…hike 3/4 of a mile, rappel 30 meters (about 120 feet) straight down into a gorge (into 8″ of water), hike some more, rappel another 80 feet (off an arch), then hike another 2 miles or so, back to the bus. It took some work, but Joe finally convinced me to go. BOY, am I glad I did!

Our adventuresome group included me, Joe, Mark & Jessie from Boston and one of our Adventure Guides, Chris (he was going “off the clock”…both he and Mike are very “outdoorsy” guys and when Chris heard some other guests rave about the trip earlier in the year, he decided to try it out for himself the first time any of his future guests expressed interest in going). We went to the Cliffs & Canyons office and met our guide, Scott, at 2pm and after signing waivers that cleared them of our injury or death (wouldn’t THAT make some people happy? [grin]), we got into the van, which was driven by a sweet lady named Pippa (for those of you who knows “our” Pippa, YES, I KNOW, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?!) and her cutiepie, well-behaved 2y/o daughter, Clarae (Cla-RAY). We drove for a few minutes and traded our backpacks for their backpacks (with hiking gear) before Pippa and Clarae drove off.

A shot of Scott

Now, from this point on, I couldn’t tell you how long we hiked or where we went (although Joe, Mr. Google Earth-GPS-Man, is working on that latter one [wink]), because we were in the wilderness of the desert and I was too busy watching the scenery, watching where I was walking, watching for poison ivy, and watching the viewfinder of my camera. These pictures give a pretty accurate (but not-so-brief) account of what we did for those 4.5 hours:

Hiking the first .75 mi towards the first rappel

And hiking some more

We had a choice of jumping or climbing this V-shaped, 8′-deep deep crevasse. I climbed. Joe jumped. Neither of us were particularly graceful at how we did it

Sharon getting ready for the 1st rappel

While Joe watched

The view of the top, from what we just rappelled. There was an 80′ drop into about 8″ of (COLD!) water, followed by another 40′ rappel into the bottom of the cavern

Joe on the 1st rappel

After our first rappel

The crack in the earth between the guy taking the picture (Mark) and the guy in the picture (Adventure Guide Chris) was our 2nd rappel

Sharon on the 2nd rappel

We just climbed down THAT?!?!?!

Gathering pure mineral drinking water from a nearby spring after the 2nd rappel

Hiking the 2.25 mi back. We crossed this stream back and forth no less than 10 times

And hiking some more

We did it! The whole thing!

Pippa and Clarae were nice enough to drive us back to our Hotel, instead of back into town, which saved Tom the bus driver an extra trip since everyone else was scheduled to be back from town by then.

After a quick shower that felt REALLY good, we met the rest of the group in the main dining room at 8pm for a served dinner. Joe got the chicken breast, which he said was really good, while I had the salmon. It was yummy!

Bedtime was about 10:30pm, with happy thoughts of our next (and last) day.

Southwest Splendor ’07: LONG bus ride, Monument Valley, arrival in Moab UT

Day Five: LONG bus ride, Monument Valley, arrive in Moab (UPDATED WITH PICTURES ON 10/07/07)

We woke up at 5:30am (whine!) for a 6:30am baggage pickup and nasty buffet breakfast (the food was exactly the same as yesterday, but with bacon instead of sausage). Joe had actually gone to the McDonald’s next door (the most expensive McDonald’s in the continental US…$7.99 for an Egg McMuffin, hash browns and coffee, but better than the slop they had at the hotel), but they weren’t open yet. However while he was out there, he bumped into Tom, who pointed out an adolescent buck elk who was in the field between us and the McDonald’s.

Wow, it’s like Northern Exposure!

We boarded the bus at 7:30am and started the LONG drive to our first stop of the day. On the way, we got our last few glimpses of the Grand Canyon, then got to see the Little Colorado River as we entered the Navajo Reservation.

As we got closer to Gouldings Lodge, Chris and Mike gave us lots of information about the Navajo tribe, its history, culture, lifestyle and place in America and American History.

After arriving in Utah (another state to add to the list of states I’ve been in) and changing the time on our watches (AZ doesn’t follow DST), we quickly came upon Goulding’s Lodge a few minutes before noon. After a quick potty break, we sat down to eat at the lodge’s restaurant, Stagecoach Dining Room. I ordered the beef stew with frybread while Joe ordered the Navajo Taco. He said it was better than the one he had at the El Tovar for lunch yesterday. My stew was OK.

Everyone eating lunch

Following lunch, we had about 20 minutes to enjoy the Trading Post and museum. After that, Rosie, a Navajo, picked us up in her 20-person modified pickup to drive us through parts of Monument Valley. Rosie was an awesome tour guide with a GREAT dry sense of humor which, according to Chris and Mike, is a rarity amongst Navajos.

Chris: Excuse me, can you hear me?
Rosie (on microphone): No, I cannot hear you!

Yay Rosie!

Monument Valley is comprised of several dozen rock formations, many of which are named after the animals they resemble. The Valley has also been used as a backdrop for several filming locations, including Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, Thelma and Louise, Back to the Future III and Marlboro and Chevy commercials.

Lots of beautiful rock formations (L to R: West Mitten, East Mitten, and Merrick Buttes)

From a distance, it’s hard to tell how huge they really are

Or maybe they’re not (wink)

Chris & Mike…the best Adventure Guides in the world!

Aren’t we cute?

Looking through “The Window”

This Navajo lets you sit on his horse for picture-taking for $2.00

I’m such a tourist. But for $2, its a cute picture

After an hour or so, we boarded the motor coach again to begin the 2nd half of our LONG bus ride. On the way, Mike and Chris pointed out small towns and interesting sites and offered us the opportunity to briefly stop and take pictures of “the Forrest Gump road”.

And I wasn’t the only one to do it!

We stopped at an A&W in Landing, UT, which, although tiny, was still loads bigger than anything we had seen all day; they even had a traffic light!

I finally managed to take a short nap on the bus and by the time I woke up, we were almost there. About 20 minutes after passing through the town of Moab, we were there.

The Red Cliffs Lodge is a working ranch with horses, 250 head of cattle and their own hay production. Adjacent to the ranch is their Castle Creek Winery, which is the largest winery in Utah.

The view from our front door, looking towards the main building

The Castle Creek Winery’s vineyard

The view from the back of the main building

Our room was simply gorgeous, with a cathedral ceiling, kitchenette and Castle Creek gurgling in our backyard. I told Joe we can come back here whenever he wanted (grin).

Our room

Dinner was a group affair in one of the private dining rooms. It was a “spaghetti western” of sorts, with salad and rolls to start, then penne pasta with Alfredo or marinara sauce, chicken breasts, meatballs and vegetarian lasagna as choices for the buffet-style main course. Dessert was a mango sorbet.

Eating dinner

We went back to our rooms after dinner and, after a quick shower and some ‘net surfing, we went to bed.

Southwest Splendor ’07: Grand Canyon

We woke up at a luxurious 5:30am (compared to yesterday’s 5am, 5:30am is pretty luxurious) for a breakfast buffet between 6:30am and 7:45am. Breakfast at the Canyon Star Restaurant was pretty nasty – powdered eggs, fried potatoes, dry pancakes, greasy sausage, French toast, biscuits and gravy, hot and cold cereal, doughnuts, English muffins, toast, fresh fruit and hard bagels.

Outside the hotel

Front lobby of our hotel

Looking towards the restaurant

Robin our guide today works for Xanterra, which is the management company for the National Parks Association. He’s been working at the Grand Canyon for over 20 years and gave us a lot of information about the canyon itself and the trees, plants, animals and birds in the area. He had an awesome sense of humor.

Shot of Robin. He cut himself shaving this morning

We left the hotel at 8am and our first stop was at Yaki Point, about 20 or 30 minutes to the east. We spent about 45 minutes taking pictures from this beautiful lookout area.

Me at Yaki Point

Beautiful scenery

Joe at Yaki Point

You just can’t take a bad picture here!

Help! Help!

WOW

Our second stop was at Lipin Point, about 15 minutes down the road. Again, the views were just breathtaking and we spent about 45 minutes here.

Joe at Lipin Point

Lovely view

Awesome

One of our Adventure Guides, Chris

Just gets better and better

Me at Lipin Point

Incredible!

Our third stop of the say was the Watchtower at Desert View. Built in 1932, it was designed by artist Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and acts as an observation station and rest stop for Grand Canyon visitors but also brings about a better understanding of the American Indian and his life in the past and present times. We spent about an hour there, enjoying the tower and the views from it. On yeah, we enjoyed its gift shop too…but I probably liked that more than Joe did (grin). The top of the tower is 70 feet above the ground and is the highest point on the South Rim, 7,522 feet above sea level.

Watchtower at a distance

A closer view, with Joe

View from the Watchtower

Another view

And yet another view

An interesting way to view the canyon

Inside the Watchtower

Taking a picture of Chris taking a group picture

Sharon & Joe being Sharonesque at Watchtower

After dropping Robin off, Tom drove us to the Angel Bright Hotel at noon. We had 3 hours to ourselves, which included lunch and, with lots and lots of reminders about safety, hiking into the canyon for a while.

We decided to have lunch at the El Tovar Hotel, which was built in 1905. It was a very rustic-looking building. We enjoyed lunch with Ed and Diane, who are from Bucks County PA. I had a vegetarian sandwich on 12 grain bread while Joe had a Navajo Taco, which was ground meat, lettuce, tomato and beans on frybread. Mine was pretty good and Joe said his was OK.

The El Tovar

After lunch, the four of us decided to go hiking down the Bright Angel trail. The rule of thumb for hiking in the canyon is to allow twice as much time to go up as it takes to come down, so we started walking at 1:30pm and turned around at 2pm. The views were just amazing.

The Colorado River can be seen in this shot

Pteroglyphs on he side of Bright Angel Trail.

People on the same trail as us

Yup…amazing views

I love this…we caught up with a little boy on the trail who was playing with his Game Boy!

The beauty just never ends!

You can ride a mule down to the bottom too. Here is mule poop.

Holes in the rock formation

It didn’t take the expected 60 minutes to walk back up so we were able to catch some time for ice cream and shopping.

Tom, Mike and Chris picked us up at the Bright Angel Hotel at 3pm to get back to the Grand. At 3:20pm, a representative from the Grand Canyon Helicopter tour picked 10 of us up and drove us to the local airport. After briefing us about helicopter safety and procedures, we boarded our ‘copters around 4pm (Each ‘copter held 7 people, including the pilot. Our copter was us, Janet and H.(enry) and a couple from Germany). Out copter followed a path along the North Rim and lasted about 50 min.

The helicopters

View from the helicopter

Just great!

Joe took pictures while I took video

Some of the leaves on the trees were already changing

Not bad, huh?

I love this place

Gorgeous!

We were driven back to our hotel around 5pm and the Tom picked us up at 5:15 so we could see the 6:13pm sunset at the rim, just behind the El Tovar.

Looking east as the sun was setting

Roughly the same shot, not long afterwards. The colors are ever-changing

The actual sunset

Joe and I during the sunset

We all loaded back on the bus at 6:30pm and, since dinner was on our own, we made a group decision to eat at We Cook Pizza and Pasta, a local place in town. We shared a large cheese pie with Ed and Diane. The pizza was OK…no better or worse than Florida pizza.

After dinner, we broke up into several groups. Some went to the local Imax theater to see the Grand Canyon movie they offered (Chris and Mike had complimentary tickets for all of us) but Joe and I went back to the hotel and called it an early night, going to sleep by 9:30pm.

Southwest Splendor ’07: Sedona to Grand Canyon

Our wake-up call this morning was at an ungodly 5am but since we needed to have our bags packed and ready to be loaded onto the bus by 7am, it was a necessary evil. 5am…god help me. I usually wouldn’t be going to bed until 2am!

We left our packed bags in the vestibule of our room (so Adventures by Disney could pick them up and drive them to our next hotel) and met at the Meditation Room for breakfast. This morning’s buffet meal included scrambled eggs, cheese-seasoned breakfast potatoes, French toast, bacon, sausage, yogurt, cold cereal, a selection of pastries, bread and fruit.

After going back to the room to do some last-minute packing, we loaded onto the bus and drove about 15 minutes to our first stop of the day, Red Rock State Park, located in Sedona. We made a quick pit stop near the entrance of the park because there weren’t enough facilities for tour groups inside the park itself, then drove to the Visitors Center.

Pat was our volunteer naturalist who explained everything we saw while on our hike and she expertly pointed out the different trees, brush, flowers, animals and insects we came across. We hiked for about an hour or an hour and a half and, when we reached the top of the formation we has climbed, hiked back down. The views were just amazing.

Red Rock formation in the distance

Riparian: ..rih-PAIR-ee-uhn; ry-PAIR-ee-uhn.., adjective: Of or pertaining to the bank of a river or stream.

Hiking along…

We got some terrific views!

Joe and I

More great views

All of the guys

All of the ladies

House of Apache Fire used to be a residence. It was at the top of the hiking trail we climbed

Experimental ecology with wilderness poop!

Chris in front of the 150-175y/o Wedding Tree (he’s getting married on Oct. 25th)

After re-boarding the bus, we drove a short distance to a food and shopping village called Tlaquepaque. Lunch was on our own, so 6 of us shared a table at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill, a sandwich, salad and pizza place that makes its own beer. Joe had a bratwurst sandwich while I had a salad of turkey, ham, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese, sprouts, grilled zucchini and squash. The food was good…nothing spectacular, but after dinner last night, ANYTHING would pale in comparison.

Oak Creek Pub as seen from the outside

After lunch we had about an hour for shopping until meeting back at the bus. Tlaqupaque is themed like a Mexican village and what weren’t restaurants were lots of one of a kind shops and artsy fartsy stores. Interesting to look at for a little while but overall not really our style or the things that we (read: “I”) liked were a little too pricey and/or we couldn’t figure out a place to put them.

Tlaquepaque

We were more interested in “How Sweet It Is,” the ice cream and candy shop Mike and Chris recommended because their ice cream was supposed to be fantastic (it was. Joe’s root beer float was good too) and they supposedly sold chocolate covered insects but as it turned out, they didn’t carry them anymore. I guess eating one of those is an adventure I won’t get to take after all (grin).

We loaded back onto the bus at 1:15pm and from that point on it was a 2 hour drive to the Grand Canyon, Chris and Mike pointed out various sites along the way, including Moss Slide, a bald eagle nest and driving a short distance down Route 66. They got a tentative list of who wanted to partake in which extracurricular activities tomorrow so they could make advanced reservations for us. They also kept us entertained by playing a Disney’s True Life Adventure DVD that was taped in the area in the early 1950’s but it was still a LONG ride and I think most of us snoozed for at least part of the trip.

It was a long, long long…

…long, long, long trip

We made a quick stop at our next home base, The Grand Hotel, to drop Mike off to get all of the luggage and rooms situated, while Chris and Tom gave us a special treat and brought us to the Grand Canyon for an hour or two, even though it wasn’t on our roster of events for today. Some of us had never seen the Grand Canyon and some of us had, but it didn’t matter…the first view is just amazingly breathtaking.

After an hour that went by entirely too quickly, we hopped back on the bus and back to the hotel. As soon as we stepped foot inside the lobby, a flood of memories came rushing back to me, since Joe and I, as well as his parents and Steve, had lunch in this hotel when we did a Las Vegas-to-Grand Canyon puddle jumper tour about 6 years ago. The lobby was beautifully done and our room, although definitely older, was clean and spacious. An added bonus of being on the top floor of the hotel was the cathedral ceiling and skylight in our room, which made it much more light and airy.

After taking time to unpack and rest for a little while, we met downstairs for our dinner buffet at the hotel’s restaurant, the Canyon Star Restaurant.

The meal included chicken breasts, beef brisket, ribs, beans, potatoes, corn bread (it was in season!), corn on the cob, potato salad and vanilla ice cream for dessert. The food was OK…not great, but it didn’t suck, either. The entertainment, on the other hand, wasn’t something we found to be super interesting. The singing cowboy was OK but the Native American singer/drummer and dancers, although very talented at what they did, kinda struck us more towards “pass the hat tourist entertainment,” which really isn’t our style. Not that they were bad; just not something we appreciated very much.

We were finished with dinner by 8ish and, with given a choice of seeing the Grand Canyon film at the local Imax or calling it an early night, we opted for the latter (with my influence…I’ve only gotten about 6 hours of sleep each night and would like to try to get a decent nights’ sleep tonight, especially with a 6:30am breakfast tomorrow morning). With thoughts of tomorrow’s evening of Grand Canyon-based activities, we settled in for the evening.

Southwest Splendor ’07: Exploring Sedona

We woke up at 6am and after getting ready for the day, walked around the property of our hotel for a little while.

Front of the hotel

View from the back of the hotel

Joe in front of Oak Creek, which runs parallel to the hotel property

After exploring, we met everyone for a buffet breakfast of eggs Benedict, breakfast potatoes, sausage, bacon, yogurt, pastries, breads, fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, coffee, loose teas and juices.

After a brief return to our rooms, we all met up outside the hotel lobby to begin our jeep tour of rock formations. Our friend Jack, plus 2 other cowboys named Taz and Rock drove us in 3 jeeps from the Red Rock Jeep Tour into the Sedona rock formations. We made a few stops for some picture-taking spots, as well as at an abandoned moonshiners’ cabin. All along, the guys taught us about the local trees, cactus, plants and snakes.

The 4WD vehicles they used for the tour

Sedona red rock formation

Rock, Joe, Jack, Me, Taz

Joe and I with rock formations in the background

All of us

Now when you pick a pawpaw or a prickly pear….

Ruins of the Van Deren (moonshiners’) cabin

Take paradise and put up a parking lot (or in this case, a golf course behind the Van Deren cabin)

Our next stop was the Sedona Heritage Museum, which included a red rock Historic Landmark home and apple packing shed, as well as examples of period equipment and artifacts. They also served our lunch here, which included salad, sandwich, chips, a cookie and bottled water. Jack and Rock entertained us with demonstrations of the life of cowboys – focusing on their clothing, equipment, and working with horses and steers.

After lunch we broke up into two groups to work on local arts and crafts. Joe and I had the opportunity to make corn husk dolls and then Joe make a soap carving of a Pippi (grin).

Sharon and her hydrocephalic corn husk doll

Joe and his Thalidomide corn husk doll

The soap carvers at work

Tom the bus driver picked us up a few minutes before 2pm to bring us back to the hotel. Chris and Mike shmoozed with each couple to make sure that we all had plans for our “on our own time” that was scheduled to occur for the rest of the day. They had some really helpful ideas and suggestions for places to visit and where to eat.

Joe and I went back to our room to take a quick nap. Although Joe was quickly in Dreamland, I never actually quite fell asleep, but truly enjoyed the 90 minutes of relaxation in the super-comfy bed.

From 4:30pm until about 7:00pm, we partook in one of my favorite (and Joe’s least favorite) activities, shopping in crap shops. It actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been, because I have little interest in Native American art and even less in New Age crystal stuff, which excluded about 75% of the stores in the area. But give me a store that sells T-shirts, magnets and/or Christmas decorations and I’m like a kid in a candy store…while Joe is in hell. So we eventually settled on compromise of “Sharon will browse around the store while Joe stays outside, taking pictures of the rock formations.” It worked well for us (grin).

Crap shops with rock formations in the background

Sharon in her element: SHOPPING! And you know what I LOVE about the desert? No frizzy hair!

Red rocks during sunset

Joey after 2.5 hours of shopping

We headed back to the hotel around 7, dropped off our (ahem, mostly “my”) new treasures, and got one of he bellman guys to bring us to the restaurant we had chosen for dinner, Dahl & DiLuca. Joe had actually “found” the restaurant online while researching the trip ad it was a frontrunner for where we would eat on Sunday night. When Mike, one of our Adventure Guides recommended it when Joe asked for a place “where the locals eat” (as opposed to where they tell the tourists to eat), he was pretty sure it was a good bet. When we talked to the Concierge about it and she said we couldn’t do any better, he was even more sure. When we bumped into Mike and Chris AT the restaurant (this is their last Southwest Splendor tour of the season, so they were treating themselves), he KNEW it was going to be awesome. And was it ever! I ordered the Tortellini Lisetta (fresh-made tortellini with a Portobello cream sauce) with mushroom cream sauce while Joe got the shrimp and scallops in a Limoncello sauce and WOW, were they both AMAZING! We shared an Amaretto Creme Brulee for dessert and again, just totally incredible. Probably one of the best meals we have ever had. Joe loved the food so much that he even got a piece of carrot cake “to go” to settle those 3am hunger pangs (I told him to save me a mouthful of the frosting).

Our wake up call for Monday was for 5am, with a 7am pick-up of our luggage, so after Stuart picked us up and we went back to the hotel, we repacked our stuff, finished this blog, and called it a night.