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Part 1 Trip Report: Sedona, Grand Cayon, Vegas

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Sedona, The Grand Canyon & Las Vegas

Friday, September 8, 2006
As usual I booked an early morning 6AM flight to Phoenix. John was not too happy about this and is hoping that when we get older we can book noontime flights versus loosing sleep. We rose at 2:30AM (John finished packing at 12:30AM) and headed to the airport at 3:00AM. We parked in Chelsea and arrived at the Northwest terminal at 4:30 AM. With the recent events in London we were advised to arrive two hours prior to flight departure (by Northwest personnel). When we arrived they were not even open yet. People were annoyed (including us). At 4:45 AM several ticket agents strolled out carrying breakfast. Five minutes later an alarm went off for a few seconds. The guy in front of us said loudly, “Break time!” it was pretty comical.

We flew through Minneapolis to Phoenix and slept for most of both flights. I did read a Reader’s Digest (John called me a geek). Halfway through the flight, John leaned over and said to me, “Have you ever thought about buying a house on a golf course?” The look on his face was priceless as I responded that I already owned a house on a golf course in Jackson. He sheepishly said, “Oh yeah.”

We had a quick non-nutritious breakfast in Minnesota. We arrived in Phoenix just before 11:00 AM, picked up our luggage and rental car (a Sebring convertible) and headed off. We stopped in a Quick Mart (in a scary area) and bought nuts, chocolate and diet cokes for lunch. So we had quite a nutritious day thus far. We headed off to Sedona which was 125 miles away via highway. It was a pretty day with lots of pinkish clouds.

We stopped at Montezuma’s Castle which was only a few miles off the exit past an Indian casino. It was very hot outside (90’s). We paid the $5.00 admission and headed to see the famed castle. It really was not a castle at all. It was a grouping of ancient cliff dwellings. It was an okay experience. You could only view from the outside it would have been more interesting to walk through them. There was a small museum and a park guide who seemed to be giving periodic lectures. We were too tired to wait for the lecture. We viewed Sycamore trees and Beaver Creek. John headed off a dirt path because he heard a noise and want to explore (perhaps a rattlesnake??). Luckily the creature departed before John arrived. We were exhausted and headed off the last few miles to Sedona. John admitted later that he closed his eyes a few times on a straightaway. Apparently girls are not allowed to drive no matter how tired the boy gets.

As we approached Sedona the red rocks came into view. Words can not accurately describe what we saw. They were 10 times more impressive than we ever imagined. The rocks tower into the sky. They are bright reddish brown and come in all shapes and sizes. This is one thing that everyone should see in their lifetime. Both of us are still amazed. I had to continuously remind John to watch the road instead of the rocks. Luckily we weren’t killed. The tour book actually discourages road biking as most drivers look at the rocks instead of the road and there is a small shoulder so you can be easily hit.

We found the Fairfield easily (we did a time share swap and the Fairfield was recommended by our friend Michelle Levesque). It’s in West Sedona a few miles away from the “Y” (the town center), a great location. The place is great. It’s a newer, well maintained property. We have a huge two bedroom (sleeps eight). It has washer/dryer, two baths, one with a Jacuzzi tub and a large kitchen, living room and dining area. The front desk staff was very pleasant. The condo is a bit larger than our townhouse in Jackson. It sleeps 8 (6 in beds and two on the coach).

We took a few hour catnap and then headed out to the airport to watch the sunset. The view was very nice. I did not get any great pictures as we forgot the tripod. After a bit we went grocery shopping at a fancy healthy grocery store. We attempted to go to an Italian place recommended by the concierge but there was and hour and 15 minute wait. We returned to the condo a few doors away and had chips, homemade (excellent) salsa and water rather than wait in the crowded lobby.

We headed back over to the Italian place (Dahl and DiLuca) at 8:00PM and they seated us immediately. It was on highway 89A, a one minute ride from the condo. The restaurant was nicely decorated with Italian and Southwestern décor. We each got a glass of red wine and split a polenta appetizer with sauce and cheese. The warm fresh bread was accompanied by a garlic basil sauce. John had a chicken/mushroom dish and I had linguine in a vodka sauce. We split Italian wedding cake for dessert. The meal was excellent and in the $90 range including tip. John finished up with coffee (and stole a bunch of sugars for his morning coffee).

After arriving back at the condo we immediately went to bed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006
I awoke at 5:15 AM and could not fall back to sleep. I had a breakfast of yogurt, berries and granola with tomato juice and an ice tea while I watched the sun rise. I watched a bit of “Sedona TV” where I learned that the rocks are red because they contain iron.

I finally woke John up at 6:15 AM by bouncing on him and telling him it was 7:00 AM. He was not happy but he got up and had a muffin. We headed off around 7:00 AM to Boyton Canyon trail #47. We first attempted to get a trail pass for our car. The front desk sent us to Safeway, who directed us to Triple K who then sent us to Giant’s who had them available. A weekly pass costs $15.00. When we arrived at the hiking trail later we found that we could have used cash or credit to purchase the pass solar powered booth at the trailhead.

While we were at Safeway John stopped at Starbucks. The guy in line behind him (early 60’s) had two holsters – one with a giant gun and the other with a giant knife. He told us that he doesn’t even need a permit as long as the weapons are not concealed. John asked me to remind him of this if he started to have one of his road rage episodes.

We initially got a bit lost as the trail was not marked as #47 on the road, the sign just read Boyton Canyon. We stopped at the Enchantment Resort to ask to assistance. It’s an upscale resort with prices starting at $500/night. We took a ride down a dirt road for a bit and watched three hot air balloons in the distance. We also spotted a hummingbird. We met some people with a Sedona trail book who confirmed the location of our hike.

When we arrived at Boyton Canyon we heard thunder in the distance so we did the short vista hike. It was an easy uphill climb about .5 miles long. When we reached the top John decided he was going to climb a red rock. He got stuck. Luckily another hiker helped him by offering a shoulder.

The views were incredible – red rocks as far as the eye could see, cactus, yellow flowers, trees and a bright red trail. Again words can not describe.

We returned to the car to use the restroom and have some snacks. There was a couple from Wisconsin that we chatted with for a bit. We then headed off on the Boyton trail as it appeared that the threat of rain had passed. The trail was a total of 5 miles – 2.5 in and 2.5 out. John was not happy that I was using my Ipod but I find exercise to be easier when I use it and I kept the volume low. It took us about 2 hours to hike in and 1.5 hours to hike out. For the most part the trail was pretty flat except for the last tenth of a mile.

The flora changed from desert to green New Hampshire like surroundings as we hiked. We passed the exterior of the Enchantment Resort (which is huge) then headed into the Canyon. We saw another hummingbird hovering a few feet away from us but both of us missed the photo. We saw several helicopters flying above. They looked tiny in comparison to the surrounding red rock landscape. I attempted to take a few photos but the helicopters were always behind a tree. There were quite a few red ant colonies. We also saw a colorful, very loud woodpecker. We could hear some Javalina’s (pig like creatures) but we couldn’t see them. When we arrived at the top we got some more scenic views and lots of rock piles. We met a group of people from Phoenix who were here for the day. One of the girls was originally from Rhode Island and a Red Sox fan (I was wearing a Sox hat).

We arrived back at the car starving and dehydrated (we were not smart enough to bring stuff with us as we thought it was a short flat hike). We drank water and had trail mix. We then lowered the top of the convertible and headed back to the hotel which was a few miles away. John ate last night’s leftovers while watching a Harrison Ford movie. I made Black Bean Soup and a Tomato Mozzarella Salad. We both took showers and then headed out for our next adventure (John’s addition: after a quick nap by Princess Linda of course).

Next we headed off to Tlaquepaque (pronounced Til-la-key-packy). We browsed through some art galleries and took some photos in this quaint open air market built to resemble a Mexican town. We watched some Mexican dancers mostly children dancing and swirling their colorful Mexican dresses. We bought a book called “The Insider’s Guide to Sedona” by Dennis Andres. It’s pretty informative.

Afterwards we found “Bike and Bean”, a bike shop John is interested in but they were already closed. They have a full scale topographical map showing the areas biking trails. After stopping at a Giant’s for wine and snacks we headed to Red Rock Crossing to view Cathedral Rock as the sun set. We were hoping for photos of it reflected in Oak Creek. It’s the most photographed place in Arizona. Unfortunately we arrived a bit late (the guide book says to arrive 20-40 minutes prior to sunset – there are only 10 minutes of good light). We got a few photos of Cathedral Rock in great light but did not find the creek in time. Instead of following the hiking trail we only needed to follow the road from the parking area down to a dead end (a few hundred yards), the creek was right below. We did see a wedding party. Part of the drive to Cathedral Rock was on a dirt road. The convertible didn’t do so well. Next time we need to rent a 4-wheel drive beefier vehicle. There are a few places that we won’t be able to visit with the car we have.

Again I had to remind John to watch the road versus the red rocks. I offered to drive so he could just look but I was informed that driving was a boy job.

Saving the wine for another day, we drove back in the dark (tough to see the road) and stopped at Pizza Picazzo. We tasted three different wines but none of them were very good so we opted for two draft Hefeweizens (a Bavarian beer pronounced Hef-ay-vite-zen). The food was excellent. John had a portabella mushroom baked with cheese and sun dried tomato on top of a bed of spinach with a balsamic dressing. We shared flatbread with baked brie, fruit and roasted garlic. We also had a small pizza (four large slices) with Spanish sausage, red pepper flakes, pepperocinis, peppers and onions. We sat at the bar. The place was pretty cute. Our meal with tip was $53.00.

While we waited for our food to be delivered I reviewed the Sedona guide. Skydiving is offered for $150. John has talked about doing this a number of times. I offered to pay if he wanted to try it out. He is a bit scared and is not sure if he is ready yet (secretly I am glad because I would be afraid that he’d kill himself via heart attack or defective parachute).

We headed home and went to bed around 9:00 PM so that we could rise early enough to enjoy the sunrise.

Sunday, September 10, 2006
We were both up at 5:10 AM today. It was sunny, hot in the 80’s all day. We had our usual breakfast, watched Sedona TV and then took off for our Pink Jeep Tour (I had pre-booked online and paid $157.00 for the two of us). We arrived a bit early so we got John a coffee and enjoyed the view. I bought a book called “The Ten Best Hikes in Sedona”, We had to return to the condo as John forgot his camera battery (somehow my fault – I gladly took the blame as John found my missing lens cap for my new $800 lens that I somehow lost yesterday – it was in the car lodged between the seat. It was a relief as I was very worried about ruining my lens).

We started the tour at 8:00 AM with our tour guide named Scott. We did the two hour Broken Arrow tour and were the only ones in the jeep. It was awesome to have the jeep to ourselves. The only bad thing was that we forgot the video camera – big bummer!! The tour guide was a really nice guy. He had lived in Sedona most of his life. His dad lives in Maine so he’s been back to Boston. He has one son with a second child on the way. He told us a great deal about the area.

The tour started on a bumpy dirt road. John sat in the front passenger seat and I sat in back. We stopped a few times and got out of the jeep to take photos and to view the scenery. It was incredible. We had a 360 degree view of the red rocks. Last night’s moon could still be fainting seen in the sky between some red rocks. We drove up and down cliffs and giant rocks. At one point the jeep was at a 50 degree tilt. We got some good photos of another jeep coming down the rocks. They should have a photographer standing there taking photos. They’d make a small fortune from people. Overall I felt very safe. Scott told us that they only have had three rollovers in 17 years which is pretty impressive since there has been six rollovers this summer by random drivers who attempted to drive out on their own. No one has ever died. It sounds like they have a pretty intensive training program.

When we returned, we browsed the shops in the area near the jeep place (Uptown Sedona). These were more like trinket/souvenir shops and time share con artists than the upscale shops we toured yesterday. Someone told us to stay away from the tourist information booths because they were really fronts for time share salespeople. They were so right!! We came across 5 or 6 of them just in the Uptown area. We did find a very nice photography gallery; we ate some candy and fudge and bought a red rock Christmas ornament.

We returned to the condo and had a lunch of tomato/mozzarella salad, chicken and bean soup. After lunch (and checking the Patriots score – they won) we headed down to Bike and Bean. John got a bike and headed off. I was a bit worried about him because there are some dangerous switchbacks with a 40 foot drop. He sometimes forgets that he is 43 (almost 44). I set out to hike the Bell Rock/Courthouse trail which was listed as an easy hike in the book I bought this morning. It was pretty flat with a few small uphill sections. The scenery was incredible. It was very hot out though. The trail was in the direct sunlight, unlike yesterday’s trail that was mostly in the shade. I was pretty hot and sweaty when I finished. It took me a little under 2 hours to complete the 4.5 mile loop. The trail was relatively easy to follow although there was a few occasions when I wasn’t sure if I was headed the right way.

While I was driving home, John called to say that he had “trashed” his bike and he was waiting for the bike shop guy to come pick him up. I stopped at the health food store and bought water, ice tea, chips and salsa (we had the salsa the other night, it was really good). I headed home to take a much needed shower and then went to get John at the bike shop.

John came home with completely red legs from the red rock sand. He said that if I saw where he rode today I would never let him rent a bike while we were in AZ again. He missed a turn that the bike shop guy had told him about twice (I was still present when the guy gave him a map and verbal directions). He ended up getting lost and was thrown over his handle bars (luckily into sand). He finally found the trail but at this point he was mad. He picked up the bike and threw it. He then swore at the bike shop guy for giving him bad directions (later he discovered that the issue was instead poor listening skills when I repeated the directions verbatim -“go left” – John went right). He then went on a very narrow path with a cliff on his side. He went down a steep incline with a turn at the end. He missed the turn and jumped off the bike. His bike slid down the hill a bit and ended up in a cactus. He came home with one cactus thorn in his leg. Luckily he didn’t do a header into the cactus!! Somehow he broke his chain and mangled the derailer. He had cell service and was able to call the bike shop. He walked to a road and the guy found him. They were going to make him pay for the bike but somehow they let him off since it was a $4.00 repair. Overall he said that he had a really fun day.

On the ride back to the condo we stopped at the Church of the Holy Cross. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright style church built by a woman into the side of two red rocks. It was pretty cool looking. We wandered inside, sat for a bit, then I lit three candles, one for Dad, Nana and Grampa. We then headed back to the condo and John took a quick shower.

Next we headed over to Cathedral Rock to try a second time to catch the famous reflection (it’s in all the postcards and art galleries). We arrived at 5:00 PM and had plenty of time until sunset. We walked across some stepping stones to get to the photo spot (a lady with a dog directed us – I don’t know if we would have figured it out on our own!!). There was an alternate parking lot where we could have parked and been on the correct side of the stream, oh well – stepping stones were more fun. We reached “the spot” which we shared with a man from Scottsdale and an older couple from Iowa. We spent about two hours photographing with them. We both agreed that this was the highlight of our vacation thus far. We brought wine, chips and salsa. I used the monopod and John used the tripod. The travel tripod is really short. John was quite innovative. He found a huge tree stump (it came up to his waist and was about as wide as two fire hydrants and was full of ants) and moved it about 15 feet to a perfect photo spot. He balanced his tripod for some perfect reflection photos. There was even a perfect place to hold his wine cup. We watched the light change, the clouds move in, the sun set and the rocks turn bright fire orange. There were two beautiful brides that stopped by for photos. John helped take photos for one of them. When we were finished I had more red rock dust on me than John had from bike riding.

John had a little bit too much wine and was a bit of a “d$#$head” on the way back to the car at a time when I had PMS. Needless to say we had our first big vacation fight. I had to drive home on a very dark, windy, unfamiliar road. It wasn’t pretty – we didn’t speak the entire way. We skipped dinner and headed back to the condo where we made up. We spent the evening eating more chips and salsa and finished the wine. I watched Lifetime in the bedroom and downloaded photos while he watched sports and news in the living room.

By the way - we continuously hear these very loud sounds, like a rattlesnake (but louder) or a hedge trimmer from outside of our window. The noise is so loud that John had to shut the window to block out the noise. It turns out that the noise is made by very tiny bugs (I forget the name).

Monday, September 11, 2006
We skipped sunrise today. John woke up at 5:00 AM but we opted to stay in bed. We lounged around a bit, watched the 911 five year remembrances on TV and had the usual breakfast and then headed to Jerome. It was an old mining town turned ghost town back in the mid-1900’s. Next the hippies took it over. At one point, the entire town including the mayor was arrested for growing marijuana. Today it’s filled with artists and gift shops. It was about a 30 minute ride from Sedona. As we approached we saw a giant sized “J” carved into the side of the mountain. The town was high up on the hilltop. The convertible doesn’t do well on hills.

The town was cute with lots of shops selling mostly western crafts. There were great views from above. There was a mountain road with great views but I was a bit scared of driving on the side of a cliff and made John turn around. We met a very nice couple from Australia who were visiting the US for five weeks. They had driven for hours on a dirt road before arriving in Jerome. They were excited to be back in civilization (not that Jerome is very big). We browsed a bit and had some really, really good fudge. John threw some coins in the “fountain for charity” – an outhouse with a “toss here” sign pointing towards the hole. He came close but missed.

We then headed to the “Ghost Town” just above Jerome. There was a $4.50 entry fee. It was basically a junk yard filled with old tools and cars and more old tools and trucks. It was okay but wouldn’t have been a big deal if we missed it.

We had reservations for lunch at the Enchantment Resort (you need a reservation to get through the gate). The place was very nice, surrounded by red rocks. We sat inside and had a great view. There were off and on showers from 1-3 so it rained a bit. The food was excellent. John had a few beers and I got a Prickly Pear Margarita. We shared chips served with salsa and guacamole. The chips were light and freshly cooked. The dips were homemade. John had a cheeseburger with garlic mayonnaise and fries. I had chicken fajitas in a southwestern marinade. The portions were large. After the meal we explored a bit and then headed over to Slide Rock State Park which is 6 miles from the Sedona “Y”.

The fee was $8.00 a carload up to 4 adults. This would be a great place to go it you had kids. There were lots of picnic tables, volleyball net and an area where the rocks form a natural slide down the river. We got some good photos of some kids sliding (it looked pretty cold) and of the numerous apple trees using the red rocks as a backdrop. I tried to con John into going in for a swim but he wasn’t interested in getting wet. The excitement of the day was John getting stabbed by a tiny cactus when he sat down on some grass to take a photo.

We headed back to the hotel stopping at the scenic overlook (near a bridge) on 89A and took some photos. We checked e-mail at the hotel then John headed off to check out a nearby bike shop.

While he was gone I changed our flight out of AZ so that we could depart from Vegas on the red eye (cost me 50,000 miles). I think John will be a bit freaked out (like he was in NYC) but the chances of us ever coming out here just to go to Vegas is pretty slim (John thinks that gamblers are all evil). We are staying at the Venetian and are hoping to stop at the Hoover Dam.

We left to the airport to watch the sunset. There were about 100 people there. The sunset was awesome. John got some really great photos (I thought I was the photography student???) – lots of pinks and purples. BTW – I forgot to mention – they have the John Tesh radio show here, my favorite!!! We think that the scenic overlook area at the airport (about 1 mile before the airport on top of a large easy to climb red rock might have been a better viewing sport – unobstructed by trees like our location).

John had chicken then we went to the Heartline Café for apps and dessert. The food was again incredible. We sat at the bar and had red wine, spinach salad with pecans and sun dried tomato vinaigrette, a gorgonzola torte and flourless chocolate cake.

We were waited on by Jay (I think that was his name). He was a nice guy who chatted with us through the entire meal. He was from Newport, RI but had lived in Boston & Newton and worked in Killington at the Wobbly Barn, the site of our first kiss!! Total was $72.00 including tip (meal tax is 9.5%!!)

John plans to do a mountain bike ride in the morning. I just called to see if I could do a hot air balloon ride as someone at the sunset said they had used Red Rock Balloons and it was incredible but they are already booked .

We headed off to bed (after watching Oprah of course – awesome that Oprah is on at 9:00 PM here).

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