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Part 2 - Trip Report: Sedona, Grand Canyon, Vegas

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
We had a really great morning. We got up at 5:30 AM and headed off to see the sun rise and hopefully some hot air balloons. As we were starting toward the airport, a balloon truck passed us driving in the opposite direction. John spotted it and did a quick U-turn to chase it. We thought we lost it as we got caught by a red light but we managed to catch up. We followed the truck to a balloon launch site inside of Red Rock State Park. We parked on the side of the road and headed over to the rocks.

There were 5 balloons in total. We watched and photographed as they filled the balloons and sent them off into the pink sky. They took off away from the red rocks, but we still got some great photos close up and far away. The time flew by. John is funny - he says that he gets a “rush” when taking photos. I think I have him addicted. Just two short months ago he would get aggravated with me for spending so my time with my camera. This morning I waited in the car for about 10 minutes while he photographed flowers.

After the balloon adventure we drove to a wildlife viewing area but didn’t spot anything. John got coffee at the Starbucks in Safeway. For breakfast I had the usual while John had leftover fajitas.

I dropped John off at the bike place, took a few photos of the Sedona sign, bought John a “Bike and Bean” baseball cap as a surprise for his Christmas stocking and headed back to the room to clean up and pack. The place was disastrous!! , I don’t know how we made such a mess. I stopped to get some trash bags from the housecleaners who were cleaning out the one bedroom downstairs. Our unit is so much nicer. The one bedroom is okay but the living area and kitchen were a lot smaller.

John was back by 10:30 AM. He was hot, tired and out of water. He said that the ride was incredible with great views. He saw a crater that was 70 x 80 feet. He did not have any life threatening experiences this time but said that if I had watched him, I would have tried to ban him from biking. He did run across a hiking group and the man had a knife and gun similar to the one that the guy in the Starbucks line had on a few days ago. We think that it’s a gimmick for the touring company. It only cost him $23.00 for the bike rental and $4.00 for a great map at this bike place (he forgets the name but its right near the pizza place where we ate the other night – we think it is “Mountain Bike Heaven”). The Bike & Bean rental was $40.00.

When he returned home we ate all the leftover food for lunch – pasta, sauce, onions, peppers, basil & cheese. It was pretty good. We packed up and sadly said goodbye to Sedona. On the way out John took me to see the sink hole. It was unbelievable – about a 10 minute walk in on mostly flat ground. There were giant chunks of earth in the hole. The old trail headed right over the where there is now a sink hole – I hope no one got hurt.

We headed up towards the Grand Canyon via Rt 89 through Flagstaff to Rt 64. This is the more scenic route and less congested. We stopped at the Flagstaff airport, told a little white lie that the car had been stalling (in reality it was a little scary because it was so small and didn’t like hills) and traded it in for a mini van.

We drove through Flagstaff without stopping. It was like being on Route 1 in Massachusetts. We passed two of every fast food restaurant that exists in America, maybe even three. I am sure there must be a good part of Flagstaff but we didn’t see it. There were two exciting things about our journey. We got to drive on Route 66 and John got to see a train. Actually we saw two trains passing each other from opposite directions. We drove next to one for quite awhile. This was the highlight of John’s day.

The landscape changed quickly. It was lunar like in appearance. We passed lots of roadside stands, one which advertised jewelry by “friendly Indians”. For the most part we were in the middle of nowhere. In the distance we could see a mountain range that was a pretty pinkish color. The telephone lines seemed to string on forever.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon at 3:30 PM or so. From this entrance we were about 25 miles from our hotel. After paying the $25.00 entrance fee (good for a week) we headed to the Watchtower (right at the entrance). This is a 4 level tower and is the highest viewing point. The view was incredible. It went on for miles. It is indescribable and a picture can’t capture what we saw – lots of colors and ranges in height. In the gift shop we learned that the Canyon is 10,000 square miles. The tower itself was unique. The middle was open so that you could look from ceiling to basement. The walls were covered with colorful Indian paintings. There was a telescope on the 4th floor that read, “Focus your camera near the hole and take a picture”. The hole was the size of a dime. I think they did this as a joke to see how many stupid tourists would try it (yes, I tried).

There was a book in the gift shop that outlined all the deaths at the Grand Canyon. It was very thick.

We next stopped at Lipan Point. John got a bit too close to the edge for my liking – we made a pact that he had to stay five feet from the edge (at least while I was looking). Although there is some fencing most of the area is unprotected. The view was great – unobstructed views of some rapids (bring binoculars).

The next stop was Moran Point (named after a landscape painter). As I was exiting the car, there was a giant sized bird on the car hood next to me. He was evil looking. John had to go scare him away before I could exit the car. Here we were able to climb down on some rocks. The view was beautiful (as were all the others).

We then stopped at Grandview Point – home to an old hotel which closed in the early 1900’s. In the 1900’s travel to the hotel consisted of a 12 hour stage coach ride from Flagstaff (it took us less than 2 hours from Flagstaff). There was a sign there that a 24 year old girl who had completed the Boston Marathon in less than three hours died here in 2004 from dehydration. She left for a hike with 1.5 liters of water, an apple and two energy bars. She got lost and didn’t have a map. I am glad that we are going on a guided hike.

As we arrived into the hotel area we noticed two deer on the railroad tracks. We stopped to take photos. They didn’t seem to be afraid of people.

We checked into the Maswik Hotel and got a room in Willow #6927. It’s nice – a very large bed and a rustic look. It’s the only hotel away from the rim, but it was less than a five minute walk to get to the rim. We immediately headed off to catch the shuttle bus to sunset (no cars allowed). We headed to Hopi Point and just made the last shuttle bus by minutes. The light was perfect – unfortunately we were on the bus during the perfect picture taking light. We met three women from Salem, Lynnfield and Peabody, MA.

We arrived at Hopi Point just in time to see the sunset. We missed the good light by seconds but got some great shots of the sun going down. The place was jam packed with people. It was the funniest thing – the second that the sun set, 99% of them jumped on the bus and headed back to the hotels. The best part of the sunset was after the sunset. The sky went purple/pink to pink to orange. It was beautiful but only about 10 of us saw it. I met a guy who had just vacationed in Lenox at the Kripali Center where the Ultrametabolism writer gives lectures (I just finished reading the book a few weeks ago).

We grabbed a shuttle back and walked to the room. We shared a bottle of Mondavi that I bought earlier then set off for our dinner reservations at the Tovar (the only fine dining around).

The walk to El Tovar was wonderful. It was a perfect fall evening and there were zillion of sparkling stars in the sky, more than I have ever seen. It was quite romantic. The El Tovar itself was a bit of a let down. The food was about the same quality as an Applebees but twice the price. Our waitress had the personality of a rock (or maybe even worse than a rock). The building was old (built in 1901) and looked as though it hadn’t been updated in quite awhile. John had Salmon (with rice that tasted grainy and bland), I had penne with lots of veggies. It was okay but I wouldn’t make a special trip. The wine was very good. Even though we skipped dessert our meal was $70 with tip (and I only left 10% which is very unlike me).

It took about 10 minutes to walk home. We were both beat. John was especially tired as he did a bike ride today and then did all the driving (girls aren’t allowed to drive…).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Today we were up at 6:30 AM and headed over to the hotel for breakfast. We had kind of gross food. I got a breakfast burrito and a bowl of oatmeal that could have fed a family of eight. After seeing my portions John got an English muffin, to eggs and a yogurt. We bought a bunch of water. As we were packing up our guide Madeline found us just as John was complaining that I bought too much. She informed us that we’d need it all.

We headed off in her car for the bus that would take us to the trail head. We were a bit concerned because she got a bit lost in both the car and in figuring out the bus system. She told us not to worry that she knew the trails well. We arrived at the trail head and started off at about 9:00 AM.

We hiked down for three miles to Skeleton Point on the Kaibab Trail. We passed some great scenery and different views. Parts of the hike down were a bit steep but it was all very safe on a wide dirt path. We passed a few groups of mules and lots of smelly mule poop on the trail. We drank lots of water, had snacks and heard some interesting facts about the area and Madeline’s life – she is currently undergoing treatments for breast cancer. Having just had chemo a few weeks ago and she was hiking. It was amazing (she is 56). She is divorced and has 2 kids in their 20’s. Her ex-husband was a priest. He did something bad (not pedophilia) but she didn’t specify what he did.

During our journey, we passed two other people with Red Sox hats. John had a bit of a coughing fit and a few weird chest pains as we started back up. We think he just got some red dust in his throat. The dust covered everything – legs, socks, cameras, face. We arrived back at the top at 2PM. We rested quite a bit on the way up there were lots of areas where it was like walking up steps – tough on the legs. Madeline warned us not to wash our red dust clothes with anything else. She said that the red acts as a dye and turns everything else red (we later found this to be very true!!)

On the way back we spotted a large Elk standing near the road. We stopped to take a few photos. Madeline dropped us off and we headed over to the campground to take showers for $1.50 each. We had no towels so we had to use our clothes. John wanted to go track down some condors. Condors are huge black birds with a wing span of 8+ feet. They are almost extinct as there are only about 40 or so left in the world. We headed over to the spot where they hang out in the afternoons near the El Tovar but didn’t see any. It was kind of a bummer because someone told us that there were lots of them flying around in that spot the prior afternoon.

I took a walk down to the gallery to see a photography exhibit of some Grand Canyon photos (about ½ mile past the Tovar) while John kept an eye out for birds. The photography exhibit was great – lots of great photos including lightening, rainbow and snow shots.

When I returned we continued to look for Condors. We met a guy who worked in the Condor program. The birds are all tagged and they are kept track of electronically. He talked to us for awhile about the program. He told us that two condor’s were nearby within a few miles. Some guy walked up and told us that he saw a bobcat just below us. We watched as the bobcat caught a squirrel and had it for dinner. He then started walking along the rim underneath us (about 10 to 20 feet away). We stalked him for over an hour and got some great photos. This was definitely one of our top five experiences thus far on our trip, as was today’s hike. I was having a bit of anxiety though because John was climbing on rocks very close to the edge to get bobcat photos.

We decided to stay for sunset since it was so late. We sat out on the El Tovar deck (which is right on the rim) and ordered Diet Cokes, artichoke dip and nachos. The food was pretty gross (worse than Applebees – soggy nachos and the spinach tasted like it came from a can) but we were hungry. We then took a bunch of sunset photos. The sunset was incredible – lots more pink than last night.

We headed off around 7 PM to Hualapai for tomorrow’s river raft ride. We were both very tired. John did very well driving. It is on historic Route 66. We arrived at exactly 9 PM. When we arrived we found that our reservation had been cancelled sometime in August. At first the receptionist said that she didn’t think that there were any rooms. She then said that she had one smoking room. After checking us in, she told us that they lock the door at 9:00 PM. We were soooooooo lucky. Five more minutes and we would have been sleeping in the mini van. There’s nothing else around here for miles and miles.

The room doesn’t smell like smoke but it’s pretty yucky. The sheets are really old and a grayish white. I found a black hair on my pillow and another on my sheet. The hotel is like a bad Holiday Inn but it’s a place to sleep. This is going to be something to tell stories about later. The train runs about 300 yards behind the hotel. We had been in the room for only 20 minutes and four trains passed. It’s going to be a long night!!

Thursday, September 14, 2006
It was like a scene from a bad movie. The train drove by every 15 to 20 minutes blowing its horn for 30 seconds the entire night. Neither of us slept at all. We headed to the breakfast buffet at 7:00 AM and ate a nice breakfast filled with transfat and saturated fat. After breakfast we noticed the sign at the front desk that warned of the approaching train every 15 to 20 minutes and offered ear plugs.

After breakfast we loaded the big yellow school bus and headed down a bumpy dirt road for the hour ride to the boat launch. Despite John’s lack of sleep he was only a little cynical. We had a really good laugh about how the last 12 hours had gone. John had me in tears I was laughing so hard as he recounted the events. Given the events so far we were a bit worried about the raft ride.

We didn’t need to be. It was a great experience. We were assigned to raft # 5 with a couple from Ohio (who had matching flip flops – they were nice but a bit dorky) and with a couple originally from San Francisco who had just moved to Vegas. They owned a travel adventure company. They were really nice and interesting.

We headed downstream on our motorized raft with our 24 year old Indian guide, Randy. We hit a bunch of rapids (class 3 & 4) during the first 30 minute. The water was cold (45 degrees) but the air was warm so it was fun. We made a stop at a waterfall. We had to hike up using ropes and ladders (not easy in flip flops) but it was well worth it – John stood under it for a quick shower. It was nice – all I had was a throw away camera though 

Soon we stopped for lunch. We had a really large sub with turkey, ham and bacon – very dry (and unhealthy). After lunch we continued down the river just floating. The rapids were done. The views of the west canyon were really beautiful. The river was brown because of all the silt that it carries. At one point we got stuck in a sand bar. We all piled out of the raft and helped push it to a deeper section. We got stuck in a thunder/lightening storm for a few minutes (which scares me) but it passed over quickly. Overall we got a great day it was rainy at some points, overcast and cloudy with some periods of sunshine. It was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. John was a bit cold in his tee shirt and cute red bathing suit (or do I mean he was a fashion disaster). I brought a raincoat so I stayed pretty warm.

As we exited the raft, John was standing in line for the porta potty. A woman went in ahead of him. A few seconds later a helicopter flew directly over the porta potty. The door flew open. The woman stood up and tried to pull her shirt down to hide herself. John and the woman were both very embarrassed.

We took a helicopter out of the canyon. The ride lasted about 5 minutes but it was really great seeing the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon from above. No camera though  I got to sit in the front seat of the helicopter. It was awesome.

We had to wait at the gift shop for the rest of our group. While there we grabbed a brochure about Grand Canyon West. An Indian guy came up to us grabbed our brochure and signed it without telling us who he was. I asked him if he was famous. He responded that he was. It turns out that his father is the chief. He is the guy in the brochure picture (and also has his picture on the tour buses. He told us that they are building a skywalk that will be opening soon. It’s going to be an all glass skywalk that extends 4,000 feet over the Canyon (the Sears Tower is only 1,450 feet high).

We had a 2 ½ hour bus ride back to Peach Springs mostly on dirt roads. John was a bit cranky but overall he did well. We did stop for a bathroom break about ½ way – females behind the bushes and men behind the bus. There was a group on the bus traveling with the “elder hostel”. I have to given them credit for going down the river. Two of the women were in their 80’s. They rafted, took the helicopter and peed behind a bush. It was amazing. I hope I can do that when I am their age!! I felt bad for one of them. When she stopped to pee she took her pants completely off and then had a hard time getting them back on.

On the ride home we passed a Texas Longhorn lying in the road and we saw a road runner.

We arrived home around 6 PM. I had a glass of wine (the stuff we brought with us). The Reservation is dry since there is a real problem with alcoholism. Many of the Indians are obese and there is a diabetes issue. Their expected lifespan is 58 years old. It’s really sad.

The hotel had an Indian band in the lobby. They were cute.

We ate in the hotel restaurant (our only choice). The food was actually excellent and only cost us $34. We split beef flautas with spicy salsa. John had pork chops and I had spaghetti with a meat sauce made with celery, onions & tomato and garlic bread. We also had salads with good dressing. It’s the best meal that we’ve had in a few days.

I did some laundry ($1 wash/.50 dry), we both checked e-mail on the computer in the hotel lobby, we watched some TV, took Benedryl, inserted ear plugs and headed off to bed (at 8 PM). Overall we had a great day.

Friday, September 15, 2006
We slept like babies last night. The drugs and earplugs worked wonderfully.

We headed out for breakfast. This time we skipped the buffet and selected unhealthy menu items. We had Texas French Toast (mine with strawberries and cool whip) plus John had eggs and I had oatmeal. The French Toast was yummy!! We then packed up and headed out for our next adventure.

Our first stop was a few miles away. The Hackberry General Store on Route 66 (the original route across America) was very cool. The outside had old gas pumps, old cars and Route 66 memorabilia. The inside had more of the same with a men’s bathroom decorated floor to ceiling with girly posters. We bought a magnet, postcard and a genuine Route 66 “Route Beer” and took a bunch of photos.

We continued on to the Hoover Dam. It took about two hours. Along the way we saw varied gas prices from $2.49 to $2.79. Our drive was mostly through desert with lots of brush, a few towns here and there and brown mountains in the distance. It was a pretty windy day.

At the Hoover Dam we walked down separately (we were fighting again because a group of motorcycles cut in front of John – instead of slowing down he tailgated them – he felt if he ran them over it was their fault for cutting him off – I felt that it didn’t matter who cut who off that he shouldn’t risk our lives by tailgating). Anyway once we made it to the visitor’s center (about ½ mile walk) we hooked up again and went through the tour. It was pretty fascinating. The dam was huge. The water level from Lake Mead was pretty low so we didn’t see any water shooting out of the dam. They did a pretty good job of explaining the history of the dam and how it was built during the depression to stimulate the economy. It was finished two years ahead of schedule (unlike the Big Dig).

We headed on to Vegas and checked into the Venetian. The hotel is incredible. Our suite is like a small condo and nicely decorated. It took us awhile to even find the room the place is so big. We grabbed a few beers from the mini bar while we waited for the luggage to be delivered. Then we headed off to the Canyon Ranch Spa on the 4th floor for lunch. John had the Ahi Tuna and I had a Chicken Burrito. I got to have ice tea with Stevia which I was very excited about since I had diverted back to Diet Coke over the last few days. We both had yummy crème brulee and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Total with tip was about $65.00.

We walked around our hotel a bit and browsed through the shops. The area is modeled after St. Mark’s Square in Venice (minus the pigeons). We watched the gondolas ride through the canal for a bit.

We then walked the strip. We were able to buy alcohol and walk the strip with our drinks. I think John was a bit overwhelmed – too many people and too much stimulation. He had an espresso martini to take the edge off. I had a few beers. Our ultimate destination was Mandalay Bay because John liked the way that the name sounded so he wanted to see it. It was a long walk. We ended up taking a free tram part of the way. We stopped at a Mexican place at Mandalay Bay and had really bad margaritas and yucky chips and salsa served by a female bartender with a bad attitude. We thought about going to the shark show but $20 a person was too much.

We took a tram over to the Luxor. After having much better margaritas and chips and salsa there (we could have gotten giant size ones in a yard glass – scary!!), we went to the jet fighter IMAX show. It was pretty cool. It did make John a bit sad though because the kid who it focused on became a jet fighter because his grandfather was a jet fighter. He said he was ashamed of his father and grandfather. He thinks I am lucky for having such terrific grandparents and father. I pointed out to him that at least he is changing destiny by being better than his ancestors.

We headed back to our hotel via cab. The ride with tip cost about $16.00. It was 10:30 PM so we hung around for 30 minutes or so going up and down escalators waiting for the 11:00 PM volcano eruption at the Mirage. We sat for awhile and people watched. It is scary that these people are typical Americans – most and fat and slobby. We saw very few “beautiful people”. The volcano show was very lame. We headed off to bed.

The bed was very comfortable. I did learn on this vacation that John is truly my soul mate. He is the only other person that I ever met that has to have his feet untucked when he sleeps. I am not sure why it took me 3 ½ years to notice – probably because our feet are always untucked before we get into bed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006
We both slept well. We got up around 8:30 AM and headed back to Canyon Ranch for breakfast. It cost us about $50 but it was really good. I had fruit, yogurt and granola then I had a breakfast chili rellano (green pepper stuffed with eggs, cheese topped with salsa served on top of polenta). John had a breakfast scramble with home fries and oatmeal.

I returned to the room to pack and shower while John and his Nano headed out to explore the Winn Hotel. I was a bit worried because at 11:00 AM and he hadn’t returned yet. I called and he told me that he got a bit “lost” in the Ferrari store. He said that the hotel was amazing - better than the Venetian (including a really beautiful 18-hole golf course). There was a $10 admission to the Ferrari store but well worth it (according to John).

He got back at 11:15 AM. We then had to pack up and check out of our room.

We headed down to Canyon Ranch and paid the $35.00 guest fee (for both since we got ½ price by staying at the Venetian). We went to a lecture on Metabolism. We were the only two attending. It was pretty high level so we really didn’t learn much. The girl who gave the lecture had only been there six weeks so I think we knew more about Canyon Ranch that she did…. After the lecture we worked out on the treadmill. I watched a Melissa Gilbert Lifetime movie while John checked out the news. It turns out that a big crane fell over the road at the Hoover Dam blocking the whole road yesterday about two hours after we departed. No one was hurt but the road was completely shut down in both directions. They also shut down the visitor center.

We then went to a meditation class. It was a bit different, but it was good. We had lunch at the Canyon Ranch Café (our 3rd meal there). We got the same waitress all three times. She was really sweet. We shared a hummus appetizer. I got a salad and chicken lettuce wrap. John got a Bison Burger. For dessert I had warm Pecan Pie and John had a Peanut Butter ice cream Banana Split.

After lunch, we took a walk over to the Winn Hotel. It was incredible. Later we heard that they spent two billion on the place. John then headed off to lift weights. I went and used the sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room. We met up again at 7:00 PM. Both of us felt so much better. It was a very nice relaxing day. I think John likes Las Vegas now.

We headed off to a bar/restaurant in the Venetian had some amazing bruschetta and pizza bites (don’t remember the name of the place). I had two glasses of wine and John had two beers. The bartender was a nice guy. He gave us some of the area statistics. One thing that was surprising is that prostitution is legal in Nevada. It is illegal in the county where Vegas lies but through some technicality they are able to advertise prostitution anyway.

It was time to head off to the airport. We were sad that our vacation was ending. We left way too early. It literally took 5 minutes to get to the rental car place, 5 minutes to get to the airport terminal and 5 minutes to get through security. We had 2 ½ hours to kill. We bought Christmas ornaments and read the paper. I found a cute frog ornament licking a gingerbread man for the basket I am making Lianne for Christmas. I also got a Vegas Beanie Baby (I am an addict). We flew out at 11:30 PM (John let me have the window seat – a first!!) and connected in Dallas around 8:00 AM Sunday morning. We both slept the entire way. We finally made it to Boston around 10:00 AM. We got our luggage and found the car in Chelsea. Parking for the nine days cost us $134.00.

We arrived home to a big pile of mail including our tortoise and hare shirts for the ½ marathon relay that we are doing in a few weeks. John put wires on the frames for our Topsfield Fair photos. We drove over and dropped them off (Butterfly and Sunflower/Bee). It was very exciting. After a quick stop at Bertuccis for an unhealthy meal we went to Rockler so that John could buy school supplies. For the rest of the day I relaxed and John headed up to see his kids.

Prologue: A few days later I received my credit card statement. Budget had charged us $1,700 for the rental car!!! It cost an extra $1,200 for dropping off in Vegas instead of Phoenix. After a few days of fighting with them, they agreed to issue a $750 credit – so we still paid $450 for the change in drop off!