Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Word of Warning

I've given up trying to get the formatting to actually *work* on the next posting so please forgive the odd word (or even letter(s)...) hanging off the side of a picture. After editing it multiple times and seeing no changes...I officially give up. Happy reading!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why I Love to Travel Off Season....

We hit the road early on Saturday morning, packed for our 12 day adventure. We headed to the Amtrak station and caught the train to Portland. We splurged on one of those little rooms (emphasis on little) for our short (but early morning ride down to the city). ES managed to get some sleep, but I was enjoying the view as the sun was coming up and as we got further into the Gorge. The cloud cover was light and we were treated to a wonderful view of Mt. Hood.

I always had this romantic idea of train travel, perhaps fostered by the trains of Europe. They are faster, on time, and configured a little differently which encourages you to interact with you fellow passengers.

We got to Portland early Saturday morning and went to visit Grammy. We'd hope she'd be doing a bit better, but she seemed about the same. She's still got her fiery spirit, so this gives us hope that she'll ultimately get better. We headed over to visit the 4 B's and celebrate KB's birthday. We had a great time visiting with everyone and playing with the boys, who are getting so big!
We flew down to Albuquerque on Sunday morning. The flight was bad. Lots of turbulence the flight attendant asking me multiple times "are you alright" bad. For those who know me, I hate flying. I look it as a necessary means to an end. I love to travel more. This is the only way/reason I can get on the plane. For most of the flight, everyone (including the flight attendants) were stuck in their seats...Thankfully, it was a 2.5 hour flight direct to Albuquerque.
1st stop was Dion's. Pizza so good you'd think you were back in New York. Yes, that good. And I've lived in New York (although it was technically upstate...). After a quick stop, we headed over to the 4 S'. All the family had gathered for dinner. It was great to visit with everyone.

Being from a small family, I remember the first time I met even a small fraction of ES' family. My sister-in-law threw us an engagement party. Six members of my family graciously came, including my aunt, cousin (her son), brother and his wife, and my parents. ES had over 50 people from his family there. And these were just the ones that were close by (within a couple hours by car). I was a bit overwhelmed at first, but then felt the welcoming spirit of everyone and felt right at home. I even met one of ES' cousins and we reminisced about ES and his aunt (aunt "Fab") and her eggs (she made great eggs!).

We set the GPS for the Grand Canyon and headed out for Arizona early Monday. We passed the Continental Divide along the way. It was a long day of driving and it was beautiful watching the topography change from pinon and mesquite/high desert (5000 feet) and no hills to even higher (~7000-8000 feet) pine and mountains. Mt Taylor and Mt Humphries (in NM and AZ respectively) we visible for good portions of the drive. We decided to take the scenic route up to the Grand Canyon, driving the final leg through the Navajo Indian Reservation.
We stopped at the Little Colorado River Gorge. There is dawned on me that perhaps someone who isn't good with heights shouldn't have necessarily thought the Grand Canyon was a good idea...Hmmm..I took a nice high vantage point a little back (ok -- a lot) from the edge. ES took the camera and plunked down to to get a glimpse of what we would soon see in the Park.

Finally -- almost 7 hours later -- we made it. The views (even from my chicken little vantage point a good bit of the time) were amazing. My camera didn't do justice to either the colors or the sheer magnitude of what is lying in front of you. We drove from the east to west through the main road of the park, and didn't have any trouble finding parking. We don't think we'd want to come visit in the summer.
The parking lots weren't all that big and it must just be a crazy crowded mess to even get on the shuttles (as our driver told us we'd have been lucky to get on as a standing passenger) and no pics of unobstructed views. We watched the sun go down, but clouds rolled in and it wasn't too dramatic. Still we were at the Grand Canyon so as sunsets go, I couldn't complain.

We stayed just outside the park. The resorts inside the park were poorly rated for what you paid (I love -- check it out for recommendations on where to stay, eat, what to do...). I found a hotel that had slightly less negative reviews than it's next closest competitor. Given however, that they have you as a captive audience (Flagstaff is over an hour to the south and when you're already tired to driving, it seems like hours away...), the service isn't exactly, well, great. It was HOT. When I say hot, I mean like so hot that you lay down on bed and just sweat hot. So hot that you feel like taking a cold shower every hour hot. Apparently, since it was still (according to the front desk -- "the depths of winter") in the off season, the heat is turned to a set point without individual control. I only made it worse when I turned on the "air" and set the thermostat at 65 and we left for dinner. Opps. We cranked open the windows and hoped for the best...
We decided to get up early and tour an area called Hermit's rest. We left the car along the shuttle route (Yavapi Point) where there was a small museum to explore. At one point, I'd stepped outside of museum up and sat down on the bench (ES was still inside taking pics) and just enjoyed the morning view in absolute quiet. Little wind and a few birds were the one things in the background. It was amazing.

Off to Hermit's Rest. This area is closed to private vehicles, so we took the shuttle. You can get on and off at will through out the loop. There were so few people at most of the locations, it was as if you had the park to yourself. The route terminated in an old cabin (aka Hermit's actual rest) with a little gift shop (of course) and a snack bar. After a quick coffee refuel sipped next to the cabin's large fireplace, we decided to catch the shuttle and head off on our next adventure -- Sedona.

We took a 2nd route out of the park for a different view and along the way encountered some interesting hotels, motels, kid-friendly play areas, etc from yester year. While there were many places where you could sleep in "authentic" concrete tepees/wigmans (most along the old Route 66), we stumbled across Bedrock. Yaba Dada Dooo.

We stopped at Camp Verde on our way to Sedona. Given that we purchased a National Park Pass, we decided to make the most of it. Montezuma's Castle is a preserved Indian cliff dwelling from about 1200. We walked around the park and were awed by this large dwelling built hundreds of feet into the side of the cliff wall.

ES and I like to stay in B&Bs. We enjoy chatting with the other couples and like the personal touch such an Inn affords. We stayed at a wonderful little place called The Inn at Canyon Villa. We had a nice little porch with a view of, what else, a red rock. Actually, it was pretty red rock. Breakfast is one our favorite parts of B&Bs as well. The first morning was fresh pineapple followed by the fluffiest of fluffy eggs with little potatoes. All items I don't normally eat, but they were really good. Our 2nd morning's breakfast consisted of broiled pair with candied almonds followed by lemon souffle pancakes with blueberry compote.

Our dinners were equally interesting, but not in a good way. We decided to get dressed up and have one nice dinner out (we'd been eating on the fast and cheap thus far...). We picked a Mediterannian Italian fusion restaurant, which is really just a nice way of saying hey we want to just make lots of different foods. I had a seafood pasta. The homemaid noodles were delicate and very flavorful. I saved the seafood for last, savoring my noodles. Unfortunately, by the time I'd gotten to the seafood, I was a bit disappointed. It was gritty. Like eating a dirt ball. However, given the events described below, I figured I'd be pressing my luck if I sent it back.....ES ordered a steak -- well done. I was joking with him that the chef will be insulted by such an order. He mentioned this to the waiter and the waiter said "oh no -- an insult is A1." To this I (I really did think ES and I sounded so over the top sarcastic there was no way he couldn't think were were joking....) I said "oh no my husband loves ketchup." ES added "an wor-chester-shire sauce too" -- making sure to pronouce all the syllables out quite well. The waiter joked and headed off. He came back with....yep...ketchup and worchestershire sauce. Strickenly we looked at him and said we were joking. We was like oh, I opened a can of ketchup and looked for 5 min for the worcheshire sauce. He even added he told his boss about the ketchup and got a little guff for it. Opps. We left him a nice tip and realized that perhaps were are just too good at being sarcastic.

We saw this sign in Sedona. We figured if people couldn't grasp this much of the obvious, then we were in real trouble.....
We took some lovely hikes up trails (there are litterly 100's of trail heads - including in residential areas -- that are open to the public) before it got too warm during the day. My favorite trail was the Mystic Trail. It was a short hike up (way up for my not used to the altitute up), but we were rewarded with a great view of the city. We stopped at The Chapel of the Rock, a chapel a nun helped design and build in the 60's. It provided a large vantage point of the city as well.

Red Rocks State Park provided some nice hikes as well. Not detered by the "There are rattlesnakes in this park" sign, we took a nice loop walk down through the desert and over Oak Creek (runs all through Sedona). We cursed ourselves for now bringing our binoculars, as there were lot of birds that we wanted to get a closer look at. We didn't see too much other wildlife, except for a stray coyote and my 1st glimpse of a road runner. Thankfully -- no snakes.

Airport Mesa provided another viewpoint of the north side of Sedona.

We ate lunch at a diner called the "Red Planet," complete with alien themes. We enjoyed our burgers under the visages of aliens. We mistook several of them for several celebrities....

We decided to take a drive up route 89A, a scenic view drive up north from Sedona (we'd taken the interstate from the Grand Canyon and bypassed this 2 lane road). We took a few stops along the drive, but mainly just enjoyed the view along the drive. We stopped back in Upper Sedona to do a little window shopping.

Grandma had some pretty good fudge in her shop....

We got up and ate breakfast with our fellow B&B stayers and headed out Thursday morning for the long drive back. It was a gorgeous day, where Mt Humphrey (13,000+ feet) was visibile, but unfortunately the wind kept getting higher and higher. By mid afternoon, we had 40-50 mph gusts.

Snow. Lots of snow near the base of the mountain as we drove back to NM.

We decided to stop at Petrified Forest/Painted Desert on the way back. The directions to the park took us along Rt 66 prior to the park entrace. The WigWam Motel, complete with cars from the 50's, still operates along this historic route.

We drove through a sandstorm on the way back to Alburquerque on Thursday night. We ate dinner with the 4 S'es at a yummy place called The Elephant Bar. The crispy chicken teryaki was really good.

We spent Friday down at the farm in Veguita with my FIL and MIL. We had a really nice visit and headed up to Belen for lunch. After a little lunch, we stayed and visited at the farm until dinner. We were invited up to the D's for dinner. They've got a wonderful view from their house, from which we've enjoyed many sunsets.

We spent Saturday morning down in Old Town Albuquerque puttering in the shops and picking up a few little presents for friends and family. We headed out to Rio Rancho to watch little MS^2 play soccer. Despite the high winds and really cold temps, we had fun. Brought back lots of soccer memories! Dinner was a Dion's...a treat

We had breakfast Sunday at Milly's Diner. KS treated BS and I to pedicures on Sunday. I haven't had one is so long. It took the pedicurists a bit longer with my toes than the others........We all gathered again for a big family dinner on Sunday night up at the 4S'.

ES and I headed up to Santa Fe and points east on Monday. Our original plans were to head out to Chaco Canyon, but it was raining/snowing and due to the poor road conditions (13+ miles of dirt roads into the Canyon) and the need for a 4-wheel drive, we've put this off until the next trip.

Snow up to Santa Fe

Lunch at the Shed - A Santa Fe local tradition

Pecos National Monument Ruins near Santa Fe

We spent our final day enjoying Albuquerque....A last look at the Sandias before we headed out.....set to return soon....