Monday, September 2, 2013

A Long Trip Home

Sometime before dinner on Wednesday, I realized that everywhere we could stop overnight on our way home was going to be HOT. And having taken a shower, rinsed off all the caked sweat and dirt, I wasn't feeling so inclined to camp in the desert again. The North Rim isn't anywhere near as hot as everything we needed to drive through on the way back.

So, I pulled out my secret plan, devised just for this eventuality. And using the very iffy internet connection at the campground general store, I booked a hotel room in Las Vegas. Smunch was ridiculously excited. He couldn't wait to see The Strip. Somewhere along the line, he'd heard about the Luxor and was dying to see the beam of light shooting from the top. Um. O.K.

Smunch also wanted to see the Hoover Dam. And you know what? We don't just drive out to Vegas all the time, so I decided we'd make time for that. It involved driving through Las Vegas, driving to the dam and then driving back to Vegas. We arrived at Hoover Dam around 3:30 in the afternoon, which was just enough time to take a tour. And when it's 110 outside, a tour is really kinda nice. There's a lot of security at the dam and most of the tour revolves around taking a big, gold elevator up and down. Ooh, a big tube!

The generator room:
And after learning a lot about how the dam was built and what it does, we were thrust back out into the heat, where the kids whined mercilessly as I took a few photos.
And because I'm a mean mommy, I bought them ice cream, but then I also stopped the van and made them walk across the bridge in the previous picture with me so I could take one last photo.
I admit that feats of engineering don't impress me as much as feats of nature. But this was something my son was totally psyched about. Mam complained a lot that she didn't want to go visit a dam, but even she seemed pretty fascinated with the whole thing. Turned out to be a good choice.

Of course, Mam really just wanted to get to the hotel and play in the pool. And we did that too. As soon as we checked in, the kids changed into their suits (Mam had packed only half of mine and I didn't think anyone would appreciate my showing up in half a suit) and we found the one pool that was open until 8pm. I let the kids play as I dangled my feet in until 7:45 and then made them get dressed so we could eat some dinner and they could see what they wanted to see before we all crashed for the night. There were lots of "neat" things we didn't see. But they saw one end of the strip at least. Fortunately, we stayed at the same end as the Luxor.

It was hard to tell because we were all very tired, but Vegas seemed to overwhelm the kids pretty quickly. As soon as I asked, they were ready to go back to the hotel room...where Mam quickly asked if she could get in bed (of course!). I turned around to ask if she had brushed her teeth, but she was already fast asleep.

I learned that while Vegas is an interesting curiousity and a convenient place to stop, it's not my kind of place. I do not belong there. I may go back, but I'll just be passing through.

Anxious to get home before dinnertime, we got up early Friday morning, ate a quick breakfast at the most expensive Starbucks on the planet and hit the road.

Back in California, we were all getting bored with the driving and Smunch needed a bathroom. We pulled off where there was a sign advertising the Calico ghost town and although I'd read some things about this place, I made the critical error of asking the kids if they were interested in going to see it. Of course they were! And I wasn't about the dampen their enthusiasm, even though it rapidly became clear that this was going to be the most expensive bathroom stop EVER.

It cost plenty of money to get in, so I figured we might as well make the most of it. But it turned out that making the most of it certainly wasn't the same thing as getting one's money's worth. The latter was pretty much impossible. Every "attraction" in the place cost more money. So the kids and I took a little walk in the old silver mine.
We explored old dwellings on the dusty, hot hillside for free. That was kinda cool, actually.
And after we took in some views of the town that Knotts Berry Farm rebuilt as a tourist trap, we waited in the scorching heat for a short little ride on the train.
I bought three overpriced sodas and we were back on the road again.

We arrived home just in time to meet the extended family for dinner, find out who the kids' teachers would be for 4th and 6th grade this year and who their classmates would be. They had just 4 days left before the first day of school...

At least they had something to write about!

Along the Edge

Wednesday was the last day of our stay at the Grand Canyon. Gosh, how sad. There are always more things to do than we accomplish, but I felt like we'd done pretty well. The only thing missing was a cool wildlife sighting. To be honest, the kids' favorite wildlife sighting was a pair of bald eagles. And they were very neat, perched in a tree...just an hour from home. Dangit. We saw a deer on the road as we came back fro our long downhill/uphill hike on Tuesday. But we've all seen lots of deer. It was pretty and all. We saw a kangaroo rat or two in the desert and a lot of pretty cool moths. But aside from a Kaibab squirrel in the campground, the Grand Canyon hadn't been a big animal-sighting experience.
photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So, we had pretty modest hopes when we set out on the Widforss Trail on Wednesday morning. I'd left this trail for the last day because it was a hike along the rim and relatively easy. After Tuesday's hike, maybe we all needed that. I would have loved to hike to the end of this trail. I'm sure there are some neat sunsets from there...but a 10-mile hike was out of the kids' range that day, for sure. Instead, we kept it to the 5-mile round trip on the nature trail.
This hike had lots of meadow-y areas full of wildflowers. And a lovely view of the Transept Canyon, that changed very little as we walked.
Turns out that Smunch was the wildlife spotter on this trip. Not only was he the one who spotted the bald eagles, but he saw this guy too:
I would have missed him. And that would have been a bummer. He was a very willing photo subject, this Mountain Short-horned Lizard. Cool.
After an hour or so, we passed the last marker on the nature trail and sat down at a rocky outcropping for a snack before heading back. I also tried to take a little timer photo of the three of us. Guess I should have tried to take it a little closer up!
And, naturally, in line with the grace I'd exhibited so far, I banged a knee on a rock as I tried to zip over to join the kids. It caused a great big bruise that was a nice addition to my still-painful impaled shin.

After a nice long rest at the outcropping, we headed back up the trail.
I had big plans for the cream and showers! There's nothing quite like the first shower after (or even during) a camping trip. I might not have bothered with the showers, but we had dinner reservations at the Grand Canyon Lodge and I thought they might appreiciate it if we didn't stink. That was probably good thinking since we also left a tad late for our reservations and then found the entire parking lot packed. We had to park down the road and walk the half mile the Lodge as fast as we could. They'd already written us off, but we had no problem getting a nice table. We cleaned up pretty well, I think.
It was fun to treat ourselves to a dinner with a great view, even if the food was nothing spectacular.
I even treated the kids to dessert, which I oh-so-generously mooched off them. Dinner took a little longer than I'd thought, so the sun started setting while we were still waiting for dessert. I had the kids take the cameras outside and take some more pretty pictures...pretty pictures that are nearly indistinguishable from many of the other pretty pictures we took from the lodge.

As soon as we paid the bill, we wandered back out to Bright Angel Point for the rest of the sunset. Mam took off to go climb rocks and I missed much of the sunset while trying to find her, but eventually, we all reconnected...
you know, after they figured out how to get down!

It would have been nice to stay at the lodge longer, but not anticipating trouble parking, we had no flashlight (actually, I think we did, but I didn't think it worked!) to use to get back to the mommymobile, way up the road. We walked back as fast as we could and it was still very near dark when we arrived.

And then we set about packing up, so we could leave first thing in the morning...