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Archive for the ‘Leg 4’ Category

Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 – 6 weeks behind reality.

The Four Corners, located on the Navajo Nation Tribal Lands, is the area of the U.S. where the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico all come together at one point. This means that you can actually be in four different states at the same time. When we discussed the possibility of taking the Year Long Adventure with our then 8 year-old daughter, a visit here was one of the selling points.  She loved the idea of being in four states at once, so a planned trip here helped close the deal.

In the late afternoon on May 19, we left Mesa Verde National Park outside Cortez, Colorado, during a snowstorm.  We were in the home stretch of Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure, and this is the part of the trip where the actual value of upcoming stops is REALLY scrutinized. The trip from Cortez to the Four Corners Monument is about 50 miles, and unfortunately, not in the direction of home. Mom and Dad explained the situation and without hesitation, the kids unanimously voted to go, even though it would add 2 hours to the drive.  We headed toward Four Corners through this very desolate part of the country, enjoying the incredible rock formations lining the road along the way.

When we were almost there, we noticed that a big thunderstorm was beginning to form in our path.  We pulled up to Four Corners right around 5:00 and paid $15 entry fee.  Most of the vendors were hurriedly packing up due to suddenly strong winds and the ominous skies above.

Luckily, because of the time and the rapidly approaching storm, there was not a big crowd.  We only had to wait for one other group to take their pictures before we had our turn. Everyone took a turn at being in four states at once, photos were snapped, and we RAN back to the car.  Seconds later, the huge thunderstorm hit.

Apparently, we sacrificed the quality of the shot in the interest of speed. Oops.

A girl's dream being realized: four states at once!

We were only at the Four Corners for about four minutes, but it was great to check another item off the YLA Bucket List. It was a much more exciting visit than if we had to wait an hour in 100 degree heat for the same experience, and in the end, our 9 year old left with a giant smile.  Priceless!

The rainbow after the storm.

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 4-6 weeks behind reality.

A thousand years ago a group of people lived in Colorado.  They sought protection from their enemies and the weather in outcroppings in the sides of mountains.  They built very well planned out villages that had hundreds of residents.  Flash forward 1000 years and their buildings and villages are still here today at Mesa Verde National Park.

Pueblo cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde NP

Mom had this place on her Year Long Adventure Bucket List from the early planning stages. Leg 4 had us returning to Colorado on our trip through the southwest, so a stop through Cortez was on the itinerary.

We left Moab, Utah, with temperatures in the mid-40s and rain.  Cortez is about a 2 hour drive from Moab, and it continued to rain off and on through the trip.  We reached the entrance gate to the park to find that the main park attractions were still about 20 miles away up a winding mountain road.  It was cloudy, but not raining at the time.

As we made our way up the winding road towards the Visitor Center, the temperature kept dropping.  Soon we started to notice strange white flakes falling from the sky.  We were shocked to find ourselves driving through snow on May 19.  As we arrived at the Visitor Center, we found ourselves in a full on snow storm.

We spent around 15 minutes in the Visitor Center and returned outside to find that the snow had waned.  With the break in the snow, we decided to head down one of the self-guided trails that leads to a Pueblo Cliff Dwelling site.  Some of the more difficult trails require visitors to obtain a free tour ticket to enter.

View of cliff dwellings from the head of the trail

The ¼ mile trail that led to the site that was an easy hike. The site was really cool, and our kids really enjoyed the visit.  The highlight was getting to climb down a ladder into one of the underground rooms of the dwelling.  The site is in excellent condition, so it was really hard to believe that people had lived here 1000 years ago.

Close up look at Pueblo Cliff Dwellings. Is that the sun?

Climbing down into the kiva, an underground ceremonial chamber

Inside the kiva

Once we made our way back up the trail, the wet weather moved back into the area.  The kids quickly finished their Junior Ranger books, and we left.  Our voyage back down the mountain road took us through what we Texans would call a “blizzard”.

Driving back down the mountain in an intense snowstorm

We were two cars in front of a snowplow (on May 19!)  It was a bit scary (ok, terrifying) to be driving on a curvy, mountain road with limited visibility, but since you are reading this, you know that we made it down safely.

Snowplow in rear view mirror.

Where is the edge?

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 – 6 weeks behind reality.

We left Bryce Canyon en route to Arches National Park, one of the “must-see” places on our list when we began planning the Year Long Adventure.  The drive between the two parks was spectacular and varied.  Holding our breath, we traveled on roads with names like “Devil’s Backbone” across high mountain passes, trying to ignore the steep drop offs on both sides.  Dad was able to commemorate his 40th birthday by standing in a field of snow on a mountaintop, a very unique opportunity for a Native Texan born in mid-May.

Celebrating 40 in Utah

The winding road took us through two more National Parks:  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park.  The rock formations were amazing, and the kids were inspired to name each feature they saw.   We arrived in Moab in the early evening, just in time for a quick stop at the Arches Visitor Center before it closed.

We're here!

We gathered Junior Ranger Books and park information so we could plan the best way to use our time the next day.  We did not have a hotel reservation at this point, so we rode down the main drag of Moab, reading hotel reviews on Trip Advisor on our iPhone.  Dad decided to approach the La Quinta Inn Moab with his freshly honed negotiating skills to seek a deal or upgrade, and ended up getting the two room suite for only slightly more than the price of the regular room.  Once you go “suite”, it is hard to go back.  Happy Birthday, Dad!!

We awoke Wednesday morning, hit the breakfast room, and stopped at a grocery store in Moab to get picnic supplies for lunch.  This is an important step when visiting Arches because there is no food sold within the park.  Our excitement started to wane as we approached the park entrance and raindrops began to fall on the windshield.  A quick check of the outside temperature on the dashboard display informed us that it was 48 degrees outside.  Things did not look good for a day at a park that involves a lot of hiking.

Rain, rain, go away!

We took the road into the park as heavier rain started to fall at a faster pace.  Most of the major geologic formations lie along the main park road, a loop with stops at the best viewpoints.  Because there were no Ranger tours available, Mom ran through the rain to purchase a driving tour guidebook.   As we drove, we learned about the geological processes which create these incredible fin, window, and arch formations (simple explanation here), making them even more amazing to behold.

By the time we reached the parking lot for the first big attractions, “Double Arch” and “Turret Arch”, the rain had almost vanished.   Decked out in our rain gear, we quickly hiked the short trail to “Double Arch”.  We were able to climb up directly under the arch and were amazed at the viewpoint.  The size of the immense arches is truly amazing when you are standing close to them.

"Double Arch" from a distance

Underneath the massive "Double Arch"

We then crossed the road for a quick climb to “Turret Arch” and another photo opportunity.  By the time we reached the car, the rain had started to pick up again.  Sadly, this would be the pattern for the rest of the day.

View from under "Turret Arch"

The next hour was spent driving through the rain, looking at the incredible landscapes, and stopping at viewpoints.

Sightseeing in the rain

Taking pictures proved difficult through droplet covered windows and/or driving rain.  It was only raining lightly when we reached the viewpoint for the signature arch of the park, “Delicate Arch”.

Delicate Arch looms in the distance. To hike or not to hike? That is the question.

The viewpoint is still a mile hike from the actual arch, but we decided not to make the trek for a closer look.  This was one of the best decisions we made on the trip as 10 minutes later, the torrential rains came.

Back in the car, we made our way to the end of the main road where the park campsites are located and found some truly hearty souls sitting under their tents in the heavy rain.  The storm broke long enough for Dad and the girls to go search for one last arch, and they were rewarded with a pretty cool site.

The hike to the secret arch

One last arch

On our way back out of the park, the rain stopped a final time, allowing for a quick walk around Balanced Rock.  This is an amazing site where a boulder the size of several school buses balances atop a rock spire.  It is also a great trick photo opportunity.

Balanced Rock

Don't knock it over!

Arches National Park is a beautiful park, but not the best place to visit in the rain.  Moab was a cool little town with a laid back feel to it.  Hopefully we will get the chance to return some day during the dry season to try our hand at more hiking and perhaps river rafting at one of the many nearby sites.

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 – 6 weeks behind reality.

We left Zion National Park and headed east toward Bryce Canyon National Park.  The two hour drive between the parks has some incredible scenery.  We arrived at Bryce Canyon City after dark and were fortunate to find a place to stay without having reservations.  There are only a couple of hotels in town, and our first choice had no vacancies.  Advance reservations would probably be a good idea if you are planning to stay in Bryce Canyon City.  The Best Western Ruby Inn met our needs perfectly.

The next morning, we awoke to 37 degree temperatures and snow flurries – on May 17!  Thankfully Mom thought to pack our cold weather clothes on this leg of our Year Long Adventure.  We got bundled up, gassed up the van, and headed off in search of the mysterious hoodoos.

The NPS website for Bryce Canyon National Park describes it as follows: “Bryce Canyon is, in the strictest sense of the word, UNIQUE – nowhere is anything else even similar!”  This is very accurate.  We did not know much about Bryce Canyon before visiting other than the fact that it was famous for hoodoos.  Hoodoos are rock spire formations that look similar to the stalagmites that are normally found in caves.  What we found was breathtaking, and unfortunately, our pictures cannot do justice to the actual views.  The drives between the canyon lookouts take you through heavily wooded areas that are home to many different species of wildlife.  We saw many deer on our drive through the park.

During our time in the park, we learned how erosion changes the rock to form fins, windows, arches, and hoodoos.  For a simple explanation of the process and the differences between the formations, check here.

Fins

Window

We made stops at many of the canyon lookout areas and were amazed at the incredible landscape.  The park road is an 18 mile one-way trip out to Rainbow Point.  At Rainbow Point, the temperatures had dropped below freezing due to the higher elevation.  Seeing hoodoos dusted with snow was something we did not expect to see in May.

Snow-dusted hoodoos

Our trip to Bryce Canyon was short, but spectacular.  We would highly recommend a visit here, especially in warmer temperatures, as hiking trails and camping sites are available.

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 4-6 weeks behind reality.

After our exodus from Las Vegas, we headed to Utah to enjoy the many natural wonders that the state has to offer.  Our first stop was St. George, where we caught our breath and relaxed for a day before heading on to Zion National Park.

Enjoying a much needed day off in St. George, Utah

Zion National Park was the first established National Park in the state of Utah.  The thing that sets Zion apart from many of the other natural canyons of the American Southwest is the entrance point.  At Zion, the entrance is at the bottom, so your view point is looking up from the floor of the canyon instead of down into it.  This different perspective creates some stunning views.

We arrived at the park on a Monday morning during a school week and still had to park in the overflow parking lot.  This made us very glad that we chose not to come on Sunday when the visitor count surely would have been much higher.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center for information and our Junior Ranger Books, we headed to the shuttle bus.  Zion utilizes a shuttle bus to get visitors to all of the points of interest in the park.  They highly encourage use of the shuttle and in our opinion, it really is a better way to view the park than driving your own car.  It must have also cut down on auto accidents from drivers veering into oncoming cars as they viewed the scenery.

We rode the shuttle to all of stops, including the historic lodge, where we purchased food and enjoyed a picnic on the grounds.  We hiked many of the easier trails and greatly enjoyed the beauty of the park.  Photographs cannot begin to do it justice.

Two of our favorite stops were The Hanging Gardens at Weeping Rock and the hike to The Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava.

Weeping Rock is a natural grotto where tiny waterfalls drip down the side of the sheer cliff walls and from a natural overhang.  This water source allows all sorts of plant life to grow directly out of the rock walls.  This hike was one of the “now THIS is really cool” moments of our Adventure.

View from the Weeping Gardens

Weeping Gardens

The hike to The Narrows is a mile long hike along the side of the Virgin River, culminating in a hiking trail which continues through the river when the water levels are low.  The river was high and flowing swiftly during our visit due to the spring snow melt, so the Narrows would for another month.  The scenery along the river is something that all visitors to the park should make the time to see.

Water falling from several stories up

Trail to the Narrows along the Virgin River

Virgin River, Zion NP

Zion National Park gets a “Thumbs Up – Must See” rating from the Year Long Adventure Crew, and we hope to visit here again in the future.

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to everyday life upon our return, the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 weeks behind real time.

After leaving our hearts in San Francisco, we spent the night in Barstow, California.  Ask our kids, and they’ll tell you that one of the coolest things about Leg 4 was visiting most of the cities mentioned in “Route 66″.  Then they inevitably will break into song – the Depeche Mode version.   They were a little disappointed that San Bernadino was not on our itinerary, but we promised visits to Chicago, St. Louis, Joplin, and Oklahoma City on Leg 5.

Las Vegas was up next.  Dad lived in Vegas for a couple of years back in the early 90s, so he was eager to play tour guide for the rest of the family.

We stopped at Hoover Dam for a quick tour, and found that all of that concrete can get really hot.   Unfortunately, we could not take the behind-the-scenes Dam Tour because the minimum age was 8, but the kids were still amazed at the size and scope of the dam.  Mom was more amazed at the size and scope of the crowds.

After our trip to the Dam, we headed to The Sunset Station Hotel & Casino.  We chose to stay off the Strip in the suburb of Henderson in hopes of avoiding the crowds.

Upon arrival, we almost passed out when we saw the Check-in line of several hundred people wrapping all around the casino. Luckily, it turned out to be a line to pick up tickets for the two upcoming concerts at the hotel.  The acts were Merle Haggard and Dokken w/Quiet Riot, so it was an incredibly diverse group of people sharing the same line.

Once we found the correct line, Dad checked in and surprised Mom by getting an extra room adjoining the room that we had reserved.  We had stayed in a couple of suites on this leg of our adventure, and once Mom “goes suite”,  it can be hard going back.  She was a little surprised (but VERY grateful for the extra space), and Dad assured her that he would pay for it with his winnings at the craps table. (And he did).

The rooms were very nice, and during our short stay, we took advantage of many of the resort amenities Sunset Station had to offer.

After unpacking, the kids enjoyed their first trip to a Las Vegas Buffet and were completely enamored with the seemingly endless Dessert Buffet.  Dad recounted a story of how his grandfather used to get 3 desserts at buffets and eat them under the glare of his wife, who watched his diet like a hawk.  The girls honored their Great-Grandfather’s memory by getting at least 3 desserts each.

The next morning, we headed down to the famous Las Vegas strip, and found the masses that we had been avoiding.  We explored the MGM Grand, New York-New York, The Excalibur, and the Luxor.  The kids enjoyed the sights and sounds that Vegas offers, but not the smells.

Excalibur

New York, New York

Sphinx at the Luxor

The intense, dry heat drove us back to our hotel for some much welcomed air-conditioning.  Later that evening, we had one of the best meals of the trip at the Capri Italian Ristorante located inside Sunset Station.  After dinner entertainment included some great people-watching from our window as concert-goers arrived to see Merle Haggard play outdoors.

After another cheap Vegas breakfast the next morning, we challenged the kids to a game of bowling in the on-site bowling alley.

On our way out of town, we made one final visit to the Strip.  We needed to stop at Caesar’s Palace to verify that it was “pager friendly” and to tour the Forum Shops.

Dick Butkus signing books at Forum Shops

Reviewing our Greek Mythology

Our trip to Las Vegas was short but sweet.  Next up – Utah!

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After weather complications prevented us from seeing the Giant Sequoias, we made an unscheduled stop in San Francisco on Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure.  This was Mom & Dad’s third trip to SF, and we were excited to get the chance to show the kids the city where we spent both our honeymoon and ten year wedding anniversary.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge

Our first stop was north of the city, where we experienced the beauty of Muir Woods National Monument (read about it here).

The amazing Redwoods of Muir Woods

We contemplated staying our one night outside the city, but we instead decided to stay in the heart of the Fisherman’s Wharf area at the Best Western Tuscan Inn.  The cost to stay here was a little more than outside the city, but the prime location allowed us to walk to most of the places we wanted to see on our visit.

After checking into the hotel, we walked four blocks to Pier 39 to see the Sea Lions who gather on the floating docks.  The kids really enjoyed the antics and call of the sea lions despite the cold and windy evening.

We then walked down the wharf and ate dinner at Boudin Bakery.  Their specialty is sourdough bread, and they bake loaves in some amazing animal shapes.

Turtles, crabs, and bears...oh my!

Bread alligator

After some excellent seafood, we took a taxi up to Nob Hill to show the kids the Renaissance Stanford Court hotel where we spent our honeymoon back in 1997 and our anniversary in 2007.

Nob Hill is only a few blocks away from Chinatown.  From the hotel, we walked down a street so steep that it is hard to believe.  We did a little souvenir shopping and stopped for a  photo op on Clay Street.

At sunset, we caught the closest trolley car for a ride back down to the wharf.  This was another big hit with the kids.

Riding the Trolley

The next morning we walked a few blocks over to Lombard Street.  This is the famous “crookedest street in the world” built with switchbacks to allow cars to traverse the extremely steep slope.

Crooked street in the world

Preparing to walk back down

It was a rough hike up the hill to make it to the top of the street, but the view was worth it.  A quick walk back to the hotel and our 24 hours in San Francisco were done.  The kids really enjoyed the trip, and it was fun for Mom and Dad to share one of our favorite places with them, if only for a short time.

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