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Posts Tagged ‘Route 66’

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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On our way to visit two more natural wonders, we were “getting our kicks on Route 66” between Albuquerque, NM, and Holbrook, AZ.  We spent the night in Holbrook, NM, a town off 1-40 and the Old Historic Route 66 which was a happening stop in the 1960s as American families traveled West.

Our first stop the next morning was at Petrified Forest National Park located about 20 miles east of Holbrook.  This park is home to one of the largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood in the world and also the “Painted Desert”.

In Year Long Adventure tradition, we began our visit to the park at the north end Visitor Center watching the introductory movie and picking up Junior Ranger Books for the kids.  There is a 28 mile road that travels north to south through the park, taking you through scenery that at times makes you feel like you could be on another planet.  Centuries of uplift and erosion have created a badlands topography of many mesas towering over acres of flat grasslands.  These mesas are made up of many layers of different colored rocks and minerals that have created the “Painted Desert”.  Many colors cascade across the landscape as the sun moves across the horizon.

In the center of the park are the ruins of Pueblo Puerco, an ancient settlement which once contained up to 100 rooms.  A short walking trail leads among the ruins where some petroglyphs can be seen.

Toward the southern end of the park is where the large areas of petrified wood are found.  Thousands of years ago, this area of the country was a tropical rain forest with huge trees up to 200 feet tall.   Over time and through a chemical change that was difficult to understand, many of these trees that had fallen were petrified.  Many of these trees have become colorful explosions of quartz and crystals.  At many points along the drive, the Park Service has created walking trails which wind among these huge pieces of the petrified wood.   At one point we found a tree lying next to the path that was still over 40 feet long.

It is against the law to take anything from the park, and they explain at the visitor center that over 1 ton of petrified wood and rocks are stolen from the park each month.  Luckily for those wanting a souvenir,  there are about a dozen rock shops outside the park that will sell you any kind of rock, crystal, or petrified wood that you could want. (Not sure where they get their inventory since it is illegal to take it out of the park.)

Despite the extreme conditions, wildlife does populate the park.  As we arrived at the South Visitor Center, we were greeted by two Pronghorn on top of one of the mesas. 

We toured the Rainbow Forest Fossil Museum inside where the kids got some great one-on-one instruction from Ranger Michael, who then swore them in as proud Junior Rangers.  The kids were thrilled when he let them hold a 200 million year-old fossilized tooth!

This park is truly amazing, and much different than we expected.  If you ever find yourself in Eastern Arizona, you really should make a point to visit.

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