Saturday, April 10, 2010

The SW Trip

This tour of the southwest was sort of a continuation of our trip in September but also included some different stops and we had Pete with us this time, which was terrific.

I am prone to over-scheduling, so we only spent a day in each place, except for the Grand Canyon. Turned out Google was our friend by over-estimating the travel time by at least a half hour for every drive and as a result, we ended up with some extra time.

It was a great trip. Chilly but in general the weather cooperated with mostly sunny or only partly cloudy days--a treat compared to the snow and rain forecast the week before we left.

The recap:

Day 1
Got up at 4am and the car service arrived at 4:30am to get us to our 7am flight.

It was in the 30s at home but the 80s in Tucson, so we layered up and stripped down to shorts and tees before we left the plane.

We arrived in Tucson and picked up our little Prius to head out to Saguaro National Park. I had bought the kids NP Passports, so they got their first stamps of the trip at the visitor's center and we purchased our America the Beautiful pass which gets us into all the National Parks, Memorials, Forests and Shorelines for a year.

The Saguaro cactus are truly amazing. Some look like people in various positions, some like many-armed sea creatures. The are overwhelmingly tall and there are thousands of them.

A Saguaro (Sa-wa-ro) cactus

another kind of cactus

I found it interesting that at all the parks we went to, and a lot of other places there were signs announcing that you could not bring a loaded weapon. Big problem out west still?

We found dinner and headed to the hotel for the night, very tired from the 3-hour time change.

Day 2
Off to the Grand Canyon via Sedona's Slide Rock State Park. But first a stop at the airport to switch to a 4 wheel drive car and a grocery store to fill our cooler with snacks and lunch stuff. What's a vacation without cheese balls, I ask you?

Red Rock! After all the brown desert, these suddenly rise up red.

At first I was disappointed that a cold front had blown in from the west bringing temps down to the 50s from the 70s of the previous week. I thought it was the weather keeping us from swimming and sliding at the park. THEN I put my foot in the water! Brrrrr. No way would I have gotten in that water no matter how hot out!

We had a great time anyway climbing around on the rocks and I was stunned that no one fell in.

The land was owned by a farmer who routed the river water up to his apple orchard and you can still see the century old irrigation system he ran up the canyon.


Hiking back

We got to the Grand Canyon while it was still light out and while we drove around trying to find our lodge (the signage at the park is terrible) we came across a family of deer. I could swear we all took pictures of them, but don't seem to have any now. Very cute and very unconcerned about us. Something more to love about National Parks.

Day 3
Pete and I rose early to watch the sunrise at the rim. Kate and Zack had risen early the last time to see it and decided to take a pass on it this time.

It was lovely but the wind was crazy cold. After the sun came up, we headed back to the room to wake the kids and layer up in everything we had. I was game to try hiking down into the canyon, a big deal for someone as afraid of heights as I am. We wanted to be warm.

Zack got dressed before the rest of us (the one and only time during the trip) and went outside to come across a large elk! He came to get the rest of us and we followed him around the side of our bldg. Again, we kept our distance and he paid us no mind at all.

Elk browsing in the trees.

We tried the Bright Angel trail, reportedly the easiest hike, but the melt off was freezing on the trail and my nerves could only take going down past the second switchback. Aside from the heights, the ice just worked my last bit of courage. Still, it was more than I had ever planned to do before and the rest of the family was disappointed but wanted to stay together.

We also got to see another family of deer heading straight down the side of the canyon. One seemed to look after a woman turning around on one of the trail switchbacks and seemed to wonder why she was going to all that trouble instead of walking right down.

We hiked the rim trail for the rest of the day. The expected snow turned out to be just a flurry and we were definitely over-dressed. We shed our layers as the day progressed.

A short way into the canyon.

Too close to the edge! (Pete tells me it really wasn't)

In the evening, Zack wasn't feeling very well and the kids and Pete watch Space Balls. I had never seen it before and wish I hadn't that night but they loved it. I would have preferred to watch the sunset but I lost track of time.

Day 4
Drove along the Desert Rim of the canyon and climbed the watchtower. It is the nicest view of the canyon in my opinion and much more rugged than the South Rim trail. No place to stay except a seasonal campsite and it is not on the shuttle. Keeps it quiet and it's a nice way to leave the area.

Next stop--Wupatki National Monument. There are many Indian ruins. We stopped to see the main ruins and also a smaller group within the park. Sadly, Zack was not feeling very well and didn't enjoy the hike as much as he would have.


The road from Wupatki leads around to Sunset Crater a volcano that blew up a recent 1000 years ago spreading ash and boulders all over the Wupatki area, 30 miles away. It was a huge event in the lives of the native people and they told stories about it. The ash also helped agriculture in Wupatki.

We didn't realize that the ranger station closed at 5pm, rather than sundown, so we didn't get to walk all of the lava trail--big bummer--but we did get to see a good amount from the smaller trail and the road. The black ash sand is very cool looking. Zack was surprised at how grainy and rough it is. He expected it to be finer.

Sunset Crater

The warning sign at Lenox after our hike

Zack was feeling better and joined us for the climb up Lenox Crater, a much older volcano that gives a good view of Sunset Crater. It was a steep climb but we needed the training (see Carlsbad).

We stayed overnight in Flagstaff. Skipped the observatory program there. Too tired!

Day 5
The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

A little petrified wood went a long way for Pete and me, but the kids loved it and wanted to see a lot. We did the trail at the visitor center and then the Long Tree trail. Petrified wood--or maybe just all that fresh air--made us giddy and we joked and laughed all afternoon.

Petrified Forest

The drive out of the park was long and pretty brown and dull. I was thinking to myself "this is the Painted Desert?" but then you go over a hill and there it is. Really lovely after all the dry desert.

I wished we'd had more time to hike the rim trail there, but we were hungry and tired so just looked for a bit and headed on to Albuquerque.

Painted Desert

Day 6
The l o n g b o r i n g road to Roswell. My advice? Skip the "museum" which looks like someones basement collection of clippings and dioramas and just go to the gift shop. The kids were underwhelmed but it's on the way to Carlsbad, so wasn't out of our way and a good place to stop for lunch in the car before we left.

Roswell Museum

On to Carlsbad Caverns through a lot more dusty desert.

We got to the park entrance at 1:58pm and read the sign telling us the natural entrance to the cave closed at 2pm! Up the long winding road that takes you to the visitors center. I gave the ticket guy my best sad brown eyes and he allowed us to try to get into the entrance at 2:10pm. Never hurts to ask!

We were instructed to keep moving at a pace as the clearing ranger was 3 minutes behind us. We clipped along until we passed a family with an audio tour and knew we were no longer the last family on the path.

If you go--DEFINITELY go in the natural entrance if your knees can take the downward grade. Well worth the extra hour heading into the cavern.

When we reached the bottom, we toured the Big Room.

Not sure what's up with Katie in this one.

On the way out of the park, we noticed these palmy looking plants that had big blooms on top. Found out at this exhibit they are a kind of yucca.

Day 7
Up over and through the Lincoln National Forest to White Sands National Monument. Warm but WINDY! We could see the sand spinning up in the wind from the distance.

At White Sands you buy sleds (that you can then sell back for a 3rd of the price you paid) to slide down the dunes. Too fun! Pete finally got his relaxing beach vacation less the water. We all took turns sliding down. The trip back up the dune was difficult, the sand is very fine and your feet sink right down into it.

Unnerving to read the sign showing us what unspent munitions look like and instructing us not to touch them. The park is right next to the White Sands missile testing range.

Katie and Pete sledding

We spent the night in Las Cruces.

Day 8
We had planned this as a travel day back to Albuquerque for our flights home the next day but it turned out to be pretty fun.

It's only 3 hours from Las Cruces to Alb. so we took it easy, sleeping in and heading through Hatch, NM the "Chile Capital of the World!"

Pete enjoyed perusing all the different chile powders, while I was cracking up over the giant at the RV store next door.

The Chile Capital

Am I in Texas? Check out the hat at his feet!

Got to the Explora! Museum in Albuquerque and stopped in before dinner at an adorable Taqueria with great food. Then went to El Patio for the best sopapias with honey.

Making giant bubbles

working on a Rube Goldberg contraption

Day 8

Pete's band was playing in Atlanta this night, so he left us early in the morning to catch a flight there. Our flight had a layover in Salt Lake City. It turned out to be a much longer layover than we expected.

I had some heart palpitations (a minor recurring problem) getting onto the flight. They usually subside within 2 minutes. This time they went on well beyond the planned pull back from the gate. Much to Delta's relief I thought it would be a good idea to disembark.

I have to say that Delta was great. They booked us on a flight for the next morning, got us a room for the night, insisted on having me see the EMS people and gave us toiletries and tees. Naturally, everything was fine with me by the time EMS arrived and as I saw our flight take to the skies along with our luggage.

We took a shuttle to our hotel and were lucky enough to be within walking distance of the Mormon Temple, which we had never seen before. We toured the genealogy building and walked through a museum explaining the history of Temple Square. I had no idea that the temple we see today was built by pioneers who brought the granite down from the surrounding mountains via ox cart. Kate and I both noted that all that granite could have made some nice houses for the settlers but, obviously they had other priorities.

At the Temple

Extra Day 9
Home again! An easy flight (until the bumps on the approach) and the longest ride of my life on Super Shuttle, which decided it would be a good idea to go to from BWI to the National Harbor, then Crystal City via Old Town, then back down the hwy to our house during rush hour. :-P

Good to be home.

Time to plan the next adventure!