Our major vacation this summer was a 10 day trip to the southwestern United States to visit family, see some great national parks and take a breather weekend in Vegas. Because having this much fun all by ourselves would be selfish we of course invited our favorite couple along- Dani and Clayton. None of us were sure we could handle 10 straight days of each other's constant companionship but it actually worked out perfectly. D&C were the best traveling companions we've ever had.
To start the trip, we hopped on a Delta plane and flew to El Paso, TX where Jon's parents picked us up. This was on a Friday, and we spent the entire weekend with them doing our usual NM activities (which mostly consists of eating excellent Mexican food).
Over the weekend Jon and his dad took Dani and Clayton out to the desert for off roading with the jeep and I made time another afternoon to go to the wedding of *my* flower girl Katherine. Hard to believe she's all grown up and getting married herself. I had not seen her since the wedding 13 years ago and she's changed quite a bit of course. After the wedding I walked over to the NMSU campus and sat on the grassy horseshoe and thought philosophically about the path God has led me on so far in life (How appropriate since I was sitting at the sundial where Dr. Segal held our philosophy classes MWF afternoons under the warm NM sun). The people I've met, the experiences I've had - God has been right there with me the entire time. I thought of the people from my past he had woven into my life and the circumstances under which I had met Jonathan and I wept for the blessings I've been gifted with. God is so good to me. I also got a chance to visit with one of my girlfriends from way way way back (elementary school back)- Jaime. D&C came to church services with us Sunday morning and it was really neat to share the place where we got married with them and for them to meet all our family friends that mean so much to us. Later that afternoon we had a day trip out to White Sands to go sand sledding. What made so many of our happy moments even happier was getting to watch the expressions on Dani's face when she saw things she'd never seen before like endless dunes of sand or *real* mountains.
Monday morning we packed up my inlaws' car (which they graciously let us borrow) and headed off on our road trip. Passing through Socorro, Clayton was excited to stop at the very large array and take pics. (A massive line of satellite dishes used for major research projects like SETI). Passing into Arizona, we eventually made it to the Grand Canyon Lodge on the north rim and settled into our temporary accommodations. We had two nights in the park and made the most of our days there hiking various trails. We saw wild buffalo and Jonathan barely avoided a collision with a crazy jaywalking deer. And I got my picture of my bride! (It has been my "project" ever since Rome to capture a picture of a bride and a pigeon on every trip). The lodge itself is massive and beautiful and the view is amazing. The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular works of God- it's breathtaking and awe inspiring and I fear our pictures do not begin to do it justice.
Wednesday we left the GC and made our way over to Bryce National Park in Utah. My first time in Utah via car! (Only ever had been to the SLC airport). Bryce is very unique. It's landscape was created by wind and erosion, carving out thousands and thousands of rock formations. That afternoon's walk took us either on the Navajo Loop which wound through some of the most beautifully eroded areas in the canyon. These paths twisted and turned, climbed, and then dropped down into the heart of the amphitheater. At every turn, we passed hoodoos (tall, isolated rock formations) that, with imagination, resemble their namesakes: the Three Wisemen, Joseph and Mary, E.T., Wall Street, and Queen Victoria. The hike yielded some fantastic pictures but we were all pretty tired afterward. Our accommodations within the park permitted unlimited access to the spectacle of vibrant red sunsets that bathe the canyon each evening and we stayed out on the canyon's edge to watch the natural show and documented the experience with our camera. (We took over 400 pictures during the entire trip).
First thing in the morning, Jon and I let Dani and Clayton sleep in while we rose to watch the sunrise. We reunited a couple of hours later for breakfast and more short hikes before hopping back in the car and driving to Zion National Park. The park was just a few hours away yet evidenced vastly different landscaping than Bryce or the Grand Canyon. After checking into our nearby hotel (Cliffrose lodge, a pretty motel with large beautiful gardens and an outdoor pool and jacuzzi), we took a stab at one of the hikes in the park - the Emerald Pools. This was our 4th day of hiking and we were all starting to get a bit sore (or maybe it was just me) but we carried on like the brave troopers we were. Imagine our shock/joy/surprise when we ran into our old friend Krikor in the park! Krikor and Jon used to work together in upstate NY and we lost touch with him over the years. I noticed him in the park and we waved him down for a happy reunion. Can you imagine the statistical factors involved in two friends, out of millions of Americans, who live 4 states apart meeting each other by chance one day across the country in an isolated National Park? That's pretty amazing you have to admit! We swapped contact info and now keep in touch on facebook. I am waiting for God to reveal the important reason he brought us back together against the odds. I figure it's got to be something BIG.
Friday we spent a second day hiking Zion and it just about did me in. It became very apparent while hiking Scout's Landing that my lungs still have residual scarring/damage from the bout with double pneumonia back in January. At one point during the heavy switchbacks I had to pause to breathe slowly after every switch. Once at the top of the landing we all appreciated the impressive view and then Jon, Dani, and Clayton carried on to Angel's Landing while I wimped out and relaxed at the landing. I was just exhausted, my lungs burned and the extreme heights of Angel's landing trail scared me. Meanwhile, Dani peered over edges and dangled her feet off every chance she got. It makes me a little sad and envious that the three of them rated the harrowing walk their favorite part of their entire trip. (Their favorite part and I didn't get to be there *wah wah*) I felt pretty left out but what could I do?
Saturday we left Zion and drove to Las Vegas. All of the hard work of hiking was behind us and it was time to RELAX. We checked into our upgrades rooms at Caesar's Palace I had scored us using the $20 trick and spent the weekend unwinding. Dani and I hit the spa both days we were in town and it was fantastic. In addition to the various jacuzzi tubs, cold baths, steam room and sauna, the spa also features an arctic room where it SNOWS ON YOU. How many times do you get to be naked in the snow (spa areas are clothing optional and gender segregated). We loved it. Plus there is something cool and freeing about hanging around naked all day with one of your best friends. The four of us did dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Sat night and then Dani and Clayton went to see the Blue Man group while Jon and I had a quiet evening in our room. Sunday we walking D&C all over the strip to give them a taste of Vegas and tried to enjoy our final days of vacation.
Monday we drove back to Las Cruces, said our goodbyes to family and Tuesday we flew home. It was 10 days of making memories, working those muscles, being awed by the wonders of God's creation, and bonding with Dani and Clayton.
Definitely one of the best trips of my entire life and it was awesome to watch the joy on Dani's face as she fell in love with mountain hiking and the southwest.
Pics or it didn't happen:
(Note: the four of us shared 1 camera the entire trip. The pics of the cute animals and flowers are all my credit. The pics of all the dead trees are courtesy of Dani.)
AZ/Grand Canyon pics:
Zion and Vegas pics: