Monday, August 22, 2011

Roadtrip Part 5: Sedona

Sedona was so much fun!!

This was our last stop on the roadtrip, so we wanted to make the most of it. Our first destination as we drove into Sedona from the Grand Canyon was Slide Rock State Park. Here there are a series of natural rock "water slides" created by the rushing river, and kids and adults alike can brave a trip down the slippery slopes. Seriously, it's slippery! I learned that as we attempted to cross the river with all our stuff to claim a spot on the opposite side and ended up falling camera-first into the water (it's ok, this isn't the first time my mighty little workhorse of a point and shoot has spent time on the bottom of a river; it will never die).

The slides themselves (and really, the whole environment of the park) seem fairly dangerous and like a giant lawsuit ready to happen... but it hasn't happened yet, so we very carefully enjoyed ourselves once down the slide (twice for Stanley). It was fun, but painful. Once was definitely enough for me. Good times though!

After driving into Sedona and checking into our hotel (the Hyatt Pinon Point), we cleaned up and headed out for a Pink Jeep Tour. The tour takes you out for some rough-ish off-roading on the red-rock bluffs. We saw some really amazing views and had fun bouncing along trying not to fall out of the Jeep. Our tour guide (Dylan) was awesome, so if you ever do this, request him!

That evening we walked around the cute little town that is Sedona and ate dinner at the Cowboy Club where we tried the local specialty- prickly pear cactus fries and prickly pear margaritas . Yum (although I got stuck by one the next morning and was not so happy with them after that). We got to bed nice and early since we had to be up at 4 for our final big adventure...

A hot air balloon ride!

This was definitely a highlight of the trip, although it wasn't quite the idyllic, serene experience I was thinking it would be. There were 8 of us crammed into a little basket, the heat of the flame overhead was fairly uncomfortable, and earplugs would have been useful to guard against the raging noise every time more hot air was shot into the balloon.

However, the views were completely gorgeous as we watched the sun rise over the red rocks, and that was enough to take our minds off the physical discomforts of the ride. During the initial ascent we got up super high (which was actually a bit scary if you stopped to think about the fact that you're literally just in a balloon...), but after that we hovered fairly close to the ground as the wind swept us along.

The landing was a bit rough, but added some fun excitement. There are no breaks or directional controls on a balloon, so you pretty much just land where the wind puts you. The truck that was supposed to meet our balloon as it landed didn't quiiiite make it to our landing spot, so we ended up skipping and dragging along the ground (and through a few bushes) for a while until the large men in our group got out of the basket and attempted to hold down the balloon until the truck got there. We managed not to fly away again, but I think we were close to getting a second ride. Fun times!

After a champagne toast at our landing sight to conclude the hot air balloon experience, we decided to take a drive out to the little once almost ghost-town, now sort of revived artsy touristy community of Jerome, AZ. It was a cute place to see and walk around. We had lunch at the Haunted Hamburger, got some delicious fudge, and walked around the shops (including a really cook kaleidoscope store). On the drive between Jerome and Sedona we also stopped at the Tuzigoot ancient pueblo ruins.

The next day we had the joy of a 12 hour drive back to San Jose. Yay. This whole trip was just so, so fun and I'll never forget it. Thanks to Kib and Stan for making it amazing and being the best people I could have ever spent these 10 days with. We'll have to do another one someday!

Kibby can!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Roadtrip Part 4: The Grand Canyon

Aaah, the Grand Canyon. The initial inspiration for our entire roadtrip. I think there's a very good chance we were completely spoiled by Bryce and Zion because while the sight was (of course) very beautiful, it (for me personally) lacked that complete awe-striking amazement of the previous places. Maybe it's just a little too grand, or a bit too much for a person to take in in one gulp.

Before our Zion diversion, the plan had been to spend a night on the (much less visited) North Rim of the canyon before coming here to the uber-popular South Rim. The south rim tourist area is literally like a small city with a proportionate number of people and cars around, so I'll be excited to see a less congested version of the Grand Canyon some other time. We were back to camping on this leg of the trip, so after setting up at Mather campground, we walked the half mile or so to the rim of the canyon and spent a couple of hours walking along it, taking in the views.

Like Zion, the Grand Canyon also has a mandatory shuttle system to get visitors out to all the popular viewpoints. However, UNlike in Zion, we found the shuttles here to be extremely annoying and not at all convenient. They were too infrequent, and when they did come, they were always full to the brim and usually could only pick up a couple people out of the dozen or so waiting at each pick-up. You could easily get stuck waiting for an hour or more at each stop along the route. Redonkulous. Walking the 1-2 miles between each point was much faster, and definitely more enjoyable (even in the heat).

We didn't have the time, preparation, or even really the desire on this particular trip to hike down into the canyon, so we spent our time making our way along the rim, basically checking out different angles of the single massive vista. Along the way, Kib and I had moments of quiet contemplation...

... while Stanley preferred to see how many times she could stand "on the edge of glory." And sing about it. And get Lady GaGa stuck in our heads for the entire trip. :P

On the morning we left, Kib and I got up at 4am and made our way out to Hopi Point to watch the sun rise over the canyon. That was the most memorable thing about our time here for me. It was quiet, serene, and super special.

So glad I finally got to see this natural wonder! It might not have been the ultimate highlight of the trip, but it was wonderful nonetheless!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roadtrip Part 3: Zion National Park

So remember how much I loved Bryce Canyon? Well, I think Zion was even better.

Coming here wasn't part of the original plan. However, when my sister's altitude-induced headache went from bad to worse, we decided it would be a good idea to move to slightly lower elevation. Luckily we were able to reserve a last-minute hotel room at the Majestic View Lodge in Springdale, so we packed up our camping gear and headed down to Zion National Park.

This isn't a place that translates well to pictures (or at least, my pictures don't do it any justice). I think it's the magnitude and scale of the landscape that makes it a magical place, and that's something you just can't express properly in a photo. In person, this place is astounding.

We had one day to explore the park, but we could have spent a week here. After a really yummy breakfast and a dose of good hiking advice at Oscar's Cafe, we hopped on the park's shuttle system to get ourselves on some trails.

We started on the Riverside Walk, which leads to the beginning of "The Narrows," one of the most popular hikes in the park. We were unprepared to hike any of it on this trip as it involves actually walking through the river between towering cliff walls, but we made our way along the river to the entrance and saw enough to ensure that we'll bring ourselves back one day to do it right (with water shoes and without expensive non-waterproof camera equipment)!

After that we went up another little trail and spent some time sitting underneath a rock wall with cascading "raindrops" falling before of our view of the canyon. It was beautiful and the perfect place to cool off and rest for a bit in the middle of an incredibly hot day.

Our final hike took us to the upper Emerald Pool (and through a spraying waterfall). We loved this hike! It was one of the highlights of the whole trip. It was so, so gorgeous. And beautiful. And magnificent. And enchanting. And amazing. Get the idea?

We were pretty zapped by the end of the day, and sitting by the pool at our hotel with an ideal view of the sun setting over the hills was the perfect end to a fantastic day. I'm SO glad we ended up coming here. It's definitely a place worth seeing!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roadtrip Part 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

I've seen a decent sampling of awe-inspiring sights in my life. The Great Wall of China is pretty amazing. Hawaiian sunsets, the top of the world on Mt. Fuji, the quiet beauty of Scottish isles, the majestic Canadian Rockies- all very nice. Yet none of these places have taken my breath away like Bryce Canyon did.

Literally. I gasped as my breath caught in my chest when I stepped out and looked over the rim for the first time to see this sight:

The view was so unexpected and overwhelming. With the endless towering hoodoos and the bright orange and pink rock, this place is completely other-worldly and just plain spectacular. I've never seen anything like it (and I'm pretty sure there IS no other place like Bryce to see in the whole world).

We spent 2 nights camping here. Two beautiful, unforgettable nights. We battled harsh elevation headaches, middle-of-the-night raging thunderstorms, and a broken camp stove, but the natural beauty we got to see made up for all that.

We spent our days here driving the length of the park and stopping to take in the sights and hike a bit at each of the viewpoints along the way. We did one slightly bigger hike at the popular Navajo/Queen's Landing loop that took us down into the canyon for some amazing views.

We also spent a lot of time hanging out at our campsite playing games, eating and relaxing. Many games of beans were played...

Bryce is phenomenal. You should go there. End of story.

Zion's up next!