Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 14 - Kearney to Racine (Home)

Got up at 5:30 AM again. Isn't there a law against having to get up earlier on vacation than on a work day? I guess not.

We were at the Econolodge, a very basic standard. It was clean but the walls were paper thin and thus noisy into the early hours of the morning.
Checked out of the hotel, had breakfast at McDonalds, sausage biscuit with egg of course and was on the road by 7:30 AM.

Made a few more phone calls regarding the windshield replacement and I believe we are finally all set.

Encountered patches of construction areas but no major delays. We crossed into Iowa at 10:09 AM, making good time, I hope it stays this way.
Went passed a wind farm with 100+ wind turbines on both side of the street, rather difficult to take a picture from the car but I tried.
A little later we saw wind turbine blades being transported, on the way over there was 6, and this time it was 2. I am presuming the third one is coming or we missed it.

12:35 - gas stop at Kellogg's and picked up a hot dog. The sky is cloudy in our direction of travel. If it does rain it will be the first downpour we have encountered not counting a couple of short bursts of thunder showers and sprinkles.

The Midwest certainly needs the rain, so this will be good if it happens.
Somewhere in Iowa at around 1:30 PM it is starting to sprinkle but only lasted for about 20 miles and the sky is back to being bright and blue.

Home finally, after 11 hours of driving. Chinese takeout tonight.


Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13 - Alamosa, CO to Kearney, NE

Checked out of the hotel and had breakfast at MCDonalds. My favorite sausage biscuit with egg.

Was on the road by 7:15 am Mountain Time. The travel was smooth through Colorado, we took a different route this time which traversed some beautiful valleys.

Spent a good part of the drive making phone calls on windshield replacement. The crack has grown to almost 12" end to end.

There was patches of construction on I80 in NE, but no major delays encountered even with reduced speed.

Arrived at Kearney 5:00 PM Central Time, checked into the hotel and went to eat at Whiskey Creek Steak House at the Hotel's recommendation.
We ordered the ribs and both of us agree that those were some of the best ribs we had.

The restaurant was very pleasant and inviting complete with attentive and friendly servers. All in all a great experience after a long day.
We got back to the hotel by 7:00 PM and that gave us a great opportunity to start filling in some of the details in this blog.


July 12 - GC to Alamosa via Mesa Verde

Left Grand Canyon around 8:30 pm and travelled through some known areas around Kayenta.

We drove past the Four Corners and then realized that we had enough time to take a detour through Mesa Verde. Even though we had seen it quite thoroughly the last time, it never gets old.

The long winding road leading to the visitor's center from US 160, starts right outside of Cortez city limits. This road is beautiful, scenic, and well maintained. There are pull outs for scenic overlooks.

Since this was an after thought and we had a short period of time, we didn't stop at the visitors center or the museum and chose to take only the Cliff Palace Loop.

This loop offers a great view of the Cliff Palace and The Balcony House. Sudip had climbed down to the Cliff Palace on our last trip but I had stayed at the viewing area. None of us ventured to go down today but did manage to get great pictures of the dwellings.

The Cliff Palace was even more beautiful this time.

It was getting late and also started to rain, we left reluctantly deciding that in the near future we will come and stay in Mesa Verde at least 3 nights to better appreciated all the sites and the general beauty of the location.
On the way a stone chip hit the windshield, which to our dismay made a star shaped cracked that kept growing. There wasn't much we could do except leave a message for our insurance agent to call us in the morning
We arrived in Alamosa around 7:30 PM, checked into the hotel and went to dinner at Juanito's.

We were very surprised to feel chilly after being in super hot temperatures for the 12 days.


July 11 - Grand Canyon

We had a late and leisurely breakfast at the Bright Angels Lodge, prior to taking the "Green Bus" to the Hermits Rest and back. The public transportation is free and runs about every 10 mins, a very well managed system.

The bus stops at all the points on the way out but only at three of them on the way back. We got off the bus at Mohave Point and Pima Point and then proceeded on to Hermit's rest.

The Colorado could be seen from many of the stops and view gorgeous and ever changing. It was a little misty from time to time which added to the magical beauty of the canyon.

We came back and went to visit the Kolb Studio before picking up a light lunch from the soda fountain. Sudip went back to our lodge and I walked over to the El Tovar lobby where there was WIFi.

Many people where there but two groups stand out in my mind, one was a young family of four from London and the other a group of 60-70 year bird watchers from Scotland.

There were such a contrast, the woman in the first group constantly complained about the heat (sitting in the air conditioned lobby). Most people around her myself included, we're getting quite annoyed with her constant whining.

The second group was such a pleasure to talk to, watch and everyone of them man and women, charming, easy going. There were specifically in the area to see the Condors, and we're thrilled and excited when I told them I had seen 6 of them yesterday. They asked all kinds of questions of which I think I was able to answer two, where did I see them and did they have tags. They left to make arrangements to go to that area and I hope that saw the Condors.

After a while Sudip came out to join me and we ran into a Zoologist from the Peregrine Foundation, complete with telemetry equipment tracking the Condors. We had a very pleasant and informative half hour with him until he had to put his equipment away due to thunderstorms rolling in. He gave me their Facebook information and I promptly joined.

Tonight we decided to have a dinner at the Bright Angels lodge, this was a food decision since ir was basic good food served with a smile.
Went back to lodge to finish packing and get ready to leave early tomorrow.
All in all another great day.

Location:Kachina Lodge

July 10 - Grand Canyon

Had an early breakfast at the Bright Angels Lodge, good food and friendly servers, then came back to our room to get ready for the Fossil Walk.
The walk started from the front of the Bright Angels Lodge, it was nice to see the group had people of all ages.

Our guide was a women in her fifties and makes jewelry with the fossils she collects from outside the park area, she was wearing one of her beautiful creations.

Interestingly she has rather poor eye sight and encouraged us to be her eyes. The younger kids found many as expected but Sudip found quite a few as well. I didn't find any, also as expected.

After the walk, we decided to take the car and drive the Desert View drive which goes to the east side of the canyon, stopping at all the viewpoint.
The Colorado River came into view from the aptly named Grandview Point.

The view was gorgeous from all the viewing areas We drove all the to the end, Desert View point, here we picked up a hot dog for myself and a lemonade for Sudip and started to work our way back.

On the way back we took a detour to visit the Tusayan Museum and Ruins. It was a small but well maintained site, although most of it was only the ruins. The museum was interesting.

Saw a rather interesting sign by the roadside, would have loved to see the real object.

We came back, booked the sunset tour for the evening and then went to get a malt and a hot fudge sundae from the soda fountain at the Bright Angels Lodge.

While we sat outside enjoying the weather, we visited with a gentleman who was part of a tour group from Nashville. They were staying in Las Vegas and taking a a day trip here. We discussed many topics starting from the Hoover Dam to the Packers and everything in between. A very pleasant and memorable time.

Left for the sunset tour on the bus around 6:30 PM and took the Hermit Road to the west. This side is restricted and personal tourist vehicles are not allowed on it. We watched the sunset from the Hopi Point, it was very crowded and looked like rain. Through it all the sunset was beautiful.

To top it off we saw 6 Condors flying around and catching the breeze and soaring up and away, what a huge and gorgeous bird. It was another great experience and view.

Today's dinner experience was pitiful, the waiter forgot and put scallops on my trout after being specifically explained by Sudip that I was allergic to shell fish and to make sure that the trout was not contaminated by the scallops.
He did bring me a fresh plate, the wait was long and tiring, theres was not much of an allergy or even an offer of a drink on the house, as most good restaurants would have done. Too bad it happened in otherwise what was a great day.

The temperature had started to drop and the very short walk back to our lodge was getting chilly. We had almost forgotten that feeling.

Location:Kachina Lodge

July 9 - Las Vegas to Grand Canyon via Hoover Dam

Left Bally's early with the intention of catching breakfast on the way. Just at the entrance to the freeway we came across an old style McDonalds with walk up windows and outside seating.

The person at the window had a great sense of humor and coupled with the newness of it made it rather unique.

The drive to the Hoover Dam was quite short and we came to it shortly. When we were here the last, the across the Colorado River was just starting to get built and we were anxious to see it complete having seen some gorgeous pictures of it.

We went to the bridge access first and walked some distance on to the bridge, and came back since we really wanted to see what the finished bridge looked like. So then we drove over to the dam parking lot but couldn't get a good view of the bridge. We finally found some "pull overs" by the side of the road where the bridge was visible in all it's glory. What a magnificent engineering feat, the picture does not do justice to the enormous high span it truly is.

We left after we had out fill and proceeded towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon which was our destination for the next three nights.
We skipped lunched, munched on snacks and arrived early afternoon.
We were staying at the Kachina Lodge but the check in was at the EL Tovar hotel next door. The young man who checked us in had recently been to India and struck up a conversation with us. It was rather obvious that he had thoroughly enjoyed his visit and loved talking. He had picked up a couple of complex dishes to cook which was pretty impressive.

After checking in, we found out that the parking lot of the lodges were all full and after unloading the car Sudip took it to the main parking lot. There wasn't anything special about the room but it was located on the RIM and with easy access to the RIM walk.

We went for a walk and looked into the various available activities and decided on taking the guided Fossil Walk the next morning.

Had dinner at the El Tovar Dinning Room. It was more pomp and show than great food. The food was of acceptable quality and the prices outrageous.

Location:Kachina Lodge

July 7 & July 8 - Las Vegas

July 7:

Slept in this morning, there was nothing on the agenda prior to 11:00 AM. Some if us got together and walked to the Million Dollar Mall to have breakfast and a rain forest show. Both of which were very good.

On the way back we kept running into many others that we know but hadn't seen for a while.

Spend the day attending various programs, had a really late lunch (4:00 pm) at Sea Thai. We were seated on the side tables today and had a great conversation with couple next to us. The food was good and we ate entirely too much if it.

Attended a few more programs, played the penny slot machines and then retired for the night.

July 8:

Today's is the St. Xavier's College reunion, the main event that Sudip came to participate in. He studied there from kindergarten through graduation and had and still has strong ties to it.

I didn't realize that this was the inauguration of the USA Alumni chapter and that was interesting and ceremonious.

Sudip had hoped that he may find classmates but no such luck, the closest was a first cousin to one of his classmates. We all had to standup and introduce ourselves, Sudip was very intense and earnest in his introduction.

An hour went by quickly, I was hoping to get a good group photo but came out blurry, I hope to replace it if someone else has a better picture.

The group had alumni from '40s graduating class to that of 2012 and everything in between as can be seen in the picture.

After the re union we went to some of the other programs, then had samosas and tea for a late lunch/snack.

Watched a few more programs, browsed the stalls for Books and finally bought a CD. Then we went up to our rooms for Sudip to rest and for me to catch up my writing.

Had dinner at Joe's Stone Crab, which was across the street in the Forum. This was a restaurant we went to the last time and remember it as having excellent food. Sudip's scallop dinner did meet his expectations but unfortunately my steak fell very short of mine.

On the way to dinner, we stopped to see the water show at Bellagio's, this is another thing that will never get old for me and I could watch it over and over again.

Retired for the night a bit early as we had a long drive to Grand Canyon tomorrow.

Location:Las Vegas

July 6 - Page to Las Vegas via Zion

Had breakfast at the Glen Canyon restaurant was soon on our way to Vegas. It was going to be so different after being in the artificial city with ostentatious display of wealth and splendor after being in such natural beautiful and scenic places.

I didn't feel like going but since the re union was the ultimate reason behind this whole, I guess I have to.

The way to Vegas was through Utah and quite pretty and we were surprised to find that we would be driving through Zion National Park.

This was a very pleasant since Zion has always been both of our favorites. We needed to be in Vegas by a certain time and thus wasn't able to spend too much time in there but we did make most of the little time we had including a lunch break at Arkansas Al's Steak House inside the park.
We arrived at Vegas in good time but couldn't find the turn of into Bally's with making a few phone calls.

The lines at the check in was long, mostly conventioneers from the one we were going to attend. It took us about 30-45 mins to check in but we got a free upgrade since the all the regular rooms were gone.

Went to our room, changed and freshened up and went to the adjoining Paris Hotel to register and join in the opening ceremonies that had already started.
We met a few people that we regularly and some rarely, this is one of the best part of going to these conventions.

Went to have dinner at Sea Thai but mix judged the opening and went into the Tequila bar next door. We realized our mistake after looking at the menu and when we explained the waitress just took our cutlery away and left.

The Sea Thai had a bit of a waiting but the food was definitely worth it as was decor. We were seated in the middle section and due to clever arrangement, to anyone looking in looked like we were seating the floor around a lotus pond with a large statue of Buddha at the head of the pond.

We went back in to join the remainder of the ceremonies and then retired for the night.

The lights of Vegas were so bright that the room was dimly lit through the heavy drapes all through the night, not bright enough to be irritating but a sort of a glow.

Location:Las Vegas

July 5 Page, AZ

Had breakfast at the Glen Canyon Steak house, the service was slow and in attentive. This is not the best place in town to eat but the food is decent and close to our hotel.

We picked up a couple of sub sandwiches and drove to the Wahweap Marina for the Rainbow Bridge trip scheduled for 12:30 PM.

We boarded around 12:15 and sat inside due to the heat and the glaring sun. The boat was well equipped with water, lemonade, coffee etc.
We departed on time and passed by some interesting rock formations.

The waterway was very crowded and we had to slow down many times to not create a large wake for the smaller boats. The Rainbow Bridge is actually in Utah and we travelled on the UT side shortly after starting.

The scenery was nice but not as interesting as sailing through the antelope canyons that we had done on our previous visit.

The distance from the marina to the trailhead is 50 miles and took a good 2 hours. The trail is an easy walk of half a mile or so and at the start of the forbidden canyon. This is considered a holy place and it is forbidden to walk under the bridge.

This natural bridge is absolutely beautiful from the first glimpse to the full view and well worth the visit.

The first glimpse, and I spotted it first which is very rare for me:

In full view:

It was gorgeous and the hike to it short and easy. Although it was still very hot we didn't have much problems.

On the return trip there were granola bars and apple together with the water, lemonade etc, a very nice touch.

When we docked, it was past 6:30 pm and we decided to go and have dinner before going back to the hotel.

The last time we came to Page, we went to a Mexican restaurant that not only had great food but the biggest and best margaritas I have ever had. It had always been my intention to go there again and we did.

I was told there would be an hour and a half wait. As we were waiting we met a group from Salt Lake City, who come down once a year to boat on Lake Powell. One of the couple had a son in Afghanistan and having learnt that my husband was there during better times, wanted to know all about it.

The time flew past quickly and pretty soon they were seated and we shortly after. Ordered my margarita and Sudip had a Mexican beer, which he really liked. The margarita of course as large and as fabulous as before.

Since we were both very tired and neither of that hungry, we ordered an appetizer each and asked for our bill right away. Much to our surprise the server informed us that our bill was taken care of; we were totally taken by surprise and ask who they were. In went inside to enquire and came back to inform us that they wish to remain anonymous.

We decided it had to be the group from Utah and specifically the couple with their son in Afghanistan. I walked over to their table to thank them, they wouldn't quite admit it but the others at the table verified that it was them. It was a beautiful gesture, maybe they were relieved to talk to someone who had been to Afghanistan and that made them feel closer to their son. Whatever their reason was we were overwhelmed and hope and pray that their son is safe and comes back to them unharmed.

What a great day it was.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4 - Monument Valley to Page.

Slept in this morning since this was only a 2.5 hour drive and left the hotel at 10:45 am.

The drive was uneventful except for a long detour through some unmarked gravel roads through Kayenta. We are guessing this is dur to the parade since we swam mounted horses.

Arrived in Page at noon local time and found out that we have a room on the third floor with a view of the parking lot. Since I had specifically asked for a Lake view room on the main floor this did not make me too happy. The hotel was full booked from tomorrow on and couldn't make any changes.

Since our room was not going to be available before 3 pm we went to have lunch. The hotel had recommended a restaurant that was on the lake but we never found it. Instead we had lunch at the Glen Canyon Steak House, a restaurant where we had all our breakfasts the last time we were here. The meal and service were mediocre.

After lunch we went to the Horeseshoe bend, some call it the muleshoe canyon. This is where the the Colorado River makes 270 degree turn through a narrow and deep canyon. Sudip has a spectacular picture of it from last time.

The place was way more crowded this time and the second descent was too steep for me to go down. I stayed at the mid point while Sudip and all the way down.

By this time it was 3 pm and we came back to the hotel and checked in and enquirer about the Rainbow Bridge that you couldn't see the last time because the water was too low.

The Rainbow is accessible by water after a 2 hours boat ride. The other alternative is a 5 day strenuous hike. We drove to the Wahweap Marina and bought our tickets for the next day and then drove along Lake Powell enjoining this beautiful recreational area.

It would be so neat to boat on this lake and travel by water to the Antelope canyons.

Sudip decided to skip dinner and I had a take out grilled cheese sandwich from Glen Canyon Steak House. I didn't think it was possible to blow a grilled cheese sandwich but they somehow managed it. Oh well, being Page made up for it.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3 - Monument Valley

Got up at 6:00 am, the view from the balcony is beautiful.

Had a hot buffet breakfast in the hotel, the food was reasonable as was the price.

The guide from the Mittens Tours arrived promptly. His name is Herb. I didn't realize that the three outcrops that can be seen from our balcony are called Mittens and they certainly look as such.

The rep from Mittens arrived punctually and after discussing with him, we decided to take the morning tour as decided but add on a tour of the Mystery Valley for the afternoon.

We left the hotel around 9:00, the guide was very pleasant and took us to various scenic places with the right lighting and gave hubby all the time he needed.

We saw very interesting monuments but the Ear of the Wind, the Suns Eye, and Spearhead Mesa were my favorites.

The last place was a shooting location for many of John Waynes movies and the Monument Valley in general was apparently quite a favorite of his
Came back to the hotel around noon, and drove to the small town Goldings across the main highway.

Herb, our guide was very knowledgeable and personable, not to mention a skillful driver through some treacherous terrain that was in our tour route for the afternoon.

He lives a couple of miles down the road in AZ and has a solar powered house for basic amnesties and hopes to put in more panel to add refrigeration, Internet etc.

We got back to the hotel and went for lunch at the lodge in Goldings, which is across the road from Monument. The food was good and the service excellent.

Left for the afternoon trip around 5:30. This route was outside the boundary of the Tribal Park and entirely different in every way. There were many distinct and well preserved petroglyphs together with unusual rock formations. Some of the roads were really bad but our guide Herb deftly and skillfully navigated his Suburban in and out of this area. People still live in parts of this area although going to school for the children is a chore, the nearest clinic is in Kayenta and the hospital in Chinle.

We left to get back to our hotel in time to see the sun set over the valley. Close to the hotel, within the Tribal Park we picked up a tourist from California whose Benz was stuck in sand. Herb dropped us off at the hotel and when we looked about an hour later, the car was gone, so all was well we assumed.

We watched the setting sun light up the landscape from our balcony then went for dinner.

We were a bit apprehensive after last night's experience but didn't feel like driving to Goldings. To our pleasant surprise the food was much better and server very friendly. Interestingly her great grandmother was Irish and we wondered if that's were her personality came from.
After dinner we retired for the night, tired but happy.

Location:The View Hotel.

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2 - Moab to Monument Valley

Got up early and went for breakfast at the Moab Diner and then into Arches National Park. Our priority was to see the Landscape Arch. This was a about a 3.5 to 4.0 miles hike in 96 f. Some of the climb was rather steep and coming down slippery. All of it was worth it, it was a beautiful sight.

We then went to see some of the other Arches that we had seen in good detail on our prior visit.

Left Arches and stopped for lunch at the Moab Diner before proceeding towards Monument Valley.

The entrance to Monument Valley Tribal Park, is completely changed from the last time we were there 5 years back. Previously the entrance road led right to the monuments, the new road although nicely built and merged with the surroundings did not have the same impact.

We checked into the aptly named View Hotel. All the rooms had baloconies with views of Monument Valley and being on the third floor, the our view was gorgeous.

We looked into some tours for the next day and chose The Mittens Tours company. We had called two others, one was specially for photographs, but too stuck up and expensive, the other never returned my call. Mittens Tours appeared to be the most flexible, accommodating and flexible.

We had dinner at the hotel. The food was mediocre and the service was terrible. I never got my guacamole and sour cream came after I was halfway done with my meal, the waiter just seemed to have vanished after serving me.

We went to bed early looking forward to the guided tour for tomorrow.

Location:Monument Valley

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1 - Kearney to Moab

Breakfast at Perkins

Left the hotel around 8:00 AM

Ran into more construction on I80.

Lunch of hot wings at Georgetown, CO at Alpine Restaurant. A neat restaurant nestled somewhere on I70.

Arrived in Moab, around 4:00 pm, went to get supplies and the dinner at . The beer was called Dead Horse, a local microbrew and the Eggplant Parmesan was very good.

After dinner we went into the Arches National Park for a sunset drive, the colors were beautiful but the moonlight was not strong enough to light it up adequately.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30 - Racine to Kearney

Left home at 7:20 am

Hwy 20 to I43 to I39 to I88 to I 80, through IL

Crossed the Mississipi at Bettendorf, IA at 10:27 AM.

Lunch at McDonalds in Newton, IA

Patches of construction area on I 80 causing delays. There was one spot that took us over 20 mins to clear 2 miles due to an accident in the construction zone.

Arrived in Kearney at 6 :00 PM and checked into our pre booked hotel. The town appears to have grown quite a bit from our last trip here 5 years back. Many new lodging places and shops.

Had dinner a Perkins, standard fare can't complain.

Looking forward to being in Moab tomorrow and seeing all the great arches again.


Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29 - Background

We will be off for a two week trip to the SW USA tomorrow. The whole thing started with a conference in Las Vegas, July 6-8. We decided that as long as we are going that far, instead of flying in and out, make it into a road trip.
We had visited that part of the country back in May of 2007 but had missed sites that we wanted to come back to and here was our opportunity.