Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The GRAND Tour

This is the blog that has held all the others up. This was an epic road trip! I'm exhausted just remembering the details - so much so that I had to have Tristan write down notes for me to prompt my memory! Well, here it goes.... 

We have travelled a lot in the big blue car. But all these adventures, even put together, pale in comparison to the adventures we had on this road trip. It was EPIC!!! We drove from Denver to the Grand Canyon, from Las Vegas to Monument Valley, to Arches National Park and home again. The car was serviced just before we left and needed another as soon as we got back. It was long, hot, picturque, spectacularly beautiful family holiday that we will never forget!!

It all started early one morning with a few false starts: first the Blues lost the State of Origin - Tristan was unimpressed after getting up at stupid O'clock to watch the game live, and when we finally did get out the door Tristan did a U-turn a mile so from the house because he thought he left the garage door open,. And then at coffee up the road we realised that I had left me phone at home. Nevertheless, once we were on the road it was a spectacular drive through the rocky mountains (up, up, up), stop for some roadworks, more beautiful mountains, high red cliffs, stop for some roadworks, wide canyons, valleys of green, mountains (still climbing), a few more roadworks, and finally, after 8 hours of driving, we made a smallish town close to the border of Colorado. Just east of this town is a national park called Mesa Verde and it has a 'city' of cave dwellings that the ancient people of North America lived in (think pre-Indian). Though we were rushed so didn't get to visit, apparently it is a marvellous site to see. It's on our 'back track list' of places to go if we get time.

The next day we hit 4 states at the same time. Four Corners is a landmark where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona all meet. It's one of those stops that you just have to go to say "and last week I was so busy I was in four states on the same day!!!" It's actually a very cool place with market, stalls around a plaque in the middle delineating the states. These little Indian (think cowboys and ... Not curry flavoured) market stalls were EVERYWHERE selling arrows, jewellery, pieces of stone, jewellery, pottery, jewellery, and sand art. Some of it...well...sigh...but on a rare occasion (every tenth store - so about 20-25 stores in total) had such breath taking pieces of work we kept making excuses to buy things we "needed". We have some lovely souvenirs, and a few things I look at and ask myself "really?"

Later that day we made the South Rim of the GRAND CANYON. It was a little hazy, but as we drove around we were able to get an idea of the grandness of the landmark. The colours were amazing! To see how the Colorado River had cut its way through this amazing landscape, exposing layer on layer of different geological time lines. It's really had to describe its impressiveness. We hopped from photo opportunity to photo opportunity, enjoying the vastness. There were a number of trails that enabled you to hike half way down to the bottom, but they were terribly steep, we had Zac, and it was disgustingly hot! So we stayed on top, looking down (way down) to the hazy depths where the river crashed and rolled its way towards the Pacific ocean. Wow!!  

We went back to the park early the next day and walked for a few miles along the rim. You really got a good idea of the length and breadth of the canyon this way - mainly because we didn't even put a dent in it. Zac, as always, sat back and enjoyed the adventure while his parents huffed and puffed our way around. Getting lost on the way back was a personal highlight. After lunch we caught a bus out to the eastern most point of the tourist road, stopping at even more photo stops, taking time to inhale the beauty of this wonder, sharing special moments as a small family, watching the clouds roll on by without noticing the wonder that they were passing below. Wow doesn’t even begin to describe how spectacular it was.

After a day and a bit of exploring that didn't even begin to scratch the surface; we adventured further west, heading for Las Vegas. We visited (another) aircraft museum and went to a drive through zoo called "Bearazona". It was really cool. We drove through a couple of gates that reminded me of Jurassic Park, saw long horned sheep, bison and other herbariums large mammals ignoring the traffic, passing them by. Then we got to the wolves... They were....more animated... There was a small pack that circled around the car in front and while the driver was happy snapping at seeing the majestic animals so close, one of the wolves at the front started to chew on the front bar and tires. It was bizarre! I don't know that the driver knew what to do, but after some slow nudging forwards, the wolf moved away far enough for the car to zoom off. We saw loads of bears - it was breeding season, so we saw several "piggy back rides". Interesting. The mama bears seemed less than impressed and promptly told the daddy bears to go away when they were finished playing.  

Another day, and we inched closer to Vegas. An hour or so after we hit the road, Zac turbo spewed all over the backseat as we drove down the interstate...so we had to pull over, clean him and the car up... So easy when cars are zooming past you at 130km an hour! After a quick breather and lunch at Tristan's favourite takeout "In and Out" (an obligatory stop for all those who travel along the West Coast) we continued our drive past the engineering greatness that is Hoover Dam. It was a long weekend in the US so there were people EVERYWHERE. Police directed the traffic, and you had to squirrel your way through the crowds to get a look. While in theory it is just another dam, it's a very impressive one. We happy snapped for a while, but the imposing heat restricted our stay as we didn't want Zac out in that heat for too long.  

Vegas was just down the road. We arrived as the sun started to disappear over the mountains and it had started to cool down to a more reasonable temperature. We caught up with friends and had dinner at one a casino off the strip. It was huge and the strangest part was just walking in with Zac in his pram. Tristan and I crept in like we were convicts waiting to be caught, but no one paid us any heed. We walked past dozens and dozens of "slot machines", sat in the restaurant ordered drinks without being ID'd (a big deal as we usually get asked everywhere) and enjoyed a yummy Mexican meal. It was a lovely night...until Zac decided to be sick (AGAIN!!). Poor baby - it had been a big day for the small boy.  

After we all got a good night sleep, (Zac woke up his usual self) we were ready to run and play, and we dared the heat and explored the Vegas strip. Though I shouldn't say the strip as that gives you the illusion we saw a lot. We didn't - 4 hours and we managed 4 casinos, lunch, and a yard glass of cocktail (carried with us as we strolled along the strip). There was so much more to see, but we just ran out of time!! Tristan and I had our first baby free date since Zac came home that evening, and we had to get ready!! So as Zac sat watching basketball on tv with our friends, Tristan and I walked hand in hand to see a show. It was so nice! Of course one of the shows main character was baby, so little Zac wasn't out of our mind for very long.  

We were back on the road the next day (with fond desires to go back to Vegas one day sans baby for a big night on the strip) on our way to Monument Valley. But first, we had a surprise drive through another national park. We were just driving along, watching bad tv on the DVD player while sitting in the backseat playing with Zac, following the GPS, when we saw that the road we were following was going through the heart of Zion National Park. It was so impressive!! We drove through a couple of canyons, which I imagine would be like being at the bottom of the grand canyon looking up. The road twisted and turned as we climbed out of the gorge, we drove through two tunnels carved into the cliffs. They had grand windows in the sides, framing the beautiful scenery that just took your breath away. It was a beautiful, unexpected landscape that we both wished we had more time to explore. There were campsites along the river that we wished we could have pulled over and spent a day or so relaxing and kicking up our heels with a beverage or two. It was one of our favourite places yet in the US.

Later that day we stopped in a three hotel, McDonalds and HJs only sized town. It wasn’t anything special, and there was no pool at the hotel, but it was good to have a rest before we hit cowboy country. An early morning start saw us enter into Monument Valley as the sun began to reflect off the red buttes and sandy desert. Now this spectacular piece of landscape is where many John Wayne films were shot, where countless cowboy movies are set and home to the Wild Wild West. I could just imagine my Poppa standing beside me telling me about a scene in a movie that was shot just in front of us. We were able to drive around the park on a serious 4x4 road that took us to some amazing places. We ate Indian flat bread, drizzled in local honey (YUM!), shopped at a couple of Indian brick-a-brac stalls, and sat at the edge of a butte, looking into the valley at sunset, waiting for that perfect photo. It was such a nice day!!

The next day was short drive to Moab, via a few wineries. We just took it easy. Then the following morning we got up early and explored Arches National Park. Eons of erosion had resulted in a unique landscape where the salt and soil beneath large limestone cliffs had been washed away, resulting in 'arches' emerging along the landscape. It was a magical landscape, and I often felt we were on a distant planet. We did a few short walks, but it was HOT! Thank goodness that we had the water cooler in the boot, because we filled our drink bottles up countless times. I honestly wished we had explored this park more, but we were all exhausted after 10 days away from home, adventuring across 4 states, and we were very much looking forward to spending a day in our PJs at home. So we just drove around the park, happy snapped and made it back to our hotel before sunset.

The next day, we cut our trip short, packed the car up for the last time, and drove all the way home.

It was a spectacular trip - enough for several holidays - and we squeezed it all into just 11 days. We visited where the states met, we saw the vastness of the Grand Canyon, we experienced man's greatness at the Hoover dam, an inch of Sin City was fabulous enough to call us back, unexpected beauty at Zion made us want for more, 4x4 adventures at Monument Valley was an experience I wish we could have shared, and the landscape of Arches made us remember that we truly are only in this world for a blink of an eye.

I love that we got to experience it as a little family - but I must admit, that first night home, sitting on the couch together as the very best feeling of all.

Apologies for the EXTREME delay in posting this blog.

I hope you are all happy and healthy - we miss you all

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