Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Southwest Recap

I thought this recap post was going to be easy to spin through and plop onto this here blog, but I'm tired and not feeling well and feeling like my blahness will come across as lack of zeal for this trip and the things we did.  But as I said in my last post, it was the best trip we ever did take as a family.  So because of said tiredness and just blahness, I'm going to very matter of factly just give the details of where we stayed/what we did and forgive me if it lacks the flair of a travel journalist.  Basically, I'm just going to tell you the nitty gritty. 
Wednesday we departed Southern California and 8 hours and 1 stop later we arrived at the Grand Canyon (my kids by the way pee twice a day, which can be frustrating as a mother who worries about the inevitable UTI that will result from pee holding, but can be glorious for road tripping and errand running.  Honestly it is the most convenient character trait my kids possess).  There was a bit of a wait at the gate to get in but once we entered the park, it was a short trip to arrive at Grand Canyon village in the South Rim (the North Rim is closed during the winter months but I've heard that it is quite beautiful as well, of course, and a lot less crowded).  We arrived just at sunset and because of my blahness today, I'm afraid my words will fail me and I won't be able to properly tell you just how glorious of a sight the Grand Canyon is when seeing it from adult eyes, but please, please believe me that it was magnificent.   

Seventeen years had passed since I had seen the Grand Canyon and seeing from my 35 year old eyes last week was one thousand times more incredible and awe inspiring than seeing it as a teen.  It was truly glorious and spectacular and I swear it brought tears to my eyes.  Simply said, in a gasp, it literally took my breath away.  The kids of course looked around and were like "cool, let's go look for rocks now."  It didn't bother me, I just went with it because it would be silly of me to think 4 and 6 year olds could appreciate such a sight. If you are thinking of going, please go.  You won't regret it.
(El Tovar)
As far as lodging goes, you have quite a few options; camping of course is an option, that is if you are INSANE!  But really, camp if you'd like, but there are plenty of very nice indoor/queen size bed/warm places to spend the night, all booked through  Xanterra.. the company Fred Harvey founded over a hundred years ago.  We stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge which was right on the rim and although a little dated, it was perfectly comfortable, clean and affordable.

You can check out the other lodges available (we would love to stay at the El Tovar next time!), but some you can't book online, so give them a call.  Don't be put off by this, as giving them a call was very easy and helpful.  The rep spent about 25 minutes on the phone with me and answered all sorts of questions I had.  He also booked our tour for us, which leads me to what we did...
 We took a 2 hour tour Thursday morning that went as far as Hermits Rest and turned around.  We were able to stop along the way to take pictures and look around and we had a guide that gave us some history and answered questions.  Cost for this tour was $26 per adult and free for kids under 12.  There were also 1.5 hour tours and 3 hour tours.  Xanterra can book all of these for you.  There are of course the famous donkey tours and hiking tours, but I was nervous enough having the kids running around so close to the edge I wasn't tempting fate.
Dining in Yosemite Village was surprisingly very nice.  We ate dinner our first night at a place called the Arizona Room and then lunch at El Tovar (tip on dining at El Tovar - call way in advance for dinner reservations, and for lunch get there before the 11:40 train arrives in the village and the place becomes swarmed with day trippers).  Breakfast was picked up on the run at a easy little coffee shop. 
I'd say 24 hours in Grand Canyon was the perfect amount of time for our young family.  As they get older I could imagine doing some hiking and more exploring, but at this age it was just too scary to embark on that type of adventure.  After lunch on Thursday we walked around a bit and let the kids pick out some souvenirs and then we were off onto our next adventure, Sedona.
 (downtown Sedona)
 You'll drive about 2 hours to Sedona, famous for its huge beautiful red rocks, many of which resemble gorillas and famous cartoon characters like Snoopy.  Now let me say that Sedona definitely gets by with its good looks and charm because the restaurants pretty much suck and the coffee is way over priced ($5.25 for a medium latte WHAT?!).  We did manage to scout a couple of decent eats, both being at Tlaquepaque - El Rincon and The Secret Garden.  They were good but not amazing.  We would have loved to eat at Elote Cafe but it was a 2 hour wait and they don't take reservations.  Tip - get there before they open at 5 to get a table.  The menu did look pretty incredible.  Overall Sedona could take a tip from its neighbor Scottsdale and build a couple of more good eats. 

Since I know vacations aren't only about eating, but also doing, let me share a couple of the highlights that you should consider taking in -
 (enjoying the jeep tour)
Jeep Tours have popped up as the main tourist attraction it seems since we last visited 10 years ago.  At first I was a bit skeptical and saw it as a tourist trap, but after some consideration we decided to just have Art take the kids and you know what?  It was worth every penny!  They all had an incredible time on the 2 hour 4x4 ride.  Art took video footage of most of it and we've had fun playing it over and over for some of our family and just each other.  There are a lot of companies in town but we went with A Day In the West because they were family owned, more reasonably priced than other tours and they offered a true 4x4 adventure (they did the 2 hour Lil Rattler tour and through our hotel we got 10% off).  FYI, Pink Jeep Tours is a big one about town but they are very expensive and not family owned, so that was just a bit of a sticking point with me.  Nina was their tour guide and she was amazing, really knowing how to make it fun for the kids (in the video footage she engages with them a lot and stops a few times to show them different sites, including some animal carcasses which the kids LOVED and told them ancient Native American folk tales).
 (Chapel of the Holy Cross)
Other site seeing options include Chapel Of the Holy Cross, which is a chapel built right into the side of the hill and offers a pretty incredible view.  Rock seeing is fun too, especially for the kids.  Shapes like bears, Snoopy and gorillas can be spotted in the rock formations, or you can let the kids have their own imagination and identify what they see.  Traveling with kids your options are obviously a little more limited because there are beautiful hiking trails to explore and spas and art galleries galore.  But considering our travel companions and our time constraints, this is what we managed to do and felt fulfilled enough with our short trip to Sedona.
 (gorilla rock)
 (Snoopy rock)
 (view from Chapel of the Holy Cross)
I forgot to share where we stayed while there.  We stayed at the Orchards Inn right in downtown Sedona.  It was clean and comfortable but in the future I'd probably stay somewhere a little more tucked away.  Don't get me wrong, Sedona shuts down at 6 or 7 pm so we didn't have loud noise to contend with, but our room was right over a restaurant.  The Hyatt was just up the street and was about $25 more per night than the Orchard Inn and a better location.  Friends have stayed at the L'Auberge and loved it, but more for a romantic getaway.        

If you follow me on Twitter you'll know that after leaving Sedona we traveled to Scottsdale and spent a couple of days wieth my best friend and her new baby.  I wont' share that part of our trip because we don't ever do much there but visit and eat :)

The last thing I'll mention before ending this very long post is that the timing of our trip was pretty much perfect.  The Grand Canyon was busy, but not overly crowded like summer and spring can be.  It was cold, mainly at night, but definitely bearable.  We planned late and booked our hotel just 2 days before but if you plan a bit more in advance you'd have more prime options for lodging.  The weather overall during our trip was pretty much perfection.  Crisp air and blue skies with just a bit of snow in the Grand Canyon and on our drive into Sedona.  Overall I can't recommend December enough as the time to take this sort of trip.

I hope this wasn't too boring?  It took me for some reason a very long time to recap this info, so please if you made it through to the end leave a note saying hi so I know all my work wasn't in vain :)  And this will be the last you will ever hear about our trip.  Even I'm tired of talking about it now :)

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