Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Wild, Wild West

Thursday night, we returned from 11 practically perfect days in Arizona. We decided to take a family vacation out to see where Brad's office is and explore all that the area has to offer. Before we left, we only booked hotel rooms, a trip via train to the Grand Canyon, and a rental car. We left everything else wide open, which gave us an amazing amount of freedom. It was bliss to plan our days without prearranged schedules or a check list of things we had to see. When we checked into the hotel, we raided the tourist brochure stand and just planned one day at a time.

We flew in on Monday, and stopped by Daddy's office to meet all of his colleagues. They are all lovely people, and it is so nice to have faces to put with names! We then checked into the Residence Inn:
 Having a kitchen made a world of difference! As soon as we were unpacked, we headed to the grocery to stock lunch and snack options. We even decided to just cook dinner in the hotel that night and settle in after a long day of travel. After dinner, we had to go swimming. It was what the kids were most excited about for the trip.

Tuesday, Daddy had to work, and the kids and I headed out to hike in Watson Woods:
 They were none too sure of this "woods" when we arrived. Once we found the path in, though, the hike improved. Soon, we were at a dry creek bed that provided ample opportunities for climbing:
 And log riding:
 And lizard spotting:
 By the end of our mile and a half hike, they had decided this woods might be pretty cool after all:
 Next year, we hope to hike all the way to the lake that is out there!

Tuesday afternoon, we headed back to the pool:
 In fact, we went swimming every day except the day we went to the Grand Canyon. We have fish for children.

Tuesday afternoon, we picked Daddy up from work and headed out to explore downtown Prescott. It is such a cute little town:
These little gnomes guard the new grass, which I find tremendously entertaining:

 We also found a great homemade ice cream shop:
 There was no way Issa was letting me get that picture of her:
 That night, we picked up pizza from Brad's favorite local place and then headed back to the hotel...and of course went swimming again.

Wednesday, Daddy was able to take the day off to hang out with us! We spent the morning at Heritage Park Animal Sanctuary, which is right there in Prescott. All of their animals have been rescued, and we were there to see this big bear eat his breakfast:
 He was watching for the keeper to walk up the sidewalk. As soon as he saw her, he jumped down and went to his den so she could arrange her food.

We also saw everything from eagles to raccoon, from lizards to mule deer. But the highlight was Cassie:
 We were able to see Cassie eat breakfast, too, and we all learned a lot about tigers:
 It truly was a memorable moment to see such a powerful animal "hunt" and eat.

Wednesday afternoon was spent swimming and enjoy the hotels barbecue dinner. By Wednesday night we headed out to Prescott's rodeo, which is the oldest continuously running rodeo in the world:
 The kids were enamored with the horses and cowboys, and the program did a great job explaining how the events factored into real ranch life. There is just something so right about an evening that starts with the National Anthem and a prayer. The rest of the evening featured some great riding and some epic falls, all supported by a rodeo community that appreciates the skill. The rodeo allowed some riders to rerun the event--not to score better--but simply to have the chance to show what they could do.

Thursday morning, we packed up bright and early and headed north:
Brad made this drive when we was interviewing, and he wanted us to see the views from 89A. We drove through Jerome:
 Unfortunately, Issa and I didn't do so well on the windy roads, and Issa now equates Jerome with vomit. You'll have that. Fortunately, we rebounded in time to appreciate Sedona:
 We had headed out early so that we could have breakfast at L'Auberge, which was where Brad went when he made this drive:
 The food was phenomenal, but eating creek-side was the highlight:
 The kids loved watching and photographing these ducks:
 We did a little shopping at some of the artsy stores in Sedona before driving farther north through more breath-taking views:

 Thursday night, we ended up in Williams, which is where the train would take us to the Grand Canyon the next day. We did another grocery trip to stock our room at the railway hotel and enjoyed another meal in the room, and, of course, we went swimming.

We thought there was no better way to spend the Fourth of July than at the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Canyon Railway was the perfect way to get there! Before we boarded the train, we went to a Wild West show at the end of the platform, and to our great delight Daddy was the one to get roped into the show!
 They asked him to play poker in order to win breakfast money since the gang's ma was in jail. After sufficiently mocking his "purse" and short pants, they declared him a card cheat and prepared to shoot:
 Thankfully, the Marshall arrived just in time to save the day. The kids and I were thoroughly amused, and the kids were very happy to pose with one of the gang afterwards:
 We boarded the train and were thrilled to find that each car has a guide. He was able to tell us all about what we were seeing and help us prepare to make the most of our time at the Grand Canyon. This is the Sleeping Man Mountain range (his head is to the left):
We also discovered that they had live musicians playing guitars and singing throughout the ride. It was a beautiful ride, but nothing was quite as amazing as arriving to this:
 Now, the Grand Canyon is a little rough for someone who is terrified of heights--like me. I spent the first hour just sure that the children were plummeting to their deaths if they were within six feet of the edge. This about cause me to hyperventilate:
 Thankfully, Daddy is fearless. We were all shocked by the complete lack of wall around all but a few feet of the canyon:
 We ate lunch in a cafe overlooking the canyon, and then we walked the Timeline Trail, which was easily our best decision. Every large step along the Southern Rim is a million years, and as you walk it guides you through the rock layers from the bottom of the canyon up. They even have viewing tubes to help you spot it in the canyon and samples you can touch:
 We walked the whole 2 billion years:
 And we were able to see the Colorado River (the triangle in the middle of this photo):
 This picture takes my breath away in so many wonderful ways:
 Just as we were leaving a storm came across the canyon, which was amazing:

 I even made it within a foot of the edge by the end of the day! Next year, we plan to spend more time there and actually go down into the canyon.

Soon, we boarded our train for the ride home. These pictures capture some of the little silly moments I loved about our week. Evan and Daddy teasing each other:

 Issa telling us stories and amazing us with how much she knows:

 And...we saw two herd of elk on the way back! I was desperate to see elk in the wild, and we finally did.

Just when we all thought it couldn't get any better, the gang from the morning managed to get on board:
 Thankfully they are kindly bad guys who pose for pictures:
 Please note, Evan will not hesitate to tell the Marshall exactly where the bad guys are:
 We arrived back just in time to catch the Williams Fourth of July parade--down Route 66:
 How cool is that? And...somehow we scored parade space right across from the grandstand:
Did I mention Williams is an incredibly small town? The MC owns the local music store, and apparently he knows every one in town. Brad and I were cracking up as he announced the floats. Not only did he mention what organization sponsored the float but he greeted every person on board by name. Our particular favorites were when he apologized to one driver for missing lunch and confirmed a lunch date for later in the week with another. We also decided at least half of the town is his neighbor. It was priceless, and the kids loved the small town feel and the pockets full of candy they brought home.

Arizona is too dry for fireworks, but the kids did learn who Smokey the Bear is:
 Saturday, we packed up car and headed back south. We had a fabulous Tex-Mex brunch on our way out of town, complete with live music. I may be ruined for all other Tex-Mex forever. This time, we drove Route 66 through Flagstaff. We had heard about the Museum of Northern Arizona, so we planned to stop there. When we arrived, we discovered they were hosting the Hopi Festival! We were able to hear live music from the tribe, learn about their traditions, see their weaving and crafts, and make a few crafts of our own. The highlight of my day was sitting at the craft table with a little boy who was about ten and a member of the Parrot Clan of the Hopi Tribe. He was so excited to share his culture, and I learned so much.

We left there to explore a volcano that is in Flagstaff. We thought we were headed to the park, but the GPS actually took us to the foot of the volcano via some dirt roads. It wasn't the trek we planned, but it was so fun--except for the couple of times we wondered whether the Impala would make it. It was gorgeous and another happy accident.

From Flagstaff, we headed further south to the Blazing M Ranch. It used to be a working ranch, and now they host cowboy dinners and a music show. The brochure over-sold the pre-dinner activities, but the kids were amused to put Daddy in jail:
 The coolest pre-dinner activity was a real roper teaching the kids how to rope a steer. We were really impressed by how detailed his instructions were--right down to which way your thumb points at various times. Issa, always the dancer:
 Evan initially roped himself:
 But he finally got a hay steer:
 After a tractor ride, we settled in to play horse shoes until dinner:
 Our little buckaroos:
 Dinner was served from what looked like a chuck wagon on tin plates with tin mugs. We had chicken, ribs, baked potatoes, baked beans, rolls, and prickly pear coleslaw. (Side note: I am now addicted to prickly pear anything. Prickly pear lemonade is heaven in a glass.) It was delicious, and it was followed by a truly wonderful concert:
 They sang true cowboy ballads, many of which I remember from growing up. The kids were in love. One of the very final numbers somehow captured our life raising our two kiddos. They sang Ghost Rider, and the same roper from earlier rode a beautiful palomino while riding a ghost costume around the outside of the dining hall. The strobes made him look like a ghost rider circling the hall. Evan thought this was the absolute best part of the evening. Issa was scared to death. Thankfully, she recognized the hat and we were able to logic it out before bed time.

Saturday night we headed back to Prescott, and spent Sunday recovering a bit from all the adventure. We went to a local breakfast place that used to be a train depot for a great brunch, and then we went to see How to Train Your Dragon II in a theater that may have ruined all theaters forever. Imagine leather recliners and a ticket and concession price half of what we are used to. Brad has announced he will be seeing many more movies in Prescott. That evening, one of Brad's coworkers invited us out to his house for dinner, and we had a lovely evening. Their home looks out over Thumb Butte, and it was a beautiful place to enjoy a meal.

Monday morning, Daddy headed to work and the kids and I set out exploring. We started our morning at Granite Creek:
There were plenty of stones for skipping. We then went to the Sharlot Hall Museum, where my children proceeded to astound me and every docent we met. The museum is a series of historic buildings from Arizona's territorial days, and when we walked in, each kiddo was given a scavenger hunt of questions to answer. The lady explained we should expect to spend 45 minutes to an hour to see the whole museum. We started in an exhibit about prehistoric life in Arizona, which was really interesting, and I stood back while Issa read to Evan and I answered the occassional question. We had the museum to ourselves, which meant they could wander and explore to their hearts content. We were able to see the first governor's mansion, which is a log cabin, and the docent there was incredible. She started by explaining that the cabin had been build when Lincoln was president. When she asked if they knew who that was, Issa responded, "He was president during the Civil War," and Evan chimed in, "He freed the slaves." Well then. Even I was a little surprised, but she ratcheted her talk up a bit and we learned a ton about the time period and how the cabin was built. We also saw an exhibit about the early days of the territory including the railroad, homesteaders, ranching, and Whiskey Row. We ended our tour in the fifth governor's mansion, which was a beautiful Victorian home. All said, we were there two hours. They were just little sponges! When we turned in our scavenger hunt, they each received a piece of candy, but I also said they could pick something out from the gift shop. Evan chose a set of lincoln logs, and Issa chose a set of marbles. Much of the rest of the week was spent like this:
 I love that they still love simple toys.

After swimming, we picked Daddy up from work and went to eat dinner at the Palace, which is on Whiskey Row. It's the most historic restaurant, and the kids had learned about how it had been saved from fire multiple times, including an incident in which a bunch of cowboys carried the bar out when it looked like the building might burn. The kids loved looking at the museum cases that were set up inside, and Daddy was pretty impressed with all they had learned.

Tuesday, we dropped Daddy off at work and then headed to the Smoki Museum:
 This museum is dedicated to all tribes west of the Mississippi. When we walked in, I realized it was just one large room, and I thought we might be there a half an hour. Again, we had the museum to ourselves and the kids were given a scavenger hunt. As a bonus, Mr. Bruce was working. He is a retired archaeologist, and he became our personal guide. Once he realized how interested the kids truly were, he dove right in. Instead of just showing them the matete that would have been used to grind corn, he let them try it. My heart about stopped when he took a piece of 9,000 year old pottery out of the case so the kids could feel the potter's thumb print in the clay. He opened more cases than he left shut, and we all learned so very much. The best part was he just followed the kids, seeing what they were interested in and telling them about that. Over two hours later, they were rewarded with obsidian arrow heads of their own for completing the scavenger hunt. It was an amazing morning. We went swimming, or course, and then picked Daddy up. We stumbled on a fun little Italian place, where the waitress was terribly amused by the kids splitting shrimp scampi and ordering balsamic vinaigrette for their salads. It was the perfect end to our time in Prescott.

Wednesday, Daddy worked a half day while the kids and I spent a little more time exploring downtown Prescott. After lunch, we headed to Phoenix since we had an early flight Thursday. We stayed near Arizona State, and Daddy used his Food Network ap to find an amazing pizza place. Life changing, wood fired pizza that was featured on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." The waiter almost fell over as the kiddos split the market salad, which was watermelon and fennel, with their pizza.

And when in the West, we realized we needed some Western wear, which deserves to be featured. I found a hat on day one:
 Here is the deal, this hat saved me. Not only did it provide much needed shade, but it also kept my hair from blowing in my face.

Evan needed six shooters:
 He wore them to both the rodeo and the cowboy dinner.

Issa found a beautiful Yavapi butterfly barrette:

 She found it in Sedona, but Mr. Bruce explained it would be worn during the butterfly dance in the spring.

To put it simply, this trip was perfect. It was the right blend of adventure and rest, learning and playing. We laughed together and made so many memories, and we can't wait to go back next year.

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