Monday, April 1, 2013

Grand Canyon & Vegas: Las Vegas

After a super-boring drive and some really bad food (in my humble opinion) at Sonic Burger, we made it from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas in around 4 hours.   Passed by Hoover Dam, which Matt really wanted to see, but could not see it at all from the highway (next time, I guess).    Found our hotel, the Red Rock, which is around 10 miles from the strip in the upscale suburb of Summerlin.   Even though it still has a huge casino, it is a little more modern, and a lot less cheese-y, than the other Vegas Casinos.   Rooms are really big and we got two at a good price, so everyone got their own bed for a change!    Had to run out after check-in to go to the last tour of the day at the Neon Museum in downtown Vegas, which is in the boneyard, where old neon signs go to rest.  So cool, just to see all the old signs lying next to each other and our tour guide gave us great facts about Vegas History.  Fun Story #1:  the Moulin Rouge was the first casino to open to both blacks and whites in 1955 when Vegas was called the "Mississippi of the West" because of its strict segregation policy.  It became a big after-hours hangout for all the cool performers until it went bankrupt after six months.  Fun Story #2:  The Stardust casino used to hold "atomic parties" while the US military was testing nuclear weapons out in the Vegas desert.  They had special drinks and people used to book their spots at the pool so they could look up at the sky during the testing!   Girls used to wear outfits shaped like mushroom clouds.  Too weird!  

 After the museum we went to Fremont Street, which was the old location of all the original casinos.  It suffered in the 80s and 90s and was just revived with a big overhead canopy for an LED light show, a zip line, and all these tacky performers.  Matt promised us that the Las Vegas strip would be classier than what we saw there.   We came back  to the hotel and had dinner at the Yard House, which is an LA chain with hundreds of beers on tap and a pretty good menu.  Our waiter was a young army vet who served in Afghanistan, recently arrived to get a fresh start out here.  Food and service were really great (fish tacos, sliders, 'smores brownie and salted caramel butterscotch pudding for dessert).

On our last full day of vacation, we woke up late and went out for breakfast to the and came back to the hotel to sit by the pool.  When the boys got bored, they went to bowl a couple games in the Red Rock lanes, Yamini made a friend in the pool, then went to the "Kids Quest" for an hour.  Around 4pm, we headed over to "the strip" and parked at the Bellagio - the lobby there looked super tacky to me, until we visited all the other casinos, which made me like the Bellagio the best.  The boys liked the Luxor, which I will admit is kinda cool, and we all hated the Excalibur, which looks like a giant, ugly, lego castle.  We started and ended our walk with the water show Fountains of the Bellagio on the mini-lake in front of the property, which is much better when it gets dark.   We stopped at Pinkberry for some great frozen yogurt, Walgreens to buy a few souvenirs, and the "Sugar" shop in the Paris, so the kids could pick out some dessert for after dinner.   For dinner, we went off the strip to a highly rated Thai restaurant in a run-down strip mall. Lotus of Siam, and it was amazing!!   A good place for our last big meal, and everyone is now looking forward to getting home and getting back in gear for work and school.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Arizona & Las Vegas: Grand Canyon

After a pretty 2+ hour drive from Sedona, we reached the outskirts of the Grand Canyon.  You pay $25 to enter the park area, and though the pass lets you go back in and out, we realized, once you are in, there is no reason to leave.  Went to the Visitor Center to get a quick look over the rim and got some advice on hikes, etc.  Checked into Bright Angel Lodge, which has a main lodge and then a bunch of guest cabins.  Our two adjoining cabins were "Rim Cabins" (booked a year in advance), and the view did not disappoint.  The canyon is literally right outside the rooms!!  Settled in and took a short walk over to the lodge and the more upscale El Tovar hotel.  We ate in the lodge, which was just fine and not too expensive.  The best part was that while you wait, you can hang out in the cocktail lounge, which had live entertainment and great beer.  The kids hung out in the lobby, taking advantage of the wifi, which only really works there . . .Boys and Matt shared a room and watched some bad TV, while Yamini and I did some before bedtime reading. . .

Woke up to some chilly air, but the day got warmer as it went on and we shed some layers while hiking.   Took the shuttle bus over to the shopping area which had a full supermarket, so we packed up some sandwiches and lots of water and waited for the next shuttle over to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Decided we could do the 3 mile roundtrip hike to Cedar Ridge.  Once we got down the fairly steep but mostly smooth trail to the first lookout (ooh ahh point), it wasn't too hard to get to the next one.  Our lunches tasted so good after the hike and we had fun taking pictures before the hike back up.  Boys were pretty speedy, Yamini was pretty tired, but she found a trusty walking stick and we just took our time up and enjoyed the view.  Back to Bright Angel for ice cream and some R&R before dinner in the Arizona Room.  Our waiter was great, and even though Will thought he could eat two racks of ribs, we ended up with leftovers.  On the walk back to our cabin, I think I could see every star in our galaxy. . A great day!

Second full day in Grand Canyon, we went back to the market in the morning to eat breakfast and make our next round of sandwiches.  We walked over to Hermit Road from our cabin and took the Rim Trail to all the view points over the next four miles.  It was a long walk, but not very steep, and the views from each point were fabulous.  We could see as far down as the Colorado River, so that was cool.   Yamini and I went to a ranger talk about the California Condor, which was nearly extinct (only 22 left) and was bred in captivity until the young birds were able to be released to the wild.  The canyon is a very good environment for them, so there are now around 80 in the canyon alone and some hundreds more in CA and the Southwest.  In the evening we took a guided bus ride over to some of the same points we had visited during the day to see the Sunset.  Hard to take good pictures, but fun to try and cool to see how the canyon and river looked in the changing light.  Had drinks and appetizers for dinner at the El Tovar lounge and made lots of friends (but not our waiter, who got very stressed out over our food order) - I tried the prickly pear juice margarita which was a bit sweet, but yummy.

On our last morning, we ate some breakfast in the rooms and did a one hour hike on Bright Angel Trail - down to the second tunnel and back.  I stopped off at the Kolb Studio on the way back to the room to pack.  The Kolb Brothers, Ellsworth and Emery, came to the Grand Canyon in 1901 and set up a photography studio.  They did all these crazy stunt photos and were the first guys to make a movie of a trip down the Colorado River.  They also were some of the first people to establish the village on the South Rim and were part of the whole community that makes the place run so well to this day - really cool. (Grand Canyon History / Kolb Brothers) As we packed up the car, it was looking pretty cloudy, so we probably got the best of the canyon while we were there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Arizona & Vegas - Part 1: Sedona

Started off the Spring Vacation with a delayed flight to Phoenix on United Airlines with no TV/Movie seat backs and no Wifi.   Made the best of the 5 hour trip by watching "Singin' in the Rain" with Matt and Yamini.   Found a good place to stop on the 2 hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona - Rock Springs Cafe, with almost 20 kinds of pie.  We chose the Chocolate Creme and Blueberry Crumb.  Yummy.

Got to the Enchantment Resort in Sedona it was dark, so saw nothing of the property and went to sleep.   Woke up to find ourselves in the middle of the beautiful red rocks of Boynton Canyon.   Had to wrangle the activity desk in the morning because all the guided canyon hikes were booked up for the week, which was disappointing, so they kindly added a hike for us out in the Coconino National Forest. . Mund's Wagon Trail.
   Later in the day, my cousin Jonathan and his wife Jelena, who live in Phoenix, came up to hang out with us by the pool and have dinner.  We found two other PS234 families at the pool, and Yamini made lots of friends while swimming until her fingers looked like prunes.   Had dinner at a nice pizza and salad place in town, Picazzo's.

Day 2 - Yamini went to "Camp Coyote" at the hotel, the boys played cardio tennis and I did a mellow yoga class at the spa.   Took the boys into town for lunch and then went on a little hike outside the hotel property in Boynton Canyon before picking up Yamini and hanging at the pool some more.  We got all the contest-winning flavors of Lay's potato chips ("Chicken & Waffles," "Siracha," and "Parmesan Garlic Bread") and Matt walked around offering samples to people at the pool.  Drove 40 miles or so to the "Ghost Town" of Jerome which used to be a Copper Mining boom down until the Great Depression hit.  Now the town is kind of run down and artsy at the same time, and from what we read, slowly slipping down the hill at 4 in. / year.  Had a good dinner at the Haunted Hamburger, which included $1.99 margaritas for the grown ups.  Everyone had a bit too much sun today, so early to bed!

Day 3 - After similar morning activities for all, we took the boys for a nice filling lunch at the "Coffee Pot" which Matt voted best diner food ever (Omlette #32 out of 101 choices - avacado, mushroom, and spinach), then we went for a hike at Cathedral Rock, about a 30 minute drive away.  It was spectacular to look at from below and a short, but all uphill climb to an area of flat rocks with great views then a shimmy up a crevice (for the boys but not for me) to a higher plateau.  Very cool.

Great dinner at night after a 2 hr. 15 minute wait at Elote - but worth the wait and enjoyed hanging out with our fellow downtown New Yorkers - Linda, Jonathan, Lucas & Maya.   Tomorrow we will try to get in a bit more swimming, yoga and tennis before packing it up for the Grand Canyon!!