We are pleased to introduce this oft-delayed road trip at last! Originally scheduled for the Fall of last year, we had to delay our departure due to numerous issues at home. Those are now resolved for the most part, so we're back on track and ready to resume our travel planning.
As you may know, if you want a room at one of the National Park lodges at the Grand Canyon, you have to think ahead. We'll chronicle our reservations and planning process as it falls into place. The schedule change enabled us to get a cabin at the North Rim that was not available in the Fall.
September 10, 2012: Reservations are confirmed at the Grand Canyon South Rim at the Thunderbird Lodge ($189 per night for a double/double room) on the rim. We were able to secure a partial view room here. At the North Rim, we have a reservation for a Frontier Cabin at the Grand Canyon Lodge, the only lodging at the North Rim, it includes a double bed, a twin bed, and not much else ($129 per night). We had to add a day to our trip to arrive at Bryce Canyon a day later to allow us to secure a two-queen room in the motel section of Bryce Canyon Lodge ($175 per night.) We will be spending the extra night in Kanab, UT, where there are a couple of minor attractions to keep us entertained.
September 12, 2012: A couple of minor adjustments were made to our route. A day was added to our stop at Zion National Park because the town of Springdale will be a pleasant place for a do-nothing day, if we need it. The overnight scheduled for Mesquite was moved farther south to Overton, NV to allow more time at Valley of Fire State Park en route to Boulder City.
September 26, 2012: We've booked our stay in Scottsdale at the FireSky Resort & Spa, a Kimpton Hotel (pool view double queen, $252, AAA rate.) We wanted to try a Kimpton property and this seems like as good a time as any. We were tempted to choose the famous Hotel Valley Ho, but they charge for internet access and we are boycotting hotels that still have this fee. Yes, we know it is petty, but it is time for hotels to wake up and realize that the internet is an expected amenity these days, no different than a TV or electricity. Kimpton waives the fee for members of its complimentary InTouch loyalty program.
September 29, 2012: As we continue to scrutinize our proposed route, we always uncover previously unplanned stops. As a result, several changes were made to our itinerary to allow time to visit Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument en route to the Grand Canyon. Left as it was, it would have been a very long day, so we have added an overnight stop in Flagstaff to make it easier on us. We eliminated the stops in El Centro and Gila Bend which were replaced with an overnight in Yuma, AZ. We also added an additional night in Chinle to allow a more thorough visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This pushed back the two-night stay in Monument Valley and cut down the stop in Page to an overnight only.
October 1, 2012: We're still tinkering with the itinerary. This time we substituted an overnight in Winslow, AZ for the one a few miles away in Holbrook. The primary reason for this is that we want to stay at the historic La Posada Hotel, originally a Fred Harvey hotel built for the railroad, that has been restored. Don't worry, we'll stop by the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook for a few pictures!
January 25, 2013: We have had a few setbacks recently that put our planning on hold. First off, we had to start looking for a house sitter, again. That has been resolved, we are happy to report. Although we can't vouch for the actual house sitters yet, we are confident in recommending the new site we found for this purpose, TrustedHousesitters.com. All of the sitter applications we received through this site were qualified, so it was a matter of choosing the one we liked the most.
Just when we thought we were back on track, we unexpectedly lost our older dog this week. We were able to muddle through the ordeal with the help of a wonderful in-home service that handled everything, including being as compassionate as anyone could possibly be. We are grateful that such a service exists in our area. Peaceful Passing made the whole process bearable and they have our wholehearted endorsement.
OK, so let's get on with the planning! We have a slew of new reservations to report.
We made three reservations today for Arizona stops. The first, in Prescott, is at The Motor Lodge where we booked a double queen suite for $129.00. At the next stop, Sedona, we will be staying at the Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas. We chose a King Room with fireplace and red rock view (includes breakfast) for the AAA rate of $255.59 which would be ridiculous anywhere else, but this is Sedona after all. The least expensive room at this hotel is $210.00, by the way. For our overnight in Flagstaff, we chose the Drury Inn & Suites where we selected a 2-Queen Deluxe (the cheapest room available) at the AAA rate of $174.00. All Drury hotels include complimentary breakfast and evening hot food, three cocktails, soft drinks and snacks, so the price is fairly reasonable for what you get. We were tempted to use our HHonors points to stay at one of the Hilton-affiliated brands in town, but we wanted to try Drury again after staying with them in St. Louis last year.
January 27, 2013: We reserved a 4WD SUV with Hertz at the AAA rate of $1,634.66, not including taxes and insurance.
January 28, 2013: Our choice of hotel for Springdale, UT (just outside of Zion National Park) is the Desert Pearl Inn. We have booked three nights in a Double Queen Riverside room at $198 per night. The rooms here are quite large and similar to a time-share accommodation. Today, we also booked two nights at The View Hotel in Monument Valley. A StarView Room Two Queens there goes for $236.00. This is not a luxury hotel, so it is definitely overpriced, but with the commanding view and a complete monopoly they can get away with it. We would have preferred to put off booking this hotel due to their oppressive cancellation policy, but when we noticed rooms starting to fill up, we felt we had no choice but to go ahead and book early.
February 10, 2013: We have booked three more reservations, all using various reward points so the stays will be free of charge. The first is a two night stay at the Holiday Inn in Chinle, AZ, just outside the gate into Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The AAA rate here for a two-bed room is $93.00, or 15,000 Priority Club points. Our second freebie is for one night at the Courtyard by Marriott in Page, AZ. Double rooms here go for $159.00, or 25,000 Marriott Reward points. Neither of these hotels offers free breakfast, but both include complimentary internet connections. Finally, we secured a 2-Queen Junior Suite at the Best Western Plus King's Inn & Suites in Kingman, AZ. Regular price for this room is $109.99, or 16,000 Best Western reward points. Rates here include a full breakfast and internet, which we'd consider a good value even if we were paying for it.
February 21, 2013: A few more reservations have been made today, nearly wrapping up the planning process. For our overnight in Kanab, UT, we booked a Deluxe Double Queen room at the Victorian Inn for the AAA rate of about $107.00 that includes breakfast, internet, and some petty booking fees that were charged in advance (less than $10.00, but still, what's the point?) Sometimes these small, independent hotels try to reinvent the wheel, but we'll get over it...maybe.
Next up, we have an overnight stay in Overton, NV, at the North Shore Inn at Lake Mead. A 2-Queens Non-Smoking Extended (whatever that means) goes for $84.99, including full breakfast and internet. We chose the "extended" room because it is the same price as a regular room, so why not?
The next booking is at the historic Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, NV, where we have booked a King Suite for the AAA rate of $97.52 (yes, that is for a suite!), including full breakfast in their restaurant, internet, and admission to the Hoover Dam Museum located in the hotel.
Our overnight rest-stop in Blythe, CA, is at the Comfort Suites where we reserved a 2-Queen Suite at the AAA rate of $134.99, including full breakfast and internet.
For our final two nights of the trip, we booked a Luxury Suite King Bed at the Borrego Springs Resort for the AARP rate (no AAA rate here, oddly enough) of $197.00. Internet is included, breakfast is not. We're hoping the stay is better than the incoherent and error-filled online booking process, but we'll hope for the best. It makes us nervous though because we received two confirmation emails minutes apart, but with the same confirmation number. Hopefully we haven't been booked twice.
This leaves the only open booking at our first stop, Yuma, AZ. We are expecting to use a free night certificate at the Holiday Inn, but the process of redeeming this freebie is more complicated than booking online, so we'll see how it goes. We have enough rewards points to stay there anyway at a choice of Hilton-affiliated or Holiday Inn properties, so no worries.
March 31, 2013: A minor change was made today...we switched our reservation in Scottsdale from the Firesky Resort to the Hilton Garden Inn Old Town. We booked a King Junior Suite at the Hilton for $144 per night AAA rate, which is a savings of over $300 total. Also, our HHonors status gets us free breakfast at the HGI, which is a huge savings over the restaurant prices at the Firesky Resort. This trip isn't about staying at "resorts" and the HGI is walking distance to Old Town and other attractions. We still want to try a Kimpton hotel, but probably will save it for a big city stay.
April 9, 2013: Our final reservation was booked today at the Holiday Inn in Yuma, AZ. We used a free-room certificate from Chase (we get one per year with the IHG Rewards Visa card.) The regular price for a Two Queen room is $113.09. The certificate is good at any IHG hotel, so it is kind of a waste to spend it on a Holiday Inn, but we don't foresee any travels that would work out to use it at, say, an Inter-Continental hotel before the expiration date. Still, free is free, so we'll take what we can get.
April 26, 2013: We changed hotels in Scottsdale after finding out that the HIlton Garden Inn is under renovation. This was not mentioned on the hotel's website, which in our opinion is inexcusable. So, we moved our reservation to the Hyatt Place Scottsdale/Old Town a block away from the Hilton. We booked a 2 Double Beds room at the AAA rate of $116.00 that includes breakfast and wi-fi. All rooms at this hotel are suites with a separate sitting area.
April 30, 2013: We picked up our rental car today from Hertz. This time we got a Chevrolet Equinox. Not great, but not bad either. It does have satellite radio, so that's a plus. With tax and insurance, the total price works out to about $2,300 for a month plus a few extra days. The house sitters arrived this evening, so all is good to go for our departure on Thursday. We will probably be delayed until late afternoon because of a planned power outage (how convenient...not), but it is only a 3-hour drive to Yuma, so not a big deal. As you know, we were just there during the previous road trip, so it is a rest stop with no sightseeing involved this time.
Day 1: Thursday, May 2 - Drive to Yuma, AZ - Holiday Inn
Yuma's geography shaped
the Southwest. Because this was the safest spot to cross the Colorado River, all
roads led to Yuma for travelers from Spanish explorers to Okies fleeing the Dust
Bowl. Today Yuma is a vibrant multicultural community that celebrates its
rich heritage, surrounded by wide-open spaces and pristine desert scenery - all
with a river running through it.
The power outage ended without incident at 11:00 AM, so we were able to depart just slightly later than our originally scheduled time, around 2:45 PM. We were having more fun than we should have with the house sitters, but we knew you would all be very disappointed if we stayed home, so off we went.
The GPS said we would arrive in Yuma at 6:00 PM, but there was absolutely no traffic and the time kept revising until it was accurate at 5:47 PM. We made no stops, not even for rest stops. To say nothing happened for the entire three hours isn't an exaggeration. At least neither of us fell asleep.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn exactly at the GPS-predicted time. It was only in the mid 80's when we arrived, which sure isn't bad for Yuma. What does Yuma have to offer that can sustain every chain hotel known to man within a square mile area? We sure have no clue. On the same street as the Holiday Inn there are Springhill Suites, Hampton Inn, Candlewood Suites, Fairfield Inn, and a few others we have already forgotten. And, none of them are slimmed down versions. All that matters really is that all of them, including the Holiday Inn, are no more than a few years old, so you'd be safe with any of the choices. Last time we passed through we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn by the river, which is also a super-sized version. We didn't stay there again because the beds were horrendous, although everything else about it was great.
As you may recall, we choose the Holiday Inn because we have a free night certificate from our Chase IHG Rewards card. Even so, we were upgraded to a corner room on the top floor, given two free bottles of water, and a coupon for $5.00 off breakfast in the restaurant. The front desk clerk said something about two free beers or two glasses of wine, but we're not sure how we get either of those (nor do we care or we would have asked.) The free drinks had something to do with us being at the Platinum level, which is also tied to the credit card. At any rate, the woman at the front desk was very pleasant, the hotel is relatively new and attractive, and it is very quiet.
Our room is at the end of the building with a corner of windows overlooking the view of fields and not much else for as far as the eye can see. The decor is nice, typical of today's hotel style, very clean, and the A/C was already cranked up before we arrived. The beds have pillows marked "Firm" and "Soft". We're surprised to see that all of the lamps have regular 100-watt incandescent bulbs in them. As far as we know they aren't even allowed to make those anymore, but it is sure nicer than the usual CFL's you'll find in most hotels. The bathroom is small, but spotlessly clean which is the most important thing. The amenities provided are generous. We can't recall the last time we stayed at a Holiday Inn, but if the new models are all like this, we will add them to our list of preferred choices.
After freshening up, we went downstairs to the in-house restaurant, Kam's Comfort Foods. Click to view the Dinner Menu. The restaurant is very small, but has a full bar. It took a few minutes for someone to notice us standing there, but after that the service was friendly and very prompt. We ordered the Monterey Grilled Chicken and the Sirloin Steak entrees, both of which were huge portions, included a choice of Caesar or green salad and three sides (fries, mashed potatoes, or onion rings) and steamed vegetables, all for only about $18.00. Everything was much better than we expected, good in fact. The plates looked like photos they were so perfectly arranged. While everything was quite tasty, the onion rings were delicious. The only glitch was that the waitress plopped down separate checks without asking if we wanted dessert (we didn't, but still.) Since she automatically separated the checks, we're going to assume that most of their business comes from workers in the area or business people. So, for about $36.00 plus tip, we thought that overall it was a good value. After checking out the breakfast menu, we're looking forward to waking up for another meal!
On the way through the lobby, we picked up some free apples (which Dave is stuck with) and cookies for later, then went back to the room and crashed.
Day 2: Friday, May 3 - Drive to Scottsdale, AZ - Hyatt Place Scottsdale/Old Town
Located in the beautiful Sonoran Desert,
Scottsdale, Arizona is bordered by Phoenix to the west and the McDowell
Mountains on the east. Scottsdale is annually rated among the nation’s most
desirable communities to live in, visit and do business in. Scottsdale’s
vibrant downtown is considered the finest urban center in Arizona. It is home to
more than 90 restaurants, 320 retail shops and more than 80 art galleries. Visit
more information. Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in the city’s
northern reaches, is the largest urban wilderness area in the United States and
features more than 60 miles of trails through diverse and scenic desert terrain.
We were up, literally, at the crack of dawn. That's what happens when you crash at 9:30 PM. It is sunny and somewhat windy here today, but when isn't it around here? We expect it will be very hot later, but it is a pleasant 51 degrees at 7:30 AM.
We went downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. There was only one other person there, which was surprising considering that the hotel appears to be fairly occupied. Click to view the Breakfast Menu. We ordered the "2-2-2" and the All-American Skillet with a side of fruit. The food was fantastic...everything was delicious, large portions, and freshly made. Our total bill was $24.99 before tip, with the $5.00 off coupon the front desk gave us when we checked in. In theory, it would be possible to get enough breakfast to get you out the door for $5.00. The server was friendly. So far, everyone working here has been very pleasant.
There is a quote on the wall of the restaurant that is something to keep in mind: "Remember that half the things we worry about never happen, and the other half are going to happen anyway, so why worry?"
We were back in the room by 8:30 AM, so we expect to be on the road to our next destination earlier than usual (our plan is to depart each location by 11:00 AM at the latest.) That means we might move up one or two of our planned sightseeing stops to today and leave more time free to explore Scottsdale over the weekend. No promises though. You know us, we're just as likely to decide we'd rather get to the hotel and sit down than actually do anything. The temperature outside was 74 degrees at 8:30 AM.
The final word on the Holiday Inn Yuma? Very nice. The staff is uniformly friendly and helpful, the entire property looks and smells clean and fresh, and it is a good value even if we had to pay for it. The beds are comfortable with very nice linens and pillows. Rooms have a microware, refrigerator, and coffee maker. We'd say that overall this place is just slightly less upscale than a Hilton Garden Inn, but is basically the same concept with better beds. It seems that every new chain hotel these days has the identical dark wood furniture package, so they all look alike anyway. The only small complaint we can come up with is that the air conditioning alternates between freezing cold and too warm. We can't see any way they can fix this without changing the entire system and it isn't enough of a problem to prevent us from staying here again. Overall we'd feel comfortable recommending this hotel.
For some reason we can't quite grasp, the drive to Phoenix took about four hours. Our GPS estimated correctly, but our printed plan said two hours. Point is, we're very lucky we were up early and left two hours before we had originally intended. The drive was uneventful except when we ignored the GPS's instructions, but she quickly corrected us and we didn't lose any time.
We arrived at Rossum House Museum at Heritage Square in Phoenix around 1:30 PM. We bought tickets for the next tour, at 2:00 PM, from a very friendly volunteer who told us to show up at the gate out front at the designated time. Only one other couple showed up for the tour which is a good thing because we're not sure how they would fit more than perhaps six people in each room.
This 2,800 square foot 1895 Victorian style home features ten rooms. Visitors view what life was like for Rosson House residents of Block 14, owners and tenants both, in early Phoenix during Arizona’s late territorial times all in its original location. The volunteer guide was very nice and seemed to know what she was talking about, but as far as we knew she could make it all up and we'd just have to believe her.
The house isn't very old or opulent in the grand scheme of things, but it is the oldest house remaining in Phoenix. It took six years to restore it after the state bought it. Previous owners had subdivided it into tiny apartments, enclosed the porches, etc. None of the original furniture remains, but they have attempted to fill the house with appropriate furnishings. In all honestly, we have been to way more impressive old house tours before, but this one was still worth our time and the $6.50 admission fee. The tour includes some exhibits in a nearby house, as well. As usual with this sort of thing, the guide can make or break it, so we were lucky she was friendly and interesting. However, the restoration is pretty much just a guess as to what rooms were used for what.
By the way, the guide told us that the Arizona History Museum across the street, which is a big, modern building, had recently closed after the Children's Museum merged with it. It seems that the Children's Museum only wants the building and is not interested in displaying the history of the state. Arizona is in the midst of a financial crisis, so many parks and museums have been forced to close. The museum closure didn't affect our plans at all, but we're passing on the information for anyone who does care.
The tour stop was intended mostly as a time killer until check-in time at our hotel in Scottsdale and it served this purpose just fine. We can't say that it would be worth making a huge effort to see, but we were glad we stopped.
We again ignored/misunderstood the GPS's instructions and ended up taking a convoluted route around the airport to get to our Scottsdale hotel for the next three nights. The location is about a block from the Old Town section of town, supposedly within walking distance of many restaurants and shops. It took about fifteen minutes to get there once we started listening to instructions.
The Hyatt Place is relatively new and located in the "entertainment district". What this means is that on weekends the hotel is surrounded by drunks from the adjacent clubs. The parking lot is closed off and guarded at night, so we were given parking permits and told to drive in through the exit if we go out at night, which we have no intention of doing, by the way.
The front desk clerk, er, Gallery Attendant, was extremely polite and helpful. She told us when breakfast is served (7:00 AM - 10:00 PM on weekends) and explained that the "Gallery" is open 24/7 for food. Click to view the Gallery Menu. We asked about restaurants to go to and she nicely gave us some nearby options, none of which appealed to us, but we didn't tell her that.
Our room is on the fifth floor on the back side of the hotel away from the noise of the nightclubs. Apparently this area is party central because almost every restaurant is a "Bar & Grill". In fact, when we drove around later looking for a place to eat, the bar part definitely trumped the restaurant everywhere we looked. Our view is toward the Old Town shopping district.
The rooms at the Hyatt Place are suites with a living room, wet bar, bedroom area, and bathroom. We aren't thrilled with the sink being outside in the room, but we can live with it. However, the rooms with two beds like this one are intended to sleep four people. No thanks! If you weren't intimate before you will be after staying here. The room is attractive in the generic dark brown and beige sort of way. It is nice to have a big sofa to lounge around on.
We expect to crash early again, so we went out right away to look for restaurants. Nothing in the immediate area appealed to us. Most places don't open until 5:00 PM (it is about 4:30 PM now), and many are very upscale. That's fine, but not when we've been out in the heat all day. So, we decided to drive to the end of the Old Town area to the Old Town Tortilla Factory that apparently has been there forever.
We arrived at 4:45 PM, fifteen minutes before they open. The manager said we could sit in the courtyard and wait, which is what we did. Almost needless to say, when they did open, people who arrived after us were seated first. It was as though they had never seen us before. We were literally sitting right in front of the hostess stand <sigh>. When we walked the five feet up to the hostess and made ourselves known (again), we were seated right away at an indoor table with air conditioning, which was nice. The doors were wide open so it was like being outside anyway, but it was cooler.
Our waiter arrived promptly and was very friendly. That's where the good things about this place came to a screeching halt. We asked what he would recommend and he did make reasonable suggestions. Click to view the Menu. For entrees he recommended the Pollo Margarita and a beef dish. We ordered a small Tequila Lime Salad, the Pollo and the pork chop. He brought the salad promptly, which was fresh and nice...not great, mind you, but good enough for $4.95. Then we waited 50 minutes for someone else to deliver our entrees. We were presented two of the chicken entrees. The waiter who brought the order said our waiter had ordered two of the chicken and no pork. He showed us the receipt to prove it as though that made it alright. Don't care, go get what we ordered. Honestly, we were amazed that he took both of the plates away and didn't leave one sitting there the whole time, so he was bright enough to think about that aspect of it.
Our waiter came by to profusely apologize. The food came out, correctly this time, another 20 minutes later. They had made a fresh serving of the chicken dish, along with the correct order of pork chops. The pork chop itself was huge and had a very interesting (in a good way) flavor. What was served with it looked like a scoop of mashed red potatoes with the skins still on, which would be fine except they were cold. The sautéed vegetables were also cold. At least the pork chop was outstanding. The chicken was over cooked and somewhat tough, but it had a flavorful cheese sauce over it that made it edible. The fried chipotle mashed potato puck in the center was hot, but pasty and flavorless. It was edible, but not entirely. It was hot though. The same vegetables were served with this dish, but they were hot. Oh, and the diet Coke tasted like mildew. Dave declined the offer of a refill that was made 30 minutes after he had finished it.
Bill ordered the Banana Crisp for dessert. It was huge and he claims it was "OK", but not great. It looked like a burrito stuffed with bananas and deep fried. It was surrounded by a berry compote that looked nice. By the way, it took 20 minutes to get it. By this time Dave was hungry again, but didn't want to try to order dessert or we'd never get out of there.
When the check came fifteen minutes after the dessert plate was cleared, the waiter pointed out that he had taken off the incorrect order and did not charge us for the correct item. That was unexpected (although the right thing to do), so we'll forgive him. However, we won't be going back there and cannot recommend it. The food just wasn't that good. We overheard other people complaining about their food also and we are fairly certain the woman at the next table didn't get the correct order. She looked appalled when it was put down in front of her. With the haphazard service standards, there was no way we were going to trust them with our credit card, so we paid cash for the meal, $45.00. The full price before removing the entree was over $65.00, WAY overpriced.
We drove up and down the Old Town streets after dinner to see if there is anything worth walking around to see. Our general opinion is, not really. We did find some restaurants we might try the next two nights, but the shops are mostly art galleries selling western art, which we are not interested in. Being Scottsdale we can only begin to imagine what the prices must be.
Back at the hotel we stopped at the front desk/Gallery/whatever, to pick up a piece of cheesecake ($3.00) and a huge cookie. At least they got the order right and it was good for the price. We told the front desk woman that we should have taken her advice!
This hotel is extremely noisy with people slamming doors and talking in the hallway. Most annoying is that the hotel's wireless internet blocks our website updates. We are not happy campers at the moment, so unless something changes we might make a move tomorrow or cut our stay here short by a day and move on. In the meantime, we are trying to use a web-based transfer. Isn't it amazing what one can find doing a Google search for, "Hotel is blocking an ftp transfer"? This workaround certainly isn't ideal, but it is better than nothing. Just wondering, isn't this hotel brand directed at business people? How do they get any work done when file transfers are blocked? Oh well, it will remain one of life's little mysteries.
The weather today never did seem terribly hot. It was reported to be 93 degrees, but it never felt uncomfortable outside. It is very hazy with dust because of high winds, but otherwise pleasant enough. With the heat today at home, we are expecting it to be much warmer here tomorrow.
Day 3: Saturday, May 4 - Scottsdale, AZ - Hyatt Place Scottsdale/Old Town
We did manage to get enough sleep last night (with ear plugs), so the party animals didn't affect us too much. The beds are comfortable, so this place does have some advantages. We are still contemplating our options for possibly moving ahead to the next stop a day early. Scottsdale simply isn't wowing us and we will probably finish the sights we came to see this afternoon.
The free breakfast at the hotel was OK, just. Nothing to write home about, but adequate. We watched the ridiculous front desk/food service/bar counter concept at work...if you can call what was going on "working". The front desk agent was very pleasant, but people were coming in and asking if this is the front desk or what? Plus, she had to monitor and clean up the breakfast area, check guests out, answer the phone, etc. Dave won't complain about working at the DoubleTree after witnessing this chaos. At least he didn't have to serve food, too (although for a time he had to post all of the waiter's checks to guest's account when the computer weren't working correctly.)
It is supposed to be very hot today, so we're not sure yet whether we will hit all of the sights we have planned. Our first intended stop will be the tour of Taliesin West, but will happen after that is anyone's guess.
After thinking it over, we decided that we will definitely go to a different hotel tomorrow. This one isn't necessarily unbearable, but this stop was supposed to give us the option to just stay in, have some nice meals, and get ready for the less-than-luxury experiences to come. This place just doesn't cut it. So, on the way out, Dave went to the front desk/food counter to tell them we are checking out a day early. As luck would have it, a manager type was the only person there. Dave is always pleasant to the staff unless they are rude to begin with, so the exchange wasn't unpleasant. Well, not for us anyway. The manager asked if we are leaving because of some problem, to which Dave answered, "Yes." That prompted him to ask if it was a problem they could solve so we would stay, which Dave answered with, "No." In all fairness, he was very concerned, so Dave did tell him that the main reason is that their internet provider is blocking file transfers. He did, however, stop short of telling him just what it is he has to post online every day. We do try not to be cruel. He had no solution to offer, but the desk clerk who was standing there offered three options for possibly fixing the problem, which was very proactive of her. The staff here is very pleasant and they try to help as much as they can, so no complaints about them at all. They are, in fact, the best thing about this hotel.
Anyway, after saying that the internet issue probably can't be corrected, we informed him that the bathroom configuration is off-putting, too, so we'd be better off leaving. We didn't bother telling him about the noise in the hallway since he was already worried enough (and it has to be something they hear all the time.) It was no problem to change our departure date and we weren't charged anything for it. In fact, he would have let us check out right then without penalty, but we know we'll be tired tonight and don't want to bother moving yet.
Our plan today is to drive out to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, take the 90-minute tour, and stop at Cosanti Originals, where they make Paolo Solari's bells, on the way back. The tours are on the hour and we would have arrived at Taliesin West just in time to have to wait an hour, so we went to the bell place first. You can check out the website (www.cosanti.com) for information if you really care about the details. It is located in a residential area, which must thrill the neighbors to no end. It is a sort of artist/hippie compound type of place with free-form concrete buildings housing a foundry, shops, studios, displays of molds, sculptural displays and living quarters. The whole place looks like it might crumble at any moment, but it was worth looking at. We bought a set of bells to be shipped home. We were going to take it with us, but the sales woman kindly told us that if we ship it there is no tax. After figuring it all out with the shipping, we came out $10.00 ahead by shipping it, so that's what we did.
We wandered around the small compound, stopped to watch a tour group being lectured about the bell making, and then headed off toward Taliesin West. We will be stopping at Arcosanti on the way to Prescott. This is Soleri's vision of the future, which, of course, has not, and probably never will be, completed.
The drive to Taliesin West took about fifteen minutes through residential Scottsdale. When it was built it was way out in the sticks with nothing around it. Now there is a new gated community just below it on land they sold to help raise money. It was originally one square mile and they still have over 500 acres remaining which we were told will never be sold. Never say never, but it sounds good for now.
You can get more information about Taliesin West here: www.franklloydwright.org/about/taliesinwesttours.html. Let's face it, we don't remember details very well, especially when they involve dates and numbers, so if you care, check out their website.
Our previous stop did nothing to help our arrival time be convenient, so we had an hour to kill before the next tour at 1:00 PM. The people working in the shop were very nice. One of the architect interns said we look like we had been hiking (we were wearing hats), so he chatted us up about that activity. Being one-third our age that kind of thing surely sounds reasonable to him, but not to us. It is over 90 degrees outside people! What the heck are you thinking? Oh well, at least he was pleasant to look at and he was very nice. We bought our required Christmas ornament and t-shirt as we always do...once we remember that plan of action.
The grounds and buildings are meant to blend into the hillside, which they do. Since it was built as an ongoing experiment for inexperienced architects, a lot of it doesn't look very, um, polished, but it is beautiful and the grounds are something to behold. The buildings are constructed mostly out of local volcanic stone set in poured concrete walls. Our tour was supposed to last 90 minutes, but it draaaaagggggeeeeeeddddddd on because the guide couldn't stop talking. No exaggeration (we timed it) he yammered on about FLW trivia for 30 minutes at the first stop. Then, as per usual for group tours, some know-it-all had to ask questions just to prove he knows more than the guide. Other than that, it was very interesting.
We were taken around the grounds in back by the original swimming pool, into the living room and bedrooms (no pictures allowed), the music room, past the studios, through some courtyards, and ended up in the cabaret theater. If you aren't into architecture or FLW in general, you'd probably be bored silly, but we are glad we came. If the guide hadn't blathered on incessantly, adding the word "etcetera" to every single sentence, it would have moved along better, but it wasn't unbearable and he meant well. The tour lasted two full hours though and almost all of it was outside in the blazing sun. It was nice to see that they have fixed the place up and done a lot of restoration work. It has always been an active school of architecture, but a new director has brought new life into the place and it looks better than ever. They do make an effort to show visitors as much of the campus as possible. There are too many amazing details to mention, but if you ever have a chance, don't miss the opportunity to tour this place.
It was after 3:00 PM by the time we were done at Taliesin West, so going to more stops today wasn't going to happen. We passed several hotels to consider moving to for tomorrow night. One was the Firesky Resort we were originally booked in. It looks very nice, but a bit on the fancy side for the mode we are in.
Back at Hyatt Place, we picked up some pre-made salads from the front desk/food counter and chatted briefly with the front desk clerk who checked us in yesterday. We'll try to get her name so we can commend her. She's very nice and helpful and deserves praise. By the way, the salads were quite good. We do like having the option of grabbing something to eat in the hotel without having to sit down in a restaurant and this seems to be the trend in new concepts nowadays. However, making it part of the front desk is appalling. It is very apparent that the sole reason for this is to save labor costs.
Back in the room and somewhat recovered, we researched hotels to move to. We decided on the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley just up the street a mile or so. We are using 52,500 HHonors points to get a "Canyon Suite" for free. It was only about $250 anyway, which is the price of the cheapest room at the Firesky Resort next door. Our plan is to check out of the Hyatt Place tomorrow morning, go off to our regularly scheduled sightseeing stops, and then check into the DoubleTree in the afternoon.
Around 6:30 PM, we drove a few blocks to Old Town to find someplace to eat and hopefully erase the memory of the Tortilla Factory. Our original intention was to go at 5:00 PM when the restaurants are just starting to open because it is Saturday night. Oh well, so much for that idea. We drove around and found Bandera, a restaurant that has good reviews. We figured we'd park nearby and go check the wait time. There are probably ten restaurants we'd be willing to try within a square block of here.
To say the experience here was the polar opposite of last night isn't an exaggeration. From the moment we walked in and were promptly greeted to the moment we left, the entire interaction was perfection. The friendly hostess opened the door for us, told us it would only be five or ten minutes (the place was packed, by the way), and showed us to the bar area where we could wait. Right on time, she came over and took us to a booth.
The waitress arrived within nanoseconds, could not have possibly been any more sincerely nice, and offered us drinks and appetizers. The glass of wine and an iced tea arrived before we even realized she was gone. No kidding. We asked her what we should order so we could say we had properly been here, and she recommended the corn bread appetizer, any of the rotisserie chicken, the prime rib and their hamburger.
We ordered the corn bread because we had read in reviews that it is to die for. It was delivered as quickly as the drinks were, piping hot and looking delicious having been baked in the small cast iron pan in which it was served. OMG, it was delicious! We saved some of it for dessert, in fact. It was perfectly crispy on top and moist inside. There were bits of mild peppers, corn and a few other green things in it. It could not have been improved upon. Really, trust us.
For our entrees, we had the chicken/rib combination and the tri-tip enchilada platter. There was not one thing on those plates (platters actually) that was not only delectable, but also different and interesting. All too often when chefs try to make something "different" all that means is it is weird. Not so here. Wow! Click to view the Menu.
The chicken was, as the waitress described, amazing. Tender and juicy with the flavor all the way through the meat. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender with just the right amount of char. The tri-tip was cooked to perfection and the large enchilada had some interesting vegetables in it, among the usual ingredients. The chicken came was accompanied by mashed potatoes that had some green vegetables mixed in. We're not sure what they were, but they added a very fresh kick to it. The coleslaw was made with several kinds of cabbage, maybe some bok choy or similar, chopped peanuts and a mild vinegar-based dressing. The vegetables served with the tri-tip had cucumbers added to them and feta cheese crumbled on top. Honestly, this was one of the best meals we have ever had when you factor in the service standard. The total bill was $80.00 before tip and worth every penny.
We told the waitress that this place had redeemed Scottsdale's dining reputation from last night. She asked where we had gone, then told us her own horror stories of the Tortilla Factory, including how horrid the service is. How does that place stay in business? She did say that at one time it was very good, which we could see was possible based on what they were trying to serve. However, something has obviously changed both in the kitchen and the management (or lack thereof) of the staff. Poor food and service might be something a mainstay could get away with in the past, but in this day of Yelp and TripAdvisor, the word spreads very quickly. It might be time to call in Restaurant: Impossible to make this place over.
After dinner we wandered a few blocks through Old Town. Only one gallery was open, but nothing appealed to us anyway. It was 91 during the day and 93 tonight. Go figure. The traffic through town suggests that people go out and drive around or stroll the streets on weekends.
Back at the hotel, we found the parking lot blocked off with security guards inspecting parking passes. We were told about this at check-in, but we didn't see it in action last night. It wasn't any problem at all, but if we hadn't been told to go through the driveway that says "Do Not Enter" we never would have figured out where to go.
There is loud music thumping from all the nightclubs around the hotel. We can hear it up in our room, but it isn't loud enough to be annoying. Still, this isn't the place for quiet contemplation, that's for sure. We are a bit more used to this hotel now, but we are glad we are moving tomorrow. At least we won't have to go out searching for food because the DoubleTree has two restaurants that look pretty good.
We wrapped up our evening by 9:00 PM. The usual culprits were slamming doors and yelling in the hallways, so that appears to be the norm here. We'll head out to a couple more sights tomorrow before arriving at our new hotel in the late afternoon.
Day 4: Sunday, May 5 - Scottsdale, AZ - DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley – Scottsdale offers a warm welcome and a comfortable stay, in tranquil surroundings. Relax and recharge in our beautifully landscaped property, surrounded by lavish courtyards, cactus and tropical palm trees. Enjoy a wide range of amenities at our Scottsdale, AZ resort without any resort fees. Swim laps in one of the outdoor pools, work out in the health club or enjoy a game of tennis. Our Scottsdale, AZ hotel offers a prime location in the heart of the city. Venture just steps from the hotel for great dining, nightlife and shopping, or visit the adjacent spa for a day of relaxation. Our complimentary shuttle is great for exploring the local area.
Definitely do not stay at this hotel over a weekend! We'd describe it as "Party Central". Besides being surrounded by nightclubs and bars, the patrons of those establishments are staying here. You get the picture. If that was the only issue, we wouldn't be overly concerned about it, but when there are several things that annoy you, at some point you just say, "I'm done," and that's that. We're too old to pay to stay at a place that is annoying.
We were up and in the lobby for breakfast at 9:30 AM. It was packed this morning and judging by the look of the guests, they were probably the ones partying all night in the clubs. This hotel concept wasn't originally planned to serve a complimentary breakfast, so there isn't enough seating at tables for dining. Guests were all over the small lobby eating at coffee tables and such. We learned that this wasn't purpose-built as a Hyatt Place, but is a conversion from an AmeriSuites. That explains the poorly thought out bathroom arrangement. The DoubleTree Suites where Dave worked had the same problem. It was a conversion from a Comfort Suites. Even though it was nearly gutted during the renovation, there wasn't much that could be done about the actual floor plan and infrastructure.
Although crowded, the free breakfast was fine and kept stocked. Yesterday the hot food was scrambled eggs, pancakes and sausage. Today it is pre-made (fresh) egg/ham/cheese sandwiches and waffles. The rest of the food is what one would expect for this type of complimentary offering.
Our final word on the Hyatt Place? Loud! It really is too bad, because overall this is a very nice place and the staff genuinely seems to care about the guests. They are always pleasant and eager to be helpful, especially at the front desk. Housekeeping is very thorough. We don't like the bathroom arrangement that affords absolutely zero privacy. This room is designed to sleep at least four people. If those four people weren't intimately familiar before they arrived, be assured they will be by the time they leave! The blocked internet port is a problem for us, but probably wouldn't affect very many others. Added to the noise and the bathroom configuration it leads to the, "I'm done," conclusion. We would not stay here again, nor would we recommend it to others. Now that we know this property wasn't built as a Hyatt Place, we might be willing to try the brand again elsewhere if the price is right.
We hit the road to sightseeing at around 11:00 AM, stopping at the front desk first to check out. The same woman who tried to help with the computer problem was there and she apologized again (and sounded sincere) that they couldn't fix it. Then she made the mistake of telling us that the manager is aware of this problem, "because he has it with his own computer." Hmmm, so how about fixing it? It shouldn't take more than a call to tech support to take care of it. In any case, she was very nice and did seem to care that we weren't satisfied with the stay.
Yesterday we were told that there is some sort of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed spire that was intended for a new Arizona capitol building that was never built. Supposedly, "You can't miss it," if you drive straight down Scottsdale Rd. So we drove, and drove, all the way to Tempe (only a few miles.) No spire. So, we started listening to our GPS and back tracked to our first destination, the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park. This park is in Phoenix, but is just a mile or so from Scottsdale, so very close. All of our sightseeing today is in and adjacent to this park.
we didn't realize that today is Cinco de Mayo, but we found out quickly enough when we arrived at the gardens. It was packed. The parking lot was nearly full, so we dreaded the garden being the same way. As it turned out, once inside it wasn't that bad. Yes, there were a lot of people, but the garden is very large and we didn't find the crowds unusual or annoying.
Outside the front gate are some Dale Chihuly "trees" planted among the living plants. Everyone was waiting in a long line for tickets at two ticket windows completely ignoring the one on the other side of the gate that had no line. We walked right up and bought tickets. It is $18.00 per person, plus an additional $3.50 for the Butterfly House, which we decided to skip. The ticket seller told us we could pay at the exhibit if we change our mind, which sounded good to us (FYI, we did not change our mind.)
Overall, this is probably the nicest desert-oriented garden we have ever seen. It is beautifully maintained and well planned. There are three main loop trails to take. The main one is the Desert Loop to the left as you enter the central plaza. We were surprised at the variety of blooming cactus. They came in bright pink, yellow, and red, plus many other colors. One never thinks of desert plants as being particularly colorful, but there were many plants and trees in bloom today. There is a variety of cactus that doesn't even need flowers to be colorful because the plant itself is bright purple.
Along the loop we came across a group of cactus that is a bit, uh, manly. Did this really grow this way naturally or was someone planning for it to look like this? In any case, it is only part of a huge variety of plantings: cactus that look like snakes climbing a tree, an herb garden, and even a cactus sundial. Scattered throughout are weird fiberglass/plastic sculptures. There are probably twenty of more of these giants things here.
There are two other loop trails. One is a lengthy Native Peoples and Habitats trail where they have set up examples of various Native American villages, farms, and a pond complete with a giant green frog that looked fake (although it was definitely real.) The other is a native wildflowers trail. Of course, there is much more to see than we can cover here, but we definitely recommend a visit even if you have to go out of your way to get to it. Check out their website for more information.
It took us over two hours to wander most of the trails. Luckily it isn't quite as hot as it was yesterday and it was slightly overcast most of the time. However, it is still over 90 degrees, so by the time we were done walking, we were worn out. We checked out the shop, bought a couple of trinkets, and then got in line at the on-site restaurant, Gertrude's. Click to view the Brunch Menu. Since we were willing to sit outside (in the shade) we were seated immediately. Otherwise, there was a short wait for an indoor table. This is a full service restaurant with waiter service and a full bar.
The hostess told us to order the Hot Mess because it is everyone's favorite. We did order that, plus the Banana Bread French Toast and two sides of fruit. The Hot Mess wasn't quite what we expected and it was a huge portion. It was a stack of two fried corn tortillas layered with a spicy green pork chili, cheese, and topped with two fried eggs. It was good, but way too much food. The French toast was a dainty portion, but very good. The fruit was a small bowl of fresh blueberries and grapes over chunks of honeydew melon. Our waiter was extremely friendly and efficient. We were very happy with our meal and enjoyed the atmosphere. We would come back here anytime.
It was around 3:00 PM when we left the garden to head to Hole In the Rock, a natural rock formation nearby. The GPS took us to a closed access road near a fishing pond, but we later found the correct entrance to get closer to the rock. We didn't hike up to the hole because it was full of rowdy teenagers. That's our excuse anyway.
Next, we drove to Hunt's Tomb. This was on our original plan, but it was deleted because we didn't know or care who the heck this guy was. However, it is located at the top of a hill with great views over the park, so we drove up to it. It is a pyramid covered in white tiles and houses the remains of the first governor of the state of Arizona, his wife and some other relatives. As we said, who cares? The view was nice though.
It was a little after three when we arrived at the last planned stop, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum. The surly old man at the front desk told us they close at 4:00 PM today, but we assured him we are speedy and it won't be a problem. Admission is $6.00 per person. This is actually a nice museum, but they just hand you a binder with descriptions of what you are seeing. So, at each piece of equipment, you have to find the number in the book to learn anything. Would it really be all that difficult to print the same information on a sign right on the item?
OK, no more whining...the first room houses manually operated antique pumps and other equipment. There are several elaborate units used only for parades and exhibits among the collection. We do have to say that everything is amazingly restored. Even the oldest item looks brand new. Best of all, they keep things clean, polished and free of the dust you usually see caked on exhibits in places like this. The second gallery is full of horse drawn trucks, and the last is crammed with modern and motorized equipment. There is also a hall dedicated to honoring firefighters killed in the line of duty, a 9/11 memorial, a wildfire section, and an exhibit of a central command station where live radio calls are broadcast. While a museum like this won't appeal to everyone, it is well worth a visit if you are into things like this. We picked up our usual trinkets in the gift shop on the way out and yes, we finished well before closing time.
After completing our scheduled stops for today, we drove back through Scottsdale to our home for tonight, the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton - Paradise Valley. Quite honestly, we weren't expecting much. Firstly, this is a DoubleTree and we know that most of them are older properties that have fallen on hard times and have been converted to this brand. We're not sure DoubleTree builds new hotels at all, come to think of it, but they surely must occasionally. Second, the rates at this hotel are very reasonable. When we were booked at the Firesky Resort (also an older property) right next door, a regular room went for a minimum of $265 per night. We could have booked the Canyon Suite at the DoubleTree for less than that. We used points to get it free, but we have considered using points for a suite at a Hilton property before and it would use up over 100,000. Here, we got the suite for 50,800 points. So what's wrong with this place???
From the front it looks quite grand and must have really been something in its heyday. What that was we're not sure, but we were told it has been a DoubleTree for twenty-two years. It must have been fairly rundown for DoubleTree to take over a huge place like this. There is a beautiful bronze sculpture of running stallions in a fountain out front. The building is constructed of Frank Lloyd Wright-esque blocks that would be way too expensive to reproduce today. The lobby is magnificent with high ceilings and more of the geometric block columns supporting it. Wow! This place is awesome.
The front desk experience was adequate and typical of what one can expect at a DoubleTree. Nothing exciting, but pleasant enough. We were given the usual warm cookies, plus two bottles of water, two vouchers for a free drink in the lounge, and two vouchers for a full buffet breakfast because we are Diamond members. This hotel provides free valet or self-parking and wi-fi to everyone.
This hotel sprawls all over the place. We had to go outside to get to our room. The several buildings that make up the hotel are only two stories surrounding several courtyards, a couple of nice pool areas (the one near us is closed for tree trimming), and other outdoor areas. We found the elevator to our section in a breezeway outside of the lobby and went up to the second floor. The corridors to the rooms are outdoors which probably explains why this doesn't qualify as a luxurious hotel these days. However, the block walls are very interesting and the property is well kept.
We did know the suite would be big and we should have guessed by the reaction of the front desk clerk when she told us we were in a Canyon Suite, but we never could have imagined a room like this! OH-MY-GOD!!! This is so awesome. Check this out...we opened the door into a foyer. To the left is a fully updated bathroom, to the right a locked door to an adjoining room which would make this a two-bedroom unit. Straight ahead is an enormous two-story living room with an even bigger fireplace. There is a long wet bar along one wall and a wall of floor to ceiling windows to a terrace on the other. The terrace overlooks the main pool area. We have a full-sized dining table, an 8-foot sofa, two large chairs, and a 36-inch LCD TV over the fireplace. In another small room off to the side is another wet bar with a refrigerator and microwave oven. The room is so big that what furniture is in it can't fill even half of the available floor space. A forlorn floor lamp sits all alone in one corner trying to look like decor. Are we done yet? Oh no!
Through a door is a full-sized bedroom that on its own is huge (and can be sold as a separate room with its own outside door.) The king-sized bed looks like a toy in this room. The bedroom has another huge LCD TV, a full-sized desk, and sitting area. There is a min-bar stocked with, as the front desk described it, "Expensive goodies." We opted not to get the key for it, by the way. The bathroom isn't quite up to the standards of today's luxury hotels, but it has been updated and looks nice. If this was a modern hotel with a suite like this, the bathroom would probably be 10 times the size and lined with imported marble, but this one will get the job done. In a small alcove is a completely separate make-up room with a built-in vanity. Really, this is embarrassing! If this was at a more up-to-date hotel, this room would certainly cost over $1,000 per night. We've stayed in some nice hotels, but this suite is twice the size of anything we've ever seen. Too bad we heeded the reviews and didn't stay here to begin with. Bummer.
Many of the reviews complain that the hotel is dated. Yeah well, it was probably built in the 1960's, but it has been re-done and it isn't filthy dirty or anything close to it. Actually, it is spotless as far as we can see. It even smells clean. Sure, you can see elements that are old and the decor could use some sprucing up, but if they did that it would cost way more than they are charging now. Even if we were paying for this suite, we wouldn't complain about the age. For a hotel to have suites like this at all, it must have been quite the social Mecca back in the day.
We rested for an hour or so, collected our luggage, freshened up and went for an early dinner in the hotel's restaurant. We were the only patrons there most of the time. We were offered the option of sitting inside by the fountain or on the patio. We stayed inside where it is air conditioned, so we had the waiter all to ourselves. He was very nice, so we asked him if he knew anything about the previous life of the hotel. He said one of the waiters has been here for over 20 years and he knows all about it. The meeting rooms beyond the restaurant used to be a nightclub and was the hub of the social circuit way back in the day. We were surprised this has been a DoubleTree Hotel for so many years.
This property feels like it has to have been very glamorous at some point. It would be interesting to know what all of the public spaces were used for when the hotel was bustling with celebrities and such, but those days appear to be long gone. It is a bit sad to see all of the empty and unused space (one entire tier of the restaurant is completely empty), but on a positive note, the hotel isn't at all rundown either.
Bill ordered the filet mignon entree and a cup of tortilla soup. At the waiter's suggestion for a "light" meal, Dave had the cup of soup and salad appetizer, and the trio of steak tacos. The waiter must think of light at the same way we do because the tacos were full-sized. Everything we ordered was at least very good, but the filet was delicious and a huge piece of meat. We passed on dessert because we had to get back to the room by 7:00 PM to catch the two-hour finale of "The Amazing Race". We had thought to ask when we checked in if prime time starts at 7:00 PM here as it does in the central part of the country.
We took a stroll past the pool, which had re-opened after the tree trimming. The hotel seems to go on forever with hidden courtyard and lawns among the buildings. It looks nice now, but we can only imagine what it must have looked like with more elaborate landscaping than is feasible today. There is a large fountain a bit further down the central walkway toward the second pool. If we have time we will check out the rest of the grounds before we leave tomorrow.
Our ability to update the website normally has been restored by our move, thank goodness. The wi-fi here is very fast, which is amazing considering how spread out this place is.
After watching the show as intended, we finished updating the site and promptly crashed. Tomorrow should be a fairly easy drive with only one scheduled stop, so we won't be in any big rush to check out early.
There seems to be a party going on outside by the pool tonight. It is loud, but shouldn't disturb us. We would imagine though that some guests will complain about it, which would be understandable. We're surprised the staff hadn't put a stop to it before midnight.
Day 5: Monday, May 6 - Drive to Prescott, AZ - The Motor Lodge
Prescott is a
destination that transcends the Arizona archetype. No sweltering summers or
miles of cactus covered moonscape. The town’s mile-high location in the Grand
Canyon State’s central highlands brings four mild seasons, an average annual
daytime temperature of about seventy degrees, and over 300 days of sunshine.
Just ninety miles north of bustling metro Phoenix, Prescott is nestled
comfortably against the Prescott National Forest. From art to artifacts,
Prescott’s history is well documented. Numerous local museums like Sharlot Hall,
the Phippen, and Smoki house highly regarded traveling and permanent Territorial
Days, Victorian Era, Native Indian, and western art collections.
We were up in plenty of time to get to the restaurant for our included breakfast buffet. Most guests were seated outside, so we sat inside with just two other parties. The manager was very friendly, as was the waiter who kept refilling our juice and water. He even offered to give us juice to take with us. The total bill would have been $29.95 without the vouchers. The buffet had a lot of choices, but it wasn't worth that price. Everything we chose was very good and it was kept well stocked the entire time. The pastries looked freshly baked and there were several choices in addition to regular bread, raisin bread, bagels, etc. There were scrambled eggs (or they would make an omelet for you in the kitchen at no extra charge), very tasty potato wedges, bacon, sausage, exceptionally good breakfast sandwiches, and pancakes. There was a good selection of cut up fruit, yogurt, a waffle maker and the usual Continental breakfast items. They also have an a la carte menu, but we didn't have that option with the vouchers.
After breakfast we wandered over to the gift shop, bought the usual ornaments, and chatted with the shop clerk for a few minutes. She told us that this is the perfect time of year for what we are doing because it isn't too hot yet. Sounds good to us.
Next stop was the front desk to ask if they know the history of this hotel. While very nice, she didn't know anything except that the original DoubleTree downtown is the one we saw being torn down yesterday near the mall. Our waiter this morning said this was a Wyndam and then a Hilton before being downgraded to a DoubleTree. So, we still don't know when it was built or what it was originally. The front desk agent offered to extend our check-out to 1:00 PM, but we declined. We don't need any more reasons to be lazy since we have to move along to our next destination.
On the way back to the room we wandered to the other pool, which is just as nice as the main pool and has its own bar. There is also a Sonoran Cactus Garden in one of the courtyards, but it wasn't very impressive. Still, the grounds are lovely, as is the building itself. The entire property is 22 acres.
Our final word on the DoubleTree: Wow! What a bargain this place is. As we have said, a regular room at the adjacent Firesky Resort goes for $265 in the off season. Our enormous suite here would have been that price if we had paid for it. And 50,500 points is a real bargain. We checked into using points for a suite one-fourth this size at another DoubleTree during our last trip and it would have cost us 170,000 points! While you can't expect luxury service at any DoubleTree, for what you are paying here, the rooms are amazing. Even the smallest rooms are huge for the price. We saw an ad with a special offer of $69.00 a night for this place! It isn't at all run down, but it is old, so glitzy it is not. For us, it is perfect. We don't need fawning service, but we do like a big comfortable room which is what we got here and then some. We'd definitely stay here again and so should you.
We're heading north to Prescott today, with one planned stop at Arcosanti on the way. We will be happy to be moving to higher elevations from now on and out of the heat, at least for a few weeks.
We set out at noon, in no particular rush to leave. The drive to Arcosanti took about 90 minutes, which is longer than we anticipated, but not by much. You can get more information about Arcosanti here: www.arcosanti.org/ We stopped at Sunset Point Rest Area because the sign said there is a scenic view, which there is.
The last mile to Arcosanti is along a rough dirt road, but it is navigable in regular cars. This place is sometimes thought of as a commune, just a bunch of hippies, a cult, an artist colony, and a number of other things. We weren't sure what to expect, but upon arrival it looks normal enough. There were a few other cars in the lot, so we felt safe enough to go inside. The poured or pre-fab panel concrete buildings are supposed to evolve into Soleri's vision of what a perfect city should be. This is eventually supposed to be a community of 5,000 people, but by the looks of things they have a long way to go. OK, let's face it...not going to happen. There are 75 people living here now and perhaps another 50 or so when new batches of workshop students arrive.
The main building houses the visitor center, gallery, cafe and living quarters. It is constructed of pre-fab concrete panels that were lifted into place with a crane. It has no air conditioning or heat, but it is designed so that it can be reconfigured to either retain heat or dissipate it. It was pleasant inside today, so it appears to be working properly. By the way, it is considerably cooler at this elevation...about 75 degrees.
We paid $10.00 each (called a donation) for the 2:00 PM tour and were told to wait across the gallery by the TV. In the meantime, we browsed the bells and tiles for sale. Our wait was about fifteen minutes, during which time about eight others joined the tour. At the appointed hour, a pleasant young tour guide (an artist in residence) showed us a video of Soleri's vision for the cities of the future. It was relatively interesting while at the same time predicting the demise of civilization as we know it unless we adopt Soleri's ideas.
After the video, she took us outside to the ceramics studio which is housed in one of the iconic half dome structures. There are workshops around the lower perimeter and apartments above. The premise behind Soleri's vision is that people should live and work in high density developments so that they can be surrounded by nature. It sounds good in theory, but let's hope others will keep up their cities better than this one. Everything here is in some sort of disrepair. Whether it is due to lack of funds or just a lackadaisical attitude toward maintenance, we're not sure.
The structures are interesting though and there are artists working here daily making the ceramic bells. The guide showed us the process of making the bells in molds while artists were working behind her. The orientation of the half dome keeps the workers shaded in the summer and warmed by the sun in the winter.
Roughly in the center of the campus are two arches that were originally designed to provide shaded workspace for artists and whatnot. Today they rent the space to performance artists and for special events. There was a weird group of dancers practicing today that the guide described as "circus performers." By the look of them they are more Cirque du Soleil than circus. The point of the arches is to channel the breeze into the studios and workshops in the building beyond.
Next up we arrived at the amphitheater that is used for various events and performances. The back of the structure is terraced and angled for lounging on to view the stars. The front of the theater has seating terraces and is surrounded by apartments for residents and students. They intend to rent out some of the lower level spaces to vendors, but that hasn't happened yet. The Soleri archives are also in these buildings. The view of the valley behind the mesa is beautiful from here.
The property consists of over 800 acres, of which only seven are currently being used. On the valley floor are some greenhouses and the original shelters built before the concrete structures were completed. The guide said that some students live down there. Dave asked if that's where they stash the hippies, which she found amusing. She also agreed that is pretty much what they do.
We visited another half dome similar to the ceramics studio that is used as the foundry for making the bronze bells. As with the ceramics, we were shown how they make the molds and finish the bells. Beyond this area are offices, a green house room that was supposed to heat the building (it is too hot to use, so they have to whitewash the glass in the summer), and down below is a swimming pool.
One might expect that the facility would have solar panels and other self-sustaining energy sources, but they didn't have the technology to do that effectively in the 1970's when this was built. It doesn't appear that much, if any, progress has been made since that time. We only went inside one building (the back of the amphitheater) and it is pretty dumpy and run down. All of the furniture is threadbare and looks as if it has been there since the 70's. The rooms are complete with that dark brown carpet that was popular then. There are cracked or missing windows, broken concrete, exposed wires, etc., all over the place. The guide said that until five years ago the county never inspected them, so everything was built without permits. Now, suddenly, the county is all over them, so they have been rushing to install railings and bring the bakery up to code. Apparently, they used to sell baked goods made on site, but the county shut them down.
The tour ended in the cafe which is where most residents come for meals. We were told they have world renowned chefs cooking here and that they cater their own events in addition to feeding residents. After seeing the cafe, we doubt it would be approved by the health department. It isn't filthy dirty or anything like that, but the equipment is a hodge-podge of salvaged junk.
All in all, the tour was very interesting and moved along quickly. That is due in large part to the personality of our guide who was very nice and interesting to listen to. She had a good sense of humor about things. We could see how someone who takes the place too seriously might be a total drag to deal with. However, everyone we passed during the tour seemed quite friendly and not standoffish in any way.
We were left alone in the gallery to shop. We don't know where everyone else went, but we never saw them again. We bought a small ceramic set of bells and a couple of tiles from the gruff woman at the counter. When we joked with her, she opened up and was very amusing. She told us about some of the crazy people who come here. One woman came in with a full-sized mannequin dressed as a hippie. She wanted to buy admission to the tour for herself and the mannequin and became angry with the mannequin when they wouldn't charge for him. She yelled at him saying, "Why do you always get in free?" She took him on the tour, then went out to the car and brought in a fake baby in a stroller dressed the same way. She then paid and took the "kid" on the tour as well.
Then there are those who arrive from Sedona bedazzled with mystic crystals who come to bask in the spirituality of Arocosanti. The woman told us that Soleri absolutely hated it when people put any sort of spiritual powers on his work because that isn't the intention of it at all. It is architecture, not a religion.
After chatting with her for quite a while, we hit the road toward Prescott. The drive is scenic and ends up above the 4,500 foot level in the mountains. It is significantly cooler at this elevation, of course, only 67 degrees when we arrived.
Our destination for the next two days is The Motor Lodge in the old part of Prescott. It is a few blocks from Whisky Row and the historic town square area. The lodge is a small motel that was originally individually owned summer cottages built in the 1930's. They were restored about five years ago as a motel by a gay couple (this is not a gay-oriented hotel though.) We met one of them at check in, Joe. He offered us a choice of wine or beer, but we declined. Then he showed us to our room which is the only suite on property. After showing us how everything works, he brought us a map of the town and gave us a couple of recommendations for dinner.
Each room has a little carport with Astroturf in the middle, which is amusing. Free-use bicycles are hanging in the carports for guests to use. There is a gas fireplace on the deck by the office that is lit at night. A few minutes after bringing in our luggage, the other half of the owners arrived, Brian, who stayed and chatted for quite a while. We asked a lot of questions about running the motel and what they went through to get it going, which was very interesting. He confirmed the dinner recommendations, so we decided to go to El Gato Azul.
After changing into warmer clothing, we walked off toward town. Brian was out front watering the plants and chatted for a bit before we had gone too far. The walk is about four blocks, which isn't bad, but a little butch for us since coming back it will be uphill. However, we arrived at the restaurant with no problems.
Click to view the Menu. This is a Tapas restaurant, but they also serve entrees. Dave asked the waitress what she would recommend, which was a crab cake tapa and the Chicken Minorca. Bill ordered the Sticky Steak Skewers. The crab cakes were good, but nothing extraordinary. The salads that came with the entrees were nice and fresh tasting. The steak skewers were the better choice, but the chicken was good, too. Again, not extraordinary, but it was nice to have something different for a change. We both had a peanut butter cheesecake with apricot chocolate sauce for dessert, which was outstanding. The total bill came to $68.00 before tip, which was quite a bargain for the amount of food we had.
Back at the motel, we settled into our room which is in the back corner of the motor court. We have the only suite in the place, so it has a full living room with gas fireplace, small kitchenette, microscopic bathroom, and a bedroom with two queen beds. All of the rooms are furnished with vintage knick knacks from the owner's families and other sources. There is a small collection of rotary dial telephones in the bedroom, and several 1970's-style lamps. The clock on the mantel is identical to the one Dave's dad had in his office when Dave was a child. The decorating is very well done and everything is in pristine condition. It is like stepping into a time warp, which is the intention.
We finally crashed just after 10:00 PM. There isn't anything on the agenda for tomorrow except perhaps wandering around the historic center of town to check things out.
Day 6: Tuesday, May 7 - Prescott, AZ - The Motor Lodge
It is much cooler today, in the high 60's, so it is time to get out the jackets. We didn't bother to go out for breakfast, instead choosing to snack on things we brought with us. We left the motel around 11:30 PM to head to the historic district to see what we can see.
The Motor Lodge has complimentary bicycles hanging in all of the carports for guests to use at any time, a nice touch.
The number one "attraction" in town is the Sharlot Hall Museum, but the website says it is closed on Monday-Tuesday. We drove by anyway just to be sure, didn't see any activity, so didn't stop. It turns out that there are two websites with almost the same name, so the information was incorrect regarding the open hours.
We decided to drive the few blocks into town so we won't have to walk back up the hill later when we're worn out. We parked on a side street by the historic post office, which is still in use. Courthouse Plaza is a leafy square with the county courthouse in the center. Most of the town burned to the ground in the 1920's, so the oldest buildings are on the one side of the surrounding blocks and known as Whiskey Row because it was lined with saloons (and to a certain extent, it sill is.) We walked all the way around the courthouse.
The surrounding blocks are full of historic old bank buildings, hotels and shops. There is a surprising amount of traffic in the area. Most of the people we see appear to be locals going to the many antique stores and restaurants. It definitely is not showing many negative economic affects. There are only a handful of closed businesses.
Up the block from the square is the Elks Opera House. We happened to read a review about walking in and getting a tour, so we figured we'd give it a shot. We were standing out front looking at the doors when a docent came out and invited us in. Both of the docents in the lobby were very gracious and when we were offered a free tour, we took her up on it (we left a $10.00 donation, but were never asked for anything.) Click to view their brochure or visit the website for more information.
The docent showed us into the main theater, explained how it looked when the city bought it, and what they did to restore it to its former glory. It is used for live performances now, but for many years they showed movies here. On the way back to the lobby, we were shown the sparkling Ladies Room since there were no other visitors at the time. Our guide suggested we walk up a block behind the theater to look at a row of mansions where the fancy people lived back in the day. She offered to let us go out the back way since it is closer, but we thanked her and went through the front. She said we should go to the Prescott Brewing Co. restaurant for lunch up the street.
The row of mansions is directly behind the theater, so no problem finding them. They aren't open to the public, so we just wandered by and went back to the main square.
Most of the shops in the area are antique malls or galleries. We're not into antiquing, believe it or not, but there was one shop that had so much stuff in it that we decided to wander around. It was interesting because it was mostly selling things from the 1950's, so it was fun to find items we had around as kids. The store is made up of individual sellers' stalls, but you take purchases to the front counter to pay for them. Dave bought a Depression glass dish for $10 and Bill got a couple of sarcastic signs (not vintage, but look like it.)
The shopping killed another hour, so by this time we were starving and it was time to move the car (two-hour limit.) So, we drove to the vicinity of the aforementioned Prescott Brewing Co. across the street from the courthouse. The restaurant is huge, on two levels of a large building that has been converted into a sort of mall. Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the Thumb Butte Meatloaf and Bill had the Bistro Steak & Chips. Both entrees were very good, the meatloaf in particular. Service was good, nothing extraordinary, but fine. The total bill was around $38.00, a bargain for the amount of food we received.
It was after 2:00 PM by the time we finished lunch, so we decided to drive by the Sharlot Hall Museum again. The docent at the Opera House seemed surprised that it is closed on Tuesday, so we thought maybe we were misinformed.
Yes, we were wrong, it is open 7 days a week. The website is confusing to say the least...or the one with the same name sure is. Click to view their website for more information or to view the tour brochure. The museum is a collection of old buildings in a leafy city block. On the corner is Bashford House, a Victorian home now used as the gift shop. There is a modern building housing the visitor center where we went to pay our $5.00 admission fee. We told the woman there about the confusing website information and she said it happens all the time because it isn't clear which site is which (the one we saw is for their archives.) Then she said she looked at it herself and can see why so many people are confused. At that, Dave asked (nicely), "Don't you think perhaps something could be done to change that?" She just shrugged. Heck, we could change it for them in about 2 minutes!
The main building houses some exhibits on God-knows-what, but sort of something to do with prehistoric dinosaurs and native people...or something like that. One side has a room of dioramas and the other has a theater showing a video that "is down today." OK, we're bored already, but we'll keep going since we are here anyway.
The next stop on the tour is the Governor's Mansion that is still on the spot where it was built in....no clue, look it up if you really care. The inside is set up the way it would have looked in its heyday. A docent asked where we are from and we said, as always, "San Diego." We never say the actual city because nobody has ever heard of it. This guy then says, "Oh, my brother has a medical practice in Bonsall." He then tells us he has played golf at the course there which is less than a mile from our house! Small world, huh?
We escaped from him when some other people distracted him and made our way outside to Sharlot Hall. The docent there told us we have to start looking at the exhibits from the other side of the building because they didn't set it up correctly and the door they thought would be the entrance is really the exit. OK, whatever, batting 1,000 here aren't they? OK, more exhibits of old stuff and LOTS of printed information.
Outside again, we wandered into a tiny schoolhouse, a ranch house, and Fort Misery...we don't know, so don't ask. The setting is pleasant though with a windmill in the center and a big rose garden that looks totally out of place. Another old house we toured through is the Fremont House. It looks similar inside to the place we saw in Phoenix, but smaller. Another large building houses "Transport".
As you already know, we usually don't do museums. We gave this one the benefit of the doubt because it is rated as the #1 attraction in Prescott. It was very boring, to be perfectly honest. But, it is good that someone is preserving this stuff for people who do care about it. However, wandering through the exhibits sucked the last ounce of energy out of us, so we returned to the motel around 4:00 PM
At 4:20 PM, a hailstorm began that morphed into heavy rain for over an hour. If it hadn't been for boredom we would probably have still been out in it, so we'll consider ourselves lucky.
The rain continued off and on for the rest of the evening and it remained very chilly outside. We are above 5,000 feet, so that is to be expected. It is VERY dry up here too, and windy. No fun when you have allergies. But, life goes on, so we drove back into town to search for a dinner restaurant at around 6:30 PM.
Strangely enough, most of the restaurants in this town are only open for breakfast and lunch. What's up with that? We drove around the few blocks of downtown a few times and eventually settled on the Gurley St. Grill. Oddly enough, it is located on Gurley St. Click to view the Menu. We were seated right away and served promptly the entire time we were there. It was busy, but not anywhere near full. Most of the patrons were locals, we assume. We ordered the Steak Bites appetizer. The beef was tender with no snappy bits at all, but it needed some spices in the breading to make it interesting (which it wasn't.) Not that we didn't eat most of it, but still. For entrees, we had the Gurley Street Philly Steak sandwich and the Beef Stroganoff. Both of the entrees were very good and large portions. The Philly sandwich probably had a slight edge over the Stroganoff, but both used good quality meat and had a nice flavor. We both had strawberry shortcake for dessert, which was also good, but not exceptional in any way. Our total bill was only about $58.00, which is the least we have spent on a dinner so far. We were happy with everything and would go back to this restaurant.
It was raining slightly when we left the restaurant and drove a few blocks to Albertson's to buy something for breakfast tomorrow. The sky looks like it might storm all night with huge black thunderclouds overhead. We don't mind rain or cold, so it is fine with us as long as the roads don't wash out or something else totally inconvenient happens. At the grocery store, we picked up some fruit, yogurt, pastries (for Bill), and juice. We also restocked our bottled water supply to get us through the Grand Canyon without paying national park prices for it.
Two people today told us to be sure to stop in Jerome on the way to Sedona tomorrow. We are passing through there, but it isn't on the plan to stop for any length of time. We might go ahead and stop for lunch and a look around if we have time. The day is fairly full with scheduled stops already, so we'll have to see if we can get an early start.
By 8:30 PM we were done for the day and sitting in front of our room's fireplace.
Day 7: Wednesday, May 8 - Drive to Sedona, AZ - Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas
Often called "Red Rock Country"
Sedona is a four
seasons playground for everyone - whether you're into history and archaeology;
arts and culture; shopping; outdoor sports; or the spiritual and metaphysical,
imagine doing all this in a backdrop of some of the most spectacular scenery in
the world. This picturesque city is surrounded by red-rock monoliths named
Coffeepot, Cathedral and Thunder Mountain. At the north end of the city is the
stunning Oak Creek Canyon, a breathtaking chasm that is wildly wonderful.
Natural endowments aside, you'll also find world-class hotels, resorts, bed and
breakfasts and a very good variety of dining to keep you satisfied. Escape the
chaos of life, kick back and relax in Sedona.
Today's weather is nearly perfect, in the high 60's to low 70's all day. The rain has passed and only some clouds remain.
We were up early enough to get started an hour earlier than we usually do. Our general plan is to leave each location at 11:00 AM, so we made a point of getting up, eating the breakfast we bought last night, and checking out at 10:00 AM. We ended up chatting for a while with Joe and Brian, the owners of the motel, but since it was interesting we didn't mind hitting the road a few minutes late. They confirmed that we should stop for an hour or so and wander around Jerome, so that is what we plan to do. They gave us some cookies (everyone gets them, we aren't special or anything) and we hit the road.
Just a few miles north of town the scenery opens up into a highland plain surrounded by even higher mountains. We drove up another 1,000 feet to over 6,000 feet at the summit where we stopped at a view point. There was no traffic, so the drive, while winding, was pleasant with beautiful mountain scenery to look at.
We arrived in Jerome about an hour after we set out. There's no mistaking the arrival in this town. It was jam packed with tourists and it isn't even a weekend. We have no idea where everyone parks on busy days because we ended up in an overflow parking area on a street below the main street through town. It wasn't unpleasantly crowded, but it would be on a weekend.
Jerome sort of tumbles down a steep hillside, literally. One of the attractions is the Sliding Jail that has traveled down the hill over time and now rests over 200 feet below where it started. We didn't even notice it until we were leaving and saw it right next to where we parked the car. There are no signs pointing to it as there is with almost everything else of significance in town.
The town consists of about three main streets lined with shops, remnants of the copper mining, an old hotel and ruins of various businesses. Too bad the House of Joy is closed today. There are the usual tourist shops, art galleries, and many shops selling locally made products. We went into a Christmas store to look for our required ornament. The owner asked where we are from, we said San Diego, as usual. She asked more specific questions until we finally told her we live in Bonsall. They are from Ramona and know where Bonsall is. That's two for two so far! We found what we were looking for and the owner told us to be sure to go to a kaleidoscope store up the street. It was packed and the proprietors were very nice, but we didn't find anything to buy. Everything we liked was in the thousands of dollars range.
Brian had given us some recommendations for lunch, but we weren't hungry yet, so we wandered back to the car, looking in a few shops and checking out the view of the valley below.
The final word on The Motor Lodge: Groovy! This place isn't going to appeal to everyone, but for those who are looking for something entirely different than a chain hotel, this is the place. The only thing about it that is slightly inconvenient is the tiny bathroom. Otherwise, there isn't any compromising necessary. The decor is oh-so-cool and fun to look at. All of the rooms are different. The owners, Joe and Brian, couldn't be more hospitable. We say go for it!
Our next stop is just a few miles away, the Tuzigoot National Monument. Click to view the Brochure. This is the first of many old ruins we will see during this trip. It is located at the top of a hill and adjacent to a verdant valley and a river. The admission fee is $5.00 per person and it gives you a discount of $2.00 off admission to Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is our next destination. However, since we are visiting so many national parks this trip, we bought an annual national park pass for $80.00. The ranger was very helpful and pointed out that the pass also works for the red rocks areas in Sedona (we already knew that, but it was nice of her to point it out.)
There is a small museum with information on the ancient inhabitants and a trail up to the ruins on the hill. The first rooms one encounters were built later than the original structure and there is a small plaza between the two. The main structure has a tall tower in the center that visitors may enter and climb to the top for a panoramic view. The entire thing is a partial reconstruction that was done way back when before that kind of thing was deemed inappropriate. We spent about an hour exploring before heading off to our next stop about seventeen miles away.
Montezuma Castle is more popular than Tuzigoot, so it has a larger Visitor Center and parking for more tourists. Click to view the Brochure. This ruin is a cliff dwelling built into the limestone above a river valley. There is a big main dwelling in an naturally eroded cave in the center. Smaller dwellings were constructed in smaller caves along the cliff face. We decided those are the suburbs. The paved trail passes below the castle, winds through the forested valley, passes by a structure that burned and collapsed, before reaching a view of the river. The trail winds back toward the visitor center affording a different view of the cliff dwelling. Up until the 1950's people were allowed to climb up into the buildings, but since that practice was stopped there is a model in a kiosk so visitors can see what the interiors look like.
About five miles away is an affiliated site, Montezuma Well National Monument. There is no charge to enter this park. Click to view the Brochure. The attraction here is a huge collapsed limestone cave that created a crater that gushes water that is 10,000 years old (or something like that, but close enough.) Small dwellings are embedded in the cliff overlooking the water and other ruins are located around the rim. The water flows constantly out of a small underground tunnel and into a nearby river. The ancient people built a canal to divert the water for irrigation. The canal still exists, but has been reinforced with modern materials. The walk down to the river is very scenic and pleasant. We needed the calmness after enduring two couples who were loudly yammering about nothing in particular at the well itself. They were oblivious to the fact that they were destroying the serenity of the site and we weren't the only ones annoyed by them. There is an excavated ruin of an unusual type of pole dwelling on the way out of the monument.
Back on the road, we drove another half hour or so to the Coconino National Forest Visitor Center and the beginning of the Red Rocks Scenic Byway. We picked up some maps and checked out the view, then hit the road toward Sedona.
On the outskirts of Sedona, the scenic overlooks begin. We have already forgotten the name of most of the red rock features, but really, who cares? They're beautiful, so who needs some funny name to remember them? There are buttes, mesas, a pointy mountain called "Bell Rock", and many others. We stopped at three viewpoints before reaching Sedona.
The Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel and Villas, our hotel for the next three nights is located at the northern end of town. Our GPS lead us directly to it with no problems. We arrived at around 6:00 PM. The check-in experience wasn't the best. The desk clerk was very nice, but he kept directing us to a room in the main building and gave us incorrect information about where to park. After pointing out that we had reserved a room in the North Building, he did manage to give us accurate information. Luckily we did our research before booking so we didn't go on a fruitless search for our room.
We booked a room in a detached building that is newer than the main building. There are only four rooms in the building and they are considered more luxurious than the regular rooms. The guest laundry is located on the lower level of this building, which will be convenient since this is a laundry stop. Our room is in the center of the building and is quite spacious with a gas fireplace in the corner and a beautiful view of the red rocks in the distance. The hotel property continues down to the creek and guests have full use of a recreational facility at the time share villas below. Some of the villas are rented out by the hotel.
After resting for a few minutes, we wandered out to find somewhere to eat dinner. We decided we would settle for the first place we saw, which was the Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant across the street. It is a bit of a dump, but it looked clean enough, so we stayed. The waiter was pleasant-ish, but nothing special. Click to view the Menu. We ordered a Chicken Fajita Burro and the Blue Corn Enchiladas with Steak. The menu didn't wow us and we were worried that we wouldn't have enough food (we're starving!) The burrito was actually pretty good and a large portion, but the green rice and the beans served with both entrees were a total bore. The enchiladas weren't anything special. Nothing was inedible, but we wouldn't return to this place. The bill was high for Mexican food at $48.00 before tip (including a glass of wine), but it is the cheapest dinner we have had so far.
Bill wanted a smoothie after dinner, but the waiter presented the check without asking if we want anything else, so we left. We wandered up the block, looked in a couple of shops, then walked back to the hotel down the other side of the street. Bill did find a take out place serving smoothies, so he got one to take back to the room. We found a couple of restaurants we will probably try for dinner tomorrow or the next night.
That's pretty much it for today. It was a long day for us, but it didn't seem like it until we sat down and crashed after dinner. The weather is supposed to stay about the same for the next few days, so we expect it to be very pleasant out and about tomorrow when we explore some of the dirt roads into the scenic areas.
Day 8: Thursday, may 9 - Sedona, AZ - Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas
The weather today is perfection...low 70's, a few puffy clouds and a pleasant breeze. We started off with the free breakfast at the hotel. It is in a separate building, but within easy walking distance of our room at the opposite side of the property. The two men working there were extremely friendly and obviously cared about the guests. The food consisted of the usual cereals, juice, muffins, selection of breads, fruit, yogurt, granola, and the stuff to go with them. The hot food today was scrambled eggs, eggs Florentine casserole, big sausages, sliced ham, Southwestern-style potatoes and a waffle maker. Combined with the outstanding service from the staff, this might be the best free breakfast we have ever encountered.
We took off for our drive around the Red Rock Scenic Loop at 10:30 AM. The first loop is the Red Rock Scenic Loop drive, which is paved except for a short portion that is a decent gravel road. There are two scenic drives with one planned for each remaining day, but we decided we'd do both today if time allows.
Well, the first loop drive was pretty much pointless. It is a loop following a winding road through a nice residential area. None of the iconic rocks are visible from this drive at all. It is scenic, but not in the way that we expected. We don't regret doing it, but it took all of about 20 minutes, not including the stop at Red Rock State Park at the mid point.
The park costs $10.00 per car for admission. Honestly, we weren't expecting much because the title says it is "educational". We interpreted that to mean aimed at kids. That isn't really the case, but what they have to offer, other than hiking trails and picnic areas, is minimal. There is a visitor center full of dusty, dated displays. It took all of five minutes to see everything that wasn't broken. Click to view the Brochure.
Trails start behind the center, so we decided we'd wander in a loop and see what we can see. The area is certainly scenic and if one is inclined to go for a long, easy hike, this is a good place to do that. The trail we followed leads to a view of Oak Creek, passing a meadow of tiny wildflowers, and cool forested areas. In the distance we could see the famous red rocks, but there aren't any in this park, oddly enough. Well, OK, to be honest, there is a red rock cliff of sorts and a low rock point topped with a big house that blends in perfectly with the location. We wandered around for about an hour before going back to the car and finishing the loop drive.
With plenty of time remaining, we drove off to the other side of the town to the Schnelby Scenic Drive (or something like that.) We knew this road was dirt and rough, but we didn't find out just how rough until we tried it. A sign warns that regular cars shouldn't attempt it, but since we have an all wheel drive SUV we gave it a shot. The total distance to the turn-around point is about six miles.
"Rough" doesn't begin to describe this road! It is more like driving over piles of boulders than a road. However, there are sewer lines installed down the middle of it. How about dumping some gravel on it and making it more accessible. Oh yeah, then we wouldn't need to take one of the three million pink jeep tours, would we? After witnessing for ourselves how bumpy those jeep tours are, we were very glad we didn't book one.
We did make it for about a mile and the view over the city below is magnificent. The rocks are closer to this side of the town and easier to see sort of up close. After a few minutes of torturous driving, the scary road took a dive into the valley below and we called it quits. However, we did get out of the car to check out the view in all directions, which, as advertised, is awe inspiring. There are all sorts of amazing red rock formations nearby and majestic mountains in the distance. Considering how busy the town is, you don't have to go very far to find peace and quiet.
It was around 1:30 PM at this point, so we drove the short distance back to the hotel, then walked into town to find a place for lunch. There is an art gallery and a newer set of shops next to the hotel. The end of town near the hotel (the northern part) is quite nice. We were warned that Sedona is very touristy, and it is, but it isn't in-your-face touristy as long as you avoid the fake "tourist information" shops pushing time shares. The real shops and galleries are very nice, the area is walkable, and the people working in the various businesses are chatty and friendly. Everyone we spoke to launched into a conversation with us. One would think they'd be so sick of tourists that they wouldn't be interested at all in talking to one, but that certainly wasn't the case at all.
We walked all the way to the end of the row on the hotel side of the strip. The view at the end is amazing, so why bother going anywhere else? From across the street, the red rocks view looms over the shopping area. Everywhere you look is another glorious panorama. The town must have strict guidelines for colors because all of the businesses and residences blend into the landscape without being intrusive.
We settled on Taos Cantina for lunch. Click to view the Menu. We were seated indoors because the sidewalk dining area was full, which is fine with us. Our server was over-the-top phony-friendly, but she was efficient enough. Dave ordered the Street Tacos with Carnitas. Bill ordered the Burrito with Beef (but received chicken) and a side salad that came after the entree. All of the food was edible, but not memorable in any way. The menu says that the street tacos are served on freshly made tortillas. Yeah, well, they looked store bought to us. Still, it was OK, just nothing special. Two for two on boring Mexican food in, of all places, Arizona. The total check was about $43.00, way overpriced for what we got. We would not return.
After lunch, we continued wandering the other side of the street, checking out shops and chatting with shopkeepers. The woman in the Christmas Shop was especially chatty. Turns out she is from Huntington Beach, so she knew all about where both of us grew up. We bought a couple of locally made ornaments and wandered back to the hotel for a nap.
Check out the sunset view from our room! We napped until around 5:00 PM, then pulled ourselves together and went out in search of dinner at 6:30 PM. We stopped in a store selling merchandise for dogs, again chatting with the very friendly owner. We arrived at a restaurant that looked crowded, usually a good sign, at 7:00 PM.
Tonight, we chose the Silver Saddle Room at the Cowboy Club. We weren't aware of the concept until we walked in and the hostess asked us if we wanted to sit inside or outside. We said outside. Next question, do we want the side with the steaks and no children or the regular part. Guess which we chose? If you chose the children zone, you are banned from reading this any further!
Eventually, we figured out that the Silver Saddle Room is a completely separate menu from the "saloon" looking part. OK fine, but it sure is confusing and it must drive the hostesses nuts having to explain this to every single person who walks in. No matter, we were seated outside under a porch, which was nice. Click to view the Menu.
Our waitress was very nice, especially after we rolled our eyes at a guest being totally stupid. We both had a glass of wine first, then a pretentious bus boy came and presented an "amuse bouche". His stilted announcement of this dish amused us all right. It was ceviche on a cucumber wedge drizzled with a balsamic reduction (we think.) It was edible and it looked nice, but that's all. The wine was good.
Dave ordered a Strawberry-Spinach Salad and the Bison Pot Roast. Bill ordered Prime Rib, medium rare. The waitress came back and said the chef had overcooked the prime rib and the closest they could get to medium-rare would be medium or they could change it to the rib eye steak. He said, "That's fine," meaning the prime rib medium. He got the rib eye. Anyway, it tasted good, but it was full of gristle, although it was still edible. The bison pot roast was better, but not as tender as it was described on the menu. The flavor was good though. We never thought we'd say this, but the version at the Snow Lodge in Yellowstone was better. If you have read our account of the food there you know how we felt about it. The potatoes on the plate were nothing but whole boiled potatoes in the skin...five of them! The vegetables with both entrees were pretty good and well seasoned...green beans with strips of bell pepper. Oh yeah, there was a palate-cleansing tequila-lime sorbet served before the entree that was extremely sweet, but had a nice flavor otherwise. Total cost of this meal, before tip, $79.00. Not bad price wise for the type of place it is, but we wouldn't go back here. If someone suggested it we wouldn't refuse to eat here again, but we wouldn't make any effort to do so either.
We skipped dessert at the restaurant and went up the street to get some ice cream and sorbet. Again, we endeared ourselves to the girl behind the counter by sympathizing with her about stupid customers, so we got enormous servings of ice cream.
Back at the hotel by 8:30 PM, we finished our desserts and called it a night. We have used up all of our planned activities, except doing laundry, so we're not sure what we'll do tomorrow. It is amazing how quiet it is here. It is very pleasant to open the sliding door and listen to the sound of the birds outside. The weather is so nice that we can sit on the balcony and just stare at the view, so maybe that's all we'll do tomorrow.
Day 9: Friday, may 10 - Sedona, AZ - Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas
The weather continues to be perfect, the same as yesterday. We went for the free breakfast at 9:00 AM. Everything was the same except the egg casserole dish today was bacon, cheese and tomato. The attendant from yesterday welcomed us back. It is almost like returning to a Crystal ship! OK, not quite, but sort of.
With nothing important to do today, we decided to drive toward West Sedona to see if there are any shops or anything else we missed yesterday. Cut to the chase, there wasn't. There are tons of hotels in that area, but the place you want to be if you stay here is in North Sedona where the shops and restaurants are. There are several restaurants in West Sedona, too, but it is much easier to walk out of the hotel and find lots of choices than to have to drive everywhere. On the other hand, we haven't had a stellar meals here so far either.
The Coffee Pot rock formation is behind West Sedona. We tried to find a way to drive up to it, but all we saw were residential developments. Nice ones, but still, nothing worth stopping for. We finally turned toward the rocks at a "Cultural Park" and drove to the end of the road where some trails start. From there we had a great view over the valley, and layered mountains in the distance.
This is a great season to visit the desert. Not only is the weather great, but the wildflowers and cacti are in bloom. Most of the flowers are tiny and you have to pay close attention to see them, but it is amazing the variety of flowers here. There is something in bloom everywhere you look. Before driving back to the area of the hotel in North Sedona, we picked up a rock to take home (not from the National Forest, by the way) and checked out what appears to be an abandoned amphitheater complex below the aforementioned cultural park.
After doing some research, we learned that the Cultural Park shut down due to financial problems way back in 2003. The elaborate outdoor theater is now overgrown and abandoned. The area where we parked to look at the view, also in disrepair, was the overflow parking for the theater. Too bad, because it looks like it was very nice at some point.
The only way to really get into the back country to see the rocks up close is to either hike one of the many trails or take a jeep tour. Pink Jeep Tours is the predominant operator, but there must be at least five others. We watched people coming back from them today and nobody looked very thrilled. The seating doesn't look at all comfortable, so it must be unpleasant to be bounced around those rough roads. However, the tours do get good reviews, so maybe it is worth a shot if you are into that sort of thing.
We arrived back at the hotel at noon, then wandered down to the time share villas below the hotel. The hotel rents out a block of these units as part of the hotel. The room we are in is quiet, but the ones down by the creek would have the added pleasure of the babbling creek behind it. However, they are down at the floor of the canyon and don't have any rock views to speak of. There is a big recreation center guests of the hotel are given a pass to use. There is an indoor pool, sauna and other features. For $7.00 an hour guests can book the tennis courts, too.
The creek is Oak Creek that passes through most of Sedona. It is the same creek that runs through the park we visited yesterday. It would be pleasant to sit under the trees and just watch the creek all day.
We sat on our balcony until 1:30 PM. We were pleasantly surprised when a maintenance man showed up to fix the handle in the shower that fell off last night. That means the housekeeper did her job and reported it. He also fixed the light over the fireplace after we pointed it out. Now if someone will notice that the carpet is filthy, they'll really be onto something. Everything the maids clean is spotless, but the carpet desperately needs to be shampooed. Someone cleaned up a spill and the spot is about ten shades lighter than the rest of the floor.
We decided to go looking for food again after the maintenance man left, although neither of us is hungry. We walked up the street to the nearby Open Range Grill. Click to view the Menu. The restaurant has the same stunning view of Snoopy Rock that we have from our balcony. The service was adequate, nothing more. We ordered the Mile High Sandwich and the Turkey BLT, both with the sweet potato fries. The fries were nothing special, but the sandwiches were huge and very good. However, if the turkey in the sandwiches was freshly oven roasted then their oven makes it taste an awful lot like Oscar Mayer. Still, overall, no complaints, but there is no reason to go back either.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped back into the dog store and picked up some homemade cookies to take back to Barney. His only thrill is food since he doesn't play with toys or chew things. And we thought we were lazy! The woman behind the counter today was just as friendly and chatty as the one last night.
We forgot to mention the fun stone chairs that we admired in front of the art gallery next door. We're not in any hurry to pay thousands of dollars for them, but they're interesting to look at.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on our balcony admiring the scenery, napping and listening to the birds sing. If you want a relaxing place to stay, this is it, especially the north building that is separate from the main hotel. We have never heard anything from the neighboring rooms. We were surprised to discover that they were occupied at all.
Today is a scheduled laundry day, so Bill did that in the very convenient guest laundry room directly below us. We never saw the machines in use, so it was an easy task to get our two loads done. Yes, we plan stops for laundry in our itineraries. This will get us through to the next civilized place to do it one more time.
Not that we were hungry or anything, but we went out for dinner around 7:00 PM. Since we hadn't had much luck with Mexican food here, we went to a Japanese restaurant we passed while driving around this afternoon. We could have walked, but it looks like it might pour rain at any moment, so we drove the few blocks up the hill to Takashi Japanese Restaurant. It is in a two-block area off the main drag and all of the buildings have a Japanese look to them. We assume it was developed by the same owner.
Click to view the Menu. We were brusquely greeted by the sole waitress, then seated in a room that used to be a bar. The restaurant was busy, but not full. We ordered the Gyoza appetizer, a Teriyaki & Tempura combo, and the Teriyaki Beef dinner. The miso soup came out first and had spoons in it. Dave joked to the waitress that Japanese soup isn't supposed to be eaten with a spoon. She immediately transformed into our best friend, saying that it made her happy that we know that. From then on she was charming. We heard someone at another table ask for cream cheese in some sort of sushi roll and she just about ripped his throat out, so we're glad we got on her good side right off the bat.
The soup was very good, better than what we had in Japan. The gyoza were OK, but nothing notable. We wouldn't order them again. Both of the entrees came with miso soup, a salad of shredded cabbage and carrots with a fresh ginger dressing, steamed rice, and vegetables. The chicken teriyaki was a full breast of chicken, so it made for a huge portion. Both the chicken and the beef were high quality with no fat or gristle. The tempura was OK, but not the best we've ever had. None of the flavors were particularly notable either, but everything was very good, freshly cooked and exactly what we were looking for after the heavy meals we've had the past few days. It was definitely better than any of the Mexican food we've had so far. At the end of the meal, our new friend gave us complimentary green tea ice cream, "Just because." As we always say, it pays to be nice to your waitress!
We were back in the room and finished for the day at 8:30 PM. The forecast is for rain overnight, but we don't expect it will affect us at all even if it continues into the morning. The drive to Flagstaff is only 45 minutes without stops. We have a couple of things to look at on the way, but it should be a fairly easy travel day.
Day 10: Saturday, May 11 - Drive to Flagstaff, AZ - Drury Inn & Suites
Some of the West’s most beautiful country
from the Coconino National Forest and the San Francisco Peaks (12,633 feet/3,851
meters) to the Red Rocks of Sedona to the rugged deserts of neighboring Native
American nations. Grand Canyon National Park,
Volcano National Monument,
Monument and Meteor
Crater are all within easy driving distance, as are many more archaeological
treasures and attractions.
Once again, the weather is perfect and about the same as yesterday and the day before that. Our free breakfast was also the same, except the egg casserole this morning was Huevos Rancheros.
This was supposed to be a short drive with a few time-wasters thrown in so we wouldn't arrive at the hotel too early. We'll tell you right up front, that that isn't quite how it worked out. We checked out of the hotel at 11:00 AM, which is our preferred time to hit the road.
The final word on the Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villas: Relaxing. This isn't a luxury resort by any means, but for people like us who don't need a lot of service, it is perfect. We loved our room in the North Building with the great view. The free breakfast was great and the staff was very pleasant. You can't beat the location of this place, right on the strip, but far enough removed to avoid the crush of tourists. We would stay here again and would recommend it.
Our route is north along the canyon following highway 89A, which is Sedona's main street. We stopped at a view point for a photo of where we came from then drove another six miles or so to Slide Rock State Park. Click to view the Brochure. We figured our $10.00 admission fee would cover the ten minutes we expected to spend here and then some. The park was originally the Pendley Homestead, a 43-acre apple farm. Now the primary use is as a place to swim in the spring fed stream where you can slide down the smoothly eroded rocks for quite a distance.
It is a ten-minute walk to the gorge where the stream flows, but there are some vintage structures from the 1920's to look at on the way. First up are some old guest cabins, then the Pendley Homestead House, and the Apple Packing Barn. You can't go inside any of them, but the setting is nice anyway. There is also a small store selling snacks and souvenirs, plus the usual park facilities.
There is a steep climb down to the creek, but it is manageable. Being a Saturday and a beautiful day in general, the swimming hole was busy, but not unpleasantly so. It looks like a fun place to hang out for a day and slide down the channel a few times. There are nice restroom facilities and the whole place looks well maintained. We walked the 3/8th mile loop trail along the rim that winds back to the parking lot through the original apple orchards. So, for a place we judged would be a brief photo opportunity, we managed to stay for over an hour wandering around.
Back on the road, our next stop was at the Oak Creek Vista. This popular rest stop has a permanent Native American market setup along the walkway to the view point. All of the vendors were selling the exact same array of merchandise, so it looks like they pick it up from some big assembly line warehouse of native goods to re-sell here. A few of the sellers were very nice, but the majority looked like they'd be just as happy to kill you in a dark alley as sell you something. Really, a few of them were way strange! The views from here are spectacular though and it wasn't a chore to avoid the vendors. The winding road we took to get to this elevation (over 6,000 feet) is visible below the viewing platform.
The drive to Flagstaff from the view point took about fifteen minutes. The freeway ends and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of town. There is a historic downtown centered around Route 66, but we don't have that on our agenda for this trip. We tossed in a stop here just to help shorten our drive tomorrow after finding an array of things to look at on the way to the Grand Canyon.
We forgot that we had added back into the plan a stop at the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park. Our GPS took us there and not where we expected, but we just went with it. Click to view the Brochure. We weren't expecting much here either, but it turned out to be a very interesting tour. It cost $10.00 per person and it was money well spent. We arrived five minutes before a tour began. Our volunteer guide was well informed and interesting, so the time went by quickly. The mansion was built for two Riordan families in 1904. There are two mirror-image 6,000+ square foot homes joined by a common living room. One side is furnished as it was then the family lived here and the other side is used to house exhibits. No photos are allowed inside the tour section. The tour ends in the museum side of the house where pictures are allowed, so we have one of the kitchen.
The guide said to wait outside if we want her to lead us around the outside of the house. Only one other family waited, everyone else left which was fine with us. The first stop was at an elaborately carved stone fountain, then around to the front of the house, to a "fairy dancing" patio (don't ask), and back to the visitor center that is housed in the old garage.
OK, this is where the day ground to a very long, boring halt. We arrived at the Lowell Observatory for what we expected would be an interesting tour of the facilities. Click to view a Map of the grounds. We wandered into the modern visitor center and followed the signs to the gift shop to pay ($10.00 per person AAA rate, $12.00 without AAA.) The extreme geek behind the counter made an obscure reference to a Star Trek character that neither Dave nor the woman talking to him understood. He was nice, however. There are two tours offered on alternating hours.
They have a display about space suits through the years, so we wandered in to look at that. It took all of fifteen minutes to see everything, so we went back to the car for a snack, then came in to wait for the next tour which is the one that goes to the historic Clark Telescope. Our guide was, to be blunt, so boring he made us want to scream. What he had to say was somewhat interesting, but the way he said it, interjecting "uh" every other word, drove everyone nuts. He spent over fifteen minutes explaining a couple of photos in the visitor center, then we walked, slowly, to the telescope...with the guide walking backwards and talking non-stop.
We passed Lowell's mausoleum that is located adjacent to the Clark Telescope, then went into the building to see the telescope...and listen to 30 minutes of "uhs" and some information that would have been interesting had it been presented better. Basically, this telescope was built in 1896 and was used to discover the first evidence of an expanding universe. Lowell used it to study what he believed were civilizations on Mars.
The next stop was in the Rotunda Museum that originally contained the observatory's science library and today houses exhibits. There is an interesting Saturn-shaped stained glass chandelier in the center of the dome. There was more droning on about God-only-knows-what, ending in a pitch for us to buy memberships in the observatory. Apparently it is always short of funds.
Here's where we made the biggest mistake of our lives. Well, OK, maybe not that dramatic, but it was certainly the worst choice we made today. We didn't hightail it out of there and instead waited in front of the museum for the next tour to the Pluto Telescope. What the hell were we thinking? Oh well, too late now, the guide is back and off we go to the Pluto Walk. In and of itself, this part is kind of interesting. It represents the distance between the planets as marked on the pavement and signs along the route.
Then the guide told everyone to walk slowly to the top because of the high altitude. OK fine, but then he proceeded to walk vveeerrrryyyyyy sllllloooooowwwwwwllllllyyyyyy, blocking any possibility that we could pass him and move a bit faster. Both of us, being tall, find it a huge chore to walk slowly. Being bored already, walking at less than a snail's pace almost pushed us over the edge, but we kept it together. This did, however, suck the last drop of energy out of us.
The final stop, THANK GOD, was inside to view the Pluto Telescope used to discover Pluto in 1930. Again, this part could be interesting. Note that we said it could be because it most certainly was not. Blah, blah, uh, blah, uh, uh, blah, blah, blah. Everyone on the tour was looking around and rolling their eyes to one another. When a woman asked TWO questions we thought the group was going to revolt and push her down the stairs to shut her up and end our misery. Oh, get this, the guide then offered to take "anyone who is interested" on a longer walk back to the visitor center to point out some of the facilities (and talk some more, we assume.) We made a break for it before he could make it down the stairs, as did everyone else since we ran into them in the parking lot. So, that's THREE HOURS of our lives we'll never get back. The best part was the view over Flagstaff from the road outside the gate.
Mercifully, our hotel for tonight, the Drury Inn & Suites, is only minutes away, so we were there almost before we knew it. We expected to arrive here by 3:00 PM at the very latest, but when we finally made it, it was well after 6:00 PM. We were lucky to find a parking place (there are only five) in front of the hotel. There is an attached parking garage, but it is quite a trek to the hotel from there. We chose the Drury over a free stay using points at one of the Hilton affiliated brands based on our experience with Drury during a previous road trip. Our check-in experience is what we expect from this brand...very friendly and helpful. We were given a map to local restaurants and our drink cards for tonight (guests get three free cocktails/beer/wine nightly, plus free snack food.)
We collected our luggage from the car and hauled it up to our room. Apparently, Drury likes a traditional look in the decor, but we would call it dark and dingy. Chocolate brown carpet and heavily textured stucco walls. Is the the 1970"s or what? This hotel is only a few years old, so someone chose this decor on purpose. The decor aside, the room has everything we need, so no complaints there. However, the air conditioning barely works. This building is a LEEDS certified energy efficient design, so the air conditioning only works when the air outside is a lot warmer than it is inside. So, essentially it is just a fan blowing in outside air. It isn't sweltering in the room, but it isn't as cool as we want it either. Not thrilled.
After checking online for reviews of local restaurants, we pulled ourselves together to walk a few blocks to the historic part of town for dinner. We waited for the elevator for so long that a group of people who passed us in the hallway came back and asked if we had been standing there the whole time. Yep, ten minutes for the elevator to come.
We finally made it to the lobby where we found the free food hour so crowded that we wouldn't even consider that option for dinner. We did look at it later and they had baked potatoes, hot dogs, nachos, vegetables and dip, soft drinks, and popcorn. The soft drinks and popcorn are available until 10:00 PM.
We walked the four blocks to Altitudes Bar & Grill after being assured by the front desk that we wouldn't be raped and murdered on the way there. Graduation is going on at the university behind the hotel, so all of the better restaurants are fully booked, as is the hotel. However, we walked right in to Altitudes without a wait. Click here to view the Menu.
Our server was pleasant and everything went well the entire time. There was a party going on outside, but inside it was normal even though the restaurant is more bar than anything. Dave ordered the BBQ Sandwich with the sweet sauce and onion straws (also included cole slaw), while Bill had a Philly Pita Wrap. Dave also had a cup of soup that was Clam Chowder. Everything we had was good and we had no complaints about anything. We wouldn't knock anyone over to eat here again, but it is fine for what it is. The total bill was $38.00 which includes one cocktail. Not bad for what we got.
Back at the hotel, we found one elevator still out of service, the food area overflowing with guests, and loads of screaming children in the hallways. We thought the screaming we heard in our room was in the hall, but it turned out the kids are in a room across the hall and we can hear them all the way across the hall. This hotel is very dog friendly, so there are dogs everywhere, which isn't a problem for us, but something to keep in mind if you are bothered by that. Once we were settled we found out that the remote for the TV doesn't work <sigh>. The way things are going, we're not too optimistic about the breakfast being very pleasant tomorrow, but we'll see.
At around 11:00 PM, we received a note under the door informing us that the elevator is out of service. Duh!
Day 11: Sunday, May 12 - Drive to Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - South Rim - Thunderbird Lodge
Nearly five million people see the
Canyon each year. Most of them see it from their car at overlooks
along the South Rim (this includes Grand Canyon Village, Hermits Rest, and
Desert View). The South Rim is the most accessible part of the park and is open
all year. A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms
our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and
erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18
miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep.
With all the chaos going on in this hotel, we decided to skip the free breakfast and get the heck out. We'll find something to eat on the way or snack on the food we carry with us. We should get an early start anyway because we expect this to be a long day of sightseeing on the way to the Grand Canyon.
The final word on the Drury Inn & Suites: Chaotic. We were very disappointed with our stay here. As you know, we had a great experience with a Drury Hotel before, which is what prompted us to choose this one. Talk about night and day experiences. The decor here is dark and drab...an Easterner's interpretation of Southwestern decor apparently. The walls IN the room are that horrible brown, knocked-down rough stucco finish you'd see on buildings in the 1970's. Who thought putting a finish like that in a bedroom, let alone the bathroom, was a good idea? It can't be wiped down! Yuck. And chocolate brown carpet so worn the pattern is gone from the traffic patterns only puts the icing on the cake. Top it off with a broken elevator, noise beyond belief, and "air conditioning" that barely cools and you have an uncomfortable atmosphere. Besides all of that, the towels are Motel 6 quality and the dust is so caked on the bathroom light fixture it surely hasn't been touched in months, if not years. There's more, but you get the picture. We would not stay here again and urge you to choose anywhere else other than this overpriced hotel. This is the first time Tripadvisor reviews have led us astray. The Drury Inn makes the Hyatt Place in Scottsdale seem like the Taj Mahal.
We left the hotel around 9:30 AM after fighting for an elevator. There were people on every floor with luggage carts trying to get downstairs, to no avail. Most people gave up and went down the stairs. We were lucky enough to get into an elevator with a maid who said she was rushing down for an "emergency." She was none too happy when we stopped on every floor. One nice thing about Drury is that you don't have to stop at the desk to check out. You just leave, which is exactly what we did.
The place we had in mind to stop for breakfast wasn't open today, so we kept driving north on Route 66 until we almost gave up. We were going to settle for Burger King when we noticed a diner in the strip mall behind it. So, we went to Mike and Ronda's The Place, which, by the way, was packed. That's usually a good sign! Click to view the Menu. We were seated with no wait and served by a friendly, but not very polished, waitress. Dave ordered an Arizona Omelet with fruit in place of toast. Bill had the French Toast with blueberries. Both were served so quickly we have no idea how they cooked them so fast, but everything was freshly made. The portions were huge, both filled an entire platter. The total bill was $25.00. They were giving out carnations to all of the women in the restaurant which is an unexpected touch in a place like this.
Route 66 turns into Highway 89A north of Flagstaff. We continued for about sixteen miles until we turned off at Sunset Crater National Monument, our first adventure for today. There are two adjacent national monuments here, Sunset Crater and Wupatki, with one fee for both. We used our pass, but the regular price is $5.00 per person. If you arrive through the Sunset Crater gate, there is a ranger there to collect payment and give you a map for both monuments. He was very friendly and interested in answering questions. Oddly enough, if you drive in through Wupatki, there is no gate and they don't collect payment unless you go into the visitor center, which is very easy to avoid and still not miss anything.
We stopped into the visitor center for about five minutes, then continued along the single road that winds through both monuments. Our first stop was at a turnout for a lava flow and a field of cinders. You can walk down a path through the lava, but we know we will run out of time today if we do everything, so we stayed close to the road and took a few pictures. This is the first place to see Sunset Volcano where all of this stuff came from. The last eruption was in 1086.
Next, we arrived at Lava Flow Trail. There is a short, wheelchair-accessible paved section, plus an unpaved trail that winds down through the lava flow allowing vistas of distant snow-capped mountains, huge cracks where the lava heaved up cooled slabs, fields of cinders, gnarled landscapes and a close up view of the volcano. Hikers are no longer allowed to climb up the volcano due to the erosion it caused. It took us about an hour to do the paved trail and the unpaved section at the base of the volcano.
Continuing along the road for a few more miles we arrived at the Cinder Hills Overlook. From here we could see several smaller cinder cones along the same fissure as the larger Sunset Crater. Beyond that is a view of the Painted Desert in the distance. We will have a closer look at this view when we visit the Petrified Forest later on in this trip.
It is another eighteen miles along the same road to reach the Wupatki National Monument visitor center, but there are many turnouts and ruins to visit before reaching that point. Shortly after entering the monument, we came across long cinder hills in the distance. When the volcano erupted it spread ash far and wide, forcing the inhabitants to move away when their fields were covered with ash. All of the pueblos in Wupatki National Monument were built after the eruption, about 800 years ago. Nobody knows why they were abandoned because the climate then was the same as it is now.
The first set of ruins we came across were the Wukoki Ruins. They are located atop a low outcrop of red rocks that have been eroded into fanciful shapes. The view from the ruins is spectacular in all directions. Keep in mind that all except one of the ruins in our pictures are partial reconstructions. Later on we have photos of one that was left as it was found. The policy these days is to stabilize ruins as they are found, not to try to re-build them as they did up until the late 1960's.
Finally, we reached the main attraction, the actual Wupatki Pueblo ruins. There is a nice visitor center with the ruins sprawling down the valley behind it. Again, most of the ruin you see today is a partial reconstruction, but it is still spectacular. The setting is awe inspiring. A family out front recognized us from the tour of the Riordan Mansion yesterday.
Continuing along the road, next up is The Citadel, perched atop a steep rocky hill. This ruin has not been reconstructed at all and is still awaiting excavation and further study. The view from the rubble strewn summit is breathtaking. In all directions one can see other ruins in more or less the same condition. This area must have been quite a hive of activity 800 years ago. Adjacent to this ruin is a huge depression that resulted from a collapse in the limestone centuries ago. It looks as though it might have held water, but a sign says that it is too porous to have done so.
Finally, facing near exhaustion, we reached the Lomaki trail that passes several ruins and end at a narrow canyon where the namesake pueblo is perched. Along the way is a box canyon ruin built into and along the top of the ledges. It is thought that the inhabitants farmed the land on the floor of the canyon.
We stopped to snack on food we brought with us, then continued driving north toward the Grand Canyon's east entrance. From the national monument it is about 40 miles to the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Before reaching the park there are several marked "Scenic Vistas", all of which have an array of ramshackle shacks and plywood tables where Native Americans sell their wares. Most of them had left for the day since it is after 4:30 PM now.
We reached the first view of the canyon, Desert View, at around 5:00 PM. This is where Fred Harvey commissioned Mary Coulter to design a tower for viewing the canyon, along with a gift shop and snack bar. From the outside, the Watchtower resembles a native building with many authentic features built into it. However, it was built new in the 1930's. The interior of the tower is magnificently decorated and looks like it could be completely authentic, although it is not. The views from here are spectacular.
At this point we were pretty much running on empty, energy wise. We knew this would be a long day, but this is ridiculous. However, we don't plan to come back this direction again, so we stopped at every view point and turnout we came across. In order, we stopped at Navajo Point, Lipan Point, an unnamed view point, and Grandview. Grandview is the mother of view points along this route because it affords views of many of the prominent features in this part of the canyon. This is where the first tourist hotel was built after the copper mine below petered out. The trail used to reach the mines is still in use by hikers today.
We stopped at a roadside pull out where lots of people were sitting along the edge waiting for the sunset. The view is, of course, spectacular, but sitting on the edge of a cliff that plunges straight down isn't in the cards for either of us.
Finally, we arrived in Grand Canyon Village and found our hotel, Thunderbird Lodge. The problem here is that there is no designated parking and visitors were packed in awaiting the impending sunset view behind the rim side lodges. We circled around until we found a spot at Kachina Lodge next door that is closest to the door into our lodge. A large crowd had gathered to watch a herd of elk grazing on the lawn around the building. Only about fifty feet away from the back of the building is the rim of the canyon, so we can't be much closer to more spectacular views. The building itself was probably architecturally interesting for about three seconds in the 1970's, but it looks very out of place and dated today.
We had to find the check-in desk at Bright Angel Lodge which is on the opposite side of the building from where we parked. Check-in was fine and we managed to amuse the sour-puss of a clerk and make her act like a real person. What they have to put up with is ridiculous, so we couldn't really blame her for being on the defensive to start with. She gave us our key cards, a map, and sent us on our way. We stopped by the room on the way back to get our luggage to figure out the best way to bring it up. We are on the second floor and there are no elevators. The building is sort of a multi split level design with no convenient way to get in or out, so we pretty much winged it. We have no idea how anyone less fit than we are can manage to drag luggage up at least two flights of stairs and from distant parking places. We were delayed while a busload of tourists gawked at the deer on the lawn, but we managed to get settled in our room by 7:00 PM, only 30 minutes later than scheduled.
While the room is small, it is nicely decorated and has a partial view of the canyon, which is what we expected. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the room has air conditioning of sorts (supposedly it is evaporative cooling and not real air conditioning) and it seems to work well enough. Most amazing of all is that there is wireless internet available and as far as we can tell, it is free. It is also very slow, but at least it works.
After quickly freshening up, we walked over to the Arizona Room at the Bright Angel Lodge for dinner. This is the "fine dining" option at the lodge, but since it doesn't take reservations we thought, correctly, that we would be able to get in. At first we were told there would be a five-minute wait, but the host quickly came back and said he found a table and we can be seated immediately.
We were expecting some sort of charming old lodge dining room from the gushing descriptions of this place in guide books. Wrong! It looks like a throw back to the 1980's with pastel colors and white walls. It is hideous to be perfectly honest. But, it is clean and the workers are very nice. Our waitress was very pleasant. Click to view the Menu. We both ordered the Prime Rib with a side salad. The salads arrived very quickly. Although they weren't groundbreaking by any stretch, everything in them was fresh and the portion was ample. Our entrees arrived promptly and we had no complaints at all about anything we received. This is in stark contrast to the ghastly food served by the same company in Yellowstone. The prices are very reasonable for what we got...roughly $72.00 before tip including a glass of wine. We wouldn't quite classify this as fine dining, but it is a step above average for sure.
We skipped desert and tried to find our room again in the pitch blackness. The gigantic deer/elk/whatever were still out and about, totally oblivious to the tourists wandering around.
Day 12: Monday, May 13 - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - South Rim - Thunderbird Lodge
It is warmer today, but still pleasant. We dawdled around and didn't go to breakfast until around 10:00 AM. The Bright Angel Lodge is the closest food for Thunderbird Lodge, so we wandered in through the back entrance and through the lobby. The Bright Angel Restaurant is located at the end of a long hallway. We were one of only three parties in the dining room. This restaurant looks a little more authentic than the Arizona Room, but it still suffers from a poorly executed 1980's remodel.
Click to view the Breakfast Menu. Our waiter was friendly, but the service was terrible. Considering he had only one other table to serve, he was incredibly disorganized. Part of that had to do with a couple at the hostess stand trying to order boiled eggs. The whole thing was comical. Please don't try to order anything unusual at a place like this. The odds of getting what you expect are slim and none.
We both ordered the multi-grain pancakes that are supposed to be served with sugar-free syrup. Bill ordered regular syrup. Keep in mind that his choice is the unusual one. Also, we ordered the Fresh Berries with Yogurt. Bill added an order for four eggs. Years later, the pancakes arrived with only the regular syrup. Dave reminded the waiter that there is supposed to be sugar-free served with this. OK, fine, we thought. Yogurt and berries arrives along with four plates containing two fried eggs each. So an order for four eggs was entered as four orders of two eggs. Nice try. Dave ate some eggs, like it or not. A manager came over and cheerfully asked if we had everything we need. No, still waiting for sugar-free syrup. She runs off and comes back with more of the regular syrup. Nope, guess again, sugar-free syrup. She comes back with a container of every sugar substitute known to man (which, by the way, was already on the table.) Off she went and finally came back with the right thing. She was very nice and we really didn't care that much, but that pretty much exemplifies how this place is run.
Anyway, the food was fine, no complaints. However, the portions are enormous. The pancakes overflowed a dinner plate and were four inches high. Neither of us could eat more than half of it and we can eat a lot! The multi-grain thing wasn't as good as at IHOP, but they were good enough.
After collecting our stuff, we walked back to the front of the Bright Angel Lodge to look for the stop for the Hermit's Rest shuttle bus. The lodge has some rustic cabins next to it, plus some rooms without private bathrooms in the main lodge. It was designed by Mary Colter on commission from Fred Harvey to create a moderately priced option to the luxury El Tovar Hotel built by the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1920's. We found the shuttle stop just past the trailhead for the famous Bright Angel Trail.
There are eight stops on the route before reaching the final destination at Hermit's Rest. Private cars are not allowed on this road except in the winter. The shuttles are provided by the Park Service at no charge and come every 12 minutes. They run more frequently in the summer, but heed this warning based on our experience today...do NOT go to the Grand Canyon in the summer! We repeat, Got that?
We boarded the shuttle and had to stand for the short ride to the first stop at Trailview Overlook. From this vantage point we had a view of Grand Canyon Village, the Bright Angel Trail zig-zagging down to the canyon floor, and views of the canyon rim. We waited for the next bus to move on to Maricopa Point. This vista overlooks an old uranium mine at the base of the cliff. The tramway equipment used for hauling ore to the rim is still visible. Of course, there is also a panoramic view of the canyon.
We chose to walk along the Rim Trail to the next view point, passing mining remnants and other areas that are still radioactive/poisonous and being restored to the tune of millions of dollars. It is .5 miles to the next vista at Powell Point. There is a big stone monument to various people and events on the promontory. Another great view can be seen here along with more rock formations and other features.
Even though it is warmer than we'd like (low 80's) we walked to the next stop, as well. The paved part of the trail ends just before Hopi Point. From this vantage point we could see the rapids far below on the canyon floor. Layered red rocks are prominent here as they are in many parts of the canyon. These are the middle aged rock layers, topped by limestone. The darker rocks at the bottom of the canyon are billions of years old while the ones above are in the high millions. For all of you who say we never post pictures of ourselves, here we are.
We waited for the shuttle again, which wouldn't be a problem if people would wait their turn when boarding. People say Americans are horrible travelers, but after seeing the hoards of Germans pushing ahead of everyone else, we're not so sure that reputation is deserved. The next stop is Mohave Point. There is another beautiful view of the rapids far below from this point, a look at the canyon rim, and the usual canyon views.
Back on the bus, after skipping the first one because it was too crowded, we arrived at The Abyss stop. It continues to amaze us at how cavalier visitors are about the dangers of ignoring the barriers. Some of the viewing areas have a railing, but most do not. We saw many people climbing out to the very edge to sit, perhaps not realizing that the drop is a mile straight down!
Another short shuttle ride and we are at Monument Creek Vista for a short stop. The final stop before the final destination is at Pima Point. This viewing area overlooks the rapids below where we could see several rafts floating down the river. The canyon rim is always a different elaborate rock formation. This is one of the best views of the river on the canyon floor.
There are signs everywhere warning about the vicious squirrels. The bus driver talked about how they are the most aggressive animals at the Grand Canyon and to be sure not to feed them. We were being stalked by one when we were standing at the railing.
After skipping another bus, we finally boarded and arrived at the historic Hermit's Rest at the end of the line. This rest house was designed by Mary Colter to look like it had been here forever, which it does. Made of native stone, it looks like an amateur construction, but it was always intended as a gift shop and snack bar for visitors descending to the canyon floor on the adjacent trail. Inside is a giant stone fireplace and other rustic features. The structure is still used for its originally intended purpose. The view of the canyon from here isn't as panoramic as at the other points, but it is hard to dismiss any view of the canyon.
So, how long did it take to get to Hermit's Rest? Get this, FOUR HOURS! It was almost 4:00 PM before we were in line for the shuttle back to the village. The first bus was full and the driver insisted that she couldn't take anyone standing going back to the village. OK fine. The next bus came and the driver told the huge crowd that we'd have to wait while he went to the restroom. We were in the front of the line, but the aforementioned German's pushed ahead of all of the people who were waiting in line and boarded before us. No matter, we found seats with no problem. When the bus filled up and there were still hoards of people waiting, the driver called someone on the radio who allowed him to take fifteen standing riders. OK, so do they allow people to stand or not? Pick one.
It takes over 30 minutes to get back to the village. The buses stop at three of the vistas on the way back, but the bus was already full and nobody disembarked at the stops. Still, they crammed in a few more at each stop. It was like riding in a Petri dish of humanity all the way back to the village. That was the only unpleasant part of the day though, so it isn't something to be alarmed about. But, remember, this is the OFF SEASON! What did we tell you at the beginning? DO NOT GO TO THE GRAND CANYON IN THE SUMMER. You have been warned...again!
We wandered back to the room, stopping briefly to take a picture of the grand El Tovar Hotel perched on the canyon rim. We'll visit there tomorrow on our walking tour of the historic buildings in the village.
We were back in the room around 4:30 PM, sunburned and exhausted. Still, we needed some food to tide us over until dinner time, so we went back to the Bright Angel Fountain, which was packed, to get some hot dogs, a sandwich, and drinks to take back to the room. It is very odd that none of the take-out food places have anywhere to sit and eat. The line in the Fountain was out the door, but it is all self-service and moved along quickly. The food we bought was fine for what it is.
After eating we both quickly crashed until it was time to go back out for dinner around 7:00 PM. We stopped to view the sunset on the way to Bright Angel Restaurant. The restaurant is at the end of a long rustic hallway leading off the lobby with a Cocktail Lounge adjacent to it. A gift shop is also located in this part of the lodge. The restaurant was full, so we were given a pager and told it would be about 30 minutes. In reality, the wait was no more than ten minutes.
When we were first seated, the entire restaurant was in chaos, but it quickly quieted down. Our waitress, while frantic, was very nice and probably the most efficient one in the room. Most of the restaurant staff are imported from Indonesia and the Philippines, so it is sort of like being on a cruise.
Click to view the Dinner Menu. Dave ordered the Pork Loin and Bill ordered the Lasagna. Both entrees come with a choice of tortilla soup or salad. We had one of each. The soup needed seasoning, but otherwise it was fine. The salad was nice. Our entrees were very generous portions. Both were good, but nothing special. We had sherbet for dessert. The price for all of this, plus a glass of wine, was only $45.00 which is quite reasonable for a hotel in a location like this.
The elk herd was back grazing in the pitch blackness on the way back to the lodge. They don't appear to care at all when people walk right by them unless you do something unusual. In that case all they do is move away a few feet and start eating again.
We plan to explore the historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village tomorrow. Xanterra (the concessionaire) provides a self-guided walking tour brochure for this purpose. The weather report calls for warmer temperatures this week, but no rain in sight.
Day 13: Tuesday, May 14 - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - South Rim - Thunderbird Lodge
It's a bit cooler with more clouds today, but still very nice and over 80 degrees. The trick to avoiding crowds around here is to go out before the tour buses start to arrive at 10:30 AM. When we walked over to Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast at 9:30 AM, the rim walkway was pleasantly empty.
The restaurant was nearly empty again, so we were seated and served right away. There were no crazy mistakes made this morning, the food was fine, and quite good. Click to view the Menu. We had regular breakfast selections: eggs, bacon, stuff like that, and everything was properly prepared. Our waiter was very nice, too. The crotchety old hostess was quite amusing, but we're surprised she's working with the public.
As planned, we did a walking tour of Grand Canyon Village's historic structures, starting with the History Room off the lobby of Bright Angel Lodge. They have set up an extensive display dedicated to Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls. The iconic Mary Colter-designed layered fireplace is located in this room. We're sure the Harvey Girl's would be horrified by the motley collection of slobs they'd be serving today. They'd also be mortified by the hideous 1980's decor makeover in the dining room!
Outside and immediately to the left of Bright Angel Lodge is the Buckey O'Neill Cabin, the oldest structure standing at the Grand Canyon. Buckey built the cabin for himself in the 1980's. Today it is part of the lodge's guest accommodation and is not open to the public. It is located directly on the rim trail with fantastic views.
A short stroll west on the rim trail leads to the historic Lookout Studio teetering on the rim of the canyon. It is another Mary Colter design. The canyon side features multiple porches and terraces where visitors then and now have amazing views of the mule trains and hikers laboring down the Bright Angel Trail. The view from the upstairs porch is so perfect it looks like a mural. The studio today is a gift shop.
Continuing westward on the rim trail is another historic building, Kolb Studio. The Kolb brothers are famous for their photographs of mule riders and tourists. They came to the canyon in 1902 and set about building their home and studio on the rim in 1904. They made the first movie of a trip down the Colorado all the way to Needles. They showed the film to visitors until the last brother's death in 1976. The Park Service acquired the property long before that, but allowed the remaining brother to live there until he died at 96. The studio today is a bookstore and houses an exhibit about the Kolb brothers and the making of their film in 1911.
Now we're headed east along the rim trail, passing Bright Angel, Thunderbird and Kachina lodges, until arriving at the famous El Tovar Hotel located on the rim. This location affords the most spectacular and famous view of the canyon. There is a 1922 brass scope still attached to the stone wall to locate landmarks in the canyon. The hotel was completed in 1905 and was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad. Later, it too was operated by Fred Harvey. The design features timbered open porches facing the canyon that are furnished with swings and rocking chairs. For the most part, it looks today as it did when it first opened. You won't find any of the misguided "updates" here. We'll come back here later and tour the inside.
Across from the hotel is Mary Colter's first building, Hopi House. It opened before El Tovar in the same year, 1905. It originally housed a gift store and Hopi artisans who demonstrated their skills. It is still a gift shop selling Native American crafts. The doorways are low, as are the ceilings. The sales clerk said he has a love/hate relationship with it depending on whether he hits his head that day or not. The artisans lived upstairs when the building first opened.
Our next stop is down the hill from El Tovar. The Santa Fe Railway Station was built in 1909 and is one of the only remaining examples of a log depot. Trains still arrive here from Williams every morning and take tourists back each evening. When we were walking down to the station, a steady stream of new arrivals were walkng up to the canyon rim. The train ride is operated by Xanterra and may be combined with a hotel package.
Finally, we walked back up to the El Tovar Hotel. The hotel looks almost as it did when it first opened. The lobby is very dark with mounted animal heads around the perimeter. We almost expected them to come to life ala "Country Bear Jamboree". Up a flight of stairs is a mezzanine with a view over the lobby below.
We arrived here at around noon, but were not hungry enough for lunch yet. We sat out front on the porch in a couple of rockers and admired the view as guests have been doing for almost 100 years. We're sure guests back then weren't sitting around in shorts and t-shirts though and the lobby was most likely hazy with smoke and without air conditioning. We prefer the current casual lifestyle!
Just before 1:00 PM, we went to the dining room to register with the hostess. She gave us a pager and told us it would be about fifteen minutes, so we browsed the shops and sat in the lobby until we were called. Click to view the Menu. We were seated near a fireplace in the grand old dining room once served by Harvey Girls in their white starched aprons. We had no complaints with the service today, but Fred Harvey is probably spinning in his grave.
Bill ordered the Beef Stroganoff and Dave had the Navajo Taco. When the waiter, who is Navajo, brought the food he asked if the taco was OK. Informed that it was, he said that in order to get an authentic version he has to go back home, "Where the fry bread is the size of a dinner plate and piled with just about everything." The one here was basically a beef tostada with a fry bread base instead of a tortilla. It was fine, but nothing special. Same with the Stroganoff, good, but not memorable. The portions were generous and our total bill was only $32.25, which is very reasonable for what we received and the setting in which it was served.
After lunch we wandered east along the rim trail. The signs about distance are a bit misleading because they break down the mileage into what looks like manageable amounts. What we thought would be .7 miles ended up being over 1.5 miles. However, it wasn't too hot and the pathway is paved and scenic.
We continue to be amazed at how oblivious people are to the dangers along the rim. We saw a young man climb down a cliff face to a ledge below so his friend could take his picture. He not only had on a full backpack, but he was only wearing flip-flops. One slip and he would have plunged straight down the cliff face hundreds of feet. At another point we saw a woman sitting on the branch of a tree suspended at least four feet out from the rim. This being a dead tree, it isn't unreasonable to think that just maybe it might be brittle to enough snap and toss her into the abyss.
Stupid people aside, the views along the rim here are amazing. The gnarled trees along the edge almost look fake they are so perfect. Farther along there is a view of some rocky pinnacles, the river far below, breathtaking views, and spectacular cliffs. In the distance we could see the entire length of the Bright Angel Trail as it switchbacks down to the canyon floor. A wedding party was out on a promontory taking photos.
This trail leads to the Yavapai Museum. The approach along the trail is a Walk of Time that has examples of rock layers in the canyon mounted and labeled with their name and age in millions of years. We never did quite figure out the point of the markings on the pavement of the eons, but the mounted rock part made some sense.
What we thought would be a short, easy day, didn't quite work out that way. It was after 3:00 PM before we arrived at the museum (which is mostly a gift shop with a spectacular view). We took a shuttle bus to the Visitor Center where we transferred to another shuttle back to the village lodges. We arrived back at the room around 4:30 PM and spent the rest of the afternoon resting until time to eat again.
At 7:00 PM we went to the Arizona Room for dinner. We were surprised that there was a 30-40 minute wait because the area seemed to be less crowded today than the past two days have been. We were given a pager and sat in the lobby to wait. An elk out on the lawn was being very aggressive to anyone who walked past him. Eventually he decided to chase away the rest of his herd instead of harassing passersby.
We were seated at around 7:30 PM. Click to view the Menu. Our waiter wasn't exactly Mr. Personality and would probably prefer to rob us in a dark alley, but he got the job done. The food took over 45 minutes to come out. Everyone was looking around the room waiting for their food. When it did finally arrive, most of it was cold, but edible. Bill had the Filet Mignon and Dave had the New York Strip Steak. The meat was the only thing on the plate that was at all warm and even then barely enough to melt the herb butter sitting on top. This wasn't the most successful dining experience we have had here. We didn't leave the restaurant until 9:00 PM. Total bill was $66.00, so not bad in that regard.
After dinner, we made a final pass through the gift shop to pick up some tacky trinkets, then went back to the room to crash. By the time we were on the way back to the room, it was very windy and chilly. We only saw two other people out walking around which is quite a contrast to the throngs who are out during the day.
Day 14: Wednesday, May 15 - Drive to Winslow, AZ - La Posada Hotel & Gardens
Winslow lies in the Little Colorado River Valley in the scenic splendor of
Northern Arizona's high desert plains. It is ideally located as a border
community to the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. Winslow has been given the
distinct honor of being rated one of the top 10 "Best Weather Cities" in the
United States by the Farmers Almanac. Founded in 1882. Winslow was established
by the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company as a main division point for the
Southwest United States. Today it is still the same, only the railroad company
is now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Laid back, but with a thriving industry
at its heart, Winslow has a more than 100-year history of being a "City in
It is very windy today and slightly cooler. After another nice breakfast in the Bright Angel Restaurant, we checked out and hit the road at 11:00 AM.
The final word on the Thunderbird Lodge: Surprising...in a good way. The buildings don't look like much on the outside (that's being very kind), but the rooms are recently updated, nicely furnished and comfortable. We were surprised to find that some sort of air conditioning exists when the website says it doesn't. Maybe it doesn't always work, but it did in our case. The room was always comfortable. Housekeeping is good, nothing unsavory found. There is a refrigerator and a Keureg coffee maker with lots of different coffees and teas supplied. Wi-fi is free...slow, but free. Best of all, the room is extremely quiet. We'd judge this the quietest hotel room we've ever been in. The walls are concrete block and we can't even tell the hotel is fully booked. Yes, it is overpriced for what it is, but considering the location it isn't as ridiculous as, say, a Disney hotel. We'd stay here again and would recommend it as long as you can manage stairs with luggage (bellmen are available, but limited.) Parking is the major problem. We got lucky, but the nearest parking lot is across the street and down the hill.
We left the park by the main entrance through Tusayan where there are a number of hotels aimed at tourists. This town is right outside the gate to the park, so it is a good alternative if you can't get a room inside the park or you want to save some money. Our first stop is over an hour's drive away with no stops.
We arrived at Walnut Canyon National Monument around 12:30 PM. This park preserves Sinagua cliff dwelling that were built into natural erosion caves in the walls of the canyon. There is a $5.00 admission fee, but we used our pass and got in free. The chatty ranger at the desk told us that the main trail is closed halfway through, but the rim trail is open. Since we had no clue what this park was about before we got here, we weren't disappointed about the trail closure. She warned us that it is 240 steps down into the canyon and to keep in mind that we have to come back up the same way. Then she looked us over and declared that we look quite fit and should have no problems. We assured her that she misjudged us!
The trail starts behind the visitor center, so we wandered out back and started down the trail. There are cliff dwellings easily visible across the canyon and along the walls of the "Island" in the center of the canyon. It is even windier here than it was at the Grand Canyon, so we didn't venture too far down the steps. However, we felt we got the gist of what the point is here. When we went back through the visitor center, the ranger asked, "Back so soon?" We promised her we would complete the rim trail, but it is too windy to go down into the canyon. That's our excuse and we're sticking with it!
On our way through the visitor center, Bill bought a Junior Ranger vest and hat for our dog. The sales clerk thought that was the cutest idea EVER, which, of course, it is.
The rim trail is a paved, level pathway along the rim of the canyon. It was so windy we had to hold onto our hats, literally. The same trail winds through a pinion forest and past an ancient pit dwelling and a newer 2-room pueblo. Newer meaning 800 years old rather than 1,000.
Back on the road, we drove for another 30 miles or so until we reached our next planned destination, Meteor Crater. This is a privately owned attraction that could be the ultimate in kitsch. However, it turned out to be very well done overall. Their visitor center is being enhanced to the tune of $20 million dollars, so there are cute stickers on the asphalt directing visitors to the temporary entrance.
The admission fee is $16.00 per person which is very high for a look at what amounts to a big hole in the ground. However, the museum showing how the crater was formed is well done. There is a film also and employees are standing around willing to answer questions. Everyone working there was very pleasant and friendly. The courtyard out front has an Astronaut Wall of Fame and an example of an Apollo capsule.
Out back is the main attraction, the crater itself. It was formed 50,000 years ago when a meteor struck the desert plain. Click to view their Brochure for more information. There are old bore holes in the center that were made in the early 1900's to determine if the meteor was buried deep in the crater (FYI, it isn't.) After looking at the giant hole from a couple of the provided view points, we checked out the gift shop and bought a sandwich to share at the Subway outlet. They gave us a coupon with our admission ticket for a free cookie with the purchase of a sandwich, so we had to take advantage of that.
It was another twenty minutes to arrive at the Homolovi State Park outside of Winslow. We arrived at the visitor center at 4:15 PM and the park closes at 5:00 PM. The ranger told us to go directly to the main ruins and we'd have plenty of time to walk the trail. The admission here is $7.00 per carload and since it is a state park we had to pay this time.
It is a 3-mile drive to the ruins that are out in the middle of nowhere. These ruins, unlike others we have seen so far, have not been restored at all and are still mostly as they were found. In other words, it is just a big pile of rubble with lots of pottery shards scattered around. They have partially restored a kiva that had been vandalized, so it is possible to see how it might have looked. The ranger told us it is OK to pick up and examine the pottery pieces as long as they are put back where we found them.
We arrived at La Posada Hotel at 5:00 PM. Check the description at the beginning of this day's blog for more details about the restoration of the historic Mary Colter structure and a link to their website. It was the last of the great Fred Harvey railroad hotels built in 1930. Click to view their Brochure. The old downtown of Winslow that surrounds the hotel is, to put it mildly, a dump. There are a lot of interesting old buildings nearby such as an old diner across the street, but most are in various stages of dilapidation.
The people who bought and restored this hotel have done a wonderful job. We're not big fans of blending modern art with old buildings, but we'll give them that leeway since they have effectively saved this amazing building. There was little evidence of the original interiors left by the time it was saved and restored. However, today it looks amazing and it is possible to imagine what it must have been like to arrive on the train and enter the hotel through the train gate in back. There is a long covered porch that connects to the Santa Fe train depot adjacent to the hotel. Amtrak trains still stop here twice a day on the run between Los Angeles and Chicago. There are plans to open the station as a Route 66 art museum soon.
We parked out front and walked in through the newly installed front gate. Mary Colter designed elaborate gardens with the building, but they were too costly to install when it was built. The plans were recently found and the owners are adding the gardens as funds allow according to the original designs. Guests enter the foyer that leads into the original lobby. This is where guests from the train would have entered and gone into the restaurant, the Turquoise Room. The front desk is located in the gift shop, so that's where we went first.
The young woman who checked us in insisted on showing us to our room, which is located on the second floor toward the front of the hotel. We were lead down the sculpture hall and up a curved staircase. The hallways have their original inlaid stone floors mostly intact. She asked if we want to make dinner reservations for tonight, so we stopped in the dining room to do that on the way. The wing of the hotel where the dining room is had been all but stripped, so everything in that part of the hotel has been recreated as it would have been. Hotel guests receive a complimentary copy of the Souvenir Guide & Map of a walking tour of the hotel.
Rooms have names of famous stars of the era. Ours is the Lionel Barrymore room #214. The room is small, but nicely appointed with two full-size beds. A bookcase is stocked with books and magazines. Rooms have modern double-paned windows to accommodate air conditioning and to block the noise from the 90+ freight trains that still pass by the hotel each day. The door to the corridor still has sliding panels that open to allow air to flow through the louvers into the hallway. The bathroom appears to be original, as well, but nicely restored. Instead of tiny bottles of shampoo, lotion, etc., there are huge bottles of each in the medicine cabinet.
We rested until our dinner reservation at 7:45 PM (the only other time available was 5:15 PM.) The Turquoise Room was very busy, but not completely full. After waiting quite some time for the host to notice us, we were seated at the far end of the room by a window. The waitresses are dressed in a sort of Harvey Girl long black dress and white apron, but honestly it isn't very convincing. Our waitress was pleasant enough, but far from polished. She didn't do anything wrong, but there is definitely a lack of training here.
Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the Signature Soup, which was delicious. For an entree, he ordered the Carnitas while Bill ordered a Bison Pepper Steak (not shown on the menu.) It took forever for our entrees to arrive, at least 40 minutes. In the meantime, we were served a wire cone full of different rolls and crispy flat bread. The cone thing was very inappropriate for what they are trying to recreate here, but the breads were good.
The food was well worth the wait and both entrees were by far the best meals we have had in a very long time. Everything on the plate was absolutely delicious and a perfect blending of interesting flavors. There is nothing that could have improved on any of it. The portions were generous, too. Click to view the Dessert Menu. For dessert we ordered the Fresh Berries with Whipped Cream and the homemade sorbet. Both were equally as delicious as the entrees. While this was the best meal so far, it was also the most expensive at $95.00 before tip.
We finally left the restaurant at 9:15 PM and went to check out the gift shop. They have a lot of interesting handmade crafts for sale, but none are a style that interests us. We did buy a couple of our usual trinket-type things and had an amusing conversation with the woman who had checked us in and her cohort who was equally entertaining.
On the way back to the room we wandered the hallways and looked around the hotel a bit more. At night this place is absolutely enchanting. Did we really say that? Yes we did and we mean it. There is a cool breeze coming through the open French doors overlooking the fountain in the Sunken Garden. The whole building is crammed full of interesting furniture and artworks. The owner's own works are somewhat dark in that every one of them depicts something or someone dead, but there is no denying her talent. There was a guitarist sitting in the lobby lending a tranquil tone to the public spaces. The hotel appears to be doing good business, which is a testament to what a good job they have done with the restoration. This place is in the middle of a town that is trashy at best, so anyone coming here is doing so for the hotel alone. If you can, we recommend a stay here or at the very least, a meal.
Day 15: Thursday, May 16 - Drive to Chinle, AZ - Petrified Forest National Park - Holiday Inn
is a Science Park! Best known for globally significant Late Triassic fossils,
the park attracts many researchers. Geologists study the multi-hued Chinle
Formation. Archeologists research over 13,000 years of history. Biologists
explore one of the best remnants of native Arizona grassland. Air quality is an
ongoing study in the park. Discover your own passion at Petrified Forest!
The weather is the same as it has been so far, clear, hot and windy. We started off the day with breakfast in the Turquoise Room. Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the The Boilerman and the Fruit Bowl. Bill ordered the Orange Crepes and a side of eggs. Our waitress was very sweet, but the service was even worse than it was last night. It took forever for our food to come and she forgot the fruit and the toast. That aside, the food was fantastic, expensive, but outstanding. $45.00 for breakfast? Yep.
The final word on La Posada Hotel: Enchanting. Really, this is a do-not-miss destination if you are passing through. We'd make a detour to stay here again. The town is gross, but the owners of the hotel are trying to garner interest in fixing up the historic Route 66 strip. Don't hold your breath, but it is a nice idea.
We checked out and hit the road at around 11:30 AM, later than we should have because it is another long day with many stops. Our first destination is about 30 minutes away in Holbrook. Who can pass up a look at the Wigwam Motel? Individual concrete wigwams (if you are being technical, they are tepees, but whatever) surround the office. Originally there were gas pumps out front and the two smaller wigwams were the restrooms for the gas station. There is a vintage car parked in front of each room, a nice touch. The place was closed today, so we're glad we didn't book here.
Just up the highway we passed more roadside kitsch...a family of concrete dinosaurs by the side of the road for no apparent reason. Shortly, we arrived at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood. There are huge logs of petrified wood laying around outside for sale. Inside there are endless displays of petrified wood, minerals, and even furniture inlaid with petrified wood. Get this, $20,000 for a dining room table! We found a piece of petrified wood we liked and bought it. This place is worth a stop if you're passing by. It is very clean inside and the staff is friendly.
Driving about twenty more minutes, we reached the entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. Outside the official entrance is an attraction called the Crystal Forest, but we didn't stop. At the toll booth ($10.00 per carload...we used our pass to get in free) the ranger asked if we are bringing any petrified wood into the park. We told him we had just bought some at Jim Bob's (or whatever) and he said fine. We noticed that there are cameras recording license plate numbers, but we didn't think anything of it at the time.
The Rainbow Forest Visitor Center is the first stop inside the west entrance. By the way, if you use the east entrance, it is at least an hour drive to the petrified wood part of the park, so plan accordingly.
Behind the visitor center is the Giant Logs Trail. It is an easy paved trail that winds through piles of petrified logs. There are chunks strewn across the landscape as far as the eye can see. We were surprised there are so many. Bill stood by one particularly large specimen to give you a perspective on the size. Looking closer at any petrified log, it will still look like bark on the outside while the inside is a variety of colors depending on the type of minerals that replaced the wood.
The total length of the park road from end to end is 28 miles, but with frequent stops and trails to explore, expect to spend at least four hours here covering only the basics. Just driving to the next major sight will allow you to see all sorts of stunning examples of sedimentary deposits that have eroded to reveal the colorful layers. Click to view the Park Brochure for more detailed information on how all of this came to be.
Our next stop on the map was at the Crystal Forest Trail. This area got its name from the many sparkling crystals formed in the wood here. Most were long ago stolen by visitors, but there are still some examples in the petrified wood found along the trail. The colors in the wood in this area seem to be more varied. Some of the petrified pieces look like driftwood. There is petrified wood strewn for miles in this area, too. The trail passes through a jumble of colorful logs and an example of a log just starting to be eroded from the sediment in which it was petrified.
The next pullout is for the Jasper Forest. In this area visitors can see the logs still embedded in the white cliffs below. As the logs are exposed by erosion, the pieces break off and tumble down to the bottom of the hill. This area was extensively vadalized in the early days which is what prompted the formation of the park. However, plenty of petrified wood remains, so there must have been a huge amount originally.
Next up is the Agate Bridge. A petrified log here was undermined by erosion and formed a bridge over the gap. Years ago, before the park service forbade shoring up natural features, well meaning people shored up the bridge by pouring a concrete support under it. Today it would be left to collapse if that's what nature intends.
Continuing on, we detoured off to the Blue Mesa, a 3-mile loop road with views of badlands, eroded cliffs, log falls, logs just being uncovered, and pedestal logs. There is also a trail through the badlands, but we are already way behind schedule, so we skipped it and looked at the view from the road.
Back on the mail road we passed a section of long, layered bluffs from which the petrified wood is constantly exposed. Then we passed by a formation called The Tepees. Another turn off leads to Newspaper Rock, a section of ancient petroglyphs visible only from high above.
Let's just say that we're kind of over ancient ruins of pueblos, but since we're here, we stopped anyway. This particular ruin is of the Puerco Pueblo that was built in the 1200's-1300's. Only 1/3 of it has been excavated and stabilized. Yawn...you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. There are some very well preserved petroglyphs easily visible from the trail that made this stop worthwhile.
We took a few minutes to snack, thinking we might find some real food at the east visitor center, then drove on until we crossed to the other side of I-40 into the Painted Desert part of the park. This short u-shaped road passes a monument to Route 66, spectacular views of the Painted Desert, and the historic Painted Desert Inn that has been restored and is now a book store (We think. It closed at 4:00 PM and we arrived at 4:15 PM.) The view from behind the inn are amazing, so this was a great spot for an inn way back when.
There are several more major view points including Kachina Point and Tawa Point, along with associated trails into the valley below. The road culminates at (or begins depending on which end of the park you started with) a view over a large swath of the Painted Desert stretching into the distance.
The east visitor center is at the end of the road. We were hoping to find some food here because we have another hour's drive to Chinle, but no such luck. The Fred Harvey restaurant was already closed. We did browse through the shop and the visitor center, but both carry the same merchandise as the west entrance station, which isn't a big surprise.
On the way out, we found out why they scan your car's license number. Apparently your car is weighed at the beginning and again at the end. If there is an increase in weight, they come out and inspect your car for stolen petrified wood. Good idea in theory, but we find it very difficult to believe that they are capable of using this system effectively. In any case, nobody stopped us as we drove out, so perhaps the trick is to sneak out later in the day when the rangers aren't paying close attention.
We didn't get on the road for the last 100 miles of today's drive until after 5:30 PM. The drive was boring, but uneventful except for a 10-mile detour due to road construction. That pushed our arrival time out to 6:45 PM, 7:45 PM at the destination. Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time, but the Navajo Nation does. So, we didn't arrive at the Holiday Inn in Chinle until very late, for us anyway.
The town of Chinle is very dumpy and has nothing to offer other than two hotels. The other one is a Best Western and would be a fine choice. The Holiday Inn is within a few hundred feet of the entrance to Canyon de Chelly National Monument which is the only reason anyone in their right mind would come here.
The Holiday Inn is old, but well kept. It probably wouldn't be accepted as a Holiday Inn these days, so it must be grandfathered in. It consists of two-story buildings that surround a pool courtyard. It looks OK and the grounds are nice. There are, however, cows wandering around outside and we've seen pictures of packs of stray dogs around the hotel. We didn't see any when we arrived though.
Our check-in experience was OK, nothing special. The clerk told us to use our Priority Club card to get 10% off in the restaurant. We're staying here for two nights using reward points, so there shouldn't be any charge unless we charge something to the room. The clerk told us the restaurant closes at 9:00 PM, so come back as soon as possible.
Our room is in the building right in front of where we parked, so we got lucky in that regard. We are on the first floor with a view sort of overlooking the pool, but not quite. We don't care about that at all anyway. The entire hotel is very dated, but is very clean also. Our room is a decent size and looks clean. Apparently you have to stay in an older hotel to get any counter space these days. This place has plenty of bathroom space. There is a refrigerator sitting out on the floor, but everything else is what one would expect from Holiday Inn. The walls between rooms are concrete block, so we're hoping it will be fairly quiet. There are busloads of elementary school children and foreign tourists staying here, which could be a nightmare if this place isn't organized properly.
We pulled ourselves together quickly and went back to the lobby restaurant, Garcia's, for dinner. There was a fifteen minute wait until a large group left, but we used the time to browse through the gift shop. It looks like every vendor and shop in these parts gets supplies from the same "authentic" Indian warehouse. We didn't buy anything.
After we were seated in the restaurant, we waited about fifteen minutes before a waitress even acknowledged us or the other three parties seated about the same time. The group of French tourists was not amused. Once the waitress arrived, she apologized and was very nice. We don't have a menu for this place and that's probably for the best. Dave ordered a Fiesta Platter that had one of every standard Mexican food item you'd expect. Bill ordered the Navajo Taco. There's no rush to serve anyone here, so it took what seemed like forever to get our food. All we can say for it is that it was edible and inexpensive. We probably wouldn't order either of the entrees again and Dave could definitely make better at home. The food looked like something you'd get in a school cafeteria. However, the portions were large and served the purpose of filling us up. The bill came to $30.00 after using our card to get 10% off.
Dinner took so long that we didn't get back to the room until 9:30 PM. We hope tomorrow will be an easier day of touring than today. We don't regret anything we did, but we don't normally schedule so many sights in one day. As you should already know, we are lazy asses!
Day 16: Friday, May 17 - Chinle, AZ - Canyon de Chelly National Monument - Holiday Inn
If the walls of Canyon de Chelly could talk, they would tell you that for nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons - longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. Their homes and images tell us their stories. Today, Navajo families make their homes, raise livestock, and farm the lands in the canyon. The National Park Service and Navajo Nation are actively working together to manage park resources.
It is much cooler today, in the low 70's, and still very windy. Maybe it is always windy here? Wouldn't surprise us since it would only add to the dismal atmosphere around here.
Breakfast in the restaurant was the same Holiday Inn menu we had in Yuma and the food was fine. Service was more friendly this morning.
We left the hotel around 11:00 AM for the short drive (we can see it from the hotel parking lot) to the Canyon de Chelly visitor center. Boy, talk about useless. Your tax dollars flushed down the drain. The ranger gave us a brochure while she was busy chatting on the phone.
There are two scenic drives, north and south, both of which are about 30 miles round trip. It takes at least two hours for each drive, including stops at the overlooks. We weren't expecting much here, but we were pleasantly surprised. In some ways this canyon is more impressive than the Grand Canyon because it isn't as big so you can see the details more clearly. There are also ruins everywhere.
We chose the north rim drive first. What's strange here is that the drives are not inside the monument itself, but wind through ramshackle residential areas until turning off toward the various view points. The first stop is about seven miles along the road at the Antelope House Overlook. The main ruin visible here was excavated in the 1970's and features an unusual circular plaza. There are numerous caves in the sheer canyon walls, many of which have dwellings in them.
The last stop on this side of the canyon leads to two overlooks. First we went to the Mummy Cave Overlook where one of the largest Puebloan villages is visible. It was occupied until about 1300. Navajo farmers still live and farm the canyon floor, which is part of the reason that no visitors are allowed into the canyon without a guide. It is amazing that anyone could live in these sandstone walls. They plunge straight down hundreds of feet to the canyon floor.
The other half of the turn off leads to the Massacre Cave Overlook. There is a rocky ledge here where 115 Navajo took refuge and were killed by Spanish soldiers firing from above. Another viewpoint here reveals more caves and dwellings high up on the canyon's sheer cliff. Getting to the overlooks in the park isn't quite as straightforward as in more developed places. There is usually a sign pointing in the general direction of the trail and it is up to you to find your way to the fenced viewing area perched along the sandstone cliff top. In some areas there are footprints carved into the stone to lead the way and, if you are lucky, you might find some stone steps carved into the stone, as well.
There are usually a few Navajo vendors at each stop selling jewelry, paintings on stone, stone carvings, and a few other crafts. These do appear to be authentic rather than mass produced and the vendors are very friendly. None of them bothered us at all and they all spoke to us nicely.
We drove back to the entrance to the park and turned off to the south rim drive. This time we drove all the way to the end of the paved road, which is the viewing area at Spider Rock. This area has dramatic views of the spire that is Spider Rock and another pinnacle around the bend. The stone cliffs here are particularly striking. The spires are enormous and dwarfed a truck that was parked below on the canyon floor.
The next stop on the way back is the Face Rock Overlook. There are more breathtaking canyon views here, several ruins, and more dwellings crammed into the natural caves at the top of the sheer cliffs. This vantage point affords a great view down the length of this part of the canyon.
Another stop is at Sliding House Overlook. This dwelling kept collapsing and falling down the steep cliff until the residents finally gave up trying. We bought a stone carving from the Navajo guy who had made it and took the time to describe the meaning of what he had drawn. Apparently all he needed was the money from this sale because he and his wife left after making the sale.
Continuing on we arrived at the White House Trail and Overlook. This is the only trail into the canyon that does not require a registered guide. Of course, once you arrive at the cliff dwelling at the bottom, you will have to pass a lengthy set-up of card tables with vendors selling their wares. There are also ruins of cave dwellings visible from here.
The Junction Overlook highlights dwellings that are built into a long crevice at nearly the top of the cliff across the canyon. We have no idea how anyone could get to that location on a regular basis, but apparently they did so for hundreds of years while farming in the canyon below.
Our next stop was at Tseyi Overlook where there are more ruins and a description of the farming that still goes on in the canyon. The farmers grow barely enough for their own family, so they are barely surviving here.
The last overlook is at Tunnel Canyon. This area is on private property, so all you can do is look down the narrow canyon to the creek below.
We finished our tour of Canyon de Chelly at 3:30 PM. Our next task was to find something for a light lunch to tide us over until dinner time. We saw a Subway on the way to the hotel, so we drove back into the "town" to look for it, stopping for gas on the way. The Subway is in a grocery store and we couldn't find a place to park, so we opted for Church's Chicken up the road. The tiny store was jam packed with customers, but we were served promptly. By the looks of most of the people who live here, nobody is in any danger of starving.
We took our food back to the hotel in the midst of a dust storm that only added to the dismal look of this town. Why anyone would choose to live here is anyone's guess.
After lunch, we crashed until time for dinner around 7:00 PM. Back we went to the hotel's restaurant with very low expectations based on last night's dinner. Those expectations were met. The hostess recognized us and was very nice. Our server did the job and did check on us several times. We ordered the Flatiron Steak dinner and the Chicken Alfredo, plus a cup of Tortilla Soup. The soup was fine. Bill looked at the "salad bar" and passed on it. Both meals were edible, barely. Apparently the kitchen doesn't own any spices or they are saving them for something fancy. They sure aren't putting any in the food. The steak itself was good and properly cooked, but with no spices at all. The vegetables were out of a can and the steak fries came from the freezer. Bill's chicken was awful and obviously pre-cooked or boiled in the bag. The pasta part was OK, but had no flavor whatsoever. We passed on dessert. The hostess was chatty on the way out, which is a miracle around here. Again, we used our Priority Club card to get 10% off the $45.00 bill.
We stopped in the gift shop to buy something for an ornament/souvenir, then retired to the room. It looks overcast and somewhat stormy tonight. The forecast calls for cooler temperatures for the next few days, which is fine with us.
Day 17: Saturday, May 18 - Drive to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, UT - The View Hotel
Monument Valley was created as material eroded from the ancestral Rocky
Mountains, and was deposited and cemented into sandstone. The formations you see
in the valley were left over after the forces of erosion worked their magic on
the sandstone. A geologic uplift caused the surface to bulge and crack. Wind and
water then eroded the land, and the cracks deepened and widened into gullies and
canyons, which eventually became the scenery you see today. Natural forces
continue to slowly shape the land.
It is cooler today, but still very pleasant. We had breakfast in the hotel, which was satisfactory, then packed up our stuff and hit the road at around 11:00 AM.
The final word on the Holiday Inn-Chine: Adequate. There really isn't anything wrong with the hotel itself, but the staff is strangely unwelcoming. They all did their job, but that's it. Nobody was what we would call friendly, but they weren't rude either. It was a strange overall vibe that gave us the impression that they'd rather be anywhere except working at this hotel. Considering the surroundings, we'd prefer to be at work, but that's just us. The hotel overall was fine. The room was quiet and very clean. The decor is dated, but kept up well. The only friendly person we encountered the entire time we were here was the maid. We'd probably stay here again if we find ourselves in Chile again...God forbid!
Today's plan includes only one scheduled stop, so most of our day will be spent in the car on the way to somewhere else. The first stretch is about 90 minutes through the countryside. At first there was nothing to look at except shacks and derelict buildings scattered about. Suddenly, we reached a change in scenery that made the drive much more interesting. Various buttes and layered bluffs were visible in the distance. Every now and then a huge rock spire would pop straight up out of the red sand. The red stone went on for so far that the reflected light tinted the bottom of the clouds pink.
After leaving Arizona and passing through the corner of New Mexico for a mile or two, we arrived at the Four Corners Monument. The monument is administered by the Navajo and there is a $3.00 per person admission charge. There has been some dispute over the accuracy of this location as the actual place where four states meet, but it was recently confirmed as the official spot. Four states meet here: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.
The main purpose of this monument is to allow the natives to sell handicrafts. Identical stalls form the perimeter of the monument. On the inside, vendors sit in individual booths and sell jewelry, pottery, crafts and such. All of them were extremely friendly and not at all pushy. When we did buy something, our usual Christmas tree ornament, the seller thanked us profusely for "helping us out." We got the same reaction when we bought a t-shirt and another hand made trinket. The prices were very reasonable.
Back to the monument itself. The center of the plaza is divided into four sections, one for each state. In the very center is a bronze marker set in the concrete. Around the edge is a granite monument dedicated to the state in which it sits. Flags of the states surround the center plaza. It is very nicely done and was fun to see. Everyone there is trying to get a photo standing on each state, so it is difficult to get a good photo, but we waited around and finally had a chance to snap a picture without a bunch of people standing in it. This place is in the middle of nowhere, so it is kind of amazing it is as nice as it is.
We continued our drive, passing through Colorado and ending up in Utah, all within a few miles. There were no other stops planned, but when we reached Bluff, UT, we noticed a sign pointing to a "Historic Site", so we turned off to check it out. We still have no idea what the point of it is, but it is Bluff Fort. We skipped the visitor center because, to be honest, we really could care less what this place is about. It was interesting enough to wander around. It is basically a collection of recreated and authentic historic structures. As far as we could discern, the only actual vintage buildings are the fist stone house built in the city in 1898, and the log house of one of the first inhabitants. There are small, nearly identical, recreated cabins around the perimeter of the grounds. They are labeled with different family names and furnished as they would have been back then. But, they are clearly reproductions. In the center there are various pioneer-type things such as a tepee, covered wagon, etc. For us, this was a good excuse to get out of the car in the middle of a long drive and it served that purpose.
From this point on, another hour or so driving, the scenery became very diverse. Sometimes there were wide open spaces backed by layered bluffs and then it would switch to red sandstone on every side. There were buttes in every shape and size, including one that we decided is the nipple of the world to replace the one we saw during the previous road trip. That one must have been an imposter. One feature is officially named the Mexican Hat, but that seems like a bit of a stretch.
At one point, it started to rain. At that exact moment, the song "April Showers" started playing on the radio!
Eventually, we reached the approach to Monument Valley, our destination for the next two nights. Admission to the Monument Valley Tribal Park is $5.00 per person and must be paid in order to reach the hotel. The View Hotel looks like an amazing design in their photos, but they only show the back of the hotel that faces the valley. Yes, that side blends in nicely, but the front of the hotel is very poorly designed. We had trouble even finding the front door. The lobby is small, but attractive. The reception desk is way too small for a busy hotel like this, but the staff was friendly and check-in was efficient. the receptionist gave us coupons for $5.00 off per person for the breakfast buffet. We were told that the wi-fi only works in the lobby and given a password. We found later that it sort of works in the room, but not well enough to update the website. We received a receipt so we can do the valley drive tomorrow and not have to pay admission again.
We reserved a "Star View" room. All that means is that we are on the 3rd, and highest, floor. All rooms have the same spectacular view, but we know from reviews that this hotel is poorly insulated and we figured (correctly) that being on the highest floor would avoid the noise from people walking around above us.
There is only one very slow elevator for the entire property and it is tucked away in what looks like a closet. It does have a glass wall, so there is some sort of view on the way up. The entire design is very haphazard and confusing. There are stairs that appear to go nowhere and they seem to have forgotten that the staff needs an entrance because they are always going in and out of the main door. There is a metal ladder leading to the roof in the elevator lobby on the third floor. The whole place feels very amateurish and cheaply constructed, certainly not worthy of the $270 per night price.
On a positive note, the views cannot be beat. Our room (and every room) overlooks the Mittens formations and the entire magnificent vista of Monument Valley. A huge red cliff looms over the hotel to the right. It was fun sitting on the balcony watching cars traversing the dirt road that we will do tomorrow. The view is so perfect it looks fake.
We arrived in our room at around 4:30 PM, cleaned up and rested a bit, then made a phone call home to check on some issues that have come up. We're relieved that our house sitters are capable of handling problems in a logical way without freaking out. Or, if they did freak out, they didn't tell us about it.
When we checked in the receptionist told us to go to dinner before 7:30 PM because the restaurant gets full at sunset. We arrived at 6:45 PM and were seated immediately. It didn't appear to us that the restaurant was going to fill up. The hotel is fully booked for the next two nights that we know of.
We haven't found the indifferent attitude from the staff here as we did at the Holiday Inn. We thought perhaps it was a cultural thing, but this hotel is also Navajo owned and everyone here is very friendly. Go figure. Our waitress was quite perky and we had no issues with the service. We still feel like we are on a tour of Germany and have forgotten to bring our passports. None of the other patrons that we could see spoke English as their first language.
Again, we don't have a menu to post, but there hasn't been any improvement over the previous hotel's restaurant. This restaurant isn't attached to the hotel and is geared toward tour groups in addition to hotel guests. The view is spectacular, but the food is bland and boring. Dave ordered the Navajo Taco thinking maybe they could get that right. Bill had the sirloin steak. The steak at least had some seasoning on it and the meat itself was fine, but everything else had no flavor at all. His entree came with a trip to the soup/salad bar. It had almost nothing on it except iceberg lettuce and some containers of canned toppings. He had chicken noodle soup instead. The Navajo Taco had no flavor at all. It was like eating wet air, and it was cold (not on purpose.) Bleh. The total bill was $52.00. We had ice cream for dessert and that part was OK at least.
After dinner, everyone was outside taking pictures of the sunset, so we did the same thing. Visitors are supposed to get up before dawn for the sunrise that happens behind the monuments, but that isn't likely to happen for us. You never know though. A Tripadvisor review says that the plumbing is so noisy here that you can't help but wake up on time when everyone else gets up and flushes the toilet. Being on the top floor we probably won't have the luxury of the free alarm clock.
We browsed through the Trading Post and picked up our usual trinkets, then wandered back to the room and crashed for the night. The weather here is much cooler. It was around 80 most of the day, but when we arrived here it plunged to 72. After sunset the temperature dropped to below 60 almost immediately.
Day 18: Sunday, May 19 - Monument Valley Navajo Tribal park, UT - The View Hotel
It is pleasantly cool today and the high winds have abated. This highest the temperature rose today was 72 degrees and most of the time it was only in the high 60's. All in all, perfect for what we are doing today.
We started off with the breakfast buffet in the restaurant. It is the only option for breakfast anywhere near the hotel, so everyone is basically forced to eat it. The hostess stand sign read, "Guest Seat Yourself" on the front and "Please Wait to be Seated" on the side. That's par for the course here, by the way. Dave asked the cashier if we are supposed to help ourselves or what. She said the hostess would be right back. There's no hostess. The cashier is maybe five feet away from where she would be standing if she did, in fact, exist. It is like a Bizzaro World, no kidding. You half expect Candid Camera to pop out at any minute. Anyway, we seated ourselves and from then on everything fell into place...well, as much as that is possible here.
The only choice is a buffet. Nowhere does it say how much it costs. All we know is that we have coupons for $5.00 off per person for each day we are staying here. The waitress asked if we want bacon or sausage, then said to help ourselves to the buffet. Someone brought us orange juice at some point during the conversation. It and the choice of meat are included in the price, whatever that may be.
The buffet is barely at the level of what one would expect at a budget motel for free...scrambled eggs, mushy hash browns, biscuits and gravy (with a skin on top), bread for toast, a few pastries, cereal, yogurt, a small selection of fresh fruit, and that's about it. The bacon we ordered was on the table when we returned. The food itself was fine for what it is. The only reason we can figure for why the meat isn't on the buffet is that it is the most expensive item and they want to limit how much you get. Very odd. The check came and the total for what should have been free is $27.50. WTF? OK, so with the coupon it ends up being $8.50 per person, but still, it was exactly the same selection as at a motel and certainly not worth paying for. Come on, the elaborate cooked to order breakfast at a Hilton Garden Inn is only $10.95! Geez, these people sure do know how to make a buck.
Our plan for today is to complete the self-drive tour of the valley below the hotel. They do a great job of scaring visitors into taking a guided tour (for a fee, of course.) There are signs printed in red warning of the rough road and that the tribe is not responsible for wrecking your car should be so brazen as to attempt this treacherous drive on your own. Mind you, the very friendly guy at the toll booth yesterday told us it is easy to do on our own, which we already knew but at least he was honest. We can see the entire road from our room and 90% of the vehicles on it are regular cars, so it can't be THAT difficult. We even saw a little red convertible sports car make it down and back.
We left at 11:00 AM. The guy yesterday told us it takes about two hours to complete the drive. The road begins from the parking lot of the hotel, so it couldn't be more convenient. Only the descent into the valley is somewhat difficult. After that it is completely flat and a normal dirt road. You do have to navigate around rough patches and potholes, but the road is at least three lanes wide in the two-way part and two lanes in the one-way loop. There is plenty of room to pull over and stop without blocking traffic if you want to park somewhere that doesn't have a parking area.
The first few miles of the drive are along a wide, two-way road. The first view point is the same view we have from the hotel, so we didn't stop. It is also full of locals selling jewelry and such, as are most of the other major stops. The venders were all friendly and not pushy at all. Mostly they just sit there and don't say anything unless you catch their eye. Then they'll greet you and say something pleasant like, "Screw you asshole. Get off my land!" Not really, they were all very polite.
From the vantage point of the valley, you can see how well the hotel blends into the mesa on which it is situated. Too bad the rest of the hotel isn't as well thought out. The view of the Mitten is the same as from our room.
The next turnout is in front of Merrick Butte, then comes Elephant Butte (no picture because nothing we could see looked like an elephant), and The Three Sisters. There is a stable to rent horses at the Sisters parking area. If you are too lazy to actually ride a horse, you can pay $5.00 to sit on one and take a photo. By the way, the information book in the hotel room admonishes us to ask permission to take a photo of locals and to "Present them with a gratuity." At least they are honest and don't claim that taking a picture will steal their soul unless you give them money.
At this point the road splits into a one-way loop to the right that circles around Rain God Mesa. Let's just say that the views along this drive are breathtaking and leave it at that. The roads weren't crowded at all and none of it was unpleasant. If you get sucked into taking the guided tour, you will be seated in the back of an open jeep with twelve of your closest strangers while you are nearly bounced out at every turn. Sounds like fun, huh? Drive your own car! Oh yeah, and keep the windows closed. The people in those jeeps must be filthy by the time they get back.
There are all sorts of imaginatively named landmarks to stop and gawk at. A few of them are: Camel Butte, The Cube, Totem Poles, The Chair, Penis Point, The Thumb, Spearhead Mesa, Cly Butte and Artist's Point where you get a panoramic view over the valley. OK, we made up Penis Point, but what do you think the name should be? Oh, and we came across an "ancient" rock carving as a bonus feature.
This was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, particularly so because of the moderate temperature. It rained on us briefly, but only for a few seconds. We didn't have the radio on this time, so we don't know if "April Showers" plays automatically every time or not. Those rain gods work in mysterious way you know.
If you do take a guided tour, you'll be taken deeper into the valley, but you can see plenty on your own. After awhile, no matter how spectacular it may be, it all starts to look alike anyway. It is much more meaningful to be out on your own in the quiet of the valley and not crammed into the back of a rickety jeep. We're a bit surprised they allow private cars to drive in, but they probably have all the business they need for the jeep tours with all the busloads of tourists arriving constantly. The private guided tours might be worthwhile in that you will get more history of the people and such, but if they try to put you in one of those jeeps, run.
It took just just a little over two hours to complete the drive. Normal people would probably take a bit longer than that, so allow three hours with all of the stops. If you just do the drive and don't get out of the car it will take at least 90 minutes because of the rough road. Take some Dramamine if you're prone to get car sick. Trust us.
Back at the hotel we arrived just after an accident in the parking lot. A local woman somehow drove over the edge of the parking lot and ended up in the bushes. We have no clue how that was possible. The roadway is lined with boulders and there's no way we can see that she could have been going fast enough to jump the rocks. We can make fun of it because nobody was hurt and she didn't seem all that alarmed by the whole ordeal. Maybe she does it all the time? It took the tow truck over an hour to arrive and pull the car up. It provided endless entertainment for the housekeepers glued to the windows upstairs.
A guide book we read while planning this trip described the Visitor Center here as, "Stunningly useless." We had to go see for ourselves just how useless. Since it is part of the same complex as the hotel, it is equally as poorly designed. There are people there to answer questions, but they are tucked away in side rooms off the main pathway. Hallways lead every which way with little to no signage to tell you where to go. Well, if you are looking for the restaurant or gift shop there are lots of signs. We followed the tiny sign pointing to "Exhibits" and ended up in a room that honors the Navajo Code Talkers. This large room had nothing but a few signs around the perimeter. In the next room there were a few exhibits of jewelry and such that we didn't even bother looking at. Honestly, it looked like the cases in the gift shop. Maybe it was, who knows? Next thing we knew we were outside on the view deck, where, by the way, there is no place to sit anywhere on the huge plaza. No shade either. Ugh. Heck, if we were running this place we'd set up an ice cream stand to serve the hoards of tourists disgorged from the buses right into our lap.
We went to lunch, reluctantly, at the hotel's restaurant. We both ordered Armanda Ortega's Favorite sandwich. It is sliced roast beef on a homemade blue corn flatbread with lettuce, tomato, cheese, peppers, and onions. Get this, it was good! The portion was huge, too. Honestly, nothing to complain about and we'd order it again. The price is a bit steep at $15.00, but it came with lots of French fries and was enough to share for a normal couple.
A huge group left all at once and the line for the cashier ran all the way up the stairs and into another room. Our waitress advised us to wait until the line went away, which we did. The guy next to us asked if he could pay her and she said, "If you want, but I'll just get stuck in the line and it will take forever."
Once at the cashier, we found three of them, two of which were occupied trying to figure out what a group of French bikers wanted. The third one would only take credit cards as payment and we had cash this time. Like we said, Bizzaro World. Once we did get to the cashier who takes cash, she was apologetic about the wait.
We were back in the room by 3:00 PM, done for the day. Watching the different ways the light plays on the valley is something to behold and we don't even have to leave the room to see it. How cool is that? Oh, maybe a full rainbow over the entire valley would be nice. Voila!
We remembered that we are supposed to make advance dinner reservations for our stay at Grand Canyon Lodge, so we tried to do that online. Nothing available until June. The website said to try calling directly if there is nothing online, but cell service is down tonight. We'll wing it as we usually do. If we can't get into the dining room, we'll get something from the on-site deli. Go with the flow!
Around 7:30 PM we forced ourselves to go to dinner. We're not at all hungry, but we will be later if we don't eat something. Tonight, Bill ordered a Chef's Salad and received a Grilled Chicken Salad. It was huge, and very good, but not what he had in mind when he ordered. Dave asked the waiter which of the two "House Specialties" he would choose. The choice is either the Green Chili Chicken Stew or the Red Chili Pork Posole. The waiter said most people order the green chili one, but he prefers the Posole, so that's what Dave ordered. It was good, not great, but fine and tasted like home cooking. The portion of blue corn fry bread served with it was enough for four people to share. You can't tell in the picture, but that is two dinner plate sized rounds of bread folding into fourths. When we had finished and there was a big piece of the bread left over, the waiter asked if we want some powdered sugar and honey to eat it for dessert. That sounded great, but we passed. We weren't charged for our drinks, so the total for tonight's dinner was a record low of $25.00 before tip.
Nothing else happened after dinner. The weather is nice enough to turn off the air conditioning and leave the sliding glass door open. There aren't any flying insects here, which seems odd, but it does make it nice outside.
Day 19: Monday, May 20 - Drive to Page, AZ - Courtyard by Marriott
Page, Arizona, your
Mecca for hiking, biking, boating and off-road adventure. Just seven miles from
the water sports playground of Lake Powell, Page is your ideal base for
exploring this exceptional region. Hike the striking wind and water carved
beauty of Antelope Canyon. Set out on your Colorado River rafting excursion.
Take in the dramatic vistas of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam. Page stands at
the center of the world renowned Grand Circle, a remarkable collection of parks,
monuments, historical sites, and prehistoric Indian ruins that include may of
the true geological icons of the West. Hollywood has long known of the wonders
of Page, filming such features here as "Broken Arrow" and "Into the Wild”.
Located beside Navajo Tribal lands, Page is rich in geographic, cultural and
historic marvels to explore. You choose the adventure and Page will help make it
possible with warm hospitality, including its own airport, tours, gear and easy
access to all the wonders this unique region of the American West has to offer.
Still cool and pleasant around here. Let's hope it stays that way. We had breakfast at the hotel...like we had any other choice...and hit the road at around 11:00 AM. We don't have any stops planned on the way to Page, so anything that happens will be spur of the moment. We'll be looking for those little brown signs pointing to god-knows-what just in case there's something interesting to look at.
The final word on The View Hotel: Breathtaking...OK, so maybe not the hotel itself, but after all it is called "The View" for a reason. Can't argue with the awesomeness of that part. Otherwise, the hotel is fine, a bit amateurish, but clean and comfortable. The staff is uniformly pleasant and friendly. The only real issue is that it is extremely overpriced for what it is, but if you want to stay in Monument Valley, this is your only option. We'd stay here again without hesitation.
The distance to Page is less than 100 miles, so we didn't expect it to take all day. With the time change back to non-daylight saving time, we arrived at the hotel at 12:30 PM (in reality, the drive took 2.5 hours.) The drive was scenic the entire way. We climbed to 6,000 feet over some sandstone mountains where the terrain turned from dry and dusty to green and forested. Then there were volcanic pillars similar to those in Monument Valley, but white-ish rather than dark red. We couldn't stop to take pictures because the only scenic vista turnout was full of vendors selling the usual crap.
Down the other side of the mountain to 5,000 feet again, we drove through more sandstone rock formations and another set of towering stone pillars sticking straight up in the middle of the flatlands. We assume someone around these parts finds these things sacred or whatever. At the very least, they are certainly impressive. We did pass one of those brown historical monument signs and started to turn off until we discovered the monument it points to is ten miles out of our way.
The city of Page was built to house workers for the construction of Glen Canyon Dam nearby. It has grown into a cute little resort town for Lake Powell. We stopped to buy gas and had a weird incident with the pump. It said, "Pump Gas Now" without inserting a credit card. OK, fine, worked with no problem. Then it asked for cash. Huh? Never had that happen before. Bill went inside to sort it out. The attendant came out twice and stared blankly at the pump for a few minutes. Long story short, the pump had never disconnected after someone used their credit card and three patrons' purchases after that, including ours, was charged to their account. Oops.
Next we arrived at our hotel for tonight, the Courtyard by Marriott. It is located at the end of town closest to the dam, which can be seen from the hotel. We used points to pay for the room. Even though we arrived way before check-in time, we were able to check in right away. The woman at the desk was very nice and thoroughly explained where our room is, where the laundry room is located, etc. The inside of the hotel is attractively decorated and everything looks relatively new. The hotel isn't new, but was recently remodeled.
Even though we are paying with points, our room is on the top floor (4th) as requested and has a tranquil view of the pool in the courtyard below and a distant view of the dam. The room itself is exactly the same as all Courtyards with the built-in desk/TV/refrigerator unit and two double beds. Other than the typical doors slamming in the hallway, the hotel is very quiet with birds singing outside the windows.
We decided to go back to town (less than a mile) to buy some sundries and stock up on water. The distance is so short that our GPS asked if we want to drive or walk. We've never been given that option before. Then we went to the Ranch House Grill for lunch. Click to view the Menu. This place looks like a dump on the outside. Well, on the inside, too, but it was clean which is the most important thing. Our waitress was very nice. Someone here must be on a low-carb diet because there are tons of options to change orders to suit that diet. There is also a box on the menu explaining that low carb eating is "popular and healthy". It may be popular, but it sure isn't healthy! (Warning: Do not get Dave started on this issue!!) Dave ordered the Southwest Chicken Wrap and Bill had the BLT with avocado. Both sandwiches were absolutely perfect and exactly what we wanted. How often does that happen? The total bill was $25.00 and well worth it.
Back at the hotel, we dragged in all of our laundry and loaded up two machines in the guest laundry. The hotel has three machines, which is a nice amenity. It isn't free, but we're glad they have it and nobody else was using the machines. So, that wraps up the activities for this afternoon...drive, shop, eat, do laundry, nap. We'll see if anything interesting happens later on. By the way, it is quite chilly today. The highest the temperature got today was 68 degrees, but it was usually in the low 60's.
Around 7:30 PM we went to the hotel's restaurant for dinner. We had to walk down four floors because the elevator never came. There was a group of obnoxious Spanish tourists harassing the hostess as she tried to explain that there would be a 20 minute wait for such a large group. One of the woman asked Dave if he speaks Spanish. When you're asking Dave to translate, you are desperate.. He did manage to tell her about the wait time and that seemed to satisfy her. Since that episode endeared us to the hostess, we were seated immediately.
Eventually, the large group was seated at separate tables. That resulted in them wandering around the dining room, more people arriving and walking around, etc. You get the picture. The servers were ready to scream, but they kept their composure. Bill ordered the filet with a cup of soup and a glass of wine. Dave ordered the Angus Beef Burger with sweet potato fries and an iced tea. The wine came. Our waitress said the tea would be right out. Waitress arrives with the soup and a salad for Dave. The burger doesn't come with a salad, does it? Waitress looks mortified. He says he'll take it if she wants to get rid of it. She thanks him and puts it down, promising to bring the dressing. Recall that he didn't order it, so how does she know what dressing to bring? He figures he won't get it anyway, so why worry about it. Eventually she brings balsamic vinaigrette, which is what he would have ordered anyway. Good guess on her part. After a reminder, she also brings the tea, which is so sweet it is thick. No sugar for Dave, this won't do.
Food arrives and Bill's filet is still mooing (he ordered it medium.) He sends it back. Dave's burger is delicious, by the way, no problem with it. A different waitress bring back the properly cooked filet and swaps out the sweet tea for the regular tea that was ordered. OK, so we're all set. The filet is also delicious, so we're good. We didn't order dessert. The total check came out to $59.00 before tip which isn't bad for what we eventually got.
We stopped by the desk to get a box of Kleenex and asked the guy there what time it really is. Our cell phone says it is an hour later than it should be here. The reason is that the cell tower is on a hill that is on the Navajo reservation and they do daylight saving time. Arizona does not.
When we got back to the room we discovered that our Do Not Disturb sign is missing. All we need is the maid banging on the door at the crack of dawn. Back to the desk where the same guy rolls his eyes and acknowledges that this is a problem. Dave can relate...at the DoubleTree where he worked they were always out of stuff like that (and towels, and ice buckets, and....). He did find one and bring it up, so we're all set for the night.
Something in the room is making Dave's allergies run amuck. He thought maybe it was just him, but he recovered as soon as we went downstairs and he started sneezing again when we returned to the room. Nothing seems wrong with the room and it doesn't smell bad or anything else obvious. Both of us have been suffering from allergies since we left home with the wind and dust, but this is ridiculous. Oh well, it is only one night. Too bad because this is a very nice hotel otherwise.
Day 20: Tuesday, May 21 - Drive to Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - North Rim - Grand Canyon Lodge
Here, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon,
you can best experience the grandest of canyons. Here, you can experience the
canyon's colors, shadows and formations in quiet reflection and repose. It's
true that the majority of Grand Canyon visitors miss the spectacular North Rim
and miss all this - the canyon's lure of rugged solitude. Here, at the North
Rim, you find the perfect balance of marvel and creature comforts. Ninety
percent of all visitors congregate at the South Rim, snap pictures and leave
within hours. But you?
It is nice and cool this morning, in the high 60's. Overall we expect the weather to stay on the cool side for the next few days at least, which will be a welcome change.
We started off with the breakfast buffet in the restaurant. For $10.95 you get the usual breakfast offerings, fresh fruit, and a cook will make eggs to order. It was very quiet, which was pleasant. The waitress was very friendly and polite. No complaints at all except it should be free. It is a much better spread than the newer Courtyards that only have the "bistro" concept for food service.
We'll move on at around 11:00 AM, check out the Glen Canyon Dam visitor center and a couple of scenic overlooks near there, then continue on toward the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
The final word on the Courtyard by Marriott: Beautiful. They did a wonderful job with the remodel of this hotel. It isn't new, but it looks like it. The design is a Southwest theme that fits in well with the surroundings. All of the public areas are cozy and welcoming. Every staff member we met was very pleasant and well trained. The rooms are standard issue Courtyard with the same modular furniture you'll find everywhere, but the rooms are spacious and very quiet due to the block walls and concrete floors. We'd definitely stay here again. If you want a more upscale experience over the budget motels in town, this is your place.
Our first stop was within view of our hotel room, the Glen Canyon Dam scenic view point. After clambering down the sandstone embankment for quite a distance (with the help of hand rails) we arrived at the edge of the canyon. From here we could see downstream and upstream toward the dam with the arched steel bridge in front of it. We had an interesting chat with a ranger who was standing in the shade structure. She told us that the hideous coal power plant you see as you drive into Page is the result of negotiations to keep two more dams from being built downstream. One of which would have been in the Grand Canyon. It is leased by the Navajo and the lease is up soon. So, of course, they want 35 million is revenue from it instead of the few million they were receiving. There is way more to the story, but the point it that it is a political mess.
From here we drove a few short miles to the Glen Canyon Dam visitor center. It is a lot nicer than others we have seen in the past at similar facilities. There is a slab of dinosaur footprints that were found when the water level dropped recently. The lake is currently at 57% capacity, but it was down to 40-something during the worst drought a few years ago. We also got a close up view of the bridge from the parking lot.
We talked to three completely useless, and vaguely hostile, volunteers before being pointed toward the desk to sign up for a tour. The next one is at 12:30 PM, so we have an hour to kill. The cost is only $5.00 per person for the 45-minute tour.
There are exhibits in the visitor center about the purpose of the dam, life on the river, etc. This is the dam that is opened periodically to flood the Grand Canyon to help restore the silt. We were told by the ranger earlier that they are still studying this process, but so far it doesn't appear to make much difference in the long run. They are considering heating the water released from the dam instead which would be a more natural temperature for the fish. However, the cost is keeping them from doing this at the moment.
While making a purchase in the gift shop, the clerk recognized us from the hotel last night. He is the manager who had to scrounge around to find a Do Not Disturb sign for us. He told us that most people around here have more than one job and he only works at the hotel when they call him to cover for someone. His real job is managing all of the gift shops for the concessionaire at Lake Powell.
With more time to kill, we walked outside and along the edge of the dam to view the back side from a small view point off the parking lot. There is an outdoor platform where you can look straight down to the bottom of the dam and overlook the top and the lake behind it.
Eventually, our tour was called and we shuffled through the airport-like security check. We were very lucky to get the guide we did. The others were either crotchety old men or young women who were perky, but spoke in a very phony way as if reading a script in their head. The guy we had spoke naturally as though he was talking off the cuff. As a bonus, he was easy on the eyes, too! Well worth the $5.00 (he looked better in person than in our photo.)
The tour begins with a descent in an elevator and out through a tunnel to the top of the dam. There are displays of turbines recently removed to be replaced with a solid stainless steel version, a process that is on-going. There is also a cement bucket used during construction and other artifacts. This vantage point provides a beautiful view downstream, too.
Another elevator took us to the bottom of the dam where we saw a maintenance tunnel. Then we walked through a long chilly corridor and out the front of the dam. At the bottom, between the dam and the powerhouse, is a large manicured green lawn. It is there to keep the vibration down from the discharge pipes buried beneath. It also cools the air down here. The weep system culminates here also. There are pipes discharging water that has seeped into the dam and through natural passages in the sandstone around the edges of the dam. Long lines of maidenhair fern grow for several hundred feet along the canyon wall where the water is always leaking. The last stop is in the powerhouse itself where we were given a few minutes to look around and ask questions.
Our tour returned to the visitor center at 1:15 PM and we took off toward the Grand Canyon...or so we thought. The planned route was to take highway 89A south through Marble Canyon and make a few short stops along that route. We quickly found out that the highway is closed two miles before the turnoff to Marble Canyon, so we're screwed. We had to pull out a real map to figure out another way to get there. We did stop at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, but we only walked to the top of the first hill. It would have taken too much time (and effort) to walk another mile to the edge of the canyon. In any case, the view from here is striking.
We had to ignore our GPS's constant admonitions to "Make a U-turn" and backtrack beyond the Glen Canyon Dam. Our new route took us north through Utah and through Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. However, we stopped first at a view point overlooking the back of the dam, a marina, and stunning views of Lake Powell. By the way, it has now been four hours and we are still within view of our hotel!
Of course, there are views of red cliffs up the wazoo in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, but there are also stunning views of odd white mountain peaks. We also stopped at a historic marker that told us we could relive our cowboy dreams by following a dirt road to a re-created western movie set. We passed.
Our new route took us through Kanab, which is the next scheduled stop after the Grand Canyon. We put blinders on and didn't look at anything so we would have something to do on the way back. The little town looks nice enough for our intended purpose as an overnight to kill time on the way to Bryce Canyon.
From Kanab it is another 100 miles or so to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The road winds up to over 8,000 and through tall stands of pine and aspen. That is, there are trees where there hasn't been a recent fire. Interpretive signs explain that the forest service has discovered that it is best to let fires burn themselves out rather than try to control them.
As we approached the entrance to the national park, we drove through wide grassy meadows backed by lush forests. There are still a few scattered patches of snow on the ground. The north rim doesn't open until May 15th because there is often snow late in the season blocking the road.
The ranger at the gate was, as usual, very friendly and helpful. She said that the lodge is another twelve miles along the road. We finally arrived at Grand Canyon Lodge at 5:15 PM. There is just one huge parking lot for visitors. The driveway up to the entrance of the lodge is no longer open to traffic. So, we parked where we could find a space and walked to the lodge to check in. There are three kinds of cabins and a motel type building. We didn't know where our set of cabins is, so we parked wherever we could. Click to view the North Rim Guide.
We're not sure when the lodge was built, but it looks to be in the 1930's or thereabouts. It is smaller than El Tovar, but the lobby is grander. It is very dark inside, but otherwise quite impressive. Looking straight through from the front door is a lounge with huge windows framing a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon. This part of the lodge is perched directly on the canyon rim. Off the lobby is the historic dining room and a beautiful lecture hall for ranger talks. Out back are two viewing patios, one with a gigantic fireplace and the other overlooking the back of the lodge and the canyon beyond.
Dave went to check in while Bill made dining reservations for later tonight and tomorrow. We'll get to the ridiculous dining room experience later, but for now, the check in process was fine. The young man at the window was very friendly and helpful. He told us we were lucky to get the parking place we did, so stay put and walk to the cabin, which is fairly close to the lodge. He offered us a porter to help with the luggage, but we can do that ourselves. Just know that they do have electric carts and guys to help haul luggage from the distant parking lots.
We are in the least expensive cabin category, a Frontier cabin. The Western cabins are the nicest and some of those have canyon views. The next step down is a Pioneer cabin geared toward families. Frontier cabins are tiny duplex log cabins. They are furnished with a twin bed, a double bed, a desk, one lamp, coffee maker, an overhead light and that's it. They are rustic to say the least. However, they are clean. We did have to kill three spiders, but other than that no problem. The main issue with these cabins is that there is only a rickety wood-slat door between you and the people in the other half of the cabin. Essentially there is no privacy at all, so don't expect to spend your honeymoon here unless you want everyone to know what's going on. The bathroom is tiny, but updated and modern. The cabins have telephones, but no television or internet service is to be found anywhere.
We picked up some sandwiches and fruit from the Deli in the Pines off the lobby and brought it back to the cabin to eat. The ridiculous price for two pre-packaged wraps, the fruit and two bottled drinks...$27.00.
After snacking we wandered back to the lodge to kill time before our 8:15 PM dinner reservation. We wandered around admiring the old lodge and the surroundings, then went into the gift shop to browse. We ended up talking to a woman working there who is retired and came to work here with her husband for something to do. They brought their own RV, which sounds doable to us, but she said some older people get stuck in the dorms with a young roommate and it isn't much fun. She worked at Walt Disney World, so we swapped stories for a while and greatly enjoyed the conversation.
At 8:10 PM we arrived at the podium outside the dining room to find incompetence incarnate. Honest to God, we have never seen more of a dipshit than was the host trying to seat people. He looks to be in his 70's, which is fine since most people working here are retirees, but he has no clue how to do his job. Apparently there has been some sort of issue in the dining room and people with 7:45 PM reservations are still waiting. He's walking around with a reservation list doing, well, nothing. There are about five groups of people standing around whom he has acknowledged. Then there's us with Dave literally leaning on the host's podium, and three parties in line behind us. It took 20 minutes, no exaggeration, for the host to realize that he hasn't asked anyone their name yet.
Finally, he settles at the podium, looks up at Dave and says, "Did I check you in yet?" Dave says he hasn't and points to his name on the list, which seems to thrill this guy for some reason. He ignores the people behind us and wanders back to survey the dining room. There is a woman holding a stack of menus in the dining room below trying to get his attention to tell him there are empty tables ready. She finally has to walk up the stairs and poke him to get his attention. The people behind us are getting antsy.
Finally the host comes back and checks everyone else off. A young man walks up and looks bewildered for a while until Dave tells him that if he wants to be acknowledged, just go barge up and force the guy to talk to you. He does and is told that there are no tables available until 8:45 PM at the very earliest. By the way, it is 8:45 PM now, but he's going by his list, not reality.
This goes on for another few minutes, until the woman seating people finally points out that the dining room is half empty and she can seat all of the people waiting. This results in more fumbling with the reservation clip board and wandering around aimlessly trying to find people. He calls over to Dave and tells him we are next. Oh, and get this, when we finally see this guy's nametag it identifies him as the assistant manager! OMG!!
And you thought that was insanity, just wait, it gets better. The nice woman who is actually seating people takes us to a table by the windows, which is nice, but it is already dark. Remember, we had an 8:15 reservation and it is now 8:50. Our waiter's station is bombed with six parties all at once. That is way too many tables to handle unless you work at Disneyland in which case it is normal operating procedure. We digress...the three guys next to us say something to the waiter about knowing he's fantastic. They tip him in advance telling him they want to be his favorite table. That instantly identifies them as total assholes, by the way. Don't ever do that to a waiter, it is really annoying. Other than that they are OK, but they will live to regret giving the tip in advance.
Click to view the Dinner Menu. The waiter comes and asks if we want drinks. Bill ordered a simple cocktail, Dave ordered iced tea, and we both say we want water. The drinks come. No water. Everyone around us gets a loaf of bread. A busboy stumbles by and notices nobody has water, so he starts distributing water two glasses at a time to an entire station of six tables. Eventually, it dawns on him that we don't have any bread, so he goes and gets it and forgets the knife to cut it. He comes back again with that. As an aside, the iced tea was never refilled during the entire meal.
The bread is nice and fresh. In the meantime, our waiter has taken our order for the Bison Flank Steak, the Chicken Parmesan and a dinner salad. Twenty minutes later, the salad arrives. It is fine, but nothing special. Everyone in the room is looking around wondering where their food is. The guys who bribed the waiter are falling asleep at the table. Someone else eventually brings their appetizers and food 45 minutes later.
The empty salad plate sat in front of Dave for 30 minutes before a waitress passing by noticed it and picked it up. Dave left his fork on the plate on purpose to see if it would be replaced. Now he's so amused by this fiasco that he's starting to play games with the service to see what they will do. The woman asks, "Do you want to keep your fork?" Dave says, "Not really, do I have to? I was sort of contemplating whether I was supposed to keep it or not." (Actually, what he's doing is testing this supposed "fine dining room".) She replies, "I just decided for you," and hands back the fork. The way she said it was very funny, not at all rude, and we did find it amusing. But, since when does a fancy dining room make you lick clean a used fork and put it back on the table?
ONE HOUR after we ordered, the waiter comes and apologizes, but the flank steak was overcooked and he is forcing the kitchen to start over. Ugh. Twenty minutes after that, the food arrives and it is fine...very good, actually. The manager comes over to the large party next to us and offers them free desserts because their food took so long. In all fairness, they did arrive before we did, but an hour for food to come out is ridiculous. She doesn't speak to us or give us anything. When she walked away, the guests made fun of her behind her back (she deserved it, by the way, the things she said by way of apology were hilarious, though not purposely.)
We are now into hour two of our dining experience when the waiter offers dessert. Dave orders the cheesecake assuming it is sitting in the back already plated up. Another 20 minutes go by before it is delivered. It is very good with a variety of fresh berries served with it. Total bill for this fiasco...$75.00, roughly. Oh goodie, we have a reservation for tomorrow night, too!
We finally straggled back to our cabin at 10:45 PM and promptly crashed. On a positive note, the hot water worked and the shower was refreshing.
Day 21: Wednesday, May 22 - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - North Rim - Grand canyon Lodge
Bill woke up before Dave did and learned some interesting facts about our neighbors. The man likes to shower during the day, "To wash the shit out of my ass." He also likes to play grab ass with his "old lady", among other fascinating tidbits. Do people not realize that if they can hear us, and we speak in a near whisper in these circumstances, that we can certainly hear them? Word to the wise, if you stay in these cabins, keep your dirty laundry to yourself until you get back in the car.
It feels like a rustic mountain retreat this morning with chilly temperatures and the wind blowing through the pines. We threw caution to the wind and went to the dining room for breakfast at 9:00 AM.
Click to view the Breakfast Menu. It was quiet there this morning and the older hostess was extraordinarily friendly. The younger woman was a bitch on wheels, but we didn't have to deal with her. After sitting for fifteen minutes in a nearly empty dining room, our waiter showed up and asked if we want drinks to start with. We both ordered orange juice and water. By the way we reacted, we half expected to get a glass of water mixed with orange juice, but he figured it out and did it correctly.
Dave ordered the Breakfast Burrito and Bill ordered Eggs Benedict. We both ordered fruit instead of potatoes, which is an option shown on the menu. The waiter had no problem with it, so we assumed the kitchen wouldn't either. Then the waiter asked how Bill wanted his eggs cooked. It is Eggs Benedict, remember. What choice is there? Scrambled?
Twenty minutes later our food arrived. We each received both potatoes and fruit. OK fine, we aren't required to eat everything in front of us. Besides, the hash browns were cold anyway. The burrito was very good and something we'd order again. The eggs on the Benedict were so undercooked that they had dissolved before the plate reached the table. The waiter didn't notice anything amiss and put it down anyway. Bill didn't say anything. It tasted OK other than being nearly raw. Our waiter obviously had never done this job before since he seemed very nervous carrying the food out and putting it down. However, he was very nice. He also forgot to charge us for the juice, so our total for this morning was only $20.00.
Today's agenda is to drive the scenic road to several overlooks. We are staying on the paved road, but there are a couple of very rough dirt tracks that lead to other views. To complete those routes takes all day, just FYI.
We hit the road at around 10:30 AM. The road to Cape Royal is about fifteen miles long. It is a normal, winding mountain road with 35 mile an hour speed limits, so it takes a while to get there. We stopped at Greenland Lake on the way. Calling this a lake is a huge exaggeration. It is a collapsed limestone cavern that sealed itself over time and filled with water. Now it is a boggy green wet spot in the forest.
The road continues through towering pine and quaking aspen forests The aspens actually were quaking in the wind, too. The greenery alternates with burned out sections that may or may not have been set alight on purpose. One section has an interpretive sign essentially saying, "Oops, this controlled burn got out of hand." These fires didn't happen yesterday or anything, but the areas are a mess with dead trees and only some low new growth on the ground. Whatever, circle of life, hakuna matata, that's nature for you. It will probably be beautiful again in a few years.
While there are several overlooks on the way to Cape Royal, we have to go back the same way, so we only stopped at those on the right hand side of the road on the way out. That was the lake we told you about already. There are two overlooks at Cape Royal. The first one is Angel's Window, a sandstone cliff that has eroded to form a window that perfectly frames the Colorado River in the canyon below. It is a narrow protrusion on top which is something to remember because the next stop is the view of Cape Royal that is on top of that cliff.
On the way to the point there are spectacular views of the canyon and steep sandstone rim. A lot of visitors passed on walking out onto the promontory. It is smooth sandstone, but you do have to clamor down some worn out sections of pathway. Once out there it does have metal railings that seem somewhat secure. If you glance over the edge, it is literally straight down hundreds of feet to the bottom. It is worth going out there to look at it...once.
Starting back we stopped at Walhalla Overlook first. From here you can see the Colorado River rounding a bend in the canyon far below. There are many ancient ruins on the delta below and one across the road that can be visited. These are the Walhalla Glades ruins. It consists of a multi-room pueblo that burned at some point and was replaced with much smaller stone building nearby. As ruins go, these aren't the most impressive we've seen so far, but they're here, so why not look at them?
The next overlook is at Roosevelt Point. Apparently, Franklin D. Roosevelt liked the view from here (or something like that), so they named this spot after him. He gets a trail, too. Another overlook along the road is Vista Encantada where you can see a red section of the canyon.
Near the beginning of this route, the road forks to take visitors three miles to Point Imperial for another breathtaking view of the canyon. There is a rocky spire out in the canyon that gives this view point its name (we think.) There are no other stops along this stretch of road, but the forest is scenic enough. An aspen tree had blown down into the road while we were at the view point, but it only partially blocked one lane, so it wasn't a problem for us.
Back at the lodge, we parked in about the same place. No luck finding anything closer to our room. We wandered along a trail that leads to a point behind the lodge with more amazing views of the canyon. From here we could see how the lodge actually does nearly hang over the edge of the rim.
It became extremely windy around the time we got back to the lodge area at 2:00 PM. It isn't cold anymore, in the low 70's, but the wind is really blowing. We went to the lodge to see if we could move our dinner reservation up to an earlier time. Since the food takes two hours to reach the table, we're hoping to get out of there before midnight. The same friendly hostess was there, but our friend the assistant manager ran over to call us by name...actually he called Bill by Dave's name, but close enough. We have caught on to how he avoids a lot of complaints about his incompetence. He remembers the names of guests and treats them like a long lost friend. Most people are reluctant to complain about a "friend." It seems to work because everyone runs up to him and wants to talk. Personally, we'd prefer he learn how to do his job and then he can learn our name. In any case, no luck changing the reservation.
Since we were at the dining room anyway, we were seated for lunch. We thought they closed at 2:00 PM, but it was 2:30 PM, so we got lucky. Or not depending on how you look at it. Click to view the Lunch Menu. A waiter did show up relatively promptly to take our drink orders, which he brought back and deposited on the corner of the table rather than in front of us, but close enough for the standard here. Dave ordered the Southwest Chicken sandwich. Bill couldn't figure out whether the sandwiches are all from a "Sandwich Buffet" across the room or delivered finished from the kitchen. The menu is confusing, but the waiter straightened it out and Bill ordered the Pulled Chicken Sandwich. We both substituted fruit for fries, which did work out correctly this time.
Both sandwiches were very good, but neither resembled the menu description in any way. Well, OK, the main ingredient in both was chicken, but that's as far as it goes. The menu offers a choice of wheat or white bun. Dave ordered wheat. Both of us received white. The buns were delicious though, but how hard can this be? It wasn't busy at all. Sigh.
During lunch the wind was blowing so hard against the windows that they were creating a sort of harmonic vibration, kazoo effect that was very loud. We were hoping they'd reach critical mass and all shatter at once, but no such luck. Wouldn't that have been entertaining?
After lunch we wandered the short distance to the North Rim Visitor Center. Yawn.
Back in the cabin, our neighbors have departed, at least for the day. We napped and just hung out for the rest of the afternoon to fortify ourselves for the dining experience again tonight. Dave got bored and cleaned himself up so he doesn't look like a homeless person anymore. Considering the rustic nature of this place, they do provide housekeepers who deposit gifts for the lucky few. We got a roll of trash bags on our desk. Someone else received a vacuum cleaner left in the grass outside their door. Oh, and they cleaned our room, too. Now we have six sets of clean towels.
We went to the dining room at 8:15 PM for our 8:30 reservation. Yeah, right. The same hilarity ensured at the podium, but this time we had the advantage of the host knowing our name. Dave chatted with a woman who had the same attitude about the whole ridiculous process, so the two of them had fun watching the mayhem. We were eventually seated at around 8:45 PM. This is when the fun really began.
The woman who takes people to their table apologized profusely. We said we know it isn't her fault and not to worry about it. Then she told us they are short staffed, which we discerned on our own when we saw managers serving food. They never do that unless absolutely necessary. So far, so good...well, a close approximation anyway.
On our table was a candle that wasn't lit. About 1/3 of the dining room had these battery candle things, too. We looked inside ours and the light part wasn't even in it. Nice try. The waiter showed up at little later than he should have, but nothing ridiculous. He seemed nice and took our order. Here we go. Bill ordered a glass of red wine, Dave ordered iced tea. We ordered the Chicken Satay appetizer (Click to view the Dinner Menu), two Lodge Dinner Salads, the Chicken Parmesan, and the Open-Faced Prime Rib Sandwich. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Here's how the evening went...
By the way, we do not have bread and everyone else does. Fifteen minutes later our salads arrive, No appetizer? We don't say anything because it is more fun to see how it plays out. Salads are fine. Bill's wine comes and it is white. Waiter runs off to get the correct one, which, by the way is god-awful. Forty-five minutes later, during this time the chef is wandering around chatting with people at their table, a different waiter brings the Chicken Parm and the Chicken Satay. We say, "Wrong. Where is the entree?" "What entree?" "The sandwich." We explain, nicely, that the satay is an appetizer (which it clearly is on the menu) and we are missing an entree. We tell him, again nicely, that we don't want the appetizer anymore, just get the correct entree. He says that they just opened "a few days ago" and it is like opening a new restaurant and they don't have their act together yet. Dave says, "No kidding, but you have been open for 12 days and should have it together by now. I opened a restaurant from scratch and we had it together from day one." He says, "Ouch."
Our waiter shows up again and says the kitchen lost our ticket and that's why they didn't make the other entree. We don't say anything, but we're thinking, "If they didn't have a ticket, why did they make the other items we ordered?" We know this means the waiter didn't order it to begin with, but again, we don't say anything. In case you are keeping track, Dave still does not have his iced tea nor do we have bread.
Thirty minutes later, after Dave has finished the Chicken Parm, which is very good except for the ghastly vegetable served with it, Bill's food arrives. The waiter then asks if we want the satay anyway because he has taken it off the bill and we "can take it home." We think maybe we can leave it outside to keep it cold, but decline the offer. He comes back and says we will not be charged for the entree either. We thank him and say, "That's fine."
Now it really gets good. The guy from the host stand comes over, apologizes profusely and we believe sincerely, about the screw ups and says it isn't always like this. We point out that it took 90 minutes to get all of our food last night and what the heck is the chef doing walking around the dining room when the food isn't coming out of the kitchen. He rolls his eyes and says, "Yeah, I know." Then we point out that we never got bread or the iced tea we ordered. We can see his head about to explode. We do feel somewhat sorry for him because there really isn't anything he can do if upper management doesn't care. He's just a seasonal worker. Then he proceeds to tell us his entire life story, which we don't think is appropriate to repeat here. We do believe he's sincere and he did apologize about as much as a person can. And, he comped our entire meal, except the wine that he isn't allowed to give away.
We had a long conversation with him and suggested ways he could make the whole process better. The problem is that the people at corporate headquarters are so out of touch that they have no clue how their procedures are impacting the resorts. For example, they just started taking restaurant reservations online. We pointed out that it doesn't work. He says, "Good," because when it does work it triple books the room and it is even worse than it already is. Honestly, we do have sympathy for the guy, but he is clearly overwhelmed and overworked. He was here at 6:30 AM and still here at 10:00 PM closing time and he hasn't had a day off since he arrived 14 days ago. Neither of us would put up with a situation like this and we both have a good work ethic.
When the waiter brought our check he admitted he dropped the ball and then claimed it is very unusual for this kind of thing to happen. We pointed out that it happened last night, too, so we called his bluff. He did find that amusing, so he isn't all bad. Our total bill was $8.00 for the wine. Remember, we arrived at 8:30 PM...we were walking out the door at 10:30 where again the host/asst. manager apologizes profusely. OK, that's all well and good. We do appreciate it, but if you can't handle the job, bail and let someone else do it. Who, we have no idea. Apparently they can't get enough people to work here and those that do show up last a few days and walk out. We can't say we blame them.
It is still extremely windy tonight. It isn't terribly cold, but sometimes the wind is very strong. We had to turn on the electric heater tonight, so we're hoping the desk sitting right in front of it doesn't burst into flames during the night. The windows in the dining room were actually bowing inward with the wind gusts. We felt safe enough considering that this lodge has been here forever, but still.
Tomorrow we move on to what we hope will be a normal lodging experience with internet, TV and everything. Woo hoo! Then we're back into Forever Resorts' chaos at Bryce Canyon Lodge. At least the restaurant there is first-come, first-served, so maybe it will be more coherent...yeah, sure. We think this is God's way of punishing us for complaining about Xanterra-managed lodges. Compared to Forever Resorts, Xanterra is like the Four Seasons. Oh well, it does provide some entertainment value and gives us something to talk about. Honestly, we really don't care...it is all part of the whole travel experience!
Day 22: Thursday, May 23 - Drive to Kanab, UT - Victorian Inn
The Kanab area
offers a long list of attractions for residents and visitors alike. Southern
Utah is home to a wide variety of things to see and do - the best of them are
right here in our back yard!
It is still very windy and cool at the north rim, but not unpleasant at all. We went to the dining room for breakfast at 9:00 AM and were fawned over by the asst. manager and the very nice older hostess. After she seated us, we said something about "going with the flow" and she indicated that that's pretty much what she has to do to survive working here. Then she told us that she started here six years ago when Forever Resorts first took over from Xanterra and that it was fantastic. Every year since it has gone downhill to the point that it is so bad now that they can't get anyone to work here.
We had the same waiter we had for lunch yesterday. He's very nice, but inexperienced. We didn't have any problems this morning other than it taking too long to get our food (about 20 minutes.) Click to view the Breakfast Menu. The waiter was very honest when we asked him about the North Rim Parfait. He admitted, after some prompting, that it is a rip-off for what you get. He then told us that the Continental Breakfast is even worse. We thanked him and ordered the Breakfast Burrito, a Fruit Platter and the French Toast. This time they did the substitution of fruit for the potatoes correctly on both orders. The fruit plate was fine. Both meals were good with the burrito being better this morning with the addition of guacamole that was missing yesterday (although the menu says it comes with it.) Along those same lines, the French toast was missing the whipped cream it is suppose to have. The portion though was enormous. This is the same waiter who doesn't charge for orange juice, so he saved us over $6.00 again.
We finished breakfast at 10:00 AM and hightailed it back to the cabin to finish packing up to check out by 11:00 AM. We dragged our luggage up to the loading zone by the road and Dave went to the lodge to check out. Chaos again ensued because there was only one person manning the reception desk and the people checking out were, to be nice, loons. The next group up had way to much to talk about, so the line never moved. Eventually someone came out of the back and asked if anyone just wanted to check out without getting a receipt, she'd take their keys. Dave said he's fine with that, so she took his keys and asked if he wanted to get a receipt. Huh? Didn't she just say she'd help you if you don't want one? Oh well, he said it's fine and left. Why didn't she just open another check-out window?
The dining room guy and the extremely pleasant hostess came over and fawned over Dave again. The hostess in particular thanked him for being so nice under the circumstances. Dave told her that as long as she is around being so gracious to everyone that maybe they'll survive the season. She was pleased with his comments and went back to her post fending off reservation seekers.
The final word on the Grand Canyon Lodge: Rustic. We knew what to expect, lodging wise, and it is fine for what it is. At $126 per night it isn't too overpriced for the type of place it is. Anywhere else though and they couldn't get more than $50 a night for these cabins. Everyone working here was very nice, but the vast majority were poorly trained and/or incompetent. The whole place is severely understaffed and management is invisible. The food is fine and not outrageously priced, but the service is the worst we have ever encountered. Was it worth the inconveniences to stay here? Sure...once. We might come back here if we could get one of the Western cabins, but we wouldn't if we had to stay in the motel, the Pioneer cabins or the Frontier cabins. And, we would eat take-out pizza from the deli for dinner. By the way, Forever Resorts' website says several times that the deli serves breakfast, which it does not. It doesn't open until 10:00 AM.
It is only a 90-minute drive to Kanab, so we had to plug in a time-killer or two today. The first stop was at a Scenic Vista overlooking the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in the distance. That took all of ten minutes, including a restroom stop and avoiding the vendors selling the exact same Indian jewelry we have seen fifty times already. As per usual, the vendors were very friendly and not at all pushy.
We do have a "real" stop planned at Pipe Spring National Monument. We had no idea what this place is about, but figured it is on the way, sort of, and might kill an hour or two. We got in free with our pass, but the regular price is only $5.00 per person, so for what you get here it is worth it. There is a visitor center with displays about pioneers, Mormons, natives, etc., that weren't at all interesting. An entire wall looked like it was missing the displays that used to be there. For more information visit the park's website.
The visitor center is actually outside of the monument, which is 100 yards out the back door. There they have recreated a native American village and have preserved the Pipe Spring homestead. There is a farmyard to check out, farm animals like a horse and mule, plus a couple of Texas longhorn cattle...don't ask, we don't know either. They are in the process of preserving a mud-roof cabin and they've recreated the orchard and gardens.
The central attraction is the original farmhouse/fort called Winsor Castle. It was built over Pipe Spring and the water still runs out of one corner of the sandstone building and into two holding ponds. There was never enough water for an entire settlement, but it was enough to sustain a large family. The home is only viewable on a ranger led tour, so we waited for the next one at 1:30 PM. It is extremely windy today, so we had to hide behind the stone wall for protection. There is a trail up and around the bluff behind the house, but it is far too windy to try that today. We could barely handle looking out over the pasture land behind the house without being sandblasted.
Tours start on the half-hour, so we didn't have to wait very long. The ranger who led our tour was so odd she could have starred in a Saturday Night Live sketch. She was nice enough, but her attempts to be funny were pathetic. She, however, found her own "jokes" hilarious. She started off in the courtyard between the two buildings, one of which houses the spring in the basement (closed to visitors at the moment while they restore it) and the main house where the family lived. No mention was ever made of this being a fort or the reason for the walls and gates between the buildings. There are holes in the walls for guns to shoot through, but she didn't mention them until Bill asked about them. She was way more interested in telling us how magnanimous the Church of Latter Day Saints (which she insisted on saying in full each time she brought it up) was and how they prepare food for everyone in the area.
She started off showing us early laundry equipment and telling the two young women on the tour that it would have taken five hours to do the wash. Insert crickets chirping here. Then we were taken into the parlor, kitchen, and upstairs bedroom. That part was interesting enough. The upstairs of the other building houses a telegraph office and a guest room that we were allowed to see. The tour only lasts about 35 minutes, which is plenty. Overall, the whole thing was very uninformative. It did, however, serve its purpose of delaying our arrival in Kanab until check-in time at the hotel and the farm animals were cute.
The drive to Kanab from the monument is only about twenty minutes. The main street through town has recently been redone with attractive sandstone pillars, information plaques about western movie stars, and a huge monument proclaiming the town as "Little Hollywood". There is a collection of old western movie sets that may be visited. We'll do that tomorrow when we have to kill some time again.
Our hotel for this overnighter is the Victorian Inn at the north end of the main drag. There were no cars in the parking lot when we arrived. The clerk checked us in promptly and we discovered that our room is right across from the side door where we parked. Obviously the theme here is Victorian and they have carried it throughout the rooms, as well. This is either exciting for you or it could be interpreted as somewhat Haunted Mansion-esque, which is our take on it. We have a Deluxe Double Queen room that we booked by mistake. All "deluxe" gets you is a Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom that we have no intention of using. It was only $10.00 more than a regular room, so no big loss. For the price we paid ($112 AAA rate) this place is a bargain. The room is spacious with a table and two chairs, refrigerator and the usual amenities. The bathroom has granite counters and marble accents. It isn't the cleanest place we've ever stayed...it is dusty around the edges...but it isn't filthy either. Breakfast is included, so we'll judge that tomorrow morning. This is a small hotel, not a bed and breakfast, by the way. It was originally a Quality Inn.
The air conditioning is a bit annoying because it cycles on and off constantly, but it is too warm outside to turn it off. It is also still VERY windy. The temperature since we descended from the mountains is in the low 80's.
We intended to find somewhere to have a late lunch, but we dawdled around and decided to snack on the food we have with us and go out for dinner later. Later ended up being 7:00 PM when we checked Tripadvisor and chose the Rocking V Cafe up the street. When we discovered that it is only 1/2 mile away, we walked rather than give up our primo parking place. In the past two hours, the parking lot filled to capacity.
We arrived at the restaurant at 7:15 PM and were told to come back at 8:00 PM to be seated. We wandered up the street to see what's up (answer: nothing) and ended up sitting on a bench out front until our time was up. Luckily the weather was pleasant.
At 8:00 PM, we were shown to a table by the extremely friendly owner. The place was packed and very noisy, but in a good way. This is the first restaurant we have been to so far where we were surrounded by intelligent looking, attractive people of all ages having a good time. The servers were all jovial and efficient and the menu was interesting. Click to view the Menu.
Dave ordered the Deep Dish Enchilada with chicken added and the included cup of soup. Tonight's soup was a semi-spicy Cajun black bean and sausage and was very good. Bill ordered Homer's Favorite Pork Chop and upgraded to a salad that was OK, but nothing special. Both entrees were outstanding and different without being too weird. Everything served was very fresh. The only thing that wasn't worth eating was the bread served with the meal. For dessert Dave had the special of the night which was homemade angel food cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream with a vodka sauce drizzle. It was delicious. Bill had the chocolate silk pie that was good, but not extraordinary. Our bill was $75.00 and very reasonable for what we received and the convivial atmosphere in which it was served. We highly recommend this place, but be sure to make a reservation in advance.
It was dark on the walk back to the hotel, but it was fun to see the old neon motel signs all lit up. We're not sure why this town has so many old motels, but most of them have been restored by new owners. The place where we are staying is relatively new, but there are probably ten old restored motels along the strip as well.
This hotel is nice enough, but the walls are very thin. We can hear our neighbor's muted conversation easily. Let's hope they don't "get busy" before we fall asleep. There are many other odd noises, too. There's some sort of vibrating noise through the wall, plus our own air conditioning. It won't keep us awake, but there is a lot going on here for a light sleeper.
The first batch of photos covering up to our arrival at the Grand Canyon has been added to the Photo Gallery.
Day 23: Friday, May 24 - Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT - Bryce Canyon Lodge
famous for its worldly unique geology, consists of a series of horseshoe-shaped
amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The
erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater have
shaped the colorful limestone rock of the Claron Formation into bizarre shapes,
including slot canyons, windows, fins, and spires called "hoodoos".
The wind has finally died down and the weather has returned to normal. It is warm outside, but not unpleasantly so. We went to get breakfast in the lobby around 9:30 AM. There isn't nearly enough seating available if it is busy, but at this time of morning it was fine. The buffet offered what one would expect for a free motel breakfast: pre-made cheese omelets, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits & gravy, cereal, bread, yogurt, etc. The food was fine, nothing to write home about, but good enough. The woman tending the front desk (and doing laundry) was very congenial.
The final word on the Victorian Inn: Creepy. OK, so some people will probably find the decor beautiful, but honestly it is more Haunted Mansion than Victorian. The real downer here is that the bathroom was filthy with dried urine on the part of the toilet behind the seat and on the floor behind it. Who pees on the wall anyway? Maybe the better question is, how does a housekeeper miss it? Besides that, the shower is moldy, the drain is clogged, and everything is dusty. On the plus side, the linens were clean, the room large, and the beds comfortable. We could hear the people talking through the wall, but this time they didn't say anything gross. Although this hotel is a great deal for what you get, we'd stay in one of the restored old motels next time instead. Overall, the Victorian Inn doesn't get our recommendation.
We set off at around 10:30 AM for the short drive, less than 90 miles, to Bryce Canyon. That means we had to find something to kill time because park lodges rarely have rooms available for early arrivals. So, we went to the Movie Set Museum across the street and up a block from the hotel. There were three busloads of tourists there when we arrived. We hope they didn't pay good money to stop here. Basically, this is a collection of western movie sets that have been moved here to attract people to the gift shop/museum in front. It is free, so you really can't complain and nobody forces you to buy anything. We had only heard of one of the movies a set came from, but the place is small and entertaining enough for a walk around. One of the "stone" buildings made out of fiberglass was kind of interesting, but everything else looked like Knott's Berry Farm. There were some things in the gift shop we would have bought, but the line of bus tourists was too long, so we didn't buy anything.
Next we walked across the street to Nature's Art Shop that is fronted by a big concrete tepee. They sell framed thinly sliced pieces of sandstone that really do look like someone painted a picture. They have other things made out of stone, too, but the "paintings" are the most interesting. The bigger ones sell for over $1,000, so we had to pass. The tepee houses a selection of lamps made out of big crystals, in case you were wondering what the point is.
Continuing up the highway toward Bryce Canyon for about six miles brought us to Moqui Cave. We truly expected this to be the epitome of kitsch and in some ways it is. There is a $5.00 admission charge per person that appears as though it is admitting you to nothing more than a gift shop set into the cliff. What made this whole experience absolutely charming was the granddaughter of the man who bought and developed the attraction way back when. She gave us some history, pointed out that her grandfather collected all this "stuff" when he and his wife would go out travelling or hiking, etc. Her enthusiasm for him was contagious.
The couple originally bought the cave when it was in terrible condition blackened by soot from teenagers partying inside. Their names are still visible carved over every square inch of the walls. After they bought it and cleaned it up, they used it for a bar and dance hall for many years until they got tired of the late nights and opened it as a tourist attraction. The barstools were hand made by this guy and all of the artifacts were either collected by him or received as gifts. It is quite an eclectic array of stuff to say the least, mostly Indian artifacts like arrowheads and pottery shards.
After we checked out the bar area, another young lady, equally as charming, told us more about the man who started the place, then directed us through a tepee and into the main part of the cave. In the very back are displays of minerals that glow under UV light. The original owners would go out walking at night carrying a huge black light and they'd collect anything that glowed. And now, here it is, sitting in dusty display cases for the world to enjoy.
Back out in the main part of the cave, the same woman gave us more information about an elaborate wood carving on display, the subject of which had fifty-five children with 9 wives (or something like that, but you get the idea.) Then we were ushered into the next room where there are several displays of dinosaur tracks collected from the immediate area. Of course, all of this ends up in the gift shop, but there was no pressure to buy anything and the young women running the place were delightful. We picked up our usual trinkets and t-shirt and hit the road again.
We drove for about 30 minutes before reaching a sign reading, "Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park 1000 Feet". This was on our original itinerary, but we dropped it after reading reviews saying is essentially pointless. But, if it is really only 1000' down the road, why not check it out? You know what we found after 1000 feet? Another sign saying it is SEVEN MILES away. Never mind. Besides, the "coral pink" sand is the same sand we've already been looking at for two weeks. It isn't pink, it is orange, by the way.
The drive north is through beautiful scenic valleys lined with grazing cattle, a meandering river, and ramshackle little towns. Being on the main road to a major tourist attractions also means that there is a rock shop or tacky trinket store every twenty feet in these places, but they have a charm all their own. We didn't stop anywhere though.
Before reaching Bryce Canyon itself, visitors pass through Red Rock Valley. The entrance to this park looks so artificial that you'd swear they brought Disney in to create something dramatic. But, of course, it is all real. One of the orange rock formations has an ancient lava flow covering half of it. Behind a new visitor center are some teetering rock spires randomly towering over the forest. The coolest part is that the road goes through two tunnels carved through the sandstone.
We arrived at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park at around 2:00 PM. Once again, the ranger at the gate was extraordinarily helpful and friendly. The regular admission price is $25.00, but we used our pass to get in free.
We stopped at the visitor center inside the gate and bought our souvenirs now to get it over with. There is a small museum that wasn't educational in the slightest. The whole place was jammed, but the woman at the cash register was super friendly. The parking lot was full, but we concluded that is mostly because the shuttle buses stop here to take people into the park. There are signs everywhere that try to scare you into riding the shuttles, which is probably a good idea in theory.
The roads and parking lots here are much busier than any of the parks we have visited so far. There are people everywhere. Still trying to kill some time, we turned off at the parking for Sunrise Point and followed the trail to the overlook. You can't see anything dramatic until you are right at the summit of the trail where the whole valley is revealed before you. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Climbing the nearby hill to Sunrise point gives you a bird's eye view over a magnificent spectacle of colorful hoodoos. There is a trail that winds down through the Queens Garden. People coming up said it takes about two hours to complete it. Today we settled for viewing it from above, but looking down on it, the trails were full of people.
It is only about 1/2 mile to the lodge from here, so we continued driving, passing an old gas station just outside of the village area. It seems like this place could be restored and used as a restaurant or shop, but for the moment it is abandoned.
We parked in the registration parking area and went inside the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge to see if perhaps our room is ready. We're not sure exactly when this lodge was built, but we assume it was in the late 1920's or 30's by the look of it. It isn't as big or impressive as the more famous lodges, but the lobby is cozy with the usual big fireplace and places to sit. Wi-fi is only available in the lobby, so most people sitting around are looking at laptops or iPads, not those ancient book things people way back when used to read in this room.
When there was no one waiting at the front desk we thought for sure they weren't checking anyone in yet. Check-in is at 4:00 PM and we arrived just before 3:00. The woman at the desk was extremely welcoming and pleasant. She said right away that rooms probably aren't ready yet. Dave said, "We understand, but it never hurts to ask." With that she checked the computer and was as amazed as we were that our room was ready. Woo hoo! Maybe we're on the right track at this Forever Resorts-operated lodge? There doesn't seem to be any confusion or hysteria going on here like there was at the Grand Canyon Lodge. In fact, it is the polar opposite atmosphere. It is very busy with people walking around, but there is something calm about it, too.
When we asked about the park shuttle bus, we were told that it doesn't go all the way to the end of the road, so it is better to drive our own car. We were happy to hear that because we weren't looking forward to another four-hour day in a rolling Petri dish. We had thought perhaps it was so crowded that the shuttle was the best choice, so we're very happy to know it isn't.
We were assigned to a room in the Sunset Unit, a two story motel style building south of the lodge. There is an identical building north of the lodge, plus some nice looking cabins adjacent to it. Later we found a row of smaller cabins similar to the one we stayed in at the Grand Canyon Lodge, but they are no longer being used here.
We drove a short distance to our building to find the parking lot almost empty. First of all, we're amazed there is parking specifically for each of the lodging options. These are two story modern-ish structures with log pole balconies on each room. They blend in nicely with the old lodge and don't look at all out of place like the newer buildings at the south rim of the Grand Canyon do.
Our room is just to the left off the entrance foyer. Boy, is this room a pleasant surprise! It is huge for one thing. Plenty of room for our stuff and we won't be tripping all over it. There is a back door that opens onto a private balcony with a view of the forest. We have two queen sized beds, a cabinet with a refrigerator and microwave oven, a coffee maker, and a table with two chairs. The lighting is excellent with several lamps and sconces. There is no air conditioning, but there is a big fan in the closet we set up to move the air around. It isn't usually hot here, so there generally isn't a need for air conditioning anyway. The bathroom is small, but looks to have been redone fairly recently. Best of all, it is very quiet. We can't hear anything through the walls other than faint doors closing and people walking around, but it really is very faint. We're amazed, to be perfectly honest. We expected another horrible Forever Resorts experience, but so far, so good.
We went looking for food at the only option available after 3:00 PM, which is the Valhalla Pizzeria near the lodge, but in a separate small building. Guests can get room service from this place from 3:00 - 10:00 PM. We got sort of off track walking to the restaurant, but it isn't all that far and the walk was pleasant. Then we arrived...
Everything went off the rails again here, but since we're expecting it, we just went with it. We were greeted nicely by a woman who turned out to be a supervisor of some sort. She handed us menus and told us to order at the counter and they would deliver our food to us. Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the Cold Italian Sub sandwich and Bill ordered a 9" pizza, plus a drink for each of us. We were handed cups for the serve yourself drinks, no problem there. Then the cashier, who said he had only been working there for two hours, rang up the purchase with a little help from the supervisor. He was very nice and everyone has to be new sometime. He did a good job and was pleasant. We were handed a plastic tent card with a number and went outside to sit in the blazing sun (inside tables were all full, the place is tiny.)
Dave's sandwich came out within a few minutes sans the lettuce, tomato and the chips the menu says it comes with. But, there was a packet of Newman's Own Italian Dressing. For what, we have no idea because the lettuce was missing. Oh, when we were inside ordering, the girl at the counter asked the kitchen if two salads sitting in the window were ready. All that was in the foil bowl was iceberg lettuce. The kitchen guy said they were done. She asked, "Where is the tomato, red onion, olives and cheese it is supposed to have?" "We don't have that." OK, someone ordered the Italian Garden salad or whatever and got a plain dish of lettuce for $6.95?
Anyway, the meat and cheese sandwich was fine, but would have been better with lettuce. Thirty minutes went by before Bill's pizza arrived. It was actually good and looked right. A few minutes later the same girl came out with a full-sized pepperoni pizza and announced, "Your pizza is finally ready!" and started to put it down. Nope, guess again honey. We should have kept it just to be jerks, but we're not like that, believe it or not. As it turns out, this is the first day this place has been open for the season. Still. they surely knew they needed ingredients for what is on the menu didn't they? And there is a full-service restaurant less than 100' away that has tomatoes and such. Oh well.
After eating we walked through the back of the lodge, which is the part that faces the parking lot, and checked out the gift shop. We found a couple of things to buy. They do have a lot of very nice things, but nothing we need or want at the moment. Dave does want a weathered leather cowboy hat that makes him look particularly butch, he passed on it for now. We wandered back to the room and promptly fell asleep for a few hours.
At 7:30 PM we decided to buck up and go to the dining room for dinner. Needless to say, we weren't expecting to be seated promptly or to get our food before midnight. However, miracle of miracles, we were seated immediately in an efficiently operated dining room! The place was packed, but nobody was ever kept waiting. The staff was efficient and doing what they are supposed to do, the restaurant was clean, and we even had salad forks so we don't have to lick it clean and save it for dinner. The strange thing is that this is the exact same set-up and same company running the ridiculous operation at the Grand Canyon Lodge. There are no reservations here, it is first-come, first-served, but that's not entirely the reason this place works and the other one doesn't. Must be management. We saw a manager helping to bring food out all evening. He didn't know what he was doing, but at least he was trying to be helpful. The guy at the front desk was doing his job properly, too, not bumbling around with his finger in his nose the whole time.
Click to view the Dinner Menu. Our waiter arrived promptly, took our drink orders, and came back with them properly. Go figure. Dave ordered the Pork Loin and the Utah Mixed Greens, Bill ordered the Prime Rib. A very pleasant bus woman delivered rosemary bread. Neither of us liked it, but it was fresh. They serve the same bread at the Grand Canyon Lodge, but it was entirely different. Again, go figure.
The salad arrived and was a nice mix of greens, strawberries and goat cheese. It could have used more dressing, but it was still very good. It took about 30 minutes for our food to arrive, but considering how busy the place is, that's understandable. There was none of the chaos that went on at the Grand Canyon Lodge. Everyone was extremely pleasant and no mistakes were made anywhere around us. Servers had plenty of time to chat and check on their guests. Talk about polar opposite experiences! Both meals were good, but the pork was especially delicious. It came with a fresh mango salsa on the side that added a nice flavor to the very tender pork slices. The mashed potatoes on both plates were interesting, too.
Click to view the Dessert Menu. For dessert, Dave ordered the Fruit Plate and Bill had the Specialty Ice Cream that was Rocky Road. Both were delicious. The fruit plate had about ten different fruits and berries on it. The ice cream was homemade. The total bill for this, plus a glass of wine was $98.00 and well worth it.
On the way out, the host/asst. manager asked where we came from and where we are going next. We related our experience at the Grand Canyon Lodge and told him that if they try to make him go there to fix it, refuse! He laughed and said they already tried that and he said, "NO WAY." He told us the superintendants of the parks dictate whether the restaurants take reservations which explains why both "fancy" restaurants at the Grand Canyon do so. The one at Bryce wants everyone treated equally and that's why it is first-come, first-served. The host explained that it makes the whole dining room flow better and everyone is happy because there is no favoritism and everyone is served in turn. No duh! It is plainly obvious which system works better. Even so, that doesn't explain the poor management at the Grand Canyon Lodge. They should be able to adjust to whatever the situation is that they are given to work with and make the best of it, not have a nervous breakdown every night.
We walked back to the room in the near darkness, although the sky was still a bit light at 10:00 PM and there is a full moon. All of the lodging is sold out, but you'd never know it. There was plenty of parking available by all of the buildings. What a novel concept, huh?
Day 24: Saturday, May 25 - Bryce Canyon National Park, UT- Bryce Canyon Lodge
It is a bright and sunny day, but the highest the temperature reached was 68 degrees. Most of the time it was in the low 60's. It is windy again, but not as ridiculous as it was a few days ago.
We were up a little earlier than usual, so we hit the dining room for breakfast at 9:00 AM. Click to view the Breakfast Menu. We were seated immediately by a friendly hostess. Our waitress was very perky and pleasant. There isn't much left to say about breakfast foods, but everything we had was very good and served promptly. We were our of there within 45 minutes.
The young woman cleaning rooms was next door when we arrived back and asked if we needed anything. We told her we'd be leaving in an hour and we'd put the sign out so she'd know. She thanked us and went on about her business. There is a card in the room saying that if you want service to hang the "Clean Room Now" sign on the door.
We took off for our drive of the scenic vistas along Bryce Canyon at around 10:30 AM. There is only one road that is about sixteen miles long to the last view point. We drove all the way to the end without stopping because all of the places to stop are on one side of the road. On the way back all of them will be to our right. There wasn't any traffic on the road, but all of the parking lots were either full or nearly so. The shuttles only go as far as Bryce Point, so if you want to see the entire canyon you have to drive yourself. This point wasn't very clear when we researched it online.
Click to view a Park Map. The road ends at the parking area for Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. These vistas overlook the vast reaches of southern Utah and the Kaibab Plateau. The foreground is awash in the colors of long-eroded slopes and remnant hoodoos in hues of white and vivid red. While the parking area was busy, we had no problem finding a place to park. It is easy to get away from the crowds by walking a few yards along any of the trails.
Backtracking a few miles we arrived at Black Birch Canyon overlook. This is a narrow canyon framed by brightly colored hoodoos and slopes. There are some impressive formations in this area, as there are everywhere we stopped.
On the way to the next stop, we pulled out at two unmarked viewpoints. One overlooks a huge uplifted white cliff and the other affords a view of a window through one of the walls with a view of the valley below. Finding parking at these small turnouts was difficult and we often had to pull off on the shoulder instead.
Ponderosa Canyon shows off multi-colored hoodoos framed by pine-covered slopes. Agua Canyon has contrasts of light and color with views of the plateaus in the distance. There are several towering hoodoos and rocks that balance precariously on narrow supports found here.
Another popular stop is at the Natural Bridge. It isn't really a bridge at all, but an arch, according to the sign. But who cares, it is an amazing sight. One of the towering formations nearby resembles an upheld torch.
Paria View looks over hoodoos in an amphitheater carved by Yellow Creek. The Paria River Valley provides the backdrop for this dramatic scene. To the south are the White Cliffs carved from Navajo Sandstone.
It has taken nearly two hours to reach one of the most famous overlooks in the park, Bryce Point. This is also the farthest that the shuttle takes people from the visitor center, so it is very crowded. We had to circle around to find parking. There are spectacular views over the Bryce Amphitheater from here. The most crowded viewing area juts out on a narrow point with iconic views in all directions. A short walk away from the throng brings you to an area of grottos along the canyon rim and relief from the crowds.
It is possible to walk along the rim to reach Inspiration Point, but we drove to the parking area. This is another angle from which to view Bryce Amphitheater and it is also extremely crowded. As we were driving back to the main road, a ranger had set up a roadblock declaring "Parking Full" and turning visitors away. The only way to reach the most popular views, unless you get an early start, is by taking the shuttle buses. We didn't see nearly as many buses as are provided at the Grand Canyon and it appeared to us that you would spend way more time waiting around than actually viewing the sights. Both times we returned from looking at the view, the same people were still waiting at the shuttle stop.
We arrived back at the lodge at around 2:00 PM. We don't dawdle at sights and it took us 3.5 hours to see everything. If you include hiking in the equation, it will be a very long day. The hike that meanders through the Amphitheater formations is very popular and looks fairly easy once you are down there, but be prepared for the steep trek back up the canyon! We heard someone saying that it took them three hours to do the loop trail. If it isn't hot, and it rarely is here, this would be a highlight for most people. We might even consider it if we came back here one day.
The housekeeper greeted us and told us our room is ready. She had left us a personal note wishing us a pleasant day. We had left her a tip, so that probably had something to do with it, but she was very nice even before that.
We wandered over to the lodge for lunch at 2:30 PM. Click to view the Lunch Menu. Dave had a cup of the Elk Chili and the Grand Canyon Club Sandwich. Bill had the Cobb Salad. The chili tasted mostly of tomato sauce and wasn't at all spicy. There is no way you'd know the meat was anything except ground beef. It was fine, but nothing special. The sandwich was a large portion and freshly made, but again, nothing notable about it. The salad was huge and probably the best choice at this meal. Our waitress was fake-nice and tossed the check on the table without asking if we wanted anything else. We overheard the staff saying that lunch today was much busier than usual and they had to call in extra servers. The dining room was busy, but there was no wait at all.
After lunch we walked from the back of the lodge straight out to Sunset Point. There is a paved trail along the rim with spectacular views, of course, overlooking the most famous part of Bryce Canyon. Everywhere you look is another breathtaking vista or colorful rock formation. The cliffs here are particularly amazing and painted in vivid colors of red, orange and white. Walking out to the view point brings into focus the famous hoodoos, deeply eroded narrow canyons, tall spires, and more spectacular cliffs.
We have seen many incredible sights so far on this road trip, but we both agree that Bryce Canyon tops them all in every way. There is a peacefulness here in spite of the crowds that eluded us elsewhere. The lodge is more intimate, the staff is friendlier, and the accommodations are better. Overall this has been the best stop yet.
Back in the room around 4:45 PM, we both crashed and napped involuntarily until 6:00 PM, then dawdled around until 7:30 PM when we went to the lodge for dinner. There was a large bus tour filling the dining room, so we were given a pager and told it would be about a 30-minute wait. We wandered through the gift shop, then found a place to sit and people watch until the pager went off exactly 30 minutes later.
By the time we were seated, at the same table we had for lunch, the dining room was half empty and being re-set for everyone who had been kept waiting by the tour group. They appeared to be understaffed tonight because the waiters were covering six tables instead of four as they were last night. Our waiter was very friendly in a sort of stilted way, but we believe he was sincere...just a little weird. The only problem we encountered tonight was a result of the overworked waiter and that caused some delays. It wasn't outrageous and everyone was very nice.
Click to view the Dinner Menu. Dave again ordered the Utah Mixed Greens, which was much better with the proper portion of dressing that was too skimpy last night. He ordered the Buffalo Flank Steak for his entree, which was delicious and perfectly cooked, not at all tough. Bill ordered the Pork Loin Dave had last night and it was again very good. For dessert, Dave couldn't resist ordering the Fairyland Fresh Fruit Tart. It was perfection, not too sweet, and the crust was flaky, not a rock hard store-bought version. Bill had the homemade ice cream again. Tonight it was chocolate chip cookie dough. Our total bill topped them all at $100.25 before tip. The Assistant Dining Room Manager was again very congenial, as he is to everyone.
We were back in the room and ready for bed by 10:00 PM after a very dark walk back from the lodge. They need to install a few new lights and fix the broken ones before someone falls off the edge of the narrow pathway. If you stay here, bring a flashlight to find your way back to your room after dark.
Day 25: Sunday, May 26 - Drive to Springdale, UT - Zion National Park - Desert Pearl Inn
First National Park. Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers
walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar
into a brilliant blue sky. Challenge your courage in a narrow slot canyon.
Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the
rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.
It is cooler today, but overall about the same. We needed jackets for the walk to the lodge for breakfast at 9:15 AM. There's nothing new to report about breakfast. Food was fine, same old breakfast foods as usual. The service was slow because they were short staffed and the waitress had six tables to serve all at once. She was very nice and we had plenty of time, so it didn't matter. It did, however, give both of us flashbacks to working at Disneyland when they'd fling the doors open in the morning and immediately bomb your station with six tables full of screaming children.
We pulled ourselves together, packed up the car, and checked out at 10:30 AM.
The final word on Bryce Canyon Lodge: Pleasant. Of all of the national park lodges we have stayed at, this one is our favorite. The room was large and comfortable with more amenities than we expected. The lodge itself is smaller and has a cozy feel to it even though it was very busy. The staff everywhere was extremely friendly. Even the food and service in the restaurant was good. Although the motel-style room we stayed in was perfectly fine, we'd like to try to get one of the large historic cabins if we come back. Good luck with that though. To get one you have to book at least a year in advance.
Boy, did we time our departure right! On the way out at 10:30 AM, there was already a police car blocking access to the park road with a "Parking Full" sign out. There was a steady stream of cars on the entrance road. When we arrived there was only one toll booth open and there was no line. Today, all three were open and the lines stretched back for a mile. Yikes!
We stopped at the view point for Fairyland Canyon. We inadvertently skipped it on the way into the park. This scenic area is accessed from just outside the park toll booth through a campground. Every parking space was full, but we only saw two people walking around, so everyone else must have been hiking. This canyon is a smaller version of Bryce Amphitheater with the usual colorful hoodoos and spectacular views to wooded mountains beyond. A descriptive sign explains that eventually the viewing area will erode and slide into the canyon and the whole area will expand to be similar to the larger canyon in Bryce.
The drive from Bryce to Zion takes about 90 minutes through the same scenic valley lined with pastures and small towns. The difference today is that there is a steady stream of cars going towards Bryce Canyon. Word to the wise: Do not go to a national park over a holiday weekend! We didn't realize this was Memorial Day weekend until we heard the staff at Bryce Canyon Lodge talking about why it was so crowded at lunch. We'll have to pay more attention to the calendar next time. We weren't particularly affected by it, but we "came that close."
Luckily, most of the traffic was going toward Bryce, so we didn't encounter any crowds until we turned off on the highway to Zion National Park. The only way to take this shortcut to Springdale is to pay the park admission fee of $25.00 per car. We used our pass again and got in free. It is interesting that the asphalt color changes from the usual black to a reddish color the same as the sandstone mountains of Zion inside the park.
We tried to stop at a couple of pullouts, but all of them were full. One of the major stops on this route is at Checkerboard Mesa and we happened to arrive just as someone was leaving. The scene was chaotic with tourists all over the walls trying to take pictures, motor homes parked in the middle of the road, etc. This was just a hint of what was to come. We decided at this point that we will wait to take the shuttle bus into the park (private cars are not allowed during the spring and summer) until Tuesday.
There was a lengthy backup at the tunnel leading into the park from this direction. It is a two-way road, but it isn't high enough for RV's to stay to the side. So, every time a taller vehicle shows up they have to stop traffic and let it go through before allowing traffic to flow in the other direction. The tunnel itself is amazing. It is carved through a solid sandstone cliff with periodic windows out into the canyon. We're not sure, but it appears that in a less-crowded past it may have been possible to stop and admire the view from at least one of these portals.
After exiting the tunnel, the road switchbacks down the canyon providing spectacular views of towering sandstone mountains on all sides. We did manage to stop at some available pullouts to check out the views. This part of the park is breathtaking enough, but this isn't even the "real" scenic drive that is only available by shuttle bus. Towering granite peaks surround the road on all sides making this a very dramatic entrance to the park.
Exiting the park on the other side dumped us onto the main street through Springdale. The park advises visitors to park in Springdale and ride the free town shuttle to the visitor center where you then transfer to the park shuttle. The streets were jammed and every available parking place was filled, running up the side streets as far as the eye could see. This would not be a good day to try to shuttle into the park!
We arrived at our hotel for the next three nights, Desert Pearl Inn, with no problem. It is about a mile from the entrance to the park and there is shuttle stop right out front. We arrived at 1:30 PM fully expecting it to be too early to check in, and it was. The two women at the front desk were very apologetic anyway and gave us a map of nearby restaurants. Another guest at the desk recommended Oscar's Cafe, so we set off walking in that direction. The front desk agent told us to hop on the free town shuttle, but it was full and turning people away at the stop. We intended to walk anyway since it is only 1/2 mile away. The entire town is probably less than 2 miles long, so nothing is very far away. While there is a lot of traffic, walking through the town wasn't all that crowded.
The weather here is a big change from Bryce! It is 90 degrees here.
Click for a link to Oscar's Cafe Menu. We were seated on the patio and served promptly. Dave ordered the Taco Grande with Chicken and Bill had the Chicken and Swiss sandwich. Both were large portions and very good, but nothing special. We don't think this place lives up to the great reviews we have seen online, but it was OK for a quick lunch.
We walked back to the hotel, stopping in a couple of art galleries to kill some time. This is a cute little town with many interesting shops and restaurants we look forward to exploring tomorrow if we don't go into the park.
We arrived at the hotel at 3:00 PM. There had been a shift change and the two women behind the desk weren't nearly as friendly as the two there earlier, but they got the job done. At first she said our room wouldn't be ready for another few minutes, but suddenly it was ready after all. She gave us the same information about restaurants and such, explained where the ice machines are and the location of the guest laundry, then sent us on our way. We already knew our room number, so we had previously parked right in front of our door. There was still a housekeeper inside when we walked up, but he quickly left before we got to the door. The guest laundry is very nice with six machines, so we will probably make use of that at some point. This is one of our scheduled laundry stops, although we cheated and did some at an earlier stop.
Sheer sandstone mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the hotel buildings. Our room overlooks a lawn and a creek that flows along the base of the cliff. The only drawback to this is that there are kids running around the lawn, so we have to keep our shades down (no sheers) if we want to nap. We did intend to do that, although ultimately we stayed awake. The rooms here are huge and are more like time share units than hotel rooms. We have two queen beds, a table and chairs. a full-sized sofa, and a complete kitchen setup with a dishwasher drawer, refrigerator, and microwave. We don't get free breakfast here, so we will either buy food and eat it here or go out. We haven't quite decided yet. We can get 10% off in the attached coffee shop, but we didn't see anything interesting when we looked at it earlier. The bathroom is spacious and has a bidet in addition to the usual fixtures.
Around 7:00 PM we walked up the street to Wildcat Willie's for dinner. Click to view the Dinner Menu. Despite the name, the restaurant was spotlessly clean. We were seated without a wait and served promptly. We both ordered the Buffalo Meatloaf and it was very good. Total bill with one glass of wine was $45.00 before tip.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped into a gallery that was closed when we stopped by earlier this afternoon. It is the gallery of photographer David West. We saw similar work in another gallery selling for, get this, $42,000! David's work is equally beautiful, but the prices for smaller pieces were in the low $100's, not $1,000's. He was VERY chatty. He asked Dave what his favorite piece in the room is and after Dave pointed one out, he gave him a free greeting card with the same image on it. Is Dave a charmer or what?
We also stopped in a couple of tacky trinket shops, but we didn't buy anything. We were back in the room by 8:30 PM. Too bad we can't open the blinds and enjoy the view, but there are screaming children throwing mud at one another in the creek. We try to get upper floors in hotels whenever possible to avoid people walking around above us. They couldn't accommodate our request here (and the desk clerk did apologize), so we have someone walking around non-stop on the wood floors above us. Where are people going in a hotel room that they can keep moving non-stop for four hours?
Day 26: Monday, May 27 - Springdale, UT - Zion National Park - Desert Pearl Inn
It is hot again, which isn't unusual for this area. Not that it matters to us today since we're swapping our plans and doing the easy thing today and Zion tomorrow.
We walked up the street to the Frontier Restaurant for breakfast. It wasn't busy at all. Overall the town doesn't look nearly as crowded as yesterday. The service was friendly and fast. Food was fine. It was breakfast, not much to say about it really. The Pioneer Skillet was quite good though. It was basically a bunch of stuff scrambled together with two eggs on top, but tasted better than it sounds. Bill asked the hostess whether it would be busier today or tomorrow in the park. She and the waitress with her agreed that it will be less busy today and completely dead tomorrow. This restaurant is attached to a motel and they told us that most guests were checking out today. That cemented our plan to go to Zion tomorrow, although there is a chance of thunderstorms.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped into a few more shops to kill some time, hoping housekeeping would do our room. The owner of a gallery we went into was extremely nice to talk to and went beyond hoping to sell us something. She was truly delightful and gave us some insights into the local area. She said she watches the stream of traffic going toward the park to judge how busy it will be in town. Going by what she has seen so far today, she knows it won't be nearly as crowded today. She agreed that going into the park tomorrow is the best idea.
Housekeeping had indeed finished our room before we returned. The service here is very good and there are maintenance people all over the place. Too bad about the walking on the ceiling and all the screaming kids out back because it could be quite pleasant. It appears that over half of the guests have checked out, so we're hoping the noise will lessen.
Our plan today, which was always intended as optional in case we needed some rest, is to drive the 45 miles to Kolob Canyons. This is part of Zion National Park, but it isn't accessible from the main entrance. It has its own entrance and visitor center off of the 15 freeway. We didn't make any stops on the way there and arrived around 1:00 PM at the visitor center.
A sign directs everyone to stop in to pay the fee (same $25.00 as Zion, but you can save your receipt and get into both entrances.) It would be easy to just drive through without paying, but we didn't see anyone cheating. We bought a t-shirt and ornament, then started up the five mile scenic drive.
Kolob Canyons is a miniature version of Zion with towering sandstone mountains on all sides. One section is pointed out as an example of how the sedimentary layers were tilted up during a huge upheaval of the entire area. There is a canyon referred to as a "Retreating Canyon" because it continues to cut deeper back into the plateau every time it rains. The road winds up to an overlook where we could see down a sweeping valley, overlook the sandstone pinnacles at the end of the mountain, and view what are known as "Hanging Valleys" high up on the other side of the canyon.
We were right, this was a very easy excursion and we were back in Springdale by 2:30 PM. We stopped at a turnout just west of town to look at the view, then drove into town to find a place for lunch. There were no choices before we reached the hotel, so we went back to the room before going out for lunch at 3:00 PM. Bill put a couple of loads in the washers located directly across the drive from our room, then we looked for a place for a quick meal.
Across the street is a little place called Blondie's Diner in an old house. Being the closest option to the hotel, that's where we went. It is a homey place serving diner-style food. Dave ordered the Philly Cheesesteak and Bill had a Roast Beef Sandwich. Both looked like something your mother would make, but perfectly edible. Half of the plate was covered with French fries that were surprisingly hot and fresh. The price was $28.00 for this and two beverages, which is high for what it is, but not outrageous. Service was friendly.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing nothing. A few people on inner tubes floated by in the creek. It looked kind of fun except larger people kept getting stuck on the bottom and the water doesn't look all that sanitary. Since it is so hot, it does have some appeal though.
At 7:30 PM we walked up the street about 1/2 a mile toward Zion to find a different place for dinner. We ended up at the Spotted Dog Cafe that has great reviews online. They were not wrong! The meal was the best overall we have had so far and the total bill was only $76.00 including a cocktail and dessert. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the menu to download, but you can link to their website by clicking HERE.
We both ordered the Mixed House Salad and it was fine, nothing special in it. The dressing was a citrus vinaigrette that was nice. Dave ordered the Southwest Chicken and Bill ordered the Pork Chops. Both entrees were outstanding in every way. The chicken was spicy without being overpowering. The fresh salsa on top had a crisp, fresh flavor that complemented the dish perfectly. The pork had a delicious demi glace sauce and was served over fluffy mashed potatoes. All of the dessert options on the tray looked great, but Dave chose a small panna cotta with strawberries on top because the waiter said it wasn't very sweet. Dave declared it to be one of the best desserts he has ever eaten. It was light and had a fresh citrusy flavor he couldn't quite put his finger on. It was absolute perfection. We were happy campers tonight, that's for sure.
It was still warm out after dark, so the walk back to the hotel was pleasant. As we've said before, this is a cute little town with charming, friendly people working in the shops. The whole town does a wonderful job of being welcoming to tourists.
Back in the room at 9:30 PM, we settled in for the night. It is very quiet tonight without the "baby" family walking around upstairs. Let's hope it stays this way tomorrow night, as well.
Day 27: Tuesday, may 28 - Springdale, UT - Zion National Park - Desert Pearl Inn
It's cooler today, which is nice for our planned trip into Zion National Park. We walked to Wildcat Willie's for breakfast. Service was friendly and the food was good. Nothing much to report about it, but it was fine.
There is a Springdale shuttle stop in front of the hotel, so that's where we went around 11:00 AM. The shuttles are free and run to the park's pedestrian entrance and all the way to the end of town. The wait was only a few minutes with the ride to the park only about a mile.
The entrance to the park is well coordinated with the town's shuttle. There is a pedestrian entrance that is so nice it looks like the entrance to a theme park. A ranger asked us if we already have a pass and let us bypass the short line at the window (admission is $12.00 per person for pedestrians.) Zion has by far the nicest visitor center complex of any national park we have seen. It is designed to funnel the flow of people to the park's shuttle bus system, which is free. The shuttles are two coaches hooked together and they arrive every few minutes. A pre-recorded narration provides information about the park and the upcoming stop. Private cars are not allowed on park roads except to reach the lodge.
We are very glad we waited until today to come to the park. It isn't at all crowded, but certainly not empty either. We always got a seat on the shuttle and nobody had to stand, but it would have been a nightmare over the busy holiday weekend. Spectacular views are within reach without even leaving the visitor center area. Click to view the Zion National Park Brochure.
There are nine stops on the shuttle route. We skipped the first two, Canyon Junction and the Human History Museum. We don't do museums and the other stop is to accommodate visitors who arrive by car.
We disembarked at the first featured stop, Court of the Patriarchs. There is a short trail up the hill to a platform with a perfect view of the Patriarchs trio of peaks. The panoramic view is spectacular no matter where you look.
The next stop is for Zion Lodge. Several trails begin here, so we got off the bus again. Zion Lodge was built in the 1920's, but burned down in the 1960's. It was re-built in just one season. The accommodations look similar to the buildings we stayed in at Bryce Canyon and there are cabins, as well. All of the rooms and cabins look very nice. This lodge is operated by Xanterra and was already fully booked when we started planning this trip. We wandered through the lobby and gift shop, planning to stop on our way out for lunch and to pick up our usual souvenirs.
There is a .5 mile trail that starts here and leads to the Emerald Pools. There is a bridge over the river that flows through the canyon. The pathway is paved, but does have a slight incline to it. The trail winds along the hillside through a wooded valley and arrives at a huge grotto where several small waterfalls tumble down to the pools below. The pools aren't at all emerald, they are greenish-brown, but the setting is beautiful. The moisture and falling water have a significant cooling effect on the grotto area. Another breathtaking view unfolds from the vantage point of the grotto.
It is possible to continue climbing up the cliff to two more pools, but it is too steep for us so we walked back to the lodge. There is another trail, or you can continue on the Emerald Pools trail, to reach the next stop on the shuttle route, The Grotto. We didn't get off at this stop because it is mostly a trailhead, not a scenic view.
Next along the route is Weeping Rock where we walked up the switchback paved trail to another grotto. Water falls constantly from the face of the cliff above a large grotto. This creates a lush microclimate where ferns and flowers form hanging gardens. As with the other grotto, the air is significantly cooler here than on the canyon floor. Sheer sandstone cliffs tower above the canyon on all sides.
The next stop is called Big Bend. Solid rock faces rise straight up from the river at the bottom of the canyon. This is where rock climbers flock to test their skills. There is a strenuous trail that leads to the plateau high above. A few famous features are located here, such as the White Throne.
The end of the road is the stop at the Temple of Sinawava. This area provides easy access to the river and a 1-mile trail that leads to The Narrows where the canyon walls close in on the river. It is possible to continue hiking up the river unless there is a flash flood warning in effect. The trail is under repair, so we only went as far as the paving ends before turning back. Standing beneath the sheer cliffs that rise straight up to dizzying heights is awe inspiring.
Back on the shuttle, we disembarked at the Zion Lodge stop again. It was 3:00 PM at this point. If you do not get off the shuttle at all, it takes 80 minutes to do the round trip from the visitor center. We went to the fast food restaurant in the lodge, bought a bacon cheeseburger, a 6" sub sandwich (pre-made) and two drinks for $19.00. The food was actually pretty good, but way overpriced. We sat outside on the patio and snagged one of the only tables available. This lodge suffers the same fate as all park lodges do. All of the food outlets are jammed with bus tours creating a chaotic atmosphere. It is surprising that they don't add more seating to accommodate the crowds. The current lodge isn't a historic building, so there's no reason it couldn't be modified.
After picking up a couple of our usual souvenir items in the gift shop, we hopped on the shuttle back to the visitor center. We arrived there at around 4:00 PM, walked out of the park and boarded the town shuttle back to the hotel.
We napped off and on until time for dinner. It was quiet above us last night all most of the day today, which was a nice change from the constant stomping the day before. However, it didn't last.
We took the town shuttle to the other end of town to the Bit & Spur Saloon. "Saloon" is an odd label because the State of Utah doesn't allow alcohol to be served unless there is food on the table. We saw two groups arrive who only wanted drinks and they had to order chips and salsa in order to get the drinks they wanted. Click to view the Menu. Our waitress was very perky and friendly. She recited the specials and took our order promptly.
Dave ordered a cup of the Soup of the Day, which was one of the specials. No need for a description because he never got it. Bill ordered the Steak Skewers appetizer and the Shrimp Burrito. Dave ordered the Carne Asada. It took over 30 minutes for the appetizer to come, but it was fine. Nothing special though. Another 40 minutes passed before the entrees arrived. At that point our waitress asked if we had everything and we pointed out the missing soup and asked her to take it off the bill. She was very apologetic, but it was annoying. The burrito was OK, nothing more. The Carne Asada was very tasty, but extremely tough. It was a lot of work to chew it enough to swallow it. Both were large portions and we did eat all of it, but we wouldn't come back here or recommend it. For dessert we shared a Mixed Berry Crumble and it was the best part of the meal. The total bill was around $76.00 before tip.
We were afraid we might miss the last shuttle back to the hotel because dinner was taking so long, but we did make it with no problem. The driver told someone who asked that the shuttles are paid for by the Dept. of the Interior, which surprised us. We knew the park buses were funded by the government, but we assumed the town shuttle was paid for by the city or the businesses it serves. Thinking about it more, it is probably the only way the park can use city streets for overflow parking. It is a wonderful free service that must help local businesses quite a bit.
Back in our room, our new upstairs neighbors stomped constantly across the ceiling non-stop until after 11:00 PM. For that reason alone we would never stay here again unless the hotel could guarantee an upstairs room (which they can't or won't.) It is a shame because the room is amazing, but the first floor is unbearable. There is also no privacy at all because of the public lawn behind us and no sheers on the windows. What's the point of a view when you have to keep the shades down?
Day 28: Wednesday, May 29 - Drive to Overton, NV - North Shore Inn At Lake Mead
Overton is located in Moapa Valley 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. The
town features a stunning landscape of mesas, foothills, and nearby Lake Mead. It
is also the settlement closest to Valley of Fire State Park.
It must have rained overnight because the dust on the car was turned to mud, but it is clear this morning. We walked to the Pioneer Restaurant for breakfast again. It was fine, nothing to report about it. We packed up and prepared to hit the road for the return leg of our trip. We have completed our major sightseeing destinations, but we'll try to find something to talk about as we make our way back to California. Today's drive includes no planned stops and we have passed this way before, but maybe something interesting will happen.
When Dave went to check out, the very nice guy at the front desk asked if we enjoyed our stay. Dave replied, "It is a beautiful hotel, but we wouldn't stay here again." Front desk guy: "Oh, you were on the first floor. Sorry about that. Next time you should request the second floor." D: "I did when I made the reservations six months ago." FDG: "Oh."
The final word on the Desert Pearl Inn: Schizophrenic. If you happen to get upstairs neighbors who sit down once in a while, it is great. But, we had quiet neighbors only one out of three nights. That's not acceptable. The rooms and grounds are outstanding, but the noise is just too much. It literally vibrates the walls when someone walks around on the wood floors above. There is also the issue of privacy in the first floor rooms because they overlook either the creek or the pool and there are no sheers on the floor-to-ceiling windows. Unless you are an exhibitionist, this isn't the place for you. Unless the hotel can guarantee a room on the second floor, we would never stay here again. There are too many other very nice options in this town to be bothered by the noise at this place. It is a shame because it is very well managed. There are gardeners, maids and maintenance workers all over the place all day. It is apparent that management cares about the property. Just goes to show you that looks can be deceiving.
As promised, nothing happened today. It took roughly two hours to drive to our next stop in Overton and with the one-hour time change, we arrived at noon. There was a long backup of traffic going the other direction on the freeway, but our side moved right along the entire time.
It never hurts to ask a hotel if the room is ready early, so we went in. The guy at the front desk, who we think is the owner, was busy talking to some other guests. Well, they were doing the talking, he was being polite. In the meantime, an extremely friendly black Lab behind the counter saw us and put his front paws up on the counter like he was going to check us in. It was so cute!! If he had thumbs he probably would have checked us in.
When the owner was free, he went to check with housekeeping to see if our room was ready. He came right back and checked us in. We asked for restaurant recommendations (there are only two, plus McDonalds.) He told us to drive back four miles to the VIP Chinese Restaurant for dinner. It has five star reviews on Yelp, which is almost unheard of, so we plan to go there tonight. He also recommended Sugar's Home Plate up the road a couple of miles because, "They serve just about everything you can think of." Then he told us the hotel serves a "great" breakfast from 6;00 - 9:00 AM. Hopefully we will wake up early enough, but we're not making any promises in that regard.
This hotel used to be a Best Western, so we weren't expecting much. We know that BW upgraded their requirements to be part of the chain and a lot of properties were forced to drop out. The building is a lot older than it looks from the outside, which is like new. The inside is fairly basic, although the lobby is nice. We were told to park at the end of the building and use the side door, so we moved the car and went to check out the room.
For $89.00 you can't expect much, but this place is fine. The decor is very dated (whitewashed oak furniture), but it looks and smells clean. The carpet and drapes look new, as does the paint. The only things that give away the age of the hotel are the green countertops and tub surround and an ancient telephone. We're surprised it isn't rotary dial, but the building probably isn't that old. There is big old tube TV, but we have a new microwave oven and refrigerator. The under-window A/C unit has been updated, as well. Free wi-fi is available and it is quite speedy, although that may change when more guests check in. At the moment we might be the only people here besides staff.
After freshening up, we drove up the road to Sugar's Home Plate for lunch. There is a giant chicken on the roof of a neighboring building, but we never could figure out why. Click to view the Menu. This place is the definition of roadside diner. To be honest, it is pretty dumpy, but all of the tables were occupied, which is a good sign. We were told by the friendly owner (we think) that it would only be a few minutes wait, and it was. Our waitress, the only waitress, was extremely friendly and helpful to everyone in the restaurant. If she was overworked serving the entire restaurant, she never showed it.
Dave ordered a Chili Size with fruit as the side dish option. Bill ordered the Roast Beef Sandwich with coleslaw as the side. Both were large portions and perfectly fine for the type of place this is. It certainly wasn't a gourmet experience, but everything was better than average and reasonably priced. The service couldn't have been more friendly. Bill also had a gigantic piece of brownie cheesecake that was kind of gummy, but tasted OK. The total bill for all of this was $29.00 before tip.
We were back in the room and ready for a nap by 3:00 PM. The only activity on the schedule for tonight is to go to the Chinese place for dinner.
Dave received this note from someone on Tripadvisor regarding his reviews of the dining room at Grand Canyon Lodge: "I used to be an employee at the Lodge a few years back and your review is sad but so true. It is really all due to one person who is in charge of the food and beverage department now. Unfortunately that won't change until someone contacts Forever Resorts Corporate enough that he is asked not to return. He is so horrible at his job that most of the employees who return every year (as in return every year for the last 5 + years) are actually at the same resort that I now work at. Thank you for having enough courage to post this truth about the dining it is truly a beautiful place that shouldn't be treated as horribly as it has been."
Around 7:30 PM we drove a few miles to the VIP Chinese Restaurant recommended by the hotel. We looked it up on Yelp before we went and it had 5-stars, which is almost unheard of. From the outside, it looks fairly dumpy, especially after dark when 75% of the lights are burned out, but it is clean and nice inside. There was nobody else there except two cooks and a waitress. One additional party arrived later, but that's it. Click to view the Menu. We ordered four entrees: Crispy Beef, Twice Cooked Pork, Garlic Butter Shrimp, and Crispy Chicken. It was a lot of food, but we're big boys and finished most of it. This was probably the best overall Chinese food we have ever had. Everything was fresh and hot. The two "crispy" dishes were sweet and sticky, but still crispy. For a ton of food, the bill was only $48.00. How this place survives in the middle of nowhere is anyone's guess, but it is worth making a detour to visit. The people at the table behind us (locals) had never heard of Potstickers or rice noodles, so that's what they are up against.
We were back at the hotel by 8:45 PM. More guests have arrived, but it is still fairly quiet. The hotel owner told us that most people stay here to visit the Valley of Fire, which is the main reason we are staying overnight, too. We'll check that out tomorrow on the way to Boulder City. By the way, it was still 91 degrees when we arrived back at the hotel.
Day 29: Thursday, May 30 - Drive to Boulder City, NV - Valley of Fire State Park - Boulder Dam Hotel
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, dedicated in 1935.
Ancient trees and early man are represented throughout the park by areas of
petrified wood and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs. Popular activities include
camping, hiking, picnicking and photography. The park offers a full-scale
visitor center with extensive interpretive displays.
We were up earlier than usual due to the time change and the fact that both of us napped most of yesterday afternoon. We're both sore this morning, from the beds, we assume. They didn't seem uncomfortable, but apparently they were. This hotel provides the usual free breakfast and it was fine. Minimal, but perfectly acceptable. We were back in the room by 8:30 AM, but we dawdled around and didn't hit the road until just after 10:00 AM.
The final word on the North Shore Inn: Friendly. This is a basic, family-owned hotel, but it had everything we needed. Rooms are small, but fine for the price. It is the only decent option for miles around. We'd stay here again if we are passing through.
It was a short drive to Valley of Fire State Park from the hotel. Yeah, more red rocks, but these are more sculpted than we've seen elsewhere. The formations are full of holes, small caves, and "melted" areas. The red areas look like they were thrust up in the middle of the dessert. They are petrified sand dunes that were compressed under layers of sediment that has since eroded away.
We stopped at the honor-system pay station and dropped our $10.00 admission fee in a slot to get our day pass. Nobody ever checked us and we saw no ranger or anyone else official all day. It would probably be acceptable to skip paying if you were just using the highway as a shortcut to Lake Mead from I-15, but you should certainly pay the fee if you plan to turn off at either of the scenic drives. By the way, it is 100 degrees here! There will be no hiking (that's our excuse and we're sticking with it.)
The first turn off is for The Cabins. These stone cabins were built for travelers in 1933 by the CCC when the area first became a state park. They are being preserved to honor the hard work by the CCC. Another mile or so along the road is a stop for the Seven Sisters, a group of rock pillars of varying sizes that used to be connected to the main part of the red rocks across the road in the distant future. One of the pillars looks as though it will topple over at any moment.
Next up is a turn off for Atlatl Rock. This is a flat rock with petroglyphs. There are steep metal stairs up to the rock face to view the ancient, and not so ancient, writings on the stone. Really, what possessed people to carve their initials onto something like this?
We bypassed the main road up to the visitor center for now and continued to the Scenic Loop Road that circles around a big pile of rocks separate from the main part of the park. There are several campgrounds hidden among the huge rocks that look attractive. In this area we stopped at Natural Arch and The Beehives. The loop road is only paved for about half of the route, which seemed kind of odd considering that both ends connect to the main highway, but it wasn't too rough and we made it all the way around with no problem.
Backtracking a few miles, we turned off onto the main scenic drive, stopping at the visitor center. The roof is under construction and signs say "Pardon Our Dust" all over the place, but really, would it kill someone to dust the displays inside more than once every twenty years? We've only seen such filthy, neglected museums in tacky roadside towns, not in a state park. They should be ashamed.
Back on the scenic road, we climbed up into the Valley of Fire itself, surrounded on all sides by the jumble of eroded and up thrust red rocks. Our first stop was at a turn out labeled "Mouse Tank". There is a sandy trail down through a wash that leads to a sink that holds water during the dry season. The sign at the trail head was so rusted we couldn't tell if it said 1-1/2 mile round trip or 1/2 mile, so we skipped it. Just a reminder that it is 100 degrees today.
Continuing on, the road ends at the White Domes Area. These are enormous white-colored sandstone domes that rise nearly straight up from the desert sand. There is a loop trail through and around the domes, but we only walked far enough to look at the vista beyond. There is a big crack and partial collapse forming where two domes seem to collide in the middle. We stopped a couple of times on the way out of the park to marvel at various rock formations in an array of pastel colors. We honestly didn't expect much from this park based on what some people told us, but we have learned our lesson and will always judge for ourselves from now on. This park is definitely worth the time if you are in the area.
We turned back onto the highway and were immediately confronted with a toll booth for the Lake Mead Recreation Area. We had no idea when we planned this route that it would take us on a road that requires an entrance fee. We used our pass and saved $10.00, but we're not quite sure what this fee covers other than a few interpretive signs at turn outs along the way. This road does give visitors access to several marinas and beaches. Or, should we say, it did. The lake level is very low and the bays at this end of the lake are high and dry now.
There is a signposted stop at a miniature version of Valley of Fire with a short interpretive trail explaining the rock formations behind it. From here you can see the remains of a volcanic eruption, limestone hills, and red sandstone petrified dunes covering a span of millions of years.
The road winds down through colorful desert scenery for about 40 miles or so before arriving at the head of Lake Mead. We turned off at what is marked as a scenic vista of a bay that is now mostly dry. The marina is at least two miles up the slope from the current water's edge. At another scenic lake overlook the low level of the lake is clearly visible. The white "bathtub ring" around the edge is testament to how low the water level currently is.
One minute we're driving along through desolate vistas and then BAM, there's Lake Las Vegas butting right up to the park land. Talk about jarring.
In another twelve miles or so, we arrived in the historic downtown area of Boulder City, our rest stop for the next two nights. We will be staying at the historic Boulder Dam Hotel built in 1933. It was built with the rest of the town as a model planned city to house workers and support businesses during the construction of Hoover Dam. It is a surprisingly charming oasis of green in the middle of nowhere. The hotel is located in the center of the old town area near restaurants and shops.
We went to the lobby to check in and had to listen to the friendly, but supremely eccentric desk clerk explaining to the people in front of us how the hotel works. Let's just say that this woman fits right in with the oddity that is this hotel. But, as we said, she was very nice and helpful. However, we did hear way more about her life than we ever needed to know, as did the people behind us, and the ones after that. We were given a pass to the Boulder Dam Museum in the hotel as part of our deal.
We're not positive about this, but we read somewhere that the hotel is operated as a non-profit for the purpose of preserving this historic building. The sign out front advertises "Dining and Cocktails", but the dining room only serves breakfast and lunch, not dinner, so we're not sure how that is possible. The building is well kept and has been updated with an elevator, free wi-fi, and the usual modern amenities. It does smell old though and the furniture looks like a collection from garage sales.
All of the hotel rooms currently for rent are on the second floor. We hauled our luggage up in the tiny elevator and found our suite at the end of the hall and down a small secondary hall. Recall from the introduction that this room only costs $97.00 per night. What we got for that is essentially a small apartment with a kitchen complete with new stove, dishwasher and full-sized refrigerator. Oddly enough, there are no utensils or dishes, so we're not sure what the point is, but it is nice to have the space. There is a spacious living room with the aforementioned garage sale furnishings, a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, and the smallest bathroom we have ever seen. It is modern, but wow, it is tiny. You can sit on the toilet and wash your hands in the sink at the same time. We're not sure how a larger person would even fit between the corner of the sink and the shower to get to the toilet. Some of the many closets in this suite are twice the size of the bathroom, so we're not sure why they didn't use one of those instead, but we'll cope. There are three air conditioners and two LCD TVs in the room, as well. What a bargain!
It was almost 4:00 PM when we arrived, so we're starving at this point. We asked the woman at the desk where to eat and she sent us a block up the street to The Dillinger Food & Drinkery. She told us later that alcohol was banned in Boulder City until 1977, so now all of the restaurants are also bars to make up for lost time. The Dillinger is a small, dark hole-in-the-wall with about ten tables inside and a handful on the sidewalk under the covered arcade. Click to view the Menu. The waitress used her cellphone to take our order, which made it appear that she was texting instead of listening to the order, but it did work properly. Dave ordered the Chopped Salad, Bill ordered a Tuna Melt and a 1/2 Spinach Salad. All of the food was outstanding and reasonably priced. The portions were huge.
We had about a half hour left to see the museum before it closed at 5:00 PM, so we wandered down the hall off the lobby. The museum tells the story of the construction of the dam, how the town was planned, etc. The displays are quite elaborate under the circumstances, but it only took us about 15 minutes to see everything. The man in charge started a movie, so we were stuck watching it. It was a documentary about the building of the dam that was probably made in the 1950's, but it was interesting enough in a propaganda kind of way typical of that era.
Back in the room at 5:00 PM, we crashed again until time to go out and forage for food again at 7:30 PM. On the way out, the woman at the desk asked where we were going and approved when we told her Evan's Old Town Grille. It is across the street from The Dillinger, only about a block up the street. Click to view the Menu (sorry about the quality, but we had to get the menu online and this is the best we could do.)
This place is sort of a Greek restaurant with an identity crisis. There were only a handful of people there, so it was very quiet. Our waiter was friendly and helpful. Dave ordered one of the specials, Chicken Cordon Bleu. Bill ordered the Orange Roughy. Entrees come with a choice of soup, house salad or Greek salad. The soup was chicken and rice with lemon. It was OK, but a bit odd. The house salad was fine, nothing special. Both entrees came with a choice of baked potato or several kinds of pasta (???) The pasta didn't taste like much, but it was OK. The entrees were very good, but not as amazing as we had been led to believe from online reviews. We had a Watermelon Sherbet Pie for dessert that is the same recipe Dave used to give out to people who bought a Tupperware lettuce keeper 30 years ago. We did enjoy it though. The total bill was less than $50.00 including a glass of wine, which is hard to beat. We would probably go back here if we don't find something else more interesting. This is a small town full of diners and bars, so we might have no choice but to go back.
We walked back to the hotel past a group of teenagers talking about sex at the top of their lungs. Well, one of the girls was, the boys were just appalled.
That's concluded the excitement for another day. We don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to get the free breakfast here and we have nothing scheduled of importance to see tomorrow.
Day 30: Friday, May 31 - Boulder City, NV - Boulder Dam Hotel
It is still very hot here, in the 90's in morning and over 100 this afternoon. We started with breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. Hotel guests may choose from several meals on a special Menu or order from the regular menu and get $3.00 off per item. We did a combination of both. Dave ordered the free 2 eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast option and a fruit plate from the regular menu. Bill ordered the quiche from the regular menu with a side of fruit. The food was freshly cooked and very good. Best of all, our total bill with the extras was only $10.50.
Our original intention was to wander around the historic part of Boulder City, but we saw most of it yesterday, such as it is. It is charming, but very small. If you are into antiquing, this is the town for you. We are not, so there's not much else to do. We decided it would be a good idea to go to Hoover Dam today rather than put it off until tomorrow, which is a Saturday.
We arrived at the dam at 10:30 AM and went to the new bridge walkway. It wasn't possible in the past to get a full front view of the dam without taking a helicopter tour. Now anyone can walk out onto the new highway bridge (you can still drive over the dam if you wish) and get a spectacular view free of charge. To get there visitors have to climb up several flights of stairs or take the switchback for wheelchairs. There are explanations and memorials along the way to look at.
It is a short drive from the bridge to the visitor center where dam tours begin. It costs $7.00 for parking in a structure housing a cafe and gift shop. The visitor center is across the street overlooking the dam. It blends in well with the original art deco design and is very well organized. It is busy today, but there were no long lines and everything was efficiently managed.
We opted for the Dam Tour that costs $30.00 per person. It is limited to 20 people per tour. Regular admission is $7.00 for the visitor center only or $10.00 for the visitor center and a guided tour of the powerhouse. We arrived at noon, so we had an hour to wait for the next available tour at 1:15 PM. Our photo was taken that can be purchased later, then we were ushered into the line for the orientation film. We had wristbands attached at the ticket counter and we were told to show them after the film and we'd be pulled out of the regular line.
The film was the usual information about how the project was built, what the point is, and how beneficial for mankind it is. Then we spilled out into another lobby where we were directed to go upstairs to the Exhibit Hall. The bulk of the crowd was sent into a switchback line for the elevator to the interior of the dam.
The exhibits are well done and it wasn't too crowded to look at whatever we wanted to see. There are amazing views of the dam from the roof of the building. The dedication sculptures across the road are visible as well. There is art all over the place as it was always intended to be a tourist attraction and to give a sense of optimism during the Depression. As much attention was given to how the dam looks as to its function. This is evident in the powerhouse where the intricate terrazzo floors run throughout.
We returned to the designated waiting area at 1:00 PM. There was a technical problem developing with the elevator when we arrived, but it wasn't evident there was a problem until several minutes later. The security card reader wasn't allowing the guides to access the elevators, so the carefully planned crowd control started to unravel and people exiting the theater backed up in the queue. Eventually the other end of the line caught on and stopped putting people through the theater, but the Dam Tour area started to back up as well.
Our tour was only delayed by about ten minutes, but it messed up their entire system. The first part of the tour is mixed in with the regular crowd. Two huge elevators take guests down into the dam to the powerhouse. After an explanation of the workings of the powerhouse, among other things, from an amusing guide, the Dam Tour group was separated from the crowd and taken into a smaller tunnel off to the side which was the original tour route. The tunnels are lined with subway tile and the floor is inlaid with terrazzo designs
Our tour continued to a small air vent tunnel and ends at a louver in the face of the dam where we were given a chance to check out the view. The scariest part was walking across a grate in the floor that covered a tunnel going straight down hundreds of feet.
Then we turned down another small tunnel to view the scary fire escape tunnels that run all the way from the bottom to the top of the dam along the canyon wall. From here we took the original elevators up to the roadway across the dam. This is where the tours began until the new visitor center was built in 1995. Even the rest rooms built into the towers are made of black granite with inlaid bronze signs. The elevator doors and small lobby are memorable examples of art deco design.
From the top of the dam we had views of the intake towers and the face of the dam. The lake level is currently fifty feet below normal. The normal level is about halfway down the white ring on the walls of the canyon, so it isn't quite as bad as it looks. They expect the lake level to drop another thirty feet this year, which can't be good.
We walked over to the old exhibition building, included in the tour price, and watched a rudimentary automated show highlighting various aspects of the water project. This show consists of lights shining on various parts of a huge relief map of the region synchronized with a narration. It was more interesting for the nostalgia value of a 1950's show than for what it had to tell us.
After checking out the gift shop and buying our usual tacky trinkets, we drove over the dam to the view point on the Arizona side. From here the lake level is more evident. This vantage point has a great view of the back of the dam and the spillway. Dave hates spillways for some reason, but he forced himself to walk down for a close look into one of them. It's the tunnel going straight down into the canyon that freaks him out.
We drove back over the town and to the hotel, taking a few minutes to check out the rest of the old town area to see if we could find any other restaurants. Nope, we're stuck with the same two we went to yesterday. After cleaning up, we went back to The Dillinger for lunch at 4:00 PM. Click to view the Menu. Bill ordered the Tuna Melt again, Dave had the Sticky Burger which is the special of the day. The waitress explained that it is a hamburger with bacon and peanut butter. She swore it is good. It was. If fact, it is one of the best burgers Dave has ever eaten. The peanut butter didn't add a whole lot, but the meat and everything else about it was fantastic. The beer-battered onion rings that came with it were equally good. Bill loved the tuna melt yesterday and it didn't disappoint him today. He took home a piece of Peanut Butter Cheesecake made by the owner's mother.
After lunch, we napped involuntarily again, but were awakened by a screaming child twice. We couldn't figure out where it was coming from, but finally found a group of people on the patio two stories below. That's one loud kid!
At 8:00 PM we walked back up the street to Evan's Old Town Grllle again. Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered Chicken Parmesan, Bill had the lighter fare Salmon. Both were fine, nothing extraordinary, but the bill came to only $39.00 including one dessert. The waiter we had last night was having dinner with his parents behind us and jumped up to follow us to the door when we left. He thanked us for coming back, which was very nice. Everyone in this town has been very friendly.
Other than Hoover Dam, there isn't any much to see or do here. It is a friendly little town and a nice change from nearby Las Vegas. We'd stop here again if we were passing this way.
Day 31: Saturday, June 1 - Drive to Kingman, AZ - Best Western Plus King's Inn & Suites
Kingman, the Heart of
Historic Route 66 & one of the hidden treasures of Arizona, is conveniently
located on Interstate 40 and is the perfect launching point for "Route 66 and
Beyond". Scenic hiking, historic charm, great cafes and restaurants, and the
allure of Route 66 combine to make Kingman a remarkable destination.
Dave received this message from the general manager of the Desert Pearl Inn today based on his review on Tripadvisor:
Kudos to her for acknowledging the issues, but we still wouldn't stay there again. It is too expensive to have any sort of issues with the stay. Also, it is quite easy to add specific floors to a room reservation no matter what system they're using, should they choose to do so. We're not buying that excuse, but nice try.
It is hot again, what a surprise...not. We had the free breakfast in the hotel again, but Bill ordered Eggs Benedict and a fruit plate off the regular menu, so our bill was $19.00 this morning. Dave stuck to the freebies. Still, it is a very good value and the food is well prepared.
The final word on the Boulder Dam Hotel: Historic, but not in a bad way. Some old hotels are just old and musty. This one kind of is, as well, but they have added free wi-fi, air conditioning, and updated bathrooms. We liked it and you sure can't beat $97.00 for the enormous suite we had. We're not quite sure why anyone would stay in this town though. It is cute, but there's nothing to do. If we needed to stop on the way to somewhere else, yes, we'd stay here again.
We checked out at the stroke of 11:00 AM for our short drive to Kingman. Since we screwed up the original plan by going to Hoover Dam yesterday, we will arrive in Kingman way too early. We killed a few minutes by stopping at a scenic view over a lake in the middle of nowhere. There were the usual Native American vendors selling the same stuff right under a sign that said, "No Vending." They didn't bother us at all, but the entire sidewalk was full of their wares.
On the news last night they reported on a story about the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The rancher whose land is crossed by the dirt road to get there built a new road and is charging a $20.00 per person toll. Indians are royally pissed off and sued. They lost. We already kissed off going to the Skywalk after reading the poor reviews about what a rip-off it is. It ends up costing somewhere around $89.00 per person by the time you buy all the packages required by the natives to get there. Add $20.00 for the road toll and it is way out of line. We saw a billboard for it saying the turnoff is 49 miles away. The original turnoff was on the way to Kingman which is only 67 miles total, so maybe they are trying to re-direct traffic via a different route.
We arrived in Kingman at 12:30 PM. To kill time we stopped at the Powerhouse Visitor Center. This is a restored electrical generating facility that houses the Route 66 Museum, a gift shop, and Arizona tourist information. Admission to the museum is $4.00 per person, but it includes a pass to Mohave Museum of History & Art around the block. We skipped it on the way in, but since it is part of the admission we'll go check it out. The Route 66 museum was fine, but basically the same as the previous museums we saw along Route 66 on the road trip from Chicago. The displays were eclectic to say the least, but it served the purpose of killing some time. The guy in the visitor center section gave us a discount coupon for Grand Canyon Caverns where we plan to go tomorrow.
We drove back to the Mojave Museum, but we could have walked. Don't be silly though, it is 100+ degrees outside. This place is staffed by chatty old women who really want to tell you all about it. Now this place is the definition of eclectic. First up is a gallery of oil paintings of all of the presidents and their wives. Then there is a display of some guy's photographs that might inspire Dave to print out his photos and hold a show. If this guy can do it, people would flock to see our pictures. The rest of the rooms house Indian artifacts, mining gear, pioneer stuff, a working pipe organ, and pretty much anything else that someone donated over the years. There is even a display case dedicated to the Red Hat Society from 2011. Outside there is a walk-through fake mine, a restored caboose (it was actually kind of interesting), and some rusty old farm and mine equipment. On the way out the old woman at the desk told us to be sure to come back as much as we want because we already have a pass. OK, but why would anyone need to see this more than once? We will give them credit for keeping it up well. The displays were relatively dust free.
The historic part of Kingman is adjacent to the Powerhouse Museum, so we drove through there. We didn't stop. There are a few old Route 66 motels along Andy Devine Blvd., but nothing worth stopping to look at, so we didn't. There is an old stone courthouse and another official looking stone building in the downtown, but everything else just looks run down and sad.
Back on Route 66 (Andy Divine Blvd.) we continued a few miles until we saw the Dambar & Steakhouse with a full parking lot. It was 2:00 PM at this point, so lunch was in order, and a full parking lot is usually a good sign. Turned out that there was a private party going on in the banquet room, hence the full parking lot. The rest of the enormous restaurant was empty. It took Dave walking around in the front foyer of the restaurant to get someone's attention to come out and seat us. By the time he did this there were two other groups waiting, as well.
Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the PhillySteak Sandwich. Bill ordered the Salad and Half Sandwich with Cashew Chicken as the filling. Both were fine, no complaints. The servers are hardened old ladies, but ours was pleasant enough. The total bill came to only $21.00, so we can't complain.
Our hotel, the Best Western Plus King's Inn & Suites, is just a couple more miles up the road. Checking in was a lengthy process because the old women at the desk (is everyone in this town over 80?) didn't know how to redeem points for a stay. We've had this problem at a Best Western before and they really need to do something about it. It took 20 minutes to check in because they have to go online to the Best Western site and determine if you have enough points (you can't book a free stay unless you do, so what's the point?), then print out a voucher, and only then can they check you in. It is needlessly complicated, but they did figure it out. Well, sort of. The first woman didn't have her glasses, so she didn't notice we are staying for two nights. She only redeemed one night's worth of points and said she'd do the other one in the morning when she comes back in. We're expecting that we either won't be charged at all or we'll have points deducted twice and our credit card will be charged. This place is very inexpensive, so if we end up paying for it, no big deal. Everyone at the desk was very nice, but no one was under 80.
This is a refurbished two-story motel, but it looks very nice. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived. We requested, and got, a second floor room. The double-queen rooms here are all junior suites with a sitting area and are quite a good value for the money. The bathroom is typical of this kind of motel, but is nice and clean. We're very happy to have some counter space again. Everything looks very new and clean. We have a huge LCD TV, microwave and refrigerator. Wired and wireless internet is free. There is a complimentary breakfast in the lobby every morning, too. There is a pool on the other side of the complex that looks nice.
At 7:30 PM we drove back to the historic part of town for dinner at El Palacio Restaurant & Cantina. Click to view the Menu. The decor was, um, Mexican. We were especially fond of the paintings enhanced with glitter and the collection of crystal chandeliers and an entire wall covered with fake flowers. We'll give them credit though, nothing was dusty and the floor was clean. We actually did like the carved, brightly painted chairs that were all a different design.
Dave ordered the Carnitas Rancheras, Bill ordered Steak Rancheros and Taquitos that he made Dave eat part of. The entrees came with Albondigas soup that reminded Dave of a Mexican restaurant his family used to frequent when he was a kid. That isn't a compliment. The food did seem authentic though and everything was piping hot. When the waitress delivered our food she announced, "The cooks are idiots tonight. Really, so stupid." We're not sure what she meant by that and we're hoping we won't find out later tonight. Our meals were fine, but we wouldn't knock anyone over in an attempt to get back to this place. The total bill was about $42.00.
It is fun that so many of the old motels along Andy Divine Blvd. have kept up their neon signs. Three of them look as they probably did in the heyday of Route 66. There are many more that are closed or very run down, which is sad, but times have changed and most people want to stay at a chain where they know what they're getting.
Day 32: Sunday, June 2 - Kingman, AZ - Best Western Plus King's Inn & Suites
The free breakfast at the hotel was enough to get us out the door. It wasn't anything amazing, but good enough. It is, of course, hot again today, but we won't be outside much, so it shouldn't make much difference.
We hit the road at 10:30 AM and drove about an hour along Historic Route 66 until we reached Grand Canyon Caverns, our destination for today. We expected this to be a tacky tourist attraction and that it is. And a dumpy, run down one at that. There is a ramshackle inn at the entrance off the road. The lobby building looked about ready to collapse, but the motel rooms behind it looked OK.
We followed the sign pointing to "Cavern Tours" down a deteriorating asphalt road for about a mile. This attraction also has horse rides and an RV park. They're in the middle of nowhere and they're doing their best to cover all the bases. We arrived at the entrance to the cavern tour at 11:45 AM.
Why do all cavern attractions have a giant dinosaur out front? We don't know either. It must be some sort of requirement to qualify as a real attraction. The building at the cave is also run down. They've stuck all sorts of "stuff" around out front for no apparent reason. There's a petrified log, an old fire truck (that every man took a picture of or in), playground equipment in a weedy gravel yard, a lava rock dinosaur, a wooden fountain, and "Dope on a Rope" that demonstrates the original method of getting tourists into the cave in the 1930's.
The entrance leads into a "restaurant" of dubious quality. We're good a figuring out where to go at attractions, but it took us a few minutes to find the door to the gift shop to buy a tour ticket. The old lady at the register was amusing. She ran down a list of ways to qualify for a discount that ended up with a AAA discount and a senior discount for Dave. Don't get excited, "senior" here means over 55. Even so, the price for the two of us was $29.00. She told us the next "regular" tour is at 12:30 PM and to buy it now before someone requests the "short tour" where, "You don't see anything." At least she was honest. We killed about two seconds looking around the gift shop, then went out front and sat on a bench until we were called for our tour.
Our tour guide had a very strange cadence to her speech, but once we got used to it, she was very funny. The tour begins by taking an elevator built in the 1950's down over 250 feet to the caverns. It took them several years to blast a shaft down into the cavern to install the elevator and it looks like they haven't done anything to it since. Judging by the condition of the rest of the facilities, we weren't all that thrilled about getting into the elevator! All went well though and we descended to the cavern with no issues.
It is a pleasant 58 degrees in the cave all the time. The reason it is named Grand Canyon Cavern is that they did a test many years ago and found out the air supply for the cave comes from the bottom of the Grand Canyon forty miles away. It blows inward in the morning and outward in the afternoon depending on air pressure outside. The cave the air comes from is known as Mystery Room because they didn't know where the air was coming from for so long.
The tour lasts about an hour following pathways paved in the 1960's by pumping concrete down a bore hole from the surface that was then distributed by wheelbarrow. Nothing has been changed since, although it is in good repair. This cave isn't the biggest or most impressive we've ever seen, but the guide's commentary was very funny. The cave is so dry that a bobcat that fell in over 100 years ago was mummified. They also found the remains of a giant sloth. When they sent the bones to Phoenix, the university sent them a replica for display. The scratch marks the sloth made trying to climb out of the cave are still visible on the wall.
If you have an extra $700 to spare, you can spend the night in a suite in the largest room. An attendant will bring your dinner and breakfast down to you. They just added a theater next to the room outfitted with seats from some Hollywood theater that was being redone. The suite has a refrigerator, microwave, TV, and two double beds. They have provided games and other diversions. The guide offered a deal of $550 to anyone in the group who wanted to stay tonight, but nobody took her up on it.
The cave was full of flowing water millions of years ago, so there are some formations you'd find in wet caves. They have examples of snowballs, flowstone, grapes and several tiers of waterfalls and other eroded water courses that formed before the cave was lifted higher with the plateau and the water drained. The guide said that the water table now is 1,700 feet lower than the cave. During the Cuban missile crisis, the government designated the cave as a fallout shelter. They sent enough survival supplies for 2,000 people. Everything is still in the cave to this day, perfectly preserved by the dry air and cool temperature.
As dilapidated as the overall complex looks, the tour itself was fun and entertaining. We heard some of the other guides and they were interesting also. Overall, we'd recommend stopping here if you are nearby, but we wouldn't go too far out of our way to see this.
It was around 2:00 PM when we were finished at the cave. We drove another 30 minutes along Route 66 to the town of Seligman. There are several old motels and eclectic shops along the road leftover from the heyday of Route 66. We stopped for lunch at the Roadkill Cafe where, "You kill it, we'll cook it." We don't have a full menu, but we found a picture of one page that will give you an idea of how amusing it is. There is a fake old west town in the parking lot that was a popular photo spot with foreign tourists. Dave ordered a BLT, Bill ordered a Club Sandwich. Both were typical diner fare and were fine.
The cafe also houses the OK Saloon that is full of stuffed animal heads and a diorama of taxidermy. This was very popular with the Japanese tourists who came in a steady stream to take photos. The ceiling above the bar is plastered with $1.00 bills signed by past visitors.
We drove back to Kingman on I-40, but it still took over an hour to get there. On the way, we passed a semi-truck that had just driven off the roadway, across the median and came to rest up a steep embankment on the other side. There were already several other trucks there helping and it didn't appear anyone was injured, which is amazing. Luckily there wasn't any traffic when it happened. We weren't delayed at all because a backup of rubberneckers hadn't begun yet.
We arrived back at the hotel at around 4:30 PM. Our keys wouldn't work, so we went to the front desk to get them re-programmed. When we arrived, the woman at the front desk didn't have her glasses and thought we were only staying one night, so our keys weren't programmed correctly. Dave asked the person there now, who had just arrived when we checked in yesterday, to verify that we aren't being charged for the stay. She was very nice and said she would take care of it. We'll believe it when we see it, but she was very nice about it.
Nothing else happened until we decided to go to dinner at 7:30 PM. We went back to Dambar & Steakhouse where we had lunch yesterday. It was a little unnerving to arrive and see paramedics in the parking lot, but we went in anyway. Nobody seemed to be paying any mind to the commotion. Eventually an ambulance arrived and took the patient away. We hope it didn't have anything to do with the food.
Click to view the Menu. Our waitress was extremely fun and offered suggestions about what to order when we asked. She convinced Bill to order the blackened catfish. Dave ordered the steak and ribs combo. Both came with soup or salad and freshly baked biscuits. Everything was delicious. The fish and the steak were fantastic. The ribs were OK, but nothing special. However, the meat did fall right off the bone. We had one strawberry shortcake for dessert that was also very good. With one glass of wine and a soft drink, this huge meal cost only $56.00, which was quite a bargain for what we got.
We are only a few days away from the conclusion of this road trip. All of our major sightseeing is done, but we will stop at anything interesting we can find over the next couple of days. It seems like only yesterday that we set out and it is hard to believe that it has been over a month already!
Day 33: Monday, June 3 - Drive to Blythe, CA via Lake Havasu City, CA - Comfort Suites
Lake Havasu City and
play out your unique vacation ideas in “Arizona’s Playground.” Three hundred
days of sunshine a year and all the adventure you can handle, from Arizona
boating and off-roading to hiking and fishing, make this one of the coolest
Arizona vacation spots. This is also one of the most family-friendly Arizona
vacation spots. Kick back on our safe, sandy lake beaches, marvel at the London
Bridge or explore Lake Havasu’s 60 miles of pristine navigable waterways.
It is again very hot with the weather report predicting temperatures over 100 degrees for the duration of our trip. Oh goodie.
We started with the free breakfast at the hotel, which was fine, then pulled ourselves together and checked out at 10:30 AM.
The final word on the Best Western Plus King's Inn & Suites: Refrigerated! OMG, the air conditioning was so strong it made the room feel like a freezer. We kept moving the thermostat up and up, but it was still freezing. No wonder so many people had their windows open. We'd rather be cold than hot, so we'd stay here again. The rooms are very nice and quite spacious. Breakfast was OK, nothing special, but adequate for a freebie. The staff was nice, but the front desk could use more training. When we checked out the woman at the desk asked specific questions about the room, so it does appear that they care about the guests. They did manage to properly redeem our reward points, so everything was covered.
We drove south for about 90 minutes until we arrived at Lake Havasu City and the London Bridge. The bridge itself looks OK, but the English Village at the base of it is very run down and obviously on its last legs. Apparently some antique gates and other City of London artifacts came with the deal and they look nice. There was a guy cleaning the huge fountain in the courtyard, so there is some maintenance going on. None of the shops were still in business. Even the psychic palm reader went out of business. Guess she couldn't foresee the demise of this shopping area. Most of the buildings are in a state of disrepair with broken windows, peeling paint, and missing shingles on the roof. It is too bad because the waterfront promenade is attractive with a nice view of the bridge and the lake. There were a couple of stands selling hot dogs and such. The only other business still operating was for boat rentals. Even the parking lot was a mess. Most of the light poles were missing and the asphalt is breaking up. The town itself looks nice enough, but all of the real estate offices display banners proclaiming themselves "Repo Experts".
That excursion killed maybe thirty minutes, so we're ahead of schedule. We pulled off at a scenic overlook of the Bill Williams River because we'd never heard of it. The graffiti covered sign didn't tell us anything interesting, so all we know is it is a river.
We ignored the GPS (on purpose) and took a detour to Parker Dam instead of continuing directly south on the main highway. By the way, Lake Havasu appeared to be full to capacity, so we're not sure what the problem is with Lake Mead and Lake Powell up river from here. There are no tours of Parker Dam and it doesn't look like a whole lot from the top. It was built in the 1930's like the other Colorado River dams. It is the tallest dam in the world at 320 feet, but only a small part of it is above the ground. The rest of it is buried in the riverbed. Click to view a Diagram. There is a security check before driving over the dam, but all the guard did was wave at us as we drove past.
The road on the California side of the river is the Parker Dam Strip that passes several recreational areas and camp grounds. Some of them look quite nice, but most are dusty and run down. There are warning signs about burros on the road for about ten miles. We didn't see any on the road, but there were a few under the trees in front of a storage rental place with two very cute babies.
This part of the road is fairly rough, but perfectly manageable. When we started listening to the GPS again, it took us southward along Indian Route 1 instead of taking us to the freeway. It was more scenic driving through the farmlands, but it did take a bit longer. We wouldn't take this route again, but it was interesting to see it once.
We arrived at the hotel in Blythe at 2:30 PM. We're staying at a new Quality Suites right next to the freeway off ramp, so it is very convenient for an overnight stop. There are several fast food restaurants adjacent to it, a gas station, and a restaurant. We were checked in quickly and took our stuff up to our room. As the name implies, all rooms here are suites, but are smaller than the room we had at the Best Western. Everything looks very nice. Our room has two queen beds, a seating area with a sofa and chair, microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker. The bathroom is standard issue. Free wi-fi is available and there is a large LCD TV. Everything is dusty, but otherwise clean. We were tempted to write "Dust Me" in the dust on the counter behind the sofa, but we refrained.
After settling in, we walked to the Subway in front of the hotel to get something for lunch, which was fine. We asked the guy at the hotel front desk if the restaurant across the parking lot is any good. He said there is a 50% off an appetizer coupon in our key folder. That didn't answer the question, but since it is the only option besides Dennys, we'll probably go there for dinner later. It does have reasonably good reviews online.
Around 5:30 PM we noticed that our room was getting hot even though the air conditioner is set at 72 degrees. Dave called the front desk and the only option was to switch rooms, so we moved across the hall. It freaked us out because everything is backwards, but we'll adjust.
At 7:30 PM we walked across the parking lot to the Red Cactus Bar & Grill. It is fairly new and looks nice on the inside. There is a bar side and a dining room side. The hostess was very pleasant and asked which side we wanted. The bar was EXTREMELY noisy. We chose dining. This place is way too upscale for the available clientele. To give an example, two guys in tank tops wandered in ahead of the host who was trying to seat them. He asked if they wanted a table and the answer was, "We're looking for the table with the hottest chick to serve us." They were told to go sit in the bar for the "hot chicks". Classy.
The old guy at the table behind us was so pompous he was like a cartoon character. The first thing he told the waiter was how important and well-known he is in town. He said he knows everyone and has powerful friends, so he can bring in a lot of business. Really, we're not making this up. How the waiter kept from hitting him is anyone's guess. It only got worse after that, but it didn't involve us at all. We could hear every word he said, but never heard even a whisper from the woman he was with. At one point, he asked her why anyone would think he's an asshole and apparently she told him, which was amusing.
Click to view the Menu. Dave ordered the Chicken Southwest Combination with the enchiladas, Bill ordered the Bacon-Wrapped Filet. Yawn. About half of the food on each plate was kind of good, nothing was above average except the price. The Spanish rice served with both entrees was inedible glob with the consistency of lumpy paste. When the waiter put the plate down he said, "Be careful, those enchiladas are addictive." Huh? The section of the plate they occupied looked like nothing but melted cheese. They tasted like nothing. We both rated the entire meal as mediocre and we definitely wouldn't go back. The total check was $58.00 which isn't too bad, but not enough of a bargain that we'd be willing to go there again. Our waiter was very nice. We probably would have had a better meal with the same type of clientele next door at the dumpy pizza place. Let's just say that this town doesn't attract a very upscale crowd!
Day 34: Tuesday, June 4 - Drive to Borrego Springs, CA - Borrego Springs Resort
An unincorporated area of northeast San
Borrego Springs has a long and colorful history, The village of Borrego
Springs is uniquely surrounded and protected by the amazing 600,000 acre
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Here in San Diego county's only desert
community, the nearest stoplight is fifty miles away. Borrego Springs is
California's first Dark Sky Community. There are no big box or chain stores. The
slower, uncomplicated pace, the scenic beauty and the human scale of Borrego
combine to produce a rustic, authentic desert experience, a special place, in
We started off our day with the free breakfast at the hotel. It was fine, about the same as the one at the Best Western without the real dishes and plates. It was enough to get us out the door and on our way by 10:30 AM.
The final word on the Comfort Suites: Tops...for Blythe. We don't ordinarily put any of the Choice Hotels brands at the top of our list, but in this town this hotel is by far the nicest. It is overpriced for what it is, but under the same circumstances we'd stay here again. However, if we can, we'd stop in a different city rather than come to Blythe again. We had to drive past two homeless encampments to get to the freeway.
We drove along I-10 for about 35 miles before turning off onto smaller roads toward and around the Salton Sea. The area around the lake is scenic and covered with vineyards and orchards. Once we arrived at the Salton Sea, however, things looked decidedly less appealing. Click HERE to link to an interesting history of the Salton Sea. It is very enlightening about what happened here.
Turning off the highway at an old sign pointing to a marina, we quickly arrived at a scene of abandoned buildings and marinas. It is apparent that at one time these were elaborate multi-million dollar resorts full of boats and vacationers. Not anymore.
We drove a little farther along the sea and arrived at another scene of abandonment. This time it was an RV resort boasting a golf course and nature trails. This place fronts on a huge stretch of what at first glance appears to be a white sand beach. Upon closer inspection, the "sand" is actually made up of crushed fish bones from the die-offs of millions of fish that occur periodically. It is amazing how quickly things are reclaimed by nature.
Back on the highway, we turned off again at the entrance to Salton City, the main resort development. Obviously there was more to the plan than was ever developed. Imaginatively named streets form a grid out of the barren desert sand. There are a few nice homes scattered about, but many are abandoned trailers or shacks. There are a few wide boulevards that must have been quite elegant at one time when the line of palm trees was still alive.
We followed Marina Blvd. and turned off on Yacht Club Drive. The buildings are long gone, destroyed by flooding or torn down long ago, but the remnants of a parking lot remain, planted with decaying stumps of palm trees. Along the water is a broken up jumble of concrete that was once an elaborate promenade overlooking a vast marina filled with shiny sail boats.
There is no way to describe in words how this place smells. It REEKS!! It is a combination of sewage, dead fish, and stagnant water heated in the 100 degree desert heat. It was so bad that we had to cover our nose with our shirt. If we opened our mouth we could taste the stench. How anyone lives anywhere near this is beyond belief.
The water is a sickly brownish-green with various layers of foam and globs of black goo floating under the surface. This doesn't seem to bother the pelicans and other birds since the area is full of them. For as far as we could see, there are ruins of docks and marinas of what must have been an enormous resort complex. The deterioration here makes the English Village at Lake Havasu look like a paradise.
We followed a sign to a still-operating RV "resort" with an adjacent motel. The water in the boat launch area is so full of bacteria that it has a red hue. Needless to say, it smells terrible. If you launch your boat into this water, we hope it is disposible!
Wow, now that was depressing! Let's get the heck out of here. If you like to explore abandoned buildings, this is the place for you. Be sure to bring a gas mask.
From the Salton Sea, it is about 20 miles to Borrego Springs. The road passes through, well, nothing. Open desert for as far as the eye can see in every direction. It is so desolate that there are designated off-road vehicle areas. In other words, the land is so useless that it might as well be trampled for obstacle courses and other tracks.
Borrego Springs is surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We stopped at the only marked scenic view that gave us a look at the Salton Sea beyond the desert. It looks rather appealing from a distance.
We arrived at the Borrego Springs Resort & Spa with no problems. This is another example of a failed development plan from the 1960's similar to the area where we live. Lines of palm trees along vacant street attest to some grandiose scheme gone down the tubes. There are still a few golf courses operating, but not much else. There are a couple of resorts in the area that are more or less still in business. The fanciest resort closed a couple of years ago, but the Borrego Springs Resort, which is older, appears to be doing OK. However, the vacant lots surrounding it are evidence that the plan for a resort was never completed. By the look of it, it never will be finished. Dave remembers visiting his uncle when he bought a new condo overlooking the golf course. The area was just then being developed. It was quite the place back then.
We walked into the deserted lobby and had to wait while the sole person on duty finished taking a reservation over the phone. When were checked in, the clerk informed us that our rate had been reduced from $197 to $104 due to a "Manager's Special". It might also have something to do with the fact that the restaurant is closed, which was the main reason we chose this place. No matter, we'll make do for tonight and it is supposed to be open tomorrow. We asked for and received a list of recommended restaurants and went to find our room.
We booked a King Suite, but when the price was reduced so much we weren't expecting to get it. Amazingly enough, we still got the suite. It overlooks the pool, which is nice. There is a large terrace that is well protected from the sun by a stucco arch. The indoor hallway looks like a nursing home, but the rooms have been recently refurbished and everything is new. Why they chose doctor's waiting room furniture for a place like this is anyone's guess, but it is clean and new. The word dated doesn't begin to describe this place, but for the price it is well worth it. The grounds are nice and everything is well kept. Ours is the only car in the parking lot by our building, but there are a few people in the pool.
The resort is made up of several two-story buildings surrounding a small, but attractive, pool area. There is a spa and restaurant on site, but they are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Our room is large with a separate living room, kitchenette area with a microwave and refrigerator. There is an exhaust hood that suggests that at one time there was a small stove, as well, but it was removed during the remodel. The bathroom is clean and functional. There is a king bed and another LCD TV in the bedroom. The room decor is dated, but fine. There is a faint smell of stale cigarettes, but it isn't bothersome enough to complain about.
We were astonished to learn that the hotel wasn't built until 1991. It looks a lot older than that. The old part is the restaurant. It was originally a club house for a proposed senior apartment development and golf course. It went bankrupt and was padlocked by the sheriff in 1967. It sat vacant for 34 years, as did the golf course. They were bought and refurbished in 1991 when the hotel buildings were added. It sits in the middle of a master planned development, only a fraction of which was ever built.
With no options for lunch at the hotel, we had to drive a few miles to the main drag, Palm Canyon Drive. This too looks like a resort with grand ideas that never materialized. The restaurant we were looking for is located at "The Mall". We couldn't find it, so we drove around the complex until we did eventually find it in the back. It was closed. We walked around to the other side, passing through the deserted center of the mall, and found another restaurant. Closed. Walking around again, we found that Carmelita's Bar & Grill was open, although all of the lights were turned off. Apparently, the season ends here on June 1st, so none of the shops are open and the restaurants close after lunch. Even the state park's visitor center is only open on Friday and Saturday this time of year. It is hot here, but not in the 100's like it was in Blythe. It was 92 when we left the hotel for lunch at 2:30 PM.
Neither of us really wanted Mexican food, but with no other options available that we know of, that's what we had. Both of us ordered the Taco Plate, one with carne asada and the other with grilled chicken. The food was outstanding and tasted like home cooking. The soft tacos were filled completely with chunks of tasty grilled meat with no fat or gristle at all. We were very happy with our meal and would go back here for sure. The total bill was $30.00, but the quality of the food was worth it.
We drove back to the hotel where we stayed until it was time to venture out to find somewhere to eat dinner at 7:30 PM. There aren't a lot of options for dinner around here, so we went to the only non-Mexican food place we could find, Carlee's Place Bar & Grill. It was more bar than grill, but since it wasn't at all busy it didn't matter. The staff was friendly. We ordered pasta entrees, one with grilled chicken and the other with beef. Both came with a large salad (or soup.) The food was OK, not great. The portions were large and neither of us finished the pasta. Overall, it was satisfactory, but we wouldn't go back unless it was the only option.
We were back in the room by 9:00 PM. There isn't anything to do around here, so we'll have to make an effort to get up and at least drive around the area tomorrow...maybe.
Well, something interesting finally happened. The power went out in the entire valley at around 11:40 PM. It was still off when we gave up and went to bed at 12:40 AM. Now we'll find out how well insulated this place is because it is still hot outside.
Day 35: Wednesday, June 5 - Borrego Springs, CA - Borrego Springs Resort
Power was restored at 6:30 AM. We were just about to leave and go home (we're only a little over an hour from home), but we decided to stick it out. There was no way were were going to stay here with no air conditioning! We do travel with an LED light "just in case", but we've never needed it until last night.
After the power came back on and the air conditioning resumed, we slept for another couple of hours. We drove to Kendall's Cafe in The Mall at 10:00 AM for breakfast. We were the only customers. Food was fine. Bill ordered a short stack of blueberry pancakes. They overlapped a dinner plate and were three inches tall. We shudder to think how large the regular stack must be. The waitress said that the power outage was unusual and not something that happens all the time.
We drove around Borrego Springs after breakfast to see what we could see. That is mostly empty lots and closed resorts. Even the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center is closed this time of year. The center of the original town is Christmas Circle. The main street radiate from here. On one side there is a restoration effort going on to convert a 1940's market into the Borrego Art Institute. The outside looks finished, but the interior is empty.
We followed a "Sky Art" map and found fields of huge metal artworks displayed on land owned by Galleta Meadows Estates. These sculptures stretch for miles along a road leading to a defunct gated community. The gates are now wide open. Everywhere you look around here are examples of crushed dreams and broken promises. There were about fifteen large, beautiful homes along the streets that were designed for over 100 homes. We read later that at the peak of the market the homes sold in the millions. The latest sales are in the $400,000's. Along Palm Canyon is a large resort that went out of business last year.
The sculptures are interesting. There are dinosaurs, a family of turtles, elephants, camels, and a giant serpent that crosses the road. In one corner of a sandy field there is a battle going on between a giant grasshopper and a scorpion. There are many more scattered about if you look hard enough. They're certainly not interesting enough to drive all the way out here to see, but if you're here anyway they are easy to see by the side of the road.
We drove back down Palm Canyon to find a gas station. We found one, but the pumps were out of order. After searching around some more, we found one in the other direction and filled up. Then we drove in the other direction along Borrego Canyon Blvd to another distressed luxury development. The hotel and golf course are still closed and the developer owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the HOA in back dues. This development mirrors the one around the resort where we are staying. Why do people keep starting over when there are already plenty of unfinished tracts? It makes no sense at all. At the moment, the hotel is being readied for re-opening in the Fall. We heard that the new owner bought it for only $2.5 million.
For just $10 million you can buy the Borrego Springs Resort where we are staying. That's the bargain price reduced from $23.5 million. It includes the golf course, which has never made any money, and 180-ish finished vacant lots where only seventeen homes have actually been built since the 1960's. The streets are unfinished, but outfitted with cable TV, electricity, water, and sewer service. A local told us that she heard that the restaurant and golf course are closing for the summer. That doesn't sound too unreasonable considering they are already giving the rooms away and there still aren't more than a handful of guests staying here.
At 2:30 PM we walked over to The Arches Restaurant for lunch. This is the original club house for the golf course and is now part of the hotel. We walked into a musty old country club where only one old lady was working. She seated us in the bar overlooking the golf course. The view is quite nice actually. The interior is about as dated as a place can be. It smells terrible, a mixture old and mildew. The purple velour chairs complete the picture. The dining room features a huge freestanding copper fireplace surrounded by one of those 1970's Inglenook seating areas. We both ordered a Club Sandwich, which was fine and what one would expect. Our total bill was $30.00 including two iced teas. If the room didn't smell so bad it would have been more pleasant, but the food was fine.
On the way out Dave asked the bartender if this place is ever busy. He said it has some business during the season, "But look at it now," gesturing toward the empty golf course. The entire time we have been here, we haven't seen even one person on the course. He confirmed that the restaurant will close with the golf course from July through November because there won't be any business at all without it. We were the only customers this afternoon. He said that the other resort we saw being renovated is getting ready to re-open, but it never made money for the original owners and he doesn't see how it will make it now. It is much larger than the hotel we are staying at. If this place can't fill its 100 rooms, how is a property four times as large going to do it? The same people who bought the other place are negotiating to buy this one because they want the golf course. However, if they only paid $2.5 million for the nicer place, why would they pay $10 million for this one. The bartender agreed that the whole scheme is one big delusion because it is too difficult for tourists to get here.
We were back in the room by 4:00 PM and ready for a nap to make up for the lost sleep last night.
At 7:45 PM we drove to Carmelita's Mexican Grill for dinner. Dave ordered Carnitas, Bill ordered a Combo Plate with a Pork Tamale and something else we've forgotten already. Both meals were very good and reasonably priced. Carmelita herself was there, although she didn't look too happy about it. The waitress strongly suggested their version of flan for dessert, so we shared one. It was more like cheesecake than flan, which is a good thing. We both liked it. The total bill came to $35.00 and some change.
When we walked out of the restaurant it was pitch black in the mall. The power failure must have screwed up the timer for the lights. We had to stand still to let our eyes adjust so we wouldn't trip over a step or something. It would have been the perfect time to fall and sue, but we're nicer than we look and just fumbled our way to the car.
This is the weirdest town! Why anyone would come here on purpose is a mystery to us. We saw nobody on the golf course at any time during our two days here. It isn't much hotter than it is at home and the golf course near us is always busy. The course here looks a lot nicer than ours does (they were both part of a similar failed development scheme...ours added a defunct horse racing track to the mix.) The only thing that would have any hope of improving this city is if someone with deep pockets buys everything up and fixes it up all at once or adds a compelling attraction of some sort. Since we don't see that happening in our lifetime we won't be making any plans to come back here. It wasn't awful, but there's not much point to it either. Maybe it has more to offer in the winter, but we're not sure what.
Day 36: Thursday, June 6 - Drive Home
We walked over to the hotel's restaurant at 9:30 AM. There were a few other guests there, but by the time we finished we were alone. The food was fine and reasonably priced, but it took way too long to be served. Our waiter had no personality at all, but he wasn't rude or anything. How this place stays in business is a mystery to us.
The final word on the Borrego Springs Resort: Fine. There's nothing outstanding about this place, but there's nothing wrong with it either. It definitely is not a luxury resort, but it was clean and well maintained. The price we paid was a great deal, but we would never pay the in-season rates for this place. We would stay here again, but we can't foresee any reason to visit the city again.
We checked out and started our short drive home at 11:00 AM. There was a scenic view over the entire Borrego Springs valley, so we stopped for a quick photo. The road winds up to about 3,000 feet through rocky mountain passes. Then is winds back down again through a couple of Indian reservations, complete with new casinos, before arriving back in our area. We only made one other stop to look at Lake Henshaw. It is interesting for us to drive through these inland areas of San Diego county that we only know of when the brush fires are reported on the news.
We arrived home just before 1:00 PM to find everything well cared for and in order.
We'll have a summary posted in the next day or so, plus the rest of our pictures will be added to the photo gallery soon.
We probably gave the overall impression that this wasn't the most exciting adventure we've undertaken. In some ways, that's true, but it wasn't a disappointment by any means. It was low key for sure, but that is what we expected. It was a little overkill on looking at rocks, but each destination was different and well worth seeing. Our goal recently has been to visit famous sites in the U.S. since we have been so focused on foreign destinations in the past. And, we certainly covered a lot of National Parks this time. We came out way ahead by buying an Annual Pass for $80.00. It would have cost us well over $100.00 just to visit the four major national parks on this trip, but we also saved on lesser fees charged at national monuments.
None of the places we visited would draw us back in the near future. Not that there was anything wrong with them, but now that we've seen them, we've seen them. There's just no reason to go back again.
One thing we both learned is that we are allergic to Arizona...literally. It wouldn't stop us from going there again and we can't figure out what the problem was. We have the same plants at home, but something there is different. The issue vanished once we were in Utah and Nevada. Odd but true.
So, here's our summary of each destination:
Yuma, AZ: This was just an overnight stop to break up the drive. For that it was fine and we'd stop here again. There are some sites worth visiting in the city if you haven't been here before. Every hotel chain is represented here, so there are lots of choices in all price ranges. The Holiday Inn was very nice.
Scottsdale, AZ: Although we didn't like the first hotel we booked into, we were happy with the DoubleTree Resort and would definitely stay there again if the price was right. We can't foresee any reason to visit this city again, but we enjoyed the time there. Next time we would probably stay in Phoenix for a chance of scenery, not because we didn't like Scottsdale. We really enjoyed the tour a Taliesin West and highly recommend a visit.
Prescott, AZ: This is a cute little town and the motel we stayed in was friendly and fun. If we needed to break up a long drive, we'd stop here again. It was easy and there wasn't anything compelling to do, making it easy to just sit and do nothing. We stopped at the creepy Arcosanti on the way which can't be beat for quirkiness and hand cast bronze and ceramic bells.
Sedona, AZ: Everyone carries on about how wonderful Sedona is. Yeah,
whatever. It was fine, but it is very touristy also. That part is
easy to avoid and there are several luxurious spa resorts in town if you just
want to get away. There is only one short street of shops and restaurants
unless you want to drive a bit. Again, we enjoyed the time here and
especially our very quiet hotel with the beautiful view. But, been there,
done that, no reason to come back. If you are into hiking, this is a great
place to do that. Most people take the Pink Jeep tours. If you are
young, go for it.
Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments: These adjoining monuments were plugged into our itinerary at the last minute. Both are definitely worth checking out if you are passing by on the way to the Grand Canyon or elsewhere. You could also make them a day trip from Flagstaff. The drive through the parks is long, so allot at least half a day to see everything. It wasn't hot when we were there, so it was quite pleasant.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ - South Rim: This stop was a
pleasant surprise. We recommend arriving through the east entrance rather
than waiting in the long line at the south toll booths. This way you can
stop at the view points along the Desert View drive as you arrive and save the
west rim road shuttle for the next day (which does take an entire day if you get
off at all of the stops.) The Thunderbird Lodge, while ugly as sin, was
comfortable and very conveniently located right on the rim. You have to
take a lot of patience with you to any National Park lodge, especially regarding
the food service. But, we found everything at least satisfactory and
mostly pleasant. It wasn't as overpriced as one might expect. The views
from the South Rim are far more impressive than they are at the North Rim and
there are more options available to occupy your time. The services here
are better organized by far. Yes, it was crowded at times, but never
unbearable. We recommend staying for three days to see everything
without exhausting yourself and to experience the rim after the day trippers
have left. Do be sure to heed this warning: DO NOT GO TO THE GRAND
CANYON IN THE SUMMER!! Got that?
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, UT: If you go to Monument
Valley, you have to stay at The View Hotel. It isn't as sophisticated as
the price might suggest, but it was clean and decent. You can't beat the
view, that's for sure. You can do the valley drive on your own in spite of
the many warnings to the contrary. We believe the warnings are there to
help sell tours, which, by the way, are in the back of dusty open-air jeeps.
No thanks! One night is sufficient here unless you arrive very late and
have a long drive to the next destination the day after. We went out of
our way and stopped at the Four Corner Monument also. This is mostly an
excuse for vendors to sell their wares, but all of them were extremely polite
and grateful when we did buy something. Go here only if it is on your way
to somewhere else.
Maybe that does sound kind of depressing after all. Honestly, it wasn't while we were experiencing it. We enjoyed the majority of it and the parts that weren't worthwhile we just chalked up to experience. The only intolerable stay was at the Hyatt Place in Scottsdale. Everywhere else was nice. We purposely didn't stay at any luxury properties this time and it worked out well for us.
This was the first time we had to bring in house sitters who were strangers to us. Luckily, they were stellar and have spoiled us for anyone else in the future. We're pretty sure our dog prefers them over us, but such is life. If it weren't for us he'd be living on the street in San Bernardino, so he's lucky no matter who is feeding him!
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