Monday, August 3, 2009

ROAD TRIP Out West!!!!!

To act as kind of the piece de resistance myself, my mom, and my brother decided we wanted to see a little bit of America before my chance was up. Mama had never been to many of these places either, and Michael likes to travel, though I'm not sure if he does as much as I do. Anyway, we had originally planned on making this a short one week trip going to Yellowstone and then staying in the Colorado/Wyoming/Montana area to comply with what was then my vacation schedule at work. Once I knew I was accepted to medical school that changed rather quickly. We decided to push back the trip until after I left work to give me more time to work with whomever would be hired to replace me. Since we could now be a little more flexible, we decided to extend the trip a little bit and include Las Vegas and Arizona in the itinerary. By extension this also meant we would go through Utah, though now having seen some of it, I want to go back and see more!

1 August 2009

Arrived at the airport on a rather nice, albeit overcast, morning in Atlanta. Our flight, DL1901 was due to depart at 1057, so we arrived at the airport around nine. We had little trouble putting the bags through, though Mom did have a mini meltdown when she couldn't find her bankcard. Ten minutes later the disappearing debit card was found and order was restored to the universe ;)

The security line was the longest I had ever seen in Atlanta, backed up almost to the arrivals. I had stood in a line half as long for about 45 minutes before, so I trotted over to the T-Gate security. It was predictably short, but apparently the long lines were deceiving because we were all through at about the same time. Whoops, oh well. Murphy's Law!

Made it through and down to A30. We grabbed a quick breakfast, and strolled down to A30, to find that our flight had been moved to another gate. Thankfully it was A29, so we endured a stressful twelve-foot dash to the other side of the concourse... The flight boarded on time. Our flight was operated by a 757-200 in the Citgo livery with the AVOD IFE. We boarded and I nabbed my window seat, 39A. I love window seats because though you have to do the double excuse me to get up, you're ensured at least one side of your body is not going to be bumped, slammed, or crowded. And if you're tired it makes a perfect head prop! We were delayed a few moments because for some reason people don't get the whole "it's a full flight, please place your bags wheels first" thing. After that was settled, we pushed back and head toward the North runways at ATL. We were fourth or fifth in line for take-off, so our wait wasn't too bad. We lifted off and were on our way.
1 August 2009
• Delta Flight DL1901 ATL–Denver – Departs 1057, Arrives 1209
• Rental Car Budget Rental

• Lodging Holiday Inn Express – Hill City, SD
o 2 Queen Bed/2 Room Suite w/ Sofa Bed

I had the window seat, and my mom had the aisle seat. My brother was across the aisle. My mom and I lucked out as our middle seat was the only empty seat on the plane. We didn't luck out as much, however, with the PTVs, they would work, but the audio kept blinking out. I didn't care too much considering I needed to catch up on my Harry Potter, so I read a good chunk of Harry Potter 2 on that flight. We landed in Denver with little incident.
- DEN is a cool airport, laid out just like ATL.
- Baggage claim took no time at all.
- Bussed out to the rental car center. A little issue there as the reservation required some tweaking due to my age being under 25. In the end the agent upgraded us from our Taurus-sized reservation (which would have been sufficient) to an Edge. This was outstanding because this afforded us PLENTY of room (three people) and we had room left in the back for our giant backs. The car was quiet, spacious, and got really good gas mileage. It took about an hour and a half to get all that sorted out, but it was time well spent considering we would spend a nice chunk of time in the car over the coming two weeks.
- Left the airport and headed into downtown Denver. The final destination for that night was Hill City, SD, where we would be bedding down that night. We drove through downtown Denver a little bit. Mom wanted to see the stadiums, so we did that before heading North. We could've headed straight that way, however, there was a toll road, AND we wanted to see a least a little bit of the city, so we went south first and then up through downtown Denver. I-25 was our road for a LONG time. We drove up through Cheyenne and then from Cheyenne through a seemingly ENDLESS grassland before making our way into South Dakota. It was almost dark by the time we crossed the state line. By that time there was something to see, but it was too dark. The hotel was nice, standard fare Holiday Inn.

2 August 2009
• Badlands National Park
• Crazy Horse Monument
• Making way into Wyoming – Distance between Hill City, SD and Sheridan, WY 230 miles/ 4 hours drive
• Devil’s Tower
• Lodging
o Candlewood Suites, Sheridan, WY
o One 2-bed Suite and one 1-bed suite

We woke up relatively early, wanting to make as much of the day as possible. We woke up to find about 8,000 bikes in the little town. Unbeknown to me I schedule this part of the trip during freakin' Sturgis Rally Week, which pretty much rules the Black Hills during that week. It was fine, they were very nice, but yeesh, there were just so many motorcycles on the road, and only a few were wearing helmets (weirds me out all the time as my home state has a helmet law). We literally saw them come from every corner of the country. It hurt my hind end to think that somebody drove a motorcycle from Dade County Florida to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Even moreso when one considers that apparently motorcycles rarely travel above 60mph (at least the non-crotch rocket types). I did not know this, but apparently my younger brother is an encyclopedia of all things motorcycle -- news to me.

We left the hotel and proceeded toward Mt. Rushmore via the Needles Highway. It was absolutely gorgeous! It took about two hours, and along the way we stopped and had bison sausage (yum, considering I hate ground meat). We made it to Mt. Rushmore, where I started to sugar crash, so we also had lunch there. The monument was cool, and the parade of states or whatever it's called (all fifty state flags leading up to it) was interesting. We walked around and below the monument, and no, you cannot actually walk up on it. After Mt. Rushmore we headed over to Crazy Horse, which wasn't far away at all we came to find. We were met by a literal sea of motorcycles, FAR outnumbering the cars.

I think we all found Crazy Horse much more inspirational than Mt. Rushmore probably because it wasn't finished and the story behind its building and builders is just incredible. One guy for years doing all of that by himself, it's just mind-boggling to think about it! I grabbed a rock that I was later able to break up into a few pieces so some friends could have one too. Don't worry folks, the rocks were in a pile just for that purpose.

After Crazy Horse it was later in the afternoon, and we started to make our way into Wyoming (again). We went from Hill City up to Rapid City, where we would pick up I-80W. In Rapid City we grabbed some food (Wendy's or Arby's, I can't remember which at this point) and a portable DVD player, which was fantastic for the long car ride that night as we drove through Wyoming, and then again later as we drove through Utah and onward to Las Vegas, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The drive across I-80 was much better than the drive from Cheyenne. There was a little more than grassland this time around, though not a ton. We drove by the Devil's Tower, but didn't go inside the park. Why pay $10 when the best view of it is going to be from far away? We're talking about an 800ft tower of solid granite here! So we did the perfunctory photo ops, got some ice cream and mosied onward. We were over-nighting in Sheridan, WY that night, another small town. It was dark when we got there. The hotel was a little difficult to find, as it was located behind a Wal-Mart (which we all know are small buildings...)and there was no sign high in the air or visible on the ground. We ended up calling the hotel, and duh, we had seen the Wal-Mart so by then it was easy to find :) The Candlewood Suites are very nice, and I would definitely stay there again.

3 August 2009
• Proceed to Yellowstone National Park
• Distance between Sheridan, WY and Yellowstone Eastern Wyoming Entrance is approximately 200 miles/ 3.5 hours
• Lodging
o Travelodge Gardiner, Montana
o Two 2-bed Standard Rooms

We woke up relatively early, around seven, which was fine for us since our bodies thought it was 9. We needed a few things, so we went to the aforementioned Wally World and acquired a few things we needed and also grabbed some breakfast at McDonald's (the only time I'll eat there is breakfast). We then headed out in our fantastic Edge back to I-80. We didn't stay on that road very long, however, as we were very close to the Montana state line, and that part of Montana was well away from where we were interested in going. So, we got off the interstate basically at the foot of a mountain range, and then started to drive along it, before slowly making our way up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and well, you get the general idea. Some of the roads at the top were being worked on and weren't paved. I would have hated to be in one of the plethora of RVs that we saw and try to navigate that road. Again I was loving our car, it handled the bumps beautifully. After going up, of course we had to come down. Now, we're not accustomed to such high mountains, some yes, but not like that, so, mom was breaking a little hard and I was starting to smell the brakes a little bit. I suggested we stop at a little rest stop which turned out to be a waterfall, so we stretched a little bit. It was mostly downhill and flat from there and then we had a LONG drive to Cody, WY. We passed through Emblem, WY, which had a STATED population of a whopping 10. TEN! Why even put up a sign??? And the city had a post office, so 20% of the town worked at the post office. We went through a lot of small towns in Wyoming that had small populations. We eventually made it to Cody, and decided to have a sit down lunch. Cody is I guess a decent-sized town for Wyoming, so it had a nice downtown with restaurants and shops, though nearly every one of them had something to do with cowboys (not really my thing). While Mike explored the cowboy extravaganza, I walked around some other stores. About that time the bottom fell out of the sky and I was worried that would persist as we weren't that far from Yellowstone (our ultimate destination). It turned out to be a mostly passing storm, and we headed out of Cody and onward to Yellowstone. It remained very overcast. IIRC it took about an hour or so to reach the main gate of Yellowstone, and then another thirty minutes or so to reach the main circular road of Yellowstone. The Yellowstone events were far to numerous to describe in detail but saw Old Faithful, some bison, bears, and a bunch of elk. Since we got there relatively late in the afternoon, we had about five hours of daylight, which was sufficient. What I didn't realize about Yellowstone was how large the place is and how far apart all the attractions are. You spend a lot of time just looking at trees and grass going in between everything.

We entered the park from the East and went South. The park has a Figure 8 road system in the middle. We went around the south and then up to the North on the Western part of the Figure 8 since we were staying in Gardiner, MT at the North entrance. Gardiner is a town of about, oh, 800 people, so in the summer the population of tourists easily outnumbers the locals. We found our hotel, and had to push our way through about ten people trying to find rooms for the night. We were smart and booked all our hotels about two months in advance. This turned out to be a brilliant idea (of mine ;) ) because they were turning people away and they were having to drive fifty miles away to Livingston, MT. Very glad that didn't have to happen for us...

The rooms weren't anything special, but since we would only be sleeping there, it wasn't a huge deal for us. Needing to chill for a few minutes I went to the hotel next door and had a gin and tonic. There were some other travelers in there as well. We chatted for a little while and then I went back to my digs and went to sleep!

4 August 2009
• Yellowstone National Park
• 1645 – no later than for wagon excursion/cookout
o Roosevelt Lodge
• Lodging – Travelodge in Gardiner, MT

The next day was more Yellowstone. We went around the other side of the loop. The highlights were certainly the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. It was a long straight walk down, but the views of the two waterfalls were incredible. I was somewhat worried that seeing this "Grand Canyon" would a) be a disappointment after having seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona and b) result in a letdown when we got to that one the next week. Turned out that neither of my apprehensions were validated. The walk back up, however, was just awful any way you split it...
After that we went to a "cowboy cookout". In a nutshell we were taken on a wagon ride for about thirty minutes, and then they fed us stakes, and beans, and some salad. I'm not a huge red meat eater so that satisfied my red meat craving for a few months. I think that was the last time I've had red meat since then, and it's almost October as I write this.

5 August 2009

• Proceed through Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park
• Make way to Idaho Falls, ID – Distance between Grand Teton and Idaho Falls is approximately 110 miles/ 2 hours
• 1400-1700: Michael fishing in Jackson, WY
• Lodging
o Hampton Inn, Idaho Falls, ID
o 2 bed/1 sofa bed suite
• Dinner in Jackson, WY
We were pretty much ready to move on after basically two days in Yellowstone. Even when hiking I'm not sure how some people spend a week there... We checked out and left Gardiner around nine and began heading the South. We had originally planned to do some horseback riding that morning, but we had heard that there were some serious construction delays between Yellowstone and Grand Teton, which we needed to go through, so we canceled the horseback riding, and went straight down. Turns out that was a very good idea because it took us almost five hours to get from Gardiner down through Yellowstone and to and through Grand Teton. Grand Teton is gorgeous, but it's a photo op, and not much else, especially after being naturedout out in Yellowstone. I think some of it is that Yellowstone and much of that area is covered in grass and trees. I live on the East Coast which has very dense greenery, it's nothing special to me.

We headed into Jackson, WY, where we had arranged to go fly fishing. Mom would go shopping, lol. Initially I wasn't overly enthusiastic about it, fishing isn't really my thing, but fly fishing at least is engaging unlike cast-and-reel which is just boring because you sit there more often than not. I hooked one, but it was so small that when I yanked the inertia of the rod and line let the fish fly off. So it was a victim of itself!

After fishing we walked around Jackson for a little while, and ate at a Thai restaurant. I LOVE Thai food and had been having a craving basically since we left, we had Thai food. By that time it had gotten dark, so we decided to head on our way. We were stopping that night in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Another state on the itinerary, but we wouldn't be there very long. We decided to stay in Idaho Falls because we would have to drive by it on our way to Salt Lake City, and stopping would knock off about an hour and a half of driving time the next day to Salt Lake City. Considering we'd basically been in the car the last three days, we knew that we would need a little bit of respite. So, a two hour drive later, we arrived in Idaho Falls. Nice town/city from what I could tell. We had a lot of trouble finding our hotel because even though I had Mapquest on my iPhone, it didn't account for the fact that the main road was closed. SO I basically just found the hotel location and used said Mapquest to navigate toward it. God what would we have done without the iPhone on this trip!!! We had an atlas, but that was for MACRO-navigation. The iPhone was a God-send when we had to MICRO-navigate, especially at night. We stayed at the Hampton Inn there, but we literally fell asleep and woke up! I chose Hamptons a lot because their beds are incredible. That, and the double dipping Hilton AND Delta points. I'm a points junkie!! They pay off!

6 August 2009
• Leave Idaho Falls for Salt Lake City – Distance between Idaho Falls, ID and Salt Lake City, UT is approximately 215 miles/ 3 hours – be best if arrival is before/around lunchtime
• Lodging
o Embassy Suites Salt Lake City
o 2 bed/2 room suite
• o Mormon Tabernacle Choir Rehearsal – 2000 to 2130 at Tabernacle or Conference Center
o Swimming in Great Salt Lake
o Historic Temple Square
The next morning we weren't in an overwhelming rush to get moving because Salt Lake City was to be a relaxing day where we just stayed downtown...or so we thought, stay tuned for that one. We washed the car because it's nice burgundy color was tinged brownish-orange after going through Yellowstone and Grand Teton. We were then on our way down I-15. It was a pleasant drive. We stopped somewhere in northern Utah for lunch at a place called TacoTime. Puts TacoBell to shame, although I'm not entirely sure how tater tots go with a burrito...Question for the theologians I guess...

We got into Salt Lake City around oneish, and thought that since we didn't have any major plans, that we would go over (West from I-15 on I-80) to the Salt Lake, here's where the adventure begins. We get most of the way down I-80, and we see that our exit has been closed. Having seen the railroad crossing type things all along roads in Wyoming, we figured it was either weather or construction related. So we go around on a backroad. Well we there and we discover that the blasted interstate is closed in both directions there. Why you ask? Because there was a police shootout. Why that made it necessary to close the Eastbound lane when the shooting was Westbound I'm not entirely sure, but, somebody apparently felt like that was a good idea...
We stopped at a gas station to refuel, and to ask about the incident. We initially thought we could wait it out, but some people were saying it took them almost two hours to go one and a half miles. I quickly decided that I would go crazy. So, we found an alternate route down and around the mountain rain we were beside. It took about an hour and a half, but even if that was a little more time, we got to see a little more. Finding the hotel was a little difficult due to the maddening layout of the Salt Lake City street naming system, which I can't even begin to describe, lol.

I found a great deal at the Embassy Suites in downtown Salt Lake City, so that meant we could see a few things without having to drive, AND we would be in a nice hotel so we could relax a little bit, which was most definitely needed. We ordered dinner to the room and enjoyed lobster macaroni and cheese along with some delicious chocolate cake. Shortly afterwards we went to Temple Square, which was about five blocks up the road. It was very interesting, almost eerie atmosphere. We also went to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsals. That was very interesting, though it was not easy to understand the words to the songs. They say that auditorium has great accoustics, I beg to differ. Everybody there was polite though, very friendly.

7 August 2009
• Proceed to Las Vegas, NV – Distance between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas is approximately 420 miles/ 6 hours
• Blue Man Group
o 2200 Venetian Resort
• Possible Activities – any shiny object that catches our eye as we troll through the desert
o Zion National Park
o Bellagio fountains at night in Las Vegas
o Treasure Island sidewalk ship show
o Gondola ride at the Venetian
o Casinos
• Lodging
o Luxor Resort
o 2 queen-bed suite

We didn't make a rush to get going out of Salt Lake, seeing as we didn't HAVE to be in Las Vegas until around 9pm. We went back to the place we had wanted to go to explore the Great Salt Lake, and this time there were no impediments to our getting there. We arrived at a place called Saltair just a few minutes before nine. We had little interest in actually going in, but we were just curious as to how it worked. We walked around behind the building and across a lawn, then a long stretch of hardened sand, and then rocky wet sand, and then a stretch of wet sand before we finally get to the water, which absolutely reeked. I mean reeked beyond reek. So we walked around in it for a few minutes, too the pics, and then got back in the car and started the long drive to Vegas. We stopped in St. George, Utah for gas and some food and kept on down the road. moved from more of just an arid grassy area to a full on rocky desert as we began to move toward Arizona and then into Nevada. Mom commented on how all the rocks we were driving near/through/around gave the landscape an "unfinished look". I loved it. I think Arizona/Utah is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and wouldn't mind living there, though maybe not Phoenix, haha, because it's just too hot.

I tried to read a little bit between the Nevada state line and Las Vegas, but something about the road made the car vibrate a lot, and I got a litte sick, and then was ready to get out of the car. We saw Vegas coming for like thirty minutes before we ever got was rather annoying, lol. This time we had little trouble finding our hotel, the Luxor. It was easy to's a freakin pyramid! We valeted the car and didn't see it again until it was time to check out!

We relaxed for a little while after the long drive and then explored some of the strip right next to us. We were at the far, south end of the strip, so some of the Las Vegas landmarks were a little too far for walking distance. Let me just say that traffic on Las Vegas Blvd. is ungodly. We went over to Exaclibur and then New York, New York where we rode the roller coaster.

We went back to the Luxor where we had dinner at the MORE buffet. It was really good, I ate way too much and there was just about everything we could have wanted. We then headed down to the Venetian where we had tickets to see Blue Man Group. I had seen them in Berlin, so I knew we were in for a good show. It was a very good show, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. However, leaving the Venetian and walking a little ways down the strip was a maddening experience. Way too much people, all drunk or passing out cards for hookers...By the time we got back to the hotel we were ready to go to bed and as such did.

8 August 2009
• Hoover Dam
o 1010 – North Lobby of Luxor Hotel
• Cirque du Soleil KA
o MGM Grand Resort
• Lodging – same as night before
We were able to sleep a little late and had breakfast at the Food Court at the Luxor before being picked up by a tour bus for a tour of the Hoover Dam. It was about a forty-five minute drive out to the site, and there was considerable traffic getting down to the site, but we finally got there. We first went on the river down below the dam, and got some GREAT views. It was really hot though. It was much more comfortable at the TOP of the dam. After we came up from the river bed, we went down into the dam, and all around in there. It was really interesting and BIG. I would hate to have to be the ones who would climb all 1745 stairs (if that's even the number, there's just one LONG staircase that goes straight from bottom to top.
We stopped in Boulder City to look at some sheep (not my idea) and then at Ethel's chocolate where certain types of M&Ms are made. On the way back to the hotel we drove through Henderson and past Wayne Newton's complex and the Las Vegas airport. Interestingly there was a Korean Air 777 making a take off roll as we drove past. If my memory bank serves me correctly the flight heads to either Los Angeles or Vancouver before heading onward to Seoul. (Ok, NERD moment over). While we were still on the bus the driver brought up the subject of tips and how much he usually gets. I thought that was rather tacky considering one isn't obliged to receive a tip, especially when one asks for it...

We then made it back to the hotel, where we cooled off, showered, and grabbed a small bite to eat before going across the street to the MGM Grand for Cirque du Soleil Ka. Interestingly enough, due to the shape of the Luxor pyramid the music from the pull travels up the side of the wall and can be heard when you stand next to the window! I was looking forward to this show, I had heard it was outstanding. We got there early enough to have something to drink and play some slots. Mom and I played the penny slots and I had just put my last twelve dollars (of twenty-five) in the machine when I noticed that the line for the show was getting long, so I started max betting every time. Well three shots of that and I'd won over $100. I promptly cashed out and we headed for the line!

The show was OUTSTANDING. I loved it! The acrobatics, the movements, even the wacky plotline were just amazing. I would definitely recommend the show to anyone interested. It was MUCH easier getting back to the hotel that night as the MGM Grand is just across the street from the Luxor. As such, we did not have to weave through or fight nearly as many drunk idiots. We went to sleep early again as we wanted to get up and moving in order to ensure that we wouldn't get held up in traffic crossing the Hoover Dam into Arizona, or at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park (our destination for that day).

9 August 2009
• Proceed to Grand Canyon – Distance between Las Vegas and Grand Canyon is approximately 120 miles/ 2.5 hours
• 1230 – Grand Canyon Helicopter Ride
o Grand Canyon National Park Airport

We left pretty early for the aforementioned reasons. I handled the check-out while Mom and Mike got the car. After two days of not seeing it it was like saying hello to friend you hadn't seen in a while, haha. I did the driving today since Mom did all the driving between SLC and Vegas. We headed out through Boulder City and down toward the dam. We grabbed some breakfast at In-and-Out Burger, which was surprisingly good. We also gassed up in Boulder City, and then proceeded onward over the Hoover Dam (again) and then on a windy, twisty highway to I-40, which took over an hour. One of the things I love about being out West is that on the open road you can MOVE. Speed limits aren't a big deal, and there aren't as many cars to clog the highway.

There were a few fires on the way up to the Grand Canyon, but thankfully they were controlled. Wildfires can be a significant problem in this part of the country, and I would hate to think we came all that way and wouldn't be able to do our helicopter tour! But it turned out everything was fine, and we made it to the Grand Canyon airport with time to spare. I had to empty out my camera as it was full, but other than that we waited around for like half an hour before getting in the helicopter.

I cannot use enough words to describe flying over the Grand Canyon, it was just unreal. I had been there about a year prior, and it was impressive then, but this was just majestic. Word to future travelers, thirty minutes in a helicopter is plenty, the stomach gets queasy! After touching down we had to find something to eat to settle the stomachs, and then we proceeded to drive across the South Rim. I was loving it, but Mom and Mike seemed to think it a little bit of a letdown after flying over it. Whatever, phooey on them! ;) It was getting to be around four or five in the afternoon by the time we had seen the South Rim and done the obligatory shopping, and we still had a good two hour drive ahead of us, so we got moving. En route we decided to make a lodging change. We had originally planned to stay in Tuba City after the Grand Canyon, and then go to Monument Valley, and stay in Flagstaff the next night. However, we got to thinking and since a) we had already missed the turn and b) checking in and out of hotels can be a PAIN, and c) we had a much better accommodation in Flagstaff than in Tuba City, we decided to spend both nights in Flagstaff. Seeing Tuba City the next day confirmed that to be a brilliant idea! Rearranging the reservations, however, proved to be a little difficult as the phone service blotched in and out. We had to fudge a little with our story to cancel the reservations in Tuba City, but rearranging in Flagstaff was no problem. Yet another reason why I love Hampton Inns, never had a problem with them! The room was amazing. Basically an apartment that was VERY comfortable. We grabbed dinner at the Sizzler across from the hotel parking lot. I wasn't crazy about but Michael wanted to eat there and he enjoyed it, so all was cool. We did some laundry and started packing up some clothes and things that we wouldn't need until we got home, as the trip was fast coming to an end ;(

o10 August 2009
• More Grand Canyon Activities
• Painted Desert – approximately 2.5 hours from Flagstaff
• Indian Reservation
• Monument Valley, Utah – 3 hours from Flagstaff
• Four Corners Monument
• Lodging
o Hampton Inn & Suites Flagstaff
o 2 Queen bed/Sofa bed 2 room suite

Mike decided he wanted a day to just relax, so Mom and I head out to Monument Valley. It's the stereotypical view of the West. It was about a two hour drive to get there, and we had to go through Tuba City (remember from the night before). Almost all of that day's driving would go through the Navajo Nation, so it was interesting to see that. In one town (unfortunately I don't remember which) there was an exhibit on the Navajo Code a Burger King.

Monument Valley was/is gorgeous, but the road was unpaved, and we thought it would be time better spent to head on to the Four Corners, which was about 90 miles away. This is where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet at one point. It's in the middle of freakin' nowhere, but well worth seeing! We got some cool pictures, and Indian Frybread. YUM! The drive back was INTERMINABLE! I thought we were NEVER going to get back to Flagstaff. We were hauling, but still being passed! We grabbed some food at a Subway in Flagstaff not far from the hotel.

I like Flagstaff, it has cool weather (I was wearing a jacket in August) and it has lots of trees. I wouldn't mind living there, some parts of Phoenix, I don't know...
We got back to the hotel to find Michael sprawled out on the couch with the entire series of Home Improvement (mine, BTW) on the coffee table. We relaxed that night, and decided to sleep a little later the next day, as the drive to Phoenix isn't that long.

11 August 2009
• Sedona – lunch
• Proceed to Phoenix – Distance between Flagstaff and Phoenix is approximately 145 miles/ 2 hours
• Diamondbacks Game – 1830
• Lodging
o Hampton Inn and Suites Glendale West Gate, Glendale AZ

o Two king-bed/sofa bed suites

We woke up a little later than usual and took our bags down to the car. I took care of check out while Mom and Mike took care of the was a good system that had been working the whole trip...why spoil it now! It took about an hour to get down to Sedona, which was pretty much gorgeous the entire drive. The setting is beautiful, but unless you live there or want to shop, there's not much to do. I suppose if I had gone with a different group of friends we would have gone hiking, but IDK how that would We drove around looking at some of the outrageously expensive homes and beautiful scenery. There was a lot of construction going on to the South of Sedona, so that made navigating a little difficult -- sadly enough this was the same construction that I encountered LAST year! We ate at a Mexican restaurant in a complex called Tlaquepaque (sp??) It was pretty good, and satiated my desire to eat Mexican food in Arizona, haha.

The drive down to Phoenix was uneventful, bar one slightly misread set of directions on the 101. Basically we got off too early, but that is easily remedied. I picked the hotel for two reasons. 1) I knew the area somewhat from my previous visit to Arizona and 2) one of my best friends lived nearby. Basically it was between a hotel in the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley area (East of Phoenix), or a hotel in Glendale (West of Phoenix). Glendale was cheaper and also won out because I knew that there was a large eating/entertainment complex right across the street -- Westgate. Mike and Mom also liked it because the University of Phoenix Stadium was right across the street.

We arrived at the hotel and checked in, and then headed into downtown Phoenix (which I am delighted to say I dodged booking a hotel in, haha) for the Diamondbacks Game. It was a lot of fun! The Diamondbacks won, and I got to see Jeff Francour (playing for the Mets) hit a homerun for the first time in my life--pathetic I know.

We went back to the hotel and I called Steele who came and picked me up. We went across the street to Westgate where we just sat and talked and caught up--for like four hours! We also did some karaoke, which is a specialty of mine. My best songs are Gin Blossoms' "Follow You Down" and Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks' "Gold Dust Woman".

About two I went back to the hotel, and sleep!

12 August 2009
• Lodging – same as night before
We got up around ten the next day and went across the street to Cabela's -- basically a West Coast Bass Pro Shop. Mike had asked to go there. Steele met us a little after that and took us around Phoenix. We went around Phoenix, over to Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, then through ASU and Tempe, before heading back to Glendale. Steele and I took the car to get cleaned/washed (it was covered in dust). We hung out in the pool a little while, and then met up with Steele's sister and her daughter for dinner at a Japanese restaurant at Westgate. We explored the fountains and got some ice cream. Steele and I went back to her place where we talked with her parents for a little while before I needed to head back, we had to be at the airport a little early the next morning. A good ending to a great trip!

13 August 2009
• 1045 – Depart Phoenix – Delta DL1792
• 1740 – Arrive Atlanta

We departed early, I guess around 0730 and gassed up the car before heading to Sky Harbor airport. We turned in our car and had some breakfast after checking in. Everything leading up to the flight was pretty boring and inconsequential. I was hoping we would have the PTVs again on the flight back, but alas, no such luck! Oh well, I had Harry Potter, which I really wanted to finish anyway. I did stop reading to watch Monsters vs. Aliens, a movie I would not recommend to anybody unless they had to watch it... I did buy a salad onboard and it was really good, sans the fact that it ONLY had ranch dressing (YUCK!). Other than that the flight was your standard fare Delta domestic service -- not bad, not great. We landed a little early I think, and had to wait FOREVER for our bags, and then we headed home.