Around the West in 30 Days – Day 10-11

nevada sign

NEVADA

Las Vegas baby!

hoover dam
Hoover Dam

Leaving the Grand Canyon, we stopped at the Hoover Dam for a quick look and photo opp. But everyone was too tired to enjoy it. We drove on til Vegas. Priceline.com again for a good hotel. First we stayed at New York New York at a great price. We had a meal in the hotel (on a faux New York street corner), and went to the Bellagio to stand in line for standby tickets for the “O” Cirque du Soleil show. o showWe were 2nd in line and lucked out. It’s a sold out show, but Anna and I made it in. Brandon sacrificed for us, and he went back to the hotel to sleep. We made it back to the room by midnight.

So in one day, Anna hiked out of the Grand Canyon, saw the Hoover Dam and caught a show in Vegas. Her eyes are as big as saucers. She is drinking it all in. We are having some great discussions. Some continued discussions. Valuable time together.

The contrast between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas is not lost on me. In one place, the wilderness, there is a reverence, a realization of how big God is and how small we really are. It is harder there, difficult. It is you and God and great beauty and the dirt and grime of survival. vegas nightThe Creator and the creation. It really cannot be described. It must be experienced. In Las Vegas, it is so much easier. I can get what I want and go where I want easily. It’s bright and flashy and man made and beautiful. But…there is no reverence. This is not a holy place. I am relieved to be here. I have wifi and food, comfort and ease of getting around and whatever I need. But I would not want to stay here. Both are beautiful in very different ways. Which path will I choose, the easy way or the hard way? Hold a gun to my head and make me choose…canyon wins every time.

repacking regrouping
Repacking, shipping packs

This is also the place we regrouped and took care of issues. We changed hotel rooms for an even better deal and stayed at the Monte Carlo. Traded the rental car making noises, had a real doctor visit and got serious meds, mailed the backpacks home so we wouldn’t have to tote them the rest of the way, etc. Brandon and Anna checked out the Miracle Mile and rode the NY Roller Coaster, and we took her to Caesar’s Palace to see the statues and things she could connect with her school studies.

Like Santa Fe, it was hard to get out of town. There was one more errand to run, one more thing we had to take care of, one more site to see, before we could trek on down the road. We did finally escape and made it to California.

Top 3 Vegas Tips:

1. Wear a watch. If you stay inside, you will have no idea how much time has passed. Percy Jackson and the lotus blossoms, anyone??
2. Set a limit and stick with it. I played 2 quarters and won $2.25. Done. I’m a winner. Anna spent $10 on the claw machine and won a giant Minion. Done. anna wins big vegas2
3. It is what you make of it. As it is with most things. We had a great time.anna wins big vegas

 

 

Around the West in 30 Days – Day 9

hiked out of canyon

NEVADA

GRAND CANYON – Pick up Day!

Grand Canyon Bright Angel
Bright Angel Trail

So my PLAN was to wake up early, shower, pack up, check out, head over to the South Rim, sit near the end of the trail and take a great pic of them walking off the trail. I would run towards them and we would have a teary reunion. We would talk over each other 90-to-nothing telling each other everything that happened. Lots of hugs and smiles as we drive away to our next adventure.

What REALLY happened:
hike out of canyonAs I’m getting into the shower at 7:30am, the phone rings. “Hey! Where are you? Come get us.” WHA…? But…but…but… .

Rushed shower, throw everything in the car. Drive like a maniac 1 ½ hours to get to them. Struggle for a parking place close to them. Searching, scanning the crowds to find them. Heart racing. Not sure exactly where they would be waiting. Long silent hug. Good strong hug. They are happy, but exhausted and really dusty and sweaty. Well, duh. Didn’t think of that.

Load up, drive to the camping ground showers. Closed 1 hour for cleaning. Grrr. Drove to lost and found. Anna had her iPhone (camera) stolen (lost) in the canyon. We made a stop at the Visitor Center so I could see something I wanted to see. Couldn’t find it. They are frustrated at my stop. Drive back to the public showers. Tie the backpacks on the roof of the car. It starts raining. Shove the packs back in the car. Drive out of the park and stop at the first place to eat. $28 for McDonald’s. Really? I drive toward Nevada. They sleep.first shower

We are together. They are OK. I have to let go of my fantasy. This is good, too. Living out of my head, instead of in the moment, will get me really frustrated. I can plan and imagine all I want, but the reality is, it rarely turns out that way. I have to breathe deeply and appreciate the moment for what it is, not what I want it to be.

This trip is turning out to be very different than what I thought it would be.

Good.

Around the West in 30 Days – Day 8

how you see the world

GRAND CANYON – waiting patiently

Let’s get real. I had a two day pity party. I’m not proud of it, but I own it. Today could have been the same. Even though I’m a big wuss, I have an adventure streak that runs deep. The idea of the adventure is so strong that I pushed through the hurt and fear and sorrow, and decided to go.

Sufficiently medicated for my sinuses and aching face, I brushed the tiny agoraphobia off my shoulder, prayed that God would guide my steps, put my hand on the door and took a step outside.
canyon pano south rim

canyon bright angel trail
Bright Angel Trail

canyon elkAn hour later at the South Rim, I had lunch outside the market and figured out the free shuttle system with the stops I wanted. I got off the bus and found where Brandon and Anna will come off the trail. I found our meeting spot and a good place to park. I went in some of the museums and checked out the breathtaking lookout points. I took pictures for people so they could all be in the same photo.  Some Japanese people took MY photo. It was fun. It was really fun. It was weird being alone for all that, but it was fun. copter faceTaking the shuttle back to my car, I drove the circle again, just to make sure I knew the way for tomorrow, and then I headed away from the 8th wonder of the world(1).

canyon squirrel
Helping me wait.

On the way out, the urge was so strong to take a helicopter ride. I want to see some of what B&A are seeing. Since I got a good deal on the hotel and I’ve been eating out of the ice chest and grocery bag instead of the restaurant, I used that money and treated myself to a copter ride.

Oh my WORD! Just riding in the helicopter was fun! copter canyon3The ride over the canyon was exhilarating. The 8 million photos on my camera will never do it justice. It’s very possible the Russian tourists in the copter were laughing at me. How do you giggle in Russian?

7 Little Reminders I needed:

1. Fear comes in many shapes and sizes.
2. Letting go and trusting God is not a one time thing. It’s a daily struggle.
3. I cannot watch over those I love all the time. Again, letting go.
4. The best way to find adventure is to step out the door.
5. I may need to go to a movie alone and sit in a restaurant alone. Baby steps.
6. Get over myself! I’m just a tiny speck in the universe (standing on the edge of a huge canyon), who will only be here for a whisper, a moment in time.
7. I saw the canyon in 45 minutes and I’m not tired or sweaty. Take that!

As I got off the helicopter, I received a text from some hikers that met up with B&A. My babies are OK. I can’t tell you how relieved that made me feel. Tomorrow I pick them up. One more day. This time, driving away from the canyon, I couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear. God does watch over the sparrow. He does watch over me. The actual reminder is such a gift.

 

(1) Clark, Jayne (December 22, 2006). “The world’s 8th wonder: Readers pick the Grand Canyon”USA Today. Retrieved May 3, 2013.

Around the West in 30 Days – Days 6-7

hiking off into the canyon

GRAND CANYON

my loves- daddy daughterThis was WAY harder than I thought it would be. We loaded up the car and I drove Brandon and Anna to the Kaibab Trailhead. They will hike from here on the North Rim, to the Bright Angel Trailhead on the South Rim. You can run it in a day. You can comfortably hike it in 2-3 days. They are taking 4 days so they can make camp and do nearby day hikes in each place. They will see waterfalls, cliff dwellings and so much more. I watched them walk off into the wilderness and clutched my heart. I balled like a baby as I drove away. I’m so excited for them, and so bummed for me.

I’m staying over at an Indian hotel/gift shop/gas station/art gallery/restaurant/post office. I’m all alone in a strange place with hardly any cell service and intermittent wifi. It’s waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone. This is the definition of bravery, right? Pushing through your fear and doing it anyway. Shout out to Angela at AAA in Birmingham, for being a friendly, back home voice from a lonely, nervous traveler.

Brandon’s advice: “If you talk to people, wear your sunglasses. You wear your feelings on your face. Everyone will know you are scared and you’ll be a target.”  Thanks. Now I feel like a lame undercover cop walking around in my sunglasses and ball cap everywhere I go. Don’t worry, I’m trying to smile and act super tough. No one will see through THAT disguise.

I’m going to repack and organize the car, catch up on some reading and writing, drive over to the South Rim and check out all the tourist attractions, and patiently wait for my babies to come out of the canyon alive and well. I can do this, right?

Day 7
GRAND CANYON – July 4th

cameron azOne whole week, gone from home. Two more days before I see B & A. I’m getting frustrated without internet. It’s hard to believe how reliant we are on technology. I use my apps to find cheap gas, food, places of interest around me. Right now, this arid climate is causing havoc on my sinuses and I would use my apps to find a doctor, a drug store, or some kind of relief. I’m at a crossroads on the Navajo Nation reservation, and there doesn’t seem to be anything around me. I’m having a hard time even making a phone call without it dropping. I’ve got two days before I pick up the fam. I could drive to a major city, but that’s using a lot of gas to get there and back that we didn’t budget for. Not to mention that everything is closed on the holiday and tomorrow starts a weekend. I’d hate to make the drive only to find everything closed and the gas wasted.

I had planned to drive over to the South Rim, but I’m not feeling well, and at least here I’ve got a comfy bed and a bathroom close by. I hate to spend the 4th alone and in my hotel room, but I am getting some much needed rest.  This is what adventure is all about. The good and the bad.

cameron sunsetI’m hoping that Brandon and Anna are having the adventure of a lifetime. Unplugged and together, hiking and camping, exploring, meeting physical challenges and laughing a lot. I’m on my own great adventure. Learning to be self reliant and face my own challenges. I’m resting my hope and faith in a big God. His eye is on the sparrow, so I know he watches me.

Although I’m learning to be unplugged myself, I’ll be really glad to connect again, not just with technology, but with the two people that I love the most in the whole world.

Praying for a wonderful day for all my friends and family, and saluting all U.S. veterans and military. Freedom is not free. God bless America.

Around the West in 30 Days – Days 4-5

NEW MEXICO, ARIZONA

I’ve tried for several days to post, but internet connection has been terrible.  I hope this goes through!

We just couldn’t pull ourselves away from New Mexico. LOVE Santa Fe. Live music in the Plaza everyday, all day. Arts and crafts everywhere you look. Amazing paintings and sculptures, pottery and leather, blankets, clothing, ahhhhh! We checked out of the hotel and kept saying, “just one more stop and then we’ll get on the road.” Twelve stops later and almost supper time, we finally got on the road. I hardly bought anything, I just enjoyed looking. I have a $3 ornament to go on my tree and some delicious chocolate that will be gone by today. Oh, and pictures. 🙂

We tried to make it to the Arizona line before stopping for the night, but we just couldn’t make it. We pulled over in Gallup, New Mexico for the night. Unloading our suitcases in a locust storm was a new one for me.

Random Thoughts for the Day:
1. Why hasn’t the adobe house caught on in Birmingham?
2. The Georgia O’Keefe museam/art gallery is a must see. She was an interesting woman.
3. I have the strong urge to grab a Native American Indian and look deep into his/her eyes, give a big hug and say, “I not just a tourist. I want to connect with you. I value you as a person and not as a western fixture.” I resist. I am actually a tourist. This makes me a little sad. If I get arrested for assaulting someone out here, you’ll know the real story.
4. The adobe Walmart and adobe McDonald’s are the cutest things! I did not take a picture. I have limits.
5. Northwest New Mexico is beautiful. Beautiful driving scenery.
6. I think we may just be crazy. What are we doing out here? That is all.

Around the West in 30 Days – Day 5
ARIZONA

“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.
For purple mountains’ majesties, above the fruited plains.
America, America, God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”

panorama grand canyonGuess what? We are driving in every Western movie I’ve ever seen. I fully expect Clint Eastwood or John Wayne to come riding past our car at any moment to stop the bandits from robbing the wagon train. The cliffs and canyons and plains, oh my. We are so very tiny. Really.

north rim sign
Arrived at the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge in the afternoon in the rain. Unloaded and began the backpack double check and final packing. By suppertime, the rain was gone and we went to dinner at the lodge overlooking the canyon. Wow. Just wow. I still can’t believe we are here. Waiting to dine, we began talking with a charming German couple. grand canyon north rimAnna is loving this. She snuck a pic of them so we could always remember. Love this girl. (I’ll have to download the pictures later.  I’ll be lucky if I can get one pic in with this crazy Arizona internet!)

 

Around the West in 30 Days – Day 3

new mexico line

NEW MEXICO

la posada hotelYay! Santa Fe! Today is so much better than yesterday. It started with Super Brandon using his super powers to get an incredible hotel to make up for what we now call the “Louisiana incident”. If you do not know about the super bidding deals on priceline.com, CLICK HERE and I’ll tell you all about it. For the same price we paid for “sketchy hotel”, we are staying in a 4 diamond hotel with the stars!

indian market santa feSo, after waking up refreshed from our plush and comfy beds in hotel amazing, we grabbed breakfast from our food bag and ice chest (fruit, granola bars, yogurt, etc.), and headed to the Santa Fe plaza to check it out. Could not have had more fun! Silver and turquoise as far as the eye can see and pottery, paintings, textiles, sculpture…I’m already looking for a house to buy! We took our time and browsed around just taking it all in.

coil with paddle potteryAlthough I’m not a big fan of traditional Indian pottery and artwork, I can appreciate the skill and talent it takes to make such great works of art. Stone polishing and firing pots in manure to bring out the rich black glossy pottery is pretty fascinating. Some of the etching techniques and pottery painting get me excited. My favorite pottery pieces were both over $1500. Not gonna happen. On a more modern note, the Santa Fe Clay Co. had two gentlemen from Taiwan demonstrating their coiling technique with paddles for an art class. I watched from the outside window, wishing I had a couple of hours to sit in.

sculpture girl on worldsculpture mom and girlThe Canyon Road art galleries are fabulous. Take a stroll down that street for a week or more and drink it all in. We met artists from all over the world and saw some truly spectacular pieces. I’m posting a pic of two of my favorite bronze sculptures. When looking at both of these pieces I could see so much emotion and movement. So many pieces of art are just flat to me. Pretty, but dull. These made me feel happy.  Isn’t that what counts? The exuberance on the little girl’s face as she stands on top of the world, and the motion of the mother swinging her daughter in circles brought fond memories of doing the same for Anna.

pascuals santa feWe had an interesting lunch at Pasqual’s farm-to-table café’. Brandon had the cubano supreme and Anna and I dared to share the cactus salad. Um….I’m not refined enough for something so exotic! It was tasty but slimy and although I tried not to think about it, I did gag once and stayed with the plantain chips the rest of the meal! We sat at the community table with other patrons and that was interesting. Not a talkative group. Oh well. Maybe next time.  They just couldn’t handle us, I’m sure. 🙂

Supper was at the Rooftop Pizzeria. Beautiful evening for an outdoor meal on the roof. Interesting people watching. A country band was playing in the plaza as we left and a couple of people were line dancing and fancy dancin’. A great evening!

TOP RANDOM THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY:

1.  I’ll take Heat Without Humidity, Alex, for $500.  What is…Ways not to sweat outside?  Ding! Ding!

2. Anna and I ditched Brandon to buy him a Christmas present.  I think he tried to come in the same store to get us something and circled right back out after seeing us.  Not sure, but Christmas should be fun this year!

3. The word on the street is that controversy is brewing with the Arabs buying all the local stores and the Indians are being pushed out of making a living selling their own artwork. You did not hear this from me.

adobe santa fe4. Why DO we have the desire to buy something from everywhere we visit to remind us that we were there?  How many key chains, t-shirts, coffee mugs,  and ornaments do you have?

5.  If you say “adobe” 25 times, it begins to sound ridiculous.  Try it.  Uh dough bee, heh heh.

6. There is such a wonderful variety of people in this world.  God delights in His children.  I will strive to be more purposeful enjoying Him and them.

Do check out the priceline.com deal if you are traveling. You won’t regret it. Tomorrow we move closer to the Grand Canyon. It’s probably going to be a camping night. Not sure yet. Stay tuned!

Around the West in 30 Days – hotel savings

Ok.  If you have clicked to this page, you are going to thank me.  I just know it.

This is our second time to use priceline.com and their hotel bidding deals.  It’s potluck.  You may or may not win your bid, but if you do…BINGO!  You are walking around with the rich and famous and they don’t even know you are Motel 6 material.  (Provided you have upgraded from the Beverly Hillbillies clothing and lingo.)

Go to http://www.priceline.com/promo/hotel_winning_bids.html.  Enter the city and dates and browse the hotels.  They will describe the hotels and the area of town, but until you win the bid, you have no idea what hotel you are going to.  To secure the bid, you have to pay up front.  Living on the edge, right?

We tried this in January in Miami when we went for a wedding.  We ended up in a Trump Golf Resort with people catering to our every need for the same price as the Holiday Inn across town.  This time, in Santa Fe, we are at a luxury resort for the same price as our terrible Ramada Inn experience in Louisiana.

You can google priceline bidding hacks and they will tell you what bids have been accepted and rejected recently.  We looked at that, then threw caution to the wind and set a lowball price just to see if they would take it.  Both times, they DID!  The guy next door to us is paying $500 a night to stay here.  We are paying $60.  Just sayin’.

Here is my disclaimer.  There is no guarantee.  You may not win your bid.  You may have to stay at the Ramada or the Econolodge.  But just for fun, pick a 4 star hotel and bid on it like you just don’t care and see what happens.  You could be on your own adventure!

Happy Travels!

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Around the West in 30 Days – Day 2

texas line

TEXAS, T…E…X…A…S

Yes. It goes on forever and it’s flat. Plan your bathroom breaks. Moving on.

Top 10 Things to Ponder from today:

1. If you stay at a sketchy Louisiana hotel and skip out on the free breakfast just to get out of there, some people may get grouchy. Stop as soon as possible and eat, breathe fresh air and smile at one another.texas

2. As soon as you cross the Texas line, the taco stands and cowboy hats are everywhere. You can buy a key chain in every shape and size with your name on it.  Except Donnalee.

3. Brandon really, REALLY likes twangy, old timey, country music. Mandolins make him giddy.

4. There is something a bit morbid to me about street vendors selling maps of where JFK was shot. Glad we stopped to see the memorial and take in a bit of history. Dallas has some incredible downtown buildings. I like incredible buildings.jfk dallas

5. FYI … lots of road work in Dallas-Ft. Worth. We passed through too early on a Sunday morning to visit several dear friends. Sad about that.

6. If you stop at a Walmart to stock up on snacks and drinks, check your car for hornets. Sometimes they want to catch a ride to get out of the 104*F heat. Whew! Close one.

7. Amarillo has a crazy 72 oz. steak challenge. People really try to eat 4 ½ pounds of meat in 1 hour just so they don’t have to pay for it.. Really. We saw this. I may have nightmares. Anna also chomped into a giant jalapeño pepper to show me she could handle it. She had me for about 2 minutes. Then we couldn’t stop laughing through her pain. Honey works wonders. My steak nightmare is gone now.

route 668. Route 66 is pretty cool. Parts of it run 20 feet from the interstate. Get off the interstate and be the only car on Route 66 for a while. Pretend you are in the Pixar Cars movie. Talk like ‘Mater. Why not?! Git ‘er done!

9. When you can see the horizon all around you, the sunset can be *b r e a t h t a k i n g*, and like Texas roads, the sunset goes on forever. Just beautiful.

10. Our first taste of the majesty of the starry sky came after we crossed the New Mexico state line. No city lights anywhere. Wow. Just wow. There is a God and He is amazing. It’s the same feeling as standing by the ocean and feeling so tiny and insignificant. Grateful that He does not see us that way.

sunsetIt was a long, tiring day, and tough to get through parts of it. We’ve played Go Fish, tried all the music stations, searched the web for fun things to do and see and napped. Brandon has gotten a good bit of work done. I’m learning not to get my feelings hurt if I start singing and someone races for the radio knob. We are all learning to take deep breaths and walk a mile in someone else’s feelings for a moment. I’m noticing that I am way too controlling, bossy, and get frustrated too easily. Recalibrating. Make a U-turn ahead.

It’s only day 2. Long, lonely Texas roads are behind us. A new adventure awaits tomorrow. And a day of rest. Yes! You have arrived at your destination. Go to sleep!

 

 

Around the West in 30 Days – Day 1

ms state line

MISSISSIPPI, LOUISIANA

T-Day (travel day) and we woke up behind schedule. There were quite a few loose ends to tie up before we could go. But what the Blankenships lack in timeliness, we make up for in adventure! A quick stop for a hug and a prayer with dear friends, and then we boogied to the Mississippi line.

Today’s highlights:

noble hotel, Jackson, MS1. Two million hours in the car searching for the perfect music selection we could all enjoy.  Finally, breaking out in every Oklahoma! Broadway song we know.  That’s how we roll.

2.  Visiting the ruins of the Nobel Hotel in downtown Jackson, MS. We have an old letter from Brandon’s grandfather to his grandmother from this hotel. He was a railroad man and spent a lot of time there right across the street from the Train Depot.noble hotel2

3. Duck Commander headquarters in Monroe, LA and supper at Willie’s Diner. If you’re passing through, why not?!duck commander

4. Very sketchy Ramada Inn in Brassier, LA. But, hey… if you are on a strict budget, it works. Beats sleeping in a tent in the rain. Just sayin’.  willie robertson

I just want to say here that I packed for a 3 week trip in a small overnight suitcase like those super fancy flight attendants do.  Props and shout outs to Pinterest and all those who went before and figured that out!  (I’m not counting the huge oversized purse I had to bring to fit everything else in.  It’s not a suitcase, so it doesn’t count.)

I will also offer this travel tip:  To get rid of hotel smells, brew the complimentary cup of coffee as soon as you enter the room.  Then place a cotton ball soaked with your favorite essential oil over the air vent and crank it up. Voilà!  Almost like home. Sort of.

Day one, I count as a success.  God is good, all the time.  Enjoying each moment.

Around the West in 30 Days – Day before

Romans 8:28

I am amazed at how much preparation it takes to leave the house for 3 weeks. Maybe it’s just us. I went on a quest to wash every stitch of clothing so we would have packing choices and not leave a mountain of laundry for the return. We have a house sitter, so of course, I cleaned like a maniac so she wouldn’t judge us on how we really live. The bills had to be paid and prepaid, then filed. People rounded up and scheduled for checking on the garden, the bees, the pets, holding the mail, picking up packages, and cutting the grass. And let’s talk outside…the garden weeded, veggies gathered and prepped for storage, grass cut, bees given room to expand while we’re gone, dog area cleaned up, porch swept….ahhhhhh! It’s enough to make you want to stay home! Almost.

Roughly, we are headed out west, through 15 states, with a few fixed dates and places to stay. The rest is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-adventure. This is mainly a Daddy-Daughter trip. This is a chance for Brandon and Anna to connect since she has turned the magic age of 13 and has entered teenagerhood. A series of events over the last few years has drastically changed his schedule and our home. Where he was always busy and working, and had to stop and check in and stay connected, he now is very connected and looking for outlets become a purposeful parent and have meaningful relationship with a daughter that will move out and move on before we know it.

We can do this, right?
We can do this, right?

The main event on this trip is a hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, to the South Rim. They will go down on a Thursday, hike across, and come out on a Sunday. Just a dad and his daughter, camping, hiking and roughing it. They are going to have a ball. And I’m along for the ride. I can’t wait to see how all this plays out. What we learn, how we manage with very limited funds, how we get along side by side for 3 weeks and how we grow. I’d love it if you came along for the ride with us. Leave a comment or let us know you are following. (It will give me something to do while they are “bonding.”) 🙂