Day 21 of our 21 day adventure

We are finally back home from a wonderful vacation. It only took us about 5 hours to get home today and the girls were excited to see us, our dogs included…

Here’s a collage of our overall vacation. We had a blast! Thanks for joining us along the way and hopefully it won’t be too long before we travel again.

collage

Advertisements

Day 20 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2602

We slept in this morning, and oh how glorious it was to finally be able to get some much needed rest. We have another full day of driving ahead of us though and so we can’t really dilly dally all day long. So… after quickly checking out of our hotel, we are now on our way to Urbandale, IA.

IMG_2593After a couple of hours of driving, we spot an Air and Space Museum and decide that we can’t possibly pass this up. We both love airplanes and if I hadn’t joined the Army, I probably would have joined the Air Force. I have always had a fondness for anything related to space as well. So this is the perfect place for us to spend an afternoon.

IMG_2619I am completely amazed by the sheer size of some of the aircraft. It’s hard to believe that something this large can actually make it off the ground. I’ve seen plenty of airplanes in my life, but these are huge! After making our way through the self-guided tour, we stop in the gift shop and buy some much needed space ice cream and some other small trinkets that we are sure that our girls will like.

IMG_2604We are back on the road within a few hours and still making good time, even though the traffic has picked up. After arriving at our hotel, we are surprised to find that our room resembles at hospital room. We are in a very crowded district here in Urbandale and after settling in, we try to figure out what to do for dinner. Neither of us really wants to venture out into the traffic, and fortunately we find out that there is a very nice restaurant within walking distance of the hotel and so we decide to eat there for dinner to avoid the traffic on the roads.

IMG_2633The place turns out to be quite charming, its country style suits me. The place is called the Machine Shed and honors the American farmer. I am very surprised at how amazing the food is. The people here are really friendly and this is such a great way to end our day. We’ve had an amazing adventure so far and this will be our last dinner on the road. Tomorrow we head for home. Ahh… Home Sweet Home! I can hardly wait!

Day 19 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2488

We are leaving Avon today and heading out to Grand Island, NE. I am eager to get going since I am not really fond of this place. Don’t get me wrong… Colorado is a beautiful place. In fact, I would say it tops some of the places we’ve seen on our trip, but at the same time I don’t feel like I belong here. The people here just seem very different from what I am used to, and I think it’s because I’m more of a laid back kind of girl, not a fancy schmancy girl like some of the ladies that I have seen around here.

IMG_2507After breakfast at the hotel, we are finally on our way. The rain had been intermittent today and is kind of nice since it has helped to cool things down. After several hours of driving we spot a rest area in Georgetown and decide to stop. After stopping, we learn of a train ride not far from where we are. I’m excited because I’ve never actually been on an old fashioned steam engine train and I’ve always thought it would be fun to take a ride on one.

IMG_2515Brian and I both agree that the train ride sounds like a lot of fun and so we head up to Devils Head Station to buy our tickets and board the train. Within 30 minutes we are sitting on an old steam engine train that uses oil for fuel. The views of the mountains are incredible and we pass over a raging river a few times on the route. The ride lasts for about an hour and we opt against the mine tour that is offered at one of the stops.

IMG_2541After disembarking the train, we enter the gift shop and spend some time there looking at all the amazing train memorabilia. We have had such a fun day and decide to stay in this town a little longer to grab some lunch. It’s still sprinkling off and on and we find a restaurant in the downtown section before the rain starts to really come down. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere is family style, which makes me feel quite at home.

IMG_2531After lunch, we head back to the car, weaving our way through the crowded streets and passing all of the small town shops. All of a sudden, the rain starts to pour and we quickly look for a place to take shelter. We dart into a coffee house that looks more like a library than anything else and both order some coffee while we wait out the rain.

IMG_2585It’s cozy in here and I know that if I lived here, that this would probably be one of my favorite places to hang out. The rain doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon and time is passing by quickly, so we decide to head out the back door of the coffee shop and make a mad dash for the car. Soaked to the bone, we are now in the car holding our warm coffees and trying to stop shivering. It reminds me of being a kid once more and playing out in the rain just for the fun of it. It’s sad to think that those days are long gone.

IMG_2592A few hours later and we have now arrived at our hotel in Grand Island, NE. With nothing left to do and still quite full from lunch, we decide to watch a movie and get to bed early. It’s been another great day and we only have one day left before we head for home.

Day 18 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2463

It is with a heavy heart that we are leaving Zion today. I am dreading the fact that I have to say goodbye to my brother and nephew. I wonder how long it will be before I see them again. I only got an hour of sleep last night because I am coming down with a cold and can barely breathe.

IMG_2461The sun is just starting to rise as we say our goodbyes to David and Levi. We all have long drives ahead of us and are eager to get started to avoid the traffic on the roads. I spot my Spanish speaking friend who is just arriving for work and say goodbye to him as well.

IMG_2467As we make our way toward Avon, Colorado, the heat index starts to rise and it is now over 100°. I am feeling worse now because of the heat and my cold isn’t helping matters. Because of this, I am not being a very good sport about the long drive and exhaustion is starting to set in from getting so little sleep last night.

IMG_2465When we finally arrive at the hotel, the attendant is really rude to me and makes me feel even worse by something that she says. I always take everything so personally and it only gets worse when I don’t feel well.

IMG_2462We finally get up to our room and I crash on the bed. Both of us sleep for hours before we finally wake up feeling hungry. We look outside and discover that it has been raining, and surprisingly there’s a double rainbow right outside our window. Unfortunately, the rainbow is almost gone before I can snap a good picture.

IMG_2468We finally both drag ourselves out of the room with just enough strength to go pick up something to eat for dinner. The food ends up being terrible and I am really missing home-cooked meals at this point. Normally, we hardly ever eat out and I just haven’t been able to get used to the food on this trip. I think to myself… only three days left and I will be home, and right now I really wish I was.

Day 17 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2045

Today we are traveling to Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin State Park. The weather is beautiful and I am excited to explore a new place today. After getting ready, we stop at the hotel dining room for some breakfast. We have only been able to eat breakfast here a couple of different days now, because we always leave the hotel before breakfast starts. There is a cook here that I have made friends with, he spoils me with real eggs instead of the nasty scrambled ones in the heating pan. I am impressed by his generosity and wish I could meet more people like him. He has a thick Spanish accent and makes me feel quite at home, especially since I grew up in California and had many Spanish speaking friends when I lived out there. It always amazes me how you can make friends in the strangest of places and sometimes just being around someone for a few minutes can spark a friendship that can last a lifetime.

IMG_2029Feeling quite full after the hearty breakfast, we now make our way to Bryce Canyon. It’s a beautiful drive and every time I see a Hoodoo, I get excited and want to jump out of the car and take a picture. There are several rock shops along the way and we indulge our young nephew by letting him visit a few. I love rocks as well and end up buying a sandstone sculpture that catches my eye. There are quite a few other things I would like to get as well, but after looking at the price tags, I decide just to get the one sculpture.

IMG_2038Down the road a little further, we spy a natural arch bridge that covers the highway. I can’t help but stop to take pictures. It doesn’t take too long before we finally reach Bryce Canyon. There are several places to stop and explore the canyon. By the end of our journey through Bryce Canyon, we have taken over 500 pictures and are eager to see how they all turned out.

IMG_2047Its lunch time now, and we find a burger place to stop at. The food isn’t very good, but we are all so hungry at this point, that none of us really care. There is another rock shop across the street and so of course we have to stop at that one as well. After going through a bunch of other small shops, we finally decide that we need to get going again.

IMG_2263There is one last place we want to stop at before we go all the way back to our hotel. Kodachrome State Park isn’t too far away and so we decide to head out and take a tour of the place. When we get there, I am amazed at how beautiful it is, and the crazy thing is, I end up finding an area that reminds me of my dream once more. Dying to explore the place, I find myself running off the trail in search of a closer look of the rock formations that surround us. My brother bravely follows me; knowing that I will probably get into trouble alone without him. I head in the direction of a place that looks like a good place to explore and my brother David stops to investigate an area where he sees some crystals poking up from beneath the sand. As he begins to dig them up, I take off and explore the remainder of the area.

IMG_2272It seems that I have finally found the one place that reminds me the most of my dream, and so I stop to take a few pictures. I am almost crying once again, the emotional connection that I have to this place is eerie and I am at a loss for words on how best to describe the feelings that are coming over me. It’s as if I’ve been here before, but now the entrance to the place in my dream is covered with a pile of rocks and I cannot enter the cave that once existed here. Knowing that we will probably get caught for going off the trail, I decide to find my brother and get back to the trail where Levi and Brian are waiting. I am surprised the park Ranger hasn’t been out to yell at us yet, as I catch a glimpse of his headquarters from where we are standing. Back on the trail, we hike for a little while longer. It’s starting to get late and we know that we need to get back before it gets dark. I feel so drawn to this place that I don’t want to leave. After taking a bunch more pictures, I finally convince myself that we must go.

IMG_2286During the road trip back to the hotel we stop and take several more pictures. The landscape is just breathtaking and I can’t get enough. Unfortunately, because of my hesitation to leave, poor Levi ends up having an accident in the back seat because we didn’t stop soon enough for a potty break. He feels just awful about it and I laugh because I did the same thing in the back seat of my uncle’s car when I was about his age. The day ends with us cleaning out the car and trying to save the upholstery. Even with this small hiccup, this has been one of the best days yet.

Day 16 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1888

It’s another early day for all of us. We are trying our best to avoid the crowds and today we will be hiking in a place called the Narrows. The shuttle ride takes us about 45 minutes and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. I am a little concerned that I didn’t wear a warm enough sweater. It’s a crisp cool morning and I know that being in the water will only make things worse.

IMG_1901After hiking for about a mile, we are now in the Narrows. The water looks fairly calm and the skies are clear. Sandstone walls engulf us and make us feel small in comparison. The water has woven its path here for thousands of years and there is hardly any dry land to walk upon. Flash flooding is a danger in this area and so any signs of rain and we will have to head back immediately. Fortunately, the weather forecast isn’t calling for rain and so we should be safe for today.

IMG_1744The water is deeper in some areas and I don’t have a walking stick to judge the depth of the water. It’s a little unnerving stepping out into the water, not knowing what lies beneath each step that I take. There are a couple of times that my brother has to help steady me. The water is running pretty fast in some areas and I feel as if I will be swept off my feet.

IMG_1879Along the way, the water reaches us to my thighs and I feel a bit hesitant about continuing on since the water seems to be rising at times. Every step we take, takes us deeper into a maze of colorful rocks, formed by the brisk waters that shape and mold each tiny crevice. The rocks remind me of the leaves back home during the fall season. As I look down in the water, I can see a million different colors and the sound of the water playing its magical tune is soothing and begging me to continue onward.

IMG_1894After hours of hiking through the river, we decide that it’s getting late and that it’s now time to head back. The river beckons to me and my heart aches to continue on, but I know that if we don’t leave now, that our strength won’t hold out for the trek back. And so with regret, we start our return hike back.

IMG_1922As we get closer to where we began, the water seems to be getting deeper and there are now multitudes of people walking through the river. I am having trouble finding a pathway to walk through that isn’t too deep. With scores of people around now, I am starting to feel a little claustrophobic and walk as fast as I can through the murky waters to reach dry land.

IMG_1996When we finally reach the spot where we first entered the river, all of us are relieved and just want to get back to our hotel. We still have about a mile to walk before we get to the shuttle and when we finally make it to the shuttle stop, it’s a relief to find a shuttle that isn’t completely filled.

IMG_1761With each shuttle stop that we make, more people try to cram into the tiny bus and before long there are so many people that the doors are threatening not to close all the way. People are standing in the aisles, falling over each other and I am thankful that I actually have a seat to sit in right now. As tired as I am, I doubt I could stand for very long.

IMG_1854After returning to the entrance of the park, we race back to our hotel and rest for a while. The only thing that finally gets us moving again, is our appetites; and so we head back down to the city of Hurricane and order a pizza to bring back with us to the hotel. Tomorrow will be another long day and so we head to bed early. I am exhausted, but excited for tomorrow

The continuation… Day 15 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1653

The continuation…

Taking one last peek over the edge of the cliff, I know that it’s now time to head back down into the valley below. The adrenaline rush is still pulsing through my veins though and I don’t want this feeling to end. People are coming in droves now and it’s making the trail harder to maneuver. A few hours later, we are finally back where we started.

IMG_1623We stop and eat the lunch at the picnic area and then decide to catch the shuttle that will take us to the Zion Museum. The museum isn’t very big, and doesn’t take us long to wander through. We buy a couple of souvenirs and head back out once more to find another hiking trail. I immediately spot another trail right outside of the museum and we hike for another two miles until we find ourselves in a quiet cove by the Virgin River. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and think and would be the perfect place to spend a long lazy afternoon. Tired as we are though, we decide that it’s best if we go back to the hotel to rest for a while.

IMG_1632Before long, my nephew Levi gets bored and so we all decide to take him over to the local rock shop again. Levi has fun examining each rock closely and cannot settle his mind on just picking out one. He loves them all! After spending nearly an hour shopping for rocks, we’re all realizing how hungry we are from all the hiking and walking that we’ve done today and we decide to head south on the highway to see if we can find a restaurant down in the city of Hurricane.

IMG_1626After driving for about 45 minutes, we finally spot a Mexican restaurant adjacent to a movie theatre. We contemplate a movie, but nothing looks interesting, so instead we go inside the restaurant to eat dinner. The restaurant offers take-out or dining-in and we decide to stay there to eat. The food turns out to be really good and reasonably priced.

IMG_1636After eating our fill, we decide to head over to Walmart to by some water shoes for our hike tomorrow through the Narrows. After finding out that there are no water shoes left in my size, I decide to settle on a pair of tennis shoes to wear instead. After buying shoes for everyone and a few random items that we were in need of, we are now heading back to the hotel for the night.

IMG_1703We are relieved to find a parking space when we return to the hotel and we drag ourselves into the room with hardly an energy left. It been a long but glorious day and most definitely my favorite day yet.

Day 15 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1616

Today is finally here. The day I have been looking forward to for months now! We will be hiking up to Angels Landing, but that isn’t the best part; we will also be renewing our vows and I am so excited that I just want to scream! The problem is, it’s 5:00 a.m. and so screaming isn’t allowed at the moment. I must be civilized and act like an adult, like everyone else. Who am I kidding…? I’m surrounded by three boys at the moment, so I’m probably the most mature person around right now.

IMG_1463This morning is much the same as yesterday. I am preparing lunches and packing everything that we will need for the day. We are leaving a little bit earlier today so that we don’t face as many crowds as we did yesterday. As we approach the shuttle, I notice that there are quite a few people here. Most seem to be prepared for climbing, as they are loaded down with ropes and all kinds of other gear that I suppose one might need for that sort of thing.

IMG_1468We arrive at the drop off point for the West Rim trail that will lead us up through Walter’s Wiggle’s; these 21 switchbacks look like a beast to climb. I am ready though and excited to see if I can make it up the 1488 feet that we will need to climb. The hike is 5 miles round trip and the hiking guide shows that it should take us about 5 hours to complete the hike. I am nervous about my 6 yr. old nephew coming with us. This is a strenuous hike and it isn’t recommended for children.

IMG_1493As we make our way up the steep sandstone incline, I start to wonder if I am crazy for attempting this. I have been a stay-at-home mom for several years now and so just walking around the block often wears me out. But I remind myself of our hike up at Mt. Charleston and yesterday’s hike was no cake walk either. It isn’t long before my nephew Levi starts to get tired and my brother David tells me that he may have to turn back if Levi cannot continue on.

IMG_1507Brian and I continue on without Levi and David, hoping that they will catch up to us after they rest for a while. I know that if I stop now, that I may never make it the rest of the way myself. There aren’t too many people on the way up. It’s still really early in the day and I am happy that we decided to leave so early. To my surprise, my brother and Levi catch up to us within a few minutes and I am excited to see them.

IMG_1508After finally making it through all of the switchbacks, we are now at Scout Lookout, which is the saddle that lies between the West Rim trail and Angels Landing. I am thankful that they have bathrooms all the way up here. I would hate to be the one that has to climb up here every day to replace the toilet paper though! Walking over to the beginning of Angels Landing trail, I begin to feel a little apprehensive. This is not for the faint of heart. I can tell by the posted sign that talks about how many people have died falling to their deaths because of the sheer cliffs.

IMG_1510Taking a deep breath, Brian and I proceed to hike the last .5 mile which is what will take us to the final lookout for Angels Landing. There are anchored support chains along the trail to help people climb the steep sandstone ridge. I am able to barely pull myself up the first few chains until I am resting on a large boulder that overlooks the entire park. Great White Throne Mountain is to my left and we are sitting at an elevation of 5,785 ft. The views are breathtaking and horrifying at the same time.

IMG_1511I turn around quickly when I catch something out of the corner of my eye. It turns out that Brian’s lens cap has fallen down from where he is sitting. He is higher up on the boulder than I am and as he reaches for his lens cap, he tears the pocket from the back of his shorts and his wallet begins to fall out too. This is not the place to be trying to catch things that are falling and I am beginning to become very nervous about going any further.

IMG_1518With nothing to hold onto, I start sliding back to one of the anchored support chains. It was hard enough getting up to this point and getting down seems a lot harder. I can’t quite reach the support chain and in front of me is a sheer drop-off into the valley below. If know the only way down is to sort of take a leap of faith from where I am and hope and pray that I can boost myself enough to grab hold of the chain.

IMG_1521It’s getting more crowded by the minute and there is no way to go around the other people that are coming up the trail from the other side. I am forced to hold my breath and reach out as far as I can to grab the anchored support. After what seems like forever, I finally grasp the support and hoist myself down onto the safety of Scouts Lookout below. I have never been so terrified in all my life and yet I am still glad that I am here, living this adventure with the man I love.

IMG_1529David and Levi are waiting for us on Scouts Landing and David decides to see how far he can make it on the Angels Landing Trail. As we wait with Levi, Brian and I begin to set up the camera so that we can film our wedding vows here at the entrance to Angels Landing. Sitting down next to Levi, I am surprised when a chipmunk decides to climb up my back. The squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere, always looking for food.

IMG_1538We haven’t waited very long before my brother returns. He wasn’t able to make it all the way to the end either because there are too many people crowding the paths and making it impossible to reach the end. It’s disappointing, but I think we all are just glad to have made the attempt and we proceed with setting up everything so that we can renew our wedding vows.

IMG_1563David helps steady the camera on the tripod and we take out the vows that we have written to each other and begin the short ceremony. Brian goes first and because of the noisy groups of people in the background, I can hardly hear what he is saying. Once he is done saying his vows, a bunch of people begin to clap. I am surprised that people have actually stopped and are watching our little ceremony. Feeling flustered by the onlookers, I begin to read the vows that I have written to Brian.

IMG_1578We have had a very hard year. The hardest year of our marriage so far. These vows mean more to us than anyone else will ever know or understand. Because of the problems that we have recently faced in our marriage and in our family, we knew that we needed a fresh start. To be able to start over and begin anew has meant the world to me.

IMG_1581When I first met Brian and when we were married 21 years ago, Brian wasn’t a believer and I wasn’t sure if he ever would be. It didn’t matter to me though, I loved him and that’s all I knew at that time. I didn’t think that his beliefs would ever be an issue in our marriage and honestly, I didn’t really care one way or another at that point. I just wanted to be with someone who cared about me and loved me, and who would be by my side for the rest of my life.

IMG_1587Years later, I would come to realize what this decision would cost me and my family more than I would ever know. I finally understood what being unequally yoked meant and certainly paid the price because of it. Do I regret my decision? No, of course not… but life would have been a whole lot simpler had we spoken about our religious views before we were married and if we had worked on that first.

IMG_1602God has been gracious to us though and it has been 9 years now since Brian became a Christian. It has made all the difference in our marriage and even though things will never be perfect, we can now get through the hard times a little bit easier because we have our heavenly father who ties us together even in the worst of times.

 

To be continued…

Day 14 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1318

I am so excited right now! It’s 5:30 a.m. and I am preparing lunches for our early morning hike up to Emerald Pools. We will also be hiking the trails of Kayenta and Temple of Sinawava. The day looks like it will be beautiful. The forecast is calling for a high of 84° and will be a much needed break from the average 110° weather that we had been experiencing in Las Vegas.

IMG_1234The hotel that we’re staying in is only .5 mile away from the entrance to Mt. Zion National Park, which makes it easy since we don’t have to drive anywhere and can just walk to the entrance of the park. After gathering up all of our gear for the day, we head out for the quick walk over to the entrance and to catch the shuttle that will take us to our first hiking location.

IMG_1248As we walk along, I notice a statue of a fawn right outside a local hotel and find it curious that it looks so lifelike. It doesn’t take us long to realize that it is indeed a live fawn who has apparently misplaced her mother. I am amazed that we are this close to her and yet she doesn’t seem alarmed in the slightest. Eventually the fawn gets tired of us looking at her and moves along into the brush from which she came.

IMG_1262We have now entered the park and the shuttle has just arrived. It’s 6:30 a.m. and we are only about 30 minutes from the hiking trail that will lead us up to Emerald Pools. I have seen pictures of this place and I’m hopeful that it won’t be very crowded since we are getting a fairly early start. After boarding the shuttle, I notice that it is really crowded and I am surprised that so many people are up at this time of day.

IMG_1293As we ride along in the shuttle, we see several small animals along the way. What I am most impressed by, are the deer that are grazing right next to the road as we pass by. We are literally a few feet away from them as we go by and the deer don’t even seem to notice us. It’s amazing to me that animals would act this way and I wonder how much more we will see of this.

IMG_1274As the shuttle makes its way through several stops, we finally reach our destination. It’s still a bit chilly out, but I have a feeling that I will warm up as soon as we start hiking through the mountains. The hiking trail to Emerald Pools is beautiful and as we make our way up to the top, the valley below offers breathtaking views. There are several areas that have naturally formed steps and we also come across a small waterfall the covers a small area on one of the trials.

IMG_1303Winding our way back further into the landscape we cross a brook and then head higher up into the mountains where we finally reach Emerald Pools. It’s beautiful here and there are quite a few people exploring the pools by way of the rocks that surround this alcove of emerald colored waters. The rocks cast shadows upon the water and the reflection is a magnificent sight. The beauty that lies within these rock walls is incredible and takes my breath away.

IMG_1323We stay for quite a while, immersing ourselves in the serenity and peacefulness of this place. Even with other people nearby, it feels as if we are the only ones here. Everyone seems to be respecting the tranquility of this lovely place as if it were a sacred shine that should not be disturbed.

IMG_1295The next trail we take is called Kayenta and it’s a short trail that leads us back to shuttle stop where we began earlier in the day. Hiking back down the mountain is a little bit trickier, as it has become more crowded now and we are taking a different path that is narrower and offers little protection from the cliffs edge. After a taking a short break to eat our lunch in the picnic area, we gather all of our gear and climb back onto the shuttle to our final destination which is a trail called, Temple of Sinawava.

IMG_1363The trail is beautiful, but very crowded. There are chipmunks and squirrels scurrying between our feet as we walk along the pathway. There are so many times that I have had to stop myself from nearly stepping on one because there are so many running about. The trail is beautiful, with the Virgin River running along one-side and a sheer rock face on the other. Water is trickling down from the rocks in various places and small ferns and moss are growing in abundance.

IMG_1434It’s strange to me to see this many types of different plants growing all together in the same habitat. I am amazed that all of these different plant species can grow here. I have never seen moss and ferns growing within a few feet of cacti and pine trees, and yet here they are. It reminds me of what the Garden of Eden might have been like. Especially because the animals here are completely tame and seem to love being around people.

IMG_1433Toward the end of the trail we come to what is called the “Narrows” which is a place where many people hike along the river for miles and miles. It seems like a beautiful place to go, but unfortunately we aren’t prepared to be hiking through water and so we immediately make a plan to come back here and hike another day when we have the proper gear to do so.

IMG_1408After such a long day of hiking, we all agree to head back to town. The shuttle takes about 45 minutes and when we finally arrive back at entrance to the park, walking back to the hotel seems like a long ways away. After stopping back at the hotel to freshen up, we all agree that we still need to plan something for dinner. Not wanting to spend a fortune on food, we all agree to walk down to the local supermarket to buy something to make. We visit a few local shops along the way and enjoy the local art and rock shops.

IMG_1382We finally make our way back and eat dinner in our room. It has been a great first day at Mt. Zion National Park and we are all eagerly awaiting tomorrows hike up to Angels Landing. Excited for the challenge, but knowing full well that we will need plenty of rest beforehand; we all turn-in early. It has been a wonderful, exhausting day and one that I will never forget.

Day 13 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1485

Today we left Vegas and we are driving out to Pahrump to visit relatives. Upon arriving, we are greeted with warm inviting hugs and all decide to sit outside in the patio. It’s earlier in the day and the cooler air is a welcoming change from the Las Vegas heat that we have been dealing with for the last 7 days.

IMG_1228Aunt Bobbi gives us a tour of her vegetable garden and some of her plants. Poor Uncle Dave is pretty much bed ridden at the moment and so we are leaving him to rest quietly in the house. After a few hours of talking and catching up, we know we must leave, since we are meeting my brother David up near Mt. Zion today.

IMG_1237I am really excited about visiting Mt. Zion National Park. I had a dream several years ago that left me puzzled and searching for answers. After having the dream, I searched the internet for clues and I somehow came across pictures of Mt. Zion. After viewing the pictures, I realized that I had in fact dreamt of Mt. Zion, even though I had never actually heard of or seen this place before. Since then, I always knew that somehow… someday… I would visit this place. I am so excited for what may happen and I am curious if anything will spark a resemblance to my dream.

IMG_1484After a couple hours of driving, we catch our first glimpse of Great White Throne Mountain, located in Mt. Zion National Park. Its huge white peak stands out against the other red mountain peaks that surround it. I immediately get tears in my eyes as I recognize this particular mountain peak from my dream. I try to hide my tears, not wanting Brian to notice this sudden change in my emotions. It’s hard to put into words how I am feeling at this moment. All I can say, is that I know I have been here before. In my dream, I clearly saw what I am seeing now and I can hardly believe my eyes. It’s been 11 years since I had that dream, but I can still replay that dream in my mind as if I had just dreamt it.

IMG_1241It’s mid-afternoon now, and my brother has been waiting for us for a couple of hours. We pull into the Quality Inn, which is located in Springdale, UT. The parking lot is almost non-existent, and the people at the front desk aren’t the nicest people that I’ve ever met, but still… the room turns out to be nice and clean and I feel happy that we made the choice to stay here. There’s a pool right outside our room that looks inviting and on the other side of the parking lot is a crowded RV park.

IMG_1232After texting my brother to let him know that we have arrived, we meet up with him and my nephew Levi who is 6 yrs. old. It’s really good to be able to see them and visit with both of them. This is the first time that I am able to see my nephew Levi and he reminds me of my youngest daughter Autumn who is almost the same age.

IMG_1238We are all very hungry since it is now close to dinner time, so we decide to walk down the street to see if we can find a place to eat. We find a restaurant called “Wiley’s Ranch” and decide to try it out. I am surprised when we get our menus at how expensive everything is. My brother and I decide to order the fish, which ends up tasting like it’s straight from a box. The fish is so salty that I can hardly continue to eat it. I don’t like to complain though and since we paid so much for the meal, I try to eat as much as I can.

IMG_1488I’m enjoying getting to see my brother for the first time in about 8 years. It’s hard not seeing my family very often and I wish that we didn’t live so far away. I don’t have any of my family living near me and it has been this way for the last 21 years. I often find myself trying to forget them, so that it doesn’t hurt so much being away from them. I am thankful for this time that I can spend with my brother and nephew. I can only imagine the fun adventures that we will have this coming week.

Day 12 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1111

After several suggestions by the locals, we have decided to visit Mt. Charleston. The weather is similar to yesterday. A few clouds are hovering over the mountains, but they don’t seem to stick around for very long. After about a 30 minute drive, we are now pulling into the visitors’ center. The views from here are spectacular and there are hardly any other tourists in sight. The serenity of this place suits me and I can’t get enough of the panoramic landscape that engulfs us. After a quick stop in the gift shop and after speaking with the attendant about where she would suggest that we go for an easy hike; we are finally on our way to see where the road takes us.

IMG_1105After following the winding road a short distance up the mountain, we finally pull into the parking lot for the trail-head that will lead us up to Mary Jane Falls. The last part of the name sparks our interest, as Brian and I both live for waterfalls! The map we have with us, shows that the trail is 3 miles long and explains that the elevation of the mountain is 9200 feet. In order for us to reach the top, we will have to climb 1100 feet. This sounds like a fun challenge and so we gather up our supplies and prepare for what seems like a fairly easy climb.

IMG_1225At first the terrain is sandy and there is a slight incline to the path. The trail is wide open and seems more like a walk in the park, than a hiking trail that eventually leads to a waterfall. As we continue further, we see a father with his three young children. He has one child strapped to his body and the other two are running free. After speaking briefly to the man, we learn that he hikes this trail by himself every year with his kids. I think to myself, well… if he can do it with three kids, this should be a piece of cake!

IMG_1130Hiking a bit further, we start to pass a slew of fallen trees and dead underbrush. The trail begins to get narrower and the path is littered with small jagged rocks. We are now at what looks like the beginning of the actual trail. Looking up towards the top of the mountain, we see nothing but switchbacks for as far as the eye can see. I start to feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew. I love a good hike, but I am not really sure that I am prepared for this.

IMG_1176I really love nature and have always loved a good adventure. This is one of the reasons why I joined the Army when I was 19 yrs. old. After going through basic training, nothing else has ever seemed as hard. Of course that was 24 years ago and I am not in the same physical shape that I once was. But because of my determined mind set, I never say no to a challenge. So with pep in my step, I decide to brave the mighty mountain. I think Brian is probably thinking that I will never make it, which makes me even more determined to prove him wrong.

IMG_1133The whole way up, people keep telling us that it is just a little bit further and with every step I hope and pray that they are right. The temperature has dropped significantly and I pull my sweater a little closer to my body, trying to shield myself from the brisk wind that is coursing through the trees around us. After about two hours, we finally turn the last bend. At last we see the waterfall that we’ve been so excited to find. This was the one thing that kept me from turning back; the thought of seeing this amazing beautiful waterfall! I am deeply disappointed by what I see though. Apparently because of the recent drought, the waterfall has all but evaporated and there is just a tiny trickle of water flowing from the top of the mountain peak.

IMG_1148There’s a couple of caves that we can see from where we are standing. One of them is actually right behind the waterfall and there are people getting ready to camp for the night. It’s getting really cold up here and starting to drizzle out; I wonder how these people will ever stay warm up here all night. The rain starts to come down harder now and before we know it, it’s actually hailing on us. Once we hear thunder, we know that it’s time to go.

IMG_1147We race down the mountain as fast as we can. The steep incline has made the trail slick and the loose rocks threaten our ability to balance. I lose my foothold several times and do more sliding down the mountain than anything else. I am thankful when we finally reach our car about an hour later. The rain has now stopped and I am thoroughly exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. I have completely surprised myself by making it all the way up the mountain and back down. It’s the first time in years that I feel I have actually accomplished something that I really didn’t think that I could do.

IMG_1181Feeling famished now from all the strenuous activity, we decide to head back down the road to a park that is listed on the map. Upon arrival the place looks like a nice spot to have a picnic lunch and so we decide to get out and do just that. It hasn’t even been two minutes since we left the car and the rain is beginning to pour. With the flood gates now wide open, we scurry back to the car and decide instead to head back to the visitors center. By the time we make it back there, the rain is still pouring and so we decide to eat our meal in the car. The view is still lovely, even through the pouring rain.

IMG_1178Once we are done eating, we drive back to the resort. We have tickets for the Brad Garrett Comedy Club show and we can’t exactly go there dressed as we are. After arriving back at the resort, cleaning ourselves up and eating a quick snack; we finally arrive at the comedy club. The place is smaller than I had expected and each couple is seated at a table for two. They first thing the waitresses do, is come around and take our drink orders and ask us if we want to buy a $12 bag of popcorn. I will never get use to the prices of things here in Vegas. They really do rob you blind, especially when you find out later that the cocktails are $11 a piece!

IMG_1180The show was really funny and three different comedians gave appearances. Unfortunately it wasn’t Brad Garrett’s night for entertaining. All in all though, the show was good and I was disappointed when the fun had to end. I am left wondering at this point how much longer I can continue this daily routine of being on the go, non-stop. These long days are finally catching up to me, and I am almost relieved that we are leaving Las Vegas in the morning.

Day 11 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1059

I’m still laying here in bed contemplating the day. I am thoroughly exhausted after hiking all day yesterday and part of me just wants to stay here and lounge around for the remainder of the day. Brian looks like he could use a break as well. I know that I can’t waste my time here though. After all… we only have ten more days away from our simple life back home and I really want to relish every day that we have before the adventure ends. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of adventure back home, it’s just a different kind of adventure… one that involves two huge dogs, one small rat, two girls that tell me every day how happy they are that I’m their mom, a husband that works crazy hours for the Army and my job as: mother, teacher, and wife… and everything else that falls under these three categories.

IMG_1049I slowly drag myself out of bed and as soon as I finish getting ready, Brian starts to get ready too. After several attempts to leave the hotel, we are finally on our way. We’ve decided to go to Shark Reef today and then see a show at the Excalibur Casino called: Tournament of the Kings. After stopping for mochas to help us wake up, we take a wrong turn down Las Vegas Boulevard and find ourselves temporarily lost. Mandalay Bay is our first destination and I hope to win big; just like I did several years ago. Unfortunately, today is not my lucky day, and we head to the Luxor to see if our luck is better there. Still no luck… it appears that this trip is just not panning out for us and I feel foolish for wasting our money.

IMG_1045Back to Mandalay Bay we go after losing what should have been saved for future bills back home. Finding Shark Reef is next to impossible, since the crowds are still lurking about leftover from the 4th of July. We finally spot the ticket booth and make a beeline for the mile long line. As we scurry over, a young couple approaches us and asks us if we are planning to buy tickets for Shark Reef. Of course we tell them that we are, and they explain that they have two free tickets that they would like to give away and they ask us if we would like to have them. I look at Brian and he looks at me. I think we are both sharing the same thoughts about this. I wonder if this is for real or a joke. After all… who just comes up and gives someone free tickets that would otherwise cost $40? We end up graciously accepting the tickets and head for the entrance to Shark Reef.

IMG_1061As we stand here in line, I think both of us are wondering if the tickets are actually real. As we get closer to the entrance, I feel weird for not having to pay. When we finally reach the entrance, the tickets are well received and to my surprise, they actually work to get us in. I am still in disbelief by the whole encounter and I am feeling grateful that we were delayed and took that wrong turn earlier this morning.  I know that if we hadn’t taken that wrong turn, we would never have been in the pathway of the lovely couple that gave us these free tickets. This kind of thing seems to happen to us all the time, and I am always amazed at how God provides for us even when I make stupid decisions like foolishly gambling away money that I should have saved.

IMG_1038Shark Reef turns out to be kind of a letdown and I am relieved that it didn’t cost us $40 to get in. Isn’t that the way it always is though? The first time you visit a place it always seems more amazing and exciting than the second time you go. Why is that? Has the initial wow factor worn off? Or do things really just change that much? I can never really tell… It’s like eating sugary treats nowadays versus when I was a kid. For some reason, nothing seems to taste as good as it did when I was a little girl. Has the product changed or have I? I wonder if I will ever know…

IMG_1040It’s later in the day now and off to Tournament of the Kings we go! This is a dinner show and sounds like it will be a lot of fun. As we enter the arena, we are seated at a long banquet table near the front. Before long, the entire place is full and everyone is being served dinner. The fun part is… utensils are not allowed. Because of the medieval theme, we are required to eat everything with our hands, just like ladies and knights did back in medieval times. Not long after we receive our dinner, the games begin! Jousting is the chosen sport and we watch as the men are knocked off of their horses. The crowd is asked to take part in motivating the kings by yelling encouragements to spur them on. The show is exciting and ends all too soon.

IMG_1046Heading back to the car, we decide to try our luck one more time at the Luxor. Brian and I sit down at a Dungeons and Dragon game, which happens to sit two people at once. We agree that this is the final slot machine that we will play for the day, and we agree to gamble $5. The next thing we know, the machine awards us a winning ticket for $30! We’re so excited that we have finally won something!

IMG_1042With the night still young, we head back to the resort and check out the pool area which is on the fourth floor of the resort. We haven’t had a chance to see what the pool is like yet, and want to see the observation deck as well. Unfortunately, when they built the resort, they put the observation deck facing away from the strip and towards the airport instead. What a waste of a good view…

IMG_1070After enjoying the cooler night air for a little while, we head back to our room and watch a little bit of television. I am surprised to see that the only show that I really care to watch is actually on at the moment. So I plop myself down to watch the remainder of the Bachelorette. It’s Katelyn’s season and I am hoping that she picks Nick. It’s a nice way to unwind after a long day and the first normal thing I’ve done in the last eleven days.

Day 10 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0873

It’s 6:00 a.m. and stifling in our room! After checking the thermostat, I realize why it feels so hot in here; it’s 80°! I quickly call maintenance and a man shows up within a few minutes to check everything out. It turns out that our room needs a new condenser unit and until then, we are without AC. Lovely… I think to myself. The good thing is, we aren’t going to be in our room very long today and the maintenance guy promises that by the time we get back, everything will be fixed.

IMG_0950We hurriedly get ready so that maintenance can come and do their thing. We escape to the bagel shop to pick up a few sandwiches to take with us for lunch. After ensuring that we have plenty of water and supplies for the day ahead, we make a beeline for Red Rock Canyon where we will be hiking for the majority of the day.

IMG_0946I am surprised to see that the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees and I notice storms on the horizon that seem to evaporate as quickly as they appear. After driving for about 30 minutes, we are finally at our destination. The rock formations are filled with color and radiant in their beauty. As soon as we find the first look-out site, we stop and begin to explore. The first area is steep and there isn’t much of a trail. The valley below us is full of large boulders and there are quite a few people climbing down into the deep gorge. Brian and I begin to climb down the rocky path over-looking a large ravine. We’ve only been here 10 minutes, and already the rain has begun. We find a shallow cave to crouch under and wait for the rain to quit. It isn’t long before it’s bright and sunny again.

IMG_0896I am excited to see what’s next and we travel further up the road. After finding a quiet picnic area and finding a place to park, we take a look around. We spot some potential trails, but nothing that looks like they are very well traveled. After closer inspection, I spot what looks like a trail leading back through some brush and rocky bluffs. The trail is hard to follow and at one point the trail seems to come to an abrupt end. I scoot myself up over a large boulder to get a better look and notice a small trail continues just beyond the thick brush and boulders that are blocking our way. Up over the boulder we go; tree branches dangle down all around us and it’s a tight squeeze through the low lying limbs. Eventually we manage to find the narrow trail and follow it until we reach a narrow enclave that now really does end abruptly.

IMG_0974I notice how beautiful the walls of the rocks are here and looking up I can barely see the sky because of the narrow rock walls that surround us. I notice some pegs that are hammered deep into the stone and realize that we are standing in the middle of what must be a very well-known climbing spot. There are climbing pegs everywhere. I wonder how anyone can scale these walls. The way the walls curve inward, would make it hard for anyone to get a foothold. The stone is cut so smooth, that without the pegs, I am sure nobody would be able to climb these walls. After spending a few minutes soaking up the scenery, we decide to head back to the picnic area to eat our lunch. It’s starting to sprinkle again and the rain feels refreshing.

IMG_0981After eating, we find our way back to the car and stop several more times to get out and take pictures. Eventually we spot a place that looks like a great hiking spot and opt for the 2.5 mile hike. The trail is narrow and very steep; weaving its way up and down through the valley. Before long, we realize that we have been hiking for quite a while. The trail has been forking off into different directions and we are convinced that we have lost our way. The only thing we can do is to find another trail to take us back. Unfortunately every way we turn, just seems to take us deeper into the valley and away from our car. With no other ideas and unsure of which trail we originally took to get us this far, we decide to go off the trail and walk back in the same direction in which we came. It’s slow going because the sand is soft and heavy. With every step we take, we sink further into the ground. Fortunately, we can see the road from where we’re at and so we are able to find our way back using the road as our guide. At last we return to the car, beaten down from the sun and tired from walking through the heavy sand.

IMG_1004I surprise even myself when I suggest that we stop at one more look-out. We stop at a place that overlooks the entire valley of Red Rock Canyon. The area is very open and treeless, with just a few small bushes scattered about. I decide to climb down from the look-out area to see what else can be found. All of a sudden, I notice several rocks stacked up in various places. I realize quickly that we are in what appears to be a memorial area. There are several rocks with names carved into them, with smaller rocks stacked on top. I decide to participate and gather up some stones to create my own rock sculpture. I feel sad for the people whose memories cover this place. I even wonder to myself if there are actually people buried here. The way the rocks are set up everywhere, it looks like there very well could be people buried beneath them. It’s an eerie thought. After contemplating such things, we are now heading back to the resort.

IMG_0988Back in our room, I notice that the temperature is now even higher than it was before we left. The maintenance guy assured me that everything would be taken care of, but obviously something is still wrong. I inquire at the front desk and learn that the problem was never reported by maintenance and so nobody had done anything to remedy the situation. The maintenance guys are great and fix the problem right away. Now everything is working again and we are happy to have a break from the warm Nevada air. The staff is very kind to us and surprises us with two boxes of chocolates for being such good sports about the whole thing.

IMG_0991We are finishing up the night with a quick trip to Red Rock Casino. It’s a short distance from where were at and the place seems less crowded than Las Vegas Boulevard. Still… we’ve been here an hour now and our luck isn’t panning out. It’s time to head back to the resort and call it a night. It was a great day, but an exhausting one too and I am thankful to God for air-conditioning right now!

Day 9 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0837

It’s finally here, my favorite day of the year, the 4th of July! I’m not sure about you, but the 4th has always been a big day for me. Here are some of the memories I have of this special day; cookouts, visiting the old Stow house, eating homemade ice cream, going on rides, (pony, hay, train, boat, & Model-T) taking long walks on the beach, drawing messages in the dark with sparklers, watching fireworks, reminiscing about the good old days, and most importantly, sharing the entire wonderful day with family and friends.

IMG_0845Every year is different, but every year is amazing in its own way; and this year is no exception! From the moment I got up this morning, I have been anxious and eager. Celebrating our freedom, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is such a thrill to me! Brian and I decided to grab breakfast at Einstein Bagels, which is located at our resort. I am so glad that we decided to eat here. The food is really good, inexpensive, and the staff have been very friendly. With our stomachs full and a helpful tip from one of the staff members, we decide to head to the LINQ to park for the day. The LINQ, is a gigantic high roller observation wheel that offers panoramic views of Las Vegas. Unfortunately it’s $30 a ticket to take a ride, so we decide to pass and instead visit a few casinos.

IMG_0829There is so much to see and do here, and the streets and casinos are so crowded today. It’s hard to get around and the heat is unbearable. I am determined to buy souvenirs today, but it seems like every shop has basically the exact same thing. The only thing that ever changes is the prices. So I am spending most of my time just looking at the costs and trying to find good deals. In a city like this though, good deals are hard to find, and Brian and I don’t have much luck finding anything worth buying.

IMG_0824Back out on the streets, which are getting more crowded by the hour, we pass by a woman who is very intoxicated and not wearing anything but a string to cover up her lady parts. With the image now burned into my mind, I try to erase my last few minutes of memory, but unfortunately the delete button isn’t working. I finally just realized, that we aren’t in Kansas anymore! Oh wait… we never were! Oh well… back to what I was saying… out on the streets there are lots of interesting people today. Most are trying to make a few bucks selling their homemade cd’s, and some are even selling sculptures that they have cleverly designed. I feel bad that I can’t buy everything.

IMG_0866We finally pass a couple that isn’t trying to sell anything, all they are asking for is food. The sign reads “No money, food only please.” So I decide to stop and offer them a package of apple raisin crisps and some water that I have stashed away in my backpack. The couple is very appreciative and eats the crackers right away. Janet and Steve are their names and they return the favor by offering us handmade roses for our daughters. I feel blessed by their generosity and Steve won’t let us leave until he has finished making all four roses. While Steve is making the beautiful roses out of palm fronds, Janet shares their story with us, about how they ended up here and how they still feel blessed despite their situation of being homeless. Janet’s mother is very sick and she doesn’t want to tell her mother that she is homeless. She fears that her mother will become more ill by the news. Their story is all too familiar and I feel sad that they have to live this way. After carefully putting the flowers away in my backpack, we head out once more.

IMG_0863Heading down the street further, we spy a Mexican restaurant and take a peek inside, to see if there are any tables available. We are surprised by how vacant the place looks and we are seated right away. After ordering, our food comes fast and everything tastes really good. After eating, we walk around and visit a few more casinos. The day is going by fast, and before we realize it, it is already 9:15 p.m. and the fireworks are scheduled to start in 15 minutes. We hurry outside and notice that the whole strip is covered from one end to the next in a mob of people. We aren’t sure where the best viewing spot is, so we just stay where we’re at and hope for the best.

IMG_0855Soon the fireworks begin and we realize that we have hardly any view at all. Unfortunately with the crowds being as thick as they are, we have to remain where we are, catching glimpses of the fireworks through the buildings that are blocking our view. The fireworks don’t last long and afterward we decide to get frosties at Wendy’s and chicken tenders at Chick Filet for a late night dinner/snack. Once done eating, we decide to walk back to the car. The crowds aren’t quite as bad as they had been, but it still takes us about an hour of walking before we reach our car.

IMG_0869Once back at the resort I flop on the bed in relief that I can finally lay down. I can see the LINQ through the window. It’s all lit up in red, white, and blue. It’s been a good day, but in a way I’m happy it’s over. I have never seen so many people in one place before and it’s good to finally be free from the crowds once again. Goodnight!

Day 7 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0624

Did I ever tell you that we own a timeshare? Have I ever told you how big of a mistake it really is to buy a timeshare? Well, if I haven’t, I’m telling you now… stay far Far Far FAR away from anyone explaining timeshares! I’m serious! And if you sell timeshares, SHAME ON YOU!!! Oh you know what I’m talking about!!! Don’t try to tell me that you’re innocent! Timeshares are the biggest scam out there and everybody knows it! At least everyone does except for Brian and I! We have owned a timeshare for the last 20 years, and apparently we are still falling for their lies. I won’t go into the gory details of our most recent encounter, but let me tell you, we were foolishly swindled once again! Anyway, this was how we started our day; the first seven hours of it to be precise! The promised one hour spiel, turned into a seven hour interrogation of sorts. Thank God that is over!

Now back to the grand adventure…

IMG_0717We are now perusing the “Strip,” going from one casino to the next; looking for something interesting to do today. I have always wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about, in regards to the M&M museum. In actuality, the M&M museum is nothing more than a four story shopping mall, of floor to ceiling M&M paraphernalia. The only cool thing was the free 3D show that they offered, which took all of about 15 minutes to watch. Hey, at least I can say I’ve been there and done that!

IMG_0666After mostly window shopping and exploring the hidden treasures of Vegas, we remembered that we needed to keep track of the time so that we wouldn’t forget about our evening plans. The only consolation to our early morning debauchery, was that we were given free tickets for a fancy dinner and also two tickets for “Vegas the Show.” Making out way over to Planet Hollywood was nothing short of a miracle, because the crowds of people on the Strip were covering the pathways like ants on a sugary treat.

IMG_0814We finally made it over to Pampas Churrascaria Brazilian Grille. I’ll have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find the atmosphere quite appealing despite how busy the place was. We started off with the salad bar, which in itself was enough to satisfy a king or a queen. Of course that was just the beginning, the main course was just as heavenly and I don’t think that I have ever tasted anything so satisfying in my entire life! I guess I’m secretly Brazilian! Who knew? The food was to die for and seriously, if I ever end up on death row and get to request one final meal, I’m ordering food from this place!

IMG_0865Once our stomachs were full and our cheeks a little rosier from the piña coladas, we found our way through the maze of people over to the Saxe theatre where Vegas the Show was playing. For some reason there was a mix up with our seats and they ended up seating us front center stage. We kept expecting someone to come tell us to move to the back of the theatre, but fortunately for us, we got to watch the show from the best seats possible! Vegas the Show tells the musical story about Las Vegas and features celebrity impersonators who sing their greatest hits in order to preserve the memory of how Vegas used to be. There were showgirls, dancers, variety acts, and sets that represented the city as it once was. We saw Elvis, the Rat Pack, Tina Turner, Elton John, and many others who gave wonderful impersonations of the original artists. The way the actors portrayed Vegas, was reminiscent of what I remembered from our first time there and it made me feel a bit sad that so much has since changed. Day seven was surely an adventure that I won’t soon forget, the good and the bad…