Day 8 of our 21 day adventure

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We’re up early today and already making our way through a dozen different casinos. It’s only about 10:00 a.m. and I’m already exhausted from all of the walking that we’ve done. The slot machines seem to be all tuckered out from the brood of people that have flocked here for the Fourth of July weekend. I haven’t been very lucky today and feel like I may as well just be throwing my money at the wind.

IMG_0739As the day stretches on, we finally make our way to Caesars Palace, which is one of my favorite places in Vegas. The Forum Shops call to me, I have been waiting in eager anticipation to come back to this place. Our favorite deli is here; and  amidst the commotion, I look fervently to find it. My mouth waters as we search for the place that can offer up the best corned beef sandwich that I have ever laid eyes upon. My stomach is making strange noises now, longing for the six inch high sandwich that it hasn’t seen for the last decade. Unfortunately, after searching through the shops one by one, Brian and I soon discover that the deli is gone for good. Our favorite place to eat is now just a mere memory.

IMG_0740We decide to continue on, hopeful that we will find another place that is just as good, but unfortunately we end up having to settle for a quick snack and then off we go again to observe the free shows, erupting every few hours as we continue to walk along. The ceiling changes throughout the day and I am charmed by its effects. This place has such a magical feel to it and leaves me wanting more. The downside is, that the shops remind me of Beverly Hills, and so I don’t even want to walk into most of them. I fear the clerks may ask me if they can help me; in which I know that my reply would most likely be, “Yes, as a matter of fact you can! You can help me right out this store, because I am poor and just spent most of my money at your pilfering casino!” So instead, I continue on…

IMG_0746We finally make our way outside, and I immediately spot a couple of beaten down war veterans. One looks completely stoned out of his mind and the other keeps telling people that he just wants a shower and a nice warm bed like everyone else. The two of them make quite the pair and I wonder how they ended up here. Curiosity and pity for the two of them gets the better of me and I decide to walk back and strike up a conversation. I put a $5 bill in their can, which hardly seems like enough. Here’s somebody that obviously fought for our country and now nobody is fighting for them. With tears welling up, I begin to ask the coherent one, some questions. I can feel Brian’s eyes from off in the distance, probably wondering if I have gone out of my mind. The man that I begin speaking to, is friendly and tells me about his past. I can tell he is just as hungry for conversation, as he is for food.  After we briefly talk and I turn to go, he grabs my hand, kisses it, and says, “May God bless you.” A part of me wants to run and wash my hand in a gallon of bleach and the other half of me wants to reach down and hug this man to pieces! Instead, a tear slips down my face and I turn to go, knowing that most people around me will probably never even give this man a second thought. It breaks my heart, but what more can I do. I say a silent prayer for the two men and move on.

IMG_0747Brian is waiting for me over by the curb, giving me a confused look. I don’t say anything to him about what just happened and we continue walking down the strip. We have another show to see tonight; Le Reve, which is over at the Wynn and we slowly make our way over there, one casino at a time. I am quite tired after all of the walking that we have done today and when we finally reach the Wynn, I am hopeful that we will be able to sit down and wait for the show to start. Unfortunately there are no seats to sit upon and instead, we end up standing in line until finally the ushers show us to our seats.

IMG_0750The ambiance of the room immediately fills me with excitement. The room is dimly lit and there is a vivid display of colorful fabric hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the circular stage. The billowy fabric draws me in and leaves me in an almost trance like state. It doesn’t take long before the show begins and in an instant, the long clusters of fabric are yanked up into a mysterious black hole. After they disappear, dozens of acrobats make their way down from the same black hole. The acrobats land on the stage, which is now completely covered in water. They deliver quite a show as they dive and traverse the colorful waters. It is a spectacular scene and the costumes and settings remind me of the movie Avatar. It’s a shame when the show has to end and I am thoroughly worn out from the excitement of everything. Day 8 was surely a day that I won’t soon forget and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 5 of our 21 day adventure

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I am so excited right now! Today is the day we head for Las Vegas; one of my favorite vacation destinations! We have been to Vegas twice now. The first time we went was in 2004, when we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. We stayed at Treasure Island, which has the comfiest beds I have ever slept in. The first game I played at the casino was a poker game. I put 25¢ in the slot and out came $75. Fortunately my luck continued that way for the remainder of the week and we won enough money to pay for our entire trip. I loved our time there; we saw shows like “O” and “Jubilee” and stayed up all day and night going from one casino to the next. Everything was cheap, comps were amazing, and nothing ever closed. Out of the 4 days that we spent there, we only slept about 4 hours in all. We were completely exhausted on the plane ride home and slept the entire way back.

(My husband Brian is in the video above, wearing a red shirt. He was playing one of the beater positions)

The next time we visited Vegas, was in 2006. We attended a Harry Potter Conference called “Lumos.” I know… many of you don’t know this about me, but I am a huge Harry Potter fan. That was probably one of the most fun weeks that I have ever had. We dressed up in full Harry Potter attire, drank butter beer in an Irish pub, participated in potion classes, tested our wizardry knowledge in a scavenger hunt, played quidditch in the pool, got invited to secret parties, and totally geeked out for an entire week. So you can see why today is such an exciting day for me.
IMG_0581 copy for WPWe have a 6 hour drive to Vegas today. The hours are passing by fast and we are almost there. I can see the casinos rising up out of the desert in the far distance. The temperature is hovering around 115 degrees and it’s hard to get a clear view of anything off in the distance because of the hazy mirage that is covering the landscape. We finally arrive on the Las Vegas Strip and it’s bumper to bumper traffic the whole way. We are staying at the Luxor, which is shaped like a pyramid and has an Egyptian theme. I can see the Luxor up ahead and we are trying to determine where the parking area is. After a few wrong turns, we have finally reached our destination and are ready to get out of the suffocating heat.

Photo Credit:  blonde4ever.yuku.com
Photo Credit: blonde4ever.yuku.com

We are pleasantly surprised by what awaits us as we enter the hotel. The lobby reminds me of Gringotts from the Harry Potter books. Each clerk is sitting individually on a pedestal behind a desk, and each one is carefully checking people in and out in an orderly fashion. The lights are low and create an atmosphere that feels mysterious. Huge statues and pillars mark the entrance to the casino and the entire place is decorated in an abundance of rich eye-catching colors. It seems a little bit like I have stepped into another dimension; almost like I have stepped back in time and have entered into ancient Egypt. If it weren’t for the noise of the slot machines, I may actually believe that we had somehow been transported into another time and place!
IMG_0561 copy for WPAfter checking in with the goblins from Gringotts, we make it up to our room on the 11th floor. As we enter the room, we suddenly realize that the bedroom has a Jacuzzi tub that overlooks Las Vegas Boulevard and we also have a separate sitting room which overlooks Mandalay Bay. I am thinking to myself that this is probably the best $75 that I have ever spent on a hotel room. The view is absolutely stunning and I proceed to plop myself onto the couch and try to capture the memory of the sights outside the window. I am hoping that I will never forget the thrill of this moment. I feel like a princess way up high in a tower, overlooking the expanse of the kingdom below me. As amazing as all of this is though, we are only here for one night and then we will be heading out to a different hotel in the morning.IMG_0576 copy for WP

Eventually I pry myself off of the couch and we head down to the casino to look for a place to eat dinner. We finally settle on a place called the “Public House”. It’s pricey, but the food is wonderful and we picked a great time to eat, because the Women’s World Cup is playing on the large screen television. I am not much into sports, but even I can’t deny that this is fun. Everyone is so excited and having a great time and it gets even better when the U.S. eventually wins. We have had a great day, and I can’t wait to see more of Vegas tomorrow!

Day 3 of our 21 day adventure

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The alarm goes off, it’s 4:00 a.m. I am eager to start another day and so is Brian. After getting ready and packing the car, we head to the front desk to check-out. The staff is friendly here at the Comfort Inn and they offer to serve us breakfast early. It’s only 5:00 a.m. and my stomach doesn’t quite feel like it’s ready for food yet. But how can I really pass up a free meal? We sit quietly in the dining room; eating and catching a quick news update from the small television over in the far corner.

It’s 5:15 a.m. now, and our final destination of the day is Idaho Falls. The first thing we do is stop for gas and pray for safe travels as we begin our twelve-hour journey. Before long, we pass through Cody, WY. This is the city that I had originally wanted to stay in and I notice the Buffalo Bill Museum is located up ahead. I consider stopping at the museum, but I know that we already have so much planned for today. I shake the idea out of my mind and continue on. As we near Big Horn National Forest, we come across the city of Sheridan. The view of the mountains from here is unbelievable and I wonder what living here would be like. Just as we reach the base of the mountain, we find ourselves in a small town called Dayton. I begin to file away these places in the back of my mind as potential retirement communities for when we are eventually old and grey.

IMG_0318 copy for WPAs we head up the mountain pass, the towns below become mere specks off in the far distance. It feels like we are the only people who exist on the earth right now. The view is breathtaking from up here and we stop several times to get out and take pictures. I am mesmerized by the tranquility and the views of the valley below. I don’t understand why the mountain is so void of people and I wonder if it’s like this all the time. We wind our way along the tree-lined mountain pass. The pine forest completely covers the landscape for as far as the eye can see. I have never seen so many perfect looking trees in one place before; the colors are bright and vivid, and each one is like a delicate piece of artwork created by a master artist.

IMG_0345 copy for WPAs we near a bend in the road, we start to see the beginning of a lake coming into view. We notice signs for a picnic area and decide to pull over and take a look around. The climb up to the lake area is easily accessible, and when we reach the top, we are thrilled to find that we have the entire lake to ourselves. The lake is completely still and eerily quiet, except for an occasional fish releasing ringlets on the surface of the water. The tranquility of this place reminds me of what I imagine heaven will be like. A soft breeze blows gently across the water and gives me goosebumps. I sense the presence of God all around us; it’s surreal and indescribable the way that this place is making me feel right now. I am tempted to ask Brian if we should renew our vows here. We have been planning to renew our vows somewhere along the way, and it seems like there could be no better place on earth. Something holds me back though and I remain silent, lingering in deep thought. The enchantment is soon broken though, and I remember that we still have so many more places on our agenda. Grudgingly, we walk back to the car and say goodbye to one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. We vow to come back someday, perhaps eventually to live out the rest of our days.

IMG_0369 copy for WPAfter driving a little farther down the road, we are now at a place called “Shell Falls.” I can hear the roar of the falls up ahead and run to get a better look. I am now standing in front of the 120 ft. high falls. The water is hitting the granite rocks in the bottom with such force, that the water is spraying back up into the air, forming rainbows in the streaming sun-rays. I didn’t think that anything could compare to the beauty of what we had just seen by the lake, but now I am not so sure. We look around and notice some short hiking trials and decide to explore even more. After taking a million photographs, we head back to the car to continue on our journey.  About an hour has passed and we decide to stop at a visitor center. IMG_0414 copy for WPIt feels good to stretch our legs after our long journey and we walk up to a large dam that overlooks a beautiful lake. After a short tour through the visitor center, we are on our way once more. Shortly after, we drive past a strange looking house, overlooking the road from the top of a hill. IMG_0426 copy for WPThe house looks abandoned and Brian decides to take some pictures. The house leaves us wondering about the history behind it.

After several hours of driving, we are finally nearing Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant up ahead seems inviting and we stop for lunch. After relaxing in the lodge style atmosphere and then perusing the gift shop after a hearty meal, we finally make it to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I am excited because I have been here before, and I begin to reminisce about vacationing here with the girls when they were little. As soon as we head through the gates though, I realize that I am not seeing what I remember. Apparently Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us. Wildfires have completely ruined the spectacular views that once graced this magnificent place. I am shaken by the devastation that is rapidly unfolding all around us. The farther we drive, the worse it gets, and I wonder if the park will ever be able to recover the beauty that was once here. After reveling in such beauty and splendor earlier today and comparing it to what I am seeing now, I am in disbelief and wishing that we hadn’t come here. I am suddenly reminded of a graveyard and sadness begins to overtake me. We keep hoping that around the next bend, we will see some sign of beauty that hasn’t been lost, but unfortunately, that isn’t what we find. IMG_0435 copy for WPAfter driving around for a couple of hours, searching for a part of the forest that isn’t scorched, we find a hiking trail near the lake and decide to stop and explore on foot. Unfortunately, we are greeted with a warning sign that bears are in the area and so the trail has been closed. IMG_0443 copy for WPAfter getting back in the car, we decide to drive a little bit further to see if there is anywhere else we might want to explore. After a little while longer, it becomes apparent that the devastation is never-ending and we decide to head out toward the Grand Tetons.

As we continue on, the Grand Tetons come into view and I am relieved that these mountains are still as beautiful as I remember. Along the way, we find a stopping point near a lake and hike up above a small beach to get a better view. IMG_0505 copy for WPThe mountains look hazy in the background, because of the humidity. People are laughing and having a good time; some are standing over by a small dam, taking pictures and playing in the water. Then there are a few people down below on the beach, playing in the sand. We have found our own little spot, up and out of the way, but I still find myself wishing that we were alone again, like we were this morning at the lake. It has been such a long day and the hours of driving are starting to wear on us.

We head out for the last time today; making our way to Idaho Falls where we will stay for the night. After getting a bit turned around, we finally find our way to the hotel and are pleasantly surprised to find that they are offering us a free dinner. We only have about an hour before dinner ends, so we quickly unpack the car and head down to the dining room for dinner. Soup and salad are what is being offered and I am glad that I am not very hungry, since the food on the buffet is almost gone. After such a long day, we talk about the things we have seen so far and the places we’ve been. We’ve had enough memories already to last us a lifetime.

The continuation… Day 2 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0200 copy for WPThe day is turning out to be a scorcher. It’s already in the mid-ninety’s and we have finally arrived at Badlands National Park. IMG_0197 Copy for WPI spot the first viewing area and we both scramble out of the car in eager anticipation of what we might see. The funny thing is, as I make my way out of the car, I spy the same young man that we saw earlier in the day during the “Attack of the killer bugs.” I stop to speak to him and he recognizes us too. I ask him if he was attacked by the biting insects as we were, but fortunately for him, he is wearing long pants and so they didn’t seem to bother him. I feel relieved about my decision not to warn him earlier as we wave goodbye. IMG_0207 copy for WPWe make our way towards the edge of the scenic outlook.  There stretching before us is a massive canyon of gray jagged rock formations. The sight is breathtaking and leaves us speechless. We stare in awe and wonder and I see Brian digging into his camera bag for the long distance lens. He is new to photography and we are both hoping and praying that the photos capture the true glory of this place. With these first impressions soaring through our minds, we set out to find another viewing area; hoping for another chance at capturing the beauty that is unfolding all around us.

IMG_0229 copy for WPThe next scenic outlook isn’t as easy to get to and requires us to walk along a wooden platform as the sun beats down upon us. The wooden platform is raised up above the ground several feet and looks like it has recently been erected. As we near the end of the platform, we begin to see the same grey canyon that we saw before, only now it is directly in front of us, close enough for us to climb down from the platform and explore to our hearts desire. It’s as if I am viewing a million sand castles; once created by watery sand, poured through the hands of children playing at the beach. We carefully climb down into the canyon. The heat is searing and I feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. Feels like those bugs are back, attacking me. But really it’s just my own body reacting to the heat of the day. There are no plants anywhere in sight. Just a dry canyon of massive rocks. Reminds me of a charcoal grill and I feel like I could be dinner for the next predator that comes along. I finally start to feel a little more at ease after walking around for a while. At first I was intimidated by the jagged edges of the rocks and the sheer size of what we were about to climb into. IMG_0250 copy for WPI am actually having fun now, exploring the nooks and crannies which seem to erupt out of nowhere. There are a few caves, but they seem impossible to get to. After posing for several pictures, we make our way back to the wooden platform. A maze of dry hardened waterways mark our path and help us to find our way back. Once we are back on the wooden platform, I am a little relieved as I am starting to feel the sun’s effects and know that I need to bring more water with me the next time that we stop.

IMG_0256 copy for WPWalking back to the car is tiresome and it feels good to be able to sit down and rest for a few minutes before we head out once more. The sky is so blue here, against the backdrop of the rock formations. There’s hardly a cloud in sight and we continue to see wildlife all around us. As we make our way along the winding roads, we are met with road construction. Every car is at a complete standstill and it looks like we will be waiting for a while. We roll down the windows and settle in for the wait. IMG_0264 copy for WPAll of a sudden, we notice a fawn and her mother standing just a few yards away from our car. It’s always so exciting to see wildlife up close and the fawn begins to nurse from its mother. Brian gets his camera out and snaps a few shots and then we realize that traffic is moving once more. Our journey of the Badlands ends shortly after we make our way through the road construction and drive through to the exit of the park.

IMG_0274 copy for WPThe road we are on now, will take us to Mt. Rushmore and we are excited for the opportunity to be able to spend part of the day there. It’s been a long day already, but we are finally nearing Mt. Rushmore. We passed Rapid City and are now entering the bustling city of Keystone, SD. Up ahead we spot the turn off for Mt. Rushmore and we are happy to almost be there. Once we arrive, we pay the parking fee and head up to the parking ramp. It’s extremely crowded and there’s hardly any place to park. We finally find a spot and make our way up to the beginning of the memorial. The place is really built up now and looks completely different from the last time I was here. IMG_0278 copy for WPI notice various shops, a museum, and pathway that leads up closer to the actual site. There are rows of flags lining the concrete platform that leads up to the national memorial. We look for our state flag and find it near the middle. After taking several photographs, stopping in for some ice cream, and looking through the museum, we head out onto the path that leads to the viewing sites. A wooden structure has been built to allow visitors a comfortable walk up to the base of Mt. Rushmore. IMG_0292 copy for WPBefore long, we are close enough to look up the nose of George Washington. It’s beautiful here, walking through the pine forest, and gazing up at the sculpted presidents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are all depicted here. The sculpture is 60 feet high, and I feel so small in comparison.

IMG_0304 copy for WPOnce we have had our fill of Mt. Rushmore, we head out once more. This time we are headed for Buffalo, WY where we will stay for the night. We spot an old pioneer town along the way and stop to have a look. The place is old and run down and I am second guessing my decision to stop here. They hand us an old tape recorder that tells us the history of this place as we walk from one building to the next. I start to feel my energy dwindle from all that we have done today and also because the temperature is now over 100 degrees. After patiently going through the small town, we say goodbye and continue on our way.

Photo Credit: www.sheridanmedia.com
Photo Credit: http://www.sheridanmedia.com

We finally make it to Buffalo and it’s close to 6:00 p.m. now. We check in at our hotel and I feel disappointed because I realize that I have made a mistake when booking our room. I wanted to stay in Cody, WY and I have mixed up the towns somehow and realize that we are not in the same town that I wanted to be in. There is nothing left to do, except to find some place to eat. We notice that most of the restaurants are closed down and so we drive farther down the road to see if there is anything open.  After driving down several different roads, searching for a place to go, we finally discover a small downtown area that has a few shops located along a small river.  We decide to eat at the “Busy Bee Cafe.” It’s a cute little restaurant with old world charm.

Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com
Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com

As we enter, we are greeted by a young girl who leads us to a table by the front window. We are the only customers in the restaurant. I order the French dip sandwich and we enjoy the scenic view from our table as we wait. There is a horse and carriage taking people for rides right outside the restaurant, and looking out the opposite window we can see the river down below us. The food turns out to be pretty good and we end the day with an after dinner walk amidst the quaint downtown shops.