Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Monument Valley & The 4 Corners

So I woke up and we were on a hill overlooking a desert valley. It was hot. Soon I found out we were on a Navajo Reservation without a permit...but we took our time making oatmeal and coffee strained in a bandana just the same...It ended up fine, anyhow. While we had missed the hike to the monument to the Navajo people that started 15 minutes before we left, we met a nice Native American man who chatted with us for a bit and informed us that the camping price was simply a donation, so we ended up camping super-cheaply...again. We've gotten really lucky.

Continued our trip north and I slept until we got to Monument Valley National Park in Utah...we're hitting a bunch of states right here...let the zig-zagging road trip begin! The huge formations were pretty neat but the most exciting part of this was Keith driving the Gulf on sand paths, competing with the best of all-wheel-drive SUVs, getting crazy looks and then staring back, wondering if they are really enjoying the 100+ degree heat and the dust in their eyes and camera lenses...

We realized after our tour of the valley that we still had a long way to go before we would get to Natural Bridges and Arches National Park so we decided to take our time getting there, and stopped at a local restaurant to have Navajo Tacos...oh my god. So good. They were huge pieces of fried dough with chili and a salad on top basically...incredible. They ended up feeding us for lunch AND dinner, and I still ahve a little bit left over. Got back on the road and realized that we could go the 40 miles to 4 Corners, the only place in the country where 4 states meet, so we did. It wasn't anything eye opening...but it is neat to say that we were, quite literally, in 4 places at once. We tried to be unique...for $3.00...I think the craziness was worth it.

From there, we headed to Moab, where we searched and priced campgrounds....this time there were LOTS of choices...thank goodness. Last night was just too much. One could probably make a small fortune by opening a campground between the Grand Canyon, AZ and Monument Valley, UT!

Set up camp, took long showers, Keith tried not to explode while starting the traveling stove...all-in-all a good time. We looked through the pictures of the roadtrip so far...and its only day 4 or something...which is ridiculous. We are marvelling at how much we've done and how much we still have left to see...we live in a big country.

Ate our leftovers, like a said...reflected a bit...tonight, we sleep on a cushion of grass underneath a tree, and stars, and hopefully no rain. In Utah. Who would have guessed?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grand Canyon...The North Rim

So we got super-lucky with our tent location and the sun didn't start beating down on it until like 10 or 11 am. Don't be fooled, though...we were ONLY lucky because we weren't roasting...but we all need chiropractors now from sleeping on a bed of rocks...especially me, as my back/side/stomach was literally on top of a pile of them. How crazy.

Oatmeal for breakfast, just like at home, and coffee for my comrades, except that it was strained through a handkerchief...twice...into orange plastic cups. I was so full I couldn't finish my banana anmd had to save it for later. By the time we finally got some ice for the cooler, some gas, and an ATM, it was nearing noon. We rolled through the Grand Canyon National Park entrance and onward to the Kaibab trail, where we hoped to get one of the shorter trails done so we wouldn't get stuck after sunset in the canyon.

Lathered with sunscreen, backpack full of trail mix and water we were ready to start down into the canyon through sand and mule manuer...whose grand idea was it to put mules and people on a trail 3 feet wide? They should reconsider that for the sake of the humans who are NOT 6 feet up off the ground...

We made it to our first checkpoint within 20 minutes or so and had a great lookout over the canyon before continuing downward. To our dismay, those people who had chosen the early AM hikes were on their way back up in the sweltering heat, sweating and panting and exhausted-looking...we could only hope that it was not a reflection of what was to come for us...

Within about an hour we made it to the ending point of our hiking goal at the Tunnel...and we were amazed at how quickly we'd arrived. After a bathroom and water break we decided that we were daring and headed downward still, in the direction of a bridge that crossed over a gully, where water would have been rushing were it not so hot and dry. As we descended winding back and forth, we discussed how the colors of the canyon were changing and how we may be in luck with the coming sunset. I found the woman whose shoes were leaving little heel prints in the asian woman about 5'3" with 3 inch platform wedges standing about 1" wide...hats off to her, because I was dreading the ascent to come in hiking sneakers let alone those suckers!

We made it to the bottom and decided not to continue on as there was no "next point" in sight and the shadows of the North Rim were beginning to settle into the canyon. We wandered down the path a short while to see if our view would improve, took a break at the bridge to watch a lone butterfly and a few jays, and just sat still...and listened.

On the way back up, we were sure to test the canyon still works, but feel free to test it to check my process :) Timekeeper Keith informs me that we made it back up faster than we got down...that must mean we're all-stars. He attributes it to our great conditioning in the mountains of Costa Rica...walking to school everyday...uphill...both ways...literally. Post-hike, we sat on the curb in the parking lot and lived out of our trunk, having chips & salsa, and celery with peanut butter...this is the life.

We figured if we timed it right, we could make it to a viewpoint further into the park for the sunset over the canyon, so we hopped in the car and headed onward making it there with plenty of time...even more than we expected, actually, because somewhere along the line we re-crossed a TZL and it was earlier than our re-set watches had led us to believe. Go figure. Sat around people-watching for quite some time before the sun began drifting ever-lower on the horizon of the north rim. I'm not going to lie...while the view of the canyon was striking...due to our ability to see the depth and breadth of it in a new way from our hike, I'm still not quite sure what the allure is of the sunset on the canyon...because we really missed the sunset altogether as it falls beyond the rim before the colors are visible, and the canyon colors have already deepened into their striping once the shadows have crept in.

Oh's cool to say we were there for it, just the same :)

Into the car again, we went, stopping for gas just outside the National Park and with a stop to make sandwiches on the rear bumper of the Gulf...then into the night we drove toward Utah's Natural Bridges and Arches National Park...not a camping ground in site, by human eyes, nor the supposedly superior GPS...darn. I let Amber and Keith take over at some point and they woke me that is, and now...whatever time it is...and I'm clearly not with it, so I'm just going to throw my pillow into the tent where they've been kind enough to set up my mat and sleeping bag so I can continue to be passed out...hmmmm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Toward the Grand Canyon

Off to the Grand Canyon today after a night of hellish sleep, or should I say a morning of it? What seemed like only a few minutes after our heads hit the pillows the jackhammering began only to be outdone by the crashing of bottles breaking against one another inside of the dumpster outside of our windows...Vegas...the city where no one sleeps, even if they try :)

It really wasn't all that bad, actually. We were so tired that the noise began just sidenotes to our dreams and shortly it was eleven or so and time to pack up the car and get on the road again. Keith made a friend, as has become typical with his car being such a conversation-starter, and before we knew it we were packed in the car and begging to get the AC cranked up because it was over 100 degrees and we just aren't made for the desert weather!

Hit up a strip of stores which seemed to have just about everything and stocked up on food that we'll need for camping this week. We broke down and bought a pot, dishware, and cutlery as well since we couldn't hold out any longer for a goodwill or salvation army. haha. FINALLY, we were really on our way, we left Sin City behind and then the roofrack began to howl and the snowboard came unclipped. did I mention there was a snowboard involved in all of this? Because there is. So anyways, we pull off the road and get it fixed, and our eyes are intrigued by a van boasting "Tacos" and we just can't avoid the temptation. So we drive over, in an ungodly temperature, jump out of the car and chat it up with a hispanic man who suggests tacos or burritos, gives us jalapenos (at discovering our taste for spice) and points out "the hot sauce."

All in all a worthwhile stop.

back on the road I was behind the wheel again and took us all the way into Arizona where Amber and I were baffled at the landscape, which we thought would be completely sand dunes or desert-esque (at least I did...) but we were met with flat land and short shrubbery, but not sand...hmmm.

We stopped to rest at a scenic overlook and were tempted to take what looked like Bob the Builder along with us for our trip, but Keith was afraid the 15 year old boy might be disappointed if it went missing...oh well.

Back on the road, we finally made it to kaibab forest where we were hoping to camp for the night only to find that our first, yes first, camping location was botched and that we needed to come up with a plan. Luckily, the man at the gate either saw our license plates, our cute smiles, or Keith's puzzled look, and directed us to free camping out in the woods just a mile or two down the road.

This is what we like to call "Roughing it." I would definitely count this event as the first camping experience of my life. We pulled up, turned off the car, set up the tent in the dark. Amber began gathering wood and cutting it with her travel-saw. Keith then joined in and started setting up the fire pit area with kindling and pine needles until Amber worked with matches and then we finally found the extra lighter which got us started. After a while we were able to use the outdoor toilet, also known as "the woods," as well as get our dinner cooked on a camping stove, one piece of the meal at a time. Gallo pinto and sausage were on the menu, and for our first attempt, I would say it was pretty decent. Frank's sauce came through again and we feasted until it was time for more wood gathering...I've decided that this is my new career move as I'm pretty decent at it, if I may say so myself. Marshmallows made for a tasty dessert while we sat and waited for the fire to die down...and then proceeded to kill it because it was just taking entirely too long and we're tired. Time for bed...I think we're on a pile of rocks, but we have mats so I'm told it should be ok. Here goes!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

To Las Vegas!!!

Woke up around 10 or 11 and got all cleaned up. Maile played awesome hostess again and made breakfast which was more than we could have hoped for...resh fruit...ahhh reminders of the 'rica :)

After Maile headed out to work we heard from Cookie, who had gone home after night shift and crashed. We decided to head to Coronado ("where San Diegoans go to vacation") to see her for a bit. Got there and chilled for a bit to catch up, so the awesome location of her and the fiancee, Brian's, new place...awesome. Literally 2 blocks from a beach on the bay overlooking San Diego and on an island with the opposite side on the ocean. The life. Sara gets married in two weeks. Time flies.

Finally, we were on our way to Vegas, after searching out and finding Salvation Army in search of a pot for cooking on our camping nights and being turned away at the gated doors only to realize it is Sunday and they are not open. Ug. Oh well. We were on our way to Vegas!!!

Tried to meet up with Garrett but he had family stuff so that didn't work out. We watched the temperature rise up over 100 degrees...I've decided that when it gets past about 80...the temperature gage of my body just reads "hot."

We stopped at some point to change drivers...typical that we would find a Starbucks at our first exit turn. Upon entering, after taking a good 20 minutes or so to get out of our overpacked car, we encountered the happy-go-lucky Starbucks baristas ready to serve...and apparently we were so pathetic looking AND sounding (after discussing the fact that we were going to have to share the 2 remaining hamburgers from last night between three of us and that we would "work it out") the manager offered us a bag of free bagels, donuts, and apple fritters. Wow. We must really be in bad shape! We gratefully took the bag and headed off into the sunset to continue our journey.

Got to Las Vegas around 9 I think...clearly in the dark, and with all of the lights in their glory. The most prominent, at least to me, seemed to be the pyramid. I still don't know what it was called. It's made of black glass and the point streams a beam of light skyward. A definitive "look at me" icon, as is the rest of the strip.

We got settled in at the hotel and showered after a long, hot day in the car and headed out around 10 only to return at 10:15 because my Costa-Rica-fied brain has forgotten what "being ID-ed" means. Back on track, we headed down Tropicana to New York, New's almost like being home...but all. I will admit, though, the entire scene is pretty incredible and getting a job designing such fun and imaginative projects as casinos/ hotels/ shops/ restaurants/ etc. with whatever goofy theme you can dream up might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

We walked up the street to the pyramid, alongside old couples as well as 9 year old girls...hat a strange place this is. The truth is, the casinos, while definitely lit up inside, are not what I would call daylight-reminiscent in the least. They are actually rather dreary and draining if you ask me because the only diversity is not in the natural shadow caused by your typical lighting fixtures, but in the colors and flashing and noise of machines. AND! The nickel machines??? They don't even exist...well, not really. You don't get to play with straight up coins, and most of the machines don't even have the pull handles but are solely push buttons so that aside from becoming a zombie-head....your body could also deteriorate easily from lack of stimulation and/or blood flow. I played $5 and lost it within one minute of my time...that is just not my idea of fun and after livin in a place where the average pay is only 300 dollars per month I felt royally unjust in wasting money that way. At least on the cruise to the bahamas I was entertained on $20 for hours a the quarter-game which deals more with skill and coordination than just pure luck...I do enjoy the people watching, however, and the designs are just cool. The bars are all reallly unique and I guess they have to be in order to compete with one another and be memorable enough to have people keep coming back.

We left that casino and headed down the strip to take in the myriad of themed casino-resorts, lights, and people. Talk about sensory overload! But it was, in all reality, a really awesome experience. From racing up and down the multiple stairways of street crossways to staring endlessly at interesting buildings, to traveling the world by simply walking through a doorway...Las Vegas lived up to the myths. The one myth that I'm happy to say I did not encounter the truth of, however, was its dirtiness. I really felt like, aside from the slapping cards of the naked women in the hands of men just trying to make a living, the streets and casinos were clean and the only drunkenness that I really witnessed were those brave enough to jump on stage for karaoke, which was enough entertainment to last me the entire night!

We lost track of time, as people are wont to do in a place this magically different from home, and ended up back at the Wild Wild West, sore feet and all, around 4am. We had breakfast at Denny's and it's now 5am and definitely time to sleep. We're off to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. This is unbelievably surreal.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

To San Diego

Woke up at 5:45 and changed the laundry over so it would be done in time to leave by 7...except my comrades were under the influence of last night and were unable to wake up.

Finally got up around 10 and cleaned the house with the help of the stragglers from the BBQ, then packed up, cooked a french toast and bacon breakfast and headed out around noon. I had the first shift of the road trip again...and this time I didn't stall leaving the driveway!

Stopped to get lunch (about 3 hours after breakfast) and switched drivers. Got back on the road with Amber at the wheel. She only stalled once. We won't make fun of her til next week, at least :)

I resumed my typical status of passed out in the back seat. Woke up passing L.A. Saw the Disney Amphitheater by Gehry from the highway...continued to eat the freshly picked cherries and strawberries from San Jose...

After all of the traffic and the two stops along the way, we made it to San Diego around 9 pm...entirely too late to meet up with Sara Cooke before her night shift but in time to get Mexican food with Maile who then took us to a bonfire at her old apartment complex with friends. It was a good time, really nice and talkative people, and guitars...which always make people happy :)

My yawning was a sure sign that we needed to get going...sorry team :-/ luckily we were awake enough to walk ourselves to the car. The word "gleak" offered opprtunity for a good convo as did our proximity to the border. Time to crash. Vegas tomorrow. Ridiculous.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Last Day in San Jose

Amber and I woke up late because Keith was golfing and there was nothing planned. Chilled outside in the sun and played with our music playlists to get ready for our roadtrip, which starts up tomorrow!

Keith and Christian got back, and Christian is now going to be subjected to constant taunting for his loss to Keith until the next time they play.

Taught Amber to drive manual...or re-taught, which may be the more appropriate way to put it. Stopped at Starbucks and Lucky to get supplies for tonight then just headed back to the house to bum around until people showed up for the BBQ. There are about a billion and 5 pictures I'm sure, but those will have to wait until I get them from Amber and Eric.

A night of tomfoolery before we hit the road :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lazy day of backups

Up at noon.

Bummed around all day, had many issues with backing up pictures which took me the majority of the day to figure out. Finally made sure that we have all of my pics backed up on Keith's drive, and his dad will surely be making DVDs.

Amber did a fabulous job with making empanadas after she and Keith tried out a batch of gallo pinto, and ended up turning it into rice pudding to cover up the rice (which was a bad batch despite being made in a rice cooker, go figure).

I watched a game of Okay! a turkish game like rummy with tiles instead of cards, while I finished backing up files. Now I'm messing with music to try to create a costa rica playlist for our roadtrip. We still haven't figured out our trip, but I'm trying not to freak out and to just go with it...tomorrow I'll take it on full throttle.