Absolutely. Amazing.

Danxia Landform  ????

The colorful Danxia mountains of China:

dozens of her Danxia photos here

(Via kottke.org)

Current Status = Melting

Even as a skinny kid I had a low tolerance to heat. Maybe it’s the whole being born in February thing or my DNA, I do not like heat.

Returning our car in the morning turned into chaos. The rental company did not give me a specific requirement. They called and I said, “Oh yah we’ll be back by 10:30am” and proceeded to not realize it was 10:15am and we were no where near leaving.

Making matters worse was my Mom and Dan had some errands they wanted to run which made it a little more confusing to coordinate, and then it turned out Prescott had Rodeo Days going on, so traffic was insane. I did finally get the car turned in, the guy was very nice and the room full of people waiting on our car return kindly did not kill me.

We then needed to go to FedEx to ship our stuff back home. Lest I not forget, the other car of my parents, now had no fan working. So we were stuck in traffic with no A/C or even air moving.

Boxes shipped and we were off to Lowes because they needed a few more things. We had to do the very scenic route to avoid the Rodeo Days event and parade. Then back to the house to relax.

We opted to eat dinner at my parents place so as to not add another stop on the way to the airport. Dinner was delicious. The mood was bitter sweet knowing I wouldn’t see my Mom for many more months.

Craig and I packed efficiently and we were off to the airport. Now this shouldn’t have been a big deal, our flight was at 11:39pm out of Phoenix. We were driving into the night and it gets cooler, right? No! As we headed south out of the mountains, it got hotter and hotter and hotter. 45 minutes away from the airport I tried to roll down my window for some fresh air, which proceeded to burn as if a hair dryer had been put in my face.

I checked my weather app to see it was 102ºF at 8:50pm. At this point Craig and I couldn’t wait to get to the airport, all we wanted to do was sit in air conditioning. As we got into Phoenix the temperature continued to rise to 106ºF. Hot is hot and I have never experienced heat like that. We had quick hugs and went into the airport and cooled off. I worried about my Mom and Dan getting home. By the time they’d be getting home, we’d be in the air with no communications. Gratefully they did arrive home safe.

Our Plane Home

I had a feeling the whole trip I’d be randomly checked by the TSA and I was. My laptop is what got flagged and thus me. The woman was very serious and swabbed my laptop and of course there was nothing. Off we went to put our shoes back on and go find our gate.

The flight was packed. Craig slept. I dozed on and off, which meant when we arrived in NYC I was exhausted. Kelly picked us up at the airport and we had one of the easiest exits from NYC ever and were back in Danbury very quickly.

We proceeded to sleep on and off all day. We went to dinner with my inlaws but the following day it felt like a blur.

Glad to be home in a land where temps rarely make it over 95 for any more than a few days a year. Where water is not sparse and electricity doesn’t cost more depending on the time of day. I miss my Mom and I do miss the relaxation of their home and the amazing views around them.

Day 9: The Grand Canyon

July 12th, 2012

The Grand Canyon

We woke with the sun at 5:30am and we were out the door and on the road at 6am. From my Mom’s place the Grand Canyon is about 2 hours away. The day before I read up on visiting the Grand Canyon, what to do, what to avoid and so forth.

We headed north on AZ 89 to I-40 and then east to Williams. We stopped in Williams for both Starbucks and gas. We had driven by here twice in the past week but never got off the highway, I wish we had. Williams is a really cute town with lots of Route 66 charm. In many ways it looks like Radiator Springs from Cars.

Cafe 66

After stocking up on gas and caffeine, we headed north on AZ 64 to the Grand Canyon. It’s a straight shot, 1 hour of driving to the main gate. We passed through the little town of Tusayan where there are resorts, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, plus a National Geographic IMAX exhibit.

When we got to the gate there was only two cars ahead of us in our lane, and finding parking at Mather’s Point was easy. We stepped out of the car at 9:30am and said, “oh god it’s this hot already.” We made our way over to the Canyon edge with all of the other people and were kind of disappointed. It felt odd, it was hot, it was hazy from the Utah and Colorado fires, there were lots of people and it just felt touristy not magnificent.

The Grand Canyon

We lingered around Mather’s Point for a little while longer until we just couldn’t take all the people anymore. Visited the book store and got some goodies and then back to our car for A/C. Craig was really feeling disappointed since this was the location he’s had at the top of his bucket list for some time.

Looking over the park map, we decided let’s give the Desert View end of the park a shot. Along the way there were several turn outs and we hoped there’d be less people.

The Grand Canyon

We were right. Once we got 10 minutes down the road and past the Grandview pull out, there was almost no one. We passed a yellow caution sign like we have back here, ours have deer on them and the note “next 10 miles”, this one had a mountain lion, next 10 miles. While I like the kitties, I don’t ever want to meet that one.

As we drove on it became quite surreal. I’d look to my left as the driver and see small trees and through those the edge of the canyon. No guard rail. No fencing. If you want to go out Thelma and Louise style this was possible.

The further east you drove the more of the Colorado River you got to see. There is something amazing standing near the edge, no railing and just listening to the silence. It starts to feel mind boggling, knowing that to reach the Skywalk on the far west end of the Canyon is a 7 hour drive. The Canyon is so massive.

The Grand Canyon

I tried to take pictures through the haze. I was regretting not ordering the 10-22mm lense to fully take in the massiveness of what was before us. I can see why photographers could spend days here trying to get the right photo.

We made it to Desert View and it was worth the drive. We went up in the tower looked around. I got some more goodies as gifts. The heat though was really starting to affect us. Craig’s voice was officially gone, and I was wilting with cotton mouth. At the general store I got Gatorade and water. We chugged as much as we could before leaving the store’s A/C.

The Grand Canyon - Desert View

Officially exhausted and now 2:30 in the afternoon we headed south and back to my Mom’s. But not without a stop in Williams to explore more.

I got a parking spot on the main street and left Craig in the car with the A/C going. I walked down the street snapping photos and visiting the fun stores along the way. Everyone was smiling and very friendly. Elvis has plenty of visitors wanting photos with him.

He's Alive!

I coordinated returning our car rental the next day and we headed back to my Mom’s place and took a break. It was an experience and one worthy of having. We’d love to go back to the Grand Canyon but in February or March, even if it is a bit snowy.

Squirrel with the best view

Day 8: Catching Up

July 12th, 2012

Mom Behind the Wheel

We relaxed, slept in and just caught up on life. I got a lot of the travel logs updated. I finished processing photos while Craig worked on lyrics. All in all a very relaxing day.

Mom and Dan had to return their moving truck, run errands and continue working on getting settled.

Somedays you just need to not leave the house and just relax.

Highway 89A

Also known as the most amazing road to drive! If you love driving, and long for a road that seems to be made for a Porsche 911, then this is the road for you. Sadly we were not driving a Porsche 911 but rather a GMC Terrain.

We took it easy yesterday morning and then in the afternoon decided to explore Highway 89A. I had found this route for my Mom and Dan back in September 2011. I looked on Google Maps and saw all the twists and turns and told them, “you gotta drive this road it looks amazing.” They did and were incredibly impressed.

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows I love the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire. It’s possibly my favorite scenic road to drive, and it’s where Craig engaged to me. This route puts shame to it.

Entering Jerome

You climb out of Prescott, up and up to 5000 feet through switchbacks and hair pin turns, as a passenger you can look back and down to see where you just were. The landscape is sharp mountain sides, pine and cactus. Depending on the turn you may also be granted the incredible view down a notch to where you’re going. All the while way off in the distance is more mountains.

Craig drove so I could be the crazy person snapping photos. I locked the doors and hung out the window several times. As a photographer I was getting so frustrated because there were so many amazing views to take in.

Jerome reminded me of every picture I’ve seen of those little towns on the sides of mountains in Italy. The roads are big enough for horse and cart, but somehow today carry cars. Tiny shops all nestled together, on roads stacked on switchbacks. The entire town seems to be an artist haven, with all different kinds of local wares for sale. We didn’t get a chance to stop, but when we return it’s going to be one of my first destinations.

We descended into Cottonwood also known as Clarkdale which is a more bustling town with luscious green valleys below it, still set high in the mountains but with palm trees. Reminded me more of the California coast minus the ocean.

After Cottonwood we got our best treat yet, Sedona. I’ve heard the hype, didn’t think I’d be too impressed, and I now have to eat those words. Amazing, stunning, incredible, are all adjectives that do not do it justice. The massive rock monuments around the area are breathtaking. We arrived at the perfect time 5-7pm, so we had amazing golden light.

Sedona HDR

I had read up before arriving that driving up to the airport will give you amazing views. It was worth it. We pulled off at the turn out for watching the sunset. The landscape was amazing. I could have stayed there all evening taking photos.

My favorite subject

We decided to head up to Flagstaff for dinner, but before we could we passed the “Shops” at Sedona and there was outdoor seating on a terrace with a view of more of the monuments. We ate at the Wildflower Bread Company which seems to be like Panera Bread but healthier and more upscale. We truly had dinner with a view.

Sedona

After dinner we headed up to Flagstaff through the canyons of the Coconino National Forest. The roads didn’t disappoint, beautiful curves, arching tree cover with sheer rock sides. The sun was setting fast so my photos were getting harder and harder to take.

Coconino National Forest

Leaving the forest we climbed into Flagstaff at an elevation of 6,910 feet. I love Flagstaff, even our first quick lunch stop I fell in love. We hopped back on I-40 and traveled back home to rest up.

If you are ever in Arizona to visit, make sure you drive Highway 89A, you will not be disappointed.

Cactus

Lots of photos on Flickr!

Day 6: The Land of Sun

June 28th, 2012

Highway 89 - Paulden to Prescott

The sun comes up early here. 5:00 am and Craig and I were both awake. I drifted back and forth between sleep and awake, while Craig wrote lyrics.

We got up and headed out to the Safeway for Starbucks and some groceries. It feels like people can tell we’re not from the area. Not sure what exactly it is, but there’s a feeling.

We came back home and relaxed with my Mom and Dan. Craig napped and I worked on installing face plates and cleaning up the bathroom. I took a much needed shower that felt awesome.

We lounged around some more, I got my full lazy on sitting in the living room looking out over the mountains with my feet up in a recliner. It was great.

Later in the evening we took my Mom and Dan down to Lowes for some household items and we had dinner at Applebees. The sunset over Prescott Valley which is quite a scenic drive.

Craig and I spent the evening on the front porch looking at the stars, picking out constellations and watching meteors. I got to see two pieces of space hardware go over head, which is just so cool.

Day 5: Arizona Here We Come

June 28th, 2012

Welcome to Arizona

We departed Gallup, NM and quickly crossed over in Arizona. This section of I-40 was particularly flat and looking like driving across Mars, as much as one can imagine. The red rocks of New Mexico were gone, replaced with light brown rock, bleached ground, sage brush and the occasional small shrub.

Arizona

Craig and I switched drivers so he could sleep. I had to make time to catch up with my Mom and Dan who’d kept going. I put tunes on, kitties chilled out and I put the pedal to the floor. I cruised along doing 85mph and slowly caught up.

We stopped in Flagstaff for lunch only to be surpised that it was not 11:30am like we thought but 10:30am. The nice people at Cracker Barrel worked it so we could get lunch.

I really liked Flagstaff, surrounded by mountains and pine trees, this is more my speed.

Flagstaff, AZ

After a fill up of gas we were back on the road. Rather than creating drama, I’ll just say the next hour was a bit hairy. Sleep deprivation and I believe pride made for a scary experience in front of me. When we got off the exit to head down 89 to Paulden, a cop stopped the moving truck and a warning was issued. Gratefully all of the other vehicles on the road were ok and no one was injured.

Heading down 89 to Paulden was pretty cool, there’s no speed limit signs, which coming from the northeast freaked me out. I kept feeling like someone was going to stop me and say, “hey you’re speeding!” and I’d have to respond, “but I have no idea what the speed limit is.” It’s quite scenic as you’re driving through state forests.

Arizona 89

I had called ahead to our car rental and lined it up to pick it up in the afternoon down in Prescott. We got to the house in Paulden at the same time as the realtor and her very nice sons who were there to help move items in.

This of course did not go smoothly initially. First the A/C was not working in the house, second the fence was not wide enough for the truck, third the trailer lock key was missing and really it just kept getting worse.

After some heated “discussions” things smoothed out and the truck was unloaded. Craig and I drove down to Prescott and picked up our rental car. We ended up with a GMC Terrain which has a nice bluetooth setup and I can make phone calls handsfree.

The evening was getting things setup for own room, getting the evap system working and just relaxing.

Sunset from the backyard

Day 4: Another Land

June 28th, 2012

Welcome to New Mexico

As we left Texas the landscape started to change dramatically, the mesas and plateaus rose from the horizon. Today’s color palette was sage, tourmaline and terracotta. As we crossed into New Mexico all we could think about was what grass would look like on Mars.

Highways that go in straight lines for miles and miles. Paralleled by railroad tracks and meager fences. Our destination is Gallup, New Mexico.

Later that day…

We were cruising along with out issue, until my Mom had to stop short in the moving truck in front of us. When she did we had to slam on the brakes and all of the sudden the A/C died. We were hopeful it was just a temporary thing, and it came back for a few moments. But alas, the air conditioner quit again and the temperature gauge started going up and up.

Still an hour out of Alburqueque we pulled off in a tiny town with a truck stop. The Civic proceeded to go all the way up to High on temperature gauge. We looked under the hood to see our make shift cap pretty much still in place. The A/C was strong and working but the engine would not cool off.

New Mexico - Car Swap

The decision was made to swap tow vehicles, which was no easy feat. In the baking New Mexico sun with no shade, Dan reassembled the Blazer’s driveshaft and re-engaged the differential. He got the Blazer off and we reloaded the contents of the Blazer into the Civic and vice versa. He then tested both vehicles and we were on the road again, now driving the Blazer. Sadly this started at 2:33pm and we were back on the road at 4:10pm.

On the road again to Alburqueque we got to come through the beautiful mountains to the east and down into the city. We got lunch/dinner and filled the moving van with gas. We started back out on I-40 West only to see the Blazer’s gas gauge was now on E. Yet only a few minutes prior it was at 3/4 of a tank. We seeked out a gas station which became very far and few between once we got past the city.

Stopping at exit 108 we got gas at one of the nicest stops of the trip. The people were so friendly and laid back. As to be expected the gas gauge was broken but the car only needed 5 gallons of gas.

New Mexico

We proceeded onto Gallup with storms on the horizon. The more the sun set the more beautiful the landscape got. The red rock and plateaus of western New Mexico were amazing. It really looks like another planet. I would love to come back through and spend a few days driving around and taking photos.

New Mexico

Our hotel in Gallup is lacking. Based on Trip Advisor reviews of every hotel in Gallup they are sub par in quality with prices that do not match. We paid $119 a night there, and got Super 8 quality, where as the night before in Amarillo at the Staybridge Suites we paid $124 for the night.

Alas, it is a place to lay our heads and rest up. Last leg of the trip is tomorrow.

More Photos on Flickr.

Day 3: Pushing Through

June 28th, 2012

In daylight we got to fully check out our hotel which was very nice. It’s too bad we weren’t going to be staying there longer. We headed out to Denny’s and this time I opted for a healthier breakfast; egg whites, spinach, fruit and an english muffin.

We decided at breakfast to drive as far as we possibly could. The great optimism was to go from St. Louis to Albuquerque, which was 1000 miles and 16 hours of driving. We hit the road and journeyed through Missouri. Having done two road trips now, Missouri takes the cake on weird bill boards, and their proliferation of Adult Superstores. I was happy to see the lack of microsurgical vasectomy reversals, child pornography destroys (which it does) and this time only a few Jesus Saves billboards.

Keeping it Classy Missouri

The new Missouri billboard I liked had two guys in scrubs on it, and it said, “Man Up!” with the subheadline of “Become a Healthcare Professional Today.” At least it’s got a positive message. We finally made it out of Missouri and off to Oklahoma.

Missouri Rt. 66

Oklahoma
It can be summed up with two words, hot and no shade. As we progressed through Oklahoma we started having problems with the air conditioning in the Civic. Making that situation even worse was that we were carrying the cats. We pulled over at a rest area/gas station to check on things.

The make shift cap we had put on the coolant resevoir had blown off and our coolant was all leaving the radiator. In the 98ºF and humid and we were working under the hood. We came up with a better solution this time, a prescription bottle cap fit perfectly and with a lot of duct tape. It did the job perfectly. We were back on the road with A/C and an engine temperature gauge staying in normal areas.

Welcome to Oklahoma

Oklahoma City split us up, Craig and I ended up stopping at a Starbucks. It was so nice to be back to something familiar and not a truck stop. We ordered our coffees and joked around with the barista who was from Jersey! He agreed that the toll system was insane around the city, even after 12 years of living there.

After our nice detour, we were back and heading to Amarillo. I booked our hotel at the Staybridge Suites and we drove and drove. Western Oklahoma was really quite beautiful. Amazing, amazing levels of flat vistas. So surreal coming from the northeast where there is rarely a road that goes more than a few miles before hitting a hill.

Western Oklahoma Wind Farms

As the sun set the landscape got very picturesque. I wanted to take so many photos of trees that were either tornado damaged or ones that were just blown sideways. The pink, blue and purple sunset was such an amazing backdrop. The farther west we got, we started coming across large wind farms. A really amazing site to see them go for acres and acres.

Welcome to Texas

Texas did not dissapoint, we stopped at a rest stop with a huge building and tribute to the Lone Star state. It was a very dark drive to Amarillo with speckled strobe lights of farms and equipment along the horizon.

Our hotel was beautiful and like a small studio apartment inside. Our timing was impeccable though, the elevator had just broken and we were on the fourth floor. The hotel had staff helping people bring their luggage and items up 4 flights of stairs. We tipped generously for their help.

We managed to cover 750 miles and roughly 11 hours of driving.

More photos on Flickr.

Mom's Attic

We got a late start again but was optimistic about the day. The truck was handling much better. I started off the driving and later in the morning Craig and I swapped.

We finally made it to Indiana and trying to make as good of time as possible. Indiana greeted us with a massive metal cross on the border, and then fields and fields of corn. The biggest cross I’ve ever seen was still to come. Craig and I couldn’t remember which state it was in when we drove through in 2004. It’s certainly unforgettable.

Even Larger Metal Cross

We made it through Indianapolis and with the time crunch I was only able to send a virtual beep beep to my friend Kevin who lives there.

Indianapolis

Next up was Illinois; more corn. Lots and lots of corn. Based on the amount of corn being produced in just the I-80 corridor all I can think is America has a serious problem with high fructose corn syrup. There’s no way all that corn was going to items like corn on the cob, corn meal, corn flour, canned corn.

Indiana Farms

Our goal was to get to St. Louis to sleep for the evening. I really wanted to get a picture of the arches. We decided to stop for dinner before St. Louis to avoid the rush hour traffic. Wishful thinking.

Back on the road at 6:30pm with still an hour to go before getting into St. Louis we started down the road and I noticed something coming off the side of the moving truck. Initially I thought they had blown a tire, but then Craig smelled it. They hit a bump again and gasoline was spraying out the side. We pulled over right away. The gas cap was not placed back on after the last fill up.

Welcome to St. Louis

We finally made it to St. Louis around 7:45pm at night only to get stuck in gridlocked traffic. All day my friend Kevin from Indianapolis had been warning us that the interchange from 55 to 44 was very hairy. Not only was the corner very sharp, but the lane changes and what you think is the exit is not, but rather for another interstate. To add insult to injury the construction had a whole interstate area closed. On ramps to get back on were closed.

As much prep work with the detailed directions Kevin gave us, Craig and I took the right route but my Mom and Dan got off the wrong one because they listened to their GPS. Worse more was their GPS took them off the highway that would have just been a detour and dumped them on to the streets of St. Louis to be rerouted.

Meanwhile Craig and I made it to the hotel to realize it was no where near what was described. Abandoned buildings all around it. Large parties of people with lots and lots of kids who were running around checking in. Super 8 had booked smoking rooms because of the pets. Eww! The front desk clerk was frustrated and offered to cancel our reservations. We gladly accepted.

All the while my Mom and Dan were still lost in St. Louis trying to make it this way. I started calling area hotels trying to get rooms that did non-smoking, cats and a truck with trailer. Holiday Inn saved the day. We made the reservation and drove straight over. When I walked in the woman was so nice, she said, “oh my, you look really frazzled.” She gave us complimentary breakfast.

We got to our rooms and tensions were quite high. Misunderstandings combined with crankiness ended up having tensions explode and everyone decided to just call it a night.

The positive to the day is I got some nice photos of the St. Louis Arch with a sunset backdrop.

Gateway to the West

More photos on Flickr.