There’s more than a canyon in Arizona!

The last few weeks of my blog have been highlighting a trip I took with my son and my mother to the Grand Canyon. The first few days of our adventure were taken-up with the joys that the canyon had to offer. Honestly, you could spend weeks there and still not see and do everything you want to. We focused our trip around the south rim of the Canyon because that is where most of the ranger stations and lodges are, but there is LOTS to see around the north rim as well. I hope to be able to go back some day and go up there instead.

But four days into our trip, we decided to see more of what Arizona had to offer! There are so many National Parks, Historic Sites, etc. all over the Southwest, but since my son was still relatively young,  we stayed “pretty close” to the Grand Canyon for our adventures.

In our research for the trip, I decided to let Gabriel pick some of the places that we would go see. The first place he wanted to visit was Montezuma Castle National Monument, so that’s where we headed first.

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On the road to Montezuma Castle

I think I said this in an earlier blog, but the thing that surprised me the most about rural Arizona is how beautiful the desert can be. I honestly did not expect to be blown away by the rugged beauty of Arizona. I’d been to Arizona before, but the city (Phoenix), not out in the middle of nowhere. The browns and reds and greens and the blue of the sky create this magnificent palette of colors that I’d never seen in my other travels.

“MontezumA Castle, Mom! Not MontezumaZ”

My son is a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to things he loves, and Gabriel was OBSESSED with the National Park Service at this point in his life. I kept accidentally calling the monument “Montezuma’s Castle” (because as an English teacher, that makes more sense to me), so he corrected me a few dozen times while we were out there.

For those of you who have never been, Montezuma Castle is a cliff dwelling perched high into a cliff face that had to be accessed through retractable ladders. Very cool!

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Close- of some of the rooms closer to the ground

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The “castle” isn’t really a castle… and despite the name, it has NOTHING to do with the Aztecs or Montezuma. Interestingly, it got its name from a faulty assumption that it had something to do with the Aztecs, when it was actually left vacant quite some time before Montezuma was even born. So it’s name is very inaccurate, but … hey, we do what we want here.

The castle is a five story complex of interconnected rooms and, according to the National Park Service information, it was constructed over about 300 years (different additions added on over time). Unlike some other cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, you cannot go up to Montezuma Castle. I thought Gabriel would be upset by this, but he couldn’t have cared less! He loved walking down the paved path and looking up at the impressive construction.

There are also a few replicas that you can interact with down on the ground that, for some reason, I didn’t get pictures of. It is definitely worth the trip from the Grand Canyon or Phoenix… or Indiana!

There is also a well near by that Gabriel didn’t care to go see, but a fellow blogger wrote about it recently – you should check out her post here —> (Gen-X Traveler).

More Cliff Dwellings Ahead… but first!

After leaving Montezuma castle, we drove through the beautiful Sedona, Arizona. It’s a lovely little town– very commercial, but still cute. It reminds me a lot of a desert version of Gatlinburg, Tennessee– a little kitschy, but still worth seeing. Honestly the area around the town is what you want to see. There are SO many hikes and so many rock outcroppings to lose yourself in (in a good way) that it makes the little town very worth it (just like the Great Smoky Mountains make Gatlinburg with it).

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I wanted to stay here for days and explore, but since this trip was more about Gabriel than about me, we moved on after eating lunch at a two-story Burger King with the most amazing view!

Walnut Canyon: Where I nearly died of fear about 1000 times in the span of one hour

So… here’s the thing about me and being a mom… I wanted to do what my kid wanted to do, and I didn’t want to be the kind of mom who told her kid no because of my own fears. Having said that, Walnut Canyon is not for everyone (my mom stayed in the ranger station and I DO NOT blame her one bit!). The visitor center is very lovely and you can see some beautiful views from their floor to ceiling windows, but that’s not what Gabriel wanted to do…

Walnut Canyon has a couple of trails that you can take, one that is paved and relatively flat, and one that requires going down into the canyon via a group of 240-step winding stairs. Before getting to the stairs you read quite a few signs warning about strenuous return trip and the limited (and dangerous) accessibility ahead.

Once you get down into the canyon there is a gate… like a point of no return… because the trail is so narrow it is one-way only.  It is so narrow that in most places it was more narrow than my hips, no railing, and a gloriously awful looking “plummet to your death” kind of drop-off. My knees were literally shaking on the mile (or so) loop around the cliff dwellings.

The upside? Too many to count! You actually get see and GET IN the cliff dwellings and see how the people of long ago lived. It was fascinating. The view was so beautiful (as long as I pretended I couldn’t see down.

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Also, this face:

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Gabriel was SO excited! He walked bravely on the trails and was not phased one bit by the height or how close he was to scary-scary-bad-death. And through my gritted teeth and trembling knees and hands (and heart), I began to appreciate the trip around the cliff dwellings because of my son’s joy.

As a National Park Service Junior Ranger you learn about lots of things concerning the parks, one of which is that you do not take ANYTHING from the park other than what you bring in. So Gabriel asked me to take pictures of about twenty different rocks that he wished he could take home with him (how adorable is that?).

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I only included one rock picture 🙂

 

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Cliff dwellings to the left, scary-scary-death to the right

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One of the few places where the trail was almost wide enough for me to not be afraid, but keep in mind where that ceiling is… and I’m 5’2” on a good day.

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Gabriel telling me (and other families nearby) about the history of the people who lived in these types of cliff dwellings.

The trip back up, was a challenge, but we made it all without stopping because Gabriel wanted to “get back to Nanny so she wouldn’t be worried.” All in all it was well worth the fear and trembling. Not only was the view beautiful, but my son got to experience something he’d being researching for weeks even though his mom is a wimp.

When all was said and done, he had a few more badges to add to his backpack!

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If this is your first time to the blog, don’t miss out on our other adventures here: 

The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?

One Neighbor’s Trash

Lately I’ve been trying my hand and gardening and fixing up my lawn to make it look less like I’ve only lived there a few months… when I’ve actually been there almost 18 years!

I fixed up an old pallet that I’d used as an herb garden a few years back and gave it a bit of a facelift.

I used back spray paint to disguise the roughness of the wood. Then, using a staple gun, I put in lawn fabric to hold in the dirt on all the sections, save the bottom (where I planted basil and sage, which have more substantial root systems. I got most of the herbs from my mom who has an extensive herb garden.

Then I was out watering my plants one morning and saw that my neighbor had put a rusted out grill on his curb. I’m not sure if this is the universal “come and get it sign,” but it is in our neighborhood 🙂

I suddenly thought, I bet I could make a planter out of that! And so when my best friend came over later that day, she helped me carry it over to my house.

Rust covered the entire outside of the grill and duct tape residue was on the lid (?)

Later that day I headed off to Lowe’s and got some steel wool (rust removal), some glossy black spray paint (I used Rust-Oleum), some planting soil and flowers.

First, I had to take the grill apart. I took of the kid and removed the inner pieces and the wood handle that had rotted apart. Then I used quite a bit of arm strength and scrape the rust off of the grill.

Next, I took a nail and hammered in some drainage holes in the bottom of the planter. Then I spray painted the whole thing- inside and out and filled it with soil.

After I’d scraped all the rust off and spray painted it.

After that all that was left to do was find a spot for it, and plant my flowers!

Here it all is the night I finished!

All said and done, it only took a few hours including the trip to Lowe’s.

Picture taken this morning- after nearly a month

So, be brave! If you find something on the side of the road that you might be able to spruce up a bit… DO IT! … just don’t become a hoarder. 🙂

Driving around the Grand Canyon (Day 3)

Our third day of our Grand Canyon adventure involved a drive around the south rim of the Canyon.

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Our first glimpse of the Colorado River (responsible for carving out the Canyon)

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My son, “Is Papa down there somewhere?”

I keep talking about the amazing views from the Canyon, but I can’t say it enough. It is an overwhelming kind of beauty that puts into perspective the size of a human life in the vastness of the world. I felt a similar kind of awe as a teenager when we went to the Rocky Mountains. The scope is simply so huge that you feel so very small.

I’m not going to have a lot of profound words in this post, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves for a while.

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My version of “close to the edge”

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Gabriel and my mom get scary-danger-death close

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Desert View Watchtower — great views from several different levels

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Along the drive there were several areas where you can get out and learn about the wildlife in the Canyon and the different types of people who have lived in and around the Canyon over the years.

A few of the sign writers had a punny side to them:

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A little Marvin Gaye, anyone? 

And a few of them were surprising… what I wanted to know was if there was a sign for the snakes telling them to not harm me!

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We made it back to the lodge in time for some leisure time– ah yes, even time in the lodge can be fun!

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Gabriel drawing pictures of the things he remembered from the trip

And I even took a solo walk to the rim at sunset to get a coffee.

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The path from the lodge to the village at the rim

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Such an amazing day filled with beauty!

Thanks for stopping by!

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

Several weeks ago I began sharing with you the adventures that my son and I have taken together over the years. We started our travel adventures when he was in the first grade by going to St. Louis, then later that same year we went to Mammoth Cave and Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site. Two weeks ago I continued with one of our bigger trips, all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Today’s blog recounts our first full day at the Canyon.

We woke up early that morning so we could get to the Grand Canyon’s supply store as soon as it opened so my father and his buddies could get the supplies they couldn’t keep in their luggage.  They wanted to get as early of a start as possible for their rim to rim to rim hike (south rim, down into and across the canyon, up the north rim, and then the return trip). We then took the group to the trail head and snapped a few pictures before they set off on their adventure.

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My dad with his gear

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The Crew

After wishing them luck, Gabriel, my mom, and I went off to the ranger station to get Gabriel’s workbook so that he could get his Junior Ranger badge and add it to his growing collection. Once we had the workbook, we were off to the rim to discover what the Grand Canyon was all about.

Several things … nearly everything, in fact… surprised me while we were at the Canyon. For one, I was not anticipating it to be so cold at the Grand Canyon. My midwestern mind knew we were in Arizona and Arizona is hot, right? I’d been to Phoenix several years before and it had gotten up to 124 degrees Fahrenheit one day. But at the rim of the Canyon (a much higher elevation than Phoenix) it was actually quite chilly, hovering closer to 30-40 degrees in the morning.

Another thing that surprised me is how much my fear of heights (acrophobia) would bother me while we were there. Now, I’m no dumby, I knew the Canyon was big and deep, I’d just assumed it would be more of a gentle sloping kind of height, or that there would be a guardrail at the least. Nope!

My fear kicked in pretty quickly as I tried to keep my fearless child from plummeting to his death every ten minutes! Of course I am exaggerating, but I had been completely clueless at how open the Grand Canyon would be for the more adventurous of humans (not me). And Gabriel was loving the views and was even transfixed with bugs (that we also have in Indiana), and keeping up with him and making sure he was in no way close to the edge was a full time job, it seemed.

I’d made a little formula for how close I could get to the edge and still feel safe (yes, that’s how crazy I can be when it comes to heights). I decided that I needed to be my height (a bit over 5 feet) and a few feet extra in order to be safe (just in case I rolled while I fell face first?). 

That didn’t last long with Gabriel, but luckily for me, we were also with my mom who seemed slightly more rational than I was about the proximity to the edge of the canyon. She would brave closer with Gabriel, while I turned away… because somehow that kept them safe (I don’t know, but it made sense in my mind).

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Mr. Adventure Man – always climbing on something. 

 

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One of our first views of the Grand Canyon

The other thing that surprised me about the Grand Canyon was the massiveness of it. Of course I knew the Grand Canyon was… well, grand! I just didn’t have any frame of reference for what that meant. I was continually frustrated that my camera could not capture how massive it was. Every picture I took was amazing, but the pictures are NOTHING in comparison to the reality of the Canyon. It was beyond anything I’d ever known before.

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In the pictures the colors are not nearly vivid enough, the scope not nearly broad enough. But I tried to capture what I could in my mind as we went around to some of the places we needed to see for Gabriel to be able to get his Junior Ranger badge work completed.

We learned many fascinating things about the Canyon, the habitats, and the wildlife surrounding it. One of the interesting facts that I still remember is that the only place that you can see the Grand Canyon all at once is from outer space! Even in an airplane, you can’t take the entire Canyon in at once… it’s too big! You have to be out of Earth’s atmosphere to see all of it at the same time. DUDE.

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Always ready for a picture

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Canyon selfie (at a safe distance from the edge)

Once we’d filled out the workbook for the Junior Ranger badge and completed the necessary tasks (like picking up trash that others rudely left behind), we went to a ranger station so that Gabriel could get sworn in. The Canyon (unlike the other parks we’d been to) swears in several kids all at once just due to the volume of kids getting the badges, but it was still a very cool experience, and again, one that Gabriel almost felt he wasn’t “good enough” for.

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Gabriel feeling very intimidated by the “old” kids.

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Signing his name to his certificate

The Grand Canyon has several restaurants in the park ranging from relatively cheap cafeteria style to very fancy sit-down places that have incredibly expensive food. Since the Canyon isn’t near any large cities, the park has everything you could need for an extended stay. There’s even a Catholic church in case you need a little Jesus with your nature.

Our lodge was outside of the main village (with several hotels, stores, and restaurants), but was just a quick walk away from the rim and a few convenience-type stores. In the evening we went and got some coffee (not Gabriel) and watched the sun set over the Canyon. There were tons of places to sit around outside and Gabriel especially liked the carvings in the stones of several different local birds.

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Showing off his own wingspan 

Our Grand Canyon adventure will last a few more weeks. Next week, join us as we drive around the park and see a few very cool places on the south rim!

When it’s Hard to Write

I sat down Sunday to write the next installment in my blog series about my travels with my son. My habit is to make the drive to pick him up from his weekend at his dad’s and chat about the blog topic on the drive home. Then, when we get home, he goes and does his things after a while, and I sit down with the laptop and piece it all together.

However, this Sunday it wasn’t that easy.

I had a wonderful weekend with my best friend from college. She and her husband live in Illinois with their adorable daughter (and my namesake), and I try to see them whenever I can. That hasn’t been easy here lately. I’d planned on going at the end of March (my spring break), but that obviously didn’t happen. So, since restrictions had finally started to lift, I decided to make the trip.

It was wonderful!

And I picked up my son.

It was wonderful!

Then we got home, and I made the mistake of popping on social media.

Suddenly the world pushed down harder and harder as I saw more and more hate-filled posts, people knowingly posting untruths because “they bring up a good point,” and posting venomous anger. So much anger. And it weighed me down – choking my soul so that my vision tunneled out the wonderful things of the weekend, and all I could see was this ever tightening ring of darkness, anger, hatred, and ignorance.

Suddenly I couldn’t write about the joys of visiting the Grand Canyon anymore. It seemed profane to think about happiness when so many people were hurting.

So what do you do when it’s hard to write?

I think you have to write anyway.

For me it was more of an “eventually” kind of situation. When that darkness starts choking, it becomes very difficult for me to do anything other than figuring out how to not choke. But today, I decided to write– not about the Grand Canyon, but write something. Later, I hope to be able to write about the Grand Canyon and the fun we had there. I know I will.

My final thought for today: Remember that all people are people. They have feelings, passions, families. Love people. All people.

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The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

As I take these adventures down memory lane of the travels I’ve made with my son over the years, I can’t help but have some of the fondest memories of our time in the Grand Canyon. For one, this was never a trip that I thought I would be able to go on with my son. For one, just getting there was something I didn’t think I would be able to afford.

In Europe, I’ve found travel to be amazingly cheap. A girl that I met in the Dublin hostel  I stayed in in 2016 flew from Milan to Dublin for €30 (approx. $35). That’s almost 900 miles. But for me to fly to Chicago (less than 200 miles by air) is $150 (approx. €135). Travel within the US is for some reason MUCH more expensive. In fact, I went to Dublin in 2016 because it was less than half as expensive as it would have been to go to Key West, which had been my original plan.

So, understandably I didn’t think it would be possible for me as a single mother to fly my son and I to Arizona, rent a car, get a hotel, and feed ourselves for the multiple days it would take to do the Canyon justice. I estimated it would likely cost us well over $2000… which, as an educator, would take a long time to save.

In stepped my parents. From my childhood, my parents understood the importance of traveling. We went on several trips as I was growing up: England, Florida, New England, and several states out west, as well as multiple trips to the Smokey Mountains and Chicago. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that my parents would suggest that instead of the traditional Christmas presents, they would like to take Gabriel and I on trips instead.

One thing that I feel I truly understand about parenting is this:

Experiences last much longer in the memory and create more true joy than any gift.

My father is an avid hiker – he has summited Mt. Rainer and Kilimanjaro, and in 2013 he wanted to do the Rim to Rim to Rim hike (starting at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, hiking to the northern rim, and then back again). And my mom thought it would be fun while he was off hiking, if we (she, Gabriel, and I) could explore the Grand Canyon and a few other national parks near(ish) there.

So, off we went in March of 2013!

It was much less expensive to fly to Las Vegas rather than Pheonix, so we did that. It is a much longer drive, but it seemed worth the money that would be saved. So we got our gear together and headed off to Vegas!

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Gabriel and my dad at the Indianapolis International Airport – two buddies!

The only real issue that we had at the airport is that the ticket counter workers wouldn’t let my dad’s friend bring the MREs they had packed for the hiking trip (I think) because of the heat tabs inside that they use for cooking. And that was their plan for food the entire hike. That was a big problem for them. We were going to arrive at the Canyon in the middle of the night and they were going to start their hike at first light (before stores would open).

But, there wasn’t anything that could be done. If I remember correctly, they kept the food and just relinquished the heat tabs. The plan was to stop at a camping supply store somewhere between Vegas and the Canyon and get what they needed.

The flight there was Gabriel’s first time in an airplane (he was 8 years old), and he didn’t seem to mind it. I think he was a little unnerved by the ear popping, but I armed him with chewing gum and showed him the joys of excessive yawning.

Walking off the plane in Vegas was hilarious for me. Literally– immediately after we got out of the passage from the plane to the airport we were greeted by this:

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slot machines at the airport????

I had never seen slot machines in real life before – just the movies – and it was fascinating! The music, the flashing lights… all very intriguing. I have nothing against gambling other than it seems like a big time and money suck, but I did find it a little disheartening to see so many people make a bee line for the slot machines straight out of the gate.  I can’t stop putting a puzzle together once I’ve started, so I figured that gambling would probably be a bad idea for me, so we kept on going to pick-up our luggage.

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Outside at the airport

 

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Lake Mead as we were leaving Las Vegas

Once we got our rental van, all six of us (my parents, my dad’s two friends, and Gabriel and I) packed in and headed toward the Grand Canyon. Since we were going to the south rim of the Canyon, that was a five-hour drive. That is until you figure in stopping at every. single. store. in between the two locations that might have camping gear. And that is exactly what we had to do. Apparently there had been a run on camping gear or something, because EVERY place we stopped was out.

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Gabriel keeping himself occupied during the drive

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The only stops we made were in towns, but I tried as best as I could to capture some of the rugged beauty of Arizona as we drove.

When we finally made it to the lodge where we were staying near the rim of the Canyon, it was late. Late, late. Like way past the middle of the night late, and our bodies (especially that of an eight-year-old) were still on Eastern Time. But we made it!

And as frustrating and long as the trip was, when we stepped out of the van, the night sky made me gasp. Out in the deserts of Arizona, there isn’t much light pollution at all– for HUNDREDS of miles. I’d been camping before out in the “wilds” of Indiana and Illinois and seen the “unpolluted skies” before… or so I’d thought.

Looking up from the parking lot, I saw more stars than sky! It was absolutely unreal, and I wish that my camera had done it justice so that I could share it with you. Alas, you will just have to find a way to experience it for yourself.

Every night for the entire trip I would go outside after dark and marvel at the sky.

The world has so many wonders for us. And just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful thing that I could ever see, the world surprises me and gives me something new. And the beauty is so diverse! The desert is a completely different beauty from the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, which is a totally different from the beauty of the rugged cliffs of Meteora, Greece, which is completely different from the magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome… and I could go on and on.

I honestly can’t pick which is the “most” beautiful… because each of their beauty is incomparable!

And that night, the sky above the lodge in the Grand Canyon expressed perfectly that phenomenal beauty that the world can give us.

Next week I’ll talk about our first day at the Canyon and the wonderful sights we saw!


If you are new to the blog – start here, at the beginning of the blog series about my travels with my son:

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?