The Way Back

After several days in Arizona, we were finally headed back to Las Vegas to fly home. The flight from Vegas was much cheaper than Phoenix, but it required a much longer drive. However, there was the up-side that we could stop by the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

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We didn’t have a ton of time, so we didn’t go into the museum because there was an entrance fee and we knew that it really wouldn’t be worth it for the amount of time we could spend there. However, if you have time, I’m sure the museum is quite lovely.

We did spend a little walking around and looking at what we could. Gabriel had lots of questions and my dad spent some time explaining a few things about the impressive structure in a way that my young son at least pretended to understand.

For those of you who don’t know about Hoover Dam, I’ll help explain some of the history to you.

The construction of the dam was of such a magnitude that nothing like it had ever been done. Over 100 people died during the construction, and it took only five years to complete it (two years ahead of schedule).

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Statue commemorating the lives of the builders – you can see the bypass behind it

The dam was originally called the Boulder Dam because it was proposed to build it in Boulder Canyon (it was then actually built in Black Canyon). There was talk about naming after President Hoover (the sitting President at the time); however, he was not a “favorite” President… what with the Great Depression and all that. Consequently for a while people called it both until the 1940s when it was approved to officially name it Hoover Dam despite the running joke that it might leave the country high and dry like its namesake.

The reason the dam was built was for hydroelectric power, as well as for irrigation to the surrounding area. Another interesting fact  is that until 2010 you could drive over it on your way out of Vegas until they built the bypass. The bypass led to a much more direct path across the Colorado River. Looking at it from the air, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

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Though we were a bit disappointed in not being able to go into the museum, we were very ready to start the final leg of our trip home to Indiana.

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Hoover Dam Bypass – officially called “Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge”– you know, because that’s easier to remember

Next week we’ll take a break from my adventures with my son and I’ll tell you about my road trip to the American West (at least west of Indiana).


If this is your first time to the blog – check out my other adventures as a single mom with my son!

St. Louis, Missouri
Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave
Scotland in Kentucky?
The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins
An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience
Driving around the Grand Canyon (Day 3)
There’s more than a canyon in Arizona!

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!

Mini-Vaca in the USA

Last week I finished up my blog series on my trip to Italy and Greece (check out all the posts on my main page). So instead of diving right in to the next trip, I thought I would give a quick little post to a glorious stay that I recently had here in the United States.

Over the winter break my son spent a week at his father’s house in northern Indiana. When he is gone for such a long period of time, I really like to take advantage of my freedom (and avoid the silence of the house when he’s not there) so I usually end up going somewhere. One year over Thanksgiving break I took my first ever solo trip abroad. You can read about part of that here.

However, with finances a little tighter (especially right after Christmas), I opted for a local vacation. I hopped on AirBnB for the first time ever and looked at odd places to stay… tents, yurts, apartments above breweries with goat farms attached (not kidding… it’s real – near Cincinnati, Ohio)… in the general area of my home in Indianapolis.

After agonizing over several options, I finally decided that what I mainly wanted was some quiet solitude where I could “get away from it all.” So… I decided to stay in a treehouse! That’s right… a treehouse!

I stayed near the thriving metropolis of Dayton, Ohio in a little town called Xenia. On the outskirts of this little town is a very swanky area with lots of gorgeous, large homes.  I was a little concerned at first that I was in the wrong area, but sure enough my GPS guided me back on a winding road and into the parking area next to a very grand multilevel home (three, maybe four stories). And situated discreetly in the back of this beautiful home was a superbly adorable treehouse!

The bottom level of the treehouse is a wonderful deck with a table and chairs, and (since it was just a few days after Christmas) Christmas lights and even a lighted reindeer to give the deck just the perfect amount of festive ambiance.

Up the stairs is the entrance to the treehouse, and inside everything the site advertises! I worried about staying somewhere I’d never seen before, and if the pictures on the website had just been taken at creative angles, but the little treehouse was exactly how it looked on the website, and I was honestly surprised by the several amenities it offered.  There was WiFi (a little spotty, but serviceable), a mini-fridge,  plates, napkins, coffee mugs, and an adorable toaster oven/coffee pot/griddle combo that made me slightly envious!

On the main level there was a queen (?) size bed with a million pillows, a wall mounted TV (could have done without that), and a space heater that looks like a small wood burning stove.  Then, up a bunkbed style ladder there is a little loft that houses an additional twin sized bed.

The treehouse has a cabin-like feel, with electricity and heat, and even carpet. It stayed nice and warm on a VERY cold and rainy night, and though I was only a few hundred yards from the main house, it felt very secluded — and I am sure it is even more so in the spring and summer when the leaves on the trees would provide even more privacy.

There were several side amenities that I didn’t take advantage of– guests have access to the grounds, a fire pit, and even a hot tub on the deck of the main house. You can even get farm fresh eggs for breakfast and access to the main house (shower, etc) for an additional cost.

The treehouse is probably not for everyone, though. There is a very basic compostable toilet on the deck around the corner from the entrance to the treehouse. In nice weather this would not have been a problem for me. Unfortunately I was there on a particularly cold, rainy, windy evening, and though there is a discrete curtain to shield you from view, there is no roof over the toilet.  Consequently, I had a very cold, wet trip to the bathroom at 4am with wind so strong that it blew the curtain over on top of me. However, it was VERY clean and much better than I anticipated a rustic toilet would be.

By far my favorite amenity was the maple tea the host’s boys brought to me the next morning. The woman who owns the AirBnB and her two boys tap the maple trees for syrup and make tea from the sap. It was VERY good, and I only wanted six more cups!

Nearby is the lovely town of Yellow Springs that became my favorite place to head off to get a bite to eat and have my choice of several coffee shops! The town is very quaint and has a lot to offer with crafty little stores, locally owned shops, and plenty of restaurants.

I ate dinner my first night at Ye Olde Trail Tavern, a lovely little German tavern with unbelievable charm. Exposed beams, low ceilings, and a real fireplace give the place the feel of a real small town tavern in Germany. Despite their lack of many German beers on tap, it was very authentic.

After dinner I went across the street to a little coffee shop called Dino’s Cafe where I was the only customer for a while. The barista was very friendly and made a superb cappuccino (the test of any cafe). In no time, the cafe was filled with customers, and I can see why. It’s just a hole in the wall, but the coffee is great!

Dino’s Cafe

The next day I went back to the lovely little town and had coffee and breakfast at surprisingly large and busy Emporium Wine and Underdog Cafe. It is a one-stop shop for your wine, coffee, bakery, and breakfast needs! They had everything from scones to pancakes, from bottles of wine to used books! They pride themselves as the “Living room of Yellow Springs,” and it was truly that! It was filled with people on the cold day I was there. Business people were conducting meetings, students were studying, families were eating breakfast together, and emotionally exhausted English teachers were journaling (me).

I had lunch just down the street at the Wind’s Cafe which is a deceptively fancy restaurant that I felt extremely under dressed for, but they accepted me with open arms and not a lick of (audible) judgement.

All in all, it was a lovely vacation, and I hope to be able to go back to the treehouse in nicer weather and stay a bit longer. If you are looking for a slightly rustic experience with a wonderful little town near by, check out the Treehouse Getaway in Xenia, Ohio!