About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Arizona Chapter 3: National Monuments

Wednesday, June 29th
I left Grand Canyon National Park heading East/Southeast on Highway 64 - very pretty drive.  I saw a few scenic view signs for "Little Colorado River Gorge," and while I rarely turn down a view, I've been camping and sightseeing in the Grand Canyon - the ultimate!

Wupatki Pueblo

I turned onto Hwy 89 South back toward Flagstaff, where I had forgotten some computer cables at the hostel where I was previously staying there, and it was cheaper spending the money on gas there and back, than to have to replace them brand new.  On the way there I took a left off the highway for Wupatki National Monument.  "Scattered across 56 square miles of a sun-baked landscape of rolling hills, rocky mesas and dry, sandy washes, lay some of the world's most intact and culturally revealing archaeological sites and a glimpse into history where several cultures of ancient peoples converged in the 1100s to thrive in an otherwise desolate land.  I stopped at the ruins of the Lomaki Pueblo, Citadel Pueblo, and walked the 1/ mile loop through the crown jewel - a multi-level "high-rise" known as Wupatki Pueblo, at one time boasting about 100 rooms, a large kiva, and "ball court."

I continued driving the 35-mile loop road to Sunset Crater National Monument - 800 square miles of black cinder fields, cones and hills, amidst the thing forests of ponderosa pines.  "Erupting fairly recently, between 1040 and 1100, the now 1,000 foot high volcano began to form when molten rock sprayed high into the air from a crack in the ground, solidified, then fell to Earth as large bombs or smaller cinders, forming spatter-cones and two large lava flows.  I had a picnic while contemplating the huge, black, crater before me, nearly being taken away with the high winds that gusted through the area (7,000-ft high elevation up here).

A Cinder Hill at Sunset Crater

Next I got back onto Highway 89 S to I-40 East a couple of miles to Walnut Canyon National Monument, for a mile loop hike through limestone cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people, who inhabited the area and built hundreds of these homes into the stone alcoves and ledges nearly 900 years ago (built as early as 1125)!  It was fascinating walking the same footsteps through the same doorways as the people of a distant past.  It really gives a person perspective, you know?  And I read a quote on one of the displays that stopped me a minute - "They built their homes close to one another, so that they were reminded to love each other."  Nowadays we reference "Good fences make good neighbors."  No doubt they would sigh in disappointment at such a mindset.

Cliff Dwelling at Walnut Canyon
After my monumental day (hooray for dry humor!), I picked up my forgotten things from the hostel in Flagstaff, revisited Honda for an oil change, and picked up a couple of memory cards for my thirsty camera, before heading back up to camp at Grand Canyon South Rim's Desert View Campground.

Arizona Chap 2: Grand Canyon South Rim

Friday, June 24th
I left Red Rock Country at about 4:30pm taking scenic highway 180 North traveling up to the Grand Canyon's South Rim.  The drive up through Kaibab National Forest was beautiful, with groves of ponderosa pines, the quirky Chapel of the Holy Dove, and views of old volcano craters in the distance.

I arrived in the little town of Tusyan two miles south of Grand Canyon Village at quarter to 6, and pitched my tent in the national forest just across from Best Western.  There's no designated campsites or facilities, but it's quiet, secluded, shaded and free - It's waaaay better than any established campground and I'm going to sleep like a baby tonight :)

Sunset over the Grand Canyon South Rim
Saturday, June 25th
Does a mule deer shit in the woods?  Yep!  I saw one do just that this morning only yards from my tent (kindly keep your distance, please, lol) as I was driving away.  When I got to the Grand Canyon main visitor center I took the little walk to Mather Point Overlook stood in awe at the edge of the massive chasm (before grabbing my eager camera, lol).  277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep, it certainly had my attention, I was captivated.  After picking up my jaw I stopped into the Visitor Center for some general information and tips, and watched the terrific orientation film.

The South Rim is the most popular place along the canyon with about 1 million visitors a year, so they've implemented a fantastic shuttle system that is fast, easy, free and convenient.  The few minutes I waited for the Hermit's Rest Shuttle Bus at Bright Angel Trailhead I was able to spend gazing at a "solar prominence" on the sun through a special telescope.  I boarded the shuttle and and stopped at all nine stops - Trailview Overlook (view of Bright Angel Trail), Maricopa Point where I watched a squirrel approach a group of foreigners and literally "beg" for food on his hind legs - no kidding!), Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point and Hermit's Rest.  The views became not so easily distinguishable in my head so I started noting the stops in my pictures :)

Afterward I stopped into Kolb Studio, "once the home and business of the Kolb brothers - pioneering photographers and filmmakers at Grand Canyon, this rambling, Victorian era building (1905) has been restored to its original splendor.  Here I walked through the exhibit of photographs, artifacts, and information on some excavations of ruined dwellings at the canyon.

View from Yaki Point
I went to the Backcountry Information Office with questions about hiking down to the canyon floor.

I attended the "Condor Talk" led by the humorous ranger Kris.  In the early 80s the park began a project to repopulate the endangered California Condor, which was down to only 22 in '82 due to human impact.  Over recent decades they have successfully brought the population up to a total of 369! :)  Best of all, we actually saw a condor fly up and circle overhead during the talk!  It was #23 - a 17 year old male with 9.5-foot wingspan!

At the condor talk I got to talking with the woman next to me, Liz Roth, who I learned is the current Artist In Residence at the park (selected out of over 100 other applicants to practice her craft (painting) at the park for a month!  She currently lives in Oklahoma (moved from Seattle for a professor position at a college/university.  She read my mind and asked if I wanted to grab ice cream, then she invited me to check out her spacious 3 bedroom pad above historic Verkamp's Visitor Center, constructed in 1906.  We got to know each other over a couple cold beers on her balcony, which you can see in the previous link!  What a view overlooking the canyon!

I took a little walk through the Hopi house - a pueblo style building built in 1905 filled with Native American crafts and souvenirs for sale.

I checked out the rustic, hunting lodge-style lobby inside the historic El Tovar Hotel, opened in 1905.

Attended the "Colorado River Runners" ranger-led talk at Mather Campground, and learned about the early days of exploration and tourism inside the canyon on the Colorado River.

Took in a beautiful sunset at Mather Point.

Pipe Creek Vista Overlook
Attended the "Star Party," where dozens of astronomers provided use of their telescopes for viewing the night sky behind the main visitor center - lucky for me, because this was the last night it would be held in the one week per year they do this!  I saw Arcturus (the brightest star in the summer sky), M11 (aka Wild Duck Cluster in the constellation Scutum; described as one of the richest and most compact open clusters, lying 6,000 light-years from Earth, composed of more than 2,900 stars), Mercury, Albireo (set of binary stars), Saturn and 4 of its moons, M57 (aka Ring Nebula, "one of the most prominent examples of the deep-sky objects called planetary nebulae" and "was once as big as the sun, but collapsed upon itself")  and M4 (located about 7,000 light-years from the Earth, one of the closest of the globular clusters.)!

Sunday, June 26th
I woke up to my alarm clock at 5am and called to get on the waiting list for the dorm room at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon - placed first on the list, yay!

I took a shower at Camper Services ($2 - 8 minutes), where I had breakfast at the picnic table and watched two young mule deer have their breakfast, too!

I attended the 9am ranger-led "Fossil Walk" to discuss and explore a few fossil beds covered with Brachiopods, Bryozoans, Corals and Sponges; part of the thriving sea life that once inhabited grand canyon, which was  covered with water hundreds of millions of years ago.

I had lunch at the Arizona Room inside the Bright Angel Lodge; the food left something to be desired, but I got to try prickly pear cactus syrup for the first time (sweet!) and had a window seat with unobstructed views of the canyon, and the service was great.

Desert Wildflower on the Canyon Floor
After lunch I checked in with the Xanterra Resorts desk to follow up on my request to stay at the Phantom Ranch - good news, I have a spot!  I can go hiking tomorrow, woo-hoo!  *"Less than 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon each year visit Phantom Ranch!"

I attended a 20-minute ranger-led talk at the Mather Point Amphitheater about how the grand canyon was formed and we passed around different kinds of rocks and stuff.

Then I went to another 20-minute ranger-led talk, lol, at the Yavapai Observation Station, this time with my favorite ranger Kris again; the program was called "Geo-Glimpse" and basically talked about the same thing, but this one was way more fun and kept me interested.  I learned DUDE!  The canyon was formed by Deposition, Uplift, Down-cutting and Erosion!  =)  I requested an activities booklet to become a Grand Canyon Junior Ranger from Kris, which prompted about 5 other grownups (some much, much older than me) to ask for them, too!  :)

I took the Kaibab/Rim Shuttle to all 3 stops - South Kaibab Trailhead (I'm going to hike this tomorrow, woo-hoo!), Yaki Point (great views!) and Pipe Creek Vista.

I went to the General Store at Market Plaza to stock up for the hike tomorrow (electrolyte supplements, energy bars, etc).

Grabbed a slice of pizza at Yavapai Lodge Cafeteria

"Rock Squirrel" - Watch out they're hungry!
Was completely mesmerized by a stupendous sunset at lesser-known (and unmarked on the park maps) Shoshone Point that ranger Kris recommended to me.  It was a 1.5 mile hike to the point and only me and one family was there - we had it all to ourselves!  This experience alone was worth the trip to the Grand Canyon - WOW.

The father of the family from my unforgettable sunset experience told me the hike tomorrow really only takes about 2.5-3 hours; he's done it and it's all downhill and you don't really exert yourself, therefore I really don't need to hit the trail at 4 or 5am like the rangers urged me; I don't need to start 'til 7 or8 :)  And he recommended that once I'm down at Phantom Ranch with nothing to do all day I should consider exploring the North Kaibab Trail to cooler, shady areas and waterfalls!

Agave Plant - Like Something From Willy Wonka!
Monday, June 27th
I got up at 6am (naturally!) and headed to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, seeing a big elk with huge rack (yeah, sexy haha) cross the road in front of the car ahead of me into the woods - COOL!  Upon reaching the visitor center I hopped onto the shuttle and there was the man from last night's sunset experience and his son!  I filled up my camelbak and started my 7.6-mile decent down the South Kaibab Trail at 7:15am.  He was right that it didn't really take any work or much time getting down the trail, and I made it Phantom Ranch area about 3 hours later :)  While traveling down the sun-exposed ridge-line I saw great views, agave and other desert plants, pinon jays, squirrels (they would run off as soon as they saw me unlike the more curious, unafraid ones you get up at the rim with all the people), lizards (some with lengths of 12 inches or so!), mules and riders, a natural stone window and white water rafts as I reached the Colorado River.  I got to Phantom Ranch over the river via a blasted tunnel and long suspension bridge (fun!).  Nearing the ranch at "Boat Beach" I saw ruins of the pit dwellings of the canyon's old inhabitants.

Reaching the registration building and canteen I checked in, tipped back an ice cold cup of lemonade and got situated in the dorm room (#13).  I was the first one to the dorm, so I got to take my pick of the beds (it's the little things :)

I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, so what did I do after hiking 7.6 miles down here?  I went hiking, lol!  I headed up the North Kaibab Trail, destination: Ribbon Falls.  I saw it on a postcard in the canteen and it came highly recommended by the staff.  It was a nice hike in "The Box," a relatively narrow part of the canyon that gets pretty hot, but follows a creek the whole way, so you can take a dip and cool off whenever you want.  It was mostly flat with a few moderate inclines in places.  I crossed numerous bridges (about 10?), saw lots of prickly pear cactus and other plants.  I didn't have enough water with me and seriously nearly keeled over from heat exhaustion.  Cottonwood Campground was only 1.5 miles past the turn for Ribbon Falls, so I took a breather and got to the campground, and drank 2 and half liters of water!  I had a snack and talked with some friendly campers about our trips.  After re-hydrating myself I turned around and headed back down the trail about 1.5 miles to the turnoff for Ribbon Falls - which was stunning, rivaling even a few I saw in Hawaii!  Let's just say the heat exhaustion was worth it, lol.  I climbed around and explored a little while, snapped some photos and carefully took a little shower in the cold, pounding fall.  I saw some colorful Desert Spiny Lizards about 8-10 inches long with red-orange heads and black and white striped tails - even one without a tail, lol!  I saw other lizards too, about the same size also with a bit of orange and very shiny, almost metallic-looking.

"Hangin' Out to Dry"

On the way back to the ranch it was late afternoon, which provided some much welcomed shade and the true colors of the mountains were much more visible than in broad daylight.

I made it back to the ranch around 7pm.  I went to my dorm to get some dinner to find that the lights were off and nearly all the beds were full of people sleeping.  As I was trying my best to move around quietly and rattle the metal ammo box where the food was stored as little as possible, I felt like everyone hated me, lol.  I grabbed a nice, warm shower, some dinner (oysters, cereal bar and some water with electrolytes).  Then I caught a ranger talk at 7:30 about the Kolb brothers, early thrill-seeking photographers of the canyon - very good program!
22.2 MILES OF HIKING TODAY - More than hiking from rim to rim!
South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch = 7.6 mi
North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground = 7.1 mi
Cottonwood Campground to Ribbon Falls = 1.5 mi
Ribbon Falls to Phantom Ranch = 6 mi

Incredible Ribbon Falls
Tuesday, June 28th
Slept in, was second to the last one out the door, lol.  Had some breakfast at the picnic table and started the trek back up to the canyon rim at 7am, this time taking the popular Bright Angel Trail, approximately 9.5 miles, with 3 drinking water stations along way, unlike the South Kaibab Trail I took down, which has none.  Leaving Phantom Ranch, I crossed Silver Bridge (built 1970) over the Colorado River, hiked through the sandy portion of trail through some dunes about a 1/2 mile or so (grueling!), started rock-hopping  over creeks and up the boring, arduous sun-exposed switchbacks, peeked inside an old cave/mine shaft, and made it to the lush oasis of "Indian Garden" about 5 miles into the hike at about 10am.  This halfway point is the first of the drinking water stations, along with a campground, ranger station and programs, mule coral, picnic shelters and a refreshing spring.  I re-hydrated myself while mingled with some friendly folks from New England, while fending off the bothersome squirrels that nearly reached inside a guy's pack on the bench next to me.  You see along the trail these"Rock Squirrels" bolt off as soon as you come into view, but here they're used to receiving food from tourists, then they lose their natural survival skills along with their fear of humans, which can make them aggressive.  I heard the rustling of Desert Spiny Lizards (and babies only a couple inches long!) in the grasses and saw them basking on rocks bulging their throats out to attract mates or display dominance.  I took a lovely dip in the cool spring and watched the neon blue dragonflies and water-striders (and their babies, too!) as I chatted with a man who was waiting for his wife to join him from her rafting trip.  Then I enjoyed some quiet time and rested my eyes on a picnic table under the shade trees, and had some garlic pistachios as a male mule deer snacked right along with me 20 feet away in the shrubs.

View from Bright Angel Trail
I left Indian Springs around 1pm, ascending up the tough switchbacks exposed to the unforgiving sun, and finding little relief in the shade of the boulders sparsely scattered about the trail.  At "3 Mile Rest House", a stone shelter approximately 6 x 12 feet, I was met by a full house of social folks catching their breath and cooling off.  And who other than the friendly New Englanders from Indian Garden were there to make sure I filled up my camelbak and got plenty of salty snacks?!  The one woman was thrilled to see me, and shot question after question at me about my trip, and offering handfuls of food, lol.  She poured water over my head to keep cool (but I think it's mainly because she loves throwing water at people, lol).  She made sure I was taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe, and I could find nothing more appropriate than to call her "Mom" (which she loved, lol).  She in turned claimed me as her son, haha.

After 15 minutes of rest in the shade I continued up the switchbacks in the blazing desert sun, met a ranger who made my dream come true (PRINGLES!), and after a slow hike (compared my usual pace) made it to "1.5 Mile Rest House" for a brief break before finishing out the remaining 1 and a half miles to the top.

Along the way, I saw orange and fuchsia wildflowers, passed though a couple of blasted-through stone tunnels, took in some more amazing views and finally made it to the trail-head back to civilization!  I DID IT!  I didn't die, Mom!

Upon completing my 2 day, nearly 32 mile sun-drenched hike in the 107 degree heat (and that's in the shade - it's another 20 degrees hotter in the sun!), I rewarded myself with a shower (hallelujah!) at Mather Campground and Italian food (well, American-Italian that is: cheap slice of pizza and big bowl of mac n cheese, lol) at Yavapai Cafeteria.

I don't think I've been so tired in all my life!  I went to bed at 6:45pm - no kidding!

Mules on South Kaibab Trail, carrying people's stuff back up.
Wednesday, June 29th
Packed up the tent and left Kaibab National Forest.  I saw two elk (young males) crossing highway 180 right in the middle of town!  Luckily it was early (before 7am) so there wasn't much traffic.  I slowed down and shot a couple of quick pictures then did a u-turn and parked at the gas station where they decided to graze and took some more photos - WOW!
I took Desert View Drive heading East, stopping for photos of the amazing views at the several pullouts/overlooks, including Grandview Point and Moran Point.  It seems kind of foreign peering down into the canyon from so far away when just yesterday I was on the canyon floor looking up, surrounded by it's massive walls.  What an adventure :)

I made it to Desert View Campground around 8am.  It wasn't at all the barren desert I had expected, but rather surrounded by many trees throughout the entire campground.  I did a little drive around the loop and picked a campsite I liked (#42) and pitched my tent.  It felt great getting it all squared away so early in the day.  Many of the sites here are first come-first served and they fill up every day, so it was a great security to have a guaranteed place to sleep tonight.

Then I drove back down to the greater Flagstaff area to check out the national monuments and pick up some stuff I left at the hostel.  See blog entry: 

I got back to Desert View in the Grand Canyon just in time for the beginning of the Ranger's "Sunset Talk," which didn't keep my attention or presence very long, as the sun started its descent and the colors of the canyon started changing and revealing their vivid colors as they broke through the heavy daytime air (I was in the front row and the ranger started developing that white saliva crust around the edges of her mouth - you know the stuff - I guess peoples' mouths get dry or something?  I had a couple teachers in grade school that were notorious for that.  Gross, and I refuse to look at it.  Refuse, lol).

Creek Running Parallel to North Kaibab Trail
I walked around the edge of the canyon and up inside the beautiful stone watchtower (built 1932), inspired by Anasazi architecture found in the Four Corners region.  A little while later I sat perched on a rock below the tower, and took in the natural light show and brilliant display or yellows, oranges, pinks and purples - the last sunset I would see on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on this trip.

I got back to the campground, had some wine while spying on the neighbor's campfire through the bushes, lol, journaled, and went to bed around 10:15pm.

Thursday, June 30th
This morning I packed up my tent and bought postcards from the gift shop at the Watchtower.  Then I drove to Navajo Point, Lipan Point and the Tusayan Ruin & Museum, where the ranger told me to stop at the cafe in Jacob's Lake for delicious cookies on my way to Grand Canyon North Rim (oh, and the ruin and museum was very interesting, too!)  Before leaving the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I had some lunch at the cafe at Desert View (vegetarian chili and a black bean burger - both were mediocre).


Arizona Chapter 1: Flagstaff & Sedona

Saturday, June 18th
I decided in Kingston to keep going, and arrived at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff around 10pm.  About two miles from the hostel my car was overheating real bad; the temperature gauge up in the red.  Are you kidding me?!  I've brought my car to I don't know know how many Honda service centers starting in NOVEMBER and they either can't reproduce the behavior and insist nothing's wrong with the car, or they just guess and replace.  I'll have to take my Honda to the shop first thing tomorrow.  I grabbed a shower (amazing, lol) and went to bed.

"Welcome to Arizona" Sunset, Kingston, AZ

Sunday, June 19th - Father's Day!
I discovered Honda is closed today, so I guess I'm stuck at the hostel another night (I wanted to go camping).  Hopefully tomorrow I can bring it in.

I talked to Dad for THREE HOURS today, lol!  We talked about favorite memories, shared stories, he pictures me moving in with him when I'm done with my adventure and keep him company and help him out around the house.  Sounds good to me :)  I want to go camping with him (haven't done that together since I was a kid), and he wants to take me to Hulett, a small town (about 400 people!) 9 miles north of Devil's Tower National Monument he goes to whenever he heads out hunting in Wyoming.  And I offered to go out to Colorado with him, so he can go hunting - a lifetime dream of his.

I walked around historic downtown Flagstaff, an old railroad town on Route 66, and admired the pretty brick buildings, art galleries, cafes and gift shops.  I enjoyed a flight of beer at Lumberyard Brewing Company (I love samplers of anything, lol), tried some delicious deep fried pickles at Pickles Cafe (with the best made-from-scratch chipotle sauce I've EVER tasted!), had pizza and a dessert trio at cozy Beaver Street Brewery, listened to a good band at a music festival in Heritage Square (hilarious dancing!), sang my standard "Piano Man" at a lame karaoke night at the Green Room, and went to bed.  Full day! 

Monday, June 20th
This morning I took my car to Honda first thing.  Ryan the service advisor had a hunch that the head gasket was leaking, which if that was the case would cost $1300.00 to resurface!  THIRTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!  Yeah, I just about keeled over.  He said they won't have it ready until Wednesday, because they'll have to do some tests to confirm it is in fact the head gasket and then they would have to send it out to get resurfaced.  I guess I'm still stuck at the hostel - no camping for me!  If that wasn't bad enough, all of my photos up and disappeared from my computer while I was waiting for the shuttle!  ALL my Nevada photos and others seem to have vanished without a trace!  I checked around different folders and couldn't find anything, I checked the recycle bin and I did a full file search on my computer which turned up nothing.  Are you kidding me?!  Thank god I recently moved all my other photos to my external hard drive for safe keeping.  All I wanted to do when I got back to the hostel was sink my face into the dessert I had leftover, only to find that it too had disappeared!  Some asshole thought it would be nice to steal it!  WOW, I don't even know what to say.  Is karma paying me back some horrible atrocity I can't remember committing, or something?  I wanted to cry.  

I took my mind off things with a great phone call with my sister and a trip to Lowell Observatory - the same observatory that discovered Pluto in 1930!  The place was PACKED.  I couldn't believe how long the lines were to the viewing telescopes.  At the big Clark telescope I saw M5, a cluster of thousands of age-old stars, trillions of miles away - beautiful.  Then I saw Saturn through a couple of much smaller telescopes, and that was really neat.  I could see the rings and everything :)

"Clark Telescope," Lowell Observatory

Had a felafel gyro at The Pita Pit on my walk back to hostel (the observatory's only about a mile away) - it was so good - one of my new favorite foods!  When I got back to the hostel it was 11pm and all I wanted to do was sleep, but the inconsiderate guy outside (and one of my new dorm roomies) was playing a concert with his guitar, literally right on the other side of my window.  So much for the 10pm quiet time rule the hostel obviously doesn't enforce.  Ugh, what a day :(

Tuesday, June 21st
The better part of the day was spent blogging and uploading photos and other mundane tasks, so I later rewarded myself with a pair of blue jeans (only $5.99!) from the thrift store around the corner.  I recently gave all my other pairs away, since I've thinned down a little bit.  I went to Collins Irish Pub for an appetizer sampler, $2.50 draft beers (awesome selection!), and great entertainment on their many flat screen TVs (UFC and dirt-biking).  I apparently wasn't satisfied, because I went over to Bigfoot BBQ and had yummy onion rings and a $1 beer, lol.

Wednesday, June 22nd
I expected to pick up my car this morning, but alas, no call from Honda, so today looked a lot like yesterday with lots of photo uploading and blogging, except this time I had some movies on the in adjacent movie room, so things weren't so quiet - South Park, The Devil Wears Prada, Mortal Kombat, and Young Frankenstein (hilarious!). For lunch I went over to Greek Islands for my new favorite food - a falafel gyro - theirs was even better than the one the other day!  SO GOOD!  Then I went back to The Green Room for TWENTY-FIVE CENT DRINKS!  Unfortunately I was so full from the felafel I could only stomach a Miller Light and double vodka cranberry, before returning to the hostel for bed.  I suppose it's for the best, though.  Things could've really gotten out of hand, lol. 

Thursday, June 23rd
This morning was a repeat of yesterday's, uploading photos and all that.  For lunch I went to Mountain Oasis Cafe, where the customer service was sloooow, but the vegetarian options were good, and I received a wonderful call from Ryan at Honda that my car was ready to be picked up.  I was so excited to get back on the road I got the rest of my food to go and I went back to the hostel and got my things together and waited for the Honda shuttle.  I paid a painful $1300 in exchange for my car, which they insisted was good to go - I've heard that one before.  Fingers crossed.

View of Sedona from Airport Road Overlook

I headed to Sedona, taking scenic highway 89A down, stopping for a grand view of Oak Creek Canyon from the overlook the big overlook they have there.  As I approached Sedona via the national forest I was driving through the campsites I was interested in were all full, so I had to see what would happen come evening time after sightseeing.  "Red Rock Country" is breathtaking!  Colorful mountains, buttes, spires, prickly pear cactus, thick pinyon-juniper forests, and rich, riparian areas flanked by crimson-colored wall make this a special special place.  I pulled over several times to photograph the wonderful formations, eager to remember these sites the rest of my days.

I drove the the little city of Sedona to the scenic vista on Airport Road, a jaw-dropping view of the city and its giant red rocks in the background.  I continued on 89A to Red Rock Loop Road, affording magnificent views of landmark Cathedral Rock and surrounding structures.  I made my way to Highway 179 South, taking in up close views of Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock formations.  I continued south on 179 out of the town limits to Beaver Creek Campground in Verde Valley.  For $16 (versus the $24 I was paying at the hostel in Flagstaff the past 5 days) I got a spacious, shaded site (#13) on the edge of the campground, a bit secluded from the rest, and as an added treat I took a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the creek just across from my site.  I'd never seen a swimmin' hole like this before, with intense red rock as the backdrop and wonderful ledges for jumping from.

"Cathedral Rock," Sedona

Friday, June 24th
Last night after going to bed I got up to say hello to the trees, lol, and spotted a big skunk on my site!  At first I saw only his big, glowing eyes; it took a minute for my eyes to adjust and see it's huge tail raised high.  At first my flashlight caught only the eyes of a cat, then I noticed the motion of the skunk right next to it.  They both looked at me as if I had walked in on a private conversation or something.  I hope I didn't spoil the mood, lol. 

And this morning I spotted a busy woodpecker working away at a tree near my tent.  I love camping :)

Man, the two families across the road from my site were so loud last night, especially the young girl that was screaming bloody murder.

I packed up and headed only a 1/2 mile down the road to the trailhead for the Bell Trail that last night's camping hosts recommended.  It was a 7-mile (round-trip) hike through the "Wet Beaver" Wilderness of the Coconino National Forest.  Since 1932 the trail through the rugged canyon of Wet Beaver Crest (LOL) has been used to move cattle up and down the Mongollon Rim.  Along the trail through the red canyon walls I saw prickly pear cactus and its bright yellow blossoms and fruit, lizards up to 12 inches long, juniper trees and Agavi (aka Century Plant) - a stalk that shows bright orange and yellow flowers.  I took the trail to "Big Crack" (who's responsible for coming up with the names in this place?!  lol), and awesome swimmin' creek within narrow, red canyon walls,  I had the place all to myself half the time, I saw only one other person when I showed up.  I made use of the multi-level natural platforms to jump from.  The water was cold, but so refreshing after the 3.5-mile sun-drenched hike there.  Oh, and I've never seen a bright orange dragonfly until now!

Slide Rock State Park, Sedona

Afterward I checked out "Montezuma Well National Monument," a natural sinkhole 368 feet wide, with walls 70 feet above the water's surface.  "Formed long ago by the collapse of a limestone cavern, over one million gallons of water a day flows continuously into the Well. This constant supply of warm, fresh water provides an aquatic habitat like no other in the world, and has served as an oasis for wildlife and humans for thousands of years."  I saw the ruins of a pithouse (prehistoric dwelling built partially underground) of the Hohokam people, thought to have come to the Verde Valley around A.D. 600, a community that flourished, until they up and left for unknown reasons.

Continuing up Highway 179, I visited Chapel of the Holy Cross, and architectural marvel built into the rock 200 feet above the valley floor, with sweeping views of Sedona's giant red rocks.  And I'm sure anyone else who's been there in the past decade has noticed the ostentatious, 8,000-square foot "house" below it, obviously built to compete for attention.  Ugh, disgusting.

I did some driving along Dry Creek Road and Boynton Pass Rd, before heading back up Scenic Highway 89A to Slide Rock State Park, that the guy at Big Crack recommended.  The $20 parking lot was full, which was a blessing in disguise since I was able to park only a 1/2-mile away in a small parking lot on a pullout, which then it's only a $3 entry fee, or rebels can get in for free near the bridge.  When the park came into view it instantly became the ultimate champion of natural swimming areas, in my book.  Over many, Oak Creek has carved a beautiful, slippery stretch of natural slides, holes, pools and jumping ledges within its canyon walls, making one of nature's finest natural water parks.  My trip to Sedona, Arizona for that matter, would not have been the same without a trip to Slide Rock :)

I left Red Rock Country around 4:30pm, taking scenic highway 180 North to the Grand Canyon.


Nevada Ch 4: Valley of Fire and Hoover Dam

Saturday, June 18th
I dropped Akihiro off this morning and I went to Valley of Fire State Park, "Nevada's oldest and largest state park, dedicated in 1935," located about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. "The valley derives its name from the red sandstone formations and the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert. Ancient trees and early man are represented throughout the park by areas of petrified wood and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs!"

As I drove along Lake Mead I began to think about Akihiro and if I had done the right thing to respect his wishes of leaving him in Vegas and let him rent a car and drive to the Grand Canyon himself.  His eyes lit up when I agreed to have him come with me, but he ultimately decided to go it alone when I told him I couldn't drop him off at the airport until after about a week of other stuff I wanted to do after Grand Canyon.  Anyway, I hope he's able to get there; I know how excited he is.  I stopped at "Lake Overlook" near Hoover Dam, for a stunning view of Lake Mead, before visiting the Hoover Dam, which was awesome.  My $11 admission got me into the great visitor center and exhibits, a viewing of their informative video, a good look at the hydroelectric facility down inside the dam, and astounding views of the dam itself and Lake Mead behind it.



Nevada Chapter 3: Vegas, Baby!

Thursday, June 9th
This morning around 10:15 I entered Nevada from Death Valley National Park.  At a little before 1pm I turned off at the sign for Big Dunes in the small town of Amargosa.  A took the gravel road a few miles then made a u-turn after seeing a "sign" (marker indicated by a small pile of rocks, lol) for the entrance.  I must have gotten just a quarter of a mile or so in, before whatever gravel of rocks below my car disappeared and in an instant turned to pure sand.  I was unable to maneuver my car to get out, and there I was, stuck in the middle of the host desert...

I called AAA - "Sorry," we can't assist 100 feet past any paved road."  Umm, they sure as hell didn't mention that when I signed up.  Then I called the area's one and only tow service company.  "Sorry, the truck's in the shop."  Are you kidding me?!  Then I called the County Sheriff's Office, that got me in touch with a chick who does tows on the side.  Delesa I think her name was?  They sheriff's office said the usual guy wasn't available, but that they've used this girl before, and that she charges $200.  Yikes!  So Delesa gave me a call and started hustling me, first telling me it would be at least $200, more like $250 because gas is expensive (though she's located only 11 miles from where I was stuck) and possibly $300.  Basically, she was just going to see how she felt after towing me, and seeing how I had no other options, I went along with it.  She showed up, a very masculine woman with a tank top showing off her several black tattoos, and had a young, pregnant girl with her to help out.  After a couple tries with the chain pulling my vehicle and some more digging she got me out.  I followed the younger girl to the bank about 10 miles or so away (the bank was named "Bank" to give you an idea of how small of a town we're talking about, lol) and we sealed the deal for $250.  Lesson learned :/

I got into Vegas around 4pm, my first stop being the Visitor/Convention Center for information on where to stay and what to do.  I checked out a couple hostels just down the street from one another on Las Vegas Blvd just up from "The Strip," and chose "Sin City Hostel," where I got a clean, shared dorm room for only $14/night.  I blogged for a while and then had a free BBQ dinner the hostel provided, and chatted with Craig - an older, friendly, talkative guy who's recently divorced and is stopping in Vegas for a few days of fun on his way to moving to Los Angeles from New York to live with friends, and I chatted with with George - a nice guy from Japan, who learned English all on his own without formal education, in hopes of marrying an American or European girl, heh heh.

After dinner I got acquainted and goofed around with some of my other fellow hostelers from England.

Friday, June 10th
Today's activities/visits while exploring "The Strip" included:
Mini indoor rainforest at the Mirage
The Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace (awesome ambiance, and taking the spiral escalator was cool!), the Kush and Peter Lik art galleries, ornate fountains and daytime sky murals on the ceilings of the kitschy, Roman-esque casino (cool!)
The luxurious Wynn Hotel & Casino - onsite Maserati/Ferrari dealership, and the best damn gourmet buffet (with $40 price tag to match, but worth it)
Fountain Show at the Bellagio
Volcano Show at the Mirage
Flamingo Habitat at Flamingo Hotel & Casino
"Sirens of TI" Show at Treasure Island - SO CHEESY, and pretty risque for a street performance
Saturday, June 11th
Today's activities/visits while exploring "The Strip" included:
African Acrobats at Circus Circus - Contortion, human pyramid building, and the most impressive limbo-ing I've ever seen (with a really bad opening act from a clown  - I really felt bad for the guy)

Rubbed the butts on the "Crazy Girls" statue at the Riviera (for luck, lol)

Admired in awe, the whimsical Conservatory at the Bellagio - Like a scene from "Alice in Wonderland"

"Sense of Place" exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art - "more than 30 artworks ranging from paintings, photographs and video installation that contrast and compare both approach and expressionism in landscape art. From Claude Monet's impressionistic haystacks painted in 1885 to Vik Muniz's carefully rendered pigment prints created in 2006, precise representational paintings are placed alongside austere abstract works in order to reveal how landscape has been portrayed by artists throughout history."

Sipped cocktails ("Skinny Bitch" [Yuck] and Perfect Pear [delicious]) and tried the Seared Tuna on Seaweed Salad and Calamari dish (yum!) at Blue Martini's [voted Best!] happy hour

Cirque Du Soleil's "O" at the Bellagio - "An aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance," and pretty much the most amazing thing I've ever seen on a stage (well, besides Lion King on Broadway in high school, heh heh)

The lights of Bellagio's wonderful conservatory at night

Fountain Show at the Bellagio

The opulent, multi-storied, shimmery chandelier at the Cosmopolitan
Sunday, June 12th
This morning I drove out about 35 miles west of Vegas to nearby Mount CharlestonThe scenic byways of Highways 157, 180, and 158 boasted beautiful mountain views amidst the ponderosa pines.  I got a quite expectant view of a couple in the middle of something (ahem) on the short trail of the Desert Overlook (yikes!), and reached my goal of hugging the oldest single living organism known, the bristlecone pine, which can live up to nearly 5,000 years old!

Afterward I headed over to Red Rock Canyon.  I checked out the Visitor Center's great outdoor exhibit (like a small science museum outside) describing the land, then I did the wonderful 13-mile one-way scenic loop drive through the unique desert landscape and viewpoints/overlooks, including a sandstone quarry and petroglyphs.

After I got back to Vegas, I checked out :
The infamous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" sign

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, its funky House of Blues venue, and Burger Bar, which features a $60 "Rossini" burger:"Kobe beef, sautéed foie gras, shaved truffles, on onion bun.  Named after a XIX th century Italian composer whose love for fine food was legendary. The preparation always includes foie gras, truffles and a rich brown sauce, in this case, Black Perigord Truffle."

The high ceiling inside the pyramid and Egyptian statues at the Luxor Hotel & Casino, where I met a friendly employee named Jose, who I got acquainted with over a margarita at a festive Mexican bar and grill at Mandalay Bay

Lion Habitat at MGM Grand (includes a cute little cub!) 

"I Lost My M in Vegas" interactive 3-D movie at 4-story M&Ms World

Costumes and history at Hard Rock Cafe
The Fremont Street Experience, a "project that blends vintage Las Vegas with high tech wonderment, live entertainment and more to create an attraction that rivals the famed Vegas Strip."  I explored the shops, casinos, street performers (lookalikes including Michael Jackson, Prince, Barry Manilow, and 80's rock music tribute bands, all underneath the " world's largest screen," via the Viva Vision canopy and light show. The canopy towers 90 feet above the ground and spans the length of five football fields. Featuring more than 12 million LED modules displaying up to 16.7 million color combinations with a 555,000-watt sound system!"  I watched "A Tribute to Queen," where I listened to "We Will Rock You" and "We are the Champions" while admiring the stunning graphics above, and "KISS Over Vegas," a tribute to the legendary foursome with hits like "Lick it Up," "Shout it out Loud" and "Rock 'n' Roll All Night."

Next I went up to the top of the Stratosphere - "Jutting 1,149 feet into the Vegas skyline, the iconic Stratosphere Tower is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States and one of the most exciting attractions among Las Vegas Strip hotels. Our magnificent panoramic view of the shimmering Las Vegas Strip from our hotel is not only record-setting because of its height. It also houses the world’s highest thrill rides," of which I went on all 3:

X-Scream - "A giant teeter-totter that propels you headfirst, 27 feet over the edge of the tower, 866 feet above the ground!"  You won't find more authentic eagle-eye views like this, lol

Insanity - "A massive mechanical arm extending out 64 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower at a height of over 900 feet, this Vegas ride will spin you in the open air at speeds of up to three 'G's, and you'll be propelled up to an angle of 70 degrees, which will tilt your body into one position — straight down!"

Big Shot - "You'll be shot 160 feet in the air at 45 miles per hour and in a matter of seconds be catapulted from the 921-foot high platform up the Tower's mast to a height of 1,081 feet and down again. Before you catch your breath, you'll be shot back up again at forces unmatched by other Vegas thrill parks."
Monday, June 13th
Today I checked out the Venetian's beautiful gondola-filled canals.  "Modeled after authentic Venetian gondolas, there are several gondolas on the canal and in the lagoon at any given time.  The indoor gondolas make their way beneath bridges and below the quaint shops and cafés that line the canal running through the Grand Canal Shoppes, and architecture inspired by Venice landmarks, and with eloquent singing of the gondoliers, you'll feel as if you have truly been transported to Italy."  The entertaining moving statues and operatic performances were noteworthy as well.

I went from Italy to France in only a short walk to Paris Hotel & Casino just down the street (I love Vegas), where I opted into the 7 Buffets in 24 Hours deal, starting with Le Village Buffet, which compared to The Buffet at the Wynn, was pretty disappointing, except the village-like ambiance in the "Town Square" where they sat me.

Next I went to Carnival World Buffet at Rio Hotel & Casino.  Stations with cuisines from different parts of the world was delicious.

Then I went up to the 11th story of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant for a good view of the strip and the Bellagio's Fountain Show.

Next I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, a 1/2-size to scale replica of the original, where at the little observation deck I took in breathtaking views at 460 feet above the heart of the Strip - this boasted even better views than at the top of the Stratosphere in my opinion, as this was right in the middle of it all, closer to the action, and also had unparalleled views of the Fountain Show at the Bellagio. 

Tuesday, June 14th
View f/ Top of Eiffel Tower
This morning I kept up the buffet theme, making sure to get my money's worth of the 7 buffets/24-hour deal.  I went to:
Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood (My rating = 3 of 5 stars)
Paradise Garden Buffet at the Flamingo (My rating = 3 of 5 stars)
Emperor's Buffet at Imperial Palace (My rating = 2 of 5 stars)
Flavors Buffet at Harrah's (My rating = 3 of 5 stars)
Lago Buffet Caesar's Palace (My rating = 4 of 5 stars)
After nearly dying at the end of each one and completing all 7 buffets in 24 hours, I treated myself to a few hours of fun in the sun and playing in the pool at Caesar's Palace. 

Then I rode the roller-coaster at New York New York with a new acquaintance I got chatting with, Dave from Dublin, who is in town for wedding.

I ended the night with a walk around the urban Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, and grabbing at bite at Blondies Sports Bar & Grill (Garlic Bread Balls - olled dough, deep fried and tossed in a garlic butter sauce topped with parmesan and served with marinara sauce).

Wednesday, June 15th
Today I blogged, played poker with my fellow hostelers, and went to Krave, a small gay nightclub.  Nothing special, but it was nice to experience some of the nightlife.

Thursday, June 16th
Today looked a lot like yesterday, except I went to the clubs with Daniel, a German guy around my age.  We went to Krave, because we could get in free (I was on a guest list for the first time ever, lol)He was a good sport (never been to a gay bar before), encouraging us not to leave until I worked up the courage to talk to some guys, and he was even able to admit that the Latino go-go dancer was in great shape :)

Fountain Show f/ Eiffel Tower
Next we went  to his kind of club where he could meet girls.  We tried Marquee in the Cosmopolitan, but they had a strict dress code which I didn't make the cut for, and they were closing anyway.  Then we got turned down again at Tao ($300 to enter, unless you're a hot girl or on the guest list), and finally forgo-ed  the trendy, superficial clubs (hallelujah!) for a more laid back local atmosphere at Rockhouse, where we had a couple beers and I let all my cares slip away as I danced to the old school music.  We weren't quite done partying, so we attempted entry to an after-party club, but walked away from the $30 door charge.  I had never walked out of a club when it was daylight before - we got back to the hostel around 6:30am!

Friday, June 17th
Blogged, blogged, blogged.  Met Akihiro, a happy, enthusiastic 24 year-old guy from Japan.  He was giddy looking at my photos while I ate dinner with the wonderful Swiss couple that whipped up a yummy spaghetti dinner for the 3 of us.  All four of us and a bunch of the other hostelers paid $25 for a ride in a stretch limo down The Strip to the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, then up to Fremont Street for a pub crawl.  Other than breaking my $1 sandals (big loss, lol) I had a great time!

The next morning I dropped Akihiro off and I left "Sin City," heading to Valley of Fire State Park.

Misc Notes
Gas: $3.49 is the cheapest I saw, way down from $5.45-ish I saw around Death Valley National Park!

The constant snapping of call girl/strip club promotional cards the Hispanic people flick in your face along sidewalks of the strip will never be missed.

Free parking at all the hotels/casinos!

Lots of free shows and things to do.  I hardly gambled at all (only $5.00a casino gave it to me for joining the rewards club), filling my time with plenty of different things.