Sunday, October 23, 2011

The rest of the cross-country trip

First, before I forget, the video I promised last time, of our intimate encounter with the buffalo in Yellowstone.


The second week of our trip cross-country met an unexpected turn, with the death of my grandmother, in upstate New York. I got the news the night we left Yellowstone, and the grief and stress of making arrangements to get to the funeral consumed me for most of the next couple of days.

In the meantime, we drove. We drove down through Grand Teton National Park, and into Utah, staying a night in Salt Lake City. We pressed onward into Arizona, driving all the way to Flagstaff. The weather improved dramatically, but our access to cell-phone and Internet coverage did not, which kept me in ruraphobic anxiety. I tried to communicate with my family via sporadic text-message, and whenever a few bars appeared on the cell phone, Greg would pull the car over, so we could try to make flight and hotel reservations.

At a certain point on that second day, it looked like my trip to New York might be impossible. The flight schedules and costs were becoming so complicated and excessive, I really began to question what I was doing. But the more I questioned it - the more I said to myself "maybe I shouldn't go" ... the more I would break down in tears. Greg was especially supportive, insisting that we keep trying to find a way, that he and the kids would be fine without me for a couple of days, and that this was family, this was important. With his firm backing, I pressed on, and eventually got a flight booked. My heart immediately felt lighter, and during the next few days everything felt bearable, because I knew I was doing the right thing.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in the Grand Canyon. We hiked, we picnicked, we soaked up the scenery. Although the kids seemed less awed by it than we were, they were happy to be outdoors and running around. And although I felt, mid-way through the day, that I'd get more satisfaction hiking this canyon solo, it was still a marvelous thing to show them. We managed to hike down into the Canyon a bit (and back up!!) - to Ooh-Aah Point, where we had this picture taken.

I flew out of Phoenix on Tuesday night, and 48 hours later I met back up with Greg and the kids in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, they continued the journey. Greg brought them for a second day to the Grand Canyon, and they did some more hiking. Then he moved all kids and luggage a few hours away, to Henderson, NV, outside Las Vegas. There is a great pool here, and so the kids spent a good amount of time swimming. That is, when they weren't eating at McDonalds or Dairy Queen. When I got in the car in Las Vegas, Ayla was quick to rattle off everything they'd consumed since I'd been gone: "We had Happy Meals, and waffle cones, and Fruit Loops, and pizza..." Ah well. They all seem to have survived this "Supersize Me" experiment, and I'm back now to care for their little arteries.

On Thursday, they went to the Hoover Dam (see picture. do they look a little like scurvy is setting in?). They picked me up late that night at the Las Vegas airport. And Friday was our Las Vegas Day!

Greg dropped me and the kids at the Flamingo, to meet up with Kitsie and Chris, who were just at the end of their week-in-Vegas vacation. It was so nice to see them, and they walked us around a bunch of the nearby casinos, showing us the sights. The kids were fascinated by the birds and koi in the Flamingo gardens; the spray-paint artist performing on the street; the wax figures outside Madame Tussauds; and the gondoliers singing in the Venetian. I brought them into a magic shop, but they were much more interested in the practical jokes on sale, rather than the real magic tricks. We spent $25 on soft pretzels for lunch (gotta love Las Vegas) and continued on to Treasure Island and the Mirage and Caesar's Palace. I was sure they would love the Atlantis animatronic-statues show, but in truth they were all terrified by it.

From there, we hiked around, through Aria and the Crystals shopping center, through Monte Carlo and New York, New York. I had a meeting lined up with a potential circus employee, so I did that while Greg walked the kids over to Excalibur and to see the MGM lions. We met up for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, which was an excellent treat for everyone (good food, amazing decor, and they even had a balloon artist and a magician going table-to-table! we were enthusiastic audience members and tipped well).

A bit of hurrying got us back to Aria in time for the 7pm Viva Elvis show. We had used our complimentary tickets for this - Greg gets 4 comp tickets per year to any Cirque show, and when possible, we like to use them to see other shows ourselves. Elvis was one that we'd never seen, and we thought the kids would enjoy.

There are signs outside saying "No Kids Under 5 Allowed". So of course we lied and said Isa was 5. It turns out they're not so worried about the little ones disturbing the show - they are worried about their ears, because this show is rock-and-roll LOUD. Seeing Isa's smallness, they issued her some earplugs, and all was fine.

I thought the show was great!! Quite different from any of the other Cirque shows I've seen - it relies heavily on video footage from Elvis, which is really quite compelling to watch. Occasionally it does take away from the circus acts going on in front, this is true. The best acts were the ones that either had no video footage (like the beautiful "One Night" acrobatic act on the gigantic suspended guitar) or just let the video dominate the scene, like "Love Me Tender"'s footage of Elvis in the Army. There were occasional wrong notes, like the superhero characters in the otherwise-brilliant trampoline/parkour act. Others I especially enjoyed: the high bar "Return to Sender", the hysterical movie clips spliced together showing Elvis kissing dozens and dozens of actresses, and the power of "Jailhouse Rock". "Can't Help Falling in Love" was a tear-jerker. Overall, it was really a well-done show. Word has it that it is closing down very shortly for a re-working, so I will be interested to see which parts they change.

Whew! It was a whirlwind, as Vegas is supposed to be.

On Saturday we drove to California, to Sequoia National Park. We had a fairly brief visit there - a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, and a couple of hours on Sunday morning. But we accomplished the main task, which was to see GIANT TREES. AND we got a glimpse of a family of black bears running through the woods! A mother and two cubs.

The other disturbing bit of wildlife we came across in Sequoia National Park was a tarantula, walking across the street. Thanks to Greg's super-eyesight, and reflexes not to run the thing over, we got some pictures. But it made me nervous - I had no idea these things were out in the wild in the southern U.S. Not sure that knowledge is really contributing anything good to my mental health.

Confession here: By this time, I was honestly getting sick of this trip. Though the kids were having lots of great experiences, and being generally well-behaved, and Greg was being a great sport, I was the one getting stir-crazy and irritable. Missing my routines, my kitchen, my "me" time. Sick of packing and unpacking the suitcases every day, and spending such long hours in the car. So I was not sorry to say goodbye to the wilderness, and get on our way to the vast civilization of San Francisco!!! To celebrate, Greg let me stop at Whole Foods for lunch. Woo-hoo!

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