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Anything is Possible if you Dare to Dream

June 26, 2008

Grand Classroom - Day 5 (Vegas)

Hurry up and pack, gobble your breakfast, jump on the bus and wait for 3.5 hours.

It's a long ride from Flagstaff to the Strip. Thank heavens for Wal-Mart, who has stores everywhere and stocks all the classics. It doesn't get any better than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Note for next year, bring cool flicks to avoid having to chose between watching Napoleon Dynamite (Grand Classroom bus special feature) or paying a ridiculous price for a great video in the middle of the desert.

Of course the smile on everyone's face was worth any cost and we were still only half way to Vegas.

We had to say goodby to the Mighty Colorado River in Laughlin, NV but I got some great shots of all the casinos along the river canal where you can get a full spa treatment and hair make-over for only $20.

As we approached Vegas, our fearless Grand Classroom leader, Rita, led us in a round of "Who wants to be a Candyaire." Like it's namesake, the chosen students had to answer trivia questions (about the Grand Canyon and other places we visited), they got three cheats (50/50, poll the bus & "phone" a chaperon/teacher) and they won prizes: CANDY. Our Brighten Team, represented by Miss Anna Scasny, won the day and got all the questions correct.

I can proudly say that most of the answers were already included in my blog.

Then we hit the strip -- Epcot on Steroids -- France, Rome, Switzerland, Egypt and every other country you can think of.

First Stop: Circus Circus, where they let us loose for two hours in the Adventure Dome. Since, I'm not one for amusement parks, I thought I'd be bored. Silly me. We had a blast.

Although I only rode one ride: The Sponge Bob 4D Action Adventure, I had a great time walking around in the air-conditioned dome watching the kids on all the crazy rides and checking out the fun exhibits.

Next Stop: Caesars Palace and the Forum Shops. We explored the fantastic FAO Schwarz store with a life size Wooden Trojan Horse, bought some Ugly Dolls (Wedgehead and Ice Bat), which doubled for pillows on the flight back, and got our picture made with Elvis. Yes that's right, Elvis lives in Vegas and he's got his own website.

We had dinner at Planet Hollywood and walked down to the Bellagio for the evening Dancing Water Fountain show, which was fantastic.

Finally, we boarded our bus, one last time, for the short ride to the airport and another long wait for our overnight flight.

Wow, what a trip.

I realize that I'm a day late and a dollar short in writing this blog, but I did take the red-eye.


Credits: Special thanks go to my parents, who financed most of this trip, my husband, who stayed home and worked to pay for all of my new camera equipment, and my in-laws, who are pet-sitting my 6-year-old Tasmanian Devil a/k/a my son, so that my husband could work while I was gone.

Best Toy in Vegas: Squirmles

June 25, 2008

Grand Classroom - Day 4 (The Grand Canyon)

Totally Awesome!!!!!

We hiked a 3/4-mile trail down the South Rim of the canyon and I am now completely in awe of Mother Nature. The flora, the fauna and the solid rock cut by millions of years of erosion.

Of course the laws of nature (what goes up, must come down) are reversed in the Grand Canyon. Here, he, who goes down, must eventually hike back up. Good thing I spent the last 5 months weight training at the gym. I felt like I was on the world's biggest stair stepper on the return hike.

Now I can tell all my friends that: I SURVIVED THE GRAND CANYON! - with a 12 pound mega-tripod on my back. As they say: those panoramic shots are worth a 1000 words.

After our hike, we had lunch and some free time to explore the park's book store. I found some great CD recordings of the sounds of the Grand Canyon and kits to grow both the native Ponderosa Pine and the Colorado Aspen - which grow in clusters, but share one root system. I can't wait to cultivate them in Georgia where we are currently suffering from year 3 of a deep drought.

We continued our tour of the Grand canyon area with a visit to the Desert View - Lookout Tower - a 70-foot Watchtower built in 1932, with stone around a steel frame. In designing the tower, the architect, Mary Colter, incorporated elements from both prehistoric and modern tribes.

Then we were off again for a respite and some shopping at the Cameron Trading Post, which was founded in 1916. Today, it's like the Wal-Mart of Native American art, baskets, dolls, jewelry, pottery and everything else. They treat bus groups to coupons to get you to spend more money, which is a good thing because, there were way too many items to choose from.

On the way back to Flagstaff we stopped at an old Indian field near the Sunset Crater. I personally did not see any pottery or arrowhead remnants, but we did find a cool animal vertebra and a very live horny lizard.

We ended our day at Ni Marcos pizza in Flagstaff and a trip to the Vertical Relief Rock Climbing Center. The kids are still there having a ball. I opted for a taxi back to the hotel so I could chill, get packed for Vegas tomorrow and write this blog.

Tomorrow we hit The Strip.


June 24, 2008

Grand Classroom - Day 3

Once again I am back at our hotel late at night and almost too tired to write. That's how exciting our day was.

We started at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, which features the anthropology, biology, geology, and fine arts of the Colorado Plateau region.

I got some good lessons in digital photography during our visit, because flash photography is prohibited. I actually got better photos with my Kodak easy-share camera than I did with my new Canon Rebel, plus expensive optional lenses. Sometimes less really is more.

The museum has some fantastic displays of local dinosaurs, including a life-size skeletal model of a Dilophosaurus-a carnivorous dinosaur found in northern Arizona and the famous Therizinosaur - a sickle-claw dinosaur.

Most memorably, we learned about poopologists-scientists who study the where-abouts of poop. I'm not making this up, I swear.

After the museum, we traveled to Jerome-"America's Most Vertical City" and the "Largest Ghost Town in America." We had lunch on the main lawn and free time to explore the old hotels, eclectic shops and infamous sliding jail. One shop in particular, Nellie Bly, had the coolest selection of kaleidoscopes that I have ever seen.

From Jerome, we backtracked through Sedona to Slide Rock State Park-a 43-acre historical apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. We had a blast sliding down the slick rocks and playing in the "gently" sloping creek.

We ended our day in Sedona for dinner at the Open Range Grille & Tavern, with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and a bit of shopping at the Joe Wilcox Trading Post where we stocked up on Original Red Dirt Shirts.

Each day just keeps getting better and we haven't even been to the Grand canyon yet. That's tomorrow.

And on that note, I have to sign off and start drinking my water for the Big Canyon Hike.


June 23, 2008

Grand Classroom - Day 2

Wow what a day! Kudos to the Grand Classroom. I haven't had this much fun in years and I'm really enjoying the scientific aspect of the trip. That says a lot for an attorney/writer/editor, who spends most of her time in cyberspace.

We started our day at Sunset Volcanic Crater and the Wupataki National Monument. Sunset Crater is part of a group of 600 volcanoes called the San Francisco Craters, which were named after St. Francis long before their namesake city was established. Sunset Crater erupted in 1064 A.D. (two years before the Normans invaded England) and the formations created by the lava flows are fascinating.

We saw a number of interesting desert plants and flowers growing in the lava rocks, including a Sky Rocket: a red flower in the phlox family.

Wupatki National Monument hosts the famous Pueblo Indian ruins, which were built by groups of Pueblos known as the Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta, who lived in the area until the mid-1100's. The main structures include a 100-room pueblo with a tower, community room and ceremonial ball court.

After visiting the Wupatki Monument, we drove through the Navajo Reservation on the way to Glen Canyon. In additional to the morning matinee movie, we were treated to some really great scenery, including a cool looking Butte (french word meaning a small conical rock formation), several Hoguns (traditional octagonal living areas for the Navajo Indians) and triplet sand devils (small desert tornados). We also got a great view of Marble Canyon.

Finally, after a 2-hour ride, we arrived in Page, Arizona for the pièce de résistance : our river float trip. Totally awesome. We drove through a 2-mile tunnel cut into the solid rock on a Homeland Security Bus, arrived at the country's second largest dam and boarded our Colorado River Discovery tour boats.

We got an absolutely awesome view of the Glen Canyon dam, toured the "famous" waterfalls, braved the "mighty" white water mini-rapids and declared "war" on our other group boat.

Thanks to our ingenious captain, Makayla, we had a secret weapon, a mega water gun. The Glen Canyon Pirates (us) won the "water wars" hands down.

We stopped at a beach, swam in the mighty Colorado river, hiked up a trail to view some petroglyphs and got a close-up view of a pair of nesting Great Blue Herons and their two chicks.

What a day! I can't wait for tomorrow.


June 22, 2008

Grand Classroom - Day 1

Wow, what a day!

I'm sorry I only have a few moments to write, but we traveled almost 24 hours straight, by plane and bus yesterday and the internet wasn't working very well at 2 a.m. eastern when I tried to upload photos last night.

We had good flights, the Vegas Airport is well Vegas. Slot machines, oxygen bars, and way to many posters. I will get some pictures when we're stuck there on Weds. night waiting for the red-eye.

Hoover Dam is absolutely amazing, We went down inside and underneath and learned how the massive turbines produce electricity for more than 1 million in the desert Southwest. It was blazing hot, nearly 110 degrees, but no humidity.

Last night after a 3.5 hour bus ride to Flagstaff and the Mandarin supper buffet, we visited the famous Lowell Observatory where Pluto (which will always be a planet in my mind) was discovered. Really fascinating and I hope to see it in the daytime at a later date, because the landscape surround the facility is amazing.

That's all for now folks. Have to meet the bus in 5 minutes for today's action packed adventures and I haven't even had breakfast yet.