Third Day - The vacation, not the band

All of those commercials that you see depicting lay-people doing the work of highly specialized and trained professionals just because they have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express the night before are true. We didn't need to ask directions, and I performed an appendectomy today, all because of our stay in "the Express". No seriously, it was an awesome room, and the breakfast bar was top-notch. Mmmmm omelet.

So on the road today, and we had a great drive through the mountains just outside of Tempe. We saw lots of the tall roadrunner and coyote cartoon style cactus that pleased Jessica to no end. She dubbed them cactus friends and there were millions covering every mesa and hill around. We didn't get a picture and i have been informed, that we HAVE to on the way back. So hold your collective breath!

We made it to the canyon and found bazillions of people waiting to get in. We didn't know how far we were going to be driving so we got Gas at the canyon village. I capitalize Gas because this must have been some sort of gas Deity, or at least the father of all gas, because it was close to four dollars a gallon. I remembered from the last time we visited with Sherry (more on her later) that this town has no water table. So all water has to be trucked in. That fact coupled with the proximity to one of the busier national parks in the nation, makes for guilt free price gouging on everything from t-shirts to ice cream cones. They also have an IMAX theatre that i don't even want to begin to imagine ticket prices for.

So we dejectedly pressed on. Not really dejected, the price of that gas and the ice cream cone are just more painful in retrospect. At the gates to the park we found; bazillions of people waiting to get in. this place was packed. We finally made it in after sitting in line for almost an hour and entered the park to be greeted by a long line of people waiting to drive up the road through the prescribed burn area. This is when the national parks serve burns some of the forest in a controlled way in order to keep the Eco-system balanced. This clears unneeded undergrowth and dead plants as well as encouraging new and healthy growth. It took a while to get through this area since only one lane was passing at a time.

we finally made it through the choking smoke, not too bad since our windows were up, and on to the park. The first order was to meet up with Sherry Baker. She is a dear close friend of my mother's who works on the train that goes into the Grand Canyon from, Flagstaff I think? Maybe it comes from Williams, at any rate it goes into the Canyon and she works on the train. It is this awesome silver passenger train that was a quarter mile long on this day due to high crowds, and at Christmas time they do a Polar Express themed train run which sounds awesome. Sherry used to be a mule wrangler at the Canyon, which means that she would take guided tour groups down into the bottom of the canyon to stay at Phantom Ranch, which is a ranch, complete with Post Office on the Grand Canyon floor right next to the Colorado River. I was fortunate enough when I was younger to have the opportunity to take a trip to the bottom with Sherry and it was perhaps one of the greatest experiences of my young life. I will never forget it, partly due to the amazing nature of the trip, and partly because Sherry is such a fantastic lady. Seeing her again was a blast. It has been so long and I was excited to get to introduce her to Jessica. She walked us over to the Canyon rim and Jessica saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. Sherry had her look down until we got the the very edge, then look up to take it all in. That is the best way to see it. For those who haven't been, you can not explain it. It is breathtaking and humbling all at once. Pictures do not do justice, but it is simply majestic, beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Sherry gave us some travel tips, and we caught up super briefly, and we had to day goodbye. We went to the Bright Angel Trail, which is the trail that the mules take into the Canyon a little way down to see the Indian hieroglyphics on the Canyon wall. We then went and found a spot right on the rim of the canyon to have lunch. Awesome experience!

After this we had to say goodbye to Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon State of Arizona. Onward ad downward to Nevada. We changed altitude rapidly down on this leg of the trip.. Awesome scenery again, but once you hit Nevada, it is some barren dessert stuff. Watch for Ram signs at the Hoover Dam were interesting and one of the few things that dotted the scenery besides rocks.

The Hoover Dam though, was Awesome. We considered touring, but we hit it too late. the sun was setting and the visitor center was closed. We got some good pics though and had a nice time. After that it is a hop and a skip to Vegas. We pulled in as everything was lighting up and our first stop: Del Taco! Awesome! they have Tuesday night taco specials including 3 tacos for 1.09 and three classic tacos for 2.09. You can't beat that and we had ourselves some Del Taco. I love this place, and Jessica says their nachos are top-notch. Fat and happy we headed out into the strip for trouble-making. after finally finding a spot to park, we started at the Paris, then on to Bellagio and we saw tons of awesome casinos. We walked all the way down to Mandalay Bay, and it was a blast. We don't really gamble, but every casino is like a theme park. Some awesome, and some suck horribly. Jessica loved the Paris coplete with an Eiffel Tower recreation and a full replica of a Paris avenue with shops and painted sky and all. I really liked the Bellagio. This whole place is like some kind of fairyland with big gauzy flowers and fountains with lights everywhere. It is pretty swanky. After we made it to the Mandalay Bay, which is about two miles as the crow flies, add probably another mile inside the casinos no joke, we were beat. We trudged back to the car, drove back to South Point, which is nice, but not amazing, and fell into bed. SLEEP!