arizona/nevada trip

On the day after Christmas, at 6:00 in the morning, we got on a plane and headed towards Arizona with Gerrit’s family.  It was their Christmas present to the family: to take everyone on a trip together.  We had plans to see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, but I think in a way the trip turned into more than we thought it would.

The best way I know to organize this stuff is to make a list: so here’s a list of the things we did, from my least favorite to my most favorite, along with some takes from Gerrit (for a more rounded view point any case anyone is actually using this post for travel information).

{6} Las Vegas

My take:
 We spent an afternoon in Vegas, and while I’m glad we did and I’m glad I’ve seen it, I really have no desire to ever go back.  Sure, my experience was probably a little different from most people’s because we didn’t go to any shows and we didn’t eat at any fancy famous restaurants.  But honestly the whole strip felt too crowded and dirty and uncomfortable.  We parked in a free parking garage at the MGM Grand and then walked up and down the strip a bit (the girls doing some shopping while the boys went to the casinos).  We did see the fountains at the Bellagio though, which were pretty amazing.  But mostly I’m just glad I have this checked off the travel list now.

Gerrit’s take: 
Spending time in Vegas has been on my bucket list for some time, ever since some buddies of mine went there for a graduation trip a few years ago. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to go, but like Erin, I’m glad we only spent an afternoon there. It gave me the opportunity to gamble a bit, though the minimum bets on tables in the big name casinos were a bit high for my price range. Most low-end blackjack tables were set at a $15 minimum for both the MGM Grand and the Bellagio for that Saturday afternoon, though I’ve heard they can be lower earlier in the day and on weekends. Overall, I lost $20. The strip felt a bit overwhelming for my taste, reminding me of Times Square with all the flashing video boards and advertisements (though with the addition of hundreds of people on the street corners handing out advertisements for strip clubs and escort services). Glad we went, but probably won’t go back.

My rating: 2/5

Gerrit’s rating: 3/5


{5} The Grand Canyon


My take:
 Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon was not my favorite thing we did (really, not even close).  Admittedly, my hesitation to rank it high might have had to do with my somewhat sour mood that resulted from a pretty horrible night of sleep the night before, but I still remained a bit unimpressed by the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, it was indescribable (really, it didn’t even look real in real life) and incredible, but once I had seen it for about ten or twenty minutes I felt like I had seen it and I was ready to move on (I sound like my grandfather complaining about looking at dead leaves in autumn…oh gosh).
We went to the main visitor’s center at the South Rim, (which by the way is not where the glass viewing platform is, as we found out), and it was surprisingly crowded.  There were plenty of viewing areas and a whole little hiking trail with incredible views (and some areas I felt should be roped off for safety, especially with all of the snow and ice).  Parking was a nightmare though (but gave us a good story, as we almost witnessed a fight and then ended up with the parking spot in question).  Overall it was amazing, but I didn’t feel the need to spend a great amount of time there.

Gerrit’s take: 
If travelling to the Grand Canyon during  one of the peak tourist seasons (one of which, according to the worker at the visitors center is the week after Christmas while we were there) prepare yourself in advance for the challenge of trying to park at the main Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Center north of Flagstaff. Though we struggled to find a parking spot, it was absolutely worth it. After the short hike up the hill behind the visitors center, we came to the edge of the Grand Canyon. Despite all the pictures, paintings, videos, and descriptions of the Grand Canyon I’ve seen and heard, nothing prepared me for how massive it is. Truly, standing at the edge of the canyon resulted in a view that I couldn’t convince myself was real. It’s gorgeous and incomprehensible and totally worth the trip. I enjoyed the short mile-or-so hike along the edge punctuated by viewing areas between the visitors center and a small museum about the geologic history of the canyon. I absolutely loved our day at the canyon, and given that this was among my least favorite of our days in Arizona, it had more to do with the stiff competition from other expeditions than from anything else. The only thing I wouldn’t do if we were to go again is stop to see the Grand Canyon movie at the National Geographic Visitor’s center, as it was really not worth the price of admission. Overall the Grand Canyon is a must-visit at least once in your life.

My rating: 3/5

Gerrit’s rating: 4/5


{4} Downtown Flagstaff


My take:
 We stayed in Flagstaff, as it was central to a lot of the places we went, and on our last day we spent the afternoon walking around town and doing a little shopping.  There were numerous outdoors stores which were all fun to look in, and a couple of stores I wanted to see that were closed since it was a Sunday afternoon.  We had some great pizza at Alpine Pizza (also, we ate at Lumberyard Brewing Company our first night, which was also delicious), and generally had just a nice time walking around at a relaxed pace.

Gerrit’s take: 
Downtown Flagstaff had some cool shops and restaurants. It was a perfect place to visit on the last full day of our trip when we were getting tired, allowing us to spend the morning in the rental house and then tour downtown at a relaxed place. With snow on the ground, the town had a definite “small ski town” vibe, with lots of outdoor stores, coffee shops, and interesting little boutiques to explore. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend dedicating an entire day to it, I really enjoyed the few hours we spent there as a relaxing way to wind down our trip.

My rating: 3/5

Gerrit’s rating: 3/5


{3} Montezuma’s Castle


My take:
 I actually thought this was really cool.  Montezuma’s Castle (which has nothing to do with the Aztecs and is not exactly a castle) is a Native American cliff dwelling built around 700 AD.  It is the oldest preserved cliff dwelling in North America.  I’ve always wanted to see a cliff dwelling in real life, ever since about fourth grade.  I can still remember exactly what the pictures of cliff dwellings looked like in our history textbooks, and I’m so glad I’ve actually gotten to see one.
This isn’t something that exactly takes a lot of time; we spent maybe an hour there, if even that long.  There is just a small museum and then a little paved trail that you walk to see the cliff dwelling.  But it was a fun little side trip.

Gerrit’s take: 
Having been to Europe before, its amazing to see how common-place thousand-year-old structures are over there. Due to the relatively short history we have here in the US, there are simply not that many old buildings constructed in a time beyond memory. Montezuma’s Castle is probably the oldest structure I’ve ever seen in the US, and that alone made it an interesting and worthwhile side-stop. You can’t go inside the cliff dwelling, but there is a path that takes you by it and there is a cutaway model of the structure that allows you to imagine what life must have been like during that time.

My rating: 4/5

Gerrit’s rating: 3.5/5


{2} The Hoover Dam


My take:
 Everything about The Hoover Dam was incredible, from the views to the history to the way they actually built it.  We took a short tour where we got to go down inside the dam and see some of it’s inner workings.  Then we spent probably an hour on the viewing platform and walking back and forth across the top of the dam.  The scale of it is just breathtaking, and it has some beautiful views, too.
My only advice: get there early.  We got in pretty easily, but by the time we were leaving the car line was almost back out to the highway.

Gerrit’s take: 
I’ve always wanted to see the Hoover Dam, and it did not disappoint. To see such a colossal man-made structure from the early part of the 20th Century that is not only still operational, but also provides power to a large chunk of the southwest is quite amazing. The skill and ingenuity required to create such a structure with the technology of the time is awe inspiring, and I’d recommend the stop to anyone.

My rating: 5/5

Gerrit’s rating: 5/5 


{1} Sedona


My take:
 Sedona is beautiful.  It is a quaint town set against amazing red rocks.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  We spent a morning shopping downtown, ate lunch while it snowed (Wildflour Bread Company–delicious!), and then drove out to see some of the scenery in the Red Rocks National Park once the skies cleared.  I think these were actually my favorite views of the week.  They were quintessential Arizona underneath some beautiful weather.
The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was beautiful, too.  We had the windows rolled down constantly taking pictures and stopped a few times on the side of the road to hike down a few snowy paths.  Overall, I think this was my favorite day of the trip (although full disclosure, it was also our first day so we were still amazed by everything), and if you’re travelling anywhere near there I wouldn’t miss Sedona.

Gerrit’s take: 
One of my favorite parts of the trip to Sedona was the drive down Highway 89A from Flagstaff. Full of breathtaking views of (at least when we were there) snow covered mountains and rock formations and little paths off the side of the road you can hike down to even more scenic panoramas. Between the drive and the view from Red Rocks national park, our day in Sedona offered incredible natural beauty. Though the town seemed a bit like a tourist trap, there were lots of cool shops with handmade goods. Sedona and Red Rocks National park were absolutely worth a visit, but if you go make sure you take Highway 89A to get there.

My rating: 5/5

Gerrit’s rating: 4/5

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