Here is a capture of our Holidays 2010 during the week between Christmas and New Years Day. This is a long blog, but hopefully I have captured all the essential details. Scroll down for a slide show of the photos.
Day 1 – Dec 25th, Christmas
– Leave for Sedona. Rama and Vikas on US Airways direct to Phoenix, me on Delta. My flight gets changed and I get a $400 voucher, a first class upgrade to Salt Lake City from where I need to take the flight to Phoenix.
– Arrive at Phoenix around 1 PM local time. Take the rental and we drive to Sedona, a two hour drive. Stop on the way at a Mexican fast food and catch some nachos for lunch; other food didn’t appeal to us.
– Check into the Diamond Resort studio, excellent furnishings with full kitchen.
– We catch some rest after some coffee on the pool side.
– For dinner, we go out. Most of the restaurants are closed; we find India Palace. The food was good and healthy, but the restaurant reeked of fish throughout. The service was okay – it took over 20 minutes to wait for the check and pay.
Day 2 – Dec 26th, Sunday
– I picked up some grocery, breakfast cereal for ourselves; Chocolate milk for Vikas at Safeway.
– We drive to Chapel of the Holy Cross. Located in the midst of gorgeous red rock much like all of Sedona. The church is a marvel of construction with elegant and simple stone structure. Not very big, but very imposing. Outside of the church, below is the spectacular home, which we hear is of Senator McCain. We find out later it is of the founder of Lasik surgery.
– We then drive through Oak Creek trail and stop at the creek. The other side of Cathedral rock is visible. The water is cold but clear; the vegetation is beaten up by the weather and dry.
– We stopped on the way at certain vista points. Then we go lunch hunting. The Thai restaurant was out; the Japanese bar didn’t have much vegetarian choices. The Vegetarian Cafe was closed for business. Finally, we find Chocolatree, an organic vegetarian place. This restaurant was out of the world with a lot of choices. The Potato soup was delicious, the entrees were excellent and we capped it with some key lime pie and coconut pie. Place is pricey, though – we spent $100 including tips for three for lunch, but was well worth it for a change.
– We decided not to go back to the room and headed out to the Meteor crater. Thinking it was just about an hours drive. We were totally wrong. Route 89A took us down the valley through a winding route that could be described as a breath-holding drive. Thank God it was still day time; the scenery was heart stopping. As we went down, it started getting darker due to the sheer height of the mountain sides on either side of the road. I was thinking while coming back we should avoid the road as it would be treacherous during dark. Once out of the caverns, it was Rt. 40 all the way to Flagstaff and beyond. We hadn’t realized that we still had about 40 miles left after about and hour drive on 89A. Rt. 40 was practically a straight road with a speed limit of 75. I hit much in excess of this. The landscape around us was a vast expanse of flat land with no soul in sight, reminding us much of what it could be on another planet. The vastness was so huge – I know, this is redundant, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I read that the crater center closes at 5 PM. Wow, after 2 hours of driving, we had about 20 minutes expected to see whatever we could. We arrived at the meteor crater around 4:45 PM. The guard told us that the center would be open till 5:30 PM to our relief. It was extremely cold and windy. The crater is about 1 mile wide and about 400 feet deep. The meteor that hit the spot was 150ft wide travelling at about 29,000 miles per hour! Given the wind and the cold, we could stay very long outside. We managed to see the 10 minute film at 5 PM. Rama and Vikas again headed out to the crater site, this time to the overhang platform to get a closer look. We got out just in time for the closing.
On the drive back, I was thinking of taking Rt. 17S all the way down where it would meet Rt. 179N to circumvent the treacherous drive through the mountains in the dark. As we approached 89A and seeing some traffic ahead of us, we decided to drive through thinking the following would be easier. Just about a mile into the drive, the traffic ahead reversed giving us creeps whether or not we made the right decision. Forging ahead but driving slowly got us through the 45 minute drive okay. Rama made soup and toast for dinner, felt great to eat light and sleep. 1/2 hour into sleep, we had an incident – someone walked into our room!! Apparently someone was assigned our room earlier and at no fault of their own, he walked into the room. The front desk person came by and apologized after I called them about the incident. The set of maps/documents in the room I found when we checked in should have triggered an alarm inside me, but I was too tired to act on it, I guess.
Day 3 – Dec 27th, Monday
We preponed our ‘presentation’ from Tuesday so we could take it a bit easy. For those of you who don’t know, the ‘presentation’ is from the resort trying to sell or up sell their timeshares. We knew we weren’t going to add anything more to what we had, so we went ahead taking the discounted tickets offer for a jeep ride. The Saleswoman was nice and even got us interested into thinking an additional timeshare with Diamond resorts would be worth the while with more travel coming up, etc. We said we weren’t comfortable making a decision on the spot and will think about it. It took about 4-5 visits from her manager to coax us with a better deal every time. We finally walked out amidst big disappointments very evident from the Sales woman’s face. Lesson learnt: It is ok to pay $30 extra per person for tickets, etc and not commit to a needless investment of thousands of dollars. That would be a smart thing to do. We headed back to the room. Rama cooked home-made upma and sajjige for dinner – it was excellent!
The Red Rock Jeep tours started at 3:30 PM and we headed out to the Soldiers Pass Trail. This historic trail is the same one travelled by General George Crook during the Apache campaign in 1871-72. The ride over and round the red rocks was simply exhilarating. The tour guide and jeep driver, Steve, did a marvellous job of explaining the trail as well as making most of the fear of the riders. He would speed up a trail, take us down a very steep rock(s) formation, stop half way over the edge all to the shrills of the passengers. We had another family from Connecticut with three children, one at a very young 5-6 years old. The Devil’s kitchen and the Apache’s Seven Pools were a sight to see. The sun was setting as we were finishing up and the golden rays of the sun bounced off the far-off Sedona rocks. It was getting cold as well. The ride back to the resort was fast. We thoroughly enjoyed Steve’s guidance and his humor.
We took a short rest and headed out to the back of the resort where we could see four of the major rock formations, we thought we could catch the sunset, but it was a bit late for this. The outside still was very cold but quiet and it was a peaceful evening to watch getting dark.
For dinner, we stopped at Picazzo’s – a pizza restaurant. The restaurant must be a very popular place, we were told the wait was 90 minutes and we had to go back after 20 minutes to get the buzzer. Imagine that – a wait for the buzzer, the food better be good. The appetizer was Caprese. The pizza was excellent – not too cheesy, base was lighter that made it enjoyable. Surprisingly, the final tab wasn’t big though – all in all, a great evening.
Day 4 – Dec 28th, Tuesday
We decided to go on a hike first, then thought we will first drive around. We drove the Dry Creek loop first but the unpaved road was too much for the car. We headed back and drove through the Red Rocks Canyon loop. The vistas were spectacular to say the least. There is so much of such scenery in Sendona, you sort of start getting used to it and simply pass on things you don’t have time for. We then drove to the Boynton Pass loop and stopped at the Doe Tail trail and decided to do the hike. The hike was of medium strenuousness involving a climb of about 400ft through the rocky trail. The temperature should have been around 45-50 degrees when we started. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the Doe tail – a narrowing of the trail, where you had to almost haul yourself up gripping the rocks/stones at the sides. After this part, the trail was almost flat and Vikas went further ahead near to the top. The view from the top was very picturesque. I got some of my best photos from here.
It took us about 1/2 hour more to get down. We decided to go back to Chocolatree for lunch. The lentil soup was excellent; I had the vegetable sushi. Though this looked like a lot of food, it was all mostly vegetables and sprouts and I figured I would be hungry in another two hours.
We had a short nap, got some coffee and drove out first towards the airport where we were told we could catch a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately it was late and cloudy, but we still ended up climbing a small hill to get a view of the valley. Vikas went higher up the hill-side and wanted to go up more, except that it was getting dark and would be dangerous to get down. Home-made Puliyogre was for dinner and we could pack some for the next day.
During the past two days, Rama was in touch with Hema and the plan was to meet in Las Vegas. Mother nature had some plans of her own. Snow was expected in and around the Sedona region start Wednesday morning through till Thursday evening. That meant the drive though 89A, through the mountains was ruled out. Even if we started very early, we would be risking hitting the storm near Flagstaff. So we decided to drive down south on 179 and our way around the storm by taking 93N eventually. This meant an extra hour of driving, but would be safe. We decided to start at 6 AM MST. We cleaned up the room to the checkout point, but kept the keys in case we came back from Las Vegas Thursday to spend the night before catching our flight back home Friday morning. We weren’t sure if we would stay back in Las Vegas and drive straight to Phoenix to catch the flight. Ranga suggested this might be the best option if the storm stuck around.
Day 5 – Dec 29th, Wednesday
We started at 6 AM. It had already started to drizzle and I was afraid of black ice on the road. 179S was dark but clear and dry though. We took 17S further down and met 169 and 69. This took us through Prescott National forest area. The winding roads through the mountains provided breath taking views. By this time the sun was rising and it was tempting to step out and take a breath of fresh air. Running into the storm kept me from doing so – we had to get to Kingsman as early as possible, as east of it there would be snow with the storm and we were still south-east of Kigsman. I always thought Arizona was mostly dry and never thought there were mountains and snow in this region so south. I did see some overnight ice patches on the roads. There was hardly anyone on the road in the mountains but for us.
Once on 93N, we came across the Joshua Forests filled with the unique Joshua trees. Joshua trees occur in patches across several Southwest states, wherever conditions of temperature, drainage and rainfall are suitable, favoring elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. The trees grow strongly, for example, along US 93 between Kingman and Wickenburg in Arizona; this road is known as the Joshua Forest Parkway.
We managed to get to Kingsman around 9 AM. Breakfast was some cookies and McDonald’s apple pie. The coffee was welcome.
The drive from Kingsman to Las Vegas brought us vast, dry, undulating landscape with a mix of dry vegetation, catcus. Some of the cactii were over 12 feet tall and it was easy to mistake one of the electric poles (bare as it was) for one of them. Some of the cacti had arms sticking out prompting us to discuss aliens.
We reached Hoover dam before lunch. The drive on 40W took us over the new Tillman bridge. We saw people walking on the side of the bridge. This was our second visit to the dam. It was extremely windy and cold. We managed to walk up to the bridge and take a glimpse of Lake Mead and the dam. The 10 minute movie was informative. The Dam was commissioned during the great depression and was completed 2 years in advance. During the great depression, the construction was a boon to many of the work-deprived and the construction saw an influx of workers from all over the country into Boulder city. The dam itself is a marvel of construction with the pressure of the water pushing against the concave dam, reinforcing the strength thereby. Today, the dam is self-sufficient and generates all the power required to run the dam itself. The man-made artificial lake – Lake Mead – is the largest one and has enough water to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania in a foot of water!!
I had booked rooms at the JWMarriott in Las Vegas. The hotel is out of the world, only it was too cold to step out and enjoy the pool side. The rooms were much bigger than normal and the best, enough said. There were about five restaurants on the premises. We got some chai at the Starbucks and walked through the casino. Ranga and Hema had hit traffic and were to reach Las Vegas only around 8 PM PST. We spent the time walking around mostly wait-mode. I managed to research some Indian restaurants near the strip and decided we would go to either Samosa or Namaste on Sahara.
Around 8 PM, Ranga called and said we could meet at Samosa. Once there, he found that it was small and there was a wait. We got dinner at the opposite Chipotle and managed to catch up. It was just about four months since we met them at their home in Irvine, CA. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I decided to go to bed; so did Ranga. Rama and Hema wanted to spend more time catching up and headed towards the casino. Vikas and Varun agreed to play poker in the room.
Day 6 – Dec 30th, Thursday
After a good night sleep and a great shower, we headed out for breakfast. Decided, to stop at IHOP. It has been a looong time since we visited IHOP – almost 4 years or so. The menu has changed (at least it is glossier), the choices are always there. Now there are more healthier choices. The orange and grapefruit juice was fresh and excellent. The coffee was refreshing. Our first stop was to be at the new $8B City Center – Aria. We parked and instead of heading into the center, stepped out towards the tram. The outside was very, very windy and cold, unlike Las Vegas even in winter. We stopped at Bellagio. The inside is gorgeous and ultra-luxurious. In the olden days, they would construct luxurious castles and palaces; today they build luxurious casinos. Laugh or cry – up to you. The inside has an art gallery and every nook and corner is decked with some artifact of art. The lobby was so crowded it reminded me of Penn station on a busy day. It was hard to get across to the other side. There was a Holiday tree in all its splendor and surrounding pool and area likewise bedecked with all ornaments – big and small. Nice place for photos. We caught some fancy coffee.
In-and-out burger was lunch for us. That place was even more crowded than the Bellagio lobby. It was a challenge ordering and tallying what we ordered. I and Ranga had to sit out for lack of tables. After lunch, we visited Luxor. The inside of this place is just like what you can imagine the inside of a pyramid structure would be, converging all the way to the top on the inside. We then made some quick visits to the Excalibur and Mandalay Bay. Excalibur looks dated now that we have more themed casinos in Newyork-Newyork, Paris, Cesar’s, etc. The other numerous small ‘casinos’ in and around the strip – I wonder who goes to them.
We decided to stay back at Las Vegas Thursday evening instead of driving to Sedona and sleeping over. The storm was still on in Flagstaff and Rama wanted to avoid driving in the dark such a long way. Fairfield Inn at the airport served our purpose for less points that the JWM. After checking in, we had dinner at Gandhi – an Indian restaurant. Food was good and reasonably priced. The interior had 18 feet high ceiling.
Day 7 – Dec 31st, Friday
We started early morning at 4 AM to Phoenix. It took us nearly six hours with a short stop for breakfast. Rama and Vikas flew straight to Philly. I took Delta to Minneapolis where it was snowing. On the way in, the plane suddenly dropped 100 feet or so prompting some screams. The flight to Philly was delayed by about an hour due to snowing and the plane needing to be deiced. I reached Philly at about 11 PM, about 30 minutes delayed. I was hoping to still reach home to catch the ball dropping, but that was not the case to be. Pacifico valet parking, though they promise a 20 minutes wait time, took over 40 to get us the car. This apart, the overall holiday trip was memorable!
Here is a slide show of the photos: