Saturday, June 30, 2012

Visiting the Canyons

Last week Jeremy and I made the trip out west to visit some of the national parks: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. We had a great time and hiked over 41 miles and with over 8000 feet of elevation change. Click HERE to see all the pictures.

We started our trip by flying in and out of Vegas. The first night we stayed at Treasure Island, eh. However, the last night of our vacation we stayed at the Paris hotel. It was awesome. Our room had the most amazing view of the strip to the left and the Bellagio fountains to the right. The pool was also very nice and the hotel was just clean and surprisingly quiet, you know, by Vegas standards.

Zion National Park

The first three days we spent at Zion National Park. I vaguely remembered the park since I had been there 17 years ago (wow, I am old now). We stayed at the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens. It's a pretty nice place with some quirky nuances but the view of the landscape and its proximity to the park totally make up for it. (The park entrance is a 5 minute walk from the hotel).

The first afternoon we hiked to Angels Landing. It is 5 miles round trip and 1488 feet in elevation change. Fortunately for us, having just come from sea level, the first half of the hike is up, the second part down. Unfortunately this would be pretty much the only large hike that we would do this way, since both Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon are down first. In fact they make a point of telling you "Down is optional, up is mandatory."

Anyway, Angels Landing. Highly recommend this hike in Zion. The last 1.4 miles are very steep with quick dropoffs on each side. The view from the top is not to be missed.

That night we stopped by the outfitters and rented ourselves a pair of canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a trekking pole. (Well we had our own poles but they were included in the rental cost, so might as well use the crappy ones for the adventure we were about to undertake).

The next day we got up and did a hike through The Narrows. The Narrows hike follows the Virgin River at the far end of the park. As we were hiking I vaguely recalled hiking through that area 17 years ago with my mom and my dad. This time we did 7 miles round trip. I highly highly recommend this hike and even more I recommend hiking early. We were all finished up by 2pm which was great because the park was really heating up. It was the perfect time for us to return our boots and hit up Cafe Soleil for a turkey, bacon, avocado wrap. Oh yea!

Finally we finished up our stay in Zion with a hike to the Double Arch Alcove in Kolob Canyon off the Taylor Creek Trail. A nice 5.4 mile hike with only minimal elevation change.
Also while we were there we managed to eat some other great food at the Pizza and Noodle Company and Parallel 88. We also bought this awesome piece of pottery from one of the cute shops in town.

Bryce Canyon

I remember visiting Bryce Canyon when I was little, so I was very eager to go back. We spent two full days at Bryce Canyon and I would say that is plenty. It's a really cool canyon, and definitely worth stopping by, however most of the trails are very similar so there isn't much variety. Plus, there are a total of 5 restaurants within the 30 mile radius and they are all... um... well, you can probably figure it out. While we were there we did a 1/2 day mule ride throughout the whole canyon, as well as two hikes, one 5 miles and one 3. The three mile hike is written up as "voted the best 3 mile hike in the world." I think that's a bit much, but it was very cool.

Antelope Canyon

On our drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon we stopped at Antelope Canyon. I had totally forgot this was out that way until my Mom recommended we stop there, and I am so glad that we did! We started by taking a tour of the Upper Canyon. Both the upper and lower canyons you have to do by tour since they are on Navajo land. The Upper Canyon is by far the most crowded.
I think because the shafts of light come into the canyon much better, though after visiting them both, I can't say that I have a favorite. We did the canyon tour with "Antelope Canyon Tours" and it was pretty good. Our guide was Deborah and she was good at keeping us organized and keeping other people out of our shot while we tried to take our pictures. However, the whole thing is VERY rushed. They hurry you around each corner very quickly, giving you only about 2-3 minutes at each stop to take pictures. So have your camera attached to your tripod and be ready!

After taking the tour of the Upper Canyon we headed to the Lower Canyon. You can find a little bit about the Lower Canyon online, but here's the scoop. It's $26/pp to get in and if you have a DSLR and a tripod they will give you a photo pass and let you go in by yourself for up to 2 hours. However, if you don't, or if only one person in your party has one, then you can all go on the "tour." Our "tour" guide was really cool, basically he just walked through with us and let me take about a billion pictures. It was soooo much more relaxed than in the Upper Canyon. I highly recommend checking out the Lower Canyon if you are in the area. The only time that it is closed is when there is flash flooding potential because a group of people didn't heed the warnings a few years back and they all died from the floods. So, you know, probably good to stay out of the canyon if they tell you its not safe.

The Grand Canyon

I saved the Grand Canyon for the last major stop on our trip. Jeremy had never been to any of these places, so I knew he'd be most impressed with this one. Who wouldn't! We spent a total of 3 days here and hiked every day. Our first hike was the hardest, the Bright Angel Trail. In the side picture you can see the small cluster of trees known as Indian Garden. This is 4.5 miles and 3100 feet down from the rim. You can camp here if you have a permit, but we didn't do that this trip. It is also another 5 miles from the bottom, we also didn't do that this trip. While this is one of the longer hikes to the bottom, it is the one, and only one, that has water and rest stations (every 1.5 miles). We started at 8am and were finished around 1:30. It was HOT, but awesome.

The other two trails we did were Hermits Rest/Trail (4.5 miles round trip), and South Kaibab Trail to Ohh Ahh Point (1.8 miles round trip). After that last short hike my feet were done being in hiking shoes and my belly wanted a nice normal breakfast (read: bacon and eggs). After getting a late start on the first trail, the last two days we decided to get up to see sunrise (5am) and then start hiking, so we were done very early, but it kept us out of the heat, which was nice. We also treated ourselves to a nice dinner at El Tovar (reservations necessary).

Hoover Dam

I said the Grand Canyon was our last stop, but we did make a short morning trip on our last day to the Hoover Dam. Do you know it is one of the very few government projects that has actually paid itself off! Yep, the power generated from the hydroelectric generators and sold to California, Nevada and Utah has actually paid off the full cost of building the Hoover Dam and is now sold at cost to those states. In fact, power generation was not even on the table when they decided to build the dam, that was for flood control and later irrigation. The power plant was included specifically as a way to pay for the project. Who would have thought at some point in our history the Federal Government actually thought "we need to have a way to pay for this."

Anyway, I digress. We got there right when the visitor center opened so we could get tickets for the early Dam tour. They took us into the center (yep center) of the Hoover Dam and even into one of the access tunnels so we could look out. Pretty interesting looking out of the center of the dam. To the side is a picture of me holding my camera out of the little window shooting back up to the top of the dam. They originally made these access tunnels so they could monitor the concerete as it settled and over time.

Well that was it, our quick 10 day tour around Nevada, Utah and Arizona. I hope you found this story useful, or at least a bit interesting.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm not much of a gambler...

This past week Jeremy and I went on vacation out west with the first and last night of our trip spent in Las Vegas.  I'm not much of a gambler, mainly because I don't like losing money, but I'm pretty good at picking the colors of roulette.  Yea I know its a 50/50 shot, but I'm still really good at it.  

I made Jeremy stop by one of the tables so I could stand and watch.  I got the next four colors right. (I told you I had a gift)  Jeremy asked if I wanted to pay, but at $10 minimum bet I was sure my magical guessing abilities would disappear as soon as the $10 hit the table, so I walked away.   I hate loosing money.

I spent the rest of the trip not gambling at all, but by the time we got to the airport I felt like I just couldn't leave Vegas without playing a little.  So I decided to play the few slot machines in the terminal.  Here's a glimpse at how the next 5 minutes went.

Me:  Can I have $2 to play the slot machines.  I haven't played at all since we've been here.

J:  Yes.  Why don't you play those machines so it will last longer (pointing to the five cent machines across the way).

Me:   No, I want to play that one.  (pointing to the sparkle one for $0.25 standing near me)

Jeremy rolled his eyes and handed me the $2.  7 spins later...

Me:  Look, I won $0.25!

J:  (Looking at the machine and three blank spaces)  That makes no sense. 

Me:  Yes, but I still won.

2 spins and 5 seconds later, I turned back to Jeremy...

Me:   Can I have $1?

J:   No.

Me:   Please, I want to play those machines (pointing to the five cent machines)

J:   Why?

M:  Because it will last longer.

J:  Fine, I'm going to the bathroom.

(Jeremy returns)

Me:   At one point I was up to 21 credits,  it's like I won five cents at one point.

J:   But you only have 3 credits now.

Me:  That's not the point Jeremy.

10 seconds later

Me:  Okay one more dollar.

J:  No.

M:  Please.

J:  ugh   (clearly annoyed at my amusement with loosing money five cents at a time)

Me:  Look, I won ten because I played two credits.

J:  You should cash out now.

Me:   No, that's not fun.

(30 seconds later)

Me:  Okay, I'm done now.

J:   Good.  You have to carry the bag since you lost $4.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Knock Knock...

If you read my blog from June 4th and followed that to the story about the big metal chicken then there really is nothing more I need to explain. The picture says it all. If not, then you need to go read it. Now!

I found this beauty on Burnet road in north Austin. I tried to convince Jeremy that we actually did need a giant metal chicken, but unfortunately we had my car and that bad boy just wasn't going to fit. But then it got me thinking, metal chicken, pretty darn cool, but what about a giant dinosaur eating another dinosaur?

Or a giraffe? After all, our guest room is African themed. We could sneak it into the bedroom after our guests fall asleep and just hover it over the bed. Then they would wake up with the same level of horrification that Jeremy has on his face here...

(the little one is ONLY $250. I mean its almost worth it just to hear the screams from someone waking up to a tall giraffe towering over them. Or we could sneak it into our friends yards when they are least expecting it. Imagine opening the door to that in the morning) Hum. Maybe its a good thing I only have a little car now, otherwise who knows how that trip may have ended.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A "Space Shuttle" comes to Houston

When the space program ended last year the three remaining shuttles were bid on by cities across the country. Everyone wanting a piece of history. Many assumed that it was an easy choice: one to Kennedy in Florida, one to the Smithsonian in D.C. and the final one to Houston, the home of the NASA Johnson Space Center; the home of maned space flight. After all JSC is where the Astronauts are selected and trained. JSC is home to Mission Control. How could Houston NOT get a Shuttle.

Skip ahead to last friday, when I found myself sitting at the NASA dock on Clear Lake watching a large barge carry not a Space Shuttle, but a space shuttle mockup down the lake and into the dock on its way to Space Center Houston. The ceremony was aptly named 'Shuttlebration.' It was a bitter sweet moment. Not only because of what it symbolized, the end of the Space Shuttle and the end of the US ability to put humans in space. But also because it was a slap in the face to everyone who worked so tirelessly at JSC on the program. Sorry, you aren't getting a shuttle, but here is this hand me down mockup that we had lying around Kennedy.

Now in full honesty, half of me understands why Houston didn't get a Shuttle. They wanted to put them in cities that would get the most traffic. People don't exactly sit down planning their yearly vacations saying "lets go to Houston this year." Sure Smithsonian, sure Kennedy, maybe LA. But to me the biggest dig was giving the true space shuttle mockup, Enterprise, to New York. I know, many more people travel to New York than they do Houston, but in my opinion, which means nothing except to those of you reading this blog who now have to listen to it, if they weren't going to give a real shuttle to JSC, the least they could have done was given the official mockup to us and sent this Kennedy mockup up to New York. I think that would have been a fair compromise. Hell, maybe the city could have even used it to help increase tourism to the area, but probably not. The only bright side to the mockup that was brought to us from Kennedy is that maybe, and hopefully, they will allow people to crawl around the inside and to get a glimpse into what it meant to be an Astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle. That will remain to be seen.

For now, enjoy these few pictures that I snapped off with my iPhone at the docking celebration.

Monday, June 4, 2012

More cookies and other random crap

I've been slowly making my way through the Taste of Home Cookie book that I bought a few months back. But this week I got super motivated and made 4 different recipes. I was trying to abide by my rule of not skipping more than one at a time, but I just couldn't bring myself to go back to the Chocolate Pecan Kisses. Here is a quick recap of those cookies and the changes I would do to make them even better.

Easy Kitchen Sink Cookies - These weren't my favorite, but they have potential. I like the idea of throwing a bunch of candies and nuts all into one cookie, but the problem with this recipe is that the base cookie just isn't that good. And if your base isn't good, the rest of the cookie just won't hold up. Its a bit too much oatmeal and lacks any real flavor. If I were to do these again I would take your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and use that as the base cookie, adding in your chocolate chips, reese's, coconut, walnuts, nutmeg, cinnamon (yep, gotta add that), and M&M's in addition.

Soft Orange Molasses Drops - Of the 4 that I made last week, these were my favorite. They are soft and chewy and have big flavor. A bit forward on the nutmeg and cloves, I'd take those two ingredients down to 1/4 tsp each.

Potato Chip Cookies - These too weren't bad, but they also weren't anything special. I enjoyed the crunch that the potato chips brought to the cookie, very unique, however the butterscotch totally overpowers the cookie. Cut that down from 1 cup to 3/4 cup and you'll probably achieve a better balance.

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies - I was really excited to try out these cookies. The name alone reminded me of this awesome white and dark chocolate raspberry crunch candy bar from Maui called WowWee. Also, I did change up the recipe a bit by using dark chocolate morsels instead of the semisweet, perhaps that is why I just felt lack luster about these guys. You've got raspberry, dark chocolate, and white chocolate and you're just waiting for all the flavors to pop, but instead... nothing. They just really taste like nothing. My best description: eh.

So those are the 4 that I made this week. But looking back on the last blog I realized that I haven't commented on the Frosted Rhubarb Cookies I made weeks ago. How could I forget, these were the best from the book thus far! Easily a 9/10. And you wouldn't think so either, because really, who puts rhubarb in a cookie? They almost have a brown sugar taste to them and they melt in your mouth. Winner.

In other unrelated news

A 2 1/2 foot metal rooster has joined the gnome and monkey in our garden. A few months back I made Jeremy stop at this roadside shop in Brenham, TX off 290 halfway between Houston and Austin. They have all these weird outdoor yard objects including, yep, metal roosters. But not just any metal rooster, it's a fancy rooster because it's got a hat, an umbrella, and its smoking a cigar. And one can be yours for the bargain price of $65. We took one look and Jeremy said "that's awesome, we have to have one." However, at the time we were in our 'lets not spend money right now' phase and so we left empty handed. What was I thinking.

Fast forward 1 month and after 30 minutes walking around to find the exact right one to garnish our lawn, we found ourselves driving home with a metal rooster in the back seat of the Mazda.

While all of this is highly amusing it became even more so when our friend, Brandon, stopped over one day, took one look at the rooster and said to me, "have you read Bloggess?" To which I replied "what is a bloggess?" And then he showed me, and I cried so hard I almost peed my pants.

So now I present to you, Bloggess and the tale of the big metal chicken. Enjoy.