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Friday, April 29, 2011

TheQueen conquers TheWest

Two years ago the AAA travel magazine ran an article about visiting the Grand Canyon in springtime, with a plug for The Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams Arizona – an authentic wild west hotel within walking distance from the train station where you can take a passenger train up into the canyon and maybe stay at one of the lodges in the park. The image stayed with me for over a year and last fall I announced far and wide that I was going to the Grand Canyon this spring. Thinking that if I said so, it would happen, I talked a good bit about it with friends and family but the work of putting together a cross country plane trip that included hiking my tricky ankles over 16 miles of rim trail and, maybe, even down some of the switchbacks into the canyon, was a slightly frightening experience for me. As Christmas time drew near, thoughts of long distance vacationing started to fade. It's so much easier to talk big than to do big. Thankfully, Santa stuffed maps and guidebooks to Arizona and the GC into our stockings on Christmas eve and I felt I couldn't let the old saint down. After all, if he believed in me I really ought to live up to his opinion, so in the new year I began to check out flights on TheInternets.

The guide books were full of travel temptations. Did I want to try the Skywalk? (no. too $$$) How many pueblos could I see and could I actually go inside one? What about standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona? Where did I want to fly in? Flagstaff? Phoenix? And could I talk ThePrince into flying anywhere? Two years ago C had taken a group of St. Margaret girls out to Arizona to see the northern half of the state and I pumped her for information and advice.

“Fly into Las Vegas – you'll have more flight options and get cheaper tickets” was her most valuable advice – because the price difference between Flatstaff and Las Vegas is about $150 per ticket!! This was good news for a fairly inexperienced traveler. I don't usually pop the dollars for pricey traveling. ThePrince and I have enough fun driving around Virginia – or maybe points south – we are unabashed prideful southerners and we get along really well in a car, mostly because Himself is so entertaining and patient and willing to do most of the driving. But something about the Grand Canyon was really tugging on my heart – or even more deeply – my soul. Something about the bigness, the different-ness, the complete change from my own precious green Virginia world was calling to me, saying that I had to make room in my heart for Other.

ThePrince left all the planning of this trip to me – said so up front - not because he didn't want to go, but because he understood that this was important for me to do and eventually I managed to plan out a trip that looked right for us. Lots of nervous postponing of any actual commitment took place, which cost me a hotel room at one of the lodges within the park itself but that was a small issue we easily worked around. In early March I bought plane tickets for April 20-29 and reserved a rental car. In April I booked rooms for the first few nights, leaving the latter part of the trip open so that we could adjust our itinerary to suit what we found out there and how energetic we felt.

I bought a sketchbook/notebook for the trip and a 4G memory card for my camera, selected some delicious sock yarn for airplane knitting, checked the weather dot com guys for GC weather reports, booked Jack into a kennel and bespoke the services of my 5th grade neighbor to feed and look after Priss and Socks. On Wednesday the 20th we parked our car in the long term parking lot at Richmond International Airport and began the adventure.

My goodness airplanes are squishy cramped places. I know I'm no sylph, but I wonder just who they think is going to fit into these tiny seats. On the flight from Richmond to Dallas-Ft. Worth I drew the middle seat, the tightest spot on a plane. Fortunately my aisle seat mate was a knitter flying off to visit her granddaughter for Easter and we could talk addi turbos and worming chenille while BD watched the ground below from his window seat. At the D-FW airport the airline offered $300 travel vouchers to any 2 who could take a later flight – but we didn't take them up. I thought about it, but we were getting a car and driving another 30 miles, not just taking ground transport to a Vegas hotel. This was the nerve wracking part of a trip when everything was unknown. Instead, I got the window seat on the flight into Las Vegas – over hazy skies. The irrigation circles in west TX and NM were very unsettling. Man made green in an arid land always makes me a little uncomfortable and we flew over hundreds of miles of green circles in brown, grey or rusty red squares. My first view of the GC was from above, looking through the airplane window at what appeared to be crumpled butcher paper, but was, in fact, mile high rock formations.

Las Vegas airport had almost no one to help you get around. There was an enormous information desk with nobody inside to advise. It was hard to find the rental car place, but eventually we did. Every clerk there spoke with an accent – not a Nevada accent. It was a hectic time getting out of there and horribly more expensive than I'd planned for – because we forget to arrange for our car insurance to cover the rental car – a stupid over site on our part. Both of us know better. Still and all – we got our car and got out of the foreign parking lot and on the way down to Boulder City. I had "oh so" thoughtfully gotten map directions from Google Map – only – duh – I didn't have the correct address for the hotel and instead got directions to the Boulder City town offices. Duh. Thank heavens for cell phones – and for the very darling desk clerk at the Hacienda Casino a scant 4 miles from the Hoover Dam. They were right on highway 93.

And so, in the darkening sky of eastern Nevada, we pulled into our first stop, our first exposure to a casino, and a big comfy bed. The hotel was not fancy – and it surprised the heck out of me by not providing a hair dryer, since I have finally cut my umbilical connection to my own and travel without one these days. But they had a wonderful buffet dinner that was still serving at 8:30, when we were ready to eat. I am not a gambler – I wouldn't even waste a nickel on a slot machine. I have much great good luck in my life, but I don't have that kind of luck – the raffle winning kind, the spinning wheel sort. My luck is more to do with finding 10 different flowers blooming in the desert than in playing fast and loose with my money. But it was fun to walk through the gaming rooms to hear the patter of the croupiers and watch people engrossed in play. And that was our first day of the trip. We were gone 9 days and I'll be back tomorrow with more tales of TheQueen making cozy with a land that is Not Virginia.

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