Spring Break 2016: A Journey West

For Spring Break, me and my family took a "road trip" to the Southwest United States.  We’ve never been to the desert before, so I was definitely excited to see a new terrain.  

Friday afternoon we took a flight to Las Vegas, which would be our hub for our little adventure.  Upon arriving we were welcomed with some dry but warm air, and were greeted by a very polite taxi driver.  During our time in Vegas, we stayed at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, located directly across the street from the Famous MGM Grand.  The first thing we did was ride a roller coaster that boards inside the casino, and is possibly one of the most intense coasters I’ve ridden.  You could watch an SNL sketch in the time it takes you to make the first climb.  After that we ate dinner, and browsed the MGM Grand.  Having been two hours behind our clock, we decided to retire after that.

On The Strip

On The Strip

Saturday morning I ate breakfast at a cafe, and then walked "The Strip" with my family.  I can certainly say that being in Vegas is like walking through a Vogue magazine.  Everywhere I looked, someone or something was trying to sell me crap.  The worst part of walking The Strip, is that none of the sidewalks are constructed normally.  There are staircases and escalators that take you above and across intersections or even to the other side of The Strip.  They’re hugely inconvenient and increase the amount of time it would otherwise take you to get to places.  Other than what can be seen on The Strip and in the casinos, there’s nothing but malls, all which contain most of the same stores.  I think I must have seen about five different Swatch stores.  The only breath of fresh air was getting to ride the world’s biggest "observation wheel", which provided awesome views of Vegas and the surrounding areas.  

The Sky Roller

The Sky Roller

Above Vegas

Above Vegas

After we got lost in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace (which is way too big, by the way), we taxied back to New York, New York.  After a quick rest break, we walked back to the MGM Grand to see the world famous David Copperfield.  Copperfield definitely lives up to his reputation in his show, and his comedy and zen are on full display.  I left scratching my head as to how he manages to pull off his illusions.  After this, we enjoyed a fish dinner at Emeril’s located in the MGM Grand, and called it a day.  

Sunday was the day we departed from Vegas.  All five of us hopped in a rental car and drove out toward the Hoover Dam.  The original plan was to tour the dam, but we had to get to the Grand Canyon before sundown, so we passed.  Once we were past the dam, it was nothing but desert for four hours.  It was an initial shock to us, simply because it was miles and miles of nothingness.  Being from the South, I’m used to being surrounded by trees, and mountains covered in trees, so sand and rock isn’t my natural habitat.  

Leaving Vegas

Leaving Vegas

We arrived at the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon.  Once we checked into our hotel, we drove into the park for a short hike.  I know that a family trip to the Gand Canyon sounds cliche, but it is genuinely a beautiful place.  I’ve taken the term "Grand Canyon" for granted for a long time, but I can’t stress how gorgeous a spectacle this is.  The colors of the canyon change with every angle of the sun, and once the sun was beginning to set, the sky turned pink and deep blues.  It’s an image I’ll never forget.

That night we ate at the Yippie-Ei-O Steakhouse in Tusayan, Arizona where we stayed.  If you’re ever in Tusayan, I’d recommend it; the service is fast and the people are friendly.  

Monday morning, I got up early for a five mile run.  I was unaware how cold it gets in the desert, so I ended up wearing a tank top and short shorts in twenty-seven degrees.  I couldn’t move my forearms by the end of it.  That morning, we went back into the park for another hike.  We hiked the rim to a trail that went one-and-a-half miles into the canyon.  It was windy and dusty, but we saw lots of wildlife and mules.  I also made a mini rock altar.  We then hiked out of the canyon, bussed back to the visitor’s center, and took off again later in the afternoon.  After driving through some more desert, we stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, which had a very South-Western-esc restaurant.  The place is literally in the middle of nowhere, and has a variety of American, Mexican, and Navajo.  I fancied some Navajo fry-bread which is essentially the original funnel cake. The "trading post" had thousands of different Navajo decor, clothing, and souvenirs.  The best part about the Southwest is that most of the souvenirs are authentic, and hand-made by the Navajo or local craftsman.  Of course there were plenty of items that were fake, but it was nice to have a a plethora of authentic goods to choose form.  To finish off the night we drove to Page, Arizona, and crashed for the night.

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

Rock Altar

Rock Altar

Navjo Fry Bread

Navjo Fry Bread

Tuesday we took a Navajo-led tour of Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon formed by water.  It’s a very small, narrow canyon, but the angles of the sunlight appear beautifully here because of how narrow it is.  Our tour guide, a Navajo native named Patrick, new a lot about photography and showed us the best angles to take photos from, and what settings to set our cameras to.  He also took this photo for me:

Artsy?

Artsy?

When we finished at Antelope, we headed west into a very windy afternoon.  On the way we had authentic Mexican in Kanab, Utah.  From Kanab, we drove an hour into Zion National Park.  Zion Canyon may have been my favorite of the three canyons, simply from the odd shapes of the rocks and mountains, and the diversity in geologic features.  We drove through the park to the east side, to Springdale, Utah, which is now one of my favorite American towns.  We stayed at a very nice hotel there, and everything was mostly within walking distance. I took it upon myself to take a four mile run to get acquainted with everything.  There was even a convenient shuttle bus system that ran throughout the town, so you could get just about anywhere in minutes.  The night following our arrival, me and my brother ate at the Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.  They’ve got some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, so if you’re ever in town you should check them out.

Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.

Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.

Springdale Morning 

Springdale Morning 

Wednesday was the highlight hike of our trip, Angel’s Landing.  We started with the five of us, but the youngest of my brothers got sick on the way up, and had to go back to the room with my mom.  Me and my middle brother chose to go on ahead.  The hike was uphill most of the way, leveling out for about half a mile close to the climb.  Me, my dad, and my middle brother started the climb up the landing.  The hike to the landing is basically a big rock climb, with nothing to hold onto but what’s on the ground and an occasional chain that’s cemented into the rock.  We hadn’t gotten far when my middle brother chose to stay behind because of the heights (a reported six people have died there in the last decade).  Me and my dad were the only ones to continue through the top.  It was amazing to watch the angle of the mountains change the further and further we went up.  When we got to the top, it was a rewarding view.  There were a lot of people who had peaked by the time we got there, many of which were daring the cliff’s edges.  I took the time to have a snack, and I even had cell service, which is mostly absent from the park.  

Angel's Landing Peak

Angel's Landing Peak

The Hike Up...

The Hike Up...

After that, me, my dad, and my brother hiked down the mountain, which is actually more painful than going up.  Since most of it is downhill and concrete, my toes were beating into the front of my boots.  Once we reached the trailhead, we bussed back to our hotel.  Having been exhausted from the hike, and some of our family getting sick, our afternoon plans were cancelled.  That meant I had to whole rest of the day to do whatever I wanted in Springdale.  Once I was showered and changed, I shuttle hopped to the north end of the town.  I tried stepping into a Thai restaurant, but they didn’t open for another hour.  To kill time, I took a short walk to the library and read about thirty pages of a Stephen King novelette.  I then walked back to the Thai place, and enjoyed some delicious Vietnamese pho and green tea. Having travelled to Vietnam, it tasted quite accurate, and was very filling.  If you’re ever in Springdale, check out Thai Sapa.  

Pho from Thai Sapa

Pho from Thai Sapa

For the remainder of the afternoon, I walked my way back to our hotel and stopped at all the various shops in the town.  There was a place selling rock art and Navajo jewelry, art galleries, souvenir stores, and other restaurants. It was fun talking to the locals who owned the shops.  Most of them have lived in Springdale their whole life and see a lot of people passing through thanks to business from the park. I treated myself to a very hefty helping of strawberry ice cream, which only cost $4.  Once I had seen all that could be seen, I strolled back to our hotel, and later had southwestern food with my parents.  

Thursday we went back to Vegas, and was the most bittersweet day for me at least. After getting some souvenir shirts we piled into the SUV, and took off west.  A few hours later we were in Vegas, and were ready to do nothing at all; we were pooped.  We had a decent sized room at a hotel located off the strip which was perfect for crashing.  I got some website work done while my parents went out to eat, and my youngest brother continued his recovery from getting sick on Wednesday.  Toward the late afternoon, me and my middle brother went down to a poolside bar and grille on the rooftop.  After that we changed, came back to the pool, and I stayed for awhile sitting in the hot tub.  

Friday was uneventful.  I got up to run three miles on a treadmill, and soon after that we went to eat at an Italian place at Caesar’s which took forever to find (again, Caesar’s is too damn big).  After that we got to visit the world famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop from Pawn Stars.  Surprisingly enough there wasn’t a very long line, though I’m sure that’s because the show has declined in popularity recently.  The visit was fun for the novelty of it, but there were some items I would’ve wished to see that they bought on the show.  Still, a lot of the stuff was interesting to see like some Picassos and commemorative sports rings.  To finish off the day, I spent another hour at the hot tub.  Saturday we flew home to Huntsville, but none of us were feeling very good from the dry air.  We were ready to be home.  Soon after was when I started feeling sick, and was admitted to the ER.  

This was a very eye-opening trip.  I enjoyed a lot of time with my family, saw some awesome landscapes, and met some great people.  I have a few new favorite places, many of which I’d like to revisit.  I also understand the full scope of geographic diversity in this country, making me appreciate it’s beauty even further.  The Southwest will hold a special place for me, and I’m eager to see what else is there.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; April 2016