What I Did On My Summer Vacation (Part 1)

This blog is very much a music blog and not at all a travelogue. But I found our recent Grand Canyon vacation interesting enough that I thought readers might get a kick out of seeing some of what we saw. (Mouse over the above picture if you’re not seeing color.) 

So the above graphic gives you a pretty good idea of where we went. For those of you familiar with the territory or have been out there, you’re doubtless asking yourself why we went to the Southwest in the summer when the average temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius). Well, that’s when my wife gets off work so there’s that. Prices are a little cheaper for the trip as well.

This was our first bus tour as – being somewhat self-sufficient travelers – we had always groaned at the site of a bus tour. Now that we are older and more easily led, we realize it is the totally hip thing to do. 😊

First stop – Phoenix (overnight.) Only so much to do there especially in that kind of weather. We did visit the Botanical Garden which is interesting but eventually runs out of steam when you realize there’s only so many ways to look at cactus. The term “garden” is somewhat of a misnomer especially if you’re expecting roses or something.

The tour met at our hotel on a Friday night, 42 people of whom (oddly) some 25% were from the greater Boston area. Otherwise a mix of families, couples, a few grandmothers with granddaughters and one woman from the Netherlands traveling by herself. She did a pretty good job of mingling and engaging herself with everyone which I guess you gotta do if you travel alone.

The bus wasn’t full and so my wife and I grabbed seats by ourselves and just relaxed. Lesson number one about a bus tour – somebody else drives! This not only frees you up to listen to music, snooze or read, you also don’t have all that aggravation that comes with driving in a strange place, especially with your spouse. (“I TOLD you we should have taken that last exit!”)

You would think that would be self-evident but it never really dawned on me to that level till we were there. The only caveat is that the bus did not have Wi-fi and we spent a fair amount of time in the mountains with no signal. So much for my plans to listen to others’ Desert Island Discs on Spotify.

The tour director (late 60s?) was a really good guy and very good at his job (if somewhat guilty of overselling the quality of the dinners.) He had a Midwestern pastor style along with a naughty sense of humor that greased the wheels and made us laugh.

He played a selection of “road” songs going way back to Gene Autry. I found it humorous that he played John Denver’s “Country Roads” considering we were about 1700 miles (2784km) Southwest of there but ok. I’ve always liked this one though:

Spotify link

We drove through a well-preserved classic Old West town called Scottsdale and stopped for lunch at a town named Sedona about 100 mi (160km) north of Phoenix. Sedona is one of those artsy little towns with nice cafes that it would be great to visit again given more time.

And then on to the Grand Canyon! Which, BTW, turned out to be a big hole in the ground! We got there at the end of the day and jumped out to get a quick view. I suppose they do this because we’ll all feel cheated if we don’t see it right away. Me, I could have used a break.

But I did take a very brief video. The voice you will hear narrating on the recording is moi. I might sound sedated but maybe I’m awed, maybe I’m amazed, maybe I’m just tired and subdued.

We spent the next day exploring the Canyon. Over and above its grandness, one thing really amazed me – that when you get up there (we were on the South Rim) there are no fences, guardrails, signs, forest rangers or anything else preventing you from plunging 1000 ft to your death. (Other than what you saw in that video). It is the wide open spaces and you can look around and see people all over way out on the rocks.

Consider this guy. One good gust of wind – gone. (I would NOT recommend bringing little kids here.)

If you want to go to the bottom of the Canyon they have burro rides. OR, you can hike. (No vehicles.) Completely at your own risk. I saw something on the Weather Channel that explains how it just gets hotter and hotter (recall it’s already 100 degrees F) the further down you go. If you try to come back up on the same day, well, good luck. That’s why most people take a day or two.

Before the trip, I had some half-baked idea that we would spend every night staying in rustic cabins in the woods. We did stay at a lodge inside the Canyon but it was a small hotel, an adjunct to the larger one. The two ladies from St. Louis across from us found a mouse in their room. Not a bad place, not 4-star either. The tour director kept promising us this “awesome barbeque” for dinner. He really kept selling it all throughout the ride up.

When we got there it was neither awesome nor a BBQ. In fact, it was a rather pedestrian banquet-style dinner. (On the Caravan trip, they provide you with all breakfasts and two dinners. I didn’t mind that as it gave us the freedom to explore other foods and get away from the tour bus crowd every once in a while.) One disappointment is that even though we had a couple of really good meals, I didn’t really get a sense of Southwest food. We ate Mexican once and it was just like I get it anywhere else.

I don’t recall who we ate with the first night, probably the two widows from St. Louis who were traveling together. They told us excitedly how they had gone to Trump Tower when he was elected and other fascinating things about our fearless leader. In the spirit of comity and because I was on vacation I bit my tongue and maneuvered the conversation somewhere else.

Now here’s a really cool thing – we later went on a “Jeep” (really a motorcoach) tour to Monument Valley which is on the Arizona-Utah border. You would recognize it since director John Ford filmed several of his movies there. Per Wikipedia, “its five square miles [13 square kilometers] have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.”

This place is dry and hot but quite exciting to experience. You could, should you be so inclined, have your picture taken on a horse. Our Dutch friend did so and we took a picture to send her. The tour director had told us that the majority of people we would encounter would not be American citizens. (It took me all week to figure out that Americans – unless they have to – don’t go in August because it’s too hot and Europeans go as that’s when they have vacation.)

Apparently some Europeans – I’m told notably Germans – are fascinated by the American West. Alas, if you’re going there to witness a gunfight or something you are at least 100 years too late. When we got back on the bus, they showed us the John Wayne movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and we saw all the vistas we had just witnessed in person. (You can’t walk five feet in this area without encountering a Wayne reference.)

One last note on this – yeah it was HOT but as the people out there are fond of saying, it’s a DRY (low humidity) heat. But hot is hot. The bus had an endless supply of water bottles and we couldn’t drink enough. I should also say as someone who grew up in the Northeast US (Philly, NYC, Boston), it’s a real culture shock to imagine growing up out in the West.

Next – Lake Powell; Bryce and Zion Canyons. And Lost Wages!

Spotify link

 

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “What I Did On My Summer Vacation (Part 1)

  1. Nice read Jim. I visited there probably about 20 years ago and got there at night when all you could see was a huge black void. Got up early next day to see the sunrise – spectacular! Staring at Canyon you have those moments where you better understand how small a part of the universe we are. Looking forward to. part 2

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    1. This was our first time there and it was long overdue. We did see a couple of sunrises and they were pretty spectacular. Funny though that the tour director recommended some specific site as “the best sunset.” Everybody was killing themselves to stand in line for some bus to get there. I figured it would be pretty good anywhere and a local book corroborated that it was just as good where we were as anywhere. So rather than fight the crowds we just stayed where we were, had a drink and enjoyed the sunset. There’s a little bit of mob mentality on the bus and you just have to ignore it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a very cool trip, Jim! And you even managed to include some music!

    I’ve been to the Grand Canyon myself two times, as well as some of the other places you mentioned, especially Monument Valley and Sedona – after all, I’m German! 🙂

    While it all dates back more than 25 years, I still remember many things like they happened two weeks ago. In fact, when I came to the U.S. for the first time, I was 14. Actually, this goes back almost 40 years. It was for a six-week trip with my parents and another couple they were good friends with. And while I generally wouldn’t consider myself a nature freak or tree-huger or whatever else you wanna call it, seeing places like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley made for the most memorable summer vacations I’ve ever had.

    When you come for the first time to America from a comparatively small and densely populated country like Germany, the sheer size of the U.S. is mind-boggling. Perhaps nowhere else does this become more apparent than in the wide open spaces out west. I still remember us driving for hours in certain areas and only encountering one or two other cars. And these vistas of highways running from where you are to the horizon, sometimes as a straight line, are simply unforgettable.

    The Grand Canyon is hands-down one of the most impressive places I’ve seen in my life thus far – the enormous size of it and those colors, especially in the late afternoon or early evening are just breathtaking.

    And Monument Valley? I mean how fucking unreal is it that all for a sudden you recognize a landscape, based on old Western movies you’ve watched! There was one particularly cool thing that happened – can’t remember whether it was my first or second visit to Monument Valley. While we were taking in the view from the visitor center, an native American Indian passed by on a horse. I don’t think it was staged, but even if it was, it was just super cool!

    I’ve also been to what appear to be some of the other places you guys hit, including Bryce Canyon, another mind-boggling miracle of nature, and sin city – one of the most artificial, Disney-like and yet at the same time fascinating places I’ve been to. Looking forward to your next installment!

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    1. It’s a right of passage for your country! Actually it’s interesting but I intentionally did not go see much of the West for all these years, reasoning that well, I’m American and can always do that. So I focused on Europe. But the time had come and was, in fact, overdue.

      To your point, you definitely don’t have to be a tree-hugger. I am usually the furthest thing you can get from an outdoors guy. In fact, my mantra has always been “Nature is boring.” 🙂 But yeah, this area of the West is as spectacular as advertised. It’s not likely we’ll go back as there are still so many parts of the globe we have not been to. But if people can go, they should go.

      It was really cool to see Monument Valley then 2 seconds later, jump on the bus and watch the movie.

      I know you mentioned Disney in context of Vegas. But the tour director lamented people whose idea of a vacation – year after year after year – is Disney. When they could be seeing the world. Disney’s ok but I bet old Walt would not want someone to confuse Epcot’s French pavilion for France.

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      1. Not visiting your own country seems to be something a lot of people do. Sadly, I’ve seen close to nothing in Eastern Germany.

        To a large extent that is because during most of my time living in (West) Germany the eastern part was still the GDR. Typically, unless you had relatives there, you wouldn’t visit, since it didn’t sound particularly attractive. This still left me with
        opportunity to visit there for about three years after the reunification in 1990. I simply didn’t, and now I live some 4,000 miles away. When we go to Germany, it’s first and foremost to visit family and friends who all live in the western part.

        As for Disney, I couldn’t agree more with you. I’ve been to Disney Land in L.A. on my first U.S. trip and to Disney World in Orlando with my wife and son a few years ago. I think I’m set for life! 🙂

        In connection with Vegas, Disney was supposed to be a metaphor for sin city’s artificial look and feel with all these completely over-sized and over-the-top casinos.

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        1. A guy who grew up in Phoenix told us he’d never been to the Grand Canyon! It’s a 3 1/2 hour drive.

          When I first visited Europe it was well prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It literally wasn’t even in our consciousness to go. But my daughter has been to Berlin and in fact is going back next month (as well as Prague and Vienna.)

          Disney’s ok but I think there a lot of adults who overinflate its value, like they never wanna grow up or something. I imagine if we ever have grandkids we’ll go. Other than that, too many interesting places on earth.

          Yes, Vegas is a whole other thing. Even with all the casinos we have cropping up, there’s only one Vegas in all its gaudiness.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “Mr Travelogue”, “Docs Diners” next?
    Scottsdale is where they filmed Junior Bonner. I guess they used it for the exact reason you stated. I’m drawn to that area (Haven’t been yet). All those open spaces and big sky really grab me. Yeah for a Northeast city guy it would be a little bit of a hit. “Give me some cement”. My neighbors just loaded up their RV and are heading down there. You know CB likes to stay off the beaten track but both the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley would be places I’d hit. I would probably do the “stroll” down into the canyon and phone you later to come and get me. There has to be a screenplay somewhere on that trip. Good stuff Doc.

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    1. This will actually be my last week of music blogs. Going forward this site will be all cute cat and dog pictures and pictures of other people’s grandkids, because you know, I don’t get enough of that shit on Facebook.

      If you’re going to go, go when it’s much cooler then the trip to the bottom of the canyon should be, relatively speaking, nothing. The combination of heat and altitude was killer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think I’ll be tuning into the new format.

        I’m going to hydrate the night before with as much liquor as I can drink and hit the canyon at the crack of noon the next day. What kind of odds are you giving me?

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  4. Amazing! Sounds like a pretty amazing way to spend summer vacation, Jim. Those pictures are genuinely stunning to look at and I can only imagine that being felt 10 fold standing there looking at that stuff (the drop!!) taking them.

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    1. Not that all the pictures we’d seen in advance weren’t great but certainly seeing it in person was awesome. And clearly, one can do this trip less expensively in a DIY fashion, probably just as well. We just wanted to see what it felt like to join a tour. All in all it wasn’t too shabby.

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  5. Thanks for the great tour, Rick Steves! I admire you for doing the bus thing, which takes bravery. Also for holding your tongue when Gertie and Ruth brought up Trump. (Do his sycophants really think others want to hear about him, or do they deliberately bring him up to piss off his many critics?)

    My wife and I were at Sedona and Grand Canyon two years ago and had a great time. I could easily live in Sedona. Probably never will, but my 97-year-old aunt has lived in Tucson since the ’60s, and we’ve thought about retiring there. Cacti, Mexican food, mountains… yes!

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    1. Rick Steves. Ha! I enjoy watching that guy’s European adventures but my wife thinks he’s a total wuss. As to the ladies, well, I had decided pre-trip to not even think about Trumpfotainment for the whole week. However, it was impossible to avoid the old blowhard entirely. So that was my mindset in addition to just wanting to enjoy the trip with no agita. And I must say that the two ladies were so cheerful about their tRump tour and so blissfully unaware that anyone would disagree that it didn’t really bother me one way or the other. And as mentioned, I successfully hand-waved to something else. “Say, tell me about your kids.” One of the joys of getting older is knowing when and when not to give a fuck.

      Sedona was cool. Politically (there I go again) Arizona is a right-wing train wreck. We actually saw signs for Joe Arpaio for Senate. He lost but WTF. Good luck. It’s all yours.

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      1. Right, I know about Arpaio. Glad he lost. Tucson’s conservative but has a small pocket of artist-hippie types, one of whom is my cousin (she who escorted me to a nude sweat bath tucked away in downtown Tucson).

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        1. I have a friend who moved to North Carolina and tried to be around Northerners. A sad state of affairs. Does one retire to a warm place in which one has to find the few like-minded people? Or stay in (in at least my case) a frigid clime? Or just not worry about it? Politically I belong in Canada, Denmark, Sweden, etc. Arguing with dopes about things that should be self-evident is wearying.

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