Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Road trip, road trip!

petrified 1

We're back from a 5000mile road trip!
Our first stop was to the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. However, to get there, we first had to drive through Tennessee (400+ miles), Arkansas (280miles), Oklahoma (330miles), Texas(177miles) before we reached our destination. We drove on Interstate 40 which is pretty neat because it was ONE straight road through these states (duh, that's why they call it the INTERstate), so it made driving really easy for me. I averaged about 75mph and sometimes even driving through the night. Once, i drove for 6 hours at a stretch so J could get a decent rest.

Bandelier is located in the Frijoles canyon area and was populated by Ancentral Pueblo people. These people created a settlement by carving out volcanic material called tuff and used them as building blocks for their homes. Near the base of the canyon walls, the soft rock that were subjected to erosion also created holes. The people then dug out these holes to construct a series of dwellings/caves. We climbed up ladders to get into those caves to get a glimpse of the insides. The caves were so small because the Ancestral Pueblo people were only about 5 ft! That's my size!


Our next pit stop was the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, which fortunately was the next adjacent state, a mere 7hours drive away. Before, i had always thought it was a forest of tall trees filled with rocks and fossils and stuff. Actually, the forest of "trees" existed millions of years ago, and because of the process of permineralization, the original structure of the wood is kept, but the rest of the tree has turned into stone. The process occurs underground when the wood is covered in sediment, usually due to flooding, or in areas where the water is laden with minerals. Cool isn't it? I love the pretty colours of the crystals. My favourite trail is the Crystal Forest, an open area strewn with petrified logs that show off some of the most beautiful colours.

petrified log

We spent only about 2 hours in the Petrified Forest because we needed to rush down to the Grand Canyon before it closed. We were afraid we wouldn't be able to get a campsite even though it wasn't really peak season. However, as it is such a popular tourist spot, there is no telling what could happen. The Grand Canyon is also in Arizona, of an even shorter 3 hours drive. When we arrived, the long traffic queues put an initial damper on our spirits, but we perked up when we saw the Express Lane. We had bought an Annual National Parks Pass at the beginning of the trip that gave us free entry into all National Parks in the States. This pass would now let us skip the long lines and breeze through the gates! Such an important and wise investment on my part *pat on the back*

We found out we needn't have worried because there were plentiful campsites for rent. Our main problem was that the J-man forgot our tent! Well, he didn't actually forget. He just took the WRONG bag that held Dad's hunting tent/shield (not for sleeping in). In our anxiety to open it and to check out sleeping possibilities before sundown, we accidentally broke the frame. Uh-oh. I was so mad at that point I almost wanted to go home. Luckily, we weren't that far away from civilisation. There was a General Store about a 10minutes walk away, and we decided to see if it carried any tents for sale. Crossing our fingers and toes, we made our way to the store, me, fuming and him, tail between his legs.

We had to thank our lucky stars, for not only do they sell REALLY expensive tents, they offered rental services too. We were going to camp out on Yosemite and Canyonlands later so we probably needed to buy one. But after checking out the prices, it was wiser to rent now, and buy a cheaper tent from a Walmart later, on our way to our next destination. The previous lovely campers at our campsite also left us some firestarters and half a bag of coal. So now we had a place to sleep and a fire to keep us warm!

After settling our camping issues, we headed to the rim of the Canyon to watch the sunset. It was amazing to see the colours change over the canyon. You know for sure that someone up there really knows what he's doing, a painter and sculptor all rolled into one. No words or pictures could ever do it justice, or least mine won't. Better to just go check it out yourself!

grand canyon

The next day, we took the Bright Angel Trail that went all the way down to the Colorado river which snaked through the Canyon. That would have been a 12miles round trip, and although my heart was willing, my knees were weak. So we stopped at the midway point, 3 miles down and 3 miles up. The view was breathtaking and my favourite bits were to see the different layers of the canyon up close. I should have studied geology when I was in school, but then again, it would never have taken me on this path up till now.

Our second night in the tent was beyond miserable. The temperatures dipped below 40deg F (below 10degC ) and even zipping up inside our own shell of a sleeping bag couldn't keep my feet warm. We didn't get a very good sleep that night and was very much looking forward to luxurious accommodations in Las Vegas in a few hours' time.

Lonely Planet gives really good recommendations, so we rely on it time after time when planning our travels. This time, we followed its recommendation to the Platinum Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Every room comes equipped with a jacuzzi bath, a living room and a kitchenette! The room is even bigger than the size of our Shanghai apartment! I ran the bath and spent a long time soaking in the hot steamy waters before we headed out to MGM Grand to watch the Cirque de Soleil production, Ka. A really good show, by the way. Made me yearn to be in a production once again. We were not really in the mood to gamble, so after a few half-hearted spins at the slot machines, we decided to call it a night. Vegas is a vibrant and bustling city, but it was my least favourite stop.

Our next two stops were going to be Yosemite in California, and Canyonlands in Utah. But thank goodness we did a weather check again before heading there. It forecasted rain with a possibility of snow. What with the weather in Grand Canyon, I didn't think we were prepared for snow. With a tinge of disappointment, we set out on our return journey the next day, but not before watching a game of Sunday football and checking player status on our fantasy leagues. *chuckles* Hooray for civilisation!

It was going to be a 36hour drive, long and weary, but we made it and lived to tell the story. :)

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