So my family just got back from our week-long road trip to the American Southwest. I hadn't been there in almost five years, so it was quite exciting. You'll probably want to know more about our adventure, so that's what this post is for. :-)
Before starting out, we first had to rent an SUV as neither of our cars could carry that much luggage. Both of them are also over ten years old, and we didn't feel comfortable taking them on such a long drive anyway. So our first stop was the Enterprise Rent-A-Car at San Jose International Airport.
Enterprise was one of those agencies that allow people to pick their own vehicles. One that we decided to pass on was a red Dodge Durango because we had an unpleasant experience with a similar car during our last vacation to the Southwest in 1996. During that trip, the interior of the car had a poor design, and my parents ended up with a bad case of back pain as a result. As soon as we decided the Durango wasn't for us, two young men gladly took it off our hands. As the saying goes, "one man's trash is another man's treasure." In the end, my parents and I settled on a blue GMC Jimmy that we liked.
We then drove back to our house to load our stuff, and the trip had officially begun. The first leg of our journey was a 400-mile drive to Barstow. The sun sets early at this time of the year, and it was fairly late when we got there, so we called it a day after checking into our hotel.
Not far from Barstow was a ghost town called Calico. I'm not a huge fan of ghost towns, but Calico was one of the most memorable places we visited on our trip. One unique landmark was the house that was built entirely with glass bottles. I imagine the greenhouse effect would make it very warm in the summer. The three of us also took a tour of the town on the Calico & Odessa Railroad. The train ride was somewhat short, but it was one of the things that made Calico so much fun.
It was then time to head to Las Vegas. Our hotel for the night was the Flamingo Las Vegas, one of the many resorts on the Strip. I'm not old enough to gamble - not that I'd want to - but we still had a great time checking out the various casinos there.
Next on our itinerary was the picturesque Lake Powell, a large reservoir on the Colorado River. There wasn't much to do at the lake as it was primarily for boating, but we really enjoyed the peaceful scenery. I could easily contemplate here for hours - even though I'm not exactly a philosopher. :P
The final stop of the day was Page, located just south of the Utah-Arizona border. There wasn't much to do in this small town either, so we mostly rested in our hotel room. I spent much of the evening playing Final Doom on my laptop, and watching Battlestar Galactica and Futurama on the hotel's TV. I'd say both of them are awesome shows.
Our first destination in the morning was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. From what I've seen in travel guides, the namesake volcano was supposed to be a beautiful sight. But there wasn't much to see because the snow had completely obscured the mountain, so all we did was take a couple of pictures. Sunset Crater is definitely one of those places I'd love to revisit in the spring or fall.
The main stop of the day was the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona, also known as Barringer Crater. On the way there, my parents and I passed two small towns with unusual names: Two Guns and Twin Arrows. I couldn't help but wonder who came up with them. However, the names were the only interesting thing about the towns; there didn't seem to be any real attractions in the area, so we only took a few pictures before continuing on.
It was already noon when we arrived at Meteor Crater, so the three of us had lunch in the parking lot before heading in. The attraction was privately owned, so the admission fee wasn't covered by our national park pass. That didn't stop us from going in - after all, my family didn't drive all the way here for nothing. It's a good thing the place was open on Christmas!
The crater was much larger than I had imagined. It was formed by an impact event about 50,000 years ago, with the energy released equal to about 20 million tons of TNT. The resulting hole was almost three-quarters of a mile in diameter - undoubtedly an impressive sight.
There was a three-mile trail that went around the crater, but it was closed to the public except during guided tours. However, just standing on the rim was awe-inspiring. I can only imagine the force of the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs; from what I've heard, that one was around five million times more powerful. I'm glad I wasn't there when that happened!
The visitor center was also quite fascinating. One exhibit that caught my attention was the simulator that allowed users to visualize various impact events - up to blowing up the Earth with a Texas-sized asteroid. I had lots of fun with that for sure. *evil laughter*
On the whole, this was by far the best day of the trip.
I don't mean to sound racist, but what happened in the morning was kind of funny in hindsight: my parents and I were leaving the hotel after breakfast when I accidentally knocked over this black dude's coffee. I apologized profusely and immediately began cleaning it up, but the people in the room tensed up as if they were expecting the guy to do something to me. Much to everyone's collective relief, nothing of the sort happened; the guy and I merely had a good laugh about it before going our separate ways.
Continuing on, the main stop of the day was Grand Canyon National Park. This place wasn't new to my parents as came here for their 1984 honeymoon, but it was my first time seeing the majestic canyon in person. However, the weather was very cold, so all we did was take some pictures. I'd love to come back here when it's a bit warmer; from what I've heard, Grand Canyon is one of the best places for hiking.
It started getting late, so we began driving back to Las Vegas. The traffic suddenly ground to a halt as we neared Sin City. At first we thought it was due to the sheer number of tourists hoping to strike it rich, but it soon became apparent that the 15 mph speed limit at Hoover Dam was the culprit. How convenient.
The traffic began clearing up as soon as we got past Hoover Dam, and we didn't arrive in Las Vegas too late despite the congestion. It's nice to not be stuck in the desert in the middle of the night; that would have surely sucked. Our hotel for the night was again the Flamingo Las Vegas.
Our original plan was to spend another night in Las Vegas and drive directly home from there. But that would have been very exhausting, not to mention we wouldn't have been able to go to too many other places. Therefore, Dad decided to cancel our second night in Las Vegas and book a hotel in Lee Vining instead.
The route took us through Death Valley National Park. There was a stretch of the freeway in the area that had many dips and inclines. That made the drive kind of fun - it was almost like a natural roller coaster!
Despite the name, Death Valley was actually a rather nice place - at least when the weather isn't unbearably hot. The scenery was very peaceful as there were few other people around. Funnily enough, we ran into our family friend Carol's brother at one of the vista points. It's indeed a small world after all.
One place I had wanted to see was Ubehebe Crater, located near the northern end of Death Valley. Unlike Meteor Crater, this one was formed by an ancient hydrothermal explosion. Regrettably, this excursion was not possible as we didn't have enough time. Lee Vining was a few hundred miles away even without the detour, so it was already around 11:00 p.m. when we got there.
Had we still gone to Ubehebe Crater, chances are we would not have been able to get to Lee Vining until early next morning. Dad was very thankful that I did not insist on going to the crater. I guess that's something we'll have to consider for a future trip.
We made a brief stop at Mono Lake in the morning. While there, I noticed numerous underwater springs beneath the ice; they are apparently the source of the mineral deposits from which the tufa columns are formed. Mono Lake was no doubt a fascinating place.
This was the last day of our trip, but there was still so much to do. The scenery on Route 395 was very nice, and it was still early in the afternoon, so we decided to extend our trip by taking a detour through the Lake Tahoe area instead of Yosemite National Park.
Even though my family had been to Lake Tahoe many times before, I've never gotten tired of the mountains. While looking at a map of the area, I found a nearby attraction called Grover Hot Springs State Park that we decided to check out. While there was only one hot spring that was easily accessible, the main feature of the park was the mineral water-fed swimming pool.
Mom insisted that we go in for a soak, which we did. I had my reservations at first because the water was green from minerals in the spring, but it turned out to be a delightful surprise. I'd say Grover Hot Springs is one of those "hidden gems" in the mountains. There were also many hot girls at the pool, but I was too shy to talk to any of them. Oh well.
The three of us had a nice dinner at the Kowloon seafood restaurant in San Mateo on the way home. We frequently eat here at the end of a trip, so it has become a tradition of sorts. It wasn't long before we were back in our cozy little house. I helped my parents unload our belongings before we drove back to SJC to return the Jimmy, and only then did we consider our vacation to be truly over.
The Southwest U.S. has always been one of my favorite travel destinations. While many people are quick to dismiss the desert as boring, I think the American Southwest one of the most unique places in the world. Although we had been on many trips before, this was the first one I had truly come to appreciate. I thought the best part of our adventure was Meteor Crater; that alone made the trip very worthwhile.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and this vacation was no exception. On the other hand, New Year's Eve is just around the corner, and we'll be having a few other families over. It's always nice to have a party right after a vacation!
Currently listening to: Relaxation & Meditation with Music & Nature: Thunderstorm at Night