Sunday, February 24, 2002

winter break + Southwest U.S. trip report

The break was nice as we went to the Southwest U.S. again. Though we just went there not too long ago, this was an awesome trip as we visited many new places. It was also great to get back in touch with old friends.

Day 1

The trip began on the 16th with an afternoon flight to Denver. Getting through security took a while due to the 9/11 attacks. Because it was late when we arrived, the layover was uneventful aside from a quick stop at McDonald's for dinner. This was followed by a short flight to Albuquerque.

Dad rented an SUV and took us to his friend Chih-Yue's house in Los Alamos. It was already past 11 p.m. when we got there, but we were all too excited to sleep after seeing the Kaos for the first time in years. I also met their son Aaron and daughter Samantha. Chih-Yue brought out some snacks and chatted with us for a good while before we went to bed.

Day 2

The Kao family took us to local attractions, starting with the Bradbury Science Museum. There was a major focus on nuclear weapons. Speaking of which, Chih-Yue actually works at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a climate researcher. Even though they're not in the same field, the Wen Ho Lee case made for an interesting topic.

Up next was Valles Caldera National Preserve, the site of a massive volcanic eruption. Our stay was short due to time constraints, but we got a few pictures. The morning ended with a stop at Pizza Hut for lunch. I must say the Meat Lover's pizza was delicious.

Aaron and Samantha later invited me to play video games on the PlayStation 2 with them. Final Fantasy VII was my favorite, although Final Fantasy X and TimeSplitters were pretty fun too. I'm not going to lie - Tifa from Final Fantasy VII and Yuna from Final Fantasy X are rather attractive. *blush*

Day 3

It was time to say goodbye to the Kaos as we had other places to go. I enjoyed their company and was a little sad to part with them. Two nights in Los Alamos just weren't enough. :-(

When I was younger, we used to go to the Fa Yun Monastery for the ceremonies. They later moved to New Mexico and split into two branches - one in Taos and the other in Vadito. Because we happened to be in the area, Mom wanted to visit the Taos campus. Getting there was like a spiritual journey as the monastery was high up in the mountains. The snow only added to the "spiritual" atmosphere.

The people at the Fa Yun Monastery were very hospitable. They gave us a tour of the place and insisted that we stay for lunch, to which we obliged. The food was really good despite being vegan. Mom felt we should give something back and donated a bag of oranges we had bought earlier.

The rest of the day was spent driving as our hotel was in Durango. On the other hand, the scenery along the way was nice.

Day 4

We headed to Mesa Verde National Park after checking out of the hotel. The park is known for the cliff dwellings where the Pueblo people lived. The tour was short but very informative. It was cool to see what life was like for Native Americans. Mesa Verde was a fascinating place.

Not far away was the Four Corners Monument - which marks the intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The ability to stand in four states at once made for fun photos. Dad started getting hungry and bought some Navajo fry bread at one of the stands. The fry bread turned out to be quite good. I'd say the Four Corners Monument was the most memorable part of the trip.

Day 5

Our day began with a visit to Zion National Park to see the famous Zion Canyon. The scenery alone made the drive worthwhile. The hoodoos in the nearby Bryce Canyon National Park was also really cool. Although we had been to both places before, this was a nice experience.

The last stop of the day was Moab. It's easily one of the most scenic cities we've ever visited.

Day 6

We spent some time exploring Moab before going to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Of note is that the servings were generous. The food was a little greasy but not too bad otherwise.

The first real stop of the day was Arches National Park - named for the many natural arches scattered around the area. They range from the teeny tiny ones to the impressive Landscape Arch. From what I've heard, there are over 2,000 of them!

I was tired from walking and stayed in the car while my parents hiked to a spot where Delicate Arch was visible in the distance. Only later did I realize that Delicate Arch was very famous. This was my biggest regret of the trip.

The nearby Canyonlands National Park also had many arches. I couldn't help but wonder how many of them there are in the Four Corners area. However, time was tight as we had a long drive ahead of us. I'd love to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks again in the future.

Natural Bridges National Monument was our last major stop. Dad feared we would be stuck here when it closed and turned back after passing Sipapu Bridge. I assured him that wouldn't happen, but he didn't want to take chances. Because it was a one-way road, my father went the wrong way the whole time. I'm glad there were no other cars.

It was then time to head back to Albuquerque. The original plan was to take Route 666 from Monticello to Gallup. However, Mom felt a little uneasy driving on a highway associated with the number 666 - especially at night - so we took a detour on Route 191 instead. I guess you can never be too careful.

There was a point where we saw a series of signs telling drivers to slow down. The reason wasn't clear until the road suddenly took a sharp turn. Our car would have gone off the road had we not paid attention. It was unsettling to know we almost became a statistic.

The rest of the evening was uneventful aside from a stop at McDonald's in Shiprock for dinner. I had hoped to visit the Kaos again, but there wasn't enough time due to the detour. Given that it was midnight when we checked into the hotel, the three of us went to bed shortly afterwards.

Day 7

Because our flight was in the early afternoon, there wasn't much to do other than browse the airport shops. Some of the snacks looked tempting - particularly the cactus candy - but everything was expensive. I wish I wasn't such a cheap bastard. The flight home was mostly uneventful, although I loved the music selection.


This was an awesome trip as we visited many new places. Speaking of which, the Four Corner Monument was my favorite stop. The national parks were really nice too. Scenery aside, I also enjoyed the company of the Kaos and the local culture. The memories from this trip will last a long time.

I probably get back to studying as school starts tomorrow for me. The worst part of coming home is the post-vacation blues. On the other hand, I can't wait to tell everyone about our trip. :-)

Currently listening to: "Turn the Tide" by Sylver

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