Sunday, February 24, 2002

winter break + Southwest U.S. trip report

Winter break was great. You may remember that I recently went to the Southwest U.S. with my parents. That trip was so much fun that we decided to go there again!

We left on the 16th and got back last Friday afternoon. Though we just went to the Southwest U.S. not too long ago, this was an awesome trip as we visited many new places.

Day 1

The first leg of the trip was an afternoon flight to Denver. Because it was late when we arrived, the layover was uneventful aside from a quick stop at McDonald's for dinner. The flight to Albuquerque was shorter, but getting past security took quite a while due to the 9/11 attacks.

Dad rented an SUV at the airport and took us to his friend Chih-Yue's house in Los Alamos. Though it was already past 11 p.m. when we got there, nobody wanted to go to bed because we were all too excited about seeing the Kao family for the first time in years. It was nice to meet their son Aaron and daughter Samantha. Chih-Yue brought out some snacks and chatted with us for a good while.

Day 2

The Kaos took us to local attractions, starting with the Bradbury Science Museum. In addition to the free admission, the exhibits were really cool. Speaking of which, Chih-Yue actually works at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a climate researcher. Even though his job didn't involve nuclear weapons, the Wen Ho Lee incident made for an interesting topic.

Another stop was Valles Caldera National Preserve, the site of an ancient supervolcano. There wasn't much to see here, so all we did was take a few pictures. The morning ended with a stop at Pizza Hut for lunch. I didn't know Meat Lover's pizza was so delicious.

I spent the rest of the day on the PlayStation 2 with Aaron and Samantha. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X were both pretty fun, although I personally liked Final Fantasy VII better. The three of us also played a few rounds of TimeSplitters after. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but Tifa from Final Fantasy VII and Yuna from Final Fantasy X are kind of hot. *blush*

Day 3

It was time to say goodbye to the Kao family as we had other places to go. I was a little sad because their company was what made this trip so enjoyable. It seems two nights in Los Alamos weren't enough. :-(

When I was younger, my family often participated in the Buddhist ceremonies at the Fa Yun Monastery in Danville, California. However, the Gold Sage Monastery in San Jose turned out to be closer. Soon afterwards, the Fa Yun Monastery moved to Taos. Because we happened to be in the area, my mother suggested visiting them.

The monastery was high up in the mountains. Getting there was almost a spiritual journey in itself. The snow certainly added to the atmosphere. The folks at the temple were very hospitable 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 in return and donated a large 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

Dad took us to Mesa Verde National Park after we checked out of the hotel. The park is known for the cliff dwellings where the Pueblo people lived. The tour guide allowed us to go inside some of the kivas to get a glimpse of what life was like for them. Mesa Verde was no doubt a fascinating place.

The other stop of the day was the Four Corners Monument. This marks the spot where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. It was pretty neat to be in four states at once. Dad started getting hungry and bought some Navajo fry bread at one of the stands. The fry bread turned out to be quite good. On the whole, 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 nearby Bryce Canyon National Park was another cool place. The unusual rock formations called hoodoos were an incredible sight. Bryce Canyon is definitely one of the most underrated national parks in the United States.

Although we had been to both national parks, I enjoyed visiting them again. Some places just never get old. The last stop of the day was our hotel in Moab.

Day 6

We spent the morning exploring downtown Moab before going to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The food was a little greasy but not too bad otherwise. All in all, Moab was an enjoyable place.

The first real stop of the day was Arches National Park - named for the many natural 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!

Arches National Park was definitely one of my favorite stops. I was tired from all the walking and rested in the car while my parents hiked to a vista point where Delicate Arch was visible in the distance. It turned out I had missed out on seeing one of the most famous landmarks in the world. This was my biggest regret of the trip.

The nearby Canyonlands National Park was similar to Arches National Park in the sense that it also had many natural arches. I couldn't help but wonder how many of them there are in the Four Corners area. It's too bad we couldn't stay long due to time constraints.

Our last major stop was Natural Bridges National Monument. The three natural bridges weren't unlike the arches we had seen. However, Dad feared we would be stuck here when it closed for the evening and turned back after we visited Sipapu Bridge. I assured the gate doesn't close, but he didn't want to take chances. Because the road was a one-way loop, my father was driving the wrong way the entire time. I'm glad there were no other cars.

It was then time to head back to Albuquerque. The itinerary included a drive on Route 666 from Monticello to Gallup. Because Mom felt a little uneasy traveling on a highway associated with the Number of the Beast - especially at night - we took a detour on Route 191 instead. I guess you could never be too careful.

There was series of signs telling drivers to slow down at one point along the route. The reason wasn't clear until the road took a sharp turn to the left all of a sudden. Had we not slowed down, our car would have gone straight off the cliff. It was unsettling to realize we were just seconds from becoming a statistic.

Due to the detour, my family didn't get the chance to stop at Chih-Yue's house again as we had hoped. It was actually midnight when we got to the hotel. This was easily the busiest day of the trip.

Day 7

Because our flight was in the early afternoon, there wasn't much to do in the morning other than browse the airport shops. Some of the Southwestern food looked tempting - particularly the cactus candy - but nothing was cheap expensive. Perhaps I should be a little more generous to myself next time. :P

The in-flight entertainment had a nice selection of music. The flight home was mostly uneventful, although it was nice to relax after being away from home for several days.

Conclusions

Although our last trip to the American Southwest was just 14 months ago, this trip was no less fun because we mostly went to new places. Speaking of which, the Four Corner Monument was my favorite stop. Being in four states at once was a cool experience. The natural places were really nice too. Scenery aside, I also enjoyed the Native American culture. Those who think the desert is boring are certainly missing out.

I should probably get back to studying as school starts tomorrow for me. On the other hand, the memories from this trip will last.a long time. I definitely can't wait to share my experiences with my classmates and teachers. :-)

Currently listening to: "Turn the Tide" by Sylver

Thursday, February 14, 2002

an awkward Valentine's Day

You probably won't believe this, but we had to make Valentine's Day cards for the opposite sex in Spanish II Honors. In other words, Mrs. Schiffman made us write love letters to each other. How awkward!

The cards were exchanged yesterday as the class doesn't meet on Thursdays. I was paired up with a girl named Stella and gave her a homemade card with a cheesy love poem. Before anyone asks, it wasn't one of those "Roses are red, violets are blue" varieties. Stella was a little more generous and gave me a chocolate snack along with her card. Go figure.

But that's not all: every year, the school sells chocolate roses for Valentine's Day as a fundraiser. Imagine my surprise when I got two of them: one was from a girl on the student council while the other was from a "secret admirer" who wished to remain anonymous. That was quite unexpected. *blush*

It'll probably be hard to find out the identity of my secret admirer unless she comes forward. I'm definitely no Sherlock Holmes. To the girl who sent me the rose: if you're reading this, then I just wanted to say thank you!

In other news...

1. I'm hosting a Valentine's Day drop party in RuneScape this afternoon. It'll be in the Falador Park on server 1 at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time. Just don't expect me to drop too much stuff as I'm not that rich. :-)

2. Dad is planning to take us to the Southwest U.S. again during winter break - which is in two days. I'm so excited!

Currently playing: RuneScape