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Philo to Vegas to Sedona

The days before we left for Las Vegas were a bit of a whirlwind. It seemed that several people decided that week was the week to do real estate related stuff - showings, new listings, just talk about showings and new listings and so forth. It was great and I even felt a little guilty about leaving - but not that guilty! It's been a year since we headed out and we were both ready.

Originally, I thought we would leave on Monday, the 19th, after the holiday weekend. As such, I scheduled several appointments up through Saturday the 17th. Then, on Friday, my husband said, let's just go. I explained my appointments, so we agreed to leave on Saturday as soon as I was finished and we were packed. Of course, this made everything a bit more stressful as we gathered everything we would need for our two weeks away. There's a big difference between going on an airplane, which automatically restricts the amount of luggage, and going in a car, where you can pack almost anything. Also, the two weeks we would be away we would be having the use of a kitchen, so we wanted to take advantage of that and bring food from home and save on the shopping bill. Needless to say, the car was fully loaded when we left! That, of course, does not mean that we didn't forget anything; halfway to Cloverdale, at about 6:30pm, we realized we'd forgotten a couple of things, including my hiking boots, but decided not to turn around and rather just look for a good deal on hiking boots along the way.

Our first night we made it as far as El Dorado Hills, just outside of Sacramento. We had decided to take the scenic route, even if longer, just because it was a way we hadn't traveled before. So we were on Highway 50 headed toward South Lake Tahoe, where we'd turn Southeast and head across the state toward Nevada and Las Vegas.

The next day we got a bit of a later start than we'd planned, but since we were on vacation and it was a road trip, we didn't mind. We put on the Google maps and away we went. The app said it was about 8.5 hours to Las Vegas. Ha ha ha ha. Well, it was a beautiful drive, at least. We laughed as we drove, because it felt like we went North and East more than we went South. We did stop twice, once for what started out as a very nice picnic in an area called Wilson Canyon, at a rest area right next to a small creek; we were there about ten minutes when the wind started up, driving us to the car to finish. It blew strong enough to blow ever a full glass of sparkling wine! We stopped again about an hour from Vegas to get gas and use the facilities and just stretch our legs. The drive took us up and over various passes and along beautiful desert scenery and even some farmland. It was interesting how one valley would be so obviously poor and "hard luck" feeling and the next was so rich, both in the type of housing but also in the fields and cropland instead of rocks. About eight hours into the drive (and still two hours from Las Vegas) we were feeling tired. It was now feeling like a long day. I'm not sure how the app could have been so wrong about the time - I drove as fast as the cars around me (when there were any cars) which was slightly above the speed limit. Of course, there were times I was doing just over 70 (the speed limit) and cars would fly past me as though I was standing still; perhaps Google expects everyone to drive that fast?

We arrived around 7pm to our time share, a place called the Tahitian Village. It was nice to be greeted warmly and only given a soft sell on the property; far from how it is in Mexico where they pester you nearly to death to take one of their tours. We found our room, a nice if small one bedroom, a little larger than a hotel room, with a small kitchen, and we hauled most of our stuff up in two trips (thank goodness for those valet trolleys). About an hour later we headed out for a not very good meal around the corner at an Outback restaurant. The best part? Our adorable waiter, originally from Sao Paulo, who gave us the skinny on where to eat and what to see that wasn't typical Las Vegas. I must admit to being fast asleep before 10pm that first night.

Yesterday, our first full day here, we lolled around. We went to the hot tub, only mildly hot - the adults-only was closed for cleaning, so we went to the one the kids are allowed in, and it wasn't very hot. Kids - there are a ton of them here. I like kids, but not on my vacation. After showering and eating breakfast we took a plate of snacks, a bottle of sparkling, and our Mahjong set and headed to the activity room, where we played Mahjong for a couple of hours and drank almost two bottles! Ooops. Needless to say, I spent the next hour napping. In the late afternoon we headed out to do some shopping and for some dinner. We found a Von's near the REI store. I found a pair of hiking shoes, can't really call them boots, but they are a nice lime green color and they were on sale, so I'm happy! We headed to one of the two restaurants recommended by the Outback waiter but found we would need a reservation (made one for a few nights later) but even better, found an incredible Japanese noodle place next door; we had to wait about 20 minutes but it was so worth it. Hot delicious noodles in yummy broth plus draft Asahi; we were very happy.

As I write this Tuesday morning, we are drinking coffee and setting up for our first Mahjong game; we ended up buying a small table and chairs because we like to play in a more quiet environment than the activity center turned out to be (kids, again, plus the soap operas on the TV). Today may hold a walk on the Strip or a visit to the Mobster Museum - you'll have to wait until next week to find out!

* * *

I write this from our little studio apartment we've taken in the Village of Oak Creek, a small town just east of Sedona town proper. We've been here since Saturday afternoon, after leaving Las Vegas late morning.

I'm proud to say that in our week in Las Vegas we didn't actually spend a dime gambling. We talked about it but the two times we were in a casino, The Venetian and Wynn, we were both so bothered by the cigarette smoke that we couldn't get outside fast enough. So we tried to spend our time in Las Vegas like we might in any other city/location, to see what else there was on offer.

On Tuesday we ended up looking into what shows were available that were of interest to us; unfortunately for us, many of the Cirque du Soleil shows were dark that week, leaving only one show available that was of interest to us (sorry, no Michael Jackson torment for me). We ended up booking Le Reve, a water show put on by Wynn at the Wynn. We also had booked a couple of dinners for later in the week at restaurants recommended to us, plus one with a friend of my husband's, leaving only that Tuesday for a show. We decided to relax at the hot tub for a bit, then go to the Strip for an early dinner before the show. We took the shuttle bus into town from our accommodations, which left us off at The Mirage, a block and a half away from the Wynn. We decided to check out The Venetian and the outdoors brought in that they have created. It is pretty cool, especially the beautiful ceiling that really looks like the sky. I'd been there once before and the main difference I noticed is that there are even more shops than before. I was a bit appalled by the amount of shopping in Las Vegas. I guess the new "sin" is spending too much money! We found a pizza joint and had a leisurely dinner of anti-pasta, salads and simple pizza. From there we walked over to the Wynn theater and enjoyed the show. Both of us were quite impressed with the acrobatic feats and the high drops into the water, plus the synchronized swimmers. The storyline, such as it was, was weak, and the two "main characters" were also unimpressive. We felt the whole production could have benefited from eliminating both of them.

Wednesday we decided to check out the hiking situation in the area. There is an area called Red Rock Canyon just outside of town, so we headed out there. It is actually quite a beautiful area with a 13 mile scenic drive loop (which you can only drive in one direction, so once you start you're in for the whole thing) with hiking trails branching off at different points. We chose to take a hike up into the hills to what was called a "tank" but was really a natural water hole, just a really big one. Just beyond that was an incredible view of all of Las Vegas and surrounding desert and hills. We had brought along a split of Roederer, so we popped that and enjoyed a snack and some bubbles before heading back down. We were planning another hike at another spot, but somehow I drove right past it — neither of us saw the sign, if there was one and didn't realize we had passed it until we came to the one after it. So we looked at the map and decided on another short hike, this one a fire demonstration hike. This turned out to be a great short hike, with part of it along a small creek and amongst a "forest" of Ponderosa Pines; compared to our forests at home this was hardly more than a collection of a few scattered trees, but apparently this is very rare for the area and there had been several special burns done to protect these trees and encourage the native species to come back. By the time we finished this hike the wind had come up and it was getting cold, so we headed back to our little home away from home.

Dinner Wednesday night was an incredible Japanese feast at a place called Raku; if you find yourself going to Las Vegas, make a reservation. We ate lots of small plates that were each so delicious; our favorite was something called sonomono or something like that, a cucumber salad that included seaweed noodles and tiny baby sardines. So good we ordered two. We enjoyed a great bottle of sake with the meal as well and finished it all with green tea ice cream and a green tea creme brulee. All delicious!

Thursday we played garden tourists, first going out to the Ethel M Chocolate Factory for a tour of how they make chocolate and to see their cactus gardens. The chocolate tour was interesting, especially the history of the founder, Mars. The chocolates were delicious, of course! However, for both of us, the gardens were the highlight. So many different types of desert flora from all over the world placed gracefully in gardens you could easily stroll between. Most plants had labels so we could learn what we were looking at, both the common name and the Latin name, plus the place of origin. After we left there we headed out to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to visit their museum and their xeriscape gardens. The museum turned out to be a place for the university to showcase their architecture program more than anything else. The gardens were even more of a disappointment; there were a few nice spots, but mostly there was trash in the bushes, very few informative signs and quite a bit of neglect.

Thursday dinner was another Asian feast, this time at Lotus of Siam, another highly recommended place. We ordered beef tendon soup, a rather hearty and delicious soup that was more filling than anticipated, squid salad — really hot!, drunken noodles with sea bass on top and a whole fried pompano with a ginger sauce. All was excellent but we were so full from the soup that we ended up taking the noodles home with us after just tasting it — also, we decided to devour that whole fish as that wouldn't have made good leftovers. We ended up enjoying those noodles for breakfast the next morning.

Friday we visited the mother of a good friend who has lived in Las Vegas for some time but is now in an assisted living facility. We had a really nice visit with her and got to see some photos of our friend as a younger man with quite the "Magnum P.I." mustache. From there we ate a quick lunch at In-N-Out then headed for the Mob Museum.

The Mob Museum is a must-see if you are interested in this aspect of American crime. It took us three hours and we ended up rushing through the end because of another dinner reservation. It is very well done, with all sorts of items donated from different sources. It's three stories high and you start at the top and wind your way down, starting with the influx of immigrants and the early Irish, Italian and Jewish gangs down to the present day. You can shoot a Tommy gun as well as a revolver as a "police officer in training." So many photos and documents to see and read through. Some of it is pretty graphic (and they warn you, so you can bypass this segment) but we looked at it all.

Dinner that last night was at another Thai restaurant, this one called Chada. We ate differently than the night before — sharing the meal with four others — so we were able to sample more dishes. One highlight for me were the quail eggs, but also the beef jerky, something totally unexpected by me on a Thai menu.

Saturday we ate one more good meal — this time Dim Sum. We ate that for our breakfast/lunch, then hit the road for Sedona. The drive was easy and quite pretty and we listened to a good book along the way. We made it into Sedona around 4pm and got settled in and had a light dinner before calling it a night. Sunday we had to do more mundane tasks — laundry, grocery shopping, so nothing much to report there. We have found that the place we are staying at this time we don't like as much as the place we've stayed at in the past, if only because we like the hot tubs at the other place better. This is a quieter resort and that is nice.

Yesterday we took two hikes. One was to Cathedral rock. We had attempted this hike on our first visit five years ago but I had been quite sick with a bad cold and had to stop what we then thought was half-way up. It turns out to have been only a third of the way and I must say I made the right decision then. However, this time we went up to the top and enjoyed the stunning view, where we again popped one of those splits of Roederer in celebration. Our second hike was a shorter one down along Oak Creek, which was quite beautiful. We ended the day taking in "American Sniper" which as a film, is quite good and exciting, but as fact, well, read the New Yorker article for that.

We have a few more hikes planned, plus a rail trip one day and who knows what else?

* * *

As I write this, we are in Tehachapi, with the Superbowl on TV (which I honestly have no interest in other than the commercials). We had a wonderful week in Sedona, as usual (this was our fourth visit in five years). One difference this year was that we brought my Subaru, not the Prius, which allowed us access to different hikes via high clearance vehicle roads. On Tuesday we took advantage of this and headed out for a seven mile (round trip) hike out to Turkey Creek. It was a beautiful hike. For one, because the trail head is out a dirt road, the trail is less traveled than most of the other hikes in Sedona. We relished seeing only two other people over the three hours we were out. The other is that you don't see many houses or other signs of human activity on this hike. The hike is mainly flat/rolling for the first couple of miles, but ends with a 600 foot climb up to the top of House Mountain. The views were worth it, though I will admit to being tired by the time we made it back to the car.

Wednesday we had decided to try out the Verde Valley Railroad. This turned out to be a good idea as we were both sore — mainly in the shins from the downhill portion of the hike the day before. We had opted for "first class" which was only a $25/per person higher cost — but included food and more comfortable seating than the other seating. We were happily surprised by both the quality and the quantity of the food being served, though we both agreed that the drinks were not very good, though the prices weren't high. The ride out was fun and quite pretty — you cover a lot of ground that would take a long time to hike! But you come back the way you went in and at the same speed, which is a little boring. We took naps — and that's where the comfy seating helped.

Thursday we opted for a hike that we'd done five years previously; this was a loop, with a nice gradual beginning, a 600 climb, but a more gradual downhill that was easier on the shins. It started as a beautiful day but as we headed to the car it was starting to rain. It rained all that night and the next day, so we ended up just hanging out on Friday for most of the day, working on taxes (yuck) and doing some more laundry — and playing some more Mahjong. That afternoon/evening we visited some friends for a lovely dinner at their home. It was really good to catch up with them and enjoy the view of Courthouse Butte from their living room — it kept playing hide and seek behind the clouds.

Our last day in Sedona, Saturday, we took a hike that was new to us. We parked near Cathedral Rock but took a hike below it that also looped around and back to the parking area. It was another rolling terrain hike that was six miles in length, but no big climb or descent. We were also amongst more trees than we have been on other hikes and it was very pretty. We took in another movie that night — The Imitation Game. We both liked this quite a bit — I'm a huge WWII junkie and this covered the Enigma project, but also the life of Alan Turing. I highly recommend this one.

We left Sedona and the red rocks this morning. We drove for about seven hours with Tehachapi as our goal — and watching the Superbowl. My lovely husband is making this much nicer with a bottle of brut from Champagne. Tomorrow we head for home and the work that awaits us there. It's been a great trip and I hope you enjoyed it too!

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