Thursday, August 2, 2018

Crazy for AZ

“So you guys were just like, ‘Hey, let’s go to Arizona?’”

Matt and I looked at each other awkwardly as the waitress in the Thai restaurant where we’d just finished a late lunch asked us this and laughed.  “Um, yeah,” he answered, “pretty much.”

“Okay.”  She clearly wasn’t sure what to think of us.  We’d just shared a bit of our story — that we were living in South Korea and were in the States for a bit of vacation.  Outside, the sky was turning a brownish-gray as a thick cloud of dust preceded the afternoon thunderstorm.  One could see why she might question our logic.

It was true: this wasn’t our ideal vacation.  We’d had more grandiose plans but had changed them when we realized Jayna couldn’t come with us so that we could see her on the weekends that bookended the time Matt was going to be stateside with us.  Arizona was close enough for an easy roadtrip — and you should know by now that we love our roadtrips! — with interesting things to do for a relatively low price.  

Our arrival in Phoenix was heralded by the first big thunderstorm of the season.  I love a good thunderstorm, so I was pretty pumped — right up until hail started pelting our rental car! It turned out to be an unusually strong and detrimental storm.  We spotted several uprooted trees and broken branches, and as we watched the evening news in our hotel that night, we heard of damage to homes and businesses in the area.

But thanks to the storm, the next day was relatively cool (for July), around 90 F.  We headed to McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.  

The museum was closed that day, but the younger kids had fun riding the little train around and playing at the very cute Wild West-themed playground.  
But their favorite part of it was the diorama room, located in a very large building and filled with dozens of model trains.  It was really amazing, and the kids could have spent hours there. Bonus: air conditioning!
We headed to Gravity Extreme Zone next, a huge indoor gym with activities like a ropes course and zip line, slide wall, huge trampolines and foam pits, and an enormous rock wall.  All four kids had a great time there.  

Our next two nights we stayed at the Arizona Grand Resort which has a small water park attached.  We all felt that it was a little overhyped/ overpriced.  There were really just three water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool.  It was fun, but we could have stayed in a hotel with more practical amenities (like free breakfast, which is huge when you’re traveling with kids!) and bought tickets to another water park and probably had more fun for less money.  But we enjoyed spending the evenings on the lazy river or in the wave pool.  (I realized after the fact that I didn’t take a single picture there.)

During the day, when the sun was at its hottest, we headed to the Arizona Museum of Natural History

This was a big hit with my dinosaur-obsessed youngest two especially. 
But there was plenty of other interesting exhibits, including a large section devoted to the native tribes of the southwest and another to mining.  A part of the museum even includes the old jail which was used up until the 1970’s.  There were so many hands-on activities, like piecing together broken pottery, 

trying to replicate the pattern on a Navajo blanket using colored tiles, and panning for “gold”

We left the Phoenix area the next day and headed north to Flagstaff.  On our way, we stopped at the Montezuma Castle National Monument.  

This was a very short but interesting walk, reinforcing memories and history lessons from two years ago when we went to Mesa Verde.  Next we went through Sedona and hiked Bell Rock. 
 Thunderstorms were all around us, so we had to keep moving a little faster than we’d have liked, but the views were absolutely breathtaking.  

All of us felt that a stop at Slide Rock State Park was a must, so that is where we had our picnic lunch.  

The kids had a great time (except for Annalee — she was not a fan!), but if there were a time when I’d have thought for sure we were going to end up in the Emergency Room, it would have been here (not in the peaceful lake that did land us there!).  Lilly was the first one in the water, and just as I asked, “Is it slippery?” she went down!  It seemed like every time I turned my head someone was either falling or tending to someone who had fallen!  Wyatt whacked his head pretty hard, too.  But I think even with the bumps and scrapes we got, that was one of our favorite stops. 

We spent the night in Flagstaff and headed west again fairly early.  On a whim, we stopped at Bearizona, a park with a zoo and a drive-thru part with bears and other animals roaming freely.  

It was fun, but a little nerve-wracking since, again, we were in a rental car and there were warning signs everywhereabout the bears trying to get into cars. 
But we escaped unscathed and drove further, stopping for lunch in Seligman, a cute little town on Route 66.  
It’s kind of just a photo opp stop, but as a clear inspiration for the Cars franchise, it was a lot of fun too.

We drove into the sunset, back to California and Jayna filled with happy memories of saguaros standing tall on jagged mountains, red rocks and gray clouds, and so much more.  It felt too soon to leave, but now we know places to go back to and keep exploring!

If you’re going: during the summer months, at least, Hotwire seems to be a great way to score good deals on rooms.  Our first night in Phoenix, we stayed at a well-rated Embassy Suites for about $60.  Prices are probably more when it’s not quite as hot.

Also, the Thai place I mentioned at the beginning of this is truly some of the best.  Thai Delight.  Do not miss it if you’re in the Phoenix area!!!  The family that owns and runs it is also incredibly kind.  If at all possible, leave room for dessert because the house-made mango-and-coconut ice cream is absolutely heavenly!