Lake Powell and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

April 23, 2016 – Today’s adventure was another driving trip, this time through Lake Powell and over to Vermilion Cliffs.  Lake Powell was beautiful, with a nice dam and a few hiking trails.  First we stopped at Ranch House Grille in Page, AZ for breakfast.  Their coffee was nice and strong, and we got pork green chile omelets, topped with more green chile, hash browns, and toast.  Well, Louisa got a biscuit and sausage gravy instead of toast, and insisted it was the best biscuit she’d had since Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, NC.

It was a great day for a red rock hike.
It was a great day for a red rock hike.

After lunch we headed down the road for a short hike, the highlight of which was seeing the largest wild lizard we’ve ever seen.  He must have been at least a foot and a half long, and looked like a mini Komodo Dragon.

This was certainly a big lizard.
This was certainly a big lizard.

We took the long way around back to our hotel, driving near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument along the way.  We were hoping for some hiking, but didn’t find any trails.  After a drive down a dirt road, we found a little road and a dry creek bed to walk down.

There are different varieties of birds in the Southwest.
There are different varieties of birds in the Southwest.

No road trip would be complete without a trip to In ‘n Out burger, where we stopped on our drive back to Las Vegas.  Our lodging for the next few nights was Red Rocks Casino.  The rooms are still very nice (we had a view of the red rocks), though we could do without walking through the smoke-filled casino.  However, Yard House had great ventilation, no smoke smell, and great beer on draft.

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument

April 21-22, 2016 – After work we flew to Las Vegas, NV.  We decided to get dinner at Fogo de Chao before driving to St. George, where we were going to be based for the next few days.  Fogo had a good salad bar, great sausage, good chicken thighs, and decent steak.  Unfortunately the pork and other chicken were overcooked, and some of the steak was tough.  My guess is the grill preparation method might have contributed to that, because if you got the medium rare sections of the steak they were quite good.  Overall, a 3.5/5, though we probably wouldn’t go back.

We may start taking photos like this after a lot of driving.
We may start taking photos like this after a lot of driving.

Saturday morning was a beautiful clear day, perfect for a day trip to Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.  We started with a drive towards the northern section, stopping at Clarke’s Restaurant along the way for lunch.  Many of these small towns seem to completely close up when it’s not tourist season, so we were just glad to find food.  We enjoyed a club sandwich and a patty melt, with nicely done fries.  After lunch we continued towards the park, eventually making our way to Escalante River Trail.

We eventually found a place to park along the road.
We eventually found a place to park along the road.

The main waterfall hike in the area was very crowded, so we parked nearby and walked along a trail by the water.  After about a mile in the trail was completely washed out, so we headed back towards a coffee shop called Kiva Koffeehouse at the entrance of the park.  Besides fantastic views they serve good chai lattes and dark chocolate iced mochas.

We got to walk by a few interesting rock formations before the flooding.
We got to walk by a few interesting rock formations before the flooding.

Dinner was at Ahi’s Taste of Asia, an Asian noodle restaurant in St. George.  The food was good, particularly the dumplings, wonton soup, and noodle dishes.

Weekend in Bend, OR

March 11 – 13, 2016 – We’d never been to Bend, OR, and were looking forward to a road trip.  We headed out Friday afternoon, supplied with baguette sandwiches from Fred Meyers, chips, water… and the reminder to make sure to stop for gas before crossing the border. The drive was uneventful, and thankfully not very busy.  Our hotel for the next few nights was the new-ish My Place – a discount extended stay hotel.  Yes the walls are thin, but we didn’t really have people around us so it wasn’t a problem.

Rain was a theme of the weekend.
Rain was a theme of the weekend.

Saturday dawned cloudy and rainy – lots of rain.  We drove over to The Original Pancake House to try buckwheat and buttermilk pancakes, omelettes and an egg scramble with bacon, spinach, cheese and eggs.  The food and the coffee were all very good; we got there early, around 7, but it was almost full by the time we left.

You can walk all the way from the Old Mill District to downtown.
You can walk all the way from the Old Mill District to downtown.

By the time we got back to the hotel and parked the car the rain had let up a bit.  Fortunately we had rain jackets and winter hats, so we geared up and set out for the riverwalk.  By the time we got to town we were pretty drenched, and were looking for a place to relax and dry off.  Enter the Thump Coffee shop.  We got one of the last available tables, and ordered a vanilla latte and a mocha.  Both were excellent.

We would not have gotten very far without our rain gear.
We would not have gotten very far without our rain gear.

We were hoping to get lunch at the Deschutes Brewery Pub, but first had to wind our way through the after-party for a St Patrick’s Day fun run.  Lots of green plus some live Irish music – and beer, of course – were part of the festivities. The Pub has great beer (which we knew – Deschutes and Stone are two of Louisa’s favorite breweries), but the food is also excellent.  House made chips and salsa, mac n cheese, and burgers are all good.  The fish and chips wasn’t our favorite, however, the fries were overdone.

The eternal debate: pints vs flights.
The eternal debate: pints vs flights.

After lunch we wandered back towards the other end of town and the Deschutes Brewery.  We had booked a (free) tour online, and got there about 30 minutes early.  Which meant we had 3 of our 4 samples in before the tour, which worked out since that gave us a bit of a quieter time in the (usually boisterous) tasting room. The tour was interesting, and the beer was great – just what we were looking for.

We were impressed by the sheer number of pines in central Oregon.
We were impressed by the sheer number of pines in central Oregon.

After the tour we went back to the car and headed to Craft Kitchen & Brewery.  We were hoping for dinner, but they were out of brisket and burnt ends, so we had two beers and the shrimp and grits appetizer.  The grits were perfect, the shrimp ever-so-slightly overcooked (but still quite edible).  We wound up at Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria for dinner.  They’re a small chain with great pizzas and sandwiches.  The original location is in Boise, which is convenient for us.

The river trail continues north from Drake Park.
The river trail continues north from Drake Park.

Sunday morning we had leftover pizza for breakfast, then took a walk back into town and along a quieter, more nature-oriented section of the river.  Lunchtime found us back at the Deschutes Pub, where we had wild boar and barley soup and the fish and chips.  The soup was great, the fish was good, but the fries were cooked a bit too long for our liking (but were more than edible). A treat on the drive home was seeing over 12 bald eagles in the flooded Oregon fields.

Phoenix and Surrounding Parks

February 26 – 29, 2016 – Back in 2004 we met on a road trip (on leap year), so what better way to celebrate than with a (plane/road) trip?  We wanted to get away from gray and windy Boise, and warm and sunny Phoenix seemed like the perfect destination.

The day started with a sunrise.
The day started with a sunrise.

Saturday morning we headed up towards the Grand Canyon.  There isn’t much near the southern entrance, so we stopped for lunch at a Mexican place, Plaza Bonita, attached to the hotel.  Since we were there just in time to catch the end of the breakfast service, we took advantage by ordering omelets with refried beans and home fries.  The food was surprisingly good, and in a few hours we were thankful to have had such a filling lunch.

You won't have any problems viewing cactus plants in Arizona.
You won’t have any problems viewing cactus plants in Arizona.

The weather was perfect for some walking, and we were hoping to be able to hike down part of the Bright Angel Trail.  However, signs near the visitor center warned would-be hikers that the first mile of the trail was still covered in snow and ice, and that hiking poles and winter traction would be helpful.  Needless to say that wasn’t quite what we were looking for, so instead we headed out along the Canyon Rim trail towards the South Kaibab trailhead.  We eventually hiked about 1.5 miles down the trail, to the saddle just past the first tie up for the mule teams.

Doing an early season hike may come with snow.
Doing an early season hike may come with snow.

The hike down was quite pretty, with sweeping views, and just a bit of snow/mule “presents” to avoid.  We got to watch a mule team coming up the hill, which was also cool to see.  Once we reached our turnaround point we paused for some snacks and photos, before venturing back up the path.  The way up is definitely a bit slower than the way down, despite our slow downhill pace as well given the sometimes slippery footing.  We made good time though, even with stopping to watch the condors soaring overhead.

Be sure to bring enough water for the hike. A warmer day or a longer hike would require more than a few nalgene bottles.
Be sure to bring enough water for the hike. A warmer day or a longer hike would require more than a few nalgene bottles.

Dinner found us outside of Flagstaff, and we quickly put our names on the wait list for Beaver Street Brewery.  They have good guacamole and chips, wonderful wood fired pizzas, the best salmon burger Louisa has ever had, and good beer.

Be on the lookout for California Condors around the canyon.
Be on the lookout for California Condors around the canyon.

On Sunday we decided to explore some parks near Phoenix, starting with White Tank Mountain Regional Park.  We got there fairly early and didn’t have any problem finding a spot by the popular waterfall trail, but it was definitely more crowded by the time we left.  The hike is smooth and pretty, with petroglyphs, a (dried up) waterfall at the end, and the option to add a mini look to the middle of the hike.  The views and walking area at the park are wonderful (lots of flowers and cacti) –  we would definitely come back here on other trips to the area.

You don't have to venture far from Phoenix to find tall cacti.
You don’t have to venture far from Phoenix to find tall cacti.

Next up was South Mountain Park.  This park is much more of a city park.  Yes, it’s on the outskirts, but…. I guess we’ve just never found the nice parts of Phoenix.  It was a quiet Sunday at the park, meaning no cars could drive up the road.  We went for a walk along the interpretive trail, but soon decided we’d rather get lunch.

There are some trails that provide a good view of the valley.
There are some trails that provide a good view of the valley.

Which brings us to the nice part of Phoenix.  We went to NYPD Pizza for garlic knots and Brooklyn Family pizza, with pepperoni, sausage, and fresh basil.  Everything was very good, the garlic knots weren’t as garlicky as I remember but still excellent, and the pizza was great.

We thought those photos of more than 2 hummingbirds at a feeder were a myth... until now.
We thought those photos of more than 2 hummingbirds at a feeder were a myth… until now.

The afternoon excursion was a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, about an hour or so outside the city.  We had a few hours to explore the park before it closed, and happily admired the flowers, cacti, hummingbirds, and views (particularly along the upper trail).

The trails at the arboretum are varied and well-planned.
The trails at the arboretum are varied and well-planned.

We still had time in the evening, and decided to spend it in Tempe.  Beers, dates with rosemary smoke (i.e. rosemary sprigs on fire), and cheese curds (the dates were the star) were enjoyed at Pedal Haus Brewery before seeing Deadpool at the AMC next door.  And, of course, ice cream on the walk back to the car.  The Fluffernutter ice cream with Butterfinger candies was Louisa’s favorite.

It's not a trip to Tempe without climbing the butte.
It’s not a trip to Tempe without climbing the butte.

Monday was Feb 29th, and we spent it wandering around the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix before hiking up the Tempe Butte.  Since we were in Tempe already we thought brunch at Snooze could be good.  Good it was – the coffee was wonderful, the breakfast tacos were excellent, and the eggs benedict was fabulous.   We finished the day with a few flights, and dinner with beer and garlic fries and the sunset at Gordon Biersch in the Oakland Airport.