Friday, 30 December 2016

USA Fam Trip Day 8: 21st November 2015

After a relatively early night returning from dinner at the Hyatt Regency we were up early for another breakfast meeting and site inspection; this time at the Royal Palms.
As soon as we pulled up I knew I was going to like this place; built like a small Spanish village with alleyways, courtyards and arches and (most importantly) not too big!



We enjoyed breakfast before heading out on a tour with Nate the regional reservations manager.  I decided to end my journey as I had started it with eggs Benedict and they were sublime, with crispy potato cakes as well.  Poor Nate had been thrown in at the deep end as the person we were supposed to see was off ill but he did very well and showed us right around the property and answered all of our questions.



I loved the laid back feel and the tiled courtyards with their pretty gardens...



We had a few hours before checking out and going to the airport so most of us went into Downtown Scottsdale for a wander around.

Situated east of Phoenix, Scottsdale today is known for it's golf courses, lovely hotels and (to us Brits) ambient weather.  There wasn't a cloud to be seen during our couple of days and it was lovely to feel the warm sun on our faces, yet the locals had their polo neck sweaters on and fires were burning in every hearth, I guess we are just made of sturdier stuff lol

In the mid 1880's US Army Chaplain Winfield Scott visited the area and saw potential for agricultural development.  He bought 640 acres of land in 1888 and he and his wife and brother set up a farm and brought settlers from the east and midwest.


The area was called Orangedale due to the number of citrus groves they had but they also grew figs, nuts and potatoes.  In 1894 the town was renamed Scottsdale and just two years later they opened the first schoolhouse which was quickly followed by a General Store and Post Office.  The first resort The Ingleside Inn opened in 1909 but the second, the Jokake Inn didn't open until 1920 - this building still stands today in the grounds on the Phoenician Hotel.

Stacey, Martyn and I meandered up and down the streets full of shops and galleries, pausing to buy presents and nik naks and take pictures...



before bumping into Judith and Karen at the Rusty Spur - well, that was it for the rest of the afternoon!


We sat drinking Grand Canyon beer (out of the bottle) while listening and singing along with the live band and generally had a laugh - we were having such a good time that other people kept joining in our conversations and moving their seats!  We really had to tear ourselves away to get back to The Phoenician in time to finish packing, change and check out which was a shame as I think we'd have sat there all night as well lol

And that was it, we headed to the airport just as the sun was setting, thanks to Curtis for this one...


Our flight was delayed a little but we made use of the business class lounge before departing for London.  What an amazing trip with a great group of people and it's even better knowing we're still in touch a year later :)

The three Musketeers had time to squeeze in one last selfie though...



From Las Vegas through to Scottsdale and a whole lot of miles, experiences and laughs in between we had a ball xxx

Friday, 23 December 2016

USA Fam Trip Day 7: 20th November 2015

After a rather late night and a few too many of those divine prickly pear margaritas we were up nice and early for a breakfast meeting and tour around the Westin Kierland.

Our guide was Bob, the director of travel industry sales (he reminded me of Donald Trump!) and I must admit we were rather quiet but once we'd eaten and were on the move we perked up a bit.  We covered the whole complex from the golf course to the spa and everything in between - the public areas were very plush but I did feel the rooms were a bit plain...


We left Bob and headed to Saguaro Lake for a lovely cruise in the sunshine.
The Saguaro Lake in the Tonto National Forest is actually a reservoir formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam, named after the Saguaro cactus which cover the surrounding landscape.  The lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline which means it's always busy with boating, kayaking, fishing and waterskiing.  The cruise was lovely - we sat at the front of the boat and soaked up the sun (it did get a bit chilly but it was so relaxing) the captain narrated all the way, telling us about the local area, flora and fauna...


We arrived back at the hotel in time to freshen up and change for our afternoon appointment at the Hyatt Regency.
Our tour was conducted by industry sales manager Kristin and we were joined by Sarah from the Scottsdale Visitors Bureau.  Again, another lovely property with lots of facilities but just a bit too big for me, I much prefer smaller boutique types (I'm discovering how antisocial I'm getting lol)



We had a delicious dinner sat outside beneath the palm trees before heading back to the Phoenician for our last sleep. 




Thursday, 22 December 2016

USA Fam Trip Day 6: 19th November 2015

After an amazing sleep in THE comfiest bed I've ever had the pleasure to sleep in we had a bit of a more laidback day ahead,  I skipped breakfast to have a little wander around the hotel and down by the creek  - beautiful setting beside the water for dining and further along is the spa.  Managed to have a peek in some of the rooms too - all different to each other and all very spacious.  I'd certainly come and stay here again, excellent staff and an all-round very chilled out place.


Paul took us on a lovely walk at Airport Mesa Loop Trail - stunning views over the Oak Creek Valley and home to one of 4 vortex in the area...



Now, I've never heard of a vortex but Sedona is regarded by Native Americans as sacred and it is recognised as a place of healing and spiritual renewal.  A vortex is an area of "enhanced energy" which is thought to provide inspiration and wellbeing and, according to the local tourist board, people travel from all around the world to "experience these swirling centres of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation and self-exploration"
The Airport Mesa formation is said to contain a masculine power vortex and is named for it's location next to the airport.

We climbed to the top and the views were simply beautiful...


I didn't feel the earth move or find myself but it was certainly a lovely walk and looking down over the town and the stunning red rock formations was very peaceful.


 Paul dropped us off in uptown Sedona to have a look around the shops while he sorted out provisions for our picnic lunch.  A very pleasant little place, clean and a bit touristy we bought the obligatory key rings and fridge magnets and generally wandered around in the warm sunshine - a welcome change from the cold and snow!



Named in the early 1900's after the wife of the city's first postmaster, Sedona has been inhabited since around 9,000 BC when Paleo-Indians were present in the area - they had left by 300 AD and there is no further evidence of inhabitants until around 650 AD when the Sinagua people arrived with their rock art and cliff dwellings.  They were followed by Yavapai and Apache tribes until they were forced from the area in 1876.  They returned in 1900 and have lived together since.

Our next stop was the Chapel of the Holy Cross...



Commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude - a local rancher and sculptor at a cost of $300,000 the building was completed in 1956.  Unfortunately there was extensive renovation work going on so we couldn't get inside but what we did see was beautiful.

We stopped off for our champagne picnic lunch, with the biggest sandwiches I've ever seen at a lovely walk site (shame we couldn't do the walk) and enjoyed the warm sunshine before making our way to Montezuma Castle.


Montezuma Castle was declared a National Monument in 1906 and was built and inhabited by the Sinagua people between 1100 and 1425 AD.  Building took over 300 years and the main structure is 5 stories high with 20 rooms.  The name suggests it was dedicated to the Aztec emperor Montezuma - however, it was abandoned over 40 years before he was born, neither is it a castle but never mind...



we enjoyed a lovely walk (accompanied by a volunteer guide) who gave us loads of historic information about the area and the different communities that lived here.
It is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America, sitting around 90ft up a sheer limestone cliff face opposite Beaver Creek.  It covers almost 4,000 square feet across the 5 stories and shows that the Sinagua were not only skilled engineers but very daring builders.  It's not clear whether it was built so high to escape enemies or nature (flooding from the creek) but either way, I think climbing ladders that high must have been pretty scary!  We continued our walk back to the visitor centre, pausing for a few pictures along the way...


On our way to Scottsdale Paul wanted to stop off and show us the various cacti which grow like weeds in the area so we headed up into an area of the Sonoran desert to do a cactus walk.
The Sonoran desert is huge and covers large parts of Arizona, California and Mexcio and contains a number of endemic plants and animals including the saguaro cactus...


They grow as one large spear and then develop arms - usually around the 75 to 100 year mark and they live to around 150!
Of course, we had to have a picture of us doing our cacti impressions...


We also found a fabulous development opportunity ...



I'm not sure what we decided to develop it into but we liked it!

We arrived into Scottsdale in the late afternoon and seeing traffic and so many people was strange after spending most of our time away from crowds (I must admit I'd have preferred to stay in Sedona a bit longer).  We were very excited to be staying at the luxurious Phoenician hotel for the final 2 nights of our trip but it was bittersweet as we had to say goodbye to Paul.
I can't praise him enough, such a fun and friendly guy he really brought something special to the group; absolutely full of information and his sense of humour was great, we did so many little things that he squeezed into the schedule just for the fun of it.  He and Curtis were like a double act and bounced off each other so well it was like they'd known each other for ages.
He seemed genuinely sad to see us go and we all got big bear hugs and waved him off.

Walking into the huge Phoenician was a little daunting but it was nice to get unpacked properly.  My room had a lovely view over the main pool area ...


Stacey had what can only be described as a corner suite - it's the biggest hotel room I've ever seen and well worth the walk all the way along to the far end of the building!
We were given a site inspection by the leisure accounts manager Joanna and then treated to a wonderful dinner followed by a few prickly pear margaritas!!








Friday, 16 December 2016

USA Fam Trip Day 5: 18th November 2015

After a comfortable night in Maswick Lodge it was another early wake up call for sunrise. It was bitterly cold as we headed off in the van through some more fresh snow to Mather Point. Named after Stephen Mather who was the first director of the National Park Service, this is the first stop-off point for people entering the canyon at the south rim; and although it's not classed as having the best views, it certainly takes your breath away. From here, the north rim is 10 miles away and the floor of the canyon a mile below and it took the Colorado River around 6 million years to carve the canyon on it's 500 mile journey to the Pacific Ocean - mind boggling as we stood in the cold waiting for the new day to dawn...



Mather was a millionaire who enjoyed hiking and joined the campaign to create a federal agency overseeing the national parks and he was instrumental in the creation of the National Park Service in 1916 and was later named director. He believed in the preservation of this stunning landscape, scenery and beauty and encouraged tourism development; spending his own money to build infrastructure.
Back in 1903 President Roosevelt visited and said: "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. it is beyond comparison - beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children and all who come after you."
 And I couldn't agree more...


As the light continued to spread you could clearly see the layers in the rock. Geological studies here started in 1858 and are still going on today and there have been almost 40 different rock layers identified, the most recent in the 1970's...


We headed back into the warmth at the Maswick food court and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before packing up the van and taking a walk along the rim to see some other viewpoints.
Our first stop was the Kolb Studio: this cosy art gallery / information centre is literally perched on the edge of the canyon at the start of the Bright Angel Trail.

Built in 1904 it was the home and studio of brothers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb - pioneering photographers who operated the successful studio for over 75 years. In the early days, their film development came from using a muddy cow pond eight miles away - the only water available; but despite hot summers and long cold winters, the brothers moved on and developed methods and techniques of photography to match their surroundings and produced some of the earliest images of the inner canyon.
I absolutely fell in love with this little place - although much bigger now and (thankfully) with amenities I could have stayed forever: looking out over the canyon is something I could never tire of...


A couple of minutes walk further along the rim we came to the Lookout Studio.
One of four buildings classed as the Mary Jane Colter Buildings National Historic Landmark, it was built in 1914 by the Santa Fe Railway as a rival photographic studio to the Kolb but is now an observation point and gift shop. Mary Colter was an architect who designed rustic structures to look like indigenous buildings which blended into the landscape and environment - I like her work.

Our final stop was Bright Angel Lodge (another Mary Colter building) which was built in the 1930's as a replacement for original accommodation dating back to 1896. She originally designed it in stone like her other buildings but it wasn't approved by the Park Service; so she re-designed in wood. We then made our way down to the Grand Canyon Railway - oh how I wish we'd been able to take a ride on the steam train!
With the snow, deer and amazing surroundings it felt like we were living in a Christmas card!


It was finally time to leave the Grand Canyon, but not before one final photo stop ...


We then headed a few miles south to find a bear ...


and a little further for THE ultimate adrenaline experience (for me anyway) a helicopter flight. We were delighted to have been treated to the 50 minute "Canyon Spirit" flight.
For someone who doesn't like flying I get very excited about helicopter flights - some sort of terrified/excitement I think lol and of course you get to look sooooo gorgeous in your harness and headset...


I don't think I've ever heard 5 travel agents stay so quiet for so long!
Words just can't describe it, especially as you go over the rim...

video

Our pilot Benton was highly amused at how quiet we all went, I don't think we could take it in and I still don't, even now a year later.


We flew right across the canyon and climbed the north wall and came over the north rim to see how different it is - at around 1000 feet higher, it's at least 10 degrees cooler and has a much more rugged landscape.  The season is a lot shorter than the south due to heavy snowfall and results in the north rim receiving about a 1/10 of the number of visitors than the south.


I'd do it again in a heartbeat - it's not a cheap excursion but certainly well worth it.
Once on "terra firma" we posed for the obligatory photo which was given to us as a gift...



Absolutely hyper from our flights, we made a small detour to Valle and stopped off at the Flintstones store - it used to be a mini theme park but is now a store / bric-a-brac shop and of course we had to have our picture taken!...


After our little diversion we carried on south another 30 miles or so and came to our next stop Bearizona...



Set within the Kaibab National Forest, Bearizona is more of a wildlife park than a zoo - the enclosures are big and in the main area of the park they roam the 160 acres very happily.  More than half of the bears are rescue and the others are from other parks who needed help.  As it was winter and chilly, the bears were understandably subdued as we passed through the park in the open bus (complete with fleece blankets to keep us warm!) but we also saw Arctic wolves, Rocky Mountain goats and elk, Alaskan Dall sheep and Tundra wolves as well as Mule deer and bison.  We also had time to walk through the Fort Bearizona area which (although still being developed at the time) was filling up with beavers, otters, javelinas and bear cubs - who were sleeping much to our disappointment!




We took in a birds of prey demonstration which was amazing (even though I don't like birds) full of information about the animals and conservation...


During our little trip to the gift shop we met Flower the skunk!  Thankfully she had been de-scented earlier and so was nice and happy and not smelly lol...


We left behind the wildlife and headed towards our final stop of the day, Sedona.
A lovely place surrounded by stunning red rocks and pine forests.  It had been a long and very busy day and when I saw my upgraded room I knew I wasn't going out for dinner!  Everyone had creekside cottage rooms down near the arrivals and I was whisked off in a golf buggy up to a vista cottage.  Without doubt one of THE most beautiful and comfortable rooms I have ever stayed in.  The view across the valley was just gorgeous, the amazing bathroom with outdoor shower and the bed was so high I felt like the princess and the pea!!


I told the others I was staying in and while my jacuzzi bath was filling up I sat on the balcony with a glass of wine and watched the sunset...


Then, wrapped in my plush robe I sat in front of the fire and ate my room service dinner while watching CSI.  The perfect end to one of the best days I've ever had in my life.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

USA Fam Trip Day 4: 17th November 2015

Today produced 2 of my favourite ever pictures: unfortunately I didn't take either of them but am in both of them! We were up VERY early this morning and there were a lot of whispers and complaints about the cold and the wind chill definitely made it a lot colder but none of us would have missed it for the world...
Paul drove us back over the road and into the visitor centre area of The View Hotel. Now, in the pitch dark there wasn't a lot to see and it was bitterly cold (coming from a Northerner, that's saying something) but as the sun started to rise, the magic started to happen...
So still and quiet, it was beautiful to watch - even though it was freezing! The first of my favourite pictures is this one, which Curtis took whilst I lay on the floor taking photos between the railings...
I really want to get it put on a canvas, I love it! We headed back to Goulding's for a brief site inspection - we looked at the new units they're building a little further down from the Lodge. Really lovely, I wouldn't hesitate to come and stay in one and the views across the valley are beautiful. Paul then took us on a little detour and I got THE most amazing pictures as well as my second favourite...
This is the road to a place called Mexican Hat, named after a Mexican hat shaped rock and with a population of around 30! This stretch of road was made famous by Tom Hanks in the film Forrest Gump, it's where Forrest finally stopped running...
We spent some time making sure everyone had their picture taken and larking about while poor Paul was on traffic duty! I love this one of all of us, I think it really shows just how well we all got on...
We finally piled back into the van and moved on passed Black Mesa to our next stop - the Elephant Feet...
These huge formations are literally at the side of the road - there's nothing else there! We carried on through the Hopi Reservation and just outside Tuba City came across hand painted signs for dinosaur tracks. It's believed that a Dilophosaurus walked this area around 193 million years ago (waaaaaaaaaay before the T-Rex which is what some people try to tell you made these tracks!) They've been viewed and identified by paleontologists, however, due to being on sacred land they've not been studied in any great detail which is a shame...
About half an hour or so down the road we came to Cameron Trading Post where we stopped for lunch and a bit of shopping. A very atmospheric dining room with a pressed tin ceiling and huge open fire was very welcoming after our busy morning. We ate delicious (huge portions) of American/Mexican/Navajo food surrounded by traditional weavings, cabinets, carvings and baskets before wandering through the Aladdin's cave of a store. It was fascinating watching a lady weaving a beautiful rug. They're so expensive but when you take into consideration how long they take to make and how long they will last it's fair. I must admit I spent a small fortune on earrings and other paraphernalia - you know what I'm like for mementoes! A year later and I still love my mug and people always comment on my turquoise Native American Indian bear earrings. We left with full tummies and empty wallets and the next stop on our tour was the Little Colorado River Gorge. One of the largest tributaries of the Grand Canyon, Little Colorado River carves it's way for 45 miles through the Navajo Indian Reservation. We stopped at the main viewpoint which offers a view of about a quarter of mile of narrow and very deep gorge. The viewpoint we stopped at had a few stalls set up with locals selling bits and bobs and a short walk to a breathtaking view...
Half an hour further down the road and we entered the Grand Canyon National Park and a view none of us was quite prepared for...
No words can describe it - it's simply mindblowing. 270 miles long, 18 miles wide at it's widest point and a mile deep - and completely natural. The first inhabitants arrived 12,000 years ago. Paul took us along to a Moran Point, a very popular spot on the rim which obviously provides endless photo opportunities for the 5 million+ visitors it receives each year. There seems to be a bit of confusion over which Moran brother the point was named after, but more theories name Thomas rather than Peter. Either way, we had good fun paying with the perspective of various pictures as well as trying to take in what lay before us...
From here we headed into Grand Canyon Village and carried out a site inspection at the El Tovar Lodge. Early in the 1800's the US Government sent out trappers and expeditions of the area began to map the Canyon. The area was given Federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve before being upgraded to a National Monument and finally in 1919 it was awarded National Park status. The stage coaches brought the first tourists to the Canyon, quickly followed in 1901 by the railway and the first major structure to be built was El Tovar which was financed by the Santa Fe Railroad. When it opened in 1905 it was considered to be one of the "fanciest hotels west of the Mississippi". Little has changed since then and it really is like stepping back in time, yes it's a bit tired here and there and the carpets are wearing thin but it has a very unique atmosphere and a wonderful dining room. We checked into our rooms further in the village at Maswick Lodge but returned to El Tovar for dinner and were treated like royalty.