guest post #4 going on a spur-of-the-moment vacation

and now, a post from erin matzen, my coworker and friend. check out her blog, which is tracking her weight loss journey, here: lbsdroppin.blogspot.com

I thought I was going to have a quiet Christmas this year...and I was wrong.  In late November, I called my mom to talk about holiday plans. We figured out we wouldn't get to spend Christmas together for various reasons, so she asked me if I wanted to use her hotel points since she had enough for a free room.  I gave her a cheerful “Maybe!” but I knew I really wouldn’t use them.  Joe and I had just gone on a honeymoon four months earlier…we didn’t need to go anywhere!  

Well, not three days later, I got an email from my cousin who had two flight vouchers that had to be used by 12/31/10. She didn’t have time to go anywhere and didn’t really have the money for lodging once she got somewhere, so she asked me if I wanted to buy them for $175. Total. For both. I flipped – of course I did! After a discussion with the husband, we decided to leap at the opportunity. We decided on a trip to the West Coast - Las Vegas and Phoenix, here we COME! Here are some highlights from an amazing, packed trip:

First, we flew into Vegas and used my mom’s hotel points to spend a free night in a moderately sketchy hotel several blocks off of the strip. After darting in the hotel sans our luggage because of a scary vagrant lingering near our car (what’s up, sketchy guy), we crashed into our moderately comfortable room. We woke up early the next day – my husband had planned a very intensive itinerary for us – and drove to the Hoover Dam. We took the “Dam Tour,” where we went into what used to be tunnels to re-direct the Colorado River, learned about how the dam was built, went into the room that housed the generators, and walked across the dam from Nevada into New Mexico and back.  All in all, we crossed the MST/PST time zone line about six times. At one point, I was standing in Arizona and the husband was in Nevada.  

After this adventure, we drove to the Valley of Fire. We drove across the flat desert, and then out of nowhere these giant rock formations appeared and it really did look like fire compared to everything else. I have never seen anything quite this color, and the photographs do nothing to capture how vivid these rocks are. We saw petrified logs and I climbed one of the “beehive” formations, further proving I am going to be a bad example to my children because four little boys followed me up there, much to their parents chagrin. Sorry, parents. We stayed until sunset and it was gorgeous seeing the sunset on the desert and behind monolithic rock formations. The coolest part was seeing the petroglyphs, which are ancient Indian drawing in the rocks. The entire trip I was silently praising the Lord – it’s amazing what He has created for us to enjoy.

After this excursion, we began the long drive to Phoenix.  For some reason, we decided not to go back into Vegas and stopped for gas on the outskirts.  We tried to find somewhere to eat.  The only place for miles and miles was the Hacienda casino, right across from the gas station.  We figured “might as well” and went in, ate a buffet, and blew some money gambling.  We then continued the long long long  boring drive through the desert in the pitch black night.  At 9 pm, Pacific time, we were sitting in an In-n-Out Burger (my first In-n-Out, and it met ALL expectations!) and I said “HAPPY NEW YEAR!  It’s 2011 in Virginia." I continued this for the next three hours until it was 2011 in all four time zones.  Yep, I’m a dork.

When we drove into Phoenix, I thought the city was burning down. Seriously. Turns out, Phnx has “the brown cloud,” a giant smog problem. I am so glad the east coast doesn’t have smog.  We went to a football game, which was a lot of fun even though I have no affiliation to either team. We went to the pre-game party and were given so many free bags of the new Artisan Tostitos I could’ve opened up a store. Instead I ate them and felt horribly sick afterwards. 

Day three, we drove to the Grand Canyon, which was breath-taking. Again, continual praises to God for this creation.   We drove along the canyon rim, stopped at each lookout point, and took ridiculous amounts of pictures.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was so massive and impressive. Also, I wasn’t expecting snow. The snow made everything so peaceful and majestic; however, I had flimsy shoes and no socks.  Not a good combination, but I survived.

After this amazing experience, we trudged back to Vegas. We got into the city around 9:30, cruised the strip people watching for a moment, and then arrived at the Mirage, where we were staying. We parked in time to see the volcano erupt…COOL!  When we got back to the hotel we were exhausted. We set the alarm for 2 am – Vegas never sleeps and we figured we’d explore the casino downstairs then. Negative, my friend. The alarm went off, we hit the OFF button, and slept until 9:30 am. We went to the breakfast buffet at the Flamingo and sat next to a window where cool water fowl and giant koi swim in a moat surrounding the actual flamingo habitat.  Then we headed back to the Mirage and went to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and see dolphins, lions, tigers, and a panther! Joe played in a poker tournament and I wandered around the slot machines. We bet money on the Virginia Tech game, went to the buffet at the Bellagio (aMAZing) and went back to the room to watch the Orange Bowl to see our team get smashed. Then we spent several more hours downstairs feeding the slot machine our money. Overall our time in Vegas was pretty lame because we were so tired from our other adventures. We plan to go back to Vegas and do it “right” next year.  Haha!

So, very long story short, I love the desert. And I love the western part of this country. My trip was fun and I wish more people will sell me ridiculously cheap tickets to go somewhere I’ve never been before and write about it. Maybe I need to write a letter to the Travel Channel……..

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