We just got back from our family trip to see family in Phoenix, AZ.  Our annual Thanksgiving trip west includes us three plus my in-laws, Rebecca’s sister, her husband and their 3 kids heading out to visit family in Arizona.  We had a great time, it is too bad we only see Rebecca’s Grandmom, Aunt, Uncle and Cousin once in a while.  Ben loved the trip…he got a lot of attention which always makes him happy.  I wouldn’t exactly say he loved the plane ride but he behaved pretty well, all things considered. 

Thank you TSA: OK, I can’t believe I am going to do this, but I feel the need to compliment the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) for a job well done over the holiday weekend.  What?  Yes, it is true.  When we departed from Philly, we were shocked to find out that they had implemented a family line!  The regular line wasn’t too bad but probably a 10-15 minute wait. But much to our surprise, we got to use the family line (thanks Ben!) and we moved right to the front.  Once into the screening area we found the staff to be friendly, courteous and very helpful.  Some of the TSA employees even helped us with all of our stuff!  I don’t recall it being like that last time, or ever.  Was it always staffed by TSA, or was it a private company before?  I don’t know what has changed but I say “Keep up the good work”.  Us bloggers are quick to complain on the web about things we don’t like, so we should also point out when things work well!  We found a similar situation in Phoenix on the return trip.

BOOOO US Air:  Speaking of complaining, it is time to do so.  US Air (and Airlines in general) have really gotten ridiculous.  OK, I get charging me for my luggage and even for a drink.  I don’t like it, but I get it.  But where is my movie?  We went on a five hour cross country flight and they couldn’t show a movie?  How about a few TV re-runs?  What about some kind of travel programming?  Even an infomercial would have entertained me!  How much does it cost to run that in flight entertainment?  There are commercials on it, so it can’t cost too much.  Don’t they know that if I had a movie it would have taken my mind off the fact that the flight stinks – the seats are too close together, the temperature is either too hot or too cold, they charge me for my meal, they charge me for a drink, they charge me for my luggage.  What’s next, a charge to use the bathroom?  OK, moving on…

Travel Tips:  Ben is 9.5 months old and isn’t the kind of kid who can sleep on someone’s lap.  So we got him a seat on the plane.  It is expensive but worth it.  So we brought his car seat on with us for him to sleep in.  It worked out pretty well.  The doctors say Benadryl is a no-no for kids his age.  Too bad, because it would have helped him relax.  Instead they recommend a dose of infant Tylenol prior to boarding the plane.  Ben is teething too, so that seemed like a good idea.  Remember that baby’s can’t clear the pressure from their ears like we do when the pressure of taking off or landing builds.  They recommend a bottle or nursing to help.  Timing is the key though.  It isn’t the actual landing or take off, it is the time when the planes altitude changes the most that counts.  That’s a big deal for a kid like Ben, who nurses pretty quickly.  If we time it wrong, he’ll finish and won’t be too happy with the pressure change.  Luckily that went ok.  During the flight he mostly slept.  We put the “hood” up on the car seat and covered more of the opening with a shirt, so it would be nice and dark for him.  By the way, the evening flight was much easier than the day time flight because the little ones expect to sleep more.  By the way, the last time we flew Ben was only about 3.5 months old.  That time, he slept great because we used the Baby Bjorn to keep him snuggled up with us for the whole flight.  We didn’t bother to get him his own seat because he was really little.  He was so happy on that flight lying on us!

Oh yeah, Arizona:  As I said, Ben loved the trip.  He got to sleep in a hotel, eat in a lot of restaurants, see Great Grandma, play in her house, sit by the pool, stay up late, and play with the whole family.  One night he got to go play with his Bubbie and Zeyda (Grandma and Grandpa) while we went out to dinner.  That was great!  The weather in AZ was not too great (cool and rainy) and over a few days there, we spent about 2 hours total at the pool.

I know, you just want to see Pictures of Ben.  Here you go: (Don’t forget, you can click the photos to see a bigger version)

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My wife Rebecca and I just got back from a great trip out west!  We took advantage of her spring break to head out to see some of our great  National Parks.  The trip was awesome.  I had been to Arizona before so I had seen some desert landscapes.  And I had been to Utah before but that was for skiing.  But there is no preparing for the beauty of these parks.  They were unlike anything I had seen before. 


You can read the stories below, or just look at the pictures included, all of which were taken with my camera.  If you click them, they get bigger!


 


After spending a quick night near the airport in Las Vegas, we hopped in our cool rental,  a blue Chevy Malibu.  In about two hours we arrived at Zion National Park.  Our first stop was the campground to find a place to sleep.  We got a nice spot with a fantastic view!  It was March 31 and Zion’s official season started on April 1.  That meant it was the last day that cars are allowed on the scenic road through the park.  So we decided to take a car-tour of the park.  We stopped at the Court of the Patriarchs, Weeping Rock, and a few other stops, eventually making our way to the Temple of Sinawava.  The sites were great all along the way.  Dinner was Rebecca’s famous (well,  famous for us) Campground Pizza cooked on the open fire.  The next morning I made us omelettes with fresh bell pepper and cheese (on the camping stove) and we headed out for Angels Landing.  This is a great day hike (1500 ft climb in 5 miles, about 4.5 hours including a 45 minute lunch break).  A lot of people tried to scare us off this one saying it was too scary and dangerous.  That’s because the last 1/2 mile is a steep hike on narrow cliffs.  There are permanently anchored chains to help you hold on.  But in the end we didn’t think it was too scary at all.  That didn’t take away from the fact that it was an amazing hike.  After an exhausting hike up the steep lower portion of the trail we got to the even more steep “Wiggles” which brings you to the first great scenic overlook.  This is where a lot of people end their day but we continued on the true peak.  Scrambling along the rest of the way with the help of the chains was a lot of fun.  And the view from the top was well worth it.  It was a great place for our lunch.  Not a good place to be if you are scared of heights but otherwise great.  The hike down was much quicker but pretty tough on the knees!


 


  Our second night was fun, we had an easy dinner… mac and cheese.  The sky was again very clear with an almost full moon.  The next morning after pancakes we were off for Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce is hard to explain, you just have to see it.   Bryce is full of Hoodoos, these crazy rock formations that.  From a distance, you’d swear must have been man made.  After once again pitching our tent on an incredible camp site, we headed off to the scenic drive to check out the awesome vistas.  After an early dinner (I made sauteed chicken and red bell pepper with couscous on the camp stove) we headed back to Inspiration Point (I kept thinking of Ritchie Cunningham…”I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”) to watch the sunset.  After a “chilly” night at around 30 degrees, we   went out for a day hike of the “Figure 8″, an 8 mile (I think) combination of three trails:  The Navajo, Queens Garden, and the Peek-A-Boo Loop.  It goes right through the heart of the park’s natural “amphitheaters”.  On this trail we got to explore the Hoodoos that we had admired from above on the previous day.  The sun was bright and hot, it was hard to believe  the temperature was only in the 50’s all day.  Also, we have learned that the key to solitude in these parks seems to be the longer day hikes.  You start out with a lot of people but if you hike out a little bit the crowd thins as most people don’t do the 4-6 hour hikes that we like.  So we did have some quiet, peaceful time out with the Hoodoos.


After another night camping around the freezing mark, we packed up and headed down to warmer climates at Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area.  Since the lake was about 1/2 way to the Grand Canyon, we figured we’d spend a day there.  After a quick stop to check out the Glen Canyon Dam (a pretty cool dam) we pitched our tent at the campground overlooking the lake.  Since the previous parks did not have showers, we figured this would be a good time to wash up.  We grabbed a handful of quarters and hit the “pay” showers.  All cleaned up, we were off to the town of Page for lunch.  Unfortunately, we quickly discovered there wasn’t anything to do in Page and the Lake didn’t offer much entertainment without a boat.  Uh oh, time for a change of plans… we are outta here.  We decided to bail on this stop and head for the Grand Canyon.  This would give us an extra 1/2 day there to explore.  There are really only a few decent hotels near the Grand Canyon in Tusayan (I knew the ones inside the park itself were already sold out).  I called all 5 of them and got lucky on the last one, getting a room for the night.  By the time we checked in there were no vacancies left in town so I think we got lucky!  (We changed hotels the next day to the one we had booked previously) From here on out, we are no longer camping.  Hotels, restaurants, and climate control!


 


  Our first view of the Grand Canyon was from the Eastern entrance by the watch tower.  Of course we  had big expectations and the Grand Canyon did not disappoint.  It is huge. It is beautiful.  It is amazing.  There is no question why it is one of the 7 wonders of the world.  We stopped along the way a few more times to check out the vistas (it is a long drive into park) and before long it was near dusk so we stopped one last time to check out the sunset.   We spent our first full day at the Grand Canyon hiking the South Kaibab trail (6 miles round trip, very steep, no available water).  Unfortunately we planned this trip too late so we could not get a permit to hike to the bottom and camp overnight.  But the Kaibab trail was a great way to go part of the way down into the canyon for a short while.  It was pretty crowded until the first rest area where most people quit.  We pushed on and made it to Skeleton Point where we could see the Colorado River for the first time.  We had lunch and relaxed before the hard part, the hike back up the canyon.  That evening we caught  up with Rebecca’s friend Shaine and her husband Brett who drove in from Colorado to spend  some time with us at the Canyon.  Brett used to guide hiking and rafting trips in the Grand  Canyon so spending the day with him is like having a personal tour guide.  It was very educational and a lot of fun for me since I like a lot of facts.  Since they have a four-month old baby Rosie, we were limited to the rim trails for the next day but the views were incredible and we saw a lot of the canyon, staying now mainly to the west side of the park.  We also had the treat of several California Condor sightings. 


 


The next morning we headed back to Las Vegas for one night before our flight home on Sunday.  But I’ll write more about Vegas, it deserves its own post.


Once again Rebecca and I had great adventure.  We met a lot of nice people along the way, saw many, many incredible sights, and had a lot of fun together.   I am already looking forward to our next trip (which has yet to be planned)!   Also, I am planning on posting some more pictures on the web soon.