This is not about Las Vegas

This nearly last post about our summer 2015 adventure will not be about Las Vegas because we hated Las Vegas. Shoulder to shoulder and wall to wall people, more crying tantruming kids than adults, and shameless pointless extravagance made all of us put Las Vegas at the very bottom of every place we have ever been.  

We collectively decided we'd rather swim in a frozen lake or eat dirt than return to Las Vegas.  A friend of mine summed it up perfectly: Vegas is like Walmart on a Saturday night but with alcohol.  Indeed.

Sorry to all those people who love it.  

But there is one shining moment that did happen there that exceeded our expectations and that was dinner at Lotus Siam, a Thai restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown.  Having traveled and lived in Thailand a few times over the years we have a formed opinion about Thai food and because we also like Anthony Bourdain (he looks and acts a lot like my dad) we had to give this off off strip place a try.

And when I say off I mean way off.  It is located in a super sketchy strip mall.  Lock your doors and hide your valuables. 

We were quite skeptical as you can see by the outside, it didn't look promising. Kids almost refused to go in!

Once inside its a different story with a large attentive staff, bright lighting, and a 15 page menu.  The advice here is to go to the back of the menu and order dishes prepared in the Northern style, which this restaurant is well known for.  With absolute certainty I will tell you this is the most amazing, authentic, and meticulously prepared Thai food I have ever eaten in my life.  We loved every last bite and didn't leave a speck behind.

It was heavenly to eat this food.   Dessert was coconut ice cream and mango with sticky rice.  We gobbled it up too fast to get a picture.

I could also mention that prior to dinner we went to the Hoover Dam, another place Luis had on his list of important things to do on this trip.

He really liked it.....and the rest of us pretended we did just to keep the mood positive.  Truth is the Hoover Dam is BORING and expensive.  When I say boring I can't quite describe the lack of interest we had in hydroelectricity.  
But the view from the observation deck was cool. That's a heck of a lot of concrete.

So there you have it, the end of the sights and sounds of a stateside vacation.  Look for a final thoughts post coming soon if you are interested.


We could have done a number of different things during the last 2.5 days of the trip but we decided to head to Flagsaff and the Grand Canyon.

Always wanted to capture the moment at this sign, something only folks from ILM would understand.

It was a looooong 11 hours to Flagsaff, difficult to do at the end of an 18 day trip.  We arrived at dinner, had great local pizza at NiMarcos, showered after 5 long days of camping, and crashed out. 

Flagsaff is an adorable outdoor sports focused place.  At 7600 feet it's chilly there even in July!   

Next morning we hauled out of bed for a long day of sightseeing.  We started with visiting the Grand Canyon at the not too heavily visited east rim. Now prepare for a lot of pictures.

How can anyone scowl at the Grand Canyon for pete's sake? Welcome to my world!

This cool Desert View Watchtower gave an awesome perspective and native art.

We thought it would be hot sunny 100 degree weather but it was rainy and 70.  We drove in an unexpected storm to Tuba City.

The main reason to come to this tiny desert town in the Navajo Nation was to go to the small museum. But first lunch at the unassuming Navajo restaurant attached to a gas station, the Tuuvi Cafe.

Traditional fry bread and beans came highly recommend.  It was pretty good but nothing to rave over.

The Navajo Interactive Museum is small but extremely through in its description of the history and culture of the Navajo People in their own words and perspective.

Had a hard time getting jack to leave, and when he went into the Navajo Code Talkers exhibit he was riveted.

Ever since he was very small one of his main interests has been Native Americans.  Pair that with his teenage boy war obsession and he was hooked.  He had already read a few novels about the Code Talkers so this visit brought it to life.

Making our way back to Flagsaff in the evening we explored Maya's obsession with space and astronomy with a visit to the Lowell Observatory.

Peering through various telescopes we saw Saturn, binary stars, and some other objects I can't remember.  I learned how to find the North Star.

This girl could barely contain her excitement at this place.  She is hellbent on going to Mars, the International space Station, and a black hole. She's laser focused on that goal and her determination is a joy to watch.

A late dinner and back to the hotel to eat mass quantities of jellybeans. This trip is almost over!


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Finally we come to the reason for a U.S. vacation, the giant trees in Sequioa and Kings Canyon National Park.

Our campsite was to be determined. Most campgrounds in the park are first come first served. The reserveable campgrounds had been fully booked months in advance so those were out.   We wanted to be near a river and not have any fire restrictions. With California being in a four year drought we knew our top choices would be eliminated.  Stony Creek Campground was at 6600 feet so cold enough to need a fire but it is managed by the National Forest not the National Parks. Unfortunately the National Forest campgrounds had banned all camp fires and if there was one thing we knew from Mammoth that at that elevation we wouc want to be huddled around a fire as soon as the sun started to set and the temperatures drop to the 40's. Other campgrounds in Sequioa National Park were not near a river so we finally settled on Sheeps Creek Campground at 3600 feet in the Kings Canyon National Park.  We wouldn't need a fire at that elevation and it was on the river.

The drive is waaaaay down into the bottom of the canyon, reminding me again of the roads in Peru.

Now I am not experienced in the world of  car camping but I can tell you we were not happy with the car camping scene.  You are pretty much surrounded by cars, people and their crap, and RVs.  Some families had so much camping gear that they filled giant SUVs and towed a U Haul.  

It might not look too busy but it was! The first night we got there the kids and I hated it so much, I mean really hated it.  We couldn't wait to leave and kept trying to make plans to go somewhere else as soon as we made the pilgrimage to the big trees.  

Folks were there to have a good time and for many loud music is a part of it.  We had a musical tour of a dozen genres from Motley Crüe metal, Latin techno, southern rock, top 40, bluegrass, and on Saturday night we got to hear an old fashioned Spanish speaking and singing revival complete with fiery sermon.

On a positive note our neighbors did respect the posted quiet hours and the cacophony died down about 9:00.  

Our first full day in the Park we did a hike in Kings Canyon from the waterfall to the meadow, about 2 miles.

The hike itself was pretty easy, nice and level with no elevation change.  But we don't bring as much  water as we needed so everyone's nerves were on edge because we were so dang thirsty.  It made a pleasant 2 mile walk seem to be an eternity.

The meadow was pleasant and abundant with wild flowers.

It was a nice first day but I can tell you that the three of us were still very much hating car camping and our campground.  Luis on the other hand was living a dream and so we had to work hard to keep our mouths shut so we wouldn't crush it.  

The next day we set out for the long drive from Kings Canyon to see the big tree.  After about an hour we arrived at our first stop, the General Grant. 

Big trees for sure and Luis getting happier by the moment. We scrambled through a hollow fallen monarch and soaked up the energy of these giants.

An hour later we arrive at the General Sherman, the world's largest tree.

The park is set up with a shuttle bus that takes you to the park highlights. We parked the car at the top of the Sherman tree Trail and walked down a steep path to the tree. We had to wait in line for a picture.

From the bottom of the Sherman trail A shuttle bus takes you to a meadow where it is common to see bears!  A 2 mile path goes around the edge of the meadow.  With in the first five minutes of walking we saw our first bear.

We just couldn't believe it! We observed for quite a wild then walked on and decided to cross the meadow on a fallen tree.

As you can see the roots of this fallen tree were amazingly enormous.

For whatever reason, these two had more times of helping each other and enjoying each others company and they have had in a long time.

Lucky for us we were treated to a second bear sighting.

The photo is sort of like a big picture but there really is a bear climbing up the root of the tree. It was pretty cool.

The end if a  long day brought us back to the shuttle bus where I was moved to tears at this sign inside the bus.

Something our country really got right was the establishment of the national Park system.  Traveling to many other countries where this is not the case made me really appreciate what our family experience during this trip.

Our third and final day at sheep's Creek Campground was spent a mile or two down the river at a perfectly chosen spot where we spent the entire day.

Since we were situated near a calm spot that led to a small 50 foot miniature rapid section the kids decided to make their own amusement park style log ride.

Again I was treated to an afternoon of watching them work and play together. A rare sight these days indeed. 

They rode the rapids again and again. We sat together at the edge of the river talking and sharing stories. It was a real lifetime channel type of day.

After 4 nights of camping we would be leavings for a 12 hour drive to Flagstaff to see the Grand Canyon.