Surreal Experiences in Arizona

I have saved the best for the last in the 5th part of my journal chronicling my travel agent trip to Arizona. These were the experiences that were the once-in-a-lifetime events that will last with me for the rest of my life,

Spotting Wildlife at the Grand Canyon

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

Besides the natural beauty of our national parks system, people come here for the wildlife. And nothing will stop vacationers in their tracks quicker than spotting ANY form of wildlife.

There are some 75 specials of mammals, 50 species of reptiles, 25 types of fish, and somewhere around 300 birds within the parks environs. There are bobtails and mountain lions. Of course your have varieties of deer, squirrels, gophers chipmunks, sheep, and rabbits. But believe it or not the most important is the squirrel. Yep, the squirrel. The Albert and the Kaibab squirrels to be exact. The Albert is at the South Rim and the Kaibab at the North Rim.

Of course you should use caution when you see these animals. Don’t feed them or give them pick a nick baskets. Don’t get to close. And take only pictures and leave the animals where you found them. Don’t destroy nature when trying to take pictures or get a better view of the animals. Keep your distance when you see the animals. And lastly don’t let your wildlife play with their wildlife. Most of these animals are hard to find and keep their distance from the high traffic rim areas. While I was here I got to see the following animals:

The Albert Squirrel . Tony asked us what we thought the most dangerous animals here was. I said man. Others said the mountain lion and some said bears (there are no bears here). We were all wrong. Tony informs us that during peak season more than 10 people a day are treated at the first aid station for bites. These little guys don’t seem to mind us and come right up to people who proceed to pet or attempt to pet them and get bit!

After walking back from the trail at Hermit’s Rest, I saw a crowd gathered in front of the gift shop. And what do I always say about crowds gathering? It is probably for a good reason. The reason here? This cute little chubby cheeked Albert Squirrel right on the walkway there, looking a-dor-able. Yep, I listed to everyone word Tony said about the squirrel. Of course I still wanted to reach down and scratch his cute little cheeks. He just looked like he was made for petting. I refrained myself though and only took his little picture.

The California Condor . Of course Condors are still endangered but are coming back to the area thanks to careful monitoring of these magnificent creatures and breeding programs. Today, thankfully, about some 70 of the birds can be found in the area. While at the park you can take in one of the daily ranger talks about these beauties.

While we were here we were lucky enough to see one flying and soaring over the canyon. These birds can weigh up to 23 pounds and can have up to a 9 foot wing span. So to see such a regal and magnificent bird soaring over one of the most beautiful places on the planet was a rare but awe inspiring site. Again, remember to breath. Tony had plenty to tell us about theses creatures. I would have loved to have a closer look. I was just happy to get a glance.

Ravens Of all the birds at the canyon, the ravens is the most abundant and your best chance of seeing wildlife at the park. They are often mistaken for the crow or people think they are the same thing. Chances of seeing a crow at the canyon are slim. They are also very sneaky and often swoop down and grab food from unspecting guests to the park.

While also walking around at Hermit’s Rest I spotted a raven steadfastly perched on a tree limb giving me a great shot with my camera. I was just fascinated watching him bouncing and strutting around on his branch. And with the Grand Canyon in the background. Well that was money shot for sure.

Big Horn Sheep . These gorgeous animals once numbered in the millions. But since man seems hell bent on destroying everything, these animals numbered have dwindled to next to nothing, like many of the inhabitants at the canyon. These stout animals can scramble from ledge to ledge of the walls and can climb at a rate of about 15 miles per hour.

As Pam and I were rambling around the rim, I glanced over at the El Tovar restaurant and at the side of the building and there are two sheep. At first I am thinking "hmmmm..odd place for a statue". But then I think I see the baby move. I rubbed my eyes and look again, and it was moving. I start tugging on Pam like a little kid and all I can do is point. Then I manage to whisper "". We start to carefully inch our way up and then others start to notice too. People to start to form a circle around mom and her baby. Everyone is also talking in whispers. Though I don’t know why as this place isn’t exactly quite.

We take picture after picture and soon leave them to enjoy the grass and the water. The next day as we are doing site inspections we walk out of the Angel Bright and on to the next resort. All of a sudden there was a travel agent traffic jam. Out on the lawn there were more sheep. There was also a big crowd gathered around on the lawn snapping away. It was just something else to see these guys hanging out not the least bit concerned with people all over the place.

While here I also marveled at butterflies, more birds, and while we were touring the train we saw people gathered around while a mule deer was munching. One of the agents had a close encounter with a tarantula. Thankfully that wasn’t me because if I had, the people at the North Rim would have known about it. Just remember you can see them. That is wildlife stopping at its worse kind and just makes me go "blah".

Sunrise and Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

There are some places on the planet that are known for their sunrises and sunsets. I personally, celebrate sunsets as often as possible and sunrises when on the very rare occasion I am up to see them. So when I seen I would be here for sunset and sunrise I knew I had to celebrate this daily ritual.

I had already seen the sunset at the Desert Botanical Gardens so I was very anxious to see it here as well. After Pam and I had our tour with the delightful Tony, we had the rest of the day to enjoy the canyon. We had plenty of time to take in all the grandeur of this place. As the daytime was soon ending and evening would take its shift, this place takes on an ethereal beauty. The scrumptious reds, gold, and rusts of the rocks must now compete with the reds, pinks, and yellows of the nighttime skies. The clouds here change too. Several looked like UFO’s to me!!!

You really have to go to different vantage points to see the varying shades of the evening. There is just something special about looking out over the massive land with the brilliant colors of the sky changing into its nighttime shine. Unlike Phoenix, there are no twinkling lights in the distance from surrounding cities. And that is just the way I like it.

As I have mentioned before I am not a fan of mornings. But when I received my itinerary and it listed the option of being up at ready to hike to the lookout point for sunrise at the Grand Canyon, there was no way I was not going to see this.

Pam and I both were up for this option. We drug our sleepy heads out of bed and headed out to the bus stop to catch the bus out to Mather Point. The minute we got to our stop and headed towards the point, I knew why they suggested a heavy jacket here. I had to have an extra piece of luggage to fit my hubby’s big stadium jacket in it. Up until this point I was thinking I had wasted my money. It was freezing. So make sure you bring a heavy jacket if you’re planning to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

We make our way to Mather Point where a crowd has already arrived before us. We walk around trying to find the best vantage point in which to view this site so many people had come to see. Pam, Jodine, and others from our group gather around the railings. Myself and others perch up on a boulder. We wait for the special moment when the sun would rise up over the horizon to greet us.

As the first rays break the excitement begins to build as people prepare for the beginning of our day. As the sun starts to pop its head over the horizon, you start to hear gasps and "here it come". Once that glowing ball is up, a collection cheer arises from the crowd as we greet this morning as so many do every morning. As I looked around I see people holding each other, smiles a mile wide, and tears being wiped from what we just witnessed. It was a collective experience that we all shared that will last a lifetime.

As the sun started climbing up I had to once again remind myself to breath. As I waiting to say hello to the sun I just kept thinking how lucky I was to be here to experience this event. As the sun creeps up I have a hard time taking pictures for the tears that start streaming down from my face. While it may seem trivial since this natural event occurs everyday. To be here at this place and to see something some hauntingly beautiful is a treat. And it is something every person should have the privilege of doing so at least once in their lifetime.

Should you be here during Easter, they do offer 2 options for sunrise services. The most spectacular of these is held in the park. Traditionally the services have been held at Mather Point but this year it was held at Yavapai Point. The Shrine of the Ages also holds services. Both services are non-denominational. Check the park’s website for more information. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.

Bucket List Item

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

Ask many people to name things on their buck list (you know this list people have of things they want to see and do before they invariably "kick the bucket") and you will find visiting the Grand Canyon is on many of those lists. In Feb. of 2009 when this travel agent FAM came up on the FAM calendar, I quickly signed up for the October trip. Because like so many others, visiting the Grand Canyon was on my bucket list.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 4 to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep. It is divided into the North and South rims in Arizona. Since we only had a day and a half here, as you can guess we didn’t see the whole thing. We toured the South Rim so the information I am providing is for that rim only. You may be wondering about the glass walkway. That is on the North Rim some 240 miles away. You can believe if I was anywhere near the walkway, you would be seeing a review on that.

We know what erosion can do to an area, and erosion normally isn’t a good thing. Erosion was the reason the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in my home state had to be moved a few years ago. But erosion is what caused the Grand Canyon, and in this case was a good thing.

No one is exactly sure the true age of the Grand Canyon. Some guesstamate it may be as old as 2 billion years in the making. Though the formation of the canyon as we know it today began abound 17 million years ago when the Colorado River was established and started to wear down the rocks. The North Rim is some 1000 feet higher than the South Rim and the river runs down to the South Rim. The North Rim gets more rain and snow and access to the North Rim is limited in the winter months.

The first people to these lands were most likely the cave people. The first known inhabitants, of course were the Native tribes. Artifacts from around 12,000 years ago during the Paelo-Indian period have been discovered and there has been continuing inhabitation since then. The first Europeans to the area were from Spain lead by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. In the mid to the late 1800’s there were a number of white Europeans who were among the first settles to arrive in the area at different parts of the canyon.

In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt first visited the area. Teddy was well ahead of his time and was as we know a rugged outdoorsman and a conservationist. On November 28, 1906 he established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve. Unfortunately it would take many more years before it would become a national park. It would take until February 26, 1919 under President Woodrow Wilson before it was established as our 17th National Park thusly keeping it from becoming what Sedona is now.

Today some estimated 5 million visitors come to see this place from all over the world. The canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the finalists for the 7 Natural Wonders of the World which will be decided in 2011. It is from the same group that honored the New 7 Wonders of the World. Many of the buildings here are listed on the National Register of Historic Places the village is national landmark.

What is there to do in the park? . There are tons of things to do here. You can take helicopter tours from Vegas or Phoenix. You can just drive up to the overlooks and just peer out in the vast beauty. This makes it very accessible for all guests. You can take oodles of photographs or whip out your canvas and paint this beauty. You can hike. You can commune with nature and God. Check in with the Rangers and sign up for one of their activities. For thrill seekers, try a rafting trip. Bring your bikes and pedal around. If you read my other journals, you know you can shop and eat here. Or do like the Brady’s and ride the mules here. But the best thing here is to watch the sun rise and set. It is nothing short of spectacular.

After checking in to our resort, Pam and I headed out to check out this beauty some more. We did some shopping and went down Bright Angel Trail for a bit. Were both scrap bookers so we were snapping away with our cameras. Since the Grand Canyon became a national park there have been over 600 deaths. Heck, it is easy to see why. As you wander down trails past rocks that have been here for millions of years or just wander around the rim, you can easily get distracted by what you are seeing. I constantly had to remind myself to stay focused and watch where I was going. I mean everywhere you look there is something to catch your eye. It is also easy to see why this place is up for consideration as one of the natural wonders of the world. Two seconds into this place your going "no wonder".

You also realize this is more than mere rocks, as I heard some high-heeled, gold digging, princess say. This is a place where you see God’s work at its finest. Things here change by the minute no matter where you go. You simply want to stop and drink it all up. It makes you slow down and just relax and enjoy. You stop and see how the colors change from minute to minute. You want to stay and see what is next but there are more places to see and explore. Each ones as spectacular as the next. It humbles you as you take in the vastness of this marvel of nature. This is a place everyone should have the privilege of seeing in person at least once.


These "rocks" take on personal meaning for each person who stands in their presences. For me as a Christian, it is all the proof I need that God created this world. What a gift He gave us. And I made sure to say thanks many, many, times while here.

VERY highly recommended

Grand Canyon National Park
P.o. Box 129
Grand Canyon, Arizona, 86023
(928) 638-7888

Touring the Grand Canyon

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

While my trip to the Grand Canyon allowed plenty of time to roam on my own, we did get a tour from one of the locals. And who knows better than the locals?

After our delightful 2 hour train ride to the Grand Canyon, we disembarked and once again we divided up into 2 groups and loaded up on a bus with our tour guide, the wonderful Tony. Now after spending several hours on a motor coach with our tour guide, Salty Dog, it was a relief to have someone who knew what they were talking about and was able to bring the history of this place to life through knowledge instead of reading something out of a book an boring us to death. Like many in this area, Tony is a native and his family has lived here for many generations. And just like my husband he is of course part Native American from the Yavapai tribe.

As we head out Tony gives us the history of this amazing place. As we round the corner, all of a sudden, there it was. What we were here for…the Grand Canyon. You hear one huge "gasp" followed by "OMG", followed by sounds of cameras clicking picture after picture. For many, like myself, this was our first trip to this wonder. So to hear all of these agents discovering the beauty of this place at one time was just something special. In fact one agent who has been with the company for many years has taken this trip several times and commented that no many how many times she took this trip, it always brought tears to her eyes at the first discovery.

There are a total of 19 overlooks at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Of course we didn’t hit them all. We traveled along West Rim Drive and Hermit’s Rest Rd. We stopped in at Hermits Rest as well as Pima, Mohave, and Hopi Points. The views here are heart stopping. You can choose to keep safely behind a barrier with eye popping views or go out a bit to the rim barrier free and get even more amazing views. These views certainly are not for those who are afraid of heights and you should use extreme cautions when going out to the edge.

At each stop we parked the bus and we had plenty of time to ogle and photograph this natural wonder. Before each overlook we were given a history of where we were going and answered the many questions we had once we were there and pointed out things to be on the lookout for. At each overlook agents gathered around to admire this beauty and to take pictures to prove they were here and to post on Facebook. At Hermits Rest there are rest rooms as well as a gift shop and a place to pick up a bite to eat. I decided to walk the road that went past the bathrooms. It took me to an area without barriers and offering up some mind boggling views which left me speechless.

Having a guided tour was truly a wonderful experience and I was very grateful to have that tour with a knowledgeable guide such as Tony. And discovering this amazing place with my fellow agents was just indescribable.

One Sure Fire Way to Get your Luggage Inspected

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

Ok, so I have told you about experiences that have left me speechless and had tears in my eyes. But I had to end with a story that left me in stitches.

After shopping for my children at the 3 Dog Bakery, Pam and I headed out to our Pink Jeep Tour. As we were heading towards the offices it dawned on me, I had to get their presents home and remarked to Pam "geeze I hope they don’t have drug sniffing dogs at the airport since they will certainly sniff out this huge bone".

On my final night I was busy packing my bags. I put my bag with babies’ goodies right on top. After all I knew they would be happy to see mommy and then would want to know what I got them. When I arrived back into Charlotte I made my way to the luggage carousel and one piece of luggage was the first off the conveyer belt. However I stood and stood waiting for my other piece of luggage. I was starting to think after all of these years my luggage finally gets lots. When sure enough here comes my red luggage with the dozen luggage tags on the handle. I grab it and make my way to my car and head on home. When I get home I wearily threw my luggage on my bed to unpack and notice a bright red sticker on the airline luggage sticker. It read "Inspected by TSA". So apparently someone had drug sniffing dogs somewhere. And when I opened my luggage, my bag of goodies that had been on top was shoved down on the side and there were teeth marks on my luggage!

OK, but let me go back and add something else. I have mentioned several times that I do not drink alcoholic beverages but love wine labels. While at the resort gift shop in Williams I mentioned to my roommate Pam that I would have to get a bottle of wine with the train on it for the label. I explained I didn’t drink but just wanted the label. The following night at the Maswick Lodge when they had a dinner for us, Pam went up to the bar and came back with empty wine bottle for me. She asked the bar tender if she could have the empty wine bottle. Since they were going to toss it anyway, she gladly turned it over to Pam. So she gave it to me so I didn’t have to by a $13 bottle of wine just for the label.

Word got out about my wine label obsession. By the time I let I have 2 wine bottles, a champagne bottle, and 2 bottles from local made beer (my label obsession actually extends to any kind of local made booze, not just wine). And so guess what piece of luggage all of those empty booze bottle were in.? Yep, the red one with the dog treats that was inspected by TSA.

As I unpacked my contraband luggage and located the kid’s treats I noticed that apparently they had inspected the whole things since things were out of place (I never leave my bag of dirty clothes on top). Then it just hit me and I started to laugh. I am having visions of this big TSA inspector (and in my vision he reminded me of the crazy sheriff actor Ron Pearlman played in the Stephen King movie Desperation ). I could just see him thinking he had a big drug bust, but instead discovered his dogs had sniffed out dog bones and cookies. Then I seeing him snarking and laughing at my dog cookies and hold them up all the time saying "ain’t that special..Halloween cookies…for dogs". Then to make sure that was all there was, they went through my luggage and found about half a dozen empty booze bottles then declaring "and it looks like she has a big drinking problem".

Now I have no idea what actually happened other than my luggage did get inspected. But I figured it gave me an amusing story. Just next time I travel, I will remember to bring the wine label removers with me. At least that way if my luggage gets inspected again, they will only find the dog treats!

Big, Pink Fun

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

OK, so I have told you about getting around by hot air balloon, motor coach, Segaway, train, and limo. And now I get to tell you about wheeling around the stunning red rocks of Sedona in the back of a Pink Jeep.

As part of my travel agent FAM, we got to stop in Sedona on our way to Williams for a few hours. We had time to walk around, enjoy lunch, and then take in the Pink Jeep Tour. So after Pam and I did some shopping and had a great lunch, we headed out for our turn on the pink jeeps. Our group was divided up and loaded up with 6 per jeep. Pam, Jodine, myself, and several others hoped in our jeep and the very handsome Tomas would be our guide. Soon we were headed out for a big adventure.

When going up and down the back country, you figure this isn’t your normal jeep. These puppies are customized for the rugged daily use and it takes about 5 weeks to customize them for the company’s standards. They company currently has 67 jeeps in its fleet and each guide gets their own jeep so they get used to it. They also have a Tour Trekker made just for the Grand Canyon. Since 1960 the company has been giving visitors the thrill of a lifetime. And they are doing a darn good job. They have been featured on Regis and Kelly . They were also voted the #1 attraction in Sedona by Trip Advisor.

After leaving Sedona, we headed out about 10 minutes and arrived in the middle of red rock country. These rocks will take your breath away from a distance. When you get this close to them you have to remind your self to breath. No matter where you look, you can not believe how beautiful rocks can be.

We make our way to the base of the park and start our tour. We make our way up rugged boulders (not rocks but big honking boulders) and to flat plains. When we make our way to our first stopping point, it is just amazing. We pile out of our jeep and gather around first with Tomas taking our pictures and then he gives us a history of the area and these rocks. These rocks are actually sandstone. It is the Schnebly Hill Formation. This is layer upon layer of varying shades or reds, pinks, and orange colors to form the big rocks you see today. These "rocks" began forming around the Permian period (about 250 million years ago). Today these rock formations have names such as Snoopy, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, and more. We are then allowed to roam around and take pictures. The red colored rocks set again this brilliant blue sky would make even the worst photographer look like a pro.

We go from formation to formation and as you move on to a new formation, you notice how things change. The colors of the rocks, the depth of the blue in the sky, even the weather changes as you move around. Up at Cathedral Rock it was so blustery we were afraid to venture to far as it felt like we could easily get blown away and never be heard from again. Imagine the next group of travel agent taking this trip being told about he agents who got blown away on the trip and were never found!!!

As we made our way back to where we began, the geography changed as well. The closer we get to the entrance it starts to change into more of a forest full of pines and funky trees that look like something out of the set of a horror movie. Then the adrenalin rush part starts. We go up and down more boulders. Even at some point the jeeps were almost standing upright, the crevasse were so deep. Coming from someone who loves a good adrenalin rush, this was so totally awesome . You can hear agents screaming, giggle, whoo hooing, clapping, cheering, and yelling "lets go again". One agent on another jeep was so afraid she threw a jacket over her head. It was so funny that later when our guides ask us on the last night to name our favorite experiences every single agent ended with "oh yeah and Wanda on the Pink Jeep Tour".


They also have tours in the Las Vegas area if you find yourself out that way.

Who knew being in a jeep and going up and down rocks would be so much fun??? For the best views and fun in Sedona, you have to do the tour.

Very highly recommended
Pink Jeep Tours
204 North State Route 89A
Sedona, Arizona, 86339
(928) 282-5000

A Whole New World up Here

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by vampirefan on May 7, 2010

Several years ago, John and I attended the hot air balloon rally in Statesville. There was a chance at the event to ride in the balloon with the crews…for free. I was so excited but I would have to be gone 3 hours and that would leave John with nothing to do for 3 hours. So I have been waiting to try it for years. When I saw the ad in the visitor’s guide, I decided why not?

I would be doing the sunrise tour. I had to be up at 5:00 am and I was so excited that I was already up and putting on my make up when I received my wake up. I found my way to the Deer Valley Airport and found my group. I was surprised to see about 30 people had shown up. I have no idea why I thought I would be the only person in Phoenix deciding to show up for a balloon ride. After checking in we were divided up and rounded up into three vans. Then we were zipping along the highway headed out to the desert about 10 minutes away. When we arrive the crews are already getting the balloons ready. We were once again divided up and get to meet our captain of the balloon. Our captain, Mark, has 20 years experience, which will make anyone feel good. While he didn’t look like Mike Rowe, he sure sounded like him. Later I would find out he was just as witty.

There would be several balloons going up and we climbed up into our basket getting ready for our flight. Again I was surprised to see more than one balloon. Still having no idea why this was surprising to me. Then it dawned on me that it would give me some awesome pictures with balloons in them. After all I couldn’t get our balloon in the picture. So wooo weee.

Once we were in our basket and all nicely secure, the crew un-tethered us and off we went. Our balloon was soon the first one up in the air. The bird’s eye view will take your breath away. From here the air is calm and you can see for miles. Our balloon starts to slowly turn in the sky giving is views of the north, south, east, and west. And the views…oh my..the views. There are mountain ranges, cities in the distance, and below the Sonora Desert. Then the other balloons start to rise up to greet us and make the skyline even more incredible.

Captain Mark tells us all about this spectacular area below us. The rest of the time our group tends to keep conversions at a minimum and just enjoy the silence. While I am here the words from the Disney song A Whole New World comes to mind:

Unbelievable sights, indescrible feelings
Soaring, tumble, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky

Up 400 feet in the air it is just incredible. Below us the desert shows us her beauty as the desert is often thought of us barren land. There are the saguaros that still enchantment me, cacti, flowering bushes, rabbits, and javelinos. Which we thought were piggies. I am snapping up pictures after picture and occasionally putting down the camera and just taking in all this spectacular beauty around me.

We travel over 3 miles and soon we see the chase cars coming to pick us up and Captain Mark lets us know we need to get ready to land. We have a very gentle landing and the crew comes over to hook us up and pulling is behind the van, kinda like balloon surfing. When we get to the landing spot and crawl back out of the basket. Mark tells us we have a few minutes to wander around the dessert and then they have a surprise for us. I wander around taking more pictures. Then we are called to a table where they have prepared brunch for us. We have quiche, croissants with chocolate, fruit, bacon, and mimosas (or juice for the non drinkers). Captain Mark reads the Balloonist prayers to us. We toast and cheer to new friends and an amazing experience that we just shared. Then sadly it is time to pack up, get back in the van, and head back out to our cars.


As I sat at the table with my fellow hot air balloon enthusiasts I can’t believe my day. I am sitting here in the gorgeous Senora Desert having brunch. I have just been up 400 feet in the air seeing the most incredible sites I have ever seen. I have checked off a bucket list item. And this is my job . Talk about surreal. Oooh and it was paid for by my company. Happy dance!!! I thanked God more than once on this trip. If you have always thought abut a hot air balloon trip, quit thinking and just do it!!

VERY highly recommend
Hot Air Expeditions Inc.
2243 East Rose Garden Loop
Phoenix, Arizona, 85024
+1 480 502 6999; U.S

© LP 2000-2009