Thursday, July 30, 2015

Making a Run of it in Vegas

As I've blogged about frequently, one of my favorite experiences is to log running miles in new territories whenever I'm traveling, either on vacation at conferences.  So of course, Andrew and I were going to take advantage of an arid early morning to run the Vegas strip on this road trip.  The place looks a lot different in the early hours.

Needless to say, we saw more than our fair share of Walks of Shame taking place, whether it was in hotel lobbies, or to the nearest taxi stands.  Much like Game of Thrones, the City of Sin has the Walk of Shame honed to a PhD level.

But it's not too often you bump into a big furry animal doing said Walk.  Really, that takes the Shame to a whole new level.  And no, it's not a Mirage.  That'd be the hotel in the background.

(A side note: the last time Andrew and both wore these particular running tanks at the same time was the 2012 Boston Marathon, which was still, to this day, one of the hottest runs we've ever experienced.  Having dehydration pangs just thinking about it.  I say that because it didn't bode well for the Vegas mileage, because despite getting up especially early, the temp at run's start was still 97 degrees.)

Andrew's Lowell High School trip to Italy forever only solidified his love of all things Italian, almost as much as his innumerable trips to his favorite Italian eateries.  So of course, we had to run along the canals of Venice while in Vegas.
High-fouring a giant frog, not something you can do during just any morning run. 
Avast, there be a pirate ship outside this establishment 
The Nowhere Man logging the miles on the Long and Winding Road.  And in Vegas, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey.  As a young lad, I never saw a  day when I'd get to use that song title in a sentence.  So there's that. 
Andrew came not to praise Caesar, but to run around his hotel 
Because I don't know that I'll ever get a chance to snag a pic of Andrew running past the real tower, you've got to take advantage of the faux ones when you can. 
And finally, Andrew, having broken the bank and run the tables, decides it's time to beat feet and get the hell out of Vegas before they figure out exactly how he was able to score that $1.00 jackpot the night before. 
On to Disney!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not EVERYTHING That Happens in Vegas Stays There

Some things, it turns out, get captured on film and shared with the world via blogs, it seems.  Such as the following......

So the Cook Road Trip '15 migrated from one of the most beautiful places in these United States to one of the most......interesting.  Las Vegas.  City of Sin, home of the Rat Pack, Ocean's 11, 12, 13, and countless tales of debauchery and bachelor and bachelorette parties for the ages.  Time to notch our own adventures with a pitstop in the place that Nicholas Cage was in such a hurry to leave and where Elvis was so happy to extol life.

And really, we're only going to be there for less than 18 hours!  What can happen?

Turns out our adventures would be nowhere near as salacious and legendary as those of the Hangover's Wolf Pack.  But that doesn't mean we couldn't capture some historic photos in the process.

Case in point: checking in to our hotel, the Flamingo.  Some of the pics can't be reproduced here for fear of earning an R rating.  Let's just say that it's the BACHELORETTE parties that pushed the envelope, not the bachelor parties.

Even before we checked in, we saw three Elvises - or is that Elvi or Elvens?  I dunno.  None were captured on film, though, thank you very much.  But I DID manage to capture Siegfried, Roy, and their tigers.
And then the playing cards showed up.
And the people wearing dresses made out of playing cards.
Realizing that checking in without getting the crazies in spades, we opted to head outside.
Where it was a balmy 108 degrees. But again, that dry heat thing.
Coming to the sad realization that I wasn't going to be breaking the bank at any of the casinos, we set out to instead explore some of the hotels along the stretch.
To quote Phil Wenneck (Google him): "To a night the four of us will never forget!"
First up on our Magical Mystery Tour was the Mirage, home to the Beatles' Cirque de Soleil Love show.
Where we got to hang out with John, Paul, George and Ringo and all their psychedelic colors
Help!  The kids need somebody!
Seems like only Yesterday when this Fab Four was clowning around with the other Fab Four.
Back outside, it was time to Hail Caesar
Andrew just can't seem to shake his LHS Latin Lyceum roots.  Any chance to hang out with those crazy Romans.
Et tu, Andrew?
"You probably get this a lot.  This isn't the real Caesar's Palace, is it?"
Then it was Jack's turn to try her hand at the slots, so naturally, the Hard Rock Queen chose the machine adorned with her favorite 70's band, KISS.  Strike a pose, hon.
We were reminded of the immortal words of Danny Ocean:
"The house always wins.  Play long enough, you never change the stakes.  The house takes you.  Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house."

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, E Streeters, Crusaders - am I forgetting anyone? 
Little did Heather know she'd make it to Paris on this road trip.  Thankfully, without the high-priced shops that accompany the Eiffel Tower.
Inside the Bellagio, we went Under the Sea for one of the more colorful backdrops on this excursion.  Cue the hug shot.
Me and my ladies
Last stop of the night was the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio.  Couldn't find Terry Benedict.
But we did catch Beat it, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and All that Jazz with choreography from the dancing fountains
Cook's Four.
And we're the four best friends that anyone could have, and we're the four best friends that anyone could have, and we're the four best friends that anyone could have....
(Eerily, the hotel to the left of this pic just experienced a raging inferno break out this past week.)
So with that, after a quick visit to the local Starbucks, where we got to watch a bride spend her wedding night waiting for a venti macchiato, it was time to call it a night.
Thankfully, there were no jungle cats waiting for us in the bathroom.
No Mike Tyson or Mr. Chow, either.
So how do you follow up a night in Sin City?  Head to one of the happiest places on Earth, of course.

Monday, July 27, 2015

City Slickers

Okay, right off the bat - full disclosure: my offspring blogger Andrew, who's far more eloquent, literary, and bloggone more talented at this blogging thing than his old man is also writing blogs on our 2015 road trip on a parallel track. You can read his Pulitzer worthy entries here: Andy's Room

That having been said, knowing that the lad has been penning his own takeaways on our Wild Western Rodeo, I intentionally did NOT read his latest entry on the Cook family's foray into horseback riding.  I did this specifically so as to avoid any accidental swipes.  While I know we're using the same pics (I was the only one who galloped the pathways wielding a camera like a six-gun sideshooter), any recurring bad jokes or reference points are purely coincidental and a testament to mutual blogging idiosyncrasies.  That and the fact that we share the same twisted sense of humor.

So heading into this adventure, in fact, even before we knew much of what we would be doing out West, we knew right away that we were going to weave horseback riding into our itinerary.  And not just a prance around a holding pen, mind you, but a half-day expedition up through the canyons of Utah's Zion National Park into some of the most inspirational vistas we've ever cast our peepers upon.  Any references to Apocalypse's Four Horsemen, I needed to keep to myself.

Now, continuing with the full disclosure, my first exposure to horseback riding was in the early 1970s, when, as a hapless camper at YMCA's Camp Alexander in Pelham, N.H., I climbed atop Creampuff and took a few laps around the fenced-in farmland on Mammoth Road.  And yes, I do still remember that horse's name.  You always remember your first.

The next time I attempted to ride them, I was much older, wiser, heavier and foolhardy when I took to the trails in Townsend with a couple of E Streeters and revisited some of the nuances of wrangling.

So 25 years later, the driving instructions are still the same, right?

Well here's a news flash for all of you thinking about exploring the adventure and banking on the volumes of safety instructions you'll gather on the front end:  there ain't none.
It's true.  We were led into the pen and pointed to our horses.  With a bit of coaxing we were able to mount the stallions, and then got our Horseback Riding 101 Primer:  "Pull on the left to turn left, pull on the right rein to go right.  Pull on them both at the same time to stop.  Okay, let's move it out!"

Clearly, Jackie was expecting more details than that.  Here's she is looking for the directionals.
I pulled out my Dothraki dictionary, and asked in my best Khal Drogo voice:
They pointed me toward him, and we bonded, like any good Dothraki warrior would.
And with that, we were off!
For obvious reasons, Jackie and I couldn't get the scene from City Slickers out of our heads when Billy Crystal was singing the tune from Rawhide on his Western adventure.  You know the one (click here if you need a reminder) - Rawhide
'Course, Billy Crystal's version added a line about his ass cheeks.
So as seasoned riders, naturally, in the first minute atop the steeds, it was time for a stream crossing!
First up is the prettiest damn cowgirl Zion has seen this century, Heather, riding atop Kitten!
Next comes our resident cowboy Andrew, gallantly riding atop Fancy
Calamity Jane herself, Jackie rides her noble steed Charlie into the annals of Wild West lore
And finally, taking up the rear, comes a rider atop a pale horse, Hellblazer.  His name was actually HB, I just thought Hellblazer sounded muy macho.
I was also channeling my best Johnny Cash - When the Man Comes Around:
And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying 'Come and See' And I saw
and behold a white horse
Click Here: The Man Comes Around to hear that haunting classic. 
I neglected to mention, there was one another piece of instruction they provide:  try to follow the horse in front of you.  That we could do.
Just scroll through this next batch of pics and bask in the wonder of Zion, not to mention the wonder of a group of city slickers holding their own in the Wild West
At the halfway point, Sheriff Andy and Bullseye rode like the wind.
Heading into the home stretch, Heather had the hang of the whole steering mechanism
We stopped here for some sage wisdom.  A plant, we learned, that the horses love to nibble upon.
Our tour guide, Jim, regaled us with cowboy stories throughout our three-hour voyage.  Most of them, though, are not appropriate for print in a family blog.
Finally, back at the More-Than-Okay Corral, we dismounted and walked with funny gaits back to the nearby visitor's center.
Did I mention this was also unanimously the most memorable and favorite stop on our road trip?  Seriously, this will mark one of our most unforgettable family experiences ever - with our new extended family - Kitten, Fancy, Charlie, and Hellblazer.
So farewell, Zion, you boast an indelible pocket of time for this foursome.
To quote, if I may, from Isaiah in the Bible: "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorry and sighing shall flee away."
So on that holy note, naturally, it's time to head next to the City of Sin.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

On the Straight and Narrows

Heading out of the Grand Canyon, Kaibab, and Arizona, in general, it's time to head a bit north to Utah and the fun that awaits at Zion National Park.
Getting there, though, means we had to travel on one of the more desolates roadways that eventually wrapped around the northern rim entrance to the Grand Canyon.  Literally, you can drive for 50-100 miles without seeing a building, another human being, a gas station, or anything resembling civilization.
On the way, we made a pitstop at Glen Canyon, which spans the Colorado River.
'Twas here were encountered a rather minor annoyance, but a nuisance nonethelesss.  Not sure how other folks feel about them, but there were a pair of gentleman flying a drone over the river.  I get that they're the latest fad, but the incessant buzzing and hovering in a place of such natural beauty seemed really intrusive for anyone else looking to take in the sights without the pesky buzzing.  With the millions of acres out there, couldn't they find their own secluded spot so as not to intrude on anyone else's experience?
Okay, that's my soapbox for this blog.
And did I mention it was a tad on the warm side, much like about 70% of this trip?
Later in the afternoon, we finally reached our destination, Zion National Park.  We chose to wait until the intense heat and sun subsided for a bit, and set off for a late afternoon trek through the Narrows
What are the Narrows you ask?
Straight from the National Park's own literature, the Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion.  This gorge boasts walls a thousand feet tall, and a river sometimes 20 to 30 feet wide.
To reach the Narrows, you have to take a shuttle bus to the furthest point in the canyon, the Temple of Sinawava, which in Native American language, means coyote.
From there, you have to hike one mile in on a paved trail to reach the entrance to the Narrows.
Where, once again, it's hugging time.
With that, it's time to begin our trek against the steady current of the Virgin River.
Obviously, footwear is a necessity, as the riverbed is covered with rocks of all sizes, footing, and depths.
It's especially inspiring when you hear that the Narrows are susceptible to flash flooding because so much of the surrounding area is bare rock that doesn't absorb water.  During storms, runoff is funneled rapidly into the narrows, and during a flash flood, the water lever rises almost instantly - within seconds or minutes.
It's always encouraging to hear that hikers have been stranded, injured and even killed by venturing into the flood prone canyons.  Thankfully, we were there at a time of year when the floods were unlikely, because you know, those 100+ degree temperatures day and the extended lack of rainfall.
She looked a bit tentative to start (maybe due to all those flash flood warnings?), but once she got her water wheels under her, there was no stopping Heather.
Andrew, unsurprisingly, wanted to venture into the caves and crevices that dot the canyon's walls.
Striking a pose
Throughout the river, you'll see small waterfalls cascading down off the cliffside.  So natch, Andrew needed to douse his locks.
Jack was a trooper, climbing and cavorting over the bigger rocks with ease, with the occasional help from the fallen log.
Breathtaking.  And the Canyon wasn't too shabby, either.
Mother and daughter, knee deep in it
If he could have, Andrew would have attempted to scale this wall.  Instead, he settled for just posing in front of it.
Victory!  Or just flat-out glee.
An Under Armour ad in the making 
A few more of those requisite poses with the spectacular backdrops
Hey look!  Another cave!  Andrew ventured in, hands clapping to ensure there were no bats in there to spoil his pose.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Zion Canyon's Mister August
Many of the folks we encountered on our hike had L.L. Bean official hiking sticks.
Dozens had ski poles.
I opted for Gandalf's staff.
Andrew even found a way to get a run in, along one of the sandy beaches that interrupt the river.
Don't even think about it, Andrew
Gaining a perspective on just how tall these walls are, Andrew catches a glance from the base
Finally, after about two miles heading upriver, it was time to head back down
Buses out of the Narrows stop running around 9 p.m., so we opted not to get stranded out there overnight, and headed downriver during dusk.
Not that it's a spot readily available to all, but trust me, when passing through the southern corner of Utah, or for that matter, anywhere in the tri-state region, Zion is one of those must-see stops that has to be experienced first-hand to believe.