Thank you, thank you very much

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Some of you might know this, but I think far more of you have no idea.  When I was little, I had a small (huge) love for all things having to do with Elvis Presley.  We don’t know how it started, what it stemmed from, but there was an undeniable love and respect from the age of about seven onward between myself and Elvis.  One year for my birthday, I even received an Elvis beach towel and Barbie doll.  I loved his music and his movies and I think I might have even had Elvis trading cards at one point.

Fast forward sixteen years.  Our cross country road trip has long passed but it culminated in a visit to Elvis’ home in Memphis, Tennessee.. the one and only Graceland.  I remember reading about Elvis’ home and all of the wonderful things inside, wondering if I would ever get to see it for myself.  Years passed and the Barbie doll got put away, the trading cards were probably sold at a garage sale along with the movies.  But whenever I would hear one of his songs, I’d laugh to myself as I remember my eight year old self belting lyrics and finishing with a bow and “Thank you, thank you very much.”  Our visit to Graceland was the last major stop on the roadtrip, as we had to get back home in just under a week from Oregon.

It was one of the hottest days of the trip and we literally felt like we were in an oven as we stepped out of the car to check out ticket prices.  We didn’t do much research and I was surprised when I found that we had to pay a pretty steep ticket price and then be shuttled to the home itself.  It all makes sense now as I look back; with millions of visitors year in and year out, its a tourist mecca and needs to be kept as closed off to prying hands as possible.   I was a bit skeptical about paying the price but Dad said “Hey, we’re already here.  When else are we going to do something like this?”  A smart man.

We skipped the cheesy tourist photo-op and climbed aboard the Elvis Express. (It wasn’t really called that.)  We literally took the shuttle across the street and up the drive to Graceland, which sits atop a little hill under the cover of grand old trees.  I loathe headphones and audio tours, but I sucked it up for Elvis.  We were whisked through the front door and it was like you could expect Elvis to come down the stairs at any minute.. the house has been preserved to look exactly as it did when Elvis passed.  Shag rugs were abundant, we heard stories about entire albums recorded in the Jungle Room, why Elvis had installed three separate TV’s in his basement and where he spent his time with his friends and family.  We were able to see all of his awards, stage memorabilia, clips of interviews, his father’s office and his stables.  While overwhelming, as I saw each new room and walked through Graceland, I remembered how much fun I had singing his songs and realized why so many people across the world adored him.   The tour finished with the viewing of the burial site of Elvis, his twin brother Jesse and his parents.  While you can look at the tour of Graceland as a tourist trap and very gimmicky, I felt a strange sense of peace as we left the grounds of the estate.  Something like the eight year old in me taking a deep sigh of contentment.  What a trip.

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“It’s a Trip”

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Here’s the short but sweet version… After our jaunt at Yosemite, a steamy-hot and breath-taking day with the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon, we slowed the pace a bit and made a little stop to quaint Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This section of town is very touristy but with a park in the middle and very friendly shopkeepers and artisans surrounding the square, it reminded me of the central park in Antigua, Guatemala where I spent some time last summer.  We popped in and out of shops, visited the beautifully preserved (work in progress) San Felipe de Neri church, and had lunch at a fantastic little diner.  Shops were filled with the work of local artists like stoneware and religious figurines, locally grown and produced chilis and hot sauces and your usual cheesy postcards and other kitsch.  A fabulous little city I highly recommend visiting, even if you’re just passing through!

(Disclaimer: Though the road trip has been over for some time now and I have internet access, I have been slow at finishing posts and apologize for this.  Hoping to finish posting pictures soon!)

Dam tourists

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Two of our major stops on our road trip were wrapped up in one day, making it a very epic part of our trip.  We started the morning off by waking up in lovely North Las Vegas, after a quick midnight drive down the Strip the night before.  Vegas was positively electric as we passed hundreds of tourists, famous landmarks, light shows and all the rest–Vegas really never goes to sleep.  We passed the Bellagio as they had a fountain and light show going, as well as Caesar’s Palace and a whole lot of other beautiful hotels and casinos.

We headed to the Hoover Dam first thing the next morning, which is about 45 minutes from Vegas.  We were driving over a hilly curve and were all of a sudden greeted by the shocking blue water of the man-made Lake Mead; this is the reservoir that formed with the construction of the Hoover Dam.  We arrived right at 9am and it was already a staggering 100 degrees, but thankfully, the crowds had not yet arrived.  A stop at Hoover Dam was one of Dad’s major hopes for the trip, since he teaches his students about it and shows a National Geographic video about how it works, how it was built, and what damage and good it has done to the environment.  We were in awe of the monstrous dam, as all tourists are, and Dad did an excellent job of explaining how it all worked to us, from the spillways to the intakes to the concrete.  After a trip to the Dam store for some Dam souvenirs, we were off to the Grand Canyon.

After a couple of hours of driving through some beauuuutiful scenery of Arizona and coming down and going back up some serious elevation, we made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  None of us had ever been before and so we started off at Mather Point and walked along the trail for some beautiful views of the mile deep canyon.  The views along our entire trip thus far had truly been amazing and the Grand Canyon certainly delivered; its very humbling to be in the midst of such an enormous thing of beauty that merely exists naturally in our environment.  As we walked along, most of the conversations we heard were not in English; this is certainly a tourist attraction but how wonderful that people from all over the world come to see this magnificent piece of the earth.  It was lovely to just take a moment or two of silence there and just reflect on the blessings of my life and all that lies ahead.  Before we knew it, we had walked a few miles and headed to another few lookout points and hit the road again for our next stop…

600 granite steps later…

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It is by far is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. — John Muir

Though it feels like our road trip was eons ago, it was just two weeks ago that we were still on the journey back to New Jersey.  One of our major stops after San Francisco was Yosemite National Park, or 1,169 square miles of beautiful wilderness and open space that is home to over 400 vertebrates, innumerable plants and other creatures.  We drove from San Francisco, stayed overnight in Oakland, CA and made it to Yosemite in the early morning hours and greeted the day with some of the most breath-taking views of granite cliffs, waterfalls, and vegetation.

Since it was early in the day, the park was not yet as crowded as it normally is, as it is the high tourist season, and we stopped for a map and decided to take the Vernal Falls hike.  One of the more popular hikes but still strenuous due to the elevation increase and 600 granite steps, the hike to the top of the falls and back is about 3 miles and we made the trip in about 2 and a half hours at a leisurely pace.  We were about 20 minutes into our hike when the light mist turned into a pretty consistent rain; by the time we reach the falls, we were all very wet but prepared with rain gear for sure!  We made it to the top with soggy socks but very proud of ourselves; the railing allowed us to go right up to the river’s edge which was swollen and rushing due to the large amount of recent rain and snow melt.

Truly, one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had and I was so glad to share a hike and a day like this with my brother and dad.  Though it was a short hike and visit to Yosemite, we got our fair share of landscape, outdoor adventure and wildlife sightings.. a buck sauntered through the parking lot as we returned to our car, seemingly mystified as to why so many people were in his backyard.  We dried off, loaded up the car and were off to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon the next day..