Category Archives: AZ

VEGAS BABY!! … with teenagers….

Our trip was quickly wrapping up. I’ll be honest. I had mixed feelings. We had a great time with the kids and Uncle Dan!! But it’s a delicate waltz living with one person full-time in a camper. This pounding Celtic jig the five of us had been doing around each other in our small space for the past week was starting to wear on me. Not to mention, the jig was being stomped out in fine terra cotta-colored dust and sand that was coating every inside surface. I’m no neat freak but this was unbelieveable!

After reviewing our route we decided to boondock it another night on the way back to Las Vegas so we wouldn’t be in such a hurry. But that left me scuttling in the truck looking for a place to stay. This time we wanted something to do – not just a pull over for the night. My trusty atlas outlined the Valley of Fire State Park right across the edge of the Nevada border. It was a first-come, first-serve campground so we hoofed it there as fast as we could.

When you full-time you get all kinds of experiences. But the best ones are the ones you never expect or don’t plan. And this was one of those times.

This park was hidden away. We kept driving and driving, wondering why it was called the “valley of fire”. And almost as we turned a corner we saw it – out in the middle of nowhere these gigantic red rocks burst from the ground! Huge, jagged forms EVERYWHERE! and RED! And you could CLIMB on them!!



Remember how I said this group likes to climb rocks? Did I mention Indy, my dog, is a natural rock climber, too?!





Do you see them ↑ ? Waaaay, waaay up at the tippy top? That would be Michael, Z, Uncle Dan and Indy….

And of course, we can’t forget “S Doing Scorpions in Scenic Places: A Collection, Valley of Fire State Park, NV”

Valley of FIre SP UT

That night we all sat outside looking at the stars. The sky was so clear that far out and away from city lights. If you have never had the privilege of viewing stars out in the country you need to make it a top priority. There is nothing that will remind you how small and insignificant you really are in the scheme of the universe. It was this deep thinking that had all of us sitting out in camp chairs, looking up at the night sky, contemplating the cosmos that night. Uncle Dan summed it up nicely when he acutely observed, “Looking at so many stars makes you realize that you’re only just a tick, on a tick, on a tick, on a tick on an elephant’s butt.”

The next morning before we left we headed further into the park and saw Rainbow Vista. Any guesses as to why they call it that?



And I realized if I flip the screen on my fancy pants camera I can take really high resolution selfies too!


We were sad to leave and marked this in our campsite journal as a place to DEFINITELY return!! One night just didn’t cut it. But we had to get back to Vegas because we had a show to see!!

Friday night we all hit the town to see Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil at Aria!! I think Z and I were the most excited of the bunch. Neither of us had seen a Cirque show before and I know I was really looking forward to it! Before we hit the show we hit, none other than, a buffet!! It’s Vegas! You  must eat at least once at a buffet!

Now I scoured the buffet lists and I found several that ignited my culinary flame! But alas, they were usually $40+ per person. And Michael was paying for 4 of us. Let’s face it, a picky 13 year-old and a 16 year-old are NOT going to appreciate these particular choices. So I went looking for one that was cheap and close to Aria. That left The Buffet at Excalibur.

I am a foodie. I love gourmet food and home cookin’ alike. But when you go to The Buffet you are getting what you pay for. At $26/ person (it was a little more that night because it was ‘seafood’ night), it’s food is ‘eh’, but satisfying. You aren’t going to get food poisoning. (at least none of us did) But I didn’t find anything outstanding there. Let’s say, for me, it was uneventful.

However, for everyone else, it was a HIT! Z got to try “sushi” and he LOVED it! (None of it contained raw fish. They had cucumber rolls and something filled with an overly-mayonnaised fake crab. But he didn’t know the difference and was delighted.) Since it was seafood night they had boil and peel shrimp, skinny crab legs, mussels and a few seafood-inspired dishes. And S, who claims to detest seafood, loved the buffet because she could pick at her salad, mashed potatoes and gravy and then the dessert bar and no one would yell at her for not eating anything. (Even though her father forked over $26 for this privilege.)

So maybe The Buffet didn’t hit my snooty food mark but it won in everyone else’s book. According to Z it was “the best meal he ever had!” (mumbled with food in his mouth as he continued to shove it in by the forkfull.) So I’ll count it as an overall win.

Zarkana. It. Was. Amazing. If you’re in Vegas, go see it.

And the last, current, installment of “S Doing Scorpions in Scenic Places: A Collection, The Las Vegas Strip.”

Vegas Strip

The next, and final day, consisted of going to a water park in Vegas. The kids got to don bathing suits before hitting the plane later that night back to cold Syracuse. We thought this would be a great idea since temperatures were to hit in the 80’s that day. Well… it wasn’t exactly as we had expected. The temps reached the high 70’s. But it hadn’t been consistently hot enough to really warm up the water. It was FREEZING! I hit a few slides than called it quits. Michael and Dan hit a few more than me. Other than that we let the kids play until closing.

We put the tuckered out kids on a plane that night and let them sleep the night home, all the way back to New York. It was a great trip! And now, almost 2 weeks later, I still don’t have this camper completed rid of red dust and sand. But that’s ok. It was worth it!

Spring break adventure… with teens…

You may recall a while back I lamented on the difficulty of posting regularly while on the road. You may also notice it’s been about two weeks since my last post. Yep, there’s a reason for that.

Like most of the US, especially those with children, we have been on Spring Break. And our SB involved:

  • a 13 year old
  • a 16 year old
  • retired Uncle Dan
  • some of the most beautiful places in America
  • spotty, if any, cell service

Anyone in this day and age might read “13yo, 16yo and no cell service” and gasp in horror at what terrible stories lie ahead. There are stories to be told, and for your bladder and eye comfort, not all in one post. But I will say we all survived no worse for the wear after this extended holiday. I’ll be the first to admit my utter surprise that we all appear to have remained sane. Me, most of all. (but just barely)

Some background: Michael has three kids. T, the oldest, is in college and is past “family holidays”, much to her dad’s chagrin. Spring break is a little easier to understand since colleges don’t have the same break schedule. Z is 16 and a sophomore and S is a 13 year old 7th grader. These ages are hard to juggle vacations too but more because you’re vying for time against school activities, after-school activities and the dreaded “social circle of teenager friends”. Because we all know, there is absolutely NOTHING cooler than your teen’s BFFs, am I right?

And if you’re an amazing enough parent that your kids want to spent time with you , you still have to be in constant competition with the current Wi-Fi enabled communication device. What if there’s a text from their bestie?!?!  And, seriously folks, where was streaming music when I was a kid? Yes, I had a walkman and then a discman, but I could never get that volume loud enough to drown out the books-on-tape my mother insisted on renting from the library before we went on a cross country car trip!

And I can’t forget Uncle Dan. Mike’s brother is barely 50 and already retired. You think we’re living the life?!?! Uncle Dan lives in WV. The kids flew in from Syracuse, so everyone was excited to get out of cold weather. We started our grand adventure with everyone flying into Las Vegas, because what else would get you the side eye when you say you’re taking your teenagers to Vegas?

I was the self appointed tour guide for the trip. I had very mixed feelings about this title. Michael didn’t ask me to plan the trip at all. But his idea of trip planning is “winging it” and hope for the best. I’m the exact opposite. Since we’ve started full-timing I’ve had to loosen up a bit. (for me it’s felt like a lot!) But I refused to have 3 people show up and not have a flippin’ idea of what was going to happen. I wanted them to have a nice trip. And I didn’t want to become unhinged. (to put it mildly)

I didn’t take this responsibility lightly. I pondered and complemplated and speculated for weeks about what kind of activities would really “make” a vacation for this group of people. That’s a tough order. At least I thought it was. Luckily they all like to hike. I finally realized, what better vacation than to show them the “fun” vacations my family took when I was growing up? None of them had similar experiences and it would include all the types of activities Michael and I would like to show them.

So I decided to plan a traditional “Dillon Vacation”! The only real difference – my family did it in a car or minivan with camping gear in the back. This group was lucky enough to do it in the luxury of a 5th wheel camper and Wi-Fi! (sometimes..) My dad was a teacher so we were fortunate enough to hit the road for weeks at a time in the summer, just road-trippin’ and seein’ the sights! Tourist trap, anyone? And like any vacation with sight seeing on the agenda, the trick is how-much-can-you-jam-into-12-days??


Everyone knows this is a default on “The Bucket List”. None of us, except Dan, had ever been there. So as not to try and over-plan our trip I generally made campsite reservations and looked up possible things to do in each area. Then once we got there we could take a consensus, see what people were interested in, see if there was anything the locals or guides suggested. You know, roll with it. (This is about as “winging it” as I feel comfortable. Especially since many campsites were completely booked solid months ago since it was a holiday week.)

We really only had a few days in Williams, AZ, a cute little Route 66 town. And yes, I made Mike drive part of the way from Las Vegas to Williams on the historic Route 66. Scenic drive!! Ok, not as much as I had hoped. But I felt compelled to give a quick history lesson about Rt. 66 and what is was, etc.

And that’s when it hit.

Oh My God!

I’ve turned into my mother!!! (insert Psycho movie music here.)

Because every vacation had to include an educational element. And it was tailored to your age. Because my brother is 11 years younger than me. And sometimes my little cousins would come with us. So everyone had a learning syllabus geared towards his or her age, interests and abilities that ran parallel to the vacation stops. Case in point: One year while in the Northeast we had to stop at Walden Pond. I was in high school so I had reading assignments by Thoreau. My little cousins got to gather sticks and hot glue gun them onto picture frames. Clearly they were in elementary school. The oldest, Brian, then about 10, now a lawyer, probably had to identify some plants while doing this. But I digress.

So, Route 66. The kids could have cared less. Uncle Dan seemed very interested and always had his own facts to add. Mike? Couldn’t say. He always drives when we’re haulin’. Not interested or just focused on the road? Or maybe just amused by the whole show going on in the rest of the truck? But we did stop at little dive tourist trap on the way – Grand Canyon Caverns. We took the $20/ person tour through the “Largest Dry Caverns in the United States”. Folks, I’ve been to some amazing caverns. I was really excited to see the “largest”. And it was a very interesting tour! Did you know you can actually spend the night – like a hotel – in this cavern?? But what I realized as we were touring is that all the cool stalactites and stalagmites and the really colorful deposits are left in wet caves….  :-/

As you may recall I bought a fancy pants new camera. I’m still learning how to use it, let alone take fancy pants artistic pictures with it. But I don’t feel bad about my pictures of the Grand Canyon. I think very few people can truly capture “The Grand Canyon” on film. But I snapped a few. The first day we drove up and just checked things out.



Little did I realize we started a new photos series with S, her doing cheerleading scorpions in scenic places across the US. That is what is interesting to a 13 year old girl.
Grand Canyon

The second day we took the scenic Grand Canyon Railway Train to the canyon instead. Once there we only had a few hours to hike a bit down into the Bright Angel Trail and back before the trail left the station for the 2.5 hour ride back to Williams.



In Williams we stayed at the Canyon Motel & RV Park. It’s a cute, quaint little place where you can stay in a room or in a caboose or railway car!! It looks so neat I almost didn’t want to stay in the RV! THe staff was very helpful with getting our train tickets too. However, as a side note, when management of the RV park tells you to unhook your water line at night because it might freeze… don’t forget to do it the second night because it might break a fitting on their pump. And parks don’t like it when you accidentally break their stuff. Just ask Uncle Dan.

So after all the majestic grandeur of what is known as THE Grand Canyon… no one was very impressed. I’m serious. “too many people”, “paved trails? really??” “It’s crowded”.  It seems as though this particular tour group prefers serious hiking and rock climbing. I think everyone would have enjoyed it more if we’d had more time to really hike down into the canyon, possibly spend 3-4 days packing it in and around. That’s probably too advanced for S, but that’s right up Z’s ally. I have already informed Mike that we have to get my camping/backpacking gear out of storage so we can do the canyon “right” next time!


Beautiful Rocks

Who knew rocks could be so beautiful???


We left Phoenix yesterday to explore a bit of northern Arizona before picking up Mike’s kids for their spring break vacation tomorrow. Ideally I tried to get us into a campground in Sedona but I stumbled on this gem in Prescott, AZ. Point of Rocks Campground is an unassuming campground nested in the most gorgeous rocks I’ve not seen since the Flat Irons of the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, Colorado. I haven’t discovered the geologic history yet but it’s next on my list!

Point of Rocks a Good Sam park, so the 10% discount applies. I was skeptical, but our rig actually DID fit! When you drive in and see all the sites squeezed in between the rock formations you might not believe it either. There’s more room than you think. Our site (#56) isn’t even tight. Not only are the rocks breathtaking here but there is a path leading directly to Watson Lake. There are no words. Perfect photography opportunities!

We were able to immediately meet our two sociable neighbors. Both couples are full-timing it. One younger couple, from Montana, with two youngsters just started not long ago. It was great as we both traded blogging cards!!! How fun!!! It’s great to meet like-minded people on the road! This is the RVing experience I was looking forward to!

I finally feel like a genuine full timer now!

Orange Blossoms are My New Favorite!

We made it to Arizona! My best friend, Christy from grad school, lives here and has graciously allowed us to park on her property for the month of March. It was a little dicey getting backed it. The conversations leading up to our arrival had our eyes swimming with sugarplums. “HUGE concrete pad”, ” fully gated yard where Indy can run with our dogs too”, “12 foot wide fence to back in through” and “clear, nothing hanging overhead”.


But that’s also from the perspective of someone who has never been in nor dirven a 5th wheel.

Michael is the world’s best driver and backer, if I do say so. I may be biased, but it’s the truth. He threaded this beast under the tree, through the fence and onto the concrete pad without hitting the metal clothes line that was perched at the end of the concrete pad. (It has since been removed. Apparently it was the plan all along.) All while being under the stress of holding up traffic on a busy, major street. This man is a cool customer under pressure!

20150309_174018 20150309_174023

But once we were in it was exactly as described, on a concrete pad, within the fence so Indy could run free, clear overhead. They have a tangelo and lemon tree in their yard. We got here just as the citrus blossoms are releasing the most intoxicating fragrance I have ever experienced! Pure bliss!


Christy and Ellen’s (her partner) lemon tree is still a baby and not yet producing fruit. But their neighbor brings them lemons off of her tree. Here is the latest gift from next door.

Orange, lemon, grapefruit…. they are EVERYWHERE! I actually LOVE running here solely because of the sweet smells wafting through the wind as we run. Even through busy streets! I can’t begin to describe it. I don’t have the words. Just come to Phoenix in March. You won’t be disappointed!

There are many reasons I’m excited to be staying at Christy and Ellen’s. First and foremost, I actually get to see my best friend of 16 years for a while! Not just a quick yearly weekend visit or so that we’ve managed for the past 12+ years. I also get to spend time with Ellen and get to know her more. I’m of the mind that you should really get to know your best friends’ significant other. Or at least be friends with them. It’s so much more fun to all hang out together and share experiences.

I was also excited that Indy would have the opportunity to run free in a fenced-in yard. However that has not turned out as expected. Christy and Ellen have three little dogs and a Greyhound. They also have an apartment on their property they rent out and the renters have two little multi-poos. The first day we arrived we let all the dogs out together and Oliver, an old, deaf small poodle mix (I think) went all ankle-biter on Indy. Indy did not like it. As a matter of fact he was terrified and traumatized by the experience.

My 80 pound Great Dane/ hound mix will no longer go outside the camper unless we put his harness on him and take him for a walk. Outside the fence. If he has to go bad enough I’ll open the door and he’ll stand there, look out to see if he sees any ankle biters. Only if he feels the coast is clear will he come out on his own. Sissy.

Another plus to staying here is the use of a full-sized kitchen!!! It’s funny how you get used to what you’ve got. I made dinner for us and one of their friends the other night.They have a big kitchen and I almost got overwhelmed! Funny, isn’t it, that I’m now so used to a teeny tiny space, that running around their vast kitchen was almost too much. It also doesn’t help when you cook in an unfamiliar place. But I think I pulled it off alright.


We had Orange and Fennel Salad and then I grilled simple kabobs and served them over Black Bean and Wild Rice Salad. However, I made it with black rice instead of wild rice. And for dessert, Grilled Pineapple with Honey-Cinnamon Glaze. I used honey from a family friend who raises bees in South Carolina. I think dinner went over pretty well!

And the final reason I love it here…. did I mention the orange blossoms???