No. AZ Road Trip Day 8 – Sedona to Tucson 
Monday, December 7, 2009, 09:28 PM
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This was it - our final day of our Northern Arizona adventure! To make the most of it, we awoke early to catch the sunrise from Airport Mesa. As you can see, we weren't the only ones with this idea.

We had planned to hit the road right after breakfast, but had enjoyed our previous night's dinner at Chocola Tree so much that we decided to stick around for another meal. To kill time until their 11:00 opening, we browsed some art galleries and then stumbled upon a store seemingly made just for Paul - an olive oil store! That's right, an entire store dedicated to olive oils of various origins and flavors. Sampling was encouraged and Paul was happy to oblige.

We found our Chocola Tree lunch to be well-worth our delayed departure. We enjoyed Carrot Ginger Soup, Thankful Potato Soup, Bruschetta and Pecan Pie, along with some fun samples our server whipped up. We were the only patrons and I think he was bored.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip! Northern Arizona is a beautiful part of the world and, while it is chilly in November, exploring it in the off-season allowed us to avoid the crowds. I could not have asked for a better vacation or a better travel partner. Or should I say, pardner?

You can see more of Paul's wonderful photos from this trip on his website.
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No. AZ Road Trip Day 7 – Sedona 
Sunday, December 6, 2009, 04:30 PM
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While other people I know were up before dawn risking their lives at Black Friday sales, we slept in and then met friends, Bob & Eileen, for a late morning hike followed by a delicious lunch at Wildflower. We found that the farther we got from Najavo country, the better our food options became.

Fueled up again, we returned to the trails for a glorious loop on Brin's Mesa, Soldier's Pass and some other trails. It's been quite a while since I've run on trail and I loved every minute of it. Fresh air, red rocks, dirt under my feet. Ahhh.....

There were certain parts I loved a little less than others, like when the jeep tours came through and interrupted our solitude. However, we did learn a few things by eavesdropping on their commentary at the Devil's Kitchen sinkhole.

We stopped frequently for pictures and to play with dogs. Sedona is an amazingly dog-friendly pace - just one more reason to love it!

For dinner, we chose Chocola Tree, a raw food restaurant. And we chose wisely. I like hot foods way to much to go completely raw, but I love how healthful and creative (not to mention gluten-free) the diet is. We had the Kelp Noodles with Nut Sauce and the "Turkey" Sandwich Plate made with leftovers from the previous day's holiday feast. The "turkey" was actually nutloaf which is much tastier than it sounds.

We finished the meal with coconut ice cream and a slice of the Chocolate Ganache Pie. It was divine.

Fully sated, we headed to Tlaquepaque for their Festival of Trees. We had no idea what this was, but, having skipped the Black Friday craziness, we were due for some holiday cheer.

Various groups had created themed Christmas trees (or cacti) that were being auctioned off for charity. Here was our favorite - the decorations are used light bulbs of all varieties that were collected from local stores and painted.

And while this store was closed, we couldn't resist a photo. Sedona draws an eclectic group of people.

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No. AZ Road Trip Day 6 – Lake Powell to Sedona 
Friday, December 4, 2009, 08:33 AM
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Our holiday started off in the traditional way with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, but that's where the tradition ended. We discovered that most restaurants either close for the day or offer a fixed menu laden with gluten, and so we had a rather international Thanksgiving with mediocre Mexican (Oaxaca Restaurant) for lunch and fabulous Korean (Mago Cafe) for dinner.

That morning, just outside of Page, we made a sunrise photo stop at Horseshoe Bend, a breathtaking feat of nature. There were only a few other sightseers, including a rather enthusiastic young couple. Upon first seeing Horseshoe Bend, he eloquently exclaimed, "Holy shit! Holy shit! Oh shit!" Later, despite temperatures in the 30's, she whipped off her top to pose for a photo in a dazzling red bra. (Sorry, she was not posing for our camera.)

With our book-on-tape, The Alchemists Daughter, as entertainment, we drove straight through to Sedona where we checked in at Sugarloaf Lodge. Finding reasonably-priced lodging in Sedona on Thanksgiving weekend is no easy task. At the very un-Sedona price of $75 per night (including tax), Sugarloaf Lodge is no-frills, but very clean and more than adequate. And really, in a town this beautiful, who really wants to spend much time in the hotel room?

We hit the trails immediately for a short, yet inspiring, hike to Fay Canyon and the Fay Canyon Arch.

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No. AZ Road Trip Day 5 – Lake Powell 
Monday, November 30, 2009, 10:06 PM
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Now that I have returned to the real world of working for a living, I'll need to speed up the blogging if I hope to finish this vacation report before my next vacation starts (New England in less than 4 weeks - woohoo!). So, I'll be hitting the highlights for the second half of our adventure.

We were pleased with our lodging at the Days Inn and relieved to be able to leave our belongings in the same place for two whole nights. My only gripe was that the hot tub was closed for the season. "The season" apparently refers to that time of year during which it's cold outside and feels really good to soak in hot water.

Anyway, we had a jam-packed day starting with an interesting tour of the Glen Canyon Dam...

...followed by a 2.5-hour photography tour of Antelope Canyon. Paul had been anticipating this visit for months and even bought a special camera lens to capture the famous swirling rock formations.

The photography tour differs from the regular tour in that it is one hour longer and the entire time is spent setting up and taking photos. They don't waste any time discussing history, geology and such - just camera speed and angles. I spent much of the time chatting with the other photographer's wife and saying things like, "Nice one honey." The canyon is truly spectacular.

Being faithful to my half marathon training plan, I squeezed in a 5-mile tempo run that afternoon. We spent the warm-up portion of the workout searching for the mythical "Rim Trial" touted by two different guidebooks before giving up and just meandering our way around the not-so-scenic streets of Page.

After a high-priced, low quality meal the previous night at The Dam Bar & Grille, we decided to get creative for dinner. Pictured here is the finest meal in Page, including salad, entree, dessert and wine. (Notice how we utilized the coffee plate as a tortilla warmer.)

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No. AZ Road Trip Day 4 – Monument Valley to Lake Powell 
Sunday, November 29, 2009, 04:41 PM
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“Uhh…two hours. Half an hour. An hour and a half. I don’t know.” This was the response our guide gave when asked how long it would take us to hike back to the hotel. I wanted to kick him.

Forty-five minutes into our 2.5-hour sunrise tour of Monument Valley, he had gotten our ill-equipped, non-4-wheel-drive van stuck in the sand. For almost an hour, I worked the walkie talkie and the gas pedal, while Paul and the guide dug sand away from the tires on their hands and knees and occasionally pushed. (Clearly, I had the better job.) Despite their efforts, the only thing that budged was something in Paul’s rib area that made a popping sound and is still sore as I write this, five days later.

Realizing that our guide was completely incompetent, Paul took charge and suggested the guide hike up to a ridge to try to get a signal for the walkie talkie. No luck.

We then returned to our positions to give pushing one more try, only to find that the van's battery had died. Not only did this mean we had no chance of driving out, but it also meant that we had no heat. Did I mention that the temperature was in the 20's?

To keep warm and increase our chance of reaching someone on the walkie talkie, we insisted on starting to hike out. We scrambled up to the ridge, eventually landed on a road and, finally, were able to make radio contact. It was at this point (which should have been the end to our troubles), that we discovered that Black Tour’s really didn’t care that we were stranded and freezing. We hiked for 45 minutes and, despite chatting on the walkie talkie periodically, our guide couldn’t give us a clear answer whether someone was coming to get us or not.

Shit happens. Vans get stuck. I totally get that. What I don’t get is a company who specializes in these back country tours being so ill-prepared to handle the situation. Eventually, a pickup truck did arrive to rescue us, but, at that point, we were too cold, tired, and short on time to tour any more of the park.

Though disappointed that we did not get to see nearly as much of the valley as we had planned, we were still awed by its beauty. With the barren desert surrounding the striking towers of red rock, the effect is otherworldly. It's hard to complain when we had a view like this while eating a late breakfast:

And Paul did get some great sunrise shots before the fiasco began.

With more of Arizona to see, we loaded up the Prius and headed west, stopping at Navajo National Monument for a short hike to some impressive cliff dwellings...

...and then continued on to Page where we happened upon a popular sunset spot overlooking Lake Powell.

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