Ain’t It GRAND?!

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And that was the crowning moment of our trip: ALMOST everyone smiling, no one falling into the canyon (though Ella tried), and all of us appropriately in awe of the gorgeous Grand Canyon.

Given that we just had 8 ACTION-packed days, I’ll split our trip into two posts (believe me, you’ll thank me later). We left LA last Saturday afternoon (7/20) in a perfectly packed minivan with a first stop in Barstow, CA, which is probably only worth the pool + dinner + sleep we had there to split up our trip to Las Vegas. We did of course stop at Barstow Station, a hodgepodge maze of tourist oriented “shops” and two fast food restaurants, which earned the 3.5 stars it gets on most review sites – and its place on Weird California.

After driving through beautiful countryside postcards, we arrived in Vegas the following afternoon in time to pick up Bart’s parents at the airport and dine in our hotel, the Mandalay Bay. The following morning we spent at the pool, again (with temperatures between 90-110 during our trip and given how many hours we spent in a car, the pool was a popular spot). In fact, on this first morning together I volunteered to grab Starbucks and take both kids to the pool so Bart could have a relaxing first breakfast with his parents.

Some things to note:

  1. I can swim but am not a strong swimmer
  2. One of my biggest fears is drowning (worse, my children drowning…)
  3. The Mandalay Bay is known for its “beach”, complete with sand and waves (bet you can see where this is going, but stick with me)
  4. Zoe hates sand.
  5. Ella loves sand.
  6. Zoe loves waves.
  7. Ella hates waves – and by the way is too young to be allowed in the wave section of the “pool”
  8. Zoe is a confident swimmer.
  9. Ella is an over-confident swimmer…
  10. Remember, I was alone with both kids, by choice.

Oh, and in case you don’t know this already, I hate Vegas. But that’s another story. For this particular experience, I ended up out of my comfort zone and somewhere between two sections of the pool: a “kiddie” section that was super shallow and where the waves barely reached and the super-wave section which Zoe never wanted to leave.

Let’s just say that everyone survived, including Bart’s poor parents who, troopers that they are, came out to the pool to hang out – in full sun at over 100 degrees (since that’s all there was at the “beach”). Don’t worry, we all stayed hydrated. And the kids had a blast:

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And Zoe, in her cute new red swimsuit, had her first Baywatch moment, sort of…

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We’ll work on that. Meanwhile, Ella attempted to bury herself in sand…

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That afternoon we headed to the Circus Circus hotel for free circus acts, one of the top Things to Do With Kids you can find online. We made it to the Clown and Hand Balancing Act (two separate acts, though I was a little disappointed by that, since I wanted to see what a clown balancing act looked like…)

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Below are my two favorite videos. One is the actual hand balancing performer as he begins to take off his clothes (insert brief moment of panic from this mom with two kids on one side and two in-laws on the other…). I had been videoing other parts of the clown and hand balancer acts, and if you listen closely, you can hear the following:

  • Me cackling uncomfortably
  • Bart’s dad saying “did you get that?” after the striptease (smarty pants)
  • Zoe saying, “no way, no way, no way!

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And my other favorite video is me flipping the camera to capture Zoe’s face as the clown went through his goofy routine:

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If I could bottle and sell that unbridled laughter, I’d be rich! We followed up the circus with dinner and a magic show, Xavier Mortimer’s Magical Dream. There were a lot of visual illusions (disappear, interact with a screen, etc) and several instances of him engaging the audience, then revealing their “answers” after the fact on pieces of paper or a chalkboard – along with other impossible magic tricks. Very entertaining.

The following day (Tuesday), we all piled back into the minivan and headed towards Williams, AZ to pick up the train to the Grand Canyon. On the way we made a quick stop in Kingman, AZ (a Route 66 historical stop) and took some photos with trains, one of the few things to do in Kingman during a short stop, and in the “museum”, which was really more of a gift shop.

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I saved $16 by talking these kids into photos of random plastic plaques with their names on them, which we don’t really need to own and they haven’t mentioned since. We also stopped in Seligman, AZ, another Route 66 favorite, where we had burgers and fries for lunch, and enjoyed the silly jokes and decorated old cars at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive In. Oh, and we got chocolate milkshakes and soft serve cones for all the “kids” (this one was the messiest, though possibly not the most excited):

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After relieving ourselves in an actual outhouse (not kidding, though they think it’s funny), we headed on to Williams to see the Planes of Fame air museum before dining at the Red Raven restaurant our friend Emily recommended. Yum.

The air museum was pretty amazing, a huge hangar filled with restored planes of all shapes and sizes, some old (also restored) cars, a couple of planes the kids could even sit in and “drive”, and lots of other aviation-related memorabilia of all sorts.

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We slept like logs that night in a local Airbnb with very gracious South African hosts, who not only met us at the corner upon arrival but also gave us a complete tour of the “Opstal” (that means “homestead” in Afrikaans). There were lion and cheetah themed curtains and bedspreads – and a lion + Africa shower curtain. The kids loved it.

And so ends the first half of our trip, which I’ll wrap up with a few more pictures worth sharing. A multi-colored rock formation called Seven Magic Mountains on the way from Barstow to Vegas; two cute kids ready to play in the hotel in Vegas; and another of the many scenic shots I took from the car on the way from Vegas to Williams.

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Up next: The Grand Canyon! If you’ve been there already, you know that these lovely roadside views pale in comparison to the mind-blowing vastness of the Grand Canyon, but I personally think they’re all awe-inspiring. Oh, nature.

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