Well, traveling around the U.S. this month on “home leave,” or the Great American Friends and Family Tour, has not left much time for blogging. Plenty of time for eating amazing food (seriously, Californian cuisine, wow), seeing awe-inspiring sights, and catching up with family and friends. Here’s a little summary.
Stop 1 – Las Vegas: I’m not one of those party girls who adores Vegas or anything, but I have been there many times. My grandpa retired to Las Vegas after being an accountant in Michigan for many years. Since then, he spends his days going to a decidedly uncool casino betting on horse races. A Vegas grandfather probably conjures images of a gold-laden creepy old man who attends topless reviews on the nightly and drives a Caddy with dice in the mirror, but my Gramps is pretty much the opposite of that. Just a quiet, numbers-oriented guy who still gambles at his old age almost entirely to keep his mind sharp (and it seems to have worked). Mr.YemenEm and I met after our 10-day apartness at the Vegas airport and went to rent a car. Through some sort of luck, we were upgraded for no charge to 2014 white Ford Mustang convertible, which is just the car you’d want when driving up most of the Pacific Coast Highway. After a night of sleep at the hottest address in Vegas – Gramps’ retirement community – we sunned and drank ourselves toasted at Caesar’s Palace’s pretty awesome pool. And had a great Mexican lunch at Mesa Grille, Bobby Flay’s Mexican restaurant inside Caeser’s. That night, we ate at Gramps’ favorite spot – The Gold Coast Casino buffet, which specializes in Chinese, Mexican, and overly boiled vegetables. After losing a quick $100 at the blackjack table, we took Gramps home and Mr.YemenEm and I attended a sex-themed Cirque du Soleil show. Tip for readers: Unless you, like, majored in theater in high school or particularly love being the center of attention during an acrobatic show about sex, don’t sit in the front row. Mr.YemenEm was singled out early on and an hour later, was on stage, cupping the bare breasts of a performer who showed the audience how to make DIY breast implants out of Ziploc bags of whiskey.
Stop 2 – Zion Canyon: I had been to Zion not too long ago and was totally wowed by its diverse beauty. It’s both lush and barren, has both bright green foliage and burnt orange hues. So Mr.YemenEm and I checked in to a hotel in the charming town of Springdale, Utah, right at entrance to Zion and had a good dinner at the Whiptail Grill. In the morning, we embarked on a hike of the Narrows, the most popular hike in Zion. The hike, which took about seven hours, is almost entirely in the Virgin River. We rented special shoes and a walking stick and got quite the watery workout. Afterwards, we had a good Mexican dinner at Oscar’s, which was even made better by the fact that there was a Mormon family band performing classic rock outside of a coffee shop across the street, and it seemed as if half the town had turned up to watch. Exactly the type of authentic-feeling small-town experience you hope to stumble upon while traveling. We had transferred to another hotel for the last night in Zion, a place called the Desert Pearl Inn and our room has a beautiful view of the Virgin River and red rocks off in the distance. The next morning, we hiked the second most popular hike in Zion, called Angel’s Landing. This trail was created by the National Park Service in the 1920s and involves many switchbacks that end in a peak — Angels Landing — from which you get a great view of the whole park. This hike would NEVER be created by the government today. It was harrowing at times, with people clinging with an iron grip to the chains that were installed so people can fling themselves over a narrow pass and avoid plummeting to their death below. Six people have died on the hike in the past decade or so, according to a nearby sign and we wondered whose job is was to make a new sign every time a hiker dies on the hike. I’m not afraid of heights, but there were moments that my heart was thumping. Mr.YemenEm and I agreed this was the most fun hike we’d ever done.
Stop 3 – The Grand Canyon: We pulled in to the Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) at dusk, with the top down on our Mustang, marveling at the drastic change of scenery we’d seen that day. Suddenly we were surrounded by pine forests after driving through desert. We pulled in to the Watchman Tower viewpoint, and Mr.YemenEm got his first glimpse of that big ass canyon. I first saw the Grand Canyon when I was nine and certainly didn’t appreciate it’s enormity until I saw it again years later. We stayed at one of the lodges in the park, had an fairly blah dinner, and then woke up the next morning and hiked part of the Bright Angel trail, which takes you down into the canyon a bit and then right back up, stepping over donkey poo and marveling at the view of the canyon. After a few hours of hiking, we were off to our next stop.
Stop 4 – Gilbert, Arizona: My little cousin recently got married and moved from Michigan to Gilbert, Arizona, which is outside of Phoenix. In case you didn’t know, Arizona is roughly the same temperature as hell. We approached the sprawling city and the thermometer on our car climbed to a whopping 111 degrees. We checked in to the nicest place we’ve stayed on this trip: My lil’ cousin’s gorgeous house. We went out for dinner to a trendy spot called Culinary Dropout in Scottsdale, which really should be the location for the next Real Housewives. I haven’t seen that many toned, tanned, perfectly coiffed, short-skirted women in one place in a long time. A trip to the gym the next day reinforced it for me when I saw some gym bodies that I usually only see in magazines. Naturally, this made me feel not so good about the vacation weight I’ve been steadily amassing, but not bad enough to make me stop eating and drinking at my normal vacation levels. After two nights in Gilbert, a little hot tubbing, and a few more good meals, we departed for LaLa Land.
Stop 5 – Los Angeles: People from Washington DC are supposed to not like Los Angeles. After all, DC is a beacon of intellectualism, education, and dark suits, and LA is, like, so not. When I first visited one of my best friends there a few years ago, I was expected to not like LA. However, I loved it! The perfect weather, the way you can sort of picture the vibe the town had during the early days of Hollywood, and of course the beautiful people, and the ocean. Mr.YemenEm and I rode in on our muscle car, and parked at Runyon Canyon for a nice hike to take in the view of the infamous Hollywood sign, and get a feel for the rest of the city from high atop a dusty perch. I first met the friend we were visiting in 2006 when I moved to DC and interned at a First Amendment non-profit and we became close friends – him going through law school and me working as a reporter until he got a job at an entertainment law firm in LA. Now he’s working on a high-profile trial, so didn’t have much time for us. But this also means we got his nice West Hollywood apartment all to ourselves. The following day, Mr.YemenEm and I did the least underrated tourist attraction in the city: Rented bikes from Santa Monica and rode along the beach trail, with the ocean on one side and some world-class people watching on the other. We had a quick bite at the airy True Food Kitchen in Santa Monica (wonderful cocktails, healthy and delicious food. I will be trying to replicate their edamame wontons when we get back to DC). That night we dined at Cafe Ama (I had a delicious mole enchilada and some very zesty Brussels sprouts) and then we met my friend at French vintage-feeling clubby rooftop restaurant/bar called Perch for some wonderful cocktails. The next morning we met one of Mr.YemenEm’s aunts whom he hadn’t seen in years for lunch, and then departed for our continued trip up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Stay tuned for more dispatches on from the West Coast on our stops in Monterrey, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.
Thinking the West Coast may have the upper hand in the whole East Coast vs. West Coast thing,