grand adventures part 1: phoenix and the grand canyon

Hello, friends!  I’m back from a little bit of work and a whole lot of play out west in Arizona.  Actually, I’ve been back for a full week, but it always takes me a while to shake off vacation mode.  Two weekends ago I hopped on a plane to Phoenix for NASPA’s annual conference.  (We love alphabet soup acronyms in student affairs…)  The conference was definitely productive, and I walked away with some new thoughts in a lot of different areas of my job, most especially in relation to policy and higher education.  Add some In N Out, a trip to Pizzeria Bianco to try Oprah’s favorite pizza, rock scrambling on Camelback Mountain, and posing in cowboy hats, and you’ve got two and a half days of the appropriate balance of business + pleasure.

I promise actual work occurred in Phoenix. I just didn't bother taking any pictures of it, because who wants to see that?

After the work wrapped up on Wednesday (alliterative much?), it was time for full-fledged vacation with The Guy, who flew in to meet me.  Our first stop was Glendale, AZ, where we took in a spring training game at Camelback Ranch.  Camelback is home to both my boys in blue and the Chicago White Sox; given the option, I’d obviously prefer to catch a Dodger game, but since they weren’t playing until later in the evening, we happily watched the Sox beat the Angels 9-7.  I think at some point Chris was rooting for the Halos, but I’m just going to pretend like that didn’t happen.  This was my first time catching a spring training game, and it was as perfect as I imagined.  First, seats are super cheap – I think we paid about $10.  In the same vein, peanuts and beers were uber cheap, as well.  (I’m a firm believer that one should eat and drink and much as possible anytime you’re at a baseball field.)  Plus, you get to sit on the lawn and soak up the sun while at the same time soaking up America’s favorite past time.  That, my friends, is a win-win-win.

Baseball + (Almost) Spring + Sun = Perfect Afternoon

After Glendale, we started the 4-hour trek towards the Grand Canyon.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  First, I decided I needed a large, floppy hat to rival Chris’s notorious hat.  And to prevent skin cancer during the rest of our sunny adventures.

Sadly, this was the only time I actually wore my new hat. Turns out a floppy hat without a tie is not so useful at the top of a breezy canyon.

Floppy hat secured, we left the not so-scenic sprawling deserts of the Phoenix area and headed north.  We stopped in Flagstaff for dinner, where I was pleasantly surprised by an awesome meal at the Tinderbox Kitchen.  Honestly, I could write an entire post about that dinner (and probably will later), but I would be remiss not to mention what was probably the best dessert of my entire life.  And I have eaten A LOT of desserts.  Imagine the most perfectly textured peanut butter and chocolate mousses, swirled together and drizzled with caramel.  Wait, you don’t have to imagine, because I was an obnoxious diner and took a picture of it for you:

I would marry this dessert and have 10,000 of its babies.

Of course, the real joy of desserts is how they taste, so this doesn’t quite do it justice.  But if you’re ever traveling through Flagstaff, hunt down this peanut-buttery chocolately goodness.  I promise you will thank me.  We finally made it to the Grand Canyon area around 11pm that night, so the plan was to visit the park bright and early-ish on Thursday morning.  Chris had been before, but this was my first time, and I was absolutely blown away.  Honestly, words can’t capture how overwhelming and magnificently beautiful it is when you get your first panoramic view of the canyon in person.  It brought tears to my eyes.  (Fortunately, that’s completely acceptable according to Ron Swanson.)  I went a bit overboard on the picture taking, so to spare you from tons and tons of landscape photos, I’ve gone ahead and selected a few of my favorites to share.

I heart sweat. And the Grand Canyon.

We spent the morning being stunned by the views, poking around the Visitors Center, and doing a mini-hike on the South Kaibab Trail.  We descended about a mile and a half down into the canyon and were rewarded with even better views at the appropriately named Ooh Ahh point.  After returning to the top of the rim, I found some mules that were in obvious need of love and attention, so I happily obliged.

I'm not above crawling half way into a mule pen to get an animal fix.

I'm also not above taking pictures of other people's dogs at national parks.

And I am DEFINITELY not above making Chris pose in front of exhibits that are seemingly designed for children. Fortunately, he's kind enough to oblige. The Guy has a wing span of a bald eagle! Me? I'm just raven-sized.

Aside from learning that the Grand Canyon is probably the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, I also learned that I could very easily spend an entire week there.  I was happy with our mini-hike, but there were at least two or three other trails nearby that I wanted to check out, not to mention the entire North Rim.  During our hike, we bumped into a guy who had just spent 9 days on a Colorado river float trip before hiking up to the South Rim.  (The rest of his group was actually on a 21-day trek, but he had to get back for work.)  I’m looking forward to going back sometime in the next couple of years to more fully explore the Grand Canyon area.

Stay tuned for details about the second half of our trip, which involved adventuring in Sedona.  As for now, I’m off to dream about peanut butter chocolate mousse.

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