Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Beautiful Year

I'm sitting here in the comfort of my warm, cozy living room.  The Cotton Bowl is on in the background, Jewel is cuddled in her favorite blanket, snoring peacefully, and I'm getting all misty-eyed.  Maybe it's because I had champagne for lunch with a good friend.  Or maybe it's because I've had two Christmas Cokes (Colorado Bulldogs as some people call them). Maybe.

But I think I'm all sentimental because 2015 has been such a beautiful year.  Not perfect.  But beautiful.  One of the best things I've discovered about getting older is the desire to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.  My Christmas card focused on some of the splendor that made this year so magical.

I became a bit obsessed with Nature this year.  Blame it on the English teacher in me as I introduced Transcendentalism to my students.  Blame it on Thoreau and Walden Pond.  But I found myself

pulling off busy interstates and sitting in solitude by riversides, listening to the words  of the whispering water

sitting by Nebraska cornfields staring at the perfect rows of tassel-topped cornstalks

driving east of the city lights to have a clear, unobstructed view of the blood-red, super Harvest Moon

braving the weekend bumper-to-bumper traffic going west to the mountains to behold the dazzling, gold aspen trees

standing on the edge of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in perfect silence while hearing and feeling Thoreau's words loud and clear--"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

As always, my family continues to be a source of strength and beauty, and 2015 brought some new heavenly faces as the Thompson family continues to grow.  Quinn and Archer are our newest Royal babies, and I also gained a new niece when my nephew Kyle tied the knot with Ashlie.  My family is my biggest Natural Wonder, and I am forever grateful for being born a Thompson.

So yes, I am misty-eyed as I close out 2015--not because I'm sad to see it go but because I have a life that is beautiful.  And good.

Here's wishing you a beautiful 2016!


Friday, December 4, 2015

Two and a Half Perfect Days (in Arizona)

If you have a long weekend coming up and want to go somewhere where you feel like you've gotten out of town, head for Arizona.  In three days, you can comfortably fit in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Flagstaff, The Grand Canyon, and Sedona.

Perfect traveling buddies!!
Don't even think about going by yourself.  You are going to need someone to oohh and aahh with as your eyes behold some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States, including one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  I was blessed to have four of the most amazing people on this trip with me--my mom, my sister Kerri, my nephew Nathan, and his girlfriend Lindsey,  I could not have taken this trip without all four,  and I am so, so grateful for them <3

Day One begins with

Did I mention we were in first class?  Well . . . someone has to do it; might as well be me!
Because we were limited on time, we flew from Denver to Phoenix, but we all remarked about how cool it would be to road trip this entire itinerary.  We definitely put that on our to-do list, but for this trip, we took to the friendly skies.  I must say, as a loyal United girl, I was a little hesitant when Kerri emailed our reservations.  US Air (US Scare as we referred to them when I worked for United!) has always seemed a little questionable in my eyes, but to my surprise and relief, our flight was delightful.  As it turned out, we were on one of the last ever true US Air flights to operate.  The next day American Airlines took over in another major airline merger.  

First stop
Olive and Ivy, Scottsdale
Kerri sat next to a chatty guy on the flight to Phoenix.  He might have been borderline annoying, but he did give her some awesome recommendations for lunch spots in the Phoenix area.  We decided to try one, and we are so glad we did.  Check out Olive and Ivy.  We all loved this Scottsdale gem.  As we walked to the entryway, we were greeted with a soft, cooling mist and a friendly staff.  The food and drinks were outstanding.  We all ordered salads and their specialty, flatbreads.  I would definitely go back and most likely order the same thing!


After our perfect lunch, we were in our rental car heading north to Williams, Arizona, our final destination for day one.  The next morning we would be catching the Grand Canyon Railroad and heading to Grand Canyon National Park.  Since the train leaves at 9 a.m. we didn't exactly want to leave Phoenix at 4 in the morning, and so we headed north on I 17 toward Flagstaff.  Although there are several routes to get to the Grand Canyon, we found this to be most practical, especially since some of our travel would be in the dark.  And there's this amazing rest stop called SUNSET POINT with a gorgeous view of the sun setting behind the mountains.  The image of that view will stay with you as you cruise into Williams to end travel day one.



Riding the rails in style
Once we arrived at Williams, we stayed at The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Although by no means a luxury stay, the rooms were comfortable, and the train was only steps away.  We survived two, TWO fire alarms complete with total evacuation  of the hotel (the first one at midnight and another at 7 in the morning), but we shook those off and soon forgot them.  

Real pictures, not postcards, of the Canyon
You can, of course, drive from Williams to the Grand Canyon, but why would you when you can ride the rails?  We took the historic Grand Canyon Railway just steps from our hotel.  The two and a half hour train trip was filled with incredible scenery from desert to bluffs to forests and finally the canyon. 
Nothing could possibly have prepared me for the view awaiting us just a short walk from the train.  For one thing, when they say the south rim of the Canyon, they really mean the RIM.  When you walk up for the first look, you are literally on the rim.  Short walls border some parts to prevent people from falling, but there are also open areas that I wasn't comfortable approaching.  You can see all the way to the bottom and catch glimpses of the Colorado River, and you can see across to the the north side as well.  The views are so incredibly crystal clear and perfect that it almost seems like you're looking at a movie scene or green screen and not the real thing.  
And I couldn't believe how quiet it was, despite the many tourists present.  There was almost a reverent hush as we all took in God's beauty.
We had about four hours to walk around The South Rim, the perfect amount of time.  Make sure to allow time to have lunch at the Grand Hotel, a historic hotel just steps from the rim.  Their lunch menu is amazing--try the Indian taco--to die for!
The train ride back to Williams was equally relaxing and entertaining,  I don't want to spoil anything, but be prepared for some surprises on the return trip.  (Hint:  make sure your purse/wallet is tucked safely away!)
Because we wanted to take the scenic drive back to Phoenix, we stayed one more night in Williams in order to avoid driving in the dark.  I highly recommend doing the same.


L'Auberge.  Gorgeous.
You must take Highway 89A at least one way of your trip between the Grand Canyon and Phoenix.  This road winds through some of the most breathtaking scenery ever, and this is coming from a Colorado girl!  The mountain views with Oak Creek by your side the entire way to Sedona rival many drives through the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Because we had a late afternoon flight to catch in Phoenix, we were only in Sedona long enough to have brunch.  There are tons of fabulous restaurants in the Sedona area.  We relied on a sure-fire means to find the best--we asked Siri!  And Siri is never wrong--she led us to a perfect brunch location, L'Auberge, right on the banks of Oak Creek.  I mean really on the banks--we were so close to the edge that sliding a chair just a little too far would have landed one of us in the creek, brunching with the ducks.  The brunch menu was French and elegant and scrumptious, and the scenery was breathtaking.  Make sure to ask for a table by the creek, and by all means try their quiche of the day and a bubbly mimosa.

 L'Auberge was the perfect last stop on a fabulous weekend trip; I couldn't have scripted a better ending to our two and a half perfect days in Arizona.