Since the primary purpose of our trip to Morgantown was to attend the OU-WV football game, we didn’t do any notable sightseeing in Morgantown. The drive from Deep Creek was pleasant but without particular note. It is beautiful countryside, though, and we compared what we saw with what we’d been told about the beauty of the area and didn’t find it lacking one bit.
West Virginia University has a transportation arrangement similar to OU’s, except there are two different parking areas that provide bus transportation to Mountaineer Field. We parked at an outlying shopping center and climbed aboard one of the waiting buses. It is always wise to be prepared when doing this, meaning you should have your field glasses, gloves, blankets and other cold-weather gear – and of course, your game tickets.
That good advice comes from the voice of experience, of course. About half way to the field, I realized that I had left the game tickets in the car. The bus driver was very nice and let me ride back to the parking lot, grab my tickets, and head to the field again (without having to buy another bus ticket).
That generosity and good spirit continued throughout the evening. The Mountaineer Band put on an impressive marching musical display pre-game and half-time, even playing “Oklahoma” while forming the shape of our state. The Mountaineer fans were gracious and welcoming, and even the couple sitting beside me put up with my loud cheering for the Sooners.
We really enjoy taking trips. We enjoy driving on some trips, seeing parts of the United States that we haven’t seen before – or sometimes reliving memories of past trips to the same destinations. When time isn’t of the essence, a driving trip is probably the most educational, at the least.
Sometimes, however, it pays to weigh the economics of flying or driving. When you drive, you really should consider the depreciation that the mileage may cause on your car and the cost of gasoline. And you have to add in the cost of lodging if your trip is more than a day trip.
As we planned our driving trip to Morgantown, WV for the OU-West Virginia football game, we began to re-think our plans. This would be approximately 2400 miles, 19 hours each way! Sure we could push it and spend only one night out, but driving for 9-10 hours for two days in a row would probably mean we couldn’t move for two days after that!
To break it down to two nights out would be much more reasonable, but of course, more expensive. We were guesstimating $90-$100 per night for lodging, so that would add $400 to our trip.
We also had decided to visit family in Columbia, MD. They also own a weekend place at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, only 50 miles from Morgantown, so they were looking forward to joining us for the football game, too.With all of that in mind, we decided we would see what it would cost to fly. Checking with American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, I found that the cost of flights was still more than the cost to drive. I then checked Kayak.com, to see if by any chance there might be a different carrier that would meet our needs.
I like checking flights and hotels through Kayak, because it provides a cost comparison of Hotwire, Priceline, Expedia, Cheapoair, and Travelocity. Generally they are pretty comparable, but occasionally one may have a discount that is better than the others.
This was definitely the right move, because Kayak showed fares on Delta Airlines that were notably cheaper than the others I had checked! I went directly to Delta’s website then, and made the reservations. We saved several hundred dollars, several days, and were set for a great trip of visiting, sightseeing, and cheering on the Sooners!
The college football season is in full swing in the Big 12. Having had season tickets at OU since 1973, our loyalty doesn’t waver. Today I’m looking back at this season’s first game on September 1 in El Paso, Texas.
Traveling to El Paso seems like it wouldn’t be that big a deal – after all it’s in Texas right next door. But actually, it takes more than 12 hours to drive there. It is in “far West Texas,” and that is an apt description – just a couple of miles west to New Mexico or follow the bridge over the Rio Grande and you’re in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico!
To break up the long drive, we spent the night in Clovis, New Mexico, coming and going. It is a community of 30,000-35,000 people, and offers several motels (we stayed at a nice Hampton Inn) and restaurants for weary travelers. It has a rather large rail yard, having been established in 1906 when the Santa Fe Railroad was being constructed.
Crossing the Franklin Mountains [/caption]The route from Clovis to El Paso takes you through Alamogordo and past the White Sands Missile Range. This area gained more notoriety during the 1950s-60s for its part in the United States’ space program.
Entering El Paso from the north on Highway 85, Fort Bliss can be seen on the northeast side. It is noted as one of the largest military complexes of the U.S. Army. On the west side of Highway 85 is the Franklin Mountains. Because El Paso has a hot desert climate, the mountains often surprise unsuspecting tourists. Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road crosses from Highway 85 to Interstate 10.
Yards in El Paso are typically “desert landscape” and have little grass, much rock. Oleanders, ocotillo, and cacti make up the most common plants. We drove by the home that had been our daughter and son-in-law’s when our first grandson was born in the late 1990′s and observed that the landscaping had changed very little. The oleanders they had planted still line the backyard.
One of the notable sites in El Paso is the historic Camino Real Hotel in the middle of downtown, near Union Depot, where Amtrak can be boarded. We opted to stay at the Marriott Hotel by El Paso International Airport, however.
There are a number of interesting museums and sites to attract visitors, but of course, we were focused on the University of El Paso campus and particularly, Sun Bowl Stadium. The stadium is interesting in the way it is built into the mountains. Regardless of where you park, you have a trek uphill to get inside the stadium!
As the moon rose over the stadium and the lights of El Paso twinkled like Christmas decorations, the Sooners topped the UTEP Miners 24-7. Because the game didn’t begin until 9:30 PM CT, we enjoyed the accommodations at the Marriott on Sunday morning and delayed our return trip until later Sunday.
As we “followed the bread crumbs” back to Clovis and on to Oklahoma, we vowed that we would enjoy lots of trips following our beloved Sooners in the future – flying to our destinations!
Before Hurricane Isaac was a twinkle in the weatherman’s eye, our family headed to Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida for some get-together get-away time. Florida is not necessarily the ideal place to be in the hottest part of the summer, but with a swimming pool and ocean waves to wash the sand and sweat away, we didn’t suffer too much.
This was an extended-family group totaling sixteen, so some activities were planned in accordance with the numbers. While dinners together were noisy and probably a challenge for wait staff, they were definitely fun.
We stayed at the Sheraton Ft. Lauderdale Beach. This hotel has buildings on each side of Seabreeze Boulevard, connected by a 2nd floor walkway. With our rooms on the beach side we were able to catch the sea breeze and observe the beach volleyball courts.
The hotel offered the Beach Bar & Grill, the Wreck Bar, and Dos Caminos restaurant, and we took advantage of each of those, along with eating at nearby restaurants. The Wreck Bar was interesting because of the beautiful aquariums set in two walls and the windows which gave an underwater view of one of the swimming pools. One evening we walked a couple of blocks to the Oasis Café, which had porch swings for seating. We had one ‘dress up’ dinner at the 15th Street Fisheries; and another evening we took the water taxi to Pirate Republic, where the seafood was exceptional. Our favorite place for breakfast was a block from the hotel, the Bahia Cabana. Seating was outside at picnic tables, and watching boats come in and out of the marina kept the kids entertained.
Ft. Lauderdale has many interesting sights, but we most enjoyed taking a water taxi tour along the intercoastal waterway. While still at home, I had purchased a Groupon for a tour of the waterway; but we discovered that we didn’t need to do that. The regular water taxi route comes with a running commentary about the homes and yachts and businesses, along with some of the history of the area. I would recommend checking the water taxi schedules and picking a day when you enough time to take the full route. Huge mansions line the waterway and a few have served as movie locations, businesses, etc. There are also some stops that have commercial areas with shopping and restaurants.
I know that our group of sixteen didn’t begin to see all the marvelous sights that Ft. Lauderdale has to offer, but the combination of those we saw plus the beach and ocean made it a vacation that had something for everyone, from 7 to 70!
The final destination on our journey was Las Vegas, Nevada, but the drive from Grand Canyon National Park to Las Vegas included several interesting guidebook stops.
One stop we made was in Seligman, AZ. Signs indicate that Seligman is the birthplace of Route 66; in reality, Springfield, Missouri is recognized as the birthplace of “The Mother Road.” It was dedicated to Will Rogers and gained fame in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Seligman is an interesting tourist stop, though, with many classic and historic automobiles parked along the stretch of Route 66 that goes through town.
We also drove through the Hoover Dam tourist area. It is impressive, though didn’t seem as large as the pictures we had always seen of it. We didn’t take the time for a tour, however, so we will need to make a repeat visit in the future.
We turned in our rental car at McCarran International Airport and left the rest of the driving to taxi drivers, a wise move in Las Vegas with its overload of traffic on The Strip. We checked in at The Mirage Hotel and prepared to enjoy the totally commercialized atmosphere of the Las Vegas Strip.
It would be easy to get the impression that there are just as many slot machines as hotel rooms in Las Vegas, since every hotel seems to have a large casino area that you have to navigate to get to the elevators.
We wanted to see a few other places, so we took a taxi further south along The Strip. We timed it perfectly to stop and observe the lovely fountain show at The Bellagio. This large display of fountains “dance” to music, and it is a popular stop for thousands each evening.
We also enjoyed walking through Caesar’s Palace and the Forum shopping mall. There is hourly entertainment in the mall, in the form of a mechanized show about the gods and goddesses, and numerous restaurants and shops. The Mirage also had some shops and restaurants, and we enjoyed dinner there both nights, at Samba Brazilian Steakhouse the first night and The Stack the second night.
The highlight of our time in Las Vegas was the Cirque du Soleil show “The Beatles LOVE.” For anyone who has seen a Cirque du Soleil presentation, it isn’t surprising to hear that it was great. This was the fifth such show we’ve seen, however, and it was undoubtedly the most exceptional. Much history was depicted using The Beatles’ many hit songs along with the outstanding performers, and there were some interactive moments to keep the audience engaged.
Las Vegas has various nicknames and is famous for the line “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It should be said, however, that Las Vegas offers a plethora of activities and events 24/7 and can be a fun family vacation or honeymoon destination or just a great place for a long, relaxing weekend.
As one of the great Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon has been photographed and described and videoed and written about endlessly. It is still quite breathtaking when seen from the South Rim the first time.
The drive into the Grand Canyon National Park really gives no ‘preview’ of the canyon itself. Anxious to get our first glimpse, we immediately went to the Grand Canyon Visitors’ Center at Mather Point. After watching an informative video at the center, we walked the short distance to the South Rim and saw exactly what all the excitement is about.
The Grand Canyon spans as much as a mile in some places and is a mile deep. From some of the viewpoints the visitor can catch glimpses of the Colorado River below, and a few trails can be seen below the rim. For those hardier than I, there are backpacking trips, mule rides to Phantom Ranch, or river rafting trips on the Colorado. Actually, when we returned to Oklahoma, we found out a friend is getting ready to take the six-day rafting trip. His view will certainly be different than ours!
We stayed at Maswik Lodge within the national park. There are also two historic hotels, El Tovar and Bright Angel. Reservations for these must be secured well in advance.
It is easy to get a variety of perspectives of the canyon by boarding one of the park’s free shuttle buses. These buses run a regular schedule daily that includes half a dozen or so stops along the South Rim. The shifts in light from sunrise to sunset emphasize the depth of the canyon and the geologic variations of the rocks. We made it a point to be there one morning for sunrise, to take the shuttle during the day, and to return for sunset. Each event was equally impressive.
While the Grand Canyon may be marked off my bucket list, I took advantage of many photo opportunities, and the pictures will be wonderful reminders.
Driving north from Phoenix, we headed for Sedona. That could have been a straight drive up Highway I-17 to Highway 179. We chose to take a couple of interesting side trips on the way, though, and saw so much more.
Near Lake Montezuma, we sidetracked to Montezuma’s Castle. This is actually a dwelling built by Sinagua Indians into the cliffs. It is the equivalent of an 800-year old high-rise apartment building. The Indians accessed their apartments on ladders along the side of the cliffs of limestone.
Our next stop was Jerome, AZ. Jerome was founded in 1876 as a copper mining community. The need for copper during WWII kept Jerome alive, but following the war, the dwindling demand eventually brought about the closing of the mine in 1953. The town then became promoted as a ghost town. Today, however, Jerome is a bustling tourist attraction, with a thriving artist community and many shops. It is built on the 30-degree slope of the mountainside, with each street “above” the street below it.
We finally arrived at Sedona, where the beautiful red sandstone layered with strata of white limestone makes it live up to its name of Red Rock Country. We stayed at the Sky Ranch Lodge on Airport Road. The lodge is above the valley of downtown Sedona and afforded unimpeded views of the gorgeous rock formations. Some of these rock structures have descriptive names like Cathedral, Charlie Brown, Kissing Cousins, and Coffeepot.
Sedona provides a rich heritage of native arts against the backdrop of amazing natural vistas of red sandstone and white limestone.
I guess most of us have a “bucket list” of things we’d like to do, places we’d like to see, before we’re too old. One of the things on my bucket list has been to visit the Grand Canyon. Well, now I can cross that off the list. We made a trip this spring to the Grand Canyon and it more than fulfilled my expectations.
It really isn’t all that easy to get to the Grand Canyon, though. It’s not as if it is that close to a major city or has an airport that is easily accessible from Oklahoma; so planning this trip became an exercise in “how much can we see” in addition to the Grand Canyon! In the process of getting there and getting home, I managed to add a few more destinations to my favorites.
We flew to Phoenix, AZ and rented a car for the remainder of our week. This gave us great flexibility, which proved to be a good thing as we took several recommended side trips that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
In Phoenix we took an afternoon to visit Taliesin West. This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school. It now houses the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
After having seen Wright’s impact on Oak Park in Chicago and his novel design of the Price Tower in Bartlesville, I was interested to see how the desert might influence his design. I had also recently read The Women by T.C. Boyle, about Wright and his wives, and found its descriptions of Wright’s love of Asian art and attention to detail in his living quarters to be true to what I observed at Taliesin West.
Phoenix has many sights and places to entice the visitor, but Taliesin West was the only one we had time for on this trip. Guess we’ll just have to make a return visit there one of these days.
I asked around and was advised that I should purchase a Rick Steves guide. I did and found it to be just what we needed. No wonder Rick Steves’ Italy has been the best-selling international guidebook sold in the United States.
Rick Steves has been a travel writer since 1980. He has written more than 50 guidebooks and other travel resources. He also writes a syndicated newspaper column on travel and often appears on TV as an authority on travel in Europe. His column appears periodically in The Oklahoman and on NewsOK.com.
And now, we in the Oklahoma City area have the opportunity to learn from Rick Steves in person! He will be lecturing at Oklahoma Christian University on March 10, 2012. This event will be at 7:00 p.m. in Hardeman Auditorium at the university. Steves’ topic will be “Cultivating a Global Perspective through Travel.”
If you would like to attend the Rick Steves lecture, tickets are $10 and are available by calling 405-425-5488 or emailing email@example.com. For more information go online to www.oc.edu/ricksteves.
Last September, my husband celebrated a big birthday and said what he’d like more than anything would be to take a balloon ride. I certainly couldn’t let him do something like that by himself, so he received the trip as a gift and I added a ticket for myself.
Balloon rides are highly dependent on weather, of course, so we didn’t get to take advantage of the gift in September… or October… or November or December. As a matter of fact, we had been home from our January trip to Panama City Beach about 15 minutes when we received the call that the next day was going to be a perfect day for a hot air balloon ride.
The day dawned clear and with a mild breeze. In the afternoon we met the pilot and 4 other excited participants in west Oklahoma City. From there we were transported to a field further north. The pilot’s wife and daughter were with him to help get the equipment set up and to follow us once we were aloft to pick us up and return us to the meeting point.
The whole process of unloading the basket, the balloon, a fan on a generator, the heaters – that in itself was interesting. As we watched and participated, the balloon was connected to the basket, filled with air from the fan, and inflated; then we all climbed aboard the basket.
The pilot, Keith Mills of Free Spirit Balloons, used the heaters (there were two) to launch the balloon and away we went! As we slowly lifted and began to move in a southeast path, we had the opportunity to see the countryside from treetop height. We continued to rise as far as 3,000 feet and drifted along, catching airflow where possible. As Keith put it, the hot air balloon can rise and lower with the force of the heated air, but only God can determine the horizontal direction.
All of the participants declared the afternoon an unqualified success. The trip had been a surprise 40th birthday gift for one lady, and she and the giver of the gift were among the riders. It had originally been planned as a venue for a proposal for a young couple, but work and weather circumstances had prevented that from happening in a timely manner, so they finally took the ride as an “old married couple” of two years. And of course, my husband and I were celebrating his birthday a few months late.
A hot air balloon ride is a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion, making it even more memorable. But it would also be a great way to just spend a beautiful morning or afternoon!