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.
A quick trip to San Marcos, Texas gave us the opportunity to observe the results of what is an apparent early spring. Many people (women, especially) love to shop at the large outlet shopping venue in San Marcos. Some consider me a traitor, because I really don’t like to shop; but I do love the lovely spring flowers that southern fields and forests are showing these days. Most of the following pictures were taken at Palmetto State Park, east of San Marcos.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
While traveling through Alabama on our drive to the Florida panhandle, my husband said we were “in the toolies” when asked where in heaven’s name we were. This precipitated a conversation about using the word “toolie” even though he couldn’t exactly define it. It is just a word he learned as a child, and I learned it from him, but our friend had never heard the term.Not one to just let it go, I grabbed my smartphone (a great thing to do when relegated to the backseat on an 8-hour drive) and proceeded to ask Google for a definition. Well, imagine our surprise and confusion when it gave the definition as “a gatecrasher at a schoolies’ event”! Since that didn’t seem at all relevant, I searched further and found a blog called “Ask Your Grandmother” that had entire post about toolies! According to the blog author, a toolie means “out in the middle of nowhere.” And sure enough, we were!
The other particularly notable laughter came from a conversation on our last evening in Panama City Beach. This is the evening we chose Montego Bay Seafood House for dinner. The food was delicious and our waitress was a charming young lady named Michelle Mann. Even though we were full when our plates were empty, we decided we should indulge in some dessert, since we hadn’t done that any other nights.Michelle named off the desserts available, which included bread pudding and Key lime pie. Bread pudding is a favorite choice of my husband’s, so he readily ordered it. Our friend had been talking about how he loved cobbler and asked Michelle if they had cobbler. She said that they did not but did have the bread pudding. He asked if bread pudding was anything like cobbler, and Michelle said, “Oh yes, it is. It touches that sweet spot in your heart just like cobbler does!”
Needless to say, we had a wonderful chuckle at that and thoroughly enjoyed the way the bread pudding touched that sweet spot!
When taking a trip to northern Florida in the winter, one of the things you quickly discover is that many of the locals head further south for the winter. This means that you need to be sure to call ahead. Is the fishing trip you were planning on still available? Is that restaurant you were dying to try open?
Panama City Beach has a number of amusements for children, including a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, several miniature golf courses , marine displays, etc. However, we didn’t see any of these open the week we were there.
Just a quick few notes about places to eat while in Panama City Beach… besides Margaritaville, that is, since I already mentioned it earlier.
Because of the timing of our trip, we wanted to be sure to have a good place to watch some good Oklahoma-based basketball and the BCS National Championship, so we spent one afternoon at Buffalo Wild Wings at Pier Park. It’s good to know that you can go almost anywhere and still catch anything from that championship game to OU women’s basketball to the OKC Thunder games, isn’t it. And don’t be afraid to ask the manager to tune in to the game you want to watch, if it isn’t already on one of the screens. The servers and managers are most accommodating.
Salty Sue’s offers great seafood and barbecue. We stopped in there for a seafood dinner and were so impressed with the food and service and friendly owner, we returned another day for the $5.99 barbecue sandwich special. The owner told us that he had been serving barbecue for over 30 years but had expanded the menu when he rebuilt the building a few years ago following a fire.Another very good place had been recommended to us by an Oklahoma City friend (thank you to Kristin Larson of The Cookie Princess), so we knew we wanted to eat at Sharky’s. We dined on crab cakes and crab legs until we were happily miserable. The food was delicious, and once again, the friendly staff made it even better. Our waitress that evening was a college student (Gulf Coast Community College and Flordia State University – Panama City share a campus in Panama City) who was originally from Russia. She came to the U.S. by herself to go to college and has since married and will stay in Florida. Her degree in chemistry will undoubtedly give her lots of professional opportunities. But, I digress…
We drove in to Panama City one day to check out the marinas (for that fishing trip that wasn’t to be), and wound up at a local establishment there, Gracie Rae’s, which had wonderful oysters and calamari. It was fascinating watching the bartender prepare for the lunch and dinner crowd by shucking hundreds of oysters.
When we were in PCB before, we enjoyed most of our breakfasts at Another Broken Egg, and we returned, just to be sure it was still as good as ever – and it was.
On our previous trip we had also had breakfast at Oceans, which is part of the Edgewater Resort properties. We decided to try it for dinner one evening and found it to be just as good for that meal. Soup, salad, steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables – all were very tasty.
On our final evening we decided we should find a special place, so after reading through numerous brochures, we decided Montego Bay Seafood looked like just what we were wanting. We had a little trouble finding it because the sign had been blown down, and when we walked in, we were more than a little dismayed. It was small, more of a local diner type of restaurant, with a few chairs at a bar, a few booths, and a few tables in the center. We decided we would brave it, though, because the reviews we had read gave it glowing marks. Each of us ordered something different and no one was disappointed in the least. While the ambiance may have been lacking, the food was not!
As you can tell, we love to eat!
Some people like to travel to a new destination with each trip they take, while others prefer to return repeatedly to the same destination, or at least the same locale. Those in the second group may choose to purchase a timeshare property. This gives them the flexibility of returning to a particular condominium, while also allowing them the capability of using points to vacation in different spots.
We recently joined a friend who used some of his accumulated points to secure a condo for a week at Panama City Beach, FL. When we visited PCB in September, we were on an OU football trip and had very little time to relax, enjoy the beach and sightsee. Spending a week there in January gave us the opportunity to do some of that.
This trip to Florida was a driving trip, so we saw lots of interesting countryside as we drove east on I-40 to Memphis and southeast to Tupelo, MS and from there, on to Florida. It was a pleasant start to the trip to eat dinner on the outside patio at Vanelli’s, an Italian and Greek restaurant in Tupelo. Quite a change from the cold temperatures we left behind in Oklahoma!
Interestingly enough, by the time we checked in at our condo in Panama City Beach the next evening, the cold temperatures had arrived there and it was too cold to sit outside for the “Volcano Nachos” at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at Pier Park.
Sometimes we forget that great road trips are right here in Oklahoma. Hitting the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa can be a good drive, particularly when the trees are so colorful in the Fall. Another option, of course, would be to meander to Tulsa via Route 66, if you prefer the scenic route.For a short overnight get-away, the Hard Rock offers good food, lovely accommodations, and of course, entertainment. After following the signs to the hotel lobby at the west side of the hotel (not the lovely big portico on the east side that you see as you approach from the highway), you can check in and get settled in one of the large and comfortable rooms, with all the standard amenities.
A good place to start the evening is the Center Bar. Its placement allows you to look out over a large gaming area, a great place for people-watching. The noise of slot machines clanking and bells ringing for winners is constant.
The Hard Rock has a number of choices for dining. The Perfect Cup offers coffee and pastries, a nice quick breakfast stop, and the Wild Potato Buffet is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the top of the Tower is McGill’s, a steak house with a view. Recently added is La Cucina, where Italian cuisine is served for lunch and dinner. Of course, the best-known restaurant at the Hard Rock is Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. It shares the same great menu that Toby Keith’s in Bricktown has.The Joint is the Hard Rock’s concert venue where 2700 people can enjoy big-name entertainers, like Kenny Rogers, Gretchen Wilson, and the Irish Tenors. The Hard Rock website lists upcoming concerts and tickets can be purchased online: http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com/thejoint/Pages/default.aspx.
Of course, the Hard Rock is a casino, so several thousand electronic slot machines and blackjack and poker tables keep the excitement going for a fun evening.
A final stop before calling it a night might be at one of several other spots – the C:Note, Friction, or Cabin Creek, all of which offer music and drinks. Or maybe a final call to the Center Bar is the perfect ending for you.
The Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa is owned and managed by the Cherokee Nation, so enjoy an overnight get-away with beautiful Native American art and the Hard Rock’s signature displays of movie and entertainers’ memorabilia.
Lawrence is less than an hour from Kansas City, so the drive to the game was short. As we passed downtown Kansas City before turning west, we saw the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It is an amazing structure and is sure to be a destination when we return to Kansas City on a future trip.
The drive from KC to Lawrence was uneventful and there wasn’t too much traffic; but once we hit the streets in Lawrence, it was a different story. As we neared the Kansas University campus area, the streets were lined on both sides with parked cars. We had been given directions to Memorial Stadium, so we didn’t have any problems finding our way there. Once there, however, we began to search for parking. We didn’t see any parking lots, so we looked for “yard parking” that wasn’t too expensive.
The parking closest to the stadium was $30, but a block and a half away we found a friendly young man who let us park in his backyard, accessible from the alleyway, for only $10. He and his friends (one a KU graduate from Midwest City!) even provided a beverage for everyone. How accommodating is that?! Maybe as much as the parking sign we saw: “$20 Park & Potty”!
As we prepared to cross the street to the stadium, we encountered a number of ticket “salesmen” who were only too happy to offer better seats than we had received from OU. With a little bartering back and forth – and a near fight as two of the salesmen argued over which of them had first dibs on our business – we ended up with 35-yard line seats on row 11, instead of seats past the goal line on row 44. Best move of the night for us!!
So… another football trip but new experiences. With three away games under our belt this year, we’re already talking about where we’ll get to go next year. Maybe as soon as the Big 12 knows WHO the Big 12 is, we’ll get to see a schedule!