Monday, June 30, 2014

Cracker Barrel, Kartchner's Caverns, and Eegee's

One of my favorite parts of road trips and adventures into other states/parts of the country, is getting the chance to visit places that other folks get to enjoy any ol' day they want to.  In-n-Out Burger, Chick-Fill-A (which we never got around to eating at), Cracker Barrel, and then there's Eegees.  Though, from what I understand, only folks in Southern Arizona get that privilege (which is absolutely a shame as they serve slushy goodness!)  =) 

So, even though it might seem silly, hitting a Cracker Barrel was a must do for this chick who loves all things vintage, cozy, and Americana....(and, of COURSE, comfort food). 

The kids found even the entrance to their liking.

We were seated in the "Converse Booth".

In the last post, I addressed the temps and clothing.  How about we address kids' menus and ages on this one?  In every sit down restaurant we visited (that had kids menus), our kids were offered them.  Often without the accompanying adult menu.  Many times, these menus are for kids 10 and under.  My son is FIFTEEN!  Really?  But, did I ever complain?  Nope.  It means cheaper prices, and often, five minutes of peace while they do crosswords, mazes, or word searches.  Works for me...

(In one occasion at the airport, we mentioned Brayden's age to one of the ticketing agents and it wasn't until he spoke aloud that they believed us)  =) 

(Happy parent smiles whiles the kids are industrious coloring!)

French Toast with marionberry topping.  (And you wonder why there might be an arm-jiggle concern?!)

John LOVED this Campfire Meal that was new to their menu. 

After wolfing down our food, we checked out the store.  Cozy!!!

Originally, when we planned to go to the caverns south of Tuscon, we had set ourselves up for a 2pm tour.  You are supposed to arrive an hour early for these tours, so we tried to give ourselves a healthy margin.  The best they had for tour times on Monday was 3pm.  We ended up with way too much time to spare.   We SHOULD have spent our time checking out something fun in Tuscon on the way down, but instead, we ended up having to kill time in Benson, population less than 4000. (The closest town to the caverns).  Really, not our best tourism choice.

But, they did have a great soft serve ice cream stop.  Which is not what any of us needed...but when it's 110 degrees outside with only a Walmart to tour - it kind of seemed like one of our best options. 

The place didn't even have indoor seating, so here's the pic of us eating in our van. 

90 minutes before our scheduled tour, we pulled into Kartchner Caverns State Park.  This was a recommendation (along with Eegees!) of my dear blogging friend, Sara - who is from Tuscon.  Given these caverns meant we could explore something wild without the 100+ degree temps, I thought it fit the bill perfectly!

Kartchner Caverns were discovered in 1974 by two college guys who loved to hike and cave together.  They found a very small opening and decided they'd come back later to explore it.  Years and years later, they decided to return and found what you'll see pictures of below.  I can only imagine the shock and awe they must of have felt upon seeing the tiny tunnels open up to the grandeur we experienced.  But, to get to those places involved belly crawling through a claustrophobic's nightmare of mud and bat guano.  As our guide explained, cave exploration is DIRTY work! 

They kept the discovery of the caves secret for 14 years.  The discoverers used that time to talk to the owners of the land (the Kartchner family) and develop a plan for preserving this "live cave" (still growing and changing).  They literally met with the National Parks representatives in secret to prevent word getting out about the location.  A bill was expedited through the state government to allocate the funds and jurisdiction of the land to the National Park Service.  The rest of the story involves the time and efforts take to make sure this cave stays as beautiful and pristine today (and in the future) as it was the day it was discovered. 

Among what was discovered in the caves was bones from a prehistoric sloth. 

A little dramatic effects.

I'll let this sign explain the following pics...

We were only able to tour the Rotunda and Throne Room during this tour because the "Big Room" was occupied by these guys.  Or, I should say, girls - as now is when they do their breeding and raise their babies....408 were counted on the day we were there.  (But, we didn't see any). 

Well, unless you count this...

Not often our kids' names show up on pre-personalized merchandise...

As much as I have to say about the end result of our experience with the caverns - just how awe-inspiring they were, I would have to suggest that you not worry so much about getting there quite so early.  And, I think I would even offer part of the wait time be a mandatory "queing" video of facts that were given by the tour guide once our "start time" began - in the sweltering heat outside.  90 minutes was way too long to keep our kids entertained in this informative center.   This picture kind of sums up why it felt like way too long...

One thing we had to talk to our pre-schooler, 15 year old son repeatedly about was that we didn't want to be hung on.  He likes touch.  He likes to hang on you.  He likes hugs and having his arms on top of your shoulders.  He likes to be in your bubble of space.  And, all this doesn't really mix when the temperature is in triple digits, or you have a headache, an upset stomach....or if it's a day of the week that ends in "Y".   I know, there are probably folks reading this thinking, "Savor every moment - you are so lucky that your 15 year old son wants to be around you that much".  And, we GET THAT.  Believe me, we talk about it a lot.  How, if there's gonna be something to drive you crazy, how blessed we are that its this kind of thing.  But, it's also kind of indescribable.  It's hard to get sympathy and not laughter and "I love that kid" responses when we share our tales of woe.  ;)

Alright.  Enough tales of woe from the Rileys.  (Really, we can handle most of this stuff when it doesn't involve messing with his sister, not listening or obeying, or being overly self-centered). 

On to these majestic creations of God.  So much amazement.  And, such a sad thing when John found out he couldn't bring his camera in.  (They are over-the-top vigilant about preservation of the cave's conditions - which is definitely admirable, just a bit of a bummer for the photographer).  So, these pics were uploaded from the internet.  The column in this first picture is over 5 stories high - just to give you a sense of size of this place.

They call these really thin stalactites soda straws.  They are hollow and about as thin and wide as a milkshake straw....unbelievable.

These formations were affectionately nicknamed "bacon" - in person, they look just like enlarged pieces of bacon.   What mere water does going through different minerals and limestone is unbelievable in terms of colors, textures, and shapes. 

It really was something to behold.  It was about an 80 minute tour - our guide was very informative and entertaining.  Again, had we had an earlier tour time, not arrived with so much time before our tour, and just got to do the tour from the start, I have a feeling it would have gotten even higher points of praise from the family.

As for me, it takes away any need to do a drive through our windy southern Oregon roads to visit our own Oregon Caves - as I suspect these top those.  =)  

Dinner on the way home was one tasty experience.  Drive throughs at Eegee's and In-n-Out Burger hit pretty much every tastebud this "simple-cuisine" girl could ask for. 

Now I can join the Eegee's bandwagon and implore anyone that ventures into Southern Arizona to absolutely give this place a try.  If for no other reason than just the beverages - an "Icee"-like consistency with real fruit in the mix.  Mine was half pina colada and half strawberry - so I was spooning out chunks of pineapple, coconut, and strawberries.  So refreshing and tasty!  Thank you Sara for making sure this happened!

We got home just as the sun set - right around 7pm.  Just in time to get ourselves packed to return home. 

It was fun to have some quality family conversations in our long day on the road, but I think we all we were wishing we'd have one more day to just chill before packing up to return home.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Snooze, JW, and Oregano's

As I was feeling almost 100% by Saturday night, we felt good about making early plans for breakfast.  As I was browsing through the tourism magazine we were given upon check-in, I discovered that "Snooze" had recently opened in Phoenix.  SNOOZE?!  That was ONLY OUR FAVORITE restaurant destination on our Colorado road trip last summer.  You know it's got to be good if our family is agreeable to wake up and be there when it opens at 7am so as to avoid the long lines (especially on a Sunday).  (OK, it might have also been an incentive for Brayden that by going early, that would give us more time at the JW Marriott's pool...)

This location had outdoor dining, with some creative ways of killing time during the expected long waits for seating.   The second picture shows crates of games that could be played along with the ping pong table.   

We got seated right away, though.  However, there was definitely folks waiting when we left.

The pics in the booth.  Let's just say it's a lot easier to get a pic with Mikayla taken quickly than it is with Brayden.  If I haven't mentioned it before, that kid tried our patience with his "otter tendencies" this week.  Glad he's happy, but as we've mentioned oh-so-many-times, his happiness should not come at the expense of ours!!!

Love the feel of this place...

Brayden had control of the camera at this point, and I gave him a "true-to-the-moment" expression of how I felt about him.  

Not a moment too soon did our amazing entrees come.  

This was mine - french toast with strawberry rhubarb sauce, pie crumble topping, and cream cheese.  It was just as delicious as you can imagine. =)

True to our word, we ventured over to our sister hotel property (more like the royal distant cousin...but hey, you know what I mean) to get the kids in the pool.  Honestly, we were so worn out by Brayden, we couldn't wait to get a little space.  I had to take a pic of the lobby....ritzy!!!!
 Then, the moments of happiness on the Lazy River...

John and I monopolized three tubes with our feet jointly sharing the third.  Honestly, it was not the best posture for my neck to be in just one.   And, there were plenty to spare.... =)

Lazy River selfie - maybe one of my favorite selfies of all time.  

Here's the deal about Arizona in June.  No matter how much water you are surrounded by, you can only dwell in 110 degree weather for so long.  I would hop in the river, dunk my hair, lay out, and repeat again in ten minutes.  As the slide had a stricter lifeguard on this day and longer lines, we were all in the same boat about being okay to return to our own room.

And, then, everyone wanted to go eat again.  Brayden asked if we could pick a pizza place over bbq, so I researched all over Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Google to find a place we'd consider fun with atmosphere.

We picked Oregano's - and soon, we were off in our minivan to travel to another part of Phoenix.  

Not too much could be said about the parking lot entrance view.  
 But, just wait...

Is this a cool courtyard or what?  There was actually interior seating in buildings on both sides.  

This was the side we were put in.  Atmosphere, I should say so!!!  They actually had television sets showing early 60's programs in black and white as well.  

Let's go back to that heat issue.  That's a problem OUTSIDE in Arizona, but inside, it's actually too chilly for me to stay bare sleeved with the air conditioners blowing.  I'm kind of baby about being cold, so that's why much of these pics show me with my denim jacket or long sleeves.  (And yes, there's that whole arm dangly fat too....) ;)

But, here's someone who doesn't have a body image at all.  Not one direction or the other actually - and Thank You, God, for that.  Because these growing up years are hard enough without having something you despise about yourself constantly beating you down.  And, I don't think she's overly caught up with going for pretty either...  But, occasionally, her mommy and daddy get a little distracted with her innocent radiance and feel the need to use a camera to preserve it for our memories...

We ended up getting way more food than we needed.  It was tasty, but by the time we'd been served the garlic bread and waited 30 minutes for the pan pizza, our appetites might not have been where they ought to have been.  We'd definitely recommend this place, though....