Most of you already know Judy and I took a Caravan Bus Tour of the "Big Hole" country almost two weeks ago. Seems like it has been longer, but time passes so quickly at my age!
We left Nashville on a Thursday, with Frontier Airlines and worked our way through Denver and on to Phoenix, where we arrived a day earlier than the bus tour was to begin. The plan was to take a hot-air balloon ride, but the prevailing winds blew that dream away in a cool desert morning about 50 miles outside Phoenix.
The only way to the pick-up area, which was a dark Safeway parking lot, was by taxi. We had to be there by 5:30 in the AM, and it was a 50-mile one-way ride in a smelly old taxi. The driver seem reluctant to drop us in the dark, in a near empty parking lot, but he took our $70 and pulled away. We watched his taillights fade into the distance, back toward Phoenix, and that was when the "sucker" feeling first came over me.
I half expected his friends to pop up and rob us, but nothing happened for the longest time. Then a white van pulled up and stopped on the far side of the lot and turned off its lights. We stood waiting for movement for a few minutes, and after two other vehicles pulled in, we walked the 75 yards across the lot to see if this might be our ride.
Well, it was our ride, but we were greeted with, "Well, here's the bad news...today's flight has been cancelled. Wind is up and blowing in the wrong direction."
My heart sank, then sank again when I realized our cab was gone and we were without a way back to the Doubletree in Phoenix! Then I thought about another $70 trip back to the city without my bucket list ever being checked off!
I was talking to the cab company when "Captain Tom" asked, "Did you just get dropped off?"
"Yep...right after I paid the seventy-bucks!"
Captain Tom (the balloon pilot) kind'a shook his head and thought for a minute before saying, "I'm going back through Phoenix anyway...I'll give you folks a ride."
I quickly told the taxi lady on the phone "never mind" and began to feel some better.
Captain Tom was a great guy, all dressed in his khakis, looking like he should be working for Marlin Perkins, or something, and with his salt and pepper pony tail. Quite a cool dude and someone that was about to save me $50!
Turns out he's from North Carolina originally, and Judy's southern accent, coupled with our "it ain't your fault" attitude made him compassionate to our circumstance. The fact that the New Jersey woman before us had chewed on him harshly for something he had no control over.
We talked about everything and anything all the way back to the front door of the motel, where I made him take $20 for his trouble. Thanks Captain!
Judy and I spent the rest of Friday at the Desert Botanical Gardens, boning up on our cacti and butterfly names. It was a very interesting day, to say the least, and I got some great shots at the gardens. (CLICK HERE TO SEE MY "BIG HOLE" SHOTS!)
That evening with met, for the first time, the other 45 members of the planned tour group, and our tour director Mike. He laid out the rules of engagement for the next 6 days, and handed our our luggage tags. The next morning we sat our bags outside our room door and went to breakfast. When we came back to refresh, our bags were by then on the bus waiting for us.
This was the routine each morning. We put the bags out before breakfast and the next time we saw them, they were in our next motel room.
So, we were off! The big coach (not a bus) glided along the roads effortlessly and giving us the widest possible views of the country side.
It's really the only way to travel...no trailers to pull, no big RVs to muscle along and fill up and dump, just a relaxed feeling...leaving the driving to Jack, our trusted driver.
As the photos will attest, we hit all the high spots I'd heard about since I was a kid...Painted Desert, Monument Valley, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park, and all tiny points in between!
Unfortunately, it came to an end in Las Vegas, amidst the heat, and the hustle and bustle of airport feeding frenzies, and the inevitable re-acquaintance with our luggage.
We stayed an extra night in Vegas...mostly for my benefit, but it turns out...Vegas is not my kind of town! What happens in Vegas can stay in Vegas, as far as I'm concerned!
We did see two great shows while there, "Vegas - The Show" and the "Beatles - Love", the latter of which was right in the Mirage where we stayed.
Judy lost her usual $80 bucks, while I sipped the free scotch and watched the young gals parade past.
It was quite a shame too, dresses up to their butt cracks, walking awkwardly on their platform high heels, trying to keep up with punks dressed with baggy pants and sideways ball caps! Why do they dress up when their "boy friends" dress like their going to a drive-by!?
Thankfully, we made some new friends, ate some wonderful food, rode some kind old mules, and filled up our brains with the images of some of God's great creations! It was a wonderful trip, but I will not make it again. Like Jack, our driver, said, "One rock begins to look like every other rock!"
True, so many rocks, so many different colors and textures, but I've seen it and I've documented it with over 900 photos (since turned into about 65 merges and paired down to about 700). It's done!
Now...it's on to Savannah...making more lasting memories and bonds with our granddaughter Katie Bug!