The desert in July? Of course! Why not?
We went on an epic 10-day family vacation: we drove 4 hours to Boston, flew through Newark to Las Vegas (flights were cheaper than to SLC), saw some sights, drove 9 hours up through Zion National Park to Northern Utah, spent a great few days with my husband’s family, met up with many more relatives at the bigger family reunion in Orem, drove south to Las Vegas, enjoyed a little more pool time, then flew through Chicago to Boston and drove to Vermont, arriving home at 5:30 in the morning. (I can still pull all-night drives! I really should consider a career as a trucker.)
Day 1: Travel from Vermont to Las Vegas, 2,626 miles (4226km). Many hours of driving, many hours of airplane fun, one missed connection in Newark, arriving in Las Vegas past midnight… pacific time.
Day 2: The fun begins. We began the day with a tour of the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden. (Something for everyone!) The tour was fine, the chocolates were surprisingly good, and the cactus garden was… pokey. By the time I got out there, Dad was patiently pulling little teeny cactus spines from each boy’s hands. (Vermonters- gee whiz.) I asked if they had learned something from that experience, but it turns out that Dad said it was okay to touch. (What??) They said they learned to NEVER touch a cactus and only sometimes to do what Dad says. (Well, that’s what you get, I guess.) We had a good laugh while we pulled all the tiny, tiny spines out, wishing we had a roll of duct tape handy.
Next up was the local children’s discovery museum (which, thankfully, contained no cacti). I give it a B grade, but it was certainly fun enough to keep everyone entertained for several hours. Following that was pool time, then dinner at a local all-you-can-eat buffet while trying to ignore the smoky casino they make you pass through to get there. We continually marveled at how 105F (40.5C) could feel so pleasant in the absence of humidity. Amazing.
Later, we drove around the town taking in the spectacle that is Las Vegas. Really, nothing compares- except perhaps Disneyland- when it comes to illusion and grandeur. There was an M&M World and their neon slogan was “So much more than candy!” Of course, when it comes down to it, all M&M’s are and ever could be is candy so I’m not sure exactly what they mean.
Downtown Las Vegas is a brightly lit lie, a venus fly trap of a place. Our 12 year old astutely pointed out that many places can be imitated in Las Vegas which makes it impossible for Las Vegas to be imitated anywhere else. It’s all “smoke and mirrors”. My parents always referred to it as “Lost Wages” and they’re right. The gambling is so prevalent and many things we saw gave us the opportunity to discuss our family values with our kids. It was a relatively safe place to take them to see how other parts of the world function. In the end, though, I was ready to send the whole strip to this business for a good scrubbing:
Day 3: Nevada to Utah. We got up bright and early to head north, stopping at Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park. Amazingly beautiful red rock and an easy hike (with only one traumatic horse fly bite) and a gorgeous overlook at the end of the road.
Day 4: Family time in Logan! Each family received a printed schedule which began with lots of holidays celebrated in one day. (Grandma wishes we could get together more often.) Easter eggs, Valentine cards, Halloween costume parade, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas Eve made for a full day! The adults also went to the theater in shifts and enjoyed either Kiss Me Kate or My Fair Lady.
Day 5: Family time, part 2. At 9am, we headed up to the campus of Utah State University, the alma mater of several members of my husband’s family and the employer of his late father. We had a great photo session with the very talented JoAnne Dittmer, though the shot shown to the right of my girls is by me. Afterward we all went to get some Aggie blue mint ice cream. Go Ags!
Some of us visited the cemetery where my father-in-law is buried, marking the 20th anniversary of his passing. He is still missed.
We spent the afternoon at the local water park, where 30 spf was not strong enough, apparently. All the Vermonters got slightly sunburned. The day concluded with a very grand celebration of Nana, my husband’s grandmother from Boise, Idaho, who turns 90 this year. 90! Wow. Happy Birthday, Nan!
Day 7: Provo, part 1. We packed up and headed south, meeting at Thanksgiving Point in American Fork. We spent a long time visiting the amazing and thorough Museum of Ancient Life. There were some very cool bones and fossils and kids’ activities there. Definitely worth a stop.
After a great dinner at In N Out Burger, we checked into our Provo hotel. My family headed up to the BYU campus (our alma mater), where we hoped to take another family photo at the Y/tree of life sculpture. Unfortunately, it was taken down last fall. The student I spoke with didn’t know if it was going to be put back up… but I sure hope so! We improvised with columns, but it just wasn’t the same. So we played tag until the sun set.
Day 8: Provo, part 2. Pioneer Day! Some of us (not I) got up really early and ran in the Mapleton, Utah, Pioneer Day 5k race. They got cool green t-shirts that said “Forward With Faith” because the well-attended race was sponsored by the Mapleton 20th ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The rest of us got ready and we all headed down to the Mapleton Pioneer Day parade, which I highly, highly recommend as the greatest Pioneer Day parade I have ever seen. (Ok, so I’ve only seen one other….)
Since it was a celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, local religious spirit, community strength, and patriotism (never mind that the pioneers were fleeing the US when they went west), there was a lot of variety. Many wards had floats, lots of businesses were represented, and there was even a family reunion of 150 people in matching shirts who marched.
It was hard to pick a favorite, but I liked the two local stake presidencies (ecclesiastical presiding groups) who participated in good fun. One had a float on which they were grilling tiny hot dogs and passing them out to the crowd, labeling themselves the “steak” presidency, and the other group rode tandem bikes in figure 8’s as husband & wife couples, dressed in jeans, white shirts, ties and silly hats. Fun.
The highlight of the parade, though, was really Wayne. Wayne was a local grandpa who sat behind us and yelled all kinds of positive, uplifting, encouraging things to each passing group. When this float came by, Wayne yelled, “The Book of Mormon?! I LOVE the Book of Mormon!!” He loved a lot of things and wasn’t the least bit shy about letting them know. His enthusiasm was infectious, and my 12 year old was so delighted by the whole experience that she wanted to move to Mapleton.
Following that, we headed up to Orem for the grand extended family reunion. Our little gathering doesn’t usually coincide with this reunion, so it was a special treat to be able to see my husband’s aunts, uncles, and cousins with whom we have been exchanging Christmas cards but haven’t seen for probably 10 years. It was a very special family picnic and meeting where funny stories were told and I got to photograph some old, old pictures so we can each have copies of images of these ancestors.
Finally, having said many tearful goodbyes and hugged many sweet people, we drove off into the sunset (well, south to Las Vegas).
Day 9/10: Travel. After a morning at the hotel pool, we flew and then drove home. What a great trip, with so many wonderful family memories! Many thanks to my mother-in-law for making it happen with such style and apparent ease.
Thirty Marens agree: FAMILIES ARE THE GREATEST!