So, we're finally back in the U.S. and there were loads of things for us to do. Settling into our new home aside, we had three years worth of family and friend visiting to catch up on. Our family and friends are spread out all over the place, and there was no way we could see it all in such a short amount of time, even though that's exactly what we truly wanted to do. Instead, because it had been literally three years since we had visited everyone out west, that was on our agenda. It definitely helped that Big R's parents had recently relocated to the Sedona area. (That part was exciting, too, because we got to explore somewhere brand spankin new!)
One thing we had either forgotten or chose to ignore was how much it cost to travel within the U.S. Seriously, my sister and her husband visited us in Germany for Christmas last year cheaper than it was going to cost for us to fly from Nashville to Las Vegas. I understand there are a million reasons for airline prices to be what they are, but it's just unfortunate how expensive it can be to fly now. We somehow finagled our flights through our frequent flyer miles, but since Big R had a million more miles than the boys and I had (because of flying back to the US for work), we had a wild schedule that involved us flying separately to make the most out of our miles and our dollars. We were proud of what we worked out, even if it made for some interesting travel stories at the end of the day. (This is where I tell you about how traveling with a toddler and a 4-year old on a red-eye alone is not probably the greatest idea in the world - HA!).
Our fist stop was Phoenix where we were picked up by Big R's mom and whisked out to their new abode just outside of Sedona. Wow, what a breathtaking place to live, and their new home is absolutely adorable. We had just shy of a week full of visiting "Africa" (I got to *kiss* a giraffe!!!), exploring ghost towns and old mines, watching thunderstorms light up the sky and fireworks from the rooftop, and dodging flash floods. It was such an awesome time.
These are a couple pictures of their cozy adobe home and its surroundings...
|a view from the front entrance... just love her stone oven|
|the backyard... and no, i'm not kidding!|
We were there to celebrate the 4th of July! Our first one in the U.S. in three years! It was so fun, and we enjoyed it with an awesome neighborhood parade and a breakfast with the community where even Big R's parents were meeting folks for the first time.
|the little man showing his American pride|
|the family "float" for the parade!|
We took a drive to go exploring the area around Sedona. It's gorgeous!
|Goofy picture, but it captures our family and that moment perfectly!|
|this is the view we were trying to stand in front of - breathtaking!|
|the view was so inspiring, i just couldn't help myself! lol|
Then we went to "Africa" - it's a place just south of Sedona called "Out of Africa" and it is a very neat animal park. They take you on a safari-like ride to view many of the animals, and they let you "feed" the giraffes! If you put the celery in your mouth, the giraffe will take it with his tongue and give you a huge kiss. Being that giraffes are by far my favorite animal, this was nothing shy of AWESOME!
|baby c thought the kiss was hilarious!|
|...and little r was beside himself excited, too!|
We were visiting at the start of monsoon season, so we got to experience and witness several incredible lightning storms while we were there. Big R is crazy talented with his camera and caught many awesome photographs of the storms.
|one of the best photos of the storm|
Desert sunsets are also pretty spectacular. Big R caught many awesome moments on camera with the sun setting as well.
|a sunset in the Senoran desert|
Our last day there we explored an old mining town called Jerome, and a nearby "ghost town" junk shop. Sounds weird, but it's actually a really cool place with vintage everything!
|vintage pick up truck|
|an old mine and gear|
|their political preference was pretty clear at every turn as well - look closely at the label on the "soup" can|
One thing I didn't realize was how large the winery business is in Arizona, and also how incredible the wines are! Big R's parents live a mere 5 minutes away from the heart of wine country. You know me, we had to do our fair share of tasting. We were even given the night off to go enjoy Page Springs Winery - an absolutely incredible place with the coolest atmosphere and employees that are really passionate about their wine - while Big R's parents stayed back to watch the kids. It was heaven :)
|enjoying date night to the fullest!|
It was time to say adieu to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, and head to the Mojave desert to visit my family and friends. A hop from one gorgeous part of the country to another. We were feeling crazy spoiled.
|these red rocks will definitely be calling our names!|
A quick Southwest flight later, and we were in Las Vegas with my mom. We planned the visit with my sister and her husband, and we had a couple hours to kill before their flights arrived. So, what does any sensible crew do in Vegas for a couple hours? Buy cowboy boots, of course. Haha, you thought I was going to say something much more interesting, didn't you? We had a lot of horsing around to do on this trip and no boots to enjoy it with. It was time to load up on some proper gear!
|this pictures cracks me up|
After our insane first night
out on the ranch (where a lightning strike started a fire just up the hill from the house), we didn't waste any time horsing around. (The fire started up again the next afternoon, so Big R and I hiked back up to try to keep it contained until BLM showed up again. We grabbed a couple of pictures this time!)
|hiking up to the juniper tree that is ablaze from the lightening strike|
|burning hot, but we caught it well before it was a severe problem|
|it still took the BLM crew a good hour to make sure the fire was out for good|
There was a lot of horseback riding, mucking stalls, tractor driving, hiking and desert exploring, yoga, reading, piano playing, wine drinking, and relaxing. Can't forget the child wrangling, screeching and playing either, can we mom? My kids have a way of keeping you entertained and completely exhausted! Overall we had a pretty fantastically awesome time!
|little r is a natural cowboy - he just loves horses|
|he has a great seat and so much ease around a horse|
|my beautiful sister and Smoke - who we used to ride when we were in high school!|
|Big R and little r on Stella|
|panoramic view of the valley after a hike to the top of a peak|
|streams formed after a day of good rain|
|sun setting on the rocks|
|Ryan was proud of his climb to the top!|
|baby c was super curious about the big animals...|
|...but he's not quite the horse lover yet that his brother is|
|heading for the trails on Stella|
|quick family shot (less baby c) on Rustler and Stella|
|Papa Tom let little r drive the tractor - he STILL talks about it!|
|views from another hike - this valley is gorgeous at every turn|
|love these old trees|
|Jess and I taking it all in...|
|...and striking a pose on the rocks|
This trip also included a weekend in Las Vegas where we were able to visit with our friends. I was beyond excited to spend time with my closest friends that I hadn't seen in three years. I had no idea how much I was missing home and my friends until we were there. The feeling was incredible and I savored every last single solitary second of it.
We spent the fist day poolside with Lacey and her kiddos. The boys were in heaven. I even got to spend some uninterrupted time with my best friend catching up - absolutely priceless! Little r and Lacey's oldest, Ryland, are only 4 months apart, and they were literally instant best friends. It was too much fun watching them bond as if they had grown up together.
|Lacey and my little man|
|his love for the water is uncanny - this kid is like a fish!|
Our next day we met up with my close friend and partner in crime, Monica. She's an assistant curator at the Shark Reef in Las Vegas, but she and I also met when we worked together at the dolphin habitat at the Mirage. We still have connections there, even after all of these years, so we took the kiddos to see some dolphins and then she brought us all "behind the scenes" at the Shark Reef. It was pure awesome!
|best pals watching the dolphins|
|did I mention we still had connections? yep, the boys got to feed the dolphins and do a little bit of training...|
|...and they snuck in a pet or two. |
|baby c watching the big shark tank from up above!|
|its too dangerous for the boys to feed the sharks, but the sea turtles loved the attention and the snack!|
|Monica has the coolest pets, and this snake was little r's fave!|
Another amazing adventure to log into our book. This might not have been southern France, the Alps, or Tuscan wine country, but it was just as awesome and incredible in every way. We've been going nonstop for quite awhile, so I'm going to do my best to contain this adventurous crew and get us settled and into a routine. Knowing us though, it's not likely to be long before we have more to write home about.
Love you all, and I hope you had fun reading about our western adventures as much as we loved having them.