Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Break 2012 ~or~ The Big Road Trip

March.  Spring Break.  You know what that means for our family -- time to find some snow!!!  After last year's rainy disappointment in Tahoe (I swear our week was the only week the Sierras didn't get dumped on), we headed back to the Rockies.  There was a new twist on things this year...we decided to drive.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  15 hours in a car.  Fun times!

We hit the road in our rented Chevy Traverse shortly after school let out on Friday.  We didn't stop except for a quick dinner and potty breaks until we rolled into Wichita, KS around 1:00 AM.  We stayed in the "old town" area -- which was alive and kickin' at 1:00 AM.  So alive and kickin' that we couldn't help watching the scene from the window of our enormous room.  There was quite a bit of action to see as the nightclubs closed and patrons scurried for their cars in the garage across the way from our hotel.

Morning brought clear blue skies and balmy temperatures.  Perfect driving conditions.  Before we headed out of town, we took a drive around.

Wichita is full of interesting sights.  It's obviously a town that, at one time, was quite culturally rich.  The downtown area is peppered with interesting art and architecture, including life size bronze sculptures of small town and farm life.  Unfortunately, many of the buildings are now vacant and or boarded up.

This particular morning, Wichita was also all dressed up in crime scene tape.  Apparently, all the activity we were watching from our window in the wee hours of the morning was actually the aftermath of some disgruntled club patron who decided to exercise his right to bear arms.  Per the news reports, a man opened fire on the closing time crowd.  He shot 4 people before the police put an end to his rampage.  Seriously, the area a block away from our hotel looked like something out of CSI.  Crazy!

We pulled out of town happy for the blue skies, but a little creeped out by the surreal yellow bullet markers all over the sidewalks.  But...we had a lot of ground to cover, so it was time to turn our attentions to the road ahead of us.  We figured we had a bout 10 hours of solid driving before we reached our destination.  Duke put the pedal to the metal...

Maybe a little too exuberantly.  You know those Kansas highways -- long and straight.  Perfect for getting caught going 93 in a 75!  (Seriously, how on earth did we not see that cop?!)

It's not like there's anything to obstruct your view.  (Yep.  That's pretty much all we had to look at until we reached the foothills in Colorado.

Needless to say, we were happy for the change of scenery when we finally hit the mountains.  The beautiful sunset was icing on the tired road-trippers' cake.

By the time we arrived at our final destination -- the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort Spa & Hotel -- the sun had long since set.  We stumbled to our ground floor room and pretty much fell into bed.  The next morning, we threw open the drapes and were greeted by this:

Yes.  A room with a view!  And a ski valet!  And only a 5-minute walk to the gondola.  Months earlier, Duke cashed in the lion's share of our Marriott points for these sweet digs.  And oh how sweet they were!  (More on that later.)

Not only did we have a great view, we also had two nice patios!
And a bounty of treasures just footsteps away!

Oh the heartbreak of having to leave all those pine cones behind.

As for the skiing conditions...well, we were a little concerned.  Vail hadn't had much snow in the weeks leading up to our visit, and the weather was predicted to be quite warm during our stay.  We had been told it was icy on the top of the mountain and soupy at the bottom.  We were not filled with optimism as we headed out on our first day.  Fortunately, our concerns were laid to rest immediately.   Kudos to the Vail grooming crew.  The snow was great!  Our only concern was that we hadn't packed enough sunblock.

Our plan, as it's been every year, was to put the kids in ski school.  We got off to a bit of a late start, so the whole family skied together on the first day and had a blast.  Jake & Lila headed off for lessons on Day 2.  We were supposed to meet up with friends on Day 3 to ski in Breckenridge, but we were lazy to make the drive over there and since we hadn't made reservations for ski school, we spent another day on the slopes with the kiddos.

We skied and took breaks to sip hot chocolate.

Jake definitely took the prize for best cocoa mustachio and best helmet hair!

 Lila got the award for best application of sunblock to a freckled nose.

Day 4 saw the kids back in ski school while Mommy & Daddy carved up the slopes.  But you know...we'd had so much fun with the kids that we decided to scrap ski school for the rest of the trip.  We skied as a family for the remainder of our vacation.  And we skied every day -- no days off this year.

Jake mapped out the course and was sure to include all the terrain parks.

Lila's sole purpose was to find the rainbow in the "magic forest."  Unfortunately, this quest resulted in hours of frustration and one very unhappy ski bunny.  After several trips through the kids run known as Magic Forest, we determined that the rainbow was NOT there. It was in Chaos Canyon -- on the other side of the mountain.  Once we finally made it over there, I skied to the rainbow with Lila while Jake & Duke took a different run through a terrain park so Jake could practice riding the rails.  Of course, the boys beat the girls down to the lift.  This did not please our little lady at all!  Finally finding the rainbow was cool comfort to say the least.  In the end, we managed to squeeze out enough fun to consider the day a win.

The day concluded with a post-shower ride up the gondola for a peak-top dinner.  (And yes, as long as you were in the sun, it really was warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt!)

It was a very nice way to end the day.

We'd saved some special fun for our last day.  Vail has a great tubing run right on the mountain.  So after we'd skied our fill, we headed over to the tube park for some spinning, bouncing sliding fun.

 Jake wasn't keen on the spinning part, but he loved the speed.

Spinning was just fine with Delila.

After our tubing time was up, we headed over to the kids' snowmobile track.  More disappointment for Delila -- she's not old enough yet -- but Jake had a great time racing his mini snowmobile around the track.  True to his competitive nature, he made it his mission to pass every rider on the course.  It was funny to watch him in his attempts to maneuver around his competition.  There was a group of boys who did their best to team up against him.  But they underestimated our boy.  In the end, Jake skunked 'em all with a crazy inside-outside move.  He was quite pleased with himself.  Quite.

And then, just like that, the week was over.  One last sleep and then it was time to pack up and hit the road.  On the morning of our departure, Duke went up to the front desk to check out and have the car brought around while the kids spent a little more time hunting for treasures...

...and practicing future tricks.

It took forever to check out.  2 hours to be exact.  Remember all those hotel points we cashed in to stay at this ritzy place?  Well...apparently there was some fine print that we missed when we made the reservation.  $3000 worth of fine print.  WHAT?!?!  Yep.  So much for the free posh digs.  Duke did his best and got that number significantly reduced, and he's still working on it to get the rest taken care of, but needless to say, he was NOT a happy camper by the time we were ready to load the car.  And as if that wasn't enough to deal with, during the delay, the Marriott porters decided to send my skis home in someone else's car.  It was a fiasco to say the least.  And a very late start to a very long day on the road.  We considered changing our course, but in the end we considered our selves lucky that we weren't chained to an airline departure time.

So we stuck to our original plan and took the scenic route -- while we had a scenic route to take.  The road was a little too twisty-turny for our boy Jake.  When he started feeling too queasy we pulled over to take in the beautiful vistas and a little fresh air.

And where there are boys...and rocks...and a river...well, there are boys throwing rocks in a river.

And where there are girls...and sparkly pink rocks...

...there's a car full of rocks.  Alas, so many rocks, so little room in the car.

Our next stop was the Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City.  At over 1000 feet above the Arkansas River below, the bridge is considered the highest suspension bridge in the world.  At least that's their claim.  All I can tell you is it is way up there.  Yikes!  When we made our stop, they were experiencing a power outage so our viewing was done from outside the park -- and that was dizzying enough for me.

That was our last break for a while.  It was time to hit the road hard for Amarillo.  It was already 5:30 and we still had 6 hours of driving to do before we could call it quits for the night.  It was going to be a late one.

Thank goodness for glow sticks!  They turn any late night road trip into a party!!

Who knows what time we finally rolled into Amarillo.  All I know is we were all tired and very cranky.  It had been a very long day.  And when we hit the road the next morning, our blue skies and pretty scenery had given way to...

...windmills and cattle...

...lonely barns just waiting to be ripped away by the next tornado...

...freshly plowed fields and mesas.  In other words, a whole lotta nothin'.

We were quite happy when we finally reached Wichita Falls, TX.  Not only was it getting close to home, it also gave us an opportunity to get out of the car and stretch our legs.  It also gave us an opportunity to answer the burning question, "Are there actually falls in Wichita Falls?"  And the answer is yes...kind of.  Once upon a time there were falls in Wichita Falls, but they were washed away by a flood back in the 1800s.  In 1987, someone decided it would be a great idea to create a nice waterfall so the good people of the town could once again say, "Yes!  There are falls in Wichita Falls!"  So after a stroll through some kinda cool/kinda creepy woods, and a very wobbly walk across a swinging bridge we reached the falls.'s no Niagra, but it beats the heck out of sitting in the car.  Beggars can't be choosers.

But that was the last of the pit stops.  After our tour of the falls we were back on the road with the mantra, "Next stop, HOME!"

We napped.  We snacked.  We took drew and colored pictures.  Best of all, we survived our first real road trip.  And who knows, maybe we'll take another.  In the meantime, it's good to be home, sweet home.