A Day Trip to Tombstone

I am such a nerd. I just adore anything/everything history, and I’m a sucker for tourist traps. I mean, there’s usually a good reason why they are tourist traps, right?

If you are a history buff like me, you have a special affinity for tourist traps with tons of history.

That would be Tombstone.

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This was actually the second time we went. The first time I knew next to nothing, so I bought a few books the next day and read up. I was MUCH better prepared this time. So here are my best tips for visiting Tombstone:

  • Become familiar with the famous (notorious?) characters of Tombstone. This would include 3 of the 4 Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan), Doc Holliday, Jimmy Ringo, Ed Schefflin, Big Nose Kate, and a few others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I loved the book The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn. It goes in depth about the events leading up to the shootout at the O.K. Corral, including short biographies of each of the major players, based on objective research and not, say Wyatt Earp’s autobiography, which seems to be a little *ahem* inflated.

Fun fact: The gunfight was actually in an alley behind the corral on 3rd and Fremont. For a long time, it was referred to as “The Gunfight on 3rd and Freemont” but Hollywood came in and decided that wasn’t a cool enough name, so, in usual Hollywood style, they just arbitrarily changed it.

  • The first thing you should do upon arriving at Tombstone, aside from finding parking (there are a lot of free lots around town), is to hop on the trolley for a tour. The trolley is located on the corner of 4th and Toughnut St. It is well worth the $ as the tour is about 30 minutes, but they take you to all of the notable spots around Tombstone and give you a brief history, both the authentic history (such as Wyatt Earp’s house), as well as the Hollywood history (such as which hotel John Wayne usually stayed at during filming). This will help plan your day and what you would like to explore further on your own. The history given on the trolley tour is very bare-bones and quick. That’s why I recommend studying a bit prior to going.

The highlights that we saw:

  • Allen Street. When you think of “Tombtone,” the wood sidewalks and original facades of Allen street are probably what comes to mind. Yes, most of the buildings contain gift shops and restaurants now, but it’s still really cool to take a stroll up and down Allen.

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  • The O.K. Corral. I mean, how can you not?
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Doc Holliday was in the gray, I learned. The next to him were the 3 Earp brothers: Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan.

  • The courthouse museum. That was absolutely fascinating- the old gallows are still standing around back.

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  • The Birdcage Theater. This is definitely something on the “don’t miss” list. We didnt go into it on our first trip, but we heard about the history there on the trolley, so we made a point of going this last time. The story goes that when it closed down, the owner just closed the door, locked it, and walked away, leaving even the poker tables downstairs exactly as they were, cards and chips and liquor bottles frozen in time. Bullet holes are still embedded with slugs. The hand-painted french wallpaper is still there, although its in tatters. That place was awesome. Sadly, while I got photos, I do not have permission to share them on social media.

 

  • We actually started our day at Boothill Graveyard before we got all the way into town. I would recommend saving it for last on the way out, after you become familiar with some of the names. But regardless of when you can squeeze it in, do. Sadly, most of the grave markers have been destroyed from weather or vandals, so about 90% of them are recreations. Still cool.DSCF2648

 

What we missed that I wish we had gotten to see:

  • Wyatt Earp’s house is apparently sometimes open to visitors to go inside and look around. It wasn’t open when we were there.
  • The Rose Museum. Home to the largest rose bush in the world, it gets over a million blooms. Apparently it’s in the Guinness Book of Word Records. It was sent to Tombstone from Europe when the owner of the boarding house became homesick.
  • We wanted to take a mine tour, but we missed it while we were in the Birdcage Theater. Poor planning on our part. Next time.

 

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Tough Topics: How Do You Talk About Suicide and Mental Health to Kids?

 

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Last night, a very troubled man climbed on top of the pedestrian bridge near our RV park, with the intention of jumping off to end his life. My family and I regularly use the pedestrian bridge to cross over Highway 17 to go to Washington Park.

The police had Highway 17 completely shut down. Along with virtually every way to get into our RV park. Kevin ended up parking down the street and walking home.

We could see the man very clearly from the end of our driveway. Which resulted in us banishing the children back into the trailer.

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I also grabbed my camera. Why? Well, I’ve been trying really hard to improve my photography lately so I can take stellar photos for this blog. You’re welcome, my dear readers (all 10 of you. Much love).

I could also be partly insane. I mean, who grabs a camera to document (respectfully, hopefully) a potential suicide? Apparently I do, but out of sensitivity to the pain of the subject, I will only post the photos where I feel the man’s identity is reasonably protected.

Kevin’s daughter is 7, and naturally she had a million questions.

Since Kevin and I have a strict “In this house we are always honest” rule, we decided the best course of action is to be honest. But brief. No need to go into excessive detail unnecessarily, but at the same time, we are not going to lie to her. Lying would be a grave violation of one of our most important family rules.

So when she asked why she couldn’t be outside, I got down to her level, looked her in the eye, and said, “There is a very sick man on the bridge who might jump off. If he jumps off, I don’t want you to see or hear it. Because that is a memory that I don’t want you to have. That is something that you will never be able to un-see, or un-hear. Understand?”

She did, and, bless her heart, she scurried into the trailer and brought her younger brother with her.

I snapped photos, wondering if this was how a real photojournalist felt (super-mixed emotions but trying to stay detached). Kevin wandered closer to hear better.

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This went on for about 3 hours, with Kevin and I swapping turns in the trailer entertaining the kids. Kevin’s daughter only had a handful of questions, but they were good ones:

“Does he know that if he jumps off a bridge, he could die?”

*deep breath*

“Yes, that’s why he’s up there. He doesn’t want to live anymore.”

“Why?”

I remembered once reading an article from a suicide prevention nonproft (I think it was S.A.V.E? Although I’m having a hard time finding the exact article to link directly to it…) that someone posted on Facebook a while back. I couldn’t remember what to say verbatim, but I could summarize:

“Sometimes people get sick in their brain that makes them really sad, or makes them believe things that aren’t true. Just like any other part of your body can get sick, so can the brain. This man’s brain is sick and is making him believe that dying is the only way to feel better.”

“That’s sad. I hope he doesn’t jump.”

“Me too, Sweetie.” And she went to bed.

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This man, Phoenix PD’s Negotiator, quite literally saved a life last night.

The whole ordeal thankfully ended with the Phoenix Police negotiator convincing the man to come back down to safety. They loaded him in the back of a waiting ambulance and treated him for heat exhaustion. My family retired for the evening, our plans for hitting the gym and grocery store shot, but seemingly insignificant at that point.

This morning, the Kidlette asked if the man jumped. I told her he came down and was safe and she was relieved. Even though we don’t know this person, we agreed that the world is definitely a better place with this him in it.

This event ended up opening a discussion over breakfast about how this is why it is important to talk about feelings. About how, if you’re sad, it’s much better to tell someone about how you feel instead of trying to hide it inside. I promised her that we can practice talking about our strong feelings and other healthy ways to cope with strong feelings, and that she can always talk to her Mommy, Daddy, Grandparents, etc. about any feelings she has that she wants to share.

She seems pretty happy with not only the answers she got about the chaos around the RV park last night, but also the new door of frank and honest discussion that it opened.

Not a topic that Kevin or I had ever wanted to discuss with her, but in the end, I think the family is definitely more at ease. We have always had an open door, you can tell us anything policy in our home (in addition to the “we are always honest with each other” policy), but it was nice to revisit and re-address the expectation of openness in this house.

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Here are some resources available if you or a loved one are affected by or contemplating suicide:

If you are in a crisis now: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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Good information:

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (S.A.V.E.)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

 

 

 

 

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ

There are some places so spectacular in the world that words do not do it justice. I’ve heard of such places, but since I am a writer by nature, I didn’t think there was any description I couldn’t tackle.

Until we went to Sedona.

This is truly a place where a picture is worth a thousand words, and even then, they hardly do it justice:

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Sedona is a place that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate.

The town is tucked in between these towering, looming, impressive rock formations that are a color I have never seen rocks be. Their presence is felt everywhere in Sedona. They remind you how small humans actually are.

You can feel the quiet energy echoing between the church-like spires, and it makes sense why it draws the spiritually… umm… (okay, I’ll say it. The HIPPIES… I tried to keep this a somber post, but how the heck does one poetically describe eccentric baby-boomers who believe in “energy retreats” and the healing power of crystals and who retire in Sedona to sell art?)

Something that was on my Catholic bucket list was to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is in Sedona. It’s a Catholic chapel and architectural landmark that was built into the iconic red rocks in the 1950’s.DSCF2379

 

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Prayer candles.

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My beautiful stepdaughter on the path up to the chapel.

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View from the courtyard in front of the chapel.

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A tree growing from the red rocks, and coins tossed next to it from devoted visitors.

This place is beautiful and absolutely worth a trip if you ever find yourself wandering the Southwestern desert.

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Becoming Expert RV Mechanics, Part II

After installing a brand-spanking new air conditioner on the top of Hoss (the name I gave to our 5th wheel), we tripped the breaker. Again.

Back to the drawing board. And by “the drawing board,” what I mean is “Google.”

There were a couple more options to try out.

First, (we’ll call it, “Plan B”) our thermostat was so hot that it simply read “Error.” Someone on the internet helpfully pointed out that if the thermostat couldn’t register the current temperature, it can’t figure out how to get the RV to the set temperature. So it simply doesn’t work.

Our trailer was so hot that the thermostat decided to stop being a thermostat.

So we waited until the wee hours of the morning, when the trailer had cooled down to a reasonable temp (I think at that time it was still blissfully dipping below 80 degrees at night). When the thermostat registered what the temp was, we turned on the AC. It ran for about 10 minutes, and, you guessed it, tripped the breaker.

Another option (“Plan C”) was to replace the breakers. That made sense to us. A circuit breaker is really only good for about 10-20 “trips” before it’s weakened, after which it takes much less effort to trip it. Plus, they get HOT. Apparently that’s a bad sign. Breakers aren’t supposed to get hot… So off we went to replace the circuit breakers.

Pro tip:

You can use any old breakers in an RV. Just pull out the old ones to bring down to The Home Depot with you so you know that you’re getting the correct one. That being said, we ended up going to an RV parts store anyway because we needed a 30/20 breaker, which apparently isn’t a super common one and The Home Depot would have had to order it in.

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Have I mentioned that you can learn how to do pretty much anything from YouTube and Google? Well, you can.

Kevin became an electrician for a day.

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Here’s how he changed the breakers (According to me, who was not really paying super-close attention)

  1. Cut all power to the RV. That means unplugging it from shore power AND disconnecting it from battery.
  2. Put on surgical gloves. I’m still unclear why. (During proofreading, Kevin informed me that it was for disconnecting it from the battery, which had a bit of corrosion. Apparently he didn’t want battery acid on his hands. Weirdo.)
  3. Check every single breaker connection (and, like, 30 random outlets) with a volt meter to make sure that nothing is live. Then check again. And one more time for good measure because getting electrocuted apparently makes for a rough day.
  4. Unscrew things in the breaker box (again, I had lost interest at this point in the process. Just google it.)
  5. Pull wires out of the old breakers, label them with a bit of tape so you know where to put everything back
  6. Reassemble with the new breakers. Put everything back where you found it. That’s why labeling is important.

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And voila! Brand new breakers.

We turned on the AC again. It blew beautiful, wonderful, refreshing cool air. It made me way less cranky.

We ran the AC all night long.

All night long…

Then the next day they tripped again.

 

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post; “How Jessica Lost Her Mind and Ended Up Institutionalized.”

 

I’m just kidding. I’ll finish. Read on.

There was anger. And tears. For almost an entire hour I contemplated loading the kiddo and the dog up in the car and driving us back to Oregon to live with my parents.

Then I remembered that I would have to live with my parents and suddenly the desert heat didn’t seem so terrible. (I hope they don’t read this (but if they do, they would probably understand))

Finally, in an act of desperation (Plan D), Kevin started checking the voltage we were getting to the breaker box with the volt meter. We were getting 113 volts. I vaguely remember reading somewhere back in my Google research that for a 120 volt circuit, you should be pulling about 118 volts with the air conditioner running. Or something. I couldn’t even find that website again to reference it. But 113 seemed low. Plus, we were now tripping the main breaker, not the AC breaker. Even without running anything else.

 

Kevin went to the office and told them he was concerned that we weren’t pulling enough shore power. The RV park said they would get their electrician out to look at it in the next week.

I did not want to wait a week.

We asked if we could move sites (Plan E). I picked out a new site on the opposite end of the park where the electric had recently been replaced. We packed up the house, hitched it up, and moved to the opposite side of the park.

(This was more complicated than it sounds, because the back-in site had a solid concrete wall opposite it, which makes backing a 5th wheel more challenging as there was zero room to swing the front of the truck wide to turn the trailer. So that was amusing.)

Guess what?

Everything has been running beautifully for a solid 1 1/2 weeks now. We were assuming it was us, we should have checked the park first.

I guess we still have issues, but they’re manageable. For example, we can definitely tell when other people in the park are using a lot of power, because we can’t run the TV between 4pm and 8pm without tripping the breakers. Any other time is fine. Or we can’t run the microwave in the hottest part of the day because the AC is sucking so much power. But those are things we can deal with.

Yesterday was 122 degrees. I will happily not run the TV or the microwave to keep it cool inside.

We are only here for another 5 weeks. Hopefully our next location will have more consistent shore power. Also, hopefully it will be under 110 outside. That would be nice.

On Becoming Expert RV Mechanics…

Phoenix is hot in June.

Air Conditioning is important.

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RVs are like giant metal boxes. Like being in a car. They transform into ovens in the sun.

Air Conditioning is important.

Ours died 2 weeks ago.

Here’s a brief timeline of what went down:

One day, the A/C unit woke up and decided to no longer be an A/C unit. The first clue was that it tripped the breaker. We reset, and it tripped again 15 minutes later. We let it stay off, tried again later, and it tripped again. Ruh roh, Scooby.

We also noticed that during the 15 minutes that it did run, no cold air came out. It just blew hot air. If we switched it to “fan,” it was fine. It blew hot outside air, but I decided that was better than stagnant hot oven air, so we left the fan on, opened all the windows, and decided to tough it out.

(By the way, when I say “we,” what I really mean is “me and my toddler with whom I like to spend my day talking to as if he were an adult because otherwise I’d technically be talking to myself all day, and that’s crazy person fodder right there.”)

Kevin was at work.

I made it until about 2pm before I sent Kevin a delirious text informing him that the child, dog and I would be at a nearby hotel that 1) allowed dogs and 2) had air conditioning. Apparently I am not tough enough to tough out being in the middle of the desert in 107 degree heat with a dog and a toddler and nowhere to cool off. There’s tough, and then there’s crazy.

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Tucker loves hotels. 

That night when Kevin got home, we went out and bought a portable A/C unit from The Home Depot, plugged it in, and it worked okay-ish. It cooled, but the 8,000  BTU unit just isn’t enough to cool the 300 sq ft trailer in the sun. So we ended up moving it to just the bedroom, we sealed off the windows and doors, and even though it wasn’t ideal, we had at least one cool space to sequester ourselves when the heat became too much, or to lock the dog in when we went somewhere.

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So it’s ugly as sin, I can’t get into my 2 drawers that contain ALL of my clothes, and we still haven’t even bothered to take the warranty papers off of it, but at this point, I am past caring.

After much Googling, reading RV forums, and talking to the RV parts store guys, Kevin figured out our compressor was likely dead. I don’t know a lot about RV air conditioners, but apparently that’s bad. And, while technically you can fix the compressor, it’s actually easier and less expensive to just replace the entire A/C unit.

Lovely.

Bye-bye, entire emergency fund and then some…

We got a few quotes from local RV repair guys, and the quotes were a little out of our budget. Thank the Lord Almighty for Google and YouTube.

We ordered a brand-spanking new A/C unit from Amazon and had to wait for it to be shipped. To the seller’s credit, it arrived a day before it’s estimate arrival date, so that made me very happy. But by this time we had already been a week and a half trying to diagnose, gather funds, and game plan, so seeing FedEx pull up with our giant box was like being witness to a miracle. Hallelujah!

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I have never been so happy to see FedEx. 

Kevin was able to leave work in the middle of his shift (his job was all, “uh, yeah, please go get that installed ASAP so your family doesn’t become barbecue”), and, bless him, he had the whole thing installed in about an hour. The hardest part was literally just getting the 80-lb unit to the top of the trailer. Our awesome neighbors came running over to help heft it up, and my nightmare vision of either Kevin or myself being crushed under the box as we tried to carry it up a ladder never came to fruition.

Got the thing installed, it blew lovely, refreshing, beautiful cool air into the trailer and I kept hugging Kevin as he tried to get back out the door to go back and finish his shift at work. He was totally my hero.

2 hours later, the breaker tripped….

Stay tuned for What Happened Next!

Flying With Spirit Airlines

(Note: This post has ZERO affiliate links. I do not work for Spirit, I am not getting reimbursed for this in any way… although if they see this and want to go ahead and toss me a little sumthin’, I won’t say no… hint hint)

 

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When we started planning our Vegas trip back in December, we found consistently amazing deals from Spirit Airlines. Like, $80 round trip tickets. That’s, like, $40 one direction. We are cheap (although I prefer the term “frugal”) and saving a crap ton of money on airfare was something we obviously jumped on.

I found a ton of negativity towards Spirit when I read internet reviews. I also strongly feel like 99.9% of the complaints are completely unwarranted. Why? Because people don’t READ THE FINE PRINT. And then they get mad at the airline because they didn’t read. Whose fault is that?

Seriously, people, how exactly do you think Spirit can keep their airfare so low?

Common Complaint #1: They nickel and dime you for every little thing. 

Ummm, yes. Yes they do. Because you are paying the absolute lowest, rock-bottom price of jet fuel required to pack your ass from point A to point B. Your Ginger Ale doesn’t just grow on trees and drop into airplanes.

It’s not that they wont give you pretzels, it’s that you have to pay for the pretzels. Snacks and drinks are not built into the price of the ticket, and, frankly, I’m totally okay with saving $100 and not getting airplane pretzels. Just buy snacks before you board and you’ll be fine. You’ll probably be much happier chowing down on your airport McDonald’s Big Mac than stale airplane pretzels, anyway.

Common Complaint #2: Their baggage rules are ridiculous. 

You are allowed one personal item that is free. Everything beyond that you have to pay for. A personal item, according to Spirit’s website, is 18 x 14 x 8 inches. Please, for the love of God, double and triple check this before you fly. If you are cheap, er, frugal like we are, you can fit a surprising amount of items in this size. This needs to be able to fit under the seat.

Everything else gets charged for. Why? Because more weight = more fuel the plane has to burn to fly. If Suzie College Student packs all of her things into a personal bag, and Bobby Businessman is flying with a personal bag, a 15 lb carry-on, and a 50 lb checked bag, why in the world should Suzie pay more on her ticket to help offset the gas burned because of Bobby’s compulsion to pack his entire wardrobe, a tuba, and a set of encyclopedias?

Pro Tip: We found that checking a bag is more economical than paying for a carry-on. I think when we booked it was about $40 and a checked bag was $30-ish, but different flights have different prices because gas prices and distance the plane has to haul your treasures play into this (Economics 101), so double-check this stuff, you guys!

Not only is a carry-on more expensive, but you are allowed a much larger bag to check. They also have size guidelines for how big you can go before you are charged an “oversized bag” fee, but we used the biggest suitcase we own and it was fine.

So we bought one checked bag and attached it to Kevin’s ticket, raising only his ticket price by $60 ($30 there and $30 back), and we all packed our stuff into our personal bags and the rest went into the big suitcase. This is still significantly less money than any other airline. Trust me, we looked.

Pro Tip #2: Buy your luggage when booking your ticket. Or any time before the day of your flight, really. If you wait until the gate, it will be waaaaaay more expensive. Don’t be that guy who didn’t do his homework and gets charged $100 for his bag at the gate and then goes and writes a nasty-gram on every internet forum he can. No one likes that guy.

 

Common Complaint #3: The seats are so small and cramped.

Less leg room means they can cram more seats on the plane. Which means more people will fit on one flight, which lowers the ticket prices for everyone. More pesky Economics lessons, there.

I found this to be true. But honestly, I’m 5’2″ with shoes on. I have short femurs. Leg room has never been an issue with me. It doesn’t bother me at all, Kevin says it didn’t bother him. However I am happy that I splurged and bought my toddler his own seat (rather than having him be a “lap child”). But at $80 round trip, it was very doable to splurge.

If this is something that will bother you, you have three options:

  1. You can deal with it while smugly thinking about how much money you saved on airfare.
  2. You can upgrade to one of the Big Boy seats up front. You have to pay more, but it’s still not nearly the cost of a 1st class ticket on a different airline. Honestly, I doubt it’s more expensive than a coach ticket on a normal airline.
  3. You can fly with a different airline. You do have a choice to fly with someone else. Really. Spirit is not hiding the fact that they have smaller seats. You can see that here. They call it “cozy.”

Common Complaint #4: They have bad customer service.

You have to print your own ticket. Oh, the horrors. You can do that from your printer at home, from the email they send you, or you can print them at the handy-dandy kiosk at the airport. This means they don’t need to employ as many Customer Service check-in people. Which makes the airline cheaper to run, which…. (Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?) saves you money on ticket prices. Gah! Those blasted economics!

Also, I recently received a nice email from the CEO of Spirit Airlines (I’m on their email list because a. they email out their great specials and deals they run, and b. their copy is hilarious and I read every. single. email because I have a crush on their copywriter). The CEO was acknowledging that they receive a lot of complaints regarding customer service, and they are looking into it and will be implementing some changes in policy and training.

Which I thought was very nice, but in all reality, we had zero problem with any employees we encountered. Everyone was super nice and helpful.

 

So there it is, folks. You, too, can fly for ridiculously rock-bottom prices, but please please please, DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND BE PREPARED.

And if you chose to not read the website you are purchasing your ticket from, any of the follow-up preparatory emails they send you before your flight, or even your ticket itself (yes, they have helpful hints ON their tickets), then don’t be an ass and storm the internet with whiny reviews like, “I had to pay for a snack on the plane!!!” because the rest of us just roll our eyes at your inability to adult.

 

How My Family Went to Vegas for $1,000.

After Kevin’s assignment in South Dakota, we decided that we needed a weekend getaway with the family unit. But because it was right after Christmas, our budget was VERY limited.

Cue internet research.

We selected our destination simply based off of the airfare prices from Portland, Oregon.

Vegas won.

Here is the breakdown of how we did it:

Airfare

After researching, comparing, and shopping for a few weeks, we ultimately went with Spirit Airlines. I was a little hesitant because Spirit gets very mixed reviews, but the price simply can’t be beat, and since we are frugal by nature, we will tolerate a lot to save a few hundred bucks.

(Plus, their copywriter is brilliant and I want to be that person when I grow up. I’m now on Spirit’s email list simply because I love reading their copy. Whoever he or she is, they deserve a raise.)

We found round trip tickets to Vegas from Portland for $44.36 each.

You read that right.

We decided to pay an extra $10 per ticket to pick our seats. We bought a large checked bag for $60.  Add $86.49 for taxes and fees (Spirit does not have any control over this) and we got flights for all three of us to and from Vegas for a grand total of (drumroll, please)…

$309.57

For more details about our experience with Spirit Airlines, check out my other blog post.

Hotels

We stayed in Vegas for 4 nights, we decided to split our time between 2 hotels. Why? Because we were torn between wanting to stay at the Luxor (neither of us has stayed there and we both wanted to) and trying out Priceline’s Name Your Price tool. I’ve heard you can score amazing deals off of Priceline, but wasn’t sure if we’d get a great hotel or not, so we decided to take the gamble (we were going to Vegas, after all) and spend the first 2 nights in our Priceline win, and then we’d have the Luxor to look forward to for our last 2 nights if we hated our other hotel.

We’re gamblers, but only kind of.

The thing with the Priceline Name Your Price tool is that you specify the general area you want to stay, and how many stars you’d like the hotel to have, but you don’t get to know what hotels specifically you are bidding on. That’s the gamble. That’s also how they get away with offering rock-bottom, fill-the-leftover-rooms prices: without advertising how much you can get a room for. If you’re not picky about where you stay, this is a fantastic option.

Vegas is a pretty good place to try this out on because you can specifically bid on hotels on the strip.

We plugged in that we wanted to stay at a 5-start hotel (because why not?) for $85/night. One hotel accepted our bid: the Trump International Hotel- Las Vegas.

Okay, you guys, politics aside, this place was ah-maze-ing. Amazing. Amazing. 

Love him or hate him, you cannot argue that Donald Trump and his team can build spectacular hotels.

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Front entrance. Valet only. Stellar service. We were treated like royalty. I’m a budget traveler, and as such, I’ve never stayed somewhere so fancy. And we paid $85 a night (with taxes/fees it ended up around $135 a night).

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We stayed there for 2 nights and in hindsight, I wish we had stayed there for all 4 nights. Or forever. Momma could use a maid and very affordable room service. Seriously, we ordered room service on our first night, because we were pretty wiped out from our trip. It was one of the least expensive meals we had in Vegas, and it was by far the best.

The last 2 nights we moved over to the Luxor. Since the Luxor is, I believe, a 3-star hotel, in Vegas, it’s already pretty inexpensive to stay there. Since we saved so much money on our airfare, we decided we could splurge and upgrade to a jacuzzi suite. After all, it was around $120/night for the jacuzzi suite, and after staying at the Trump International, we needed the upgrade to try to make up for the fact that we were moving from a 5-star hotel to a 3-star (or is it 2.5 stars?)

Cue sad music.

The Luxor was really dated. Our room didn’t even have a coffee maker. What hotel doesn’t supply at least a small, crappy coffee maker? Plus, I’m pretty sure the 2nd room (the “sitting” area) was haunted. The poorly executed Egyptian theme only helped solidify the feeling of being in a tomb.

Maybe we would have loved it if we didn’t stay at the Trump International first. We would have had zero frame of reference for how nice hotels can be (although, I’m pretty sure that the noticeable lack of a coffee pot is a giveaway… I really depend on my morning coffee to, you know, adult).

To be fair, as we walked past other standard rooms that were being cleaned, with their doors propped open, they looked significantly nicer than the jacuzzi suite. Maybe they only update their standard rooms. Maybe the suites were next on the list for a makeover. It doesn’t matter; I was scared I was going to get chlamydia if I sat on the couch in there.

Once we got out of the room, though, the Luxor was a very fun, very Vegas-y place to stay. And those 45-degree elevators… how do drunk people not just fall down in them?

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The view from our balcony.

Trump International: $85 x 2 nights + $96 taxes/fees = $277

Luxor: $120 x 2 nights + $76 taxes/fees = $296

Total spent on hotels for 4 nights:

$573

Rental Car

We liked our Priceline hotel so much that we used Priceline to find a rental car. We didn’t bid, we just did a search. We saved a TON of money by choosing a rental car company that didn’t have a location at the airport, but instead ran a shuttle from the airport to the rental office.

You can save beaucoup bucks by being willing to take a shuttle to your rental car. We scored a midsize car for $21.17/day. We went with midsize because we had the toddler with his ginormous car seat, otherwise an economy car would have saved us even more.

Rental car: $84.68 + $35.41 taxes/fees

$120.09

Summary

As you can see, there are a lot of fees and taxes that they don’t advertise, so keep that in mind when booking anything. An “$85” rental car will suddenly cost you $120, but as long as you take the advertised price with a grain of salt, you’ll be fine. We didn’t spend much money on food or entertainment, since we had a toddler with us, but honestly, he was pretty happy walking up and down the Strip, looking at lights, watching water fountain shows, and wandering through casinos like the Venetian:

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If you look closely, in the background was a photo shoot of some bikini model (or porn star, I’m not sure which). It was seriously cold outside. It was January. All I was thinking was, “Oh, that poor girl is freezing.”

The Breakdown:

Airfare: $309.57

Lodging: $573.00

Rental Car: $120.09

Total: $1,002.66

We could have saved even more money by going with a standard room at the Luxor instead of a suite, and probably would have been better off. Live and learn.

All in all, it was a great little getaway at a very do-able price. If you, too, want a Vegas getaway, it can be done on a budget!

 

Hiking The Heiroglyphics Trail

DSCF2244Sitting quietly in the distant backdrop of everyday Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains are practically begging to be explored.  Some light research revealed that there are miles and miles of trails in what the locals refer to as “the Superstition Wildnerness.” Some are maintained, some are not, some are just old animal tracks. I had remembered reading a few months ago, when we were still in Oregon, about petroglyphs in the Superstition Wilderness, and, being the complete history nerd that I am, I wanted to find them.

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Luckily, there is a trail named “The Hieroglyphics Trail,” which led me to believe that we may have success trying that one. Google confirmed, and we had a plan for the day!

Fun Fact:

According to Google, the difference between a hieroglyph and a petroglyph is that hieroglyphs are drawn onto a surface, and petroglyphs are carved into a surface.

Why the trail to the petroglyphs is named “The Hieroglyphic Trail” is beyond me.

The forecast for the day said it was supposed to be about a hundred degrees, so we dressed lightly, grabbed the entire bottle of sunscreen, several quarts of water, the baby backpack, etc, and set out for the 50-mile drive to the trailhead in the Sonoran Desert.

The trailhead for the Hieroglyphic Trail and the Lost Goldmine Trail are actually on the opposite side of the Superstition Wilderness than the rest of the trailheads in Apache Junction, and we got there by winding through some random residential area. There were a few times when we thought our GPS had gone rogue, but we had faith and made it.

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Can I just say that the desert is gorgeous? Oregonians always use the excuse “I tolerate 10 months of rain and darkness because the state is so green and pretty!” News Flash: Arizona has green, too, and every other color imaginable! It may be the painter in me, but I love colors, and colorful landscape always catches my attention.

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Photographs don’t even do this place justice.

The internet said that the trail is about 2.9 miles round trip, and it was ranked as an “easy” trail. Arizona Hiker’s Guide even recommended it as a good introductory trail. Kevin and I have been working out, so we felt pretty comfortable with this distance/difficulty, despite the heat and having a 35-lb toddler to pack in.

I seriously think the trail was about 14 miles in, and like, 1 mile back out. I may be exaggerating, but that’s what it felt like. Going in was a slight uphill, with a total elevation gain of 600 ft in about 1.5 miles.

Anyone making this hike needs to be aware of a few things:

  • There is pretty much zero shade anywhere along this trail. Cacti don’t produce much shade. You will be in direct sun pretty much this entire hike. Thankfully we packed hats and sunscreen and plenty of water. The heat does get to you.
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I’m looking a little pink… SPF 50 is no match for the pale German breeding.

  • The trail itself is truly “easy” until you get close to the petroglyphs. Consider this: the petroglyphs are carved in the side of a mountain. There are rocks and boulders, some of which require climbing up/on/over. The Hiker’s Guide, linked above, says “the trail will become more rocky and you may have to climb just a little bit (nothing grandma and grandpa can’t handle).” Really? My grandma and grandpa certainly couldn’t handle some of the tricky footwork required. I struggled in a few spots simply because my legs are short and I had to do a bit more climbing than Kevin did. Wear good hiking shoes with grippy soles.
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You can’t tell, but there’s a ravine that Kevin is standing on the edge of. The Kidlet is very concerned with how close Dad is to the “down.”

  • The internet also indicated that there are some lovely natural water pools up near the petroglyphs. It didn’t occur to me immediately, but I felt like a bigger and bigger idiot as we got closer and closer to the pools and the bugs got thicker and thicker, and I didn’t pack bug spray. Really, Jess? Stagnant water + warm climate = cesspools of happy mosquitoes that are probably laden with a new strain of West Nile Virus. Normally those are details that I catch, but I was just too excited to hit the trail to use my critical thinking skills. So my biggest word of advice to you is: bug spray. DEET the heck out of yourself. Don’t be bug food. Don’t contract malaria in a first world country. At the very least spare yourself the agony of 37 itchy mosquito bites.

Despite these little details, spotting the petroglyphs across a small ravine from our trail was almost magical. It was exhilarating. These intricate drawings were left here around 1500 years ago, by the Hohokum people. They have survived 1500 years of wind erosion and flash floods and the unrelenting desert heat. Seeing the petroglyphs made every stumble over a loose rock, every bug bite, and every drop of sweat absolutely worth it.

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How to Shower in an RV (and Other Bathroom Observations)

Living in an RV is a lot like living in a small house.

Except when it’s totally different.

The bathroom is one of those areas that has a slight learning curve associated with it. Let’s break down the fundamentals that make up a bathroom experience:

The Sink

The sink looks and operates the same. Good to go there. I hear tell that some RVs have small plastic sinks- ours is full-sized and has a nice antiqued bronze finish faucet. It’s pretty fancy by older RV standards; more common in newer RVs.

The Toilet

Okay, can someone with more plumbig expertise than me explain why houshold toilets aren’t flushed the same way as an RV toilet? It makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE to me to flush by stepping on a pedal rather than touching a flush handle. So. many. germs. Why do we touch it with our hands???

Plus, I love the fact that I can control how much water I flush with. And if I want to leave water in the bowl or not. Or if I just want to hold the pedal down and irrigate the heck out of the toilet to eliminate the skid marks. (Too much info?) Or the fact that there’s no reservoir tank?

Is it weird to say that I 1000% refer an RV toilet over a house model? I think it helps that ours is actually porcelain and not plastic

The Shower

RV showers tend to be tiny, and ours is no exception (Although I did see Kevin’s parents’ shower in their new 5th wheel, and it is NOT tiny, and I’m a little jealous). Because of this Kevin, who is a bit bigger than I am, seems to prefer showering in the RV park showers if they’re available. I’m lazy and also 5’2″ with shoes on, so I usually shower in the RV.

We have a 10 gallon hot water tank, and that is more than adequate for a quick shower, especially considering that I have to turn on copious cold water to not scald myself. Added bonus: the RV’s previous owner was smart enough to change the standard shower head out for a pressure-regulating shower head, so I don’t even have to have that much water turned ON to get decent water pressure. Which is a brilliant hack for any RVer. I’d highly recommend.

Still, I try to be mindful of how much hot water I’m using. No one wants to be all lathered up with nothing but ice water coming out of the nozzle. That makes for a bad start to the day, or at the very least a miserable showering experience. To combat this, I’ve implemeted a very simple RV showering technique:

  1. water on
  2. lather up
  3. water off
  4. shave legs and shampoo without running water
  5. water back on to rinse and condition

Now that I’m clean I should have PLENTY of hot water left to just stand and enjoy my hot water and come up with new and exciting things to blog about. Like showering. (See what I did there? Irony).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, one more detail is worthy of mention:

The Vent Fan

When we bought the RV, the guy giving us the run-down told us to always turn on the vent fan when we are taking a shower, because moisture is the enemy in RVs.

Makes sense.

Just, uh, be sure to also open the vent hood before turning on the fan, otherwise the moisture-laden air has nowhere to go. It’s just getting blown around in the bathroom. Yep, learned that little gem after thinking that our vent fan was broken. It’s all about the troubleshooting.

Connected!

Well, it is our 1-montheversary living in the RV full- time. It’s also been a really long time since I’ve posted because one thing I learned really quickly is that RV Park Wi-Fi sucks.

It suuuuuuuuucks.

It took me 2 hours to pay 3 bills online last week.

But today… today we finally gave in and bought a WiFi hotspot through our cell phone carrier. So here I am and here we are. Back online. I tried to convince myself that we could get by with the spotty WiFi that is provided, and sometimes we can. Like weekday mornings it isn’t too bad. But evenings everyone else in the park is doing battle for WiFi use.

The next thing that I need to tackle is TV. I could barely pay bills on the park internet, so Netflix was out of the question. Luckily, we pick up quite a few stations through our antenna. All but 2 of them are in Spanish. I’m currently watching golf. Fascinating. It was that or TMZ. Now I can stream Netflix with my brand new WiFi but it draws off of my cell phone data, which is NOT unlimited, so I’m going to try to keep that to a minimum.

So there’s my RV travel Tip of the Day:

Just go ahead and splurge for the mobile hotspot. Trust me on this.