Finally – Familiar Faces

Being away from home for long stretches of time creates an intense longing for our family and friends.  Lisa and I know our grandson, Conner Jack, has grown and changed so much in the time we have been in Arizona that he may be practically unrecognizable when we finally see him again in late October.  Our life in Kentucky is waiting for us and we are missing those we love back home.

So it was pure joy spending a week here with good friends Wes and Kim Page who flew out to vacation with us during Lisa’s seven days off this past week.  To say we kept them hopping for seven days is an understatement.  From Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and from Sedona to San Diego – it was an action packed week that we all may need a few days to recover from.

We were like kids at Christmas counting down the days until they arrived last Thursday.  Lisa managed to get rooms at the Trump Tower for our one night stay in Vegas and we enjoyed some good restaurants and the Vegas sights and sounds before heading to Hoover Dam on Friday.  From there we brought them here to Kingman where they were able to stay at our campground and quickly understood what we meant about living in the desert.  They must have brought some of the rain with them from Kentucky as it rained for only the second time since we arrived in late June.  We were fortunate to be able to reserve the campground “lodge”, an apartment sized cabin that provided them all the comforts of home.  Had we been forced to house them in our little RV for the week – they would have gone home after about two days and I am fairly certain we would no longer be friends.

Kingman does not offer many site-seeing venues but we did make reservations to eat at the “Hualapai Lodge” and there we were able to see elk and deer feeding just outside the restaurant window.  Elks are enormous animals that I would hate to encounter with my car or alone in a dark alley.

On Saturday we headed to Williams AZ and to the Grand Canyon.  Williams is a very ‘touristy’ place about fifty miles from the Canyon but we managed to find a nice hotel where we got checked in before traveling on to the canyon. Although the Grand Canyon is just one hundred miles from Kingman – Lisa and I had decided to wait and enjoy our first trip there with Wes and Kim.  We are so glad we waited.

Rain began to fall about the time we arrived at the national park and we got stuck in a railroad depot for about an hour waiting for it to subside before we could finally gaze at the great hole in the ground.  I have to confess I was a little skeptical about how “grand” this experience would be and really thought all the pictures I had seen in my life of the canyon would probably be about it.  The rain subsided enough for us to make a run for the El Tovar Hotel famous for being the place Teddy Roosevelt stayed in 1903.  After stopping to buy a couple of hoodie sweatshirt (matching no less) for Kim and Lisa – we walked across the hotel lawn and slowly approached the canyon.  All four of us arrived at about the same moment and gazed across the vast expanse – in awe of what we were seeing.  We were speechless for a few seconds – stunned at what God and nature had created.  The Grand Canyon is grand indeed.  From there we used the shuttle service to travel along the more famous “south rim” and even managed at one point to hike about a mile down into the canyon.  What an amazing place.  Now I know why so many foreigners travel here to see this.

After our day at the canyon we returned to Williams for the night and then on to Sedona on Sunday.  In some ways Sedona is equally impressive as the Grand Canyon and many of the locals here in Arizona had told us about its beauty.  Sedona is famous for the brilliant orange and red sandstone formations and although warmer temperature wise than Williams, Sedona offered some of the prettiest vistas of our trip.  We stopped to ask about things to do and were advised to ride the train through the Verde Valley Canyon.  The four-hour ride was around $50 each but well worth our time and money.

We headed back to Kingman for the night and then loaded up and traveled five and a half hours to San Diego on Monday morning.  On our way we drove through our old stomping grounds in Loma Linda, CA and stopped to visit Lisa’s co-workers at the Loma Linda Hospital.  It was fun getting to show Wes and Kim around our little California community where we spent almost four months back in the winter.  The landscape had changed drastically since we left in late March.  The green hills and lawns were gone as the summer heat had scorched everything into a rust color and the temperature was not nearly as “paradise-like” as we remembered it in January and February.

We arrived in San Diego and checked into the Westin Hotel in the “Gaslamp Quarter” district of downtown.  Just a few blocks away from our hotel was “Petco Field” where the San Diego Padres play baseball.  Well – what do you know but the Pittsburgh Pirates were in town for a three game series.  I had no idea they were playing – hmm!  Actually Wes, Kim and Lisa found out about my ulterior motive weeks ago and managed to secure tickets on the internet on the way into San Diego – just hours before the game.  It was wonderful!  The Pirates won 3 -1.  “Is this heaven? – No! It’s San Diego.”

San Diego may have the nicest weather on the planet.  It was comfortably warm during the day and sweatshirt cool in the evenings.  One lady we spoke to said it tends to stay around 75 degrees year round.  We decided to spend a second night in San Diego and went to Balboa Park on Tuesday where all the museums and the famous San Diego Zoo are located.  I commented that the city planners knew what they were doing in designing this area and placing all the museums in a central locale.  This is an enormous area and shuttle services allow visitors to move from one museum to the other.  We visited the Automobile Toy Train Museums (I know – but I love toy trains – what can I say?). After supper we walked along the pier and got pictures near the famous WWII aircraft carrier “Midway”.  I did not know that the ship was not only used in WWII but during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. I have to admit that it was tempting to take a sharp right turn and walk a few blocks to see the Pirates play again – but I resisted the urge.  (By the way – they won 8 – 1).  Our second night in San Diego was at the “US Grant” Hotel – an incredibly ornate older hotel that first opened in 1910.

We decided at the last-minute to travel on to Los Angeles on Wednesday where Lisa and Kim wanted to shop at the “wholesale” district ( I will say more about that in a moment).  On our way we stopped off at Huntington Beach and put our feet in the cold, cold Pacific Ocean.  The ocean side of California has such a different feel than the inland side where we stayed in Loma Linda.  Traffic is crazy along the I-5 and two-lane Pacific Coast Highway.  But the views of the ocean were magnificent.  Huntington Beach was massive and it took several minutes to walk from the parking lot to the water’s edge.  We stayed just long enough for a few pictures and to get our feet nice and frozen in the sea water before heading on into Los Angeles.

Finally we arrived at the “wholesale district” in LA.  I had been here once before with Lisa when we were here in the winter but the place is still almost beyond words to describe.  Wes commented that it reminded him of the marketplaces in Haiti.  Shop after shop after shop were lined along several city blocks that sold everything imaginable.  Areas were sectioned off according to the items being sold.  There is a large floral area, large fabric and textile area, a fashion district and even a toy district.  We managed to cover only a tenth of the entire area – if that.  Wes and I became the pack mules for Kim and Lisa’s purchases and stood for a few hours just waiting for them to finally leave one store only to have them go into the next one.  I considered telling Lisa someone had called from our campground in Kingman saying our RV was on fire and that we needed to leave right away.  Wes had a look on his face of – ‘You mean I flew all the way from Kentucky for this?’

Finally it was back on the road and back to Kingman.  What a trip!  Lisa had to return to work on Thursday and after lunch I drove Wes and Kim back to Las Vegas to catch their flight to Louisville.  It was hard seeing them leave and turning the truck around and heading back to Kingman.  We have two more months before we are able to turn for home ourselves and we look forward to that.

In the eight days total that we spent with Wes and Kim there were many memorable moments.  Moments of belly laughter and moments of honest conversation and moments of just sharing a view of something or a good meal.  We had seen so many things – wonderful things – and yet it was during a blessing over our lunch on our final day together that it hit me.  I offered to pray over our meal and the first words out of my mouth – completely unplanned were, “God, thank you for our friends!”  I think my voice broke a little at the profound simplicity of that statement.  I think I saw Kim wipe her eyes at the same time.  Lisa and I love our friends – perhaps more now than ever before.  Our traveling and being away from home for long periods of time allow us to appreciate those important people more and more each day.  We miss them but as strange as it may sound – we are glad God has given us a chance to miss them.  When you are far from home – knowing people are waiting for you there – make the long days and weeks seem easier to endure.

“God, thank you for our friends!”

Love, Steve and Lisa

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