48 Hours in Arizona

It is outage season in the world of boiler businesses which means Audley is on the road nearly every day each week.  Now that the kiddos are so much older and require less of my time, he really encourages me to take off at least once a year for a girlfriend’s getaway and a little down time to help maintain my sanity.  Last weekend I was able to take off and enjoy a little Momma vacay  in Arizona with my friend, Yvonne.  She is quite familiar with the area as she owns a condo in Flagstaff, so I knew it would an exciting, jam packed weekend. We were quite limited on time with just over 48 hours to enjoy ourselves so Yvonne wanted to make sure  wanted to make sure I enjoyed a real taste of Arizona.

So, what can you do with such a short amount of time in an amazing area?

Let me share some of our fun with you!

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1. Dine at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Review in Flagstaff.  Dinner out at Black Barts was so much fun!  This eclectic restaurant is staffed with a lot of talent who might drop what they are doing without notice and jump on stage to sing for you.  With performances of show tunes from old Broadway to recent Disney favorites you might even find yourself singing along!

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The food was good (my Prime Rib was cooked perfectly), but the atmosphere is what makes Black Barts worth the stop!

A couple of other great restaurant suggestions would include the fabulous Horseman Lodge Steakhouse in Flagstaff (features local fare, including some amazing Elk Chops) and El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano in Sedona.

2. Wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise as you travel through the desert to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Skip the initial first view of the canyon (you’re charged to see it) and travel to Navajo Point for a truly gorgeous sight!

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Check out the shops (especially the Kolb Studio… the home and photography studio of historic Canyon photographers and film makers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb ) and then hike the Angel Light Trail.

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Just remember while it’s a fairly easy hike down, plan to double your time on the hike back up, and be sure to pack light!

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Whew!

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Utilize the free shuttle around the southern rim and visit different viewing points around the canyon. Also chat up the NP rangers for a bit of history and to answer your questions about the park.

3. Take a ride down Route 66 for a few unique shops and sights.

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4. Soak up the many views of Arizona’s ever-changing landscape.  From Prairies to mountain tops the scenery  around Flagstaff is amazing!

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We drove up to the Arizona Snow Bowl skiing area to see these gorgeous views!arizona-weekend-2-oh-fiddledeedee-com

And I do believe Arizona has enjoyed a much prettier autumn than we have in the Carolinas.

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5. Visit the unique Indian cliff dwellings built into rock at Montezuma’s Castle.

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Why build in the rocks?

 Protection from flooding, predators and MOSQUITOS!  Those pesky little insects like to stay low, so living high in the cliffs protected the native Americans from their annoying bites!

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6. Head off to the Sedona desert for a hike at Bell Rock and marvel at the breathtaking formations surrounding you!

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And on your way out, stop for some fun shopping with local artisans in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.  Sylvie & Bruno is a wonderful stop for locally designed jewelry (I picked up a couple of gorgeous turquoise pieces) and if you love photography you must visit the Eclectic Image Gallery.  Owned by the husband and wife team of Elaine and Duane Morgan, you will be enthralled (and a wee bit jealous) by their photographic eye for local beauty.

7. Take an evening horseback ride at the historic Hitchin’ Post Stables in Flagstaff.

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Dale was an awesome trail guide, and Sally was a fun horse to ride!

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8.  Leave a little early (and even drive off of your designated path) as you head to Phoenix to catch your flight out, and marvel at the swirly cactus on the way.

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Superstition Mountain in black and white …

While a long trips out west would be so much more fun, it is so easy to take in this fabulous destination and feel like you really got a taste of Arizona, even in 48 hours.

 FYI… If you plan to visit Arizona and especially its parks, purchase a National Park pass.  It’s good for a year and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, If you fly into Phoenix and decide to take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff… Don’t.

Just pay to rent a car.  It’ll save you so much trouble and your sanity as well.

Happy Weekend Y’all!

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Our Jamaica Mission Trip

My daughter, MacKenzie, and I just returned from a 9-day mission trip to Jamaica last week.  It’s funny because when you say that you are going to Jamaica on a mission trip people immediately think of the Sandals commercials and make comments on how difficult that must be.

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YS Falls

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A glimpse from inside the Hilton resort in Montego Bay

Jamaica is very beautiful, but outside the resorts are lives and lifestyles that many of us only see on the news or tend to ignore.

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Visiting with Brother Lorenzo

Beyond the resorts are a people struggling day in and day out to make a living for themselves and their children, all the while, living in poverty.  There are families living in houses that will never be finished because they can’t afford the property taxes on a finished home.  There are children that hang out in bars while their mommas work every evening because they need a parent close by.  Children walk miles (even up Mountains!) to school on dangerous roads.

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Just one road we traveled

There are men and women who can’t afford medical treatment (because there are no decent doctors or medical facilities on the island) that go blind with cataracts or glaucoma.   There are parents who live off  drugs while their children beg on the streets for them and unable to attend school as they should.  This is a culture with no concept of proper dental and medical care.  If you can’t get to it or afford it, you’re out of luck.  And there are children who can’t go to school because their family can’t afford a school uniform for them.

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This is an island of people trapped in a socialist lifestyle just hoping for a break if not for themselves, but for their children, and not really knowing how to accomplish change.

To be honest, Jamaica doesn’t want you to see the island.  They only want you to see the beauty of the resorts and tourist attractions.

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Bananas growing in a local yard

But, there is so much beauty to be found outside of the resorts as well…  it’s found in many of the people we encounter, their loving hearts and their love for Jesus in a culture that doesn’t really live Christ.  Jamaica is beautiful, but you have to experience it to see exactly what I mean!

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This was our fifth visit to the impoverished island, but it’s a trip we truly look forward to.  Santa Cruz, Jamaica (which happens to be quite a distance from the coast) has also become a place we cherish dearly and hold close to our hearts.

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We had a taxi driver in Montego Bay tell us if we had friends in Santa Cruz, we were considered Jamaicans ourselves.  I like that idea.

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Santa Cruz Church of Christ

The people in the church at Santa are some of the most loving and caring individuals you can find.  They welcome us with open arms and hearts each time we arrive and cry with us as we leave.  It is a congregation of mostly women; strong, powerful women who worship with all their might.  They are women who are striving to serve and grow, while raising children and grandchildren to do the same.  It’s a congregation with many children who love to sing , listen to Bible stories and color. Brother Lorenzo, with his clear singing voice will bring you to tears with his words of wisdom and fierce independence as he is a blind man living entirely alone.

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MacKenzie talking with Brother Lorenzo

Then there is Everton, a man who has dedicated his life to God instead of a family because he feels that is most important.

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Everton chaperoning MacKenzie and I in Montego Bay the night before we left… those are non-alcoholic beverages as we dined at Margaritaville; a meal that Everton kept calling “luxury”

He leads worship every Sunday as well as driving to pick up every member before services.  It can take a couple of hours to accomplish that.

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The young preaching student with his wife, daughter and two brothers who came over from Montego Bay in a taxi to hear him teach Bible class on Sunday.

And now there is a young preaching student from the School of Preaching who travels each week to share the word with this small congregation.  He has the sweetest wife who is trying so hard to be a support for him in this ministry he has chosen.  It’s a congregation of people who I pray for daily.

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Beautiful faces at Vacation Bible School

We worshipped with the church on Sunday, and held a Vacation Bible School each night we were there.   We also visited several homes of church members, singing and praying with them.

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Singing sweet gospel songs

And one of my favorite parts of the week with the church members was the home-cooked suppers before Vacation Bible School prepared by several of the ladies during our stay.

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Our trip this year was spent more in the community than normal as we worked with four different schools; visiting with children and helping with some things the schools needed.

The little preschool in the New River district is a block one-room building with minimal light and up to 42 children at one time!  The teachers arrive early each day to clean up the school yard and bathrooms for the day.

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They are fortunate to have a church building right next door where they are allowed to have space for group activities and morning assembly.

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Praying babies at New River 

We had so much fun singing and interacting with these babies, and they had fun entertaining us as well!

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At Aberdeen High School (an hour from Santa Cruz) we were introduced to an older group of kids who made me realize just how easy my kids have it despite all that American culture throws at them.  These young people have heart and soul but are totally conflicted on what direction their lives will take.

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While talking with a teacher, he told me that less than 70% of the children in the school will stay until graduation; maybe 30% of the remaining will attempt higher education, and the really smart ones will do whatever they can to leave the island of Jamaica for America and better opportunities for their lives.

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Sobering thoughts indeed.

At Schoolfield Primary School, some of our young people and the students kicked off the school day with an entertaining game of “football”.

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Personally I enjoyed watching the smaller children play on the little playground.

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playground fun

After their morning devotional, we painted the ceiling and trim in the common room since it had just recently been replaced.

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Our final school visit was to Marie Cole Primary.  From the vender selling prawns in baggies to the kids for breakfast to the childrens fascination with a Nerf football (American version), it was an interesting morning watching the children arrive.

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There are no school buses in Jamaica (except the one that has been turned into a classroom at Marie Cole), so children walk quite a long distance, or if they can afford it, take a taxi.  Momma and Daddy generally don’t walk with them.

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After morning devotion at Marie Cole, the teenagers in the group went to the classrooms to read to different age groups.  I use the term classrooms loosely as the school is a large block building with each classroom separated only by carefully arranged chalkboard partitions.

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These children that we encounter on our trips are why I return to Jamaica time and again.

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If there is just one child whose life we can touch and change, helping them overcome the status quo, then we have done something good.

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Several of the children that attend church at Santa Cruz are the reason we are allowed in the schools.  They have taken the initiative to bring together a mission team from the US and principals to form a bond of friendship and trust.

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While it’s sad to say goodbye each trip, I’m always glad to be back home in my comfortable air-conditioned home and drive on roads we really have no right to complain about.  But, that first Sunday back in our home congregation with its elaborate building and organized worship assemblies, is alway sad.  With 300 people in attendance, the heart and soul of 75 Jamaicans in worship can blow away our singing.

The Christians in Jamaica are passionate about their worship; not worried about entertainment and politics in the church.

They come together to praise God with all of their heart and soul, truly fellowshipping with one another, thus humbling me and teaching me a lesson when I thought I was teaching them one.

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Southern Highlights: Foster Falls Small Wild Area

At last the steady, warm temperatures of spring have arrived!  I don’t know about you, but when the weather is nice, it is so difficult to keep me indoors.

Recently we were able to take a trip home to Dad and Mom’s house in Tennessee.  My parents live in an amazingly beautiful area in the Cumberland Mountain region and we love to take advantage of gorgeous days; looking for fun and adventure whenever we are in town.  This last trip found us venturing off to Foster Falls Small Wild Area for a little hiking.  Foster Falls is in Marion County, about a 40 minutes drive west of Chattanooga.  It is a part of the South Cumberland State Park area which also includes Grundy Lakes and the old coke ovens we visited last spring. 

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Foster Falls is not a new area to us at all as we have camped (mostly primitive camping) there several times over the years and my kids frequent the area when they are with their grands.  While the camping is nice, Foster Falls is well-known for its hiking, especially its climbing, and of course a gorgeous 60 ft water fall.

View from the overlook

View from the overlook

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Rushing water leading to the falls

Rushing water leading to the falls

Hiking around the falls is available for all levels, from the casual to the endurance hiker.  We enjoy the trail down to the base of the falls, which is not difficult, but can be rocky as well as slippery if there has been a lot of rain.  It’s about a 15-20 minute hike down to the falls.

We were casual hikers, just out to enjoy the spring weather on the day that we visited Foster Falls

We were casual hikers, just out to enjoy the spring weather on the day that we visited Foster Falls

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Bridge leading to the base of the falls after the 15 minute hike down

Glimpse of the falls through the trees

Glimpse of the falls through the trees

At the base there are other trails as well as a deep pool that is so cold even in the summer!

Normally the pool is emerald green, but the southern spring rains had the pool looking a little murkey.

Normally the pool is emerald-green, but the southern spring rains had the pool looking a little murky.

Longer hikes include trails that eventually lead you to the portion of South Cumberland State Park known as the Fiery Gizzard trail (12.5 miles one way) and is a very popular trail to hike!

View across the South Cumberland Mountain area  from the top of Foster Falls

View across the South Cumberland Mountain area from the top of Foster Falls

The trail leading to the Fiery Gizzard goes along the side of this creek

The trail leading to the Fiery Gizzard goes along the side of this creek

Climbing is the same way.  My kids did a little free-climbing while we were there, but we have brought gear before for attempting some serious climbing!  The area is actually known to be a prime destination for serious climbers in the Southeast!

Free Climbing at Foster Falls

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Pack a picnic, bring plenty of water, and plan to spend the day if you come out.  There is much for you to enjoy!  Foster Falls is dog friendly and you will encounter many along the trails.  Leashes are a must, and remember to bring baggies to clean up after your pet.

Our sweet little Corgi enjoyed her outdoor adventure ... except for the mud.

Our sweet little Corgi enjoyed her outdoor adventure … except for the mud.

If you don’t camp, lodging is available in both Kimball, Tennessee down in the valley, and in Monteagle , Tennessee on the top of the mountain near the main entrance to South Cumberland State Park. Plan for several days to soak up nature and history all around the roughly 25,000 acres that comprise this state park system.

Foster Falls is so peaceful and gorgeous

Foster Falls is so peaceful and gorgeous

Inquiring minds want to know:  What do you like to do when the season begins to change and warm up?

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“What Happens in Vegas”

Each year my hubby slips away for a safety professionals conference in Las Vegas. Tired of him having all the fun, this year I made arrangements for the kiddos and slipped away with him for a much needed get-away.  I was told by several people before we left that I would either love Vegas or absolutely hate it; there was no in-between.

Me?

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I fell in love with Las Vegas.

Now you know I am not a wild and crazy girl, but guess what?!  You don’t have to be to have fun in Vegas, and “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t necessarily have to “stay in Vegas”

And I had a blast the four and a half days we were there!

So what can you do in Las Vegas if you are not a huge gambler or a late night partier?  Here are seven fun things you can do and still get a Vegas experience!

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1. Take in a show.  As cliche as it seems, you can’t go to Vegas without seeing at least one live show.  There is something from everyone from impersonators to live concerts.  The week we were in town Brittany Spears performed twice and we had an option of no less than FIVE Cirque du Soleil shows!  We opted for a musical and watched Jersey Boys  (the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons story), which was playing nightly at the Paris hotel theater.   The music was fabulous, making it an awesome choice and a show we enjoyed very much!

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2. Enjoy dinner at a high end restaurant!  Enjoy yourself and splurge.  We chose to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the Paris hotel as part of a package that included dinner and the Jersey Boys performance.

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Our reservations were early so that we had prime seating for the sunset and a view of the strip as it lit up for the evening.

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We could also watch the fountains at the Belliago from our table.  Another good reason for dining early was to keep us from being absolutely stuffed while watching our show later in the evening!

Service at the Eiffel Tower was impeccable.  The sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and took his time going over the wine list with us.  The waitress was very friendly, yet professional and efficient.

Our filet medallions were cooked perfectly and dessert…. let’s just say I was very thankful for gym access!

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My Creme Brûlée was sheer perfection.

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Dinner at the Paris

3. Spend a day at Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center.  Located in the Venetian Hotel this spa club has everything you could imagine to spoil yourself … which is exactly what I did.

Because I have fitness goals I am still striving to reach, I took advantage of the personal trainers on staff and had my booty handed to me.  It was a humbling experience as a licensed trainer to have another trainer whip you and nearly have you crawling out of the gym.  I told them what I was looking for and for two days got it.  I will definitely use the facility and the trainers again!  The fitness club has every kind of equipment you could possibly want or need for a workout, as well as cardio equipment and a climbing wall!  Fitness classes like spin, yoga, and zumba are available as well.

The ladies locker room is peaceful and calm which really encourages you to focus on the workouts to come!

While at the spa-club I spent the money and took advantage of one of the hairstylists, to “fix” me up for our  evening out on the town as well as a cosmetologist for a dramatic makeover that I’ll never be able to recreate!

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I’m not a “selfie” person …

It was so much fun and extremely relaxing.  Something every wife and momma needs from time to time.

While time didn’t allow for me to enjoy all the activities at the spa, with a spa passport you can use the steam rooms, rainforest aquavana, the sauna, and a hydrospa.  For extra you can schedule a variety of massages, manis/pedis, body wraps and even a couples mud bath!

4. Walk through the many themed hotels and take in the architecture and decor.

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I know, you’re thinking “how boring!”, but I promise you it’s not!  Our trip corresponded with Chinese New Year, so a walk through the Belliago was unique, colorful and so enjoyable!

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During the afternoon at the Venetian you may find a carnival atmosphere taking place right in the Canal Shoppes!

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With live music and colorful costumes, it’s worth taking a break from your day to sit and take in a little Italian culture.

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Stop by Buddy’s bakery or Godiva while hitting the Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Just be sure to do a few extra reps when you hit the gym!

An if you want a bit of Egyptian culture, step into the Luxor.  You feel like you’ve traveled the world with just a little walking!

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5. Step back in time to the day of gangsters in Vegas with a stroll through The Mob Museum.   Located in old Vegas the Mob Museum housed in the old US Post Office and courthouse built in 1933, the museum shares the history of the mob from it’s beginnings in the United States to its rise in Vegas and the end of several prominent mobsters.  There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of history for you to soak in.  “The Godfather” just doesn’t tell all of the story!

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Another great exhibit in Las Vegas is the Titanic display at the Luxor.  Cameras are forbidden in the tour, but the images will be forever etched in your mind.  With actual artifacts from the shipwreck, paired with carefully reconstructed displays of various rooms on the ship and stories of the passengers you will need a box of kleenex.  Very touching indeed.

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6. Take a hike into Red Rock Canyon.  While the Grand Canyon is drivable from Las Vegas (3.5-4 hours), Red Rock Canyon is just an hour out and a day you will find most enjoyable.

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 Start in the visitors center where you will get an idea of the history of the area as well as the wildlife and variety of native plants you will see while you are out and about.

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 Talk with one of the Rangers and pick up a guide showing you the many hikes you can take.  It’s a stunningly beautiful area.  Take a picnic, enjoy a hike, take in the wildlife and soak in God’s amazing creation.

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7. Hit up a gun range for a military experience!  We discovered Battlefield Vegas by accident as I was trying to do something fun for Audley since he had been a good sport by hiking and dressing up for dinner.  Battlefield Vegas is owned and operated by US Veterans which made it even more appealing to us.

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The experience begins when you are picked up at your hotel in a military vehicle and taken to their location.  You can tour around outside and look at old military vehicles which made my veteran hubby quite happy.

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Once you go inside, you have several packages to choose from for your shooting experience.  We choose the Navy Seal package, plus added and extra gun.

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Apparently Audley has missed shooting an AK-47.

We just paid for one package and split it.

Audley had a blast…. and so did I.

The “instructor” assigned to help us with the guns was really great and I think shocked that I knew what I was doing.  You don’t have to regularly shoot to do this shooting experience; you will have plenty of help.  They guys are really awesome and were great for answering any questions you might have.  When you are finished shooting, shopping and touring, the guys will carry you back to your hotel or even a restaurant if you are going to eat.   There are other shooting experiences available in the area, but we really had fun at Battlefield Vegas and will definitely do this again!

For reference, hotels for every budget are available in Las Vegas.  You can stay in the Best Western or in Caesar’s Palace.  We chose a Hilton property (always our preference), using the Elara Grand Vacations for our stay.

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The pulled “shade” over the window was a screen for a TV projection!  We watched the Super Bowl in high definition comfort of our suite.

With a jacuzzi and full-sized living room and kitchen it was like we were in our own apartment instead of a hotel!  I’m not a gambler at all, but for the Vegas experience I did play a couple of slot machines.

With only four days for our trip, as you can imagined we in no way saw all there is to see.  I’m already planning to accompany Audley next year to his conference … I told you I loved it!

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