Friday, April 6, 2012

Senge Family Reunion Weekend 2012: Tucson

Last weekend, we headed out to Tucson for a Senge Family Reunion weekend. We were anticipating dreading eight hours of total driving time with Alice so we planned to stop about every two hours to give her a break, if necessary. The best part of that plan was that our first stop was a magical place I have dreamed of visiting ever since I saw The Wizard when I was nine? ten? I watched that masterpiece on Netflix a while ago (maybe on maternity leave, I can't remember), and it really is a great relic of the '80s cinema of my youth.

Behold. The dinosaurs.
Seeing their imposing visages rising majestically out of the desert made me ridiculously excited. Seriously, I was squealing with glee. I'm glad that Alice won't have any memory of this visit so I can have an excuse to go back someday, specifically to spend more time with these dinos. And maybe outlet shopping...
I wish I'd thought to rewatch the movie, or at least that pivotal scene, before we headed out there and maybe even taken "then and now POV" photos but in retrospect, I'm kind of glad I didn't. The vision in my head was definitely straight out of the movie, with giant dinos surrounded by desert scrub. The reality is that today, you pass a huge outlet mall on your way from the freeway exit to the dinos and then a Burger King and park and parking lot surrounding them. They no longer have that aura of iconic roadside attraction, nor the photographic appeal. We'd hoped to arrive around sunrise (for awesome photos) but left an hour later than originally planned, which turned out ok because the photo ops weren't that great (and I forgot my wide angle lens). We'll definitely have to go back though, because the "attractions" weren't open for business and I wasn't able to live out my dream of walking inside a dinosaur. 

We let Alice run around for a little bit, while I kept my eye out for like, used needles and condoms (no evidence of such, it just kind of seemed like that kind of place...), and then hopped back in the car for the next two-hour stretch to Blythe. We had a quick snack/potty/stretch break and then it was back in the car. And in case you weren't yet convinced that we are crazy people, I present Exhibit A:

Yes. Those are the miniature effigies of our cats that travel with us. I originally bought them to include in the bag of new toys we brought to entertain Alice en route to Orlando, and she took quite a liking to them. They now live in my purse, because ... I can't even answer that. Anyway, they ended up on our dashboard for the rest of the drive. 

We brought Alice's toy tote and it actually kept her entertained the longest when she had it on her lap. She spent a good long time putting things in and out, and she was more interested when she could pull out an item than if I tried to hand things to her. So we let her do that. For miles and miles and miles. And she was great. She'd start to fuss a bit just as we were approaching our next planned stop, and we were usually able to explain that we were just a few minutes away, etc. And then, in true Alice fashion, she fell asleep JUST as we were about to exit the freeway for our Tucson destination. We had to stop by the grocery store before heading to the hotel and I hoped that she'd sleep while Jon ran in to shop, but no. Of course she woke up as soon as he got out of the car. So I entertained a painfully sleepy child for a good twenty minutes by making her giraffe dance on her head and pop out from behind her car seat. I am skilled in the ways of distracting/entertaining a toddler.

So we got to Tucson in about eight hours of driving time, about ten hours door-to-door, counting our stops. Which is about exactly what we'd planned. And it wasn't miserable! Success!!

We got settled into our hotel room right away and met up with the other early-arrival Senges for a casual dinner. The next day was a planned "travel/arrival" day, with no scheduled activities, so we took advantage of the lovely weather and the hotel pool to take Alice's new swimsuit on a maiden voyage.

I didn't get any shots of her walking to the pool, but man alive, she is just too cute. I mean, the grin! The bangs and ponytail!! The cheeks and thighs! The hat and sunglasses!! It's all just too much.
There was a CVS in the same plaza as our hotel, so we toddled on over there first thing in the morning to stock up on a few items we I forgot to pack (deodorant, duh!) and Alice refused to leave without that ball. And I refused to leave without the chocolate Cadbury eggs, which are amazingly delicious and amazingly rare, and were on sale 2 for $1. 

After the pool, we walked down the street a ways to have a nice happy hour lunch at Blanco in the lovely La Encantada mall. The pool and the sun and the stroll really tuckered Alice out and she surprised us all by drifting off to sleep just as we were walking up to the mall (but as I type that, it makes perfect sense). So we parked her at our table and let her snooze while we enjoyed some amazing blood orange margaritas. Yummmmm. 

The rest of the weekend was a lot of hanging out with family (and a lot of eating, of course!) with some fun field trips. Jon's "My-Cousin-Dana" arranged for us to tour her office at the National Park Service's Western Archaelogical and Conservation Center where she is a conservator. It was totally fascinating, but I had to spend most of the tour entertaining Alice and keeping her hands far, far away from the priceless and delicate historical objects. I was able to keep Alice quite mainly by letting engage in one of her favorite beauty rituals: smearing chapstick all over her face. The WACC doesn't usually allow kids under 12 (16?) on the tours, but kindly made an exception for Auntie-My-Cousin-Dana's youngest family member. There was one fairly hilarious moment when the director of the repository was talking about a collection of shells and she mentioned a particular shell from a bi-valve and Alice shouted out "byeeeee." I had no idea she was paying such close attention, I thought she was totally engrossed her chapstick. 
We had a lovely dinner at Tavolino, and Alice got to wear her new dress and headband. The hotel offered a complimentary "manager's happy hour" and morning breakfasts, where Alice discovered the wonders of ice water with lemon, and a straw. She talks about it all the time and if we say we're going somewhere to eat, it's the first thing she mentions. She often asks for ice in her cup at home, and a lemon, and I have to tell her that we have none. Maybe I should fix that...
Grandpa has his lap full!

On the last proper reunion day, we all headed out of town to the Sonora Desert Museum right in the Saguaro National Park. The drive offered a really impressive view, especially coming over the hill from Tucson and winding your way down into the saguaros. 

Though technically a museum, the mostly outdoor botanical and zoological gardens were really beautiful and well-presented. We arrived just in time for the "Raptor Free Flight" and gathered along a pathway while ravens, raptors and owls swooped overhead. Alice was pretty into it, even extending her hand just like the trainer, offering the birds another place to land. She seemed kind of disappointed that none of them obliged, which was really for the best! We had promised her that there would be "gubs" and "neeks" at the museum, which was all she could talk about if you mentioned the museum. We actually told her we were going to the zoo, so after she talked about gubs and neeks, so started naming all the other animals we normally visit at the L.A. Zoo. But I was pretty sure we weren't going to see giraffes and elephants in this desert... Anyway, part way through the raptor flight, she gave me the "all done" hands and asked for the gubs and neeks. So after the show, we made straight for the snakes.  I didn't get a good shot, but she totally charmed a giant rattle snake and made him dance. Maybe she's a parselmouth
Alice peers at some rock-dwelling reptile.
Here are a few of the better shots I got of the birds in the show. If you scroll through these, there is one more anecdote and photo from the tail end of our trip...
The raven.

it's hard to focus on an owl diving straight for your head, but it's a cool shot anyway.
So beautfiul.
Look at those gorgeous wings and feathers.
Who-hoo-hoo-WHO, hoo-hoo-WHO.

This isn't what they are DOING when they are making their distinctive screech, but doesn't this just LOOK like a screech??
comin ATCHA!

So by the end of our Tucson weekend, Alice was exhausted as you are now, after looking through all of those photos. She woke up crying in the middle of the night on Saturday, only two hours after Jon and I had gone to bed, and she was essentially inconsolable. We tried a diaper change, a snack, potty, etc., she was just totally uncooperative and kept screaming and crying, and saying "go?" "go?" while trying to open the door. Jon finally managed to get her back to sleep, so WE could go back to bed. We were lucky to squeeze in another four hours of sleep before we had to get up and hit the road. That next day, during the looong drive back, we admitted to each other that we'd both been considering just packing up the car and leaving in the middle of the night. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that I wouldn't be able to stay awake for a ten-hour drive without more than the two hours of sleep we'd gotten at that point. Jon didn't want to be driving through deserted stretches of the desert in the middle of the night. And then he admitted that he'd been afraid Alice was seeing ghosts or something, and that's why she was so upset and trying to leave the room. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case (I don't even think it was a nightmare), but I'm glad he didn't bring it up at the time...

Anyway, we were on the road before the sun rose and Alice conked out after our 10am lunch stop. Jon and Alice took a good couple hour nap while I listened to This American Life's original Mike Daisey episode. I know I've said several times that Alice doesn't sleep in the car, or her stroller, or the plane, or anywhere that's not her bed. I know the photo evidence makes it appear that I'm lying, but that's only because we make sure to take a photo every time she falls asleep outside of her bed just because it's so rare. And cute. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the photos with the dinosaurs! Especially the one of Jon and Alice walking together. And the pool ones are just scrumptious!!


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