Ever since they moved to the southwest, we've wanted to reconnect with Jason's brother Justin and his wife Brianna. We held off for a time, however, since Phoenix is even less hospitable than St. George in the heat of summer. Last weekend we finally met in the middle at Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, Arizona. Justin and Brianna were really kind and indulged my craving for camping--a huge sacrifice when you consider Brianna's understandable distaste for outhouses.
Here are the kids smiling en route in Paige, Arizona. They were thrilled to get out of the car for some breakfast at Denny's. Thanks for the adorable Halloween outfits, NomiAnn!
We were fortunate to get one of the last sites in our preferred campground. Talia immediately set to work setting up the tent.
For Eli, unpacking the cooler was the highest priority.
Jason in his camping hunker.
It was dark by the time Justin and Brianna arrived, but we still managed to enjoy some dutch oven spider cake and smores around the campfire before slipping off to bed. While we didn't actually battle any spiders, we were shocked to discover that skunks freely roam the campground. Apparently they're quite friendly and usually only spray the dogs. Our stinky visitor walked through the site nearly a dozen times over the next couple days, habitually checking out our trash bag. While I may be in the habit of chasing off raccoons, I wasn't about to pick a fight with this invader.
In the morning Uncle Justin had a surprise for us:
Pancakes that spelled O-H-I-O! Apparently his Buckeye loyalty paid off since Ohio State beat the Fighting Illini later that day, 17-7. Sigh.
Talia may have a messy face...
...but those clean hands are ready to eat!
I'm thinking Eli liked the food.
Brooklyn smiles in satisfaction.
Energized by the grub, we were ready to venture out to search for vortexes in Sedona. Justin and Brianna led us on a fantastic hike up Cathedral rock. The slick-rock trail was quite steep, but the girls loved scaling up it like a giant jungle gym.
Winding our way through the cairns. Brooklyn said that Uncle Justin should go first because, well, he's a doctor.
Shortly after this ascent, I decided to pass Eli off to Jason.
Time to refuel!
We get a lot of mileage out of red vines--literally.
Talia, looking cute in her hat. On the way back down she decided she'd had enough of her head gear so Jason ended up wearing it for her.
Brooklyn and the cacti. She learned through hard experience that it's best to keep your distance...
Closing in on the cathedral spires.
Justin and Brianna pause for a cute couple shot.
And at last, we arrive at the summit (or at least the saddle).
Savoring the magnificent view. Adding to the special Sedona aura was a man playing Native American melodies on a wooden flute.
And, a few attempts at a family photo on the way back down. I promise that I really wasn't pinching Talia.
Oh, and that's not a tree going out of the back of my head. It's my hair.
The whole clan.
So how come Justin and Brianna join the picture and the kids suddenly pose beautifully? They must be naturals.
Of course, Justin does have lots of experience modeling...
...not to mention cool shades.
J&B, adorable as the day they met. Did I mention that it's Tio Queso's birthday today? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
After our hike, we headed for pizza and ordered the "Dieter's Downfall." Totally worth it! Tummies full, we took a drive out to the ghost town of Jerome. This abandoned mining town was once labeled by the New York Sun as the "Wickedest Town" anywhere. Its few inhabitants now make a living off tourists by marketing the town's shady past and haunted reputation, particularly during Halloween. This saloon was one of nearly two dozen in the early 1900s.
Visiting the old copper mine was fascinating. Can you imagine riding in this cage nearly twice as far below ground than the Empire State reaches above?
Brianna and Talia seem nervous about the idea.
Perhaps it would be safer to climb in this hopper...
In the end, we swapped the ghosts of Jerome for Uncle Justin's ghost stories around the campfire. The Wheeler men share some seriously amazing story-telling skills. Fortunately, most slept well in spite of spooks (Eli being the notable exception), and we awoke to this glorious First Vision.
Yes, much to our delight, Brianna and Justin spoiled us with a magnificent breakfast yet again.
Brianna, the camping pro.
All in all, I'd have to call this campout a great success. The weather was perfect, no one got sprayed by a skunk, we managed to break camp and still make it to church nearly on time, and most miraculously of all, no one was impaled by Talia's flaming stick.
Eli's smile sums it up: let's do it again soon!
Thanks for the memories, Justin and Brianna--and happy birthday!