Wednesday, August 12, 2015


We left the Grand Canyon in the evening and headed toward Utah, thinking we'd get a few hours of driving in, stay at a hotel, and have less to drive the next day. Apparently, southern Utah is a really happening place because we drove and drove and could not find any vacant hotels. Finally past midnight, after five hours of driving, we found a Comfort Inn in the middle of nowhere.

The next day, we stopped for lunch in Bryce Canyon on our way to my grandparents' house.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

The first thing we did with my grandparents was go to a rodeo. My grandparents are so funny at the rodeo - they know a bunch of facts about the competitors and they keep track of all the scores.


This picture cracks me up because my grandma would NOT let me get a picture of her, and this was the closest I could get.


Michael flew home on Saturday night, and the next day, the boys and I had Sunday dinner with Grandma Alley and a house full of my Alley cousins, aunts, and uncles. Love them all!

The boys and I filled up our last few days in Utah by doing some sightseeing. First we went to Temple Square, where I took a bunch of pictures of flowers. Temple Square always has the best flowers.



The boys mostly seemed bored with Temple Square, but this was a fun shot of them posing for their "wedding photos."


We also spent an afternoon floating in the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island. 



The following pictures make it look pretty nice, but the Great Salt Lake is actually a really disgusting lake where I've been told the locals never go.



As see that black, curved line in the sand in the picture below? Those are tiny flying bugs that fill up the whole beach and scatter every time you take a step. Cole would jokingly stomp around the beach saying, "Look how powerful I am!"

It's been 7 years since my last visit to Utah, and it will probably be another 7 until my next visit, but we loved the time we were there and the wonderful family we got to visit with!

Concert: Hum and Failure

Post by Michael...

A few months ago I was sitting at my desk at work when I got an email (from that said that the band Failure would be going on tour and that Hum would be going with them for part of that tour. I'm not joking when I say that I literally had to restrain myself to keep from leaping from my seat and squealing with joy. I have a hard time picking favorites, but if I were to pick 3 bands that I love more than any others, it would be Hum, Failure and Sunny Day Real Estate.


I was introduced to Hum in high school by the drummer of my band. I immediately fell in love and listened to their album "You'd Prefer an Astronaut" more times than is probably healthy. It was the perfect mix of loud, spacey, nerdy, layered, heavy, geeky music and was very different from anything else I'd ever heard. Who knew you could have heavy music without anger?

In college they came out with another album ("Downward is Heavenward") that I also put on heavy rotation. One day someone was walking through the hall of my dorm when they heard it playing and knocked on my door. Matt and I started talking about Hum and some other bands we liked in common and we're still friends to this day (he runs a recording studio in Baltimore).

Later on during my freshman year Hum went on tour and was going to be in Atlanta on a weekend. Four of us bought tickets and made it a road trip. Matt and I even brought some of our recording equipment along for the ride just in case. A few hours before the show started, we loaded up our arms with that equipment and knocked on the back door of the club. "We're here to record the show" we said when they opened the door. "Sure, come on in. There's a booth in the back you can use". Long story short, it was amazing. We got to meet the band after the show and they even signed my pocket protector (did I mention I'm a nerd?). Later that year when they were touring in Nashville I saw them again and talked with them after the show and they remembered me and my pocket protector.

Anyway, Hum broke up several years ago and then have gotten back together in the last few years mostly to play local shows in the Chicago area or one-off festivals. This was the first tour they've done since. I really, really enjoyed watching them play again but I can't say Erin felt the same way. She's never liked Hum and this concert did not change her mind. But as a loving husband I've learned to forgive her for her failings.


I also started to listen to Failure in high school, but unlike Hum, I've never seen them perform. Shortly after their biggest album "Fantastic Planet" came out they broke up and disappeared. Sure the individual members had solo albums and produced and recorded other bands, it's not the same. Failure is another layered, spacey, guitar rock band from the 90's and most people have probably never even heard one of their songs. Erin calls them a "band's band" meaning they influenced a ton of other musicians but never made it popular themselves. While I enjoy their previous albums "Magnified" and "Comfort" I will never grow tired of "Fantastic Planet". When Erin and I first started dating we made mix-tapes for each other and included a few Failure songs on those. As a result, Erin likes Failure, which is the only reason she agreed to drive all the way out to Charlotte for this show.

Failure recently got back together and recorded a new album "The Heart is a Monster". It's quite good and looks like it will be my favorite new album this year. It does a good job of mixing their earlier sound with the style of "Fantastic Planet" while also adding some new interesting things. And I have to say that they are the "fullest" sounding 3 piece band I've ever seen live. Listening to all the different layers they have on their recordings I was worried that it would sound thin live, but they definitely pulled it off.

The crowd was really into both bands, (singing along, banging heads at the appropriate time, etc) which made the show that much better. And since both of these bands were originally from the 90s, this was one of the few concerts Erin and I have been to recently were we didn't feel like old folks.

I highly encourage everyone to spend your hard earned money on music from both of these bands, if you don't have it all already.

U.S. Domination Eating

I read an article about the most iconic fast food restaurants in each state, so we tried to hit as many as we, some other fun eateries.
Slim Chickens
(Arkansas' Iconic Fast Food)
Slim Chickens

(Texas' Iconic Fast Food)Whataburger

Blake's Lotaburger
(New Mexico's Iconic Fast Food)
Voted best burger we ate on this trip by 100% of Peters EatersBlake's Lotaburger

El Charro Cafe
(Arizona's Most Iconic Regular Restaurant)Charro's

In N Out
(California's Iconic Fast Food)
The fries were so disgusting that 3 out of 4 Peters Eaters threw them away. Can you imagine???!!! Throwing away french fries!In N Out

Serendipity 3
(Famous Frozen Hot Chocolate)
We ate this for brunch. It was delicious. Don't judge.

Arctic Circle
(Utah's Iconic Fast Food)

Nielsen's Frozen Custard
(To taunt my dad)


Buffalo Burgers
(at Antelope Island)
They are only slightly different tasting from a beef burger.
Buffalo Burgers

Sweet Cow
(ice cream with Tom and Val)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back to Arkansas

In my mind, when people talked about the Grand Canyon, they were hyping it up and over-exaggerating. It's a big hole in the ground, I thought. It can't be all that.

Apparently, my expectations were so low that when I actually saw it in person, I was blown away. It was bigger and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Looking back through my photos, I feel mildly let down at how poorly my camera captured this amazing place. You'll have to go see it for yourself.

Grand CanyonGrand CanyonGrand Canyon Grand CanyonGrand CanyonGrand Canyon


If you are offended by Michael's poker hobby, think that poker is of the devil, or worry that Michael is going to develop a gambling addiction and bankrupt us, you should not read this post (Mom). Because poker is the sum and total reason we stopped in Vegas on the way to Utah, and Michael competed in not one, not two, but three poker tournaments. (And made us proud.)

Meanwhile, the boys and I walked at least five miles in flipflops at tourist pace over the two days we stayed in Vegas, and when we left, my ankles were so angry, they took a full 24 hours to recover. Also, I took a lot of phone photos.

Coke around the world: Why, Italy, why?!!

Statue of Twizzlers

Cole and Eli look like they're practicing for a career in modeling


We spent the halfway point of our trip at Josh's house in San Diego. This was my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean, and if I had to compare La Jolla Beach to Wilmington, the main thing I'd mention is seaweed. Lots and lots of seaweed. Also seals. (Sea lions?)

La Jolla

Driving into California, I managed to ruin my car, so I had to spend our first day in San Diego at a Toyota dealership getting it repaired. In my defense...the roads out there in the Southwest are so straight, it's easy to forget to pay attention to your driving. All you have to do is hold the steering wheel straight, put on the cruise control, and you're good to go for a hundred miles.

So there I was, admiring the scenery and chatting with Cole, when I heard a strange noise. I glanced in the rearview mirror and didn't see anything behind me, so I kept on. But the car continued to periodically make a strange noise. When we stopped for dinner, I checked out the front of the car and didn't see anything, so again we continued on. I assumed that the strange noise was something weird about California's roads, and I made a mental note to ask Josh about it.

And then we were stopped at a border patrol checkpoint. "Do you know that the front of your car is hanging off?" the border patrolman asked.

Um, no. I did not. As soon as we got through the checkpoint, I pulled over, and this time, I got down on my hands and knees to inspect the front of the car. Sure enough, the underside of the car (what I now know is called the splash guard) was bashed in and hanging loose. Thankfully, it was a relatively inexpensive repair, and I was lucky it wasn't a popped tire.

I'm still not quite sure what I hit, though I assume it was one of those loose pieces of tire you always see on the interstate.
La JollaLa JollaLa JollaLa JollaLa JollaLa Jolla

We spent the second day in San Diego at the beach, and then Michael flew in on Friday night, bringing the rain with him. On Saturday, the rain let up long enough for us to go to the Mormon Battalion museum in Old Town, where Tessa made my favorite comment of the trip. Describing the sister missionary who led our tour, Tessa said, "She was a little weird, but that's her job." Which describes all sister missionaries everywhere.

We finished up San Diego with more rain on Sunday, and then packed up the car with one extra passenger on Monday morning to head to Las Vegas.

A couple final photos that make me laugh...
La Jolla
Eli about to plow me over

La Jolla
George splashing me (and my camera)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Mexico, Arizona

Our campground in Guadalupe Mountain National Park near Carlsbad Caverns may be the most beautiful campground I've ever stayed at.

Carlsbad CavernsCarlsbad CavernsCarlsbad Caverns

It was also terrifying. I have lived nearly 30 years on the eastern side of the Mississippi, and I have been camping there many, many times. I know which types of plants to avoid, which types of snakes and spiders I need to worry about, and how likely it is that I will encounter a dangerous wild animal - on the eastern side of the Mississippi. Put me in the desert, and I am completely useless.

Are there rattlesnakes here? Scorpions? Other poisonous small creatures? Poisonous plants?....Coyotes?

As we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night, I said, "I think we should bring our shoes inside the tent tonight. In case there are coyotes."

Which freaked out Cole, who spent the next hour insisting, "There's something out there, Mom. I hear footsteps. Something is bumping into my head. What's out there, Mom?"

But he also said, looking up through the tent at the night sky, "I have never seen so many constellations in my life."

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Cavern was just another cave (I grew up in Kentucky; I have seen a lot of caves), but one cool thing is their Bat Flight program. According to Ranger Jeff, approximately 350,000 bats live in the cave, and they all fly out of the cave like a swarm of giant mosquitoes around sunset every night.


We spent a second night in New Mexico in a tiny town called Cloudcroft, the highest point in Lincoln National Forest. First of all, it's weird that there is a beautiful, pine-covered forest in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Second of all, I chose that campground because I was worried we would be too hot camping in New Mexico in July, and the Internets promised that Cloudcroft would be cool. But the plan backfired as the nighttime temps dropped to the low 60s, and Eli, who doesn't have a sleeping bag, froze.

White SandsWhite SandsWhite SandsWhite SandsWhite SandsWhite Sands

By the time we left our next destination, White Sands National Monument, we were exhausted and covered in sand. None of the campgrounds we'd been staying at had showers, so to avoid one more dirty, sleepless night, we decided to get a hotel room in Tucson. Our last night before reaching Josh's house in San Diego, ending our coast to coast drive.

Saguaro National Park
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