Almost 5 years.

That’s how long the hubby and I lived in Arizona. When we moved from Scottsdale to Raleigh when Noah was 15 months old, we hugged friends goodbye and declared, “We’ll be back to visit in a year or two!”

It took us nearly six.

10 Things We Learned on our Arizona Vacation

We had plenty of good and valid reasons. Nevertheless, we never thought it would take so long to pay Arizona a visit. So imagine how ecstatic we were to finally set foot in the desert and the surrounding area again. And better yet, introduce our kids to a place they never really knew (or remembered).

On our trip we discovered some surprises… and validated some hunches. Here are 10 things we learned on our trip to the 48th state:

1. I did a bad job of describing the desert.

Either they weren’t listening or I just didn’t describe it well enough, but when we landed at Sky Harbor and got outside the airport, I was curious to hear the kids’ reaction upon seeing a desert for the first time.

Their first words: “Where’s the sand?”

Not only is the Sonoran Desert NOT the Sahara (which is apparently what they envisioned), but there were amazing cacti could produce beautiful flowers like this.


2. You’ll always feel an overwhelming burst of nostalgia when you drive by your first house. Even if it looks run down.

The first house we ever owned together was on a little street near 101 and McDowell in south Scottsdale. It was just two bedrooms, but inside had a modern feel that we loved. And big windows. It was the house we brought Noah home to when he was born.

Of course you want to drive past your old digs when returning to a place you used to live, so we did. We were slightly disappointed that it looked a bit run down. But Noah didn’t seem to mind. He was thrilled to see his first home (the picture proves it).


3. Driving around in a place you used to live is kinda like riding a bike.

You know how everything feels fresh and new when you go to a new vacation spot or take a roadtrip to a new town? I honestly thought visiting Arizona after so many years would feel like that… at least somewhat. But once we got in our rental car, it felt like we were just driving around like a normal day of living there: except this time we had two kids in tow. Sure, there were new things and places that had shut down, but it felt like riding a bike. We felt comfortable and – dare I say it? – right at home. I miss that place.

4. If my family ever runs into a 17 foot python, my kids will go straight for its head… and pet it.

And they won’t even hesitate. We had a chance to visit the amazing Out of Africa park in Camp Verde. Lots of rescued animals and we loved that we could get so up close.


And since I was so happy to get this shot, I’m sharing it even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the snake.


5. You will never run out of good places to eat tacos.

We didn’t get a chance to visit all our favorite foodie spots while we were there, but we made it to Salty Señorita in Old Town Scottsdale. The menu had changed a lot since we used to visit, but the shrimp tacos were still delicious.


6. Boys always love cowboys who shoot things.

After a few days to Phoenix, we ventured north to one of our favorite spots… The Grand Canyon. It was hubby and my TENTH trip to the Canyon. We’ve pretty much done it all– hiked from South Rim to North, camping in the bottom (twice), hiked down and back in a day, and done the touristy stuff with non-hiking family. So much, except for taking The Grand Canyon Railway.

The Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams to the Grand Canyon National Park. We started off with a Wild West shootout before boarding. And of course the kids were enamored. They insisted we get a picture of them with this particular cowboy.


7. Your kids might not see the the Grand Canyon at first… Even if they are standing right in front of it.

When I was planning our trip to Arizona, I just knew one of the highlights of the trip would be taking them to the Grand Canyon. Noah was just 9 months old last time we had visited.

As we walked toward the rim, I had so much anticipation about the kids’ reaction. But we walked right to railing and I asked, “What do you think?”

Noah’s answer: “WHERE IS IT?”

What, you mean that GIGANTIC hole in the ground? You don’t SEE it?!

I think it was just so massive they just couldn’t comprehend its grandeur. As we saw more and more it, they grew more interested in the Canyon, asking us questions and pointing out different parts. But I’ll never forget that first reaction.


noah-grand-canyon ethan-grand-canyon

8. My kids love mountains.

We took a small hike up to the Hole in the Rock, a spot in Phoenix where you can walk through a hole in the rock, sit, and get a beautiful view of downtown Phoenix and the surrounding area. They thought the rock was the coolest thing ever.


Since Phoenix is so flat, you can so much that surrounds you. As we went around the city, we kept pointing out Camelback Mountain, because the view changes so much depending on what side of the mountain you’re on and how close you get to it. (That’s the mountain in the background here).


9. When it comes to the closest of friends, nearly six years won’t feel like six years.

Phoenix is such a transient place that many of my “Arizona” friends ended up moving back to their home states. But one of my closest friends still lives there (well, in Gilbert, which is part of the area). We were pregnant together with our first kids– two pregnant co-workers reporting to check-in meetings with the boss holding a bag of Cheddar Bunnies.

We of course got together so we could hang out and let our kids play together (last time we were together our oldest boys were 15-months and a year old). After about an hour of hanging out, I said, “Man, I can’t believe it’s been almost six years since we last saw each other.”

My friend literally couldn’t believe it. Nooooo way. Yes way. Six years doesn’t feel like six years when you’ve got good friends.

10. My kids will fall in love with the desert… Just like I did.

After a long day of travel, we arrived back in North Carolina, where oak trees replace cacti. From the airport to our house, we travel on I-540, a loop highway lined with trees. As we drove home, Ethan stared at the window as if were studying the landscape. Finally, he shares his thoughts:

“I really want to be in the desert. I don’t like these trees.”


A desert lover, like his parents.

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It’s like the burger trifecta.

A few bloggers were invited to head over to our local Elevation Burger and try out a few things from their menu.

They call it a “better-for-you burger.”

And it’s true. Their beef comes from 100% organic grass-fed cattle, giving the meat more vitamins and nutrients. One thing I didn’t know about this kind of meat is that it has less fat and fewer calories. BONUS!

Raleigh's Elevation Burger at Brier Creek

I KNOW you’ve been to a place with great, mouth-water burgers only to have it paired with limp, blah fries. Lucky for you, their fries are delicious. They’re hand0cut and cooked in olive oil. Can you name another place that cooks fries in olive oil?

I had a regular burger with cheese, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions, and their signature Elevation Sauce. Quite possibly the BEST burger in town, y’all. It’s juicy, cooked perfectly, and on a great-tasting bun. If you aren’t a carnivore, they also have vegetarian and vegan burger options. I  tried their vegan burger with carrots and corn and it was delish as well!

Not to mention, they list the calorie amounts beside each menu item. No surprises (and no denial “oh I bet that’s only 100 calories” either)!

No need to head elsewhere for dessert either. They serve shakes, malts and plain ole scoops of ice cream. That’s what my little guy opted for. That is, after I made him eat most of his burger and fries. You know what he told me? (look at the boy holding the ice cream cone in my picture above first.)

He said, “I bet the little boy in the picture didn’t have to each his burger and fries first.” What a rascal, that kid.

Elevation Burger has over 30 locations across the U.S. and 10 international locations. One thing I found interesting? Since there meat is also halal, you can find their locations in many Muslim countries like Kuwait and Qatar. They’re projecting to open 100 locations by the end of 2014.

If you wanna see if there’s an Elevation Burger in your area, check out their website. And if you’re local? Get yo’ self down to Brier Creek and try one of these burgers. Seriously good eats.

Disclaimer: No compensation was given for this post. Just food. Nom Nom. 


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