Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 22-28: A Blast From The Past At The Grand Canyon

Of course, the Grand Canyon is old (creationism aside), but so are we. This was our first visit to the “Big Hole In The Ground” in 20-25 years. Since we didn’t have Blogs and Facebook back then, it’s hard to recall exactly when, and Geri and I don’t recall the same things. I have some old pictures, but they are marginally helpful as the actual pictures aren’t date stamped and the digital versions reflect when they were scanned from prints or slides, not the date taken.

No matter; we had a good visit. It was an easy drive from Las Vegas, hopping on I-215 to US-93 to and around Boulder City, over the new Hoover Dam Bypass (nice bridge!) and down to Kingman. We fueled up there and caught I-40 heading east to Williams, then AZ-64 north to Grand Canyon National Park. Our Access Pass got us in for free and we were soon parked at the only RV facility inside the Park.

Like a lot of National Parks, many of the concessions here are outsourced. That’s good for us, since the RV facility, “Grand Canyon Trailer Village” has been upgraded significantly with paved roads and sites, full hookups (50 Amp electric, water, sewer, and even cable TV), and pull-thru positioning. Other that being a bit off level (which we were able to compensate for), and having an abundance of elk and deer scat for the dogs to try to eat, it was pretty darn nice.

Elk, mostly cows, wandered through the campground most days.

We saw these mule deer on our morning walk one day.

On Thursday, we took a drive to the west to the Desert View overlook, so named because looking east beyond the Park, you get to see the Painted Desert (no canyon). It’s the only scenic road that we could drive our own car on (they control traffic with a shuttle bus service most of the year), so we packed up the pups and made it a group trip. Of course, photo opportunities abound.

A rare "selfie", at Desert View Watchtower.

Snoozing!

I love making photos of native plants.

This formation is called "Duck on a Rock". I don't see it.

Everyone gets into the photo making act on a trip like this...

"Wow"...

With most of the trees Juniper or Pinyon Pine, it was nice to find some oaks to show some color.

Now, this looks more like a duck to me.

Time to test our the panoramic photo feature...

Friday was another nice, sunny day, so I set out on the shuttle system to see the “Village” and Visitor’s Center. Geri stayed back, as the elevation (well over 6,000 feet) was getting to her and she needed a few more days to acclimate.

Grand Canyon Village is the area where most of the lodging and tourist services can be found. Development started almost 110 years ago, driven by railroad tourism. Railroad access was originally established to support mining operations, of which very little evidence still exists.

Not the best shot because of the sun angle, but these building house the main lodges in the park.
You can also see the upper end of Bright Angel Trail zigzagging down from the rim.

The El Tovar Lodge was the first hotel at the Canyon, dating back to 1905.

The Visitor’s Center area grew up around Mather Point Overlook, the most visited place in the park. Did you know that the average visitor spends less than four hours at the Grand Canyon? It’s hard to believe, but they have stats on this type of thing. Basically, the majority of people visiting drive up from places as far away as Flagstaff, or get tour busses from places like Phoenix and Las Vegas, get dropped off at the Visitor’s Center, wander out to the overlook, take a few pictures, meander back to the parking area, and are on their way. Bucket List checked. Needless to say, I didn’t bother spending much time there, as crowds and nature don’t mix well in my mind.


Tourists. The Mather Point Overlook is the only one that's completely enclosed with safety rails.
For good reason...

Nice view, but note the small pile of rocks in the lower right. Some fool crawled out there to defile a landmark.

The Selfie Queen! This bimbo had a "selfie stick" and managed to take about 75 pictures in the 20 minutes she was there.
Every one was of herself.

After a couple of days rest, I ventured out again on Monday, taking the shuttle west along the rim to Hermit’s Rest. More photo opportunities, of course, but I’ll admit that things start looking a little similar after a while. I started looking for little distinctions, like differences in geology or places I recognized from our visit years ago.

Like the Canyon itself, you come to realize that time is a big factor here, well beyond the millions of years it took for the geology. Time of day and time of year influence the angle and intensity of the sun. Seasons have different weather patterns, which provide various areas of visual interest. And, visiting every 20+ years makes quite a difference, too! Or course, part of that may be memory related…

Anyway, I managed to get in a few more pictures, and even had lunch at a picnic area overlooking the Canyon before shuttling back.

More interesting views...

... and rock colors.

And that's why Geri stayed back at the "trailer park"...

Some railings are needed. This view looked straight down.

Interesting stonework on the "Hermit's Rest" building.

And, a great place for a picnic lunch!

Will it be another 20+ years before we visit again? I’m not sure, but it’ll likely be a different time of year for variety. No matter what, we enjoyed this visit!



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 15-21: Viva Las Vegas!

I probably shouldn’t even post this, what with the whole “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” thing, but, truth be told, we had a relaxing time and didn’t get into any trouble during our week in Sin City. J

The drive from Pahrump was short and uneventful. We made our way to NV-160 and followed it all the way, making the turn toward the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort just before we got to I-15. We’ve stayed here before but haven’t approached from this direction. It’s always interesting to see how things have developed in and around Las Vegas, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country for years, but we didn’t even come close to getting lost. The RV park, as always, was top notch, with well-manicured sites and lots of color.

We didn’t have big plans for this visit. In the past, we’ve eaten at many high-end restaurants and seen quite a few shows, but adjusting to a retirement income has reduced our desire to spend big. It’s not cheap to stay in Vegas, of course, but we tried to avoid being extravagant.

Two things I did want to do were to visit Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon, both red rock (duh!) formations relatively close to the city. We did the former, but will have to save the latter for another visit.

The Valley of Fire is full of interesting formations, similar to Sedona but much more accessible. It’s about an hour northeast of where we were staying, so we made a day of it, packing the pups in the Rover for the trip. I posted a series of pictures on my Facebook page here but I’m not sure everyone will be able to access that (it’s supposed to work, even for people who don’t see the need to have Facebook accounts), so I’ll post a couple here as well…

I saw faces in the rock. Scary faces...

Geri liked this table rock formation.

The rock formations are quite accessible, as you drive right through them on the park roads.

This one is called "Balancing Rock"...

Across the valley, we could see nubs of red rock starting to become visible.
In a million years, that side will probably look awesome.

Our bonus for the day was coming upon this little patch of day lilies, the only ones we saw in the park.
There must be a little spring here.

Linda and her granddaughter
One neat surprise on this visit was that our friends, Linda & Wendell, and assorted family members were in town over the weekend for a wedding (one of Wendell’s son’s). We got a chance to catch up with them out in Henderson. Chateaubriand for 12 and plenty of wine!

Palazzo Lobby
On our last night, we did splurge a bit. OK; a lot. We left the pups and headed for the Palazzo Hotel and dinner at Carnevino Italian Steakhouse. I had a Filet, Geri had Veal, we shared a wonderful Barbaresco, and it was a wonderful meal. We capped it off with a Grappa. Geri selected a licorice-flavored one. I think she enjoyed it!





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 11-14: Two-Stepping to Nevada

When I said we were heading east in the last post, I meant it, literally. We made two-day stops each in Lancaster, California, and Pahrump, Nevada.

On Monday, we were on our way right about on schedule, just after 10:00 AM. We took a route we’d never driven before: CA-166 east from Santa Maria all the way over to I-5, just north of the Tejon Pass. Geri didn’t care for the first half of this segment, since she’s increasingly unimpressed with winding roads. Merlin didn’t like it either, since he usually sticks his head out of his hidey-hole when we change directions. But, it wasn’t a bad road and other than some hills that are sure to take a toll on the MPG, we made it fine. It’s a lot less winding and much more open terrain than going through the redwoods in NorCal.

Once on I-5, we had a short segment going south. This segment is called “The Grapevine”, named for the nearest town I suppose, not for any particular affinity for grapes (although this area is the extreme southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the more fertile areas in the country). Climbing The Grapevine involves about 2,650 feet of elevation change in a few miles, making it one of the more notable hill climbs in the western US. We kept it slow and steady, and actually managed to pass a few 18-wheelers in the process.

Shortly after we were on the other side of Tehachapi Mountains, we made the turn east once again, this time on CA-138, which took us right into Lancaster. We headed for the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, which has a reasonable on-site RV park (we’ve stayed here before).

This was a quick, two-night stop. It could have been a one-nighter, as we were using it to break up a longer drive, but who wants to be on the road every day when you don’t have to? Besides, we got a chance to do some Costco shopping and caught up with Loretta & Desi for dinner. (Loretta used to be married to one of Geri’s nephews; we’ve known her for 30+ years.)

By Wednesday, we were ready to move on again, heading for Pahrump, Nevada. “Where is Pahrump and why on earth would you want to go there”, you say? Well, it’s about 60 miles east of Las Vegas, our next real destination. We’ve never visited Pahrump before and one of our RV groups is planning a rally there next spring, so we thought we’d check it out. Plus, one of Nevada’s few (only?) wineries is there and the Escapees (an RV organization we belong to) has a park there. Good enough for me!

So, we followed a familiar route out of Lancaster: CA-14 south to Palmdale and then CA-138 to CA-18 into Victorville. We picked up I-15 there, through Barstow to Baker. Of course, I-15 is the primary LA-to-Vegas route and we’ve driven this several times in the past, but we exited in Baker to go a different way.

Heading north on CA-127, we started seeing rock and mountain formations that reminded us of Death Valley. This makes sense, because we were skirting the southeastern side of that National Park. In Shoshone (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), we turned east once again on CA-178, which turned into NV-372 once we crossed the state line. What a difference a bunch of casino money makes in terms of road maintenance!

Anyway, NV-372 brought us right to Pahrump and we quickly found our way to the Escapees “Pair-A-Dice” RV Park. You can’t beat a $15/night full hook-up site.

On Tuesday, we did a little exploring. We scoped out the location of the spring rally that we’ll probably be going to, did a little shopping at the Smith’s grocery (have to keep getting more Kroger loyalty points for gas discounts), and found the local Elks Lodge (not open but they have several sites for RV parking as a “Plan B”).

Our last stop was the Pahrump Valley Winery. Their tastings are complimentary and you get to try seven different wines from their menu, which (surprisingly) is fairly extensive. Geri and I only had a couple of overlaps, so we got to taste most everything available. They import a lot of grapes from the Lodi and Sierra Foothills areas in California, but do also use three vineyards in Nevada, including one on the property in Pahrump. The wines weren’t half bad, and we got to spend a few minutes chatting with the owner/winemaker about the challenges of growing grapes in a relatively hot climate. We picked a Sangiovese and a Tempranillo as our purchases; both were decent wines at reasonable prices.




Tonight, we’ll get ready for travel, which isn’t too time-consuming when making a short stop. Tomorrow, we’re off to Lost Wages, I mean, Las Vegas, for a week to see what kind of mischief we can get into. Of course, that’ll never make it to the Blog…