Friday, June 27, 2008

The Journey: The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon must be the the top of the list for must see wonders of the natural world. It's useless to try to describe the canyon with words, and pictures do not do it justice -- although I have seen some very beautful photographs. Is it enough to say that when I first saw it I literally gulped and my eyes filled with tears. It is overwhelming. It's a shame the word 'awesome' is now so over used ...
We entered the park on the western side and our first stop was 'Mather Point', which is probably the most spectacular of all the stop areas along Desert View Drive. As with other beautiful places we visited on our trip, we became rather overwhelmed by yet one more spectacle! However, I am not complaining -- just an observing.

My nephew had urged me to be sure to be there for sunset. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to time our visit to coincide with sunset time and we wanted to get on our way to Flagstaff for the night. But then this is all the more reason to have to go again! The weather that day was disappointing -- quite cool and very cloudy. So we weren't witness to the drama of the canyon colors and definition. I should point out that we visited the Grand Canyon National Park and did not see the Canyon from the Native American Reservations, which we understand is probably for more intrepid visitors anyway. I would have liked to go on the 'Sky Walk', which is some miles west of the National Park on Indian land.

I do suffer some from fear of heights, and was amazed to find several places along the National Park Road that had no protective railings and where several people ventured out onto death defying promontaries! We stayed carefully back and when possible behind railings and fencing! I understand on good authority and the Rev'd Rod Garner slipped and nearly slid off the edge! At some point when we were viewing yet another vista, I felt sure I'd found 'the very spot' where tragedy could have struck!
Although the weather was cooler than expected and cloudier than usual, it did make for an interesting sky by the time we reached Desert View, the last stop on our tour of the Canyon. Fierce rain clouds that threatened by never reached us, made for an interesting back drop. I also like this picture below because the Colorado River is clearly visible.
I really want to go back again some day so that I can more fully appreciate what was before me. My brother and sister-in-law once took a trip down the Colorado and I wouldn't mind seeing the Canyon from that close looking up. It must be amazing. I envy those physically fit enough to hike and explore the many trails, but seeing it from the River that must be something else!
So we headed for Flagstaff, along the road that follows the Little Colorado and toward the San Francisco Mountains. Flagstaff is a lovely old town, on the old Route 66, with lots of intriguing little shops and restaurants and situated beautifully beneath the mountain. We found a reasonably priced motel and then headed out to find a restaurant. We opted for Mulligan's Sports Pub and Grill, which was friendly enough and excellent service, but not particularly impressive and the food not memorable enough to remember! If only my computer had been working, I'd have been able to do some research.
The next morning we set off for our next all to brief adventure: Sedona and the red rock country and our six day respite with my wonder nephew and niece in Albuquerque.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back on the Road: Arizona and Route 66

Las Vegas at last behind us, we headed to the Hoover Dam. Lots of tourists and a bit disappointing, though we did park once in Arizona and took several pictures, though it was not possible to get a view of the dam proper from the Arizona side. We did have some confusion here as to time changes! We noticed as we crossed over the top of the dam, that there was a clock on the Nevada side and another on the Arizona side. We thought that this was because there was a time zone change, but both clocks showed the same time. How strange!

(Later, in New Mexico with my nephew, we learned that Nevada is indeed on Pacific Time and Arizona is indeed on Mountain Time. But Arizona does not change clocks for Summer Time and is, therefore, the same as Pacific Time!)

I note that as I write this several weeks after we were at the Hoover Dam that today the temperature is reported as being 99 F. We were there May 5th and the 80-85 degree weather was warm and welcoming -- further evidence that we did pick the right time of year for our journey! We were continuing to travel the Mohave dessert without the intense heat it's so famous for. The Hoover Dam, seen and photographed, our next destination was Kingman, Arizona and our entrance to Route 66.

Our first stop in Kingman was the Route 66 Museum, which I heartily recommend. Here Neil indulged me and bought a pink cap with Routh 66 emblazoned across the front of it! I wish we had had more time in Kingman, but not enough research was done on our part and I've since learned that there are several other places in town worth exploring, including the Kingman Air Museum. Anyway,. time was moving on and we were determined to make it to Williams via Route 66 that night as our stepping stone to the Grand Canyon, planned for the next day.

I had not been enthusiastaic at all at the thought of travelling the old road. But Neil had dreamed of doing just this for many years and I must admit that I am glad that we had the experience -- expecially in Arizona where much more had been done to restore the places along the way with real enthusiasm and humor! From Kingsman we headed toward Hackberry, Valentine and Peach Spring before getting to Williams. Suprisingly to me this was one of the most memorable segments of our trip -- there was the fun nostalgia of Route 66 itself, the bizarre Truxton Canyon with scenery unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It looked like moutains of rocks, even the slag heaps we see in England.

There was also the bleakness of Indian Reservation land, the grey and browness of the dry landscape. So it was somewhat of a relief to arrive in Seligman, see some sunshine, a train crossed our path, which Neil filmed and we shared some nostalgic Route 66 stops.
Seligman was lots of fun. I loved all the characters and the cars -- and was surprised that Neil had never heard of the Edsel! On the back end sit Marilyn and Elvis! Neil favored a different car! Lots of souvenirs to choose from, but I was happy with my pink hat -- worn in picture with Edsel.

Soon we headed down the road again toward Williams, our stop for the night, where we found a reasonable motel, my computer seemed to bite the dust and we had a great meal with lots of atmosphere and plenty of 'bikers' at Rod's Steak House!

Neil was amazed at the volume of railroad traffic and at the length of the trains. This one passed through Seligman as we were checking out a vintage covered wagon (without the cover! ) He was a bit confused as to how the 'movie' feature on my camera works ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

First of two Birthdays: Mine

Now for a moment to the present -- more or less. June 15, Father's Day, was also my birthday and the first really nice summer like day since we returned from our trip. Weather has been a dramatic feature of all American lives lately and the Pacific Northwest as been extra cool and extra rainy, while the East Coast and from California to Texas have been dramitcally hot and steamy. The mid-west caught in the middle of this weather front has suffered violent thunderstorms, vicious tornados and now catastrophic floods and levee breeches along the Mississippi River. So in fact, we in the Pacific Northwest are the lucky ones.
Initially the plan for my birthday was to go to the coast to further explore the beach due west of Olympia at Ocean Shores. However, while it was predicted to be in the 70's here, it was 15 to 20 degrees cooler there and we opted to discover Lake Sammamish from the State Park at the southern end of the water.

The only downside of the day was in finding the entrance to the State Park. We knew it was in the town of Issaquah, but we managed to go in the wrong direction, argue about needing to turn around and wondering if we would end up throwing in the towel and driving around the rest of the day searching for an alternative. However, tempers held -- just -- and we did the intelligent thing and asked some passersby and even though we erroneously ended up on the Freeway, managed to find the entrance and a beautiful state park it is.

The three little boys had a great time, Heejung was beautiful, the sun shone brightly, and we all wished we had brought our bathing suits, if only to splah around at the shoreside. The water was surprisingly murky for so few bathers, and I do wonder what it might be like when there are lots of boats churning away at the water just beyond the buoys. However, on my birthday, that was not a problem. It being Father's Day, I was also surprised that it was not more crowded -- though by the time we left most of the picnic tables were occupied. Nevertheless, it remained pleasantly busy.

One of my most favorite things of all to do as a child was when we packed up our food and went up to Burr Pond just up the road from my parents' house. I absolutely adore the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs cooking away and having a table lakeside. My mother, however, didn't enjoy it much and it wasn't long before 'cookouts' took place in our back yard and the lake became a place for spending the afternoon with friends. We left about 5.00 pm and after dinner at Federal Way's Marie Callender's made our way home feeling it had been a very good day!

Now today is little Louis' First Birthday! What a year it's been for all of us. Party and pictures to come!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Journey: Wrapping up Las Vegas, I Hope

Here we are still stuck in Vegas! Obama is the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, yesterday Tim Russert died and I can't get out of Vegas!!!

The Saga continues ... We stood a moment outside the 'entrance' (I now use this term loosely, very loosely) to the Las Vegas Monorail. My feet were killing me -- rubbed quite raw, to be explicit. We were both hungry and getting grouchier by the minute/second. There was momentary temptation to cross over the road to see the lights and fountains at Bellagio -- and how I wish we had done that. It was buzzing with people, to be sure. But we opted for the 'entrance' and disappered down the walking sidewalk and into the bowels of 'somewhere' that turned into a hotel with slots and no restaurants other than cafeteria/buffet uninviting places. We did check out two places in some corner somewhere -- 30 minutes wait -- we think this is de rigeur for any restaurant along the strip.

No matter who we asked or which direction we turned it was not easy to find the monorail station. And so we walked and walked first one way and then the other, the slots clanging in the background. It was all very strange. I limped along ever more slowly; Neil moved along ever more quickly before me. The search for the station seemed interminable. We asked guards, we were pointed to this direction and that. And finally around the corner after the swimming pool -- there it was: The entrance to the monorail station. Success.

Neil went along to the ticket machine. NINE dollars for the two of us -- but we splurged and victorious at long last climbed on board the car and I collapsed with relief.

Boy oh boy, were we dumb. One short stop later and the sort of melodious voice over the speaker explained that this was the last stop! What! I couldn't believe. By this time, we were both hating Las Vegas more than any place we had ever ever been to. What a rip-off place. What a -- a -- Oh hell, let's get out of here and back to our hotel and eat at the restaurant there. We asked the guard for the exit. He explained, but we did not understand his directions well enough and it took at least ten minutes to find a way outside again. And then it took minutes to orient ourselves to where the hell we were. Not far from where we had first entered the entrance to the station, I don't think. Then we had to find a safe place to cross the street. We had managed to confuse the Las Vegas Monorail with the Monorail that connects the Mandalay Bay Hotel and the Excalibar Hotel. So both of us were entirely unprepared when we found ourselves not immediately outside the Luxor, but across the street and down the road apace! Oh, headache, oh, sore feet. We were kind of across the street from the Excalibar. And so continued the trek back to the Luxor, which was long and wearisome and meant that we complained a lot. And of course we were full of regret at ever having come to this god-forsaken place, etc. etc.

We found our way back, found a restaurant, The American Bistro, which served adequate food that was very expensive for what it was. We both had the chicken, which was slightly undercooked. It was dark and dreary in there -- but at least we could eat at last. And no 30 minute wait, either. Back to our rooms, I mended my feet, as best I could and had a pretty good nights sleep!

The best part of the stay was waking up early to see the sunrise over the desert. Soon we were up and out and on our way again -- to the Hoover Dam and beyond. We drove up the strip and were amazed at how little we had seen of it, but not amazed enough to want to stay any longer. Neil says never again. I wouldn't mind going again with someone who knows what's what. But overall it's not my 'cup of tea'. Liked the fact we found a Marie Callender's for breakfast. I can highly recommend the Eggs Benedict!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Journey: How not to Do Vegas

It was still light when we left the hotel for our self-tour. It's definitely a mistake to do a self-tour when only there for one night. It's bound to be a cock-up. But when we left we were rather excited. There were lots more people than I expected on a Sunday night. Not for Las Vegas probably, but it seemed a lot to me. Shortly after we started out I took the only two pictures I shot that night. I had intended to take loads, but I just never did. I'd planned to get a definitive picture of the Strip. Then I discovered it was not an easy task -- it's just too big and too overwhelming to be captured by my simple skills as a photographer.

Soon after we began our walked Neil heard a familiar accent and we met a young British couple from Manchester. She was dressed quite unlike anyone else on the street wearing high leather boots as is the British fashion. We chatted to them for a short time and were amazed to learn that this was their 5th visit -- I think they had driven to Las Vegas from Nashville! We did get a good piece of information from them and that was to be sure to see the water show in front of the Bellagio Hotel. Fortunately, for us the hotel was not much further along our way and we were able to get an excellent view of the water show -- though in daylight, which I understand is not as spectacular as at night. But the our plan was to get dinner and then see the show again on our way back. HA! How I wish we'd thought to ask them for a recommendation as to where we might eat!

We took the escalator up to try and see New York New York. There were all these bars and pubs -- very crowed and lots of parts seemed to be unoccupied. I couldn't make head nor tails of the place. We certainly didn't see anywhere inviting to eat. Impresseive from the outside, but rather mysterious to us from inside. By the time we wandered down to Caesar's Palace, my feet were growing blisters and I knew that I was heading for the role of party pooper. But I did gamely try to soldier on and on ...

Caesar's Palace was a puzzle to us. You see we were such novices. We had no idea how all these hotels work. Everything is about luring you to the slots or the tables. Everything is about parting you from your money. Everything, with the possible single exception of the water fountains at Bellagio's, which are free! Back to Caesar's Palace -- it is huge -- and probably not the largest, but so many towers. We tried to find a restaurant, but I couldn't figure it out! We saw a bride and groom -- she all in white and veil in the middle of the corridor with all these tourists milling around as well. And lots and lots of noise as well as the continuous and strangely melodic slots humming away swallowing lots and lots of lucre. Oh, musn't forget the replica of Michaelangelo's David! Good lord -- it was not easy to get a good look at, posing in a small claustrophobic circle in all his glorified carerra marble. An exact replica, they say. It's probably cheaper to buy the ticket to Florence and stay there, than to risk all you own in Las Vegas. At least it and Florence are the real thing and not some ludicrous fantasy of -- but I digress ...

I summoned the courage to get to my feet again -- they still hurt. We found our way out and were across the entrance to the Flamingo, which was at least somewhere I'd heard of. We crossed the overhead bridge to get to the other side -- an also what seemed to be a restaurant. My hopes of taking a night picture of the strip were dashed there -- dirty see through partitions and I decided it wasn't worth the trouble. By the time we got to where we might enter the Flamingo

By now it was getting dark and I was getting hungrier. Both Neil and I were also getting grumpier. He was at least fit enough to walk. We descended to the sidewalk, it was now dark and the lights were impressive, though I was surprised not to be able to take them in as more of a whole. Lots and lots of traffic and people. We went in to the steak house near the Flamingo and tried to get a meal. Thirty minute waiting time. Now it occured to us this was probably not true -- we thought that it was an attempt to get us to wander around the hub-bub of the gaming room and part with some of our cash. So we left. Diagonally across the street we could hear the sounds of the Bellagio and Celine Dion singing to the fountains, or the fountains burbleing along to Celine, I'm sure. It had been our intention of wandering back there for the splendour of the lights and the water, but on our way across the street we saw a sign pointing the way to the 'monorail' and a ride back to our hotel.

Now anybody who knows Las Vegas well, is laughing at us as pathetic. And we were -- at least I was -- blame my feet. But the monorail was a big mistake. We should have crossed the street to the light show. We should have walked back to the Luxor. Should have, should have, should have.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Journey: On to Las Vegas

We set out from Bakersfield to Las Vegas around 9.00 am on Sunday, May 4th. It would be the hottest weather of our entire trip -- mid to upper 80's. I had never experienced the desert before and found the bleak landscape rather interesting, if not exactly inspiring. Into the Mohave and I was surprised to discover the mountainous terrain -- and a mountain of windmills! (Tehachapi)
We took a diversion to a supposed ghost town, Calico, but Neil turned around when he felt it was a tourist trap. En route to Calico we saw a small sign to Fort Irwin which was interesting to me as my son had done maneuvers there when he was in the army several years ago.
And so to the State of Nevada, which I found uninspiring from the moment we arrived. Lots and lots of casinos along the road. Everything is about getting the traveller to part with his money -- and trying to convince everyone that a wonderful time will be had by all. I had managed to book us a room in the Luxor the night before. To be honest I was greatly looking forward to looking around this famous playground and to experience the over-the-top atmosphere that so many of my friends and acquaintances had waxed lyrical about. I had once seen the 'Strip' from the air, and until that moment had no real desire to visit the place. But from the air it had looked very magical and maybe even 'fun'!
We arrived at the hotel around 4.30 pm. We booked in, the woman who took our details was professional and helpful, but clearly this was a very busy hotel -- over 4.000 rooms --. It was the only hotel where we would have to pay for the Internet -- $12.00 for the night. We did without! Nevertheless, we found the 'inclinator' and our room in the Pyramid. And I admit it was fun to look down on the goings on 9 floors below. Our room was very nice and the price was very good! In fact that was the best part of the experience for me. And Neil enjoyed just looking out past the sphinx and across to the airport.
But we were game to see the strip and wanting to look a bit chic made my big mistake and changed my shoes. Now I'm not so daft as to put on new shoes, but changed into a pair of slightly dressy sandals that I knew to be comfortable. However, since I had not worn them for several months, I would pay the price for my small vanity. Our plan was to walk the 'Strip' and find a good place to eat.
The best laid plans ...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Journey: Yosemite Fulfilled

We've been back in Olympia just over a week now and I am desperate not to forget the many details of our trip. I can't believe I'm still writing about Yosemite when we later visited so many other places. But this was such an important part of the trip for me that I've not been able to wrap it up and put it away easily. However, it's now the last leg and soon time to go on.

We still had the last bit of the way to get to Glacier Point. I was now happy that Neil had insisted that we take this 'other' road. We were well above the snow line now, there were quite a few tourists, but still pleasant. When we arrived at the end of the road, which was, in fact, a large parking lot, there were several viewpoints -- all magnificent, of course, but still a treck to get to what they called 'Glacier Point'. It meant walking a distance -- which the guidebook said was about a mile, but which fortunately was more like a quarter mile and an easy meander at that on a well trodden trail.

As we approached the path there was the usual board explaining the area and its history. I did a bit of a double take when glancing at the photograph there -- it looked to me like the place where my father had stood and had his picture taken all those years ago! Indeed, I said as much to Neil, who thought the picture must have been taken somewhere else. At anyrate, we clambered along the pathway and finally reached our destination -- an amazing view overlooking the valley and Yosemite Village. I walked over to the right of this panorama and Neil to the left. A moment later he was at my side, saying, "You were right, this is where your father was. Come over here and look."
So miraculously and spiritually directed by my father, we ended up at the very place we most wanted to find, I sure! I owe Neil bigtime, of course. But what a special and memorable and fortunate turnout it was. Access to the rock is now prohibited, but I wouldn't ever venture out there anyway! We lingered for some time, enjoying our success and the 'moment'. Lots of smiles and lots of pictures.

There was one more stop I wished to make and that was to see the glen of Giant Sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove. Wow are they something to see! Unfortunately, we could not stay very long. It was getting late and we had a fair distance to go to get to our destination for the night, Bakersfield.

Now, we didn't see a lot in Bakersfield -- it was dark by the time we arrived. But we did find a great Travelodge Motel, with great rates and a lovely garden with fountain right outside our door. Free hot breakfast, too!