Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tucson - Sedona - Lake Powell

Keepin the wheels turnin....

From Tombstone we moved up to Tucson, Az.
We spent 5 days or so at Gilbert Ray Campground  a county park campground
just west of Tucson.

A few activities while there:

The girls went shopping while the men went to the Pima Air Museum.

Below is one of the B-52's that was outfitted to carry the X-15

One night we all went to Tiny's Saloon - a local watering hole.

I also managed to fall back in my chair off of a small ledge and give my head a good wack.
Our resident Nurse - Michaela - bandaged up my hard noggin.

After taking advantage of some of the local activities such as
Old Tucson Studios, Saguaro National Park, and visits
to downtown Tucson for microbrew tasting we headed 2 hrs north to Phoenix.

While in Phoenix we stayed at our old faithful campground - Lake Pleasant.
One day Jim, Marcel and I went to a spring training baseball game
at Surprise Stadium.

We saw the Texas Rangers beat the Cincinatti Reds 12-5

We had behind home plate - 3rd row seats.

Below - Elvis Andrus, the Texas Shortstop has just connected with a line drive
that put him on base.

After our time in Phoenix we moved on northward to Camp Verde Az.
Its been Spring Break Time so finding places to stay has been a challenge.
I had wanted to stay in Deadhorse Ranch State Park while here but we wound up
in Rancho Verde RV Park which was a decent little place for a few nights.

While here, Michaela once again treated us to some of her German Cooking.

Tonights treat was Schnitzel, Potato, and Cucumber Salad.

On Saturday we took a day of sightseeing the Sedona area.
Sedona is an eclectic town with a vibrant art community.

Just outside of town a trip up Oak Creek Canyon takes you several thousand feet
higher up onto the Colorado Plateau.

In the lower left you can see US 89 heading up the canyon towards us.
On the right you can see the highway switchbacks as it climbs up ever higher.

A view of the red rocks of Sedona taken from near the airport.

Our Swiss Friends posed for this family portrait.

Soon it was time to move on so we headed north on I-17 and US-89 to Page, Az

Along the way. just south of Page, US-89 crosses over a mountain pass.
This pass affords a beautiful panorama of the Glen Canyon which contains the Colorado
River as it hurtles downstream to its run thru the Grand Canyon

This unnamed mountain pass was the scene of a landslide a few years back which closed US-89 for
a couple of years, resulting in a 90 mile detour.

The road has been repaired now and we again enjoyed the beautiful run over the pass.

Our destination outside of page was the Wahweep Campground.
Part of the Lake Powell National Recreation Area, Wahweep is one of the nicest
campgrounds in the National Park inventory.

The views are great and the facilities are excellent.
Full hookup and 50a service.

Evening sun shines off the cliffs on the far side of Lake Powell.

A highlight of any trip to Page is a visit to Antelope Canyon.

Carved by the force of flash floods, the narrow Navajo Sandstone canyon
is at times a surreal environment.

Below, some dust tossed into the air creates a dancing reflection in the sunlight
penetrating to the floor of the canyon.

Our group posed for this shot.

There were breif moments where we had a clear shot of a vacant canyon.

Looking upwards, the textures and colors change with the movement of the sun.

On the way back to the bus, Kate, Marcel, & I stopped for a photo op of
The Glen Canyon Dam.

Built in the 1950's the Glen Canyon Dam impounds the waters of
Lake Powell which stretches several hundred miles north of the dam.

In front of the dam you can see the US-89 bridge over Glen Canyon.
The cars are mere specks in relation to the size of the dam.

Another view of the lake from atop a bluff just north of the dam.

We will remain here for a couple more days before we head north to
Monument Valley.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The town too tough to die

The wheels have been turning and the feet have been in motion.
Since our last post we have continued our time in Las Vegas and
then moved on to 3 other locations so let me bring you up to speed.

Las Vegas

After I returned to Las Vegas from my business trip, we spent several
busy days taking in the sites.

There was a bag pipe procession and parade that came right thru the
Motorcoach Resort.

We went shopping at Towne Center.
The lush landscaping tends to allow one to forget that they are in the desert.

We had dinner at the Hofbrau Haus.   An authentically recreated duplicate
of the original in Munich.  It is owned by the same company and the food
was authentic passing Michaelas judgement.

We visited Venice....
Or in this case The Venetian Casino.
Inside is like being in another world.

Isabella enjoyed some Gelato.

The Doodlewash

Just like last year, while here we took advantage of a local business that has a
self serve dog wash.

Kate and the girls took the doodles while I worked.

First Gracie....

As they say - every dog has its day and soon it was Lucy's turn.

Francesca helps dry.
Isabella, always the Paparazzi, took the pictures.

The girls have had several sleepovers.
Here Gracie and Lucy wake up Francesca.

Since they are visiting for 9 weeks, time is set aside for school.
Mom and Dad are handling the German, French, Math, & Geometry lessons.

I am in charge of the English lessons.
Below Francesca is studying while Isabella combs Lucy.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Eventually we left Las Vegas and headed 300 miles south to Organ Pipe
National Monument - on the Mexican Border.

While here we reunited with Jim, Krisi, Stan, and Marilyn who were
returning from a month on the beach at Puenta Penasco Mexico.

Twin Peaks Campground Organ Pipe NM
A peaceful and remote area - the park has not been without its past challenges.
In 2003 a Park Ranger was killed by smugglers.
Since then the local Border Patrol has grown from 25 agents to over 5,000. 

One afternoon the boys took a ride to Quitobaquito Springs, a true
Oasis in the desert.

The road to the springs runs right along the border fence for about 15 miles and
we took this photo of the local border patrol.

One morning we took the 3 mile hike from the campground to the visitor center and back.

Another afternoon the boys took a drive on the Ajo Mountain Loop Rd.
A scenic 21 mile 1-way loop

You can see an arch in the mountain ahead.

A closer view of the arch.

After several days we moved on eastward a couple of hundred miles to
Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Being smack in the middle of spring break now we are finding the prime spots harder to
get into for any length of time.

We spent a night at Kartchner and our friends did a morning tour of the caverns,
and then we moved on again.

Before we left Isabella left some artwork on a Prickly Pear Cactus.

Tombstone, Arizona

Known as "The City Too Tough To Die", Tombstone has a historic past.
It is most famous as the site of the shootout at the OK Coral.

Founded in 1879 when Silver was discovered, it quickly grew into prospering boomtown
of the western frontier.

It survived burning down twice, and flooding of the mines and today has become
a tourist destination for those yearning a taste of the Old West.

Our first stop was Big Nose Kate Saloon for a couple of cold ones.

While there we met these two gunslingers who were sitting on the bar.

We enjoyed some country music while enjoying our beers.

The town retains much of its old western charm.

Inside the Crystal Palace.
It was outside of here that Virgil Earp was gunned down in the street in retaliation
for the gunfight at the OK Coral.

The County Courthouse.
Built at a cost of $50,000 at the time - it was a testament to the
power and prestige that Tombstone held at the time.

We have one more day here in Tombstone until we relocate to Tucson and
sample some of the flavors of the big city.  In Tucson we will also hook back
up with Jim and the gang.

Today is horseback riding for the girls.

See you down the road!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Joshua to Las Vegas and New York

I thought a better title for the post would perhaps have been titled
Trains Planes and Automobiles, the reasoning of which
should become apparent as you read on.

Joshua Tree National Park

On our final day in Joshua Tree we headed over to the center of the park
and the Pinto Basin area.  Our first stop was Skull Rock.
Aptly named, you can see it in the photo below at lower left.
(remember to click on photos to enlarge)
You can also see Marcel & Franchesa on the Rocks.

Skull Rock
Our visit to skull rock was interrupted by Francesca taking a tumble and cutting her
knee.   Michaela - a nurse by trade - pulled out the first aid kit and saved the day.

Our next stop was the Cholla Garden.
There are 20 different species of Cholla Cactus and are found throughout the 
southwestern deserts.

They are covered by fine needles that have microscopic barbs.
Just a simple brush against on will result in it becomeing attached to your skin
and requireing pliers to painfully extract the needle.

We take great care to keep ourselves and the doodles away from them.
Below is one starting to flower.

Flowering Cholla
Below is a panorama of the Cholla Garden.
A short .3 mile walk on the nature trail teaches you all about
the Cholla and their contribution to the desert ecostystem. 
Cholla Garden Joshua Tree NP
We made a lunch stop at one of the many picnic areas scattered about the park
and had our lunch in the shade of some large boulders.

As usual - the Swiss folks see a hill and have to climb it.

Kate and Francesca on one rock.
Marcel and Isabella on another.

Later we returned to camp and spent our last night at Black Rock Campground.
In the morning we headed off to Las Vegas as I needed to catch a flight later that night
to New York for business.

We decided to take a longer (time wise), more scenic, and much more remote route
thru the heart of the Mojave desert and the Mojave National Preserve.
A 200 mile journey, it was almost all on narrow and lightly used back
roads that transited thru remote country.

The Map below shows our route in blue.

Get your kicks on Route 66

Old Route 66 "The Main St of America" was replaced in the 1960's and 70's
by Interstate 40.   While much of it has gone, where I-40 does not follow the old
route some sections remain.

US 66 was the main route for travelers to reach Los Angeles.  It was traveled by hundreds
of thousands of dust bowl job seekers during the depression, but when I-40 was completed
the towns and businesses along route 66 dried up - almost overnight.

Much of that history is gone but in little places here and there that Route 66
nostalgia manages to hang on.

Roys in Amboy California is one of those places.
I've marked a red dot in the lower third of the above map to show where Roys
is located and the other red arrows show the stretch of route 66 that is not
aligned with I-40.

I wont go into the history of Roys - but it is quite interesting and 
you can read about it here .

Our route took us along a short stretch of Route 66 so we took some time to stop
at Roys and see the old Gas Station (still operating) and the motel.
I bought a T-shirt here to help with keeping Roys open for future generations.

Roys - Amboy Ca.
The 60's interior of the Motel Loby.

Other than the improved pavement, the view today is the same as that
which would have been seen by the dust bowl migrants in the 30's.

The Road goes on forever.

Kelso Depot

Kelso is the red dot in the middle of the above map.

Kelso is located at the bottom of a long upgrade along the Union Pacific Railroad.
In the days of Steam Locomotives, it was created as a place where additional
"helper" engines could attach to the train to help them climb the grade.
A local source of water was another reason for building the depot here as it could be used to
replenish the water in the steam locomotives.

The Modern Depot building was built in 1923 to help the Union Pacific compete
with the Santa Fe railroad who had the famous "Harvey Houses"

More info on Kelso Depot is here.

The lunch counter at Kelso Depot

Kate test out one of the modern conveyances.

The telegraph room.

Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort

Our destination in Las Vegas, The LVMR is a class A motorhome only
resort and is one of the nicest places we have stayed.

5 swimming pools.
5 laundry rooms.

This place is great!

We are parked side by side.
Our site has a tiki bar with fridge, radiant grill, gas fireplace,
wet bar etc.

It is luxury at its finest.

sitting area with Tiki Bar
The view looking across the street.

The Trip from Hell

As I said, our reason in coming to Las Vegas was my need to fly to Albany, NY
for business and Las Vegas is perhaps the best place to fly to/from anywhere.

My plan was :
11pm flight out of Vegas.
Arrive Albany 9am and attend a job related function.
5pm flight out of Albany and arrive back in Vegas at 11pm the following night.

It would be a 36hr day.

Immediately upon leaving Joshua Tree my cell phone rang and I found 
out via robocall  that my flight on American had been cancelled and 
I had been rebooked on another flight that connected in Chicago.

This new flight was going to make any hope of getting some nap time enroute unlikely.

I arrived in Albany an hour later than originally planned and was able to attend the function
which began at 11am.

 I had booked first class tickets on American for the return to Las Vegas.   
I was relishing the thought of a larger seat and more room
so that I could stretch out and get 5 hrs of badly needed sleep on the way home.

Arriving back at Albany Airport for my flight home, I find that I had screwed up
my reservations and rather than booking a March 4 return flight, I had booked 
a May 4 return flight and American had no more room on any flights that day.

Oh...  this is not good.
A major screwup on my part.

I went to the United and Delta ticket counters and the best that I would get was either
a flight to Phoenix and then have to rent a car to drive 6hrs to Vegas,
or a flight out the next morning.

I didn't think a 6 hr drive from Phoenix thru the desert at night would be a good idea 
considering that by the time I started the drive I would have been awake for 40hrs.

I tried Southwest last and they were able to get me on a flight to Baltimore,
and then on to Las Vegas.

So I would get home at 11pm after all.

I grabbed the tickets, flew to Baltimore and grabbed a bite to eat at the airport.

I then carted my tired body onto the Southwest flight from Baltimore.
By that time I had been awake for over 36hrs.

I was first on the plane and chose the front bulkhead window seat.
(If you don't know - Southwest does not assign seats - you pick your own)

I was hoping that the seat next to me would remain empty...

Yeah right!

Soon a gentleman sat down next to me and immediately began to cough 
every 20 seconds - on schedule - for the next 5 hours straight.

Meanwhile 2 young boys behind me began kicking my seat 
and contributed their own regular coughing fits to this  majestic Symphony of Phlegm.

Add this to the fact that domestic coach seats are 18" wide and my shoulders are over 22".
Whats up with these ridiculous tiny seats?
Designed by Munchkins for Munchkins.

Trying to keep myself constrained within this 18" wide slice of airborne paradise
requires me to put myself into a self induced straightjacket...  arms folded across the chest.
Houdini would be proud.

Soon the cramps start to radiate down from the shoulders but you power thru it.
Nothing that a $5 drink and a bag of peanuts cant soothe.

It was perhaps the longest 5 hours of my entire life.

And I've spent some very looooong days in my life.

If I don't wind up wth the Bubonic Plague from my adventures in this
airborne Petri Dish it will be a miracle to rival the parting of the Red Sea.

Arriving in Vegas however the fun actually continued.
If you thought it was over....  it wasn't.

McCarran Airport has to be one of the worst designs of any airport in the world.
First you have to walk about 5 miles from your gate to the baggage claim.
Up and down hills and thru rows of slot machines.
I was starting to get vertigo from the flashing lights as I walked.

Then I waited for 1/2 an hour for the bags to arrive at the carousel.
They had two flights bags arrive at the same time on the same carousel so the mass
of bags being disgorged at the same time was frightening.
They were being dumped on top of each other 3 and 3 deep and on top of each other.

Meanwhile the gang had texted me that they were waiting in a parking lot and to
let them know where I was when ready to be picked up.

So when I got my bag I walked outside and gave them my door number.
Turns out I was in the Limo only area.
After they texted me that they couldn't find me I found out no cars were
allowed where I was so I walked inside and to the other side of the terminal.

Turns out that side is only for Taxis.

I guess most people who arrive here are getting Limos and taxis.

A very long story shortened...

After another 20 minutes, crossing a terminal and then across a bridge,
I finally found Michaela.   She had gotten out of my truck to wait for me
while Marcel, Kate, and the girls made revolutions of the terminal while I searched
for the place that locals hook up with their rides.

My excellent adventure had come to an end.

In spite of it all...  getting to see my friends and co-workers
made it all worth it.

Maybe next year will be smoother.