Friday, September 23, 2011

Trip Report: Laughlin, Nevada, September 18 - 22, 2011

Donna and I enjoy gambling from time to time. One gambling locale we've wanted to visit for several years is Laughlin, Nevada. We finally got a chance to visit this hot spot in southern Nevada on a recent 5 day/4 night trip.

Don Laughlin's Riverside Casino offers various travel packages from numerous cities around the country. Fortunately, San Angelo is one of these. For a very low fare, we were able to book round-trip flight aboard Sun Country Airlines and 4 nights at the Riverside Hotel.

Riverside Hotel and Casino in right foreground; other resorts in left background

Laughlin is located in southern Nevada along the west bank of the Colorado River. The airport is just across the river in Bullhead City, Arizona. Laughlin is a relatively small community with fewer than 10,000 residents, while Bullhead City is quite a bit larger, perhaps 35,000 or so. Down the river are numerous other neighboring communities, such as Fort Mohave, Arizona, and Needles, California.

Don Laughlin founded the community of Laughlin in the mid-1960s. His life story is quite interesting; it is one of those inspiring American success stories. Mr. Laughlin is still alive and well and is very active in the day-to-day management of his Riverside Casino and Resort.

Since the founding of Laughlin, other casinos have moved in to cash in on its success. Today, there are several casinos lining the Nevada side of the river. They include (in ABC order):
Numerous casinos line the west bank of the Colorado River in Laughlin

Aquarius (right) and Edgewater (left). The Aquarius during our trip had the best video poker games in Laughlin. Note the river taxi.
In addition to gaming, these casinos/resorts provide many other services. Each property normally provides several dining options ranging from low end (MacDonalds, Subway, etc.) to fine dining. They also provide all kinds of entertainment, from big name acts (Vince Gill, ZZ Top, etc.) to anything else available, including comedy. Most of the entertainment caters to older people for Laughlin is considered by many to be an "old Vegas" town.

In addition to gambling, Donna and I walked the entire River Walk from the Riverside (north end) to River Palms (south end). Harrahs is located just south of River Palms, but the River Walk is not complete to Harrahs. It is a long walk, so after making that trek and visiting all the casinos along the way, we rode a water taxi back to our hotel.

Donna on the Laughlin Riverwalk. Across the river is Arizona.

We also took a boat tour aboard the U.S.S. Riverside, which took us from our hotel north to the Davis Dam and then back south to the cove where Harrah's is located. The tour is professionally done, and the information provided about the area is interesting and entertaining.

The U. S. S. Riverside

Davis Dam and spillway gates, up river from Laughlin

Harrahs is considered by many to have the best locatino of all casinos in Laughlin. It is situated on a cove of the Colorado River on a bit of a hill. It also has a private beach for its guests.
From our hotel, we enjoyed a wonderful view of the Colorado River and the Arizona landscape to the east. The mountains in that area are rugged and jagged, looking something like broken teeth on a saw. A lot of people would say that such a landscape is barren and boring (in fact, I overheard one of our fellow travelers call it a "no man's land"), but Donna and I really enjoy the desert. It also reminded us a great deal of the areas where we lived in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.

Jagged peaks of Arizona desert mountains across the river from our hotel

Donna and I loved the river, and we really enjoyed our river tour. We were impressed by the clarity of the river. Even at the deepest part of the channel, you could see the bottom. The current was strong, too. In a local newspaper article I read while there, I saw an item that indicated the current was 8 mph. All day long, people were on the river, either swimming, boating, kayaking, or zipping about on jet skis. There are numerous river tours, some as long as 6 hours and going as far as Lake Havasu where the London Bridge is located.

We are already planning our next trip to Laughlin, but this time we hope to drive so that we can see the country more up close and personal. Regardless, Laughlin is definitely a place we want to return to.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Night at the Theater: Cabaret

I wrote a month or so ago about Donna and I attending a dinner theater at Angelo State University. We then purchased season tickets for Angelo Civic Theater, and we attended our first performance last night. And it was great!

ACT is housed in an old movie theater, and there isn't that much seating. The stage is a bit small, too, but there is nothing small about the talent. Donna and I were very impressed by the performance we saw. Cabaret is not an easy play to perform as it involves so much singing and dancing. The accents are also difficult for inexperienced actors. But the folks at ACT were pros last night. Accents were very convincing, and the musical performances were impressive.

Cabaret is a musical set in Berlin about 1930 as the Nazi party is beginning its rise to power. The play focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around a young English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles, and her developing relationship with a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw.

There were really no weak performances in the large cast that I saw. The dancing, acting, and singing were all good quality.

I look forward to the next performance at ACT.

Earthquakes, droughts, and heat -- Oh My!

I don't know about you, but from my perspective, the weather seems to have changed a bit since Katrina. And it isn't necessarily that the weather is more violent -- though we have had some violent storms in recent years -- it's just that the weather seems a bit more unusual.

This year is a good example. So far in San Angelo, Texas, we've had 100 triple digit days. We broke the old record by more than 30 days. And all of this comes at the same time we are having a record drought. About 1500 or 2000 miles east of here, they had a rather unusual hurricane roar through  a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't the wind that caused most of the problems, but rather heavy rains. Wish we could take some of that water off of their hands.

Not long ago, a mild earthquake shook the East Coast.

Not to be outdone, West Texas decided it needed a mile eathquake, too. This past Sunday morning (9/11/11) at approximately 7:27, a 4.4 magnitude shake occured near Snyder, nearly 100 miles due north of San Angelo. I happened to be at the computer reading a weekly column a friend of mine writes, when suddenly there was a little shake. It actually felt as if I were in our travel trailer, and someone bounced the trailer. I didn't think anything of it until Donna mentioined it later that morning. Then we both agreed it was an earthquake.

We felt another one sometime in the 1990s while we were living in Ozona, about 80 miles southwest of San Angelo. There was a nice quake somewhere south of Alpine, Texas, and it was felt over much of the Big Bend and Pecos River country.

Wonder what will happen next. Maybe we'll have a tidal wave in San Angelo.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts

The second Saturday of each month, two events take place along the Concho River in downtown San Angelo.

The first of these is "Old Town Second Saturdays." Old Town at El Paseo de Santa Angela is located near the river on Orient Street. Five historic structures have been re-located there for preservation purposes. As such, the area has been designated as an historic district illustrating early architectural styles for the San Angelo area. On the second Saturday of each month, artists, designers, and craft vendors showcase and sell their goods in this historic district.

Just across the street from Old Town is the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts (SAMFA). On the second Saturday of each month, SAMFA hosts "Family Day". On Family Day, entrance to the museum is free and different cultures are highlighted. This month, exhibits on Mexico were on display.

San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts with its distinctive saddle-shaped roofline.

Donna viewing the exhibits

Downtown San Angelo across the Concho River

The Concho River winds through downtown San Angelo

Mermaid statue and pedestrian bridge.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trip Report: Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens

The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens is located just a few miles south of Ft. Davis, Texas, on highway 118. The Nature Center covers 507 acres of rolling grassland and igneous rock outcrops. The Center features over 165 species of trees, shrubs, and perennial forbs of the Chihuahuan Desert, and approximately 200 species of Chihuahuan Desert cacti. Visitors can enjoy viewing plants and scenery on over 3 miles of trails.
                The mission of the Center is to promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern for the natural diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert region through research and education. The Chihuahuan Desert covers approximately 220,000 square miles in Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, and a small area in Arizona.
                It would take a large part of a day to see all the exhibits, plants, and trails of the Center. Donna and I were limited on time, so we only spent about 2 hours there. We first visited the Mining Exhibit, which explores the mining heritage of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. It consists of a replica of a 19th century mine, artifacts, minerals, and ores.

Various sage plants. The purple blooms are beautiful.
                Our second stop on our Nature Center tour was the Botanical Gardens Walk. This half-mile walk features over 165 species of plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert region. Plant families are grouped, and plants are labeled. Located halfway through this walk is the Cactus and Succulent Greenhouse, which contains over 200 species of cacti and succulents for biodiversity conservation. Near the end of this walk is Cactus Hill, which consists of a solar water feature and a scenic overlook.

Donna atop Cactus Hill
                To finish our day at the Nature Center, we went for a true hike. We started on the Upper Loop Trail, and then journeyed down the Modesta Canyon Trail to see Modesta Spring. The Upper Loop Trail is an easy half-mile walk on relatively level ground. However, the Modesta Canyon Trail is nearly 2 miles of moderately challenging trail that ventures down into a narrow canyon that can test aging knees.

Looking down into Modesta Canyon
Donna near the top of Modesta Canyon enjoying the shade.