Monday, December 30, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Hiking?

Got any plans for New Year's Day? Don't tell me you're going to sit around the house with your eyes glued to the set watching football games. Why watch someone else have fun when you can get out and make your own fun.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department started a New Year's Day program a few years ago called First Day Hikes. Here's a quote from the TPDW web page:

"The First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and fitness levels, and range from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails and along boardwalks, to special bird watching hikes, to climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most all hikes are guided by state park staff and volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well. There's something for everyone!"


So, go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/calendar/first-day-hikes and scroll down the page until you find a state park near you, then make plans to get out to that park on Wednesday.

I don't know about your neck of the woods, but in San Angelo, it should be sunny and in the mid 60s on that day.

Looks like a good day for a hike.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Several years ago -- sometime after our daughter fled the nest -- Donna and I started a tradition of seeing a movie on Christmas day. We've missed a few over the years, but more often than not, you will find us sitting in a movie theater on Christmas day huddled under our coats watching a movie. This year, we went to see Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie follows the relationship between P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney, founder of the Disney empire, as Disney attempts to secure the rights for the book in order to make a movie. The movie blends flashbacks to 1906 Australia of Travers' childhood with scenes from the present, set in 1961. Most of the present action occurs in Los Angeles, though some does occur in the London home of Travers.

Travers, played exceedingly well by Thompson, is obstinate and arrogant, and she is reluctant to give Disney the rights to her book lest he tarnish her creation with animation or other unworthy movie tricks. Disney, having promised his daughters to make a movie based upon their favorite childhood book, is equally determined to secure the rights from Travers.

We liked the movie. Personally, I found the flashbacks to be a bit too much. Though they are necessary to develop the plot and the deeply personal feelings Travers has for her book, I think they could have been selected more carefully to allow more time in the present. But that certainly doesn't tarnish the movie at all.

I enjoyed seeing how Disney's associates brought a movie to life, creating the music and script. It made me want to watch the movie Mary Poppins again. The movie also reaffirmed the character of Walt Disney for me. As I child, I watched his Sunday night show without fail; my childhood would not have been complete without all the great stories that came from that TV show.

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Epic Battle

It was a battle of epic proportions.

On one side, you had Sheriff Camden, the very picture of youth. On the other, there was Grandma Donna, aging matriarch of the family.

The two would collide in a monumental battle of wills. Camden was determined to scream his head off, unwilling to calm down, take his bottle, and fall asleep. Donna, always happy to take a bottle, was just as determined to calm the young whippersnapper.

In the end, both were tuckered plumb out by their efforts, and I was able to capture the shot below.

Grandma and grandson all worn out from their mighty struggle. I'm not sure who won.
As a bonus, here is a picture of Sheriff Camden and his big brother Xander in front of the fireplace.

Xander and Camden looking forward to opening their gifts.
My new nickname for Camden is Rooster since he likes to wake everyone up in the wee hours of the morning.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Concho Christmas Light Tour

Donna and I love to go out this time of year and look at Christmas lights. When you live in San Angelo, that means going to the Concho Christmas Light Tour. The Tour is not the best Christmas light display in the world, but it is pretty unique, especially for West Texas.

The Tour begins at 1st Street and River Drive. For the next mile or so, the Tour follows River Drive along the north bank of the North Concho River. Most of the lights are located across the river, on the south bank. Their lights dance and sparkle in the waters of the slow-moving river, and their reflections are often broken by the ripples from ducks moving about the river. The bulk of the lights are dedicated to the 12 Days of Christmas theme.

After a mile along the river, the Tour then takes a left on Irving Street for 1 block to Concho Street, the original business street of downtown San Angelo. Many of the stores along the 2 block section of Concho Street on the tour are decorated. At Oakes Street, the Tour turns right, crosses the river and then the railroad tracks, and turns into the pavilion across from Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. A number of light displays are concentrated here, ending with a living nativity scene on weekends.

We also like to drive through Santa Rita, an older neighborhood in the city. The residents decorate the divided roadway along Paseo de Vaca Street, ending with a diorama display of "The Night Before Christmas" story.

There are other prominent displays in town, including one on Hill Street and Avenue R that a local family erects each year, but the above two are our favorites. For the drive around town, Donna made hot cocoa. Now, I'm not talking instant powder and hot water cocoa here, I'm talking the real stuff with real cocoa and real milk. Boy, that made the night complete.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hanging in There

We've not been doing much lately, so I haven't really had anything to post.

The kids are coming this Friday and will spend a couple of days with us. Since they spent Thanksgiving with us, they will spend Christmas with Michael's family. After the holidays die down, we hope to get back to traveling.

Donna and I have both been a bit under the weather for the past 2 weeks. Combined with the really cold weather we've had, we just haven't wanted to do much. But things started warming up this past week and we started getting out a bit.

We had 2 disappointing meals at local restaurants this week. First, we visited Los Panchitos near the river and got their lunch fajitas. I had beef and Donna had a combination. I hate to be critical, but they were absolutely the worst fajitas I have ever had. There was no fajita seasoning, no grill taste, and the quality of the meat was very poor. We also didn't care for the rice and the side of queso we ordered, though we did enjoy the chips and salsa.

Our second poor meal was at Lone Star Cheeseburger, which really is just a trailer parked on a lot near downtown. There have been numerous positive reviews of this place, and they bill themselves as making the best cheeseburgers in Texas. Again, we were disappointed. First, the meat did not taste like 100% beef; Donna and I both detected a pork, or sausage, taste. We also didn't care for the fries. I'm still in search of  that basic traditional burger in San Angelo; at this point, the fast food places do the best job in town. I'll keep looking.

Aside from a bit of grocery and Christmas shopping, that's about all we've done. The forecast for this week shows temps in the 60s and even reaching 70, so we hope to get out to the park for a good walk, maybe even a hike.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a very happy and satisfying New Year.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It's 2:00 PM in San Angelo on Tuesday, December 10th, and the sun is shining. It's currently 44 degrees, and it's a beautiful day.

Normally, 44 is chilly to me, but not today. This is only the second day since last Thursday that the temp has climbed above freezing. I'm not used to the cold hanging around this long. Nights are still dipping below freezing, and will continue doing so for at least the next week, but the day time temps should continue to rise. Ice is still on the rooftops and on the north sides of buildings; we still have considerable ice in our front yard, which faces north. Usually our snow and ice melt the next day, but not during this cold spell.

I don't like the cold. I didn't mind it as much when I was younger, but I get colder now, it seems. We've been using our new gas fireplace quite a bit this past week. It's nice to feel its warmth on those cold, overcast days.

I don't envy folks who live in colder climates; they must be hardier than I am.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Old Man Winter Has Arrived, Part 2

It was just about 2 weeks ago that I posted Old Man Winter Has Arrived. Normally we don't get severe winter storms this close together, at least not in this part of Texas. But here we go again.

A front moved through San Angelo in the early morning hours, dropping temperatures drastically in a matter of hours. The temperature as I write this (9:44 AM on Thursday, November 5) is 32 degrees. The wind is blowing from the north at 18 mph, making the wind chill a frigid 21 degrees. Yesterday, the temperature reached a balmy 84 degrees. What a difference a day can make! Tonight the low is expected to fall to 24. The high tomorrow will reach 30 while the low tomorrow night will dip to 19 degrees. We have a 50% chance of precipitation later today, rising to 80% tonight. We should get some ice, perhaps even some snow.

We don't get that much frigid weather in San Angelo. Sure, we'll get some freezes and even a snow or two each year. But they usually are spread far apart and last for only a day or two. Having two cold snaps about 2 weeks apart is unusual. And this cold spell will remain at the freezing level for 3 full days, then level off to highs only in the 40s for the next several days. Very unusual.

But Donna is in the kitchen cooking up a big pot of beef stew, enough to last the two of us for several days. And last week I had a gas insert installed in our fireplace, so we have the fire glowing.

We opted for the gas insert instead of real wood because of convenience. In our fireplace, when you want a fire, just turn on the gas and fire her up. When you are finished, just turn it off. There's no fussing with building a fire, hauling in fire wood, cleaning out ashes, and all of that. I still enjoy a real fire, especially when we camp, but as we grow older, convenience becomes more important.

So, we'll sit back in front of our fire, savor our beef stew, and enjoy the cold snap. I hope all of you stay nice and warm.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Invasion of the All Night Gang

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Arguably my favorite holiday of the year.

When I was still a working chap, I eagerly looked forward to Thanksgiving each year. It served somewhat as a warmup for Christmas and New Year's.

We try not to travel during holidays anymore. There is simply too much traffic. And I never want to fly during the holidays. I don't like crowds, and I certainly don't like getting stranded when weather turns bad. Now that we are retired, we can travel whenever we want, so we opt to travel when others don't.

So, we plan to stay home during holidays from now on. So for this first Thanksgiving in our new house, daughter Courtney, son-in-law Michael, grandson #1 Xander (short for Alexander, aka the Godfather), and grandson #2 Camden (aka the Sheriff) came for a visit.

Camden is now about 4 months, so he is different each time we see him. He is beginning to develop a personality, but he still keeps everyone hopping. I can hear Courtney up with him at all hours of the night, and I laugh quietly to myself in a Bill Cosby satisfied sort of way.

I've revived a long tradition of ours this year, one I gave up a few years ago. Donna muscled me into buying a smoker. She wanted a smoked turkey this holiday. So, I set up the new smoker, tested, and got ready for Thanksgiving. Now, I take my smoking seriously. I begin the process about midnight. I get the fire going, add oak or mesquite wood chunks that have been soaking all day, fill a water pan with water, beer, and other flavored liquids, and put the turkey on. Throughout the night, I add more charcoal and more soaked wood. The turkey cooks over indirect heat and smoke and is ready for lunch on Thanksgiving. Now, I'm biased, but I absolutely love turkey cooked this way. And I'm not a big turkey fan. I normally won't eat turkey except when I've smoked it.

So, as I would get up periodically throughout the night to add more charcoal and wood to the smoker, I'd hear my daughter and grandson #2. As you've heard said before, the best thing about being a grandparent is that you can enjoy your grandchildren and then send them home. So, after a day or so, my life returns to a quiet normal, but the "All Night Gang" continues their late-night vigils of warming bottles and changing diapers.

Ah, payback is so much fun.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Another Online Tool for the Traveler

About a year ago, I posted an article about online tools I use when traveling. (See "Online Tools for RVers"). I've recently discovered something new I want to share.

While using Google Maps a week or so ago, I noticed a little feature I had not seen before. There's no telling how long it has been available, but I had never seen it. I was measuring the distance from two locations when I happened to see it.

One of my favorite features of Google Maps is that it allows you to get directions from Point A to Point B. When you first pull the program up, you will see this feature available in the upper-left corner of the screen. Simply click on the "Get Directions" button. You can then enter your starting point and your destination. When you do so, the new feature I discovered becomes available.

In the example below, I've entered San Angelo as my starting point and Austin as my destination. The program has returned 3 possible routes, each showing the distance and calculated time to travel that route. As you hover over each choice, that route will highlight in the right part of the screen, on the actual map. Just below the 3 options is a little button, which I have circled in red, that allows you to enter the 3D option. If you click this button, then Google Earth will load and will move you through your route from the starting point to the end point. In other words, you will get an aerial view of your route from start to finish.




For longer trips, it would take quite a while to watch the route play out, but for shorter routes, you can get a good visual of your trip before taking off. Yesterday, I put in a 99 mile route, and it took close to 10 minutes to follow that route, so this is not something you want to use with longer trips. But for shorter trips, it can be quite useful.

Another step forward in armchair travel. Onward!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Old Man Winter Has Arrived

There's an old saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes. That has certainly proved true in my part of the country the last few days.

I write this early on a Saturday morning. On Thursday, the temperature reached a balmy 78. A front moved through West Texas later that day, reaching our area (known locally as the "Concho Valley") about midnight. Our high temp for Friday was actually recorded in the early hours of that day in the 40s. Once daylight arrived, the temp hovered in the low 30s throughout the day, a difference of about 45 degrees from the previous day.

Now early on this Saturday morning, it is still cold, with the temp hovering around the freezing mark. It will remain here throughout the day. Yesterday, we had a little moisture, even a few small specks of snow. It's still dark out, but I can see partially white rooftops in the neighborhood. We expect more wintry weather today (Saturday), tomorrow, and into Monday.

Donna made a big pot of soup yesterday. Mmmm! We have no place we need to be, so we are staying home for the weekend. It's nice to be in a warm house during cold weather as opposed to a travel trailer as we were last winter.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Going to the Dogs

Donna and I try to stay active. We like doing things, so I'm always combing the paper looking for something that might interest us. And we always enjoy doing something new to us, something we've never done before.

A week or so ago, the Concho Kennel Dog Club of San Angelo sponsored an AKC sanctioned dog show at Foster Coliseum. We love dogs and were looking for something to do, so it seemed a natural for us. We had never been to a dog show before but had watched several on television. So even though we had a rough idea of what goes on at a dog show, we really weren't too sure what to expect.

Foster Communications Coliseum is the main events venue in San Angelo.
The show began Friday and continued through Sunday. We drove out to Foster Communications Coliseum in north San Angelo, site of the show, on Friday afternoon and watched the obedience trials. This was a pretty intimate affair off in a side room. We were able to get up close to the dogs and mingle with some of them.

We returned to the show on Saturday morning. The main coliseum floor was partitioned into several areas where best of breed competitions were being held. Vendors were also located on the main floor. Although we spent most of the morning in the bleachers watching the individual breed competitions, we did wander through the floor area to get a close-up look at several dogs. There was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that we had seen from our seats that was being groomed, and we wanted to get a close look at her. She was, indeed, a beautiful dog.

East end of the coliseum, main floor. Fence in the front is edge of show arena, while vendor booths are visible in the background. You can also see a couple of cocker spaniels being groomed in front of the photography booth.

Woman waiting to show her cocker. If you look closely, you will see various dogs in the background being groomed.

A judge is looking over a group of schnauzers.
Poodles being groomed for their upcoming competition.
This is a good shot to show all the activity that goes on at a dog show. People in front center, by the trash can, are waiting to show their dogs. Notice their number arm bands. To the right of them are cages on a rolling platform. Grooming is going on everywhere. The little Cavalier we liked is just beneath the EZGO sign; you can see her standing on a table with her head turned. It's a busy place!

The main floor was a busy place. People were getting their dogs ready and moving them to the area outside where they were to show them. Others were doing last minute grooming on their dogs. Other dogs were in cages; either they had already participated, or their show time was a long way off.

It was an enjoyable outing, and it afforded us the opportunity to see lots of dogs of various breeds.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Review: Last Vegas

If you're an old geezer, then you might want to check out Last Vegas. Donna and I recently saw this movie, and we enjoyed it. Now, it's probably not going to earn any academy awards, and the actors probably won't win anything, either, but it's a solid movie, with many clever scenes and well-scripted lines.

If you watch television at all, then you know the premise of the movie. Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been friends since childhood. Known as the "Flatbush Four," they are now approaching 70, and Billy has decided to marry for the first time and invites his friends to the wedding in Las Vegas.

Archie and Sam provide most of the humor in the movie while the core plot revolves around Billy and Paddy. The usual age-related jokes are prevalent, but many have an original twist to them. The swimming pool scene with Sam near the beginning of the movie is a good example of such a twist.

On a serious note, the movie deals with emotions and subjects that most of us face as we age. How do we deal with loss? How do we take care of ourselves as we age without shutting ourselves off from life? How do we deal with those who care about us, yet don't understand what we are dealing with?

It's a fun movie, and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Aquarius: Laughlin, Nevada

We spent the final two days of our trip at the Aquarius in Laughlin, Nevada.

It was really good to get to Laughlin. We feel very comfortable there. After the hubbub and traffic of massive Las Vegas, I welcomed the slower pace and small town feel of Laughlin. And I can't tell you how nice it was to get out along the river and enjoy the "natural" feel of the place.

The Aquarius is our "go to" place in Laughlin. It is located near the north end of Casino Drive along the Colorado River. The rooms are nice, the eateries are very decent, and the video poker offerings are the best overall in Laughlin. By this time, though, I was becoming tired of gambling, so I really did not spend much time at the machines. In fact, I was really ready to hit the road and get home.

But we had a couple of nice meals while in Laughlin. The first was the Friday night seafood buffet at the Aquarius. I'm not a buffet guy. To me, a buffet is just an excuse to overeat, an excuse I really don't need. In most buffets, I find the food to be poorly prepared and rather bland. But I've always liked the buffet at the Aquarius, for a number of reasons. First, it has a great view overlooking the Colorado River. I just love looking out east over the river and at the stark mountains rising over in Arizona. Second, the buffet at the Aquarius is usually not that busy. In many buffets, you seem to have to jostle for your food, but not at the Aquarius. Finally, I always find some dishes at the Aquarius buffet that are new or different, and the food is generally well-prepared. For example, at the seafood buffet, I tried the Oysters Rockefeller, a dish I had never tasted before.

Our second good meal came at Daniel's Restaurant on the River at the tiny Regency Casino next-door to the Aquarius. Normally we wait until Wednesday to eat at the Regency, where they serve 2-for-1 hamburgers. But since we weren't going to be there on Wednesday, we went over on Saturday. We really like their cheeseburgers. They cook the meat to order (Donna likes medium rare, I like well done), and the cheese is properly melted. There is a good char-grilled flavor to the meat. I had fries with my order while Donna tried the sweet potato fries. Wow, these were good; I wish I had ordered them. Service is good and friendly at Daniel's, and we always look forward to returning. They offer several dining specials throughout the week that are worth checking out.

After a 2 night stay at the Aquarius, we checked out at 4:15 AM Nevada time and headed for home. I was eager to get home, so I wanted to make the trip in a single day. Google Maps indicates our route was 1,006 miles and would require 14 hours and 59 minutes. We made it in 16 hours. I don't know how we could have made it any faster. We kept stops to a minimum (coffee at Kingman McDonald's; gas and restroom at Holbrook, AZ; gas, snacks, and restroom at Edgewood, NM; snacks at Muleshoe McDonald's; gas at Levelland; coffee at Big Spring), and we drove the posted speed limit with the exception of times when we were driving in the dark, when we reduced our speed some. It was a long drive, but we were glad to spend the next night in our own beds.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sam's Town, Las Vegas, Nevada

We spent the week of October 20 - 25 at Sam's Town on the Boulder Highway in Las Vegas. This currently is our favorite casino to visit.

First of all, Sam's Town has our favorite video poker game, Full Pay Deuces Wild, at lower denominations. This is a great game for low-rollers like us.

There is much more to do at Sam's Town than gamble, though. Like Boulder Station, there is also a movie theater at Sam's Town, Century 18; however, there was nothing showing during our stay there that we wanted to see.

We did attend the weekly Variety Toast of the Town event. I enjoyed this. Held each Thursday at 2:00 PM, this show brings in local Las Vegas talent for a pretty good variety show. The emcee of the show was Doug Starks, a local talent who has obviously been heavily influenced by Sammie Davis, Jr. Backed by a local combo, her sang a few tunes and introduced the other acts. Also in the show were Champagne and Caviar, a duo who sang standards by Sam and Dave and others. Perhaps the greatest potential talent to take the stage for this event was a 14 year-old girl whose name I did not catch. It was something like Jessica Bannon, but I've been unable to find info about her online. This young lady performed a couple of Broadway style songs and showed great range and poise. My least favorite performer of the group was comedian Derek Richards. I guess I'm a bit of a prude, but when comedians resort to foul language, they lose me. A good comedian uses wit and clever ideas and wording to produce humor, not a string of obscenities. Overall, though, I enjoyed the show, which lasted more than an hour. It started on time and moved right along. Best of all, it was free.

On the lower level, there is a bowling alley. Donna and I enjoy going down, getting an order of nachos, and watching the various leagues in action.

We enjoy the eateries at Sam's Town quite a bit. Perhaps our favorite eating place is Willy and Jose's Cantina. We've eaten there 3 times now, and we've never been disappointed. We always order the fajitas. I always get beef, while Donna enjoys the shrimp. The food is plentiful, and I find the meat to be of very good quality. My only complaint is that the fajita taste is not pronounced enough; I taste grill, but I want more fajita seasoning. Still, it's very, very good.

During our stay at Sam's Town, I finally began to tire of gambling, believe it or not. One reason for this was that many of the people playing the machines where we were playing were smokers, more so than usual. We couldn't seem to get away from them. Usually, I can hit the machines early and avoid the crowds, but people were showing up at these machines early in the morning, so we had smokers all day. I was glad when it was time to check out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Boulder Station, Las Vegas, Nevada


We spent the week of October 15 – 20 at Boulder Station. Although we had played here once or twice in the past, we had never stayed here before. However, based on our very limited play, we had received an offer for reduced room rates so we decided to give the place a try.

Boulder Station is located just beyond Sam’s Town, our normal Las Vegas destination, on the Boulder Highway. Boulder Station is known as a “local’s casino”. Local’s casinos normally provide better gaming odds than their counterparts on the Strip. You don't normally get the glitz and glamor at these places, but then, Donna and I don't have much glitz and glamor anymore. Well, I don't, but Donna seems to be holding her own quite nicely, thank goodness.

So, what do we do when we spend a week at a casino? Well, we gamble – a lot. But we do other things as well. Boulder Station has a Regal Cinema, so we saw Captain Phillips there on Wednesday, which is “senior’s day.” Because of our senior status, we got in for $4 each. This was a great, action packed movie. If you want to know why Tom Hanks has won 2 Academy Awards, be sure to watch the final 10 minutes of this movie. Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the pirate chief, was also impressive. We will be seeing more of this gifted young Somali actor, I'm sure. The emotions conveyed in his eyes was riveting.

One day we drove across town and toured a 50+ housing community, just in case we ever decide to move to Vegas. I doubt we would ever make such a move, but it's fun looking and dreaming.

But most of the time, we gambled. After the long drive to Vegas, it took us the first 2 or 3 days just to recover, so initially we just relaxed. When in a casino, I like to get up early, have a light breakfast, then get a large cup of good coffee and play video poker for about 3 hours.

We also participated in promotions. On Wednesday, for example, we played three rounds in a slot tournament. On Thursday, we played two rounds in a video poker tournament. Neither of us had high enough scores to win anything, though.

And we ate quite a bit. Boulder Station has a number of eateries, from fast food to fine dining, as well as the obligatory buffet. We sampled several of them.

But mostly we gambled. We enjoyed playing our favorite games, but we also enjoyed the challenge of gambling smart and competing against the house. We had a good time.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim

I visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon way back in August 1974 BD (Before Donna) when I was traveling around the country with a college chum. Donna had never seen the Grand Canyon. It was high on our bucket list of places to visit. On our recent trip to Nevada (October 15, 2013), we decided to make a quick scouting trip through the south rim.

We entered the park from the east. Click here for a map of the area we covered in the park. From the East Entrance to the Visitor Center, there are a number of pull-outs where you can view the canyon. We stopped at several of these and snapped the following pictures.

East Entrance to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

The Colorado River snakes its way through the canyon. This view looks eastward from the Desert View lookout.
This picture is taken from the same spot as the one immediately above, but it looks west. The river is not visible in this picture, though its course is clearly visible by the deep gorge in the center of the picture.
This shot looks west from Lipan Point. If you look closely, you can see some of the rapids in the river. It's rough, broken country, isn't it?
As we journeyed from overlook to overlook, it became clear that the canyon basically looks the same from every vantage point. And that is the memory I took away from my first visit to the Grand Canyon way back in 1974. At the time, I said that it was simply a big ditch, and I more or less feel the same way today. Now, that does not mean that I'm not impressed with what nature has done here. But I've heard from other people who have said, "If you've seen one picture of the Grand Canyon, you've seen them all." And I think there is an element of truth there. As evidence of this, look at the picture below, which was taken from the Grandview Point lookout several miles down river. It really does not look that much different than the pictures above.

The Grand Canyon as seen from Grandview Point

Donna at Grandview Point.
One thing not often shown in pictures of the Grand Canyon is the forest along the rim. The area is indeed heavily forested with a great deal of wildlife. We saw a few elk grazing near the Visitor Center during our trip.

I snapped this picture in an attempt to show how heavily forested the rim of the canyon is. The trees on the bulge in the left center of the picture are probably at least one-half mile away.
As I said earlier, one reason for our trip here today was to scout the area for possible future trips. It may be that we want to return at another time and do more extensive sight-seeing and hiking. A number of hiking opportunities exist in the park. Most people are aware of the hikes down into the canyon itself, but there are also chances to hike along the rim, something which appeals more to me these days as my legs continue to age. After all, a hike into the Grand Canyon is a "reverse hike." On a normal hike, you go out, climb up a mountain, get tired, then come down the mountain. The Grand Canyon is exactly opposite. You hike down into the canyon while you are fresh, get tired, then have to climb out when your energy is fading. I don't know that I want to do that at my age.

There is also the Yavapai Museum of Geology near the Visitor Center. Here you can really learn about the geology of the canyon as well as experience some great views. Various lodging opportunities exist throughout the park, from the Phantom Ranch along the river to places along the rim.

One thing that caught me unexpectedly was the little community of Tusayan just outside the south entrance to the park along Highway 64. As we left the park, we were ready to pick up our speed and head towards Williams. We didn't realize there was a vibrant tourist community of eateries, hotels, and outfitter services just outside the park boundary. So, if you are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, keep this place in mind; it may be your best option in securing lodging if the park is full.

Well, we've seen the Grand Canyon; we can mark it off our bucket list. There are so many places we want to see that I doubt we'll visit the park again, but you never know.






Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the Road: Winslow, AZ, to Las Vegas, NV



Today’s trip (October 15) is shorter than the one the day before, only 454 miles, but it is every bit as interesting, if not more so. Today we went from Winslow, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada. However, we took a detour through the south rim section of Grand Canyon National Park. I’ll mention that detour briefly today, but focus on it more in a separate entry in my next post so that I can devote more space and more pictures to it.

We did not know until a couple of days before our trip if the Grand Canyon National Park would be open because of the government shutdown. However, the good state of Arizona decided to open the park just 2 days before we left home, picking up the cost of operating the park. 

Our route today is 454 miles. We opted to go through Laughlin rather than go straight to Las Vegas from Kingman.
So, we left Winslow shortly before 7:00 AM, following our old friend Interstate 40 west to Flagstaff.  The temperature was right at freezing as we loaded the car. Brrr! We weren’t ready for winter yet. Snow-capped Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona at 12,637 feet, sits just north of Flagstaff and guided us west. At Flagstaff, we exited, taking US 89 north so that we could loop through the south rim section of the park. A little over 40 miles north of Flagstaff, we turned west on Highway 64. Glimpses of side canyons were soon available, along with numerous Navaho jewelry stands. We passed from the Kaibab National Forest into the park, soon passing through the entrance gate. We followed this roadway west to the Visitor Center, then south where we rejoined I- 40 at Williams.

Williams, a community of just over 3,000, is the home of the Grand Canyon Railway, which carries passengers on a scenic trek to Grand Canyon Village in the park and back. The scenic town sits at an elevation of 6,800 in the foothills of Kaibab National Forest and is heavily visited by tourists. When you arrive in Williams from the west, it is quite refreshing to see tree-covered hills. Home to Bearizona, a wildlife drive-thru park, this little town is a place where I would like to spend a few days.

From Williams, we followed I-40 west through what I call high desert plateau country. After leaving Williams, the interstate gradually works its way out of the pine covered slopes onto lower elevation plains. This is grazing land, surprisingly well covered in grass with vast expanses from horizon to horizon. It’s good country.

From time to time, the interstate passes through rough, broken, rocky country. At Kingman, we briefly stopped for gas. Kingman is a busy, thriving town in western Arizona. We’ve always just passed through it, but one of these days we’ll take some time and drive through the town along old Route 66. 

From Kingman, we opted to go west through Bullhead City and Laughlin rather than follow US 93 directly to Las Vegas. From Kingman, Highway 68 goes straight west, gradually climbing into the Black Mountains, a north-south range that reaches a height of almost 5,500 feet. Upon reaching the pass, the road begins to descend, slowing twisting in serpentine fashion downwards towards the Colorado River, Bullhead City, and Laughlin. The casinos that line the river are always an impressive site, rising from the desert valley in a cluster along the clear waters of the river. We do enjoy Laughlin.

From Laughlin, we climb again, this time heading into the Newberry Mountains. I've documented this trip before; you can find it in "On the Road: Laughlin, NV, to Las Vegas, NV" (posted in March, 2013).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Winslow, AZ


We’re on the road again. This is our first major trip in our new car. We miss traveling with our trailer, but we enjoy the ease of travel without it.

We’re on our way to Las Vegas, a trip we’ve made numerous times since retiring. This time, though, we’re taking a new route (see map below). Basically, we’re slicing northwest through the center of New Mexico in order to see country we’ve not seen before.

San Angelo, Texas, to Winslow, Arizona
It was drizzling when we left San Angelo at 6:00 AM Monday, October 14, and took US 87 through Big Spring up to Lamesa. It really looked wintry outside, but it wasn’t very cool. After a brief stop at the McDonald’s in Lamesa, we took Texas 137 up to Brownfield, our old shopping town when we lived in nearby Wellman during the mid 1980s.

At Brownfield, we turned due west on US 380, passing through fields of sunflowers, maize, and cotton before leaving Texas behind. Just before reaching the state line, the sun began popping through the clouds, and the day would become sunny and beautiful before we reached our destination.

The highway from Brownfield to Roswell, though only 2-lane, is a good road with good shoulders. As we moved west, the crops gave way to native grass land. Soon we were in Roswell, home of the UFO Museum and site of the mysterious crash of an airborne object in 1947. The road west from Roswell is 4-lane and 70 mph. However about 20 miles out, the highway enters the foothills and the speed limit drops. We would encounter low speed limits throughout the remainder of the day, especially in New Mexico.

We continued west, soon sighting the Sierra Blanca Mountains. At Hondo, the road turns northwesterly and becomes a narrow 2 lane highway with no shoulders. It soon passes through Lincoln, site of the infamous Lincoln County War, which climaxed in 1878 and set Henry McCarty, aka William H. Bonney, on his path with infamy. About 2 years later, he would come to be called by his better known name, “Billy the Kid.” There are numerous historic buildings in Lincoln, most related to the Lincoln County War. For the historian interested in this historic event, the small community is a treasure trove.

The old Lincoln County Courthouse in Lincoln, NM. After freeing himself from his shackles at the top of the interior stairway, young William Bonney shot and killed the deputy guarding him, James Bell. Hearing the shots, deputy Bob Ollinger approached the building from the Wortley hotel, where he was feeding other prisoners. I took this picture from in front of the Wortley. As he approached the building, Bonney stood in an upstairs window hidden by the trees in this photograph. He emptied both barrels of a double-gauge shotgun into Ollinger. It was the Kid's last -- but most spectacular -- escape.
At one time or another, we had traveled all of these roads before. Soon after leaving Lincoln, though, we were in new territory.

We passed through a portion of the Lincoln National Forrest between Capitan and Carrizozo, mountains on either side of the road. Capitan is where the legend of Smokey Bear was born. The mountains through this area are rather scenic with tree covered slopes. As the road continues west, through, the road drops down, slowly working down to the Rio Grande.

We passed through the small village of San Antonio on the west bank of the Rio Grande as we approached Interstate 25, where we would turn north for a few miles. San Antonio is well known for the Owl Bar and CafĂ©, famous for its green chile cheeseburgers as well as having been a meeting place for the scientists who detonated the world’s first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio on July 16, 1945.

After a brief ride on I-25, we turned west again at Soccoro, an area visited by Juan de Onate in 1598, and the site of the mission Nuestra Senora de Perpetuo Socorro, established in 1626. However, the mission was destroyed and its residents killed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

We followed US 60 west out of Socorro, past what is known as the Very Large Array and through the Cibola National Forest. The Very Large Array is a radio astronomy observatory responsible for much of what we know about black holes and other space mysteries. If you happened to see the 1997 movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster, then you saw this impressive observatory.

Antenna from the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin

Close shot of an antenna at the VLA

We remained on US 60 as we left New Mexico and entered Arizona, soon coming to Edgar and Springerville, where we turned north/northwest on US 180 for our final leg to Winslow. If you’ve followed my blog over time, you will recall our last stop in Winslow, where we visited the “Corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Our journey today covered 738 miles through farmland, forests, mountains, and desert. It was a long drive. We saw some wonderful country, but this is not a trip we plan to repeat. To be quite frank, we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Winslow. We’ve made trips this long numerous times in the past; what was different about this trip was the numerous slow sections on the road, making it much longer than the 738 posted miles. Throughout New Mexico, we were able to drive 70 for about a 20 mile stretch, and we drove 75 for about 9 miles on I-25. Probably most of the time, our speed was 55, sometimes dipping to 45 for numerous short stretches. We were able to drive 65 on several stretches.

But we're glad we made the drive. We saw country we had not seen before and probably will not see again. The largest town we passed through was Roswell, with a population of just under 50,000, so this was truly a rural drive.