Sunday, March 31, 2013

In and Around Junction, Texas

I've always enjoyed Junction, Texas. But then, I like small towns; after all, I grew up in a small town.

I consider Junction to be on the western edge of the Hill Country, though a clear definition of the boundaries of this area differ from person to person. But it does have many of what I consider Hill Country landmarks: hilly country, limestone cliffs, spring-fed streams, a ranching culture, and lots of wildlife, among others.

The population of the town is approaching 4,000, and there are various types of accommodation available for visitors. I've always found the restaurants to be quite good -- nothing fancy, mind you, but just solid good food with BBQ, Mexican, and fast food available. Boating, swimming, and fishing are popular on both the North and South Llano Rivers, which merge in Junction, thus giving the town its name. Hunting is also a major attraction. Several major highways merge in Junction, including Interstate 10, US Highway 83, and US Highway 377.

Loop 481 bridge crossing the South Llano River on the east side of downtown Junction. Picture taken from a scenic overlook just east of the river along Loop 481.
Junction is also home to Texas Tech University at Junction. I suspect this 410 acre campus on the banks of the South Llano River was formerly the site of the Texas A&M campus where Coach Bear Bryant held his infamous training camp in 1954. The group of men be coached there became known as the "Junction Boys", and the training camp is an interesting study in former methods of training football players. A TV movie, The Junction Boys, starring Tom Berenger, was made of this incident in 2002.

Entrance to Texas Tech University at Junction

Junction has a lovely city park on both banks of the South Llano River near downtown just before it merges with the North Llano River. It's a great place to spend the day and is within walking distance of downtown and the Kimble County Historical Museum.

Dam on South Llano River near downtown Junction. Bridge in picture above is same as in first picture. Park area is on both sides of river, and downtown is in background near water tower.
If you enjoy scenic drives, take US 377 south of Junction for about 20 or 25 miles. The highway passes South Llano River State Park, then continues to parallel the river with a couple of low-water crossings where canoeists can put in for a leisurely float down the river. The highway leads to the small community of Rocksprings, then eventually to Del Rio and the Rio Grande at the crossing into Old Mexico at Ciudad Acuna.

South Llano River winds through limestone hills near a ranch.
South Llano River south of Junction
One of two low-water crossings over the South Llano River south of Junction.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

South Llano River SP: Scenic Overlook, March 18, 2013

The day of our arrival at South Llano River State Park was beautiful -- the sun was out, there was a slight breeze, and the temperature was about 75. So, we were eager to get outside. Since it was already mid-afternoon, though, we did not want to venture too far, so we opted to take the short hike up to the Scenic Overlook on the east side of the park.

If you view the map of the park, you will see the Scenic Overlook at the top center of the page, which is near the eastern perimeter of the park just south of the river. We walked from our campsite to the primitive camping parking area. As soon as we entered the trail, we came across one of the 4 bird blinds in the park, the Juniper Blind.
Juniper Blind

I visited two blinds while at the park, and both were equipped with fresh water sources and bird seed for the birds in the viewing area. Inside the blinds themselves, bird books and bird cards were available to assist with identifying the birds. The park also makes available a field checklist entitled Birds of South Llano River and Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area. This checklist is available on the park's website.

After our brief stop at the bird blind, we continued on the trail. Just beyond the blind, the trail intersects with a paved road. We would be on pavement for almost the entire hike. The Fawn Trail also follows the pavement for a short distance, but soon veers south.

It's been a long, long time since this low-water crossing has seen any water.
After dipping down into a low-water crossing, the trail then begins a fairly strenuous climb; however, it is certainly easier walking on pavement rather than loose rock. As we progressed up the hill, the views began to become impressive. At the very top is a parking area; I'm not sure who can drive up there and park, though. We turned north, and after a short distance, we found ourselves on the edge of a hill. There is a green rail fence there to keep folks away from the edge.

Redbud in bloom about halfway up the scenic overlook trail; note the paved road that was our trail.
View from the top. That is our campground below. Views stretch for miles.
Those are native pecan trees, and these trees are what attract the turkeys. The river is along the far edge of the trees. The exposed limestone in the left center is where the highway is cut.
The trail down. Our trail winds off to the right and curves around the base of the hill, to the right of where the water tank is visible at the end of another road.

That is the hill we were atop of a few minutes ago.
Once back down to our starting point, we followed the Fawn Trail westward until we came out behind the park headquarters. It was then a short walk back to our campsite.

Park headquarters located in a former ranch house.

Total length for this hike, including walking from and to our campsite, was probably no more than 3 miles.

Friday, March 29, 2013

South Llano River State Park

March 18 - 21, 2013

We recently spent 3 nights at South Llano River State Park, located about 3 miles south of Junction, Texas. The park opened in 1990. We lived in Ozona, Texas, during most of the 1990s, and this became our favorite camping spot. Not only was it close to our home at that time, but it offered so much: a beautiful spring-fed river for swimming and tubing, miles of trails for hiking, beautiful trees and campground, and lots of wildlife to view. In the early days of the park – before it was “discovered” by the camping hordes – we seemed to have the park to ourselves. Those were lazy and good times. Today, the park is very popular, and it provides a great environment for outdoor lovers.

Pecan and other trees abound in the camping area, so almost every spot has some type of shade in the summer. All sites are paved, and all sites are back-in. The angle on some spots is difficult to negotiate for longer rigs. Our spot, number 49, was at a 90-degree angle. I had to remove my sway bars before backing in, but I normally do that when we check in anyway. Some sites have gentle angles and are much easier to negotiate. All sites have fire pits and picnic tables; many sites have covered picnic tables.

Our site -- #49.

Nice shaded sites, some with covered picnic tables. The pecan leaves will begin leafing out soon, providing good shade for hot weather camping.
Water and electricity are available at every spot; I believe all sites are 30-amp, but I'm not certain of this. There are no full hookups except for the 2 host sites. The dump station is located on the right as you leave the camping area. It is a “two-holer”, but is a bit tight. A row of dumpsters line the edge of the area, making for a sharp turn when leaving. In anticipation of this, I left my sway bars off until after leaving the dump station. 

This is the only state park we’ve been to in our travels in our current trailer where we could not pick up some type of TV reception on our antennae (Davis Mountains provides cable). We could also pick up only 1 FM radio station when we scanned. If you can’t live without media entertainment of some sort, this place may not be for you. But we came here to enjoy the outdoors, and enjoy them we did.

As we drove into the park, we saw a small herd of exotic hoofed animals on the private property bordering the west side of the park. I don’t know what they were, but I will take a stab and say they may have been axis deer; they were smaller than white-tail deer and a lighter tan color. 

Axis deer on neighboring property along entrance road of park.

This was to be the first of many wildlife sightings. After setting up the trailer following our arrival, we opened up all the windows to enjoy the beautiful day. We fixed a couple of sandwiches and sat at our dinette beside our big bay window and were looking outside. Donna spotted a colorful bird in a tree just outside the trailer. At first she thought it was a cardinal, but then noticed it had no crest. We also saw that it had dark wings. After consulting a bird book at a bird blind later, we came to believe it was a vermillionflycatcher.

Later that day, we drove into town. On the way out of the park, we saw our small herd of exotics again, this time lying in the field. On the opposite side of the road were 2 turkeys strutting near the river. On our return, a large buck crossed the road in front of us, then lingered along the roadside as we stopped to admire him. That night around our campfire, 2 white-tail deer grazed nearby. 

Two white-tail deer graze near our camp late one afternoon. That is the door to our trailer on the right, which shows how close they were.
In the distance, we could hear turkeys repeatedly gobbling as they roosted in the pecan trees along the nearby South Llano River, and mourning doves cooed back and forth at one another. We had enjoyed a good day of animal watching. In fact, we’ve always seen lots of wildlife at this park; it is a major reason why we enjoy this place so much.

We saw wildlife each day of our stay in the park. One day, a flock of at least 2 dozen moved through the center of the campground, taking their time as if they had no worries at all. The park is becoming very popular among bird enthusiasts. We saw no fewer than 4 bird blinds in the park.

More than 2 dozen turkeys move through our campground about noon.
The nights at the park were great. No highway sounds, no trains, no unnatural noise at all. The quiet nights provided some deep sleeping.

Donna and a young camper on the fishing pier at Buck Lake.
The South Llano River as it slices through the northern part of the park.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Back in Angelo

Just a quick note until later . . . .

We arrived back in San Angelo this afternoon. This is my first connectivity since we left about 10 or 11 days ago. I'll begin posting entries regarding our just completed trip in the next day or two, and I'll try to post one or two entries each day.

The closing on our house has moved up one week, so we are now scurrying around getting things ready. We have a great deal to do.

Weather today is about 80 with a southerly breeze. Feel sorry for the folks with the snow up north, but I'm happy to have warm weather. Wish we could get some moisture, though.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

One More Trip Before the House is Ready

Our house is nearing completion. With the warm spring days upon us, we want to take one more short trip before we have to get busy moving into our new home.

We'll be leaving tomorrow to visit 3 state parks:

South Llano River SP is an old friend. We began camping there soon after it opened in 1990. It was our favorite camping destination when we lived in nearby Ozona, Texas. At that time, we had a folding camper. We'd spend our days in the river and our nights around a campfire. This will be our first time to camp in the park since those long ago days. We did visit the park about a year ago for a short day hike, though.

At Palmetto, Donna will spend her days fishing while I do a bit of hiking. Perhaps Donna will tear herself away from feeding the fish to join me.

From Palmetto SP it is a short jaunt up the road to nearby Lockhart SP. This park is unique in that it has a 9-hole golf course. We have a sport reserved in the campground that fronts one of the fairways, so we intend to relax and watch some of the duffers chase those little white balls around the course. We'll do a bit of hiking, too, and we'll also visit at least one of Lockhart's great BBQ restaurants. My mouth is already watering.

I am doubtful that I will have any internet connectivity during this trip. We hope to be back in San Angelo by the end of the month. At that time, you will see new entries appear as quickly as I can post them.

For those interested, here are links to blog entries on these or nearby places that I have posted previously. Enjoy, and I'll see you down the road.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Midessa Oil Patch RV Park

During our recent trip to Midland to attend the Moody Blues concert, we took our travel trailer and stayed at Midessa Oil Patch RV Park. The park is conveniently located halfway between Midland and Odessa, an area sometimes referred to as the Petroplex. The airport is no more than 2 miles away, and the Wagner Noel Center for the Performing Arts, where the concert was held, is located about 4 or 5 miles north. For Interstate 20 travelers, the park is an easy off/easy on location. Gas stations are conveniently located at exit 176 (Highway 1788) near the park.

This RV park is obviously popular, as there were few vacant spots during our stay. However, there are not that many RV parks in the Petroplex, so competition is limited. Fruitless mulberry trees are plentiful in the park, so shade should be good during the summer months. There is a pool, laundry facilities, and clean restroooms/showers, and propane is available in the park. The office also serves as a convenience store that carries basic supplies.

Back of office. Laundry is to the right. Pool is to the left, out of picture.
Cabins such as these as well as tent sites are available in the park.
From the shape of the office, it appears that the park at one time was a KOA park. And the design is typical of KOAs. From my experience, KOA parks are pretty consistent at squeezing as many camping sites into a space as possible to maximize profits. Many KOA parks were designed years ago when RVs were smaller and slide outs were unheard of. Fitting modern rigs in those same spaces is difficult. It is nearly impossible to eke out room for both your rig and your vehicle in these smaller sites. Maneuvering your rig through the narrow lanes and then parking is also challenging.

Our neighbors were a little too close. Note their sewer hose near the tree, just beyond our back steps.
Although I was able to park our rig without much difficulty, I don't have a larger RV. I was barely able to fit my 30 foot trailer and 20 foot pickup in the space I was assigned. My neighbor was uncomfortably close. I watched as larger motorhomes and fifth wheels slowly wormed their way through the tight turns and narrow roadways.

Narrow roadways and tight sites. Notice the rear of the minivan is sticking slightly into the roadway.
The park was nearly full during our stay. Lots of folks from the oil boom are living here.
I was also disappointed that the park did not provide cable TV, at least to short term residents. I got the impression that a cable solution is available to long term residents. Fortunately, there are several stations in the Petroplex that can be picked up by antennae. The park also has non-potable water, so they warn you not to drink the water. They do claim it is safe for washing and cleaning. The park provides free bottled water to all guests.

A train track runs about 300 or 400 yards north of the park, and probably a dozen or so trains pass by throughout the day. Because the track crosses roads in the area, you can clearly hear the warning whistles at all hours of the day.

Were I to return to the area, I would look for another park. However, this is a reliable park, and I would stay again if I could not find anything better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Moody Blues Concert

About a dozen years have passed since Donna and I last saw the Moody Blues in concert. They are one of our favorite musical acts of all time. I was barely a teenager when the band began its successful run. Their music has held up well over time.

But the wheel of time is rolling, and the band is showing its age. Actually, only 1 member of the original group remains -- Graeme Edge, the drummer. John Lodge, bassist, and Justin Hayward, lead guitar and lead vocalist, did not join the group until about 2 years after its formation. Ray Thomas, another original member and flutist, retired from the group in about 2002. He has since been replaced by Norda Mullen, who plays guitar and provides backup vocals in addition to the flute.

Other members of the backup stage band for the group on this tour were Julie Ragins (keyboard, sax, and backup vocals), Gordon Marshall (drums), and Alan Hewitt (keyboards and backup vocals). All of the backup band members seem to be very talented and comfortable on stage. Mullen especially had several opportunities to display her talent on the flute, and the audience was appreciative.

The show started slowly, with the band playing several of their lessor known songs. The pace was slow and awkward. Momemtum began to build after nearly an hour, and peaked with their last song just prior to their 20 minute break. The second half of the show was much better, and the audience was on its feet for the last few numbers.

Hayward's guitar playing skill is still evident, but his voice is not as strong and clear as it once was. However, it seemed to improve as the show worked toward its end. By the time he sang "Nights in White Satin" and "Question", his voice had gained considerable power.

Edge has also slowed. Marshall picked up the slack admirably and put a great deal of enthusiasm and energy into the show.

Lodge still enjoys being on stage. He interacts with the audience throughout, and the smile never leaves his face.

We enjoyed the show. I'm glad we went. I did not know how much I would enjoy the act since the last time we attended a Moody Blues concert, Ray Thomas was still on stage. I just don't know how much longer the current version of the Moody Blues will continue. The older members are now about 65 to 70 or thereabouts, so the clock is ticking. They all appear to be in good health, but one has to wonder how long someone this age wants to continue touring.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Eats: The King and I, Midland, Texas

It's no secret that Donna and I love Thai food. I've reviewed a couple of Thai restaurants in the past few months. You can find these and other restaurant reviews on the "Good Eats" page my website, "Living the Good Life".

While living in Midland from 1997 to 2002, Donna and I had a favorite Thai restaurant called The King and I on Big Spring Street just north of downtown. The restaurant operated out of a former Taco Bell, so seating was limited. A loyal clientele frequented the restaurant. We were among that number. Our favorite dish then was the toom yon goong, which is a spicy shrimp soup. The dish was always good; we were always satisfied with our meal.

Then Donna and I left Midland and we did not eat at the King and I again -- until this past Saturday. This place has only improved with age.

There is now a second location in the north of Midland in the Cornerstone Shopping Center. If I recall correctly, this location formerly housed a CiCi's pizza restaurant, so there is plenty of room here. We opted for this location on this trip.

We began our meal with 2 green chili egg rolls. These vegetarian egg rolls were served fresh and hot, and they were tasty and very spicy.

For our entrees, we both ordered curries. Donna prefers a green curry while I prefer a red. Both contained chicken and were served with sides of steamed rice. I do believe this was the best red curry I have ever had. Donna felt the same about her curry. The only problem is that the bowl had a bottom to it. I could have stayed and eaten the entire pot. My red curry had a coconut milk base. The golden curry dish had a full, rich flavor.

You can view the menu for The King and I at The addresses for both locations are provided at the site as well.

I'm looking for an excuse to return to Midland so I can enjoy another bowl of red chicken curry.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hike Report: Tasajillo Flats Trail, San Angelo State Park

During our brief  2-night stay at San Angelo State Park, we took a short 4 mile hike along a series of trails, most of which we had traversed before.

We began the hike on the Tasajillo Flats Trail, a trail we had not hiked before. The trail head for this trail is located near the Red Arroyo camp ground (see map), so it was a short walk from our trailer to the trail head. The trail is appropriately named, as there are clumps of tasajillo all along the trail. As with other trails in the park, desert plants dominant the landscape. This is typical of this area between the Edwards Plateau to the east and the Chihuahuan Desert to the west.

Trail junction early on the trail. We took the left fork and stayed on the Tasajillo Flats trail.
The Tasajillo Flats trail passes near the park headquarters, crossing one of the main park roads and then approaching the Highland Range subdivision of moderately priced homes. For the most part, the trail is on level terrain, but it weaves through patches of prickly pear and mesquite.
The trail crosses a park road near park headquarters

Trail winds through prickly pear, mesquite, and juniper.

Another road crossing at one of the higher elevations, affording views of distant horizons

After a while, our trail intersected with the Nature Loop Trail, which we followed to the Isabel Harte Day Use Area. At this point, we decided to follow an old paved road from the Corp of Engineer days. The road still has a good, level surface, but clumps of grass have broken through the pavement in many places.

Old road leading to picnic area no longer used

We then took the Red Dam Loop trail, which actually dips down into the dry lake bed in an area which has probably not seen water in a few decades. As testament to this, we passed the bottom of a boat ramp that hasn't seen a boat in a long, long time.

Red Dam Loop trail, with the Red Dam itself in the background. To the left of Red Dam, you can also see the dam for OC Fisher lake.
A long forgotten boat ramp

A closer view of Red Dam, with our trail in the foreground.
View from atop Red Dam. Our back trail is clearly visible, and leads roughly to the paved road at barely visible at upper right. All of this area was once under water.

It was a short hike on an overcast and windy day, but the exercise was good. We've not been walking recently, so it was good to get out, regardless of the weather.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

House Update and Other Things

Donna and I left the KOA where we usually stay when in San Angelo and went out to San Angelo State Park for a couple of days. Spaces are cramped at the KOA, and traffic along the highway is constant, day and night. It's peaceful at the park, and the night skies are beautiful. However, there are no full hookups, so we only stay out here for 2 or 3 nights at a time.

This morning, we left the park and drove to Midland, where we will spend a couple of nights while attending a Moody Blues concert at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center located midway between Midland and Odessa, just north of the airport. This is a wonderful venue for concerts, and they bring in a number of acts that people our age enjoy. About a year ago, we attended a concert there by Glen Campbell on his farewell tour (click here for my blog entry on that concert).

After the concert, we will go back to San Angelo to take care of some business related to the construction of our new home. The house is coming along nicely. Cabinets are in, tile is being laid, and the walls are painted. The fence has been put up, sprinkler system has been installed, and the front yard has been landscaped. The carpet will be laid next week. There are still some other little jobs to do, so after we take care of things next week, Donna and I will take off for one final trip before coming back to San Angelo and moving in. We are currently planning a loop trip through the Hill County, where we will stay at various state parks. Anytime we stay at state parks, Internet connectivity is questionable, so I'll post entries when I can.

Below are some pictures I took of our house last week. They are already out of date, but do show the progress of the house.

Floor tile being laid in master bath.

Fireplace, with hearth stones resting where they will be placed.
Back wall of kitchen, with cabinets and granite countertop in place. Back wall is prepped and ready for back splash tile. Refrigerator fits in space at end of counter.

Main kitchen area. Stove will go in right space and dishwasher in left center area.
Posts have been set in back yard and are ready for fencing.

Low-maintenance landscape being installed in front yard.

I'll see you down the road.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fremont Street, Las Vegas, Nevada

From my perspective, there are 3 major gambling areas in Las Vegas: the Strip, Downtown, and locals' casinos scattered around town.

The Strip has all the glitz and glamor Las Vegas is known for, but it also has the high prices. The top shows and top entertainers are located on the Strip, as well as the premier restaurants and clubs. But I can't afford the Strip. The odds at the machines and tables are not very favorable to the gambler, so I avoid that area.

These days, we spend most of our time at what are known as locals' casinos. These locales cater to the knowledgeable local gamblers. As a result, you can find some of the best gambling odds at these places, especially for video poker, which is what Donna and I play.

While at Sam's Town during our recent visit to Las Vegas, we took the free Sam's Town shuttle to the downtown area. Our last time to visit downtown was about 12 years or so ago. At that time, we spent nearly a week at the Golden Nugget, which had recently been refurbished. The Fremont Street Experience had also recently been added as an attempt to draw visitors downtown. The Freemont Street Experience is essentially a pedestrian mall along the westernmost 5 blocks of Freemont Street in downtown LV. The pedestrian mall is covered by a barrel vault canopy which erupts in choreographed light shows set to music at scheduled times. Concerts and other events are also held in this area, once known as "Glitter Gulch".

Looking east down Freemont Street under the Freemont Street Experience canopy. The Four Queens is on the right, and the Freemont is on the left.

Looking west down Freemont Street. Binion's is on the right and the Golden Nugget is on the left. At the end of Freemont Street is the Plaza. The Golden Gate, home to the famous cheap shrimp cocktail is somewhere on the left. We had their shrimp cocktail for breakfast during our visit.
Donna and I like downtown; it is old Vegas to us. Locals' casinos are scattered all over town, and the large mega casinos on the strip are usually located at good distances from each other making it difficult to visit more than a few casinos on foot. But in downtown, you can visit a dozen or more casinos all within a few easy blocks of one another. You can find all sorts of meal deals downtown, and slot and table odds are normally very competitive. There are a number of 100% plus video poker games downtown.

When you think of the downtown area, think of a suburban shopping mall. In each such mall, you have several major stores, like Sears, JC Penney, Dillards, and others. Then you have a number of smaller shops. That is how Freemont Street is. There are numerous large casinos, like Binion's and the Golden Nugget, and several smaller casinos like Mermaids tucked in between. It's an exciting area for adult entertainment.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sam's Town, Las Vegas

For the week of February 18 - 25, we stayed at Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall on the Boulder Highway in Las Vegas. It was our second time to stay and play at Sam's Town, and we had a good time.

The rooms are very adequate at the hotel, though they do lack some amenities such as refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. This seems to be a trend at casino hotels. They want you down in the casino playing and spending money, not in your room. And lack of fridge and microwave forces you to use their restaurants for food.

But Sam's Town has some good eateries, most of them located around Mystic Falls, the center atrium of the hotel. At various times throughout the day, Mystic Falls comes to life, with water spouts shooting 8 stories into the air and the cries of various wild animals, including wolves, bears, and eagles.

Mystic Falls

Sbarro, Panda Express, McDonald's, Willie and Jose's, and Billy Bob's Steakhouse are all located around Mystic Falls. We enjoyed $6.99 fajitas at Willie and Jose's while there. Although the fajitas lacked the strong fajita seasoning I like, the food was well prepared and the meat was quality meat. The food was so good, we ate there twice. Elsewhere around the casino are Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, TGIF, the Sam's Town Buffet, and two casino delis. The casino delis offer great deals, and are a good place top use your points.

Skylight above Mystic Falls. Hotel rooms are located on 3 sides of the atrium.
Glass elevators servicing the hotel at Sam's Town.
We like staying at Sam's Town. First, Sam's Town is part of the BConnected gaming club. BConnected has casinos around the country, so our play around the country keeps the comps coming in for us. Second, Sam's Town Las Vegas has full pay deuces wild video poker, which returns 100.76% with perfect play over the long term, so it is an advantage play for serious video poker players.

Third, in addition to gambling, Sam's Town offers other entertainment. There is a bowling alley downstairs and a movie theater on the main floor. The casino also operates a shuttle service to the Strip and downtown. During the week we were there, we never cranked our truck.

Mystic Falls. Water flows from various holes in the rock. At designated times during the day, water fountains shoot straight into the air. Note the mechanical bear at lower right. During shows, he rares up, growls, and paws at the air.
Another angle of Mystic Falls. Note cougar at left and eagle at center of picture. A wolf on a track at the top of the mountain rolls out and howls.
Looking down on Mystic Falls park from the second floor balcony in front of the elevators. Walkways weave through the atrium park. Various mechanical animals live in the park, including woodpeckers that tap away.
Sam's Town is easy to reach. The Boulder Highway does not have the traffic of the Strip. There is also a Super Walmart right across the street from Sam's Town. If you want some variety in your gambling, Boulder Station is less than a mile up the Boulder Highway. Like Sam's Town, it also offers full pay deuces wild at 100.76%.

I'm sure we'll be heading back to Sam's Town in the near future.

Friday, March 1, 2013

On the Road: Laughlin, NV, to Las Vegas, NV

We're back in San Angelo now, so I'll try to catch up and post a few entries about our recent trip.

On Monday, February 18, we left Laughlin, Nevada, for a week in Las Vegas. The drive from Laughlin to Vegas is really a pleasant one, with good roadways. It is just under 100 miles, with all of it on 4 lanes or more. It's a good highway to just slow down and take in the landscape.

Laughlin to Vegas

The trip begins with getting on Highway 163 for a 20 mile drive to connect with US Highway 95. Highway 163 heads west from the Colorado River and the casinos lining it, climbing the Newberry Mountains. Spirit Mountain, the highest peak in this range, rises to 5,642 feet.

This photo was taken along Highway 163 a few miles out of Laughlin. It is probably about halfway up the slope of the Newberry Mountains, and is the last view of Laughlin. The picture shows the mountains in the east in Arizona, and clearly illustrates how Laughlin lies low in a valley.

After cresting the ridge of the mountains, there is a short and slight slope downward before the highway intersects with US Highway 95. A small housing community is on the west side of the road, along with a convenience store/gas station. Just north of the intersection is a rest area with facilities on the east side of the highway. It is modern and well planned, and a good place to stop and stretch your legs.

A few miles farther on is a small community typical of rural Nevada. On the east side of the highway is an RV park, while on the west is a casino. A few houses also line the west side of the road. The name of the place is Cal-Nev-Ari, which is a syllabic abbreviation of the states California, Nevada, and Arizona. Almost anywhere in Nevada where there are a few houses, you can usually find a casino. About 200 people make this community home.

Next up the road is Searchlight, Nevada, which is an old mining town. It has at least 2 casinos and a few other businesses, such as a McDonald's. If you drive through this area, please note the drastic drop in the speed limit from 70 MPH to about 30 MPH in a very short distance. Local law enforcement had a car stopped when we came through.

Desert landscape just north of Searchlight

Joshua Tree just north of Searchlight

Just north of Searchlight, the snow-capped peak of Mount Charleston comes into view. At 11,916 feet, it is the tallest of the southern Nevada mountains. It is located just west of Las Vegas, and provides an area for winter sports for the greater Las Vegas area.

Just south of the intersection of US 95 with US 93, a large solar farm appears along the west side of the highway. The light plays off the panels such that at first the area appears like a large body of silvery water. It is not until you get near that you can actually see the rows of panels reflecting the bright sunlight off the desert floor.

Solar farm south of Las Vegas
We then join Highway 93, which goes from Las Vegas to cross the Hoover Dam and continue on to Kingman, Arizona. Known locally as the Boulder Highway, this highway takes us straight to our destination, Sam's Town.