Thursday, October 30, 2014

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Well, I was impressed by the Valley of Fire State Park to the east of Las Vegas. But Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area on the west side of Vegas left me speechless. Now, I hate to say this after visiting such a beautiful place, but I left my camera in the hotel room, so I did not get any pictures. But follow the links provided at the bottom of this entry and you'll be able to see pictures others have taken, and all of them will be much better than anything I can take.

First of all, getting to Red Rock Canyon was a bit troublesome for me. I consulted Google Maps for the location and found the park to be located on Red Rock Parkway, sometimes called Blue Diamond Parkway. So, with this information in hand, Donna and I left Sam’s Town on the Boulder Highway, took Flamingo west across the Strip to the west side of town, where we hopped on the 215 and headed north for a short distance. There was never any sign with the above roads named. I did, however, notice a smaller brown park sign indicating I needed to take exit 26 to get to Red Rock Canyon. So, I took the exit, but there was no sign at the intersection there. But we felt sure this was the road (Charleston Avenue). So, we headed west out of town on Charleston through attractive new residential sections. The multilane road soon gave way to a two-lane highway, and the entrance to the park is just a few miles farther down the road.

Caution: bicycle riders were out in force on the day we visited the park, even though it was only Thursday. Please watch for them.

As you approach the park, you know you are in for a treat for the colors of the hills ahead of you come to life.

As with the Valley of Fire, this park is well-maintained and well-planned. The park is huge, almost 200,000 acres. After you enter the park, pass through the multi-booth pay station. We were able to use our senior National Parks Pass (which only cost us $10 at the time we bought it and is good for life) to gain free admittance to the park. Without a pass, the daily fee is $7. 

Just inside the pay station is a Visitor Center. From this point on, this is a one-way road moving in a counter-clockwise direction. This scenic loop road of about 13 miles loops up the east side of the canyon then curves to come back along the west side of the canyon. It only covers a fraction of the park.

There are numerous points of interest along the loop, many with restrooms and picnic facilities. Hiking trails are abundant. Speed limit tops out at 35 mph although many stretches are greatly reduced. Watch for bike riders throughout the loop.

We hope to return some day and do a bit of hiking. According to the literature we picked up at the gate, there are 19 trails in the park, ranging from .75 miles to 6 miles. Hike ratings vary from easy to strenuous. There are also more than 2,000 rock climbing routes available. In fact, it is one of the top 5 rock climbing destinations in the country.

Some links of interest that contain photos:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Las Vegas, Nevada

Wednesday, October 8 - Sunday, October 12, 2014

We spent 4 nights in Las Vegas this time. As usual, we made Sam's Town our base. Not only does Sam's Town have good video poker for people at our financial level (low), but it has other entertainment: good eateries (TGIF, Willie and Jose's, Billy Bob's Steak House, numerous fast food places, and two in-house delis), a multi-theater movie-plex, and bowling alley.

I'm an early riser, so when I'm in a casino like Sam's Town, I get up early and head down for breakfast. At Sam's Town, I can get a reasonably priced and good breakfast at McDonald's (usually a meatless breakfast like plain biscuits or pancakes), as well as a good, large cup of coffee. By showing my receipt, I can get another cup of coffee later that same day. That's a good deal.

I then mosey into the casino and sit down at my favorite full-pay deuces wild machine (return of 100.76%) and play for 3 or 4 hours. It's nice to play early when hardly anyone else is there. At some point during this time, Donna makes an appearance and plays along beside me.

After we tire of playing, we then break to do other things. It may be taking a walk around the RV park next door to see what people are traveling in. We may catch one of the Sam's Town buses that shuttle visitors to 3 locations downtown or to Harrah's on the Strip. We may watch a movie, especially when we have special offers from Sam's Town for free or reduced-price movies. Or we may take a day trip, as we did this time to Red Rock Canyon (see upcoming entry).

We usually return to Sam's Town later in the day and have a nice meal. We always make it a point to eat at Willie and Jose's at least once for their fajita special. And true casino junkies that we are, we always have to get a chili dog at one of the delis at some point during our stay. Sometimes there are tournaments or drawings we participate in. Donna won a nice pot of money about a year ago or so at one such drawing at Sam's Town.

This year, we took a day trip to the Strip aboard one of the shuttles. We didn't stay long. The bus let us off at Harrah's. We took off and headed south past the Imperial Palace, the Flamingo, Caesar's Palace, the Cromwell, Bally's, the Bellagio, Paris, and the Cosmopolitan. We turned around at Planet Hollywood and headed back to the bus as quickly as possible.

Donna in front of Caesar's Palace

Bally's and Paris on the Strip
Numerous casinos on the Strip, with the fountains of Bellagio along the bottom.
The fountains in action

More fountains
After the fountains cease

I guess I'm getting old, but the things I saw on that strip just aren't my idea of fun. We were there mid-morning, and the sidewalks were already crowded. People of all ages, but especially young college age folks, were carrying around their drinks, especially those arm-length glasses with reddish concoctions. The language is awful and the manners are worse. Vendors handing out cards and leaflets and soliciting you for various schemes approach from every direction. Vagrants link walkways with signs saying, "Please help: need money for plastic surgery" or "Give money: I don't want to work." Begging is just a joke, I guess. We were in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah and I didn't like it. Now, I'm not a saint -- anyone who knows me can tell you that -- but there's a line that I won't cross and these folks were way, way beyond that line. I don't care to go back. If this is what passes for civilization, then I want no part of it. Everything I saw was decadent and shameful. There, that's my rant for the day.

So we hustled back to the bus, secured a seat, and were delighted to leave this part of Sin City behind us. Sam's Town, by contrast, seemed so tame. After all, Sam's Town traditionally caters to older people with its RV park and various "Young at Heart" promotions for guests age 50 or over. True, you'll get an occasional drunk or rowdy, but security takes care of such folks rather quickly. Sam's Town is, after all, a "locals' casino," so it's more about business than rowdiness and ostentation.

We were disappointed, however, that Mystic Falls was undergoing some repairs and was not operational. I enjoy that part of Sam's Town and always look forward to the light and water shows there. I also like hearing the screech of the eagle and the howl of the wolf, which I can hear from my favorite video poker machines in the casino.

All in all, our stays at Sam's Town are peaceful and relaxing, at least by Sin City standards.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Laughlin, Nevada, 2014

Sunday, October 12 - Thursday, October 16, 2014

What can I saw about Laughlin, Nevada, that I haven't already said in previous posts?

Donna and I like Laughlin. Since retiring, we've been here perhaps a half dozen times or more, and we like it better each time. We realize that Laughlin isn't for everyone. After all, it sits smack dab in the desert, and summer temps soar well over 100 degrees every day for 4 or 5 months. But we're desert rats. We've lived in West Texas off and on since 1979, and we also spent 4 years living in Saudi Arabia. Yep, we like and appreciate the desert.

Laughlin is named for Don Laughlin, who bought the land currently containing the town of Laughlin back in 1964. Don Laughlin's story is one of those American success stories and is quite interesting. He established what is today the Riverside Casino, the northernmost of Laughlin's casinos, and he is still alive and running the business.

Today, 7,000 or more people make Laughlin their home. There are actually 2 Laughlins, "Upper Laughlin" and "Lower Laughlin." Upper Laughlin is the residential section of town. It is located farther up the slope of the Newberry Mountains to the west of Laughlin. It consists of private homes, condos, and apartments as well as the few businesses that comprise the town. The schools are also located in Upper Laughlin as well as the library. Lower Laughlin is the area lining the river, mostly casinos, but also Laughlin Outlet Center, convenience stores, and a few other scattered businesses. Residents of Laughlin do most of their shopping across the river in Bullhead City.

Laughlin Outlet Center, across Casino Drive from the Aquarius
The two parts of Laughlin are actually about 3 or 4 miles apart and offer contrasting environments. But Laughlin is not Vegas, and I don't think anyone wants it to be. Laughlin is much more relaxed and laid back. Many folks might describe it as "old Vegas." Although the casinos attract all sorts of visitors, it is clear that older people are a major target.

And the river . . . . Donna and I love the Colorado River that runs through this country. We love to get out and walk along the river. The River Walk stretches from Riverside Casino on the north all the way to the River Palms on the south (note: the River Palms has recently been sold. When we were there, the hotel and 1 or 2 of the restaurants were open, but not the casino. Dotty's is taking over the operation and everything will soon be open for business as The River Lodge, I believe.) If you don't like walking, hop on one of the many river taxis to travel up and down the river. And there are various river cruises, as well. Some are tours of local sites (Davis Dam, for example) while some venture as far as Lake Havasu City, which is over 70 highway miles to the south on the Arizona side of the river.

Water taxi heading north on the Colorado. Arizona on the other side. The area on the opposite bank (right-center) is the Riverside dock. Visitors in Arizona can park there and cross the river on a Riverside water taxi to get to the casino. They run almost constantly.
One of the cruise boats on the river.

The party girl herself with the river and Arizona mountains in the background. Notice the play of light on the distant mountains in the center of the picture as opposed to those nearer the river.
Part of the Riverwalk just outside the Aquarius.
Many of the casino restaurants and bars look out on the river. As the sun sets, the colors of the mountains in Arizona play in the fading light. We love to sit at The Cove, a bar in the Aquarius Casino overlooking the river. We play video poker there and enjoy good draft beer as we watch the river roll on by, carrying jet skis, tour boats, and individuals in their boats who might be fishing or just enjoying a leisurely boat ride on the river.

Because of the numerous casinos, Laughlin gets its share of entertainment. Some of it is big name while some of it is not. But if you stick around long enough, certainly you'll find something that interests you. One of the best sources of information about Laughlin is the Laughlin Entertainer. Be sure to click on the link to bring up the online magazine ("Click here to read this week's edition").

The Tropicana Express is the only large casino on the west side of Casino Drive.

A few of the casinos along Casino Drive. From left, the Riverside, then Aquarius, and the little Regency, home of Daniel's on the River, one of our favorite eateries in Laughlin.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Valley of Fire State Park, one of the parks in the Nevada state park system, is a real treasure. You can easily spend a day -- or more -- exploring this natural wonder. We made a quick run through the park, checking all the areas, but we have certainly put it down on our "to do" list, and we hope to return for some camping one day and some intensive exploring. Be forewarned, though, that temperatures here can be formidable during warm weather months. When we return, I plan to do so sometime from November 1 to March 1.

A map and other information is provided in the park brochure.

The park is the oldest and largest in the Nevada state park system. It is full of interesting rock formations, and if you are alert, you might even catch sight of some interesting wildlife.

There are two entrances to the park, one on the east off Hwy 169 (which is the one we used), and the other from the west from Interstate 15. We entered from the east. After stopping at the self pay station and paying our $10 entrance fee, we primed the camera. We could tell there would be a lot of photo opportunities here.

The Cabins, as they are known, were built by the CCC when the park was formed. Originally, they provided housing for tourists. They really blend in to the landscape.
The main park road is the east-west road we entered on. About 4 or 5 miles inside the park, the Visitor Center is located next to a paved road that goes about 6 miles north into the park. These are the only paved roads.

Stop at the Visitor Center. In addition to numerous exhibits, it also contains the only residential style restrooms that I saw in the park. They are located inside the Visitor Center. There are additional restrooms located just behind the Center, but I do not know anything about them.

The Visitor Center is located near the center of the park, and is situated against a backdrop. There are numerous displays inside as well as flush toilets.
The road north contains probably the most dramatic scenery in the park. The terminus of this road is at the White Domes. There are numerous places to pull off and take photographs, and many of these also have pit toilets available. Some places have short hikes that take you to places of interest, such as Mouse’s Tank.

This is the road that stretches into the north section of the park.

Donna found a rock to stand on. Donna likes rocks. Notice the coloring in the large rocks behind her.
This is Silica Dome. The colors are much more striking in person.
This is Fire Canyon. Like Silica Dome, its colors are much more impressive in person. This picture and the one above look quite similar, don't they.
These are the White Domes, located at the northern terminus of the road.
Near the north end of this road, Donna and I were surprised when a pair of desert mountain sheep crossed the road directly in front of us. As I was readying the camera, Donna watched the pair and was amused when the larger ram in the back ran up to the smaller one in front and butted its rear end, as if to say, “Hurry up and cross the road before these idiots run over us.” It’s always exciting to see wildlife in places like this, especially wildlife unfamiliar to us.

Donna snapped this picture of the two mountain sheep after we had turned around at the White Domes. We had originally seen them before reaching the Domes but were fortunate to see them again.

This was the picture I snapped when we first saw the bighorn sheep. We were surprised when they wandered onto the road in front of us, and by the time I stopped the car and got the camera, the smaller of the pair had strayed out of sight.

After returning to the intersection with the main road near the Visitor Center, we turned right (west) and wound to the west end of the park to check out the two campgrounds located there. You never know when we might want to return and do some camping and hiking. We also checked out some petrified logs that are found in that area.

Atlatl Rock. Unfortunately, I did not know the significance of the rock during our trip, so we did not venture up. The rock contains Indian rock art, including a depiction of the atlatl, thus the name of the rock.
Petrified log. There were several examples at this location in the western end of the park, near Atlatl Rock. All are contained within chain link fences for their protection. Other examples lie in the eastern part of the park.
I will not attempt to describe the landscape; I do not have the words. If you’ve never been in this part of the country, you would be impressed. The park itself is well run. The roads have good surface, restrooms are plentiful throughout the park, and places of interest are well-marked. When in Las Vegas, take time from your activities and venture out to this beautiful state park.

Side note about camera. I was happily snapping photo after photo when suddenly a message popped up on the viewing screen indicating that the memory was full. I had only taken about 30 photos. We stopped the car and downloaded to the computer. I then changed the setting on the camera regarding picture resolution. I went to far to the other extreme, and several of the next pictures in the Lake Mead area were not as good as the ones taken with the higher resolution. after some trail and error, I was finally able to find a setting that allowed good resolution but also a high number of pictures. I will also need to pick up more memory cards for future trips.

Friday, October 24, 2014

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Las Vegas is just over an hour from Mesquite via Interstate 15. But I had a different route in mind. We've been on that road before, so we wanted something different.

Our trip today is short, about 125 miles. It takes a short detour through Valley of the Fire State Park, then continues on to Vegas through a large portion of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
We started towards Las Vegas on I-15. This entire area had been blanketed by heavy rains prior to our visit. As a result, part of I-15 had suffered erosion and some pretty extensive repairs were underway. We passed that area on our way south, continuing on until the Highway 169 exit south to the communities of Logandale and Overton in the Moapa Valley.

This two-lane highway wove through the desert hills. I was surprised by the amount of greenery we saw. There are numerous trees, alfalfa fields, and other plant life, all of it appearing out of place in this arid corner of the world. The Muddy River runs through the area, and I suppose that waterway helps with irrigation.

A short distance south of Overton, we turned west for a short tour of Valley of Fire State Park; I’ll describe that trip in detail in a separate entry.

After our tour of the park, we came back to Highway 169, which immediately entered the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. For the next 40 or 50 miles, we had an excellent roadway. Although only two lanes with a sliver of a shoulder, the surface was smooth. The speed limit was set at 50 mph, but I didn’t mind at all since there was so much to see. Frequent pull outs are available so that you can stop and take in the view as well as allow faster cars to pass.

We caught several glimpses of Lake Mead along the route. There were also two springs, and we stopped at one for pictures (see below). Several turn offs to the east go to lake access points for camping and boating access, but we did not check any of them out.

Palms at Blue Point Springs. The actual spring is probably at least 100 yards upstream from these trees.
The actual source of the spring is somewhere in here, but I could not see it.

About 15 yards or so downstream from the spring, water is flowing rather well. We could hear it as we walked along the bed.

View of Lake Mead
The route ends in Henderson, just south of Las Vegas. We came to the Boulder Highway, turned right, then made our way to Sam’s Town, our home for the next 4 days.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mesquite, Nevada

October 6 - 8, 2014
I like Mesquite. This small community of about 15,000 just inside the Nevada line from Arizona is pretty unique.

I-15 effectively divides Mesquite into two separate parts. On the south side is the old town, settled in 1880 by Mormons. The original business district is located here, along with older residential areas. To the north of the interstate is the new part of town, which consists of upscale housing developments such as Sun City Mesquite. There is a small but very modern hospital and a small airport also on the north side. Everything on the north side is beautifully landscaped, and it is very attractive. That isn’t to say that the south side is unattractive. The entire town is very nice. It's a very progressive community.

There are a million golf courses in Mesquite. Well, maybe not a million, but there are about 15, and most are on the north side. The lush green of the golf courses contrasts beautifully with the brown desert and hills in the area. I have to wonder about the water required to keep those courses green, though.

There are three large casinos in town: Eureka, Virgin River, and Casa Blanca. Eureka and Virgin River are just off the interstate on the extreme east side of town, while Casa Blanca is off the interstate farther west. We stayed at Virgin River simply because the rates were low. We did not play there, though. We play video poker, and the pay tables across the street at Eureka were far superior, so we did all of our playing there. We stopped at Casa Blanca while driving around town and did a walk through, but found no favorable video poker games there. However, of the three casinos, Casa Blanca is the only one with a hotel connected to the casino. With both Eureka and Virgin River, the casino and hotels are physically separated. There are also a couple of older and smaller casinos in the older section of town, but we did not visit them.

We enjoyed playing at Eureka. There is an abundance of NSUD (a version of deuces wild video poker with an expected return of 99.73%) and 9/6 Jacks or Better throughout the casino at various denominations. As always, we signed up for the players’ club upon our arrival and were given 2 travel mugs (one for each of us) to welcome us to the club. As we were leaving after 2 days of play, we stopped in at the players’ club to see if we were eligible for anything based upon the points we had accumulated. We came away with a tote bag, a blanket, a cap, a pint of Jack Daniels, and 2 more travel mugs. Not a bad haul for less than 2 days of play.

One of the things we really liked about playing at Eureka is that the customer base is largely from the retirement community that thrives in Mesquite.  It's nice to be around people our own age. And the music played in the casino the whole time we were there was music that we enjoy. The overall experience was just very pleasurable for us. I hope we can return.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On the Road: Farmington, NM, to Mesquite, NV

Monday, October 6, 2014.
It was 47 degrees when we crawled into the car this morning to start the long drive to Mesquite, Nevada. We were looking forward to the day as most of the trip would be through country new to us. But to start, we had to drive 20 miles or so from Farmington to Shiprock, a route we covered 2 years ago when we pulled our Rockwood trailer through this area. Not much has changed in that time. The place still displays a great deal of poverty. The roadway follows the San Juan River which provides a green belt through this harsh country, but little else is attractive. The hills often have the look of dirt piles that have been dumped by some giant steam shovel.

Our route today zigzags through 416 miles of magnificent scenery, much of it through Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations.
At the western edge of Shiprock, we turned west on US 64, admiring the Shiprock peak for which the town is named. It is a distinctly shaped peak visible for miles. I had, in fact, taken a picture of it 2 years ago when we were just south of Cortez, Colorado, on our way to the Four Corners Monument, much farther to the north.

Shiprock is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet above the high-desert plain just southwest of Shiprock, NM. It has a peak elevation of 7,177 feet above sea level
Here is the picture of Shiprock I took 2 years ago. It is the formation just right of center. It juts abruptly from the surrounding plain. This picture was taken from near the junction of US Highway 160 and US Highway 491 in southern Colorado.
The road we are on is rough, and the speed limit is only 55 mph, making for slow progress. There’s not much out here. As we cross the Arizona line, the roadway improves immediately, and the speed limit increases to 65 within a few miles. The scenery begins to become more interesting as well. There are few towns out here, so make sure you have plenty of gas before setting out.

We passed Red Mesa and cut across a distant corner of Monument Valley, so distant that only a few formations are visible on the horizon, too far for any good pictures. One of the great surprises of this stretch is the town of Kayenta, which has numerous tourist services available, such as dining, fuel, and lodging. If you travel this way, plan to stop here. We found a nice McDonald's for a brief respite from the road.

About 30 miles west of Kayenta, we turned north on Arizona 98. The scenery along this route is impressive. Again, there isn’t much out here. 

Landscape along Arizona 98 on the way to Page
About an hour or so later, we arrive in Page and refuel. Page is an interesting town, founded in 1957 when the Glen Canyon Dam was being built across the Colorado River. The dam was and still is very controversial, and it certainly did swallow up some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The highway bridge is just downstream from the dam, and there is a tourist center on the west side that is very popular with tourists. Lake Powell is visible. I do not know what normal lake levels are like, but the lake seemed low to me.

Glen Canyon Dam and highway bridge, from a scenic overlook in Page. The dam backs up the waters of Lake Powell.

A bit of Lake Powell from the same overlook as above.

The Colorado River just downstream from the dam.
From Page, we crossed into Utah, one of my favorite states. I love small towns in Utah. Most of them are very neat and clean, and you can tell there is still a strong work ethic in the rural communities. We followed US 89 for an hour or so to Kanab, one of those lovely little Utah towns, then turned south for 6 miles, recrossing into Arizona to turn west at Fredonia on US 389. I have to say that the difference in the physical appearance of Fredonia and Kanab is striking, though the towns are divided only by 6 miles and an invisible state line.

Soon, we were passing through the outskirts of Colorado City, home of the Morman fundamentalist sect led by Warren Jeff, who is now serving time in a Texas prison. We crossed once again into Utah at the north edge of this community. As we approached Hurricane, Utah, we began descending sharply, and the road wound down and down, finally reaching the floor of the valley. Hurricane is in the shadows of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, both on our future "to do" list.

Approaching Hurricane. This scenery is typical of what we saw throughout the day. Such postcard views are everywhere you look in this country.
We turned west on Highway 9 for a short stretch to link up with I-15, where we turned south. We passed through St. George, the winter home of Brigham Young in days gone by, following the same route we took 2 years ago (see "On the Road: Beaver, Utah, to Las Vegas, Nevada"). One of the most scenic stretches of the trip is through the Virgin River Gorge, which we entered just shortly after crossing into Arizona for the third time today. The interstate winds down between ever steepening hills that get closer and closer the deeper in the gorge you go. Suddenly, after 10 or more miles, the gorge gives away and the interstate breaks into an open desert landscape, and Mesquite is only a few miles away. In fact, as soon as the interstate enters Nevada, there is an exit for Mesquite, our home for the next two days. I am not posting new pictures of the Virgin River Gorge here because you can view those included in the entry from two years ago, referenced above.

It was great to be in Mesquite. Our long travel was behind us now, at least until the end of our trip and our return to Texas. Now it's time to play!