Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Rain is Falling

It's a cool fall day in San Angelo. As I write this, we are even getting a bit of rain. Much of West Texas has received quite a bit of rain this week, and some areas, such as Odessa and Lubbock, have even appeared on national news programs due to flooding. But there's no flooding in San Angelo.

We've had some sprinkles off and on for the past 2 or 3 days, but not enough to even dampen the bottom of my rain gauge. But today, we've received about a quarter of an inch. There has been some heavy rains to the northwest -- in the area of Sterling City -- the past few days, and the North Concho has flooded in that area. Waters from those rains should have reached O.C. Fisher Reservoir in San Angelo State Park by now. That's good news, as the lake has dried considerably this summer falling heavy rains last spring.

It's been a warm and dry fall so far in our area. We normally get some good rains in September and/or October, but that hasn't happened in the immediate San Angelo area this year. But other parts of the area to the north and south of us have enjoyed good rains off and on, and that is good. Right now, the temperature is 57 degrees, and that is the lowest high temperature we've had so far this fall.

Donna and I have been wanting to get out in our trailer and enjoy the fall weather, but in truth, there just hasn't been any of our typical cool fall weather. And even if it was typical fall weather, we would not be able to enjoy a good fire as approximately 150 Texas counties are under burn bans, including most of the counties around us.

But we're getting some rain right now, and I'm grateful for that.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian

Donna and I had been interested in watching The Martian since we first heard about it. When it arrived at local theaters, we didn't waste any time getting in line. We opted to attend the 3D version.

The movie stars Matt Damon as botanist Mark Watney, who is presumed dead following a ferocious storm and left behind on the Mars surface by his colleagues on the Ares III manned mission. Watney, however, survives the storm, and that sets the stage for the plot of the movie: the long term survival and rescue of Watney.

The filmmakers worked very closely with NASA to make this movie scientifically accurate. And that is the aspect that really drives the movie. Watney must constantly find solutions to problems he encounters, from extending his limited food supply to finding a way to communicate with NASA despite the damage the storm caused the communications equipment.

A side story revolves around the human struggle to survive alone in an alien environment. How do you keep your morale up? How do you keep from losing your mind by not having someone to talk to?

I was engrossed for the entire movie. The action begins almost immediately and does not let up until the end.

If you are looking for an intelligent movie to watch, this one should work for you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Casinos Where We Stayed

While in Laughlin, we stayed at the Aquarius and the Avi. In Las Vegas, we stayed at Sam's Town.

One reason we make this trip each year is that we receive offers from the casinos where we've played in the past. For this trip, all of our lodging was complimentary except for the hotels on our way out (Holbrook) and back (Santa Rosa) and for our 3 night stay at the Avi. And our room at the Avi was minimal. All told, we paid less than $300 out of pocket for all of our lodging. We were also able to use points for many of our meals. As a result, these trips do not cost a lot. With gas prices low, our total fuel cost was about $180. So, our out of pocket cost for a 2 week trip was less than $600.

In the past, Sam's Town in Las Vegas has been one of our favorite casinos. However, I did not enjoy our stay there as much this time. First, they have reduced the number of good video poker games they have. Their inventory of Full Pay Deuces Wild has been cut by 60% or so. Second, I've never cared for their buffet. I find the food there poorly prepared and admittance is very slow. And this time, I found the clientele throughout the casino a bit different. In the past, Sam's Town attracted mainly senior citizens. It's always had a country/western theme. But this trip I saw a different crowd frequenting the place, and I wasn't always comfortable.

On our last trip to Laughlin, we scouted out the Avi. We liked the promotions they offered, and they had some games we felt we could play successfully. We did not play long enough on the previous trip to warrant any offers, but decided to stay there and pay the low room rate. We think we played enough this trip to earn us some future room and play offers. However, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy our 3 days there. The dining options leave a bit to be desired. There are a few fast food places and the required buffet and other casino owned eateries. But there was no place to get a decent cup of coffee. Also, I found the casino to be quite smokey. Everywhere we went, people seemed to be smokers, and heavy smokers at that. Seems the smokers at the Avi don't know how to use ash trays, either, as machine after machine was covered with a layer of ashes. You'd have to do some housekeeping before you could even sit down to play. Pretty disgusting stuff. But the Avi has a beautiful pool area, and it has a nice beach on a cove of the Colorado River. A negative for the Avi is that it is about 15 miles from the other casinos in Laughlin. However, just to the east across the river is Fort Mohave with a collection of dining, reasonably priced gas, and groceries. The Avi also has a pretty good RV park which might attract us when we are in the area with our travel trailer.

So, we were happy to get to the Aquarius. Ah, the Aquarius has always been our favorite place in Laughlin. First of all, they have the absolute best video poker on the river, hands down -- at least for low rollers like us. They also have good eating. For fast food, there is Subway, Panda Express, and McDonalds. We like McDonalds because their coffee is reliable and they post calories on their menu for food items. We love their little yogurt-based parfait. There is also a Duet's, which serves up a good cup of coffee much like Starbucks. Our last night there we enjoyed the seafood buffet. I'm not a big seafood eater, but Donna can eat her weight in crab legs, and I think she did so this time. There is also an Outback and a nice garden cafe where we can use our points. The Aquarius also has non-smoking sections. Our favorite place to play is at the Cove bar, which is completely non-smoking. We can sit at the bar, play some good video poker machines, enjoy a good draft beer, and look out over the beautiful Colorado River and the mountains of Arizona. It's fun to watch the river taxis, tour boats, jet skis, and other water craft moving up and down the clear waters of the river while playing some very good video poker.

The rooms at all the hotels are similar. We prefer to stay and play in Laughlin, though. It is a small town without the hustle and bustle of the much larger Las Vegas. I don't know if I will play again in Vegas. I probably will, but I'm just as happy to avoid it.

Friday, October 9, 2015

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Laughlin, NV (2015)

Normally on our trips to and from Nevada, we take scenic routes, which can add considerable time to our trips. This year, however, we went straight there and back for the most part. For us, that means we angle northwest from our home in San Angelo, TX, to hit Interstate 40 as soon as possible, which usually is in Santa Rosa, NM. From there, it is a pretty straight shot due west to Kingman, AZ, where we exit I-40 for the last 35 miles or so along an Arizona state highway.

I've reported our trips in previous articles (see the previous entry for links to these), so I won't repeat myself here. Instead, I'll simply describe the specifics for this trip.

Our route to and from Nevada

We usually make the 1,000+ mile trip to Laughlin in 2 days. On this trip, we traveled over 700 miles the first day to Holbrook, AZ, where we spent the night at the Lexington Inn. When traveling, we usually try to stay in hotels in small towns. Rates are usually better for the same quality lodging as you would find in larger cities. Also, getting on and off the interstate in small towns is so much easier than in larger cities. We also feel safer in small towns.

On our second day, we really only had about 5 hours remaining to Laughlin, so we decided to see a little of the country. I-40 basically follows historic old Route 66. We decided to detour from I-40 for much of our remaining trip to see the old highway. So we detoured through Holbrook, Flagstaff, Williams, and Kingman. We really liked the downtown area in Flagstaff, and hope to return in the near future and spend a couple of days there roaming the streets. Williams is also a picturesque town in the mountains of northern Arizona worth visiting.

About halfway between Flagstaff and Kingman, we detoured through Seligman, another picturesque town along the old highway. But instead of rejoining I-40 after passing through town as we had been doing, we stayed on Route 66 as it veered north from I-40 for the remaining 90 or so miles to Kingman. The old two-lane highway is well maintained. It winds through several small towns, such as Peach Springs and Valentine. There really was quite a bit of traffic on the old road, probably tourists like ourselves.

At Kingman, we then headed west for the final 35 or so miles of the trip to Laughlin.

On the return, we followed the same route without the detours along Route 66. Temperatures had dropped considerably for our return trip. It was early in the morning when we passed through Williams and Flagstaff, and the temps were in the 30s. We picked up heavy rain in the Albuquerque area. I had considered trying to make the trip home in a single day, arriving late at night. We've done that once in our travels. But the rain concerned me, and I was tired after not getting much sleep in strange beds for the past 2 weeks, so we pulled off in Santa Rosa and got a room in the Comfort Inn.

We woke to rain and temps in the upper 40s. After a good breakfast at the hotel, we climbed back in the truck for the remaining 400 miles to San Angelo. The rain continued until Lamesa, where we enjoyed a very good steak at K-Bob's Steakhouse. By the time we reached San Angelo, the temperature was in the lower 80s and all was dry.

As a side note, here is some information on gas prices. Texas had the lowest prices. We paid $1.82 in Levelland, Texas. Prices across New Mexico were decent. We paid $2.12 in Gallup both coming and going. Prices seemed to jump a bit in Arizona. We filled up twice in Bullhead City, AZ, and paid about $2.35 both times. Just across the river in Nevada, prices jumped about a dollar to around $3.35, though you could find it just under $3.00 in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 Nevada Trip

For the last several years, Donna and I have traveled to Nevada this time of year. We just returned from our annual trip. This year, we visited both Laughlin and Las Vegas.

In the past, we've varied our routes in order to see new country. After making the trip so many times, we've taken just about all the different routes we can, so this year we more or less made a bee line for our destination.

In the next few entries, I'll recount our travels. In the meantime, you can select the following links to view our previous trips:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Grey Foxes at San Angelo State Park

On several of our recent early morning walks at San Angelo State Park, we've seen 1 or more gray foxes. In fact, back in August I recounted an incident when we spotted a gray fox for the first time at the park (see "We Like to See Wildlife."). Since then, we even saw a small fox cross in front of us when we were walking on the O. C. Fisher dam recently. It had a small rodent in its mouth, and headed down the dam and found a secure place where it could enjoy its feast.

I've not been able to get a photo yet of a fox. By the time I get my camera out, it's usually too late. But most of our sightings have occurred in the area of coordinates 31.469303, -100.512099. If you plug those coordinates into a GPS or Google Earth, they will take you to a rapidly decaying paved road little used today except by park employees and bike riders and hikers/walkers. Near the location provided by the coordinates is a track heading off west, and we've seen 1 or more foxes scamper down that track more than once. I've never followed that track, but from looking at Google Earth, it appears there is a small earthen dam near there, so they may stick close to that man-made pond for water and to catch other small critters that may lurk nearby.

Our sightings have occurred early in the morning, perhaps 30 minutes or so after sunrise. It looks as though the foxes are generally moving from higher ground to the east, crossing the road we are on, and heading towards the pond.

Perhaps one of these days, I'll catch a picture of those illusive little rascals.