If you have never taken four wheelers out on sand dunes, I highly recommend it. I have been mentioning things that have been “top ten events” for me quite a bit. Whitewater rafting, Carlsbad Caverns, and the Blue Ridge Parkway are all examples. Honestly, I don’t even know if there are ten in total, but the phrase still conveys the idea. This was not on my list, but it should have been. Put it on yours.
We started the morning heading to the Santa Monica Pier. We had been advised that this was a cool place to go in Santa Monica, but I think we find the wrong one. We still had a great walk out on the Pier and got our first look at the beautiful, blue Pacific Ocean, a major milestone we gave ourselves little time to enjoy. We all got our feet wet, basking in the glory of having traversed the width of a continent, and jumped back in the car. We had a long drive to Pismo Beach and had to get there before the rental shops closed.
While Sarah drove, Tom and I hit the internet, price shopping. We found a place that offered a buy-one-get-one for four wheeler rentals, and the first, non-free ATV was competitive with a single rental at other places: Angelo’s. We plugged in the address and headed there. We arrived around 4:00 and started filling out paperwork.
“So, if we have an odd number of riders, can we get half price for the third person instead of buy-one, get one?”
No deal. We discussed getting two four wheelers and switching off, when we got a stroke of luck. Three more about-to-be-riders showed up in the twenty minutes it took to read and sign four forms each, and were also inquiring if they could get half off on their third rider. We teamed up and split the cost of the last buy-one, get-one.
Next we were watching a short training video. It was funny because the lady at the front desk was in it, but she was much more cheerful. After a couple of instructions — ride slowly when near people, don’t ride in the water or wet sand, you break it you bought it — we were in a truck on our way to the dunes.
Upon our arrival we got another short course on the operation of the machines. We had emptied out our pockets, bringing only our cameras, and it was a good thing we did. The ride was bumpy and we would have lost anything not strapped to our wrists. We rode up the beach parallel to the ocean to the designated dune area. Along the way we practiced shifting, stopping several times to shift back down to first gear and remind each other of the details of shifting and riding.
Once on the dunes, we still had to get used to a couple things. The dunes were steep enough that several times our little ATV’s (we chose the smallest and cheapest) ran out of power on the way up. On the lower gears the wheels didn’t spin fast enough to keep momentum up. The wheels would just push sand and dig themselves into holes. On the higher gears the torque was to low; even with the acceleration at full the machine just stopped in its tracks. Sarah was having a little more trouble than Tom and I at first, but soon we were all speeding around, going up the steepest, highest dunes our machines could handle and going part way up the others, turning quickly when we lost speed and shooting back down. Several times either Tom or I stopped to snap a few pictures. It was surprisingly easy to lose each other when we were only a few huge dunes apart.
We were all getting pretty good. Sarah was testing the limits of the dunes she could navigate and got stuck. On my way over to help pull her half buried tire out of the sand, I realized my wrist had gotten lighter. The camera strap had broken, and the camera was gone. I finished helping Sarah and explained my predicament to her and Tom. We immediately started looking.
Looking for a shiny metallic object in a sea uniformly-colored sand seems like a no-brainer. It wasn’t. You would never notice how many gum wrappers and cigarette pack foil’s are scattered around until you are looking for a camera. We traced our path as well as we could, but to no avail. This camera had a huge memory card precisely so that I wouldn't have to worry about getting pictures on the computer in a timely fashion, a truth that had totally backfired on me. The last time I had put pictures on my computer was in Texas.
Sarah and I continued to look together and Tom had split off and was looking somewhere else. We weren’t having any luck, or for that matter, fun. I watched a guy in a dirt bike get a good ten feet in the air at the lowest point on his bike, very impressive, but not too enjoyable given the circumstances. It was buried, or I had gotten sidetracked and was looking on the wrong dune.
After a bit longer, I checked my watch. We had about forty-five minutes left on our ATV rentals, and there was no use searching until the last moment; the chances of finding the camera diminished as we searched farther and farther from the point where it was lost. I didn’t even know if we were on a dune that we had been before. Sarah and I discussed looking for five more minutes. And just as we were about to give up, Tom drove up.
“I’ve been looking for you for a half hour. Here’s your camera.”
I smiled and thanked him. Tom relayed the story of a sharp decline on a dune sneaking up on him when he was going top speed: maybe 35 miles per hour. As he went over a crest he realized that there was a sharp drop just coming into view. He hit the brakes but not soon enough; he went over the edge. Not wanting to smash against the machine, he ditched. The four wheeler landed upright but Tom took a tumble alongside, scraping his knee but leaving all his teeth intact.
Sarah and I laughed at Tom’s hilarious misfortune, and we decided to have some fun. We were all practiced enough to not worry about stalling or starting up any dunes that we wouldn’t be able to climb, and the last half hour was a blast. Soon we caught up with the three people who had split the buy-one, get-one deal with us and headed back.
That evening we went to a bar called Cool Hand Luke’s for Margaritas. Tom decided to try some chicken fried steak made in California and we had some ribs. The portions were small and pricey. We didn’t stick around for more drinks. We headed to a bowling alley to get a frame in before they closed. I beat Tom, and we found a motel and got some sleep.
Joey’s uncle J.T. and aunt Tina took the three of us and their new baby Sienna out for a wonderfully filling breakfast at Cappy’s Café and Cantina
. Little Sienna enjoyed a game of dropping her toys from her highchair to the floor and making little yelling noises until someone picked them up for her. Not half a second after she had them back on her highchair tray they were on the floor again and she was calling out. Babies are pretty cute, and apparently really easily amused.
We headed back to J.T. and Tina’s house and baby Sienna went down for a nap. We took our cue and hit the old dusty trail again- we were on the way to Hollywood!
First things first, as soon as we reached the famous town, we headed down the Walk of Fame and over to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
. On the way over I saw a beautiful dress in a window and Joey stopped to buy it for me - thank you Joey! There were a bunch of actors outside Mann’s
all dressed to look like different characters, and they were taking pictures with tourists for tips.
We saw a guy dressed as Samuel L. Jackson dressed as Jules from Pulp Fiction, Michael Jackson, Marylyn Monroe, a Darth Vader who was singing inside his helmet, Yoda, and Tom stopped to get his picture between Superman and Batman who we later saw buying hotdogs from a street vender together - cute!
All around the entrance to the theater were cement blocks that made up the front walk. The blocks had hand and foot prints in them from all of the most famous stars and also had their names signed below- it looked like with their finger but I imagine it was actually done with a dowel or some implement like that. After we got our fill of actors playing dress up and soaked in the atmosphere around the famous spot we headed over to the next famous attraction in town - the Kodak Theatre
From the back patio of this outdoor shopping center and theater you can see one of America’s most famous signs - you guessed it - the Hollywood sign. It’s way off in the distance up on that lush green hill, and it actually looked kind of small from where we stood, but even seeing it from that distance impressed me. We were in Hollywood!
Next on the list of things to do here in town was to eat at the longest operational sushi restaurant in the US. Los Angeles was where this delicious Japanese cuisine was first introduced to Americans, and since we’re all big fans we had to check this spot out. The restaurant is called Sushi Go 55
, and is in the Tokyo Market right near town. When we got to the market it was set up kind of like a mall - we walked in through the bottom floor which was a Japanese grocery store, then headed up to the next floor which had clothes stores, other restaurants, an arcade and our restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant wouldn’t open for dinner for another hour so we bided our time by looking around the grocery store and buying some interesting Japanese potato snacks and juice drinks, and then the boys hit the arcade. I was about to head in with them but my brother called and I spent most of the hour chatting with him in a court yard area which had gray plastic benches to sit on and pink flowers on the ceiling.
Finally Sushi Go 55 opened its doors and we headed upstairs to grab a table. We ordered sushi and sashimi plates that came with Japanese potato salad, Japanese pickles, Japanese coleslaw, miso soup and rice. The sushi and sashimi were some of the best morsels of fish I have ever had and we all had smiles on our faces as the tasty food melted in our mouths.
After our meal we headed back down to the grocery store because Joey had seen some sashimi on sale for less than $3 that looked to be as high in quality as the sashimi we had just been eating. We snapped it up and picked up some Japanese beer as well then headed towards Santa Monica to stay in a really nice hotel for the night. Tomorrow we had plans to zip around sand dunes on ATV’s so we hit the hay early in anticipation of a fun day to come.
Until next time, America.
It's a well-known fact, at least to anyone who's seen the epic film Anchorman
, starring Will Ferrell, that San Diego is the greatest city in the history of mankind, and we have the Germans to thank for its discovery.
I know the German part isn't true, but if the weather is the indicator, this is one of the finest places we've enjoyed thus far. Perfect weather, in fact, for a trip to the lovely San Diego Zoo
, which received plenty of screen time in the same movie, Anchorman. I will admit, maybe we were taking a few too many cues from the film.
Now, I grew up as an occasional visitor to the Philadelphia Zoo, which is certainly no slouch as zoos go. But this fabled San Diego Zoo was very impressive, and strikingly large. The exhibits went on and on, to the point that the facility needed a tram for optimal transportation from one side of the area to the other. AMong the first exhibits we encountered was this vast enclosure with a dense flamingo population.
Seeing the pandas was my most important endeavor for our visit, in case one of them was giving birth and Ron Burgundy was in attendance. To do this we had to navigate our way around this massive animal complex, through collections like the Lost Forest, the Polar Rim and the Elephant Odyssey. To get a good view of the park, we decided to hop into one of the cable cars, which were free to use with our admission. It gave us a ride all right, but the view was pretty unimpressive, mostly obscured by trees as we scuttled from one side of the property to the other.
Pretty much as soon as we were off the cable car, we realized that this place was not the easiest in the world to navigate. Granted, our endless use of the GPS in the car has not exactly sharpened our abilities as mapreaders, but we were walking in circles for a good while.
This was not necessarily a bad thing. We definitely enjoyed our share of wandering and exploring, running into giraffes, elephants and all kinds of weird animals that I'd never be able to identify without help from the signs.
Again, this was a beautiful day in San Diego, as is apparently the norm. There were plenty of kids and families scampering around and standing in the way of things. I found a moderately sized line of people near an aquarium tank and walked over to see what the commotion was about. The resident hippo was napping with his head against the glass, which made for some good close-up material. Hoards of people walked through and he didn't bat an eye.
I had my camera in attack mode all day - the results of which are featured below.
Of course, as luck would have it, when we finally found our way to the panda exhibit, the line outside looked a little something like this. After numerous line-waiting experiences in the past, at places like the Sears Tower and the Coors Brewing Company, we knew better than to waste our time idling. We bid our goodbyes and we were off.
Before we skipped town, however, I was insistent upon a visit to the fabled Stone Brewing Company
in Escondido, just outside of the city. This place is the proud producer of one of the most delicious beers I've ever had the pleasure of tasting - the Stone Ruination IPA. You'd be hard pressed to find a more balanced, tastefully flowery IPA in all the land, and drinking it from the tap at the source was definitely on my bucket list. One step closer to death.
One of the most unique parts of this place, which was a restaurant, bar and brewery, was the outside section. There was seating for drinkers and diners, but also a circular walk around a large natural area outside. Plenty of flowers dotted the land, and in a secluded corner, a wedding was in progress. We should all be so lucky.
From there, we drove to Newport Beach, just outside of L.A., where Joey's uncle John and his aunt Tina have located themselves and their adorable daughter and dog. They were incredibly accommodating; we waltzed in with some bottles of beer from Stone, and John fired back with numerous rounds of tequila shots. He meant business.
...At least, for a little while. But while Tina was sweet enough to go out and pick up an incredible sushi dinner for the bunch of us, John was down for the count by the time she was back. It was really very funny. We felt bad for coming into their home and totally dominating John's alleged drinking prowess, but when duty calls, duty calls. We had no choice.
This was our home for the night - thanks again to John and Tina for their hospitality. Look for more on our venture into the City of Angels, coming up soon.
The three intrepid travelers were a bit stuck. The mighty Xterra was in the shop having its radiator fan fixed and the hours were ticking by as the companions sat in Tommy and Sharon’s lovely Vegas home deciding what to do with their carefully planned route.
We decided to take the rental car closer to the Nissan dealership so that when we got the call that the car was fixed we could jump in and take off. Joey grabbed a quick taco and the boys sat with me at a Hawaiian restaurant while I ate some curry and rice. Finally around 2 or 3 in the afternoon we got the call and happily resumed our epic journey.
The drive was mostly uneventful. We stopped in San Bernardino for a quick jaunt down Historic Route 66 and saw the first McDonald’s. It didn’t seem to be operational and was surrounded by a large red iron fence. Mayor McCheese had a smile that stretched across his big bun head and a sign out front said that hamburgers were 15 cents – ah, the good old days.
We moved on pretty quickly, since we couldn’t go inside and by this point the McDonald’s museum was closed. We headed the rest of the way towards San Diego without stopping and enjoyed a pretty nice sunset on the way. After a quick check-in at our hotel, we were off for a fun night on the town. Our first stop was an amazing, authentic Mexican restaurant called Casa Guadalajara
, where we sipped Margaritas and stuffed ourselves silly. The food was great, and the tortillas were prepared fresh by a team of women behind a counter near the front of the restaurant.
Next we headed into the Gaslamp Quarter, one of the city’s more lively districts, for a drink or two. We wandered into the Yard House
and didn’t leave our seats until the end of the night. The bar had the world’s largest selection of draft beer (at a different location - but this one came close, with over 125 on tap) so the boys got a to-go menu and took notes on which beers we all enjoyed on a scale of one to five. The number five top rated beer for each of us is as follows: Joey’s pick - Green Flash West Coast IPA
, Tom’s pick - Trois Pistoles
(which, according to BeerAdvocate
is a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale style beer” and only scored a 4 from Tom but that was the highest he gave) and for me, the Young’s Chocolate Stout
I met an interesting guy in the military who spent the evening talking to me about our trip and how he was about to be stationed in Connecticut but his wife was living in Hawaii with their BMW. Oh, cruel fate.
Finally it was time to pack it in so we closed out our tab and headed off for a good nights sleep.
Until next time, America.
At an extremely leisurely pace, we rolled out of bed at the Golden Nugget and made our way toward the valet. At this point in our travels, Joey has become an expert at securing late checkouts from hotels. I made Sarah snap a photo of the Hemchers
and me before we got in the car, though the photo doesn't tell you much about where we were.
Our plan for the day was to drive about 100 miles west into Death Valley National Park
, the hottest, driest national park in the country - where summer temperatures of 120 F or higher are a regular feature. My mother has been apprehensive about our visit to this place the whole time; she's had no objection to any facet of this grand adventure of ours besides for Death Valley. "They call it that for a reason," she told me.
But as we got on the road, things changed for us a bit. The car had been overheating here and there ever since we visited Colorado Springs, and today was worse than usual. We couldn't ignore it anymore; none of us wanted to break down in Death Valley, with no cell phone reception and no alternate means of transportation of, for that matter, survival.
We dropped the car at the nearest Nissan dealership for a thorough evaluation, and scampered across the street to the ever-so-seedy Blue Ox, where we were asked to sit at a table if we weren't using the video poker machines built into the bar. We opened up our laptops and killed some time, and had some sandwiches to dismiss our appetites. Sarah's order reaffirmed my belief that there are no real cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia.
Soon came the diagnosis - the radiator fan had burnt out and was no longer helping to keep the engine cool. This was an overnight job.
Annoyed at the unwelcome change in our schedule - and more so at the pice tag of the repairs - we grudgingly ventured to the nearby Enterprise for a rental car. Joey gave his Uncle Tommy a call and we had a place to stay, so we ventured back over to their house in our rental.
We had the place to ourselves for a while, before Tommy eventually came home and commandeered is favorite chair. He was nice enough to show us a TiVo'd episode of The Price is Right
, which featured his lovely wife Sharon as a contestant (she won a pool table).
Here we stayed and exhaled for the evening, chowing down on Sharon's delicious chili and spending time with these two terrific people - even if Tommy is a Steelers fan. Nobody's perfect.
Tomorrow, we had some catching up to do - more on that coming soon.
I woke up craving Sharon’s Mexican chicken soup. It was about 10:00a.m. and Joey was awake so we wandered upstairs towards last nights leftovers expecting to be greeted by only Sharon and Tommy’s two big friendly dogs. There were cereal bowls set out on the counter, along with cereal boxes, a pot of coffee, bread and butter - anything we could have wanted for breakfast that was normal to eat for breakfast. I passed by all of these things and went straight for the Tupperware that held the delicious soup and three enchiladas - one for each of us. I put a bowl of soup in the microwave and almost jumped out of my skin when Sharon walked around the corner in her pajamas. She had decided to take a sick day and sat down at the breakfast table with Joey and me chuckling over our morning meal selection.
A few hours later Tom rolled out of bed and the three of us sat downstairs with the dogs blogging before we headed down to the strip. We had booked ourselves a hotel room on Priceline
at the Golden Nugget
so I was pretty excited to get going into town - this would be my first stay in a Vegas hotel!
We thanked Sharon and said our good-byes (…or so we thought…) then hopped in the car and headed down to the famous Vegas strip. The valet outside of The Golden Nugget took care of the car for us and we hauled our bags inside. My eyes lit up as the golden railing pulled my gaze to the reflection of the check-in desk in the wall length row of mirrors opposite it. Beyond that was the single most amazing and decadent swimming pool I have ever seen anywhere.
This is what I saw: on the very outskirts of the pool area were girls dressed in small golden outfits standing at dealer tables waiting for prospective gamblers. This was followed by rows and rows of beach chairs all facing the same way with content hotel patrons soaking in the hot Vegas rays. Directly next to these rows of bathing beauties there was the most decadent of decadent, the most Vegas of towers, a shark tank surrounded by the swimming pool. That’s right, America, a towering glass shark tank equip with live sharks circling around and around in the very center of the swimming pool. Go ahead Golden Nugget guests, take your martini into the relaxingly cool water and press your daring mug right up to the glass to see if old Jaws gives you a second glance, I dare you!
While I was distracted by this incredible sight, Joey checked us in at the counter stacked with helpful employees waiting to be the first to give each new guest the Vegas style welcome. The three of us headed up to our room to check out what luxury awaited us. But Vegas rooms are not for sitting around in – well, unless you buy one of those really expensive, extremely indulgent rooms that are meant to have you spend your whole vacation in - but most Vegas rooms are just meant to hold your stuff until you get back and have a comfy bed ready for when you want to sleep (that is, if you want to sleep). So with that in mind we headed over to stuff ourselves at the buffet and then went down to the lobby to tempt our fate at the tables. We each took a $20 bill to try our luck with. Joey and I slowly lost our money to the machines but Tom had a wild ride - first he was up, then he was down, then he was up and up some more and then he was out of money so we decided to head over to the New York, New York Casino to catch the main feature of our night - Zumanity
The show was billed as “the sensual side of Cirque du Soleil
” and promised to be spectacular. We walked through the inside of the hotel which was set up to look like the streets of New York and headed over to the will call line to pick up our tickets. We headed into the theater and were immediately greeted with pillowy red velvet walls and scantily clad actors leaning up against pillars or posing in the hallways. We made our way to our seats amid laughter- the preshow had just started so we snuck into our seats which were house left, just four rows from the stage, and we settled in for some laughs.
A man and a woman were standing in front of the stage toying with the audience members in front of them. The woman had on a poofy pink dress and large yellow hair looked like a helmet with a little pink bow on top of her head. She spoke with a Southern accent that sounded more like a bird squawking than a human talking, and the man with her had slicked back black hair and spoke with a French accent. They were just going off the cuff from what I could tell, clearly picking and screening audience members to be part of the show later. They would pull a man up out of his seat, ask his name, joke around tossing in some sexual innuendos and bring him back to his seat next to his wife or girlfriend smiling that they would see him later.
There was a live band and singers that were part of the show. They came out on stage before the event to sing like rock stars that we should turn off our cell phones and also to point out where the exits were. One of the women had black and purple hair that was spiked up on her head in large points all over the scalp. The other woman had ankle length white hair which was made up of a million tiny braids and pulled back into a pony tail. They were really good singers, but it was pretty amusing to hear them belt out “turn off your cell phone” drawing out the “o’s.”
They exited the stage and it was time for the show to begin. The lights dimmed. The band softly played. A tall, square-jawed woman with an Adam’s apple walked to the end of the stage in an elegant black dress that trailed behind her and introduced herself as our Mistress of Sensuality, our host and narrator for the evening. She told us to relax and let our inhibitions melt away. She disappeared and from the back of the stage burst forward an actual woman. The light and music seemed to slam around her as she danced and twirled forward. Her long black hair spun around, trailing her every move. She had on tight black pants and no shirt. There may have been three people all night who were actually wearing a shirt, and it definitely added to the shock of the show.
The Mistress came back out after the long black haired woman’s dance was over. This time she was accompanied by a man dressed to look like a goat. He donned stubby horns on top of his head and pants that had big furry leg warmers covering his calves. He grunted and jumped around like a goat-man and sniffed at the Mistress’ legs. He followed her off stage and a blonde haired woman in a school girl outfit dazzled us with her hula-hooping skills. She held onto a long flowing cloth that fell from the ceiling and moved first one hula-hoop around her hips as she was lifted way up in the air and then put back down, then several, then her whole body length worth of hula-hoops whipped around her as she was pulled way up in the air then dropped back down to the stage.
After this woman made her exit the Mistress strutted back up the length of the stage calling out to the women in the audience. “I know what you’re thinking ladies - where’s the beef?!?”
With that a hunky guy who reminded me of Eric
from Boy Meets World…if you ever watched that… when you were ten… anyway it was mostly because of his long hair, but he wore jeans that he pulled off in chunks and kept motioning for women to scream so he would pull off more. I could feel myself blushing as I sat between Joey and Tom, but Joey was giggling at how ridiculous the whole thing was and nudging me to join in with the other rambunctious women. Several women from the show danced out on stage as the guy got up on a pillar that gradually rose out of the stage and strategically surrounded him as he removed the last bit of sequenced thong from his body. The group sunk below the stage amid cheering from the ladies in the audience and our Mistress strutted front and center smiling widely.
There were several components to the show, but beyond the first few parts I don’t have the order exactly right - and to be quite frank I might not have even gotten the first few parts in the right order either - but for fluency’s sake I’ll just tell you about the next couple parts that I can recall regardless of order and you can just imagine the Mistress coming out in between each one to set up the mood. She talked about lust, love, pain, sensuality and a myriad of other emotions which were subsequently displayed by the dancers on stage.
The man dressed like a goat got his moment in the spotlight though he was around for much of the beginning of the show, sniffing and grunting as he followed after the Mistress. His dance was to showcase animal instinct I think, or maybe lust as a primal emotion. Regardless his dance was pretty cool. There were loud African sounding drum beats as he slammed his feet and fists on the stage and leapt and jumped around. He was a very acrobatic goat and the music was infectious making me want to groove a little bit in my seat. With him was a woman with long dreadlocks who spun herself around in circles until I was dizzy so I can't imagine how she did it, but it was very cool to watch. The two danced to the heavy beat and as they exited the stage the last bang on the drum echoed through out the theater.
There were examples of painful love as well, both physically and mentally. Physical pain was represented by a woman who twisted herself up off the stage and back down by black cloths that hung from the ceiling. She gyrated and stretched as though she were involved in tantric sex and the singers suggestively moaned into their microphones. A man with a spiky mohawk flew around in the air by a bar which also hung from the ceiling, but he held onto it by facing his back to it and tipping his head back, relying on his neck to hold his weight and balance him on the bar.
The mentally painful side of love was represented by a woman facing a group of men watching a football game. They ignored her as she ran around between them jumping on their laps, but the reception on the TV began to get fuzzier and fuzzier when she began swinging around by a stripper pole. But the sensual side of love was also represented by a woman in a blue ballerina skirt that was pointed up in the back like a swan’s tail. She danced with a man in small cloth shorts who lifted her up and held her close to the edge of the stage as she gracefully dipped backwards stretching herself towards the audience.
There was also time for a little comic relief. The woman from the preshow came back on stage surrounded by a set that looked like she was on a TV infomercial. The loud pink and yellow set behind her had a large sign tacked to it which read “Scotch Boobs.” She explained to the women in the audience that if you want to seem well endowed you should buy her innovative new kit and make yourself some Scotch Boobs. She pulled up a man she had been talking to before the show to help her demonstrate how to make these new boobs. She had him stand behind her then pulled down her top, filled two baggies up with Scotch, then had the audience member hold the bags against her while she taped them over her chest. She left herself a straw hole, inserted the bendy straw and pulled her top back over the baggies. The blushing man retreated to his glowering wife.
There was also a contortionist who made everyone go “ew!” He came to the front center of the stage and sat on a round section that gradually moved around in a circle so everyone got a good view. He twisted himself up in the most incredible ways, smiling and raising his eyebrows the whole time as if to say “eh, pretty neat, eh?”
The Frenchman and the big haired blonde from the beginning of the show came back out to teach two lucky audience members how to seduce each other and then bump uglies. The pulled up a man named Osmond and a woman named Jennifer and told them to mimic their every move. First the big haired blonde bumped her hips around looking more silly than sexy (which was of course the point) and a blushing Jennifer reluctantly followed suit. Osmond was up next. The Frenchman put his hands behind his head and with a grin moved his hips front and back while strutting forward. Osmond covered his face groaning and laughing, but then obliged and pulled off the ridiculous move with smooth rhythm. Next our preshow jokesters had the pair embrace each other and dip and finally it was time for the bumping of the uglies. A bed popped out from below the stage and the preshow pair gestured towards the bed while the band played a drum roll followed by a “ta-da.” Osmond reclined on the bed and Jennifer was instructed to throw her leg on top of him. Once they assumed the position the bed sunk back down below the stage with the pair embarrassed but giggling.
Finally the coolest part of the show (in my opinion anyway) was when a small glass pool was brought on stage. The pool was shaped like a martini glass without the stem and two women completed the most amazing flips and balanced on the edge of the pool and on top of each other. They dove into the pool at the same time and managed to slide right by each other coming up on the opposite side that they had dived in on. The whole thing was pretty wild.
Finally, to end the show, the Mistress called out to the audience asking if everyone had a fabulous time. Everyone cheered and she moved down the aisles pulling first a retired woman from Kansas or somewhere like that up on stage and then a nervous man who was sure this would make his wife mad at him by the time this was over with. All of the dancers from each section of the show were on a larger part of the stage that gradually spun around in a circle and the retired woman was kneeling on a pillow in front of the Frenchman who was having her put her hands on his backside and the nervous guy was laying on his back surrounded by women fawning over him. The Mistress also pulled up a couple in matching white pants and orange Hawaiian shirts who danced together and were very cute in their dorkiness.
All in all the show was a lot of fun to watch and was my first experience with Cirque du Soleil. We exited the theater gushing about how cool the dancers had been and headed down the new strip to check out the a few different hotels and their tables. Eventually the late night got the better of us and we decided to turn in. Our cabby whisked us down the brightly lit streets and deposited us in front of the Golden Nugget where we retired to our comfy Las Vegas beds and dreams of slot machines danced in our heads.
Until next time, America.
The closest reasonable hotel was far enough from the north rim of the Grand Canyon that after we woke, we were in for a three hour drive. Sarah and I had been to the south rim, and I didn’t have wildly high hopes for the Grand Canyon compared to Zion Canyon. Boy, was I wrong.
The first thing that we noticed on the way in was the distance from the time we entered the park until the time we got to the Canyon. No wonder we hadn’t been able to find lodging close to the Canyon. We arrived around noon and went to the visitor’s center to use the bathroom and fill up water, and soon we were off to explore.
The first walk we took was across Bright Angel Point Trail. This was incredible. Leave it to the U.S. National Park Service to take something that was navigable to only the most athletic enthusiasts and make it so that even children can have the experience of a lifetime. It looked like it had previously been a ridge with some dips and peaks, but of mostly similar elevation. Where there had been a dip, a little more concrete fill would have had to been used, and where there was a peak, the trail was built to wind around it. The effect was a path that was paved that alternated between sharp drops at each side, and a sharp drop on one side with a rock jutting out the other.
There were no railings anywhere. The rocks were not cordoned off and there no warning signs so we took the opportunity to do a little amateur climbing and get an even better view. This trail was the best canyon trail that I could imagine, and we all really enjoyed ourselves. It was a full three quarters of a mile, an amazing length considering the uniform altitude of the ridge that they found to build around and the amount of dangerous work that must have been required.
One we got to the end, we were pleased to see a large platform (this one had railings) where we had maybe a three hundred degree view of the canyon, with the other sixty degrees taken up by the narrow path that we had just traversed. What a view. Even before this, I knew that no trail for the rest of the day could best this trail.
This may have been the single best view I have ever seen. If you have the opportunity, go to the north ridge of the Grand Canyon and see this. Do the trail three times throughout the day between other trails. Oh, and keep in mind that the north rim is closed in the winter (the south rim is open), as Sarah and I found out our senior year.
Our next stop was the North Kaibab Trail. This trail is over fourteen miles, but Coconino overlook is three quarters of a mile down. This is the only maintained trail into the Grand Canyon and NPS.gov warns that it can not be done in one day due to the steep grade. The steep grade and sandy porous dirt on the donkey dung ridden trail were more than I signed up for.
About half way down I decided to stop trying to keep up and take pictures of the trees and opposite canyon wall. Tom and Sarah continued down. Tom says the view was great, but almost not worth the sandaled walk through dusty manure. We met back up at the top and continued on.
We continued driving. We went to Walhalla Overlook and parked. The trail was closed. A fire had recently burned through, and the trees were judged to be a danger. We could clearly see that no fire was present and figured that as long as we didn’t tempt fate by disturbing or walking near the trees, we could consider it safe to check out the area. The area was unique and very interesting. It was informative to see what burned, how it burned, and what was still standing. Across the canyon, we could see smoke rising, we looked around for about a half hour and then continued to Cape Royal.
It was another breathtaking view, and a short paved walk. We got an opportunity to see the rushing Colorado River below. We had originally tried to set up a one day whitewater trip down the river, but the canyon is so steep in so many places that the shortest trips are about a week long. One company does a day trip, but it involves an airlift. Too ritzy for us, thank you.
We rounded out the day at Roosevelt Point. It was another great view of the Grand Canyon. What more can I say?
We got back on the road and started trucking towards Vegas. The drive presented us with several stages of burnt forest, new growth, and old growth. It was mostly uneventful. The car was overheating (it had been since Garden of the Gods a week or so earlier.) It was fine as long as we were on the highway and the air was blowing.
Tommy and Sharon, my step-uncle and step-aunt, had incredible food waiting for us when we got to their house. We started with spicy Mexican chicken soup and choice of Margaritas or Heineken: incredible. Next were enchiladas which matched the soup. Sharon informed us that this was her “entertaining dinner” because everyone enjoyed it so much. No one could argue.
Sarah stayed sober to drive us to the strip about a half hour away. Once on the strip, we attempted to park at the Bellagio. We got on the strip and traffic was at a standstill. We were so close, but so far for so long. It was excruciating. Tom and I thanked Sarah for driving and joked about getting out and walking to the casinos. An hour and a half later we had successfully made it two miles to a parking lot. We went in to the Bellagio and each took twenty bucks to gamble.
We arrived in the Bellagio and walked through the lobby. The Grand Canyon had been the height of natural beauty, and we had found its manmade equal. The roof of one area was covered in glass flowers, sparing no expense, we walked around and checked out the different areas and then headed for the casino.
The trick to cheap gambling in Las Vegas is to hit the cheap slot machines and wait for the waitress. It is the only way to turn the odds so they are in your favor. The casino tries to counter this strategy by feeding you drinks and allowing you to spend many times the base bet on a slot machine. On some machines you can win thirty different ways (across, diagonal, with zig-zag lines, etc) on one pull and you can bet up to twenty credits on each. As a result, you can spend five bucks on a single pull on a penny machine if you’re not careful or are feeling like taking a chance. So accept their libations, but do so with willpower. Remember, once you are out of cash and not playing anymore, the drinks are cut off.
After making the mistake of paying for our first round, well over twenty dollars, we sat in the barstool-like chair in front of some slot machines and played. It was fun and we followed the above guidelines somewhat. After we had stopped following them and spent our twenty dollars, we headed to Paris and Bally. Tom and I laughed as we collected suggestive cards advertising “escorts” from the men handing them out. They had a method to get your attention without being pushy: they would flick the cards against themselves as they drew a short stack form the pile to pass to tourists. We saw one guy instructing a rookie card-hander-outer on the process.
Paris and Bally's were equally extravagant and we walked through each, making sure to see every corner. Afterwards, we headed to a slightly less incredible casino that was selling one dollar beers to get people in the door. Sarah and I had a few and, afterwards, Tom drove us back. It had been a long and varied day, and none of us had any trouble sleeping.
There's no way I was going to let Zion go by on this "blog" of ours without its own photo gallery. I was absolutely stunned by the this place, this strange, secluded marvel of nature hidden away in the rocks of Utah.
Once again, we owe our visit here to advice from our good friend Joe Jansen
, who came home with a collection of remarkable photography he'd labored over during a long trip in his RV. The entire park was a living work of art, and I feel very fortunate for being able to capture it for our readers.
I expect to be packing the next post with photos, too; they may be mountainous, but they're far from monotonous. Ha ha ha.
I got to drive through the canyon today (the driver’s seat is the best seat in the house on these scenic paths, so needless to say I was excited). We pulled up to the ranger station at the entrance of Zion Canyon National Park
park and the ranger told us that we would have to park and take the mandatory free shuttle through the canyon. She explained that they close off the roads to cars during the summer because of the heavy volumes of traffic. I headed off toward the parking lot but missed the turn in. There was one more car in front of us and the boys persuaded me to keep driving to see how far we could get. Evidently the road I was on wasn’t the road through the canyon though, because I drove the whole length without being blocked at any point.
There wasn’t too much in the way of scenery on this stretch of road besides two tunnels built in the 1920s and a somewhat obstructed view of the canyon below so we turned around, went back through both tunnels and took the right turn into the parking lot. We hopped on a shuttle right away (they came to each stop every ten minutes) and headed down into the canyon to check out the eight different stops. The stops were called Zion Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend and Temple of Sinawava.
We skipped the museum and headed to the second stop - Canyon Junction. At each stop we jumped out and went on short, one- or two-mile hikes around the gorgeous rocks. We got our fill of the red, brown and grey stone pillars that dwarfed the trees, bushes, flowers and grassy land that surrounded them and jumped back on the shuttle to head the short distance toward the Court of the Patriarchs.
This stop was named as such because of a few tall peaks that were named for different - you guessed it - patriarchs (from the Bible). There was a sign facing the pillars that showed which pillar was named for which patriarch. We stood around waiting for the shuttle but after a few minutes decided to walk to the Grotto just up the road. We wandered around the beautiful scenery snapping pictures and soaking in the atmosphere but we were excited for the next stop , Weeping Rock, because of the chance to see a waterfall.
At the Grotto we hiked a short distance up a hill and around a corner until we heard the soft pitter patter of falling water splashing against a rocky surface below. The waterfall was a very gentle flow over a steep overhang and it was dripping large fat drops around us as we walked up the rusty metal stairs to the stone porch under the falls. The path ended here though so we walked back down the steps and headed to the bus stop waiting to be taken over to Big Bend, the seventh stop.
Big Bend had a tiny waterfall of its own as well and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery here as we wandered around the short path that lead around the area. The pictures will do it justice since my descriptions are falling very short. These canyons are in descending order like a set of stairs, and each was more beautiful than the last.
Zion was everyone’s favorite for the day, but the day before it had been Bryce, and the day after some of us would switch to liking Grand the best. We hit the final stop on our bus ride through Zion taking in all we could and snapping pictures to show you later when we tried to explain the majesty that spread out before us. After getting our fill we hopped back on the bus and rode it the entire way back to the parking lot where Joey’s Xterra patiently waited for us to come drive it again.
We drove towards Grand Canyon and stopped in a small town close by the entrance to the canyon park. We stopped at a pizza restaurant for dinner and ordered a buffalo chicken pizza to bring back to our room. When Joey asked the girl behind the counter how much it would cost to add bacon to the pie, I was afraid she had just swept him off his feet- she said, “It’s free.”
We swung by a gas station to grab some local brews and found some uniquely named brands that we brought back to the room to enjoy with the pizza. We drank Wasatch Polygamy Porter, Wasatch Evolution Amber Ale and Squatters American Wheat, and tucked in eager for the morning.
Until next time, America.
The sun shone unobscured over the Utah landscape, which made a rapid transformation from monotonous to remarkable as we approached Bryce Canyon National Park
. A good deal of the scenery was reminiscent somewhat of what we saw in Colorado - striking red rocks jutting out of the ground on either side of the road. We flashed our NPS pass on the way into the park and got ourselves a map, which showed a fairly short drive from one side to the other, but plenty of spots to stop and walk around.
One of the first viewpoints was Inspiration Point, which was a very appropriate name for this spectacular vista. The canyon was replete with these strange geological features called hoodoos, which are vertical structures of softer rock topped off with harder rock, and eroded over many years to resemble these oddly shaped columns. There was nowhere else I've seen these in such great numbers and with such pronunciation.
We were visiting on a weekday, and there weren't very many other people around to get in the way. Those who were, were inexplicably speaking French and German in unusually large numbers. There was a higher concentration of native Europeans here in Bryce than we'd seen anywhere else in the country, as if the state of Utah is running some kind of massive tourism campaign on the other side of the Atlantic.
There were a handful of hiking trails that ranged from less than a mile to nearly ten miles long. After our foray into the wilderness a few days before in Yellowstone, we were less than inclined to go for any wild, grand excursions on foot. We did spend some time on the shorter trails, coating my sandaled feet with a layer of dust. The vibrant landscape begged for attention, and I gave it plenty with my camera. Have a look.
When I think of Utah, I've generally thought of it as a bunch of crazies living in the desert. That's not the whole story. So much of the state is undeveloped and uninhabited that it seemed more like a clean slate than anything else. It made me wonder what kind of majestic views might have existed back east, before humans got around to exploiting them for their land and natural resources. Bryce Canyon was a glimpse into the complexity of nature, and the beauty to which human civilization can't compare.
Before the sun was down, we'd scoured our way from one end of the park of the other, and as always, we had a schedule to keep. We drove back out the entrance at the north end of the park and made our way toward Zion Canyon, the next day's attraction, and spent the night in a town called Kanab along the Arizona border. Day one of the canyon tour was a success, and the next day wouldn't disappoint, either. More on that to come.