Monday, August 29, 2005

Road trip - Day 6

Day 6 – June 30 – Grand Canyon to Pinetop/Lakeside

Up early, we grab breakfast at the Surly Café, then walk to the Red Line tram to see the canyon before we go.

Surprisingly, we're sharing a tram car with the "Swedish" family we sat next to in Kingsman, 150 or so miles earlier. They -- and several others -- are from a tour group from Iceland. We stop a few times on the way to the end of the line, at one point sharing an overlook with just one other person. It's a 3000 foot drop, straight down, and (happily) Krys is very hesitant to even get near the fence at the edge.

We tram to the end and back, check out of the hotel, hop in the car, and hit the road again. On the way to Flagstaff, we stumble across a gift shop that we'd heard about, and we've really got to use the bathroom, so we stop. Bathroom use costs 50 cents, because they have to truck their water in, but we buy a few trinkets (and a really neat gift for someone). It's dark, too, because their generator's out. We're talking ruu-ral.

We arrive in Flagstaff, and take a left turn towards Albuquerque. We stop at Albertsons for gas and -- you guessed it -- bottled water, and get fixin's for lunch and dinner. Back on the road, where signs urge us -- beg us, please! -- see the meteor crater! give us your tourist money! We pass.

Similarly, Kim was not impressed, but I was looking forward to standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, so I took a detour off the interstate in the hopes that I'd find it. It was surprisingly simple, because it's at the corner of the main eastbound street in town and Kinsley Ave. If I'd have been coming westbound, I don't know that I'd have found it.

I'd never thought about it, but of course your standard intersection will have four corners, and this one was no different. The northeast corner had a Route 66-themed Hallmark store with a wooden cowboy out front. The southwest corner had an Eagles themed gift shop blaring their music across the intersection. And the real corner, the northwest one, has a bronze statue and a trompe l'oeil painting of windows reflecting a girl (my lord!) in a flatbed Ford. (The southeast corner, incidentally, has a visitor information kiosk in a parking lot.) Sadly, the park with the bronze statue is next to a JC Penneys that burned down last fall, so the entire area is cordoned off with a chain link fence.

We hit the drive-thru at Sonic (the first time I've ever been to a Sonic) for a cold drink, and head a few blocks down the road to a rest area, where we can use the bathrooms (locked?! doh!) and eat our lunch fixins from Flagstaff. Krys, for no readily apparent reason, wants to stay in the 100+ degree car, so we leave the doors open while she eats there.

We hit a truck stop for the restrooms, then back on the interstate. Kim and Krys sleep for the next 60 miles as I drive past tacky teepees and metal dinosaurs advertising free cactuses and petrified wood if we stop in and look at the gift shops. No, not this time through. We arrive at the Petrified Forest National Park visitor center, and watch the movie about how the petrified wood was formed, which is a great film until the end, where they preach for about five minutes straight about how never to take any of the petrified wood from the park, or you'll get handcuffed and stuffed into a police car and have to spend the next ten years in a national park prison cell with some furry guy named Yogi.

We buy a few chunks of petrified wood from the gift shop (huh? guess it's OK if the guvmint takes it), leave the visitor center, and enter the park, but not before being warned by the cashier at the gate not to take any petrified wood under penalty of Yogi, and having to declare the rocks we just bought. We drive through the painted desert, and admire rocks that look like Wile E Coyote stacked them.

We stop at the Crystal Forest, read the display (paragraph two again threatens us with Yogi), and check out the wood.

On the way out of the park, there's a stop sign at the cashier's kiosk, which forces us to stop. Apparently nobody called us in, so the guy in the booth just waves us past, and the threat of jail for being accused of taking a rock is over. Whew.

After leaving the forest, we drive through the town of Show Low (main road: Deuce of Clubs Ave., get it?) and soon arrive at Lakeside Campground. Close to the highway, but plenty quiet and warm enough for the night. We fix dinner, play a board game, then head to bed.

Miles today: 301
Miles total: 1923

Road Trip - Day 5

Day 5 – June 29 – Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

A quick breakfast at the Circus Circus bagel shop, a stop at the casino for a few more souveniers, and we're back on the road. Leaving Las Vegas, baby.

But first, a stop at Albertsons to get gas and bottled water, then on to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Since 9/11, commercial trucks have been banned from the dam (unless they go through a long pre-screening process and get permits to cross), and cars are "randomly" selected for inspection. Not much of a slowdown today, and we're soon paying $5 for the privilege of parking in the garage at the west end of the dam.

It's dam big, dam hot, and dam expensive to take the tour. We take photos, check out the tomb of the dam dog, head back to the car, and cross the dam into Arizona. Arizona is on mountain time, but doesn't participate in daylight savings time, so we set our watches ahead zero minutes. (I find it's easier to think that Arizona's on Pacific time in the summer and mountain time in the winter, which works, although it's not really true.)

70 downhill miles later, we arrive in Kingman, and have lunch at a 50's style diner on Route 66. At the table next to us, there's a family speaking a foreign language; my guess is Swedish, although they're not punctuating their statements with "bork bork bork". Kim and I discuss how multi-cultural our trip has been so far, with the wide cross section of people we saw in Vegas and now here.

Back on the road, and another 70 miles to Seligman, where we stop for gas and a snack. I'm not sure why it's considered the "Birthplace of Route 66", considering it's not at either end and not really at the center, but it is (really, the sign says so, so it must be true). Route 66 parallels I-40 for the next 18 miles, so we take the dusty two-lane paved road through the hilly desert, and after passing a chain gang cleaning trash, we reconnect with the interstate, and soon reach the turn to SR-64 to the Grand Canyon.

There's a bunch of brush fires in the news -- we're a bit worried about our trip over the next few days -- and we see a couple spots of smoke on the horizon (photo enhanced to show smoke plumes).

We soon arrive at the park entrance, but still see no sign of the canyon. Krys points out, "Dad, it's a hole in the ground. You won't be able to see it from far away." Duh.

We take the long way in, stopping at a few overlooks, and check into the Maswik Lodge and have dinner. The food is typical cafeteria food, but with a really surly staff. Yum. We finish in time to catch the sunset, and watch the entertainment as some fool climbs onto an outcropping where one slip means a thousand foot fall bouncing down the sides of the canyon. He makes it out, and after sunset makes it back. The smoke on the horizon makes for a hazy sunset, but it's still pretty spectacular.

We head back to the lodge, hang out for a bit, then come back to watch the stars come out. They do, we're impressed (hmm...) and head back to go to bed.

Miles today: 298
Miles total: 1612

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Road trip - Day 4

Day 4 – June 28 – Las Vegas

Today was our first of three non-travel days during the trip. We slept in late, getting up at about 9:30 and had breakfast at the bagel shop in Circus Circus. Krys and Kim went swimming until noon, and we hung out in the hotel room, resting and updating our notes and budget.

At 1:30, we headed out into the 104 degree temperatures again and walked over to the Riviera for lunch in their food court. Krys picked at her KFC chicken, I ate my Pizza Hut pizza, and Kim was a little wary of her Subway sandwich that the server mishandled when preparing it. Gloves? Cross contamination? Whazzat?

Back to the car, and up to Fremont Street, where we bought a few souveniers, and were disappointed to see that the big Horseshoe at Binion's Horseshoe had been removed. For repair? Replacement? Dunno. I know Harrah's bought them out a few years ago, but the WSOP finals were coming up in a few weeks, and it'd be a sad sight if the wires were still hanging there for the final tables.

When Kim was Krys' age, she had her photo taken in front of a million dollars that Binions had on display. We'd hoped to take the same photo with Krys as the subject, but apparently that was removed, too, a few years ago.

Back to the strip, and we check out the Coke and the M&M theme stores. The barhop at the Coke store did a great job getting Krys involved in his hawking of 8 oz. bottles of Coke. I ordered three bottles, and he made Krys swear that she knew how to open the bottles, and that if she spilled, she'd have a week's worth of restriction for every drop spilled. Once she agreed, he handed her the bottle opener, and of course, the bottle slipped as she partially opened it, splattering Coke on the counter. Good laugh, good Coke, good times.

We had dinner at the buffet at Circus Circus (decent), then attempted to take the trolley ride to the Sirens show at Treasure Island (a bit bawdier than I expected), to the fountains at Bellagio (nice), and back to the hotel. We managed to do it, but it took a lot longer than it should have, took us asking directions from multiple people to find where to catch the trolley (in one spot, it was at the bottom of the parking garage at the Imperial Palace). My advice: it seems insane, but drive it. It'll be faster and less frustrating. Or take the city bus.

Lame. 10:30 at night in Vegas, and we're asleep again.

Miles today: 10
Miles total: 1314

Road trip - Day 3

Day 3 – June 27 – Wells, NV to Las Vegas

We left the Shell Crest Motel as soon as we could the next morning, and set out in search of breakfast. Wells is a small town by most standards: population 1000. I believe that it exists solely because it's at the intersecton of I-80 and US-93, and makes a good overnight stop from Boise to Vegas or Reno to Salt Lake City. Our hopes for breakfast weren't high, and our standards had been lowered by the motel, so when Kim saw Bella's Espresso House, she was OK with that. Not being a guy, she apparently didn't notice the signs to Bella's Gentlemen's Club (link probably SFW) on the way into town ("Come stay at a real working Brothel"), but it turns out that the restaurant and the club are a few blocks apart. A quick breakfast, some nasty gritty coffee, a trip to the local grocery store for a case of bottled water, and we're off on our longest planned day of driving, with miles and miles of nothing, punctuated with miles of more nothing.

40 miles in, we're cruising at 70 MPH though 6000 foot elevation desert. 20 miles after that, we cross the Pony Express trail in Shellbourne and use an outhouse at the rest stop there.

At 146 miles on the day, we hit Ely for lunch at McDonalds. Ely is the biggest town between Twin Falls, ID and Vegas. Kim and Krys posed with the moose statue out front.

It's at this point of the trip where we first diverted from our original plan. This was already becoming a long day, and we were already getting a little tired of driving. I'd originally scoped out four different routes to Vegas, two of which had us stopping at the Ale'E'Inn restaurant and Area 51 for dinner, one of which involved driving a dirt road through a canyon, and the most boring choice: following US 93 into town the whole way. This last one is the fastest route, though, and even though I insisted early on that this trip was more about the journey than the destinations, I fully agreed that I just wanted to get to Vegas. US-93 all the way, baby.

At 169 miles, I end up stuck behind a truck going through Connors Pass (where US-93, US-50, and US-6 run concurrently. Not only is it doing well under the speed limit, not only am I stuck behind it for ten miles because there's really no place for it to turn off, but it's a WalMart truck, and there's something about WalMart that just makes me grumpy -- even just thinking about it. Once we're out of the pass, As soon as we hit a two lane section of road, I punch the accelerator, pass him, and then have to slam on the brakes as I pass a surprising crossroads where US-93 heads off to the right. Grrrr...

About 50 miles later, we're all in need of a bathroom break, but the signs indicate a rest area ahead, so we push on a few more miles, to discover that the rest area has parking and picnic tables, but no bathroom, and no secluded place to go. We dance, hold it, drive another 20 miles, and stop at an unnamed dirt road about 6 miles short of Pioche. Krys got to see a cattle guard up close and the three of us were surprised at the amount of trash under the bushes out in the middle of nowhere.

Another 83 miles, and I stop briefly for this photo at the intersection of US-93 and SR-375, the Extraterrestrial Highway. I'm suddenly reminded of a bumper sticker I'd seen the day before on a car at the Dead Mouse Motel: "Aliens: the other grey meat." No Area 51 for us today, though. Onward.

20 miles, and time for another bathroom break. We stop briefly at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, and although a sign at the bathrooms says "Closed - out of order" on the women's side, the men's side is open and functioning, so we take turns using it. We watch a small lizard among the rocks, then, as we're getting back into the car, the ranger pulls up and says "You're not using these restrooms, are you?" "No," I answer, thinking that truthfully with a Clinton-esque bit of logic, I'm not using them -- I'm done. "Good," he says, "They're not working. There's another one about half a mile up the road." We thank him and leave.

About 50 miles later, we enter Clark County, and Kim's starting to be excited about being close to Nellis AFB again. Sure enough, we soon see official looking "keep out" signs along the road. 60 miles of desert later, we arrive in Vegas. We see Fremont street and the Stratosphere on the way in, and check into our room at Circus Circus after a fairly long line at the check-in desk. Dinner at The Pink Pony (good food, but ack! what a theme!), and we drive the strip to see the town at night. We're so lame -- we're in Vegas and asleep by 11:00.

Miles today: 456
Miles total: 1304