Thursday, May 31, 2012

The trifecta of sights to see from Reno, NV…

Virginia City NV

Reno NevadaWe had a one night stay in Fallon, Nevada and then made the less than 60 mile drive to Sparks, Nevada which is nothing more than a sister city to Reno, Nevada. We are staying at the Spark’s Marina RV Park for a week… a really nice place and over our normal budget but the location is perfect for exploring the nearby area.

Reno and Lake Tahoe NV 006We decided that we wanted to see Virginia City, NV and also visit the state capital of Nevada, Carson City. However the must see spot when in the Reno area is Lake Tahoe. Our plan was to see each one of these venues in three separate days….,our trifecta of sights to see. However, the best laid plans sometimes do not pan out….

Here is the story… We decided to make a day trip to Virginia City, a historic mining town. It was here that Janis Joplin sang and here that Mark Twain Reno and Lake Tahoe NV 011started in the newspaper business. So the trip over to Virginia City was one we really looked forward to. The drive through the mountains to get there was very scenic and as we approached Virginia City we were somewhat excited.

That is until we got there… Virginia City is yet another old historic mining town that has lost its charm (in our opinion) to over commercialism. There really wasn’t much to this town other Reno and Lake Tahoe NV 009than some shops selling souvenirs, some restaurants selling food at high prices and a few interesting looking bars. When researching the town, we read many colorful historical stories, yet to our disappointment the city had no informative plaques or markers illustrating these accounts.

The bright side of the town was that there were some very interesting buildings from the 1800’s that seemed to be relatively authentic and restored (despite the town suffering a devastating fire) to represent the true spirit of the western days of glory that Virginia City once had. However the crooked balcony on the Kashmir photo above could use a little help…

Reno and Lake Tahoe NV 012After a stroll along the three or so blocks along the main drag, nothing convinced us that we should linger. We therefore decided to go on ahead and visit the state capital this day as well. So on the the road we went until we arrived in Carson City and as we approached the center of town we were surprised by the lack of any tall buildings. Yet it was this lack of the “citified” buildings that made Carson City charming and alluring.  If you ever have a chance to visit this town we feel you must take a stroll around the inviting tree lined grounds of the state capital. We took a lunch with us and totally enjoyed eating in the Capital Plaza while soaking in the ambiance of the city.

Despite spending an hour or so in Carson City we still had most of the day left. We felt compelled to complete the trifecta of sights this day and headed to South Lake Tahoe.. but that is another story…

Monday, May 28, 2012

Titus Canyon and Scotty’s Castle, NV…

Death Valley - on the way to Scotty's Castle

Death Valley - Scotty's Castle 009We decided to see the southern part of Death Valley since we had already explored the northern part. One thing I really wanted to do was to drive down Titus Canyon, Sharon,however, was not so eager... Leaving Beatty, Nevada the turn-off for the road is located just off of Highway 374 a few miles west of the ghost town of Rhyolite, NV. 

This is a 27 mile mostly one way dirt road that bisects Titus Canyon and eventually connects to California state highway 190 on the floor of Death Valley. Death Valley - Scotty's Castle 014The road going to Titus Canyon has a sign that says a high clearance 4WD vehicle is necessary to drive the road. I asked a ranger about this and he assured us that our Honda CRV 4WD would be just fine…The road is rough, narrow in places, steep in other places, and ultimately one of the last places you want to be during a flash flood.

We turned onto the Titus Canyon road from the Amargosa Valley. Crossing the Death Valley - Scotty's Castle 006valley we then very slowly climbed into the Grapevine Mountains passing excellent examples of volcanic ash and breccia deposits until we reached our azimuth at Red Pass, 5250’ of elevation. The road is rough on the climb into Red Pass (where there is a great view off to the north) and the few miles just past Red Pass are nearly as rough as we were winding downwards along a very narrow, rough road that has very steep drop offs along its edge. Sharon held up rather well but I am pretty sure there was a pucker in the passenger seat that wasn’t there before this drive.

Death Valley - Scotty's Castle 016Further down the road we passed by the ghost town of Leadfield and then we entered Titus Canyon…. WOW!!! A very impressive canyon in Death Valley with geological features that are simply amazing. There are examples of synclines, volcanic dykes and apparent anticlines along with other amazing geologic features. The most spectacular part of Titus Canyon is last part known as the narrows.

The final 1.5 miles of the canyon is the most narrow as the walls begin to squeeze together as they get less than 20 feet apart in several places.

As the road narrows it appears as if the canyon walls are steeper as they Death Valley - Megabrecccacreep closer and closer leaving nothing but us and a small slice of sky above us. Layers of rock become more apparent and a new geologic feature appeared before us as we saw a massive boulder with “Megabreccca.”

Megabreccia is rock composed of broken fragments of minerals or rock cemented together by a fine-grained matrix. It appeared to us as a one of a kind, art piece made by mother earth herself (left photo). We also saw several rock faces with Indian petroglyphs visible but unfortunately again some annoying defacing by wannabe Indians.

Death Valley - Scotty's Castle 024

As we left the mouth of Titus Canyon the road carried two-way traffic for the last several miles as we crossed over the alluvial fans spilling into the valley. We exited onto the paved road and headed next toward Scotty's Castle.

We really didn’t have time to tour Scotty’s Castle but we did do a walk about the property and visited the grave site of Scotty. All I can say is why did the castle become known as Scotty’s Castle since Scotty was simply a con man who was allowed to live in the behemoth of a structure built by a man he conned? It should have been called Albert Mussey Johnson’s Castle as he was the one who built it…

Death Valley - Mesquite Flat Sand DunesNonetheless an interesting piece of history and an intriguing story about how a con man and the man he conned became friends! What a strange world we live in! We made one last stop at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to take a stroll into the steep dunes. Sand from all over Nevada found its way there creating a scenic panorama we enjoyed.

We left Beatty, Nevada and made a rather long drive of just under 300 miles where we found ourselves for a one night stay in Fallon, Nevada before moving on again for a week stay in Sparks just east of Reno, Nevada.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rhyolite, Nevada… A Ghost Town…

Rhyolite building

Rhyolite ruin 1Rhyolite was a part of the booming Bullfrog Mining District in the early 1900’s as gold mine speculators filled the valley in hopes of striking it rich. It was one of three growing mining towns, the others being Beatty and Bullfrog. It all began as a couple of prospectors camped in the area and returned with some samples of rock with them that later proved to contain gold!!!

Word got out and the population exploded as people hoping to strike it rich flooded the valley. After a larger gold field was found Rhyolite it became an important spot on the map to gold diggers. By 1906 there was mail service to the town and by 1907 the town moved the houses of ill repute just out of town… the town was becoming civilized.

Rhyolite signHowever as fast as it grew it collapsed just as quickly. By 1910 the banks were gone and the water company had closed and in 1911 the last of the mines shut down. Gold was what brought everyone to Rhyolite and it was the lack of gold that ran them all away. In 1920 there were only 14 people left in a town that once sported a population near 10,000. No one was left in town by 1924… the town was a ghost town.

wild burrosNot much remains of what was once a bustling town and what remains tells the story of those who left. When one walks in the footsteps of those seeking riches you get the feeling that life was very hard here but that greed and wealth made life much easier for many who lived here… that is, until the gold dried up! An interesting account by a prospector in 1908 I found while looking for information about Rhyolite can be read here. Many of the wild burros seen in this area are likely descendants of those in the 1900’s that were brought here to haul mining cargo for the masses dreaming of riches.

Rhyolite Last Supper

Rhyolite sofaSharon particularly enjoyed her first ever sighting (and hearing the braying) of five wild burros that we’ve seen roaming near Rhyolite on the other side of Beatty. Just before you enter the town of Rhyolite there is an information area where there is some art that was created in 1984 by a Belgian artist named Albert Szukalski. The art is an interesting diversion from the town itself and worth the “free” visit.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Death Valley via Hell’s Gate…

 Zabriskie Point

Death Valley Our first morning in the town of Beatty, Nevada was pleasant as the temperatures were in the 80’s and lucky for us will be no higher than that during our stay here. As  I mentioned we are at a no-frills park, Beatty RV Park but its proximity to Death Valley makes for trips over to the National Park nice… Death Valley , the hottest, driest place in North America where you can find yourself at the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level!

Harmony Borax Works

Our first foray into Death Valley National Park had us taking route 374 into California where we took Beatty Road to see the southern part of the park. Entering the park from this direction at Hell’s Gate there is a 13 mile decent into Death Valley as you drop well over 3500 feet in elevation.

Harmony Borax Works 1

Our first glimpse of Death Valley brought to mind how vast this over 3,000,000 acre park is and also how absolutely stark it is… The lower in elevation you drop the less vegetation is visible and the hotter it gets… We mentally found ourselves at a period back in time when this land was first explored and wondered in awe how the first settlers and Native Americans survived in such an unforgiving environment.Some people come to love the desert and appreciate its beauty (like me) whereas others (like Sharon) are somewhat put off by feeling that this desert is too desolate due to the harshness of the landscape.

Dante’s View

We packed lunch because we planned a full day with stops on our list for this route that included the Harmony Borax Works, Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course and the scenic Artist Palette Loop, as well as several other minor stops. Sharon really enjoyed the 20 minute movie at the visitor center and the park map we picked up there was helpful and easy to follow. We were glad we thought to fill up with gas before coming to the park because we noticed the price of regular at Furnace Creek was $5.89/gal. Ouch!

Devil's Golf Course

Each stop in Death Valley had its own beauty whether is was the hues of color in the rock, shadows on the rolling jagged hills, textures of the landscape, or just the sheer enormity and beauty of it all. I can’t find all the words to describe the views so I will let the pictures speak for me. My mind wandered as did my imagination. The scene in the last picture below appeared to me as if we were all walking down the path to the mother ship waiting perhaps for it to remove us from this “unknown world”… The only thing seemingly missing was the beam of light that would transport the people up to the sky…

Badwater Basin

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Valley of Fire State Park and on to Beatty, NV…

Valley of Fire State Park NV 022

Valley of Fire State Park NV 079One last visit to the Strip and one to the Fremont Street Experience with our Blogger friends Vic and Pam provided us with enough of the lights and action for a while. We sure enjoyed our stay at the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort but I felt it was time to go and look for some peace and solitude. I am pretty sure we will find plenty of that at Death Valley National Monument. But before we left Vegas we had one more highly recommended spot to go to… Valley of Fire State Park!

This park is a long hour drive northeast of Las Vegas. The drive on highway 15 is somewhat boring and monotonous but once you turn on state road 169 you can tell you are headed for something spectacular. The slow drive through the Indian territory eventually leads to the  entrance sign to the state park.

Valley of Fire State Park NV 054  Valley of Fire State Park NV 056

Valley of Fire State Park NV 018At the entrance we were welcomed by a pleasant Ranger who provided a map and receipt for our $10 non-resident day trip fee.  As we drove in we were met with the cacophony of reddish hues that tantalized us to the core. There are places in the USA that are like no other place and there are places in Valley of Fire State Park that are like no other world! It is no wonder that the movie Total Recall shot their Mars scenes here and that Star Trek’s Captain Kirk fell to his death in this park. It is other worldly on so many planes…

We took several hikes but in the near 100 degree heat we stuck to the shorter trails and drank plenty of water. We were able to see most of the hotspots in the park (pun intended)including the bee hives, seven sisters, elephant rock, mouse tank and lots and lots of petroglyphs. One can only imagine what it must have been like for the Indians here eking an existence in such an unforgiving space while taking time to artistically render images representing who knows what… It is fun to look at their drawings and try to guess what they were thinking.

Valley of Fire State Park NV 037All this photographer’s eye candy was at every turn but the biggest highlight of all was when we stopped to check out a spot for lunch.  As we were exploring I heard a noise and not 30 feet from me was a Desert Big Horn Sheep who had come up over a rise!  Once he spotted me he nervously moved away at a quick pace… but not before we both snapped off a few good pictures. Valley of Fire State Park NV 001Bighorns can live up to 15 years and dominant males may have horns that weigh up to thirty pounds!  They can go without visiting water for long periods of time by getting adequate moisture from their food in the winter and will visit water holes every three or so days in the summer to remainValley of Fire State Park NV 025 hydrated. Most of us have heard about the head butting they do and it is reported that they have been seen to go at each other for up to 24 hours at a time!!! Makes my head hurt just thinking about it!!! This was a day we both really enjoyed and this State Park was definitely a Road Treat!

The next morning had us packing up and making the 120 or so mile drive north to the town of Beatty, Nevada where we will take up residence for about four days while we explore the Death Valley National Monument. We are now camped in a definitely no-frills park, Beatty RV Park,  but we are in a level sight with 50amps and water so we have all we need to explore Death Valley…

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Free fun on the Las Vegas Strip…

Bellagio Fountains

Bellagio fountains and ParisEveryone who comes to Las Vegas will most likely visit the large casino hotel complexes that make up what is known as the Las Vegas Strip. We are not big on gambling but we do enjoy an occasional day of people watching and Las Vegas in general is a fantastic place to watch a slice of the world’s population since people of all nationalities visit this part of Nevada.

Since we are about five miles from the strip we drove over to the Luxor self parking garage (free parking). From there we made our way through the casino to Las Vegas Boulevard, the street that all the largest and iconic casinos can be found. Having been to Vegas multiple times in my past for conventions this was my chance to be a tour guide for Sharon who for one reason or another never chose to attend a convention with me in Vegas.

Our main goal in visiting the strip was to visit many of the larger casinos “free outside shows” and do our share of people watching. In my opinion the three best free shows in Vegas are in no particular order:

  1. Inside the BellagioThe fountains of the Bellagio – an amazing choreographed light and musical show with water jetting upwards over 200 feet
  2. The Volcanoes at the Mirage – a rendition of a volcano erupting that is also choreographed with light and music
  3. The Sirens of Treasure Island – a typical Vegas styled show when the Sirens are doing their best to attract some pirates onto their boat

VenitianThere are many other free things to do in Vegas and a good link is at Insider Las Vegas. crooked buildingsPay attention to Casinos offering “fun books” as they will typically have some free slot play for new members. We were able to get $70.00 of total free slot play at three different casinos and walked away with $54.50 of free cash… Thanks Vegas!!!

Now if you have never been to Vegas just walking through the casinos is eye candy within itself. But you must pay attention to every detail of where you are as it is easy to become “lost” in one of the larger casinos such as New York, New York or Caesar's Palace. Some good rules to follow while visiting the area:

  1. inside ceaser's palaceit is advisable to text yourself any pertinent information that will assist you later in finding your car (i.e.  Luxor, ramp 3, east entrance, mid way up ramp).
  2. when entering a casino look back at the entrance after you enter to remember how it looked or to note other landmark for an easier exit
  3. to avoid the many panhandlers on the strip, my general rule is to make no eye contact and they will typically leave you alone
  4. look all around, up and down, front and back of you as there is so much to see and you will still miss something
  5. guard your valuables as large crowds will also bring out the pickpockets  and other slime looking for an easy score
  6. if you gamble then bring with you no more money than you plan to lose
  7. wear comfortable shoes!

I lost my shorts in VegasFollowing these simple rules allowed us to really enjoy the spectacle and grandeur that is Las Vegas – the adult Disney World!!! And be sure you don’t have too much fun like the guy to the right and lose the shirt off your back in Vegas… My guess is he was about to have a bad night…

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Red Rocks Canyon, Las Vegas, NV…

Red Rocks Canyon 001

Red Rocks Canyon 008When in Vegas you don’t have to spend all your time at the casinos since places like Hoover Dam and Red Rocks Canyon are short drives away. So after experiencing the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas it was time to see something a bit quieter and a whole lot more stunning…

Red Rocks Canyon 030

Red Rocks Canyon 006

We hopped in our CRV and headed just west of Las Vegas about 30 minutes to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. With just under 200,000 acres and many unique geologic features this area is a boon to rock climbers and hikers alike. We used our Access card to obtain free access to the park and its 13 mile loop road (normally $7.00 per car).

Like much of the Mojave desert, here you will find yuccas, rabbitbrush, chollas, sagebrush and Mormon’s tea Red Rocks Canyon 017scattered over the terrain. But what makes this place super unique are the red rocks which are “frozen in time sand dunes” that are nothing but a treat to the eyes… Every time time a cloud passes by the sun or near it the colors on the rocks change as do the shadows on these very large rocky outcroppings. At Red Rock Canyons, the gray carbonate rocks, remnants of an ancient ocean, have been thrust over the younger and more colorful tan and red sandstones resulting in a very dramatic panorama known as a thrust fault.

Red Rocks Canyon 023There are lots of hiking trails and the park was fairly crowded this day. We chose to hike instead at the nearby Spring Mountain Ranch State Park since it was less crowded and gave us the opportunity to enjoy the serenity of the area and to hear the rocks talk to us… These two parks are great places to spend a day or two!

The next morning we had scheduled a time to listen to a fellow tell us about a membership campground club called Camperworld, part of the Affinity Conglomerate that also owns Camper’s World and Good Sam. This hour long presentation was like most time share presentations where all the speaker wanted was to high pressure us to sign on the dotted line immediately. Even though we are still exploring membership clubs this one was clearly not for us. However, we did get a free three day extension here at Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort so we will now stay here until Wednesday … Free camping days are always hard to turn down especially one with a cool pool  and hot tub like the one we have here (above)…

An unexpected surprise happened last night as Pam and Vic, bloggers we met in Florida, are at our park! A great dinner and conversation with friends is another hard thing to turn down…

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Drive to Las Vegas…

Vegas 014

Vegas 004Before leaving the Phoenix, AZ area we stopped for a stroll through the town of Scottsdale and then also toured the Arizona State University campus. We had stumbled into a nice park near old town Scottsdale and simply enjoyed the walk through their gardens dotted with art sculptures. The LOVE sculpture to the right really caught our eyes…

The next day the drive to Las Vegas Vegas 011didn’t start off as well as we had hoped as there was a rollover accident on Interstate 10 that resulted in a fatality and traffic was at a stand still. Before retirement this would have really steamed me but during retirement waiting in traffic is not as bad… although it is still irritating. Finally the traffic cleared and we were on State Road 60 heading north through the northern Arizona Sonoran desert. We drove 217 miles where we stopped near the city of Kingman AZ for an overnight stop.

AllthornJoshua TreeThe next morning I woke up and looked out our front window to see a burrowing owl staring at me… Crazy!!! After this owl encounter we headed out once again on State Road 93 for the remaining 118 miles to Las Vegas. I love driving through the desert and taking in all the subtle pastel colors that the landscapes offer. The ruggedness and vastness of it all forces one into introspection… Into the Mojave Desert we pass many sculpted rocky peaks of rusted hues and then suddenly we are amongst a field of the vastly different pool at the oasis resortlooking Joshua trees. But as we climb we leave the Mojave desert behind and we notice the vegetation changing as we are creeping into the less spectacular Great Basin Desert.

But it is in the Great Basin Desert that we arrive to our destination the Oasis RV Resort for three nights. Another beautiful resort and with the PA discount we are here for $27.00 per night… and check out their pool…. fabulous!  We settle into our site and head to downtown Las Vegas to catch the Fremont Street experience.

Vegas 026Vegas 042Vegas 025

Vegas 018Parking is free at the Main Street Station. We checked out several of the downtown casinos and gambled just a little bit since this night we were there to enjoy the light show. If you haven’t been to the Fremont Street Experience you really should go. The sights and sounds of Vegas are everywhere as the eclectic tourists and colorful locals wait for the hourly light show. In between shows there are several different bands performing and we particularly enjoyed the Neon Country group as they sang one of our favorites “Red Solo Cup”… “I’ll fill you up… Let’s have a party…

Viva Las Vegas…