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Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 19: Grand Canyon, AZ (Leg: 0, Trip: 1,570)

Typical park shuttle bus

They have a wonderful shuttle system at this park too. (as you may recall, Zion's was superb). There are three routes: The main one called the village or Blue route hits the central areas of the village, campgrounds, markets, visitors center, etc. The Green route connects with the easternmost point of the blue route and goes further east about5-6 miles, and the red route connects with the blue route's westernmost point and goes another 8+ miles west. The shuttles run every 15 minutes or better which is great.

They told us when we checked in yesterday that our water hoses would freeze. I had some pipe insulators with us so I wrapped the hose in those and this morning the hose was not frozen. Unfortunately, they don't insulate the actual water faucets here so that did freeze. Once the sun came out and hit the faucet, it unfroze rapidly.

Today is Carol's birthday! Happy Birthday Carol! And she had her first real look at the Grand Canyon today for a special present! More importantly, the weather cooperated.

After breakfast we took the blue tram to the visitors center, connected to the green one and visited all the lookouts along the way. As our green tram was fairly full and about to leave, a guy came up and asked "if there was any room remaining." The driver asked "for how many?" And the response was 26 plus a few. Seems a school tour from Tucson was in the area. The driver said "sure, load them up!" So our green shuttle was stuffed full for the first leg.

The views from the various rim lookouts were great for seeing the canyon. Some of the colors were better as the day went on and the sun rose higher.

An interesting rock formation in the Canyon

A really pretty view down into the canyon.

After the green shuttle, we explored the visitors center which was underwhelming. It is big, spacious, and fairly empty. Nothing to really see there.

We then took the shuttle to the El Tovar Hotel where we had lunch. It is a fairly formal place and the food was OK. After lunch we took the blue shuttle to connect with the Red shuttle and went all the way out to Hermit's Rest and back. This shuttle route has the most scenic stops and overlooks. Tomorrow we plan to investigate the red route in detail tomorrow. Tonight we are going out to eat and then to a ranger program.

Great view from the red shuttle route

Hermit's Rest - end of the line

Hermit's rest was originally a "rest stop" along the trail for horse wagons and later cars to come into the rim area.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 18: Grand Canyon, AZ (Leg: 278, Trip: 1,570)

We had a good (not great) time at the show last night. I think the acrobatics were really good, but there didn't seem to be a story line (at least one that I could decipher). As the tickets were expensive, I was very surprised when they charged $12 for a program. At the ticket prices, they should have included the program free. I'm thinking Las Vegas overall has gone down hill. Back when the mob ran things, there were all kinds of deals to be had and the customer was king. Now that business people are running things, it seems not such a good deal.

We left just after nine this morning. Went through Boulder down across Hoover Dam to I-40. When crossing the Dam, you must stop to be inspected. I had to open some of the outer compartments and an inspector also came inside the RV for a minute. But nothing really bad and it took less than 5 minutes. They are building a new bridge across the water spillway and when it opens later this year, you will not be able to cross over on the dam. The new highway bridge will be much better as it is straighter and has two lanes in both directions.

We stopped for lunch in Kingman at Cracker Barrel. My food was fine but Carol didn't think hers was up to expectations. We had heard from some friends of ours that were here a month ago that there were a few wildflowers blooming but that we'd be too late for them. As you can see below, there were plenty left. (More on this later in this post)

Wildflowers on the I-40 Arizona hillside near Grand Canyon

On I 40, it started getting pretty windy which made the drive a lot of fun. As we climbed over 5,000 feet, we started getting snow and had intermittent snow all the way to the GC. We arrived here just about 4pm and got to our site with no problem. The sites are nothing to write home about as they are dirt and not a lot of space between sites. It will get down to 19 degrees tonight, so we turned the outside water hose off and will use our 50 gallon internal tank overnight, then refill it tomorrow. Also, you don't leave the sewer hose connected here because the ravens can smell them and come and poke holes in them which can make for an icky mess.

It snowed some more as the heavy clouds would drift over. Left a good amount on the car. But then the sun comes right out and warms it up until the next snow shower.

Snow on our car window just after the sun came out

We had dinner in the RV then tried to get up to the canyon before sunset. By the time we found a parking place, it was getting to dark to really see. We came back to the RV and worked on internet connections. I am using my cell phone and extender. Carol is using her phone too. Seems to be working pretty good. At the Market Cafe they have free wifi and we tried it, but everyone else was there too and I suspect they were downloading movies and whatever. The speed was 54mb, but the actual throughput was pathetic.

Back to the now you probably know Arizona well enough to know that the picture of the flowers is fake. I couldn't resist pulling someone's chain.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 17: Las Vegas, NV(Leg: 0, Trip: 1,292.3)

Here we are in Las Vegas for our extra day. This morning I did some remote computer work for a couple of clients. Tonight we are going to Mystere at Treasure Island. The wind is with us today with gusts of up to 50mph. Today at Grand Canyon Village there were gusts of 80mph, so I think we made the right decision to wait to head there tomorrow. (Though I would have sure liked that tail wind!)

No pictures for today. Instead, I am going to present my awards for the hotels -- best and worst!

First the best category.....

1) Best outdoor theme carried on into the property.....The Venetian; honorable mention to Paris and New York, New York. Inside and out, these three really do it right.

2) Best parking with freeway access and very close to theater onsite...Treasure Island. Our parking was just steps from the theater area.

3) Best use of flowers....The Bellagio. No contest, No one even close.

4) Best view.....Paris. The Eiffel Tower ride is a must do.

5) Largest Hotel....Caesar's Palace. It just goes on and on and on....the Energizer hotel.....And you'd better have lots of energy to do it!

6) Best Lobby...Paris. Well done art and walls, looks classy. Close second is the Venetian.

7) Best background music....the Venetian. No contest. No one else even close. Their classical music blended well with their theme.

8) Best Pool...Monte Carol and Mandalay Bay.

Now for the worst....

1) Worst theme...The Mirage. Wish this place were one. Unfortunately it is real...a real bore that is.

2) Most inconsistent use of theme.....Treasure Island. They have a great outdoor theme all displayed and then totally forget about it once you are inside.

3) Worst Casino.....The Mirage. Low ceilings, very dark.

4) Most Confusing....Mandalay Bay. You walk and walk forever and there are no signs to really help you. The maps are confusing. They do say "you are here" but you don't really want to be.

5) Worst Customer Service....Tie between the Luxor, the Mirage, and Caesar's Palace. We'll give it to the Luxor, but the others didn't lose by much. All had unbelievably long lines in the lobby waiting for service.

6) Sneakiest Hotel....Caesar's Palace. They make it easy for you to come in from the street, but difficult to leave the same way.

7) Most stuck up hotel.....hands down, the Luxor. They won't allow pictures inside - everyone else did. What are they hiding??? It can't be people as they are easily found in line to check in.

Where did your favorite fall?

Tomorrow, onto the Big Ditch!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 16: Las Vegas, NV(Leg: 0, Trip: 1,292.3)

When we got back to the RV on Monday afternoon, we went swimming and then out to dinner at Dave's Famous Barbecue. Once home from that, it was getting dark, so I decided to play golf at the putting course here at the park. They have 9 holes, each a puttable par 3. The course is lighted for evening golf. The greens are very slow to prevent you from losing the ball. So you really have to whack it hard to get it down near the pin. The holes are twisting and turning and with different levels so they are not easy. Plus with the lights at night, there are shadows that fool you into thinking the ground breaks in a different direction.

One of the tee areas at the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort

Some holes like the one below, are relatively easy. Others are difficult to do in the par 3. But it is a challenge and fun too.

The shortest and easiest hole on the course

When I connected to the Internet this morning, I looked at the weather forecast for Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We are supposed to head there tomorrow (Wednesday). The forecast calls for extremely strong winds (50-70mph) all the way there up through tomorrow night. There is a severe wind warning for the entire route and slab sided vehicles (Trucks, RVs, etc) are not recommended.

Carol and I decided therefore to alter our plans and spend an extra day in Las Vegas and only 5 days in the Grand Canyon. She made the call to change the GC reservation and we then added a day here. We aren't really sad about this change as we are enjoying the area here.

Then we tried to get some discounted show tickets. Unfortunately, the prices aren't discounted near enough for us. At the time we tried, they were only discounting the most expensive tickets and not by all that much.

We then parked at the Bellagio and began our tour of hotel/casinos for today. The Belagio is really nice and their "Conservatory" is filled with flowers. This hotel is very bright inside with lots of natural light. The flowers are all in bloom and the fragrances are a treat to enjoy.

Flowers in the Conservatory at the Bellagio

Very pretty blooms

A bug from one of my programs???
After the Bellagio, we crossed over Las Vegas Blvd on a skybridge and went to the Paris Hotel/Casino. Here we rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This is an actual 1/2 scale model and they used the actual original blueprints to build it. When you get to the top via elevator, you are 50 stories above everything. The view is great from that perch. While you are outside, you are screened in so you can't do anything stupid. The wind was already starting to come up while we were up there. They let you stay at the top as long as you like and we stayed there for about 20 minutes or so.

After that, we went and toured the lobby, shops, and casino. This is another hotel that stayed true to their theme both inside and outside. It was a joy to visit this facility. In the lobby, there were no long lines as we have seen at others.

Full view of Eiffel Tower

From the Paris, we took another skybridge back into the Belagio and after walking what seemed like forever, we came to the free tram station to the Monte Carlo. We rode over there and had lunch in the food court. We saw their lobby and yes, it did have lines too. Then we walked around a bit and left. This hotel has a nice swimming facility with a lazy river and wave pool. But it has no theme that we could detect so it was not very inspiring.

We rode the tram back to Bellagio, got in the car and came back to the RV. The storm is really starting to move in. We are supposed to get some thunderstorms and the sky is already clouded over. Also the wind has already risen to 24mph with gusts up to 37 and it is supposed to get worse tonight and tomorrow through the day. It should finally begin to calm down tomorrow evening, so leaving Thursday for the Grand Canyon looks like a safe bet right now.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 15: Las Vegas, NV(Leg: 0, Trip: 1,292.3)

Welcome sign on Las Vegas Blvd from the south

The sign above is on Las Vegas Blvd. as you come up the "strip" from the south side. This sign was erected in 1959 and is on the National Register of Historical Landmarks. I would have used this picture on Saturday when we arrived, but we didn't get a good take until today. So Welcome to Las Vegas, 2 days late.

A special welcome to Randy and Pam Warner, two new followers who have climbed aboard the virtual RV. As I understand from Carol, Randy and Pam are recent full time RVers so they know all about the lifestyle.

Yesterday we went swimming here at the RV resort. There is a main pool, pictured below, and 4 ancillary pools located in each corner of the resort. You truly are never far from a pool here.

Main pool and 1 of 2 spas at Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort

We had dinner last night in the RV and then did a short 2.5 mile bike ride. We would have rode longer, but it got too dark. Then we spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching some TV. We really haven't had time to watch much TV this trip (which is good), so this was a good break.

This morning we decided to go visit more hotel/casinos and check out the architecture of each. First, we visited the Venetian. Our son Tim and his wife Kiersten recently stayed there. We got a good parking place in the lot not too far from the elevators. (thanks parking angel!) And then we toured the complex.

The canal with gondola and boatman in the Venetian

Of course, they had to replicate the canals complete with gondola ride and singing boatmen. The ride goes both indoors and outdoors around scenes from Venice. Even the sky is painted to look real and enhance the illusion.

One of the shopping areas in the Venetian

The shopping areas are tastefully done and there are fountains on the inside and out. They play classical music to complete the experience which we really enjoy as it is so much better than what most places were playing.

Looking down the lobby of the Venetian

The lobby of the hotel was done much like the inside of a cathedral in Venice with paintings on the ceiling and statuary everywhere. The Venetian is one of the few "theme" hotels, if not the only one, to really carry the theme throughout the premises, both inside and out. If you haven't seen it, be sure to put it on your list of places to see when you come here.

Human Statue

They have an area called St. Mark's Square which looks like a true Italian city square, except this one is full of shops. They also have street entertainment. Above is a lady dressed to look like a statue right in the walkway. She didn't fool me though as I kept my video camera filming her face until she blinked. But at first glance, you would think she was the real deal.

Then we crossed the street and walked past the Mirage to Caesar's Palace. This hotel/casino is done up in a Roman theme. This place is HUGE. It is very easy to get lost here. They are tricky devils too. They make it very easy to come in from the street as there are moving walkways and ramps to bring you right inside. However, there are no such amenities if you want to go back out. Sort of like a Roman themed roach motel - you can get in but you can hardly get out.

One of the statues in a pool at Caesar's Palace

There is a lot of statuary here, usually set in pools as fountains or into facades of buildings. A lot of Roman arches too.

The statue of David at Caesar's Palace

After checking out Caesar's digs, we walked over to the Mirage. This place was nothing special. The casino area had a fairly low ceiling which gave it a closed in feeling and it was dark. This is another hotel that could use a lesson in customer service. Their lobby lines were ridiculously long for a supposedly classy hotel. They did have a nice atrium in the middle of the facility with plants and some flowers. Other than that, nothing much here to rave about.

Plants in the Atrium at the Mirage

Last hotel for the day was Treasure Island, or TI for short. This hotel had a great theme portrayed on the outside with a pirate ship, skull cliff, and roped boardwalks, but they neglected to really carry the theme inside at all. Once you go inside, it is pretty much your standard vanilla casino and hotel. Not much more to say about it.

Skull cliff outside the Treasure Island Hotel/Casino

On the way back across the sky bridge to get our car at the Venetian, Carol took a great picture of the Eiffel tower at the Paris hotel and casino. We hope to visit there tomorrow. Be sure to visit Carol's blog post for more great pictures of today's adventures.

Eiffel Tower outside the Paris Hotel/Casino

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 14: Las Vegas, NV(Leg: 0, Trip: 1,292.3)

See if you can guess where this was taken - it is the site for a current TV show - answer at end of this blog post.

Last night we "cruised the strip" which took quite a bit of time. As you can imagine, on a Saturday evening, the strip comes alive. There were hordes of people out on the sidewalks. I suspect many were just taking in the experience or coming out after dark to avoid the heat during the day. Carol took many pictures out her window and through the sun roof of the car, so you can see them all on her blog.

On our way back into the RV park, the guard noticed that we had a headlight burned out. I located the nearest auto parts store on the Internet (did I say earlier how great it is to have good WiFi???). First thing this morning after breakfast, I went up and got the bulb for about $7. They had the more expensive halogen types ($20 on up) and of course, tried to sell me on those. Even tried to say that since one burned out, the other was about to go too. Didn't fall for that line and bought the direct replacement. Came back to the RV site and in about 15 minutes had it all installed and ready to go.

Then we decided to go to the strip before lunch and before it got too hot and check out a few of the hotels. We found good parking at the Mandalay Bay and as it was Sunday morning, it wasn't very crowded yet. Maybe the gamblers were all in church atoning for their sins of the night before. (Not!)

The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino

This hotel is very confusing from both the outside and inside. They really don't cater to walk-up traffic and the internal layout is very confusing. Signage isn't the greatest and their posted maps really are hard to decipher. We never did find our way back to the actual resort activities. There is a Four Seasons hotel, apparently adjacent to the Mandalay Bay and it was confusing which way to go.

Large waterfall outside the Mandalay Bay - one of several

There are waterfalls on both sides of the walkways and they really pump a lot of water through them. I would not want their electric bill for the pumps. (Then again, maybe last night's big losers are allowed to go into the basement and man the pedal pumps to keep it going!)

Another water feature outside the Mandalay Bay
The next hotel we visited was the Luxor with an Egyptian theme. They do cater to walkups and have a nice path direct to the street sidewalk for us "tourists" who are too cheap to take a cab. (and need the exercise anyway!)
Outside the Luxor with tram track in foreground
As you walk along the large pyramid which is the signature for this hotel, the grounds in front are exceptionally well maintained with pretty flowers. Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside to show the inside of the pyramid. But all the way up the slanting walls inside there are the hotel rooms, and the interior then is hollow and leaves a large room for the casino.

Flowers along the front of the Luxor Pyramid

One thing we did notice inside the Luxor is that there were about 120 people (I did a quick estimate based on groups of 10) all waiting in line to get help from the registration desk. This is a great example of very poor customer service. You would think a hotel this large would never allow a line to form like this. I cannot recommend anyone go here just for that reason.

Next up along the walk was the Excalibur with a medieval castle theme. We didn't go in this hotel, but the outside was made to look like a castle, albeit one with a 40 story hotel included.

The Excalibur with it's medieval castle motif

Our last hotel for this trek was the New York, New York. It is made to resemble the skyline of the city from the outside. The skyline is complete with a model of the Statue of Liberty sitting in a reflecting pool. And no, you can't go up in this statue like you can in the real on in NY. Even the inside is made to look and feel like the Big Apple with sidewalk vendors, street decorations, etc.

The Statue of Liberty

The skyline of New York

After visiting these hotels, it really was getting hot outside and we were wearing out, so we took the free tram back to the Mandalay Bay and our car. This is not really a monorail, even though it looks like one. There actually is a monorail further north in town. But this tram is cable driven. The one we boarded really had some problems. Apparently one of the doors was acting up as it kept opening and closing the doors to the cars, each time announcing that the doors were closing and then that the car would be accelerating and to hang on. Well, it took about 10 minutes of these repetitions and finally it decided to work.

Next we went to visit The Gold and Silver Pawn shop further up on Las Vegas Blvd. This store is the scene for the hit show "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel. I really wanted to see this place. And yes, that is where the picture at the beginning of this post was taken.

The actual shop is not very big. You are allowed to take pictures of everything but the actual pawn counter. You are not allowed to take any video inside the store. It was fairly crowded with customers and gawkers (we were in the later category). I think one of the stars of the show was working behind the pawn counter but could not get close enough to hear his voice and confirm that.

The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop

Inside the store, there are many displays of items. There are many jewelry counters filled with tons of gold and silver items. There is an area for the motorcycles to be displayed, one for bicycles, and other small themed areas.

Motorcycles galore!

One of the tastefully done miscellaneous display areas

Jewelry counters in the pawn shop

We didn't stay here too long as it was crowded. But I was glad to see it and get a feel for just how big the place is.

On the way home we had lunch and then came back to the RV to cool off. A couple of the intersections have these massive traffic signal poles like the one below. They span the instersection diagonally from corner to corner and have 16 signals on them. The actual pipe going across the street is slightly larger than 3 feet in diameter and the bolts holding the risers to the ground are larger than your palm. These are some serious traffic signals!

Large 3 foot diameter traffic poles.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 13: Las Vegas, NV(Leg: 162.5, Trip: 1,292.3)

We left Zion RV Resort this morning for Las Vegas. We stopped at the WalMart in Hurricane to get some supplies and restock a few items. After leaving WalMart, we went to the I-15 freeway and crossed the stateline into Arizona just south of St. George. Since Arizona does not have daylight savings time, right now they are the same as Pacific time. So we gained an hour. 30 miles later, we crossed into Nevada. Interestingly enough, there are no real "rest areas" along the Nevada section of Interstate 15. Instead, there are some paved open areas off the road for "truck parking" which have no services or facilities of any kind save a dumpster. We used one of these areas for a quick break. Fortunately, the motor home is totally self contained. But I have no idea what the people in the cars do when they "have to go." This is desert and there are no trees except for a few random cactus. Not sure I'd want to use one of those.

Nevada's version of a rest stop.

In the Arizona/Nevada portion of the road, close to the border, you cross through some really neat cliffs that form a tight canyon for the Virgin River. While nowhere near as pretty as Zion, it is still interesting terrain.

Virgin River Canyon near Arizona/Nevada border

When we arrived near Las Vegas, I could not believe how it has grown. It has been something like 25 or so years since I was last here. The city has really spread out in all directions. There are many more tall buildings along the downtown and strip portions.

View of Las Vegas's tall buildings from I-15 north of town

We arrived at the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort and it is really nice. Beautiful sites, great WiFi, security staff 24/7 at the entry gate, etc. Really top notch.

After setting up the motorhome and having lunch, we went off on errands. First to Camping World to get an adjustable water regulator which totally solved our water pressure problem and made Carol ever so happy! (always a good thing to do!)

My cell phone has not been holding a charge, so I am trying to find a new battery for it. Everyone seems to have to custom order it, but we won't be in any spot long enough to get it. We went to one Verizon store which sent us to another store which finally sent us to a batter specialty store who I called on the phone and said they had it only to find out when we got there that it was the wrong one and, you guessed it, they would have to order it. Rats!

Came back to the RV, installed the new water regulator, and did a few other chores. Now getting ready for dinner, then we are going to "cruise the strip" to get the lay of the land and maybe visit a casino/hotel or two to check out the design.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 12: Zion NP (Leg: 0, Trip: 1,129.8)

Carol's blog has the details on breakfast, but I do want to add about the Majestic Lodge's free museum. Next to the lobby there is a small free animal museum where many animals are posed in their natural environment. At first, I thought it was just the animals here in the park, but there is a polar bear and two Arctic white foxes, and, while the park is big, it is not that big. Anyway, this is a great little stop for kids as it is interesting seeing all the animals yet it isn't so big that they would get bored.

After eating, we went to the visitors center and rode the shuttle all the way up to the last stop. There you can take the 2 mile Riverside walk further up the canyon. This walk is fairly level and is paved all the way. There are several hills, but nothing too hard.

As you can see in the picture below, the trail is wide and made of cement. I sure would not have wanted to be the guy who hauled all that concrete up to make the trail!

At one spot the trail narrowed and you went under an overhanging rock. Tall people do have to duck to make it through! You can also see a lot of decomposed sandstone (a very fine power) on the trail.

My better half on the trail

Alongside the trail, I came across this flower and both Carol and I took pictures of it. There are very few flowers in this part of the canyon. (I could count them on one hand) This is because the canyon walls are so tall and close to each other, that the sun doesn't reach down into the canyon very long each day. At some points, the canyon is only 50-70 feet wide and it gets even narrower further up beyond where the path ends.

This is the end of the trail. There is a nice landing with benches to rest on. If you want to go further into the "narrows," you must wade in the river because there is no space between the canyon walls that is not in the river!

Because of the high water flow, the Narrows is closed, so you must turn around at this point.

You can't see it too well, but the current here is very strong and trying to wade through it with the flow at this level is impossible. It would easily knock you over. As another sign says, people have died here trying to fight the current, especially when a flash flood happens.

This is the view back down the canyon from about the half way point. It is so serene with the noise of the water flowing.

After we finished the walk, we reboarded the shuttle and went to the Court of the Patriarchs. Carol's blog has the pics on that. It is about a 100 yard walk from the shuttle station up to a viewpoint, almost uphill the whole way. Several guys were really huffing and puffing as we passed them. Fortunately, for us, we didn't have any problem with the short climb.

We came back to the RV, had lunch, and I am trying to solve a water problem. We seem to have a very limited flow to the kitchen faucet. I verified that we had good pressure all the way to the filter, but somehow the filter output fitting won't seal right and it now leaks like crazy. I am waiting on a repair person to come up from Hurricane to bring parts for it. (Popup Quiz: Do you remember how to pronounce Hurricane here? - see entry for Day 10 for answer).

We have some activities planned for this evening which are now in jeopardy pending the repairs. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: 10:30pm.
We just returned from dinner and a ranger program in Zion. The dinner wasn't exactly what I planned. We had reservations for 6:45 at the Zion Park Lodge for dinner. But due to the water problems above, we could not get there in time. So we ate at a place in Sringdale (just outside the park) called Pioneer. The food was OK, nothing to write home about though (of course, we do blog about it and everything else!).
The ranger program was on the night sky. It was interesting, but it was also cold and we left at 10pm when the formal program ended. We could have stayed later to look at the various constellations but we were both quite cold in spite of wearing several layers of clothes. Plus we need to get going to Vegas tomorrow.
Note to friends Charlie and Pam: You would both like Zion - lots of art galleries, gift shops, and souvenirs to look over. Actually some good looking art, not some of the junk you usually see at tourist traps.
So tonight it was a clear sky and we did see the stars. Also the moon is at 74% full so we could easily walk back to the car by moonlight. We are both sorry to leave Zion because there are still many things we would like to do. But we move on knowing that we will return to Zion in the not too distant future.