Apr 2-30 - Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon
On April 2, we hooked up and left Palm Springs (9), headed across the Mojave Desert for Las Vegas (10), about 278 miles away. Last time we were in Las Vegas in 2007, we had to have the transmission replaced in the motorhome. We're expecting a less traumatic visit this time. We expect much has changed in the past 6 years. Not much has changed at the 1000 Trails Las Vegas "Resort". Still essentially a big parking lot with a few trees. Urban RV parks are a whole different animal.
We're not big on gambling. So why go to Las Vegas, you may wonder? There's lots of stuff to see and do and spend money on in Las Vegas without feeding the machines. We found out that the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention was playing during our stay. When Al was working this convention, it always seemed like the NAB dominated Las Vegas for that week. This time, even though the convention drew about 150,000 people, we hardly noticed. There might have been a few more provocatively dressed young ladies in impossibly high heels walking the sidewalks, but that was about it.
We're big fans of the Cirque du Soleil, and we've seen most of their Vegas shows, some of them multiple times. This trip we decided to see their production of "Ka" at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino. It was billed as a "gravity-defying martial arts acrobatic fantasy", and it most certainly was. The theatre rules say no photography in the theatre or of the show. We followed those rules. But a quick search of the internet found lots of images. We borrowed a few of those pictures for our slideshow. Cirque tickets can be quite spendy, but we were able to find some internet tickets for decent seats at a pretty good discount. Still, the seats were almost $100 each. The only downer about the show were the four Oriental "gentlemen" seated next to Judy, who spent the first third of the show talking to each other - quite loudly to be heard over the music; the second third on their smart phones or tablets doing whatever people do with smart phones and tablets; and the last third of the show pouting after an usher finally came by and made them put their toys away.
We started our special evening out with dinner at one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants. Wow! - both the food and the check. Spectacular food, spectacular prices. We enjoyed every gold-plated bite. We spent the rest of our three weeks in Vegas eating primarily at Wendy's and Cici's Pizza to get the budget somewhere near to back in balance.
Coming home from church our first Sunday we noticed some really interesting decorations on the sound wall along the freeway. Looked up the wall and found it borders the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. The preserve is about 180 acres on the site of some of the original springs that brought the early natives and later European settlers to the area. The preserve contains a few museums, a small zoo and some very nice gardens. Developed by the Las Vegas Water Authority, the focus is on water conservation (big surprise). The entire preserve discharges nothing into the city sewer system. We became members on our first visit, primarily because we knew we'd not be able to see it in just one visit, and a membership was less expensive than multiple single-day admissions. A nice plus was a reciprocal free admission at over 300 gardens around the country that are members of the American Horticultural Association. We expect we'll renew our membership for that benefit alone. We visited the preserve a total of three times. We probably still missed some things.
Every once in a while, we see a movie or a TV show that shows people in a junkyard full of old Las Vegas neon signs. We set out to see if we could go to that junkyard. Turns out the "boneyard" is now the Las Vegas Neon Museum, and you can take tours. We did. There are old signs from the start of the Vegas casino era up to almost the present. In addition, the museum is restoring some of the signs and placing them about the city as public art projects. Our tour guide went into quite a bit of the history of Las Vegas, and of the buildings from which the signs were removed. Most interesting way to spend an afternoon.
After WW2, the powers that be in Washington DC decided they needed a place to test those new-fangled Atomic Bombs. They'd been blowing up islands in the Pacific Ocean, but that was pretty expensive, and they wanted a place on land that would be more economical. After some site searching and a lot of politicking, they chose a site in the desert north of Las Vegas. And thus began the ongoing story of the US Nuclear Test Site. You can take tours of the test range, but the waiting list is about 6 months long. There is a more convenient substitute - the National Atomic Testing Museum, right off the strip near the heart of the Las Vegas tourist area. We went. Most interesting. Without getting into the debate of nukes or no-nukes, the museum presents a fairly complete explanation of what went on at the test site, and shows a lot of the equipment that was used. As a bonus, they also had a special tongue-in-cheek exhibit on Area 51, complete with Men in Black (well, one anyway) and an alien or two. The gal who took our Area 51 tickets had a tough time keeping a straight face as she welcomed us and explained the security orientation procedure we'd have to go through.
In 2007, work was just starting on the new bridge that would create a bypass of Hoover Dam for US-93. The bridge opened a couple of years ago, so we went out to Boulder City to take a look. Anticipating demand, the bridge incorporates a pedestrian walkway on the dam side of the road, so you can walk from Nevada to Arizona (and back - there's no parking on the AZ side) and get some of the best possible views of Hoover Dam. You can now get from Boulder City to Kingman AZ without having to go through security and drive across the dam. Makes the trip a whole lot quicker. We did choose to drive across the dam with the car - twice - just because. Actually, the second time was to get back. Once you cross the dam into Arizona, the old road now ends.
We kept seeing signs about all-you-can-eat prime rib buffets for $10, so we got ourselves to the Sam's Town Casino, joined their frequent whatever club and headed for the buffet to get our member prices. Surprisingly, some of the best prime rib either of us have had recently. Liked it so well we went back for an encore before we left town.
We made a visit to the Bellagio Hotel to visit their Conservatory and Botanical Garden. The seasonal floral shows are spectacular, and this Spring show was no exception. Lots of tulips and even a Dutch-style windmill. We also went to a casino just outside town to see what was billed as the best free aquarium in all of Nevada. Must not be a lot of free aquariums in Nevada. It was OK, but the displays in the adjacent Bass Pro Shop were better.
And we went to the old Las Vegas downtown for the Fremont Street Experience. The roofed-over street has one of the largest video displays anywhere - it's street wide and about 3 blocks long, the "experience" somewhat marred by the massive reconstruction project taking up much of the street. We stayed long enough to see the show. It's obvious that we're no longer in the target demographic of the Fremont Street Experience. We couldn't find the Krispy Kreme store we remembered, so we went into Dunkin Donuts, had a donut, and went home.
On April 23, we hooked up and headed out. Including a stop at Costco for fuel, it was 210 miles to Williams AZ (11). We checked into the Railside RV Ranch, same RV park we stayed at last time we came to the Grand Canyon in 2006. There's not much you can say about the Grand Canyon. The pictures say it all. We visited the park 5 times during our week in Williams. We managed to get to every viewpoint and tourable building in the park. We had one hailstorm, but we were on the shuttle bus at the time. In 2006 we took over 1000 pictures, and managed to post several hundred. We've tried to show some restraint this time.
We talked a lot about going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, that glass-bottomed walkway that juts out from the canyon rim in one of the Indian reservations. The folks at the RV park weren't enthusiastic about it, and the Skywalk is pretty pricey, so we passed. And we'll probably regret it. Maybe next time.
We like drive-thru wild animal parks, and one of the best is Bear Country in Rapid City SD. We'd seen the signs for Bearizona - a drive-thru wild animal park just outside Williams. When we found out Bearizona was a project of the same family that runs Bear Country, we had to go. Open just 3 years, Bearizona has some maturing to go. Their free-flight raptor show is one of the best bird shows we've seen. It's hard to describe the sensation of a Great Horned Owl silently swooping over your head so close you can feel the breeze. But the stars of the place are the bear cubs. This year's crop of five had just gone on exhibit two days before we got there. Mega cute.
We seem to spend a lot of time writing about food in these reports. We can't help it. We like food. Two noteworthy food outings during our week in Williams. The Singing Pig BBQ is a quirky place run by some quirky people who put out some really good BBQ. We both had ribs. We also participated in an extended discussion with the owners about how to find plastic bibs printed with their logo, why one of the owners had dyed his beard bright blue, and whether one of the other diners was a dead ringer for somebody on a TV show called "Redneck Millionaire" or some such. Quirky.
Our other outing of interest was the result of a search for the best steak in town. Tamara and Pat, owners of the RV park, pointed us to a western-themed restaurant downtown owned by the Mayor. Best ribeye in town, said Pat. We walked in a little after five and couldn't find anybody in the place. After about five minutes of calling out "Hello!", we found a phone number on a menu and called the restaurant. Somebody answered. "So you're really open", said Al. "Obviously," said the voice. "Otherwise I wouldn't have answered the phone." We explained we were waiting at the reception desk for someone to seat us. "Ok," said the voice, and hung up. After another five minutes waiting around, we decided to give up, and headed out the door. As we were crossing the courtyard, a man asked what the problem was. We said we couldn't find anybody to help us in the restaurant. He said "Wait here." and came back with the owner, the Mayor, who was in an adjacent bar (which, turns out, he also owns). "I can get you a steak", says the Mayor. "Sorry about the screwup. We're awfully busy." And as we entered the empty restaurant, he added "Course, it doesn't look like it."
We sat, a waitress materialized and took our order, and we waited some more. After finishing our salads and rolls, she came out to say they didn't have any ribeye. This almost a half-hour after taking our order. Would we accept t-bone at the same price? Reluctantly, we said we would. About 15 minutes later, the steaks came out. We'd ordered "cowboy baked beans". We were served green beans. We asked for our baked beans. The server returned with a dish of something that resembled refried beans, only pre-digested. "This is all we got", she said. In fairness, the t-bones were quite good. We didn't dare try the beans.
On the way out, the Mayor asked us how it went. We told him. He was not happy, but we felt a little better.
On April 30, we hooked up, topped off our propane tank, and headed out. It would be just under 100 miles to our next stop, Cottonwood AZ. But that's for our next report.
We managed to scrunch about 1000 pictures down to 200 for our slideshow this time. Grab your favorite beverage and settle in, if you're game. Otherwise, see you next time. Slideshow is here.