Thursday, 20 July 2017

Two More National Parks

Leaving Las Vegas, we headed first to Zion Canyon National Park, just over the border in Utah. It was a simple journey, mostly on Interstate, with a stop at a very useful Visitor Centre  in the small town of St George. Here's the route 

We'd been lucky enough to get a reservation on the campground inside the Park and found our pitch with no trouble, once we'd got through the interrogation at the park entrance. The problem is that the park straddles a public highway with a low, narrow tunnel and if we'd wanted to take our RV through the tunnel (we didn't) we need to arrange for the tunnel to be closed to other traffic and for us to have an escort. As we were within inches of the overall limits, we decided to take the longer route on the next leg, avoiding the tunnel.

Looking across from our pitch
The heatwave has dried everything and there is a blanket fire ban in place. Which is a pity as we were planning a barbecue for the evening. So pan fried burgers for dinner, then.

Still looks green, but everything was tinder dry, hence the fire ban.

There is a shuttle bus system within the park with a wait of around 45 minutes to board the busses due to the sheer number of people visiting. We took the bus through the narrowing canyon to the end and then walked the trail to the end, at whihc point to get any further, it is necessary to walk *in* the water. In the heat and at the altitude, it is hard going.

The canyon was carved by the Virgin River. Very different to the Grand Canyon as we are now at the bottom of the canyon looking up

This was quite far enough for us. To go further requires walking in the river 

We thought that a short hike up to a waterfall for the afternoon was a "good idea". The trail is only a mile, round trip according to the signs and the map. It might be a mile as the crow flies, but to us, it seemed more like a mile each way and a climb of several hundred feet. we made it to the lower waterfall and that was enough...

The waterfall at Lower Emerald Pool

Next day, we just did a simple hike to Weeping Rock - just a short trek to another waterfall and hanging garden.

So that was Zion and then off to Bryce Canyon via a bit of a roundabout route to avoid the tunnel mentioned above. Zion to Bryce

After leaving Cedar City, the route became very interesting through Dixie National Forest and climbing several thousand feet (as if we weren't high enough already!!)

Looking out from Dixie Forest, overlooking Zion Canyon in the distance. The "staircase effect" in the rocks is very obvious.
Before arriving at Bryce, we passed through Red Canyon - an area of bright red rocks, followed by a warning sign for two low tunnels each just 13 feet high. we had been told our RV needed a clearance of 13 feet, so it was going to be a tight fit! 

It wasn't! There was plenty of space. This brought us to Bryce, or "Ruby's" as it should be called. The settlement was established by Reuben "Ruby" Syrett, a rancher who saw the tourism potential in the area and established a lodge that has now grown into a hotel, RV park, restaurant, gift shops, entertainment, etc.

We had two days in the National Park It is absolutely mind blowing and for me, the best National Park that we visited. It is all rock formations and views, but incredible views.

We had two evenings entertainment; first was a rodeo, perhaps a little stage managed, but entertaining and with animals that looked to be well looked after

And the second night was a Western themed evening complete with band. I found this video of the entertainment on YouTube here 

Moving on took us to Monument Valley after a stop in Page, Arizona for a visit to a slot Canyon. That will follow next...

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sin City, Here we Come!

Leaving Williams, it was back onto Interstate 40 for a while until we reached Seligman where we turned off onto the longest intact section of Route 66 which we would follow all the way to Kingman where we would leave I-40 and head northwest to Las Vegas, crossing the Colorado alongside the Hoover Dam on the way.  Here's the route: Williams to Las Vegas.

Seligman is lined with route 66 tourist stores, each of which had a tour bus or two parked outside. We gave them a miss... One of the landmarks is the "Roadkill Cafe". Too early for lunch - and a couple more tour buses parked outside. We carried on...

It's all desert and Reservations until Kingman is reached with just a few remains from the time prior to the Interstate being built. If you've seen the movie "Cars", the little cameo about the roadside businesses on Route 66 dying seems to be absolutely true

Above and below - Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman

 Kingman is a stop for victuals at Wal-Mart - the store of choice for those with RVs as the car parks are huge and easy to access; and no-one seems to be bothered that we are taking up 4 spaces. It is turning hot and the wind is getting up. The next part of the journey is along a road that is scheduled to be replaced by a new Interstate, so is busy, busy, busy. And with a 30mph crosswind gusting to 50mph, it is not enjoyable as we have over 400 square feet of side area to act as a sail. 

Eventually, we pass through Boulder City and Henderson to find ourselves in downtown Vegas. After a few arguments with the satnav, which naturally I lose, we pull into the Oasis RV Resort. The satnav remains cool and collected while I am getting more and more agitated about missing turns and needing to make a U turn across an eight lane highway.

The use of the term "resort" rather than campground is most appropriate - security guard on the entrance, reception like a 5 star hotel, a Wedding venue (this is Vegas of course), a huge pool and hot tub complex complete with a beach and well laid out plots to park our RV. A little close together, but very acceptable.

Hoover Dam

We had arranged a tour to Hoover Dam before we left home. The amount of choice of tour companies is overwhelming, but one caught our eye as it was small groups of no more than 6 people and operated using limo style Hummers. Ours turned up a little early and met us at the park reception. It was to be ours exclusively. Our driver and guide, Thomas, was an interesting character. He'd served in the US Army as a combat engineer and re-trained as a teacher of English as a foreign language, working in South East Asia. driving tours pays better, but the fact that he is married to a professor of economics might help. Big Horn Wild West Tours if you are looking for a recommendation.

You probably know the story of Hoover dam and how it was built as a flood control and irrigation project for central California and that electrical generation is a side benefit that just happens to have paid for the construction and running costs. Its actual construction was the work of a genius civil engineer and unlike many such projects, this one is actually attractive to look at with many art-nouveau features.

Hoover Dam from the lake mead side showing the inlet towers. The size of the cars crossing the dam road gives a clue to its size

the dam itself, looking at some of the detail in the design

Looking over the edge down to the generating halls below. Not recommended for those who have vertigo

The Colorado River now tamed and given up its energy for electrical generation continues to flow out to the Gulf of California in Mexico. The bridge now carries the highway, prior to it being built, all traffic travelled over the top of the dam.

Our tour then took us down to the dynamo hall, passing through one of the original diversion tunnels constructed to carry the flow of the river while the dam was built. These now carry the pipes with the water to power the turbines that in turn power the dynamos.
You don't want to think about what might happen if that pipe was to burst with all the weight of water behind it...

One of the two generating halls, each of which houses 7 turbine driven dynamos, of which 5 are in service, one is undergoing maintenance and the other is spare.  The staircases help to give an impression of size. I fully expected Blofeld to appear at some point

Kevin & Ann hit the Strip

Time to behave like proper tourists in Vegas and look in amazement at the hotels along the Strip. We call a taxi, which will arrive in 5 minutes. After 30 minutes we are still waiting, so call the cab company, who are going to send a second cab which will arrive momentarily. Which it doesn't. Ann goes to ask the concierge to call us a reliable taxi as ours turns up. the trick, we discover, is not to use the regular cabs, but to use Uber. but first I have to update my Uber app as it is set for my UK phone, not the US one. Lesson learnt for future trips...

We start at Bellagio and quickly find we have walked to Paris!

It's all a bit mad!

Sunday is a chill out by the pool morning, with a second trip to the Strip for the after
noon before seeing "Michael Jackson" in the evening. Ann, being of a certain age, wanted to see Donny & Marie Osmond, but they obviously heard we were in town and had cleared off for the week.

"Michael Jackson", otherwise known as "MJLive" is a good show. He certainly had the moves and a better "moonwalk" than MJ himself!

So that was Sunday; Monday is another day of soaking up the lunacy of this place and seeing the "Australian BeeGees" in the evening. We started at the Venetian:
Looks like the market near the Rialto bridge in Venice, but it is inside the hotel
Even dafter is the gondola rides on the canal inside the hotel

And a perfect replica of the Rialto Bridge
 Crossing the road, we are back in the USA again at The Mirage. Apart from gambling, the attraction here is a dolphinarium and a collection of big cats. I'm not at all sure it is a good environment for the dolphins and the cats didn't look much better, but they are at least accustomed to the heat and they had plenty of shade. 

And then, just up the road, we found ourselves in New York

Then on to Excalibur for dinner in an Italian restaurant as we fancied a pizza (don't bother!) and the night's entertainment. It must be the Night Fever, etc...  really good tribute band. See them if you can!

And then to round the evening off, we went to Luxor

So that was Las Vegas and we'll be moving on to two National Parks next: Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, both in Utah. But before leaving Las Vegas, look what overlooks the entire Strip:

Williams, Grand Canyon Railway and a MASSIVE hole in the Ground!

Williams was originally another railway town on the Santa Fe system, now part of the BNSF Railroad. It is still a "Company Town", but now the company is Xanterra who run the concessions at the Grand Canyon South Rim, the Grand Canyon Railway, the hotel and RV Park.

The steam engine runs occasionally, but not on the day we took the train. They are *huge* you can see here, using Ann as a measure against the main wheels

The RV park is perfectly fine, but rather characterless being a large tarmac and gravel expanse with power, water and sewer connections. There's adequate space and it is in a perfect location, so the lack of character can be excused. It is also easy walking distance to the railway station and to the town.

It's a great little town, with the main street being part of Route 66, but it is still a community rather than a souvenir shop theme park. Plenty of restaurants, not all themed on getting your kicks!

this was parked in the main street

This former gas station is now a museum, but seems to be closed. Gas was around 24c a gallon

If you visit, this is a great place for a drink and a meal. It's a former garage converted to a bar / restaurant and features live music
Then it's off to the Grand Canyon on the train, after the obligatory shoot-out first. The "Cataract Creek Gang" are the worst group of outlaws you'll ever come across, with most of them getting shot in a bungled stick up before reappearing later in the day when they hold the train up on the return journey.

A conveniently placed pile of horse poo. It's obvious where he is going to end up, isn't it?
We'd booked ourselves into First Class for the trip to the Canyon and were seated in a 1950's "streamliner" style carriage. Very comfortable it was, too, with free breakfast and soft drinks.

With a line speed of just 40mph, we arrived just before lunch and needed to be back for our train that would leave at around 4:30, so we weren't going to get a huge amount of time at the canyon. to get more time, you have to stay actually in the National Park, if you can get reservations (book a year in advance). Time for lunch. Everywhere is going to be busy, so we head to "El Tovar". This is another "Harvey House" and one of the original hotels in the Park, dating from 1905. Here's a link to El Tovar. 

Very enjoyable salad for lunch, now to look at the Grand Canyon and be "blown away"...

In the far distance, you can see the North Rim, around 5 miles away. It's over a mile down to the Colorado River, which can't be seen as it it actually a series of "staircase" canyons. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that at the South Rim there is no chance of seeing to the bottom from the top. And the famous "Horseshoe" glass walkway isn't here, either. That is at the West Rim. So walked a few miles either way to see the views.

The picture above is looking out over the canyon and the one below from an overlook heading towards Hermit's Rest. There wasn't enough time to either walk all the way or take the bus, which was a little disappointing.

Ann was getting a little agitated about me being close to the edge while taking the picture above. The one below shows why... I was stood close to the edge of the rock that hangs out over the Canyon. It's been there for millions of years and I'm sure it wasn't going to fall while I stood on it. Had I seen what wasn't underneath it, it may have influenced my decision to stand there.

Too soon, the time came to return. This time, we'd booked seats in the observation car. Disappointed with this - cramped and uncomfortable compared with the regular First Class.

So finally some recommendations:

  • Williams as a small town is definitely worth a visit. Of all the Route 66 towns we passed through in Arizona, it is by far the most "real". Both Red Raven and Cafe 66 stand out as places to eat, the buildings are interesting and there's a selection of shops selling quality stuff and not just tourist tat.
  • The canyon needs more than a half-day to do justice to it, but that does mean staying in the Park and that means getting reservations. If you are going to stay in a hotel, blow the budget and stay at El Tovar.
  • Drink *lots* of water. you will be told this time and time again. There are points to fill up water bottles.
  • The Railway is a good way to travel as it saves the hassle of driving to the Park and finding somewhere to leave the car. And you avoid "waiting in line" to pay the fee as the railway takes care of that for you. As they own several of the hotels, they operate packages of hotel in both Williams and at the Grand Canyon and the train ride

Then we were off to "Sin City" for 4 nights. That will be coming up in the next bucket.