Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Back in "RV Land"

"Our pool" in Las Vegas (in the background) - no one else in it!!

An "improved" lot in Indio. Just pull in and park!!

Our place ....... 7:45 AM this morning ....... goodbye desert dust!! Try double clicking to see all the activity

We have to admit to having stayed at a couple of “gravel parking lot” RV parks in the past year and a half. Not on purpose ……….. just no other options at the time. However, in the US southwest, the RV is king! Each new RV park in a region tries to outdo the others. Our park in Las Vegas was luxurious. We are now in Indio, just outside Palm Springs, while we wait for our winter reservation on November 1 in Cathedral City 10 miles away. The brand new park in Indio is selling undeveloped lots (RV talk for a concrete pad ….. period) for $220,000. Developed lots, having been up-graded by a previous owner, are selling for up to $625,000!!! Just to make sure that we all understand each other ………. this is for a parking spot for a bus!!!!

But ………….. you gotta see the upgrades. One add describes the lot as follows: “Unbelievable! Waterfalls, pool, casita, complete entertainment area, resurfaced pad, remote fireplace, 2 small refrigerators, dishwasher, BBQ, warming drawer, garbage disposal, washer/dryer, outside shower. Hot tub has 5’ grotto w/jets for back and legs. Bar seating in pool. Waterfall remote. Stacked rocks on casita and pillars.”
This is nuts!!! If you’re going to spend $625k for a parking spot you MUST spend a couple of $mil for the bus!!!! Beam me up Scotty!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rocket Man

Feeling kind of small here for darn near 20 miles!

Entering the Virgin River Canyon - hang on!

The "Rocket Man" put on a great show entitled "The Red Piano". You might note that this piano is black and.............you might remember cameras were confiscated (to be returned later). Internet pic!!

The drive from St. George, Utah to Las Vegas started out through Virgin Canyon, following the course of the Virgin River down a gorge just wide enough for the river and a 4 lane highway, with sheer, straight walls up to 2,000 feet high. Talk about feeling small!! The road twisted and turned down about 1,000 feet before spilling out onto a broad flat plain. As Brenda pointed out, the rest of the trip was like traveling through a huge gravel pit surrounded by mountains. Not the most scenic desert we have traversed! But the canyon was exciting!!

When we realized that we would have to pass through Las Vegas on the trek south, we discovered that Elton John would be in town at the same time. Do you think he knew we were coming? Since we did not buy our tickets to see him within the first ½ hour of them going on sale, our seats were somewhat back from the front row (to say the least). However, he is playing the Coliseum (Celine Dion’s theatre) at Caesar’s Palace while she is on vacation (there IS a God!!). It is a wonderful facility (without Celine!!) with nary a bad seat in the house. You might be thinking that I don’t like Celine …….. you would be right! Brenda wouldn’t mind seeing her …….alone!

The Elton John show was pure entertainment. He’s still got it. When we saw the Mormon Tabernacle Choir people were jumping up and taking pictures all over the place. At the Elton John concert cameras were all confiscated. At Elton’s show two loud fans near us were ejected from the theatre for using exactly the same language that was coming from the stage. Ironic!

I think the “Strip” in Vegas has gotten busier since we were here, just last March. The street was so gridlocked that when we went to pick up our concert tickets, we couldn’t get back to the MGM for our dinner reservation so we had to make a change. (Bradley Ogden instead of Wolfgang Puck – not a hardship). One new 4,000+ room hotel nearing completion on the strip was a hole-in-the-ground in March.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More Red Rocks

Entering the canyon

A bit further in

The sandstone really was a beach a few millenia ago!

After hiking 1 1/2 miles from the end of the canyon road, this is as far as you go .......... unless you want a "soaker"

The canyon has forest, swamp, desert and plateau landscapes

The early Mormons who settled this land named Zion Canyon because they felt that man could worship there as readily as in any man-made temple. They were introduced to the canyon by Southern Paiute Indians who also had revered the canyon for centuries. Visiting the canyon and its surrounding National Park IS almost a religious experience. We have been amazed how each geological destination in the Colorado Plateau is so vastly different from its neighbours. In almost all cases erosion and uplift have created the scenic wonders but, each has its own characteristics. In the Grand Canyon it is the shear enormity of the place; Bryce Canyon has its unique Hoodoos; Red Canyon its almost scarlet rocks and; Zion National Park has parts of all the others, creating its unique atmosphere. In addition, the Plateau hosts dozens of other National and State parks, National Monuments and wilderness areas. We haven’t visited them all but, we would like too!

More than any of the other places we have visited on the Plateau, we have been disappointed by our pictures of Zion National Park. The majesty of the place simply will not allow itself to be captured on film (or a 1 gig SD memory card). You do not view these landscapes, you are enveloped in them. In Zion, whether you look up, down or north, south, east or west, the natural beauty surrounds and amazes you. I thought we would be “in and out” in a couple of hours however, as the sun was sinking and the sky darkening with the first wisps of smoke from the California fires enhancing the sunset, we finally left. A good day; a great park.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shakespeare with altitude

An almost full moon rises over the theatre

A replica of the Globe

"Go out in the backyard to play" takes on new meaning

This guy did! Can you find him? Double click

Cedar City, Utah, where we have been parked for the past few days while exploring the scenic environs, has dubbed itself Festival City USA. From June to October it plays host to the Utah Shakespearean Festival (winner of a Tony Award in 2000 as the US’ most outstanding regional theatre). It also hosts the Utah Summer Games in June, a Neil Simon festival in August and, the American Christmas Children’s Festival in November. So ……… maybe the moniker is deserved. We happened to see “The Tempest” at the outstanding, indoor, Randall L. Jones Theatre. During the summer months, all of the Shakespearean plays are staged at the Adams Memorial Shakespeare Theatre, a striking replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Both venues are located on the beautiful campus of Southern Utah University (SUU), surrounded by the region’s pink hills.

Today, we “moved house” a mere 55 miles to St. George, Utah but, in the process we descended close to 3,000 feet. It was sunny and warm in Cedar City. It is sunny and hot in St. George (87°F at 5:30 PM). From here we can explore Zion National Park, yet another of the Colorado Plateau’s scenic wonders and, we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from both Arizona and Nevada. Ahhhhhh the warm weather!!

St. George was the site of Brigham Young’s winter residence and, has been recently “discovered” by snowbirds for the same purpose. Building lots in the new chi-chi gated neighbourhoods around golf courses are selling in the $185,000 - $525,000 range. They are not targeting the budget conscious!! But, judging from the amount of new home construction going on (and these places are NICE), there are plenty of retirees with fat wallets.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wow, wow, wow..........

We thought "Red Canyon" was great...................

..............until we got to Bryce Canyon

Hiking down was easy ........... up caused us to wonder "What were we thinking?"

A new friend with part of the Grand Escalante in the background

Bristlecone Pines are a rare, ancient tree found only at high altitude. These were at 10,500 feet. They can live up to 5,000 years, longer than any other living organism.

The Grand Canyon is undeniably grand and, the red rock formations at Sedona and Monument Valley are mammoth however, we both agree that for pure “wow factor” Bryce Canyon cannot be beat! The canyon, in southern Utah, is at least 80 miles from anywhere but, the long drive is well worth it. When asked to describe the canyon, early Mormon rancher Ebenezer Bryce, behind whose former ranch the canyon is located, proclaimed “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow”. We hiked down into the canyon but, at 8,500 feet altitude, the hike back up was a slow and arduous affair involving much huffing and puffing. Great to be in such tip-top shape!!

The entire Colorado Plateau, which occupies much of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and includes the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Kodachrome State Park (give the guy who named this place a gold star), the Grand Escalante, and other significant rock formations is a huge area affected by sedimentary rock deposits, uplift and selective erosion, creating numerous natural wonders. Everywhere you look is another picture. But pictures still don’t capture the 360 degree panorama. Damn!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Other Side

The entire downtown is being redeveloped but the trolleys are staying

Rollin' on the river

A great art museum with a complete collection

While Memphis is a raunchy, “happening” city at night, it does have another side. Memphis’ Brooks Museum of Art is one of only 3 US venues to present the "Pissarro – Creating the Impressionist Landscape exhibit". This touring exhibit explores Pissarro’s transformation from his early works to the development of his Impressionist style and, is very well done. The museum is located in a leafy neighbourhood of palatial homes on wide boulevards, all surrounded by the Galloway Golf Course, an established, rolling terrain, unique in the flatlands of Memphis. No blues musicians (or BBQ) for miles!

Cruising the Mississippi, one is taken by the 8 knot current and the huge rafts of barges plying the waterway. Some of the largest “tow boats” on the lower Mississippi (which oddly enough PUSH the rafts) can have engines to 10,000 horsepower and handle up to a maximum of 60 barges rafted together. One barge can hold 1500 tons of cargo or, the equivalent of 60 tractor trailers. If you do the math, a very large tow boat can propel the equivalent of 3600 tractor trailers or, a bumper-to-bumper line of trucks 35 miles long. Now THAT’S efficient!

Memphis has an interesting history full of triumph and disaster. In addition to all the Civil War stories, there was the decade long Yellow Fever epidemic of the 1870’s which killed ¼ of the citizens; the formation of the NAACP in Memphis; the automation of many cotton growing and processing techniques; several horrific floods and; the sinking of the “Sultana” which, contrary to popular opinion, was the single largest loss of life in a maritime disaster …….. ever. (Move over Titanic and Lusitania). The Sultana was a Mississippi paddlewheeler, designed to carry 376 people, but loaded with approximately 2,000, mostly freed Union soldiers liberated from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps. A boiler blew up just north of Memphis causing the loss of about 1,700 lives. A terrible tragedy then; an interesting trivia fact today.

After a bit of a “snow delay” in Denver, we flew back to Salt Lake City to find everything as it was left. It’s time to start seriously heading south!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ground Zero

Around Clarksdale, the fields are "littered" with 1000's of bales (called modules) of cotton, each the size of a tractor trailer

Ground Zero Club - outside / very classy!!!

Ground Zero Club - inside / fried catfish with turnip greens and fried ocra ........ when in Rome ......

Beale Street - Friday night - Can't you just FEEL the LOVE

One cannot "walk the street" without a "traveller"

More blues performers have come from the Mississippi delta than all other states combined. The crossroads of the Mississippi blues scene is Clarksdale, home to the “Ground Zero” blues club and, where legend has it that blues superstar Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to play the blues. The Ground Zero club is now owned and actively managed by actor Morgan Freeman and, to his credit, he hasn’t touched a thing. To say that this club is a “dive” is giving it far more prestige than it deserves but …………… it’s where it all started! The early blues performers honed their skills around Clarksdale then headed off to Memphis, Chicago or New York to record and seek fame and fortune.

Returning to Memphis, we drove into the town of Tunica, Mississippi, population 10,000. Tunica benefits economically from the many Mississippi casinos scattered around the area but, for a Brockvillian, the draw is Tunica River Park. This Mississippi River interpretive centre (any of our Brockville friends beginning to “get it?”) is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!! It is precisely what the planned “Tall Ships” project in Brockville could be ……….. with tons of money! The audio / video presentations are particularly well done. In one, we descended (virtually) to the bottom of the Mississippi in an antique diving bell. Considering we were looking at 3 A/V projections, the sensation was remarkable. Have a look at http://www.tunicariverpark.com/ and, trust me ………….. the centre is far better than the web site. On the web site, take the “360 Tour” and click on the “Go” signs allowing a 360° tour of the interior.

Then there was Friday night on Beale Street – what we came for! One must see it to believe it; blues bands everywhere, in the clubs, down alleys and in the parks. And, the people-watching is better than anywhere! Friday is THE night in Memphis.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back to the Blues (Cheating again too!)

We have now seen where Martin Luther King was born, lived and died. An amazing man; an amazing life!

Even the Smithsonian thinks this stuff is important. We visited their Memphis Rock & Soul Museum last year

It's either Beale Street or a neon convention

Man ....... THIS is what it's all about!!

The Lorraine Motel, scene of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become, with significant additions, the National Civil Rights Museum. Dr. King was in Memphis in support of the Sanitation Workers strike and, was gunned down by James Earl Ray at the motel. To this day, controversy surrounds Ray as to whether he acted alone or not. This museum is a “must see” for anyone visiting Memphis. Very powerful!

The Stax Records Museum outlines the history of the first integrated R&B record label and, their numerous recording stars. Together with Sun Records, they made Memphis the centre of Blues and R&B music recording. There are amazing parallels between the growing civil rights movement and the acceptance, by mainstream America, of “black music” in fact, the death of Martin Luther King also became the death knell for the “black recording industry” in Memphis. By 1975 Stax Records was out of business. But, the music lives on!

We flew to Memphis, which is not exactly on the way to Salt Lake City but, what the hell, you only turn 60 once and, I wanted to return after spending a few days here last year. Brenda thoughtfully agreed. We’re actually getting quite good at NOT using the RV on our RV trip. (I think Brenda secretly likes the Blues as much as I do). The same acts are playing the same clubs on Beale Street so, life is good.

When you consider that Memphis is the most dangerous city in North America, measured by crime per capita, we have found it to be very friendly. When we were walking down a back street, looking very “touristy”, seeking an alley down which is to be found the best BBQ restaurant in town, a parking lot attendant saw us coming ½ block away, stood up, and pointed down the alley. He knew where we were going! Not so scary!!

This city has many areas much like Detroit, with skeletal buildings and slum accommodations however, there is a vibe to the place that even the cab drivers seem to sense. Much investment is being made in refurbishing entire neighbourhoods and, although the downtown has a way to go, pedestrian malls and antique trolleys are being employed to bring the people back. I definitely want to return in 5 – 10 years. Maybe NOW is the time to invest in real estate……….. hmmmmm ………. possibly a nice little blues club!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Great Drive

Maybe leave the 12' 9" tall RV at home

Slow driving is required for 2 reasons: the road is twisty and, so you don't hit all the wildlife

Mount Rushmore is perfectly framed in one of the tiny tunnels on the road

They're called Pigtail Bridges and they are used to climb hillsides employing 360+ degree turns and wooden trestle bridges allowing the road to cross back over itself

Herds of wild marauding mules begging for cookies (only good stuff please!)

The end of the road!

The Iron Mountain Road is only about 17 miles long but, it takes approximately 45 minutes to drive. It is rated as one of the “Ten Top Drives” in the US. The road twists and turns over the Black Hills from Custer State Park to the town of Keystone at the base of Mount Rushmore. Along the way one is subjected to vistas looking out over the Black Hills but, there is so much more. We took the road to have one last view of Mount Rushmore in the morning light (the best time) on our way to the airport. The only way to indicate why this road is so highly rated is with pictures. Have a look.

By the way …………… we’re home. We’ll pick this back up in a couple of weeks!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Brenda gets to Mount Rushmore

No developers will be digging basements here anytime soon!

There are herds of Mule Deer and Pronghorns everywhere .......... and these guys!

Grasslands to the horizon

Brenda has always wanted to see Mount Rushmore although, after living with a “blockhead” for 36 years, one wonders why? But, I wasn’t crazy about driving all the way east to South Dakota and then angling south from there. That would likely add close to 1000 miles to our trip and possibly subject us to some significant snow in some significant mountains. So after asking ourselves, “what would Dr. Phil do?” (if you believe that, I have a bridge for sale), we decided to compromise. To fly home we have to fly right over South Dakota consequently, we decided to pop down for a couple of days, see Mount Rushmore and the Dakota badlands and continue the flight home on Wednesday. It’s not the same as taking the RV there but …….. it’ll do. Everybody wins!!

After seeing “the heads” at Mount Rushmore, we arrived at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota (are you sensing a theme here?), an historic, old, “woodsy” hotel, often frequented by past Presidents and, once used as Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House. Lot’s of ties to the past. This is the land of Custer, Crazy Horse, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane; all local heroes. And, the town of Deadwood, the last gold rush mining town in North America, is mere miles away.

South Dakotans claim that their badlands are badder’n those in North Dakota. We’ll have to take their word for it. The badlands have an almost lunar feel to them. They are beautiful in a stark and inhospitable kind of way ……. if that makes any sense. We have decided that, as tourists go, we are two easy marks. We love it all!! South Dakota is so uniquely different from anything else we have seen, it will be a memorable part of our trip, even if we cheated to get here!