Sunday, July 4, 2010

Old Glory - A Red, White and Blue Road Trip

             Palazzo, Las Vegas
The "High Plains Drifters", as I named us for this journey, set out to see America's West on this 12-day road trip that took us 2,733.5 miles from start to finish. We twice crossed Washington State, traversed central Oregon and looped our way around Nevada, and nipped off a corner of northeastern California for good measure.  At one point we were next door to Arizona and a stone's throw away from southwestern Utah.

We returned to a cloudy, cold Kirkland with our skin a deeper shade of  tan, our souls refreshed and confident that the old west is alive and well. We are even more assured on this Fourth of July that despite the continuing media headlines of our county's economic woes and the on-going political finger-pointing, that at least in the West, America, too, is alive and well, as evidenced by those flag-waving patriotic people and places we found along the way.

                Burns, Oregon
Flags fluttered along our route from Hawthorne, Nevada with its enormous flag flying from a skyscraper-sized flag pole to the flag-lined highway at Pilot Rock, Oregon; from the Old Glory painted windmill blades on a farm outside John Day, Oregon to a campground on the Ukiah-Dale Scenic Biway where individual campsites displayed flags and red, white and blue banners.. .not to mention the dozens of towns, ranches and farms in between, decked out in red, white and blue.

We traveled roadways that at times followed or intersected the same routes as did those thousands of brave pioneers more than a century ago. Those who followed the Oregon Trail, the Noble Emigrant Trail and other routes across Nevada's Great Basins and on through Death Valley or the many mountain passes, like that  made famous by the Donner Party.

All those many folks who are credited with settling  the West were on a red, white and blue road trip of their own design ~in search of their American dreams; ultimately laying the cornerstones for the West that we were happy to find is still alive and well.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Heading North through Nevada

             Nevada Highway
The High Plains Drifters head north today through the high desert and Great Basin in Nevada. Reno is our first night's destination on the anticipated three-day trip back to the Pacific Northwest.  We avoided the 107-degree afternoon temperatures at poolside and opted to research destinations.  Best deal found: $49 a night room at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino so there we will go.

Expedia and Google maps tell us our travels will cover 452 miles and it will take eight hours.  I'll let you know how close they are to accuracy.

           Herbie and our Camry
Tara asked on an earlier post if we were driving Herbie, my 69 VW Bug (that my dad bought used in '71 for my college car)  and after several years and dollars spent on restoring my dear old car, I just chuckled at the thought. 

Well, I chuckled until we reached Tonopah on our trip south.  Because at the service station where we stopped to fill up our Camry, we saw this ol' boy, a 70 VW Bug that the owners assured me had served them well. 

              Herbie's cousin
Maybe it is time to have a bit more work done on Herbie - for the next road trip!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Encore! Encore! - Las Vegas

Encore. . .the newest addition to Steve Wynn's high-end luxury diggs on the Vegas Strip is where the High Plains Drifters headed on Sunday.  Encore, only a couple years old, is a mirrored image of Wynn which is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year.  It seemed the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. 

We took advantage of an email offer for rooms at $109 a night which got us a small suite:  living room area with couch, desk and windows that offer a panoramic view across the Great Basin and The Strip, a large bedroom and bath are to the back of the room.  The deal came with a $50 resort credit (those types of offers do help cut the cost of travel).

      Northwest view from our room
The High Plains Drifters, aka Hula Babe and Beach Boy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Joel and Jackie to readers of this blog, family and friends, decided to celebrate the passing of another decade at a restaurant so perfectly themed for us that nothing else would do:  Sinatra's.

Joel made the reservations and when asked, said we were celebrating our anniversary.  When we were seated they put two cards on the table, one envelope read "Happy Anniversary" and the other "Happy Birthday".  Hmmmm. . . .

           Tirsmisu and Pannecotte
The waiter explained their new computer had been having problems and they couldn't tell what it was that we were celebrating, so they erred on the side of presenting us too many good wishes verse not giving us the right wish.  Better more than not enough I always say.  And once they nailed it, they did a great job. . .yes, that number is correct.
So, with a toast to the roads we've traveled together and another to those left to explore we say, "Encore!"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weekend in Mesquite

The High Plains Drifters reached Mesquite, Nevada, in the early afternoon when thermometers read 106-degrees and the odometer told us we have traveled just over 1,000 miles.  We'd had two and a half days in the car on our road trip through the western United States.  It was hot in this Great Basin area of eastern Nevada, but that's what we had been seeking when we set out.

We'd left our home in Washington State's Puget Sound because our continuing cloudy, rainy, not-yet-reaching-75-degree weather had driven us to seek sun. We were en route to Las Vegas and chose to spend the weekend in this small town 85 miles away because it looked charming and weekend hotel rates were far better than Vegas' rates.   

So here we were in Mesquite, settled in at the town's Casablanca Resort with its palm-tree shaded lush pool area (home of Saturday afternoon limbo contests), 18-hole golf course (one of 9 in town) and European-style spa.  We'd nabbed a room on Expedia for $65 a night.  Meals in its Purple Fez cafe were some of the best food we've eaten and our dinner prices hovered at $16 - $19 for two.

Exploring beyond our plush resort, we found that Mesquite sadly reflects the economic downturn in our country. One of the four sprawling casino resorts that anchor the entrances to this city from I-15 was shuttered and scheduled for demolition according to the local newspaper.  Empty store fronts dotted the many strip malls that lined Mesquite Avenue, the town's main drag.  Homes -- beautiful, recently built, gated-community, overlooking lush golf courses -- are on the market at reduced prices; foreclosures and 'bank-owned' properties fill real estate listings.

The locals we chatted with seemed interested in knowing where we were from, what had brought us to town and offered suggestions of nearby places we needed to visit including St. George, Utah only 30-minutes away from Mesquite on I-15. The drive there, they said, was through beautiful canyon country, a teaser I guess for nearby Zion National Park.  But the heat had slowed our pace, we put that on our 'next time' list and headed back to the pool.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the Extraterrestrial Highway

Day 3:  High Plains Drifters headed out for Mesquite, Nevada where we will spend three nights almost astraddle the Arizona/Nevada border.   Mesquite is about 85 miles outside Las Vegas. And to get there we had another half day of road time ahead of us.

Roads in this part of the country are sparsely traveled, long straight, stretches of highway. Some are far more interesting than others. Such as the one pictured below.  It is S.R. 375, but more commonly known as The Extraterrestrial Highway.

ET Highway
According to the Automobile Club of America it got its name because of its proximity to the Air Force's top-secret Area 51 and, well, because of the many UFO sightings reported from people traveling the road.  An official highway sign, riddled with bullet holes stated we were on The Extraterrestrial Highway (either folks use it for target practice or there were more sightings here than I could have imagined).

Like other stretches of highway it provided spectacular scenery but nothing to indicate there was any UFO activity. That is until we saw this in the distance:

              Alien Research Center
When I said I had to take a photo and we turned into the parking lot, we saw the sign "Alien Research Center."   Hummm, no sign of life around it, although the sign says it has a museum and gift shop now open.  I later Googled it so that I could give you a website but found nothing more than an address:  100 Extraterrestrial Highway, Hiko, Nevada, (775)725-3825 and several sites that include it in their listings.

Go ahead, let your imaginations run wild. . .have a laugh. . .and please add a comment if you have information about the Alien Research Center.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tonopah, Nevada - a gem of a mining town

Tonopah, Nevada
The High Plains Drifters spent our second night of the road trip in Tonopah, Nevada, an old silver-mining town in the central part of the state that got its start when in 1900, a prospector by the name of Jim Butler took shelter from a thunderstorm under a ledge. . .yup, he whittled away at that ledge and sure enough struck silver. (Need I say there's a hotel in town that carries his name as do festivals?)

The town's prosperity peaked in 1913 when mining had netted some $9.5 million.  These days the mining still continues.  Turquoise jewelry sold in one of two gift shops in town was mined from the nearby hills, we were told.  In fact Nevada is the fourth-largest gold producer in the world and is responsible for 80 percent of all gold produced in the United States.

Tonopah is but a wide spot on the vast Nevada countryside offering a half dozen hotels (and two shells of what were once vibrant multi-storied hotels), a few watering holes and eateries.  But it is a charming wide spot - we planned this trip so we could spend a night here, having spent a night several years ago at the Best Western.  This time we stayed at Tonopah Station, the Ramada Inn, with an over-the-top Wild West decor. At this hotel you roll dice to see if your room is free -- it is Nevada, afterall -- and they told us that usually twice a day people win their rooms; sigh, we didn't.

                      Cabin at the Mining Park
And the hotel's parking lot lights were so bright I never did do any stargazing.  We may have to go back just for the purpose of Star Gazing now that we have a map of the areas best star gazing trails.  We also plan to visit the sprawling Tonopah Historic Mining Park where we can take a self-guided walking tour of Jim Butler's original discovery sites.  The "Burro Tunnel Underground Adventure," opened in 2004, takes you into the original mine and at the end, you can step into a steel viewing cage, suspended over a 500-foot mine slope.  Maybe we will do that part. . .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

High Plains Drifters

Columbia River at Maryhill
We are on the road again; this time en route to Las Vegas from our Kirkland home. We are ambling and rambling our way through Washington, Oregon and Nevada.  After securing the homefront and the usual flurry of 'final things' we were on the road heading for Oregon after crossing the Columbia River at Maryhill, WA and Biggs Junction, Ore.

Wind Machines
We are eating picnic lunches along the way (cost and time saver) and we had a great first meal along side an Oregon wheat field that had a view back at Washinton and the wind machines that grow out of the hillsides near Goldendale, just above the Columbia.  While I find Greek windmills enchanting, I find the slow creaking of these gigantic monsters almost unnerving; especially as we drove past them.

Heading to Lakeview, Oregon
While we didn't have a set destination for our first day, we'd been thinking that La Pines, south of the better-known Bend, Oregon sounded like a good stopping place.  Sometimes what you think about a place before you get there and what you find once there are two very different things.  We voted to keep going. . .only in these wide open spaces there are miles and miles between outposts (I feel for those pioneers who came west).  So two hours later we bedded down for the night in Lakeview, Oregon near the Nevada border.

We'd seen cowboys, cattle, critters and plenty of wide open spaces. Dramatic landscapes, towns so small they were but a service station, cafe and perhaps tavern at an intersection.

We traveled 537 miles in 10 hours - about the same amount of time it takes for us to fly from Seattle to London. We'd seen some beautiful scenery in Oregon and after resting up we'd be ready for day two: destination Tonopah, Nevada.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Perfect Pub - and Grub

There seems to be a pub on every corner in London. . .but after stepping inside any number of them, we decided they weren't what we wanted.  We wanted character - the step-back-in-time sort of place that made you feel you were in Jolly ol' England.  Some were quite modern on the inside and one - to my horror - looked like a designer for a US-based burger chain had designed its interior. So we kept searching for our 'perfect pub'. 

We were ready to admit defeat when we recalled the recommendation from one of the hotel staff - he'd suggested The Ship Tavern at 12 Gate Street (within a block of our hotel) and just off High Holborn.

As we approached we saw that it was so jam-packed with the local after-work crowd that they stood on the street outside its entry - that's one of their heads in the photo.  Good sign. Noting that it had served 'quaffable ales and fine fayre' since it's beginning in 1549, we figured it had the history. (And what history! Click on the link and read about some of the things that happened here).

When we saw the wood paneled, candle-lit upstairs dining room, we knew it had the character. We had arrived at our perfect pub.

And then eating one of the best - and biggest - plates of fish and chips and smushy, minty green peas, we confirmed the grub was great.  So overcome with food and atmosphere, we couldn't resist eating even more and tried English pudding at its finest for dessert.  That white stuff is cream, pure cream from the pitcher. . .need I oink more?


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