Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Blog - 2010 Tour with the Frenchies

Hi All

I am trying a new idea to make it easier for the readers to view photos I take on my wanderings.  This new travel blog is the result.  I hope it proves to be a good idea and makes things easier for the reader.  
Let me know what you think.

Traveler Al

Here is a repeat of my first postings and set of photos from the tour of many National Parks in the Southwest of the United States in company with my French cousins - the JAEG-Desjardins family.

Traveling with the “Frenchies”  - 2010 Tour of the American Southwest

Planning the Tour

Once again Traveler Al has been out traveling; this time with my French cousins, the Jaeg-Desjardins family. 

I moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in early June, 2010, but returned to the Mainland in late June for my Granddaughter, Chrissa’s, high school graduation. That was a very quick trip out and back to Honolulu. 

I made a commitment last year to my French cousins to plan an itinerary for a visit to the National Parks that took in some of the highlights of their tour in 2008 – yet added other interesting places.  I am now living in Hawaii, However, I felt I needed to honor that commitment. 

Planning the itinerary for 2010 took over a month.  My method is to check maps, do research on the internet about places of interest and then lay out the route. 

My cousins wanted to see everything!  

"Everything" in the Western United States is widely separated by miles and miles of “Nothing but miles and miles!"  A phrase my wife used to say while driving through deserts. I tried to keep each day’s driving at no more than 300 miles then noted the possible towns for night stops. 
My next step was to do research on Trip Advisor dot com to find reasonably priced motels that had decent reviews by past customers before making our reservations. 

I made a trip to Europe in the fall of 2009 during which I visited my cousins in Metz, France to finalize their desired destinations. We sat looking over maps of the Western United States. We made the decision at that point to make Las Vegas, Nevada our “base.”  The family would arrive and depart from Las Vegas. We would use my time share suite at the Jockey Club on the Las Vegas Strip for 3 days to begin and 1 day to end the Tour.

Departing Hawaii

In the spring 2010 I received an invitation to attend my Aunt Margie Funaro’s 90th birthday celebration in Seattle, Washington in late July. I checked with my brothers and sister and found that we could all make it to the celebration with a bit of planning and a lot of travel. 

I would take a red-eye flight back the night of July 21st to Las Vegas by changing the date on a reservation I had already made to return to the Mainland at the end of July.  My brother Bill would pick me up at the airport the morning of the 22nd so that we could drive to Seattle from the Las Vegas airport.  My brother Larry and his wife were visiting family at Lake Tahoe, Ca. – they live in Waterloo, Iowa – they could drive up the Coast to Seattle for the birthday celebration.  My sister Vicki and her daughter flew up from Los Angeles.

My brothers and sister and I and my surviving paternal cousins all had a really wonderful reunion in Seattle and Redmond.  James Funaro, my cousin, organized an excellent weekend to celebrate his mom’s 90th birthday.  Aunt Margie is a very young 90 years old – she just sparkles with humor and vitality.

Margie Funaro - 90th Birthday Celebration

After returning to Las Vegas, I stayed with Bill to await the arrival of my French cousins…or “The Frenchies” as they call themselves, on August 3rd.

Bill retired as a "worker bee" the Friday before the Frenchies arrived.

The family arrived, exhausted, the evening of August 3rd after leaving from Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, with plane changes in both Amsterdam and Atlanta.  They picked up the minivan from Enterprise at the new Car Rental Building at McCarren Airport. We stopped at McDonalds for a quick snack and then immediately checked into the Jockey Club to rest before the tour began.

The desk staff very graciously gave them a suite that overlooked the fountains in front of Bellagio Hotel & Casino.  My view on the other side of the building was of the plain gray, concrete wall of the still unfinished Cosmopolitan Hotel Casino which has been built completely around 3 sides of the Jockey Club.  Oh well!

Day 1 – Easy day – A visit to Red Rock Canyon and Bonnie Springs Ranch

The first day was planned to give the family a chance to rest and begin to get accustomed to the 9 hour time change between France and Pacific Daylight Time.  For example, Noon in California / Nevada is 9 PM of the same day in France.

Red Rock Canyon is close to Las Vegas at the end of Charleston Blvd., but is several thousand feet above the city. The loop road through the park is 12 miles long. 

The temperature was a dry, 99 degrees instead of the 105 degrees in the city below!  There are very unusual rock formations in a variety of striking colors in Red Rock Canyon.   

The French Cousins at Red Rock Canyon

The Pond in front of the restaurant

Bonnie Springs Ranch is located not too much farther along the highway, past Red Rock Canyon.  The Ranch is at the bottom of massive mountain ramparts.  The Ranch has a variety of rustic attractions, a petting zoo, a pond with swans, ducks and turtles, an Old West town and a restaurant. There are stables for horseback riding and a small train as a child’s ride as well.

We stopped for lunch and to visit the petting zoo.  The doors to the restrooms and the ceiling in the bar are decorated which adds to the rustic, homespun and humorous atmosphere of the restaurant.
The bar at Bonnie Springs Ranch

Guess which door is for Gents and Ladies

Urinal in the Men's Restroom at Bonnie Springs Ranch Restaurant

The petting zoo included a pesky deer that would nibble on your shirt when you entered his pen!

We returned to the city late in the afternoon.  That evening, we met with Bill to go to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner.  The Frenchies report that if they had a butcher in the family in France – they could not obtain beef as fine as the cuts of beef available in any supermarket or restaurant in the United States.  In fact, they had steaks for lunch at Bonnie Springs and again for dinner at Outback on the same day!

The family enjoys walking and did go out to shop and visit the hotel casinos near the Jockey Club later that night.

Day 2 – A visit to Oatman, AZ, Kingman and the Navajo Skywalk

The 2nd day was more ambitious and included driving over 100 miles South to Oatman, Az a town that never quite became a ghost town – though it has come close to being completely abandoned several times since the early 1900’s.  The town was formed by miners who have honeycombed the hills in and around the town with mine shafts. Gold is the main mineral being mined now.
Oatman straddles a winding section of old Highway "Route 66", the original Coast to Coast highway that terminated at Santa Monica, California. 

Many of the buildings of the town are original to the town’s founding. The town is a tourist attraction with many gift and souvenir shops in the old buildings, but nothing has been “beautified” or modernized. 
Gunfight - Oatman, AZ on Old Highway 66
Wild burros wandering the streets - Oatman, AZ

Wild burros descended from those animals that the old time miners turned loose still wander the streets begging carrots from visitors. They add to the charm of the town.

After visiting and watching a demonstration gunfight in the street we continued on the steep, winding old highway past operating gold mine workings; passing over the ridge to descend to Kingman, AZ.  From Kingman, where we stopped for lunch, we turned back to the North to the small road that led to the Hualupai Indian Nation and the Navajo Skywalk.

That side road is not very long, but at least 45 minutes is needed each way because the last 12 mile section is on a washboard, gravel road that winds through hills and gullies.  The scenery is grand, but dusty!

 We eventually arrived late in the afternoon at the plateau of the South Rim of the Western Grand Canyon.  We drove past an active small airport and heliport and parked in a large parking lot outside the new, inflatable dome administration building where the gift shop, restrooms and ticket counters are located.

We wanted tickets only to go on the Skywalk…but the Hualupai Indians sell only different “packages.” The packages feature different things like – a spa visit, having lunch, watching dances and the Skywalk.  I purchased the cheapest package – the Legacy Classic which included a spa visit (which I did not intend to use), viewing the Indian dancers (useless to me) and the visit to the Skywalk.  With my senior discount the package came to $68.70 – of which the Skywalk entry was $26.96.  The Frenchies paid nearly $400 for their tickets – and felt this was greatly excessive!  Later, they told me it was the most unpleasant part of the entire 23 day tour.

Behind the administration building, there is a circular boarding area to board a new air conditioned coach for the short ride to the Skywalk and from there to the various scenic points farther along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We stopped at the Skywalk and the building that is its anchor.  The Skywalk is a " U " shaped walkway that goes out over a deep side canyon of the  Grand Canyon. The walkway itself is formed of thick double layers of glass.  The effect is that of walking, suspended in the air 2,500 feet over the ledges and bottom of the canyon.

Navajo Dancer at the Skywalk

A wide view of the Skywalk and visitors
There are many restrictions – no cameras, cellphones or other items that can be dropped to chip the glass or used to take photos are allowed out on the Skywalk. Two “official” photographers are available to take photos of you and your party that are sold to you if you desire.  You must cover your shoes with special booties to protect the glass.  Even so, there are numerous small scratches starting to show on the surface of the glass.  The designers allowed for this by using a double layer of thick glass – the top layer may be replaced with new panes and the old glass may be polished to crystal clarity once more. The glass panes are nearly 1 inch thick.  The entire Skywalk could support the weight of a 747 jet airplane.

The sensation of looking down between my covered feet - downward at least 2,500 feet to the first ledge created a very weird feeling in my tummy. I discovered that walking rapidly in the center of the walkway looking straight down intensified the feeling dramatically!

It was getting late and the Jockey Club was still over 100 miles away, so we departed the Skywalk.  We had to wait for loose cattle on the roads several times on our way back to the road from Kingman to Boulder, NV. 

We descended to cross the top of Hoover Dam in the twilight.  The water level in Lake Mead is the lowest I have ever seen – our long drought in the Southwest is showing itself. 

The new bridge over Black Canyon (to take the traffic off the top of Hoover Dam) is progressing nicely. The arch is now complete and they are working on the approach roads and the roadbed and railings on the bridge.  The bridge and dam will be wonders when the bridge is complete.

We had our dinner at a Burger King just before we got back to the Jockey Club.

Thanks for your attention!  More to come.

1 comment:

  1. SK, it's great that you have gone this route. Literatlly and figuratively! This will be a wonderful way to share your travels, especially the photos. I enjoyed this first installment and look forward to many more. The site has been forwarded to TBV and SJR. L