Monday, March 29, 2021

What Happens in Vegas...

This was a fun moment as you can see. We took the picture of two young women and then they insisted we take their place (and their drinks) for this photo. We gathered quite a crowd and even managed to get out of the tub somewhat gracefully!

We had planned to just spend one night in Las Vegas but after settling into our very comfortable Riviera RV Park and plugging in for the first time in 6 days, we extended for one extra day. That gave us time for laundry and some repair projects. I had never been to Las Vegas before and wasn't very excited about seeing it, but Scott had gone once and said it should be visited. My conditions were that we have one really good meal as I do know that there are a lot of great restaurants here. We ended up at The Black Sheep and it was a memorable meal for sure. A lot of the downtown high-end places were either closed or already booked. Amy Tran is the Chef here and she will be one of the contestants on the upcoming Top Chef in March. Its location, out in the suburbs in a mall, was unprepossessing, but the food and drinks were very interesting and fun. 

Caesar's Palace was more attractive outside than in as far as I am concerned. We had lovely weather for our visit: a high of 76 and cooled down at night. 

We tried to get into the Belaggio afterwards, but it was a Saturday night and the traffic was awful and parking lots were full. One lucky break was watching the dancing fountains while stopped in traffic right in front! We drove up and down the strip admiring the neon and called it a night. Scott had made reservations for a Brazilian restaurant, Pampas, for the next day's brunch. On a Sunday morning, it was easy to park and we enjoyed the endless progression of grilled meats etc. Afterwards, we walked the strip. I don't believe we saw anyone in the crowds under 60. It was Spring Break and packed with young people. About 50% wore masks but they were required in the Casinos. This time we did walk around the Belaggio and saw most of another fountain show. 

The dancing fountain show at the Bellagio was my favourite attraction. We saw most of two and all of one. 

That night we parked at the Paris and visited it, the Cosmopolitan and Caesar's Palace. When you've seen one Casino, you've seen them all as far as I'm concerned. We don't enjoy gambling so that was out. But people watching was fun and we enjoyed walking around outside, gawking at the fake European sites. Disneyland for adults (although there were lots of families with young kids!). One more fountain show was also a treat. We were home for our usual early bedtime!

On three occasions we've come close to running
out of fuel so we've learned to fill up early but it
was tough to buy gas here in Death Valley. This
was the most expensive place we've found.

The cocktails at The Black Sheep were great.
I enjoyed the Sebastian and Scott had one each
of the Deep Blue Sea and Block Party!

We didn't recognize some of the ingredients!

This shot reminded me of the winning photo
Sean took year's ago of the Statue of Liberty.

A more distant view from the Belaggio across
the street.

There were pictures and restaurants all over
Las Vegas of Gordon Ramsey, including here,
Hell's Kitchen. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Death Valley National Park

 Death Valley is the largest National Park outside of Alaska at 3.3 million acres and the hottest, driest, and lowest of them all. It was declared a National Monument in 1933 and a National Park in 1994. At Badwater Basin, we were 282 feet below sea level, the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Laguna del Carbon in Argentina is 344 feet). The name led us to believe that it was just one vast desert - wrong! There is plenty of desert but much more as you can see from the photos. They don't do it justice. The colors are much more varied and intense, especially early and late in the day. We spent two nights at Fiddler's Campground, part of the Ranch at Death Valley Resort. It was a great choice, with no utilities but some shade from the pine trees and only a few minutes from the Golf Course Cafe where we were able to access the hotel's wifi. There was no cell service in the park anywhere. We also got the enjoy the beautiful Olympic-sized swimming pool, naturally fed from warm springs. The high during the day was 85 degrees but it cooled down quickly once the sun descended. This was the warmest weather we have encountered so far in our trip!

This is a photo from Dantes View on our last day but it gives you a good idea of the scenery. 

Our four-wheel-drive truck took us everywhere in the park. We put a lot of miles in seeing as much as possible. We saw the top 6 must-see spots and several of the next set. We would love to come back to the park and see even more and just enjoy staying at the lovely Ranch. Coming down out of the mountains on our first day and suddenly seeing the verdant Oasis in front of us was miraculous. We could do without the 18 hole golf course but many were enjoying it fully. Still, COVID restrictions have severely reduced the Ranch facilities. The bars were closed and the restaurants were take out only. 

Looking out over the golf course to the snow-capped mountains at the Ranch at Death Valley. Our
campsite was only a few steps away.

 A view through the truck windshield
of a typical road through the desert.
Zabriskie Point, made famous by the 1970 movie of 
that name directed by Antonioni.
The view from the top of Zabriski Point looking south
And looking east
And back to the parking lot
We hiked up Golden Canyon
Scott in one of the side canyons
Our trusty truck with the mountains behind. We
are very grateful for those many horsepower units
under the hood!
The Artists Drive was a 9 mile one-way road through some of the most colorful rock formations
in the Valley. It is impossible to capture the red, gold, blue, pink, and green colors, at least on our camera.
Heather trudges up another trail on this drive. As you can see from our clothing, most of the day it was cool, partially because of the wind. Down at our campsite, we could enjoy the highest temperatures.
Scott took this while I was driving. Somehow I
look like a cowgirl? I did probably 75% of the 
driving as Scott is by far the better navigator.
The colors just didn't come out.
You can see a little of the blue & pink here.
A look across the Devil's Golfcourse, where tiny salt crystals hide in the pockmarked rock landscape.
Badwater Basin, a surreal landscape
of vast salt flats. We are looking 
back towards the parking lot.
Keane Wonder Mill and Mine,
"King of the Desert", a historic
gold mine with a still intact
ariel tramway.
Scott coming around a sharp corner in a trail that
coiled up the mountain at the Keane Mine
The obligatory photo at Badwater Basin. People
line up here to get their picture taken!
Hard to see this without enlargement but the worn
edges of the mountain looked like statues.
At the end of the day, we visited the Mesquite
Flat Sanddunes. Unfortunately, the sun went behind
some clouds for too long for us to wait.
Nevertheless, it was amazingly beautiful. People walk out on them for miles.
The Harmony Borax Works. Borax was the most
successful mining commodity in the park
We drove the 20 Mule Team Canyon road with our trailer attached as there wasn't a warning
about the trailer at the entrance. There should have been. Happily, our truck has lots of extra power and our overall length just made it around the narrow corkscrew turns on this dirt one-way road. 
We hiked up one of the inviting trails that come 
off this road, just managing to get our vehicle and
trailer off the side of the road in one of the few
wider spots.
This is the view of a harrowing section of the 
road from the passenger side, Just before this
I couldn't see the road at all. It looked like I was
about to drive off a cliff. Scott had to open his
door and check to see there was a road there.

There was a clear warning at the next side road to Dante's View - no trailers allowed. So we
separated from our trailer and left it near the road entrance. This was a spectacular 13-mile drive up to a viewpoint perched on top of the mountain - what an engineering feat! 
You could walk out on the ridges or a little way
further up the mountain - we were above 5,000
feet at this point.
It was around 50 degrees and windy at the top so
we put on all our layers.

Across Death Valley below us looms these magnificent snow-capped peaks.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Vineyards and Peggy Sue's 50's Diner

 We got a late start out of Sweetwater Lake Campground in Chula Vista but it wasn't a long drive up to Ramona. For the next 3 nights, we planned stays at Harvest Host locations. We joined this organization (along with Good Sam and KOA) before leaving Vermont. And it has been the best decision. They have over 2,000 wineries, breweries, farms, and other interesting members where you can stay one night free. After these 3 nights, we will have stayed 5 nights at wineries, 2 farms, 1 historic home, and a diner! All this for our $79 membership fee and of course, buying some wine, produce, breakfast, and a tour. But the best part has been an opportunity to meet and get to know our hosts and often, other guests at the location. 

The wine tasting location at Correcominos Vineyard in Ramona on the next morning after they 
closed up the tents. I should have taken one the night before. They let us plug in our computers
to charge them up. We have no electrical hookups for the next 5 nights.

Our first night was at the Correcominos Winery in Ramona. This small family-run vineyard produced some delightful wines. We chatted with the owners for a while during our wine tasting and then met a couple at the table next to us, who coincidently owned the very same model trailer as ourselves. They had only recently purchased it and enjoyed seeing all the improvements Scott has made to our's. They spent 20 years in Vanuatu, which was fascinating. 

The next morning we went into town and did some shopping. Our battery connection came loose and Scott needed a hardware store and I picked up some groceries. We enjoyed a walk along some back roads before packing up and leaving late morning.

Just one corner of the vast tasting set up at Akash Winery. 

Getting to our next location took much longer than expected. We chose to avoid highways and ended up driving up one mountain and down the other. It was a beautiful trip! This second night was also a Vineyard, but quite different. Akash Vineyard is a big operation. Temecula has back-to-back huge vineyards that host weddings and hundreds of wine tasters at a time. We shared the back parking lot with 2 other RVs and joined one couple for our wine tasting. Carl and Karen Newton became full-time in their beautiful Airstream about a year ago. They have been all over the country. It was a fun evening but the wine tasting cost twice as much as our previous night and we got 1/3 as much wine!

The next day we drove north to Silverwood State Park Recreation Area. We had lunch there and walked around the park, including a short hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes through this area. From there we took the scenic longer route further north to Peggy Sue's 50's Diner, another Harvest Host member. Built in 1954 with 9 stools and 3 booths, it was bought and renovated by Peggy Sue and her husband Champ. Their extensive movie and record photos and memorabilia decorate every inch of the place, along with dummies of many famous singers and actors - and dinosaurs and King Kong! We had dinner and breakfast there (and ate another meal on the leftovers!) before heading north again to Death Valley.

On the way to Ramona from Chula Vista

On the way from Ramona to Temecula. The hairpin turns through the mountains didn't allow us 
any photos but when we went through the valleys, we could pull over and admire the orchards and

Greg and Jill at Correcaminos Vineyard

Carl and Karen at Akash Vineyard

The Marina at Silverwood Lake State Recreation
Heather poses next to the signpost
on the Pacific Crest Trail
The Lake from a viewpoint on the road into the Park
The view from our trailer into the "Dinersaur
Park" behind Peggy Sue's 50's Diner
The original diner section - now there are lots
more rooms, including a Pizza Parlor
This sight greeted me in the Women's Room. It's
a dummy, Dummy. The second dummy is me as
I was startled and reported a man in the lady's room,
much to the amusement of the waitress!
We had dinner and breakfast here - good diner
food and plenty of it!