3 AM thoughts…and back to the Valley of Fire

Las Vegas Trip 014I am listening to the sound of rain on the roof at the moment, around 3:30 am I think, and with sleep deciding to take a holiday around 2, I decided it might be a good time to catch up on things.  We are parked at the lovely Fort Stevens State Park, on the far north Oregon coast near Astoria, in one of only two open loops, and our rig is just steps from the showers.  To spare the sleeping Mo, I slipped over to the unlimited hot water for a very long shower before settling in with computer and tea to remember how it felt back in Nevada just 8 days ago.

Las Vegas Trip 009While we were traveling in Las Vegas, I didn’t have my computer or camera with me, and of course, didn’t take time to read all the blogs I try to follow.  Sometimes when I let the reading slip, I get a little bit worried about folks.  What if I miss something truly earth shattering that has happened to someone I care about, even though I may have never met them?  I know this is a bit silly, but then it happened again.  A distant blog friend experienced a life changing moment and I missed it. It is their life and their story, so I won’t link to it here, but if you know Sherry and David you might want to be sure to check in and send good thoughts.

Las Vegas Trip 067Blogging is a personal hobby, reading blogs has been a diversion that I enjoy, but we all know it doesn’t require the kind of commitment that up front, real life friendships require.  It is somehow ephemeral, and when we slip away for a time, the world doesn’t end.  At least not usually.

So when I slip away from writing, I have learned to at least try my best to catch up on my reading.  I would hate to jabber away on some stupidity, all lalala about whatever is going on at the moment, completely ignoring that someone is seriously ill, or has lost their life-time pet, or worst of all, their life.  Yeah, this blog is all about me, but somehow things shift a bit, and it is also about my interaction with readers as well.  After all, all those comments and all those hits mean I am no longer in this thing alone.  Just one of those 3am thoughts, I guess.

DSCF0803Now, here in the darkness of a rainy night, I will slip back into the photos of our day at the Valley of Fire more than a week ago, and remember. 

Las Vegas Trip 025Our second night at the Main Street Station was fabulous.  We were moved down to the 4th floor, without the expansive views of our first night, but with only the tolerable white noise of the big fans on the casino roof just below us.  We were also blessedly on a non smoking floor.  To bed by 2am or so, we slept on the perfectly firm bed with a cushy top, snuggled up by a great comforter and several different kinds of pillows, soft to very fat.  Take your pick. 

Las Vegas Trip 031Sunday morning we ambled down around 10 to enjoy one of the best Sunday brunches in Las Vegas, or so it said.  It was wonderful, 8.95 each for an amazing spread, including unlimited pourings of champagne, with or without the orange juice. Our waitress was diligent in keeping our coffee and our champagne glasses full. The choices were just about limitless, but we did manage to keep our meal somewhat reasonable in size, picking and choosing among our favorites.  Everything was scrumptious.

Las Vegas Trip 042After that leisurely breakfast, it was time to get out of town and see the desert.  The last time we were in the area, we went to Laughlin, and we also have been west of town in the Red Rocks area, and thought it might be nice to try something different.  A quick check of Google maps on the phone showed the route east to Valley of Fire was a simple turn north from our Main Street location to I-15, and another simple 20 miles or so to the turn toward Lake Mead. 

Las Vegas Trip 058The desert was incredibly gorgeous on that Sunday, with brilliant skies made even more beautiful with wild clouds that threatened rain, although it never actually fell. Our first view of the Valley of Fire was lovely, but if you only pass by on the highway and maybe stop in at the visitor center, you could miss the full effect of this remnant of the Colorado Plateau.  I am a red rock canyon country junkie, and had no idea there was a piece of red heaven this far south.

pink and yellow slickrock in the Valley of FireThe visitor center was a great stop, with wonderful displays explaining the complex geology and faulting of the area.  I saw familiar names that I carry in my heart, Chinle, Moenkopi, Navajo, names of the sandstone formations I am so familiar with farther north.  Here, the Apache sandstone overlies Chinle, pink and yellow as well as red, a rainbow of hues that seemed especially surreal in the late afternoon light.

We drove north into the park toward the White Dome area, where I found a trail leading down a canyon and across slickrock that looked like pastel watercolors. Again, only the iPhone to try to capture that color, but Mo had her Fuji mini camera as well, and took a few shots while I was running around oohing and aahing at the amazing color and formations. 

We checked out the campground as well, 30 bucks a night for hookups, with several spaces big enough for two or three rigs with unobstructed views of the desert beyond.  There were plenty of vacancies, and we added this spot to our list of places that we might like to camp someday.  It would be great to just hang out here and have time to wander among the rock formations.

hiking slickrock above the trail in the Valley of FireWe took a circular route back, traveling east toward Lake Mead and then along the North Shore road into North Las Vegas.  The drive was so much fun in the little Fiat, and the gorgeous sunset over the lights of Las Vegas as we dropped back into the valley was the perfect finale.

The next morning, Monday, we explored our own casino a bit more.  The one thing we didn’t like about Main Street Station was the lack of simple restaurants.  We only had the big buffet and the fancy restaurant and brewery, but no place to get a morning cup of coffee, not even a pot in the room to brew tea!  As we were leaving, we discovered that the Main Street Station is linked with a closed skywalk to the California casino across the street, and there were half a dozen different venues, just steps away from our room that included espresso and bakeries, little coffee shops, and lots of other goodies.  We were really happy with our choice to stay Downtown at Main Street rather than on the strip and would choose it again.  Especially since it is so easy to get out of town entirely from this area.

iPhone shot in the Valley of FireOnce again, we did the cattle call seating option for Allegiant, with a bit less success this time.  Our number was  too high to get seats together, and I ended up in the very back of the plane, in an aisle seat across from the big exit door with no window at all.  A bit claustrophobic to say the least.  We arrived home a bit late to rain and snow in Medford and snow on the pass.  Gotta love winter coming finally in February, I guess. Overall, the trip turned out to be a delightful little winter escape.

Sinning in Sin City

Las Vegas Trip 046It sounds good, but really, at this stage in life, sinning amounts to little more than eating way too much good food and dropping a few bucks into the slot machines.  But there is nothing quite like a trip to Vegas to get a taste of all the excesses available to anyone who has the time and money.  The most excessive part of this short little whirlwind trip for us was popping for tickets to Elton John’s concert at Caesar’s Palace, The Million Dollar Piano.

Las Vegas Trip 024For years the music of Elton John was part of the background of my life.  I enjoyed it, but never paid much attention.  As years went by, however, I would hear something amazingly melodic and rich and sure enough, it was Elton John.  I also heard that he put on a concert rivaled by few that was worth seeing.  I think the first time I tried to get tickets was back in the early 90’s, in the days when phones would do automatic redial trying to get through that busy signal.  By the time I got through, the tickets were sold out.  That story was repeated a few times, more recently when he was playing in Portland and other venues in the northwest.  Always long gone by the time I got through.

Las Vegas Trip 048Now, however, he is playing in Vegas.  Maybe that is a sign of the times, when all the old stars finally make there way to the Vegas stages. Motley Crue and Chicago are even there right now. The nice thing about this, though, is that there are enough shows scheduled that getting tickets is not an impossible dream.  Hence the four day trip to Las Vegas.  Allegiant Airlines flies out of Medford, direct, for a very reasonable price.  The airline tickets were cheaper than the concert tickets at least. Cut rate airlines are an experience of themselves.  Buying online, we discovered that if we wanted an assigned seat, it was an extra 8.95 for each leg of the flight, if we wanted water in flight, it was 2 bucks a bottle.  If we wanted to check in prior to boarding, we had to pop for the assigned seat.  Mo and I were reeling from the concert tickets and decided to skip the seat assignments.  No big deal, right? It was only an hour and a half flight anyway.

Las Vegas Trip 040The reality was funny, though, like the old days with Southwest airlines cattle calls, we had to get to the airport early enough to hopefully get a low number for the lineup.  Once on the plane, we could take whatever seats were left by the time we got there.  We checked no baggage and brought peanuts for sustenance.

Arriving in Vegas after ten pm, we caught the rental car shuttle to the state of the art new rental car facility about 7 miles south of McCarren field.  I was impressed.  The whole car rental experience was simple and straightforward, at least until we attempted to open the windows of our tiny compact car, a neon yellow Fiat 500.  It also took Mo a few miles to discover that the reason the engine kept winding up was because shifting was required.  No clutch, just shift by hitting the joy stick on the console.  Sirius radio and heated seats added to the delight of a tiny car that somehow felt pretty darn roomy inside and had lots of zip on the road.

Las Vegas Trip 002Mo and I haven’t been to Vegas since 2004 when we flew down and spent a day in town before driving for a week or so around Death Valley.  We decided it might be fun to stay downtown near Fremont street and the Main Street Station turned out to be a great choice.  On the first night we had a room on the 14th floor facing north, right over the freeway and the railroad tracks.  No earl plugs?  ahh.  I had no idea I would need them inside a big hotel.  Somehow we ended up on a smoking floor as well, but a phone call to the desk was worthwhile since the next morning we were moved down to the non smoking, much quieter 4th floor for the rest of our stay.

Las Vegas Trip 030We enjoyed a slow Saturday morning walking Fremont street before we boarded the sleek and efficient SDX bus to the strip.  We spent the rest of the day walking the strip, in and out of all those incredible casinos that are like a huge Disneyland for grown-ups.  Grown ups with more money than we had, for sure, but I still really loved strolling through Neiman Marcus fingering Oscar de la Renta gowns, Jimmy Choo shoes, and Prada bags.  I like a good bag.  Two hundred bucks is a big deal, but when I picked up that 2,800 Prada bag I wondered about my daughters and how one purse could pay a couple of big mortgage payments, or a pair of shoes could pay for some badly needed dental work.  Vegas is definitely a place to feel the ridiculous imbalance that is part of our culture now.  There were lots of homeless folks in our end of town as well.

Las Vegas Trip 051After miles and miles and hours and hours of walking, we settled in for the “sin” part, a great Italian supper at Trevi’s in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace.  I had some kind of succulent drink that should have been on a cruise ship with red italian wine, peach liqueur and who knows what else. It was decadent and delicious.  We just sat there a long time enjoying our meal and the changing (fake) skies that turned from dawn to dusk several times as we sat there in the courtyard.  I don’t think there is any place better than Vegas for people watching, either, and we were fabulously entertained by the shifting crowd passing by on the mall.

Las Vegas Trip 052Finally it was time for the show, and we filed in with several thousand other excited folks, dressed in everything from jeans to spandex to sequins.  I knew I had been sequestered too long in the back woods when I realized I was gawking at the gorgeous young girls wearing what must be the latest “thing”.  Their dresses were stretchy like a girdle, covered the part from the breasts (barely) to the panty line (barely), with platform shoes that had heels with more inches then their skirts.  It was great fun, but sure did remind me that I am in my sixties and fashion is completely irrelevant at this stage. 

Las Vegas Trip 059Once inside the theater, we could feel the excitement building.  I was surprised that the crowd was so diverse, all ages, all styles, and all seemingly thrilled to be there.  When EJ came on stage, the roar was huge.  He was dressed tastefully in a sparkly black tuxedo, with a nod to his old self expressed in some crazy bright red tennis shoes and a subdued pair of barely colored glasses.  He started with “Benny and the Jets”, not one of my favorites, but the lights and the music and the sound built throughout the show in a way that kept me alternately in goose bumps and tears.  You have no idea how much this music is in the background of our lives till you hear the melodies and find yourself singing the words.

Las Vegas Trip 072His voice is deeper and richer, and while he doesn’t hit the high notes the way he once did,  there is a strength and quality in his singing that is breathtaking. Two young men from Croatia on electric cellos, (appropriately called the Two Cellos) expanded the richness of the music and his percussionist took my heart away, even his tambourine sounded like a full scale orchestra.  And yes.  The Piano.  The Million Dollar Piano.  I never heard anyone play a piano like this, truly.  Rachmaninoff maybe.  I know, apples and oranges, but still.  Goosebumps and tears.  It was not just a rock-n-roll concert.  It was incredible.  Of course, I wanted it to never end.

Las Vegas Trip 076We left with the crowd with our eyes filled with lights and our ears with sound, enough that the lights and sounds of Vegas seemed almost irrelevant.  Caesar’s Palace is right next to the famous Bellagio Fountains, which obligingly started up their musical water dance in time for us to enjoy.  On our way south along the strip, I saw many of those girls in those skinny dresses and high shoes, tugging at the dresses and carrying their shoes!  Another reason to maybe skip this particular fashion trend!

We found our SDX stop and climbed up to the upper deck for the slow ride back downtown, thoroughly enjoying the street shows below us at each stop.  It was a great day, but we both agreed that the next day was going to be our chance to get out of town and away from all that glitz and craziness.  Vegas is great but the desert calls. Las Vegas Trip 128

Just a quick note here as well, I didn’t pack a computer or even a camera for this trip.  Managed to get these photos with my iPhone.  It is rather amazing what a telephone can do, but of course, it ain’t the Nikon.