Saturday September 10, 2016 – Day Twenty One


Today we woke up in Kanab, Utah and tonight (or early tomorrow morning), we will be putting our heads down in Las Vegas, Nevada! Sorry that this blog is being posted really late, but I have two excuses. #1 is that we are now on Pacific time, so we are 3 hours earlier than our friends back on the East Coast. #2 is that we are in Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s it, nothing else!

We left our hotel in Kanab, Utah about 10 this morning, after rearranging the car because we were headed towards Las Vegas, and valet parking. If you remember, the other day, Susie rearranged the two small suitcases we have with us, so that all we had to do is bring one into the hotel in Vegas, along with our usual nightly items.

But first, before Las Vegas, it was time for us to visit Zion National Park, another park on my $10 Senior Pass. We realized that it was Saturday, and that more people might be in the park, but we were shocked by how many people seemed to be spending the day in Zion. Even though we entered before 11 AM, the park was jammed! Many of the View Points we passed were totally full, mainly because people were parked and hiking. We saw what we could, but really couldn’t see that much of the park. What we did see was pretty incredible, as we hope these pictures indicate!

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After leaving Zion, we headed to Interstate 15 South, heading towards Las Vegas. In short order, we left Utah again and entered Arizona. However, our route just went through the upper corner of Arizona, and in 26 miles, we were about to enter our third state of the day, Nevada. Of course, as soon as you enter Nevada, you also enter Pacific time, so the clocks go back an hour. When we pulled up in front of the Rio Hotel at 2 PM, it felt more like 3 for us. Right now it’s 10:30 PM here, but for us it’s 11:30, based on when when and where we got up this morning.

We’ve stayed many times at the Rio. Susie and I figured out this is probably the 17th or 18th time this has been our Vegas home. Always nice to show up in a place where you know where everything is, and how to get around!

The last time we were here was about a year and a half ago, and we discovered a new restaurant that wasn’t here last time we were. It turns out that there is a new Guy Fieri restaurant at the Rio, El Burro Borracho. As we are big Guy fans, and have enjoyed Guy’s Chop House at Bally’s Atlantic City, and also like Mexican food, we decided to try Guy’s take on the cuisine. It was great! We had incredible chips and salsa to start, followed by Guacamole with additions, and then we both had Enchiladas…Susie pork and me chicken! Great meal, including the two different drinks we had. First some tasty Sangria, followed by a couple of huge Jalapeno Margaritas! Yum all around!

Then we hit the casino. Played some slots, some video poker, and a little three card poker! No big wins, but we had some fun. Now, it’s time to hit the king side bed. Perhaps we will be better tomorrow, when we spend the whole day in Pacific time, but for now, nightie night!

Day Fourteen

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Day fourteen finds us in Loveland, Colorado. After breakfast this morning in Craig, we headed east for our only attraction of the day, Rocky Mountain National Park! I had so wanted Susie to see this and to cross the Continental Divide (yeah, I know), and because of how we planned our trip, visiting the Rockies necessitated a jog back east. We have now reached our eastern most area of the trip, until we officially start heading back east, which will be after we visit Vegas next weekend. From today till Vegas, we either head south or west.

First off, Happy Labor Day Weekend 2016! I was very concerned when I realized that our drive through Rocky Mountain National Park would be on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend! I envisioned bumper to bumper traffic, and parking lots at scenic views full of cars. It turns out that we were going through the park west to east, and most people seem to go the other direction, so we passed more cars coming at us than were traveling in our direction. The scenic turn outs were crowded, but there always seemed to be space at the ones we wanted to stop at. Turns out that my concern was unfounded.

The road through Rocky Mountain National Park is called Trail Ridge Road, but in reality it is US Highway 34. US Route 34 runs for 1,122 miles from Granby, Colorado (where we got on it) and it ends in Berwyn, Illinois at Historic Route 66. The road through the park was built between 1929 and 1933, and is closed from fall to the spring, so in a couple of months, we couldn’t have done today’s drive. In addition to crossing the Continental Divide, our route today reached an elevation of 12,183 feet, making US Route 34 the highest paved through highway in the United States!

We started our trip at Granby, and stopped at the first Visitor Center we saw, which was before the entrance booth of the park. A dark cloud had descended over us, and when we stopped it was raining and the temperature was in the 50s! After a brief stop at the bathroom and the information counter, we were on our way back to the car when a moose came out of the woods, and was munching of a tree behind the center! Susie got a picture with her phone and then we moved on to the park.

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We pulled up to the entrance gate, and I handed the ranger my Senior Pass and driver’s license, and we gained admission! The best $10 I will ever spend. Lucky for us, the dark cloud moved away, and the weather for 90% of our drive on Trail Ridge Road was sunny, but cool. At the highest elevation the temperature dropped to the high 30s! There were a lot of curves, and a lot of switchbacks as we climbed into the clouds. At one point Susie said, “Hello God..we’re in your world now”, and indeed we were! To say that the sights we saw were breathtaking would be an understatement (some of the curves on the road took my breath away, but then that’s a different story!). I really can’t describe adequately what we saw, so here are a selection of some of today’s best pictures, and believe me when I tell you that they don’t do justice to what we saw!

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We exited the park in Estes Park, Colorado and the town was jumping, befitting the Saturday of Labor Day weekend! As we continued on to the hotel, we saw cabins, motels, lodges, and hotels all with “No Vacancy” signs out front! I guess we were lucky to have made tonight’s reservation about a month ago. We’re staying in Loveland, Colorado in a Comfort Inn, one of our favorite types of hotels we’ve discovered on the trip.

The last time we had anything that resembled Italian food, was the Pizza, fried zucchini sticks, and Encaldo salad from Mineola Pizza, that we had on Saturday, August 20th. I said in a recent blog, that we really haven’t seen a lot of Italian restaurants in our travels, and tonight when Susie was doing research on dinner places, she found one that sounded promising. She showed me the menu, and I agreed, so tonight we headed to Biaggi’s Italian Restaurant, just about 10 minutes down the road. It was a good find, and we no longer have a craving for good Italian! Susie had Lasagna Bolognese, I had Rigatoni Bolognese with Sausage, and we washed it down with one of our favorite Proseccos, Mienetto. All that was great, but the star of the night was our appetizer, Calamari Friti – Agrodolce. Oh my God, was it fantastic! When we saw sweet garlic chilly sauce and red peppers, we expected the kind of sauce that is like a duck sauce with hot peppers, but it was so much more. Here’s the description from the menu:

Sweet Garlic Chili Sauce, Sautéed Cabbage, Onions and Red Peppers, Pine Nuts

It was sooooo good!! The cabbage and the onions, mixed with the peppers, and then the fried calamari…what a great combo!!

Random Notes…

I said a couple of days ago, that we had only seen the aftermath of two accidents in our time on the road.  Well today, make that number 3!  Like in Yellowstone last week, there are folks who think that the road signs with pictures of hairy curves, and a 20 MPH suggested speed limit are not for them.  Today, as we were leaving the park, we saw what that kind of thinking can lead to!

I was very happy to have taken my barber with me, and last night at the Best Western Hotel in Craig, Colorado I got a trim. Susie has been cutting my hair since we got married (which will be 37 years later this month), so I am all set for the trip. She is disappointed that she couldn’t take either her hair dresser or manicurist with her! Perhaps she can get both items taken care of in early October when we join Kenny on the Liberty of the Seas for two weeks!

We find that almost every day we either learn something, or make a discovery on our own. Today’s discovery had to do with ice for our cooler. We left NY with a case of water in the car, which we have been drinking all along. As we’ve almost finished all the bottles, the other day in Rock Springs at Walmart we bought a new case. Tonight when we checked into the hotel, we noted that our room refrigerator had a freezer. Susie said, “Hey, why don’t we freeze some of our water bottles and dump them into the cooler instead of buying ice tomorrow?” A simple but brilliant idea that not only gives us ice for the cooler, but also as they melt, gives us icy cold water! I was so lucky back almost 37 years ago when this lady said “I do” to me!!!

Tomorrow, Denver and a Rockies game…not our Mets, but when in Rome, right?!

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!