A Travellerspoint blog

A Short Trip Over to Calif.

Day 1: Tonopah, Mono Lake, Bodie, Bridgeport

sunny 85 °F

My friend Chris came back from Thailand for the month of August. I have told him before that August is the worst month for Vegas and for traveling around the West. My advice fell on deaf ears as he came back July 30. Anyway, he suggested a short trip somewhere during August. We kicked around several options and finally decided on Mono Lake, Yosemite NP. I have never been over to Mono Lake and have not been through Yosemite NP in over 20 years. We picked a Monday late in August and started planning. We decided to stay in Bridgeport Calif the first night. I checked on the Internet and found out that all the motels were at $100/night or more. I called a few motels and made the decision to pre-book something. We got the last room that had 2 queen beds at the Redwood Motel. $105 with tax. There were cheaper rooms down in Bishop, but we would have to drive about 40 miles out of our way. Did not make sense, so Redwood Motel became the winner.

Our departure day arrived, sunny & hot. No surprise there. Vegas in August is going to be hot, perhaps some clouds/rain, but certainly over 100. Chris came over to my house and we used my car. We used his Mercedes for our Carlsbad Caverns trip so it was my turn to drive. Chris arrived at 7am and off we went. The best route for us was to take US 95 North. We stopped at the Amargosa Valley junction with hwy 373 to take a few photos. The Cherry Patch Brothel is here along with a gas station and a few signs. I wanted to go inside the brothel for prices/photos but Chris pointed out the flaws in this idea, so I passed. The Brothel Art Museum is just down the road, but we passed. We popped a few photos and headed North.
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We pulled into Tonopah and loaded up with petrol. This is the last decent sized town until we hit Bridgeport. Chris did not have BF so we stopped for a burger on the way out of Tonopah. He likes family run places and a local at the gas station recommended Cisco's Tacos. Chris was happy because Cisco's had big, messy burgers and milkshakes. I had my granola bars, so I passed. Chris declared it a winner, so we were both happy.

We took 95/6 over the border into Calif. When we hit Benton we took CA 120. We stopped at take some photos of the burned out forest just a few miles from Mono Lake (ML). A forest fire went through this area, July 2010.
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There is a dirt road off CA 120 to the South shore of ML. There is a Ranger Station here and we got our Senior Pass: $10. Now both of us can enter any National Park in the US for FREE! for the rest of our lives. Quite a deal for $10. We got our hats, cameras and headed for the South Tufa area of ML. It was just about perfect. Not too many other visitors, sunny but not really hot. We spent about 40 minutes walking the South Tufa area and decided to head for the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor's Center. We talked to the Ranger about the ghost town of Bodie. We did stop at the North side of ML at Black Point. Pretty much a waste of time. There is nothing to see compared to the South Tufa area.
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We took US 395 North to the road to Bodie, 270. The road is paved most of the way to Bodie. We were warned several times that Bodie closes the entrance at 6pm. It was now about 4:30pm, so we were in good shape. 13 miles off 395, the last 3 miles are gravel. It is not too bad, but certainly got all the cars covered in dust. We found out it was $7/person, NOT per car load. Calif. is broke so I guess I can see the logic. In 1962 the Calif State Parks System took over the administration of Bodie This is the first/last time I will ever visit Bodie. Not worth a return visit IMO. We got our hats, cameras and walked down the hill into Bodie. It is certainly in pretty good shape for a 'ghost town'. We were told Bodie is allowed to stay in a 'state of arrested decay'. In 1880, Bodie had almost 7K residents. Over the years, the price to extracted the gold ore became too expensive and the mills started shutting down. In 1942, the War Production Board ordered all nonessential gold mines to close. Bodie never mined gold again.
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Chris and I walked most of Bodie, stopping often for photos. A few buildings are open and we poked our heads in several of them. It is interesting, but once was enough. After about an hour of walking around, my knee was hurting and we were ready to leave. Back on the gravel, over to 395 and heading to Bridgeport. We saw on the Internet that there is a Travertine Hot Springs South of Bridgeport. Chris wanted to see it, so we followed the map we picked up at the ML Visitor's Center to the hot springs. It is a terrible dirt road most of the way. My Avalon was protesting, as was I. We made it, but never again. The hot springs are a major disappointment. There were 5 people relaxing in one of the hot springs, but I would not get in it. The dirty looking water was no inviting IMO. After a few photos, we eased our way back on the dirt to 395.
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Into Bridgeport, we found the Redwood Motel w/o much trouble. Bridgeport is pretty much a one street town. We checked in, got our key and took a look at the room. Not much, small, old. We decided to get something to eat before dark, so we just dumped our bags and went looking for a place to eat. Chris saw the Burger Barn, so he voted for that. They did not have a veggie burger, so I walked next door to the Jolly Kone. Kind of an old fashioned drive-in. They had a large menu and that included a veggie burger. I had that plus a milkshake, under $10. After we had eaten, we took at a look at the historic Mono County Jail. It was almost dark so the photos did not turn out very well. Back to the Redwood Motel, I took a shower while Chris started editing his photos on his laptop. I watched some TV while Chris showered and we both decided to call it a day. Day one of our Calif. adventure was over.
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Posted by vegasmike6 11:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Yosemite NP

Spending the day in Yosemite NP

sunny 85 °F

We got up at about 7am, packed and set off for Yosemite NP (YNP). The Redwood Motel is OK, but would not recommend it. Not worth $100/night IMO. No BF either. We took 395 back to Lee Vining. turned on 120 and head uphill to Tioga Pass. Snow still visible the last week of August. We stopped at Tioga Lake for some photos and pulled up to the Tioga Pass Entrance . Since we got our Lifetime Senior Pass at Mono Lake yesterday, we were waved in by the Ranger. The Tioga Pass entrance is not open in the winter. We stopped at several overlooks and then pulled off for Tenaya Lake. Tenaya Lake is just beautiful, worth pulling off and walking the shoreline IMO. Great photo ops.
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We continued on until we hit the Southside Drive, a one-way road that takes you to the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center. First stop for us was Bridalveil Falls. It is not a long hike to the viewing area, but it is steep in places. We got out photos and continued on. Many cars are stopped along the Southside Drive and decided to stop as well. With a short walk, you can get a good view of Upper Yosemite Falls. A few more photos and we head for the Visitors Center.
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We decide to park at Curry Village, got some candy bars, water and waited for the shuttle bus. The shuttle will take you to the trailhead for Vernal & Nevada Falls. Our plan was to hike as far as we could up to Vernal Falls (VF). This was where 3 hikers died in early July. 3 young hikers climbed over the metal guardrail at the top of VF. Fellow hikers urged them to come back over the guardrail, but the trio wanted better photos of the falls. All 3 were swept to their deaths over the 317 ft falls. One body had been recovered when were there late August. It is doubtful there other 2 bodies will ever be recovered. One foolish decision can cost you your life, even in beautiful YNP. The Ranger at VF told us an average of 12 people per year die in YNP. The hike is only about 1 mile to the falls, but it is mostly uphill. We both had to stop numerous times to rest. We made it to the bridge over the Merced River, used the bathrooms and talked to the Ranger stationed at the bridge. Chris and I debated if we could make it to the top of the falls. After a 15 minute break, we decided to try. I made it to where the stairs start that take you to the very top. My knee was killing me and I turned back. Chris went on, but he did not make it to the very top either. Too many steps and he decided it was not worth the effort. I should have done this hike 20 years ago! It took us a long time to get back to the trailhead. Going downhill is not easy on a sore knee, that's for sure. I limped onto the shuttle bus and knew I was done for the day. I took some Advil, and hoped it would help. That was about all the walking I was going to do today. We wanted to stop at the Visitors Center, but the parking lots were packed. August is NOT the time to visit YNP. We headed out, stopping for Lower Yosemite Falls. The Lower Falls is easily the most used location for waterfall photos. An easy walk from the parking lots. Last stop at the Valley View exit. Great last look at the valley.
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Now we just headed for Fresno, taking SR 41. We decided to stop at motels south of Fresno, along SR 180. We saw a Denny's and stopped for dinner. It was after 6pm by now and we were both hungry. I had BF and Chris had a burger, no surprises at Denny's and good value IMO. Alongside Denny's was an Ecno-Lodge. Since it was right there, we went in for a quote. She quoted us $50 using AARP discount plus tax. I am sure there are better places to stay, but it had 2 beds, pool, BF. Good enough after a long day. We paid cash and headed for the room. Basic but clean. I wanted to shower and get off my sore knee. Chris wanted to look at his photos on his laptop. A couple hours of TV for me, photo editing for Chris and we called it a night. Day 2 of our Calif. adventure was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 23:55 Archived in USA Tagged parks national Comments (0)

Off to Sequoia NP

Last day of our Calif. Adventure.

sunny 85 °F

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Chris and I got up at 7am, cleaned up and got ready to leave. Headed over to the BF room. Weak BF, but we had a few donuts, tea and took some bananas for lunch. Loaded up with gas and head over to Sequoia National Park (SNP). State Highway 180 East is the direct route. About an hour later we entered SNP. They are doing a lot of road construction in SNP this summer. We had to wait several times for the road crews. The road is down to one lane and you take turns following the pilot truck passed the road repairs. We head over to the Grant Grove Visitors Center. We got our maps and decided to walk the General Grant Grove first. It is not a difficult walk, but both Chris and I had sore knees from the killer hike yesterday in Yosemite NP. We completed the loop and got the photos we wanted. The Fallen Monarch and the Lightning Trees are interesting as well as the standing giant Sequoias. After General Grant we had a choice: take the 2 hour loop over to the Cedar Grove Area or head South, hit the General Sherman area then head for Vegas. We both voted NO on a 2 hour drive to see more of the same trees. Off we go to Lodgepole Visitors Center, then over to the General Sherman area.

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We cheated a bit and used the handicap parking area, much closer to the trees. I have a handicap placard from years ago when I had a broken leg. My knee was hurting enough to justify using it. We toured the General Sherman area, got our photos and I limped back to the car. Chris and I agreed to call it a day and head for home. We waited almost an hour for road construction on State Highway 198 exiting SNP. We linked up with 99 and stopped in Bakersfield for gas. Took 58 through Tehachapi, home of one of the largest wind farms in Calif. Hundreds of wind turbines spinning makes for a nice photo.

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We took 58 until it hooked up with I-15 at Barstow, got home about 7pm. Our 3 day adventure to the Calif. NPs was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 11:58 Archived in USA Tagged parks national Comments (0)

So You Want To Shoot A Machine Gun!!

semi-overcast 60 °F

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It seems a good many of our visitors feel the need to shoot off a few dozen rounds from a machine gun. We have several indoor ranges where you can make this dream come true! Apparently you cannot shoot machine guns anytime you want in other countries. With the right licenses, an American citizen can legally own and fire his very own AK-47, M-16, MP5, Uzi or whatever else you might care to own. Some citizens from other countries might disagree, but Americans do have the right to own and fire their own personal firearms. This includes: pistols, rifles, shotguns, and yes, automatic weapons if you qualify for the federal license.

Jens and Anders are two guys from Denmark that came to Vegas for help buying a Ford Expedition. Plan A is to tour the US for 6 months and then return to Vegas for help selling their Ford. The Expedition does not get very good gas mileage, but they wanted an off-road vehicle that was big enough to sleep in, so that is what we started looking for. It took several days, but we found an Expedition on 'craigslist' that was in decent shape and was under their budget of $4K. We got it insured, went to DMV for license plates & registration and they were ready to hit the road. They are going all the way to New York and then work their way back to Vegas.


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The guys told me that they wanted to fire off some rounds with a machine gun. It turns out that Denmark is quite strict on gun ownership. Forget a machine gun, it is difficult to own any gun. Anyway, they wanted to shoot machine guns, so I took them over to The Gun Store. Timing is everything in life and shooting a machine gun is no exception. I dropped them off around 1pm and took my mom to lunch and to her hair appointment. When I returned 1.5 hours later to pick them up, I got the bad news. There was a 2 hour wait to get on the shooting range. Afternoons get very crowded at the Gun Store. We decided on Plan B. Come back tomorrow when they open at 9am. That turned out to be a good decision. We got there about 5 minutes before opening and were about 6th in line. Anders decided to fire the M-4 for $50 and Jens decided on the SAW 249 for $60. You get 25 rounds when you choose the M-4, 40 if you choose the SAW 249. Both Anders & Jens got excellent instructors. They take the time to explain the safety procedures and how to fire the weapon safely. We never did feel rushed and the guys had a great experience. I took photos and the guys got to fire machine guns. Both felt it was worth the money and plan on shooting again when they return to Las Vegas this fall. You might want to shoot a machine gun while in Las Vegas yourself. Do a bit of online research and decide which store is best for you. Both guys got a $5 off coupon online and used it when they were at The Gun Store. Then we went over to Boulder Station for their BF buffet, they used the $5 saved for the buffet. I highly recommend either the BF or Lunch buffet at Boulder Station. Very good buffet for a fair price. Much better value than anything you could get on the Strip. We must have eaten at Boulder Station 5 times while the guys were in Vegas. Jens enjoys a good meal and was thrilled with the low prices of the Boulder buffet. I told them once they leave Vegas, they would never get such good value in any other state. When they came back to sell their Expedition, they agreed with me. Vegas is a bargain compared to the other cities they visited.

Posted by vegasmike6 22:21 Archived in USA Tagged people-shooting Comments (0)

Southwest Trip 2011 Day 4

Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon

sunny 45 °F

Our last day on our SW adventure dawned clear and cold. It was in the 30s when we headed for the BF room. Good selection: hot & cold cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, toast, rolls, hot/cold beverages. After BF we loaded up the car and off we go to Monument Valley (MV). We stopped to pay the $5/person fee to enter the Navaho Tribal Park. We walked into the Tribal HQ building looking for the bathrooms. Information booth, gift shop, police, administrative offices plus bathrooms are in one large building. After talking to several people, we decide to take our car on the 17 mile (29km) loop through MV. Even though the Mercedes does not have much clearance, we made it w/o problems. The ground was hard and they had graded the road not too long ago. Check with the info people and those in the gift shop for present road conditions. They will tell you if your car can make it w/o damage. We just went slow in the difficult sections. Tours are around $45/person at Goulding's, $65 if you use the Navaho guides there at the park. They do take you to a few places in MV that are off-limits to those doing it on their own.
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We took about an hour to drive the self guided tour, stopping frequently to take photos. We were lucky that there was snow on the ground in the shade. Made for better photos. Most visitors will tour MV during the warmer months, but winter is a great time to visit. Very few tourists there, no dust kicked up by each passing car and you really feel like you have the place to yourself. I think we saw 3 cars in our hour driving the loop. MV has been used as a backdrop for many films over the years. Director John Ford used it for many of his westerns back in the 1930s & 40s. Best known were 'The Searchers & 'Stagecoach', both starring John Wayne. More recent films include 'Forrest Gump' and 'Back to the Future III'. Some of the mesas and buttes are over 1,000ft (300 meters) tall and make for spectacular backdrops for TV commercials and film.

After leaving MV, we decided to head home. Both Chris and I want to see Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page AZ. Back on to US163, we turned off onto US160, through Kayenta, onto 98 heading for Page. You will see a long flume that links up with a railroad. This is coal being mined and transported for use at the Navaho Generating Station (NGS). Once you get closer to Page, you will see the NGS. Opened in 1975, the NGS produces 2280 megawatts of power for AZ, NV & Calif. The trains from Kayenta arrive every other day with coal to keep it running. At least that is what our Navaho guide told us.
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You will see small signs offering tours to Antelope Canyon (AC) just after passing the NGS. We turned off at the first sign but nobody was around. Less that a mile on we see another tour sign. There are a few cars here so that looks more promising. We talked to the Navaho guy standing by his vehicle. He is offering tours to Upper AC (UAC. But after a few minute discussion, he tells us that we are better off taking a tour of Lower AC (LAC). In the winter, sunlight cannot get into UAC. Almost all photographers have seen the iconic sunlight shaft photo from UAC. Not possible in Jan. We drive across 98 to another tour operator. This will be on the right side of 98 as you are heading into Page. You can book & pay for tours w/o going into Page. Most visitors will hit Page first, but if you are coming in from MV, you can just take your tour like we did. It was almost noon, but we were the only ones ready to go. We chat with the young Navaho guys that will lead the tours. They tell us 5 Japanese tourists are coming from Page in 10 minutes and then we can start our tour. This is the advantage of going to AC in off season. Not many tourists, but we still had sunny blue skies. It was cold enough for jackets, but a still a very pleasant day. We paid our $26 fee and waited. Once the Japanese arrived from Page, off we go.
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It is an easy walk down to the wash that is the start of our tour. There is a marker before you enter LAC that tells you about a tragic accident in 1997. 11 people were killed in a flash flood that roared through LAC w/o warning. It rained many miles away, but AC is the drainage area for water flowing to the Colorado River. Millions of years of water erosion created the slot canyon we see today. Our guide told us that all groups must now have a Navaho guide to avoid another tragedy. Years ago you could explore LAC on your own. Not today. There are also a series of nets located on the top that can be thrown into LAC to help stop people caught in a flash flood.

We climb down a long ladder to enter LAC. This is not easy for those with mobility issues. I am not so flexible now, but made it OK. Now we are in the slot canyon so many have seen in photos. We let the Japanese go ahead of us so we can have photos w/o anyone in them. This may not be possible during peak tourist season. Our guide tells us groups go every 10 minutes during summer season. It would be very difficult to enjoy LAC with that many people trudging through the canyon. Go off season if possible. Chris and I took as many photos as we could while navigating the slot canyon. It gets very narrow in places, but I made it so you can as well. There are quite a few steps up the ladders to get out of LAC. Again, if you have mobility issues, tour UAC instead. That is an easy walk on flat ground, no ladders.
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After our tour, we head for Vegas. In Kanab we got petrol and asked about the road into Zion NP. Good thing we did. They charge $25/car to enter Zion. I don't think that is fair. We were not going into the park, just using route 9 to get to Hurricane UT and link up with I-15. We decide to go through Fredonia, up into UT via Colorado City. Americans will know Colorado City as the home to Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). An offshoot of the Mormon Church that still believe in plural marriage. Even though the Mormon Church has banned polygamy for many years, the FLDS group in Colorado City still practice plural marriage. We do see several girls in the granny dresses that reach the floor, but do not stop. On to St. George UT for petrol, food and we arrive in Vegas about 8pm. Our 4 day adventure through the SW is over.

Posted by vegasmike6 23:05 Archived in USA Tagged canyons Comments (0)

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