Posts Tagged ‘Hoover Dam’

Our last day on the road and one on which we hoped to catch more vintage Route 66 sights before we said a fond farewell to The Mother Road. We had nearly 300 miles in front of us before we reached Las Vegas, where we had tickets for the Dark Star Orchestra concert in the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay at 8pm. With that in mind, we left the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff at 8.35am, our earliest start of the trip.

Before we joined the I-40 west we needed to fill up the car. As we had contracted to return it with an empty tank, we did not want to put in any more than was necessary. We estimated $30 should do the trick.

Our first planned stop was at Bellemont, location for a classic scene from Easy Rider. Early in the movie Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda pull up in front of the Pine Breeze Motel, hopeful of a room for the night. However, the owner, peering from within, spots their motorcycles and promptly switches the neon sign from VACANCY to NO VACANCY. Although the motel is now closed, the sign is still displayed at the nearby Route 66 Roadhouse Bar & Grill – which does welcome bikers. It is that we went in search of.

We left the interstate at junction 185 as directed and followed the signs to Bellemont – or so we thought. Our first attempt ended in a pothole ridden track that ran out in a forest clearing. Undaunted, we crossed back over the I-40 and took the frontage road, but after two miles we reached a similar dead end. With no access to the freeway we were forced to turn back.

We could not afford too many such fruitless detours on a day when we had so many miles to cover. At least this diversion had given us the opportunity, on an empty stomach, to witness a group of cows defying the flies to feast on a rotten deer carcase.

The other Route 66 destination that we were anxious to visit was Williams, just thirty miles from our starting point. Taking exit 165 we entered the town, whose welcome sign stated that “You are wanted in Williams”. And so we were.

After parking the car we started to walk down the main street in search of a suitable breakfast venue. We were tempted first by Goldie’s Route 66 Diner, but the sight of ten bikers roaring into the forecourt in front of us suggested we might have to wait a while!  The nearby Red Garter Bed & Bakery retained outward hints of its former notoriety as a bordello.

This town has the distressing or proud, depending on your point of view, distinction of being the last one to be bypassed by the interstate on 13th October 1984 when Bobby Troup, the writer of (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 attended the closing ceremony. That might have proved the death knell of the community, but its railroad history and proximity to the Grand Canyon enabled it not only to survive but thrive as an important major tourist location.

We were immediately attracted to Williams with its frontier feel and vibrant Route 66 connections. Nearly every establishment, whether a gift store, diner, trading post or motel, appeared to be selling a large selection of road memorabilia.

We were spoilt for choice of dining options here too. Cruisers Café 66 Bar & Grill, which would have been my original preference, was, sadly, closed, though we were still able to roam its delightful patio with its vintage gas pumps (above), murals and and quirky Halloween paraphernalia (below).

Of all the towns we had visited on our trek through New Mexico and Arizona on America’s Main Street, nowhere flaunted its Route 66 heritage more than Williams, as the restaurant sign below illustrates. And we loved it!

Eventually we decided on breakfast at the Pine Country restaurant, a classic diner with friendly staff,  family atmosphere and, of course, its own mini gift shop. Two fried eggs sunny side up, hash browns, sausage patty, lashings of ketchup, sourdough bread and, of course, unlimited coffee, was just the right fuel for the long road ahead.

Aside from its Route 66 frisson, it is Williams’ railroad history that brings the visitors flocking in today. The Santa Fe Railroad first connected it with the Grand Canyon in 1901 but it went out of business sixty seven years later.

Then in 1989 it reopened as the embarcation point for the Grand Canyon Railway which now carries tourists the 65 miles daily to the South Rim through the high plains and pine forests. An essential excursion on our next trip.

Another of the town’s nostalgic diners is Twisters, full of road memorabilia and complete with original fifties soda fountain and bar stools. The reasons for a return trip in the not too distant future mount up – only time today for a handful of photographs of the exterior.

We would have loved to have spent longer in Williams (it was now nearly 11 o’clock), not least to explore the Arizona State Railroad Museum (and sample each of the diners!), but were mindful that we needed to reach Vegas as early as possible in order to avoid a lengthy queue at hotel check-in. And there was that gig to get to.

This meant we had to remain on the interstate rather than join the Route 66 loop which included Seligman and its legendary Sno-Cap Drive-In and the equally famous Hackberry General Store. 

I am so looking forward to that next trip!

Route 66 may not have been the primary focus of the trip when we first planned it. But we had virtually lived on it since Albuquerque and fallen under its spell – even when we couldn’t find it! There is no other road in the U.S., or anywhere in the world for that matter, that carries as much resonance – not bad for a road that no longer officially exists! Tim Steel put it best in his eponymous book:

There are few things in life as alluring as a road trip, and few roads beckon as seductively as Route 66.

We may now have been concentrating on eating up the miles rather than looking for obscure Route 66 spots, but it did not dull our powers of observation. Hitchhikers dotted this stretch of the interstate, a reminder of a gentler time and one we had not seen at all on the trip heretofore. Perhaps they were Deadheads trying to get to the Dark Star Orchestra gig in Vegas! No tie-dye in evidence, so probably not. We passed a truck carrying an  unusual “oversize load” – an aircraft wing! Blown tires strewed the road and hard shoulder.

At exit 48 at Kingman (along with Barstow and San Bernadino, celebrated in the final line of Bobby Troup’s classic song), we finally left the I-40 (and Route 66) to join the I-68 West and, shortly afterwards, the I-93 North to Las Vegas. It was a quarter to one, eighty four degrees (twenty three degrees warmer than it had been when we left Flagstaff but still eight degrees cooler than when we arrived in Vegas). We had exactly one hundred miles to go. We took a comfort break in a gas station and discussed whether we needed to “top” the fuel up, concluding that we might just make it – which we did, endorsing the decision we had made at the beginning of the day). Billboards for the casinos in Vegas were already a regular roadside sight.

Much of the I-93 was desert with occasional shacks the only habitation. Plots of five, ten and twenty acres were on sale, though the landscape was bare and unprepossessing. Within the hour we had passed the Hoover Dam and crossed into Nevada. Having made such good time since Williams, we stopped in Henderson for an iced coffee before the final cruise into Vegas.

Nothing in the past seventeen days had prepared us for the volume of traffic that greeted us on the run in to Vegas! We approached via Flamingo Road’s three lanes that seemed to go on forever, and made the right turn onto the Strip towards our hotel.

After a tearful goodbye to “Ruxy”, who had transported us, without a hitch, 2,325 miles across five states and innumerable extraplanetary vistas, we headed for check-in at Treasure Island. And yes, it was crammed! As the receptionist explained “half of Southern California is here this weekend” and most of them had just landed!

But within the hour we were in our room overlooking the Strip. And not only did we make the gig but we arrived in sufficient time to eat in the House of Blues first – where it had all started two and a half weeks ago.

The concert was great – well I thought so! We walked the length of the Strip in the balmy early hours, and had a nightcap in the Breeze Bar in the casino before retiring.

It was already my sixtieth birthday, and we now had a long weekend in Las Vegas to look forward to.

As to what we got up to over the next four days – well, you know the phrase, don’t you?

Read Full Post »

Before I start today’s diary I feel I need to apologise in advance to any of my American readers who might be offended by comments I make in it.  I have great affection and respect for the American people but this was just one of those days where everything that annoys me about the country happened, fittingly when the “word of the day”, as you will discover was “dam” (without the “n”).

Our second and final full day in Vegas was largely taken up with an organised tour of the Hoover Dam and luxury cruise on Lake Mead.  We boarded the feeder bus from our hotel at 8.30am and proceeded to the Grand Canyon Airport in Boulder City where, before we were let off the bus, a tour guide tried to sell us a cut-price helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon as an add-on to our pre-booked activities.  Only in America can someone try to sell you something else before you have even started to take advantage of the thin for which you have already paid.  Admittedly, it was a good price though we declined as we had done it before.

Check-in was efficient and friendly, but it was a full forty minutes before the tour finally began, not least because we were directed to the gift shop first (another brazen money making ploy).  Have you noticed also how every ride in an American theme park ends in the gift shop?  And I shouldn’t forget the obligatory group photo, yet another opportunity to rip you off.  To be fair, we have occasionally bought the photo package (usually an assortment of different size prints and key rings), but we resisted it twice today – at the airport and Lake Mead – as well as at the shows on the previous evenings.

Eventually, two hours after we had boarded the first coach, we were on the way to the Hoover Dam, each passenger proudly displaying a coloured  (blue, red or yellow) sticker on their chest denoting which tour they were on and, therefore, how much they had paid.  Our driver for the day was extremely knowledgable, a cynic might say a know all, but his constant use of the word “dam”, witty at first, grated after the fiftieth time.  We had 2 hours 20 minutes at the Dam, most of which was taken up with an escorted group tour which I for one, not being remotely engineeringly minded, found rather tedious if undeniably awe inspiring.  The highlight of our stay came when we were set free to wander around with our cameras taking photos of the Dam and the highest road bridge in the United States.    

The coachload was then separated into its respective coloured groupings for lunch.  Whilst the majority were treated to casino fare, we began our “luxury” cruise on Lake Mead with a sumptuous repast of ham or turkey roll, chips or potato salad and an apple or orange, washed down by a non-alcoholic drink.  It only seemed appropriate in the circumstances that I should decide to pay an extra six dollars for a pre-prepared pina colada (which was actually quite refreshing). 

The cruise, which lasted an hour and a half and took us as close as we were permitted to the Hoover Dam, was very relaxing, though the biting wind rendered trips up on deck to take photos short and challenging.  Disappointingly, the position of the sun at the time also scuppered shots of the Dam itself.  Nonetheless, it was generally enjoyable, though I still can’t get the picture of the mother on the table next to us checking her young son’s hair for nits whilst we were partaking of our banquet, or of the young girl who devoured two enormous burgers, out of my mind.   

The final part of the tour was a brief visit to Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and tour of the adjacent cactus garden.  We returned to our hotel at 6pm.

Ever since we first visited it in March 2008 we have made Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Harrah’s Las Vegas is one of our essential things to do in Vegas, irrespective of the length of our stay.  Good, wholesome southern style food is served in the restaurant and the adjacent bar is lively and good natured.  The house DJ plays the latest country tunes during the breaks in the performance of the nightly live bands, and numerous TV screens showing country music videos, many by Keith himself, are located throughout the establishment. 

After a 45 minute wait for our table the meal was as enjoyable as ever (Janet had chicken and I had catfish), the Whisky Girl cocktails which seem to contain around half a dozen measures of Jack Daniel’s, were equally typically potent and delicious, and the service by the “hottie” waitress was excellent.

But apart from that, the atmosphere was very different to what we had enjoyed on our previous visits.  The DJ played very few recognisably country tunes (Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl?), the periodic free shots dispensing interludes were accompanied by what sounded like a rap version of The Birdie Song rather than I Love This Bar, the band played competent southern, country tinged, rock and the TV screens, rather than celebfrating the country theme, were showing wall to wall college basketball – like thousands of others around town!

And finally, revellers who were only drinking were continually sitting at restaurant tables whilst others, including ourselves, were expected to wait for those same tables.  And some of those were asked to leave whilst others weren’t.  A very depressing experience, and one that convinced me finally that it was time to have a rest from Vegas for a few years (though that’s not to deny that we enjoyed the vast majority of our stay).

The irritations of the day didn’t end there.  On returning to our hotel at midnight my  room key wouldn’t work! This necessitated our traipsing down to reception where we were lectured by a female robot at reception that we shouldn’t keep the close next to  credit cards and mobile phones (which we hadn’t) before being given a replacement.  And, to cap the evening’s entertainment, as I walked away she droned “have a great day”!!!!!!

And, believe it or not, I will be so glad to get away from those damn slot machines and return to civilisation (California Here I Come)!!!!!

Read Full Post »

Five weeks tomorrow (Wednesday) my wife and I will be flying out to our second home, San Francisco, California, USA.  I use the word “home”, not in the sense that it is where we are permanently domiciled, but rather as the place where we feel most “at home”.  This will be our eighth trip to the City by the Bay and we could not be looking more forward to it.

Since the millenium we have, in the Spring of every even year (’00 to ’10 inclusive), spent 3-4 weeks “out west”.  Each vacation has followed a similar pattern – a week or so skiing in Heavenly, Lake Tahoe at the beginning and  week or two in San Francisco at the end, with three or four day visits to other locations sandwiched in between for a few days – these have included Vegas, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Death Valley and Yosemite.

Following last year’s vacation we decided that life was too short to have to wait two years for our next skiing and SF fixes, so, at least for now, it has become an annual event.  Our long term aim, finances permitting, has always been that once my wife has joined me in Retirement Row, which may still be a few years yet, we will spend longer in San Francisco / Heavenly, upwards of three months at a time, twice a year. 

But for now it’s three and a half weeks, starting with the customary first night stay in San Francisco followed by the drive to South Lake Tahoe on the following day. Ever since the night in 2002 when we thought we could make the trip from SF to Tahoe immediately following an eleven hour flight, and then, after negotiating a heavy rain-splashed evening commute out of town, spent seven hours crawling through a four foot snow storm (of which more another time), we have seen sense and stayed in the City before venturing out refreshed the next morning. 

Besides, we have developed a routine, now I suppose it warrants being dignified with the word tradition, for that overnight stay that sets the scene for the entire vacation – dinner at Calzone’s on Columbus Avenue in North Beach followed by a scan of the shelves in the City Lights Bookstore and a few drinks in Vesuvio’s in the evening, and breakfast at the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39 the next morning, along with half an hour in the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Fisherman’s Wharf stocking up on any vacation reading before we head off to Tahoe.

We are only skiing for four days this year, though it’s four more days that we would have anticipated when we left there last March.  So we are hoping for perfect spring conditions – they snow is already there, all we need now is the sun.  And the best meal of our entire trip last year was at the Riva Grill on Ski Run Marina, so we plan to eat there again.

After five nights we fly from Reno to Vegas where we are meeting my wife’s parents, both of whom are now 80 and still hitting “Sin City”! Just three nights there but, as ever, action packed – Cirque de Soleil Viva Elvis show in the Aria, possibly another show yet to be booked and a trip to the Hoover Dam with a deluxe cruise on Lake Mead. And then there’s at least two of those nights spent tackling  feisty “Whiskey Girl” cocktails at Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill.

With such tasty appetisers cleared away we move onto the main course – San Francisco.  Last year we eschewed a hotel for the first time and stayed in an apartment in Hayes Valley for two weeks.  This will now be the template for the future.   We wanted to “live like locals” as much as possible, and staying in someone’s home is a good starting point – no maids knocking at your door in the morning anxious to clean your room, you can eat in as often or as little as you want and, if you have a washer and dryer, you are never short of clean clothing!  The last facility is particularly important this year since Virgin Atlantic has halved the cabin luggage allowance since our trip last year.

We are staying in a much larger apartment this year on Fulton Street, half way between Alamo Square and Golden Gate Park.  Not only is it more spacious but it comes with a huge TV, computer and, rarest and most precious of all in San Francisco, a designated parking space.

I will post separately about our plans for San Francisco but our emphasis this year will be on new places and new experiences, though I’m sure that we won’t be able to resist returning to many of our favourite haunts such as Beach Blanket Babylon (already booked for our fifth visit), the Cliff HouseHaight-Ashbury and AT & T Park.

Read Full Post »