5 Romantic Stories Of Real Life Adventure

Romance and Adventure two wonderful life experiences made all the more exciting when paired together. Trail challenged me to come up with a Trail and Hitch article for valentines day. Something perfect for our audience. Something that might have some Amazon affiliate links in there for good measure. I said, “Kiss me darling and I will be inspired!” And she did, and I was, and here it is. 5 Romantic Stories of Real Life Adventure!

Martin and Osa Johnson

Martin Johnson was a part of Jack London’s voyage across the pacific in 1907. He later toured America recounting stories of the voyage and met Osa Leighty while in Kansas. By 1911 they were married and set off on their first grand adventure to the Solomon Islands where they were famously held captive by the Big Nambas tribe. They escaped with the help of British gunboat. Using film footage from their journey they created their first film Among the Canibal Isles of the South Seas. They returned the next year to the same tribe to show them the film. This time with armed guards, but they were not necessary as the Big Nambas were delighted on seeing themselves in the motion picture.

Their adventures continued taking them all around the southern hemisphere where they continued to film remote tribes, wildlife, and the amazing vistas they found. Along the way, they met with King George and Queen Elizabeth, led eagle scouts into East Africa, were the first to film in sound from a plane, and even appeared on the Wheaties Cereal box together. Tragically Martin perished in a plane crash in 1937 but Osa continued her adventuring ways until her own passing in 1953.

You can read about their life in Osa’s renown book: I Married Adventure

You can watch their real life adventures in their many films such as: Simba King of the Beasts

Martin and Osa, famous adventurers, lovers, and film-makers.

Lady Jane Franklin and Lord John Franklin

This is a tragic love story. Lord John Franklin was a Rear Admiral in the Brittish navy. He was both renown for his military service such as in the battle of Copenhagen and as an intrepid explorer in the arctic waters north of Canada, searching for the Northwest passage. In one harrowing journey, his crew was forced to survive on Lichen and the soles of their shoes. He lost his first wife to Tuberculosis just 2 years after marriage. John Franklin married Jane Griffin a friend of his late wife’s in 1828. In 1982 John saw knighted and they became Lord and Lady Franklin. In 1836 Lord Franklin was made Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania. There Lady Jane founded a university, museum, and gardens. She also took up exploring and mapping the southern coasts of Tasmania with her Johns Neice Sophia Carcroft when her husband was on his naval expeditions.

In 1845 on his third expedition to find the northwest passage in the arctic, John Franklin’s expedition goes missing. Distraught and determined not to give up on her husband, Jane charters a series of naval expeditions to find John and relocates to the northern reaches of Scottland and the Isles to be as close to where he was lost as possible. She searched for seven years until his death was confirmed. Jane refused to believe the rumors the ill-fated expedition had resorted to cannibalism and many years later chartered another expedition to try and find the records from the journey. She died while it was in route and ultimately they were forced by the weather to return empty handed.

You can read about Tasmania Jane in: The Ambitions of Jane Franklin: Victorian Lady Adventurer

John Franklin’s lost expedition is detailed in: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Lady Jane Franklin and Lord John Franklin, both explorers in their own right.

Isabel Grameson – Jean Godin

Another tragic tale but with a happy ending this time. Jean Godin des Odonais was a french cartographer, part of a geodesy expedition in 1735 to what is today Equador to try to determine the roundness of the earth through precise measurements along the equator. It was there he met and married Isabel Godin des Odonais. She was 14 and the daughter of a Spanish administrator in 1741. When the expedition was done he decided to remain with his wife as she was with child.

When Jean learned that his Father had died, he planned to return to France with his new wife and children. He went ahead to arrange the trip but became stuck in French Guana because the French and Portuguese authorities refused to allow him to travel through their territory back to the eastern side of South America. For 20 years he worked to gain such permission while his wife watched their children die of smallpox and received no word from her husband.

Finally, he persuaded the Portuguese king to grant permission and charter a ship to travel up the Amazon to retrieve his wife. Jean became suspicious and fearful for his life and got off the ship at the first port of call up the river. The ship however continued and word eventually reached Isabel that a ship was waiting to take her to her husband. She set out with 41 other relatives and servants to make the journey to where the ship was docked on the amazon. The ill-fated group suffered numerous mishaps and in the end, only Isabel lived, wandering the Jungles alone for 9 days in the jungle before finding help from a native group.

In the end, she was reunited with her husband and they returned to France together, her harrowing story of survival becoming a famous tale of the time.

You can read about Isabel’s nightmare journey to reunite with her Jean: The Mapmaker’s Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder, And Survival In The Amazon

Patrick and Rosemarie Keough

Most of our stories are from the past, and I wanted to highlight a contemporary couple who travel and explore together. Patrick and Rosemarie Keogh are renown wildlife photographers who live in British Columbia and travel the globe taking absolutely amazing photographs. They have traveled extensively in their Native Canada and were instrumental in the expansion of the Nahanni National Park. It was there they first met in 1984 on a 540-kilometer canoe trip.

Their work has been honored by the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical society and appears in the Smithsonian, Time, Forbes, and other major magazines. Every year they host the Salt Spring Symposium at their home in BC with explorers from all over the world gather to share research, inspiration, and fellowship. They have been to both the arctic and Antarctic, Africa, the South Seas, and Asia. Together they have hiked and canoed more than 2,000 miles.

You can read more about them on their website: Pat and Rosemarie Keough

Their photography books such as The Niagara Escarpment: A Portfolio – can be had for as little as $0.09 (used and at the time of writing this) plus the cost of shipping.

A Leatherbound first edition of Antarctica: Explorer Series, Vol. 1 hailed as “the most exquisite photography book created in modern times” and “winner of 19 international awards for excellence and craftsmanship – more than any other modern book” will set you back $3,800 or more!

Samuel Baker and Florence Szasz

Last but not least we have Sam and Florance. Florance was born in Hungary and orphaned in war. She was adopted into an Armenian family but later captured and sold into slavery in Vidin. It was here that Sam Baker, a renown English huntsman, and adventurer was on a far-flung trip with Maharaja Duleep Singh. On seeing Florence in the slave auction Sam fell in love and bid for her, only to lose out to the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. Undaunted he bribed her attendants and the two of them fled the city together.

Thereafter Lord Samuel and Lady Florance were inseparable and together they set out on many adventures. Perhaps their most famous was an attempt to trace the source of the River Nile on which they discovered Lake Victoria. While they did not trace the river to its source, they did determine that it was in Ethiopia rather than Egypt. In 1869 the pair, both avowed abolitionists, led a military expedition into the Nile basin to stop the slave trade in the region and establish a Brittish colonial presence there.

The couple’s fame was only tempered by the widespread scandalous, and likely accurate claim that they had been traveling together for some time before actually being wed and had thus been living in sin. There was also speculation that the story of how the met had been embellished somewhat. Regardless, their adventures together and their courage were not in doubt.

You can read about this pair of star-crossed lovers of adventures in: To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

An adventuring couple not to be trifled with. Sam was renown for successfully hunting elk with a knife.

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Fast Food Burgers of the West

Prior to our travels Trail and I didn’t frequent a lot of fast food joints. Seattle is rich in great restaurants and a healthy income made rich fair affordable. On the road, we try to eat home cooked meals most of the time but occasionally circumstance leads us to want a quick bite and our budget demands cheaper eats.

I’d heart tales of many burger joints common in California I’d not encountered or frequented while in the pacific north west. I decided it would be fun to try and patronize places we’ve not been while traveling about. Having now hit most of the regional chains and a few national ones I thought I’d share my thoughts on them.

Tastes vary, especially with burgers. I tend to favor burgers with a strong savory flavor, heavy on the meat and light on other elements like veggies and condiments. Thus my favorite places may not line up well if you like your burgers on the thin side with lots of fresh veggies. With that said, on with the mini burger reviews.

fatbufgerFat Burger (my favorite so far)

Fat Burger sounded like my kind of place and I was right. They don’t have all that many restaurants but they are pretty widely spread among major cities. They use the “build your burger” model where you pick a size, and then select all the items you want on there. Perfect for me as they pretty much always get my order correct vs the “hold the X” type orders I have to make at other places. Here you can get burgers from quarter ponders to staggering one and a half pound burgers!

I went for a half pound which I think is about optimal. I added american cheese and a fried egg to mine, an all time favorite combo of protein delights. The meat was juicy, seasoned, and all around awesome. I like my eggs with drippy yokes but this was cooked through, though that makes sense at a fast food place. The cheese was good, the bun was great. This is my ideal fast food burger, just plain awesome. I also had seasoned curly fries which I was not too impressed with.

five guysFive Guys (runner up)

I’d been to five guys in Seattle already but I wanted to include it since I’m pretty fond of their offerings. Like fat burger they take the philosophy of letting you just say each thing you want on your burger and keep the rest of the menu pretty simple with hot dogs, fries and shakes to round out the meal. I don’t think they are exactly regional any more but they have that feel.

I tend to go for a double bacon cheeseburger here, sometimes with A-1 or BBQ sauce. Five guys is heavy on the meat, I think each slice is a quarter pound of beef. I like that, but the fall a bit short on the seasoning for the mean which is decent but not especially noteworthy. A good flavorful sauce tends to round that out. I like the fries here, and they give you tons of them. This is a place I’m always happy to go but don’t rise to the level of cravings.

carls jrCarl’s Junior (in a pinch)

This was the last of the western chains I tried. This place has a pretty wide ranging menu with burgers featuring beef, fish, chicken, even turkey and a range of specialty flavors like teriyaki, spicy hot, and western burgers. They also have plenty of sides to choose from and the usual drinks and shakes. The one I visited was kind of cluttered and a bit grimy, as where Five Guys and Fat Burger were near spotless clean.

I got a double western burger plain and dry hold the onion rings along with some jalapeno poppers. This was a big beefy burger with both a nice savory seasoning and spicy sauce. The “thick cut bacon” was not remotely thick cut but it was serviceable. The poppers were nicely spicy but otherwise pretty commercial tasting. I’d eat here because I like the style of the burger and the seasoning, but it is solidly in the mass produced fast food sphere.

in and outIn and Out Burger (quality, but not for me)

Friends had told me this is the place I really had to go when I was in California for a good fast food burger. In and Out is solidly in the “no nonsense” school of burger joints. When they say fast they mean it and they keep a stripped down menu of burgers, fries, and shakes. Fortunately for me they do allow variations so you can get your burger how you like it. I was duly impressed by their clean and very efficiently run restaurants on the two occasions we dined here.

I ordered a “double double” plain, which is a pretty standard double cheese burger. The beef patties are pretty thin (2 oz) so this was a quarter pound total. While it tasted fresh, there was very little flavor to the meat, not enough of it, and the bun was likewise fresh but flavorless. All in all it was nice enough but unremarkable. The fries were a bit on the hard side and also not very flavorful. I got the impression the salad they used was especially fresh and clean leading me to think that were I into salad on my burgers, I’d appreciate In and Out much more than I did. It was cheap and yet clean and fresh which is rare in the burger world. I’d recommend them but it’s not a place I’d pick out to go for a burger.

sonicSonic (cheap variety)

Sonic is a drive through only place that I’ve seen advertised in Seattle for ages but never actually encountered until coming down to the southwest where they are all over the place. Their menu is very extensive with all sorts of burgers, hot dogs, deserts, breakfast items, and other “fair food” type offerings. They seem most famous for blended slushy drinks in a rainbow of flavors and configurations. I was struck by the low prices for many menu items, easily rivaling national fast food chain places like McDonalds.

I ordered a Double Cheeseburger plain and tatter tots. I’d characterize by burger as serviceable. It had no special flavor and was at best a quarter pound of beef pre-cooking. The tots were fine but nothing special. My meal did come with coupons with deals like 99 cents for two corn dogs. All in all it seemed like a place to take the kids for cheap eats they would likely enjoy. For me, not a place I’d come back to by choice but wouldn’t turn it down if someone else wanted to go.

dicksDicks (pickles are evil!)

Dicks is a burger joint local to the Seattle area and a favorite of folks that live there. It has a very similar feel to In and Out burger with clean well run restaurants that feature a very slim set of menu options focusing on the standards at very decent prices. For me however Dicks has a fatal flaw; you can’t customize their burgers in any way. You can get them lightning fast as a result, since they make them assembly style so there is always a fresh one ready to bag for you. Because of this limitation I’ve never eaten one, I can say with confidence since they include pickles and mustard I’d hate them. Others are very fond of these thin fresh hamburgers so I can say it is probably worth a visit if you like standard style burgers and fries.

Quick round up of national brands (for when you are lazy)

That’s it for places that were new to me or seem to have more regional distributions. I thought for context I’d include my take on the big national burger joints.

Jack in the Box:  I love the sourdough bread burgers you can get here and that’s about it. Their menu is vast and varied which is good, but quality and cleanliness can be really inconsistent.

Wendy’s:  I like the seasoning they use as their burgers have a nice beefy flavor. I also tend to like their chilly. Unfortunately they often have the worst run and dirtiest restaurants of all the chains and having gotten sick there too many times I avoid them like the plague.

McDonalds:  I love the fires and I like the deserts, but the style of burgers and their flavor leaves me cold so I only come here for snacks. On the plus side they are usually well run and clean.

Burger King: The last burger I had from them had a sweet tasting slime on it, I have never eaten there since as the thought of it makes me gag. The restaurants are often a mess and the staff disorganized.

Hoover Dam

We took a half-day trip to Hoover Dam, an American engineering icon built by thousands of workers and cost over a hundred lives in the Great Depression. This majestic concrete arch-gravity dam holds back the waters of Lake Mead, United States’ largest reservoir by volume. Next to Hoover Dam is another engineering marvel, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.

When we first entered the dam area it was around 10am and the place was crowded for a Wednesday morning. I can’t imagine what this place is like during the weekend. One thing that surprised me, was the security checkpoint and a police force specifically dedicated to Hoover Dam. After a bit of research, I discovered that the security check was set in place after the 9/11 attacks. Since we drove a truck with a tonneau cover, we were asked to pull aside for further inspection of the truck bed. Other than that bit of curiousness, we had a fun time exploring.

Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Our first stop was the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which is quite the mouthful to say out loud. Before the new bypass, the heavily traveled US 93 ran along the dam’s crest. O’Callaghan was a former governor of Nevada and former executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun. Tillman was a professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals who joined the Army in 2002 and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

Standing 890 feet above the Colorado River, the walk across the bridge provides a pretty stunning view of Hoover Dam itself. Suspended by a 1,060 foot win-rib concrete arch, the bypass is the largest of its kind in North America. The total span is 1905 feet, and if you stand in the right spot you can gain and lose an hour many times as you like, since the bridge links Arizona and Nevada time zone border. Along the walk there are several kiosks and plaques that describe its construction, Hitch noted that some of the writing was so bad that it must have been copied and pasted from the original proposal and planning documents.

One interesting fact I discovered later, was that a series of wildlife-only over and underpasses protect the nation’s largest herd of endangered desert bighorn sheep from the heavier volume and faster speed of traffic on the modernized highway. Highway officials used radio collars and GPS to track the migratory patterns of sheep and other wildlife to identify optimal crossing points.

Welcome!

Welcome to a new Time Zone!

From the bridge, we made our way to Hoover Dam itself. Parking costs $10 per car and tours $30 per person. We skipped the tour and just enjoyed the walk across the top of the dam and various vistas. Hitch noted that Hoover Dam in Fallout Las Vegas seemed bigger, while I was searching for Gene Tonics and Vigors ala Bioshock due to the Art Deco styling.

On the dam walk, Oskar J.W. Hansen’s Winged Figures of the Republic memorial gave me some pause as I tried to work out its significance. Each bronze masterpiece was formed in a continuous pour. To move the large bronzes into place without marring the highly polished bronze surface, they were placed on ice and guided into position as the ice melted. An audio presentation at this site discusses the concepts the Mr. Hansen had in mind when creating the statues, as well as details related to the “star map” at its base. The map depicts the Northern Hemisphere sky at the moment of President Roosevelt’s dedication of the dam. This is intended to help future astronomers to calculate the exact date of dedication, which by the way was on September 30, 1935. There is also a detailed compass framed by the signs of the Zodiac just beyond the statues, and bronze seals of the seven Colorado River Basin states embossed just below the star map. Near by is a plaque commemorating the 96 men who officially died during the construction of Hoover Dam. Although there are records saying a total 112 men died creating the dam, since the contractors started work before it was officially approved by the government.

Memorial Star Chart

Memorial Star Chart

On the reservoir side the dam, stands four intake towers which draw water down into four penstocks and then through the powerhouse. Near by speakers give an audio presentation about the role these towers have and how the artwork was incorporated into the towers on the downstream face of the dam. I was surprised to see large bath rings along the cliffs and the water levels so low. I later found out that Lake Mead is at a record low and is currently at 39% of full capacity.

We also took a small stop in the gift shop. All I can say is that Hoover Dam gift shop wins for the award for the worst postcard collection ever. Uninspired photographs with clip art boarders, or eye bending collages of the local wild life cut out and super imposed over the dam were the standards and it got worse from there.

Beyond the dam, the old US 93 road (now called the Kingman Wash Access Road) ends at the Arizona side at a parking lot with a nice newly built gazebo overlooking the back of the dam and Lake mead.  There is a fun trail leading from Lake Mead Visitor Center to the Hoover Dam called the Historic Railroad Trail, and includes several hikes through old train tunnels.  We didn’t get to try the hike due to time constraints.

Overall, Hoover Dam and the new Bypass Bridge was an amazing dam good experiance.

Behind Hoover Dam

Behind Hoover Dam

Visitor's Center

Visitor’s Center

Canyon wall outlet works

Canyon wall outlet works

Bath tub rings on Lake Mead

Bath tub rings on Lake Mead

Hoover Dam & Power Plant

Hoover Dam & Power Plant

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Intake Towers

Intake Towers

Obligatory Selfy at the Dam

Obligatory Selfie at the Dam

Winged Figures of the Republic

Winged Figures of the Republic

Grand Canyon West

I’d first like to preface that Grand Canyon West is not a part of the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a private amusement park owned by the Hualapai Tribe, who run various attractions, their most famous being the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The tribe caters to people coming from Las Vegas, and want a side tour without taking the full eight hour drive to and from the National Park. There is a minimum cost is $44 per person for a ticket just to enter the park. There are various tours and activities, and many of those will cost additional money. I don’t mind patronizing this establishment despite its tourist trappings and environmental controversy. From what I saw on our tour, a lot of people both of the Hualapai Tribe and those of other racial backgrounds, work here. I suspect that this tourist establishment provides a much needed economic boost for this small and normally impoverished community.

That being said, the price was worth it. We spent about 6 hours there, hiking and taking pictures. We toured three locations under the “Legacy Package” entry price. We parked our car, and took the shuttle to the first location: the Hualapai Ranch. This stop is a plywood-built faux western town with activities aimed for little kids. I’ll be blunt, ranch was uninteresting but slightly comical due to its obvious tourist traps. This is where guests can stay for overnight in “rustic” cabins. Within the “western town” itself is a dining hall serving BBQ style meals, a general store, and office buildings dressed as sheriff’s office and jail. At one end of the town, two donkeys wait sadly in the heat inside a small pen; you can pet them but not feed them.

In the middle of town is a makeshift sluice box for gold panning. Sorry no gold here kiddies, just a reason to play in the water and dirt. Next to the gold panning is a mechanical bull ride complete with a colorful cowboy at the joysticks. For five bucks, this grizzled cowpoke will toss any city-slicker into the surrounding airbags. Ballyhoos and lighthearted jabs questioning your manhood are for free. At the other end is a fake graveyard with grave markers that would make a high school wood-shop teacher weep. I have a firm belief that the fake markers were made by middle schoolers during last year’s Halloween, and instead of throwing them out, they decided to reuse them here. Next to the graveyard is a fake hanging gallows, it is the quality of the construction rather than the threat of execution that makes it deadly; so deadly that they wrapped it yellow danger tape, “keep out” signs and “do not climb” warnings. Beyond that is the one true saving grace of Hualapai Ranch, the horse stables. Here you can get horseback rides to the edge of the West Rim with a tour guide. Fair warning: the horse back tours cost extra.

Anne on the Skywalk

Trail on the Skywalk

Second stop is the Skywalk itself. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge with a glass walkway in Arizona near the Colorado River on the edge of a side canyon in the Grand Canyon West area known as Eagle Point. The Skywalk is a whopping 4000 feet above the Colorado River. Engineering wise, its a stunning structure both in planning and construction. They built the bridge onsite, and when they finished they rolled it out over the cliff. When you stand at the apex of the U-shaped bridge and set your chin on the glass barrier, you get a view like none other. You stare out, and since your vision is relatively unobstructed, its like you are flying over the Grand Canyon. The other part of the fun is watching people’s reaction as they step out. Before you go out, they give you shoe covers to protect the glass floor. You can’t bring phones, cameras or bags onto the bridge, but there are free lockers where you can place your items. If you want pictures you have to pay for them and there are photographers out on the Skywalk should you want that option. And yes, I did pay for my pictures.

Here’s a National Geographic Documentary video on the building of Skywalk:

A number of the guides reported that when famous celebrates visit the Skybridge, they close it off to the public for a time and allow for private tours. Just one day before we came, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, flew in on his private jet and toured Grand Canyon West. Other options at this site are walking along the cliff edge for your Grand Canyon kicks. Or If you don’t like heights, you can visit outdoor cultural exhibits. There was a Hualapai music concert at an outdoor auditorium, but when when we went it was sadly unattended.

Guano Point

Guano Point

The third and final stop, is Guano Point where you can hike along the rim to an abandoned areal tramway. Located above Lake Mead, there is a bat cave housing the Guano Mine, and was only accessible via the areal tramway. The cable-way crossed the river 7,500 feet at a height of 2,500 feet to the bat cave. The guano was mined using a large industrial “vacuum-cleaner” with ten-inch hoses, then loaded onto the cable car before being transported back across the gap. The guano mine was closed in 1960, when prices for guano fertilizer dropped too low to make a profit. A few months after closure of the mine, a US Air Force jet illegally “hot-dogged” down the canyon, clipped the cable; the plane’s wing was damaged and the cable severed.

Sig on the edge

Hitch on the edge contemplating his vertigo

The view along the rim is amazing, so we took our sweet time exploring the trail and found a spot to sit at to enjoy the spectacle. Its hard to get a scale of depth and breath of the canyon by just looking at it. The Grand Canon West company also provides helicopter tours through the canyon and boat tours on the Columbia river. When I saw a helicopter fly through or a boat sail by, it is then I got a sense of vastness: touring helicopters look like spot against the canyon walls and boats look like specks floating on the river.

Now I can really say, “I’ve been on the Edge of Awesome.”

On the edge of awesome!

On the edge of awesome!

Watch Out!

Watch Out!

The Skywalk

The Skywalk

Top of Guano Point

Top of Guano Point

Raven, like a Boss!

Raven, like a Boss!

Las Vegas: Life in the Fast Lane

During our time in Death Valley our good friend Dennis decided to come down from the Camino Island in Washington to check out the Super Bloom with us. He was also most kind in treating us to a few adventures that wouldn’t normally in our travel budget in addition to the fun drives, good conversation, and friendship we know him best for.

While touring the super bloom and discussing photography with Anne, Dennis expressed a desire to hit up a camera/telescope store to update his equipment and invited Anne to come along for advice. At first the plan was to head to Vegas where he was staying but he could not find an appropriate shop there. Instead we all headed to Los Angeles to look for photographic equipment and as a bonus tour some of Dennis’s childhood haunts in Santa Monica.

He put us up overnight in the Santa Monica Farimont which is a lovely classic hotel with all the modern amenities. The quest for the child hood pizza parlor revealed it had long ago closed so we ate at the hotel restaurant FIG. Its been a while since we did some fine dining so we were all in. The food was excellent and the prices appropriate for the fair. The service was a little weak compared to the food but certainly not problematic. Santa Monica itself is quite nice with its huge beaches, rolling forested hills, and generally sunny disposition.

Gates to the land of posh dining and room service.

Gates to the land of posh dining and room service.

I went to get my Mohawk cleaned up while Trail and Dennis explored the wonders of the camera store. The place had a real hobbyist vibe and Trail barely escaped, only buying a lens filter to better capture colors on sunny days. Dennis bought a new Nikon D750, Tripod, Camera Case, and the usual batteries and such. Heck of a nice camera. He even got Trail a new memory card for her Nikon as a thank you for the advice and assistance. Afterwards we went by where Dennis used to live and toured the old neighborhood including a stop at the Will Rodgers State Historic Park.

After our Death Valley adventures we spent a couple of evenings dining in Vegas, once at the Wynn hotel and once at the Bellagio. Both times we ended up at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel and both times the food was quite good, especially at the Wynn. My prior Vegas dining experiences had always been very disappointing and in general Trail and I are not especially fond of the place. Still, good company and good food are great reasons to be anywhere.

It’s Dennis at the Races. Thanks for the good times buddy!

Dennis’s final treat for us was to take us to a Nascar race, the Kobalt 400. Neither Trail nor I are big auto racing fans but it was a unique opportunity we would not likely have again so we eagerly agreed to the idea. Normally Dennis does the driving when he’s around but since this was Nascar it seemed to me most appropriate to take my made in America Dodge Ram truck to the show. To my shock, parking was free. Granted the parking lot is vast and it is an auto event, but my experience with sporting events has always been they make you pay and pay and pay at every opportunity.

It was a long march to the stadium and as we went strong cold winds blew dust kicked up from the lot around us and it began to rain. Souvenir hats were flying and fans rushing to get into the stadium shelter. Intermittent wind, rain and dust storms continued through out the race prompting the announcers to refer to the weather as “biblical.” Fortunately it was never enough rain to call the race.

Racing Weather

Things got started with a fly over from the Air Force Thunderbirds in tight formation followed by a rousing edition of the national anthem and the classic call from the race announcer “Gentlemen, start your engines!” I have to say the atmosphere was pretty exciting. I picked out a racer to follow, Kurt Busch in the 41 car, and settled in with my surprisingly tasty stadium pulled pork sandwich for 267 laps to come.

As the cars hit the starting flag I removed my ear protection to get the full effect of the engines; a wonderful thrumming cacophony that hits you in an undulating wave of thunder as the cars stream by. Pretty awesome but I put the ear muffs back on for most of the rest of the race. I was definitely getting into the whole vibe at the race track and hearkening back to when I was a kid watching Indi cars on TV and playing with my Hot Wheels.

Keeping our ears safe and our spirits high.

Keeping our ears safe and our spirits high.

The primary takeaways from watching the race were as follows:

  1. The guy in front seems to have a big advantage in keeping it most of the time
  2. The racing is at its most exciting at the beginning, end, and whenever they come off a yellow flag
  3. The pit crews seemed as or more important than the racer a good bit of the time

This race had quite a few yellow flags and that seemed to be when most of the change of positions happened during the race. The cars go into the pit to get tires and fuel, all the stragglers are allowed to catch up to the main pack, and the cars go into a tight formation. When the green flag is out again they roar off and try to take the lead. Once the leaders are established, mostly they get in pretty set orders baring a few little “battles” as the announcers would call them. The eventual winner was the #2 car driven by Brad Keselowski who took the lead after the final caution and held it for a few final laps for the win.

NASCAR Winner

NASCAR Winner

The race was good fun all around. The only thing I found a little troubling was the number of people drinking beers like mad during the race who clearly didn’t have anyone in their group who was staying sober. That means a lot of folks watched a race, boozed it up, then went out and drove home. As a testament to this foolishness there were quite a few accidents on the roads back to Vegas. Not cool folks, pick a driver and keep em sober!

 

Nevada: Odds and Ends

To explore Death Valley we stationed ourselves in Parhump, Nevada for two weeks. While most of our attention was focused on the park itself, I have to talk a little about Parhump itself and some of the interesting odds and ends in the area around it.

The town, which is not Incorporated, has a bit less than 30,000 residents and exists today primarily as a place to service and support Las Vegas in various ways. It has the usual Nevada trait of slot machines tucked away in convinced stores, groceries and the like as well as smaller roadside casinos. It is most famous for brothels, especially the Chicken Ranch which is the closest legal brothel to Las Vegas. There are also quite a few RV parks here. Of course we are here for the natural wonders and it certainly caters to that as well, especially in the RV parks.

Frontier justice in the town of Parhump.

Frontier justice in the town of Parhump, this is a strange place sometimes.

When we arrived the GOP primaries were getting under way the next day so we got a good sampling of the campaign adds the candidates were running. The local paper the next evening ran with the headline “Prarhum loves Trump” and indeed they did. The folks here definitely strike me as independent minded folks. Still, despite that there is a pretty strong community feeling, sticking together to remain independent. It’s something of a dichotomy that in a town famous for its brothels there is a strong evangelical presence with giant billboard proclaiming “God is watching” not far from one advertising gambling or hookers.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

As a launching pad for adventures I would rate it highly. All the essentials you need are close at hand and there are quite a few great places to visit within an hour’s drive. I’d certainly rather say here than fight my way in and out of Vegas every day and the accommodations are certainly much cheaper.

On one of our adventures we traveled north to drive through Titus Canyon. Along the way we discovered quite a few local curiosities, the first of which was advertised by this sign.

Alien Brothel

How could we not stop and check this out?

We decided to give the Area 51 shop a visit. I was a little disappointing that the gift shop, diner, and brothel were not all in some way combined. While you could get from one to the other, each pretty much was a thing unto itself. The gift shop was pretty uninspired with pretty generic and cheaply made alien souvenirs. The diner looked about like any other roadside diner and we skipped the brothel all together. I was hoping for hookers dressed like aliens hanging at the diner. No such luck, the only really fun thing here is the advertising, though a little research discovered they have a “probing” room.

This is about as cool as this place gets, inside, disappointment awaits.

This is about as cool as this place gets, inside disappointment awaits.

Further north I noticed there was a “Ghost Town” marked on our map so we took a detour to check it out. One of our motto’s is to take advantage of unplanned opportunities. Some don’t pan out like the Alien Brothel, others do. The ghost town turned out to be Rhyolite which is perhaps one of the most filmed real ghost towns in America. It’s got a nice variety of buildings in various states of decay including a rather charming Train Station that is still in pretty good shape and an old Railroad car once used as a gas station in the town.

This was once a railroad trailer, then a gas station, now a ruin.

This was once a railroad trailer, then a gas station, now a ruin.

Nearby is a strange little house build using bottles as building materials and featuring a little model town made of stucco and broken glass shards. The house was first built in 1905 and has been re-built and restored a numb er of times, most recently in 2005. While no great wonder, it was a fun thing to stumble across while exploring an old ghost town.

A house constructed from bottles.

A house constructed from bottles.

Perhaps best of all was the Goldwell museum which is guaranteed to catch your attention as you approach Rhyolite by virtue of the large Lego like naked lady statue on its grounds. It turns out she’s made of colorful cinder blocks and shares the ground with a number of other statues and sculptures. A small shack contains a goodly number of pictures and displays about the art, the artists, and the history of Rhyolite itself. The proprietor was also a helpful local guide and gave us some good tips about our Titus Canyon drive.

Sig with a Minor & Penguin

Sig with a Minor & Penguin

All in all the trip to the ghost town yielded a gold mine of fun little adventures and experiences, exactly what you want while exploring America. As a bonus we came upon a couple of wild burros on the way to Titus Canyon so of course we stopped to take a few glamour shots.

Burros were introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s and are originally from Africa.

Burros were introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s and are originally from Africa.

Sig says "Hi" to the Lady Desert, The Venus of Nevada

Sig says “Hi” to the Lady Desert, The Venus of Nevada

 Albert Szukalski's The Last Supper

Albert Szukalski’s The Last Supper

Caboose formerly used as a gas station

Caboose formerly used as a gas station

Former train station of Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad

Former train station of Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad

Bottle House Bottles

Bottle House Bottles

Bottle House restored for the movie, The Air Mail.

Bottle House restored for the movie, The Air Mail.

Trail with her new friends Miner and Penguin.

Trail with her new friends Miner and Penguin.

Nevada: Odds and Ends

To explore Death Valley we stationed ourselves in Parhump, Nevada for two weeks. While most of our attention was focused on the park itself, I have to talk a little about Parhump itself and some of the interesting odds and ends in the area around it.

The town, which is not Incorporated, has a bit less than 30,000 residents and exists today primarily as a place to service and support Las Vegas in various ways. It has the usual Nevada trait of slot machines tucked away in convinced stores, groceries and the like as well as smaller roadside casinos. It is most famous for brothels, especially the Chicken Ranch which is the closest legal brothel to Las Vegas. There are also quite a few RV parks here. Of course we are here for the natural wonders and it certainly caters to that as well, especially in the RV parks.

Frontier justice in the town of Parhump.

Frontier justice in the town of Parhump, this is a strange place sometimes.

When we arrived the GOP primaries were getting under way the next day so we got a good sampling of the campaign adds the candidates were running. The local paper the next evening ran with the headline “Prarhum loves Trump” and indeed they did. The folks here definitely strike me as independent minded folks. Still, despite that there is a pretty strong community feeling, sticking together to remain independent. It’s something of a dichotomy that in a town famous for its brothels there is a strong evangelical presence with giant billboard proclaiming “God is watching” not far from one advertising gambling or hookers.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

As a launching pad for adventures I would rate it highly. All the essentials you need are close at hand and there are quite a few great places to visit within an hour’s drive. I’d certainly rather say here than fight my way in and out of Vegas every day and the accommodations are certainly much cheaper.

On one of our adventures we traveled north to drive through Titus Canyon. Along the way we discovered quite a few local curiosities, the first of which was advertised by this sign.

Alien Brothel

How could we not stop and check this out?

We decided to give the Area 51 shop a visit. I was a little disappointing that the gift shop, diner, and brothel were not all in some way combined. While you could get from one to the other, each pretty much was a thing unto itself. The gift shop was pretty uninspired with pretty generic and cheaply made alien souvenirs. The diner looked about like any other roadside diner and we skipped the brothel all together. I was hoping for hookers dressed like aliens hanging at the diner. No such luck, the only really fun thing here is the advertising, though a little research discovered they have a “probing” room.

This is about as cool as this place gets, inside, disappointment awaits.

This is about as cool as this place gets, inside disappointment awaits.

Further north I noticed there was a “Ghost Town” marked on our map so we took a detour to check it out. One of our motto’s is to take advantage of unplanned opportunities. Some don’t pan out like the Alien Brothel, others do. The ghost town turned out to be Rhyolite which is perhaps one of the most filmed real ghost towns in America. It’s got a nice variety of buildings in various states of decay including a rather charming Train Station that is still in pretty good shape and an old Railroad car once used as a gas station in the town.

This was once a railroad trailer, then a gas station, now a ruin.

This was once a railroad trailer, then a gas station, now a ruin.

Nearby is a strange little house build using bottles as building materials and featuring a little model town made of stucco and broken glass shards. The house was first built in 1905 and has been re-built and restored a numb er of times, most recently in 2005. While no great wonder, it was a fun thing to stumble across while exploring an old ghost town.

A house constructed from bottles.

A house constructed from bottles.

Perhaps best of all was the Goldwell museum which is guaranteed to catch your attention as you approach Rhyolite by virtue of the large Lego like naked lady statue on its grounds. It turns out she’s made of colorful cinder blocks and shares the ground with a number of other statues and sculptures. A small shack contains a goodly number of pictures and displays about the art, the artists, and the history of Rhyolite itself. The proprietor was also a helpful local guide and gave us some good tips about our Titus Canyon drive.

Sig with a Minor & Penguin

Sig with a Minor & Penguin

All in all the trip to the ghost town yielded a gold mine of fun little adventures and experiences, exactly what you want while exploring America. As a bonus we came upon a couple of wild burros on the way to Titus Canyon so of course we stopped to take a few glamour shots.

Burros were introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s and are originally from Africa.

Burros were introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s and are originally from Africa.

Sig says "Hi" to the Lady Desert, The Venus of Nevada

Sig says “Hi” to the Lady Desert, The Venus of Nevada

 Albert Szukalski's The Last Supper

Albert Szukalski’s The Last Supper

Caboose formerly used as a gas station

Caboose formerly used as a gas station

Former train station of Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad

Former train station of Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad

Bottle House Bottles

Bottle House Bottles

Bottle House restored for the movie, The Air Mail.

Bottle House restored for the movie, The Air Mail.

Trail with her new friends Miner and Penguin.

Trail with her new friends Miner and Penguin.

Driving Death Valley

Our trip to Death Valley was precipitated by a tip from our friend Dennis about the super bloom just getting under way. He was planning to head down for it and wanted to know when we might be there. We coordinated schedules and he met us here on our fourth day at the park. Dennis loves driving so while he was here here I moved over to the shotgun position and Trail took up the back seat in his Audi Quattro SUV. After a day showing off some of what we’d already seen we decided on doing some driving adventures through the park. There are quite a few rough and ready drives with incredible scenery to choose from.

Where are all the mules?

Where are all the mules?

First up was a short trip through what is called Twenty Mule Team Canyon. It’s only about 2.7 miles long and takes very little time to traverse but it is a striking drive. It winds through badlands that were once a lake bed. The terrain is devoid of obvious life and consists largely of dune like hills made of light tan mud and sandstone. The road is little more than a flat dirt track winding among these stark but beautiful hills. Dry as a bone when we went through, I suspect on the very rare occasion of heavy rain it turns into a mud pit of epic proportions.

Starting to get twisty, still no mules.

Starting to get twisty, still no mules.

Like the salt flats, the Twenty Mule Team Canyon’s beauty is in its starkness and near monochromatic appearance. While driving it we happened across a photo shoot of a tall woman in a flowing black sheer garment posing against the terrain. Professional shoots are not uncommon in the park and we’ve seen a few in the short time we have been here.

This is a one way track and you definitely don’t want to take your trailer, sports car or over sized vehicle down here. It is windy and sometimes steep but not especially rough or hazardous so most cars could safely make the journey. If you want just a wee bit of driving adventure or have some 15 minutes to kill in Death Valley, I strongly recommend it.

Forget the mules, this place is awesome!

Forget the mules, this place is awesome!

Titus Canyon is more of a commitment but if you are looking for some more substantial adventure I can’t recommend it strongly enough. The road through Titus Canyon starts outside of the park and when you are done you end up in Death Valley itself. It is a one way rocky dirt road some 27 miles long through remote territory. It is prone to wash outs, rock slides, flash floods, snow, and other perils so check the weather before you go and be prepared for a rough ride that will take at least 2 hours. On our trip we passed a driver who’d gotten a flat in the first mile of the journey so we took it slowly and deliberately.

Looking back at the road leading up to the mountains.

Looking back at the road leading up to the mountains.

The first few miles are through unremarkable flat lands. The road then winds gently up into a series of hills where the desert, at least in the spring, was surprisingly green and lush. After a time the road starts to climb a series of winding switchbacks through spectacular rocky mountains. Then it winds down again along the edge of some steep rocky cliffs. It the precarious road doesn’t take your breath away the scenery will. The rocky hills and cliffs just keep getting better the further you go.

One of the many fantastic formations in Titus Canyon

After many wonders, as the descent gets more gradual you come to the grand finale. The road heads right through the mountains among sheer cliffs, overhangs, and canyon walls that press right up on both sides of the narrow road. At this point it is hard for photographs to do justice to the awesomeness of driving through these grand gates of stone.

Nearing the end of the Titus Canyon road.

Nearing the end of the Titus Canyon road.

Along the way there is plenty to stop and look at. There are numerous turn offs offering trails to scenic vistas where you can look for big horned sheep and other wildlife. Half way along the descent you can stop at the site of an old mining town where you can walk in and among the remaining buildings and scattered corrugated tin. Here and at many other locations in the valley you can find old mines. Most have been secured against trespass for the safety of explorers but you can peer into the gloom and imagine the dangers in the dark. Handy signs can help with this imagining.

Danger Cave

Perhaps a bit too exciting for further exploration.

At the end of the road, through the canyon, is a parking area where folks can hike up along the road or explore another nearby canyon on foot. Even if you are not up for the drive you can take a short walk and experience some of the most awesome terrain. While you have to walk along the road, the cars have to go pretty slowly so the only real worry is dealing with the dust they kick up.

However you choose to check it out, Titus Canyon is well worth your time and makes for a memorable and inspiring adventure.

The abandoned mining village on Titus Canyon Road.

The abandoned mining village on Titus Canyon Road.

Titus Canyon Walls

Titus Canyon Walls

Titanothere Rock

Titanothere Rock

Driving Death Valley

Our trip to Death Valley was precipitated by a tip from our friend Dennis about the super bloom just getting under way. He was planning to head down for it and wanted to know when we might be there. We coordinated schedules and he met us here on our fourth day at the park. Dennis loves driving so while he was here here I moved over to the shotgun position and Trail took up the back seat in his Audi Quattro SUV. After a day showing off some of what we’d already seen we decided on doing some driving adventures through the park. There are quite a few rough and ready drives with incredible scenery to choose from.

Where are all the mules?

Where are all the mules?

First up was a short trip through what is called Twenty Mule Team Canyon. It’s only about 2.7 miles long and takes very little time to traverse but it is a striking drive. It winds through badlands that were once a lake bed. The terrain is devoid of obvious life and consists largely of dune like hills made of light tan mud and sandstone. The road is little more than a flat dirt track winding among these stark but beautiful hills. Dry as a bone when we went through, I suspect on the very rare occasion of heavy rain it turns into a mud pit of epic proportions.

Starting to get twisty, still no mules.

Starting to get twisty, still no mules.

Like the salt flats, the Twenty Mule Team Canyon’s beauty is in its starkness and near monochromatic appearance. While driving it we happened across a photo shoot of a tall woman in a flowing black sheer garment posing against the terrain. Professional shoots are not uncommon in the park and we’ve seen a few in the short time we have been here.

This is a one way track and you definitely don’t want to take your trailer, sports car or over sized vehicle down here. It is windy and sometimes steep but not especially rough or hazardous so most cars could safely make the journey. If you want just a wee bit of driving adventure or have some 15 minutes to kill in Death Valley, I strongly recommend it.

Forget the mules, this place is awesome!

Forget the mules, this place is awesome!

Titus Canyon is more of a commitment but if you are looking for some more substantial adventure I can’t recommend it strongly enough. The road through Titus Canyon starts outside of the park and when you are done you end up in Death Valley itself. It is a one way rocky dirt road some 27 miles long through remote territory. It is prone to wash outs, rock slides, flash floods, snow, and other perils so check the weather before you go and be prepared for a rough ride that will take at least 2 hours. On our trip we passed a driver who’d gotten a flat in the first mile of the journey so we took it slowly and deliberately.

The first few miles are through unremarkable flat lands. The road then winds gently up into a series of hills where the desert, at least in the spring, was surprisingly green and lush. After a time the road starts to climb a series of winding switchbacks through spectacular rocky mountains. Then it winds down again along the edge of some steep rocky cliffs. It the precarious road doesn’t take your breath away the scenery will. The rocky hills and cliffs just keep getting better the further you go.

One of the many fantastic formations in Titus Canyon

After many wonders, as the descent gets more gradual you come to the grand finale. The road heads right through the mountains among sheer cliffs, overhangs, and canyon walls that press right up on both sides of the narrow road. At this point it is hard for photographs to do justice to the awesomeness of driving through these grand gates of stone.

Nearing the end of the Titus Canyon road.

Nearing the end of the Titus Canyon road.

Along the way there is plenty to stop and look at. There are numerous turn offs offering trails to scenic vistas where you can look for big horned sheep and other wildlife. Half way along the descent you can stop at the site of an old mining town where you can walk in and among the remaining buildings and scattered corrugated tin. Here and at many other locations in the valley you can find old mines. Most have been secured against trespass for the safety of explorers but you can peer into the gloom and imagine the dangers in the dark. Handy signs can help with this imagining.

Danger Cave

Perhaps a bit too exciting for further exploration.

At the end of the road, through the canyon, is a parking area where folks can hike up along the road or explore another nearby canyon on foot. Even if you are not up for the drive you can take a short walk and experience some of the most awesome terrain. While you have to walk along the road, the cars have to go pretty slowly so the only real worry is dealing with the dust they kick up.

However you choose to check it out, Titus Canyon is well worth your time and makes for a memorable and inspiring adventure.

The abandoned mining village on Titus Canyon Road.

The abandoned mining village on Titus Canyon Road.

Titus Canyon Walls

Titus Canyon Walls

Titanothere Rock

Titanothere Rock

Death Valley: Would you like salt with that?

Our first day exploring death valley was a low point of our American journey; -282 feet below sea level to be exact; as low as you can go in the western hemisphere without going below ground. The spot holding the record is Badwater Basin, named after a very salty ground water pool found there.

Badwater Basin is also the most obvious place to wander out on to the salt flats in the valley, the largest in North America. That is exactly what Trail and I did. You start out at a parking lot with a tall cliff rising to the west where a sign indicates sea level high above. The Badwater pool is just below which is protected by a boardwalk so that the minute animals that inhabit it are not disturbed. From the board walk a well trod swath of salt and earth extends out into a vast plane of whiteness marred only by the silhouettes of fellow travelers.

The vast white draws you out along the well worn path with the promise of pristine white salt as far as the eye can see. Once a few minutes out you can set out in nearly any direction to find your own little portion of salty solitude. Once there you will find it’s never quite as pure white as it looks, there are patches of brown earth here and there which at a distance are overwhelmed by the whiteness so the salt seems always a little whiter just a little farther.

I decided the proper thing to do was to lie down in the salt and stare up at the merciless sun. Trail was of the opinion this was the embarrassing thing to do. Lucky for me on the way back to the car I discovered I was not the only one to come to this lying down in the salt conclusion and I was thus spared judgement.

Sig staring into the Sun

Sig staring into the Sun

Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin – meaning a basin that retains water and does not have an outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans, but converges instead into lakes and empties out by evaporation.  The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water.” The salts of the surrounding basin make the spring water undrinkable, thus giving it the name.

Nearby is another salty environment with a very different character. It’s called The Devils Golf course and is part of the same valley floor but has a less salt and more earth. This salt flat gets its viciously rough texture from the large halite salt crystal formations. Here the salt crystallizes heaving up the earth into cement like mounds studded with crystal spikes. Each mount is something of a sculpture into itself. Like the salt flat’s you are welcome to wander about though signs rightly warn that a miss-step could result in some serious cuts and bruises.

Devil's Golf Course

Devil’s Golf Course

Here my attempt to immerse myself was to find a relatively pure bit of salt and give it a taste. I can report it was delicious, much like kosher or mineral salts it had quite a complex mineral flavor and while predictably salty was not overwhelmingly so. Most of the salt in the lowlands is common table salt but the mineral mix also includes some calcite, gypsum and borax. I figured keeping my sample small I’d be fairly safe.

Due to the somewhat tricky terrain you have to take a short dirt/salt road out to the spot to best appreciate what charitably would be a par 2,000 but in hell is likely a par 2.

Devil's Golf Course Badwater Basin Salt Flats Badwater Spring Salt Crystals up close Badwater Basin