Last week, Dianne and I set out for our annual summer vacation. We were offered three free nights at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, courtesy of Mr. Mirage, but those nights could not be used on Friday or Saturday. So we arranged to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday morning, July 8th, and on July 11th drive to Albuquerque, NM, the long way. We planned our itinerary and it amazingly worked out for the most part.
We had a fine time in Vegas, eating our way through some of the outstanding restaurants there. Our steak dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House was one of the best. I had my birthday steak dinner at one of my favorites, Billy Bob's Steak House at Sam's Town Hotel & Casino. From the name, you probably think it's not real classy, but actually the food there is fantastic, and for us, relatively inexpensive, because Sam paid for about half of the dinner.
We saw the best free show in town, the Masquerade Show at the Rio Hotel, with rockin' music and dancers riding floats suspended from the rafters of the casino. Meanwhile, 50 feet below all this action, people were throwing money in the slot machines, oblivious to the show. Only in Vegas!
We made a special trip to pay homage to the famous statue of Benny Binion riding a horse, in downtown Vegas. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, June 27, 2007). We managed to lose a little money; after all, they don't build those big hotels because of people winning.
On Wednesday, we left early in the morning for the 450 mile trip to Moab, Utah, with the Beatles playing over and over on the CD player. We stopped for gas in Cedar City, UT, where we spent a couple of nights two years ago when visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Don't ever go there on Sunday--the town closes down and all the restaurants are closed. Bars? Forgetaboutit.
We soon got on I-70 for the drive across the mountains, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, passing through towns like Richfield and Green River (remember the drink?) We arrived in Moab around 5 P.M. and looked for the B & B we thought we had reserved. We showed up on the guy's doorstep as he was preparing to go fishing, and then we really had reservations. He didn't know anything about the reservations we supposedly made on the Internet. He said he hadn't looked at his website in months. We landed at the Sleep Inn where we had asked for directions, and were very comfortable there.
We weren't done yet. Since it was still daylight, we drove to Arches National Park, a few miles North of town. We spent 3 wonderful hours there until it got dark, viewing and photographing the gigantic and beautiful rock formations and, of course, the sandstone natural arches that the park is famous for.
The next morning, we arose early again for another full day. About 15 miles South of Moab is a 5000 square foot house built into a rock face--one of those kitschy road attractions with billboards for hundreds of miles around. It is called HOLE N' THE ROCK. The deal is, this guy named Albert Christiansen inherited 5 acres from his grandfather, a homesteader. The only problem with the land was there was a mountain on it. So Christiansen spent many years with his wife and family tunneling out the sandstone and created a nice house in the rock. This sounds like an episode of the Flintstones
. It was well insulated because of the mountain, and heating and air conditioning were unnecessary. After the guy and his wife died in the 1970's, the family opened a restaurant in the house, but now it is a private museum, and they charge 5 bucks to see it.
After that 30 minute tour, we headed toward Mesa Verde National Park, about 100 miles away in Colorado. There, about 1000 years ago, a tribe of Native Americans, today called the Ancient Pueblans, built elaborate structures on the side of a cliff face. There are several of these structures over an area of several miles. To get access, you must buy a guided tour down the cliff. Needless to say, the tour would not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it involves walking down many steps carved into the rocks. Don't wear high heeled pumps for this tour. Returning to the top of the cliff required climbing several ladders, about 30 feet high. Don't look down. Also, on one tour we had to crawl on hands and knees through a narrow tunnel in the rocks for about 10 feet which, to me and other overweight people, was the most difficult part of the tour. If you get stuck, you may have to forego eating for a couple weeks until you can get through.
In any event, the Ancient Pueblans apparently didn't live there permanently, but used the buildings for religious purposes and stayed there in the winter. They constructed 20 foot deep holes with curved masonry sides, called kivas,
which are easy to fall into. As a lawyer, I brought many business cards in case anyone fell in, but nobody on our tour did. The Pueblans built fires in the kivas
and gathered around them for warmth.
To Dianne, that part of our trip was the high point. We were absolutely amazed at the skill of the people constructing those structures, which involved complicated masonry work. The bricks and stones, along with the tools had to be hauled down several hundred feet from the top of the cliff.
By late afternoon, as we headed toward Durango, CO., we just missed hitting a grizzly bear which was lumbering across the four lane highway, looking for dinner. I wasn't sure whether to hit the brakes or the gas pedal, but the bear was headed directly for the driver's side (mine) of the car. Apparently, the bear took evasive action at the last moment, and he missed us.
We arrived in Durango, an old mining town and quickly found the downtown area which has been restored to its former Victorian glory. We checked into the General Palmer Hotel, which was built in the 1890's and restored as a 4-star hotel. The elevator was not much bigger than a phone booth, and to get off, you had to manually open the gate and door. Both of us with suitcases could not fit into the elevator.
The hotel is located next to the railroad depot and is named after the man who built the railroad. Everything in the downtown area is historic. Sure, there's a Home Depot and Walmart in town, but only on the outskirts. Main Street has a diversified mix of stores with fine restaurants, gift shops, Western souvenir shops, and the ubiquitous T-shirt shops, all in Victorian style buildings.
We had reservations for the highlight of the town, a trip on the narrow gauge, steam engine powered, Durango & Silverton Railroad--45 miles of spectacular mountain scenery in the Animas River valley, on the way to Silverton, at 9200 feet elevation. We rode in vintage railroad cars and enjoyed every minute, taking numerous pictures. The trip takes 3 1/2 hours each way, although you can drive it in an hour or so.
Silverton looks like a Wild West town, and the first thing we did was take a ride around town on the two horse drawn stagecoach. We had lunch at a former brothel, but then virtually every building in town claimed to be a former brothel, or at least, a saloon. That's the way it was in the Wild West. Many of the people who took the train up to Silverton opted to take the bus back to Durango. We took the train back, and sat with some nice people from Texas, and the return trip went quickly for us.
The next morning we set out for New Mexico, stopping in Pagosa Springs, CO. a resort town known for its hot springs. We stopped there because they had a cell (not available in the mountains), and we were able to call our offices. We made our way into New Mexico, which, despite the view of many in Washington, is not a foreign country. We passed through Chama and Cebolla and came upon Ghost Ranch which is famous for the dinosaur bones discovered there. We toured the museum and marveled at the bones (ooh! ahh!) and took pictures.
Eventually we arrived in Santa Fe and found the old town area which was settled in the 1700's. The architecture all over town is Spanish adobe. They won't let you build anything else. The city, besides being the State Capitol, is known for its 300 artist studios. Jeez! how much art can you buy anyway? There's an open air market where the Navajo and Hopi sell native jewelry, especially turquoise. The city is populated with aging hippies from the 1960's. They've all opened art studios, and I can't understand how they make any money. But I guess there's a lot of foot traffic, and the artists are able to scrape up a little business to keep going. Many stores also sell rocks and beads. If you like good Mexican food, Santa Fe is a good place to find it.
That night we stayed at the Fairfield Inn, on the edge of town, and went to a movie. We were so tired, any movie would do, so long as it started within a few minutes of our entering the theater. We saw Evan Almighty
, which had some good stars in the cast--Steve Carell playing Evan, Morgan Freeman playing God, and John Goodman playing his usual role--the corporate type bad guy--in this case, a crooked Congressman. I won't bore you with too much of the plot, but essentially, a young Congressman is approached by God and told to build an ark in preparation for the flood coming on a specified day, and to bring the various animals on board. While this sounds like a bad Bill Cosby routine, it was entertaining, and I didn't fall asleep like I usually do at the movies.
The next day was getaway day, and we had a plane to catch in Albuquerque. In looking through the brochures in the hotel, we found an interesting ranch on the way--El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a sight not well known to us Midwesterners, but definitely worth seeing. It was a re-enactment--a Hispanic Williamsburg, with restored houses and shops from the 1700's and 1800's with people dressed in clothes from those periods. We could only stay an hour or so, but one could spend a whole day there viewing the interesting sights and talking to the re-enactors.
We eventually made it to the airport, returned our rental Suburu Outback and obtained our $500+ invoice and returned home.