Monday, March 24, 2014

I lied. Update...

      So, I know I said I was going to do better at keeping my blog updated. Yeah, I said that in September and in the six months since then, I have spent several weeks in Florida, took a cruise to Hawaii (future blogging on that), geocaching/camping trip on Route 66 in Arizona, a trip to SoCal to see my friends one more time before I moved 2,700 miles across the country (unfortunately, this meant a divorce between my mom and step-dad, but we're all still friends, so that's good at least!). Oh, and we drove that distance for the move and tried to get in some site seeing in the process. I think it's fair to cut me some slack, cause I've been BUSY!

      Additionally, the two Train Wrecks are going on a 10-day cruise to the South Caribbean in two weeks. There will be 6 ports and I've never been to any of them, so I'm excited.  My theory is that we have two 'at-sea' days at the beginning of the cruise, and two at the end. 'Sea-days' make me crazy because I am bored to tears.  I just moved AWAY from Vegas, so I have no desire to gamble. Cruise ship Bingo is expensive, as is the spa, etc. etc. And one can endure only so much trivia. So, the intention is that I will spend those sea days parked on a deck chair catching up on some blogging, and maybe even get a little ahead.  We'll see.

     Mom and I decided to move back to my small hometown of Ocala, because unlike Las Vegas, you don't have to drive 5 hours in any direction to get anywhere. Ocala is right in the heart of Florida... literally you're an hour from the Atlantic and an hour from the gulf coast. We can set out in any direction in the morning and find all kinds of trouble to get in to!  Also, with three major cruise ports within reasonable driving distance, the money we no longer need to use on airfare can be applied on more trips and cruises!  Bonus!  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Updates - Alaska, Arizona and Florida

It's been a very busy couple of months and of course, the blog is way behind on what we've been up to. I am currently in Florida with my mom and staying with my grandma for an undetermined amount of time to help her out. My mom is actually considering moving back to Florida, and back to OCALA, of all places since she constantly says how much she hates Florida and Ocala.  It's a small town, but it's where I was raised and will probably always think of it as "home". 

So, in July, mom and I went on a one-week cruise to Alaska.  She's been several times, but it was my first trip and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Now that I'm in Ocala and seem to have time on my hands, I'm hoping to get more blogs posted to include the ports the cruise stopped at and my favorite areas.

Last month (August), mom and I went camping at our favorite get-away-from-the-Vegas-heat spot, the KOA at Circle Pines near Williams, AZ (also known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon). My parents have often gone to Williams when they used to have their RV. But now that mom and I discovered the KOA Kabins, we LOVE it.  On this visit we actually got the cabin we wanted that faced away from the camp and towards the forest.  

We did a little hiking, and a lot of geocaching. Once again, we train-wrecks managed to both sustain injuries while geocaching. I got tripped on a branch and managed to hit it right on the last geocaching scar (my shin), so I guess it will just blend in when it is healed. Not to be outdone, Mom, on the other hand, had a nasty interaction with a barbed wire fence.  She cut her hand open (I said she needed stitches but she wouldn't do it), fell and cut the back of her leg as well. For the first time, we didn't have the first aid kit with us, so we did a makeshift bandage until we could get to the store for bandages and butterflies.  What a trooper...I had set the goal for 11 caches that day to give me an even 700 finds, and she was determined to get me there.  So we actually went and got the last two before she would let me go for bandages.  Our geocaching catchphrase:  WE BLEED FOR GEOCACHES!

But overall, we had a good time. The weather was beautiful and perfect for camping and hiking and even mom discovered a few new places even after going to Williams numerous times over the years. We got off the Interstate and followed historic Route 66 a good distance and found some cool places. If you're headed down to Arizona, try the back road. It's pretty, has interesting stops and in some spots, is actually in better condition than the Interstate!

Alaska will need it's own post.  Maybe more than one.  My goal is to get that done while at my grandma's house with bad cable and no Internet.  So stay tuned for that.  I'm on borrowed time, at the moment, since we're at the library using WiFi and my battery is quickly dying. More to come!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Flight from hell

     So, yes, I know that once again, it has been a while since I posted, and once again, I will give the same lame excuse...I've been TRAVELING!  I just returned from an awesome Alaskan cruise with the other Train Wreck and we had a blast.  Now that I'm home and possibly have some downtime, I'm going to try to get some of the Alaska stuff up as well.  But first, let me tell you about the flight home.
     I have been on dozens of flights since my first one at age 15.  Honestly, I couldn't count the number of flights or airports I have encountered.  I've been on good flights and on bad flights. I even endured a nine-seat puddle jumper in a thunderstorm flying from Nassau to my little island of San Salvador when I was living in the Bahamas with Club Med. I've made numerous trips 'across the pond' (Including one in First THAT was the way to fly! Spoiled me for all other flights after that!), but this flight back from Vancouver takes the cake.
     The flight out to Anchorage had a stop in Salt Lake, which added some time to the flight. It was a full flight and the idiot in front of me, of course, had to recline his seat, so my knees were wedged under him the whole 4 hours. But after that, we had absolutely gorgeous weather the whole week we were in Alaska. However, while we were enjoying that awesome weather, here in Las Vegas, they were having severe thunder storms and flash flooding. 

     Our flight home was on West airline I hadn't been on before, but Delta just put us with them as a sister airline, I guess.  I didn't mind because it was a only a 3 hour straight flight from Vancouver to Vegas, and like Jet Blue, they have TV's in the seats in front of you and and wrap around headrests. It was also nice that the flight was less than half full, which meant almost everyone could have their own row.  That is always really great for us tall people, and my mom's back was really not doing well so the extra room was appreciated even more. 
     Now, about an hour before landing in Vegas, the, up to then, non-eventful flight got a little more interesting.  I would describe it as a cross between "The Twilight Zone" (the Shatner version of course, because he's the man and we know I'm a die-hard fan!) and Stephen King's "Langoliers".  We hit the weather that was pounding Vegas and it started pounding us. I was really glad mom and I keep our seat-belts on when in our seat regardless of how much turbulence there is, because when we started rocking and rolling, we actually came up out of our seats a couple times, as least as much as our belts would permit. We were sitting behind the wings (a bad place to sit if you know anything about planes in storms and landings) and I just couldn't stop OCD'ing enough to just shut the damn shade. Maybe I was expecting the gremlin on the wing. We were all over the place!  Mom was sitting in the row in front of me and I asked her if she was alright (it takes a lot to fluster mom), but at one time I was starting to get really concerned.  I later told dad it was "scary" but mom said it was "concerning" so I had to amend my comment to "alarming". I was just starting to think about whether I should try to make that last phone call home to say goodbye, when we came into view (albeit through the clouds) of Vegas. The ride did not get any smoother.  At one point, the pilot literally had us on our side trying to make the turn for landing.

     Through all this, with the exception of an occasional expletive from someone at a particularly bad bump, that plane was quiet.  It didn't help. I was holding on to the back of mom's chair with both hands, considering prepping the barf-bag as a precaution for the onset of motion sickness and still unable to look away from the wing. As we came in for landing, the pilot was dipping the wings a little too much for my comfort and when I saw the runway beneath us, for a minute, I really wondered if he would level out in time because it looked like just a few feet between wing and runway.  Had that wing hit, we would have spun out, broken up and likely exploded on the runway.  Yes, I first think of the worst scenario.  Fortunately, the pilot pulled it off in the last few seconds and we landed safely.  For the first time in my life, the entire plane applauded the landing.  They then happily got off the plane ASAP.
     Mom and I were the last ones off since her back was really bothering her. I had asked for a wheelchair to be waiting at the gate in Vegas before we left Vancouver. It was there, but the terminal was completely empty and alien to us. (What ever happened to porters to push the wheelchairs, or those little golf-cart thingies you always see when you DON'T need them?)  Then it occurred to us that we were in the new Terminal 3, which has just been completed and is HUGE. This was the first time either of us had been there.
     The 'baggage claim' sign pointed down an escalator across from the gate, but with mom in the wheelchair, I needed to find an elevator. With no one to ask, we finally stumbled across one and got on to go to the lower level. When we got there and stepped off the elevator, there were two glass doors in front of us which slid open and led to a tiny sally-port and another set of glass sliding doors to the right.  The problem was, where THOSE doors led was an apparently unused part of the new terminal. It was dark, and there was carpet down, but no chairs, desk, etc. and the one side was still covered with construction plastic. Thinking we had gone to the wrong floor, I tried to take mom back on the elevator, but of course, those first two glass, sliding doors wouldn't open from that side.  OK, off on another adventure!

(Imagine this, only dark and at night)

     We went out of the sally-port into a hallway leading between the wall and the carpeted area and finally saw two employees. I asked if we were headed in the right direction of baggage claim and the one ignored me and the other just nodded.  What? Are we hiring the mute in this section of the airport?!  So we started following the baggage claim signs.  Let me tell you, that new terminal is ginormous! And we couldn't find any employees anywhere for help.We finally wandered long enough to find the baggage claim and there were a few people there from another airline, but the carousel that our flight's luggage was suppose to be on was just going around and around, with no baggage and no people nearby waiting.  WTF, now? Just as I was starting to lose what little patience I had left, an announcement came over the P.A. that anyone claiming baggage from our flight must come to the security office to claim it.  Oh, crap.  What could possibly be wrong with our suitcases?  Or did we lose them somewhere over Utah when we were trying not to barf all over the plane?
    So we went to the security office and there were our two suitcases.  The security agent told us they had just collected them because everyone from our flight had come and gone long ago.  That was how long it took us to find the damn thing. She saw us come up to the carousel and made the announcement. Because she couldn't just stick her head out the door and say, "In here!"? Next came me trying to maneuver a cart with all the luggage and my mom in the wheelchair. Honestly, I don't remember how I did that. Hmmmm.

     We went out the door for passenger pick-up like we've always done at the other terminal, but of course, this one had to be more complicated.  Apparently, there were two passenger pick-ups and the one dork I could find to give us instructions had no clue what he was talking about.  Back in we went, up to another level and out again to hopefully be where we needed to meet dad. And he actually found us!  
    Ugh. In conclusion, I really don't want to have a tougher flight to blog about at a later date.  This little adventure in air-travel will be plenty, thank you very much!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's a Small World, After All!

We've all heard, and probably used, and more than likely SANG this: "It's a Small World, After All". Who hasn't gotten stuck on that ride at least once in their lives until you are ready to jump out of your little boat and throttle those joyous little dolls from around the world. Or it could just be me and I have anger issues. You don't have to choose...for me, probably both. But I was at a Geocaching event a couple of nights ago and this woman kept looking at me. Finally she asked what my name was. Warily, I told her. She said, "I thought that was you!" She then told me her name and I was like, "Oh, my god!" and then we jumped up and hugged each other. Given that Las Vegas now has over 2 million citizens, it seems odd that you would meet people you know at such random gatherings. Although, after I broke up with my last boyfriend, I kept running into HIM everywhere. And I wasn't even stalking him! But anyway, this lady and I had taken a Cultural Anthropology course about 10 years ago and while we've kept in touch, first with my original blog, then my MySpace and currently on Facebook, this was the first time we'd seen each other face to face since that class. Small world. See? But, I have another story to go along with this saying that takes it to a whole new level. 

To set it up, let's go back to February of 2000. I belonged to a special club that made European travel deals that were very good. I was making good money, had lots of time off and was wanting to see the world. On this occasion, my club was offering a 12-day Alsace, France driving tour. I will say this and you will hear me say it in other posts frequently: I do NOT do group tours. If I wanted to hang out with American tourists I would have stayed home in Vegas! I almost exclusively like to travel either alone or with my mom, and our usually unattainable list of too many things to see. Things tour buses don't often go to. 

For this trip however, I asked two coworkers if they'd like to go, and they accepted. First problem: princesses. When I am traveling and don't know anyone, why the hell do I care what I look like? Up, shower, out the door to see as much as possible. Why do you need 2 hours to get ready? Especially since this was a driving vacation through the Eastern border of France in February? We had a little rain, a little snow, and all that hard make-up and hair work was shot by lunch time. Second problem: tiny car. Princesses require more luggage it seems. Our car was barely more than a smart car and loading up every morning was always a challenge in geometry, not to mention it was difficult to keep moving at a fast pace on the main motorways, though the four little squirrels in the engine were trying their hardest. Third: My two friends did not speak a word of French. Not ONE. I spoke only a little French that I had picked up while working for Club Med, a class at the community college, and my trusty English-French dictionary, but for the most part, it was enough. Bottom line was, I was the only French-speaker in the group and that wasn't saying much! 

But enough on that. We'll return to this later on down the train track. Looking at our schedule and our predetermined lodgings set with the deal from my travel club, I came up with a pretty good itinerary and we managed to cover a good deal of Eastern France, and I even managed to swing us into Germany for one day and Switzerland on another and still stay on track. While we started at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we got our rental car and following the lodging schedule, we headed out. But not to Paris. That would be the last two days of the trip. Our first stop was Reims as we headed to the border and Alsace. Saving all that for another blog entry, I will say this: In France, they drive on the same side of the road as we do. Not that it mattered, having spent the previous summer driving on the wrong side of the road in England, Scotland and Wales. I figured I was invincible on the international driving venue! Uh, no. 

(One of our stops was the Chateau Septmont. We wanted to get in there so bad, but they were closed that day.)

On our last night in Paris, we split up and my two non-French speaking friends wanted to go check out this night club. I asked if they were sure they could get there and back to the hotel alright and they said sure, and I reminded them we needed to leave early in the morning for the airport. I had met a really cool American guy on the top of Notre Dame cathedral while making faces for gargoyle photos, and we went for a beer at a cafe instead. I made it back to the hotel first, and it was just after midnight. My two friends were not back yet. Oh, dear. Worry started to kick in. I think they came back around 3 or 4 in the morning. Yet more for that other story! 

(A shot of us on top of the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower behind us.)

Needless to say, we were dragging when we had to get up and leave around 7:30am to go to the airport. In case you're wondering, that's rush hour in Paris, too. Our hotel was located a couple of blocks off one of the numerous 'spokes' that shoot off from the freaking GINORMOUS Arc de Triomphe round-about. This monster of a traffic death-trap is bad during all hours of the day but especially THIS time of day! Again, as a master of the round-abouts in the UK, I didn't think it would be a problem until I got in it. It has about 9 lanes of traffic entering, circling and exiting all these different spokes of roads and their idiot cabbies are insane! I was trying to be polite and follow the rules of get in the inner lanes depending on how far you have to go around and leave the outside lanes for people getting on and off at the next immediate road. But cabs don't care! They'd come shooting across in front of me like it was a straight street! And honk at ME! To further make you understand how bad this round-about is, in order to get to the Arc, you have to go through an underground tunnel that comes up in the central part of the round-about where the Arc is. Once I got the car in the round-about, I was too shell-shocked and too nice to push my way to the outside to get off on our road, so we had to make a few laps before frustration, lack of time and a little motion sickness finally made me play the game their way. I hit the gas and prayed. I may have even closed my eyes. That might have helped, actually. 

(A time lapse image of the Arc de Triomphe and it's formidable round-about.)
When we got off on the wrong road, I had to stop for a second to catch my breath and wait for the adrenaline shakes to go away. Then we started off again. Except now, we didn't know where we were or how to get to the airport without going back the way we just came, and THAT was NOT happening! I drove while the two girls tried to make sense of the map. It didn't go well. We got stuck in construction. Then I turned the wrong way on a one-way street and while I stopped immediately, this bus had to pull up right in front of us and lay on the horn (there were 3 other empty lanes available). Finally, SOMEHOW, we made it back to the highway and were headed to the airport again. But our trial wasn't over yet! We had lost a lot of time. I was now panicking that we weren't going to make it in time for check-in, security, customs, etc., etc. 

When we got to the airport area, I was looking for the sign for rental car returns. I saw it, and took the turn, but we never found the car rental area. Having deja vu of the Arc de Triomphe, we got stuck going around and around the airport but couldn't get where we needed to be. At one point, I saw a gas station with a policeman and I stopped to ask him where to go. My French was bad, his English worse. He couldn't help at all. And so it started again. Finally, on one of our laps, we spotted the Hertz car rental shuttle and I started honking. We pulled up next to him, rolled down the window and we understood each other enough to tell him we needed to return the car but couldn't find it. He told us to follow him, and we did. We pulled up in front of the doors of the airport where the rental counter was. I asked the van driver what to do with the car and (I think!) he said just leave it and take the keys in. We were now 30 minutes away from departure. Uh, oh.

Heading his advice, we grabbed our luggage, ran past the counter and threw the keys and bolted for baggage check and customs. I heard the girl at the car rental counter calling to us from behind, but I told the girls to just keep moving. But, after all that, the customs officer advised us, there was no way we were going to make our plane. Ugh. So we went to the ticket counter to see about changing flights and they were very nice about it. They got us on a flight leaving about 2 hours later and didn't even charge us for the change. I felt at this point I could relax. A bit, anyway. 

I must interrupt for a moment for a little more background: When I moved to this area about 20 years ago, there were less than five female officers on the entire police department in the then little town near Vegas. They were opening a new jail and needed five female officers to help man it. I was hired with four others. 

Charles de Gaulle Airport is not small. It's a pretty airport, with glass escalators heading in all directions under a huge glass roof in the middle. Just as we're now taking the first unhurried steps of our day and looking for a coffee shop, I hear someone yelling my (last) name from somewhere behind me. My first thought was, "Oh, lord, someone hit the rental car and they're out for blood". I have an Irish last name which is the name that everyone who knows me calls me by. It's not a common name in France and not something you can assume is meant for someone else. Reluctantly, all three of us turn and see a woman in a uniform coming toward us waving. It took a second to realize this was a friend! One of the officers that had been hired WITH me and we worked together at the jail for several years. She even knew the girls with me. Of all the places to run into someone you know! PARIS?!? 

(The many glass escalators going every which way at Charles de Gaulle Airport)

After the initial shock wore off, we hugged and chatted and said how great it was to see her, but what the hell was she doing there? She basically asked us the same question, although she knew I was a globe-trotter. A few months earlier, my friend had quit the police department to become a flight attendant for United Airlines. (Note: I later tried to do this and was even sent to Chicago for final interviews, but in the end was told I still had "too much cop mentality" and didn't get the job. A few months later, 9-11 happened and I wished they would have reconsidered that) She was on her one and only overseas training flight before being a full-fledged flight attendant. And guess who's flight she would be on? Oh, yeah. 

 She tried to see if she could get us bumped up to first class for free, but there were only 2 seats available and none of us three wanted to leave one person in coach, so we all stayed back. It was quite a full 10-hour flight. But determined to look after us, my personal flight attendant would bring us glasses of Dom Perignon, upgraded meals and specialty chocolates back in coach! Surprisingly, while we had several curious stares, only one couple across the row asked about the special treatment. My friend, who was always a quick thinker, says, "Oh well the redheaded lady is a famous American novelist and that's her entourage. There was some confusion about their seats in first class so we're trying to make amends." Coincidentally, there is a romance novelist with my name, but I am not she. We tried not to start giggling while my friend brought the couple each a glass of champagne as well, and they were happy. She was so funny...when we got off the plane, after catching up a bit more, she gave us each our own bottle of Dom to take home. Good stuff, that. 

 So the moral of the story: While there are now 7 billion people in the world, up more than 3 times what it was when I was born in 1971 (don't get me started on that...over-population is a big pet peeve and I don't have enough room left on my soap box today), it is still possible to find people you know in the least expected places! Had everything fallen into place that morning as it should have, we wouldn't have seen her at all, and it did make for a memorable experience!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Little Day-Trip to AREA 51 (and Rachel, NV)

Here's the back-story:
Everybody's heard of it. It's been featured in numerous documentaries, articles and Hollywood movies. The supposedly innocent, but super-top-secret, air base out in the middle of nowhere in the Nevada desert where all kinds of weird goings-on and sightings in the night sky occur.  Is this where the aliens have been held since the 1947 crash in Roswell, NM? After years of conspiracy theories and denial by the government, not too long ago, they finally admitted Area 51 IS out there, but allegedly, that it is no longer being used. It's part of the Nellis AFB Bombing and Gunnery Range. There were military planes flying the day we were out there, but low cloud cover prevented us from seeing which ones (I have a small bit of knowledge of military planes going back quite a ways). Oh, and by the way, satellite images show there has been recent construction on new hangers and existing landing strips have been lengthened.

Ok, so here's what happened... A couple of weeks ago, mom and I took the "Two Traveling Train Wrecks" on a mini-road trip a couple of hours north of Las Vegas, to Rachel. Rachel is literally in the middle of nowhere, on the Extra-Terrestrial Highway. The E.T. Highway is what's known in the geocaching community as a "Mega-Trail", because there are over 1,500 geocaches hidden along Its entire length.  We were meeting other geocachers for several events that weekend.  Rachel consists of the Little A'Le'Inn Restaurant and Inn, and about 80 people living in the vicinity on small ranches or mobile homes. That's it.  Not even a gas station. 

(Gray Pride and "Live Long and Prosper" at the south end of the E.T. Highway)
Now, I've always been a conspiracy theorist and of course, Area 51 is one of the biggest ones out there. I have wanted to go there for YEARS. As I told mom, I can't explain why...just that I have an image in my head of what it looks like and had to see it for myself.  Being so close (it's sort of near Rachel), I wanted to go find it and take pictures of whatever I found. Every account of people going out there talked about the security guys in the white pick-up truck seen on the top of the ridge. If nothing else, maybe I could harass them a bit. So we headed up the long, dusty 13-mile Groom Lake Road off the E.T. Highway. (I suspect the dust trail helps the security guys to see you coming)

(The 13-mile stretch of Groom Lake Rd., but don't look for street signs...there aren't any)
I absolutely love traveling with my mom. She'll do almost any weird thing I want in the name of adventure! On this particular ride, she wasn't digging it so much. Fortunately, there were two caches hidden on the road as well, so we had an extra excuse to go. We only found one before we got to the end of the road. We must have missed a turn onto another nondescript dirt road, other than the one we were already on. Now, rumor has it, they have motion detectors, ammonia detectors (allegedly for urine), trip-wires, audio-listening devices, etc, etc., and they know everything about you before you get halfway there. Surprisingly, there were no fences. At one point, mom and I argued about the 26 mile out-of-the-way trip to get a picture of a picture I could find on Google. Totally not the point! 

(The first sign we came to was not the expected sign. Note, however, the white security vehicle on the ridge to the right of the sign)
At what was the end of the road (for us), we came upon 2 signs: this "Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range Warning!" and another saying, "Warning! Photography of this area prohibited" (that doesn't mean I can't take a picture of the sign that says no pictures, right? Otherwise there'd be another sign saying no pictures of the first sign...that was my logic, anyhow). 

Basically, if you literally cross the imaginary line between these two signs and you get arrested. Period. So, of course, I have to jump out and get a picture with the sign. I was disappointed because there was no gate, no "Area 51" sign and no "Restricted! Use of Deadly Force Authorized" sign. BUT, behind the sign I was taking a picture with was the infamous white pick-up on the ridge. Now I'm retired law enforcement and I'm telling mom it's probably an empty, dummy truck. Agencies sometimes use them with a mannequin inside and park them in a problem area because it's cheaper than using officers, but it keeps people out of mischief. Uh, I was mistaken.  Definitely not a dummy truck! Mom and I sat there and mulled it over a few minutes whether to keep going, but we're just too damn honest so we turned around. 

About a mile down the road GOING BACK to the main road, here comes the military chopper from behind us. Mom's like, "Are they coming after us?" I'm like, "Nah!" But after it got in front of us and practically landed on the road forcing us to stop, I was getting a little concerned. The pilot circled around us once to be sure we could see his really big gun. Mom's like, "What is he doing?" I said, "He's threatening us, mom! He's probably trying to get a good shot of YOUR license plate!" (she's panicking because they were probably running her through all the major databases and I'm having a blast) I think I probably pissed them off more because, being me, I just keep taking pictures of them. We were on a public road so there wasn't much they could do (in theory, although making us disappear out there would have been no problem at all!). 

(Note BIG gun barrel sticking off the side)
About the time the chopper flew off, the security truck had come up behind us but stayed about 200 feet back. We came to a branch-off road where we thought the other cache might be and sat for a minute deciding if we'd had enough excitement for the day or if we were going after it. Security was still behind us and watching every move, so we decided not to test them. It was another mile before they stopped following us, but we were out of sight before they turned back. We agreed that made the drive worth it even if we didn't get to the gate! I was telling mom though, if they have the listening devices they're suppose to have, they would have heard us talking about geocaches and arguing about going down the road and known we were tourists. But, thinking back, it may have sounded like we were looking for "it" and maybe we should take another road to get to "it". We did have a geocaching sticker on the back of the car, so who knows if they figured it out. I then said, "They're probably just bored and giving the tourists a good show". Yeah, no. The folks at the Little A'Le'Inn said locals don't go down that road at all, but there IS an actual gate and the Area 51 / Deadly force sign, had we managed to get any further up the road without being arrested. I told the guy that had hidden the cache out there what happened and he said he's been going back in that area for years and never had a chopper chase him down! Ha, ha, ha! Mission accomplished!!

After that, even mom was proud to have the tale for her blog!  I do believe she's an adrenaline-junkie at heart. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  After stopping briefly to visit the infamous "Black Mailbox" (it's white), and unfortunately not finding the cache hidden there, we happily went on down the road to Rachel, checked in to our "room", got a bite to eat and hung out with the locals. 

(The "black" mailbox. It WAS black at some point, but then painted white because so many people would go through this poor rancher's mail looking for classified stuff. He now has to padlock it and it's covered with graffiti. It's become kind of a "must see" for Ufologists and conspiracy theorists... also featured in "Paul".)
If you've seen the movie "Paul" (if you haven't, see's a personal favorite!), you know what the Little A'Le'Inn is. It was NOT filmed there, but after the movie's release, the whole cast went and spent a weekend there.  The lady that owns it is, in fact, named Pat (as in the movie), but resembles more of a grandmotherly type, as opposed to the blonde in the movie. We did leave reviews on Travelocity for our room (Someone that was there before us had written very harsh things and we almost didn't stay there because of it).  Most of the other cachers were camping across the street, but we're just too damn crippled for that. Plus mom's convinced every creepy-crawler in the desert is lurking about just waiting to attack her when she lets her guard down.  If you want to have some fun and enjoy the whole mystique of the area, it's a nice little place to stay. It's not a motel, it is an inn.  Basically, they have taken older and gently used mobile homes and converted them to rooms. They were clean and offered air conditioning (a must for the desert in May), DVD/VCR, satellite TV, coffee maker in-room and hot water with good pressure, in a bathroom that you must share with whomever is staying in the other room. In between rooms is a small common area with a shared microwave and fridge.  You'd be hard-pressed to find the same in other small motels.  On a side note for other Sci-Fi movie fans, the producers of the movie "Independence Day" placed a plaque and time-capsule at the Inn, as well.

We thought we would be bored out of our minds up there for a weekend but between Area 51, geocaching down the E.T. Highway, the annual "Rachel Day" parade (Ha, ha, ha!  That's just silly, but they know it and embrace it!) and accompanying events all day on Saturday, plus our four geocaching events, we never even turned the TV on and were exhausted by 9pm.  I never got the telescope out of the car and we didn't watch the skies for very long at the bonfire because we were back in our room before full dark. But, just so I wouldn't be sad about missing the aliens, they had a light-up UFO outside our trailer and this little guy on the trapdoor above my bed to keep me company at night:

A really fun and interesting weekend we look forward to doing again next year!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Busy traveling and geocaching!

I realize how horrible it is that I've not posted anything to my brand new blog in six months, but I've been doing what I love the most:  Traveling and geocaching, and geocaching while traveling.  I didn't think it would be that big of a deal to slack off since I don't have any followers (YET, she said optimistically).  So now I need to catch up on the last six months as well as the 40 years prior to that.

OK, so traveling... pretty basic, no need to explain.  But what I DO get asked all the time, "What the heck is geocaching?"  Well, it is a global scavenger hunt, of sorts.  Not too tough to figure out (if you go to the official website, there is about a 2 minute video explaining it), basically people use satellites and GPS coordinates to hide and find "caches", of which there are 2-million hidden all over the world. They can range from the size of an acorn up to a 5-gallon paint bucket, and in addition to a log to be signed by the finder, people leave and trade trinkets and 'trackables'.  There are also special events planned for the caching community.  I recently attended my first event a couple of months ago: the annual Geo-Poker Run here in Vegas. Then while in Florida last month, I attended another and then this past weekend, a few more while in Rachel, Nevada. 

My mom actually introduced me to the hobby and I fell in love with it instantly.  For the first couple of months, mom didn't get out of the car, but would humor me if we were traveling. I finally got her out of the car and got HER addicted and now we obsess about it together. Today I got my 600th find.  Honestly, I feel guilty if I miss a day, LOL.  It's a great hobby for the single person and families.  It can be free (I started with a free membership and a free app on my cellphone as a GPS) or you can put as much into it as you want (the high end GPS unit; I use a fairly inexpensive one...the Garmin Oregon 450, but admit I'm still learning how to work it). I will say that we don't leave the house or plan a vacation without knowing where all the caches are ahead of time!

At any rate, I will try to do a bit better about keeping up on my blogs.  I have no plans of going anywhere exciting for the next month or so, so perhaps boredom will send me to it. I need to blog about Area 51, EPCOT and our kick-ass hotel deal, Florida, San Francisco and a couple of other short trips I've had in the past 6 months.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

St. Thomas, Nevada - Underwater Ghost Town

There's a little known gem about 50 miles North of Las Vegas. St. Thomas was a small Mormon settlement established the same year Nevada became a state (1865). It never boasted a population of over 500 people. Only one famous person ever stayed there: President Hoover. However, it is unique in that it is one of only a handful of towns deliberately flooded to create a dam and lake; in this case, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. It slipped under the water completely in 1938, and it's said that, while the water was creeping slowly and they were given plenty of notice, the last citizen waited so long to evacuate that he had to leave in his row boat. For whatever reason, we humans are always attracted to the weird or unusual. I admit it. I'm often considered an extreme and was recently referred to as "macabre", although that was in regard to my hobby as a graveyard rabbit. I have lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, but I never heard about St. Thomas until about 10 years. Nobody told me the name of the town until about 4 years ago. It really does make it much easier to research a "ghost" town with a name. Duh. Anyway, I've been wanting to go check it out for several years, and since I was hiking at Valley of Fire last week, I decided to finally check it out. It is only about 5 miles past Valley of Fire, at the entrance to the Lake Mead Recreation Area, down a well-maintained, dirt road. I didn't plan to return to that area again anytime soon, and it was gorgeous out, so I went. The last mile back to the car at the end of my visit to St. Thomas was a little tough because a slight nuisance pain in my right foot had been bugging me, but of course, it waited until I was still a mile from the car, in the middle of nowhere with no one else around to make itself a full shooting pain and limp. As it turns out, Train Wreck #1 (me) managed to sprain the three middle toes of my right foot without even knowing it. Now I'm grounded until it heals. During the best and short time Las Vegas has perfect weather for such an outing. Unfortunately, it did cut my exploring short, but it was still a very interesting hike. Here's the history as I understand it. It was bigger than I had expected. The town briefly enjoyed the business from the Interstate before the flooding, and even produced agriculture. It was chosen for It's location close to the Virgin River. There was some mining in the surrounding hills. As St. Thomas sat in a valley, when the Hoover Dam was being built, it was decided that the town would be sacrificed in the name of progress and residents were given notice. Some residents even completely disassembled their houses and took them with them. Many were homesteads of the pioneers and their children.

A rare picture of the Post Office as the town was being flooded in 1938.

The remains of the Post Office in November 2012.

A door of the old Post Office, laid flat where it once stood.

Once the dam was complete and the entire valley flooded to create the largest man-made lake in the United States, it was only possible to see St. Thomas if you visited by scuba diving the 50-60 feet to where it rested on the bottom. Given Lake Mead's visibility, you probably won't have seen much, and after learning to scuba dive in one of the best locations in the world (the Bahamas), I refused to lower my standards. But It's actually much more interesting now that it's back above the water. The town has actually flooded and reappeared about five times with the various levels of water in the lake in the past 75 years, until our water level dropped to an all-time low a few years back. I'm not sure you could actually walk out there during any of the past brief reappearances, but that is definitely not a problem now. Standing at the trail head which starts at a ridge overlooking the town site, you can barely see the lake in the distance, that's how far the water has receded. I'm not sure what I expected to see when I got there; I mean, I knew it wouldn't be in pristine condition, but all that water has taken its toll. There are still numerous "foundations" (actually, at first look, they appear to be just foundations but if you look closely, you'll see that you may actually be looking at a second story or roof that has been so completely overtaken by the silt and vegetation that the majority of the structure is 'submerged' by the remaining dirt...there is one large structure that you can clearly see where the floor of what looks like the foundation has sunk in one corner where there was either an air bubble or the sand didn't fill it evenly), several of them quite large. One is the Post Office, one is the Hotel, one is the schoolhouse. From the ridge, the town looks like nothing but a few straight roads, so I was disappointed, but if you go down there, you'll see remains everywhere. The town seems to have been built with an oval main street that reminds me of a race track with structures built around it and on the inside. I followed the whole street back to the trail when the toe-sprain issue arose and cut my visit short. It's a little eerie if you're there by yourself. There may be no wind or noise at all except for the Mormon crickets we have so many of this time of year. If you are near any structures that have what look like wells or ventilation shafts with rebar grates screwed over them, have a look in them. They actually look down into where the structure may have lower floors you can't see from the surface looking at the remains. This can be a little tough if you come at midday like I did...the sun directly overhead made it very difficult to see anything, but a handy cellphone flash works, too.

If you decide to visit, I would do so quickly. For you locals like me who have been curious but procrastinated, get there soon. The town will probably never have to worry about being submerged again, however a forest of scrub and short trees are now taking over what was previously the lake bed. The forest is winning. Several remains have already been swallowed up and its clear that very little maintenance is being done to stop it. When you take the trail down from the ridge to explore, I have a few words to the wise: 1) You will see what look like foot paths crisscrossing the main path. If I had to take a guess, I'd say these were probably well-established paths before the flooding, so very little vegetation has grown there, though some of them do eventually choke off. PROCEED WITH CAUTION! Especially if you're alone. I took a couple of them and was fortunate enough to find some smaller foundations (probably houses) back in the forest. The trees, however, are about 6 feet or more and it is extremely easy to get disoriented or lost in. 2) You may want to avoid walking in the middle or around the edges of a structure, especially if you think there may be additional floors under what you can see. I noticed a few where corners are settling and sinking and it was clearly easy to step in the wrong spot and get stuck...or worse. 3) People who appreciate the history of the town respect the archaeology are the site and do not remove anything found there. I noticed a couple of places where visitors have laid out pieces of old bottles, cans, pottery, etc. so that others can look at them. Please do the same and do not remove anything you find there. Metal detectors are forbidden. 4) Due to our killer heat here, not to mention critters like rattlesnakes and gila monsters, you should really only go between November and March. Otherwise, you're taking your life in your hands! Depending on if you go all the way around the town from one side to the other, the hike is about 2.5 miles, easy and flat the entire time once you come up/down the ridge from the trail. The elevation change there is about 60 feet. The only thing I was really bummed about is that there is nothing telling you what building you're looking at. I was guessing at most of them, but I had to come home and compare my pictures to the few, poor quality pictures taken 100 years ago. If you do a web search on St. Thomas, you'll find plenty of articles and information sites, but I've listed a few below. Enjoy!