Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas, rolling through Death Valley, checking out some HUGE trees and hooking up with Smokey the Bear.

We woke up in Vegas with plans of going to the onsite amusement park in Circus Circus (it's called "The "Adventuredome") and then walking the strip.  Well, as usual our plans were a little to0 optimistic.  We did get up earlier than usual, but we promised to take Bella to the pool, so Michelle did that and I watched Aldous in the room.  We were on the 12th floor, but the pool was right below our window so I could see Bella and Michelle at the pool which was pretty cool.  We got checked out of our room by 11, had breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants and headed to the "Adventuredome."  The adventure dome is a full-size indoor amusement park attached to the back of the main hotel building.  Considering it's fully enclosed it's HUGE.  To give you an idea how big it is, it has a full-size roller coaster and log flume ride along with many others.  When you check in, they give you a sheet with several freebie coupons for amenities in the hotel (including some free drinks at the casino bars!).  This sheet came with 2 free premium rides and 2 free carnival games.  Bella decided to ride the carousel and the big Ferris wheel.  She also played a couple of carnival games and won another stuffed animal.  We then went over to the acrobat show because Bella wanted to see the high-wire act again.  Instead they had a 5 man acrobatic troupe who were very good.  After that we went out the front of the hotel intending to walk the strip, but Aldous was not happy in his carrier and we had no stroller.  Combine that with the heat and walking the strip will have to wait for another visit.  I enjoyed our time in Vegas and would like to comeback at some point but there was something about it that I didn't like and I couldn't put my finger on it till we were about to leave and then it hit me.  Everywhere you go in the strip area there is the grand illusion of "EVERYTHING IS GREAT!!!"...but, when you look closely, underneath all that there is a quiet sense of desperation.  It's kind of hard to explain in a few sentences on a blog, but it's a very palpable feeling, or at least it was to me.  It's not enough to ruin a good time (unless you dwell on it), but it is in stark contrast to the "EVERYTHING IS GREAT!!!" aurora that Vegas tries to bombard you with incessantly.

We left Vegas and headed for Death Valley (talk about taking a 180!) but Aldous was not up for traveling so we didn't quite make it to Death Valley.  We did stay at the "Death Valley Inn" in Beatty, NV though.  We were all able to get a good nights sleep and head off for Death Valley late the next morning.  They had a projected high of 105 degrees in Death Valley the day we were there, which also happened to be Friday the 13th.  Three mornings earlier we were in a snow storm at the Grand Canyon.  We are still trying to get used to the extreme weather changes out here in the west.  The descent into Death Valley was uneventful except for the 18 inch stark white lizard that crossed the road in front of us.  We headed for a little oasis in Death Valley National Park called "The Furnace Creek Inn."  It's a full on resort (even has a golf course!) right in the middle of Death Valley.  It's a pretty neat little setup with a bunch of history related to Death Valley and why any humans went there in the first place (borax was discovered there).  We got there about 1:30, right around the hottest part of the day, and decided to have a picnic.  Now, I don't know if it was 105 degrees or not, but it was HOT as Hades in the sun.  In the shade it was not so bad or should I say it was bearable for a 20 min picnic.  :)  This being Friday the 13th of May, it was Aldous's 1st birthday, so we went to the general store at the Furnace Creek Inn and had a celebratory mocha almond soft serve ice cream.  Aldous approved immensely.  :)   We then proceeded to head north then west on our way out of Death Valley.  The landscape is just plane harsh in the Valley. As you can imagine not much grows in the valley as they don't get much rain (they had NO recorded rainfall in 1929 and 0.64 in from 1931-1934).  It's an almost lunar like landscape at times....but then all of a sudden out in the middle of the valley you come across this mass of sand dunes like something out of Arabian nights.  They were really cool and we even went out on them to take a few pictures, but by this time I'm convinced it definitely was 105 degrees out because the heat was unbearable and walking in that sand with flip flops on was rather painful when that ultra-heated sand rolled over your feet.  We saw a few other neat things in Death Valley, but there were a few side excursions down some dirt roads I would like to have taken but with my luck with cars recently I just didn't feel comfortable getting too far off the beaten path with Michelle and the kids on a 105 degree day.

We rolled out of Death Valley and found ourselves just west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the late afternoon.  After looking at the map we decided to head for a place called Lake Isabella that is in the south end of the Sequoia National Forest.  I figured a lake this big in that area would probably have a charming little town to go with it.  I was wrong.  After driving for about 90 minutes we came into Isabella and well let's just say that charming is not a term I would use to describe it.  We found one motel in town that was not nearly as inviting as Bates Motel so we decided just to make a run for Bakersfield for a decent cheap hotel and decide then what we wanted to do the next day.  We made it to Bakersfield in about an hour, got checked into our hotel and caught some Zs.  We woke up this morning, I took Bella swimming in the pool, we hit Target for some replenishing of supplies, got a few coffees at Starbucks and headed for the Sequoia National Park to see the worlds largest trees.

If you have never been to Bakersfield you are not missing much, at least not of the actual city itself.  I wouldn't call it ugly, but ummm, well, OK, it's ugly.   Having said that, this area is home to some of the most fertile farms in this country.  On the outskirts of Bakersfield, on the way to see the Sequoias, we saw thousands and thousands of acres of citrus groves, almond groves, olive groves, grapes, persimmons, etc. etc. etc.  We stopped at a roadside stand to buy some local fruit and got some of the best tasting strawberries and cherries I've ever had in my life.

The drive up to see the Sequoias is beautiful.  It's up a twisty canyon road that follows a river that flows out of the mountains where the Sequoias are.  After the drive to see them, it's hard to imagine how anyone ever found them.  They are almost tucked away in a relatively small area.  They only naturally grow in about 65 groves on the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains between 5000-7000 feet.  It seems like it takes forever to get to them (once you enter the park you have to drive about 15 miles on VERY curvy 15-25 mph roads to get to them), but once you do, oh my are they ever impressive.  Like many things on this trip, I've seen pictures of them before, but seeing them in person is something else entirely.  It's just plain hard to believe that these things are real.  I thought we had some big oak trees in Atlanta that are a couple hundred years old, but these things just plain dwarf them...both in age and size (some are 3000+ years old).  Not only are the trees massively impressive ( or impressively massive, take your pick), but the setting in these mountains is just breathtaking.  There are rivers, streams and creeks criss-crossing the whole area and up this high there is still some snow as well.  Did I mention it was cold and we were all dressed for the 80 degree Bakersfield weather (there are palm trees all over Bakersfield) we left that morning?  One other nice thing about today is we continued our streak of having good luck with seeing wildlife and we ran into what appeared to be an adolescent bear in the Sequoia National Park.  He looked to be about 150 lbs and we came within about 20 feet of him.  He was obviously just out looking for some food...and when he saw us just moseyed off.

We ended up getting a room just outside the Sequoia National Park and we may go back tomorrow, or we may head for the coast...we aren't sure yet.

Until next time, here are a few pics...  :)

Nobody does excess like Vegas!

This picture is here not because it's a great building, but just the opposite.  Vegas is full of cool looking adventurous architecture, either in its attempt to create something new or recreate something that has already been done.  Given that environment, what does Donald Trump build?  A big tall, rectangular building with gold windows.  What a complete utter lack of imagination.  Relative to all the neat buildings in Vegas, I would be embarrassed to have my name on this...seriously.

Inside the Adventuredome...the pic is rose tinted because the rose colored dome tints everything that way.

You probably can't see her, but Bella is in the middle gives you an idea of how big the dome is though.

Circus Circus from the front.  I couldn't even fit it all in my lense when I took this picture from the street.

This is the rear of Circus Circus and you can clearly see how big the Adventuredome is.

I think this clown is a little creepy.  :-)

Headed toward Death Valley.

Great pic Michelle took of a dry lake bed in Death Valley.

The floor of Death Valley.

This is what a picnic looks like in 105 degrees. 

That little line you see is a road that crossed one of the dry lake beds in Death Valley.

Death Valley gas prices...coming to a pump near you soon...?

It was a beautiful beach...with no ocean to cool off in.

Your eyes do not deceive you, those are snow capped peaks in the background.  Ironically enough, the lowest and highest points in the contiguous United States are very close to each other....that would be Death Valley and Mount Whitney.

Two cute kids and some beautiful scenery but the clear star of this particular pictures is my shaggy beard.  ;-)

Some Death Valley foliage...

The sand was too hot on Bella's was too hot on mine too.  We flipped for it  to see who would carry who out, but I lost.  :-)

The Furnace Creek Inn.  I would have happily stayed there, but Michelle had no interest in it.
This was our first view of Death Valley.

We ran into Smokey the Bear in the Sequoia National Forest.

Bella on top of a rock formation in SNP.

THe lowest point in DV is 282 feet below sea level, but the best we saw was 262 and this was the lowest point at which I remembered to take a pic of the GPS.  :-)

Dusk at SNP.

Bella in front of General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world.

Dusk at SNP, notice the moon in the top middle of the pic.

That is one BIG tree...

River in SNP.

General Sherman again, Michelle, Aldie and Bella at the base...if you can make them out.

Creek in SNP.

The girls and Aldie in a cut out in a felled sequoia.

My little tree huggers... :-)

Random pic we took of one blade of a wind turbine being transported through Beatty, NV.  Each wind turbine has three of these so it shows you how big they are.


  1. If you go to the coast, see Hearst Castle, San Luis Obisbo, Big Sur, Santa Cruz (the Beach Boardwalk), Felton ( excursion railroad), and Big Basin SP ( coastal redwoods).

    Are you planning to visit the San Francisco Bay Area? If so, you can crash at my place. I have a spare room, professional kitchen, heavy duty washing machine, yard full of fruit trees (oranges, lemons, cherries are in season right now), where the kids can play, pitch a tent, whatever.


    Mike Nelson
    Mobile: 650-291-7343

  2. If you stay in the mountains, go to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Reno, Lake Almanor (where I'm from), Lassen Volcanic Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Crater Lake, Rogue River Valley, Ashland (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Redwood Highway (more of the biggest trees in the world

  3. If you go to the coast, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Huge main tank window and even touchy-feely exhibits for the kids.

  4. Hey Mike,

    We are going to head to the coast, probably around SLO and work our way up to Big Sur and hopefully camp there. We plan on spending some time in Monterey and then SF to see some family and friends. Where do you live? If we are in your area it would be nice to at least visit...but the washing machine and kitchen sound tempting. :)

    We plan on heading to Yosemite in 7-10 days when hopefully all of the passes will be open.



  5. I love the pictures! You guys must be having an amazing time, I'm envious! Continue having a safe and fun trip!