Travel With The Bandit!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 16 – Vegas baby Vegas!

This day is easy tos um up: We went shopping for most of the day, then returned to our hotels, went to watch the Blue Man Group (my Christmas present from Melanie)(a straight B, deductions for some less entertaining passages and the vomit scene) and then out to party over LV. Everything has a price tag but this place is fun. Definitely.

A word about Las Vegas: Most of what you see on the strip is an illusion, albeit a very nice and pleasant one (save for the constant dollar here dollar there tipping). Maybe I just like the place so much because everything fell in place so neatly and everything we needed was close by. Or because the strip is just the opposite of everything we have seen so far on this trip. In any case, Vegas was a nice experience.

Day 15 – Springdale, UT to Las Vegas, NV

Viva Las Vegas! Yeah, baby, yeah!

We started our short drive to Vegas right after a delicious breakfast. The drive is pure downhill and sometimes the trucks passing at more than 80mph are a little scary…

Anyways- Vegas. Arrived just in time for lunch which we had in one of those casino restaurants – nice preview of what was to happen the next two days.

After that we checked in at our hotels. Melanie and I have struck gold with our stay at the Venetian. This hotel is awesome and we commend it.

The casino atmosphere is quite distinct from German casinos. There are so many gambling machines (which also offer the games people could play at a table, but I guess you have to have something in place for everybody's preferences). And there are so many games I have never heard of before – no matter what, they will all yield handsome profits for the casinos. The casinos at the Venetian and the Wynn appear a little more upscale than others (the Bellagio tops all, I think).

We had dinner at the buffet restaurant at the Wynn and it was great. The most delicious food we had in days in a nice atmosphere.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 14 – Page to Springdale, UT

Ok, I need to stay more nights at the same spot. The constant packing and unpacking is a little nerve wrecking. Fortunately, Springdale will be our last one night stop before Phoenix.

Originally, we planned to visit Monument Valley this morning, but we all feel that we have had enough days in the car and now want to spend more time outside. The first miles I felt like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" because Melanie and I have been driving the road to Wahweap (a marina and hotel on the shores of Lake Powell) for I don't know how many times…

Passed through Kanab again (no, we did not stop at McDonald's) and arrived in Zion before noon. The drive from the East down the steep slopes is a sight to remember. And for the first time I got to drive one of the more exciting roads (for some funny reason, Melanie was always at the wheel when we hit such passages). Yeah.

After we had lunch (which took the cook forever to prepare…) Mel and I didn't feel like hiking along sandstone again so we rented some tubes to tube down Virgin River. – let me tell you, this puts your Gluteus Maximus at risk if you don't watch for rocks… I know what I am talking about. I mean it goes alright when you're floating feet first but once you start spinning this becomes a whole different game. And the river didn't have a lot of water. But we managed to survive (and Melanie beat me by a mile).

To fill the gap between tubing and dinner, we decided to take a bus into the park and hike for a while. Honestly: We did that and I remember some of the unbelievably high cliffs (the trailheads are all at the bottom of the valley so unlike other canyons you start to get a feel for this one from the bottom perspective), but I just felt a wee bit too tired to treasure this experience.

Dinner at the Spotted Dog Café was outstanding. Tomorrow we'll hit Las Vegas (maybe this was the reason why we were trying to preserve some energy).


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 13 – Independence Day in Page, AZ

Hooray! My first Independence day in the USA – I was looking forward to the fireworks display. And I was not disappointed.

Started the day in very slow fashion. We slept in and decided that we wouldn't do anything but visiting Antelope Canyon, swim in Lake Powell and watch the fireworks.

Now I can say "mission accomplished".

  1. Antelope Canyon: The Canyon is on Navajo land which means that anybody (who is not Navajo) has to pay USD6 for just entering the territory. We then decided to visit the lower canyon because it is only $20 (compared to $25 for the Upper Antelope Canyon) and because it is supposed to be less crowded. This place is marvelous. The canyon is about 3 feet wide and up to 90 feet deep. The light reflections on the sandstone are spectacular. Check out the photos. No words to describe it.
  2. Swimming in Lake Powell is quite easily done. Drive to Antelope Point, park your SUV on an oversized parking lot which is dominated by oversized Tahoes, Escalades, Rams and Silverados, all with boat trailers of course – and feel like parking a matchbox car in a showroom. From there it is just a short 400 yards hike to the shore and then you have to master the last few steps bare foot (yes, it burns like 911 Buffalo Wing sauce). But the cool water is rewarding. So far so good. When Melanie and I got out, we were surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes. Not funny. I had about 40 (!) sitting on my legs. Before I concluded counting I jumped back in (which Melanie did way before me). Lesson learned: Lake Powell is great for swimming, but not a place to bask in the sun.
  3. We booked a cruise to see the fireworks from the lake. The cruise itself was a flop, but the fireworks were very impressive. They went for about 45 minutes (mind you, Page has 5,000 people) and were huge. Very nice.

So much for our chill out day!

Will be back soon!

Day 12 – Kanab to Page, Coyote Buttes

Hello once again,

this is another report from our trip through the Southwest.

I did tell you that last night wasn't the greatest of all, right? Guess what, the breakfast was even worse…

We stopped at McDonald's to get some McGriddles, Hash Browns and Orange juice. Does this sound crazy? Here's what happened: There were three employees and two customers (including me) in the McDonald's restaurant. Still I had to wait 5 minutes before I could place my order. The result: They informed me that they were out of hash browns and orange juice. On request they offered to have some coffee ready in the next 10 to 15 minutes. How great is that? I think that such a well stocked restaurant shouldn't open for breakfast. Period.

We got up very early today to arrive at Paria Ranger Station in time to join the lottery for Coyote Buttes North access permits. Only 20 people per day are admitted to this area which is known for its unique sandstone formations. There were 14 parties with 24 people at the lottery. 10 permits have already been given away over the internet (4 months in advance) so chances were not overly good. And so was the outcome. We didn't win. So what can you do? Reserve permits for Coyote Buttes South over the internet (3 months in advance) and have a backup plan.

Coyote Buttes South are spectacular sandstone formations of varying colors. They are very beautiful. Truly are. However, the road to CBS is anything but a smooth ride and the hike is strenuous (at least in July with temperatures in the low 90s and no shade whatsoever). But still, it's all worth it. We climbed the rocks for about 2 hours and have to thank our GPS unit because without that device we would still be looking for our car…

Arrived in Page @ Lake Powell late in the afternoon. Did some grocery shopping and had my first tray of hot Buffalo wings (YEAH!).

Michi: I bought some banana rum! Not quite as good as the Bahamas' rum, but we're getting closer!

Day 3 – Rawlins, WY through Grand Teton NP to West Yellowstone, MT

Got up on this very beautiful morning, grabbed some overly sweet breaky, filled the cars and off we went through beautifully green Wyoming. I have never really heard anything of this state before. I only knew that Buffalo Bill came from there and that Yellowstone NP is there. Not much more.

But the green hills and the vast extent of all the meadows is something I really liked. Moreover, the sky seems so close there. You feel like you could touch the clouds any time.

However, Wyoming seems a very boring place – the only pastime people seem to have there is to shoot at road signs. Some look like strainers. Strange. But with all the Buffalo herds gone for good I guess that's what keeps them afloat – and gives people a chance to reminisce about how the past must have been.

In the late afternoon we hit Grand Teton NP. The panorama is dominated by three alpine (and snow covered peaks), lakes and pine covered slopes. When we stopped at a lake I saw someone out there in a canoe. This reminded me of the canoe trip I did in Canada with Patrick in May 2005.

We left Grand Teton Park through the North exit and entered Yellowstone NP. The first hour of driving was (and I know I shouldn't say so, but it really felt that way) boring. You drive along a narrow road through a young pine tree forest. That's it. Nothing there to see.

When we passed by Old Faithful Geyser we figured we might as well stop there today because you never know. So we did that and had to wait for only 10 minutes to witness the geyser erupt. What a sight. I mean Lady Knox in Rotorua is ok, nothing wrong with it, but Old Faithful is just a little louder, higher and what not (in a way a little American).

Ok, here's my fave topic: Wildlife. We didn't see anything up to this point. Not funny. They post signs everywhere: "Watch for wildlife", "Animals crossing", "Elk crossing", "Ped Xing" (ok, saw many of those)… But at one point in time I thought that they might as well put up warning signs for UFO landings… But I was sooo wrong. On the last few miles on our way ot of the park we saw a number of bison (they are HUGE) and elk cows. So, today was a good day!

Day 2 – Denver to Rawlins, WY

Yeah, got up feeling good and healthy! The breakfast was outstanding! Fresh juice, waffles, and the best bagels I have had for quite some time. After breaky we had to do some shopping to set us up for the three week road trip.

At about 12:30 we walked from the hotel to Coor's Field to watch some hardball. Since there is no baseball in Germany, I always jump on the opportunity to watch some when I am in the US. Ok, so this was my first time at Coor's Field and it does not quite reach the standard set by Turner Field. We had good seats in the upper deck just behind home plate. But hey – why isn't there a roof? It was scorching that afternoon with temperatures in the high 90s and no roof? You gotta be kiddin' me. At least they have great lemonade (freshly made before your eyes) to make up for that. The game itself was remarkably unspectacular and I spent most the time explaining the game to Melanie and my parents.

After the game we walked back to the hotel, got our cars and headed back to the airport. Mum's suitcase had turned up and we had to pick it up. Also took the chance to exchange our Pontiac Torrent for a Toyota Highlander. Melanie and I kept our Rav4 (although I could have swapped that for a Trailblazer LT) – but we wanted an SUV with a little offroad appeal.

By the time my Mum had collected her suitcase and cashed the check the airline offered, it was 6:30 (and still lots of miles before us)…

Well, we then got on the interstate to Rawlins, WY but by the time we got to the Fort Collins area, we were so hungry that we had to make a stop. And we are so glad we did. We found a small restaurant on the main street of Fort Collins. They served Spanish food and it was a revelation. The best European style food I have ever had in the US.

Back on the Interstate we quickly reached Cheyenne, WY. It was dark already and then we turned on I-80 and our GPS unit just said "Stay on I-80 for 140 miles". Nice. At least the speed limit is 75mph, so that you actually get to cover some ground… Still we did not arrive until after midnight.

BTW: Rawlins' elevation is about 2300m and we had to cross a pass at nearly 3000m to get there…