Tuesday, February 28, 2012

LV, NV - Museums

Colder today and we’re ready for some museums. And, yes, Las Vegas does have some museums, the major one is the Nevada State Museum located in a new area called the Springs Preserve. This is in the heart of the city and is where Las Vegas began. If you want to relate the history of any town, area or state in the Desert Southwest, you’ve got to concentrate on water and it certainly is true with Las Vegas too. This area is called the Springs Preserve because - get this - it is where the springs were located. Here is where prehistoric tribes settled, through here Spanish conquistadors and traders made their way from Sante Fe to Los Angeles, through here the railroad built a line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles followed by Interstate 15 and finally, here is where the early settlers built their homes and ranches. All because there was what most thought was plentiful water, an ‘inexhaustible supply’ said brochures luring settlers to this place.

The Springs Preserve, built in 2005 and owned and operated by the Las Vegas Water District, is 180 acres composed of several museums, a large open desert historical area around which there are several trails, meeting rooms, a large outdoor theater, a playground a wetlands area, some botanical gardens and other facilities. We wanted to see the springs and the history around them along with the Nevada State Museum.

Expecting showers in the afternoon, we started out visit on the trails, natch, and walked around the Preserve viewing pit houses of the prehistoric settlers, the cabin of the water caretaker and the old spring house.

The Preserve is built around where these springs used to be. And ‘used to be’ is the operative phrase because they are no more. This ‘inexhaustible supply of water was soon exhausted and the citizens had to find other sources if they were to survive. Firstly they built wells and there were several model water wells within sight here and then this pictures showed how the citizens of Las Vegas treated their inexhaustible supply of water. And, they wondered why they ran out of water.
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They also hired a caretaker to monitor the water supply to protect it from vandals. There were still some remnants of the caretakers home built in the early part of the 20th century, a chimney and a shed where the families kept chickens.
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While we were walking along the trails, we noticed a particular type of scat that we had not noticed before. We asked a museum curator who was also out for a walk what it was and she told us it was fox. She also told us that she only knew that because when the museum was being built, the resident fox, displeased with the incursion into his territory, deposited a lot of this scat on the sidewalks around the building. Cute, huh?

After we had walked around the trails viewing the wells, the old pump house, the caretakers home and some remnants of pit homes where the original inhabitants lived we moved inside to the museum. Here the displays really stressed the importance of water and how much has been used in the growth of Las Vegas. First a graph of the growth. Isn’t this amazing? look how the population took off after WWII.
Next a display of how much water has been used each decade to further this growth.
The colorful part is the growth of population by decade since 1950. The blue cylinder represents the water usage during each of these decades.

There was also a slot canyon that you could stand in on a platform and a flash flood flowed all around you. It was pretty dramatic and designed to impart a lesson. First the thunder, then the lights blinked to imitate lightening, then the water appeared around a large rock in front of us and began to build. It splashed as it grew and thundered down the canyon below us. Of course, we got a few splashes but nothing like being in a slot canyon during a real flash flood.

Then we wandered into the actual Nevada History Museum to be greeted by their resident mammoth.
I was impressed with the size of the Icthyosaur bones they had high on the wall above us. I’m not sure what kind of bait you’d use to catch this but I know you’d need a strong line to reel him in. This species was at least 25’ long.
This museum had loads of info about the growth of settlement in Nevada, the Native Americans, the miners, the railroaders, the Mormons, the ranchers and finally a room devoted to the 50’s and the growth of Nevada as an entertainment center. We watched some old clips of the Rat Pack with Sinatra, Lawford, Davis, Bishop and Martin clowning and singing, and there was a neat display of the costume head pieces worn by the showgirls in the 60’s. Imagine wearing one of these to work.
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Finally, we realized it was 4:00 and time to leave. We had seen and learned a lot about he history of Nevada. Well worth our time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

LV, NV - Valley of Fire State Park

How many of you traveled out to Valley of Fire State Park when you hit Las Vegas? If you haven’t yet, do it the next time you’re in town. it is a stunner and I’ve got some pictures that I think prove my point. Most people have been to Red Rocks Park which is on the western edge of the Las Vegas. That is where we hiked on the 23rd. But we’ve been told by people who have camped there that Valley of Fire is even more colorful and we’ve just got to check it out.

Shirley and Jerry are going with us and we all began at breakfast at one of the local casinos. I had asked around the campground about places to eat and had heard that this casino had the best breakfast buffet and only $4.99 - with a player’s card. Since I had told Jerry and Shirley this and they had already gotten the players card, we sailed right in. And, it sure was a full buffet: scrambled eggs, omletes, quiche, waffles, bacon, ham, a myriad of rolls and danish, potatoes, hash, biscuits and gravy, lots of fresh fruit, you name it, they had it. We rolled out of there.

Now,  remember our little jaunt on the 24th/ our friend Jerry likes the off roads. We no sooner had gotten out of town when he spied a dirt road off to the side and, whoosh, we were on it bouncing and jouncing over the rocks. We had no idea where it went but we were enjoying the colorful cliffs around us and just the thrill of the ride. Here we are at one of the smoothest parts of the road wondering where we are.
Then we turned around and headed back to the highway for the road to Valley of Fire. This park is about an hour northeast of Las Vegas via two routes: Interstate 15 and the Lake Mead National Rec. Area Northshore Drive. Interstate 15 is a typical desert drive and a good way to get back to Vegas when you just want to get back. If you want to enjoy the drive, the Northshore drive is the way to go. It gives you some glimpses of Lake Mead but also takes you through some fabulous rock formations. We took the Northshore drove to get to the park and Interstate 15 to get back. However you get there, the scenery you drive through does not prepare you for the stunning colors and formations you’ll see in the park. It’s like an unopened flower. Pretty on the outside but when the flower opens - stunning.
The colors of the rocks are stunning, ranging from mauves to reds to yellows, to oranges and all colors in between. And the shapes of the rocks only add to the beauty. Here is a rock shaped like a sitting elephant. Gary is standing under the trunk of the elephant.
The road through the park is part of the Arrowhead trail which we were on when we were driving into Las Vegas.
To accommodate all those traveling along this road to Los Angeles or just to see this area, the CCC built cabins off to the side for travelers to stay in. Here are 3 of them.
All were the size of a small motel room but look at the view they had out their front window and door. Worth the trip I’d say.
And, here is one of the touring cars visiting the park. Small kids, poor roads, no services, what intrepid travelers these early car buffs were.
We stopped at every turnoff, we took every road and we took loads of pictures. We had a great time. We all enjoyed the rainbow of colors and the myriad of rock shapes throughout the park. It is amazing what nature can do
Obviously the red rock formations are the inspiration for the name Valley of Fire. It began 150 million years ago as sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs. Huge lakes depressed the sand into solid layers which then have undergone uplifting, folding, erosion and faulting. Here’s a good example of how the forces shaped the rock.
Prehistoric people lived in this valley and there are various examples of their rock art throughout the park.
Here are some other formations that we saw in the park. Say, who is that little creature peering over a rock on the left?
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Next time you’re in Vegas, take a side trip out side to see the Valley of Fire.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

LV, NV - Trifecta: The Red Mt., The Black Mt, and the Tunnel Trails

Here it is, the 7th day of our stay in Las Vegas and we’ve only been into a casino to eat the breakfast butter.

Vegas is a draw for many things:

        some come for the shopping

        some come for the shows

        some come for the lounging around the pool

        some come for the casinos

Gary and I - we come for the hiking. How many of you knew that Vegas was a hiking mecca? Well, one only has to look around - Vegas is surrounded by mountains.

We had planned to spend today inside trying to catch up on our lives. We can’t just tour and hike every day, sometimes we need to do bookkeeping, housecleaning, e-mails, laundry, shopping and all those little tasks that need to be done. However, the temperature is supposed to reach 74 today and reach only 54 and 56 on Monday and Tuesday. What would you do? Stay inside and look out on a sunny, warm, beautiful day and wait until a 56 degree day to go outside to hike? Nope, not us.

We’ve checked some websites and have a good list of hikes in the area and have chosen 2: the Bootleg Canyon up to the Black Mountain and the Red Mountain hike and the Tunnel hike. Bootleg Canyon is in Boulder City and from the trailhead, you can see the trail going up to a saddle with Red Mountain on the left with the antennas, the zip lines and the bike trails. Black Mountain is on the right.
It was a thoroughly delightful day for hiking and we met several others on their way up and some, who had started long before we had, on their way down. It was one of those days when you couldn’t ask for anything better: it was sunny but not too hot and it was just breezy enough to cool you down on a hot hike. Across the desert floor we hiked and soon found ourselves facing Bootleg Canyon with the saddle high above us in the middle.

Originally the CCC has built the trail in the 1930’s but it had fallen into disrepair until many in Boulder City decided to repair it and restore it to its original glory. One of the trademarks of the CCC was the stone work it put into trails and we saw some examples of this today. We saw steps and retaining walls. Another trade mark of the CCC was the use of switchbacks which make the climb easier. I’m all for ‘easier.’
We chose to hike to Black Mountain first and then up Red Mountain for lunch. Red Mountain not only has lots of antennas but also several zip-lining wires and a start for a swift downhill mountain biking course. By 12:30 we were on Red Mountain and I was positioning myself for pictures - just in time for a group of zip liners and a group of mountain bikers. Good timing. ow, of course, I’m not a professional nor do I have professional equipment. And the action today was pretty fast but I tried my best to capture it for our memories. And, do they ever whiz past.

Look at the line they take through the rocks.
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There is a wooden platform about 2’ high at the top of the hill with a ramp attached to it. Sometimes the bikers ride for time and start on this ramp to give them extra speed as they charge down the hill.

There were 4 couples on the zip lines. They sign up at the bottom of the hill, get their equipment and their first lessons and then are brought up the hill in a van. Then - they get to carry their equipment up the last part of the hill to the lines. They got hooked up to the lines, practiced their final instructions and were sent down the line to the next small knob where they stopped and waited for the whole group to get there. Then they finished their run down the next line - a much longer run. Short run to get the hang of it and then a longer run to enjoy it.

Here are two couples all lined up and getting their final instructions.
The views were amazing from the top of both Red and Black Mountains. However, neither today nor the previous day when we hiked in the Red Rocks did we have a clear day. Is it the smog around this city or is it the dust in the air? Another hiker who was a that top with us told us that most people think that the air around Las Vegas is clear because it is so dry. Wrong - there are generally particulates in it, dust particles from all the desert which surround the city. Interesting.

We returned to the car and decided that it was time for an ice cream cone. Going to the IPhone, we typed in ‘ice cream’ and found Grandma Daisy’s in Bounder City, just a short drive up the hill. Nice little store which also had some yummy-looking home made chocolates. Unfortunately Grandma Daily and Aunt Tulip were the only two working on this busy warm Saturday and they were petty busy. The ‘Help Wanted’ sign on the front door told us why. Sitting outside eating our ice cream on a warm day with other tourists milling about - perfect.
By the way, Boulder City, built for the workers on the Hoover Dam, is the only Nevada City without gambling in its city limits.

Then we decided to finish the hike we had started on the 21st, only this time we are taking the next trailhead closer to the tunnels and starting there. We get smarter as we age. We parked at the correct trailhead, along with about 30 other cars. As we were getting ready to start a large family group of 3 generations started down the trail ahead of us. There were about 12 of them and they had food bags, obviously going to eat along the trail.

This trail was level, a nice change from the morning trails. And, the views were superb. Lake Mead was incredibly blue, the boats carving trails in its surface as they came back to the marina for the night. In back was the desert with mountains towering over it. The tunnels were fun and we enjoyed the hike along the old railroad bed reading all of the historical plaques as we went.
But we tried to imagine building these tunnels, through volcanic rock with jackhammers drilling, dust swirling around them in searing temperatures. Oh, and did I mention the falling rocks? But, drill they did and in 1931, working round the clock, they completed drilling all 5 tunnels in the tunnels in 5 months. These tunnels were in use until 1961 and in 1962, the rails were sold as scrap. If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Gauntlet’ with Clint Eastwood, you’ve seen these tunnels during a motorcycle chase. In 1984 the trail was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Here’s more about those falling rocks. As we all know necessity is the mother of invention and the cloth hats that the men wore to protect their heads against the sun were no match for the falling volcanic rock. Thus, both the men who worked on the tunnels and the men who worked on the bridge, fearful of falling objects, used to dip their cloth hats in tar, let them harden and then wear them that way. This is the origin of ‘hard hats.’ Six Companies, which managed the construction, ordered thousands of what were called ‘hard boiled hats’ and the rest is history.

At one spot we learned about Ragtown, the spontaneous community founded by men and families who worked on the Hoover Dam. It is the flat section near Lake Mead in the picture below. Because it was so close to the future Dam site, men crowded into it hoping to get a job working on the Dam. It was below the railroad tracks and, though it looks as if it is on the lake’s edge, before the Dam was built, they had to walk a ways to get to the Colorado River to wash clothing, bathe and get water for their other needs.
The water was filled with sediment and not good for drinking or cooking. Milk had to be trucked in and refrigeration was almost nonexistent.
Most people lived in tents, cardboard boxes, tin scraps and what ever they could find to serve as shelter and in the summer temperatures with swirling dust, life was extremely harsh. In 1931, there were 30 straight days where the temperature did not get below 100 and the high was 138. Over 25 men, women and children died during that first summer. Eventually Ragtown swelled to 5000 men, women and children. Winter was equally harsh.
Getting food and other supplies was extremely difficult since none of these people had any transportation. However, there was a store in Ragtown owned by Murl Emery and his wife. They sold goods on the credit system. If you could pay, you did and if you could not, you were given credit until you could. With wages on the Dam at 50 cents per hour, many needed credit. One woman in her memoirs said that he actually told people to pay what they thought the item was worth. Sometimes goods came in so fast that he did not have time to put the price on an item and told people to pay what they had paid the last time they had bought it. The story is that only one many failed to pay his debt to the Emerys - and he was dead.
Emery was a lifesaver to the people of Ragtown but there is more to his story. He was a great river man having learned about the Colorado River from his father. He figured out how to navigate the river when it was extremely low by putting a big airplane propeller on the back. Maybe some of you have ridden in a boat like this on the Everglades.

The end of the trail was the parking ramp at the Dam. We were tired since we had been hiking most of the day but a goal is a goal and we were determined.
Finally, we were looking over the parking ramp at the Dam and it was time to turn back. The sun had fallen behind the mountains and dusk was coming on.

At the end of the hike, we found that the large family group was in the two trucks behind us in the parking lot. As we were changing shoes, one of the women in the group looked over, and, remembering us from several hours ago, laughed and stated that we much be real hikers. ‘How many miles did you two do?’ she asked. We laughed and told her that she didn’t want to know, that it was more than we had planned. Then she and her husband walked up to us and said: ‘We’re from Iowa.’ Yeah, right. No, actually they were: Jose and Manuela from Muscatine who moved there in 1969. They are staying with their son in Las Vegas for the winter months.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

LV, NV - From Bridges to Chocolates

One of the great sights around the Las Vegas area and sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world is the Hoover Dam. Built back in the 30’s, it has helped control the Colorado River which varied between flood and drought for the agricultural lands below and it also provides electricity for the region. We had visited the Dam several years before but a new bridge has been added to the mix and we wanted to see that now.

A bit of background first. There was a roadway across the Hoover Dam which connected Arizona and Nevada and was the main link between Phoenix and Las Vegas. On the Arizona side this roadway consisted of several tight switchbacks which had to be negotiated by semis, RV’s and all other vehicles. Once the vehicles had gotten through the switchbacks, they came to the dam covered by tourists wandering to and fro as tourists do. When we were here several years ago, we saw this traffic jam first hand. Lines of traffic on the switchbacks, tourists meandering across the Dam, traffic backed up. It was a real mess.

In 2001, for security at a major US facility, trucks were diverted south to another route for a 75-mile detour. No one was happy. Obviously a bypass bridge was needed. The first study recommending a bypass was written in 1968, and over the years, 27 more studies followed. Yet it wasn't until March 2001 that the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan.

Funding divided between several US Government agencies, Nevada and Arizona, the bridge was named after a Nevada Governor, Mike O’Callaghan and an Arizona hero, Pat Tillman. Actually he is from Arizona but he is an American hero.

        It is a signature bridge which is the longest and highest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere.

        It is the world’s highest concrete arch bridge.

        It is America’s second highest bridge and 14th in the world.

        It has the world’s tallest concrete columns of their kind.

BUT - it is a magnificent bridge and it complements the classic Hoover Dam well. The curve of the arch in the bridge mirrors the curve in the dam. And, whereas the dam is a massive structure, the bridge is light and airy. Finally, the best view of the dam is from the bridge and the best view of the bridge is from the dam.
And, here’s the best part: there is a pedestrian walkway on the Dam side of the bridge across the entire span almost to the Arizona side of the canyon. And, what marvelous views you can get from that height of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River below, and the mountains beyond. What a thrill.

Several years ago, Gary and I took a kayak trip down the Colorado River putting in below the Hoover Dam and ending at Willow Beach, several miles down stream. When we were put in to the river we could paddle up to the barriers and look up at the Hoover Dam. It was magnificent and what an interesting perspective.

Today we could look down on it and it was just as magnificent.
The view from driving over the bridge is not as complete since the guard rails are fairly high. (As an RV’er, I like high guard rails. There is noting so eerie as driving over a bridge and being so high up that you can’t see the guard rails.)

We walked over the bridge, we stood and gazed at the Hoover Dam and we marveled at the workmanship and engineering that both entailed. Here are Shirley, Jerry and Gary in the middle of the pedestrian walkway.
Then we walked over the Dam to look at the bridge. It was superb and a complement to the Dam.
Then we got back into the car and drove over the bridge to the other side to see what kind of views we could get from there. Not many but we did find an off-road that Jerry, our driver loves to take. Who knows where it leads but that is part of the excitement in taking what we call a ‘Jerry’ road. This mostly one lane road led us around hills, down into gullies, back up other hills and finally our views opened up and - there was an RV with a truck parked off to the side and someone reading a book, a stone bathroom, and a beach for Lake Mead in front of us.
Here also were 3 scuba divers just emerging from the water. No, not above, that's Shirley, Jerry and Gary.

Isn’t that what always happens? You think you’re on the road to nowhere and at the end are other people. We chatted a bit then noticed these across the way: a herd of big horned sheep. I like the name tag on the one to the right - looks like he’s ready for his convention. All he needs is a briefcase.
But we have one more stop, the Ethel M. Candy Factory, named after Ethel Mars who with her husband founded of Mars Bar Candy Company.

Here we saw huge kettles where peanut brittle is made
a worker sifting what we think is toasted coconut on top of some round white chocolates,
another worker unfolding some chocolates and pouring them into a large box,
and learned a little bit about the history of chocolate. The Mayans called cocoa beans the ‘Food of the Gods’ while the Aztecs crushed them and made a drink out of them called”xocolatl’ meaning ‘warm liquid.’ In 1502 Columbus then took some back for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who regarded them as little more than a curiosity. Things really got rolling when Cortez realized the potential added a bit of cane sugar and such flavors as cinnamon and vanilla, called it Chocolatl and introduced it to the wealthy back in Europe. The rest is sweet history.

While we were too late to actually see them making much chocolate, we were not too late to get a sample.

By this time it was time to head home to savor our exciting day full of variety.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

LV, NV - A Three-Fer: Keystone Thrust, La Madre Springs and La Madre Loop

Three hikes in one day? Well, actually the plan was for a circle hike but then we saw two enticing branches heading off of the circle and took them for awhile before we turned back. Las Vegas is a glitzy city of millions with millions of tourists arriving yearly. However, within 5 miles of the city is a neat natural area called the Red Rock Canyon along the east side of the Spring Mountains. Here you can hike, rock climb, take the 13-mile scenic road, picnic and/or just sit and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Several years ago we saw a herd of Big Horn sheep while we hiked.

There is also an area called the Keystone Thrust which extends for quite a few miles but is most dramatic in the park. Geologists come from all over the world to study this area and we’ve actually gone on websites for colleges in the East which have posted papers written on this area. Here’s a diagram which shows what happens and puts it into a way even I can understand. Here there are 2 tectonic plates which have slid past each other such that now, older rock layers are on top of younger rock layers. On the right are the younger layers and on the left are the older rock layers. Note how the brown layer on the left is way above the brown layer on the right.
What’s so special about this? Well, mostly this happens miles down under the earth’s crust. Here, in the Keystone Thrust, you can actually see it with your own eyes.

But back to the hike. We drove the scenic drive for 2/3 of the way around, turned off and began in a picnic area down this road. Most of the area around Vegas is rocky desert but here you can find riparian areas watered by the snow melting off the peaks in the background. Trees, shrubs and other plants surround the trail and make for a neat experience. 1/4 of the way around, we saw the La Madre Springs trail heading off to the left. Only .55 miles. Gary asks: ‘what’s one more mile?’ Not much so off we headed. We found the Springs which was a small pool with audible running water but also found a small trail close to it heading up the creek. And, guess who followed the creek? Gary Boone headed off to find the ‘source’ of the running water and up we went. I looked up, saw the mountains ahead of us and told him where the source was. ‘I’ve found the source’, I told him. Nope, he wanted to ‘find’ the source and on we went. Through brush, around boulders, stepping on small stones on the creek to get to the other side, we made our way upwards.
Finally Boone realized that we would probably climb to the top of the mountains ahead of us, miss the Keystone Thrust and he decided to turn back. Whew. Back down the trail, back to the original trail and onwards.
Very nice trail and I’ve got a picture of the valley that it winds its way through. Note all the greenery. At one spot, we were able to sit in the shade to eat our lunch, a rare occurrence in the desert.
Then we hit the Keystone Thrust trail and we took it off of the circle trail we were on. Up and over the Hogsback Ridge, around a rocky mound and we then stood on a high rocky cliff looking down onto the Thrust area. Did we know it? Nope. Did we know exactly what the Thrust was? Nope. Would we actually recognize it if we saw it? Nope. Did that deter us? Nope, again.

We wound around the rocky cliff, into the bouldery, brushy creek bed and wound our way down to what we thought the Thrust was. And, actually, we were right on it, it’s where the white rock on the right is being covered by the red rock on the left. Sand covers the actual meeting of the two rocks but you can see where it might occur.

Now, here’s my confession. I can only speak with as much knowledge as I have because I looked it all up AFTER the hike in the evening. Then several days later we found the neat diagram above on another hike which explained it all.
Today, we looked at where we thought the Thrust was and ? is this it? We weren’t sure. It sure didn’t look like 2 tectonic plates. I expected 2 large sheets of rock rubbing against each other. Oh, well.

And then we had to get back. That’s the trick about hiking, sometimes it’s easy to get someplace and much more difficult to get back. Gary wanted to climb up the rocky cliff (which is the reddish rocks behind Gary’s left shoulder in the picture above.) Me, well, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And, since Gary had the plan and I only seemed to stand there and fret, we went up the cliff. And, it wasn’t so bad, in fact it was pretty easy. So much for the fret queen.

But, we were nearing the end of our energy and the rest of the hike was a 3 mile plod. Beautiful country and pretty lush for a desert but we were a bit tired.

As we neared the car we saw these pictographs on a rock in the picnic area.
Finally we reached the car and I expressed the sentiments of both of us.

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