Archive for the ‘road trip’ Category

Lots of driving between Grand Canyon and San Antonio

Monday, February 11th, 2008

I left the Grand Canyon at around 11 AM, and I took the scenic drive down highway 64 before I got back on the major highways. About all I did was drive for the next two days, but it helped me remember that I love driving. At many times I was the only car on the road, and I just get a kick out of being the only car I can see on a major highway. I also discovered something I had never known about speed limits. In much of Arizona and Texas, the speed limit is 80 MPH!! I was surprised enough that Nevada had some 75 MPH limits, but then I saw this for much of AZ and TX:

80 mph

I got from the Grand Canyon to San Antonio in about a day and a half of driving. The landscapes and sunset in New Mexico were pretty (despite my crappy in-car, in-motion photography):

Sunset AZ

And I had never heard of this town in New Mexico either…

Truth or Consequences

I also took a friend’s advice, and when I was driving through New Mexico at night I stopped on the side of the road to look at the stars. It really was remarkable – there were at least three times as many stars visible to the naked eye as normal. It looked like the sky you know, just with freckles and chicken pox. I tried to take some pictures, but they did not turn out at all. In case you don’t believe me, here’s one:

no stars

Other than that, there weren’t really any interesting stops or landmarks between the Grand Canyon and San Antonio. I decided to just press on and keep driving so I could get to my sister’s house in San Antonio by Friday evening. Thanks to the 80 MPH speed limit, I made great time.

THE Texas Experience

My brother-in-law knew I was coming in town as part of my cross-country trip and he really outdid himself at lining up some activities that were fantastic exclusively Texan experiences.

Rudy’s Barbecue – I had been to Rudy’s before, when I had visited San Antonio before, but I knew it was worth another trip. I honestly never liked brisket before I had it at Rudy’s. This place is absolutely no frills, but the barbecue is good enough that they don’t need anything else. You just order the weight and type of meat you want and they serve it on wax paper with a stack of white bread. The brisket is heavenly and the turkey breast is amazingly flavorful. It helps if you have it with a gigantic sweet tea:

Rudy’s Food

They also have a uniquely delicious (albeit misspelled) sause:


Just to make sure you get a feel for the ambiance, this is what you’ll find in the men’s room:


and here’s an obligatory shot of my nephew – I know I’m biased, but I think he’s pretty cute.

nephew @ Rudy’s

and it was at lunch that we learned what the evening’s entertainment was going to be…

Rodeo Ticket

Yeah, that’s right.. the Rodeo. Not only would we get to see the Rodeo and all the Texan culture that the rodeo draws, but there was also a carnival and a livestock show right next door. AND one more surprise to be revealed shortly. First, here’s the scene before we got inside:

carnival 1

Carnival 2

We walked around outside for a while before we went into the Rodeo. One of the big attractions outside was pig racing (called Swifty Swine). They had two of the star pigs in a cage out front, and you could pay to buy some food to feed them, but first you better read this sign:

Swifty Swine

We also wandered among the food stands to find some dinner. For the main course, we went relatively tame with some tacos, but then we followed those up with this:

Fried Snickers

“A corndog?” you say? No. Not a corn dog. Though it did come from this pile:

fried things

But we’ve had corndogs before, and there’s nothing all that special about them. You can get corndogs anywhere. You’ll notice from the bottom sign that this booth also offered a slightly more rare delicacy:

food booth

yup – a battered and deep-fried snickers bar. From the outside it looks just like a corndog, but on the inside it’s quite different:

inside of snickers

That may look disgusting, and I’m sure it is one of the single unhealthiest food items in existence. Still, I must be honest… it was surprisingly very tasty. I had assumed each of us would only have one bite just for the novelty of being able to say we had tried it, but we had little trouble finishing the whole thing. I’m glad that due to geography I won’t often be tempted to try it again.

and on to The Rodeo!!

After that culinary adventure, we proceeded inside to find our seats in time for the rodeo. I made a pit stop at the restroom on the way and got a kick out of how the bathrooms were labeled so I took a picture (despite getting some strange looks):

cowboy bathroom

thankfully, city slickers were also allowed to use the same facilities. I’m not sure what’s going on around his belt line – I think that sign was just damaged.

I had been to a rodeo once before – my last big road trip when I moved from Chicago to San Francisco, we made a stop in Cody, WI. Cody is the rodeo capital of the world, and they have rodeos every night so of course I had to take one in. Still, I could tell this was going to be “the big show” and would have a bit more grandeur than the local show in Cody.

We’re not in San Francisco anymore:

If for any reason I wasn’t abundantly clear that there was a huge cultural chasm between San Francisco and San Antonio, the rodeo drove it home. They started off the festivities with a presentation of flags:

flag parade

Not that San Franciscans would have a problem with this kind of rampant patriotism, but I don’t think most events there would consider it an obligatory part of the intro. They followed the flags with a prayer. I honestly think it’s almost sad that it stood out to me that they prayed – they prayer was pretty non-denominational and I actually thought it was great. Just things like “here’s what we’re thankful for, and here’s what we hope for.” I’m just sure it wouldn’t happen at a public event like this in SF.

I also think PETA would have a lot of problems with some of the events that take place in a rodeo. Here’s a full description of the events that took place, I’ll just comment on a few after the pictures:

bareback riding

This is bareback riding. It looked challenging and was entertaining and I’m OK with it for the most part. The one curiosity is that it looks like they put a strap around the horse’s midsection, and it seems the purpose is to make the horse uncomfortable or unhappy so that he will buck. I did a very very brief internet search and couldn’t find any back-story about how this goes down. Oh well, on to the next event:

calf wrestling

Steer Wrestling: Cowboy jumps off horse, grabs steer by the horns, then grabs the muzzle to try to flip the steer over. Fastest time is best. Looks challenging and uncomfortable to the steer, but MMA has taught me that many uncomfortable-looking things don’t really do much damage. I’m sure the steers can handle it.


Tie-down roping – yeah, it’s about what you’d expect. The craziest part is that the lasso that goes around the calf’s neck is attached to the horse’s saddle. Once the calf is lassoed, the horse knows to back up – to keep the rope tight. Crazy.

bull riding

Bull Riding – probably the most famous rodeo event. As this (crappy) picture shows, sometimes the bull wins. Just in case things get hairy, the do still have rodeo clowns to distract the bull if needed:


All in all, the rodeo was good entertainment and a great Texas experience. The one major shortcoming is that I’m very VERY allergic to horses, and even in the 31st row, I started to have a hard time with my allergies. Luckily I planned head and before things got dire my Claritin started kicking in.

The Big Surprise

As I alluded above, the rodeo wasn’t all that was in store for us that night. Each night that the rodeo was in town ended with a concert. We hit the jackpot… at the conclusion of the rodeo Lynyrd Skynyrd took the stage!!! Check it out

circular stage 1

a circular stage was brought in by tractor

skynyrd 1

the band rocked as the stage rotated

skynyrd 2

The jumbo-tron shows that the (not-the-original) lead singer looks old and rough.

I have to say, this was not the most energetic concert I’ve seen in a while, and maybe only 50% of the audience were big skynyrd fans, but it still was a fun show. I knew nearly every song they played, and of course they closed with a long version of Freebird. I can add to my life’s list of boasts that I’ve seen a live rendition of Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Overall, I couldn’t have hoped for much more out of my visit to San Antonio. Again thanks to my brother-in-law for lining up the festivities. As if that wasn’t enough, he took me out on Sunday afternoon to see the Alamo and the Riverwalk:


The Alamo (that guy on the step ladder was also preaching about Jesus to no one in particular – a nice touch)

The Riverwalk

The Riverwalk.

I had planned on leaving San Antonio on Monday morning, but I got a late start, and the weather was crappy, and I was behind on my blog. Besides, it’s nice to be around family and I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere.

What’s Next? I am heading out in the morning tomorrow for New Orleans. And this time I really do have to go because I already got a fantastic deal on – I’ll be staying at the W in the French Quarter for about 50% of their normal asking price. Hooray for hotwire and hooray for me 🙂 I’ll let you know how things go in New Orleans.

Back to the Grand Canyon

Monday, February 11th, 2008

When I took the helicopter ride, I thought maybe it would get the Grand Canyon checked off my “to do” list for my road trip. That one little taste, however, was not enough. It’s just such an amazing place I had to go spent a little longer and get a better look. I had also heard that it’s a very different experience depending on which part you’re visiting. The helicopter had taken us to the West Rim, and that’s maybe the least popular of the three choices. I was driving to the South Rim (as the North Rim is closed this time of year). But let’s start with the Drive…

Hoover Dam

hoover dam

True, I had already flown over the Hoover Dam, and honestly it might have been cooler from that vantage point. Still, it was directly on the way from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, so I figured I might as well check it out again. It think if I had spent longer at the visitor center I could have learned a lot more about the history, but I didn’t have time for that. One cool fact is that the Hoover Dam lies right on the state line between Nevada and Arizona. There is also a time zone change between these two states, so they make you aware of that as you’re going over the bridge with these two clocks:

NV Time AZ Time

Route 66 – I opted to do about 60 miles of my drive on historic Route 66. It was boring. I don’t understand the hype.

The rest of the drive to the Grand Canyon was very pretty, but I got there late at around 9:30 PM. I don’t recommend arriving at night. Especially if it has been snowing. There are no streetlights and hard to find your way around (even with a GPS). I didn’t have a reservation anywhere, but figured since now is kind of the off-season that I shouldn’t have a problem finding a place. Unfortunately, the places right on the rim didn’t have any appealing options available (I didn’t want so share a bathroom), so I wound up here:

Lodge in GC

“What time is sunrise?” When I checked in, I asked this question… I can’t remember the last time I have ever asked that question, but it seemed like it would be a great time to see the Grand Canyon. It also would help me get an early start on my day so I could get back on the road and head on to my next stop.

Hurry up Sun!!! It was COLD at 7 AM (1 degree to be exact), and I wasn’t really prepared for that cold. My body was actually pretty comfortable, but anything that was exposed to the air was drained of all warmth immediately. The most difficult thing was trying to take picture (I had no gloves). I probably arrived to the first lookout point at 7:15 AM, but the sky was already lighting up. I felt like I was racing to get to my post before the sun actually rose (sunset was on the books for 7:24). Well, that 9 minutes felt like an eternity, and I was so cold I was actually cursing the sun for taking so long. It made it a little bit hard to actually enjoy the sunrise, but hopefully having the pictures to reminisce will make up for the discomfort at the time. Here are some of the best shots I got:

sunrise 1

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 3

Sunrise 4

Sunrise 5

I took a LOT more pictures, but I figure you get the gist pretty quickly. It is literally a breathtaking place, especially when it’s so freezing cold. I ate breakfast and then took a couple more pictures at various pit-stop vantage points:

GC 1

GC 2

Maybe I’ll upload my entire album of GC photos somewhere and add a link here if you’re curious to see them all. I only spent the morning at the Grand Canyon for two reasons 1) when you’re just looking, that’s about how long it takes to get a sense of the scenery, and 2) I really felt compelled to come back and hike around in the Grand Canyon someday (when it’s warm), so I added it to my life’s “to do” list and resolved to come back.

Interesting Signs: There were also a couple of good signs at the GC which I got a kick out of:

Watch out Bikers!!

Mule Crossing

I also thought this was a very curious bit of vandalism. Seems like someone holds a grudge against this guy. I hope you can read the text. I believe the redacted word is “prudent.”

Curious Vandalism

Japanese Tourists –> Random thought While I was driving to different vantage points, at one stop I walked past some Tourists which I presumed were Japanese. I gave them a brief friendly “hi” as I passed. Then it just occurred to me that “hi” sounds just like “hai” – Japanes for “yes.” I’m sure they understood me, but I would think it would be nice to visit a country where everyone greeted you by saying “yes.” It would feel good to get that kind of affirmation all day. Random thought, I know. If I were on my other computer I’d post a link to “Yes” by Morphine to help make my point, but I’m not. Maybe later.  (later is now, here’s the song – Yes )

On the iPod: As I mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of road trips is getting to spend some quality time with my iPod. On the way to Vegas, I just listened on Shuffle for most of the day, which is fine and good but I can do that any time. The next couple days I decided to focus on listening to whole albums, and now seemed like as good of a time as any to go back and revisit some of my all time favorites. I listened to Gish and Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins and was reminded that they really did used to be an awesome band despite what the turned into. I also listened to Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction, and this album also has withstood the test of time well.

My favorite re-discovery though might have been Liz Phair. I listened to Whip Smart, but only after I listened to Exile in Guyville while the sun was setting on my way into the Grand Canyon. What an awesome album this is. This was back before Liz really knew how to sing, and that is absolutely what makes the album charming. Specifically I had forgotten about the song “Flower” – I can’t think of any other song like it. The guitar riff it’s built on is plenty unique in its minimalism, but lyrically it has no peers. It’s just a vivid description about a very sexual crush she has on some guy. When I first heard it, I simply didn’t think girls ever thought about things like that… and she makes the song credible. In her later albums she lost all of her street cred, and she tried to do a “flower pt. II” with her song “HWC,” but that seemed phony and contrived. But at least we will always have the original.

Audiobooks: I’ve also been dabbling in audiobooks (I do have a LOT of time in the car). The first one I listened to was “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I don’t have any idea how this wound up on my “to read” list, but somehow it did. It’s about a Christian guy and his struggles with Christianity and Spirituality. It was good because it was honest, and the guy talks about all his problems with the church and his doubts, but his persistent desire to have religion and spirituality. It was good, but not fantastic. I’m glad I listened to it, but it didn’t rock my world.

4 Hour Workweek – I was curious about this one so I’ve listened to about 2 of the 6 hours. It’s interesting, but the tone is very pompous and “look at me and all I’ve done.” Still, it has made some good and interesting points that I should consider as I look for my next career move.

The Year of Living Biblically – by A.J. Jacobs. It had not been my intent to have my audio books focus around religious themes, but I think this one was on Amazon’s best of 2007 and the premise made me curious. The book is about a man who tried to take everything in the bible as literally as possible and obey all of its rules for a year. I’m only about a third of the way through it (he’s on the second month of his year), and it’s pretty interesting and entertaining. I’m looking forward to finishing it.


On to Texas:Phew, that post wound up being longer than I intended. In my next one I’ll talk about my trek to Texas and my fantastically Texan adventures.

Vegas part III

Monday, February 11th, 2008

After the Grand Canyon tour, I had to hurry back to my hotel room and head right back out to get to the Cirque du Soliel show. I had three to choose from: KA, Zumanity, and Love. As I understand it, KA is pretty much your standard Cirque show, Zumanity is their “sensual” take on cirque du soliel, and Love is the Beatles-themed show. I would have liked to have seen O, but it wasn’t playing on Tuesday. I chose Love – the Beatles tribute show.

The show was at the Mirage, and shortly after walking in I realized they do a really good job of getting you excited about the show. The whole section of the hotel that’s near the theater is Beatles-themed. Everyone who was a ticket-taker or an usher was dressed thematically. The women were dressed as meter maids, and the men looked like the Beefeater guards. While I was getting excited on the walk in, I actually started to worry I might not be a big enough Beatles fan. I worried that I might not get all of the references in the show. And I took a class in college on (Beethoven and) The Beatles. I think in the end this wasn’t too much of a concern, but I did think the show wound up being a mixed bag:

The good – at its high points it was the best of Cirque du Soliel and the best of the Beatles. Absolutely amazing gymnastic-type feats set to great energetic music. Many portions of the show were just undeniably fun. I think my two favorite parts were when they had rollerbladers criss-crossing across two half-pipes, and when the put 4 trampolines in the floor and just jumped all around the stage. Also, there are several very attractive and very talented ladies in the show. I seem to remember this being the case in other Cirque shows I’ve seen before 🙂

The bad – my least favorite parts of the show just felt like modern dance set to Beatles songs. I’m not that into dance, and these parts of the show lacked the grandiosity that made the others so fun. Also, as far as I could tell there was no live music – just the remixes of Beatles songs. They were cool, but nothing beats live in my book.

Still, overall I’d say it was a great experience and I would recommend it to who is a fan of either the Beatles or Cirque du Soliel. My sister, however, would hate it. Here’s one picture of the stage from before things started (I couldn’t take pictures during the show):

Cirque stage

If you watched the Oscars last night, there was a performance from LOVE on there.


Dinner at Nobu – There’s a Nobu Japanese restaurant in the Hard Rock, and I think I went there about 7 years ago and remembered liking it a lot. My busy night continued as I left the show at the mirage and headed back for dinner. It was again really good and (not surprisingly) really expensive. I remembered their yellowtail & jalapeno appetizer, and it was just as good as I remembered. I also tried a new kind of sushi I’d never had before (at the chef’s recommendation) called Opaka paka, which he said is a Hawiian pink snapper. It was fantastic!

More Gambling – The only games I played were blackjack and 3 card poker. I only won money at blackjack. Here was my high point, cashing out with $600. Unfortunately I didn’t retire at that point. Let’s not talk about my overall net for the trip.

I left the next morning after a little more gambling. I had a great time overall, and I think the rule of thumb in Vegas is to blow it out for up to 48 hours, then get out. If you stay longer than that, it starts to wear on you.

Best Marketing Ever? I’m not sure I’d ever go to this club, but I commend their creativity in this variation on “lady’s night” (read the pink text)


and a couple more cool details from the Hard Rock:

HRH Ashtray

All of the elevators have (loosely) elevator-related lyrics quoted in them:

Elevator 2

Love in an Elevator

That’s it for Vegas. I headed out mid-morning for a prolonged in-person visit to the Grand Canyon. More on that in the next post.