Last day of 2009

December 31st, 2009 , 21:45

And last update from Death Valley – our internet connection runs out this evening and we’ll be out trying to get photos of the full moon. So next update will probably be 2 January.

Definitely a rest day. Woke up around 5.30 but decided I didn’t want to be awake so went back to sleep until about 8. Then slowly up, had coffee in bed and discussed the day. Went out to get breakfast and do our souvenir shopping, then back to the room to get ready for the day. Well, Joe wanted to do his photos and do some uploading and I wanted to check on some stuff for our next leg, and bits and pieces and the blog!

We’ll get out in a bit and walk around the Furnace Creek area. We’ve been staying here but have only really seen it in the dark! So today is hunt the roadrunner day (without the aide of an Acme catalogue though) and look for other wildlife. As we haven’t seen loads because we really haven’t been stopping for it.

So far we’ve seen: a small rodent run across the front of the car in the pre-dawn (possibly a kangaroo rat?), ravens, say phoebes, mountain bluebirds (stunning shade of blue), salt creek pupfish, loggerhead shrike, brewer’s blackbirds, rock wren, possibly a mountain chickadee, and house sparrows. But we’ve mainly been admiring scenery.

Tonight we’ll try to get out to get photos of the full moon rising and possibly moon photos of the dunes, badlands, and salt flats. We have another full day tomorrow looking at what we’ve missed so far, but only those bits we can get to in a VW Beetle. Then on the 2nd we’re off to San Diego where we’ll go on a whale watching trip and then spend the rest of the day looking at the city.

Tips for Death Valley – pay attention to the information given. Don’t walk off provided paths – there are actually very very very few marked paths so the ones that are marked are marked for a reason. Stay on them. You have the rest of the park to explore off path. Take water and all that other stuff they recommend. Stuff they don’t say – there are toilets at all the main stops off the paved roads. They are dry drop toilets with no water – of course – so take hand sanitiser. There is none provided. Take loo roll, we’ve only seen one toilet without but it does happen. If you go on the back roads there are no toilets, and not much to hide behind. Be prepared for the temperature differences between areas. Distances are further than they look and climbs may be higher than they first appear.

Have a wonderful new year’s eve (except those who celebrated at UK time in which case Happy New Year!)

Vroom Vroom

December 31st, 2009 , 3:32

Up before dawn again and out on the road by 6. Stopped for a few photos but mainly just went for Racetrack Road. Saw several different ecologies on the drive up to the Playa – started with the usual salt tolerant plants, then a few cacti and a few more, then the yucca trees, then back to scrub and rock. In fact, it looked like there couldn’t be a playa out there, until you round a corner and it shows up below you. Still quite a long drive away!

We drove all the way to the south and then walked all the way across the playa looking at the various rocks and tracks. And I still don’t like people. There are signs all over saying not to walk on the playa when it’s wet as the footprints will stay there for years. It also messes up some of the work the geologists are doing. So what do you see? Loads of footprints. And loads of rock tracks leading to nothing as the rock has been taken. Usually by some idiot that thinks the rock is magic. A few of these get posted back to the Visitor’s Centre as the person then believes they’ve got bad karma. Of course, the Visitor’s Centre has no idea where the rocks have come from so they now have a nice stack of rocks behind the centre! We made sure we left no footprints and stayed out there for about an hour and half looking at the rocks and taking photos. Nifty place.

We then drove out and saw the Ubehebe Crater, but didn’t stop because 1) it was packed and 2) we wanted to drive Titus Canyon. So off to Beatty for petrol. Beatty was interesting, but not really a place to stay and visit. Once fueled we were off to Titus Canyon.

Now a ranger told me that Titus was a better drive than Racetrack, much easier and better for people who haven’t really driven four wheel drive. He lied. The beginning was very easy and I was wondering why it was one way. We found out why. It was a beautiful drive and I’d recommend it, but be aware that it goes over a pass. A narrow, steep, with a huge drop to one side and a block of pure stone on the other and a gutted, bumpy, rocky (huge rocks) road, with the occasional area of ice and snow. Not ideal for a novice four wheel driver. However, there were fewer people attempting the drive in their street car.

Red Pass is beautiful (well, Joe said it was, I was watching the road). And it is named properly- bright red rock and mud. It twisted it’s way up and down with beautiful green rock mountains behind and bright green plants growing among the red. It then evens out and you come to Leadfield, a ghost town. There are three corrugated iron buildings there, in ruins, and you can walk up to the mine entrance. Another drive along and you come to a rock with some Indian petroglyphs. Then the canyon narrows and twists it’s way out to the valley – lots of turning back on yourself on a narrow track between rocks that are only about the width of the car apart. It’s beautiful and worth the drive.

We were about half an hour late getting the jeep back. As we were heading back I looked over and saw the moon shot Joe has been wanting. So I screeched to a halt and he got out and took several photos. We’re planning to go back to the same spot tomorrow so he can get the moon rising. We hope.

Tomorrow is a rest day. Sort of. We’ll see how we get on.

Noticing several things – perspective is wonky. I’ll see headlights coming toward me and think I’m about to pass the car, but it’s actually several minutes away. We’ll see a hill and say we’ll go to the top but it’s actually several minutes walk away and about three or four times the height we thought it was. Temperature varies by up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit; so it was around 33 to 35F on Dante’s View but up to 60F+ down on the valley floor and the canyons can be warmer. So in the space of a 20 minute drive you can go from 35 to 60+ which is quite interesting.

If you are emailing and not getting a reply it’s because we’re having trouble seeing our email. Apparently the system used here doesn’t agree with our webmail set up!

Frog Blog

Long Day in the Desert

December 30th, 2009 , 3:31

Up well before dawn, dressed and in the car. Drove in the dark all the way up to Dante’s View where Joe got all settled for photos. In the freezing cold. Really freezing cold – it was about 32F. Brrrr. Watched the sun rise and Joe take photos, while freezing. Once the sun was up I sat in the car to warm and Joe kept taking photos. He was the first out on the spur and the last back. And thinks he got one or two photos.

We then headed to Artist Drive to see the colours and got several photos there. It was lovely with sun coming in; colours really stood out. Probably won’t show up in the photos but we tried.

Then we went back to Furnace Creek for breakfast. Had a very good breakfast which fueled us up for the day. We then sorted out a rental jeep for tomorrow.

So once everything was sorted we headed out to Salt Creek to see pupfish. There aren’t many out there this time of year – they hole up in the deeper water (what little there is) but we got to see some. They are very tiny. We also saw three or four different types of birds getting ready to look at the photos and ID them. We also saw why some rangers are talking about closing out parts of the park – the area has a boardwalk which you are suppose to stay on – fragile plants and animal life, not to mention the water (which is saltier than the sea but supports life). So we watched while people jumped off the boardwalk to stroll around the creek and tramp into the hills. Even saw the prints where some idiot took their dog for a walk in the creek. Disappointing.

We then went to have a quick look at the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. They don’t look that impressive until you see the people on them and then the scale becomes apparent. Against the mountains in the background they look tiny, but they are actually very very large.

We then drove out to Rhyolite, a ghost town near Beatty, which was quite interesting. It has a bottle house and ruins of several buildings as well as the remains of mines in the hills above. Very interesting to walk around. Joe got some photos of the moon but not sure how those came out!

Then it was a hurry back to pick up our jeep. We’re off early again tomorrow, out to Racetrack Playa and then to where ever we can get to before the jeep is due back!

Frog Blog

Death Valley

December 29th, 2009 , 5:48

Picked up our car, a cute little VW Beetle. Which was great until I got to Death Valley and realised we really should have booked a four wheel drive! We got lost getting out of Vegas, they don’t much like road signs or warning you before a turn. But we finally made it out and on the way. Stopped at a little casino on the way to California for brunch. Then on to the Valley.

Drove into the National Park and stopped at Zabriskie Point for our first look at the valley – impressive. Got to the Furnace Creek Ranch and checked in then off to sort out stuff for the next morning. Got dinner and while Joe was downloading photos I fell asleep.

Up early but out late! First stop the Visitor’s Centre where we got a couple of bird books and leaflets on the wildlife. Also got information about where a little VW Beetle will be able to drive. Then off down towards Badwater and promptly turned onto a road that the little VW Beetle was not suppose to go. But it looked interesting out into the valley! And we did fine. Stopped at a parking area and Joe got loads of photos (and I even took a couple!) then off to the next stopping point for more photos and turn around and back out to the Badwater Road. Headed straight on for Badwater where we walked out into the salt pan and got more photos. Didn’t see any snails in the water but did see a wading bird which was probably a killdeer, though that would have been uncommon. Unfortunately Joe didn’t get a photo, but he did get a photo of the shrike we saw – a Loggerhead Shrike. Another uncommon bird! But that’s about all we saw. Death Valley is quiet and little to see except other tourists!

We then headed for Natural Bridge and walked up to the first dry waterfall. Scrambled up that a bit but I decided I didn’t want the hassle of getting back down so stopped. Beautiful area. Unfortunately the light all day was dull as it was very cloudy so Joe’s photos don’t do justice to the areas we saw! We also drove through artist canyon but again the light was so dull we decided not to stop for photos.

We then headed for Dante’s View and got there for sunset. Joe stood out on the shelf for ages taking photos of the sun going down – finally the light cooperated and he got some lovely photos. I sat in the warm car (it was freezing!) and watched the sun set and the people. Really nice day.

Leaving Las Vegas

December 27th, 2009 , 16:16

Last morning in Vegas. We’re being very exciting – packing. Then we’ll get the car and be off.

Dinner at the Stratosphere was good. Watching Vegas below us and the rides above, had a lovely dinner. Then headed to the observation deck so we could get a close view of the rides (wild) and Joe could get more photos. We then played some blackjack, badly!

Frog Blog


December 27th, 2009 , 2:29

Up far too early. Had a wake up call for 4.30am scheduled but they rang at 4am. ARG. We rolled over, set another alarm, and tried to go back to sleep. Up at 4.30 and first thing is put on the coffee. Then get ready. Down to the front by 5.30 for our pickup to the airport.

We booked with Maverick Helicopter tours to go to the Grand Canyon then raft down the Colorado River. Got all sorted and weighed for the helicopter and we were off. Way nifty to ride in a helicopter! We flew over the Strip then off to Lake Mead and over the Hoover Dam (whoa!). Then into the Canyon flying under the rim. Got to see the new visitor centre with the skywalk, which looked teeny tiny from where we were. We landed for about 20 minutes to have breakfast (with champagne) before loading back up and flying off to get refuelled in the middle of no where. No really, middle of no where, there was nothing but a couple of tanks and a pump! Then back to Boulder City airport where our ride to the raft was waiting.

Had to drive down to the rafting place to pick up our packed lunches, then join the queue of cars to the dam. Lots and lots of dam tourists. We turned off just before the dam and drove down to the river and the raft. The raft was a large patoon boat, very steady and no white water. We stayed at the bottom of the Hoover Dam for a bit learning about it and getting a good view from the bottom. Then we were off pottering down the river. Right off saw a golden eagle soaring above us, then a little bit down the river was a bald eagle having lunch! Photos to be on Flickr soon. We were rafting through Black Canyon and it was lovely. Stopped at a beach for lunch, then carried on to see the old gauge station and hear stories from our guide. Then our boat stopped. Wouldn’t start. So we got to drift while another raft came for us!

Got off at Willow Beach where our bus was waiting for us to take us back to Vegas. As we were on the other side of the river we got to join the queue of dam tourists again and take ages and ages to cross the Hoover Dam. But nifty to see the top! We didn’t stop to gawp – well except when the tourists did to get their dam photos. So we took photos then as well.

In all a very fun day. We’re now off for dinner at the Stratosphere!

Happy Christmas!

December 26th, 2009 , 0:36

And we are having a very lazy one. Just opened cards and drank coffee and juice and watched movies so far! Going to go out in a bit to get dinner and maybe play in a casino. We’re up very very early tomorrow so early night tonight!

Penn and Teller were great fun. Really enjoyed the show and got to met them afterwards and get our programmes signed.

Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas day!

Frog Blog

What happens in Vegas . . .

December 25th, 2009 , 2:34

Is all rather fun. After getting up and having coffee we headed out and walked down the Strip, stopping to have a look at various bits and pieces. Watched lots of tables, though it was still so early not many people were around playing. We ended up at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. Got a drink and Joe tried the slots – can’t put coins in any more! Tickets or bills. Boring. So we ended up at the roulette table. Roulette is fun and I won enough to buy lunch. Walked quite a bit of the Strip and saw loads.

Today we went to the monorail station near the hotel and took it to the end of the Strip (MGM) and walked the other way on the Strip. Now getting ready to head out to see Penn & Teller.

Frog Blog

I hate flying

December 23rd, 2009 , 16:31

The first flight, between Lexington and Dallas, wasn’t too bad. They are only dinky little planes going out of Lexington. We were seated in different rows (Joe right behind me) but the bloke next to Joe moved to a single and I then moved into his seat. Actually I had to wait until after take off, then the seatbelt light never went off. But I got back there -thankfully as the bloke I was sat next to was all over the place.

We were on time and had plenty of time to make the connection in Dallas. Which, with the chaos due to the weather seemed a bit of a miracle. Between Dallas and Vegas however we were in hold class. Very last seats. Behind two good old boys. With an engine right next to us. Misery doesn’t come close to discribing it. Not the worst ever flight I’ve been on, but comes close. Still, have a little bit of time before I have to do it again.

And we got to Vegas! Couldn’t see (the engine completely blocked the window – so why do they put a window there?) but caught glimpses every now and again as we came in to land. Finally off the plane and got our bags and decided to be lazy and get a taxi. Warning, they ask all sorts of difficult questions like ‘freeway or local?’ erm. ah. We went local and right down the strip. Which was a good choice – though slow. We managed to gawp at everything. Of course, we’re exhausted – still were getting used to east coast time, now we’ve got an extra three hours! Jet lag is another reason to really dislike flying.

Got to the hotel to discover we have a one bedroom flat. On the 38th floor. It’s marvy! Walked in and just said ‘wow’ before running around and checking it all out. Then fell into bed (did I mention the jet lag?) Woke up far too early (4am – did I mention jet lag?) then tried to go back to sleep. Gave up around 6, came out and looked out the window to see the view and got sunrise over the mountains. So woke up Joe and he grabbed his camera and got some photos. We are now admiring the view (construction work and all) while having our morning coffee and planning our day.

Frog Blog

Decks at Halls without the Holly

December 22nd, 2009 , 21:37

We all meet up at Cracker Barrel for breakfast, then split up we had a drive round taking a few picture of the old bridge and the winery we had eaten at the night before, trying to get the same angle as the original picture we had.

Then back to meet up for dinner at Halls on the River. Taking the back road out which we had totally missed on our drive around.

After beer cheese dip , beer cheese soup, cat fish, hot brown & steak, no room for pudding, but a complementary bourbon at the end then to bed.

And now at the Lexington airport waiting for our flight to Dallas where we change for a flight to Vegas.

Frog Blog