We admit, we’re very behind on our blog and we apologize to those of you who are loyally following our adventures. Its getting very hard to open the laptop and blog when the weather outside is just so darn nice. Anyway, here is the next installment, now I’m going for a swim.
Before we left on our trip we had planned for Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff to fly out and meet us somewhere along the way. We decided Phoenix would be a good place to meet and from there we would travel to Las Vegas and then to LA where they would catch a flight home. The day had finally arrived and we were picking them up at the airport in the morning.
We were staying in Leaf Verde RV Park in the town of Buckeye about 20 miles west of Phoenix along the I10. Laura and Jeff’s flight was arriving at 11am that morning so we had lots of time to get up and get ready. When we got to the airport we found the right terminal, after some confusion, and dropped Sue off at the arrivals gates while I drove circles around the airport to avoid paying for parking. Sue found them really quickly and I only had to do one lap before I spotted them waiting at the curb to be picked up.
From the airport we headed south out of Phoenix along the I10 towards the famous Wild West town of Tombstone Arizona. Jeff is a big fan of the history of the Wild West and Tombstone was a must see for him. Half way to Tombstone we stopped for a bite to eat. When we got back to the bus Laura pulled out an envelope with a card in it and gave it to Sue. Puzzled Sue opened the envelope and pulled out a card that said “Congratulations” on the cover. Opening it her face turned to immediate joy when she saw an ultrasound image of a baby. Laura and Jeff were expecting a baby and decided they wanted to tell us in person. We were super stoked for them. They told us that some of the family back home knew but had to keep it quiet from us until they could tell us in person. After hugs and hand shakes we got back in the bus and continued on towards Tombstone.
We arrived in Tombstone an hour or so before sunset and drove right to the historic downtown area to see what we could before dark. Tombstone is still a wild place, old buildings built more then a hundred years ago mixed with modern amenities, roads left unpaved to keep the old west feel, and folks running around in turn of the century garb make for a very authentic experience. The town is home to some of America’s best known Wild West sites such as the O.K. Corral where Marshall Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had their famous gunfight with the Clantons and McLaurys, the Bird Cage Theatre which is the only original building left from the 1800’s, and Boot Hill Cemetery where many famous outlaws are buried. We decided to see the Bird Cage Theatre first. The theater is the only historic site in Tombstone that is completely original from the poker chips that are still scattered across the poker tables to the bullet holes in the ceiling and walls. The Bird Cage Theatre was a well known hang out in its heyday playing host to Broadway shows and even lays claim to the longest poker game in history – the game ran non-stop for 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days.
On our way back to our hotel – Jeff and Laura were very kind to spring for hotel accommodations for us for the majority of their stay – we stopped at Boot Hill Cemetery to see where some of the Wild West’s most notorious outlaws (and some accidental hangings) are buried. Our hotel was a Holiday Inn Express just on the edge of town. It was our first real bed (even if it was only a pullout couch) since leaving our friends Don and Dona in Oregon in early October.
The following morning we grabbed the continental breakfast in the hotel and headed back to downtown Tombstone to see the rest of the sites. The first place we went was the O.K. Corral to see where the Earps and Doc Holliday had their famous shootout with the Clantons and McLaurys back in the 1880’s. After touring the corral we sat down for a very entertaining animated diorama about Tombstone. It was made back in the 60’s and narrated by Vincent Price. We also had our photo taken at one of those studios that dress you up in authentic Wild West getup and pose you with a western scene background. Sue and Laura were dressed up as 1880’s "Lovelies" while Jeff and I were a Marshall and an outlaw.
From Tombstone we headed back to Phoenix. Instead of taking the I-10 back we took a more scenic route that gave us a great tour of the Arizona desert. That night we went back to Leaf Verde RV Park where Sue and I stayed for a few nights before Jeff and Laura joined us. It was very tight in the bus with four people but we managed. We were planning on staying a total of three nights in the bus while Jeff and Laura were traveling with us.
The following morning we packed up and headed out of Phoenix. Before leaving town we made a quick detour to see the house I lived in with my parents while my dad was on a training course for his job. The townhouse complex was run down and didn’t look quite as nice as the photos I had seen of it from the 70’s. The community pool where I learned how to swim was empty and the grounds weren’t being maintained any more. I guess things change over time. We snapped a few shots and took off.
From Phoenix we drove north to Flagstaff. We decided to take the scenic route through the town of Sedona instead of taking the interstate. Sedona is a ritzy place nestled in a narrow mountain valley about 20 miles south of Flagstaff. Sedona has a much warmer climate then Flagstaff due to its much lower elevation.
From Flagstaff we headed west towards the town of Williams where we would jump onto Highway 64 north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We made it to the Grand Canyon just in time for sunset (the same time we made it to the North Rim) and drove straight to the main viewpoint to get some photos. The South Rim was a lot busier than the North Rim where there was only one other couple. Here we had to contend with hundreds of other people to find a parking spot and an empty piece of railing to lean out and take pictures.
When the sun went down we headed to the park’s main campground to find a site for the night. The Mather Campground had lots of space available and we managed to find a nice site despite it being pitch black. That night we had our first campfire since being in Jasper National Park back in August. We cooked up some nice juicy steaks and had a few cold beverages.
From the Grand Canyon we headed to the bright lights of Vegas. The drive from the Canyon to Vegas is 5 hours across deserts and barren mountain ranges. To get to Vegas you have to cross the Hoover Dam (this is changing next year when they open the new and very impressive bypass bridge being built just south of the dam). To drive over the Hoover Dam you must pass a security checkpoint where they inspect you and your vehicle to make sure you aren’t up to no good. We passed okay although they were a bit curious about the luggage bag we had on the roof. We stopped at the dam and did the dam tour and took some dam pictures. From there we headed into Vegas. It was dark when we were nearing Vegas and the lights from the city were amazing to see against the darkness of the desert. Before heading to our hotel we decided to take a drive down Las Vegas Blvd to check out the scene. From there we headed to our hotel, the Desert Rose, which was just off the strip behind the Tropicana Casino. The hotel was great. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom suite with a full kitchen.
For our first full day in Vegas Jeff and I decided to head to Boulder City twenty minutes south of Vegas to do a bit of mountain biking at Bootleg Canyon. On our way out of town we dropped Sue and Laura off at a local outlet mall to do some shopping. When we got to Boulder City we stopped in at the local bike shop to rent a bike for Jeff. The shop hooked him up with a sweet Santa Cruz Nomad full suspension bike. With Jeff’s rental bike strapped to the bus we drove a few blocks from the bike shop to the Bootleg Canyon trailhead. Bootleg Canyon is a collection of singletrack and downhill trails built on public land right in the town of Boulder City. After ripping the trails for a few hours we dropped Jeff’s rental bike off at the shop and hit a local pub for lunch before heading back to Vegas to meet the girls. That evening we decided to grab dinner out somewhere along the Vegas strip. We spent the rest of the evening wandering in and out of casinos checking out the lights and the amazing interiors of some of the hotels.
The one thing we weren’t planning on doing in Vegas was gambling. We proved that it is possible to visit Vegas and not spend a penny on gambling. You just have to dish out a whole lot of money for everything else.
The next day all four of us spent the day shopping at an outlet mall. After shopping we went back to our hotel and spent the afternoon around the pool for some much needed R&R.
That evening we headed over to the MGM Grand to pick up tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show Ka that we were planning on seeing the following night. There was at least a half dozen Cirque du Soleil shows playing in Vegas at various casinos along the strip but this one was rated the best. On our way to get our tickets we saw boxer Miguel Cotto who was in town for a Welter Weight fight against Manny Pacquiao. Sue asked him for a photo and I snapped a shot of him with Sue and Jeff. He ended up loosing the fight to Pacquiao that weekend.
After getting our Cirque du Soleil tickets we headed down the strip to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. They have some pretty cool yet odd music biz paraphernalia on display like Keith Moon’s pants, Britney Spears shoes and a double necked guitar owned by Steve Vai.
When we finished dinner we walked down the strip some more and checked out a few casinos. We saw Bellagio with its fancy fountain show, the marble clad Caesar’s Palace and Paris with its replica Eifel Tower that’s half the height of the real thing.
On our last full day in Vegas we decided to make use of the kitchen in our hotel room and had dinner in. After dinner we drove to the north end of the strip to check out the old school casino Circus Circus which was more of an “economical” style casino with less flare then most of the others. In contrast we also checked out Wynn, one of the newest casinos on the strip. Wynn was, in my opinion, the nicest casino on the strip as far as style and ambience. The designers truly went all out to create the perfect atmosphere.
That evening we went and saw Cirque du Soleil’s Ka which was a great show. They had some really wild special effects and the stage they built was floating on a giant rigging so it could be elevated and rotated in any direction, including vertically so the performers would have to hang on for dear life.
Because we stayed an extra night in Vegas - we were only planning on staying three nights - we had to make it to LA in one day to make our reservations at Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach. We woke up early and packed the bus. On our way out of town we stopped at the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign and another outlet mall before jumping on the I-15 southwest to LA. The drive from Vegas took us through the Mojave Desert and over the San Bernadino Mountains down into LA. We didn’t time our arrival very well and ended up stuck in rush hour traffic along the I-10 in downtown LA. For the next two hours we crawled along on our way to our hotel.
One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about this hotel was that it was valet only parking and I didn’t want someone we didn’t know driving our little home-on-wheels without us there. I ended up apprehensively giving the valet my keys and went up to the room. Still nervous about the whole valet thing I stepped out onto our room balcony and looking down I saw our valet struggling with the gears to get the bus up the ramp into the garage. He finally gave up and drove the bus around the back to the lower level the whole time riding the clutch. I decided that was it. When I went to get the bus tomorrow I would insist on driving it myself.
The next morning the four of us headed to the beach to find a place to get breakfast. After a great bacon and egg breakfast we took a walk to check out the vendors and beach homes and the locals. We stopped by Muscle Beach where Arnold Schwarzenegger once worked out back in his body building days.
Laura had reserved tickets for us to go see a taping of Conan O’Brian that afternoon at Universal Studios in Hollywood so we headed back to the hotel to get ready. I went downstairs to the hotel lobby to get the bus. When I got there I told the valet I wanted to drive the bus out of the garage myself because the clutch and gears were tricky and I didn’t want someone unfamiliar with the bus to drive it. He was a bit hesitant but eventually agreed and showed me the way to the lower level of the garage to where the bus was parked. I got in and started to drive to the exit when I noticed a very low hanging pipe on the ceiling of the garage that I was sure the bus wouldn’t fit under. The funny thing was that the only way to get into the garage was under this pipe so the bus had to have driven under it last night. I started to slowly edge the bus forward when the valet waved his hands for me to stop. The roof of the bus was hitting the pipe. I backed up and jumped out of the bus and hoisted myself up to check the roof. The roof of the bus had red paint marks scraped all down it from the paint on the pipe. The valet driver had hit the roof of the bus on the pipe and either didn’t notice or just didn’t bother to report it. The day time valet I was with, who also happened to be the head valet, took a look too and apologized for the scratches and told me that we wouldn’t have to pay for valet parking. I guess it was the least they could do. Luckily the roof of the bus is made of fiberglass and wasn’t really damaged. The paint could be removed at a later time. Now the problem was how to get the bus out of the garage without causing more damage. The pipe had a bit of play in it and could be lifted about an inch but not enough to clear the bus. The bus had to be lowered somehow so we decided to pile as many people in it as we could find. I ran and got Sue, Laura and Jeff from the lobby and the valet ran and got some hotel employees and we all piled into the bus to lower it while two of the hotel guys held the pipe up on either side. It was just enough to squeak by and we made it out of the garage.
The garage fiasco took up quite a bit of time and now we had to hurry if we were going to make the Conan O’Brian show on time. Unfortunately you can’t get anywhere quickly in LA and we found ourselves stuck in traffic once again. Not knowing the streets and without a map we had no choice but to follow our GPS. We arrived at Universal Studios just as the 3:30 deadline was arriving but when we got to the studio where the show was being taped we were told we were too late, us and about a dozen other people standing there. Apparently they overbook the shows to ensure a full audience every time. After arguing with the guard for a few minutes we admitted defeat and sauntered slowly back to the bus. If you’re ever in LA and you need to get somewhere double your estimated travel time. Oh yeah, and never valet park your Westfalia.
We decided to grab an early dinner near the studio so we found a local Olive Garden (yes they still exist down here) and then headed back to the hotel where I parked the bus myself this time on the upper level of the garage where the ceiling was just high enough. Our hotel had a cool rooftop patio so we decided to head up there for some drinks and nice view of the ocean and LA skyline.
For our last day with Jeff and Laura we booked a Hollywood tour. They picked us up that morning in front of our hotel. The hotel agreed to let us check out when we returned from the tour in the afternoon so we could leave our stuff in the room and the bus in the parking garage. The tour took us all around Hollywood and Beverly Hills stopping at some of the various hot spots like the lookout above the Hollywood Bowl where you can see the cheesy Hollywood sign and a few of the star’s homes like Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford’s old place that he built with his own two hands before moving to a ranch in Wyoming. We drove down Sunset Blvd and stopped at the Walk of Fame and the Kodak Theater. In Beverly Hills we drove passed the Beverly Hills Hotel now owned by the Sultan of Brunei who wanted to make it into his private residence but the city wouldn’t rezone it. We also stopped on Rodeo Drive to check out some of the severely overpriced shops that the richy folks frequent. We watched a lady attempt to parallel park her Lamborghini wearing stiletto boots. She made it eventually after about five attempts. I have never seen so many cars worth over $100K in one place.
That afternoon we headed over to the Santa Monica pier where we rode the Farris wheel and checked out the sights before heading to the airport so Laura and Jeff could catch their flight home. We said our goodbyes and wished them a safe travel home and thanked them for an awesome ten days.