Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Las Vegas to New Mexico and Colorado and back…



I haven’t blogged in a while… it is time to start again… 

Gael and I live in Henderson Nevada (aka East Las Vegas) in a house on the hills above Las Vegas with a view of the strip… 

I run a railroad museum… The Heritage Rail Alliance (the association of railroad museums and tourist railways) was having a conference in Santa Fe, at the La Fonda Hotel… Santa Fe’s grand old historic hotel… I was asked to participate on a discussion panel…  It was both a chance to participate in a conference, but also a chance for a South-West Road trip…  The conference suggested that this could be in part a work trip (preserving that precious time off) and my boss approved the plan… they wouldn’t pay for the conference but would let me consider time at the conference to be paid work time.

Gael and I have been together for just over a year, and married only a bit over 6 months… we have traveled a bit… and seem to be road trip compatible… so a trip was planned…The plan suggested that we would drive from Las Vegas to Santa Fe, then take our time getting home.  The trip towards home through the Four Corners/Indian Country area of the South West.  The AAA Indian Country map, of fable and literature (Tony and now Anne Hillerman) covering much of the geography… maybe the greatest map ever… 

The trip didn’t work out exactly that way… 

The plan called for us to leave Boulder City about 3:30 on Tuesday, driving a few hours towards Santa Fe… I believe in a short first evening to break the “suction” of home… its much easier to leave early from a motel than from home… Then a drive through Petrified Forest/Painted Desert (both Gael and I are fond of rocks, and Petrified Forest is all about rocks…  Then the conference (in Santa Fe!) then a slow trip back…  

As suggested above… that isn’t exactly what happened… 

As planned, we left later Tuesday afternoon… driving to Williams Arizona… to the “Next” Best Western… (The “Next Best Western” is the title of a song, written by David Shindell and performed by Lucy Roche (among others)…   It can be found on Youtube here) It was a couple hundred miles and about three hours… To a really nice Best Western, which Gael noted looked like a motel in a ski area… Williams is near 7,000’ elevation… there were already traces of snow on the ground…  so snow might be expected… While we drove Gael was in contact (ain’t cell great) with her daughter, Natalie, who was driving westward from Rhode Island to Las Vegas, as of 9:00 somewhere in eastern New Mexico… we checked in, then went down-town and found one of the local brew pubs for dinner…  After dinner we head back to the hotel… (the “Next Best Western” of song) a bit of TV and to bed (or to bed with a little TV)  Gael may have checked in with Natalie… then radio silence (us, not Nat).

The next morning (aka Wednesday) we awoke later than expected… (there was a time zone change) and got up (this always a good plan)… Gael called Natalie… “Where are you”… (expecting “New Mexico”) but instead she heard “Across the Hall”… (aka “here”)   We gathered and took Nat and Kevin (boyfriend) out to breakfast… downtown… looking for a restaurant that Gael remembered from a previous trip… This was Kevin, the boyfriend and the parents Gael, mother, and myself, step-dad meeting Kevin for the first time… Kevin ate eggs… for breakfast., for his first time.,.. I don’t think we scared him un-necessarily. (eggs or parents or such).  We detoured to look at the Grand Canyon railroad’s depot and shops… (repair shops, not shopping shops).

So, with a late start we headed east… to Flagstaff, to Winslow where we took photos on a corner and bought coffee…  Then on to Petrified Forest National Park, with a stop outside at a rock shop… This is , not just a rock shop… it is the “mother of all rock shops” Gael bought rocks… and post cards… (be afraid Richard… you know who you are, I know where you are)

Then on to Santa Fe, with a deadline in mind…  A deadline made a conference opening at 6:00pm… We make it… 

The conference is wonderful…  The La Fonda Hotel is wonderful… The card at the back of the door suggest the highest charge for the room was something greater that $700.00… We paid less…  Much less… This was an opportunity to visit, to enjoy, this place.

I am consumed by conference sessions… I, with friends and colleagues (aka Kyle) are on a panel that discusses the restoration and rehabilitation of wooden railroad passenger cars… This is a subject that I am consumed by… we present twice…  I attend sessions on railroad regulation, on steam locomotive restoration, on social media and marketing… Before, between and after sessions there are breakfast, lunches and banquets… A partner, Rail Explorers is here… They operate a rail bike program on my railroad.  Their program in many ways is a key to success at our museum.   Their owners and staff are more than a partner…  They are friends, and Mary Joy and Alex were the witnesses at our marriage…   

There is little time to explore Santa Fe… With MJ and Alex we have dinner at Sazon.  A couple of days later we steel away for a lunch at CafĂ© Pasqual sitting at the public table… I skip one session, so we can go to the Georgia O’Keefe museum… One evening we visit a local brew pub… otherwise I am at the conference.  The conference includes a trip to Chama New Mexico, to the Cumbres and Toltec railroad.  It includes a ride from Chama to Cumbres Pass on the train… a double-headed, steam powered train… the last car a restored wooden passenger car… a car that I and friends wrote the planning documents for.  For Kyle (one of the colleagues) and I it was a celebration of a successful project.  After the ride we visit the workshop in Antonito where the car was restored.
The conference ended on Saturday night… Saturday morning we drive north towards an unplanned two day stop in southern Colorado…   Kyle and I are to spend two additional days meeting with the restoration staff in Antonito about the passenger car restoration program.  Its a paid gig…  a continuation of a project from 4 years ago…  The same project that turned out the passenger car we rode up Cumbres Pass.

Sunday morning, we pack, we gather… we have breakfast at the hotel, then loading the jeep we leave… pausing at the local supermarket to buy chili ristas… not from a tourist store… but from the supermarket…  it starts to snow… not sticking but snowing… We should have taken it as a warning… 

It is only 2 hours from Santa Fe to Alamosa and our motel for the evening… having all day (aka more than two hours) we decide to drive via Taos… Taos had recently seen hail… While we explore it starts to snow… By the time we leave everything was white… The mix of hail and snow was treacherous…  We slid while stopping for a pedestrian…  On true off road tires)… We saw several cars who had skidded off the road while turning…  Then, out of town, in deeper snow a spinning yellow pick-up came very close to hitting us head on…  We found a local brew pub, the Taos Mesa Brewing Company and stopped for lunch…  by the time we finished there was near 6” of snow on the ground…

Back on the road, the snow stopped by the time we hit the main highway north…  with flurries starting as we reached Antonito…   We explored a bit, finding Indiana Jones’ boyhood home, the weird local castle and the oldest church in Colorado… We see one Amish wagon... then north to Alamosa and our motel (another “next Best Western”)

Sadly the really weird steak house between the sports bar and the slaughter house is now a pizza place, so we settled on the San Luis Valley Brewing Company for dinner…  Its cold outside… the Jeep is carrying a significant amount of ice and even ice cycles…  Winter has arrived in Southern Colorado…  Back to the motel… to bed… 

Up the next morning… eating breakfast at the motel… Then south to Antinito, and the Cumbres and Toltec railroad’s shops… both the car and locomotive shop where they maintain the tourist railroad equipment and are restoring a early Baldwin 4-6-0, No 168, but also the car shop for the Historic car project, and the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad’s shop…    Gael takes the Jeep, Kyle and I find Stathi and start our work…  Our project had started 4 years ago… first with feasibility study, then with restoration planning documents, a restoration budget, and CAD drawings of each of the 4 cars (by Mike Collins, another associate… 

We had ridden in one of the two coaches last Saturday… today we inspected the second coach, now a skeleton, the RPO, now a mostly restored body, and eventually toured Pay Car F with the restoration staff.  We were here to transfer research files, to discuss restoration progress and findings, changes to the plans and to make additional recommendations… The work done is good… it is extensive…. It is sensitive to the cars and their historic fabric.  There is a new car body present, a baggage car.

We eat lunch at the Dutch Mill in town… (the only restaurant?) with Stathi and his parents… here from California for a visit and doing baby sitting duty while Stathi was in Santa Fe at the HRA conference.  In the afternoon Gael returns from Alamosa to pick us up…  she has spent the day exploring and writing…We return to the San Luis Brewing Company… only to find Stathi and his parent and wife and kids at a nearby table… 

The next day, Tuesday was much like the day before… Except that at the end of the day, when Gael returns she and I head east instead of North… Kyle stays with Zell, the C&TS restoration expert…

Gael and I drive about 3 hours west, and spend the night in Durango… at still another “Next” Best Western…  It too is the home of a narrow gauge railroad, but we are here not for the railroad but because it is a good location to stop on our way back to Nevada… We find “Ken & Sue’s” for dinner… a really wonderful dinner not at a brewpub…   Back at the Best Western we discover that the artwork on the 2nd floor includes a poster of “Eureka” a steam locomotive with which I have a personal connection (as in spending time in the fire box with a 3lb hammer and a cold chisel…) 

Again, up early… this time to heading home… with an appointment to make…  a hard deadline… but before we make that appointment, we have 10 hours of desert driving… 

West from Durango we take fuel in Cortez, near 4 corners… then north into Utah, visiting a ancient Puebloan ruin in Bluff… then south through Mexican Hat and Monument Valley…  The Monument Valley of John Ford and "Stagecoach" and other films... For me this is a special place I have visited before… for Gael this is new… 

We take time in Monument Valley to visit the Navajo National Park’s visitor center.  We are making good time and have time to spend on this spectacular place…  Then on, first south… then north and west towards Page and Lake Powell and into Utah… We take gas in Page…  then again west.. to Kanab, then south to Fredonia Arizona and the Arizona Strip… a historic no man’s land… reaching I-15 and a quick southern run home… 

We reach home about 5:00… we have time to pause, relax and take a deep breath… then off to the Moth Radio Hour Live show at UNLV… 

Life is hectic but good…








Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Grand Migration… A new trip… A trip plan




August 21, 2017 will be marked by a solar eclipse… a rare occurrence, “a total eclipse of the sun”…  Carly Simon called it “where you should be (all the time) ”

Gael and I, and at least three other groups of friends and family are making the pilgrimage to the “path of totality” Here in the far west, that path falls in Wyoming, Idaho & Oregon…  Research suggests we will not be alone… rooms and accommodations are scarce and expensive… It may be crowded.  It may be crowded beyond reason.

Team 1; Tina, Stephanie and Michele are going to Salem Oregon… sleeping on an air mattress in Tina’s cousin’s workshop… Team 2; Andrew, Liza and the Action team will be if far eastern Oregon, near the town of Seco, camping.  Team 3; Richard, Jenny, Adam and their dogs (Sparky & Shadow) will be in Idaho… And we, team 4; Gael and I will be in Jackson Wyoming… we were expecting to camp in her step-mother’s yard, but apparently have a room in the inn…  A significant upgrade…
So, all in all we are all having a grand journey… for me and friends a journey north… 

Gael and my path will take us to Nephi Utah Friday afternoon… breaking what would otherwise be a very long drive in half… We are staying in a Best Western…  The Next Best Western of song… (this blog post could be read listening to this song... it would make sense... ) Nephi is a Mormon town… we will likely dine in a restaurant with a garden railroad…  (and no alcohol) then on the next day to Jackson, and Gael’s step-mother’s home.

We are expecting crowds… crowds making time in town difficult… so we are planning on mostly hiding… out of town… fishing… we are both learning to fly fish… That special ballet of waving fishing line suspended above…  

Ours will be a fast trip, but not an unreasonable one…  We have both spent time in the area… so while we would like to eat at the Snake River Brewery, and have a drink at the Million Dollar Bar… maybe make a fast trip to Yellowstone, we expect crowds… and if they make such activities unreasonable we will adjust… staying close to home and to trout streams.

.... This is a trip to see the total eclipse of the sun… On Monday… anything else is a bonus.. And we will travel together we will see things… and we will have fun… 

It will also be a first trip meeting her family beyond her daughter and son…  a significant escalation in family involvement… there will be similar meetings… meeting my extended family in Tucson in September, then more of my family in early October and again at Thanksgiving… This is the way of a new relationship… 

Tuesday we will drive home… something over 800 miles… over 11 hours… a grand slog with music to share and miles to be driven…  It will be good.   Wednesday we will both return to work… such is life. A good life.

Field reports to follow... 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Alaska part III






July 21 Friday

Ketchikan Alaska…  We had both awakened very early…  ordering coffee from room service… watching the forests go by…  now 10:30… passing small fishing boats as we enter the channel where Ketchikan is located…  The ship docked at about 11:00 am…  We walked off a few minutes later… heading up towards Creek Street, finding a  pop-up post office where we mailed letters and postcards…  then walked about a bit visiting a book store and several of the shops…  I may have found a tie, a neck tie, something I was looking for… a quest completed.

We asked about the Totem Pole museum… and found the trail along the creek (the “married man’s trail”) which would take us there… not the alternative, known as “huff and puff” aka the road not taken…  The married man’s trail started on a wooden walk way along above the river… passing above the fish ladder where no fish were to be seen… then followed the road along the creek and eventually to the Totem Pole Museum…



The Museum was fantastic… preserved but not restored totem poles… Six standing, the others laying in storage… there were other artifacts including robes, baskets and bent wood boxes…  There was a representative of the Native community present to answer questions… It was a very, very good museum.  

Leaving the museum, we tried to visit the fish hatchery which was closed for renovations… then walked back down along the creek… Back in town we wandered looking for food, returning to the New York Hotel, which we had found earlier… when looking for the museum…  We sat and ate… local sea food with local beer… All was good…



We returned to the ship, through the tourist shops…  then once aboard decided to go back out in search of a wifi connection… we found one… a fisherman’s dive bar… on the dock but not tourist forward… We found beer and a wifi password… sitting at a table away from the bar where a woman was looking for a boat in search of a deck hand…  We found our internet and I posted the next of the blog posts…

Having communicated with the outside world, we returned to the ship… in time to wander and watch them drop ropes and sail away, into the grays of the passage… To dinner and to bed only after walking the decks...

July 22 Saturday

We awake late to gray skys with some “shippy” motion… Cruising Inside Passage, yet not yet there… we are crossing a gulf, open to the ocean…  We look for whales… we find none… we explore the ship… Gael gets her nails done then does the kitchen tour… I attend the captain’s talk, then the “America’s Test Kitchen” demonstration, then we find each other for the Captain’s Mariner’s brunch… we get our ships tiles… we toast the crew… we have a wonderful lunch…

We continue to wander the ship… looking outward for never seen whales… reading (I am on Harry Potter II) and just enjoying the ship…

Eventually we enter the inside passage… we are again near land… heavily forested land… we are in a confined seaway, with ships and barges nearby…

We are consumed by packing for this is our last night aboard…  we pack then rework the packing and bags but eventually are satisfied.

We have dinner enjoying a bottle of wine I brought aboard… we attend the magic and comedy show… we end up on our balcony with glasses of single malt… watching the world turn to gray, then grayer, then disappearing… Near midnight we push the bags outside into the corridor and we are into bed, our final night to fall asleep to the sound and motion of the sea

July 21 Sunday

At Dock at Vancouver (7:00 am)…  Eventually all vacations must end…  We both awoke early…  We were in the outer harbor at Vancouver…  We showered and watched from our balcony as we passed under the bridge into the inner harbor, then docked…  


We went upstairs for breakfast, sitting at a table near the pool… then as they started to called groups to disembark, returned to the room… We were in what was supposed to be the last group to disembark, brown 3…   They are calling lime 1,2, & 3… which are listed on our schedule… but also yellow and red, neither of which appear in any of our information…  Our cabin door is open… our neighbors mostly gone… Our balcony has been taken over by crew, cleaning and preparing for the next batch of passengers… who will start boarding in a few hours…

Eventually, on time they call “brown 3,” our group, our number, and we make our way downstairs to the gang plank… off the ship to the baggage claim area, to Canadian immigration then out to the hubbub and confusion of people finding their way home… we find the luggage check area and check our bags, for our flight is some hours away…  Then head out to explore.

Once on the street outside, I find the railroad station where we can catch the subway train to the airport… then we look about… we have no expectations of plans… we find a kind woman who has a vest saying “ask me”… she suggests Grand Isle… we head out walking south towards Grand Isle… past bars, tattoo parlors and a store selling medicinal cannabis for dogs and a Fred Flintstone faux car…

We find Grand Isle but initially can’t find our way there… locals supply directions… we arrive to find it as wonderful as suggested… It is shops, markets, a children’s market, a bead store (Gael likes beads) and such… there are buskers… there is a cement plant decorated as to belong next to a market and a bead store… We wander, into and out of stores… into the market with wonderful flowers and inviting foods… eventually finding the local brewery where we have beers and pork sandwiches… the service is notable… we acquire sufficient Canadian currency to take the bus back to the cruise dock where we have stored luggage near the subway station…

We find the bus stop, board the bus but our currency is not correct for the bus… but the driver asks if we are taking the train, then gives us transfers to make us legal on the way, even without fare…  for the train would issue transfers for the bus…

We exit the bus, reclaim our luggage and consider a taxi but the locals all say take the train…  We do, at a fare substantially less than a taxi… arriving at the airport likely faster than the taxi… 

We check bags, (moving heavy items about again) then clear security, then US immigration, then with two hours before our flight find a place for a beer…

Eventually we board… find our seats and places for carry ons…  and settle in for the flight home to Vegas…  As expected we arrive… regain baggage, and Nat and Ryan pick us up… home to Gaels and the dogs, then Gael takes me home with my dogs to my home… Home…

I drag bags in… take a few minutes to look about and off to bed… my bed…   

Vacation over...