Friday, August 29, 2014

More holiday musings

Day Seven: Las Vegas    
A chance to have a lie-in and lazy day for some, but we were up early as usual for a trip out to the Hoover Dam.  Made sense to get up there before the day got too hot, and it was a sight that had to be seen, but a little bit of extra sleep would have been nice.

OK so I’m a sucker for a massive feat of engineering and this sure fits that bill, but everyone who took the trip came away impressed.  It is a mahoosive lump of concrete holding back water when you come down to it.  OK, lots of little lumps stuck together (fact gleaned from the museum bit – if it had been poured as one large block the core would still not have set).  That lump, though, is just wonderful.  Lots of totally unnecessary architectural details and flourishes (Art Deco ones at that because of when it was built) that add nothing to the functionality but make the thing gosh darn pretty to look at.  It was also interesting to see just how much the current drought is affecting Southern California – the water level in Lake Mead is visibly low and flow through the dam was obviously nowhere near what they are capable of.

The bridge across the river from the Hoover Dam, just to be a confusing picture of approximately the right place!

The busyness of the last week caught up with us after this though, and following a brief walk around the overbridges crossing the roads by our hotel (OK, I wanted to get some nice high level bus photos, so sue me!) we crashed out for the afternoon.  A lovely refreshing sleep but I am sure many would consider it a total waste of time in Vegas.  We wanted to be ready for the evening though.

Another optional excursion beckoned – this time for a show and a meal.  We hadn’t really thought about whether to see a show or not before we flew, knowing there was this option on the trip anyway but not wanting to commit until we had more of a feel for the place.  A couple of folks from the coach went off to see other things – some to Rock Of Ages, and one couple to see Celine Dion – but once more this was a trip that appealed to most of us.  And what we saw was the Ratpack tribute night over at the Rio.  Excellent sound-alikes (and not too bad on the looks either) recreating the feel of the heyday of the crooners, with some slightly odd updates.  That jarred a bit to me – just when you are getting the Sinatra vibe he cracks a joke about video poker or Viagra.  I felt it should have been left as a paean to the ‘50s.  Still good, just a bit odd.  This was followed by the Rio buffet which I believe is billed as the biggest in town and certainly had enough variety to keep us trying more dishes than was safe for the waistline.  Burp.

Day Eight: Las Vegas to Visalia.
Another day basically given over to travel, but with some interesting stops along the way; the first of these being the “ghost town” of Calico.  This had been “improved” with a paved main street which kind of killed the atmosphere for me, but accessibility has to be considered these days.  And it was possible to wander off down the old dirt tracks to really see the way it used to be.  Add in a couple of cowboys wandering around and some tasty pancakes in the saloon and it made for an enjoyable enough diversion.

There was another truck stop visit (where there was a chap selling fantastic fruit) but mostly the day was spent driving through the desert.  We passed some amazing solar power stations and also Edwards Airforce Base (but at an extreme distance so nothing to see) but nothing really sticks in the mind.

Our hotel that night was in Visalia and was once again very nice and comfortable.  We had dinner in the town at a sports bar (hilarious, given my total lack of interest in nearly all sport, but excellent steak).  And that was that really.  Probably the least thrilling day of the holiday.

Day Nine: Visalia to Modesto
Of course what that sub-header doesn’t mention is the via point…  In this case Yosemite National Park - another absolutely beautiful highlight of the trip for me.  A long and winding drive in and out again to reach the main scenic spots and visitor centre, so inevitably not as long at the heart of the valley as we might have wished for, but everywhere you looked something stunning caught the eye.  While we had a sandwich we were plagued by friendly squirrels and also blue Jays which was interesting, and then we had a wander up to the falls and through the woods.  Really peaceful (despite the crowds in places) and the redwoods are a joy to behold.  So big and yet fitting in to their surroundings perfectly.  Add this to the list of places I’d like to go back to.

Modesto was odd.  Most famous for being where George Lucas grew up and inspiration for American Graffiti (although it wasn’t filmed there as the town had changed too much in the intervening years).  I had a post-arrival wander down to the bus station as it was over the road from the hotel, but otherwise not much to see.  We ate in the hotel restaurant (perfectly OK) and that was about that.

A bus in Modesto!

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