I have been to San Francisco many times, but never grow tired of the place. When I went with my family, we stayed at da Vinci Villa for one night. It had been upgraded and we were eager to check it out. It was generally fine, but the walls were definitely thin, but that isn’t really unusual. If any little noise drives you crazy, then this is not the place for you.
One place at which I love to always stop is Cliff House. I have yet to eat there, but do enjoy the great ocean view. It has an interesting history. So many historic buildings have experienced fires, but this one also was once damaged from an explosion that occurred when an abandoned boat that happened to have a lot of dynamite on it, ran into the rocks beneath the structure. Just the kind of randomness I love. Also, it made it through the 1906 earthquake, but then burned down anyway. It’s kind of like Final Destination for a building.
Near the Cliff House, in Golden Gate Park, you will find the Dutch and Murphy Windmills as well as a tulip garden. (I found them by searching the area on a Google map.) The mills were built to pump water long ago. The first of them was built in 1902. The second was completed in 1907.
Apparently, they are being massively restored right now.
This trip was the first time I visited the Wave Organ, which was officially ready for visitors in 1986.
It may be playing heavy metal during this photo.
This is a free art installation on a jetty (that you can definitely dance upon) near the Exploratorium. In fact, the Exploratorium had a hand in getting this thing built. When you put your ear up to a pipe, it sounds like the ocean is making music with its water fingers. It really should record an album and go on tour someday.
I was with 6 other people, so after 3 activities, we made it across the way to Muir Woods. Always a favorite place to visit in Northern California!
94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, Van Nuys, California
Smaller airports are not often noticed or thought about by the general public since most of us can’t afford charter flights or our own planes. But one small airport in Van Nuys offers a very unique restaurant experience next to the runway.
Named after a United States Army Air Service squadron in World War I, this restaurant has replicas of old war vehicles and paraphernalia. The outside of the building is made to look old, as though it was actually around for the war. When you walk inside, you are treated to views of planes taking off on the runway.
My family and I went for lunch and a cocktail. Well, some of us had a cocktail. Ok. My Mom and I had cocktails. I tried the Aviation, which is amazing! The menu has fish, poultry, and red meat, but not a huge selection for vegetarians. There are sandwiches, salads. Their lunch menu is on the pricey side, so be prepared. But everyone was very happy with everything that was ordered, so well worth the price. Dinner menu includes a filet mignon option, with prices ranging from $20-$44 for an entrée.
You can also sit at the bar to watch the planes. The bar does offer appetizers and has a happy hour on weekdays from 4pm-7pm. They have specialty cocktails that are perfect for the atmosphere.
My Dad on the lookout!
94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, 16320 Raymer Street, Van Nuys, CA 91406
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend, Brian, and I went to the Chowder Barge in Wilmington, CA. It is a barge that was used as a support vessel (whatever that means) for “Mutiny on the Bounty” that was repurposed to be a restaurant on the water in the Leeward Bay Marina, surrounded by boats. I am glad we made the trip to try it, but it wasn’t my favorite bowl of clam chowder. The option of “bread” doesn’t mean a bread bowl, as we are familiar with in San Francisco. It was a piece of bread (not sure what kind) in the middle of the thick soup. We also ordered double clams. What that means is that fried clams are added. I didn’t even notice the clearly written fried part on the menu, but ate them anyway, so had to double exercise the next day. Our waiter was very nice and the restaurant itself is a pretty cool idea, but do not go with any gourmet expectations. Definitely a great place to visit during the daytime, when you can see the view.
While we were eating our clam chowder, I looked at one of my history books of California and found out there is a Civil War museum nearby. We were unable to get to the museum that day, but did return a few weeks later.
Before we ate, we stopped at Urban Americana. It is a really cool vintage store. It has furniture, old signs, toys, books, clothes, art and vinyl records.
Well, this doll is creepy.
This little buddy hangs around the albums.
Very unique and kitschy stuff. No matter where we go, Brian finds a place that sells records. Sometimes, I luck out and they have other things for me to look at. This place is huge and has a lot of cool things, an outdoor area with a nice bench, and they have bathrooms.
Last year, I read a book entitled, “The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War” by Leonard Richards. There were a few stories that had me on the edge of my seat from excitement. I had a feeling how they would end, but they ended way more spectacularly than I imagined. The gold rush is certainly a big part of what we learn in history class. The gold miners did more of a gentlemen’s agreement on mining claims. They were none too happy when rich Southern slave owners came over, using slaves to do all the work, being able to mine more ground faster and make more money. The disagreement over California being admitted as free state is what some believe was the final nail in the coffin and what officially started the Civil War. Being a free state meant anti-slavery states had a majority of representatives in the government.
Drum Barracks was built to be the Union headquarters for California, Arizona and New Mexico. It was also protecting the harbor. Supplies were based there. Camels were shipped there also, with hopes that they would be more efficient than horses. (Nope.) Most of the buildings are now gone. The Museum was formerly housing for Junior Officers.
There is another building about two blocks away (Eubank Ave and Opp Street) that was the powder magazine, where gunpowder & ammunition were stored. That building has a fence around it, but I didn’t see any signage. Very easy to find, though.
The only way to see the inside of the museum is if you take a guided tour. This is both good and bad. Good, because I certainly got more out of the visit with a human being there to answer questions and explain things. The only bad part was that there are many printed things on the walls that I didn’t read because I didn’t want to hold up the tour. There were only 4 of us. However, no one would have actually cared if I stalled to take anything in longer. That is all on me.
They have 1st edition Ulysses S. Grant books on display, which was absolutely amazing to me. Most of the furniture is that of the era, but not what was actually in the home. Soldiers lived more compactly. The original artifacts are mostly in glass cases, with replicas available to pass around.
The front of the building.
An original well.
There is also a room with different weapons that were used during the Civil War. A man that was on the tour with us was familiar with the weapons of that time. He asked my boyfriend if he had ever shot a gun, being fascinated with the size of the bullets. Kind of thought it was funny because I am the one that has tried shooting. Even tried a machine gun. Anyway, what I loved about that guy was how excited he was to finally be in the museum. He said he had heard about it and seen ads, but never went despite living nearby. That morning, he finally did it!
As you tour the building, you will get to the medical display. I knew about how surgeries were done long ago, but it was nice to have a refresher, gross as it was. Really gross. I think it was the re-using the surgical tools without sterilizing them and just wiping off the blood and moving on to the next surgery that really brought it home for me. Can’t help but wonder what things we now believe to be medical marvels will be thought as horrifying years from now.
Finally, Drum Barracks has a great gift shop, filled with Civil War books to help you further your knowledge.
**Drum Barracks is closed on Monday and Friday. Two tours are available per day. You do not need to make reservations for the tours unless you have a bigger group. Be sure to check their website before you go.
I work on the production side of commercials. Sometimes, the shoots are on stages that have been used in famous and beloved television shows and movies, often with commemorative plaques hung on the wall outside the door. Sometimes, the location is a beach, a house, or a museum. Sometimes, the location is a piece of history.
Though I am not religious, I lose my mind over Christmas and Santa. A few years ago, I even started a tradition of getting my photo with Santa. I have stood in line with children at malls, Union Station in Los Angeles and Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The adults don’t always get that I am actually in line to get a photo with Santa and ME and have walked in front of me to get photos of their kids. Last December, I worked on a shoot with Santa Claus in an industrial area in Glendale, California.
As soon as I arrived at work, I was tasked with wrapping gifts for kids, which I gladly did while donning my personal Santa hat. The art department built and created an amazing and festive room with crafts, snacks and decorations. When I finally needed a bathroom break, I walked to another part of the building and discovered that I was in an air travel museum! Grand Central Air Terminal was a major airport long ago, attracting the rich and famous. It was the premier airport around Los Angeles before that title was bestowed upon LAX.
Air travel was starting to catch on in the late 1920s in the United States. In 1926, the Feds started to regulate air travel to ensure safety, which would then encourage people to take seriously the idea of flying in lieu of slower modes of transportation. Moving forward into the future of transportation was actually inspired by delivering mail. It had been decided that private businesses should get into mail delivery via plane. Combined with the enthusiasm created by Charles Lindbergh and his solo Atlantic flight, the US got excited about this newer form of getting around.
An airline called Transcontinental Air Transport had a Los Angeles – New York route that began at Grand Central. Lindbergh was hired by the airline and even flew the first leg of the first flight to New York (along with some celebrities.) Without night travel capability, the trips still included connections using trains and took nearly two days. When the DC-3 was introduced, the flights times were reduced, with a few stops for fuel. (The ads for the DC-3 included women so everyone would know that even WE can handle flying.)
When the USA joined World War II, the use of Grand Central was no longer for private citizens. It was used by the US Government to train pilots. Though the runway was extended during wartime, it was reduced when the airport was returned to use by civilians. The airport was unable to survive with said smaller runway due to the larger commercial airplanes that had emerged. The air terminal closed in 1959.
Eventually, Disney took over the building. It was restored and is open for free tours but you must make a reservation here.
In the early 1900s, mail carriers flew small planes across the country. Aviation arrows were placed along the route across the USA to help the pilots safely find their way. Many of these arrows are on private land, but there are some that are on public land that you can visit! I am not entirely sure how to know which are on public vs. private, yet. There are a few sites out there that help find them all, but it is up to you to research which you can actually see.
On the day we arrived in Utah, my boyfriend, Brian, and I attempted to see one that was possibly on private property. Since it also happened to be really hot outside, my interest waned quickly. I didn’t want to start hiking uphill just to find out we weren’t allowed to go farther. We skipped that arrow so we could go off to Zion. Saving that one for the next time.
Determined to visit a cool piece of history, Brian found another arrow that we could attempt to see at the end of our trip, on our way back to SGU.
The aviation arrow he found is up atop a hill in a suburban enclave. We started up the dirt hill in the hot sun. There was not much of a path when we went, but it may not be the case now. There were some parts that I got concerned about since we also had to walk back down. Slippery dirt and all. Also, I wasn’t super excited about getting completely sweaty before a flight, but persisted. I was excited that Brian was so determined to see the arrow because that forced me to climb. This was not the easiest hike, but also not the most awful, in the end. I think I was slightly panicked about making our flight and therefore felt like the hike was harder than it was.
Finally, we got to the top and saw the arrow. There was a guest book, which was really neat since I have never done any type of hike or activity that had one.
I am very glad we put forth effort to see this incredibly cool piece of American history. We hope to be able to see as many as possible. It is a great idea to plan a whole trip around, actually. Pick an arrow and explore the whole area around said arrow.
“Thanks for helping my planecestors, arrow!” said the plane.
You can see the arrow at the top of the hill. It is realllly tiny in this picture.
(click the photos for the captions)
I pretty much whined about possibly being late for our flight for the entire hike. SGU is a really small airport. We returned the car and were at the gate in probably 10 minutes. I am such a baby sometimes.
Once we pick a direction in which to travel, we Google everything from Los Angeles to the destination to find interesting places in which to stop. This time, our search led us to Goldfield, Arizona.
Starving, as we always are, we high-tailed it to the ghost town’s restaurant, Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon and ate our faces off while listening to a musician rock some tunes.
We schlepped down a little hill and went to the gold mine. Jumped into the old and rickety elevator and went down down down deep into the old mine. Our guide told us what all the tools were used for and other stuff that went on there. He was fantastic!! When the tour was done, we were made to walk up ALL the stairs to the top.
I will go ahead and say that bringing high heeled shoes on a road trip – as your only pair of close-toed shoes is really dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
The Mystery Shack was near the gold mine so we walked on over and went in. (Okay. Really. The whole town is near everything in itself.) It is a shack built into a hill and everything is at a 45 degree angle. The guide had people demonstrating how f-ed it makes your sense of balance. Like walking to one side and back… And he had Sara sit on a chair – then put a ball on some wood thing on the wall. The end of the wood thing would make the ball fly right at the person on the chair. So, even though we all knew damn well that thing was not going to really hit the person – was fun to watch the chair sitter freak out and jump up. HA! I didn’t get to try anything because of my freaking high heels.
There was a reptile exhibit, so that had to happen. Even though I live in California, I have never seen (and never want to) a rattlesnake in the wild, so a zoo or exhibit is the closest I will ever get (I hope!)
The next attraction we checked out was the whorehouse, of course. (p.s. My spellcheck just made sure to correct me that whorehouse is one word and not two. Phew!) Lu Lu’s Bordello. It cost a few bucks to take the tour and it was a nice quick one as well. What we learned was that whoring back then was even ickier than what ick we assumed. The girls had to bring flipping buckets of water to the house so the smelly dirty ass miners can bathe. So, the first miner got the clean water and the rest of the miners after were in nastier, dirtier & shittier water. Mmm Yes. Bathing in the same water all night long. What does that even say about the guys at the end of the night? Eww and Ewww.. Get there earlier. The girls also wrote letters home for the men. The newer girls were in this particular bordello, til the madam trusted them. Then, when they were nice and broken in, they went across to the saloon.
Only Sara and I were on the tour. But, our tour guide, dressed as a “Floozy,” projected as though she were in a room with 50 people as soon as she started on her memorized schpiel. But, if one of us talked to her, she spoke in her normal voice. At the end of the tour, we were encouraged to hang out and take pictures. There was a bathtub. (I don’t know if it was a replica or an original tub.) (Okay. I hope replica because, otherwise.. EWW!)
Sara put her foot in it to pose and it made the loudest noise, like it was breaking or something. We were sure they would come back upstairs and reprimand us, but they didn’t. Yay, Us! We broke Goldfield and got away with it!
The last thing we hit up was the train. It went around the town. It was the last ride of the day and was during sunset, so the lighting was amazing.
Before we ditched out towards Tucson, we browsed the gift shop. I have a few friends with awesome children, for whom I love to buy interesting presents, so a little bit of shopping is a must sometimes. I also bought candy. For me. And did not share it. Ney!
When we exited the parking lot, Sara’s tire died. I have changed many a tire in my life, but was in no mood. But, before I even had a chance to call Auto Club, a truck pulled up and a man, that is one of the train conductors, stepped out and saved the day. He had the best name. Whiplash. He put on the spare. Posed for a picture and sent us to a WalMart. And nothing says “Old West” like WalMart.
For girls that always lived in cities – the products in that WalMart were.. uh.. interesting..
I thought Virginia was for lovers, but since I was traveling solo this trip, and my last relationship was in the rearview along with the rest of the roadkill, I was just passing through, so there was no lovin’ as I drove through the state, heading back to the West coast to join back up with Jenn for some new adventures ahead, but I did have some tasty sliders for supper. More on that when I get there. As I ventured further into the South on this trip, having started in New England, it was time to see some history on the southside.
I stopped in Winchester where I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitors Center so I could get some info on these here parts. Across from it was Abram’s Delight, a beautiful stone structure and Winchester’s oldest home, built in 1754. There was a fee to enter it so I just took in its glory from the outside. Now I don’t mind spending a buck when worth it, especially when it comes to a recreational experience, beverage, or bite when on the road, which is my favorite way to taste life and the local cuisine as I travel, but some things you just get with a view and a photo. You know that scene in Vacation, where once they get to The Grand Canyon, they take it in briefly before Clark hurries them all back into the station wagon to keep moving? Sometimes I travel like that. But not at The Grand Canyon. That, by far, was one of the most majestic views and best stops on trips Jenn and I have hit the road for. We made sure to see both the North and South rims on that trip, and lingered throughout both days to take it all in. But I’ve seen my share of colonial stone homes, so I headed on into the Visitors Center to learn what else was around.
Not only was there a nice little informative film montage to fill you in on the history of the area but a very helpful desk attendant who handed out maps and even guided me to specific spots I should see and go eat at.
But before I got my grub on and left there, first I needed to go through the Patsy Cline exhibit. They had one there and it was free. It was also on the backside of the wall that projected the film retrospective I had just previously viewed. Turns out Patsy was from these parts and had a home there where she once lived that I also got a picture of.
The exhibit was as adorable and “Crazy” as Patsy. It was more like a shrine of sorts.
Consisting of signed and donated items by fans, mostly photos and painted portraits, including a piece signed by Jimmy Stewart dated 1996, and a jukebox with her tune “Crazy” at the top spot as the first selection.
Along with country music, there were some serious pre-Civil/Revolutionary War activities in the acres of this region as it stood its ground, dating back to 1755 with the headquarters of a young George Washington.
My first historic stop as I headed out was to see our first President’s office, which he occupied as a Colonel in the Virginia Militia while defending the frontier.
Along with a statue of his likeness, which provided a fun photo op, was the canon he used to defend Fort Loudoun. Pew Pew!
Just up the road, and a little further along on the history timeline, was Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters.
Occupied as a Major during his time there from 1861-1862, before leaving to head up his Valley Campaign and going on to become a General for the Confederacy, it now stands as an historical landmark.
A sign displays a snippet of a letter home to his wife describing everything from the wallpaper to the paintings to how the flue heated the home. Just goes to show, if an officer in his day in the midst of military planning could take the time to pen such descriptions to his beloved the least a modern day man can do is return a text. The lessons you learn on the road…
Wanting to keep it authentic I decided to dine at a local long-standing establishment, the Cork Street Tavern. Rumored to be haunted, having once served as a hospital space for recovering and dying Confederate soldiers (some whose bodies are said to have been buried in the basement below) the only spirits the tavern seemed to serve that day were at the bar. I ordered a Chardonnay from local winery, Naked Mountain. The tavern had also been rumored to have once been a brothel, so it seemed a fittingly named beverage brand to accompany my meal, the aforementioned sliders.
These were a step up from your standard small sized bar burgers as they served their sliders in the form of mini French Dip sandwiches. Tender roast beef slices slivered on golden egg brushed buns and fresh warm savory kettle chips on the side.
And speaking of sides, to my right was a Wall of Presidents; photos of various 20th century U.S. Presidents, and to my left were photos of the White House and Air Force One. Across the room was a wall of stars and comedians featuring framed photos of John Wayne, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers and the cast of The Honeymooners. Considering I once wrote political comedy, there were at least ghosts of my combined themed past in that room on those walls.
With some daylight left, I headed out onto the cobblestone walks and made my way to a brick-lined walkway leading up to the doorstep of Patsy Cline’s home, now a landmark itself. As the marker states, she was killed in a plane crash. Seems we’re sort of kindred spirits, except I managed to escape mine. I was not aware of how she passed before I came here, but like I said, there’s always something to learn on the road…
I soon was back on it and by that night with a full moon overhead I crashed at a HoJo in Salem which provided a plentiful buffet with fresh hot biscuits to boot and a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when I awoke in the morning as I set out for my next destination in the South.
On a recent cross country road trip I grew giddy when I discovered I’d be passing through a must see city on my list, Memphis, and was sure to stop to see its local treasure, the hallowed home of Elvis. It was even apropos that my visit to Graceland would fall on Easter weekend to take in where the King of kings once lived.
With my AAA card I got a discount for the Platinum Tour which included a tour of his 2 planes and his beloved car collection.
Daddy’s little girl, Lisa Marie, got a plane named after her. And what a nice ride it was. My dad gave me the keys to the family station wagon to borrow once in a while and later the spare Hyundai we had parked in the driveway growing up. This was definitely a different kind of dad.
There was plenty of leg room on the Lisa Marie luxury liner. The couches and chairs were plastic wrapped for their protection from the public, as well as his bed. And oh what a bed. Would you expect anything less than a blue suede bed for the the man who sang about blue suede shoes?
A friend whose young daughter, Zoe, who was the same age I was when I first fell for the King had just discovered him and wanted to know if it was true Elvis had died on the toilet as she’d heard. I told her I didn’t ask but I did get her a photo of his bathroom on the plane.
In order to tour Graceland you take a shuttle bus you board across the street where you are given a headset device which talks you through the home, room by room, and throughout the total Elvis experience. It was lightly raining that day (or was it the angels shedding tears for the King?) as we drove through the gates and up the driveway to the entrance, decked out with lion statues, naturally.
What was surprising was how in comparison to today’s celebrity homes and suped up cribs of those with lifestyles of the rich and famous how much smaller Graceland is than I had imagined, but what was lacking in size was made up for in the grandeur of decadence as only Elvis could do. Upon entering the residence you are greeted by one of 3 nearby chandeliers.
Off to your right is the peacock themed living room housing a 15 foot couch and a grand piano in the adjoining room reminding you of the music that built this palace.
The upstairs is off limits, as Elvis preferred his privacy and out of respect for that (and for the fact that may very well be where the bathroom is that he passed) you are kept to the first floor and below. (Sorry, Zoe, I couldn’t get close enough to find out.)
The bedroom his parents stayed in is on display just down the hall.
The one love Elvis and I share is for TV, and he loved to have one in almost every room, including his formal dining room.
As Lisa Marie informs us on our recorded headset presentation the kitchen was the central core of the home with ’round the clock meals thanks to there being so many guests and friends over and was a favorite hangout area and has been left intact as it last was actively used and decorated in its current 70’s tone. It was rather homey vs. luxe, and there is a TV there too.
And speaking of TV, again, next up is the downstairs, where you descend a mirrored wall staircase to discover Elvis’ triple threat of 3 TVs on a wall, which we’re told he had airing the 3 different networks at the same time so he could keep up with what was going on just like world leaders and newsmen of that day as he’d heard. Decorating another wall of that room is a lightning bolt, an image he became associated with during the 70’s and liked to have emblazoned on items and clothing. The monkey sculpture is funky and strangely makes sense in that setting.
The pool table in the adjoining room, where the walls are covered in cloth vs. paper, still has a tear on the tabletop where one of his buddies messed up a challenging pool shot as he tried to shark the King.
As you ascend back up another staircase you encounter the jungle, or rather another popular hang out room and recording space, The Jungle Room. Complete with tropical wood carved furniture, a waterfall wall, animal prints and the ever classic floor to ceiling green shag carpeting, it was inspired by Hawaii, one of Elvis’ favorite vacation spots. Talk about a man cave, this is about as groovy as they get.
Just outside is a brick enclosed space once used as a smokehouse by his dad, Vernon, and then later converted into a firing range so the King could get off some shots.
Along with his passion for karate Elvis also took up a love of racquetball and oversaw the building of his own personal court and leisure space, including a piano, for that pastime.
The court has now been converted into a space to showcase his performance wardrobe and several of his many awards.
Another whole room on the premises, The Hall of Gold, has been built to house the King’s gold, his extensive gold record collection and other outfits that marked his well lived life, including his wedding attire and his G.I. uniform.
Presley enjoyed a little poolside time and an area to relax with the Meditation Garden right next to it. Today fans can pay their last respects to where the King now rests alongside his parents.
Last stop on my tour was the Elvis Presley Automoblie Museum.
Quite a roomful of classic cars.
After all of that Graceland gawking it was time to go get me some good eats. As I was in Memphis there was only one thing on my menu: some good ol’ Memphis barbecue! And luckily just down the road was a sweet spot to go get some.
If you’d like, they’ll even give you a little Southern hospitality via their VIP service and pick you up in one of their pink limos.
I opted for their pink drink, called the Pink Cadillac of course. As you can see, even Elvis is a fan.
With its Elvis-themed kitsch adorning the place, in case you didn’t get enough at the Graceland gift shop, Marlowe’s is a tourist’s delight, but that doesn’t take a thing away from its BBQ. In fact I was in for a tasty treat, and award winning at that. The scent of rich smoky goodness envelops you as you walk through the doors courtesy of the barbecue pit in the kitchen.
I ordered the 2 entree combo plate featuring my two BBQ favorites: ribs and pulled pork, accompanied by coleslaw and corn fritters and the most delightful fried bread concoction. At first I thought they were just larger corn fritters but they turned out to be dinner rolls, if you deep fried them like a donut, lightly crispy on the outside but with soft warm delicious bread baked inside. I’m more of a sauce gal vs. a dry rub when it comes to my meat but they feature both and I was not let down. My plate came served up with some of the best sauce that has smacked past these lips. Their sweet tender pulled pork was a delight and the ribs had a deep dense smoke flavor that went beyond the pit and straight on into the bones themselves. I’ve never tasted anything so smoked through and through and it could darn well set off a smoke detector if it too had a tongue to take a taste.
With my belly blessed with some BBQ and my everything Elvis experience checked off my list I hopped back in my Honda, as no King ever got me a plane or a personalized Mercedes, but Memphis had loved me tender and it was time to hit the road.
Day 1 of our epic cross country adventure- This trip we left from LA, heading East as I would eventually drop off Jenn in Chicago for a visit with her fam before I headed on to friends in Massachusetts. With previous trips that started out as a 4 day excursion but wound up with us still on the road 2 weeks later roaming and discovering where we might end up next, we were well prepped for these travels.
First up, the world’s tallest thermometer located in Baker, the Gateway to Death Valley, because if you can’t find a ball of string big enough in these parts a thermometer embodying all that is grand about Americana culture will do.
Next stop, Las Vegas. Leave it to us to treat Sin City as a pit stop and a place to “do lunch”, but we needed to refuel, which we did at The PBR Rockbar on the strip.
We didn’t need to dance ‘til dawn this time around- been there, done that a dozen times – although we did miss our usual poolside service with cocktails topped off with toasted coconut at The Cosmopolitan, but this day we dined outdoors, beneath its looming exterior, remembering its glistening chandeliers, at the appropriately named The Chandelier bar and morning-after recovery brunches at Wicked Spoon, which we were wickedly tempted to try again, but were more than satisfied by our bold bar food selections and our sidewalk patio setting, watching the variety of people Vegas has to offer on display passing by. We skipped drinking PBR’s and stuck with root beers as it was back on the road for us following our meal.
The next test for us was to pass through the Valley of Fire without being burned. No problem for these two pros as we safely entered Utah, but only temporarily were we secure, for next up was an unexpected encounter with dinosaurs!
The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in St. George. Containing some of the best preserved tracks and fossils, which were discovered during a real estate project to level some land, and dating back more than 195 million years, this gem is a true Jurassic Park to treasure, and just as much fun for us to be let loose in.
Beaver would be where we would settle that first night, but not before we let off a little restless energy at Renegade Lounge.
This one stoplight town, and one bar, thanks to some sort of grandfather clause, as told to us the last time we were there by the guy whose grandfather owned the place, is the local hot spot. That’s right, this wasn’t our first time in these parts and served as a familiar go-to drinking hole, as it did for the other patrons passing through or seasonal workers stationed there. As soon as we arrived, Toto, we realized we weren’t in Los Angeles anymore. A group of friendly guys chatted us up, invited us to join them, bought us drinks and even offered up the delivery pizza they had at their table. (Those looking for a light bite can help themselves to the popcorn machine on the bar top.) Not one asked us if we were in the biz, or even what biz for that matter. There was simply actual human interaction and conversation taking place. And they were ever so much more interesting than any A-list celebs I’ve met. These guys weren’t just delightfully social, turns out they were death defying. I’ve had my share of crappy day jobs, from working for a pent up office manager who wanted me to decorate all of her binders with pretty patterns of wallpaper cover sheets and stylish font styles when labeling them to a high powered portfolio manager with unmanaged anger, who couldn’t make eye contact but could scream at you from down the hall and an office away. His former assistant quit in tears. I stuck it out amused by his issues. But unlike our new acquaintances, I had never risked my life by going below ground, surrounded by deadly gas at a geothermal plant drilling for hot water. Cade, who had tempted us to their table with cheesy bread and dipping sauce accompanying the pizza, (yeah, we’re very high-end and hard-to-get when we’re on the road) showed us video of them on his camera phone suiting up in tactical gear and gas masks as they prepped for their next shift. And I thought my ill-fitting tuxedo pants I got at a thrift store for my uniform during my catering days were bad. I just had to make sure I had my comfortable shoes and a wine opener on hand versus hoping I didn’t inhale anything toxic in order to make it through a shift.
We shared tales of cheating death and our taste for adventure. The crew was as colorful as their job description. Hector and AJ restocked the rounds as I was introduced to their boss man they affectionately called “The Old Buzzard”. He in turn nicknamed me “Funny Shit” as I made him laugh. He then tried to make me dance. Boys on the road, especially in the West, sure do like and look for any opportunity to two-step. We both soon learned I do not, and really can’t. The Old Buzzard who had suffered his share of challenges as a former bronco rider on the rodeo circuit, including a broken hip that caused him to limp, soon gave up on me declaring after a turn on the dance floor, “You keep leading. You don’t know how to follow!” Such is the curse, or benefit, depending on your dance partner, of being an independent woman. We returned to our stools and swapped stories of adrenaline rushing activities we enjoyed. I told him how I had jumped out of an airplane, he told me to top that I needed to ride a bull.
He then took Jenn for a spin and got her to two-stepping after she had wrapped up a freestyle session blowing it out with Cade in a dance-off below the pulsating disco lights.
Tired from the day’s long drive we took our bows for the night and trekked back to our hotel, the Best Western Butch Cassidy Inn, where we had comfortable beds waiting and a complimentary breakfast the next day before hitting the road, well rested and refreshed for the journey ahead.
If you’re seeking some relief from the Arizona heat I suggest a Cold War era flashback for a pretty cool pit stop. On our way from Tucson to Tombstone Jenn and I made a visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona. This former top secret site is now a national historic landmark. You, too, can take a tour underground to see the only remaining Titan II missile site open to the public up close, and even stand on its launch duct,
without any special clearance required, just a reasonable admission fee, and a hard hat if you’re tall like me. (Those beams are low and the walkways tight in these close quarters!)
Following a brief film on the history of the site you are led by a tour guide to the formerly restricted grounds featuring exhibits of rocket engines.
Our tour guide was an engineer in this field, and like many others who work there, volunteers his expertise as he directs you past signs stating “Explosives”, “Safety First”, and “Danger RF Radiation” as you head to the access portal. These, of course, are all leftovers of a bygone era as we were assured no nukes remained. And to be sure of that we were told that due to agreements set in place post Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union they are visited unannounced by our now comrades to double check. These former foes have even embraced the art of the American business trip, often showing up during the height of the golf season in Arizona to check the site and hit the links.
We descended 35 feet below ground into the missile complex, and of course captured a few fun photo ops. It’s what we do.
Entering the launch control center is like stepping onto a sci-fi set from the 1960’s.
The oversized computer panels still stand and you can even hop into the command seat to re-enact a launch, or refrain if you prefer to avoid Armageddon.
The final stop is the missile itself, standing majestically in its silo. For this part of the tour we were handed off to another expert, a bit more serious in composure, and I’m not quite sure he appreciated the glee Jenn and I emitted as we posed for more pics. He seemed to be stuck in the Cold War mindset vs the appreciation of nostalgia we enjoyed as we took in its impressive anatomy decorated with the letters U.S.A.
But we got off our shots and gave it a salute, grateful it was never used, as we made our way back above ground.