Blown Away

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After parting company with John & Libby we headed towards Las Vegas on US 95. We planned to drive about half way and stop for the night, however, the road was a great driving road and we didn't see any campgrounds that interested us along the way, so we ended up driving all the way to Las Vegas. A couple of months ago I raved about the beauty in Wyoming as we crossed it from east to west in the southern part of the state. Today we drove 400+ miles and it was desert the entire time. It was a different kind of beauty, but stunning nonetheless. We've seen photos of roads that go through the desert, but it's nothing like actually driving on such a road. You look into the distance and the road disappears into the horizon or into a mountain straight ahead. The rock formations and colors were magnificent to view as we drove US 95 to Vegas passing through several small towns that were in the middle of nowhere.

So there I was, driving along minding my own business when I hear a woman's voice say "Breaker Breaker" on the CB. Thinking it was the red truck that just passed me going northbound, I responded "Come on". The voice replies to me with "Hey honey, what's your 20?" Hmmm, I think, this could be interesting. So I say "Hey honey, my 20, and my WIFE's, is southbound on US 95". So she says "Well, come on in and park your truck for a while. Free coffee and free showers at the Playmate Ranch." I tell her "Thanks, but we're tracking to Vegas" and she says "Have a good trip". Then I see it right in front of us, way off the road to the right, a little white building with a sign that says "Playmate Ranch". I forgot that brothels were legal in Nevada. I think that may be the only time I have ever been propositioned by a woman.  ;-)   I hear her again several times trying to entice truckers into the ranch. We saw more brothels along the way, like The Shady Lady, which was just a house set back off the road. Interesting state, Nevada.

We arrived in Las Vegas and checked into the campground at Arizona Charlie's just before sunset. Nice place. Big, level concrete pullthru sites. Good price ($18 per night). And....the best thing of all is that there was a phone jack at EACH site, which gave us dial tone to our phone jacks inside the motorhome. That meant I could SURF for a few days.  And surf I did. I was up until 2 A.M. playing on the laptop the first night we were there. Loved it.

There was a casino and hotel, as well as a campground, at Arizona Charlie's. Needless to say, we did visit the casino every day to support the local economy and get some cheap, but good, food. The first thing we did was to get their card that goes into the slots and racks up points towards meals or cash (not much). We did get enough points for the breakfast buffet the morning we left, so we saved about $10. Of course, Diane reminded me that we did spend about $100 in the slots to earn that "free" breakfast.  ;-)

Our main purpose in wanting to go to Las Vegas was to see the only Cirque du Soleil (CdS) show that we hadn't seen, "O". Diane and I have now seen all of the Cirque du Soleil shows except the first two, Novelle Experience and Saltimbanco. One is out of production and the other one in limited production, mostly outside of the USA. For some reason, we never pursued what was going on in those big blue and yellow tents that came into Atlanta for weeks at a time and visible from I-75. Then one year we decided to check it out and that was when we discovered CdS in the show Alegria, which is still my favorite.

"O" is a resident show in Las Vegas and is staged at the Bellagio Hotel on the strip. We drove over to the Bellagio and were really surprised to see how easy it was to park in their parking garage. The show was great. It is CdS's most elaborate show and the theater is huge and beautiful. The size of the theater made the show less "personal" than the others we've seen, but "O" was more of a spectacle. Great acoustics. At first, I thought we blew it, as we had done in the spring, by not making a decision quick enough to get tickets. We had seats in the balcony, in the third level, and we were only two rows from the back wall. It did, however, give us an interesting perspective on what was going on everywhere on the stage.

"O" is a water-based show, but contained all of the CdS elements that one would expect in their shows. This show had fire and water and "land" (stage). Where they get all of these top notch acts to staff all of their shows is a mystery to me. I have yet to see anything less than class acts in their shows. The music, as usual, was great. The score for "O" seemed to be more driving and have more bass than some of the scores for other shows. You could feel it in the seat at times. However, the music from Alegria is still my favorite.

We saw a copycat show in Oregon at the FMCA Convention that we attended in August and that one came across as the "farm team" or minor league to CdS. Other than one act with a husband and wife shooting arrows at each other from crossbows, there was no energy or excitement. "O", like all the other CdS shows I've seen got me excited and had my heart jump a few times with what they were doing. They were incredible. If you ever get to Vegas, I absolutely recommend seeing "O" and/or the other resident show in town, "Mystere". It IS expensive, probably one of the most expensive shows on The Strip, but it is worth every dollar for the tickets. When we get back to Vegas in a few years, I wouldn't hesitate to buy tickets to see it again. I'd like to go see it from a lower angle, like the front row.

As you can see, I am a big CdS fan. I have gotten a lot of pleasure from each of their shows. Our friends, John & Libby saw "O" back in the spring and loved it, too. I had never been to Las Vegas until last October and now we've been twice in 10 months. I figure there are three reasons to go there. One is to see shows. The second is to have some fun playing the slots. It would be nice to win though. The third is for the good food at cheap prices.

Our next stop was to visit two of the National Parks in Utah, Zion and Bryce Canyon, on our way to Grand Junction, CO, which is where we decided to spend Labor Day Weekend. The drive from Las Vegas to Zion was very scenic, especially when the interstate wound its way through the Virgin River Gorge in the Virgin Mountains. We arrived in Springdale and settled into the Zion Canyon Campground and Resort. It was the closest campground to the park and offered a free shuttle to the park to hook up with the park shuttles. Nice park, great views.

The oldest rock layers in Zion date back 225 million years. It was the floor of a shallow sea, then the bottom of a lake. Volcanoes erupted and left ash, forming bright layers. A wide variety of life once lived in the area as evidenced by dinosaur footprints and shellfish fossils that have been found in the canyon. Then about 150 million years ago windblown sand covered the area, which created the sandstone in the canyon. Finally, about four million years ago the Colorado Plateau began its long, slow uplift. The canyon was carved by erosion caused by the Virgin River. Every year the canyon gets wider and wider as a result of the erosion. We learned that someday, far into the future, the erosion will reduce the landscape to flat plains. It was early Mormon settlers that found and named the canyon. Many of the towers and cliffs in Zion were given biblical names by a Mormon minister, such as Great White Throne, Angels Landing, and the Three Patriarchs.

The first thing we did was to go to the IMAX theater outside the park to see the movie about Zion Canyon, "Treasure of the Gods". It was one of the best IMAX movies I've ever seen. After the movie, we went into the park, checked out the visitor center and then got on a shuttle bus for the ride into the canyon. We hiked the Grotto, Kayenta, and lower Emerald Falls trails one day, which was about 2.5 miles. It was 90+ degrees. On another day we hiked back to the visitor center from Canyon Junction. It was even hotter that day, over 100 degrees. Although I much prefer the heat over the cold, I'm not sure Diane prefers it that way.

We heard about the ride up the mountain to the tunnel by some of our RV friends who were in the area in the spring. First, let me say that the ride up the mountain through Zion to the tunnel was, for sure, an e-ticket ride, but SOOO COOL. The tunnel was even more interesting. Right down the middle of the road. I even got to use the flood light on the roof that we paid for and never used. Actually, I didn't need to use it, but it was a good excuse to see if it still worked.  :-)  The tunnel was carved out many years ago, long before anyone ever dreamed of large motorhomes that would someday go through it. The tunnel was only 13'6" high at the center and only 11'4" high at the edges. So for vehicles our size of 12.6 feet, the park rangers had a program in which they block all traffic at one end and have motor homes such as ours drive down the center of the tunnel at it's highest point. They charged a $10.00 fee for doing this and issued a 10 day permit for a return trip if going back through it again. Nice ride, not really very intimidating.

Now for Bryce Canyon....It was AWESOME!!!!! I was truly BLOWN AWAY by the beauty of the place, which was sometimes unbelievable. Bryce Canyon was named for Ebenezer Bryce, an early rancher in the area. It began relatively recently in the late Cretaceous Period, sometime around the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

The formations in the canyon, known as hoodoos, were formed by sedimentation, uplift, and erosion. It was these hoodoos that blew me away. I couldn't stop looking at them or taking photos. Thank goodness for digital cameras. Hoodoo means "to cast a spell", but it also means "a pillar of rock, usually of fantastic shape, left by erosion". And fantastic they are to see. Thousands of them. I'm sure photos do not do justice to these hoodoos. They must be seen in person to fully enjoy their beauty.

Diane and I did the Navajo Loop hike with a guide one morning at 8:30 when it was 45 degrees. But it warmed up very fast. There was a 30 degree temp swing in Zion from 75 to 105. In Bryce Canyon there was a 40 degree temp swing from 45 to 85. I forgot that we climbed to 8000 feet to get here. The guide, Jan Stock, was great. The tour ended at the bottom of the canyon just past Wall St (interesting to see those huge pines surviving in such an arid place). Diane and I decided to take the longer Queen's Garden trail to the rim and then the rim trail back to Sunset Point where we parked our car. That gave us a 3-mile hike. It was a lot easier going down than UP, but we stopped at every possible shady spot for some water. The views were incredible and it seemed like there was a better view around every corner. After the hike, we went to the Lodge for lunch, which we earned.

On another day, we walked the rim from Bryce Point to Sunset Point (about 2.5 miles). The weather was getting stormy with lightning in the distance, so we hopped a shuttle to the Lodge for lunch rather than walk. When we got back to the campground, there was a Wanderlodge next to us. The guy was out and I went to chat with him, older hippy type with long gray hair and pony tail. Why can't I have long hair? Hec, why can't I have hair? This was a 10 year old coach they had owned for 7 1/2 years. He said they had lots of problems with it, especially with an overheating engine. He spent around $10K dollars trying to fix it and then someone at the factory asked if his "pitch" was right on the fan. He had it checked and found out the fan was installed BACKWARDS when the motorhome was built. Well, Blue Bird treated him pretty good after that and have repainted his rig three times since then. He said they have been on the side of the road at least 50 times as the engine shut down. So I guess there are problems even in $500K coaches. He said folks with new Wanderlodges are having problems and these things cost upwards of $600-750K. The guy told me he had a buddy who was a multi-millionaire who researched every which way from Sunday before buying his rig. After all the research, he bought a Dutch Star. So maybe we did good with our research as we have been very happy with our Dutch Star.

The folks in the Wanderlodge full-timed for 12 years, but have had a place south of Naples, FL for the past five years and travel in the summer. They were in Newfoundland this year and said it was cold. We are planning a trip up there in the summer of 2002. They took their 40 foot Wanderlodge and tow car on the ferry, the short ferry. He also said to skip Prince Edward Island. I told him that he was the second person that told me that. He said if we went to PEI first, we'd probably like it, but if we did the others first, especially Newfoundland, which they said was constant beauty, we'd be disappointed. We haven't made any plans yet for next summer, so we'll see about PEI as we start to discuss a route into the Canadian Atlantic Provinces.

We stayed at Ruby's Campground, which wasn't too far from the Bryce entrance. It offered a shuttle if one did not want to drive a car into the park. The campground was a little pricey at $24 per night for just water and electric, but very convenient to the park. It's better than staying far away and having to drive in every day. That way we got to go back to the motorhome for a rest and then back in the evening. One day we signed up for the green bus loop 2 1/2 hour guided ride at 4PM. It was a nice tour and the driver was very knowledgeable.

One of the not so nice things about Ruby's is email access. Someone had sent me a note with a photo attached and it was hanging up my ability to get my email via the cell phone. I had to pack up the laptop and go to the office. The campground directory said that Ruby's had a central phone hookup.'s a machine on a wall in which you place dollar bills. I walked into the office and saw that and said to the guy "please tell me that isn't the internet hookup". He said yes it was, just put dollar bills in. I told him no way and phone access should be complimentary to customers. He said something like it was very popular in Europe to which I said "well, it isn't very popular in America and the baby boomers won't stand for it". So I went outside, called Earthlink, waited for 30 minutes, and had the guy delete the note from my inbox. UGH. That's why full-timers don't like large notes or notes with attachments sent to them.

Last year we didn't have any reservations for Labor Day Weekend and it was hard to find a campground that had sites available. We did finally find one in Jackson, MI and spent the weekend there. We decided that this year we would look ahead and pick a place along our route and make reservations. That place turned out to be Grand Junction, CO. We left Bryce and headed north to I-80 for the drive to Grand Junction. That was a pretty windy corridor and it was windy the day we were on the road. We checked into the RV Ranch in Grand Junction, a nice campground that used to be a KOA. We met some nice neighbors who were there for an extended stay, Hank and Toni Kiser. Hank was a retired U.S. Marine colonel. We had a couple of nice conversations with them during our short stay in Grand Junction.

One of the sites in the area that we were told not to miss was the Colorado National Monument. On our way there to drive the loop in the park, we noticed a sign for the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Fruita and decided to check it out. There were a few skeletons, but the interesting dinosaurs were the ones that were made to look as they once did, including a few life-size robotic dinosaurs that moved. The area was the site of several dinosaur finds, including Dinosaur Hill, an actual dinosaur dig. We enjoyed the time we spent in this museum.

Fruita was the route to the main entrance to the monument, so we continued on the road up to the entrance. The Colorado National Monument was the dream of one man, John Otto. In 1907, he found the canyons that make up the monument and started a quest to promote it because he believed it should be a national park. While he and local citizens campaigned with Washington to set aside the area as a national park, John Otto built miles of trails through the area so other people could visit the area and enjoy its beauty. In 1911, his dream came true when the Colorado National Monument was established. He was named the park's caretaker, a job he did for $1 per month until 1927.

We decided to just sit around and do nothing on Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. On Monday, we drove to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park located near Montrose. Unfortunately, that was the first time we went touring and I forgot to bring my camera, so the photos are compliments of Jim and Patty Hammond.

The trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, named after Captain John W. Gunnison, took us through Montrose, CO, a small town that is also host to a jazz festival. The Black Canyon, formerly a national monument, is the newest national park in the system. The canyon is 2500 feet deep and was carved by the erosion caused by the Gunnison River at its base. The river eventually runs into the Colorado River and you can hear the roar of the river from some of the vantage points overlooking the canyon.

One of the highlights of the canyon is the diversion tunnel built to provide water to the Uncompahgre Valley. A local farmer, F. C. Lauzon who lived on 40 acres in the valley, envisioned a tunnel to bring water from the river to the valley. The problem was that the valley was on the other side of the rock walls that created the canyon. Surveying the canyon from the river was a very difficult task given the power of the rapids and huge boulders in the river. An attempt to survey the river in September 1900 ended in failure. However, the expedition leader, William Torrence, vowed to return to complete the survey. In August 1901, he returned with Abraham Lincoln Fellows, an engineer and hydrographer of the U.S. Geological Survey. This time they traveled with rubber air mattresses rather than the wooden boats that broke apart during the 1900 expedition. The survey was completed and work on the tunnel began in 1904.

The first task was to build a road to the base of the canyon. That was no easy task as the grade to the bottom was 23%, which was an incredibly steep grade. We drove down to the bottom of the canyon in the car and it was one of the steepest grades I have ever driven, albeit the grade on the current road is "only" 14% in some sections. The tunnel was completed on July 6, 1909 as crews drilling from opposite directions met in the tunnel. The tunnel is 5.8 miles in length and provides up to 1,100 cubic feet of water per second to over 100,000 acres of farmland in the Uncompahgre Valley.

One evening I started chatting with some folks in a rental motorhome parked across from us in the campground. They were from the Netherlands and were traveling with their 18-year old son. I was on my way to the cabin where the phone jack was located to do email, so they asked if the boy could tag along and check email. I said sure, so off we went to do email. He had a Hotmail address and was able to process his mail. Along the way we had a nice conversation about our travels to Amsterdam and surrounding towns during the five weeks I spent there back in 1995.

With Labor Day Weekend over, we drove to Boulder to visit some folks we know there. Although I had been to Boulder many times during my working days, Diane had never been there. I like Boulder. It's a nice college town at the foothills to the Rockies. There were several people we wanted to visit while in Boulder. Starr Aldrich was just leaving the department that I was joining back in 1993, but I did get to know him over the years. He and his wife, Betty, lived north of Boulder and got us permission to park in their church's parking lot for a few nights while we visited the area. It worked out great.

I knew Bill and Cynthia Shaffer from my days working in a branch office in Miami. We both worked for the same manager and had a great working relationship during the five years we worked together. We would cover each other's customers when we were on vacation. I would cover for Bill when he and Cynthia went off to the mountains every summer, and Bill would cover for me when I took time off during the Christmas holidays.

Bill Brackett was a student from North Carolina who came to Poughkeepsie, NY to work during the summer. Given that he was on the golf team, the friendship developed almost immediately. I looked forward to Bill coming back each summer to work so we could play golf together, which we did often. Actually, I learned a lot about golf by playing with Bill and played my best golf during that time frame. Unfortunately, Bill's wife Sue was ill when we were in Boulder and we didn't get to visit with her.

Everyone came to the motorhome to see our house on wheels and they all had lots of questions about the rig and the full-timing lifestyle. We also wanted to visit with Peggy Baker, an ex-colleague of mine during my last working assignment, but she was tied up with work and couldn't get away. Diane, Bill Brackett, and I went to eat dinner at a place that served tapas, which we learned about during our stay in Madrid. We had a great time chatting and eating.

In keeping with our plan to try to see a baseball game if we are in an area that has a stadium, we got tickets to see a Rockies game. Unfortunately, they blew it in the last inning and lost the game.

We had one day to do some touring, so we drove to the Rocky Mountain National Park. One-third of the park was above the tree line, where one can see tundra. It was very windy and cold as we climbed up to the Alpine Visitor Center. We underestimated the cold, so we were not properly dressed for it. We got out a couple of times to look at the views, but decided it was too cold to do much of that. So we went to the visitor center, had lunch, and then headed home.

Our trip to Boulder pretty much wrapped up our tour of the west this year and it was now time to start heading back to the east. We would travel across the northern states as we headed to Indiana for some warranty maintenance on our motorhome. Along the way, we would cross Nebraska, take in a Newmar rally in Iowa, and be shocked by the events of September 11, 2001.

Until next travels.

Copyright © 2001, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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