Monthly Archives: January 2017

Nevada Part II: Las Vegas

We pulled out of Reno on December 19th. It was a good weather day and we were happy about traveling with favorable road conditions. We drove east on Interstate 80 for a short while until we got to Fernley, then we cut over on ALT 50 until we reached Fallon. In Fallon we turned south on Highway 95. Our reservation at the Circus Circus Casino RV lot did not begin until the next day, so we planned to drive until we (Mike) got tired and then boondock somewhere. We expected the entire drive (from RV Park to RV Park) to be about 7 hours, so it made sense to break it up into two sessions. No reason to kill ourselves on a travel day.

Highway 95 was fairly flat and straight, so I was excited about that. However, it was also a very busy road with only two lanes and practically no shoulder. Mike was on hyper- alert all day in anticipation that an oncoming vehicle would cross the center lane and slam into us. He did not have fun driving that day. As our travels progressed, we figured we would be near the Amargosa Valley when nightfall approached. This location is where Highway 373 intersects Highway 95 as 373 comes out of Death Valley National Park. Mike recalled that there was a rest area and a gas station near that intersection. The temperature was dropping and we were definitely going to need to crank up the heater overnight. If we boondocked, it meant we would have to fill up with diesel to keep the generator running so we could run the heater. As I looked at google maps I also discovered there was an RV park at that location with full hook-ups. The rate was $25 per night. We were going to have to spend money either way, so we decided to call the RV Park and see if they could take us for one night. We didn’t need water or sewer hook-ups, but the 50 AMP electrical connection would allow us to wait and refuel in the morning before we pulled back onto the road. I called the campground from the road. The man on the phone said he could take us. We pulled in right around 5:00 PM and it was already pitch black outside. It felt more like 10:00 PM than it did early evening. He guided us to a spot near the back of the park, Mike plugged us in, I made nachos for dinner, we hit the sack extra early.

We slept well and got up around 7:00 AM to do our regular travel preparations. We filled up with diesel upon exiting the RV park, and we were back on the road with more good weather to lead us into Las Vegas. We only had about 90 miles left on our route, so the drive was easy and quick. The highway expanded to four lanes with a center median shortly after we hit the pavement, so Mike was much more relaxed as we pulled into the Circus Circus lot.

One of Mike’s co-workers, who is also retired, had planned to come visit us while we were parked in Vegas. He had hotel reservations at the Mirage and his flight was scheduled to land around noon on the same day we arrived. We got ourselves parked and situated as quickly as we could. Once we were all set up, we walked over to The Mirage and found Doug at the Sports Book. It has been so much fun to have various people visit us during our Lower 48 in 48 Tour, and we really appreciated the fact that Doug chose to come spend Christmas week with us. The three of us visited over drinks at the bar and then walked across the street to the Yard House for a bite of dinner.

The rest of the week blew by in the blink of an eye. It was bowl season (as in football), so Doug and Mike spent most of their time at the Mirage Sports Book. I joined them on occasion. When I got sick of watching teams I didn’t care about, I wandered over to the Pai Gow Poker tables and donated some money to the casino. They hung out a couple of evenings without me when I went back to the rig to keep the dogs company. They enjoyed their time together and I enjoyed my time alone – so it worked out great for everyone.

We had some good meals at restaurants like Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar, The Hash House A Go Go, and another DDD spot called Fat Choy. Doug was generous enough to bring us some delicious home- made Texas tamales, so we were able to have a proper Christmas Eve dinner (its a South Texas thing, and since I spent my childhood years in the Valley, tamales and queso are a required feast on December 24th). I cooked Christmas dinner in the Monaco and we enjoyed hanging out with our friend.

Mike and I never expected Las Vegas to be busy during the Christmas holiday, but we were completely mistaken. The crowds were “regular size” when we arrived, but on Christmas Day the number of tourists on the strip exploded. I was amazed at all the bodies that appeared out of nowhere. It was crazy. Apparently people start arriving on Christmas in anticipation of the New Year’s celebration one week later. Tour companies were dropping off patrons by the bus loads. It looked like guests were standing in line at the hotel registration desks for hours! I was also amazed at how many people were toting small children in strollers. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose Las Vegas as a vacation destination with tiny kiddos in tow, but they must know something I don’t because there were kids everywhere! Seems like Disney Land or the equivalent would be more appropriate, but what do I know?

We dropped Doug off at the airport on the evening of December 26th, and we left Vegas on the morning of the 27th. It was time to cross Nevada off the map and head for state #48… California!

Walker Lake is a natural lake beside Highway 95 in the Nevada desert. Hawthorne Army Depot, which is the world’s largest ammunition depot, sits on the south edge of the same body of water.

Most of our drive to Las Vegas looked like this.

We ran into the Grinch on the way home from our first dinner in Vegas.

We were assigned a different spot when we made our reservation at the Circus Circus RV lot, but when we arrived #10 was open and it had a little grassy area beside it. When I checked us in at the office, I asked the lady if we could have that spot instead. She said no problem and had us reassigned in a matter of minutes. I thought it would be nice if our outdoor space was roomy. It never dawned on me that other campers would traipse directly through our stuff to get from one aisle of the park to the next. Piper didn’t like strangers creating a thoroughfare through his yard. I was afraid he was going to bite the next idiot that didn’t have enough manners to go around us. Mike set up the ladder as a makes-shift barrier to pedestrians. It was a successful deterrent about 40% of the time.

We had to stop in and say hi to Jimmy while we were in one of his neighborhoods.

Why yes… I DID eat my entire plate of Crab Cakes Benedict from Hash House A GO GO. I took more than half of the plate home in a box and made about three more meals of what was left – but I finished!

When one of your besties sends a text to say they are stuck in Vegas for the night because the pilot did not show up for their connecting flight between Denver and Houston, you drop what you are doing and drive over to their hotel to say hello!

I did not know there was a Cathedral on the Las Vegas Strip!

The Christmas Mass was very crowded and the music was magical.

Christmas dinner. Not as many options as a buffet, but far better flavor (if I do say so myself). I told Mike and Doug that I was going to order a Honey Baked Ham to pick up on Christmas Eve. They each got to choose a side dish for the menu. Mike selected Mac and Cheese. Doug requested Green Bean Casserole. I opted for a Spinach Horseradish Salad. Rolls and dessert completed the line-up. We stuffed ourselves.

One of my favorite things about Las Vegas is to go see the sculptures made of flowers at The Conservatory in The Bellagio. I walked over there alone one afternoon. Upon seeing the throngs of people when I arrived, I was so glad I had not forced Mike and Doug to come with me. It really was a miserable experience. At one point I was smack in the middle of the sea of bodies when one self absorbed woman had the nerve to ask me to move out of the way because she wanted to take a picture of her daughter and didn’t want me in the photo. On the inside I thought to myself “No S*%t Lady, where do you suggest I go? I don’t want to be in the picture either”! On the outside I smiled and said “Merry Christmas”. I’m pretty sure she knew I didn’t mean it.

A winter cabin made of flowers and other natural elements.

Polar Bears made of carnations.

Our friend, Doug, beside his favorite slot machine.

A view from the hotel portion of The Mirage.

We had a delicious lunch at a DDD spot on Sahara called Fat Choy. Wonton Soup, Short Rib Grilled Cheese, Fried Dumplings, Sesame Noodles, Soft Shell Bao. YUM! Thanks for treating us, Doug!

Nevada Part I: Reno

When we knew we were going to Reno, I remembered hearing of an RV Park that some friends had stayed at while they were in that area. I suggested to Mike that he might look into it while he was researching options for places to stay. He looked up Reno/Sparks RV Park and the reviews were fine. The location was also good, as it was just off of I-80 near the section of town where we would be arriving from Hwy 395, and departing east on the Interstate when it was time to leave. Since it met most of our criteria, he started pursuing a reservation for us.

Some RV Parks have a rule that says the rigs of their guests must be no older than ten years. It is their effort to keep the campgrounds “classy”. Our rig is a 2006, in pristine condition, so we feel we are classy enough to meet the needs of the RV Park owners. For the past year, our Monaco has been near the “cut-off” point. To avoid this hassle during reservation processes at parks where this rule is in place, we have just told them our rig was a 2007. What are they going to do… ask us for the VIN number and look it up online? Well the lady on the phone did, indeed, ask Mike for the year of our coach and he replied with the standard answer of 2007. She said that was pretty close to ten years old, so we would have to send her pictures of the Monaco. They would review the photos and let us know if they would allow us to stay there. Whatever. Mike complied and went outside to take the photos with his iphone and then emailed them to their office. Then the lady called him back and said the pictures weren’t good enough. He would have to resend some at a different angle. Good grief. He played along and we finally got approval to make a reservation. Whew, we were shaking in our boots. Not really.

We wanted to stay in Reno for a month because we would be arriving just before Thanksgiving. This time of year is busy for everyone, and we wanted to be in one location long enough to get all of our Christmas business situated (cards mailed out, presents bought and shipped, etc.). We also knew we would be receiving some packages from friends and family during this time of year, and it would be helpful to be in one spot for a while with an address where people could send stuff to us. This catapulted the red tape of our reservation process to a whole new level. Since we would be monthly tenants, we had to fill out a five page questionnaire and wait again to see if we were approved. Mike agreed to play the game and they were supposed to send us the paperwork via email. He kept getting emails from them, but no attachments. They couldn’t figure out how to get us the coveted questionnaire, and they wouldn’t approve our reservation until it was complete. At this point Mike was fed up with the whole process and ready to start looking for Option B. However, he didn’t say anything to me and kept his cool as he talked with the ladies in the office each day. I was not aware of his level of disdain. Before it was all over, he was the one that ended up having to talk me down.

We finally received the paperwork and I started filling out the information. When they had the nerve to ask us to list the name and duration of the last place we had stayed, I laughed out loud. I skipped that question (as if that information was any of their business and had any relevance at all to our stay in Reno). We didn’t return the paperwork, we just kept it with us – ready to hand over during the check -in process.

Our arrival date finally came. Mike pulled into the “arrival lane” and I went to the office to check us in like always. I told them our name and the dates of our reservation so they could pull up our file. The first question the lady asked me was if we would be staying longer than 28 days. No. She asked if I was sure we wouldn’t be staying longer. Apparently if a guest stayed 29 days, the sewer connection had to be plumbed with hard PVC pipes as opposed to the standard RV sewer hose. I again answered no. Our reservation was for 28 days and we would be leaving on the date indicated on the paperwork. Then she asked again if we would only be there for 28 days because the sewer connection issue was very important.  I answered her again that we would be there for 28 days. When she asked me the same question for the fourth time in a row, I just looked at her.

Then she panicked when she saw that the completed questionnaire was not with her paperwork for us. I calmly assured her there was no reason to fret and turned over the five page “application”. I wondered if they would notice I didn’t answer one of their pivotal questions. They didn’t. They also needed rabies vaccination information on Piper and Cessna. I was prepared and had copies available for them to keep. Then they wanted information on all of their immunizations. I went back to the rig and pulled their files to get the information the campground wanted. (As it turns out, Piper was actually due for his bordatella vaccination, which of course we took care of with a local vet during our stay. However, they didn’t even notice this on the paperwork I provided to them during check-in… so my point is that they were all excited about the paperwork, yet had no clue about any of the information they received). At the conclusion of the check-in process I had to sign and date a set of rules  – the exact same information that was included in our campground map/brochure we always get at the beginning of a stay. They copied those signed rules and gave me back my copy. I guess they thought I might have forgotten I signed them or something. Then the lady took all of our paperwork and made THREE copies to file away in different sections of their office. Really? They needed to keep three different copies of our useless paperwork? The management of this place held themselves in very high regard. I don’t mind going through the motions of a campground’s check-in process. I also understand each RV park has their own way of doing things for their own various reasons. This just seemed like a bit of overkill to me. The management seemed far more interested in their control of the situation rather than the process of welcoming guests.

The last hurrah was the dog park situation. This campground had no grass. Anywhere. At all. The landscaping was all set in gravel and sand. The green spaces between spots was astro turf. They were very adamant about the fact that our dogs were not allowed to pee or poop ANYWHERE except their dog parks. Well, the dog parks were small fenced squares of sand and gravel that reeked with the smell of ammonia. The staff at the park watered down and raked the areas during the day, but they were gross. Piper and Cessna HATED going in there. I did too. Piper actually tip-toed through the space when he was forced to use those facilities. It was pretty funny to look at. I didn’t blame him. Made me want to gag when we approached the fence. There was an apartment complex across the street from the RV Park, and those grounds were surrounded by a ribbon of actual grass. We tried our best to make it to that green space when it was time to do business – which meant a brisk walk the length of a city block (we were in the back part of the campground – farthest from the street) each time the dogs needed to go. No sniffing along the way. Stay focused and keep those bladders in check until we cross the street. Those dogs were real troopers for 28 days.

After we got ourselves situated in the campground operated by Big Brother, the month was good. We obeyed all the rules and checked out while our sewer connection was still legal. We got our Christmas all situated. We drove up to Lake Tahoe one day when the weather was good. We took another overnight trip to Penn Valley in Northern California to visit my former doubles partner, Joyce, and her hubby Tim. (They left The Woodlands and moved up there when Tim retired from Chevron several years ago). We went to a couple of casinos to watch some games in their sports bars and gamble at some of their tables. We had a few nice dinners at some good restaurants. The dogs got regular long walks at the nearby Sparks Marina Lake. Mike turned 55. All in all, it turned out to be a convenient stop.

The managers of this park were very proud of their spaces, but I was frankly unimpressed. They were tiny. The front half was covered with astro turf and the back half was designated for parking the car. So, in actuality, we had one half of a narrow space for outside use. When one takes into account that the neighbor’s sewer, water, and electrical connections came half-way into our “lawn”, it was downright crowded. It might have been the nicest park in the area, but we have enjoyed far better accommodations in various locations across the country.

We saw a Scheels Store when we were in Utah, but we didn’t go inside and I thought it was a grocery store. You can imagine my surprise when I wandered into the one located within walking distance of our campground – just to check it out. The first thing I saw was a giant ferris wheel, indoors, in motion, with people on it. It turns out that this business is an all sports superstore with 26 locations in 11 states. The Reno/Sparks location claims to be the World’s Largest All Sports Store.  I bought some Christmas gifts there.

The mirroring aquarium arches welcomed shoppers at two different entrances. Needless to say, I was intrigued after I got over my initial shock.

This mountain of stuffed wildlife trophies marked the entrance into the hunting section. (This is only one side of the full scale mountain).

Donner Summit on Interstate 80 heading into California from Nevada. We all know the story of that fateful November in 1846 when the Donner Party’s trek into California was blocked by snow. Only 45 of 81 emigrants survived. There is now speculation about the validity of their infamous menu options.

Tahoe National Forest is comprised of 850,000 acres of public land interspersed with 350,000 acres of private land in a checkerboard ownership pattern. Interestingly enough, the Tahoe National Forest does NOT include Lake Tahoe. The terrain ascends from 1,500 at the western edge to 9,000 feet at the crest.

A view of lake Wildwood from the balcony of my friend’s lake house. We certainly enjoyed our morning coffee from the deck as the sun made its daily debut.

While Mike was drinking his coffee, I jokingly asked him if he had spotted any eagles around the lake yet. Not less than five minutes later, this majestic bird came flying into the tree beside the house! We were lucky enough to get to watch him for the rest of the morning.

These gondolas in Stateline at Lake Tahoe did not exist when I lived there in the early 1990’s. They create a wonderful connection between the lake and the ski runs up on the mountain.

The California/Nevada border at South Lake Tahoe.

Cessna was eager to see the lake for herself after all I had told her about the magical place. We left Piper and Mike at the bar to watch football and walked down to a nearby beach so she could see first hand why I love this place so much.

Sunday Selfie in Tahoe.

The resort area around the Heavenly Gondolas was just starting to shine with all the holiday lights as we were leaving town.

God rays around the Sparks Marina Lake.

We loved this fish sculpture at the Outlet Center near our campground. You can’t see them, but the public art also featured individual fish jumping out of the rocky “stream” along the sidewalk.

It became Dungeness crab season when we were near the west coast. All the stores had them on sale. I couldn’t resist. I purchased one to prepare my favorite artichoke crab dip. The next day I mixed the leftovers with some angel hair pasta to make a yummy baked casserole.

No room for a tree, so our presents were placed on the dash board.

Bowl season was approaching while we were in Reno. This meant Mike spent many hours analyzing and finalizing his picks. We have been watching football EVER SINCE!

Some of the most entertaining items we have seen across this country have been local news casts. The smaller markets are usually a little quirky and good for an occasional chuckle. The weather teams always seem to feature the most colorful characters. This guy in Reno was sent out into the field to cover a non-existent flooding event. He was perturbed because he was stuck with an assignment in the rain. Apparently he was afraid he was going to melt, so he created a protective kilt out of a garbage bag. Poor guy works for a station that won’t even fork over the funds for proper rain gear during the “live shot”.

The landscape around Reno is brown.

When we first arrived to Reno/Sparks, several people mentioned to us that Mike should try fishing out at Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. This body of water boasts award-wining cutthroat trout… as in 20-pound fish. I asked him several times if he wanted to go out there, and he always declined. Then one cold and rainy day he decided we should drive over and check it out. He suggested he would try some fishing while I found a trail to walk the dogs. I agreed and we loaded into the car. He opted for me to drive. As we started our 40-mile excursion the skies were grey. When we turned north off of I-80 it started raining. I asked him if he still wanted to keep going. He said yes. I kept driving. The rain turned to snow. We made a turn onto another road and I asked him again if he wanted to scrap the plan and return home. He said we should keep going. We started driving into a blizzard. He acted like nothing was amiss. I started wondering if we might be an eventual subject of a news magazine show like DATELINE… husband tricks wife into driving into a blizzard and claims it is an accident when she gets stranded and freezes to death (while he drives back out to civilization in the car with the two dogs). We had been getting on each other’s nerves, so the theory was plausible. I asked him why he would possibly want to pursue his agenda when it was so miserable out. He replied that we should at least drive until we could see the water. The falling snow was so thick, I couldn’t even see five feet in front of me. I doubted a view of the lake on this day was going to be very inspirational. I started wondering how gullible I might really be, and determined that if my demise did come to fruition, it would be due to my own stupidity. The asphalt road started to disappear under a thickening layer of sloshy snow. About the time I stopped caring about what he wanted to do, we came to a place where I could turn around. We paused for three seconds to take a picture of the water and then I got the hell out of there. As we were turning around we passed by a parked truck with a bundled up man preparing his fishing line. Really? How could that possibly be fun??? I wanted to check inside the vehicle to see if there was a disgruntled spouse inside. I would have told her to come with us, I wasn’t going to leave her out there to die.

The snow followed us home to our campground.

We saw a bald eagle on many of our walks around the lake at Sparks Marina. He never had a mate with him, and that made me a little sad. I ended up naming him Captain Sparky.

Smile for the camera, Captain Sparky!

Atlantis Sports Book Selfie.

Mike’s birthday was on December 18th while we were at this location. I gave him several choices for his birthday cake, and he selected chocolate peanut butter. When I picked up this beauty from Isabel’s Bakery, I knew it was a good choice. We started the day with coffee and cake for breakfast. We gave about half of it to our neighbor, and enjoyed the rest for about ten more days. It was so rich we could only eat a fork full at a time.

Since we arrived in Reno on the Monday before Thanksgiving, I was not enthused about cooking a big meal this year. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to plan a menu, shop for the ingredients and prepare the dishes without the whole process being completely chaotic. I had the (what turned out to be) not-so-great idea of going to a buffet at one of the local casinos instead. We will never do that again. Not on a holiday. Everyone and their brother had the same idea. We waited in line for almost THREE hours, paid too much money, and had a crappy meal. I was so disappointed.

A typical view from one of our daily dog walks. We all got good and regular exercise on this stop.

The Truckee River empties out of Lake Tahoe and runs through downtown Reno.

The Biggest Little City in the World features a desolate downtown with clean streets and a large police presence.

Our exterior Christmas decoration(s).

Good Morning!

Captain Sparky overlooking the lake from a different vantage point.

The mountains to the west of Reno.

I ran into Whole Foods to pick up a few items I needed for our dinner one evening and happened upon this owl! Of course. Just what I expected to see inside a grocery store. A live owl.