Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Las Vegas

Abram and I had gone to Las Vegas in February of '06. We thought that it would be interesting to take the kids and show them some of the amazing architecture in Las Vegas. Paul Drebelbis, Abram's uncle who had past away in June, had a company that created the facades and internal pieces for the casinos in Vegas. I was told that the Excalibur Casino was a family friendly one, so we booked two rooms there. I was amazed that price of a room tripled from a week rate to a weekend rate.

Here is a picture of Excalibur at 9:30 at night. Vegas is pretty outside with all the buildings lit up. It is loud and difficult to negotiate with a family inside.

Our rooms across the hall from each other.  This is the view from one of the rooms.

The next day we ventured out to see other casinos and try to find some things to do.  Here's our hotel during the day.

Here's NY, NY.  I took the girls on the roller coaster.  I do not like roller coasters, but Rachel had never been on one before and I couldn't let her go alone or have Sarai be responsible for her.  I gave Abram my camera and pocket book and all loose items I could think of; one I forgot was my glasses!  The operators of the ride would not hold them for me, so I held them tightly in my pocket hoping that it would stay while we twisted and turned upside down.  All was fine, except for my elbow which was bruised.  The ride was more bumpy than anything. 

We played some arcade games.  We looked at show prices, but having tickets begin at $70/person with a seven person party we had to find other things to do. 

We walked into MGM studios casino.  In the middle of it were two huge lions!  These are real.  They are switched out half way through the day with other lions that are cared for at a reserve.  It was amazing to watch their behavior.  They acted so similar to our cats.  The grooming is the same, they care for each other in a similar manner, our cats lounge just like them.  It struck me how similar their instincts are yet we are comparing wild cats to domestic ones.

The Bellagio is a great attraction.  On the half hour, music plays and the water fountains move to the music.  We saw this site in '06 with our friend Dave.  Here are some great 2011 shots of the fountain display.

We decided to explore the casinos hoping to see some good things inside during the day.  A few casinos are connected by tram, but that costs too.  We walked in the desert heat of 105 between many casinos.  We got to the Bellagio around 6:30.  I was happy to find it since I really wanted the kids to see it.  Our walk through the streets provided an eye opening experience that none of the kids enjoyed though.  We were hot, hungry and tired and still needed to walk back.  Abram asked if I wanted to go into the Bellagio, I said "why bother, let's go back and eat". Well, he remembered that there was an incredible site of glass umbrellas lining the ceiling in the Baliagio, but I had not remembered that.  He also did not think to mention anything about the umbrellas, so it was a lost moment.

In '06, I took these great photos with a small camera.  I had said it would be great to take more with the newer, better camera.  That opportunity was lost and so was the chance to show the kids this great work of art.  In order to see anything inside of a casino, you need to walk through all the slot machine areas and other gambling spots.  You are allowed to walk with your kids, but they cannot stop.  I was chided for having the kids wait for me to use a bathroom, because they were starring at a slot machine!  This was extremely frustrating.  I decided to use the photos from '06 to show how beautiful the inside of the Bellagio is.

Imagine the whole ceiling covered in these glass umbrellas.

I have a print of this one in my bathroom. 

At night, Vegas lights up.  Here is a picture from '06 of the Sphinx with a blue beam coming out of its head.

I cannot remember at all which casino this is in.  (If Dave lets me know I will correct this.) Dave took Abram and I here because there is a thunder storm that happens regularly here.  The ceiling is painted like a sky.  You hear the thunder rumbling and then rain falls into the pond for the thunder and lightning storm.  They also have a Ben and Jerry's here so we had ice cream while waiting to witness it.

Back to our recent 2011 photos.  Here is picture of the Vegas sky line.

Out of the other hotel room we had, was this view of the Excalibur pools.  We floated in the upper right pool.  The upper left pool was an over 18 pool.

I don't have many photos of the pool because with the temperature being 105, I wanted to be in the water.  We also did not spend a lot of time in the pool.  The pool opened at 10 and closed at 7.  They really wanted to make sure you had nothing else to do but gamble.

There was one waterfall that was working. 

Las Vegas was an experience.  Tobin thought peoples' descriptions of Vegas were over exaggerated, but now he knows that they were true!  We had planned to stay two night in Vegas.  After spending Saturday night and Sunday in Vegas we needed to leave this city and do something else.  We chose to see the Hoover Dam.  That will be the next blog.

Friday, January 20, 2012

CA vacation: leaving Yosemite traveling eastward to Death Valley

We left the cabin in Yosemite to travel at least 8 hours east to Las Vegas. Before we exited the Yosemite National Park we stopped at Tuolumne Grove to see the Giant Sequoia trees.

I tried to capture how tall the trees were. 

Over time, the rangers learned that the only way to force a Sequioa tree to reseed is through fires. As we traveled in an out of the valley we saw several controlled fires used to stimulate the continuing growth of the forests there.  The rangers had placed signs near the controlled fires saying, "do not call 911, controlled fire in progress."

 Rachel wearing her sundress standing against a giant Sequioa tree.

I thought this "green" eyed susan was unique and beautiful.

We are all standing inside of a sequioa tree!  It is called the tunnel tree.  No one is squished and there is plenty more tree on either side of our family.  Sequioas are truely magnificant to view.

A bit further in the hike there was a fallen, dead sequoia that you could walk/ crawl through.  Most of us walked through until we had to get on all fours.  I walked through until I was squatting down, but left through a narrow break so I did not have to climb on my stomach to get through.  Rachel on the other hand, was excited to crawl all the way through a huge, fallen tree.    She did this twice!

Here is a view of the east side of Yosemite.  It was gorgeous.  I'm so glad we traveled this way.  Many people never get a chance to view this side of Yosemite.  The east side of Yosemite has a rockier terrain.

We drove along Tioga Road.  I took these photos while Abram was driving.  I believe this is the Tuolumne River. 

This area is called the Tuolumne Meadows.  I was disapointed we couldn't stop and enjoy the area.  Hopefully we will get a chance to visit Yosemite again and come here for a day.

What is this tree growing from?  As I looked up at the mountain side I saw several trees growing.  Nature is amazing.

Traveling eastward did not provide many opportunities for bathroom breaks.  We had spotted a building labeled for tourist information, which we quickly discovered was closed.  While looking around the building I discovered a walking path that had huge pine cones strewn around it.  I asked Abram to get a picture of the size difference between what I'm assuming was a Sequoia pine cone vs a "normal" pine cone! 

After I realized that it looked weird holding up two pine cones, I just held up the Sequoia one. 
Leaving the Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne area provided many new views and constant switchbacks on the road.  Only the passengers could appreciate the beautiful terrain out the window.  The driver had to concentrate on negotiating a car around the curves and keeping as far from the cliff edges as possible. 

As I watched this cyclist climb up these mountains I thought, "The view is amazing, but the shoulders suck.  I would not like to be biking on these roads."  Kudos to him though. 

Here's a great view of what it was like to drive through these passes!

Unfortunately, we took all of these pictures through the car window.  I have no idea where we were, but it looks amazing.

I affectionately call these mountains, chocolate mountains.  It reminds me of shaved chocolate.  When I was driving through the Canadian Rockies in 2004, I saw several passes with mountains like these.  It brought back many memories.  (I will have to make vacation photo journals of all the places we have visited.)

As we traveled on one of the only high ways leading to Death Valley, we found ourselves driving behind a car from Massachusetts!  Life can feel so small some times.

Abram has the camera now and took a picture of our crowded car.  Part of the travel entertainment was listening to Tobin quiz Leah with her medical exam book.  It usually went like this:  "This 'condition' [Tobin tries to pronounce it; Leah guesses what he is trying to say] causes x, y and z."  Leah says the wrong answer sometimes and Leah says "are you sure you are reading this right!"  Medical terms are extremely difficult to pronounce, but when you have an aunt questioning your ability to read the answer key it's another issue all together.  It helped to pass the over 8 hour drive to Death Valley!

Abram's artistic view of the terrain through the rear view mirror.

I thought that driving from the mountains to Death Valley would mean that you would descend the whole time. I was wrong. So often we would drive down to 1000 ft of elevation, to then assend back up to 4000 ft of elevation. It made for an interesting drive and we did get to Death Valley.

We didn't realize that our excursion to the Tuolumne Grove would have prevented us from getting into the Death Valley museum.  But we do have this great photo of the temperature in Death Valley at 5:30pm.  It was 109 in the shade!   

Did you know there is a resort in Death Valley with a golf course?  Neither did we!  After seeing the temperature we quickly retreated back to the air conditioned car.  I was shocked to see these great palm trees juxtaposed against the sand dunes.  Researching names of the places we visited allowed me to learn that Death Valley has a golf course, resort and ranch at Furnace Creek. 

The palm trees were huge. 

Sand dunes or more chocolate mountains?

This was the site along the road near the ranch.  I was not expecting to see any treess or bushes in Death Valley.  Yes, we chose to go during a very hot time of the year, but I am glad we were able to see this amazing place. 

We stopped at the Furnace Creek Ranch gift shop.  Leah took our hot family photo.  In the background you can see the mountains and sand dunes.

I wanted to get Leah's photo with kids.

While we were standing on the grass (as a New Englander I call it crab grass, our weeds), we noticed a very interesting bird near us.  Here is a great picture.  This is a road runner!  They are much smaller than the Bugs Bunny version, but it moved so quickly all over the grass.  I think it may have been waiting to see if we would feed it.  It obviously is accustomed to people.  It was very near us and calm the whole time we were around. 

We left Death Valley and headed to Las Vegas.. Death Valley was 110 at 5pm. We got to Las Vegas around 9pm at at temperature of 98!  Not much cooling off in the city even if it is in the desert. 

This was an amazing day, seeing sequioa trees, climbing through them, driving to Death Valley, briefly  hanging out in the heat and then traveling further east to Las Vegas, the city of lights.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

CA vacation part 2: Hiking Bridal Falls

Abram, Isaac, Tobin and I hiked up Bridal Veil Falls on Friday.

Isaac and Jenna were going to travel back to San Francisco Friday afternoon.  Isaac wanted to hike one more time, so we had planned to hike early in the the morning. We had to get into the Valley before 9am, hike the trail and be back to the cabin before 1pm.  We were close. 

Here is the buck we saw in the parking lot at the visitor center in the valley!

Waterfalls are powerful.  They are beautiful and enticing, but need to be respected for their strength.  As we began out hike, we learned that three hikers had been swept away over the falls earlier that week.  One woman had tried to walk across the pool at the top to get a better photo opportunity.  The story is that she slipped, two men tried to help her and they all were swept away.  We began our hike learning of this story and seeing their photos along the trail.  It was a scary reminder of how powerful nature is and our need to respect it..

This is a panoramic photo I put together of the falls.

The sound of the falls was so loud.  It is amazing how much water was still flowing in August.

We asked another hiker to take out photo.  We were getting wet from the spray of the falls.

The spray enabled me to take great photos of the rainbows.

The stairs we climbed to go up to the top of the falls.  There were few people coming down when we were going up. On our way down the volume of hikers had quadrupled.  The staircase is narrow, just wide enough for two people, but the railing was a bit wobbly. 

View of the falls from the top.

Here is Vernal pool. A beautiful view.

Tobin and Abram


A gorgeous blue bird.  There were several flying around us. I was lucky to capture this one.

The whole time we were traveling in and out of the valley we would see these signs: 

Tobin thought it was great.  After our vacation, Jenna had a shirt made for him with this sign on it. 

It is difficult to put into words how beautiful Yosemite was.  We saw and did so much I am trying to capture each part in different sections.  As I have said before, there is much more to come!