Thursday, May 31, 2007

31 May: Dirt Road Testing

After an unexpectedly good evening at the Rodeo and Sunset point it was with a heavy heart that we left Bryce Canyon. Now we had a decision to make, either patially drive back on ourselves to get to the town of Page or take a much shorter unsurfaced road to get there.

We chose the latter and so the day of offroad Nissan testing began.

Really we were lulled into a false sense of security. We calculated the distance as 40 miles of unsurfaced road, however the start of the road appeared surfaced and some 5 miles later we thought this was going to be easy.

All of a sudden though the tarmac disappeared and was replaced with a very bumpy and stoney road surface where our maximum speed was 10 MPH (miles per hour). Any faster and nissy's suspension resonated against the road surface whose striped surface looked like it had been scraped with a piste flattening machine. A quick calculation with the GPS now showed that we still had 40 miles i.e. 4 hours to go.

This looked possible but difficult so we continued only to be faced with a small river crossing. Luckily there was a bypass so we continued. 2 hours later we were getting scared!

All Marcus could think of was wanting it to be over and Agata was not saying anything.

On sandy patches the car completely lost traction but at least it was bumpy. Hopefully the car would make it! And then it happened, a large patch of sand, we accelerated, kept the steering wheel straight and cleared one, two, three bumps then Stuck. Nissy was now nicely stuck on a bed of sand rear wheels spinning. After some attempts at accelerating out which suceeded in lowering the rear of the car further we started to dig out nissy. Note to self: If this happens next time perhaps best to take PDA and valuables out of pockets as they will get filled with sand. Note2: Exhaust is hot and when using hands as spades dont react well to burning hot metal.

30 minutes later we were still digging but a white Jeep showed up. They were worried they would also get stuck and we also realised how flimsy the front and rear of Nissy was. It is just plastic bumpers that deform wildly if you attempt to push them and with all 4 of us pushing still no movement.

10 minutes later a nice woman in a truck arrived. Now we had 5 people pushing. With some more digging and using the floor mats as contact for the rear wheels we tried driving out.

We started moving and we were free again!

So now all that remained is another 18 miles of slow progress until we got to the end of this road. So almost 2 more hours later we finally emerged

Nissan challanges Cottonwwod road. Result: Nissan 0, Desert Road 1.
The results of the mornings trauma is that I have a new respect for 4 wheel drive and vehicles which can easily cope with off road conditions. Nissy is not one of them and I don't want to take her on further off road adventures this holiday thank you. Onward to Page.

Page sited: A town that was custom created during the Canyon Dam construction phase it was cited as Drab in the Lonely Planet book. Whilst nothing special it serves the local area quite well and apart for the church overpopulation (we counted 8 churches in a single street) it seemed like an OK place.

Accomodation: Marriot Courtyard Page. We booked this expensive hotel on the Internet and it provided a welcome refuge though when we arrived lunch was closing and the restaurant manager seemed very keen to recommend the in town food.
A quiet mexican lunch followed.

And then as nice tidy people we took Nissy to a car wash where we manually washed the outside and thorougly cleaned the inside. We felt she deserved it!

Glen Canyon Dam: We arrived 2 minutes too late to go on the Dam tour which we had been really excited about taking. Instead we made do by watching an impressive video about the Dam's construction and about how this was the backdrop for the town of Page and surrounding areas development.

With no tour we made the best of things with the Extended Hanging Garden Trek :
Turn off 1 mile east of Glen Canyon Bridge where you see a yellow hiker picture. Continue 200 yards till you see another hicker picture. Park car. Follow numbered metal sticks to hanging gardens. Here is the official guide.

We had optimistically packed swimming costumes as one of the Dam staff siad the Walk could be extened to the Dam's edge. This turned out to be true but we meet the waters edge about a hundred metres up. Swim aborted!

In the evening we cruised Page and found a large Safeway which provided an excellent shopping experience with provisions for a home based dinner in front of the ASUS powered Internet TV. Next to Safeway was Starbucks, which as I earlier related provided us with quality coffee but at a price to demolish and savings we encountered at Starbucks.
Day summary: 100 miles driven, Nissy bravely tackled an unpaved road.
Injury statistic: Marcus: burnt and damaged hands due to desert digging. Upper arms still sore arter narrows descent. Upper thighs sore due to over use. Agata: upper hips sore due to hiking.

30 May: Exploring Bryce Canyon

The morning bade farewell to Zion and the Quality Inn as we drove thru the park towards Bryce. Initially you get to drive thru the park with stunning views and silky smooth roads. Only the numerous 35mph signs and the all too frequent RV trail prevent you really burning rubber. At least that is what a Harley clad biker remarked to me as we waited to enter the Zion tunnel.

The tunnel is not tall enough to accomodate any RV except in the middle of the road, so we needed to wait for the tunnel to clear and then we set off RV up ahead in the middle just clearing the tunnel roof.

So we arrive at Bryce Canyon. We had booked Bryce view Lodge but they were not ready for us to checkin. So we decided to go for a hike in Bryce Canyon.

Walking Bryce amongst the Hoodoos : Some photos from the afternoon hike ...

On the way back to the hotel we saw one of a number of custom cars, America is beyond compare in this respect.

After our walk we treated ourselves to a rather large dinner at nearby Rubys Inn We noticed that there was a local Rodeo starting so we rushed our meal and headed over to Ruby Inn Rodeo. It was absolutely fantastic. Some photos ...

29 May: Descent to ZION

Wahoo ... we managed the Virgin river Narrows Top Down Thru Hike in 9 hours 15. A great achievement for us in view of pre holiday preparation and fitness .

We hope this writeup is a useful guide for fellow travellers. First you need to prepare the day before. You need special neoprene shoes and a large wooden pole. You could use standard Nordic walking poles but we thought our own Komperdell C3 Carbon fibre poles would snap. A good place for the gear is Zion Adventure Company

Early on Tuesday morning we got up and had a Porridge breakfast. We were going to need a carbo loaded breakfast to continue our challenging day. Next catch the free Shuttle Bus to National Park Offices. Buy a day backpacking permit (can be ordered online) Next goto the Supermarket inside the Park (there is only one) and stock up with Hydration drinks like PowerAde or Gatorade and protein or high calorie bars.

We had arranged with Zion Adventure to get their 09.00 bus onto Chamberlins ranch. This was a touch negotiation as they strongly advised us NOT to take this hike unless we took the 07.00 bus (but that was full).

So we insisted that we would be okay and that we would try to finish the hike before nightfall because doing so would be very tricky.

Much to our dismay the 09.00 bus was late and at 09.45 an alternative driver arrived explaining that the real driver had locked his keys in his van and he was the replacement driver.
With that in mind we were a little stressed as our walk did not start till almost noon and we had to finish before nightfall or risk being stranded overnight in a cold mountain region.

Here is a map of the narrows and some photos of the day:

19:30 we are very tired but got on one of the last shuttle busses back to the Quality Inn Hotel. (If you were to finish late you would miss the busses and have to walk back another 10Km back to home, another reason to finish before nightfall).
Another fantastic day, great views, a new experience (river walking) and a challenge to get it all done in time. Brilliant!

28 May Nissan 350 ZEEEEE

As an age-ing car nut the rather obvious reality is that owning or driving a fast car in England or Europe (especially Switzerland) can lead to swift money loss (fines / depreciation) and heart ache.

So we came up with a plan or hiring something whilst in Vegas. Our Canyon inspired holiday would require over 1000 miles of driving. So the first choice was the Ford Shelby Mustang. Next the Corvette. Finally our Nissan 350Z.

Here is the retrospectively edited review .. in short we were quite impressed and it was not the disappointment we had feared

  • Nicely powerful, the 300 plus horsepower are really there. It is possible to cruise at 90 mph safely and effortlessly

  • The 18" alloys on our car were nicely fat and stylish. 19" wheels are available at horrendous cost. Couldnt they be standard in future?

  • The ridiculous metal "stiffener" behind the back seats severley limits boot space. It is bad enough that this Audi TT sized car only has 2 seats, and a very high boot floor line. But that ridiculous bar, well it means you cannot get large luggage in or out and wide or long items from IKEA ... forget it. Our load of 2 large rucksacks and 2 day sacks only just fitted this was as limiting as we had feared.

  • The standard 5 speed auto box was smooth but a joke when compared with Audi/VW DSG (Direct Shift) style boxes

  • Handling (in the dry) was good. No 4 wheel drive so we were pleased that no rain was found

  • Quite low, so easy to bump into kerbs and scrape the underbelly in carparks. Great for Nissan dealers, you will be visiting them reguarly

  • Not the ideal car for non tarmac road driving (report to follow)

  • Looks good, wide, low height and wide. Very sexy.

  • Std equipment included leather, aircon, computer, bizillions of stowage pockets, heated seats

  • 70s style dials pointing at driver were not appreciated

Whilst you can pickup your Hertz car from the airport you can also pickup from hotels on the strip and we chose the Paris hotel. Also note that depending on how you approach the Hertz website you may get price including unlimited mileage and different classes of damage waiver. My suggestion for foreigners: take the damage wavers for everything but your belonging and take unlimited mileage.

So after making sure we were full with high Octane US fuel (yes 91 octane!!) we set off for Zion.

As we approched Zion things definitely started to get more surreal. Like the reconstructed Wild West town

And at last we were in Zion! Some early photos follow

27 May Las Vegas shakes with fear

We just love Vegas. Not our first trip and hopefully not our last. Whilst Macao might be the new destination of choice for the serious gambler (even the Venetian is there), we will stick to Vegas for the moment

Big gamblers we might not be, but we have a system. Now I am sure you have never heard that before. But here is the secret:

  • Never bet more than you can afford to lose without keeping a broad smile

  • Try not to bet on games that are pure chance

  • Vegas has a lot more to offer than gambling, if you like eating both quantity and quality Vegas does not disappoint

  • If you like drinking Margarithas (Kang will confirm my weakness) Vegas is also the place to be. For as little as a dollar yoĆ» can get a very large one at a select few casinos. This is clearly a cunning plan designed to lure innocent gamblers in, yes that is us!

Using these stellar rules, we first exhausted our fascination with slot machines and moved onto BlackJack. (The game where you play against the dealer trying to get no more than a score of 21 ). The casinos may start to quiver but here are the top secret rules for BlackJack ...

  1. If you have 12 to 16 and the dealers visible card is 2 - 6, stick

  2. If you have 12 to 16 and the dealers visible card is 7-10 or Ace, twist

  3. If you have 17-21, stick no matter what the dealers card is

The other empirical rule is that when you have a good win, then stop and cash it in immediately.

As interesting as all of this was the Bodies exhibition

Today we checked into the Planet Hollywood Hotel but we were lucky to find it. Our internet booking company called it Alladin and it was by chance that we checked its precise location on Google Maps, only to find it was not there! PH has bought it and they are still in the process of renaming everything. I chuckled to myself as our Bathroom included a picture of Roger (Moore) at an age when I could almost believe he could have been a credible (and not geriatric) 007

Whilst strolling out at night we did the traditional thing which is of course to look at the charming Bellagio fountain display. I think we will try and stay at Bellagio when we return to Vegas, after all I hear it has a nice pool.

Vegas is definitely not the place for shopping bargains. The best deals in the area are in neighbourhood Malls and nowhere near the Strip

Still it is good to see that Strip shopping has definitely improved.

The Miracle Mile centre is now up and running and it features a convincingly convex sky painted ceiling, check the photograph.

26 May Destination LAS Las Vegas

So at long last our yearly exercise styled holiday has begun.

I always try to be positive but there have been a few setbacks. We started our holiday rather unprepared because the last 2 weeks prior which we had definitively reserved for training and packing were squandered trying to meet work deadlines.

Moving swiftly on ... we took a Continental flight from Geneva to Newark and a four hour connection onto Las Vegas. Actually this 4 hour time was about right since due to a combination of extended Newark Security and hopeless Continental baggage control (yes, that is you Michelle Boynton) we barely made the connecting flight. Actaully the retrospectively amusing anecodote was that we spent almost an hour in US immigration. Every queue (I mean line) we stood in had problem individuals. So we switched lines only to be faced with more problem people.

So finally at 21.00, that is 25 hours of travelling later we finally checked into Circus Circus. Hello Las Vegas, we have arrived.

But clearly the night was still young and our most important task was to find the a cheap Margarita . We know from past Vegas visits that selective gambling establishments offer very large crushed ice Margaritas for as little as a dollar. The picture says it all.

We just love you Vegas!