Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Family and Mob Bosses - All in Las Vegas

My Aunt Laurie announced a month ago that she was coming to visit for a week. She hasn’t seen Mom in a year and misses her terribly.   Sounds sweet, right?  Problem is we are in Grand Canyon and Aunt Laurie is traveling only as far as Las Vegas.  So in order for her to “visit us”, we had to pack up Big Boomer, give Tabby an unsupervised weekend with Stewey and Dewey the Goldfish, book ourselves a room, and head for Vegas during my parents two days off from work.

Although a long drive, it was an easy one.  No traffic, no street lights, just desolate desert lands, rock formations, and a pitch black night sky—until we got about an hour outside of Vegas.  Then the lights of Sin City called to me like a beacon!  The Luxor’s sky beam is said to have illumination equivalent to forty billion candles!

My family visited Vegas on two prior occasions, the last time was 20 years ago for my Grandma’s 70th birthday.  Boy have things changed!  For starters, the Sands Hotel was still open for business back then.  It was imploded a week after we left.  Now The Venetian, complete with water canals, gondolas, and singing gondoliers, adorns the land.  I even met some of my cousins from the old country there!

Some of my "cousins"--they will even serenade you!

Since Aunt Laurie and her partner Rob were staying at a time share suite in the Hilton Grand Vacations, we booked a room at Bally’s, which was within ½ mille walking distance.  Our room rate (booked direct through the hotel) was quite inexpensive ($42/night), but we incurred an additional $34/night resort fee (plus taxes) and $10/night parking fee.  We didn’t incur any of these extra fees during our prior two stays in Vegas.

We got settled in our room around 10:45 p.m. and then went looking for dining options.  Bring on the buffets!  Well, that, too, has changed in Vegas.  It seems the abundance of inexpensive yet expansive buffet options of yesteryear are no longer offered.

By the time we made our way to a formal restaurant that interested us, their kitchen was already closed.  We ran with haste to the food court so Dad could catch a quick burger at Johnny Rocket’s before they closed at midnight.  All I can say is it was a good thing Mom packed roast beef sandwiches, snacks, and Laughing Cow Cheese for us to eat on the road trip ‘cause other than Kingman, there was no major town or city along our route that offered decent dining options either.

My Grandma loved me tremendously (she tucked me into bed every night until the day she died) and my Grandpa (who sometimes could be a bit grumpy) found me endearing, But Aunt Laurie never accepted this stuffed rat as part of the family.  So what better way to annoy her than for me to join in all the activities in Vegas!  Mom found a tote bag big enough to carry me, so Aunt Laurie was surprised in the morning with PoPo in a pouch!

We all headed to Bucca di Beppo for their small but adequate $15.99/person breakfast buffet.   This Italian restaurant boasts “meatballs as big as your head.”  I was so disappointed that the buffet contained none of these legendary delicacies.

The meatballs in that pot are large--but no where near the size of MY head!

Aunt Laurie, the quintessential tourist, took the restaurant up on their “free” picture postcard.  That free picture postcard ended up costing her $35 for three 5 X 7 photos.  Me, the epitome of frugal with my allowance, just snapped a picture of her free picture postcard!

A rare family photo--it even includes Mom who hates being in pictures!

On to Bellagio, which was still under construction during our last visit.  The conservatory was decorated with multitudes of plants and colorful flowers.  There were replicas of Italian villas, town squares, and gondolas.  And like the floats in the Rose Bowl Parade,  many displays were constructed from blooms, legumes, and other natural substances.  Absolutely gorgeous!  This is the closest I’ll get to Italy in my lifetime.

The beautiful fresco ceiling

Unusual floral arrangement

My family agreed we wouldn’t blow a lot of money gambling—why jeopardize my cheese funds unnecessarily.  And the “Total Rewards” Card program at Bally’s, which we were instructed to use for lodging, restaurants, and gambling, turned out to be worthless.  None of the restaurants at which we ate were part of the plan any longer, and it was invalid at most of the gaming machines.  The $10 free play matching funds we received (you put in $10/they give you $10) could only be used at a table.  And in a single bet of $20.  And, of course, all of the tables had a minimum bet of $25 or more.   So no matter what, you were putting money out of your pocket.  We said “no thanks”.  Of course, Aunt Laurie, Queen of Quarter Slots at Turning Stone Casino, was more than gracious in sharing her hard earned salary with Vegas.  Do I hear 1-800-GAM-PROB?

OK, I told a white lie.  I did lose some cheese money in the slots with Aunt Laurie.  Ted made me do it!  Please don't tell my parents!

Although Aunt Laurie and Rob had tickets to several shows for the latter part of their week-long stay in Vegas, all of the shows my parents and I would have enjoyed seeing fell into three categories:  1) seen it previously; 2) sold out; 3) “dark” on the nights we were there.  We were striking out.

Then Rob came up with an idea:  Let’s all go to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, A.K.A. The Mob Museum, which none of us had visited previously.  Coming from New Jersey, land of fictional mafia boss Tony Soprano (not to mention the many real-life mob members who live there), this was quite an interesting place!  $25 a ticket, but its interactive activities, film clips, even an authentic electric chair, engaged and educated us for nearly 3 hours!  Housed in a former Post Office and Courthouse in Old Las Vegas, the building itself dates back to 1933 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Thoroughly entertaining, the Mob Museum earns a  coveted Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese award.

Al Capone's Revolver

Hey, I take offense!  What do they mean "no rats"!  What did I ever do to them?

We savored an early dinner at Lagasse’s Station, one of renowned Chef Emeril’s restaurants, at the Palazzo.  Really cool layout and décor and a tasty Black Angus Prime Rib Sandwich to boot.  Enjoyed watching the Little League World Series on one of their 100+ TV screens.  Good times!

We walked the Strip, taking in the dancing water fountains at Bellagio, the erupting volcano at The Mirage, the roller coaster at New York, New York, and the Eiffel Tower and Hot Air Balloon replicas at Paris.  Boy, I sure was pooped.

Our room came with two queen beds, so I had one all to myself!

We slept in until 9 a.m., then met Aunt Laurie and Rob for breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris.  Quite lovely ambiance in the Atrium room, good service, and everyone enjoyed their selections, especially me and Dad, who indulged in steak and eggs!

We said our good-byes to Aunt Laurie and Rob.  It was a good trip—no arguments, no drama, just good old family fun.

We headed back to Grand Canyon, making a couple of stops along the way.  We visited Lake Mead, the oldest National Recreation Area in the U.S.A., accommodating more than 7 million visitors per year.  Mom insisted we watch the Park Service film, learning that the Colorado River provides drinking water to seven states AND Mexico.  Dad also received some boondocking info for future use.

Old Railroad route through tunnel is now a bicycle trail at Lake Mead Recreation Area

We did a quick stop to Hoover Dam (we did the full plant tour during a prior visit) since Dad wanted the experience of driving Big Boomer over it.  Hard to believe a hydro project of this magnitude was completed earlier than planned, but well within budget!

We opted to drive along yet another section of Historic Route 66, through Peach Springs and Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands, rather than take Interstate 40.   Since we were getting hungry, we took the recommendation of our store’s Assistant Manager, and ate in Westside Lilo’s Café in Seligman.    Family owned and operated since 1996, they have some traditional German dishes like Weiner Schnitzel, Jaeger Schnitzel, and Bratwurst, along with American favorites.  We all opted for the Black Angus Salisbury Steak, ½ pound of juicy, cooked-to-perfection ground sirloin, served with onion and mushroom gravy and accompanied by soup or salad, choice of potato, and vegetable of the day.  We topped off the meal with a huge hunk of their homemade Carrot Cake—absolutely to die for!  In fact, Guy Fieri was here in June, and his Route 66 Family Road Trip Show, including his visit to Westside Lilo’s Café, will air on August 18!

Combine the friendly, efficient service; clean, country rustic setting; and an outrageously delectable meal at reasonable prices, and you’ve got a 5-cheese rating from Rambling RV Rat!

We arrived home to find Tabby was on good behavior and our goldfish were alive.  All is well that ends well.

So many more happenings lately to tell you about, but this post is getting too long.  Anyway, it’s snack time for me—I’m busting out the Cheese Doodles!

Talk to you again soon!

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV Club

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ

The North Rim was closed for the winter season when we passed through April 2016 on our trek North to Alaska.  So our last visit to the North Rim was nearly 20 years ago (we treated my Grandma to a Las Vegas vacation for her 70th birthday and day-tripped to the Canyon).  Therefore, we decided it was high time we took the 4+ drive to revisit Grand Canyon North.

We stopped at the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center along the way.  The bridge over the Colorado, constructed 1927-1929, was quite an engineering feat for its time.  Using 2.4 million pounds of steel and 500 cubic yards of concrete, the bridge spanned 834 feet with a maximum height of 467 feet from the Canyon floor, all at a cost of $390,000.  A new bridge was built in 1995 for vehicular traffic (at the whopping price tag of $14.7 million!), leaving the original bridge for pedestrian and equestrian use only.

The New Navajo Bridge, Built 1995, for modern-day vehicles

The original Navajo Bridge, on left, is now used for pedestrian/equestrian crossings

View of the Colorado from the Navajo Bridge

We marveled at the beautiful colors of the rock formations as we traversed through Marble Canyon.  And in Cliff Dwellers, we were astonished at the size of the fallen rocks, some the size of Big Boomer!

As we continued our trek, there were just miles and miles of open range and meadows surrounded by cliffs and rocks.  Suddenly, we encountered boreal forests and the fresh scent of conifers, pine trees, and aspens.  We knew we were fast approaching the North Rim National Park entrance.

We visited several lookout points like Wahalla, Roosevelt, and Bright Angel Point, as well as Point Imperial, which holds the distinction of the highest elevation at the North Rim (8,803 feet).  It towers 1,000+ feet above Navajo Point, the highest elevation at the South Rim. 

We stopped at Cape Royal lookout, home to Angel’s Window, a gap within the rock formation that acts as a picture frame.  We also viewed Unkar Delta from Cape Royal.  Unkar means red stone in the Paiute language.  So the Delta, where Ancestral Puebloans lived and farmed centuries ago, is named appropriately for the cinnamon-colored rocks that surround it.

Angel's Window at Cape Royal.  Don't try doing this, folks!  This is a feat reserved for a stuffed rat!

Unkar Creek and Unkar Delta

The flowering plants at the North Rim were in full bloom! 

I became ravenous from all the driving and walking we did.  Time to chow down at the Chuck Wagon Buffet at the Grand Canyon Lodge.  The North Rim is far less developed than the South Rim, offering a more rustic, natural, and serene environment.  The Lodge dates back to 1937, when it was built to replace the original “Hotel in the Wilderness” that burned to the ground in 1932.

Statue of Brighty the Burro, the beloved character in the children's book "Brighty of the Grand Canyon"

We arrived by 5 p.m. and got a nice table by the window overlooking the Canyon.  The buffet had an adequate selection of salad items, meats, and starches including my favorite mac and cheese!  It was a meat lovers’ paradise, with a beef brisket to die for!  Hand-rubbed with seasoning and slow-cooked for 16 hours, it just melted in your mouth!  What a wonderfully delectable treat (especially after the disappointing brisket at Big Daddy’s in Fairbanks last year).  At $27/adult and $10/kids, they surely lost money on us with all the brisket we ate!  And Sharon from Iowa, our waitress, only charged the $10 kids fee for me, saving me some of my allowance to spend on Laughing Cow cheese!

Beef Brisket, slow cooked 16 hours!  So juicy and tender!  I'm salivating as I'm writing this!

After dinner, we sat on the patio enjoying a cocktail and taking in the gorgeous Canyon views.  I was joined by a local “resident”, wanting me to share a snack with him!  I was sorry to disappoint him, but I complied with the rules of “no feeding the wildlife”. 

The South Rim was having itself quite a storm on the other side of the Colorado, and we noticed storm clouds rolling in on the North Rim as well.  So we headed indoors.

Our employer, the Grand Canyon Association, has two retail stores at the North Rim, so we popped in to catch a glimpse of life on the “other side”.  What a relaxed atmosphere!  They deal with a fraction of the guests that visit the South Rim Stores.  We witnessed no chaos or bad behavior like we see at the two stores where my parents work, which are the largest in size AND in sales volume within the entire GCA 8-store operation. I didn’t believe my Mom when she said how destructive and rude people were until I saw it for myself when accompanying my parents to work one day!  Which leads me to Rambling RV Rat’s Rant on Retail Shoppers:

...Teach your children to see with their eyes, not with their hands.  Retail stores are NOT the go-touch me museum!

...Teach your children a store is a place of business, NOT their personal playground.  Climbing on displays or sitting in the middle of the sales floor reading a book pulled off the shelf while picking your nose is NOT acceptable behavior.

...Adults should lead by example; actions speak louder than words.  You can’t tell your children not to destroy things when you do it yourself!  If you pick something up off a shelf, return it to the place you found it.  Handle things with care to avoid breakage.

...Don’t give your baby a stuffed toy to appease him/her when shopping.  They drool on it, wipe snots on it, and basically contaminate it with germs and you have the audacity to put it back on the shelf for some unsuspecting buyer to actually purchase!

...When we ask if you need help with T-shirt sizes, don’t say “no”, wait for us to leave, and then destroy the display by pulling every shirt off the shelf or out of its sleeve.

...When we greet you and ask “how are you doing today?”, be courteous enough to offer a curt reply. Even a grunt would be welcome, anything to acknowledge our meager existence and the fact that we spoke to you.

...I don’t care what the customs are in your country. When in Rome, do like the Romans!  In the USA, we go to the BACK of the check-out line—no cutting in front of others.

...If I am speaking with another customer, don’t interject abruptly, asking “do you sell water?”, “where’s the toilet?”, etc.  If you are to the point of dehydration or wetting your pants, at least say “excuse me” before interrupting!

Sorry, I digressed…

It was time to start our long trek back to the South Rim. There were lots of deer in the meadows as we exited the Park at the North Rim.  We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, an old school motor lodge and curio shop about 40 miles outside the North Rim Exit gate.  It also housed a nostalgic luncheonette counter style restaurant with red and chrome swivel stools, complete with an ice cream stand and bakery.  It was no easy feat, but I found room in my swelled belly for a tasty chocolate parfait cookie!

Sadly, another “weekend” is over.  I leave you with yet another spectacular sunset pic from July 27!

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV Club

rvillage logo

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