Joshua trees, scrubs and nothingness in the Mojave Desert
aka, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
aka, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
We arrived in Vegas about 3pm, rented a car and checked into the Mirage, one of the classic hotels on the strip. We walked around to a couple of other casinos (I say this lightly but any walking between casinos in Vegas actually requires a tremendous amount of walking), had dinner at a diner-esque place inside the casino that specialized in great burgers and spiked milkshakes. The trip was off to a good start.
The next day, we packed up and headed south to Joshua Tree National Park via a 3 hour drive through the Mojave Desert. Man, when they say there is nothing out there, they are really right. There was no where to stop had we needed food, gas or water.
By the time we got to the little adobe we had rented at the 29 Palms Inn, there wasn't much daylight left, so we settled in and then ate what turned out to be the first of several really great meals at their restaurant. The Inn has a huge garden where they grow food for the restaurant - they are big into local and organic food. And we have reason to suspect it was the best restaurant in town.
Our first day in the park, we did our biggest hike - a 3-mile loop trail over several ridges that led to an oasis in the middle of the dessert. Armed with water, snacks, extra layers and my new hiking boots, we set out. The hike was amazing. We hoped to see some wildlife like big horn sheep (who frequent the watering hole) but sadly we didn't. We didn't see any other people either, though, which was nice. After that we were pretty worn out.
The next day we woke early, still not adjusted to the time change, and had a long day of sightseeing in Joshua Tree National Park. The expanse and uniqueness of the Joshua trees is really just amazing. We drove along the main east-west road in the park toward a favorite short hike a local had told us about, stopping along the way to take lots of pictures, of course.
The other thing Joshua Tree is famous for is rock climbing. To set the stage, there are the strangest geological phenomenon in that area - a testament to the proximity to the very active San Andreas fault. You will be driving along for miles of flat land and then suddenly there will be what looks like a huge pile of rocks - some look so perfectly stacked you swear they had to be put there by humans if they weren't so darn huge.
The next day, we got a picnic lunch and took the main north-south road all the way to the south of the park and did some short hikes around there. We also drove to an amazing look out point from which we could see almost to Mexico to the south - the Coachella Valley below, the San Andreas fault running straight through it - and toward the town of Palm Springs to the west. Very cool.
Our final morning at the adobe, I woke up early (still not adjusted to the time change or just plain excited about the day ahead). We had some extra time so we did one last drive through the park and one short hike before heading west toward my friend who lives outside Santa Ana. Along the way - literally along the way, we just got off an exit at the highway we were traveling on - I met one of my longtime CF friends. We had a quick lunch, but what can I say...it was great to see her and she is just as awesome in person as I thought she would be. :)
Another hour or so later and we were at my friend Katie's house in the cute little town of Tustin, CA. We hung out for a bit, got situated, and then that evening went to see a hockey game with her and her husband. Anaheim Ducks vs. Carolina Hurricanes, baby!! It was so cool seeing the Canes on the road. I felt like they had traveled all the way across the country to come on vacation with us! Unfortunately we lost the game - it was very close - but it was still a fun time.
The next morning, I talked Todd into driving to the Pacific ocean - we were so close not to go see it!! before heading back to Vegas. A 20-minute drive took us to the very posh Costa del Mar, near Newport Beach, home to some big time celebrities. We took a quick walk on the beach, admiring the beautiful, gigantic houses, snapped a few pictures and then were on our way.
Viva Las Vegas:
We were back in Vegas in under four hours; checked into the swanky Aria hotel, upgraded to a room with an awesome view and went down to meet up with our friends. We had five friends fly out to Vegas for the long weekend - and one of those friends also invited along about seven other guys for a bachelor party. We didn't end up seeing the guys much after that, though. After a couple of drinks, Todd and I went to the Elton John show at Caeser's Palace. It was really amazing! So much nostalgia for me... but he really is a great performer still. I was totally crying during a couple of songs.
On Friday we went to an international rugby tournament called the Rugby Sevens. One of the guys who went out with us is a huge rugby fan, and he had wanted to come to Vegas during this particular weekend. The games were super short and very fast paced. I was thinking I might be bored, but we actually had a ton of fun! People were dressed up in all kinds of crazy outfits, everyone would hoot and holler when their team was playing. It was the drunkest friendliest crowd I'd ever been amongst. And sitting with several incredibly cute college rugby teams wasn't bad, either.
Later that night, I did the majority of my gambling for the trip. We played some roulette, didn't do very well. Then we sat down at a $10 black jack table for about an hour. Todd was schooling me all the while losing about $200. I quit a bit later and felt damn good about being up by only $5. Todd also played craps a couple of times - a game which I may never understand - and did quite well.
The next morning, I played in my first poker tournament in Vegas! Todd played too, but it was the third one of the trip for him. Most of you know that we are big poker players, so I am definitely no stranger to tournaments. Unfortunately, I didn't do very well in this one. I was shortest stacked when the two tables combined and I tried to be aggressive and push at the wrong times. Oh well! I was bummed, but it was a good experience. I would definitely do it again.
We decided to try to see another show Saturday night with our two friends Craig and Katie. Ended up getting discounted tickets to Penn & Teller, two libertarian - and yes, that does figure into their act - fairly well known magicians. That was a fun show. After that, we went to the ice bar at Monte Carlo. Everything there is literally made of ice, even the glasses and chairs. It's very cold, but we upgraded to "VIP" and all went in with big fur coats and hats and were plenty warm.
We headed back to the room about 1 to pack up and try to get some sleep, then woke up at 7 or so to leave for the airport. Vegas is very beautiful in the early morning.
So, in summary...
Five best things about my Vegas trip:
- Ate and drank like a complete and total glutton.
- Found my lucky (roulette) numbers!!
- Cinnamon buns from Jean Philippe ...mmm...
- Todd grabbing my hand during "Your song."
- Getting to dress up all fancy-like.
- Smoke, smoke, smoke!
- Everything is SO expensive.
- No coffee makers in any of the hotel rooms!! (fortunately most casinos have their own Starbucks, but still...)
- Having to walk and walk and walk to get anywhere (although, probably good because of #1 on my first list).
- Having a room fancy enough to have an electric "do not disturb" switch, yet also being asked every day if we really didn't want to have our room cleaned.