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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ROUTE 66 - Desert Photo and Video Essay


Watch the Video!


Our recent tour of the American Southwest ended over a fall weekend in Laughlin, Nevada. Coming home, we didn't want to deal with the Las Vegas traffic so we detoured along Route 66 through the desert and the community of Amboy, home of the Amboy Crater.  



Here are some pictures of that journey (be sure to check out the video too, at the top of this post)...



Coming into Needles, California with the Colorado River in the distance.


Another view of the river with jet skiers having some fun.


You don't need anything fancy to have fun at the river. Just pull over and jump in.


Along the Route in Needles, I'm guessing an old hotel or boarding house.



The Amboy Crater, a near perfect cinder cone from an ancient volcano.


A close up of some of the lava field surrounding the crater.


Another view of the crater.


...and one more view of the lava spreading across the desert.


Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2015

LAUGHLIN, NEVADA - Part 2


We've been spending a couple of days in Laughlin, Nevada on the Colorado River next to Bullhead City, Arizona. See Part 1 of this report here.




The morning dawns bright here in Laughlin. Our room faces west, so we don’t get the sunrise there plus the heavy duty black out curtains make is seem like midnight until I crack them open a bit to see the sunshine.

Watch the Video!


The family crew slowly rises to meet the day. It’s breakfast at the Riverview Café, pretty much the best food we’ll find this weekend, and then off to the riverfront behind the hotel.



The USS Riverside offers narrated 90 minute cruises several times a day. We’re catching the 10:30 cruise, the first one offered. It’s ramped and wheelchair accessible, though only the interior cabin can be reached with a chair. Large windows there offer good views and the restrooms on board are not accessible…go before you go.



The cruise itself is a relaxing voyage about a mile north of the hotel to Davis Dam, which holds back Lake Mojave on the other side. Near the dam, we see a wheelchair accessible fishing platform jutting into the river on the Arizona side.



After the dam, the cruise goes south of Laughlin to the end of casino row before doubling back to the Riverside Hotel.


We take a drive over the bridge to Bullhead City to do a little shopping and to get some cheap gas. Today, it’s about 50 cents a gallon cheaper on the Arizona side than in Nevada and even more than that compared to California stations down in Needles.


Upon return, we’re up in our room, changing into our swim suits. Our big event this weekend is the Vince Gill concert that will be taking place in the resort’s temporary amphitheater.


The venue is actually some bleachers and folding chairs set up around a stage on the top level of the parking structure across the street. We called ahead and got seats stage right in the third row.



Looking out our windows, we can see the theater across the street. Viewing through binoculars, I see a tall man in a red polo shirt walking in. It’s the headliner, Vince Gill.


Taking a few minutes to see what’s going on, the band takes the stage and goes into their sound check for the evening concert. Opening the window, we can hear as well as see it and are treated to a little mini concert of about 5 songs.


After that, we head to the pool for a little relaxing.  It’s not too relaxing as the water is freezing.



I grab a pizza from the Pizza Hut in the lobby. We eat a little lunch and then Tim and I lose a few dollars at the roulette table while Letty shops.


Later, we go down for a pre-concert dinner. The fans have arrived and the lines stretch out of the Riverview Café and the buffet. Instead, we head upstairs to the Gourmet room… a very nice and expensive spot for dinner…where we dine on happy hour appetizers and have a few drinks.


After dinner, we walk over the bridge to the show. Wheelchair users get priority for the elevator. We have to wait about three loads before we can go up and get to our seats.



Our seats are very close to the stage, although some scaffolding provides minor blocking issues for Tim and me. Letty has an unobstructed view from her seat. We’re even closer to backstage…just an area cordoned off with a small barrier…where we see Mr. Gill getting ready to take the stage.



The show starts and off we go. It’s a very good concert, suffice it to say we’re big fans of Vince, and he plays his heart out for the crowd.



Security here isn’t so strict that they won’t let you take a picture so we get a few…



After the show, we’re able to meet some of the band and then Vince Gill himself.

All-in-all, completely worth it to come out here in the middle of the desert just to see a concert.


The next morning, we have one more breakfast at the Riverview and set out across the desert for the long trip home. Not wanting to hit all the tourists returning from Las Vegas on a Sunday afternoon in Barstow, we detour down Route 66, Amboy, and 29 Palms before joining Interstate 10 near Palm Springs  and going home.


Stay tuned for our Route 66 photo essay as we wrap up our journey.



Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Cocktail Hour - Wine: Pinot Noir


Today is supposed to reach 90 degrees so we'll keep it light with a bottle of wine.  This afternoon, we'll be enjoying a 2008 Redwood Vineyards Pinot Noir.  Redwood is a Sonoma winery but the grapes are from Lodi and the Sacramento River Delta.  Rated 88 points, it has hints of rasberries, cherry, and a nice oak finish.  Click on the picture above to see it large and the clarity of this wine.

Not that we've had a lot of Pinot Noir the last year, maybe a half dozen bottles total, but this is the best we've had recently.  It's delicious and can be had for around $12.  Paul's Wine of the Month Club has it for $6.99 for members.

-Darryl

Friday, May 15, 2015

LAUGHLIN, NEVADA - Part 1


The hottest day in my life. On the border of Nevada and Arizona. 128 degrees farenheit (that’s a little north of 53 for my European friends).



We were lucky, we had a boat and could jump in the water at any given moment. The can of soda I left in the car wasn’t so lucky…it exploded and I had a sticky, sweet, gooey mess to clean up.

Fortunately, on this trip, the highest we’d see was 87. The weather was gorgeous the entire trip to Laughlin this time.




Watch the Video!

Named after the owner of the Riverside Resort, Don Laughlin…who sparked a boom here back in the 60’s and 70’s, the town is like the little sister to Las Vegas and about 90 minutes away.

Not trading on the hedonistic reputation of that big city, instead, Laughlin portrays itself as a casual, laid back outpost along the Colorado River. A half-dozen casino resorts line the riverbanks with another, the Tropicana, across the street in the desert.


Our home for this trip would be the original resort, the recently mentioned Riverside Resort at the north end of town.

Laughlin got its start here with a small hotel and casino. There was no road access from the nearest town of any size, Bullhead City across the river, so Mr. Laughlin set up a free ferry service to bring gamblers across the river to his casino.

In the years since, he’s paid for a bridge to span the river next to his hotel making road access a breeze but, in a nod to the past, the ferries still run today. They make for quite a little thrill ride as the operators are intent on making the crossing as quickly as possible.


Today, the expanded resort has over 1,400 rooms and over 700 camping spaces. Along with three casinos (one non-smoking and another across the street), the complex features several restaurants ranging from fast food (Pizza Hut) to diner to buffet to gourmet (The Gourmet Room). There’s a bowling alley; a 6-screen movie theater; concert hall; nightclub; several bars; spa; dance studio; bingo hall; several shops; riverboat cruises; post office; two car museums; and two pools.

The rooms are pretty basic. Maybe just a notch above a TraveLodge. Ours was a two queen room…if those were queen size, I’m George Clooney…with an accessible bathroom featuring a roll-in shower. We had to call housekeeping to bring us soap and shampoo…asking other guests and seeing online reviews, this seems par for the course here. It took the bell service 40 minutes to bring our bags, which still beats the over-an-hour wait we had at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

Not the plushest room in the land but it would do. The rate was $69 which is a little more than usual in Laughlin, primarily because of the weekend’s headliner, Vince Gill, would be drawing in thousands of people.


Settled in (finally), we head downstairs where I ask a few shopkeepers and security guards where they like to eat around here. The consensus seems to be the diner, Riverview Café, so we head there and have a pretty darn good supper sitting in front of giant windows with spectacular river views. Prices were pretty reasonable too.


After dinner, we take a quick walk along the riverfront and explore the hotel. Past the bowling alley is a bridge across to the other casino across the street. Upstairs, we visit one of the two car museums here.


There are some very cool cars, motorcycles, and even some antiques gaming tables. A few are even for sale.

An AMX over there, a Studebaker here, and old Chrysler Imperial down that aisle…all stunningly restored.


They do have some competition the next morning when a car club mainly consisting of replica Cobras shows up in the parking lot.


Along with the snakes are a couple of Lamborghini Dinos, one of which followed us into Laughlin yesterday. A couple of owners show us around with pride.

We have a little shopping to do, not enough pillows in the room and we forgot to bring extras, so we’ll cross the river to WalMart, and then get ready for our big event of the weekend.

Stay tuned for that in part 2 of this report.


Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona...


OK Corral - Fully Accessible. You won't have any problems navigating this attraction but be advised of two things...the gunfight show is loud and the actual gunfight took place where the highway is today, just outside of the walls of the attraction. Still, a lot of fun. If loud noises bother you, go between shows to avoid it.



Birdcage Theatre - Partially Accessible. You won't be able to access the basement and there are no accessible bathrooms.



Boot Hill - Mostly Accessible. Some of the paths through the cemetary are a bit rough but most wheelchairs will be able to see most of the area.



Big Nose Kate's Saloon - Partially Accessible. Basement gift shop is off limits to wheelchairs due to stairs.



Fox Theatre (Tucson) - Fully Accessible. Great place to see a show with very good and close up wheelchair seating.





Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tucson, Arizona - Recap

If our previous reports on Tucson, Arizona were too much for you, Tim provides a Cliff Notes version for you today in this 5 minute video.


Watch the Video!

Filmed at the Radisson Suites Happy Hour and Military Party in Tucson.

For the complete reports, click the links below:

Tucson, Arizona 2011 - Part 1

Tucson, Arizona 2011 - Part 2



Darryl
Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tucson, Arizona 2011 - Part 2



After spending a day in Tombstone it’s time to see Tucson proper.  The weather that had been threatening finally called in its debt and rain started coming down as we got back into the city.




Seems that’s how it goes for us, plan on a sunny getaway and we’ll get cold and rain.  Plan a trip to the snow and we’ll get a heat wave.


Watch the Video!

In the morning, we have a nice breakfast at the hotel…seriously, they have a great hot breakfast buffet…and make our way to downtown Tucson to see what we can find.  It is downright cold this morning.


Pulling into downtown, flakes start to fall.  That’s right…it is now snowing in downtown Tucson.  In the desert.  In Southern Arizona.  Just a few miles north of the border.  Where lawns don’t exist but Saguaro cacti do.

It looks like our bathing suits are just going to take up space in the luggage for this trip.

We find a spot to park on Congress Street on the east side of the city center.  It’s cold and snowy so we duck into the lobby of the beautifully restored Hotel Congress to get all our jackets, mittens, and hats on.  

The manager comes up to us.  He just wants to point out the accessible routes to all the areas of the lobby and invites us to come in and take as much time as we want to get warm.

That’s how hospitality is done, folks.

It is indeed an inviting place to sit for awhile, have a cup of coffee, and warm up in the tile walled room.

Out back, we cross the street to the old, restored Tucson train station.  Here you’ll find Maynard’s Restaurant and Maynard’s market.  We wander the aisles of the small store where you’ll find an upscale selection of food, wine, and beer plus some reasonably priced sandwiches and other prepared food to go.

Letty and I get a cup of weak coffee and it’s back out into the cold, cruel world.

Back on Congress Street, we stop at the Chicago Store.  It’s a large music store with just about any instrument you’d want to find.  It’s also like a musical pawn shop where local musicians can sell their instruments and budding musicians can buy them.  I get just a couple of items that I needed for our audio studio back home.

We continue to walk around in the light snow flurry but, although there seems to be a big surge towards restoration of the area, it’s still got a ways to go to be lively.


Back in the van, we head up First Avenue for lunch.  Today, it’s at BK Tacos.  You might have seen this place on the Food Network or the Travel Channel.  The specialty here is the Sonoran hot dog.  This starts with a bacon wrapped hot dog…a truly evil and delicious combination…and then piles on beans and salsa.  Most people also load up on the shredded cheese from the condiment bar.  It’s known as a chili dog on steroids…a pretty apt description.


The dogs are very good.  I also have a couple of their good al pastor tacos along with some creamy guacamole and hot sauce from the condiment bar.  It’s good enough to order seconds.

Tonight we’re going out on the town.  Specifically to a show at the restored Fox Theater on Congress Street back in downtown. 

When I was researching this trip, I saw that country singer Mark Chesnutt was going to be in town so we stopped in and bought tickets on arrival.  The wheelchair seating is in two boxes on either the left or right side of the orchestra and only 8 rows back from the stage.  Their actually very good seats.

At show time, the place is only about a third full so it was far from a sellout.  The first act, Mark Connors…a local singer, was not great.  The headlining Mark, Mr. Chesnutt, was great and...if you’ll pardon my French for a second...kicked ass.


The partially filled auditorium made up for the lack of bodies with the full-throated cheers and screams at Mr. Chesnutt’s act.  Security was tight, though, no pictures other that what we could grab with our phone or download a public domain copy could be had, so I apologize for the lack of photos.

The next day we wind down a bit, go shopping at some of Tucson’s many pawn and thrift shops, and spend the evening reminiscing at the hotel’s happy hour before settling in for one more night. 


We need to be well rested for that all day drive back to L.A.




Darryl
Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Resting Easy in the U.S.


There's nobody better in digging out the details of accessible travel than Candy Harrington. Along with husband Charles Pannell, She turns out books on accessible travel at a furious pace (she writes, he takes the pictures).

Her latest, Resting Easy In The U.S. looks into a facet of accessible lodging that has always fascinated me...unique, non-cookie cutter accommodations that are wheelchair accessible.

Candy excels in the nuts and bolts of travel, uncovering useful details most people would never think of but are essential to mobility challenged tourists.  Beyond details like roll-in showers, we get things like how high the edge of the bed is; will there be room for your Hoyer lift and what piece of furniture you might need to move out of the way; can you roll under the kitchen counter; how many (and how high) steps there are that you might need to navigate...this book is a detailer's masterpiece.

The them of this tome, of course, is uniqueness. We can go to the Hiltons, Marriotts, and Sheratons all day long and find decent accessible rooms but they're pretty much all the same (I defy anyone to be able to tell one Springhill Suites from another on their travels).


Peabody Hotel Duckmaster and his Charges

Here, each of the 90 plus properties has a spin on it that you won't find anywhere else. Want to go to an early 20th century, summer camp-like lodge on the edge of the Monterey Peninsula? Asilomar will fit that bill. A cushy and luxe hotel where you can walk to Beale Street and get an up-close-and-personal parade of ducks each day? The Peabody in Memphis is the ticket for you. How about a spectacular view room where you can watch the sun play over the beauty of Monument Valley from your room? The View Hotel in Utah is for you.

There is an extensive variety of lodgings described here. Quaint bed and breakfasts, national park lodges, housekeeping cabins, yurt tents, and boutique hotels are among those listed here. If you're really adventurous, you can even sleep in an accessible lean-to in an accessible wilderness park in upstate New York.


Candy Harrington

In addition, Candy's attention to details gives you little tips along the way. You might need a roll-in shower, she will tell you if you might want to skip a particular property because it only has tubs or the property in Cambria has a couple of steps into the office but she'll let you know that the owner will come out to your vehicle to check you in so you won't have to negotiate them. Even to the point of letting you know how far you'll need to go and that you'll need to pay for the shower in certain campgrounds.

There's a wealth of information here and it covers a good deal of the United States. You'll be sure to find something here to make a great trip. I know I'll be referring to it often.

Resting Easy In The US is available at Amazon.com and at restingez.com.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tucson, Arizona - Part 1






Over the years, we’ve been to destinations across Arizona.  The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Prescott, Oatman, Bullhead City and Laughlin, Phoenix , Scottsdale, and Yuma have all seen our van pass through.  One glaring section was missing, however, the southeast corner of the state.


Watch the Video!

Tucson is an all day drive from L.A.  We broke it up by spending the night in Yuma along the way.

It’s midafternoon when we finally pull into our hotel, the Radisson Suites located east of downtown Tucson on Speedway Blvd.  We have a true two-room suite with a separate living room and bedroom.  The bathroom area is also two rooms, the bathroom itself and a dressing area outside with a closet and a sink.


In the bathroom, there is a bathtub with a shower seat provided by the hotel, a roll-under sink, and a no-step shower.  Not quite a roll-in, but you could put the shower seat there and transfer to it in the shower…as long as you’re not too wide.  The bedroom has a flat-screen LCD TV while the living room has an older picture tube model.

Outside is a large pool in a lush, landscaped courtyard with a spa and a large firepit for the evening.  A restaurant and bar off to the side provide a generous breakfast buffet in the morning, meals throughout the day, and a happy hour at night.  The breakfast was included for an extra ten dollars.

After unpacking, we eat our first meal in the city at Rosa’s Mexican Food on Fort Lowell Road.  This is Willie Nelson’s favorite place to eat in the city.  It’s in the back of a nondescript strip mall and is your usual Mexican restaurant.  We start off with mediocre margaritas (made with mix, not from scratch), some really good enchiladas and chile rellenos, and finish off with sopapillas which are fried dough covered with honey and served with whipped cream.

Except for the margaritas, it was all very wonderful and inexpensive.

We take a quick drive over to downtown Tucson, which is in the middle of redevelopment.  It looks like a fun place.  I stop off at the restored Fox Theater there and pick up some tickets for a concert the next night.

With that done, we get a bottle of wine, some bread, cheese, and settle in for a quiet night in. 
Except that it wasn’t that quiet.  A large group of kids were in the hotel making a lot of noise late.  I slept right through it but Letty and Tim had a rough night.  Had I’d known, I would have called hotel security to shut them up.

In the morning, I went in to take a shower.  The shower head was set to the widest possible spray and I could barely get any water on me.  The water took…and I timed this…9 minutes to warm up.  The bathtub shower head was limp and in serious need of Viagra…it just wouldn’t stay up.

After breakfast, we took our concerns to the manager who moved us upstairs to a similar room with working fixtures.  We also complained about the noise and did not have any more problems with it during our stay.  The water still took 9 minutes to warm up, though.

After eating and moving, we drove out of Tuscon.  Along Kolb Road, on our way to the Interstate, we saw hundreds of military planes, sealed up against the elements, stored on the tarmac.  This is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the planes are part of AMARG – the  Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group – which maintains over 4,000 aircraft here in readiness and for surplus.

After the planes, we get to Interstate 10 and head east.  Our destination, 70 minutes away, is the old historic town of Tombstone, better known as the locale of such wild west sites as OK Corral and Boot Hill.

Once in Tombstone, we drive around the old part of town and have a devil of a time finding parking.  We learn that the lot on the other side of Highway 80 designated as OK Corral parking can also be used as a general parking lot for the town and it’s also free so we park there. 

Luckily, traffic is not so intense here so crossing the highway is no big concern.

Letty and Tim have been debating through the morning about attending the gunfight at the OK Corral in the afternoon.  Tim’s disability has the effect of his eardrums not being able to tense up at loud noises like normal folk so he really dislikes loud, sudden noises.  Letty wants to see it and offers to put in earplugs and cover those up with shooter’s headphones.  Tim tentatively agrees…we’ll see.

We start off by going to the visitor’s center.  While the gentleman there is friendly and lots of brochures are available, he won’t provide us with prices for the various attractions around town.  We are told we’ll have to visit each one and ask.  I think that’s what a visitor’s center should do but…

Off we go, strolling down the main street, mixing in with cowboys, gunfighters, soiled doves, and more.  While some of these people work here in those costumes, it also seems like a lot of the locals just like to dress this way.  There is also a contingent of people who also like to come here and play dress up.

Our first stop is to wet our whistle.  We go into Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  I have to ask one of the employees to open the second side of the double-door so that Tim can get his wheelchair through.  He shows me the trick of pulling on a chain attached to the door that releases it…a little tip that would come in handy time and time again as we visited the various shops in Tombstone.

We belly up to the bar…or roll up to it in Tim’s case…and have a shot of tequila.  Letty visits the gift shop, located down a tiny, narrow, spiral iron staircase downstairs and I request some outlaw country songs from the singer while Tim and I sip our shots.

It’s crowded, but it’s a lot of fun and you need to spend a little time in the saloon where Doc Holliday and the Earp’s used to hang out in.

We continue up the street, visit the lobby of the Bird Cage Theater, turn around and stroll slowly back towards the OK Corral at the other end of town.  


Along the way we see a little plaque saying that Wyatt Earp’s brother was murdered in the shop we were standing in front of.  Of course, we have to go in there and find the spot.

Finally, at the other end of town we arrive at the OK Corral.  It’s 12:30pm and the gunfight is at 2.  Tim is having none of it and offers to wait in the car during the show.  I can’t really let him do that, so the gunfight is scratched from the schedule.  It’s $10 dollars to go into the corral and see the gunfight.  If you don’t want the gunfight, then it’s only $6 so we opt for the cheaper ticket so we can at least visit it.

Inside, at the site of the real gunfight, there’s an audio show with some rudimentary robots standing in for the Earp’s, Doc Holliday, the Clanton’s, and McLaury’s.  The recreated gunfight takes place in an adjacent arena.

We look around, take in some exhibits including a prostitute’s shack, and then visit with the blacksmith who is very friendly and makes a custom horseshoe for Tim.

After that visit, we head back to the other end of town…far away from any gunshots…and have lunch at the Longhorn Steakhouse where we have some very good burgers while waiting for the gunfight to end.



One wonderful thing about Tombstone is that we did not find anything to be inaccessible to wheelchairs.  There are basic...very basic...accessible restrooms at each end of town and it's a very easy 3 block stretch from end-to-end.



After lunch, we drive to the north end of town to the little western cemetery there better known as Boot Hill. Here is where the town buried it's dead back in the wild west days.  The dead from the OK Corral are buried here, as are numerous criminals who were hanged...some "legally" as their headstones say.



Not to forget, the infamous Lester Moore...you know, "four slugs from a .44.  No Les, No More."



The cemetery is mostly wheelchair accessible.  It's dirt, so expect so bumpy, rocky paths but for the most part, you'll be able to visit it.  It's also free, although a donation is requested.

Back in the car, we settle in for the drive back to Tucson.

There’s more to come, stay tuned for part 2 of this trip.


Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved