18th Feb 2005 – Death Valley in Bloom

This was the most amazing day for a number of reasons. The amount of rain! The once in a century sight of Death Valley painted green and yellow with Desert Marigolds and getting stopped by a State Trooper on the way home.

The day started as it pretty well meant to go on! Rain, rain and more rain. It absolutely chucked it down all the way from Las Vegas to Pahrump and the junction there towards Shoshone. The thing that struck us how green it all was compared to the previous two trips in 1995 and 2000!. It did ease for a while and we stopped once to take photos of the flowers before starting to chuck it down as we approached Shoshone and the diner where we had decided we would breakfast again. What a change from the last time in 2000! That time is was sunny and warm and we walked round the caves behind the main street that were littered with tin cans left over a hundred years ago by prospectors who had dug them out and lived in them.

The sight of Death Valley in bloom was awesome. We probably should have guessed after several stops on the way from Shoshone to Badwater before we got to Death Valley proper to photograph flowers and green plants. But this view was simply breathtaking and definitely qualifies as the once-in-a-lifetime experience. A rare privilege indeed!

Ashford Mill Panorama This panorama was taken at Ashford Mill which is just into Death Valley proper after the junction where you join Badwater Road and head north. You can find it by entering ‘Ashford Mill Death Valley’ into Google Maps. The small figure on the left is Lynne reading the plaque in front of the ruins of all that is left of the mill.

2005 – Flagstaff

I guess we call this trip the Flagstaff trip as we stayed eight nights in a self-catering ‘Comfy Cottage’ that we rented near the centre of Flagstaff, Arizona. However we had other memorable days during this trip, not least our day out to Death Valley from Las Vegas at the end of the holiday.

14th Feb – Wedding Day

The Wedding Day

The great day! What a tale! It was fun and I got to marry the best woman in the world!

The start wasn’t so much fun though. Jet lag and/or being 8 hours ahead meant that, despite the long, long day before, we woke at about 4:00am and decided to go downstairs for an early breakfast in one of the Aladdin Casino’s 24 hour buffets. When we got back upstairs Lynne had loads of time to get ready and we were all ready shining like a new pin by the time the Limo was due to collect us at 9’o’clock. But it didn’t, we had to make several calls to The Little White Chapel before a non-limo finally collected us.

Which meant that we’d missed our appointed 10’o’clock wedding slot (the last one of the morning which is why I had booked it in the first place), and were informed that we would just have to join the line. Lynne ‘sweetly’ informed them that “in the UK a line is called a queue, and queue rhymes with sue, and that’s just what we’d do” if they didn’t get it sorted. So they took us outside to take the ‘after the wedding’ shots for the album we’d also booked.

We then got to ride back to the hotel in the Limo which they’d finally found. There we had our Wedding Reception. Me and Lynne consuming two bottles of Californian ‘Champagne’. It was very nice and dirt cheap and did the job. Thank you to the Table Manager who took our photo after the Croupier politely declined my request stating it would break the State Gambling Laws to touch my camera.

Our Wedding Reception

13th Feb – The Flight Out

Garrath’s bit

This was my first ever ‘long-haul’ flight, and I think Lynne’s too. We really had no idea what we were in for at all. First there was checking in. We had to get to the check-in for around 8:00am for a 10:00am take off. Usual chartered flight chaos, compounded by the huge number of passengers a 777 can carry.

The flight, ‘uphill’ against the Jetstream, took over 12 hours, so we landed at around 10:00pm body-clock time but it was only about 3:00pm local time. 12 hours is a long time to be cooped up, and that huge plane shrank as the journey went on. Still the in-flight entertainment was impressive with a widget in the seat arm that pulled out on a cable. One side was a games console and controller for the on-demand videos and audio. The other side was a phone! Lynne was tempted to use it but the cost was just plain silly.

Lynne’s Bit

My wedding hat caused a reorganisation in passenger luggage. I had carefully lodged it in a locker when a stewardess came with more luggage to jam into the locker. I exclaimed,

“You can’t do that, I’m getting married tomorrow and this is my wedding hat!” I explained to the stewardess and she took up the cause by announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, if you have something in this locker can you please move it. This lady is getting married in Las vegas tomorrow and we have to make sure that her wedding hat gets there undamaged.” Fellow passengers were duly compliant, gave us their congratulations and moved their stuff then the stewardess found some soft packing to ensure that my hat made the transatlantic trip completely unharmed. This was the first of many happy memories of the trip.

2000 – The Grand Circle Tour

Our second trip to the US. Organised through US Travel in Leeds and a lot of it was spent in the car, a Dodge Intrepid. A beautiful and comfortable piece of automotive engineering that we clocked something like 2,200 miles on in about 12 days.

After our return we found out that the tour we did was a well known one and called the Grand Circle Tour.

9th Feb – Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon

Up quite eary & checked out of Bally’s by 8:00am. Set off up I15 to look for breakfast. The Dodge Intrepid soon showed its value – bags of legs and a superb cruise control. Didn’t take much notice of the ‘Last liqor store – stock up now!’ sign as we left Arizona and entered Utah (you clip its NE corner as you leave Nevada). Stopped at St. George for gas and the attendant recommended one of the two adjascent diners as having an excellent breakfast buffet. It was!

Found the turn off for Zion no problem and got there in good time. Bit put out that the minimum fee was a 7-day pass for $20 when we were only using the State highway to go through, so when we we saw the visitor centre we stopped to look. (Saw our first snow – just left-overs from clearing up.) Found a CD Rom and this set a trend to find these instead of still photo’s. Decided to get our money’s worth and drive up the canyon. Quite pretty but no more spectacular than Cheddar Gorge really. Saw lots of hikers & campers who must be enjoying themselves & getting $20 worth. As its a dead-end doubled back to highway U-9 and set off up the switch-back to the tunnel near the top of the pass. Lynne did very well negotiating the tunnel which had a size restriction, and when we got there, warnings about sharp bends!. We had heard about this tunnel, 1.1 miles longe & built in the ’30s to the contemporary vehicle size, with no lighting. (This becomes obvious when you get there – no power lines for miles!) But its a very interesting tunnel. It doesn’t so much drive through the mountain as run up the pass just inside the steep valley wall rather than on its surface. This allows intermittent ‘windows’ in the tunnel left wall for ventlation & illumination.

Continued to make good time up U-89 so stopped at Hatch for a drink & ‘restroom’. It seemed such a guiet place and the lady so pleasant we decided to have a snack – I found out what a Club Sandwich really is. Got to Ruby’s Inn at about 2:45pm and put the clock forward an hour to Mountain time. Got our first taste of Mormon Utah, the formula’s are all there but if you try to strike up a conversation they shut down on you. Opted for a ground floor room to save lugging cases upstairs and ‘cos it was nearer the main lodgec (all the rooms in the main lodge being occupied by a week-long ‘Quilt Retreat’). Lynne very dis-chuffed to find that the room had no shear (lace to you & me) curtains. When we queried it we found this applied to all rooms. So much for being a Best Western.

Got settled in and went overto the lodge to ‘suss things out. Bought some orange juice to go with the duty-free vodka – good job as well. Surprised that was no communal area. When we went into the restaurant for a cuppa it was easy to see that they really expected you to order food, eat & leave – they clearly had difficulty with us sitting over a cup of tea

8th Feb – Las Vegas

Seem to have switched clocks, up at 7:00am and out by 9.00am. Went to Belz Factory Outlet Mall and spent a long time there getting bargains in clothing & Lynne got a good pair of Reeboks. The food courts weren’t much good for breakfast – Lynne had a hot dog on a jacket potato! Returned to Bally’s and used the Valet Parking (which is free + a $2 tip) which is so easy compared to the 5 mile hike through the Paris to the self-parking! Also the idea was to set us up for Bellhop assistance with the bags in the morning.

Packed the acquisitions and went down to the bar for a couple of drinks before going out to find dinner. Took a stroll south past the Paris. Its very impressive, The Louvre styled building with a 2/3rds sized Eiffel Tower inserted into it. (You even see the hidden legs inside when you go in!) Past the almost complete new Aladdin and on down the strip. Approximately where Hamburger Hamlins had been is the Harley Davidson Cafe. When we ordered a beer while looking at the menu we were offered a chrome mug @ $5 each. When they came they were glass with a sunburst chroming such that the rim is fully chromed but the base is fully clear. Made the mistake of having a starter and unable to finish my burger and fries. When the mugs were brought back with the check they were boxed up nicely. Tottered back to Bally’s.

Managed a drink at the bar & early to bed again, not so much knackered as stuffed, but to get going early to Bryce Canyon.

7th Feb – New York to Las Vegas

Up early again, so had a bath and went down at 6:15am for an early breakfast in the hotel restaurant called the New York Marketplace. Had a three egg omelette with ham & American cheese and breakfast potatoes (small cubed saute with skins). Lynne had the buffet with fruit followed by scrambled eggs, bacon & breakfast potatoes. Really good.

Got a cab to Newark Airport, which took about 35 mins. Again the check-in was smooth & easy, giving us time in the airport.

Got a window seat by sitting at the back. Just behind a group of three IT types, one of whom was a real NY loudmouth. They drank steadily & got louder as they did. However when disembarking we had a chat and they were really nice. The up side was that the weather was clear and the view great all the way. Fabulous views of the Colorado Plateau (part of which we are sure is the area called the Great Escalante Staircase – of which more later) on the approach to Las Vegas McCarron International Airport. On internal flights the headphones have to be rented, so having our own really paid off.

Las Vegas did an Amsterdam on us – baggage on wrong belt, but after that we got out onto the concourse to find it completely different & 5 times bigger. Later learned we were in the main building this time as there was no need for Immigration, which is in a separate terminal for International flights. We were security checked LEAVING the concourse – its to ensure people really have their own luggage so their trip is not spoilt.

Found the shuttle bus after a little difficulty and got to the Alamo lot. No problem with the advance booking. Tried to sell me up to a sports utility vehicle (4×4 type) but with Lynne sat outside with the luggage I declined, only to be told that the Pontiac Grand Am allocated did not have cruise control! So upgraded to a Standard car. And what a car! A Dodge Intrepid 2000 – long, lean & mean. It came with just 99 miles on the clock. No problems starting the car this time!

Got to Ballys OK. Asked to be put up high & told them of NY 3325. They put us on the 24th, a lovely large room with a 4 poster bed with a mirror on the underside so you see yourself instead of the ceiling! The view was West overlooking the Bellagio (an empty lot when we were in the Aladdin 5 years before) and we see the fountain show on the half hour. Also, the block between the Aladdin and Bally’s that was a car park and a few small shops on a mini-mall is now the Paris, complete with its 2/3rd scale model of the Eiffel Tower. Self-parked and had a ridiculous walk through the Paris to get to Bally’s to get to reception. Valet parking is free, and worth a $2 tip, to save on the huge walk.

Had dinner in the buffet – cheap & cheerful. Also Lynne had gluten problems!

Drink at the bar & early to bed

6th Feb – New York

Didn’t sleep well. Lazy start – out about 10:00am. Walked North on 6th Ave to Central Park. Took a horse & carriage ride around the South end of the park in bright sunshine on the snow, which lasted about 20 mins. Saw the ice rink made famous by the film Love Story and the top of the apartment block where John Lennon lived & died. After the ride finished Lynne told me very quietly that doing that ride was one of her life ambitions fulfilled.

Walked South down 5th Ave – very posh shop land! Lynne went into a very posh cosmetic shop called Saphora and bought some excellent cosmetics at less than half UK equivalents.

Caught a bus for 10 blocks South down 5th Ave to the Empire State Building using the $4 Fun Pass that gives 24hr unlimited riding on buses & subway (didn’t go on it). Went up the Empire State Building, only to 86th floor – the 102nd floor observatory is not open week-ends!! It cost $7 and the queue wasn’t bad. Takes 2 elevator rides. First to the 80th floor, then from there to the 86th floor. There is a third lift to the 102nd floor, which tops the top cylindrical bit. Still, it was a bright sunny winter day with visibility reported as 25 miles. Great views on camcorder.

Walked part way back towards the hotel on 6th Ave looking for a bar where we could have a beer and look at the guides for something to eat, the target being Broadway Joe’s Steak restaurant. Spotted a restaurant & bar in a cross-street called Cafe Un Deux Trois and went in for a beer. Got introduced to Rolling Rock beer, excellent. Decided to stay for a meal. I had a nice Pate de Campagne & Lynne had Gravlax – something I had not heard of before. Its thinly sliced salmon that is marinated & not cooked! Lynne then had Steak Tartare, which came with fries. I had Steak Frites, which was a thick lump of sirloin steak with a huge pile of fries. ($24 – very spoilt!) The quality of the meat was so good I really enjoyed it cooked medium rare. We shared a salad with Roquefort cheese sauce. By this time, after a couple of hours of steady eating, its go for bust! So its desert time. They did a gluten free Creme Broule, and I had a wonderful Chocolate Gateaux that tasted of chocolate, not suqar – not at all sickly! Finished off with Fonseca Bin 27 – one I had not heard of (Bin 69 for me), but beautiful nevertheless. It was Lynne’s first vintage port, and she loved it!

Caught a cab back to the hotel for a nightcap. Early night.

5th Feb – Manchester to New York

Drove to Manchester Airport – Mails Garage their usual efficient selves. Continental Airlines’ check-in proved fast & friendly, including its own security check required before reaching the check-in desk. Flight good, great mix of staff (age as well as ethnicity) & friendly service. Lynne well catered for.

The plane was a Boeing 777 – the damn thing’s a flying network! There was a LCD screen in the headrest of the seat in front with control gadget in the seat arm. This could be removed on a spring-reeled cable and was not only the channel control and games console control, but it was also a telephone. Swipe your card in the built-in slot and phone the world from 35,000 feet!

As we took off just before lunch and flew westwards we had daylight all the way. The flight path to Newark didn’t take us far enough north to over-fly Greenland, so no spectacular views of ice-fields this trip. But the views of Nova Scotia, the Canadian east coast and the coast of Maine were very good.

Newark Airport baggage & immigration OK. Found an ATM after a bit of a search on departure level & caught a cab into New York. Got the most beaten up Newark yellow cab going! Driver seemed not to speak English and the boot lid was held down by a bungee, with the weather seal in the boot.

New York Hilton & Towers Hotel great – right in mid-town Manhattan, on 6th Ave at 52nd St. While we were checking in, Lynne asked for ‘as high up as possible’, and they put us on the 33rd floor – the Executive rooms start on the 34th (up to the 45th)! Could see the Hudson River west along 53rd St.

Got a cab to Macy’s. Spent about 2.5hrs wandering around the store, and only got around the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd floors of the Broadway building that is the women’s dept. Went through onto 2nd floor of the 7th Ave building for the men’s dept, but didn’t see anything I fancied. Bought a couple of gifts for people in the Valentine Day displays on the first floor (ground to us). Lynne tried on blue jeans. Size 6 (= 8 UK size) in Tommy Hilfiger & Calvin Klein were too baggy! At $48/$49 (£36ish) she was really sad. In the end she got a pair of Liz Claibornes @ $38 in a size 4 (= 6UK).

Walked along Broadway from H??????? Sq to where it crosses 7th Ave at Times Sq. Had dinner at the Manhattan Chili restaurant just off Times Sq. Really good food. Walked through to 6th Ave and back along 6th Ave to the hotel.

Had a nightcap in foyer bar & early to bed knackered!

USA Trips

I suppose that this section can be justly accused of being a real ‘nerdy family section’, but I hope that my family at least will derive some enjoyment from it.

It Started With a Kiss

As the picture caption says… If I hadn’t kissed Lynne I would not have ended up marrying her and probably would never have gone to the States. That first trip was in Feb 1995 to get married in Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day. We had seven nights in Vegas but spent one of them at the Grand Canyon. I will never forget that first view!

The next trip was for our 5th Wedding Anniversary in 2000. We had a wonderful car and drove about 2,000 miles to do the ‘Grand Circle Tour’. Google for it if you want to know more about what it is.

The latest trip was 2005 for our 10th Wedding Anniversary. And boy what a trip!

My intention is to update it on a semi-regular basis, adding or changing the graphics on each page to give a rolling illustration of the diary text. I also hope to scan in things from the ephemera to add atmosphere. Each new US trip will be added as when they happen (= afforded!)

Keep coming back, as there’s lots to share and I will add more and more to it over the coming weeks and months.