Friday, December 13, 2019

Hiking in Las Vegas: Kraft Mountain Loop


Last year was a great hiking year for me, and one of the best hikes I did was the Kraft Mountain Loop in Calico Basin. 


This year I've spent more time at my desk than on the trail, sad to say. I'd almost forgotten about this trail until I found these pictures when I was cleaning out my phone's storage. 

As it turned out, my hiking partner and I did the trail going up the wash as opposed to going down it. This is the more difficult way to go, as I discovered when a woman stopped us at Pink Goblin Pass and asked me how I’d gotten up the wash. Honestly, at a couple of points, I didn’t think I was going to make it, so I highly recommend hiking the trail in the recommended direction, which is down the wash—starting at the Sandstone Road Trailhead.

Here are some pics I shot that day. It was just a little overcast, perfect for keeping cool while hiking. If you stick to the trail as intended it’s a 3.25 mile loop, although we probably hiked closer to four miles since we parked near the intersection of Calico Basin Road and Charleston/ Highway 159.









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All pictures by Terrisa Meeks


Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Plane Crash on Mount Charleston


Sixty-four years ago today, a plane crashed at Mt. Charleston.


If you were outside in today’s beautiful sunshine, it’s hard to picture the snow storm that was raging around Mt. Charleston on this date decades ago.

On November 17, 1955, a C-54 military cargo plane traveling from Burbank to Area 51 went off course, hit that terrible storm, and ultimately crashed into Mt. Charleston about a half a mile from the peak. All 14 men aboard were killed.

No one, not even the families of the deceased, knew the details of the flight or why the men were on the plane until after the details were declassified in 1998 – although if one persistent man hadn’t been tenaciously pursuing information about the crash, those details still might have been lost, ignored as insignificant and forgotten again.

For decades the remnants of the plane littered the area around the trail to the peak of Mt. Charleston. One of the most distinctive pieces left was a propeller, twisted and gnarled. I saw it when my hubby and I made the peak in 1996, and we, like everyone else, simply knew a plane had crashed there.

Today the propeller is part of a memorial to the men of USAF Flight 9068, which is next to the Silent Heroes of the Cold War memorial for those who served during those years. According the Forest Service’s fact sheet, it’s the only national memorial to the Cold War era of its kind.



Not until I visited the memorial with my husband, who is himself a Cold War veteran, did I learn the whole story of the crash. I picked up a copy of “Silent Heroes of the Cold War Declassified” by Kyril D. Plaskon in the gift shop and learned the true story behind the flight. 

The book starts out with a thorough background of the Nevada Test Site, where the infamous Area 51 is located, and its role in atomic testing as well as the development of the U2 spy plane. The flight from Burbank to Area 51 was a regular flight taking people who were working on the U2 back and forth on a daily basis.

On the day USAF Flight 9068 took off from Burbank, the flight was a little late taking off because the pilot waited to see if one of the regular passengers would show up (he had overslept, which was a lucky thing for him). At a little after 7 a.m., the very secret flight departed for Area 51. The flight took a route through the mountains and according to the book, near Goodsprings it went radio silent, flying without contact with the flight tower as it made its way toward the Test Site.

Unfortunately, a storm was approaching and they were blown off course to the east. The pilot was flying by sight, but the storm clouds made that difficult. The disoriented crew soon realized they were in trouble. In the book, Plaskon describes the crew “...dodging peaks just above the trees and snow covered mountain range when their normal flight path should have taken them over flat desert.”

At 8:19 a.m., the plane slammed into the side of Mount Charleston, killing everyone aboard.

Plaskon’s book describes the harrowing recovery mission undertaken, which ultimately involved the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, which was the Search and Rescue of its day. A team that included Sheriff Butch Leypoldt led 17 horses to the crash site to bring the bodies back down, a gruesome chore carried out in the midst of terrible storm conditions.

The entire incident might have gone unremembered had it not been for Steve Ririe.

Ririe had seen the crash site and became interested in knowing more about it... then the crash site seems to have become interested in him, so to speak. The book recounts Ririe’s slightly paranormal experiences, all of which led him – some might say compelled him – to pursue the story of the crash. The story he uncovered is the reason there’s a memorial now to commemorate the men who lost their lives.

The Cold War had no battles to feature on the nightly news. It was, however, a pivotal time in world history when the entire world was holding its breath in the hopes of averting a disaster, a time of secrets and spies that still holds mysteries like Flight 9068.

The U2 spy plane was considered vital to our country’s efforts to prevail in the quiet fight that was happening, and the men who died that morning on Mt. Charleston were instrumental in its development.

The next time you’re at Mt. Charleston, take a moment to stop at the memorial. Ponder the propeller, preserved as it was found at a little over 11,000 feet. We almost didn’t get to hear the whole story of that flight and the men aboard it. 

They deserve remembering.


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All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Vegas Voices: Brian Rouff’s Vegasy Ghost Story, “The House Always Wins”

When you live in a famous city, you get used to reading about your hometown. But very few Vegas-based books have a truly local setting. In “The House Always Wins,” author Brian Rouff takes us to a part of town that doesn’t make it to the Travel Channel, with characters that will ring a bell or two for any long-time resident.

East St. Louis Avenue at Atlantic, looking west towards the Stratosphere
If you know anything about Las Vegas, you’ve heard of our most famous street: Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. The Strip, a.k.a. The Boulevard. It’s sparkly and fancy and attracts the attention of over 40 million visitors a year.

Unless you’re truly a local resident, however, you probably have not heard of East St. Louis Boulevard.

Brian Rouff’s newest novel, “The House Always Wins,” opens with a whirlwind romance that begins in Michigan and winds up in Las Vegas. Our heroine, Anna, quickly succumbs to the charms of Aaron, a touring Vegas musician, and in short order, Anna and Aaron are married with a baby on the way. Finding a house quickly becomes a priority.
Homes along East St. Louis Avenue
Rouff describes the bulk of houses in Las Vegas with complete accuracy: “Outside, some variation of an earth tone, a red-tile roof, and a mottled textured coating they call ‘stucco.’ All accented with a patch of ‘desert landscaping,’ meaning rocks, cactus and other bushes that require less than a thimble of water to survive.”

Then Anna wanders into what’s now known as the Beverly Green Historic District, and is captivated by a two-story brick house that stands out from the cookie cutters she's seen. I thought it sounded a lot like the house the Sahara's orchestra leader Jack Eglash once lived in (which was actually further east in the Mayfair District), and in fact Rouff and his family bought and remodeled Eglash’s former home in the 2000s. Today, that distinctive home is gone.

Beverly Green, Mayfair and all of the aging/vintage neighborhood in this area hold a mix of homes that range from fully restored to vacant lots that once held homes, with everything in between. 

This abandoned building on St. Louis was once a home that was converted to a dental office
Anna and Aaron take on the fixer-upper and Anna finds that it comes with a ghost named Meyer Levin, who has a lot in common with Moe Dalitz.
Looking west up East St. Louis from about 16th Street


Dalitz isn’t the only local who makes an appearance, so to speak. One of my favorite nods to local lore is the character of Ed Scott, a muck-racking reporter who’s ready to help Anna fight a casino owner (imagine Bob Stupak crossed with Steve Wynn) to save her property from becoming a parking lot. Just like local reporter Ned Day, a man who covered the mob, Scott expires while swimming on vacation in Hawaii. (In real life, Day died of a heart attack while swimming--some would add "allegedly"--while the character of Scott drowns.)

Neither the ghost of Meyer Levin nor Anna are willing to let the house get turned into a parking lot, but if you want to find out exactly what happens, you’ll have to pick up the book.
Looking west up East St. Louis from John C. Fremont Junior High, my old junior high
The locations described throughout the book are very familiar to me, since I grew up in the area, just a few streets from East St. Louis Avenue. It’s a real pleasure to read a story set in my old ‘hood, and anyone who knows Las Vegas will enjoy the attention to detail throughout the story.
Beautifully maintained/restored home along East St. Louis
Rouff is also the author of two other Vegas-based novels, “Dice Angel” and “Money Shot” (both of which are also quite good). I’ve seen a few comparisons drawn between Rouff and Carl Hiaasen, although personally I was reminded of Janet Evanovich’s style. In addition to being a great writer, I have to tell you he’s also one heck of a nice guy, being kind enough to come speak to my former writing group back in the day.

If you’re looking for a Vegas book that goes beyond the Strip, pick up “The House Always Wins” and see a side of the city you don’t know about.

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I took the photos for this post along East St. Louis Avenue traveling from St. Louis and Atlantic west to just east of Las Vegas Boulevard, where the actual street address of the house in the book, 339 E. St. Louis, would be, according to Google... if there were any homes there:


Look for a future series of photos from me taken mostly in this area and the Mayfair District, where I grew up.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Cottonwood Station Eatery & Other Vegas Restaurants


Today’s update to Vegas Girl’s restaurant listing includes a new cafe in Blue Diamond, plus other restaurants in the western part of the Las Vegas valley.

I almost hate to write about Cottonwood Station Eatery in Blue Diamond, not because anything was amiss, but because I don’t want this rural gem ruined by too many visitors. Chances are I’m too late to save this charming cafe from the ravages of popularity, however,  especially since the waitress told me Mothers’ Day was crazy for the little restaurant. (I bet they’ll be overflowing when Super Summer Theater gets going for the season at nearby Spring Mountain Ranch.)

My son and I drove out to Cottonwood Station on a weekday morning, when only a handful of people were there. The interior design is a nice mix of eccentric elements and a clean, modern style. I loved the finished particle board tables.

  

I had a breakfast sandwich, my son had a sausage roll, and we both had coffee. For dessert we split a coffee cake muffin, which I had no chance to photograph before we devoured it. I also had no opportunity to take a picture of my son’s food before he ate it. Everything was quite tasty.



I loved everything about Cottonwood Station. The drive through Red Rock to the cafe was beautiful. The food and coffee were yummy, the service was friendly and efficient, and I was able to stroll around Blue Diamond snapping pictures, something that generally arouses suspicion... unless there’s a fancy new cafe in town attracting city people like myself.



Blue Diamond is home to less than 300 people and its small-town ambiance is as genuine as it gets. Unfortunately, the threat of development on top of Blue Diamond Hill continues to loom as a possibility. The two-lane lifestyle may be on a count-down here. 

I suggest you visit the Cottonwood Station now, before all the other people find out about it.

#

The Cottonwood Station is just one of four additions to the Vegas Girl’s Restaurant List in my latest update. I also recommend Salud, Buldogis, The Martini and Khoury’s Mediterranean.

Feel free to leave suggestions for restaurants I should check out in the comments!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Don’t Be a Bunny Dumper


In February, about 50 dead rabbits were discovered on the grounds of a mental health facility where bunny dumping has been going on for years. Local rescue groups are still working to move any remaining rabbits off the grounds and are in need of animal carriers, water bottles, and donations.

 

With Easter coming up this weekend, it seems like the right time to talk about our rabbit problems.


Bunnies on the grounds of a local park
Bunny dumping has been a problem in Las Vegas for a long time. I’m not talking about the wild rabbits you see when you’re out hiking. The bunnies I’m talking about were once someone’s pet, right up until the point when their person decided to abandon them. These bunnies aren't able to fend for themselves. For some time now, volunteers have been feeding and caring for rabbits at dump sites throughout Las Vegas and doing their best to adopt them out when possible (a rigorous screening process is involved).

Volunteers with Bunnies Matter were shocked to discover the dead rabbits at the mental health facility last month. Poisoning initially was the suspected cause of death, but autopsies revealed it was brunt force trauma, enough to break ribs. Someone was unspeakably cruel to these bunnies, who were accustomed  to humans.

Two days before the dead rabbits were found on February 18, the mental health facility passed around notices that the Nevada Department of Health had declared the bunnies a health hazard. (During the autopsies, the bunnies tested negative for tularemia, one of the serious diseases the rabbits were alleged to have. Prior to this point, there were no concerns voiced about the rabbits carrying disease.) Further, the notice said people were barred from feeding the rabbits and that the state planned to relocate them. No one from Bunnies Matter had been told anything about these new developments.

Interestingly, the facility itself had originally released rabbits on the grounds, thinking it would be soothing for the residents. They neglected to spay or neuter the rabbits, and so they wound up with a rabbit problem, exacerbated by bunny dumpers. 

After the dead rabbits were found, bunny rescuers sprang into action, working diligently to move the remaining rabbits off the grounds. (At its peak population, this dumpsite had about 1,000 rabbits.) When I spoke to Stacey Taylor of Bunnies Matter a couple of weeks ago, her group was still working hard to get all of the rabbits moved from the area. She said that baby bunnies who had been in burrows waiting for their moms had started to come out, likely looking for food since Mom had not come back.

With Easter right around the corner, there are unfortunately a lot of bunnies who will wind up homeless after they become too big or too much of a bother. That’s when a bunch of them will wind up being dumped somewhere.

If you think a rabbit will make a fun Easter gift for the kids, please rethink. Bunnies requite a lot of attention and care. They like to chew on things. They get bored easily. If you’re thinking of getting a bunny, I urge you to do some research on what’s involved with caring for them. Better yet, I strongly urge you to reconsider and simply buy a stuffed animal instead.

Even better, visit some real bunnies at one of the adoption events Bunnies Matters hosts, and then make a donation. They're at the PetSmart on West Charleston every Saturday. Drop off a carrier and a water bottle. Click over to the Bunnies Matter Amazon Wish List, and send them something. Don't give bunnies as gifts this Easter--give the bunnies the gifts instead!


PETA is offering a$5,000 reward for the identification of the people responsible for the 50 rabbit deaths. The Nevada Capitol Police, a state agency, is also investigating the bunny killing.

Have you seen the dumped bunnies around Las Vegas? If you're not in Las Vegas, do you have a bunny dumping problem in your city? Unfortunately, many places do.
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All pictures by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, February 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Vegas to St. Louis for the 2017 Eclipse

Last year, on August 21, 2017, North America got to see a total solar eclipse.


My son made his first solo trip from Las Vegas to St. Louis to be in the path of totality for this rare celestial occurrence. 

Photo by Roger Lee

Last summer my son announced he wanted to find a place to see the solar eclipse in full totality. Since last year’s eclipse was the first one in 38 years and another won’t occur in North America until 2024, I agreed this was a great idea. Here in Las Vegas, you could only see the eclipse with special glasses, but there was a swath across the middle of the country where the eclipse would briefly turn day into night.    

I  thought about what a fun trip it would be for the two of us, but August turned out to be a rotten time for me to travel. Instead, I helped him plan his first trip alone. I mean, it was time. He’s over 18, and the world awaits.

After checking on air fare to several cities in the path of full totality, we settled on St. Louis, Missouri.

Next, we had to deal with a few age-related issues. Although he’s over 18, he’s under 21.

For transportation, we quickly settled on a combination of public transportation and Uber. Car rental was out of the question because he doesn’t drive, and even if he did you need to be at least 21 to rent a car.

His first hotel choice was a place that required guests to be over 21 (no exceptions, he was told by a very unhelpful hotel manager), but we found a much better deal on Airbnb -- $100 less per night. I also liked the Airbnb because I thought it was better for him to have a homier place to stay since he was new to the city and traveling alone. Plus, he could get some insight from the hosts about St. Louis.  

I asked him to write about his first trip, and here’s what he had to say.


My flight left at 0045 and arrived at 0830, with an hour layover in Minneapolis. The first leg of the flight was miserable. For the first 30 minutes, I couldn’t figure out how to recline my chair, and I was afraid to move around too much and accidentally bump into anyone. After a while I was able to figure out how to get that extra two degrees I so desperately needed. However, reclining the back of the seat moved the seat bottom forward, making the situation worse. Essentially it felt like holding the iron chair position for three hours and forty-five minutes.

He was not impressed with the Minneapolis airport.

Low drop ceilings, unnaturally humid, whole place smelled strongly of eggs, not in a good way. Rubbery, unseasoned, microwaved eggs. The men's bathroom had not been cleaned in 81 days according to the counter next to the door.

Next, onward to St. Louis.

My flight into St. Louis wasn't much better. They had a guy with just a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers fixing something on the plane right before takeoff, and the intercoms only emitted static. Very comforting when you're supposed to be flying 10,000 feet up and right before you take off they have to send in someone who looks more equipped to fix toilets, not airplanes. However, I lived with only minimal spinal cord injuries.

Upon arrival in St. Louis, he walked for what felt like a very long distance before finding the MetroLink train he needed. After successfully boarding his first public transportation of any kind (in any city), he was underway.

As the train ran along right beside the freeway, I was feeling pretty good. Then we got to our fist stop. A toothless woman, who was either old or had a drug problem (I would guess the latter), covered in what looked like a lot of surgery scars sat down across from me. She immediately began talking loudly on a cell phone about how stressed she was because she was trying to sell a bottle to Sarah, but Sarah didn’t show up. Or something like that. During her conversation, she stood up and sat down repeatedly. After a few rounds of musical chairs, she settled into what I would call an ambush crouch. I was very happy to get off the train and find myself in a nice university campus with bike cops and “no smoking outside” signs.

His Airbnb was in a historic home, circa 1895, and he was excited to see it. The hosts had agreed to let him drop his bags off before check-in time so he could go see the eclipse without his backpack. 

I walked to my Airbnb to drop off my bags, but I couldn't get into the door for the floor with the storage closet. (Turns out it was actually a push door with a very strong return spring, not a pull door with a sh*tty handle like I thought. Apparently fire code regulations about which way doors open weren't around in 1895). I had to get going, so I just took my bag with me and called an Uber so I could go get some food before heading out to see the eclipse.

He had lunch at a place called Cafe Ventana, one of the restaurants recommended in his Airbnb’s house manual. Then it was off to Jefferson Barracks Park for the eclipse viewing party.

After a long walk from the Uber drop-off point, I got to the music and food trucks and found a hillside to sit on for a while. 


I eventually found a spot right next to the stage, where two photographer dudes (PMT Photographyfrom Boston were taking pictures of the sun. I asked one man about his camera and we talked for a minute before I went back to the tree I had staked out. I relaxed until the eclipse was at about 75% then I moved out into the clearing next to the photographer. A random group of people gathered--a dude with a lot of tattoos, a guy and his girlfriend, me, and the photographers. We all watched the eclipse together.

 Here’s Cameron’s video of the eclipse.


I headed back to Cafe Ventana for a cup of coffee and to contemplate what I was going to do next. I sat down in one of their giant, wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and looked down to discover I had no watch on my wrist. Immediately, I opened the Uber app and got a hold of the driver, who turned right back around and brought me my watch. That driver was one of the nicest people I’ve met.

After some deliberation, I decided to go to Pi Pizzaria. It was the best pizza I’ve had in my life. I looked out the front windows while I was eating, and I saw a sedan drive past with a dude sitting on the front passenger quarter panel, smoking a cigarette and pointing forwards. I wish I could have gotten a picture.

My room wasn’t quite ready yet, so I dropped off my left-over pizza at the Airbnb’s fridge and walked over to the Cathedral Basilica. I wandered around their mosaic museum for a while, then went back upstairs to take pictures of the mosaics on the ceiling, but mass started so I had to leave. Lucikly, my room was ready by the time I got back.


My modest room had a Murphy bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. It felt like I was in a Mark Twain novel.

Back at the Airbnb, he took a shower and watched some YouTube before falling hard asleep. I woke him up when I called at 8 p.m., and he was too groggy to chat for long.

His plans for the next day included renting a bike to explore Forest Park and spending some time at the St. Louis Arch before catching an afternoon flight back home. But, as happens when you travel, his plans changed.

I woke up at 0630 the next day to heavy rain. I was a little worried it might affect my flight back home, but the weather cleared up. It did screw up my bike rental plans, though. So, Plan B. I went to see the Arch.

At the ticket trailer outside the Arch, they told me the only tickets available were for 1700. I'd be long gone by then. Still cautiously optimistic, I went into the Arch’s underground visitor center/gift shop. A greeter asked me if I was there for a ride to the top. I explained that I couldn’t get a ticket, and he said since I was early, I might be able to still get on since I’d shown up right after they opened. So I talked to the ticket lady inside, who called the boss, who apparently said “no.” Plan C was to go to the Arch’s museum, but it was under construction. So I bought a horrendously overpriced umbrella in the gift shop and walked outside to see that the rain had stopped for the most part. For a moment I thought about throwing the umbrella in the Mississippi River, but decided against it since it was still raining a little bit.

Next, he returned to the comfy chairs at Cafe Ventana and came up with Plan D: visit the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

I took about 500 pictures there, so about 200 in focus. I hung out there as late as I could, and I still didn’t get to see everything in as much detail as I would have liked.




When it was time to leave, I walked around Forest Park for about fifteen minutes before attempting to call Uber. That’s when my phone decided to have no service, even after a restart. Luckily, public WiFi is everywhere now, so I was still able to get an Uber to the airport.   



When the hubby and I picked him up later that day, he was tired and happy to be home. Returning home after an adventure is one of the best parts of a trip. You’re tired but full of things to share. When you travel solo, you also feel a sense of victory at having successfully made it there and back. It’s one of my favorite feelings.

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Did you get to see the eclipse in 2017? Have you ever been to St. Louis?


Photos in St. Louis and video clip by Cameron

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Work Out Like a Mermaid

Trying to keep your New Year’s fitness resolution? AquaMermaid classes put you in a mermaid tail and are a fun way to get a killer workout.

Anna Yatsko, AquaMermaid Instructor and former Silverton Aquarium Mermaid, making mermaiding look easy

If you’re diligently trying to stick to a fitness plan for 2018, let me give you a suggestion for any flabby middle parts you’re working on: take AquaMermaid classes. Yes, you get to wear a tail (a.k.a stylish monofin), not only to stay true to being a mermaid, but also because that tail is the key to really working your core. Between the tail holding your legs together and the resistance of the water, your abdominal muscles are in for a wake-up call.

I got to see the AquaMermaids in action back in October, when their Las Vegas operation came online at the Municipal Pool on Bonanza in Downtown Las Vegas.

I had recruited a volunteer mermaid to come with me as my appointed Person in a Swimsuit, but she cancelled at the last minute. I briefly contemplated putting on the tail myself and getting in the water, then I remembered that I never appear in a swimsuit in public. (Also, it’s very difficult to take pictures while swimming and my Nikon isn’t waterproof. Any excuse will do to keep me out of the water, honestly.)

Although I have a strict no-swimwear policy, I’ll admit that when I met everyone at AquaMermaid, I wished I’d brought a suit. Their merpeople come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone was welcoming. 

A local vlogger, Jacob Orth of the YouTube channel Jacob’s Life in Las Vegas, was also at the class I attended. Unlike me, he was brave enough to put on the tail and get in the water. As it turned out, the biggest tail they had was bright pink, but Jacob was such a good sport that he appeared not to mind at all. Watching him get lessons really illustrated what a workout this is: he’s a very fit individual, and he was definitely working hard.
Jacob Orth getting instructions from AquaMermaid founder Marielle Chartier Henault

In an interview with the RJ, AquaMermaid’s founder, Marielle Chartier Henault, said that there’s a swim test before people can participate. Based on what I saw, that’s a good idea. The fun factor could easily convince you to overlook the physical demands of the class. While it becomes immediately obvious that mermaiding works your core, it’s worth noting that this activity will work your entire body plus provides what looked like butt-kicking cardio workout (or should I say tail kicking?).
AquaMermaids in action

Anna Yatsko, AquaMermaid Instructor 

Classes for kids and adults currently are offered on Saturdays, and you can sign up online. Single classes are listed on the website, but ask about monthly subscriptions if you’d like to make putting on the tail a regular thing. They also do parties for kids and adults.



Would you like to try swimming like a mermaid?
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All pictures by Terrisa Meeks.