Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Las Vegas

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is the weirdest time of year.
You see Elvis in a Santa suit
And the elves are drinking beer.

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is only the opening act.
New Year’s Eve gets top billing
Booze and fireworks—THAT’s where we’re at.

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is unlikely to be white with snow.
But we’ve got neon lighting up Santa’s sleigh
And making Rudolph’s nose glow.

Happy Holidays!
Photo courtesy of Chad Mathews at

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow in the Desert

Have you had enough snow yet? You may have heard this before, but no one has seen snow like this in Las Vegas in over thirty years. Henderson got socked on Wednesday with eight inches of snow. Here on the west side of the valley, we got two or three inches both Monday and Wednesday. My Mondays are normally full of things to do, but this Monday I didn’t get anything done. Instead, I spent six hours watching the snow.

We get snow flurries every year at our house because we live in the foothills of the Spring Mountains. Sometimes, I close my eyes and remember what it looked like before all the houses, when the area where my home sits was nothing but open desert. Ten years ago, when my son, Cameron, was a baby, we lived in an apartment at the edge of the rapidly disappearing desert. We had Cameron’s first Christmas in that little apartment. I hated that place. The walls were so thin that we heard everything—and I mean everything—our neighbors did, and our nephew was living on our sofa. I remember when the snow came that year. We were home alone when the snow covered the yuccas and the Joshua trees, painting the desert in white all the way to Red Rock. That year, the miracle of the snow was almost lost on me. I was sleep deprived, overweight, suffering from a very bad haircut, and not adjusting well to life with a new baby.

Here in the desert, snow is a once-in-awhile phenomenon instead of a months-long endurance test. Snow in the desert is a beautiful thing, an anomaly that helps you believe in the Unseen. Snow in the desert is unusual and memorable.

I remember when we had a white Christmas in Las Vegas, in the early 1970s. (Pictues below.) Johnny Carson joked on the Tonight Show about McCarren Airport being closed due to snow. Snow in Las Vegas! Who had ever heard of such a thing? My dad and I had a rousing snowball fight in the backyard that ended when he fell and hurt his shoulder (FYI, cowboy boots don't supply much traction on ice). I was fascinated by the snow, and even at night I would sit in the backyard and gaze up at the sky, watching the falling flakes.

I was in high school before we had a snowy day again. I discovered that high school boys like to put rocks in their snowballs. I had a bloody nose most of that day. That evening, when I was at a friend’s house, we decided to have a snowball fight. “Just don’t hit me in the face, please,” I told her. She promptly thwacked me right in the face with a snowball, and then apologized profusely as I stood there bleeding on her front yard.

This Monday, when the snow arrived, both my son and husband were home. It’s unusual for all of us to be home during the day. I woke up my son by opening his blinds and announcing, “It’s snowing!” He was out of bed immediately, dressed, downstairs, and outside. We watched as the snow started to stick, and by noon we had a thin blanket of white over everything. Our neighborhood streets were quiet and empty; it felt like we were the only people home that day. Cameron played in the snow until he was soaked; he came inside long enough to warm up and put on dry clothes, then he was back outside. Once there was an inch or so on the ground, he made a snow man. Well, it was more like a snow gnome, but it was a terrific effort. The snow turned the park behind our house into an uninterrupted field of white; I made sure to take pictures before the “sledding” began. The wet, thin snow barely covered the grass, but Cameron was determined. This time he had to go get in a warm shower after soaking a second set of clothes.

When I wasn’t watching my delighted child, I was watching the snow. I sat inside, next to a window, and looked up into the white sky. The flakes swirling down reminded me of the first time I watched snow falling. I remembered sitting on the cinder block wall in my backyard, staring up into the sky, fascinated by the snow. At a time when life often feels strange and unfamiliar, I am reassured to still feel wonder at the sight of snow falling in the desert.
Photo information: Top--My picture taken Thursday from the west end of the valley, looking toward the Strip & the snow-covered mountains; click to enlarge. Below--Family pictures of the 1970s snow. My notes say 1973.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Las Vegas After 6 Hours of Snow

More of my pictures from our snow day today. These were taken right before three o'clock. Big snow flakes stopped falling between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., and right now we have a light drizzling rain. Should be interesting out on the roadways!

It's Snowing in Las Vegas

Snow has been falling ever since I got up! Here are pictures I took around my house at noon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Four Wheel Drive Recommended

If you’re an off-road enthusiast, Southern California abounds with OHV (Off Highway Vehicles) areas, many of them a short drive from Las Vegas. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we stayed on the ouskirts of Barstow and discovered the Stoddard Valley OHV Recreation Area. The area held several campsites, but certainly not so many people that you’d have a problem finding a spot to camp and/or ride your ATV. Several riders were staying at the Holiday Inn on Lenwood, a nice hotel that we enjoyed. It sits right on the edge of Stoddard Valley, right next to an outlet mall and a Hampton Inn.

My husband told me he wanted some dirt roads on this trip, so the detail map and I got friendly. For our ride home, I found a couple of detours to take us around I15 through country we’d never explored.

Our first detour was into the Afton Canyon Wilderness. The dirt road winds through the canyon. Shortly after we took the turnoff from I15, we stopped at the Afton Canyon Campground and watched a train passing. The railroad runs through the canyon, as does the Mojave River. ATVers are thick here, which was a good thing because we had plenty of tracks to follow through the river bed. My 4-wheel-drive-loving husband was in heaven, slinging mud all over his beloved truck. The muddy, bumpy, fun ride through the canyon didn’t allow for pictures.

We hopped back on I15 for about 10 miles to Kelbaker Road in Baker, where we exited into the Mojave National Preserve. We were in search of a lava tube. I knew it was off Aiken Mine Road, but I didn’t know its exact location. It’s one of the places in the Mojave NP I haven’t been. We didn’t find the lava tube, but we did find the abandoned Aiken Mine. Volcanic rock appeared to be the former mine’s product. Derelict equipment and buildings are scattered over the top and side of a cinder dome. Various grades of volcanic rock and tailings are piled everywhere. It’s all equipment my husband knows well, so he showed my son around and explained what each part of the operation did. After we left the mine, corrals and windmills appeared periodically along the dirt road. Somewhere out there, the Mojave Phone Booth used to stand, attracting a cult following before it was removed.

I planned on taking Aiken Mine Road all the way to Cima Road, but we wound up on a different road. Not many street signs exist out there. I wasn't really sure how we came to be on the sandy, northbound power-line road, but at least it looked well-traveled. The compass told us we were heading in the right direction before we could see the cars and trucks of I15 in the distance. As we neared Cima Road, we found an abandoned ranch. Vandals had scratched the year off the name and date inscribed in the concrete by the corral. My husband looked in the window of one of the abandoned buildings and saw a stack of magazines that he described as “Nothing anyone should look at. Not even me,” so we knew we had to be close to the main road. Softball-sized gourds dotted the ground under the Joshua trees.

Once we arrived at the Cima Road entrance to I15, we applauded ourselves for our navigational skills. We joined the cars heading home to Las Vegas and watched the dense line of cars snaking its way in the other direction, toward Los Angeles. How many of them have any idea what the desert beyond the highway holds?
Photo information, top to bottom, all my photos: Abandonded ranch near Cima exit; Joshua tree with gourds growing under it; abandonded mining equipment; the view into Afton Canyon; the railroad bridge.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Joshua Tree National Park: Breezier Than Expected

This year, my family went out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday. I had a couple of places in Southern California I wanted to explore, and Joshua Tree National Park was one of them. Since it’s only about 140 miles east of Los Angeles, it is a heavily visited park, but last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, the lines at the entrance weren’t too long. The weather might have had something to do with it. Instead of the forecasted 70° and sunny, it was 50° and windy.

In addition to plenty of Joshua Trees, as you would imagine, the park also features lots of rocks. As soon as my son saw the granite boulders piled in heaps and mounds, he wanted to get out of the car and climb. We parked at the first turnout. My husband and son were headed to the rocks before I was out of the truck. The wind was cold, so I had to put on a sweater before I explored anything. Not many people seemed bothered by the cold. Families were picnicking, a group of mountaineers was giving lessons on climbing with ropes, and bicyclists explored the dirt paths through the desert. I was sizing up photo opportunities when my husband hurried over to me.

“I ripped my pants,” David announced when he got close to me. “And not in the back.” This might have been a minor setback, if only he had been wearing underwear.

At first, I was no help because I couldn’t stop laughing. David didn’t even have a jacket, so I offered him my sweater to tie around his waist. He declined. “I really wanted to climb with Cameron,” he groused, as we watched our son scampering over the rocks.

As soon as Cameron descended from the rocks, he started an endless string of jokes about Dad’s ripped britches, beginning with, “Dad, you really went ‘nuts’ on that rock!” Since he’s 10, nothing could have been funnier (unless it involved gas).

The next stop on our trip through Joshua Tree was the Keys Trail, where a panoramic vista allows you to see the San Andreas Fault and the Salton Sea. We confabbed in the truck before getting out.

“Do you have any duct tape?” I asked David. (Personally, I believe no vehicle should be without it.) “You could tape it on the inside,” I suggested.

“Well, I’m not going to tape it on the outside!” David exclaimed. I thought he was objecting to looking like he had a duct tape jock strap on the outside of his jeans, but he told me he was more worried about the sticky side of the tape adhering to delicate body parts. We had no need to debate the questions any further, though, because he didn’t have any duct tape. “You can be sure I will have some, next time we go anywhere,” David said.

“How about a towel? You’ve got towels in here,” I said. I was thinking that perhaps he could put the towel on the inside of his pants, as a sort of inner shield, but he vetoed that idea also. “How am I going to look walking around with a towel stuffed in my pants?”

“I would think it’s better than the alternative,” I said, but he refused. I suppose a man’s got to keep some sense of fashion, even when faced with public indecency. He made do with careful positioning of the rip and holding his hands in front of him.

Our visit at the overlook was quick. The brisk winter wind cut through my clothes, and when the clouds covered the sun, I lost all interest in looking at the Fault, the Sea, and the cloud of smog rolling our way from L.A.

Our next stop was for lunch. We ate in the truck, since the wind was too chilly for any of us to want to eat outside, even if David hadn’t had a wardrobe malfunction. David was determined to find a way to climb on the rocks with Cameron, and he finally decided to use a towel in football-player/loin-cloth style, hooking the white towel in his waistband so it covered the front of his pants. With a clothing solution he could finally live with, David headed off with Cameron to explore some rocks. It was too cold for me to care about climbing, so I snapped pictures by the trailhead and stayed in the truck to keep warm.

When my men returned to the truck, they were exhilarated. David was disappointed that he’d forgotten to take his camera. The late afternoon sun was just right for pictures, and the crowds were thinning. “I think I ripped my pants some more,” he told me after he sat down, lifting his strategically placed towel to flash me. “What do you think?”

“I was just wondering how I’ll explain to your mother that we’re going to be back a day late because I had to bail you out of jail for indecent exposure,” I told him.

A few hours later, we were back in Barstow, where we were staying. Fortunately, in addition to a Holiday Inn, Barstow also has a Levi's store.
Photo information: My pictures at Joshua Tree. The first photo (top to bottom) was taken at the turnout where the ripped jeans occurred.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Las Vegas Bloggers Make the News

In the Las Vegas Review Journal's Sunday edition a couple of weeks ago, reporter Corey Levitan (that guy who writes a Las Vegas-based, "Dirty Jobs"-flavored column for the RJ) wrote about popular Las Vegas blogs in "Viva Blogs Vegas: Just being based in the city can be enough to draw in readers." Check out his article for links to ten popular Las Vegas blogs.

I recommend the Classic Las Vegas Blog at:
Photo courtesy of Pete Crumpton at

Phone Scams Are Alive and Well

Last month I heard from my friend Valerie that she’d been taken in by a phone scam run by inmates. In her case, she was thrown off guard by someone claiming a loved one had been injured in an accident; read the articles below to check out the other common stories and tactics used to perpetrate this scam:

From, “Arkansas Warns of Prison Phone Scam” at

From SNOPES, “Call Forwarding Scam” at
Photo courtesy of Jay Simmons at

Friday, November 21, 2008

The OJ Team: Hit and Run

Are you an OJ follower? If so, you’ve probably heard of my friend, Paul Connelly, the jury foreman on the Las Vegas robbery case. The OJ Team has been taking pot shots at him ever since the conviction, but a couple of weeks ago they engaged in what I thought was outright slander.

Media outlets spread the story far and wide that a Team OJ investigator found Connelly was fired from a job at an unnamed soft drink company because he made racially disparaging statements. Since this isn’t true, I’ve been waiting to hear some sort of retraction or other statement. Guess it’s a good thing I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve known Paul for over ten years, and at one time he worked with my husband at the Unnamed Soft Drink Company of recent media reports. I remember when Paul left the job in question, and racial comments had nothing to do with it. He was not fired; he resigned. I’d like to know where this investigator got his information. Where is the paperwork that supports what he is saying? Who did this investigator talk to? Why is it okay to smear someone’s name without backing up the allegation? Or is silence supposed to erase the thousands of Google hits that Paul’s name now returns?

Paul Connelly is an average guy, a hard-working family man who is tired of finding a media circus in his front yard. He is a conscientious citizen who did his best to do what he was instructed to do: look at the evidence and render a verdict on the case in front of him. The trial is over, and Paul wasn’t the defendant. Besides that, is all this mud-slinging getting Team OJ anywhere? From the state of their client’s case, I guess I’m not the only one unimpressed with their tactics.
Photo couresty of Jason Morrison at

Friday, November 07, 2008

Las Vegas to Amarillo: 12.5 Hours

I took a trip to Texas a few weeks ago. Two days of driving eastbound on I40 takes you directly into Amarillo, Texas, but I’m a scenic route kind of gal, so that 12.5 hours was only the tip of the driving iceberg for me.

This Vegas Girl may be a Vegas native, but both my parents were Texans by birth. My dad avoided admitting he was from Texas; my mother was a proud Texan all her life. I remembered Texas as our eternal summer vacation destination, a place full of farmland, grasshoppers, armadillos, aunt and uncles, and snakes. When I added up the time it had been since my last road trip to Texas, I was shocked to find it had been 18 years. The most notable change since then has to be the wind farms, which I noticed throughout New Mexico and Texas. Giant wind turbines sit in rows far out on the flat plains and atop mesas. They’re fascinating and out-of-place, and they’re almost pretty.

During this road trip, we visited the Petrified Forest, Palo Duro Canyon, and Montezuma’s Castle. We spent time with several friends and family members in Lefors, Lubbock, and Lamesa, with a stop in Amarillo. I finally got a chance to wander around the countryside with a camera. (On those long-ago childhood trips to Texas, Dad did not permit stops. For anything.)

My first stop was in Lefors, just north of Pampa. Over the next week, I drove south about 250 miles, with a stop in Lubbock, to Lamesa, the town closest to the farm my mother grew up on; then I returned to Lefors before making the trip home. The country along the farm roads is beautiful; fields of crops and grassland stretch to the horizon with occasional bursts of rock outcroppings. Every 30 miles or so, I ran into a village, many of them with populations well under 1000. It feels lightly inhabited, wide-open and unrushed, and a huge relief from the crush of people in Las Vegas. Lubbock, at 212,000 people, is close to the same size as Las Vegas was when I graduated from high school.

After a week and half, I had to come home. My husband was out of frozen food and my son was homesick. My mom-in-law, Bonnie, and I were ready to keep on going, but we knuckled under to the pleadings of our two males. Besides, we’re already talking about driving back in spring. Our journey was both brief and fun, and many green dots--they mark the scenic routes--are left to explore. As a child in the backseat of the station wagon, Texas felt as far away as the moon. This time, it felt like a quick trip. Isn’t it strange how age changes our perception—of everything?

Photo information: Above, a water crossing at Palo Duro Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the United States. Below: the Petrified Forest; the view into Palo Duro; on a trail at Palo Duro; FM669 southbound (click to enlarge--notice the wind turbines in the background); Montezuma's Castle in Arizona, just outside the Cottonwood/Sedona area; and the area at the base of Montezuma's Castle. The sycamores are changing colors for the fall. All photos are mine, of course.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Learning to Love the New Las Vegas

Last year, a strange combination of events helped me learn to accept the New Las Vegas: the glittery, MTV-loving, over-populated, traffic jammed, over-priced, worse-than-hyperbole Las Vegas. The Vegas I had been working so hard at disliking ever since… well, ever since Steve Wynn planted a volcano in front of a casino.

It all started at last year’s Vegas Valley Book Festival. I dragged my husband downtown for a day of listening to authors, but what I really wanted to hear was the last panel of the day on “Old Vegas, New Vegas.” New Vegas clearly trumped Old Vegas during this discussion, and that’s when my inner Old Las Vegan reared her ugly, progress-hating head. My post about the panel made me sound like I was ready to strap myself to the next casino slated for implosion—which, actually, wasn’t too far off how I felt that day.

Re-reading that blog post was the first step toward accepting the New Las Vegas, and two books finished off the job. Both are firmly rooted in the Old or New Vegas that they describe, and in reading both books, I had to admit that the transformation of Las Vegas was both predictable and necessary. Maybe not likeable, but unavoidable. This is a city with no logical reason to exist, so we have to re-invent ourselves every decade or so.

The late Susan Berman, author of Easy Street, the True Story of a Gangster’s Daughter and Lady Las Vegas, was an expert on Old Vegas. (Local journalist and author Cathy Scott wrote about Berman’s murder in Murder of a Mafia Princess.) I stumbled across Lady Las Vegas at the library, and while I enjoyed the nostalgia Berman’s words evoked, I had to admit that none of Old Vegas’ “founders,” if you will, would have hesitated to re-create the city’s image if it resulted in more profit. My own dad wasn’t a mobster, but rather a “known associate” of gangsters and a former bookie out of LA, and he was all about the Benjamins.

My journey inside the New Vegas began with a book review in the New York Times. Last year two books set in Vegas hit the charts: Charles Brock’s Beautiful Children and Joe McGinnis Jr.’s The Delivery Man . The NYT’s review of McGinnis’ book made me groan out loud because one of the main characters is a prostitute. I pondered this aspect of his book in a blog post: "Can anyone write about Las Vegas without a prostitute as a main character? I mean, realistically speaking, with 2 million people living here, just how many call girls can we possibly have?" To my astonishment, Mr. McGinnis sent me a thought-provoking e-mail. This is my story of Las Vegas; give it a chance, he said, and so I went out and bought the book. A better chronicle of New Vegas I have not yet found. McGinnis’ characters sound like so many people I’ve known, and his jaded teenaged prostitutes might have shimmied out of our phone book’s voluminous escort section; totally, scarily believable. Reading McGinnis’ fictional characters, it was easy to draw a straight line from my own loosely-supervised and decadent Las Vegas youth to the characters he described.

That was when I had to admit it: the Old Vegas was dead, except in the memories of the few of us who remember her. I’m not all that crazy about the New Vegas, but I’m doing my best. Now I wonder what the New New Las Vegas will be like—a waterless ghost town? A haven for some as-yet-undiscovered vice? A pioneer in building mass transportation to pull in gamblers? Who knows how our neon-encrusted city will adjust to the future, but one thing is for sure. It will be interesting.
Photo courtesy of Justin Taylor at

Looking for Las Vegas Info?

Newcomers to Las Vegas tend to complain about a lack of non-gambling things to do. If you’re waiting for friendly advice from your neighbors on day trip destinations, or for an invite from co-workers to a barbeque, well… I hate to break the news to you, but chances are you won’t have much luck.

The best way to uncover things to do around here is to pick up a paper. Of course, you can always check here at the Vegas Girl Blog, but for a truly comprehensive listing of everything that might be happening in the valley, you might want to bookmark a couple of mass-media web pages like the Review Journal’s Neon, CityLife, and Las Vegas Weekly.

A couple of new entries into this category are BLVDS Magazine and the Home News, which publishes neighborhood-specific papers for communities throughout Southern Nevada. Visit the Las Vegas Sun’s page and scroll down to find a neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Svilen Mushkatov at

Atomic Las Vegas

If you remember duck and cover, mushroom clouds, and bomb shelters, you’ll definitely want to visit the Atomic Testing Museum at 755 E. Flamingo. Even though I was born about the same time above-ground testing was banned in 1963, the artifacts on display took me back to a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed large; when I was a kid growing up in Las Vegas, the underground tests still shook our breakfast table periodically. For those whippersnappers who think the Cold War was a battle fought in the Arctic, the Atomic Testing Museum will fill in the holes in their education.

Arranged in chronological order from the beginning of the atomic age during the last years of World War II to today, the museum offers a rich variety of displays that include hands-on exhibits and video. To get a taste of what witnessing an above-ground atomic test was like, visit the Ground Zero theater for a shaking, ear-shattering re-creation. “I think my hearing is damaged,” my son said after we viewed the film. I told him that watching an actual test would have been far louder and scarier. (This led us to a discussion of the Pepcon explosion, which I remember well.)

My favorite display was the information on the Jackass and Western Railroad, a short railway used at the Test Site to transport nuclear powered rockets. A couple of years ago, I wrote some material for the folks at the Boulder City Railroad Museum, where the historic locomotive from that railroad now lives. Being the museum geek that I am, I was dancing with excitement when I discovered this connection.
Photo Information: My picture of the exterior of the Atomic Testing Museum. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Henderson & High Octane

My husband was in heaven at Henderson’s Super Run Car Show last weekend. “Ah, the smell of racing fuel,” he said when a hot rod cruised by. As you might have guessed, he loves all things with internal combustion. I think the car show is wonderful fun—the crowd is friendly, the cars range from classic to newfangled, and the street-party atmosphere is reminiscent of the old Mint 400’s Tech Inspection. I had a good laugh watching Henderson’s Finest, along with a couple of Fire Department boys, checking out the car with the stripper (sorry, no photo available). Yessiree, everyone was very safe watching that girl demonstrate the proper use of a mobile stripper pole.

Check out the Las Vegas Cruisin’ Association’s website for a list of upcoming car shows in Las Vegas:
Photo Information: My hubby's pics of some classics on Saturday night.

La Strada dell'Arte and the Las Vegas Festival Season

As soon as the weather even thinks about cooling off, the Las Vegas festival season begins. One of my favorite festivals, La Strada dell’Arte, was held September 27 and 28. This festival features art done with chalk on the sidewalks, and what these artists do is simply incredible—as you can see by these pictures. This year the juried offerings seemed scarcer than in prior years, but the amateur/impromptu artists looked pretty organized. A smart bunch of folks brought umbrellas, and it looked like groups of people staked out positions along the only shaded portion of sidewalk in the park. Admission was free; a bag of chalk and kneepad along with one chalk art square cost $5 (but were truly priceless). In addition to looking at the sidewalk art and the extensive arts and crafts show, we watched a demonstration of ice sculpting, which looked like whittling ice with a chain saw. Incredible. When the Cordon Bleu chef was done with his sculpture, the human statues took their positions. I felt bad for them because it was humid and about 90°. I couldn’t imagine standing in the full sun with all those layers of clothing draped over me… which explains, of course, why I’m a writer and not a living statue.

Next weekend, the grand-daddy of all Las Vegas art festivals hits Boulder City: the venerable Art in the Park. Held in three beautiful downtown Boulder City parks, all of which come complete with mature trees and cool shade, you can spend most of your day there. Admission is free. I recommend parking in the outlying lots and taking the shuttle, which is just a few dollars; follow the signs once you arrive at the outskirts of town.

Keep your eyes peeled for these types of events throughout the fall--pick up a copy of City Life, Las Vegas Weekly, or check the Neon Insert in the Friday edition of the RJ/Sun.

You can read the Las Vegas Sun’s article on La Strada dell’Arte at:
Photo Information, top to botton, of my pictures on Sunday at the Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival: Both professionals and amateurs showed off their talents with chalk and cement; the finished ice sculpture; human statues.

A Las Vegas Favorite: Gilcrease Orchards

Last Friday, the MAfO (Meeks Academy for One) visited Gilcrease Orchards, a local favorite I had not visited before. Like so many beloved, moldy-oldy Vegas locations, Gilcrease was once on the outskirts of Las Vegas, but now sits surrounded by tract homes.

For a small admission fee, you can pick your own fruits and veggies. Customers drive around the perimeter of the farm, parking next to their fruit or veggie of choice. The vegetable gardens are situated on the east end of the farm, and orchards are planted to the west. This time of year is squash season, which put me at a disadvantage because I don’t know beans about squash. (Pun intended.) My son and I took home an unripe squash (don’t ask me what kind), a bell pepper, an eggplant, and a zucchini. Although we struck out on picking any fruit from the trees, we still bought a gallon of yummy apple cider made at Gilcrease. Call or check Gilcrease’s website to find out what’s in season. Next up, of course, will be pumpkins!
Photo Information: My pictures last week at the farm. Does it look hot? 'Cause it was hot.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Historic Five Tunnels Railroad Hiking Trail

If you like hiking, biking, history, or railroads, you’ll enjoy the Railroad Hiking Trail at Lake Mead. Hikers and bikers will appreciate the trail’s level surface (a rare find in these parts). History buffs will appreciate walking the same route that the trains traveled as they ferried supplies to Boulder Dam’s construction site—in 1931, trains and railroads were the only feasible way to transport the massive amounts of materials needed to build the dam. And if you are a lover of railroads… well, you are in luck. Either before or after your hike, make sure to stop in Boulder City to visit the Nevada State Railroad Museum on Yucca Street where you can view and ride historic trains.

Since it’s still a little warm for hiking in desert, it’s best to do the Railroad Trail early. (You can also wait a couple of months so the heat won’t be an issue.) My poor son said I “tormented” him because he thought it was just too warm to hike. Personally, I think the problem has more to do with his love of the sofa. The trail originally ended at the last tunnel, but now extends all the way to Hoover Dam. We didn’t make it that far. My Drill Sergeant Mom approach got my griping hiker past the fifth tunnel, but when I surveyed the trail down to the dam, I knew that I’d be listening to Level 5 Complaining if we continued.

Bring water and sunscreen to hike the Railroad Trail; binoculars would also be good to have. From the vantage point of the trail, Lake Mead’s low levels are painfully obvious. You can also see two relocated marinas from the trail. From the trailhead to the fifth tunnel is approximately a five-mile round trip.
Photo Information: My photos of the Railroad Trail.

Monday, September 22, 2008

School is Back in Session for the Las Vegas Meeks Academy for One

This year, my son and I are doing homeschool again. Friday is field trip day at the Meeks Academy for One (MAFO)—with only one student, we can go on a field trip every week.

So far this year, we’ve been to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, the Lied Children’s Discovery Museum, and the Old Mormon Fort. These photos were taken at the Old Mormon Fort.

We’ve learned about flash floods in the desert at the wonderful display at the Springs Preserve (it comes complete with rushing water). The Springs’ high-tech displays are well worth the price of admission. I suggest going early in the day at this time of year so you can take full advantage of the hiking trails. At the Natural History Museum, we visited the creepy CSI Bugs display—it comes complete with simulated morgue body freezer (and body). If you haven’t been to the Lied Children’s Discovery Museum lately (right across from the Natural History Museum in the Cultural Corridor), I’m happy to say that the exhibits have been both improved and expanded. My favorite new exhibit was the hurricane winds exhibit, which allows visitors to stand inside a phone-booth type contraption while a fan whips up the “wind” to about 78 mph.

The Old Mormon Fort, also located on the Cultural Corridor, is the oldest non-native building in the state of Nevada. Today only a portion of the original 1855 adobe remains in the ranch house. I was impressed with the visitor’s center; ask for a treasure hunt to keep your young scholar occupied finding the freight wagon, petrified wood, and other artifacts. Dedicated restoration prevented the Fort from suffering the same fate as the Kiel Ranch. By far, the most intriguing figure of early Las Vegas history, in my opinion, is Helen J. Stewart, a pioneer woman who wound up in charge of one of Las Vegas’ most important early stops after her husband was killed in a gunfight. (By the way, the local school is not named for the pioneer woman herself but for her handicapped granddaughter.)
Photo information: My pictures of the fort. Hard to believe, but this slice of very old Vegas history is at the corner of Washington and Las Vegas Boulevard.