5/29/2013

San Diego

During our way-too-long stay in Rosamond we finally sat with the map and planned the next few weeks. In general this is what we’ve decided: first San Diego, then San Francisco, next Yosemite, and from there up north towards Seattle through Redwood National Park and Avenue of the Giants. After that we’ll go back south to see Yellowstone and all the Utah parks we skipped before. What next we don’t know yet, we’ll decide when we get there. For now we’ve decided to skip two tree parks, Sequoya and Joshua Tree. We’ll see them some other time.


Tired by a long stop in our journey we were happy to finally move on. We invited ourselves to our friends who live in San Diego, Aga and Jim (by the way we’d like to recommend a game Jim worked on - Slam Bolt Scrappers), and they didn’t oppose too strongly, for which we are very grateful. We left a trailer with Lois and Randy and we headed south. The road goes through the mountains, only the amount of green changes. 

In the beginning it’s still desert, then more and more trees and bushes show up and finally it gets as green as in Tuscany in the middle of summer. Driving through California is a feast for eyes. We forgot how green can it get. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada - desert, mountains, desert. Every once in a while we got to see some shrubs or some pine woods like on Great Continental Divide in New Mexico. But now we entered the land of green and for a while we felt discomfort, like we’re lost or something. Luckily we got over it quickly and we started enjoying the views.


It’s windy in California. Plus we were there on some extra windy days. All the time the wind would blow our hats off our heads. It was windy in Antelope valley on Mojave Desert, where Rosamond is, it was windy in San Diego and Big Sur (although not that much), maybe it’ll be better in San Francisco… We don’t want to complain, we liked California a lot, but sometimes it’s nice to go out the trailer so the wind doesn’t shut the door in your face.

Trailer stayed in Antelope Valley and we went 200 miles to San Diego, which was overwhelming with green. It’s even more overwhelming as we entered downtown by the highway which just before getting there crosses the parks, zoo and other cool places. There are so many attractions there that we had a really huge problem selecting what to see now and what to leave for the next time. Cause there is no doubt we want to come back.

Point Loma
First place we went to see was Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument. Point Loma is a birthplace of California. In 1542 Portuguese sailor Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed here. Hopefully Portugueses won’t mind the Spanish writing of his name. Besides Spanish-Portuguese competition for a proper version of the story and Cabrillo heritage is visible here and there. The story of Spanish expedition was mentioned first (true), so half a century ago Portugueses added their bronze plate to commemorate Portuguese sailor with the Portuguese writing. We know what the feel learning in different places that Warsaw born and educated Maria Skłodowska-Curie was actually French. Don't you have enough Nobel prize winners you French?

Lighthouse at Point Loma
There is just one road to Cabrillo National Monument and on weekend you can get stuck in traffic, just like we did. It wasn’t that bad (maybe 15 minutes) but it was a preview of parking problems. We passed the gate flashing our Annual Pass and then we started looking for a spot. Unfortunately there was nothing by the water so we went up the hill to park by the visitors center and famous lighthouse.

Point Loma
Old Lighthouse at Point Loma is a symbol of San Diego, it’s on stamps, postcards etc. It was built in the mid-1800s and it’s really pretty and majestic at the same time. Inside there is a little museum showing life of one of the lighthouse keepers, who lived here with the family. They were all alone, as San Diego was 18 miles away. They wouldn’t go there too often, what for? It’s nice, maybe bit windy, every year late winter/early spring thousands of whales migrate by (there’s a view point but April is a bit too late), they were looking for shells, crabs and other entertaining things to do. Must’ve been fun.

Tide pools
On the hill there’s also Cabrillo monument with Portuguese pronuncacion (just to make sure everyone knows) and great view point to entire San Diego. It’s also a good airport observation point. It’s just by downtown near San Diego Bay. When you stand at the very top of Point Loma it seems that the planes are almost on the same level, just 1-2 km/0,5-1 miles away. Not fun at all for people leaving in the downtown as they fly just above buildings.

San Diego
On Point Loma there’s also a military base. Next to Cabrillo monument there is only a small cabin to see how the coast was supposed to be defended from enemy ships by artillery guns. They probably didn't have to use it even once. Japanese ships weren't ever so close.

Cabrillo and Mackillo
After a few hours on top (how is it possible that places like this always take us so much time) we went down. Park closes at 4.30 pm and we got to the ocean just before 4, so the parking wasn’t such a problem anymore. The biggest attraction of this part of Cabrillo National Monument is a walk along the cliffs and tide pools where you can see crabs and other sea creatures. Maciek really liked it and so did we, though we didn't see any sea life.

If you look really closely you can see a bridge to Coronado:)
Later that day we went to Coronado Island. We entered it by the bridge, which like most of American bridges we really liked. It’s very steep (over 4 percent) and at the highest point it’s more than 60 meters/180 feet over the water. It’s like a roallercoaster ride.

Coronado doesn’t look like there is a navy base there. Navy is supposed to be the biggest employer there still the island looks quite wealthy and elegant. They are also the reason why the bridge is so tall- even the biggest warships must fit under.

Hotel del Coronado
There is a nice main street (but nothing special, we've seen many of those) and it's most famous attraction - Hotel del Coronado. It was built in 1888 it had its ups and downs. One of ups ws for sure being a movie set for many scenes of "Some like it hot". Later, in the 70s downs came by, now it seems to be back on top. It looks like from fairyland (so do the parking prices - we left a car in one of the back streets where parking is for free), it also has a beautiful beach with a guy who builds sand castles. That's what we've heard. We didn't get there. It was too crowded and we had a strolller…

Hotel del Coronado
We left Coronado after dark, but to get as much as possible out of that day on our way back we stopped at the old town. We spent there only half an hour because it was cold and windy. There are some shops with souvenirs from San Diego area (meaning Mexico and Peru) and lots of cafes and restaurants. A nice place to stop by for a drink or something to eat.

On the next day we went to see USS Midway. This is the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century - it was in service for 50 years then, after it was decommissioned it ended up in San Diego. We have already seen a battleship - USS Alabama and a submarine - USS Drum in Mobile, now it was a turn for aircraft carrier. It is really worth to see it and spend there as much time as possible (we stayed there for 5 hours only because Maciek started to be cranky). You can see pretty much everything starting from the top: captain deck, runaway with many aircrafts from last half century, hangar (with even more aircrafts), living quarters for sailors, pilots, officers and of course engine room and other service rooms.


There are also few dozens of planes and helicopters. You can get in to many of them to feel like a passanger or pilot. USS Midway served for such a long time that as far as aircrafts go it's lived through a few revolutions, which can be seen on both decks. On the upper one you can see how little space they have for a take-off. The most spectacular is a steam catapult, which was able to accelrate a plane on only 300-feet runway to such speed that it could take off. These almost two seconds were described by pilots as experience unparrarel to anything they knew. Maciek loved getting on every single plane. Each time we had to either carry him out by force or bribe him with a vision of another one just around the corner.



From USS Midway we went to Torrey Pines to meet with Aga and Jim and their daughter Nina. Maciek loved the fact that finally he could play with someone almost his age (just a year and a half older) instead of half a century older, besides Polish speaking! Torrey Pines is a bit of wilderness within San Diego. That's what the whole area looked like when Cabrillo arrived. Now it's a place for a nice walk (if you find a parking spot) through the woods, to the beach and along the cliffs. Just a small warning: it's good to wear crocks if you don't want to go back home in wet shoes, sometimes the waves got to the bottom of cliffs…

Maciek and Nina
Last but not least we went to the zoo. For a long time we couldn't decide whether to go there or to skip it and on our way back to Rosamond and go to Joshua Tree. But we've decided Maciek will enjoy zoo more and the trees grow also in Antelope valley. Randy said, by the way, that even if you have a few hundred years old tree on your plot of land, it's not a problem. You can either build around it or hire a specialist who will dig it out and plant somewhere else. Must be a good job, as Rosamond/Lancaster/Edwards used to be - according to Randy - the fastest developing area in the US…

So we went to the zoo. Good thing about the zoo is that it has a free parking. It also has hills, bridges and trees, and is wild and fun. The paths cross on different levels. It's not always easy to get where you want to go, but wherever you end up, it's surely worth seeing anyway. We expected it to be more interactive, with lots of talks, feeding, petting etc. We heard just one talk, quite an interesting one, about fascinating animal we didn't catch the name. There were also nice play areas which Maciek liked a lot.

Mysterious animal
The best thing about the zoo is that it's huge and you can walk for hours. Besides it's really nice and green. And, what's most important, it has pandas and a polar bear! The line for pandas was long and the viewing area was not very visitor friendly but it was worth a wait. Pandas were posing for pics, unlike the bear, which hid behind a rock and went to sleep.

Ladies and Gentleman: The Bear
San Diego had lots of attractions. If we had unlimited budget and more time we would probably spend here weeks. Or years, like Aga and Jim. But all we had was a couple of days. We didn't go to La Jolla, were the seals live on the beach, we had to skip all the museums of Balboa Park, we didn't get to Gaslamp nor to Seaport Village, and so on, and so on… That's the tough part of traveling - making choices on what to see and what to leave for the next time. 

Straight from the zoo we headed to Rosamond, to pack, hook up the trailer and head west. The real test for the jeep was coming. Let Eddie see Pacific Ocean too!

5/27/2013

Pahrump, NV, vol.2

Feeling very insecure we took off from Pahrump to California. We were seriously worried that our car would not get there. And our fears came true. We passed the "Thank you for visiting Pahrump" sign, entered California (4 miles from Pahrump), drove another 23 miles through the area looking just like Death Valley and the control light popped up again. Few more miles and there was a smoke coming from under our hood. We stopped to cool it down and considered our options. Go on? Go back? 

"For" going back was to pressure "our" shop to finally fix the car, besides it was just 40 miles whereas to our next destination it was another 120, God knows if we're gonna make it. "Against" - it was Friday evening, they'll be closed until Monday, and once they look at it they would will try to convince us - again - that everything is fine. Besides, our new boondcking host knows a lot about cars so maybe he'll be able to help. And last but not least, one more day in Pahrump and we will simply go crazy… 

Scared to death we went on, stopping every few miles to cool the car down. We even managed to find out what the problem was - transmission would get stuck on third gear, so we couldn't drive very fast. Even worse was that sometimes it wasn't downshifting so going uphill was even more frustating. We called our hosts - Lois and Randy, who after they heard what was going on got into the car and went to meet us. 

The road, luckily, was not very difficult. Interstate going west is pretty flat, and even goes slightly down. The bigger problem was the speed limit - 70 mph, while we could do much less. In California drivers don't really care about speed limits and are not very understanding, so they would pass us by flashing lights and honking. When we went off the highway it got even worse… 

At 10 pm, after over 6 hours drive at average speed twenty something miles per hour (we had a lot of breaks) we met Randy and Lois. They came to pick us up. It was some 40 miles before Rosamond, where they live. They hooked up our trailer to their truck and we went to their place.

Eddie hooked up to Randy and Lois's truck
Rosamond welcomed us with...Christmas lights. At least that's what it looked like. We soon realized that red blinking lights are windmills - the place we stayed at is called "windy acres" and to make sure the wind does not blown in vain they built thousands of small and big windmills that supply electricity to the area. It looks unbelievable at night. Those who live nearby are not too happy though, as it is a bit noisy…


We spent the next day doing laundry, being sick (Paweł this time), talking to our hosts and trying to figure out what to do next. Randy called Jeep dealer for us and scheduled us for Tuesday. Until then we saw the main attractions in the area: "cats' house" which is a mini-zoo taking care of endangered cats, train loop in Tehachapi and music street Lancaster (simple but neat).

Maciek and uncle Randy
Cats' house is a name for EFBC's Feline Conservation Center, a shelter for around seventy different species of cats, most of them endangered. The fee is 7 USD and even though this mini-zoo is tiny, it's quite interesting. A walk around, even with long stops (cats are not always posing outside) takes about 2 hours. We were invited by our hosts it was a really nice Sunday walk with them and their son Andy.

Kitty
Train loop in Tehachapi was a test for our jeep which, as we found out, without a trailer isn't doing so bad, even in the mountains. Too bad that pulling a trailer is what we need it for... And the train loop was really cool - it was built in a very picturesque gorge, when at the end of 19th century the engineers designing the railroad faced a problem of large difference of levels at a short distance. If the railroad was running straight through it the trains would not make it, they would just slip on tracks. That's why the loop was built.

What's unusual about this loop is that the train looks as if it's eating its own tail - even not very long trains go in circle and then pass 20 meters beneath itself in a tunnel. To make it more interesting, Lois' grandfather was one of the first railwayman who was riding the loop once it was completed (by the Chinese of course).

Loop
Music street was a nice break from all the stress and sickness. On part of G street (Lancaster area has streets named after letter and crossed by streets named after numbers - good way to avoid historical and political conflicts and to save some money on street names committee members salaries) the asphalt is notched in a way that the car's wheels are playing part of the overture of Rossini's "Wilhelm Tell". You just have to keep left and drive 55 mph. Pretty funny. We drove it a few times. According to what we found on Internet about it the street was created for Honda's advertisement. It was in town center back then, but once it became a local attraction people who lived nearby started complaining about the noise. That's when it was moved by the airport where nobody lives. 

On Tuesday the car was checked by the dealer guys. As it usually happens in dealershops we found out that we had to replace the entire cooling system, and for just opening and diagnosing the transmission they wanted 1700 USD. In total, they said, it would be 4100 USD!!! We said no, thank you and we tried to explain them our situation more clearly, so they would realize that we're not going to pay, but at the same time to make them want to help us. 

And so they did help us. After a short discussion we found out that the cooling system isn't really that bad and what really needs to be fixed is the transmission. Dealer's advice was not to give it to any shop other than his shop, but vision of spending another hundreds of dollars was not something we were looking forward to. That's why we decided to go back to Pahrump. 

Those few hours that we spent with Randy waiting for dealer's diagnosis we spent running some errands in the area. That's when we've decided it's time for writing a post that we had in mind for a while now - about American military and role of it in American society from small towns' point of view. We'll get to it some day. 

Rosamond area is very military, mostly because of the military base nearby, in Edwards. Additionally there are many different civilian air companies. Let's just say that at the barber's we went to were 3 newspapers: local, overlocal and "Air Industry". In Rosamond/Lancaster/Edwards there is a huge research and development center of Boeing, Northop-Grumman (manufacturer of nuclear submarines and B-2 fighters) has its hangar here. There is also NASA center. 

Randy had a few stories about military. A few times he mentioned that the most interesting ones he'd keep to himself, as they are related to ongoing things or are "top secret", but he shared a few other. We liked them, especially as an example of American "out of the box" thinking. 

One was about a guy Randy worked for. He was making different things out of plexi. In 1960s some men from Boeing visited him. They said they had a problem with windshields for their new jets. Anything they make in their laboratories would break. They offered the guy million dollars if he came up with the solution. They said they believed in him because they had seen some of his products. The guy was not interested. After they insisted he finally agreed. He went to Boeing, worked for a while with engineers, came up with the sollution and got the money. 

What would happen if the situation took place in Poland? Never ever any development department would agree to hire some manufacturer. It would be a shame if he was smarter than their specialists! And a good excuse to fire development department manager if needed. Here this was not a problem. Solution was found, everyone was happy.

Randy used to work also for local companies that were contracted by NASA, and, of course, directly for the army. He did something for a while with Black Bird. Pawel was really proud of himself that he actually new something about this plane. After all we've seen it in Alabama. It was pretty good looking and effective survilance supersonic jet mostly for spying Russians, but it was quickly replaced by satellites. 

After seing the area, it was time for a battle. With a written report from the dealer and ready to fight we got up next day at 4 am (!) and we went, without a trailer, back to our favourite place in Nevada. We got there at 8.30. There was no fight. "Our" shop took the car after saying "sorry". We warned them that we were coming so they even ordered some new parts in advance (including selenoids which is a part responsible for shifting gears). 

Next day, late in the afternoon, we picked up the car. According to Russ, the owner of Bulletproof Transmissions, it was something with electronics, we won't go into details, anyway, they fixed it at no additional cost and they installed an extra cooling for transmission as a gratis. We hope our dear readers won't have to read about our car problems ever again. 

We stayed that night in a hotel. We lost 20 USD in the casino (at least we tried), we found out that PowerBall is illegal in Nevada (probably because with 2 USD it's not a real gambling), we met some nice people (our old friend Patrick, our new friend Richard) and we spent a few hours bowling (we would like to thank Lorie for special treatment and free shoes). At the end it was getting more and more difficult to actually get to our alley - everyone would greet us and ask how we are and how is our jeep…


To sum up: Pahrump is a great base camp for seeing a Death Valley and a nice place to stop for 2-3 days. Nice people, good and cheap food, bowling, casino. We hope we'll be back, just not too soon, maybe in a few years time, we have to come back to finally see Death Valley properly. 

We picked up the car after 4 pm, we thought for a second about going for dinner buffet for a very last time, but we wanted to get back to California as quickly as possible. We got a full tank of cheap, Nevadian gas, cheaper than Californian, and we took off. 

Our long stay in Pahrump made us rethink our plans. But we will get to this later, after some map-reading.

5/25/2013

Ghosts of the Gold Rush and the breath of death

We have to admit we adjusted well to the place. We were sick, the kids were sick, transmisison died. Perfect considering we were in the area full of ghost towns and near Death Valey. Oh well, we came to States to seize life and do lots of sightseeing, so we tried to do so as hard as we could. Every time there was a short break between car being broken again we tried to go on a trip, hoping that finally we’d see what we came there to see here in the first place: Death Valley.


The first time we didn’t get far passed the entrance and we went back with smoking breaks. Dante’s View, was too much for our car .First few miles the road slowly goes up but at the end there is a steep climb to get at 1669 meters/almost 5500 ft over the sea level. Few miles before the view point there is a parking where you can leave your trailer and the last turn out for A- and C-classes who were reckless enough to get this far.


The second time we picked up the car from the shop too late to drive all the way to the valley, so we went to the ghost town caled Rhyolite, which is just outside Death Valley eastern border.


Rhyolite is a great example of rapid urbanization, de-urbanization and turistization (?). In January 1905 two gold seekers lived there. They came to this area because some gold was found in the area. Finally they also found what they were looking for. The news spread quickly and within 2 weeks (!) population of Rhyolite reached 1200. After another couple of months it doubled. There was a local newspaper published, there were 50 saloons, prostitutes and other entertainments. Next year a rich guy called Schwab got there. He invested lots of money into the mine, he got electricity into town, drilled wells. Rhyolite kept growing, train station was built, there was even a train going on regular basis to Vegas.


In 1907 the town was at its best. It had a population of 7000. It had street lights, pavements, hospital, even the stock market. Mine was working at full capacity. And that's when it all crashed. There was still ore being mined but there were no new discoveries. Prices went down. It worked for few more years and then it was closed in 1911. There was just a few hundred people left in Rhyolite by then. After only few years, as it usually happens in this country, it became touristic destination. And as relation from one of the trips said, the last Rhyolitan died in 1922. Then it was just another ghost town, easy to reach from Vegas as one day trip.


Anything that had any value disappeared quickly. Most of it, like railway infrastructure was taken away by the companies that worked in Rhyolite before. All that is left there today are some ruins, rebuilt train station and a bottle house (does every ghost town have one of those?).


In the 1980s a Belgian artist with Polish last name Szukalski visited the area and thought it reminded him of Middle East. Inspired by this thought he created a piece called Last Supper which looks like from the horror movie, but has a certain charm. He added a few more sculptures later on, and they stand there with this moon-like, or maybe we should say middle eastern, landscape in the background. There are also some closed mine shafts visible here and there. Easy come, easy go...

Last Supper
With the car, we thought, third time lucky. So the next day we gave Death Valley another try. But no, the control light popped up exactly in the same spot as the first time, not too far from Dante’s View, but this time we've decided to see a little bit. So we reached Dante’s View, which gives a great view onto the whole valley. Amazing view, even more beautiful as there are not as many people as in Grand Canyon. And due to the steep route car mechanics in Pahrump probably like it too (in our case they don't like it so much, still it keeps them very busy).


From Dante’s View we went down to Badwater Basin. It's the lowest point in North America. 86 meters / 282 ft below sea level the ground is dry and salty. There are also huge mountains on both sides (the highest one in the park - Telescope Peak - is 15 miles away. There is a small pond, but how unpleasent surprise it must have been for the old time travelers, who were probably getting there half-alive - the water is clear and if you look closely there is some life in it, but it's...salty.

Badwater Basin
We felt a little bit like those travelers and suddenly we didn't feel like sightseeing any more. Control light seemed to shine even brighter, no cell phone coverage became very uncomfortable. Japanese style - taking photos out the window or from the parking lot - we "visited" a few more picturesque places. We walked just to one more view point - Zabriskie Point, where, besides seeing beautiful views, we read the story of the Death Valley.


At the end of 19th century nobody cared about the views. They did care about the borax which was found in the valley. Some people got rich carrying it out to more civilized places on huge carriages pulled by twenty mules and a horse (just in case you're wondering why "Twenty Mule" is a popular street name in California). But when demand went down Borax Company realized it's quite a pretty place, this valley. So, in 1920s, they built a hotel and a restaurant and they started organizing tours. And then all they needed was some lobbying (our theory) and the valley became a national park, so nobody else could build anything and only what was already there could make money on tourists.

Zabriskie Point
It's really hot there. Death Valley has over 200 days per year with temperature over 30C/86F. It's also another hottest place on Earth we got to visit. From 1922 for many years Al- Aziziya in Libya held the record, but then the method of measuring was questioned by the US and Death Valley with its 53C/127 F from 1913 moved to the first place.

Dante's View
We skipped many places, like for example Scotty's Castle many people recommended. We just felt it's not our time, and if we went there again next day we'd probably feel just as insecure. We just wanted to move on to California. At least we have a reason to go back there some day. And Death Valley is definitely worth visiting again, hopefully more thoroughly (and carelessly) this time. And the car? Well, let's give you the end of the story in the next post.


One more note: there is an entrance fee of course, unless you have Annual Pass America the Beautiful. 

5/24/2013

13. floor, a.k.a. Pahrump, Nevada

Few days ago, we don’t even remember when and where it was, we felt a bit tired. Last few weeks we were on really tight schedule. Yes, sure, it’s nice to travel, but getting up in the morning (ok, we exaggerate here), car then sightseeing then car then looking for a place to stay then writing our blog…, we thought we needed a few days break. On top of that Maciek in Vegas had a fever, Kalina caught something too. Our dream of vacation from vacation was stronger and stronger. Be careful what you wish for …

Pahrump was supposed to be just a stop in our way to California. Until last moment we were undecided whether to stay with our boondocking hosts - Marylin and Glen - for one night and explore Death Valley with Eddie, or to see the valley without a trailer and then take a highway to California.


Our hosts, Marylin and Glen
 In regards to our car problems... in the beginning we hoped it’ll just go away. We’ll erase the error and see if anything happens. Something did happen. It started making noises before we left Las Vegas. Control light popped up and the computer gave us an error. On top of “check engine” also transmission overheating” was showing. Houston, we’ve got a problem. Slowly and easily we drove to Pahrump. We thought Vegas might not be the cheapest place to have a car fixed. That’s what we thought. Probably we were wrong. 


We finally got there. Glen works nearby so he came to greet us. Our hosts live on a small street - we parked in front of the house, just like the last time, although this time we also had water and electricity. We left the trailer and Glens showed us the nearest shop. They send us to the other one, supposedly the only one in Pahrump that fixes transmissions, and that seemed to be our Jeep’s problem. 

In the shop they had bad news for us. They had to open the transmission, diagnose the problem, order new parts… Not only it would cost us a lot but also it would take a few days. It was Thursday, if we have left the car the next day, the parts would have got here on Monday and the car would be ready on Tuesday. Well, we didn’t really have much choice. 

We considered for a while staying with our hosts those few days, but after all we decided to move to the campground. Glen and Marylin live a few miles from civilization and campground is on the other side of the plaza from the shop (there is supermarket and casino on the way). And, if we have to sit in one place it’s better to have more space than a trailer and a street. There was also a chance that Maciek would have some more entertainment at the campground. 

On Friday morning we went to the campground, we paid for 4 nights (with Passport America discount it was 18 USD per night) and we left the car in the shop. We hoped that by Tuesday we would catch up with blog, plan next steps, sleep a lot and not have move too much. And again we got what we wished for, just not in a way we wanted it.. 


Maciek’s coughing is nothing new for us - he had bronchitis so many times we don’t even take him to the doctor with it. With Kalina, so far so good (knock on wood). On the other hand we have no experience, so when we heard the whistling breath and cough getting worse with each hour, we decided, just in case, to go to the doctor. Especially that it was Friday afternoon, so it was better to go then and not look for an emergency room on weekend. 


The nearest pediatrician was less than two miles from the campground. That’s not far. But after we googled them we had only 20 minutes to closing time. We’re not that fast. We asked our campground neighbours for a ride (and from now on for the next three days they would ask us whether we need anything, maybe a ride to the supermarket or a pharmacy). Very nice of them, we are very grateful for all their help. Still, we gladly walked to the nearest plaza which is only 5 minutes from the campground.

At the doctor’s it looked a lot like one of many doctor’s appointments we had with Maciek in Libya (which is one of the reasons why we don’t go to doctors any more). Doctor checked Kalina trying not to touch her, she said it’s a virus, checked her temperature and said she has 105 F (we did the conversion later - 40 C…) and gave prescription for antibiotic. Kalina did not have a fever - mother’s hands are better than any thermometer and she did not have 40 or 105. She was nebulized, we paid 35 USD and we went home. What we found out by the way was that our little picky eater weighs 22 pounds / 10 kilo. Unless their scale was just as good as their thermometer. We decided to skip the antibiotic. 

Next days we did sleep until late, all four of us. Maybe because all nights long we had to get up to wipe some little noses, both of them were coughing, Kalina was making sounds like zombie from "The Walking Dead" or Maciek sometimes had a high fever. Only Pawel went twice to the swimming pool, and even outside usually it was too windy for sick kids. By Tuesday, when we were supposed to pick up the car, virus attacked mother’s throat. Well, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… 


On top of Pahrump campground we got to know very well a supermarket Smith’s and casino Golden Nugget. Casino had a buffet dinner - on the first day we went to check the price: 10.99 USD for adult, kids half price - we’ve decided it’s too expensive and ended up going there on Monday. And that’s when we found out that with a card (which you get for free) for the whole family we paid 11.77 USD after taxes. 

They also had very good cheap breakfasts, playground for Maciek (where we could leave him for free!) and bowling (when we shared our sad story we also got a discount). We learned there some basics from one of the local bowling league players, Patrick. In Pahrump there is also an art galery - Marylin is on board of it, university where Glen teaches and choir where Marylin plays piano and Glen is singing - we got to see the concert, they were really good. 

Pahrump is another interesting American town. It was built (we think) as a mining town, there are mines of gold, silver and God knows what else further north. Now it’s mostly a retirement place. We found out, that our dear friends from Louisiana - Linn and Lynn, plan to retire here. In their very active lives it probably means those few dozens of years after they turn ninety or one-zero-zero. Anyway, for us Pahrump didn’t seem like a place we’d like to stay for long. There’s anything one might need (Wal-mart, Auto-zone, few shops, few rv resorts), but not much more. 


And of course there are two casinos, including Golden Nugget. This is a real downtown. It has a cheap buffet where everyone eats, there is bowling, there is gambling. There is even a bukmacher and few sports channels, but despite their promises they didn’t have the one where Poland played with Ukraine. Anyway, to realize what is the difference between Polish and American retirement: in Warsaw at the square near our place, where mostly retired people live, there is an outpatient clinic in a center. In Pahrump there is a casino. Besides they are both quite interesting, but it’s "our" square that has lots of potential and nobody is doing anything there. Maybe we will.

In Pahrump casino we could probably win some money for a new transmission but not being into gambling (because we never have any luck) we didn’t even try. God probably was really angry, he listened to our prayers to give us money for fixing our car, and looking from behind the cloud he pulled hair from his beard, mumbling “play damn it, that’s why I broke your stupid car in Pahrump, that’s why the shop is right next to the casino …!". 


On Tuesday we picked up our car with brand new transmission. We moved to our boondocking hosts planning to stay two more nights. We got up early in the morning and went to Death Valley. We didn’t even got up to the first view point - Dante’s View - when the control light came up again, the same as before. The computer showed the same transmission error. We turned around. On our way down the breaks started smoking… In the shop they said we needed new brakes. Transmission, they said, was fine. 


Next day we got up - unlike us - at 7 am. We got to the shope before 8, they promised they would fix it in 3 hours. Great - we thought, at 11 we would go to Death Valley and first thing in the morning tomorrow we would be out. The car was ready at 3 pm. We didn’t make it to the Death Valley that day, we just went to see the gost town Rhyolite (we’ll write about it later). We called our next boondocking hosts in California that we’ll get to them next day late in the evening and we left the valley for tomorrow. 


Next morning - second day in a row! - we woke up at dawn and we went to see the valley. Going up Dante’s View - deja vu: control light, error - transmission…. This time we decided to be tough and to see a little bit of the valley - we'll write about it later. Considering however that it was Friday before Easter more thorough sightseeing we've decided to leave for next time, maybe in a few years, and after less than 4 hours we headed back to Pahrump. 


In the shop they checked it once again and they said it was fine. We didn't really believe them but we were too tired and frustrated to fight. We packed our things and we headed towards California.


After a week in Pahrump at some point we felt like we're in "Truman Show". Or in "13. floor". Or in canceled after first season (for obvious reasons) "Persons unknown". People around were nice, food cheap, sun shining. But somehow our universe were ending just at the border with California. We started suspecting that one step too far and we would walk into electromagnetic wall or that during escape we would just turn to see again a well known sign "Welcome to Pahrump"... And, in fact, we didn't get far... 


...to be continued

5/19/2013

Vegas!

We had a long drive from Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. When we got there it was already dark so Nevada welcomed us with bright lights. And it wasn't Vegas. It was Hoover Dam. When you drive at night on the new bridge on Route 93, all yu can see are those bright lights. You don't even know what amazing bridge you are on and what is beneath you. We would go back there next day.


Out new hosts, Joy and Brian told us to park on the street in front of their house. We got there after 11 pm. We passed the Strip on our way, at this time it looks amazing. For some reason on the next day we'll go and see it in the daylight - big mistake. During the day the Strip is not even a little bit of what it is after dark. In the daylight all the dirt and unpleasantness of back alleys come out. When it's dark it's pure magic.

But first things first. In the morning we went to see Hoover Dam. Especially Pawel was really looking forward to it. When he was younger he used to play "Sid Meier's Civilization" all nights long, and Hoover Dam was one of the most important constructions to be built and was giving a huge advantage over other civilizations. And what we saw there did not changed his idea of the place that he got from virtual reality. If you go to Vegas, Hoover Dam is a must-see.


The construction of the dam began in 1931 and was completed in 1935, much earlier and much cheaper than it was planned. But it all started many years earlier. First some smart people said that the Colorado River can be dammed. And once dammed it wouldn't flood California valleys all the way to Yuma (they had a really bad one in 1905), and it would irrigate instead and would let them be a land of cucumbers, tomatoes and whatever else they want to grow there.

Once they decided it's possible, the political bargaining started. Seven states that Colorado River crosses were negotiating how to divide water and electricity. They reached the conclusion in 1922 and started looking for a place to build a dam. It was built in Black Canyon where the river narrows, but at the same time building materials are easily accessible and it was easy to build a town for construction workers - Boulder City.


They started with construction of two small dams below and over the very dam. They dag also four temporary canals to divert the river for a few years. Then the proper construction began. Many elements were manufactured on spot as it would be difficult to transport them by railway or roads. Huge amounts of concrete were used, it'd probably be enough to cover some small state (like Germany or South Korea) by foot or two. To speed up the process the whole system of cooling the concrete was created, but it was still cooling down for many years.


The first generator in the hydroplant started work in 1936, last one - 17th in 1961. Every once in a while they replace them for newer ones. Electricy production is enough for 1.3 milion people (1/3 of Oregon). Almost as much as there are tourists each year coming to the dam. It seems that production of electricity and Colorado river regulation which allows irrigation million of acres in the USA and half a million in Mexico, is only a on the side activity. The main one is tourism.

When coming from Vegas by winding road through the hills you can choose - free parking far from the dam or paid (7 USD) - just by the dam. Tourists were in the back of heads of people in charge from the very beginning - they planned and built view points, visitors center, etc. Our experience from Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest show, that in the very beginning of 20th century it was noticed that tourism is just as important as any other industry and it's possible to make money out of it. Good for us now. We would be charged anyway, but at least it is nice and organized.


So they made money on us too. Entrance to the area is free but to see something more there's a fee. We decided to get an 11 USD (for an adult) trip "Plant". "Dam" trip was almost 20 USD, too expensive. With the one we selected we got to see a room with generators, take a walk through one of the side channels, one of those that the river was redirected to when the dam was being built, and watch one boring movie and one interesting exhibition. Maciek loved the last part. There was some interactive stuff for the kids, he could for example turn a crank to make electricity for virtual microwave or hairdryer. It was the first museum we had to carry him out by force.


The views from the dam are for free. And they are really impressive, even though this dam is classified as "medium". We were simply amazed. Maybe it's because of the canyon and mountains around or maybe it's because everywhere we were told that we have to be impressed. It is written all over the place that it's an engineering wonder without precedent, a true monument of human's intelect. You can hear somewhere words of Joseph Stevens, author of Hoover Dam: An American Adventure, who wrote that "in the shadow of Hoover Dam one feels that the future is limitless, that no obstacle is insurmountable, that we have in our grasp the power to achieve anything if we can but summon the willl". It is really hard not to agree with him.

Dam is not only engineering masterpiece but also a marketing masterpiece. It's shown as an amazing achievement of human's intelect but its pracitical side is of course as much important. Hoover Dam changed huge part of States and was a pillar of its development. After seeing some exhibition, reading a few leaflets and watching a movie or two we have our heads filled with numbers of megawats, acres of irrigated land, we even know that water from Lake Mead would be sufficient to cover Pennsylvania 1 ft. deep. Once again we see American Dream put into reality thanks to detemination and common will. We are already infected by American Dream virus so we put our scepticism away and were happy and amazed by the dam like small kids (and kids, especially Maciek, loved it as well).


Our afternoon walk in Las Vegas and unfinished shopping in one of many outlet malls are not worth writing about, especially that Maciek was getting more and more sick. We spent the evening with our hosts who invited us for delicious dinner, listening to their stories and asking advice on what to see and meeting their vietnamese pig. Very smart, nice and clean animal.


We spent most of the next day dealing with our car. Jeep started having some problems after we came back from the dam. We hoped that the transmission problems would be fixed just by replacing the transmission fluid. We found later that it was just the beginning of a long and expensive story. But this afternoon we spent in different shops and in the evening we hit the Strip.


We parked for free in Bellagio and we went for a long walk. It was almost as much fun as in Disney World. Or even more fun, as there were some cheap Margaritas involved. We watched the fountains show in front of Bellagio (meeting some people who we had met earlier in Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam), sirens and pirates at Treasure Island and volcano at Mirage. As we suck at gambling we managed not to lose anything (and not to win anything), we didn't even try. We came back to our trailer after midnight.


Next day we left before noon to go to Pahrump, which was supposed to be our Death Valley base camp. We hoped the car would cooperate. Unfortunately Jeep started overheating before we even left Vegas. It took us much longer to get to Pahrump than we expected, but we got there. The transmission however needed to be replaced...

5/18/2013

Grand Canyon

Flagstaff was our gateway to one of the most scenic US attraction. After some less known national and state parks it was finally time to see the most famous one: Grand Canyon. From Flagstaff it’s worth to take scenic highway 180. Even with Eddie behind our back we enjoyed it. Cars lining behind us probably enjoyed it less, but we didn’t really care: we were going exactly as the limit said and we really couldn’t let them through on this winding, mountain road. They would pass us in the valleys.

In the beginning we found out that visitors center in Tusayan is really an IMAX, and the shuttle buses that were supposed to stop there don’t go this way. Oh, well, few more miles with Eddie. Our annual pass America the Beautiful again lets us in for free, this was a really good deal, as the fee is over 20 USD per family/car. We left the car and Eddie at the parking that reminded us a little of the one by DisneyWorld (at least this one was for free) and we went to see the canyon.


Those who had this romantic idea of Grand Canyon as a peaceful and quiet place far from civilized world, where you drive (or get after a long and exhausting hike) to the rim going on stones and dirt roads, might be a little surprised. Grand Canyon is a huge touristic factory. Along the South Rim (North was in late March still closed for the winter) there is a paved road and a free shuttle bus running from one view point to another.

On the first view points it was difficult to get through the crowds of Koreans. And we are there on Sunday, which probably doesn’t help. Luckily the further we go the better it gets. There are less people and the views are breathtaking. Still, sometimes you have to let one bus go because there is just too many people. Besides the crowds it's absolutely amazing, like straight from Photoshop. It’s hard to believe it’s not a huge wall paper.
  

It must be a real fun for geologists. We won’t write too much about the history of the canyon (even though we learned about it taking a History Path showing and describing all the geologic layers of the canyon), just to give you an idea, it was carved by Colorado river in Colorado Plateau raised when North American Plate overrode the Pacific Plate. There are many layers of rocks and they are really well visible. There is no vegetation covering them and on our trail there were stops dedicated to each layer with scopes or just small pipes pointed at them.


We walked along the canyon for quite a few miles. Maciek had his ups and downs, for some time he really enjoyed it jumping from one rock to another and asking millions of questions, but after a while he got bored and tired. So we had to make up games, search for animal traces (and inspired by a book we saw in the giftshop, their poops, eee, excrements) or different shapes of rocks. There were more people only when we got closer to bust stops. Yes, most of people take a bus from one view point to another. Stops are every mile or so, and the bus runs every 15 minutes. On the first day we were tough and we walked all day.

Finally Maciek was too tired to walk and so were we. It was just when we got to the hotel with a restaurant. Of course there are places like this over there. Actually the touristic flood started over 100 years ago. That’s when the first buildings were built in Gran Canyon Village as well as the railroad from Williams. Frank Harvey was the first to organize trips (he did it in Petrified Forest too) and that’s how it all started. The oldest buildings by the canyon are charming, but the newer ones are just the typical plaza with shops, post office and other services for tourists.


We sticked to the old part. After a long walk it was already getting dark, and once the sun goes down it’s just too cold to stay outside. So we stayed for something to eat and we were surprised by the prices. Maybe it wasn’t the best meal ever but it was affordable. Disney virus didn’t get yet to local restaurants. After dinner we caught a bus and we went back to the parking.

It was already dark, but there was still one more rv besides ours at the parking, looking as if they were going to stay there overnight. We don’t think it’s legal though, especially that park has its own campground for 20 USD without any hookups. Besides we already had a place to stay. We slept at a free campground, 5 minutes drive from the park entrance. We got there after 9 pm and we camedp next to the sign “you can camp here”. There is enough space if someone wanted to pass us by. After walking all day we were exhausted. And as a bonus Kalina got her first tooth this day. Small tooth in Grand Canyon.


In the morning we went through what was written about this place on freecampsites.net. This BLM campsite is just below flight path to an airport nearby. It was quiet at night but starting at 6 am every few minutes there was a small plane or a helicopter just over our heads. And it was Monday, low season!

Grand Canyon is worth at least two-day-visit. On the next day we start where we finished last night. In general, the further from parking, the more empty paths and view points, so if you have only one day, take a bus to the end of the route and walk back. For a moment we considered to go further or even take one of easier trails down, unfortunately it was the first day of getting sick, and Maciek was a first victim. On the second day in a canyon Maciek had a fever so we took it easy.


One of the last view points is called Hopi Point - the view is ubelieveble, plus it’s a first place on the route where you can see the bottom of the canyon and Colorado river. It looks like brown creek, but it really is about 100 meters/300 feet wide and over 10 meter/30 feet deep. A bus driver joked that it’s an almost perfect place – what’s missing is just a hot-dog and coke stand. We might have a different taste when it comes to what’s perfect …


To those that want to see a more wild Grand Canyon we can recommend a North Rim. Our new friends from Las Vegas said that there is a free BLM campsite just by the rim, so you can have breakfast with the best view in Arizona. Who knows, maybe we'll get there on our way back from the west coast...

In the afternoon we headed west.


On our way to Las Vegas we stop in Williams. Typical Route 66 town with main street and railroad passing throught the middle of it. It’s also a first station of Grand Canyon Railway and a huge RV Park just next to it. They say that Williams was an inspiration for Radiator Springs from "Cars". When you’re standing on the Main Street/Route 66 you do feel almost like in Radiator Springs. It’s even more similar as Williams is much smaller than you can think looking at the maps of brochures. There are two streets, railroad, it ends just as suddenly as it started. And for those who are not really sure, in local visitors center they play "Cars" dvd all day long.

We got to Vegas late in the evening. We parked on the street in front of Brian and Joy’s house - our new boondocking hosts, and we fall asleep right away. Next day we were going to see Hoover Dam. Whoever played Sid Meier's Civilization must know how important this day will be...