Day 4: Tuesday 9th
Got up at 5.30 today to the dawn chorus. The Psion couldn't really capture it though I tried.
We left about 8.30am, back out through Lemoncove. The day is really sunny now, with a bit of haze, and the views of the mountains are really beautiful.
The long trip back past Bakersville an on to Mojave I spent in the back of the van, often lying on the back seat, which gave me the opportunity for a snooze and let me se more out of the windows too! We stopped briefly in Mojave for food, which now looks very civilised, but was once the railhead for Borax being shipped from the Death Valley mines. Lunch was at Red Rock, which is a small campground where the rock formations are streaked in almost vermillion rocks.
We arrived in the Panamint valley after another drive; at first sight it seemed much like any other, but this valley was huge. The dry, almost flat basin stretches out for miles. It took us an hour to travel from near one end to the turnoff for Panamint Springs, at about 70 mph... and there is a lot more. The air is so clear here it seems sometimes like you can reach out and touch something which is really 20 miles away.
The trip over the Panamint range was impressive. The road climbs up almost 5000 feet in about 3 miles, In some of the passes vehicles are advised to switch off air conditioning because the engine wouldn't cope. All of them have regular (1 mile) radiator water tanks in case things go wrong. We came down the other side to a view of the Death Valley sand dunes. Moving on, we set out on the 30 odd miles to the oasis at Furnace creek and on to Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. We walked out over the saltflats, which were quite hot - I didn't go all the way out as I was worried about being sunburnt in the very strong sun. It didn't last long though - the clouds were already looming over the western range, Back in the bus, we set off back towards Furnace creek. Pretty soon after I saw the first lightening strike, and it was obvious that rain was falling on the slopes. The storm hadn't reached us by the time we got to the Artists Palette rocks, high up on the slopes of the eastern range. They are coloured with various minerals, from vermillion green to red, with patches of turquoise thrown in too. Back on the road, we travelled through an amazingly tortuous set of canyons and crags. In some places the road was only just wider than the van, with almost vertical sides.
The storm was really brewing now and as we entered the campsite at F.C. the wind was getting up. Camp was set up quite hurridly this time so the things were dry inside the tents if it rained, but as it turned out very little rain fell on us although it was wind until past midnight. We eventually had supper when the wind died, Bruno making us stir fried beg and brown rice, but it wasn't that great - the rice was stodgy and the veg overcooked. Never mind. We drank and joked on into the night, ending up playing a game in which you linked arms and put hands on the table; the idea was to sequentially send a 'pat' round the table, but of course between any one person's two hands are the hands of two other people. If you got it wrong, you had to take a drink.
Another game was played with dice - a person rolls the dice in secret, and tells the next person what the roll was - but they can (or even have to) lie, as they can not give a number less than the person before, even if it was rolled.
I flaked out a little after 11pm, and hit the sack only a little before the others. I seem to be getting over the jet lag, and I didn't really wake till 6.30 - quite late by recent standards!
Day 5: Wednesday 10th
We packed, and set off for the visitor centre. The museum of borax at the Furnace Ranch, which records the original borax mines in the valley, was quite interesting; the mule teams they used to get the borax out (20 tons at a load) were 2 horses and 8 mules. They were guided with a trace running up the side of the team - a couple of tugs for right and a pull for left. Moreover, the mules nearest the wagons were trained to step right when going left to keep the trace in order!
I found a good book on the valley in the centre, and managed to call mum & dad before we set off for Zabriskie Point and the road to Las Vegas.
The view as we came over the rise into the valley was great, and Vegas just carried on getting better. We booked into the Days Inn hotel and Pat, Janette and I took a swim in the hotel pool - lovely! We had decided to go out for a shop in Ceasars Forum, which was fun - there were some fun statues, including one of the Gods which I got a picture of. The gallery George Coleman and ? Lassen which were really good - I could have spent many more than the 5 minutes I had there. The Coleman pictures were of forest-y scenes, redwood type trees, log cabins etc... Very restful.The Lassen ones were kind of collages, with impossible views of things. I particularly likes one which had sea anemonies, fish and dolphins at the bottom, the surface of the sea in the middle and a view of forests and the sky above.
Our time was limited, and we carried on fairly quickly to the Mirage hotel, where Siegfreid and Roy have a white tiger from their collection in a small cage. Even though the tiger only stays a couple of hours, I felt sorry for it - there was so little space. There were dolphins too, but by the time we got there their place was closed. The front desk at the Mirage has a huge fish tank behind it. The front is approx 60 by 15 feet, and the glass 5 inches thick. They had a lot of fish, small and large, including three sharks (2×4' grey, like common shark, one smaller, grey base with black rounded stripes). There were many, many others, none of which I recognised.
We had hoped to go on to Treasure Island by the tram, but it was closed for repair or something, and walked. Because things are so big, it looks really close, but in fact it is quite a way. We didn't stay for the next show there (it was half an hour away), and the party split. Julienne, Pat and I went together in pursuit of Bruno to the Stratosphere tower. We got there, minus Bruno, with the aid of a bus, and Pat and I had a wonderful view from the top. We got back to the hotel just in time for the city tour Dean promised us.
The tour started with a run down "The Strip", the min hotel/casino street in LV, from the Luxor (very impressive and over 2000 rooms), past the huge MGM Grand (5005 rooms and over 8500 beds), Caesars Palace, the Mirage (nice), Treasure Island, the Flamingo, the Stardust and Circus Circus and on to the Golden Nugget, where they have the world's largest single, natural nugget of gold. Here also is the Fremont Experience, where a street has been covered in a semicircular dome with a million and a half lights set on the inside. Thirty two computers control a huge animation with sound effects across this surface; the scale alone is awesome and the animation is pretty good too. The show we saw started with eagles flying, merged into a jungle then on into people dancing, then merged again into random shapes before finishing in a fly past by military style jets. The overall effect was quite amazing.
After this, we went back to the van. Dean dropped me off to at the hotel which was playing the show "splash", which I had decided to see. Having got a ticket, I stopped by and had a cocktail for $8 at the bar before the show started. A gentleman at the next table saw me alone and asked me to join them; sadly I was just about to go to the show :-(
The show itself was ok - they had a dance troupe who were not that great and obviously trading on their topless dancers. The first act used a lot of water features - jets and water curtains at the front of the stage, and a big tank used by some dancers to dive and a kind of synchronised swimming. The next act was a couple of "Mexican funny men", complete with sombrero and big side drums. They were good, making the whole audience come alive for the first time. Later acts included a trio of jugglers called the Richard brothers who were really very good - funny and technically talented at once. Also, there was a round motorbike cage - the sort usually holding one bike - which a group of four guys were riding n. At times their heads were nearly touching, even though the bikes were as apart as they could be.
I left the show at about 11.50 - I was getting tired and the dancers were on again - and walked a half mile or so before getting a bus up to the Luxor. It is a pyramidal hotel, black on the outside with tinted glass; each of the rooms has a huge glass window. On each of the edges several hundred strobe lights are used to create racing lights which form a laser-like effect, sometimes converging on a massive 40 billion candlepower light which can apparently be seen from Mars. Inside, although you might expect that the floors go all the way across, they don't, leaving a huge cavern inside which contains the casino, restaurants and shops on two floors. Apparently, several 747's could fit inside it!
I took a taxi ride back to the hotel, and played a few hands of blackjack (where I lost $14 and gained $10) before hitting the sack.