Sunday, June 24, 2007

Silverton Casino

It was Sunday, and Eva and I needed a girl's day. We headed over to the Silverton Casino for brunch at the Seasons Buffet. It was a champagne brunch for $13.99, and Eva had a 2-for-1 coupon to make it even better. I don't really like champagne, so I was pleased to see that that they had different fruit puree flavors that could be added. The mango was awesome! I grabbed two glassed, and headed over to the crab legs. Crab legs are my weakness. Like most buffets, they were available cold, but if you tip the chef a dollar, he will re-steam them. We must have spent two hours there eating crab, sipping champagne, and tasting a few other things here and there. This is the best buffet I've been to in town for the price, and it's off the Strip, so it's easy to get to.

The Silverton has a fish tank that is a focal point in the casino. It is complete with sting rays, sharks, and, of course, mermaids. Next to the fish tank is the Mermaid Lounge that has a jellyfish display behind the bar. I am captivated by jellyfish, and these are artistically presented. The chandelliers in the lounge are shaped like jellyfish.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Griffith Peak

The Las Vegas Hiking Meetup Group ventured up Griffith Peak, the 3rd highest mountain in southern Nevada. It is 11,056 feet above sea level, and we took the South Loop trail, making for a ten mile hike with about 3400 feet elevation gain. The trail was well-worn and shaded nearly the whole way. The incline was gradual, so while strenuous, it wasn't overwhelming. The seven of us stayed close to each other throughout the hike, stopping often to allow everyone to catch up, and conversation flowed regularly throughout the hike.

Here I am pointing to our destination. We were about two-thirds the way up the mountain at this point.

Here, our group begins the final ascent. This was definitely the most difficult part of the hike. Notice Yan in this picture - yes, he is carrying hand weights. He likes to give his upper body a workout on the hikes too!Here I am at the top of Griffith, with Mummy Mountain in the background.
Our group shot - seven people and one very sweet chocolate lab.
Here is my entry in the register. My first summit!
The view of Las Vegas from the summit.
The hike down was leisurely. Much of it looked like this, meandering through very tall pines.
We got to a meadowy section about a mile from the bottom, and I fell behind the group to take pictures of the wild flowers.
About a quarter mile from the bottom, the group that had hiked Mt. Charleston caught up with us. Here is both groups at the trail head. Round trip, it was about an 8 hour hike in beautiful weather. The entire hike was very scenic with a fabulous view from the top. I will definitely do this hike again in the future.
Click here for more pictures.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Desert Creatures

I would have thought that the desert would be a very desolate place in terms of wildlife, but there are a ton of animals that live here. In the Red Rock area, you can see burros, bighorn sheep, and tortoises (not that, in all my hiking trips out there, I've ever actually witnessed one of these creatures). I hear that there are coyotes that you will even see in neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. I am pleased to have never seen one of them and hope to keep it that way.

My backyard is lined with pine trees, and several types of birds love to rest in their branches. Since spring, every day I have heard the songs of mockingbirds. They have many songs that they sing, and they sure do sing them loud! Every so often, when I look outside, I will see a hummingbird looking in the window at me. I'm not quite sure which species they are, and I've tried to get a picture of them but the darn things move too fast. They are metallic jade in color, so I think they might be a magnificent hummingbird. My friend, Mark, suggested several types of flowers that I can get to attract them, so hopefully I'll catch one on film someday.

Every afternoon, there are a number of mourning doves sitting in the branches of the pine trees. They are obviously used to city living and don't mind the dogs or me coming outside. The pictures below are some of my favorite, with nice close up shots of these birds, along with the cityscape and mountains in the background.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bridge Mountain Attempt

The weather here has been considerably cooler this week (highs in the 80s and 90s instead of triple digits), so four of us from the hiking group decide to take advantage of the weather and hike at Red Rock (which is usually too hot for a hike in the summer). We decided to try to summit Bridge Mountain, the second tallest mountain in Red Rock at 6940 feet above sea level. There are several approaches to Bridge Mountain, the most popular of which requires a high clearance vehicle to access the trailhead. None of us had such a vehicle, so we decided to try the path through Pine Creek Canyon. We found a website of a couple who had made it up this way, so we knew it could be done. We met at 7:30am and began our hike. The Pine Creek trail is a simple dirt path for the first 1-1.5 miles, beginning at about 4000 feet above sea level. At Mescalito, the trail forks. Our path was the right fork into Fern Canyon.

Starting out on the dirt path, approaching Mescalito in the middle:
Fern Canyon was beautiful. Water flowed in a creek and it was surrounded by thick vegetation. Because of all of the trees, it was much cooler in here. Eventually, the canyon became drier with fewer trees and plants, and the class 3 scrambling began. See how happy we are to come to boulders:
Here I am climbing up some boulders:
At first, the boulders were pretty simple to get over, but eventually we came to a steep wall. Rick and Parnell decided to scale the wall, but Mike and I found a path up some boulders to the right of the wall. Here I am at the top of the wall:
At the top, the view overlooking Pine Creek Canyon was beautiful. At this point, there was no longer a clear trail. The wash continued, but we decided to start up the canyon wall. There were cairns every so often to let us know that we were heading in the correct direction. Here is the view as we looked ahead. We were trying to get to the top of the ridge directly ahead so that we could begin the trek over to Bridge Mountain. We were pretty high up at this point on slick tilted rock. Going up seems so easy, but it's intimidating as soon as you look down to see where you came from. Eventually, we stopped seeing the cairns and no longer knew which way to go. Parnell tried one direction, but it was a nearly vertical wall that made even him nervous. Mike tried another direction, but the footholds ran out and he had to come back. Here is Mike, the dot in the center of the picture, trying to find a route for us.Alas, we had been hiking for four hours and decided to give up. We figured that this route was just too difficult to do without equipment. We had an awesome time bouldering, but the summit was not meant to be for this day. We made it back to the car six hours after we started, and we went out for a much-needed lunch.

When I got home, I looked at the website of the couple who had taken Pine Creek to get to Bridge Mountain. It turns out that if we had stayed in the wash, we would have found an easier route up to the summit. Looking at their topo map and GPS route, we had made it about 2.5 miles in, and we only had about 1.5 miles to go. We had ascended about 1500 feet of the 3000 feet to the summit. There's no telling how long it would have taken to finish that last mile and 1500 feet elevation gain because the route was just going to get scarier, but it's disappointing that we were so close to our goal. Next time the temperature cools down, we will try this peak again, perhaps with a different starting point.

Click here for more pictures from our hike

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Mother's Day Weekend Recap, Part III

On Monday, I took the day off to spend with Mom. We packed a lunch and headed to Red Rock Canyon. It is a conservation area west of the valley where the rocks and mountains have an incredible red color caused by rust. It is breathtaking to see, and it's my favorite place to go hiking.

We started at the visitor's center, where they had displays on the geography and history of the area. They also had some critters indigenous to the area, including this cute iguana.
Out by the car, the sweet ground squirrel posed for me.
There's a 13 mile one-way loop around Red Rock, with many spots to pull off and explore. Here is Mom at Calico Hills, where I often go hiking. Clearly, she was not here to hike in her white pants!
We stopped at Willow Springs and ate our lunch in a nice picnic area. It was very hot (near 100-degrees), but we were shaded by trees. We watched several squirrels and birds scamper around during lunch.
After finishing the drive, we went to Ethel's Chocolate in Henderson. That is Ethel M as in the Mars chocolate family. We went on a tour through the factory, sampled some chocolates, and Mom picked out some gifts to bring back to friends (sure beats a T-shirt!). Then we walked through the cactus garden outside. This is such a neat collection of cactus and other plants that can survive in the desert climate. In the winter, they decorate the plants with Christmas lights.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Mother's Day Weekend Recap, Part II

Sunday was Mother's Day, and my goal was to make up to my mom for my teenage years! The Mt. Charleston Lodge that I enjoy so much was having a special Mother's Day brunch, so I made reservations for noon. We arrived at noon and there was a line out the door, so I was relieved that I had made reservations. We sat down and the waiter gave us the breakfast menu. We said that we wanted the brunch menu, and he said that the kitchen was really backed up and that brunch wouldn't be served for 30 minutes. I was irritated but there was nothing we could do, so we ordered a glass of wine. Mom and I had a wonderful time chatting. In fact, we were so caught up in conversation, that we hardly noticed that 30 minutes had turned into an hour. We started to notice the people around us who were very upset that their food had not been served. Several people stormed out not wanting to wait another minute. We were told another 30 minutes. In the meantime, we started chatting with the people around us, who were quite friendly despite being very hungry. At 2pm (2 hours after we arrived!), a sheepish waiter finally came over and said that the kitchen was a disaster and the special brunch was not going to materialize. We were able to order off the lunch menu, which pleased Mom because she got the Ruben sandwich she had been craving. Lunch should have been a total disaster, but Mom was thrilled getting to talk with me for two hours, and I was happy if she was happy.

And now for the part where I win Daughter of the Year. Mom's all-time favorite musical is Phantom of the Opera. Her chorus sang it back in the 1980s, and ever since then she has been obsessed. I grew up having to listen to her sing it around the house. Despite her infatuation, she has never seen the show in person. So, the minute she bought the plane ticket to come out here, I bought tickets for Phantom - The Vegas Spectacular at the Venetian.

I wanted to surprise her, so I told her that we were going to see the Blue Man Group, also at the Venetian. As we were driving there, she asked very innocently if Jeremy ever gets free tickets to Phantom, and I said no. She was disappointed. We arrived and started to the theater, which is very clearly marked "Phantom Theater." No reaction. In front, there's a mosaic of the phantom on the floor, and she said, "Careful, don't step on the Phantom." She didn't think anything of it. I handed her the ticket and she got the playbill, both of which were clearly marked "Phantom," but she didn't notice. Walking up the stairs she pointed out the "Phantom's chandelier." Still, nothing. Finally, as we are walking to our seats, she looks at the playbill and screams, "This says Phantom! We're going to Phantom!" I wanted to surprise her, but I had no idea that it would work so well. I thought the curtain was going to go up before she realized what show she was seeing!

The show was amazing. The set was incredible. It was thrilling to walk in with the chandelier in pieces above the audience's head, then to watch it come together, and then for it to crash down just feet above the audience. The music was beautiful and the story captivating. I would see this show again and again. When it was over, Mom didn't want to leave! We sat in our seats and watched the audience file out and the workers start cleaning.

After the show, Mom called all of her friends to tell them that she got to see Phantom. Then I showed her around the Venetian. She really enjoyed the canal (which is on the 2nd floor), which she said was much cleaner than in Venice.
Next we went over to the Bellagio to check out the botanical gardens and the Chihuly chandelier. We walked over to the poker room, and Mom saw several players that she recognized from TV (Daniel Negreanu, Shawn Sheikhan, and others).
Then, we walked outside to watch the fountains.
Finally, we ended up at Paris, where we each had a seafood crêpe at La Crêperie. Mmm, I could eat there every day.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mother's Day Weekend Recap, Part I

My mom came to visit over Mother's Day weekend (yes, I know that was nearly a month ago). She had never been to Las Vegas, and her friends don't like it much out here, so I knew I had to be crafty in my entertainment choices. My plan was to show her all of the fun activities in the area (that don't involve poker) so that she could come to love it here as much as I do. Mission accomplished!

We started on Saturday by driving by the Hoover Dam. We wanted to save the tour for when my dad came out to visit, so we just drove over the dam and stopped to take some pictures from a distance (through an enormous amount of power lines). By driving over the dam, we crossed into Arizona, so my mom got to go to Arizona for the first time.
On the way back from the dam, we stopped at a nice overlook at Lake Mead. Again, an incredible view with some poorly placed power lines.
Near the dam is Boulder City, a town that was built to house the workers who were building the dam in the 1930s. This is a small, quaint town with little resemblance to Las Vegas (it is the only city in Nevada without gaming!). We went to the main street area where there are a few restaurants and antique shops. This area was smaller than I had pictured, but we still had a nice time wandering around the shops. We ate lunch at Milo's Best Cellars, a wine cafe that I had been anxious to visit. I had a delicious croissant sandwich with avocado, roasted red peppers, and melted brie. Afterward we went inside to check out their wine selection. They offer a wall of wine with 100 bottles for less than $10. I selected a bottle that reminded me of one my excursions in France.
After Boulder City, we came back to Henderson and went to the Clark County Museum. This tiny little museum does an awesome job describing the history of Clark County and the Las Vegas area from prehistoric times to Native Americans to miners and the railroad to gambling. My favorite park of the museum is Heritage Street, where a number of local historic houses have been moved and each renovated to a decade in history with displays on local events from those decades. I find it fascinating to see appliances and furniture people used in the past, but Mom was less impressed (though still interested) because she grew up with many of those items! She was very excited to see this Airstream trailer because she lived in one of these as a child when her family spent winters in Florida. We wrapped up the day by attending Penn & Teller at the Rio. I got free tickets and thought this would be a fun show for mom. It was very entertaining, and the only drawback about the show was that they randomly chose people out of the audience to participate, so I worried the whole time that they would grab me to go on stage. Mom was blown away by the casino, and we spent some time after the show just watching the table games and taking in the excitement.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hiking at Mt. Charleston

On Sunday, I went hiking with the Las Vegas Hiking and Outdoors Meetup group. I've been a member of this group since September, but this is only my second hike with them. I need to make a better effort to attend more of their hikes because they go to neat locations and the members are wonderful. I met so many nice, friendly, interesting people with all different backgrounds, from a guy from Newcastle, Australia, to a girl who teaches forensic nursing, to a guy who lived on a solar-powered commune in Kentucky.

We met in the northwest part of the valley and carpooled up to Mt. Charleston. Our first hike was up Cathedral Rock. The 1.5 mile hike to the top of the rock passed through huge trees, into a meadow, and up through more huge trees. At the top, we had a panoramic view of Kyle Canyon, Mt. Charleston, and other peaks in the Spring Mountains.

Cathedral Rock: Me at the top overlooking the town of Mt. Charleston:
View of Kyle Canyon:
Beautiful Ponderosa Pine:
Beautiful White Fir:
Trail through Quaking Aspen:
After we finished Cathedral Peak, we moved on to Fletcher Canyon. This hike is also in the Mt. Charleston area, and is about 4 miles round trip. The hike isn't as scenic because it doesn't have any overlooks, but it does eventually get into a canyon with some scrambling. I am happy anytime I have to climb over a boulder, so I enjoyed the end of the hike. A couple of us even squeezed through a tiny hole below a boulder to continue past the "end" of the trail, but we didn't go much further because we were worn out from our adventures.

Me in front of the limestone cliffs and some very fragrant trees (it almost seemed tropical through here):
Limestone cliffs and Ponderosa Pines:
Our group getting into the canyon:
A dead but artsy-looking Ponderosa Pine:

Here are more pictures from this hike