Grand Canyon: Long road, lonely road

At the end of my business trip to Las Vegas, Chelsea and I made the long drive out to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I thought it was crazy talk before we got out there, driving five hours each way to see the big hole in the ground. Chelsea had a good point, though – Vegas was much closer to the Canyon than Philadelphia. Besides, she’s wanted to see it all her life.

Off we went.

The South Rim is 150 miles (240 km) from the Vegas Strip as the crow flies, but we’re not crows. Because of the contours of the Canyon itself, you have to drive below its southern edge, then east for a stretch, before coming back north to the spot on the South Rim where the Parks Service set up shop so many years ago. Just outside Vegas along this barren route, you come across the Hoover Dam.




It used to be the case that all traffic between Vegas and Arizona went across the top of the dam, but post-9/11 security concerns drove the government to build a bypass bridge downstream. This new bridge is higher than the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia, which was previously the highest span in the US.


Getting out to the Hoover Dam now requires you to pass through a security inspection on your way in. They don’t want you to have any fun once you get there, either:


We didn’t take a tour of the Dam’s innards, opting instead to get back on the road and keep going. I’m sure the inside is even more impressive than the outside. We just felt that, well, the Grand Canyon was our real destination.

The highways leading into the Grand Canyon take you through desolate mountains and scrub, punctuated by occasional mile marker signs to the big destination:


We really have nothing back East that compares with the sere beauty of the Arizona landscape. It was a completely new experience for me.


Las Vegas: The future I was promised

Back to last week. They have a monorail in Las Vegas. It’s an expensive and bankrupt boondoggle, as these things often turn out to be, but it’s there. I got a chance last week to take a quick ride. Here’s the northern end of the monorail as it passes beneath the Stratosphere Casino’s space needle:


Seeing those two very dated visions of tomorrow together made me, I don’t know, a little misty-eyed. We’re not going to get our jet packs or our flying cars anytime soon. But we can have a little bit of monorail.

Snow, and lots of it

We interrupt this recap of last week’s trip to bring you a winter wonderland:



Over the last 36 hours, we received about 15 inches (38 cm) of snow, which is more than twice what had been forecast. For the 2010-11 winter, which was supposed to be warm and dry because of La Nina, we have had about 40 inches (100cm) of snow already this winter, with 6-8 more weeks before we start to come to the end of snow season. We’ve shattered the record for snowfall over two consecutive seasons. Amazing.

Right now the weather forecast shows some chance of additional snow (though smaller amounts) tomorrow, Saturday, and Tuesday.

Red Rock Canyon

Thursday afternoon, when I had finished with work for the day, we met up with my Aunt Carol and her husband Gary to go hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is just outside Las Vegas. Chelsea had gone hiking the day before at Valley of Fire State Park while I was working, but this was my first chance to experience the sere beauty of the desert West, which was completely new to me:


We stopped at the first lookout point and quickly scrambled our way down into the canyon:



There was a ton of… sagebrush? Something, anyway, that we had to navigate through here and there:


With a little bit of effort, we reached the floor of the canyon:


Of course, we had to get back out again, and since we had not gone back the way we originally came in, that meant a few surprises and a bit of bouldering along the way:


You’ll be happy to know that we made it out alive:


We didn’t have much daylight to spare, so before long it was time to go. But our quick visit made a lasting impression.


Tomorrow: A much, much bigger hole in the ground.

Las Vegas: Getting there

I had a business trip to Las Vegas last week, which meant my first-ever visit to Sin City. I’ve been all over the place traveling for work and pleasure – been through 47 airports prior to this trip – but I had never gone to Vegas before.

I’ll say this first: the place lives up to its reputation. You step out of the jetway at the airport, and as advertised, there are slot machines right there in the terminal:


I was staying at the Bellagio hotel for my meeting, and my room had a lovely view west of the Las Vegas Valley and the surrounding mountains:




Outside, the Strip was every bit as bright and boisterous as you would expect:




Your eyes aren’t deceiving you – that’s a fake Eiffel Tower across the street from the Bellagio, at the Paris casino. There’s a fake Arc du Triomphe, too:


By comparison, the Bellagio looks positively restrained:


The Bellagio also boasts a conservatory and an art gallery. I never made it to the art gallery, but the conservatory was lovely. It was decorated in honor of Lunar New Year, which is coming up in early February




I had the rare privilege on this trip of being joined by my beautiful bride, who arrived in Vegas a day after I did:


Tomorrow: Take a hike.

Chilly welcome home

Chels and I got back last night from our trip out West, and when I got in the car this morning, I was shocked to see how cold it was:


That’s right, 4F/-15C. Brrrr!

Lots more pictures to come this week from our trip. Stay tuned.

January is concert season

…in the Middle School, that is. Nick had his school’s instrumental concert last night. Young man plays the trumpet, and plays it well… see if you can spot him in the crowd, directly behind the last kid on the right in the first row:


He’s a little easier to spot in this one:


Happy weekend!

Programming note: I’ve got a business trip for work next week, so I will probably not get too many chances to post. We’ll resume our regular schedule on Monday the 24th.

Man vs. ketchup

Nick and I were out the other day running some errands, and we stopped to pick up some lunch. I had to snap a picture of the young man with his array of ketchup. He was even kind enough to oblige me with a face that says, “Yeah, I’m gonna eat my body weight in ketchup with this meal. You have a problem with that?”


These are the good times.

The Farmer’s Almanac was wrong

We are not having a warm and dry winter here in Philadelphia, even with La NiƱa roiling the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific. This week we broke a 130-year record in Philadelphia for total snowfall in two consecutive seasons. As a result, Nick and I were out on the job today, and Nick took his first-ever turn at the helm of The Monster Snowblower at my grandparents’ house:


As usual, Nick had an air of calm professionalism. He looked like he’d been running the thing his whole life. Which is great, because the way this winter is going, he’ll have several more chances at it.

Everyone loves a giant hamster ball

Our little Anna is known to ask for some strange things for Christmas. A couple years ago, we took a lot of grief from my folks for giving Anna a juicer, a mop and broom, and a box of rocks. This year, the only thing our weird little bird wanted for Christmas was… a giant hamster ball, one she could get inside and roll around the yard.

Ask and she will receive.






Nick and Maria got in on the action soon enough:




It’s fun for the whole family!