Monday, May 28, 2012

Death Valley

Several years ago we spent a night in Tuzigoot 1 in Death Valley National Park, September or October I think it was.  Susie's worst night ever, she swears (in both senses of the word).  Very hot.  The campground was basically just a parking lot - no hookups.  There was a rule that electricity generators could not be run after 9 pm.  Susie tried to sleep, minimally dressed, sitting up front by an open window (we parked well-separated from the small number of early snow-bird RVers in a very large parking lot/campground.  Susie still bears a grudge.  "Why would anyone go voluntarily to Death Valley, particularly when it's the triple-digit time of the year?" 

Since we've been in Vegas this month, I've been looking for an opportunity to go back out there, not to spend a night, just to see the sights and feel the awe. Susie was not interested in making the trip.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the day.  Forecast all week had been for a very cool weekend and that's how it turned out.  Low 70s for a high in Vegas, mid-80s in Death Valley.  Perfect.  I went to baseball game Friday night and nearly froze (UNM beat TCU).  Very windy, also.  I left at sunrise Saturday and got to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in DV a couple of hours later. Here are a couple of pictures along the road entering the park from the east.

I didn't have much of an agenda, but after watching video and talking to Park Rangers I decided to visit Scotty's Castle.  I thought it might be a little like the Bishop Castle we visited last summer in Colorado - an eccentric one-man project.  Well, it was, but in a very different way.

Scotty (Walter Scott) was not a grizzled prospector with a burro and a pick axe who got lucky, as you might expect.  He was a con man who got lucky.  He found a victim who became a co-conspirator. 

The Castle is an hour's drive north of Furnace Creek, through the valley lined with rugged mountains on both sides.

I spent about 45 minutes exploring the grounds, then took a guided tour of the very nice home, a millionaire's retreat, but not really a castle (though called such by Scotty as part of his scam).  The reason this part of Death Valley was selected is there is a spring in what is called Grapevine Canyon, on the east side of the valley, that runs year-around with good water at a rate of 200 gallons per minute. With that you can power an electricity generator and have all the water you need for consumption, plumbing, and amenities like a swimming pool. 

Here are some pictures of the castle and the grounds.

I guess it's this tower, actually used to store water, that gives it the castle appearance.

I've never seen such shaggy palm trees.  Several, here, are clustered around a cottonwood tree.

Some old cars and trucks:

Here's our tour guide, a ranger dressed to depict a Castle visitor in the late 1930s. 

I'll go mostly with his story. 

Walter Scott was a rider in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in the late 1800s.  That was his start in show business.  Some years later he worked in Colorado gold mines, from which he picked up a couple of gold nuggets.  He had previously been in Death Valley and knew it to be active with prospectors seeking gold and silver (and 20 mule-team borax, but that's another story).  With his nuggets and gift of gab he went back east, telling stories about his fabulous gold find in Death Valley and seeking investors whose funds would enable him to develop the mine and make everybody fabulously wealthy.  People bought in, including Albert Johnson, an insurance company executive from Chicago. 

Johnson and others soon realized that there was no payoff for their investments in "Death Valley Scotty's" gold mine.  Scotty lived the life of a wealthy gold mine owner, so he apparently he spent investor funds on himself and didn't even make some Ponzi-like payments to early investors along the way.   Johnson and some other investors decided to visit Death Valley and inspect their mine.  Scotty said, Come on out.  En route, as their party crossed a pass into the valley, they were attacked by outlaws.  Shots rang out.  Scotty's brother, part of the party, was hit. Scotty (according to our guide) hollered out, "Hey, stop shooting.  You weren't supposed to hit anyone."  And the attackers stopped.  The fake attack had been designed by Scotty to scare the investors away so they wouldn't find that there was no gold mine.

You would think Scotty would end up disgraced and in jail.  Wrong.  What happened was that Scotty became great friends with Johnson and his wife, Bess.  The Johnsons fell in love with Death Valley, visited often, and started buying land in Grapevine canyon.  They liked the peace and quiet, the clean air, the warmth in winter; it was good for their health.  They decided to build a retreat that, at Bess's instigation, became the elaborate mission-style home you see above.  Construction began in 1922.

Scotty was part of the effort - in fact, he was the front man.  He created the impression that this was his Castle, built with the proceeds from his gold mines and in fact was built over one mine's entrance.  He told visitors who wondered who this other couple on site were that they were his banker and his (the banker's) wife, just visiting.  The Johnsons were happy to be part of this charade.  It let them have the peace and quiet they desired and it provided a stage for their friend, Scotty.  They even paid Scotty a $250/mo. stipend.  In later years, Johnson was asked how he could be so generous with someone who had taken so much of his money.  He said, "He more than repaid us with laughter." 

Here's the Castle's main room.  After dinner, Scotty would tell the guests his Wild West stories.  At some point Johnson would signal one of the servants.  Other servants in the house's basement would start pounding on the basement walls and ceiling.  Scotty would get upset and say, I've told those miners to be quiet and not work when guests were around."  Thus, the myth about the gold mine under the house was perpetuated. 

At the end of the evening, Scotty would retire to an adjacent room, "his bedroom."  But, it was fake.  He would exit a back door and go to his cabin a couple of miles down the canyon.  Scotty seldom, if ever, spent a night in "his Castle." 

One other bit of tomfoolery.  There was a hole in the alleged-bedroom wall.  On the outside, the hole was covered by a piece of curved metal designed to be a deflector.  Scotty's story was that this was part of his security system.  If thieves ever tried to break in and steal his gold he would thrust his shotgun into this hole and fire.  The deflector would direct some of the pellets to the right and disable anyone trying to come in through a window and simultaneously the other pellets would turn left and disable attackers at the door.  Our guide said there's no evidence that this theory was ever tested.

The stock market crash of 1929 kept the Johnson's from finishing their plans for Scotty's Castle.  For a time, they rented out rooms to visitors.  The nicest suite rented for the equivalent of around $500/night in today's dollars. 

I asked our guide how it was that Scotty could keep up his scam and how the truth finally came out.  Among the visitors were newspaper reporters.  He said there was a lawsuit around 1939 that exposed the fraud.  I haven't found whether there a conviction or jail time - but apparently not.  Johnson willed the Castle and ranch to a religious organization with the proviso that Scott could live there, which he did until his death in 1954.  The organization sold the property to the National Park Service in 1970.

I've given you maybe more than anybody ever wanted to know, fact and fiction, about Death Valley Scotty and his Castle, but if anybody has more info, please post it or email me.

Some philosophy.  To some, maybe many, their interest in a place like Death Valley is nature at its purest.  So, they would not be interested in and maybe even offended by structures that impose on nature, such as Scotty's Castle.  But, I'm intrigued by man's interaction with nature in such extremes: dramatic dams, bridges, roads, buildings, ... can actually make you more aware of and appreciative of nature's wonders, I think.  In a more mundane situation, I enjoy the view outside our living room which is a mountainside dotted with a few houses, and I don't think the view would be more interesting if those houses weren't there.  But, that's just me.

On the way back to Furnace Creek I saw a coyote crossing the road and stopped and got this picture. 

He didn't look as well-fed as our Cedar Crest coyotes.

On down the road I stopped at the ruins of a borax processing plant and a friendly fellow tourist and I took each others picture in front of the large wagons used to haul the borax.

From there I drove on south through the park.  One stop is Badwater, the lowest point in the Park at 282 ft. below sea level. 

There was more dramatic scenery along the way, salt flats and mountains.

Here, on the way back to Pahrump, is what I think is a typical Nevada range and basin scene. 

We saw a lot of it a couple of years ago when we drove US 50 across Nevada, the Loneliest Highway.

I stopped in Pahrump for gas and espied, across the road, "the world's tallest ice cream stand."  I'm always drawn by statistical extremes (I bought a Death Valley t-shirt: Hottest, 134 degs, Driest, less than 2 in.rain per year, Lowest, 282 ft. below sea level), not to mention ice cream, so I made a visit there.  Pineapple sundae, my high school favorite. (I didn't ask the friendly server for proof for their claim.)

(Mike says grandson Jason has this familial interest in extremes, so Mike keeps the Death Valley weather page on his cell-phone.)

Got back to Vegas in time to go to the final game of the Mountain West Conference baseball tournament which UNM won  22-3 over San Diego State.  The Lobos advance to an NCAA regional tournament this week.  Go Lobos!

Tuesday is Twins Day.

We'll be in touch.

Rob and Susie

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Las Vegas-2

Week 2 Activities

Back in February, when we were in AZ, I took an ATV ride out of Tombstone and enjoyed it quite a bit, although it was a pretty tame trip on  well-traveled, graded roads.  In Vegas I found Adrenaline ATV Tours that promised a more challenging ride in the Nevada desert, so I signed up.  Seven of us boarded a van and traveled about an hour NE of LV to a site north of the Valley of Fire State Park, where we donned helmets and goggles, got some quick instructions on how to drive/ride an ATV, and off we went.  Self-portrait.

And it was a challenging ride.  Lots of humpy stretches, rocky patches, and washboardy sections.  We had some experienced riders among us and our guide set a good pace.  I was on the edge of losing control a couple of times, but all went fine.  We had about two hours of riding plus lunch and a couple of (too) long breaks.  Some scenes:

Still thinking I'd like to have an ATV, somewhat beefed up so I could plow snow out of the driveway, drive to and from the mailbox, take grandkids for rides, etc.

Sunday afternoon we went to the Las Vegas Dancing With The Stars show at the Tropicana.  Susie's a huge fan of DWTS, so she was thrilled.  I caught a few winks, so I'll have her give the highlights. 

SUSIE:  As my granddaughter, Kaci, knows she is fulfilling my Broadway dreams, so I have resigned to the fact that another way to fufill this dream is vicariously, thus, Dancing With The Stars. Heidi had told me tbere was the show at the Tropicana so we went.  There were a handful of previous contestants and pros plus a four couple dance group of Vegas dancers.....who were FANTASTIC!  I just heard on TV this a.m. that some of the pros currently performing on TV will be coming to Vegas to dance in the show after the DWTS finale tonight......which brings to mind that the birth of the twins is tomorrow, thus not interfering with tonight's finale,,,,,Hum!  Rob was a good sport although he did say that he liked the costumes (or lack of) the best!  He's even commenting on the skills of the contestants, too. 

Next, for old times sake, we visited a couple of the casinos where Heidi worked in the past.  A favorite site at the Bellagio is the Conservatory, where seasonal floral displays and fanciful creatures are featured. 

The Bellagio was in the news over the weekend.  A couple of guys walked into a high-stakes blackjack room, pepper-sprayed the dealer at one table, and grabbed handfuls of chips and tried to run out.  One was tackled and subdued by an alert Bellagio employee.

After a traditional ice cream stop in Bellagio we went over to the City Center and strolled through the Crystal's shopping center and the Aria casino, which was where Heidi had her last Strip job (an office job on the Las Vegas Strip, I mean).  This sign got our attention:

As this is written on Tuesday, it's one day left until the twins, Julian and Landon, arrive, or, I think I should say, emerge.

Monday morning I dropped Susie off at Heidi and Joey's and drove out to Red Rock Canyon, just a few miles west of Vegas.  Lots of pictures at the link.  Here's one of mine:

I got there late in the morning; plan to go back on an early morning to get better light for pictures - and lower temperatures for hiking.

I did a hike into Ice Box Canyon.  In the rainy season there are waterfalls and pools in this canyon, maybe even ice in the winter.  Here's a view of the canyon entrance.

I didn't get all the way to the end of the box canyon, as seen in pictures at the above link, because of underbrush, rocks, heat, and steepness, but it was a good hike nevertheless. 

Thought this valiant little flower in the "trail" was worth a picture.

Here's the scene looking out from the canyon.  Hmm, Kemosabe.  Outlaw gang approaching.  

From Red Rock I found my way to Bonnie Springs, a funky, old-west resort and restaurant, a few miles south of Red Rock Canyon.  There I had lunch: barbecue ribs topped off by apple pie a la mode.

Also stopped by the village of Blue Diamond.  I had heard that this was an area for mountain bike riding and a map on the front door of a closed-on-Monday bike shop confirmed it.  Lots of trails in the area that I will check out later, weather and family fun permitting.

Tomorrow is D-Day - Delivery Day! 

We'll be in touch soon.

Susie and Rob


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Las Vegas 1

Dear Family and Friends:  We're in Las Vegas, eagerly awaiting the births of twin grandsons, Julian and Landon - scheduled for May 23.  We came early just in case they decide to, too.  The parents-to-be are (Susie's daughter) Heidi and (her husband) Joey (to provide context for those who might be wondering).  H and J were married last June 11 (pictures and commentary in the Tuziblog archives) and now, 11 mos. later, are about to become a family of four -- a family in a hurry.

We spent about a week with Tuzi at home, cleaning thoroughly, checking things out, and loading, then left Tuesday, May 8.  Here's the scene at an AZ rest area.

Stopped for the night in Williams, AZ.  I got up early the next morning and explored some of the town on foot.  Wms. is the terminus for train trips to the Grand Canyon. Also, part of the Route 66 lore.  Some pix:

In a motel parking lot I saw these two Route 66-era beauties.

Had Ontario tags.  It was early morning (the street sweepers were out), so not very good lighting for these pictures.

We got to Las Vegas about noon on Wednesday and set up Tuzigoot in the Oasis RV Park, located near the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Blue Diamond Road (S Vegas, for those who know the area).  A nice park that we've stayed at several times before.

We've been keeping up pictorially the last 10 months or so, including ultrasound images of "the boys."  Here's the most recent shot of Heidi we had gotten, making use of the motorized shopping cart in Target.

She looks ready to deliver twins, don't you think.  Her stretched-out belly button is a good facsimile of the Target target logo, but I don't have a picture of that (and if I did, I wouldn't use it and Target probably wouldn't either).

At her bi-weekly check-up on Thursday, the doc said Heidi still looks good for a May 23 C-section double delivery.

We've been mostly relaxing, either here at Oasis or at their place (about 20 mins. away).  I went out Friday evening to see UNM playing UNLV in baseball.  Nice day for a game.

The Lobos lost, however, and fell into second place in the Mountain West Conference, behind TCU.  Two weeks from now the conference tournament will be held here and if I get a break from diaper and rocking chair duty, I'll try to catch a game or two.

The UNLV stadium is under the take-off flight path from the Vegas airport, so I got this picture of a SW jet flying over.

Sent Mandi a note saying SW jets have a distinctive sound - I could identify them before they came over.  She replied saying something nice about those wonderful red-bellied planes.

Saturday, our outing was to the Henderson Art Festival followed by some quality time at the Oasis pool.

That's the family pool.  The adult pool is behind those palm trees.
Wouldn't you know.  We ran into someone at the art show that Susie had connections to.  A New Mexico artist, Charles Carrillo, had a display of his traditional art - mostly santos, but also some amusing depictions of northern NM cars and trucks, occupied by various saints.  Susie said, I taught with a Carrillo.  Turned out to be Charles's late father.  We had a good visit.  You can see some examples of his art here.

On  Sunday, Mother's Day, we attended the Green Valley United Methodist Church in nearby Henderson.  This was the home church of our friends, Carolyn and Budd Bornhoft, for many years until they moved back to Albuquerque about six months ago.  We had dinner with them just before we left Albq and said we'd plan to visit their former church, as we have when they still lived here.  Nice service and music. The special music was provided by what the bulletin said was the Men's Chorus, which consisted of 6 men and 2 women.  Hey, I'm a modern guy, so, Nothing wrong with that, I say.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Don't ask, don't tell.  Whatever.  You get your tenor voices where you can.

 To celebrate Mother's Day, Heidi and Joey treated Susie and her escort to dinner at a fine restaurant (the waiter characterized it as a French steak house, but I had fish) in the Paris hotel and casino.  Mother and daughter wore nicely coordinated in their black and white ensembles.

And, here are the parents-to-be.

Monday morning I made a trip to Mount Charleston, about an hour NW of our Vegas location.  Mount C rises to nearly 12,000 ft. elevation and it's quite a surprise to go from desert floor to Ponderosa pine forests in about a half-hour.  There's also a sizable ski resort up there.  Budd Bornhoft had suggested this locale for summer hiking. 

Online I found out about a hike to Mary Jane Falls so that was my plan.  At the trailhead, though, I found out the trail was closed for two days for the installation of toilets and septic drain fields.  Following the lead of some other hikers, I took another trail that climbed up toward Mount Charleston.  Some shots from the trail:

That's Mt. Charleston, there.  The trail I was on eventually connected with a summit ridge trail, but I didn't go quite that far.

After my hike, at a nearby visitor center I asked about biking trails and found out there were a couple on the other side of the mountain, at the base of the ski trails.  I drove around and checked out the area, but didn't do any riding - will do that another day, earlier in the day.

Here's the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, ... to see what he could see.

End of the trail.
Went back to Vegas and found my way to an Italian Ice and Custard shop, after twice being led by my GPS to shopping centers that allegedly included Coldstone shops, but I couldn't find them.  

The countdown continues. We'll be in touch.

Susie and Rob