- Where We Started: Chinle, Ariz.
- Where We Ended: Las Vegas, Nev.
- Miles Driven: 522 (9,843 total).
- New States: Nevada.
- States So Far: 18 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The schizophrenic nature of the weather out west continued to amaze us on Wednesday, as we encountered a dust storm and two snowstorms on a journey that took us from a small, quiet Navajo town to the neon-lit, loud streets of Vegas.
In the end, it was one of the most grueling driving days of the trip, and left us a little sapped physically and mentally. As a result, we decided that Thursday -- the last day of before a two-day FHMA hiatus -- would be a quiet one. Or as quiet as it gets in when you spend your day in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Wednesday did indeed start quietly, as we headed back to Canyon de Chelly. We had managed to see the south rim just before sunset Tuesday, but decided to stick around the Navajo town of Chinle to see the north rim on Wednesday. We've been told by many that the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to go down into the canyon with a Navajo guide, but with two beagles along for the ride, that wasn't an option. But looking into the canyon from above isn't bad either.
The only thing that complicated the visit were the major winds that pounded us every time we reached an overlook. I won't lie, dealing with gale-force winds while standing near the edge of a canyon is not fun. But because we care about you, the reader, we even shot some video to give you a sense of the wind at canyon's edge. Now, I am trying to say something in this video, but you won't be able to hear it. But don't worry. Like most things that come out of my mouth, it's just not that important. The wind is what we wanted to you sense.
After lunch in Chinle, we were ready to head to the Grand Canyon. But, as we were leaving town, we experienced something unique to both Joan and me: a good, old-fashioned dust storm. It started as we were leaving Chinle, and by the time we reached US-191, our visibility was as limited as Paris Hilton's acting range.
Now, pictures can indeed convey what this was like, but we also did some video so you could get a better sense.
This storm continued at this intensity for about five minutes, and while we did see mini-dust storms on and off the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon, it was never that bad again. But the wind continued howling for hours.
After an hour, we finally left the wind behind, only to have it replaced by snow. Despite no real change in elevation, the temperature dropped sharply as we headed west, but we were hoping to least avoid snow. But it was not to be, and we even lucky enough that the snow came right as we got onto an uneven dirt road in Navajo country. Joan even pulled out the Flip video camera to shoot our third video piece of the day. Now, the snow is hard to see here, but what is easy to see is how hard it is to be a passenger in our car when I'm driving on a dirt road. Soon after we did this video, the snow stopped.
We figured the snow was an anomaly, and that we'd be in pretty good shape weather-wise by the time we reached the Grand Canyon. But, about 30 minutes away, the snow began again, this time harder. By the time we arrived, the temperature had dropped to 28 degrees. Because we've both been to the Grand Canyon twice before, we didn't view this is a tragedy. But we did feel bad for all those tourists -- especially the always-huge number of foreign tourists -- who came all the way to see this amazing sight. There just wasn't much to look at.
Because of the weather, we decided to get the necessary shot of Fred and Hank in front of the canyon and get out of Dodge, since, by now, the temperature had dropped to 22 degrees.
By the time we took the above photo, Hank was shivering uncontrollably, as was Joan. So we got in the car and headed for the park exit. Luckily, the road out of the Grand Canyon is the same one that runs alongside it, so as we headed toward the exit, the weather let up a bit. It didn't get any warmer, mind you, but some sun did decide to make a cameo appearance as we approached Mather Point, which affords some of the best views of the canyon.
Happy that we'd at least gotten something from the Grand Canyon visit, it was then off on the four-hour ride to Vegas. That didn't mean we didn't see anything interesting, however. We stopped for dinner in Williams, Ariz., site of a really cool old stretch of Route 66. Featuring the old buildings, neon signs and diners that mark so much of Route 66, this was a particularly cool stretch of The Mother Road. We would liked to have driven more of it, but decided we'd bitten off all we could chew on this day.
After 110 mind-numbing miles on I-40, we hopped onto U.S. Route 93 for the last leg of the drive to Vegas. Now, most of this road is no picnic either, but it's made a lot more interesting by the fact you cross over Hoover Dam about 30 miles outside Vegas. We visited Hoover Dam in 2003, and the most notable change since was the level of security around the dam. There was a checkpoint about 10 miles south of the dam that required all cars to stop, and there are increased restrictions on commercial traffic near the dam. In addition, there is a massive construction project going on around the dam. So it was a slow crawl through the dam area, and because we were moving, we didn't get a shot of the dam itself. But we did stop after we passed Hoover and Joan got a photo of part of the end result of the construction project: the Colorado River Bridge, which will replace the existing road that crosses atop Hoover Dam.
Soon after passing Hoover, we arrived at our hotel and, despite stating emphatically on the way up in the elevator that I would write a draft of Thursday's blog post, both Joan and I almost immediately fell asleep.
- As we were cruising through the Hopi Reservation on our way to the Grand Canyon, we came across the interesting sight of a dog sitting with a bunch of goats alongside a dirt road. The goats were eating grass, and the dog was chewing on a bone. To us, they looked like a wonderfully blended family. One deserving of a beautiful family photo. Heck, they even posed for us.
But there was only one problem: As Joan looked through her lens she suddenly realized that, while we were correct that the dog was chewing on a bone, what we hadn't seen was that the bone was still covered by flesh and fur and had a paw stuck at the end of it. I have no idea what the dog was eating -- other than that it's no longer with us -- but it did turn this photo into something a little more ghoulish that we originally thought.
- Not too much farther down the road, we had another dog incident. We spotted a two dogs hanging out by the side of the same dirt road. We immediately realized that one of them looked suspiciously like one of the dogs that attacked our car in Monument Valley.
On the left is the dog we saw in Arizona on Wednesday; on the right is the Monument Valley Gnasher. Maybe not the same dog, but a relative perhaps? Are we are being tracked by a wild dog family? You decide.
- We have a general philosophy that, no matter where you are, dog owners should always pick up their canine's, ahem, leave-behinds. We're actually quite shocked how many people don't follow this "No Poop Left Behind" policy. But at the Grand Canyon, I feel the need to confess that I violated this policy. Soon after we took our official photo of Fred and Hank at the Grand Canyon, Joan left -- with the poop bags -- to use a faraway bathroom. Fred chose this exact moment to take care of business. Having no bag to clean it up and knowing Joan was going to meet us at the car after her restroom visit, I saw no good solution. My only options were to meet Joan back at the car and walk her back to the scene of the crime in 25-degree, windy conditions, or hide my head deep in my jacket hood and urge the dogs quickly back to the car. I chose the latter. As we were driving away, Joan said, "Thank goodness neither of the dogs decided to poop there, I totally forgot to give you a bag." I was then forced to confess. Bad Jim.
- Sign of the Day, located at the edge of Canyon de Chelly:
The sign itself really isn't the issue; it makes perfect sense. But if you're a parent or a pet owner, and the fact there's only a stone wall between you and certain death hasn't already gotten your attention, you should immediately have any children and/or dogs removed from your care.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Bummer," by Harry Chapin. Chapin, the singer, songwriter and activist, was a longtime resident of my hometown, Huntington, N.Y. Because of my parents' work with the Huntington Arts Council, they were friends with the Harry and Sandy Chapin. In fact, they had dinner at our house once. Although he was never loved by the critics, Chapin has a hardcore fan base and released a few songs that are indisputable classics, most notably "Cats in the Cradle" and "Taxi." He died in in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway in 1981, while on his way to play a concert. Chapin did an amazing amount of philanthropic work, much of it for the cause of world hunger. I'm a fan of a lot of his work, though would agree with the general consensus that he was a bit hit-or-miss. My favorite Chapin songs: "Cats in the Cradle," "A Better Place to Be," "Sniper" and "Dreams Go By."
- Most-Played Albums: The major plays of the day: "Us," by Peter Gabriel; and "Bent Out of Shape," and "Straight Between the Eyes," both by Rainbow. I was going to play some Sinatra as we headed into Vegas, but we got caught up in going over the Hoover Dam, and I forgot. But we'll play from Frank as we leave later today.
- Lunch: The Junction Restaurant, Chinle, Ariz.: For the first time on the FHMA trip, we made a return visit to a restaurant. While we enjoyed our dinner at the Junction on Tuesday, the lack of options in Chinle was the main reason. This time, we bypassed Navajo fry bread, and both went healthy with soup and salads. Yes, you heard right. Soup. Salad. Nothing else. Jim Nutrition Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). Only demerit: the soup was corn chowder. But it was a cup. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Pine Country Restaurant, Williams, Ariz.: This was a totally random stop, as it turned out that our intended stop -- the Roadfood-recommended Old Smokey's Restaurant & Pancake House -- was only open for breakfast and lunch. So we drove down the cool historic Route 66 loop in Williams, and saw that this place was pretty crowded. I strongly believe in crowdsourcing for restaurants, so we gave it a shot. It was a good call. Believe it or not, I continued my strong eating for the day with a entree chicken salad and some beef barley soup. Joan had two grilled chicken breasts and a side salad. The bad news: The Pine Country Restaurant's specialty is pies, and they have a lot of different types. So, even though it wasn't on the menu, we asked if they had coconut cream pie. As fate would have it, they did. So we split it, and it was wonderful. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3 stars (out of 5). Despite a healthy main course, I lose one star for the pie. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- An apology is due to Joan: When she was editing the blog on Wednesday morning, she told me that, when we ate at The Junction on Tuesday night, I didn't have a two patties on my Navajo burger, as I had asserted in the blog. Instead, she told me, I had two totally separate burgers, each on a different piece of Navajo fry bread. "Isn't my eating bad enough already without you making stuff up?" I asked. In the car on Wednesday, she re-iterated this. I was about to protest again when I realized she was absolutely right. So, in the interest of complete accuracy, I did not have a "double burger" on Tuesday night. I had two burgers. Yikes. I must have blocked it out of mind the same way I blocked my arteries with the burger itself. I guess I'll need to change that meal rating to a zero.
- Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nev.: After a number of nights in OK-but-limited hotel rooms, we decided to splurge so that we could stay on the Strip. Because dogs can't walk through casinos, and almost every hotel on the strip has a casino, it's hard to find a place that accepts dogs. But the Four Seasons -- located at the top of Mandalay Bay -- has a casino-free entrance and is quite dog-friendly. They do have a policy that says only one dog per room, however, unless the total weight of two dogs is less than 25 pounds. Now, we might be able to stretch the truth a tad and claim Fred weighs less than 25 pounds, but we sure as hell weren't going to convince them Fred and Hank combined for less than 25. So we resorted to begging, and the hotel acquiesced. We stayed here on the 2003 trip as well, and they were so dog friendly, that every time we came down into the lobby, the staff would ask, "How is Fred enjoying his stay?" This annoyed me for two reasons: 1) Fred wasn't paying the bill, and 2) Fred is a dog, and thus unable to communicate his feeling about hotels to us humans. Nonetheless, the staff at the Four Seasons was wonderful, the bed comfortable, the shower amazing and the view of Mandalay Bay from our 38th-story room great. The only ding: The wireless network was brutally slow, so much so that I had to plug in a high-speed cord for the first time on the trip. There were also dog bowls, dog biscuits and dog beds awaiting Fred and Hank upon our arrival. Fred slept in the people bed, but Hank was happy to crash on one of the dog beds. Hotel rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: A lazy day in Las Vegas, and then off to Los Angeles to catch my flight to Austin.
- Tomorrow: Jim's in Austin, Tex., and Joan is in L.A., as FHMA starts two-day hiatus.
- The Day After Tomorrow: The second day of our two-day hiatus.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS