What happens in Vegas...
Gorgeous, hot Las Vegas. Too much to do for the time you have, every time. Plus the political intrigue is always interesting.
More on our experiences in Vegas to come… at least the ones we can share. After all, like Harry Reid, some things should just stay in Vegas.
Gate to Death Valley
Beatty is the gate to Death Valley from the Nevada side, and in 2010 it was a very small place. I remember stopping to eat at a small, no name place here and getting an awesome turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich… and sunglasses. I found the sunglasses again in the trunk of the car before moving in 2014 and it took me a little while to figure out how they got there, lol.
I do not remember the Denny’s and several other options spotted this time around in 2014. I believe Beatty is growing!
Ghost Town Reborn
This picture is from 2010 and doesn’t do Goldfield justice. On our trip up, this town was much like Mina (at least from what I remember). In 2014, it seemed like there were more buildings restored and quite a few tourists shopping for souvenirs. The drive was long at this point, so we didn’t stop, but Goldfield is one place I definitely want to explore a little more next time!
Pit Stop from Hell
Tonopah is the halfway point in the drive between Reno and Las Vegas, and a major pit stop for gas and poorly crafted fast food. Worst Burger King ever. And the speed traps. Beware of speed traps as the speed limit drop significantly here (and in other small towns along this drive).
Ghost town... except for the horse
It’s always interesting to see the small places on the highway, and Mina is no exception. It is a virtual ghost town. Unlike Goldfield and Beatty (which have seen some restorations and new buildings since 2010), Mina is as we remembered from our trip up four years ago.
This place is trippy. It is a huge lake in the middle of nowhere (with a Navy presence in the area) and the huge, spooky Hawthorne Army Base on the southern shore. The size isn’t the spookiest part, but the many, many underground facilities with mounds and vents topping each entry. Each one is labeled, nice and neat. From the little I have read, they are presumably munition bunkers.
The towns in the area (particularly the one that services Hawthorne) looks to be very depressed economically. The lake was completely devoid of activity (most notably recreational activity) and the entire area is very clearly marked as managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
It is a gorgeous area, with a lot of potential. Maybe the federal presence keeps it from developing into a thriving tourist mecca. Too bad.
The Biggest Little City
Reno is a much more intimate place compared to Las Vegas, but features some very big name resort casinos. The walk from venue to venue downtown is much easier than Vegas (more like Atlantic City, NJ) and the payouts are similar to Vegas. We had heard that Reno’s slot payouts are looser but we found that they were about as compassionate as the off-strip locations in Vegas.
While we were there, we hit several casinos: The Atlantic, Peppermill, Circus Circus, Silver Legacy & El Dorado. We also tried two buffets (The Atlantic & Peppermill). The Peppermill buffet was the better of the two, but the price for each was comparable to their quality (both very affordable, and so-so). Kudos on the fish tacos at the Peppermill though. Very nice.
Tahoe National Forest is a gorgeous, thick forest with some awesome photo opportunities.
Yuba City, and Marysville across the bridge, is a little metro area north of Sacramento. We arrived late in the evening and didn’t get to explore much, but the surrounding area on the drive in was gorgeous and filled will groves. Not a bad pit-stop.
While we did not get to poke around the mountain, the sheer prominence of this mountain was awesome. The last thing I expected to see was a snow-covered mountain dominating a hot landscape. Very cool.
I had no idea there was a little town off of I-5 called Weed. Totally stopped and bought a ton of souvenirs. Watch out, east coast… here I come with my “Enjoy Weed” t-shirts!
This casino is the main engine to the economy of Canyonville, OR and seems to specifically target the retired casino crowd. There is a mix of slots, but the majority are older, and the payouts are awful – at least the various times of day we tried. In fact, it is probably the worst slot experience Mark and I have ever witnessed, and we have been to a lot of casinos.
The one upside to this location is the sports bar inside the resort. The food was excellent.
Worth a pitstop, but beware of the slots.
If you ever want to experience a small town straight from the past, Canyonville is your place. It is very small and the accommodations in town (particularly the Leisure Inn) are like a well-maintained snapshot of a past generation. There are few chain stores and it seems like the economy of the town is mostly driven by the Seven Feathers casino nearby. It is no wonder the town caters to the older casino goers and retirement crowd.
Oscar Drake’s is a new restaurant that opened in downtown Portland. We came across this awesome place thanks to Daryl Lanzon, now the bar manager there. It was so good we ate there twice during the two days we stayed in Portland. Most of the menu items are made in-house (including the pickles!), with most other bought products local or otherwise unique. The quality of the food was spectacular.
Their most talked about items include:
As for drinks, my favorite was probably the mocha latte was made using Italian coffee, with a moka pot (only because I am a coffee addict), but the quality of drinks made at the bar is top-notch. I tried the blackberry mojito, which was yummy!
We hung out in Portland, OR with our good friend Daryl Lanzon. We tried out the awesome food where he works at Oscar Drakes and he showed us around the city. Portland is a cute, clean and pedestrian-friendly city, with lots of street vendors and public art.
The picture used for the header was, oddly enough, a field in the middle of an urban area on the outskirts of Portland. It stuck out, and in the background (though you can barely see it) is Mount Hood in the far distance. On clear days, Mount Hood is a very prominent, conical snow-covered peak and visible from almost anywhere in the area.
More listings for Portland coming soon!
I’ve been to many a casino in my 20+ years of travel, but the Emerald Queens Casino in Fife, WA actually impressed me. During our Seattle stay we decided to check this place out. I mean after all it was right across the street from our hotel. It was a very clean (for a building full of chain-smoking degenerates), non-hostile environment (aside from the fact that drug addicts hid and passed out in the corner slot areas as the night got later), and the slots actually paid well at night.
We managed to win 800 total in two nights. They had a self-serve non-alcoholic drink area. There was a food court area with decent pizza called Paradise Deli open until 5am. The big downfall to this place was that they didnt have table games or a sportsbook/racebook but for the consummate slot player, this place is a must-visit.
I was amazed at how packed it was. The parking lot was full Saturday night so we just walked over. If we ever return to Seattle, we’ll be back here to take more of their money and roast more zombies.
We went to the Mariners game vs. Detroit on May 30th. Got to see Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers in the Majors, take the hill for the Tigers. Unfortunately, Robinson Cano was out of the lineup for Seattle meaning they essentially sported a AAA lineup.
It was Fedora night meaning the first 20,000 fans at the ballpark got a $2 ‘made in China with a Mariner sticker on it’ cheesy looking hat (see lic) Safeco is one of the better MLB ballparks I’ve been to. Very clean, modern, with a laid back atmosphere (we didn’t get groped TSA-style this time like we did at the Phillies game).
Detroit prevailed 6-3. Great game for home runs as Miguel Cabrera, Kyle Seager, Victor Martinez and Rajai Davis all went yard. Verlander pitched deep into the game for the win, Joba the Hut Chamberlain nailed down the save, but not before making things interesting in true Joba Chamberlain fashion.
Seattle, Washington is the nearest major metropolitan area to where we unloaded from the ferry (in Bellingham). Several famous points of interest include the Space Needle, the fish market and the EMP Museum dedicated to contemporary pop culture. Sports fans also have options here, including the major league team the Seattle Mariners based out of Safeco Field.
Ketchikan is the last ferry stop in Alaska on the way to Washington. It is a substantial little town and is known as the wettest town in the United States (Juneau being the second).
Wrangell, Alaska was the third stop on our 2014 ferry trip, and we stopped there in the middle of the night. In 2010, I snapped a few photos. We spend no time in Wrangell, so no rating. Sorry!
Petersburg was our second stop on our ferry ride back in 2014. We stopped in the dead of night, but in 2010 we did get a few shots on our way to Juneau. I do remember seeing quite a few otters hanging out on the buoys in the area. Very cool!
We didn’t spend any time in Petersburg, so we don’t have enough experience here to establish a rating.
On the ferry May 27-30, we hit several towns in southeastern Alaska. The first stop after leaving Juneau was Sitka, the former capital of Alaska. Sitka is on the Pacific coast, while Juneau is tucked into the interior of the islands in southeastern Alaska. The climate is similar though. Overcast.
We did not spend much time in Sitka during our residency in Alaska, or on this ferry stop, thus no rating.
Alaska's Capital City
Everyone knows Alaska is the largest state in the union. But not everyone knows that Alaska’s capital city is the largest state capital - larger than a few states (Rhode Island and Delaware) – and the second largest city in the US (I think Sitka, Alaska has expanded to take first place).
Another recent claim to fame… Juneau was figured to have the most restaurants per capital of any US city in 2013 according to the Huffington Post. There are definitely some great restaurants in Juneau (like Tracy’s Crab Shack), with some extreme talent in the kitchen. We were blessed to have met Howie, whom I call the ‘God of Food.’ Definitely worth a visit, but don’t pack your household goods yet. On a general level (particularly outside of tourist season and legislative session), Juneau’s food quality and service leaves much to be desired.
Thankfully, the tourist season is the driest time of year, and the locals make a visit during this time well worth it. My favorite time: Fourth of July. The fireworks are probably the best, particularly for a town this size. The added benefit is the fact that up and down the channel, private Alaskans set off their own fireworks. Absolutely awesome.
◀ Douglas — Juneau ▶
Douglas, Alaska (left) is a little place across the Gastineau Channel (water) from downtown Juneau (right). That is Mount Juneau in the prominent distance. Here, the mountains are always awesomely prominent, no matter how far away they are. Absolutely gorgeous place, particularly when the sun is out.
One thing that isn’t prominent here… the sun. This is one of the rainiest areas in the United States, I think second only to Ketchikan, Alaska to the south. After living in Douglas, I have to argue that we strangely saw more precipitation that downtown Juneau. And, in the area of Douglas we lived, the sun does not shine down part of the year due to the mountains. We would literally cross the channel to see the sun during winter.
Another element that will blow your mind are the seasonal winds, called the Taku Winds. They occur roughly twice a year - February and October – and bring near hurricane force gusts. The wind chill is spectacular, and can freeze parts you didn’t know would freeze. Otherwise, the temperature in this area is very stable. Unlike the eastern United States, the temperature and weather is mind-boggling predictable.
The typical day: 54 degrees… Wet, overcast and windy. Rinse some more, then repeat tomorrow.