Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN THE UNITED STATES

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach: Summer getaway with friends to the beautiful Oregon Coast. Attractions and Activities from Astoria to Newport on Highway 101.

 

We are part of a small group of friends who like to do a 5 day group vacation together every summer. The last few years we have all rented a house somewhere in driving distance from Seattle, and this year the Oregon Coast was suggested as a destination.

I’m the planner in the group, so I scouted out rental houses in our budget up and down the northern Oregon coast on HomeAway, VRBO.com, AirBNB, etc. Our budget wasn’t huge, and the time of year was peak season. We wanted something close to the beach if not on the beach, and found nothing that fit our budget and required house size in Cannon Beach, Seaside, or the northern coast areas.

We finally found a nice house one block from the beach in the Roads End area in Lincoln City, Oregon. It was a little bit further of a drive than we had hoped for, but since none of us were super familiar with that part of the coast, we decided to make an adventure out of it. Turns out, there are a lot of fun things to do up and down the northern Oregon coast, and we had a great time.

*Tip: As we quickly discovered, the temperatures on the coast are a lot lower than further inland. While it was between 85-95 degrees in Seattle and Portland, the temperatures on the coast stayed between 65-69 as a daytime high. Pack lots of layers!

 

Day 1:

We all set off from the Seattle area around 8:30 AM, breezing down I-5 to Olympia, where we branched off heading west on highway 8 towards the 101 south. We all planned to meet in Cannon Beach for lunch at Mo’s Chowder. There were wistful and well-intentioned thoughts of poking around the town and shops in Cannon Beach as well.

Oregon Coast road trip!
Setting off on our Oregon Coast road trip!

Paddy and I made it to Cannon Beach first, and made the mistake of heading into town. It was complete tourist insanity and there was absolutely nowhere to park. It took us about 15-20 minutes just to get back to the highway 101 driving through the main drag. We texted the rest of our party and advised them not to stop in town.

Having been to Cannon Beach a few times, I had suggested Mo’s Chowder in Tolovana Park just south of Cannon Beach town for three reasons:

1. It’s not in downtown Cannon Beach, so it is easy to get to and there is ample parking

2. It is large and caters to large families and groups–easier to get a table for 8

3. Beach views!!

Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park
Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park

As I had hoped, getting a table for 8 was no problem next to windows with lovely beach views. The temperature was a bit of a shock when we stepped out of the car. It was quite windy and only 62 degrees. It was also pretty foggy over the water, so our views of Haystack Rock up the coast were obscured. Either way, we were at the coast and it was awesome.

The rest of our group trickled in shortly after us. Paddy and I shared some oysters as an appetizer, and then I had fish and chips and Paddy had the clam chowder in a bread bowl with bay shrimp. Mo’s isn’t the best seafood I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty good and eating it on the beach is what makes it delicious. The prices aren’t bad either.

Oysters at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Oysters at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Paddy enjoying chowder at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach

After lunch we drove another hour down the 101 to Tillamook, and all made a stop at the newly re-vamped Tillimook Creamery (formerly known as the Tillimook Cheese Factory).

If you’re not from the Northwest, Tillimook cheese (particularly their cheddar cheeses) are a staple in Pacific Northwest grocery stores. They also produce ice cream, yogurt, and sour cream.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

The Tillimook Creamery had just gone through a remodel and had recently re-opened a few weeks prior, and it was crazy busy. Our original plan was to check out the creamery and gift shop, and get some ice cream. However, the ice cream line was complete insanity and none of us felt it was worth the wait for a cone.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Ice cream line at Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Instead, we went upstairs for the self “tour,” viewing the cheese logs being made in the factory below, and purchased a few cheeses and specialty food items in their gift shop.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Thoroughly cheesed out, we continued one last hour down the coast to our Lincoln City beach house.

We had rented the house through Meredith Lodging, and everything was as described in the listing. There was beach access just a very short ways down the road across the street, and the beach was beautiful.

Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We spent the evening BBQing, walking on the beach, and enjoying the house’s hot tub after a long day of driving.

 

Day 2: 

On our first full day on the coast, we opted to drive another 45 minutes south of Lincoln City to the town of Newport to check out the local attractions that Newport had to offer. Newport is a bit more touristy than Lincoln City, and has a lot of silly beach town things to do such as a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and a wax museum. There is also plenty of fudge, salt water taffy, and fish and chips if you feel so inclined.

The main event for us was the Oregon Coast Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the US. Admission is $22.95 per adult, and there are quite a few exhibits to look at.

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Piranha, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

My favorite exhibits were the jellyfish (they have two different species–the pacific sea nettle, and moon jellies) and the colorful tidal tanks of sea stars and sea anemones. It can be quite relaxing watching the jellies pulsate and swirl around in the tanks. Jellyfish are one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet to me. They are beautiful and terrifying, and I I have a sort of respect for a creature who has stubbornly refused to evolve since the dinosaur days.

Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

After the aquarium we were ready for lunch, so we drove a short ways from the aquarium to the Rogue Brewery and headquarters. You might be familiar with their beers such as the famous Dead Guy Ale.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

There was a bit of a wait but not too bad. The upstairs bar and restaurant has a view of Yaquina Bay and a nice lunch menu. I had their clam chowder which was very tasty. You can order a beer sampler if you want to taste a variety of their beers, or just order a full pint if you like.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

After lunch we split up a bit to explore the town. Paddy and  I are always looking for more unique treasures to add to our home Tiki Bar, so we ducked into an antique shop nearby called Pirate’s Plunder with another couple from our group. Pirate’s Plunder had a huge amount of random items and antiques, many nautical in theme. We didn’t find any perfect treasures for our Tiki bar, but it was fun to browse and there were some good photo ops outside the building.

Pirate's Plunder antique store, Newport
Pirate’s Plunder antique store, Newport
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast

Before heading back to the beach house, I wanted to see downtown Newport and the Sea Lion Docks. The Sea Lion Docks are literally just a small collection of docks that sea lions enjoy laying on in piles at the downtown Newport marina. Sadly, the sea lions were elsewhere for the afternoon and all that we saw on the docks were crab carcasses. The marina was nice though.

Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast

 

Day 3:

On our second full day, half our group wanted to check out the nearby outlet mall, and the other half (including me) wanted to go check out the beach at Pacific City and the Pelican Brewery.

Pacific City is about 30 minutes north of Lincoln City, and it is a gorgeous sandy beach. It seemed pretty popular with surfers and families. There are sand dunes adjacent to the beach that looked cool but climbing uphill in sand is not my idea of fun.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We decided to stop into Pelican Brewing on the beach to sample their beers before having a picnic in the sand. There was a bit of a wait for a table as it was peak season. Cass and I each had a sampler, which to our delight came in an impressive little spin tray with a large pelican. None of the beers blew my mind, but they were good. Except the IPAs, but I hate IPAs in general. Devin and Heather just had a couple pints.

Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

After sampling all those beers we had a buzzy beach picnic and enjoyed watching the surfers and laying in the sun. It wasn’t hot, but it was pleasant. Just about everyone in the water was wearing a wetsuit except for a few kids splashing around on the shore.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Cass flying the world’s tiniest kite, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We relaxed, ate sandwiches, and watched a seagull feeding frenzy over someone’s unattended bag of potato chips.

Pacific Beach Oregon Coast
Seagull feeding frenzy

Later that evening after we all cooked dinner together, five of us decided to go check out the nearby Chinook Winds Casino. The Chinook Winds website advertised dancing in their upstairs lounge after 10:00 PM.

We arrived around 9:00, and walked around the casino playing a few slots. There were quite a few bachelorette parties roaming around, as well as the usual sad gambling scene amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We went up to the lounge just after 10:00 and were somewhat surprised to see almost all men on the dance floor. A few couples and a few bachelorette parties joined in eventually. The music was standard boring top 40, the demographic mostly caucasian. We danced a little, drank a little, people watched a little, and opted not to eat the penis candy given to us by a bachelorette party.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Lounge at the Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

 

Day 4:

 

On our last day, we decided we should probably actually check out the town of Lincoln City, since we were staying there and all. Paddy and I wanted to go “antiquing” to search for treasures for our home Tiki bar, so we split up from the rest of the group, who walked around a little bit and ended up spending a while at the Game Over Arcade in town.

Paddy and I enjoyed treasure hunting at Granny’s Attic and the Rocking Horse Mall. Rocking Horse Mall had two floors of antiques combined with some newer nautical items such as mermaid Christmas ornaments and new glass floats.

There seemed to be no shortage of creepy Santas.

Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City
Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City

We ended our antiquing excursion at the Little Antique Mall in the north part of town, where we found an awesome mint-condition mid-century glass lamp and a Tiki mug.

Our last stop of the day was at Barnacle Bill’s for some fresh seafood for our seafood boil/clam bake that evening.

Barnacle Bill's Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

Barnacle Bill’s is probably your best bet for fresh seafood in town, although it is cash only so be sure to hit the ATM before you go there.

We had hoped to get some crab, but their dungeness crabs were $20-$25 each which was a lot more than we wanted to spend. We ended up getting some fresh jumbo prawns instead. A couple other seafood-loving members of our group picked up some lobster tails, mussels, and clams at Safeway.

Our seafood boil was a success, and included corn on the cob, andouille sausage, and potatoes in addition to seafood. Kind of a hybrid Northwest/Cajun style clambake. It was delicious.

Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast

We had hoped the fog would lift to enjoy a beach sunset for our last night, but it did not. That didn’t stop us from taking a last stroll on the beach before heading home the next day. It was breezy and peaceful, and we were the only people on the beach.

Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast

 

Day 5:

Sunday morning we got a somewhat early start heading back to Seattle. Traffic was unfortunately not as smooth as on the trip down.

We stopped for a photo op with a giant inflatable crab in Garibaldi, and lunch at the Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon near the Oregon-Washington border.

Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi
Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi (thanks for indulging me, Paddy)

Parking in Astoria turned out to be a little crazy, as were the hills. Astoria could give San Francisco challenge for the most hilly West Coast village. The Fort George Brewery turned out to be pretty busy too, but we didn’t have to wait too long for a table for four. The food was tasty, I didn’t try the beer but was told by the rest of the group that it was good as well. There is a nice upstairs area and deck with a view, but the full menu is not available upstairs.

Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast
Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast

Astoria is famous for being the town that the Goonies movie was filmed in back in the 1980’s. Don’t try to visit the Goonies house, however. The people who live there are very tired of curious tourists and will call the police if you try to enter their driveway for a photo. There are new strict parking fines for improperly parked cars near the house as well.

Afternoon traffic was less than fun heading back to Seattle, and we didn’t make it home until 6:00 PM. It was a great trip though and worth the long drive. There were a lot of things to do and see on the way down.

 

The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places in the US. It is big, beautiful, and wild. The rocky Washington beaches don’t live up to the beauty of Oregon’s coast by a long shot. Oregon beaches aren’t going to be a hot, sunny, beach vacation like the East Coast, but their raw natural beauty and the sunsets can’t be beat. I never get tired of watching the sun set behind Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, or looking at bright-colored sea stars and anemones at it’s base during the day at low tide. It is fun and lively in the summer, but Paddy and I like to visit by ourselves in the winter when it is calm and quiet. Watching the stormy waves or the sunset from a room with a fireplace is one of our favorite winter getaway activities.

Portland’s Tiki Kon 2018

Portland’s Tiki Kon 2018: Dipping our toes into the rum-soaked tropical fantasy-land of the Tiki revival community

 

Both Paddy and I have always been fans of mid-century pop culture. I’m also a big fan of Polynesia and spent some time living in Hawaii and learning about Pacific Island cultures in college. Since then, I had always fantasized about having a basement Tiki bar in my house.

In 2015, we bought a house with a basement and I convinced Paddy that a Tiki bar was of utmost necessity. We found vintage bar at an estate sale, put up some grass matting and bamboo, a grass thatch overhang and invested in a Tiki mug collection. We’ve realized since the initial build-out of our Tiki bar that adding to a Tiki bar can easily become an obsession. I began reading up on Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktails, and we formed a hobby of scouring antique stores for mid-century treasures and Polynesian art. When we read that Portland, Oregon hosts an annual Tiki Kon every summer, we figured it might be time to check out this cult that we may have inadvertently joined.

Tiki Kon started as a small bar crawl of home Tiki bars in the Portland area in 2003, and has since become a fairly large production. It is run by a couple with the help of volunteers, in addition to their full time jobs. This is no small undertaking and I am very impressed with what they have managed to pull off. It seems that the Tiki revival is growing, which was confirmed when the Tiki Kon website crashed within minutes of tickets going on sale this year.

The site crash was a bit of a mess, and I really felt for the producers as they scrambled to go through transactions by time stamp and sort out over-sold VIP tickets. We had opted to just purchase a la carte tickets to the Friday and Saturday night events, and our ticket purchase made it through and was not part of the oversold ticket group.

The hot item was the VIP ticket, which included all events, a private VIP cocktail lounge, and a Sunday home Tiki bar tour. The home bar tour had a hard limit on the number of guests that could be accommodated on the buses and in the home Tiki bars, so unfortunately there were some folks who were disappointed by having their ticket downgraded or refunded. All in all, it was well handled and the Tiki Kon producers upgraded their website to handle more traffic and ticket sales.

*Tip: Ticket sales happen in March, and they go FAST. If you want to attend Tiki Kon, make your ticket selection before the go-live time and get your purchase in online ASAP. Also, make sure you have a PayPal account. I’m not sure if they plan on taking credit cards in the future, but this year PayPal was the only payment option.

Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme was Fantasy Island.

Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

Custom souvenir Tiki mugs are produced for each year, but in limited quantities of 100. You can go online before the event and try to buy one for $100 when they go on sale, and invites to buy are sent to ticket holders only. They sell out within 5 minutes of going on sale. The Tiki mugs were really cool, and I understand the whole limited-edition collector mentality, but I’m not so keen on only allowing a small fraction of guests to acquire a souvenir Tiki mug for Tiki Kon. Yes, this makes them more valuable and more coveted, but it makes them nearly impossible to get and extremely exclusive. All in all, we didn’t really want to spend $100 on a Tiki mug regardless–but they were really cool.

2018 Tiki-Kon mug
2018 Tiki-Kon mug. Image from www.tikikon.com

 

Day 1:

We opted to take Friday off of work and left Seattle around 8:30 AM, and made record time down to Portland with no traffic. I would recommend not trying to drive to Portland on a Friday afternoon from Seattle. We did this once and hit Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland rush hours and it took 5+ hours to get there. Not worth it. Take the day off if you are driving from Seattle and trying to get to Portland on a Friday night, or take the Bolt Bus in the early afternoon.

After arrival in Portland, we went straight to the Hawthorne neighborhood to get lunch and do a little vintage shopping. We opted for sandwiches at Lardo, partly because it looked amazing, and partly because they had frosty cold AC and house-made Arnold Palmers.

I had the Italian Tuna sandwich, which was delicious but a little salty with the olive tapenade. I scraped it off and the sandwich was perfect without the tapenade.

Italian Tuna sandwich at Lardo, Portland
Italian Tuna sandwich at Lardo, Portland

Paddy had the Second Hand Smoke brisket sandwich with pickled serrano peppers, American cheese and smokey mayo, which he loved. He also had a side of their potato salad which tasted just like a baked potato. We would definitely come back here.

Second Hand Smokesandwich at Lardo, Portland
Second Hand Smoke sandwich and potato salad at Lardo, Portland

After lunch, we went swag lamp shopping at the Lounge Lizard up the street. Lounge Lizard is a great place to shop for mid-century modern furniture and lamps, and other antiques. They have a small amount of vintage clothing as well. They have two locations on Hawthorne Blvd, very close to each other. We found a blue vintage swag lamp at the Eastern location on Hawthorne, and Paddy found a very groovy 70’s polyester shirt. He doesn’t know where he will wear it, but there will be some occasion I’m sure.

Lounge Lizard, Portland
Lounge Lizard, Portland

We also made a last shopping stop at Fat Fancy, a used clothing store for plus size people. It’s my favorite store in Portland and has moved from downtown to the Hollywood area of East Portland. They have a parking lot now. I found a couple used Torrid tops and the sales lady was very friendly and helpful. If you are plus size, check this place out.

After lunch and shopping, we were ready to check into the hotel and relax for a bit. We had reserved a room at the historic Palms Motel in North Portland. We chose this hotel for the low price ($120/night), the location across from the Alibi Tiki Lounge and near the Mississippi neighborhood, and for the sign out front. The sign out front was a significant draw. I mean, it has a blue monkey.

Palms Motel Portland
Palms Motel Portland

The rooms were clean, and the beds were decent. It is a cheap motel, no frills. But the AC was nice and frosty and there was a fridge, both being a necessity on the 95-degree July weekend. There was even beer left in the fridge from the previous renters. I suppose that means that housekeeping wasn’t super thorough, but I won’t fault them for leaving free beer. There are worse things to overlook.

Palms Motel, Porland
Palms Motel, Portland
Palms Motel, Porland
Palms Motel, Portland

We checked in and relaxed a bit before getting changed into our Tiki Kon attire and heading across the street to the Alibi Tiki Lounge for food and drinks.

The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland

The Alibi is a classic Tiki bar, since 1947. It’s gone through some changes over the years, but the epic flashing neon sign and dark kitschy Tiki atmosphere remain and flourish. The Alibi is mostly known to locals as a karaoke dive bar, but no matter what time of day you go, it’s fun. Be prepared for crowds on weekend evenings.

We opted to eat here, although I can’t say I recommend coming here for the food. The food is alright, if you are drinking and need some fried food to soak up booze. However, we just wanted dinner to be cheap and easy and being able to eat some food along with our Tiki drinks was the ideal situation at the time. It was happy hour, and we had the garlic green beans, the potstickers, the chicken fingers, and the lumpia. It was all average.

The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland

They have alcoholic slushies at the Alibi, which on a hot day go down really easy. I had the strawberry daiquiri slushy and Paddy had the Alibi Old Fashioned cocktail. They were selling signature Tiki mugs for $20 with a drink in them, so I got my slushy in a souvenir mug.

Alibi souvenir Tiki mug
Alibi souvenir Tiki mug.

After we had food and drinks, we caught a Lyft to Tiki Kon to check out our first a la carte evening show, which was a “surf and turf” show featuring surf rock bands and a “horror” theme.

We checked in at the Tiki Kon booth and acquired our “passports” with stamps for the events that we had paid for. To enter and exit the event, we needed to show our passports. They were pretty fun little souvenirs and very nicely done, with info inside about Tiki Kon and the events of the weekend.

Tiki Kon passport
Tiki Kon passport
Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

A few vendors were selling artisan Tiki mugs and other items, and there was a bar with pre-mixed signature cocktails of the evening as well as beer and wine. There was a photo op area, which of course we took advantage of.

Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

In the main event room, there was a dance floor, stage, and large tables with table clothes and small centerpieces. People-watching was pretty fun, everyone had put a lot of thoughts into their outfits.

The Red Lion event room setting sort of made it feel like we were at a wedding. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping for a little more Tiki atmosphere, which is a big part of what Tiki is all about. However, I can see how challenging creating that atmosphere would be in this location and for an event this size. They did a good job with what they had to work with…but….we still felt like we were at a wedding. I suppose that is the nature of a convention.

We were trying to brainstorm on what they could do to create more Tiki atmosphere at future events that would be cost-effective and easy to put up and take down. I think if they had a large storage space and a lot of theatrically-minded volunteers, they could create some stage set walls on casters with fake lava rock (spray painted black styrofoam?) or jungle foliage or bamboo. These could be constructed and then wheeled in and out and stored somewhere the rest of the year. This would of course require ample volunteers, truck rentals, and a large storage space for the “sets.” But it would be an idea to take Tiki Kon to the next level. Some paper lanterns strung across the space overhead could really add a lot of atmosphere too. Again, this would require a lot of set up and take-down volunteers. Looking at the enthusiasm for the event around us at the event, I think there would be a lot of people willing to volunteer time in exchange for free or discounted tickets.

We knew no one at this event, so we decided to sit at a central empty table and let people sit with us. It worked, we ended up with friendly company quickly. We met two other couples–one who had been to one Tiki Kon before, and another couple who were newbies like us. They had also opted to just do the a la carte Friday and Saturday events to check it out without going full throttle.

Tiki Kon 2018
Performance by MeduSirena Marina Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

There was a dance performance by MeduSirena Marina, a professional mermaid, and then three surf bands: Jon and the Vons from France, The Boss Martians, and Satan’s Pilgrims. All had go-go dancers and put on a good show.

Go-Go dancer for The Boss Martians, Tiki Kon 2018
Go-Go dancer for The Boss Martians, Tiki Kon 2018

Our new friends both left before we did due to the fact that there was no food at the event. The lack of food is my main critique of  Tiki Kon. If you plan on serving people copious amounts of booze, food is essential. I think there might have been some catering in the VIP suite parties, but for us lowly basic ticket holders, there was no food to be found. I think if Tiki Kon could convince the hosting hotel to put some food trucks in their parking lot from 8:00 PM on, it would keep people partying longer and the local food vendors would make a ton of money.

We really wanted to stick around and check out Satan’s Pilgrims, but even we eventually succumbed to the drunk munchies and left a bit early as well. We took a Lyft back over to the Mississippi neighborhood near our hotel and found a taco truck.

 

Day 2:

The next morning, we thought we’d head over to Mississippi Ave and get breakfast at Miss Delta, one of my favorite Portland restaurants. Unfortunately, there was a street fair being set up all along Mississippi Ave and Miss Delta was closed so that they could set up a street fair booth for lunch. There was only one restaurant open for breakfast across the street with a very long wait list.

Our new friends Tom and Sarah from Tiki Kon were local and had suggested the Cadillac Cafe in the Irvington neighborhood as a good spot for breakfast, so we got in the car and drove there.

There was no wait and the food was amazing. We were so happy we took their advice.

Cadillac Cafe
Cadillac Cafe

I had the smoked salmon hash with house-smoked salmon, green beans, leeks, potatoes, eggs, and lemon dill creme fraiche. Paddy had the eggs in purgatory with cheesy grits and a Cajun-Creole sauce. Everything was delicious and the service was great. There is even a real mint-condition 1950’s pink Cadillac on display in the restaurant.

Smoked salmon hash, Cadillac Cafe
Smoked salmon hash Cadillac Cafe
Eggs in purgatory, Cadillac Cafe
Eggs in purgatory and a side of bacon, Cadillac Cafe

After breakfast, we went back up to Tiki Kon for their Saturday Tiki Marketplace.

The Tiki Marketplace is open to the public and free to enter. It ended up being our favorite part of Tiki Kon, as it gave us an opportunity to look at the work of a lot of amazing artists and craftspeople we’d never heard of, and shop for items to add to our home Tiki Bar.

We were immediately drawn into the vintage Aloha shirt and dress racks that were front and center in the market. It was a little intense–people were furiously and aggressively flipping through racks of dresses, kaftans, and mumus. I didn’t see anything in my size and didn’t really expect to, so I quickly lost interest and exited the vintage clothing feeding frenzy while Paddy persisted.

Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace
Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace

At the next booth I found a fabulous vintage lamp for only $65, and we also bought several art prints at other vendor booths to decorate our home Tiki bar with.

Tiki Lamp
Awesome lamp we scored for our home Tiki bar at the Tiki Kon marketplace!

Later that afternoon, we met up with our new Tiki Kon friends Tom and Sarah at Portland’s other Tiki bar, Hale Pele.

Hale Pele has been written up as one of the top 10 Tiki Bars in the world by Critiki.com, and we had not been there yet. Just for Tiki Kon weekend, they opened early at 2:00 PM (normally they open at 4:00 PM daily). Sarah and Tom were regulars at Hale Pele, and they had some great food and drink recommendations for us.

Hale Pele is easy to miss from the street, which is sort of a classic Tiki bar thing. The idea is to create a hidden, exotic, transporting environment that assaults your senses when you open the door. Tiki bars are also supposed to be fairly dark, so no windows to the outside world. As soon as we walked in, we knew why it was rated as one of the world’s best. It is small and intimate, with a ton of attention to detail. The owners clearly put a lot of love into this bar, and it shows.

Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

If it is your first time at Hale Pele and you are not driving after you leave, order the Jet Pilot cocktail. It is quite a production and does not disappoint. It also tastes amazing and is super strong. I really liked that Hale Pale divides their drink menu up into sections according to how strong the drinks are, so you know what you are getting into. Paddy opted to be the designated driver, so he chose a cocktail off the weaker list. I ordered the Jet Pilot.

The Jet Pilot comes on fire, and just before it is served, the lights in the bar flicker and thunder sounds are played over the speakers. The bartender brings out the drink and sprinkles cinnamon onto the open flame, causing a large fiery flare. It was really quite exciting (Did you know cinnamon was flammable? Neither did we).

The Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
The Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

Tom and Sarah told us that we HAD to try the Hawaiian bread, which is grilled and buttered and sprinkled with sea salt, served with a guava jam. It was delicious and yes, you HAVE to order it.

We tried a few of their other small plates as well, and everything was outstanding. We spent some time talking to the friendly bartender/manager Sierra, who was a lot of fun and really seems to enjoy her job. We will be back to Hale Pele on our future trips to Portland for sure.

Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

For dinner that evening we wanted to save a little money and go somewhere relatively inexpensive. Tom and Sarah recommended Tamale Boy for good inexpensive Mexican fare. I had the tacos de pescado and Paddy had a quesadilla. Both were excellent. Tamale Boy is attached to the LABrewatory brewery next door, and you are welcome to eat your food from Tamale Boy while sampling LABrewatory’s beers in their taproom.

Tamale Boy and LABrewatory on N Russell Street, Portland

 

The Tiki Kon event for Saturday evening was fairly similar to the night prior, with more bands and a cabaret act by the Starella Sisters. When we arrived they were just finishing the Iron TikiTender bar-tending competition, where bartenders from Tiki Bars around the country compete for the Iron TikiTender title and a grand prize trip. The winner was Jeanie Grant from San Francisco’s Pagan Idol Tiki Bar. After the competition, we were able to walk into the main event room and get a view of the three finalists’ over-the-top drink garnishes.

Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition
Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition
Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition

The evening was yet again another big Tiki fashion show and we enjoyed checking out everyone’s fun outfits and accessories. There was a charity raffle with proceeds supporting the people affected by the volcanic lava flows in Hawaii.

We had a few drinks and watched the music for a while (more awesome surf music by a band called Tikiyaki 5-0. It was fun, but we didn’t stay until the end.

Tikiyaki 5-0
Tikiyaki 5-0

On the way back to the hotel we stopped into The Alibi again for a late night snack and another drink. It was packed with karaoke revelers. The Alibi is a hoppin’ place on a Saturday night!

Palms Motel Sign at night
Palms Motel Sign at night

 

There were a lot of Tiki Kon events that we skipped, including a banquet dinner and Polynesian dance show, and several educational symposiums. The VIP package included a home Tiki bar tour on Sunday, which is extremely popular (a tour of Portland’s home Tiki bars including bus transportation). It seemed that the magic of Tiki Kon really is in knowing people in the Tiki revival community, and getting a VIP ticket that includes the VIP lounges and the home Tiki bar tour. We only dipped our toes in the lagoon for this event.

Would we go again? Well…it was fun, but I think the people who have the most fun are the hardcore loyal returnees, who know each other and look forward to celebrating with each other at this event every year. There were a lot of events we opted not to pay for or participate in, so we can’t give an accurate review of the entire weekend. The highlights of the weekend for us were visiting Portland’s Tiki bars the Alibi and  Hale Pele, and the Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace. I think that if we go again, we may just get a la carte tickets to only one of the evening events and hit the Saturday Marketplace and the local Tiki Bars.

I did just see an announcement that Tiki Kon is moving to the DoubleTree Hilton Lloyd Center, closer to one of my favorite Portland neighborhoods (Buckman) and downtown. It is clear that the interest in Tiki Kon is growing, and I’m curious to see what next year brings. The fact that a couple with full time regular jobs put this event together in their spare time is really impressive, and I think the event will continue to grow.

Other Tiki events that happen annually around the country are Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, CA, The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Tiki Oasis in San Diego, CA. Of the three Tiki Oasis seems to be the largest event. I’m curious about checking out Tiki Oasis, but it would be a splurge between airfare, hotel, and the event tickets. If we combine it into a vacation to San Diego it might be pretty fun. I also saw something about a second Tiki Oasis going on in Arizona starting in 2019. The Tiki revival continues to expand.

Palm Springs 2018: Tiki Bars, Joshua Tree, and The Salton Sea

Palm Springs, California: A relaxed warm sunny break from the Seattle rain. Tiki bars, mid century modern architecture, Joshua Tree National Park, and a whole lot of desert weird around the Salton Sea.

 

February in Seattle is a time when I really hate life. The cold, gray, dreary weather, the endless rain, and a whole lot of boring. In Seattle, as soon as the New Year is rung in, the countdown to summer begins. And it’s a long one. Last year we tried to escape the rain by going to Las Vegas, but we ended up bringing the rain with us (we still had a great time though). This year, looking at the winter temperatures in Palm Springs, California–we decided that Palm Springs wouldn’t let us down. We were asked by numerous Lyft drivers during our stay what brought us to Palm Springs. The answer: SUN.

Palm Springs is an easy two and a half hour flight from Seattle. We arrived on an evening flight, walking out into the small open air airport at 11:30 PM. We seemed to be the only flight arriving, and had to wait about 5 minutes or so for taxis to show up in the ground transportation area. The Palm Springs airport is right in town, and getting to the hotel only took 10 minutes.

We had chosen the renovated mid-century modern tiki theme hotel Caliente Tropics. Built in 1964 as The Tropics hotel, it was a popular destination for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It received a renovation in 2000 and is now a classic historical Palm Springs experience with some modern upgrades and budget-mid range prices.

Our room was a solid budget hotel room. Clean, average-sized, with a large flat screen TV and a mini fridge. We liked the tile walk in shower in the bathroom that had replaced what I’m sure was a crappy budget hotel bathtub shower combo. The decor was fun, and the sink vanity was huge, with lots of space to spread out our stuff. The one complaint we had was that the bed was not very comfortable. The mattress wasn’t terrible, but upgrading the mattresses to high end comfortable models would really make this hotel great.

Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs

 

Day 1:

Waking up to the California sunshine put us instantly in a great mood. We took a Lyft into the main part of town (Palm Canyon Drive) to have breakfast at Cheeky’s.

Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs

Cheeky’s was clearly a very popular breakfast spot, with a wait even at 9:30 on a Wednesday. We got on the list and the wait was only about 15 minutes for a two top.

The coffee was excellent, as was the service and the food. I had the Blondie’s Eggs Benedict with bacon and arugula on a house baked cheddar scone, and Paddy had a beef hash dish with Argentine chimichurri sauce. Everything was outstanding.

Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs–Blondie’s Eggs Benedict
Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs–beef hash with chimichurri sauce

After our excellent breakfast, the shops on Palm Canyon Drive were opening and we were ready to explore the town. We started on North Palm Canyon Drive and worked our way south.

Palm Springs is a pretty small town, and the main strip is very walkable. We used Lyft most of the time to get between the main strip and our hotel, but there is also a free shuttle called The Buzz that runs up and down Palm Canyon Drive between 11:00 AM and 1:00 AM Thursday through Sunday. Shuttles go by every 15-20 minutes.

If you like mid century antiques, vintage stores, and art galleries, Palm Springs is a town for you. We saw many amazing relics from the 1950’s and 60’s, retro art, and tons of vintage Aloha shirts. If you are looking for mid century jewelry, glassware, or a one of a kind funky addition to your home, Dazzles is the place to go.

Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs

Dazzles is easy to miss, it is tucked back off the street a bit at 1035 N Palm Canyon Drive. You will know you are in the right place when you see the filled-in pool with yard flamingos.

There are quite a few art galleries to visit in Palm Springs, but one of the most renowned is probably the Shag gallery and store. Shag is artist Josh Agle, who paints colorful paintings depicting fun mid-century leisure in a unique style.

Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs

We eventually ended up in the “downtown” area of Palm Canyon Drive and were feeling like we needed a little break. We stopped into the bar of busy Maracas Mexican restaurant for a margarita.

I checked my phone and had received a voicemail from Avis car rental agency that the rental car reservation I’d made with them months ago was cancelled because they had no cars. We had never rented with Avis before and were not happy. After a terse conversation with  customer service, who told me that they were “very sorry” and that there was nothing they could do, we frantically attempted to reserve another rental car for our desert adventures last minute on a busy holiday weekend.

Don’t rent with Avis. Apparently reservations with Avis don’t actually reserve anything for you. They could have made it right by securing me a reservation with another agency at the same price and doing the search legwork for us, but they did not care to help us in any way.

Enterprise car rental saved the day. I made a reservation through Hotwire and then called to confirm it with a very helpful man in the local office who assured me that he would reserve a car for us the next day. We have rented with Enterprise before and have had good experiences. We will be renting with them again in the future.

We finished walking the strip and exploring and headed back to the hotel to relax.

Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Palm Springs
Palm Springs

That evening we went to have a couple pre-dinner drinks at The Reef tiki bar in the hotel.

The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs

It was happy hour, so we ordered two rounds of the Hot Hula Hibiscus from the discounted happy hour menu, which had tequila, hibiscus syrup, and jalepeno. They were strong, and in hind sight perhaps two strong cocktails on an empty stomach wasn’t the best idea, but they sure were tasty. They had a really cool signature tiki mug for sale but it was $65, without a drink in it. It was pretty unique, but a bit more than we wanted to spend on a tiki mug.

The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs

It was Valentine’s Day, and we had a reservation at The Purple Palm restaurant in the Colony Palms Hotel. We went to dinner a bit tipsy.

Valentines Day had a prefix menu at $75 per person, which included an amuse bouche, a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. Our big splurge of the weekend.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs

The amuse bouche was a goat cheese bite (can’t remember what it was), and house baked bread with truffle butter, which we devoured. For our starters we both chose the Heirloom Pumpkin Soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil. It was delicious.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Pumpkin soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil at The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs

For our mains, Paddy had the Golden West Ranch strip steak with mushroom, leek, shishito, broccoli, yam, and black garlic. I was waffling between the quail and the salmon, but upon learning that the salmon was farmed, I went with the quail. We are in the desert after all–seafood isn’t what this area is known for. The quail dish was a brand new dish they were debuting that evening, with asparagus, hazlenut, and blackberries.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Quail dish with asparagus and hazlenuts
The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Golden West Ranch Strip Steak at the Purple Palm restaurant

For dessert we ordered one of each of the two desserts offered: The roasted pineapple and preserved lemon tart, and the carmelized banana and chocolate custard cake.

Desserts at The Purple Palm Restaurant
Desserts at The Purple Palm Restaurant

Everything was outstanding, and the perfect amount of food. I’m still thinking about that fresh baked bread and truffle butter.

 

Day 2:

On our second day, we had resolved our rental car problems with the help of Enterprise, and they picked us up and got us on the road to Joshua Tree National Park.

On the way to Joshua Tree, we stopped off in Pioneer Town in the high desert to have lunch at Pappi and Harriets Pioneertown Palace. Upon stepping out of the car, we realized that we had severely mis-judged the temperature of the high desert when we were greeted with cold winds. Our shorts and t-shirts/tank top did not suffice. I had a light sweater, but it wasn’t enough. We rushed into the restaurant.

Inside was a cozy, busy contrast to the chilly desolate desert outside. The restaurant was full of lunch patrons enjoying BBQ with a warm fire in a fireplace in the bar room area.

Pappi and Harriets bar and restaurant in Pioneer Town
Pappi and Harriets bar and restaurant in Pioneer Town

Pappi & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace not only has great BBQ, but is well known for it’s music shows in the evenings. Quite a few big name artists have performed at Pappi & Harriets. There is a small stage in the dining area, but the outside appears to be set up for large outdoor shows as well during warmer weather. If you’re in the area, you might check their calendar to see who is playing.

Funky wall with colored bottle windows at Pappi & Harriets
Funky wall with colored bottle windows at Pappi & Harriets
Indoor stage at Pappi & Harriets
Indoor stage at Pappi & Harriets
Many big name music artists have performed here, such as Wanda Jackson
Many big name music artists have performed here, such as Wanda Jackson

Having smelled the BBQ wafting through the restaurant, we figured it would be silly to order anything else. I had the pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese, and Paddy had the beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw. Both were fantastic. The mac and cheese was very cheesy and homemade. It was extra delicious with a little BBQ sauce mixed in.

Beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw at Pappi & Harriets
Beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw at Pappi & Harriets
Pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese at Pappi & Harriets
Pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese at Pappi & Harriets

After lunch, we headed back to the main highway to continue toward Joshua Tree National park. On the way there we stopped off at a souvenir store so Paddy could get a sweatshirt, and at the visitor’s center so that we could get a park map and plan our route. It was a bit warmer in Joshua Tree than it was up in Pioneertown, but it was still not as warm as Palm Springs. Lesson learned–bring layers to the high desert. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $25.00.

Joshua Tree was beautiful. We stopped off at many pull offs along the way through the park to admire the trees and the views. I had originally wanted to do a short hike, but given that we hadn’t dressed warm enough and our limited time, we just did a drive through tour this time.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

We detoured to Keys View point, one of the higher elevation points in the park and braved the cold winds for a few photos.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park

We kept seeing this sign in multiple places in the park. I think it’s best to stay on the trail…

Joshua Tree National Park
Yikes! Joshua Tree National Park

We went as far as the Cholla Cactus Garden on the edge of the Pinto Basin. It was lower elevation in the basin, so it was a bit warmer down there. We did the short walk through the garden, admiring the unique cholla cacti, which look kind of like they are trying to be mini joshua trees.

cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park
cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus
Cholla cactus
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park

It was getting late, so we began the drive back to Palm Springs, enjoying the sunset along the way.

 

Sunset with windmills outside Palm Springs
Sunset with windmills outside Palm Springs

Every Thursday evening in Palm Springs is VillageFest from 6-10 PM. In the main downtown area of Palm Canyon Drive, the street is closed off and vendors set up along the street. All the shops and art galleries in the area keep their doors open late for visitors. There are food stands, craft vendors, and lots of artists. We ditched the car and took a Lyft to downtown to check it out.

Thursday VillageFest Palm Springs
Thursday VillageFest Palm Springs

We walked around a bit and then saw the Tonga Hut tiki bar which was on our agenda to check out. It was busy but we were able to get a table in the lounge.

Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs

The drinks at the Tonga Hut were classic and top-notch. I tried the classic Navy Grog drink, which came with a rock candy swizzle stick so that I could control the amount of sweetness I wanted in my drink. Paddy was excited that there was Hinano beer on the menu, which we hadn’t had since our Tahiti honeymoon in 2010.

Navy Grog, Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Navy Grog, Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Paddy happy about being able to order a Hinano

We also ordered the Pupu Platter, which we weren’t expecting to be anything spectacular–but we were surprised at how good everything was. The chicken skewers were juicy and nicely marinated, the coconut prawns tasted homemade, and the egg rolls were shockingly good. Get the egg rolls.

Pupu Platter, Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Pupu Platter, Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs

We ended up moving out to the deck and ordering the fried rice with prawns, and another round of drinks. I tried their house special Mohave Punch with hibiscus syrup, rum, passion fruit, and other fruit juices. It was delicious. The fried rice wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely tasted homemade and MSG free.

Prawn fried rice at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Prawn fried rice at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Drinking the Mohave Punch at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Drinking the Mohave Punch at Tonga Hut tiki bar

After getting our tiki bar on, we continued walking the rest of VillageFest. We found a lot of great art booths and bought several affordable small pieces and card prints that we liked. We really liked the variety of modern artists and had to get out before we spent too much money.

 

Day 3: 

Friday was our last day with the car, and we were ready to explore some of the “desert weird” around the Palm Springs area. We grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee at Koffi, a local favorite  coffee shop two blocks down from our hotel, and hit the road.

Our first stop was the Welcome to Sky Valley sign, which Paddy wanted to see since it is on the cover of a Kyuss album that he loves.

We then headed another hour east to Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea is a lake that was accidentally created in 1905 by an overflowing irrigation canal system created off of the Colorado River. It was built up as a resort area in the 1950’s, including shoreline settlements such as Bombay Beach and Salton City. The lake became increasingly polluted from farm runoff and increasingly salty. Fish began dying, and the pollution and stench of dead fish on the shore dissolved the tourism industry, as you might imagine. Today people still live on the shores of the Salton Sea, but very few. There isn’t much more than a small store and a bar in Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach now has become a tourist attraction for photographers and curious wanderers, coming to see the ruins of a resort town that once was.

We drove to the beach first, and once we got close to the water we became overwhelmed with the stench of death and pollution. A bit of advice–if you want to walk up to the shore, wear some rubber boots or shoes you don’t care too much about. Also, bring baby wipes and a trash bag to clean up afterward. I got the gross shore mud on my sandals and had to do the best I could with some kleenex and bottled water.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach main drag into “town”, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea

The town of Bombay Beach itself is pretty interesting. It is a mix of abandoned buildings and houses and inhabited houses and trailers. I can’t imagine living out here, but some people probably enjoy being a bit removed from mainstream society. Residents and artists have had some fun with the ruins of the town.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea

We moved on to Slab City and East Jesus art commune. Slab City is a community of artists, squatters, and snowbirds looking for a free place to settle. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer system. Most people live in campers with solar panels and generators. It is an anarchist’s dream–no charge to stay, no address, live completely off the grid. As you can imagine, this type of community breeds some interesting art.

We drove down the dirt road off the highway until we reached the East Jesus sculpture park. This is one of the most amazingly unique sculpture parks I’ve ever seen. It’s free, open to the public, and full of political statements and the completely bizarre. I loved it.

East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park

Down the road from East Jesus Sculpture Garden, we stopped at Salvation Mountain. You really can’t miss it. Salvation Mountain is the work of a man named Leonard Knight, and is an ever-evolving art installation about his devotion to god, and his attempt to spread god’s word to the world. It really is a sight to see.

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Our last stop on our tour of desert weird was the International Banana Museum. I discovered this museum while exploring the area on Google Maps prior to our trip, and when I saw that there was an International Banana Museum out in the middle of nowhere next to the Salton Sea, it became one of the top priorities of this trip. Naturally, I wore my banana dress that day for the occasion.

International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum

The International Banana Museum is owned by a man named Fred Garbutt and his wife, next to a convenience store along Highway 111. Something possessed Mr Garbutt to purchase the Guinness World Record’s largest banana-themed item collection on Ebay and open this little museum in the middle of nowhere, and I salute him for it.

The museum is open Friday through Sunday, but possibly Thursdays? Not sure. Hours aren’t posted on the website, but I read that they were open weekends. Entrance fee is $1 cash, which is deducted off of any purchase you make. They sell postcards, some banana items, and banana ice cream. We passed on the ice cream, but I purchased a banana purse and a couple souvenir banana pens.

After satisfying my burning desire to see the world’s largest banana collection (it was everything I dreamed it would be), we  headed back to Palm Springs to do a little shopping.

If you are shopping for Tiki mugs, decor, or clothing, Iconic Atomic is your store. The owner was super friendly, and we recognized him from the Caliente Tropics hotel promotion video (he was an actor playing a guest enjoying a tikilicious vacation). His vintage dresses are all sorted by bust measurement, so it is easy to sort through to find your size. I even found a plus size tiki dress (a reproduction, but still awesome). It is so hard to find plus size vintage fashion, but he had some options in his collection.

Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs

That evening for dinner, we wanted something a bit more budget-friendly, so we checked out Tlaquepaque on South Palm Canyon Drive for Mexican food. The margaritas were mediocre, but the food was excellent. Paddy had a chimichanga, and I had the chicken fajitas.

Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs

After dinner, we wanted to go to the Bootlegger Tiki Bar on North Palm Canyon Drive. It was a mile and a half up the strip from Tlaquepaque, but we were so full we felt like we needed to walk it off. The walk was pleasant and didn’t seem that long.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar was much tinier than we expected, but the atmosphere and drinks were on point. We found a couple stools by the entrance and patiently waited until some people left and we scored one of the coveted three booths.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs

The only food served here are some light bar snacks (nuts, banana chips, popcorn)—the main focus is the drinks. I ordered the Desperado’s Downfall and Paddy had the Mind Flayer. Both were flavorful and complex.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs

Of the three tiki bars we visited in Palm Springs, Bootlegger was my favorite. It was probably the most classic of the three, and I loved the ambiance. The drinks were fantastic and expertly crafted. However, patience is required here due to the limited space. You may find yourself having to wait for a seat. There is an outdoor area to sit in, but the main point of a tiki bar is the atmosphere and feeling like you are in an exotic, tropical destination. It’s hard to feel like that sitting outside on the side of N Palm Canyon Drive watching the cars go by.

 

Day 4:

Saturday was our last day, and we wanted to enjoy some sunshine and pool time before we had to go back to cold, rainy Seattle. But first, boozy brunch.

Pinocchio in the Desert is a local favorite, known for big affordable breakfasts and their bottomless $4.95 champagne special. A nice open-air dining area allowed us to enjoy the sunshine while we ate.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

I ordered a bloody mary for $6.95, and the lobster benedict. My bloody mary arrived in an enormous goblet, and I swear there was at least 6 shots of vodka in it. I couldn’t even finish it by the time breakfast was over. I’ve NEVER met a bloody mary that I couldn’t finish, especially if it was my first of the day. I was concerned that if I drank the whole thing, I would have to crawl out of the restaurant.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Strongest bloody mary in the world for $6.95. Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

Paddy had the California omelet, which he said was tasty, and my lobster benedict was delicious as well. The home-style potatoes were awesome. We would absolutely come back here again. Just be sure you don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day if you order the bloody mary.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
California omelet–Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Lobster benedict–Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool at the hotel. There were plenty of chairs, it wasn’t crowded. There was one couple with a small child and a lady with a baby, but for the most part the pool scene was age 35+ with cocktails. It was the best pool scene I’ve been to. No screaming children doing cannonballs, and no drunk spring-breakers. Just a bunch of adults wanting to chill and have a relaxing time.

Pool time at Caliente Tropics Hotel Palm Springs
Pool time at Caliente Tropics Hotel Palm Springs

 

For dinner, we met up with our friend Andrea, who had just moved to Palm Springs in December. We made a reservation at the popular Tropicale restaurant, which was just my scene. Vintage-looking booths, tropical drinks, and a pink neon sign gave the place a classic Copa-Cabana feel.

Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Coconut martini, Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs

I ordered the coconut martini, because it just felt like the right thing to do. I wouldn’t order it again, it was a bit to sweet for my taste. But it wasn’t bad if you like sweeter drinks. Paddy had the spicy mango mojito, which he enjoyed.

The dinner menu is an eclectic mix of items, ranging from pizza and a gourmet burger to pastas, meatloaf, miso salmon, fried chicken, and filet mignon.

I had the crispy goat cheese and beet salad with an orange vinaigrette, (which was lovely) and the Yucatan chicken sausage pizza. Paddy had one of their pasta specials. Everything was great, and with such a variety on the menu, there’s something for everyone here. I would go back here for atmosphere alone, but the food was great too. Reservations recommended though–this place is popular, especially on weekends.

 

Day 5: 

It was time to go home on Sunday, but our flight left in the afternoon so we had time for one last brunch. We went to the King’s Highway diner in the hipster Ace Hotel next door.

King's Highway diner Palm Springs
King’s Highway diner Palm Springs

The King’s Highway has the bones of a classic 50’s diner, combined with Coachella music festival hipster decor, and serves Portland’s Stumptown coffee and espresso (in hot or cold brewed options). There is a coffee counter serving espresso and pastries to go, or you can sit down and have the full diner experience.

We both had the breakfast burrito, which while tasty, was a bit overpriced at $14 each. It comes on a plate with no sides, no garnish, just a burrito on a plate. Nothing fancy. The ingredients were quality, but it seemed like it should have cost $9.50 at most.

We took a peek at the adjacent Amigo Room bar before we left, which looked pretty awesome. Big round booths and Spanish-style decor. Dark and intimate. And there is a photo booth in the hallway, if you feel so inclined.

 

 

We really liked Palm Springs and the surrounding area. It is the perfect getaway for couples without kids (or who want to leave the kids with grandma), and a great gaycation spot as well. More relaxing than Vegas, with a better chance of nice sunny weather in the winter. Just don’t visit in the summer–I hear it is sweltering hot and miserable. With such a short flight from Seattle, we will definitely be back for another tikilicious good time.

Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona

One day and night in Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona on the Navajo Reservation: One of the most beautiful and magical places in the United States.

 

Monument Valley is one of my favorite places on this planet. When you visit, you aren’t really sure if you are in a Wild West movie or on Mars. It is a magical place. Photos don’t do it justice. We really wished we would have had more time there on this trip to do a tour through the valley with a Navajo guide. Next time, we’ll plan to stay at least two nights.

We visited Monument Valley on a week-long road trip through Colorado and Utah in September 2016. Read about the rest of our road trip here.

 

Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah

 

Day 1:

We began our day in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, toured Mesa Verde National Park in the morning, and then drove on to Monument Valley in the afternoon. It was a long day, but fun. On the way to Monument Valley as we crossed from Colorado into Arizona, and we passed the Four Corners monument. We figured we should stop and do the obligatory photo op of us standing in four states at one time (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico).

The Four Corners Monument is part of the Navajo Nation, and requires an entrance fee of $5 per person. Unfortunately, it is out in the middle of nowhere and requires cash payment, no credit or debit cards. We only had $8 cash, so we moved on. If you want to see the four corners, be sure to have cash on hand to cover your group. If you need an ATM, there is one at the Teec Nos Pos trading post store and gas station is about a 10 minute drive away. They also have restrooms.

An hour and a half later, we finally approached Monument Valley. The first time I visited Monument Valley was on my road trip with my friend in March 2004, and I had been so excited to see it. We just did a drive through and unfortunately, there was a dust storm that day. The iconic wild-west views of red buttes were something I had always wanted to go back and experience again, in better weather and with more time.

We had a reservation at The View Hotel in Monument Valley tribal park, which ended up being worth every penny of the high $250/night price tag. It was our one big hotel splurge of the trip.

*Note: The View Hotel is inside the Navajo Tribal park and requires a $20 entrance fee per vehicle for up to two days. This isn’t included in the price of the room.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel is aptly named, as every room has a balcony and a panoramic view of the iconic “Mittens,” The two buttes in the valley that look like right and left hand mittens. It was a stunning view, and my number one plan was to drink some wine on the balcony ad watch the sunset all evening.

*Note about wine/alcohol: The Navajo Nation does not permit the sale of alcohol, so no alcohol can be bought anywhere near or at the hotel. There isn’t a rule against bringing your own and drinking it in your room, however. If you plan on having adult beverages and enjoying the sunset like we did, be sure to stock up beforehand and bring your own. Each room is equipped with a fridge.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel has a restaurant, with halfway decent prices and solidly mediocre food. The food isn’t bad, but it’s on par with good cafeteria food. That being said, it is convenient and the view from the restaurant is stunning. If you want to come here just for dinner and are staying elsewhere, be aware that the restaurant serves hotel guests only after 7:00 PM.

The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley

We decided to share the Navajo Sampler platter and the fried chicken dinner. The Navajo Sampler platter actually has enough food for two people, and we ended up with leftovers (good thing our room had a fridge). The sampler consisted of Green Chili Stew (be warned, it’s spicy), Red Chili Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, a mini Navajo fry bread taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey.

We highly recommend getting the Navajo tea, it was delicious. They also sell it in the gift shop.

The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey

After dinner, it was sunset and wine time. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. The View Hotel faces east, so while you can’t see the sun going down over the buttes, the sunlight from the setting sun in the west illuminates the buttes in a gorgeous red-orange light. The photos I took don’t even begin to capture the real-life beauty of the valley.

The View Hotel, Monument Valley
The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley

Once it was dark, the hotel showed an outdoor John Wayne movie outside the restaurant, projected onto the wall of the building.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley–outdoor John Wayne movie

We didn’t stay up late enough to watch the stars come out, but I did wake up in the middle of the night and went outside and looked at them. It was a  surreal glitter display over the dark shadows of the buttes.

We did set our alarms for the sunrise, however. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

Day 2:

Sunrise over Monument Valley, seen from the balcony in our room:

Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley

Monument Valley was the highlight of our entire road trip. We were sad to leave and wished we’d had another day to go on the slow dirt-road drive through the valley or go on a guided tour with a Navajo guide. I think we’ll be back though. It is a truly magical place.

We had breakfast a 10 minute drive away at Goulding’s Stagecoach. The breakfast there was outstanding, we both had their signature dish of Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros with green chili. We recommend skipping the View Hotel breakfast and coming here. Had we stayed a second night, we would have come back to Goulding’s for dinner as well.

Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley

After breakfast we drove around for a little bit to get some photos, and stopped at a Navajo handicraft stand to buy some souvenirs. We wanted to buy directly from the local Navajo people instead of the hotel gift shop.

The best roadside photos of the Valley are taken on the Utah side facing south. There are many pull-outs along the highway 163 to top and take a picture from.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley–classic view

If a tourist from outside the US were to ask me what the top places to see in the mainland United States are, I would put Monument Valley up towards the top of the list. There’s nowhere like it, it is truly an American experience. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a great opportunity to learn about the native Navajo people, their history and culture. Skip the Grand Canyon, go see Monument Valley.

 

 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A day in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Discovering the lives of ancient cliff-dwelling Native Americans and Pueblo culture.

We visited Mesa Verde National Park on a one-week road trip through Colorado and Utah in September. I had done a Southwest road trip years ago with a friend after graduating college, and we had wanted to visit Mesa Verde but we were traveling in March and it wasn’t open yet. Summer is the best time to visit, as the high elevations and winter snowfall prevent the park from being fully open during the winter season.

We spent the night in nearby Pagosa Springs the night before, which is a good home base for exploring the park and surrounding area.

 

Excerpt from Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah.

 

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, and contains over 5,000 archeological sites and 600 ancient cliff dwellings. Only a few are open to the public. A couple cliff dwellings can be toured with a ranger guide.

We stopped by the ranger station when we arrived, and considered signing up for a ranger-guided tour of the Cliff Palace, but since we only had the morning to tour the park we opted to just do a drive and view tour at our own pace.

The road into the park ascends dramatically, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. There were several viewpoint areas to pull over at.

*Note: The drive down to the cliff dwellings and pit house sites is 45 minutes from the park entrance one way, so allow at least half a day to see the park.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

We stopped at the remains of some early Anasazi pit houses along the Mesa View Loop road, a few dating back to 600 AD. The houses were dug into the ground, and then walls and a roof built up from the dugout with sticks and mud.

Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses

At the end of the park are several cliff dwellings to view. Cliff Palace was the most spectacular one that we saw, and you can get a really great view of Cliff Palace from above on the Cliff Palace Loop Road.

Note that if you decide to tour Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or other open dwellings in the park, they do involve climbing stairs, steep trails, and ladders. Cliff Palace sounded like it was the least strenuous, but all of them are at high elevation. Higher elevations make exercise and hiking a lot more strenuous, so if you have a heart condition or any type of physical disability, you may want to skip the tours.

Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

It is amazing to imagine these dwellings alive and full of the daily activity of the Anasazi people. Tiny cities tucked into the steep cliffs in the canyon. I wonder if there were more cliff trails along the canyon between the dwellings back in 1300 AD, it doesn’t look easy to access them currently. I’m sure there has been some significant erosion since they were populated.

After checking out the Cliff Dwellings, it was 1:00 PM and we were starving. Mesa Verde has two cafeteria-style restaurants, one at Far View Terrace closer to the entrance, and one at Spruce Tree Terrace closer to the cliff dwellings. Prices were reasonable, with many Southwest-style options. Paddy ordered the Navajo Taco, which was huge. It was a dinner-plate sized Navajo fry bread with chili and all your standard American taco fixings. He said it was really good, but didn’t quite make it through the whole thing. I had the black bean burger and fries which was also good.

Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park
Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park

The high elevation (and the big lunch) made us pretty tired, and we still had a couple hours to drive to our next destination, Monument Valley.

We really enjoyed Mesa Verde, but wished that we had a bit more time there. Being from Seattle, we tend to forget how much high elevations can affect your energy level if you aren’t used to it. I would have loved to hike down to the Cliff Palace, but would need to take more time. I’d recommend at least a full day or two days to really see the park. Don’t forget to bring lots of water with you and stay hydrated.

Read about the rest of our Colorado and Utah road trip here: https://childfreelifeadventures.com/summer-road-trip-2016-colorado-utah/

Silver Forest Hike in Mt Rainier National Park

A fun camping weekend and an easy relaxing day hike on the Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park. A perfect day hike if you are out of shape or short on time and want some great views of Mt Rainier.

Paddy and I have been to Mt Rainier National Park a few times, but only to the Sunrise Side once and that time we didn’t actually go to the visitor’s center. Every time we go to Mt Rainier National Park we are blown away by how beautiful it is. On this trip we camped outside of the park at Silver Springs Campground, and did a quick and easy trek on the Silver Forest hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center in the park.

The Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park is the northern side of the mountain, and is a little less visited then the popular Paradise visitor center. At 6,400 ft above sea level, it is the highest elevation point in the park to visit by vehicle. There are several great hiking trails that start at the Sunrise visitor center parking lot.

Day 1: 

We left Seattle a little before 3:00 in the afternoon on Friday, headed to Silver Springs Campground. We had made a reservation there early in the spring through www.recreation.gov, so our site was all ready and waiting for us. We camped at Silver Springs the last time we visited the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier, and we like the campground. It is a good close proximity to the mountain and sites can be reserved ahead of time.

*Camping tip: Even though spring  seems way too early to make summer camping plans, the recreation.gov website allows you to make camping reservations up to six months in advance, starting in January. Weekends in July and August fill up fast, so I like to get a reservation in for a good site (you get to pick your site out) around March. If your plans change and you have to cancel, you get a full refund minus the $10 reservation fee as long as you cancel at least two days before your arrival date.

Silver Springs Campground
Silver Springs Campground

The campground hosts have firewood for sale (cash only) or you can purchase it at the Greenwater General Store about 15 minutes away. This is the closest store with provisions, so if you find that you have forgotten something, stock up here.

We set up camp, sprayed ourselves with bug spray, and cooked hot dogs, beans, and corn for dinner with the campfire.

Camping at Silver Springs Campground
Camping at Silver Springs Campground

Day 2:

I set the alarm for 7:00, as it is best to get an early start when hiking at Mt Rainier on a summer weekend. We made coffee with our camp stove and french press, ate hard boiled eggs and granola for breakfast, and set out up the mountain.

Not far down on the 410 highway heading south from the campground is the Sunrise Park Road. The White River ranger station will collect your national park entrance fee of $25.00, good for one week. After passing the fee station, the visitor center is another 40 minutes up the mountain. It is a beautiful drive.

Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park
Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park

We arrived at the Sunrise Visitor Center at around 9:00 AM. There were lots of cars in the parking lot already, but still a lot of spaces left. The Visitor Center building wasn’t open yet, but a park ranger was standing outside and answering questions from the hikers. He provided lots of helpful info on trail conditions. Even though it was July, some of the higher elevation trails had too much snow still and weren’t suitable for hiking in certain areas.

Everyone there was gung-ho about going up the high elevation trails, but we opted for the easy-breezy Silver Forest hike. The Sunrise elevation is pretty high for us sea-level dwellers with desk jobs, and we prefer to do uphill hiking at lower elevations. The Silver Forest hike is fairly even the whole way. The trail starts from the left side of the parking lot facing the visitor center building. The trail is an out-and-back hike, so you have to hike to the end and then turn around and return back to where you started.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

For such an easy trail, the Silver Forest hike offered amazing views of Mt. Rainier. If you’re not very in shape or are short on time, this hike offers big bang for your hiking buck (so to speak).

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Wildflowers, Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

After a (too) short amount of time, we reached the end of the maintained trail (about a mile in). We weren’t ready to go back so we continued for a little ways on the not-so-maintained part of the trail, which was really more or less a ditch someone dug. It kept going, but was a bit difficult to walk in as it was deep and narrow. We stopped when we ran into some snow. We could have gone around, but decided to head back.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

The way back had the best views, as you are facing Mt Rainier the entire time.

Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

Overall, the trail was shorter than I would have preferred, but the views were excellent. If you are visiting Seattle and want to do a day trip to Rainier and don’t have time for a big hike, the Silver Forest hike is perfect for a quick dose of “Mt. Rainier-lite.” Your photos will look like you did some major hiking, and all your friends will be jealous.

When we arrived back at the parking lot we checked out the information displays at the visitor center, and then began our descent down the mountain. We left at a little before 11:00 AM, and rangers were already directing traffic into the overflow parking on the side of the road.

Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot
Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot

*Tip: If going to Mt Rainier on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August, GET THERE EARLY. If you are doing a day trip from Seattle, I’d recommend getting on the road around 7:00 AM at the latest to make sure you get a decent parking spot and get on your hike before the trails get crowded.

We stopped at a lookout a short ways down the mountain that provided views of some alpine lakes and Mt Adams in the distance.

Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Mt Adams
Mt Adams

At the bottom of Sunrise Park Rd, we passed a very long line of cars waiting at the entrance fee station. It looked like about a half hour wait just to enter the park. Again, GET THERE EARLY.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing at the camp site, and listening to the White River. Living in the city near the airport makes us really appreciate the sounds of nature whenever we are able to get away.

The Silver Forest hike wasn’t my favorite hike in Mt Rainier National Park, but it was a nice and easy scenic jaunt. If you are able to do a longer hike that is slightly more challenging at a lower elevation, I’d recommend the Naches Peak loop hike. It is also on the Sunrise side of the park and one of our favorites.

 

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Pagosa Springs, Colorado: A one-night stop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado on a week-long road trip: Hot springs and great local craft beer

 

Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah. Read about the rest of our road trip here.

 

We left Fort Collins, Colorado at 7:00 AM to begin our trip to Pagosa Springs, our first stop on a week-long road trip around Colorado and Utah. Pagosa Springs is located in the southern part of Colorado, which was about a 5 hour drive from Denver.

It was a long drive from Fort Collins, but it was a beautiful drive. As soon as we passed Denver, we began an ascent into the Rocky Mountains, heading south.

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-11

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-10

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-13

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-4

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-2

After four hours, we were ready for a lunch stop. We stopped in the tiny town of Saguache at the Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery.

Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache Colorado
Saguache main street, Colorado
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery

The 4th Street Diner and Bakery was a great place to stop for lunch. Tiny and eclectic, with mis-matched tables and chairs and a wood stove for cold winter days, it was homey and welcoming. Paddy had a burger with organic beef and I had a chicken quesadilla. There were a lot of tempting pies in the case at the counter, but we decided to pass and get back on the road.

We made a final stop at Wolf Creek Pass to get a photo at the view point there. The elevation was 10,856 ft, and it made me so light-headed that I stumbled a bit getting out of the car. It was a gorgeous view.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

We made it to Pagosa Springs around 3:00 PM and checked into the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. It wasn’t really a resort, more of a budget hotel with a hot springs pool, steam room and sauna. It was clean and comfortable, and while I’m sure their pool was nice we were actually staying there because it was an affordable option next to the main hot springs.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs
Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is centered around the developed hot springs resort on the river, with several hot springs pools at various temperatures. They are open until 11:00 PM daily, so we planned on spending the evening soaking our troubles away.

Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

We walked through the town and poked about in a few shops. We eventually made it up the main street to Riff Raff Brewing, and decided to relax and sample the local beer.

Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sampler at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Skallywag English Pale, Ele Duende Green Chili, Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The beer at Riff Raff was tasty and diverse. I did a sampler with the English Pale, the El Duende Green Chili Ale, the Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter. The El Duende was tasty but I expected a bit more green chili flavor. The Skallywag English Pale and the Plebian Porter were my two favorites. The Stepchild Red was a bit too hoppy for me, I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers.

Pagosa Springs is at a fairly high elevation at just over 7,000 ft (pretty high-especially for us sea-level dwellers). Alcohol effects everyone a bit more at high elevations, and after the beer sampler I was quite buzzed. We stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent. Paddy tried the yak burger, which he really enjoyed. Riff Raff makes their own pickles, which were delicious.

Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Smokey the Chicken Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Yakkity-Yak Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

After dinner, we were ready for the hot springs. It was $30 per person for admittance, which was a little expensive but included a towel and a locker. They have an adults-only terrace with drink service which was very tempting but would have been $23 extra dollars each just to be able to use it. We couldn’t justify that kind of price. I tried to bargain with the guy at the counter, it being a Tuesday evening and all, but no dice.

The hot springs had a large pool (mostly used by children and families), and a series of small pools at a range of different temperatures from 92 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We found that we were most comfortable between 90 to 100 degrees. I tried to go in the Paradise pool at 109 degrees, but it was so painfully hot that I didn’t get past ankle deep.

Our favorite pools were Boulder, Aspen, and Serendipity. Serendipity had a waterfall and a good overlook for the river and the rest of the resort. The waterfall was a good shoulder massage. The adults only terrace didn’t seem like such a big deal, as all the kids seemed to be in the big pool and not the regular hot spring tubs. We were glad we hadn’t shelled out an extra $46.00.

Pagosa Hot Springs Colorado road trip
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado

There was a Canteen in the center of the pool complex where you could buy drinks and snacks, including beer and wine. We only got one drink each, we figured that high elevation and hot springs and alcohol probably weren’t a great combo. Drinks weren’t too overpriced.

We stayed and soaked our sore muscles until the stars came out. We were able to find a quiet pool that wasn’t too hot with just a couple other people in it. Most of the kids were up at the big pool so we were able to enjoy the stars and the moon without much disruption.

We would recommend Pagosa Springs as an overnight stop on a road trip. I’m sure it is great in the winter as well. There isn’t a whole lot to do in the town itself, but Mesa Verde National Park (our next destination) is pretty close by. This would be a great town to use as a base for exploring Mesa Verde, which would take two days to fully explore if you want to hike to multiple cliff dwellings. When you come back in the evening, you can soak your sore hiking muscles in the hot springs.

Read about the rest of our adventure in Colorado and Utah here

 

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–Downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District. Checking out local spots and culture in Las Vegas’ historical downtown and the up-and-coming arts scene.

 

The last time we were in Las Vegas, when we left we decided we’d had enough of Las Vegas and probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. But…..Las Vegas always has a way of seducing you back. The inexpensive and easy 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, the escape from the Seattle rain, the abundance of cheap, nice hotel rooms, the ability to walk around the street with a drink in your hand, and the great restaurants are ever enticing. We needed a quick winter getaway to lift our spirits (January through April in Seattle is a miserable, rainy, cold, awful time) and decided that Las Vegas would be quick and affordable. We had also never made it to downtown Las Vegas during our first two trips, and decided that this time we would stay in downtown Las Vegas and avoid The Strip altogether.

It was a wonderful plan. We had a fabulous time exploring historical downtown Las Vegas, the Arts District, and a few other local spots. Not once did we go to The Strip, and we left Las Vegas with a new appreciation for Sin City. Our trip was made even better by reuniting with an old middle school friend of mine who was living in Las Vegas and producing a local burlesque show through the winter.

Day 1:

Our flight landed at 7:00 PM, but sat on the runway for 25 minutes because our gate was occupied by a delayed flight. Fortunately we had not checked baggage, so when we finally got off the plane we were able to dash down to ground transportation to catch our shuttle.

We had reserved a round trip shuttle through the aptly named shuttle service Airline Shuttle. It was very inexpensive at $18.00 per person round trip with direct hotel pick up and drop off. Online booking was easy. Be sure to print off your confirmation, however. They do not accept phone screen confirmations, you must print a copy with the bar codes. Their website made this pretty clear, so I printed two copies, just in case.

There are other transportation alternatives such as buses and taxis. A taxi to downtown Las Vegas will run around $40-$50 from the airport one way, and a bus will take a long time. The shuttle was definitely the easy and affordable option.

The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

Finally , we arrived at our hotel, The Golden Nugget. After a bit of confused wandering around in the huge casino we made it from the back entrance where the shuttle dropped us to the front desk to check in. We had reserved the most inexpensive room through Booking.com –a Carson Tower King, non-smoking. We were informed that the only non-smoking rooms available had two double beds. Upon presenting the front desk lady with our printed confirmation for a king room, and informing her that I am allergic to cigarette smoke so a smoking room was not an option, she upgraded us to a Rush Tower king room at no extra charge. (This is why I’m old-school and print my confirmations, it’s easy to whip out and show at check in if something doesn’t match what you were promised.)

The Rush Tower rooms were NICE. The Rush Tower was clearly the newer, upgraded side of the hotel. Our trip was off to a great start.

Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget

After a speedy luggage drop and clothes change, we were dying for a drink and a snack. It was already 8:30. We headed down to the casino and into the Cadillac Tequila Bar.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget

The drinks and food at Cadillac Tequila Bar are a bit upscale Mexican, not outrageously expensive but not cheap. I ordered the Elote (Mexican street corn) and the Ahi Tuna Tacos appetizer and a guava margarita. Paddy ordered the Queso and chips, a beer, and a shot of tequila. The tequila menu was extensive, but the cheapest shot was $9.00. Whatever, we needed to get our night going. The tequila was high quality.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Paddy at Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget

The food was great. Paddy was particularly impressed with the queso dip–real cheese (no Velveeta) and great flavor. The ahi tuna tacos were also very tasty. There was an Asian ponzu-style sauce to pour on them, and the shells were made from wonton wrappers. My guava margarita was delicious, but didn’t seem to have much booze. I ended up ordering another $9.00 shot of tequila to add to it.

After snacks and a couple first drinks, we were ready to check out Fremont Street.

Fremont Street is the heart of downtown Las Vegas, and the original thoroughfare through the city. Many of the casinos on Fremont Street including the Golden Nugget are still there, but with a modern makeover. The west portion of Fremont Street is the renowned Fremont Street Experience.

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience is a covered pedestrian-only section of the street. At night, a light and music show happens on the ceiling every hour. Cover bands play at two different stages on opposite ends of the covered street, tourists zip line over the crowds and under the covered light show, and various street performers and people in costume are stationed around the street providing photo opportunities for tips. There are flashing neon lights and alcohol for sale from street side bars everywhere you turn. I was able to procure a keg cup of cheap white wine for $6.00 (don’t judge).

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vickie,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vic,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience was fun for approximately 15 minutes. After that, we were ready to get out of neon tourist fun-land. We kept walking down to the east part of Fremont Street, which was a much mellower and quieter experience. The covered pedestrian street turns into a regular downtown street with fewer large casinos and more small bars and restaurants.

Fremont Street Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

Fremont Street East was recently re-vamped in 2002 and new, hip bars and restaurants have been popping up to revitalize the local downtown Las Vegas scene.

We wandered into Commonwealth, a hipster speak-easy style bar with dim lighting and 1920’s decor. The music was modern and the cocktail menu was fancy. We ordered drinks at the bar and walked around. It was about 10:00 PM, so the night was just getting started for the 20-something crowd that was beginning to trickle in.

Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas

We wandered upstairs to the rooftop patio, which had a DJ and another outdoor bar. A server came around with free shots of knock-off Fireball whiskey and tiny complimentary cupcakes. Who doesn’t  like free shots and cupcakes?

I had read that there is a speakeasy within Commonwealth called The Laundry Room. The only way to get into the Laundry Room is to send a polite reservation request via text to (702) 701-1466. We sent a text to see if we could get in while we were there, and waited a little bit. We finished our drinks and about 10 minutes later received a response with an offer of a 12:15 AM reservation. It was 11:00 PM, and we were tired from working earlier that morning and then traveling, so we thanked them and declined the offer. We’d been to “speakeasies” in Seattle and New York and weren’t feeling like getting into the Laundry Room was that important to us. Maybe next time.

We wandered around Fremont Street a little bit more before calling it a night.

Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas. We never found out what was in that big blue dome.
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 2:

 

Friday morning we were greeted by 58 degree drizzle, very reminiscent of the Seattle weather we were trying to escape. Se la vie. We took that as a sign that we should go ahead and sleep in a bit longer.

Eventually, we were hungry. I had read that the buffet at the Main Street Station casino around the corner was supposed to be one of the best cheap buffets in town, a local gem. We put on our raincoats, walked to Main Street and got in the buffet line.

Main Street Station Casino downtown Las Vegas
Image from www.lasvegas.com

We waited in line for about 10 minutes, only to be told when we got to the front of the line that they would be closing at 10:30 (it was 10:15) for half an hour to switch over to lunch, at which point everyone in the dining area will be forced to leave. We decided that 15 minutes was not the time frame that we wanted for breakfast, so we opted out.

*Note–we learned that this is Main Street Station buffet’s weekday schedule. Saturday and Sunday have a champagne brunch buffet from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM for $11.99. We didn’t make it back to try this, but will definitely consider it for our next trip.

We were starving, so we wandered into the Plaza Hotel and casino next door on Main Street to see what they had going on. We found Hash House a Go Go inside the casino, which had a 15 minute wait but looked really good. We gave the host my cell number and walked around the casino until we got a text that our table was ready.

At first look, the prices at Hash House a Go Go seemed a bit high–most plates in the $16.99 range. But then we saw the food coming out of the kitchen—it was HUGE. We were hungry, but the portions this place was serving wouldn’t be something either one of us could finish individually. So we found a dish we both wanted to try and split it. We were really glad that we did.

We ordered the Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict, which the menu bragged to have been featured on Man Vs Food.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go
Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go, downtown Las Vegas

Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict is a split biscuit with two fried chicken breasts, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, tomato, spinach, scrambled eggs and chipotle cream sauce, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was delicious, but massive. Eat this one with a buddy. I couldn’t even make it all the way through my half.

All things considered, the prices are pretty reasonable after all at Hash House a Go-Go, considering the portions. I think we’ll have to come back again on our next downtown Las Vegas trip and try the crab cake benedict.

After breakfast, we called a Lyft and took a short ride over to the downtown Las Vegas arts district.

The downtown Las Vegas arts district is a rapidly up-and-coming neighborhood comprised of several bars, restaurants, art collectives and galleries, and vintage shops. It is also the new home of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which was our first stop.

Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district
Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district

We caught the Burlesque Hall of Fame during a transition period. It had previously been located on Fremont Street, but had recently moved to the arts district and was in temporary art gallery space while their new location was being renovated across the street.

The gallery was a small space, but had a few costume pieces on display from burlesque legends, and a well-constructed timeline of the history of burlesque with many photos and other memorabilia. The man at the front desk was more than happy to answer our questions.

You would think that a town like Las Vegas, with all it’s glitz and glam would have a great modern burlesque scene. Sadly, we were informed that has not been the case. In Las Vegas there are showgirls, and there are strippers. The art of the rhinestone-encrusted shimmy and a wink with costumes and dancing has been a little lost on sin city. It’s not large-production enough to compete with the big-time casino shows, and it’s too classy to be a raunchy modern striptease.

There are local burlesque performers who are trying to change this, however. Small-venue burlesque shows are becoming more frequent and the local arts scene is growing. The gentleman at the Burlesque Hall of Fame informed us that there were big plans in the works for their new space. He said they have tons of costumes, vintage marquees, and lots of other items in their collection that they are excited to exhibit. Check http://www.burlesquehall.com/ for updates.

Here are some burlesque show posters from current local burlesque troops. Look them up if you’re planning a trip!

Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas
Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas at the Royal Resort  https://www.facebook.com/MajestikBurlesqueLasVegas/?ref=page_internal
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas at the Erotic Heritage Museum https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
nerdlesque las vegas
“Nerdlesque” burlesque at the Artifice Bar in Las Vegas– new themed shows every third Saturday of the month http://www.artificebar.com/event/nerdlesque-burlesque/

We moved on from the Burlesque Hall of Fame to S Main Street to explore the vintage and antique shops.

If you are looking for vintage furniture, clothing, or random kitschy knick-knacks, S Main Street in the Arts District is the place to be. The only thing stopping us from blowing our tax return on a lime green 60’s sectional sofa at Retro Vegas was that we couldn’t take it on the plane home. And maybe a little common sense.

Retro Vegas on S Main St.
Retro Vegas on S Main St.
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage beer can collection
Vintage beer can collection

We had a lot of fun looking at all the shops on S Main Street. There was so much to explore. I really wanted to go to the Rockin’ Bettie store, a boutique with retro-style dresses and clothing, but sadly they were closed because they were at a rockabilly convention. Next time.

Later that afternoon we went and got foot massages at the Happy Feet massage place in the El Dorado casino on Fremont Street. $15 for 30 minutes. It was money well spent, we felt revitalized and ready to take on the evening.

After our foot massages were over, we got take out from the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck on Fremont Street. Their menu looked amazing (lobster tots!) I got a lobster roll, Paddy got the lobster grilled cheese, and we got some smothered tots to share–tots smothered in a creamy salsa sauce.

Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Lobster roll, Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots

Overall everything was tasty and the lobster was great, but we both felt like our sandwiches were a little small for the price.

After dinner we got dressed up and headed to Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street to meet up with L, a long lost middle school friend of mine and her husband Sam (I am just using her first initial to protect her privacy). L had been living in Las Vegas since the fall, producing and performing in the Leather & Feathers Burlesque Cabaret show at the Erotic Heritage Museum. I grew up with her, but hadn’t seen her since middle school.

Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas

Atomic Liquors is the oldest free-standing bar in Las Vegas. It was formerly a cafe, originally built in 1945. The cafe customers used to watch atomic blasts at the nearby atomic test site from the roof of the cafe . In 1952 the cafe owners Joe and Stella Stobchik turned it into a bar. Rumor has it that the Rat Pack and the Smothers Brothers used to drink there after their nightly shows.

Slightly divey, but with a classy signature cocktail menu and a bartender who looks like she stepped out of a 1940’s pin-up magazine, Atomic Liquors was a great place to start the evening.

Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas
Paddy at Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas

It was fun reuniting with L, who gave us the scoop on what it was like to live in Las Vegas. She said that everyone she’s met in Vegas has been surprisingly friendly. She thinks that it is because everyone she meets isn’t from Las Vegas. Most people are transplants from elsewhere, and know what it’s like to move to a new city and have to find new friends. She is also a huge fan of the plentiful cheap Sunday champagne brunch deals.

After a couple drinks at Atomic, we headed over to the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street to see a local band, Franks and Deans. There were many interesting photo ops along the way. And we found Vegas Santa! In February! He was urinating on the motel sign that advertised that llamas stay free.

Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Vegas Santa!
Vegas Santa!
We hot
Weasels!
We didn’t know what this was, other than an empty store full of mannequin heads with creepy green flickering lights.

We eventually made it to the Beauty Bar. The Beauty Bar is a chain bar, the original Beauty Bar is in New York. The bar offers booze and manicures during the day, and booze and live music at night. The walls were covered in pink and red glitter, and the bar and furniture are all vintage 1960’s beauty salon style.

Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas
Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas

The bands and atmosphere were great, the drinks were not. Weak, overpriced cocktails were served in crappy plastic cups and they didn’t serve wine. (Um, if I owned a bar plastered in pink glitter, there would definitely be wine on the menu. Possibly even mini bottles of Cooks served in a paper bag with a straw. Just sayin’.)

The bands made up for the lame drinks. The opening band was The Swamp Gospel, and they were great. Gritty, Southern-style blues-rock, complete with rubber snakes thrown into the audience.

Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

Franks and Deans went on last, and they were fantastic. It doesn’t get much more modern, local Vegas than Franks and Deans. They do punk rock style covers of old crooner songs (their name is a play on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin if you hadn’t put that together already). They put on a great show, complete with a go-go dancer.

Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

We ended the night by soaking up the booze with pizza from Evel Pie across the street. The name is an homage to stunt performer Evel Knievel, and they always offer a $5.00 pint of PBR and a slice special. Open until 4:00 AM on weekends, it’s a good place for late night munchies.

Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas
Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 3: 

Saturday started pretty late, on account of the alcohol-soaked late night before. The weather was also even worse than Friday’s, cold and pretty rainy. We took our time getting out of bed. Eventually, we got pretty hungry so we grabbed some coffee at the Starbucks downstairs and then headed down Fremont Street to the Container Park Mall.

The Container Park Mall is on the East portion of Fremont Street, and is built entirely out of recycled shipping containers. There are lots of little shops, a couple restaurants, a coffee shop, and even a little wedding chapel on the third floor. There is an outdoor stage in the center of the mall, and lots of tables and places to view live music should a show be going on.

Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas. Large foam blocks for kids to build things with (in better weather)
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas–sculpture with padlocks. Always a work in progress.

We found sustenance at Cheffinis Hot Dogs on the ground level. Their hot dogs are some of the best we’ve had, with lots of options and toppings. I loved that they offered a turkey dog option in addition to beef and veggie dogs, since I don’t eat beef.

Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall

I had the Moshi Moshi dog with a turkey frank, which had caramelized onions, seaweed, jalapeño, wine sauce, and spicy mayo. Paddy had The Grandfather with a beef frank, piled with chopped pork belly, red bell peppers, caramelized onions, crushed potato chips, spicy mayo, basil aioli, pickled mango, and topped with a fried quail egg. They were delicious.

The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs

We then explored some of the container shops and admired the murals on Fremont Street.

Hunter S Thompson, Mural, downtown Las Vegas
Hunter S Thompson mural, downtown Las Vegas

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at The D Casino and went up to the second floor to check out their collection of vintage slot machines. We played a couple for fun, no wins. They are the classic kind with the pull lever on the side and the cherries, numbers, and other little pictures that spin and you try to get a match.

Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slVintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas

Later that afternoon, we headed to Chinatown for food and drinks. A lot of people (including us before doing research for this trip) don’t know that Las Vegas has a Chinatown, but it does. It isn’t the type of Chinatown you see in other cities, however. You won’t find a cute downtown area with hanging lanterns, Chinese archways and funky little side streets to explore. Las Vegas’ Chinatown is essentially one big long strip mall extending for miles west of The Strip on W Spring Mountain Road.

Don’t be put off by the strip mall appearance. If you like Asian food, there are many great restaurants here to explore. And one really great tiki bar.

If you’ve read much of our blog you probably have figured out that I have a tiki bar fascination. There are two great old-style tiki bars in Las Vegas, one of which is The Golden Tiki.

The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas

The Golden Tiki’s strip mall location gives a deceiving outward appearance, but once you step inside the large double doors, you enter another world. Clamshell fountains, dark, intimate booths and tables, a large wrap-around bar, and a ceiling covered in tiny LED star lights that flicker all create an exotic tropical wonderland. Tiki kitsch and tropical memorabilia abound, with the 1960’s exotica sounds of Martin Denny playing on the bar surround sound system.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

We cozied up in a little side table and got out our cell phone flashlights to read the menu. Don’t expect food here. Their kitchen offers only 15 pupu (appetizer) platters each Friday and Saturday night that serve four people each, sold until they are gone. There are many other great food options in the area, so eat first and come here for drinks.

Since I’m a bigger fan of tequila than rum, I ordered the Coconut Sunrise, with coconut and aloe liqueurs, tequila, lime, orange juice, honey mango syrup, and grenadine. It was sweet but fruity and delicious.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
“Coconut Sunrise” at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

You can also order a drink in a souvenir tiki mug, which was tempting but we didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the evening. We had some time to kill, so I tried the Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple sorbet. The Dole Whip was delicious, albeit a HUGE serving. I could only eat a portion of it.

Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Eventually, we were getting hungry, so we settled up and headed out to dinner. I couldn’t resist the photo in the giant clam shell before leaving, however.

Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Prior to our trip to Vegas, I had been browsing through restaurants on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and came across District One Kitchen on the outskirts of Chinatown on S Jones Blvd. We love Vietnamese food, and their menu looked enticing. The menu is more Vietnamese-fusion than straight Vietnamese, combining flavors of Japan, China, Thailand, and a little French.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

We started with the oysters, which came with a light soy-ponzu sauce and caviar. They were delicious. The sauce wasn’t too much to overpower the flavor of the oyster, and the caviar was a nice touch, adding texture and a little boost of flavor.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
oysters, District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

Paddy tried the beef carpaccio, which he said was amazing (I don’t eat beef so I’ll take his word for it). We also shared the whole grilled squid with a spicy aioli, the Vietnamese-style green papaya salad with prawns and pork, and the “Belly Buns,” (pork belly pinch buns). We are suckers for pork belly pinch buns. Everything was outstanding. We would highly recommend the trek out to District One, it is worth it. The prices were reasonable for what we got.

Grilled squid at District One Las Vegas
Grilled squid with spicy aioli at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Restaurant,  Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

We had tickets that evening to see my friend L perform as a guest in the Artifice Bar’s “Nerdlesque” show in the Arts District, so after dinner we caught a Lyft over to The Velveteen Rabbit on S Main Street to have some drinks before the show.

The Velveteen Rabbit is so hipster that if I didn’t know where I was, I would guess that I was in Portland.

The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

There were antique velvet couches and chairs, chandeliers made from old bottles and canning jars, and a craft cocktail menu made zine-style in a booklet including poetry. You can cake the zine/menu home as a souvenir for $1.00.

I ordered the “Fireside” cocktail from their seasonal winter menu, which consisted of roasted marshmallow bourbon, salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup, lemon heavy cream, and aztec chocolate bitters. It came in a teacup with a roasted mini marshmallow on a cocktail pic. It was impressive.  Paddy tried the “Smoke & Cinder,” with rye whiskey, averna, cherry heering, black walnut bitters, ginger, and laphroaig mist. Don’t ask me to explain any of those ingredients to you, because I have no idea what they are. Paddy gave a rave review of the Smoke & Cinder. It seemed like the right thing to drink while wearing a red velvet blazer.

The Velveteen Rabbit makes a lot of their cocktail ingredients in house (I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup in the store), and they do an excellent job.  Their website even advertises cocktail making classes every other Saturday afternoon, if you’re interested in taking your cocktail skills to the next level.

It was early, so there weren’t many people in the bar yet. There was a small DJ booth in the corner and a small dance floor area, along with a projection light show on the brick wall near the dance floor. I did not see an event calendar on their website, but it looks like The Velveteen Rabbit is set up for some late night fun.

The "Fireside" cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The “Fireside” cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
Paddy enjoying his “Smoke & Cinder” cocktail, The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

When it was time, we settled up with the bartender at the Velveteen Rabbit and walked up the street to the Artifice Bar for the Nerdlesque Show.

Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas

The Nerdlesque Show happens every third Saturday at the Artifice Bar in the downtown Las Vegas Arts District, and has a different, unique, and “nerdy” theme for every show. I was told that last month’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, while this show’s theme was DC Comics.

My friend L was a guest performer in this show and got special permission for me to photograph her act, which was a burlesque Joker theme. Other acts were based on Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Raven, Harley Quinn, Superman (a fantastic male burlesque act), and a couple of characters that I wasn’t quite nerdy enough to know.

When we got to the Artifice Bar we met L, who introduced us to a friend of hers and we found seats along the side wall of the room. I sat down next to a petite older lady with big, beautiful copper red hair.  After seeing a couple people talk to her and call her “Tempest,” I turned to L’s friend and asked if she was Tempest Storm. She was.

Tempest Storm is one of the greatest classic burlesque legends of all time, her exotic dancing and burlesque career spanning decades. She is still active in the Las Vegas community at 89 years old. I introduced myself to her and told her it was an honor to meet her. After the show, my friend L asked if we could have our photo taken with her, but she declined. It was a little disappointing, but I’m sure she is tired of having her photo taken all the time.

Tempest Storm
Tempest Storm at the height of her burlesque career

Tempest was soon moved by the show producer from the chair next to me to a nicer table location with a better view, but it was exciting to meet her.

The DC Comics Nerdlesque show was great. Each performer put a lot of effort into their costume and routine, and many included props. My friend L (stage name Katerina HoneyBunny) did a great Joker Routine to “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, complete with a straight jacket. It was a fun show.

DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 4:

Sunday was a no-plans day. We had a dinner reservation later that evening, but other than that the day was scheduled to be a do-whatever-we-feel-like day. I’m a planner, but I always like to plan for no-plans days on trips.

We slept in again, and then made our way down to the Container Park Mall to have brunch at The Perch restaurant inside the park. A no-plans day seemed like a good time to take advantage of their unlimited bloody Marys, bellinis, and mimosas for $15.00.

Apparently, everyone else had the same plan so we had to get on a list for a table. It was a 30 minute wait, but it was worth it.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

Paddy had the Short Rib Hash, and I had the Smothered Egg Biscuits, which was basically biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and cheese on top. Good dishes for a hangover.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Short Rib Hash, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Smothered Egg Biscuits, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

The bartender was our server, and he was great. He kept our bloody Marys and bellinis full. We even got a couple bellinis for the road–although we learned that we weren’t allowed to take them out of the Container Park. It didn’t really make sense, considering that Las Vegas has allows open containers, and there were people walking around with drinks on Fremont Street right outside the Container Park entrance. But the security lady wouldn’t let us leave until we finished our drinks.

We considered going to the Mob Museum, which sounded interesting, but the ticket price of $23.95 per person seemed a little steep. That, and we had a pretty good bloody Mary/bellini buzz going and weren’t really in a museum mood.

So we walked back to the Golden Nugget and poked around. We looked at the pool and the big fish tank (formerly a shark tank with a water slide that goes through the tank in a clear tube, but there were no sharks and the slide was closed for repair). I’m not sure if they plan on replacing the huge tunas in the tank with sharks again, or if they learned that reef sharks shouldn’t be kept in small tanks. I hope it is the latter.

Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

It wasn’t really warm enough to swim, but the pool was heated and a few people were swimming anyway. Up the stairs from the pool to where the top of the water slide was, were a bunch of fancy pool cabanas for rent (all empty) and a smaller adult pool with a bar where a bunch of drunk adults were partying.

Back in the casino we played a couple slot machines for a minute, but only because they had Gremlins on them. $2.00 down the drain. I’ve never been very lucky with slot machines, but I’m also not really a big gambler.

Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino
Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino

Finally, we decided to sit at the fancy fish tank bar near the Rush Tower elevator and have a drink and watch the fish.

Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget
Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget

As always happens with day drinking, we eventually needed a nap time.

That evening, we had made a reservation at Las Vegas’ most famous Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam. I highly recommend making an online reservation a week or more in advance, this place is POPULAR. It’s been around for over 20 years, and has been given even more notoriety in recent years by being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.

Housed in an unassuming strip mall location east of The Strip on East Sahara Avenue, Lotus of Siam specializes in serving Northern Thai cuisine.

We had read reviews and seen Parts Unknown, and knew two of the dishes we wanted. The menu was a bit overwhelming, however. Everything in the front of the menu is your standard Thai restaurant fare, while the Northern Thai dishes and house specialties are all towards the back. It was a huge menu. I think that a menu makeover might be a good idea–feature their house specialties right up front, and the Pad Thai and other standard Thai dishes that are not northern towards the back. Kind of like the hamburger at the back of the Chinese restaurant menu…”Yes, we have it. But it’s not what you should be ordering here.”

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

The server helped us locate the two dishes we were after–the Garlic Prawns and the Crispy Duck Khao Soi. We also ordered the Nam Prik Hed, described as a spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables. We were looking for a veggie dish to add and it was something we’d never had before, so we gave it a go.

The Garlic Prawns came out first. Deep-fried in the shell with garlic and black pepper. They lived up to the hype. We couldn’t stop fishing out forkfuls of the fried bits of garlic and cabbage at the bottom of the dish, it was delicious.

Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam

The Crispy Duck Khao Soi and the Nam Prik Hed arrived next. The Khao Soi came with an assortment of lime wedges, red onions, and pickled veggies on the side to add to our taste. We added it all. The noodles were flat egg noodles and the broth was a curry base. The duck was cooked perfectly with delicious crispy skin.

The Nam Prik Hed was a dip made from green chilis and pickled mushrooms. It wasn’t a very exciting dish, but it provided the perfect fresh vegetable component necessary to balance out the heavy fried prawns and crispy duck.

Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam

We were painfully stuffed when we left. Don’t miss this place if you like Thai food–it is worth the Lyft ride. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation. When we left the doorway was full of hopeful, hungry, reservation-less people, waiting for a chance at a table. If you do make a reservation, know that they will only hold the table for five minutes past your reservation time. Then it becomes available for someone else. And it appeared that there is always someone else.

After dinner, we called another Lyft to cap off the night at the other classic tiki bar in Las Vegas, Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Franki’s Tiki Room is on the outskirts of the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, on W Charleston Blvd. It’s dark, open 24 hours, and serves only drinks (no food).

Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

Tiki drinks are $10.00 each, or $25.00 if you want it in a souvenir tiki mug to take home. They had a lot of souvenir tiki mugs, all with the Frankie’s Tiki logo engraved into them on the back. We met a couple in the booth next to us who come to Las Vegas from LA a couple times a year and had collected almost all of them.

I ordered the Nakalele Knockout, which was said to be a tangy, refreshing blend of rum, hibiscus, and lime. All I tasted was rum–it was strong. Paddy had the Green Gasser, a mix of citrus rum, Red Bull, melon liqueur, and Bacardi 151 that was also really strong. The bartender wasn’t the friendliest, but he made some stiff drinks.

Frankies tiki
The Nakalele Knockout in a souvenir tiki mug at Frankie’s Tiki Room, and the Green Gasser.

L and Sam joined us at Frankie’s. Sam liked the Frankenstein, and I had the Kapu I’a which was the one tequila cocktail on the menu. I liked it a lot better than the Nakalele Knockout, but I am partial to tequila. My third and last drink was the Scurvy, which was a pineapple and coconut sugar-bomb that I couldn’t finish (and was glad I didn’t). We all ended up with a bit more of a buzz than we intended.

At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Bathroom graffiti at Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

 

The next morning, all the rum and sugar from the night before was making us a little green around the gills. It didn’t help that we had a 9:30 AM flight to get up early for.

Our shuttle arrived at airport terminal 1, which was a complete madhouse. Everyone in Las Vegas seemed to be taking a Southwest Air flight out that morning. Our driver told us that our terminal was the next one, terminal three. Everyone else in the shuttle got off at terminal 1 to battle the long security lines.

Terminal three was the complete opposite. We flew Alaska Air, and terminal  three was quiet and mellow. We barely had any lines at security, and it was fabulous. The other domestic airlines at terminal three were JetBlue, and Virgin. Our shuttle driver said that terminal three is usually not as busy as terminal 1.

Moral of the story: If you are going to Las Vegas, try not to fly Southwest–try to get a flight with Alaska, JetBlue, or Virgin. Everyone seems to fly Southwest and terminal 1 is very busy.

We had the perfect ending to our trip at terminal three. Before we left for Vegas, my friend Keith told me that if I saw a Dolly Parton slot machine, I had to play it. I promised I would. I didn’t really expect to see a Dolly Parton slot machine… but low and behold, this is what was next to our airport departure gate:

dolly parton slot machine
Dolly Parton slot machine–I found one!

I had spent almost all of my cash, but had one last dollar in my wallet. Dolly Parton took my last dollar like a cold-hearted temptress.

We didn’t win big in Las Vegas, but we didn’t really try. Gambling has never been our thing. There are many other fun reasons to go to Las Vegas, and we really enjoyed getting off of the strip and seeing downtown Las Vegas. We didn’t leave feeling like we were “over it” this time. We want to come back. On our next trip, we’d like to make it to some of the other local places that we missed, and maybe see a show. We still have yet to see an Elvis impersonator (although I think they are ore scarce these days). Coming back in warmer weather and spending more time at the pool sounds nice too. Not to mention all the unexplored restaurants in Chinatown.  Las Vegas is a great, quick and easy and a relatively inexpensive grown-up trip. We will definitely be staying in downtown Las Vegas again on our next trip.

Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah

Our end of summer one-week road trip around Colorado and Utah: Rocky Mountains, hot springs, ancient Native American ruins, canyons and arches.

 

Our week-long road trip adventure through Colorado and Utah began as a plan to visit some of my family in Fort Collins, Colorado over Labor Day Weekend. Neither of us had ever been to Colorado, so we decided to rent a car and make a road trip out of it the week following.

In addition to Colorado, we decided to incorporate Utah into our road trip as well. When I graduated college back in 2004, one of my best friends and I went on a three-week road trip around Southwest USA. It was an amazing trip, and two of the places that I really wanted to go back to with Paddy were Arches National Park in Utah and Monument Valley in Utah/Arizona.

Days 1-3:

We arrived in Denver mid-morning on Saturday, an easy two and a half our flight from Seattle. We had reserved a car with Enterprise through Kayak.com, which we were able to pick up and return back to the airport. We chose Enterprise over the slightly less expensive Budget car rental because Enterprise does not charge for an extra driver if the two drivers are married. Budget wanted to charge an additional $20.00 per day if we both wanted to be drivers.

**Note: Always reserve a rental car ahead of time, especially on busy holiday weekends. I saw a gentleman turned away at the counter at Enterprise, as they weren’t accepting walk-ins for the holiday weekend. In addition, you often get a better rate if you reserve far in advance.

My parents joined us for the weekend as well, and the first three days were mostly spent visiting with my family. Paddy and I were staying with my cousin and her fiance in Severance, CO just outside of Fort Collins.

Our biggest adventure on Saturday was eating Rocky Mountain oysters with my cousin at Bruce’s Bar in Severance. Bruce’s is known for its “oysters,” and their sampler platter included buffalo, beef, and lamb oysters, cut in strips, breaded and deep-fried. They are all served with cocktail sauce.

Paddy and I are adventurous eaters, and they didn’t look that intimidating, so we dove right in.

Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce's Bar in Severance, CO: Buffalo, lamb, and beef
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance, CO: Buffalo, lamb, and beef
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce's Bar in Severance, CO
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance, CO

The lamb oysters were our favorite. I didn’t try the beef ones because I don’t like beef, but Paddy said those were his least favorite as they were a bit tough. I liked the lamb ones. They kind of tasted like chicken nuggets.

 

On Sunday Paddy, my Mom, and I took a drive up to Estes Park in hopes of visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Stanley Hotel. It was a really pretty drive into the Rocky Mountains, and only an hour long road trip to get to Estes Park from Fort Collins.

Road to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains
Road to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains

We were hungry when we arrived in Estes Park, so we had lunch at a mediocre Mexican restaurant off the highway and then headed to the Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel gets its fame by being the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining in 1977. He and his wife stayed there for a night in room 217. They were the only guests at the hotel that night, as the hotel was getting ready to close for the season. Contrary to popular belief, The Shining was not actually filmed at The Stanley Hotel. The exterior aerial shots of the Overlook Hotel in the movie are actually of the Timberline Lodge at Mt Hood, Oregon. The hotel interior shots in the film were a set.

However, the Stanley Hotel was a creepy inspiration to Stephen King, and is rumored to be haunted. You can request the Stephen King suite (room 217) or a “haunted room” if you wish, but the haunted rooms book up fast. Tours of the hotel also book up in advance, as we learned when we arrived.

We were able to walk around the lobby and peek into some of the event rooms on the main floor, and there were some more historical exhibits downstairs. There is a gift shop with souvenirs from The Shining if you feel so inclined. We now own a Redrum coffee mug.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

It turned out that Labor Day weekend was the wrong weekend to try to go to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Traffic towards the park was bumper to bumper, so we decided to skip it. Before heading back to Fort Collins, we thought we might try to check out the downtown area of Estes Park. This was also a bad idea. There wasn’t one parking space left in town, and traffic was so bad it took us 20 minutes just to get back to the road. It’s a small town. Estes Park looked like a cute town to visit, but I would recommend visiting in the off-season.

rainbow severance co
Rainbow on Paddy’s birthday–good luck?

Sunday was also Paddy’s birthday, so later that evening my cousin took us to downtown Fort Collins to celebrate.

The first place we went was the oldest bar in Fort Collins, The Town Pump. Built in 1909, The Town Pump is small and cozy with a full bar and a good local beer selection (Fort Collins is all about craft beer). It was a good spot to start the night.

The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins

For dinner we headed down the block to The Crown Pub, an English style pub with good food. We shared the Prince Edward Island Mussels to start, and then Paddy had the New York Strip Steak and I had the Relleno Royale chicken burger. Everything was great including the service.

The Relleno Royale burger with a chicken breast at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The Relleno Royale burger with a chicken breast at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The New York Strip Steak at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The New York Strip Steak at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins

We ended the evening at the Trail Head Tavern on W Mountain Ave. My cousin told me it used to be a movie theater a long time ago, where our grandparents would go to the movies together. There is the remnants of an old theater box office to the left of the front door.

The Trail Head had cheap drinks, a college-y vibe (Fort Collins is a college town), and a casual atmosphere.

The Trailhead Tavern in Fort Collins
The Trailhead Tavern in Fort Collins

On Monday morning we had breakfast out at The Egg and I in Windsor near my cousin’s house. For a chain restaurant, the food was surprisingly good and had a lot of healthy options available in addition to classic favorites. I had the Hiker’s Benedict which was delicious.

We spent the rest of the day with my family.

Hiker's Benedict at The Egg and I in Windsor, Colorado
Hiker’s Benedict at The Egg and I in Windsor, Colorado

Day 4: 

On Tuesday morning, we hit the road at 7:00 AM to begin our road trip. Our first destination was Pagosa Springs, in the southern part of Colorado, which was about a 6 hour drive away.

It was a long day of driving, but it was a beautiful drive. As soon as we passed Denver, we began an ascent into the Rocky Mountains, heading south.

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-11

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-10

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-13

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-4

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-2

After four hours, we were ready for a lunch stop. We stopped in the tiny town of Saguache at the Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery.

Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache Colorado
Saguache main street, Colorado
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery

The 4th Street Diner and Bakery was a great place to stop for lunch. Tiny and eclectic, with mis-matched tables and chairs and a wood stove for cold winter days, it was homey and welcoming. Paddy had a burger with organic beef and I had a chicken quesadilla. There were a lot of tempting pies in the case at the counter, but we decided to pass and get back on the road.

We made a final stop at Wolf Creek Pass to get a photo at the view point there. The elevation was 10,856 ft, and it made me so light-headed that I stumbled a bit getting out of the car. It was a gorgeous view.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

We made it to Pagosa Springs around 3:00 PM and checked into the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. It wasn’t really a resort, more of a budget hotel with a hot springs pool, steam room and sauna. It was clean and comfortable, and while I’m sure their pool was nice we were actually staying there because it was an affordable option next to the main hot springs.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs
Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is centered around the developed hot springs resort on the river, with several hot springs pools at various temperatures. They are open until 11:00 PM daily, so we planned on spending the evening soaking our troubles away.

Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

We walked through the town and poked about in a few shops. We eventually made it up the main street to Riff Raff Brewing, and decided to relax and sample the local beer.

Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sampler at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Skallywag English Pale, Ele Duende Green Chili, Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The beer at Riff Raff was tasty and diverse. I did a sampler with the English Pale, the El Duende Green Chili Ale, the Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter. The El Duende was tasty but I expected a bit more green chili flavor. The Skallywag English Pale and the Plebian Porter were my two favorites. The Stepchild Red was a bit too hoppy for me, I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers.

Pagosa Springs is at a fairly high elevation (just over 7,000 ft), (pretty high-especially for us sea-level dwellers). Alcohol effects everyone a bit more at high elevations, and after the beer sampler I was quite buzzed. We stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent. Paddy tried the yak burger, which he really enjoyed. Riff Raff makes their own pickles, which were delicious.

Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Smokey the Chicken Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Yakkity-Yak Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

After dinner, we were ready for the hot springs. It was $30 per person for admittance, which was a little expensive but included a towel and a locker. They have an adults-only terrace with drink service which was very tempting but would have been $23 extra dollars each just to be able to use it. We couldn’t justify that kind of price. I tried to bargain with the guy at the counter, it being a Tuesday evening and all, but no dice.

The hot springs had a large pool (mostly used by children and families), and a series of small pools at a range of different temperatures from 92 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We found that we were most comfortable between 90 to 100 degrees. I tried to go in the Paradise pool at 109 degrees, but it was so painfully hot that I didn’t get past ankle deep.

Our favorite pools were Boulder, Aspen, and Serendipity. Serendipity had a waterfall and a good overlook for the river and the rest of the resort. The waterfall was a good shoulder massage. The adults only terrace didn’t seem like such a big deal, as all the kids seemed to be in the big pool and not the regular hot spring tubs. We were glad we hadn’t shelled out an extra $46.00.

Pagosa Hot Springs Colorado road trip
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

There was a Canteen in the center of the pool complex where you could buy drinks and snacks, including beer and wine. We only got one drink each, we figured that high elevation and hot springs and alcohol probably weren’t a great combo. Drinks weren’t too overpriced.

We stayed and soaked our sore muscles until the stars came out.

 

Day 5: 

Aside from hot springs, we picked Pagosa Springs as a first night stop on our road trip because it was close to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, and contains over 5,000 archeological sites and 600 ancient cliff dwellings. Only a few are open to the public. A couple cliff dwellings can be toured with a ranger guide.

We stopped by the ranger station when we arrived, and considered signing up for a ranger-guided tour of the Cliff Palace, but since we only had the morning to tour the park we opted to just do a drive and view tour at our own pace.

The road into the park ascends dramatically, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. There were several viewpoint areas to pull over at.

*Note: The drive down to the cliff dwellings and pit house sites is 45 minutes from the park entrance one way, so allow at least half a day to see the park.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

We stopped at the remains of some early Anasazi pit houses along the Mesa View Loop road, a few dating back to 600 AD. The houses were dug into the ground, and then walls and a roof built up from the dugout with sticks and mud.

Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses

At the end of the park are several cliff dwellings to view. Cliff Palace was the most spectacular one that we saw, and you can get a really great view of Cliff Palace from above on the Cliff Palace Loop Road.

Note that if you decide to tour Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or other open dwellings in the park, they do involve climbing stairs, steep trails, and ladders. Cliff Palace sounded like it was the least strenuous, but all of them are at high elevation. Higher elevations make exercise and hiking a lot more strenuous, so if you have a heart condition or any type of physical disability, you may want to skip the tours.

Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

It is amazing to imagine these dwellings alive and full of the daily activity of the Anasazi people. Tiny cities tucked into the steep cliffs in the canyon. I wonder if there were more cliff trails along the canyon between the dwellings back in 1300 AD, it doesn’t look easy to access them currently. I’m sure there has been some significant erosion since they were populated.

After checking out the Cliff Dwellings, it was 1:00 PM and we were starving. Mesa Verde has two cafeteria-style restaurants, one at Far View Terrace closer to the entrance, and one at Spruce Tree Terrace closer to the cliff dwellings. Prices were reasonable, with many Southwest-style options. Paddy ordered the Navajo Taco, which was huge. It was a dinner-plate sized Navajo fry bread with chili and all your standard American taco fixings. He said it was really good, but didn’t quite make it through the whole thing. I had the black bean burger and fries which was also good.

Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park
Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park

The high elevation (and the big lunch) made us pretty tired, and we still had a couple hours to drive to our next destination, Monument Valley.

On the way to Monument Valley as we crossed from Colorado into Arizona, and we passed the Four Corners monument. We figured we should stop and do the obligatory photo op of us standing in four states at one time (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico).

The Four Corners Monument is part of the Navajo Nation, and requires an entrance fee of $5 per person. Unfortunately, it is out in the middle of nowhere and requires cash payment, no credit or debit cards. We only had $8 cash, so we moved on. If you want to see the four corners, be sure to have cash on hand to cover your group. If you need an ATM, there is one at the Teec Nos Pos trading post store and gas station is about a 10 minute drive away. They also have restrooms.

An hour and a half later, we finally approached Monument Valley. The first time I visited Monument Valley was on my road trip with my friend in March 2004, and I had been so excited to see it. We just did a drive through and unfortunately, there was a dust storm that day. The iconic wild-west views of red buttes were something I had always wanted to go back and experience again, in better weather and with more time.

We had a reservation at The View Hotel in Monument Valley tribal park, which ended up being worth every penny of the high $250/night price tag. It was our one big hotel splurge of the trip.

*Note: The View Hotel is inside the Navajo Tribal park and requires a $20 entrance fee per vehicle for up to two days. This isn’t included in the price of the room.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel is aptly named, as every room has a balcony and a panoramic view of the iconic “Mittens,” The two buttes in the valley that look like right and left hand mittens. It was a stunning view, and my number one plan was to drink some wine on the balcony ad watch the sunset all evening.

*Note about wine/alcohol: The Navajo Nation does not permit the sale of alcohol, so no alcohol can be bought anywhere near or at the hotel. There isn’t a rule against bringing your own and drinking it in your room, however. If you plan on having adult beverages and enjoying the sunset like we did, be sure to stock up beforehand and bring your own. Each room is equipped with a fridge.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel has a restaurant, with halfway decent prices and solidly mediocre food. The food isn’t bad, but it’s on par with good cafeteria food. That being said, it is convenient and the view from the restaurant is stunning. If you want to come here just for dinner and are staying elsewhere, be aware that the restaurant only serves hotel guests after 7:00 PM.

The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley

We decided to share the Navajo Sampler platter and the fried chicken dinner. The Navajo Sampler platter actually has enough food for two people, and we ended up with leftovers (good thing our room had a fridge). The sampler consisted of Green Chili Stew (be warned, it’s spicy), Red Chili Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, a mini Navajo fry bread taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey.

We highly recommend getting the Navajo tea, it was delicious. They also sell it in the gift shop.

The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey

After dinner, it was sunset and wine time. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. The View Hotel faces east, so while you can’t see the sun going down over the buttes, the sunlight from the setting sun in the west illuminates the buttes in a gorgeous red-orange light. The photos I took can’t do it justice.

The View Hotel, Monument Valley
The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley

Once it was dark, the hotel showed an outdoor John Wayne movie outside the restaurant, projected onto the wall of the building.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley–outdoor John Wayne movie

We didn’t stay up late enough to watch the stars come out, but I did wake up in the middle of the night and went outside and looked at them. It was a  surreal glitter display over the dark shadows of the buttes.

We did set our alarms for the sunrise, however. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

Day 6:

Sunrise over Monument Valley, seen from the balcony in our room:

Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley

Monument Valley was the highlight of our entire road trip. We were sad to leave and wished we’d had another day to go on the slow dirt-road drive through the valley or go on a guided tour with a Navajo guide. I think we’ll be back though. It is a truly magical place.

We had breakfast a 10 minute drive away at Goulding’s Stagecoach. The breakfast there was outstanding, we both had their signature dish of Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros with green chili. We recommend skipping the View Hotel breakfast and coming here. Had we stayed a second night, we would have come back to Goulding’s for dinner as well.

Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley

After breakfast we drove around for a little bit to get some photos, and stopped at a Navajo handicraft stand to buy some souvenirs. We wanted to buy directly from the local Navajo people instead of the hotel gift shop.

The best roadside photos of the Valley are taken on the Utah side facing south. There are many pull-outs along the highway 163 to top and take a picture from.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley–classic view

Our next destination was Moab, where we planned on staying for two nights. The drive was only 2.5 hours and fairly scenic. On the way into town we passed Church Rock and Wilson Arch.

Church Rock, Utah road trip
Church Rock, Utah
Wilson Arch outside Moab, Utah
Wilson Arch outside Moab, Utah

We checked into the Inca Inn, a budget hotel that prides itself on “budget done right.” I’d have to say that we agree. The rooms are small but very clean, beds comfy, the towels weren’t sandpaper, there was a minimal complimentary continental breakfast and Starbucks coffee provided, and a small swimming pool. In addition, they care about the environment. The roof was lined with solar panels and there were prominent recycling bins in the parking lot. Rooms also include fridges and microwaves.

inca-inn-moab-utah-1

The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah

The bonus we discovered in our room the following morning: Disco shower.

Color-changing disco shower head at the Inca Inn in Moab Utah
Color-changing disco shower head at the Inca Inn in Moab Utah

We checked into the hotel and then walked around town a bit. Moab was HOT. It was in the 90’s, and although it was a dry heat the sun beat down on us.

Moab is a liberal, youthful outdoor adventure town. It is situated on the Colorado River and in very close proximity to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The area is very popular with rock climbers and river rafters, and is very busy in the summer. Be sure to make your hotel reservations in advance for the summer season.

Around 4:30 we took an air-conditioned drive through Arches National Park. Arches was my favorite National Park that my friend and I visited on our road trip in 2004, and I’d always wanted to go back. There are some pretty cool day hikes in the park, but if you want to hike in the summer I would recommend going at dawn when it is not so hot and the crowds are less. Take lots of water with you.

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
“Organ Pipes,” Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

The rock formations in Arches National Park are like no other I’ve seen anywhere else. The natural sandstone formations are created from wind and rain soil erosion. The park is home to the largest amount of natural rock arches in the world. Read more about how they are formed here.

Evening is a good time to drive through the park, as the low sun sets the red sandstone ablaze with orange light, creating some dramatic photo opportunities.

The most famous arch in the park is the Delicate Arch. You can see it from walking a very short trail from the parking lot, but it is pretty far away. To reach the arch, you have to hike a three mile round trip trail up the sandstone rock ledge, which can be a fairly strenuous hike–especially in high heat. We opted to just get a photo from the view point with a zoom lens and call it good.

delicate arch, Arches National Park
Delicate Arch seen from the lower view point
delicate arch, Arches National Park
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

If you just want to drive through the park and check out the viewpoints, allow about two hours or so. Allow a half day if you want to get out and do some short hikes. Take lots of water with you and wear sunscreen.

Firey Furnace, Arches National Park, Utah
Firey Furnace, Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

When we arrived back at our hotel, we were starving. The hotel front desk guy had recommended La Hacienda Mexican restaurant right next door, so we checked it out. It was very good. Great atmosphere, nice booths, and an extensive margarita menu. The sweet barbacoa pork is highly recommended.

La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Burrito at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Barbacoa pork burrito at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Seared ahi tacos at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Seared ahi tacos at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab

 

Day 7:

Friday was our only day with no driving to a different location, so we took it easy. We started the day with some sight seeing in Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands has two main entrances, Island in the Sky and Needles. Island in the Sky is about 30 minutes north of Moab, and Needles is about an hour south of Moab and then another 45 minutes northwest. We opted to just go to the Island in the Sky portion of the park.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There are many overlooks from the “Island,” as well as several hiking trails. We did the extremely short and extremely popular half mile round-trip hike to Mesa Arch. It is an easy hike with stunning views. You’ll have to take your turn for photos at the arch, unless you want to get there really early.

Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We checked out some more overlooks, and then headed back to Moab. Overall including the short Mesa Arch hike we spent about three hours there. If you have more time, you can also check out Dead Horse Point State Park on the way in or out of Island in the Sky. We opted to skip it on this trip, but I went with my friend in 2004 and it does have nice views.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Back in Moab, we ate lunch at the Moab Brewery on the south side of the main drag through town. Their beers were a little hoppy for my taste, but the salads and chicken wings were excellent. We also tried a cup each of their beer and cheese soup, but it was a lot more like cheese fondue than soup. Skip the beer cheese soup.

Moab Brewery
Moab Brewery

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing back at the hotel and enjoying our day of not driving. The pool didn’t have umbrellas, but at around 3:30 there was enough shade in the corner of the pool area for me to sit and enjoy myself without feeling like I was in an oven. The water was refreshing.

Relaxing by the pool at the Inca Inn
Relaxing by the pool at the Inca Inn

That evening we went for dinner at the Sunset Grill. The main reason to eat at the Sunset Grill is the view. Perched high on the cliff overlooking the north part of town, The Sunset Grill is the former home of Charlie Steen, who came to Moab in the 1950’s in search of uranium and struck it rich.

View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah

The food was decent, and the service was great. It was a bit of a splurge dinner as entrees run around $25-$32 each, but they come with a choice of soup or salad and fresh baked bread or cornbread muffins. We just had an entree each and it was more than enough food. I wouldn’t come back here just for the food, but the view and good service made the experience one we would definitely recommend.

New York Strip Steak at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
New York Strip Steak at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
Raspberry duck at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
Raspberry duck at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah

 

Day 8: 

Saturday was the last day of our road trip and we had a long 6 hour drive back to Denver. We got an early morning start at 7:00 AM, and took a detour to Woody Creek for lunch.

Woody Creek is a small town near Aspen, Colorado and the home of of the late writer Hunter S Thompson. Paddy is a huge Thompson fan, and so we had to go check it out.

Hunter S Thompson had a large property called Owl Farm in Woody Creek, but we didn’t know exactly where it was. Google Maps led us down Owl Creek Road in Aspen but all we found was some nice farm scenery.

Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado

After touring the Aspen countryside, we went for lunch at Hunter’s favorite watering hole, the Woody Creek Tavern. We got there pretty soon after it opened and Hunter’s favorite corner table was available. Paddy was stoked.

Hunter's favorite table at the Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Hunter’s favorite table at the Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado

The food was good and the people were friendly. It seemed to be a popular lunch spot for bicycle tourists in the area.

Ralph Steadman doodle of Hunter S Thompson on the wall at Woody Creek Tavern
Ralph Steadman doodle of Hunter S Thompson on the wall at Woody Creek Tavern

After lunch, we drove the last  three and a half hours to Denver, where we were staying our last night with our friends Sean and Lillian at their apartment.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Denver, just enough time to get some dinner and go out for a few drinks. Sean and Lillian took us to Ace Eat Serve, an Asian fusion restaurant with house-made sodas and a room full of ping pong tables.

Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado

We shared the shumai and the kimchi fritters to start, which were delicious. I had the Shoyu Ramen and Paddy had the Bulgogi (Korean dish with marinated ribeye steak and kimchi). Everything was fantastic and flavorful and pretty reasonably priced. The cocktails were expensive, but that’s to be expected. They make all their own kimchi and pickles in house, and they were outstanding. I couldn’t stop picking the radish kimchi off of Paddy’s plate.

Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Shoyu Ramen at Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado

After dinner we walked over to Colfax Avenue, a main drag in Denver with ample nightlife. Lillian and Sean took us to the Nob Hill Inn bar for more drinks. Nob Hill has been a Denver institution since 1954, and the furniture and decor don’t look like it has changed much since then. Drinks were cheap. I think if we lived in Denver it would be a favorite spot of ours.

We ended our (not so late) evening at Charlies, a gay cowboy bar with line dancing lessons. We figured we should give line dancing a shot. It was a $5.00 cover, and the evening was young so it was not very crowded yet. A very nice and very patient line dancing instructor invited newbies in to learn the basic “Freeze,” which he said is similar to the Electric Slide disco dance of the 70’s. It kind of reminded me of basic aerobics to country music. We weren’t the most coordinated people in the group, but it was fun. Afterward the dance instructor came over to our table and gave us free drink coupons. Bonus!

Line dancing at Charlie's bar in Denver
Line dancing at Charlie’s bar in Denver
At Charlie's Cowboy Bar in Denver
At Charlie’s Cowboy Bar in Denver
Cowboy boots disco ball at Charlies in Denver
Cowboy boots disco ball at Charlies in Denver

They did some more advanced dances afterward and we were impressed with the quick-stepping talent on the floor. It looked like a lot of fun. I’d try it again.

 

Our road trip around Colorado and Utah was quick and pretty fast-paced, but it was fun. I wished we’d had more time at each place we visited. I really want to go back to Monument Valley again and spend some more time there exploring the Valley. Colorado and Utah are very different and very beautiful states, each with a lot of different things to offer. We’d love to spend more time in Denver as well.

 

Tubing the Skykomish River: A Cautionary Tale

Tubing the Skykomish River: A fun lazy river float that took some scary and unexpected turns. What we learned on our first river tubing adventure and what to be aware of when venturing out onto any river

 

I waffled at first about whether to write about our adventure tubing on the Skykomish River. We are all still trying to process what happened and it definitely wasn’t the day of fun memories that we expected it to be. However, I think that one of the most important parts about travel and adventure writing is writing about the things that go wrong, and what you learned from them. It can help others learn from your misadventures and hopefully prevent their own.

Here is a cautionary tale of our adventure, and how a fun day on the river turned into one of the scariest days of our lives:

 

We went tubing on the Skykomish River on a Saturday in August, and the day started perfectly. The weather was sunny and in the high 80’s, nice and hot for a day on the cold Skykomish River just northeast of Seattle. This was our first time river tubing and we had been invited by some friends of ours who go river tubing annually, and we were excited to try it out.

The two organizers in the group did an excellent job of making sure us newbies were prepared. They posted a packing list on the event page on Facebook and gave us the low-down of what to expect and what to bring (and not to bring). The packing list included the following:

Cheap sunglasses
Hat
Old sneakers or water sandals with straps and traction (flip flops are useless)
Something for lunch, snack for breakfast
Lots of water
Discovery pass for parking if you have it
Sunscreen
Towel
Change of clothes for after (at least undies)
An oar
A sturdy river tube (not a pool floaty)

We were advised not to bring anything valuable as the river has a propensity to make off with people’s belongings.

We brought everything we were advised to, also including a waterproof digital camera with a float strap, our phones in LifeProof cases, and a waterproof waist pack for ID, debit card, and health insurance card, and some sunscreen chapstick. I also packed some first aid supplies in a zip lock freezer bag. (I was dubbed the “Nervous Nellie” of the group for this). My supplies bag included a tube patch kit, a tiny container of rubbing alcohol for said patch kit and any disinfecting first aid needs, band-aids, gauze pads and tape, travel toilet paper, super glue, antibiotic ointment packs, and baking soda for bee stings).

There was also an orange theme, so we were all supposed to wear orange stuff as a fun way to unify the group. Paddy wore an orange rash guard and I wore orange heart shaped sunglasses.

Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA
Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA

I thought about getting life jackets before we went, but no one else was wearing them and didn’t seem to feel like they would be necessary, so we didn’t buy any.

Our tube was an Intex River Run two person tube with a “cooler” in the middle, perfect for holding water, sunscreen, and some other essentials. It looked just like this:

intex-river-run-two-person-tube

We had two plastic oars to navigate with, and we had a separate inflatable cooler for extra water and beer which we tied tightly to the side of the tube.

We all arrived at the Skykomish River drop in spot at Sultan Sportsman Park off of Highway 2 around 11:00, inflated tubes and sorted out our gear, and then had a few drivers shuttle cars down to the end spot in Monroe and then come back. There was a slight snafu with forgetting a cooler full of everyone’s lunch and water in a car at the end parking lot. One of our organizers drove back to retrieve it and this added another hour onto our schedule. It wasn’t a big deal, we were able to wait on the river bank in the shade and chat while we waited.

tubing the Skykomish River
Getting ready to go at the drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan
tubing the Skykomish River
Drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan

One of our friends wanted to fish instead of float, so she planned on helping us get going on the river, then driving down river to find spots to fly fish from the shore. She would check in with us along the way.

There were a lot of other groups getting on the Skykomish river with various types of floats. We got one of them to take a group photo of us and then got in our tubes and inflatable boats and let the river carry us away. The water was freezing cold at first, but we got used to it quickly. It was refreshing combined with the hot sun.  We had one inflatable boat with coolers, extra drinking water, and an extra air pump that we tied along side one of the inflatable boats to be our supplies raft/trash raft.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Setting off–Tubing the Skykomish River

The water was calm and the pace was slow. People had brought some rope to tie together with, but one of our experienced organizers told us not to tie together until after we went around the first rapid water bend in the river, and that after that it should be pretty calm the rest of the float. It was estimated that we would be floating about 5-6 hours, depending on how often we pulled over onto river banks to have food or take a break.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

It wasn’t long before we reached the bend our organizer had told us about, and the water pace sped up. It was shallower here, so we had to lift our butts up in the tubes to avoid bumping rocks as we sped around the corner. I broke my oar trying to shove away from the river bank, so we had one and a half oars after that.

Everyone made it around the bend with no problems, and we were back to lazy float time. Some of the group tied together with the rope, but we opted to stay free but close by.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

About an hour in, we decided to pull over at a river bank and have some snacks and re-apply sunscreen. I appreciated our organizer’s reminders to re-apply! Paddy and I burn super easily.

After a quick break, we got back on the river. We were all having a great time and enjoying the scenery.

We came upon another fast moving bend in the river that we wooshed down with no problems. We floated along a while longer. Paddy was a gentleman and gave me the long oar (he has longer arms anyway) and used the half oar to paddle and navigate on his side. We didn’t need to paddle a whole lot, the river was slowly floating us along at a leisurely pace.

Then things took a bad turn.

 

About an hour and a half in, we approached another bend where the water was moving fast, and we could see a large fallen tree with roots sticking up out of the water. We tried to navigate away from it, but it became clear as we picked up speed that we were going to slam right into it.

Bracing for impact, I stuck my arms out to brace us and try to bump us around the tree. We were going so fast that I thought the tree would puncture the tube, or injure us (or both). We hit the tree without injury, but the impact launched Paddy right out of the double tube and into the river. Paddy can swim, but he isn’t a great swimmer, and the river currents were strong. As soon as I knew that he was in the water, I was terrified. It was so fortunate that I had the long oar and not the broken one. I was able to reach the oar out to him as far as I could lean over the tube as he struggled against the current, panicking and trying to keep his head above water. He got a hold of the oar, and with his kicking and my pulling I was able to pull him over to the tube and get a hold of his arm. He had a hold on the oar under the raft and there was no way for me to navigate us to the shore while holding onto him.

Fortunately, one of our organizers and another friend had made it around the fallen tree and had pulled over to the river bank to make sure everyone got through okay. They were able to wade into the river and pull us to shore. Paddy crawled onto the river bank, very shaken up and gasping for breath.

Things then went from scary to terrifying.

 

I was making sure Paddy was okay when we heard a woman’s anguished crying and wailing from upriver where the tree was. I couldn’t see what was happening, but since Paddy seemed to be okay I grabbed my first aid supplies and ran with everyone else up the river bank. On the way up the bank I noticed that there was an empty inflatable boat and other empty tube from our group floating down the river. Our organizer shoved his car keys in my hand and jumped into the rushing water to help.

One of the women in our group had also hit the tree, and was launched out of her boat. the raft she was in had been tied to others in the group, and according to the people who witnessed it, the rope had wrapped around her neck and was strangling her as she fought to keep her head above the water. Her boyfriend jumped in to help, and yelled for someone to swim out with a knife. Fortunately, he managed to get the rope loose enough to push her head out of it, and swam her through the rushing water to shore.

She was hysterical, as anyone would be after that kind of near death experience. I can’t even imagine how terrified she was. She had rope burns on her neck and there was no way she or her boyfriend were going to continue the float. The nearest road was across the river, and she was adamant that she was not getting back in the river at all.

There was a house across the river, and a lady who lived there had seen what was going on and called 911. We were trying to figure out a way to get the the woman and her boyfriend over to the road on the other side of the river when EMTs showed up. They said that a rescue boat was on the way and it could get her across the river.

While we waited for the rescue boat, we watched another group of floaters come down the river towards the tree. They ended up stuck on the tree, and were also tied together. It took them about 15 minutes to figure out how to get untangled, but none of them had been hurt or launched into the water. Shortly after they untangled themselves the rescue boat arrived and the EMTs got out to assess the woman in our group who had nearly drowned.

While the EMTs were assessing our friend, a family in tubes came down the river with a little boy and the little boy was launched out of his tube after he hit the tree. Fortunately he was wearing a life jacket, but was still in need of rescuing. The EMTs quickly jumped back in the boat and grabbed the kid out of the water before he got swept downriver. The felled tree was a major hazard for everyone coming through.

Two of our friends decided that they had also had enough of the float, and decided to get out as well. They called our friend who had been fishing and gave her the address for the house across the river, and were able to drive the couple to the hospital in Monroe to get checked out after the EMTs ferried them across the river. It was very fortunate that our friend had her car nearby and was able to pick them up.

The rest of us were very far from our cars on either end of the river, and were behind schedule. We had at least three hours of float time before we reached the end spot in Monroe. We decided to keep going, but the mood was somber.

river tubing on the Skykomish River
Tubing on the Skykomish River

Only a little ways further down the river, Paddy and I got stuck in a swirl current that kept us stranded in one spot. Everyone else had made it through. We were down to one oar, and were paddling furiously to try to get through, but it was fruitless. We decided to try to get to the river bank, which wasn’t too far away, get out, and carry our tube down a ways and then get back in the river near where our friends were waiting for us. We paddled furiously and made it to the edge. I could see shallow rocks under the water next to the river bank, so I thought we were at a place where I could get out and pull us in.

I scooted out of the tube expecting to step down into a couple feet of water, but instead I dropped straight down into the deep river. It was such a deep drop off, I didn’t even feel the bottom when I plunged down. I was still holding onto the raft when I dropped in, so I flipped it upside down.

Before I even surfaced, I knew the tube had flipped and that Paddy was in the water again along with me. I surfaced and lifted the tube up frantically looking for Paddy. He was there, struggling and panicked, unable to get a grip onto anything on the upside down float. I didn’t have a good grip on the float either but all I could think about was making sure he had something to hold onto, so I told him to grab my arm. He did, but it wasn’t enough to keep him up and he let go and grasped for the floating cooler. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get us out of this current and make sure Paddy didn’t drown by myself. I was also in a dangerous spot. Just as I yelled for help, two guys who were nearby jumped into the water next to us, and I told them to help Paddy as he couldn’t swim that well. I also instantly felt like an idiot for not having life jackets on, knowing that Paddy wasn’t very confident in the water. They grabbed Paddy and got him holding on to one of their tubes and the four of us along with another member of our group who had jumped in to help kicked as hard as we could to get the raft the two feet to the river bank. The current was extremely strong.

We thanked the two guys profusely for saving us. Another member of our group had miraculously managed to grab almost all of our stuff that fell out of the cooler in the tube–Paddy’s phone (in a LifeProof case in a ziploc bag), sunscreen, and my water camera. As we were explaining what had happened, we looked down from the shore and saw another girl in a tube stuck in the same current spot we were stuck in. Fortunately she was still in her tube and not in danger, just struggling to paddle out.

Paddy and I were done tubing. Both of us were too shaken up to continue, and with all that had happened, it wasn’t fun anymore, anyway. I also didn’t want to go on without life jackets, in case there was another incident. We got across the river in a shallower, calmer spot, deflated our tube and put it in the extra inflatable boat that the group was towing along, and walked through someone’s property and up to the road. Our organizer gave us his house key (our car was parked at his house with our keys and stuff inside their house in north Seattle) and a bottle of water and told us to keep in touch to let them know we got back okay.

We made it to the road, dripping wet in our bathing suits, and managed to get the one Uber driver in Sultan to pick us up. I was glad I had opted for a conservative bathing suit with a skirted bottom and full coverage tankini top, instead of a bikini. Both of us were a bit emotional and shell shocked.

Our fishing friend with the car who drove the woman who almost drowned and her boyfriend to the hospital was able to meet us at the hospital in Monroe along with two other friends who had decided to go home as well. We got a ride home with her, stopping at our organizer’s house to get our stuff out of our car (our car was blocked in by two other cars at their house, so we opted just to come back and pick it up in the morning). We were exhausted and just wanted to go home.

The remaining nine members of our group continued down the river, and they said it was mostly calm the rest of the way. They ran into a few girls who had lost their floats. They were crying and stranded on the river bank. Our friends had an extra inflatable boat from the couple that went to the hospital, so they gave it to them to help them get home. They were all so far behind schedule at that point that the last part of the float was in the shade, and everyone was getting cold and paddling hard to get to the end. They all made it out at about 7:00 PM and everyone was okay.

I think we’ve all been replaying that day over in our heads. There are so many “whatifs” that will drive us crazy if we think about them too much. What if Paddy hadn’t given me the long oar and I wasn’t able to rescue him from river in time? What if the woman with the rope wrapped around her neck wasn’t rescued in time? What if the people who had jumped in the river to help her and us were carried away by the current and drowned? What if someone was seriously injured on that tree or a sharp branch under the water? Fortunately, we are all okay. We didn’t even get sunburned.

I was just given an update that the woman in our group who almost drowned is doing better. She has rope burns on her neck and is finally able to turn her head after two days of rest. She plans on returning to work in a couple more days. Her emotional scars will take much longer to heal.

What we’ve learned

 

When I had asked the experienced river tubers in our group how dangerous tubing on the Skykomish River was, I was told that the accidents that happen are usually with white water rafters in the spring, and drunk people being stupid. I think for the most part, that is true. However, rivers in the summer are like domesticated wild animals. They may seem tame most of the time, but they are still wild. Remember when Sigfried and Roy’s tiger attacked Roy? You can’t ever be too sure about nature.

Here are the three most important things that we took away from this experience:

1. Don’t underestimate the river
2. WEAR LIFE JACKETS
3. Don’t tie your floats together

 

We have also determined that sturdy, individual inner tubes are easiest to navigate. The double tube with the cooler might be awesome for a very lazy river or a day on the lake, but both of our accidents may have been prevented (at least for one of us) if we hadn’t been in the same tube. Individual tubes with an oar are also much easier to paddle than a double tube with an oar on each side (or in our case by the end–one oar).

What happened with the rope around the woman’s neck was a freak accident that I’m sure is rare, but it happened. It would not have happened had the floats not been tied together. Rope can very easily get snagged on trees and rocks and debris in the river and the impact of a caught rope on a fast river can throw you out of your float. Not to mention tangle you up in it.

I read some articles about the Skykomish River when I got home, and there was an article about some kayakers who had to be rescued back in June because they ran into some felled trees in the river. The article said that this last winter there was a lot of flooding which caused soil erosion and a lot of trees to fall into the river. Even if you have been tubing down the same river every year, you never really know what the river has in store for you. Each winter brings storms and floods and intense water flow and the river is always changing. Rivers can even erode away banks and change course or create new bends and turns.

The most dangerous part of river tubing or rafting is the debris, rocks, and log jams that you may run into. Rivers can also be deceptively deep and currents are very strong. The water is also very cold, and even the strongest swimmers can get into trouble in water that cold with currents that strong. That is why life jackets are so important.

We would like to go river tubing again, but we might want to go elsewhere than the Skykomish River. Something calmer would be nice, with a slower pace. I don’t think anyone in our group is ready to do it again this summer, but probably by next year.

Be careful out there. Mother Nature is unpredictable.