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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Epilogue-Stardate End of June and End of Trip

Continued from the last post.....

We finished the long hike, refilled out water bottles, refueled at a Sinclair Gas Station with 85 octane rated gas, and re-iced the cooler and we were on our way back to Vegas via the entire route from Bryce, to Zion, through Utah, AZ, and then to the Excaliber in Vegas. It was a semi uneventful drive and as we drove through some little towns in Utah, Tomoko and I pondered what life must be like in little towns like this. I actually think she was pondering the idea....I have always thought in the event we move to a little town we simply open up a teriaki bowl to make ends meet. Think about it-rice is cheap, teriaki at Costco is Cheap, the variable being the price of beef and chicken and the serving size. Still it was a nice drive and there were several old farms and homes that had old cars and trucks in the front yard that I found fascinating for some reason, same with the old abandoned homes-I cant always but wonder what stories these walls must hold. I always think about the young family back in the day who maybe started off with this being their dream home and maybe somewhere there is an old man whose idyllic childhood memories reside there. On the opposite note one could also speculate this home maybe was the spot for Ed Gein type acts of barbarism and hedonism.

Back in Vegas we checked in and made our way past the litany of Time Share Reps working out of the Excalibur. I learned to simply ignore them. We checked in and it felt good to be in the AC confines and after Bryce, the psuedo civilation of Excalibur felt good. We made it to our room and changed into out swim wear just in time to make the final 30 minutes of pool time as that night saw the pool closing early so they could host one of the popular pool parties vegas has these day. I wont mention who this pool party was catering to, lets just say I am glad we didnt have to go into the pool on monday.

We ate at the Baja Fresh in the Casino and Tomoko and I split a 24 oz Tecate that were sold at the gift shop for 4 bucks a pop. The Baja Fresh in Vegas wasnt too far removed from our local Baja Fresh thought slightly more expensive. We finished our grub and decided to take a walk down the strip.

Once we were out in the night air, it didnt feel good-as a matter of fact it was hotter then heck even though it was 9pm and probably the driest I have ever felt Vegas, I mean it was dry even by Vegas standards. The back of my throat was in "perma-dry' mode where no matter how much water I drank I was still parched. I wondered when people move to Vegas how long does it take for the body to adjust to the Uber dryness.

Meandering up the strip I noticed a couple of games of 3 card monty as well as the adult oriented business cards being handed out by the clackers. Fortunately none of the clackers tried to force a card into my hand while pushing the stroller for it would have been a huge temptation to punch one of these people in the face.

We made the walk down the strip halfway before Paris before deciding enough was enough and retiring for the evening. Upon recollection-between Buffalo Bills and Excalibur we probably gambled less then 20 bucks. Vegas is great; provided you have money, time, & no kids in tow.

The Heavily Sedated Lions at MGM.



We woke the next day ready for home but did have a handful of items we needed to finish. First we went to the Rio for the legendary buffet. I had never been there to the best of my knowledge and I was impressed. Great selection of food and the quality was a notch above the "For Industrial Use Only" quality I tend to expect. The Highlight came in front of the Gelato stand when Dustin puked. Good times and no-I wont post a picture.

From Rio we trekked to the same Costco we visited on the start of trip. I was still happy with 2.77 cents per gallon gas and having no CRV or Sales Tax for food we did a bit of shopping. We picked up 2 cases of water, a case of Hansens Natural Soda, A huge Container of Chef Paul Poultry Magic(for 5 bucks no less), and a case of CapriSun for 21 bucks give or take. Heck the Chef Paul small 6 oz container goes for 4-6 bucks at local Supermarkets so given the size of the container and BBQ season right around the corner made it bargain.

Our last stop was M&M World. We had promised Alex we would visit and after hearing him ask about it every 5 minutes since he woke up we were happy to oblige. We parked at the MGM and saw the lions and other MGM offerings. Being the last day I really longed for sitting at one of the bars and having a couple of drinks and watching sports and really doing Vegas like one should do Vegas. As luck would have it....

We were still in the MGM and passed a group of 5 twenty something guys being a bit rowdy. One of them looked at me and apologized to which I said "You have nothing to apologize for- you are young in Vegas with money and no children" to which a couple of the rest of the group help up their drinks and gave me a toast. One of them was drinking a blue liquid from a large plastic football-brought back memories of another ill fated vegas incident from years past that I will write about at a later date. For a while Vegas was marketing itself as somewhat family entertainment but with the economy the way it is they probably figured no one has more disposable income the singles so why not market to them and go from "family fun for all" to "Party Time."




We bought a soda and some knickknacks and hit the van for the drive home only stopping one more time in Barstow at Del Taco-something tells me this will be a new tradition anytime we drive through Vegas. A fitting way to end a great family vacation and let me focus on getting back to work-which would see that happen in a brief couple of days. It was a great experience as to which I can thank Tomoko for doing all of the planning. The city of Springdale was fantastic. Though the hotel we stayed at was marvelous- I am pretty sure any place in the city you stay would be fine as their are great views to be had no matter where you are at and the Free City Shuttle makes getting around as easy as possible. Bryce was more touristy then I expected but once again I would love to camp at Bryce or Zion as both would be fantastic camping with trails and hikes aplenty. Bryce even made me want to do some real hardcore backpacking with me and a pack with everything setting out for a couple of days of real hiking/camping. Not the "Which marinade best goes with my red wine" style of camping I am accustomed to. When I can get back to making solid money I will do an elongated backpacking trip and hopefully blog about it-only question here is does Bryce Canyons 35000 plus acres have WiFi access?


One day I will finally make the drive down this road....Just not this time after driving 1000 miles in 5 days with 2 kids.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Utah Day 4- Hiking Bryce

We woke the next morning and did a couple of things we had been neglecting in the Zion Museum and one of the most picturesque spots in the park called the Hall of Champions, or the Justice League, or something thereof. Was a great easy hike and a nice view but after hundreds of spectacular views it tends to get a bit overwhelming or maybe yet another case of you’ve one magnificent million year old obelisk and you have seen them all.

We made the drive out to Bryce Canyon. It was about a 90 minute drive made all the more miserable by the fact they were doing road work which meant a normal 2 lane street was turned into a one lane street and stoplights gauged who went and who waited. But making it more fun yet was the road work meant a good stretch of road with huge divots, loose gravel, pot holes, teenagers rolling bowling balls down the hills, giant gorrilas throwing barrels, etc etc.

Bryce was funny in that one minute you were in a semi green wooded area and the next you were in the land of red hoodoos. We arrived to the lodge and were checked in by a couple of russians. I noticed later that the people servicing the rooms were russian as well. Later at dinner, the local greasy spoon served a quality of food akin to that of the snack bar at the Drive Inn, when they existed. I noticed the staff made up of one guy whole looked like Ahmenadijad and the rest being africans, not africans americans as they had a very very thick accent. I never thought a trip to Bryce Canyon would end up being the United Nations much less the same state we visited the same Costco not a couple of days earlier.

We unloaded and hit the park and I was amazed at the wildlife there...Deer were thick. There were bucks, does, fawns and you saw them at almost every turn. After seeing the 100th I told Tomoko-I think we can stop taking pictures of them now. We stopped by a couple of Viewpoints and the views were amazing. Where as Zion had a ton of views were you would be looking up at the monoliths, Bryce had views that were like deep 3D panaromas with rocks in front of other rocks in front of canyons with miles of mountains stretching in the background. We went back and on the drive home decided we would wake up early to see the sunset. The Sun rose at 6:10 and we were close enough to the park where we figured we could leave at 5:50pm.

As usual and par for the course I did not sleep very well and when the alarm went off was pretty much ready to go as I wasnt sleeping anyway. We opened the front door and were hit with a crisp blast of cold air that was reminiscent of the artic cold blast at mt haleakula on maui. We picked up the kids and put them in their car seats pajamas and all and covered them with the blankets we had brought with us. If there is one benefit of traveling by car is you really take an amazing amount of crap with you and go completely over prepared.

We hit one of the viewpoints that sounded like it might just maybe be a good place to watch the sunrise. It was called “Sunrise Point.”


Funny was that the sun was so bright that it was visibly clear and daytime long before the first blip of sun poached the horizon. It was magnificent as well in that the sun cast shadows that were amazingly long. I took a picture of my shadow that made me look like Kareem Abdul Jabar.

Me and my Kareem Style Shadow.



The other great thing about the sunrise here was that as the rays of the sun shown on the rocks different colors tended to radiate from them. Your basic red rock was showing orange, auburn, and sometimes even Burgundy. The sun rose and we decided to take the elongated drive to Rainbow Point. After 20 miles and 200 more dear we saw a sign that said we were still 13 or so miles from the Point so we settled on the first point we came to. It was still cold and this was yet another beautiful view. We coaxed Alex out of the van and wrapped him in a mexican blanket so he could enjoy the view as well. I noticed my bladder was full and if there is one thing I love is a good old fashioned out door piss....especially in a National Park with a cold breeze in my face. I walked down the fence area that separated the viewpoint from a 50 story drop and with a good 30 yards away from the loved ones leaked right over the side. It really is the little things in life that make it all worth while.

After that we drove right back to the Inn, Tomoko used the in room coffee maker and made me a nice cup of coffee, which I proceeded to drink 2 hours later as I was out like a light sleeping within minutes. I woke up, sucked down the coffee and ate a 2 day old croissant and packed the van. We were going to do a final hike before heading to Vegas and choose the .08 miles Queens garden trail. It was wonderful and wonderous with the only negative being the fear of one of the kids falling off the trail. Went very smoothly though and as we made the bottom of the trail we decided to go ahead and do the loop which added an additional 1.3 miles. The bottom of the trail was more mountain/meadow then red rock hoodoo and Alex was none too pleased the extra hike would mean a delay to our trip to Vegas-and to Alex Vegas means one thing and one thing only-M&M World.

At the bottom of the trail was an area with a lot of loose rocks where people had done rock stacking. We proceeded to make a couple of our own all the while staving off wave after wave of small nats. We started the walk back uphill and Alex and I joked about how many bugs we ate...Alex remembered a joke I must have said previously with his comment of “good protein.” It was either me or Bear Gryliss.

But what made this hike special was the both Alex and Dustin walked the entire trail without whining or asking for a piggy back ride. It was literally one of my proudent moments when we made it to the top and the whole family high fived each other and even Alex commented that Dustin was the man of the hour and that was his best moment so far.

We made it back to the van as to which I changed my sweaty shirt and we started the drive not only back to Zion but back to Vegas which quite frankly I was not looking forward to. Ill post some pics of this escapade later.


One of Bryce Canyons famous levitating dear.



A couple more the Ansel Adams collection...




Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 3-We go Hardcore Utah

I woke up refreshed having had a good solid nights sleep. I must say the pull out couch beds the Desert Pearl Inn offers is a very very comfy sleep. I was well prepared for that intruding middle medal bar that always sticks in the lower lumbar region but this bed had none of that...Dustin crawled up with me and went to sleep immediately so I wasn’t the only one who shared the same thoughts evidently.

I woke up and hit the market for luncheon meat. Was very happy to see the Sol Market was very reasonably priced...as a matter of fact must of the places in Utah are very fairly priced. I was semi prepared for the maui style price markup but as so far I have seen none of it.

I picked up some ham, turkey, and Monterey jack along with a few other odds and ends courtesy of the bargain bin that featured some butter scotch pudding and powdered wasabi which I found curious but then again-wasabi in Utah is probably about as popular as the guy wearing the rainbow afro wig wearing the full sized “the end is near” sign in downtown St Lake. I got a kick that I saw Salted Nut Rolls in the candy section-long having been one of my guilty pleasures when Im in Nebraska.

We made the free tram to the park and made our way all the way to the top of the hill to see the legendary stretch of Zion known as the Narrows. Basically you walk up the middle of the river and the farther you walk the taller and narrower the canyon walls become. We walked to the end and the mouth where the narrows begins having made the 45 minute trek in 90 degree not quite at midday heat. There were several others making the trek as well so it was a slight relief to know that we weren’t in No Mans Land.

Taking off my shoes and socks I stepped foot into the Virgin River only to find it was ice cold...I am talking a foot numbing style of cold where the muscles in your foot start to ache within seconds of stepping foot in the water. I put my socks in the backpack, put my shoes on and just walked into the river with my shoes. I figured it was hot enough where the shoes would dry quickly and also allowed me a bit more mobility as I did the Virgin River Hop Skip and Jump over various rocks and boulders. I heard later that the hike through the narrows could take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on your pace. I will make this trek at a later date once Dustin gets past his “Im Tired, Carry Me” stage.

Alex, Alex, and Alex take in the view.



We made our way back and while the Kids made no attempt to disguise their wish to head back to the Inn for lunch and pool time Tomoko and I wanted to make one more stop at the Weeping Rock. It was an easy 15 minute or so hike from the shuttle stop albeit almost entirely uphill. At the top the Weeping Rock was just that-an Overhead of Rock that had water dropping through it.


The overhang had carved a staging area below that hikers were standing under. Along with the cool water feeling good on my head, it sounded like it was raining-not a waterfall or babbling brook sound but a sound just like a soft gentle rain. The semi cavern was well shaded and I couldn’t help but think had I a nice cot there would be no better place for an afternoon nap then this. Alex completly soaked his Angels hat while Dustin did his best to lean as far over the wall as possible to reach one of the thicker streams in spite of the fact there were plenty of drips well within arms reach and even well before the retaining wall. I think he was doing it just to scare Tomoko.

A picture I snapped during my "Ansel Adams period" which lasted about 5 minutes.




We made it back to the Van and back to the Inn and had a late lunch. I really wanted to take a nap but it wasnt to be. We finished lunch and I took the kids to the pool with tomoko joining me later in the jacuzzi which was set up perfectly as I could clearly watch Alex and Dustin as they splashed around in the pool. Whoever designed the pool area deserves a mega thumbs up. As a matter of fact I should use this space to throw mega props to the Desert Pearl Inn....everything was top notch. The pool was right in front of our back door and the river was only a 2 minute walk from the front door. The kids said they wanted to play in the river so making our way into the water and once again feeling the ice cold Virgin River water; it was a short trip to say the least.

Old Man River....the virgin river that is.



We stayed in the river less then 10 minutes and went back to the room for a brief rest. The brief rest turned into 4 hours of doing nothing and I loved every moment of it as we all went to sleep early.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Utah Trip Day 2-We actually do Something

The drive features a whole lotta this.



We woke up in our 16 dollar a night room at Buffalo Bills and I realized that I probably had 4 hours of sleep. Between the air conditioning starting and stopping with the frequency of an illegal aliens leaf blower and the dry desert air which sucks any detectable amount of moisture from your skin it was not one of my better evenings. I took solace in the fact that Tomoko also slept poorly....what can I say there is without a doubt comfort in the equal sharing of misery when it comes to your spouse.

I hit the casino with my legendary blue coffee cup on the guise I would bring some back for Tomoko while at the same time using my free 5 dollar play for joining the Buffalo Bills playuers club. They had a promo where all new members to the club would get a free spin and land $5 to 1 Million dollars. Would you believe out of all the prizes between $5 and a million I got the 5 bucks? What are the odds that of all of the different ways to win I ended up with the minimum prize? I blew threw that in about 20 minutes and found humor how the 1cent slot used to be the oddball slot at Slots O Fun but now the 1cent slot actually meant betting 15 to 30 cents a pop per spin. The marketing genius of Vegas never ceases to amaze.

We left Stateline and hit up the Vegas Costco for gas and supplies. It was a thing of beauty as a gallon of gas was $2.77 and the water and juice was not only tax free but CRV free as well. We went to the Utah Costco as well to find gas was 10 cents more and a 3% sales tax....which still trumps CAs 8% monstrosity for Sales tax.

Along the way we saw the coolest building in Vegas....Melting Building Art.


While in Utah we saw a sign for Dinosaur Tracks Museum and upon offering the query to the Costco worker found it was a 5 minute drive away. Being I passed up a bevy of early man sights, museums, Zyzzx road, the house of mud, and the ball of twine I figured this is something we should check out.

We found the museum and Tomoko was tempted to drive off when she saw they were charging admission. It was less then 20 for the 4 of us and I didnt want to drive away having the kids wondering what they had missed.

Me with a Dinosaur track.


It was amazing as well to see huge footprints dating back 200million years ago. They even had fossils that had dinosaur skin where some gigantosomethingsauraus had leaned on a mound of mud and left a very distinct impression of its skin pattern. It probably wasnt worth the price of admission and Tomoko and I both commented on how we probably enjoyed it more the the kids did. The real highlight came when an elderly volunteer for the museum started chatting me up mentioning he was originally from Northridge. I asked him how he liked Utah as to which he point he did the old “look both ways to make sure no one was in ear shot” and leans over and says “It would be so bad if not for all these damn LDSers. Its a cult I tell you...a goddamn cult.”
I would be a liar if I didnt think it somewhat odd to see them in Costco wearing the standard dress and a hairdo that makes Marie Osmond look like Amy Winehouse. For the record-the Utah Costco has no alcohol and did have a roughly 20% of its patrons wearing the LDS clothes and hairstyles. For the ladies it meant a 50s era buffont and a little house on the prarie dress in pastel colors- and while it may sound politically incorrect the clothes and hair made them also seem slightly stricken with Downs Syndrome. I wish I was being cunning and clever but honestly that was very much the impression I got where I could not determine who was a normal LDS vs the oddball LDSer. For the men it meant a blue button up long sleeve shirt and a hair cut that would have made Moe Howard proud. I coudnt but help but think of the movie “Kingpin.” It was not until we sat down to a chicken bake and hot dog that I realized Tomoko was probably the only asian in a 10 mile radius.

Driving from St George to Zion Alex said “You know Dad they think a big meteor hit the earth and that killed the Dinosaurs. Is that right?” To which I replied “they did it to themselves.”
He looked a bit a puzzled so I elaborated on my ruse, “some scientists speculate that most dinosaurs relative sedantry lifestyle along with their heavy pro red meat diet led to cardiovascular disease. Some were also rumored to be heavy smokers who spent hours on end playing video games.” By this time Alex knew I was pulling his leg and I was once again happy my oldest son was pretty smart for his age and didnt need to spend the next half hour explaining the joke and/or the truth.

Driving to the town I recognized how this small town in Utah reminded me a lot of the area near Joshua Tree. I saw some of the cutest, quaintest little homes and thought what it may have been like to live there. As much as a cute little cottage in the middle of nowhere was appealing I couldnt help but think apart from setting up a fantastic garden and getting a motorbike to explore the numerous trails this would probably be one hell of a boring existence.

We arrived at our stop, the Desert Pearl Inn. It had received great reviews online reviews and even driving through the town I imagines this as being very similar to what Sedona may look like. Having never been to Sedona It was all speculative of course and the topic was brought up with Tomoko and I both discussing how we would like to go to Sedona and see if the whole “power vortex” thing was all it was cracked up to be. Alex overheard this and fortunately the Desert Pearl was a minute away which spared me the 30 minute discussion on Power Vortexes with Alex.

As exhausted as we were from the drive it was 4 oclock and we knew we had to get moving if we were to get a sneak peak of Zion and its offerings. We unloaded and while the kids begged us to hit the pool we promised to do it at the end of the day and with that saw us riding the free shuttle to the park gate. As a matter of fact there is a free shuttle for the entire town as well as a shuttle inside the park. Seeing the behemouth plateaus and mountains my first impression was one of wishing we could have stayed 3 nights instead of two. After a short chat with the park ranger he suggested the emerald pool trails would be a good starting point. We made the first pool in pretty good time and while it wasn’t Chings Pond on Maui it was still nice hearing and seeing the drops from the rocks above forming a small pool. Alex took off his Angels Hat and put under the drops and tried to put the water on his head. It was close to 100 degrees so I said nothing but did find a nice trickle of water from the rocks above to fill the cup of my hand and throw the water on him and Dustin.

Being there was still plenty of light we trekked on for the Middle Pool which was really a puddle. From below I envisioned an oasis but once we arrived it was a thin shallow trickle no more no less. A sign in the area said the upper pool was only .03 miles away so we figured why not. Only trouble was this .03 miles featured lots of verticals and lots of stone hopping whereas the first 2 pools were wide smooth sandy stretches. Then Dustin decided he was not going to hike anymore that day so myself and tomoko alternated giving him piggy back rides. Good times.

We arrived at the top pool and it was the best of the bunch, cooler and larger then the others it was deep enough to swim in ,though no one was, with most hikers electing to wade and splash around. One of the other hikers caught a small frog which was a hit with the kids and while I am no frog expert this variety of frog had a very loud croak and at first actually thought it some type of mountain goat. We took in the huge cavern the view so full of vistas it actually kind of looked like a 360 circle view type lens. With the blue sky and white puffy clouds jogging over them at a leisurely pace I didn’t want to leave. Then I heard a commotion and turned to see Alex and Dustin engaging in a wet sand/mud throwing fight at the most grandest of the emerald pools. It was a sign that it was time to leave.

Me and the Kids at the Upper Emerald Pool...shortly before the mud fight began.



The trip down was noticeable in that the as we went back down to the Zion Lodge our trip originated from, there was a good 15 degree difference in temperature. While the 3rd pool felt like a nice 80 degrees- reaching the bleached sand trailhead felt everybit like Corona in July. I was glad we had our first hike in our back pocket and looked forward to a cool shower, cool air conditioning, and a cold beer...yes there is a theme there.

One of the numerous waterfalls, pools, and streams that dot all several of the trails.


Taking the free shuttle back we went through the camp ground area of Zion and I took one look and said-I have to camp here once in my life. There can be no better campsite setting then the rugged mountain vistas and cool water of the Virgin River that flows through the park. It looked like any campsite you have even been to but I couldnt imagine how quiet it must be at night and how many stars there must be. I always love a good night trail hike(or Quest as we used to call it) and once again I could not imagine a better locale for a night quest then this. Tomoko and I did a pinky shake and vowed that we would camp here one day.

We made it back to the hotel and tomoko prepared a microwave lasagna we bought at Costco and I ran to the store for some salad fixin’s and a bottle of wine. Surprisingly-the local Utah Market was very fairly priced across the board. I always tend to think there is going to be a bit of the "gouge factor" but there was none of that here. I picked up my stuff, made it back in time to crack open the wine and settle in for a good nights rest that was sorely overdue.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vegas, Zion, Bryce Canyon Vacation Recap; Day 1-We have liftoff.

June has found me in between jobs and a pre-planned trip to Utah has now become an open ended vacation. I have vowed that I will blog daily about the trip from start to finish unlike the blogging of my maui trip which ended on Day 3 of 7 with the heading “Day 3; I am beaten senseless by the local Shaman.” But new lap top in tow and all of the tools of trade by my side I pledge this time to follow this through.

We left OC only 45 minutes late of our schedule and a trip on the toll road to the 91 saw only mild traffic congestion which by 91 standards may as well have been wide open driving. Making matters better yet; the 15 freeway saw absoulutely no traffic at all which mean the trip has started on a very positive note. As a matter of fact the free flowing traffic actually put us ahead of schedule which meant a mind numbing 30 minutes to kill at the outlet center which I always enjoy, since the prices at the outlet center always seem to be no better then the prices locally which always begets the question-if the prices are the same why battle the 100 degree heat? It also served as a great reminder on why I love my wife with the comment of “I just dont like shopping.” I always knew I had a great lady on my hands but having managed to find the one japanese girl who doesnt like shopping is really the gift that keeps on giving-if only she had ultra wealthy parents she would have been the girl of my dreams.

The real highlight of the opening salvo of our trip was our visit to the legendary Barstow Del Taco. I had heard good things for years but never managed to make the trip either opting for something in Baker or not making it past Big Boy or Tommys off of Linwood Ave. But family in Tow I was eager to see if there was truth to the matter and whether or not the 4.5 Yelp rating was warranted. Yelpers are typically brutal in the harshness of their reviews so to see positive reviews for a fast food place was an eye opener. RinkRat has swore to me about this place for years so I was certainly looking forward to seeing what was in store.

From the outside it looked no different then you cookie cutter Del Taco on anycorner of anytown USA. Even inside it looked the same sans every table sporting condiments packets and napkin dispensers. I could mention how the person taking the order also spoke perfect english, and actually suggested I upgrade the chili fries to the deluxe model since it was only 20 cents more-in 40 plus years of So Cal living I think this is the first time I have ever been upsold by a fast food worker. We settled on a couple of combo meals so the kids could get some fries and a couple of drinks. We ended up with some big fat soft tacos, the aforementioned chili fries, and a couple of bean and cheese burritos. And while the prices were a bit higher then your local Del Taco it was very apparent the portion sizes and the preparation of the food were far different then the Del Tacos I was used to. The Cheese actually seemed like real chedder cheese...as a matter of fact I noticed it was a different size grade then the thin sliced cheese I was accustomed to. The size of the chicken chunks as well as the freshness of the fat taco soft shell/pita was a far cry from what I was accustomed to....it was kind of like of ordering a 99 Cent double Cheeseburger from McDonalds and being served a double double Animal Style. All in all I can agree with the hoopla in spite of the somewhat higher prices. Even the bean and cheese burritos were better with an over abundance of cheese and the temperature of the beans melting the cheese into a 1/2bean 1/2 cheese gooey mess of goodness. I even got 3 year old Dustin to take a couple of bites which speaks volumes.

We made our way back into the minivan and as we approached Baker I encouraged the kids to play the “Guess the Temperature” game on the worlds biggest thermometer. The excitement soon proved anti-climatic as we neared the thermometer it either wasnt functioning or the angle of the sun made getting any type of accurate reading impossible. I will go on record as saying there was something wrong it-Ive been past this thing hundreds of times and dont ever recall it being as dim or faint as it was today. Explaining to the kids why the thermometer didnt work after getting them hyped was like a less brutal version of explaining that Santa Claus had been murdered on Christmas Eve. I had the wife bust out some Capri Suns and Otter Pops from the cooler and the matter was soon resolved.

We made our way to the 1st stop at Buffalo Bills. I dont really care too much about gambling, especially that of the trashy variety that is the Buffalo Bills staple but given the room was $16 bucks I figured it was an easy option and the log rides and other kiddie attractions would give the kids something to do in the evening. We let them do a couple of rides and walk around a bit. The place was deserted to what I was used to and the amount of smoke in the casino was about 1/2 of the normal amount which meant that it only took 45 minutes to acquire Black Lung Disease as opposed to the normal time of 15 minutes. All of the food shops were closed as well which is certainly a sign of the economic times. Overall I didnt care-I wasn’t gambling, wasnt drinking, and only used the casino as a neon version of Motel 6.

The Room itself was surprisingly nice. It was much much cleaner then I had expected and the bathroom was a far cry from the vegas trip I stayed at the Four Queens or even the Tropicana back in the Frozen Fury Pre-Season Hockey Games of years past pre-wife pre-kids. I literally had expected the worse and while the carpet has certainly seen better days for $16 bucks I wasn’t expecting crushed velvet.

I was hoping to get a good sleep as tomorrow would see us driving through Nevada, a blip of Arizona, towards Springdale Arizona. It would only be about 4 or 5 hours in real time but counting the amount of pee breaks, “Im Bored” comments, begging for snacks, arguing, bickering, motiong sickness-I would say the over/under would be more like 6 hours or the entire DVD Box Set of Planet Earth(the UK version, not the Sigourney Weaver version.) Was almost enough to have me seeking an online divorce the first moment I was able to pull into a wifi hot spot.

And alas as I finish typing this I am lucky to catch a weather report and good news is on the way! Tomorrows high is only expected to hit 105 degrees! I guess I should have brought a parka and stocking cap. The first day come and gone though has me summating with a so far so good attitude....I have yet to have a Clark Griswold style emotional outburst, I still have money in my wallet, ice and a few cold ichibans still in the cooler. This beats me old record of my trip to Walt Disney World which saw me penniless and using an asian travelers cell phones to call American Express Customer Service line begging for a raise in my credit limits-all before reaching El Segundo.....much less LAX. To be fair though-downtown Linwood seemed like a natural shortcut and the locals in town seemed friendly enough in spite of the name of the favorite band they all had tattooed on their back-I have never heard of the pop act known as the “19th St Crazy Boyz”, but I am pretty sure they must be the hispanic version of the Jonas brothers only instead of joe, nick, and paul there is Lil’ Chewie, Wolfie & Joker. Anyhow tomorrow sees us hitting up Zion National Monument and should also be the first blog entry with some pics.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day Late, Dollar Short Movie Reviews; Downey, Burton, Gilliam & Strange Animals

Had a chance to redbox a couple of movies in recent weeks and now have a few moments for another edition of the day late dollar short movie reviews.



Movies like this always reminds me of the sage words on an ex girlfriends sister. Whenever asked about a recent movie she saw would always respond with "ehh, it was ok" in about as neutral tone as one could ever find. It used to amuse me that no movie was ever great or outright sucked. Years later, I debated whether she was brilliant or the wisdom of her words was mere coincidence. When someone says a movie is great the hopes and expectations get built to a point where reality can never live up to expectations. On the other side of the ledger-when you say a movie sucked big time; actually seeing the movie and finding some redeeming qualities can raise the bar. With that in mind and based on some reviews for Holmes maybe I expected less and received more.


Sherlock Holmes- As of right now Robert Downey Jr can do no wrong...this guy is on one heck of an amazing roll. When was the last time an actor has been in so many big name movies and done well in such a short period of time? Between Sherlock Holmes, Ironman, Tropic Thunder, The Soloist-this guy is hollywood gold.

That said I really enjoyed this movie in spite of the fact the hollywood-ization of one of literatures most beloved characters was off the chart. While I admittedly have never read one, count ‘em not a one, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books I cant help but think that not a one of the featured Sherlock Holmes participating in mixed Martial Arts Events and being adept at applying a rear naked choke hold that would make George St Pierre Proud. Same with Watson, I always envisioned him as a portly cherubic side kick-not a tall lanky stud who also happened to me a 5 time junior welterweight boxing champion. That Said-

This was an entertaining movie and Guy Ritchie was a very good choice to direct the film. I am sure there some purists are bemoaning Ritchie’s mainstream work, but he is very good and adept at setting mood and feel and using this time period is a perfect choice for him to show his wares.

Wont go into trivial things like plot and amusing anecdotes; but for a few hours of fun and interest Sherlock Holmes did well to hold my interest and I would not mind at all if this became a series of films as Downey and Law played well off of each other and had good chemistry. As a matter of fact-I would much rather see and trust the continuing quality of a Sherlock Holmes Series of Films then anything coming out of the Indiana Jones or Star Wars Series. And once again when we speak of conjecture my waxing poetic and lamenting of hollywood bastardization of fictional characters is purely speculatory as I have never read any of the works of Conan Doyle-nor Carroll which leads me to.......

Alice in Wonderland



I will preface this with the widespread announcement and proclimation that I am by no means a fan of Tim Burton. The 1st Batman film is widely overrated and would haven been a monumental bust if not for the casting of Jack Nicholson. Batman 2 made Batman 1 look like the Godfather and probably my choice for worst movie of all time being that at least “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “Troll2“ have comedic value. Edward Scissorhands has not aged well at all and the Planet of the Apes remake was saved by the fact it didnt reach the horrid scale of the Rollerball remake. Dont even get me started on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That said I enjoyed his work in Ed Wood, Big Fish, and Peewees Big Adventure so please dont start a facebook page of “Hipcheck hates Tim Burton” as did enjoy some of his movies.

As for this flick....I can pencil then is as one of Burtons movies I liked. Ironic that this was the one Disney film that bored my kids but the wife and I enjoyed. I had never heard of Mia Wasikowska before this flick but she is beautiful and charming, Depp is as bizarre and extravagant as can be, visually the film is stunning, and my only regret is that I wasn’t able to catch this at the Imax, in 3D, after taking one semi large inhalation of something of the high quality hallucinogenic variety. Watching this movie made we want to re-explore the works of Lewis Carroll much the same way as Holmes made me want to read at least one Sherlock Holmes book. Considering I fancy myself an amateur writer does never having read anything by the two aforementioned authors besmirch the most basic and low level of my credentials? I must ponder this fact.

Burton’s characters are always so over the top that it borders on the grotesque. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt. But the one character in this film that was perfectly cast was Leo Bill as Hamish-the prim English Lord Alice is set to marry. He did more in 10 minutes to stereotype English Upper Class Twits then Monty Python did in 20 years. Seriously funny stuff from this guy. The shape of his nose alone is worthy of mention almost more so then Helena Bonham-Carters head.




As with Holmes I wont get into plot and what not but this is one of Burton’s Better Works in that he controls himself enough to keep it inline without going into bizarro world territory. Thats not to say going into bizarro world territory is always a bad thing but Burton tends to go to the well one too often with unsatisfactory resorts. Once again I do not mind going mad on film-but for that genre I prefer Terry Gilliam over Burton.

I would be remiss as well if I did not mention the work and revitalization of Crispin Glover’s career. While I do not think he will go down in history as the world’s greatest actor; he has done enough quality work where he can be known for his body of work as opposed to the guy known for his erratic borderline emotionally disturbed Letterman appearance. Odd to think 20 or so years later and without having any inside info whatsoever I would almost trust Glovers opinion and morale compass over that of Letterman. The March of Time in conjunction with age and opinion truly creates strange animals.