If I asked you to draw a cactus you would draw a saguaro. Saguaro National Park is split into two separate areas: east and west. We didn’t have time for both so we picked west because that’s what you pick when you don’t have much time.
To be honest we took quite a detour to spend half-a-day in Saguaro in the first place. It would have been much easier to take the old Route 66 from Kingman through Flagstaff to Petrified Forest National Park. But as this was one of the remaining National Parks of the southwest on our list, and there was the airplane boneyard on the way there, we couldn’t skip it.
So it is mostly about cacti. Lot’s of saguaros, which we hadn’t seen elsewhere, but also chollas and other types as well. The saguaro core looks very interesting. You can see a dried one in the bottom right corner of the following picture.
We met a man with his elderly mother on the trail and they asked us if this was our first visit to the national park. They also asked where we were from. When they found out that we were from Finland the mother said that when she was young her best friend was Finnish. What a coincidence. We also found sign which had been modified by an amateur geologist.
Saguaro was the third national park on this trip and quite simple to be honest. In the evening we took a 320 km drive to Pinetop-Lakeside. On the way there we stopped at the gate of Biosphere 2. The gate was closed already so we didn’t see the building itself. We were already a bit late so we had to hurry. At that time we didn’t know that we were about to enter a part of Arizona which would deserve more time for exploration.
A couple of years back we stumbled upon an airport with a lot of dead passenger planes in the middle of the Mojave desert. This time we wanted to see where the war planes go to die. Pima Air & Space Museum hosts an excellent collection of war planes but they also run bus tours in the neighboring Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It is the home of 309TH Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) Facility. From the museum you can book your seat for a ”tour of the 4,000+ aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard, and several federal agencies including NASA in varying degrees of storage, being regenerated or recycled.” Book early because they will run a security clearance and the tours are very popular.
It is bookings like this which make our trip planning very difficult. You have to know months in advance where you will have to be on a certain date and make sure that your trip is not delayed before you end up in there. The security clearance was so secret that we didn’t even know if we had gotten it. Unfortunately we didn’t receive the email which confirmed our security clearance so we had to call them in advance to check if we are allowed on the tour. Zoom in here to see the vastness of the boneyard.
Both the museum and the tour of the airplane boneyard were excellent. The tour bus stopped at the entrance of the airbase, our passports were taken and we had to wait in a warehouse for them to be checked. It is really amazing how many different types of planes and helicopters have been deployed in the U.S. Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard and other federal agencies. Some of the planes even had complete production lines stored here so you could start building them again.
Minna had booked another historic landmark for us in Tucson. We stayed in Hotel Congress which is famous for its bar (Billy Gibbons’ favorite bar) and the fact that John Dillinger and the gang was arrested there. The room was very small and noisy. The hotel was right next to the railway station and there was a live music event downstairs: Bass Drum of Death at Hotel Congress. However, we had been warned.
After a full day of driving we stayed over in Scottsdale. Unfortunately no time for sightseeing in Phoenix because the next day. Quick stop at Premium Outlets and a dinner in a newly-opened Korean Barbeque Sizzle where they prepared your meal in your table.
I like blinking lights. It has been impossible for me to avoid Vegas on the last three trips to the west. What’s there to see then? Actually I don’t need to see anything more than the Strip or Fremont Street as they look awesome. I just want to follow how people look for eye candy or their fortune. There were still some must sees that we had to go to: The Volcano at Mirage and High Roller. High Roller was fun because we got the whole gondola for ourselves and once we were at the top the Fountains of Bellagio lit up.
This time we stayed two nights in The Venetian in northern part of The Strip. Now we have covered Fremont Street (Main Street Station), south (MGM Grand), middle (Planet Hollywood) and north. Venetian offers free gambling lessons so we took a craps lesson. I only learned the pass line bet which I kind of new beforehand already. We had plans to go to Boulder Highway for cheaper table games but ran out of time.
We also had dinner at Bacchanal but even seafood can be too much. Maybe next time we will spend the money for a real dinner. We spend the following two days driving to Tucson. 664 kilometers to go.
It was particularly cool day for Death Valley. The temperature didn’t even reach 100˚F. We entered Death Valley National Park through Hell’s Gate.
The next stop was Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. Then we took a short and easy hike along Salt Creek where the small pupfish must swim upstream all their lives not to end up to the salt plains below.
Third stop was Zabrieskie Point which I remembered from the movie.
Then we headed off to the most spectacular view of the valley: Dante’s View. They recommend to come here early in the morning but then you would need to stay overnight in the park.
We drove back to the bottom of the valley and took Artist’s Drive loop. The first stop which looked a bit like the famous Artist’s Palette wasn’t really the right one. So we kept on driving and finally found the colourful formation which really looks like a palette. Possibly even more at sunset. We were there in the afternoon so I have used a lot of Photoshop here to emphasize the colours.
The final stop of our Death Valley tour was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in USA: 86 meters below sea level. We had never been so deep before. If you turn your back to the valley you can see the sea level 86 meters above you on the rock wall. The hike to the place where the salt has created interesting figures in the bottom of the valley is about 1,6 km long.
It is 421 kilometers from Ely to Beatty which was our Death Valley destination. After Tonopah we stopped in Goldfield. Goldfield was very eccentric. We had a chat with Mike at Goldfield Art Car Park Gallery. He talked about the history of the town. It had been once swept away by a flood which was hard to believe as the town was in the middle of the desert. Mike had some mildly decorated cars in the car park and some of them had even been to Burning Man.
Our main reason to stop at Goldfield was The International Car Forest. It was similar to Cadillac Ranch in Texas but the arrangement of the cars was not as organized as in Texas.
We still had time to visit Rhyolite which was one of the ghost towns nearby. It was right next to Beatty and it was hard to believe that once it had a population of 4000 people with 50 saloons and 16 restaurants. Now it was mainly rubble but worth a visit if you go to Death Valley.
Then it was time to turn back. We had already driven past the most exotic accommodation we had booked for this trip: The Shady Lady Ranch. Minna found it on Airbnb and it had excellent reviews. I’m glad we booked it on time as it has only 3 themed rooms. The rest of the rooms are regular rooms which had served as personal rooms of the employees. The themed rooms where the rooms where they worked. The picture of the Asian room at the website didn’t do it justice. It was nicely decorated and it we had our own bathroom.
We checked in and had some pizza which we had bought from Beatty. It had been a long day but Jennifer, the lady of the house, was so social that we stayed up until 23:00 and discussed the differences of American baseball and Finnish pesäpallo with her and a couple from San Francisco. We gave Jennifer one of our precious cans of Lonkero. The ranch had 6 dogs and 24 peacocks.
After the lunar crater we arrived at Warm Springs. This is where Nevada State Route 375 begins and leads to Area 51. That’s why it is called Extraterrestrial Highway. What was really amazing was the amount of cows along the ET Highway. We only drove 30 miles just to see if there are aliens along the road. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but we saw lots of cows. I am not sure if the farmers knew what aliens would do to them if they really landed here. The other explanation is that the cows are decoys planted by the government in order to catch some more aliens.
Finally we arrived at Tonopah. Unfortunately we didn’t have any small children with us because there was a nice clown-themed hotel next to the Old Tonopah Cemetery.
Tintic Gold Miners B&B was in Eureka Utah. It was a very small town with a bit of a run down center. But we didn’t mind because it was just what we had come here for. There were only a couple of places to get some food from and we picked B’s Hangout because it had good reviews in Google. I had a burger which had fried cheese, melted cheese and meat in it. Minna’s Western burger didn’t have so much cheese.
We had good night sleep although the room was a bit hot. In the morning we had good American breakfast with the owners. They told us about the ghost towns in the area and with their instructions we managed to find Silver City cemetery. Apparently there was nothing left of the ”city” except the cemetery. The cemetery had a lot of children’s graves as there had been some epidemic in the beginning of 1900. I think the tombstones were not the original ones. It looked like some of them had been replaced with newer ones.
We continued driving US Route 6 to southwest and drove past Delta towards Great Basin National Park just across Nevada border. The scenery was quite dull but suddenly Minna noticed something which she said looked like a sheep which had gotten stuck to a barb wire fence. We turned back and yes, there really was an animal hanging in the fence. But it wasn’t a sheep. I’d never seen a coyote but I think this was bigger than a coyote. It looked more like a dog or a wolf to me. There are not too many wolves in Utah so I’m not 100% sure if it was a wolf.
This section of our trip was part of the Loneliest Road U.S 50. Eventually we crossed the border between Utah and Nevada, adjusted our clocks to Pacific time zone, and arrived at Baker which was home to our first national park on this trip: Great Basin National Park. It was still off-season so there was no cafeteria open in the park. In the US it is not possible to get a portion of food which is too small. Usually everything is too big. We never order any starters because they are so big that there would not be room for the main course if you had one. We thought that we had to get something for luch so we went to a local restaurant and bought one sandwich to go. This time one sandwich was a mistake because it was the smallest sandwich in the whole country.
The park has two main attractions: Lehman Cave and Wheeler Peak. Wheeler Peak was inaccessible because there was still a lot of snow on the road. Lehman Cave is open for guided tours only. Minna had pre-booked a tour for us which was necessary because even in off-season the tour was full.
When we left the park I saw blinking red and blue lights behind me. I pulled over and I was sure I’d been speeding because it was all downhill from the park and there was a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. But I was innocent. The police had thought he had seen me without a seat belt but because I had a black shirt, the seat belt wasn’t too visible. Anyway, I forgave him and we left for Ely, Nevada.
The new side of the town looked a bit boring but the old side had some nice neon signs and small casinos. We stayed in Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall. I had mixed feelings about the hotel at first. Minna had upgraded our room by cancelling the first reservation and then booked a new one. On arrival we learned that we had two rooms booked. I told that we don’t need two rooms this early on the trip, maybe later. The reception staff was very helpful and we got the keys and vouchers for complimentary margaritas. The hotel had been built in 1929 and it showed on the outside. Also there was a lot of cigarrette smoke in the reception because downstairs was a Gambling Hall. I didn’t have high expectations about the room. But I was wrong. The room had been renovated, except for the bathroom, and it looked like some LA boutique hotel room. Clean carpet and everything. What a nice surprise. Somehow there was an old western feel to the hotel. This was the venue where Wayne Newton started his career.
We had dinner in an old jailhouse across the street. It was one of the best rib-eye steaks I have ever eaten.
Although we had missed our flights, there was no delay in our program. Originally we had planned to stay at SLC for the first night but now we just stayed at SFO. The actual trip would begin the next morning anyway. I expected to have Ford Edge waiting for me at Avis counter at SLC, instead there was GMC Yukon Denali. Fair enough, it has higher clearance and 4*4 so it was acceptable.
Minna had been an exchange student here in 1985 so we took a quick tour around city center and drove off to Park City, the home of 2002 Winter Olympics and Sundance film festival. Very cosy ski resort but I cannot even imagine how much would a ski holiday cost here. Drunken Chicken sandwich in The Spur and then towards Eureka and our second night accommodation in Tintic Gold Miners B&B.