Our choice of entertainment was done months before the trip. The obvious choices were one of the 6 Cirque du Soleil shows. However, Minna and I had seen ”O” in Vegas already and the other one ”Ka” on TV. None of us are interested in Michael Jackson or The Beatles so we decided pick one of the magic shows instead. At the time of our planning there were plenty of seats available everywhere so which show would most likely include audience participation?
So Penn & Teller at Rio it was. Row 4, aisle seats booked months before the trip to increase our chances for 15 minutes of fame. They even used to be my dads favorites so they’ve been around. Rio is a bit off the Strip so we took a taxi.
The show began with some jazz music played by a pianist and a contrabass player who looked familiar. Next the audience was invited on stage to look at a chicken and sign a cardboard box. This far the row 4 seats had paid off already as it was just a couple of meters to the stage so we were able to look at the chicken and sign the box with Kia. Very exciting, at least for people who had not seen a chicken up-close before. We had because my father-in-law used to have a chicken farm. However, we had not signed a cardboard box on a Las-Vegas-stage before.
Magicians always need help from the audience. Several people were needed for a trick where Penn & Teller would create a perfect password which could not be cracked. I was sitting in the section right across the center of the stage on my row 4 aisle seat when Mr Teller approached me and started talking. Can you imagine? I was really amazed and thought that this was the best trick ever. Like the tricks preachers do when they make people with crotches walk again. And the first words I’d ever hear him say were: ”Mr, would you join us on stage to help with the next trick?” To be honest, this is exactly what I’d been hoping for since I bought the row 4 aisle seat a couple of months back.
I went on stage with 4-5 other people. As English is not my native language, I was a bit nervous if I would freeze and couldn’t say a word in front of the 1000 people in the audience. This would be my biggest gig ever and it would take place in Las Vegas.
In short the trick was about collecting random pieces of information from all audience members who were on stage. People were asked about their credit card PINs etc. When it was my turn I was supposed to provide my porn star name from which one letter would be used for the perfect, uncrackable, password. It would have been impossible for me to invent a witty porn star name in front of the audience so luckily I was given some hints. My porn star name would consist of the name of my first pet and the street address of my childhood home. The first pet was easy as we used to have a golden retriever called Dusty. Technically it wasn’t our first but the name was perfect for a porn star. The street address of my childhood home was trickier as naturally it was a Finnish street address. This would be perfect spot for freezing and not managing to say a word. My mind worked quickly under pressure. In 1994 I lived in Cambridge MA and my street address was Newport Rd. Much easier for a magician to understand so my porn star name would be Dusty Newport.
I have to agree with Mr Penn Jillette that it is a perfect porn star name. So one letter from my porn star name was used in the password which was eventually found from a jar they broke in the end of the trick. In the end of the show I was invited on stage for the second time to witness an elephant disappearing in front of us. It was actually a cow dressed up as elephant, at least I think so. Penn & Teller meet the audience every time the show is over so we also got selfies and autographs after the show. Very funny and entertaining show.
Physically it is just 400 km away from Joshua Tree but worlds apart mentally. The home of Penn and Teller, Pawn Stars and Hangover. The Sin City has quickly become my favorite Americana destination replacing the legendary I-Drive in Orlando. Minna and I had been here once before but it was Kia’s first visit. She had to wait until she was 21 years old. Now the whole family was ready for gambling, free GTs and huge souvenir cups of Margarita.
We arrived on Saturday and stayed for 4 nights. This would be Kia’s last stop before going back home. Naturally the kiddo wanted to stay on the Strip and in a casino hotel. However, the Saturday stays on the Strip were surprisingly expensive compared to last time. But who wouldn’t want to experience Fremont Street on Saturday with their 21-year-old daughter? First of all it’s cheaper than the Strip and within a walking distance from the The Neon Museum: one of the most original attactions of Las Vegas. Minna and I had been there a couple of years ago already but that was during daytime. Now we wanted to see the neons at night as well as their newest exhibition: Brilliant. Brilliant is really worth seeing. The old neon signs came to life through light projections and music. Book early and see both the guided tour and Brilliant.
We stayed the first night in Main Street Station. Good reviews for a Fremont Street hotel and slightly off the action and noise. The following day we moved to the Strip and stayed the next 3 days in Planet Hollywood right across the Fountains of Bellagio. Cheaper rates from Sunday onwards and Mid-Strip location was excellent because you could go left or right when you left the hotel for a walk. The last time we stayed in MGM Grand which was in the south end of the Strip so you had only one direction to go whenever you wanted to go out.
The album cover was shot 200 miles away from Joshua Tree National Park. We were not in the search of the tree like the unfortunate Dutch guy who died while attempting to find it.
However, we were in the search of the desert and Americana. Minna booked us our first AirBnB-accommodation and it had to be special over here so a regular motel room was out of the question. Hip Joshua Tree Airstream was an excellent choice and nicely located as we planned to visit our first national park the next morning.
If you plan to visit several national parks within a year, the cheapest and most convenient option is to buy the America the Beautiful annual pass. With $80 pass you will have free access to all national parks for a year. Usually the entrance costs approximately from $30 to $35 dollars per park. I bought mine in the visitors center in the town of Joshua Tree and we entered the park through the West Entrance Station.
Joshua Tree National Park is characterized by the Joshua trees which give the scenery a very distinct look. But the park is not only about the trees. Different sections of the park have very different characteristics. The following places can be visited within a one day.
Hidden valley is a labyrinth of rocks and one can imagine how easy it is to get lost here. This is where we also saw a rattlesnake at close range.
The Cholla Cactus Garden is full of Chollas which are also called the jumping chollas. They don’t actually attack you but when you happen to have one stuck in your toe, it is very painful to get it off. The spines have microscopic barbs which makes them very sticky.
Keys View has a panoramic view over the Coachella valley and Palm Springs. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the biggest palliative care unit of the west.
We exited the park through the south entrance and took the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway towards east.
The main attraction of this trip is all things Americana. We are about to see Route 66, Las Vegas, abandoned gas stations and lost highways. So it is only natural to go and look for Salvation Mountain. It is right on our path from San Diego to Joshua Tree. Salvation Mountain is an amazing display of faith and perseverance. Donations of paint are welcome.
I had seen a documentary of the Slab City which is conveniently located next to the latex-painted mountain of hay bales. Slab City, The last free place, is a community for free-minded people who want to spend their winter off-grid in an RV in the Sonoran Desert. And yes: Poor Nat.
So we woke up and drove back 100 km. Of course we had to see Emerald Bay which is one of the most beautiful spots on our journey. But first we had to buy some soda. Maybe I will try some bacon soda.
Also here, the bears had woken up already.
Emerald Bay is located in the southern end of the lake and the first lookout parking lot was still covered with snow so it was almost impossible to park. However, the best scenic spot is a bit further up right on top of the bay. This was a view worth driving to.
Driving further north we found some holiday villages where the cottages were still almost totally covered by snow. Apparently it wasn\’t the season yet. We drove up to Tahoe City and then we had to make a decision: take the small road along the lake shore to Kings Beach or drive inland route to Truckee. We chose inland route. Driving towards Truckee we noticed signs pointing to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 olympics.
The main attractions of Truckee are the historic downtown and the Donner Party Memorial. A small but very interesting museum is built around the tragic story of the Donner_Party which was on its way to California but got stuck in snow here and resorted to cannibalism. It was really amazing what had happened here in the end of 1846. There was so much snow that it was impossible to continue and the party got stranded in what is now called the Donner Pass. The snow would have covered the base of the statue.Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.
The night was so cold that we had to keep the air conditioner warming the room all night. And it makes exactly the same amount of noise no matter if it\’s used for warming or cooling. Anyway, we were about to see the most magnificent sights today. The Tunnel View lookout has a view which is world famous. It was quite a good weather in Mariposa and at the national park entrance. The picture with the sign also shows our Swedish ride for the whole trip.
Of course we headed towards the Tunnel View first as it wasn\’t raining yet. The clouds hang low and hid part of the view. We felt a bit disappointed. So much that we also visited the Tunnel View in the afternoon again just to find out the the morning view was actually much better. The left picture is taken in the morning and the right one in the afternoon. The clouds really made the view very dramatic.
There is still a lot of snow in the park in April. This means that many of the popular sites like Tuolumne meadows and Glacier Point are inaccessible. It is really amazing to see the Yosemite valley in spring and still hard to imagine that there is a lot of snow further up in the park. The lack of snow in the valley meant that the bears had woken up already. No bags of chips or any other edibles were allowed to be stored inside the cars. Everything you had which might attract the bears was supposed to be stored inside sturdy metal boxes. Apparently the bears can enter locked cars.
The spring time meant also that all waterfalls were at their best:
We had chosen Mariposa as our base for the trip to Yosemite. Mariposa is monarch butterfly in Spanish. It\’s only 47 minutes away from the National park. The hotel was booked for two nights to allow full day in the park. The weather didn\’t look so great so most likely no hiking tomorrow. We arrived quite late and most restaurants were closed already so we chose between a burger joint and a restaurant. The 1850 Restaurant carried a craft beer called Nukin Futz. Hah.
If Seminyak is more refined than Kuta beach, I cannot imagine what Kuta beach is like. Two days in Bali and I am not thrilled yet. Practically no sidewalks, every empty taxi honks the horn and the sand on the beach is brown.
I am not sure if this is cheap either. Anyway, 30 degrees of hotness and very good food. I knew I would not be disappointed for the food. There is only one brand of beer which is reasonable priced and even that one is 1.40€ a bottle. Anyway, 30 degrees of hotness and very good food.
The Swedes did win the petrol business in Indonesia. Petrol is sold in units of Absolute Vodka bottles. I cannot imagine what would happen, if one of the bottles fell off the rack next to the guy who\’s smoking a cigarette.
In the afternoon one taxi honked its horn and we took off with it. Tanah Lot is a famous temple and return trip cost 21€. Actually, it would have been a bit cheaper according to the meter but we had agreed the price at departure.
There are several day trips available from Las Vegas. The grandest of them all is of course the Grand Canyon. However, in order to see it properly you will either have to rent a helicopter from Vegas or stay overnight closer to the canyon. As Las Vegas was just a side step on our trip to LA, we wanted to give Grand Canyon the time it deserves, sometime later. So it was either Death Valley or the Hoover Dam. I remember when I had a summer job in the US, some of my fellow summer workers got a job in Death Valley while I lived and worked in the Boston area. Even Boston was hot enough during the summer. Hoover Dam was closer so we drove there.
To our surprise there were two things there which were amazing: the dam itself as well as the bridge. In the movies you usually see people driving across the dam itself but actually the highway doesn\’t run on top of the dam but there is a huge bridge next to the dam. Mike O\’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge clearance is 270 m. So you could almost fit the Eiffel Tower between the bridge and the Lake Mead.
The Hoover Dam is so famous that ticking it off from the bucket list while in Vegas is worth the 50 km drive.
And we drove back to LA through Malibu and its famous beach. I had booked the hotel on the Sunset Strip: Andaz West Hollywood. The hotel is next to Rainbow Bar and Grill and Whisky a Go Go plus further down the road Troubadour. Andaz West Hollywood is the place where Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones used to stay and throw TV off the balconies. The Strip was just a TV\’s throw away from our room. This is the hotel where Robert Plant claimed to be the Golden God. Unfortunately the Strip didn\’t seem to be what it used to be in the 80\’s when Guns and Roses and Mötley Crue hung around. I didn\’t see any strippers, no drugs. Rockers yes, Michael Schenker was on at Whiskey a Go Go. Unfortunately I wasn\’t prepared and didn\’t have the tickets. And, the first piece of luggage had arrived to our hotel only five days after we had arrived. Free wine tasting in the lobby and half of our luggage. I loved this place. They even had e-check-in service: check in online and they will send you an email when the room is ready. Parking was bit on the expensive side, though.