MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Category: photos (page 1 of 30)

USA Trip — In Las Vegas

 

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas Sign Las Vegas, Nevada

Howdy

Howdy, folks. Come on in (to our casinos), pull up a chair (in front of our slots) and sit a while (and feed the machine with cash).Photo by Ron

Las Vegas. Sin City. Lost Wages. The Entertainment Capital of the World. Disneyland for Adults. Fabulous Las Vegas. No matter what you call it, LV is unique. It’s in the desert. It’s dry. It’s hot. It’s expensive. You can lose everything there, or, improbably, make a fortune. It’s exciting, vibrant, bizarre, surreal, . . . And the list goes on. I love it! One thing I can say about the city’s effect on me–ever since I returned to Laos, I have found everything to be b-o-r-i-n-g. With a capital B. Boring. Everyone should visit Vegas once in their lifetimes–gambling not necessary.

I didn’t take that many photos of my trip there. Thousands and thousands of photos have been taken of all the Vegas highlights–The Strip, Downtown, the casinos and hotels, and all the other things that make LV famous, so I’m not going to bore everyone with the same old photos. Do a Google search for any others. I did take a few photos of something that surprised me–it’s a very artistic city. I stayed downtown near the Fremont Street Experience area, and I found a number of paintings and artistic graffiti adorning the walls of various buildings and strange sculptures filling empty spaces. I’ll show a few of those at the end of the post. Other photos are from the Internet, mostly with a Google Creative Commons license or from free photo stock websites. Any other photos have been attributed to me or credit given to others where credit is due.

El Cortez Hotel

El Cortez Hotel, my home away from home for five nights. It’s a nice enough throwback to the “old days” of Vegas and fairly cheap. I recommend it.

Rather than give a daily account of what I did, I’m going to write about what impressed me and what I didn’t do that I want to do the next time I visit the city. I stayed at the El Cortez Hotel and yes, I gambled and drank a few beers at a few bars I wanted to visit out of sheer interest, which I’ll detail further on, and I walked around a lot, despite the 114 degree heat during the day while I was there. (I spent a lot of time staying cool indoors, of course.)

Gambling

Not everyone who visits Vegas gambles or goes there for that purpose. I didn’t go there to gamble; I went to have fun, which I did. However, I did set a gambling budget, I’ll call it GB$. Once I hit that dollar amount, I wouldn’t gamble anymore. As it turns out, I only spent about half of the GB$. I wouldn’t call that a win, of course, but I didn’t feel too bad about the money I lost. Some days I did OK, others were kind of pffft. But I had fun losing the money. I guess that sums up the gambling experience in LV for many people–have fun losing your shirt. HA! (Luckily, I didn’t lose my shirt.)

So, with gambling out of the way, here are some other observations.

Most Interesting Bars That I Visited

Atomic Liquors

Imagine sitting on the roof back in the 50s and watching the beginning of the end of the world.

Atomic Liquors–This bar is a few blocks down from the El Cortez, away from the Fremont Street Experience. What makes it fascinating is that while atomic bomb test explosions were being held above ground in the Nevada desert in the 1950s, bar patrons would sit on the rooftop to watch the bombs going off. Wow! I wonder how many people died early due to doses of radiation they might have gotten. Also, the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Dean Martin, et. al.) used to hang out here on occasion. It’s a nice place with a mostly local crowd, friendly bar tenders and a decent selection of craft beer. Cool and comfortable inside, it’s still going strong, but sans A-bombs.

The Griffin

The Griffin in Las Vegas

The Griffin is almost right across the street from the El Cortez, and there’s a green neon-lit griffin (duh) that’s easy to spot at night above its mostly unnoticeable entrance. I went during a bright, sunny afternoon and walking inside was like entering a dark medieval castle, something right out of the Game of Thrones. It’s dimness and stone walls are part of its attraction, as is an open fire pit in the middle of the floor, used during Vegas’s sometimes chilly winter evenings. The place wasn’t very crowded, so I sat at the bar and drank a craft beer, a local hefeweiss, I believe.

Another patron of the bar, with shoulder-length hair and sporting some tattoos, came up to order some drinks and started yelling, not in a bad way, how people shouldn’t be rude. I think he was jabbering at his three friends, but he turned to me and said in a loud voice, but not in a bad way, “Right, man? People shouldn’t be rude!” I whole-heartedly agreed with Sir Rude, and he asked me my name, where I was from, etc. and then he proceeded to talk with the bar tender (“Don’t be rude. It ain’t right!”). One of his friends came over a few minutes later, and Sir Rude introduced me. I started chatting with the friend and found out these guys had driven over from Los Angeles to spend a few nights, and they were going to meet their friend, the drummer in the band Cheap Trick, who were playing on Fremont Street the night after. They said, not in a bad way, that I’d better go there to watch the band, and I said “Of course I will. I’ll see you there.” I took my leave, since my beer was finished, and escaped into the hot afternoon sunlight. They were interesting guys, and after talking with them a while, I figured they were just getting started for the evening, but not in a bad way. Unfortunately, I never made it to the concert, where I would have been just another face among thousands watching, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen my new friends. Too bad.
Anyway, the Griffin’s OK. It’s unusual, interesting, and exciting, depending on the patrons. Stop in when you’re in Vegas. You never know who you’ll meet.

Don't Tell Mama

A nice little piano bar, located at Neonopolis.

Don’t Tell Mama is a cozy, friendly, and relaxing piano bar located in Neonopolis, very close to the Fremont Street Experience. I stopped in a little later at night, since it doesn’t open until 8 p.m. There weren’t a whole lot of people there, and the piano player was crooning some show tunes and other light favorites. It’s a nice place to take a breather, but I was told it gets quite crowded later in the evening. I’m not much of a night owl anymore, so I missed out on all the late night action around town, which is probably a good thing. ( aside: I was always up at 5:30 a.m., my usual wake up time, though I was occasionally up past my normal 10 p.m. bed time , when most of the parties are just getting started in LV, I suppose. My bad.)

Main Street Station hotel

Main Street Station hotel. It and the California Hotel are more or less attached to each other.

Also worth mentioning were a couple of hotel/casino bars in Main Street Station, the Triple Seven Restaurant and Brewery, and the Boar’s Head Bar. Triple 7 brews their own craft beer on premises, and large plate glass windows give patrons a view of the big vats the beer is brewed in. I spent Saturday afternoon here watching the Yankees-Dodgers game, surrounded by Dodger fans from LA. Unfortunately, the Yanks lost this game, so I took a lot of good-natured ribbing from the Dodger section. (I was wearing my Yankee cap.) There’s an awesome restaurant here, too, so you can chow down on snacks or meals. I hear the burgers are delicious.

The Boar’s Head, playing video poker at the bar, watching the NY-LA game, again having to put up with Dodger fans, except the Yanks won this time, so it was my turn to return the jeers. (Not in a bad way, of course.) Sitting next to me was a high school teacher from LA, a pleasant fellow, and we had a good chat about teaching in general. The Boar’s Head bar is covered with video poker machines, but you don’t have to play them. If you do, you’ll get your beer or mixed drinks for free. Also, if you play the machines and get either four-of-a-kind or a straight flush, the casino will give you a scratch ticket that could be worth up to $5,000, if I’m not mistaken. I hit a straight flush (worth $100, which I eventually cashed in for) and got a ticket. Scratched it off with some excitement and found out that I had won . . . wait for it . . . $2. Woo-hoo! Anyway, these two bars are worth a visit, inside Main Street Station hotel and casino, as is the Garden Court Buffet.

Garden Court Buffet

This was the only buffet I ate at, a couple of times for breakfast, and once for the champagne brunch on Sunday. It’s a great place to get your fill; there’s a large selection of breakfast items, and brunch features carved turkey, roast beef, fried chicken, and other goodies, along with breakfast fare. The food’s great, there’s plenty of it and the price is right. I think I paid, if I recall, around $12, though I think the champagne (actually, sparkling wine) was a few bucks more. Great place to eat. I usually filled up here, and didn’t have to eat a full meal the rest of the day.

Berlin Wall at Main Street Station

Part of the Berlin Wall that you can find in one of the men’s restrooms at Main Street Station. I don’t know how the hotel got hold of it, but it’s a nice point of interest. (Photo by Ron)

Oh, also at Main Street Station, in one of the men’s restrooms, you can relieve yourself in urinals that are attached to a section of the old Berlin Wall. (Main Street Station is an awesome hotel/casino–might stay there next time I go to LV.)

Junk Food

First, the junk food I didn’t care for was White Castle burgers (sliders). I’d heard about White Castle for a long time and many people give it rave reviews, but I’d never tried it. So, I was looking forward to getting a takeout at this iconic restaurant. Unfortunately, White Castle on Fremont Street just didn’t do it for me. I found the sliders pretty tasteless and they looked very unappetizing as the raw meat waited to be cooked. (A sickly-looking pink color.) Maybe other locations are better, but this one didn’t make it for me.

On the other hand, I found a perfect late-night, up-all-night-drinking (though I didn’t do that) junk lover’s gourmet delight. It’s American Coney Island Hot Dogs located inside the D Hotel (and casino, of course) overlooking Fremont Street. I popped in there the next afternoon on my quest for a perfect junk food snack after my disappointing stop at White Castle the evening before. There’s a pretty basic menu, and I tried a dog with chili, onions and mustard. That’s it. It was, in my opinion, perfect. If you like hot dogs, this is the place to go. Give it a try.

The only other restaurant at which I ate with some frequency was Siegel’s 1941 inside the El Cortez. They’ve got a great prime rib special ($12.99) which isn’t on the menu, so you have to ask for it. It’s quite good, with a choice of potato and a veggie. The spaghetti’s not bad, either. A nice, cozy, somewhat upscale restaurant.

Also located in ElCo was Naked City Pizza, (they’ve shut down in ElCo because of family time concerns), a Vegas institution (four locations around the city, I believe). Very good pizza, great for a late night snack. I ordered a couple of small ones, pepperoni, during my stay and I ended up with leftovers for a pre-buffet snack. (Did I mention that I probably ate too much in Vegas?) I’m not much of a cold pizza lover, and, since there are no microwaves in most hotels in Vegas, I set the room hair dryer on high and waved it over the pizza for a few minutes. That did the trick, pretty well. Give it a try next time you have leftovers in your hotel room.

Best Free Entertainment

Fremont Street Experience

Freemont Street Experience. Crazy place. Fun place. R-rated, at least.

Just walk down the Fremont Street Experience during the later hours of the evening. Street artists, performance artists, acrobats, buskers, free stage shows, women (and men) wearing outfits that leave little to the imagination, fat middle-aged men wearing speedos, women in dominatrix outfits, costumed performers (Spiderman, Batman, et. al.) and on and on. Bizarre, surreal, weird, risque, entertaining and definitely not an area for young children. You’ve been warned! There is a large police presence there, so it’s quite safe (beware of pick pockets, though) and there is no overt sexuality (you know, like nakedness). It’s all in good fun. Also, there is the famous Viva Vision Light Show on the overhead canopy that runs down Fremont Street for about five blocks. It takes place every hour, on the hour, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., so you have to time it correctly, as it’s only 6 minutes long.

Places I Didn’t Visit

The Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, the Arts District, the Slotzilla Zip Line that runs high above Fremont St. and others. I’ve got to save something for next time, right? I also didn’t get out to the Strip, but next time I’ll probably go there just to see the Bellagio Fountains and take a ride on the High Roller Wheel. I spent a lot of time wandering through various casinos without gambling, just taking in the decor, but there are many more I didn’t visit.

There is a lot more that I could write about my trip to LV, but I feel this post has gotten too long as it is. I hope you’ve read this far. It probably comes through that, yeah, I really love Las Vegas and plan to go back again sometime. Viva Las Vegas!

The trip back was uneventful. Vegas to LA to Taiwan to Bangkok to Udon Thani to Nongkhai, where I spent a few days with Nai visiting our friend Toom, who has a restaurant/bar there.

One thing about being back in the ‘States: It was good to be back in a country where things function, for the most part, as they’re supposed to function, unlike here in Laos.

P.S. In case you’re wondering what my gambling bankroll was, the GB$, well . . . What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

Bye

Good-bye folks. Thanks for your money, uhhh, I mean thanks for visiting. Hope to see you again, real soon. (Photo by Ron)

Here are a few miscellaneous photos and photos of things that I found to be artsy, odd, or both, all taken by me.

Early morning

Early morning from my hotel room, looking east, more or less.

Early morning

Another shot from the room, a little later in the morning.

Elevator hall

This is looking south toward the Stratosphere, from the elevator hall.

New Circa Hotel

This is the new Circa Hotel going up on Fremont Street. It’s supposed to open in 2020. I dare say prices for a room will be quite high, compared to some of the other hotels in the area.

Baseball player statue

Uh, what the hey? Yeah, a statue of a baseball player lying on the ground. Las Vegas isn’t famous for baseball (yet), so I don’t have a clue what this was or is. Take a guess.

Machine

The fall (or rise?) of the machines. What was it? I don’t know–it’s just lying there. Close to El Cortez, kind of.

Empty Club

How long has it been empty? What kind of club was it? Why is it empty? Did the machine (see previous photo) have anything to do with it being empty?

Ferguson's Downtown

Ferguson’s used to be a motel on Fremont Street, but it’s been turned into a neighborhood meeting area/market place. This creation is on the grounds of Ferguson’s.

Wall Art

This photo and the five following it are pieces of wall art that I found interesting, all of them along Fremont Street or nearby. My regret is that I didn’t get down to the Arts District to see many more artistic works. Next time.

USA Trip — In Montana, Part Two

The Gates of the Mountains

Our final full day in Great Falls was spent mostly on a visit to the Missouri River in the Gates of the Mountains Wildnerness Area. The Gates are an optical illusion that was noticed by the Lewis and Clark expedition up the river in 1805. Lewis gave the magnificent cliffs their name because it seemed to him that as their boats made their way upstream, the cliffs appeared to open like gates, allowing the expedition to continue when previously it looked like the river was blocked by the mountains.

We bought tickets on the Gates of the Mountains guided-boat tour ($16) that spent two hours going down the river and back up to their marina. I highly recommend taking the tour, which was, of course, accompanied by a very knowledgeable guide. We followed Interstate 15 south-west of Great Falls to about 20 miles north of Helena, the capital city, and turned off at Exit 209.

It’s a marvelous, scenic area, although the construction of Holter Dam in 1918 altered the flow of the river, causing it to rise by 14 feet above the level that Lewis and Clark experienced. One of the features of the surrounding wilderness area is the location of the tragic Mann Gulch fire of 1949 in which 13 firefighters (mostly young smoke jumpers) lost their lives. Norman Maclean wrote a prize-winning book, Young Men and Fire, about the event. I’ve read it, and it’s a must-read for almost anyone interested in the event. The tour boat passes right by the site and treads water for a few minutes, so you can get a good view of the gulch.

Though not as picturesque as Glacier Park, the area is quite beautiful, and it’s a wonderful way to spend a summer morning or afternoon. There’s a decent gift shop at the marina which sometimes has Maclean’s book in stock, though on this day it was sold out.

About mid-afternoon we made our way back to Great Falls, and later we ate at my favorite pizza restaurant, Howard’s Pizza, in business since 1959. I had a high school friend who worked at the downtown location in the 1960s, and he would sometimes invite me into the back, where the pizza dough and spices were located. What a wonderful odor! Every time I smell pizza cooking, I’m immediately reminded of that time and place.

We were joined at Howard’s by my brother Bob, who, unfortunately, couldn’t go to the Gates with us because of work duties, his daughter Marissa and her fairly new husband, Justin and their daughter, Kayla. We ordered about five different kinds of pizza, but I made sure to order my favorite, Howard’s Special, consisting of sausage, onion and green pepper, thin-crust, please. Just awesome. When I lived in Montana and came back to visit Great Falls, my mother knew exactly what I first wanted to eat–a Howard’s Special. Seriously, I could (and sometimes did) eat one all by myself. Awesome! Try a Howard’s pizza if you’re ever in Great Falls.

That’s it for Great Falls. The next morning, Randy, Whitney and I flew back to Portland. Randy and Whitney drove back to Seaside, but I had an afternoon flight to Fabulous Las Vegas. That will be the subject of my next post.

Missouri River Canyon sign

Missouri River Canyon information sign along the interstate. A wonderful thing about Montana is the large number of information signs along the highways. You could spend an entire summer just traveling around, looking for and at all the historical info found on these markers.

Missouri River Canyon crags

Stepping to the side of the sign mentioned previously, you get a wonderful vista of the craggy countryside that the river runs through, a prelude to the Gates of the Mountains.

Gates of the Mtns

Here is the beginning of the boat trip along the Missouri River through the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area. There’s some great scenery ahead.

Gates of the Mtns

More interesting scenery. There are a lot of small caves and a few arches in the cliffs along the route.

Gates of the Mtns

There are nearly perpendicular cliffs all along the river in this area.

Gates of the Mtns

More cliffs.

Gates of the Mtns Wildlife

There is plenty of wildlife along the way. You can see eagles, osprey and other birds, and you can spot larger animals, like these mountain goats. This is a nature lover’s paradise. Because it’s a wilderness area, there are no motorized vehicles allowed, but there are camping spots along the river where you can stay if you get a permit.

Gates of the Mtns

These are the cliffs that Lewis and Clark saw as the gates. At first view, they thought the river was blocked from going further into the mountains, but as they pushed upstream the cliffs appeared to separate, like gates, to let the river through. It’s an interesting illusion, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get a good shot of it or make a video. All I had with me was my crappy pocket camera. I need a new portable camera, like a good phone cam. Pixel 3 or 4, anyone?

Mann Gulch

Here’s the view up Mann Gulch. The smoke jumpers died along the steep hillside leading up to the ridge. There a memorial marker here, and if you’ve read the book and realized what happened, you’ll probably end up with a heavy heart and shed a tear or two for the young men who lost their lives.

At Howard's

Here we all are, patiently (sort of) waiting for the pizzas at Howard’s Pizza Restaurant. From the lower left, going clockwise around the table are Doug (brother), Whitney (niece), Randy, yours truly, Justin, Kayla, Marissa, and Bob (brother). A waitress took the photo, but it’s a bit blurry. I think she used one of my brothers’ phones.

Outside Howard's

Here we are outside the restaurant in a photo that’s a bit less blurry than the other one. I think my brother Bob took this one–he’s not in the photo. Duh. From the left, Justin, daughter Kayla, Marissa (niece), Randy making the Oregon Ducks sign, his daughter Whitney in front of him, yours truly and brother Doug. Yeah, Doug and I are carrying left-over pizza. Great late night snack.

USA Trip — In Montana

Great Falls

After a wonderful few days in lovely north-west Oregon, Randy, Whitney and I flew to Great Falls on the morning of Aug. 18th. It was a short hop up to Seattle and then a quick flight to Montana. Great Falls is the city where I lived as a teen, and went to junior high school and graduated from Great Falls High (go Bison!). When I lived there, it seemed like an exciting place to grow up, but after returning now (and three years ago), I thought it seemed a rather sleepy place, where downtown closed shop around 6 o’clock. Granted, high school wasn’t in session when I was there, so perhaps it’s livelier when the kids are back in school and running around with their friends in the evening.

I stayed at the Midtown Motel, which isn’t a bad place to spend a few nights, and it’s connected to Perkins Restaurant, a good, convenient little eatery. Although the restaurant didn’t open until 7 a.m., I, early riser that I am, was able to get a pot of coffee from the check-in desk of the hotel at 5 o’clock. Nice! Though the motel and restaurant are good, the location is a bit sketchy; there are a lot of homeless people wandering around here, so walking alone at night might be something to avoid doing, though the denizens of the area seemed harmless enough. Still . . . This is the Great Falls that I never saw when I was a kid. Have the homeless always been in this part of town? This seemed very different from back then. I don’t recall ever seeing homeless folks when I lived here. Is this something new, a sign of the times? Or is it something that we overlooked way back when?

Anyway, later that evening, my brothers and Whitney and I met up with a niece and her husband and a few of their kids at a Great Falls Mexican culinary institution, El Comedor Restaurant. The restaurant has been around since 1970. Of course, the food is wonderful. Give it a try if you’re ever in Great Falls, and, especially, try one of their justifiably famous fluffy tacos.

 

Glacier National Park

Then, back to the motel and to bed early, because the next day, in the wee hours, we were driving north to one of my favorite places in the world, the beautiful Glacier National Park. It turned out to be a gorgeous, clear day, and the approximately three-hour drive is far from boring. If you’re in a big hurry (and you shouldn’t be), you can take I-15 up to Shelby and then go west to the park. But the best drive is north on US Highway 89, which follows the incredible Rocky Mountain Front all the way to the park.

Once in the park, it’s up, up, up to the Continental Divide on one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Going-to-the-Sun road. There are many places along the road to stop, get out of the car, hike, take photos and just be out in the fresh air. This was the highlight of my visit to the ‘States. It always is. I backpacked here a few times back in the day, but there are many short hikes along the road. We stopped and hiked three miles or so to St. Mary Falls, a beautiful, easy excursion. Lots of folks along the trail, as there usually are in August.

We stopped again for about an hour at (packed) Logan Pass, atop the Continental Divide, then drove down the west side to McDonald Lake and Lodge, then west out of the park, and south and east around the southern boundary of this marvelous area, and then back on US 89, we returned to Great Falls. It was a long day, but well worth the effort.

The Loss of a Friend

One thing dampened this entire trip, however. I learned that I high school buddy of mine had died recently. We had kept in touch all these years and we were able to meet up every time I had returned to Great Falls. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, and, in the back of my mind, I feared the worst. And so it was. He had died of cancer a mere month or so before this trip. We were bowling buddies from a long time ago and he was also friends with my mother before she died. In high school, we worked together as pinchasers and hung out at the long defunct Skyway Bowl, but we also bowled together at other bowling centers around town. The only center remaining in Great Falls from that time is Little’s Lanes, which is just a couple of blocks from the Midtown. After returning from Glacier, I walked to Little’s and had a couple of beers, going over old memories and reflecting on the past. Many very good memories. Rest in peace, Ken Larson.

I’ll complete part 2 of this leg of my journey in another post soon, our trip to The Gates of the Mountains. More later.

Here are a few photos of the park, just a few. I took many more and perhaps I’ll put them in a gallery when I get the chance. I’ll let you know.

Montana butte formation

This was an early morning trip, but I tried to take pictures from a moving car of some of the butte-like formations along the way to Glacier Park. This was about the only successful shot. There are many of these isolated hills, including Square Butte, one of Charlie Russell’s favorite subjects.

Rocky Mountain Front

The drive north on US 89 follows the Rocky Mountain Front the entire way. This entire area features the vast plains crashing into the Rockies to create some amazing, chaotic and awesome vistas. The several towns along the way deserve a stop, historic places like Choteau, Fairfield and Dupuyer. And don’t forget to spend some time in Browning, just outside the park, to visit the Museum of the Plains Indians.

Rocky Mountain Front

Another view of the Rocky Mountain Front along US Highway 89 on the way to Glacier National Park (Again, from a moving car, so the quality could be better).

Glaciner National Park south

The southern reaches of Glacier National Park. As you get nearer to the park, the views become ever more amazing. In certain locations on the highway, the hidden mountains seem to all of a sudden spring out of the prairie.

St. Mary Lake

We’re in the park now, and this is THE iconic photo in Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake, looking toward Wild Goose Island, which is just to the right of the tall trees in the center of the photo. Also to the right, in the sky, you can see the moon. I thought that I might remove it, but no, that’s where it belongs. It’s difficult to take a bad photo here. It’s an amazing view and it represents everything that GNP is.

Grizzly warning

You’ll see these throughout the park. Heed them! I’ve never seen a grizzly on a backcountry trail, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around.

St. Mary Falls

This is the main waterfall, but there are smaller ones above this, and you can climb up a short, steep trail to reach them. There were lots of people here, so getting a good shot of the falls was a bit difficult. Even though it might be crowded, it’s still worth the trek to see this beautiful cascade.

Doug, Randy, Whitney

Doug, Randy and Whitney at the falls. Don’t know where my brother Bob is at–he’s probably looking for birds–that’s his hobby, a good one to have.

St. Mary Falls trail parking lot

The view from the St. Mary Falls trail parking lot is pretty awesome, too. There are so many spectacular views to be found everywhere in the park.

Glacier Park panorama

This is a panoramic shot taken on the way up to Logan Pass. I stitched a couple of photos together in Lightroom to create this, trying to give a sense to how utterly beautiful the park is.

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is quite crowded this time of year, so it was a bit of a hassle finding a parking spot. Some folks were parking farther down the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and walking back up to the pass.

Logan Pass

Another view from Logan Pass. I’ve been here in earlier months, even early July, when very large snowbanks filled the paved parking area. Fun for the kids, and adults, too, especially if you’re from the South. Snow? In July?!!

Logan Pass

Doug takes in the view from near the Logan Pass visitor center. There’s a nice gift shop here, so stock up on souvenirs. They take credit cards and accept donations to help improved the area.

Logan Pass Info Sign

Lots of signage at the pass. This one’s an information sign.

Head Bangers sign Logan Pass

In addition to the straight information signs, there are several whimsical signs around. Head Bangers, for example.

Cliff Hangers sign Logan Pass

Some more whimsy–Cliff Hangers. You can see a lot of these sure-footed creatures on the various trails leading out from the pass.

Lake McDonald

Beautiful Lake McDonald near the west entrance to the park, at the bottom of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are a lot of burned acres around the lake from wildfires in recent years. If you’ve ever seen the lake in past years with its lush forests, yes, the fires have created quite a blight on the landscape, but the area is still gorgeous.

Red Jammer Bus

Another park icon, the Red Jammer Buses. I’ve never been on one, but it looks like a great way to see the park, with their open tops and a driver serving double duty as a tour guide. They’re not free (I think), but they’re probably worth it.

Jammer info sign

A somewhat chopped-off Jammer info sign. Sorry, I couldn’t fit the entire sign in.

Ron at GNP entrance sign

This is near the west entrance to the park. Do I look tired? I think I was a bit. Tell you what–just let me sit here for a while and come back and pick me up next year, OK?

USA Trip–In Oregon

 

Introduction

I’m finally getting a few posts up of my visit to the United States in August. While there, I spent some time in Seaside, Oregon with my brothers Randy and Rich, who lives in California. Then Randy, his daughter Whitney and I flew over to Great Falls, Montana, where we were able to hook up with brothers Bob, from Great Falls, and Doug, from Ft. Worth, Texas. Finally, I ventured alone to Las Vegas, Nevada, Sin City in the desert.

Off I Go

In this post, I’ll write about the first part of the journey, to Oregon. I flew out of Vientiane to Bangkok on a Thai Smile Airlines Airbus A320, which carries about 150 passengers. On this particular trip there were only 25 passengers (I counted). If this is typical, Thai Smile must be losing a bundle of money on this 55 minute flight to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.

From Bangkok to Taoyuan airport in Taiwan aboard an EVA flight took about three and a half hours (the plane was quite full) and the EVA flight to Seattle took about 11 hours. Again, the plane was full, but at least I had an aisle seat so it was easy to get up and walk around. Best to try to avoid deep vein thrombosis on these long flights. Seattle to Portland was basically a short hop, about 30 minutes in the air.

In the Beaver State

Earlier, when planning this trip, cheapskate (thrifty?) me looked for the lowest-priced tickets I could find that had reasonable layovers. So, I got into Portland a little after midnight and stayed in the airport until 10 a.m. because Randy couldn’t pick me up any earlier. No problem; I’ve spent longer times than that in worse airports. (The Portland airport is a wonderful facility, especially if you have to spend a long time there, which I would do on a later flight–more on that when I get my Vegas post up.)

Meeting My Long-Lost Brother

Of course, after an 11-hour flight, I was pretty bedraggled as I headed down to a lower level of the airport to get my checked baggage, so I was unaware of just about anything that was going on around me. My mistake! After hanging out at PDX all night, I waited outside the terminal for Randy, who pulled up just around ten o’clock. I went to toss my bags in the back seat and when I opened the door I got a shock. There was a fellow back there holding up a sign with my name on it. What the hell! It turned out that this was my older half-brother Rich, whom I’d never met before. It turns out that he had planned a surprise for me and had been at the airport around midnight holding up that sign as I arrived, but I hadn’t noticed it. He didn’t see me either, since he thought I’d be wearing a NY Yankee baseball cap, which I didn’t have on. He had reserved a room at one of the local hotels, so I could have stayed there instead of the airport. But, I totally ruined his surprise, much to my chagrin.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much time to hang out because he had an early afternoon flight back to California. I’m grateful that we got to spend an hour or so together–he’s a great guy and I really thank him for the time and money he spent to go up to Portland to meet me. The next time I’m able to get back to the ‘States, I want to make an effort to hook up with him for some quality time together. We had a couple of beers at the hotel, getting to know each other, then it was time for him to go and time for Randy and I to head over to Seaside, a 90-minute drive. Sorry, Rich, that I ruined your surprise.

Randy, Ron and Rich

From left to right: Randy, Ron and Rich.
Taken from Randy’s iPhone just before we dropped Rich off at his hotel. Unfortunately, he had to catch a flight back to California.

Fishing on the Mighty Columbia

I spent four days with my brother and his daughter, Whitney, at his beautiful home in Seaside. He had promised to take me out on his boat to do some fishing on the Columbia River, so after buying an Oregon fishing license online, I found myself at his boat dock at a marina near Astoria early the next morning, around 7 o’clock. A friend of his, Vern, would spend the morning with us out on the choppy river, trying to hook into a salmon or two or three.

A very strong tide was working against us, though, dragging us toward the Pacific ocean. We went with it for a while, then headed back upriver until Vern caught a nice fish, though my brother, who mainly handled the boat, and I were skunked. We called it a day around noon and put back into the marina. The next day we started out a little later to avoid the outgoing tide and the water was less choppy, so the ride was much easier. Joining us were John and Don, a couple more of Randy’s friends. This day, John would get a nice-sized salmon, but the rest of us were shut out. I had one on my pole, but it spit the hook out just as it was about to be netted and hauled into the boat. Sigh. There was quite a crowd on the river, with dozens and dozens of boats joining the hunt. Again, we put in about noon. I like to joke that I came half-way round the world to catch a Columbia River salmon and all I got was one lousy picture of a salmon. Sheesh. Maybe next time, whenever that will be.

Fishing boat

This is my brother’s fishing boat. It’s larger than it looks here, but I wouldn’t take it deep-sea fishing. Notice the color scheme and other little details? Yup, he’s a huge University of Oregon Ducks fan.

We’re heading out to the Columbia from the marina. Lots of boats docked here. The marina is about 30 minutes from my brother’s house.

Fishing the Columbia

This is the second day out. I believe that’s Don on the left. As you can see, there are lots of boats trying their luck/skills.

Cleaning the fish

Back on the first day, Randy and Vern are cleaning Vern’s fish. Kind of an unwritten rule is that you share your catch with your boat mates, so Randy got a nice filet and we ate salmon for dinner.

Early Morning Surprise

Anyway, I had a great time with my brother and my niece. We drove around and took in some of the sights, though the area was very crowded with tourists. Randy said that after Labor Day, Seaside and the surrounding environs would be back to normal, a situation he could hardly wait for.

Oregon coast

This was taken at Ft. Stevens State Park, the most north-western point in Oregon. Beautiful afternoon!

My brother and his daughter

Still at Ft. Stevens, my niece, Whitney, and my brother Randy.

I spent a few relaxing days at his home, which has a beautiful back yard with a very large vegetable garden, so we ate delicious fresh veggies, salads, salmon, clams and other local delights; my brother is, seriously, a wonderful cook and a great all-around guy. He even forgave me for setting off his house alarm early one morning. (It’s quite loud, believe me!)

A Bigger Surprise

The one surprising (to me) thing about Oregon is the state’s liberal marijuana laws. You can legally smoke it in your home and you can grow up to four plants in your yard as long as they are hidden from public view. Head shops (dispensaries) abound, but many tokers are baby-boomers who grow it in their yards and roll their own. Awesome. I didn’t have the chance to try any, and I’m not sure I would have, even if I had been offered some. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve partaken of the herb, and I’m not sure if I’d want to start again. But, who knows?

OK, that’s Oregon. Next post I’ll write about the few days I had in Montana. See you then.

Photo Art — Breaking Out

Here’s one of my newer pieces of Photo Art, which I’m calling “Breaking Out.” The “demons” are from a photo I took of a wall mural in a Buddhist temple in Thailand some years ago. Sorry, but I don’t remember from which temple it was taken. In Photoshop, I extracted these guys from the rest of the photo, stuck them in a frame, while erasing part of the boundary to give the appearance of them breaking out, added a background texture and some shadows, and incorporated a few other minor techniques to increase the contrast a bit and enhance the colors. This is what I ended up with. Hope you like it.

Buddhist temple wall mural

Breaking Out

Photo Art-Clean Sweep

Here’s another piece I’ve been working on. I don’t feel that it’s complete yet and it needs some refining, so I’ll keep working on it or come back to it at a later date. I like letting these pieces sit for a while and then, later, I can view them with “fresh” eyes.

This is supposed to be a minimal work, a challenge from the Photoshop Artistry group to use only one of my images of a household item (the broom, obviously) and another image to establish context. The challenge also specifies that we are to use certain textures, frames and vignettes, which I haven’t added yet. I’ll get to it eventually. But, this is it for now. Entitled “Clean Sweep.”

Clean Sweep

Digital Art–Book Cover Project

I recently joined another digital art group, a subgroup of another group I’m in. This new group, Kaizen, gives its members an optional monthly project to participate in, along with tutorials, training and gigabytes worth of royalty free content. One of the stipulations of the projects is that we can’t publish our project outside of the group until the project is deemed completed and closed. It closed recently, so here’s my contribution.

The project was to make art based around one of our favorite books, while trying to incorporate, if possible, an image of the book itself and elements that might relate to the content of the book. I had just finished reading an exceptional novel, “All the Light We Cannot See”, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction written by Anthony Doerr. I highly recommend it. So, here’s my effort. I included my favorite quote from the book inside the image and the bottom quote is the first line or two from the novel. The various other elements in the image relate to the contents of the book. Hope you like it.

Baseball in Laos? Yes!

Although in it’s early stages, baseball has been gradually growing in popularity in Laos. This past weekend there was an international tournament played in Vientiane, with 10 teams from 5 countries competing for a trophy and other prizes. The teams were from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and Korea, which had the most teams here.

An article in the Vientiane Times yesterday gave a nice overview of the sport in the country. It seems that this was actually the 5th annual Korea-Laos International Baseball Tournament, but it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. The tournament was played at the football (soccer) field, an all-grass setting, so no infield dirt or pitcher’s mound. However, the article stated that through funding from Korea, two new “stadiums” will be built before the end of 2019. I imagine that there won’t be two stadiums built, but, rather, two fields at a new baseball complex with seating. You never know, though.

So, I went to the football stadium this past Saturday to check it out. Here are a few photos from the event. One note: the sight lines were terrible, so I was unable to make any good photos. The “dugouts” were opaque plastic boxes which you couldn’t see through, the officials’ and umpires’ tables were directly behind home plate, there was a large schedule board blocking the view from another angle, and a concessions table also blocked the view, along with various protective nettings. I hope the new fields will not include these kinds of encumbrances to viewing the games.

The Times didn’t have the results of the tournament in yesterday’s edition, but I’ll check in today’s paper. I’ll update this post if there is any further news about the event.

UPDATE: The Tuesday Times reported that the Laos team tied for first in the tournament with a team from Seoul, South Korea, with each getting 33 points. Hmmm, I have no idea what the points represent. Run differential, perhaps? Anyway, congratulations to both teams.

(A further note on the photos. For a better view of an image, right click on the photo and select View Image. To get back to the post, you’ll have to click the Back Button on your browser.)

Laos baseball
Players from one of the Korean teams do a few warm-ups before their game. There were very few interested spectators at this particular game. The stands were mainly populated by friends of the players or by players from other teams. The Laos team was scheduled to play later in the afternoon, but I left before that particular game. Perhaps there were more people watching then.
Laos baseball
Kids are getting more and more interested in the game. I hope, eventually, that the sport becomes much more popular.
Laos baseball
Girls are involved, too. Check out the very long hair on this young lady.
Laos baseball
Because there is no pitcher’s mound built into the field, a portable mound was used. I’d never seen one of these before. Also, because of the grass infield, there weren’t too many stolen base attempts. Players were sliding into the bags, but I think they were using plastic-cleated shoes, not the metal spiked ones, which would probably have stuck in the grass, allowing for potential injuries.
Laos baseball
It’s a hit! Or was it? I think this guy knocked a single. They were using metal bats, which I hate, but, due to the cost of breakable wooden bats, I suppose the metal ones are a necessity.
Laos baseball
A minor collision at home plate. It was a bad throw, so the runner was safe.
Laos baseball
The Laos team was getting a pep talk from their manager or coach before their game, which was an hour or so from starting. I took off before then, so I didn’t get to see any of the action.

Recent Hoi An Trip

My friend Nai and I had a short holiday in Hoi An, Vietnam last month, and we had a decent stay. The UNESCO old town was interesting, even though we didn’t see much of it, and, being beach bums, we thought An Bang Beach was quite nice.

The biggest factor preventing full enjoyment of the trip was that my debit and credit cards weren’t working all the time. In hindsight, I should have taken more cash with me. The ATM machines weren’t much help in telling me why my debit card wasn’t working. The language they used was very confusing; mostly, it was something like “This machine cannot complete that process.” Why? Is the machine out of cash, is my card blocked? No idea. After we arrived at the hotel on Sunday evening, I walked quite a way to find some ATMs, but the card worked in none of them. I called my bank the next day, and, yes, they had blocked the card, even though I had told them I would be using it in Vietnam.

So, unblocked, it worked fine the next day and I was able to get some cash. Unfortunately, two days later, it again didn’t work. Called the bank again–something about a 48 hour exclusion. Couldn’t get it to work until the final day of the trip. Too late. Fortunately, a restaurant on the beach, La Plage, accepted credit cards and mine worked fine there each day. (That’s where we hung out; it’s a nice place to relax, if you’re ever out that way.)

Then, we checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, and there were a few extra expenses to take care of. I had little cash left, but the credit card’s working, right? Wrong. It didn’t work at the hotel, for some reason. I think their connection was screwed up. I had called the bank again earlier that morning about my debit card, and they told me the card should be working again, but it was too far to get to an ATM before our ride to Da Nang airport, so I used up my remaining cash to pay the hotel. Got to the Da Nang airport, and the debit card worked fine; got back to Vientiane and the credit card worked fine. Go figure. Next time I go, if I go to Vietnam again (which I might), I’ll take plenty of cash.

Anyway, the trip was OK, despite the cards and despite the huge amount of tourists in the Old Town, which is why we didn’t explore it more (along with the cash problem). Here are some pics, along with comments.

An Bang Beach
Monday, our first full day in Hoi An, was overcast and quite windy, with a smattering of rain. We decided to go to the beach anyway. There were very few people there, and the beach was littered with debris and trash, brought in by the ocean during recent storms. Few restaurants were open, but we found The Deckhouse, where we got a seat at a table protected from the wind and occasional rain.
An Bang Beach
A few people at The Deckhouse braved the wind and rain for a brisk experience.
An Bang Beach
As you can see, the beach on Monday was practically deserted. Things changed, however, when we went back later in the week on some very nice, sunny, warm days.
An Bang Beach
OK, this is more like it. Sunny and warm, and better people watching. We lay under a cabana and watched the waves crashing off shore, or snoozed, or read a book, or walked along the beach. (Drank a few beers, too.) That’s Da Nang on the horizon, about 12 miles away. You can follow the beach all the way up there, if you’re so inclined. Also, of note, all the trash and debris had been cleaned off the beach. Very nice.
An Bang Beach
Here’s the view looking south along the beach. I ran this one through a Topaz Labs filter to try to give it a more painterly look.
An Bang Beach
A couple of Korean ladies, modestly attired, enjoy the sea breeze and sun. There was a very large Korean contingent at La Plage this day.
swimming pool
I suppose we could have stayed at our hotel, the Jade Hotel, and gone swimming in the pool. It looked clean, but the water was too cold. By the way, the Jade is a great bargain if you ever stay in Hoi An. It’s a bit far from the city center and it’s a ways from the beach, but the taxi fares (metered) are very cheap–a few dollars to the beach each way and about the same into the town. It has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and it’s a well-earned rating (except for the credit card hassle on the last day)-very clean and an exceptionally friendly staff. Oh, and did I mention it’s only about $20 a night!
swimming pool
This is a view of the pool from inside the small restaurant. The room rate includes breakfast, which includes coffee, tea, juice, fruit, bread, croissants, cereal and anything off the menu. I usually had fruit, toast, fried eggs and pancakes, and coffee every morning.
Tin Tin Restaurant
We sometimes took our lunch and evening meals at the Tin Tin Restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. Great food and very cheap as well.
Nai at lunch
Nai is having a fish hotpot, I think, for lunch this day.
Hotpot
And I’m having a shrimp hotpot. I gotta say, Vietnamese cuisine is remarkably delicious. We never had a bad meal, though I did get overcharged at one place, due to a misprinted menu. It wasn’t that much, but it kind of soured me on the place. The Tin Tin, however, is a great place to eat.
Hoi An Old Town
Finally, we went to Hoi An Old Town, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of it due to tiredness from lounging at the beach (HA!), hordes of tourists (like us) and my dwindling supply of cash. Here’s a view of some of the buildings from the other side of the Thu Bon River that runs through town. It seems that most of the buildings are this burnt-orange color, painted this way on purpose, I presume.
restaurant
One of the small restaurants in Old Town. There are many places to dine or have a coffee around here. I noticed that most of them were quite full.
bridge
A small, quaint bridge takes people to the other side of town across the river.
boat
You can hire a boat to take you on a river cruise.
boat
You can get a smaller boat that carries two passengers if you don’t want to use one of the large ones.
Thu Bon river
Looking along the river. I might have liked to take a float, but, again, low cash supply.

So, that was my first journey to Vietnam, and overall, it was OK. If I were going to give it a grade (and I’m not LOL), I’d give it a B- due to various reasons, like wrong time of year (we got lucky with the sunny days), too many tourists, and money problems. I’d like to go back again and stay in Hanoi and see Ha Long Bay (very famous, Google it), but it would have to be at the right season, probably spring or summer, before the rains set in. See you next time.


High Water in Vientiane

I went into Vientiane a few days ago to see how far the Mekong was from topping the embankment (levee?) that was constructed after the big 2008 flood. It has quite a way to go before it gets that high, but it is flowing through some sluice gates and other channels to flood the park that’s on the city side of the road that runs along the top of the levee. I watched a video of the effort to pump water out of the area, and you can watch it on Facebook here.

Though it’s not going over the embankment, the river has flooded the new addition to the night market in that area. Here are the new vendor stalls that sit, usually, right above the river. Someone who did the planning must have thought that the river would never get this high again. Tell that to all the sellers who had to move their goods to higher ground.

flood

Night market vendor stalls under water

flood

More night market stalls under water.

We had no rain yesterday and there’s none in the forecast for today or tomorrow, but the water level is forecast to keep rising for the next few days, according to the Mekong River Commission daily bulletin. (If you click on their link, check out the Nongkhai report–it’s only a few miles downstream from the old place where I used to live and is much more relevant than the Vientiane report.)

The river has crept nearer to the old place, but it’s still safely below the houses. However, if the water does get higher over the next few days, that situation could change. Thankfully, many of the houses are built on stilts or on foundations that are several feet above the ground. More later.

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