Viva Las Vegas

The first day of October, Honey and I loaded up the car and headed for Las Vegas. This was the first trip that far west for either of us, and we decided to drive and enjoy the scenery along the way.

The first leg of our trip was to Oklahoma City, but we were up early the next morning to head for our friend’s home in Albuquerque. We arrived early enough Sunday afternoon to enjoy dinner with him and a couple of his family members. The view from his apartment complex was insane. The International Balloon Fiesta was being held that weekend and we were hoping to see the launch of the hot air balloons the next morning, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.

20161002_155710

We headed for the Grand Canyon the next day, and although we were dismayed at the nearly 80-mile trek down a two-lane road to reach the park, we were completely blown away by the view from the canyon’s edge. It was incredible, and there is simply no way to describe it or capture it with a camera. You simply must visit in person to grasp the immensity and beauty of it.

20161003_133625-pano

We headed back the interstate and made our way to Vegas, arriving at our hotel (the Bellagio) just before dark. We were both completely exhausted. The crowded streets that were nearly impossible to navigate, cigarette smoke was everywhere, and we were hungry and irritable. We couldn’t figure out where to eat, so we decided to return to our hotel for the enormous buffet. After standing in line for 20 minutes and paying $90 for 2 plates of mediocre food, we both decided we hated Vegas.

20161003_195545

The view from our room was fantastic though, and we could see the fountains erupting every few minutes.

20161003_190457-animation

Things seemed much better after a good night’s sleep, so we got back in the car Tuesday morning and went to visit the Hoover Dam. Talk about amazing! We ventured onto the bridge that crosses the river via a pedestrian walkway that has interstate traffic zooming by just a couple of feet away. That, combined with the vertigo, made for a very harrowing experience, but the view was breathtaking.

20161004_105425

After crossing the top of the dam by car, we were blown away by how low the water level was compared to the clearly visible water mark on the cliff walls behind the dam.

20161004_112204-pano

We had tickets to see Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay at 9:30pm on Tuesday evening. We arrived a little early and checked out the MJ store attached to the venue. There were also displays of some of Michael’s clothing – including his glitter socks and loafers.

20161004_202658

20161004_202406

Given the time and day of the week, I had low expectations for how many people would be at the show, but, man, was I ever wrong! The earlier show had sold out, and ours was completely packed. It was phenomenal in every way. The sound, lighting, dancing, costumes, and attention to detail was some of the best I have ever seen in a live performance, and it was the ultimate tribute to the greatest entertainer of all time.

By our third day in Vegas, we were starting to get familiar with our surroundings and finding decent places to eat. We might have even started liking the place a little.

20161004_134820

20161004_140126

20161005_101117

20161005_102356

The catalyst for the trip was seeing Celine Dion, so I was beyond excited that the time for the concert was quickly approaching. We spent the afternoon walking around, shopping for souvenirs, and even wasted a few dollars on gambling just because we felt like it was kind of appropriate given our location.

20161005_135407

It wasn’t long before we were in line to see Celine, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. Our seats were fantastic, and she sounded even better than I had imagined. She talked quite a bit and was her usual goofy self, but the best part was when several audience members rushed the stage (myself included) for her performances of “River Deep – Mountain High” and “Purple Rain.” She loved the attention, and even told us to stay put while she did a dance routine by the drummer.

20161005_195311

20161005_210452

Celine’s spine-tingling performance of “My Heart Will Go On” had her standing inside a ring of falling water. Truly majestic.

20161005_212115

I recorded this short video from our hotel room window on our last night in Vegas. It really captures some of the excitement of the Strip.

We started home Thursday morning, and the leg of the trip between Las Vegas and Denver turned out to be the most beautiful. Utah is probably the most lovely state I have ever been through. As a tree lover, I didn’t know how I would feel about the desert landscape, but it is just amazing. You can see so far that you lose your perception of distance, and there are far more mountains than I expected.

20161006_130012

20161006_130145

20161006_131506

We began our trek through the Rocky Mountains later that evening. The temperature dropped to around 30 degrees, and it was even snowing/sleeting in the higher elevations. We arrived in Denver around sundown.

20161006_174856-pano

Friday, we drove from Denver to Kansas City, and after a quick stop at the Truman home on Saturday morning, we drove home.

20161008_092536

20161008_100425_001

It was a very long trip, and I don’t ever want to drive that far again, but it was really enjoyable and something I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

Length of Vacation: 8 days
Miles Driven: 3,500+
Hours of Driving: 50+
States Visited: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois

Post of many colors

It has been quite a while since I posted anything personal here, so I guess an update is in order.

We took a vacation a few weeks ago. It kicked off with a Dolly Parton concert in Chicago. It was my third time through the city, but the first time that I’ve actually been able to do anything of substance. The show was even more awesome than expected, and Dolly was able to quickly whip the crowd into a frenzy. The gays were out in full force. I guess we all enjoy a good drag show when given the opportunity. =)

chicago_01

The hotel was nice, but we noticed that our car had been side-swiped when we loaded up to leave the next morning. The cops were called, hotel management was less than helpful, and it was clear that no one had any interest in trying to track down the insensitive (and probably inebriated) driver who inflicted the damage. Regardless, I decided that it wasn’t going to ruin my vacation and we headed for Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

I had read online that the best view of the city’s skyline was from the planetarium. It was perfect. A rain storm had just blown through, so the sky was clear and smog free, and the temperature on the lake front was in the seventies. We snapped several pictures before Honey’s mom announced that she had to go up in the Willis Tower (formerly named after Sears).

chicago_02

I hadn’t been up in a skyscraper since my trip to the top of the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/9/2001 – save for my visit to the CN Tower in Toronto in 2003. That one technically isn’t a skyscraper or a high profile target for terrorists (at least in my mind). The Willis Tower certainly fits the bill for both, so I was more than a little apprehensive while standing in line with scores of other tourists while waiting for the elevator ride to the top.

chicago_03

The view from the 103rd floor was incredible. People crowded against the windows snapping photos of each other and the surrounding urban environment, but the biggest draw had to be the three glass boxes that protruded from one side of the building. Glass ceilings, walls, and floors. I peered over the side and looked straight down to the street – a thousand or so feet below. Talk about vertigo.

chicago_05

Honey and his mom couldn’t wait to walk out into the void, but I was freaked out. I did back out onto the glass floor a few inches, but I kept my hand firmly clasped onto the wall just inside the building and managed a forced smile for a snapshot. A few minutes later, we were back on the ground and headed toward Cincinnati, where we spent several days with Honey’s sister and niece. The days went by much too quickly and we were back home before we knew it.

chicago_04

Last weekend, our church held a memorial service for our dear friend John, who passed away earlier this year. A health crisis had prevented one of his children from traveling back then, so things were delayed until everyone could be there. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful tribute to a man who continues to inspire me to this day. He was a quiet man with a gentle spirit, but he had a huge impact on the world around him, as was evidenced in the packed sanctuary.

One of our friends journeyed down from Wisconsin by bus in order to attend the memorial. She stayed in our home and we watched her health decline rapidly as each day went by. She was in poor health to begin with, but in very bad condition by the time we took her to catch a bus for the ride home. We actually wanted to take her to the emergency room, but she declined, insisting that she get home before seeking medical care. She was hospitalized as soon as she got home and will be getting a pacemaker within the next few days. Regardless of the fact that the trips were around 24 hours each way or that she nearly killed herself in the process, I know that she was more than happy to make the effort to be there to honor a man who meant so much to us all.

Not much else to report at the moment. I can already feel Autumn in the air, so I should have plenty of time for blogging in the upcoming months. Bye for now.