Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park!























     Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park!
     Lake Tahoe lies on the border of California and Nevada.  Many people only associate Lake Tahoe with the State Of California, while casually regarding the Nevada coastline as only being a small section of the lake where a few casinos are located.  When looking at a map it is easy to see that nearly half of this ancient body of water actually is on the Nevada side of the line.
     Fortunately, most folks look upon Lake Tahoe as an entity of its own accord and the border lines on a map are meaningless.  This is because Lake Tahoe boasts some of the most beautiful panoramic landscapes on earth!

     Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park offers plenty of unspoiled wilderness areas in the Spooner Backcountry.  The Spooner Backcountry stretches from Carson City to the high elevation overlooks, where visitors can catch their first glimpse of Lake Tahoe far below.  Even when viewing Lake Tahoe from a distant mountain overlook, it is easy to catch a feeling that there is something special about this lake.  While negotiating the twisting roads downhill, the feeling changes to an anticipation of grandeur as one gets closer to the water.  It is like Lake Tahoe has some kind of a captivating power that overwhelms the senses of all who are drawn to this place.
     After arriving at the water's edge, the majestic beauty of Lake Tahoe leaves visitors speechless.  The towering snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains surround the vast lake with dense pine forests and interesting rock outcrops.  The high altitude of this region yields crystal clear blue skies with cotton clouds that drift overhead.  There is no smog to interfere with the view and it is easy to see for miles across the water.  In this respect, Lake Tahoe is a photographer's paradise.

     Lake Tahoe was formed during a recent ice age and many remnants of this lost ancient period of time are retained in this present day.  The water clarity is superb and the blue color is noticeable even as close as five feet from the rocky shore.
     Lake Tahoe is nearly 3 miles deep.  The water temperature in this deep abyss is icy cold.  The combination of ice cold deep water and complete oxygen depletion presents geophysical attributes that fascinate the scientific community.
     Basically any living organism that sinks to the bottom of Lake Tahoe will be preserved for all eternity.  This fact spawns many tales of paranormal activity, like rumors of hordes of living zombies walking on the bottom of the lake.  There are tales of well preserved corpses grabbing unsuspecting deepwater divers and not letting go of their victims, till they drown and become deepwater zombies themselves.
     There actually is some substance to the paranormal rumors, but the deepwater zombie fantasy is not part of the reality of it all.  Mummified ancient Native Americans have been brought up from the bottom of Lake Tahoe to the surface in the recent past.  The bodies of Chinese slave laborers that were dumped in the lake over 100 years ago have been discovered too.  Even a few cadavers that local Mafia members disposed of have been found in the middle of Lake Tahoe.  Because the oxygen depleted ice water preserved the mob victims like mummies, cold case crime scene investigators took notice.
     Nobody knows for sure just how many hundreds or thousands of bodies lie on the bottom of Lake Tahoe.  Because of advances in modern deepwater exploration technology, cameras show that there are plenty of preserved corpses in the depths, so there is factual matter that feeds the Lake Tahoe zombie rumor mill.  Thoughts of this subject seem to naturally occur when staring into the blue water and this adds to the mystique of this unique place.
     Anyway, there is no use getting hung up on eerie weird zombie thoughts when visiting Lake Tahoe, because the scenery is so majestic.  Experiencing the beauty of Lake Tahoe is much easier to do than trying to convey the Lake Tahoe experience.  Lake Tahoe has always been a weird wild place and it always will be this way.

     When visiting the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe it is always good to keep in mind that the weather can change without warning.  The Sierra Nevada Mountains can be very unforgiving, just like the old Donner Party story goes.
     During the spring and autumn seasons blizzard conditions at high elevations can occur even though the low elevation temperatures are 75ºF.  I visited Lake Tahoe on such a day and the return trip over the mountain to Carson City was not easy.  At about 8,000 feet above sea level the sleet and snow was coming down thick without warning.  With no snow chains, my Dodge Hemi Challenger was sliding all over the road.  These weather conditions certainly result in a white knuckled ride, because in Nevada there are very few guard rails on the mountain roads and the view through the passenger window of the steep slopes is an awful long way down!
     Yes, Lake Tahoe is a great destination for beating the summertime heat.  The mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe are also a winter sports paradise during the cooler months.  Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park offers plenty of outdoor activities year round.  All I can say is that Lake Tahoe is a place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime, so get up and go!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Las Vegas!































     The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino!
     Looking for a place in Las Vegas to chill out during a late summer heat wave?  The Miracle Mile Shops at the Planet Casino is a cool choice!
     Many of the casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip are like a self contained city.  All of the modern amenities, accommodations and entertainment venues that one can possibly imagine can be found in the mega-resorts.  
     In recent years, Las Vegas has transformed from a primary gambling mecca to a world class dining, entertainment and shopping destination.  Many casinos on the Strip host magnificent shopping malls that easily exceed the standards of the average malls in most major cities.  
     Casino malls feature architectural design and decor that is captivating beyond belief.  The key word in this case is "captivating!"  Once a shopper enters a modern casino shopping mall, it is easy to completely forget that the outside world exists.  As one can guess, casino property guest retention is a key to success.  Modern casino malls literally provide a high level of shopping satisfaction that leaves no room for a guest to go anywhere else to seek anything that could possibly be desired. 
     
     The Miracle Mile was one of the first modern casino shopping malls on the Vegas Strip.  The Miracle Mile originally was kind of an entity of its own back when the host casino was the Aladdin.  By this I mean that the Aladdin's architectural design flowed into the Miracle Mile, but the central theme of the shopping mall experience did not really reflect upon the Arabic theme.  
     Ever since the old Aladdin transformed into the Planet Hollywood Casino, the mode of the Miracle Mile has been uplifted.  One might say that the Hollywood theme brought all the loose ends together.  The Arabic architectural design was retained, but because the word "Hollywood" naturally generates consumer excitement, the venue of shopping businesses in this mall was raised to a new level.  The Miracle Mile now offers one of the best shopping, dining and entertainment venues in Las Vegas under one gigantic roof!
     Just like the name suggests, the Miracle Mile offers 1 square mile of supreme indoor shopping!  When the outdoor temperatures are in the triple digit range, hanging out in this vast air conditioned indoor mall is mighty appealing.  Even with thousands of shoppers wandering around the circular mile long pathway, the atmosphere of the Miracle Mile never feels stuffy or crowded.  As far as casino malls are concerned, size does matter! 
     
     The Miracle Mile is where the Planet Hollywood Theatre can be found and as everybody knows, Britney is in the house!  The official Britney Store is also located in this area.  
     The Zombie Craze is still going strong and one of the hottest shows on The Strip just happens to be Zombie Burlesque.  Zombie Burlesque?  Yes!  The "V Theatre" hosts many great performing arts shows, comedy acts and musicians each week.  By far, Zombie Burlesque is the most popular at this time and the box office waiting line is long.  It does pay to book tickets in advance, especially during a busy convention week.  
     For those who miss the Riviera Casino, which closed its doors recently, one great longstanding Riviera act was moved to Planet Hollywood.  The Crazy Girls burlesque show now has a home in PH.  The famous "brass ass" Crazy Girls statue was also moved to this site!   
     There are bars, nightclubs and restaurants by the dozens in the Miracle Mile.  Food venues range from gourmet junk food to fine dining Italian and casual Mexican fare to old school seafood restaurants.  The bars range from sports bars and cantinas to saloons that feature bull riding.  Some of the bars even offer an educational experience, like pole dancing lessons at the Stripper Bar.  

     On a recent visit to the Miracle Mile I was in a junk food consuming mode.  I figured that since I was moving off to a job in Wyoming, good Las Vegas style gourmet junk food would be in short supply.  A major motion picture style munch mission at Planet Hollywood and the Miracle Mile seemed like a good plan.  Go with it!
     My first munch mission stop was at a new restaurant called Lobster Me.  Lobster Me is located inside the Miracle Mile Shops.  Those who have been to Maine surely know about Lobster Rolls.  Lobster Me adds a modern West Coast twist to the old classic mayonnaise laden Maine Lobster Roll.  Lobster Me offers modern Lobster Roll creations that actually have flavor!
     Since I was just starting my day, the Lobster Mary caught my eye.  One simply cannot go wrong with a good Bloody Mary in Vegas, especially when this classic cocktail is made with a fresh shelled lobster claw!

     Pin-Up Pizza is located at street level on the Vegas Strip in front of Planet Hollywood.  Pin-Up Pizza features huge slices of New York City style pizza pie.  A slice of Pin-Up Pizza literally hangs over both ends of the plate and it dwarfs all Las Vegas pizzeria competition!  
     I chose the "Bettie P. Combo" for my pizza munch session.  This classic Pin-Up combo includes 1 gigantic slice of pizza, a beer and a Garlic Knot.  All I can say is Pin-Up Pizza is one of the best places to get a slice in Vegas.  One look at the awesome All Meat Pizza in the photos above is all it takes to agree!

     The Pink's Hot Dogs story began in Hollywood shortly after the Great Depression.  Pink's rose to fame when this Los Angeles neighborhood needed good cheap eats.  Pinks eventually became a household brand name in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  Pink's has been on The Strip at this location ever since the latter years of the Aladdin Casino and of course Pink's definitely fits in with the Planet Hollywood Casino theme.  
     Why is Pink's the hot dog of the Hollywood Stars?  Pink's Hot Dogs have the classic "snap" that all hot dog gourmands desire!  Pink's offers a vast menu of classic and gourmet hot dog creations.  Pink's also has a wall of fame that that boasts many familiar Hollywood faces.  Pink's Chili Dog gets my vote for the best Classic Hot Dog in Vegas!     

     The Planet Hollywood Casino and the Miracle Mile Shops should be placed high on the Las Vegas vacation bucket list.  Those who have not been to this city since the days of the old Aladdin Casino will be in for a pleasant surprise.  No matter what the weather is like outside, Planet Hollywood and the Miracle Mile offer a cool Vegas style vacation and shopping experience that borders upon fantasyland!      

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion ~ Virgin, Utah!





















     The Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion!
     When traveling to the many National Parks in Utah, one simply cannot help but to meander to and fro along the Scenic Utah Byways.  There are plenty of historic markers, local attractions and good dining destinations along the way.  Of course there are plenty of tourist traps too.  As every experienced traveler knows, some tourist traps are better than others.
     Yes, there are plenty of rip-off tourist traps along the open road that are nothing more than a hole in a wall or a dried up old wishing well.  For most vacationers, all it takes is one glance while driving by to tell if a tourist trap is worth checking out.  A sun faded billboard advertising a Snake Woman that pictures the body of a serpent with the head of a women is a sure sign that stepping on the brakes and doing a U-Turn will not be necessary!
     At the opposite extreme, one simply cannot pass up a great tourist trap while on vacation!  A great tourist trap is much more than just a place to stretch the legs during a long drive.  A really good tourist trap offers quality merchandise, good food and plenty of interesting things to experience.   In fact, some of the best tourist traps are a prime destination in their own right.

     One of my favorite tourist traps is the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion.  The Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion is located on Utah State Road 9 in Virgin, Utah.  The town of Virgin is near the west entrance of Zion National Park.
     I first I stopped at the Virgin Trading Post four years ago on my way to college registration day in Las Vegas.  The owner had just finished building Fort Zion and we talked at great length about the local Zion tourism market.
     The owner spoke about trading with great Zuni, Hopi and Navaho artisan silversmiths and turquoise jewelers.  The owner also showed me several of his own hand crafted Southwestern style silver jewelry items.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  The vast selection of high quality Native American jewelry was interesting beyond belief!
     Four years ago, the owner of the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion had just opened up a small snack bar style restaurant.  Apparently this entrepreneur was a career restaurant manager with a lot of good experience.  We talked about restaurant expansion plans for a while and the food topic sent me into a hunger spell.
     I ended up ordering a Navaho Fry Bread Taco that was smothered with Chocolate Buffalo Chili.  The Navaho Fry Bread Taco was awesome tasting and the big western style portion of food kept my belly full till some time later the next day.  This is what good tourist trap food is all about!
   
     I never forgot the good experience that I had at the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion.  My interest in the western style tourist trap business increased during the next few years.  I actually wrote a 48 page business plan for a Route 66 Diner style tourist trap for my final paper in the Associates Degree Culinary Operations program at Le Cordon Bleu and got a 100% A grade.
     During the BA Degree program, I cited the restaurant at the Virgin Trading Post as an example in a couple of restaurateur topic research papers.  The French cooking school teachers really liked the wild west tourist trap theme!

     After finishing the BA Degree Program at Le Cordon Bleu this year, I recently was hired as a kitchen manager at a mountain resort in Wyoming.  When deciding on a route to take to Wyoming, I chose to drive the Scenic Utah Byways, rather than pounding the pavement on the boring interstate highways.
     The first stop that I planned on the trip was the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion.  From past experience, I knew this place serves up some good western style grub.  I also needed to shop for a good looking silver or turquoise bolo to complete my western style business suit.  So, off to the Virgin Trading Post I went!

     Upon my arrival and to my surprise, the husband and wife owners of the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion actually remembered me from 4 years ago.  We caught up on old times and spent a lot of time talking about the tourist trade.  The owner took me on a tour to show me the changes that were made on the entire facility.
     This great western style tourist trap certainly has plenty going on!  A children's petting zoo was added to Fort Zion.  Many new features were added to the miniature ghost town.  The restaurant was also expanded and the dining room now seats over 80 customers.
     An interesting old antique German upright player piano from the Las Vegas Liberace estate was placed in a corner of the dining room.  Few people in this modern age of personal electronic musical gadgets have experienced an old time player piano.  Customers at the restaurant are genuinely amazed when they see the keys move on the old player piano.  Some folks are even spooked, because they figure that a ghost must be twinkling the notes on the keyboard!

      After doing some browsing through the jewelry case, I selected a stylish silver and gold western bolo necktie to match my western style business suit.  Honestly, that was the primary reason why I chose to stop by the Virgin Trading Post in the first place.  I figured that the selection would be better than at the western stores in Las Vegas and I was right.
      So, what was for dinner at Fort Zion?  The roadside billboard special was a Prickly Pear Cactus Barbecue Spare Ribs Platter for $9.99 and I simply could not resist!  The Prickly Pear Cactus BBQ Sauce sure was tasty and the spare rib meat was tender enough to fall off of the bones.  This was another excellent meal at this great western style tourist trap!      

     The good old wild west tourist trap theme certainly is marketable in this modern age.  Many European and Asian tourists want to experience the old west first hand and this demographic market has money to spend.  Now that the local economy is starting to show signs of life, American tourists are also hitting the road.  This is why several old ghost town destination in Nevada are now coming back to life as tourist destinations.  This is also why many western style tourist traps along the Scenic Utah Byways are fast becoming popular destinations once again.

     Tourist trap enthusiasts will be happy to know that there are several good tourist traps between Virgin, Utah and Zion, but I highly suggest checking out the first good tourist trap that you see along the way.  Oddly enough, the first tourist trap on the way to Zion just happens to be the Virgin Trading Post & Fort Zion and it is one of the best in the west!