Monday, March 20, 2017

Grand Canyon Village Wildlife!

     Grand Canyon Village Wildlife!
     Spotting wildlife at National Parks is always a good experience for visitors.  Wild animals in panoramic landscapes present good picture taking opportunities.  Wildlife viewing is easy to do at the Grand Canyon Village during the early spring season, because young doe with foals and young Elk feel safe where humans are present, because out in the wild they are under a constant threat from hungry predators, like Mountain Lions, Coyotes and Wolves.  
     Caution must be exerted when watching the wildlife, because it is all too easy to forget that these animals are truly wild.  Many wild animals may look docile, but as soon as they feel threatened their demeanor changes to a defensive stance.  The best defense for a wild animal is to charge at threats that are too close or simply run away.  Even mild mannered herd animals like Mule Deer can become a formidable threat when they feel cornered.  Young Elk can become especially dangerous when approached, because these animals know that they are larger than humans and a human is easy to trample down.  
     Gambling on whether a wild animal will flee, charge or remain docile simply is not worth the risk and people that push their own luck often end up with serious injuries.  The National Park Wildlife Rangers advise that it is best to keep 200 yards of distance between yourself and dangerous wild animals.  Keeping a 100 yard distance from less threatening animals like raccoons, skunks and deer, is usually plenty of space.  Always use a flashlight at night, because Elk sometimes sleep on the ground in populated areas and tripping over a sleeping male Elk will result in being gored by sharp antlers.       
     I was working at a restaurant in Grand Canyon Village last year during the spring season.  My living quarters were in an old building near the Grand Canyon Trail Burro Corral.  The building was also next a grassy field that led straight into the thick forests of the National Park.  This area in Grand Canyon Village was a primary pathway that wild animals followed, so at any time of day or night, seeing wild animals up close was commonplace.
     During the daytime, many young doe with foals fed on grass along the pathways in Grand Canyon Village.  These young deer were used to being around humans and they were quite docile when walking by.  Stopping to observe for too much time sometimes spooked the young animals and they would scurry away to a safer distance.  Even so, little Mule Deer foals are so cute that one simply has to stop to admire them.  
     One thing that I noticed was that when the young deer in a grassy area pick up their heads to listen alertly all at one time, it pays too look around for trouble that is on the way.  While chatting with a fellow employee next to a group of young deer that just went into an alert mode, the employee and I looked at each other and said, "I wonder what is spooking the deer?"  All of a sudden a huge young Elk rounded the corner of the building in full gallop and nearly mowed us both down while running scared off into the distance.  We just looked at each other and said, "Wow!  That sure was a close one!  I wonder what got that Elk spooked out of its mind?"  
     Male Mule Deer and Elk are easy to identify by their antlers.  These male herd animals will stand their ground no matter what during the spring season.  There was a ditch by the railroad tracks that I had to cross on the way to the job everyday and the big Elk liked to wallow in the mud to get rid of biting insects.  Many times that I tried to cross that ditch, I ended up having to take the long way around because a big Elk was in the way.  
     Most of the up close photos of Mule Deer Bucks and Elk with big antlers in the slideshow above were taken while driving to the Grand Canyon Village General Store.  The safety of the car acted as a defensive barrier that these wild herd animals did not mind.  Taking photos of these animals from inside the car is okay as long as stopping the car does not impede vehicular traffic.  Being inside a car is a lot safer than stepping outside when very close to a big male Elk or Mule Deer with a full rack of antlers.  
     As one can see, safety cannot be stressed enough, even when in a docile wildlife viewing area like the Grand Canyon Village.  Feeding wild animals is taboo and this will result in a big fine.  If the local wildlife is treated with respect, plenty of great opportunities will arise to view and photograph wildlife up close when visiting Grand Canyon Village during the spring season!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Route 66 Arizona ~ Winona & Winslow!

     Route 66 Arizona ~ Winona & Winslow!
     While working at remote location resorts in Arizona, travel excursions on my days off became a regular thing.  While living in the Grand Canyon Village for six months, I became fairly proficients at planning day drip ventures in a vast desert region that required plenty of driving time just to get anywhere worth going to.  There was nothing like just packing a light camera bag and water, then driving into the wide open spaces after working all week.  
     Arizona is a big territory and it pays to plan day trips in a way that eliminates excess travel time or wasted time of any kind.  There are plenty of distractions that can slow the trip down to the point of not having enough time to enjoy the primary destination once there.  Eliminating distractions from the start is the best way to go.  Plan the trip the night before and write the travel route details down on paper, because GPS and smart phones do not work in remote locations.  Charge up the cameras the night before the trip.  Eat a filling breakfast before hitting the road.  Leave the computer behind and turn the smart phone off.  By eliminating these distractions, at least one or two hours of wasted time can be eliminated during a long day trip!  Now you can roll the windows down, turn the radio on and cruise long distances like you are riding a big jetliner!    
      Eliminating lengthy side trips also ensures that a long day trip will go as planned.  For example, if the planned destination is a couple of towns along Route 66, then taking a side trip to a state park might not be a good idea.  This is especially true if the state park has ancient cliff dwelling structures that require several hours of hiking to see.  It is better to save such a state park venture for another day.  Just make note of the interesting side trip destinations that are discovered along the way and put them on the travel bucket list.  Maintaining a travel bucket list will provide plenty of future day trip excursions, so there is no pressure to try to see everything in the entire territory in one day.    
     Living in a remote wilderness location, like I did while working at the Grand Canyon, does present day trip excursion challenges.  RV enthusiasts that set up base camp at a trailer park know what is meant by this.  Limiting the travel time to daylight hours can be a necessity.  Starting a day trip venture early in the morning ensures that the return trip will end before dusk.  Traveling only by the light of day when living in a remote wilderness area like the Grand Canyon greatly increases travel safety.  Before dawn and after dusk, the large herd animals, like Elk and Mule Deer, start crossing the local roads and after the sun sets, these large wild animals can be dangerous obstacles when the eyes are bleary after driving all day.  Those who break the speed limit in such areas just after dark will usually pay a heavy price when a collision with a large Elk occurs.  Driving during daylight hours ensures that the large wild animals will be seen long before they become a dangerous obstacle.   
     One simply cannot go wrong when taking a scenic day trip to a couple of Route 66 destinations in Arizona.  It takes about one hour to drive from the Grand Canyon to Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Doing the Flagstaff Route 66 scene is an all day venture of its own, so I decided to save the Flagstaff Route 66 topic for an article at a later date.  
     Today's scenic travel article focuses on two historic Route 66 towns, Winona and Winslow.  A great Navaho casino resort that is just east of Flagstaff is part of today's travel article venture.  All three of these destinations can be experienced in one day trip and there will be plenty of time for photography, shopping and dining along the way.   
     Interstate 40 is Route 66 just about anywhere east of Flagstaff.  This high speed highway greatly reduces travel time to old Route 66 points of interest along the way.  Winona is located just east of Flagstaff on the other side of the mountain.  Traveling by Highway 40 from Flagstaff to Winona may be fast, but this route only offers a couple of nice views.  Walnut Canyon National Monument is located at the Winona exit on this highway.  Walnut Canyon National Monument is an all day venture of its own that features ancient cliff dwellings and plenty of great hiking trails.  The other direction leads to Winona, but there really is not much to see other than a great view of the snow capped Humphrey's Peak.
     The better way to get to Winona from Flagstaff is to follow Highway 89 north to Townsend-Winona Road.  Townsend-Winona Road winds through high altitude ranch country all the way to Winona.  There are plenty of great scenic views along this road less traveled and one of the only businesses in Winona is along the way.  The historic 2 BAR 3 Saloon is well worth checking out, especially if motorcycle rally tourism is your bag!  
     Further on down the line the little unincorporated town of Winona appears and the old steel bridge can still be seen.  There is really not much to do in Winona, other than hang out at the gas station, so why is Winona such an important Route 66 destination?  The lyric "Don't forget Winona" is one of the easiest to remember in the classic old song "Route 66" that was composed in 1946 by Bobby Troup.  To be in Winona is to be part of this classic song!  
      After the scenic drive through the mountains from Flagstaff to Winona, old Route 66 becomes Interstate Highway 40 going east to Winslow.  There are several points of interest along the way and it is always a judgment call as to whether to check some of these places out.  The Twin Arrows Navaho Casino Resort is the first major destination along the way, but this place is better saved for the return trip, because there are relatively few dining options in Winslow.  Taking photos of the old closed Twin Arrows Trading Post by the highway is what many nostalgia buffs do.  Photos of old closed Route 66 tourist traps like this say a thousand words.
     A little further east on Highway 40/Route 66, the Two Guns Ghost Town appears at the far end of Walnut Canyon and Diablo Canyon.  This is a great picture taking area that is interesting beyond belief.  Two Guns has old Native American ruins and remnants of the old Route 66 tourism village at Diablo Canyon Crossing.  Two Guns is a prime example of how the major highway project doomed this little Route 66 town to dilapidation and only rubble remains.  This is Navaho territory and the extensive interpretive artwork on the old water tanks is worth checking out.  It is all too easy to spend too much time exploring Two Guns, so I saved this ghost town article for another day.
     The Meteor Crater is located a little further on down Highway 40/Route 66 on the outskirts of Winslow.  Meteor Crater is the best preserved major meteor impact site on earth and this destination certainly belongs on the lifetime travel bucket list.  There is a museum, gift shop and guided tours of the big crater.  This is a natural history site that is like no other!  Meteor Crater is an all day venture, so this trek is best saved for another day trip.
     Finally, the signs for Winslow appear on the horizon!  Winslow began in the late 1800's as a major railroad crossover town.  The Little Colorado River was nearby and the water kept the steam engines running.  Railroad tourism became the primary Southwestern market back in those days and Winslow evolved as a great stopover that provided plenty of luxury.  Winslow was home of one of the greatest historic Harvey House Railroad Resorts in the entire territory.  Oddly enough, I was working at one of the original Harvey House Resorts at the Grand Canyon when I went on this Route 66 venture.  Being familiar with the legacy of Fred Harvey added an interesting perspective when touring Winslow.
     Eventually the age of automobile tourism left railroad tourism behind.  During the peak of Route 66 tourism from the late 1940's through the 1960's, Winslow was still a bustling tourist destination.  Winslow was close to nearly every major tourist attraction and National Park in the region, so this town was well known nationwide.  A lot of famous people stayed in Winslow and this city truly was a Route 66 cultural center.
    Eventually the Interstate Highway 40 project tragically laid Winslow to waste, like so many other great Route 66 towns.  When Winslow became a ghost of the past, it was like the heartbeat of America died.  Bypassing Winslow with a major highway resigned this old historic town to be nothing more than a time capsule of the past.  
     Fortunately, Winslow is one of the best preserved Route 66 time capsules.  The tall buildings and historic sites from the long gone railroad days have survived.  Because Winslow is now considered to be out in the middle of nowhere along a major highway, relatively few tourists visit this place.  The streets of Winslow are rarely jammed up with traffic and there are few waiting lines.  Winslow is a great place for those who seek plenty of elbow room.    
     Many of the old Route 66 towns have been revived in recent years and Route 66 tourism is stronger than it has been for many decades.  The renewed interest in old Route 66 has helped to rejuvenate Winslow in recent years, yet this old historic town has gained more strength as a modern Navaho community.  The Navaho certainly respect tradition and Navaho Nation Tourism has grown tremendously in recent years.  Navaho Tourism may end up being the saving grace for old historic Route 66 towns like Winslow in this region.
     The Homlovi State Park is located in Winslow and this landmark is famous for ancient petroglyphs.  Homlovi State Park is a great place to spend an afternoon.  There are several interesting tourist shops in Winslow and there are a couple of places to grab a bite to eat.  Touring Winslow is like visiting a modern ghost town that is locked in a time long gone by.  Upon a first impression, it is easy to see that Winslow has the potential to return to its former glory, but because Winslow was bypassed by the major highway, the slow trickle if tourist dollars keeps this old Route 66 a relic of the past.  It really is a shame to see this old great town sit idle, but the bigger shame was the planning of the major highway that left this town in the dust long ago.
     After visiting Winslow, the trip back home to the Grand Canyon was underway and there was plenty of time to stop by the Navaho Twin Arrows Casino Resort to grab a bite to eat.  Twin Arrows truly is an impressive modern Southwestern style resort.  The pace is much more relaxed than Las Vegas and the resort is much nicer than the dingy casinos back east.  This resort exudes Navaho pride, which is reflected in the positive guest experience.  In other words, Twin Arrows is a modern Navaho casino resort that is really worth checking out!
     I was hungry after traveling all day and Navaho restaurants are notorious for serving big food for big people.  A big hearty plate of Navaho style food suited me just fine, so I ordered the Chili Bread Bowl at the sports bar on the casino floor.  Native American style chili with big chunks of local Navaho Beef in a Sourdough Bread Bowl was as satisfying as a simple afternoon meal could be!  A meal like this is definitely a great choice while traveling on old Route 66!  
    Of course I liked the Twin Arrows experience enough to return a few more times in the following weeks, while touring other places along this stretch of Route 66.  On one such visit, Pozole was the daily special at the sports bar in Twin Arrows.  The Navaho bartender remembered my name from the previous visit, so we had a good conversation right off the bat.  I jokingly asked if the Pozole was made with the original Aztec ingredients and the Navaho bartender laughed while saying, "I wish!"  I laughed too, because Aztec Pozole was originally made with the flesh of their enemies and it was no surprise to see that this was a well known fact in this part of the country.  Anyway, I ordered the Pozole and the Navaho chef's version was one of the best that I ever tasted and yes, in civilized modern times Pozole is made with pork! 
     Winona to Winslow or vice versa.  A Route 66 day trip or a week long venture.  In a sense it does not matter, yet it matters a lot.  These places are relics of the past that seem to wait for the golden age of Route 66 tourism to return.  Taking the time to venture off the major highway is what keeps these places alive.  There is plenty to see and plenty to learn along this stretch of old Route 66!                 

Friday, March 3, 2017

The ConExpo - Con/Agg International Trade Show, Las Vegas!

     ConExpo - Con/Agg Convention, Las Vegas!
     The biggest convention in Las Vegas is the ConExpo - Con/Agg International Trade Show.  This headliner event takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center once every three years.  The latest and greatest aggregate production equipment, heavy equipment, paving equipment, hi tech plant management systems and much more are featured in this world famous event.
     This ConExpo - Con/Aggmassive International Trade Show covers every square inch of the Las Vegas Convention Center and then some.  The outdoor heavy equipment exhibits cover so much acreage, that it takes several days to see it all.  The total ConExpo - Con/Agg exhibit space is literally measured in square miles, so getting around by foot is no easy task.  Spending a few hours in a casino resort spa getting leg cramp kinks worked out after a long day of walking the grounds is an option that many take advantage of.  A new item of convenience that was available during the 2014 ConExpo - Con/Agg Trade Show was electric mobility devices and these carts made it easier for top execs to get around.
     Because of the sheer number of large heavy equipment items, ConExpo - Con/Agg requires extensive organization and planning.  The heavy equipment starts to arrive weeks ahead of time and it all has to be set in place by sequential order.  Convention organizers direct the flow of heavy machinery just like air traffic controllers.  Every heavy equipment exhibit has an assigned space and the Las Vegas Convention Center is mapped out with numbered staked plots.  No mistakes can be made, because anytime that a piece of heavy equipment has to be moved, it costs plenty of time and money.
     ConExpo - Con/Agg is not just all work and no play.  Plenty of entertaining exhibits can be found at this convention too.  Las Vegas NASCAR Weekend is scheduled at about the same time on the calendar and several pro race cars are parked at the exhibit hall.  At the 2014 convention, one of the NASCAR technology exhibits had a race car simulator and conventioneers were lined up waiting to get behind the wheel.
     As far as entertainment goes, the heavy equipment operator skill contests are always the center of attention.  The first prize money is pretty good and this is all the inspiration in the world for heavy equipment operators to participate in the games.  Heavy equipment operator skill contests are tests of agility, coordination and dexterity.  These events are timed, so whoever completes the task the quickest with the least amount of errors, is the winner of the top prize jackpot.
     Some of the heavy equipment operator skill contests include excavator basketball, excavator bucket golf and steal pylon placement tests.  Many of the skill tests look like they are easy to accomplish, till the element of time is thrown into the mix.  As one can imagine, it is easy to make errors when trying to keep up a fast pace.  Some competitors were like a bull in a china shop, while others ran the machines with surgical pin point accuracy.  The operator skill contests are fun to watch and they draw plenty of spectators.  This is heavy equipment entertainment at its best!
     Walking the grounds at ConExpo - Con/Agg is exhausting, but there is relief in sight.  Everything from beer tents to top notch famous food trucks are located at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  I got some great Pulled Pork BBQ Tacos from the Tacofest Food Truck back in 2014 and this gourmet "roach coach" is definitely worth looking for!       
     I worked as an aggregate producer and metal recovery technician in the steel industry for a few years during the recent Great Recession.  The company that I worked for sent me to the ConExpo - Con/Agg convention back in 2011.  Attending the ConExpo - Con/Agg convention for the first time was an educational experience.  I was required to photograph as much of the related steel aggregate equipment as I could as a company representative.
     Since I was attending college in Las Vegas when the 2014 ConExpo - Con/Agg Convention was scheduled, the steel mill service company that I used to work for actually sent me a pass to the trade show and asked me to photograph the event once again.  Since I photographed the 2014 ConExpo - Con/Agg on my own time, the photos were okay to use in a travel article.  Writing travel articles and recipes while going to culinary arts school was how I made my pocket change, so there was inspiration to go.  Working around heavy equipment at a steel mill for a few years was plenty of inspiration too.    
     Since I lived in Las Vegas, several of the coworkers from the steel industry company contacted me because I was familiar with nearly every restaurant in Las Vegas.  I actually ended up acting as a Las Vegas concierge for the visiting coworkers during the ConExpo - Con/Agg event.  If they wanted to find a good Thai, Italian, western steakhouse or Chinese BBQ restaurants, I certainly had plenty of suggestions.  Often I was invited to tag along to dine, just so we all could catch up on old times.  If looking for good eats off the Las Vegas Strip is what suits the fancy, I have published several Las Vegas dining destination articles since then.  
     It does not look like I will be attending the 2017 ConExpo - Con/Agg International Trade Show this year, but all is not lost.  Publishing the photos from the 2014 ConExpo - Con/Agg event in today's travel article will create plenty of interest in this upcoming event.  The 2017 ConExpo - Con/Agg International Trade Show runs from March 7th through March 11th, so there is still some time to book travel arrangements.  This is the heaviest of the heavy equipment trade show events worldwide and it is well worth checking out!