Friday, April 29, 2016

Wikieup, Arizona!

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     There are only a handful of towns on Highway 93 between Las Vegas and Phoenix.  Wikieup happens to be one of the lesser known stops along this route.  In fact, the ghost town of Nothing, Arizona is close by and Nothing seems to get more media attention than Wikieup these days.  
     Wikieup is one of those places where the highway is the main drag through town.  A mix of local businesses, government offices and tourist traps line the streets from one end of the city limits to the other.  To many travelers the town of Wikieup is just a point of decision making while on a long trip.  Some folks check the gas gauge and stop to take a breather while browsing through the merchandise at the local tourist traps.  Other keep on rolling, especially if they are making good time.  All I can say is that life is not some kind of a road race.  It does pay to occasionally stop and smell the roses, even if the only roses to be found in this end of the Sonoran Desert are cactus flowers.  
     There are a few interesting sights to see in Wikieup that present good photo opportunities.  For example, why would there be Snoopy cartoon characters riding on a rocket with the words "Wikieup Arizona" printed on its side?  This mysterious landmark inspires far more questions than answers.  Legend has it that people from up north looked upon Wikieup as a business opportunity and then abandoned all hopes.  All that remains is the unique Snoopy & Woodstock Rocket marker that now acts as a welcome sign.  
     Wikieup is famous for being the rattlesnake capitol of Arizona, but this fact is not advertised much these days.  Wikieup is ranch country, RV travelers are welcome and it is tourist friendly.  It seems like the businesses that cater to these clientele groups do survive in these parts.  Business ideas that were a bit too ambitious for Wikieup are evident when seeing the old abandoned buildings on the roadside.  Businesses that hit the mark are evident too.  Wikieup has a busy bakery diner restaurant with a full parking lot at the RV park and the trading post filling station is always swarmed with tourists.  So, there are opportunities to get some good eats and do a little shopping while in Wikieup!
    After passing through Wikieup, one simply cannot help but to think about what the history of this place must be.  I have passed through Wikieup several times and each time I made a mental note to research the history of this community.  This is easier said than done.  First of all, it is easy to completely forget about Wikieup after driving a couple hundred miles and the bright lights of the big city appear on the horizon.  Secondly, most of the old west history took place way back when the town of Wikieup was called Sandy.  An internet search of Wikieup will turn up very little information, while a web search for Sandy, Arizona will turn up plenty of historical data.   
     On the northern end of town there is a Sandy Valley Historical Marker.  At this marker there are some endless panoramic views of the valley and mountains that can be taken in.  It is at this place that visitors are reminded that this is the old west and plenty of tales have been told about the history of the Sandy Valley.  Not all of the orated accounts have been put into text, but there are some local Arizona historians that offer information at their websites.
     The Sandy Valley is the place where the Olive Oatman ordeal took place in the late 1800's.  Settlers passing through the area met native resistance and battles were waged.  During one such skirmish Olive Oatman and her sister were captured by the Yavapai Apache, before being traded to the Mojave Tribe.  
     The Mojave treated the girls as their own, yet only Olive survived.  Eventually Olive was given a Mojave Tribe ceremonial chin tattoo.  Olive was the first caucasian woman to get a tattoo in America and after returning to western society she became quite famous.  The old ghost town of Oatman, Arizona was named in her honor.
     A few years ago I was taken up by the Olive Oatman story after visiting Oatman, Arizona.  The description of where the Oatman girls were abducted in the old story did accurately describe the views that can be seen across the Sandy Valley by the historical marker in Wikieup.  Now I know why I stood there staring across the valley in drizzling rain, while wondering about the importance of this place.  It is strange how tales of the old west go full circle even in modern times. 
     When passing through Wikieup on Highway 93 it is all too easy to think that this is just another tourist trap town.  Once again it pays to take the time to stop and smell the roses, even if they are just cactus flowers!                                                  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument ~ Utah!

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     Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument ~ Utah!
     Those who really like to venture into the wide open spaces will like today's Southwestern travel destination!  Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument covers almost 1.9 million acres in south central Utah.  Escalante is managed by the Bureau Of Land Management, so this means that an excursion into this protected area will be as rough and rugged as it gets.  Since only primitive camping is allowed and facilities are limited, Escalante is a showcase of unspoiled terrain.
     There are a few paved roads that run along the borders of Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  Today's article features scenic sights that can be experienced when traveling U.S. Highway 89 from near Glen Canyon west to Kanab, Utah.  This scenic drive runs along the southern border of Escalante, before turning north just west of this wilderness area.   
     All along the southern stretch of U.S. 89, there are several BLM dirt roads that run deep into Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  A high ground clearance vehicle definitely is the best mode of transportation for the dirt or gravel BLM roads.  A 4x4, pickup truck, Jeep or an SUV allows visitors to access places that a regular passenger car cannot get to.  Because BLM dirt roads are usually identified by numbers, the signs can be easy to miss, so to avoid going around in circles it is best to bring a full BLM map of Escalante along.  Not all GPS mapping systems accurately cover BLM roads, so depending only on GPS alone is not advisable.  
     When venturing on the long dirt roads that lead to majestic landscapes in Escalante, it is best to pay attention to the weather reports.  Flash floods are always a threat when it rains and roads can be washed out in very little time.  Wet weather also means plenty of mud.  Getting stuck in the ancient ocean bottom iron oxide silt mud can mean hours of down time or having to adapt a survival mode.  
     For those who drive a regular passenger car, there is plenty that can be experienced in Escalante along the paved road on the southern route.  There are also several trailheads that are located on this section of U.S. 89.  Most of the short hiking trails are well marked and easy to navigate.  For the lengthy trails, it is best to carry a compass and a BLM map or use a good GPS trail mapping device.
     Along the paved highway, there are many outdoor adventure options.  Guided horseback ventures into Escalante are available and ATV rentals can be found.  Camping and fishing outfitters can be found along this scenic road too, especially when U.S. 89 nears Kanab.  Kanab is a nice old western town that is well known as the basecamp for Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument adventures.  There are plenty of good dining options in Kanab too.  
     So, what is the big deal about millions of acres of land that is called Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument?  This is no ordinary tract of land!  The entire park has many diverse ecosystems and there is plenty of wildlife to see.  It is even possible to stumble upon some ancient wildlife at Escalante too.  Dinosaur fossil finds are numerous in this area.  The Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument Visitors Center is located on U.S. 89 near Glen Canyon and this is a good place to learn something about the natural history of this region.  
     The Grand Staircase actually refers to a unique condition of natural rock strata erosion.  The Grand Staircase is composed of layers upon layers of limestone, hardened silt, volcanic ash and bedrock of every color imaginable.  After millions of years of weathering, the layers have eroded in what can only be described as a staircase formation that rises to a high elevation from the desert floor.  Some areas are very steep and some areas rise gradually, so they can be easily traversed.  
     Overall, the staircase erosive effect creates one of the most dramatic visual effects on earth, yet this is not all there is to see at Escalante!  There are many odd one of a kind sights that can only be accessed by foot.  Hidden canyons, rock outcrop spires, caves and the swirling walls of exposed ancient sandstone aquifers will leave visitors in awe!  The beauty of it all is that there is nearly two million acres of this unique wilderness to explore! 
    Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument is a place that cannot be fully experienced in just one day.  In the near future, a second article will be published that will feature the northern side of this vast wilderness area.  Utah State Road 12 runs through this section of Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument and this definitely is a scenic byway worth traveling.   The town of Escalante and Kodachrome Basin State Park are located along this route.  Some of the most dramatic landscapes of Escalante can be seen in this end of the park.  
     Escalante truly is a wilderness vacationland paradise.  Escalante rarely is crowded like the nearby National Parks and the sheer size of this place has a way of limiting human contact.  For those who want to get away from it all, just to be spellbound by majestic scenery, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument definitely should be placed high on the Southwestern travel bucket list!              

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Laughlin, Nevada!

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     Laughlin, Nevada!
     One cold spell after another has passed through the western states this year.  In regions north of the sun belt, this means plenty of icy cold air and some snow well into the spring season.  Even the high elevations in the Southwestern desert region can be downright uncomfortable when a springtime cold front passes through.  
     A place with sunny skies and warm air is what travelers want to experience when springtime rolls around.  One place that is guaranteed to have comfortable weather even when cold fronts continue into late spring is Laughlin, Nevada.  Laughlin is located on the Colorado River about 100 miles south of Las Vegas.  The river basin in this area is about 550 feet above sea level, so when combined with the desert sunbelt climate, the temperature in Laughlin can be quite warm and comfortable even when a strong spring season cold front passes through.
     Winter and springtime fun in the sun is what Laughlin is all about!  For outdoor enthusiasts, the Colorado River is the main attraction.  The Davis Dam is located in the northern end of Laughlin, so the river flows at a leisurely pace downstream.  There are designated swimming beaches where visitors can safely splash and play.  
     Boat traffic south of the Davis Dam is mostly jet skiers and water taxis.  A water taxi?  Many folks in the desert have never heard of such a thing, but the Colorado River is a main travel artery in Laughlin.  Hopping from casino to casino in a water taxi is par for the course!
     North of Davis Dam is a large reservoir called Lake Mojave.  This is where the most of the recreational boats go.  There are plenty of coves for mooring houseboats along the shoreline and the mountain backdrop scenery is excellent.  Lake Mojave also is famous for good sport fishing and there are plenty of boat rentals in the area.
     The Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park and Trails covers a vast area near Davis Dam.  This area is well maintained, there are facilities and there are plenty of shaded picnic areas.  Taking a casual stroll along the green grassy shoreline is nice this time of year.  
     For those who seek a little more adventure, there are plenty of strenuous long marked trails in the Pyramid Canyon Day Use Area.  The Pot A Gold Stables is located in Pyramid Canyon next to the Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park.  Pot A Gold offers scenic horseback trail riding and they offer carriage rides for families or wedding events.                           
     Many people think of Laughlin as only being an RV friendly casino town that reflects upon the charm of good old days of Las Vegas.  This old fashioned Nevada charm is what keeps so many people coming back to Laughlin.  The pace is a little easier going and there is plenty of elbow room.  The food is easy to recognize and the almighty dollar goes a long way.
     Some familiar Las Vegas casino resort brand names and relics of the past can be found in Laughlin.  This city is where good old western theme casinos still thrive and riverboat casino themes are not out of place.  Every casino resort offers great views of the Colorado River.  There is nothing like sipping on a drink in a lounge that overlooks the river after spending months in the desert spitting out nothing but dust!  
     There are plenty of good dining options in Laughlin.  Many of the best dining bargains can be found in the casinos, especially after signing up for a players card.  Some people, like myself, just cannot get enough of the old fashioned western style diner experience.  On a recent visit to the Pioneer Hotel Casino, I gave Bumbleberry Flats a try.  Bumbleberry Flats is famous for good old fashioned comfort food and great signature cocktails.  I ordered a classic Western Burger and it really hit the spot.
     This is not the first article that I wrote about Laughlin and it probably will not be the last.  In this modern age of sky high tourist destination prices, Laughlin is a bargain by comparison.   Spring is a good time to have fun in the sun in Laughlin, before the extreme heat of summer comes around.  There is plenty to do and plenty of ways to relax in this Colorado River town!