Thursday, December 29, 2016

Whiskey Row ~ Prescott, Arizona!

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     Whiskey Row!
     The city of Prescott, Arizona began as a mining camp next to Granite Creek in the mid 1800's.  The population at this settlement grew to a substantial number and by the late 1860's the settlement of Prescott took shape as a small town.  Prescott soon became the first capitol of the Arizona Territory, thus making this town a center of commerce.  
     The Arizona Territory was an unruly and dangerous place to be during the gold rush years, so it is easy to imagine that Prescott was a definitive wild west town.  Prescott attracted merchants and purveyors that catered to prospectors, loggers and ranchers.  Where the money flows, unsavory character soon follow and Prescott soon became a haven for those who preferred making a quick buck the easy way.  
     Prescott basically was ruled by six gun justice in the early days, till a U.S. Army fort was posted nearby.  A few brave marshals and sheriffs eventually brought a semblance of law and order to this region, but for the most part, every criminal vice known to mankind was part of everyday life in Prescott.  This town was a hub for gambling, prostitution and wild saloons that preyed upon pioneers, ranchers and prospectors that settled in the Arizona Territory.  Like many wild towns of the old west, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday were very much involved with the vice dealings in Prescott.  
     Where gold fever strikes, the whiskey flows like a river.  Prescott became a haven for wild west saloons back in the late 1800's and the Whiskey Row section of town was legendary.  Whiskey Row covered one square block downtown and at one point there was over 40 saloons packed into this small area.  Whiskey Row was as lawless and wild as the old west could be!
     The original Whiskey Row buildings were constructed with wood timber.  A massive fire burnt Whiskey Row down to the ground in the year 1900.  Because Whiskey Row was so profitable, it did not take long for the entire area to be rebuilt with brick and mortar buildings that would withstand the test of time.  
     The newly rebuilt Whiskey Row was designed to be a little classier than the rustic original and this helped to draw men of stature with money to spend.  Ranchers, cowboys and mining industry workers all considered Whiskey Row to be the number one local destination when rolling through Prescott.  The saloons were filled with card sharks and the old Faro Table took many a good man down.  The whiskey flowed freely up to and during the prohibition years.  Many of the old saloons operated as basement speakeasies.  
     After prohibition, Prescott came into the modern age.  Prescott was a sizable city and the reckless lawlessness was pretty much turned toward the tame side.  Prescott eventually turned into a peaceful community with plenty of local commerce.  Whiskey Row was a landmark attraction by this time, but many of the old original saloons were shuttered forever.  The old saloons that survived, practically guaranteed that Whiskey Row would live on well into the future.  
     With the advent of western tourism in the 1950's, Whiskey Row evolved into a prime attraction.  Visitors could walk into saloons and sit where famous characters of the old west sipped on whiskey and beer all day.  The 1960's Steve McQueen film "Junior Bonner" was filmed in the Palace Saloon and this helped to draw more tourists to the area.  Several more westerns and scenes from Billy Jack were filmed on Whiskey Row too.  
     Yavapai College opened its doors in Prescott in the 1960's and the local higher education crowd definitely benefited Whiskey Row.  In face many Arizona college and university students from other cities make pilgrimages to Whiskey Row for an old west style drinking binge.  
     In modern times, Car Clubs and Harley Biker Rally organizers revere Whiskey Row as one of the ultimate wild west destinations.  Tourists flock to Whiskey Row by the thousands each week.  Workers in nearby cities look upon Whiskey Row as salvation from keeping one's nose to the grindstone.  
     The first time that I heard about Whiskey Row was while I was working at the Grand Canyon during the peak tourist season earlier this year.  I had been cooking for endless weeks with little time off and just the thought of a place like Whiskey Row sure sounded like paradise!  
     Sure enough when I got 2 days off, I pointed my 392 Challenger straight for Prescott.  I figured that I would have dinner and two drinks, then photograph the scenic sights on Whiskey Row.  As it turned out, Whiskey Row was much more inviting and conducive to whiskey drinking than I imagined.
     The Whiskey Row venture kicked off with a beer at the Birdcage Saloon.  After feeling relaxed, I walked around Prescott and took plenty of pictures.  There was something about the old Birdcage that kept calling me back to Whiskey Row for more.  So, I decided to just go with it!  I had a nice western style Ponderosa Prime Melt with a beer and a shot of bourbon for dinner at the Palace Saloon.  Looking at the old memorabilia in this saloon was like stepping back in time.  Soon I was totally captivated by the old west feel of Whiskey Row.  
     After the Palace, it was off to the next saloon to get some serious whiskey drinking done.  I stepped through the swinging doors at Matt's Saloon and was greeted by a lovely barmaid named Raven.  Being served whiskey all night from a Raven kind of starts to sound like an Edgar Allen Poe story, so I will let it go at that.  All I can say is that the early days of Prescott in the late 1800's start to come back to life after drinking a few shots of hooch at a saloon on Whiskey Row late at night.
     After sleeping off the Whiskey Row all-nighter experience, I hit the road back to the Grand Canyon just after sunrise.  Any direction that one travels out of Prescott is guaranteed to sober up the worst hangover.  The mountain roads leading to Jerome Ghost Town are steep and twisty enough to make a person swear off whiskey forever.  All I can say is that I arrived back at the Grand Canyon in one piece and Whiskey Row was still calling my name.  Whiskey Row is one of those places that you can leave, but the good memories will always keep bringing you back!
     In years past, a Las Vegas destination is what I usually suggest for a New Year's Eve celebration destination.  This year a change was due.  For those who seek one of the biggest wild west style New Year's Eve parties of them all, Whiskey Row is calling your name!  While chatting with a few locals at the Palace and Matt's Saloon, I heard all about the wild New Years celebration from last year and that was enough to give credence to mentioning this great party destination for December 31st.  Whiskey Row definitely is the place to be on New Year's Eve!
     Of course there is far more to Prescott than just Whiskey Row.  Prescott is one of the most picturesque towns in the west and it it easy to fall in love with this place.  Prescott offers old fashioned western style steakhouses, a couple of Yavapai Tribal Casinos, great shopping and plenty of hotels that offer all amenities.  If doing an all nighter on Whiskey Row is on the agenda, then booking a hotel room and getting the number of a local taxi company before the whiskey flows is highly suggested, especially on New Year's Eve.  
     If you are a fan of the old wild west, then Prescott and Whiskey Row belong on the lifetime travel bucket list.  All it takes is one sip of rye on Whiskey Row to step back in time.  Whiskey Row has a lot of history to tell and plenty of good memories to bring home!  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Display at MGM National Harbor Conservatory ~ Maryland!

     Merry Christmas!
     The MGM National Harbor Casino Resort opened recently in Maryland near Washington D. C.  Since I currently am working in the Philadelphia area, I figured that I would check this new resort out.  My initial impressions were mixed and the overall experience was just okay, when compared to a Las Vegas Strip casino grand opening.  Even so, this casino resort can only improve in years to come.
     I do miss being in Las Vegas during the holiday season and this causes some bias in my writing.  A popular spot to visit during Christmas is the Bellagio Atrium, which boasts multi million dollar flower garden seasonal displays.  The MGM National Harbor has a similar seasonal display area that is called The Conservatory.  The Conservatory had a Christmas theme that initially seemed cold and metallic, but after a few minutes the design started to become captivating.  The Conservatory Christmas Theme was interesting enough to draw plenty of onlookers and people like myself were taking photos from every angle.
     If you like modern art sculpture works that have a Christmas theme, then visiting The Conservatory at MGM National Harbor this time of year is a must!  There is a nice pastry shop at this end of the resort, which caters to folks that are in a relaxation mood.  Enjoying some sweets in a modern Christmas conservatory theme is a rather unique experience.  As always, merry Christmas and peace on earth!  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Major's Junction! ~ The Great Basin Desert, Nevada

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     Major's Junction!
     Anybody that has traveled in Northern Nevada knows just how desolate the Great Basin Desert can be.  Small towns and gas stations can be over 150 miles apart on any stretch of road that passes through this vast desert region.  When looking at a map, just a few tiny dots appear and it is easy to assume that making a trip to this region would be a waste of time.  Travel decisions based upon assumptions like this are usually short sighted, because all it takes is a little more research effort to find plenty of unique places to experience in the Great Basin Desert.  
     After graduating college last year in Las Vegas, I planned a vacation excursion to a few places in Northern Nevada along U.S. Highway 93.  The main destination was the historic town of Ely and Nevada Northern Railway Museum.  As it turned out, rain entered the forecast and I figured that taking a scenic ride on the oldest steam engine rail line in the west would be better for some other day.   
     Before checking out of the Prospector Hotel & Gambling Hall in Ely, I started digging into alternative things to do in the area, with the hope of finding a place to go that would not be affected by rain.  The best option was to see the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin National Park.  This cave system stays dry and it is a constant temperature year round, so it was a nice choice for a cold rainy day venture.  
     Lehman Caves and the Great Basin National Park are only 65 miles away from Ely, Nevada.  The travel route is easy to navigate and most of the driving is on U.S. Highway 50, which happens to be "America's Loneliest Road."   Highway 50 definitely is a road less traveled and this creates more opportunities to stop the car just to take the scenery in.  
     While browsing for sights to see at the hotel in Ely, I did a search for historic sites and ghost towns along the way to the Great Basin National Park.  As it turned out, the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Site were just a few miles down the road.  Major's Junction and the remnants of the Osceola Ghost Town were along this 65 mile drive too.  As one can see, all it takes is a little bit of internet browsing to find plenty of things to experience, even in the desolate Great Basin Desert!  
     The dirt road to the Ward Charcoal Kilns is well maintained, so it should not be a problem for regular passenger cars or sport utility vehicles, even on a rainy day.  The dirt roads that lead to Osceola Ghost Town are a bit dicier and a high ground clearance vehicle or 4x4 is recommended, especially on a rainy day.  I was driving a low ground clearance Hemi Challenger during the trip, so a muddy road excursion was not a good option.  The best that could be done was to photograph the entrance areas, so it would be easier for readers to find their way to these interesting destinations.
     Major's Junction is high and dry in the mountains on a paved road, so this unique point of interest is easy to get to in any kind of vehicle.  On Highway 50 heading east, starting at about 10 miles before Major's Junction, one cannot help but to think that this region must be great for hunting wild game.  There are mountains, patches of pine and juniper forests, green grassy areas and plenty of watering holes in these wide open spaces.  This is the terrain that mule deer and elk prefer.  
     A little closer to Major's Junction, wild game hunting becomes evident in a big way.  Roadside signs for local hunting guides and wild game meat processors start to pop up every few hundred yards.  Every fence and ranch entrance gateway is covered with deer, elk and pronghorn antlers.  The antlers on some of the fences act as barbed wire and the antlers stretch out side by side for miles.  Some of the large ranch gateway arches were made with so many antlers, that it was impossible to count!  
     To a hunter, the sight of tens of thousands of antlers used to decorate ranches is like a dream come true!  Anywhere close to Major's Junction, Nevada, is prime wild game hunting territory.  Hunting is the source of revenue in this region and the hunting is good.  Those who seek a great place for hunting vacation excursion will like what this area has to offer, especially since the historic town of Ely is close by.  Hunting for mule deer and elk in the mountains near Major's Junction is literally like stepping back in time to the golden age of prospecting, when hunting was the only means to survive.
     After passing all the ranches that are decorated with zillions of antlers, Major's Junction comes into view.  Major's Junction is where three western travel routes meet and share one common road for a short stretch.  Highway 50, Highway 6 and Highway 93 all run through this little dot on the map called Major's Junction, which is named after Major's Place.
     Major's Place is an old fashioned bar and restaurant located at the junction.  This bar & grill is a famous destination for motorcycle and car club rallies.  Harley Motorcycle Rally tourism is big in the west and destinations that are out in the wide open spaces are top choice.  Major's Place definitely fits the bill of fare with plenty of good old fashioned hospitality.
     The Major's Station RV Park is also located at the junction.  RV Camper tourism has always been popular out west and Major's Station is well known within this circle.  Those who prefer an RV Camper for a base camp during a hunting venture will surely like this location.
     So, who is Major and why does everything in this junction area have Major's name on it?  There is only one way to find out!  Simply pop into Major's Place for some refreshments and strike up some conversation.  The locals will be happy to fill you in!   
     When considering that it was a rainy travel day in Northern Nevada, all was not lost.  Even in the rain there still were plenty of interesting sites to see.  On a dry day, the dirt access roads to historic sites and old ghost towns are much easier to traverse.  All it takes is doing a little research at the hotel lobby to find plenty of things to do on the 65 mile stretch of road on "America's Loneliest Highway" between Ely and the Great Basin National Park!