Sunday, April 24, 2016

Boulder City

We've been hanging out this week in Boulder City, NV.  The town is about 30 miles SE of Las Vegas and was built in the 1930s to provide housing for the workers at the Hoover Dam project.  It was essentially a company town with the federal government playing the part of the "company".  The feds continued to essentially own the city until 1960 when they relinquished control and Boulder City became incorporated.  Town motto...   " The Best City by a Dam Site".

Good Eats
When we arrived we got set up and settled in, then decided not to cook for another day, lazy buggers that we are, and went to Trip Advisor looking for eateries.  We found a well rated Italian restaurant called The Bistro and when we punched it into our GPS it was only 0.4 mi. from our camp site.  When we drove up and parked it was this tiny place in a tiny strip mall.  The  ten or so tables were mostly pushed together to accommodate larger parties and we weren't sure they could seat us, but there was one table for two left hidden behind the entry door.  We weren't hoping for much but were pleasantly surprised.  The food was outstanding.  I started with clam chowder which was very creamy and had some interesting seasonings I didn't recognize.  Then I had the Neptune Steak, a perfectly grilled fillet mignon drowned in Hollandaise Sauce with big chunks of fish, shrimp, clams and scallops.  This was accompanied by risotto and sauteed asparagus.  This little hole in the wall out in the middle of the Mojave desert gave me the best meal I've had in months.  We paid the somewhat exorbitant bill and resolved to splurge again by returning later in the week.

Train ride of the week
Right around the corner from The Bistro is the Nevada State Railroad Museum which provided a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours the following day.  A rail spur off the main Las Vegas line allowed materials to be delivered out to the dam construction site back in the day.  When the dam was completed, they tore up the tracks and the spur went away.  Then, in the 1960s, they had to install a few more generators at the dam, so they relaid the tracks.  These were also eventually removed but they left a 4 mile section on the west end of town and on Saturdays and Sundays the museum runs old trains along the line... 4 miles out and 4 miles back.  We went ahead and took the ride with the head conductor giving a running commentary all the way.

The whole shebang is run by volunteers who seem happy to share their passion.  The museum, which is mostly outside, has a half dozen old locomotives dating from late 19th century steam models to a
Running commentary
Enjoying the (yuk) scenery
1952 diesel.  They have an old wooden caboose which was the 19th century equivalent of an RV with sleeping bunks, a Franklin stove, work desks, closets and an ice chest for the train crew.  Not fancy but functional. 

Wooden Caboose
Rolling Post Office
There was also a mail car.  I had always assumed a mail car was just a box car where they tossed bags of mail for delivery to a big city post office, but apparently they were fully functioning post offices on wheels.  There was a sorting area and a counter where you could buy stamps and mail packages while the train was stopped at a station.  There was also a slot in the side of the car to push letters through, so it was a giant moving mailbox.  A lot of time was saved by having postal workers sort and cancel the mail on the train between stations.  These rolling post offices provided service for large swaths of the country right up until the 1960s.  That is when mail started being sorted by machines instead of people and that required large, centralized sorting stations.  The last railroad mail car went out of service in 1968.  For more info about the railroad post offices, check out Wikipedia here
Model trains set up in a box car.

We've been to much bigger and better railroad museums in our travels, for example, here.  But this was enjoyable and what else are you going to do during a week in Boulder City?

Rainbow Vista (Rainsbow Vista?) in the Valley of Fire
Well, one thing might be to drive up to the Valley of Fire.  This is Nevada's first State Park and consists of a relatively small area of red rock formations near the north end of Lake Mead.  We were originally going to stay in the park for a night but then decided it wasn't worth moving the rig for, so we turned it into a day trip.  The landscape is similar the the red rock areas of Utah we drove through last fall except these rocks are full of rounded holes like Swiss cheese.  I found these numerous holes fascinating, wondering how they formed but nothing in the park signs or internet geology searches so much as mentions them. 


Picnic lunch
The red rock areas of eastern Utah are the Navajo Sandstone layer.  The Valley of Fire is made up of the Aztec Sandstone layer.  It turns out that the reason they look so similar is that they are the same stuff.  Both areas were once part of the bed of the great inland sea that covered much of the US interior and the sandstones were originally parts of the same geologic layer.  But the collision with the Pacific tectonic plate that formed the Sierra Nevada mountains also pushed the Aztec sandstone up through some of the overlying layers so it now lies out-of-order.  This confused the early geologists and they thought it was a different rock layer and gave it a different name.  But it's the same stuff.  We toured the park and had a picnic lunch while the schnoodles looked on longingly.
Rock cabins built by the CCC in the 1930s

Lost City Museum
About ten miles east of The Valley of Fire is the town of Overton which houses the Lost City Museum.  The Lost City was traditionally thought to be a far western outpost of the Anasazi culture, but more recent research questions how close their association was.  The people of this area used much of the same technology as the Anasazi but probably spoke a different language and had other religious and cultural differences.  In any event, they packed their bags and left about the same time the Anasazi disappeared, about 1300 C.E.  The settlement here consisted of multistory apartment type buildings in small groups that extended for a hundred miles along the Colorado river.  Many of these are now at the bottom of Lake Mead, so when dam construction started in 1931 the race was on to excavate and salvage as much as possible and the museum was built to store the proceeds.

Old dig site in the middle of the museum atrium
Foundation stones of Anasazi village
The museum building was actually built around one of the archaeologic sites, so when you walk in, the first thing you see is the remains of an actual dig.  The exhibits on display are not as extensive as some other ancient Puebloan sites we've been to but they are well preserved and nicely arranged.  Out back are the foundations of a small village.  Back in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps did some work here and one of their projects was to build a reconstruction of the village out of wooden poles and adobe.  So the houses that you see here are not actual Anasazi dwellings but a reasonable facsimile thereof.  If you have any interest in this sort of thing and are in the area it is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.
CCC reconstruction

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Calico, CA

So... the Rains are on the road again with a delightful Summer of travel plans awaiting us.  We will be passing through Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.  We will also be passing through some other places but find it impossible to plan that far ahead, so we will have to wait and find out.  The dogs are rarin' to go and the motor home no longer leaks nor has any other major problems (of which we are aware).

We lit out of Aguanga on Apr 15 and headed east across the desert.  We are not into long drives anymore, so we just got as far as Calico/Yermo where we pulled off for the night.  There is an old KOA there we have stayed at before.  They were hosting some kind of Jeep Scout gathering so the early evening was filled with the sounds of inebriated 4 WD enthusiasts, but they were mostly passed out by midnight and we seldom go to bed before then these days anyway, so while mildly annoying they didn't keep us awake.

We had not bothered to fix breakfast before hitting the road, so by the time we got checked in, unhooked and the rig set up, we were more than ready to eat.  There is a diner in Yermo that was built way back in 1954, the heyday of Route 66.  It was constructed using left over railroad ties from the Union Pacific and originally had 3 tables and 9 counter stools.  This establishment went out of business in the 70s but was bought up, refurbished and expanded in the mid-80s and has be going great guns ever since under a sign that declares it to be Peggy Sue's 50s Diner.  I have no idea what it was called in 1954.  We've eaten here before when we stopped with Christopher in 2014 which you can read about here.  It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I assume under the Dives category.  The food is good but not great.  We had Buddy Holly Bacon Cheese Burgers and onion rings and they were probably the original recipe - hamburger on a bun.  Pleasant and filling.  We did not go out back to see the "Diner-saurs" in the play area, but I'm sure they were adorable.

Walter and Cordelia Knott stand in front of their only ride circa 1952

When I was a kid growing up in Whittier, we would periodically be carted off for a day of fun at Knott's Berry Farm.  Those were the days before the giant roller coasters, log flumes and Snoopy Ville (or whatever it is called).  The only ride was an old steam train that got robbed with alarming regularity.  The main reasons for driving out to Buena Park were to eat at Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken Restaurant and to see the "Ghost Town" which consisted of a collection of old shacks that had been carted in from Calico when Walter Knott bought the old mining town in the 1950s.   Most of the buildings did not get shipped to the berry farm however.  They stayed where the town was built
Real Calico town site circa 2016
in 1881 after silver was discovered.  Over ten years the 500 mines in the area produced over $2 million worth of silver, then were abandoned when the price of silver crashed in the 1890s. When Walter bought the place he restored most of the town to its 1880s condition and set it up as another  tourist attraction, but most Angelinos preferred to go the the miniature version in Buena Park.  The original town is now part of the San Benardino County Parks system.

By the time we finished at the diner and got up the hill it was 4:30 and the ghost town closes at 5:00, so it didn't seem worthwhile to pay the 8 buck per person entry fee to go ghost hunting.  We drove around the camping area and looked in from the parking lot, then retreated back to our campground.  The next morning we went back to Peggy Sue's for pancakes and sausage, then hit the road for Nevada.
Tattered mine entrance on adjacent hill.