Monday, April 27, 2015

A few more marmots

Jasper and I stopped to watch the marmots at one of our local banks again.  This guy was busy collecting a big mouthful of grass.
Jasper is quiet, but watching intensely.
The marmot noticed Jasper and came down to give us a closer look.
Then he decided he either had to warn the others or chase us off, so he gave a loud bark.  Seems he forgot that he couldn't bark AND have his mouth full of grass.  At this point he seemed a little more ticked off, so we left.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Still clinging to winter

As I have mentioned numerous times here, we had a terrible snow year.  Just the same, winter isn't over until Mother Nature says winter is over.
I was supposed to be playing in the Mens League's first golf tournament of the year this morning.  Kind of tough with two inches of snow on the ground. Of course, Jasper was quite happy with this surprise.  It is supposed to be sunny and 60 tomorrow and around 70 by Wednesday.  Just enough weather to remind Park City residents why everyone should travel this time of year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Myrtle Beach golfing

This is about year 30 for my golf trip with my college buddies. Every year we get together and head down to Myrtle Beach, SC for a few days of golf and a bit of drunken debauchery.  Of course, as our age slowly goes up, the wildness dies back a little bit. 

Here we have Dave and Jason having a big time in their rocking chairs outside our condo.  No, we haven't resorted to being this boring, at least not yet.  You might notice the two phones charging on the right edge of the photo.  All this was happening because there was no power in our condo when we arrived.  After a few phone calls, we learned that our condo was supposed to have sold that very day, but the closing fell through.  The sellers had had the power turned off, thinking that the new owners would turn it on in their names.  Oops.  Fortunately the power company came out while we were having dinner and got it going again.
We normally have eight on our trip, but for the second year in a row, Lewis had to back out at the last minute.  His 94 year old mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. From left to right, we have Jim, John, Darrell and I.
Our other group was Bobby (who shoots in the low 70s), Dave and Jason.
Those sunny pictures above were taken in the 15 minute period of sunshine.  Here is a much more accurate depiction of our weather.
Under normal circumstances I would assume that Jim is hitting from the edge of a pond.  For this weekend, with all the rain we had and all the rain that led up to it, this might just be a giant, deep puddle.
The sad news is that the cold winter, followed by the numerous drenching rains had left some of the greens in less than ideal conditions.  The good news is that just gives us something to blame.
Our local watering hole is a place called Molly Darcy's Irish Pub. As we walked in, we ran across this young lady, who I immediately got to pose with Dave.  After a while I determined that this was her prom outfit on her prom night.  The guy had backed out on her, so she was here at this bar, accompanied by her mother.  What a bizarre start to an evening.
Many, many years ago, when we first started our golf trips, one of the guys that joined us was Gary Price, a neighbor of Darrell's growing up.  Even though he went to the University of No Class (UNC), we went drinking together in college.  Gary gave up on our trips about two decades ago because they were too much golf.  He was down in Myrtle Beach though, and met us for the night.  (From left: Bobby, Darrell, Jim, Dave and Gary).
Like so many humans, this groups finds its comfort zone and immediately falls into a rut.  We like Dino's for a nice breakfast and we start there every morning.
There are some things you see golfing at the beach that you just don't see here in Park City.
As much as I know that I will never be very good at golf, occasionally I show little glimmers of hope.  This year, during the 4 rounds of golf we played, I had one 9 hole section where I looked like I knew what I was doing.  For the front 9 at Pine Lakes I hit four pars, four bogies and a double bogie, for a 41 on a par 35. This will go down in history as the only time I was ahead of Darrell for more than a hole or two.

During this trip I also got to stay with Jim and Carmella Saunders, do dinner with my Aunt Martha and cousin Sara, stay with my dad and Colleen, and have dinner with one of my Ganymede business partners Tim Huntley.  I wish I could get back to see more people, more often.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The end of a crappy ski season

This ski season was terrible.  It was warmer and with less snow than any year since they started keeping weather records in the 1870's.  Deer Valley and Canyons both closed yesterday.  Park City Mountain Resort is open for one more week.  Yuck!

All those vertical brown streaks are supposed to be ski runs. This morning PCMR reported only 19 runs open.  That is terrible!!  I hope this is just an anomaly, but after a few weak years in a row, it is feeling more like a pattern.

To make it worse, we end the season with another death on the slopes.  From The Park Record:

A Deer Valley Resort ski instructor died after a collision with a lift tower on Sunday, a Deer Valley spokesperson said, a tragic end to the resort's ski season.

Rafal Uzieblo was 42 years old and lived in Pinebrook, the Park City Police Department said. Rick Ryan, a police captain, said the department received a report about the accident at approximately 2:30 p.m. The Police Department spoke to friends and family members who were with him, Ryan said. The investigation was nearly complete by early Monday, he said. The Police Department considers the death an accident, Ryan said.
Coleen Reardon, a Deer Valley spokesperson, said he collided with a Sterling lift tower. He was skiing on the Birdseye run, she said. Birdseye is rated an intermediate run. It is on Bald Mountain. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Reardon said.

Uzieblo worked for Deer Valley for seven years, she said. The death is a "very tragic loss for us," Reardon said.  Sunday was the final day of Deer Valley's ski season.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Las Vegas, hold the Gambling

Julie and I aren't gamblers and we aren't very good drivers.  After about 5 hours, we start clawing our way through the sheet metal of the car to free ourselves.  That means the 429 mile drive to Vegas hadn't been much of an attraction for us.  This year, with Julie enjoying golf and a ski season we would all like to forget, Vegas moved up the list.  The challenge is that we don't like crowds and we don't enjoy casinos.

Julie used one of our favorite apps, TripAdvisor, to hunt for hotels to stay at and she found a great one.  The Vdara seems to be fairly unique in Vegas.  All the accommodations are decent sized suites with living rooms and kitchens.  It has no casino!  I didn't know they were allowed to build hotels without casinos.  This means less crowds, less smoke, less noise, ....  It is one block off the strip, next door to the Bellagio and across the street from Paris and Planet Hollywood.
This is us pulling up to the hotel after our long drive.  No wait, my Honda Pilot is red.
Another odd thing about the Vdara is that it has almost no restaurants. There is a little cafe, a small bar and a partial Starbucks.  That's it for a 50+ story building.  It seems the whole design principal was to have people go to either the Bellagio (a connected 5 minute walk) or the Aria, a one minute walk. They are all part of the MGM pool of hotels.

Did you know that the Vegas Strip isn't in Las Vegas?  It is actually in unincorporated Clark County.  As you can guess, the tax implications are pretty significant. The strip is home to 15 of the 25 biggest hotels in the world.  It is interesting to glance through this list and see how amazing the Vegas accommodations are.
This is the Vegas version of a chocolate fountain.  It was accompanied by a certification from the Guiness Book of World Records stating that it was the largest in the world.  However, given that you couldn't stick your head under it or at least get a good handful, I wasn't that impressed.
Right outside our hotel was a giant sculpture made of canoes.  It was hard to get a good shot of, but it was certainly unusual. 
I got this shot on the last morning with the sun coming up behind the distant building.
We aren't ones to sit by a pool all day, so it was time to get out and do things.  Our first expedition was to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Just 15 or 20 minutes away from the concrete, glass and steel of the strip, sits a gorgeous park with miles of hiking trails. This is a panorama from the top of one trail, looking back towards downtown.
We were pleasantly surprised at how many people visiting Las Vegas managed to come out for some hiking.  We were guessing that on a weekday, we might be by ourselves.  Instead, all the trailhead lots were overflowing.
Along one of the hikes, we came across a perfect display shelf for hundreds of little rock cairns. Julie grabbed some stones and added one more.

On another day we drove about 45 miles to the Valley of Fire State Park.  This one was fairly scenic, but not as interesting as Red Rock, and certainly a lot further away.  We agreed this was a one time visit.
Even though we spent a good deal of time hiking in the desert, we didn't see that many different types of cacti.  However we found a few that were blooming.
There were quite a few of these and they were all wide open.  Very pretty!  It is such an interesting creation in nature to have such and angry, painful plant adorned with such colorful flowers.
We did a hike to the Wave in Valley of Fire.  While the rock formation seems to have the same origins, it wasn't nearly as attractive as The Wave in Coyote Buttes.
You could see signs of lizards all over the place.  They left interesting little trails in the soft sand.
They ranged from little 3-4 inchers, to more like 18.
This one was fast and over a foot long.
In addition to our hiking, we went out for two rounds of golf.  Las Vegas has the advantage of noticeably warmer weather so the grass is already green and lush. We played our first round at Rhodes Ranch, an easier course in beautiful condition.
It is great having Julie both able and interested in playing golf.  On these trips where we drive, it is easy to toss the clubs in the car.
Our second round was at the Revere Concord course.  This was a harder course with some very serious elevation changes.  Sometimes it felt like you were hitting of the edge of a cliff.  The day was cooler and the wind was pretty strong.  All those things combined for a much harder round.

I don't have photos from our evening activities, but we did see two shows. In Vegas, there are at least 6 or 7 different Cirque Du Soleil shows going.  We went to the Beatles Love show at the Mirage.  The costumes and dancing were awesome but it wasn't quite as athletic as other shows I have seen.  Good, but not my favorite.  We also went to see Jersey Boys at Paris.  This is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  It was excellent and I highly recommend it to everyone!

As for gambling, we spent about 15 minutes sitting at a pair of slot machines.  After losing $10 each, we decided we would rather go spend our gambling money on drinks.

On the way home from Jersey Boys, we stopped and watched the Bellagio Fountian show.  I recorded it with my iPhone and uploaded it to Youtube.  Youtube decided the soundtrack the Bellagio used was copyrighted and deleted the music from my video.  That kind of sucks, but you can watch and hum any non-copyrighted music of your choosing. This has to be one of the most beautiful fountains in the world.

One last photo.  Having spent decades in NC enjoying the beautiful flower gardens planted along the highways, the drive through both Arizona and Nevada was depressing and borderline hideous.  I understand they are in a desert, but damn that's unsightly: miles and miles of dirt, rocks, and litter.

I mostly do my blog entries to share with other people.  However, I find it helpful to add some trip notes so that when we go back to visit a place again, our knowledge has been captured.  So, while everything below is just notes for me, anyone planning to venture there might find some useful tidbits.

Vdara hotel
  • Booking through Expedia got us the same rates, but also a $75 food voucher
  • We were in room 14048.  It is a corner room with 270 degree views.  Would be splendid, but you need to be higher up to see over all the surrounding buildings.  The elevators were superb, so being on a top floor is fine.
  • While there was a full kitchen, by default they don't provide any dishes, silverware, glasses, pots, etc. If you call housekeeping, they bring you what you want, but next time we should request when making the reservation.
  • If you can get a room that can see the Bellagio fountains, that would be excellent.  Not many rooms can.
  • The gym was fairly decent. 
  • The little cafe on the first floor was ok, but breakfast was expensive, heavy and slow.  Bring breakfast food with you for most mornings.
  • Rhodes Ranch was very nice.  About 20 miles away. The fees included either breakfast or lunch. Would be very happy playing it again.
  • Revere Concord was tough.  Not sure I would play that one again.  It was a 15 minute drive. The other Revere course is even harder.
  • Places get busy.  Always have a reservation.
  • Cafe at the Bellagio was ok, but just bulk food.  Don't go back.
  • Mon Ami Gabi at Paris was always crowded and highly rated, but it seemed only OK to us. 
  • Cafe at Vdara, the breakfast tacos were excellent
  • Javier's at Aria had excellent Mexican and fantastic spicy margaritas.  It wasn't cheap, but this was definitely our favorite.
  • Julian Seranno Tapas at Aria was a nice tapas restaurant.  We had to get there early to catch our show, so we caught the end of happy hour.  Great deals on some excellent food.
  • Aria Cafe had delicious breakfast crepes, good sandwiches to take on a hike, and yummy gelato.