Sunday, November 21, 2010

Original Date: 1 July 2006

This is an old post moved over from Livejournal.

Our Fourth Annual Honeymoon

Plumas National Forest

We started on this, our fourth annual honeymoon, around 9am and drove via 299 through Redding to Susanville and camped in the Plumas National Forest. We saw a bit of deer, squirrels, hummingbirds, a couple small hares, and lots of bats come evening. We checked out two of the local campgrounds. The first one was a bit overgrown but no one was there. The second was farther in, but had a very large group of unruly children charging about.
Laufman Campground
 Ending up back at Laufman Campground, we had the place to ourselves. It was gloriously peaceful, if lacking the babbling brook at the be-sprogged campground. There were also lots of flowers at the campsite including large, yellow balsamroot, wild rose, and gorgeous pink thistles.

We left fairly early the next morning and drove through to Reno/Sparks where we got some rockhounding guides. Then on to lunch at an overlook on the side of the highway. We tried the apricotsauce I made 2 days ago and it was delicious! Sweet, tart and very very refreshing. We continued on through the unending bore that was Nevada and stopped in Elko at the Visitor's Center. There we got a tiny bit of information, then went to the BLM office just up the road. It was at least 30 minutes past closing, but two wonderful ladies were leaving the office as we arrived and invited us in. They answered all our questions, found us wonderful maps, and never once did we feel rushed or as though they were annoyed by our questions. Thanks, ladies!

Cobweb Thistle
Next was a planned stop at Bil Toki for the Basque cuisine that apparently made Elko famous. There seems to be a good-sized Basque community there. The menu had two pages, the first just said, "Family style $15, 2-3 items, chef's choice." The second side seemed to have standard American steak items. We asked our server, a sweet Basque girl, for her recommendation for the Basque experience and she said to get the family style. We ordered 2. Oops. There was enough food for at least 4 people. We started with the most delectable cabbage soup I've ever had. I must locate the recipe! Then a nice salad, and finally the main courses. There were beans with beef, spaghetti with tomato sauce, corn, beef tongue, stewed chicken, fried cod in a lovely white sauce, and lamb with the best spearmint jelly Scott had ever had (it was my 1st mint jelly, I may be spoiled for life) Each and every dish was fantastic and melted in your mouth.

Thomas Campground
Our second night was spent at the Thomas Canyon campground in Lamoille Valley (ləm-OIL). It was a very popular and busy campground even on a Wednesday night. The Lamoille Valley area was cute canyon but not as amazingly lush as we'd heard. I guess it is lush by Nevada standards, but we are well and truly spoiled by our own redwood rainforest. That night we set up camp and took a short hike up to view one of the waterfalls just beyond the camp. It was pretty, but it was getting very dark, so back to camp and bed. We did a little stargazing before retiring and I finally found the northern crown constellation known as corona. After I crawled into the tent, Scott went to take some startrail photos over the mountains above.
Lamoille Valley

There were lots of waterfalls and glacially carved hanging valleys to see the next day during our the drive to the end of the road, but the light was harsh, and for an advertised wildlife viewing area, there was very little to see. As always, our patience saved us. We stopped at a viewpoint that was obscured by trees and I found some lovely quartz and rose quartz while Scott spent a lot of time photographing the pale swallowtail, two-tail swallow tail, tiger swallowtail, California tortoiseshell, Milbert's tortoiseshell, and Weidemeyer's Admiral butterflies in addition to tent caterpillars and their tents.

Yellow-Bellied Marmot
A little farther along and we ran into some yellow-bellied marmots that we had been hoping to see and photograph. There was an adult and 3 babies, and we took as many photos as we could of them. They were so sweet. They were skittish, so we stopped the car and looked at them through the windows. Poor planning on our part, both sets of camera gear were in the very back of the car and well within the marmots' view. Scott was able to sneak out of the driver's side and get to my camera via the back door. I shot several photos from the front seat. Then Scott got out, but his movement behind the car scared the adult and with one loud peep, all the marmots disappears. We wandered around a bit and Scott made me a 'snowcone' snowball from a small snowbank he stumbled upon.

We also took some pictures of shooting star flowers that were very pretty. Then Scott took some more of the marmots and we finished our drive.
 After Lamoille, we drove on to a place that many people had told us was totally gorgeous. We drove up to Angel Lake in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Elko, Nevada. It was a long, hot drive and we were feeling sunburned. Lamoille was a disappointment after being touted as the lushest place in Nevada. On the way up to Angel Lake we looked into the valley below and could see the Ruby Marsh, another campground we'd considered. It looked, uh, marshy, but we saw no trees and after the biting flies at Lamoille we decided to forgo any marsh areas.

Angle Lake
When we arrived up at Angel Lake, we drove through the small campground and were stunned. It was carpeted in trees, aspens, mainly, but none were over 4 feet high! Even I couldn't find shade there! We chatted with the very charming camp host/musical playwright, music professor, Tom. We decided to go *anywhere* else other than this hot, shadeless place! We made our apologies to Tom, and sat in the day-parking lot briefly to pour over the map and consider the alternative campsites. In short, there were none, and driving on to Great Basin National Park at that hour would have put us in camp after dark even if we didn't stop for dinner (besides, leftover Basque dinner awaited us)! So back to Tom and to choose a campsite.
Angel Lake Campground

We set up quickly and hiked around behind the lake where it was shadowy, cooler to wait for the sun to set. I took a photo of the lake and the valley beyond. Then we hiked a bit further, saw the canyon walls behind the lake and then headed back to camp. We managed to figure out how to reheat all our lovely Basque food on the campstove and had a delicious meal of leftovers. We walked around a bit again then went back to our campsite once it started getting on to dusk. Scott saw a cute grey mouse with a white belly dash away from the picnic table as we entered our camping space. We sat together on one side of the picnic table to watch and see if the mouse came out again. He did, and he brought friends.

They even sat between our feet, only darting back into the brush when we moved. We were surprised and a bit dismayed to see how bold they were. Then Scott realized we'd cleaned up camp but left the garbage bag full of discarded bits of meat, bread, and butter open on the other side of the picnic table. He went around and tapped the bag and another mouse shot out of it. He got out a lambchop we were unable to finish and set it in the center of the campsite, then tied up the bag and put it out of reach. We spent the rest of time until dark watching the mice tussle for the lamb. We stargazed a bit more and went to sleep. Scott got up during the night to take more startrail photos and shots of the new crescent moon. The next morning we discarded a well-gnawed lambchop.

We had our usual oatmeal and tang breakfast then packed up camp to move on to Great Basin National Park. Scott was putting something in the back of the car when he saw the cooler was covered in hundreds of biting no-see-ums! We shooed them out of the car as best we could and sprayed the rest and ourselves with Natrupel (DEET-free and smells nice, I call it my camping perfume). After that we tossed everything into the car quickly and drove away.

We found a Bureau of Land Management office in Wells where we met Debbie who was excited to get copies of the digital photos I had taken so far in Nevada. I gave them to her for BLM use and she and Scott spent a while chatting about photography and camera gear. We learned from her that one of the Flying J's in town was a truck stop and had showers. We enjoyed meeting Debbie, then repacked our camping gear after shaking out all the no-see-ums we could. The showers at the Flying J were really refreshing and only $6. The room was large enough we were able to share one for the same price. After that we drove to Ely (e-lee) where we got a Subway lunch and fuel before driving on to Great Basin National Park.

Wheeler Peak Campground
Upon arriving at the lower visitor's center, we heard about the scarcity of campsites. The ranger there just wasn't sure there would be any in the park. We were hopeful for the highest, Wheeler Peak just below 10,000 feet. We drove up to the second visitor center, and bought tickets for the 90 minute Lehman cave tour for the next day. The ranger there felt there should be some vacancies, but not many. Once we got to the campground we ducked into the first campsite, which was empty. Leaving the car there, we walked around the campground, but couldn't find a nicer spot. When we got back to the car, we realized there was a small section we'd missed, so I sat in the campsite while Scott drove through the last loop and found a great campsite. While I waited, I saw a small bird family living in a tree just a few feet from the picnic table. Of course as soon as they saw me, they left. I also watched a mule deer walk across from the other side of the road and up around my campsite. Scott returned and had found a beautiful campsite that was very private! We went up to see it, and it was perfect so we set up camp.

Wheeler Peak Campground Visitor
We had just gotten things set up and sat down for a minute when a peregrine falcon swooped around the trees next to our campsite. It was chasing one of the robins that were all around the campground. There was an impressive 'dogfight' and the peregrine hit the robin on the wing but missed. By the time the robin recovered and flew behind a tree, the falcon was hot on it's tail again. Only the falcon flew out, though. Next we cooked our dinner. We had a potatoes, broccoli and cheese Mountain House dinner - yum! We followed with some smoked salmon we'd bought at the farmer's market in Arcata and Tang. All-in-all, it was a nice dinner after eating so much protein the last few days. Then we tried a chocolate fudge mousse dessert by Natural High (when will we learn) it was okay, had a baking soda-like taste and wasn't very chocolaty, we could do better with a simple bar of chocolate and it would weigh less/take up less room. Just a bit later, we learned that it also contained milk, when Scott's lactose intolerance kicked up. The good news, no bugs in the tent that night

After dinner Scott hiked around the campground a bit to take more shooting star pics while I stayed here and caught up my blog. Some nearby campers were amazed that I was using a computer and jokingly asked if I was online. They invited us to sit around the campfire with them, but we were tired and went to sleep, Scott tried more star photos during the night but it was too hazy, and returned. We slept pretty well early in the night, but woke up several times early in the morning including when a deer ran through camp in the a.m. and was visible through the tent flap, several more walked around outside the tent, but couldn't see them because of the rainfly.

Bristlecone Pine
Got prepared and hiked to the Bristlecone pine loop. It was the first hike I was able to do in a long time. It was a slow, gentle climb, but I did just fine, and I felt really good doing it. Once we got up high enough for the bristlecones, it was getting pretty warm, very rocky, and there was no shade. Still, I got a picture of the pines for my blog. Scott really liked the way they looked and he took several photos.
We walked back down to the junction to Theresa Lake. I went ahead on my own for a while. Some clouds had built up and Scott wanted to take advantage of the softer light to retake some of his bristlecone pine photos, but it was starting to get a bit late and I wanted to be sure
Theresa Lake
we made the cave tour. I waited at the junction for Scott to arrive and we went to see the pretty little alpine lake together. It was really lovely, but the light was changing rapidly from sunny and contrasty to soft and even, so we took lots of pictures and headed back down to the parking lot. The lower half of the hike was the prettiest with streams, yummy cold water, and lots of trees and shade.

Lehman Caves
At the Lehman Cave Visitor Center and I changed into something warmer for the cave tour. I also attached the external flash to my camera for taking photos in the dimly lit cave. Our Park Ranger was Christie, and she was very sweet and patient with our group. Like most caves I've been in, there are age limits keeping the littlest kids out and warnings that anyone disruptive in the cave will be removed immediately. The few kids on our tour were very well behaved. Christie and the person who volunteered to stay at the rear of the group were both very patient with Scott and I as we took our photos. At first my flash didn't work but Scott was able to attach it correctly and after that it worked fine. They only problem was with my camera. It would not focus accurately in the dim cave lighting and so many of my photos were out of focus.
Outside the Lectrolux Cafe
After finishing the cave tour we went to the little cafe at the visitor center, but it had closed already. Neither of us relished the idea of a 20 minute drive back to camp and then having to cook food. We were both very hungry having had only a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and a Clif bar for lunch. Instead we drove down to Baker to find the Lectrolux Cafe since the park newspaper had some of their coupons. It was cute, small and kitschy, but we were hungry and our expectations were low. We both ordered the salmon dinner and wow was it delicious. And there was plenty, too. We couldn't finish our meals. We gave our compliments to our chef and headed outside to the car. We noticed there were many barn swallows flying around the small courtyard and after a few minutes we saw that there were babies in nests around the roofline. We enjoyed the evening, took some photos and chatted with an interesting fellow from Texas who was researching grasses. Eventually we headed back to camp and to sleep.

Cathedral Gorge
Finally, we had to leave the camping behind and head into Las Vegas for Scott's conference. We stopped to see Cathedral Gorge on the way and we drove through Caliente which had a pretty old train station. The gorge was formed after the waters receded from an old lake bed and the sedimentary lake floor eroded slowly with subsequent rains forming the interesting structures and caves.
As nice as all the camping and sightseeing was, eventually we had to reach Las Vegas. It was 113 degrees fahrenheit. Last time we were here we stayed at the Monte Carlo where the conference was being held, but it was not worth the expense so this year we found the cheapest motel we could find within walking distance. It was cheap indeed, clean enough, and serviceable, but run down, and the internet hookup was not working. Scott was sure he saw some hookers and I believe I saw at least one drug deal happening just one building over from ours. Next time we'll try for a happy medium between expensive and dangerous. EDIT: A couple of months home and we were watching Cops when our motel was featured! On Cops! *shakes head* Our first night we saw an inexpensive Asian buffet and decided to have dinner there. They were having a special on horchata (a Mexican beverage made with rice, sugar, water, and cinnamon), if you can believe that, but it was very tasty and refreshing so we each had a glass.

The next day I spent gimping my trip photos and writing more of this blog. Scott spent the day at the conference and I researched meals for us. I found a coupon for dinner for 2 for the price of 1 at a casino called Terrible's. Despite the name, the food wasn't bad. Then we went over to the Venetian to wander through the shops. The Venetian has the prettiest shopping area of any of the casinos on the strip. We looked at clothes for Scott and just did some general browsing around. I was glad to be out of the hotel room. As we looked for a drinking fountain (ha, nothing is free in Vegas, not even water) we were approached by a man who offered us some free gifts. It turned out to be an invitation to listen to a three hour sales pitch in exchange for a free dinner and a show. So the next morning we went to the Polo Towers and heard a sales pitch from Wayne, who was an asshole. I think he figured out that we weren't going to buy anything. Neither Scott nor I knew much about timeshares so we were definitely interested in hearing the pitch if just to learn about how it worked. As we suspected, it wouldn't have worked for us so we got our free dinner and show vouchers and walked over to the Aladdin Casino to cash them in for the actual tickets. On the way over we were stopped again for another timeshare sales pitch. This time the person who signed us up, Conrad, was a very charming man. We didn't need dinner and a show again so we got $50 in casino chips to gamble at Excalibur Casino and 2 nights free at the timeshare in the next 18 months. We decided to go ahead and do it. We signed up for a tour then ran over to the Aladdin. On the way to the V theater we bumped into a woman selling perfume. I'm always looking for perfume that doesn't make me sneeze and this one was wonderful! Plus it came with five other skin care products all for fifty dollars. Then we went back to the second timeshare and had our free lunch of sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade. The salesman, Elia, was very sweet and reminded me of Scott's brother Steve in appearance and mannerisms. He was very understanding and sweet when we explained that the deal just wouldn't work for us.

After the second timeshare pitch ended we took the free shuttle back to the Excalibur hotel and I got $50 in slot machine tokens. I took Scott to one of the simple, one line winner slot machines and showed him how to use it. I cautioned him to only gamble the coins we were given and not any credit we won. In the end we turned the tokens into $73 cash and left the casino all smiles. We went back to the hotel room, rested for a few minutes, cooled off and then drove over to the Aladdin.

The dinner we chose was at a restaurant called Lombardi's. We were told it was a 5-star restaurant, but I don't think that was entirely true. We had a limited menu to chose from, but that was fine. The service and ambiance were superb, but the food was mediocre at best. My chicken marsala was overdone and the chicken was dry. We also ordered dessert, which we had to pay for, and it was fine too, but nothing special. All in all, the dinner was worth what we paid for it.

We left the restaurant and headed over to the show. It wasn't due to start for another hour, but the line was extremely long so we queued up and waited. The theater was small, seating was chairs on the floor, no risers, and it was a bit tough to see. The show was cute and enjoyable. Also worth what we paid for it. The MC was funny, there was a suspended drummer that was interesting, and the juggler was very good and very funny. After the show we walked around the shops for a while longer and ran into an art gallery for an artist whose paintings we fell in love with almost immediately. The artist's name is Vladimir Kush and his paintings are beautiful and surreal.

The next morning we packed up and gave a tip to Conrad, as we'd promised when signing up for the second timeshare sales pitch. Then we drove on to Edwards Air Force Base to visit with a dear friend, Melvin (Matt) who recently graduated from the HSU CS program. We stayed and had such a nice time we bought him, his mother-in-law, Dee, and his sister-in-law, Sara, dinner as a thank you for letting us spend the night and showing us around the airforce base. I really loved seeing the aviation museum on base! After that it was just one long drive home and here we are!

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