Sunday, 25 May 2008

Thoughts on Vegas, A Week Later

So I was in Vegas for my 50th birthday last weekend. People have told me Vegas is like Disneyland for Adults; I'm not sure I agree with that analogy. It's more like a huge beached cruise ship, where you need to take a taxi from one end of the ship to the other. Or maybe cruise ships are trying to be like little versions of Vegas. In any circumstance, I haven't really liked the two cruises I've been on, and I wouldn't be in a rush to get back to Vegas.

The good: Well, we went to Vegas to see Cirque shows, and we saw Love, O and Mystere. I can't pick a favourite; they were all a blast, and worth the price of admission. The most interesting was O simply because it was set in water, but every show was fantastic. There's three I didn't get to see, and that alone may be reason to go back.

The good: The food. We ate well, and the food was in general superb. The service wasn't always as great as the food, but we went to some top notch restaurants.

The bad: It was hot. 107° hot. Convection oven when the wind was blowing hot.

The good: We escaped the Vegas heat one day and got up to 8,600' into mountains where it was only 75°. Great views across the desert into the Nellis Air Force Range and the Nevada Test site where the atomic bombs were tested...

We found the Las Vegas Ski Club, all 3 lifts of it...

Who knew they had a ski area?

We found mountain "shacks" where people live all year round (it's only 45 minutes to the strip from here)

We also got into Red Rock Canyon, which has some red rocks but isn't really a canyon.

Some of the rocks are cool; here's a bunch of cross bedded sand dunes frozen in time (this photo is for Astrid & Steve)

It does, however, have pictographs from a long time ago (2,000 years or so, as I recall)

Some of the places were interesting. Probably best wasn't the Strip, but instead was the old downtown core, now revitalized as The Freemont Street Experience. They covered 5 blocks of downtown with a metal canopy, and it's pretty cool and historic.

The Strip? Well, it's pretty silly. You have your dumb hotels, like the tacky castle of Excaliber, or the fake things like New York, New York...

In fact, it puzzles me why they insist on building replicas of stuff in Vegas. They have a condensed replica Venice (The Venetian), a condensed replica Paris (Paris), a condensed replica Rome (Caesar's Palace), a condensed replica Monaco (Monte Carlo) a condensed replica Egypt (Luxor)... the list goes on. What, have the got no imagination?

I found most things in Vegas tacky, with a major exception being the Bellagio Fountains.

And lest you think these are small, think again.

The speck in the middle is a guy in a boat adjusting the jets...

So Vegas, was, well, Vegas. If you like that sort of thing, it's great. Otherwise? You could try actually going to Venice, or Paris, or New York, or...

Turning 50 was no big deal. Turning 35 was more significant, because that's when things started to hurt.

The best part of the whole weekend? My brother and his family surprised me by turning up to "watch me grow old." That's somewhat like watching paint drying or grass growing.

And this roller coaster at the Sahara was pretty good, too...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Skiing Day 17 -- The Final Blast

Vertical: 6,685 m, Cum to date: 168,105 m <== A NEW RECORD!!!!
Runs: 14, Cum to date: 323
YTD Average run 520 m, YTD Average 9,889 m/ski day

Last week it just dumped a huge spring snowstorm in the mountains. Sunshine had 56 cm in under 24 hours, but rumour had it that it was falling wet cement. However, we were not to be deterred. We wanted one last day on the slopes, one last chance to break our record vertical, and one last chance to have the spring skiing experience of a beer and a burger on a deck in the sunshine.

We got most, not all. But since I forgot my camera, I have no photos to show for it.

Sunday was overcast, and there had been snow overnight. It was +3 in the Sunshine parking lot on arrival, and there was no one there. We arrived 15 min later than usual, and parked farther up in the lot than I have ever parked. It looked foggier on Divide than Goat's Eye, so we went up the Goat. Us and no one else. The viz was fine except for the top half of the top pitch. And up top was 6" of the silkiest snow I have skied in a long time. No freeze/thaw crap -- unless you got off the groomed. It was winter, but the sun when it could peak though was clearly warm. We had many runs in the sweet stuff, and took our hot chocolate on the deck. By noon some things that were firm in the morning off the groomed had softened a bit.

We headed up to Divide and found a mixed bag of great and no so great. It was really a function of traffic and exposure. We went down for lunch, and got our beer and burger, but not the burning rays. It was warm out of the wind, probably 10 or 12, but the sun occasionally peeked through and that made the deck very nice.

After lunch, though, it socked in and started to snow little nasty pellets. We went up Angel with the intent of trying Divide, but there was no viz, and the highly variable conditions were not conducive to sticking around, so we bailed to Goats Eye where the viz looked better. Better, yes, good no. So part the way down the run, as the snow, overcast and wind all got stronger, we decided to call it a day and a ski year.

This year, we got out 17 days, and managed to ski 551,526 vertical feet, beating our 1996/1997 season by 16,500 vertical feet. We skied two days later in the season than in 2001/2002. Our best day this year was Wednesday at Big White; our worst only a few weeks ago at Sunshine.

Now it's hiking season. Let's hope the snow melts soon...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Spring Birds

I'm on call so stuck in town, and given the beautiful spring day we had, it was a good day to go search out birds at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Among the finds...

White breasted nuthatch

Osprey (we saw a pair cruising the river being harassed by seagulls)

Flickers. We saw a male singing his heart out, then later saw him again being joined by a female, then later we saw them getting together to make little flickers...

Yellow rumped warblers (the Myrtle variety)

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers

Ducks making duck contrails

The rare Wood Ducks, which are an introduced species and only really found in Alberta in the vicinity of Inglewood.

And a pair of deer that seem to be blissfully accepting of humans.