Saturday, February 25, 2006

Grand Canyon, AZ to Laughlin, NV via Kingman, AZ

We decided, for no good reason, to make Kingman, AZ our next stop. Well, may be there was a reason, a bit of one, we wanted some warmer weather, and in this part of the world that means lower elevations. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is at about 2100 m, Kingman is at 700 m. That translates in a significant temperature difference. So we drove to Kingman, via Williams, about a 3 hour drive.

Now, Kingman is not exactly a beautiful city, in fact quite the opposite. It is a perfect example of urban spread gone bad. First the town developed on an east-west axis, along Route 66. When I-40 bypassed the town and Route 66 fell in disuse, many of the buildings along that section were abandoned. A new development axis, along a north-south line, started to take shape. Big box stores of every imaginable franchise moved in. Now, rampant development involving big box stores seldom results in a good example of city architecture: that is especially true here. So here we found ourselves, in a motel along a busy highway, which was under construction to boot. Anyway, we had dinner in a simple, but nice Mexican restaurant and turned in early.

Next morning, not exactly looking forward to another nite in Kingman, I looked on the map to see what other towns, places were available. So I spy with my little eye Laughlin, Nevada, just across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, AZ, a mere 40 km from Kingman. I did a search in Expedia and found a whole series of hotel rooms at fire sales prices. Turns out Laughlin is a mini Las Vegas, seemingly used by mostly senior citizens, with big hotels and a casino strip. So, at $30 (Canadian) I decided to book a couple of nights.

Close to Kingman is a mountain range, the Hualapai Mountains, and tourist info in Kingman had given us a nice map showing a hike in the County Park. We drove the 20 km or so and parked our car, where we had a nice chat with a couple from Buffalo (did anybody in this country vote for Bush? We haven't found one yet.)

After some searching, we found the trail head, and started our 2 hour, beautiful, uneventful walk. On the way up, we spotted some cabins that you can rent, we might check that out next time, they looked really good.

Then we drove back to Kingman for our trip over to Lauglin. From Kingman you first head over a low mountain range heading west, then into the Dome Valley, about 20 km, before you get to another low maintain range, the Black Mountains. One you reach the summit there, you start a very, very,very long descent at 6% for 18 km to the Colorado River level, about 1 km lower. Off to the right you see "Runaway Truck Ramps", so I kept checking my rearview mirror to see if we were about to be crushed, because after all, you want to know in what fashion you are about to die. Seeing no trucks barrelling down on me, we coasted to a stop at the traffic lights on the bottom of the slope, before we made the turn to cross the bridge to Laughlin, NV.

Driving into Laughlin provides quite a few stunning sights, with numerous hotels 25 stories high, garish neon signs everywhere beckoning gamblers to come and harvest riches. We registered ourselves in our hotel, the Ramada Express and went for a walk, exploring the riverside, because, after all, we just came from a mountain hike, so what's another 3 or 4 km over hot pavement?

Anyway, the riverside walk is very nice, the Colorado flows very fast at this point, almost rapids. It is also very clean, we saw very large fish, eyeing little kids on the river bank, so that must be a good sign. More importantly, we spotted a happy hour sign, which we could not pass up, so we imbibed, but only in moderation. Now, I'm not much of a gambler, but I got myself signed up anyway at the Hotel Frequent Player's Club, since that gives you discount on food, and why not, like my Dad used to say, a dollar in my pocket looks a heck of a lot better than a dollar in their pocket (actually he used guilders, but you catch my drift). Since it is my duty (and everyone else's as well) to rip off large corporations, I felt very good performing this public service.

We then had a wonderful buffet, watched the Canadian women beat the world in the 3000 m (NBC had no American heroes that night, so English speaking Canadians were a wonderful substitution), and called it quits, i.e. went to bed.

Next morning, we put the frequent player's card to the test again and had a nice breakfast, mostly at hotel expense. We booked a 'cruise' on a river sight seeing tour, where the captain or somebody up front-because-we-never-did-see-him did a very good narration, about how Laughlin was formed. Laughlin's only about 40 years old, started basically after the completion of Davis dam, a little brother to Hoover dam on the Colorado River. Before all the dams were constructed on the Colorado, the river was a shade of reddish brown, because of all the sediments it carried. Something I never knew was that Baja California is a basically a giant sand spit created by the runoff from the Colorado River. So if you want to know what happened to all the material that was carried out of the Grand Canyon, look to Mexico, to Baja California, where is was all dumped. May be the Americans will reclaim it one day and make another state out of it. After all, it is their material. After Iraq, anything is possible.

Nowadays, none of the Colorado River water makes it down to the Sea of Cortez: it is all consumed by thirsty Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and giant irrigation schemes around Yuma. What little is left at that point is usurped by the Mexicans for drinking water and other purposes.

Depressing enough at that sounded, we just had to have a picker upper, which of course can only be provided in either alcoholic fashion or seeing the Canadians beat the Russians in ice hockey. Yeah, I won't go there.

So now we are completely in the dumps. That is, until my favorite person (Anne) invites me to dine with her in the most expensive restaurant in the Casino. No stuff-your-face-buffet for a change, real waiters carrying fancy bottles of wine, not that that means anything to me, but hey, I can pretend, can't I?

Before we went downstairs to the restaurant, I shot her official portrait. Actually, I was playing around with lighting (some call it lightning), and this is the only one (of the 40 odd shots) that came out half decent. But then, with digital, you can do this.

Dinner was wonderful, but oh my God, the portions were so big. I had a 12 ounce New York Strip Sirloin, the size of Manhattan. My baked potato was the size of Prince Edward Island, to say nothing of the vegetables and salad. The wine was Kenwood Jack London from California. Here I thought all a Kenwood was good for was haulin' logs.

We had a wonderful view of the planes taking off on the airport, just across the river. The Arizona side is at that point almost completely devoid of any development, save for a Home Depot franchise, and a Mr. Lube. On the Nevada side, now that's where things are happening. Well, at least for some, because you can clearly see that one gambler/drinker/cigarette smoker had one too many "High Gravity" lagers.

Finally, some may remember 'Vegas Vic'. Well, he was transported down to Laughlin on renamed 'River Rick'.

Here's today's KML

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