Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunshine and Coasters

2009 Youth Group LA Trip!

Over the years it has been my pleasure to accompany your sons and daughters on about 8 trips to California. Sometimes we go on buses, sometimes planes, yet while the mode of travel changes each time I am always impressed with how totally wonderful the kids in our life truly are. They are bright, articulate, and pretty darned considerate.

This year's spring All Saint's Youth trip to Magic Mountain and Universal Studio's Hollywood was especially nice. Travel plans went flawlessly and once again we enjoyed spectacular Southern California weather.

Day One:
After gathering at the crack-o-dawn we flew from Phoenix to LAX. The air was clear and the plane was on time. Once we arrived we all climbed aboard our big van for the drive up to Magic Mountain.

For those that may not know it, Magic Mountain is California's thrill ride central. It is home to 15 of the worlds highest, fastest, and loopiest roller coasters.

Once there we slathered on sunscreen and crossed into the park. Some went straight to ride "Tatsu" the tallest (17 stories), fastest (62 MPH), and longest "flying" coaster in the World. With its unique overhead support it literally holds passengers (victims) in a manner that simulates flying.

Others ran off to ride the perennial favorite X2 (which features a straight 90° plunge to the earth with passengers facing straight at the ground).

Still others went to (my favorite) Goliath. Goliath is the coaster you see from miles and miles away. It is wicked tall (26 stories) and holds the records as the fastest coaster in the park roaring along at speeds of 85 MPH.

Aboard Our Big Enterprise Van

In Front of Goliath
A milestone - This year no one from our group got stuck on Goliath!

Traveling Up the 26 Story Goliath
This is the place where second thoughts are born

Just Before the Initial Drop
Look at how puny the colossus coaster looks from the top of Goliath!

A Great Year for Water Rides

Trophy Time
Admiring a temporary henna tattoo

The gorgeous weather did have a drawback, as it resulted in big crowds and long lines. But we stayed and played till the park closed and then poured into big comfy beds at the LAX Hilton.

Day Two:
On the morning of day two we assembled in the hotel lobby and drove toward the "Hollywood" sign and Universal Studios. Once there many started their day with a big crepe breakfast on the Universal Citywalk. The weather was beautiful again, but luckily, the crowds from Magic Mountain did not reappear for a Sunday at Universal. This made for short lines and access to any and all of its rides and shows.

At The Gates to Universal Studios Hollywood

A Group Shot with Bart and Homer
Doh Doh Doh

A Welcome from Universal's Big NY Cop

Once inside Universal nearly everyone started by riding the new Simpson's ride. It is a hurky jerky ride through Krustyland. We then followed that with a spin on the (cell phone eating) Curse of the Mummy, and then a cruise on our old favorite Jurassic Park. The group then went their own separate ways, but many went on the backlot tour.

The backlot tour was very different this year as a result of the huge 2008 fire. Sadly, the original King Kong with his banana breath and Marty McFly's Back-to-the-future courthouse square are gone forever. But, like everything else in the movies, Universal is rebuilding (updating) both and, newer and better versions will be soon appear.

Construction on The New Backlot was in Full Force
Work crews were everywhere despite it being a Sunday

We reassembled at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon and made our way back to LAX. Everyone simultaneously jammed I-pod earphones in their ears and then slept all the flight home.

It was another great trip where everyone came away with new, or even better, friends.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ghosts of the West

Who Ya Gonna Call?

When I was a kid America was still watching television westerns. We had Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Ronald Reagan hosted for Death Valley Days and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans crooned "Happy Trails to You" every week. It was magic.

It was the time of John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Well before the onslaught of gritty Spaghetti Westerns and the snear of Clint Eastwood.

When I grew up people actually bought wagon wheel furniture and every boy on the block had a cowboy hat, and a holster complete with a six shooter. Of course all the toy guns used caps. The smell of exploded caps was great wasn't it?

While the campfires of the television cowboys have all been snuffed, ghost towns in the west still exist and they still conjure up images of stagecoaches, miners, clanky spur clad sheriff's walking on wood plank sidewalks, and the fearless riders of the Pony Express.

Nowadays if you want to see the best ghost towns you'll have to take a little time and drive well out of your way, cause the best ones are a long way from population centers.  I'm not talking about tourist traps like Boothill in Dodge City, Kansas or the OK Corral in Tombstone Arizona. I'm talking about the amazing condition of Bodie, California, the Independence Mine in Alaska, or the ruins of Rhyolite, Nevada.

Ghost towns exist in various states from fully restored (i.e. like Calico or Columbia in California) to "arrested decay" like Bodie.   


Rhyolite Nevada
At the Edge of Death Valley

Rhyolite, Nevada is one of my favorites because of its location near Death Valley. I happen to love Death Valley. Its geology is stunning and I love the lore of everything from its mining days to its camel races. It is just 23 miles from Skidoo and home to a magnificent unfinished mediterranean castle (Death Valley Scottie's Castle) at the extreme north end of the park. I'm saving a separate blog for America's eccentric's and their castles.

Just outside the east end of the park is Rhyolite, Nevada. Built to support the Bullfrog Mining District it faded away fast with the collapse of San Francisco's financial markets after the earthquake of 1906.

When the sun sets each day in Rhyolite it takes very little imagination to believe that ghosts still own the night in its skeletal structures.  One of its buildings was made from thousands of green beer bottles. 

If you get a chance take a detour to nearby Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Opera House. The Opera House was built between 1923-1925 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. It survives today because in 1968 Marta Becket, a former dancer for the Radio City Music Hall, restored the little opera house. At first she performed to small crowds and had to paint an entire audience to keep her company. She has now been at it for over 4 decades. The curtain still rises at Amargosa.

Rhyolite's Bank

Virginia City, Nevada
Queen of the Comstock

As a result of the Comstock Lode gold and silver strikes in 1859 Virginia City Nevada literally appeared overnight. It grew to boast a population of 30,000 making it one of the largest City's west of the Mississippi. It had the first elevator in the west. This is where Samuel Clemens first used the pen name "Mark Twain" while working as a reporter at the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. In fact when there wasn't any news in Virginia City Twain observed that "The seemingly tranquil Enterprise office became a ghastly factory of slaughter, mutilation, and general destruction".

Money flowed from Virginia City's mines till about 1898. The treasures of the Comstock built the mansions on Nob Hill in San Francisco and helped finance the Civil War.

The Comstock mines were so productive that San Francisco's Adolph Sutro invested in the construction of elaborate tunnels to drain them. Alas his timing was off and the mines played out just about the same time his amazing feats of civil engineering were completed. Virginia City is touristy, but it has good bones.

Jerome, Arizona

In Arizona we have Jerome and Bisbee. While Jerome's miner's sought gold, they found copper instead. As far as being a ghost town it is a relative newcomer with its mines finally closing in 1953. Its allure is the way it clings tenaciously to the side of Cleopatra Hill.

The Jail 
Jerome, Arizona

A House in Bodie
Bodie, California

Ah, Bodie. This one gets my vote for the coolest of western ghost towns.  It is about 12 miles off the road about halfway between Reno and Death Valley on the quiet side of the Sierra's. So in point of fact it is dead flat in the middle of glorious nowhere.  It has been protected by the State of California since the early 1960's and its condition makes you wonder why everyone just got up one day and simply walked away. There is furniture in the houses and canned goods on the shelves in its stores.   

Arrested Decay
Bodie, CA

Bodie Hillside
Bodie California

Bodie's Church

Commercial Street
Bodie, California

These towns are the desolate, windy, dusty, homes for the west's hardiest ghosts.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009