Month: July 2013

Our crazy family vacation days ten and eleven- Reno Casino!

That’s right, we visited:

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Now most people I mention Reno to had the same response- “why?”

But before we get to that, I want to make a few important points about driving through the desert, of which there is a lot in southern Oregon and northern California.

We got up, left John Day and headed south.  We got to Burns and had about a third of a tank of gas left.  From Burns, the road heads west for about 20 miles, then heads south at Riley.  Beyond Riley were a few little towns and then Lakeview, about 100 miles away.

I’ve mentioned this before but the rules for not dying when driving through the desert are- tell people where you’re going, don’t leave paved roads, take lots of water and fill up on gas.

Because I’m a horse’s ass and can’t be bothered with even the rules I set for myself, we drove through Burns without stopping for gas.  Probably because the gas stations were all on the other side of the street and I couldn’t be bothered with all that, or some other such lame reason.

Riley had no gas.  And those other other towns that were along the way.  They were along the way, if you understand me.  What’s left of them doesn’t include gas stations.

I was in borderline panic mode the entire way to Lakeview and the gas light was coming on when we finally hit town.  (which was actually reassuring, because our car is the lowest-end model Toyota probably ever built and I wasn’t entirely sure it even had a gas light).

My wife was pissed because we didn’t really get to stop and take pictures and there was some pretty cool scenery along the way, like this huge saline lake.  And more buttes.  Some people prefer mountains, but I’m really a butte man myself.

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Anyway, we survived.

So we made it to Reno.  The reason we were going there at all was because when we started the trip, we decided that everyone would get to pick a destination.  I said Portland, Seattle, my wife said Olympic Peninsula and my son said Las Vegas.   Las Vegas?

It’s one of only two places he’s ever got to stay in a legitimately nice hotel and I think he knew Hawaii wasn’t going to happen.  But I explained to him that Las Vegas isn’t exactly near the other two, so I suggested Reno.

Reno is not the wonderland that Las Vegas is.  I don’t know about northern California, but here in southern CA, since Indian casinos have been built mere minutes from every city, we think of Vegas as less somewhere to go to gamble and more as somewhere to go party.  And Vegas wisely has changed a lot to focus on that.  I don’t know what’s up with Reno, but I don’t think it’s changed much in any direction for decades.

I won’t lie, the place was sketchy.  We stayed at the Silver Legacy, right in downtown and the place was nice.  Can’t complain.  But we walked across the street to go to McDonald’s and there was a security guard, at the McDonald’s.

Also seen in the twenty minutes we spent wandering around outside- a woman with no shoes and no pants (what she had on under that t-shirt, I have no idea) saying “we can’t go in this bar, they’ll throw us out.”  A woman swinging a big stick around her head yelling at people, while a police car made a hasty, screeching u-turn to head in her direction.  And, more endearingly, some people leaving a 24 hour chapel saying “congratulations Mr _____” “Congratulations Mrs _______.”

Twenty minutes of downtown Reno was enough and then it was back into the casino.  What was cool about the Silver Legacy was that it’s connected by skywalk to the Circus Circus and the Eldorado, as apparently the Silver Legacy was a joint venture between the two.

I don’t gamble, but we had a great time at Circus Circus playing arcade games.  He’d been looking forward to this day the whole trip.  After playing games, we went back to the room and watched Cartoon Network.  Other than driving half the day, this was a nearly perfect day for my son.

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Our crazy family vacation day nine- ALMOST DONE

This is taking me a lot longer to write than I thought it would, and I’m ready to move on.  But there’s three more days in this crazy adventure.

I wish I had more to say about Spokane, but we didn’t really see much of the city.  My uncle lives on the edge of town close to the Spokane River and when we got up the next morning, we didn’t spend any time there.  Instead we went to Coeur d’Alene.

Coeur d’Alene is a nice little resort town on the very large Lake Coeur d’Alene.  It’s smaller than I thought, and is sort of like Carmel, CA or Jacksole Hole.  Or what I hear Aspen is like.   We had lunch in Hayden, ID, which is probably most famous for kicking out the Aryan Nations group that tried to set up an HQ there.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed south.  My uncle told us “You’ll enjoy driving through the Palouse, people come from all over the world to take photos there.”

I couldn’t imagine anything in Eastern Washington that anyone would go much out of their way to take photos of, but I was excited to drive down the 395.  The 395 travels along the Eastern Sierra through California and is one of my favorite routes, so for whatever reason I assumed it would be cool here too.

But I’d never even heard of the Palouse (and I couldn’t even pronounce it when I saw it on the map- the answer is Pal-OOO-Say).  Which made it an real treat when I got there.

I wish the photos we took could better convey what traveling through there was like, but they don’t.  My wife said it best- it was like driving through an impressionist painting.  Miles and miles of rolling hills of green and beige grasslands.  At one point the road reached the top of a hill and I could see 360 degrees of horizon.  The experience was pretty magical.

We drove a long way that day, eventually camping in John Day, Oregon.  As always, the facilities were great.  It seemed like every small town we drove through in Oregon there was a vibrant downtown.  One even had a brew festival going on.  It seemed like everyone we met in Oregon was very nice, especially the lady at Starbucks who filled up our tumbler with free coffee.

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(I like big buttes and I cannot lie)


While we’re at it I like this prairie church photo that my wife took:

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Our crazy family vacation day eight

I don’t know if it was the narrow streets, the cars parked in whatever direction people wanted to park them or just having my sleep schedule messed up by the long northern days, but I was in terror driving in Seattle.  I was ALMOST out of the city, when I was at a stoplight, everyone in the car was talking to me, I was focused on some tasty pastry and when the light changed I rammed straight into someone’s car.


She rolled down here window and yelled “really?”

I hastily apologized and we pulled into a gas station.  Turns out I just scratched her wheel cover.  I had a dent in my front bumper.  I offered her my insurance, she said “don’t worry about it, it’s just a scratch.”  What a nice lady.

We were headed for Spokane.  I have an uncle there and it made for a nice loop around the state.

The drive to Spokane was pretty for the first hour- the freeway winds through the Cascades then then drops down into the farmland of eastern Washington.

We crossed over the Columbia River again, this time the gorge was hot and dry.  I liked this sculpture that’s at the top of a ridge.

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We stayed at my Uncle’s house.  My uncle has always been my “crazy uncle”, a role he’s always relished.  He retired to Spokane and lives with my aunt.

My uncle’s a very smart man, a very flexible thinker and if the subject is anything other than family it’s very hard to know if actually believes what he says.

He also loves to debate people, and isn’t above supplying “facts” when he needs to.  One Christmas he gave a master performance in BS directed at my step-grandfather over some finer points of what does and doesn’t constitute jazz.  Stories of that night are still part of our family legend.

I told him that I won’t debate him or my communist brother on politics, so we stuck to talking about family.  My dad has two brothers and they all grew up in Los Angeles.  But my father is the only one who still lives in Southern California, so I rarely see anyone from that side of my family.  My uncle had a lot of great stories about my family, most of which I’d never heard before.  The older I get the more I appreciate those.


Our crazy family vacation days six and seven

We wanted to see Hurricane Ridge again so badly that we got up the next morning and drove up there again.

Then we got back on the road.  This time to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry.

A few days earlier I’d told my son that we’d be riding on the ferry and he was very excited, probably because we just don’t ride on boats all that often.

We arrived around noon and got on the very first ferry that arrived.  As far as approaches to Seattle go, I’d bet that this is the coolest, but sadly our camera batteries were dead at this point, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’d been to Seattle once before and it’s a beautiful city.  The downtown has got a great mix of old and new buildings and lots to do.

We headed for my fellow blogger Protolexithymic’s house.

Protolexithymic and I go way back and I was excited to see him after what had been a few years.  He’s got a nice house and a happy life there in Seattle and it was really cool to visit.

Protolexithymic will have to fill in the names of the places we went because I’m terrible at remembering these things.  But we had a real nice dinner looking out onto the sound the first night.

We got up the next day and headed to the Pacific Science Center.   My wife later commented on how disappointing it is to visit this type of museum in places other than San Diego, because they’re always better than ours.  This was no exception.  It had good stuff for kids, but I myself particularly enjoyed the butterfly room.

One time I was outdoors doing something that I can’t remember and a monarch butterfly came and perched on my finger.  It hung out there for a few minutes and I really got to take a good look at it.  I was hoping that would happen at this place but no luck.  The fact that I was hoping such an unlikely thing would happen to me TWICE shows there is something wrong with me, but I really did think that.  Still it was a great collection of butterflies.

We also visited Pike’s Market, which is actually pretty cool for being a touristy type of place.  Hey touristy doesn’t HAVE to mean bad.  Old Town in San Diego is touristy as hell but I still go there from time to time.  My son had been trying to talk me into buying the board game Settlers of Katan for months and Protolexithymic said “hey, you guys like that game, I have it at home and haven’t been able to find anyone to play me.”

And we also took a stroll down to Olympic Sculpture Park and some crazy lady kept bugging us.  CITY LIFE!  But the park was cool.  I liked the eyeball seats the best.

We went for some very good sushi.  At a sustainable fish restaurant, which is pretty cool.  I know some people will mock my concern for the amount of fish in the ocean, but if so, I have a question for you- how often do you eat commercially hunted land animals?

We went back to Protoleximythic’s place and played some Settlers of Katan.  I had actually never played before.  It’s a great game.  My life later remarked it was odd that we hadn’t seen each other in years but instead of talking (which we did do plenty of) we sat down and played a board game.  My response- that’s what men do.

Our crazy family vacation day five WOW!!!!!!!

So again we got up, had some breakfast (chocolate pancakes!  Yay!  Or, unnhhh my stomach hurts).  Drove up the 101 to Lake Crescent and went for swim.  While we were I spotted a bald eagle flying over the lake.

WOW was that bird cool.

I’d really always favored the golden eagle over the bald eagle, because duh, one is gold and the other is bald.  But now I have swung my allegiance to the Bald Eagle, our national bird.  All jokes aside, that was a great wild animal spotting that I’ll never forget.

We got back on the road and drove a short way to Port Angeles.  It’s a nice little town, with Canada just across the sea.  We could also see the snowy Olympic mountains and I almost talked us out of one of the best sights on the whole trip.

We were debating whether to head up the mountain to see Hurricane Ridge, or drive to somewhere a little closer to Bainbridge Island, where we’re be catching the ferry the next day.  To my infinite shame I said something along the lines of “we can see the mountains from here, I’m not sure it’s worth the drive.”



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We loved this spot so much we got up early the next day so we could drive up there again and view it some more.  I loved this place so much I didn’t want it to end.  One day if I stop writing on this blog it’s because I went to live with the deer on top of this ridge.

Our crazy family vacation, day four

So for some reason I titled the last post “day three part one” but now I can’t remember what I was going to say for part two (or three, who knows?).  So I’ll make it short, day three ended.

We got up the next morning and moved again.  I had actually planned on staying in one place for more than a day because I was under the mistaken impression that it would be hard to find campsites, so that if we found one we liked, we should hold onto it.  I even asked at the entrance of every park “are there sites available here?”  The rangers all responded very nicely that yes, there were plenty of sites.  If you want to be laughed at, try asking that question in July in Yosemite Valley.

The 101 briefly goes along the coast of Washington, which was the only time we saw the Pacific coast the entire trip.  It was cold, gloomy, forbidding.  I especially liked this spot, visible the parking lot of some roadside restaurant/lodge.

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The trees washed ashore here looked like old bones.  Sometimes nature is creepy and sometimes it’s good to be creeped out.  This was one of those times.

But as terrifyingly beautiful as this place was, we’re not big on beach camping, so we kept driving.

We settled on Sol Duc campground.  Our son was excited about the idea of visiting the hotsprings there, but was horrified to realize they smell like rotten eggs.  Oh well.  We found a very nice campsite at the campground there, nestled amongst the trees.

The woods there continued to amaze me.  I’m just not used to woods that are so deeply inviting.  I half expected to meet hobbits there.

We have a nice curry dinner- new/old discovery- Uncle Ben’s boil-in-bag rice.  This stuff it genius.  We roasted marshmallows.  Mini-rant to follow.  Anyone who loves marshmallows, please skip ahead.

I know Marshmallows are (wrongly) considered the quintessential camp food.  I disagree.  Marshmallows are gross, and any right thinking person stops eating them by age ten at the latest.  But worse than marshmallows are s’mores.  Not only are they terrible, PEOPLE DON’T MAKE THEM RIGHT.  But if you insist on eating them, please read the following:


Take two graham crackers, put them on the grill in your fire pit, away from high heat so you don’t burn your crackers.  Put the chocolate on top of the crackers and leave the crackers on the fire until the chocolate melts.    Slow roast your marshmallow.  Now put them together.  You’re welcome.

Rant over.

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Our crazy family vacation day three, part one- Washington at last!

So we’d driven for around 16 hours already and finally made the Washington border.  We drove north to Olympia, then turned west for the Olympic peninsula.

In Washington’s defense the area just across the border from Oregon isn’t considered the best part of the state.  But after having been in wonderful Oregon, we were like- yup, back to normal.  At least we didn’t feel so bad about California anymore.

We wandered around Olympia for a while looking for lunch.  Portlandia’s theme song would have worked just as well for Olympia, because the dream of the 90’s is alive there too.  I haven’t see so many punk show flyers in one place maybe ever.  My son became very excited about a Japanese restaurant that wasn’t great, but not too expensive, so we ate there.

One of the best innovations on this trip was one my wife came up with- keeping track of how much money we spent.  Nothing helps you watch your spending as, err, watching your spending.  I never realized how much money just goes out the window when you’re like “sure, I’ll buy that” or “yeah, let’s go eat there.”  A common theme of our trips so far has been me going to the ATM somewhere around the middle of the trip and throwing a fit when I see how much our account has drained.  This time, thanks to my awesome wife, there was no meltdown over money.

So we turned west on the 101 towards the Olympic Peninsula.  The road here is bounded by trees.  Big, tall trees on both sides.  I was in awe at first, then I started to feel like a I was stuck in some endless topiary maze.  They were beautiful and terrible at the same time.

We passed through Aberdeen, hometown of the late Kurt Cobain.  “Come as you are” on the town welcome sign was a sweet thing to do.  But the town was, not surprisingly, kind of a bummer.

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This is Aberdeen’s downtown on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Now it could just be that we drove down the wrong street and that there are throngs of people having a great time in some other part of town, but this place was dead.

But we didn’t come to Washington to visit Aberdeen, so we kept driving.

We arrived at Lake Quinalt.  I heard it pronounced at least a half dozen times, and I still can’t remember, is it Quinn-Oh or Quinn-ALT, or something else, I don’t know.  It was beautiful, and our campsite was just a few minutes walk from this

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There was a great nature hike we took, with little signboards explaining the rainforest ecology there.  My son loved it and took lots of pictures (my wife took all the pictures that I’ve posted on this trip so far).  The forest was just so alive- plants growing on everything.  Slugs and millipedes slithering over everything.  This place was magical.  To be continued…