Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

Until last October, the only easy way to get from central/south Arizona to Las Vegas was over the Hoover Dam. Finished in 1936, the road on the top of the dam is a curvy, slow two laner, which became heavily congested with traffic as the years went on. Add in mandatory security checkpoints (after 9/11), and bottle-necks and stopped traffic were inevitable. Traveling that route could be an hours-long journey. Semis were not allowed on the dam, so truckers had to find long and costly alternative routes.

Obviously, a plan to bypass this bottleneck was needed. In 2005, construction began on the bridge that would carry the re-routed traffic way above Hoover Dam. Named The Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, it opened to traffic in October 2010.

When we visited Hoover Dam about a year ago, we could see the final pieces of the construction coming into place:

And here is the completed bridge now (from the area of the dam):

We very specifically headed this way so we could drive the new bridge. As we neared Hoover Dam, in the rig and on the bypass, signs directed all high profile vehicles to the lanes closest to the center (presumably so high winds wouldn't push us into Black Canyon). John, driving, could see nothing of the Colorado River, the dam, or Lake Mead. In the passenger seat, this was the best view I got as it whizzed quickly by:

What a disappointment! There wasn't even much of a feeling of being on a bridge. It just seemed like a segment of the road that all of a sudden got very windy, and then we were over it, being greeted by the "Welcome to Nevada" sign (the Colorado River is the border between Arizona and Nevada). Although we could see people to the side on a pedestrian walkway, we didn't see any exits or places to park, so we pushed on to Pahrump. We came back with just the car a couple days later to walk the bridge.

There is a separate parking lot for those wanting to walk the bridge, and, at least for now there is no charge. There are three pull-through parking spots for RVs or busses, a reasonable (but not generous) amount of car parking spots, and four port-a-potties. The lot is accessed from Exit 2 (the exit for Hoover Dam) on the Nevada side, so we had already missed it by the time we crossed the bridge in the rig. Accessing the walkway requires a 45 foot climb using either stairs or a switchback ramp.

Here is what the highway looks like from the pedestrian walkway:

From the bridge, the view of the dam is spectacular:

We watched an MSNBC filming that was using the dam as a backdrop (in the photo above, the stage can be seen in the triangle on the left and is shown in detail in the photo below). We never did find out what show they were filming. Cars were very slowly traveling in both directions, looking very much like a real-life Frogger game:

It was very windy -- so windy that they advised high profile vehicles NOT to use the new bridge, although we saw quite a few semis on it. John rescued a lady's baseball cap as it tried to make a suicidal plunge over the side, and we saw another cap far down on the rocks that wasn't so lucky.

It is a beautiful view, and not to be missed if you are going by Hoover Dam.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wine, Women, But No Song

Location: Pahrump, NV

First the wine:

Our RV park is also a winery. Or, perhaps, the winery has an RV park? At any rate, the two are literally joined together -- the Charleston Peak RV park offices to the left, and the Pahrump Valley Winery to the right.

Both are nestled under a fantastic view of Charleston Peak:

When we got in yesterday, we were hungry and tired (a hard morning's travel of a whole 200 miles!), so we trotted off to the winery's restaurant (a 5-star) for a snack, and, of course, a glass of wine. The tasting room is free, so we spent a bit of time after lunch sampling the reds (today was the whites turn -- tomorrow rose's?). It is really nice to be able to just walk to your home after wine tasting!

And now the women:

Today we toured a brothel. And, before you even get the words put together in your dirty little mind, no, there were no free samples!

The Resort at Sheri's Ranch is one of Nevada's legal brothels, and they offer tours (unfortunately, no photos). There are two entrances -- the Sports Bar, where much of the "selection" takes place, and what we were told was the more discrete parlor entrance -- although I don't see how putting a sign over a door that says "Girls, Girls, Girls" would indicate any type of discretion!

The bar, an almost family-friendly place, turned out to be a very good restaurant, populated by both customers and "tourists" like us. Working girls wandered through the bar, chatted with customers, or talked amongst themselves. They were dressed in all sorts of attire, from low-cut leopard print dresses, to see-through thigh length black tunics, to corsets and G-strings. Most sported silver or see-through stilettos.

While we waited for dinner, we were approached by Brandy, who offered to give us a tour when we finished eating (another girl approached us later to ask if we were interested in a "Couple's Party," but we politely declined). She first led us into the parlor (where the "Girls, Girls, Girls" door enters), and it was pretty much what you image a parlor to be -- brocade upholstered divans, artsy-fartsy white alabaster statues, and a grand piano.

At the back of the parlor was a "menu" of services that were available. Brandy explained that each girl negotiated a price for services, and then half of that went to the house. She showed us some of the special rooms that are available -- secluded dining, bubble baths, a sports-themed jacuzzzi, and a dungeon (black leather furniture, cuffs and chains, and, oddly, two poles for dancing). Each girl also has her own room for entertaining.

As employees, the girls usually work for a week or two, and then leave for a few weeks so the roster is always changing. The maximum number that can be working at a given time is about 25. If someone shows up for work and all the spots are filled, they can sleep in a bunk room until a spot opens up.

Inside photos are not allowed because many of the girls are not "out" -- their friends and family don't know what their "other" job is and they don't want their photos on the internet. Also, some clients may also want to stay anonymous.

Everything was very clean, and Brandy explained that they take disease prevention very seriously. Sexual activity is only allowed in one jacuzzi, and that is sterilized after each encounter. Condoms are mandatory, no exceptions. And each girl visits a doctor for a checkup once a week.

It was a very interesting experience. As we were ending our tour, we saw another one on the way in -- a bunch of bikers, clad in leather and studs, peering cautiously into each room as they followed their tour guide, who was dressed in stiletto heels, leg warmers, and a lime green ruffled bikini with a bright pink bow "down there."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Quartzsite Businesses

See yesterday's entry for the first post about Quartzsite, AZ:

Here is a small sampling of the business world of Quartzsite in January:

What's the business here?

Ice Cream and Coffee from a hippie bus!

Lunch: Exotic Meats and Bugs

A Blacksmith Shop from a Skoolie

And last on today's photo tour (but definitional not least) is one of the most famous entrepreneurs in Quartzsite, Paul Winer, the proprietor of Q's used book store called "Readers Oasis Books." He is also known (for some reason that will soon become apparent) as The Naked Bookseller. No, there is nothing in back except a string, hidden where all good thong strings go. Yes, that is all he wears unless it is cold, when he'll add a shirt. Yes, you can see through the thong -- it is crocheted with lots of open spaces. No, John didn't think through the consequences of letting a blogger take this photo!

I think Paul's hat is a nice concession to the dangers of repeated exposure to solar radiation, don't you?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter Update -- At Last!

Boy, have I been a bad, bad, blogger!

Winter is not a "run around, see this, do that" sort of time for us. Instead, it is a hunker down, "Get-Away-From-The-Snow" kind of time. So we have been wandering around the southwest in search of just the right combination of weather, community, and scenery. The weather wasn't always cooperating -- we have had lots of days with lows in the 30s and 40s, but -- so far -- have not seen any precipitation that was white and fluffy.

One stop along the way was Quartzsite, Arizona in January. Quartzsite (RVers simply call it "Q") is a sleepy little desert town most of the year, populated by a dusty 4000 or so folks. Come January, however, about 1.5 million RVers descend on the tiny community, most "boondocking," or camping without hookups, for free on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Gem and Mineral shows, RV shows, swap meets, and the like provide a flurry of activity for several weeks as the "Winter Visitors" party.

I like to think of Quartzsite as "Spring Break For Geezers" -- lots of retirees, old hippies, and never-aging bikers are tooling around in convertibles, motorcycles, dune buggies, quads, and even the occasional moped. They buy "Wine a Bit, You'll Feel Better" flags, visor hats with fake shaggy hair on the top, ice cream cones at the ridiculous price of $4 a scoop, and even live "Pocket Pets," really a tiny palm-sized marsupial otherwise called a Sugar Glider. Did I mention you could buy a huge geode that looks like a urinal?

And they come in anything that can be called an RV:

Named "The Cat Dragged Inn"

Named "Inn Over Our Heads II"

Home Made And Street Legal

And many find a way to bring that ATV. As long as it is balanced and strapped down, what could possibly go wrong?

Tomorrow: Quartzsite businesses