December 2013

Ivanpah and All

Here’s the final post in my Great Desert Adventure with Rina.


Let’s start with a shot of the Ivanpah solar plant, about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas just north of I-15.


Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System

Want better photos?  Take a virtual tour.

We’d planned to spend tomorrow with Spencer and Tammy Harris at their almond farm out from Bakersfield, so we stopped for the night at a cheap motel in Bakersfield and had dinner at a truly dreadful Mexican restaurant next door.  Actually, the high point of Bakersfield was spotting beside the motel a gorgeous specimen in full bloom of the rare Millennium plant, Radiolus grandiflora.

Radiolus grandiflora

And since we both had seriously overestimated our strength, instead of spending the day with Tammy and Spencer, we just stopped by to say hello to Tammy on our way back to San Francisco.  Here’s the almond farm.

Harris almond farm near Shafter

A great trip but exhausting.  Actually, there was only one problem with Rina’s visit – both of us gained four kilograms during her stay.  I report it in kilos because that doesn’t sound as bad as nine pounds.  I mean, i starved myself for two years to lose eighteen pounds and gained half of it back in three weeks.  Musta been all that pie and ice cream.

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Hoover Dam and Pat Tillman Bridge

Now, back to the desert road trip with Rina.

Actually, there’s a good reason to visit Las Vegas.  It’s an hour from Hoover Dam and the Pat Tillman Bridge, and our excursion to see the dam and bridge was, for me, the high point of the trip.

I’d seen the bridge last spring but had not walked onto it, and i’d seen the dam twice before but had never taken the time to do the tour down inside it.  This time i accomplished both objectives.  Capsule review:  do both.

US highway 93 was originally a two-lane highway connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix and crossed the Grand Canyon on top of Hoover Dam.  Unfortunately there were hairpin turns on both sides of the dam and the dam itself could accommodate only two lanes, making expanding the highway impossible.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful drive if you were not in a hurry, but by the 1990’s, traffic had increased to the point that there were multiple-hour delays to get over the dam.  A bridge was necessary.

And we ended up with the magnificent Pat Tillman Bridge parallel to the dam and just a few hundred yards south of it.  Barriers on both sides of the bridge prevent people in vehicles from looking down into the canyon, doubtless for safety reasons although this does not seem to have been deemed necessary for other bridges with great views, like the Golden Gate.  Still, there’s a pedestrian/bike pathway on the north side of the bridge that is accessible from a parking lot off the road leading to the dam.

Spectacular views from the pedestrian pathway.  Here’s the road leading to the dam, as seen from the bridge.


Hoover Dam access road from the Pat Tillman bridge


And the dam itself.


Hoover Dam seen from the Pat Tillman Bridge

Immediately before the dam, there’s a parking garage that provides access to the dam, the public building at its end, and the interior.  I just love that deco architecture.


Hoover Dam admin building


And what about these light fixtures!  Almost as fine as the ones on the Golden Gate Bridge.


Hoover Dam light fixtures


And inside?  Well, aside from the usual gift shop, you can get tours down into the bowels of the dam, during which you get a wealth of information about the construction of the dam and then get to see the giant turbines that generate enough electricity to power the southwest at the time they were built and still are a valuable source of renewable energy.


Hoover Dam turbines


And surely you didn’t think you could escape a pic of the bridge.


Pat Tillman Bridge


OK, here’s a more traditional shot.


Pat Tillman Bridge


And finally, to make your visit more secure


Don't feed the terrorists


Turn your neighbors in, and don’t feed the terrorists.




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Selfie – 13 December

The phenomenon of the “selfie” is sweeping the planet, and since i’m always eager to be au courant, i was just waiting for an appropriate opportunity.  Well, it occurred.

Yesterday night i was segwaying home from a Friendly Visitor volunteer meeting and had got to the corner of Noe on Market Street.  Unfortunately, a streetcar and two automobiles were ahead of me in the left turn lane, so i quickly assessed the oncoming traffic situation and realized that i could zip across Market Street and use the pedestrian crosswalk to get onto Noe rather than having to wait for two lights.  I’ve done this before, and it’s legal since with the handicap permit i can use the crosswalks and sidewalks.

Alas i forgot i wasn’t in the crosswalk and that there was an elevated curb designed to prevent such shortcuts before the crosswalk.  So i hit it and fell on my face.  I’ve never been so embarrassed.  Well, at least not since my last accident.

But grabbed my smashed glasses off the street and dragged the Segway out of the traffic lane to the lee of the elevated streetcar stop to take inventory.  Ahhh, not so bad:  both legs working, both arms and all fingers working.  Whew, what luck.  Better yet, it was dark enough that nobody seemed to even notice my pratfall.

But just as i was about to restart the Segway and make my escape, a twenty-something couple appeared, inquiring if i were OK.  Of course, of course.  No problem here, but many thanks for your concern.  Just three blocks from home so i’ll just get up there and be fine.

Ummm, dude, you’re bleeding all over the street.

Put my hand to my face and yep, it came off wet and bright red, which was distracting enough that i let them lead me across the outbound lane to the curb.  They procured wads of paper towels for me to hold against my forehead and upper lip, where most of the blood was coming from, and then began reasoning with me about the need for medical attention, repeatedly pointing out that when i removed one of the wads of towels to gesticulate, the bleeding resumed vigorously.

After some  negotiation, i gave them my solemn promise that i would just turn right at the corner and go straight to the ER at Davies Hospital, three blocks north on Noe, but somehow they had figured me out and were not reassured.  After much more negotiation we agreed that they’d walk alongside me to escort me to the ER.

Which we did.  Luckily, i was able to conceal from them that a combination of blood in my eyes and mangled glasses had left me half blind, but i managed to lead them to the secret back entrance to the hospital, where i chained up the Segway and pointed out to them the big red arrow reading Emergency Room, saying if they’d just give me their contact information i could make it the rest of the way inside the hospital, neglecting to mention that we were still quite some distance, both horizontally and vertically, from the ER.

Alas, they suspected as much and insisted on accompanying me all the way.  He stayed with me at my shuffling pace while she sprinted ahead for help, thinking she was going to trick me into getting into a wheelchair.  Luckily, none was immediately available, and she met us at the first turn, having returned with a big black security guard.  What’s the problem? he asked.  For once, i had a ready answer:

They beat me up…but then had the decency to bring me to the hospital.

This is the city and stranger things have happened, so it’s probably good that after a brief pause while the guard seemed to be weighing this information and finding it plausible, i burst into laughter and admitted i’d fallen in the street and that they were my benefactors.

Finally they turned me over to the ER and gave me their contact information.  They’re Charity and Ben, and i sure hope they’re a couple because they’re both really good looking, smart, quick thinkers, and generous….and that’s a winning combination.

The ER?  Well, it was an ER.  So they had me sit over there for quite a while until the shock had worn off and things were starting to hurt enough for me to fully appreciate the experience.  Then one of the people who’d been milling around aimlessly came over and got my identification so they could check whether i had any insurance.  And finally when i came up qualified i was put in a stall where a nurse eventually examined my wounds and said i definitely needed to be sewn up.  And so finally a doctor came in and announced that he was here to make me handsome.

You’re decades too late, doc.

And so we established our rapport, and i got him to talk to me about what he was doing, which made it entertaining.  When he was working on the stitches inside my mouth,  i realized he was struggling and asked if i could hold my head in a better position for him.

What you could have done was lacerate yourself in a more accessible place.

It took him a full hour since my upper lip was so mangled that the stitching had to be convoluted to find spots that would hold a stitch.

Oh, and just in case anybody’s thinking i’m exaggerating, here’s a selfie i took while i was waiting for the doctor to sew me up.

ER selfie


And just to reassure everyone, before i rode home from the hospital, i cranked the caution level up to Orange.


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Stays in Las Vegas

Well, but first you have to get to Las Vegas, which we did using I-10 and I-15 through Joshua tree habitat.

 Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree)


I had not been to Las Vegas since i stopped there to spend the night on my way back to Texas with my friend Dick in late August, 1974.   I was horrified at the sight of rows of middle-aged women sitting in front of slot machines with paper cups of coins in front of them, rhythmically pulling the handles in a compulsive frenzy.  The sight of those automata was so disquieting that i never went back.

But Rina was curious to see this slice of Americana, and i had heard tales of the increased variety of excellent shows available now.  Besides, i also remembered that the rooms, drinks, and food were cheap since the casinos made their money off the gambling.   Rina wanted to stay in a nice place, so i agreed, what the hell, it wouldn’t hurt me to spend a couple of nights in a luxury hotel once in my life.  So we booked the Luxor, which turned out to be the only bargain we found.

Times have changed.  The first disappointment, at least for Rina, was that owing to the unseasonably cold weather (temperatures were actually pleasant), the swimming pool area was closed and you couldn’t even lounge around beside the pool.  For me, the big disappointment was the high price and low quality of food and drink.  The only food i enjoyed in the Luxor was the frozen yogurt (from the same company we’d discovered in Palm Springs).   And we’d thought we’d see some shows, but quickly discovered that we could see the same shows in our native cities for the same price.  Besides, we’d been vacationing so hard that we were too tired to stay up past nine.

But what about the sights?  Well, let’s start with the Luxor, a thirty-story black glass pyramid rising in splendid, austere majesty.  Achingly beautiful, and surrounded with hideous faux Egyptian monstrosities.

Luxor Sphinx


Ahh, those blue eyes that made Nefertiti swoon.

And inside?  Well, what do you do about a spectacular space with thirty stories of interior balconies stepping up to the peak?  Easy, fill it with hideous copies of Egyptian schlock…and then throw in some stuff that doesn’t even seem related.


Luxor interior


What about the rest of Las Vegas?  Well, the second afternoon i drove us down the Strip, and over and over saw juxtaposed the sublime and the ridiculous.   Why? I wondered.  And then it struck me:  it’s designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, so of course they have to mix a little beauty in with the ugliness.

And no, neither of us spent a dime gambling, but there was a moment that shined a bright light on that.  The morning we were leaving, we shared an elevator to the parking garage with a couple of middle-aged men whose body language i found somehow a bit off.  After we left them, Rina nailed it by observing that they sure looked like they’d lost too much money.

What stays in Las Vegas is the money.


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