Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Road Trip: New Mexico Loop

Another set of days off! Our plan, the seven of us, was to go to New Mexico via Southern Arizona and get some first class American culture. To say we had the foundation of a plan is a massive, massive lie and after renting the cars on the Thursday we set off down towards Phoenix on Friday at 6am with pretty much no idea of what we were going to do.

Phoenix is not over-rated, because no one rates it to start with so we sent sailing past there and stopped around Tucson to fill up on petrol. We could have visited Tucson but we had finally come to the conclusion of visiting Saguaro National Park further South so we carried on. We ended up visiting Saguaro (with the massive cactus) and then Chiricahua National Monument (with the massive rock pillars) in the day before ending up in small town America at Willcox. This was basically a ghost town and we were lucky to find a petrol station, both because you wouldn't expect to see one in such a place and we really needed petrol. Somehow we stumbled across a Texan BBQ restaurant that was actually a train and so the majority of our first evening was spent inside a train carriage in a dead beat town. Rather than stay in Willcox we headed east into New Mexico and decided to do some night driving so we could get to Las Cruces and be in a good place to start the next days travel.

After an awesome breakfast at Pancake Alley we headed to White Sands National Monument which is basically a collection of brilliant white sand dunes in a desert. It was shocking to see it there as it looked completely out of place but it was beautiful at the same time. Like kids we ran about on the dunes and rolled down them. This was a fairly brief visit and we were soon on our way to Roswell. We didn't necessarily want to visit Roswell but it was a good connecting location for our journey South. The drive to Roswell from White Sands only took about an hour and a half but it was probably the best driving experience of my life so far. We had to descend quite a distance and at one point it was just both of our cars on the longest, straightest stretch of road you have ever seen. Nothing in front, nothing behind for miles, and you lost the road in the horizon. We had identical cars and so it was only fair to have a mini race. I was comfortably doing 115 mph when Hayley came racing past closer to 130mph. Unfortunately this wasn't the first time a girl has beaten me at something but we got to speed all over the state to be honest as the roads are so empty and so inviting!

Roswell turned out to be pretty boring as we had been told it would be. We paid a quick visit to the UFO museum and headed South to Carlsbad. We wound up in a pretty little motel and went back to Carlsbad to get some beer and wine for a little house party in our rooms. The next morning we were up nice and early to visit the Carlsbad Caverns which are undescribale. Just a massive space beneath the earth with amazing rock formations, stalacmites and stalactites. My pictures don't really do it justice as it was obviously dark but it was probably the highlight of my trip. Also, the entrance to the caverns is at the top of a large hill and there were amazing panoramic views into Texas for miles around.

After Carlsbad we headed North and visited the smaller Las Vegas. This was pretty pointless as it was Sunday and everything was either closed our out of business. I definitely prefer the Nevada version. That evening we arrived in Santa Fe and ate at the highly recommended Cowgirl Hall of Fame Cafe. This was the best meal of the trip and I had some rib burger which was humongous! The next morning we spent a few hours looking around Santa Fe at which point it began to snow! Unbelievable. I visited the Georgia O'Keefe museum which was fun in places but I expected more. American Hayley was due to go out on project today and so we set off for Flagstaff at around 1pm, stopping in Gallup at the famous El Rancho hotel. Apparently Ronald Reagan stayed there! 1500 miles in just over 3 days and you get see all of the pictures here.

Project 3: Lake Mohave

Back to Lake Mead National Recreation Area for the third project but this time we would be based at Lake Mohave, south of the Hoover Dam rather than further up at Lake Mead. The object of this project was to remove Tamarisk trees from the around the shoreline of the lake. The Tamarisk trees were introduced basically because studies showed that they would flourish. As Lake Mohave was man made the powers that be preferred a species of tree that would grow quickly to help the lake look more natural. The only problem was that they flourished rapidly and more effectively than anyone ever thought possible. Basically each tree consumes around 200 litres of water a day and then dumps a whole load of salt back into the earth, making it nigh on impossible for native species such as Mesquite and a type of Willow to grow.

We had two crews each with two supervisors who were chainsawed trained. Their job was to identify a native species of tree, they would then chainsaw all of the surrounding Tamarisk in order to free it up. We then had to drag these branches and in most cases whole trees around 150 metres across the desert to a slash pile. We then had a sprayer would had a specially designed herbicide that they would spray on the stumps to stop the Tamarisk growing back.

My week started badly as on the first full day I had a really bad head and felt very sick. It didn't help that at the end of the day we had to move camp as we had found a more suitable spot. I couldn't eat a thing at dinner but Sam, our supervisor, recognised that I was dehydrated and ordered me to eat dinner and drink a litre of water. He certainly knows his stuff as half an hour later I was as right as rain. I've been so good with my water intake up until then and even on that day I drank over four litres but it gets hot and is so dry that I'm now averaging six just to be on the safe side.

That evening we watched the sun set over Lake Mohave and we would get to do this every evening as unlike Lake Mead we were on Mountain time and not Pacific. It is so nice getting back to camp after a 10 hour day and it not being dark. Sam has his crews set up a bit differently as well. We break into sets of 3 and take turns to cook the dinner and wash up each and every day, which means rather than everyone getting involved (which we did previously and it worked well) you get to chill out and not do a thing around camp on at least four days. Sitting by the lake watching the sunset, waiting for someone to cook you dinner is a nice feeling. Also we were able to have a fire every single night as our job was cutting down trees which were to be destroyed. The fires were the highlight of my day and probably the trip. You work hard all day, get back to a gorgeous sunset over the lake, someone cooks you dinner and washes up for you and then you get to relax by a roaring fire, looking up at the most amazing starry sky and if you're lucky (which I was) see a few shooting stars. Just perfect.

We really hit our targets on this project and hopefully some of our hard work will go to helping some of the native species of tree continue to grow. You can view all of the pics here.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Road Trip: Las Vegas

I was going to write about my second project and had typed up this big essay but the computer at the library has been infected with a virus and Blogger didn't automatically save it, so instead of typing it all up again I'm going straight to the Vegas. The second project was basically the same work as the first one apart from what I like to call brutal Sunday where we planted over 1200 cactus and had injuries with hospital visits. You can view the photos from the second project here .

So, Vegas. First of all we rented a Toyota Four-runner which turned out to be a best of a car, it seated seven and it was like driving a tank. I thought I would struggle with the drive but it turned out to be easier than I thought. The roads are so big and there's no one around in this parts of the states that it was probably the nicest four hour drive I have ever made. Plus I got to drive over the Hoover Dam and on the strip in the same day!

We checked into our hotel around 2.30pm, the world famous Hooters Casino and Hotel resort, yeah baby! You know it's classy when they have an ex porn star signing autogrpahs in the afternoon. We sorted all of our stuff out and went to meet Karl who had injured his back on project and instead of going back to Flagstaff, had returned to Vegas to stay with his uncle. He was our guide and showed us around some of the casinos at the top of the strip. On the first day we pretty much covered the MGM Grand, New York:New York, The Excalibur, The Luxor and Mandalay bay.

After a quick shower we decided to check out the buffet at the Bellagio. I had heard about this before and it also had an amazing write up in Lonely Planet and I can confirm it is all true. Okay it was $40 a head but the food and the atmosphere were world class. On one plate I had Ostrich and Kobe beef! The Sushi was also amazing and the cheesecake might actually have come from heaven. Unfortunately, this sort of standard attracts a certain type of clientele and the bellagio is for the high rollers, there are no $2 tables here! As such, we moved on to gamble at the City Centre Casino and Hotel.

After a late night I started the next day with a trip to an indoor gun range where I had a go on a Glock pistol and shot an Osama Bin Laden target in the head. This may sound strange but the gun was louder than I expected and the aim is never true, you have to aim slightly higher than where you actually want to hit. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the strip and having a few small bets here and there. We then went for another buffet at the Tropicana and it was slightly cheaper than the Bellagio and as such the quality was slightly lower. The girls then went to a male strip show and me and the boys set about the Hooters Casino where I managed to win back most of my losses for the first day.

I am having to rush this and will edit it next week when I get back but basically Vegas was amazing, the Stratosphere at night was breathtaking and you can see all of the pictures here.