Arizona – February, 2017


Once again I made a winter sojourn to the Valley of the Sun to visit friends, go to the NHRA drag race, and enjoy some clear blue skies and sunshine for a few days.  What a special treat to leave 40° weather, clouds, and snow flurries for clear skies and 80° weather in Arizona!

And it would have REALLY been great if things had worked out like that!  This has been the strangest winter I’ve ever seen in Tennessee, and apparently that weirdness spread to the western part of the country as well.  It was in the 60’s when I left home so I packed my jacket in my suitcase.  When I got to Phoenix it was raining!  Wait, RAIN?  In Arizona?  It NEVER rains all day in Arizona, but it did.  And most of the day on Sunday as well.  My friend said it ws absolutely unheard of.  He was really amazed when it rained and snowed on us in Death Valley later in the week, and also when we left for the drag race on Friday and he had frost on his windshield.

But the rain and clouds didn’t last.  By Monday morning the skies were crystal clear and a shade of blue only visible in the southwest.  It was cool, but to a Tennessee boy it just felt “Nice and comfortable”.

Here are the highlights of the trip.  Each of them is a link to the section on this page so if you want to skip directly to a section click the appropriate link.

Commemorative Air Force – Airbase Arizona – Mesa, AZ – February 19, 2017

The Commemorative Air Force – Airbase Arizona is a division of the Commemorative Air Force located at Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ.  Their mission is to “acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States, and selected aircraft of other nations, for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.”  Each base has a selected group of aircraft maintained by volunteers that may be viewed or, in some cases, one can go for a ride in some of the aircraft.  Either way, lots of aviation-related eye candy, and a fabulous way to spend an afternoon.


The Strip At Las Vegas – Las Vegas, NV – February 20-21, 2017

Las Vegas is a world unto itself.  It never sleeps nor does it slow down much.  At any time during the day or night people will be in the casinos gambling or just walking along The Strip.  I didn’t take many photographs there this year, and those that I did take were with my cell phone, however there are a number on this site frmo my Vegas 2015 visit.  There are a few below as well as a couple of videos of the fountains at the Bellagio, but I was just having too much fun watching everything that was going on to lug a camera around and focus on taking photographs.  After all, it was a vacation ;)
 
The Fountains at The Bellagio – Video #1
The Fountains at The Bellagio – Video #2
   


The Mob Museum – Las Vegas, NV – February 21, 2017

The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas, NV is a really interesting museum that chronicles the rise of organized crime in the United States.  Housed in the former Federal Building and Post Office the museum has many artifacts, displays, and videos separated onto three floors of the structure that provide a stark and realistic look at how organized crime got started in the USA and howe it built to an enormous web of organizations throughout the country.  The interior is, in many places, dark and gloomy which accurately reflects a dark time in our history as a county.  Stop and take a look sometime, it is really interesting.


Death Valley – California – February 22, 2017

While we were visiting Death Valley the term that kept coming to mind was “Diversity” because the entire 3.4 million acre facility changes from one end to the other.  Snow-capped mountain peaks bracket the salt flats in Badwter Basin, the lowest point in the United States.  Sand dunes meld back into more mountains.  The colors of the rock constantly change from brown to red to green and back again.  I really believe that Death Valley is an area where one could spend a lifetime and never see everything.  What chance did we have spending a day there?

There is a map of the park on the Death Valley National Park web site at This URL if you want to follow along with the route we took.  Just below the interactive map there is a link to a PDF version of the map.  There is also a LOT of excellent information about Death Valley and the National Park on the web site.

Death Valley itself lies between the Amargosa Mountain Range on the east and the Panamint Mountain Range on the west.  We entered the park at the southeast corner by way of Shoshone, CA and then headed southwest across the Amargosa Mountain Range through Salsberry Pass and Jubilee Pass.  We then turned northwest on Badlands Road with our first stop at Badwater Basin.  The photographs below were taken from the car between Pahrump, NV and Badwter Basin.

Badwater Basin is the lowet point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level.  One of the photographs below shows a small sign on the side of the mountain beside the road.  That sign reads “Sea Level” and is at the level of the ocean at the coast.  If a deep trench was dug between Badwater Basin and the Pacific Ocean then Badwater Basin, and the surrounding area, would flood to the level of that sign.

Badwater Basin is also a salt flat and all of the white that is visible in the photographs is dried salt from an ancient saltwater lake that once covered the area.
   

From Badwater Basin we continued northwest to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (where I scored another National Park Passport Stamp).  We had intended on stopping at Devil’s Golf Course and Artists Palette however both roads were closed at the time.  The photos below were takin along Badwater Road between Badwater Basin and the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

From the visitor center at Furnace Creek we headed southeast.  Our plan was to stop at Zabriskie Point and then continue on down to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  The road to Twenty Mule Team Canyon was closed but Zabriskie Point was open.  The photos below were taken on the road between the Visitor Center and Zabriskie point, and at Zabriskie Point itself.
     

While at Zabriskie Point a couple looking at the scenery commented to us that while it was beautiful it wasn’t as scenic as the views at Dantes View.  That’s all we needed to hear so on to the southeast we headed to see if they were right.
 

After Dantes View we retraced our steps back northwest to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and then continued heading up Highway 190.  Our first stop was the Harmony Borax Works.

As previously, a few from the drive up and several from the Harmony Borax Works.

About 5 miles further up Highway 190 one will find the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where the gravel of the desert turns into brown sand.  All around the sand dunes more desert rock can be seen so these dunes appear to have just sprouted in this one localized area for some reason.

The skies kept getting darker and darker.  The light was really odd because it was so dark in the distance however the dunes themselves were bathed in bright sunlight.  How the skies looked, however, depended on which way I was facing at any given moment.

Before we found out what a real thunderstorm was like in Death Valley we headed a couple of miles west to Stovepipe Wells Village, one of the few places in the park with a gas station and a restaurant.  We were OK on gas but something from the restaurant sounded pretty good to us!
Pulling into Stovepipe Wells we could see a lot of dust storm on the horizon, and it didn’t take long for it to get to where we were.  The wind was howling, the dust was blowing, and even inside the restaurant we could smell the dust that was getting in through any crack it could find.
Our waitress walked up and asked, “What can I do for you guys today?”  I answered, “Well, you can tell me what that is.” to which she responded, “What what is?”  I just pointed out the window and said, “That!”  She looked out the window and yelled, “Holy CRAP!  What the hell is THAT????”  That pretty much got the attention of everyone in the restaurant and the cameras started clicking.  Unfortunately I had left mine in the car so I had to use my cell phone but this is what we saw.

After the storm and dust spot / tornado / dust devil / whatever dissipated and we had finished our meal we headed back southeast along Highways 190 and 374 toward Beatty, NV and then back to Las Vegas.
The weather wasn’t finished with us though, and in a few miles it started raining.  Hard.  And as we got higher into the Amargosa Mountains the temperature started dropping from the low 50’s to the mid 30’s and the rain had snow mixed with it.  What a trip!


Bearizona Wildlife Park – Williams, AZ – February 23, 2017

Bearizona Wildlife Park is a very unique experience.  While I suppose it could be classified as a “Zoo” it really isn’t.  Most of the animals are in large open areas with nothing but cattle grates separating the areas.  Yes, it is fenced around the perimeter but each area is several acres in size so the animals have PLENTY of room to move around, exercise, play, and live a good life.  Some of the smaller animals are in zoo-like enclosures but even those are far larger than those found in most zoos.  For example, there are a pair of Red Foxes living an area at least an acre in size.  Not too bad for a pair of small animals.

The facility is also unique in that they offer bus tours of the large areas (at no charge!) and visitors are also free to drive their own vehicles through the area.  They are advised to keep the windows up and keep moving in some areas though ;)

When we arrived the bus tour didn’t start for about 30 minutes so we wandered around the smaller exhibits for a bit.

The next group of photographs are from the bus tour.  The bus didn’t have windows but I was shooting down at the animals in many cases.
   

The tour guide on the bus told us that the animals were getting active because it was about time for them to be fed.  She said that they can always tell when the “Red Pickup Truck” is making its rounds.

When the bus tour finished we hopped in the car to take our own tour.  As soon as we got through the gate the “Red Pickup Truck” came into view so we got to watch the animals enjoy their meal.  It is amazing how deftly a Black Bear can peel an orange to get to the fruit inside.  A scrape with those huge claws goes through the peel quite easily leaving the fruit completely untouched.

A few more photos of the same animals in different poses follow.
   

The two bear cubs below are absolutely adorable.  Here’s the scenario of what transpired:

  • One of the cubs was snoozing while the other was playing with and chewing on a tree limb.
  • Cub #1 wakes up, rolls over, notices his sibling having fun with the stick and decides he needs to play with it to.
  • Cub #1 takes the stick but Cub #2 is having none of that so the fight is on.
  • They wrestle around for about 15 minutes or so until Cub #1 decides that his nap was more fun and goes back to his log.
 


NHRA Arizona Nationals – Chandler, AZ – February 24, 2017

This is the fourth time I’ve been to the Arizona Nationals, and I’ve made it each year for the past three years.  Given all of the things we’ve done this week I can’t really call it the highlight of my trip, but it came close!

In The Pits …

 

People …

   

On The Track – Sportsman Classes …

   

On The Track – Top Dragster …

On The Track – Pro Stock …

 

On The Track – Top Fuel Funny Car …

As happens each year, I apologize in advance for all the disembodied heads poking up into the photographs.  It’s inevitable that as soon as the fuel cars hit the track many people feel that it’s okay for them to abandon their assigned seats in favor of standing at the wall and blocking the view of people behind them.  I got some excellent photos of both funny cars and top fuel cars, all of them with big fat heads blocking half of the photograph.  For a few minutes I had one little area between heads that I tried to shoot through, and sure as hell someone else parked a half-bald head right in the middle of it.  To them I would like to say thank you very much for messing things up for those behind you.

On The Track – Top Fuel Dragster …

 

Home Again – February 25, 2017

So there you have a week in the deserts and mountains of the western USA.  And as always it was a most memorable trip that wouldn’t have happened without mt friends and hosts.  They took me in for a week, drove me around, and hopefully had as much fun as I did.  Also as always my sincere thanks to them for having me.