Tag Archives: Scenery

There’s Greenery in Las Vegas After All

Cool Off in the Desert the Natural Way

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Our first visit to Las Vegas this summer was a blast. Great city. Great people. Great atmosphere. Great climate. But even we noticed the extreme desert heat. Realizing we needed to get some fresh air and cool off, our hosts recommended Mount Charleston. Also known as Charleston Peak, Mount Charleston, we were told, is a Colorado-like place with cooler temperatures and gorgeous mountain scenery.

What?! In Vegas?!?! This one we had to check out…

So off we went on the 40-minute drive northwest of Sin City. It wasn’t long before we noticed the desert landscape getting greener before our eyes. And up Charleston we drove, deeper into the Spring Mountains. Wow, they weren’t kidding. This place is awesome! It reminded us of our visit to Italy’s mountainous Trentino region years ago. And to think, Mount Charleston is only a short drive from Vegas; a very easy day trip. Plenty of places to park the car and enjoy the scenery, cooler temperatures, and numerous hiking trails that will take you deeper into the wilderness. All in Clark County. On the day we went in late August, it was 100 degrees in Vegas, but only 70 (with a light breeze) on Mt. Charleston.

There’s more to Vegas than visitors think. Mt. Charleston’s definitely a well-kept local secret.

More about Mount Charleston

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The Vastness of Salt

You’ve Officially Left Earth

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We waited a long time to see this place in person. The Bonneville Salt Flats is as close to an alien landscape on Planet Earth that you can find. We were drawn to it because it’s so…different. It’s the ultimate escape from reality.

The final fight between humanity and the alien queen in this summer’s Independence Day: Resurgence took place on the Flats, with a little help from CGI magic. We didn’t see any alien queens out here, but we were ready if one decided to show up. The Salt Flats is featured in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials–especially car commercials. Even Don Draper made an appearance in a modified 1970 Chevelle SS in the Mad Men series finale. Countless land speed records were set and broken here over the years.

It was a hot, dry day in July when we took off from the last paved road and waltzed onto what looked like oblivion. Driving on the Flats is an experience that’s second to none. Sure, you could take a few laps on a (paved) racetrack, but how about driving on a field of table salt, as fast as your car can go and in any direction, without the horizon changing? Distance is impossible to gauge out here. Once you drive a few miles inward, you can get out of the car and walk across the crunchy surface to take in the eerily silent, beaming white emptiness. Want to get away from civilization for a while? This will work.

You can drive as fast as you want to within the realms of safety. There’s no official speed limit. That’s why the Salt Flats is so popular for racing specialized cars. Since we visited shortly before the popular Speed Week, we were lucky enough to meet a crew working on a specialized car capable of going 400+ mph. It was in pieces at the time, undergoing final preparation, but it went on to race on the Bonneville International Speedway–a 9-mile stretch on the Flats marked by two blue (painted) lines–a couple of weeks later.

Some Words of Caution
But the fun things in life come with caution. Racing on the Salt Flats–professionally and for fun–comes with serious risk, so be prepared. We write these words of caution not to be condescending, but because we had a few hiccups out there ourselves, from almost driving into an abandoned spool of barbed wire that came out of nowhere–and would have probably shattered the windshield at our speed–to nearly running out of gas. The Bonneville Salt Flats are to be feared and revered.

The Salt Flats occupy a large swath of Northwestern Utah, but the best place to enter this magical land is right at the Utah/Nevada border at Wendover, UT, just across from West Wendover, NV (see map above). That would be Exit 4 on I-80, about a two-hour drive west of Salt Lake City.

Before entering the Salt Flats, please check with the local Bureau of Land Management office to make sure the Flats are drivable. They’re safe to drive on when dry, but it’s illegal to drive on the Salt Flats when wet, since it’s federally protected land. BLM will have up-to-date information for you and speed limit recommendations. They can be contacted hereThere will also be signs posted nearby to tell of the current conditions.

When driving on the flats, bring lots of water, cell phone, extra food, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and perhaps most importantly, a full tank of gas. Driving on the salt is like driving on very crisp, crunchy snow, so your car’s gas mileage will be terrible. We could actually see the fuel gauge move down as the speedometer moved up. It could costs hundreds to have your car towed.

Those of us who have spent even one winter in the Northeast know all too well the effects salt has on a car. WE’RE NOT GOING TO LIE: YOU WILL GET SALT ON AND UNDER YOUR CAR. LOTS OF IT. It could cost a lot of money and time to get all the salt off the underside of your car; one car wash is simply not enough. We spent $100 at do-it-yourself car washes over the course of two weeks getting salt out of every crevasse. In the end, it was all worth it to us since it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but we advise you, the reader, to enter the Bonneville Salt Flats at your own risk.

LINKS
Contact the Bureau of Land Management for updates on drivability and conditions.

Bonneville Salt Flats FAQ
Utah Salt Flats Racing Association
Learn more about Speed Week

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The Elusive White Deer of Upstate New York

Brought to You by the United States Army

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A very special thank you to Seneca White Deer, Inc., the  nonprofit that works tirelessly to preserve this piece of nature and wildlife, and who are responsible for organizing these white deer tours. The people working for Seneca White Deer were amazingly helpful to UWanderings as we got to know the history of the Seneca Army Depot and see the furry critters that call this place home.

Our recent trip to see this elusive white deer population was nothing short of amazing. This is the world’s largest population of white deer. They aren’t mutants, they aren’t albinos…they’re actually just white tailed deer. But they’ve been enclosed in a 10,000 acre compound for almost 80 years, relatively undisturbed, so they’ve had a chance to breed and pass on this rare, recessive gene that makes them primarily white in color without too much in the way of natural predators.

The site of the white deer is also of major historical significance. They live on what used to be the Seneca Army Depot, a munitions depot built by the U.S. Army in the summer of 1941—in anticipation of America’s likely looming involvement in World War II. Though useful for the war effort, the construction of this giant project came at a sad cost: over 100 families–many farmers–were given short notice to vacate. In other words, they were evicted and poorly compensated. The remains of some foundations are still visible today. However, the end of the Second World War didn’t mean the Depot was obsolete. The Cold War was just heating up, and this place was anything but redundant.

The Seneca Army Depot, or “the Depot”, as it was locally known, was a large repository of Cold War era weapons when it was still active. But the absolute secrecy of the place, coupled with the government barely acknowledging its existence in the first place, contributed to its mysterious nature and an uncomfortable level of anxiety by the community. It was Upstate New York’s Area 51.

Officially, the U.S. government kept a tight lid on the Depot’s inventory—and what went on there—by confirming nothing. But it was widely believed that aside from traditional munitions like bullets and artillery, the Depot was also home to a fairly large stockpile of nuclear weapons, ready to be deployed anywhere in the world at a moments’ notice. And because of the perceived nuclear inventory, it was also thought that the Seneca Army Depot was a top target on the Soviet hit list in the event of a nuclear exchange, so the site was not without controversy.

Interior of one of the more than 500 concrete igloos at the former Seneca Army Depot, likely packed to the top with munitions during the Cold War.

The secrecy and denial by Uncle Sam didn’t stop the countless anti-nuclear weapons protesters from demonstrating right outside its gates over the years, with many getting arrested for disrupting operations or even trying to break in by scaling the fence. There was even a well known group of anti-war women who continuously camped out adjacent to the Depot grounds so as to permanently remind the U.S. government that not everyone was comfortable with having nukes in their backyards.

Despite the mysteries that went on behind the fence, the white deer well known due to their occasional appearances at the border fence for passersby. The deer were protected by the soldiers that were based there, thanks to an early base commander who, in 1949, saw the first white deer on the Depot grounds and ordered all personnel to leave them alone. They were not to be hunted or bothered. The orders stood for the rest of the time the Depot operated. They even become an unofficial mascot of the Depot and the people who worked there. Now that the base is inactive, declassified, and in private hands, locals are flocking to see these white deer up close and, because it was forbidden for so long, the base itself.

This tour was awesome, not just because of the deer, but also because of all the other wildlife we saw. It’s a virtual nature preserve. Osprey, eagles, beavers, wild turkeys, turkey vultures…and so much more. And of course, there’s plenty of normal colored deer with fluffy white tails. They’re actually pretty cute.

Part of the fun with this tour is keeping a keen eye on the scenery to spot the white deer. Sometimes they’re obvious; other times, you have to intently look around as the bus moves through the terrain, so don’t be shy about shouting out “There’s one!”, at which point the bus will stop or back up so everyone can get a better view. You can really get into it. On the cold, overcast day we visited, the deer weren’t in the mood to come right up to our bus, as they sometimes do, but the sparse spring foliage made them easy to spot through the trees. But they moved fast, so our photography was a little shaky.

Although there are some small developments here and there, most of the former Depot is still either wild nature or nature that’s slowly reclaiming the land from manmade structures, which gives the whole base a sort of zombie apocalypse vibe. And since Zombies are cool right now, that definitely makes this tour much more interesting. For all the military buffs out there, there are over 500 weapons storage bunkers, otherwise known as igloos, that still stand to this day. Talk about Cold War relics. We even got to go inside one. It was pretty cool–check out the video above for more on that.

Seneca White Deer has been running these tours for about six months now, and they’re catching on fast. Since people from all over the world visit the Finger Lakes region for the wine, it’s only a matter of time before they come to see the deer, too. White deer simply don’t exist in such large numbers anywhere else in the world.

It’s human nature to explore things that are rare and unusual. Perfect for us, perfect for the curious travelers out there like you.

So we welcome you to join us as we discover the white deer of the Finger Lakes, and do be sure visit for yourself someday. The deer will be here to say “hi.”

LINKS
Seneca White Deer, Inc.


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San Francisco’s Hotel Zephyr is a Playground for Adults

And it’s Awesome!

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We thought we saw it all when we walked into the micro hotel at London Gatwick Airport (which was really freaking cool!), but Hotel Zephyr captivated us in a different way. The rooms resemble staterooms on a cruise ship, complete with porthole windows and private balconies with spectacular views. The lobby and common areas have circular benches, murals with a modern twist (like Popeye the Sailor with tribal tattoo sleeves), games galore, and walls lined with the doors of old shipping containers—a fitting touch for the Bay Area.

But it wasn’t until we ventured out to the hotel’s courtyard that our flashback to childhood was complete. From the oversized game of Connect Four to a Ping-Pong table that’s not actually a table—but a giant pipe straight out of Super Mario World—to the periscope that provides guests with a view over the hotel’s fence, this is truly what Hotel Zephyr is all about (and markets itself as): a playground for adults! It’s a really great way to unwind after spending the day exploring this magnificent city.

Oh, and the food is great, too!

Located in San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, Hotel Zephyr is only a short walk to Pier 39, which we also found time to explore later on that evening.

LINKS
Hotel Zephyr
Pier 39

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World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

Only in Vermont

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We found ourselves in Burlington, VT a couple of weeks ago. So, first off, Burlington is awesome! If we had to do college all over again, we would have gone there! Great college town, great local craft beers, and come on–Ben and Jerry’s! It’s just a young, hip town in a state known for its complete coolness.

Then we found this, the world’s tallest filing cabinet. OK, so it’s actually a bunch of filing cabinets stacked on top of each other, but seriously, where else would you find such a thing?! Definitely worth a look before your trip to the next local brew house. ”

Could you file this in drawer 31? Thanks.”


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