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The North Platte River follows us north!

Temporarily leaving the Lincoln Highway behind

Room 424, Hampton Inn, Green River, WY
16.35 Thursday 5th May

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wherever we've been on this trip since we left Omaha, we've followed the Union Pacific Railroad and the North Platte River. I can understand that the railroad will have various lines in different directions but I have to admit to being a bit confused about the North Platte River. We go north, and we are on it. We have come back south again, and it's still there. I need to find a map of its course before I go potty!

Before I begin, here is today's handy hint. (No there have not been any before and there may not be any more, but this is today's). Those showercaps they give you in bathrooms in hotels etc. We found a use for them! As bowl tops for the fridge or microwave. Bob makes a big fruit salad each week and we keep it in the fridge to dip into. A shower cap on top of the bowl is ideal!

Now, we left Ogallala on Tuesday morning, early, and drove north west, following the course of the railroad and the North Platte river, of course, on Highway 26. The main destination was another "Fort of the Northwest", this time Fort Laramie.

Almost immediately we realise that we have been doing the state of Nebraska a disservice. There ARE hills here, albeit in the "panhandle" between South Dakota and Colorado. Arguably, these hills could well have been located in either of those states! And we encounter the first snow of this trip which fell the week before when there were horrendous storms.

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Almost without fail the villages and towns we passed through were established as the UPR (aka Union Pacific Railroad) worked its way northwards.

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On the way to Fort Laramie, we visited two significant and, to the American Indians, holy, geological features. To the emigrants, they were important landmarks on their trek westwards. The Oregon and California Trails followed the south bank of the North Platte River, (henceforth known as NPR) and the Mormon trail followed the North Bank, the Mormons not wishing to mix with the "Gentiles" apparently.

Arthur, for some reason, has to keep reminding Stan of the original name of Chimney Rock. Native Americans named the rock "Elk Penis" after the penis of the adult male elk. This made more sense to those who had lived for centuries on the plains than comparing the rock to a feature from a white man's building. Prim and proper usage among Anglo-Americans, though, overwhelmingly preferred the more delicate name "chimney." Boo!

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This feature is protected as a National Historic Site and maintained and the visitor centre operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. A brilliant exhibit provided us with yet more insight into the Emigrant journey west and the effect and relationship with the local Native Americans,

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On we moved to the next feature which was Scotts Bluff. Here we tried to buy a National Parks pass which would work out cheaper than paying entrance fees to each park we visit. However, the elderly "ranger" had not been on the "issuing a parks pass course" and the woman who did that "had just gone to lunch and would be back later". We gave up and got away without paying. We will buy a pass as soon as we can so that's fair enough.

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North of Scotts Bluff, we crossed the border into Wyoming, ("Forever West") and hit the town of Torrington. John's Dad was born in Torrington, North Devon so we had to visit its namesake. Of course, not quite North Devon but quite a nice little town with what was a thriving sugar beet processing factory. However we later learned that this is being closed down so we fear for the prosperity of this town. We also took the opportunity to fill with gas, which, on average, is costing us around $2 per US gallon.

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Finally to Fort Laramie (which is nowhere near the town of Laramie, by the way). An impressive collection of buildings and yet another exhibit to keep us informed. It was all stunning and even quite moving at times. We felt a bit closer to how it must have been like to have been a cavalryman, and Indian or an emigrant. We are sure we would not have coped well with any of it!

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These forts were set up as trading posts and stopping off points as well as military stations to provide protection to locals and the emigrants. Also to try and bring some law and order to the frontier.

Our drive down to Cheyenne was across country on what turned out to be the "Can-Am" highway which must have been the main route here to/from Canada before I-25 was built. This trip has been full of unexpected delights and this was one of them. Climbing onto the high plains where there was open range, the road ran straight for many miles. It was GREAT!

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One feature on this trip, and it has continued up to today, is that we have been on our own at most of these sites. We seem to be almost the only tourists in the area at the moment. Which certainly suits us. There were was one other family at Scotts Bluff and a party of well-behaved school children at Fort Laramie where they were being marched in formation by a ranger dressed as a cavalryman. Newly learned fact. (And on reflection he may have been dressed as an infantryman as......) he told the little mites that the US army does not (or did not?) swing their arms when marching, unlike in the British army and the reason, they have longer distances to cover than the British! Arthur hoped they were being marched straight to the stockade, or guard room!

Next up, wonderful, wonderful Cheyenne, where we arrived, tired but very happy after a truly wonderful day and 305 miles (the day before we did 360 miles from Omaha to Ogallala). We found ourselves in a commercial area with lots of hotels, LOTS of hotels, but a tiny choice of places to eat. We plumped for the "Down Home Diner" which should perhaps have been called the "Down Homeless Diner" or even "Down and out Diner". It seemed the down and outs in Cheyenne were sufficiently well off to afford a hot meal at this basic diner. We had a good "home cooked" meal and we were pleased to see how nicely the staff dealt with their somewhat tatty customers (your humble Bloggers included).

Now off to Penny's Diner in Green River Wyoming where we are spending the night at the Hampton Inn.

Night night.

_

Posted by Johnash 17:44 Archived in USA Comments (12)

Cheyenne: we love you!

storm 10 °C

Room 133, Best Western Hotel, Nephi, Utah
16.50, Friday 6 May

Today, Friday, we've left behind the North Platte River, but not the railroad, in the process of shifting our location into Nevada and its only National Park (via this stop for the night in Utah). Meanwhile, back to Wednesday, when we fell in love with Cheyenne, capital of Wyoming. And here's the story.

We drove from the hotel near the Interstate and found a place for a rare "proper" breakfast - we've been surviving on the "free" motel breakfast till now.

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Eggs over-easy and sausage pattie for John, Corned Beef Hash, again, for Bob

And then round the corner we found the Capitol Building where the Wyoming state legislature sits and all the business of state is carried out as well as in the surrounding buildings like the Supreme Court of Wyoming. Remember that the USA consists of 50 individual states, each an individual political entity, sharing its sovereignty with the Federal Government.

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Unfortunately the Capitol building is closed for repairs.... until 2019, as least. One man on his own seemed to be doing the work. But as we watched, he packed up and walked off!

Round the corner from the Capitol, were smart residential streets. We could easily park wherever we wanted for 2 hours without charge. There was only gentle traffic. Everyone was friendly and Bob gave the ultimate accolade "I could live here"! When I told this to the lady at the Rail Depot museum she said "he wouldn't have said that if he'd been here last week" when they had terrible storms.

It started as a railroad town and became "hell on earth" in the frontier days. Historic downtown is right next to the legislature buildings, making it a compact town. We're sure there must have been some, but we saw no Walmart, CVS or Walgreens Pharmacies.

We started with the State Museum, toured the historic Governor's Mansion, had a cup of coffee in the Paramount Cafe, then toured the Railroad Depot museum and model railway. All of them were wonderful.

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Images from the State Museum

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From the beautifully restored Governor's Mansion. The guide there had been to Cardiff University so Bob and she had a lot to chat about! The last picture is of the wonderful sun balcony

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All clean and tidy. Historic Downtown, including the Railroad Depot with the tower

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From the Railroad Depot and Museum. The golden age of travel

We popped into "Wranglers" western store which is now part of the Bootbarn chain. We were attended to by a young, spotty, cowboy from Florida, poor lad. Bob bought a pair of Wrangler jeans and we both bought some work T Shirts which seem to last for ever.

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We then drove out to the stadium where the annual "Frontier Days" event is centred. Last year it attracted 200,000 visitors. Rodeos, street parades, concerts, everything for the Western enthusiast and budding cowboy. Can we make it in July when it will be the 120th Frontier Day?!?

By the stadium is yet another "museum" known as "Frontier Days Museum of the West". We were greeted by a lady at the desk who would no doubt admit to have lived for well over 80 happy years. And she held court for around 20 minutes telling us all about the event, the parades, which have the most horses of any parade in the world, and the museum which has a stunning colletion of carriages, and of Western art. Each year, local worthy families purchase works of art which are donated to the museum.

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We loved it all!

We drove back to Downtown for dinner in the historic Albany restaurant.
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John had grilled chicken salad (see!) and Bob had the house special, an enormous chicken fried steak

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Posted by Johnash 19:20 Archived in USA Comments (12)

Closed!

Cheyenne to Green River, Wyoming. We have to change our plans....

all seasons in one day 50 °C

Room 407, La Quinta Inn, Ely, Nevada
Saturday, 7th May

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Today (Saturday), turned into another surprisingly spectacular day (I need to get myself a dictionary of superlatives as we're running out). This, despite a real threat of thunderstorms which were there, alright, working there way round this part of the Great Basin Desert. Anyway, will be writing about today tomorrow, we hope. We have two nights here so a sort-of rest day tomorrow.

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So this day (Thursday) was carefully planned, as ever, but some of it went a bit wrong. We were in this area in 2007 and we were aiming to avoid where we'd been before but drive again, at least in part, the road over the Sierra Madre as it poured with rain then and we vowed to come back one day. So we did!

From Cheyenne, westwards by I-80 to just beyond Laramie, which we had visited back in 2007, back onto the empty roads into Colorado, a sharp right then back into Wyoming and up to Encampment. Left onto State Route 70 which is the road over the Sierra Madre. We had planned to get up to a campsite high on the Sierra then turn round and retrace our steps to Encampment. It would have been too long a drive to have driven the whole road.

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But we soon encountered the sign "Road Closed after 9 miles". So we drove as far as we could, the rest of the road being closed by snow. But this meant there had been no traffic on the road and deer were running up & down the road in delight at its emptiness, and then in terror at our approach. We had speculated how deer got over the fences ranchers use to manage their cattle. I thought they might jump them, but no, they squeeze through gaps in the fence, presumably made by other deer!

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After a few photos we returned to Encampment, a tiny community well off any beaten track, as planned. We stopped to buy some coffee and we got talking to the locals. In the shop, apart from the coffee, Bob was also "forced" to buy home made cherry pie just out of the oven. Bob also learned that Encampment can get snow at any time of the year and, yes, it had even snowed there in August! Meanwhile John was chatting to an ancient local who creaked out of his almost-just-as-ancient Ford (unheard and forgotten model).

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"Cowboy Wadsworth" as he introduced himself, had returned to live in Encampment. He claimed to be descended from Wordsworth. I think he may been confused as judging by his nose, his ancestor may well have been Wadsworth, the brewery people. But it was fascinating talking to him and learning about living in such a remote place.

Encampment was on our "Historic Forts" tour as, though it was founded as a Copper Mining town, there was a military encampment to provide protection, for a while. We like this little city very much.

As promised to "Cowboy Wadsworth" who was on the Carbon County visitors' committee, we drove on to Fort Fred Steel, also on our "Forts" list. The sign, as we pulled off the Interstate, seemed to imply that the place was CLOSED! But it turned out the sign was just confusing and it was actually OPEN. We had the place to ourselves and it was yet another of those magical moments when we drove down the track to it. Right by the Union Pacific railroad AND the North Platte, it really was a magical place. And we watched enthralled when a goods train pulled up at the bridge over the river and the driver and his mate(!) got out of the cab and walked across the bridge, giving us a cheery wave. We walked under the railroad, by the river, to view what remains of this fort. We sat a the picnic table and ate our cherry pie. We then drove off and got another wave from the driver and his mate. What fun!

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Our journey continued on I-80 and along to the oil town of Sinclair (renamed after the oil company that bought the oil refinery from Parko the original owner and name of the city). Here we planned to visit the local museum. But it was CLOSED! An old boy pulled up in his pickup to leave a letter at the "City Hall/Police Station" next door. We chatted and learned that he was a retired teacher from Rawlins the next big town. He also said that the City Hall lady would be back in an hour, after lunch, and she would unlock the museum for us. Unfortunately we did not have time to wait.

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Next on the list was the old State Prison and Carbon County Museum, both in the busy town of Rawlins and both CLOSED, of course.

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We filled up with gas and carried on on the freeway to our hotel for the night, the Hampton Inn at Green River, which turned out to be a bigger town than we thought.

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We also stopped to wash the car in Rock Springs. Not a good idea given the forecast for tomorrow!

The only place to eat, however, appeared to be Penny's Diner, the other side of I-80. Had we eaten at a Penny's Diner before? YES! And it was dreadful. And this meal was not much better. John's fish filet ("feelay") sandwich was OK but Bob's meatloaf special was as good it looked. Not! We had a funny conversation with the waitress about the English and American languages, starting with the pronunciation of filet (or fillet).

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Despite the food, we had a magnificent day, with a view from our room of the unusual rock formations here which Arthur found fascinating, not!

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Posted by Johnash 18:04 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Wrong Road!

A tale of diversions which, somehow, were meant to be

semi-overcast 42 °C

Room 403, Quinta Inn, Ely, Nevada
15.10 PST, Sunday 8th May

(Stop Press: Tornado warnings are in force in many states. Luckily for us, to the east of here, where we were in the early part of last week)

Yes we gained an hour crossing into Nevada which is on Pacific time. That came as a nice surprise! As of today (Sunday) we have driven 1,464 miles. John has to pay tribute to Bob who, on this trip, has done much of the driving. We could not have covered those magical miles without his driving contribution.

Just to brighten your day: we talked earlier on our first day of drivin', that we'd seen cattle trucks going in the opposite direction, presumably to Dodge City, KS, where there are huge meat processing plants. Well, that may not have been the case. As, after Encampment (see previous blog) we saw a couple of said cattle trucks parked out on the range and lines of contented cattle strolling away from the trucks to settle into their new home on the Wyoming Range! Mooray for them!

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Meanwhile, back in Green River, Wyoming. Not such an early start thinking that Friday's drive was not such a long one. Wrong! We were looking at the wrong figure and it was 330 miles to Nephi, NV, and some of it on fairly slow roads.

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Hampton Inn breakfast before we set out

Also, I thought the road was out of Green River but the map seemed to show we had to go back on I-80 to Rock Springs. Which is what we did. We stopped to check there, and found, after all, that the road we'd planned to take did indeed start from Green River. These things are meant to happen. We took the route from where we were and this proved to be the better road as it was the Flaming Gorge Scenic Route. Great views of the gorge, lots of snow and some rain too.

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Through Vernal, Utah, where we had stayed on a previous tour, and where Arthur was disappointed that the pink begonias had not yet been planted out. Not!

We continued on busy and rather boring US40. Our TomTom was still showing over 5 hours to our destination so we kept changing our mind about taking the easier route by heading back in the direction of Salt Lake then taking I-15 down to Nephi. Then John spotted an alternative which Madam TomTom had not come up with. This was on various State Routes, over the top, through Scofield and on to Fremont. Wow, we were so lucky as this was one of the highlights of the week. Stunning scenery, lots of snow and no other cars, bar one or two trucks from local mines or natural gas depots. (Lots of oil and gas in these parts).

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From Fremont, we were back on the original route, to Nephi. Somehow we'd been expecting to be going over Mountain passes but it was an easy and flat drive to our stop for the night in Nephi, Utah.

Here we used a Best Western. A traditional-style motel where the rooms are bigger and you can park your car right outside the front door. Much more convenient.

We had dinner at Lisa's Country Kitchen, as recommended by the receptionist, where we got 10% off. The place had seen better days, as had the "hostess". The food was not great either. We are not doing that well this trip food-wise!

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Nice salad starters for both, tough ole pork shops for John, liver 'n onions for Bob which was OK

Saturday

Looking forward to this drive into Nevada and it's one and only National Park, the Great Basin National Park.

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We start with the "free" breakfast in the motel. Not enough seats for all the elderly people (like us) wandering around in a daze looking for the milk, or spoon, or the sugar. We settled down in two armchairs to eat our cereal and a surprisingly nice omelette. We do oatmeal but not grits. It's one or other in these places and this one was a "grits" house. Indeed, in our hotel here in Ely, NV, it was biscuits 'n gravy, not grits, not oatmeal. We don't do biscuits 'n gravy either at that time of the morning. We have not yet developed a cowboy's cast iron skillet-lined stomach for that stuff!

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We had periods of rain, landing as snow on the peaks. But the skies turned blue, or most of them did, with whirling peaks of spectacular cloud over many of the mountain ranges.

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It was a relatively easy drive to the Nevada border where, as mentioned, we gained an hour. We chatted there to 2 guys and a girl who were cycling. Two of them had started in the Bay area (San Francisco) and are cycling to New York (taking around 4 months). The other guy, who they had met up with on the road, had started near Reno, NV and was having an easy ride to Salt Lake City. Three very nice young people. Good luck guys! (I promised to send them a link to this Blog).

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The guy in the middle is the one just going as far as Salt Lake. Either side it's Emme and Isaias off to New York

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We learned in the excellent exhibit in the Visitors Centre of the National Park, that the Great Basin (out of which no water escapes - the rivers, streams and springs all feed into the basin where the water either evaporates or goes into the ground) stretches from Utah to the Sierra Nevada in the west, and from south Idaho to Mexico in the south. Well, we never knew that.

We were also able to buy, at last, our National Parks pass. For $80 we can have unlimited access to National facilities, like Parks and Monuments for a year. We'd better get weaving as we only have 4 weeks left.

The very top of the drive up to Wheeler's Mountain was closed due to snow, but we were able to get pretty close to the top for great views of the basin and the mountains. And we chatted to a couple of ladies from California. We were able to recommend the film Pride to them, as well as The Lady in the Van!

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A member of the original Fremont tribe (they later merged in with the Shoshones) doing some illustration work.

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Arthur had to do some of the driving

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This is the Holgrem's buckwheat found only here. You won't see this anywhere else.

It was then a relatively easy drive to our stop for two nights.

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On the edge of Ely we found our very nice La Quinta Inn. A new motel chain to us. But very nice indeed. Slightly bigger rooms and lots of room to potter around in a daze looking for spoons etc in the breakfast room.

Once again we took the advice of the receptionist and ate at the Silver State Restaurant. Not very good..... again!

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Bob: grilled chicken salad. John: chicken thins which were... OK

Bob is currently doing the laundry and we have a table booked for a steak at the Cellblock steakhouse in the Jailhouse motel and casino. We have never met so many friendly Americans as on this trip. We popped into the Jail House just now to check it out and the barman (who are notoriously grumpy, especially in down-at-heel casinos, came out from behind his bar and escorted us to the steakhouse). Good job we went in as they are nearly fully booked, it being Mothers Day here (as TV constantly reminds us).

We had a smashing day today on the Northern Nevada Railway, and tomorrow drive to Las Vegas. Yippeee!!

_

Posted by Johnash 22:03 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Steaming through the rain

held up in Keystone NV, then on to Las Vegas to be robbed there too, perhaps?

Room 12042, Aria Hotel & Casino
16.26 Wednesday , 11th May

A lot of rest and recreation here in Sin City (not much of that around here). And properly learning the strategy for playing Jacks or Better on Video Poker seems to be paying off.... or we've been lucky. Don't worry, Colette, we have a very strict bankroll policy! When it's gone, it's gone, until the next session. We lose no more than the cost of a meal but currently the kitty is looking very healthy.

Sunday

Meanwhile, back in the little desert town of Ely, Nevada, it was a very wet Sunday. Grey and raining quite heavily, and it looked set for the day. And we had a ride booked on the steam North Nevada Railway at 9.30.

By the time we got to the depot (or station) it had all but stopped. We were in a covered carriage though we could walk through to an open car and, luckily, the rain held off for much of the trip.

As we were there early (we had to collect the tickets) John was invited up to the footplate. Wow!

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A volunteer gives a scripted running commentary

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Someway out of town, after going through 2 rickety and haunted tunnels, we spotted some horseriders near the old copper mine at Keystone. Before we knew it, we had pulled into the little town and masked bandits boarded the train. It turned it was a posse hunting for a train robber who was caught and shot before our very eyes. Though we don't think he was quite dead.

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The robbers relieved us of a few dollars "tip". First time we've had to tip at gunpoint.

We returned to town and were then treated to a tour of the machine shops. They are planning to restore another locomotive and have projects to restore various cars and coaches. Most of the staff are volunteers though they do employ a few permanent staff.

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The permanent resident of the shed was this rather oily cat. She was perfectly happy and fit. Of course, she is covered in oil, as we would be if we'd lived there! We were assured that giving her a shampoo was not recommended. She adopted the one member of our party, a lady from Texas, who did not like cats, and she rubbed her oily self all round the Texan's legs!

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An amazing steam-powered snow clearer

After a fabulous morning, despite our worries about the weather, we drove to historic downtown, Looked at the old Hotel Nevada which was, at 6 storeys, the tallest building in Nevada until the 60s. We then crossed the road to the Jailhouse casino where we 'd planned to have dinner in the Cellblock restaurant. We must have looked a little lost, the barman came out from behind the bar and took us to find the maitre d' to book a table (arms round John). How friendly all the staff were. Quite unusual in our experience in casinos in Nevada. But even in Las Vegas, we have found everyone to be polite, friendly and chatty.

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After rest in our hotel room, we returned to the Cellblock to be locked in our cell where we had probably one the best meal we have had in the USA, ever!

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John's New York steak with stuffed potato, fresh and perfectly cooked asparagus and carrot with cowboy beans. Delicious.

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Bob's Basque-style lamb cutlets marinaded in port. Almost unbeatable lamb chops!

After a short gamble, we returned for a good night's sleep before the longish drive to Las Vegas.

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Monday

We did not need to leave too early so a leisurely oatmeal and fruit breakfast at the hotel then on the road through the very empty desert of Nevada, though for most of the journey, it looked quite green. After 20 miles on US-6, we turned onto Nevada Route 318. This was a magnificent drive on an empty road with straights of up to 50 miles, then a bend, then another straight nearly as long. Anyone who wants an iconic drive on an American highway should look at this drive. We flashed past a sign which said something about the road being closed ahead. So we worried about that till we hit the only place to stop on that road, a coffee house and cafe at Lund. It emerged the road had been closed for much of Sunday for a road race so it was a good job we travelled on the Monday! We then turned onto a slightly busier US-93 which got even busier, mainly with traffic in the other direction leaving Las Vegas after the weekend. For the final 20 miles we took I-15, turning off at Downtown, which seemed frighteningly familiar to us.

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Be prepared, at a rest stop on US-93

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"Viva Las Vegas" never did come on to the Elvis channel on the satellite radio fitted in the car. (The rental company had included a daily fee for this but we got it taken off when we explained we had not ordered this. Though, of course we still had the radio in the car.) But. as we drove past Bellagio fountains on The Strip, guess what was playing? Yep, Viva Las Vegas, by Elvis. We had come back to our 4th home.

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The checkin at the hotel and all about the room will be covered in another, Las Vegas, part of this Blog.

Meanwhile, thank you so much for your comments and support on Facebook. It does make all the difference.

On Friday we move to the other extreme. A room in the lodge at Zion National Park in Utah where we will have none of the luxuries and amenities we have in this incredible corner suite they gave us.

Tonight we will be pushing our luck again, on the Video Poker machines.

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Posted by Johnash 19:46 Archived in USA Comments (12)

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