Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Las Vegas, Nevada, The Aria Hotel, The Stratosphere and a Grand Canyon West Rim Helicopter Ride

It's a little crazy to do San Antonio and then Las Vegas both in August, but hey if it's free, I am not going to argue about when, or where for that matter. One of David's consulting clients sent us down for a little vacation and he presented at their conference, all expenses paid.

It was great even though I grew up close to Las Vegas and it was never one of my favorite places to go. I was just there for my uncle's funeral three weeks ago, although we drove that time. It was different this time though. I don't gamble and so I had never really stayed on the Strip before, but this was a real vacation and not just passing through or visiting family.

We stayed at the new Aria hotel which was fabulous. It's wired with all new technology and so if you can figure out how it works its awesome! Even the curtains moved electronically. We had a nice view of the city's West side, the hotel was decorated very contemporary and so I got some nice abstract shots, they pumped vanilla fragrance throughout the hotel, the bed was the best hotel bed I have every slept in and it was right in the middle of everything. New York, New York, Luxor and MGM was to the right, and The Bellagio, Caesar's Palace and the Mirage was on the left.

This was the first time I remember flying over my home town. La Verkin and Hurricane are in distance, Quail Lake is in the middle and the beginnings of St. George are bottom right

The Aria was quite an interesting hotel. The floors changed every few feet

There were some interesting walls and they also changed every so often

More artistic walls

They even had interesting ceilings

We ate at the buffet three times just because once we tried it we couldn't think of any better place to go and it was so convenient right there in the hotel. It was a little pricey for dinner but breakfast was very reasonable. For dinner they had many different ethnic food areas 

Chocolate Flowers that were at least 2 1/2 feet across

This is my reflection shot for the trip

The bed was better than mine at home. We both like it and so we looked at the label. It was a Posturepedic deluxe pillow top mattress

The pool area was nice but not huge. I thought 3 lifeguards for a small 3 1/2 foot deep pool was a little overkill, but at least I felt safe from drowning. Later I learned it was 114 degrees that day

Mandarin Oriental is on the left, the Aria is the middle and the Cosmopolitan is on the right

Sorry but this was the only way I could get the statue in with the New York too

We decided to check out the Stratosphere since we were in San Antonio and they told us that the Stratosphere was the tallest in the US, The Tower of the Americas in San Antonio was next tallest and then the Seattle Space Needle. Now I have been to the top of all three!

We were there at sunset and got some nice city shots

That night we walked down the strip for some night shots

We watched the volcano at the Mirage

Hmm where have I seen this before only the real thing? And it definitely wasn't this color

We watched the fountain show at the Bellagio

The morning that David was presenting I took a Helicopter ride with Sundance. I found it cheaper online than at their actual website, but they picked me up at the hotel in a limo and it was about a 4 hour tour all together. Our pilot's name was Matt and he was great. There were I think 7 helicopters that took off all at once and we flew together and landed together in the same area of the West Rim

This is my shadow shot for the trip

And this is my feet shot for the trip

We flew over some amazing scenery

We saw the Hoover Dam

Some pretty dry dessert

Lake Mead

And then into the end of the Grand Canyon

The place we stopped for lunch had these interesting bushes I had never noticed before

Lots of Cactus

Lunch was great. I was with a group from Spain in my helicopter

Flying back in we flew along the West side of the Strip

We listened to "Viva Las Vegas" by Elvis Presley on the way back

Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Antonio, Texas, The River Walk, Tower of the America's and the Convention Center, The Alamo, Market Square and the San Fernando Cathedral, Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion

San Antonio was astonishing to say the least. It seemed like the Venice of the US to me with the River Walk and the boat rides all along it. They have diverted the river into canals that go throughout the downtown area and there are walking paths, waterfalls, cafe's, shops and hotels all along it. It is beautifully landscaped and we spent hours just walking along it since it also connected us to places we wanted to go. We stayed in both the Marriott and the Hyatt Regency that were both right on the river and they were both fantastic. It was quite romantic to take an evening stroll every night. Even though it was August, it actually wasn't that hot by the river. There where big shade trees all along it and it wasn't bad even during the day. There are also a lot of beautiful bridges and so you can cross just about anywhere.

I saw this polygamist family and was surprised. I guess I shouldn't have been since Warren Jeff's relocated a bunch of his followers there from Colorado City. I should have stopped them and asked them since I grew up 20 miles from Colorado City, but I didn't think of it until they were gone. It would have been an interesting conversation I think.

The evenings were so nice!

Here we were sitting at Joe's Crab Shack for dinner one evening and a couple from Colorado that I had gone on the Mission's tour with and gotten to know a little, passed by, recognized me and stopped to say hi. It was nice to see them again. It's kind of funny how I can make friends with perfect strangers so easily, but don't really have friends in my own neighborhood. Why is that? Maybe I should just go on vacation more

It was fun watching David take an hour to eat dinner

I think I would love living here

We took the boat ride and loved it! In fact I wanted to go again

They had lots of waterfalls along the way

They even had Ivy covered bridges

Eating up high on the River Walk

The Tower of the America's is not as tall as the Stratosphere in Las Vegas but is taller than the Seattle Space Needle. I loved it of course since I love to take pictures of vista's. We could see about 13 miles in any direction. It was within walking distance of the Marriott and so we just walked to it. It is connected to the Convention Center where David had his conference

Convention Center grounds

Taking the elevator up gave me my shadow picture of the day

Coming back down we got a good view of the Convention Center grounds. They had gorgeous waterfalls

This is my solution for fighting the harsh mid day shadows

Walking back through the huge, beautiful convention center. It's really blue not purple, but I just couldn't get the colors right on this photo 

The Alamo was of course my favorite historical sight. I have read the stories and always wanted to see it. I felt as though I stood on hallowed ground. The struggle there was reminiscent of the revolutionary war for me and I can see why Texan's love their independence and have their own culture.

This is the room where the women and children hid during the siege

Since the Alamo was right across the street from our hotel the Hyatt Regency, I went there twice. This picture is taken from the pool at the top of the Hyatt

I wonder how many men died right where I am standing

Market Square was a fun, colorful, little Hispanic market. It reminded me of our Mexican Riviera trip. I took the hop on hop off Trolley and stopped there for lunch one day.

I started out at the San Fernando Cathedral and then walked a block over to Market Square. This is the place where Santa Anna ordered no quarters for the men at the Alamo

Market Square is only a block or so of shops

I got lunch at a very popular bakery there

All the buildings where very colorful

Lunch consisted of a sweet potato turnover- their best selling item and a tres leches cake. Yum!

Mission San Jose was probably the most popular of the missions since it had a visitor's center etc, but I had the place to myself since it is being renovated inside and so it is closed until next week when they will rededicate it. The grounds were amazing enough though. 
According to the official website "in 1718 Franciscans and Spanish representatives established the first mission. Within 13 years, five were located along the San Antonio River. The missions’ purpose? To acculturate and Christianize the native population and make them Spanish citizens."

While waiting for the Trolley I spotted these two Cardinals playing games. I had never seen any since they aren't native to where I come from. It was delightful

Mission Concepcion was great because I got my own personal tour by a Methodist tour guide who said he probably knew more about the Catholic church than most Catholics. I believed him after the tour. It was awesome!

All the fresco were originals

It was absolutely beautiful!