What happens in Vegas…

…makes it onto WordPress? That doesn’t sound right!

Tonight’s my second night here in Las Vegas, NV. But let’s get caught up to speed real quick. And throw in some pictures for good measure.

After the sunset and lighthouse, I crashed for the night in Santa Cruz, CA. It took me awhile to check in because I had a hard time understanding the Latino girl at the desk. And vice versa, I’m sure. I’m terrible with accents. Especially when English is a second language. And with that, I think I was welcomed into the Southern portion of California.

The next day, I just drug my feet and purposefully got a late start to my day. The goal was to make it to Fresno, CA because it was the closest decent sized city to Sequoia National Park. And decent sized cities mean hotel coupons from those fantastic free books at rest areas! So I pulled into the town o’ Bulldogs around 2 pm. I got a room (it was actually REALLY nice for the money…so if you’re ever in Fresno, hit up the Best Western!), looked up a movie theater online, and flew down the street because Due Date was starting at 3:05 pm. So, I’ll go ahead and preface this by saying Robert Downey Jr. is probably my favorite actor in the last handful of years (the Ironmans were fantastic, Sherlock Holmes was very entertaining). But this movie was awesome! Robert Downey Jr. gut punches a kid in this movie. Robert Downey Jr.’s kid’s name is one of the most disgusting names ever. Just greatness all around! I needed that movie! 🙂 That night, I kind of spontaneously met a friend of mine I’d talked to online for years who I just happened to find out drove to Fresno most nights. The coincidence of that happening have to be super slim. So I hung out in a Starbucks for probably the 2nd time ever in my life, showed off my pictures, and then called it a night.

The next day, I got up and headed to see the gigantic trees. I was a little worried because the ranger at the fee station told me I could only go up to a certain point since I didn’t have snow tires on my truck or chains on me. But when I stopped in the visitors center to get my passport stamped, the ranger there told me that since my truck was a 2008, it would have had snow and mud tires on it when I bought it. No idea if I should trust that or not, but just for safe measures, I stayed off of the roads saying snow tires or chains were required. Better safe than sorry, right? Another crazy thing was that since it the slower months are creeping up on the parks, they had the main road closed for construction. They only opened it every 2 hours, so you had to time it right or just stay parked forever waiting to be let through. I managed to luck up and get there right before the road opened at 12 pm so there wasn’t a wait for very long then. Once I got to the trees, I’ll be honest and say the shock factor was a little gone, due to having seen the Redwoods several days earlier. But they were still really impressive! And it was fun seeing them in the snow and fog. It’s also fun to walk into the Giant Forest through a trail carved through a fallen sequoia.

That trail led up to General Sherman, which is the largest tree by volume in the world. Just surreal seeing a tree that big. As always, the pictures won’t do this thing justice. If you’ll notice in the first picture, that’s me standing near the bottom.

These trees are crazy. Apparently this one isn’t the oldest or tallest tree, and the top of the tree is dead and doesn’t continue growing, but it’s still alive at the bottom and it’s the largest by volume still. It all has to do with growing conditions. They had a diagram in the sequoia museum that said there’s one sequoia that’s 100 years old, but only as round as a quarter. Just crazy the kind of conditions these huge trees had to get that way over the last 1,500+ years. Here are some other fun pictures.

  • You don’t get a feel for the scale but the first is a cutout from a fallen sequoia
  • This is the Sentinel tree outside of the sequoia museum
  • This is the overlook while waiting to go back down the road – which you can see in the bottom half of the picture winding down the mountain
  • More animals up close! Good day!

Since the road to get back out was only open at 2 pm and 4 pm, I didn’t feel like waiting forever for the 4 pm time slot. So I managed to pack everything into about an hour and 45 minutes before hopping back in line to head down the mountain. It was good though because while I was waiting for the road to open, I fixed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, hopped out of the truck, and just got some solid “me” time to do some thinking on the side of a mountain overlooking the scene in the picture above. I didn’t get everything in my life figured out…but it sure felt good to pretend like it!

And since the girl at the Fresno Best Western talked me into signing up for their rewards program, I plugged the Best Western address for Bakersfield, CA into the GPS and set off! Nothing exciting here. Just more of California and more citrus groves along the interstate.

Wednesday morning, I got started early since Google Maps told me it was 400 miles and 8 hours from Bakersfield to Las Vegas. Well, let me tell you something. Google Maps is a dirty liar. Don’t ever trust a word it tells you. I probably got started around 10 am on Wednesday, went through Death Valley with plenty of stops, and still managed to make Vegas by 5 pm. And it was no where near 400 miles. 300, maybe. I do have a pretty amazing story that came from here though.

So, being from Clemson and with the whole story behind Howard’s Rock and the stadium being named Death Valley, the real Death Valley was all but a lock for places I had to go on my trip. And if it were at all possible, steal a rock or two from the park so I could have my own. Since word got out, I also got requests from my dad, an ex girlfriend, my buddy in Nashville… Pretty much any Clemson fan comfortable enough to ask me for free stuff. Well, I pull into the park and on the first straight-a-way, I park on the shoulder of the road and hop out with my camera to make it look like I was taking pictures.

So I’m kind of scoping the terrain for rocks and keeping an eye on the road to make sure no cars or rangers are within sight. I didn’t really think anything of the sound, just figuring it was commercial jets and their noise bouncing off the mountains, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught this.

If you look almost directly in the middle of the picture, you’ll see a fighter jet. He was flying pretty low to the ground over the flat portions. And once he got near the mountains, he was still tucked low the the ground and maneuvering through the mountains. He flew off and I didn’t think anything of it. I went back to checking out rocks and started tossing a rock or two into the bed of my truck. But then, out of the corner of my eye again, I saw him right as he was passing near my truck. I swear, it seemed like he was trying to buzz my truck.

At this point, I gave up the rock collecting and just started watching him. He’d bank really fast, cut way up in the air, flip over backwards… doing all kinds of tricks. It really just looked like he was out playing and having fun. And then homeboy literally tried to bust my ear drums. I’ve never been this close to a moving jet. And there’s a huge part of me that never wants to be this close again. Because I could feel the change in air/wind when he buzzed the road and my truck the last time.

I’m sure I looked awesome trying to snap a picture as close as he was, then at the very last minute scrambling to get fingers plugged into my ears. But hey, it’s just another experience on my trip I didn’t plan on having that makes for a cool story now.

And just in case it was on purpose, I ended up stealing close to 20 rocks. Jerk.

The park was really pretty though. And apparently it was RV Headquarters given the time of the year and the temperatures being in the 60s instead of 120s. That was a little disappointing. You never want to top a hill and see a sea of RVs just camped out in the middle of a national park. Just takes away from it all. But oh well. I didn’t do much more stopping along the way. But I do have some non-jet shots!

I wasn’t at the lowest point in the park (282 feet below sea level, I believe), but I did manage to make it 190 feel below. That’s a pretty cool thing to add to my list of things I’ve seen or done on my trip. And from there, I packed it all in and headed to Vegas. And I’ve been here ever since.

I won’t have any fun, crazy, or wild stories from Vegas, as it’s a bit different when you’ve got family in town. We just hung out and visited today. Probably more of the same tomorrow, although I think we might be heading out for birthday dinners (mine was the 4th, my step brother’s was the 6th). I’ll probably head out to Arizona sometime on Sunday. But I’m thankful for Josh, my step brother, Talita, my sister in law, and even Seanna, my 3 year old niece, for being nice enough to let me crash at their place.

It’s always a comforting feeling knowing I’m welcome into someone else’s house as if it were my own home. Family is a great thing 🙂

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