Air Travel Shenanigans
My flight out of Portland was really smooth and uneventful, I really have nothing to say about it. Seattle, however, was more than a little bit ARGH. ...Stupid Seattle. I landed and looked at my ticket, and hey, how nice, the gate for my next flight was in the same terminal, like a 30 second walk away. I looked at the desk at the gate, but the screen was blank, no flights listed yet. I shrugged it off and went to sit down, since the gate was super crowded and I didn't want to miss my chance for an actual seat. I was supposed to board 15 minutes later. 30 minutes later, the ladies at the gate make an announcement that final boarding for my flight is occurring at a different gate, at an entirely different terminal. ...It totally figures this would happen the ONE TIME I don't double-check my flight on the departure board. So I have to HAUL MY ASS across the entire Seattle airport. I get there all out of breath and the door is closed and I go up to the desk and ask if I can still get on, and the lady gives me a stern look and tells me the flight is leaving right now, and I say I know, I've been waiting 30 minutes in another terminal at the gate listed on my ticket. She doesn't answer and just sort of takes her time doing something inexplicable with some sort of printing device, and the other lady is chatting away on the phone, and I'm standing there for like five minutes waiting for one of them to acknowledge my presence and thinking that if I miss this flight I just might cry. The lady FINALLY finishes whatever she's doing and the other lady gets off the phone, and finally she asks for my ID and prints me out a new boarding pass and lets me on.
So I'm the last one on the plane, which is always really embarrassing, and I hurry to get my stuff stowed away and get settled so we can take off. ...And then the plane just sits there for a really long time. And by a long time I mean an hour and a half. They made an announcement that the maintenance guys had discovered that one of the wing-tip strobe lights was missing the shielding that blocks the light from the flight deck, and apparently we couldn't take off until they had called Boeing to see if they had any replacement bits handy, or if we could just take off without it, and I guess there was a metric shit-ton of paperwork to fill out. None of us on the plane could figure out why this piece was so damn important in the middle of the day, but I realize that there are a lot of safety regulations and it's actually a good thing that the red-tape is so overboard, because if they were slack and the plane fell apart in the sky, that would be BAD. So I was kind of mildly annoyed, but I was more or less resigned to the necessity of waiting patiently. The rest of the passengers were getting extremely impatient and angry, which I thought was childish of them, but I realize I'm an unusually patient and understanding person.
Eventually we got underway and into the air, to everyone's relief. By this time I was pretty hungry; I'd planned to get food in Vegas, so I didn't have anything with me, but the delay destroyed that plan. So I did what I absolutely hate to do; I gave in and actually bought airplane food. ...I'm morally opposed to spending money on airplanes, because I can remember the good old days of my childhood when meals on airplanes were complimentary, and also I had to hike to school ten miles through the snow, uphill both ways. BUT I bought their "picnic pack", and it was freaking DELICIOUS and probably actually worth my five bucks. My money bought me salami, cheese, crackers, flax and honey lavash, almond butter, strawberry preserves, cinnamon applesauce, black cherry Emergen-C, and cashew roca. All of the above were really high-quality, and had things like "vegan", "all-natural", "organic", and "no sugar-added" stamped on them. So I was actually quite pleased, and of course there were still free pretzels and beverages, and this being Alaska Airlines I was able to get lemon-lime Jones soda (for you non-Northwesterners, that's a local soda company that is DELICIOUS and uses cane sugar, not corn syrup). I devoured EVERYTHING except for the Emergen-C, which I gleefully squirreled away for later.
So we were running late and I didn't get to nap because I was busy eating, so the whole flight was more-or-less low-grade ARGH, except for the entertaining fact that THERE WAS A CRAZY MAN ON BOARD. Like, honestly, there was something seriously wrong with this guy. When we were stuck in Seattle and they were apologizing to us on the intercom and people were sighing in grumbling, this guy in the back started shouting at the top of his lungs, "LET US OFF THIS FUCKING PLANE!! I CAN'T SIT ON THIS FUCKING PLANE ANY LONGER!!" ...I was like, err, if you can't sit on a plane for an hour, what the hell were you going to do for a 2 1/2 hour flight? Then later we had a couple tiny bits of turbulence and he was like "OH SHIT!!!" He sounded freaking terrified. He did some more terrified shouting when we landed, and when we were getting ready to disembark he was like "WHOO YEAAHHHH!!!" Everyone else on the plane kept trying to surreptitiously sneak glances back at him and not crack up; he was just so weird, it made the whole plane uncomfortable.
LOL Las Vegas
So the airport is right next to the Strip, in the middle of town, which is weird, so practically the first thing I saw was the Luxor's gigantic big black pyramid looming on the horizon (speaking of weird). I called my mom like five times trying to navigate my way to her location in the parking garage, but finally we found each other and I gave her a big hug and we headed for the hotel to ditch my junk before going to the show. Our route took us through half of the Strip, so I pondered all of the ridiculous glitzy casino hotels. They are GIGANTIC and, yes, ridiculous. You've got mock-ups of Venice and ancient Rome and New York City and Paris and ancient Egypt and European castles all jammed together in one spot, and they're impressive buildings but they clash with each other something horrible, and all the colors are a little bit too bright so they all look like they're made out of plastic. And even though I know Vegas is struggling in this economy, it's still super crowded, and then everywhere there are billboards for every act and exhibition EVER, Cher and Chippendales and Bodies, and good stuff like Cirque du Soleil and Phantom of the Opera, and sad stuff like the Osmonds and Sha Na Na, and comedians like Wayne Brady and Carrot Top, and magicians like Penn and Teller and the Amazing Jonathan, and the gigantic face of Criss Angel
...What a fucking circus.
Our hotel is a pretty new one, South Point (whatever the hell that means). It's on Las Vegas Blvd, but removed from the Strip by quite some distance, a gigantic looming thing all by itself. And of course we have to cross the gigantic, noisy, crowded, smoky casino floor to get anywhere, but eventually we make it to the elevators and up to our room. We don't linger long, just drop our stuff, shove the essentials into our pockets, and head back to the Strip for our show.
Cirque du Soleil: Beatles Love
We showed up half an hour before the show to pick up our tickets and get seated, as we were encouraged very strongly to do. I guess it just takes a while to funnel all those people into the theater. The entrance was really cool, a lit-up rainbow gradient floor, and a ceiling covered with reflective silver globes, all very 60's. The male ushers had really unfortunate costumes, ugly red soldier outfits with Union flags on them, and the tall hairy hats and matching epaulettes that made them look like they were wearing cheap toupees on their shoulders. The girls' costumes weren't much better, blue vaguely schoolgirl looking outfits with skirts and kneesocks. It was all rather garish.
Inside the theater it was set up as a theater in the round (how else would you see Cirque du Soleil, really?) with big curving projection screens all around with slowly-moving cloudscapes, and these big hanging semi-transparent curtains were hanging between different sections of the audience, and clouds were silk-screened onto those as well, and then there were fog machines going as well. And we sat there and looked around and listened to all of the Beatles' songs that they were playing without the lyrics.
The show started and it was AMAZING. There's no way I can possibly encapsule this experience properly. It was a fantastic homage to the Beatles and to that period of history that they inhabited, and how the events and culture affected their music, and how their music affected the culture. It was at times whimsical, as their music often is, and at times political, dealing with war and race and poverty and protest, as their music often does, and most of all about how love really does have the power to conquer all else. In between scenes they would often project silhouettes of the band members on hanging screens and play little bits of audio from rehearsals and television appearances, just little fun bits of the band members being silly and hanging out. And then the stuff on stage, wow, I just can't even begin to describe it. It was controlled chaos, with the illusion that it wasn't controlled at all, just fantastic madness. Pieces of the stage kept moving up and down and moving around, and the performers would come in from all sides as well as above and below. You never knew where to look, on the stage or in the air. There were all sorts of acrobatics, everything you could think of, pop-and-locking, and people on ropes, and people bouncing off of nets and trampolines, rollerbladers on half-pipes, and gumboot dancing, and a guy on a gigantic swing doing 360s on the ceiling, and people on bungees, and all of it beautifully choreographed, and enhanced by amazing set-pieces and fantastic costumes, and all to a backdrop of some of the best of The Beatles' songs blasting out all around us. Some of my favorites were Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the air full of stars, and Lucy twirling through the sky; Here Comes The Sun, everything soft and golden and the dancers and acrobats in Indian costumes, slowly dancing up the ropes around the gigantic lit-up ball of the sun; Octopus' Garden, with all of the fantastical jellies and shrimp and fantastical fishes swimming about us, I swear it actually felt like being underwater; Come Together, with all the long-haired Summer of Love hippies gyrating in spotlights that would turn off and on in patterns in different parts of the stage in time to the music; and, of course, the triumphant ending with Hey Jude and All You Need is Love, and all the red streamers dropping down from the ceiling into the crowd. Another highlight was when the sheets on a bed expanded into the BIGGEST PARACHUTE EVER and it got pulled out over the crowd and undulated up and down with colored lights behind it, and then in a few seconds it got sucked into the floor and disappeared. I can't remember which song that was, one of the acid-trippy ones I think.
I kept one of the streamers, and wound it around my neck multiple times in big floppy loops like Four's goofy scarf, and mom and I filed out with the crowd over the rainbow floor, and everyone was singing. It was just a happy, feel-good time, over all. I heard from a coworker after I got back that Paul and Ringo went to see the show, and approve of it, which is great, and I'm totally not surprised. The show was a very appropriate homage, and I'm glad, since they don't own the rights to their own music anymore. Well done Cirque du Soleil.
Mom and I went back to South Point and grabbed some food and headed up to the room and I Passed The Hell Out, and that was my Friday.
Red Rock Canyon
After eight hours of sleep, Mom and I got up, snagged some breakfast at the buffet, grabbed some turkey club sandwiches at the deli, and took off for the desert. I brought my iPod and synced up GNR, cheerfully explaining to her what Fallout 3 was all about and insisting that she would like the soundtrack. She sounded doubtful, as I expected, and incredulous when the speakers started pumping out Allan Gray and Billie Holiday. So we had a good time listening to that for most of the rest of the day's driving.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area comprises a large, mostly-flat wash backed by limestone and sandstone hills and mountains cut with slot canyons and hemmed in on one side by the sandstone Calico Hills. Out in the washes and basins, the terrain is generally a lot of gravel and sand covered primarily by Joshua trees and other yuccas, various hardy shrubs, and several varieties of cactus scattered around. We drove through a lot of this kind of stuff before parking at the visitor center. We checked out the exhibits on the biology and geology of the area, got detailed directions for our hike, bought some Gatorade, and headed out. We were doing the Grand Circle, which at 11 miles was the area's most substantial hiking offering. We decided to do it backwards from the recommended direction, cutting across the Red Rock Wash in a straight line to the northwest before circling around north and east along the bottoms of the White Rock and Calico Hills. We had a good time inspecting all of the interesting plants, and admiring the impressive line of the Spring Mountains, pointing out the burrows of Small Mysterious Critters, and marveling at the strange fuzzy caterpillars that hung out in clumps on certain bushes, spinning wads of silk around the bunch of them in preparation for the pupa stage; apparently they all metamorphize together in a group.
As we approached the feet of the mountains we started to get a speckling of trees, juniper and pinyon pine. The junipers were all well infected with mistletoe (urgh parasites, creepy). We crossed the road and then went a little off the trail for lunch, hunkering down in the shade of a juniper down a hillside a bit, with a view across a bit of a ravine to the upward-sloping White Rock Hills. I amused myself appraising the growing-habits of barrel cactuses and attempting to locate the source of human voices, which turned out to be three folks with backpacks waaaaaay up the slope. Continuing on our way, we dipped down into the ravine a bit, finding ourselves among more junipers and pines, and also flowering manzanita, all covered with clusters of little pale pink bells that filled the air with the scent of honey. We ran into some guys that were hanging out amongst trees and sizable boulders; one guy was excitedly describing his encounter with a "giant wolf" further up the trail. We tried to tell him it was a large coyote, but he ignored us, telling his audience how he ran the hell away as fast as he could. Not that the coyote was going to bother him, geez. Since he was also saying how he managed to lose the trail, Mom and I just rolled our eyes at his noobie ways and kept going.
We didn't get to see the coyote, but very shortly, as the trail skirted the White Rock Hills, we encountered a group of people watching a whole herd of BIGHORN SHEEP. They were really close by, and low on the opposite hillside; a Red Rock regular said he'd never seen them so low down before. It was a bunch of boys, at least twenty of them scattered across the hillside; mostly they were just hanging out, chilling and munching on plants, but there was a fair amount of head-butting going on as well. :DDD When a couple of the big boys clashed the sound rang out like a shot. It was really cool. We stood and watched them for a while; the nice Nevada dude lent us his binocs, and I got some really great shots with my ultra-zoom. ...So that was our charismatic megafauna sighting of the day, and we were pretty damn happy. Other wildlife included the weird caterpillars, pretty orange butterflies, a pinacate beetle, several mystery rodents, a raven, a prairie falcon, three redtail hawks, and a whole mess of noisy, scolding scrub jays.
After we reluctantly left the bighorns, we approached the end of the White Rock Hills, where a whole bunch of people were emerging from a parking lot to clamber of the rocks with their dogs and check out some of the short trails. We followed the gravel road down to the main road, crossed the road, and picked up the trail again crossing some more of the gravel-wash terrain. Then we got to the Calico Hills.
Oh. My. God. There are no words to describe the epic amazingness of these sandstone hills. The northwest end of them is sort of blond sandstone, which gives way abruptly (and I mean that, you can put your hand across the line) to terra cotta red, which gives way to stripes of strawberry and cream or raspberry swirl at the southeast end. The hills are HUGE, it's just impossible for the mind to properly comprehend the scale of the bulbous, rounded sandstone formations. They were eroded into the most amazing shapes, mushrooms and caves and arches and razor slices and flat planes and marshmallows. I took about a gazillion pictures. At the northwest end we climbed around a bit, and looked at the big tofu-blocks left over from the quarrying operation going on there back in the day. As we headed down the range of hills, the trail took us away from the road and overlooks and crowds of people in swooping loops. We encountered several groups of rock climbers, insignificant specks on the massive flat sandstone faces. When we'd been hiking the middle section for a bit, I decided that the stuff behind us had been the most dramatic bit, and that I thought we were past the best of it, but that the rocks were welcome to prove me wrong. Which, happily, they did. We got to the stripy bit, which was just completely mind-boggling. The rocks were a complete mess, a chaotic jumble of layered stripes going every which-way in conflicting patterns. The jumbled layers were formed when the sandstone had been sand dunes, different slants and slopes of dunes laying down sand over previous layers. The effect on the eye was extremely confusing; it was actually kind of hard to look at.
Eventually we reached the end of the hills and hiked the last bit of the loop south to the visitor center, as the light was going gold. We concluded that we'd made the correct decision on the direction of travel for several reasons: we had the sun behind us at all times, for maximum good lighting on the the faces of whatever hills we happened to be near at the time, and minimum of sun on our faces and in our eyes; we crossed the relatively boring and featureless bit first, while the flora was still novel and exciting, so we were entertained during all of the hike; and starting at the "end" we got to hike in almost complete isolation for almost the entire morning, while all of the other hikers were on the other half of the trail. So, we are awesome and made of win. We did get a bit of sunburn, so moderate fail on both our parts for failing to bring sunscreen. But oh well.
Back at the visitor center, we bought another Gatorade, climbed into the car (to the rejoicing of my aching feet), and ate juicy, sweet apples as we booked it back to Vegas.
Blue Man Group
Mom and I enjoyed hot showers at South Point, then headed to the strip for our Blue Man Group show. On the way there we ran out of GNR, so I synced up the Watchmen soundtrack, to my mother's continued enjoyment (although I did skip over the MCR cover of Desolation Row, and Pirate Jenny at the end). At the hotel we grabbed a quick and satisfying bite at the food court... mmmmm Panda Express. We killed some time in the Blue Man Group gift shop playing with the interactive screens, learning about Blue Man Group instruments, and listening to songs off their album and clips from their DVD. We filed into the theater toward the end of the line, and got settled in our quite excellent seats, off to the side but right up near the front and no one directly in front of us. We spent some time enthralled by the giant water tornadoes in columns on each side of the stage, and the ring of strange human-shaped statues at the base of each column.
As the show was getting ready to start, they started getting the crowd talking by sending us instructions on scrolling tickers, telling us it's so-and-so's birthday, let's congratulate them, so-and-so in the audience helped sequence the human genome, let's thank them, so-and-so isn't important in any way, but let's tell them they're doing a good job anyway... silly things like that. Then the show started, and it was AMAZING.
Again, words cannot describe. The show was quirky and funny, and a feast of sensation, audial and visual stimulation. There was audience participation; the Group ventured out into the crowd several times to interact with us, sometimes bringing people up onto the stage. There was a lot of visual comedy in between the more musical acts, and the music... gah, the amazing percussion on those weird PVC pipe instruments they use, backed by their musicians and then with the stunning light displays... I fail at describing this.
I think my favorite parts were these: the neon sign bit, where the theater went black and the stage showed a scene done in neon lights, a desert rest-stop and gas-station as it changed over the times, with amusing changes to the bill boards, and funny messages scrolling across more of those lighted ticker-signs, all of which was amusing but kind of chill... and then all of a sudden the scrolling ticker-signs move, and the lights come up, and the Blue Man Group has been holding the signs the whole time, and now they're using them to beat drums, and the neon cowboys are actual people in black suits with the neon outlines on the front, so the neon cowboys step out of their signs and come to the front of the stage and dance with swishy sticks... I dunno, it was just really trippy; and then there was the bit where the Big Voice was lecturing about eyes and vision, and talking about rods and cones and how they work (fantastic interlude employing lots of color, here), and then it was explaining how when the eye moves, our vision skips, and we actually become blind for tiny moments of time, which we don't notice because the brain replays what you saw the moment before so it all looks fluid, and animation takes advantage of this quirk of vision, the series of still frames appears to move fluidly because the frames change in that tiny space of time when our eye is not looking... and then the lights go down and there are spots on the water columns, and the tornadoes are going and the rings of statues are spinning and flickering light animates the statues so that they look like they're standing still in a ring and dancing and it was just super cool. Towards the end was really fun, too, when the Big Voice was talking about DNA, and these giant pairs of tubes came down from the ceiling and hung over the crowd, and they spun them, and they all twisted together like double helices, and then they go to the back and start pulling out these endless streams of white paper (recycled, they assured us) and drag them over the back of the crowd, and the entire audience spends several minutes pulling waves of streamers over our heads from the back to the stage, and the Blue Man Group is up there grabbing huge swathes of paper and swooshing them back and forth in undulating waves, and the helices are spinning, and the lights and the music... I just can't describe how amazing this show is.
So I was really happy, and Mom stole me some of the paper, so I wound the white streamer around me à la Tom Baker, and we went back to the hotel.
It was late enough and my flight was early enough that I actually went to bed for 3 1/2 hours before my flight, and then Mom took me to the airport, and I hugged her goodbye. Not much to say about the return trip... I enjoyed watching the Nevada terrain, and then the Washington terrain, out the window, and I ordered another picnic pack. It was rain mixed with snow in Seattle, to our horror. Portland, thankfully was warmer, although there was a lot of turbulence on the way there. Chris picked me up and brought me home, and Dar and Lisa greeted me with delicious tasty lunch, and I settled down with them on the couch to eat and watch Howl's Moving Castle before passing out. ...Speaking of which, I really need to do some of that passing out now... it's way past my bedtime.
I might get around to posting pictures later, but I make no promises. I'm really bad at getting around to that kind of thing... remember those pictures of Fuzzy that I neeevvveerr posted?
I have lots to say about this past weekend in Boise as well, but that's going to have to wait until after I've slept/cleaned my room/done other exciting and important Life Things, and I've clogged your Flists with enough text for one day. Meanwhile, Mary and a friend of hers are crashing here on Tuesday night (thus, the room cleaning), and Cory's coming down to Portland this week for a while, since her parents will be in town. ...Yay!