Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Four score and Eleven Oceans ago…

I infiltrated the Brat Pack. Not really, but that makes for an awesome beginning, dunnit?

After gorging ourselves on seafood, our troupe thought it might be fun to detox by traversing a desert. There’s not much to say about traversing a desert en voiture, except that the trip is much quicker than if one were to attempt it on foot. At first, I found the rolling yellow hills to be mesmerizing.  It’s easy to see what drew Christo and Jeanne-Claude to this landscape.  But then it gets old pretty quick.  Occasionally the barren view is interrupted with a cluster of vegetation, or a passing train (one trailed us for a good hour), but for the most part, it looks like this:

They're so compelling, I had to take a photo.

They're so compelling, I had to take a photo.

Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s some evidence of the trees and trains I mentioned above.

We saw trees, and signs protesting government sanctioned water rationing posted by the tree farmers.

We saw trees, and signs protesting government sanctioned water rationing posted by the tree farmers.

Anybody else start humming songs from Rent whenever 'Santa Fe' is mentioned?

Anybody else start humming songs from Rent whenever 'Santa Fe' is mentioned?

Aaaaand eventually, we made it to our destination: Las Vegas.

Venturi, eat your heart out.

Venturi, eat your heart out.

Dino managed to reserve us a room in The Bellagio. The lobby was incredibly extravagant, and getting a chance to see some more Chihuly sculptures in person was fantastic! We were upgraded to a Strip-facing suite, whose bathroom was equal in size to my bedroom at home. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make use of the enormous bathtub, though we did all take turns wearing the slippers and flicking the electrically-controlled curtains open and closed.

It sure was a nice view, Danny.

It sure was a nice view, Danny.

Chi-who?

Chi-who?

In what turned out to be thematic of our road trip, we arrived at the check-in counter 15 minutes before we were supposed to be seated at Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio. But we hastened.  Having a super-speed elevator up to our room certainly helped, but I’m not sure what exactly got me out of jeans and into a dress, leggings and full make-up in less than 10 minutes. Magic.

Which was what we saw at Penn & Teller’s show.  Wasn’t that a brilliant transition? I’d heard of them before – seen glimpses, even, while flipping channels, but when Dino, Jr. first suggested their show, I had no idea what he was talking about. This is probably due to the way his (adorable) southwest Virginian accent morphs ‘Penn and Teller’ to ‘Pay-en aynd Taylor.’ Luckily, he wasn’t instructing the cab driver, and we got to the show with seconds to spare.

The show itself was a good balance of magic and satire. I’m not going to post any spoilers, but let’s just say you can’t ever really de-mystify magic.

We grabbed dinner at a noodles place in the Bellagio, dropped some dough at the casino, wandered the streets (stomping on scantily clad women – or their images, at least) and ended the night with a celebration in our suite.

Now, I’m a CSI fan (it’s a guilty pleasure that I suppose I have just opened up to public ridicule), so I couldn’t help but compare my experience of the city to the city portrayed on the show.  The tourist portions of Vegas take a smaller role on the set, and I regret not being able to explore the non-gimicky aspects of the city. The glamorous parts of the city, however, are equally flashy in person, if not more so.  Granted, we don’t get the bird’s-eye panoramas that punctuate the episodes on screen, but the worm’s-eye view is quite blinding.

While I have been known to tote the anti-Venturian architectural perspective of Vegas as an abysmal waste of dollars and design intent, there is some value to an opportunity presented in a ‘designer’s playground.’ In some ways, Vegas is America’s Dubai, and perhaps the millions clients are willing to spend can be used to experiment with innovative ‘sustainable’ solutions that are as attractive, or more attractive, than their ‘old school’ counterparts…

Ok, no soap box. All in all, Las Vegas was fun, as it should be.  My favorite new city? Probably not. I’m a Paris girl at heart, and the wannabe Eiffel doesn’t do the real thing justice.

It's too bad the fake tower doesn't have the snazzy flickering light show every night.

It's too bad the fake tower doesn't have the snazzy flickering light show every night.

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Holy Giant Redwoods, Batman!

After the most beautiful part of our trip, we continued on to the most awe-inspiring part of our journey: a jaunt through Redwood National Park, where we walked amongst the Giants. Now, I’m a pretty tiny person.  I’m 5′-0″, which is short by normal standards, but when placed against a 200′ tall Redwood (or in our case, several Redwoods), I become minuscule. We actually spent the night in a small cabin in the forest itself, where Dino and Saarinen risked getting eaten by bears during a daring night-time hike, and Dino, Jr. and I played it safe by watching Saving Private Ryan and discussing a citizen’s obligation to fight for his country.

Call me a Californ-i-a hippie, but more awe-inspiring than the size of these monstrous flora is the aura infusing the forest. The golden light filtering through the trees lends an eerie calm, and some how calls attention to the forest’s longevity – as though the light you see shows its age, the several light-year journey standing in sharp contrast to our homo sapien youth.

I’m not sure my photographs do this feeling justice.

Look up, way up.

Look up, way up.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Technically, humans aren't supposed to touch the trees. But Saarinen's a monkey, so that's okay.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

Prehistoric light documented on digital-film, I assure you.

On our way down to San Francisco we stopped by a vineyard in Mendocino county, Jeriko Estates, where Saarinen and I tasted several delicious wines and even purchased a few.  Dino and Dino, Jr. were exempt from the revelry since they were driving.

The wine-tasting room.

The wine-tasting room.

We then stopped by the Charles Schultz museum, whose collection includes artifacts from the cartoonist’s personal affects as well as contemporary art featuring his infamous characters. I particularly enjoyed an exhibit that explored the research Schultz conducted (with respect to music, for example) before penning his strips.  Dino particularly enjoyed kissing Charlie Brown.

Said kissing.

Said kissing.

San Francisco was, unfortunately, a let down. A dense fog had settled over the bay, obscuring the one sight I so longed to lay my eyes upon: the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so foggy I barely caught a glimpse as we drove across the bridge to enter the city.  We did get to see the crookedest street in the world, since Dino, Jr. insisted we check it out.  He actually wanted to drive down the street, but during the last trip to San Francisco Dino’s car got hit by a bus and he’s now reluctant to let his Mercedes anywhere near the local public transport.

There was a crooked man...

There was a crooked man...

Up next: West coast dining, from amazing milkshakes to succulent crabs.

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