Scenes from the Sky

We frequent flyers (or flyers, period) who are window-seat lovers can all agree: There’s nothing like the view of the world from up high. How lucky we are to live in an age when a plane ticket is all that separates us from a bird’s eye view.

Some of my very favorite things seen from 30,000 feet have included the following:

-The Grand Canyon
-The green, green grass of Ireland
-Seeing the shadow of the plane on the cloud carpet below (accompanied by a mini circle of rainbow)
-Seeing other planes whizzing by in the distance (or below you)
-The sun setting on one side of the sky, while the other side is already dark and studded with stars. How beautiful to see the night rushing in.
-Fall leaves changing at their peak – creating a fiery blaze of glorious bright color pops
-Snow covered mountains
-The endless lakes of Minnesota, studding the landscape as far as the eye can see
-Las Vegas rising up out of the desert
-Hoover Dam
-New York City – especially the Statue of Liberty!
-My own apartment building. I fly past it routinely!
-Looking down and seeing nothing but ocean below! (also one of my favorite things about looking out from the top deck of a ship!)
-The landing gear coming down from under the wing as we approach our destination. I have been fortunate enough to sit right behind this area on past flights and for me, it’s quite an interesting thing to watch.
-Looking for the bright blue specks (swimming pools) in people’s backyards (my favorite as a very young child)
-I’m sure there are plenty more I could mention, but my personal favorite … one of which I’ll never tire … is the gorgeous sight of the monuments of the metro DC area. Whether lit up at night or gleaming in full sunlight, seeing that beautiful white marble welcoming me home never, ever gets old. At times I feel like we are so close that I could reach out from my window and touch the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the top of the Pentagon. The gasps of pleasure and delight from first-time visitors to our area as they spy these sights are lots of fun too. City life can contribute to grumpy attitudes for many of us, so it’s refreshing to hear someone greeting DC with anticipation! And the icing on the cake, for me, on a return flight into my home airport is seeing the water of the Potomac so close underneath us that it’s almost a little bit frightening!

How about you?

Seein’ the States: Recent and Upcoming Travels

December:

-Las Vegas for our first wedding anniversary! It was fabulous as always. It was my second trip and Eric’s first. We had a fantastic time in our gorgeous luxury GO suite at the Flamingo and trekking all over the Strip. We did get slowed down a bit by an unfortunate case of tendonitis I developed – talk about painful! Because of that we did not make it over to Sam’s Town, the Stratosphere on the North End, the Vegas sign on the South end or to downtown (Fremont Street or “Old Vegas”). However, that’s what follow-up trips are for! We hope to get out there again this summer and experience “hot Vegas” for once.

-Austin, a first time trip for me, for a week for business. Didn’t get out to see much on this first trip which didn’t bother me because I knew I’d be back at least twice in 2014 – but I definitely ate my weight in Tex-Mex. One of my best friends, Beth, made the trip down from Lubbock to visit on my last night there which was GREAT. I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Airport Austin which I highly recommend. I’m finally at Elite Silver status for Marriott which is encouraging me to seek out Marriotts more often.

-Corpus Christi for Christmas with my wonderful in-laws! I got the grand tour, including stops at the Texas State Aquarium and Padre Island, and ate lots of great food including fabulous Puerto Rican homecooked Christmas dinner. We also ate at a great restaurant in San Antonio. Christmas this year will be in KG, but I’m sure we’ll be back to Corpus again before then. His parents very nicely put us up in a Residence Inn Marriott.

January/February:

-Return to Austin for nearly two weeks – this time my husband joined me for a good deal of the trip. It was nice to have him there and we did lots of fun things including walking all over the famous 6th Street, where we visited a quirky arcade bar, bought way too many books at BookPeople, chilled out in a city park, and ate a ton of good food including a fabulous meal at one of Sandra Bullock’s restaurants, Bess Bistro. Sadly, it was not bat season or we would’ve seen an impressive display from the winged critters, some of Austin’s most famous residents! I will be back in April. And yes, it was the same Courtyard Marriott again – impeccable service!

-Albuquerque, another first time trip, for another long business trip of about 12 days. I love it! I had seen New Mexico before, but only briefly. ABQ is full of friendly people and gorgeous views. Even the highways are decorated with art – glowing blue “mountains”, pottery jars, a giant rattlesnake – and in the background you can see the lovely Sandia Mountains. Eric flew out just for the weekend and we saw two old friends (and groomsmen) of his, Seth and Mike. We discovered we love New Mexico’s famous green chile at the Owl Cafe with Seth and tried a homegrown ghost chile at Mike’s (and some tasty homemade peanut brittle made with ghost chile by his father-in-law). We rode the tram up to Sandia Peak and ate at the High Finance restaurant at the top while snow whipped around outside. I stayed at a Residence Inn at the “25″ development.

Upcoming trips include (for work) Miami and Austin and (for play), our annual Lynch family Beach Week to the Grand Strand in September! I’m also trying to plan a birthday-week trip driving up the East Coast to visit Portland, Maine. That would add at least three new states to my U.S. state checklist! Currently, I’m just 20 states away from having all seen all 50.

My current U.S. “states visited” map courtesy of visitedstatesmap.com:

50 states map30 down, 20 left to go!

Texas Landscape Observations

Texas Trip 2 of 4 (Winter ’13/’14) is nearly done. I’ll be back in two weeks for another stay in Austin.

Southeast Texas is chilly and gray and sometimes rainy right now; I’m told that’s rare even in December. As I observed in Austin (more central) last week and in College Station-Bryan (much closer) in 2008, what I’ve seen of this state is mostly flat with a large amount of sprawl (including tons of restaurants – Texas boasts plenty of great food). Many times the only real height in the landscape comes in the form of towering highway overpasses. Corpus Christi is much flatter than Austin however, and sits right on the beautiful bay which is part of the Gulf of Mexico and displays many colors in its waters even on a cloudy day. The road to Corpus from San Antonio is largely farmland and reminds me of a cross between my own hometown in rural Virginia, and the even more rural area of Quintana Roo state in eastern Mexico. (We’re just four hours from the border here, says my mother-in-law). Huge clusters of prickly pear cacti welcome you on your route, along with the occasional herd of cattle. These areas must be perfect for stargazing – a favorite activity of mine wherever the night sky is untainted by city lights.

Land Sharks

Leaving work in Austin each day, I wait at the light in my little red Fiat to make a left turn back towards TX-71, facing the AUS (Bergstrom Airport) runways. I can see planes both coming in and taking off from the airport, depending in which direction I crane my neck. Blocking my view of the runways themselves is a grassy embankment. I can’t see the plane roaring at top speed on the ground, but I can see just the airplanes’ tails as they go by. Each tail looks like a multicolored shark’s fin gliding by at that angle. It highly amuses me. It’s the little things folks.

Exploring the Vegas Strip: Riviera

Our Vegas vacation was a success! We walked all over the Strip and explored everything. So much is changing in Vegas right now (as always) – there was construction everywhere. I hurt my foot due to a terrible choice of footwear, so that did slow us down some. We never got to Fremont or Sam’s Town or Stratosphere. That’s okay because we’ll likely be back in the spring.

We did make it to some places on the Strip that I hadn’t been to before, including the North end. We could’ve ridden the bus or the monorail up there, but when I saw it really wasn’t THAT far, I wanted to hoof it.

The Riviera is one of the older properties on the strip; it was built in 1955 and is one of the few remaining casinos from that era. Like many hotel/casinos in Vegas, it was once at least partially controlled by mafia members, supposedly leading to the murder of one of its managers and his wife after an embezzlement scheme was discovered. More recently, the Riviera filed for bankruptcy in 2010. If you look at the area in which it sits, you can see why it might have a harder time pulling in folks these days: it’s far less bustling than the mid- and south-Strip areas, and is adjacent to two halted resort properties which have both sat only partially built for five or six years. When I looked up walking directions to the Riv online, I encountered several comments from visitors and locals recommending that we not walk there after dark. Not one to stick my nose up at a place just because it’s old or less-flashy or even dingy-looking, I insisted we visit it anyway (in broad daylight) just to see it (and also so I could find the hidden pool I wrote about earlier).

My Frommer’s guide stated that the Riviera casino may leave one feeling “lost and cranky.” Um, you called it, Frommer’s. By the time we left the Riviera I had been reduced to a mumbling, irritated, slightly-less green human version of Oscar the Grouch.

The outside of the casino is beautiful with its gleaming silver and bright neon stars. I’d ridden by it at night before and loved the glitzy evening Vegas effect.

The inside was dim and smoky, with kinda grungy-looking carpet, but whatever. It’s a casino, and a very storied one at that.

But then I started looking around for the valet elevator to the second floor roof so I could view the abandoned pool I wrote about earlier. Armed with seemingly simple directions from a couple of Las Vegas forums, I confidently marched to the registration desk area and began searching … and searching … and searching for an elevator labeled “Valet” or one that would have a 2nd floor button. We got in so many random elevators and walked around the same areas so many times I’m surprised security didn’t come after us. As I felt the jaws of irritation gobbling up my patience and normally chipper attitude, and my attitude toward the Riv getting sour, we sat down for a smoothie break and re-examined the directions. Then we wandered around some more. The pool shouldn’t be THAT hard to get to – it was, after all, originally built as something that could be “easily” accessed from the casino. I thought about asking a staffer, but just in case we weren’t supposed to be up there, I didn’t want to get anyone’s eagle eyes on me. Plus, for all I knew the next time I was in Vegas, the Riviera could be a pile o’ dust. I WOULD SEE THAT POOL IF IT KILLED ME.

“I mean, how important is this to you, beautiful?” my wonderful husband finally said very patiently, getting wary of my scowl and the strange growling noises I had begun making.

“I hate the Riviera,” I grumbled in reply.

Then, we spied an elevator in a little back hallway just beyond the arcade area (more about THAT later!). The only buttons available were P, 1, and 2. That had to be it! I punched the 2 button with way too much excitement and there we were – staring at a roof with a man in a suit smoking nearby. (There are offices that exit into the pool area.) He paid us no mind as we came out and made our way to the fenced-off hole in the ground, where we saw THIS:

The Circus Circus clown in the background looks like he is coming for you! Creepy.

The Circus Circus clown in the background looks like he is coming for you! Creepy.

It looked way different than I imagined. I had thought of it as being longer and much more shallow, which seems typical of today’s Vegas pools. I also didn’t realize it had a boarded-up hot tub at its head.

Close up of the "R"

Close up of the “R”

Closer view of the hot tub, with depth marking still in view

Closer view of the hot tub, with depth marking still in view

The view of the pool was gross, but the view from the rooftop was great. This would’ve made a really nice swim. Too bad I hear it still leaks into the casino whenever it rains.

The deep end of the pool

The deep end of the pool

Closer view of the tiles in the deep end, or what's left of them. People have thrown plastic bottles full of questionable liquids in here and a pool of muddy water sits where I assume the deep end drain would be.

Closer view of the tiles in the deep end, or what’s left of them. People have thrown plastic bottles full of questionable liquids in here and a pool of muddy water sits where I assume the deep end drain would be.

The stepped patio leading up to the pool is full of cracks that have been plastered over. Adjacent to the office area is this little putting green. I’m not sure if this was put in at the same time as the pool, or if it was put there just for the people who work there. Either way, at least one cigarette butt had been flicked onto it.

It looks old, but it's definitely in better shape than its neighbor!

It looks old, but definitely in better shape than its neighbor!

View of a Riviera tower with the pool deck's plastered areas visible in the foreground.

View of a Riviera tower with the pool deck’s plastered areas visible in the foreground.

View of the pool deck from the putting green with the Stratosphere visible.

View of the pool deck from the putting green with the Stratosphere visible. The big blue tower you see is the failed Fontainebleau resort project.

All self-pitying mumbling about the Riv aside, it might be fun to come here again next time, get a drink at the bar and see if we can find someone who’s worked here for a long time and knows more about it. It’s a nice looking place in its own right … on the outside, anyway. If you walk around the casino and theatre areas, you will find a lot of plaques on the walls displaying the history of the resort’s famed headliners such as Liberace and Dean Martin (to name just a couple). And the Pinball Hall of Fame section is killer. What’s that, you say? PINBALL HALL OF FAME? Why, yes! Las Vegas is home to the Pinball Hall of Fame off-strip on Tropicana Avenue – and the Riv’s arcade has teamed up with the Hall of Fame to create a little outpost. There are some great classic games here from the past several decades, along with air hockey and plenty of video games.

It's blurry, but this is my husband playing some classic pinball games. Some of the machines have hand-written index cards taped to them with additional information

It’s blurry, but this is my husband playing some classic pinball games. Some of the machines have hand-written index cards taped to them with additional information.

In addition, this memorable sculpture advertising the Crazy Girls show can be found outside the Strip-facing casino entrance. Note that some parts of the statues have been touched more than others!

Clever!

“NO IFS, ANDS, OR …” Clever! Hey, I chuckled at it.

We both enjoyed seeing the Riviera (in the end) and I’m glad I found the hidden pool. If you find yourself in Vegas, I recommend at least taking a look around the Riv and playing a few slots (and pinball machines)! There’s no telling how much longer this relic of old times will be around.

Note: If you drive to the Riviera, then finding the pool elevator is probably easier. From the parking garage under the building (not the separate garage – remember the pool is overtop the casino), head towards the Strip side and look for an elevator labeled “Valet”, or at least I am told it’s labeled “Valet”. I didn’t go down there, so I don’t know. Get in that elevator and head up to the 2nd floor.

What Vegas Was: The Glass Pool Inn

One of the many wonderful old pieces of Las Vegas was the Glass Pool Inn, a relic from a very different time on the Strip. It stood across Las Vegas Boulevard on the Southern end. (If you hiked just past Mandalay Bay you’d find it soon after on the opposite side of the road.) Built in or before 1952 as the Mirage Motel, the Inn changed names in 1988 after selling the name to Steve Wynn, who, as you might have guessed, applied it to his glamorous, gleaming, sprawling new resort. The new Mirage was a sign of things to come – an era of new behemoth resorts that would continue to dislodge the roadside motels like the old Mirage.

But the little two-story Inn down the street was quite famous in its own right for its lovely above-ground pool, whose round porthole-like windows allowed swimmers a view out onto the road from their aquatic piece of heaven. The new name of Glass Pool Inn was catchy and the new sign, with its aqua blue pool-shapes, looked like it should have been there all along.

Although much beloved, the Inn was torn down in 2004 for reasons I can’t quite figure out. I haven’t yet seen where there are any plans to build a new resort or casino at the site. I’m sure one will eventually spring up once Vegas makes a full comeback from the economic downturn that left incomplete and abandoned resort/casino projects in a few places on the Strip. In 2012, the motel’s sign was cut down with the intention that it would be put up in the Neon Sign Museum on Fremont Street (downtown Vegas). But then the sign vanished from the (locked, gated) lot. To date no one has any clue what happened to it, but the fear is that it was sold for scrap metal.

Like so many things, the Glass Pool Inn sign lives on in Google Maps!

Like so many things, the Glass Pool Inn lives on in Google Maps!

Check out a pic of the gorgeous pool here at LasVegas360.com: Nice panoramic shot

Nags Head: Secret of the Sand Castle

Many, probably most, people who travel to Nags Head, North Carolina make a stop at Jockey’s Ridge State Park at some point or another. The sprawling 420 acres of sand dunes are kinda hard to miss.

But many of those same people don’t realize that the sand dunes have secrets hidden underneath them – things that were there long before the sand came to swallow them up. One of these things is the old Jockey’s Ridge Mini Golf, built in the 1970s. According to an article in the July 10, 1987 edition of the Wilmington Morning Star, the state purchased the attraction that month in order to allow the sands to continue their natural expansion. Previously, sand blowing into the golf course and nearby homes had been hauled away by dump trucks periodically to allow business to continue.

According to messages and vintage photos left on online forums, the attraction included an 18 hole course, a giant cobra, an octopus, this castle, various other structures, and a pirate ship that functioned as the office and check-in building. A poster stated in several forums and Flickr photo comments that her grandparents, the Meekins, built the course in 1975 and that the state used eminent domain to seize the course from them years later. The poster also shared that most of the structures were removed and sold with the exception of the putting greens and the castle. The ship reportedly went to a church that used it for youth group functions. Originally, the dunes buried half of the 18 hole golf course while it was still in business – necessitating another 9 holes to be built farther south on the property.

The abandoned castle is quite striking in vintage photos, with red paint, an archway, steps, and a fountain, and it looks tall enough for an adult to stand in. Left where it stood to face alone the encroaching sands of the Ridge, it eventually vanished from sight.

Many fans of the sand castle trek to the dunes every year to check on this old friend. Some years nothing much can be seen, but other years the venerable castle sits exposed. Fascinated by this story, I went there myself this past September. Below are some pictures.

I see a turret!

I see a turret! It may look fragile, but this is pretty solid concrete. The rest of the castle is completely buried.

From the castle, look down to see any remains of the mini golf greens.

From the castle, look down to see any remains of the mini golf greens. (Click this picture to enlarge and you can make out the traces of what’s left!)

I wish I could get out a mini-golf club and play!

Want to play some golf? This was the only putting green that I could find uncovered in the area, although plenty of blocks of concrete and boards with nails were strewn about elsewhere.

Better view of an exposed green

Better view of an exposed green – you can see how the mat has come off of the concrete pad. The edges have also been worn down – the red bricks are gone.

How To Get There:

*Park in the public lot at Kitty Hawk Kites (behind the building).
*At the light outside the kite shop, follow the crosswalk across Croatan Highway to the ridge.
*Continue straight onto the sand path into the dunes. Make a left and you will be walking into the golf course (even if you can’t see it). Look up and see if any of the castle remains appear.
Caution: Wear good sturdy shoes and watch your step. Broken glass, old nails, chunks of concrete and campfire messes are everywhere.

Read more about the sand castle:

Jockey’s Ridge Sand Castle Facebook fan page Someone posted a great vintage photo of the mini-golf course. I really want to know what happened to that octopus. A cephalopod fan myself, I think he’s too cool.

OBX Connection forum thread One of the many series of posts about the castle, this one is particularly good.

“Buried Treasures – What is Under Jockey’s Ridge?” This article in the North Beach Sun introduced me to the castle – and the stories of other things lost to the Ridge’s sandy jaws.

Sand castle photos on Flickr Check out some fantastic pictures of the castle from over the years, including an impressive aerial shot!