Sunday, January 1, 2012

Car Trip to Vegas: Canyons, Dams & Lotsa Money


During the school winter break we traveled by car to Las Vegas where Naomi and Ethan played in the North American Open chess tournament. On the road, we also visited Twin Falls, Salt Lake City, Zion Canyon, Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam.

Twin Falls

The Cascade Mountains are even more beautiful than ever.  It’s a sunny winter day, and the slopes are sparkling.  Snowy crust covers fir tree branches in a way that makes them look made completely out of white sugar.  

In contrast, southern Idaho is made out of endless potato fields, fat black cows and dirt-cheap gasoline.  Those $2.89/gallon signs still feel like an enchanting passing dream.  Google Maps mobile app showed that Twin Falls Best Western Inn serves full breakfast, which was enough to pull our car to their front door.  The next morning we saw the nearby Shoshone Falls, then drove towards Utah.

Rainbow above Shoshone Falls

Salt Lake City

Temple Square took most of the time we had for Salt Lake City.  This center of Mormon faith has interesting historic buildings, including the Temple itself, two visitor centers with well-made exhibits, and a certain sense of serenity.  Driving around, we noticed the dramatic mountain backdrop, and people who dress well and look fit.

Wedding in front of the Temple

Zion Canyon

That same night, googling “full breakfast” brought us to Quality Inn just before the Zion Canyon National Park.  Next morning, the scenic canyon floor road showed us this amazing natural wonder.  The surrounding canyon walls look like exquisite toy castles built by mile-high giants.  Earth and rocks are red, in many shades, and even the road surface is reddish, preserving the natural color palette.
Zion Canyon walls

Grand Canyon

Same day, we drove east to Page, AZ, with its awesome Glen Canyon Dam and Bridge; then south and west around Grand Canyon, entering the National Park’s South Rim side from the east, less than 2 hours before sunset.  This was enough to see half a dozen viewpoints on the way to the spectacular Mather Point near Grand Canyon Village.  That same night we had to drive another 5 hours to Las Vegas.  This was tough.
Glen Canyon Bridge (above) and Grand Canyon Mather Point (below)


Las Vegas

Bally’s Hotel and Casino may be not the most extravagant on the Strip, but it’s definitely very central, between Paris and Flamingo, and opposite Bellagio singing fountains.  It’s our second time in Las Vegas, and now we pay attention to small things, like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s death certificate hanging on the men restroom wall in Flamingo, with the cause listed as “Gunshot Wounds of the Head”.

Having a car (which was very dirty after a long trip) did not help much at the central Strip.  We were better off walking north up to The Venetian and south up to MGM Grand, where we went to see “KÀ”, one of the pricier shows by the fabled Cirque du Soleil.  

However, the car did help very much with getting to the distinct and exquisite Wynn and Encore, to the great cheap buffet at South Point, to the Stratosphere observation deck at night (watching the Strip lights, scary rides above the abyss and the Sky Jump), to the Fremont Street Experience at night (with lights canopy, live stage music, dance & beer), and to the Hoover Dam.  

Both the Hoover Dam and the new Memorial Bridge opposite it are awesome marvels of great engineering.  The dam created Lake Mead, and that lake created modern Las Vegas by providing plenty of water and energy storage  in otherwise inhospitable and isolated location surrounded by desert.

Night view from Stratosphere observation deck

North American Open

The tournament atmosphere was very different from our usual parents-with-kids ceremonies-and-trophies experience.  After all, this is Las Vegas, with its distinct playfully greedy fun spirit.  Very significant amounts of money were at stake, and people came amped up for the big prizes.

Both Naomi and Ethan won their first round games in the North American Open, which set the tone for their eventual success in this chess tournament.  It was amazing to watch Naomi, a small girl, mostly beating all these determined money-seeking adult men.  In the last round game, she devastated an opponent who won all his other games, so a draw would be enough for him to get $4000.  No such luck with our tough cookie ;)

Naomi has won the first place in her 1250 rating category, with 6 points out of 7 (5 wins, 2 draws).  She shared it with 3 other players and got a $1500 prize.  She fought for it very hard, used most of the available time each game (3-4 hours), and was the only female who got any money prize.  Ethan also got a $172.50 prize in his 1900 rating category, with 5 points (4 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).  Unlike Naomi, he faced opponents much higher-rated than him, and still mostly won.  Good job!

In total, the kids earnings fully covered the costs of all 10 hotel nights (7 in Las Vegas, 3 on the road forth and back), the car fuel, and even the hefty registration fees (from which the large prizes are made). Maybe our chess parenting costs are finally starting to break even ;)  

The results are here: http://chesstournamentservices.com/cca/tag/north-american-open-2011-standings/
In the tournament hall

Twin Falls

On the way back through Nevada, the landscapes are primordial and breathtaking.  At night, we drove into a phenomenal desert-sand-blowing snowstorm in northern Nevada, but still continued north thanks to the all-wheel drive.  This natural car-wash removed layers of dirt from our minivan, leaving it almost clean ;)  The next morning we saw the Perrine Bridge over the Snake Canyon, and drove home, making it in time for New Year’s celebration with friends.

Perrine Bridge over Snake Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho

Photos

See Picasa photo albums from December 22 - 31, 2011:

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