Tuesday, August 31, 2010

USS Hornet and GolfLand

Today we visited the USS Hornet, a decommissioned aircraft carrier and floating museum at Alameda Point, on the San Francisco Bay. The USS Hornet (CV-12) was originally commissioned in 1943 to replace the USS Hornet (CV-8) that was lost in service in late 1942.

The USS Hornet tied up at Alameda Point

The USS Hornet (CV-12) survived World War II with an impressive record including over 1400 enemy aircraft destroyed, over 50 enemy ships destroyed and credit for assisting in the sinking of the Japanese super battle ship Yamato. In June 1945, shortly before the end of the war, the deck of the USS Hornet was severely damaged in a typhoon and she was returned to San Francisco for repairs.

With the war ending while USS Hornet was still in dry dock, she saw little more use before being designated inactive and decommissioned in 1947. However, she was to be reclassified as an Attack Aircraft Carrier in 1952 and recommissioned with the new designation CVA-12 in 1953, following extensive upgrades performed at the New York Naval Shipyard.

CVA-12 was upgraded once more in service before being converted to an anti-submarine support carrier and reclassified again to CVS-12, the designation she bore when retired from active service in 1970, after yet more upgrades had been completed to bring her into line with the more modern design of an aircraft carrier, including replacing some of the wooden deck sections with aluminium panels where damage from the heat produced by jet engines was most likely to occur.

F14 Tomcat on the deck of the USS Hornet

The USS Hornet, as CVS-12, was also part of two of the Apollo lunar missions, recovering the crews of Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. Custom built Airstream caravans, built as Mobile Quarantine Facilities were loaded on board for the astronauts to inhabit while returning to port, as the environment of the moon was still very much an unknown factor at that time and the powers that be were concerned about possible contamination effects.

Although the USS Hornet was decommissioned in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991, she was only opened as a museum in 1998 and has been open to the public ever since, with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic team of docents providing tours of the carriers inner workings and answering questions. Today, in addition to working our way through the various parts of CVS-12 that are open to all visitors to the museum, we were also able to take a docent led tour of the carriers Island and Bridge. This is part of the ship that, due to both safety and security concerns, is off limits to unescorted visitors.

After we left Alameda Point, we headed up to the university town of Berkeley for lunch before heading to GolfLand in Milpitas, where we met up with David and Nicole for a round of mini-golf and some time in their arcades.

Part of the course at the GolfLand minifold course in Milpitas

We spent quite a few hours at GolfLand before deciding it was time for dinner, for while we ended up going to the IHOP in Milpitas. IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes, and a lot of their meals come with a side of pancakes, although they're rather filling before you get started on the pancakes.

Tomorrow we're heading up to the state capital of California, Sacramento, to visit Sacramento Vintage Ford, SoCal Customs of Sacramento, to see some of the government buildings and also to do a bit more outlet shopping.

(As you can see, I haven't added photos to this post yet either, however they will be available on LandBarge.com. I'll add photos to this and other un-illustrated posts whenever I have the time to do so.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Flea and The Lightning

Today we went to the San Jose Flea Market (The Flea), which claims to be the largest market of it's kind with over 2000 stalls operating on a regular basis and tonight we headed out to Oakland for a birthday party for one of David's colleagues, where he and his friends played with Jacobs Ladders, exploded fruit with electrical energy and cranked up some Tesla Coils (The Lightning).

Josh playing with lightning

The Flea Market is truly huge. It's easy to get lost in here (although easy to find yourself again too if you just follow the outside row of stalls back to where you came in) and the 2000 plus stalls sell everything from jewellery and perfume to car accessories, Western and Mexican wear to sofa's and other furniture. There are several food and drink stands set out throughout The Flea, although they all appear to be run by the same company and are actually very reasonably priced considering that they appear to have pretty much a monopoly on food inside The Flea. There are also a number of mobile 'beer vans' that dispense cups of Pepsi and beer as they drive around the markets, meaning you're never more than a couple of minutes from a beverage if you so desire. And that pint of Millers or Bud is only $4, the same price as at any of the fixed food vans.

The San Jose Flea Market

I ended up buying some more Mexican blankets, as I figure I'll no doubt have a use for them in one of my cars in the future, and they'll at least have a little more of a story behind them if I've had to haggle with a Mexican shopkeeper at a flea market for them, instead of just buying them over the counter at a parts store. I also picked up a Western style straw hat, mainly to sit next to my Akubra at home. I'm still hoping to pick up a genuine Stetson while we're here, but will do a little shopping around for that over the next couple of days.

Using electricity to cut a cantaloupe

After we left The Flea, we came back to David and Nicole's, and piled everyone in the Caddy for the drive up to Oakland for Josh's birthday. Josh was one of the groomsmen at David's wedding last year, and he likes to play with things that most people would consider a little dangerous, including Jacob's Ladders and Tesla Coils.

Time for a little fire breathing

With that background, Josh's birthday party was never going to be a boring affair. When we arrived he was shoving electrodes into an onion, which he then proceeded to blow up by charging up a large capacitor and then discharging it across the electrodes inserted in the onion. This process was repeated a number of times during the night with varying results, using a lime, a cantaloupe and a sausage.

Now that's a fire!

Also in action was a Jacob's Ladder that ended up being used to cut through a watermelon and a cantaloupe in a manner not dissimilar to most welding processes. There were also two Tesla Coils, one smaller one of Josh's used indoors during daylight to demonstrate the principle and another much larger unit set up outside that was fired up after the suns rays started to fade and aside from the visual show, also provided musical accompaniment at certain points during the night.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pleasanton GoodGuys - Day 2

Today was spent at Pleasanton for the second day of the GoodGuys West Coast Nationals, there's not a lot more to say about this show, except that as big as it seemed yesterday, it was at least 4 or 5 times bigger today. The crowds were definitely there, there were several times as many cars as there were yesterday and all of a sudden there were actually lines for the food and drink stands.

GoodGuys West Coast Nationals at Pleasanton, California

We parked on the grounds today, at a cost of $8 for a spot only a short walk from the gate, with the threat of tow away zones outside the fair grounds, it seemed like a good deal to me, but not to the guy we walked past on the way in, yelling at one of the gate staff because he couldn't grasp the concept that he had to pay $8 for parking and another $18 to get into a show. Never mind that this particular show has over 3000 killer hot rods and kustoms of a variety and standard you would just never see in Australia.

GoodGuys West Coast Nationals at Pleasanton, California

As I sit here writing this, I'm also thinking of some of the cars I glimpsed from across the grounds and didn't manage to track down, and the ones I walked straight past, in a hurry to get somewhere else and thinking "I'll get to that one later" and never got back to. However, even with everything that I know I missed, I also took over 1200 photos over the 2 days of some really, really cool cars.

GoodGuys West Coast Nationals at Pleasanton, California

Even the food and beverage stands are something to be experienced, with flame grilled steaks, teriyaki chicken and polish, cajun and italian sausage dogs on offer as well as deep fried Twinkies, Oreos and Snickers, ice cream stands and much more. And where ever there were food stands, there were drink stands, serving 750mL of Corona at a time, but only in a plastic cup, poured straight from a bottle, margaritas and other assorted beers and soft drinks. There's no "licensed area" here, the whole venue is licensed, but while saying that, there's also none of the problems that we've seen alcohol cause at Australian car shows. Not only is this one hell of a cool show, it's also a genuine family outing.

Krispy Kreme donuts on display

After we left Pleasanton, we dropped in to Krispy Kreme's in Mountain View to pick up a box of donuts and came on back to David and Nicole's place for the night. A little later on, we went for a walk down to local burger joint Peggy Sues, a nice retro styled burger joint in downtown San Jose.

(Apologies for the lack of photos again, but it's almost midnight and I promised Kate I'd be up early tomorrow, so I better get some sleep - Photos will be added to this and all other photo-deprived posts as soon as possible)

Good Guys West Coast Nationals - Friday

Today was the first day of the GoodGuys West Cost Nationals in Pleasanton, and we were there to check out the cars and the traders displays during the day. We have every intention of being back there nice and early tomorrow to see all the new stuff that turns up in the morning too, as all cars are bumped out overnight and allowed back in tomorrow morning (along with a bunch of new cars that weren't there today).

We spent a fair bit of time checking out the various traders stands today, both inside pavilions and out in the open. In particular, I was happy that the Speed by Spectre guys and girls had a display set up, as I'm a big fan of their Infidel Streamliner, and while I'd gotten a fair few photos of the car at Bonneville, I hadn't actually found their pit area (it seemed to me that they spent more time in impound than at the pit anyway), so I hadn't been able to buy the Spectre merchandise I'd been craving until today.

We also found a heap of cool cars out in the general display areas that may or may not be in the same place tomorrow, as the show cars get bumped out in the evening and return in the morning, many of them changing locations overnight.

We also took some time to check out the swapmeet section of the show, with traders selling everything from cable ties and workshop tools to number plates, hub caps and entire steel hot rod bodies.

On the way home, we detoured to Livermore to have dinner at John's Char Burger, this is where we'd caught up with a couple of local car clubs last year, and we were hoping to do so again this year, however most of them were busy at the show and we didn't see many cars cruising the Livermore strip or at John's this year. We'll be back tomorrow, and will take a bunch more photos then as well. .

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gilroy and Morgan Hill

Today we had a pretty late start, heading out for lunch a little after midday and then heading down to the outlet stores in Gilroy for a little shopping.

The view from David's property, over the town of Morgan Hill

After we finished up at Gilroy, we headed to Morgan Hill where we met up with David and Nicole to check out their property in the hills overlooking the town. This is a pretty steep property on the side of a large hill, and this in turn means that it has some awesome views of the valley, lake and town laid out in front of it, which only get better the higher up you go.

Another view from high up on the property

About half way down the property, is a Divco van that David has been trying to identify, mostly because he'd like to get it off the property and into someone else's hands, but in order to do that he needs to properly identify it, including locating some sort of identification, such as a VIN or chassis number. These vans were also built in a very similar body style for well over 20 years, making picking the actual year of production quite a challenge. This particular van was fitted with some sort of flathead 6 cylinder motor, fitted with an updraught carburettor and appears to have most recently been used as a dry cleaning van. However, we've been unable to find any information on the company "New Process Laundry and Dry Cleaners" who's name appears on the side of the van, although a new clue did turn up tonight, with a much smaller logo for "Gallager co" and the text SF 510. 510 being an area code for part of the Bay Area, this could indicate that the company that painted the vehicle was from the Bay Area.

The Divco van, stranded half way down the hill

After heading back to the top of the property, we drove down to Morgan Hill, picked up the Cadillac, which we'd left back in civilisation in case there wasn't enough room to turn the big old girl around at the top, and grabbed some gelato before heading back to David and Nicole's for the night.

The gelato store we stopped at on the way home

Tomorrow we're off to the GoodGuys West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton and will drop in to John's 1/4lb Char Burger in Livermore to catch the weekly cruise in there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Returning to San Jose

Today we drove from San Simeon, up Highway 1, past Big Sur and through Monterey and Santa Cruz, then headed from Santa Cruz, back to San Jose.

When we left San Simeon this morning, we were surrounded by a heavy fog, all the way up the coastline, until after we left Santa Cruz this evening, we were still surrounded by the fog.

We stopped for lunch at Big Sur, initially going to the local bakery and realising the restaurant part was closed and the bakery was overpriced, we decided to just have a snack and push on to Monterey for lunch, however we then walked down the hill to the local deli and found much better priced food that looked a lot better than what was on offer at the bakery anyway, so we ate there instead.

Onwards to Monterey, we paused along the way to get a few photos of the rolling fog covering the road and the hills, trying to convey some of the beauty we were experiencing.

Once in Monterey we headed to Cannery Row, where we managed to snag a prime parking spot on the street and walked through the local shops, doing a spot of souvenir shopping before we made another move, this time in the direction of Margaritaville in Capitola. I'm not sure if Capitola is considered a suburb of Santa Cruz or not, but it's close enough that it may as well be, being about 7 miles from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. After a pretty good dinner consisting of a plate of fajita's and a couple of margaritas, we headed in to Santa Cruz itself to see if I could get a photo of the boardwalk all lit up with the jetty in the background, however the fog soon put paid to that idea, so we hit the road once again and made it back to David and Nicole's place around 11pm.

(This post is still a work in progress, with a few tweaks no doubt coming once I get the photos sorted and online)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Venice Beach In The Morning, San Simeon Tonight

This morning, we headed down to Venice Beach to find out what all the fuss was about. The boardwalk at Venice Beach is one of the most colourful places you'll ever see, filled with street entertainers, sidewalk stalls and souvenir shops and accompanied by basketball courts, paddle tennie and handball courts and an open air gym, as well as a skate park. All this in addition to the beach itself, which is home to the Lifeguard Division of the LA County Fire Department.

We walked most of the length of the boardwalk and checked out the skate park before we eventually made our way back to the car and headed off to continue our trek back to San Jose. We are following the scenic Highway 1 up California's coastline and our first stop was for lunch at KFC in the seaside suburb of Malibu.

Highway 1 is not signposted all that well, with the signage mostly providing confirmation after an intersection that you chose the correct direction. Highway 1 also merges and splits off from Californian motorway 101, which also heads from Los Angeles to San Francisco, taking a slightly more inland route, but not as far inland as the I-5, which is the interstate we took from San Jose to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and also comprised a large part of our route from Bakersfield to Los Angeles just a couple of days ago.

Along the way to our overnight stop in the small coastal town of San Simeon, we passed through another famous Californian town in Santa Barbara and dropped in to the Bob's Big Boy in Morro Bay for dinner.

Tomorrow we're heading onwards on our way back to San Jose, with plans to take in the 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach and stop at Monterey and Santa Cruz, at which point we will probably leave Highway 1 and make our way back to San Jose.

(Apologies for the lack of photos with this post, as I haven't been able to upload them, which is probably due to a block on ftp access at this hotel)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to Los Angeles

We're now in the part of the trip that hasn't been planned in quite so much detail as the early part. The ANRA Summer Nationals were the second last event we had planned on attending, with our next planned commitment being the GoodGuys show at Pleasanton the following weekend.

Almost back in Los Angeles

Last night we booked rooms in Los Angeles and San Simeon. San Simeon is a town on the coastal route back to San Jose, as we've decided to head back from Bakersfield via Los Angeles, taking Route 1 up the coast through Santa Barbara, past Big Sur and on to Monterey and Santa Cruz.

Not a good way to start a visit to Los Angeles

Once again we hit the I-5 for the run into LA, this involves some pretty hefty hills and can put a bit of stress on a car during the heat of the day. This is the second time we've done that drive in the last couple of weeks, and the second time we've seen a car on fire on the side of the road during the climb. Knowing what was coming, we'd broken up the drive by stopping for lunch at a Fosters Freeze somewhere in the hills we were driving through.

Santa Monica Pier at night

When we got back to Los Angeles, the first thing we did was to check into our hotel room, then we headed off to do some of the things we didn't have time to do last time we were in LA. These included heading down to Santa Monica Pier and visiting Hollywood (in particular the Capitol Records tower area) at night and driving down Sunset Boulevard, again at night.

Some of the decor inside Bubba Gumps Shrimp Company

We also had dinner while on the Santa Monica Pier, at Bubba Gumps Shrimp Co., Bubba Gumps is a chain of themed restaurants based on the movie Forrest Gump, all featuring memorabilia from the movie.

The Capitol Records tower at night

I ended up with quite a few photos that I'd been hoping to get at some point and had resigned myself to not actually getting on this trip, so it's been quite a good result from the extra night in Los Angeles for me.

Today we're on the road again, taking the scenic Highway 1 along the Californian coastline and stopping overnight in San Simeon, just south of Big Sur.

Monday, August 23, 2010

ANRA Summer Nationals Race Day

Today was Race Day at the ANRA Summer Nationals, at Famoso Raceway, near Bakersfield, California. We got out to the track about 10am (racing started at 8am) and watched some pretty cool racing for a couple of hours before heading back to Bakersfield.

Drag Racing at Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield, California

The Famoso Raceway was originally built as an airstrip during World War II and after the war was converted into a drag strip by the Bakersfield Smokers drag racing club. In 1959 Famoso hosted the first March Meet, a meeting that is still running to this day, making it one of the longest running drag strips in the world.

Drag Racing at Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield, California

After the finals were rounded up at Famoso, we headed back in to Bakersfield, stopping in at Camelot Park, near the hotel we're staying at and taking a few swings in the batting cages there. We also spent a little time in their amusement arcade before heading back to the hotel and then out to local fast food joint Wing Stop for dinner.

Camelot Park Amusement Centre in Bakersfield, California

Tomorrow we're going back to Los Angeles before heading north to San Jose, where we'll be based for the rest of our time in the United States.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

ANRA Summer Nationals at Famoso Raceway

Today we headed out to Famoso Raceway, about 20 miles north of Bakersfield, to check out the American Nostalgia Racing Associations Summer Nationals. Today was qualifying and we got to see the full field running through their paces.

Nostalgia classes are the order of the day at the ANRA Summer Nationals

While most of the cars represented cars that could still be running at National Opens in Australia, there were also some HAMBster class cars running. The meeting also included a concession to modern race brackets in the form of Junior Dragster and Junior Comp racing. The J/D's are much the same as we see at home, but the Junior Comp cars were something new to me. These are a little larger than a normal J/D and are fitted with a 4 cylinder motorbike engine and 6 speed gearbox, while still running over the eighth mile, the resulting car being limited by class rules to a 6.90 second ET.

A Junior Comp car at Famoso Raceway

Tomorrow is race day, and we're planning on getting there nice and early, as unlike most meetings at the Perth Motorplex, Famoso's race day starts at 8am and finishes at 5pm. If you're in the area, it's an event well worth checking out.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia and the Drive to Bakersfield

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia is a truly impressive sightWe took some time out from the road trip to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia this morning. Aside from some issues with woefully inadequate parking and a 'Road Closed' sign that apparently didn't actually mean 'Road Closed', we had a great time and even with the hour or so lost trying to drive to the grove and then driving back to the hotel to catch the shuttle, then finding a carpark full of cars at the grove itself, we still made it out of Yosemite with enough time to get to Bakersfield, our next overnight stop, at a decent hour.

The Grove of Giant Sequoia is actually split up into an Upper Grove and a Lower Grove, and refers to part of the park where around 450 Giant Sequoia can be found. While the trees are not actually the oldest living things on the planet, or the tallest or even the largest, they're in the top 2 or 3 on each of those categories and are definitely some of the most impressive natural wonders of California. To go to Yosemite National Park (or to live in California) and not to spend a couple of hours wandering around this grove would be a real tragedy.

The tree's have a relatively shallow root system, and for their protection, most of the trees are fenced off to keep people from disturbing the soil around the base, however, I was saddened to see some people The Grizzly Giant, estimated to be over 2700 years old(and no, not Americans for a change) jumping the fence to pose standing at the base of some of the trees.

After we left Yosemite, we headed for Bakersfield, stopping at Fresno for dinner at In'n'Out Burger and also to investigate a random noise that had started coming from the Cadillac as we hit the off ramp. After tracing this to the front right hand wheel, we were just about to pull the wheel off and investigate further when we found the wheel bearing cap had come loose behind the hub cap. We fixed that up, checked for the noise and when it was gone, hit the road again for Bakersfield. Interestingly, when we hit Bakersfield the noise returned, so perhaps the bearing cap may need to be replaced at some point.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Leaving Tahoe for Yosemite

The drive down from South Lake Tahoe was a fairly interesting one, with the windy roads of the Californian highlands providing a real change from the Nevada highways we'd been used to seeing. We took Ebbett's Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a drive which involves some very tight roads climbing to around 9000 feet, at which point not only was the Cadillac running a little short on breath, we were too.

Kinney Lakes, at 8400 feet, alongside Ebbett's Pass

We stopped at around 8400 feet at a little lake, which appears to be called Kinney Lakes and I walked down to the shore to take a few photos. The walk back to the car was maybe 150 metres with a climb of around 10 to 15 metres, but by the time I got back to the car, I was feeling like I'd run a marathon. It definitely made me feel out of shape, considering that we passed several cyclists who showed no sign of needing to stop for a breather on the long climb. We then jumped back in the car and kept on driving, stopping at the town of Arnold, at a much more oxygen rich 4000 feet. We've actually spent quite a lot of the last 2 weeks around 4000 feet and above, which is a bit of a shock to the system for 3 Aussies brought up less than 100 feet above sea level.

Giant Burger in Arnold, California

While in Arnold, we took the opportunity to refuel the Cadillac, check the oil and water and to grab a bit at local burger joint Giant Burger. Giant Burger's signature burgers are only a quarter of a pound, but are definately Giant in taste. They are a more simple and effective formula than some burger joints we've visited, and it's been rewarded in the awards plastered on their walls. They also have some of the best onion rings I've tasted for a long time and topped it all off with an awesome butterscotch milkshake.

Pushing on from Arnold, we kept going to Yosemite, with only a small hiccup as the GPS confused us by taking us on some of the most out of the way roads into the Yosemite National Park, which we eventually worked out was due to the Garmin's 'avoid tolls' setting plotting a route that avoided the main entry gate to the park. Once we worked out what was happening, we switched that little feature off and got back on the main roads, which may or may not have been a good thing, considering the amount of roadworks going on in the park at the moment, but at least we payed our way.

Upper Yosemite FallsWe stopped for a couple of photos inside the park, where we had a pretty good view of the Upper Yosemite Falls, and part of the valley floor, not that I've yet worked out what most of the things I took photos of were. On a sadder note, my Canon 1D Mk III sustained it's first damage (and I'm about 99% sure this is the first time I've damaged any of my Canon's) when the tripod I had mounted it to toppled over. This was also the first time I'd mounted the 1D to my tripod with a long lens attached, and I immediately retired the tripod in question from use with the 1D. On a positive note, the camera works fine, there's just a couple of scratches in the finish of the body and a tear in the rubber of the eyecup.

We then jumped back into the traffic crawling through the roadworks on the road to the Wawona and Fish Camp areas, and eventually made it to our overnight accomodation at the Wawona Hotel with about half an hour to spare before the restaurant closed for the night. The Wawona is one of the oldest hotels in the park, with most of it's rooms having only shared bathroom facilities. None of the rooms have televisions, phones or wifi access and the majority of the Hotel has been maintained in a mid-19th century style.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

South Lake Tahoe

We're now on the road to Bakersfield for the ANRA Nostalgia meeting this weekend, and have stopped for the night in South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is a huge lake in the mountains on the border of California and Nevada. During winter it's a ski resort and during summer it's a holiday town on the shores of a huge lake.

The view from our room at the Lakeshore Lodge

We're staying at the Lakeshore Lodge in South Lake Tahoe, just on the California side of the border, and according to their website, the area's only "all lakefront accommodation". Our room is less than 50 metres from the waters edge, and the only thing between us and that water is the sand on the shore.

My dinner from The Brewery tonight

For dinner tonight we took a walk to a small pub called 'The Brewery', who brew their own beers, and I had one of their 1/2 pound Build Your Own burgers, with guacamole, cheddar cheese, blue cheese crumbles and bacon, along with a stout beer they call Bad Ass Ale, which reminded me very much of the Margaret River based Bootleg Brewery's Raging Bull ale.

Saying Goodbye to the Salt

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and eventually we had to leave Wendover and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Before we did however, we paid a visit to the Wendover Airport and their small museum devoted to the World War II history of the town, including the training of the B29 crews involved in delivering the first nuclear weapons used over the towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When we left Wendover, we headed west towards our next overnight stop in Winnemucca, Nevada, but along the way we had to stop off in the town of Elko, where one of our friends has been living for several years. Lee and Sherry are now back home in Perth, but it was good to see the town they've called home for the last five or so years.

Our overnight stop was a small motel in Winnemucca called the Town House Motel, and it was a very refreshing surprise after the accommodation in Wendover. Of all the things Wendover has to offer, it appears great accommodation deals during SpeedWeek aren't one of them, so clean, fresh smelling rooms with wifi provided were a great surprise in Winnemucca.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bonneville SpeedWeek 2010

The SCTA's Bonneville SpeedWeek 2010 was the centrepiece of our trip, with plans in place for us to meet up with almost 20 other Australian travellers out on the salt, most of them also making their first visit to the hallowed Bonneville Salt Flats.

Aussie Norm leaving the start line in the Big Knob roadster

We were looking forward to seeing Norm Hardinge and the Aussie Desert Coolers / Big Knob Racing team taking a shot at the 200 mph mark and personally, I'd been hoping to get to see the Speed by Spectre "Infidel", a Cadillac big block powered streamliner who's owner has set a long term goal of 400 miles an hour on gasoline. Last year, they set a record at 330mph, and this year, they went over 20mph faster, with average speeds of 356mph from the 'slow' A class motor. As of Tuesday afternoon, they're now stepping up to their AA combo and pushing for another record over the rest of the week.

The Speed by Spectre Infidel Liner leaving the start line at Bonneville, on the way to one of three records at SpeedWeek 2010

The Big Knob Racing team also managed to hit their marks this year, with a best speed of 200.1mph as of Tuesday afternoon, however they've hurt the clutch in the car in the progress and will have to wait for for next year to improve their Bonneville scorecard any further.

A boot full of ice helps keep the Kizashi cool on the way to 200 mph

Another car that caught my eye on the salt was the turbocharged Suzuki Kizashi being built by Road & Track Magazine. These guys ran 197mph in licensing this morning in order to get approval to run the long track of the combo course, and when they ran the long track this afternoon they ran 203mph on a 202mph record. They're in impound now and will be trying to back up the record first thing tomorrow morning.

Jeff Brock leaves the line in the Buick he's sharing with Ronnie Dunn at Bonneville SpeedWeek 2010

One of the crowd favourite cars on the salt today was the Jeff Brock / Brooks and Dunn Bonneville Bombshell Buick, built by Jeff Brock and run this year by Jeff and Ronnie "Cowboy" Dunn of Brooks and Dunn.

Time To Head For The Salt

After our overnight stop in Beaver, Utah, we headed on north towards the cities of Wendover (Utah) and West Wendover (Nevada) and the Bonneville salt flats. The state border is in the middle of the town, resulting in a very small town with 2 post offices, a handful of casino's on the Nevada side, and not much more to offer to the casual tourist. There are actually more things to do in Wendover than just gamble and race on the salt, but I suspect 99% of visitors to the town would never discover that.

Parachutes are an essential part of the braking system on most Bonneville cars

The flight crews that flew the Enola Gay and Bockscar B29 Bombers to Hiroshima and Nagasaki trained at Wendover, and there's a small museum at the former air force base explaining some of the history of the area. There's also a local drag strip, but neither of these were the primary reason for our visit to the Wendover area.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a mecca for racers and hot rodders alike

Racers have been chasing land speed records at Bonneville since 1914, and the Southern California Timing Association have been running 2 events a year for many years now, one of those being August's SpeedWeek event. This year, over 500 teams entered for SpeedWeek, including 200 rookie teams. This was also the first time for me at SpeedWeek, and I had been looking forward to it since making the decision to come here almost a year ago.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Grand Canyon

After leaving Las Vegas, we spent the night at the Grand Canyon, in a cosy little cabin in the North Rim Lodge complex. The Lodge itself is right on the edge of the canyon and is surrounded by a couple of hundred little cabins that can be rented out for the night. It's billed as a much quieter place to visit the Grand Canyon than the South Rim, which has the highest numbers of visitors of any Canyon viewing areas and the West Rim, which is the closest to Las Vegas and is also the most recently developed.

The North Rim Lodge is also approximately a quarter mile walk from Bright Angel Point, which overlooks one of the major fault lines that makes up the Grand Canyon, the Bright Angel Fault. I got up nice and early to walk down there just after sunrise to check out the view, and then went back again a couple of hours later once the others had woken up.

This was also the point at which David and Nicole had to head for home, as they had to get back to work, so we took the opportunity to have lunch at the Grand Canyon Lodge, overlooking the canyon, before we said goodbye and headed on north to our next overnight stop at Beaver, on the way to the Bonneville salt.

The Auto Collections at The Imperial Palace

This collection was a bit of a surprise for me, as I didn't expect there to be quite so many unique cars hidden away here. I knew the billing claimed a 300 car collection, I didn't realise just how little filler was involved in this collection.

The Auto Collections are an auto museum located on what used to be the 5th floor of the parking garage at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. They are home to cars spanning from a replica 1887 Benz 3 wheeler to late model supercars including a Jaguar XJ220 and 3 Ford RS200's. There are also almost 40 custom built Rolls Royce's, many billed as "1 of 2 in existence" and also a number of rare Cadillacs, including one of 200 'bicentennial' El Dorado's ever built.

Group B Rally fans would find plenty to drool over here too, in addition to the 3 RS200's I've already mentioned, there's a Lancia 037 road car and 2 MG Metro 6R4's, including one driven by the late Henri Toivonen.

In short, if you have a couple of days in Vegas, and you're a car nut, this is definitely somewhere you must visit. It's only a short walk if you're staying on the centre strip and if you're not, then all roads lead to the centre strip anyway and you could very easily and cheaply catch a monorail or bus ride here.

The Fremont Street Experience

The Fremont Street Experience is the name given to the part of Fremont Street, in Las Vegas, which used to be "the strip", before the current crop of mega dollar casino's sprung up down on Las Vegas Boulevarde. The area has also become home to a number of refurbished neon signs from now-defunct Las Vegas casinos and has acquired what is billed as the largest big screen in existence, with a length of over 1500 feet.

The casino's here have a definite feeling of being in "Old Vegas", while there's still plenty of glitz and plenty of tacky to be found, the whole street has a much calmer feel to it than the regular Vegas strip.

We called it a night relatively early after Fremont Street, as our next day in Las Vegas was also our last, and we still had a fair bit of site seeing to be done, including a visit to the Auto Collections at the Imperial Palace.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Las Vegas Strip

One of the things I was really looking forward to on this trip, was walking around, camera in hand, taking photos of the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip. The lights of Vegas are known world wide, and many of the sights are recognisable from movie appearances. We spent a fair bit of time walking around various parts of Las Vegas, but mainly the "new" strip, with our hotel, the Bellagio, being located at the centre of the new strip. We also drove out to the "old" Las Vegas Strip, now known as the Fremont Street Experience, and home to many retired (and now restored) neon signs from Vegas' history, but we'll get to those in a later post.

The brightly lit entrance to Circus Circus

While I have no problem sitting down with a tripod and a timer to take photos, that was not something I wanted to do in Las Vegas, not only do I hate wielding a tripod in a crowd, but it's also not that vital when you have as much light as Vegas does. I ended up running higher, but not high, ISO's of around 640 to 800 ISO for most of these shots, with speeds around the 1/6 to 1/30 of a second being the most common, although some lights required that I shorten the exposure to 1/80th of a second or so. The Canon 1D Mk III's high ISO performance helped out a bit, as I was more comfortable running higher ISO's without being too concerned about graining, while Canon's Image Stabilisation on the 24-105 f/4.0L seemed to help out a lot by allowing me to run much slower speeds than I would normally be comfortable with.

The volcano show outside the Mirage

The other reason I didn't want to be lugging a tripod around in Las Vegas was because I came to Vegas with every intention of sampling some of the various drinks that are available on the strip, while walking up and down it and taking photos. This is something you could never do at home, and while street drinking is technically illegal the whole length of the strip, it's something that is never enforced in Las Vegas, unless you're doing something else wrong and the cops need something to charge you with. As a side note, the law in Nevada specifically permits public drunkenness and forbids local counties from changing that. As a result, you'll notice as you walk along the strip, that almost half the people you see are carrying drinks. You can even buy a drink, or have your souvenir half yard glass refilled right on the strip.

Beatty to Vegas, via Scotty's Castle

On our first day in Nevada, we visited Scotty's Castle, in the Death Valley National Park. Scotty's Castle is actually the "Death Valley Ranch", and it wasn't actually Scotty's either. Scotty's Castle was built by a wealthy couple as their vacation home, and Scotty was a close friend who entertained the couple and their guests, while pretending to live there.

Scoty's Castle, Death Valley. Don't forget to click on the image to see the rest of the photos

The Death Valley Ranch was an amazing building, with it's own hydro-electric power station and rather advanced cooling systems for the era in which it was built. Over the years many Californian celebrities came to stay at the Ranch when they visited Death Valley.

Mitsubishi's Test Team donated this Evo VIII rear wing to the Sourdough Saloon

We had lunch at a little bar in Beatty known as the Sourdough Saloon. This Saloon's claim to fame lies in the car parts covering it's walls. Over the years, many automotive manufacturers have used Death Valley to test their cooling systems and many of those test teams have retired to the Sourdough Saloon for dinner and a drink or two at the end of a long day. They've also been known to donate signed car parts to the Saloon, to be hung on the walls.

View of the famous Bellagio Fountain Show from our room

By now it was about time we hit the road, as we had rooms booked at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, so we pointed the Cadillac in the general direction of Las Vegas and stood on the gas. A couple of hours later and we were pulling in to the parking at the Bellagio. I knew to expect Vegas to be big, but it still surprised me with just how big everything is. Our room was up on the 24th floor of the Bellagio, with a perfect view of the famous Fountain Show and also a great view of the strip.