Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oregon---Willamette Valley

Since we've been vacationing in Oregon for over 35 years, I decided to break up my Oregon blog into sections. Not only do we still vacation here (mostly to visit my family), but I lived here for about 7 years as a child. Most of our vacations, though, are during their fabulous July or August months. Can't beat those nearly 90 degree days with low humidity and almost constant sunshine. This blog is of the area I lived in---the Willamette Valley. Most of our vacations were based out of Dallas, Oregon, about 12 miles west of Salem.

First a little education about the area. The Willamette Valley is a fertile plain on either side of the Willamette River in the northwest area of Oregon. It is bound on the west by the Oregon Coast Range and on the east by the Cascade Range. The Missoula Floods some 13,000-15,000 years ago contributed to the agricultural richness of the valley. The majority of the state's population lives within the basin.
The climate in the Willamette Valley is usually cool wet winters and moderate dry summers. Most valley precipitation arrives as rain, about half of which falls between December and February. Growing seasons are long, averaging 150 to 180 days per year in the lowlands with an average of 40" of rain. Temperatures rarely get below 0 in the winter and only above 90 5-15 days per year in the summer.

A fantastic way to see the Willamette Valley is by Amtrak train on the Coast Starlight. It is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes. It starts in LA and ends in Seattle. It goes through Oregon in the Willamette Valley. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is beautiful. We boarded it a couple times here at the Amtrak station in Salem and rode it to Seattle.


We loved sitting in the 2nd level Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows for watching the passing scenery go by. There are other trains along this route, too, but none with this impressive viewing car of the Coast Starlight.

Located in the center of the Willamette Valley alongside the Willamette River is the capital of Oregon, Salem. A 2009 estimate placed the metropolitan population at 396,103, the state's second largest metropolitan area, first being Portland by far.

This is the third and current Oregon State Capitol building which was completed in 1938 and is the fourth-newest capitol in the United States. It is adorned by a gold leaf Oregon Pioneer statue atop the capitol dome. The capitol grounds cover three city blocks and include Willson and Capitol parks. Although we've never been in the capital building we've driven by it hundreds of times.

Oregon State Capitol building

Monday, January 10, 2011

Las Vegas

In our early days of vacationing as a couple without the kids (the late 90's), we discovered the trick of going to time share presentations and getting certificates for a free trip to Vegas, or Orlando. With those certificates, we took 3 free trips to Vegas (or nearly free---on 2 of the trips we upgraded for $100/person, that included our airfare from the Midwest and accommodations in a large casino on the strip.)

Seeing Vegas by night was as exciting as seeing it by day. I love all the neon lights.

Most of the casinos had unique attractions to draw customers to them. The downtown casinos had the Fremont Experience. It's a fantastic light show on a canopy that is about 4 blocks long and a block wide---really is neat!

In Circus Circus there are circus acts done about every half hour or so. We saw an act with 2 guys doing acrobatics high in the air on ropes---not trapeze, but more like gymnastics. They were very good! I understand there are several different kinds of acts, but this is the only one we managed to catch. I believe the last performance is around 12:30 am.

These big statues are of Siegfreid and Roy and one of their tiger that's in their act. I understand there are 4 known white tigers and they have 3 of them. Since our trips to Vegas, I believe the show was cancelled after one of the performers got mauled by one of their tigers.

Another brightly lit casino on the Strip--the Riviera.

Monte Carlo casino by night.

The Bellegio water show is another impressive free show. It'll also be a cool place to be on a very hot day since all the water flying around cools off the surrounding area by about 5 degrees. Also, way inside the Bellagio is an impressive floral display, complete with gazebo. The ceiling in that area is made to look like different colored flower petals---colored stained glass.

Here is New York New York. For roller coaster enthusiasts, note the coaster in front of the building. I understand it was fashioned after the old Coney Island coaster--except that this one isn't wooden.

We had a couple favorite restaurants, the first one is the buffet at the Mirage. It was recommended to us by some gamblers who heard us trying to decide where to eat on our first trip. It was so good, we've been back there twice. I love the lush tropical forest design inside the Mirage, too.I asked for the recipe of the macaroons and the server actually went and got it for me!

Another favorite dinner/lunch buffet is in the Luxor. Interesting decor---like in a pyramid, or at an archeological dig.

We went to the brunch buffet at the Sahara a couple of times and have been very impressed. It's nicely set out. Nothing fancy, but plentifull and good. It is also just about as cheap as ordering breakfast in a diner. Cost was only about $6.95@.

On our 3rd promotional 'free' trip, we ended up upgrading again for a small fee (couldn't cheaply change the flight times on the airline--United-- this time) and they put us in Circus, Circus. It was very family friendly with carnival booths and rides for kids. But not bad for adults, either. THe room we stayed in was very nice----large and nicely furnished. This is one of the cheapest casinos on the strip, a good value for the money.

Would have been nice to take a gondola ride at the Venitian. The gondolas inside run along a shopping area made to look like a Venice shopping area. It's really neat. Even if you don't ride the gondolas, you'll be able to hear the gondola 'driver' seranading the riders. The ones we heard sang very well. I believe the ride is about 10 minutes long and cost about $15 per person (when we were there in 2000).

At Caesars Palace there was a performance in the forum shops area with large animatronic figures. In the performance, siblings were battling it out over who will take their father's place (the King). The audience even got to determine who won. Also in the center of the forum shops was a huge aquarium. A very tranquil place to rest up!

Located far inside Ceasars are the Forum Shops. Shopping in Vegas is pretty nice, too.

THere's even an M and M world along the Strip.

The first time we took the 'free trip', we did upgrade for a couple hundred dollars and stayed at the Stratosphere. They gave us a complimentary upgrade to a room with a fridge and microwave and seating area with couch, chair, and coffee table. It was very nice.I had checked on the prices for our next trip and could have gotten a room for $49/night---including a buffet meal for 2 and ride up to the lookout for 2.

Top of the Tower has a great view of the city lights. There's also a couple rides up there---a rollercoaster that goes in circles and a straight up ride called the Big Shot. It was storming when we were up there, so only the inside observation deck was open.

Stratosphere show--- Superstars. The actors and actresses in this show were VERY good. I especially liked the fiddler impersonator of Charlie Daniels, he played the violin superbly! Even the chorus line dancers were very well choreographed. Some of the other superstars impersonated were Elvis, Ricky Martin, and Michael Jackson.

Here is the relatively new Desert Inn. I recently heard that they actually put on lightening and thunderstorm inside the shopping area, complete with rain. Although I believe the rain falls into a lake and not on the walkways. Sounds really neat. If I'd known about this before we went, we might have gone to check it out. Maybe next time.

Not on one of our trips, but my mother-in-law even got married in one of the little chapels in Vegas.

When we got tired of all the lights and hustle and bustle, we took a tour of Hoover Dam? It was really awesome.

Another easy day trip from Vegas is Red Rock Canyon. I would have loved to spend more time wandering around the area, but it was really hot when we were there so we mainly stayed in the air conditioned rental car.

Since those days, we started vacationing to our various timeshares that we've picked up since then. I would love to get back to Vegas and stay in some of the resorts we "own" in there. But convincing Ken we should go back hasn't happened yet. Maybe I'll try and convince Angie and Faith we should do a girls trip there sometime!