Stay Safe Out There – Help is Available!

Hi Everyone, I hope you’re all taking precautionary measures & staying safe. It’s going to be a rough couple of weeks but I’m positive we can overcome this and become stronger as a nation.

If you’re a small business owner or an employee of one impacted by the Pandemic I urge you to look into programs being put together by your local and regional Chambers of Commerce (even if you’re not a member). They can help you in these trying times by connecting you to resources providing assistance.

The Government is, at this time, close to approving a HUGE financial assistance program aimed at those that need it the most. It’s been a struggle to get it passed because of infighting and partisan politics. When passed the influx of cash into the economy will hopefully provide relief, however brief, and start the process of healing and recovery.

As of midnight tonight Indiana will be on a lockdown, similar to a lot of other states in the nation. I hope this helps combat the spread of Covid-19. I’m also very glad it’s a “hunker down” request so we still have the ability to go to work (for those who have essential jobs) and get groceries, etc. Everyone seems pretty calm right now, as opposed to 2 weeks ago, so I think this is a good sign.

We’ll see how things turn out in a day or two. I certainly don’t think we’ll be back to work as a Nation by Easter but if we are I’m not go to complain!

Vegas Vacation 2019

Thursday – This year I decided to take a little winter break trip with my 16 year old son. Las Vegas was going to be a new experience for both of us and I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’d been told several times it’s OK to take kids there. I used Costco Travel to purchase a package that included Airfare, 2-Room Suite and Full Sized Car. It was pretty reasonable given the trip was during the holidays. I’m sure we could have spent less if we went a different time.

We arrived at the Indy airport about 2 hours before the flight and had to park in the garage due to Fast Park and the long term lot being totally full. That was $100 I was not planning on spending…

We ended up flying through security and sat around for an hour and 50 minutes. Go figure… TSA staff said we missed the early morning rush. Given it was “the busiest travel day” of the year I expected some long lines. I think the most I’ve ever waited in the Indy TSA line is 15 minutes.

United’s puddle jumper to O’Hare decided it didn’t want to fly causing us to not only get to O’Hare late but also miss our connecting flight. They had to re-book us on an American flight & it included a 4-hour layover in Chicago. At this point we were hoping our bags made it to Vegas. 

The flight to Vegas on AA was uneventful but as expected our bags didn’t make it. The United app said they were on an earlier flight. When I talked to AA they said the bags were still in Chicago and would be on a flight that got in at 1:30am. 

Exhausted after 12 hours of miscues we filled out the necessary paperwork, picked up our rental car, and headed to the Venetian hotel for the night, hoping our bags would be at the hotel in the morning. 

Friday – Still on Indiana time I woke up quite early and checked the United app, sure enough the bag status had changed to say they had, in fact, been on the 1:30am flight. A call to United pointed the finger at AA and the call to AA baggage claim went unanswered.

Since we had a full schedule for the days I decided to head back to the airport (10 minutes away) and directly to the United baggage claim. You know what? Our bags were sitting in the lobby with no indication that they needed to be sent to the hotel. I was happy to take possession and wasn’t even asked for any kind of ID or luggage tag check, scary right?

With our missing luggage in hand we freshened up and made a beeline to the Hoover Dam with the anticipation that the earlier we got there the better. We were right, as we were able to get tickets for the first tour and watch the masses pour in as we were finishing the tour.

Unfortunately the recent rains had flooded part of the tour so we were unable to go into the dam, but the remaining tour, including the power plant, was very well done and fascinating! I highly recommend this tour but make sure you get there early.

Since we were so close you Arizona we dipped into the state to pickup a Geocache and claim a log in a new state. It was on an abandoned bridge along the highway so it was a quick stop.

Boulder City was next on the itinerary for sone lunch and further itinerary planning. Boulder City Brewing Company hit the spot and we were back on the road headed southwest to check out the Seven Magic Mountains along I-15. 

Seven Magic Mountains can bee seen from I-15 but you need to exit several miles before the art display or you’ll need to backtrack a dozen miles or so. It’s an interesting display of painted rocks and it’s quite the tourist destination. I was amazed by the number of people vitiating on a Friday afternoon.

We completed our Friday drive with a stop at Del Taco to see how it stacked up to Taco Bell. In one word… BETTER. It was super clean inside and the food was nice and hot. The key difference between Del Taco and Taco Bell is the freshly grated cheese and the sauces. We were both glad we stopped and really wished we had one of these in Indy!

The rest of the day consisted of us wandering around the Venetian hotel and trying not to get lost. It’s amazing how many high end stores and restaurants they had under one roof. We found a new British Pub and closed the evening out with some proper grub and a pint of Guinness for me.

Saturday – Sleep came a lot easier than the night before now that we’d secured our luggage and walked more in one day than in recent months. The filling pub food didn’t hurt either. We awoke with the sun and finalized our plan to head out into the desert and explore some of the less famous landmarks in the area.

If you can, it’s a good idea to get away from the Strip to eat. We found a neat little place called Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast. It’s a small, family run, breakfast/lunch spot with Lulu herself taking care of customers personally. Our breakfast sandwiches and chorizo veggie hash filled our bellies before our journey into the desert to check out some of the lesser known landmarks.

We headed Northwest out of the city and really enjoyed the scenery. The roads were in great shape and traffic was pretty light. We drove for about an hour before stopping at a rest area to stretch our legs. From there we headed South for 2 hours. Along the way we found a few places to stop and take pictures.

Unfortunately one of the stops was not planned and included a roadside discussion with the California Highway Patrol. As soon as I saw him approaching us northbound a quick glance of my speedometer told me it was probably going to end up with a traffic stop. It’s VERY easy to speed in the desert, especially in a rental car that you’re not familiar with. If I would have had my Valentine 1 Radar Detector I might have had enough notice to check my speed. In the end it was a pleasant discussion with the Trooper Friendly and a ticket for a lot less over the limit than what he clocked me at.

We proceeded south to the town of Baker to check out a few places. Alien Jerky was a HUGE tourist draw. It’s a pretty cool looking building and very easy to spot with the Alien light poles. The other landmark was the World’s Largest Thermometer that stands 134-feet and commemorates the record 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) recorded in nearby Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

Looping back to Las Vegas on I-15 was pretty uneventful until we went through Mountain Pass. There was a nice covering of snow and cars pulled over along the side of the road for miles. They weren’t stopped because of the road conditions they were stopped because people wanted to PLAY in the snow along the highway! It was a weird sight and one of the stranger things we saw on the trip.

I hear that no trip to Vegas is complete until you visit In-N-Out Burger. We had some time before the car was due back and were both getting a little hungry. As my Son’s suggestion we ordered a pair of Animal Style Doubles and Animal Style fries. It was a solid meal. The Animal Sauce differentiated it from Steak and Shake or Smash Burger. I’d eat here any time.

Sunday – Today was the day we decided to be tourists. We slept in a little and hit the Grand Lux for breakfast. This is by far the most reasonably priced restaurant in the complex. I’ve eaten at the one on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. They offered a $30 breakfast buffet that looked very good but we knew we would be walking a lot today so we both decided against a huge breakfast.

Up to this point I hadn’t even put a penny in a slot machine and I was starting to get the itch. My son wanted to watch some sports in the hotel room so I had an hour or two to explore on my own. I visited the casino desk and got my loyalty card with some free credits on it and hit the slots.

WOW you can blow though some cash pretty quick on the slots. Once I got about $30 down I gave that up and switched to Roulette and Blackjack. At least with these games you can slow down your losses. I went up and down $100 in each direction and ended my adventure with a loss. It was a lot of fun but I think I prefer the newly legal sports betting back in Indy that I can do from the comfort of my couch.

We ventured out of the Venetian complex on foot and walked the strip a bit. It wasn’t very busy in the morning so we enjoyed that. You can tell the city has spent a lot of money on security. There are 4-foot bollards along both sides of the street for it’s entirety as well as several elevated pedestrian bridges to get people across the street safely. Cameras are everywhere and the police presence is noticeable. It feels like a pretty safe place to be overall.

Caesars Palace and the Bellagio are filled with more high end shops and restaurants. In fact, all of the hotels we walked through pretty much looked the same. We made a big loop and walked for a few hours before returning to our room to watch some football.

Dinner was back at the Grand Lux where we enjoyed a really nice pasta dish and some mini beef wellingtons. We also picked up a cookie and croissant at the Bouchon Bakery for breakfast. By this point we were worn out and called it a night. We had a 6:50am flight on Monday and we were both ready to relax.

Monday – 4am came really early but we were both ready when our 5am Uber showed up. It’s such a short trip to the Airport I didn’t worry too much about time. Well, that was a mistake. TSA at the Vegas airport was packed and they were searching everyone and pulling every 3rd or 4th bag off the conveyor for further inspection. People were stressing out about making their flights as it was taking 60+ minutes to get through the queue.

We made it on our flight and after we pushed back the pilot came on the overhead and said we had a warning light and had to go back to the gate. That took about 30-minutes to figure out and then we had to get more fuel. We ended up leaving an hour later than scheduled and had less than an hour to change planes in Chicago.

Other than the lady next to me elbowing my ribs evey time she moved it was an uneventful flight. With the tailwind it was shorter flying back then when we went out.

Once in Chicago we had to basically go from one end of the airport to the other. Our flight was scheduled to leave on time but after we boarded we were informed that we had to get a de-icing and it would be another hour before we could take off. It ended up taking 90-minutes from push back before we went wheels up. So basically every leg of this trip had some kind of problem or delay. Now I remember why I like to drive everywhere!

Back in Indy and our bags actually made it, even though the United app said one was still in Chicago. It was good to get home and we talked about our trip all the was home from the airport. My son wan’t to go back when he turns 21. I think we can make that happen!

So the take away from this trip is this. United Airlines had a LOT of issues, Vegas is HUGE and can be VERY EXPENSIVE if you’re not careful. The Hoover Dam is amazing as is Del Taco and In-N-Out Burger. Get a car and get out of town but watch your speed. If you’re going to gamble be prepared to lose. Enjoy the people watching, you won’t be disappointed.

We’re already talking about or next trip and trying to figure out where to go… Thanks for reading!

Trip Report – Hoosier National Forrest

I’ve been planning an overnight getaway to the Hoosier National Forrest (HNF) for a while now.  I prefer weeknight trips to avoid the rush of weekend warriors that fill the campsites throughout the US.  

It was funny (and totally coincidental) to see a writeup in the latest Indianapolis Monthly this month.  Even more so that they featured one of the areas I was going to visit.  Kind of made me feel better that I’d picked a good spot to visit!

I started southeast of Bloomington in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area.  Specifically at the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower.   This is one seriously tall tower! My plan was to make the trip to the top after some exploring.

After checking my map one more time I headed down the Out-and-Back Terrill Ridge Trail. I had been told from a co-worker that there were some good camping areas at the end of the trail as well as a pioneer cemetery.

As you van see it’s a pretty flat twin track trail that is used to access the cemetery. There was a sign indicating you could drive back there with permission. At the end I found the cemetery but there were N0 Camping signs everywhere so I continued to scout around.

About a 1/4 mile back there was a bend in the trail and I totally missed the sign that showed the spur trail that take you back to a Lilly pad covered pond and several disbursed sites.

Having marked a few GPS waypoints for future reference I headed back to the car. Unfortunately my IT Band started to act up half way back to climbing the tower was out of the question. I just wanted to get off my feet! It’s kind of funny an IT Guy ends up with IT Band issues…

I decided to head down to the Saddle Lake Recreation area and scope things out. They have 2 camping areas. One that’s primitive (North Face) and one that has electricity (South Slope). I decided to drive through the first one and see if there were any spots available. Sure enough the weekday excursion paid off. Plenty of sites! Since I didn’t have a reservation I stopped by the Camp Host site to see what I should do.

That’s where I met Wendy & Jerry. The had been hosting at the North Face campground since April and the had a pretty nice little setup going. This was Jerry’s first year as a host and he said he was really enjoying it. Wendy had been hosting for several years prior.

They bickered a little about which campsite to assign me, each thinking the one they had in mind was better than the other. In the end we ended up in North Face Site 18 in the and it could not have been more perfect. It was a big site with plenty of room for my 3-man tent. You could have setup a 10-man tent and still had room.

I purchased a couple of bundles of firewood and Jerry offered to bring them by once I got settled. He came by about 20-minutes later to deliver the firewood and see how I was getting along.

After a filling meal of Mountian House Chili Mac, a few IPA’s I brought back from San Antonio, and a nice campfire I retired for the night to rest up for Day-2. The tacos dipped into the 50’s and it was a very comfortable night.

As usual when camping nature is usually your best alarm clock. I was awakened by numerous song birds each singing their identifiable melody. The air was cool and, as usual, a little damp. The tree cover helped minimize the dew and kept things a lot drier than I was expecting.

I packed up camp and made sure the fire was completely out by stirring up the ashes with a stick and feeling for any warmth. We were all good!

I was heading back to Indy today but I wasn’t in any hurry. I remembered seeing an interesting rock slide the last time I was in the Marengo, Indiana area and decided to check it out before taking a tour of the Marengo Cave U.S. National Landmark.

The rock slide was right next to the road (Highway 64 near Milltown, IN) and it looked like a huge hole deep into the rock. There was a mining operation in the area as well so that might have caused the cave-in.

Marengo Cave is a nicely run operation. The whole property is clean and very well taken care of. They have camping sites available as well as places to hike and have a picnic. There are 2 tours available and you can buy a discounted package to tour both. Since I want to visit again I choose to take the shorter of the 2 tours that lasted about 40-minutes.

The Cave was discovered by 2 kids in the late 1800’s when the took a candle down into a sink hole and eventually found the first of dozens of rooms in the cave system. It’s an interesting story and the caves are worth a visit if you’re in the area.

I was passing through a little town when I saw the sign above. I had to turn around to come back and get this shot. I thought it was pretty funny.

So all in all I’ve only scratched the surface of the Hoosier National Forrest and I have several trips in the planning stages for next year (maybe one more this year if the weather cooperates). There are so many trails and places to camp it could take years to see them all. I feel fortunate we have such a well run National forrest in Indiana and I plan to visit again soon!

This trip came about from a casual conversation with a co-worker and the tips and suggestions he provided made this a very enjoyable few days! Do you have a favorite place in the HNF? I’d love to hear form you.


Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-3)

Part-2 can be found here

Welcome back!
This is the 3rd and final part of the Red River Gorget Trip Report. Lot’s of pictures and a few videos in this one. Enjoy!

Waking up early
In order to beat the heat of the day I was up at the crack of dawn and out the door by 7:30. I had packed everything but water and food the night before so it was pretty easy to hit the road early. Temps were in the low 70’s and the humidity was at least 80%.

Props to the new Subaru for handling the Kentucky roads, paved and unpaved, like a champ. This car is a MUCH better fit for my lifestyle than the Mercedes Sedan I previously owned, but not nearly as much fun to drive…

Driving to the Trailhead
I’m still amazed how un-congested the whole Red River Gorge was during the 4th of July holiday. I expected a lot more people to be out and about in the area. I was pleasantly surprised at how few people I saw on the trails.

The Nada Tunnel separated be from the trailhead. As mentioned in Part-2 this is an old rail tunnel that’s been converted into a one-lane road.

Auxier Ridge to Courthouse Rock Trail
After driving for about 30-minutes I was finally at the trailhead. It was a very well groomed gravel lot with a pit toilet in case you needed it before/after your hike. There were 2 other cars parked here when I started about a dozen when I left.

I changed into my Hiking Shoes, threw on the day-pack, and headed out. Almost immediately I was greeted by a Rhododendron grove still in bloom.

The trail was in great shape and had a layer of sand that was soft to walk on but not so thick to get into your shoes or be a problem. I’ll take this over a gravel or muddy trail any time!

The views along this trail were amazing. You would have a little stretch of a green tunnel that would open up into view after view of the nearby ridges and valleys.

It’s pretty amazing to think about what it took to carve out the Gorge and create the arches that are hundreds of feet in the air. This place was created over thousands/millions of years and, in a way, feels ancient and new at the same time.

As the trail continued I had my head on a swivel as there were things to see on both sides of the ridge. It was nice to see a little wildlife in the form of a baby bunny along the trail. He was pretty calm and allowed be to get closer than I thought I could to get a picture. As soon as I passed he took off into the brush.

There were many outcrops along the trail and you could see where people had been camping. You’re supposed ot be a minimum of 300-feet from a trail when you camp, but that’s pretty difficult to do on a 200-400-foot wide ridge with a trail running down the middle.

In the distance I could see “Double Arch”, one of many arches in the area and a place I want to check out when I return.

I found a great area to get close to the edge of the ridge and take a peak at Courthouse Rock which is off in the distance in the picture below.

As I worked my way closer to the end of the trail it was time for a snack and water break. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my package of “Dietz Nuts” but now was the time to find out…

Other than the some greasiness on the surface (from the warm temps) these meat bites were really good! I think they could use some work on their naming/marketing but I’d pick these over traditional beef jerky every time.

Finally at the end of the ridge it’s time to descend into the Gorge and get out of the sun and into the humidity!

Descending into the Gorge
I took the steep stairs down to the bottom of the gorge and was met with cooler temps. Everything was wet from the humidity and I quickly learned that being the first one on the trail isn’t always a good thing. Someone has to break through all of the spider webs for the day and it was my turn today! I ended up with several spider bites form this experience, not very fun…

It was very interesting to see the dynamic change of my surroundings. There were mushrooms everywhere and the trail was a lot less obvious than what I had been hiking on 150 feet above on the ridge. I walked along the contour of the ridge bottom and headed back towards the starting point.

Climbing to the Top
Once I reached the end of the lower ridge trail I was expecting to see another set of stairs but instead I was greeted with what looked like a steep washout. That was the way back to the top of the trail and it was a pretty tough climb to get to the top. Time for another snack and water break!

I’m a fan of the RX Bars but I’ve found from others it’s something you either love or hate. They’re very dense and sticky chewy. The flavors are pretty tru to the description and this Peanut Butter & Berry flavor was no exception. You definitely need something to wash these down with but I really enjoy them and they keep for a long time.

After completing the hike I took some time to explore the area some more and identified several places I’d like to camp when I return next. Disbursed camping is pretty much everywhere. I wasn’t expecting to see so many places along the roads. There are NO amenities when you camp like this so if you want a bathroom and running water your best bet is to stick with some of the established campgrounds in the area.

I was expecting to do some fishing when visiting the RRG but quickly found out that it’s not really possible. The Red River is VERY muddy and the other streams in the area too shallow. I’ll leave the fishing gear home next time and just focus on hiking and camping.

Day 4
I packed the car up the next day and headed north towards Morehead and Maysville, Kentucky. I wanted to stop by a family gravesite to pay my respects as well as visit the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.

I really enjoyed driving on the back roads of Kentucky and twisted my way up and over the hills along my journey. I finally made it to Cincinnati after lunch and checked out the Museum.

The American Sign Museum is a really cool place. They’re preserving a piece of American history. It’s been so popular they’re expanding into another space with will double the existing square footage and allow them to continue to add to the already amazing collection. If you’re in the area and have an hour to kill I recommend checking it out!

Final Thoughts
I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the RRG area. I was VERY impressed with the number and quality of trails in the area. I wasn’t so impressed with my cabin rental but it could have been worse. The crowds were way less then I expected, especially for a holiday weekend. I want to return in the fall when the leaves are changing, the temps are cooler, and the humidity lower.

If you’re looking for a very low key get away and want to spend some time enjoying nature RRG is a nice, inexpensive place to visit. It’s 4-hours south of Indianapolis and an easy morning/afternoon drive. There are lots of places to stop along the way to make the trip even more interesting.

That’s it for this trip report. I have a few more trips in the planning stages as well as more gear reviews in the works. If you have any feedback about the review or questions about the RRG area please leave your comments below. Thanks for reading!

Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-2)

Part-1 can be found here

Driving to Red River Gorge
After an awesome lunch at the Stave I continued my journey Southeast towards Red River Gorge (RRG). It was an uneventful trip with the usual Kentucky countryside of rolling hills and horse farms. Everything was green this time of year and the roads were light with traffic.

This is the GOOD stuff!

Nada Tunnel
One of the many attractions in the RRG area is the Nada Tunnel. It’s a 900-foot long 13-foot high one-lane tunnel that used to be a railroad. It’s now considered the “Gateway” to the Gorge and has been paved for vehicular traffic.

I was kind of surprised there wasn’t any kind of signaling device to help with traffic. Instead you must creep up to the enterance and look for approaching headlights. If you don’t see any you’re good to go. I always followed the car in front of me thinking they would have cleared the way. It worked every time I used the tunnel.

Look for a short video in the next part.

The Cabin
Once I arrived to the rental cabin I found that it was still being cleaned so I set out to explore the town of Slade, Ky. There’s not a lot in the area. Food wise you have 4 options. Miguels Pizza, a Mexican place, a BBQ shack, and a Coffee Shop/mini grocery. That’s about it unless you want Subway at the gas station out near the highway.

I received a text saying the cabin was ready so I headed back. The cabin was located deep in the woods at the end of a long gravel road. I’m glad I have All Wheel Drive ad some parts of the road were steep and others had deep gravel that limited traction. This was a fun little road both in and out of the property.

The website said the cabin had been renovated a year ago and I learned very quickly the website hadn’t been updated in a few years. While the cabin wasn’t terrible it was a little rougher that I expected. At only $129 a night I certainly didn’t expect to be stating at the Ritz. Overall it was clean and the AC worked so I made the best of it.

The Internet
I had DSL service a long time ago and it was adequate for the Internet of that time. The place I was staying in had DSL and I can assure you it’s NOT adequate for the Internet of today. First think I did was reset the modem and it helped a little bit but it was clear I wasn’t going to be online much in this place which was fine by me. I just needed to check on a few messages and map out some areas to explore. I had offline maps saved in Google Maps as well as Gaia GPS so I was in pretty good shape.

The area
I was expecting the area to be a lot more crowded with tourists because of the July 4th holiday. I was presently surprised that it wasn’t. There was a small campground that I passed on the way to the cabin and it had a lot of climbers camped out. The area offers whats called Dispersed Camping which pretty much allows you to setup camp off the side of the road in designated areas. All that’s required is a parking pass you purchase from area retailers. It’s a lot different that what I was expecting and, when I visit next time, I’ll be sure to check it out.

As I stated earlier the Slake Ky area isn’t fancy by any means. There are a few cabins a motels scattered around the area. Other than the local Pizza place it’s definitely not a hot spot. In a way I kind of liked it that way. I have a feeling it might be a little more trafficked when the temps are cooler and the trees are coloring out in the fall. I hope to revisit at that time either this year or next.

Dinner at La Cabana
Since the Pizza place appeared to have a line out the door every time I passed I opted for dinner at the La Cabana Mexican Restaurant down the road. I wasn’t sure what to expect but, hey, even sub-par Mexican food is usually pretty decent. I can make a meal out of Chips and Salsa and a beer or two.

La Cabana had inside seating and an outdoor bar. It was pretty typical of any other Mexican place with the standard menu items. They were featuring a Tacos El Pastor that night and after seeing several orders come out of the kitchen I settled on that. It didn’t disappoint and I was very happy with my choice. The sauce they had on the side was like FIRE. A little bit went a long way and it was quite tasty. The side plate of beans, while looking pretty plain, were very flavorful and complemented the tacos nicely. I left with a full, happy, belly.

Evening with offline shows
After arriving at the cabin, unpacking all my gear, and filling up on Mexican food, it was time to get settled. I finalized the plan for the next day and settled back with a few offline shows I had downloaded to the iPad. This is a great way to carry some entertainment for yourself or others and not have to rely on Internet service, which I practically had none of.

Next up, hiking in Red River Gorge and a recap of the trip!