Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Just got back in off the road from a tour of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. And a large part of West Texas coming back home that I haven't seen in more than awhile.

Windmills abound in West Texas. Hunerds and hunerds of 'em. I know they have their critics, but compared to burnin' coal and gosh knows what else or creating nuclear energy, it's the safest game in town. Like hydroelectric power, or it would seem to me. 

First of all, I felt so glad to be back in Texas, for reasons mentioned below. I truly not only feel at home  and safer in my native state, but our state maintained roads are better than anywhere I went on this trip.

We flew into Vegas to take care of some family business. Having visited before on several occasions, we knew that the "family" Vegas of 20 years ago had long ago gone away. Nonetheless, we stayed one night in town on the strip because we got into the airport so late and had a wonderful experience at the World's Largest Benihana restaurant.

Our cook was the best and funniest we've ever had in countless trips to numerous Benihana restaurants. Our tablemates were conversive and funny. A couple from LA whose husband had lived in Houston while attending U of H, and three fellas from San Diego in town for a big trade show, possibly the consumer electronics show. All were very nice and cool folks to be around, and our trade show buddies gave out some free swag, inexpensive electronic gifts and cards for their unique product.

The only thing missing was The Princess, as she couldn't get away from school right now, and no Benihana experience is complete without her. When she was a young child, she and I would hit Benihana when Mrs. El Fisho was out of the town or country on business.

So it's not the same without her for any of us.

We couldn't wait to get out of Vegas, and after taking care of our business, left town without eating breakfast. So for food, our next stop was the immensely cool Sunset Station Casino and Hotel in Henderson, just outside of Vegas in terms of miles but worlds away in terms of the crowd at the place and indeed, in the shopping centers in the immediate area. Family friendly to the max.

We stopped for a meal at Sunset Station but booked a room on the iphone as we sat in the buffet because we liked it and the crowd it attracted. I don't mean by that "white people" as one might erroneously percieve from that comment, because people of all races were well represented there as both hotel guests and casino visitors.

But it was people like us, working folks, mostly with families, middle and upper middle class. 

And the people in Vegas proper were not like us. I'll bet at least 25% of the folks I saw  Friday night in Vegas in the un-named Strip Hotel and Casino we stayed in had some kind of reportable criminal history and an arrest within the past couple of years. It was a rough crowd, this coming from a guy who has worked around rough crowds in law enforcement for the past 30 + years.

And this was a NICE hotel and casino. But the crowd was ghetto, of all races and colors.

But back to the most excellent Sunset Station. A great bowling alley (El Fisho Jr. outbowled me massively), a great swimming pool (although it was in the low hundreds with 30% humidity, the pool was just right. Not to hot, not too cold). There was plenty of shade around the pool so you didn't have to rent a cabana to get out of the sun, with the shade provided by the lush tropical landscaping, again, providing much shady areas to choose from for a sun-burnin' guy like me.

In fact, we didn't even put on sunscreen and stayed in the shady portion of the pool and didn't get burned or really even reddened anywhere at all. Just perfect. We stayed at the pool all afternoon, and really had a relaxing time based on the landscaping and shade and amenities available at poolside.

Again, the crowd was folks like us, of all races. Folks having a great time. Pizzas, drinks and various snacks being delivered. Basically this crowd is the kind of folks we're friends with back home. And although California plates were heavily represented in the parking lot, there were folks from all over the states hanging at the poolside. Kids were heavily represented with their parents and often grandparents all having a great timeat the facility.

The Henderson Sunset Station Casino was well kept and was again worlds away from the Strip in terms of the crowd. Security was everywhere and very nice.

Back to the night before Henderson in Vegas. Whereas it seems everyone in Vegas either has a tattoo, a ton of bling (mostly obviously fake), a tattoo,  an extremely short skirt or way too small shirt on both men and women (directly in proportion to the fact that the majority of the tight clothing set SHOULD NOT be wearing tight clothes in any public circumstances, low-hanging britches with either boxers or no undies displayed, tattoos,  women who shouldn't be showing thong underwear displaying it so all the world can see, tattoos, facial piercings, scar body art, earlobe widening dohickeys and even more tattoos. And/or multiple combos of the above adornments and attire.

Maybe there was  a tattoo convention in town, because the inked folks I saw there were not shy in their commitment to the art of, as Rod Steiger once referred to it, Skin Illustrations. Lots of full sleeve tatts, neck tatts, fore-head tatts, back tatts, facial tatts and leg tatts. All displayed with pride. I know that lots of young folks have tattoos and haven spent much of my life in Houston or Austin, I've seen more than my share of tattoos. Many of our friends have them.

But a face or neck or even a full sleeve tattoo takes a lot of, um, I guess commitment, would be the word. Some say it's hard to get a job with a facial or neck tattoo, and I don't doubt it. I once was involved in a case where the crime victim had a huge tattoo of the acronym for the olden days crime of "For unlawful carnal knowledge". In big letters. Despite my best efforts to have him wear a bandana over the letters under his hat, the judge made him remove both before he testified.

Not a pretty sight. But that's another story.

In any event, I never saw so many seriously tattoo'd folks in my life. And as a guy who has been in law enforcement and was a working musician for a lot of years and spent a lot of time in bars in Houston and Austin pursuing that art, I've seen lots of tattoos over the past 30 years or so.

We found Henderson much more to our liking. The crowd at the most excellent Sunset Station Casino didn't strike me like what I had seen in a what shall be *un-named* major Vegas Hotel and Casino, and wasn't full of hookers like the *un-named* spot was. Overrun with hookers.  I myself got solicited three times on Friday night by working girls, and I certainly didn't look like I had the money for a good meal, much less anything else. Dressed down for comfort in jeans and a t shirt and tennis shoes. There were tons of them working the Casino and the various hallways and byways to the different restaurants, bars, shows and stores.

The fellow next to me on the slots told me that whenever the trade shows are in town the ordinarily intense hooking profession gets extras coming in from all over the nation and it's just out of control. He was a local, a dealer at another casino out for a busman's holiday.

I found two slot machines I liked, and I don't like many of the new fangled armless and coinless slot machings. Lightnin' 7's was a great machine, and several locals came by on Saturday night to let me know that I was on their favorite machine and that it paid well. And it did. The other machine was called Cops and Donuts and I figured with my past that karma dictated that I play that machine. I won a little money on it too, but the payouts were a bit skimpy.

In any event, I'd highly recommend the Sunset Station complex for a family. Great security. Great food. Many restaurants and an excellent casino hotel buffet. Casino buffets can range from great to horrible and this one was hitting on all eight cylinders. We ate there twice and it was grand both times at lunch and dinner. The bowling alley was huge and impressive and well run, given the large amount of families there. Likewise, they had some special attractions for kids but we didn't hit those.

After a day at the pool and a night at the bowling alley, it was sack time.

After leaving Nevada, we went to the West Grand Canyon Skybridge, which is a story unto itself. Yes, the view was spellbinding but there are lots of negatives. More on that later in a separate post. I want to research some of the controversy about the indian tribe that runs the place, as mentioned in an LA Times article earlier this year. It cost ALOT of money, Disneyworld/land would have been cheaper for the three of us for the day, and that's saying something.

The other point worth mentioning is that the 60 mile one way trip from the highway to the Skybridge is paved at the beginning in the impoverished but proud community of Dolan Springs and at the end near the skybridge. There is a large unpaved section of what classifies as "off road". We needed a 4wd and were driving large domestic coupe with heavy duty suspension. Yet, we needed a 4wd, especially with the rains that came that day and the much that created. Traction was, at times, shaky.

What passed for a "rocky road" was filled with sharp rocks. Luckily, our tires made it through both ways, but we stopped to check on a stranded family as it was about 105 in the shade that day and offer them some of our fix-a-flat and cold water for the couple and their small kids as a rock had shorn a slash in the sidewall of one of their sturdy looking tires on their van and their spare appeared a little flat. They were nice folks.

After hitting that attraction, we visited the wonderfully friendly town of Flagstaff. I'd never thought much about Flagstaff one way or another, but I really like it. A clean town, the folks we encountered there were truly friendly, not "smarmy tourist friendly" as many other places are. It was cool temperature wise there, and we got to visit my favorite sporting goods store for guns and such, Big Five Sporting Goods, which we don't have in my part of Texas.

We agreed it's a place we'd consider living.

Our next stop was Sedona and that very well may be one of the most beautiful areas we've ever visited. Mrs. El Fisho is far more well-traveled than I, but we've both seen our share of mountainous beauty. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona through the Coconino National Forest rivaled any beauty in any other place on this earth that we've seen.

The road meandered along Oak Creek for much of the way, and being public land access was everywhere, including abundant roadside parking. The creek itself was clear and varied from a lazy slow flow to white water to some great deep pools along the course that I got to see and stop near. More later about fishing in the area but lakes and creeks and streams abound in the area, and I don't know what the normal flow of Oak Creek is like, or if it was normal, but it appeared to be a healthy watercourse where I viewed it.

Sedona too was full of people who seemed geniunely nice. As I understand, and I could be wrong because I have not researched the issue, Arizona must be an open carry state. I saw one fella in sorta westerney garb toting what appeared to be a Colt or clone SAA in either a .45 or .44 caliber. 

In any event, although Sedona proper is a high dollar affair I would think, the area around it has lots of affordable options for staying, as well as the hoity toity resorts. In fact, the in town Best Western Plus has private creek frontage on Oak Creek and some stunning views of the red rocks.

We'll be heading back to Flagstaff and Sedona soon, before the end of the year. We saw cabins on the great road into Sedona, and some appeared as if they might be rentals. They could be Forest Service lease land like in some California forests, but I'm not sure. I found some cabins rented by the Feds in the forest proper, but none of them were the ones we saw along Oak Creek. There were some small motels and resorts and B&B's along that road, and so there are lots of opportunies for places to stay in the area.

Another fine option would be to grab a rental RV, as I saw many of them in this area, in Flagstaff along with a a small 4wd, atv or a dune buggy and get a camping spot along the creek and hit some of the forest lakes that exist.

I can't rave enough about the beauty of Sedona. Really. I had met several great folks from that area at a seminar I spoke at in Seattle a couple of years ago, and they kept telling me that all of Arizona was not dry, flat, sandy and waterless and that they lived in a place with beautiful mountains, lots of creeks, streams and lakes, and tons of trees and forests.

They were right. Coconino County is wonderful.

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