Month: October 2016

Where Far East Meets Grand Canyon West

When people plan a visit to the Grand Canyon, they usually make a choice between the North Rim or the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. But this wonder of the world can also be seen without the National Park Service playing host.

If you go to Grand Canyon West.

Grand Canyon West is hosted by the Hualapai Indian tribe. Hualapai (pronounced Whollop-Eye) means People of the Tall Pines. For centuries the Hualapai’s have lived and and died in these majestic lands skirting the southwestern rim of the Grand Canyon. And here they’ve been confined to the Hualapai reservation since the 1800’s.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Not only has the Grand Canyon separated them from the rest of our country, but so has a deep chasm of poverty. At least until the 1980’s. That’s when they came up with a grand plan to raise a few bucks. They designed and built a tourist trap facility, called Grand Canyon West. And now, over the past 30 years, these clever and enterprising Native Americans have been growing in prosperity, while attracting unsuspecting tourists from all over the world.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

My wife and I were two such unsuspecting tourists, just a few days ago. Well actually, we did suspect a few things. We read the Yelp reviews. These mixed reviews led us to approach with caution. We only paid the basic entrance fee of $40.00 per person, and decided against paying the extra $20.00 to walk on their famous Skywalk, or the extra $10.00 to eat their famous beef mush, or the extra $187.00 to take their famous five-minute helicopter ride combo 20-minute pontoon boat splash.

We’re oh so grateful for those reviews and our caution. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but I must say our experience was just like the Yelp reviews. It was mixed.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

We drove two hours from our beachhead at the gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. The drive was a bit confounding. I could not get my GPS to find their address, so I had to guess on the waypoint. Signage along the way helped out, until we got deep into the heart of the Arizona wilderness. That’s when, for some strange reason, the Hualapai’s decided to stop putting up those friendly helpful signs guiding us to their place of business.

We sweated it out for quite a stretch, wondering if we should have turned down that other road 30 or so miles back. But then we saw some tourist buses heading in our same direction and that gave us the reassurance we needed.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

Parking was plentiful and easy. However, this was a Tuesday. And with such available parking, my wife and I began congratulating ourselves on how clever we were for planning this trip during the middle of the week, where we could beat the crowds. But what we failed to remember was those tourist buses.

Those buses were loaded with Japanese tourists, who had been brought in for a day trip from Las Vegas, where they had been vacationing. And there were hundreds and hundreds of these selfie-stick-toting Asians.

Many headed straight for the heliport, forming a long queue. And there were dozens of helicopters swirling in and out, their twirling blades chopping the air with a cacophany of “whollop-eye-whollop-eye-whollop-eye”.

The grounds were hurly-burly with scrambling tourist guides barking out loud commands in Japanese to their Asian minions, over the obstreperous machinery of the whirlybirds.

Can you spot the helicopter?

Can you spot the helicopter?

But not all the Japanese wanted to ride in helicopters. Several hundreds of them were wise enough to opt for the same basic ticket package that my wife and I went for. This package included unlimited riding on the shuttle buses that take you from point to point to all the attractions at Grand Canyon West.

There are three attractions.

We crowded onto a bus that may as well have been in downtown Tokyo. And what I’ve heard about so-called Japanese rudeness was confirmed on this and other buses. I don’t think they mean to be rude. But Japan is a crowded island. The Japanese have apparently developed the survival habit of fighting amongst each other to board their public transportation, such as trains, subways, and buses. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Our first stop was Hualapai Ranch. As my wife and I, and all the Far Eastern visitors aboard our bus attempted to debouch, Japanese tourists outside attempted to board, without waiting for us to get off. This impoliteness made for a calamitous and comical exercise of people squeezing past each other from opposite directions, sometimes throwing each other back, and sometimes surging forward, like receding and advancing waves of soldiers involved in hand-to-hand combat.

After claiming victory in this battle by successfully debussing, my wife and I set off to explore our conquered territory. But we were disappointed. Hualapai Ranch was really nothing but a fake ghost town with a souvenir shop, horseback riding stable, and other businesses whose prime aim was to loosen up our wallets. We didn’t stay long.

"Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I'll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an' we'll settle our beef once an' fer all!" Wasn't that a line in a movie?

“Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I’ll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an’ we’ll settle our beef once an’ fer all!” I found Hualapai Ranch kind of inspiring. It made me want to write a Western.

We raced for the bus stop and managed to be first in line. Well, it kind of resembled a line. Though we planted our feet exactly where we expected the bus door to open when the next shuttle would arrive, crafty Japanese began to encroach on both sides. When the approaching shuttle bus was descried, our Asian competitors hurried forward, threatening to overwhelm our position.

But then a loud war cry erupted from a stentorian Hualapai standing nearby. He gruffly ordered the tourists to fall back and form a line behind us. He was very authoritarian and even wore a uniform. This was the magic touch that was needed. Apparently the Japanese greatly respect authority, because everyone in the crowd obeyed instantly. And the bus was boarded in a polite and orderly manner.

View from Eagle Point.

View from Eagle Point.

Off we rolled to Eagle Point. Eagle Point is the locale of the famous Skywalk. The Skywalk is a loop of plexiglass-floored walkway that extends from a cliffside building out over the Grand Canyon. For 20 bucks, tourists can tread upon it, and pretend they are walking on air. However cameras are not allowed. You must leave your camera and all other personal items behind, in a locker, before you are allowed on the Skywalk.

According to the Yelp reviews, you will be stalked by professional photographers with every step you take upon the Skywalk. They will snap many pictures of you, and for a mere $50 to a $100, you can buy these photos. This apparently is why you aren’t allowed to take your own camera with you on the Skywalk.

They want your money.

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. Notice the tourists up there running from photographers?

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. If you look carefully, you may notice tourists up there running from photographers.

But we didn’t pay for such nonsense. And the view of the Grand Canyon at Eagle Point is spectacular, whether or not you walk the Skywalk.

The third and final stop of the shuttle bus was at Guano Point. We were herded like cattle onto this bus, and it was standing room only for hapless stragglers. My wife found the last seat, but I had to hang onto a bar, while being crushed between two grim-faced Asian men who clung to the same bar.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

Guano Point is the site of an old guano mine. You can hike about a half mile out to the mine, over a promontory that juts into the Grand Canyon. There are many vantage points along this route for snapping breathtaking photos of the Colorado River.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

After Guano Point we were anxious to get the hell out of this tourist trap. We had spent about two-and-a-half hours at Grand Canyon West, and that was enough for us. Besides, we’d seen all there was to see.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

All-in-all, I’d say it was worth doing this as a one-time experience. But my wife and I agree that we will never go back again. It’s too crowded and too touristy for us. And there are only two viewpoints.

But I must admit they are great views. And it’s the only place where you get to see the tail-end of the Grand Canyon, just a few miles before the Colorado River empties into Lake Mead.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

If you decide to visit this tourist trap, don’t expect to have a one-with-nature kind of experience. There are just too many people and there’s too much noise from all the helicopters whirring about. But bring your camera. I guarantee you’ll have a great time snapping lots of stunning photos.

Except, of course, on the Skywalk.

The view seems like it's just  about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

The view seems like it’s just about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

Flipping on a New Phone

Alexander Graham Bell. The man who started this mess.

Alexander Graham Bell. The man who started this mess.

This is a follow-up post to my screed on Friday about flip phones.

My wife did a little shopping around, and found a flip phone for $20 at Walmart, that supports AT&T. She then took that phone to our local AT&T mobile phone service store and paid them $10 to add 40 minutes of call time. Now all she has to do is keep buying at least 40 minutes a month from AT&T, at 25 cents a minute, to keep her minutes and service. All her unused minutes will roll over, each month.

Who knows, there could be better deals out there, but this seems good enough for our purpose, which is just to have a cell phone for emergency needs.

Thanks for all the great suggestions you guys gave us Friday. If we didn’t follow your particular suggestion, it at least helped point us in a general direction that was useful, because most of the suggestions involved doing something similar to what my wife finally did.

As a side-note, and to give credit where it’s due, my wife took the $20 Tracfone card that didn’t work for us, back to Walmart. She asked for a refund. They refused. They said they don’t give refunds for that card. My wife insisted and spoke with a manager.

She said, “If I stole $20 from this store, you’d have me arrested, wouldn’t you?”

Manager: “Yep.”

Wife: “Well you guys just stole $20 from me, by selling me this useless card. Isn’t stealing from customers illegal?”

The manager finally relented. He took a 20-dollar-bill from petty cash and gave it to her, in return for the card.

Thanks Walmart, for seeing the light and finally coming through.

What the Flip is Wrong With the Phone Companies?

All my wife wants to do is call someone in case of an emergency. So I got her a Tracfone. Tracfone allows you to pre-pay with a phone card that you have to buy for about $20, every three months. But the past few years I’ve found it harder and harder to get the damned pre-paid cards to work.

Last week I gave up on Tracfone. My wife bought a new pre-paid card, and no matter what I did, it wouldn’t upload air time on her phone. So we’re out $20.

Then my wife got all excited about Jitterbug. For $15.00 a month she could have a flip phone that would be easy to use, and never require those damned pre-paid cards. The Jitterbug company advertises a lot and has a good reputation. Seemed like a good deal for us, even if it was a little more expensive than a Tracfone.

So she bought a flip phone. Then she left me with the job of activating it. That’s because I’m the supposed technology brain in this household. My wife is lost when it comes to electronic devices. She hates smart phones. She can’t figure out how to work them. She just wants a simple goddamned phone for making what?

You guessed it.

Phone calls.

But I couldn’t activate her new fuckin’ phone. I tried to activate it online, and everything seemed to be going peachy. Until the very last screen. It popped up a message that said there was a problem, and that I had to call their customer service line, which is available 24/7.

President William Howard Taft, trying to get his phone activated.

President William Howard Taft, trying to get his phone activated.

It was 6:30 PM. I called them. But all I got was a recording that said they were only available for calls from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. What? Don’t they know what the hell “24/7” means? Maybe they think it’s a math equation, with the end result being the amount of hours they’re available for calls.

Alright, so the next morning I called them again. I got a recording that said, “Due to our overwhelming call volume, you may experience a long fucking wait.” Or words to that effect. And then they gave me another message: “However, if you want to experience faster customer service, please call back between the hours of 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM.” WTF?!! I had just tried to call them the night before at 6:30 PM, and got a recording to call back later.

That’s when I came to the conclusion that Jitterbug is a real fly-by-night operation. Or rather, an operation that claims to fly by night, but really only flies between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM.

Anyway, I waited nine minutes on hold, listening to jitterbug style old-fogie music, until a customer service rep answered. She then put me on hold to try to straighten the problem out and activate our new phone. I was on hold for 45 minutes. Then a new customer service rep got on the line and said some mysterious things about technical support working on the problem. And then she hung up on me.

That was it for me. I found a new phone number to call, to cancel our account and get a refund. After about 25 minutes on hold, while seething with suppressed rage, I finally was able to negotiate that transaction.

But now my wife has no phone. All she wants is a flippin’ flip phone. Not a stupid-assed smart phone, but a flip phone, godammit. She just wants to be able to make phone calls. Nor do we want to pay all those exorbitant smart phone data rates.

Does anybody know of any phone companies out there with reasonable rates, that offer flip phones, along with good customer service? Our needs are simple. But our choices are complex. And it seems difficult to negotiate the mine fields of all the fly-by-night phone companies out there, where the wheat seems to be buried by the chaff.

We would appreciate any suggestions.

Bacon

Charles Russell painting of man frying bacon.

Charles Russell painting of cowboy frying bacon.

It was a dream that always ended as soon as it began. It started out as a whirly, whipping sensation, spinning me outward and downward. I’d sense something was wrong and would force myself to wake up. Then I’d realize all was well. That it was just a dream. And I’d try with difficulty to fall back asleep again.

The antinomy of sensing something to be wrong when all was quite well, annoyed me. I became determined to stop waking myself up when this nocturnal gyre struck my dreams. I wanted to plunge down the rabbit hole. I wanted to whirl and whip outward and downward as far as REM would take me, before my psychopomp decided on its own to return me to the wakeful state.

I wanted to see what was drawing me to the netherworld.

It took months of difficult trial and effort before I finally succeeded. Every night I concentrated very hard before falling asleep, on the idea of remembering to go with this odd spinning sensation, as soon as it manifested in my dreams.

One night I finally did remember. And when it happened I relaxed. I told myself it was only a dream, and everything was all right. I then allowed my spirit to be carried away like a leaf in the vortex of a wild tornado.

I lost track of time. But after a few seconds to an eternity of whirling about, the tornado dissipated and I alighted on solid, stable ground. A nebulous figure sort of stood or hovered before me. It glowed like a lightning storm, and rumbled with the bassist of voices. “Welcome. I’ve been waiting a long time for your arrival,” it proclaimed.

“What is this place, and what do you want with me?” I asked timorously.

“It’s the sacred realm of the Tucumcari Mazurka, and you have been summoned for consecration as a great prophet,” came the rumbling response.

It continued. I sensed that it wished to waste no time, even though at the same time, time seemed irrelevant. But a man can only sleep for so long before his peregrination through dreamland must end.

“I will teach you the meaning of life. Then you must wander the four quarters of the globe, and disperse this teaching to all peoples of the earth. Or you can just blog about it.”

I smelled bacon. My wife was cooking breakfast, and the penetrating aroma put me in peril of immediate awakening. There was no time to waste. “Tell me now. Quickly!” I urged the theophany.

“The meaning of life is to be happy,” it stated with conclusive gravitas.

“Bull fucking shit!” I hollered. “You mean you summoned me all the way over here to tell me that? Why, every dickhead on earth who purports to teach enlightenment says the same damn thing. Give me something original. Something imaginative and illustrious. Something that will capture the attention of every soul who lends an ear to my preachments!”

It hovered motionless, while seeming to scratch its head. Finally it let out a great, booming sigh. “I’ve got nothing,” it admitted. “This meaning of life shit is really quite boring. It only goes as deep as the abstract. You can’t place a sure finger on it. So it’s hard to keep people interested. The best you can do is scare the hell out of folks, then promise them salvation if they’ll only listen to you and do what you say. But even that is tricky and unreliable.”

“So why should I be your prophet?” I asked.

“Well, how about this? There’s profit in being a prophet. You know, from donations, book sales, television appearances, and so forth. When you scare the shit out of people, you can really bring home the bacon.”

And that’s when it hit me. The bacon, I mean. The scent grabbed my olfactory nerves and jostled away my attention. The ethereal scene before me faded, and I opened my eyes.

No more dreaming. It was time for something real. It was time for bacon.

Bacon.

And that’s when I fully awakened to the true meaning of life.

The meaning of life is bacon.