Red Rock Biking

Las Vegas is an interesting place, but the surrounding countryside is worth exploring.  Yesterday, our group ventured about a half hour away from the Strip, out to the Nevada version of Red Rock Canyon — it seems like there’s one of those in just about every western state — for a bike tour with Allison and John, the fine folks at redEbike.

First, a word about the basics of the tour.  Allison and John really make it easy.  Allison picked us up at our hotel and drove us out to the Canyon, John gave us a careful but quick training session on the bikes, and on the tour itself Allison led our pack and John followed to make sure that we stayed together.  As a result, there are no issues with getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

Second, you don’t need to be a cycling stud to do this tour.  The redEbike tours use electric bikes, so you won’t need to be huffing and puffing up the inclines.  The bikes have a quiet motor that is triggered by either moving the pedals or a thumb toggle switch on the handlebars, with four speed options.  So long as you know how to ride a bike (and we all know that once you’ve mastered that skill, you never really forget it), you can operate the bikes and enjoy the ride.  After a little training spin around the parking lot to get the hang of changing the speed setting, we were all ready to go.  On the tour itself, I used the pedals rather than the thumb toggle in order to preserve a modicum of self-respect and feel like I’d gotten a decent amount of exercise.

Third, the tour itself is terrific.  You follow a 16-mile track through Red Rock Canyon that takes about four hours.  You very comfortably share a two-lane road with cars on what is predominantly a one-way loop, going up 1100 feet — that’s where those nifty motors come in handy — and then down again.  The 16 miles are divided into bite-sized, three or four mile chunks with stops that allow you to goggle at the surroundings, walk around, and even get a miniature nature tour about how you can use the plants to survive a zombie apocalypse.  (There are bathrooms at several of the stops, too.)

The scenery is absolutely stunning.  The first stop is a red rock expanse that is used by hikers and rock climbers, pictured above, to show you conclusively that you aren’t in the Midwest anymore, and the rest of the scenery is equally striking.  Add in the fresh air, the desert plant life, the feel of sunshine on your back and the wind in your hair, and a few S curves and occasional straightaways where you can let the bike do its thing, and you’ve got a great alternative to neon, smoky casinos, and huge crowds.

Is there any downside to this great little excursion?  Well, you must don a bicycle helmet and simply accept that, for the entire ride, you’ll look like a hopeless nerd — because that’s what bicycle helmets are designed to do.

Thanks to Allison, John, and redEbike for a wonderful, truly memorable experience for our group.  If you are out in Vegas and looking for for a break from the norm, I give it five stars.  You can learn more about the redEbike electric bike tours here.

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Still Fab After 50

Amazingly, more than 50 years after the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released during the summer of 1967, the iconic photo of the Fab Four from the album towers over the Las Vegas strip. The Cirque du Soleil show Love, which features Beatles music, is one of the most popular shows in town.

The Beatles’ music may not prove to be literally timeless, but it has held up pretty well for more than a half century and obviously is still going strong.

Belle Views

Belle Isle is a great example of how a good park can make a difference in a metropolitan area. It offers a beautiful view of downtown Detroit, lots of green space for picnics and dog walking, great roads for biking and jogging, and features like a beautiful white fountain and pond ringed by cherry trees.

There’s also a conservatory and a nifty little aquarium — both of which are free to the public, although a donation is encouraged. That’s a great benefit for a family that is living on a budget and trying to stretch their paychecks. And, in fact, Belle Isle was packed with people today, who were enjoying the amenities and some beautiful weather.

How many American cities offer these kinds of free benefits anymore? Not many. It’s one reason why the Detroit boosters are confident the Motor City will bounce back.

The O.B.P.

The Obligatory Beach Photograph (O.B.P. for short) first became part of Americana in the mid-50s.

With the Baby Boom underway, the American economy growing rapidly during the Eisenhower years, and airlines and superhighways making travel easier than ever before, American families were vacationing in record numbers. Often the vacations were beach vacations, and the father of the family, equipped with his Kodak, took the first crude examples of the O.B.P. When the brood returned home, the neighbors were invited over for a slide show after dinner and drinks, and the O.B.P. was displayed to bored viewers to prove that the beach vacation had in fact occurred.

The O.B.P. quickly became ubiquitous. Camera-wielding travelers tried every conceivable angle, technique, and gimmick, even as camera technology advanced, but the O.B.P. endured without material change. It always featured sun, water, palm trees, and sand, without any significant distinguishing characteristics. After all, tropical beaches look pretty much the same, wherever they are found, whether you see them pictured in a slide show, in home movies, or in family photo albums — but by then, the overwhelming expectation that the O.B.P. would be taken left travelers unable to resist.

With the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media, the audience that was required to endure exposure to the O.B.P. widened, and the first creative variation on the O.B.P. in decades was discovered, when photographers decided to position a beer bottle or rum drink in the frame, or took the OB.P. from a chaise lounge so that their crossed feet would be visible at the bottom of the frame. Usually the post included the expression “aah!”

The O.B.P. is here to stay. Long live the O.B.P.!

A Moment To Savor

Photographs are great, but their inherent limitations mean they can’t possibly capture everything special about a moment.

As I was walking around Schiller Park the other morning, the branches of a beautiful old tree were backlit by the first glimmers of dawn, the air was crisp but not too cold, birds were chirping, mallards and ducks were muttering to each other as they waddled past on the lawn, and the promise of growing things was everywhere evident. When I noticed the scene I realized with a jolt that spring may finally be here, and I savored the moment, enough to stop and take a picture.

It’s a nice picture, but it really doesn’t do justice to the moment. Of course, when spring does come after an overlong winter, you don’t want to see it in pictures, you want to get outside and enjoy it with every sense and fiber of your being.

Hopeful Signs

After this cold, dank, never-ending winter, a sighting of the first flowers heralding spring is very welcome. These hardy crocuses, which are traditionally among the first flowers to bloom in our region, sprouted between two bricks to greet the sun’s rays on a dazzling day.

It is wonderful to see a splash of bright color and sunshine after months of wintry gloom.