"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zion National Park Red Permits and Shuttle

Above, Zion's West Temple and Sundial Peaks. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
When we arrived at Zion National Park's east entrance, I asked if it were possible to drive to the Lodge for breakfast. The ranger at the gate said that Zion Canyon is off limits to visitors' vehicles without a "Red Permit".

What's a Red Permit?

According to the National Park Service's website:
Q. What is a red permit? Do I need one?
A. Red permits are issued for overnight guests of the Zion Lodge. They are required to park in the lodge parking lot.
This is what the NPS has instituted since 2000. This system of eliminating vehicle traffic in the canyon is enforced from April through October.

People with confirmed reservations may drive and park at the Lodge, everyone else has to take the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center. The cost of the shuttle is included in the park entrance fee.

For more information on the park shuttle, go here.

Yellowstone Trip - Home Again!

Above, Checkerboard Mesa at Zion National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We arrived home late this afternoon from Richfield, Utah. We took a route that would have us drive through Zion National Park.

The last time we were at Zion was in 2003 and already the National Park Service was restricting personal automobiles to some extent in the park. Today, one cannot drive to the Zion Lodge unless one has a "Red Permit", whatever that is. We were hoping to have breakfast at the Lodge, but we didn't have a stinkin' Red Permit. (I will delve into this later.)

Above, The Watchman at Zion National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We ended up having breakfast at the Pioneer Cafe in Springdale, which is a town outside of the entrance to Zion National Park. It was an enjoyable breakfast.

After our meal, we headed off to home.

The Beast (the motorhome) came through the trip in flying colors! It handled the winding roads beautifully. I am very pleased with it.

I enjoyed one benefit of being a member of the Good Sam Club: discounts at Flying J travel centers/truck stops. It shaved off three cents per gallon on the price of gasoline. Three cents may not sound like much, but when you have a vehicle that takes up to 55 gallons per fill-up, the savings add up!

Above, Amber in The Beast at Zion National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

When we arrived in the Mojave Desert, we expected heavy winds. They didn't disappoint. But, we thought they'd end by the time we reached the San Fernando Valley. It was very windy and we had an occasional cloudburst. What gives? Screwy weather!

Anyway, it is nice to be back home. Tomorrow, The Beast will get a thorough cleaning!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yellowstone Trip - Days 6 & 7

Above, steam rises from Old Faithful Geyser in the cold morning air between eruptions.
The view is from the main entrance to the Old Faithful Inn. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Day 6 (yesterday) of our Yellowstone trip was spent mainly at camp so we could rest up for the two-day drive back home.

We did, however, go into West Yellowstone, Montana for dinner and some window-shopping at many stores (all catering to tourists' money).

Today, Day 7, had us up early to go into Yellowstone National Park to have breakfast in the dining room of the Old Faithful Inn. We got there a half hour before the dining room opened at 6:30 a.m. I am told that Disneyland's Bear Country Jamboree is patterned after the Old Faithful Inn.

The food was great!

After breakfast, we headed out of Yellowstone, but before we did, we stopped at two Sinclair gas stations in search for some plush Dinos. Unfortunately, none of them had any. So, while on the road, we made sure to stop at Sinclair stations along the route so see if any of them had any. Unfortunately, none did (we have another day to check more).

We ended up staying the night at the KOA Kampground in Richfield, Utah. We will be heading out early in the morning with a drive-through Zion National Park on the agenda.

Before leaving Wyoming, we drove through Grand Tetons National Park (it is only 29 miles south of Yellowstone).

Some highlight photos:

Above, Hamilton's Store near Old Faithful Inn. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, at breakfast at the Old Faithful Inn.

Above, Mount Moran at Grand Tetons National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a description plaque. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Grand Teton. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, an antler arch in Jackson, Wyoming. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sinclair Oil Corporation

Above, a Sinclair gas pump at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

About a couple of weeks ago, writer, director, Godzilla fan and dinosaur expert Donald F. "Dino Don" Glut mentioned Sinclair Oil Corporation due to its dinosaur logo.

Sinclair has been pretty much a regional oil company with gasoline stations in the Rocky Mountain states and in the midwest. On my current trip to Yellowstone National Park, I have seen many Sinclair stations, and there are some inside the national park.

Our tour group stopped at one station in Yellowstone (there were some bison lounging nearby) for a break.

Above, Sinclair Oil toys for sale at the Yellowstone National Park gas station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I took the accompanying photographs at the station and posted them on Facebook.

Some have asked about Sinclair Oil and here's what Wikipedia has to say about the company:
Sinclair Oil Corporation is an American petroleum corporation, founded by Harry F. Sinclair on May 1, 1916, as the Sinclair Oil and Refining Corporation by combining the assets of 11 small petroleum companies. Originally a New York corporation, Sinclair Oil reincorporated in Wyoming in 1976. The corporation's logo features the silhouette of a large green dinosaur. 
In 1969, Sinclair was acquired by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). Federal antitrust provisions required the new entity to divest itself of certain Sinclair assets, and as a result, the East Coast operations of Sinclair were sold to BP (which has since purchased ARCO). After the acquisition by ARCO, the dinosaur was phased out, but at least one service station, in Winona, Minnesota, retained the original look through the 1980s. Many Sinclair stations in the Midwest continued to use the dinosaur logo along with ARCO's "diamond spark" logo. At least some Sinclair stations partially retained the Sinclair brand for a time, using ARCO's blue rectangular logo including the "spark" graphic, but with the word "Sinclair" substituted for ARCO. 
In 1976, ARCO spun off Sinclair by selling certain assets to Robert (Earl) Holding. Sinclair has been owned by the Holdings since 1976. Assets divested in the spin-off included ARCO's retail operations in the region bounded by the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and the rights to the Sinclair brand and logo, resulting in many stations along Interstate 80 keeping the dinosaur logo. The ARCO stations in Texas, New Mexico, Illinois and some portions of Oklahoma were not affected by the divesture, and they continued as part of ARCO until ARCO pulled out of those states in the 1980s.
Sinclair is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Above, Sinclair Oil's "Dino" toys. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Upon our return trip home, I will make it a point to stop at a Sinclair gas station and, hopefully, pick up some "Dino" toys. Don Glut indicated that he'd like to have one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Yellowstone Trip - Day 5

Above, Old Faithful Geyser erupts right on schedule, roughly every 90 minutes. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today was spent touring the Lower Loop of Yellowstone National Park with Buffalo Yellowstone Tours.

Both yesterday's and today's tour guides stated that the American bison are not buffaloes. Real buffaloes are in Asia (water buffaloes). Being the literal person that I am, I mentioned to him that in view of that, his company should change their name. He agreed.

It was a lucky thing that we saw bears during yesterday's tour, as we saw none today. But what we saw today made up for it.

After the tour, we got back to our camp at the West Yellowstone KOA and, as we were unwinding and about to head out for dinner, a sudden thunderstorm opened up.

Here's some photos from today's tour:

Above, the fireplace chimney of the Old Faithful Inn main lobby. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Above, the Old Faithful Inn. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the lobby of the Lake Hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, bison relaxing in a meadow. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Fountain Paint Pot. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Upper Yellowstone Falls. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Yellowstone Trip - Day 4

Above, Lower Yellowstone Falls. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today was the day we took the Upper Loop tour at Yellowstone National Park. Our tour bus met us at our campground at 8:00 a.m.

We had about 27 people in our tour group.

During the course of the tour, we were treated with views of bears, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, an osprey nest and scenic vistas.

Here's some of the highlights:

Above, an osprey nest. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a mother black bear and her cub. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Amber and Armand at Gibbon Falls. 

Above, Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Above, two relaxing bison. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Yellowstone Trip - Day 3

Above, The Beast is nestled in the pines in West Yellowstone. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today is "kick-back day" for me. After two days of driving 500 miles each, I am just relaxing in camp.

However, Amber has enough nervous energy for the both of us and is now about to do some horseback riding for a couple of hours. I will probably indulge in it Sunday.

The weather in West Yellowstone couldn't have been better. It is around 80 degrees outside and we were comfortable last night. We slept great with the windows open. All that fresh air did wonders.

Tomorrow, we will be touring Yellowstone National Park's upper loop.

Tonight's menu: cheese enchiladas.

Yellowstone Trip - Day 2

Above, one of  the residents of Yellowstone Bear World. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We rose early in Beaver, Utah to get on the road for the final half of our 1,000-mile drive to Yellowstone National Park.

During our refueling stop in Idaho, I found that The Beast averaged nine miles per gallon of gasoline. It was somewhat better than expected. The Winnebago has a 55-gallon gasoline tank and runs on a Ford Triton V-10 engine.

Fortunately for us, gasoline was cheaper outside of California. We paid $2.95/gallon in Idaho.

Before arriving in West Yellowstone in Montana, we did make a stop at Yellowstone Bear World in Rexford, Idaho. Yellowstone Bear World is an attraction whose goal is to recreate the Yellowstone National Park experience in seeing bears and other wildlife up close in your car of the days before the government stopped allowing park visitors to feed the bears.

People drive through Yellowstone Bear World to see the bears, wolves, deer, moose and other animals. There is also a petting zoo. One of the most popular attractions is the feeding of bear cubs by the visitors to the attraction. There are also rides for the kids and a big gift shop.

After our visit to Yellowstone Bear World, we headed off to our campground in West Yellowstone.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yellowstone Trip - Day One

After months of anticipation, Amber and I finally headed off to Yellowstone National Park for a vacation in nature.

The first leg of the trip had us stay the first night midway at the Beaver, Utah KOA Kampground.

The trip from Los Angeles to Yellowstone is roughly 1,000 miles long, and the Beaver KOA is about 513 miles from L.A.

Here's a couple of photos at the Beaver KOA:

Above, the traditional KOA "A-frame" office. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, The Beast at the Beaver KOA. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gladstone's Lunch

Above, a nice plate of oysters. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In-between packing, cleaning, shopping, sleeping and getting things organized for the Yellowstone vacation, I did manage to take Denise Santos out to lunch at Gladstone's 4 Fish in Pacific Palisades yesterday.

Above, Denise at Gladstone's. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It was an enjoyable lunch and Denise had never been to Gladstone's before. She said she is particular about where she has seafood and she said that Gladstone's got her "seal of approval".

Following lunch, we took a "scenic route" back to the San Fernando Valley via Topanga Canyon.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tokyo Falls Out of Top 10 of The World's Most Expensive Cities

Above, a view of Tokyo from Tokyo City View. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There's good news for those expats who live in Tokyo and for those who just want to visit the city.

Tokyo has dropped out of the top ten of the world's most expensive cities.

According to the Wall Street Journal blog:
Japan has seen a record number of tourists visit the country in recent years as a weaker yen makes trips more affordable. The fall in the currency also means Japan is now a relatively cheaper place to live compared with other cities across the globe. 
Human resources consulting firm Mercer says Tokyo has dropped out of the top 10 in its annual cost of living survey for expats. Japan’s capital fell to 11th place from last year’s 7th, thanks to the depreciation of the yen against the dollar. 
The annual survey compared the cost of more than 200 items and factors including housing, transportation, entertainment and food, using New York as the base city.
To read more, go here.

Perfect Timing

It looks like Amber and I picked the right time to vacation at Yellowstone National Park.

According to Weather.com, the temperatures in the Yellowstone are will be in a warming trend with the highs in the 70s - 80s and lows in the 40s.

We will be driving through Nevada, Utah, Arizona (a tip of it), Idaho, Montana and Wyoming during this trip. We'll be staying in West Yellowstone, Montana, which is just a short walk to the park's boundary.

It will be good to be able to get away from the Los Angeles rat race for a while.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice

Above, Upper Yellowstone Falls. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Summer Solstice, or the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, is today.

The solstice begins when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. This year, it is at 12:38 p.m.

For the first time in a few years, I am actually looking forward to the summer season. This is due to having The Beast available to me to escape somewhere. The fun begins in a couple of days when Amber and I head off to Yellowstone National Park.

It will be interesting to see the new growth of vegetation since the 1989 fires. We last visited Yellowstone a year after the fires and saw a lot of burned areas.

Other activities are being planned beyond this trip.

Speaking of Yellowstone, here's the park's online version of the park newspaper: http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/YELLSummer15_run2_Web.pdf

Saturday, June 20, 2015

50 Things To Do In Fukuoka

Above, Fukuoka Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Fukuoka is well-known to kaiju fans for being featured in three prominent monster movies over the years. The first being Rodan (1956).

Then, the city was featured in two movies in the 1990s: Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) and Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (1995).

Fukuoka is located on the island of Kyushu, which is about an 8-hour ride on the shinkansen from Tokyo. Flights to Fukuoka can be taken from Tokyo's Haneda Airport. I visited Fukuoka in 2007. I took the shinkansen to get there.

Besides being centers of action in the aforementioned monster movies, there are other things to see in do in Fukuoka. Since we're nearing vacation season, now's the time to start planning for your trip.

Above, Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tsunagu Japan has a list of 50 things to do in Fukuoka. Two of the items on the list, Fukuoka Tower and Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome, were featured in two of the movies mentioned above.

Before getting to the list, they wrote:
Don't know what to do in Fukuoka? These spots and activities were recommended by people from Fukuoka themselves, so try to see and do as much of them as you can!
Fukuoka's monster attractions are featured in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan on page 45.

To see what the other 48 items are on the list, go here.

Hillary Insinuates Trump Is The Blame For Charleston Shootings

The campaign has gotten a bit hotter as Hillary Clinton took a swipe at GOP candidate Donald Trump over the Charleston, South Carolina shootings.

According to CBS News:
Hillary Clinton took a veiled swipe on Thursday at Donald Trump, calling recent inflammatory comments Trump made about Mexicans particularly inappropriate in light of the shooting in Charleston that claimed nine lives on Wednesday. 
Trump, who rarely declines an invitation to a verbal food fight, fired right back, saying Clinton "just blamed me for the horrendous attack that took place in South Carolina."

Clinton said:
We have to speak out against it. Like for example, a recent entry into the Republican presidential campaign said some very inflammatory things about Mexicans. Everybody should stand up and say, 'That's not acceptable.'
In response, Trump said:
Wow, it's pretty pathetic that Hillary Clinton just blamed me for the horrendous attack that took place in South Carolina.
To read more, go here

Asahi Beer Headquarters, Then & Now

Above, the Asahi Beer Hall with the Tokyo Skytree in the background at left. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Asahi Shimbun has some "then and now" photos of the Asahi Beer headquarters next to the Sumida River along with a history of the brewery.

It starts with:
To some, it appears enticing, like the frothy head of a beer. To others, it resembles a “golden poop.” But one thing everyone has to agree on is that there’s a massive metallic-looking piece of art sitting atop a building in downtown Tokyo.
Today, the Asahi headquarters, known as the Asahi Beer Hall, is known for a building that resembles a mug of beer and the "golden flame" sculpture.

To see more, go here.

The Night's Sky: The Moon, Jupiter and Venus

Tonight, as I was headed to work, I noticed in the western sky an alignment of the moon, Jupiter and Venus and took this shot with my phone camera:

While we're on the subject of night sky photography, a friend sent this beautiful photo that her daughter took out in the Mojave Desert a couple of nights ago:

Friday, June 19, 2015

15 Great Ways To Enjoy Tokyo On A Budget

Above, Shibuya Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Americans wanting to visit Japan, and Tokyo in particular, may have limited resources for visiting. This is especially the case with younger tourists. But there are ways to enjoy Tokyo even while on a limited budget.

Thankfully, Tsunagu Japan has a good list of "15 Great Ways To Enjoy Tokyo On A Budget."

They begin their list with:
When you think of Tokyo, what comes to mind? While you are sure to find some great shopping, sightseeing and cuisine in the capital, in this article, we are going to introduce some places you can enjoy on a budget during your stay.
To see their list, go here

Japan's Tourism Boom Lifts Economy and Causes Headaches

Above, the Wako department store in Ginza. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The current boom in Japan tourism has greatly boosted the Japanese economy. But the influx in foreigners have caused some problems that the Japanese government needs to address.

For example, much of the influx originates from China. There are not enough workers in the retail sector who can speak Chinese. There's also scarce numbers of ATMs that will accept foreign debit or credit cards. And, investments in new restaurants and hotels have lagged and not kept up with the growth of foreign tourists.

The Minneapolis StarTribune has an article on the boom and the headaches it brings.

It starts off with:
TOKYO — From the slopes of Mount Fuji to the temple streets of Kyoto, tourists are cramming Japan's prime sightseeing spots, puzzling their way through Tokyo subways, and splashing out cash on cosmetics, sushi and high-tech toilet seats. 
The cheap yen, easier visas and other initiatives are luring foreign travelers eager to stretch their budgets and see some UNESCO World Heritage sites, bringing in welcome cash as well as myriad complications. 
Tourism was among many Japanese industries that limped through more than 20 years of sluggish economic growth as locals tightened their belts and most foreigners stayed away, scared off by tales of $200 melons and other scandalous prices. 
But Japan has become a hot destination as the exchange rate weakened from about 80 yen to the U.S. dollar in late 2012 to its current level of about 123 yen. Foreign visitors exceeded 10 million for the first time in 2013 and rose to 13.4 million last year. The aim is to have 20 million by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympic Games.
To read more, go here.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Donald Trump's Presidential Announcement

Here's the video of Donald Trump's announcement to run for president:

Carry-on Luggage Plan Scrapped

Above, sleeping train passengers with luggage of all kinds and sizes in Chiba Prefecture. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It looks like the idea to come up with specific reduced sizes for carry-on luggage is dead. At least for now.

According to Japan Today:
TORONTO —A global airline association said Wednesday that it was scrapping its recommendation to reduce the size of carry-on bags for air travelers after an “intense” response in North America. 
The International Air Transportation Association, a Montreal-headquartered trade group whose members represent nearly 85 percent of total air traffic, said that it is canceling its proposal after “significant concerns” were raised in North America. 
“This is clearly an issue that is close to the heart of travelers. We need to get it right,” IATA senior vice-president Tom Windmuller said. 
The group recommended last week that airlines require carry-on bags to be 20 percent smaller than what major U.S. carriers currently permit saying that would allow for more space.
To read more, go here

Tourism Agency To Poll Spas On Policies Dealing With Foreigners With Tattoos

Ever since it has become "fashionable" for men and women in the U.S. (and other countries) to sport tattoos, they have been having some perplexing difficulties in being admitted into Japanese onsens and spas.

The Japan Tourism Agency is conducting a survey of spas and onsens on how they deal with this.

According to an article in The Japan Times:
The Japan Tourism Agency said Thursday it has begun surveying onsen hot springs nationwide on their no-tattoo policy because many foreign visitors sporting body art have been perplexed by such restrictions. 
Many public bathhouses have long denied entry to people with tattoos due to their traditional association with yakuza. However, the policy has baffled many non-Japanese, including people whose tattoos are rooted in their ethnicity. 
Earlier this month, the agency started distributing a questionnaire to 3,700 inns and hotels with public baths, asking them why and how they turn away tattoo-bearers and whether they have run into trouble with guests over the policy, an official in its regional development department said.
 To read more, go here.

Revisiting "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"

The other night (Tuesday night, to be exact), I went over to the local CD Trader Store (they sell new and used DVDs, CDs and vinyl) to pick up some movies.

I was in the mood to re-visit the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast of the 1960s television show.

It was just my luck that they had a set of all of the movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and ending with Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991). It is pictured at left.

After I got home, I sat down to watch the movie over some chocolate chip ice cream.

The movie, directed by Robert Wise, hasn't aged very well, to say the least. Frankly, it was a colossal bore when it came out in 1979 and it remains a colossal bore today. The special effects were a disappointment, despite having John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull on board. Granted, the special effects were before digital imaging. Matte lines and other flaws were very apparent.

Above, the refitted and rebuilt Enterprise in space dock.

At least the next entry in the movie series, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) had a much better story and much better special effects.

It was interesting to see a much younger and thinner William Shatner.

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