Yep, I was fairly rusty. After a couple of hours, Candy (the gal that rescued me on the side of the road on the night the Sled died) and I snuck out and went to lunch at the Johnny Rocket's up on Paradise, across from the Hard Rock. It was damn good--we both got milkshakes and burgers and spent a handful of nickels playing cheesy oldies on the tabletop jukebox.
After lunch it was back to school to do the weekly no-limit tournament, where of course I didn't do so well... except for the dealing part--I did fine with that. But the tourney didn't end until almost 8 pm, so I came home after a quick drive-thru at Del Taco, surfed the net for awhile, and went to bed after watching a most entertaining episode of Entourage on the Tivo.
I got up early (for me) this morning, topped off the gas tank on the new truck and headed up to Mt. Charleston. I was actually very surprised at just how close it is to the city. If you're taking Hwy 95 north towards Reno, it's the next turnoff past the end of civilization (the Durango exit marks the beginning of the Nevada frontier). About 15 miles up the hill from the turnoff (State Rd 156, I believe) and you're deep into Kyle Canyon and a beautiful and dense pine tree forest.
I put the most appropriate driving-across-the-American-southwest music I had, U2's Joshua Tree, in the cd player and drove all the way to the end of the road, where the elevation changed from about 2500 feet here in the desert surrounding Vegas, all the way up to 8000+ feet. It was easily 20 degrees cooler up there, and of course the breeze carried the scent of pine and juniper, so I spent most of my time up there driving around with the windows down enjoying the fresh air and incredible scenery.
As nice as Kyle canyon was, the two campgrounds there left much to be desired--too close to the road and the individual campsites were much too close together. So after a quick stop at the (closed) visitors center, I drove back down the canyon and took the spur road (158) that runs across the eastern edge of the Spring Mountains over to Lee Canyon. First of all, that road is a serious climb. I'm not sure if the elevation hits 9000 feet in altitude, but it comes very close. There was also a place called Hilltop Campground I tried to find, but couldn't, but came upon an outpost up there with a high school that was literally in the middle of nowhere on top of a winding and very narrow mountain road.
I have no idea which team plays here, but I'm guessing that their kicker can hit 80-yard field goals.
Once past the summit, the road came to a T, and I followed the signs toward the camping and ski areas. I immediately liked Lee Canyon much better--it was bigger and more beautiful than Kyle Canyon, with better views of the mountains and amazing open meadows surrounded by huge pine forests. Bigfoot country.
I drove around at a couple of campgrounds, but found the one I liked best, called Dolomite, named after the peaks in the Italian Alps made famous mostly because of jigsaw puzzles. I pulled in and talked to the 'host', who asked me just as many questions about my truck as I asked him about the campground. I got out and snapped a few pictures and noted which sites I liked the best for my next visit, making sure that the next time I was up there, I would bring a tent, a cooler full of beer, and a good book.
After getting out to walk around a bit and stretch, it was back on the road for the drive home. Once I got out of the canyon, I pretty much coasted downhill for 14 miles all the way back to Hwy 95, tapping the brakes occasionally as the elevation changed from 8000 feet down to less than 3000, trying not to hit 90 mph on the way down.
The round trip, even with side treks into all of the campgrounds and picnic areas was less than 150 miles--hard to believe something that looks and smells like Big Bear is so close to Las Vegas. And I live on the far side of town, near Sunset Station--but it's not even a half hours' drive from Santa Fe Station.
I can't wait to break out the camping gear and head back up there sometime soon.
PS--clicky on the pics for full-sized goodness