Big Sky v. Jackson v. Park City as a summer destination

Interested in escaping to the mountains for all or part of the summer? Here’s a report, based on 2023 visits, regarding three possibilities.

Park City, Utah (elevation 7,000′) is the best choice if you’re passionate about Pride and 2SLGBTQQIA+. The city purchased at least 100 trans-enhanced rainbow flags and has hung them from every lamppost in the small downtown area. You can pay obeisance to Rainbow Flagism before you think about entering a business establishment, which might in turn have its own 2SLGBTQQIA+ talismans on the windows or door. If you’re not a follower of the state religion, however, you might be annoyed by Park City’s tilted situation. There are no level streets downtown. Park City is great if you’re planning to break a bone doing an adventure sport or if you’re planning on suffering a total body meltdown due to old age. A friend went from ski accident in Park City to world-class University of Utah hospital in 25 minutes via ambulance. The surrounding area is certainly more scenic than most of Florida, but it is far from any National Park.

Big Sky, Montana exemplifies everything that is bad about American sprawl. There are three main developments spread out along a highway, none of which has sufficient critical mass to constitute a city or even a “town”. Let’s call them three strip malls, one of which includes ski lifts. Everything is part of a single “resort”, which is able to impose a 4% sales tax on everything sold by the stores within Big Sky (Montana itself has no sales tax, so stock up in Bozeman or West Yellowstone!). But the resort corporation ignored all of the principles of New Urbanism and the sprawl does not feel planned. You can be crammed into a townhouse or condo development or you can be isolated and car-dependent far out from one of the three strip malls.

For peasants, Big Sky is tough to access. It is a 1.5-hour drive from the regional airport in Bozeman. The elite will sometimes do this or Gulfstream it to KWYS, a 35-minute drive away and blessed with an 8400′ runway and approaches down to 200′ AGL.

The exception to the above might be for the rich folks who hang out together in the Yellowstone Club (two shared and one private helipad inside so that the above drives are rendered unnecessary). Otherwise, Big Sky shows the genius of the New Urbanism folks who created our community. The shared gym, pool, lawn, playground, etc. for every 150-200 households and the compact layout (but still mostly single-family homes) facilitate social connections.

If you’re going to check out Big Sky and coming from sea level, I recommend the Marriott “Wilson”, which is in the middle strip mall that is 1,000′ lower than the base of the ski hill. This hotel was built in 2019 and folks say that the base lodges are getting worn and tired. There is a good walk down to an impressive waterfall. Bidenflation is a Republican lie: my haircut (without shampoo) at the local barber shop was only $55 plus tip. Here are the prices at the local Mexican food truck where local laborers get lunch (13 Bidies for a sandwich):

Jackson, Wyoming (elevation 6,237′) shows the importance of flatness. Hills are great if it is winter and you want to ski, but they’re annoying if you’re going to the supermarket. Jackson has a huge amount of more-or-less flat valley area that enables the development of a functional city, an extensive bike path network that you don’t need to be a hero to enjoy, etc. The wildlife art museum is a great place to hang out, especially because the members’ room is open to all and there is a good restaurant on site. You could spend 4-5 hours here with a meal and then doing some reading while looking out over the elk refuge. Jackson has its own regional airport (kind of a short runway and the approaches aren’t great, but airlines serve it). It also has an in-town low-elevation ski hill that looks good for beginners (the eponymous ski resort for Jackson is huge and terrifying).

Jackson offers quick access to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that it will take nearly 5 hours to drive to the nearest real city: Salt Lake. I’m sure that the local hospital is great for orthopedics, but if you need any other high-end specialist it will be quite a project to see a doctor in Salt Lake City. The lack of inflation meant that it was only $30 plus tip for Pad Thai in Jackson:

Residential construction was proceeding at a feverish place in all of the places that we visited (on our way to a Chinese level of population density!), but even where it seemed that a lot of land was available the prices were stratospheric. Park City was perhaps the most affordable. In Big Sky and Jackson, the townhouse lifestyle is $1-2 million and the single-family houses with a big of land and a gorgeous view were mostly $4-10 million. Here’s the downtown Jackson view on Zillow. Note that many of these multi-$million properties are either apartments or vacant land.

Tax implications: Wyoming has no personal income tax. If you end up getting stuck there for more than 6 months or fall in love with Jackson and decide to make it your primary home, you won’t pay income tax. Utah and Montana both have income taxes. None of the three states have estate or inheritance taxes. The family law systems and associated profits for alimony and child support plaintiffs are quite different among these three states as well. See Real World Divorce.

Conclusion: I think that Jackson is the nicest place among the above three. Unfortunately, it is also everyone else’s favorite so it is super expensive. The long distance from a major city is concerning as well. Due to the urban layout, it should be easier to build a social life in Jackson than in Big Sky or Park City. That said, it probably still wouldn’t be that easy due to the large percentage of transients.

On the third hand: If you stay in Florida for the summer, you are unlikely to suffer from forest fire smoke, a problem that has been common for thousands of years in the mountain states, especially up north. Here’s the sky in the Titusville/Cape Canaveral area on July 1, 2023, when folks in the Midwest and Northeast were putting their N95s back on:

(we were up there watching SpaceX push the European Euclid telescope toward the L2 Lagrange Point; even the Florida-hating NYT was forced to admit that “The weather was almost perfect for the flight”)

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National Parkflation

Gift shops at National Parks sell books, stickers, posters, and quilts featuring all of the parks for those who wish to try to hit them all (my favorite is a scratch-off). If you’re old and remember when the “National Park” designation was reserved for truly spectacular places you will greatly underestimate the challenge. There are now 63 National Parks. How is that possible? 63 places in the U.S. that deserve to be mentioned as peers to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon?!?

It turns out that there has been a substantial amount of Parkflation.

Eero Saarinen’s 1965 Gateway Arch in St. Louis was redesignated from Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to Gateway Arch National Park in 2018 (Wikipedia).

Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a National Monument starting in 1933. Without any upgrades to the sights, which Coloradans say are worth a half-day visit, it became a National Park in 1999.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a set of hills cut through with highways just south of Cleveland. Half of Connecticut and all of New Hampshire qualifies as a National Park if this place does. From Wikipedia:

Cuyahoga Valley was originally designated as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then redesignated as a national park 26 years later in 2000, and remains the only national park that originated as a national recreation area.

We checked off the park on the way to Oshkosh 2021. It’s a pleasant place for an afternoon walk if you don’t mind being able to hear road noise.

The UNESCO World Heritage folks are more discriminating. Only 12 natural sites, all National Parks, make the cut:

  1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1995)
  2. Everglades National Park (1979)
  3. Grand Canyon National Park (1979)
  4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1983)
  5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1987)
  6. Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979, 1992, 1994)
  7. Mammoth Cave National Park (1981)
  8. Olympic National Park (1981)
  9. Redwood National and State Parks (1980)
  10. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995)
  11. Yellowstone National Park (1978)
  12. Yosemite National Park (1984)

(One’s in Florida!)

Readers: What are your predictions for the next few U.S. National Parks? Here are mine:

The southern edge of Vermilion Cliffs, as viewed when driving from Grand Canyon North Rim to Page, Arizona:

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Should we rush to sign up for Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser immersive hotel?

Who’s ready to sign up for Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience/hotel? Compared to the price of Taylor Swift tickets, $6,000 for a family of four for two nights is a bargain. Fox Orlando explains:

Touted as a “first-of-its-kind immersive experience” Disney opened the resort with much fanfare in the spring of 2022 during “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” honoring the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World. Guests were invited aboard the Halcyon starcruiser, “a vessel known for its impeccable service and exotic destinations.” The resort hotel also had direct access to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Throughout the voyage, “guests’ choices determined their personal stories as they interacted with characters, crew, and other passengers.”

The immersive experience at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser came with a hefty price, critics said. At its opening, the cost for two guests per cabin came to $1,200 per guest, per night. A cabin for four guests (3 adults and 1 child) was priced at $749 per guest, per night. Guests were also required to book a two-night minimum stay.

(“3 adults and 1 child”? Is Fox joining the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in promoting throupledom?)

Our kids aren’t quite ready for this because they haven’t seen all of the Star Wars movies yet, but I had thought that we would take them eventually. Now we have only until the end of September to stuff them full of Star Wars knowledge, e.g., about the relationship between Jar Jar Binks and General Grievous, and get them to this immersive hotel.

Separately, though I hate to brag (nobody hates to brag more than I do), I need to share that I was just 50′ from Taylor Swift when she was on stage. Even better, I did not have to pay $5,000 for my seat and close-up view of Ms. Swift. It all happened at Oberlin College where Taylor Swift was receiving an earned bachelor’s degree. A 2015 Daily Mail story explains:

Taylor Swift, 21, is the second cousin of the famous singer

They’ve never met, but the famous Taylor’s parents brought her backstage at the 1989 tour – which she bought tickets to herself

She currently attends Oberlin College where she’s taking classes in politics and Hispanic studies, and she spends her spare times giving swim lessons to kids.

College student Taylor doesn’t sing, she doesn’t like country, and she didn’t even listen to her famous cousin’s music until recently.

I hope that by now the singer Taylor Swift has at least sent some free tickets to her same-name cousin!

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Chattanooga, Tennessee as an aviation stopover

We’re getting into the summer travel season. For folks in small planes fleeing South Florida, Chattanooga, Tennessee is a reasonable first overnight. KCHA is a huge airport with a great FBO:

The surrounding Appalachian Mountains are scenic, but don’t interfere with instrument approaches down to 200′ AGL.

This post has some photos from an overnight stop in Chattanooga on the way home from Oshkosh last summer (early August 2023).

Uber it to downtown and visit the Tennessee Aquarium, which takes the novel architectural approach of following a river down to the ocean:

This is what my house would look like if I were an evil billionaire. The aquarium puts a lot of effort into showing river ecosystems from around the world. In the Department of Stuff You Couldn’t Make Up, Bank of America supports the piranha exhibit:

We’ll see how many San Francisco Fed supervision failures lead to Bank of America swooping in!

Speaking of swooping in, Science says that humans crossing a border are good, but the Nile Perch crossing into Lake Victoria has been bad for native species:

Invasive Mosquitofish are also bad…

The dark River Journey building has now been augmented by a more conventional Ocean Journey building that has similar to displays to what you find in public aquariums around the world.

Puckett’s is a great Southern-style restaurant next door:

Walk along and then across the river…

Cry when you learn that Americans won’t put down their Xbox and OxyContin long enough to come in and make donuts (“Staffing Shortages” sign below):

Your kids can cool off in a fountain and then ride a carousel…

Ruby Falls is entirely underground so it is open late. You start high above the city:

You walk through a limestone cave with beautiful formations and eventually come to the falls themselves:

Downtown is a little scarier than the cave:

You probably won’t get sued for divorce or custody during your overnight in Chattanooga, however, because child support profits are capped in Tennessee (see Real World Divorce). You can finish your evening with a late-night snack inside the old train station:

All of the above can be easily accomplished if you land before 1 pm. Then fire up early the next morning and proceed to the heartland!

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Meet in Bozeman, Montana on Sunday? Or June 16 in Salt Lake City?

Folks: Although there is no place better to spend the summer than South Florida, I’m heading to the Mountain West on Saturday. For altitude adjustment, the first two nights will be spent in Bozeman, Montana. If anyone lives out there and wants to meet, please email ( I should also be available on the way out, June 16 in Salt Lake City. (In between there will be stops at all of the usual places: Big Sky, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce, Grand Canyon (North Rim), Lake Powell, Moab.)

I had to make some last-minute changes to wardrobe, packing, and itinerary as a result of “Montana first to ban drag performers from reading to children in schools, libraries” (NBC):

Montana has become the first state to specifically ban people dressed in drag from reading books to children at public schools and libraries, part of a host of legislation aimed at the rights the LGBTQ community in Montana and other states.


  • Travels with Samantha, a 1993 trip through some of these same places in which there was no need to make reservations! (photos below)
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End-of-Title-42 Robinson R44 trip from Los Angeles to the border

Today is the day that Donald Trump’s cruel Title 42 policy was supposed to end, enabling more than 7 billion humans to enter the U.S. and then live here for 10+ years as they await their first asylum court hearing. (CNN) (Trump’s immigration policy was intolerably racist, which is why the Biden administration has continued it for more than 2 years?) This post chronicles our May 2023 trip from Los Angeles to the border at El Paso, Texas.

A west-to-east trip along Interstate 10 began with a flight over the National Historic Landmark of Mar-a-Lago:

I could almost hear the questions of the children in Palm Beach who were pointing up:

  • “What’s JetBlue?”
  • “What’s a commercial airline?”
  • “You have to share your plane with other people?”

Our PBI-LAX route took us over the Florida Mountains, right next to Deming, New Mexico, where we would later stop:

(If no human is illegal, why does the Biden administration keep a balloon tethered near the border?)

Torrance, California is home to the Robinson Helicopter Company, which has zero Michelin stars, and Din Tai Fung, the proud bearer of one star (for the Hong Kong branch). We managed to catch a curbside Uber Black from LAX and thus avoid the dreaded one-hour wait for a regular Uber and arrived at Din Tai Fung just before closing. Angelenos on the airplane, in the restaurant, and working at the hotel were, by Florida standards, often masked. #COVIDisNotOver

The view from the DoubleTree reminds us that Californians are geniuses when it comes to sustainability and adapting to a dark climate future. When building apartments in an area famous for fires, make sure to use wood rather than concrete:

“Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same” (Bloomberg 2019) explains how this is legal:

Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost.

the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

Our machine is ready on Robinson’s ramp at 0800:

The inspectors had found a slightly messed up decal above a static port and that was being addressed while we did our preflight inspection. Helicopters come out of the factory with exactly 4 flight test hours and then a fresh oil change.

Mid-morning traffic on the east side of Los Angeles wasn’t too bad:

The state that was the most thoroughly locked down for coronapanic celebrates “200 years of freedom, 1776-1976”:

(Would Native Americans and Black Americans agree that “freedom” arrived in 1776?)

The sprawl of Los Angeles continues almost to the Banning Pass, which we were able to get through easily at 3,500′:

If you’re accustomed to high-end FBOs, Blythe, California is best avoided. There is no 100LL truck. The “courtesy” car comes with a stern warning to return with a gasoline receipt or pay $20 (admittedly gasoline in California is over $5 per gallon, but nobody would use the crew car for more than a 12-mile round-trip into town). Some photos of Blythe and the Colorado River, which separates it from the comparatively free state of Arizona:

I-10 then climbs into Phoenix, a true master class on sprawl:

If you want to start an airline, a midnight visit to Pinal, Arizona (KMZJ) with a start cart would save a lot of money (note the Dreamlifter, resting after lifting its last dream):

We refueled in Tucson then headed across southern New Mexico as the sun waned. We landed at Million Air in El Paso where if you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell, $200,000 for a custom (street legal) motorcycle from B.A.D. Visions will fill that prescription. My favorite is the one devoted to Elvis Presley:

The gal behind the counter said that her favorite was the one with the “suicide stick” for shifting (note bullet casings):

For more protection from the elements:

“I drive a Honda minivan,” I explained to the young front desk worker. She responded, “I give you a lot of credit for having the courage to put that on the road.”

In the morning, we fired up to check out the border.

Note that the Biden administration maintains roughly 700 miles of caring humanitarian “fence”, not to be confused with a hateful “wall”.

Our El Paso stop lasted 12 hours, so we were able to register only 732 new voters.

More about this trip in a follow-up post…

Readers: What are you doing to celebrate the end of Title 42? Who is changing the sheets in the guest bedroom so that the next 20 or 30 million migrants can be welcomed properly?


  • Pew Research 2015 demographic forecast: “… future immigrants and their descendants will be an even bigger source of population growth. Between 2015 and 2065, they are projected to account for 88% of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million people, as the nation grows to 441 million.”
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Panama Canal and Climate Change

I returned to the Panama Canal last month after a 20-year absence (my previous trip inspired by reading Path Between the Seas). The Panamanians voted in 2006 to take on $billions in debt to expand the canal (nobody explained to them that proper governance means that $trillions can be borrowed without a vote) and the new locks were finished in 2016. Agua Clara:

The Panamanians like to highlight their environmentalist credentials, noting that using the canal saves our planet by making transportation less energy-intensive (compared to going around Cape Horn). Here are the Italian-made gates (up to 4,200 tons):

The canal, whose operation can yield more than $1 million per ship for the largest container ships, has made Panamanians the world’s only sincere environmentalists. They preserve the rainforest because they believe that cutting down all of the trees will result in reduced rainfall and, therefore, reduced opportunity to operate the canal (each operation of the locks costs fresh water, a limited resource).

I wonder if there is another climate change angle to the Panama Canal. If indeed our beloved Earth is going “full Venus” in 50-100 years due to CO2 we will need geoengineering to reverse the process, perhaps some combination of reducing new CO2 emissions, capturing existing CO2 in the atmosphere, and shading our home from the sun. The climate change alarmists say that the time to act is right now using the money and technology that we have in 2023. The French took this approach in 1881. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the hero of the Suez Canal and the husband of Louise-Hélène Autard de Bragard (43 years his junior), raised money and started digging. They wasted $287 million and 22,000 lives over 8 years before giving up in 1889. The Americans started around 1906 and finished ahead of schedule in 1914. Path Between the Seas attributes most of the Americans’ success to improvements in mining machinery during the intervening 20 years.

Maybe advanced humans will look back from the 2060s and laugh at the puny humans of the 2020s attempting to do geoengineering.

Separately, if we do master geoengineering will we keep cooling the earth until sea level is 10′ below its current level? The most valuable land is in coastal cities. Lowering sea level just a bit would add a tremendous amount of wealth to the world’s richest and most influential people. It would be like Battery Park City in every coastal city all around the world (on the ship that brought us to Panama we met a gal who is fully trained as an attorney, but hasn’t yoked herself to a law firm yet because she is the indirect beneficiary of a 30-year affordable housing contract in which a two-bedroom apartment in Battery Park City with a market value of $5,000/month is leased out for $1,000/month).

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Book review: Walking the Americas

To prepare for our own adventurous journey to Colombia, a friend and I listened to Walking the Americas, by Levison Wood, a British Army veteran. Mr. Wood starts farther south than we did, but is handicapped by not having any assistance from Royal Caribbean. Without a boat, Mr. Wood will have to push through the notoriously challenging Darien Gap. Today we tend to think that this term refers to a “gap” in the highway that would otherwise connect Alaska to Argentina. One of the locals interviewed in the book says that the name refers to a gap in the mountains that made it easier to travel through from Atlantic to Pacific than through other parts of Panama.

Mr. Wood’s companion is Alberto, a 42-year-old Mexican fashion photographer who often says “chinga”. Alberto was ready for a distraction in 2016 because he’d recently been targeted in Mexican family court by his wife of one year, availing herself of the then-new no-fault divorce law to obtain a free house after a one-year marriage. From “Do changes in divorce legislation have an impact on divorce rates? The case of unilateral divorce in Mexico” (Aguirre 2019; Latin American Economic Review):

In 2008, Mexico City was the first entity to approve unilateral divorce in Mexico. Since then, 17 states out of 31 have also moved to eliminate fault-based divorce. … The results indicate that divorce on no grounds accounts for a 26.4% increase in the total number of divorces in the adopting states during the period 2009–2015. … Unilateral legislation has proved to be an effective tool in modifying family structures in Mexico…

Alberto’s achievement in walking from Merida, Yucatan to Colombia is more impressive than the author’s. Alberto was not writing a book and was not a former paratrooper.

The Darien Gap turns out not to be all that challenging for our heroes. They have enough connections to get the Panamanian authorities to bless the expedition. They hire Emberá and Kuna Indians as porters and guides (I visited these folks about 20 years ago via Robinson R22 helicopter from the local flight school). But the rest of the book features plenty of challenges, e.g., hiking to 12,536′ to the top of Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak and walking through gang-held areas of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The author points out that Central America’s population is 4X what it was a few decades ago and, in his opinion, this is the principal explanation for the region’s poverty.

The migrants whom the walkers encounter are from Africa, Haiti, Nepal, and Pakistan and have typically entered the Americas by flying to Brazil. The Panamanian authorities explain that, after arresting migrants, they will typically assist them in reaching the United States by transporting them to the border with Costa Rica. This gets the migrants out of Panama, which does not want them, and is cheaper than deportation (Panama pays for some bus rides instead of paying for plane tickets back across the Atlantic).

Here are some of the animals that we saw while walking through the Colombian jungle (at the cruise port in Cartagena). Warning: the toucans are friendly, but one of them likes to bite sneakers and it hurts!

The book lends itself well to the audio format and the narrator is convincingly British. I recommend Walking the Americas to anyone planning a journey to or through Central America. Separately, if you want to see a restored Spanish colonial town and a lot of beautiful nature, I recommend the UNESCO World Heritage site of the old city within Panama City and then do your nature excursions in Panama, which is much wealthier and better developed than other nations in the region. They don’t promote tourism as much as the Costa Ricans do because any time they need $1 million they can let a big container ship through the new locks. Cartagena is jammed with tourists, locals trying to sell things to the tourists, car traffic, massive holes in the sidewalks, etc.

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Winter in Death Valley (versus heat tourism)

One thing that we learned during our December trip to Death Valley was that nobody else comes to Death Valley in December. “I would have thought that this would be the most popular time of year,” I said to a National Park Service manager, “given that one can hike around in comfortable temperatures and barely have to carry water.” He responded that summer was actually the busiest: “We get a lot of Americans driving through and checking us off their bucket list, but also Europeans who come here for heat tourism.” Heat tourism? “They don’t have deserts or extreme heat in Europe so they come here to experience 120 or 130 degrees.”

We did the Artists Drive loop, Natural Bridge trail, and Badwater lowest point from about 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.

After lunch, it was time for Golden Canyon Trail.

The next day we drove to Stovepipe Wells, a desolate and crummy place to stay compared to Furnace Creek, stopping first at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:

After breakfast (masked restaurant staff and unmasked customers), we hit Mosaic Canyon.

We had lunch at the Ranch at Death Valley steak house. Once again, the servers were masked while customers were not. Also, curiously for California, the establishment seemed to be celebrating gun violence.

I’m not surprised by the passion for masks given that we were in California, but I am surprised that people who are sufficiently concerned about Covid to wear a mask didn’t take the opportunity, at some point during the past three years, to change careers into a job that doesn’t involve contact with hundreds of infested-by-viruses humans every day.

The Inn at Death Valley has nicer public areas, but the Ranch at Death Valley has some brand new standalone cottages.

After some time at the pool we went to Zabriskie Point for sunset, along with every other tourist.

Some fun with Apple’s panorama software:

We ate most of our meals at the Inn at Death Valley, just up the hill from the golf course/Ranch. Food and service seemed to be better.

After two days and three nights, it was time to head back through Pahrump to Las Vegas. We did not stop at Sheri’s Ranch for lunch with Hunter Biden, however, because we wanted to visit the Mob Museum before checking into the Cosmopolitan and walking to Din Tai Fung for dinner before Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple. The show was funny in addition to being awe-inspiring. Din Tai Fung made me weep for the paucity of good Chinese food in South Florida. What must we promise to the Taiwanese to get a branch here in Jupiter?

Before we left Death Valley, though, we stopped at Zabriskie Point for some pictures in the morning light.

One more panorama:

It was a great trip and one of the few times in recent memory that I was in a U.S. National Park and not jammed into a Manhattan-style crowd.

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Liberty of the Seas 3-night weekend Bahamas cruise review

Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas does a Friday-Monday cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas, which is a good introduction to the cruise lifestyle for kids who are in school in South Florida. The ship leaves at 4:30 pm on Friday, so they might have to leave school early on Friday.

Liberty of the Seas was the world’s largest passenger ship when completed in Finland in 2007, but of course it has been dramatically surpassed since then. Still, it is big enough to make staying on board interesting for first-time cruisers.

The itinerary is weak, stopping at Nassau and then Royal Caribbean’s private Coco Cay island (one day each). The price is essentially free if you don’t need a pimped-out room, about $100 per day per adult including 3-6 meals, entertainment, and urgent medical care at a reasonable price (maybe Americans who don’t want to wait 3 months for an appointment with a primary care doc should jump on a last-minute cruise?). Kids were free. Because of the reasonable price and weekend schedule, there is a truly diverse mix of passengers. A suburban Boston laptop class member would interact with more Black people on this one cruise, for example, than in five years of living, dining out, and going to events in Boston.

We were directed to park at the Heron Garage, not the Palm Garage right next to where the boat was docked. Shuttle buses were required to get between the parking lot and the ship. Next time: Palm Garage! It took about 15 minutes to get through security and check in (photos taken of each passenger). There is theoretically a “wellness check” required to get on, but apparently being able to stand and breathe was sufficient because we were not asked any questions.

The scale of the ship is epic:

We paid extra for a “key” that would entitle us to Internet connectivity for one device, a steak lunch on board before sailing, priority seating at the shows, and priority departure at tender ports (of which there are hardly any for Royal Caribbean!). We bought it because we thought it would help us escape early on Monday morning and get the kids to school, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Anyone who doesn’t need help with luggage can walk off as soon as the boat is fully parked/cleared. Also, it was never difficult to get a good seat at any of the shows. There are, apparently, so many other activities on the ship that people aren’t desperate to sit in a theater.

One of the big attractions for Royal Caribbean ships is a $1 million Flowrider surfing machine on the deck at the stern. People were using it even before we had cast off:

Go to Deck 4 and then up to the stairs at the bow to enjoy sailing away from Port Everglades (FLL):

The crew puts on a fun parade for the kids in the huge main shopping mall:

They’ve upgraded their coffee, but still can’t make donuts competently. The staff everywhere, including at the buffet restaurant, is very friendly. The dedicated avocado toast chef:

Or would you prefer Indian food for breakfast?

From the mini golf course on the top deck we were able to watch Brilliance of the Seas come into Nassau. She holds 2,500 passengers and is twice the gross tonnage of Titanic. She looks like a tender for the Liberty of the Seas.

Downtown Nassau is mostly disorganized and, considering that more than 20,000+ cruise ship passengers had arrived in port that day, not much had been built for them. The Pirate Museum is fun for kids and reasonably interesting for adults. The Bahamas scores pretty high in the PPP per capita GDP Olympics and yet there are dilapidated parts of downtown right next to the most important government buildings. Here are some examples:

I don’t think any of these were part of Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents’ real estate portfolio. Coronapanic was very much alive and well in January 2023, at least as far as signage was concerned:

Given that Bahamas has ocean borders, the idea of holding back the SARS-CoV-2 was not entirely quixotic. Nonetheless, most people seem to have given up and mask-wearing was uncommon among the locals. The downtown art museum was closed for the installation of a new show:

Local friends took me to Baha Mar (featured in this pre-coronapanic post: Baha Mar hotels in Nassau) where the attached convention center has a comprehensive collection of contemporary Bahamian art.

Back on board, it was time for a comedy juggling show by Wilde and James (delighted our 7-year-old) and then a group of Russian (I think) ice skaters/dancers who ended with a tribute to Elvis in Las Vegas (cue the exceptionally fit Russian ice skater in a fat suit):

(passengers can skate on the rink at various times as well)

The ship is so huge that it is difficult to make friends on board. We were seated at a table just for our family at dinner, so didn’t meet anyone there other than the waiters (first name “Rommel”, after the German general!). We had pleasant chats a few times with other guests, but never saw them again simply due to the ship’s size. There are a handful of specific meet-ups, but we didn’t attend these because of the imperative to hover over our children (intelligent parents dropped them at the kids’ club in the morning and said hello again at 9 or 10 pm; we noticed the 12-17 group enjoying basketball on the top deck sports court at 9 pm one evening).

Worried about getting COVID-19 at a 2SLGBTQQIA+ gathering? Apparently, hardly anyone else is because N95 masks aren’t available on board and the cloth masks in the shopping mall were marked down:

Speaking of COVID-19, what if you want to check in with to see how Year 4 of the state of emergency is going (first declared January 31, 2020, 7 days after the opioid public health emergency was renewed) or with to see what how Science has changed compared to the beginning of your cruise? Onboard Internet is about $15 per day and is supplied by Elon Musk’s Starlink (previously Viasat). You’ll be able to Follow the Science at roughly 4 Mbits down and 2 Mbits up. I was able to do an extended Zoom call from the ship, but the handoffs among the local WiFi access points were not seamless and Zoom was required to reconnect periodically as I walked around. Maybe Royal Caribbean needs TP-Link Omada?

The next day it was time for Perfect Day at Coco Cay. Royal Caribbean says that they want to keep the island “green and pristine”:

A “pristine” version of a Bahamas Out Island turns out to be one crammed with water slides, burger shacks, and zip lines. There is a free water park for little kids that our 7- and 9-year-olds rejected due to tameness and frigid water:

There is a huge unheated pool whose frigid temperature wasn’t an obstacle for those sufficiently lubricated via the unlimited drinks package:

If you get too cold… there is no hot tub. The ocean water is also cold in January:

We decided that it was better to go back on board.

Some folks who got married 20 years before the advent of no-fault divorce:

It was then time to watch the Eagles beat the 49ers in the ship’s movie theater (good sound, but a dim and miscalibrated projector that was mostly yellow). It was fun to hear a big crowd of Americans burst out laughing when the announcer mentioned “Doctor Jill Biden” watching the game. Finally, there was a 1.5-hour Broadway show (Saturday Night Fever) with great music, singing, and dancing.

Speaking of dancing, here’s a photo taken at 10:26 pm on the last night of the voyage. The dance floor next to the Latin band is busy (I refused to dance, however, because I was waiting for a Latinx band).

We woke up at 6:15 am to find the ship already tied up at Port Everglades. We went downstairs at 7:15 am, about 10 minutes after the possibility of exit was announced. A lady in front of us said that she’d tried this at 9:00 am on a previous voyage and waited 45 minutes to get past La Migra. On returning from a Cuba cruise in 2018 (now once again illegal) we just waved our (closed) passports at a friendly officer and strolled out. Robot La Migra is on the job in 2023, however. Every passenger has to show his/her/zir/their face to a robot, whose screen will turn green if he/she/ze/they is approved. It is unclear to me where Robot La Migra gets sufficient facial dimensions to identify one person out of the tens of millions who sent in small passport photos. Perhaps the problem has been hugely simplified by Royal Caribbean sharing the passenger list in advance (airlines do this with APIS) and, therefore, Robot La Migra just has to verify that a person matches one of the 5,000-ish records in the reduced database.

We were docked, I suspect, right next to the Palm Garage, but a shuttle was waiting and ready to go the Heron Garage so we lost only about 5 minutes in getting to the car and, because we escaped the ship early, there was no queue to exit the garage (see below). Despite traveling about 60 miles through the Miami-FLL-West Palm megalopolis at rush hour, we lost almost no time due to traffic and got the kids to school about one hour late.

Would I recommend this cruise? Yes, to people who live in South Florida or are visiting for an extended period and don’t have to take a plane ride specifically for this cruise. (That said, the first people we met on board were from the D.C. suburbs. It was their second trip on this exact cruise with their kindergartner and they had flown down specifically for the cruise, getting up at 0430 Friday morning to fly to FLL and planning to return to D.C. on Monday evening. The kindergartner loved the kids’ club, which our children refused to try.) No to anyone else because there isn’t much to do in the Bahamas, especially during the winter when people think that they want to go there. It is actually warmer, both air and water temp, at our own beach in Jupiter, than in the core islands of the Bahamas! The passengers seemed quite happy with their choice. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Nobody was obviously drunk (that’s for Carnival?) even at karaoke night (our 7-year-old was a big fan, though he did not sing!). Speaking of Carnival, here’s their new spokesperson:

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