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Riding Through Death Valley

You might not know, but the Laughlin River Run in Laughlin, Nevada is also the location of the first giant coal-fired power plant (Mohave Generating Station) to shutdown.

The closure created economic distress to the Navajo Nation, which supplied coal to Mohave through a slurry line at the Black Mesa Mine.   The motorcycle rally hangs on the skirts of the Colorado River and features large numbers of motorcycle enthusiasts wandering through vendor booths, casinos/resorts all setting next to the river’s edge.  I’m working on a detailed post for the ride down, but thought I’d post up a brief summary on some of the highlights:

  1. Our morning departure out of Portland found rain coming down in sheets and the wind blew like a hurricane.
  2. At one point it cost $24 to fill up a five-gallon Harley.
  3. My first motorcycle ride through Death Valley.
  4. The ‘River Run’ had all the built up energy for a spring rally, but the vendor “cha-ching” wasn’t quite as loud as in some years.
  5. Walked into the Aquarius Casino Resort and had no problem getting rooms without reservations.  Lucky?
  6. Room rates were 5X the typical standard pricing ($39.95 vs. $199.95/night).  Anyone who has made it through Econ 101 knows that the scarcity of a commodity drives its value, but this clearly qualifies as gouging (yet we paid it?!).
  7. The large presence of the Mongols MC members at the Aquarius made for some interesting moments entering/exiting the hotel.
  8. The Aquarius temporarily restricted access to the casino floor Saturday night at the height of the River Run, however, they deny rumors that the restriction had anything to do with the presence of “outlaw” motorcycle clubs.
  9. There was a large, well armed and highly visible Las Vegas Metropolitan Police presence at the River Run.  No major problems were reported.
  10. On Friday, April 29 we witnessed a 45mph+ sustained wind storm.  Number of show-class motorcycles damaged by flying debris.
  11. H-D was absent from one of the largest west coast rallies and relinquished customer goodwill to Polaris and Yamaha.  Why?

We’ve had so much nasty weather in Oregon during April that I’m confident about anything May throws at us will be better.

Photo taken on trip in Death Valley.

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Harrah's - Laughlin, Nevada

It was like any typical early morning in the Nevada desert with gamblers enjoying the casino and all its entertainment glory.

Then gunshots broke out and a gang melee ensued. Bystanders started running, dodging around and falling to the floor, fearing for their life – cameras caught the activity as some pulled weapons to shoot, others getting shot, or stabbed and in some instances bystanders watched as wrenches were used to beat down individuals.  It was a terrifying ordeal as many feared for their life.

I’m talking about the Saturday, April 27, 2002, Laughlin River Run brawl with guns, knives and wrenches which left three motorcycle club members dead — two Hells Angels and one Mongol — and injured at least 12 others at Harrah’s Laughlin. I first blogged about this HERE with updates HERE and HERE.

The skirmish between Hells Angels and the competing Mongol biker club fuse was lit when Metro broke up a fight between the Hells Angels and Mongols at a T-shirt stand earlier in the day.  Metro police and club leaders initiated a meeting to defuse tensions between the groups, but the members walked out of the meeting. Three hours later members of the Mongols HAMC stormed Harrah’s, where the Hells Angels Mongols were staying, and the casino floor erupted.

More than 8-years later with five federal lawsuits and at least one California state lawsuit against Harrah’s Laughlin who argued (and won) in legal motions that the casino wasn’t liable for the criminal acts of the bikers… for the first time this week were found liable in the incident.  In addition, rather than wait for a jury to determine damages Harrah’s quickly reach a settlement and one of the terms of the negotiated settlement is that the amount would be kept confidential.

The seven clients seeking damages from Harrah’s Laughlin for injuries suffered during the motorcycle club battle are: Michael Bower, Robert Garcia, Noi Lewis, Kathy Fuller, Steven Fuller, Andrea Daniels and Dean Daniels.

I’m speculating here, but it’s a pretty safe bet that fear of motorcycle clubs will pay well for these seven individuals.

What about the motorcycle club members and their legal disposition, you ask?  You may recall that forty-two members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) were indicted on federal racketeering and firearms charges.  Charges against 36 Hells Angels were dismissed in 2006.  The Las Vegas Review Journal reported Frederick Donahue (34) was a fugitive for five years before surrendering in Las Vegas in July 2008.  He was the seventh Hells Angels member sentenced in the fatal Harrah’s casino shootout and is serving 30 months in federal prison.  Jorrg Maykopf of Germany remains the only fugitive in this case.

I can remember back in 2001 staying at the Pink Flamingo (now Aquarius) during the Laughlin River Run watching HAMC prospects do bagger wheelie’s in the valet parking area.  Not these days.  The Laughlin River Run has forever changed…

Photo courtesy of Harrah’s Laughlin

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Starting in 1994 with only 1,500 bikers participating, Street Vibrations has grown into the nation’s 6th largest bike event.  It was estimated (no info supplied on how) that slightly more than 25,000 motorcycles attended Street Vibrations in 2010.  About the same as previous years, however, hotels like the Peppermill, Grand Sierra Resort, the Nugget and Atlantis all reported shorter stays for guests on average vs. other years.

During the event period there was an increase in motorcycle accidents.  It’s unclear if the increase was attributable to the split-event in Sparks which many riders complained about.  Here is how the stats break down:

Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) arrested 39 people of which 21 were DUI arrests.  There were 15 accidents investigated, which included 2 fatal crashes, including one with a motorcycle.  In total there were 8 injury crashes and 5 crashes involving property damage only.  NHP didn’t report which arrests involved only motorcycles.

Reno Police reported making 72 arrests for various offenses stating alcohol was a factor in most.  They handed out 533 traffic citations and placed 4 people in civil protective custody (public intoxication).  They also handed out an additional 428 traffic warnings.  There were 6 stolen motorcycles (which the Pepper Mill Casino seemed to be hit most often) and 10 stolen tour packs (saddle bags).

Stealing saddle bags? That is just down-right mean! I hope they set up sting operations in the future to take down the jerks.

In addition, there was a brawl reported between 30 people (unknown if it was bikers?) that left one man stabbed in Sparks and was sent to the hospital.  The Carson City man was treated with multiple stab wounds which were non-life threatening.

Speaking of large groups… it’s unclear if related to last month’s HAMC and Vagos MC shootout in Arizona (Chino Valley, north of Prescott) where 27 people were booked on charges ranging from attempted murder to participation in a criminal street gang and where more than 50 rounds were fired between the two clubs… but, there was an extraordinarily large mass of the “Green Machine”, and the “Red & White” along with support clubs like the “Miscreants” on the corner of 4th and Virginia Street on Saturday.  I was on the street at the time and the atmosphere was most tense, it looked as if a confrontation would explode similar to scene’s from the problem-oriented “Hot August Nights” event.  Even the few LEO’s looked somewhat threatened.  Fortunately no confrontation occurred and within a half-hour the groups had mostly cleared out.

And speaking of the Reno police, they worked a lot of overtime and were paid based on a grant called “Joining Forces”.  The “Joining Forces” grant program is one of the many Nevada Office of Traffic Safety’s proactive safety initiatives coordinated directly with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to provide grant funding for special enforcement campaigns, education, equipment and training throughout the calendar year.  There are currently 28 law enforcement agencies in Nevada that participate in this program. Some of those enforcement campaigns include DUI saturation patrols and checkpoints, speed enforcement, traffic signal enforcement at identified high-accident intersections, and crosswalk & pedestrian safety enforcement initiatives.

Lastly, is my rant about the fact that Nevada has over 49,000 miles of road and nothing is more treacherous than the I-80 and U.S. 395 interchange (known by locals as the “Spaghetti Bowl”) in downtown Reno.  Motorcyclists have seen at least 2 years of congested traffic flow from this construction project, but more important is trying to navigate through or ride over and avoid the deep crevices and cracks in the concrete.  It’s dangerous for motorcycles and get it done already!

Stat sources: Daily Sparks Tribune #1#2News 4Carson Now.

Photo’s taken at the event.

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Reno_NightA lot of people mistakenly assume that gambling originated in Las Vegas.  The fact is that Reno, NV gambling was the hottest and most entertaining until the 1950’s when Vegas started to staked its claim in the market and solicited clientele away.

Prior to the explosive rise of Indian Casino’s and online gambling, Reno and the Lake Tahoe area attracted visitors from all over the world and kept up nicely with the booming gaming industry in Vegas.  Although many Reno casinos closed their doors permanently and others have been transformed into condos,  the city is slowing making the climb back up the gaming destination ladder and its with events like Street Vibrations that calls motorcycle enthusiasts from as far north as Seattle and south as L.A. to help inject some much needed $$ back into the local economy.

It’s rally déjà vu and this year Street Vibrations marks its 14th Anniversary.  I’m fortunate to attend the event — often called Street “Closure” Festival by many locals — which revolves around motorcycles and related interests.  There is a diverse musical line up from rock to jazz along with Custom Bike Builders and personal ink at the Tattoo Expo.  A lot of quality food and drink sprinkled among the thousands of attendees and rows of shiny chrome top off the event which keeps getting better every year.

For those of you traveling the Oregon highways you may want to take note that 21 new Oregon State (OSP) troopers will be sworn in this Sunday (Sept 20).  These new troopers are being deployed across the state and are the first group of 39 new positions authorized by the 2009 legislative session which will help OSP return to around-the-clock coverage in many offices.

Lastly, road trips present certain blogging challenges for me.  I don’t blog from the road.  But, this time I’ll pay closer attention to what those challenges actually are and see if I can determine how to deal with them.  Clearly others have mastered remote blogging, vblogging (video blogs) and do the “tweet” thing from their saddle.   I’ve been slow to jump on this motorcycle road warrior trend especially when it’s a vacation.  Besides like many others I get distracted with the roar of the engines, the entertainment and soaking up the displays in the vendor booths.

Our entourage heads out in a few days.  See you in Reno.

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Laughlin - Harrah's Casino

Laughlin - Harrah's Casino

In about 40 days the 2009 Laughlin River Run (Laughlin, NV) Motorcycle Rally is set to kickoff.  The specific dates are April 22-26, 2009.  With 10 casinos, top entertainment and riding attractions from Red Rocks, Route 66, Hoover Dam, Colorado River and the Grand Canyon it’s one of the top Nevada Biker Rallies.

Unfortunately and as if somehow timed perfectly to cast a shadow over the event we’re reminded of uglier days courtesy of the Las Vegas Review Journal who reported that the last of the Hells Angels who faced federal charges in the 2002 Laughlin River Run casino shootout was sentenced.  I blogged previously HERE and HERE on the motorcycle club clash which left three people dead at Harrah’s Casino.

In all 42 members of the HAMC were indicted on federal racketeering and firearms charges.  Judge James Mahan dismissed charges against 36 Hells Angels last year after learning the government did not turn over all of its evidence to the defense team.  Six other members of the motorcycle club already received prison terms.   Frederick Donahue (34) was a fugitive for five years before surrendering in Las Vegas in July 2008 and he was sentenced last week to 30 months in federal prison.  All plea deals were carefully worded to state that each biker acted as an enterprise made up of individuals, not members of the HAMC.  This effectively eliminated the HAMC as a criminal enterprise and all bikers avoided enhanced sentences.  Jorrg Maykopf of Germany remains the only fugitive.

Described as the worst shooting incident in the history of Nevada casinos it now has legal closure.

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The posse was up early for a good breakfast and even an early enough departure to see the sun still on the rise in the desert plain.  We decided to head out to Oatman.  It’s a turn of the century mining town along Route 66 in Arizona, about 30 miles outside of Laughlin.  As we headed out we got a taste of the snarl of traffic.  A constant parade of Harley’s and “gawkers” line the main street moving about 3 MPH.  I even noticed some of the same people doing the loop from the night before.  We crossed the Colorado River and turned into Bullhead City, AZ.  The first thing we notice was all the bikers without helmets.  It’s legal in AZ and we continued the slow ride for a few more minutes until the traffic thinned out and the pace picked up.  Bullhead City seems to go on forever…a town that has a “sprawl” problem, but in the desert you build out rather than up.

Finally we hit the Oatman cutoff road and thought about getting on the throttle, but every biker was waving at us to slow down…it didn’t take long to figure out why.   About every 2 miles there were Arizona State Police with radar guns checking that anyone going over the state-mandated 45 MPH speed limit would get pulled over.   It’s not so boring doing 45 MPH, but the beefed up presence of State Police puts a bit of a rain cloud on any ride.   Then there were the sobriety checkpoints.  In previous years they had checkpoints on the way out of Oatman when heading toward Laughlin.  This year they blocked both lanes and checked everyone going in and out.  Harsh!  I guess in the “old” days (circa: 1995) Oatman was a rip-roar’n party town.  People doing burnouts, drinking in the streets as well as partially clothed passengers showing off, but then a person was killed and the reactionary town fathers took control.  Now 13+ years later it’s all about vendor booths, drug sniffing dogs and hot dog stands hawking t-shirts to get as much of the suburban biker wannabes wallet share as possible. 

Oatman is a fun town even with out burnouts and if flashbacks to the old mining days are your thing, you’ll be able to get your fill. Sunburned riders lounge around enjoying the atmosphere and weather.  And at a minimum you can score one of those antique style photos of yourself holding a rusty rifle and dressed like a barkeep. There’s even a free petting zoo in the middle of the road.  Burros walk aimlessly along the main street acting somewhat annoyed at all the attention.  They are protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act 1977 (pdf), but the Oatman Burros have no fear of people or bikes.  And if the Burros don’t draw you to the town there is the Oatman Hotel.  Built in 1902 it’s the oldest 2-story adobe structure in the Mohave and is a famous landmark for the honeymoon stop of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who stayed there after getting married in Kingman.

Speaking of Kingman, we were looking for more distractions than what Oatman had to offer and headed out on what’s called “The Gold Road” which is one of the oldest and most historic sections of Route 66 over Sitgreaves Pass.  We stop at Cool Springs Camp for a soda and honey bucket visit.  This camp was a pile of rubble for many years, marking where a store and gas station once stood.  It burned to the ground in 1966 and the owners from Chicago have been rebuilding it for years.  We chatted with the care taker on the property who told us the Chicago owners were putting it up for sale (although no signs indicated it was).  It’s worth a stop for the almost frozen soda and to look over the mini-museum of autographed album covers.

We followed Route 66 down into the desert which eventually meets I-40.  We took the interstate, but you can pass underneath, and follow the signs to the north and east, to stay on Route 66. This will take you up the old Santa Fe railroad gorge into Kingman.  We arrived at Kingman and stopped at a bright pink-and-turquoise building. This is Mr D’z, one of the few remaining, original (okay, renovated) Route 66 diners. They’ve even had an Oprah sighting!  We were hungry and stopped in for a famous hot dog and a mug of their home-brewed root beer to wash away the dust of the trip.  After lunch we followed Highway 93 out of Kingman, up and through Coyote Pass. This is a wide, four-lane highway, as it is part of the main route to Las Vegas and took us back in to Laughlin.

We spent the evening talking how we soaked up some incredible scenery and walked through the numerous vendor booths.  We caught some of Chris Hiatt’s tribute of Stevie Ray Vaughan at The Edgewater.  He even had the signature black flat-brimmed hat that made Vaughan so famous.

 

Day 3 of the Laughlin River Run coming up next….  

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There are 16 days until I fly into southern Nevada for the Laughlin River Run.  The event offers great riding and solid entertainment typical of a gambling resort.

More than 60,000 people converge on this event located on the Colorado River April 23-27 for one of the premier Biker shows in the West.

For the geographic challenged biker, Laughlin sits just south of Vegas, north of Phoenix, and east of L.A. in between two mountain ranges in the Mojave Desert. Traveling from the cold and rainy Northwest means the Mojave weather this time of year provides great riding conditions and lots of scenic views for cruises. If vendor booths wear you down, there’s always time for margaritas by the pool or time to throw the dice on the craps tables.   We’re planning to cruise Red Rocks Canyon, run Route 66 into Oatman, AZ., check out the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City and stop in at Hoover Dam on the return trip to Vegas.

I won’t be doing blog updates.  Let’s save that for the dudes getting paid for their journalistic aptitude.  I’ll do a post or two when I get back and describe some of the activities we participated.

Last year I put on ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and caught Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard in concert.  Better known as ZZ Top it was an awesome show.  This year I’m looking forward to catching Foreigner in concert.  They made some great music.

Maybe we’ll see you there?

 

Updates on this trip start HERE.

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