Miles Driven: 1,100+
States Visited: 3
Seeing tons of cool sites: Priceless
Earlier this month, Cressie and I took a trip out West. On the trip, we went through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, visiting Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire State Park, Brianhead Ski Resort, Zion National Park, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and Red Rocks Canyon. If you want a nice overview of our trip on a map, check this out! If you want to see the pictures, they are all here and the highlights will slowly be added to Flickr. For a more in-depth description of the trip, read on!
Day 1 – Las Vegas
Our trip began with our arrival in Las Vegas on Friday evening. It was interesting flying in at evening. For the last portion of the trip, it was dark outside, so we could see nothing except a few small towns that showed up as tiny dots in the black desert. After we began our initial descent, all of a sudden, the desert just lit up – Las Vegas really is just in the middle of nowhere! There was nothing around except for the city. Stepping off the airplane was amusing, because as soon as you get into the terminal, there are rows and rows of slot and other machines!
For our first leg in Vegas, we were staying at Bill’s Gamblin Hall. After sitting in the longest taxi line I have ever been in (not that I ride in taxis often, but still) we made it to the casino after getting some recommendations of places to eat from the taxi driver. Once there, we made our way to the front casino entrance, because, well, of course hotel registration is always at the front of hotels and casinos, right? Not so much. After wandering around, we finally had to have an employee guide us to the hotel registration which was tucked away in the back corner. To me, the casino (because we were led through the entire thing of course) was a little run down and not so nice. Cressie of course though this just gave it “character” We finally made it up to our room – and had a great view of the Strip and the fountains at the Bellagio. The one thing that could be said for the hotel was that it had a great location for the price, but the casino and the room were what could be expected for the price. After stowing our stuff, we walked away from the strip for a few blocks to go the Ellis Island diner, which our taxi driver had recommended. They have a “Steak Special”, which includes a steak, baked potato, and soup for $6.99. Our taxi driver had raved about it, but it was not a good meal at all! (Cressie on the other hand thought it was a great steak). After dinner, we walked back to the Strip, caught the fountain show at the Bellagio, and wandered around a little bit before turning in
Day 2 – Las Vegas
We had to get up early (relatively early, as in before noon) on Saturday, because Cressie wanted to go see the backstage tour at the Jubilee, which was thankfully just across the road. During the tour we saw some of the costumes and props for the show, which Cressie seemed to find interesting. Afterwards, we made it over to the Planet Hollywood for their brunch which was quite good. I think during the course of the buffet I had American, Mexican, Asian, and 2 other types of food. Good variety 😉 Once finished eating, we just wandered up and down the Strip, going into various Casinos we saw along the way just to check them out (MGM, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, New York New York, Paris, etc) Keep in mind that we were walking all of this time! It was only later that we found it was about 1.5 miles from our hotel to the south end of the Strip. For dinner, Cressie had made us reservations at Lawry’s (The Prime Rib) for a late Christmas present for me. This was much better than the steak the previous night! After wandering back, we headed North on the strip. We tried to catch the Pirates of TI show, but it was rained out! We did see the Volcanoes at the Mirage though, which was interesting. At 9:30, we went to see the Cirque du Soleil show Love (The Beatles one). This was Cressie’s Christmas present. She really enjoyed the show, as she knows every single Beatles song that was ever published (and some that weren’t) I enjoyed the acrobatics, but not the show as a whole as I only knew about 1 out of every 3 songs, but it was still worth seeing (although I recommend another show if you aren’t a Beatles fanatic). We walked home afterwards checking out a few more Casinos on the way we hadn’t been in yet.
Day 3 – Las Vegas
Sunday was a free day in Vegas, as we didn’t really have anything scheduled. We got a later start to the day and decided to head to the south Strip to check out the last few Casinos there. Along the way Cressie convinced me to try a place called ‘Wichcraft in the MGM complex for lunch. It looked like it could be good, but we both determined it was very deceiving, and neither of us enjoyed our lunch. Once we made it down to Mandalay Bay, we had to stop in the House of Blues for some cake to make up for the bad meal. After checking out Excalibur and Luxor, we took a taxi to the other end of town by the University to check out the Atomic Testing Museum. It had some videos, pictures, and a few artifacts of all the atomic testing that had been done in the area. We then headed back to the North strip and were able to catch the Pirates of Treasure Island show finally, which was quite good for being a free show! We then took a bus to the downtown area (read: Old, run down, not worth going to) area where the Freemont Street Experience was. We saw all the old neon signs, and then went into the Golden Nugget Casino for their buffet. This was about the same price as the Planet Hollywood buffet, but was nowhere near as good unfortunately. After eating on the way out there were some Star Wars slot machines that caught Cressie’s eye (and a portion of her money as well). We walked outside just as the light show started, which was kind of interesting to see, and immediately afterwards we saw 3 motorcyclists riding around in a steel cage together. We finally made it back downtown and crashed, as we had to get up early in the morning to head out town!
Day 4 – Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire
We woke up early in the morning (no, really, 7am!!!!) and caught a cab back to the car rental facility which was located by the airport. After trying to be upsold, we made it out of the area and started heading towards the Hoover Dam. It was quite a change to leave the city and be in the mountain areas (where there was a ton of snow we could see), and once we saw Lake Mead, we immediately had to start stopping for pictures (Cressie made us stop, really…..) We finally made it to the Dam around 10am, and there were very few people there! However, upon pulling into the parking lot, we were told that all tours for the day were canceled due to maintenance being performed. We had been planning on doing one of those tours, but decided to stay and take the Visitor Center tour. After walking the length of Dam and getting some pictures, we took the tour ($8) which provided some history and a nice observation platform for pictures. Once we were done, we got in in the car and prepared to head on to towards the Grand Canyon. However, we decided to check the weather, and saw something to the effect of “One foot of snow on the ground, half the roads on the South Rim closed, others are ice-packed and required chains” This threw our game plan out the window at this point!
Deciding that we wanted to visit the Canyon when we could drive to it, we decided instead to go ahead and go skiing the next 2 days and do the Grand Canyon at the end of the trip. Since we were leaving early in the day, we decided that we had time to sneak in a little detour to the Valley of Fire State Park along the way. We had to follow a small winding highway about 30 miles through empty desert to reach it, which was interesting. The park itself was very cool, and we both recommend visiting it if at all possible. There were some great views and scenery in the area, and some great contrasts shown in the rocks. There seemed to be a lot of hiking trails in the area which would be worth looking into if you had more time! Once the sun was starting to set we started making our way towards Brian Head Ski Resort where would would be skiing. However, we were staying 30 mile south in Cedar City. Along the way, we saw a lot of snow on the roadside, but the road was clear (apparently, they get enough snow in the area to know how to plow and salt the roads, and life goes on when it snows, craziness!) However, about 20 miles from Cedar City, it started snowing fairly hard, and the driving got much slower. We eventually made it in one piece to the hotel. We were so exhausted and hungry we just walked across the parking lot (harder than it sounds, the parking lot was snowy and iced over, we almost fell several times) and indulged ourselves in the all you can eat pancakes at IHOP. We also made our reservations for the shuttle to the ski resort the next morning.
Day 5 – Skiing @ Brian Head
Upon waking, we found our car nicely covered in snow, and were very glad that we decided to take the shuttle. We had our free breakfast at the hotel (which wasn’t horrible, they had had egg, and hash browns) and took the shuttle ride up the hill. We arrived as the slopes were opening and it was empty. While trying to pay, Cressie found that her credit card wouldn’t work. After sorting that out, we secured our rentals. We had signed up for lessons, but had an hour beforehand to remember how to get on and off the lifts and remember how to ski. It had snowed all night, and the slopes were not groomed at all, so it was powder up to our knees everywhere! It was quite fun to ski in, as all the places I have skied before have been well groomed The time for lessons came, and we were the only ones who signed up, so had private lessons for an hour and a half. It was very helpful and I think was well worth the money. After lessons we made our way to the other mountain and the lodge for lunch. We skied a couple more slopes together, then Cressie took a break and I went off to do a couple of the Blue slopes. You can see the trail map here. I made it through the day with no face plants. At the top of the mountain the visibility was less than 10 feet with the fog that had come in, and it was snowing again. The last run of the day, I decided to try the Black run that went straight down the mountain. I managed to make it down, but way too slowly! For dinner that night, our shuttle driver gave us a recommendation of a local Mexican place to eat – Don Miguel’s. Although the service was slow (and you only got 1 free refill) it was still quite excellent. Now, a note to all those reading: Almost as equally important as paying the bill, is remembering to get your credit card back after paying. I won’t say which one of us did this, but I’d like to point out who already had credit card issues earlier in the day. Just saying.
Day 6 – Skiing @ Brian Head
Another day, and more skiing! The snow had let up the previous day, and when we arrived at the slopes we found the runs to be finely groomed and well packed. It was quite different skiing than the day before (I was able to go much faster, and had more control) but I still enjoyed the powder! We did a few runs together and then split up so Cressie could stay on some of the Green runs and I could do some of the Blues on the upper part of the mountain. We met up for lunch at a different cafe, and took a nice break. The rest of the afternoon, I did a few more blues and tried one or two blacks. Most of the blues were seeming very easy, however, the blacks were very hard! I found a happy medium with a few blues that were not groomed and still deep powder. Those provided the appropriate challenge. By the end of the day we were both exhausted. We made it back to the hotel and hopped into the car. The next day was Zion, and we headed to Hurricane, UT (which is 20 miles from Zion) to stay at the Roach Motel (I mean Travel Lodge). We went to Subway for dinner and picked up a sandwich to have the next day for lunch.
Day 7 – Zion National Park
The next morning Cressie was still feeling badly (she had the past few days, and thought she might have strep) so on the way out of Hurricane, we saw a family clinic and ran in. We were in and out in 20 minutes, and they told her that she had caught a “Weird Mutated Western Super Bug” Fun! We went to CVS to get a prescription for her, which took an hour for some reason. We made it to Zion National Park and encountered a winter wonderland. Shortly after entering the park the snow started coming down! Luckily it was a flat scenic drive, and they were plowing the road quickly so we could continue checking it out. We made it to the end of the road and on the way back decided to go for one of the scenic walks. The snow had let up, so we went off to see the Lower Emerald Pools trail (about a 1 mile walk). At the end of the walk were some nice waterfalls. On the way back, it started to snow again, and by the time we made it to the car, it was a small blizzard. Luckily we had our Subway so decided it was a good time for lunch! After a while it was still snowing, so we went to check into our hotel and hope the weather would let up at some point in the afternoon. It was by far one of the nicest hotels I have stayed at, and had an amazing view of the mountains around Zion. Soon the weather was gone, and it was bright and sunny! We thought it would be a good time to go check out the ghost town of Grafton. The route to get there included some small back-country roads, and the last 2 miles we found out surprisingly were dirt roads. We got about 2 feet onto the dirt road, and the car suddenly started spinning and sliding. Apparently melting snow on dirt roads doesn’t work well with an economy car! We were able to back out of the road and make it back.
At this point we headed back into the park. We stopped on the way into the park and got what might be my favorite picture from the trip, an amazing picture of the mountains. We then decided to go see the “other” side of the park. However, this was a windy road up the mountain which then went through a tunnel carved through the mountain. This was much icier and very tricky to drive. We made it through and found out this would take us out of the park, so turned around and had to make it back down the icy roads. We had some great views though. It was late in the afternoon by this point, so we decided to do the scenic drive one more time and do one short hike. Driving back to the scenic road, it started snowing again, and we encountered a group of wild turkeys crossing the road! We eventually made it, and did the Weeping Rocks trail. This is a hike that should probably be done in the summer, as most of the amazing flowers and such were buried in snow! We made it back to the car as it was becoming too dark to see. We then headed to dinner at a place we had seen earlier called Blondie’s Diner on the outskirts of Zion. We had been told about a Navajo Taco (basically chilli nachos with a tortilla shell instead of chips) which they had. It was quite tasty and I wish we could get them around here. I had the elk burger, which reminded me of ostrich (which I had in Peterborough, England) because they were both very lean. It was also quite tasty! I’d definitely go back here when I go back to Zion (yes, When, not If).
Day 8 – Zion National Park, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
We got up relatively early in the morning to go see some some of the scenery in the early morning light. We drove a few miles outside the park and got some great views of the sun coming up and hitting the mountains. Afterwards, we took the scenic drive again and got some more pictures, since we could see further because there was no blizzard! We decided to do one final walk, and did the 2 mile Riverside Walk. This was a paved trail, although you couldn’t tell from all the snow on the ground. We saw signs that said to wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet because most couldn’t resist the river, but we had no problem resisting with the temperatures like they were! There were several access points to go down the river, which we went to check out. After finishing the trail, it was time to head on. There was a snow storm coming that evening, supposed to hit around 7pm, and we wanted to be at our hotel in the Grand Canyon by then. Our route there took us right by Kanab, Utah, where the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is located. This is a no kill animal shelter, and they own approximately 1,000 acres of land and lease another (I believe) 30,000 around it for a wildlife refuge. They have approximately 200 cats, 500 dogs, 20 horses, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, ducks, birds, etc. We took a tour of it which included the cat and dog house, however, we didn’t get to go see the rabbits like Cressie wanted! We finished about 3 and booked it to get out of there so we could beat the storm (and night) to the Grand Canyon. We stopped on the way and were told to take the “long” way around (which we were expecting) as the main route which led up through a high point was closed due to snow and ice. It was a nice drive through the Utah/Arizona back country and and we finally made it there, after some difficulty with the signage in the park. We had dinner at the cafeteria there and turned in, planning on getting up for sunset!
Day 9 – Grand Canyon, Sedona
I woke up at about 5:45am and made it the lodge for the first bus, only to be told the buses were running about 1.5 hours late. By that point, the sun would have been up for too long, so there was no point in trying for sunrise. I went back to bed for a while and then we headed for breakfast. After eating, we took the shuttle to the Rim of the Grand Canyon. We looked and decided that it was far too icy to try to hike down into the Canyon at all, so our only choice was to hike along the rim. We hiked about 3 miles in all along the rim and enjoyed the views on the way. Afterwards, we took the other shuttle system to get to a scenic point on the far side of the park. By this point, we had the choice of waiting 4 hours till sunset or moving on and seeing Sedona today. We decided to go check out Sedona, so we drove out of the park, stopping in a city a few miles south of the park for lunch. We made it to the scenic drive that goes through Sedona, only to find that most of the pull-offs for pictures were covered in ice! It was still well worth driving through even if we couldn’t stop for pictures. We saw a pull-off for a scenic overlook road, but it had just closed 15 minutes before we arrived. We hit the town of Sedona right before sunset, and it was a really neat old Western town. We didn’t get out of the car, but I’d definitely want to go back and visit it sometime. I convinced Cressie we should take a scenic route out (an “All American By-Road”) and by the end of it she was glad we did. We hit the road right as sunset was starting and had some amazing views of Arizona mountains and features as we went along. At that point, we decided to drive as far towards Vegas as we could before we got tired. We eventually made it to Kingman, AZ (2 hours away) and crashed for the night there.
Day 10 – Route 66, Red Rocks, Las Vegas
In the morning, we got up and headed back towards Vegas. However, we had done some last minute research (Hooray, iPhone) and found out there was a section of historic Route 66 near us, so Cressie stopped and got some pictures of the signs. We then drove back over the Hoover Dam. Today was Sunday, and it was a 3 day weekend because Monday was President’s Day. The Dam was completely packed. It was quite a mad-house – I was very glad we had already seen it and been when there was almost no-one there. We eventually made it back to Vegas and decided while we were there we had to eat at In-N-Out. For the price, it was great, but I prefer Five Guys Burgers and Fries. We weren’t aware of the hidden menu items until afterwards though! After filling up, we went west of town to the Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. This was a 13 mile drive with lots of scenic pull-offs. Having done Valley of Fire before, we didn’t find this quite as impressive, but it was still worth seeing. We were able to get out and climb on some of the rocks, and saw lots of hiking trails that would be worth return visits to check out. Late in the afternoon we headed back towards Vegas, as I was very tired of driving by this point (1,100 miles!) We got a taxi from the car to our hotel. This time, we were staying at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. This hotel was 1,000x nicer than Bill’s! (However, it is typically much pricier, I had just been able to get a nice deal for $50 for the night!) We ate at a Mexican place called the Pink Taco, which was fairly decent, if not a little on the pricey side. We gambled a little bit in the casino, and called it a night as we had a early flight the next day!
Day 11 – Homeward Bound
After waking up way too early (anytime you are up before the sun comes up automatically makes it way too early!) and making it to the airport, we caught our plane home.
Although we were both completely exhausted by the end of the trip, we were both completely exhausted. For both of us, I think Zion was the best part of the trip. The park is huge, but only a tiny fraction of it is visitable by car. You really have to spend a few days hiking around to see the whole park. Cressie and I both think that a second visit sometime in the summer months is required sometime. We ended up being very glad we had to detour by the Valley of Fire, because originally we weren’t going to be able to see it. The whole area we saw was very nice, and I want to go back sometime soon!