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  1. Default Summer 2008 Roadtrip - 2 Brits in SW USA

    Me and the missus have done two roadtrips in the US now, neither of which are particularly extraordinary but are probably pretty common for visitors to the US. We got some really,really useful advice from many people on this forum and I promised myself that I would write a report of our trip when I got back. I imagine that most of what you’ll read has been posted a million times before, but hey, there may be a few useful bits and bobs for people out there heading to similar places as us in the future. In summary, the trip was in July 2008 and Week 1 was a roundtrip from Vegas, through the desert, LA, up the coast, down through Death Valley and back to Vegas. Week 2 was up through Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon then back to Vegas. I’ll post up Week 2 over the weekend (probably).

    Important Note: The pace at which we did this road trip probably isn’t for everyone. Whilst we enjoy a good walk, bike and hike as much as the next person this trip was always intended to be a bit of a quick buzz around as many places as we good. In addition I, in particular, have a pretty short attention span so quick visits tend to suit me down to the ground! If you’re a keen hiker or biker then you’ll want a much slower and longer trip to enjoy the national parks in more detail.

    Important Note 2: It probably seems a bit strange that we missed out Yosemite and San Francisco, but we had visited both of these places not too long ago. We would have loved to go again of course, but we reluctantly dropped them to see new places. For those going to this area I would recommend both if you’ve not been to either before.

    Day 1, 2 and 3 – Vegas

    We spent our first three days in Vegas staying at The Hotel @ Mandalay Bay. It’s great being a Brit in Vegas in Summer 2008: you could get $2 to a pound, so we got a stunning suite in a great hotel for the same price as a Travel Inn Room in Slough (somewhere for the Americans on here to Google). We had our car with us for these three days and whilst we didn’t want to go too far we did visit Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead and had a rather fine lunch at a place called Mel’s Diner in Boulder City. A proper family place where our waitress was the 10 year old daughter / granddaughter of the owner (she seemed very happy to be doing it, before anyone gets concerned about child labour...).

    I want to hate Vegas, I really do. I love the East Village in New York and the St Germain area of Paris. When I’m in London I like getting off the beaten track, I own albums on the Sub Pop and Ipecac label, I buy books by left wing authors (that I never get round to reading) and listen to Radio 4. So I want to be culturally above Vegas and hate the place for being so awful. But I can’t. I love being there. There’s enough information and tips on the web about Vegas though, so I won’t go on about it here.

    Day 4 – Vegas, Mojave, Twenty-Nine Palms

    (Copyright: Google Maps)

    By the way, my first major tip for anyone not really experienced with roadtrips in the summer in this area would be to buy the optional breakdown and cover insurance with your car. I’ll go in to more detail later on. We had a Jeep that we rented and it was brilliant. I wouldn’t want to drive it anywhere in Britain of course as it is about 5 times to big for our road and my missus could never park it at Sainsburys, but we loved it out on the road in the US. I believe it was about £350 for 14 days rental in case you’re getting quotes.

    We set off nice and early at about 7.30 from Vegas. I did that normal British thing of not having a clue what type of gas to put in the car (or even what type of gas they do in the US) so a friendly man laughed at me and gave me some pointers. For those also with a fear of not knowing the etiquette at US gas stations, it seemed that most want you to take your card in to the counter first, then you go back and fill up, go back in and pay. I signed for everything too, no chip and pin.

    We stopped off for an hour at the Fashion Outlet of Las Vegas, around 50 miles south of Vegas on Highway 15 for a few clothing bargains and to buy my 189th pair of cheap sunglasses, after yet again mislaying pair number 188. This shopping centre is no different from any Brit shopping mall (Trafford centre, Bluewater etc.) except that is ari conditioned and is about 1/3 of the price you would pay in the UK.

    We stopped for a paranoid gas stop in Baker and had a gawp at the world’s biggest thermometer before turning in to the Mojave desert. I guess the thrill of being in the desert proper for a Brit is akin to an American seeing a castle. You know that you just don’t get to see these things in your own country and you feel as though you’re seeing something really alien to you. We took a higgledy route through the park, stopping at the visitor centre at Kelso to speak with the friendly guide and have our packed lunch. We then took the 40 along the bottom of the park, followed by the Kelbaker road to Amboy. What a strange old place Amboy is. There’s obviously the tree that’s full of shoes (lots of photos available, just google!) and we stopped at the famous Roy’s Motel before heading a couple of miles down the road to see the Amboy Crator which is worth a look.

    We then drove down the Amboy Road all the way in to Twentynine Palms (very interesting to see all the desert communities along this road. We’re all different, but it would not be my choice of location to live). It was interesting to see the mailboxes all gathered together at the side of the road for residences that were scattered in the distance.

    Twentynine Palms is a bit of a strange place. It’s a military town and feels a bit... I dunno... sparse, I guess. We stayed at a great little place though called Sunnyvale Garden Suites which had a really friendly owner and had a great ‘feel’ about it. Recommended.


    Day 5 –Twenty-Nine Palms, Joshua Tree, Childhood Ambition, LA, Lompoc

    (Copyright: Google Maps)

    This day is probably the best example of a day that looks waaaaay too rushed for most people (which I can completely understand). However, this was our favourite day of the trip and one the best days of our lives full stop.

    We arose at dawn and head straight in to Joshua Tree park. The solitude was amazing and we often just stopped the car to wander in the silence or on climb in the big rocks (isn’t it odd how when there are two of you alone in an isolated, silent place you whisper to each other?).

    We also had a stroll around the cactus garden before heading out of the south of the park on the 10 towards LA. This won’t mean much to 99% of the people reading this, but in my teens I loved an album called Sky Valley by a band called Kyuss and I still listen to it quite regularly now. The front cover of this cult album was the sign welcoming visitors to Sky Valley, which is a small place on Dillon Road, just west of Palm Springs. My missus indulged me and allowed me to put the album on nice and loud and take a detour through Sky Valley on our way to LA. Album cover and my photo for a comparison!

    Different sign, but I was still a very happy man.

    We then went pretty much non-stop down the 10 in to LA, with our next stop being Hollywood Blvd. We parked the car on a side-street off the ‘Walk of Stars’ (I didn’t think we’d be able to do this, but there seems to be a lot of cheap parking) and we did touristy views of the stars on the floor, the Chinese theatre etc. After a bit of a wander we joined Sunset Blvd and took a lovely, slow wander via Beverley Hills to Topanga Beach. Just this one or two hour drive was so much fun, if you haven’t got the time to do LA in style I still think this little snapshot is worth it. We got out the car at Topanga beach for a wander and a paddle, before heading up Highway 1 through Malibu. We stopped at a great place called Neptune’s Net for a bite to eat. It is basically a fast food seafood place, where you can grab a beer from the fridge, order your deep fried octopus and fries (or standard fish if you’re not so adventurous) and sit outside watching the sun going down over the LA coast. Lovely stuff.

    We then had a nice long drive up the coast to stay in America’s Best Value Inn (or something) in Lompoc. We knew we would get there at about 10pm so we just picked Lompoc from the map and as we left at dawn, I have no idea what the place is like. If you’re the type of person who likes anonymous white box hotels with no character, with pretty non-descript staff and very average amenities then I can’t recommend America’s Best Value Inn highly enough.

    Day 6 –Lompoc, Highway 1, Big Fire, Turn Back Around, Up An Awful Highway, Carmel

    (Copyright: Google Maps)

    Another dawn start but we stopped in Orcutt, near Santa Maria for a nice diner brekkie. We stopped at a placed called Jack’s which had wood panelling, great food, lovely waitresses and generally felt like we couldn’t be more American. It was ace. We then popped to a local store just up the road for a few supplies and something for our packed lunch later on. We knew there were lots of fires in the area and were planning to spend the day travelling the relatively short journey up Highway 1 to Carmel-By-The-Sea. At the checkout we asked the store owner if he knew whether Highway 1 was closed further north. He didn’t know, but gratefully offered to turn on his computer on check on the internet for us which was lovely of him. He confirmed that Highway 1 was closed for a 30 mile section south of Carmel. We thought about it, decided we didn’t want to miss Highway 1 and decided to go as far as we could, turn back around and take the Highway 101 instead.

    We’re so glad we did.

    The parts of Highway 1 we got to see were amazing. You can google photos of it, but none of them do it any type of justice. And the road is just a great drive. Definitely one of those once in a lifetime things... unless we go back and do it again... which we might do... 

    But as the road was shut we has to go back down the coast road and all the up the very boring and very long Highway 101. I had a bit of an internal moan, quickly remembered that people’s houses were burning down, realised how selfish my small moan was, and stopped moaning.

    We arrived at Carmel in the evening and stayed at a place called the Lobos Lodge which was one of the more expensive places on our trip, but was great (especially our breakfast). We both loved Carmel. The whole experience was like being in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or something, but it was unlike anywhere we’ve been before. Everyone was so friendly too. We had a few beers in the lovely Jack London’s pub in the evening and then went on to another place where the bored owner convinced us to drink guiness mixed with beer and play Nintendo Wii with him. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur to be frank.

    Day 6 –Most of the day mooching in Carmel before driving down to Ridgecrest

    We spent the morning looking around the shops in Carmel and got ourselves some nice bread and other goodies and had lunch sitting on the beach. Twas a lovely morning.

    Carmel Beach.

    We then set off on a rather long and uneventful drive back down the 101, through Bakersfield and on to Ridgecrest where we were staying before our trip in to Death Valley the next day. The ride down to Bakersfield was pretty dull, but really picks up just east of Bakersfield as you wind around the mountains and lakes. We stopped in a pretty little area for a dinner from bits and bobs we had left over from lunch and it seemed as though we had the whole mountain range to ourselves.

    Our dinner spot.

    We then drove the last hundred miles or so listening to preachers on the radio, as it seemed to be the only thing we could tune our radio to.

    We stayed in a really great place in Ridgecrest, which was a little B&B called BevLen Haus. It is basically Beveley’s house with, I think, two or three guest bedrooms. It was one of the cheapest places on our stay but one of the nicest. Our breakfast in the morning was tea, juice, fruit picked from the garden and proper homemade pancakes all served on china plates. Worth the money alone.

    Bevlen Haus

    We went to the local supermarket to stock up supplies and popped in to Starbucks on the way back to the B&B with the purpose of just getting some iced coffee to walk with. However, we got chatting to two American guys for about an hour about our travels, their travels and the differences between our cultures, which was great. One of the guys asked me the great question, “So, what’s Norway like?”. I explained that I’d never been to Norway to which he replied, “Well why not? It’s only about 300 miles isn’t it?”. A good point well made.

    Day 7 –Ridgecrest, Death Valley, Back To Vegas

    (Copyright: Google Maps)

    Another early start (bit of a theme) on our trip in to Death Valley. We took a quick detour down the 3 –mile dirt track to the ghost town of Ballarat but didn’t bump in to the one resident (Rock), although his dog was wandering around which made it seem even more eerie. Another place where we were the only people for miles and miles, but we still tiptoed around, whispering to each other.

    We ventured on in to Death Valley, which is a spectacular place. I know car thermometers often lie but ours was reading 51c / 125 f in the park, which was pretty hot to say the least. But we loved the scenery and took our time driving north to south, checking out the Devil’s Golf Course, Salt Plains, Badwater, the dunes and the main park centre.

    A picture of me wandering in the golf course:

    After a great day here we sailed back through to Vegas for another night before setting off to the east of Vegas the next week.

    If I haven't bored everyone to death I'll do week 2 soonish.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 10-23-2008 at 01:48 PM. Reason: Added link to original post

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Brilliant.

    Hi Beforethirty, welcome back to R.T.A.

    If I haven't bored everyone to death I'll do week 2 soonish.
    Not at all, a great report that's very well written and good photo's, thanks for popping by and sharing your trip, it will be very useful to others searching the forums.

    I am looking forward to week 2 report all ready !

    Thanks Dave.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Excellent, excellent report

    Hey, I am certainly enjoying the report -- and nice job on the embedded the Google maps*** -- its weird, I didn't think I had enabled that for this forum --I have to look at your code and see how you managed to do that. By the way, for photos of the Amboy Shoe Tree -- RTA is providing on-going documentation of this evolving tree....


    ***I see you created jpegs of them on that other site -- technically, that is a problem, so I am adding a copyright notice on each of them where used on this site

  4. Default

    Apologies for the google maps, didn't realise it was a copyright issue.

    Just read the info on the tree - very interesting. If you'd like any photos from July 2008 we have a few! I'd read about it briefly a month or so before we left, but completely forgot about it so it was a nice surprise to suddenly see it.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default No problem

    We are sticklers for copyright issues here -- most web users "borrow" copyrighted data and use it freely on the Web -- We try and protect content providers to the extent we can. For a while, RTA had the dubious distinction of being one of the most stolen-from sites on the web. We've slowed that down a bit -- but on any given day, thousands of pages of "expensive-to-produce" content is "ripped" from RTA and re-published on sites all over the world.

    Your use of Google Maps is hardly in the same league and we don't intend to imply that -- Google has no particular objection with your use -- we just add the copyright to clarify our policy on using content-generated services.

    I'm glad your cultural up-bringings still allowed you to enjoy Las Vegas -- We love working and living here.

    Great job again on your maps!
    If you'd like any photos from July 2008 we have a few!
    Thanks! If you make a photo album here -- and give us permission, we will grab some of them for use on RTA.

    By the way, you missed one of the best wine-visiting-regions in the world by zooming up US-101 (boring road you say?) US-101 is a magic carpet ride to beautiful sections of California -- Next time, you need to explore the central coast area....


  6. Default

    Okay, second part of the trip!

    End of Day 7 – Day 8 – Vegas

    After a very long, hot, but very enjoyable day on the road through Death Valley we rolled back in to Vegas around 6 or 7 and drove up to the Luxor. I think our room worked out to be about £30 a night which probably works out cheaper than our house back home once you work out mortgage and council tax per day. The queue to check-in was about 1.5 hours, which felt a long time when you’re dusty from the desert and have driven hundreds of miles. Upon getting to the check-in desk I politely asked how much it would be to upgrade our room and was given an upgrade for free, which was nice of them. So thumbs up to The Luxor.

    We were just in time for a quick dip in the hotel pool, then a trip up the strip for a bite to eat at The Fireside Lounge which had waitresses in cocktail dresses, fire pits and great food. Cheesy, but fun.

    The missus spent the next morning mooching by the pool in Vegas whilst I popped out to re-stock on a couple of books for the remainder of the trip and the plane home. We spent the afternoon and evening doing the normal vegas thangs: eating, drinking, bit of gambling, lots of people watching and being slightly incredulous about everyone using those travalator thingies.

    Day 9 – Vegas – Zion National Park – Tropic

    (Copyright: Google Maps)
    (This image shows our route for the whole of the second week, with the red spots showing where we rested our heads at night.)

    Another dawn start from Vegas and we started up the 15 towards Zion National Park. We had a pleasant ride up and stopped at the Walmart in, I think, St George to stock up on stuff for lunch. Any basket of very cheap food – loving that exchange rate!

    We arrived mid-morning ish at Springdale, parked up and caught the park and rise bus up to Zion National Park. We loved Zion, but for very different reasons to the Mojave, Joshua and Death Valley Parks. The three parks we visited in the first week were all about the solitude, vistas, long, open roads and views. Obviously Zion was so much smaller and busier, but it was no less amazing. The tour bus is a great idea, stopping at various places through the park. We got off a few times for various little walks, including a little which was quite quiet for our picnic lunch.

    Our lunch spot.

    After a great day in the park we returned to our vehicle at around 4.30pm to discover why it’s good to get insurance for your hire car: the sun (probably) had put a small crack in the bottom left hand corner of the windshield of the Jeep. We decided (perhaps wrongly, but there we go) not to get it fixed there and then. We had the car for three or four more days and decided that we keep an eye on it and, unless it got worse, live with it until we got back. We then set off through the spectacular road cut seemingly through the rocks of Zion Park up towards Tropic where we were booked in to a B&B ready for our next day at Bryce Canyon.

    We were staying at the Bullberry Inn in Tropic. It was in a great setting, but I’ll just say that I agree with some of the other Tripadvisor reviews which state that it isn’t the most overly friendly place to stay.

    Day 10 – Tropic – Bryce Canyon and the long drive to Grand Canyon

    Another very early start and we arrived at Bryce Canyon first thing. What a simply amazing place. We caught the shuttle bus down the road and I love the fact that you can’t see any of the canyon until you get to metres before the edge and you are suddenly greeted by this amazing sight. We got off at Sunset Point, walked the Navajo trail, the Queens Garden Trail, up through sunrise point and then back to the top and around the rim round to Bryce Point. I think we walked 5 or 6 miles in total. A of photos, neither of which do it any justice:

    After the fantastic walk we caught the bus at Bryce Point to get back to the car and set off for Grand Canyon. Now, I’m not a great believer in stereotyping nationalities. If it were true I’d be wearing a monocle, eating roast beef, would have a title, own a bulldog, have a tiny car (actually, that one’s true), would drink loads of tea (that one is actually true too) and eat badly cooked food. But on the bus on the way back we sat next to a, erm, large American family (in terms of width, not numbers) talking about the Bryce Canyon Park:

    Mum: “I can’t believe you can’t see anything of the canyon from the bus. We’ve spent 30 minutes on here and we haven’t seen the canyon once.”
    Dad: “I know, what a let down”.
    Child: “So what are we going to do?”
    Mum: “We’re going to stay on the bus back up to the top, get the car, drive it in to each stop close to the edge so we can see everything from there, that way we don’t have to be walking everywhere or waiting 10 minutes every time for the next bus”.

    I swear that’s true. But it was the only example of the ‘fat, lazy american’ stereotype we came across, I promise.

    We grabbed some food at Subway (who’s the stereotype now?) and headed down the long but pleasant drive down the 89, through Page and on to the Grand Canyon which we reached at about 7 or 8pm. We were staying at the El Tovar hotel which was by a long way the most expensive hotel on our trip, yet had by far the smallest room. However, as it overlooked the canyon we were paying for location. I don’t anything quite prepared us for the view of the Grand Canyon as it’s another place that photos just don’t do any justice for. We had a bite to eat at the rather nice shop / cafe, bought a couple of beers, walked back to the hotel and drank them on a bench, huddled together and looking in to the dark abyss in front of us and picking out the few camp fires we could see on the floors of the canyon.

    Day 11 – Tropic – A Walk In To The Canyon

    We got up nice an early for a walk down in to the Grand Canyon. The photo below is a view from the top where we started our walk. The red circle is around the Indian Gardens which is about 5 miles (might be wrong on that) in to the canyon and was our planned destination before trooping back up. It looked about 50 miles away.

    We headed down and made it to the gardens for about 12pm, had our sandwiches and stared to head back to the top. This photo shows the view from the gardens with the point we had set off from at the top. It’s hard to work out how we ever got down there or how we would ever get back up:

    We arrived back up at the top at around 4pm, looking sweaty, dusty, dirty, tired and bedraggled. At the top of the canyon there were hundreds of tourists getting of buses and looking over at the canyon and, although millions of people do the walk we did every year, it felt great that we’d actually been in to the Canyon and experienced it from right inside.

    Day 12 – Grand Canyon – Williams – Route 66 – A bit of Blackjack – Vegas

    We got up nice and early and checked out of the El Tovar to head back towards Vegas via Route 66. But first we headed to Williams, which is about 50 miles south of the canyon, for a spot of brekkie. We settled on Old Smokey's which has apparently also hosted Chubby Checker and Elvis Presley for food. It was a great little place, with friendly service and seemed popular with locals as well as tourists.

    Old Smokey’s

    We then set off up historic Route 66 (listening to a classic rock station, of course). There was one thing that surprised me about Route 66: some of the ‘adopt a highway’ sections were up for rent. You’d think that if any of these roads would be fully sold out, and with a massive waiting list, for this scheme, it would be Route 66.

    The missus on Route 66.

    We happily tootled along Route 66 before stopping at Laughlin, Nevada for a bit of a gamble. Y’see, I wanted to have a go a table game in Vegas but, and you can call me cheap, I just couldn’t face the $10 table limits you find on the strip. So we popped in to the riverboat type casino and I settled in for a round of $2 a hand blackjack with a few old timers (I made $63 from my original pot of $50 – the drinks were on me). We then drove up the 95 back in to Vegas. Along the 95 we saw a good reason why you need to keep your engine cool whilst driving in the desert:

    The family were safe and sound away from the vehicle, but we got there just as the fire was starting and it was a burning inferno within about 5 minutes.

    We got back to Vegas, dropped off the car and apologised for the windscreen crack (which was now a good 5 inches) but they were fine with it (thank goodness I took out the insurance). We then checked in to our hotel for the last two nights which was The Signature at the MGM, which again cost about the same as a box room at a shabby travel inn in the UK:

    The Signature

    Our last two days were great. We ate, gambled, people watched... etc. etc. However, we’d developed a bit of a habit of only gambling when we fancied a beer: put $1 in a 1 cent machine, sit for 20 minutes happily gambling next to nothing, having a laugh and supping free beer. We were doing this on the last night before going for something to eat. The missus had finished her $1, but I had had a couple of wins and had about $3 in the machine. So I clicked those buttons that I don’t really get that increase your bet as a way of wasting my money quickly so we could leave. And lo and behold... 12x symbol... 12x symbol... a 7 smybol....... and $229!!!!

    Which was a fantastic end to a great holiday really! We celebrated by heading to the Ghost Bar at the Palms Casino, which had some great views of the city before heading home the next day.

    Again, thanks to those on here that helped with tips for the holiday and hopefully some of the information on here helps a bit with others making similar trips.
    Last edited by beforethirty; 10-25-2008 at 10:12 AM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Nice photos and report

    Thanks again for making this post. (Thanks for adjusting the size of that last photo!)

    Great photo of the car fire too!

    Enjoyed the tale.

    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 10-25-2008 at 12:17 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Good read beforethirty.

    Most interesting to see what other travellers get up to.

    Coming to the conclusion that the seven ages of man also applies to road trippers as well – has in my case. Can well relate to testosterone overload – once drove a thousand miles in a day across Europe in my younger days – but now at a stage where a fine bouquet to my travel is more sought after.

    Not sure we all go through these ages of travel but looking back they all have their separate fun, excitement and attractions.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Denderleeuw (city of lions), Near Brussels


    Seems you guys had a nice trip too :)
    Thanks for sharing !

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