Hi everyone - we're back and we had a blast in the USA!
I took all your advice and info links into consideration (together with my own research - what can I say... I always plan everything to the last t....) and I managed to work out a jam-packed out-of-this-world trip which we've absolutely enjoyed! Thanks so much for all the tips & info!
We arrived in Vegas after the worst airport experience in our lives [at] LAX! I almost regretted even going to America but that's another long story... Luckily, that was the one and only bad experience we had - the rest was all smooth sailing and absolutely wonderful!
Vegas was a very interesting experience and although we're not the Vegas type and initially did not even plan to spend more than 1 night in Vegas, I listened to the advise and booked 2 nights. We were pleasantly surprised! That city just never sleeps and neither did we! Jet-lagged as hell and finally getting to bed at 3am in the morning for 2 nights, was not the best feeling, but we enjoyed every moment! We stayed at the Excalibur (good for the budget and surprisingly excellent value for money!) The only down-side was that the "free internet" was actually wired internet and there we were with our iPhones and no internet... That sucked! So, when we returned for another 2 nights after our road trip, we booked into the New York New York and I would really recommend it! Although a bit more pricey, we got a free upgrade to a bigger room and off course, the free wifi was a big drawcard. Both hotels had not too shabby service, but there's no personal touch anywhere in Vegas - you're just another wallet with legs.
Things we did in Vegas:
Freemont Experience – loved it!
Factory Outlets (both the North and South ones) – shopped till I dropped and did not even break the bank!
Sirens of TI – So-So (would not pay to see it or break my legs getting there not to miss it…)
Erupting Volcano [at] Mirage - (nice but not a must-see)
Bellagio Fountains – Wow! Beautiful!
Tournament of the Kings – It was a unique experience, but really just so-so and definitely overpriced.
Carrot Top – Absolutely Brilliant! MUST SEE! I thought I was going to pass out laughing! I saw a few of his stand-ups on YouTube before and it was funny, but seeing him live is 100 times better – he is hilarious! Best money spent in Vegas!
Atomic Testing Museum – not my type of thing but Hubby loved it. It's a bit out of the way and we had to take a taxi (could not figure out the busses for the trip there, but took a bus going to the strip back – much cheaper!)
We walked through most of the hotels and shopping malls – they're all beautiful! And we visited quite a few bars, cafés and restaurants. Our favourite was the Harley Davidson Café – absolutely worth the visit and the food. Portions are gigantic and the food and drinks are cheap in comparison. Our waiter must have overheard us admiring our beautiful themed glasses and when he brought us the bill, he gave us a gift bag with two glasses: a beer glass for hubby and a cocktail glass for me! How nice was that?! Another favourite was the Americana which was open 24/7 and had great food at good prices. This is usually where we would have dinner [at] 2am…
We've never seen so many Elvis Presleys in one place! Not to mention all the strange characters… Oi, what an experience! There's so much we still wanted to see and do, but we ran out of time.
Our Road Trip:
We rented a car from Budget – we got a nice deal with being frequent flyers if we booked online and it was at least $600 cheaper than the next price up [at] Alamo. A bit of advice on renting a car: the price you get when you book online is about 50% of the price you'll end up paying. Also, the price you pay when you book online is much cheaper than the price you'll pay as a walk-in. The service we got form Budget was great and when we collected the car the day of our road trip, they added a free GPS and took about $100 off the total.
We took off on the 93 to Hoover Dam. Definitely worth a visit – especially if you're a discovery channel junky like hubby. To see this engineering marvel was a highlight for him and even I enjoyed it!
The road to Flagstaff took us through endless stretches of nothingness for miles! Along the way, about 22miles before Kingman, just off the 93, is the ghost town Chloride. Do not miss this – it is like a blast from the past you just have to experience. What makes this even more unique is that people actually live there – in those houses! One of the residents, a very old lady with wrinkles as deep as the Grand Canyon, started a conversation with us while we were passing her in one of the dusty streets. I wish I had the guts to take a photo of her, but I did not want to be rude – it was just so amazing, this weathered old lady – in her nineties – against this old western town backdrop. She told us a lot about the history of the town and the shoot-outs they have on certain Saturdays and in which she was still the reigning female shooter! Unbelievable!
Kingman is nothing to write home about – we just drove through and on the way back we stopped at the famous Route 66 diner which was only a so-so experience, Oprah Winfrey's photo on the wall and all. It looks very authentic, but that is where it stops. It felt more like a money-making themed diner than the real deal.
We arrived at the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff after dark and very tired. What a little gem! Country & Western experience like nothing! The hotel has such a nice vibe and the staff is excellent. Our room was small but very well decorated in true western style and the food was fantastic. I would definitely recommend this hotel if you ever need to stay over in Flagstaff.
After an early rise, we hit the road further East along the 180/40 to the Meteor Crater. It is a bit out of the way if you do not intend travelling further East, but once again, no regrets making the effort. Hubby was in 7th heaven! It was truly amazing seeing such a unique act of nature for real. That hole is HUGE! There are buildings at the very bottom you cannot even see without a zoom lens or binoculars – they're only small white specs to the naked eye.
We then drove North on the 89 via Flagstaff and stopped at the Cameron Trading Post to buy gifts and souvenirs made by native tribes from the area (very good range and good value for money) and to eat the famous mini tacos we heard so much about. Mini tacos my backside – it was HUGE! Neither me nor hubby could even eat a third of it! Order one to share and you'll still have leftovers!
Our next stop was Monument Valley – one of the highlights of our entire trip to USA! We booked a night at the View hotel which was more than double what we paid anywhere else but it was money well spent! Our room was huge and we had our own private veranda which had unobstructed views of the buttes. Although alcohol is not allowed to be sold in Utah (Monument Valley is JUST over the border into Utah), we could take the wine we had in our car to the hotel without any problems – they even had ice machines and ice buckets for guests, so we could still enjoy our glass of wine as the sun set over Monument Valley. I think if you do it discreetly and not offer it to anyone else, you'll be OK. Dinner was accompanied by alcohol free wine & beer which tasted like rubbish – good on them for trying, but I should have ordered a coke. An interesting item on the menu was blue mashed potato – a traditional Navajo potato dish with ash. I could stomach only one bite of it – I cannot imagine anyone eating that for pleasure! I'm sure they feel the same way about some of our food… Besides, we love to experience local cuisine, even if we don't find it tasty.
The next morning we got up very early (as in VERY early) to photograph sunrise. It was freezing but SO worth it! It was amazing! I felt touched by the wonder of creation in all its glory! It is more breathtaking than any photo or poster we have ever seen of it! We then drove the 17 mile loop road into the valley around the buttes and to places we would not have seen if we stayed at the hotel. After that, we hit the road to Mexican Hat and Four corners – both a waste of time in my opinion. If you're in the area, then by all means, go for it, but Mexican Hat was just a pile of rocks and apart from being able to say we were in 4 states at once, it was not worth the 4 hour detour to Four Corners. Distances can be very deceiving – it took us forever to complete the loop back to Kayenta and make it to Page before dark.
We reached Page just before sunset and booked into a little motel which was recommended on Tripadvisor (Debbie's Hideaway). Oh boy! I can do basic, I can do bush and I can even deal with run down, but the smell of years and years of cigarette smoke which chokes you up as you open the door, I can't do! We booked and paid for two nights and I should have gone with my instinct and book into one of the many hotel chains, but we wanted to live local. Yeah, this was a bit of a mistake…
Page is the ideal place to stay to enjoy a lot of what was on offer in the area: Horseshoe Bend , Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell, Colorado River Trips, Antelope Canyon, Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon and even near enough to do a day trip to Monument Valley or even The Grand Canyon. We saw and did all of the above, however not all from Page.
Sunset at horseshoe bend was un unforgettable highlight and so was the river rafting trip down the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. We booked an early morning trip to Antelope Canyon with antelope Slot Canyon Tours (run by Chief Tsosi) and we were lucky enough to have Chief Slowhorse, better known as Lennard (famous on the Internet and YouTube) as our guide. We were only 4 people in the group and the Chief took his time guiding us through the canyon, sharing stories, cultural beliefs and even photos of his granddaughter with us. He showed us the best spots for stunning photographs and played his flute a few times. We did not feel rushed like you would with bigger tours and there was more than enough opportunity to take photos without 20 other people in your viewfinder.
Next stop was The Grand Canyon. Snow was predicted and as we arrived at Dessert view, the most Easterly viewpoint of the National Park, it began to snow. Within a few hours everything was covered in a blanket of snow and it was difficult to even see anything. We booked into the Bright Angel Lodge and we LOVED it! Just a few steps from our cabin door, we had the greatest views of the canyon. It was awesome! We stayed 2 nights and did the whole trail on the South Rim, some of which lead us scarily close to the edge – not always an easy trial to navigate being freshly covered in a deep blanket of snow. We've seen many sunsets in our lifetime but sunset over The Grand Canyon must be one of the most beautiful on earth!
We left The Grand Canyon, travelling South on 64. We stopped at Bedrock – where the Flintstones live. It is located at the junction with the 180. It is very run down, and hasn't had a coat of paint probably since it was built. We turned East on 180 to take the scenic route to Flagstaff so we could see the white buffaloes. No white buffaloes as far as the eye can see – another wild goose chase not worth the detour, as we were booked to spend the night in Williams, in the opposite direction. Not even the view was rewarding and we did not really get why this was the scenic route…
One gem we did discover, just a few miles from the junction of 64 & 180 was a trading post where we saw a wide range of local art and crafts for really good prices. It was very well looked after with tepees in the front and even "wanted" posters on the porch. The difference here was that the ladies in the shop treated us like guests, not wallets, and offered a lot of advice and information about items we wanted to buy. They both looked like they had a native background and they certainly knew their stuff. It was not in any guidebook – we just stumbled across it.
After the long unnecessary detour, we arrived in Williams where we stayed at the Route 66 Motel – this is definitely one of the "must stays" – it was recently renovated and is modern but still true to the culture. The owners are great and very friendly. They recommended a restaurant just down the street – The Red Raven – and it was absolutely a culinary joy! Although we only spent the night in Wilson and a short time the next morning taking a stroll down the street, it is one of our favourite little towns and I wished we booked another night. As we were walking down the street, we spotted two people on horses on the other side of the street, dressed like they just stepped out of a John Wayne movie – it was the sheriff and a local. They saw me reaching for my camera and politely turned their horses to face me and smiled for a photo. We had a chat and it was clear that they were not playing dress-up, this was the real deal! How cool! The one guy's son even lives in Melbourne and we had a long chat about Australia and America. Everyone in this little town was just so warm and welcoming and although we were clearly tourists, they did not make us feel like intruders, unlike some other places where we felt a bit "stared at and discussed"…
After leaving Williams, we took the old Route 66 back to Vegas, stopping at the little towns along the way. Most of them were nothing but run down dumps with the exception of Seligman which in my opinion is one of the most authentic little towns along Route 66. We spent a long time strolling down the street, going into all the little shops and diners – and came across the real-life characters from the animation movie Cars, all lined up in a junk yard behind a diner.
We arrived back in Vegas, returned our car and head to our hotel to spend our last two days in the USA in the city where no one ever sleeps and everything goes.
One observation which was actually quite surprising was the lack of drunken trouble makers along the strip in Vegas. Alcohol is everywhere and you can fill up your 1 litre glasses almost anywhere along the strip. Yet, I did not see one drunk person, not one aggressive, disorderly person, no street fights, no one hassling you, no one groping, and nothing. Everyone was out on the streets, drinking and having a good time without incident. In Australia, alcohol infused violence and disorderly behaviour is a huge problem. The streets of Sydney turns into a danger zone after midnight filled with drunken drugged-up young people who would shout abuse at anyone, and get into fights for no reason. In Australia you are not even allowed to have a drink in your hand outside the pubs, yet, everyone is drunk and misbehaving. Whereas in Vegas, you can openly walk around the streets with your glass of alcohol in your hand. I could not help but wonder what are we doing wrong? Maybe Vegas has the answer…
Apologies for my ramblings – I bet you could tell I was very excited to share our experience. We had a fantastic time and I cannot believe that America was literally the last place on my wish list of places to see (with the exception of the Grand Canyon). America is great and we want to go back to see more. Next stop New York…