Our first stop was a brief one near Salt Lake City, Utah. I will remember Salt Lake City as a place packed with people. Many of them were always in a rush, especially the drivers. It reminded me of driving in Boston where yellow lights mean step on it and merge means step on it faster than the guy next to you. Claudia took a visit to the Mormon Tabernacle with Bruce & Sue to hear an organ rehearsal while I went out in search of a power cord for our jetpack. Without that cord we were without Wi-Fi. They told me that the organ rehearsal was quite entertaining and other than the traffic it was well worth the trip. Claudia told me later that it was biggest organ she has ever seen. Hmmm…..
For the next couple of days we enjoyed a return trip to Zion National Park. We started the first day off by taking a ride into the park for some hiking. Unfortunately we left too late and there were no parking spots left when we arrived. Zion is one place where you cannot drive into the park beyond the visitor center and the only way around within the park is by bus. Rather than park outside the gate and then walk to the buses, Claudia suggested a drive down a road that was near our campground. It was a 22 mile drive to the Kolob Reservoir and it turned out to be a gorgeous drive along an area of Zion we hadn’t seen before. And to top it off, we had the entire area to ourselves. No traffic and no obstructed views. Absolutely lovely!!
We did return to Zion earlier on the following day and found a parking spot right away. This allowed us to travel by bus to the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the Zion Canyon shuttle, in order to hike a trail to view some of the best "narrows" sections of the North Fork of the Virgin River. Many people rent water shoes and continue hiking through the river once the trail ends but we turned around at that point and headed back. We boarded the bus for our return trip but got off after a couple of stops in order to hike one of our favorite Zion trails. This was the trail to Weeping Rock, a large bowl-shaped alcove where the “weeping walls” form a beautifully lush hanging garden with a little flowing stream below.
The following morning we headed off and arrived at Sam’s Town Campground for a weeklong stay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our first full day began with a short walk over to Sam’s Town Casino for breakfast. After breakfast we located the free Sam’s Town Shuttle that took us over to Harrah’s Casino on the strip. This turned out to be the first of many trips on the shuttle. Once at Harrah’s we purchased five day passes for the Monorail which we then took to Bally’s Casino, further south along the strip. From there we took the fairly lengthy walk over to Planet Hollywood Casino. Along the way of course we stopped to enjoy the sites and do a little gambling.
After a bite to eat we headed over to Planet Hollywood’s Saxe Theatre where we enjoyed our first show of the trip, a tribute to the Beatles. Beatleshow Orchestra took everything you love about the Beatles and presented it just as if John, Paul, George and Ringo were on stage together again. These guys re-created some of the most memorable Beatle moments from every era of their career. It was a really great show.
Our next day took us over to the old area of Vegas where we spent a couple of hours visiting the Mob Museum, officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. The Museum presented an authentic view of organized crime’s impact on Las Vegas history, as well as its unique imprint on America and the world. The real stories and actual events of Mob history were revealed through the exhibits to tell the story about the role of organized crime in the U.S.
Following our visit to the Mob Museum we took a short walk over to the old Vegas strip called the Fremont Experience. We grabbed a bite to eat before enjoying the sights and sounds of a completely different side of Vegas. We watched as characters of all kinds came out while music and light shows played all around and above us. Before the development of pretend volcanoes, or dancing fountains, or the highest Ferris wheel in the world, there was this five block area in downtown Las Vegas that was the center of gambling in the United States. Here we found cheaper drinks, a zip line, street performers, and a constant party atmosphere all under a 1,500 foot long video screen/canopy that contains 12.5 million LED lights. This five block stretch is home to ten casinos and six hotels. Notable resorts included the Golden Nugget, Binions, Four Queens and the Fremont.
At this point we were ready for a day off but there just wasn’t any time for that in Vegas. We had another show to enjoy on our next day so it was back to the strip, once again via the shuttle and the monorail but this time to the MGM Casino. After spending some time at MGM we took the long walk over to the New York-New York Casino. On the map it was “just across the street” but the walk turned out to be well over a mile due to construction on the pedestrian overpasses in the area. Following more gambling at the New York-New York Casino, we headed over to the theatre where we enjoyed the show Zumanity. This show was an adult oriented version of Cirque du Soleil with a seductive twist on reality. It was part burlesque and part cabaret and was a show that we’ll never forget. This show ended later than our previous show so it took a 30 minute marathon run to Harrah’s in order to make it to the last shuttle bus of the evening but we made it with zero time to spare.
The next day was a Sunday so we did take the day off. Not so much because it was Sunday but because the Pats game was on. The game started at 10am Vegas time so I headed off early to Sam’s Town Casino where I found a seat at the Sports Book where I was able to place my bet and enjoy the game. Patriots won by 3 with 23 seconds left but I lost my $20 bet since I needed a Pats win by 9. We then enjoyed a quiet afternoon relaxing.
On our following day we started the day off with breakfast at the Omelet House for one of their famous four egg omelets. Some of our friends had recommended this so we had to give it a try. It was worth the stop and we had plenty left over for the next day. Next it was back to the shuttle, monorail & another walk back to Planet Hollywood Casino for our final show. This time it was for an Elvis Tribute at Planet Hollywood’s V Theatre. The show was titled All Shook Up and was the only All-Elvis show on the Las Vegas strip. It was backed by an awesome live band and we heard many of the hits from his entire career. In my opinion it was the best show of the week. This show ended a bit earlier than our last one so we were able to enjoy a leisurely return to the campground via the monorail & shuttle. We arrived at the shuttle with ten minutes to spare.
So yes, all in all we had a fabulous time in Vegas. With all that said and done however, it was an exhausting visit and neither of us are in any real rush to return. The city is so spread out that getting around is a chore and we were on our feet just about all the time. It’s also a lot more expensive than our usual stops, especially since we find ourselves eating out a lot and paying a lot of money to enjoy many of the shows and activities in the city. I think we’ll enjoy sticking to our scenic routes and stops for a while… but not until after the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque of course.
Our next campground took us to Holbrook, Arizona where we were able to re-visit the Petrified Forest National Park. While there we made several stops along the 20 mile park road for some beautiful scenic views. Along the way we also took a couple of great hikes. The first one was the Blue Mesa Trail, a favorite trail from our first visit that began with a steep descent from a beautiful mesa. It then continued along a one mile loop that offered the unique experience of hiking among badland hills of bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood. Our second hike was the Painted Desert Rim Trail, a one mile round trip hike that led us on a winding trail through the rim woodland, and gave us some spectacular views of the Painted Desert. This was a short but excellent visit with some very nice weather and it was just as awesome seeing it the second time as it was the first time we were here.
Our final campground before heading off to Albuquerque was to Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a six night stay. I started our visit off in Santa Fe with only one event in mind and that was to head over to Buffalo Wild Wings in Santa Fe to watch the Pats game. Unfortunately they lost a close one but it was still great to see them play. Claudia stopped by for lunch while I was watching the game (it started at 11am Santa Fe time) but spent most her time shopping nearby.
We started our next day off by taking a 200 mile scenic drive along the Jemez Mountain Trail. The trail began in the high desert through small villages then proceeded through canyons and lush forests and led eventually to the peaks of the mountain range, several thousand feet higher in elevation than where we started. The region is steeped in Spanish and Native American history. We stopped along the way to enjoy a couple of short hikes for some spectacular views.
Since we didn’t get to see everything we wanted on our drive, we returned to a portion of the Jemez Mountain Trail on the following day to visit what we missed. We started off at the Puye Cliff Dwellings, the ruins of an abandoned pueblo, first settled in the late 10th century and where up to 1,500 pueblo Indians once lived, hunted game and cultivated food. We had an excellent private tour by an ancestor of the tribe that used to live there and the tour was fascinating. We also visited Bandelier National Monument, an area containing some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins of a pueblo in the Southwest including petroglyphs, pictographs and steep narrow canyons with mountains rising to 10,200 feet. While there we hiked over two miles and climbed ladders 140 feet high to an area where some of the pueblo Indians once lived in the sides of the mesa cliffs.
Our next day took us to downtown Santa Fe with Bruce and Sue to enjoy lunch at “The Shed”, a cafe housed in a circa-1692 hacienda with a cantina-style bar. They served a classic Southwestern menu including its signature red chile enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas. This was a place that was recommended to us by some friends of ours from Texas so we had to give it a try. I wish I could say that the meal was delicious, but wow!! We all agreed that the “red chile” on our enchiladas was much spicier than anything we had ever eaten. It was too spicy for my taste and WAY too spicy for Claudia. Now we know to always ask about how spicy the sauce is when eating out somewhere with a “Southwestern” menu.
On our final day in Santa Fe we had a very rare rainy day so we spent it relaxing at the campsite. That night I was able to watch the Patriots win a close game on Thursday Night Football from the comfort of our own motor home. I really enjoyed that!!
It’s been a busy two and half weeks since leaving the Yellowstone area but we’ve finally arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the International Balloon Fiesta. The weather is looking perfect and we’re very excited.