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Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Houston, Texas
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Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

I have completed my trip report from our June road trip. Three adults travelled from Houston, Texas to Death Valley and back in nine days. It was an amazing adventure.

I am going to post as a reply and break up the report so that you don't have to read the Vegas bits if you don't want to.

Hope you enjoy it. We certainly did!

Houston, Texas
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1. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days


JUNE 24 – JULY 2, 2012

Driving Across the Old West

Sunday, June 24th

The three of us departed Houston, Texas at 6:00 am, already wondering if we had lost our sanity. The intrepid Honda CRV was loaded and ready. We had detailed driving directions and OnStar to help us on the way. I had detailed out each stop, a driving schedule and lots of plans. Plans can be tossed out rather quickly.

We stopped at Mama’s Kitchen in Caldwell, TX about 8:30 am and had a very nice breakfast. Our first stop for fuel was in Comanche, TX (260 miles/5 hours). The drive was pleasant on mostly four lane roads. We passed prisons and military bases on the way.

We had lunch at the Denney’s in Lubbock. It was pretty good. We were making really good time. We continued on and hit I-40 in Amarillo. We saw an awful lot of windmills. There were wind farms as far as the eye could see. Soon, we crossed into New Mexico.

We had planned on dinner in Santa Rosa, NM (768 miles/12 hours). We decided to have dinner at the Silver Moon Cafe on Route 66. It had been recommended on TripAdvisor. We were greatly disappointed in both the food and the service. I had to send my plate back and ended up with a grilled cheese sandwich.

We drove on through the night, taking turns at the wheel. We started to get a little punchy and silliness ensued. There was a fair amount of construction on the highway which made for some nervous moments and some slowdowns. We even came to a dead stop a couple of times. Even so, we were running ahead of schedule.

In the wee hours (I think it was Gallup, NM) we had to stop for fuel and to change drivers. We found an open gas station but there was something ominous going on in their bathroom (I didn’t get close enough to find out exactly what, but there were folks milling around the door and it gave me pause.) so we opted to find one that was a little less exciting. We ended up going to the Denney’s where we had coffee and a snack; mostly to be able to use the bathroom.

Monday, June 25th

We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park at 4:00 am and learned that the park opens at that time. There was no one at the guard station and the sign said to go on in! So we did. We were trying to pick a spot to watch the sunrise and the sky was already beginning to lighten up. We were headed for the Watch Tower but it seemed to be taking forever on the twisty little roads so we opted for Lipan Point to watch the sun come up. It was a great vantage point.

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon was one of the high points of this trip. It was chilly standing on the rim. We watched huge crows (one attacked the grill of my car!) and speedy larks whizzing by like fighter jets as we waited for the sun to peek out. I can’t say enough about how special that time was for us. Who knew a big hole in the ground could be so impressive!

Once the sun had arrived we decided to head on to the Watch Tower. It is a wonderful stone tower and gift shop and the point offers some fantastic views of the canyon. The bathrooms are really nice too. We took lots of pictures. Not of the bathrooms!

Our next stop was at Grandview Point which certainly deserves the name. It’s amazing that the view is so different from each of the points even though they aren’t really that far apart. Each angle of the canyon offers different scenery. The canyon is overwhelming in both size and beauty.

We made one quick stop at the Visitor’s Center but they weren’t open yet. We had the chance to look at some maps and talk to some folks. We even met some very interesting dogs. That Bassett gave me the evil eye, I swear!

It was 7:00 am and definitely time for breakfast. We made our way over to El Tovar, an historic hotel opened in 1905, with an excellent view into the canyon. We were seated right away near a window and had an excellent breakfast. They serve a very unusual but tasty Eggs Benedict.

The decor is interesting, the service is first class and the food is divine. The bathrooms are downstairs in the basement! We snapped a few more photos of the canyon before climbing back into my wonderful car to continue on our journey.

We crossed the new bypass bridge at Hoover Dam just after noon and wanted to see the new observation walkway so we pulled off onto the Hoover Dam road and waited to go through security. We soon found ourselves in a parking lot at the base of a big climb (choice of ramps or stairs) up to the bridge.

I was not eager to make the trek. It was 103 degrees and the sun was beating down. The ramps and stairs were packed with people. My family talked me out of going. I love them for that! We drove on.

Houston, Texas
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2. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

PART 2: Vegas

My plans had stated that we would arrive in Las Vegas between 4 and 5 pm. We hit town at 2:00 pm! I found my way to the Aria without much difficulty and dropped off our friend who was staying there for a conference. Then we headed off to our hotel, the Hilton Grand Vacations at the Flamingo, without incident and checked in. Success!

We had requested a room in the south tower to avoid any construction noise from the Linq project going on next door. We were very pleased with Room 356 which was right next to the elevators on the third floor. The one bedroom suite was well appointed with a full kitchen and washer/dryer as well as two large flat screen TVs and a DVD player. The room was very spacious and had tons of storage space - two full closets, two full vanities and two full sets of drawers! It also included a Jacuzzi tub! The furnishings were nice and the bed was very comfortable. The views were of the foliage around the pools. Free WiFi was included with the room and it worked well.

The only noise we suffered was the music from the Flamingo pool but only during the afternoon and early evening so it wasn't an issue. The only reason the nearby construction intruded on our stay at all was because of having to pass through the construction zone going and coming to the property. We were pretty much surrounded by it.

We were surprised to be offered free valet parking (available for $10 per day) because we have disabled plates. That was a nice surprise that we took advantage of and they were always prompt in bringing our car around. Free self parking is available and the garage is convenient but it was getting very full on the weekend.

The property has easy access to the Flamingo, the monorail stop and to the Strip which makes it an ideal location. It was nice to be so close to a casino and its amenities and yet be able to relax in our calm, quiet suite.

We joked that we were actually closer to the front desk at the Flamingo than we were to the front desk at our own property, being at the very end of the South tower as we were. That location had its advantages, especially when we were headed into the Flamingo but the long, long walk down the hallway to the lobby of HGVC was somewhat daunting at times.

My biggest negative about our stay was how long it took to get a taxi each evening. I think it was due to the construction but the poor bellman had to run down the street to try to get a cab to come to the hotel - each and every time. I don't know what they can do to solve this problem but it was a bit of an annoyance when we had reservations for dinner. Still, that really was my only complaint and it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.

Two things happened soon after our arrival. 1. We discovered that both the coolers we brought with us had died en route and would have to be replaced. 2. I set off the smoke alarm while trying to make toast. I’m glad I was spared the embarrassment of firemen banging on the door over burnt toast but I’m a bit concerned that no one even called to inquire about the alarm. Oh well.

We had made reservations for dinner at Mon Ami Gabi on our way into town so we got cleaned up and took at cab ($16) over to Paris to meet our friend for our 8:15 pm reservation. She was running late and we were early so we decided to put our first money into a slot machine. I was happy to find the Cheeseburger machine and my DH found his favorite Martians game. I quickly lost $40 and decided to quit. My DH won $89 and decided to call it a night too.

We had to wait ten minutes with our dinner reservation which I thought was great considering the lines. Dinner was excellent as always. I had the French Onion soup and the Filet Mignon special. The DH had a chilled Fresh Grape and Nut soup which he said was spectacular. He also had the veal. The meal was perfect and the service was top shelf. Mon Ami Gabi never disappoints!

I was starting to get really tired at that point. We wandered out to the front of the hotel to see the new bar/ice cream parlor/candy shop called the Sugar Factory. It seemed to be very popular – and crowded. I liked their disco ball Duckie. I may have to get one.

We said goodbye to our friend at that point and decided to make the short walk back to our hotel via the Flamingo. It was wonderful to be immersed in that special vibe that is the Strip at night. I can’t explain the magic of walking down the crowded sidewalk taking in the sights and sounds and smells of Las Vegas.

It wasn’t a bad walk at all. I was a little disturbed by the many costumed characters charging people for a photo. The guy dressed in a slightly dingy diaper and baby bonnet was especially scary.

Arriving safely at the Flamingo we strolled through the “big pink bird” to see what was new. They’ve made some nice changes in the last year. The joint was jumping.

I got a huge laugh as we exited the Flamingo proper. We were headed out the rear of the building near the Valet drop off and I picked the door that seemed to be the most direct route to our building. It was the “Pet Relief Area” exit! Somehow, that seemed appropriate. And it was the correct door too!

We collapsed into bed at 11 PM, glad to be in Vegas, and marveled that we had survived the tough drive; 28 hours in a moving vehicle. It was going to be a great week!

Tuesday, June 26th

We were up at 6:00 am, lazed around until 7:00 am and finally departed for the day at 8:00 am. (Only an hour behind schedule.) We got the car and headed off for breakfast at Black Bear Diner, 6180 W. Tropicana at Jones. It’s an easy 2 mile drive from the Strip.

I cannot say enough about this place. We liked it so much that we went back again later in the trip. Even though it is a franchise, the small restaurant has the feel of a mom and pop diner. They offer wonderful pastries in addition to their menu. The bear claws were fabulous!

There are bears everywhere! The wallpaper, curtains, tableware, napkins and everything else to which a bear could be applied. There is a shelf running all the way around the wall covered in every kind of stuffed bear imaginable. There are cute carved wooden bears scattered about both inside and outside. It’s a sweet theme.

The service was excellent and the servers on both visits were prompt, accurate and very friendly. The food was very good; large portions of fresh, well prepared items. I enjoyed their Eggs Benedict and the orange juice really was fresh squeezed. Breakfast was $40 with tip and that included a Bear Claw to go.

In addition to all the above, the bathroom was very clean and that’s a big selling point for me. You can tell a lot about a place by how they keep their bathrooms. Add in that the waitress called me “Gorgeous” the whole time and you have the makings of a perfect breakfast experience!

Well sated and smiling, we headed off on our adventure for the day – a drive out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The park is only 15 miles from the Strip but it feels like a different planet. The $7 per vehicle admission fee is well worth the chance to stop at the Visitor Center and then drive the 13 mile one way scenic loop.

Everywhere there were signs warning about wild burros and migrating tortoises but we didn’t see a single live critter during our entire visit! I was disappointed. The scenery, however, did not disappoint at all. There are numerous places to pull off and take pictures and many places for hikes of varying degrees of difficulty.

We took a couple of short walks but for the most part stayed in the car due to the rising heat and the blazing sun. (It was only 104 degrees!) It was a very pleasant couple of hours. It should be noted that there are privies (bathrooms) all along the route but I’m not sure I’d be willing to use one in the summer. They looked for all the world to me like big concrete BBQ pits! They even had chimneys. They were great conversation starters too.

We left Red Rock Canyon about noon and headed to Red Rock Casino and Resort which is conveniently located on the way back into town. I think we found another favorite place to go. Red Rock is very nice.

It is much more family oriented than most of the Strip properties. There were many families with kids and grandparents around. They also have a movie theater and bowling alley on the property. Even so, it is very comfortable and they seemed to have all the latest slot machines.

They say your favorite casino is always the one where you win. That would make Red Rock my most favorite casino for this trip! I walked away with $300 from a Goldfish 2 penny machine and the DH won $415 on his first bet on a new Jaws machine! It was also a penny game. Those wins left us up by $400 for the trip.

We were approached to join the players club and signed up. We each got $5 of free play, a deck of cards, T-shirt and 2 for 1 buffet just for joining.

There was a long wait for the buffet but it was pretty good. They were overwhelmed by the hoard of hungry guests who attacked the food like locusts. There were some items I never got to sample because they were just too popular. But the pot stickers were excellent! Not a bad deal, especially since lunch for the two of us totaled $8.64!

We trudged through the brutal sun back to our car and eventually made our way back to our room after losing our way for a bit. I-15 can be a bit of a maze going south. But we saw some interesting things...

Back at the room I did some laundry (love the washer/dryer) and we relaxed for a while. The air conditioner worked great! Soon it was time to catch a cab for the Mirage. (It was 102o! I wasn’t going to walk. So sue me!) The cab cost $10 with tip.

We had reservations for dinner at BB King as well as a coupon for a free appetizer. We met our friend and were seated immediately. The house band was just beginning to play.

I love the food at BB King. I especially enjoy the fried pickles and the Bloody Marys! We had a nice dinner ($66 for two with tip, after coupon!) and enjoyed the house band’s R&B and covers before we had to move on. We had tickets for Mystere at TI but we were running ahead of schedule so we put some coins in the machines at the Mirage. We lost. We left.

We took the tram to TI and arrived just as everyone was queuing up for the show. I went straight to the souvenir place and bought my mandatory show magnet. We said farewell to our friend who was off to explore on her own and got in line.

I really enjoyed Mystere. It is what I think of as classic Cirque – very heavy on acrobatics and other circus skills. The lady who did the silks (cloth trapeze work) was especially enthralling and the two men who did the hand-to-hand were amazingly talented. The clowns in this show were a bit more edgy than some I've seen but they were still very funny. They offered some big surprises. “Pa-pa”.

Our favorite place to sit is always the first row of the second section. There is usually a great deal of activity in the main aisle between the upper and lower sections that is fun to watch like the clowns and entrances and exits or marching characters. Everything about the show was perfect from a lovely theater to great seats to a wonderful show. I highly recommend it.

After the show we took the tram back to the Mirage and decided to take a cab ($11) from there to the Flamingo where we wandered around for a while. The casino was quite busy and we had trouble finding games we wanted to play. I finally snagged a Cheeseburger game and it broke my heart. DH didn’t do much better with his Martian’s game. After we lost over $200 between us it was time to head for the room.

For the trip we are up $220. It was a really great day all around. I can’t even pick a best part. We were in bed by 1 AM.

Wednesday, June 27th

We were up early again for another big day. At 7:30 we got our car and made the short trip to The Peppermill Inn, located at 2985 Las Vegas Blvd South. Everyone calls Peppermill “Vegas old school” but I think it’s more than that. This 24 hour diner offers cool blue and pink neon interiors with booth seating, potted plants and numerous flat screen TVs playing amazing slideshows of beautiful places around the world. It is glitzy and serene at the same time.

All the food items come in amazingly HUGE portions. The fewest eggs one can order is three! Their standard omelet is FIVE eggs! In fact, it is cheaper to order the huge platters than to order less food a la cart. All that being said, plan to share. Peppermill offers split plates.

The coffee was excellent and they had the best bacon EVER! The service was perfect and all the food was great but we felt it was a bit overpriced. Then again, it’s Vegas and if you plan to share it probably works out to be cost effective.

I liked the fact that their full menu is available 24 hours so you can have a burger for breakfast or an omelet for supper if you like. I didn’t have the fortitude to give their dessert menu more than a glance but the banana splits are legendary.

What we liked least was the booth seating. All the tables are attached to the floor. There are very few tables that will accommodate a person “of a size” and we were somewhat uncomfortable.

I enjoyed myself and the meal was great, if somewhat wasteful. I’d go back again but the DH says no, because of the seating. After our Peppermill experience it was time to head off for another adventure: Valley of Fire State Park.

We got on I-15 headed north but we didn’t get far before traffic came to a complete halt. I thought I was back in Houston at rush hour! We crept along for what felt like hours before we saw the cause of the delay. Apparently a large truck had overturned and caught on fire. They had the entire freeway closed down to just a shoulder while they dealt with the accident.

Once we were past the wreck the traffic returned to normal. We made a fuel stop and I had to take a picture of the big green dinosaur at the Sinclair station. We don’t have those in Houston any more.

Valley of Fire is about an hour north of Las Vegas. It is 55 miles from the Strip. There isn’t a lot of scenery on the way. I can tell you that deserts in the summer are...brown. We did see the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the way out. I didn’t realize it was so far out of town.

The admission to the park is $10 per vehicle and it is well worth it. The park is very well maintained. There are some very stunning views along the drive and numerous photo opportunities. Hint: Be sure to clean your windshield before entering the park. It makes for better “on the fly” photos!

As we wound our way through the park we took pictures of fascinating rock formations – the bright red and stark white sandstone have eroded into magical shapes - and long vistas toward the mountains. There are pieces of petrified wood and petroglyphs and even some cabins that were built during the Depression by the CCC.

When we stopped at the Visitor Center it was 107 degrees. Let’s just say that’s HOT. As we stood on the sidewalk in the shade, taking a picture, a man wanted to get past us but he refused to step around because that would put him in the sun. He waited. It was that hot!

The Visitor Center has some interesting information and displays. They also have bathrooms and nice cool water! There is a great deal to take in and we left whole areas of the park unvisited. I’d like to go back again but definitely in a cooler month.

We exited the park on the opposite side and headed down Lakeshore Road for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. There is a $10.00 per vehicle fee to enter the area but it is a worthwhile drive.

Our first stop was at Stewart’s Point which was really just a long drive down a gravel road to see a bunch of seasonal residences and some water. It was marginally interesting. Next we drove down to Callville Bay and had a look at their marina. From the top of the hill we had excellent views of the marina and the lake beyond as we rested beneath some shade trees. It’s a beautiful area and we enjoyed the break. Callville Bay Marina is one of the places recommended on TripAdvisor for a lunch stop but we weren’t hungry at that point.

We decided to head back into town and I took advantage of Onstar to get us directly there. On the way we saw a subdivision that looked like an oasis in the wilderness – a very expensive golf oasis! We also watched a dust devil in the distance as it danced across the empty plain.

We got back to the hotel about 2:30 and had just enough time to get cleaned up and get over to the MGM to claim our tickets for KA. We took a cab ($14 w/tip) and were there in no time. With tickets in hand we decided we needed a snack so we visited the infamous MGM food court where we risked life and limb for a hot dog. The place was crazy busy. I’m not sure the hot dog was worth the price and the chaos but it was an adventure.

Before long our friend met us and we wandered around a bit and of course bought my mandatory show magnet while waiting for show time. There is a huge amount of construction going on inside the MGM. Add to that a very large convention or two and the atmosphere was cramped and hectic. I wouldn’t have stayed if it weren’t for the show.

KA was absolutely incredible. The theater is impressive on its own but the way they make use of all of it as part of the show is stunning. The mechanics of the moving stage and the technical theater aspects of the production really caught my fancy. There were also some incredible performers; in particular, the brothers who do the Wheel of Death are just amazing! I was blown away by the whole show.

We teetered out of the theater with visions of magic still swimming in our brains and made our way across the aisle to Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill where we had dinner reservations. I am so glad I selected this restaurant! It was wonderful.

We were seated immediately in a comfortable booth and the great service commenced. We started with the signature Truffled Potato Chips with Maytag Bleu Cheese Dressing and they were delicious.

I had the meatloaf – yes, meatloaf! – and it was fabulous. The DH had liver and onions and it was perfectly done. Even I thought it tasted good and I hate liver! Our friend had the pasta special and said it was to die for. All in all dinner cost $146 for three. I thought that was a fair price for an excellent experience.

We gambled for a bit at the MGM but I quickly lost $160, DH lost $60 and that made us all even for the trip again. We decided to head over to the Aria to check out our friend’s room since we’ve never stayed there. We tried to walk but the route is messed up by construction so we gave up and took a cab that cost us $8.

The Aria is nice in a very modern sort of way. I’m not sure I care for the scent that is pervasive in all MLife properties these days. It is very strong. The configuration of the room hallways is odd since they cross like an X in the middle and the walk from the elevators can be quite long. The rooms are ultramodern and have many high tech amenities. I liked the powered curtains. It is obvious that a power outage would cause major problems. But it was nice and the room seemed comfortable.

We staggered back down to the casino and made our way out to the exiting taxi stand, which is in a different part of the hotel from the arriving taxi stand, and took a cab back to our hotel ($10). We were in bed by 1:30 am.

Thursday, June 28th

We got up again at 7:15 and took care of some chores. (Made breakfast, more laundry, etc.) We had agreed to a presentation in exchange for a limo ride and a gift. We were met by the limo at 11:15 and took a drive down the Strip to the Hilton GVC on the Strip, where we stayed the last time we were in town.

I am not a big fan of that property and this visit didn’t improve my opinion. We listened politely and took a tour of a newly renovated suite and then I told them we much preferred where we are staying, thank you. We were awarded with a gift card for $100 in dining credit to a group of 40 different restaurants and returned to our hotel in the limo.

Dining credit in hand I avidly searched the list for where we wanted to dine that night. I settled on the Voodoo Steakhouse at the Rio. We haven’t been there in at least 10 years but I remembered it as wonderful. We made a reservation through our concierge.

We headed over to the Flamingo for a light lunch and some gambling. We sat at the counter at Johnny Rockets and had a very nice burger and then looked for a machine to feed our money into. Once again I quickly lost $60 and DH broke even. How does he do that?

We took a cab to the Rio ($12) and wandered around a bit before settling in to gamble some more. We tried several slot machines we haven’t played before but we were decidedly unsuccessful. When we gave up I was down $150 for the trip and DH was down $8.50! I think he stole what little luck I had.

We watched the Show in the Sky but it just isn’t what it used to be. There are only a couple of floats. I did catch some beads though so it wasn’t a total loss. I had the chance to watch the bartenders show from a distance and it was fairly entertaining. Probably more so to the folks who got the free shots!

We shopped for trinkets in their few shops and it was time for our dinner reservations. We headed up to the 50th floor to the Voodoo Steakhouse.

We were seated immediately at a window table with a gorgeous view of the glittering city. I started with a cappuccino martini that was just fantastic. I had the Lobster Bisque followed by the “Voodoo Ménage a Trois” – lobster, petit filet mignon and prawns. It was simply perfect. DH had an excellent steak as well.

The service was wonderful and the atmosphere was comfortable. We had a lovely time. The tab was $138.46. After the $100 dining certificate and tip, I paid $60.46 for a first class dinner. It was so nice to know that a restaurant that we remembered fondly was still providing an excellent experience.

They invited us to go out onto the balcony or up to the Voodoo Lounge (bypassing the cover charge). We did go out to the balcony and I snapped a couple of pictures of the beautiful skyline before my fear of heights forced me back inside. No way was I climbing the outdoor spiral staircase!

We took a cab to Caesar’s ($12) to meet our friend who had ducked out of her conference’s closing night dinner. Our plan was for drinks at Shadow Bar but we hit the slots first. I lost. The music at Shadow Bar was just too jarring for my old bones and made conversation impossible so we made our way over to the very busy lobby bar and found a table. I had an exceptionally strong Cosmo. It was so good in fact that I had two!

After a while I was starting to nod. We said goodnight to our friend and cabbed back to our hotel ($10 with tip). We were in bed by 1:30 am. Gambling stats for the trip: I’m down $140. DH down $28.50.

Friday, June 29th

We were up at 5:30 am and none too happy about it but we were in for a long day. We got our car at 6:30 and headed to pick up our friend at the Aria. She was checking out. The luggage transfer was made very quickly and we were off.

We headed off to breakfast at the Hash House a Go Go location on Sahara Ave. We were there just after 7:00 but learned they don’t open until 7:30 so we dashed off to find a WalMart to replace our cooler. Mission accomplished! We made it back just after they opened.

This location is a bit more laid back than the one at the IP for some reason but the menu and decor are much the same. I ordered the bacon waffle – no syrup – and was very pleased with the huge, bacon stuffed pillow of perfection. Even embedded in the waffle the bacon was still crisp.

The DH had a giant pancake; the size of a hubcap, while our friend had a spinach omelet. The total tab for three was $38 plus tip! Can’t beat that. It was a great breakfast!

We piled back into the car and headed out of town. We drove to Death Valley via Pahrump, Nevada to tour for the day. It’s not a bad drive at about 2 hours. There is a roadside kiosk where you stop to pay the $20 per car admission fee for Death Valley National Park.

The park itself is very easy to navigate. The scenery is ever changing. There are some amazing sights and many places to pull off and walk a short distance for breathtaking views. We only had time for one big loop from Pahrump to Furnace Creek, down Badwater Road to Shoshone and back to Pahrump. It made for a good tour.

The first place we stopped was Zabriskie Point where we climbed a fairly steep hill to gaze out on the wild, yellow badlands. It is an impressive sight. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the climb but I made it all the way. I even made it back down, amazingly, before collapsing into the car and begging for water. The sun was fierce.

We drove on to Furnace Creek where we saw the Inn and took some good pictures of Twenty mule team wagons and such. Regular gasoline was $5.35 at their station!!! Supply and demand.

Our next stop was at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. They have some very interesting information available and are eager to answer questions. I was pleasantly surprised at their covered parking. Of course, I understood the need!

Driving on, we were watching the elevation and the temperature. Death Valley is miles and miles of miles and miles and there weren’t many folks on the road! We took the scenic loop called Artist’s Drive which included Artist’s Point and Artist’s Palette. The loop is a nine mile, one way paved road with many dips and turns. The rocks are multi-colored; greens, pinks, yellows, etc. and quite amazing. I read that the colors are the result of volcanic and sedimentary action. Artist’s Palette does look like a palette dabbed with many colors.

We had been traveling beside a huge expanse of bare white for some time when we came to the Badwater parking area. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the continental US at 282 feet below sea level! The white salt flats are five miles across and look like they should be on another planet.

There was a good breeze blowing. Getting out of the car was like stepping into a blast furnace. At 11:00am it was 114 degrees! The sun was beating down. I was trying to figure out how to stand in my own shadow because it was the only shade around.

The basin can become a lake after heavy rains but there is a small trickle of water – pretty much a puddle – there all the time. I understand that the water is so mineral rich that it would kill a person. I can’t think of too many other places I’ve seen that were more foreboding than Badwater.

We continued on and made our way to a small town called Shoshone where we got fuel. It was time to head back to Las Vegas even though we knew we had only touched the surface of Death Valley. We made good time and got back to our room at 5:00pm. What a great day! But it wasn’t over yet.

We had made dinner reservations at Casa di Amore, a lovely Italian restaurant we had discovered on our last visit, and arranged for their complimentary limo. The limo picked us up promptly at 7:45pm.

Dinner was divine! We started with Fried Calamari and I had a cup of their Pasta Fagioli soup. The soup was a bit strange but good. My entre was Pasta Alla Rafaelia; bowtie pasta with prosciutto and green peas in a creamy cheese sauce. It was exceptional.

Our favorite lounge singer was still there and in fine form. If I don’t look at him I could swear I’m listening to Sinatra. He has a great sense of humor too.

One of the things we love about Casa di Amore is the people. Everyone is friendly, the service is superb and they check on you frequently without being intrusive; even the singer came to ask if we had any requests. It seems as though everyone who enters the building is instantly in a pleasant and festive mood. What a great atmosphere.

Once we were finished the limo whisked us back to the hotel. It was about 10:00 pm and our last night in Vegas! We had every intention of going out on the town...until we sat down.

I was tired, we still had to pack, we had another early day in the morning and it was going to be a long day of driving. My tummy was full and I decided I just wanted to curl up around it and go to sleep. I noted a grateful look on the faces of my companions at that declaration! So we turned in for the night at midnight.

Houston, Texas
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3. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

PART 3: The Journey Home

Saturday, June 30th

We arose unwillingly at 6:00 am and prepared to check out of our suite. It was sad to leave but the open road beckoned. We decided on Black Bear Diner for breakfast and our friend enjoyed it as much as we had the first time. Good food!

We headed out for Arizona and didn’t have any problems with navigation. Our first stop was in Kingman, Arizona where we caught Route 66. We had always wanted to drive the “Mother Road” and this was our opportunity. There’s just something magical about driving Route 66. I can’t explain it.

We found a couple of places to pull over and take pictures. One place had a collection of antique cars and stuff that caught our eye. We stopped in Peach Springs and kept an eye out for their famed wild burros but never saw one.

Before long we arrived in Seligman, Arizona, the town purported to be the model for Radiator Springs in the movie Cars. They certainly take advantage of the comparison. All over the main drag there are old vehicles with eyes and teeth painted on.

The historic section of the town is a nice collection of souvenir shops, motels, cafes and other businesses. We had fun going through some of the shops. We even picked up some Route 66 souvenirs.

I had my sights set on lunch at Delgado’s Snowcap, an ice cream-turned-burger place I had read about and thought sounded fun. I didn’t realize that their only available seating is outdoors but the area was covered and there was a breeze so it was fairly pleasant.

The guys inside were a hoot...and they knew it. The man who took my order was full of jokes and one liners but I really enjoyed it. Our food was not long in coming and it tasted really good. Two of us had a burger and fries with iced tea while the third tried the tacos and pronounced them good. I thought it was a worthwhile stop.

We continued on, leaving Route 66 for the Interstate. I can say with all sincerity that Phoenix is difficult to navigate and I don’t care for their freeway system! The town is attractive however.

It was getting late and we had reached the point where our fannies didn’t want to be in the car one more second (and neither did the rest of us!). The roads had gotten smaller and we had gone through many small towns. At last we arrived at our destination for the night – Tombstone. (Insert twangy, ominous western music here.)

We found our hotel, Trail Rider’s Inn, with little difficulty. It was a relief to pull into a parking place. It was about 7:30 pm. Long drive!

Doing business with Trail Rider's Inn is a laidback affair. When I made the reservation I wasn't given a confirmation number or anything which made me a tad nervous. When I called en route to let them know we were running late they said they'd leave a light on for us and the key in the room, which was nice. We arrived moments before the office closed for the night but the owner ran my credit card, gave me a key and suggested we rush over to have dinner before all the restaurants closed for the night. So we rushed out to have dinner without looking at the room first.

The innkeeper had suggested the Crystal Palace. We got there just as they quite serving dinner (8pm) but the live band was ramping up, the crowd was in a dancing mood and they offered us pizza; intimating that there wasn’t another restaurant available.

I wasn’t interested in pizza served in a saloon with a loud band as accompaniment so we left but not before the nice young man had told us no matter what, we shouldn’t go across the street to the Longhorn because it was the worst food ever. So of course, we went there.

There hadn’t seemed to be another option. I learned later that there was indeed another restaurant still serving a block away but I guess the Crystal Palace folks didn’t want us to know about that either. Not nice.

The folks at the Longhorn greeted us and offered us a table right away. There weren’t many folks dining but it filled up while we were there. The menu was basic American. I had a chopped steak and mashed potatoes and it wasn’t Cordon Bleu by any means but it was good and the price was reasonable. I was still annoyed with the guy at Crystal Palace when we left.

When we returned to our motel, Room #1, we found a nice, clean room of a decent size that could have served as an oven. No one had turned on the tiny AC unit and it had been over 102 that day. Great.

The room boasted a tiny television with two channels, a tiny refrigerator and a tiny microwave. Those items were all functional and really didn't matter. The two beds were quite comfortable and the plumbing worked great. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning in the bathroom. At all. But they have an impressive heating system. Go figure.

Most of our evening was spent in sweaty discomfort. Even with a ceiling fan the room would not cool down. I soon understood why so many folks were sitting outside on the porch when we arrived.

The property is quaint in a 1950's motor court sort of way. They do have a great pool. The owners are very nice and obviously work hard. They were busy cleaning rooms when we prepared to leave the next morning so I just left our room key on the counter.

They offer a sort of continental breakfast set out on the porch each morning which consists of hardboiled eggs, donuts, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. It is a nice extra.

Overall, the room is a good value for the money, $85 per night. I could wish they would turn on the air conditioning before guests arrive but I suppose they are trying to save money too. I would recommend the Trail Rider Inn - in the winter!

Sunday, July 1st

I was ready to see Tombstone! We drove the short distance to the OK Cafe for breakfast. What a great choice! The place was packed with locals and most of them were sporting period costumes. We soon learned that the majority of the town really gets into the history and most work in the tourist trade.

Breakfast was excellent and service was quick and friendly. Clean bathroom too!

We strolled out into the morning sun and headed for the OK Corral Museum. A $10 ticket includes the museum and its exterior displays, a souvenir newspaper from the Tombstone Epitaph, a showing of the Historama which is a film narrated by Vincent Price about the history of the town and their gunfight show. We thought it was a good deal.

The Historama is dated but does a great job of giving you a sense of the history. The exterior of the museum includes a blacksmith shop, various wagons, a photography studio and a couple of other buildings. The gunfight is put on by an all volunteer group and they do a good job. In addition to the famous shootout at the OK Corral they do some other vignettes about life in Tombstone including a bit about the “Soiled Doves”.

Our next stop was the Cochise County Courthouse which is now a national monument. The displays are excellent and very well laid out. It even included the county jail which was a simple iron cage about four feet square and tall enough to stand in! There is a great deal of information available.

There is no doubt that Tombstone’s primary focus is tourism. The historic district houses shops, restaurants, saloons, small museums and services. Numerous tours are available and you can board a wagon or stagecoach for a trip up and down the main area. And there is a gunfight on almost every corner...for a fee.

My favorite part of Tombstone was our tour of the Birdcage Theater. I had been tempted to skip it because the admission is $10 but when I walked into the lobby of the original and unimproved building I was sold. The old saloon/gambling hall/theater still sports peeling wallpaper, faded furnishings and bullet holes from the day. It is chock full of all manner of historical articles. You are allowed to go most anywhere and take all the photos you want.

The main room is the large theater with private boxes along both walls. I loved going up on stage and peering out at the room. Downstairs was the seedier side of the venue; high stakes gambling went on next to the rooms or “cribs” of the working girls – the soiled doves, as it were. It was all fascinating.

After some shopping and strolling we opted for a light snack at Big Nose Kate’s saloon. They were having quite a problem with flies and bees but the food was good – basic bar food – and the service was attentive. There was a piano player holding court and he was pretty good too. Just so you know, Big Nose Kate was Doc Holliday’s longtime companion and an infamous character in Tombstone.

We decided to leave about 3:00pm and get back on the road. We ended our time in Tombstone with a visit to Boot Hill since it’s on the way out of town. The historic cemetery is an impressive site; sitting quietly on the hillside. They request a donation for admission.

We got back to I-10 at last and headed east. It was getting harder and harder to sit in the car and we were tired.

At some point in this part of the trip we fell off the wagon, as it were. For the entire journey we had consumed bottled water, green tea and healthful snacks. We didn’t want to eat candy and junk. During a fuel stop on this leg all three of us marched into the store and bought junk. I got a Diet Coke and Bugles! And Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It was a dietary bloodbath.

We stopped for dinner in El Paso about 9:00pm. We found a Texas Roadhouse still serving – we thought that was poetic. Dinner was as good as the chain always provides. As we got back in the car we realized we still had the longest part of the trip to go.

Monday, July 2nd

It was a long night of tires on pavement. We changed drivers more often due to fatigue. But at last we hit the San Antonio city limits and it was time for a much anticipated break. I was so punchy at that point that I completely missed our exit and went several miles out of the way to approach our destination from the opposite side of town. But we got there. We parked the car at 8:00am and got out.

Whenever we’re in San Antonio we make a point of having a meal at Mi Tierra. Breakfast is the best meal to have there and they’re open 24 hours so breakfast can be anytime. We settled in to a lovely breakfast and lots of hot coffee.

All too soon it was time to get back in the @#$*&%^ car. (I love my car.) Only three more hours to go!

The rest of our trip was uneventful, thank heavens. Mostly I couldn’t stop nodding off. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

We arrived home at 12:30 pm, unpacked and went straight to bed.

It was unlike any trip to Vegas we’ve ever taken. It was a long trip. It was a good trip. Having a car in Vegas allowed us to visit places and do side trips we’ve never done before. I’m really glad we did it. Would I do it again? Yeah, probably.

Things we learned:

•Always pack plenty of water and snacks!

•The Grand Canyon is truly awe inspiring.

•Death Valley is also very impressive but came by its name very honestly.

•There are an awful lot of wind farms in Texas.

•There are an awful lot of trains moving east/west in the Southwestern US. There were some pretty big trains; hundreds of cars with six or more engines.

•A dust storm in the distance is an awesome sight.

•There IS such a thing as scenery overload. A person can only look at magnificent natural wonders for so long before beginning to go numb.

•Anyone who thinks the US is running out of space hasn’t been to the Southwest. There sure is a lot of open space out there.

•I do NOT enjoy being HOT! 114 degrees is HOT!!!

•Driving was actually more cost effective for three people than flying would have been considering airfare was running about $330 per person. We spent approximately $590 total in fuel and parking was free.

•We spent $93 in cab fare (which was an indulgence).

•We spent $47 in park entrance fees. Those were darned well worth it.

•Our total gambling losses: $168.50. That may be a personal best!

•Penny slot machines aren’t quite as evil as I’ve always thought but you have to pick one with a really cool bonus round – and the lowest possible max bet.

•I actually enjoy cheesy tourist traps.

•“Wildlife” in Arizona and Nevada are completely mythical. All those warnings about wild this and feral that and all I saw on the whole trip were a few tiny ground squirrels. I really wanted to see a wild burro! (Only kidding.)

•I picked the perfect group to travel with. We do it well.

•The Honda CRV is too narrow for comfortable reclining but it is a dependable and solid vehicle for a road trip. (I’m hoping Honda reads this and rewards me!)

•I love Vegas! (Oh, I already knew that.)

•3000+ miles in 9 days, several days of which did not include driving, is something of a forced march but we enjoyed it.

•Gotta start planning the next adventure!

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4. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

QOE, thanks for the very detailed, informative, and fun TR. Enjoyed it greatly!

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5. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Wow, fantastic QOE. Long read but I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It took you 28 hours between Houston and Las Vegas via GC. With several stops at the rim. That's app 57 mph for an average with the stops. That's pretty fast. Glad you enjoyed VoF, Red Rock and Death Valley. Its Northshore rd not Lakeside rd. Minor detail. That was a cool day in DV with 114F. Usually it gets over 120F ;) And that last part back home between El Paso and San Antonio is a killer after all those long drives before. Btw, we dislike those windturbines ruining the landscape, killing birds and running on the taxpayers money instead wind Just MHO. We hate them here. Newest are 700' tall. Yikes.

Glad you liked Tombstone and esp Bird Cage Theater. Step back in time and have you read those funny inscriptions at Boot Hill? The one for Lester/ No Les, No more.... and "We hanged him by mistake, we was wrong and he was right" etc etc.

Delgadillos always has a great show. You'll find wild burros in Oatman. Never seen them between Kingman and Seligman.

Happy travels!


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6. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Wow a lot of miles and a lot to see- thanks for the trip report!!

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7. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Great TR, especially the Vegas bits, (we have visited 16 times but still stuff in there I can try out.................other than being the cabbies best friend!!).

You should post that on the LV forum, those guys would love it, and it's different than many TRs found there as you left the Strip for your day trips, so ideas for others : ).....................edit, Ah, I see you already have!

Can't say I'd fancy all the overnight driving, even to bypass the less exciting bits, but if it made your trip work then all's good.

Edited: 08 August 2012, 13:22
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8. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Thanks for all the kind words! And thanks for the corrections/additional info, Tet14. Good to know.

I was halfway kidding about the burros. It became a running joke for us.

I can't say enough about the Bird Cage Theater. It was just amazing.

This was definitely a different sort of Vegas trip for us but I liked it. It was great to take the day trips and see more of the area.

It's a good thing my DH works overnights or we would never have been able to drive al night like we did. It was prime awake time for him so he marshalled on while I napped.

Happy trails!

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9. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

Great report! I will be making a similar trip from Corpus very soon, and looking forward to seeing some of the things you talked about, especially the parks close to Vegas.

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10. Re: Trip Report: Roundtrip Houston to Las Vegas in 9 Days

QOE, Wonderful trip report, and fun to read. Death Valley is someplace that I would love to visit. I could never handle the long overnight drives, but you and I share a common interest in clean bathrooms!