Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Arches National Park - Part Two - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview

Another early morning.  Dave rope-dropped the hotel’s free breakfast and found they only served instant coffee out of a machine. Yuck!   Good news:  they had Froot Loops.

There was no line to get into the park at 6:30AM, and no admission to pay either.  We made our way passed the turn off for The Windows to see the back-half of the park, starting with Delicate Arch.   

The lot was already getting full with people making the trek up to the arch.  We decided not to do the hike for two reasons:  The guide map listed the hike as strenuous and we were not confident in our abilities yet, and we had a tour later in the day and wanted to make sure we fit everything into the day. Fortunately there was a real short hike to view the arch from a distance and as a bonus there were petroglyphs in the area.   Delicate Arch is on the Utah license plate and kinda the unofficial symbol of the state.  

More from Holly in Nature series

There were people milling around the arch.  Dave erased them for the photo.

Following the main road we made our way to the Fiery Furnace viewpoint.  The GyPSi guide told us about guided tours through the maze of rock stacks.  Sounded fun for another trip.   After that, we stopped to take a 2+ mile round trip walk to Sand Arch and Broken Arch. 

Sand Arch

Broken Arch

On the way out we saw Skyline Arch before making our way to Devil’s Garden.   This was a fun area to spend a bit of time in.   Hikers walk in through a narrow pass in two large rocks.  The path goes up and down some rolling hills with some stunning sites along the way.  Our favorite was Landscape Arch.

Skyline Arch

Landscape Arch

Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch

After that tour we headed into town and checked in early for our afternoon tour with Navtec.  We trusted the person working the desk for a local’s lunch recco: Love Muffin Cafe.  The coffeehouse/sandwich shop made everything from scratch.  Holly’s turkey sandwich was real carved turkey - not cold cuts.  

A few weeks before leaving home we booked a 4x4 trek through the back portion of Arches. Navtec usually picks up guests from their hotels.  We decided to go to their office to save time.   Our driver was a little late but no big deal.  After getting in the Jeep we went to the gas station so he could fill up and then we picked up two more guests - a couple a little older than us from The O.C..   We had no idea that Arches had a very popular off-road section (in the top left section of the map on the top of the post).   We toured Marching Men, Tower Arch, and Eye of the Whale.  The guide showed us some preserved dinosaur foot prints.

Dinosaur track

One thing we learned from our guide: 401(K)s and IRAs are important.  He told us he spent his whole life in nature as a guide and generally hiking and camping.  Now in his 70’s he needed to keep working just to clear a few bucks each month.  

We ran into a few drizzles but the skies in the distance made it look worse. 

The guide must have liked us because he got us back to town much later than we were supposed to finish our tour.   After a quick cleanup we checked out Eddie McStiff’s for a beer.  There were 8-10 Utah beers on tap and, as a bonus, The Force Awakens was on TV.   Dinner tonight was at Antica Forma - a wood-fired pizza place.  We made reservations earlier in the day but decided to take a few empty bar seats.   More Utah beers on tap.  We had some great pizzas, including one with pistachios.   After dinner we went to the BBQ joint next to our hotel for a prickly pear (cactus fruit) margarita.  Our guide said they made a good one....   We’d say they made an okay one.  Here’s where Utah needs to get with the times.  Mixed drinks get a measured shot of liquor and that’s it.  When pouring into everywhere-else sized glasses you get a bad mix/liquor ratio and everything ends up tart and sweet.  Stick with beer.

That put a wrap on our visit to Arches and Moab.   The next morning we would be on our way to Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and our glamping experience.  

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Arches National Park - Part One - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

We arrived in Moab around 4pm after driving around 7 hours from Las Vegas.   We decided to do Arches first during this week-long trip so we would not be so far from the airport (we were flying out of Las Vegas) and we could let the Memorial Weekend crowds settle down a bit at the more popular (and easily accessible) Zion and Bryce.

Dave expected the town of Moab to be a lot like Sedona, AZ.   Nope, nothing like it.   There were a few nice stores and restaurants here-and-there, but overall some of the buildings in the area seemed a little worn-down and less formal.  We chose to spend our two nights in town at the Moab Valley Inn.  It's very unlike us to not pick a branded hotel when available since we chase loyalty points.  In Moab the branded hotels are mostly on the outskirts of downtown.   The Moab Valley Inn was conveniently located across the street from Moab Brewing.   The Inn was ok.  We had a clean room that needed an overhaul, but the staff was friendly.

We were hoping to make it to the Visitor Center before 5pm closing.   That didn't happen because the line to get into the park was extremely long with many people taking too long to buy admission.  It would have been great if there was an annual pass express lane.

For our first few hours we were sticking with the first portion of the park taking the main road to Balanced Rock and then turning into The Windows section.
We used GyPSy Guide along the way to learn more about the sites we were visiting.   We really didn't know much about the area and went in with little expectations.   The first few sites had easy-to-navigate parking lots.   The main attractions of The Windows and Double Arches were a different story.   This area is where folks lingered.  Surprising fact - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade's opening scene was filmed here.

Most of the landscape was filled with desert rock and scrubby looking bushes with a few large red rock mountains thrown in for fun.  We had a great time exploring the first section of the park before calling it quits and heading back to the brewery for dinner and drinks after a long day on the road.

We stared at the happy camel rock for a 1/2 hour while waiting to get to the admission booth

Arrived 3 minutes after closing time
Park Avenue

There are over 2,000 identified arches in the park and more are being discovered (or formed).

The Windows from a distance

Balanced Rock


Turret Arch

Double Arch

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019 - Las Vegas and Kolob Canyon

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview
Canyonlands/Capitol Reef Part One
Capitol Reef Part Two and Grand Staircase-Escalante
Bryce Canyon
Zion National Park

The foundation for our Memorial Week vacation was built back in November when tickets went on sale for Barry Manilow's show at The Westgate in Las Vegas.  Holly has been a lifelong fan and wanted to be sure she saw him perform one more time now that he is 75.   What made it even better is we scored 2nd row-center seats.

Now all that was left was building a trip around the show.  We floated around ideas like Palm Springs and the nearby National Parks, extending time in Las Vegas and the surrounding area, but ended up landing on the Southern Utah National Parks to fill our week. 

First thing we asked ourselves was "Who are we?"  We enjoyed our time in National Parks over the last few years while Holly completed running a marathon in every state, but those were 1/2 day or one full day visits.   This was a full seven days that would come with a lot of windshield time.   Part of our rationale was let's get some more active touring out of the way while we still have mobility freedom.   Parks and hiking can be tough for some folks that can't get around so easily.   Also, we are pretty good at sitting on beaches and around hotel pools so we thought it was time to try something different.  If it sucked it was only one week out of our lives.    Believe us, we kept questioning our choices as time got closer and Dave was constantly evaluating alternatives with Vegas as the start/end point.  But we stuck with it and had an incredible trip.

The itinerary (colors indicate drive day and match the route drawn on the map):

Friday night - Sunday morning: Las Vegas
Sunday:  Drive to Moab, stop at Zion's Kolob Canyon on the way, visit Arches National Park
Monday: Arches NP - Morning on our own and afternoon 4x4 tour
Tuesday: Canyonlands NP (north portion only), Capitol Reef NP, night in Torrey in a Conestoga Wagon
Wednesday: Capitol Reef NP morning, scenic Route 12, Bryce Canyon NP
Thursday: Bryce Canyon NP
Friday: Zion NP
Saturday: Zion NP, horse ride
Sunday: Drive to Vegas and spend some time casino touring before the flight home

We picked the rental up from the Las Vegas airport (tip - the rental center is so far from the terminal so allow extra time) and drove directly to the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.  This was Holly's first visit to Las Vegas so we wanted to make sure we got a few touristy things worked in.

We originally booked The Paris Hotel but then realized for the same price we could stay next door (as next door as it gets in Vegas) at the Hilton Elara and earn major Hilton Honors points (and free parking).  It was attached to the mall shared by the Planet Hollywood Casino.   Disney fans will appreciate we had a Monorail view room facing south towards Mandalay Bay.  

Our first stop was Sin City Brewing's mall stand for a walkie.  We fought our way through the crowded Friday strip to the Bellagio Fountain show before grabbing a Lyft over to Fremont Street and old Las Vegas.  A free Blink 182 show was going to take place tonight in the center of the Fremont Experience so we did some quick casino touring and caught the early light show before playing a few games and having dinner at Lillie's Asian in The Golden Nugget.

We fought the Saturday morning breakfast crowds at Hash House a Go-Go in the Linq before heading over the The Venetian to tour the mall.  That turned into about an hour of gambling yielding near break-even returns.    Ubering out of The Venetian is a nightmare because of their setup so we don't suggest it.  Our car was taking us off-strip to Frankie's Tiki Room - a bar Dave has wanted to visit for over 8 years.   When we pulled up to the windowless building with an empty parking lot (at around noon) the driver offered to hang around while we checked it out.   It was open (24/7 as advertised) and it was a tiki bar dream (except for the smoke).  Dank, lots of wood carvings, hanging glass balls for lamps, an exotica music jukebox, and kitschy film clips on the TV.   As our time there went on the crowd started to build, keeping the lone employee/bartender occupied.   We ended up mail ordering a tiki mug and t-shirt from their website to save us room in the luggage.  Two drinks in meant it was time to find food. 

We caught a Lyft back towards our hotel and ended up at Cabo Wabo for lunch.   Not the most inspired choice but their was a seat available along the rail allowing us to watch all of humanity go by.  We spent a little time casino touring around Bellagio, Aria, and Cosmopolitan.  We found a good beer list at Holstein's in the Cosmopolitan.

We took the monorail over to The Westgate for the show.  We arrived early enough to browse the Barry Manilow shop, have a drink, and become less break-even on the slot machines.

Holly writes:
"When I heard Barry Manilow was going to start doing a residency in Vegas, I knew it was time for me to finally make the trip to Vegas.   Barry was one of the first concerts I saw and I have been a “Fanilow” ever since.   It has been a few years since I have seen him and I was really looking forward to the show.   Barry Manilow puts on an amazing show.   We splurged for great tickets and I was really excited to be sitting in the second row, dead center.    We got to the theater a bit early and I’m glad we did because they had a Copacabana bar with souvenir drinks.   I got the Made it through the Champagne drink, a clever parody of his hit “ I Made It Through the Rain”.   It came in a cool light up glass.   We made it to our seats and I couldn’t believe how close to the stage we were.  This was going to be good! 

Barry came out to start the show and I couldn’t believe how close I was to him.   I immediately started crying!    It was pretty embarrassing.   I was just so blown away that he was right there, my favorite performer.    He sang all the hits and he still sounds as good as ever.   He danced and moved around the stage just like always and he’s not a young man any longer, but you would never know it.    The big finale is Copacabana and it was amazing: show girls, the stage raised up so he could be up close to the people in the balcony, confetti, an amazing outfit on Barry, it was a true Vegas show experience.     I was still crying at the end and so thankful that I got to see him so close.   I now want to go back again!"

After the show we hopped on the Monorail to head back to Paris.  Before our dinner in the Eiffel Tower we spent some time gambling and enjoying the live band on the casino floor.   We got ourselves in the black enough to buy a 6-pack of craft beer.  Dinner at the Eiffel Tower was a little lack-luster.  We were dead center in the middle of the room and had to crane our necks to get some sort of view and the food should have been better for the price.   One thing we can tell you is their chef likes his salt.


The alarm went off early on Sunday.  We wanted to have some time in Arches National Park this day and expected about seven hours of driving.  Dave has always wanted to drive down one of those long desert roads with nothing in sight for miles - and he got his wish.  

It seemed every 40 miles or so the landscape changed. Within a couple of hours we passed through St. George, Utah and turned off to enter Kolob Canyon, the north section of Zion National Park.   It was bizarre because you did not expect to see such a dramatic change in the scenery taking a few turns up the mountain road.  We tried not to dilly on the short hike to the lookout but it was hard not to stop and take a few more photos.

Look for more pictures of Holly walking through nature in future posts.

The rest of the drive was uneventful.  We ended up in Moab around 4pm, checked-in to the hotel, then headed over to Arches.   We'll cover Arches/Moab in our next post.