National Parks and Canyons Vacation

Yo, yo, yo!  I’m back from vacation.  Did you miss me?  My husband and I went on a road trip out west to visit some of the national parks and canyons.  When I say road trip, I mean we did a lot of driving… 1,923 miles to be exact.  We had an amazing time and of course I’m sharing what we did.  This was a lot like our other road trips except we had to fly to the starting point this time.  It worked out way better than driving to the starting point.

We flew into Las Vegas, Nevada and stayed at the Bellagio Hotel.  My husband loves the movie Ocean’s Eleven and the Bellagio is where several of the scenes are, so we went for it.  Overall it is a nice hotel but we didn’t feel that it was worth the money.  The gym was the best I’ve visited though.  Yes, I still try to work out even on vacation.  The lobby was adorably decorated for the season.  My boo took the picture below.

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We left the next morning and drove to Mammoth Lakes, California.  Now that was… interesting.  I will never again complain that we live out in the middle of nowhere at our house.  Ever.  (We live about a 15 to 20 minute drive to anything useful, like a grocery store or gas station.)  There were points in the trip when we wouldn’t see anything for a good hour.  Nothing.  No signs of life.  Just the rolling desert, an occasional cactus or tuft of dried out grass, or a mountain on the horizon.  At one point the nav told us to turn left off of the lonely highway we were on and onto a smaller road.  We drove 38 miles before the next instruction and during that time we counted only 19 cars.  Crazy talk.

We spent one night in Mammoth Lakes at over 8,000 feet elevation surrounded by fragrant pine trees and icy cold air.  (It went down into the 20’s in early October.)  Can you tell what I’m standing next to, in the pic below?  That’s the snow marker so the plows know where to stop!  Holy marker, batman.

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The next morning we drove through Yosemite National Park in California.  It is beyond beautiful.

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Every twist and turn lead you to an entirely different picturesque view.  We went through countless switchbacks in the road, up to almost 10,000 feet, and back down the other way.  We even saw a lake up in the mountains surrounded by more mountains with snow on them.  The below picture is my lame attempt at a selfie but it was the only shot we got with the two of us in it.  Neither one of us were willing to hand off our cameras or cell phones to a stranger for a shot.

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Once we popped back out of the park on the other side, we stopped at Tayana Lodge which was our home base for relaxing for the next two nights.  Hey, even on a road trip you need to just chill from time to time.

Then we drove to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park which is the home to the biggest tree in the world, the General Sherman tree.  Words cannot express how ginormous that tree is.  What’s funny is that it’s not the only one.  Sure, it’s the biggest, but there are tons of other trees that are just unbelievably huge too.  This was my husband’s favorite part of our vacation.  The tree I’m hugging in the picture below is over 200 feet tall (and it’s NOT General Sherman!), so it’s tall too, not just big around.  I felt like an ant.

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In the picture below my husband is looking straight up into the sky just to photograph the tops of these trees.  We have lots of trees in Connecticut, but these are truly a wondrous sight and one that I will surely never forget.

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We stayed at Wuksachi Lodge right in the park for two nights.  If you are going to see lots of things in Sequoia Park, I highly recommend staying IN the park.  It makes doing them way easier as the park is huge and driving in and out of it over and over would be really tedious.

Can we talk about high elevation living for a moment?  With the exception of Vegas, all of our stops were over 5,000 feet elevation.  We read that you could have some side effects if you’re not used to it and I thought that was… silly.  We’d be fine.  Well, we were fine but we often got winded while we walked around and we also slept pretty crappy.

After leaving the sequoias behind on one of the nuttiest roads anywhere we headed over to Barstow, California.  It was just a stop-over on our way to Arizona because the drive would have been way too long to do all at once.  By this point we had driven through hundreds of miles of desert and needed a break.  For some reason, I expected the desert to look similar to the Sahara Desert, like something out of the movie, The Mummy.  Boy was I ever wrong.  Instead it looked like the below picture.  Quite frankly, it was not pretty.  Not to mention that there was yet again, no signs of human life for miles and miles and miles.

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Guess what?  More desert.  Our next stop was Lake Havasu and was once again just a place to stop en route.  We learned two things here.  Number one, it’s hot.  No, really.  It’s freaking hot.  Still early October and the temperature was 98F.  Number two, it’s home to the London Bridge, as in the actual one, from London, England.  Whaaat?!  Here’s a history lesson for you… Robert P. McCulloch purchased it from England at an auction in 1968.  The bridge was taken down in pieces, shipped all the way across the ocean and a large part of the USA and was rebuilt in Lake Havasu City connecting to an island in the lake.  Since we drove over it a couple times, does that mean that we went to London too?  😉

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After a bit of studying the maps, we decided that we would go to Meteor Crater in Arizona before heading back to our actual destination for the day.  My husband loves astronomy and this was on his “must see” list for this trip.  After all, how often do you get to see a part of Earth where some astronomy crashed?  It’s the best preserved meteorite impact site on earth.  To be honest, I thought my husband was nuts for wanting to drive 2 and 1/2 hours out to the middle of nowhere to see a “big hole”.  However, I was genuinely impressed with the site.  There is something about seeing this site in person that puts into perspective just how fragile our planet is.

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When we headed back out on the road again, we found the scenic overlook below.  Love.

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Our sites were set on the Grand Canyon, but the lodging out there isn’t that great.  Instead we stayed in Sedona, Arizona because we found The Enchantment Resort nestled in Boynton, Canyon.  It’s sort of like a mini-grand canyon but with super pretty red rocks, an adorable little town, and a pleasant scent from the trees or bushes that I couldn’t quite identify.  Also, unlike the Grand Canyon, the lodging was IN the canyon because they are allowed to do that in Sedona.  This stop was my favorite part of the vacation.

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I could have stayed there for a week, easily.  How could the below view get old?  It can’t.  In fact, I’ve already told my husband that I’d love to go back there one day, and it’s one of the only places we’ve ever visited where I could picture moving to in retirement.  (If I could ever convince myself to give up the Northeast that is.)

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Two more days of relaxing in beautiful Sedona and it was off to the Grand Canyon National Park.  As it turns out, this was our least favorite part of the vacation.  Neither of us would have called that one.  In fact, we down right did not like it.  We went off peak and almost every parking lot they provided to catch a view of the canyon was packed literally to over-full.  We’d drive around a few times hoping we’d catch someone leaving but we were not successful most of the time.  Either we’d leave after a bit of frustrated swearing or my husband would run out and take pictures (like the panorama picture below) while I circled the parking lot waiting for him to return.  If you were lucky to be able to find a parking spot, we didn’t find the views to be nearly as impressive as we had both built it up to be in our heads or as beautiful as anything we’d seen on our vacation leading up to it.  Keep in mind that doesn’t mean the views were bad, just not what we’d hoped for and the parking situation didn’t help.

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After a frustrating drive through a forest that was strangely referred to as Desert View Drive and was supposed to be full of views of the Grand Canyon, but was mostly just parking lots that were full, we started our trek back to Las Vegas.  On the way there was the Hoover Dam.  It’s an impressive piece of engineering and was free to drive around and see.  (Parking and tours cost money, but we arrived a bit too late in the day to bother with either of those.)

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Finally safely back in Las Vegas, we battled our way through a city that was under construction where both nav and street signs seem to be laid out to confuse out-of-towners.  The heart of the Vegas strip reminds me of a smaller version of Times Square in NYC.

Our destination this time was the Aria Resort and Casino.  We figured we aren’t really the Las Vegas type of people so we were unlikely to return with any frequency and that meant we should stay in two different hotels while we were there.  We also visited some of the near by casinos and found all of the various themes they presented to be both interesting and amusing.

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Phew, that was a lot.  Did you get all that?  Sorry it was a longer post than usual, but we saw a lot and I simply had to share.  Overall, we had an amazing time.  We are glad to be back home but we are so not ready to get back to reality.  I guess it has to happen at some point.  😉

 

Comments

  1. Ashley says:

    Goodness that is a lot of miles!! haha But your vacation looks amazing!! My husband and I are hoping to get back out west at some point … we’ve been to vegas once but really more to just go hiking and all that good stuff!

    1. Tina says:

      Oh, it was amazing and I would absolutely recommend exploring the west! Let me know if you have any questions if you guys go. 🙂

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