If You See It Once You'll Never Be The Same Again
Trip Start Nov 20, 2003
7Trip End Dec 06, 2003
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Got a whole lotta money that's ready to burn so get those stakes up higher
There's a thousand pretty women waiting out there
They're all livin' a devil may care
And I'm just a devil with lovin' to spare so
VIVA LAS VEGAS!!
How I wish that there were more than twenty-four hours in a day
But even if there were forty more I wouldn't sleep a minute away
Oh there's blackjack and poker and the roulette wheel
A fortune won and lost on every deal
All you needs a stone heart and nerves of steel
VIVA LAS VEGAS!
Well, we didn't exactly do Las Vegas like Elvis did. For one thing he had his own suite at the International while we stayed at the Super 8. Cheap hotel rooms can usually be had on the Las Vegas strip during the week but we made the mistake of being in Vegas on a Friday night (during Thanksgiving weekend no less) so our best option was the Super 8 on Koval Lane. It's only a block off the strip behind Bally's so the location wasn't all that bad.
This was my fourth visit to the city that stands as a testament to the monstrosity of capitalism and it was quite fun to see it through Nadia's eyes as it was her first visit. On our first drive down the Strip she was mesmerized by the incredible size of the casinos and the money spent on their themes. She was especially taken with the pirate theme at Treasure Island as well as the giant golden lion at The MGM Grand.
Lunch was had at Fatburger. Fatburger is a small, chain of burger stands that were once owned by Magic Johnson. Recently his majority interest has been bought out by the family of the original founder of the restaurant and they are undergoing a rapid expansion. This is good news for burger fans as Fatburger is definitely the greatest of all chain fast food burgers and, in my mind, the purveyor of the second best burger of all-time (next to Reno, Nevada's Golden Nugget Diner's Awful Awful Burger)
Most of the day was spent walking up and down the Strip sight-seeing at each casino and keeping our eyes open for cheezy Vegas souvenirs (i.e. anything with Elvis on it). Originally we thought getting out of our hiking gear would feel good but the size of the casinos betrays just how far one has to walk to see everything on the Strip (and we didn't even manage that). By the end of the day we were both in pain. We should have kept our hiking boots on.
In the late afternoon we retired to our hotel room for a nap. As we hummed and hawed over where we should have dinner we ended up deciding upon calling a pizza joint and grabbing some beer from the 7-11. We just couldn't get up off the bed after spending most of the past week on our feet. The pizza was good (Nadia begs to differ though) and the beer was even better. Eventually we got up off our asses and headed over to Treasure Island to check our their trice nightly outdoor pirate show.
I had seen the show twice before in my visits to Las Vegas and while it was far from great entertainment I had enjoyed it
Afterwards we chose not to enter Treasure Island (as the show would have you intend) but instead crossed the street to The Venetian. This casino is a mock-up of Venice, Italy. At 7000 rooms it is the largest hotel in Las Vegas and thus it is most likely the largest hotel in the world. As well it is probably the best looking casino on the Strip. We had some drinks while playing the slots. Nadia assumed that her slot machine was broken because she didn't anything. Every dollar inserted into it quickly disappeared. I on the other hand managed to pot myself $20 by the time we got tired. We decided to stop while I was up $20 because "at least it pays for that shitty pizza we had for dinner."
The next morning we headed over to Harrah's for the best buffet in Vegas
The centerpiece of Harrah's Garden Market Buffet is the Bananas Foster dessert. Bananas Foster is basically bananas fried in brown sugar usually one eats it with vanilla ice cream. On this occasion Nadia discovered a dessert that might trump even this sweetest of concoctions. If you're ever at Harrah's please save room for the coconut cream pie.
We then walked off our meal (the only meal of this particular day) by heading over down the Strip for once last look. We blew some more money at Nadia's favourite casino The Bellagio while having a couple of drinks but it was time to start moving eastward. We hopped in the car, endured a huge traffic jam, and were soon standing on top of the Hoover Dam. The rest of the evening was spent speeding across Arizona to Flagstaff where we bedded down at a motel.
Since the next day was Sunday Nadia declared it "the day of rest." We lazed about the motel room watching old movies on AMC. Unfortunately we were wasting the warmest day of the trip. Once we finally left the room we discovered that we could actually wear short sleeves! Liberation from sweaters and layering, hoorah! From Flagstaff is was another short trip eastward along I-40. I-40 basically follows the old Route 66 route and we stopped a couple times to photograph some abandoned way stations along the highway
Soon you come to Holbrook which is the town that acts as the gateway to Petrified Forest National Park. In town we discovered the incredibly homey and downright tasty Mr.Maesta's Restaurant. If you're ever here stick with the authentic Mexican selections as they are dynamite.
Unfortunately for the Petrified Forest we did those spectacular parks in Utah first. While it was kind of interesting to see these crystal rocks that once were ancient trees scattered about the desert, we both ended up feeling a little bored. The best part of this park was that once you took a few steps away from the road you felt like you in the middle of nowhere. Nadia kept envisioning a herd of raptors (the dinosaur not the mediocre basketball team) appearing on the stark horizon. We finished the day watching a stunning sunset from Blue Mesa. Interestingly, because people steal about 10 tons of petrified wood from the park each year the security in pretty tight here. The park closes when the sun goes down and we witnessed quite a few park rangers ensuring the park was devoid of visitors as they locked up the gates to the various routes within the park.
We headed back to Holbrook. Holbrook is a town in obvious decline. Previously it had built itself as a place to stay along Route 66 but now that it is bypassed by the interstate I'm not sure what industry really supports it besides park-goers. The town has a plethora of cheap motels. We chose Brad's Desert Inn based on the name alone. While the room only cost $24 it was a mistake. The bathroom housed an ant colony, the towels were a sickly shade of grey, the heater kept making gunshot-like noises that continually startled us, and both of us awoke with sore backs from the flimsy bed. Of course, only one motel in town looked like it was in better shape. This was the Wigwam Motel. This place has ten or so individual wigwam rooms. It was much more pricey than the rest of the motels so we stayed away from it. In retrospect that might not have been the best idea.
We couldn't wait to get out of our room in the morning. We headed to the north part of the park to walk through the Painted Desert. While the desert is pretty from the viewpoints there isn't much to see once you get down into it. Still we managed to spot a small tarantula while out there. I'm not sure that sight justifies a couple hours spent wandering in the heat but again we were still experiencing a Utah hangover.
After eating some lunch out of the trunk of the car we headed northward into the Navajo reservation. This reservation which spreads out into all four of the Four Corners states is the largest one in America and is basically a country within the United States. 200,000 native Navajo live here. We were headed to the town of Chinle which is the gateway to Canyon De Chelly (pronounced d'shay). Canyon De Chelly is a national monument, a step down from a national park. In the canyon are a number of abandoned cliff dwellings created by the Ancestral Puebloans from about 800 years ago. There are two scenics drives on both the north and south rims of the canyon. If you want to visit the canyon floor you must be accompanying by a park ranger or a Navajo guide. The canyon floor is still being used as farm and pasture land for local Navajo farmers. There is one public trail you can use without a ranger or guide. This will take you 600 feet down to the canyon floor to view The White House Ruins. These are the most famous and best perserved ruins in the canyon. It is the one "must-see" thing to do here.
We finished up at the canyon as the sun fell. We picnicked at the visitor's center (Kraft Dinner with creamed corn, canned chicken and hot chocolate) and headed north towards the actual four corners. Unfortunately the site where the borders of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet is closed after dark so we weren't able to stand in all four states at once. For the record, the highway we were on was in Arizona and then passed into New Mexico for about half a mile and then we were in Colorado. The highway we were on was once known as Route 666. Just this past summer pressure from some uppity religious groups finally got the road's name change to Route 491. How boring.
We stopped in Cortez, Colorado. The place to stay in this town is the Tomahawk Inn. The room was reasonable for Cortez standards ($37) and we both agreed it was the best room we had stayed in since the Best Inn in Moab.
Cortez seems to be a very tight, neighbourly town. In each motel room you can find a booklet that contains the menus of a large number of local restaurants and every business seemed to work to be friendly to support the tourist industry due to nearby Mesa Verde National Park. Our motel room had several pamphlets dedicated to activities at the park. The town just made me feel at home. It helped that Cortez has a large number of German descendants. Since I'm originally from Kitchener, Ontario (home of the largest Oktoberfest outside of Bavaria) it made me feel comfortable.
Unfortunately, we would actually be home soon but we still had some adventuring to do yet.