Alright, up next is one of the more spontaneous and (arguably) crazy trips we've ever taken.
For the uber-nerds out there that eat, sleep and breathe coasters, this may not be for you. We do ride some coasters (and I'll get to that later on) but this wasn't really a "coaster trip". The title of the thread is "Coasterbill's Alcohol, Coaster and Culture Trip Reports Land", and while I have the first two more than covered, I feel like I've been a little lazy on the third one.
As everyone knows, I make it a point to check for great travel deals frequently. We never planned on making this trip, but one night I was surfing some travel sites and found a deal that was way too good to ignore. I was on the fence, so I called in Brit to make the final call.
I found airfare to Las Vegas for $35 each way per person. Brit had never been to Vegas and I had been there but not since I was a kid who was way to young to appreciate it so this seemed like a deal that was too good to be true.
We never planned on going on vacation in early November, but for that price we were really tempted to go for it. As is the case with most deals that seem too good to be true though, there were a few catches.#1)
The flight was from Dulles Airport in Virginia (in the Washington DC Metro area) which is 5 hours from our house on a route that's highly susceptible to biblical traffic jams. #2)
The flight to Vegas was at 10:30 Eastern Time, scheduled to land at 1:00 Local Time (4 AM Eastern Time).#3)
The flight home was at 9:05 Pacific Time, scheduled to land at 4:40 AM Eastern Time... in Dulles, VA.#4)
It was Frontier Airlines, an ultra low cost carrier which meant there was basically no way I'd be able to sleep on the plane since uncomfortable, cramped seats were basically a given.
It was a tough call, but in the end we couldn't turn down those fares or the opportunity to go out west so after a little bit of internal conflict, we decided to go for it and I apprehensively (but excitedly), clicked the "Reserve" button.
We had to jump on that fare quickly, so we were definitely working backwards at that point. We knew we were going to Vegas, but what did we want to do there? We toyed with the idea of spending all of our time in Vegas. Then we toyed with the idea of heading to Southern California for part of the trip, but after talking with Brit and realizing she had never really seen the American west (which is really an amazing, one-of-a-kind place), we decided to head East to Arizona before doubling back and spending our last day in Vegas.
Between the 13 hours of driving there, the 10 hours in the air and the 10 hours (round trip) to Dulles, this trip was going to include a LOT of traveling but we broke it up so that it was actually pretty laid back when we were actually out west, and in many cases the journey was just as exciting as the destination.
One advantage of our late departure time was that we didn't have to take a day off from work. When the day finally came around I cut out of work a little early, met up with Brit (who did the same) and we were on our way to Dulles! For some amazing reason, traffic actually wasn't that apocalyptic that day and we actually made some pretty good time. Yes, we sat in bumper to bumper traffic on the beltway for 45 minutes or so, but honestly... that's nothing for DC. I'll take that every single time.
We packed light (with personal items only to avoid Frontier's absurd bag fees) but luckily it was pretty easy to cram a few days worth of clothes into drawstring bags and we were thankful for it as we traversed the frozen tundra of the IAD Economy Parking lot. Apparently we decided to fly out on the first weekend that the weather in the Northeast decided to be appropriate for the season. On one hand it sucked, but on the other hand it made us a lot happier to be on our way to the desert. Shaking hands with the clock, we set out in search of some pre-flight food (and drinks).
I've got to say... Dulles Airport is a real f*cking shithole. I mean... it's not LaGuardia. I'm pretty sure war torn Syria has better airports than LaGuardia, but it still sucks and we had a hell of a time finding an actual restaurant. We were departing from the gates right in the main terminal, but apparently the main terminal didn't actually have any food in it (aside from a Dunkin Donuts) so we were directed to some weird monster truck thing that could take us all the way to the other side of the airport where we were told there would be an actual restaurant.
The little monster truck thing was actually pretty cool. You piled in like you would in a monorail or train car, it drove off of the gate, down the taxiway and then slammed into another gate across the airport which (I guess) was our cue to depart. Once at the far terminal, we were only a short 17 mile walk from a decent restaurant.
After our meal, we located a (much less weird) subway that took us back to the main terminal where we spent the next hour or so until we finally boarded the plane. The flight itself was uneventful, and I managed to get about an hour or so of sleep, which is about an hour more than I expected in a sh*tty middle seat.
After a seemingly endless flight, the glimmering lights of the Las Vegas strip came into view and a few minutes later we were on the ground in a far more respectable airport than the one we just departed from (that's full of slot machines by the way, which is pretty hilarious).
While the airport itself was nice, one thing I found infuriating about the Vegas airport is that it's impossible to rent a car in the terminal. For "convenience", they've moved their rental car center nowhere near the airport and they provide a free shuttle bus that can take you to there from the terminal. Notice the the term "bus" is singular, because they were running that sh*t, Six Flags America style which means that once we landed (at 4am Eastern Time) we had to wait a solid 30 minutes for a bus to show up.
We had actually planned on ending our trip in Vegas and spending the first few days exploring the desert so while I knew we would be in a hurry to go to sleep as soon as we landed, I actually booked a hotel about 20 minutes outside of Vegas in Boulder City. I assumed it would take just as long (if not longer) to drive to a massive Vegas hotel / casino, park in a huge parking garage, take an elevator to the lobby, check in, walk through the casino (because they love making you do that sh*t), and take an elevator to the 30th floor of some mega hotel than it would to drive 20 minutes to a Quality Inn, check in in 30 seconds, drive around the building, walk in the door and go to sleep... taking advantage of the "stay twice, get a free night Choice promotion and racking up an assload of rewards points in the process for very little money because hotels in Arizona and Nevada are awesomely cheap, especially since staying where we did allowed us to avoid the Vegas resort fee. In addition, this trip would actually get us Platinum status if we went that route and only stayed at Choice brands, so it was an easy decision (especially since it was probably faster anyway and it was on the way to our next destination).
Quality Inns are hit or miss, but this one was really nice. We even had a nice outdoor balcony with views of the mountains and Lake Mead (The man-made lake created by the Hoover Dam for those unfamiliar). I approve!
For obvious reasons we slept in a bit that morning, but thanks to the wonder of time zones we woke up "early" in plenty of time to grab some free breakfast at the hotel. After filling up on breakfast we got in our rental car, ready for a full day of exploring. We made our way towards Arizona, set our clocks forward an hour (because Arizona can't decide what time zone it's in) and said goodbye to civilization!
Getting to Arizona from Boulder City used to mean that you had to go through tons of security checkpoints so you could drive slowly over the Hoover Dam (one lane each direction). Luckily, that's changed since I was a kid in the form of the new Tillman bridge. The bridge is pretty awesome since it not only allows traffic to move much faster and reduces wear and tear on the dam, but it provides awesome views of the dam from it's pedestrian walkway. We had to backtrack though, and as tempting as it was to stop we decided to save our dam Hoover Dam experience for another dam day.
It was a 3 hour and 45 minute drive to the Grand Canyon according to our GPS, but I had absolutely no interest in going that way. Taking the interstate is cool and all, but once we reached Kingman we decided to ignore our GPS entirely. There was no way in hell we were taking I-40. What kind of loser would do such a thing?
One thing that became quickly apparent was that towns like Kingman, Seligman and Flagstaff were incredibly happy to capitalize on the fact that the world's most famous road ran through their cities. They did a great job restoring old historic buildings along the route for tourists and did their best to keep everything looking the way you would hope Route 66 would look. In many cases, they would do this on small stretches of the highway that paralleled I-40 knowing that many tourists would get off, drive Route 66 for one exit, get an "I drove Route 66" sticker for seven dollars and get right back on I-40. F*ck that, and f*ck them.
Don't get me wrong. I fully intended to be an idiot tourist and buy a $7 sticker, but I fully intended to earn it
. We were taking Route 66 all the way from Kingman to the Grand Canyon access road, well over 100 miles (not counting the portion where I-40 carries it). Screw that "one exit" crap.
Along the way we pulled off at plenty of scenic overlooks, checked out a ton of little shops and tourist traps and bought some cool souvenirs. At one point we stopped into a place and put a pin near our hometown and were pretty amazed at how many people had stopped in that little shop while traveling the highway. We even met some people from Sweeden who were traveling the highway, awesome!
Everything along Route 66 looks like it's straight out of a postcard.
As we kept driving along, we encountered some more awesome scenery and eventually made our way through the Hualapai Reservation. Pro tip: So much of Arizona is in the middle of monkeyf*ck nowhere that in many cases there's a grand total of ZERO radio stations and no cellular data so it's best to have some music available ahead of time. We didn't know this until day two but we were happily rocking out to Hualapai music for a majority of the drive. I won't lie, that stuff was fire. It's like a mix of 90's rap music and Reggae; half of which is about peace and half of which is about how 19th century manifest destiny was complete bullsh*t.
An hour or so up the road we came across Seligman, the first legitimate town since we left the reservation. By that point we were definitely getting pretty hungry so we were keeping our eyes peeled for a place to eat. Since we were on Route 66 we didn't have a really strict criteria for restaurants, our only stipulation was that it had to be weird. Luckily, Route 66 was more than happy to provide us with a place that perfectly fit the bill.
The Roadkill Cafe is a Route 66 staple, and it's just as weird as the name would imply. Their craft beer collection was rivaled only by their taxidermy collection and the place had a great mix of regulars and tourists passing through.
The food was also excellent, and the portions were huge (this seemed to be a theme in rural Arizona). We could have stayed there for hours drinking and checking out all of the cool sh*t they had thrown all over the walls (this restaurant basically looks like the Tennessee Tornado queue line), but unfortunately November meant shorter days and the canyon was calling our name.
The road to the Grand Canyon from the highway is ridiculously long and boring. While most of the drive took place through the desert which was an attraction in itself, the grand canyon access road is basically an hour long straight, flat road through a moderately dense forest. Luckily, we knew that once we reached the end of that road it would all be worth it.
After what seemed like ages upon ages of being stuck behind slow moving RV after slow moving RV on the access road, we finally approached the toll gates and entered the park.
By the time we arrived at the canyon we only had about 2 hours until nightfall, so we opted to go out to the main visitor center and then drive the rim towards page, stopping at the many overlooks along the way.
Brit had never been to the canyon, and I hadn't been in almost 20 years. It really is hard to put it into words, and it's so massive that your depth perception is totally f*cked when looking at it to the point where it's impossible to fully process it. We were both awestruck by it, and you could stare at it forever and keep finding new canyons within the canyon that look tiny but are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of feet high.
We kept driving the rim stopping at tons of scenic overlooks (one more amazing than the next) until we finally picked a place to sit and watch the sunset. There was a small group of people (probably about 20 or so) doing the same, so there was a lot of room to maneuver around and find a good spot (which is not the case at the visitors center). It was cold, but it was absolutely worth it.
Once the sun set (to thunderous applause... I've never seen people cheer a sunset before) we finally made our way back to our car and began our 2 hour drive to Page, Airzona. It was kind of a crazy drive since there was ABSOLUTELY nothing along the way (I mean nothing... no gas stations, no lights of any kind, nothing...) but we anticipated it and made sure we left the canyon with a full tank of gas.
Page would be our resting place for the night, but when we got in to town it was only about 8:00 and we were searching for something to eat. Initially I figured we would just hit a quick Fast Food place and go to the hotel, but luckily we found something far better.
We didn't expect much on a cold, Thursday night in November but as we made our way into town we came across an old gas station turned BBQ pit called "Big John’s Texas BBQ". Outside was a stage with live country music, and surprisingly (given the temperature) a sh*t ton of people! I didn't even think that many people lived in Page, AZ.
Obviously this was some category 5 redneckerry, but when in Page... do as the Pagans (wait, definitely not that...), Page-ans... (eh... still no), rednecks (yeah, that sounds good), do!
As you would expect from any place with a giant smoker grill and a massive crowd on a Thursday night outside in the cold in the middle of the desert in bumblef*ck, Arizona, the food was fan-f*cking-tastic. To make it even better, they had a huge selection of local craft beer which made for a great combination. In addition, the band was definitely pretty good and a lot of fun.
While I am from New York (born and raised), Brit's from North Carolina which means I've done my fair share of driving down and back over the years. When I was in college, I used to drive down and back 24 hours round trip every week for months at a time. Since it was a really long drive and radio stations were pretty limited for most of it, I've definitely developed an affinity for country music over the years... mostly out of necessity. It's still not my first choice, but I can roll with it if need be.
Because of this, after a few drinks I was more than happy to join the locals in drunkenly half a** "singing" basically every song. It's kind of hilarious that Brit's from the south and I (a left leaning New Yorker who grew up on Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel) probably know more country music than she does just because of how often I drove through rural Virginia to see her, and that wasn't lost on either of us at this weird a** place. I never really thought I'd be rocking out to country music under the roof of a converted gas station in the freezing cold desert in Page, Arizona but I can't deny that it was an absolute blast and it was a fun ending to an awesome day. When in Rome, I guess...
Up next: Part 2 of our Las Vegas and Arizona Adventure! If you made it through this totally weird, non coaster related report on a coaster site... leave a comment! (and thanks again for reading through my endless sea of bullsh*t.