It is 421 kilometers from Ely to Beatty which was our Death Valley destination. After Tonopah we stopped in Goldfield. Goldfield was very eccentric. We had a chat with Mike at Goldfield Art Car Park Gallery. He talked about the history of the town. It had been once swept away by a flood which was hard to believe as the town was in the middle of the desert. Mike had some mildly decorated cars in the car park and some of them had even been to Burning Man.
Our main reason to stop at Goldfield was The International Car Forest. It was similar to Cadillac Ranch in Texas but the arrangement of the cars was not as organized as in Texas.
We still had time to visit Rhyolite which was one of the ghost towns nearby. It was right next to Beatty and it was hard to believe that once it had a population of 4000 people with 50 saloons and 16 restaurants. Now it was mainly rubble but worth a visit if you go to Death Valley.
Then it was time to turn back. We had already driven past the most exotic accommodation we had booked for this trip: The Shady Lady Ranch. Minna found it on Airbnb and it had excellent reviews. I’m glad we booked it on time as it has only 3 themed rooms. The rest of the rooms are regular rooms which had served as personal rooms of the employees. The themed rooms where the rooms where they worked. The picture of the Asian room at the website didn’t do it justice. It was nicely decorated and it we had our own bathroom.
We checked in and had some pizza which we had bought from Beatty. It had been a long day but Jennifer, the lady of the house, was so social that we stayed up until 23:00 and discussed the differences of American baseball and Finnish pesäpallo with her and a couple from San Francisco. We gave Jennifer one of our precious cans of Lonkero. The ranch had 6 dogs and 24 peacocks.
After the lunar crater we arrived at Warm Springs. This is where Nevada State Route 375 begins and leads to Area 51. That’s why it is called Extraterrestrial Highway. What was really amazing was the amount of cows along the ET Highway. We only drove 30 miles just to see if there are aliens along the road. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but we saw lots of cows. I am not sure if the farmers knew what aliens would do to them if they really landed here. The other explanation is that the cows are decoys planted by the government in order to catch some more aliens.
Finally we arrived at Tonopah. Unfortunately we didn’t have any small children with us because there was a nice clown-themed hotel next to the Old Tonopah Cemetery.
Tintic Gold Miners B&B was in Eureka Utah. It was a very small town with a bit of a run down center. But we didn’t mind because it was just what we had come here for. There were only a couple of places to get some food from and we picked B’s Hangout because it had good reviews in Google. I had a burger which had fried cheese, melted cheese and meat in it. Minna’s Western burger didn’t have so much cheese.
We had good night sleep although the room was a bit hot. In the morning we had good American breakfast with the owners. They told us about the ghost towns in the area and with their instructions we managed to find Silver City cemetery. Apparently there was nothing left of the ”city” except the cemetery. The cemetery had a lot of children’s graves as there had been some epidemic in the beginning of 1900. I think the tombstones were not the original ones. It looked like some of them had been replaced with newer ones.
We continued driving US Route 6 to southwest and drove past Delta towards Great Basin National Park just across Nevada border. The scenery was quite dull but suddenly Minna noticed something which she said looked like a sheep which had gotten stuck to a barb wire fence. We turned back and yes, there really was an animal hanging in the fence. But it wasn’t a sheep. I’d never seen a coyote but I think this was bigger than a coyote. It looked more like a dog or a wolf to me. There are not too many wolves in Utah so I’m not 100% sure if it was a wolf.
This section of our trip was part of the Loneliest Road U.S 50. Eventually we crossed the border between Utah and Nevada, adjusted our clocks to Pacific time zone, and arrived at Baker which was home to our first national park on this trip: Great Basin National Park. It was still off-season so there was no cafeteria open in the park. In the US it is not possible to get a portion of food which is too small. Usually everything is too big. We never order any starters because they are so big that there would not be room for the main course if you had one. We thought that we had to get something for luch so we went to a local restaurant and bought one sandwich to go. This time one sandwich was a mistake because it was the smallest sandwich in the whole country.
The park has two main attractions: Lehman Cave and Wheeler Peak. Wheeler Peak was inaccessible because there was still a lot of snow on the road. Lehman Cave is open for guided tours only. Minna had pre-booked a tour for us which was necessary because even in off-season the tour was full.
When we left the park I saw blinking red and blue lights behind me. I pulled over and I was sure I’d been speeding because it was all downhill from the park and there was a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. But I was innocent. The police had thought he had seen me without a seat belt but because I had a black shirt, the seat belt wasn’t too visible. Anyway, I forgave him and we left for Ely, Nevada.
The new side of the town looked a bit boring but the old side had some nice neon signs and small casinos. We stayed in Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall. I had mixed feelings about the hotel at first. Minna had upgraded our room by cancelling the first reservation and then booked a new one. On arrival we learned that we had two rooms booked. I told that we don’t need two rooms this early on the trip, maybe later. The reception staff was very helpful and we got the keys and vouchers for complimentary margaritas. The hotel had been built in 1929 and it showed on the outside. Also there was a lot of cigarrette smoke in the reception because downstairs was a Gambling Hall. I didn’t have high expectations about the room. But I was wrong. The room had been renovated, except for the bathroom, and it looked like some LA boutique hotel room. Clean carpet and everything. What a nice surprise. Somehow there was an old western feel to the hotel. This was the venue where Wayne Newton started his career.
We had dinner in an old jailhouse across the street. It was one of the best rib-eye steaks I have ever eaten.
This was an amazing trip. We’ve both been to US numerous times and for us driving has always been part of the experience. In 1994 we drove from Boston to Niagara Falls and back. Later we spent many vacations driving around Florida and now recently on the west coast. We had been to Everglades in Florida but we never planned visiting national parks unless they were en route. This all changed when we visited Yosemite in April 2017.
In Yosemite National Park Visitors Center Minna laid her hands on a booklet: Travel Stamps U.S. National Park Series Album & Guide. It is a book in which you can collect a stamp (or actually a sticker) from each National Park of the U.S. We bought our first sticker from Yosemite.
You can buy stickers from National Park visitors centers but you can also order them online. We pasted the Yosemite sticker in the book but it looked very empty so we ordered the Everglades sticker from the supplier. It still looked very empty. We had been planning Route 66 trip to celebrate our 50th birthdays. We started having doubts about driving through midwest so we started plan B. What if we tried to collect as many stickers as we can during three weeks?
We started investigating the map and we found out that there were several national parks in the west which were very close to each other: Zion and Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches. We realized quickly that we could visit 10 national parks quite easily. Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Channel Islands were not in the original plan. We calculated the distances and noticed that it would be possible to see 8 parks quite conveniently. After Grand Canyon, which was supposed to be the last park, we had 5 more nights to go. In five days we would still have time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon or stay around Los Angeles. We had been to LA before so it would be a shame to skip the parks as it would also require another visit in that region. The map below shows that Ventura was really between Kings Canyon and LA so it would have been silly to skip it.
What did we learn then? The Americans don’t, usually, build national parks to boring spots. Zion was amazing, Canyonlands had the vastest vistas, Joshua Tree was exactly the way the hippies saw it in the 70’s. To be honest why would you travel to Europe when you have such amazing sights in your own country?
We also learned to understand a little bit of the concept of Manifest Destiny. Driving through the desert gave us a glimpse of the hardships the pioneers must have faced. The Finnish concept of ”sisu” is not unique. People who crossed the desert in their wagons with all of their possessions with them did certainly have ”sisu” too.
We had one night left and we spent it in Hollywood. We found an affordable, very clean and nicely located hotel just a couple of blocks from Hollywood Boulevard: Hotel Lexen. There is another one in North Hollywood and we drove there first by accident.
Here is a 30-minute-video of the whole trip with some nice timelapses:
I am not much of a fan of Pawn Stars but the possibility of seeing The Old Man or even the sons lured us into the store. It was smaller that I thought and to be honest wasn’t much of an attraction. Took a picture by the cardboard cutout and left. Ticked a box.
Another important decision to be made was the selection of a buffet dinner. Previously we had tried Bacchanal at Caesars Palace and it was excellent. My colleague recommended the Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan so we chose to visit it this time. It was also very good but somehow I found the sea food section of the Bacchanal with it snow crab legs unbeatable.
Visiting Pinball Hall of Fame is our must-see in Vegas. This time with the whole family. A couple of rounds of Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Monster Bash and we’re done with Vegas this time.
P.S. The Premium Outlets Mall charged for parking. It applied only to visitors. I can’t imagine any other mall in US charging for it.
Physically it is just 400 km away from Joshua Tree but worlds apart mentally. The home of Penn and Teller, Pawn Stars and Hangover. The Sin City has quickly become my favorite Americana destination replacing the legendary I-Drive in Orlando. Minna and I had been here once before but it was Kia’s first visit. She had to wait until she was 21 years old. Now the whole family was ready for gambling, free GTs and huge souvenir cups of Margarita.
We arrived on Saturday and stayed for 4 nights. This would be Kia’s last stop before going back home. Naturally the kiddo wanted to stay on the Strip and in a casino hotel. However, the Saturday stays on the Strip were surprisingly expensive compared to last time. But who wouldn’t want to experience Fremont Street on Saturday with their 21-year-old daughter? First of all it’s cheaper than the Strip and within a walking distance from the The Neon Museum: one of the most original attactions of Las Vegas. Minna and I had been there a couple of years ago already but that was during daytime. Now we wanted to see the neons at night as well as their newest exhibition: Brilliant. Brilliant is really worth seeing. The old neon signs came to life through light projections and music. Book early and see both the guided tour and Brilliant.
We stayed the first night in Main Street Station. Good reviews for a Fremont Street hotel and slightly off the action and noise. The following day we moved to the Strip and stayed the next 3 days in Planet Hollywood right across the Fountains of Bellagio. Cheaper rates from Sunday onwards and Mid-Strip location was excellent because you could go left or right when you left the hotel for a walk. The last time we stayed in MGM Grand which was in the south end of the Strip so you had only one direction to go whenever you wanted to go out.
So we woke up and drove back 100 km. Of course we had to see Emerald Bay which is one of the most beautiful spots on our journey. But first we had to buy some soda. Maybe I will try some bacon soda.
Also here, the bears had woken up already.
Emerald Bay is located in the southern end of the lake and the first lookout parking lot was still covered with snow so it was almost impossible to park. However, the best scenic spot is a bit further up right on top of the bay. This was a view worth driving to.
Driving further north we found some holiday villages where the cottages were still almost totally covered by snow. Apparently it wasn\’t the season yet. We drove up to Tahoe City and then we had to make a decision: take the small road along the lake shore to Kings Beach or drive inland route to Truckee. We chose inland route. Driving towards Truckee we noticed signs pointing to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 olympics.
The main attractions of Truckee are the historic downtown and the Donner Party Memorial. A small but very interesting museum is built around the tragic story of the Donner_Party which was on its way to California but got stuck in snow here and resorted to cannibalism. It was really amazing what had happened here in the end of 1846. There was so much snow that it was impossible to continue and the party got stranded in what is now called the Donner Pass. The snow would have covered the base of the statue.Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.
Our flight was due in the evening so we were supposed to be at LAX around 19:00. 500 km drive from Las Vegas to LAX should not be a problem. So we thought. We took our time to wake up and pack our bags as we thought that the boring drive through the desert would be… boring. We didn\’t have breakfast as we planned to stop somewhere.
We stopped at the Nevada-California border to have breakfast at the Whiskey Pete\’s Casino. Maybe some last rounds of slot machines.
We took off and everything went smoothly until this here. Just as the highway started rise towards to mountains, all three lanes stopped. We would spend the next 2 hours driving the 10 km stretch up the slope. Tensions in the car started rising but neither one of us started the blame game. We knew that it would cost us another set of one-way-tickets if we missed our plane. When we reached the top of the pass, we saw that a truck load had been fallen over on the road. And right when we reached the site of the accident, the traffic started moving again. If we\’d make it to Los Angeles in time, we would be there just in time for the rush hour. Of course hopefully driving against the traffic. We couldn\’t afford to miss any exit. And then we missed an exit and had to take a 10 km reroute.
Diamond lane to the rescue: Car pool lanes were mostly empty as people drive usually alone. We had to google how many people are needed in the car to be allowed to drive the diamond lane. It only required 2 persons so we were OK to take the empty lane while all the individual drivers were stuck in traffic.
Two more things to do before the airport: fill the tank and return the car to the rental lot which would be somewhere near the LAX but a bus ride away anyway. I decided to skip the gas station and pay whatever it costs to return the car with an empty tank. Luckily the guy who handled the paperwork at the rental return was kind enough to mark the tank fuller than it actually was. I gave him ten bucks.
During the 7-hour ride from Vegas to LAX neither one of us blamed the other for any delay. There were several occasions where either Minna or I could have said something about being late or missing the exit but we kept our cool and didin\’t start a fight in the middle of the drive. This was really a proof of the strength of our relationship. And we caught our flight eventually so the fight would have been premature anyway. We didn\’t manage to send the post cards though. There just wasn\’t enough time to find a mail box.
There are several day trips available from Las Vegas. The grandest of them all is of course the Grand Canyon. However, in order to see it properly you will either have to rent a helicopter from Vegas or stay overnight closer to the canyon. As Las Vegas was just a side step on our trip to LA, we wanted to give Grand Canyon the time it deserves, sometime later. So it was either Death Valley or the Hoover Dam. I remember when I had a summer job in the US, some of my fellow summer workers got a job in Death Valley while I lived and worked in the Boston area. Even Boston was hot enough during the summer. Hoover Dam was closer so we drove there.
To our surprise there were two things there which were amazing: the dam itself as well as the bridge. In the movies you usually see people driving across the dam itself but actually the highway doesn\’t run on top of the dam but there is a huge bridge next to the dam. Mike O\’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge clearance is 270 m. So you could almost fit the Eiffel Tower between the bridge and the Lake Mead.
The Hoover Dam is so famous that ticking it off from the bucket list while in Vegas is worth the 50 km drive.
The first experience is of course the Arrival. Ours was like this:
Accommodation: We chose to stay in the MGM Grand. We booked the room from hotels.com and it cost 63 €/night. A bargain compared to LA. A small drawback was the resort fee which hotels.com didn\’t mention but apparently is standard practice even if booked from elsewhere. The room didn\’t have a view to the Strip but who cares. Also free parking was available.
The gamble: Slots everywhere. Mostly table games had a minimum bet of $10 or even more. If you had a black jack or a roulette with less than $10 minimum, the table was \”automatic\” without a live dealer. We played slot machines. The sound was hypnotic. Whenever you won, you just couldn\’t stop playing because of the ring. The drinks were free as long as you sat by a machine. While I was away getting my membership card, Minna hit the jackpot. With a 1 cent bet, it wasn\’t really a lot of money but it was a lot of ringing.
Neon museum is also called the Neon Boneyard. It\’s the place where the neon signs go to die. Or actually to get refurbished and their stories told. Book your slot beforehand and remember that the tours fill up very quickly. You will need to attend a tour as the guest are constantly supervised and cannot explore the museum on their own. This is really a must-see as it has some of the signs of long gone casinos and landmarks.
The show: We tried to book seats for O Cirque du Soleil through the internet but for some reason the transaction didn\’t go through. So we had to walk to Bellagio to find out that the show was fully booked. However, if you will wait in line 1 hour before the show, there may be some leftover seats. The thing is: you don\’t know which seats you\’re going to get and especially how much they are. Or you will end up queueing for an hour and the show is sold out anyway and you just spent an hour in the queue for nothing. As we wanted to get the show-box ticked as soon as possible, we waited in line and got quite good and reasonably-priced tickets, if you can call them reasonably-priced in the first place as they are always very expensive.
The buffet: Based on a thorough investigation on the Internet, we chose The Bacchanal at Ceasars Palace with a wine package. We soon realized that we could have left out the wine package as there was so much to eat that drinking wine at the same time would be too much. Even eating was too much. Stone crabs, sushi, shrimps, jumbo shrimps, meats, pizza, you name it. Come dessert and you will feel sick.
The silver ball: I knew there had to be pinball arcade in Las Vegas and really there was a good one: The Pinball Hall of Fame. Lots of games, lots of modified games (for example Scared Stiff with colored animations as opposed to my original orange-colored animations) and lots of rare games. Even Space Mission which I had played last time in Pekan Baari when I was 10 years old. And of course Kiss (Bally)