Lake Las Vegas – Don’t be fooled

Lake Las Vegas is an incredibly sad place – and that makes me sad.  It had so much promise.

Lake Las Vegas is a man made lake and community that was severely hit by the economic downturn and recession unbeknownst to us prior to our stay.  Many properties are either left unfinished, or boarded up abandonments as a result of bankruptcy.  Despite all this, there is a beautiful Westin hotel there.

During our Wild West adventure, my husband and I decided to stay there and leave the glitz of downtown Vegas behind for a night.  And it seemed like a great idea.  When we arrived, were shocked and saddened by what we saw.

As I mentioned, the hotel was beautiful, but trying to find a restaurant for dinner was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I have a weird thing about hotel restaurants, I almost always want to get out to explore and try to find some place new and exciting or a total hole in the wall.  We finally found an incredible Italian restaurant, Luna Rossa along the water in what they call the Village of Lake Las Vegas, but it took some time to find it.

In a nutshell, what should have been a relaxing night away, was actually quite a depressing little side trip.  I hope the Lake Las Vegas area can make a comeback, but as of right now, I would not recommend adding it to your Vegas itinerary, unless of course you’re stopping by for an Italian dinner.

The Wild West Part IV, the Grand Canyon

So if you’ve been following this longer than anticipated Wild West road trip series, you will know the following:

Philadelphia –> Las Vegas –> Bryce Canyon, UT —> Page, Arizona (Horse Shoe Bend and Antelope Canyon)

Well, we are finally headed over to Flagstaff, AZ as a jumping off point for our Grand Canyon adventure, as dubbed in an earlier post, the main event.  (SidenoteWhen in Flagstaff, Pizzicletta is a must for any pizza lover, and who doesn’t like pizza?)

The Grand Canyon as a national park is incredibly well managed and run.  Once you pay for admission to the park, free shuttle buses take you from the main parking lot to varying points throughout.  They run frequently and are incredibly easy to use and navigate.  The bus dropped us off at our hiking point and we began to enter the Rim, dun dun dun!

We had no plans to hike and stay the night in the canyon (I glamp not camp), so we went about a mile or so down and then turned around to head back up.  We met some wonderful people along the way and could not believe the views.  The trail was actually very well maintained and easy to navigate and I would recommend it for people of all ages and varying athletic ability.  While Bryce was beautiful, I felt more comfortable navigating down into the Grand Canyon than at Bryce at times.

The thing about the Grand Canyon was that while it is so incredible vast, and awe inspiring in its size, we had just come from 3 incredibly beautiful, very different and no less grand sights.  If we had started at the Grand Canyon we might have felt differently.  And it is absolutely, 100% worth a visit.  In fact, the thought of taking my future spawn there is really exciting.  It’s a place where you can easily put your life in perspective in the sense that its a reminder that we are all very small people in a very big world.  I mean the Grand Canyon literally looks like it could go on forever.

Remarkably, the Grand Canyon was not the last stop on our Wild West adventure, but was certainly the grand finale to an incredible road trip.  I will be posting about the remaining part of our journey separately so stay tuned!

So without further ado, some of our photos.

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Little people, big world. Our first view of the Grand Canyon.
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There’s me just taking it all in
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View from the Desert View & Watchtower
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I love the perspective on this shot.
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View of our trail as we headed down. Looks easy, no?

The Wild West Part III – Antelope Canyon

To recap the trip this far, we ate our way through Vegas, spent a night in Utah, and I felt like I pseudo cheated death at Horse Shoe Bend, and were now en route to Antelope Canyon.  Funny thing is, we haven’t even gotten to the main event yet!  The main event on this Wild West road trip was supposed to be the Grand Canyon, and yet, by the time we got there, Bryce and Antelope had completely overshadowed the awesomeness that is the Grand Canyon.  Now, that’s not to say that the Grand Canyon wasn’t totally awe inspiring, because it was, but Antelope Canyon is a photographer’s dream and a natural beauty and wonder all unto itself.  It will simply take your breath away.

A little history for you. Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land close to Horse Shoe Bend in nearby Page, Arizona.  Canyon in this context is not what at least I would expect it to be.  Antelope is considered a slot canyon which very simply put, means you’re almost walking into a knot in a wood floor or a tree.  It is not a wide gaping space, but more a narrow area where as a spectator you’re at the bottom looking up, without much of a vantage point to look down.

My husband and I chose to take a Navajo tour in Lower Antelope Canyon.  To get into the canyon we had to walk down a very steep staircase into the abyss.  Small children were able to do this so don’t be deterred!  As we walked through the canyon the colors, waves, and artistry carved out by water was incredible.  Since words cannot do this place justice, below are photos taken with my iPhone, with no additional filters doing the work.  Enjoy and then look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to visit!

antelope5Looking up into Lower Antelope Canyon

antelope4Contrast of light and dark waves in Lower Antelope Canyon

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Purple and Blue Waves in Lower Antelope Canyon

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Our Navajo Guideantelope1I love the contrast of the ridges, waves, and puncture marks, Lower Antelope Canyon

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The pink colors truly make me happy and calm

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Capturing the beauty of the moment

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On our way out – there’s my handsome husband!

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Slot canyon, totally dating myself here but the perspective reminds me of Honey I Shrunk the Kids

The Wild West Part Two – Utah & Beyond

After leaving Vegas, our road trip adventure truly began.  Our first stop – Bryce Canyon, Utah.  When we were planning our road trip our goal was to cram, but not over cram, which left us with a tough decision.  Zion National Park or Bryce?  With all the research, photo images we consulted, and TripAdvisor reviews, we basically threw a dart at a map to determine which park to visit.

Hopping in our Prius we began the 4+ hour drive, and what a drive that was.  After spending all my time on the East Coast, seeing the desert, red rocks and various plateau formations as well as snow capped mountains was absolutely stunning. I’m not one for spending time in the car, but empty long highways filled with incredible scenery made the drive fly by.

Arriving in Bryce in the early afternoon we met with the tourism office to determine the best route through the canyon based on the time we had.  We had one shot at Bryce and we had to take it.  Light snow flurries were falling as we entered and walked through the canyon, navigating switchbacks with relative ease.  (Keep in my mind of petrified of heights, so parts of the walk I found to be narrow and uncomfortable to navigate as people passed on the path, but overall, if you’re a big wimp like me, you’ll survive.)  The Navajo Loop trail was perfect for the time we had and gave us the ability to appreciate the wonder of the canyon from so many different angles.

bryceThe canyon was like nothing I ever witnessed.  The bright and varying colors looked like someone had just poured thick, delicious cake batter into a mold and watched it set in various columns and plateaus.  The oranges were vibrant, especially against the backdrop of the pine trees, and the pinks and purples littered throughout looked beautiful against the falling snow.  Doing some research, I learned that these formations are called Hoodoos, and in Bryce the formation dates back 40-60 million years ago. Walking through these formations I was reminded by how small we are in a big world.  After spending a few hours in the Canyon it was time to check-in to our hotel and eat.

We spent the night in Tropic, Utah at the Stone Canyon Inn, and I would highly recommend it!  Tropic was an incredibly small town – I don’t even recall if there was a traffic light or not, but there was a restaurant and a general store which helped us stock up on additional snacks, waters, and beverages for the next leg of our trip.

After a great night’s sleep we were off to Arizona.  I don’t even think we needed to gas up our Prius yet!

In Arizona we had a lot planned.  Fortunately I’m married to a geography whiz and amateur cartographer, who assured me it was possible to see Horse Shoe Bend and Antelope Canyon en route to Flagstaff, AZ.  The Grand Canyon was our big ticket item, but by no means were we going to sacrifice other natural wonders along the way.

Horse Shoe Bend scared the living daylights out of me.  While it is incredibly beautiful, I was too scared to get close to the edge to view the Colorado River in horse shoe form.  See photo below. horseshoeMy husband on the other hand, army crawled to the edge to get the shot.  Horse Shoe Bend has no railings, no words of caution, just the edge of stony cliff to view the river below.  While so many others were brazen, I was not and hung back.  I know I preach about adventure, push yourself, try something new, and I did.  I pushed myself to get as close as possible, which was very much outside my comfort zone.  Click here to see a 360 panorama of Horse Shoe Bend in its entirety.  After spending about 45 minutes there (watching people cheat death), my husband and I headed out toward our next site – breathtaking Antelope Canyon.

Stay tuned!  I plan on devoting an entire post to Antelope Canyon because it is so downright beautiful.

The Wild West Part One

So I have something really embarrassing to admit.  If you read the About Me section you’ll note that I’d only been on an airplane once before the age of 18.  It gets worse. In the United States I hadn’t been outside the eastern timezone until after I graduated college.  I KNOW.  WHAT was I doing with the first 22 years of life??*

Needless to say, with that in mind, my boyfriend/fiance/now husband and I instituted a policy to help me see the good ole fashioned USofA.  The thought was (now is) each year we take one domestic and one international trip, that way I can see all the beauty this country has to offer without sacrificing a stamp on my passport in the process (I love my passport stamps).

After much thought, we planned out a 10 day wild west road trip, starting in swinging Las Vegas.

vegasI didn’t really know what to expect from Las Vegas, and honestly, I didn’t expect to like it.  The only thing I knew going in, apart from the obvious, was that I must choose wisely when picking a place to buffet.  I had no idea that buffet culture was such a thing!  After extensive research, I decided that the Wicked Spoon inside the Cosmopolitan would be the one.  I had read that it was the best buffet in town, and as a result, Caesars spent millions of dollars to create its own rival buffet.  (Note: next time I must check out Caesars.)  After eating fried chicken, waffles, fruit, ice cream, french toast, and pancakes for breakfast (yikes!), my husband and I slowly rolled each other out of the Cosmopolitan and onto the rest of the strip.  And we walked the heck out of that strip.  I’m fairly confident my Jawbone Activity Tracker tapped out at well over 30,000 steps.  Does that undo the breakfast ice cream?  Probably not, but it certainly made us feel better!

vegas 2My husband and I aren’t gamblers, so we saw a Cirque du Soleil show (he was not to be dragged to Britney, sad face) and checked out the brand spanking new Linq.  It had just opened a few days prior to our visit and we were thrilled to be some of the first on the holy roller!  It was so new that we had the entire compartment to ourselves.  We watched the beautiful Bellagio fountains from above and just took it all in.

After a night at the MGM Grand in Vegas (which I highly recommend), we hopped into our rental car (a fab little Prius), and it was time to check out the Hoover Dam, and then march onward into Utah and Arizona.  Granted, there was a pit stop in Lake Las Vegas – but we’ll gloss over that for now, review to come later.

Stay tuned for part two, as our foray into red rocks, cacti and bucket list items are just beginning!

*Answer: Exploring the eastern seaboard.