USA Road Trip 2: Sin City, Death Valley and Californ-I-A

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November 18th 2012
Published: December 7th 2012
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We set out from the Grand Canyon wonder in search of Route 66. Our initial intention all those months ago was to drive the entire Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles but with so many options it didn't materialise but we knew this was a taster so of that we were driving 100 miles of the 2000 stretch! At least we were doing a very historical part of the route, this particular part is the longest stretch in tact. To actually follow the full route you need to be Sherlock Holmes as many roads lead to fields and dead ends, but this part, at least, is obvious following 'Historic Route 66' through Seligman and Kingsman, Arizona. We took the turn off, Lauren very excited snapping photos of the sign. Although you'll struggle finding an actual shield as so many tourists steal them! The road runs parcelled to the interstate and we, once again felt like extras to the 'Cars' film! Long stretches of road lay ahead with nothing but tumbleweeds for company and the odd old fashioned sign from the 60's. They featured rhymes regarding taking life easy and don't drink yourself to death. We arrived at Seligman, and revelled in the old fashioned shops and the oldest diner on the route. We passed many a sign for the 66 and absolutely got our kicks.

We left after some lunch and continued on our five hour journey from Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. We passed the Hoover Dam, driving over the top of it and looking down and passing the picturesque Lake Mead before the infamous Strip came into view in the distance. The four mile long road with a hundred skyscrapers set amongst the desert. As it approached the mini destinations appeared; Venice, Ancient Rome, Monte Carlo, Egypt and our hotel, New York New York (yes so good they named it twice) we pulled in off the interstate to the massive free parking lot and set out to our room having gained an hour of fun passing the pacific coast time zone. Our room was pretty high within a skyscraper designed to fit in the New York skyline and check in had been smooth. We had a partial strip view of the surrounding hotels and two huge gorgeous beds.

We set out immediately, as the impressive Roller coaster that travelled the perimeter of the casino was whirling past our room, the occasional scream distracting Lauren from her quest of dragging Susan to see the impressive strip lit up! To the coaster! Susan was not up for going on it, so Lauren and Ben set out, having done this during the day last time we were eager to see it at night! We only had to wait one turn before our own yellow taxi arrived and hurtled us around a track as a mock taxi ride. Having been in New York a few weeks earlier we must confess it was a startling similarity to our own taxi ride! It truly wetted our appetite to get outside but we decided to explore more of New York first. We went through Coney Island and through to Broadway and saw the two singing pianists battling, we passed Times Square, an Irish bar and eyed up Lady Liberty, plus the public library and iconic Chrysler and Empire State buildings. We stopped in at coyote ugly bar but Susan was most upset they didn't serve wine so we got them to take out, missing the dancing girls on stage, sorry Ben! We admired the giant Liberty made of jelly bellys and headed outside after a few rounds.

We wandered under the Brooklyn Bridge finally leaving the New York area, definitely the most impressive in terms of how far they have run with the theme. We took the trip to the Bellagio fountains passing Monte Carlo and the new city centre comprising a luxury shopping mall, Crystals and the looming towers of Aria, Vdara and Mandarin Oriental. We also passed the new development of Cosmopolitan which we were eager to visit in our few days here. Susan was very impressed but surprised how long it takes to walk past each complex as they truly are huge with thousands of rooms. You also cannot walk along the pavement at all times, to ease the busy traffic congestion many have diversion bridges to walk along to prevent huge queues at traffic lights. We watched the fabulous Bellagio fountains to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" as they danced beautifully, a similar composition to what we saw in Dubai earlier at the Burj Khalifa (they are designed by the same person.) Susan really enjoyed it as we left to have another tipple.

We wandered to Paris, as you do, and snapped some pictures of the Eiffel Tower plus the Arc De Triomphe and a giant hot air balloon signifying their invention. Inside, the decor continued with French signs and the legs of the tower plus painted blue skies. We had drinks at the bar that also featured gaming screens, you really can't get away from the gambling, although in the entire time we didn't gamble once and still had a blast! We headed back to the hotel after a long evening and a trip to the giant M&M shop and a few other gift stores. We dined on new york hot dogs from the many eateries before tucking in ahead of a busy day.

Susan awoke us with Starbucks, one of the two in our hotel alone, and we changed ready to face the sun shine. Our plan was literally to visit the casinos and see as many as possible. After a early lunch of giant pancakes for Lauren, potato skins for Ben and mini pancakes and bacon for Susan we ventured to the shopping mall attached to Planet Hollywood. Susan spent a small (large) fortune on presents and treats as Ben dragged his heels behind us! We left heading through several casinos, most impressively the Venetian and Susan was very impressed with St Mark's square and the grande canal although we declined the expensive gondola ride. We had a photo taken in the exact spot as we had done months before in Macau. We passed many a star making a buck, including Alan from the Hangover who clearly didn't learn his lesson, and the grinch even walked with Susan. Marilyn was definitely over the hill as only old men wanted to pose with her as she stood over a grid making her skirt blow! We visited the flamingo garden and the retro halls of Bills Gamblin' Saloon and Bally's.

We finished up the right side with a visit to the Wynn where Ben had stayed some years previous. The indoor gardens were stunning with real flowers and trees sparkled and we enjoyed a drink outside by the fountain before heading back along the left, passing Caesars and the Mirage and heading back to our hotel. Dinner this evening was at the impressive Eiffel Tower restaurant as we wanted a place with a view. There are so many different types of cuisine here and many offering Michelin stars it is hard to know where to dine but we decided on this having seen the menu the evening before. Lauren assured it was only a ten minute walk but with the up and downs of the bridges it was more like twenty! We arrived just about on time and took the lift up ten floors, much to Ben and Susan's worry, neither of them a fan of heights! We had a great booth overlooking the dancing fountains that erupted every fifteen minutes. The dinner itself was beautiful all of us very happy with our choices. Lauren continued her love affair having pumpkin soufflé for dessert as Susan had caramel, and Ben chocolate. Fully stuffed we quickly changed into flats (very sensible ladies) before leaving for the evening.

It was quite late and Susan was ready to hit the sack so she headed back as we spent some time on the casino floors and exploring the strip. We watched more fountains this time, "Luck be a Lady" and enjoyed the Halloween themed gardens of the Bellagio. We explored the newest addition of the Cosmopolitan before walking back through Monte Carlo and retiring ourselves.

Tuesday brought more Starbucks but then we headed south to visit an outlet mall. We spent the morning here dipping in and out of stores until Susan couldn't carry anymore! We then headed back to the strip, Ben driving well on the busy roads and somehow navigated our way to the Mirage car park, albeit we ended up on the freeway but Lauren got us back! We went straight for lunch at a firm favourite, Cheesecake Factory (although so full we did not manage cheesecake) before hitting a few shops in Caesars Forum and seeing more of the casinos on this side in the shape of Caesars, Mirage, Bellagio and Cosmpolitan where we had cocktails at the Chandelier bar. It very much felt like we were the centre of a giant chandelier a very unique place! We returned to watch the Sirens of TI (Treasure Island) a free show on a few times an evening where girls dance and sing in skimpy clothes and men dressed as pirates succumb to their charms! It was pretty decent for free and from here we watched the impressive spectacle of the Mirage volcano.

We headed back in the car now in darkness and parked back up at our hotel to have a lie down and freshen up. The plan was to go to the 64th lounge at Mandalay Bay to witness fascinating strip views. However the lie down soon turned into 6am Wednesday and we missed out! We lazily watched tv before heading out to our next destination waving goodbye to sin city.

We drove along the interstate to Death Valley area some two hours away, we stopped to fill up and munched on McDonalds and passed the Flintstones camp site! We followed the route laid out and as predicted the interstate passed straight over into California, only no time change, and led directly into the Death Valley road. Death Valley is quite a place like no other. The road suggests some dark and mysterious place, in fact it's the largest national park of clear open space with views for miles! The views comprise a few hills and in the distance Mt Whitney- the tallest in continental USA but also boasts the lowest point below sea level in the same space! From the naked eye all you see is sand dunes and sand rock formations, although on closer look one spots all the gravel that makes these natural entities. Salt is here in abundance and thus makes the air very dry with little to no water, hence creating the name although only one death has been known. In the past it was a known good prospecting place for gold and silver and Borax was excavated by mules and we visited a museum that explained this.

The land is a complete oxymoron surrounded by mountains as effectively we were within a flat basin and hence go below sea level. We visited the Furness Creek village complete with post office, gift store and saloon before driving to see more views. We took a two mile walk into the dunes to see the red rock cathedral, a stunning walk with rocks turning green from oxidation of copper (Ben had been teaching Lauren science as she came up with this one- thanks to Lady Liberty teaching her!) Lauren and Ben even climbed a dune which may have been a mistake as coming down was more than a chore but gave Susan a good few laughs. This area was the filming location from scenes from Star Wars when R2D2 and CP30 get lost on a desert planet and we also think the pod racing took its theme from here. We continued on drives through to Badwater, the lowest elevation and Ben tasted the salt! We then drove through Artists Palette with many a colour showing on rock cliffs.

We left here mid afternoon driving through more of the park taking the road to Los Angeles. We approached a bridge that looked like water but upon closer inspection was huge salt planes, it was incredible to see as we were convinced it was water, probably another reasons people named it so as you would travel a long way to think getting water to be thoroughly disappointed and thirsty! We were witness to a fascinating sunset through the rocks as we drove a further hour on an isolated road in pitch black! We finally arrived at our booked motel, a true drive up and checked in. We had passed a bar in the towns main road, just outside the LA county border. The bar was definitely home to rednecks and Lauren asked Ben to check the car twice! It was a BBQ type place and we had chicken things and jacket potatoes. The best part were the booths with your own tv so we sat and indoctrinated Susan with the best programme ever, Big Bang Theory and brand new episodes to boot!

We set out again in the morning after some free breakfast, roughly finishing the last two hour journey to Malibu. We arrived in time for lunch and drive along the infamous Pacific Coast Highway that stretches from Vancouver to Mexico over several days of driving! We passed the probably gorgeous views of Santa Monica but the skies were too grey to make the beauty obvious! We passed many villas in the hills and mansions on the beach, very "Two and a half men" before pulling up at the definitely impressive beach in Malibu of Zuma. The sand went as far as the eye could see and a few brave people were playing volleyball but all seemed quiet due to the weather. We left and dined at a Greek place at the famous Malibu country mart, although we spotted no celebs. We did see the Getty museum and the home used as Tony Starks in the latest Iron Man movies.

We drove past the pier to its more famous sister, Santa Monica Pier. We parked up and wondered to the end of Route 66, after several photos we walked to the very end and as the sun was coming down the sky lit with amazing colours and the beach looked beautiful. We walked the length and returned to have a drink on the pier at Bubba Gump. Susan had never seen Forest Gump but it had been on tv a few days earlier and she caught a bit of it, ironically the same scenes was showing inside! Lauren even got a souvenir glass and Susan enjoyed the gift shop before we drove along to another famous beach; Venice. We decided to see sunset here on the beach, marking the end of our ten day trip together. It really was a quirky place that the media suggests. We felt slightly uneasy but knew people were just high with arts creations! Most of the market stalls were closed but you could easily see this was a helluva place to visit! We somehow managed to get back to our motel near the airport with no directions written or a map and settled into the worst room we had seen! Susan stepped out to the liquor store but we were so full from our Greek lunch we just collapsed and fell asleep!

Friday arrived and we bid goodbye to Susan who was flying slightly after one and would take the free shuttle to the airport as we left for one last day with the car. We headed to the hills of LA and to the Hollywood sign. We had read there were many places to view it but we went to the one closest. Ben felt uncomfortable, as it seemed like we were driving within celebrity homes as we pulled up at an area that was listed on google maps. We saw the sign from the side but noticed many cars pulled up slightly up another road that seemed to give a straight on view. We headed here and got great photos and stunning views down over central LA. We drove down to here and headed down famous roads such as Melrose, Santa Monica and Hollywood. We visited the awesome Farmers Market and got some goodies and The Grove outdoor shopping mall with a gorgeous Christmas tree adorned with decorations and heard Christmas songs. It was starting to feel like Christmas indeed! We also visited a set for the Hobbit and saw Gandalf's staff!

We headed to our hotel just a few minutes walk from Hollywood and checked in after paying a fortune for valet parking! We wandered down to Hollywood Walk of Fame and saw the sign again from the Kodak Theatre and mall. We photographed many pretend stars making their fortune and the stars on the walk. We also spotted the same ones we had seen in Hong Kong's walk of fame! There was a guy offering free tickets to the filming of Jay Leno's tonight show so we got two and quickly went through Grauman's Chinese Theatre looking at the stars hand and footprints before getting the car from the hotel and driving almost back to the Hollywood sign to the CBS studios.

We passed a few other studios including Warner Brothers where we considered buying a tour in hope that they could be filming something, most exciting would have been Big Bang Theory! We got in line after eventually finding a space for the car and saw how many people were there! We also heard someone say there was no guarantee of getting in as they over subscribe tickets! Slightly worried we waited, and waited. After an hour we finally realised we would not be getting in! We were about twenty people off the closed line and went away feeling slightly peeved. We asked who had been on and as hadn't heard of any of them we weren't too bothered. You were offered guaranteed seats on the next two showings on VIP entrance but obviously we couldn't go to this as we leave the next day!

So back into Hollywood we decided to go and watch the highly anticipated Bond film, Skyfall. This had been out in the UK for over three weeks but only came out in the US a week ago so we were pretty excited. We took in more sights as we walked down to the first ever cinema in LA and thoroughly enjoyed it munching on old fashioned candy. We left very excited and shared burger and sweet potato fries at the Mel's drive in diner. Lauren also had a thick caramel malt. We saw more walk of fame at night before retiring to be ready in the morning for our flight home.

We awoke to grey skies although the Hollywood sign and huge Christian cross illuminated clearly visible from our room. We then proceeded to pack for the last time. We knew we had collected a bit and had some of Susan's things that were too heavy for her! Lauren ruthlessly started looking through all our bits and decided to throw anything we were unlikely to use from our underware that had been through so many damaging hot washes and clothes we knew we would always associate with this trip and never wear again! We got rid of toiletries and wore our heavier jackets and trainers so everything fit in nicely! Getting the car we drove to the airport and smoothly returned the car and got the free shuttle to our terminal.

We sat at the airport and reflected on our time away. It had been the most incredible trip and definitely the best decision we could have made as we sat here, hands held and happier than ever! Grabbing a few last duty free items we sombrely made our way to the plane. Tomorrow we would be heading four hours north to celebrate Lauren's great grandmas 103rd birthday a celebration we would have missed partially as we didn't expect to be celebrating it. Granted we had missed some important things but nothing could change the time away we have had, the people we have become and more importantly we now had a clear plan of where we wanted our future to be - the exact purpose of the trip so mission accomplished! We had an easy flight back although the films, once again were too good to miss so we didn't actually sleep but with jobs on the horizon we knew we could take a few days to take a bit of R&R.

Things of note:

In Vegas people love tv shows and movies, you could buy so many T shirts of famous catchphrases!

The Bellagio fountains are on every fifteen minutes but when we were at the restaurant we are sure they all merged into one hour long dance!

Petrol is sold by the gallon not litre and is so much cheaper than the UK. Our ford car similar to a Mindel only cost £25-30 to fill, but you must pre pay before you pump and they cannot read our English debit card as you have to enter your Zip code! You then either overpay and take a refund or keep adding money!

We spotted a few celebrities from Mario Lopez interviewing Pitbull at The Grove to walking with Seth Rogen outside the cinema, but you can't make a scene- no one else does!

What would we do differently:

We would just head back again and spend longer (in the sun) at the beaches and we definitely want to drive the Pacific Coast highway fully! We wanted to go to Yosemite national park but the seven hour drive meant only spending five hours there which was silly but we will come back and spend time here!

Thefts: one hour of our time queuing for no guaranteed seats!

Near Misses: 0

Fallouts: 1 Lauren really wanted a bag at the outlet mall and Ben was digging his heels!

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