Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

The drive west from Boulder was amazing. Some of the best features of southern Utah are preserved in the national parks, but even outside the national parks, the scenery is often jaw-dropping. We drove through the Bryce Canyon area and saw some of the hoodoos.

We also stopped at the Ruby’s complex just outside the park to use their wireless again. An Expedia search yielded a hotel room at the Gold Coast Casino for the next night for $23 plus tax. Score! That’s barely more expensive than a campsite, and we’d get showers and a king-sized bed! We looked to see if we could stay for two nights, but the next night, Friday, would be over $70 – apparently, Vegas rooms are way more expensive on the weekends than on weekdays. Nevertheless, after lying on the ground repeatedly as mock patients for WFR scenarios and being sand-blasted in the high winds, we were thrilled about the prospect of a shower.

Then, toward sunset, we arrived at Zion National Park, which seemed like a great place to spend the night. We drove a scenic road from the east entrance toward the south entrance, including a mile-plus-long tunnel blasted through the rock. There were park rangers stationed at either end to stop traffic for any larger RVs because the tunnel isn’t big enough to allow two lanes when one of those lanes is occupied by an RV.

It was getting late, so we didn’t stop much along the way through Zion, but we did take a few photos of the pretty evening light on the rocks.

Just after sunset, we arrived at the Watchman Campground, where we planned to sleep. Fortunately, there were a few sites left, so we set up our brand-new replacement tent for the first time and made some dinner. The campground doesn’t offer a whole lot of privacy, but the views from our campsite were quite pretty.

The next morning, we woke up and took a few pictures of the morning light from our campsite:

Here’s Sarah, happy to have spent a calm night in our tent, a wonderful contrast to the high winds of Boulder.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed out, on our way to Vegas, baby! We decided to take a scenic route through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, but it wasn’t all that impressive. The lake has receded a lot over the past few years, and the smog in southern Nevada is pretty bad right now, so the combination of those factors made for unimpressive views. We considered going to Hoover Dam, which was just a few miles out of our way, but we were so excited about taking showers that we skipped it in favor of heading straight to our hotel.

When we got to the Gold Coast, it took us about ten minutes to park, not because finding a parking place was a problem, but because the casino was so huge that we couldn’t figure out where the front desk was or which parking area to use! It was also immediately apparent that this wasn’t the hip place to stay, not that we were expecting hipness for $23 a night. The casino is perhaps a mile away from the Strip, and it has the bright flashing lights that we associate with casinos of, say, the 1970s. After checking in, we had to walk through the casino to get to the hotel elevator, and determined that the average age of the casino clientele was probably around 50, with many people in their 70s or older. We’ve never seen a parking lot with so many handicapped spaces, and at times, they were all full!

We arrived at our room to find a monstrous bed, a powerful shower, and a 32” flat-screen TV, and we were pleased. We spent a good half hour taking showers, getting all the dirt and grit off our bodies after the WFR course. Then we headed down to the casino for the lunch buffet before lounging around for a while and running some errands. In the evening, we headed to Cashman Field for a minor-league baseball game between the Las Vegas 51s, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, and the Portland Beavers, the AAA team of the San Diego Padres. It was dollar beer night, and we noticed that the clientele here skewed way younger than at the Gold Coast. The 51s’ pitcher had some trouble in the first couple of innings, and the already rowdy beer-drinking crowd started booing him, but he settled down and the 51s’ bats heated up, and the 51s wound up winning 8-1. Beer lines and bathroom lines were both long, but Brian managed to consume and expel four beers during the game.

Afterwards, we headed to the Strip to see it lit up at night. Other than Times Square in New York, we couldn’t think of anywhere else we’d been that was so bright at night. The power lines in Vegas are a sight in themselves – never have we seen so many power lines attached to a single utility pole! We wanted to spend some time walking the Strip the next day, and there happens to be a KOA next to the Circus Circus, so we stopped in there to find out how much it would cost to pitch our tent the next night. The answer: $45! To pitch our tent in a parking lot! Everything’s expensive in Vegas on the weekends.

We headed back to the hotel and had some cocktails at the casino bar – free, with a coupon book that we received at check-in. Then we headed to the bowling alley to play a few games. Their graveyard special starts at midnight – a dollar for shoe rental, for each game, and for each beer. It had been several years since either of us had bowled, and we had fun playing a couple of games.

The next morning, we ate the breakfast buffet and hung out in our nice accommodations for a while before checking out. On our way out, we played a couple of hands of blackjack because our coupon books contained coupons for a $5 casino match on a $5 bet, stacking the odds in our favor. The dealer started with a 3 and eventually busted, so we both won. Our $20 combined winnings almost paid for the hotel room!

We hadn’t done laundry since leaving Colorado, so Brian did that while Sarah ran some other errands. The laundromat had industrial-sized washing machines – our monstrous bag of clothes fit into one washing machine that could hold up to 55 pounds of laundry and cost $5 a load! And that wasn’t even the biggest – if you had more laundry, you could use a $7, 75-pound machine! The laundry was uneventful, and there was wireless at the laundromat to keep Brian occupied.

Brian found that the weather forecast for Death Valley, our next destination, was 99-103 degrees each day through Tuesday. Yuck! It was supposed to cool off on Wednesday, to a high of about 90 degrees, so we decided that between now and then, air-conditioned Vegas was far preferable. Some searching yielded a $28 room for Sunday and Monday nights at the Gold Coast. Although there were comparably-priced rooms in other casinos, we’d been quite happy with the Gold Coast, so we decided to return. For the weekend, we’d camp in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, just northwest of the city. About the time that the laundry finished, Sarah returned, and we headed off for a weekend camping trip from our new home base of Vegas!

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