Time has run away from us the last few weeks. We’ve obviously been having too much fun! It’s early morning at LAX and we have a couple of hours before our flight to the East Coast so it’s a good time to grab a coffee, reflect on our adventures, and write the next post.
The road trip continued with Lauren and Gorgeous George in tow. We actually ended up traveling with them until they flew home at the end of July, which was great. I got to spend some quality time with my sister, Tim had some male company, and we had more people for card games in the evening. Also, it was financially beneficial for us all as we could split the cost of the campsite each night!
From Bishop, we headed deeper into the desert, to Death Valley, where the temperature crept up into the 40s. We were certainly getting the hot weather we’d been hoping for…perhaps too hot at times. We stayed just outside the valley, about 8 miles out, in the quirky town of Beatty. The camper van that Lauren and GG had rented didn’t allow them to drive into the valley itself because it gets even hotter down there, so we found a spot at an RV park with a pool; just what we needed! We hopped straight in and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the sun reading.
The drive to Beatty was fantastic with scenery unlike any we’ve seen before. The seemingly never-ending highway cuts straight and narrow, through a vast, arid landscape of burnt-coloured mountains, stretching right out to a hazy horizon. The colours of the sky, rocks, and desert earth were so vibrant it brought the desolate terrain to life; it felt like we were driving into a landscape painting of the great American wild west.
The town of Beatty is as western as you can get. Old diners, saloon bars, and derelict shops line the dusty streets. As waves of heat rise off the concrete, you expect to see tumbleweed blowing past and to hear the distant sound of a western whistle. We went to a diner in the morning: ‘Mel’s Diner’, just across the street from the RV park. Well, Mel was a delight. Perhaps in her late 60s and having worked there all her life, to say she was blunt would be an understatement. She gave us one minute and no longer, to choose our order and when I asked if I could have my eggs poached she simply answered: “no”. She lightened up a little when GG turned on the charm and said his pancakes were the best he’d eaten in America.
Before we set off for Las Vegas we drove out to Rhyolite to visit Goldwell Open Air Museum. It was bizarre. Displayed over 7.8 acres, modern abstract sculptures such as a ghostly representation of The Last Supper or a pixel art sculpture of a Greek Goddess are displayed amongst the raw, barren wasteland of the Bullfrog Hills. We wondered if the creator of these installations was slightly mad. Maybe he had a touch of “desert brain”.
We’d already noticed in Beatty that people were a little a cooky when you enter into desert lands. The heat must go to their heads. Actually, we just learned (from our Air BnB hosts in California) that when you say “desert brain” to someone in California, they instantly know what you mean.
Once nicknamed the “Chicago of the West”, Rhyolite used to be a booming mining town, with railroads, schools, a hospital, local businesses and a population of around 5,000. In the early 1900s people flocked here during the ensuing Gold Rush but sadly, once the ore was exhausted by 1908, the city declined as rapidly as it rose. All that’s left now are the remnants of an old railroad, creepy, lone wooden houses and burnt out buildings. It makes for some good photos though.
Las Vegas: you either love or hate it, right? I’d say we’re in the middle. It’s definitely not the place to go when you’re on a budget like us because you could spend up a storm in a matter of hours, whether it’s buying drinks poolside, tickets to a show or a nightclub event, or gambling. Still, we had a good couple of days there and experienced a bit of luxury staying in a hotel room after 22 nights in the tent.
America’s original Sin City, Vegas personifies human greed and consumption, which we didn’t like so much but I guess it’s what keeps the city’s engine purring. And you can’t get bored people watching. We did enjoy wandering between the unique and unusual hotels on the strip and repeatedly being surprised by what’s on display. There are no limits to what they can build, it seems. A roller coaster whips around the New York-New York, you can go to a full-size theme park inside Circus Circus or ride a gondola through the Venetian, to name a few.
What we enjoyed most in Vegas was the drive in movie theatre. It was such an American experience! As eager beavers, we were the first ones there with our take out pizza and beer, nabbing the prime spot to see Spider-man: Homecoming.
After a couple of nights in a soft comfy bed, it was back to the tent. From Vegas, we crossed the border into Arizona. We were camping a couple of nights in Flagstaff, a hip university town with plenty of artisan shops, breweries, cafes and restaurants and you’re only a few hours from one of the great natural wonders of the world: the Grand Canyon.
We made a day trip to the Canyon and walked part of the Rim Trail. The scale of it is mind blowing. One day, we’d like to go back and walk more of it or perhaps take the rafting trip down the Colorado River, through the heart of the canyon. It’s 100% worth the drive to go and see.
I think we all loved the next place we visited: Monument Valley. Ticking off another state as we crossed the border into Utah, we were now truly in cowboy territory. The fragile pinnacles of red rock dramatically rise out of the earth creating a landscape so alien, yet familiar, having seen it pictured in Hollywood movies; Monument Valley is the iconic symbol of the American West. The vistas are ever-changing as the cycle of light falls gently across the red rocks, it’s easy to see why the Navajo tribe, who have inhabited the land for hundreds of years, consider it a truly spiritual place and the sacred heart of their nation.
We settled into our campsite, overlooking Monument Valley and played some games before sunset.
We woke up at 6am for the sunrise, some morning yoga, and pancakes to celebrate GG’s birthday.
Back in Flagstaff, we continued the celebrations on a mini brewery tour…we went to three. First up was Lumberyard Brewery, where we ordered the most delicious pizza and the girls did pretty well against the boys at pool. Flagstaff Brewing Company was next and we sat right at the bar as we think all Americans do in movies. We didn’t slide our glasses down the bar top to the bartender though; we hadn’t had enough beers at that point! Lastly, we went to Hops on Birch where the boys beat us at beer pong. At least it was all even stevens at the end of the night.
The highlight for GG on his birthday? You’d think it might be the pancakes but no, it was meeting Cujo the dog. In complete contrast to his name (anyone who knows the movie Cujo will be picturing a terrifying, rabid, St. Bernard), this Cujo was a cute little wiry-haired fox terrier whose owner was our Uber driver, Johnny. Cujo is so small, he likes to sit under the driver’s seat and only comes out to meet customers when he feels comfortable. Well, it was GGs lucky day.
The celebrations didn’t end there…the next morning was Lauren’s birthday; the big 30th! We were holding off on the celebrations until we got to Joshua Tree, where we’d booked a beautiful Casita through Air BnB for three nights but we did go for a slap up diner-style breakfast in the morning.
Before Joshua Tree, we had one more night of camping. To send the tent off in style, we found a great little spot to camp right next to the water at Lake Havasu. The water was so warm it was like taking a bath. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest last nights sleep in the tent as it stayed at 30 degrees through the night. We couldn’t even get into the lake to cool off!
And that’s our boarding call. We’re still behind and will write up our post from Southern California (SoCal) soon, so stay…posted.
See more photos from Arizona, Nevada & Utah.