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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Nevada

Utah and Arizona - We are Coming Back!

Paula Gaston

In April we are heading out to Utah and Arizona again. My dream was actually to visit Mexico during Spring Break, but we had to push that plan forward. In November we had to say good bye to great gramma while we visited some family in Utah, and now we are going back scatter her ashes. On that trip in November, we visited Dead Valley, Las Vegas and several other places in Utah. This time we have one week for our road trip, so we thought we could drive around in Southern Utah and Arizona. Our travel plan is mostly ready, but we also have some free days there, so our plan is flexible.

ST. GEORGE and snow CANYON STATE PARK

We will head out from San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday after school, and try to get as far as we can. The school days before holidays are usually shorter, so hopefully we get on the road by early afternoon. The next day we will drive through Nevada, passing by Las Vegas, to Arizona and then on to Utah. We are scheduled to be in St. George, Utah, Friday evening. We will be staying in the same town where we stopped at Severn Wives Inn on our last trip.

On Saturday we will be visiting Snow Canyon together with our extended family. That will be Gramma’s final resting place. I had never heard of this place before, but it looks absolutely beautiful! It actually reminds me of Zion National Park. It is said, that if Snow Canyon would be in any other state, it would be a national park. But Utah already has so many national parks that Snow Canyon just didn’t fit on that list. For that Sunday our schedule is still open, and we hope to spend some time with the family. Maybe we can also visit Zion and do some hiking together, or we can do that on Monday, since we have always wanted to return there.

Zion National Park is full of beautiful rock formations and hiking trails

Zion National Park is full of beautiful rock formations and hiking trails

ANTELOPE CANYON, HORSE SHOE BEND AND RAINBOW BRIDGE

From St. George we will head towards Kanab and make a quick stop at Pipe Springs National Monument. Pipe Springs is an area that has a rich history of American Indians and Mormon pioneers. In Kanab we will probably visit Little Hollywood Museum which is like a little western town, and where they have filmed many old television shows and movies. I am looking into booking a hotel over in the Kanab area. There are so many cool hiking places close to this town, but some are too difficult to go with kids. My ultimate dream is to visit The Wave someday. Unfortunately, we had to rule that out since we were already late for the permit lottery, and it is too challenging to hike with kids. Hopefully someday we can return to see it, since it is truly amazing!

Then we will continue to the city of Page. On the way there, there are some cool hoodoos — statue like rock formations, which we would like to see. A hike to Toadstool Hoodoos is not very long, so it should be something fun for the whole family. We will stay the night in Page and for Thursday we have booked a tour at Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon formed by rain runoff, and is absolutely beautiful. Since the canyon is very popular, and it is located on the Navajo Indians’ land, people can’t just walk around there by themselves. One must book a tour to visit Antelope Canyon. It is also a safety concern. In case of a storm close by, the water might run through the canyon with huge force, and give you an unpleasant surprise. In fact, people have died visiting Antelope Canyon on occasions like these. Therefore, they wont let people in without a guide. Now we are just hoping that there won’t be rain while on our visit!

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Then it is time to go check out Horseshoe Bend which I have seen so many photos of in the last years. It is an amazing viewpoint to the Colorado River in a spot where the river makes a u-turn just like a horse shoe. We will also visit Lake Powel, and secretly I am dreaming about a trip to the Rainbow Bridge, which is the biggest rock arch in the world. It too, is on Indian land, so you can’t just go see it. You must have a permit or take a boat tour. We are still considering wether to do it or not.

FROM GRAND CANYON TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE AND HOME

We have never visited the Grand Canyon’s south rim, so we want to go there, since we are this close. We did visit the north rim in 2014. After that we will start our long drive back home. We will first drive to Southern California to take our youngest daughter for a small procedure, and then drive to our home in Northern California. We are incorporating this procedure on this trip, since there were no doctors close by, who could have done it. After the surgery we still have about six hours drive back home. Hopefully it will go without too much pain.

Last time we visited the Grand Canyon the view was smoky, due to forest fires there. It will be nice to go back and hopefully there will be sunshine, rather than smoke this time.

Last time we visited the Grand Canyon the view was smoky, due to forest fires there. It will be nice to go back and hopefully there will be sunshine, rather than smoke this time.

Since we will be driving along Route 66 for a while, I’m sure there will be something to see there as well. One interesting place to stop is a Bottle Farm where one can see over 300 trees made out of old bottles. What a bizarre but interesting place that must be!

Oh wow, that should keep us busy. We are in for a busy, fun week. This is what we have planned, but we still have to set up most of the reservations. And if you have been following my blog you probably know, that our trips will never go quite as planned. So we will see where we actually end up this time!

Have you been to any of these places? Do you have any recommendations what to see or do?



Dining at the Rainforest Cafe, Las Vegas

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we had an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. This is a restaurant chain where you can hop into the middle of a rainforest. Even though it might seem a little comical with its howling animals, it is a fun place and kids especially love it. Animals at the Rainforest Cafe are not real of course. They are all mechanical and even the plants are plastic. We went to this same restaurant some years ago, and I have also visited the one in San Francisco which was closed in 2017. I am almost positive that I have also been to one in Chicago. We have had good experiences in this restaurant and our daughter had a blast on this visit too.

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TROPICAL ANIMALS AND NORTHERN LIGHTS

The Rainforest Cafe is a chain which was first started in 1994 at the Mall of America, Minnesota. From there it expanded to ten different states, and even outside the USA. Usually you can recognise the Rainforest Cafe from far away, because there are lots of plants and steam at their front door. Every now and then the animals inside the restaurant will start moving and making noises. The elephants will flap their ears, a monkey hanging in a swing closed his eyes and even the snakes were sticking their tongues out at us. There was also a bizarre thing going on in this rainforest. After the day turned to night, a sky full of stars lit up the ceiling…and with Northern Lights! I bet that the countries that actually have Northern Lights don’t have rainforests also.

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While visiting the Rainforest Cafe one should take a little stroll around it while waiting for the food; just to check out all the animals they have. They usually also have a souvenir shop in the lobby where kids can find all kinds fun things to take home.

WOW, WHAT A DRINK AND SOME DELICIOUS SHRIMP

Since we were in Vegas, I decided to have a drink before dinner. I was looking at the Margaritas and wanted to try something new, so I ordered a CoronaRita. It wasn’t until I saw the drink that I realised what I had ordered. It is two drinks in one; a margarita with a beer bottle. And I don’t even like beer. For some reason my brain didn’t register that I was ordering something with beer. But hey, since we were in Vegas, the rest of the drink was given to us to go.

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CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy! AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy!
AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

The Rainforest Cafe menu is a pretty typical American restaurant menu. There is plenty to choose from and something for everyone. Salads, snacks, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and meat… and of course, a separate menu for kids. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I chose some coconut shrimp with mashed potatoes. This was easily sharable with our little one too, who still needed pureed type of food.

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If you are traveling with kids or just want to experience something different, the Rainforest Cafe can be fun. The food is good but a little bit pricier than a normal restaurant. We left the place for the streets of Las Vegas with full bellies and with an emptier wallet.

 

A Family Favorite in Las Vegas - Excalibur Hotel

Paula Gaston

Before Christmas we did a road trip from California through Nevada to Utah. On that trip we spent two nights in Las Vegas. Maybe you already read about out tips what to do in Vegas with kids (or even without). At that time I promised that I will tell you more about the Hotel Excalibur later. It was our first time in this hotel, and here is all the info you need when deciding if it could be a hotel for you.

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Excalibur Hotel & Casino is one of the theme hotels on the Strip, the main road in downtown Las Vegas, and is popular especially among the families traveling with kids. It is built in a medieval theme and looks a little bit like a castle. It also attracts families with its entertainment. And it was very easy to find in the evening, since the castle towers were lit and looked amazing. After circling around a while, we managed to find the self parking entrance too. Parking there cost us $10 per day.

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EXCALIBUR ROOMS

I had booked our room through Booking.com, and since we travel with two kids, I always choose a twin queen or twin king room. These rooms are most practical for us and usually available in most hotels. We do have a travel bed for the baby too, but when staying in a twin room we don’t really need it.

While checking in to the hotel, we were offered an upgrade to the Royal Tower with for $10 per day. And since my husband had been a little doubtful that the Excalibur, that it would be outdated, we decided to go ahead and upgrade. I kinda thought that all the rooms in the hotel had been renewed last century, but we were told that the Royal Tower had rooms that were remodeled only a few years ago. That sounded good to us. Later I was a little bit bummed out that I didn’t ask for a room where we could see the colorful towers outside. The view from our room was to the Strip as the receptionist proudly told us. Oh well, I would have rather been looking at the towers than the street.

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The room was very basic and to be honest, it had already seen better days in my opinion. And in that regard, overpriced as well. But that was not a surprise for us since most hotel rooms in Vegas seem to be old and used. I felt exactly the same in Luxor few years ago. Overall, be prepared for the Vegas hotels taking your money every possible way they can. This time however, we got free wi-fi. The room prices vary hugely depending on the time, even from $40 to a couple hundred. Guests can use the pool area and the gym when they are open. Unfortunately when we visited in November, the pool area was closed for the winter season already.

EATING AT EXCALIBUR

There are plenty to restaurants to choose from when looking for food in Excalibur, but be prepared to wait. There are almost always lines to get in to the restaurants. The first night we ate at Buca di Beppo, which turned out to be a great family restaurant with good food. I had read about Dick’s Last Resort but after seeing it, it didn’t seem like a place we would like to eat with kids. It was very loud and people were in a party mood. They offer obnoxious service in a funny way and guests sit with paper hats on their heads. Maybe if we visit without kids someday we will try it out.

Finding breakfast turned out to be a little bit more challenging, since everywhere we went had huge lines. We ended up getting some breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks in Luxor, and then ate a bigger lunch that day. We were thinking about the breakfast buffet, but the line looked like it would take us hours to get in. Even though I love a good breakfast now we just needed to get something before getting out to explore.

TAKE A TRAM TO LUXOR AND OTHER THINGS TO DO

Like most hotels in Las Vegas, there was of course a casino downstairs. And the ones in Las Vegas are especially complex, so that you will get lost many times while trying to find places. We walked around many extra miles while on our visit. If it was summer time, we would have for sure been at the pool too, but now we didn’t spend much time at the hotel. Excalibur Family Fun Center didn’t seem appealing to us and even the roller coaster looked too scary for our kids. The Family Fun Center has all kinds of activities from mini golf to go karts, but we wanted to see more of Vegas. Excalibur also has other entertainment like Tournament of Kings (a joust), Cirque de Soleil and other shows.

The Mandalay Bay Tram is a free tram which will take you from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay or Luxor which are both part of MGM Resorts. At least Luxor is a fun place to visit since it is shaped like a pyramid and had an Egyptian atmosphere.

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Our experience at Excalibur was ok. Nothing bad or especially good that stood out on our stay. But our 6 year old still remembers her night in a medieval castle.

 

The Amazing Salt Flats of Bonneville, Utah

Paula Gaston

The last stop on our road trip to Utah was the Bonneville Salt Flats. This was not really one of our destinations, but since it was on the way back home to California, we wanted to stop to take some photos. This was not our first time to Bonneville, but previously we were there on a cloudy day, and it didn’t look as amazing as in pictures we had seen. So when we left Vineyard in Utah, I crossed my fingers hoping, that once we reach Bonneville the sun would be shining.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are on the border of Utah and Nevada on Interstate 80. This so called salt pan was born when a lake evaporated and left behind a layer of salt. At its thickest, the salt layer at Bonneville is 1,8 metres (70.86 inches) thick, but looks can be deceiving as it is fragile, since there is often mud under the salt. Bonneville Speedway is famous for record breaking land speeds during Speed Week and it gets televised to many countries. However, in the last few years they had to cancel due to the salt layer getting too thin.

 

The beginning of our trip didn’t look very promising regarding the sun because right after we left, it started snowing. Everywhere we looked the sky looked grey. It wasn’t before we had passed Salt Lake City (which I wrote about a couple of years ago by the way), and we were driving along the Great Salt Lake, that we would see some glimpses of the sun. The first sign of the salt flats ahead was the Morton Salt Factory which we saw by the road. Morton is a popular salt brand in the U.S.. When we finally reached the salt desert, the sky was crystal clear. Woohoo! But then there was another little obstacle: it was crazy windy and the wind had blown some sand on top of the salt. So now when the sky was not grey anymore, the salt flat was.

Finally we managed to find a spot where the salt was shining pure white under the sun. And it happened to be right at the rest area so we parked and headed out. Instead of parking, many people drove further on top of the salt. That is what we did last time too, but this time we wanted to spare our car from the salt. We walked a little bit to take some photos. We probably would have spent a little more time there if the wind wasn’t so bad. By looking at the photos one probably can’t imagine how freezing cold it actually was at the salt flats. And here is one tip to everyone: If you see a spot to stop, use it! There is no way to turn back unless you drive miles and miles ahead or make an illegal turn.

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The closest town to the Bonneville Salt Flats is West Wendover where we stopped for lunch. You really know you have arrived in Nevada when the only Starbucks in town is at a casino! But we did manage to get our coffee too and continued our drive toward Winnemucca where we had a hotel reservation. The salt flats always look amazing, but there really isn’t anything else there. So I don’t think I would drive all the way there just to see the salt. If you want to feel like a tourist, the gas station close by sells some souvenirs and postcards. But we were happy that we had something to see on our drive back home to California!

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We arrived home the next day tired but happy. Next time some more Christmassy topics!

 

Visit to Hoover Dam in Nevada & Arizona

Paula Gaston

Our road trip continued from Las Vegas to the border of Nevada and Arizona. While our next destination was in Utah, before heading there, we wanted to stop at Hoover Dam, which for sure is the most famous dam in the USA. It is located on the Colorado River right at the state border. Many people visiting Las Vegas also visit Hoover Dam since it is so close.

 

The drive to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas is less than an hour. There are a lot of visitors there, so at the end of the drive, the traffic was going very slowly and we had to line up for a security check. Not all of the cars were inspected, but we were told to drive to one side with many other SUVs. The security check was very fast; they looked in from the windows and wanted to see what was in the trunk. Then we were given permission to continue.

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Hoover Dam provides power not only to Nevada and Arizona, but also to Southern California. In 1936 when it was construction was completed, it was the biggest concrete dam in the United States. And for sure the most famous one too. A total of 112 men were killed during the construction. The dam was named after president Herbert Hoover. Today, Hoover Dam is a major tourist destination getting almost a million visitors yearly. We felt like there were cars everywhere, and even the huge parking garage seemed to be pretty full. Luckily there was always someone leaving and we found parking pretty quickly. And so we headed out to see the place.

Hoover Dam is interesting, since if you cross the river, you are actually in a different state and in a different time zone. So you can move your clock forward one hour. And then you can walk back and turn your clock back too.. ha ha. The view from the dam is amazing. You can see the Colorado River and the newly built bridge. Hoover Dam Bypass was built to ease up the traffic for those who are just passing by and not there to see the dam. If you look down, you can see all the concrete that they used to construct the dam. There is three and one-quarter million cubic yards of it.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

On Nevada time

On Nevada time

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They do have some guided tours at the Hoover Dam Powerplant, where you get to see how the powerplant works, see the generators, and go onto the visitor center observation deck. You can check the prices from here. While we visited Hoover Dam, the visitor center was under renovation, so also the guided tour was limited to the powerplant only. We skipped the tour and headed to the free viewing point instead, which in my opinion, was an even better experience than walking on top of the dam. It is on the bridge that you can see in the photo above. My husband didn’t agree with me, and he thought walking along the dam was way cooler. I however loved the view from the bridge. Just follow the signs to Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza. That is also where we took the photo posing with the “Welcome to Nevada” sign.

Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza

Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza

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A visit to Hoover Dam is pretty interesting! It isn’t every day that you get to see something like this. So if you are close by, you should definitely include a stop at Hoover Dam in your itinerary.