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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: Utah road trip

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!

 

Visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah

Paula Gaston

When we arrived in Cedar City, we had reached approximately the half way point of our road trip. We were still going to spend Thanksgiving with our family in Utah, and then drive back to California through the Bonneville Salt Flats and on through Nevada. It was now travel day number five, and we had already driven over from California and visited Manzanar, Death Valley, Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. One reason we went to all these places, was that most of the national parks in Utah were already snowed in, and some of them were even closed. Otherwise, we would have rather been in Utah for most of the trip. Now we were thinking about visiting either Zion or Cedar Breaks, and we chose Cedar Breaks, since we had already been to Zion before. Also, we knew that Cedar Breaks was a relatively small park and we could definitely do it in one day.

 
A frozen waterfall on the road to Cedar Breaks

A frozen waterfall on the road to Cedar Breaks

Cedar Breaks National Monument reminds me a lot of Bryce Canyon, which I think, is the most beautiful national park in the United States that I have seen so far. The amphitheatre of red rocks and hoodoos is just amazing! But Cedar Breaks is much smaller than its big brother Bryce, and one can easily drive through it while stopping at the overlooks in a few hours. There are four overlook areas on the main road, and some hiking trails that start from them. In the summer time, they are probably much more fun, but now they were all very icy. The monument is officially open only from June to the end of October. So now the visitor center and the facilities were closed. But if the road is open, one can still drive over and see the beautiful rock formations. Updated information about the road conditions can be found from here, or one can check out the web cam to see the road by choosing the location “Brian Head”.

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I would recommend to drive around Cedar Breaks, since it doesn’t really take a lot longer than just turning around and driving back. While we visited, the ski resorts on the other side of the mountain were already open and there seemed to be more than one of them. During the winter there are many snowmobile trails and it’s probably a great place for snowshoeing too. During the summer time there is also a camping area that can be used by the guests. We stayed in Cedar City at Abbey Inn, and we really liked it! The hotel was quite average, but there were many small things we loved: super friendly staff, a clean room, great breakfast and some little extra things like chocolate gifts, a huge tea selection, separate make up towel in the bathroom, and so forth. No wonder they had such great reviews!

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I must say, that after living with the wild fire smoke in the San Francisco Bay Area and staying two days in a smokey casinos in Vegas, I fully enjoyed breathing the clean mountain air. We love being outside in nature, and Cedar Breaks offered us a great setting to do just that!

 

A Night at Seven Wives Inn, Utah

Paula Gaston

Our road trip continued from Las Vegas via Hoover Dam to Utah. We had already driven 1440 kilometres (894 miles), and we still had a ways to go until our final destination in Utah. We had our fourth night ahead on this trip, and we had planned to stay in St. George which is in Southern Utah. Instead of a hotel, we had booked a room from a Bed & Breakfast called Seven Wives Inn. They had great reviews, and after Vegas we looked forward to staying in a place with a little more personality and quality. And we always love to explore different boutique hotels and other unique accommodations instead of chain hotels which all look the same. And the Seven Wives Inn really fulfilled our expectations.

 

As many of you probably know, Utah is known for the Mormons who practised polygamy before Utah became a state. Polygamy is marriage with multiple spouses, typically where a man can have multiple wives, but there have also been women marrying several men. Eventually, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS Church as it is known, started getting into trouble when the government set some laws against polygamy. The church finally renounced it in 1890, but there are still some people practising polygamy in Utah and neighboring states. So now, you must be guessing where the name of our Inn came from?!

The Seven Wives Inn has a long history. There are two separate houses and a cottage for guests to use. We stayed at the main house, which was built by Edwin G. Woolley in 1873. He hid some polygamists in the attic of the house after polygamy was outlawed in 1882. At the time, the house had a hidden door leading to the attic. One person hiding there was an ancestor of the innkeeper; Benjamin F. Johnson, who really had seven wives And that is where the Inn gets its name. The house next to it is called the President’s House, since many president’s of the Mormon Church used to stay there. Today the Inn is owned by a very nice couple who moved over from California, and who run the place with a big heart.

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The rooms at the bed & breakfast have been named after the seven wives. We had originally booked a room called Jane from the attic, but we got a complimentary upgrade to a bigger room downstairs. We were told, that it would be more convenient with kids since the stairs up were quite narrow. That was very nice! The room we then got was called Lucinda, and it was also larger than Jane with a full size folding coach. The room price includes homemade breakfast, which is served daily in the dining room. In the evening we returned our breakfast sheet to the kitchen describing what we would like to eat, and we discovered that there was some coffee, tea and apple cider with homemade cookies for the guests.

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Seven Wives Inn was a great experience and I can truly recommend this place. It had a lovely and peaceful ambiance, and the hostess was glad to tell us about the house and its history. Even though the building is old, it is well taken care of. Everything is very rustic. The price is obviously a little higher than an average hotel, which probably rules out some customers, and at first we were not sure if they even take families with kids. They do direct the families to call them instead of booking online. Guests are welcome to walk around the surroundings of the Bed & Breakfast, and in the summer time, they also have a pool. While visiting, I suggest you check out all the rooms where the doors are open. Down stairs they had a little library room and a room called Sarah, which had a vintage car as a bath tub. Quite interesting!

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We continued our trip the next day rested and very happy! Our next stop was Cedar City, where we visited Cedar Breaks National Monument. More about that next time.

 

Viva Las Vegas with Kids!

Paula Gaston

Las Vegas, also known as Sin City, is known for gambling, casinos, quick marriages and bars open around the clock. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” they say. So why take your kids with you on vacation to such a place? In the USA, it is common to take kids with you anywhere you go. Same goes with Las Vegas. But I have to say, that one will see a whole different part of the city when you are not free to party and stay up all night long. We stayed there for two days with our kids, and we still had a great time!

CHOOSE A HOTEL THAT SUITS YOUR FAMILY

Planning a vacation in Las Vegas starts by choosing a hotel for your family’s needs. We always want to stay right at the Strip, the main road of downtown Las Vegas. Otherwise, you will have to drive over to experience it. No matter what, there will be a lot of walking involved in Vegas, so we like to be close to the attractions. During summer, Vegas can be very hot, so a nice pool area might be a good idea, but during the winter outside pools are closed. Many hotels on the Strip have some kind of a theme, or at least an attraction to bring people in. Theme hotels tend to be more expensive than others, and unfortunately some of them are a bit old and run down. But they are definitely popular. If you are looking for something newer and more “luxury”, the Cosmopolitan and Wynn are good but they have no theme.

One popular hotel among families with kids is the Excalibur Hotel where we stayed on this trip, and which I will tell you more about later. Excalibur looks like a castle and has a medieval theme. Right next to it is Luxor, which is also a fun choice, since it is shaped like a pyramid. We stayed there some years ago when we didn’t have kids yet. The most known of the theme hotels are New York New York, Paris and the Venetian with its Italian theme.

In front of New York New York

In front of New York New York

Luxor

Luxor

Paris

Paris

Venetian

Venetian

ENJOY THE FREE ENTERTAINMENT OF DIFFERENT HOTELS

We spend a lot of time in Las Vegas just by walking around and seeing different attractions the hotels have to offer. And the best part of that is, that most of them are free. My personal favorite is Hotel Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden located in their lobby. The flower arrangements are just amazing! Especially if you happen to be there at the holiday season. The water fountain in front of the hotel will have a show every 30 minutes starting from 3 p.m., sometimes even more often, and the music varies. In front of the fountain there are usually different kinds of characters who are waiting to get photographed with people, but it’s good to know that they will charge for it. It used to be Elvis impersonators, but on our last visit we saw multiple Mickey Mouses, and some super heroes.

Bellagio

Bellagio

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardenin

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardenin

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We usually go to the Venetian Hotel just to see their amazing gondolas which sail the canals inside the resort. In the Luxor Hotel one can get into an Egyptian atmosphere, and both New York New York and Paris are like little cities from inside. Both of them have nice restaurants in them. Last time we visited Vegas, the MGM Hotel had some live lions in their lobby, but I was happy to see that they had closed that attraction. I don’t think that the hotel lobby is the right place for wild life. The Mirage Hotel has an erupting volcano in front of the hotel which is also great entertainment.

The hotels on the Strip have everything from go-karting to amusement parks and minigolf. Or in case one wants to see all this from high up in the sky, there is also a pretty pricey ferris wheel in the downtown. Vegas definitely has something for everyone.

EAT IN SOME FUN RESTAURANTS

When it comes to Las vegas restaurants, there is so much to choose from. Almost every casino-hotel has their own buffet, but they also have other restaurants in them. On the Strip one can find the super trendy Shake Shack, Hell’s Kitchen or Rainforest Cafe. The last one is for sure a hit amongst the kids. I definitely recommend checking online what kind of choices there are before heading out and looking for a dinner place aimlessly.

BOOK A SHOW

Vegas is full of great shows and performers. One of the most popular ones must be Cirque du Soleil which has many different shows around the city, the Blue Man Group and David Copperfield. All shows of course, are not meant for kids, but if you are traveling with adults, don’t miss seeing some great entertainment. A list of different shows can be found here. There are some shows that are suitable for kids, though we didn’t see any on this trip.

GET A FAMILY PHOTO AT THE FAMOUS LAS VEGAS SIGN

The most famous landmark of Las Vegas is absolutely the Las Vegas sign at the end of the Strip. There is usually a line to get in front of it, but it goes pretty fast. If you can’t wait though, you can do what I did in the picture below; I took it slightly from the side of the sign. In front of the sign there is actually a couple posing. The earlier you get there in the morning, the fewer people there are in the line of course. There is a small parking lot where you can park, since the sign is in the middle of the main road. You can’t leave Las Vegas without getting your photo taken here!

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I have to admit that Las Vegas has not stolen my heart (yet) and is not on my TOP 10 list. Like always in Vegas, it took me a while to get used to the noise of the casinos and all the smoke. The second day of our stay we started to get exhausted by the hectic pace and all the walking. But still, it is nice to visit every once in a while and see the unreal life with all those neon signs. And everyone should experience it at least once in a lifetime!

Have you been to Vegas with kids? What was your experience like?

 

We Visited the Hottest Spot on Earth - Death Valley

Paula Gaston

Our road trip from California to Utah had started well. We spent the first night in Mojave, California, and then visited Manzanar National Historic Site. After that it was time to head to Death Valley which is right on the border of California and Nevada. We visited Death Valley for the first time, even though we had been planning to go there many times already. The drive from our house to Death Valley National Park is only seven hours, and somehow we still had not been there. But now it was time to see this famous place with our own eyes!

 

Death Valley is a desert valley close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It got its name during the Gold Rush when many gold miners and others were passing through never made it out of the valley. Summer temperatures in the valley are brutal and during the winter nights there might be frost. Death Valley became the hottest spot on earth when they measured record temperatures there in 1913, +56,7 C (134 F). Wow! The normal temperatures during the summer months are usually around 50C (122 F). So I would really consider whether I would want to visit Death Valley during summer. Sometimes winter rains cause flooding in the valley, and last year for example, two people died due to flooding. In many ways, the conditions in Death Valley are challenging. It is also the lowest point of the United States. At its lowest, Death Valley is 86 metres (282 feet) below sea level. It was added to the National Parks System in 1994.

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Unfortunately, we were not able to enjoy Death Valley for very long since our visit to Manzanar took so much time, and we had to drive to Las Vegas that night. It would have been great to explore more and go hiking, but we mainly stayed on the main road. I would have liked to see at least Devil’s Golf Course, Bad Water Basin salt flats and the Racetrack, where rocks mysteriously move around over night. Even though I feel like I have seen enough deserts for a while now, someday I would like to return to Death Vally and maybe camp in the area. In recent years they have also experienced a rare super bloom in Death Valley due to plentiful spring rains. Desert flowers have been blooming like never before. In that sense the spring time sounds like the best time to visit the valley.

We visited Furnace Creek which is the deepest spot of Death Valley. We also saw Mesquite Flat’s sand dunes which seemed to draw a lot of people. Even on the main road of the valley there were things to see and we stopped a few times to take photos. Furnace Creek visitor center had an interesting exhibit about desert animals and plants which is worth a visit.

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We can now check Death Valley off from our bucket list even though we felt like we were too rushed on our visit. For those planning on a trip there, I would definitely plan to stay the night somewhere and leave some time for exploring the area. When darkness hit Death Valley, we headed to Las Vegas and on to new adventures. So stay tuned for that!