Southwest U.S. road trip/Las Vegas

16 Mar

There are three places on my bucket list of U.S. places to visit:
– New Orleans
– The Grand Canyon
– Austin, Texas

So I decided to take a road trip to knock two of those off the list (Nahlins will have to wait.)  The trip started and ended in Las Vegas, because that’s where I had planned to spend four days hanging with some buddies there — a thing we do every spring and fall.

Here’s how the trip went down:

Monday, Feb. 29:

I took an afternoon flight to Vegas and picked up my rental car: a red Camaro convertible. They had a special on them, so what the hell. Fighting rush-hour Vegas traffic, I drove northeast to southern Utah, checking into a Rodeway Inn in Hurricane.

Tuesday, March 1:

Got up early and made the 30-minute drive to the entrance of Zion National Park. Spent a couple of hours driving through the park, enjoying the scenery and the power of the Camaro. 🙂

It took a couple of hours to get from Zion to Bryce Canyon national park. The pics are from a great — but taxing — hike in the canyon. As you can see, it’s still winter up there.

I made it all the way to Page, Ariz., that evening, stopping along the way at Glen Canyon Dam. It was another Rodeway Inn for me. But you can’t beat $43 including tax.


My wheels, from inside Zion.


From the rim of Bryce Canyon.


From down inside Bryce Canyon.


North-facing slopes in Bryce still had plenty of snow.

Wednesday, March 2:

Got up early enough to catch the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend, a few miles south of Page. From there it was on the Grand Canyon via the east entrance. It was a perfect day. I hiked about 3 miles of the rim trail.

In the afternoon I cruised down through Flagstaff and a couple of hundred miles east to Holbrook, Ariz., my stop for the night. My lodging choice: The Wigwam Motel, a little ode to the days of Route 66.


Grand Canyon from south rim trail.


Another view from rim trail. Notice the people on the overlook?


Have you ever slept in a wigwam? I did.

Thursday, March 3:

Just east of Holbrook is the Petrified Forest National Park. I learned a lot about the process that petrifies the logs, and enjoyed a very weird hike among them.

In the afternoon, I headed east across into New Mexico, turning north at Albuquerque to go up to “enchanting” Santa Fe. I wasn’t all that impressed. The quaint downtown area was deserted and felt awfully touristy. I stayed in the extra room at “Sharon’s” house, via Air B&B. A 38-dollar bargain.

I was pretty unimpressed with New Mexico, but it’s one of the few states I had never been to, so another bucket-list item checked off.


The forest of petrified logs.


A close-up view of the colors in petrified trees.

Friday, March 4:

This was to be the longest single-day haul of the trip: just over 700 miles. And most of it on two-lane highways through some of the most empty land you’ve ever seen.

From Santa Fe I headed south to Roswell, N.M., before heading southeast across the Texas. In Texas I passed through some pretty desolate areas and the city of San Angelo, on my way to Austin.

It took 12 hours, but I made it to Austin about 7 p.m., in time for my old Seattle Times mentor and pal Stanley Farrar to take me to Torchy’s tacos for dinner. I enjoyed catching up with Stanley over the course of the weekend. We had some great food and a few great laughs. I don’t know too many people who have a cardinal bird tormenting his parked car.


The alien theme was strong in Roswell, N.M.

Saturday, March 5:

Felt very refreshed thanks in big part to a very comfortable bed in Stanley’s guest room.

The day began with Stanley driving and showing me around Austin to get my bearings. Then in the afternoon I explored the South Congress Street area, and the Texas Capitol and University of Texas campus.

That evening we went out for an awesome dinner at a barbecue place called Freedman’s — highly recommended!


The Texas state Capitol in Austin.


Smoked brisket at Freedman’s in Austin. So tender.

Sunday, March 6:

More exploring in Austin, beginning with Stanley driving us out to Lake Travis to show me where he used to spent a lot of time sailing back in the day. The hill country west of Austin is fascinating.

That afternoon I went to the Texas state history museum and the LBJ presidential library and museum.

To cap off the weekend, we had dinner and beers at a place on Guadaloupe called Hopfield’s. Oh my god, my shrimp Provencal was amazing.


The unbelievably tasty Shrimp Provencale at Hopfield’s in Austin.

Monday, March 7:

The second longest haul of the trip: from Austin to El Paso. Thank goodness for the posted 80-mph speed limit. And I’ll save you the thought: yes, avoid El Paso at all costs. What a pit.

Tuesday, March 8:

The scenery perked up a bit in western New Mexico on the way to Tucson, Arizona. I stopped in Tucson for awhile to take my first-ever look at the campus of the University of Arizona.

Then it was up a busy freeway to Phoenix, arriving at Kim’s apartment by 5:30 p.m. Kim had let out her room via Air B&B, a good choice since hotel prices are jacked in March because of all the spring training visitors.


Yup, some of lowest gas prices in the country can be found in Tucson.


Nice way to stretch my legs: Walking around University of Arizona campus.

Wednesday, March 9:

Enjoyed a picture-perfect Arizona day in Phoenix, exploring the gentrified downtown Phoenix area, checking out the new Journalism building at ASU, enjoying lunch at one of my fav barbecue places, and catching a Mariners spring-training game out in Peoria. It was a top-down kind of day again.


Perfect morning in the Valley of the Sun.


Inside the ASU J-school, downtown Phoenix.


Pulled pork sandwich at Honey Bear’s on Central Ave. in Phoenix.


Enjoying a cold draft on a warm day in Peoria before Mariners-Royals spring-training game.

Thursday, March 10:

Just 265 miles on mostly two-lane highways back up to Vegas. It took five hours, but the first hour of that was getting across the city of Phoenix from where I had stayed in Scottsdale.

That evening in Vegas, I met up with several members of the gang and we went to dinner at Pizza Rock across from the Downtown Grand. I love Pizza Rock’s happy hour menu!

Friday to Monday, March 11-14:

The usual Vegas hijinks, including a visit to In-N-Out for great burgers. On Saturday night, we found a new favorite restaurant, Firefly. Greats tapas place that the locals love, not a Strip ripoff.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon out at Red Rock resort, one of my favorite places. I just love the design of the casino. On Sunday night we went to another of my favs — the Orleans.

On Monday morning it was finally time to head home, after putting 3,400 miles on the Camaro. I bet Alamo loved that! Bottom line: I came out ahead in Vegas even after all the fancy dinners. Yay.


I normally dislike the Oregon Ducks with a passion, being a Husky fan. But I begrudgingly joined the Duck fans in our group in saluting Nike’s team in their Pac-12 tournament championship. Only because my doing so, I won $90 at the sports book. (Photo courtesy Victor Yoshida)


The Vegas crew enjoying tapas at Firefly off Strip. Fantastic food. So-so company. 🙂








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