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My parents have shared some of their budget traveling stories here before, and thankfully were willing to do so again. As you may or may not know, their travel style is a little bit different than mine. They prefer domestic trips, and are totally okay with modest airline and hotel accommodations.
They are children of the “Greatest Generation”, are proud of this country (well, for the most part), and enjoy experiencing various National Parks and the great outdoors. They leverage miles and points to make their budget travels even more affordable on their retirement budget, while at the same time marveling in some of the natural beauty of this country. They were even quoted in the Wall Street Journal about some of their budget travel habits!They recently headed off on another “Bucket List” journey to the beautiful South Western part of the US. Winter weather tried to derail their plans at the last minute, but as was shared in this post, they made it to their starting point of Vegas by the skin of their teeth. These are my dad’s words about this trip.
When you hear that someone is going to Las Vegas, what comes to your mind? The Strip, neon, mega hotels, casino action, shows, attractions, eating, shopping….leaving in Vegas what happens in Vegas. It is where you can put on a mask and a different cloak and escape for a few days with a different persona. Your experience will hopefully not be to the extreme portrayed in The Cosmopolitan television ads or in the first Hangover movie, but it is likely to be different than your everyday life.
Skiing in Las Vegas:
We have visited Vegas many times to appreciate its signature calling cards. We will again, but this trip was centered and purposed around ( are you ready for this?) snow skiing. No, they have not (yet) put a snow hill inside The Wynn or created a fire and ice extravaganza by installing a lift up the volcano at the Mirage. We are talking live, natural and real skiing that is only about one hour northwest of Vegas at Mt. Charleston and The Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort. For this trip, our mask became ski goggles and our cloak looked a lot like a ski parka.
We have no idea as to how many of the millions of annual visitors that excitedly enter McCarran Airport have any knowledge whatsoever of this mountainous opportunity. We suspect the percentage is quite low. We have often thought that an unsuspecting visitor, transported secretly from The Strip to these nearby mountains, might consider themselves part of a grand illusion conjured up by one of the city’s great magicians. Poof, Prestiskidestination! There is such a sharp contrast from the excitement and artificial beauty of the strip to the genuine, sensory delights of Mother Nature. The elevation in the mountains is in the 9,000 to 11,000 ft. range, so there is always about a 30 degree temperature variance between the concrete sidewalks and the forested walkways. Slots to slopes, an hour away but a world apart. We like them both.
The skiing experience proved to be even better than we were expecting. We parked about 100 yards from the base of the runs and we were renting our new Salomon skis and boots within minutes of arrival. The rental charge was about $40.00 each for the day. The area also rents out ski clothing if you came totally unprepared for a visit. There were only 4 other people in the rental area so the entire process only took about 15 minutes. Our lift tickets were a Christmas gift from Mommy Points and were purchased for about $50.00 from Liftopia via a Black Friday sale. The ticket window at the area had a $70.00 ticket price posted but discounts are available with minimal research.
We were skiing midweek and consequently never experienced any lift line delays. There are two lifts that serve the mountain and one for the learning hill. The lift rides are relatively short lasting in the 7 to 10 minute range. We did most of our skiing on the 3 longest runs because they were quite fun and seem to have the best snow. We would classify all 3 as good cruiser runs that allowed for nice speed, pretty turns and inflated egos. One of the runs was set up for and encouraged snowboarders, but its bumps and jumps were also ski-friendly. The runs were a comfortable length but could be negotiated pretty quickly if you just wanted to point ’em downhill and go. There is a multi-purpose lodge at the base of the lifts that houses a restaurant, restrooms, lockers, bar and a store for skiing accessories, gifts and souvenirs. The deck and balcony provide a great place to catch your breath, catch some rays, catch some views, catch up on your social media and ketchup on your french fries. Our impression of the little ski area few know about was that it was fun. We had fun.
It seemed to be a nice encouraging area for beginners and an enjoyable confidence builder for intermediates. It also seems to be a great family area as it is small enough and contained enough that any separation problems or concerns can be solved in a matter of a few minutes. It is nice to know this recreational option exists and can be easily added to your buffet of Las Vegas activities.
Mob Museum in Las Vegas:
Another new experience was our visit to the Mob Museum that we came across after eating at our favorite breakfast spot, The Main Street Station. We could hear the nostalgic music emanating from the museum from quite a distance and it lured us in like The Sirens from Homer’s Odyssey, or more appropriately the enticing tinkling piano heard from behind the roaring twenties speakeasy door. The quality of the music penetrating the desert air was completely indicative of the outstanding presentation throughout this exhibit. This is not Organized Crime 101; this is more like the whole course study. Maybe to the level of a Masters and Doctorate offering. The museum is located downtown in the old Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse Building, circa 1931.
It opened as a museum in 2012. Its newness allows for the optimum use of the state of the art audio and visual offerings. Not only was the latest and greatest equipment utilized, it seems the best artists and professionals must have been hired to maximize their potential. The blend of equipment, artistry and voluminous artifacts is breathtaking. For many of the gangsters, last breath-taking. This museum has everything from Bugsy Siegel’s toe tag to the actual St. Valentines Day Massacre wall and offers a very graphic and interactive history of the underworld and its involvement in the growth of Las Vegas. The tour is self guided and honestly takes a minimum of two hours to experience. The cost is less than two hands of low stakes blackjack, $15-$20, and it truly is an offer you can’t refuse.
Zion National Park:
The additional couple of days were dedicated to revisiting Bryce and Zion National Parks. These parks were both part of an extended trip we took last fall that was affected by the government shutdown. We wanted to give them both a little more time and to see them in a winter environment. On the way to Bryce, we passed the Brianhead Ski Area that is about 3.5 hours from Vegas. Brianhead is much larger than the Las Vegas Ski Area and touts itself as an economical Utah ski option with lift tickets being in the $50.00 range. We mention this as a reminder that Las Vegas is not simply a destination, but also a convenient and economical portal to other riches. Some of those riches to us southeastern Texans included the opportunity to see a large frozen lake on a gray frigid day and a grove of naked aspens standing straight and strong in a blanket of snow. We got to be a part of both of these about 40 miles from Bryce near Panguitch, Utah.
Bryce Hiking and Snowfall:
At Bryce, we took an invigorating 3.5 mile hike in almost spring like conditions in a virtually deserted national park. Seriously, it was just us and the hoodoos and our echoes and our laughter. Later that evening we had one of our wishes granted as while we were dining, a significant all night snowfall began.
The two of us frolicked like children as the inches piled up on our car. We went to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our head, as we knew magnificent winter scenes and adventures would greet us the next morning. We awoke to about 8 inches of light fluffy snow that was indeed like icing on a beautiful cake. We quickly dressed and headed to the outstanding breakfast buffet at the Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel where we were staying. We had been told the day before that we need not hurry getting to breakfast due to the very limited number of guests in the hotel. Boy were we misled. There were twice as many people as we were told would be there. There were four, four other guests that we had to contend with for the slabs of bacon, the piles of pancakes, the pounds of sausage, the trays of pastries and the pitchers of orange juice. Out of pure caution, we ate more than our share that morning as we had read somewhere that a little extra weight in the trunk is a good idea on snowy roads. We were just trying to be prudent and forward thinking. Honest, it was just for the traction.
An empty parking lot and untraveled roads gave us an opportunity to get our snow legs beneath us and to get comfortable driving and stopping in such foreign ( to us ) winter road conditions. As we slowly drove into Bryce, we saw one winter postcard scene after another. Trees were heavily flocked and even simple wooden fences became Norman Rockwell portrait worthy. Deer that might have blended into a barren background 24 hours earlier now stood out with an idyllic contrast and trails that we navigated the day before were now adrift and lost in snow.
We couldn’t take photos fast enough. To make matters even better, our travel genie came through again as our wish for sunshine unexpectedly happened and with it came even greater visual glory. Yesterday’s brick colored spires were now glistening with a frosted and powdery white glaze.
They looked to us like centuries old orthodox churches one might see in Russia. These were Dr. Zhivago like scenes that we were privileged to see in a private screening. It was a blessing greatly appreciated and respected. Photos of a snowy Bryce in magazines and travel brochures had whetted our appetite, but seeing it in person was even better. To paraphrase a common warning on your cars side mirrors, the objects in this mirror may appear even more beautiful than you imagined. Thank you, Bryce.
Zion National Park in Winter:
Thanks to the warming sunshine our travel from Bryce to Zion was made easier. The roads thawed and cleared just in time for our use. (FYI- while in Vegas, if you see bright, colorful blinking signs that say GIRLS or VIDEO POKER or 24 HOUR ACTION, you would rightfully expect to see girls and video poker 24 hours a day. If in southwestern Utah, you see bright, colorful blinking signs that say DEER, do not plan on seeing girls or video poker, but rather, EXPECT to see deer. The odds you will see deer are much better than the alleged 98% payout on the video poker machine. Be awake and be alert.)
At Zion, we watched in awe and reverence as the sunrise slowly expanded and spread its awakening light across the mountain tops in the park. Here you find rugged peaks with sheer walls that on this day seemed to create their own weather and atmosphere. Clouds continually formed, reformed and framed the snow topped summits. It truly looked as though we were witnessing The Creation. We had an awesome morning in Zion that included a several mile hike along the Virgin River, which at times appeared golden from the reflected early morning sun.
We found visiting these national parks in the heart of winter to be highly personal and intimate. Crowds were non-existent, and although many hotels, restaurants and stores were shut for the season, there were enough open to comfortably meet your needs. The room rates in the hotels were about half what you would pay in the peak seasons. We hated to see this short but action filled trip come to an end but all good things must…. And if the proverbial creek don’t rise, we will set our sights on another adventure in the near future. We can’t wait.
Hmm, now where in Arizona is The Wave located?