The 42nd stamp in my passport was one of my most exotic: Cuba! My husband and I went last spring, and we were both taken aback visiting a land in the past and attitude towards American visitors. The highlights were definitely the classic cars and a day-long tour we took to learn more about Havana. Our visit inspired one of my first published works comparing 1950s Havana and my city of Las Vegas. Read the full story here…
I have been waxing poetically about things to see and do in Las Vegas for over four years now, yet there is never a lack of adventures and sites in my city! My latest must-see is a large-scale public art exhibition called Seven Magic Mountains that debuted this summer about 10 minutes south of the Strip. Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s massive, brightly painted boulders are free to visit and will be displayed for two years.
We visited on a Saturday morning in July. A rather warm day, I’d recommend a trip in the fall when the desert temperatures are cooler. I was lucky enough to hit the seven towers at the perfect moment to capture an image sans humans, and a patient photographer can most likely get the same shot. For more details about this vibrant art installation and driving directions, click here.
A dear friend who has visited me in Vegas multiple times is visiting this week, and I attempted the impossible: show her part of my beloved city that she has not yet experienced. She has already done many of my Las Vegas like a Local recommendations, including the Mob Museum, laughing our way through A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Smith Center, and multiple activities on the Strip. We did take in Rock of Ages this weekend—which has recently moved to the Rio—and we nostalgically belted out ‘80s anthems at the top of our lungs…another must-see if you’re so inclined.
Alas, there is not much else that my friend Brandi hasn’t experienced in Las Vegas, even though I am constantly proclaiming each visit her “best trip ever.” With that in mind, I decided that it was time for a road trip: on to explore nature-y sites in neighboring Utah and Arizona. If you’re looking for a fast-paced (read: crazy) excursion to accompany any time in Vegas, then this is your itinerary.
Day One: Zion National Park and Horseshoe Bend
We started out around 9am from Vegas and drove approximately 2.5 hours on I15 to Zion National Park—and what an interesting drive it was! The road instantly started to climb when we crossed first into Arizona; then later in Utah, the topography became even more stunning. When we arrived in Springdale, Utah, we cruised through the quaint town, ignoring the many shuttle stops. After paying to enter the park and driving around mistakenly trying to find a spot, we turned around and parked in town and hopped a shuttle. The two shuttle lines were a very convenient to get around the park; we chose stop 5 to hit the Emerald Pools trail, and the online trail descriptions were most helpful in determining the right trail for two inexperienced hikers. We spent about 2 hours total in the park from start to finish, and while it is possible to spend—and enjoy!—so much more time in stunning Zion, we had to hit a very curvy mountain road to head to our next stop.
And that mountain road required some very active driving through canyons and a dark tunnel; approximately another 2.5 hours, and we made it into Page, Arizona, where we booked into the Best Western Plus. It was clean and adequate, plus had a nice hot breakfast. (Note: try to stay on top floor to avoid thunderous upstairs neighbors.) Not two girls to rest, we headed immediately to our next adventure: hiking about 20 minutes to see Horseshoe Bend. This is a magical place where the Colorado River has carved its way around a canyon—a spectacular view! Brandi and I caught the splendor and took photos before making the trek back to our car—mainly because we were worried that idiot tourists who were too close to the ledge would fall to an untimely death. Plus we were starved for dinner. Not much to feast on in Page though—the “Texas” BBQ place is most likely your best bet.
Day Two: Antelope Canyon and Valley of Fire
Our second day started off bright and early with the aforementioned hotel breakfast before checking out and making the 10 minute drive to the Lower Antelope Canyon. Our tour was operated by Dixie Ellis, and I highly recommend the photo tour. Picture this (pun intended): a quick walk in a small group, private canyon views, plenty of time to set up tripod and DSLR camera, and two hours of exquisite shooting in a place sacred to the Navajo. Pictures from another friend’s tour were the literal inspiration of this trip, and Antelope Canyon did not disappoint. Book the photo tour, bring your tripod, and plan to hit the canyons first thing in the morning. The Upper Canyon is famous for light beams, but we were more than happy with the imagery we collected. (One can tell the difference between the below tripod photos on the tour versus the others taken via iPhone.)
Page is a small community, but it was big enough to have a Sonic, which we hit before driving on the Glen Canyon Dam across Lake Powell (stunning and Hoover Dam-like!). Then, we hightailed it back to Nevada, crisscrossing across Arizona and Utah stateliness several times. It took us roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Hurricane, Utah for a quick break, then another similar time period before we pulled into the Battleborn State’s first state park: the Valley of Fire. One can understand why several movies (Star Trek, Total Recall) filmed their alien scenes here against the stunning red rock scenery. Nevada residents save $2 on entry at the information center, and a 6 mile one-way drive takes one through quite a bit of the park’s landmarks. It was too hot to hike at 113° F, yet it was a lovely drive and well-worth some incredible photos.
Another 45 minutes’ drive, and we were back to the City of Sin! Keep in mind that cell phone reception is often spotty at best in this part of the country. For this trip, I recommend exactly two tanks of gas, plenty of water and sunscreen, very comfortable clothes (and close-toed shoes…can’t convince myself to buy hiking shoes), a great camera with tripod, an excellent playlist, and an incredible friend with whom to enjoy the journey!
On a recent morning visit to Red Rock National Park, I captured several photos of my view. When I uploaded this iPhone shot to my computer, I was blown away by how gorgeous it turned out! This incredible view is only about 10 minutes away from where I live, so methinks I should head out to Red Rock and hike more!
Baby, it’s cold outside…especially in Las Vegas! Some people don’t think it gets cold in Sin City, but the desert weather gets pretty chilly in the winter. Right now, it’s 46º degrees…brrr! When the wintry weather arrives, there is no place like Las Vegas Blvd. to get into the Christmas spirit!
Our perennial favorite is the Bellagio, home of the Bellagio Conservatory and our favorite bar–the Petrossian. My fiance’ actually chose this spot to propose, as we come here at least five times a year to see the ever-changing seasons spotlighted at the Conservatory. I’ve even blogged about it before, and the best time of the year to stroll through the gorgeous atrium is holiday time! This year didn’t disappoint–imagine penguins, polar bears constructed of flowers, and a giant Christmas tree!
Another favorite thing to do in Vegas in the winter is ice skating! Several of the casinos, including the stylish Cosmopolitan and the Venetian, have outdoor ice rinks. We’ve enjoyed the one at the Cosmopolitan the last couple of years, as the rooftop pool converted to a rink makes this girl feel as though she is skating down the Strip! And even if you hate to skate, there are glorious fire pits and cold weather cocktails available.
Need some other December ideas for the Strip? There is the world record-breaking Great Santa Run each year in Downtown Las Vegas, lovely holiday shopping at Fashion Show Mall, and the Magical Forest at nearby Opportunity Village.
In honor of an upcoming staycation in Las Vegas–and my very first time to stay at the glamorous Cosmopolitan–I thought I’d pen a homage to my favorite cocktail on the Strip: the Verbena. Off of the menu at the glitzy Chandelier Bar (which is worth a trip alone), this delectable drink has a ginger-y, margarita-esque taste. What makes it unforgettable is the buzz button, which amps up this cocktail to a tasty explosion. When one chews this edible flower with the delicious drink, the palette of flavor becomes that much more intense!
Since I am a travel blogger and not one to wax eloquently about cocktailery, I will leave it at that. One doesn’t need a reservation to feel luxurious at the Chandelier Bar–and the Cosmopolitan as a whole…it’s one of my favorites!–and spending the approximately $15 for this incredible elixir will make you feel like a million bucks. Or like you are drinking nectar from inside of a chandelier…which you are. Let’s just hope my upcoming visit is as spectacular!
And in case you missed my first post about this wonderful city, you can read Las Vegas Like a Local here. And if you want more to drool over, why not check out this incredible TV spot from the Cosmopolitan: Vice and Virtue…can you tell I’m obsessed?