Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grand Canyon / Las Vegas - Las Vegas

It's an easy five hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and thanks to the time change back to Pacific Time we arrived mid-afternoon.  As we almost always do, we checked into Harrah's. Not because it's such a great hotel,  although there's nothing wrong with the rooms, but more because of it's mid-Strip location.  Our room was ready and although it was on the 14th floor with a view of the Strip, it was a pretty small standard room.  There was a big NASCAR race over the weekend in Las Vegas so the hotel was crowded and there were no room upgrades to be had.

There's no use going into too much detail on our visit as we did our usual Las Vegas things.  We didn't do as much walking around as we were limited by Val's knee, but she is doing so much better you can tell she's on the road to recovery.  Val had pretty good success gambling, but for me it was terrible.  I have had a pretty good run over the last few years, but that came to an end this trip as I lost almost all the money I brought to gamble with.  Oh well, they don't build these big hotels by letting people walk away with their money.  

After having two really nice, multi-course dinners at the El Tovar, we didn't feel much like another heavy meal so we mostly settled for comfort food.  We did try one new restaurant at the newly remodeled Quad (more on the Quad later) called the Chayo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar.  It is a large restaurant with inside seating, a bar and terrace seating outside in the Linq area (more on the Linq later also).  We enjoyed our dinner and I would say the food was very good, but not great.  The menu was a little limited, but overall it was a good experience and a welcome addition to the limited restaurants available at the Quad and Harrah's.  We also ate at the new Yard House restaurant.  Although it's a chain we had never eaten at one.  We liked it quite a lot.  They have a very varied menu with something for everyone.  We will definitely go back.

So that was about it for Las Vegas, an enjoyable visit, lots of fun, but nothing new or exciting except for one big change, which I'll write about next (anyone not really interested in Las Vegas may want to skip the next part).

The Linq
Last February when we visited Las Vegas they had just started the Linq Project and the Imperial Palace had just been rebranded as The Quad, and the renovation had just started.  Well, things have changed quite a bit in the last year.  

I'll start with the Quad. They are just finishing up the renovation, but the improvements are remarkable.  The Imperial Palace was a bit of dump, dark and smoky with no easy access off the Strip and just generally old and worn.  Now the valet and drive-through area has been moved to the side of the hotel and the casino extends all the way to the Strip with a real front entrance. They have all new carpeting and furnishings and the layout is totally different.  They also seem to have improved the ventilation as it didn't seem smoky.  We ended up spending much more time in the Quad casino than we did at Harrah's.  We would probably consider staying there except from what I understand, the renovation did not include the rooms which are said to be old and not very nice.

The biggest surprise for us was the Linq, we really liked it.  It is essentially a pedestrian walkway (street) between the Quad and the Flamingo, lined with restaurants, shops and other things.  It starts at the Strip and goes all the way back to High Roller.  The High Roller is the world's highest observation wheel with it's highest point being 550 feet high. Each "car" on the wheel holds 40 people. Here is a picture we took at night of the Linq with the High Roller in the background.

The High Roller isn't open yet as it is going through safety certification, but it is supposed to open in April or May.  It is an impressive and dominating structure.  Here are a few more pictures of the High Roller and the Linq.

The entrance to the Quad as seen from Las Vegas Blvd. (The Strip).

Looking back towards the Strip.
O'Sheas has reopened as a mini casino within the Quad with an entrance from the Linq.

The new entrance to the Flamingo from the Linq.
We visited the Linq several times and really enjoyed it.  A lot of things aren't open yet, and the ones that are open have only been open a few weeks, but it looks like it's going to be pretty popular.  We talked to several security people and staff in a couple of the restaurants and everyone was very polite, helpful and super enthusiastic.  We also like the fact that you can now walk out of Harrah's, across the Carnival Court, into the Quad, through the Quad and into the Linq, and then you if you want to go on into the Flamingo you can do so through a new entrance from the Linq.  Much easier and quicker than before if you wanted to go from casino to casino.  I'll spare any more details as I've written more than enough, but as you can tell, the Linq looks like a place we will go to eat and hang out the next time we visit.

That's about it for the trip.  The drive home was easy, but we did get home a bit late as we stopped at the outlets in Primm, NV to go to Wiilams-Sonoma. The nearest Williams-Sonoma outlet is in Texas so it's a real rarity and Val really enjoys walking through the store. It was a great trip, we really enjoyed our visit to the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas is always fun.  Val's knee passed another test and is getting better and better which bodes well for future trips.

Our next planned trip is at the end of May and we will be taking the train to Chicago where we will meet my Aunt Judy (see Aunt Judy Visits Tahoe ) and spend a few days seeing the sights.  We will then go on to Michigan where I'll see many of my relatives whom I haven't seen in a long time.  Then we will take a short tour of Michigan with Judy and my brother's family (who are flying in from California) before returning home by train.  After being home from Michigan for a couple of weeks, we will be going on a 20-day cruise / tour to Alaska which leaves from Vancouver, so we will be pretty busy in June and July.  We are looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grand Canyon / Las Vegas - Grand Canyon South Rim

After getting a good nights sleep we hit the road and took the shortcut through Bullhead City to Kingman, Arizona where we picked up Interstate 40 and headed east to Williams, Arizona.  From Williams we drove the 60 miles north to Grand Canyon Village and by mid afternoon we had checked into the El Tovar.

The El Tovar is one of the Grand Lodges of the National Parks and we were looking forward to staying there.  Unlike the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, which stands out in it's natural setting, the El Tovar was built more to blend in with the Canyon.  What it lacks in grandeur and size it makes up for in comfort and homeyness.  As with most of the Grand Lodges, it came into being because the railroads wanted to open up the tourist business in the West.  It was designed by Charles Whittlesey, an architect for the Atchinson, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad and opened in 1905.  The hotel has added modern utilities and has had new furnishings installed several times over the years, but otherwise it remains much the same as it was when built.  The public areas are much smaller than the Ahwahnee, but have their own charm and comfort. The building is actually a very large log cabin and the interior is painted a very dark brown (the same color it was originally painted), which make it very dark on the inside. The dining room was excellent with windows looking out over the Canyon.  The food and service were excellent and we ate there for both of our dinners and one breakfast during our stay.  The El Tovar is also very near the train station where trains arrive from and depart to Williams every day, much as they did during the early days of the Hotel.  We heard that most of the rooms were quite small so we reserved a suite called the Bellboy Suite which was quite nice and was actually a two room suite.  It was downstairs and the views were of the trains station, but it was a very nice room and we were happy to have it.  Here are some pictures of the Hotel and surrounding area.

The front of the El Tovar.
The steps to the front entrance. 
As you can see, it is right on the edge of the Canyon in the background
The dining room.
In the evening a roaring fire was kept in the fireplace, a great place to relax before or after dinner.

The lobby area.

The lobby area looking towards the front door.

The railroad station. You can see the El Tovar in the upper left corner.
After checking in and getting settled we decided to drive the road that goes to the eastern side of the park along the Canyon rim. It's called Desert View Drive and goes toward the eastern Park entrance.  Most of the roads and viewpoints in the Grand Canyon are now only accessible by shuttle buses, but Desert View Drive still allows private cars.  Pictures are better than words trying to describe the awe inspiring views of the Grand Canyon and even pictures don't do it justice, but here are some from our drive.

Val and I.
The Watchtower at Desert View.  It looks ancient, but it was actually built in 1936.


Dave on the Canyon's edge.

We spent the next morning walking around the hotel grounds and along the rim of the Canyon near the hotel.  That afternoon we decided to drive west along the rim on Hermit Road.  The Hermit Road area is shuttle bus only, but because of Val's knee surgery she was concerned she would have trouble getting on and off the high steps of the shuttle bus so we got a special permit the park issues to allow you to drive the road in your car.  It was a beautiful drive with lots of scenic viewpoints along the way.  Although we were driving we could see how well the shuttle worked as they stopped at every viewpoint and seemed to arrive every ten or fifteen minutes. At one of the stops we were able to see a group of five or six elk grazing along the Canyon edge.  They must have been very used to people because they ignored us and several other people there and allowed us to get pretty close, but not too close.  Elk are very large and imposing animals and we have some friends who were actually charged by an elk so we used caution around them.  Here are some pictures from our drive along Hermit Road.

A telephoto view of Granite Rapids at the bottom of the of the Canyon. 
We went through them on our rafting trip.

The elk were still a bit shaggy from their winter coats.

After our Hermit Road drive we spent our time before dinner watching and taking pictures of the sunset.


We really enjoyed our stay in the Grand Canyon, neither of us had ever spent more than a few hours here so we were able to see and do a lot more than before.  Due to Val's knee we didn't do any hiking, but the many and easy accessible viewpoints gave us really good views of the canyon.  It was also very interesting for us to look down into the Canyon from the top after rafting on the Colorado River through the bottom of the Canyon in August of 2011. I must admit that seeing the Canyon from the river at the bottom kind of spoils your viewpoint when you see it from the top, but we were very grateful to have seen the Canyon from both the top and the bottom. After all, it is the Grand Canyon and the view from either the top or the bottom is spectacular.

Tomorrow we start the finale to our short trip and drive to Las Vegas before returning home.

Grand Canyon / Las Vegas - Laughlin

It turns out we didn't have an Internet connection for the rest of the trip so I have had to wait until I got home to write about the rest of our trip.

We got an early (for us) start out of Tehachapi and with very little traffic on Highway 58 and Interstate 40, we were in Laughlin by early afternoon.  Laughlin is a small town in the southern most point of Nevada with Bullhead City, Arizona across the Colorado River to the east and California a few miles west and south.  As with most Nevada border towns, there is a heavy concentration of casinos which are mainly situated on the Colorado River off the main street through town.  The Davis Dam which forms Lake Mohave is at the northern end of town.

When we travel to the Southwest we often use Laughlin as an overnight stop and stay at Harrah's Hotel and Casino since we can get a comped room and food and can also get in a little gambling.  The hotel is right on the river and has a private beach and a dock where you can catch the water taxi that runs up and down the river to the other hotels.  

It has been a few years since we have stayed at Harrah's Laughlin and it seemed to us that they had spruced thing up a bit as our room and the hotel area seemed to be cleaner and fresher.  We had a great corner room with views of the Colorado River and it seemed a little nicer than the typical rooms we’d had before.  I never seem to do well gambling in Laughlin and this visit was no exception which meant I was able to get to bed early.  Val on the other hand had a pretty good evening and stayed in the casino later than I did.  All in all, we had a nicer than expected stay in Laughlin, but we are looking forward to getting to the Grand Canyon tomorrow and really start our trip. 

Looking out our window to the Southeast.
Looking north out our window.

The dock for the water taxi.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Grand Canyon / Las Vegas - On Our Way

I have been reading a book about the great lodges of the national parks and a couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Val I was reading about El Tovar, a historic lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  She had been thinking of going somewhere for my birthday so she decided to check for availability at El Tovar and surprisingly there were rooms available.  I've heard that you have to reserve a year ahead of time, but they have been doing a historical renovation and evidently freed up some rooms early. Val  happened to time it just right so the trip was on.  We haven't been to Las Vegas in over a year so we decided to add a stop there on our trip home.  We're only going to be gone a week, but are excited to be on the road again.

We are doing our usual early getaway to Tehachapi and are staying there tonight.  We left home just after noon and were in Tehachapi just after 3:00.  The weather was cool with heavy overcast, but no rain and no traffic so it was an easy drive.  We had dinner at the Red House, our favorite barbecue place here and got back in time to watch the Academy Awards.  We usually try to see as many of the Academy Award nominees as possible, but this year because of Val's surgery, we have seen very few so it won't be as interesting.

Tomorrow we will take the half day drive to Laughlin and then continue on to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday.  We are taking a leisurely start to this short trip.