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This road trip is from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada and returning via Arizona and New Mexico. Map
ROUTE: Colorado Springs to Las Vegas, Nevada and back (via Manitou Springs, Divide, Twin Lakes, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction in Colorado; Green River, and Le Verken in Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; Kingman, and Flagstaff in Arizona; Gallup, Santa Fe, and Raton in New Mexico; Trinidad and Pueblo in Colorado).
Monday 20 September 2004.
Colorado to Nevada by car is something I’ve always wanted to do, and after securing a publishing deal to write a travel guidebook on Las Vegas, this was my long-awaited opportunity come true. Once again I was a little apprehensive about taking to the highways alone, and for such a long stretch, but my enthusiasm to get going and write a book took care of those worries.
After lots of faffing around at Colorado Springs Airport, waiting to pick up a rental car, I finally took off around 8:30 a.m. and headed west towards Manitou Springs on Hwy 24 and then through Buena Vista. Up and through the Rocky Mountains to Woodland Park I drove where I stopped to get some breakfast and some coffee for the road ahead. It wasn’t the best time to leave as I hit the morning rush-hour traffic which delayed me somewhat. I had left home at 6:45 a.m. so that I could leave early from the airport but the rental company didn’t have the car I ordered and I had to wait around.
A couple of days prior to my departure, the autumn leaves had already started to turn, and one of the television stations announced that this week would be the peak fall viewing, so I was very lucky. Approaching the tiny town of Divide, there were road works which slowed things down a little but the weather was good, clear, and warm. Then it was a beautiful new road – lots of boulders alongside and the trees just turning yellow and orange. I felt a headache coming on and thought it was just all the excitement that this trip was finally on its way. Upon reaching Wilkerson Pass (elevation 9507 feet), my ears popped and my headache intensified. I took some ibuprofen to no avail. I realized that it was the altitude that was getting to me.
The area was flat and barren and the plains stretched out ahead of me with the mountains in the far distance. The speed limit kept changing the higher you climbed – from 60 to 45 to 30 mph. It was also pretty windy that high up. After the H24 and 285 intersection, the landscape changed again. Directly ahead were enormous mountains with granite peaks that dwarfed everything in sight. They were the Collegiate Peaks. I stopped to take a photograph and check my map for the names of the peaks. The trees were so pretty and yellow. The colors were gorgeous – greenish grass, yellowing trees, granite peaks, blue skies, and a few white clouds.
Just outside Buena Vista, on H24, two deer (a big one and a smaller one) ran across the road in front of me. No oncoming cars thankfully and I was going slow enough to slow down quickly, so I honked my horn and they sped up and ran across the road, onto the grass, and swiftly jumped the fence. A little scary. Just after Granite there is a left turn at the junction of H82 – immediately you’re in the high peaks and beautifully carpeted slopes. In the distance you can see what I thought was Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet. Shortly thereafter, is Twin Lakes, which is breathtakingly exquisite. Mountain peaks covered in snow, the water, and the blue sky. Well worth a stop.
Suddenly the road started climbing higher and higher, with lots of hairpin bends, as I drove upwards toward Independence Pass at 12,095 feet. There were no trees, just scrub and red sand. A little snow fell and it was cold and quite windy that high up. Very desolate. Independence Pass is on the Continental Divide where you can get out and take a brisk walk to a viewing area to take and marvel at the mountains and the scenery. Winding down the other side of the mountain, I saw a cyclist huffing and puffing his way towards Independence Pass. Insane. Further down the road, the pine trees lined the skinny two-way road, and were well into their fall colors - yellowing aspens with oranges, yellows, and pale greens. Having to drive at 20 mph and concentrate with a pounding headache, it’s hard to fully appreciate the scenery. I spotted another cyclist at the bottom of the mountain. Nuts.
I abruptly came to the outskirts of Aspen and the huge homes nestled among the trees. Beautiful homes with fields and ponds, and it all looks so magnificent. I kept on driving, and because I was running late, I didn’t have time to stop in Aspen and have a look around, but I did see lots of apartment buildings which I thought rather surprising. Modern-looking too. Main street had three lanes with pretty trees and shops. I reached Aspen at 1.30pm. On the way out of town I saw the tiny little airport - it seemed to have space to take off and land. Lots of tiny prop planes in the hangars. Some beautiful homes on cliff tops, and if only I knew which one belonged to Kevin Costner… As a plane took off on my left, it banked and disappeared into the blue sky.
I continued my drive towards Glenwood Springs and got there around 3.00 p.m. I stopped at a little Wal-Mart and used the restrooms, got something to nibble on, and then continued on my way. By now it had started raining and there were some road works on the road towards the Interstate, so it was inevitable that I took the wrong turn and headed towards Denver on I70, but not for long. I turned around and started my trek eastwards towards Utah. It was a little after 3.00 p.m. and it starting pouring. After about an hour, and a scary drive through barely visible torrential rain, it stopped as suddenly as it had started. The scenery changed too, with lots of mesas and sand and a little river with an Amtrak rail alongside the Interstate.
I passed by Grand Junction at 4.20 p.m. which was quite big and spread out. It soon faded though. Ahead of me I spotted a signpost that read “Las Vegas 513 miles” and it was only 4.30 p.m. I had planned on trying to drive right through in one day to avoid paying for two days car rental. Wrong. Western Colorado is much flatter and drier and sandy and desert-like. Knowing I wouldn’t make it to Las Vegas in one day, and with just a quarter tank of gas left, I plodded on into Utah and hoped for the best. A sign said “Eagles on Highway”. It felt as though I was in the middle of nowhere with a very long way to go. Incredibly lovely mountains with rounded bumps (rather like the butts of elephants) with a long, long stretch of road ahead which was followed by scrubby brown hills. There were “Dust storm” signs all over the place, and I am happy to report, I didn't encounter said storms. Now I had finally seen the Utah desert for myself. Humbling.
I reached the tiny town of Green River at 6.00 p.m. and filled up with gas and noticed a Motel 6 sign. I decided that I would call it a day and check in and rest a while. Early next morning, with good visibility, and about half an hour outside Green River, you can stop at the many viewing areas and see the spectacular red rocks for which Utah is famous. Lots of little mesas that are clay-colored and a little green shrubbery here and there. Then red rock and then clay-like mesas. The scenery kept changing and it was very beautiful. The first sign of life was in the form of cattle grazing on the dry grass. It was windy and cold. I highly recommend staying in Green River and getting up early to continue driving west as the scenery is spectacular, and had I continued driving, as the sun was setting, I would have missed perhaps the most beautiful sights.
The scenery then became an ochre color with shrubby trees and a lot greener and a lot less desert-like. This was around Salina. It started raining just outside Salina and it felt as though I was going into a cold front. The surrounding area looked like a farming community with green pastures and was rather cultivated. The mountains were still evident but in the distance. Another sign for Las Vegas – 279 miles.
I merged onto I-15 South on a beautiful new road. There was still a little road work around and more livestock on the right among leafless and skeletal trees. Some cattle were just lying around. South western Utah looks a bit more inhabitable than where I'd just been. Rounded mountains in the distance with much more greenery. I passed by the town of Beaver which had lots of homes spread out and farms too. This looked like the most inhabited place since leaving Colorado. Lots of billboards advertising eating places or places to stay, which I thought were a blot on the landscape – they look horrible.
Just around the town of Cedar City, in the middle of the desert, I spotted a lighthouse! A red and white hooped lighthouse. Las Vegas was 150 miles ahead. I decided to stop in a little place called Le Verken in the southern most part of Utah, which was a little out of the way and off the Interstate, but it was a quaint little place. Very neat and tidy. A little windy and chilly despite the sunshine. The terrain and scenery changed after my last stop, with lots of red rock and the first cactus. The rocks look broken and the scenery becomes desert again.
Washington City (ugly) and St. George were the next two places, both of which were very built-up with lots of new townhouse developments. Then I passed by Bloomington which looked like a nice place, finally reaching the Arizona border for a thirty mile drive. There were huge and beautiful sandy-colored boulders right up next to the road. The road was carved through the mountainous rock. Las Vegas was just 97 miles away and the elevation, 2,000 ft.
From rocks closing in on you and then out into the flat land that was Nevada, I saw my first billboards advertising casinos. Unfortunately the road was pretty littered with papers, packets, bottles, boxes, and it was dismal.
The land was still flat with the mountains far in the distance – lots and lots of electricity pylons on the right heading towards Las Vegas. The elevation was 2,492 feet, and over the hill and in the distance, I saw the sprawling metropolis of Las Vegas. You can see the Strip with the bigger buildings. Just outside of the city, the Interstate became rather nerve-racking to drive on, and I took the first off-ramp I could, just to get off. Needless to say, I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I had to head south towards the airport, so I just kept following the signs. Hectic drivers and they swapped lanes like nothing. Very frightening.
I found myself on Main Street (about 5-6 lanes) and right in the north of the Strip, so I continued down and went past all the attractions until I came to Tropicana Ave where I turned left, still following the signs to the airport, and in the distance I spotted a Motel 6 sign. I pulled in and booked in for the next three and a half weeks ($889.26* – M-Th $41.41* and Fri + Sat $59.99* incl. tax). I was relieved to have made it safely and realized the airport, and thus the car rental returns, was just across the street. It was 73 degrees, warm, and a zillion cars passed me in all directions.
I’ve not written too much about my time in Las Vegas as I came to write a travel guide which was published in November 2005.
The likes of Sting, Gladys Knight, Annie Lenox, Kenny Loggins, ZZ Top, and Wayne Newton are just some of the stars who were playing in Las Vegas, and which were advertised on huge billboards. The hotels were staggeringly bright and enticing, and the Strip is a fabulous place to walk. You can walk the almost four miles from the south to the north, but there are buses you can take. I spent most of the three and a half weeks walking around and taking buses from one place to the next. Because I was on a strict budget, with next to no money, I didn’t get to see any shows which was a pity. I did see the insides of all the hotels, and a stroll just as the sun was setting and the lights coming on, was just gorgeous. Las Vegas is notorious for many things, but walking along the Strip, popping in and out of hotels, is pretty safe.
A cheap way to get around is to get a bus pass, either a daily pass for $5.00* or a monthly pass for $30*, and you can go on any bus any time and the transfers are good for three rides in different directions. Some of the most gorgeously ostentatious hotels include the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Monte Carlo, and a couple others. A little over the top, but then again, that’s mostly what Las Vegas is all about. Walking around the hotels is sightseeing in itself and shouldn’t be missed. Especially the Mirage Hotel which has an aquarium behind the check-in desk.
Caesars Palace’s shops in the Forum are very up market and it’s a gorgeous and relaxing place to stroll through. Shops like Banana Republic, Field of Dreams, Margaritas by the Yard, Dolce and Gabanna, Planet Hollywood, Victoria’s Secret, Disney store, Bebe, Valentino, Kenneth Cole, Judith Leiber, Chopin (jewelers), Gucci, Versace, Estee Laude, Dior, Escada, Louis Vitton, Burberry, Galleria di Sorrento, Salvatore Verragamo, Lalique, DKNY, Armani Exchange, Boss, Virgin Megastore, Polo Ralph Lauren, Emporio Armani, Lacoste, and Diesel among others. The stores resemble homes and shops along a Roman road. In the center is a huge dome above statues and a fountain. At the end of the Forum is a monstrously big fountain and statue and a fabulous show about the story of Atlantis. Moving models appear and disappear, flames and water come and go, and changing colored lights. Fantastic for kids.
Mandalay Palace is a huge complex connected by monorail to the Luxor (the pyramid and sphinx) and has a lovely waterfall at the entrance with elephant statues. It even has a little beach. The distinguished Four Seasons hotel is behind the Mandalay Bay. Wolfgang Puck has his fair share of restaurants in this neck of the woods with Trattoria del Wolfgang Puck Italian Cuisine restaurant in the Mandalay Hotel. Mama Mia is a long-running show playing here and the House of Blues is here too. Many restaurants to choose from as well.
The New York New York Hotel at the intersection of the Strip and Tropicana Avenue has a roller coaster on the outside, which is pretty spectacular. Lovely to stroll through the hotel with its little downtown New York replica inside. The Aladdin Hotel and Casino has lots of gorgeous shops inside and worth a visit. A little dark in the casino entrance. The Aladdin will be undergoing renovations and changing its name in 2005. The Paris hotel is very pretty, with the Eiffel tower outside and two of its legs you can see inside the casino. The ceiling is painted to look like early evening in Paris. Don’t miss a walk around this beautiful hotel.
Las Vegas is the only place I know of (perhaps Reno) that you can walk and drink alcohol in the street, within certain areas along the Strip that is. You can smoke almost anywhere too.
Drai’s, which is supposed to be the most romantic restaurant in Las Vegas, has an extensive and pretty expensive menu – $10.50 – $16.50* appetizers (salads, smoked salmon, foie gras), warm appetizers, escargot, calamari, ravioli – $14 – $16*, and side orders of mashed potatoes, spinach, beans, zucchini costing $6.50* – $8*. Fish $31* – $34* featuring halibut, ravioli, sea bass, tuna, and crab cake. Poultry and meat – $22 – $36* which includes chicken, duck, lamb, steak tartar and, osso buco. Angus rib-eye steak $41*. Grilled filet mignon with béarnaise sauce $34*, and peppered filet mignon with French fries $35*. Pretty expensive.
The Flamingo Hotel is well worth a visit, especially out through the back gardens where you can see flamingos, penguins, ducks, turtles, and huge fish swimming in the ponds. A good tip – wear dark glasses during the day as the constant glare can hurt your eyes come the end of the day. Be sure to have them on a neck chain so that you can easily slip them off when you walk into a dark casino - you won’t lose them if they are hanging from your neck. Wear worn-in shoes as there is a lot of walking to do.
The buffets are still as famous as ever, and I had a scrumptious lunch at the Orleans Hotel for around $7.00* and just the best shrimp and seafood. What a delight to indulge in their many different foods - I highly recommend going there.
Other buffet lunches:
Harrah’s Hotel & Casino - $13.96* (incl. tax) – disappointing and expensive in comparison to their Reno Hotel.
Excalibur Hotel & Casino - $11.81* (incl. tax) – over-rated and a little expensive.
The Orleans Hotel & Casino - $7.46* (incl. tax) – wonderful selection of food and great value for money.
Gold Coast Casino - $6.95* (ex tax) – nice selection and good value for money.
Fremont Hotel & Casino - $6.98* (incl. tax) – not a huge selection but good value for money.
Hotel San Remo - $7.95* (ex tax) – small buffet but the food was good.
I suggest you get a little pedometer to measure the miles you’ll be walking. Just walking around the casinos covers more ground than you’d imagine. That’s why having comfortable shoes is so important as you are on your feet for so much of the time. Besides, it’s interesting to see how far you walk. On one busy day I clocked up 12 miles on foot. Needless to say I slept like a log that night.
Smith and Wollensky steakhouse (famous in New York) has a branch out there in their traditional green and white building. Wooden floors and cozy interior, they also have an outside terrace. There are also a couple of Walgreen pharmacies and a CVS. Lots of chain eateries like Blimpie, Fat Burger, McDonald’s, Burger King, food courts, Chinese restaurants, for those who get tired of spending lots to eat out.
There are ticket booths offering free show tickets – turns out to be if you go on a time-share tour (to see the time-shares on offer and listen to a presentation), you can get free tickets to some of the shows. Not Celine Dion or anything that big but I believe not bad at all.
The median in the Strip is full of palm trees and well-tended flower beds, and the Strip is remarkably clean and litter-free. The cleaner-uppers are well-hidden and it’s not as though they are visibly and constantly cleaning up. Always cross at the traffic lights as the traffic is horrendous and you don’t want to get run over.
Women (and men) from all over the world visit Las Vegas and go out in the evenings usually wearing their finest and all of their make up. The hair is usually done too, and I saw many women still wearing hairstyles resembling the sixties; teased and on top of their heads. Too much but hey, in Las Vegas, nothing’s too over the top. Some of them looked rather cheap I have to say. Then there’s the other side where people are wearing shorts and flip flops.
Check out the wedding chapels for which Vegas is famous - Little White Chapel – amazing setup – about $600* a wedding – they have everything from flowers to brides’ dresses, bridesmaids’ dresses, flower girl outfits, tuxedos, Elvis jackets, vests, hats, veils, tiaras, you name it. They have their own florist.
Circus Circus Hotel and Casino is a huge place that has the most children I’ve seen running around. Lots of little gimmicky stores for souvenirs. Restaurants: Oasis (buffet) for $7.99* breakfast, lunch $8.99* and dinner $9.99*. They have a fun thing to do – have your picture taken and superimposed on someone else’s body on the front cover of a magazine, like Premiere, Shape, Star Wars, Muscle and Fitness, and Chippendales, to name a few. They also have a Krispy Kreme donut “factory” inside, and one glazed original donut costs a dollar. They also have a trapeze show in the ceiling above the casino which is fun. They have little balconies around to watch.
Madam Tussaud’s museum next to the Venetian Hotel was very expensive and I didn’t go in. The Venetian Hotel has little walkways around waterways with gondolas and the gondoliers singing Italian operas. Very romantic and expensive at $15* for adults, kids 12 and under $7.50* – private 2 person gondola for $60.00* (indoor rides). Outdoor rides are $12.50*, $5.00* and private $50.00*. Inside it looks like the Sistine Chapel with paintings in the arched ceilings. This is a magnificent place to see but the faux marble pillars inside are a letdown.
Salon Orleans at The Orleans Hotel & Casino – (702) 365-7035 – wonderful pedicures and they offer a wide selection of services.
Shear Paradise at the Imperial Palace - (702) 731-3311 ext. 3249 – had a manicure here but it was rushed and my nails weren’t perfectly filed which disappointed me.
I stayed at the Motel 6 on Tropicana Avenue behind the MGM Grand Hotel and down the road from the Tropicana Hotel, which is worth a visit. Very convenient to walk to the Strip and on a bus route. Opposite the airport but I stayed on the other side of the hotel and didn’t hear a plane once. Nice swimming pools and security on bicycles day in and day out.
My return journey began with an early morning rise and a bus ride to the airport where I took the shuttle to the car rental area. I picked up my car, drove back to the motel, loaded my stuff into it, and set off down Tropicana Ave towards the east. I got onto H-95 and drove towards Boulder City and the Hoover Dam and then on to Kingman in Arizona. I was looking forward to this part of the journey, even though it was longer, because of the desolate and incredible beauty of the Arizona desert. I’d been through here before on Amtrak, so seeing it from the Interstate would be a little different.
Kingman was a cute little place and I stopped at JB’s for lunch. Once again, I was on a limited budget and didn’t want to have the rental car for two days, but I knew I had no option other than to drive through the night, but after seeing signs for elk, I decided against it. Flagstaff was another little stop and I drove through to check it out. I spotted a sign for Route 66, the famous Chicago to Los Angeles road of days gone by, and continued to see signs along the Interstate for those who wanted to sample the good old days. I was on I-40 heading east and stayed there until the light faded.
Up early and an incredible drive as the sun was rising. Stopped at a gift shop that was filled with Indian crafts and unique things. I bought a rug for $6*. It was near the Continental Divide (7,245 feet) and the store was called Indian Market. Upon reaching Albuquerque, the smog in the distance was unbelievable. Here was this pretty city nestled at the foot of huge mountains, surrounded by yellowish pollution. The highways just outside the city were horrendous too, and rather disconcerting as you come from the relative quiet of the Interstate. I managed to continue north on I-25 towards Santa Fe where I stopped for a while. Quite a spread out place and perhaps worth a visit another time.
It started to rain just outside the city and then snowed as well. I had to slow down to let big trucks continue on their way. Passing through Raton, I knew I was almost into Colorado. It was just another couple of miles on the interstate and I was home again, safe and sound. Exhausted but safe. What a journey!
Total spent on accommodations was $959.65* (Sep 20 – Oct 12, 2004)
Total spent on gas to Las Vegas via Utah was $45.11*
Mileage = 860 miles
Total spent on gas to Colorado Springs via Arizona and New Mexico was $54.97*
Mileage = 994 miles
Total mileage = 1,854 miles
Motel 6 (#0289) Green River, UT. Rate was $33.44* (incl. tax)
946 E. Main Street, Green River, UT 84525
Tel: (435) 564-3436 and Fax: (435) 564-8272
Motel 6 (#067) Las Vegas, NV. Rate was M-Th $41.41* and Fri + Sat $59.99* (incl. tax)
195 E. Tropicana Ave, Las Vegas, NV
Tel: (702) 798-0728 and Fax: (702) 798-5657
I spent a total of $889.26* for three and a half weeks.
Motel 6 (#0237) Gallup, New Mexico. Rate was $36.96* (incl. tax)
3306 West 66th Street, Gallup, NM 87301
Tel: (505) 863-4492 and Fax: (505) 863-5849
National Car Rental - Toll-free telephone number 1-888-868-6204
It’s so hard to find car rental companies who have one-way rentals, and the few I did come across, were horrendously expensive, so I went with National. They weren’t that much more helpful this time, as they delayed me at Colorado Springs airport because they didn’t have the car I ordered.
Car rental (one-way) Colorado Springs to Las Vegas, $231.75* (including taxes)
Car rental (one-way) Las Vegas to Colorado Springs, $256.37*
Total spent on car rental = $488.12*.
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Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2003-2017.
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Travel Home Page
Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2003-2017.
Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2003-2017.