Sunday, March 12, 2017

Vegas Road Trips (Area 51, Death Valley & more)




AREA 51

First gotta give a huge shout-out to Shy Guy Shawn for all the planning, awesome pics & one of the greatest friends to hang out with on a road trip to this dream destination.  It doesn't seem like much, but Area 51 is so shrouded in mystery I just had to see it myself!

This was my absolute highlight of the vacation (and the original reason for the trip).  The views on the way of endless roads extending into what looks like forever were awesome (even better than the Grand Canyon to me).

The only thing that could have made this day better would have been a UFO sighting or alien abduction.  But I'm thinking even if the aliens were to visit, this would be the last place they'd come to.  

So we didn't realize it when we stopped here to take a pic of the view, but this road below is the one that leads to the front entrance of Area 51!


The Little A-Le-Inn was the big food destination.  Lots of alien merchandise here, alien beer lol and people who lived and breathed the mythology that is Area 51.  The food was just ok but the ambiance was awesome.


The first Area 51 visit was to the back gate.  You know it's being monitored but we never saw anyone there aside from other cars that drove up to see it.

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The Black Mailbox is just a mailbox in the middle of nowhere.  It really doesn't have much to do with Area 51 other than it's there.


Now the front "gate" is the one that's got a freaky feel to it.  The road to it is long, dusty & surrounded by free-roaming cows.  And then all of a sudden around a bend, there it is.  On the way some Cammo Dudes in a white van passed us - me & Shawn were super psyched!

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And we could see yet another white van up on the hill - I'm guessing there were some Cammo Dudes watching us from there the whole time.  Made hanging around the gate a little spooky.  But this is why we came, so we explored the area a little - from our side of the "gate" of course.

I have no doubt if we were to take five or six steps over that line, we'd suddenly see someone with a gun blocking our path.  Didn't want that experience.  Our eyes were almost constantly on that van watching to see if it moved toward us.

Heading back, we had to stop at the Alien Research Center.  This is where we bought some alien stuff (hoodies, etc).  Loved this stop and highly recommend it to anyone who visits Area 51.


Then the ride back & more amazing views.  100% successful day trip!



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HOOVER DAM / GRAND CANYON TOUR

We used Take Tours for this day trip ($95 per person).  I'll give you the good and bad of the trip, but it's mostly good.

Things started off sketchy as the bus showed up to the hotel 10 minutes late and there was no way to contact them to see what was going on.  We weren't sure if we missed the bus or not.  Then they finally arrived.

After one more hotel stop to pick people up we learned there was only going to be 7 people taking the tour - awesome!

The first stop was Hoover Dam.  We had 25 minutes to walk up a long path to a bridge that overlooked Hoover Dam.  It was a great view.  And of course we had to walk the entire length of the bridge to see the Arizona welcome sign and the Arizona / Nevada border symbol on the bridge.  But we cut things really close doing all that walking - Shawn & I then had to jog back across the bridge and back down to make it to the bus on time.


Then it was off to the Grand Canyon (West).  The first stop was the gift shop.  From there, everyone (all tours and tourists that visit) have to take another bus to be shuttled to the three Grand Canyon stops.  We had 2 hours before we had to return to the bus.

Stop 1:  The Hualapai Village.  I read reviews online that said it's a tourist trap where all they do is try to sell you stuff.  And the amazing Grand Canyon views - not here.  So we just stayed on the bus and skipped this stop.  Which was a smart move as it would have wasted the short time we had to see the reason we came.

Stop 2:  Eagle Point.  Wow, the view is amazing here.  Shawn ran right to the edge and sat with his feet dangling into the canyon.  There's no barriers or anything - you get too close and fall off, that's a really bad day for you.  But we all then had to do the same as the picture and view was awesome.

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This is also where the Glass Bridge was (a $25 upcharge we had paid on the bus).  I wasn't impressed with the bridge or the views from it as it was so much cooler walking right up to the edge just minutes earlier.  It was basically 5 - 10 minutes of a photographer following you around, having you do poses, and then wanting you to buy the pictures after.  You are not allowed to take anything on the bridge with you - no cameras, no hats, no nothing.

Stop 3:  Guano Point.  People say this is the best view of the canyon and it didn't disappoint.  The winds were fierce this day which made things even crazier getting close to the edge.  We were even nervous holding up our phones for a pic, worrying that the winds were going to blow them out of our hands into the canyon.

Then back to the gift shop to catch the bus back to Vegas.  Here's the biggest negative I have for the tour.  We got on the bus on the far side of the lot early.  So Frankie & Shawn went to use the nearby bathroom for a second and that's when the bus driver decided to move the bus all the way across the lot to the main entrance.  He wouldn't wait the extra 10 seconds for them to return, so they then had to walk all the way across the lot to get back on.  Yeah, it's not crazy far but that wasn't cool.  Especially since it was still early.  Even more annoying was two of the other people ended up getting back to the bus 20 minutes late forcing the rest of us to sit there and wait.  They're the ones that should have been left behind.

But overall, I'd say go with this tour company.  It's cheaper than others and got us to the main stops we wanted to go to.  And it still left plenty of time to do things in Vegas when we got back there.


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DEATH VALLEY / RACETRACK PLAYA TOUR

We booked an SUV with East Side Sierra Shuttle for this.  It was $500 for the 4 of us.  Paul was our guide to the extremely hard to get to Racetrack Playa area of Death Valley.  That's where the rocks mysteriously move on their own.

Very few tours go to this area - I have no doubt in my mind we picked the absolute best one.  Do not do this drive on your own.  The road to get there is awful and Paul's SUV was readied for this journey.  He said many people get a flat or two trying to make this trip.  After bumping along that crazy gravel road for 3 hours, I have no doubt about that.  We got lucky this trip though - no flats.  But his car did have the warning lights on by the time we got back.

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After 90 minutes on a road that got more "gravely" and bumpy as we went on, we arrived at Teakettle Junction.  It's a junction of roads where people hang teakettles on the sign lol.


Almost 30 minutes later, Racetrack Playa.  Beautiful.  This is where the rocks move.  Now Death Valley is the hottest place in the world!  But on this day, I wore a heavy hoodie.  The winds were whipping and it was cold.  Around 50 or so (wind chill certainly less).

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The next hour or so was spent wandering the Racetrack checking out all the rocks and their trails.  We heard there was vandalism here a few months back but luckily didn't see much evidence of it.  The rain must have washed the tracks off where people annoyingly drove on the Racetrack.  We also heard people had removed some of the rocks at the ends of the trails.  Some were definitely gone but others had started new trails and we had plenty to take pictures of.


Paul let us hang out as long as we wanted.  When done, the journey back felt like forever down that gravel nightmare.  Just as the gravel road ended another 90 minutes later, we stopped at Ubehebe Crater.  The wind was insane here but of course that didn't stop us from going right up to the edge for some epic pictures.  The view so impressive.  We could have hiked down into the crater, but passed.  We were ready to head back to Vegas and eat!

After Paul dropped us off, we did a quick stop at the Death Valley Visitor's Center for some souvenirs then it was back to Vegas.  Yet another successful Vegas day trip!

If you want to do this tour (or any tour of Death Valley), absolutely go with this company.  We could not have possibly had a better time than with Paul.  I've been putting links on all the titles, but this one deserves to stand out even more - www.deathvalleybackcountrytours.com/