In 2011, my girlfriend, my mate and I completed an incredible road trip around the western USA – this is our story.
Previously myself, my girlfriend and my mate flew to LA, hired a Chevy Cruze, drove up the Pacific Coast highway to San Francisco then inland to Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Lake Powell and on August 30th we set off for Las Vegas.
I drove us all day across Arizona and ended up getting a ridiculous trucker-style tan line from leaning my arm out the window as we drove past yet more stunning rocky mountainous scenery in the desert heat. We had to take a crazy detour at one point as we had failed to realise that the route we intended to take took us through a national park and by now we knew that national parks always charge, even just to drive through them (fair enough, though, they are all stunning). This one was the most expensive yet at $25 which was hugely frustrating as we were just trying to get from A to B. We figured it would be cheaper to use more gas and just turn round and do a large loop south of the national park.
We had managed to get an amazing midweek deal at the Monte Carlo hotel – the majority of people go to Vegas at the weekend, although it was still busy on a Tuesday when we were there. We got a 29th floor room with a view overlooking the strip, which is breathtaking in a totally different way to Lake Powell.
We met up with more guys from camp and wandered around the strip, bumping in to a crazy African man claiming to be a club owner/promoter who talked to us for ten minutes about how his club’s girls were clean if we went that night but the following night we would have to “double up with the condom, you know?” This was hilarious but as soon as he started asking for money we got out of there. We had a nice meal in a restaurant by our hotel then headed over to the hotel the others were staying in, the MGM Grand. Everywhere you look in Vegas it just reminds you of the film The Hangover.
Now the thing you have to remember is that we had all met at a summer camp for children where we had worked as counsellors, which requires a good deal of being able to be a bit bonkers. A good example of this is myself and my mate Aaron trying to out-do everyone else for craziest handshake (handshakes were a big deal at camp this summer) by greeting each other in the mornings by opening our mouths and hovering our finger in the other one’s mouth and saying “aaahhh” as if we were at a very strange dentist’s. Yes, very weird, but we were as they say “camp cracked”. Aaron had flown from Detroit to Vegas to join the group and we decided to re-enact this “handshake” for old times’ sake, to the amusement of all our friends and the sheer horror of the poor stranger who was stuck in an elevator with us at the time!
After a night of reunion hedonism the following day was spent chilling in the Monte Carlo’s very cool swimming pool, complete with wave machine (is it wrong to get excited by wave machines when you are 22? They’re not as cool as the oceans I’d surfed in and the lakes we’d swum and skied on earlier in the summer, but damn they are still cool!) Later we went shopping, had a nice shrimp and Caesar salad opposite the famous Bellagio hotel and then wandered over to watch the impressive Bellagio fountain, which is even more impressive at night and cooler still when you watch them from behind.
Every fountain display is different and perfectly timed to music so you get a different experience every time you watch them – they’re not dissimilar to the fountains in Barcelona. Everyone was tired after the night before and some people had to get up early the following day to skydive (by this time our funds were a little too low for that kind of activity sadly), so we went to the Monte Carlo’s roulette tables and tried our luck.
At one point we were up $15 after some skilful (okay, okay, entirely lucky) predictions but ended the two days $15 down. Still, five bucks isn’t bad for over an hour’s cumulative entertainment. And it really is entertainment as the wheel in front of you is filmed from two angles displayed on screens in front of you whilst the last 300 results are shown in various graphic and tabular forms on the screens, making the experience genuinely quite exciting.
I must say, though, that the majority of Vegas casinos comprise of fruit machines which are just, well, lame. They seemed no better than something you could play at your local pub so if you don’t want to do that and you don’t fancy sitting at a table with a proper official running the table the only light-hearted gambling available is roulette. Still, both Martin and Jodie and a lot of the others were under 21 so in Vegas, just like everywhere else on the trip, we couldn’t go out to clubs and gamble and so on anyway. There’s plenty to see and do in Vegas outside of that sort of thing anyway – it’s amazing just to wander around the sheer brilliance of the tackiness of the place. Highlights include the fake Eiffel tower and Venetian hotel with incredible attention to detail including actual gondolas and escalators that go up and then down the other side of a traditional Venice arch bridge, amazing.
The trip was coming to an end and the following morning I dropped Martin at the airport and after a last wander around the strip, Jodie and I set off for Los Angeles to complete our epic 2828 mile round American road trip.
In the last two instalments – we drive the original Route 66 and I nearly get arrested in New York.