For my kids winter break, we looked up what flights were available for cheap points on Delta. After comparing most of the US, Las Vegas came out cheapest for the days we wanted. I have been all over the US, but have never been to Death Valley so we decided to combine the two.
Thursday midday, we (my mom, my sister, me and three of my four kids) flew from JFK to LAS. We landed midday, rented an SUV and drove to Pahrump, about halfway to Death Valley. We stayed at a really nice Holiday Inn Express that had everything we needed - 2 beds, a pull out couch, microwave and refrigerator plus free breakfast. The hotel was pretty new, clean and the staff was friendly. It was too cold to use the pool. Right across from the parking lot was a casino/bowling alley/movie theater/bar type place and the hotel gave us coupons to get free drinks and tshirts there.
The next morning we drove out to Death Valley. The ride itself is unbelievably beautiful and only a precursor to the amazing views in Death Valley itself. Our first stop in Death Valley was Zabriskie Point - it's a paved path with unbelievable views. The topography is so different from anything I've seen. It's no wonder Star Wars had scenes filmed there! Unfortunately, the weather wasn't very cooperative. It rained most of the time we were there, which is very strange for Death Valley! It almost never rains there. We also drove down to the salt flats and walked on them. It's very cool and very unsteady walking. IMG_5125
After Zabriskie Point, we checked in at the hotel. We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch. It's a beautiful, clean older hotel. We had two adjoining rooms with a terrace and an amazing view. IMG_5531
On the grounds of the hotel is the Borax Museum, a gift shop/grocery store, restaurants, a pool fed from a hot spring and horses. It was a really nice place to walk around on Shabbos.
Sunday, we were supposed to take a Jeep tour of Titus Canyon, but flooding made it impossible so we changed our destination to Echo Canyon/20 Mule Canyon. We drove up to the mine and were able to poke around a miners shack and see a mine from the outside. The views are breathtaking but the rain made it hard to capture. Then we went to 20 Mule Canyon where my kids loved climbing on the weird hills. We stopped at Borax Works which was okay and drove through mustard canyon.IMG_5261
In the afternoon, we hiked through Golden Canyon. It was a great easy hike where my kids could climb the walls.
Monday morning, we checked out and drove to the Salt Creek Interpretive trail, a nice boardwalk with a desert river.IMG_5546
After (and the highlight in most of my family's opinion), was the Mesquite Sand Dunes. You park the car and just walk along these large sand dunes that go on for miles and miles. My kids really enjoyed rolling down them! IMG_5629
The final stop in Death Valley was Ubehebe Crater. I don't know what I was really expecting, but it is an absolutely enormous crater in the ground. It's extremely windy at the top so hold on to your hats. We originally planned to hike around the rim, but you could really see the entire crater from the parking area. There are no guardrails or anything and it's kind of creepy standing at the edge. IMG_5712
We drove out of the park and stopped in Rhyolite, a ghost town in Nevada. You can drive around and see the school and some buildings. It's interesting to see, but not worth driving too far out of the way. Then we made our way to Beaty, where we stopped at their free museum. It's nothing to write home about, but was a place with a clean bathroom and a place to stretch our legs, followed by the drive to Vegas. IMG_5739
In Vegas, we had planned to stay at the Fairfield Inn right off the strip. Free breakfast for my kids is a big deal - they eat a lot and it makes the rest of the day easier with respect to food so no strip hotels for us. We had booked a "two room suite" which turned out to be the tiniest suite I've ever seen. They say it can fit 6 people, but if you pull the sofa bed out, there is no way to walk past, blocking in anyone on the beds. I'm surprised fire code allowed that. We spoke to the manager who told us it's a common complaint and put us at the nearby Residence Inn, honoring the Fairfield rate (we are Marriott Platinum members, that might have helped). The Residence Inn was perfect for us - they had a shuttle to the strip, free breakfast and a really nice pool.
In Vegas, we explored the strip. We stopped in many of the hotels to see/do what was unique there. My kids loved the arcade at the excalibur because there was a claw game that you played until you won and only cost $1. They loved seeing the Volcano erupt at the Mirage and the circus acts at Circus Circus and watching people gamble when they could. Our favorite activity in Vegas was the High Roller, the really tall, slow ferris wheel. It takes about 30 minutes to go around full circle. The cars are spacious and the views are terrific and kids can move around inside the cars.
From Vegas, we took two day trips. One was to Hoover Dam, which was an incredible engineering marvel. I'm an engineer for a utility company, and this really impressed me. IMG_5895
The other trip we took was to Red Rock Canyon. Hiking there is incredible. Everything is easily accessible and you can rock climb all over, with no skill necessary. My 5 year old had absolutely no problem keeping up with her 7 and 8 year old brothers. IMG_6045
I loved the juxtaposition of the nature at Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon to the glitz and glamour of Vegas. We flew home Saturday night on the red eye and we all survived. My kids even slept on the plane.