Author Topic: Las Vegas and Death Valley (Death Valley NP #13)  (Read 1548 times)

Offline cgr

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Las Vegas and Death Valley (Death Valley NP #13)
« on: March 22, 2022, 06:31:42 PM »
Iíve been itching to travel since I returned from my awesome 5-week trip in November (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=128303.0), and I managed to squeeze in a short 5 day trip in February to Las Vegas, with the main goal of visiting Death Valley NP. We left Newark for Las Vegas on Tuesday night and landed back in NY on Monday early morning. Our flight to Vegas was ĺ empty, and I was able to spread out on a full row and catch some winks. We had reserved an SUV with Fox car rental- they were 50% cheaper on SUVís and charged us what others were charging for a Sedan that week- but unbeknownst to us at the time Fox is located two shuttles away from the airport, instead of the usual one. When looking into car rentals I noticed that all agencies required a shuttle, so I shifted to price instead of location. Most car rental counters are located about 10 minutes away from the airport via shuttle, and Fox has their own shuttle running between the general car rental area and their location, which is another 5 minutes away. It was a huge shlep at the time since it was after 2AM EST for us by the time we got to the counter, but by the next morning once Iíd gotten some sleep, I didnít regret it so much since the price difference was substantial. The customer service agent was quick to get us on our way, and we were able to choose any car from the lot that matched our car type (I believe there were seven options available. Iím not enough of a car geek so I just picked the first one).

Weíd decided to stay at a different hotel each night, but I wasnít too impressed with the Vegas themes so I canít really say if the check-in shlep was worth it each night or not. By the time we got to our first hotel, the Sahara Las Vegas, it was well after 1AM local time. The agent upgraded us from our basic Blanca room to a high floor in the Alexandria tower- I didnít ask for an upgrade but presumably it was offered due to the late hour. The casino is located away from the check-in area, so itís blessedly quiet, and thereís no long walks from the parking lot to the check-in counters to the guest elevators, unlike many other Vegas hotels. This was the only hotel we stayed at that had free parking, and while it was the most ďexpensiveĒ hotel when factoring in the nightís stay ($38) plus the resort fee ($45), it ended up costing us the same as the other nights since we paid $15 for parking at all other hotels. Out of all the hotels we stayed at in Vegas proper, this is the one that I would most readily go back to. (I did not yet have Hyatt status at the time- now that I do, obviously my hotel choices would have been different as Hyatt status matches to MGM status which comes with free parking and upgrades).

As expected, we rose early the next morning due to jetlag. Our first stop was at Smithís supermarket to stock up on groceries for the next few days- they have an extensive kosher selection, as well as a kosher takeout and bakery.

Next, we headed to Valley of Fire State Park. We opted to drive to the park via the scenic route, which is through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Thereís an entrance fee when driving through the Recreation Area, but the National Park Pass is accepted here so we didnít have to pay for it.





Internet is spotty and at times non-existent in the area, so we downloaded offline maps in advance. If using Google Maps, I highly recommend entering the destination name + parking lot at Valley of Fire, otherwise Google Maps will take you to the actual site which is not necessarily accessible from the road. Valley of Fire uses an honor system for the $10 entrance fee, and they accept cash or checks. Note that parking on the shoulder is not allowed at Valley of Fire.

We stopped at the following sites in Valley of Fire National Park:

Elephant Rock- walk from the fee pay lot- thereís no other dedicated parking area for this.



Seven Sisters



Mouseís Tank Trail- we hiked the half a mile out-and-back trail here



Rainbow Vista Trail- we hiked the 1.10 mile out-and-back trail here



Fire Wave Trail- we hiked the 1.5 mile out-and-back trail here. The place was a bit crowded for my liking, but itís a beautiful spot.





Pastel (Pink) Canyon Trail- this and our next stop was the highlight of Valley of Fire for me (I know many people prefer Fire Wave, but the Pastel Canyon trail was deserted, which I loved, and is beautiful). Google maps doesnít have the correct starting point for this trail, so here are some directions: enter the trail from Parking Lot 3, across Fire Wave. Head into the pink canyon (itís downhill from the parking lot, not uphill), and you should start seeing trail markers.





On our hike back from Pastel Canyon, as the sun was starting to set, we climbed the tall mountain that overlooks Parking Lot 3 (again, I mean the parking lot side across Fire Wave- itís the mountain just beyond the parking lot- you canít miss it). The climb up was difficult since we werenít accessing it from the parking lot but rather from the canyon side where the sand and gravel is loose and not trodden by a marked trail, but it was 100% worth the climb.



Supposedly Valley of Fire closes at sunset, but we stuck around to get some good sunset views. The rangers were friendly and didnít push us to leave.



I highly recommend Valley of Fire- it was definitely one of the top highlights of this trip, and you can easily spend a full day there if not going via the scenic route, as we did not get a chance to cover all the hikes and lookouts on our list.

After making our way back to Vegas, we checked into the Luxor hotel. Navigating the place was exhausting- the check-in desks are located miles (or at least what feels like it) from the guest towers, and thereís a long walk through the entire casino to get to the elevators. We were originally assigned a high-floor room in the Pyramid Tower, but the room had a strong smoke smell, which I knew would bother me all night, so I called the front desk. I spent about 30 minutes (!!) on the phone on hold with hotel staff trying to change room, which they eventually agreed to. They ďupgradedĒ us to the West tower, but the room seemed equally dated to me. In order to change rooms, we had to walk through half the hotel again, which was exhausting once more (we had the bellhop bring the new keys to us so that we wouldnít have to walk through the casino, but it was still a long walk). After finally settling into the mercifully odorless room, we headed to Chinglish for supper. As expected by the DDF recommendations, the food was delicious.

Thursday morning, we headed out early to Death Valley National Park, a two-hour desert drive from Las Vegas. Internet is spotty and at times non-existent in the area, so we downloaded offline maps in advance. If using Google Maps, I highly recommend entering the destination name + parking lot at Death Valley NP, otherwise Google Maps will take you to the actual site which is not necessarily accessible from the road. Itís also important to set out with a full tank of gas because there arenít many options to fill up. The park as a whole wasnít too crowded, but in the Valley under the sun it was hot (85F at the visitor center, and even hotter in some areas)- February should be the coolest month in the park, so I have no idea how visitors manage it any other month, let alone in the summer. As mentioned, we have a National Park Pass so we didnít need to stop at the entrance lot to pay the fee.

Our first stop was Danteís View, which overlooks Death Valley- the temps here were the coldest we experienced on our trip- around 55F, and very windy.



Next, we drove down Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road- I donít have any impressive pictures, but I highly recommend this- I found it to be the most beautiful drive we did in Death Valley. A high clearance vehicle is probably best here as the road is not paved and thereís plenty of bumps and potholes along the way.

We then visited Zabriskie Point, a great badland lookout.





Next, headed to Furnace Creek Visitor Center to check out the place and buy some souvenirs.

Our next stop was Artistís Drive- this is a one-way road so if you miss a stop (like we did) youíll need to start all over againÖ



we first stopped at an unmarked hike recommended by a blog thatís supposedly located 3.4 miles into Artists Drive, .9 miles before the Artistís Palette parking lot. The blog instructions said to park at second dip in the road (there are two steep dips on this road- you canít miss it) and walk east into the canyon. I didnít think it safe to stop in the dip since thereís no visibility from the top and the shoulder isnít wide enough, so we drove a bit further on the road, parked on the side, and walked back to the dip to head into the canyon. I have no idea if we did the ďcorrectĒ hike that was intended, but we had fun climbing into the canyon- itís an out-and-back hike that took some courage due to the steep climb at the start- the way down was even harder since it was difficult to find purchase on the loose rocks, but it was worth it.



Our next intended stop was Artistís Palette, but I missed the parking lot, so we ended up visiting this later in the day.

We then headed to Devilís Golf Course- for some reason Google Maps did not direct me to the official lookout, but instead down an unpaved road across the Valley- the Golf Course view is the same- harsh and unforgiving, but the number of broken-down vehicles on the road was not reassuringÖ



We then headed to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US- this was the most crowded area of the park that day. We didnít hike out too far as it was really hot- probably around 95F, with the sun beating down.


(above: look closely to see the "Sea Level" sign)



Next, we headed to Natural Bridge for some hiking- if youíre short on time I recommend you skip this. The hike up takes some perseverance in the heat, and the bridge is nothing major.



After Badwater Basin we headed back to Artistís Drive to visit Artistís Palette. We hiked about a mile out from the parking lot for some quiet- the trails were empty and the colors beautiful. There are many paths to choose from and they all make for great pictures (we took some individual shots atop those hills, with the mountains, sky, and ice-cream scoops as the backdrop).





Next, we headed to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunset- we had originally planned to make the 4PM Ranger led sunset walk here, but we wanted more time to hike Artistís Palette, so we skipped the walk and got to the dunes just in time for sunset.



We spent about 45 minutes here watching the sun go down- the colors werenít too crazy because there were almost no clouds for the sun to reflect against. This is a great spot for kids- we saw many families with sleds sandboarding here.



We then headed back to Zabriskie Point for stargazing- it was nice to relax after a packed day, but there was a full moon that night, so the stars were not very impressive, especially for a Gold Star rated park.

We headed back to Las Vegas and checked into the Linq hotel- as with the Luxor hotel it was extremely complicated and exhausting to navigate from the parking lot to the rooms. Also, the showers were dated here, even though the room as a whole wasnít. We then headed to Jerusalemís Chefís Table for dinner. Food was tasty and the ambience is great.

Most of the activities we chose to do on Friday, Motzei Shabbos, and Sunday were from the Las Vegas GoEverywhere Pass from this deal (https://www.dansdeals.com/points-travel/buy-go-everywhere-2020-pass-just-20-20/), since that was free to us. We did add some other activities that we felt were worth spending on.

Friday morning, we started our day at the Mob Museum (included in the GoCity Pass). I found this museum fascinating, especially since so many infamous mobsters were Jewish. We had originally planned to spend less than 2 hours here, but we ended up spending over 3 hours, and couldíve easily spent even more time here. We then stopped by The Venetian and Caesars for some sightseeing and then headed to Simon and Joeís for lunch but they were closed due to construction, so we ended up at Ariellaís instead. They had just finished baking Challah, so we got two fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves for Shabbos (thankfully so, as the takeout at Smithís grocery closes early on Friday and weíd forgotten to check when, so they were long closed at that point). The loaves are huge, and we ended up eating less than one in total. Being that the takeout at Smithís was closed, we had a panic moment when we realized that we didnít have any soup or meat for Shabbos, and I was really not in the mood to put up a cholent which would have meant another grocery stop (which always takes way longer than expected), as well as buying spices, aluminum foil, etc etc which weíd so far been able to do without. Luckily for us Chinglish closes at 3PM on Friday so we quickly drove over, purchased some soups and main dishes, and voila- Shabbos food was all set. It was now a lot later than we had planned for, and we started the drive to the resort we had booked for Shabbos- the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. Itís usually only about 40 minutes from Las Vegas, but since it was Friday afternoon, traffic was horrendous. We finally made it to the resort about 30 minutes to the zman, put the food up, and grabbed a quick shower in a mad rush. I highly recommend this place for anyone visiting Vegas and spending Shabbos there. Personally, I would not enjoy Shabbos on the strip, and this resort is beautiful and close enough that the commute is worth it. They have a few pools, gardens, a golf course, and a lake (and a man-made beach, but that was wellÖ man made). There are also views of Red Rock Canyon in the background.

On Motzei Shabbos we drove back to Vegas for the Fly Linq Zipline (included in the GoCity Pass)- it was fun but as far as ziplines go definitely not a must do. I had originally dropped the car at Caesarís parking lot since they have one-hour free parking, but upon exiting they charged us $30 because there was an event on. When I inquired about this, they informed me that since the Superbowl was the next day and Valentineís Day was the day after, they charged an event fee- I was quite upset about this since there were no notices posted anywhere. We then headed back to Ariellaís for some grub before driving back to the resort for the night.

We started Sunday morning by walking the strip a bit,



and then headed to Bodies at Ballyís- we chose this one over the one at the Luxor since this was included in the GoCity Pass, but from what I read theyíre very similar. This is my second time visiting an exhibit of real human remains, and it was as incredible as I expected it to be. Next, we visited the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor- this is not included in the GoCity Pass, but it was worth it- itís both fascinating and somber simultaneously. We then decided to head to Red Rock Canyon, even though we didnít have much time left, to get a quick hike in and watch sunset. On the drive over I made a reservation for $2 online- the actual entry fee ($15) was waived since we have the National Park Pass. Almost all the reservation spots were still availble, but we booked the reservation since they clearly state on their website that anyone arriving without one will be turned away. When we got the gate that turned out not to be true- a reservation is recommended but not required, but it was still worth it since at the reservation lane all they request is the reservation confirmation and NP Pass, while at the non-reservation lane there were at least 10 cars waiting in line. While the Canyon is nice, it in no way compares to the beauty of Valley of Fire- we were told several times to do Red Rock Canyon before Valley of Fire, so that we donít find it so underwhelming, but since Valley of Fire was a must-do on our list, and Red Rock Canyon was only a filler if we had enough time, we ended up leaving it for the last day. I didnít regret going since I enjoy hiking and the views are nicer than what I get from my window in Brooklyn:) After a quick stop at the Visitor Center and the Calico I lot for some pictures



we headed to the Calico III lot (the official name for this might be the Sandstone Quarry, but Iím not sure) to do some hiking- there was only one spot left in the lot, but the Calico Tanks Trail and Grand Circle Loop were blessedly deserted.





I had started the day with a mild cold, and after 2 miles of hiking under the sun my sinuses suddenly started misfiring, and I was unable to push myself further. The hike back to the lot was excruciating, but luckily I made it back without incident. Once in the car with the A/C on the pain quickly receded, but I was wary of pushing myself to do another hike, so we headed to one of the lookouts to await sunset. Note that the Scenic Loop Drive in Red Rock Canyon is a one-way road, so thereís no going back if you miss a spot. After sunset we headed back to Las Vegas to the Eiffel Tower viewing deck (included in our GoCity Pass), where we watched the Bellagio waterfall & light show from up top.



After this we headed to the Bellagio to see the gardens, which were mildly disappointing and packed with people.



Our last stop before heading to the airport was dinner at Burnt Offerings- the food was great.

We then headed to Fox Car Rental to drop off our car and take the shuttle to the general car rental lot, and from there a second shuttle to the airport. While waiting in line at the general car rental shuttle to the airport one of us (hint: it wasnít me) noticed that theyíd left their cellphone at Fox. We called Fox and they had already located the phone and were kind enough to send it with their next shuttle to us. While their next shuttle arrived in less than 10 minutes, we had a good 30-minute wait for the shuttle from the general car rental center to the airport. There were about a 100 people in line, and we had to wait for two shuttles to fill up before it was our turn. Fortunately I didnít know at the time that the precheck lane was already closed for the night, or else I wouldíve been nervous the whole time about missing our flight.

When we finally made it to the airport I was disappointed to learn that the precheck lane was already closed, and the regular security line seemed hours long. Luckily it was a fast-moving line, and within 20 minutes we were at the front. The TSA agent was ďkindĒ enough to allow anyone with precheck to show their boarding pass at the security line so that we wouldnít have to take our shoes off or pass the screening machine, but she wouldnít let anyone pass the metal detector until she had amassed a substantial group of pre-check travelers, so we actually ended up waiting in line longer than all the non-precheck passengersÖ we made it to our gate with a few minutes to spare, and had an uneventful flight back home.

Offline CountValentine

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Re: Las Vegas and Death Valley (Death Valley NP #13)
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2022, 07:00:34 PM »
Nice report. Love your description of your walks in hotels. Welcome to LAS.  :)
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Offline Live N Learn

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Re: Las Vegas and Death Valley (Death Valley NP #13)
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2022, 02:33:12 AM »
Great TR. Thanks.
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