Arizona & Nevada (March 2018)
One of my favorite things about Gabriel and I, and this is going to sound really silly, is that we share the same birthday month and are only a couple of days apart (I’m the 10th he’s the 13th-though different years)
When I was younger and dreaming of my future mister, I had this ridiculous list complied of things I would love said “mister” to have- and a similar birthday was one of them. My dad and an ex step mom shared a birthday month and always threw the biggest birthday bashes. I always thought that would be super fun to follow- until I met G.
G isn’t much of a party doer/ participator so I had to rethink my strategy how to make our birthdays “special” in a way just for us- and that’s how we ended up what we call “escaping” out of town in order to get out of hosting a party.
Now I look forward to every March knowing we are going to be exploring some place new and I’ll be blowing out my candles with my favorite person by my side.
As I mentioned before, I am a pre-planner- I know many people are fine figuring things as they go- booking hotel rooms while en route and not having a daily schedule- but that makes me insecure. I like to have my plan A, B, and often a C ready to go to go so when we arrive in the new place we spend more time enjoying it than stressing what to do, where to go, how to get there and maximize the most of our time while away.
We did a week long Vegas trip in 2015 and I vowed I wouldn’t go back for the next 20 years. I didn’t like the hustle and bustle of the city- not to mention getting all hounded by the millions of business cards of escorts being passed out every few feet. You walk around the strip for an hour, then you play Go Fish with your friends. Whoever has the most pairs after 10 rounds of playing wins.
Kidding- sort of. I cant think of any other sane use for those cards.
I love all that glitters, but even Vegas was too much for me. I felt like you’ve seen it once, you were good for a few years until something major was built again. We aren’t gamblers, big drinkers, or smokers and prefer to spend our time outdoors and Vegas just felt like you had to spend money to do everything and it was expensive (and thats coming from a girl from Chicago).
Then came my big idea to visit the Grand Canyon for our 2018 birthday trip. We’ve been planning on fitting in an AZ trip for quite some time and it just never fit into our schedule and so I decided to just go ahead and book it and not tell G.
My plan was to fly into Phoenix and just stay in AZ…until I looked at flights and car rentals and learned how much more expensive it was then just flying to Nevada. When I compared the distances to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and Phoenix it wasn’t a huge difference in driving but because price was- we flew to Vegas.
This below was my plan for our Friday- Tuesday vacation and Ill add details and tips in a. Day by day breakdown.
We flew out of Chicago after work (tickets $605.22 for round trip for the 2 of us) in the
evening and landed in Nevada around 11pm- we grabbed our bags and took the airport shuttle bus to the Rent- A- Car center where I pre-booked our SUV with Avis ($229.99) using Costco Travel to book our rental car. I always compare between the actual companies and Costco, and Costco has always been cheaper. We drove to our Air BnB about 15 minutes from airport (not providing link as I just checked and this room is no longer being offered, we paid $35 for the night) and caught a quick snooze before we woke up at 430am and hit the 4 hour and 30 minute drive to Arizona through Utah with a time difference awaiting us ahead between states (important to check when traveling! Even when places near each other). We made 2 stops along the way and reached Page, Arizona at 1015 am. My original Airbnb host cancelled on me less than 24 hours prior to our trip and having my “plan B” of rooms set aside in case this happened, I quickly found another room available- just goes to show you no matter how much you plan ahead, there are things out of your control - its all how you react.
Our day was spent in Page before we continued down to Tusayan to visit the Grand Canyon. I had booked the Antelope Canyon tour with Dixie Ellis ($90 for 2 people). I was a little confused how the tours worked ahead of time, even with my research so I will clarify. There are 2 companies that provide tours down to the canyon- you MUST go with a tour guide, there is no way to do this on your own. The 2 tour places are right next to each other and they alternate letting their groups go into the canyon every 15 minutes. Tours may be sold out so call ahead or try to reserve your tickets early. The group before us was a huge asian tour company with over 150 people coming from a travel agency and booked all the rest of the tickets - I am so glad I bought our tickets days before or we wouldn’t have gotten in. There are better hours to go down to see the sun beams so call ahead and ask what they recommend depending on the time of year.
You arrive 30 minutes early to check in and watch a native tribal dance before your guide meets your assigned group to walk you into the canyon. Going down steep stairs, you get into the canyon entrance. There is no video taking allowed, though I will “shamefully” (sorry not sorry it's BEYOND amazing) I did have my go pro on a few times. You move quickly through the canyon because there are groups ahead and behind you so the guide keeps the pace. They were great at taking pictures, helping find best settings on phones and filters to help you capture the canyon, and explaining the history and pointing out “must see” formations. Side note, there are 2 antelope canyons- the other one, ____, is used for photography tours- they enforce having tripods and correct camera equipment (no your iPhone wont cut it) and many go there to photograph the sun beams- the guides will throw sand in the air to help photographers catch the perfect photo. There is NO throwing sand in the ___ part of the canyon (where we were) so oops- learned that after I did it- to be fair no one said anything before that it wasn’t allowed.
It really is truly a remarkable place and seems completely surreal- worth every penny of visiting and one of my most memorable experiences to this day.
After we finished our tour (approx 1 hour 15 min) we hopped into the car and drove 10 minutes to Horse Bend (free). You reach the parking lot and from there its a quick 20 minute walk (but please wear comfortable walking shoes the path isn’t paved and we saw a few rolled ankles) to reach the brim of the bend. It is also surreal and so peaceful. It is also much bigger than I thought it would be and theres no way to capture the entire horseshoe on your phone without using the panorama feature- once we figured that out made a world of difference in our photos. We stopped here to celebrate my birthday with a little cake and candles I brought from home covered in ice packs. With my feet hanging over the edge, my love by my side and some pretty fantastic bundt cakes- it’s definitely not something I will ever forget. After that we walked back and drove 15 minutes to go rent a kayak to take to Lake Powell.
Once we got to Lake Powell Kayak Company, we paid $45 to rent a double kayak for the entire day (until 7pm) The guys put a rack made out of PVC pipes and pool noodles on top of our roof so we wouldn’t scratch the rental and then loaded the kayak on top and secured it. I wont lie I was nervous how on earth we were going to load that thing back on top, wet, heavy, when we were done using it. We drove 20 minutes down to Lake Powell, down to the Antelope Point launch ramp. We dropped off the kayak and G drove the car up to the parking lot and came down to get it launched, it took us about 30 minutes to get situated so plan some extra time if you wanted to do this. We ended up skipping the guided tour (those had set times and we were pressed for time to get done by 730 to drive 2 hours and 30 minutes to Tusayan) and with a map decided to go on our own. I had G sit and launched the kayak and he started screaming water was getting inside, I pulled him back out and noticed they forgot to give us the plugs for the kayak. Super annoyed, called the office they said a tour was going to be starting in 45 minutes if we could wait they would bring the plugs, or we could come get ourselves which would take just as much time with the drive. We opted to wait and about 10 minutes later one of the guided tours came back to the launch- I explained to the guide what had happened since he was from the same company- he said to take one of this kayaks and he
was going to pick up the next tour he would bring back the plugs and have one of his members use our kayak. So we took off. We started our 1.5 hour route into antelope canyon. The water is still as could be so paddling isn’t difficult, it’s just far. I strongly recommend doing a single kayak with 2 people- if one gets tired the other can paddle and then switch off as the trip back and fourth is a little over 3 hours. We paddled all the way down into the canyon and the walls narrow so much there gets to be a point you would not be able to flip around your kayak in a circle ( you can once you reach the very end) which we did and were told you could hop off and go explore. What we didn’t expect to find was over a foot of mud and muck and getting out kayak stuck. I ended up dumping all our stuff from our dry bags and putting them around my feet because I wear the shoe size of a small child and pushing our kayak out of it. It was too muddy to go explore and we were forced to turn around back. It did make for an absolute ridiculous memory- I wasn’t laughing at the time but now I am.
Once we got back we loaded up our car with the kayak and dropped it off (they have outdoor cameras so you just leave everything and go) and were off to Tusayan.
We stayed at the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire ($116 for the night) and drove to town hungry…. well, just about everything in town closed at 8pm and we arrived just after 10. Our 2 options were Plaza Bonita (an over glorified uber expensive Mexican restaurant) or McDonalds. Because it was my birthday we tried going to Bonita but service was so slow after 30 minutes of not having order taken even though talked to waiter multiple times- we walked out and headed over to McDonalds. Gabriel took my cake candle and stuck it into my chicken sandwhich- honestly couldn’t complain- I think back and smile how much fun we had. We checked into our hotel and crashed so hard.
We had a helicopter tour planned ($248 for 2 people) but ended up being cancelled due to weather. We slept in a little and arrived at the park at 10 am. We paid the $30 car fee and had no trouble parking. I was so excited to get to Mather Point and holding my breath so excited- I walked up.. and nothing! The area was so covered in such a dense fog, if we didn’t know there was a canyon- we would have never believed you. It was so thick you couldn’t even see glimpses into the canyon. Every once in awhile a teasing breeze would poke by and we were stunned by the beauty we were able to witness just for a few seconds before it
disappeared again. We stopped by visitors center and learned how the shuttle buses operate and got in line to board the 80 minute Hermit Road Red Route. We hoped we could wait out the fog and it would lift. We rode all the way to the end of the route and finally got a clearing for about 15 minutes. We took our pictures and were wowed by the depths and the massiveness of the canyon and hopped backed on. While at the village route transfer center, we got another beautiful clearing for a few more pictures but untimely due to weather we decided to head back to car and embark on the 4 hours 20 minute ride back to Las Vegas and stop at In and Out for dinner and get some zzzz’s in before another busy day. We stayed at the Luxor ($194.39 for 2 nights and $10 for parking)
Another early day! And Gabriel is not a early morning person because he works from 330am to 330 pm Monday- Saturday and he loves his sleep so he was a little cranky on this vacay but the beautiful sights kept him in awe and overall happy. We woke up and drove an hour up north to the Valley of Fire State Park ($10/ car entrance fee) to go explore Elephant Rock, Arch Rock, the Hoodoos, and the Fire Wave trail. The park is large and you drive your car from place to place and park on the side of the road. If you look up “Elephant Rock” on Google (as I did) I was expecting this huge elephanté - this was a great reminder of things
are not always as they seem. From the photos online, it looked massive- when we got there- turns out it was rather small and the photos were taken from a different area giving it a completely different perspective. There were “no climbing” signs all over the place but G grabbed my hand and we hiked from the back- once again, sorry not sorry because it was incredible! After that we got back in car and found ourselves on the hour long path to get to the fire wave (not to be confused with the wave in AZ as the requires a permit by lottery) the trail was easy, once again wear good shoes and take water- man it got HOT). We hung out there for a little bit enjoying all the views and seeing mountain goats and then headed back to the car to make our way south in Nevada to go visit these ridiculous stacked
and painted rock sculptures that Gabriel couldn’t roll his eyes any harder at is he tried. It was about an hour away (free) located near Jean Dry Lake and Interstate 15. When we go to these 30 foot tall neon rocks, we couldn’t help but laugh and laugh how out of place they looked against the natural mountain (also because people were coming with full on wardrobe, light-rings and makeup to take pictures for the gram!) We walked around for a little and then loaded back up into the car to go drop it off to avoid paying another day of use when we were within walking/ uber distance of everything and our flight home was early AM next day.
After a nap and getting ready- we took an uber ($8.90) for our “Vegas” night to the Cosmopolitan hotel to have dinner at Holsteins because after seeing photos I had dreams of their “gourmet burgers, boozy shakes & beers galore.” I found about that place months before and was able to get us signed up in time for birthday club and we got our boozy milkshakes free. Man just be careful those things REALLY sneak up on you since you cant
taste the liquor. We walked around in the Bellagio gardens, watched the fountain dance, and then made our way back to our hotels, Luxor, “Fantasy” burlesque show ($90) and quite frankly I was disappointed in the content and show in general. I absolutely love burlesque shows and cabarets but this one was just “meh”- if you’ll ask G- anytime he gets to see naked boobs on stage he’s happy.
We flew back to the 773 area code around 10 am and then spent the rest of the day sleeping and recovering from all the driving and adventure of vacation. I felt awful since it was G’s birthday but he was begging not to go out and just order in and have a chill day in bed. On top of our vacay, we decided instead of present we were going to buy a combined birthday gift and splurged on the Peloton spin bike so that was waiting for us at home.
Overall we had a ton of fun. It was so peaceful and we got to see so many new and beautiful sights you couldn’t even imagine just because there is absolutely nothing to compare their beauty and magnitude to.
I cant wait to see where we end up this coming March, I have dreams of Bora Bora in the French Polynesian but I’m also realistic enough to understand $1k per person per plane ticket is close to insane. Gabriel wants to go back to Oranjestad, Aruba- but considering we were just there for a cruise, the world is too big and too amazing to keep going back to the same places. If I wasn’t married to him, I would have been
backpacking the world years ago. I think we might end up in Greece though. We’ve talked about it multiple times and its been on mic bucket list since I was a kid and I just found insane tickets for less than $600/ a person and I’m already imagining the vibrant blue and white and the caldera houses in Santorini and the beaches in Mykonos and the ruins in Athens- but well see. He mentioned something about doing a California coast trip too.
Oh man- if travel was free you would never see me again.
I hope our Arizona/ Nevada breakdown was able to assist you and give you some perspective on our trip. It truly is remarkable and something everyone should be able to experience.