Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Day 4- Vegas via the Road Less Traveled

Day 4- Vegas via the Road Less Traveled 

Recaps: Day 1Day 2, and Day 3
We awoke well rested at the Longstreet Inn.  Still full from our late night dinner, I opted to make large coffees to bring down with us to the oversized hot tub, for one last dip before our drive back to Vegas.  I was sad it was already the last day of our road trip, but excited for the stop we had planned at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge- a remote area known for their brilliant blue natural springs in the middle of the desert.  Literally just miles from our hotel, we arrived at the refuge just before lunch and headed to the visitor center.  August was quite excited for his initiation into the junior ranger program and both boys earned a badge and stamp.  The boardwalk to Crystal Springs started right behind the visitor center, so afterwards we headed out into some surprisingly cool desert breezes for a short and relaxing walk to the springs.  Crystal Springs was so vividly blue it was almost hard to believe what we were seeing- smack dab in the middle of dusty brown fields of sand and dirt.  I would have liked to explore more of the springs the refuge had to offer, but it was past lunchtime and we wanted the early evening to hang out at the much talked about shark tank pool at the Golden Nugget.  We enjoyed a picnic at the visitor center and then packed into the car for the last bit of drive to that would take us back to Vegas.  I enjoy exploring the back roads on our road trips, and had figured out in advance that there were some dirt roads that we could take out of Ash Meadows to eventually connect with the main highway.  The route was isolated, and at times almost flooded over by a milky red ephemeral lake from which the road just barely rose above.  It was our last taste of the remote adventure I had been craving on our Nevada road trip.  While for many people Nevada is Vegas, for me it was everything else.

We arrived without incident at the Golden Nugget, on the “old” downtown strip, and parked our car with ease only to be hit up by the hoards of people also trying to check in on this late Tuesday afternoon.  Our room provided us a welcome respite from the crowds, but we didn’t linger for long as we were ready to see some sharks up close and personal!  When I read about the new shark tank pool at the Nugget on a cold January morning, and that included a 3 story water slide that zipped you right through the middle of the tank (in a transparent tube), I knew we would have to go.  In the world of extravagant hotel pools, this ranked right up there with the best.  It lacked the elegant intimacy of our first night’s stay north of Vegas, but we thoroughly enjoyed the rowdy excitement of watching the sharks and taking our turns on slide.  

After our fun at the pool we got ready for a quick night out on the town which included a forgettable meal at the Main Street Station Casino, and an entertaining walk through the Fremont Street Viva Vision light show which never failed to get Remy dancing in the backpack.  We returned to our hotel near 9 pm, packed up for our early flight out, and promptly turned lights out.  The hotel was mostly a ghost town in the morning as we checked out, minus a few up very early like us or out very late unlike us.  After a reasonably easy check-in and breakfast at the airport, we settled into our flight home, where I was already reading and planning new adventures for a future Nevada road trip, and the podcasts to go along.  

August earned his junior ranger badge.

Crystal Spring

Picnic packing
Crystal Reservoir
Road less traveled to Vegas

Will we make it?
Golden Nugget- Shark Tank pool

Up close and personal.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Day 3- Turning Three in Death Vallee

Day 1 and Day 2 recaps.

After our late night and middle of the night disruption, the entire family slept until just past 9 am in our dark and dusty Death Valley cabin.  The boys woke up crazier than usual so we almost immediately ushered them outside to the front porch while I fumbled around with making a respectable cup of coffee.  Speaking of respectable cups of coffee- can I rant for a minute on how much I hate Keurig coffee makers, and hate even more that almost every hotel room now has one?  Yes, it’s incredibly wasteful, but apart from that, the coffee is just bad… and weak (I apologize in advance for those I have offended).  And I need much more than one Keurig cup to get my day started (my husband and I would each get one, as they usually only give two cups, in addition to decaf- which, just… why???).  I never mind, and actually rather enjoy, walking down to a hotel lobby for a cup of drip coffee, which, in my opinion, is much more likely to be decent coffee (unless it’s weak- why, oh why do people make hot coffee-water??).  In my anticipation of these Keurig infested hotel rooms and from past vacations where it seemed I went days without a decent cup (which really just throws my entire morning off), I planned ahead.  Seeing as we were flying and I wouldn’t be able to pack up my entire gourmet coffee survival kit that has accompanied me on prior road trips and camping (electric tea kettle, 6 cup ceramic pour over system, grinder) I experimented with Starbucks Colombian instant packets and powdered creamers.  The Starbucks Colombian packets can be bought at a great price when on sale at Costco and are capable of making a rich, respectable cup of coffee, as strong as you like it.  As far as creamer- I found that in the Hispanic isle in most grocery stores they sell a Nestle brand of dehydrated whole milk- no other additives or fillers other than some vitamins.  It is much better than any non-dairy creamer I’ve tried, and has a good taste and mouthfeel.  The bonus of this combo is you can make up a hot cup of coffee when hot water is available (you can brew a hot cup of water with a Keurig machine if the not quite colorless water that comes out doesn’t creep you out), or if not, dump the contents with cold water into a water bottle, shake vigorously for a couple of minutes, and you’ve got yourself a nice iced latte (I make mine strong with two packets!).  You can even assemble one while in the passenger seat, using old travel brochures to funnel the ingredients.  You’re welcome.

We enjoyed our iced coffee, fitting for the warm weather, on the front porch while the boys played around in the nearby trees and talked about plans for the big day- Remy’s 3rd birthday!  We devised a plan of fruit and chips for breakfast followed by a swim, then check-out at 11, and lunch at the 1849 Buffet at the ranch.  It all went swimmingly (pun intended) and by the time we got to the buffet we were sufficiently starving (is there really any other appropriate way to walk into a buffet?).  The restaurant was almost empty, the food was really quite good and fresh, and we all had multiple courses of salads, soups, burgers, pizza, and drinks followed by a memorable tray of deserts, including chocolate cake, while we attempted to sing happy birthday to Remy (he got a bit grouchy after having just bumped his head on the buffet table).  We left feeling stuffed but refreshed, and spent some time at the gift shop picking out a few presents before settling into the dreamy palm lined courtyard with our new toys.  It was a breezy 78 degrees outside, and just felt like heaven.  

Leaving the ranch, our first stop of the day was Mesquite Sand Dunes.  August had been talking about these dunes for weeks and was very excited to get out into them.  In his eyes, the sand dunes were the epitome of the desert.  We hiked a bit out, rolled and ran around, then headed back when we had had enough (just short of picking the sand out of our ears).  On to our next stop, and a surprise enjoyment for the boys, was Salt Creek Trail, a boardwalk that followed a small creek filled the endemic pupfish (existing only here).  Even after refueling with candy and water, it took quite a while to finish the trail, just over a mile, as the boys pretty much stopped every five feet to watch the fish.  Leaving the trail, our last stop in Death Valley was Zabriskie Point, an overlook with some gorgeous gold hued badlands. 

From Death Valley we had a relatively short drive to our stop for the night- Longstreet Inn and Casino, just over the border in Nevada, and about a third of the cost of the previous night’s stay.  The hotel was filled with mining era memorabilia, and had a fun, rustic, saloon feel to it.  After checking in we quickly made our way to the pool before sunset and then promptly made our way into the hot tub after realizing the pool was not heated and was probably somewhere in the 65- 70 temperature range (a little too refreshing in the dry 70’s desert air).  The hot tub was actually huge, and not too hot, so we were able to enjoy a long soak past sunset, with some drinks, before returning to our rooms to get a late dinner at the hotel.  The restaurant was packed, but the casino was not, as I realized after playing off five dollars on video poker at the saloon, waiting for someone to show up and take my drink order.  After ten minutes of play I was breaking even (after being up an entire $1.25 at one point!), so I cashed out and rejoined the family just as dinner arrived.  Dinner was an incredibly satisfying sharing of salmon, mashed potatoes, chili fries, and spaghetti and meatballs.  Everyone ate well, and we retired to our room for a bit of TV before promptly passing out again, as almost every other night of this vacation.  
My little coffee thief.
Ranch at Death Valley cabin.

Golf pro

One excited for cake, the other not so much.

Remy was not impressed with our singing.

August is patiently keeping his eye on the prize.

Remy starts to come around.

Attack big brother!

Beautiful courtyard at the ranch.

Mesquite Dunes

Salt Creek Trail


Zabriskie Point

Longstreet Inn and Saloon pool
Longstreet Inn and Casino