The Great American Road Trip: The Final Miles
// July 5th Zion → Las Vegas, NV //
For our last night of camping, it was mellow and actually somewhat warm, which was a welcome change. However, the wind was fierce and the walls of the tent kept whipping back and forth and smacking us. I woke up late in the night to a figure standing over me with a massive rock held in their hands above my head and wiggled away in fear. Then I realized it was just Byron weighing down the tent by putting rocks in the corners. All good.
The sun warmed the tent and the orange cliffs surrounding us as the campsite began to stir with morning activity. We packed up, had some peanut butter and bread, and drove out of the national park and along the dry desert roads to VEGAS!! We had almost made an entire circle of the whole United States!!! We were headed back to our original first stop, about a month after setting out on our journey. It was amazing to think about how far we’d travelled and everything we’d seen since that day. The tiny towns and towering rocks bordering the road whizzed by and soon we glimpsed the glittery outline of hotels and casinos on the Strip. We laughed as we saw a camping site advertised along the highway, as if people would actually stay in a tent while staying in Las Vegas. Not only that, but camping in 100 degree heat sounded like a death wish. The temperature gauge said 111 as we pulled into the Hostel Cat parking lot.
After camping out in the parks and not showering for a few days, I insisted on checking in early and was happy to pay the extra $6 fee. I didn’t even socialize with the people in my room and just went directly to the bathroom for a gloriously refreshing shower. The clean feeling lasted for about ten minutes until I walked back into the desert heat and began to sweat again.
The car needed some routine work, so we dropped it off at the Firestone and ubered to the Strip for a walk around. Our favorite resort is the Wynn and I’ve had a special place in my heart for it ever since Byron surprised me with a 21st birthday trip here a few years ago. You feel like you’ve entered the most luxurious place on earth when you walk in the doors and are surrounded by flower sculptures, decadent shops, and the intoxicating scent of their signature fragrance, Asian Rain. Last time I was here, I bought their essential oil and used it as a perfume, and figured I should stock up while I was there. I admitted that I used their air freshener as perfume and the sales lady confessed she did the same, or even added it to her hair. Every time I smell it, it brings me back to Las Vegas and the memories associated with it.
We left the magic of the Wynn and strolled along the connected sidewalks and bridges over to the Shoppes on the Canal at the Venetian. I looked down in sympathy at the gondolier (drivers? paddlers?) out in the hot sun guiding tourists around the man made rivers and fountains.
In addition to great gambling and accommodation, Las Vegas has a plethora of gut busting buffets to choose from. In the past, we’ve splurged on the one at the Wynn, but today we decided to check out the one at Harrah’s since there was a Groupon. I figured after eating all the canned food, my standards were lowered and anything hot and fresh would be appetizing. Also, since I had Groupon credit saved, we only ended up spending $7 each for all you can drink and all you can eat, AND VIP line-cutting status. We paced ourselves and strategically went after the expensive items first, like shrimp and sushi and then made our way to the kielbasa, taco salad, sausage, fried chicken, mac n cheese and then dessert of whipped cream and strawberries, carrot cake cupcakes and chocolate brownies. We sat for at least thirty minutes after the meal just to digest and prepare our bodies for walking.
Stuffed full, we walked to Caesar’s Palace and wandered around the whole casino. We found one entrance that didn’t check for room keys, so we snuck outside to the pool area. The outdoor lounge was extremely decadently designed, with Grecian statues spouting water from the center of the pool, massive columns supporting elegant stone archways, and cushy lounge chairs lined up in rows around the edge of the water. We played cornhole on the terrace until the car was ready to be picked up.
Back at Hostel Cat, we chilled for a bit, met the owner, Chandler, and joined him at a local Sushi buffet to talk about his hostel and the industry in general. He had a very candid attitude about the business and you could tell he did this for the love of hanging out with travellers, not because it was a lucrative business. He loves what he does so much that he brings guests out to Las Vegas nightlife eight times a week, and this night was no different.
Chandler got the party going, we ran to 7-11 for some Steel Reserve, and we hopped on the party bus (Chandler’s van) with the hostel staff to Light, Mandalay Bay’s nightclub. Luckily we passed the dress code (in our backpacker attire), were granted free entry (Chandler worked something out), and headed inside for a great night of dancing. At one point there was a dude creeping on the girls in our group, and even though we didn’t know each other, us girls stuck to the unspoken Girl Code and rescued each other every time he came around. The DJ played exactly what I wanted to hear and kept the party going until we all agreed it was time to call it a night and head back to the hostel.
// July 6th Las Vegas → San Francisco, CA //
Even though we were tired from our night out, and the 102 degree weather didn’t help, we still sprung out of bed energized by the fact that it was our last and final day of the road trip!! Back to San Francisco!! We hopped out of the car on the side of the road and took our last photo from the trip in front of the Welcome to California sign, smiling widely and incredulously at the fact that here we were again, all those miles later. Every mile of the long journey was a step closer to reaching our destination and it felt great. I mean, it’s not that hard to just put your foot to the pedal and drive each day, but it still felt like a great accomplishment.
The scrubby desert brush turned to the farmland outside Bakersfield, then to the dry desert and nut trees and wind turbines that had become familiar to us after traveling this highway on our trips to LA and San Diego. We pulled off in Livermore to a gas station to get the car back in good order, with a car wash and a vacuum. We also wanted to return the tent to our friend in good condition, so, in the gas station parking lot, we popped open the tent to vacuum it clean. I think the gas station patrons thought we were setting up camp, but we did what we needed to do.
The final miles were smooth until we hit the ever-present traffic on the Bay Bridge. I didn’t mind the traffic one bit since I was tearing up just taking in the sight of my favorite beautiful city skyline. It was a glorious coming home moment crossing over that bridge, and it marked the end to an incredible journey and the start of another chapter in our lives. It was bittersweet being back in San Francisco, seeing Paul the dog at our old apartment, enjoying Mission tacos for the last time, and walking along our favorite streets. San Francisco had grown on me over the past year or so and it was sad to leave it behind. However, I left knowing that I’d be back some day. I was grateful for the memories I’d made, the friends I’d met, and the experiences this great city had given me, but it was time to pursue some other dreams, explore other places, and take on new adventures. ‘Till next time, SF.