The family were celebrating 3 ‘significant’ birthdays this year and instead of 3 big parties it was decided that we would have a Family Road Trip. California was the chosen destination – we would travel from Las Vegas to San Francisco via Yosemite and Napa Valley. This route would enable each of the birthday people to visit an area of interest to them whilst providing adventures for all of us. The eldest daughter undertook the role of ‘Project Manager’, and a great job she did – even coping with a last minute change of route and accommodation as a result of the fires ranging through the Yosemite area as we left Britain.
I had never travelled to this area of the USA before, so it was to be an adventure for me – I was especially looking forward to San Francisco as it always looks good on travel programmes and in travel guides.
Our first stop was Las Vegas, this I was not looking forward to and glad it was at the beginning of the trip. But – what a surprise. Yes, it is all noise and ‘razzmatazz’ yet there is so much more – you just have to set aside reality and join in the spirit of the city. The casinos are open 24 hours and you do not have to walk any length to arrive at one. The machines are all computerised – even the roulette – so images of weary gamblers holding onto cups of coins or leaning expectedly over tables whilst the ball spins are out of date. I could see how easy it would be to lose your life savings.
Another thing I was not expecting was the heat! It remained over 40C all the time we were there, stifling. I had been aware that August is a hot month so was prepared for it being in the mid-30’s, no one told me that there was a heatwave.
The day trip to the Hoover Dam did not offer any relief from the heat although it was good to be away from the city and see some of the surrounding area. The low water mark demonstrates the level of drought in the state and their worries are understandable, apparently there is only enough water for the next 2 years so rain (and snow in the hills) is needed desperately.
The Las Vegas hotels themselves are worth a visit – and we walked through many of them to see what all the talk was about. The Wynn is quieter than most and has an air of class, we had Sunday Brunch there which I would recommend. The Bellagio is well known and a visit to the Fountains in the evening is a tourist must. We stayed in The Venetian which offered a true Las Vegas experience. You could, in fact, arrive there and not leave the building for your whole trip. As well as good sized and decorated rooms there is a gym, swimming pools, restaurants and cafes, shopping mall and of course, the casino. And, not forgetting the canal and gondolas. https://www.venetian.com/
Outside the hotels there is plenty of entertainment – from street buskers to world renown performers, a huge variety and everyone’s tastes are catered for. We went to see La Reve ‘The Dream’ at the Wynn. https://www.wynnlasvegas.com/Entertainment/LeReve
An amazing mixture of dance, acrobatics and diving. The circular setting meant the action was visible irrespective of where you were sitting. The use of a water pool as both a scene set and exit/entry portals for the performers added to the fantasy of the story. The trust the performers had in each other and the technicians is obviously high.
Overall Las Vegas was busy, busy, busy and hot, hot, hot.
I would visit again, having had my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ experience I would be more prepared, so able to visit museums etc. Just avoid July, August, early September.
Our next stop should have been to Yosemite to hike in the hills, due to the residual smoke and smouldering fires we had to change plans and instead headed to Lake Tahoe. Leaving Las Vegas, we first headed north to the town of Bishop, (having calculated the length of the drive an overnight stop had been planned).
The drive was straight forward on easy roads (well, it was for me as I sat in the back gazing from the window). The countryside, I noted, was dry and dusty with only occasional siting of homesteads, bringing home the realisation that you are in a desert.
Grass, cattle and farming became more common as we climbed upwards. 4,700 feet was the highest reading I noticed, then descending on windy roads making it more interesting for the driver – I just closed my eyes at the scary bits.
The town of Bishop was a nice surprise. As we drove into town we noticed a small diner, then even more interesting as we parked – it was also a small brewery. So, alongside our very nice lunch of typical American fare there were new beers to quench some thirsts (I had soda as beer is not my drink).
I had anticipated a small motel, similar to the UK style Travelodge, so the Creekside Inn was a pleasant surprise and was exactly as it looks on its website. Once checked in we found the swimming pool where we were joined by a group of hikers resting their legs after completing one of the many trails in the area and we had a relaxing time listening to their adventures.
The motel is a popular ‘stop off’ point for many – hikers and tourists alike. I was also impressed that breakfast was included as this is uncommon in the USA. www.bishopcreeksideinn.com
The town itself is small and with its picket fences and vegetable patches looks how ‘Smalltown USA’ is depicted in films. There is a good-sized public park and swimming pool along with a Coffee Roaster, cafes and shops. As well as being popular with walkers the town was the main route north from Nevada and Death Valley for truckers and I enjoyed watching the large trucks – gleamingly clean and individually adorned – as they drove up Main Street.
The Inn did not do evening meals so we ate at a family run Italian/Pizza restaurant, very friendly, good service and the pizzas were excellent (and enormous!) http://www.uppercrustpizzabishop.com/
We were up bright and early next morning and back on the road. As much as I had been looking forward to hiking in Yosemite I think Lake Tahoe Vista worked out very well. There were plenty of watersports on offer. Paddleboarding and Kayaking were popular with the family. We enjoyed the ‘Street Food’ stalls at the Truckee evening market (held weekly during the summer). The weather was still hot enough in the evening to be out in the garden enjoying BBQs and the Hot Tub.
We did manage a short hike to Cascade falls. Although at the height of summer it was more of a trickle. (Go in Spring is the advice if you want to see the Falls in full flow).
All too soon it was time to pack up and travel on.