Monday, July 24, 2017

Vegas for the Outdoor Adventurer

Vegas for the Outdoor Adventurer

This post is a little late in the making, but in January Babe and I hopped a flight to Vegas. We had been to Vegas once before and had done the lights and glitter, so we weren't really keen to do it again. However, we had gotten a stay in a hotel right on The Strip, in exchange for listening to a time share spiel. We have gotten these phone calls many times before and have usually said "thanks, but no thanks"; this time though something made us go for it. We actually thought it was super worth it- so long as you can walk out saying "no"! You can read more about all the ins-and-outs of that experience here.

Anyways, we knew we would be staying in the heart of Vegas, but we really didn't want to do all the glitz and sensory overload for 3 full days. So, we researched as much as we could and planned out our trip so that we were outdoors and away from the crowds as much as we possibly could be and I couldn't have been happier about it! I LOVED our trip! I never would have thought I could like Vegas so much. To be honest, on this trip I got severely stung by the "go West bug"and I did NOT want to leave.

Anyways, here is how we spent our 4 days exploring the "other side of Vegas"...

DAY 1: BBQ Deliciousness and Scenic Views

Calico Hills Trail near Vegas
Red Rock Canyon in Nevada
Red Rock Canyon in Nevada
Hiking in Vegas on the Calico Hills Trail
We got in early on Monday, checked into our hotel and set out in search of food before starting our first hike. We are big BBQ eaters and typically try to find a new local joint to fuel up on all the protein before we hit the trail. We tried Jessie Rae's BBQ and were unsure of how Western BBQ joints might compare to BBQ in the Southeast. Y'all?! AHHH-mazing! Amazing, amazing, amazing!! We were so impressed! So impressed that I completely forgot to grab a picture, because we devoured it! We got pork, brisket and chicken (plus coleslaw and mac-n-cheese) and licked our fingers clean. There was such an interesting spice throughout the meat and sides and it tied everything together so nicely!

From there we rolled down the windows, laced up our hiking boots and headed about 15-20 minutes away to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Even the drive there was all kinds of gorgeous, but once we pulled into the conservation area the scenes with breathtaking. Red Rock Canyon has a 13 mile drive that you can do, with stops at their many hiking trails ($7 fee per car, $3 per motorcycle/ bike, or free with America the Beautiful pass). We stopped first at the visitors center, where the lady gave us wonderful tips on how to explore the park and which trails would be best for the length of hike/ views we were looking for. We chose the Calico Tanks Trail, which led you out to stunning, cliff-top views of the Vegas strip down in the valley. It was such a fun hike for these Florida legs!! I was not used to the window factor though at the top of the cliffs, so I crawled along on my hands and knees to make it to this point so Babe could snap a picture (totally worth it). That was the longest hike we did that day and took us about 3 hours, though that included stops to take in all the endless views!

That trail's parking lot is towards the beginning of the drive (going from the visitors center), so it left us with even more to see, as we continued on our drive. We stopped at a few other spots to take pictures, one more hiking spot to check out the waterfall near the children's hiking loop (Lost Creek), and then just turned up the tunes and enjoyed the beauty out our windows, as we drove slowly along. If you do the drive, take your time and stop when you want, no ones in a hurry in there! I hope to go back and could honestly spend days in there, just trying too the different trails. There are tons!

Day 2: The Dreaded Time Share Talk followed by All the Wine and Vegas Glitz 

Wineries near Vegas
Pahrump Valley Winery
Symphony's at Pahrump Valley Winery
Fremont Street Experience
Fremont Street Experience

We fit a lot in on Day 2. We chose to get the time share spiel out of the way early, so that we would have the rest of the time to enjoy our trip. It honestly wasn't too bad! It was two hours start-to-finish, just like the promised, and they didn't try to keep us there after we said no. The worst part of the whole this was the shuttle ride back to the hotel (the presentation was at one of the other hotels in the time share program). We were done a little after noon and had the rest of the day to explore.

Being there in January, the weather was mild down in the valley, but there was still a ski resort open. We knew we were wanting to ski one day and were leaving one day open to most likely do another hike based upon locals recommendations. Unfortunately, I got sick the first day we were there. I had been fighting something already and I don't know if it was the change in weather or what, but I woke up on day 2 just feeling really run down. So, in order to have some energy to ski on day 3, we ended up deciding to forego another hike. Trying to figure out something more low key, we did a quick search for distilleries or wineries that might be nearby.


Needing to take things slow ended up being 
a stroke of good luck! 

We found out that there were a few wineries within close proximity to each other, just about an hours drive away.

Again, even the drive was part of the whole experience. We were on mostly back roads all the way out to a place known as Pahrump.

The first stop on our winery tour brought us to Sander's Family Winery. We loved this sweet little vineyard. Owned by a couple who have been in the wine business for many years, they originally ran the first vineyard in the valley. They moved a little further down the road and opened their new facility, that has a beautiful outdoor space for events. The wife was in the tasting room when we walked in and the husband arrived halfway through our tasting. They were so knowledgeable, but more than that, just so kind and inviting. They told us about a few little tourist spots around the area that we needed to drive by and then gave us directions to the second vineyard. Sander's Family Winery is also the only winery we have ever bought a port from (their Ruby Port). Not typically being port fans, their presentation is what really sold us! Instead of just having us just try the port, they actually used it to make a super yummy sparkling sangria, by mixing it with ginger ale and lime. It was so yummy and refreshing! We have been savoring our bottle and have actually made it last since we opened it in February; there may only be enough left for about a sangria each, but it's still lasted us about 6 months. We finished sipping our sangria while strolling the little shop/ tasting room, that is filled with some super neat memorabilia from the the Jazz era on the Vegas strip, and used their directions to lead us to the next winery maybe 5-10 minutes down the road.

Pahrump Valley Winery was a little more large scale and commercialized than the first, but still very welcoming. Even better, we discovered they had a restaurant on site. While we had been planning to head back towards the city for dinner, we figured why not just stay. We arrived a little after 3, right after the restaurant had closed from lunch, and found it would not open again until 5. Our tasting only took about 30 minutes, but we passed the time checking out their gift shop and strolling the grounds. They allow for you to buy a bottle of wine and open it there at the tasting bar, so we bought a bottle and filled our glasses to enjoy on our stroll. The grounds are stunning and the icing on the cake for us RV lovers?! It backs up to an amazing RV park. We went up the hill to check out the RV park. They were actually setting up for taco night and we found out that they have a lot of awesome events for those staying. If you are ever RVing near Vegas you have got to check out Wine Ridge RV Resort and Cottages. I mean just imagine this being the view from your RV window, which a winery just steps away?!

Right at 5 we headed back in for dinner at Symphony's and Oh. M. Goodness!! I am so glad we stayed!! We were able to bring the rest of our bottle to the table with us and then ordered to our hearts content. We got a yummy cheese platter, then I got the lobster bisque and he got a fish platter. Their menu changes regularly to include the freshest ingredients, so it is subject to change, but I can't imagine there being a bad option, because it was all prepared to perfection! We lucked out by getting there when we did, but they recommend reservations. I would recommend making a reservation for the closed off patio, so that you can eat with gorgeous views of the mountains in the setting sun!

Though we didn't plan to spend much time in the casinos we did decide to save one night for checking out the old Strip, at the Fremont Street experience, since we didn't do that last time we had been. So, on the way back into the city we first swung by The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop (from Pawn Stars Show), because it was on Babe's "must-see" list. It was neat to peek around and see the shop. Apparently, we had missed Rick by just a few hours, so if you want to make sure you see some of the guys it might be best to go a little earlier on. Right across the street is a bar he owns where he can often be found slinging drinks. We didn't go in (he wasn't there that night), but it's a cool thing to know for the future.

Walking onto Fremont Street was definitely exactly as it's described, an experience. There was so much to see and take in I felt like my senses were on warp speed. We went into the Golden Nugget, since I felt that seemed like the most nostalgic "old-Vegas" casino, where I tried my hand at double-deck blackjack. I played for a while and walked away $80 richer, so I wasn't too sad about that. I think my favorite part of Fremont Street though was watching all the artists work. The spray paint artists were so neat; they painted so fast and made such awesome pieces that it was like a show!

Day 3: Ski Day Fun 
Lee Canyon Ski Resort
Lee Canyon Ski Resort

Mount Charleston is so high that it still gets snow in January, so even though it was warm and sunny in the valley, we were able to enjoy a ski day! Just about 30 minutes from the Strip, Lee Canyon is a great option for a morning on the slopes. We got there right as they were opening (around 9am) and had the mountain almost to ourselves until around lunch time. I hung in as long as I could, but still not feeling super great, I headed into the lodge to sip some hot cocoa and read while Babe enjoyed the rest of the afternoon skiing all the tree trails! They have some awesome, open slopes (which I enjoy), but also some more rugged, glade trails (which Babe prefers). He spent his time dodging tree stumps and then I joined him for two final runs before we turned in our skis to head back to the city. We hit up Nacho Daddy when we got back to the Strip, which wasn't far from our hotel. It was alright, but I wouldn't say any better than any other Tex-Mex style joint.

Day 4: A DAM Good Day of Hiking and Hot Springs

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam
Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail
Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail
Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail
Boulder Dam Brewing Co.

We decided to take the red eye out so that we would have another full day of adventuring. I'm so glad, because our final day was actually my favorite day of the trip! We started it off with a drive out to the Hoover Dam. Babe is a history buff and I love exploring nooks and crannies; the Hoover Dam is a perfect mix of both!

We opted for the Powerplant Tour, which is $15 per person and includes your admission to the visitors center. If you are planning to go inside the visitors center at all I would definitely recommend doing at least one of the tours, since cost of admission (which includes a museum and interior overlook) is already $10 per person. So you may as well pay the extra $5 to get the tour which takes you into the powerplant, with a guide, who will tell you the inner-workings of the dam. There is also a $30 Hoover Dam tour, which takes you a little deeper in. We found the Powerplant Tour to be a perfect middle ground (we were trying to save time) and honestly didn't feel like we really needed to see anymore than we saw.

$$ Saving Tip: You can also just choose to see the Dam from outside the visitors center and not have to pay a dime! While we thought the tour was totally worth the $$, if you are strapped for time or don't want to pay, you can just enjoy the sights from either side of the dam! **Note on parking: There is a parking garage that cost $10 if you are coming from the Nevada side; if you simply cross the dam to the Arizona side there are non-paying lots that you can park in. You just have a little further of a walk to get to the visitors center. I wish we had known that prior; I despise paying to park!

Tip: Be sure to check out the Memorial Bridge! It provides awesome views of the dam and the Colorado River. It is free to experience and there is a great walking history wall that teaches you all about the construction of the bridge itself. Just a word of caution; it is SUPER windy up there, so be sure to hold littles by the hand! Even I felt like I might blow away!

After leaving the Dam (we ate lunch at the cafe there, which wasn't too bad actually), we headed towards our final hike! The Gold Strike Trail was actually recommended to us by the guy who worked at the BBQ joint. He said it would be less crowded than other trails, with a lot of spots for bouldering. It was also a hot spring hike!



Seriously, for this Florida girl, this was the trail that finally made me realize why people say, "there's no hiking in Florida"! While I do still consider any trial to be hiking, this was a whole new level for me! Having to scale rocks, with the help of a little rope, filled my adventure-loving-heart with happiness. This hike takes you down into a canyon, heading toward the Colorado River. There are little springs throughout the trail and the closer you get to the river the warmer the water gets! I was itching to get in one, but we were running low on time, so we kept forging onward. We didn't see but a few souls pretty much our entire hike down; on the way back up was another story! The guy had warned us that, given the access to the springs, this was a clothing optional hike. As it was getting near dark, we figured once we hit the river, that our walk back would be pretty deserted. Wrong! The locals must come later, to enjoy the spring as the sun goes down. There was a hot spring full of unclothed people, just enjoying the great outdoors. So just keep that in mind if you plan to hike with any sensitive-eyed friends! Those enjoying the spring were very "friendly" and invited us to join, but we said we had to plane to catch and kept on walking. I was still SO WANTING to try out a hot spring though, as I had never been in one. Once we got a little further up the trail, there was one last pretty warm pool, half hidden behind a cove of rock (the largest and warmest one was close to river and very much exposed, plus was full of n'ked strangers), so I figured, "it's now or never"! Sometimes you just have to act like a local, don your birthday suit, and jump in. Babe was reluctant at first and planned to only stand guard. I finally convinced him to let his guard down too (mostly once he realized no one was coming by anytime soon) and we soaked in the natural hot tub for maybe 5 minutes! If you want to enjoy them for longer, plan to start earlier than 3. Babe was on edge the whole time about getting back before dark (which we didn't), so we got out, re-laced our hiking boots, and headed back up the canyon. **Note: If you set out after 3 be sure to bring a flashlight. We spent the last 30 minutes hiking in the dark and, while it was nice to see the stars and the trail is pretty easy to follow, I didn't like feeling disoriented.

We still had a few hours to spare before we needed to be at the airport, so we used Yelp to look for somewhere to eat. We landed on a place in Boulder City and really enjoyed ourselves. Boulder City was established during the building of the Hoover Dam, as a place for the men who were working to live. The Boulder Dam Brewing Co. had great nibbles and local brew, but also had really interesting facts on the history of the city. I would definitely recommend Boulder City as a good place to wind down after you visit the dam. It was a great ending to our trip!

From there we took our very tired bodies to the airport and tried to sleep. Red-eyes are awesome for the extra exploring abilities, but make for very worn out returns!

Ever been to Vegas? 
Any other outdoor places we need to experience if we make it back?!

Pin for Later
Visiting the Hoover Dam Hikes near Vegas

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#TravelTuesday 18// 5 Ways to Enjoy a Road Trip

Happy #TravelTuesday fellow adventure lovers!! 
It's time for another link up (join at the bottom of the post)!!

I have been all over the road lately, so I figured I would take today to share some of my favorite items for passing the time on a road trip! 

Ways to Have Fun on a Road Trip

This post comes at a perfectly fitting time too, because I have been road trip crazy lately! First, we are trying to plan (and then fully execute) our big getaway, in which life will become one never-ending road trip, but secondly, we have been road tripping from Florida to North Carolina- and then between NC and Tennessee- for the last three weeks. On Sunday we will be loading up again and heading back to Orlando. I would like to think I have this road trip thing down pretty well! Maybe it was because my parents started us out with time on the road from a young age, but I LOVE a good day in the car and have found many ways to make the time more fun! 

Here are some of my favorite ideas for enjoying a road trip to the fullest... 
1.) A Whole Heap of Great Books! 
This is first and foremost my ultimate happiness on the road; give me a good book and endless hours to read and I will be in absolute bliss-mode! Here are my top 10 favorite road trip titles: 

10 Great Book Titles

- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern- My number 1 recommended book, no matter what list it is! Such beautiful imagery and imagination!  
- Unwritten by Charles Martin- Really anything by Charles Martin, but this one- a story all about redemption and finding a way back to yourself- is my favorite of his.
- The Winter People- I actually haven't read this one yet, but I LOVE Jennifer McMahon for when I am in the mood for anything spooky! Bonus: It's currently on sale for less than $6!
- The Nightingale- For if you are in need of a good cry! Kristin Hannah is another favorite author of mine and, while I don't usually like historically based novels, this one was drew me in from minute one. I read it on one of our very first RV road trips and Babe literally had to pull off at the nearest rest area, because I was just sobbing like a baby by the end of the book and he wasn't sure what to do with me! 
- The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani- A fairy tale series for younger readers, these books are filled with so much fun and adventure that even older readers stay hooked! This is a series all about friendship and finding out who you truly are. Also, I thought it was just a three book series, but when looking it up to add here I found out there is now a 4th. I guess I know what I will be reading on my next road trip!!
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd- Combining my love for honey and bees with a beautiful story of the things that bring people together, this is a definite must read!
- Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- Another favorite author, I love the touch of magical realism she throws in her books. They are easy reads, and sweet stories, perfect for finishing in just a day's drive!
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls- While I am not usually a memoir reader, this one was chosen for book club and had me hooked from start to finish. It's also set to be a movie, released in theaters soon, so if you are a "must read the book first" type of person it would be the perfect time to read it.
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- I haven't read this one yet either (or watched it), but I am super intrigued.
- The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I would be remiss if I didn't include my favorite of all time favorites ever! While I know the entire world knows of Harry Potter and has either chosen to read it or not, if you are the latter, I just have to say "please give it a try!" I swore up and down I wasn't jumping on the bandwagon, but now, 10 years after I first did, I have read the series multiple times and am now currently listening to it on audio book!!

**Audio books are another great  road trip go to, especially for when you are driving it solo! While Babe usually listens to music while I read we sometimes like to listen to a book on tape (dating myself haha) together. Right now, anyone who signs up for a free Audible trial for the first time, can get two free books instead of one! 

2.) Fun Road Games!
We play these, especially when we take my nieces and nephews with us (once a year, 10 hours, 4 kids!); our go-tos are...
* The Grocery Store game- one person starts as "it" and they say "I'm going to the grocery store and I am going to buy something that starts with the letter ____". The rest of the car plays against each other to figure out what the person is buying. For example, it could be something easy like carrots, in which case that usually just gets guessed without any clues and the first person to say it gets to be "it". Usually though we try harder things (anchovies is a good one) and then people ask yes or no questions to get clues ("is it a meat?" "Do you find it in the produce section?"). If no one can guess it and everyone gives up the person who was it wins and gets to go again.
* 21 Questions- Someone picks a category (Person, place or thing) and something that falls into that category, without telling anyone what it is, and then the rest of the car works together to figure out what that person is thinking of by asking 21 yes or no questions. If the car figures it out within the 21 questions they win, if they don't the person wins and gets to go again. (A really great option for trying to stump the car- Rubber Cement)
* The Movie Game- Everyone goes around saying titles to movies, but they have to use the last letter of whatever movie was said prior as the first letter of their movie. For example, if the last movie said was Jaws then the next movie has to start with letter S. Movie titles can not be repeated and if someone gets stumped and can't think of a movie (or repeats one) then they are out. This continues until only one person remains and they win! To make it easier, if you have little kids, you can also include books and TV show titles.
* The Question Game- This is perfect for a car trip for two; you basically just go back and forth asking fun questions that you both have to answer. It's a great "get-to-know-you-better" or "what-if-daydreaming" option. Babe and I also play this on long hikes and ask things like:
- Would you rather live on the beach or in the mountains?
- If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
- If all jobs paid the same, what would you most want to do?
Most of our questions somehow circle around to being about travel, but hey, can you blame us?! Each person answers the questions, even their own. If you have a hard time thinking of new things to ask we love Table Topics card sets! They even have a Table Topics: Road Trip edition!
*When we take the kids we also grab some board games that are easily played in the car, to keep them occupied so that we can enjoy some quiet time while he drives and I read (we love TroubleGuess Who, and Connect 4 because of the minimal amount of pieces that could get lost)

3.) Pretty Places to Stretch your Legs!!
5 Ways to Enjoy a Road Trip
Some days we are really just having to book it but, when we can make it happen, finding a nice place to stretch your legs, even for just 5 minutes can make a huge difference! Usually before a road trip I will try to research road side attractions that are a quick in-and-out or look for any outside areas that might be nearby. Keep an eye peeled for signs too and then use your phone to see how far off the exit they might be. On this most recent trip we saw a sign for High Falls State Park and lucked out with it being not even a 5 minute drive off the highway!! We were there just long enough to get in a bathroom break and then walk around admiring the falls for a few minutes, but it gave us a chance to get out of the car and get the blood pumping again!

4.) Yummy Snacks!
We typically load up a cooler for the car; it saves us stopping more often, as well as spending too much at the gas station when we do stop! I have been loving Amazon lately for stocking up on snack items. It beats grocery store prices and saves me a trip to the store. You can typically find my Amazon guy delivering boxes of Vita Coco coconut water and KIND Bars (less than $1 each?! Yes, please!)!

5.) Good Jams!
I am all about a good road trip sing along!! Babe may roll his eyes to most of my singing, but I think he secretly loves it!! I'm usually jamming to country, but sometimes we like to mix it up a little. What is are your go to tunes on the road?!

And those are 5 of the ways we pass our road trip time! 
Any tips from any other road warriors out there? 
Share them or any other fun travel posts in this month's link up! 

Link up below and let's travel together!! 
A Travel Blogger Link Up from Life's Sweet Words
~On the 2nd Tuesday of every month I will be sharing a new travel post and would love to see where you have been exploring!
~Any linked posts will be pinned under Travel Tuesday on my Pinterest account. 
~Please leave a little love on the post directly before yours and then anywhere else you like! That way we can all grow this community together :) 
~Not many other rules, as I am not a huge fan of those sorts of things! Just add any travel related link and I encourage you to peek around and see where everyone else has been. 
~Feel free to grab the image from the sidebar and add it to your post so others know where to link up. 
~I will also be sharing my favorite post from the month before. June's fave was from The Urben Life, because I am all kinds of itching to get to Yosemite NP and Jenna's pictures from her First Timer's Guide to Yosemite just spurred on my desire to get there ASAP! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hello July

How is it already July?! 
I can not believe that we are halfway through 2017. 
I took a week off between jobs (find out more in my last post), but am now back at it. Taking a vacation is great, but I always feel like there is so much to catch up on after. I am really working on trying to take it slower though and not feel so rushed to get the 'to-do list' completed. It's a glorious feeling to give yourself space to determine your own pace! So, I am not going to jump back in with a full-length travel post just yet; instead I am joining Anne for a July Currently post. 

July Currently

Here is what is happening in my life right now... 
~Documenting~ All the adventures! We spent the last week traveling between Tennessee and North Carolina, visiting friends and family. I have done so much documenting that my phone is filled to the brim and I had to start deleting apps so that I could take more pictures of all the fun. Looks like it might be time for a new phone (boo), because I am in desperate need of more storage space! 

~Accomplishing~ My 'to-do list'; slowly, but surely! I actually stink (real bad!) at being organized with my time. This is the first year I have actually even utilized a planner and, while it is still a huge learning process, I feel like it has made a huge difference. So I am spending the morning filling in my planner for the next two weeks and then it will be time to tackle the things I said I would do! If you are a newbie to the planner world, this one has been super helpful. 

~Enjoying~ A quite morning on the porch, with my coffee and a beautiful view, to ease back into the work grind! I am still away for the next two weeks, but will be working remotely. I am loving being able to set up anywhere and enjoy a gorgeous view and fresh mountain air while I work! 

~Reading~ All the things!! We road tripped up, and will be doing the same to get back home, which I love because it means I stock up on books and read to my hearts content. My current list includes the two books we are reading for book club (Small Great Things and The Orphan Keeper) and In a Dark, Dark Wood. After I finish Small Great Things my plan is to read In a Dark, Dark Wood, because it's been a quick minute since I have read a spookier book and I think it will break up some of the heart-heavy content that is in Small Great Things and The Orphan Keeper. What are you reading? Anything I need to add to my list?  

~Spending~ Too much money!! I just had to buy a new computer, as I had been using my work computer for personal use as well. Leaving my old job meant leaving that computer behind. I am loving my new one, but will be trying to NOT spend very much this next month, because computers are just dang expensive!! Here's to seeing if I can keep myself from eating out in July! Have you ever tried a 'no-spend' month?! I am so curious! Any tips?! 

Hope your July is off to a wonderful start!! 
What's going on in your world currently?!