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  • Advice for a big holiday in the US

    my kid brother is getting married to a wonderful American girl in September (at last! ), the wedding is in Kansas City and me and Mrs Mike thought it'd be a good opportunity to have a holiday in the US, something we've never done before. We've both been to New York, DC and Boston a few times for work but never to the wide open spaces and mountains in the West. We think we can manage 2 or 2.5 weeks in mid september and need to end up in Kansas on the last weekend in September.

    We like hiking, horseriding, trail running, photography and 'outdoors' stuff. Our current idea is to fly into Vegas (cheap flights from the UK), hire an RV and drive round for a couple of weeks via Death Valley, Zion and the Grand Canyon, then get a flight up to Kansas and get dressed up for the wedding!

    We'd love some advice from those who know about it...

    Is an RV a stupid idea? If we have to book campgrounds 3 months ahead, would staying in hotels make more sense?
    which towns should we use as 'targets' on our route? And which bits of the canyon / parks should we absolutely, definitely not miss?

    Or is september a crazy time of year to go there anyway, and should we go to Montana or Wyoming instead?

    thanks in advance.. virtual Beer on offer to the best tip!

  • #2
    We're planning a family vacation out west this fall, too. I did it with my own family of origin twenty years ago and will never forget it. It was August and not at all unreasonably hot or crowded, so September should be even better (all the kids are in school). Our list includes Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Meteor Crater, Montezuma's Castle (cliff dwellings), Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Saguaro National Forest, and anything else we can think of between now and then.

    I think RV'ing is more expensive than hotels b/c of gas. We're planning to find cheap motels wherever they look clean and safe, and camp whenever we can. We're packing our tent, light sleeping bags, camp stove, and cast iron skillet. We also hope to find opportunities for horseback riding, tons of hiking, and maybe head over to California for some Missions, Redwood trees, and Yosemite, for more natural beauty.
    5'4" 39yo mother to five sweeties & married to their AMAZING DaddyGrok
    Current Weight: 175lb__________________________________Goal: 135lb
    Deadlift: 240lb________________________________________Back Squat: 165lb
    Bench: 130lb__________________________________________Pre ss: 85lb
    ***Winning a 20-year war against binge eating disorder***

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    • #3
      If you decide to drive and end up on I-40, stop in Amarillo for a night or two. Visit Palo Duro Canyon (outside Amarillo) which is like the Grand Canyon but not as many people.



      Big Texan Steakhouse has a 72 oz steak, free if you eat all the trimmings. Some of the best BBQ there is at Cattle Call. What was the largest cattle auction in the world is there (I think it is #2 now) with an excellent steakhouse in the middle of the feed yard. You can also do a chuckwagon breakfast on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon.

      Enjoy regardless of the direction you take.
      Randal
      AKA: Texas Grok

      Originally posted by texas.grok
      Facebook is to intelligence what a black hole is to light
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      • #4
        I went to Las Vegas 5 years ago for 3 days. Husband had a conference there and I was left to wander the city. Anyway for the little time we had together, we visited Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon - twice - once at sunset, once at sunrise - it's just 20 miles west of Vegas and it's beautiful.

        We also drove to California - and visited Baker, CA, home of the Bun Boy Motel and the world's tallest thermometer and I can now say I had lunch in California - 90 miles SW of Vegas - about an hour and a half drive. We stopped there mainly because it's the first real sign of civilization after leaving Nevada (there is a casino on the Cali/Nevada border. We went in the beginning of November so the temperature was comfortable.

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        • #5
          A really nice loop from Vegas would be through Utah. You could hit, in order, Zion, Bryce, Escalante, drive the Boulder mountain highway(12), Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands(Island in the Sky and Needles districts), Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and back to Vegas. If you hit that many National Parks, it would pay to buy an annual pass($80) at the first park you visit, since the bigger parks charge about $20 per car entry fee.

          I don't really have an opinion on the RV, other than to do some checking on prices. Campgrounds are available in all the National Parks. Many can be reserved in advance. They are fairly cheap and really convenient. There are also a lot of dry-camping opportunities in Utah, as much of the land is owned by the government. You could save a lot of money on meals.

          If you go with motels: Springdale right outside of Zion is expensive, but Hurricane, a half hour down the road is probably a lot cheaper. I don't remember much at all near Bryce, but I'm sure that there is something. The best times at Bryce are near sunset or sundown, so staying nearby would certainly be convenient. There are a couple places to stay in Escalante, but I've always camped. Capitol reef doesn't have much. Moab, near Arches and Canyonlands is loaded with motels and restaurants. It would make a nice base camp for a few days. There is nothing near Natural Bridges, so I'd probably plan to hit Needles District one day, stay in Blanding overnight, hike in Natural Bridges during the morning and midday, drive the dirt road that loops through Monument Valley in the late afternoon when the lighting is good, and then stay in Kayenta or Tuba City. Don't expect much in either place. Compared to the Mormon-run motels in Utah, stuff on the reservation won't measure up. Consider it a cultural experience. Grand Canyon has tons of rooms.

          Death Valley is fun. It's in the opposite direction, though, and it will be hot. Over 100F hot. Average high temperature in September is 105.8F, or 41C. Kinda takes the fun out of hiking or trail running.

          If you go that route, feel free to pm me, I've spent a lot of time hiking in Utah and can point you at some good hikes.

          Gordo

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          • #6
            Originally posted by mikeyt View Post
            Our current idea is to fly into Vegas (cheap flights from the UK), hire an RV and drive round for a couple of weeks via Death Valley, Zion and the Grand Canyon, then get a flight up to Kansas and get dressed up for the wedding!
            This plan is just about ideal. I have done loops and one-ways (you could always dump a rent-a-car in SF or LA) from Vegas 5 or 6 times already, always in the fall. This is the best time of year to travel this part of the world. Ideal weather, kids have gone back to school and the parks will be relatively empty. I would agree that the RV thing is not necessary and probably would be more expensive (before even thinking about the gas mileage issue) than grabbing a cheap hotel. Not to mention it is a relative chore to drive.

            Other spots in proximity (somewhat, the Four Corners area) although opposite direction from Death Valley:

            Canyon de Chelly: Canyon de Chelly National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)

            Chaco Canyon: *Chaco Culture National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)

            Arches National Park: Arches National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

            Canyonlands: Canyonlands National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

            Mesa Verde: Mesa Verde National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

            Monument Valley: Monument Valley | Utah.com

            Just some ideas. I find the abandoned Native American sites fascinating. Canyon de Chelly being the most sublime I've seen so far. I envy you the trip.
            Wheat is the new tobacco. Spread the word.

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            • #7
              We had an RV for a while and have done several big loops. It's a lot of fun. You'll have to put up with all the other RVers complaining about the cost of gas, while you wonder what the heck they're talking about

              The one part of your plan that I wonder about is Death Valley in September. Man, that would be hot. If it came on the heels of some cold weather stuff, maybe it would be welcome, but the rest of the tour is likely to be quite hot too. Last time we were in an RV in Las Vegas, it was 118 degrees, and although we'd planned to stay 3 nights, we fled after just one, choosing Newport Beach as the coldest location we could find!! Our RV had air conditioning, but it simply couldn't cope with that much heat....even full speed on the freeway.

              I recommend approaching Grand Canyon from the west, not via Canyonlands etc to the north and east. On our first trip to GC, we approached from the east, through ever more impressive canyons, so that by the time we got there, it felt like "Oh, look, more canyon!". Approaching from the west is much more jaw-dropping.
              Liz.

              Zone diet on and off for several years....worked, but too much focus on exact meal composition
              Primal since July 2010...skinniest I've ever been and the least stressed about food

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              • #8
                If you're coming to the west, you HAVE TO GO TO DISNEYLAND. Why? It's not the rides. (Okay, it is) IT'S THE GINORMOUS TURKEY LEGS!

                That is all.
                --Trish (Bork)
                TROPICAL TRADITIONS REFERRAL # 7625207
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by gordo View Post
                  A really nice loop from Vegas would be through Utah. You could hit, in order, Zion, Bryce, Escalante, drive the Boulder mountain highway(12), Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands(Island in the Sky and Needles districts), Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and back to Vegas. If you hit that many National Parks, it would pay to buy an annual pass($80) at the first park you visit, since the bigger parks charge about $20 per car entry fee.
                  Yes, yes, yes! I absolutely love Bryce canyon. It is like another planet...between Bryce's rock formations and Zion's lusciousness, I was actually kind of underwhelmed by the time I got Grand Canyon. New Mexico and Arizona have awesome National Parks too. See if you can also work in some of the cliff dwellings. And if you're thinking of hitting California for Death Valley, I'd also consider Yosemite. Incredible hiking, plus you can check out the famous giant sequoia (redwood) trees.
                  The Primal Holla! Eating fat. Getting lean. Being awesome.

                  You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do. - Kilgore Trout

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by theholla View Post
                    Yes, yes, yes! I absolutely love Bryce canyon. It is like another planet...between Bryce's rock formations and Zion's lusciousness, I was actually kind of underwhelmed by the time I got Grand Canyon. New Mexico and Arizona have awesome National Parks too. See if you can also work in some of the cliff dwellings. And if you're thinking of hitting California for Death Valley, I'd also consider Yosemite. Incredible hiking, plus you can check out the famous giant sequoia (redwood) trees.
                    That's exactly my advice. Bryce & Zion are spectacular and good places for day hikes. The road through Zion (Zion Carmel Highway?) is a nice drive too, but I wouldn't want to drive an RV there due to the turns & tunnels. Last time I was there in September, there was a bit of snow up high (Cedar Breaks and also the north rim of the Grand Canyon), but everywhere else was perfect, although hotter down in the canyons.
                    Jen, former Midwesterner, living in the middle of nowhere.

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                    • #11
                      this is fantastic, thanks guys!

                      so if we didnt hire an RV, do we need to try and book hotels ahead or do we just turn up in a town and hope for the best? In the UK that's normally a recipe for paying 3x the standard rate..

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                      • #12
                        You'd want to book ahead in places like Grand Canyon, but everywhere else there's usually plenty of great, inexpensive lodging around, particularly in September. The US is much better than the UK in that respect.
                        Liz.

                        Zone diet on and off for several years....worked, but too much focus on exact meal composition
                        Primal since July 2010...skinniest I've ever been and the least stressed about food

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                        • #13
                          I never book ahead for anything. We hit hotwire.com in the car at about 10:30pm and usually get less than the going rate, especially in popular places. I doubt GC will be full up in September, but you might want to check on that.
                          5'4" 39yo mother to five sweeties & married to their AMAZING DaddyGrok
                          Current Weight: 175lb__________________________________Goal: 135lb
                          Deadlift: 240lb________________________________________Back Squat: 165lb
                          Bench: 130lb__________________________________________Pre ss: 85lb
                          ***Winning a 20-year war against binge eating disorder***

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                          • #14
                            Don't assume that places won't be booked. September is shoulder season in the US and a LOT of retirees do their travelling then--esp. in the SW.

                            You can book just about everything online these days and most places have wifi, so if you have a laptop with you, you can book as you go...

                            Also, if you are comfortable with driving RVs on the right side of the road--great! If not, you may want to do the car/motel/hotel thing to reduce stress.
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                            • #15
                              thanks all! I'm a farmers son with a tractor and lorry driving licence, and have spent a lot of time driving lorries full of pigs, sheep and horses on both sides of the road right across Europe, so just having Mrs Mike in a nice comfy RV should be fairly straightforward - and a lot less smelly


                              We've just spent a fun hour with post-its and a big map and have come up with something like:

                              Vegas -> Grand Canyon -> Zion -> Bryce -> Escalante -> Capitol Reef -> Arches -> Monument then back to Vegas

                              how does that sound? The luggage will be mainly hiking and horseriding gear

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