The Meadows

Driving your family from a blissed-out zen retreat to arguably the most in-your-face city in the world entails some adjustment.  Though we’ve been attempting to inject variety into our destinations and campsite types, this was an especially drastic jump.

I was somewhat surprised to discover how limited the Las Vegas RV accommodation choices were, given how tourist oriented it is.  It wasn’t lack of space as much as it was lack of varying types of spots to park.  At the low end of the scale (disregarding the Breaking Bad tumbleweed-strewn RV parks out on the fringes of town) was the Circus Circus parking lot, where they gleefully advertise RV camping Right On the Strip!  My skepticism of that setup was confirmed by a quick skim of its online reviews.  It does sound like a great place to inadvertently donate anything you leave outside to whomever may wander by (there’s no security whatsoever evidently).  And sure, who doesn’t want to brush elbows with the local color three steps and a thin door from where you and your kids are sleeping?  But not a good fit for us.

The best option would likely have been the RV park at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, but that opinion seems to have been popular as I found it booked essentially solid for several months.  That left the string of KOA and KOA-esque campgrounds on the east side of town and one of two “upscale” options just south of the Strip that promote themselves with glossy brochures and websites to match.  Still skittish from our Mission Bay “splurge” but not especially comfortable with either the location or the look of the KOAs, I opted for the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort.  New Class A motorhomes only, palm trees, sparkling pools, and “Celebrating the Las Vegas Lifestyle” as their tagline.  I had to think about that last bit.  Still do.  But neither my questions about what’s being celebrated nor the price tag dissuaded me, and it turned out to be a decent call.

First though, the drive up.  It was surprisingly enjoyable.  I hesitated slightly when looking at the two lane roads through the desert, but I needn’t have.  They were better maintained than most of what we’d heretofore dealt with, and offered gorgeous scenery and unlimited visibility.  What I realized as we turned off of the interstate was that while I’d criss-crossed the California desert multiple times in my childhood, it was almost always both as a means to an end with no stops en route and on the main roads only.  There was much I hadn’t seen!  We made a stop in the small town of Kelso, where there is a mini ghost town and a restored railroad depot.  We then drove up the grade (more Joshua Trees!) through the Mojave National Preserve, where the scenery is almost as otherworldly as what we had just left behind in Joshua Tree.  Lots of little campgrounds and dirt roads to explore too.  Who knew?

Drive to Vegas

Our arrival at the LVMR was met with much fanfare.  Seriously, it was.  Heavy black and gold iron gates, an involved check-in process, and a 10-minute-or-so wait for an escort to show us to our site.  Show us to our site??  Huh, OK.  Seemed excessive, but if the “Las Vegas Lifestyle” is about anything, it’s about excess I suppose.

What we discovered is that this is not so much a campground as it’s overwintering grounds for motorhome-owning folks who reside in colder climes.  Lots of Alberta license plates.  Evidently the sites are privately owned and then, as a service to the owners when they’re not present, rented out to transient folks like us.  Some of the sites, actually most of them, were elaborately built out with outdoor kitchens, bars, cabanas, and festive rope lighting.  It took me a day to warm to the idea, but after I did, it struck me as a ridiculously pleasant way to spend your winters if your lifestyle lends itself to such a thing.  We’re not remotely there yet, but I filed it away for reference – call it a data point.

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Despite our presence bringing the average age of the park’s residents down by several years, we enjoyed it, as did the kiddos.  Keeper gave the showers multiple thumbs up, and we had a hot tub and pool about a hundred yards away.

I’ve finally learned that west of the Rockies (with the exception of WA/OR west of the Cascades), if you see healthy, green grass in your RV site, you should not leave anything on that grass overnight that you don’t want to find soaked in the morning.  Sprinklers.

I had to chuckle on day two when I answered a call from a Las Vegas number I didn’t recognize and was solemnly advised that it was Las Vegas Motorhome Management and they had been informed that we had a [dramatic pause…] TENT on our site.  We had set up the Clam, as we normally do, and nowhere in the rules/guidelines were tents mentioned, so I guess this was one of those rules that Just Goes Without Saying.  I mean, what were we thinking?!?  Las Vegas Lifestyle, People!

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Ok, kidding mostly… they were very courteous and I quickly and happily broke down the Clam and managed not to run afoul of the LVMR authorities for the rest of our stay.

We had plenty of activities to choose from in Vegas, but opted to focus primarily on the outdoorsy options after a drive on night one down The Strip failed to generate the fascination and enthusiasm in the kids that we were expecting.  Keeper, looking up from his phone, somewhere near the Stratosphere: “How long are we going to keep doing this?”  This is actually a good thing, as I’m of the opinion that Vegas’ outdoor recreation activities are sorely underrated.  There’s Lake Mead to the east, Red Rock Canyon to the west, snow skiing within an hour to the northwest, and a whole slew of State and National Parks within striking distance.

Having heard good things about Valley of Fire State Park, we headed up there for an afternoon of hiking immediately after swooping me from the airport at the end of my trip.  Great call.  We only had time for a fairly short hike, but it was another stunner.

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The kids will now climb pretty much any rock you put in front of them, and they know their barrel cacti from their jumping cholla.

Once again, I’ll let pictures tell the story here.

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While we were happy not to spend most of our time on The Strip, we did want to at least do an evening there, as it’s a unique part of the landscape and worth seeing.  We were curious what our kids’ take on it would be upon seeing the insides of the casinos and the sidewalk craziness.

Las Vegas’ ability to re-invent itself every decade or so has always fascinated me.  The Vegas of my childhood was a dismal place indeed – other than the whole mob thing, of which I had no awareness at all, the two overarching images I have from that time, whether fair or not:

  • Casinos foggy with cigarette smoke, and old… very old actually… folks sitting immobile in front of ding-ding-dinging slot machines, puffing away and pulling the handles, glassy-eyed.
  • Preposterously cheap food that was worth exactly what you paid for it. Though I wasn’t concerned about such things at the time, you couldn’t get a decent meal there.  They just didn’t exist.  I remember seemingly endless buffet tables (“$3.95 — all you can eat!”) with rows of red heat lamps, under which were plates of desiccated morsels which had probably been semi-edible at some point that week but were now only marginally distinguishable from each other.

After that came the Treasure Island / Mirage / Excalibur phase, in which there seemed to be a dedicated push to make it fun for the whole family rather than the busloads of aforementioned folks from LA.  Pirates!  Volcanoes!  Cirque du Soleil!

Then the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” phase – the genius who came up with that marketing campaign has hopefully never needed to work again (but is anyway).  I guess Vegas is still in that phase, technically, but my impression whenever I’m in town now is that it’s more about “high end” than anything.  Before, it was gaudy and over the top, but in a tongue-in-cheek way because ultimately it knew it was cheesy.  Now, it’s still over the top, but legitimately so.  Finding cheap eats is just as difficult as finding good eats used to be.  I like it actually, though only in somewhat small doses.  But it seems that gambling, which used to be pretty much everything in Vegas, has now taken a back seat to the insane variety of other things you can see and do there, and there truly is something for everyone.

At any rate, the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon happened to be taking place during our stay, so we opted to take advantage of The Strip being closed to vehicular traffic (and full of running folks, laser shows, and live bands) to introduce our kids to a stroll through Vegas’ beating heart.  Parking was brutal, but the atmosphere was even more lively than usual.

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We did a loop that took us through the Bellagio, Caesar’s, Treasure Island, and The Venetian, then had dinner at a decent-bordering-on-outstanding pizza place, where we sat outside and enjoyed the mild weather and views of the new-ish giant ferris wheel.

Predictably, our kids reacted differently to the Strip’s excesses.  Woodsprite was wide-eyed and bouncy as usual.  Firebolt was enthralled, and couldn’t wait to return.

IMG_9943Keeper was unimpressed and at least mildly annoyed, and spent much of his walking time with his shirt pulled up over his nose in a futile attempt to block out some of the cigarette smoke, of which there really wasn’t much compared to back in the day… I think he’s glad he saw it, but doesn’t need to go back.

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Our desire to take the kids to a show was dampened by our inability to do it inexpensively (without sitting through a timeshare presentation the following morning that is) and the kids’ relative lack of enthusiasm for it.  The girls just didn’t want to sit still I think, and Keeper’s fun-meter had peaked much earlier in the evening and was headed steadily southward.  So… back to our cushy RV resort, and on we go.

 

The next phase of the trip was something about which we had deliberated quite a bit.  Our initial plan had been to be en route to Florida and the Southeast, but once we resigned ourselves to returning to Maryland, several options presented themselves.  I covered most of our thought process in my Coronado post, and despite looking at some other options since then which could’ve allowed us to travel a bit longer and/or store Davista somewhere other than Southern Cal, we ultimately checked the weather forecast and decided that Seal Beach would be Davista’s overwintering site after all, and Zion, Death Valley, and Sequoia / Kings Canyon would get our patronage prior to the drive up to Grass Valley to meet the extended family for Thanksgiving.  All three of those National Parks I’ve seen before, but briefly and long ago, which makes me eager to return.  There will be no more Las Vegas Motorcoach Resorts for awhile, but that’s fine – who needs a faux-gold-plated shower anyway?

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