American Road Trip

My Road Trip in 2014 to San Francisco and other trips across the border

Road Trip to Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock is a little bit further than I normally venture on the weekend, but we decided to visit on a random weekend in May last year and ended up having a great trip! Spring is always rough because the weather gets super nice in Vancouver, but it still takes several months for the snow to melt in the mountains. I was itching to take my hiking boots out, so we decided to head in search of less snowy trails.

It’s about a 6 hour drive to Steamboat Rock, which is a state park in Washington on the other side of the cascades. It’s a long distance for a single weekend, so we decided to get a head start and drove halfway there on Friday night, crossing the border in Abbotsford and camping in the cascades south of Manning Park and Ross Lake. It was after 10pm by the time we pulled into the campsite, so we didn’t do much Friday night except set up camp and get some sleep. We were still in the mountains, so it was pretty cold overnight and I was glad I had packed my winter bag. Emily was sweating in her homemade down sleeping bag, but the rest of our poor friends, Lien, Kevin, and Yuka, were all pretty cold as it was a first time experience for them camping in the mountains in May.

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We got up early on Saturday and had the most beautiful drive through the rest of the cascades. The most interesting part about driving to Steamboat Rock is that you pass through almost every landscape you can think of on the way there. We were below the snow line at the campsite and the rivers were flowing fast from snow melt. But as we continued, we drove back up past the snow line and were surrounded by gorgeous snowy mountain vistas. It was a little jarring to see that there were still a ton of snowshoers and skiers out in May when we were all anxiously awaiting the next season.

We left the cascades and entered the flatlands that slowly turned into desert. It’s a really different kind of landscape, but beautiful in it’s own way. We passed several dams and reservoirs before eventually coming to Steamboat Rock State Park. The old river has carved out canyon like features at Steamboat Rock and the river bed has since been impounded for use as a reservoir, so it makes for a dramatic view looking at the rock canyon and the still water below.

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We got a campsite right next to the hiking trail. All the campsites were car camping and it was primarily RV’s at the park. Not really my preferred kind of camping, but it was easy and we had a gorgeous view of Steamboat from our campsite. It differed from a lot of campsites I’ve stayed in in that there were pretty much no trees around, just grassy fields running into the lake, Not ideal for privacy, but great for stargazing, which was one of our other motivations for visiting the park.

I really liked the hike, although I wasn’t super impressed with the maintenance of the trail going up the canyon. The campsite is located next to the lake, so you start the trail by hiking about 200 metres up to the top of the canyon. From there it’s a pretty flat hike around the edge of the canyon, with some great views of the lake and surrounding area. But the hike up to the canyon is pretty sketchy. I’ve done my fair share of sketchy hikes, but this one is located right next to a 300 site campground filled with RV’s, so it’s a pretty high trafficked walk and I saw a lot of inappropriate footwear and preparedness that I thought warranted the park investing some more work in the trail. You’re mostly hiking up scree and some sections where the rock has all worn away on the sides and it’s a steep, slippery trek. It’s not too bad on the way up, but really dangerous coming down as it’s super easy to dislodge rock that could hit those below you. I personally fell twice and scrapped up my hands a lot.

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But once you get to the top, it’s pretty easy going! We hiked the entire trail around the rim of the canyon and I really liked it. The topography is so different from what we’re used to seeing and it was fun to explore something new. What was surprising though, was that we saw a lot of people on the hike up, but once we started hiking the rim, we didn’t see a single other person! So I think a lot of people just hike to the top for the view and then go back down (more reason to invest in the trail).

I have barely spent any time in the desert, but between this trip and my trip to Vegas (which was only a few weeks before), I went on two desert hikes in the same month! We joked on our hike to Valley of Fire State Park in Neveda that we would freak out if we saw any rattlesnakes or scorpions. Well we had that opportunity at Steamboat Rock State Park! We actually ended up seeing an impressive amount of wildlife on the trip. We saw one deer on the road driving through the cascades, as well as 3 more deer hanging out on top of Steamboat Rock. We also saw a ton of marmots of all sizes on Steamboat Rock and the whole park was filled with all different kinds of birds, from small songbirds and blackbirds, to eagles and dozens of vultures.

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But the most jarring was definitely seeing a rattlesnake for the first time. Or more accurately, hearing a rattlesnake for the first time. Me, Emily, and Lien were hiking ahead when we heard a rattle and frantically started looking around, immediately spotting a rattlesnake staring at us to our right. We backed away, but evidently he was just as afraid of us and turned on his heel and slithered away into the bushes, shaking his tail at us. About 10 minutes later, Lien came across another snake, this time directly on the trail. This one didn’t have a rattle in it’s tail, but after a bit of research, we think it was a baby rattlesnake, because it definitely wasn’t a garter snake. Kevin (who missed out on both snake sightings) thought it would be funny to secretly shake a bottle of pills later on the trail and watch the three of us freak out, but he got a stern talking to about how traumatic it was for the rest of us.

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Snake trauma aside, it was a super fun trip. It was really hot out and even though it was only May 4th when we went, me, Emily, and Lien decided to take a quick dip in the lake when we finished the hike. It was the earliest I’ve ever been swimming and while it was cold, it really wasn’t that bad and had nothing on some of the glacial lakes I’ve swam in. It felt great to wash all the dirt off and the cold water feels so good on aching muscles.

One of the pros of spring camping is that the fire ban hasn’t yet kicked it! So we spent the rest of the evening roasting hot dogs and enjoying a campfire. Yuka impressed us all with her wood chopping skills and Lien was ecstatic about finally getting to try out his tent for the first time. Once the stars came out we all spent about an hour making some attempts at night photography. They weren’t some of my best photos, but I had fun messing around with the camera and actually having a tripod for once (thanks Kevin!). The only downside to the campsite was the sandflies. It wasn’t bad during the day, but once the sun went down they came out in swarms. Fortunately they don’t bite, but it was really annoying and a ton snuck into our tent somehow.

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We rolled out around 10am the next morning and had a long drive back to Vancouver. It wasn’t too bad on the way there because we broke up the drive between two days, but it definitely made for a long drive back. We stopped in this cute little town called Leavenworth on the way back for lunch. It’s in the middle of the cascades and the whole town is German. It’s a total tourist trap with all kinds of German restaurants and attractions. We had schnitzel burgers and ice cream before hitting the road again. We hit some pretty bad traffic after that, but we found an old CD case in the car with all of Lien and Kevin’s angsty teenage music from the early 2000’s and had a great laugh seeing what kind of music they used to like. Apparently Kevin had a penchant for angry German screamo and techno tv show theme songs, while Lien had a secret love for country music and Avril Lavigne.

So overall I had a lot of fun on this trip. I do think it would probably work better with an extra day to explore through the cascades a little more, but it was really fun to get out of Vancouver and explore something totally new!

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Long Weekend Trip to Las Vegas

I’m taking a departure from all the outdoor adventure stuff I’ve been posting about lately to write about my trip to Las Vegas instead. I went to Vegas with Carolyn for the first time in 2017 to run a half marathon. We had a great time, but because of the race, we felt like we didn’t really get to experience Vegas properly, so we were anxious to go back. At the time, I knew I was probably going to be getting engaged within the following year, so I promised her we’d go back for my Bachelorette.

And we actually did it! We were joined by my sister, Emily, my cousin, Katie, my oldest friend, Karen, and my work bestie, Sarah. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because it was a bit of a mix of friends, but we ended up having the BEST time! I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I’m going to tell you about it anyways, well the PG parts at least, after all, it was a bachelorette party 😉

We decided to take advantage of the Easter long weekend and make a 4 day trip out of it. We went straight to the airport on Thursday after work and stayed until late Monday night on Easter Monday. I flip-flopped a lot on where to stay on the strip, but we eventually decided to stay at the Flamingo, which I have absolutely no regrets about! It was right in the middle of the strip and had an awesome pool party! They were able to give us two adjoining hotel rooms, which also made for a lot of fun.

We took it easy on our first night because we didn’t get in until pretty late and we figured Friday might be our only sober morning, so we got up pretty early on Good Friday and decided to spend the day exploring the strip. Carolyn is bridesmaid extraordinaire and surprised me with matching shirts and sunglasses for everyone, so we wore them out on our first day, which was an excellent decision. Plus, apparently bachelorette parties are in high demand at all the Vegas night clubs, so we got approached by a ton of clubs offering us skip the line and drink for free at their night clubs. Katie lives in San Francisco and was the only one with a working cell phone, so we set her up as our agent and she started texting with all the clubs to get us the best deals. We had a good laugh out of it and loved feeling like a VIP for a night!

We explored the south part of the strip on our first day, walking from the Flamingo down to Excelsior and then heading back up. My favourite hotels were the ones that really commit to their theme. It makes it so much more fun to explore them and see all the cute little themed shops. My personal favs (on day 1), were Paris and New York New York. Surprisingly, I liked Excelsior too – I thought it was going to be kind of childish, but the whole castle theme was cute.

Katie worked her networking magic for us and we decided to spend the night at Marquee Night Club in Cosmopolitan. I was super fun to just show up and skip the line and have a great time on the dance floor! Carolyn and I didn’t do any night clubs our first time in Vegas, although we did have a great time partying at the Piano Bar in NYNY, so it was fun to try out some of the night clubs. They’re all super chic and it was my first time (I think?) going to a club where the DJ didn’t play top 40’s music and actually just played dance beats. It was really different, but fun.

On our second day, we decided to take things easier and had a bit of a sleep-in before going out for brunch and then joining the pool party at the Flamingo. I haven’t really been to any of the other pools on the strip, but I loved the pool at the Flamingo! We strolled in our matching “booty veils” that Carolyn made for us (which were absolutely adorable), and spent the afternoon alternating between relaxing poolside and partying in the pool. I wish I took some photos of the pool, which had these awesome waterfalls and everything, but apparently I was having far too much fun and totally forgot. We all had a good laugh at the “booty dancing competition” hosted in the middle of the pool party. When they announced it, I was like, “We should sign up and dance with our booty veils”, but thank god we didn’t because the competition was the most ridiculous and extra thing I’ve every seen in my life. I loved watching, but I’m glad that’s where our involvement ended!

We decided on a club crawl for our second night. It started off at a Margaritaville, which was a bit lame, but we were really only there for the purpose of cheap drink deals. Mostly we just watched Sarah and Carolyn school everybody at flip cup before moving on to two clubs. The first was Omnia at Caesar’s Palace. Omnia was so cool! Overall, I think I had more fun with the VIP experience at Marquee, but Omnia was definitely the coolest club we went to. In my opinion, it had the best music of everywhere we went, and it had the coolest setup. The dance floor was completely on wheels with the DJ playing the most energetic beats and I had the best time dancing. It has this giant chandelier thing over the dance floor that does all these crazy light tricks and sends out fog – it was really cool, but hard to describe. It’s actually 3 clubs in one, sadly one of them was closed, but the second one was outside on the roof and had this really amazing view of the strip!

The second club we visited was Chateau, which is located right under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was probably my least favourite of the 3, but still really cool to visit. It was the least crowded though, which I really liked. Omnia was awesome, but towards the end when we were there it got crazy busy on the dance floor, like to the extent that you couldn’t dance anymore because you could barely move, at which point it stopped being as fun, but it never felt like that at Chateau and it was really nice being outside in the open air.

Day 3 marked the beginning of the more chill part of our trip. We had a few more drinks, but we took it easy after that and explored a different side of Vegas. Our third day was our foodie day. We started the day off with lunch at Gordon Ramsey’s Burger restaurant in Planet Hollywood. It’s one of the few places where you can actually order how you would like your burger cooked because they actually grind the meat into burgers right on site. You could also make any burger into the vegan “impossible burger”, which our two vegetarians really appreciated! I can’t even describe how good these burgers were, even the fries and onion rings were to die for with multiple sauces for each. Sarah and I shared a Mediterranean lamb burger and a blue cheese beef burger that were phenomenal! We finished it off sharing Katie’s oreo milkshake which I think I still have dreams about, it was so creamy!

We spent the afternoon in Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. It’s a lot different than what the strip looks like now, but it’s cool to see the old casinos and it has a fun vibe. There are outdoor stages with performers set up along the strip and the entire thing is covered with a huge roof that I’m lead to believe is actually a giant screen? We didn’t spend too long downtown, but we did take the opportunity to get our souvenirs as everything down there was cheaper than the strip.

We postponed supper to take in a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere at Treasure Island. Since Treasure Island is on the north side of the strip, we took the opportunity to explore that end. The Venetian still takes the cake as one of my favourite hotels on the strip. I love the canals and Mark’s Square outside and I love that the theme is continued inside with the canal running through the building and all the shops set to look like you’re walking through Venice. It’s definitely a strong contender for where to stay next time I go back! This was my 4th Cirque show and as usual, it did not disappoint. Katie gets a discount to a bunch of the shows from her job and she was able to get us front row seats for it!! We had a great view and my favourite part was when the clown kicked Sarah and Carolyn out of their seats for a laugh.

We had a late dinner, but it really paid off because we didn’t have to wait in any lines and we got a fantastic table sitting on the patio of this fancy french restaurant in Paris. It’s directly across the street from the Bellagio, so you have an awesome view of the fountain show as you enjoy your meal. The restaurant was called Mon Ami Gabi and it had the best food, it was my second time eating there and I would absolutely eat there again because the food and ambiance are fantastic. We finished the evening with a stroll over to the Bellagio, which I’d never been in before and had the most beautiful garden inside! The Bellagio was classy. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much because I thought it was one of the oldest casinos, but it is lovely in there and I really liked exploring it.

The last day was a bit tricky because we were all preparing to go home and we had to check out of the hotel, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 9pm. We made another great decision though and after we checked out, we picked up a rental car from the hotel and peaced out of Vegas for the day to do a little bit of exploring. Carolyn agreed to be our driver and we had a good laugh when we saw what she would be driving us in all day. There were 6 of us (and luggage), so I had booked a 7-seater SUV, but we ended up getting upgraded to a Suburban, which had 7 seats, plus an enormous trunk that Emily informed me later actually had more seats in it and easily fit 6 pieces of luggage.

We spent the day at Valley of Fire State Park. None of us has really spent any time in the desert, except maybe for Katie who goes to Burning Man every year, so it was a lot of fun to explore. Valley of Fire State Park is all this bright red desert rock that makes you feel like you’re living on mars. It was really hot and we didn’t want to do to anything too strenuous, so we did a short hike on the “white dome trail”, which takes you through some of the landscape and this really cool canyon stretch. We stopped into the visitors centre and had a bit of a photoshoot at the “Seven Sisters” before heading back to Vegas again to drop the car at the airport.

So there you go, that covers about 90% of our trip – you’ll just have to use your imagination for what we got up to on the rest! I really had the best time and we’ve already started to pressure Karen about where she’s going to take us on her bachelorette next year! For someone who thought she wouldn’t like Vegas, it’s become a favourite and I would definitely go back again!

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A Foggy Visit To San Francisco

If you’re still with me (I don’t think I’ve ever covered a trip in as much detail), you’ve finally made it to the last post! Our final destination, the shining gem of California’s Golden Coast – San Francisco. Unfortunately for us though, there wasn’t really anything shiny about it. After the beautiful weather in Oregon, the sun deserted us and we spent three days on San Francisco’s foggy shore.

In hopes that the sun would peak its way out, we made the mistake of wearing shorts and t-shirt on our first day in the city and experienced a windy, cold tour of the city and crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge. But we’re all troopers and after a quick stop back to our hostel to change into some warmer clothes, we made the most of our short time in San Francisco. We took a whirlwind bus tour of the city, jumping off at San Francisco’s more popular attractions: the ever busy Fisherman’s Wharf, the steep, winding Lombard Street, and of course, Pier 39, home to hundreds of noisy and entertaining sea lions! We also stopped at the Golden Gate Vista in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bright arches of one of the world’s most famous suspension bridges, but they were sadly hidden in the fog and we had to settle for just a glimpse of the bottom.

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While there’s lots to see in the city, the highlight of our time in San Francisco ended up being a visit to the infamous Alcatraz prison (surely this place must have been JK Rowlings inspiration for Azkaban?). In case you don’t know, Alcatraz is a former federal prison located on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Often referred to as “The Rock”, it was open from 1933 to 1963 and housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. Due to the harsh environment in which the prison was located and the high operating costs, it was eventually closed and now operates as a tourist attraction and national park. We took a boat across the windy bay and did an audio tour of the Alcatraz cell house.

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I have to give props to the makers of the audio tour because it was one of the best audio tours I’ve ever taken. The tour featured testimonies from several previous guards and inmates and provided a detailed history of the cellhouse and its famous prisoners and escapes. Our favourite tale of escape was that of several inmates who collected various tools (mostly spoons) and over the course of who knows how long, chipped away at the concrete around the air vent in their cells until they were large enough to crawl through. They made makeshift vents out of cardboard and other materials to hide the damage to the wall, and they created fake heads out of clay to put in their beds during the night of their escape to fools the guards. The inmates eventually escaped from their cells to a long utility corridor between the walls, where they climbed up the pipes and onto the roof. From there, they escaped on a life raft they made out of rain jackets! The prisoners were never found – it’s very unlikely that the raft or their bodies would not have been found if they had drowned – so it’s pretty likely that they successfully escaped!

To our surprise, when we finished the tour and were perusing the bookstore, we discovered that an actual former inmate of Alcatraz, William Baker, was on site promoting and signing his new book on his time in Alcatraz! Gill and Mel both purchased a copy and had the somewhat surreal experience of smiling and posing for a picture with Mr. Baker. I didn’t read the book myself, but if you’re wondering, I’ve been informed by Gill that Mr. Baker originally went to prison for car theft. If he’d done the time he was sentenced for, he would have been out of prison in 4 years, but after multiple escape attempts he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz and ended up spending the majority of his life (he was only released in 2011 and is in his 80’s) in prison.

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Lucky for us, our visit to Alcatraz ended up being a huge pick-me-up after a slightly disappointing, and very cold morning. I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in San Francisco, just make sure to get your tickets a few months in advance or you’ll have no hope of going. Since you have to take a boat there, there’s only a limited number of tickets.

Sadly, Mel was only able to spend one day with us in San Francisco and then had to jet off to attend a wedding. We were sad to see her go, but enjoyed a beautiful trip to Napa Valley on our second day! It was another foggy start to the day, but as soon as we left the Bay area behind us, the sun came out and the day quickly brightened up! Napa Valley is California’s premier wine region and was incredibly beautiful. We started off with a drive through the Sonoma Region and over the course of the day visited three wineries. The first two were small boutique wineries that produce a few thousand bottles of wine per year, which are only sold at their winery. The last winery produces several million bottles per year and we thought it was nice to have the contrast of visiting both types. We had an enjoyable afternoon tasting the different wines and being taught much more than I ever needed to know about how to properly open and drink wine!

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Our last day in San Francisco was a bit of a freebie. We were originally going to spend our last day in Santa Cruz, but because we had to switch up the order of the trip when we missed Yosemite, we ended up having an extra day. We started the morning off right with a delicious Sunday brunch from the Cheesecake Factory, did a little shopping, and then split up for the afternoon. Karen spent the afternoon doing some shopping and exploring around Union Square, Gill made a visit to a childhood icon of hers, the ‘Full House’ house, and I walked through the city up to Coit Tower where I finally caught a full view of the Golden Gate Bridge! It was a more relaxing day and the sun finally came out for our last few hours in the city.

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That pretty much sums up our trip of America’s West Coast. We returned to Vancouver just over a week ago and Gill stuck around for a few extra days. Karen won’t be going back to Newfoundland at all though as she’s been accepted to study law at UBC, so you might be hearing more about her in my future exploits! I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with us – it was the trip of a lifetime for us and I loved sharing it!

Much Love,
Maria

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