Hi there, I’m Hayley and I’m an Americaholic. I certainly am after my recent trip to the states on a TrekAmerica Wild West tour. Having ‘done’ the west before on a girl’s holiday to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I thought I’d seen it all. Well, how wrong can one person be? LA and Vegas are just the tip of the iceberg, as I quickly learned.
The tour is 10 days long, but it’s advised to stay one night before and one night after in our gateway hotel in Los Angeles. Here’s a day-by-day account of my experience.
Day 1 – Los Angeles to San Diego
This morning we all met early in the hotel lobby to meet our group and tour leader. Our leader, Kelly Kissling (who is a total legend by the way) rounded up the troops and we all piled into the van, heading south for sunny San Diego! Or that’s what we thought.
Sadly, for a city which receives over 300 days of sunshine a year, the clouds had decided to make an appearance and our chances of catching some rays were ruined! Never mind, as I knew we would be getting plenty of sun on this trip.
We aimed for the beach anyway and had a great afternoon wandering along Mission Beach, going on fairground rides and watching drunken tourists wiping out on the surf simulator. We set up camp in a big established campsite in the bay of San Diego (complete with bar, gym and even a hot tub!) and made our delicious dinner for the night. Over dinner the group started to bond and I discovered some real characters hiding in there. More on that later.
Day 2 – Free day, San Diego
On our free day, Kelly dropped the group off at various places depending on what they wanted to do. Some chose Balboa Park, some chose Downtown, we went off to SeaWorld. Another night gathered around the campfire ensured our Trek was off to a great start.
Day 3 – Driving to the Colorado River
Today was a long driving day but it didn’t matter as by now we were all starting to become best buds and mostly sang and laughed the whole day. Doing a big food shop (with the Food Kitty money) for the group had become an actual competition to see who could do their bit the fastest. Plus in the van, a few of the group had shown themselves to be closet ‘Arnie’ fans, and so the Arnie quotes were coming thick and fast.
It’s these little things which you just don’t think about when you go on a group tour. Yes, of course the sights are INCREDIBLE, but the whole group experience might just be even better. We stopped at a ‘secret spot’, not technically on the Wild West route, but Kelly thought it would be cool to see, so in true TrekAmerica style there was a little extra to look forward to!
The place was called ‘Salvation Mountain’ and was a little oasis in the middle of the desert made from thousands of litres of paint. Featured in the movie ‘Into the Wild’ and built by Leonard Knight as a tribute to God, it’s a really nice little spot to stop off for some pictures.
Our campsite for the night was on the banks of the Colorado River. Although it was dark when we arrived (thanks to shorter days this time of year) we could just about make out the outline of the mountains on the other side of the river. It was one of the group’s birthdays the following day so of course we had to stay up until midnight to see it in! Cue another night of group bonding!
Day 4 – Cowboy Camp
This morning we awoke to sore heads and an incredible view. The mountains we had vaguely seen the night before were out in force, and the reds, yellows and browns of the rock reflected beautifully off the mirror surface of the Colorado River.
Some of the group went for a refreshing dip before we all made tracks across the Saguaro Desert in search of our home for the night – a Western Cowboy camp! Our host, Betty was a true gem – nothing was too much trouble and she took us all out for a sunset horseback ride across the desert before serving us the biggest steak dinner I’ve had in ages!
The horseback ride was one of the highlights of my trip for sure. The cactus-studded landscape was just awesome and experiencing it with my group was simply brilliant.We had a night of ‘group therapy’, finding out everyone’s life stories around the campfire and camped under the stars in this fantastic (but chilly) landscape.
Day 5 – The way to the Grand Canyon
I awoke in the Arizona Desert to realise that today was my birthday! Not a bad way to start the day. Not bad at all! We climbed aboard the Trek bus and were on our way to the grandest canyon of them all, but first a quick stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. Built by Native Americans, Montezuma Castle is built into the side of a cliff face, and is a marvel to look at – how does is even stay up there?
We completed our booklets to become ‘Junior Rangers’ (another ‘Kelly-ism’ – she offers her groups the chance to get a certificate and badge in every National Park and Monument we go to), and we collected our shiny new ‘Junior Ranger’ badges. The first of 3 we earned this trip!
Now for the main event – the Grand Canyon! Kelly blindfolded us all and took us on a ‘trust walk’ to the edge of the canyon (not too close – don’t worry!) and we all took off our blindfolds at the same time to reveal the ridiculously big hole in the Earth. It was like nothing I’ve seen before, and we all watched the sun set with a sparkly drink whilst everyone sang ‘Happy birthday’ to me. Best birthday ever.
Afterwards we all went for pizza, tenpin bowling and back to our hotel for a well-earned rest. It was pretty cold at night so I was pleased to have a roof over my head tonight! Slept like a baby…
Day 6 – Free day at the Grand Canyon
Today was a free day for hiking into the canyon. Some of us split off from the rest of the group this morning to take a helicopter flight. A little on the pricey side, but if you can afford to do it you DEFINITELY should. It was a full 45 minutes long and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen half of it! Our captain was fantastic – really knowledgeable and friendly and made it so special for us all.
We saw the canyon from all different angles, the Colorado River running through the bottom and even saw some Elk having a swim on the way back. After the helicopter ride we decided to hike the South Kaibab Trail – a relatively easy hike along the ridge and down into the canyon and easy enough to do in half a day. It was pretty windy, so we had to take care not to be blown off into the abyss! I didn’t really understand how big the canyon was until I went there, and I still don’t if I’m honest.
Day 7 – Route 66 to Las Vegas!
Today the mood in the van was electric – we were all heading to Las Vegas and what’s more, it was Halloween Weekend – one of the biggest weekends of the year in Vegas!
We drove some of Route 66 to get to our final destination and stopped off at the quaint town of Seligman. Full to bursting with 1950’s memorabilia, Seligman is what you think of when you picture Route 66 – a bright little town in the middle of a dusty desert. We even saw our fair share of tumbleweeds along the way!
After some serious Kodak moments, we were back on the road to Las Vegas, where we had all bought Halloween costumes for. Everyone really got into the spirit of things and we were definitely the best dressed crowd in town.
All aboard the party bus! We decided to take the Las Vegas limo ride, but as there was another TrekAmerica group staying in Vegas too (doing the Westerner 2 tour), there were 25 of us in a mega-super-party-bus-of-joy! Equipped with 3 poles to dance around and 2 plasma TVs playing party tunes, we rolled around Vegas from Fremont Street to the Las Vegas sign to the fountains at the Bellagio – definitely another highlight and not something I’ll forget in a hurry!
Tonight we frequented a club called Pure at Caesars Palace with the best views of the strip I’ve seen, and danced ’til the small hours!
Day 8 – Free day in Las Vegas
The world is your oyster with a free day in Vegas, and however you choose to spend it you’re guaranteed an awesome time. I chose to walk up the strip and try to go in every hotel possible!
Starting with a buffet in Bally’s then some shopping in Planet Hollywood, a roller coaster at New York New York, some roulette at Hooters (I won $89!), and finally a sun downer at Mix Bar at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, I can safely say I enjoyed every second! Tonight, TrekAmerica took on Las Vegas on the Blackjack table and won! Good times.
Day 9 – Death Valley
Felling like death after our high-rolling night at the casino, what could be more fitting than to head to Death Valley? Low and flat, the valley is one of the hottest places in the USA – perfect for a hangover! But seriously, it was just stunning – ridged valley floors like I’ve never seen before, a huge salt flat where you can have some fun with perspective pictures, and a 40 mile wide lake with a layer of salt on top so thick you could easily walk on it!
We got our Junior Ranger badges here thanks to Ranger Jay Snow – the most enthusiastic ranger I’ve ever met, and our pumpkin carving judge for the night. My team’s pumpkin was far and away the best (!!!) and we won the pride of the pumpkin! Tonight we camped out again around a beautiful camp fire in the middle of the valley.
Day 10 – The end of the road
Last stop – Los Angeles and a quick tour of Hollywood, including the Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame. What a great way to end an absolutely stonking trip! Our group was so sad to leave each other and of course we’ve all kept in touch.
So that was it. 10 of the best days of my life. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful times and beautiful people! I can’t wait until my next trip. Now, where next? East Coast… Cross Country… Canada… Alaska… Central America… I think I’m going to need some help making my mind up!!