Day 1, To Santa Fe, NM –
San Antonio to Vegas (our final destination) is about a 20 hr drive. We decided to take it easy for a change and take a few stops along the way. 7 Hours from San Antonio is Roswell, the place that claims to have had the most alien visits. No wonder even the McDonalds there is shaped like a spaceship.
After about a total of 10 hrs of driving on the first day, we reached our first destination Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. Even though we were tired, we ventured out to see the much heard about beauty of the town. Set in the foothills of Sangre de Cristo mountains, Santa Fe boasts of a beautiful downtown with Adobe homes being of particular interest. We also got a chance to visit the beautiful St Francis Cathedral in the middle of downtown. Time permitting, we would have loved to visit the exquisite Loretto Chapel too with the amazing round staircase. Unfortunately, this being holiday season, most visiting hours were over by 4 PM. We spent the rest of the evening walking around downtown and enjoying the quaint little stores (mostly specializing in Indian handiwork and blue stone jewelry).
Day 2, Skiing in Santa Fe and Taos –
Who would have thought Santa Fe would have all this snow all around? Bright and early in the morning, we put on ALL of our warm clothes and headed out to the Santa Fe Ski Resort. To be honest, that was a bit of letdown – the area was supremely crowded (perhaps because of the holiday season), the ski lessons at the resort took forever to begin (my daughter waited 2 hrs), the lines were very disorganized, etc.
We gave up halfway through, only after a bit of skiing, and headed to Taos Valley – a couple of hours away from there (also because they offer Snow Tubing there). We definitely liked that much better….. more scenic and better/wider ski slopes. Perhaps that had something to do with it being a family owned resort. We enjoyed snow tubing there even though it was later in the afternoon that we got there. We loved it – not a bad deal for $15/person unlimited tubing!! The snow was fluffy and extremely soft. The drive and the views weren’t too bad either. 🙂
Day 3, Petrified National Forest and Sedona, AZ –
Right after breakfast, we headed towards Sedona, AZ. 4 hours West from Santa Fe, we stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park, which was right off the freeway. In the same park, we also got a chance to see the exquisite Painted Desert. Both of these have been millions of years in the making and it shows! The details in the petrified wood (now laying around in rock form) and in the multi-colored layers of the tepee like rocks there was breathtaking. If it weren’t as cold as it was (freezing and windy), we could have easily spent half a day there.
Another 3 hours West is the beautiful town of Sedona. This was one of the few destinations that we have re-visited (typically we don’t come back to a destination), mostly to meet up with our cousins there, but it was every bit worth it. We got there just in time to catch the amazing sunsets… the colors of the mountains really popped out!! Would have loved to take a hike there, but it was below freezing and slippery, so we kept it aside for the next morning.
Day 4, 5, 6, Las Vegas–
Right after breakfast, we set off for the West Pointe hike with our friends. Set about 15 minutes west from the hotel, it is a very easy hike and you can go as far as you would like to. The unique thing for us turned out be that this was a hike through the snow. Lucky I had the good sense to step out of my sandals into hiking shoes!! Being from Texas, we enjoyed every bit of hiking through, falling and slipping in, making snowballs out of the snow. The only part we did not endeavor was the wading through the freezing water of a babbling brook there. We decided to leave out friends there, turn around and drive to Vegas!
While technically Vegas is not a place for little kids (we had our 11-yr old), you can still find plenty to do in Vegas that is family friendly. Sure, there are the chance encounters with the Showgirls and people handing out pamphlets on streets, but for the most part we found activities there that we could enjoy as a family. 3 nights in Vegas definitely wasn’t an overkill for us.
There are several hotels with free shows there… just walking through the grand lobbies of all hotels is a visual treat. There are the magical Bellagio Fountains (every 30 minutes after dusk) that sway harmoniously to the music, Gondola Rides and mimes at St Mark’s Square at Venetian (Gondola is a paid ride), the volcano show at Mirage (every 30 minutes after dusk), Pirates action show (Sirens) at Treasure Island (every 90 minutes after dusk), Falling of Atlantis at Caesar’s Palace (every 60 minutes after dusk), Circus acts at Circus, Circus (every hour starting 11 AM), medieval jousting at Excalibur, the list goes on ….
The MGM Grand used to have lions and tigers in there but they have been removed temporarily for the hotel renovation. The lobby in Paris would definitely make you feel like you were walking the streets in Paris, France, with the Eiffel Tower replete. New York, New York has the outdoor rollercoaster. The only paid show we saw there was “Believe” by Criss Angel – eve though it was advertised as Cirque Du Soleil, it turned out to be another magic show … a bit adult oriented.
As far as the hotel themselves go, our favorite has been the Venetian. We did a lot of hotel hoping this time. Mandalay Bay Spa is certainly the best we have ever seen. Golden Nugget is not on the strip but if you don’t want to venture out, that may be one for you – it has a rather fancy Shark tank inside their Pool area, which can make it exciting!
The most exciting thing for the kids there was the Coca-Cola Store and the M&M Store, right next to MGM Grand on the Strip. Enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and you can taste 24 coke favors from all over the world too!
Day 7, To Tucson, AZ –
Headed on our way back, we stopped at the Hoover Dam, just about an hour from the strip. An engineering wonder, unfortunately we could not find time to stop there for long as the lines were very long. While driving over the dam and having a peek is free, you will need to buy a ticket to actually go down to the visitor center to have a closer encounter. This is definitely worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.
4 Hours East of Las Vegas is the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because of poor planning on our part, we could not get there in time (they stop selling tickets at 4:45 PM) – we had to turn around and head back. It would have been nice to actually walk over the glass bridge over at the West Rim.
We stayed the night in Tucson – had the good sense to book a nice spa resort and chill out since there was so much more driving remaining.
Day 8, Back home via Great Sand Dunes National Monument –
Most of our day was spent driving but the highlight of the day was the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in a place called Alamogordo, just an hour north of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Contrary to what we thought, these have not been around for millions of years. They are only 7000 years old – pretty young by geological standards. An 8-mile loop inside the park, it is absolutely mesmerizing to see miles and miles of white sand dunes all around you. You can even do sand-boarding on the dunes which is exhilarating.