Ko-So-A-Do

Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Going down to Vegas (in a car) and back again: Part 2

on July 21, 2013

(More pictures will be added once I find where Hubby hid our pix from Vegas!)

So, we’ve talked about my first driving trip to Vegas, how to find a good hotel deal and exploring Vegas on a budget. Now, here’s how we got there -in a car- this year.

As I previously explained, last time we drove, we chose Enterprise for our rental due to their low rates and mileage allowances. This year, we discovered that they had changed the 5-state group and it no longer included Nevada. Yikes! We contacted Enterprise, but without a major credit card, we couldn’t get any kind of expansion of our mileage range. Darn it! So, we went hunting. After checking prices, mileage availability, etc. we decided to go with Avis.

Why that particular company? This trip, we needed enough storage space for four people’s suitcases. Two were continuing on to Disneyland after, so their luggage was larger. This meant the full-size category of car. We checked multiple factors, including: Weekly rates, Mileage, Cost of insurance, Discounts and NON-AIRPORT location availability!

-Why is the non-airport location such a big deal? Extra Fees. Yup, at least in our state, if the rental company is in an airport, the rates are usually increased as well as extra taxes/fees tacked on. After our searches, there were only 3 or 4 companies in our area with non-airport locations.

-Weekly rates: Surprisingly, not all companies offer weekly discounts. This was handled by simply checking rates for the time we needed the car. *Some car companies have limited weekend hours and/or are closed on Sunday. This had to be taken into account in choosing our days as well.

-Mileage: it’s actually kinda difficult to find mileage allowances on some of the websites for rental companies, so we had to call the ones we weren’t sure about. Trust me, if you’re going to be driving at least 2,000 miles, you want to know this! We needed Unlimited!

-Insurance: With such a long trip, we needed some extra just-in-case padding if there was even a small fender-bender. We didn’t do the whole “you total it, you’re covered” package, but we did want some liability coverage.

-Discounts! Yes, we used a coupon code for our trip and saved more than $100! Where did we find our code? Some discounts are listed in the company’s website. We first found a code on our hotel’s website, and the discount was pretty good, but then we Googled Avis coupon codes and plugged them in one at a time until we found ones that worked, then we compared rates! (Just don’t put in personal info yet, just in case… and double-check restrictions, etc.) I just LOVE a good coupon!

Avis had nationwide unlimited mileage, so we could take the more convenient interstate driving route to Vegas this year.

trip2

The route’s a little bit longer than last year’s, but the time is the same due to speed limits.

Like last year, we plotted rest areas and places to get gas. After looking at a couple of gas price websites, we went with Gas Buddy as the prices were more representative of what we were seeing locally. Using their National Gas Price Heat Map and zooming in along our route, I knew where the best deals were and where to avoid due to price spikes. *If you search by your location, it kinda locks you into your state and it’s difficult to get back out again without cleaning out cookies/cache.

It felt a bit odd going east to get there. We also got a later start as we didn’t want to arrive too early and have to wait for our room (like last year). By about 6pm we were on our way and our passengers (Japanese exchange students) enjoyed the scenery and some videos we had prepared for them to watch during the trip. The mountains of Idaho and Montana are beautiful, but I-90 on the way to Missoula was petty darn rough in most of the mountain areas. We could even tell where large animals had gotten hit, leaving large… sometimes VERY large… stains on the road. Also, most of the trip was an hour behind due to driving into the Mountain time zone. While our phones updated, the car clock did not. We were lucky to stop in Missoula for gas and a snack before 10 pm because the restaurant closed at 10, but we thought we had another hour.

Somewhere between Butte and Idaho Falls, we pulled over, turned off the lights and did some stargazing. It wasn’t the same as when we were in the Nevada desert, and it was pretty darn cold, but the girls loved the view of a (mostly) unobscured sky full of stars, something they hadn’t been able to appreciate before. Hubby’s android app that let them see where the constellations were was also a plus. Sunrise found us in Utah, and we stopped north of Salt Lake City for breakfast. Unfortunately, while my handy construction look-up had warned me of current road construction, it did not let me know of some strange closing of all southbound lanes of I-15 through the northern Slat Lake area on the day we happened to drive through. Also, the off-ramp red light didn’t have an arrow indicating which way to turn for the detour.  After a brief wrong-way interlude, we turned around and found the other detour signs. While the area was lovely, I’m sure, it’s difficult to appreciate when you’ve been awake since the previous morning (except for fitful power naps in the passenger seat) and have to keep an eye out for the next detour sign. I also expected to see more of the giant salt lake form the interstate. Disappointed tourist is disappointed.

The rest of Utah was a bunch of shrubby desert, driving between mountain ridges, and passing by little spots of humanity that would crop up in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t see much of the “good stuff”. It got more interesting just before St George and the Arizona border, where we got some older geological formations, more colorful rock and some plateau/mesa/butte action (whatever you want to call it) to look at. I-15 cuts through the very northwest corner of Arizona and passes through an amazing mountain range that can be a bit frightening if you’re a fatalist that imagines all that rock crumbing down on you. *shiver*

Crossing the Nevada border brought us into more plateau area, and seeing the edges of the plateaus before driving up to their height was pretty nifty if you like that kind of thing.  Then it was more flat area, some desert shrubbery and the occasional rocky outcropping or mountain until Vegas.

On the way back, we got stuck in those Arizona mountains for at least an hour in a very large traffic jam. We discovered later that a truck had caught on fire. Kinda hard to detour when you’re trapped in the mountains. Almost 20 miles of mountain with only a camping ground as a rest stop in the middle. Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Utah was as uninteresting on the way out as it was on the way in, but our stop at a Chick-fil-a (OMFG, it’s been at least 8 years since I’ve had that delicious meat in my mouth hole!) for dinner in the northern part got us thinking about the Salt Lake City area. While the city itself has the same problems as any city, the sprawl that follows the interstate has all the benefit of being a part of a larger city area but reduced crime rate, depending on where you live. Also, there seemed to be plenty of parks, fun centers, malls, etc. to keep the masses entertained. (Seriously, there were a LOT of theme parks scattered about!) We may consider a stay in the SLC area at some point to explore further. The town we stopped in… Layton, maybe? It was a bit like traveling into a Stepford type of town, with smiling families and an overall friendly atmosphere.

The rest of the drive home was mostly like the way down, just in reverse. But there were clouds and a moon over Montana this time, making for some lovely visuals I wish I had photographed, but that would have required stopping the car. So sorry, no shots of the beautiful moon and clouds between mountains. Also, the mountains in Idaho were quite misty, giving an ethereal (and sometimes creepy) atmosphere until the sun got high enough to burn off the mist. Once again, it was near the end of our trek and all we wanted to do was get home and sleep. so, no lovely shots of misty mountain mornings either.

~Scary Event for the WHOLE TRIP: I was driving along I-90 heading toward Lake Coeur d’Alene when I saw the head of a deer pop above the concrete median. Then it jumped OVER the median RIGHT NEXT TO ME! I was inches from having that deer ram my car head-first! Needless to say, I was wide awake for a while after that. My screech of surprise had Hubby waking up a bit panicky. It made it across the road just fine, that kamikaze venison!

This probably had bored most of my readers, but as my interests cover a wide range, I felt I should write about my experiences. Of course, I’d need more than just a blog to write down all my thoughts and experiences, this was just a highlight. With a new job starting next week, expect more bento and food blogging to continue.

じゃ、またね! (Until next time!) (^o^)/

~Hikari

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