What is it about fast and fancy cars that gets a person’s heart racing? Is it the feel of the engine rumbling underfoot? Or is it the look that others give when one of these sleek, chic vehicles rolls past? Whatever it is that lures people into the driver’s seat of these above-and-beyond cars, the pull is a strong one because lots of people pay a lot of money to drive exotic and muscle cars during their Las Vegas vacations.
Late last spring I was invited to get behind the wheel of a few different exotic cars for a spin through the Red Rock Canyon area with World Class Driving. This experience is very popular for a number of reasons, but one of the main things worth noting is that the driving experience with World Class Driving lasts nearly an hour and participants get to drive more than one car. This is a vast departure from many driving experiences, which cost hundreds of dollars and only allow participants to choose one car to drive (if they even get a choice). I honestly didn’t really care what I was driving, so I was content when they told me I’d spend time with a Lamborghini, a Jaguar and a Ferrari. I was particularly excited that one of the cars was a convertible because I’ve never driven a car with the top down and, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I’ve ever even been in a convertible.
My fascination with yurts began one summer while I was in college, the one summer I lived in Washington, D.C., when I spent my afternoons and weekends riding the subway to all corners of the city. On one of these weekends, I happened across the Smithsonian’s fabulous Folklife Festival. That year’s theme was robust — the Silk Road — and I spent a few days immersed in the music, food and culture that defined the countries along the Silk Road in years past and continue to permeate these societies in the present day. One of these countries, of course, is Mongolia, and it was at this event held on the National Mall that I became utterly smitten with the idea of traveling along the Silk Road and spending the night in one of the tents-turned-homes that these people live in — a yurt.
My interest in yurts resurfaced again while we waited for our Peace Corps assignment in 2004. For a brief time, we thought we were going to be placed in Central Europe, and though that’s not necessarily yurt country, it did get me thinking about that part of the world again. And so, when I finally sat down to make my Life List a few years ago, one of the first things I added was my desire to spend a night in a yurt.
At the time, I was picturing myself in a legitimate yurt, a place where people live, a place where, when I walked out in the morning, I’d be greeted by the (I’m assuming) wide open spaces of Mongolian wilderness. So imagine my surprise when, while working with the Cedar City/Brian Head Tourism Board in Utah regarding details for a summer trip, I got an email punctuated with exclamation marks that my dream of staying in a yurt could be recognized just a few hours from the front door of my house in Las Vegas. The catch? Staying in this yurt would be a glamping (glamorous camping) experience, not a rustic one.
But a yurt is a yurt, right? And so I eagerly said yes, and now I can cross one more thing off my Life List: Spend the night in a yurt.
I’m one of those people who believes that I have athletic prowess. Of course I can run that race! Sure, I can lift that object! I’ve got the strength/stamina/willpower. Truth be told, though I have completed a couple half marathons, I can barely swim a lap across a pool before I need to take a breather, and while I enjoy taking on a strenuous hike, I have minimal upper body strength. And yet I happen upon things like Flagstaff Extreme Adventure (located in Arizona) and am immediately convinced that I can not only beat the challenges they set forth but that I can blow them out of the water. That I can be that guy who whizzes through physical obstacles without any problems
But who am I kidding? Seriously. Just because I participated in gymnastics as a kid does not make me a gymnast, and just because I enjoy being active doesn’t mean I’m invincible when it comes to physical fitness. And Flagstaff Extreme Adventure definitely requires physical skill and mental gymnastics. Don’t be fooled by what you think you can do when you’re standing on a rope suspended 60 feet in the air.
Flagstaff Extreme Adventure is a string of four circuit courses, each consisting of 10 – 17 obstacles. These include barrels, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, difficult-to-reach footholds, rope ladders, zip lines and other assorted things to climb over, crawl through, scramble around and otherwise navigate. The four circuit courses increase in difficulty as you progress throughout the course, beginning with the green course, which has minimum elevation and requires minimal skill level. As I easily made it through these obstacles, I was feeling confident in my body’s ability to muscle, bend and flex my way onwards through the maze of other challenges.
When this post is published, I’m going to be far, far away from my computer. I’ll be taking my second short vacation of the summer, this time in southern Utah. Getting out of Las Vegas and visiting Utah is nothing new for my husband and me. We’re huge fans of hopping in the car and road tripping a few hours north to our neighboring state for a bit of tranquility and serenity.
What is it that we love about Utah? The list is long, but it includes the colors and fresh air, the wide open spaces and interesting topography, the miles of hiking trails and beautiful scenic drives. We make it a point to visit Utah at least a couple times a year because we love it so much, and this visit will be our third of 2013.
The thing about our trips to Utah, though, is that they follow a very familiar pattern. We almost always camp in or near the southern portion of Zion National Park, and we hike and re-hike our favorite trails in the park. We have ventured to nearby Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon as well, but our typical destination is the well-visited area of Zion. We know what’s there, we know we enjoy what we’ll find and it’s consistently consistent. There are no surprises, and we always have a good time.
My first introduction to the San Diego Zoo was the movie Rainbow Brite: San Diego Zoo Adventure. In the film, Murky Dismal is stealing the colors from the animals throughout the zoo, and Rainbow Brite is enlisted to help recover the colors. During my first visit to the zoo a couple weeks ago, I thought about this movie as I watched the spotted leopard snoozing in the sun and the colorful lorikeet grooming itself on a tree branch.
Let me be very honest upfront: I am not a fan of zoos. They feel too contained and unnatural. How can animals that would wander for miles and miles in the wild possibly find happiness and peace with being contained in an enclosure? I’m particularly aware of this having lived in Kenya, where zebras and elephants wandered freely near our home. For years, people have told me that the San Diego is stellar. It is a non-profit organization and is concerned with the conservation and protection of animals as well as educating the public about them. It is a huge zoo — 100 acres — where more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals live, but the thing I loved best about it was simply the fact that it didn’t feel like a zoo at all. In fact, to me, the San Diego Zoo felt like a giant park with lots of green space and habitats for animals that felt much more like natural habitats than what is found in many zoos. Only in one instance did I feel that the habitat felt too zoo-like with lots of concrete and minimal space for the creatures living there.
Mid-morning. The sun had risen well above the horizon, but the heat of the day hadn’t yet settled in. It would likely be warmer come the afternoon — even in November, the Sonoran Desert can be warm — but at this time of the morning, the leftover nightly chill mixed with the morning sunshine.
We line up our yoga mats on the deck of the visitors center at Usery Mountain Regional Park facing the desert: a collection of cacti and other succulents, red earth and the occasional creature scampering by — a bird, perhaps, or a small rodent seeking shelter in the plants. The desert is quiet except for the sounds naturally built into its soundtrack. This is Arizona’s meditation studio.
Let it be said upfront: I am an introvert. I attend events and parties because I enjoy them, but mingling with people — especially people I don’t know — does not come easy for me. So when I was invited to experience Project Dinner Table, a Las Vegas dining experience that has created quite the legacy for itself, I was both thrilled beyond words and a little bit apprehensive.
You see, the idea behind Project Dinner Table is this: People don’t tend to spend a lot of timing eating at the dinner table anymore. They’re too busy with work and running around and keeping busy in life. The idea that we don’t spend time with our families in this intimate atmosphere is magnified when it comes to interacting and communicating with strangers. Lets face it: We’ve become a society in which we live behind our smartphones, and even when we’re with each other, we tend to be somewhere else mentally. Project Dinner Table places up to 200 people around a giant dinner table, where they then spend the next several hours enjoying a leisurely meal and getting to know the other people sitting around them.
Project Dinner Table is the brain child of Gina Gavan, who seeks out the most creative places in Las Vegas and the very best chefs to provide an awesome and memorable experience every single event. There are about five Project Dinner Table events every year, and each is set in a different, unique location, and different chefs from around the city create the multi-course menu. Past events have been held at the Neon Boneyard Museum, Gilcrease Orchard, the local baseball stadium and The Smith Center, among many other places.
If I get to choose my hotel, I’m likely to choose one with a lot of history, a little bit of class and a touch of personality. That’s how I ended up at El Dorado in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Built in 1960, El Dorado was one of several resorts constructed during Scottsdale’s boom town days as a vacation destination. There’s no question what era this hotel is from with its square stature that is now considered to be vintage. El Dorado recently underwent the knife and got a bit of a facelift, and I’m happy to report that, though it has the potential to be a bit dated, this resort is definitely cool.
There are one– and two-bedroom suites as well as a three-bedroom casita with a private garden available. They’ve all been outfitted with classy, modern furnishings, and no two are alike. Some of the two-bedroom suites are themed, and we happened to get the Frank Sinatra Suite. I’m not sure if that was a coincidence or not, given the fact that we’re from Las Vegas, but it was very fitting and a lot of fun. The suite was incredibly roomy with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a large living room, a dining room and a kitchen.
The helicopter skimmed above the earth, high enough so that we could see the desert landscape dotted with cacti and scrub bushes for miles in front of us, but low enough so that the shadow of the red Papillon helicopter was visible above the ground. The helicopter banked to the right for its initial descent, and then, suddenly, there it was: The Grand Canyon.
I’d been to the Grand Canyon several times before, both on the North Rim and the South Rim, but I’d never actually been in the canyon (though not from lack of trying; I’ve applied for back country passes to hike rim to rim but have not been selected). When given the opportunity by Papillon to take the Grand Celebration Tour, a Grand Canyon helicopter tour, to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, about five miles from the West Rim, I was ecstatic. Sometimes it can be hard for me to fully appreciate a destination if I’ve been there time and time again, but this was an opportunity to see a common destination (for me) from an entirely new perspective … and I got to share the moment with our foreign exchange student, which made it even more awesome.
Our morning started off ridiculously early with a pick up at Palms hotel at 5:00 a.m. Like many tour companies in Las Vegas, Papillon sweeps the Strip with a comprehensive hotel pick up so that people don’t have to worry about renting a car. At long last, we finally reached the Boulder City Airport, a small, regional airport, where we boarded our helicopter. We were given the front seats next to the pilot, which meant we had awesome views on the sides and in front of us. After a series of safety checks, our helicopter lifted a few feet off the ground and hovered for a few moments as we got permission to lift off. It’s been years since I rode in a helicopter, and I’d forgotten what a weird and unnatural sensation it is to hover above the ground. Admittedly, we were both giddy with excitement as we lifted off from the ground.
When someone asked me if I wanted to dine al fresco at TREVI, I had to double check to make sure that the restaurant was, in fact, located in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Yes, TREVI is, in fact, in the Forum Shops, but YES, you can eat al fresco there. Oh, Las Vegas, how you continue to surprise me.
This Italian restaurant sits at the junction of three pedestrian walkways in front of an awesome fountain, which means that enjoying the outside views is both climate-friendly and incredibly picturesque.
I recently met up with a group of local bloggers not only to enjoy the ambiance of TREVI but also to taste a few of the meals and cocktails on the menu. I’m not much of a foodie, as you may know, but even I can tell when a restaurant has stellar menu selections. Among my favorites were: