Video of our trip!! This was really fun project..
DAY 1: RENO, NEVADA
When I was a kid, I vividly remembered walking through Circus Circus in Reno, clutching my mother’s hand so I wouldn’t get sucked into the crowds of people slithering through the booths of games. Back then, Reno was like a vibrant mini-Vegas. During this trip, I had discovered that Reno has become a bit of a ghost town. The streets were practically empty except for a few homeless people parked on sidewalks, the staggering panhandling drunky drunks, and the occasional tourist couple. The casinos were dead and the employees looked pathetically bored and depressed. Many buildings looked like they hadn’t been updated since I was still in the womb. Exploring downtown Reno, signs of life and new energy seemed to come from street art and businesses fueled by Burners. Reno is the big launch pad for those attending Burning Man. We also happened to arrive at the beginning of Burning Man 2017 so we saw many starting their journey into Black Rock City. Although sad, it was still interested to see the old town again. Cool in a creepy wayback machine kinda way.
Where we stayed: I toyed with the idea of staying at the Burner Hostel, but nixed the idea due to location and their Burner fee that they charge on top of the room rental (?!?). I opted to stay at Circus Circus because it was dirt cheap and I was hoping to revisit for nostalgic reasons.
Where we ate: Little Nugget Diner 233 N. Virginia St. – Open 24 Hours!
Sure the entrance is a little depressing and somewhat sketchy in the late hours, and there may be a guy doped up and nodding off at the counter, but it was super cute in a strange way.
Why it’s awesome: Good, cheap diner food. Super friendly staff. $3.25 for two large pancakes and an egg. And the fries are really good!
Other stuff we saw:
Nevada is a green state, so we decided to check out The Dispensary (100 W Plumb Ln). Arrive early to avoid a wait. Prices are lower than other places and the girl at the counter was extremely helpful, patient, and full of knowledge.
We walked all the way back to the hotel, approximately two miles. As New Yorkers, the walk itself was no big deal, but the desert heat almost had us calling an Uber. We enjoyed lots of street art along the way and saw a few cute shops selling fun outfits that weren’t open yet (we were early). Hashtag Burning Man.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
We really only had a few hours of daylight in Tahoe as my travel mate Lhachi had an afternoon flight arrival, but still enough time to see some beautiful things.
Where we stayed: Beach Retreat and Lodge in South Lake Tahoe. The sell: not terribly pricey, right on the beach (really lovely at sunrise), central to town and restaurants, has restaurant/bar/food options.. and a pool we didn’t use. They also had kayak/boat rentals. We wanted to paddleboard but the water was pretty cold!
Where we ate: My Thai – I’m very picky with my Thai food and this place is legit. Standard Thai menu with some Chinese mixed in. Staff also very nice.. this place was packed for a good reason. Luckily we were seated very quickly, as some had to wait for a table.
Stuff we saw: We went to Emerald Bay for sunset.. although it wasn’t the best spot for a sunset, it offered a spectacular view of a bay within the enormous lake. Also nearby were the Eagle Falls and the Vikingsholm Mansion. We didn’t have much time to do any real exploration. We stopped by Inspiration Point for more pics.
DAY 2: MURPHY’S, CALIFORNIA
Lunch Stop at Alchemy Cafe which is about 20ish minutes from Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Highlights: lovely lunch menu, wine list, and beer list. The food was incredibly fresh and made with local ingredients. I took half my sandwich with me on the road for my later afternoon snack.
CALAVERAS BIG TREES STATE PARK
We stopped here for a quick stroll in through the forest of big trees! I could have easily spent hours here among the gorgeous trees.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Where we stayed: I chose to book a tent at Housekeeping Camp. I read on the site that the campsites were first come first served, so I wanted to reserve a spot. The tents are already set up with beds. Ours had one full bed and two bunk beds. We did have to rent bedding as we didn’t bring our own. The tents aren’t fully closeable, so you are still vulnerable to nature. It was quite an experience. There were many families and large parties in the tent village. Bear proof food boxes were provided.
We were warned a million times verbally and with posted signs about locking up the food because of bear invasions. At check in I had asked the staff if they had ever seen a bear. One boy he said he had only spotted a bear once, which was comforting. Around 3am, my friend woke up me up in a panic, saying that she hears something outside the tent. We had forgotten to lock up a bag of cherries that we had taken on a short walk to around the campsite. Three of us were freaking out as we listened to the bear ravage the bag of cherries. In the end, we found out it was a family of raccoons. It was a hard lesson on bear proofing the tent.
The next night was just as dramatic as a family of 2603747 moved into the camp site, complete with blasting music and kids running and and out of our tent. Our direct tent neighbors that shared a wall happened to be the rude, loudmouthed, obnoxious drunks of their crew. Lucky us. Long story short, we became fast enemies from 10pm until about 1am, yelling at each other through the tarp wall. We had our share of wild animals at Yosemite.
Dining: We did not do the real camping thing, like cooking over a fire, as we were always on the move and couldn’t really hoard any food and supplies. I made sure we always had food options mapped out. You could drive to these sites, but there was a free shuttle that took you to all the major sites.
– Yosemite Lodge Food Court: We ate here for breakfast. They had everything you could think of. I had eggs, bacon, and pancakes!
– Half Dome Village/Curry Pavilion area for Dinner: Here you will find many options from grill fast food style, pizza, and a sit down restaurant with entrees and a salad bar. The gift shop had ridiculously cheap beer, wine, and snack options too. We picked up some firewood and a S’mores Kit for the night also.
Things we did:
The first evening: We drove around and ran into a place that had a lovely view of Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan.
In the morning: We took a shuttle to the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls which was absolutely beautiful. We made many stops along the way for pics and even a dip in the water at the top of the falls (there are No Swimming signs that we didn’t see until later).
We were directed by the staff to take the “easier and safer” John Muir Trail back down the mountain. For the record, it’s a total lie that they created to divert the traffic. It was neither easier nor safer. I burned my fair share of calories that day.
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Where we stayed: John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon Park, which is next to Sequoia National park. At check in I was told it was a tent, which had surprised me. From the pics, it looked liked a solid cabin. The tent cabin turned out to be quite luxurious except for the absence of electricity. The beds and down bedding were hotel quality and the solid walls with screened windows were a huge upgrade from the Yosemite tent. And it was actually quiet. No bears. No unruly drunk humans.
Where we ate: Grant Grove Restaurant. Really because there weren’t any other choices nearby. The night we arrived, we had checked in so late that it was already closed at 9pm, so we starved through the night. I was so hangry I just went straight to bed.
Things we did:
General Sherman Tree: The world’s largest tree. Disappointingly, it was fenced off and there was a line of tourists waiting to take a pic in front of the tree. It was still quite majestic but the area had a Disney kinda feel, swarmed with tourists and little kids running around.
Moro Rock Trail, Moro Rock: Of all the parks, this quickly became my favorite. I loved the giant sequoias and the sweet smell of the earth as we walked through the trail to Moro Rock. We were trying to get there for the sunset. The highest point of the rock was at 6725 feet, literally taking your breath away as the oxygen thins out. There were still lots of people making their way up the 300ish stairs to the top, stopping for frequent breaks to catch a breath. By the time the sun went down, people started rushing back down the steps when the lightning and thunder started creeping in.
Bakersfield and Ridgecrest – I had mapped these as they were the suggested stops for food and/or gas. We ended up picking up gas along the way and skipping lunch as we had a serious breakfast.
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Some say to skip Death Valley, but I beg to differ. After being in the different landscapes of California and Nevada, Death Valley was pretty amazing. There were times that were literally jaw dropping, awesome, eerie, and exciting. It was definitely worth the stop on the way to Vegas.
Where we stayed: Amargosa Opera House and Hotel
When I was initially trying to book a place, I found that there were few nearby options. Furnace Creek was centrally located, but out of my budget for just a place to rest our heads in between stops. I had found an Air BnB which was cute, but the owner stated that there was no running water. I read reviews of the Amargosa Hotel which all stated that the place was no frills and a bit creepy but in a cool way. I thought it’d be interesting for a stay. Two of us fell head over heels in LOVE with the place as it is rich in history and super interesting in many ways. Do take some time to read about the late owner Marta Becket and do the $5 Opera House tour. If you are into the arts, you will really appreciate it. I was so happy I chose this place for the night.
Where we ate:
Corkscrew Saloon: Nothing special, but it was food. Food was hard to come by, well.. really, there was nothing else around for miles, and we were STARVING!! We enjoyed some cold beers, wine, and chicken fingers.
Amargosa Cafe: LOOOVVEEEE this place! From the outside I thought it would be a little hole in the wall joint, but on the inside it felt like a curated hipster cafe in Brooklyn. The food is (almost) all locally sourced and super fresh.
What we saw:
Originally, google maps had mapped out a path to our hotel first, but during the trip, good old google maps took us through the park instead, so we ended up stopping to see some things farther from the hotel before we checked in. Since we were four hours behind in our journey of the day, we weren’t able to see all the sites on my wishlist, but we did intentionally skip some of the less spectacular things due to time constraints. These were well worth the visit.
– Zabriskie Point
– Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
– Badwater Basin
Things we skipped, mostly due to time:
Ubehebe Crater (too far), Mosaic Canyon Trail (too hot for a hike, plus the guy at the gift shop said to see the other sites first), Artist’s Palette, Golden Canyon, Sidewinder Canyon.
I’ve been to Vegas plenty of times, so there isn’t much to write about that hasn’t already been explored. I dropped off my crew at the hotel on the strip and dropped the rental back at the airport 20ish minutes away, then returned to the strip for the usual sins.