10 days out West

[this was written back in May.. things got crazy and I am just posting it now. -mj]

I somehow managed to convince B to drive 1700 miles to lake Tahoe with me and then ride to the West coast from there. I decided to move a motorcycle that’s been living in the middle of the country to Santa Cruz, CA where close friends H, N and their daughter M have recently relocated. The riding and weather out here are amazing–well worth the storage fees.

The plan was to load the motorcycle into a rental truck, drive 1700 miles to Lake Tahoe and then ride to Santa Cruz. So we rented a Penske, loaded the motorcycle and hit the interstate. We decided on a three day trip: first to Santa Fe, NM, then Vegas and finally stopping in South Lake Tahoe, CA for a rest and to drop off the truck.

Santa Fe is a very quiet town in the off season. We stayed at the La Honda, a historic inn in the center of town. It was not expensive and reasonably well appointed. Santa Fe architecture is unique: mostly earth colored stucco, flat roofs, rounded corners, inset windows and doors. It presumably dates back to the original Native American inhabitants. It makes for a very unique looking town. The town itself is mostly a vacation destination, quiet in the off season. Most of the draw seems to be restaurants and a seemingly endless Native American art market.

Vegas is exactly as I imagined it but a little worse. We stayed at the Luxor, the huge pyramid on the strip. It was not expensive and the staff were genuinely nice. Our first room was clearly used. After a 10 minute wait we were issued a clean room. Our key stopped working. After another 10 minute wait we were issued new keys. The Luxor is huge, full of smoke and just about everyone inside is visibly drunk. We joked with the staff about a clearly drunk patron as he staggered away from the desk: “I believe that man is drunk.” “Most everyone here is” she responded without a hint of sarcasm.

Vegas is only cheap if you’re gambling. We crossed the gaming floor 8 or so times in the course of the night, were were offered comps at least 4 of those times. We had drinks at the bar in the middle of the floor. It was stylish and the waitresses weren’t wearing much but drinks were $12. We decided to hit the strip to have dinner around 9. Just about nothing was open.. Just a few overpriced restaurants in a mall and the mediocre noodle place in the Borgata.

I would characterize Vegas as an overpriced frat party owned and orchestrated by a few huge corporations to amuse a demographic that doesn’t know any better or worse actually finds it entertaining.. That is all assuming you don’t gamble, don’t have ready access to markets with high end restaurants or shopping where you live. On the way out we drove through the old strip and immediately regretted not staying there. It has a more authentic feel: in many ways frozen from a time before corporations owned Vegas. The old strip is frozen aging 50s and 60s glamor.

The Hoover Dam, on the way into Vegas is absolutely worth seeing. It’s really magnificent to just drive through. I’m sure the tour is worthwhile.. it just didn’t fit into our schedule.

In Tahoe we checked into the Inn By the Lake in South Lake Tahoe. We never made it to the top of the lake but I understand the South is more low-end. South Lake Tahoe, CA reminded me of small mountain towns in PA. It was definitely vacation oriented but focused on low cost non-chain motels than high end resorts.

The Nevada-California border cuts through the lake. With a few exceptions there are wedding chapels on the Nevada side right up to the California border. We noticed a few on the California side and asked about them at the hotel. A few are apparently grandfathered from a time when on-the-spot marriage was legal in California.

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