California Days #1 & 2- Las Vegas & Joshua Tree National Park

Hi guys!!

I have two weeks off in between travel nursing assignments and I was itching for another adventure, so I browsed for a cheap flight somewhere. I wasn’t super picky with where to go, I was open to anything. But when I found a cheap round trip flight to Las Vegas, the wheels started turning and voila! I’m going to California! My plan is to do a cheap trip and see as much as I can within a week. I struggled so much with either planning the whole thing in advance or else just going with the flow and not planning. However, I am a huge planner and I get anxiety when I don’t have a trip figured out- anyone else!? I wish I could just book the flight and my first night’s stay then go from there. But I figured I would plan it as much as I could in a week and a half’s time and then I will actually enjoy it more because the planning will already be done. I did a ton of research about all the National Parks in California that I want to visit. Weather permitting, I plan on visiting six or seven national parks this week and I am bringing you along for the ride! I am going to try my best to post daily blog posts as long as I have Wifi and energy to do it at the end of the night. I did it when I was in Thailand and people seemed to love following along on my travels! Some areas where I am going have very limited cell service so I will be depending on Wifi at my Airbnbs in the evenings. Also… I’m going on this trip alone! I have been wanting to do another solo trip for awhile and here is my chance. The last one I did was Banff & Jasper on the way to my first travel nursing assignment. This one is bigger and longer so I am both nervous and excited. My parents are going to be in Las Vegas at the same time as me at the end of the week, so at least I have seeing them to look forward to. I haven’t seen them since our trip to the Dominican in December!

Here is the big route I am taking. It is a lot of driving but I am breaking it up quite a bit so that I don’t drive more than four hours at a time. Enjoy!! πŸ™‚

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My route mapped out (Foothills Visitor Center=Sequoia National Park)

So my trip began on Tuesday, April 2nd when I flew from Thunder Bay to Toronto then to Las Vegas. I flew Air Canada and used my Priority Pass to access the lounge during my three hour layover in Toronto. I LOVE my free lounge pass- I get six free visits per year with my Visa. I get free food and alcohol and a comfy place to relax in between flights. I landed in Las Vegas around 10:45 PM (1:45 AM back home) and took an Uber to where I stayed last night- the Excalibur Casino. I literally only checked in then slept before showering and leaving early this morning. I wanted a cheap room near the airport and wasn’t picky about it being on the strip or not. BUT…I don’t know if you remember my post from Las Vegas a year ago…I still had quite a few MyVegas points from the slot machine apps I played to get free stuff. If you want more information, that blog post is here for you to get free stuff in Vegas too! I had enough points to use 10,000 for a free comp room at the Excalibur. All I had to pay was the $40 resort fee (charged daily at every hotel on the Strip). And funny enough my room was upgraded for free! So my room only costed me $40 all together! That’s not bad considering it was right on the Strip and close to the airport and car rental place.

Landing in Vegas

View from my hotel room in the Royal Tower

This morning, I was up bright and early (thank you jet lag) to pick up my rental car and hit the road! I first headed straight to Walgreens to buy an American SIM card to use while I am outside of Canada. It was only $40 US for a pre-paid T-Mobile plan that included unlimited data (for my Google maps), unlimited texts to US and Canada and unlimited international calls. Way cheaper than roaming with my plan from back home! I booked my car rental on Hotwire.com for a midsized car, it was only $150 CAD for unlimited mileage. I made sure to bring my insurance paperwork with me as my car insurance covers for rentals; that saved me money on purchasing the company’s insurance. I was given a Kia Soul which is hilariously enough one of my least favourite cars because I think they are so ugly! It drives nice though and it’s good on gas so that’s what matters I suppose. I wanted to stop at a Target to buy a big case of water for the week and some food and snacks to keep in the car as some areas I’m visiting have limited food options. However, there are no Targets or Walmarts etc. on the way from Vegas to Joshua Tree. I will do it later on today or tomorrow!

The SIM card and plan I bought!

Just here to say I’m proud of myself for doing this trip πŸ™‚

My dorky little rental car

Okay! Finally time to start this road trip! Here is today’s plan for driving… 8.5 hours minus stopping along the way!

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The first national park I’m visiting is Joshua Tree National Park. It is 800,000 acres split between the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert. I actually drove straight through the Mojave Natural Reserve on the way here and it feels like I’m on the other side of the world. These trees (Joshua trees) look like they are straight out of a Doctor Seuss book! I stopped at the Visitor’s Centre to make a game plan for the day and spoke with a park ranger about some of it. So the good thing about visiting Joshua Tree in the spring is that the cacti are in full bloom; they call it super bloom. It also can get very hot in the park- make sure you have a lot of water, sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun. Bring hand sanitizer for the outhouses because there is no running water in them. Also, something I would recommend is to wear pants to protect from the cacti. Some breeds of cactus shed their thorns and it can puncture your skin, even through clothing. There are no gas stations in the park and very limited food options as well. If you are easily motion sick, take a non-drowsy gravol because the roads are windy and there are a lot of dips up and down through the Mojave Natural Reserve. At the entrance, I purchased an $80 Annual National Park Pass which will save me money this week for all of the park entry fees- plus it’s good until May 2020 so I can keep using it throughout the year! Another piece of advice, fill up your gas tank before entering the park just in case; there are no gas stations inside the park. There is also no cell service so if you need a GPS, download the offline maps on Google Maps ahead of time like I did! Wear grippy shoes so that you don’t slip and fall when you are climbing all the boulders for the perfect shot! Drive carefully because there are TONS of places to pull over to the side to take pictures and people are darting in and out of traffic to do so. Okay, here are the beautiful pictures of Joshua Tree. Read the captions under the photos for details.

A nice drive and a wonderful change of scenery

First sign of Joshua trees

Mojave Desert

Straight out of a Dr Seuss book!

Exciting!!!!

Skull Rock- do you see it?

LOL what a fail

You can jump and climb all the boulders

Everyone wants to see Skull Rock

I drove up to Keys View Lookout

Keys View Lookout

Keys View Lookout

Love this shot!! A nice lady took it for me

Pretty sure my lens was fogged up

One more cuz why not

This is the road up to the Lookout- an elevation of over 5000 feet. My ears were popping the whole way up and down! Also, apparently on a very clear day you can see all the way to Mexico

Arch Rock!!

Cholla Cactus Garden- in super bloom!

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

Every thing is in bloom right now

Cholla Cactus Garden

I am so glad that I decided to see Joshua Tree. I wasn’t going to but I’m happy I did! I could have spent all day there. I really want to return and camp there one day- the stars are supposed to be an unbelievable sight from the park. Once I tore myself away from Joshua Tree NP, I headed back to my car and started the second part of my drive today- to the Pacific Coast! Tomorrow I am driving up the coast to Big Sur so I figured tonight I would get a head start and drive farther to Santa Barbara where I booked a hostel for the night. It’s my first time ever staying in a hostel so that’s exciting! I booked a bed in an all female dorm room for only $45 CAD. I will add some pictures of it- it’s really cute. The drive to Santa Barbara was pretty busy but not as bad as I was prepared for. I think the traffic going the opposite way was much worse! I drove right past Hollywood, Calabasas (where the Kardashians live) and the surrounding areas. Traffic was quick but I took my time and sped up once I became more comfortable. The saddest thing about today was that I timed my arrival to Santa Barbara all wrong. As I was driving, I was watching the sun set in the west which was gorgeous but my goal was to walk along the pier in Santa Barbara for sunset. If I didn’t have to stop at Walgreens this morning I think it would have been timed perfectly, but oh well! Just as I reached the highway on the coast, the sun was down and I couldn’t even see the ocean. If I’m awake early enough in the morning, I will try and walk down to the pier for a coffee or something before I hit the road again.

Free wine for being a VIP Expedia member! I’ll take it!

Well! That’s my first couple of days! I am a bit nervous to sleep in a hostel tonight but it will be a good experience. I don’t know if it’s jet lag or what but I have like no appetite since I got here. All I had today was a drink from Starbucks and a hamburger and iced coffee from McDonalds. Very cheap though! I might walk across the street and get food before bed yet… but my bed is calling!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

xoxo

Hales

Read Day #3’s post here.

One thought on “California Days #1 & 2- Las Vegas & Joshua Tree National Park

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