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Saguaros, Snow, and Sin City: Adventures in Arizona and Nevada

Saguaros, Snow, and Sin City: Adventures in Arizona and Nevada

Can't believe we're more than halfway through April already! We've been hanging out in Utah the past few weeks, making our way through the Mighty Five national parks here, which has been incredible. But before we get to that, we need to finally share about our travels back in March!

March was a pretty busy month. I had to fly to two different conferences for work while Joey held down the fort with Hollie. In between, we explored a few places across Arizona and Nevada – two major RV snowbird destinations – not spending nearly enough time in either, but I'm sure we'll be back.

We had a lot of different experiences (and weather whiplash): from camping among the saguaros outside Phoenix in 75-degree weather, to almost getting snowed in at the Grand Canyon, to having a super fun (and late) night out in Vegas, to recovering and exploring Nevada's beautiful Valley of Fire State Park.

Here's how we spent March in the southwest snowbird states of Arizona and Nevada!


Gold Canyon

After leaving New Mexico, we recharged for a couple nights at Casa Malpais RV Park just acrosss the border in Springerville, Arizona. After boondocking (dry camping with no hookups) for a while, we wanted a place to charge our RV battery, dump and refill our tanks, do laundry, and take advantage of long, hot showers.

This RV park wasn't anything super special, but the staff was nice, we had full hookups, and they had great showers and a rec room with a pool table, which was fun. Other than chores, we didn't really do anything here except relax.

Then on Sunday, March 3, we headed out to finish our drive to the Phoenix area. I was flying out of Phoenix the next day for work, and we planned to camp at a dispersed site outside the suburbs, in an area called Gold Canyon.

The rest of the drive along Highway 60 was beautiful. It's amazing how many unexpectedly scenic drives there are in the west.

We got to the Gold Canyon Dispersed Camping area, which is a huge, popular free camping spot out in the desert with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It was warm and beautiful outside, and so much greener than we expected! I'm not sure if that's what it looks like year-round or just in the spring, but it was gorgeous. The sunset was amazing. And the saguaros!! We're obsessed with saguaros now; they're so cool and funny with their different shapes.

I was a bit sad that I had to leave the next day, it was such a pretty place.

The next morning we made the hour-long drive to Phoenix Sky Harbor, and I was off to Las Vegas for a quick work trip – it was only a few days; I was back late Wednesday night.

When I got back, we finished the work week, soaked in the sun and warm weather at our campsite (70+ degrees felt amazing!) and did a sunset hike to the Wave Cave nearby. This was a short (3 mile total) and fun hike that starts out easy, a gentle climb among lots of saguaros. 🌵

Then the trail suddenly gets really steep during the last half mile as you climb a mountain to the Wave Cave, a cool cave with a wave-shaped rock formation that you can sit on and look down at the valley below. It was a beautiful view and totally worth the hike up there.

Grand Canyon

That weekend, we left Gold Canyon and drove a few hours north to a different canyon – the Grand Canyon!

I haven't been to the Grand Canyon since I was 14, and Joey had never been, so we were super excited to see it. We weren't sure how busy it would be in the off-season, but it looked like there were a good amount of dispersed camping spots in Kaibab National Forest right down the road from the south rim, so we banked on getting one of those.

This ended up being one of our favorite places to camp – along Forest Road 302 by Tusayan, a little town right outside the park entrance, there are a number of spaced-out sites among the pines where you can pull off and camp for free.

We maneuvered the Airstream through a slightly tricky entrance in between the trees to our spot – a big space with a large rock firepit. It was so quiet, and we were far enough away from the next closest site that we couldn't hear or see anyone else, besides the occasional car or ATV driving by. We even let Hollie be off-leash at times, which we can almost never do. It was super nice.

It was cold though! During the day it was decent (50s) but it dropped below freezing at night, which was a little sad after coming from warm, sunny Phoenix. We've had a lot of varying temps this winter in the southwest – we thought it would be warmer in general being so far south, but it's actually been chillier than expected most of the time. I think to get truly consistent warm weather in the winter, you need to stay in either southern Arizona or Florida.

Anyway, time to explore the Grand Canyon!

We got there on a Sunday afternoon, and once we settled in, we drove into the park to get our first look at the canyon. The main visitor center parking lot looked packed, so we kept driving down the road to the Yavapai Point overlook.

The phrase "photos don't do it justice" applies to a lot of places, but I think it's especially true for the Grand Canyon. There's just a feeling you get when you're standing on the rim that can't be conveyed unless you're physically there – the feeling of being at the edge of something with unbelievable depth and vastness.

It's such a cool experience getting your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon when driving by, and even better the first time you're walking up to it. I had forgotten how awe-inspiring it is. Joey said that people don't actually hype it up enough – which sounds strange, but it's kind of true! I feel like since it's so popular, everyone knows it's a "must-see" place in America, you see pictures of it all the time, etc, you kind of get numbed to the idea... and then you actually go, and it's amazing.

It was still pretty busy for the off-season, but I'm sure nowhere close to what it's like in the summer. There were a couple times we had to look around for parking for a while, but overall we didn't have any trouble.

After work over the next couple days, we explored most of the South Rim viewpoints. One day we drove along Desert View Drive, stopping at overlooks and eventually reaching the Desert View Watchtower at sunset.

Another evening, we walked part of the Rim Trail from the Bright Angel Lodge to Maricopa Point. This was a cool walk because you could see the Bright Angel Trail meandering down from the lodge deep into the canyon. Someday, I want to do one of the trails to the bottom.

Maricopa Point ended up being our favorite overlook, with canyon views in almost every direction. And it was quiet, unlike many of the other overlooks – we got to soak in the views for a while with only a couple other people there.

We'd originally planned to stay at the Grand Canyon all week, but there ended up being a winter storm watch. On Wednesday, we woke up to the beautiful sight of snow flurries. It started snowing pretty hard for about 15 minutes, covering the ground (and Hollie) around our campsite, then it stopped and melted quickly.

But there was a higher chance of snow in the forecast for the next couple days, and since I had a flight to catch in Vegas that weekend, we didn't want to risk getting stuck. So that afternoon, we drove to the visitor center to get our souvenirs, looked at the canyon one last time at Mather Point, then packed up and left.

We drove a couple hours to the town of Kingman, Arizona, to a KOA where we stayed until the weekend. This was another "recharge" campground since the freezing and cloudy weather had drained our battery. It was still cold and wet here, so we just hunkered down for a few days.


Red Rock Canyon

On Saturday, we drove another two hours the rest of the way to Las Vegas. A stretch of the drive to Kingman and then to Vegas was one of the roughest roads we'd been on – a combination of I-40 (hello again) and US-93. It smoothed out after a while, but the potholes were BAD at first.

But this was another cool scenic drive once we got to the Hoover Dam area – driving through rocky mountains and cliffs, overlooking the Colorado River way down below. We couldn't see the dam from the highway, and didn't stop there this time (apparently you have to go through security/vehicle checks, and we didn't want to deal with that since we had the RV) but we saw some neat bridges and lots of power lines/infrastructure all around. I'm sure it would be a cool stop someday.

Finally, we started heading down the mountain and saw the Las Vegas skyline in the distance! We drove past the city to Red Rock Canyon Campground on the other side. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is super cool because you're right outside the city, only a 10-minute drive to the closest town/shopping area, but it feels like a different world – a stunning, quieter desert environment. It's totally worth a visit if you're in Vegas.

The campground was basic (dry camping) and we didn't have cell signal, but it was nice and in a good location – right down the road from the park entrance. Since I'd be missing out on Red Rock Canyon all week, we got set up and then took a sunset drive around the scenic loop. You have to have a timed reservation to drive into the park during the day now, but not if you go after 5pm. Our America the Beautiful national parks pass worked here, which was nice.

The scenic drive was gorgeous – as the park name suggests, the rocks are stunningly red and the canyons are full of colorful patterns. There are a bunch of pull-offs and trails along the loop. We walked around a quiet one and saw petroglyphs on one of the rocks – handprints from ages ago!

The next morning, we got up super early (sorry Joey) to drive to the airport for my 7 AM flight to San Francisco for work. After he dropped me off, since it was still dark outside, Joey drove down the strip for the first time, getting his first glimpse at all the bright lights and huge hotels. Then he watched the sunrise back at Red Rock Canyon.

Viva Las Vegas!

I got back from my work trip on Friday night. Earlier that day, Joey had moved the Airstream to Las Vegas RV Resort, an RV park right in the city, 15 minutes from the strip. Although the road noise was constantly loud and the RV sites were packed together, this park had really nice amenities – a good laundry room, pool, and showers. It looked like a lot of long-term people were camping here.

Saturday morning, I settled back in, did some laundry, took a long hot shower, and then re-packed our stuff. It was time to take on Las Vegas!

We wanted to have a proper night out in Vegas since Joey hadn't been there before: staying on/near the strip, walking to all the hotels and casinos, and not worrying about driving or Ubering back to the campground. And we had Marriott points to use, so luckily we were able to get a night at the pet-friendly Westin Las Vegas basically for free, which is right off the strip only a couple blocks from the Bellagio.

But first, before we went to the hotel, we walked over to check out Sam's Town hotel & casino, which was right down the road from our RV park.

Joey wanted to play some blackjack, and we thought this might be a more low-key (and less expensive) place to play than hotels on the strip. Sam's Town was pretty cool – it's been around since the 70s, is western-themed, and mostly looks like an old but classic casino on the inside. But it also has this giant, airy room inside with trees, a waterfall, and fake animals that move around.

Anyway, we ate lunch there first, and then Joey sat down at one of the blackjack tables. They let me sit there with him even though I wasn't playing since it wasn't busy. (I like playing poker for fun with friends and family, but am a bit intimidated by it in a casino setting lol). Joey used to play blackjack online for fun a lot, so he's got a pretty good grasp on how to play and when to bet.

Long story short, we stayed for a couple hours and Joey ended up turning $100 into $800!! We were NOT expecting to win that kind of money and were super excited. We decided to splurge and go see a show that night – since it was Joey's winnings, he chose the Penn & Teller magic show, since he's a big fan of them.

We very excitedly went back to the campground, grabbed our stuff and Hollie, and Uber'd to the hotel, leaving the truck and Airstream behind. The hotel was really nice and in a great spot, right off the center off the strip. We got settled in, made sure Hollie was all set and comfy, then headed out – stopping for a drink in the hotel bar while we finished watching the NC State basketball game.

Hollie settling in & watching the game

As we walked over to the strip, a stunning sunset lit up the clouds behind the Bellagio while the fountains were going off. We had dinner at Gordon Ramsay Burger inside Planet Hollywood – we had to wait a while, and our expectations were kinda low because I feel like celebrity chef restaurants aren't usually great, but it was actually delicious! The burgers were super juicy and tasty. And a big picture of Gordon Ramsay himself watched over the diners as they ate, lol.

Then we Uber'd over to the Rio for the Penn & Teller show, making it there just in time. I didn't get any pics, but it was a lot of fun – they were super funny and did a bunch of cool (and often head-scratching, and sometimes odd) magic tricks.

After the show, we went back to the hotel to refresh and check on Hollie, then headed back out to the strip. It was around midnight at this point, but the night was young for Vegas.

First we walked through the Bellagio and checked out the conservatory, which was sort of Disney/Alice in Wonderland themed and looked beautiful. It was totally decked out in flowers and statues of giant teacups, and smelled amazing.

Then I introduced Joey to the verbena drink at the Cosmopolitan's Chandelier Bar, which is this margarita-like drink where you eat a flower bud that gives your face and tongue this weird, tingling, numbing sensation. Then the drink tastes different after you eat the flower. I'd first tried it at a different work trip a few years back, and remember enjoying it more then lol – this time I wasn't a fan, but Joey liked it. The Chandelier Bar was beautiful, but super crowded and not our vibe, so we left after the one drink.

Then we went on a mission to find another good blackjack table. We went across the street to the Paris, then over to the Flamingo, where Joey found a table. It was a lot busier here, and I was getting hungry, so I grabbed pizza and a milkshake at the Flamingo's food court while Joey played. I'm always happy to just wander around the labyrinth of hotels and casinos in Vegas, people-watching and grabbing food and drinks along the way.

After that, it was past 2 AM, and I was getting pretty tired. Joey was still going strong and wanted to stay out, so I made him to promise not to lose all the money we'd just won, then I walked the two blocks back to our hotel and snuggled with Hollie in the comfy bed.

Joey's first night in Vegas ended up being an all-nighter where he won over $1500 at blackjack in total (including the Sam's Town winnings). I couldn't believe it when he finally got back to the hotel at dawn and told me how much he won. It was insane! I'm convinced it was the Beginner's Luck Angel of Las Vegas, who lets you win a bunch of money your first time just to get you hooked on gambling. It was time to get out of there and call our night out a win.

Exhausted, we got Starbucks from the hotel lobby and hung out in our room for as long as possible. But we had to check out of our campground at noon, so after a while we said goodbye to the strip and went back "home" to the Airstream.

Valley of Fire

After getting almost no sleep, the stress of packing up and prepping to tow the Airstream to a new location kinda sucked. But luckily, we only had to go 45 minutes away to the desert outside Valley of Fire State Park.

The dispersed camping area we chose was popular but quiet, and we got lucky with someone leaving just as we were arriving, so we took over their spot along the road. After setting up and going grocery shopping, we did basically nothing but sleep until the next day.

It was a mostly uneventful week here just working and relaxing. The highlight was our evening exploring Valley of Fire – another stunning park in the Vegas area. It's $15 to enter, and not a huge park, but has a couple of very scenic drives and a handful of good hiking trails and viewpoints.

The name is accurate: you drive into the park from above, looking down into a valley filled with these super bright red rocks. It's absolutely beautiful and also has probably the coolest campground we've ever seen. It was sadly booked up the week we were there, but it's definitely on our campground bucket list now. The smaller tent sites were the best-looking ones, tucked among the bright red rocks.

We drove through the park, climbing up in between towering red cliffs and overlooking an amazingly colorful valley. At the end of the road, we parked and hiked the White Domes Trail, a short but fun and beautiful hike (and Hollie got to come too!)

You start by descending a steep, sandy, rocky hill in between canyon walls. At the bottom, there are remains of an old set from the 1965 movie The Professionals. We climbed another rock nearby to get a great view of the whole area, then continued the trail through an even narrower path between canyon walls. You emerge from the canyon back into the open and loop back around to the beginning of the trail.

I wish we'd done more in Valley of Fire (there are a few other hikes that look great too) but we'll definitely be back. It's such a cool and colorful place!

That's about it for Arizona and Nevada. From green saguaros and summer-like weather, to Grand Canyon snow, to neon Las Vegas, to fiery red rocks out in the desert, I think we made the most of our short time there.

Thanks for reading as always! We miss everyone a lot, and have especially missed being in Raleigh during March Madness this year. Stay tuned for a Utah post coming in the next few weeks. 🏜️