A Very Vegas Christmas

We broke up the two hour drive to Vegas by stopping off at Walmart to do the Christmas food shop. Leaving the generator running while we went inside should give the batteries enough charge to get us the last hour into Las Vegas itself. We managed to get most things we wanted, and decided to head into another shop once we had got there, wanting to get the drive done so we would be there with plenty of time.

Having arrived and made the 600 miles journey without a drive belt, I was quite relieved that my dad had confirmed he would be bringing a replacement with him. We had also purchased nearly everything we needed for Christmas day dinner. I think trying to cook a nice three-course meal for four in any VW camper would be a challenge, and ours is no exception. Due to space limits, we decided to get some food made ahead of time, and we found a park that was right next to the airstrip where we could park up and cook, while watching the planes land. We had a good two hours to wait, so Christmas jumpers came out and music came on, and I went about trying to make a gluten and dairy free lemon drizzle cake. Having made an educated guess at adapting the recipe I set about cooking it in our Remoska, which is what we use for an oven. It has no temperature controls and is the size of a large saucepan. It does a pretty good job, and doesn’t take up much space, with the bonus that it can be run by our generator. The bad thing is that when you are cooking recipes, the timings for a normal oven go out the window, this led to much prodding and jiggling of the cake while we both stared at it and tried to judged what cooked might look like.

In the end, we decided that the cake was done and I moved onto cooking the nut roast. After the coldness of the mountains, it was nice and warm down here and we cooked with the door open. As I was mid chopping up ingredients, a car pulled up and a couple of people got out and handed us two hot meals on a plate and a Christmas card.

They were clearly doing the rounds for the homeless, and thought we needed feeding too! It was a very nice gesture, if not the best looking of meals and I’m sure there were plenty of people that were happy for the charity that night. Not long after, yet another car pulled up and tried to give us more things. We thanked him, but explained that we really had quite a lot of food and would rather he gave it to a homeless person, not a houseless one. He said there were normally lots in this park, but they weren’t around tonight and wished us a merry Christmas before driving off.

By this point, I’d pretty much finished my nut roast, and my parent’s plane which we had been tracking as it dropped down from Canada across the northern US, was dangerously close to landing. We cleaned everything up, packed the van and then got a message from my dad to say they were on the way to the car rental. We diverted briefly to pick up an Amazon package and then made our way there. After some difficulty in locating each other, we managed to meet up in a nearby petrol station. It was a surreal experience to see them actually here with us and our van, but still amazing after what had been 4 months. Their hotel was only a 15 minute drive, and we led the way there so they didn’t have to try and negotiate all the new US driving customs while being horribly jet lagged. Once arrived at the hotel, we stayed up for a bit having a chat, and enjoying a bottle of stout.

Here it is worth a mention that we had stopped off in Vegas at an off licence and bought my dad a bottle of moonshine and ourselves two boxes of weird stouts that were cheap. I had already had one of them in the car park while cooking and while half way through the second the previous evening, I realised that they were actually 11.5%. This probably accounts for while I awoke feeling slightly worse for wear on Christmas day morning.

We had parked across from the hotel car park in a rough area of gravel. The plan was to spend the day looking around Las Vegas, as the following day we would be heading out to Flagstaff. We headed over to their hotel room that morning to swap presents, which mainly consisted of them bringing me things from England that I couldn’t live without, basically a lot of teabags and that new drive belt.

They had also brought us both a mini Christmas stocking, which was pretty cool as I would have been sad to break that tradition. New underwear is a Christmas day must! Finally, I got a new phone as my old one had been slowly dying to the point that I couldn’t get any signal most of the time. This being one of the main points of having a phone, meant it was rendered fairly useless and made me quite irritated. We basically had to rely on Lee’s and I couldn’t use all the data I was paying for. Lee’s present, and my birthday present, was a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon, which we were all booked on for a few days time.

Aimee also enjoyed her first Christmas.

After making use of shower access and getting changed, we were all ready to go out and see Las Vegas. We all piled into the hire car and headed to the strip, driving all the way down it. Having not had much luck with free parking, or in fact any parking, we stopped in an unmade car park right at one end that was about the only free thing we could see. The strip itself is quite long, around 3 miles, although I don’t think we really thought about that. We planned to walk down one side, before crossing over near The Venetian at the bottom and the walking back up the other side.

We started off here, at the south end of the strip.

One of the first of the crazy themed hotels that you pass is The Luxor.

A bit further down and we were back in ‘New York’, and yes the roller coaster you can see is operational.

This is the largest bronze sculpture in the Western Hemisphere, outside the MGM Grand. The hotel used to have a live lion habitat inside, which is now gone apparently.

Not entirely sure what these ones are called, but they definitely make you look twice!

We made a brief detour at Paris to go down one of the side streets and see the Ferris wheel.

After quite a long walk, seeing all these impressive buildings as well as managing to get myself a new fridge magnet and a daiquiri for sustenance, we crossed over the fake Rialto bridge into the Venetian.

You can even get a gondola ride!

This was the point at which we crossed over the road and made our way back up the other side. The other side is The Mirage, with its impressive waterfalls.

The famous volcano which actually erupts, although we weren’t there at the right time to see it.

We weren’t quite at the right time to see the fountains outside The Bellagio either, but these are on every half an hour so we decided to stick around for the show.

It’s quite a dramatic moment. All of a sudden out of the lake you start the see little black jets rise out of the water. And then the fountain starts.

Each jet can move independently and they are set to music as well, naturally being Christmas Day it was a Christmas song. At night I imagine it’s even better, with the underwater lighting!

Glad we had stayed to watch the show, we started heading back down the rest of the strip as darkness fell.

I think it was fair to say we were all pretty tired by the time we got back up to the car, and made our way back to the van to get Christmas dinner on the go. Having pre cooked some of it made it easier, but it was definitely a squeeze getting everyone in Ruby. We enjoyed some nice food with some nice champagne, and I’m pretty proud of what we managed, everything considered. We had initially planned to head back into town to see the volcano erupt at The Mirage, but with the lack of easy parking I don’t think any of us could quite be bothered.

In the end, Mum went to bed and me, Lee and Dad walked over to the Sunset Station, a hotel and casino right next to where we were staying. Lee wanted to play roulette, and it did seem that in Vegas it would be wrong not to have a look inside one of these crazy buildings. It was around 9.30pm when we arrived, not that you would have known it. Designed to be timeless places, you genuinely have no idea of what time it is once you’re inside.

I wanted to try the slot machines, but even the simple ones are a bit much for me! I have no idea what all the millions of flashing buttons do or mean and after feeding in a dollar bill, which I think I lost instantly but am not wholly sure what happened, we moved on.

Lee wanted to play roulette, so we sat around the table and had a go at that, I actually managed to make a profit, so I was pretty happy by the time we left! It had been an unusual Christmas Day.

Boxing Day came, and it was finally time to fit our new drive belt, in theory a quick job. I realised why the belt had snapped as I went to fit the new one. The front bolt had fallen out of the alternator bracket and was allowing the alternator to move slightly. This had in turn put a lot of stress on the adjustment bolt, causing it to shear. Not wanting the problem again with such a hard part to source, my Dad and I popped over to Lowe’s. Not sure how easy it would be to find metric bolts, but once in the correct isle a helpful employee point them out to us. They even have a panel set up so you can screw in the bolt and check you get the right size, I was impressed! Having easily found two replacements, it wasn’t long before everything was refitted and running. It now also turns out that part of the reason we have been getting a poor charge was a lack of tension due to the moving bracket, we are now getting 14v instead of 13v out of the alternator, a great improvement.

Two shiny new bolts in place!

It was a fair drive to Flagstaff and we set off late morning. There was apparently some bad weather heading that way too, and we hoped the helicopter wouldn’t be cancelled. We wanted to stop off and visit the Hoover Dam first, which you wind your way down to with amazing views of Lake Mead.  The dam was incredibly busy, but in the end we managed to drive across the top of it and up to a viewpoint on the other side. Having snapped a few pictures and had some lunch, we were happy to move on the Flagstaff.

As we started making our way back out to the interstate, Lee announced that the clutch cable had snapped. I never heard it go, but as we pulled over to the side and check, it definitely had.

The good news is, that after our breakdown in France for exactly the same reason, which left us stranded for three days, I always carry a spare. We had also managed to stop somewhere that was fairly safe and easy to get access under the van. The bad news is that it was cold, and started to rain. As my dad cheerfully pointed out from where he sat in the nice warm heated hire car, “At least you’ll be underneath so you won’t get wet!”

Nevertheless, grubby and soggy an hour later we were ready to go, having now added quite a significant delay to our journey time but happy that at least we were back on the road.

The majority of the drive was fine, but as we started climbing up towards the town on the last hour or so, it began snow quite hard and the roads were incredibly icy. This meant we were both absolutely freezing, with Lee having to wipe the frost of the inside of the windscreen every few seconds. The wipers had pretty much frozen solid. It also turns out that the radiator scoop had filled up with snow under the van, and this was causing our engine to run just on the fans. Fortunately it still got enough air that it didn’t overheat, but it was definitely running hotter than it should have been as we slowly climbed back up to a 7,000ft elevation.

Eventually we crawled into Flagstaff, the journey having taken us well into the night. All thoughts of cooking had gone out the window and we were parked back up in several inches of snow again. We got our heating on and warming up before we went to a nearby Denny’s to eat. My parents had been trying to contact the helicopter company to see if they would still be flying due to the weather conditions, but hadn’t been able to get through. I tried a different number and spoke to someone who said that the flight was still going ahead but that if we wanted to confirm in the morning we could. With more snow forecast, it seemed liking that things might change so my mum planned to phone the company at 5am when they opened and then phone us if we needed to get up. It was around an hour and a half drive to the Grand Canyon, and we had to be there by 8.30 so it was going to be an early start. Leaving my parents to settle in their nice warm hotel, we went back to a slowly warming van. Sometimes it’s hard to explain just how much I love our little Wallas heater…

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