🏞 Road trip: Driving to Yosemite and Las Vegas

I meant to finish the rest of my U.S. blog posts by now but I haven’t. 😱 I’m in the middle of planning what’s next for my blog after I catch up on all the posts I want to write – at least the long overdue ones. Most of what I want to write include our trip to the United States, a few more wedding posts, and what I’ve been up to in general. I feel like I’m not in a groove, not prioritising blogging like I used to. And funnily enough, I will be speaking about blogging at DDD Sydney next weekend, so I feel like it’s a crime to have a rarely-updated blog. 😆

I realised only yesterday that my previous San Francisco post was missing a lot of photos of the Palace of Fine Arts that I meant to include. 😞 I’ll be rectifying that and instead of writing a new blog post, will update that post accordingly. 🙂

This post, however, recounts our trip to Las Vegas (we drove from San Francisco!), and our short two days there.

A nighttime view of a city, with an arrangement of lit-up water fountains. In the background is a replica of the Eiffel Tower
We stayed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and this was the fountains as seen from our hotel room

So, after we finished up up our trip in San Francisco, we got a rental car and drove from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, then to Mammoth Lakes, where we stayed overnight before driving to Las Vegas.

Nick doesn’t enjoy being the passenger in long drives, but I enjoy it. Although I love road trips, I usually only want to drive if I need to switch with someone else who needs a break, or if I am the only one who can drive – whereas Nick enjoys being the driver. So you can guess the situation our preferences got us in.

Still, that didn’t stop me from opening the door of the car and trying to get in on the wrong side. In Australia, we drive on the left side of the road and our cars have the driver seat on the right. In America, it’s the opposite. I opened the door and was confused. 😆

A man and woman with sunglasses, sitting in the front row of a car, smiling
Nick and I sitting in the car

It didn’t take me too long to get used to things being flipped, though. Nick was driving really close to the right-hand-side for a short time before getting used to driving in roughly the middle of the lane. As I’m right-handed, something about driving on the right in America made it not as weird as I initially expected.

We’d packed some snacks for the trip (of course!) and soon we were on our way. We used a GPS, fearing we would lose phone reception in the mountains once we relied on our phones. I must admit I get really bad when it comes to road trip snacks. I get an endless amount of protein bars and balls, something healthy like fruit and/or nuts, but at the same time get something like a decent packet of crisps or crackers, and then, inevitably, I get a bag or box of candy. Honestly, I usually hardly buy candy, but I feel like a road trip calls for junk food.

A gravel area with brown hills in the background, topped with windmills. In the foreground are a couple of tractors
We spotted some windmills on the way
A navy coloured car parked in a carpark. A man is at the open door on the left side (driver’s side), looking inside.
The car at a rest stop. We chose a comfortable car, given that the drive was going to be quite long.

Driving in America from one state to another is really interesting. It’s boring as hell in Australia because townships are so far apart and there isn’t a lot to “see” in between towns. You just get a lot of trees and road, or even not many trees. It’s the same thing over and over. What I liked about America (and I think this is the case when driving through interstate there) is that there are lots of changes in terrain, small townships here and there, things to kinda see as you drive along. It makes driving for a long period of time much more interesting and enjoyable. Anyone who is reading this who lives there probably still thinks it’s boring as hell, but try Australia and you might appreciate what you see. 😆

A long stretch of road with blue sky, cars a far way into the distance, and light fencing on the sides.
On the road…

Yosemite National Park

We drove to Yosemite, the GPS having dropped out, but we were still able to look at a map on our phones. Once we entered the park, though, we were given a map, which I used as our guide. It was bizarre looking at a physical map for directions. Before technology helped us navigate, I was good at reading a paper map, but somehow I always seem to get GPS directions wrong. 🙄

Granite rock formation with green leafy growth, with a blue sky in the background and a tree to the right
Granite rock is a sign…
A road with a shallow wall to the right, granite rock to the left and green shrubbery on the mountains in the distance
It was a really nice, scenic drive
A view from inside a car of a national park with many trees. There are some cars up ahead and a small building where a woman in uniform is standing outside. Several stop signs can be seen and the word STOP is painted on the road.
Arriving at the entrance to Yosemite
We could see El Capitan as we drove through

We were not in Yosemite for long. Just enough to take a look around. We saw El Capitan and grabbed a bite to eat for lunch. It was ungraciously hot outside and we struggled to find a place to park because there were a lot of people. It wasn’t even a weekend!

A low angle shot of a thin waterfall that can be seen behind a series of trees. The skye in the background is blue.
A waterfall, known as Bridalveil Fall
A large granite rock formation with trees in the foreground and a blue sky in the background
El Capitan – a photo I took from my camera, so it does look like it’s been edited. 😉
A man and woman wearing sunglasses, smiling, with a large granite rock formation in the background.
It was hard getting out of the car because it was hot…
A low angle shot of tall, thin, pointed trees.
Just some super tall trees!

My heart ached to go hiking, and I knew it would not be my last visit. I haven’t gone hiking in a while, or even done a nice walking trail. One day I would love to stay in the area and explore more of the park.

Mammoth Lakes

A scenic landscape showing many trees, resembling forest, and in the distance, grey terrain with patches of green.
I took this on the drive towards Mammoth Lakes. Incredible, right?
A mountainous view off the edge of a road, with many trees covering the landscape.
I took this photo from the car as well. Such beautiful views.
A dusty cliff with deep green mountains in the distance, and the blue sky covered in a huge streak of white cloud.
I feel like I am looking at a painting.
Mountains covered in green trees, with mountains in the background that have patches of snow. The sky is blue but patched with grey clouds.
Catch the snow up there in the mountains?
Mountains covered in green trees, showing a fresh green grassy valley between them. The sky is cloudy
I love this photo because of how much green there is in it! 🌲

We stayed for one night in Mammoth Lakes. It was really just to break up the long drive to Las Vegas, so we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing. We just dropped by our hotel, quite tired. But we still dragged ourselves for a workout at the gym in our hotel room. 😂 And then we walked around and had dinner nearby.

A view from a slightly dirty window of a hotel driveway entrance. Pine trees are scattered throughout the street amongst the houses
The view outside from our hotel room at Mammoth Lakes
A town plaza at twilight. There is a clock tower and restaurants that are lit with rows of small lights. In the foreground are outdoor chairs, some people sitting and a couple walking.
The plaza area around the corner from our hotel. It was very quiet and we found an Italian place to eat at.
A beige oval bowl filled with black squid ink spaghetti, some prawns, and a dash of herbs
Squid ink fettuccine, why not?

The next morning we had breakfast downstairs in one of the restaurants. They got Nick’s order wrong, and we were a bit puzzled but he started to eat it anyway. I think we weren’t fully awake so thought the eggs were just not cooked the way he wanted. Turns out the whole order was wrong – the waiter came by with the correct order, and said, “So, this is your order, and we actually gave you the wrong one, but you can have both.”

We decided we could take the incorrect breakfast away and actually have it for lunch, because there was bread and we could assemble it into a sandwich. Nick was feeling really bad about it, though, and he offered to pay, but they said it was fine. 😆 They provided us with a takeaway box and we brought it in the car with us.

We checked out of the hotel, and continued on our drive!

A stretch of road with several cars visible at a far distance. The landscape is hazy with mountains in the backgrounds
Back on the road
A stretch of road with yellow-green hilly terrain to the sides. Up ahead, the road leads to the left.
A turn in the road, again
A road that turns towards the left and then right again, in an S-shape. Dark-coloured rock scattered with light green weeds are to the right of the road. In the distance is dirt terrain with small green shrubs.
Look at that huge S shape in the road!
An unmarked road leading into the distance, lined at the sides with high formations of dark, almost black rock. There are weeds in the rocks.
Driving between some rather high formations of dark rock
An open stretch of road with light green shrubs to the sides, and dark brown hilly areas in the distance.
An open bit of road again
A stretch of road curving slightly to the left, with dark-coloured high rock on the sides of the road.
Getting through those hills…

We passed a lot of tiny towns along the way, which I got curious about and did an internet search for. Some of them had a population of fifty people or less. There was even one town which actually had a school, and a college. There were some notable alumni who had attended the college too. I was just baffled as to how they could live so far away from even the next town, and basically in what one would call the “middle of nowhere”.

A stretch of road turning to the right. There are power poles on the left side and they connect to each other via thin power lines.
More desert-like areas, but with power lines!
A slightly mountainous desert-like area with a thin road stretching from left to right.
One would class this is a “Middle of nowhere” photo, for sure.
A stretch of road in a desert-like area, curving slightly to the left. There are power poles at the side of the road, with power lines connecting them to other power poles.
Another interesting part of the journey where the road looked a little different
Gravel-like terrain scattered with light-coloured shrubs. In the distance some Joshua trees can be seen. The sky is a dusty blue-grey.
Joshua trees!

We also passed the infamous Area 51, and spotted a sign next to a prison that said not to pick up hitchhikers, I suppose in the event that they were actually criminals who escaped.

Overall, it was a slightly different drive from our drive to Mammoth Lakes because the landscape changed. When we passed the border between California and Nevada, we noticed the road was much smoother and nicer in Nevada. And I randomly got phone reception right on the border. We didn’t stop, but there was a sign saying “Welcome to Nevada”. It passed us so quickly, that we didn’t even notice! We were also a bit short on time because we had to drop the rental car off at a certain time.

A man and woman wearing sunglasses, smiling. They are in a car park in front of a building that reads “Death Valley Nut & Candy Co.”
We stopped by Death Valley to eat the leftover breakfast for lunch
A long stretch of road with desert terrain on the sides. Shallow mountains can be seen in the distance, and a lot of the sky can be seen in the photo. Some white clouds can be seen just above the top of the mountains
We’re on our way again. The clouds are looking lovely

Las Vegas

The intersection of a road seen during the daytime, with street lamps on poles visible at the sides of the road. Ahead of the intersection is a tall tower with a pointed top.
The tall building is known as the Stratosphere
A multi-lane road with some traffic, as seen from the view of a car. There is a vehicle to the right with a billboard on it that reads “Vegas!”. In the distance are palm trees down the left of the road, and some tall hotels.
I must say, none of these photos do the street justice! It’s more exciting in person.
A public road intersection, seen from a car. Cars can be seen travelling in both directions. There is a set of traffic lights hanging from a pole above the height of the cars, and to the right is a large building with “The Cromwell” printed on it
More driving down the strip

We stayed at the Bellagio hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard (known as “the strip”). Coming in, there was a lot of traffic, and we panicked because we had to return our rental car by a certain time. We stopped using the GPS once we were near the strip, because it was quicker and easier for us to use our phones. We had to fill the car up with gas, but struggled to find a gas station nearby. There were also a lot of one-way detours and closed roads that our phones didn’t pick up on, making it frustrating to drive down the strip. Eventually, we figured it out. 😆

I’d also happened to finish my box of Mike and Ike candy. 😳

A walkway down a shopping area, with store entrances on the sides. Lanterns hang from the ceiling and there are some people walking down the walkway.
Some fancy indoor shops
A high view of an area in a hotel with tiled floor. There is a tall pointed stone sculpture in the foreground, man-made gardens and people walking in between the gardens. Some chandeliers and big paper lemons hang from the ceiling.
Inside the Bellagio hotel
A view of a four-lane road, with modern buildings on the left and right. On the left are lanes with traffic travelling in the opposite direction, and on the right are pedestrians walking on the path
Not a super exciting photo, but a photo of the strip!

After we settled in, we spent the evening walking up and down the strip and checking everything out.

A woman in a blue top and black shorts, standing next to a life-size red Coca Cola bottle reading “Share a Coke with Vegas Baby”
A busy pedestrian street with people walking, palm trees down the sides of the street, and a ferris wheel in the background
A small area off the strip
A river with railings, a path, and buildings built up around it, located indoors. The ceiling is painted with blue sky and white clouds to resemble an outdoor setting
The Venetian, modelled after the streets of Venice
A man and woman smiling, with trees in the background that are decorated with fairy lights
A selfie with fairy lights
Fake trees adorned with fairy lights and large baubles made of flowers, forming a canopy over an internal marble floor
Fairy lights inside the Wynn

It was hot, so we stayed hydrated. I have to admit, at this point in the trip, getting iced tea at Starbucks was one of the only viable options. I mean, there’s Coke Zero or Diet Coke, but that’s more of Nick’s thing. 😄

We went to a place called Buddy V’s for dinner. They had great Italian food. The wait was 45 minutes, but if we picked a seat in the bar/lounge we would have a seat instantly! Sometimes I’m so over a traditional restaurant table… so we were happy to go for the lounge.

A white plate of spaghetti carbonara
I chose carbonara!

My photos are not excellent; I took them with my phone and didn’t really put a lot of effort into it. I didn’t take many photos of food on our trip, and if I did, most of them were just for reference so I remembered what I ate, haha.

We also got broccolini but I think that photo was even worse than the two I included here. 😆 I was excited for it, though, because I love having a large serving of green vegetables! 🥦

A white plate of spaghetti and meatballs
Nick had meatballs!

We headed back to our hotel after dinner. If you aren’t aware, the most famous thing about the Bellagio hotel is the display of fountains in front of the hotel. Beginning at some point in the afternoon, until midnight, there is a fountain show every thirty minutes. Music plays from speakers and it’s a different song each time. Lights are also used to make the fountain show even more impressive. We watched the fountain show several times from the front of the hotel, and because we had a fountain view from our room, we could watch it from there as well. You could turn the television on to a certain channel and it would play the music that was being played for the fountain show, so you could hear it.

A nighttime photo of a hotel with many windows, with light-up water fountains mid-spray in the foreground
The Bellagio fountains in action

The next morning we hit the gym as soon as we felt well enough to get up. The gym in the Bellagio hotel was quite sizeable, and I made great use of their stepper machine because I’d never used one that was exactly like a set of stairs. Most of the ones I’ve used are just two panels, one for each foot, and each panel alternates up and down. The thing that bothered me about this particular machine was that the steps didn’t seem horizontally deep enough so I almost had to stand half on the edge of the steps because it felt like the length of my foot wouldn’t fit. So it was difficult when I wanted to walk up the machine’s steps quicker because I couldn’t quite get my footing. 😅 I still had a pretty good workout – since we hadn’t been to the gym regularly (and didn’t really have a lot of access to one), I just worked out all my muscle groups, haha.

An indoor gymnasium with several machines. In the foreground is a wooden rack with headphones hanging from it.
The gym was huge! And of course, we used it. 😛

Back at our hotel room it looked really pretty outside. Even though the fountains are in action at night, it’s a lovely view during the day! There were some people doing maintenance on it.

A daytime view of a large fountain arrangement in a body of water, with an Eiffel Tower replica and other tall buildings in the background
If you look closely, you can see a raft of people doing maintenance work on the fountains

We had heard about Rolling Smoke Barbecue, a steakhouse-style eatery a short distance off the strip, from a couple of YouTube videos, and made our way there as a post-workout meal. For only about $16 we bought a large meal that consisted of mostly different kinds of meat, but we also got waffle fries, mac and cheese, a sizeable salad, bread rolls, and unlimited drink refills. We shared the lot, but were pretty stuffed afterwards. 😆

Two paper-lined baskets filled with cooked chicken, beef, bread rolls, a bowl of salad, a cup of mac and cheese, and waffle fries
This was the giant meal we had at Rolling Smoke Barbecue. The meat was cooked to perfection.

The rest of our afternoon was spent mostly shopping at the Las Vegas Premium outlets, where we bought some clothes for affordable prices. Mostly stocking up on the essentials like underwear and things in our closets that need replacing. 😉 I was, of course, thrilled to get a bra under $20. Those things are expensive as hell. (Hardly any man believes that we have to spend upwards of $65 on one damn bra.) Nick got two nice v-neck shirts to add to his collection, and after trying on at least a dozen jeans, I finally snagged a pair of black jeans to replace my previous ones, which unfortunately started to bag and stretch at the seams.

That evening we went to see “O” at the Bellagio. “O” is a Cirque du Soleil performance that is partially performed in water. I was blown away – it was incredible to watch. Some of the performers performed captivating acts, leaving you practically staring at them without realising some of the other performers doing something just as captivating in the background. The way the stage transitioned was flawless between scenes. I had really been looking forward to the performance, since the last Cirque show I saw, Toruk, was more like a play than an acrobatic show. I was not disappointed by “O”!

That brought our short trip in Las Vegas to an end. We didn’t actually do any gambling the whole time we were there! A good thing, I guess. 😉

Check out the hastag #cookesUSA2018 on Twitter or on Instagram for some highlights of our trip. In the next instalment, I recount our time in Boston, Massachusetts. 🌟

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Yay Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes! Both places I’ve been! It’s a good thing you hit up Yosemite when you did because the park is closed indefinitely due to all the CA fires.

I haven’t been to Vegas YET, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

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I once took a tour of a company called Opto 22 (a tech company that’s actually around the corner from where I live.) and the person who did the tour actually told my group their company did the hydrophonics for the Bellagio hotel (the water fountain) for the movie Oceans Eleven. Not only that, but they also had worked on the submarine for one of James Cameron’s movies (not Titanic nor The Abyss (I believe it’s another movie he had done). When a I read the Bellagio, I instantly thought of that tech company. Glad you guys had fun.

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I think you’ve seen more of the USA in one month than I have ever seen in my life and I live here.

I loved your photos.

I’ve always dreamed of visiting some of those exact places. Believe it or not, I don’t think I’ve ever really desired to visit Las Vegas, because I don’t do the gambling thing, but I probably only would for the scenery.

Those drives though. I would love to see those sights!

I had the same reaction when I visited Australia and got into the car. 10 years later, I visited again, and I did the same…I opened the wrong door, “oh, there’s a steering wheel here? Oh right. I’m in Australia…?”. After being awake for 30 hours, I was wondering if I was hallucinating at that point. Once we started driving, I was freaking out, “#%^*!!!! Why are you on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD?!” 😂😂

I can’t wait to see the rest of your photos from the rest of your trip. Xx

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Haha, when I first landed at San Francisco airport and went to get in our taxi, I started to walk around to the drivers side. *face palm*

It sounds like you had an amazing trip through the US and I can’t wait for the next instalment. Las Vegas is high on my travel list! Very jealous. Did you find it expensive compared to California?

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Reading about your trip to Yosemite reminds me of one of my first dates with Matt where he talked about it for like 3 hours 😂 He loved it there and like you, he wants to spend more time exploring! It looks beautiful and somewhere I’d love to go in the future.

Ahhh, road trips are wonderful 🙌🏼 I’m pretty sad that neither Matt or I can drive – hoping to learn sometime soon because we also want to do a US trip! And I’ve heard that there are just endless roads. 😆

Glad you got to go visit the gym! I never had the chance to visit an American gym in NY – I can imagine it being huge (just like everything else in the US lol)

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I’ve never drove on the right side of the road before but my dad use to when we went to Portugal, and I was always amazed at how quickly adapted to it. It’s the roundabouts that would confuse me (although I don’t think there’s many is the US?).

I would love to visit Vegas some day. I’ve heard it’s really expensive, and I’m not sure how long I would want to stay for (especially if it’s hot!).

I went to see my first Cirque du Soleil show a couple of weeks ago. It was called OVO and it’s currently touring the UK. I thought it was incredible! Nothing like the dodgy circuses I use to go to as a kid!

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