or, how we visited six national parks in the southwest US in two weeks, hiked rim to the river and back at the Grand Canyon in a single day, played in Vegas, and got the stomach flu, all on one unforgettable vacation...
Our Route - starting and ending in Las Vegas, Nevada
Friday April 28 - RDU to Las Vegas
We flew from RDU to Las Vegas on the red eye, departing at 7:45 pm. We encountered quite a bit of turbulence apparently due to storms in the central US, so the flight was scary in parts for we flying wimps. We did get to see a good in-flight movie, however, Fun with Dick and Jane. I'm a huge Jim Carrey fan, so that was a nice treat, and for the first time, we remembered to bring headphones so we could listen for free.
Gaining three hours of time as we crossed the country, we arrived at the Las Vegas airport at 9:30 pm Pacific time, which, of course, was 12:30 am Eastern time, later than we ever stay up (old fogeys that we are). Before landing, it was a thrill to see the lights of Las Vegas suddenly come into view from up above. After seeing the scattered lights of small towns prior, Las Vegas lights were a completely different experience. This was sure to be the first of several "WOW" experiences on this trip.
The Las Vegas airport was huge, and I got to see my first ever slot machines. It reminded me of my first visit to New York City; the small-town girl peering up at the huge buildings syndrome. Pretty cool.
Picking up our rental car proved to be quite an adventure. After retrieving our luggage, it was 10 o'clock, and we were just a couple of minutes too late to check in at the National car rental counter at the airport. We had to pile onto a packed shuttle bus with many other travelers to get to the main National lot, where we checked in. The clerk told us we could have our choice of any intermediate-sized car, which had us pretty stoked, but when we headed out to the lot, there was not a single car in the intermediate section! We spoke to another couple waiting there, and they informed us that more cars were coming. After waiting around for awhile with the line of people waiting for cars behind us continued to grow, we were finally presented with a cute PT Cruiser; however, we were disappointed to find that the car was a lot smaller than what we'd assumed a "mid-sized" car to be (much smaller than my Honda Element), and some of our bags would have to go in the back seat; not the most secure situation. But, it was too late to wait for the "perfect" car to arrive, so we forged onward until we discovered the straw that broke the camel's back: no car key!
The lack of a key proved to be a blessing in disguise, as when we finally got the attention of the National representative who was working the lot and trying to appease the growing line of couples waiting for an intermediate-sized car, he put us into a full size Chevy Impala (white, and with California tags) that had just come into the lot. The gas mileage wouldn't be quite as good as the PT Cruiser, probably, but the trunk was cavernous and would hold our two huge rolling duffles and our other smaller bags, so we were very pleased and took off.
Checking out of the lot, Barry had to hand our rental agreement and his driver's license to a National representative for one last check. He hastily got out his wallet, took out his license, and handed it over. When the clerk gave everything back to him, Barry threw it all into a pile on my lap to deal with later. Because I was trying to locate our Holiday Inn Express on our GPS, I let everything sit in my lap. At this point, the local time was close to 11 pm, 2 am eastern time, so we weren't thinking all that clearly, and being in a strange town, were probably both a bit disoriented. After dealing with the GPS and instructing Barry on the first few turns, I went to clean up the mess in my lap, but Barry's driver's license was not to be found. In a panic, I went through all the papers in my lap over and over, but no license. We stopped in a parking lot and looked everywhere in the car but couldn't find the license anywhere. It was starting to dawn on us how serious a situation this was. Without his license, Barry couldn't drive for the two weeks of our trip, but the worst of it was that he would need the license to get through security at the Vegas airport on our way home. I was getting pretty anxious at this point, and I am sure he was as well.
We turned around to head back to the National lot to see if by some chance the license had dropped on the road or the clerk had inadvertently kept it. We took a couple of wrong turns so had to loop back around but finally made it back to the lot. We were there for at least 30 minutes, while Barry spoke to the National clerk who had taken his license, the rental agent, and a manager, and checked the road where he had handed his license over. In the meantime, I searched all over the car and through the papers again and again, but I was quickly losing hope and devising alternate plans of ordering a replacement license from the NC DMV web site and having it mailed to Barry's friend Chris in Vegas in time for our flight home (if they would even do such a thing). At last, I saw Barry and a National employee coming towards the car. No license, but she was going to help us look. She started on the driver's side with a small flashlight, and Barry came over to the passenger side with his flashlight. All of a sudden, he saw a reflection in a small slot under the passenger seat (where I had looked numerous times, but without a flashlight), and there it was! Whewwwwww! Thinking back, we had hit a rather large dip in the road early on our trip away from the National lot, and I suspect it bounced right off my lap to the side by the door and slid down in the crevice there at that time. Why we didn't find it before was a mystery, but thank goodness it was finally located! We both breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked the National employee profusely, even though she really hadn't done anything specific to help; but just her presence was great for our very low morale.
After this misadventure, we finally pulled into the Holiday Inn Express in Henderson at the stroke of midnight (3 am Eastern time), completely spent. By the time we got to the room, unpacked a few things, had a snack and got to bed, it was close to 1 am Pacific, 4 am Eastern, the latest we have stayed up for years. The one advantage of this miserable night was that it helped us adjust to Pacific time in just one day, since we slept much later than we had expected to that next morning (7:30 am Pacific, very close to our normal wake-up time when home), and from that point forward, stuck with the Pacific time schedule with no serious signs of jet lag