El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2


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El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2

The second leg of our road trip was an absolute blast and ended with some time in Sin City… viva Las Vegas!

Ok, there wasn’t much gambling and drinking since we have our ten-year-old with us, but we had one of our most fun times there regardless. We didn’t spend a ton of money but it was still just a great time all around.

And before we got to Vegas, we spent a night in the desert trying to make up for our earlier mattress fail.

Then we spent a couple of days in the middle of nowhere with some friends you might know!

Be prepared to hear some of the problems we rectified from the first leg of the trip and some of the new fun we’ve had… including our fun in Nevada. Viva Las Vegas!

A beautiful but windy night in El Paso

You might already be aware that after the first leg of our road trip, we spent a few weeks with my brother and sister-in-law at their house just outside of Austin, Texas. Well, we packed up, left their house on Friday, September 4, and headed west.

The scenery was beautiful but it was still a long and boring drive (about 8 hours with some stopping along the way). We made it to El Paso, Texas by about 5:45 pm.

That might sound early enough but we needed to stop at Walmart for a couple of grocery items for the evening, which was crazy-busy by the way. By the time we got to the campground we had booked at Franklin Mountains State Park, it was 6:15 pm. Again, that sounds reasonable but the sunset was around 7:15 pm.

El Paso was just a quick overnight stop so we weren’t even going to be setting up a tent. We were just going to make it a night of sleeping in the car. But that meant we only had an hour of light to get things done:

  • Unload everything from the back of the Honda Pilot and move everything to the front seats to open up the back of the car.
  • Inflate the air mattress in the back and get the bedding ready to go.
  • Cook up a quick dinner.

That ain’t a lot of time for all of that but somehow we got everything done just as it was getting dark.

Mountain House meals for dinner? Yes, please!

This was the first time we used our single-burner propane stove and a kettle we brought. We made some Mountain House freeze-dried meals that I had leftover from my long-term food storage back when we lived at the house. Just add boiling water to the pouch, seal for 10 minutes, and POOF – instant meal.

We had Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and they were both delicious. If you’re planning to backpack or do some camping, these are ideal. Extremely lightweight, easy to make, filling, and delicious. You can order them here using my Amazon link if you want to give them a try – you won’t be disappointed.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Mountain House
Delicious!

As we sat at the picnic table there eating, we finally had a chance to take everything in. Franklin Mountains State Park is in the middle of nowhere. They don’t provide electricity or water and there were very few campers there (none near us).

Instead, we were just surrounded by a wondrous landscape of beautiful mountains. It was really a sight to behold.

Air mattress fun… take two!

If you remember, we had a fail on our air mattress choice earlier in the road trip. It was way too tall for the back of the car.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Air Mattress Fail
Look at how close the roof is to our heads… can you say “claustrophobic”?

So while we were spending a few weeks in Texas, we picked up an inexpensive, single-high air mattress from Amazon before we set off.

It worked so much better! I didn’t get claustrophobic and freak out in the middle of the night setting off our car alarm this time. It was still cramped, but we did much better this time around.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Air Mattress
Bad picture, but look at how much more headroom we have!

The temperature was also really nice for our evening of sleeping in the car. Over the night, it dropped to about a low of 68 degrees… some good sleeping weather!

The only problem is that the wind picked up… a lot. It got so windy that it ripped our homemade sunroof screen right off. It was lined on the sunroof with a couple dozen very strong magnets but they were no match for the wind gusts. We took it down and had to close the windows we had cracked as well.

For most of the night, the wind rocked our Honda Pilot like it was nothing. After a while though, we started to get used to it and eventually fell asleep. We were so tired we slept in until around 8:30 am. The night wasn’t perfect but we’ll call the second night sleeping in the car a better success than the first time around.

A couple of days with Steve and Courtney… hell, yeah!

Viva Las Vegas? Nope not yet – we left from El Paso mid-morning and headed over to Steve and Courtney’s house in Arizona just a little outside of Tucson.

If you don’t know Steve, he ran the early retirement blog, Think Save Retire, for several years before selling it. You can now find him at SteveAdcock.us or follow his awesome Twitter account SteveOnSpeed. He and Courtney run the popular YouTube channel, AStreaminLife, as well.

We became friends a few years ago at a FinCon convention and so we were excited for the chance to see them as we passed through Arizona. As fellow early retirees, finding time to get together wasn’t too difficult!

They don’t have a huge place so we just set up our tent outside. We’re good with that and the nights were some nice sleeping temps. Even though it was crazy hot during the days there, as soon as the sun had set, the temperature dropped. By morning, we were even a little chilly.

From their YouTube channel, I already knew that they lived in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t realize just how beautiful it was there. You can’t help but get a picture-perfect sunset there every evening.

We only stayed two nights, arriving in the evening on the first night and leaving early on the third day, so we didn’t have a lot of time together. But the time we did have was some great fun hanging out, having a few drinks, and just telling stories and laughing.

Not only that, but I broke out a bottle of that infamous Cookies & Cream Imperial Stout that I had picked up in Texas. Good news – I didn’t make an embarrassment of myself this time around and Steve loved the beer, too. That’s a double victory!

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Jim and Steve enjoying some Cookies & Cream beer
BFFs sharing an 11.5% ABV beer!

We’ll miss our friends in Arizona, but hopefully, we’ll get to see them again soon. They might try again to fly down to Panama once this whole COVID stuff settles down which would be fantastic.

Viva Las Vegas!

That’s right – now it’s time to say “viva Las Vegas”!

Wait – you can’t have fun in Vegas with a kid… can you? I wasn’t sure myself, but we ended up having an incredible time.

Let me break this down for you as best I can…

Staying at Luxor… you know the one – the pyramid on the strip!

Lisa and I used to go to Vegas all the time. We’ve stayed in so many places there that it’s just stupid. Believe it or not, we stayed at Hooter’s Casino for one stay and loved it but were totally put off when we stayed at the Bellagio during another stay.

Anyway, I just wanted something on the strip so Faith could see all the fun. After doing some digging, I was able to get a stay booked at the Luxor. That’s the pyramid and was the first place I ever stayed when visiting Vegas. I figured Faith might like the elevators that go diagonal, too.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Arriving at the Luxor

So get this – I booked us there for four nights (checking in on Monday and leaving on Friday). I was able to get the room for an out-the-door total (taxes, the B.S. resort fee, etc.) for $258. That’s $258 total for a four-night stay – nice! Vegas is hurting real bad because of the pandemic.

On another note, I think that these low prices are attracting another crowd as well. Lisa and I were blown away by how shady things were there – and we’ve been there a lot over the years. Apparently, I’m not the only one noticing that. Here’s an interesting article talking about Low Room Rates in Las Vegas Responsible for Labor Day Violence.

But back to the Luxor – I decided to try the $20 bill trick again when we checked in. It’s kind of fun and I did this successfully a few years ago so decided to give it a whirl again.

If you’re not familiar, the gist is that when you’re asked for your ID and credit card, you have a folded $20 bill in between it. As you hand these over, you ask, “Do you have any complimentary upgrades available?”

That’s it.

Then you hope for the best. When I did that a few years ago at the Bellagio (I did a $50 bill for two rooms), we ended up with fountain-facing rooms and the resort fees waived for both rooms, which would have come to $150.

This time, I didn’t do as well, but I’m happy with what it got us. We were going to be put on the 3rd floor, but instead, we ended up on the 27th floor (out of 30) in a slightly-upgraded “Fresh by Stay Well” room with a better view. I’ll take it! And Faith loved it.

Damn, there’s a lot of walking involved in Vegas… a real lot!

When Lisa and I would go to Vegas in the past, we’d spend a fair amount of time having drinks and playing video poker or craps at a casino or two. We’d seen all the cool Vegas novelties enough times over the years that we didn’t need to explore every nook and cranny. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get plenty of walking in, but just not as much as when you have a newbie with you.

Bless Faith’s little heart – that girl walked a lot with us… a real lot. She stuck with us the whole time obviously and my phone showed 8.17 miles walked on Wednesday! That’s a huge amount of exercise for a kid. We also logged 6.57 miles on Tuesday and 6.28 miles on Thursday.

I think she was in awe at the scenery and we loved talking about everything we knew about Vegas with her.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Making Faces on the Strip
Just goofing around on the Strip…

On the downside, the entire area reeked of pot – in the hotels, on the streets, everywhere. This might be the one time I was happy for the mandatory mask requirement – it at least helped stifle the smell a little bit for my daughter as we walked around.

I’ve never smoked pot before (over even cigarettes for that matter) but I’m not anti-pot by any means. However, when that’s all you smell and you add in the shady crowd I mentioned earlier, it seems like Vegas is going downhill.

Another weird thing was that this was the emptiest I’ve ever seen the city (due to the Coronavirus, I’m sure). It felt a little eerie walking around without the big crowds, but zero complaints on that from me!

We also got lucky in that the temperature dropped dramatically just for the few days while we were there before climbing again. It’s much easier to chant “viva Las Vegas” when you’re not melting walking around in a desert.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Temps for the week
It was in the 100’s leading up until the day we arrived (Monday night) and we left on Friday morning just as the temps started to climb again.

Taking in the sites

For those who’ve been to Vegas before, you know all the usual sites to visit. I won’t dwell on it too much, but we checked out:

While we were at the Miracle Mile Shops walking around in Planet Hollywood, Lisa and I had a craving for a beer. Most of the bars seemed to be closed throughout Vegas, which is fine when you’re with your kid. And most of the restaurants had limited hours or would offer carry-out on food or drinks.

I had what I’ll call a frugal win while we were walking around the Miracle Mile Shops. Several places were advertising 25 oz. cans of beer for $5 each like it was some kind of huge savings.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - $5 Beers
Not a good deal.

I decided to get us a couple of beers but instead of ordering it from the restaurants/bars to-go, I walked 100 feet past the little food court area into a store. I got the same cans of beer at 2 for $7. We walked out of the store, cracked ’em open, and walked around with them just like we would have been if buying them from the restaurants.

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - Beers 2 for $7
Better deal… not great, but better.

Yes, I know – a $3 savings isn’t anything I should get excited about, but with the way the money’s been flowing lately, that seemed like a pretty good win!

We also spent a few hours in Red Rock Canyon, about a half-hour outside of the strip. Lisa and I had gone there once when we were younger but it was so incredibly hot that we didn’t get to explore it as much. As luck would have it, the temperature was much, much cooler this time around… it was around 63degrees when we first got there. It was actually chilly until an hour or so later when it got to the upper 70’s.

Red Rock Canyon is worth checking out if you have a car while in Vegas. It cost us $15 for the car-load and was absolutely beautiful.

Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

Who goes to Vegas to see some superhero event?! You can’t be all “viva Las Vegas” when you’re more like “I think the Thor could take on the Hulk and win!”

True. But here’s the deal. For as frugal as we are, I wanted us to do one thing while we were in Vegas for Faith that costs a little extra. I gave Faith three options:

We watched all 23 of the “The Infinity Saga” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in chronological order over the past year and Faith loved ’em. So much so, that these choices weren’t much of a challenge – she jumped right on picking the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. event.

We didn’t know what to expect, but Lisa found a coupon code (“Fall”) that brought the adult tickets down to $30 each from $42. It also took the child tickets down to $20 from $32. In other words, our cost for the three of us was $80.

Here’s something I don’t say too often… it was well worth the money spent! This was put together so well – it was interesting, fun, and interactive. And they did it in a “pandemic-friendly” way that kept groups away from each other for the most part and they had hand sanitizer throughout.

They had the actual costumes from the movies displayed in different places and had awesome computer effects, laboratories, hands-on activities, and even a battle at the very end. It was loads of fun and so worth it! I think Lisa and I loved it just as much as Faith did!

Faith is planning to put up some footage of this as well on her YouTube channel, Fun with Faith. It’ll take her a while to get all the editing done, but you might want to keep an eye on it. Click on the Subscribe button and then the bell icon to be notified when she puts up a new video.

Spending time with my uncle

The most important part of this trip wasn’t to “viva Las Vegas” so much but rather to spend some time with my uncle. Ok, technically he’s not my uncle – he’s my godfather, but he’s considered family without a doubt.

He’s lived in Vegas for over 40 years and spent most of that time as a professional gambler. How many people can say they personally know someone who spent decades of their life where their job was to gamble in Las Vegas?

Anyway, we talk all the time and Lisa and I always spend time with him every time we go to Vegas. Unfortunately, though, he’d never had the opportunity to meet Faith… until now!

We had a nice balance of going out and introducing Vegas life to Faith and spending time with my uncle and his roommate (who is also wonderful!). We went out to dinner a couple of nights, took Faith souvenir shopping, saw the Bellagio fountains together, and more.

I was so glad that Faith got to meet him and spend some time together. We’re hoping to go back again next year to see them again.

I’m sorry… it’s how much???!!

Just a random aside… while walking through Caesar’s Palace, we stopped at the food court for a quick bite. I just had to share with you the price of a pizza at a restaurant there…

El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2 - $46 pizza!
$45.99 for a pepperoni pizza! I’ll admit it was a little bigger than a normal pizza, but $46?! That’s insane!

That’s not some fancy restaurant – it’s just a pizza stand. Needless to stay, we didn’t pick that place to eat.

Did we even gamble? Viva Las Vegas, right?

Haha, yeah, viva Las Vegas… right.

It’s a different ballgame when you’re in Vegas with a kid and no sitter. We spent a total of $40 gambling during our whole time there – Lisa went down from our room once and blew through $20 and I did the same at a different time… weird, right?

That probably saved us some good money but it would have been fun to gamble a little more. Regardless, we still had a blast with our time there.


Wow, this has been one heckuva busy part of our trip but so much fun! Thanks, El Paso! Thanks, Steve and Courtney! And viva Las Vegas!

Onto the third leg of our 2020 road trip!

Thanks for reading!

— Jim

23 thoughts on “El Paso, Tucson, Viva Las Vegas!! – Road Trip Leg 2”

  1. Jim: sounds like your trip is going so well. Just amazing! Enjoy!!!

    Funny, we just spent a few nights in Atlantic City (my wife and I). That pungent odor was everywhere on The Boardwalk. Everywhere! And AC is always full of questionable folk so that never really changes. 🙂

      1. It is not (yet) legal in NJ but they have basically stopped processing criminal charges against its use. Hence we are a much stinkier state.

  2. Jim, thanks for sharing your journey. You are right about west Texas…it’s a l-o-n-g drive! My son and I drove I-10 from Pensacola Fl to California a couple of years ago. Keep sharing your story and I’ll keep reading it 🙂

  3. We were in Vegas right after 9/11. Talk about a ghost town! So I know the feeling. We actually were stuck there an extra day when my car battery went dead. Glad you’re having fun but $46 for a pizza? Does anyone really pay that? Look forward to hearing about your adventures next week!

  4. Sounds like some good times Jim! Glad you guys are still having some fun despite the pandemic.

    The school year has started for us, so that’s pretty much my everyday now. How are you guys doing homeschooling on the road? How much time does she spend studying. Is it some kind of mix of studying/entertainment time?

    Roughly how many hours a day is she putting into her studies? Just curious!

    1. Faith actually pushed to start on Labor Day instead of the day after so she could take the first day off in Vegas. So she did her first day while in the car traveling from Tuscon to Las Vegas. Since then, she’s been doing her schooling in the morning when we’re at a hotel before we go do anything or sometimes in the car going from place to place. She has a lap desk and her Chromebook and just does her thing with us helping her as needed.

      Each day’s a little different, but I’d say that she normally puts in about 4 hours of schoolwork in a day. That might not seem like a lot, but when it’s a one-on-one education, it’s really a lot more efficient. Honestly, it was kind of a rocky beginning when we started doing this last year, but it’s gotten smoother and she’s starting to enjoy this more than regular school.

  5. That’s awesome you were able to meet up with Steve. 🙂

    Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. looks awesome, I’m sure my kids would love that. One day when we can travel down to the US again. Stay safe!

  6. Very nice. Lived in Tucson (actually Oro Valley) for a couple years. Love the desert!

    Funny to see the Titanic exhibit still there in the Luxor. I took my kids there years ago (I can’t even remember how old they were :-). Vegas was great years ago. I still have a tee shirt from “Holy Cow Brewery”. It was the 1st brewery in Vegas at the time. Long gone by now. Me and the wife did our honeymoon in Vegas. Stayed at the Gold Coast! We were pretty thrifty even back then! Ahh, good memories…..

      1. I just looked it up and it is still there! Only $30/night! We used to stay at the Imperial Palace all the time. I know that is gone 🙁 We used to book those “Fun Jet or Sun Country” packages for $200-300 that included 3-4 nights back in the day. Rememer the cheap Buffets? Used to be $5.99 for dinner. Breakfast for $1.99. Days long gone….

        1. Lisa stayed at the Imperial Palace on one of her visits, too – I’ve never been there. I remember the Fun Jet packages, too! And yeah, all the good cheap dining options in Vegas are nowhere to be found anymore. Those were the days though!

  7. I just looked it up and it is still there! Only $30/night! We used to stay at the Imperial Palace all the time. I know that is gone 🙁 We used to book those “Fun Jet or Sun Country” packages for $200-300 that included 3-4 nights back in the day. Rememer the cheap Buffets? Used to be $5.99 for dinner. Breakfast for $1.99. Days long gone….

    1. Haha, when we first started heading that way, we thought it was so beautiful just because we haven’t driven in TX very much… but then it just kept going and going without anything going on. I’ll take a pass on that one again as well! 🙂

  8. Sounds like a fun trip. My dad used to drive to Vegas all the time. He took us along a few times. I never liked it because back then, there wasn’t a lot to do for kids.
    We went a few times when I was an adult, but I wasn’t impressed then either. It’s so fake and I don’t gamble. 🙂

    1. Haha, it is pretty fake there, but we still had a lot of fun regardless. Lisa and I normally would just gamble and do some drinking while there, but those were both basically out with Faith there. This new dynamic with Faith there though just made things really fun… maybe being there with RB40Jr would do the same. If he’s into superheroes, he would love that Avengers setup.

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