Monday, December 5, 2011

Trip Report: Return to Laughlin, Day #1

Donna and I had a lot of fun in Laughlin, Nevada, back in September (see "Trip Report: Laughlin, Nevada, September 18 - 22, 2011"). After our visit there, the 2 casinos we visited began sending us offers that we simply couldn't refuse, so we decided we needed to return, this time by car.

The Riverside Resort sent us an offer for 3 free nights while the Aquarius offered us 4 free nights. Since we were driving this time, we cashed in some credit card points for a $200 gift card for Hyatt hotels. This would help us pay for hotel rooms on the way to and from Laughlin. Since the casinos in Laughlin have a nice comp system in place, we figured we could also eat most of our meals using comps. We would, of course, have to pay for meals on the trip to and from Laughlin, though. So, our major expense would be gas and, of course, time.

With the 7 nights of comped rooms in Laughlin and 2 nights traveling to and from Nevada, we planned to be gone 9 nights and 10 days. We planned to go through El Paso, Tucson, and Phoenix on the way to Laughlin, then return by way of Flagstaff and Albuquerque. That would allow us to see a great deal of country. Both ways are over 1000 miles, so it takes 2 days to drive each way -- at least, it takes us that long. We did not take pictures this trip simply because we were trying to make time and did not want to stop.

We left San Angelo Sunday, November 27, at 3:50 AM and headed north on US 87 to Sterling City where we picked up Texas 158 to Midland. At Midland, we hopped on Interstate 20. After almost 3 hours of driving in the dark, we reached Pecos, Texas, where we paid $3.33 a gallon for gas; the current price in San Angelo was $3.18.

Just west of Pecos, we began passing mountains, and we would be among mountains for the remainder of our trip. About 50 miles west of Pecos, Interstate 20 merges with Interstate 10, and this would be our highway home all the way to Phoenix, Arizona. The next leg of our journey took us through Van Horn, a small town that depends almost entirely on the interstate for revenue. To really see the dependence of the town on through traffic, exit and pass through town on the old highway. You’ll see motel after motel and cafe after cafe.  After leaving Van Horn, you almost immediately pass from Central Standard Time to Mountain Standard Time, and border patrol encounters become more frequent. From the Sierra Blanca area onward, we saw numerous vehicle inspection stations and ports of entry. At one point, all east-bound traffic was directed through a vehicle inspection station. Fortunately, we were heading west at the time.

After Sierra Blanca, we began our approach to El Paso, that sprawling, sunny, smoggy city nestled along the eastern bank of the trickling Rio Grande. El Paso is big and growing bigger. We were happy to put it behind us. At a gas station in Canutillo, near the New Mexico border, we paid $3.05 per gallon for gas.

We stopped for lunch in Demming, New Mexico, then jumped back on Interstate 10 and soon left New Mexico behind us. I like New Mexico, but the scenery on this part of the trip wasn’t interesting, and most of the communities we passed through seemed a bit dirty, a bit undeveloped. Side streets were in bad repair or were not paved at all. Parking lots were often dirt. Vegetation in the undeveloped landscape was sparse, but there were many areas of orchards and other crops.

Arizona was different. Although there was no tourist center at the state line to greet us, we noticed the towns were more developed (curbing, pavement, etc.) and upscale. We stopped in Wilcox for gas, and paid $3.37 per gallon. It might seem that we stop too often for gas, but when traveling in the West where distances can be great, we always stop when our tank gets to about half empty.

We had reserved a room at the Hyatt Place in Tucson. It was exactly 726 miles from our home in San Angelo to the hotel. We arrived at 5:30 Central Time. We were really impressed with the area of Tucson where our hotel was located, just north of the airport in the southern part of the city. The residential sections were lovely. Saguaro and other desert loving plants graced the roadways, and the homes were mostly stucco and adobe, and very neat and attractive. The entire area was neat and clean and very progressive.

Tucson is a large town, at least by our standards, and it is located in a valley between mountains to the east and west. Houses can be seen slowly creeping up the mountains, especially those on the west. 

After a long day on the road, we were ready for some rest. While Donna organized the room, I went out and picked up a couple of salads for our supper. After our showers, we relaxed with our salads while watching a bit of TV. It was nice to be off the highway.

Day #2 will be published in a few days.

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