More Adventures out West Using Rand McNally’s New Online Trip Planner
Neon Museum, Las Vegas, NV
If you ever plan to motor west, try to include as much of Route 66 as possible—and bring along a reliable navigator. In the case of my current loop through eight western states, I have the help of Rand McNally’s new TripMaker®, a free online road trip planning tool, which I used to plan my road trip itinerary, and a Rand McNally GPS device, which I loaded with my pre-planned road trip. You can check out my earlier TripMaker experiences as well as my adventures on this road trip out west in Mapping, Creating, and Taking the Great American Road Trip.
As with many journeys, mine was ambitious. In the TripMaker tool, it featured the most direct routes between cities as well as many Things to Do along the way. Travel is often about compromise, though, and I’ve had to bypass things. But TripMaker has made it easy to remove sights or destinations and adjust my route. And, for every place I’ve had to miss, I’ve found another suggestion (or two or three) in all the categories of Things to Do, both in the GPS device and on my computer. Here are some of the highlights from Sedona, AZ, to South Lake Tahoe, CA; Las Vegas, NV; and Boise, ID.
Route 66 and Other Kicks
I wheeled into Kingman, AZ, a city memorialized in the quintessential road-trip song “Route 66” and home to the Historic Route 66 Museum. Its collection of artifacts—inside the sprawling, restored Powerhouse building—includes roadside memorabilia, souvenirs, maps, and a series of life-size exhibits showing how families traversed the famous highway in its early decades.
History was always a favorite subject, so along with TripMaker’s Quirky & Oddball suggestions in Things to Do, I also looked up History & Heritage sites. From the many possibilities, I added the Arizona and Utah Railway Marker and the Chloride Ghost Town to my trip. They were just off US-93 north and right next to each other, making for a detour that was as convenient as it was authentic.
Dam Good De-Tour En Route to Vegas
My next stop ticked off another must-see box: the Hoover Dam. I cruised about 60 miles up US-93 to the Nevada border, where I joined Black Canyon Adventures’ 90-minute Postcard Tour in Boulder City. It included a half-hour river-raft float along the Colorado River. Trust me when I say that the view from the base of the 726-foot-tall Hoover Dam is as spectacular as the one from its top. Both give you a real sense of its fortitude. After all, Lake Mead isn’t exactly a puddle, and a 660-foot-thick concrete slab isn’t exactly your average retaining wall.
From the utility of the Hoover Dam, I was just a quick zip away from the glitz of Las Vegas. Saying that there’s a shortage of TripMaker suggestions in Vegas is like saying that there’s a shortage of slot machines. One great way to take in the many sights (and lights!) all at once is with a ride on the High Roller. This mid-Strip Ferris wheel tops out at 550 feet, making it the tallest such structure in the world, with a jackpot of views to match.
I was staying downtown in the historic Fremont Street area, and the Mob Museum was just a stone’s throw away from my hotel. But far cooler was the Neon Museum just a short drive north. It’s open only for tours, but making reservations for one of them is worth the effort to see the colorful, oversized Vegas kitsch of yesteryear in what is, essentially, a giant neon-sign graveyard.
After assessing my timetable while in Vegas, I had to make a tough call: there simply wouldn’t be enough time to visit Yosemite National Park and do it justice. Dropping it from My Trip, would, however, leave plenty of time for scenic Lake Tahoe—not to mention a quick Things to Do detour to Amargosa Valley, NV, to snap a picture of the Firecracker Water Tank (dynamite!) After driving long, dusty, winding roads, I finally approached Tahoe’s crystal-blue waters and was truly grateful for every spare second I would have to spend there.
The nature and the serenity were as welcome as they were mesmerizing. There are great hikes all around the lake, including a mile-long path down to Emerald Bay. And I ate the best dinner of my trip at the local-favorite Blue Angel Café—where fishing fans can bring in their catches for the chef to cook. South Lake Tahoe also satisfied my thirst for quirk, because from my centrally located lodging, the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, I could literally cross the street from California to Nevada. As state-border crossings go, this one sure saved on gas!
A Few Capital Sights
Next I headed north to Boise, ID, to spend a night with some old friends. It was a drive of nearly 500 miles, but I still managed to fit in some TripMaker suggestions. The Carson City Historic District, in the Nevada capital, was rich with state history, old West pride, and landmark sights. The Nevada State Railroad Museum and the US Mint were my favorite TripMaker recommendations, though.
Through Reno, I couldn’t resist pulling off I-580 to see the Carpeteria Genie—even if this giant roadside attraction had seen brighter days, it was still a classic photo op. Then northward I went to sweet, green Boise. After 15 days and some 2,300 miles, it was great to see familiar faces, take a short break from driving, explore yet another state capital, and relax a bit before mapping out the last leg of my road trip out west on TripMaker.