Vail to Vegas, the scenic route |

Vail to Vegas, the scenic route

Lauren Glendenning
Vail CO, Colorado
A view of Zion National Park in southwestern Utah from the top of the Angel's Landing hiking trail.

For a four-day weekend full of American beauty, wild fun and amazing food, look no farther than a road trip from Vail to Las Vegas.

I love road trips with no real destination – just vague ideas of places to stop. There’s nothing like getting in the car and just driving.

My boyfriend Ryan and I recently hit the road with Zion National Park in southwestern Utah as our main destination. We had three and a half days to explore before we had to come back to work, and we were amazed by how much we squeezed into such a short trip all within driving distance from Vail.

We made the necessary gas station stop and loaded up on junk food and drinks for our Saturday evening departure – this is very important because west of Fruita, there’s nothing for miles. The views were nice and there were storm clouds forming near the horizon, but the road was desolate, straight and boring.

The original intent was to head west until we hit Interstate 15, which heads south right to Zion, but we saw a sign for Hanksville, Utah and we were intrigued.

Highway 24 south to Hanksville didn’t seem like much at nighttime – the road was long and straight and as far as we knew, there was nothing to see on either side. We did manage to hit 104 miles per hour though in an effort to reset the maximum speed of 96 that had been on the navigation system for quite some time. It now reads 104 – excellent.

Hanksville isn’t much of a town – there’s a couple of motels, a gas station and convenient store built into the side of a rock, a couple of cafes and a house boat rental place – the northern point of Lake Powell is about 45 miles away.

The best thing about small towns, though, are the people. We stayed in what looked like a seedy motel, but was actually quite clean. The owner told us to have breakfast at the cafe across the street and we’d get 10 percent off the check for staying in the motel. Turns out, he owns the cafe, too, but the food was decent and the entertainment was great.

The owner sat at the table next to us with the cafe’s dishwasher – an elderly man who had lived in Hanksville his entire life. He drank several cups of coffee and asked us what where we were headed. We said we didn’t really know, and the old man gave us some tips.

We were about 15 miles from Goblin Valley State Park – a place the dishwasher said was unlike anything he’d ever seen.

We cruised down to Lake Powell first since I had never been there and it wasn’t too far. We got there, stood on the edge of a cliff for a minute and took in the sights, then it was off to this mysterious Goblin Valley place.

Mysterious it was – it looked like a field of mushrooms made out of red rock. Wind and water carved the rocks into the odd formations that let our imaginations run wild.

We ran around and climbed on some of the funky rocks, took a few pictures and off we went.

Highway 24 heads west right into Capitol Reef National Park, an area full of wild cliffs, colors and views. A turn south on Highway 12 brought us to Escalante, another one of Utah’s wonders.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument spans nearly 1.9 million acres of public land. It’s rugged and unusual – not nearly as unusual as the goblins, but still breathtaking.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Web site says “this high, rugged and remote region, where bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs run for distances that defy human perspective, was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.”

We skipped over Bryce Canyon National Park – we’ve heard its cool, but Zion was on our minds and a preliminary idea to just keep driving to Las Vegas. If we did that, we’d have to get moving.

We arrived at Zion National Park about an hour before sunset. Ryan had been there before and he tried to explain how beautiful it was, but nothing he said could have prepared me for this place.

The cliffs shoot straight up and the deep red colors on the rocky cliffs are like nothing I’ve ever seen. We drove through the park knowing we’d be back to hike the Angel’s Landing trail – a trail so sketchy there are chains built into the cliffs for hikers to hold onto.

We decided to go for it – Las Vegas. It was only two hours away and we drove all day anyway. Plus, I had a craving for this Thai restaurant I discovered a year earlier.

I told Ryan about the place a hundred times – that it was hands down the best restaurant, not just Thai restaurant, I’d ever been to. I’m not bragging, but I’ve been to a lot of nice restaurants all over the country, so that’s saying a lot.

It’s called Lotus of Siam. The adventure in going there is trying not to get mugged in the parking lot – the neighborhood is pretty bad and the place is buried in the middle of a hideous strip mall.

That being said, it’s the most amazing food I’ve ever tasted. The flavors in every single dish I’ve tried are so complex, deep and just delicious.

I always go to Vegas to party – to stay up all night and sleep by the pool all day, then repeat. This time was different. We were there to eat great food and even take in a little history.

The next day we visited the Hoover Dam and went on the Dam tour – it was definitely the most intellectually stimulating time I’ve ever spent anywhere near Vegas.

Then it was back to the hotel, Palms Place, to sit by the pool – after all, we were in Vegas.

Up next was round two of Lotus of Siam. We didn’t get enough of it the first night so we went back, waited nearly two hours for a table, and grubbed down some more deliciousness.

Day four consisted of the most strict schedule we gave ourselves for the entire trip. We were nine hours from home and still wanted to hike Angel’s Landing. We got up early and headed to the trail head. It took a few hours round-trip, and a lot of huffing and puffing, but the finish line was worth it.

The views from atop this trail are some of the prettiest I’ve ever laid eyes on.

A tired and sluggish road trip back home and we had done it – seen some of the American West’s most amazing landscapes, eaten some of the best food known to man and put some serious miles on the ol’ Dodge pickup. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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