I’ve Been through the Desert on a Horse with No Name

 

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

it felt good to be out of the rain… (click here if you don’t know what song I’m referring to)

On my trip to Las Vegas earlier this summer I had a chance to get my desert on, and it was awesome.

Beyond the glittering lights of The Strip and endless swathes of cookie cutter homes filling the Las Vegas Valley lies a heavenly slice of the state that most foreign visitors don’t even know exists: Red Rock National Conservation Area.

Located less than half an hour west of the city, Red Rock offers a glimpse of the real desert Southwest. It’s stark at times, but also beautiful and surprisingly colourful. The conservation area takes its name from the distinctive iron-heavy red rocks (pictured above), which is a popular place for local Las Vegans to hike.

Montana may be nicknamed Big Sky Country, but I think Nevada gives it a run for its money.

The area has a visitor’s centre and lots of different hiking trails, but if you want to really want to explore the desert there’s no better way than on horseback.

I had the opportunity to take part in sunset horseback ride through the desert with Cowboy Trail Rides and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Vegas.

Though late May is normally when temperatures begin to soar in the Las Vegas Valley, I got lucky and this year the weather was still cool and comfortable. Strapped to the top of a beautiful American Paint Horse named Tommy, the desert unveiled itself in a whole new light. The trail we took is suitable for beginners, but challenging enough for you to unleash your inner John Wayne. Within minutes of leaving the stable we found ourselves completely surrounded by desert scenery. Joshua trees, which are unique to this part of the world, were everywhere and I even spotted a few jack rabbits (with babies!) and quails (also with babies!) along the way.

View of the desert from atop Tommy, an American Paint Horse

Joshua tree in the desert. This one is probably at least 100 years old.

The trail took us on a circular route that looped back to the stables after around two hours of riding. If you, like me, are not an experienced rider, then trust me when I say that two hours is a good amount of time to be on a horse. Any more than that and I probably would have had a hard time walking!

The evening culminating in a steak dinner, a camp fire, and some good old-fashioned live music.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of locals here in London who have visited Las Vegas and I know that it’s quite a popular holiday destination among Brits. However, most foreign visitors never make it off The Strip!

If you ever make it ’round to Vegas, then I’d highly recommend taking a night off from nightclubs and the blackjack table to visit Red Rock. Most tour companies, including Cowboy Trail Rides, make pick ups from The Strip so you don’t need a car. The tour I took last from about 5pm to 10pm and included dinner.

 

America: A Food Diary

 

Warning: Truly terrible food photography ahead.

Why hello there! Long time no see :)

It’s been about two weeks since I returned to London from the US and I’m still daydreaming about all the delicious food I had the opportunity to plow into during my trip.

Let’s start with breakfast, shall we?

The All American Breakfast

pancakes

Classic strawberry buttermilk pancakes from iHop

hashbrowns

Mmmm. Hashbrowns.

When it comes to the first meal of the day, I’m a traditionalist. It’s all about buttermilk pancakes, bacon (American style streaky bacon), eggs, and a hot mug of so-bad-it’s-good diner coffee. America, and Las Vegas in particular, is full of fine dining restaurants. However, after 5 years abroad what I miss the most are the greasy spoon establishments that serve palate-pleasing gut bombs quickly and cheaply.

Loco Moco

locomoco

You’d be loco not to love the loco moco ;)

Of course, with 10 days in the US I had time to experiment a little with my breakfast choices. Right before I left I pulled the trigger on a loco moco, a Hawaiian guilty pleasure consisting of rice, a meat patty, gravy, and eggs. What a way to start the day!

Mexican Food Fix

While the term “American Food” may conjure up images of hot dogs, hamburgers, and casseroles, to kids like me who grew up on the West Coast, it’s Mexican (and Mexican-inspired) cuisine that reigns supreme. As a bonafide California girl, I’ll take tacos over a hamburger any day. Luckily, cheap and delicious Mexican food is pretty easy to find in Vegas. Just head to a mall, strip mall, casino, or even strip club (yes, I said strip club) and you’re likely to encounter an enchilada or two.

taco

Soft Tacos

chipotle

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

CPK

California Pizza Kitchen. Sure it’s a chain restaurant, but boy does it hit the spot. The trendy eatery’s signature dish is the BBQ chicken pizza, which comes adorned with red onions, cilantro, and chicken, and is absolutely slathered in sweet BBQ sauce. YUM.

cpk

Good ol’ Steak

London is littered with steakhouses, but there’s something about cooking a giant slab of meat in the great outdoors that you can’t beat. Paired with boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, canned beans, and a side salad, I  prefer this no-frills meat-centric meal over any dish at an over-the-top steakhouse in Central London.
steak

Oh the Places You’ll Go: My 2015 Travel Plans

 

If I’m being honest I wasn’t planning on travelling that much in 2015. There’s a lot happening this year for me on several different fronts. I’m closing out a graduate program, studying for exams, and of course there’s the whole permanent residency thing. Don’t you just hate it when life gets in the way of…life?

Anyway, as it turns out I’ve still managed to squeeze in a fair bit of global galavanting over the next 10 months or so. I’m staying put in London for most of the spring, but after that I’ve got a few major trips planned:

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Giant's Causeway Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland Image Source: http://whc.unesco.org/

My BF and I have been entertaining the idea of visiting Ireland for quite some time now. We’re finally going this year and during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations no less! It will be a quick four-day trip to Dublin where I’m sure much Guinness will be consumed, with a day trip to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.

Viva Las Vegas

Las-Vegas-Strip-featured

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this in person!

It’s happening. I’m going back to America for the first time in 4.5 years. My brother is getting married and that means I’ll be headed back to Sin City for a week or so to reacquaint myself with the American way of life. For the uninitiated, this translates into eating lots and lots of food. Then taking a break, and eating more food. When I’m not shoving food down my face, I’ll you’ll probably find me at Target marvelling at all the cheap prices.

Returning to Iceland

ohtheplacesyoullgo_fi

Continental Divide – Iceland

I first visited Iceland in October 2013 and was absolutely blown away. The people are lovely, the food is excellent, and the scenery is out of this world. This summer I’m returning to the island to explore the coastline – all of it. I’ll be going off the grid and onto a ship to circumnavigate the whole of Iceland. There will be whale watching, bird watching (puffins!), glacier hiking, volcanic golfing, fishing, and lots more. Needless to say, I am really really really excited about this trip!!

Nordic Nations

Seurasaari Island – Helsinki, Finland

If you take a look at the travel section of my blog you’ll probably notice my affinity for Scandinavia. Northern Europe is without a doubt one of my favourite travel destinations, so when an old friend told me he was visiting from The States it immediately set the wheels in motion for another trip. This time around I’ll be visiting Stockholm and Oslo for an extended working holiday and city break. Old friends and new places. It doesn’t get much better than that!

If any of you have any tips or advice on things to do in any of these locations they would be much appreciated. As always, you can follow my journeys on Instagram @girlinlondon_rtw. Happy travels!

Ghost Towns, Gorges, and Great Food: Why The American Southwest Needs to be on Your Travel Bucket List

 

Many of my regular readers know that before I made the leap to London, Las Vegas was my home. As my four-year anniversary in the UK capital approaches, it dawned on me that I’ve never really talked much about my time in that very special part of America.

Las Vegas, with all its glitter and glamour, sits at the epicenter of the American Southwest, a fascinating destination that a lot of tourists overlook. Rich cultural heritage, to-die-for food, jaw-dropping scenery – you name it, the Southwest’s got it. Still not convinced? Let me show you why the American Southwest should be on your travel bucket list.

Culture

Santa Fe

Ok, while I admit that Las Vegas may not be the cultural capital America, there are plenty of other cities and towns around the Southwest where culture vultures can get their fix. A personal favorite of mine is Santa Fe, which I made a point of visiting one last time before moving to London. Founded all the way back in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US, and boasts tons of beautiful historic architecture. The New Mexico Museum of Art is also worth of visit if you’re a fan of the famous painter of Southwestern landscapes, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Good Eats

Whether you prefer burgers, BBQ, or Mexican food, I guarantee that you will not go hungry in this corner of America. Great food is available everywhere you turn, and foodies need look no further than Sin City for good eats. That’s right, Las Vegas offers a lot more than buffets these days. Excellent and affordable restaurants and cafes line the famous Las Vegas Boulevard, meaning you won’t have to travel far to fill your stomach.

The Scenery

Grand Canyon

Two words: Grand Canyon. It sounds cliché, but you have to see it in person to really appreciate it. If you’re visiting Vegas, I recommend taking a day trip out to the South Rim at the very least. The views are nothing short of amazing and if you really want unbeatable views, splurge on a helicopter ride above the canyon.

Image Credit: Flickr User faungg

A little closer to Vegas, Zion National Park is also great if you’re looking for a change of scenery. A 15-mile long canyon runs through the park, which is famous for its wildlife, hiking trails, and unique rock formations.

The History

Seligman, AZ on my last US road trip in 2010

From conquistadors and cowboys, to mobsters and Route 66, the American Southwest has the history buff in you covered. If it’s classic Americana you’re after, I recommend stopping in Seligman, Arizona. About halfway between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Seligman is the birthplace of Route 66 and looks like its been frozen in the 1940s. Another historical gem worth visiting is Tombstone, Arizona. The famous Wild West town was the site of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and much of its old historical center is still standing today.

Easier than You Think

For my UK and European readers, visiting this part of the US is easier than you might think. Direct flights are available from London and Frankfurt to Las Vegas. From there you can rent a car or take guided tours of the Southwest’s major highlights. If you want to beat the heat I recommend visiting from October to May, just remember to check the weather ahead of your trip and pack accordingly.

Happy Travels!