The odd combination of the bright lights and artificiality of Las Vegas and the National Parks of Wyoming and Colorado may sound like an odd combination. But If the excuse of attending a wedding in Las Vegas and somewhere with decent weather (24 degree or below) with great scenery, the whole itinerary will make more sense.
Firstly, four days of wedding duty In the luxury of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas with my old friend whom I have known since I was four but have not seen for ten years. It is a combination of social meals, being slightly roasted by the pool in 38 degrees heat and simply enjoying the hospitality of the excellent hotel. Trying to steer clear of the high prices of the city and the somewhat extortionate tipping system especially with taxis, much time is spent in the comfort of the hotel. Also, a series of a exercise classes with a program of Kinesis circuit training, yoga and pilates reformer classes hosted by the excellent Mary Jane Kleinman is a good way to spend the time. The classes are tough yet tailored to each individual need because of small class size. Just to clarify, I am not under any obligation to advertise but it is truly one of the highlight of my stay. The only other real Vegas activity is a visit to Penn and Teller show . The Crystal mall is another highlight, not only it provided cover from the relentless heat outside and despite the hugely overpriced luxury name brands, the architecture of the mall itself, designed by Daniel Liberskin, is stunning. Vegas is somewhat a more relaxing and leisurely place than I remember, having visited ten years earlier. The level of sophistication Vegas has to offer is capable of catering for even the most discerning traveller while covering the more base needs.
After fours leisurely days of reading, socialising and having made a 280% from a two minutes jaunt on the gambling floor (granted it was a $1 bet, but nonetheless) comes Jackson hole, Wyoming. It is a somewhat convoluted journey to Jackson Hole through the completely out of the way but impressive Dallas/Fort Worth. Although part of this journey is over the Grand Canyon which makes the detour more pleasant. The landing at Jackson hole is spectacular as the plain which the airport sits is flanked by snow capped mountains on both sides, the expectation for what is to come cannot be higher. Unfortunately, it is immediately brought down to earth when the night is spent in a prison cell like basement room in a motel with a rotten smelling fridge. This is completely my fault for managing to find the cheapest room in Jackson Hole which is still $140 a night. The drive next morning along the impressive Grand Teton range to the Jackson Lake Lodge is interrupted by a short stroll along String Lake warm enough for a dip and a swim. The view out of Jackson Lake Lodge lounge and patio (shown above) is simply awe inspiring, on par with the view of the caldera of Santorini.
Entering Yellowstone National Park following a short drive, we start the visit by scaling 2100ft (600m) in 2 miles to the top of Avalanches Peak at 10568ft (3220m). It is just the right amount of varied landscape, challenge of altitude and the glorious reward of the view from one of the highest peak in Yellowstone. The threat of lightning and somewhat over hyped caution of bear attack (less than one fatality a year since 1986) means a quick dash down the mountain, accompanied by hail and rain but it is all part of the fun. The next highlight is a soak in Boiling River in the north of the park which requires a short walk across the state border to Montana. The hot spring water mixes with the cold glacial water is at a perfect temperature in quite a stark and barren landscape, and the threat of rain only adds to the ambience of the surrounding.
Yellowstone is impressive in a sense that it as a wide variety of landscape, wildlife (having encountered moose, bison, elk and a bold eager soaring around Avalanche Peak) , thermal features in a small area but lacks anything truely outstanding. There are other places in the world which has more dramatic landscape, better hot springs and boiling pools, less over built viewing areas around geysers and more majestic animals.
Next stop is Colorado. The drive through Wyoming to Boulder, Colorado has some great views of canyons, deserts and wide open plain. The visit up to Rocky Mountain National Park provides more dramatic views especially driving up the Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Centre at 12000ft (3600m). An afternoon stroll around Bear Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake gives the opportunity to acclimatise for the bigger hike up the Twin Sisters Peak the following day. The stay at The Stanley in Estes Park is comfortable and the continuous showing of The Shining on channel 42 on TV is welcomed and fully taken advantaged of. The hike up Twin Sisters Peak has a gentle altitude gain of 2100ft (600m) over 3.9 miles but the peak gives a great view around the area including Estes Park itself. The trip concluded with a day in Boulder and a drive up to Ward and Nederland which has a delicious sandwich shop, The Deli at 8236′ with full gluten free menu and is so good we bought extra ones for the flight back to London.
It is a trip of contrast with bright lights of Vegas and the various national parks. After two weeks in places with low humidity and high altitude, it is certainly pleasing to come back to 21 degrees, slightly humid London at sea level. It is not necessarily an itinerary to recommend but each of these places itself is well worth a visit.