An epic trip out west, complete with meteorites, casinos, 4x4s, penthouse suites, bears, and beaches, all began with a flight from CVG, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. 

One hundred miles northeast of San Diego, CA lies a place we never expected to find ourselves at on Christmas Day 2014.

Salvation Mountain is an art project in hte middle of California's Sonoran Desert.
That's Salvation Mountain, an art project spanning over 25 years right in the middle of California's Sonoran Desert.

Whoa, right? But let’s start from the beginning.

We left on Frontier Airlines non-stop service from CVG to Las Vegas, NV.  Being the kind of travelers who like to ball on a budget, we played the free MyVegas Slots and MyVegas Blackjack app a few weeks before our trip. These apps connect with major partners like MGM Resorts to offer real prizes for people (21+) just for playing.  We were able to redeem two free nights at The Luxor and two free Las Vegas Monorail tickets.  Not bad, eh?

The Luxor offered Mrs. Kruz her first Las Vegas slot experience on the “OMG! Kittens” game – and she won!

We wanted to see a Vegas show and Blue Man Group is one of my favorites.  Tip: check one of the legitimate ticket discount sites that offer savings of 60% or more, especially in off-peak times.  We scored our tickets for about half price.

The Blue Man Group are PURE JOY! BONUS: you can meet them after the show. (They’re kind of the silent type though.)

The next morning, we set out for The Hoover Dam.  It’s one thing to learn about it in school and see photos online – but visiting in person is something to add to your bucket list.

Make sure to visit the dam from above and below to truly get a feeling for just how large it it!

Now you might be thinking, “Wait, it’s Vegas – isn’t it like 100 degrees there?”  What’s with the Carhartt?

Since we visited in December, we had the benefit of very few crowds.  But you have to dress for desert evenings where temperatures can get a little chilly.

How chilly?

Grand Canyon

How about a snow-covered Grand Canyon cold?

But totally worth bundling up for an amazing view of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  We woke up at 4:30am to have breakfast and make the drive into the park.

"Crying, acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon." - Ron Swanson

It’s really awe-inspiring, and in the off-season, the lack of crowds means you can access areas that are closed during the summer months.

Fun fact: we saw not one, but two separate instances of people nearly falling into the canyon while trying to take selfies. C’mon people!

The next morning, we departed Tusayan, AZ and headed toward Williams, AZ where TripAdvisor had alerted us to a drive-through wildlife park cleverly named Bearizona.

This place is amazing! In addition to being able to see multiple types of animals from the comfort of your vehicle, there are also educational exhibits and a birds of prey demonstration.

They clearly inform you not to stop. The RV in front of us stopped.  So we had the opportunity to watch some clever wolves remove a rubber cover from a hose connection and start playing with it.  At the end, a crow gladly accepted my donation and put it into a box!

Tipping the crow.

We continued on about an hour down the road to a spot about 20 miles west of Winslow, AZ (Yes, THAT Winslow, AZ!) to the place where a meteor crashed into Earth 50,000 years ago.

The appropriately named “Meteor Crater” measures 3,900 ft wide and 560 ft deep.  It’s also considered one of the best-preserved craters in the world.

A telescope to zoom in on a "house-sized" rock helps illustrate just how large the crater is!

Another perfect day was capped off with a legendary Arizona sunset.