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Vermont to Vegas: The final stretch

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  August 25, 2013 02:08 PM

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Friday’s final drive takes us 812 miles from Denver to Las Vegas, with a few snags along the way.

9:00 a.m. We drive south of downtown Denver to pretend we’re back in college. I’m dressed like a frat boy with a fresh O’s cap and mesh shorts. First, we visit the University of Denver (where my 20-year-old brother-in-law Scot attends) and then trek back northeast to the satellite campus of Johnson & Wales University, the hospitality school Mike attended in Providence.

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10:00 a.m. No visit to Denver is complete without a trip to the Coors brewery in Golden. All Mike ever orders is Coors Light, and all my friends back home ever buy is Keystone Light, so I suppose this could be their Mecca. I learn that Adolf Coors, a Prussian immigrant, would switch his brewery into a malted milk and cream factory during Prohibition.

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He didn’t live to see Prohibition repealed in 1933, but his namesake would become the third-largest brewery in the U.S. (and second, after Miller purchased Coors in 2007). The “Banquet Beer” is indeed good, but Keystone is too low-rent for the brewery to serve on tap. I get a Keystone t-shirt for my cheap friend back home.

11:57 a.m. I spot a camouflaged pickup truck with Michigan manufacturer plates. Ironically, it’s the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado.

Vail-Pass-2.jpg2:07 p.m. For the past few hours, we’ve been surrounded by utter beauty along the Colorado River, a dream scene that more than makes up for Kansas. We hit Vail Pass, at 10,662 feet above sea level, and watch hundreds of cyclists competing in the USA Pro Challenge on the local roads alongside I-70.

3:30 p.m. The problem with beautiful rivers is that they flood. A hail storm in Denver and torrential rain further west force authorities to close I-70 West for seven miles. Sensing we’ll be stuck for hours, we jump off the nearest exit and head back east to wait at a rest stop in Parachute, following the advice of local police. But the police have no idea when the road will reopen. So we jump on a back road that winds around the river and places us back to the nearest open entrance. We wonder why police didn’t detour anyone on this road, but we’re glad we were one of the few cars to find it.

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6:20 p.m. Utah beckons. It’s absolutely stunning passing Bryce Canyon, under the shadows of distant mountains and enormous rock formations. We may or may not have sustained 100 mph for miles on end.

6:40 p.m. All that motion requires fuel, and Utah has some of the worst gas in the country. All cars require 87-octane, and Utah starts off with 85. At that level, most car engines will “knock” since the fuel is detonating before the cylinder reaches top dead center. Poor performance and engine damage can easily result. Since the station we visit in Green River is the only manmade structure we spot during the next several hours, we’re being extorted. We throw in 88-octane and push on.

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8:00 p.m. Sundown in the desert. It’s forever burned in my memory.

Somewhere around 10 p.m. We hit Arizona after refueling. The road dives down for miles with sharp curves.

11 p.m., after the change to Pacific Daylight Time. Loving the 80-mph speed limit in Nevada.

11:46 p.m. We're pulled over by the Nevada State Police for "changing lanes without signaling." And here we thought we were the only ones on the road.

Midnight. Out of the darkness, Las Vegas emerges. It makes no sense whatsoever that this city exists.

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12:30 a.m. After 2,920 miles, we arrive at Mike’s house. The Cruze is a fantastic little car. The seats are supportive and never tiring, the cabin is quiet and spacious, the controls easy to use, the A/C powerful in the desert heat and the 1.8-liter engine delivering a trip average of 30 mpg even at high speeds. We’ve made it. Mike starts work the following week, but not before we do the things you’re supposed to do in Vegas – of which I will not be writing about here.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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