Has this ever happened to you? You're at a National Park or someplace tranquil, finding your moment of Zen, when all of a sudden, you sense a disturbance in the Force. A bus pulls up, and within seconds, hundreds of photo-snapping tourists pour out. In an instant, Eden turns into a fanny-pack convention.
Well, my friends, I have been on that bus. I have been part of the horde. And if you like road trips but hate driving or separately booking all the hotels along the way, you should consider dusting off your own fanny pack and going on one of these bus tours. Most of all, they're bargains.
As of this writing, the website for America Asia, a Monterey Park-based travel company that operates a bus fleet large enough to mount a D-Day invasion, is offering a four-day trip to Arizona and New Mexico at $318 for two people. And if there are three of you, provided that no one minds sharing a room, the third person is free. Tour dates start around Thanksgiving and go through New Year's because, let's face it, unless you're a solar-panel salesman, that part of the country sucks in the summer.
I took the trip a few years ago around Christmas with my family. It included a three-night stay and daily breakfast buffets at Holiday Inn-grade hotels in Tucson and El Paso. As the bus took us through the planned daily itinerary, we snapped photos in front of the Arizona State Capitol Building in Phoenix for no other reason than because we stopped there. At the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, we slid down powdery dunes as though it were fresh-fallen snow. At Carlsbad Caverns, we spelunked—as much as walking a lit path can be called spelunking. At the Desert Museum, we tapped on the glass of a tail-shaking rattlesnake. And driving through Saguaro National Park, we agreed that the cactus-dotted landscape resembled the surface of a used Biore pore strip.
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Wherever we went, we engendered shudders from whoever was at these places before our bus arrived. We mobbed Flying-Js all over the Southwest. We created a line at what would've otherwise been a run-of-the-mill Chinese buffet in El Paso until it occurred to us that the bus company probably struck an arrangement with the restaurant and most likely shared in that night's profits.
The tour guides also insisted on starting as early as 6 a.m. since they're intent on packing in as many sights as they can during daylight. And as non-Chinese speakers, we started noticing that our Chinese tour guide offered wordy, poetic soliloquies in Mandarin about the sights, including history and trivia. But when he finally got around to the English translation, it was often as short as "We have arrived at White Sands National Monument. Be sure to take lots of pictures!"
"Really, that's it?" we asked one another. "And do you even need to say that to a bus full of camera-toting tourists?"
Find more info on America Asia's tours at americaasia.com.