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Need a bit of help planning a 3 week trip to the US

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Hello fellow travelers!

We are two women from Denmark, 33 and 36 years old, who are planning a trip to the US, but we could use a bit of help with some of the details.

A bit about us, and our travel preferences:
We're both outgoing, relaxed, love nature and people equally, appreciate great museums and the knowledge they dispense, but prefer to spend our travel time either in the company of Nature, or with good people. We are both foodies, and love encountering new tastes and local cuisines.
My friend has never been to the US before, I have been several times and am in love with the beauty, the diversity and the... sense of space, is the best way I can put it. The highlights of my previous trips include swimming with the gentle, playful manatees in the hot springs of Crystal River, Florida, voluntary work in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, white water rafting in Grand Teton National Park, eating the best barbecue I have *ever* had at The Salty Lick outside Austin, Texas, and watching the ebb and flow of diversity while walking the streets of beautiful San Fransisco.

Basic trip data:
How long: 21 days/3 weeks, +/- 1-2 days max (work restrictions)
When: either July or sometime in the period mid-august to late September (work restrictions again)

Where:
- We fly to New York City, where we spend 4 days. I have family in Manhattan and know the city fairly well, so we should be well set up here :).
- We (plan) to fly to Denver from NYC, and drive through Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California from here, but this is not set in stone. This is the bulk of the trip, with 14-15 days spent on this stretch.
- We fly home from Los Angeles. I studied there as exchange student during my MSc (and have family in OC), so we should be well set here too. Probably won't spend more than a couple days in the area.

Questions:

- While in Denver (or NYC), we would love to experience a 'US sports night', and attend a baseball match (or football, but don’t think the season has started in late August?). When do the (regular) seasons start, what should we expect a decent ticket to cost, and where on the field should two 'sports rookies' sit to enjoy the game and atmosphere as much as possible?

- We're both decent drivers, but since Copenhagen transport happens primarily by bike, nothing even close to US experienced drivers. Additionally we have very little mountain driving experience. What sort of car should we aim for, should we get 4 wheel drive? Is it safe for 2 rookies to drive to fx the summit of Mount Evans?

- How long does it take, including stops and actually enjoying the trip, to drive through Rocky mountain National Park (excluding additional hikes)? Is it safe for inexperienced drivers to go on any other roads in August/September, and if so, any that can be recommended? As for hikes, which are the best ½-1 day hikes?

- We are both fascinated by ghost towns and the incredible stories they hide, but I get the feeling that any worth visiting/not tourist traps require better driving skills than we possess, to get seriously off the beaten track. Is this correct, or are there some safely accessible and worth the time either in Colorado or Arizona (or Nevada)?

- We plan to go through Rock Mountain National Park and down the million dollar highway to Durango, but from here we’re unsure where to go (though in the general direction of Grand Canyon/Las Vegas). Is there something fantastic to experience in northern New Mexico, or would you recommend to move quicker towards Grand Canyon and instead spend the time in Bryce/Zion NPs?

- Last time I was in Las Vegas, I was a bit disappointed, but I think it might have been because I didn’t know where to go. I got caught in the ‘family-friendly’ part of the strip, which had nothing to do with the Vegas of yonder (or perhaps ‘the vegas of my mind’ is a better description). We (well, me primarily) would really love to try to play some low stakes poker (as horrible as it sounds, preferably without shrieking kids around), and see the more… adult? Side of Las Vegas. Any suggestions on fx good bars, good casinos, good places to go? It’s not that we’re crazy party people, but for one night it would be fun to put on the dancing shoes, order too expensive cocktails and lose a few bucks playing poker :)

- In general, for the entire trip: one of the things that for us make a trip truly memorable are the unique people, quirky diners and odd little gems you find here and there. Do any of you have any strange B&Bs or odd shops, experiences or restaurants that you recommend in any of the areas we go through?

Thanks so much for reading all this and any advice you can give – apologies for the length!

:)

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