In a normal time, when summer arrives vacation plans roll in. But since this is not a normal time our plan this summer is to go nowhere. While I’m doing that, at least I can take a drive down Memory Lane.

Every summer from my 11th to my 18th year, soon after schools closed, my family packed up the car and made the 862-mile trek from Denver to Las Vegas for a week of baking under the hottest sun and watching adults gambling for fun. This was the 1950s.

Fresh water springs where Vegas sits in southern Nevada lured the railroads, entrepreneurs, performers, gamblers and dreamers. By 1954 Vegas as a tourist destination was less than a decade old but eight million visitors had left $200 million in the casinos.

This was America’s Monte Carlo, a cut above the sketchier Reno, located in the only state that permitted gambling. Its glitziness began in 1946 with the opening of the Flamingo Hotel, initiated by mobster Bugsy Siegel, who the following year left the planet in a hail of bullets. Because of its connection to organized crime, it was called Sin City. However, even the concept of sin by today’s standards was a tad thinner.

My family felt safe there. Who was going to hurt a guest or steal in a town run by a family of godfathers? The crime rate was comparatively low. My family saw this as a vacation oasis. My family consisted of my father, my mother, my aunt (her sister), my uncle and me. No matter which summer, our chariot was a two-toned Buick Special.

These trips occurred before construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel through the Rockies, climbing up and over the Continental Divide, across Utah and into the Mojave Desert. Without that tunnel and with pit stops, meals and an overnight stay, it took us about 32 hours. The idea was not to rush. The drive would be leisurely ­— phase one of the vacation.

It was like driving through my own customized travelogue. Colorado, Utah, Nevada — this was all new scenery for a kid who spent his first 10 years in the concrete landscape of Chicago. Driving over mountains and into the desert was as inconceivable as going to the moon. Before moving to Denver, all I knew about the sights of the west I learned from the settings of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger.

Yet, there was some truth to those Hollywood images. Some town centers featured old building facades and storefronts that made you feel you were exploring a model for a Lionel Train set. There were Western eateries and lodgings that tended to look the part. We’re talking ranch-style, leitmotifs of carved logs, antlered heads adorning walls, the wafting scents of buckskin and barbecue. The kind of décor that made my bee-hived and cardiganed mother and aunt look as natural as two feathers on a moose.

Our adventure started at 5 a.m., a time when the sun rose much faster than a teenager. With my uncle behind the wheel, off we went to have breakfast about an hour away in the foothills. The 6 & 40 Restaurant, named for the junction of two highways, was a sprawling chuck wagon of a dining room, offering a buffet of everything. Many customers wore cowboy hats and boots. For most of them, ranch hands up for three or four hours, this was lunch. For my family this was a living history museum. My aunt screwed up her face: “How can you eat pork chops and gravy for breakfast?”

Next came the real hills behind the foothills — the Rockies. As we climbed, gasps filled the car. There was nothing intrepid about these trekkers. My mother and her sister put the ‘vent’ in adventure. Everything was a potential hazard or stupid choice. To my father and uncle, whatever worry emanated from the women was merely static. Calmness would prevail. This too shall pass. And speaking of passes, each trip over Loveland Pass was a white knuckler on hairpin turns. Also known as the Continental Divide, at nearly 12,000 feet, it’s the highest peak in Colorado.

Climate change back then usually meant that if you’re up that high and it’s summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you felt winter. And if it was snowing, there was screaming. At this point, my mother and aunt prayed for wings to pop out of the Buick.

We drove through little Colorado towns, like Rifle and Parachute, and had lunch in Grand Junction at the Café Caravan under the sign of the bobbing giraffe. Then the drive took us into Utah, where we had dinner next to tumbleweeds and stayed the night in a motel or inn in the Salina-Richfield area. This was just above Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park where in the morning we would take side trips just for the awe of the red rocks, pink cliffs and purple majesties.

Finally we crossed a flat, sandy moonscape of the Mojave Desert and by lunchtime we could see the Emerald City rising out of the dust: Las Vegas, Nevada. What’s intriguing is that I have no memory of the trip back — maybe because to an adolescent, home isn’t a memorable designation. It is now.

This will be my Proustian summer. For my next trip, I’ll go take a seat on the porch or at the beach and stare into the middle distance for another remembrance of travels past.

Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.