Viva Las Vegas: The Grand Canyon

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As I’ve said, R likes to do “aimless wandering”, but I am not going to travel half way round the world without checking out some of the Must-Sees. The Grand Canyon had been on my list for many a year, and I’d pored over reviewers comments on Trip Advisor of the various means of seeing this wonder. Soon after we’d bought out vegas tickets, I booked a sunset tour to the South rim with a smallish group, run by Grand Adventures.

On the morning of our tour, I breakfasted on tea and a banana from the Starbucks kiosk beside the Rotunda, a circular area at the back of the hotel from where all tour groups and shuttle buses operate. We watched many of the large air-conditioned coaches arrive, collect their passengers, and leave again, and I was relieved when at 9 a.m on the dot Kevin arrived in the Grand Adventures minibus, and greeted us warmly. After pick-ups at Luxor, Tropicana and Vdara, our party of 9 was complete, and we set off through the Vegas outskirts, Kevin giving us a running commentary on the history of the city and the various landmarks we passed, such as the Heart Attack Burger Bar, David Copperfield’s villa. We soon reached the Mohave Desert, and our first stop was at McDonalds in Boulder City for breakfast, or in my case, second breakfast. It was such a change to be looking out at dry pinkish scrubland, and the heat outdoors was intense.

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Our next stop was Hoover Dam (originally Boulder Dam) and en route we passed a mansion that had belonged to Nicholas Cage, before he lost it during bankruptcy proceedings. Lake Mead, formed by the dam, has been showing record low levels, and the white chalky “bath tub ring” reveals just how much the water has dropped. Depending on whether you believe the climate change doomsayers or not, the future viability of the dam itself is in doubt.

The dam was built across the Colorado River, which forms the border between Nevada and Arizona. These states operate Pacific Time and Mountain Time, so there’s usually a one-hour time difference which you can observe changing on your watch or phone as you cross the dam. On our visit, though, daylight savings time was in force, so the times shown by the clocks on the towers at either end of the dam were identical. One of the interesting facts I learned here was that the hard hat was invented during the construction of this major engineering project.

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Back on the bus, we continued across the vast desertscape to the crossroads town of Kingman, with its many gas stations, the price falling the further towards the centre of town you got. We had a fuel and restroom stop here, and picked up some of our favourite peanut butter crackers to while away the journey.

Next stop was Seligman, on historic Route 66. This iconic road ceased to be maintained in 1985, but sections of it are still kept alive by local campaigners and supporters of the Mother Road. The first of these sections to be adopted was here at Seligman, where vehicles parked at the side of the road which had been given humorous eyes and features inspired the movie Cars. I could happily have stayed here much longer than the mere half hour we had. I like to buy jewellery when I travel, and I really would have loved some turquoise. It gets its blue colour from the nearby copper mines, but was a bit pricey for my traveller’s budget, so I settled for a chunky brown stone necklace at the Road Runner cafe, and posed for photos beside the famous road signs, and the original Tow Mater truck.

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The next part of the journey was long and rather tedious. The landscape was flat and dull, I found myself wondering how on earth a canyon could be near here as I could see no mountains! Worryingly, we also hit a few rain-showers, but seemed to pass through them and finally reached the Grand Canyon National Park. The name Grand comes from the fact that the river used to be the Grand Colorado River. We called at the El Tovar Hotel, again another place full of character and history which I’d loved to have lingered longer in, but time was ticking by.

It is just about impossible to describe that first glimpse of the canyon itself. It is vast, stretching out as far as the eye can see, and seeming to defy logic. The Colorado River is a barely visible brown tickle, and it is not advisable to try to hike down to the bottom and back up again in one day. The North rim over there is 11 miles away as the vulture flies, and we saw more than a few of those circling lazily overhead as we ate our picnic lunch, carried to our site by Kevin. This comprised were well-stuffed sandwiches, cheese and crackers, grapes, and cookies. We strolled among the Ponderosa and Juniper pines, Kevin pointing out interesting wildlife and rock features as we went. There were plenty of photo opportunities, even jokey ones like the fake “help, I’ve fallen off the edge!” ones. The edge is not sheer, so there’s often a series of ledges behind what appears to be a precarious rim.

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We arrived at the sunset viewing site, beside the geology museum. We were not alone, and quite a crowd gathered as we approached 7.03 pm, many groups with boxes of pizzas. This isn’t the sort of food I’d associate with picnics, but I gathered it was fairly commonplace, as a notice above the waste bin requested “No Pizza Boxes Please!”
The sunset itself was glorious, turning the canyon pinky brown, and the sky above a fiery orange.

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The journey home was long, as we expected. It was dark so there wasn’t much to see (though I occasionally glimpsed some tantalisingly clear starry skies), and we caught up on some sleep before reaching the hotel at midnight. My former English teacher used to implore us not to use that old “tired but happy” cliche, so instead I’ll say we were exhausted but elated.

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