In my last post I covered a lot of the things I did whilst I was in Vegas itself but there’s much more than just gambling, drinking, eating, shows and walking up and down the strip. Then again maybe theres not!
A couple of the most popular trips away from Vegas for the non-gamblers and non-drinkers are to the Valley of Fire state park and the Grand Canyon. There’s also trips out to the Hoover Dam but Id been there before and time was tight on this trip (primarily due to shorter daylight hours mid winter). Red Rock Canyon is somewhere I missed on my first visit but I couldn’t fit it in this time around either. There’s also other high spend options like the fighter pilot experience and the Zero-G flights but again they weren’t available whilst I was there this time.
The downside of going on these sort of trips during winter is the pre dawn alarm call. Its a sad state of affairs if you are in Vegas and you are in your bed at 10pm because of an early morning hotel pickup and not the type of hotel pickup you would expect to have you in bed early. Its the 7am pickup that makes you scream at no coffee making facilities in your room. The hardened traveller will recognise the 6:30 alarm call, the 6:31 jump out of bed to put the kettle on, the 6:32 hazy head calculation on how late you can actually leave it to have a shower and run down the corridor to the lift to the bus with wet hair. 6:51 by my calculations. That’s 8 minutes more in bed then shower then throw clothes on whilst drinking the coffee and shoving a banana and donut down your throat. Of course if you have to scrape your arse out and down to the lobby to the coffee kiosk then its balls to the wall now. By 6:42am you are trying to focus on the sign which says the coffee kiosk doesn’t open until 8am but you can get coffee and a donut from the starbucks concession on the 2nd floor for a price normally requires someone holding a gun to your head. By the time you find your way through the maze that is any casino layout its 6:50 and you are standing bleary eyed in front of someone who doesn’t understand the concept of ‘large strong coffee and a donut please’. For the love of the baby Jesus I have no idea what grande means, I have no concept of a skinny coffee and as for decaf… Its 6:55am, you are having a fucking joke about the decaf thing arent you? I really should sue them for the hot coffee spilling down my arm as I run for the bus but someone has already done that so the coffee is the temperature of warm piss and to be honest the comparison doesn’t really end there. Ive never tasted warm piss I hasten to add but I suspect its not too dissimilar to this cup of ‘tepid brown’.
Our driver had the good sense to say very little over the course of the hour drive to the Valley of Fire park. He probably couldn’t be heard over the sound of people snoring. Id chosen the big pink jeep tours for the novelty factor of the vehicles and the tripadvisor reviews. Our first stop was at the entrance to the park for a stretch of the legs and most complained about the cold as the valley entrance was still in shadow and probably about 10 degrees. I was in a t-shirt as my body was still used to sub zero temperatures. There were a few stops before the main park building and the air and the group warmed up a bit and the guide was sensing how much he could throw at us and would actually be taken in.It was an interesting trip and the walking section through the old river bed was interesting and the blue sky and rising sun really was setting the valley on fire.
The tour was interesting but it wasn’t until after the stop at the park office that we got on to the real spectacular areas of the park. The old stone cabins where we stopped for lunch are worth a few minutes in passing but its the views from the road through the park that are stunning and then the big rock petroglyphs and the valleys around it are well worth a wander.
The last part of the tour (or could be the first part depending on season) is to climb the big atlatl rock which in windy conditions isn’t for the faint hearted although the petroglyphs at the top are well worth the vertigo inducing stairs.
The group on the trip were a bit subdued, partially due to the early start, partially due to some just having arrived in Vegas from the far east the day before and because of the off season tour group quirkiness. To fill a van it really was a real mix of travelers with the result there was little or no common language, people from singapore, korea, japan, russia, me and a couple of americans. So a lot of pointing, grunting and smiling. Oh and snoring.
Its well worth a trip out to the Valley of Fire but perhaps the afternoon trip in the warmer months might be a better option. Although saying that I wouldn’t want to be there in the heat of summer as the quirky air conditioned trucks would come in to their own. The pink jeep tour guide was very good and Id thoroughly recommend them.
If I thought the start for the Valley of Fire trip was early, the Grand Canyon trip seemed like it was taking place the night before! Picked up in darkness I was better prepared this time with a cold ready made coffee bought and a couple of donuts laid on as well.
The last time I took this trip, there were four of us and we hired the helicopter ourselves. We took off from McCarron airport and flew over the Hoover Dam all the way to the Grand Canyon floor. Flight restrictions and costs now mean an hour bus ride out to Boulder Airport followed by a flight in a twin otter aircraft out to Grand Canyon West airport.
I shared this trip with a High School Basketball team from Australia, I really shouldn’t have mentioned that they missed Magic Johnston signing shirts at a store in Vegas the day before. Come to think of it I also missed it!
We touched down at the airport and went through and checked in for our helicopter flight down to the canyon floor. The first time I was at the Grand Canyon it was by car and at the start of April, we drove to the rim car park just as the sun was setting and I jumped out camera in hand…. …and promptly slipped on the ice and went on my arse! The one thing you don’t realise is how high you are up and the airport is at about 5000 feet so its bloody cold up there.
Id done this ride before but still get exciting every time I go near a helicopter and this time was no exception. The sun was starting to rise and the air was heating up and the heliport felt like the set of some war movie with the constant arrival and taking off of helicopters. We’ve seen it all before in movies where they stop, load up, take off, drop down somewhere, offload and then fly off and this was exactly like that. Well ok the wee voice in my head says that but head down walking away from the landing site as your chopper takes off, another one comes in behind it and another one lands on the pad above you really is something to see.
So sorry, yes I am a big child and no the whole apocalypse now carry on and ride of the valkyries in my head doesn’t get old!
The next part of the trip was new to me and it was a short boat ride along the colorado river itself and whilst bitterly cold, going along as the sun came round the canyon walls really is something to see. This section of the trip was quite free flowing with no delays or waiting lines and particularly at this cold temperature (now wearing warm clothes) was good to see.
The Australians were almost going into hibernation, so good job they weren’t going back to where I was in a couple of days. So pack warm clothing for the Grand Canyon if not going during the summer months! Our chariots were waiting for us on our return then it was back up into the sky and zooming across the desert back to the heliport then straight into busses to take us to the lunch stop.
Although starving by this point I let the queues die down in the restaurant as I took a wander around Guano Point. To tell you the truth I’m scared shitless of heights and this is some height. The last time I was here I went to the national park part of the Canyon and it had barriers up at the end of the Rim, here there’s nothing except a long fall watching the ground coming ever closer to you! I didn’t want to show all those Australian kids me crawling to the top of the point and then getting stuck and crying like a baby if the wind got up and I couldn’t crawl down.
Im quite proud of myself I did climb to the top and did take a few photos but once the two girls who were watching me moved out of line of sight I crawled the last 10 feet to the top on my hands and knees. Im not proud, just look at this at that river is 5000 feet down in a straight line!
I dusted myself down and wandered back to the restaurant for my traditional native american lunch served on traditional polystyrene plate with plastic cutlery. Of course now the only free table was the one right at the edge of the Canyon and when I say right on the edge of the Canyon I mean looking down into it and on a slope. I put my plate down for a photo and even though I was rooted to the spot with fear I was so hungry my main fear was that my dinner would slide off the table and down 5000 feet.
Sanity returned and slower than I thought was humanly possible I put my bag down and sat down on the highest point of the table furthest away from the void. That extra 3 feet of room might save my life in the event of a catastrophic table sliding into Canyon scenario. I felt 50 pairs of eyes on the back of my head as I slowly turned round to casually look to see my fellow travellers. You cant get more of a casual look than one that takes about 30 seconds for fear of catching your backpack straps on some as yet unseen obstacle which catches them and catapults you road runner cartoon like into the valley below. The faces I saw were a mixture of ridicule, admiration and ‘I feel your pain’ looks.
Ridicule from the 16 year old basketball players who after their lunch were playing various games of chicken right on the edge in front of me, admiration from those sitting beside the new ‘friends’ they had discovered at the point they realised the only free table left may not make it through all 2 courses and ‘I feel your pain’ looks from seasoned travelers who also conveyed the ‘use your rucksack to hide the seat of your pants when you stand up’ look.
After the majority of my dinner sticking in my throat I waited until most of the people had went off for a wander before catching the bus back to the visitors centre and visiting the toilets to check for skidmarks and to finally unclench my sphincter muscle and throw myself on the mercy of the large white porcelain receptacle.
After Id wiped the cold sweat from my brow I spent about an hour in the small gift shop before catching the flight back to Boulder and the hour bus trip back to the hotel. The nervous tension had passed by this stage and all of us were reflecting on what an amazing trip it was, even 2nd time around it is still awe inspiring and button clenching!
I was glad of the late afternoon winter desert heat and vowed to never again book a trip to anywhere below 20C!
On the way back to Canada I realised of course Id already booked a trip for the following February chasing the Northern Lights in Northern Norway.
Better not pack the thermals away just yet…
more Valley of Fire State Park photos here
more Grand Canyon images here
more Las Vegas photographs here
more usa photographs here
more travel and transport stock photography here
more daily life stock pics here
more conceptual stock photographs here