Our first long drive
Whichever way you slice it on a US road trip there will likely be some reasonably high mileage, long (and in parts boring) stretches, and so it is on the first ‘road trip’ leg of our journey from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (South Rim).
To the Southern Rim from Las Vegas is around 275 miles or just over four hours. It will be longer and probably closer to five as you’ll want to stop off at the Hoover Dam (as we did). The journey is pretty easy as most of it is on dual-lane highway and, although there is not a lot to actually see en-route (you can divert off to see parts of the historical route 66 – we didn’t), I quite like the drive as the scenery is just different from anything you will see in Europe (some huge flat plains with sparse vegetation and the occasional hill).
Also, if you just want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible then you’ll be glad to hear that with the speed limit at 75 mph most of the way and light traffic, the journey passes reasonably quickly. You can amuse yourself along the way watching the outside temperature gauge fall – when we left Vegas it was 108 degrees F which reduced to a quite chilly 68 and settled in the high 70s as we arrived at the Canyon (the rime of the canyon sits just over 2,000 meters which is higher than a lot of the mountains in Europe).
As you head towards the Grand Canyon you simply MUST stop at Hoover Dam both because it is an engineering / technical marvel (considering it was built in the 1930’s) but also because it demonstrates the short-sightedness of the unchecked expansion of Las Vegas and the impact that is having on the environment. In short, Lake Mead (which sits behind the dam) is gradually being depleted meaning that money and resources will be required to solve a problem of our own making. You will have your own views but it is certainly a spectacle not to be missed. There are two places to get views of the dam, both on the dam itself but also from the top of the Pat Tillman memorial bypass which opened in 2010.
In Vegas people will tell you that there are day trips to the Grand Canyon but don’t believe them as most of those trips will go to the far Western Edge which most commentators would say is not really the Grand Canyon. While that might just be rumors spread by the national park people who are responsible for the south rim, we couldn’t compare as we did not have time to visit both. There’s lots of commentary online, here’s one example.
You can stay outside the park in the small town just outside the park gates (Tusyan) or further afield in Williams or Flagstaff and then drive or bus in. Staying outside will save you some money but we stayed inside the park at Thunderbird lodge (which makes a 70s dormitory concrete style building sound quite grand) but it’s clean and functional (although I suspect the canyon is eroding more quickly than the Wi-Fi speed) and most importantly right next to the Canyon (and I mean right next to it – just 10 feet from the door). As we reflected on our trip and thought about the start point if you have no desire to visit Vegas it might be better to fly to Phoenix and start from there.
We arrived at the park in the late evening just before sunset and I expect that’s one of the best times to catch the best views and pictures as the park is beginning to empty of day trippers and the different colors, shades, and shadows are spectacular.
We were led to believe that the food in the park was expensive and not very good. The latter is true but I thought the prices were not too bad. As you’d expect its basic burgers and the like (although a step up from fast food) that is served lukewarm (but at least with a smile). Still, $55 for dinner for three including drinks didn’t feel excessive to me.
Jet lag and the effects of a five-hour drive catch up with us and we are in bed by 9:30. Oh, nearly forgot, we stopped in Tusyan general store to pick up some snacks on the way in and I bought a six-pack of Grand Canyon Red Ale thinking I would achieve the combined aims of supporting the local tourist industry and avoiding paying hotel prices for beer. If you’re also tempted – don’t be – it tastes like it was made from something that came from the mules that ferry people to the valley floor and it seems I’m not the only one with that opinion. I actually couldn’t drink it and those that know me will recognize that this means it must have been really bad. You have been warned.
Tomorrow we have a full day at the park to enjoy it in full.