Published: September 1st 2012September 1st 2012
Tuesday 28th August
We left Los Angeles at 6am to avoid rush hour traffic which starts at 7am and lasts a lot longer than an hour. We stopped on the outskirts of LA for gas and bought subway sandwiches for breakfast. At this gas station, and as I have seen at other gas stations, there’s TV on the actual petrol pumps! This particular pump had a loop of X-Factor trailers.
Glyn drove along the 15 until we got to Apple Valley which was totally rough and run down. I then started driving and took a small detour to go on the famous Route 66. The road itself was mostly quite well maintained but very undulating, it was like driving over solid sand dunes and fun for a while. On the road side were many closed businesses and derelict houses. At Barstow we got back on the 15 and drove to Vegas.
The road was fairly empty at times and never crowded. The speed limit varied from 60 to 70mph and I saw quite a few people that had been pulled in by the police. Pretty foolish to be caught really as there’s nowhere in the desert for a
police car to hide.
As we neared the California/Nevada state line I saw what I thought to be a town but was in fact the first casino and hotel. The rest of the ‘town’ was actually a rollercoaster and a vast array of giant billboards.
The temperature rose to over 100 and a road sign advised us to switch off the car aircon so that we didn’t burn out.
At 11.30 I saw Las Vegas rise out of the desert, one roasting lump of concrete and glass in the scrubland. I drove into Vegas itself feeling fairly confident until I had to swerve to avoid a large, heavy-looking, stuffed sack that was right in the middle of my lane. I got us to the Mirage hotel eventually.
The Mirage is on the south strip and is huge with many restaurants, bars, slot machines, atrium etc etc. our room was big and the bed king size. I could sleep diagonally without kicking Glyn out!
Foolishly we went walking down the strip at 1.30 pm and it was BAKING HOT!! We stopped at the many hotels, shops and casinos just to cool down in the aircon. Las
Vegas is my least favourite place of all those we have visited. There’s not a lot to do unless you are into gambling and hookers. To be fair, we didn’t have much time to look for other stuff to do though, due to time and heat. The gun store has been highly recommended to me by friends who have been there. I was also advised to go and see the white lions at the Mirage, I’d hoped it would be free for guests, but we only got $3 off the entrance fee.
You are allowed to drink alcohol anywhere, so naturally people were walking around the likes of Walgreens and through shopping areas whilst drinking beer. The thing was, at that temperature, the thought of getting drunk wasn’t appealing, not even to me! I had a couple of beers, but each with a glass of water. My clothes were soaking in sweat and it would have been so easy to get dehydrated.
There were lots of men and a few women passing out cards with numbers for hookers, many wore t-shirts advertising girls, girls, girls. Pretty depressing but there obviously is a big market for this, given the
amount of women up for sale. What annoyed me is that people were attempting to pass the cards to my husband in front of me, whilst we were holding hands and intimate. There were no men for sale, it was all very one sided.
Glyn told me that he had a surprise for me so we went back to the hotel for much needed showers. Glyn was all dressed up, but I’d not brought much dressy stuff as past experience has taught me that I’ll drag fancy shoes around for miles and days, using up valuable luggage space to end up not using them. But this time I wish I had. We stood at the front and a limo turned up, on the side it said: Wee Kirk of the Heather Wedding Chapel!! Now Glyn and I are already married so I was a bit confused, but it turned out that he’d planned for some months for us to renew our wedding vows.
We got to the chapel which was in downtown and saw that it was the chapel used for a film called ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ starring Catherine Zeta Jones and George Clooney. We were given a run
down of almost what to expect and told that the minister would be along shortly. Then Glyn stayed in the chapel and I stood in the corridor as a photographer took photos of me.
I didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised when Elvis introduced himself to me as my Minister. He had a guitar and gold leather jacket and said he would lead me down the aisle. He was a slender Elvis, not a fat embarrassing one! It was all very funny and romantic too. We said our vows Elvis style and he sung to us a medley of songs. We re-exchanged our wedding rings and snogged a lot as we were photographed and filmed. Elvis struck a LOT of poses. It’ll take a few days before we see the photos. Had we not been married before, Elvis could have legally married us. We were then driven back to our hotel in the limo where we both had cocktails, mine was some sort of strawberry creation and Glyn had a virgin piña colada.
It was still quite early so we decided to try walking down the strip as it got darker and the temperature went down
to 98 degrees. It was stuffed full of waddling tourists and many of the roads could only be crossed by bridges that took us well out of the way. We were going to go on the rollercoaster at the New York hotel which looked impressive as it came out over the hotel and did a loop, but it was $14 each and not worth it given that we’d just done four theme parks in four days.
We walked past the Excalibur hotel and down to the Luxor where it was a lot quieter. It had taken about an hour an half to get there as we’d stopped a lot to look at stuff and meandered. We were fed up of the heat and clunkers (stupid tourists that walk slowly or block you ) and decided to walk back. We stopped at a Mexican for a beer and a cold drink, but waited so long for service that we left. So we went to a store, bought a fridge magnet with a bottle opener on it, some beers, some food and went back to our lovely cool hotel room at around 10.30. We had enjoyed Las Vegas, but as my
husband quoted a Dylan Moran phrase when he said that Vegas was “everything he’d imagined and less.” Wednesday 29th August
Wow, for the first time this holiday, we didn’t need to get up too early, so we had a bit of a lounge in the luxury bed and didn’t leave until 9.30. It was already roasting outside and after a few arguments with Sheila the satnav who tried to get us to return to the Mirage, we headed to Boulder City and then the Hoover Dam. Here, it was even hotter than Vegas, 110 degrees (43 in English) so walking around in the full sun you had to make an effort to stay sunny yourself. One of the guys at the Hoover Dam Visitors centre claimed that it can get up to 140 and I was very glad that I was just visiting and not one of the construction workers of the 1930s.
The dam is impressive but the tour was not. We were shown a 10 minute film and then had a half hour tour, being taken to just two places. In all fairness, I doubt that there’s a lot to see really, just tunnels
and giant turning things. At least three of the guides had strong speech impediments and I found it quite hard to understand what was said. After the tour we could go on the observation deck where we got cooked as we viewed the dam from above. Some clot must have thought it was a good idea to have a brass rail on top of the perimeter wall, so first degree burns were optional as we leaned on it to take photos.
After a trip to the souvenir shop and cafe, we headed down the 93 towards Kingman where the temperature started to drop. We then followed the 40 and it got steadily cooler and greener which neither Glyn or I expected. At one point there was a brief spell of rain and I could see lightning on the mountains in the distance.
The speed limit went up to 75mph for most of this highway which was awesome on the long sweeping roads, as I raced cars and trucks. Many were going more than 85 as we started through countryside with more foliage and bushy trees. And what do trees hide? Dirt tracks containing police cars! A red car
was overtaking me when I was doing 80mph and strangely I began to overtake him without speeding up. Glyn then asked me if I was doing the speed limit as I noticed the blue and red flashing lights of a police car ahead so like everyone else, I put the brakes on. This wasn’t the only police car hiding in the foliage and from then on I made more effort to keep an eye on my speed whilst still trying to beat the ETA on the satnav.
Twenty miles from the Grand Canyon and the landscape was still rather lush and green, I was starting to get worried that it wouldn’t be rocky and deserty where we planned to stay, the Grand Canyon Village.
When we arrived it was quite dark. The village is within a state park and we had to pay $25 for a 7 day pass. As always, the signage warns (or gives false hope) of wild animals such as mountain lions, bears etc. To be fair, we’ve seen some deer but I’ve lost hope of seeing a raccoon or possum. We are right on the south rim in the cheapest lodge where we share
a bathroom with other guests. A very friendly place full of hikers and the like. There’s a few places to eat and it’s very dark here, for once we can see the stars! We walked to the next lodge as their food court is cheaper and simpler than the one open at our lodge which also had a queue. On the walk there, in the pitch dark we could just about make out the shape of the canyon but couldn’t see how deep it went. I’m very excited to see it in the light! Thursday 30th August
We set our alarms for 4am and got up not long afterwards. It was very dark and a bit cold as we waited at the bus stop alongside French tourists wearing lights on their heads, which made it hard for our eyes to get accustomed to the low light. We got off the bus at the Hopi view point which had been recommended to us by the guy on reception at the hotel. There were just a handful of people and by 6am the sun came up and I gradually got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It
is awesome. The sunset was a bit lack lustre as the sky was clear, so no clouds to reflect the golden rays. On the other hand, looking away from the sun, the land lit up a lovely deep orange and I took a ton of photos. We also saw some deer on the way back that let us get quite close.
We headed back to the food court for a cheap but filling breakfast, I had a breakfast burrito which kept me going for most of the rest of the day.
Next, we drove just outside the park to the Grand Canyon airport where we’d previously booked a helicopter flight over the canyon. We were pleased to get the two front seats, next to the very quiet pilot. There were four seats behind us, the two centre seats didn’t look like they had a great line of vision.
The flight started over trees, trees and more trees. Lots of trees. I could see a crack in the landscape to my left and soon we turned into it as the trees abruptly ended and the ground fell away into the massive orangey, red and brown canyon, flecked with
green and the odd silty brown river winding its way below. It was grand as described. We all had headphones on and there was a pre recorded talk on the canyon, first in German for the Swiss people sat behind us and then eventually in English. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening to it as I was just staring at the landscape. After half an hour or so, we started flying over the sea of trees again and I was a bit disappointed thinking it was all over, the pilot didn’t speak to explain anything and the commentary was a general talk on the canyon and not specific to what we were seeing. But then we were flown over a different part of the canyon for another 10 minutes or so and I was happy. It was a breath taking experience, my only complaint would be that I wasn’t told what each area was that I was flying over.
After buying a couple of posters and a trip to the very good market store, we popped back to our room for a couple of hours sleep as we were pooped. It was the hottest part of the day
and it wasn’t advised to go hiking at this time.
At around 3pm, we walked down the Bright Angel Trail. This goes on for miles down into the canyon, but has a few rest stops on the way. It can’t be crossed in a day and has camping in the middle. As it descends directly into the canyon, it is quite steep in places with piles of mule poo. As I expected the Grand Canyon to be scorched and arid, like other tourists I ignored the signs in the hotel reception that predicted rain, as if!! As we descended, the air got cooler, which was unexpected as we were told that the lower you get, the hotter it becomes. The floor of the canyon can be 20 American degrees hotter than the rim. So the rain started lightly, then the wind came and blew rather coldly. I had shorts on and a t-shirt, soon the rain turned the sun cream on my arms and legs into an unattractive white sheen and I needed my sun hat to keep the rain off my camera.
There are a few holes blasted through the rocks where the path goes through and
they were full of people sheltering from the wind and rain. We carried on regardless, this was my only opportunity to hike into it and a bit of weather wasn’t going to stop me! Anyway, at least it wasn’t like back home, I’d seen on the Internet that there were a lot of floods back there.
There were areas on the path where we sheltered from the rain and it eventually subsided. The sun even started to make an effort as we reached the first rest point where thankfully there was a loo complete with a squirrel outside staring at me. As we wanted to be on the rim for the sunset, we decided to turn back, knowing that the uphill climb would take a lot longer. And naturally it got quite hot for the harder part of the hike. It is quite steep in places but not the hardest trail I’ve climbed up.
We made it back in time to get a quick bite to eat and catch the bus to the Mojave View Point for the sunset. We didn’t go to the Hopi lookout this time as it was chock full of clunkers. Sunset is a
lot more popular than sunrise. Due to thick cloud and rain on the north rim, the sunset wasn’t impressive, but it was still stunning watching the sunlight dim and the land go to sleep for the night. There was a lot of lightning in the distance which Glyn tried to photograph, I think I have it on video. It got quite dark and we were almost the last on the over stuffed bus. One couple didn’t get on and the bus driver said that they were going to get very wet.
One thing we’ve noticed about tourist bus drivers, site shop workers and tour guides is that many have speech impediments and minor disabilities. I wonder if there’s a policy encouraging employment of these folks. Or maybe the tourist industry attracts a lot of people with speech impediments? Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.
Glyn and I stopped by the bar at our lodge where the waiter told us food could be 5 minutes, could be an hour, this is why he personally never ate there! I had an Arizona Sunrise cocktail and creamed spinach that came with a lifetime supply of taco style chips. Glyn had coke
and a hot dog. There was a couple singing country music, complete with cowboy hat and guitars which was a nice touch. I then ordered a Corona and was slightly derided by the waiter for ordering what he describes as a holiday beer. Friday 31 August
We decided not to get up stupidly early for the sunrise as we had a 5 and a half hour drive back to Las Vegas ahead of us. So we just went to the rim by our lodge, the view of the sun was a bit blocked so of course the sun rise was a lot more spectacular today. (Note from Glyn-not stupidly early is apparently okay at 5.30am!!!!)
After a quick sleep and wash, we checked out. We bought some food at the market store and then went to the geological centre for a slightly different view of the canyon as we ate our breakfast. The weather was a lot hotter today and I wouldn’t fancy hiking in that! Good job really as we soon began the long journey to Vegas.
As we got closer to Las Vegas, the temperature began to rise, getting close to 100 and
then something strange happened, it began to rain! For a while the temperature dropped down to 89 degrees and I had to switch on the windscreen wipers to regular setting instead of intermittent! For a second time, I found myself driving into the heart of Vegas and it wasn’t too scary, at most it only went up to 5 lanes wide.
We were booked into Circus Circus which is in the north strip area which is slightly less gaudy than the south strip, although the hotel lights up enough at night to be seen from the moon I am sure. When we got out of the car, it was around 100 degrees but at least there was a bit of a breeze, albeit like a hair dryer on the hottest setting.
I much preferred Las Vegas this time around, it seemed less chavtastic and not so stifling with some human service.
One of the worst and best parts of Vegas is the parking. It was free everywhere we went, all the big hotels and casino had multi storey car parks that no one seemed to check if you were even using the venue attached. But they were hellishly hot to walk through, the exhaust fumes and poor ventilation added to the extreme heat and it was vile to walk inside one.
Circus Circus was less swish than the Mirage but I preferred it because it was friendlier, relaxed and not all about the gambling. And we still got a king sized bed. The resort fees were around $10 there as opposed to the Mirage where it was $25 and all we got out of that was faster wi-fi. At Circus Circus, we had wi -fi, a pass for two fair ground games and a pass for one of the extreme rides, as this hotel had an indoor theme park! It’s amazing what they fitted in there, a water flume, a pirate ship, a rollercoaster with 4 loops, bumper cars, a ferris wheel, a few other large rides that I do not what they are called, plus lots of small rides and games. With my free pass, I won a furry cushion $25 chip. We also went on the rollercoaster which was very good and threw me all over the place.
We then went for a meal in the hotel, Glyn had an all he can eat offer but I was more interested in the frozen margaritas that were on offer at $2 each. I had a strawberry and then two limes. The limes were the best, and they were big! Unfortunately the last one was not bought within the happy hour time slot and we had to pay the full price of $7.95, still, they were large glasses so not a rip off.
We ended our holiday with a show at the V Theatre in Planet Hollywood: Evil Dead the Musical. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much and it was my husband’s idea to go. A few of the audience obviously had been before and knew it well the same way some folk do with the Rocky Horror Show. The first three rows were the ‘splatter zone’ and each received free t-shirts that they had to wear. They don’t just get a bit of a spattering, everyone was absolutely soaked in fake blood. It turned out to be a really cheesy and fun show. The songs were funny and the actors entertaining, I’m glad we went and if it comes to the UK, I would go again.
We got back to our hotel after 1am, our latest night all holiday! Saturday 1 September
We drove to Las Vegas airport and said farewell to our trusty Yaris, our total mileage being 2277 miles from Crescent City. If you add all that Tim and Stacey took us on around Tacoma, Seattle, Snoqualmie Falls, Mt Rainier and to Crescent City, plus Susan and Howie taking us around Sacramento and to Coloma, that’s a LOT of miles!!! No one really checked the car which was a relief as it had gotten a little scratched in Venice Beach when a car park guy insisted on making us park in an ultra tight spot by a telegraph pole.
Las Vegas Airport: there are tons of slot machines after you get through security, by the gates. Just in case gamblers had any money left. Yes, many were in use. Nuts!
All in all it’s been an amazing adventure and I’ve loved every minute of it.