Published: September 29th 2012September 28th 2012
My last day with the car (Tuesday) began slowly because my plans for the day were to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame before dropping the car off at the Orlando Airport. The Hall of Fame opened at 12 and I was there when it opened. There was not a lot to see, so I only spent an hour and a half. Inside was an interesting history of the American space program, particularly focussed on the astronauts themselves, and a few artefacts. The final section was pretty interactive. I landed a space shuttle and went on a trip to Mars before heading out.
Dropping off the car was a very easy process, even though I had accidently thrown out my paperwork. It turned out I drove a total of 3,311 miles (5,329km). I had left plenty of time before my flight, so I had a couple of hours to wait before I flew out. I sat around reading a book and then boarded for the first leg to Dallas Fort Worth. I was seated in front of the emergency exit rows and for some reason the lady behind had all three seats to herself. She offered to let
First stop on the west rim tour
me take the window seat but by that point we were taxiing out. I planned to offer the seat to the lady next to me, but she was asleep by the time the seatbelt sign went off so I took it. The lady was really nice and I talked to her about my holiday and she thought it sounded really good. She also recommended I go and see the Cirque du Soleil “O” show in Vegas.
I had a couple of hours in Dallas before my connection to Las Vegas. I caught the inter-terminal train to terminal A and found a Mexican restaurant and had some really nice quesadillas washed down with a Jack Daniels (drink #2 on this trip). When I left there to go to my plane, the gate was empty. Checking the board again, it turned out that my flight was now going from a different terminal. So it was back on the train and then we boarded the flight late. On the plus side, the flight was half full so I managed to have 3 seats to myself and managed a bit of sleep.
We landed on time though, and
Some desert scenery
On the way to the west rim
I found the shuttle bus to my hotel. It would have been quicker to get a cab because the shuttle took a while to leave. But anyway, I arrived at Caesar’s Palace and was blown away. There were so many people, and the place was really fancy. I checked in and because it was after midnight, the only king-sized bed suite they had was in the new luxury tower. The downside is that it is a smoking-optional room, but the girl at the desk said it’s a fairly new room so I probably wouldn’t smell it. She was wrong, because somebody had clearly smoked cigars in it. But the room is otherwise really nice.
I had to go to bed straight away, because I was being picked up at 6am for a trip to the west rim of the Grand Canyon. After a bit of sleep I was up bright and early and headed out to where I was being picked up – naturally it is almost on the directly opposite side of the hotel/casino but I managed to navigate my way there on time. The bus picked up a few of us and we were taken
Get to da choppa!
Boarding the helicopter that took us to the floor of the Grand Canyon
to the tour company’s base where we had to check in and get assigned to the right bus for our particular tour. During check-in, they offered us to pre-buy tickets for the Skywalk (a 70ft glass walkway over the canyon) and for $175 we could get a helicopter ride to the base of the canyon. I decided to go for both because I doubt I’ll ever be back.
The whole process took a while because there were a lot of people going on a lot of tours. But eventually we were on our way. Our bus driver was a pretty funny guy and the drive went fairly quickly. First stop was a photo opportunity near the Hoover Dam. I headed out to take photos, but I knew I was going to see it again. Next stop was a “trading post” out in the desert, mostly for a bathroom break. Once we left there, we drove through a place called “Dolan Springs”. Our bus driver had a lot of jokes at its expense, my favourite being about the boat seller (Dolan Springs is in the middle of the desert).
Eventually we arrived at a spot
where we had to change buses because the road to the west rim has 10 miles of unpaved road and the tour company doesn’t like having their fancy buses drive down there. The road was very rough – I know I wouldn’t want to take my car on it. Eventually we arrived at the west rim airport. Unlike the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon which are national park, the west rim is owned by the Hualapai Native Americans. This is why there are helicopter flights to the bottom of the canyon here – the national park people don’t allow it, but the Hualapai do.
Once we arrived, we had about 3 ½ hours to use the shuttle buses to travel between the various sites – Eagle Point, Guano Point and the Hualapai Ranch. However, those of us with helicopter rides had to do that first and were told we probably would only see Eagle and Guano Points. So we checked in for the helicopter ride and it took about 15 minutes until my flight was called. I was on a flight with 2 Chinese girls, 1 Japanese girl and a mother and daughter from
England. To be honest, I thought the Chinese girls and Japanese girl were all together at first, but I realised my error when the Japanese girl was asking all of us to take photos of her, for her.
We boarded the chopper and had an attractive blond pilot. I hadn’t been on a helicopter before and I was quite surprised at how fun it was. We took off and flew over some flat land at first. We banked to turn to the right and suddenly the ground disappeared and we dove into the canyon. It was quite a thrill. We flew along the canyon for a bit before we landed down by the river. All in all, the flight was probably 7 or 8 minutes. Once down there, we had a short walk down to the river itself where we boarded a small boat for a short trip up the river and then back down. It was great to see the canyon from the floor. With that done, we waited for a helicopter to take us back up. There is almost a military-like efficiency in the way the flights are run – drop passengers down, pick others
up, take them back to base. And there’s up to 3 landing together within a short space of time. As chance would have it, we had the same pilot to take us up. The ride back up was almost as thrilling, as we flew really close to the walls (not dangerously though).
This all took about 2 hours, so I boarded a shuttle bus to Eagle Point. Eagle Point is so named because of a rock formation you can see from there that looks like an eagle. I thought I could see it, but when I heard someone else describe the eagle they could see, I was no longer so sure. Anyway, I started off with eating lunch before I headed out to the Skywalk. As I mentioned, the Skywalk is a 70ft glass walkway that goes out over the canyon. You can’t take anything out there, including cameras, so there’s no photos except the ones they take and then sell you. There were a couple of people who clearly had a fear of heights, but most people seemed to walk out there without major problems. I, of course, was fine and was comfortable walking in the
middle of the glass and looking down.
By the time I was finished, it was 3pm and the tour bus was going to leave at 3:45, so to be safe I decided to head straight back. As it turned out, the shuttle bus was not as efficient as they claim and it took 30 minutes until I got on one, and I had to travel out to Guano Point before heading back. I got back at 3:50, and was worried that the bus was going to leave without me until I saw some people from my tour bus board at Guano Point. I figured that increased the chances of them waiting for us. Luckily that was what happened.
The trip back to Las Vegas was uneventful, but long. I was planning to have dinner and a shower before heading out to see Penn and Teller at 9pm, but with all of the hotel drop-offs I started worrying that I would miss it. That would have really sucked because my ticket was for the front row and I was really looking forward to it. As it turned out, I got to the hotel at 8pm
so I had to skip dinner and the shower. I changed my clothes and walked over to the Rio hotel.
The Penn and Teller show was fantastic. I had seen a couple of the tricks before, but it still impressed me and I couldn’t see how any of it was done – except for the couple of tricks that they purposely showed us how they did them. My favourite was Penn’s display of “psychic powers”. His point was to show that so-called psychics who claim to talk to the dead or predict the future do not have supernatural powers. To do this, he had people from the audience choose random jokes out of some joke books and he guessed the joke they had chosen. The first one he did as an example of “cold reading” (making lots of guesses that narrow down the selection, ignoring the misses and focussing on the hits), the second was “hot reading” (using known information) and the third was something else which he didn’t mention. But it involved an envelope that was on stage before the show began. Members of the audience had been invited up to sign the envelope (which I
Heading down the river
We floated back to the start using the current, so the boat driver insisted on taking photos of us.
did) and the guy who chose the joke confirmed it was the same envelope. At the end of the final trick, Penn and Teller ran out into the foyer and were out there posing for photos and signing autographs as we left the theatre. I (very briefly) spoke with both of them (off stage, Teller speaks – actually, being in the front row I can confirm he does occasionally speak on stage, but simply doesn’t have a microphone) and they signed my program. So all in all, it was a pretty awesome night. I caught a cab back to my hotel and went straight to bed, because the next day I was being picked up at 4:40am!
Needless to say, I was very tired in the morning (Thursday). I was picked up on time and driven out to Boulder City airport for a scenic flight tour out to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. After checking in and waiting around for a bit, we took off right on sunrise. The flight was a bit over an hour and on the way we flew over the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. I took a lot of
I'm glad to say, she did.
photos because the early morning sun looked great on the landscape.
We landed and were immediately put on a bus and taken into the national park. Our first stop was Mather Point. In my sleep deprived state, I was thinking that two tours of the Grand Canyon was possibly overdoing it. However, the views at Mather Point managed to blow me away again. I think the vista there was significantly better than the west rim, so I was instantly glad I had done them both (and in that order). It was here that I took one of my favourite photos of the trip so far, when I snapped a picture of a squirrel perched on a rock overlooking the canyon. When I changed to a bigger zoom lens, he actually turned back to face me and started eating some breakfast.
We then boarded the bus and headed to the next destination – Bright Angel Lodge. Here we were given a boxed breakfast and had 90 minutes to eat and look around. Again, there were some fantastic views. It is also here that the mule rides to the bottom leave from (apparently there is a
1 year waiting list for these), and also the hiking trail (9-12 hours). Neither of those were for us, as we then headed back to the airport for the flight back to Boulder City.
This tour was much shorter than I expected, but that was fine with me. I got back to the hotel just after 1pm so I decided what I would do is nap for a couple of hours (between the 3 hour timezone shift, late nights and early starts, this afternoon nap was sure to confuse my body clock, but what can you do?) and then go see another show. I tried to book a ticket to the Cirque du Soleil “O” show at the Bellagio but the website wouldn’t process the payment. I rang the concierge to see if they could book it, but she recommended I head over to the Bellagio box office. So I did (it’s next door to Caesar’s), and even though the 10pm show was technically sold out, I managed to get a ticket in row G because I was buying a single ticket. So I headed back to the hotel and had a couple of hours sleep.
I woke up feeling pretty groggy, but after a shower and dinner down at one of the restaurants in Caesar’s Palace I was feeling fine. I had a bit over an hour before I had to be at the Bellagio for the show so I headed out onto the strip to have a look and take some photos. I only got as far as the Bellagio because there were heaps of people, most of whom were waiting around the lake out the front, expecting something to start soon. I decided to join them and was most impressed by the fountain show. When it finished, I decided to continue around the lake before heading in for the show. As it turned out, there were so many people and going was slow so I caught the next fountain show. Again it was very pretty, and I was doubly impressed by the fact that the show was different from the first I saw.
I then made my way into the Bellagio and headed into the “O” theatre. I’m not a huge fan of circus things (much to the disappointment, I’m sure, of my mate who is really into
it) but it was highly recommended and it was a much better option than a lot of the shows around (e.g. Human Nature). As it turns out, I thought it was fantastic. The show is based on the element of water, and despite not getting the story at all (if there was one, I’m not really sure) I was really impressed at it all. The performance was part gymnastics, part synchronised swimming and part high-diving, with some clowns thrown in for good measure. The performers were amazing, but I was also blown away by the stage and rigging involved. Throughout the show, the stage changes from being solid ground to shallow water to deep water for diving. And different parts of the stage were changed throughout the show. When it was done, I headed back to my hotel for some more sleep.
This morning (Friday) was a much more reasonable start time for my tour to the Hoover Dam. I was picked up at 8:45am and again we were taken to the Boulder City airport, with a brief stop at the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Along the way, the guy on the bus told us
Flying to the south rim
that the tour company has started a new Hoover Dam helicopter tour that we could take when we returned from the bus tour. As it was a new service that isn’t fully advertised yet, the price was only $99 instead of $179. Again, I figured I might as well give it a go because I don’t expect to visit here again.
We soon boarded the bus and headed out to the dam. Again, the bus driver was a pretty funny guy and of course there was a lot of dam(n) jokes. Once we arrived, we had a couple of hours to look around. We were recommended to go straight into the tour down to the generators. This I did. The whole place is huge and impressive (have I used the word impressive enough yet in this blog?). When it finished, I headed up to the observation deck for some photos before walking out along the dam wall.
It was then time to head back to the bus, where we were taken back to the airport via a quick photo opportunity at a lookout over Lake Mead. Once at the airport we checked in for
Flying to the south rim
our flight. Although we didn’t have an attractive blond pilot this time, there were only 3 passengers so we were all guaranteed window seats, which was nice. The flight was about 20 minutes and we did some “S” turns over the dam before heading back to the airport. Then it was back to the hotel for a late lunch and I have spent the rest of the evening relaxing in my room before writing this blog.
All in all, I’m in two minds about Vegas. On the one hand, my hotel is awesome, the two shows I’ve seen were fantastic, and the tours were to some incredibly scenic locations. However, on the other hand a lot about Vegas is not really to my liking. There are so many people, and there is the constant drinking and gambling, plus general seediness. I guess Vegas isn’t really a solo travel destination – I suspect some of it would be more fun if you are with other people. However, I am glad I came and even more glad I’m leaving in the morning without a wedding ring on my finger.
There are more photos below