Dam, it was Grand!

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April 5th 2016
Published: May 20th 2016
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We used Las Vegas as our base for a trip to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. It is possible to visit both these places independently by car but it's easier by coach, so an organised trip it was for us – plus, knowing that, we’d already given the car back! There’s plenty of choice in terms of which part of the Canyon to visit but Steve fancied the Skywalk (me, not so much but maybe my brave gene would kick in when we got there) so the West Rim it was for us, via the Hoover Dam. It was also much closer than the South Rim and we didn’t fancy the 18 hour day trip that the woman from Redcar had endured going to the South Rim, often driving in the dark along the deserted roads, quite spoiling her experience.

We were checking out of the Red Roof and returning to the Platinum. It made sense at the time; we wouldn’t have any ‘homeless’ hours between check-out and check-in times to kill if we were out and about on a trip then. However, it did mean that we had to be packed, ready and checked out of the Red Roof by 5.30 am so that we could be at the trip collection point for 6.05 am, which was just a tad on the early side! Nevertheless, following a gentle stroll to the collection point at the Alexis Park Hotel, just around the corner, we were on time when the bus arrived to collect us at 6.15 am (I could have had another cup of coffee in that time, if I’d only known!). The city streets were much emptier at this time of the morning, but some people were making their way to work, whilst others were making their way home. There's probably a song in there somewhere .... After a quick trip to the tour company depot we passengers were given a brief talk about what to expect, were allocated coaches depending on our destination and off we went. Our driver/guide was Thomas and he was informative and amusing, to the point that he was almost an ‘entertainer’ for our trip, with an improvised script he had clearly honed.

Our journey took us out of Las Vegas on Highway 93 towards Boulder City which was established during the depression to house the dam builders for what was then known as the Boulder Dam (it was renamed Hoover Dam only after some later political shenanigans). The Colorado River was subject to fluctuating water levels, mainly as a result of snow melt further up the river, and the project was intended to provide a steady water supply and hydro-electric power to support the developing south west of the country. The city grew from the tents of those people who travelled to the site looking for work, and was initially referred to as Ragtown. Interestingly, we were told that hard hats originated here, with the workers quickly realising that things falling from a great height could do you serious damage and they covered their hats with hardened tar to provide some protection. From its inception, gambling was prohibited in Boulder City (it still is, to this day) and alcohol was banned (to ensure the workforce remained sober); the ‘no alcohol’ law was only repealed in the late 1960s. You’ve got to think that the fortunes of the city might have turned out entirely differently if it had adopted the Las Vegas ‘anything goes’ attitude instead. However, the place looked pretty enough, if somewhat quiet, and it apparently scores consistently highly on those ‘desirable places to live’ lists so the residents clearly like it just the way it is.

Our coach was subject to a security inspection prior to entering the Hoover Dam car park. Apparently, pre-9/11 traffic actually travelled across the top of the Hoover Dam itself but the 9/11 tragedy highlighted the dam as a potential target and the bypass bridge was initiated. It is still possible to take a walking tour of the dam but road traffic is no longer allowed. The new bypass bridge (the O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge) incorporates a pedestrian walkway from which to view the engineering feat that is the dam, holding back the waters of the Colorado River and giving views onto Lake Mead. The bridge itself is a modern marvel, linking the states of Nevada and Arizona. We couldn’t help but be impressed by both the dam and the bridge, though the dam was somewhat smaller than we expected. A bit like Dustin Hoffman ... Imposing, nevertheless.

We continued our journey to the Grand Canyon West Rim, about 120 miles from Las Vegas so it took us a few hours in total. The area is owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe and is in a remote wilderness area. We passed very few signs of habitation along the route – it was a virtually empty and I quite liked it! We turned off the 93, driving through the seemingly impoverished township of Dolan Springs and travelled along unpaved roads before reaching the West Rim car park, from where a shuttle bus operates around the site. Helicopter rides were available from here too and some people on our coach were taking advantage of those. We had caught tantalizing glimpses of the Canyon as we got closer and it looked as though I wasn’t going to be disappointed, as this was another ‘thing’ on my wish list and I was so looking forward to the experience.

From the drop-off car park we took the HOHO shuttle bus out to Eagle Point and, oh my goodness, the Canyon certainly lived up to everything I was expecting. The views across the cleft to the opposite side with the rock striations of many different colours were quite amazing. There were absolutely no guardrails whatsoever and we could walk right up to the edge to look down into the 4000 feet chasm below. We only did this with extreme caution and refrained from joining the other foolhardy plonkers who sat on the edge with their feet dangling over the precipice. Were they mad? One gust of wind or one moment of dizziness and splat .... Not for me, thank you. I didn’t trust my balance or the edge of the cliff enough to keep me from falling off! I did wish I knew something about geology, though, because there’s certainly an amazing story to tell about the Grand Canyon and it was hard to imagine the volcanic activity and gazillions of gallons of water, ice and years involved in creating this wonder of nature as it appears today. We spent quite some time exploring the area before moving on to the Skywalk.

I wasn’t at all confident that I would be able to step foot on the Skywalk. It is another modern marvel of engineering though, providing a glass-bottomed, horse-shoe frame projecting 70 feet from the rim of the Canyon high above the canyon floor. It appears to have no support (yes it does, I kept telling my brain, masses of really, really strong wires and cables and metal and other stuff to keep it in place, it’s just not obvious) and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. Steve Skywalker had no such qualms, however, and in the end I was determined not to be out-done so we both went for it with me telling myself it was a case of mind over matter and hoping The Force would be with me! We had to wear those protective paper bootees so we didn’t scratch the glass and all our bags had to be placed in the free lockers provided. Personal cameras were not allowed but official photographers were present on the Skywalk itself for those who wanted a picture taken. I initially clung to the railings on the edges but as we moved further onto the overhang that seemed a more dangerous position to be in than in the centre of the walkway as the views were so dizzying I didn’t want to run the risk of falling over! It was a surreal experience that confused my senses and altered all perceptions, with our feet seemingly standing on nothing and our bodies floating in mid-air. It was a strange thing to be higher than the birds, which we could see flying around beneath us, but it was wonderful to be able to see the rock strata up close. Overall though, the walkway was smaller than we expected and, dare I say, less impressive than we anticipated (unlike Dustin Hoffman). I didn’t hang around on there too long and readily volunteered to go outside to take a photo of Steve from a distance (that's his best side). I thought it a bit penny-pinching not to allow personal photos and wondered if there might be a Health and Safety reason for not allowing them (y’know – things being dropped from great heights, etc, and no ‘tar hats’ here) but, given the complete lack of any other Health and Safety concerns around the Canyon I think it was more of a money-making exercise. Shame.

The Native American people provided a song and dance show, relating the story of the Indians and a pleasant, gentle walk took us round a replica Native American village with tents and teepees and other structures. There was also an opportunity to visit a Native American ranch but it looked a bit tacky to us so we gave it a rain check.

We moved on to Guano Point from where the views were even better. Remnants of the mechanisms associated with the mining of the bat guano still remain, including the wheelhouse from where the cable was strung across to the opposite side – until it was chopped off by an illicit airplane flying down the Canyon. There is a small hill which provides stunning 360 degree views from the top and Steve made the climb but it was a step too far for me and I opted for the (long and) winding path curving round the side. Even that proved too much for me though, as there was a pinchpoint above a yawning chasm and I didn’t trust my clumsy feet to get me safely round it without anyone to cling on to! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful place to look out over the Canyon, with the twinkling Colorado River below and the helicopters buzzing around below us like angry red birds. We ate our lunch in the sunshine on the Canyon Rim. It was just lovely and an experience I’ll always remember.

Our return journey to Las Vegas was marginally quicker, with only one stop for a comfort break at the ‘Last Stop’ rest stop. This was a rather strange place, nothing like Watford Gap. As well as offering refreshment and toilet facilities, together with opportunities to buy petrol, souvenirs and take a helicopter ride, visitors could also pose with cutouts of Brat Pack members and Marilyn Monroe or shoot a machine gun with live rounds! No thanks – I’ll just pose next to the Rambo-style cardboard cutout instead.

So, we had a super time in the Grand Canyon and returned to our new deluxe lodgings, high in the sky at the Platinum Hotel after calling back to the Red Roof Inn to collect our luggage. This had been a perfectly fine hotel and the staff were lovely. I felt a bit mean when the receptionist asked if she could arrange a taxi for us and I hoped she wouldn’t ask where we were heading for now as we were literally going just a block away and it seemed a bit disloyal. Thankfully, she didn’t and the taxi driver was happy to take us just around the corner. On our way, we witnessed the only accident we saw during all our miles of driving in the USA, where a car waiting at the lights was rear-ended by a pick-up truck which promptly left the scene at great speed. Our driver told us that most accidents in Las Vegas were the result of too much drink or drugs so hit-and-runs weren't unusual. He dropped us off at the Platinum where we sashayed around for the rest of our time in Las Vegas.

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20th May 2016

Exciting experiences
Your trip to the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam looks fantastic and it sounds like you've really enjoyed it. Another place you've put on my 'to do' list.
21st May 2016

It was certainly a sight to behold - one of Nature's natural wonders. The scale of it was impossible to describe. Well worth a visit! Jx
25th May 2016

I had a question about the tour company you used, could you give me the name and it you were satisfied with your tour?
25th May 2016

Grand Canyon Tour
Hi! I've sent you a PM with all the details. Hope helpful!

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