This is the second post in the series about our coast to coast in America, if you haven’t done so already you can read the first episode on New York and Texas. I have also included some details on how we prepared the whole trip from one coast to another in seventeen days, so if you are planning a coast to coast yourself, definitely go and check it out!
ARIZONA – THE GRAND CANYON
After 5 days in New York and 3 days in Texas, we caught our last internal flight moving west towards Phoenix, where we landed at night finding 40°C waiting for us (eek!). We rented a car at the airport and then the adventure began with a long drive up through Arizona’s hills in order to reach the tiny village of Willams, one hour south of the Grand Canyon.
Arriving at something like 1.30 a.m. we rested a couple of hours in a little motel on the street – the Travelodge by Wyndham Williams Grand Canyon – and in the morning we literally woke up in the movie “Cars”. It really felt like being in the movie while walking though the sunny streets, a scraped wall here and a rusty sign there, and glancing at the old buildings and semi-abandoned pubs populating this silent village. A few meters away, the desert Historic Route 66 with its cracked asphalt and a boundless landscape of dry grass and red soil. It was breathtaking.
We then drove towards the Grand Canyon South Rim, where we spent the whole day immersed in its surreal atmosphere. And let me tell you, as an European used to high and green mountains, it’s been an experience to cross the Grand Canyon Village wondering where the Grand Canyon in fact was and then finding it broad and colorful below the balaustrade.
Seeing this whole land extending for miles and miles, unravelling in thousands of red and brown and violet and bronze coats left me without breath again – no wonder why, among all places, Native Americans chose to this land as their home. We spent a whole day on the South Rim walking up west to finally catch a guided bus tour up to Hermit’s Rest – the last viewpoint on the Rim – while observing River Colorado hiding amongst the rocks and appearing here and there with its red waters.
We stopped, silent, to hear its noise coming whispered from hundreds of meters below and eventually the sunset came flooding the rocks with a warm, golden light that wrapped the landscape until dark. I’m not a poet but that day will forever hit my memories. I hope one day I’ll visit again fully equipped to do some serious stuff such hiking on the trails or rafting or flying all over the canyons!
With the night approaching it was time to get going, so after a quick dinner in one of the typical pubs of Williams, we headed towards Vegas driving through the hills of Arizona. Now, it was dark, it was late, we were tired and with good three hours to go to the next city, but watching out of the window I couldn’t help but stop in the middle of the night. The truth is, I’ve never seen such a starry sky in my whole life. Far from the busy clutter of city lights, it didn’t even look real – a million stars and the Milky Way shining bright above us. It was magic. (And scary, of course, sure as I was to be surrounded by snakes, spiders and scorpions – I know, they had probably gone 10 miles away the minute we stopped the car, but you know… I’m so brave!)
- The best moments to enjoy the colours of Grand Canyon are sunrise and sunset, so I’d recommend to try and shape your visit based on one of these. The canyons are beautiful all day long but if you can have it all, why not?
- Make sure your accommodation has staff available for early or late check-in/out: being small or often family-run, not all motels and hotels provide it and it would be a shame to miss the moment because you’re fully packed but none’s there to let you out.
- If you want to enjoy the famous airplane tour, make sure to book in advance – the airport is located 15 minutes by car south of the Grand Canyon Village (at least for the South Rim)
- There are plenty of tours to be enjoyed, visit grandcanyon.com to find out more
- If you are adventurous and want to hike down one of the trails make sure you have the whole day available, you are fully equipped for a proper hike, you have plenty of water with you and you are prepared for sudden storms. The paths are busy, they aren’t dangerous, and some of them are pretty short but we’re still talking about a very hot, completely natural area.
- As cute as they can be, squirrels bite! So better not to feed or pet them.
I don’t think that any movie or TV show can properly describe the surreal character of Vegas with its 40°C all day long, luxurious hotels, a life in the spotlight and a huge focus on money, luck and in a way ephemeral Epicureanism. Let’s say it’s been quite a leap coming from the Grand Canyon but it was an experience we HAD to make. We had one day and one night, so starting from the Stratosphere Hotel where we were staying we walked south following the Strip and hitting all major milestones on our path.
Hotels, casinos and their decadent atmosphere are the true protagonists in this city, so that’s what we’ve mainly visited to grasp its spirit and everyday life. And although I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite stop, I enjoyed the creativity put in turning mere buildings into spectacular touristic attractions. Having Venice on my doorstep every day, it was astonishing to be in Vegas and find myself in front of St Mark’s Campanile and the Rialto Bridge at The Venetian, or cross typical Venetian streets under an indoor blue sky while gondoliers drove their gondolas singing out loud.
I loved entering the Paris Las Vegas and walking through little French restaurants nested under the prominent legs of the exact 1:2 scale of the Tour Eiffel; I enjoyed being in the magnificent frame of the Ancient Rome at the Caesars Palace watching the impressive Fall of Atlantis show (one of the many free attractions of L.V. btw), amongst fire, water, roaring characters and fascinated tourists.
The iconic Bellagio Fountains (also free) with their beautiful water show were on my list too and I had to watch the show twice just to enjoy it to the full while being caressed by the warm night breeze of the desert. A final lucky 5-dollar gamble won our drinks for the night at the top of the Stratosphere Tower while watching down the city and its never-ending performance made of big cars, wild luxury, phlegmatic croupiers, semi-naked girl crowding the streets, poor and hopeless people seeking luck and huge, sparkling hotels whose sky beams can be seen from the space too – so the legend says.
I don’t think we will visit again any soon, but I admit Vegas has its own poetry, in a way.
- Although Las Vegas is expensive, there’s plenty of free attractions. In fact, all hotels are free to enter and visit and there are major free show too such as the Fall of Atlantis at the Caesars Palace, The Mermaid Show at the Silverton, the Bellagio Fountains, the Miracle Mile Shops Fountains, the Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign to name the most famous.
- Check show timings as some of them only take place a couple of times a day.
- Wear fresh, comfy shoes, there really are 40°C during the day
- Visit with the right mindset: it truly is the city of waste, pushy sales, false hopes and showing off at its maximum level, but that’s what makes it fascinating. It needs to be seen, at least once in a whole life.
- Although you are more than welcome to take pictures inside the casinos, do not shoot directly at gamblers or gambling tables, nor the gamblers, nor the croupiers will be happy about it. Just ask for their permission and if they are in a good mood they might “forget to pay attention to a curious tourist”.
- Pack earbuds for the night, hotels hallways can get a little loud in a place where partying only stops from 5 to 9 a.m.
I travel the world with an engineer so could we not visit this huge dam just outside Las Vegas, on the border between Nevada and Arizona?