From Sin City to the City of Saints

Trip Start Sep 14, 2010
Trip End Nov 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Friday, October 22, 2010

With minimal expectations of Vegas, we arrived with an open mind and loved it! We got a taste of what was to come when we first arrived in the airport - slot machines in the gate lounges!
Flying in to Las Vegas we sighted the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and got a surprise to see just how big the city of Las Vegas is, the houses spread far and wide.

Vegas is loud with the chime of slot machines and caters to all sorts! We got just as much enjoyment observing the different people in the casinos as we did the casinos themselves. There were young adults, grannies on scooters, businessmen and cowboys, the high rollers and the families, just to name a few. When we arrived at the MGM Grand, we were offered an upgrade from a twin room to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite at a minimal cost. We took it! Our room was at the end of a 150m corridor, double door entry, huge living areas and bedrooms and bathrooms with panoramic views of the strip! We felt like we should have been in a movie like Oceans 11.

We weren't sure how we were going to get to see all that Vegas offered so we decided to wander The Strip and look at the different casinos and what they had to offer.They are glitzy and gaudy, but all fun and beautiful in their own right. The MGM Grand has lion cubs on their casino floor and Treasure Island holds a mock sea battle. Paris has a replica of the Eiffel Tower and Arc De Triomphe and the Venetian has canals running through it on which you can have a gondola ride. New York, New York is a mini version complete with the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. It also has a rollercoaster that Courtney and Pete went on - Courtney screamed through the whole thing. Dawn really wanted to see Caesars Palace and was very impressed with the swanky Forum Shops! It is hard to choose the most beautiful resort - the Bellagio is lovely and the choreographed dancing fountains were fun, but the two newest additions to the Strip, the Wynn and the Encore were equally impressive.

Downtown, the 'old strip' has been brought back to life with a four-block pedestrian mall topped by an arched steel canopy filled with computer-controlled lights. At night, the canopy is transformed into a 6 minute light and sound show enhanced by 550,000 watts of wraparound sound! Between The Strip and Downtown, are many of the old wedding chapels and we all enjoyed a stroll around them including Graceland Wedding Chapel. Bon Jovi was married here and on some days, over 30 couples will get married here. For those that are in a hurry or just plain lazy, you can go down the road to the Little White Wedding Chapel and get married in the drive-through!! There are also many bail bond places around this area!!

It didn't take us long to realise why Las Vegas is as big as it is. Our hotel, the MGM Grand, had over 5,000 hotels rooms itself. The number of maids they must need to clean, not to mention the front desk staff, the croupiers, the bar staff, the waitresses, the chefs, the decorators, the maintenance staff, the gardners....everywhere you look in Vegas there is a whole other industry! Nearly everyone in Las Vegas must be connected to the casinos somehow!

We didn't see everything in Las Vegas and were sad to say goodbye to our room, but we saw a lot (and walked a lot!!) in the time we did have there and as we were having no luck in the gambling stakes, it was time to move on. That meant picking up another hire car - unfortunately, a Mercury Grand Marquis. Dawn and Courtney are most unimpressed with the Yank Tank appearance and Pete cant get over the lack of guts it has as a V8. However, it does a slightly bigger boot to fit all our luggage - more junk in the trunk!

Next stop, The Grand Canyon. As we approached Hoover Dam, we said goodbye to Nevada and hello to Arizona. The weather was getting cold and miserable and we were beginning to worry about the weather ahead. As we drove through barren landscape, Arizona had a more cowboy and indian feel and we also had a brief stint on the old Route 66, stopping in Kingman for lunch.

Our initial plan was to visit the North Rim,but with the season approaching its end, we were unsure of the availability of accomodoation, so headed to the South Rim. Unfortunately the weather at the Canyon wasn't great. It was overcast, hazy and cold but we did get to see a lot more than we first expected. At roughly 1 mile deep and 10 miles across, the Grand Canyon is a pretty big hole in the ground! The Colorado River, which has carved the canyon over the past 6 million years and exposed rocks up to 2 billion years old, travels 277 miles along its floor.

Although the weather obscured our view somewhat, the Rim Trail trek gave a good enough look to appreciate the beauty and expansiveness of it. In some ways, visiting at the time of year we did was a benefit. Crowds were low so we could take pictures and find parking and restuarants etc. without the elbowing and queues. The best view we got of the Canyon was via a scenic helicopter flight. Our one-hour flight in the morning was postponed due to bad weather, but we luckily got the half-hour flight in the afternoon and it was much better than expected. After our unsuccessful search for moose in New England, we were all very happy to see both elk and mule deer quite closely in the canyon park. Although the weather was poor, the Canyon experience did not fail to impress.

Leaving the Canyon and Kaibab National Park, we passed throught the Navajo Reservation; the largest Native American Reservation in the country, extending across 4 states. Dawn loved the roadside markets set up by the Navajo and enjoyed browsing through them. It's amazing how the Indians can live in such desolate surrounds.

Once again, we left one state behind and entered another one. Utah is a state we have all wanted to visit. On our way to Salt Lake City, we stopped at Zion National Park. For many, it is the Grand Canyon that epitomises the ultimate US travel destination, but we were all impressed equally, if not more, by Zion. The white, pink and red rocks of Zion are huge and magnificicent and we were definitely awed. We were fortunate enough to catch the free shuttle buses that run down in to the canyon; the service will close at the end of October. Again, we saw more wildlife including elk, mule deer, wild turkey and even a tarantula crossing the road! It would have been lovely to spend more time in Zion to complete more of the different walks and go horseriding. A return trip may be in order for just that!

We didnt have time to vist Bryce Canyon, but we have been extremely fortunate with timing our visits to the National Parks. As we travelled further in to Utah, small pockets of snow were on the ground and eventually, it began to fall! As Courtney has never seen snow fall, she is the only one out of us all that is actually excited about the snow!

Parents always tell their kids to go outside and play. In Utah, that could almost be a marketing slogan! The state isnt over-populated and the rugged terrain begs to be hiked, skied and explored. The varying colours are spectacular and as diverse as the biggest set of Derwent pencils and the huge, soaring mountain peeks loom over you from all points in the city. Salt Lake City sits in a stunning mountain setting and is quite a modern-looking city with a sizeable gay community that came as a surprise to us given that Salt Lake is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (better known as Mormon). It was our association with the Mormom missionaries many years ago that has fuelled our wish to visit. For those of you unfamiliar with the Mormon faith, Mormons prize family above all else and hard work and strict obedience to church leaders are very important. Smoking and drinking alcohol, tea or coffee are forbidden and the faith considers missionary service very important. Young men on missions are called Elders, such as Elder Redaelli, and young women, Sisters.

We had a lot of contact with Mormon missionaries around 15 years ago and though we never intended on joining their faith, we learnt many things from the missionaries and appreciated and respected what they brought to our family and individual lives. We have stayed in contact with one missionary and we caught up with him and his family for dinner while we were in Salt Lake City. It had been 15 years since Mathews mission and he is now married with children, but it was absolutely lovely to see him again and meet his family.

Temple Square is Salt Lake City's most famous sight. It occupies a 10 acre block and is surrounded by a 15 foot-high wall. We were surprised to be met by Sisters completing their mission at Temple Square. We thought this sounded like a fairly easy mission compared to what some of the other missionaries face when they are on theirs, but the sisters told us that even at Temple Square, they are met by people who do not want to talk to them. Why these people would visit Temple Square in the first place, we dont know! We saw the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall, but the Temple is for Mormons 'in good standing' only. There were fantastic visitors centers that had model displays of the Temple. We thought the Tabernacle and Temple would be bigger and slightly more ornate. The Tabernacle has amazing accoustics; when a pin is dropped, the sound can be heard all the way in the back, 200 feet away. The organ in the Tabernacle is the 12th largest in the world. Across the road from Temple Sqaure is the new Conference Center, a huge and impressive building - the theatre seats 21,000 people and they can translate in to over 50 languages simultaneously. When it was being designed, they were mindful that it was not to overshadow the Temple, so instead of going up, they went down instead and have a rooftop garden complete with waterfall!

Due to the expected bad weather, we headed off to buy warmer clothes and better shoes, much to Dawns disgust! Just as well we did, we had about 4 inches of snow that night and needed to buy an ice scraper in the morning! Our next stop - Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky Country, Montana!
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