From Palms Springs to Phoenix

Trip Start Sep 01, 2012
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, December 2, 2012

Whoopee! We're off to Vegas through scrubby desert land with mile after mile of mountains flanking our route. We stop overnight in Palm Springs in a cute boutique b and b with quirky décor and only a few rooms all arranged around a pool. We’re welcomed with sweet treats and a cocktail. Palm Springs has it’s own strip and casinos and a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe, skirts a-blowing. We take a slightly scary and wobbly cable car a mile up a mountain and stare back at this improbable and probably unnecessary town in the dessert, set, rather counter intuitively, next to a giant windmill farm.

It’s a four hour drive to Vegas through more desert. Occasionally a town with no reason at all to be there crops up offering rooms for $30 and casinos. The Vegas sprawls eventually starts and we have to drive up the Strip to get to our hotel. And Vegas was what we were expecting, though, oddly, we were expecting it to be even more so. Actually the insanity is fairly under control – why wouldn’t there be a half size copy of the Eifel Tower? Who would question the need for a full size galleon that had firing canons and sinks to order? Our suite is gorgeous and not so very much smaller than the ground floor of our house. But the hotel itself is a tad beyond belief. The scale is one thing – a two story Ferrari showroom and two theatres not to mention the Rolex shop and umpteen restaurants and of course every kind of gambling involving cards, dice or revolving symbols and numbers. But it is the sheer quality and the creativity that surprises: beautiful mosaic floors, huge Murano glasss chandeliers and stunning flower displays. Everything seems to be bespoke and if it lapses into gaudy or kitsch then the unceasing energy and commitment carries us along. We see a couple of very good shows and shuffle up and down the strip, spending not a single dime in the ever present casinos. Latinos line the street handing out cards for 'Girls direct to you’. Although Vegas is huge the strip is probably only a mile long and nothing we saw outside (or inside it) would persuade to live there. But it seems to be harmless enough, (unless you loose your shirt) and in the end is a shrine to fun as much as money.

We don’t look back and head north for a great big dollop of natural beauty. The dessert gives way to mountains and we gradually climb to 8,500 feet. We have a few days in Bryce Canyon, which is not in fact a canyon as its extraordinary landscape is not carved by a river. It is impossible not to see things in the ‘hoodoos’ the bizarre orange pillars created by the endless freeze, thaw and fracturing of the relatively soft rock. Look… there’s a cathedral, there’s an Indian temple, there’s a bunch of meerkats. We walk down amongst them, squeezed and breathless with occasional glimpses of brilliant blue skies in perfect colour contrast to the oxidized rocks.

Only the thought of the Grand Canyon tears us away and we drive through hours of mountain and dessert. It is the country of cowboys and injuns, landscape we only ever saw in monochrome at Saturday morning cinema. The roads are lined with the trading stalls of the remaining native Americans selling pottery, baskets and reproductions of their ancient artifacts. Their houses are barely houses at all, and we wonder how their lives must be.

We stop for an impromptu tour of the immense Glen Canyon damn on the Colorado River. We are warned that we mustn’t say words like bomb or terrorists and take a lift 600 feet down to the base of the damn where 30 foot concrete walls hold back the water. As a result of the detour we arrive at the Canyon in the dark and a strange pink glow in the sky is all that tells us there is something out of the ordinary waiting to be seen. We are staying in an historic hotel, a giant and grand log cabin badly in need of a bit of updating but it doesn’t matter. When we wake up and go outside the canyon is quite literally incredible. It would be wise to stop with that word as anything else written here risks under-representing a landscape of such immense scale and grandeur. None of the pictures we take come close to capturing the truth. It really is a place you have to see for yourself. One of the joys of the State Parks is the Rangers. And here like every park there are talks and walks and enthusiastic staff who with deep knowledge help us to understand more of the geology, fauna and flora. A few facts must suffice to fuel the imagination for those who have not seen it. It is 227 miles long, more than a mile deep and 11 miles wide.

Utah and Arizona are huge and empty but by now we are comfortable with driving hour after hour through the beautiful mountains and desserts. Our final nature stop is Sedona a pleasant town surrounded by red/orange mountains. Many of the buildings, a bit like in the Eastwood movie ‘High Plains Drifter’, are painted a reddy brown or constructed from red stone and from high up the town is almost invisible. It is also a centre for mystical and other spiritual beliefs and conversations we either have or overhear leave us looking at each other with a carefully concealed but raised eyebrow. We have a very fine chat with Doug, a young and very bald guy (it says this on his card!) He is clever and politically knowledgeable with an interesting life. It’s these chance meetings that make such a valuable counter point to what we can discern for ourselves.

And, oh goodness, three months has gone and we must away to Phoenix to make our way home to the cold and the familiar. It is tempting to try to make a summary of our travels but we feel it is premature without a time for reflection.

We can say though that we have had a marvellous adventure, have seen astonishing natural beauty, visited some intriguing cities and have grasped a little of the American perspective. We have met some fascinating people, enjoyed meeting old friends on their own turfs and have found good coffee quite often. It could be the trip of our lifetimes but with luck there may be other trips to other places, as the old saw that says travel broadens the mind is so manifestly true.
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Harry Key on

The mountains and desert drive sounds fabulous.The Bryce Canyon is amazing and I would love to see the Grand Canyon for myself.
I feel that America is wasted on the Americans.
Take all that beauty and they come up with Las Vegas and the Tea Party.
Safe journey home.

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