Hoover Dam, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jun 27, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

After three days in Vegas, it was time to head out and get some normality back into our life.  There is only so much you can take of flashing lights, endless noise and mindless hedonism.  So, we decided on the fourth day to hire a car for a couple of days and head off to see some of the beautiful natural sights surrounding the area.

In my dreams Nic and I were driving down the highway in a high speed two seater convertible the wind rushing through our hair, but unfortunately our limited budget would only stretch to a low speed four seater family saloon, but it was a set of wheels and that is all that mattered. 

Day one of our mini road trip would take us to the Hoover Dam, and Death Valley!!! Excellent.  Thankfully for us, and our marriage, Scott had loaned us his sat-nav Tom Tom GPRS thingy that told us in no uncertain terms where we should and shouldn't go.  After spending the first hour trying to understand why it wasn't working we realised that it was necessary to take it out of the glove box (when was the last time anyone put any gloves in the glove box - they really should come up with a new name for it) so that it could seek out a satellite and locate us.  We inputted our required destination and off we went, directed into the wilderness by a woman we had only just met. 

We made the decision - much to the irritation of the voice from the box - to take a slight detour via Lake Mead and I am glad we did.  What a beautiful and stunning place.  Crystal clear blue waters surrounded by desert.  It really is the antithesis of Las Vegas.  Here you get to feel like you are in Nevada 'proper' - you could be a million miles away from the glitz of Vegas.

Without too much hassle we soon arrived at Hoover Dam.  Another ambition fulfilled for Pat as this was the location for the first ever Superman film back in the day and it was great to relive the images of young Jimmy Olsen clinging by his finger tips on the edge of the dam only to be rescued by Superman.  Oh, and of course, it is an amazing feat of engineering that is impressive even now and even more so when you consider it was built in the 1930's.  Unfortunately, the best views of the dam (for photographic purposes) are from the visitors centre which incurs a cost which we couldn't afford, but the best views in terms of experience are from walking across it, which we did cos it was free. It's pretty intense when you walk across and stare down the sheer wall into the canyon below - it makes your legs go a bit wobbly.  On one side you have the lake and the feed towers then hundreds of feet below on the other side is the canyon and the river.  Also, and I never knew this, the dam is separated by states and therefore time zones (at certain times of the year).  When you walk across the dam you start of in Nevada and finish up in Arizona. 
After walking around for some time and after several discussions of whether you would survive if you dived into the river from the top (I still reckon you would survive but Nic disagreed) we decided to head off to Death Valley.

Now what Mrs clever Tom Tom woman never told us was that going from Hoover Dam to Death Valley involves going back on yourself and also means crossing into California - oh well, what else would we be doing with ourselves.  Three states in one day - not bad.  So, after driving back past Vegas and into more desert (is arid land  mass desert or dessert?  I don't want to confuse people into thinking that we drove into more pudding when what I mean is drove into more arid landscape with little rainfall.....anyway I digress) we stopped at the beginning of Death Valley and it soon becomes apparent as to where it gets its name from.  There is no way anything could survive here for any length of time.  We arrived at 5pm and it was unbelievably hot so god knows how hot it is in the middle of the day - apparently according to all the blurb the second highest temperature was recorded here at something like 56 degrees Celsius, which is 134 Fahrenheit (I have no idea where the hottest ever temperature recorded is and how high but Death Valley breaks all average temperature records).  It is something to do with the fact that it is way below sea level and all the heat gets trapped in - whatever the reason it is hot and barren and not a place you would want your car to breakdown.  We had a drive around as the car was air conditioned and therefore a lot more bearable than walking around by foot.  Even though it was late afternoon it must have been 40 plus degrees Celsius (around the 100 Fahrenheit mark).  We did get out and walk around but before long it was time to head back to Las Vegas and we had a good few miles in front of us.

We knew that the west rim of the Grand Canyon was not so far away but we had done a bit of research and learnt that the south rim was perhaps the more spectacular part but unfortunately it is 250 miles away from Vegas.  So we set off at 8.30, had breakfast on the road and made our way.  Whilst driving along we decided that we would stop off at the new Skywalk on the west rim - this is a horseshoe bridge with a glass floor that juts out some distance from the canyon wall giving spectacular and hair raising views straight down to the canyon.  Unfortunately it is 30 miles down a dirt track road that is limited to 5mph speed limits and it costs a fortune to go on it.  So we turned around and continued our journey to the south rim.  We saw signs saying that the Grand Canyon National Park was only a few miles away but ahead of us all we saw was barren desert landscape - for some reason we were expecting to see something either jutting out or up or something but we forgot we were driving on a huge plateau and the canyon (by definition) goes down so you don't see anything until you are stood on the edge. 

We paid the $20 entrance fee to the park, parked up and walked to the edge of the canyon.  There are no words, and I mean no words, that can describe the view that presents itself to you.  I am not going to even try, all I will say is that no photo, no video, will ever do justice to what is before your eyes.  It is another sight that you see a million times on TV but it can only be really experienced by standing in front of it.  We just stood open mouthed at the enormity and scale and tried to take it all in.  Facts for you - it is a mile, yes a mile deep, in parts of the canyon, it is ten miles across at the widest point, but to get to the other side you would have to drive something like 300 miles, and it is by far one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in my life.  Also, it is where Superman Three was shot with Richard Prior and involved him walking down the side on a donkey. 

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to spend too long there as we didn't arrive until 4.30pm due to the long long drive and we left at 8pm - but we made a promise to each other that we would definitely return and spend time there, possibly go down into the canyon and do some water rafting on the Colorado River.  You can just see the river from the top of the canyon, and it is only then do you get a real scale of the depth of the gorge.  We even saw about twelve eagles circling around below us - we were a few hundred feet above them and they must have been some distance from the canyon floor.  It was with sadness that we left as we really wanted to get out and explore more - there is so much to see and so many places to walk.  The thing that amazed us is how close you can get to the canyon edge - there are no barriers and the ground is full of gravel so one wrong step and you are history. But this does give you the chance to take a close look and get some of those photographs that make your legs go wobbly.

The next day and it was time to leave the oasis in the desert (or is it dessert?) and head back to SF.  A quick stopover there to catch up on washing and then head up to Canada for a very quick visit to Vancouver.
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