Saturday, 18 January 2014

The National Parks- The Grand Canyon and Death Valley

One of the things I was most excited for when planning a trip to Vegas was to make the short trip to Arizona (another state ticked off) to visit one of America's biggest, natural attractions- the Grand Canyon. For a hole in the ground, it's pretty famous and I really wanted to visit one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World whilst in such close proximity to it.

The original plan was to take the bus to the West Rim (the section owned and managed by the Hualapai American-Indian Tribespeople). When looking into this though, we realised it would entail getting up at 4am, spending 4 hours on a bus, having limited time at the Canyon and then spending another 4 hours on a bus- not the best way to spend a trip. Instead, we opted for a flight/ground tour which offered a short 30 minute flight from nearby Boulder City to the Grand Canyon airport and a longer amount of time at the canyon itself (if you're interested look at It only cost an extra £30 per person and it was well worth it...

The flight itself was amazing and worth the extra money alone! It was a tiny 19-seater, twin propellor plane with barely room to swing a cat when everyone was seated onboard. It was obviously designed for short scenic flights however as it had huge windows, was connected to speakers with informative commentary and cruised at a relatively low altitude offering spectacular views over the desert on the way to the Canyon. We also saw The Hoover Dam and the Colorado River from the air and it was a fantastic experience!

Landing safe and sound at Grand Canyon airport, we were escorted to a shuttle bus which would take us to the three different points around the canyon which offered the most to a discerning tourist. The first was a nod to the history of the region, with a mock Wild-West town set up complete with a saloon, a ranch and a few real-life cowboys!

After looking around the area and learning to lasoo (a skill I picked up surprisingly quickly considering my lack of hand-eye co-ordination)...

...we headed to the next stop which was the Eagle-point Lookout. This offered us the first up-close glimpse of the canyon and we could eat lunch about 50 feet away from the sheer drop at it's edge. Getting closer to the edge, we all experienced vertigo to some degree, thanks to the lack of any kind of barrier between us and a long, long fall into the basin of the canyon. Thankfully we all made it back to tell the tale, but it was a scary experience! 

After a quick browse at the Native American market at this point, we headed back to the bus and to the third and final stop-Guano point. The most spectacular of the three stop-offs, this is a pathway which has naturally formed into the canyon, meaning that when you stand on it, you feel as if you are surrounded 360degree by the canyon. The landscape is beautiful, with red and orange sandstone forming a steep climb to the top of the point.

We reached the summit of the area scrambling up the rocks, but it was 100% worth it as from here you were able to experience the best vantage point from which to view the whole landscape including the Colorado River snaking through the basin! It really was beautiful!

To finish off the day, we took the plane back to Vegas and got to experience the sun setting over the desert from above. The perfect end to the perfect day!

The Grand Canyon is amazing- looking into it's vast depths is an amazing experience, and I'm so glad we fitted this into our trip to Vegas! 

Contrary to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley isn't really somewhere I knew a whole lot about before this trip. I knew it was somewhere in the desert but that is about as far as my knowledge stretched. When planning our drive between Las Vegas and Los Angeles though, we realised that a far more scenic route than the more obvious freeway, would be to traverse Death Valley. Looking into it, I discovered that the route was renowned for it's stunning desert scenery along with notable points of interest including ruined buildings, various wildlife, flat salt plains and winding cliffside roads. We decided that it would be a shame to waste an opportunity to see another famous American National Park so we would drive through Death Valley.

First things first however, before making the drive, we had another full day in Vegas. After spending a good few hours at a Outlet Mall (one of the amazing things about the USA) and doing some major retail therapy, we spend the rest of the day checking out the rest of the strip. We also finally got around to doing some gambling (mostly because you can't come to Vegas and not place a bet)! Unfortunately we were largely unsuccessful and from the $60 we bet ($15 each was all we were prepared to lose) we ended up with a 10c voucher which we have kept as a souvenir to our failure! 

We also made a quick stop at Madame Tussaud's which was delightfully tacky and had a great selection of photo opportunities-

After an enjoyable last day, we rose bright and early the next morning ready for the 7 hours of driving that would need to be completed before arriving in LA. Driving through Death Valley, the scenery could have come straight out of a film.

We first reached an old Mill which was now largely ruins thanks to the harsh weather conditions in one of the least habitable places on earth! It was set in the middle of nowhere and the landscape around it was lovely. It was also one of the quietest places I have ever visited with barely the noise of a car heard in the several minutes we spent there! 

Moving further along the winding road, we reached a set of salt plains which were 800 feet below sea level, completely flat and almost other-worldly. They were also a great place to take photos with distorted dimensions like this-

After spending some time here, and enjoying a picnic lunch in the middle of nowhere, we continued along the scenic drive crossing some very treachorous roads, with some spectacular views to make up for it!

Heading out onto the straight (mostly boring) freeways which took us the rest of the way made me appreciate the interesting section of the drive we had completed. It made it clear why so many people refer to the 'Great American Roadtrip'! Overall, it was definitely worth taking the longer drive through a Death Valley to reach LA (which is where I am currently writing from) and seeing some more of the beautiful (although inhospitable) part of the country! Anyway, I'll update again in the next few days, but for now I'm off to bed so goodnight!

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