Having seen Niagara Falls a few months ago, the Grand Canyon was next on our list of must-see American icons. We initially thought we might drive there from Las Vegas, but when we found out just how far it is (a little under 300 miles each way) a bus trip began to sound more appealing.
After much consideration, and perusal of online reviews, we selected the sunset tour to the canyon’s South Rim offered by Grand Adventures, which my parents very kindly gave us as a joint Christmas/birthday present. It was a fantastic day out, I really can’t recommend GA highly enough, and although it was a shade more expensive than most of the other bus trips it was well worth the extra (and very many thanks, Mum & Dad!).
Rather than a 50-seater coach, Grand Adventures take you out in a minibus, in order to keep the numbers low and the day a little more flexible. There were 10 of us, plus driver/guide, in our bus, and we all had plenty of space.
In order to break up what would otherwise be a 4 hour journey, we made a number of stops along the way. The first of these was at McDonalds in the Vegas suburbs for breakfast – no good at all for me given the paucity of their gluten- and dairy-free offerings, but a cup of coffee was very welcome given our 06.20 start time, and naturally I had packed plenty of snacks. (Tom, of course, made short work of a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit with hash browns.) Duly fortified, we all piled back into the bus and made good time to our first scenic stop: the Hoover Dam.
Looking at the photo above, the road we drove along curves down below the bridge at the far left to pass over the top of the dam itself. The centre of the dam marks the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona, so the short drive across took us forward in time by an hour. We stopped at a viewpoint to take pictures whilst Alfonso, our guide and driver, gave us a most informative talk about how the dam was built, before driving back across and stopping briefly to see the other side. It was quite a shock to see just how huge the dam actually is, and sadly I couldn’t get a decent picture of it (although my best attempt appears in our Flickr album for the trip), but there are some great (and vertigo-inducing!) shots on this UC Santa Barbara webpage, along with lots of fascinating facts about it all.
We continued our journey across the desert, pausing next to fill up on gas and snacks. The Americans in our group didn’t appear to pay much attention to the surroundings, but Tom and I were quite taken with our first truck stop (it had MUCH better facilities than the average European service station), and it was nice to stretch our legs for a little while.
Back in the bus again, we soon found ourselves on a flyover looking down Route 66 at Seligman. A tiny town which straggles along the highway for about a mile (I’m guessing here), it’s main claim to fame seems to be that it inspired the setting for the Pixar movie Cars. These days it apparently ekes out a living as a stop for tourists, with a handful of kitschy cafes and stores selling Route 66 memorabilia.
Back on the road we continued to make good time, and it wasn’t too much longer (a mere hour or so!) that we found ourselves at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. The park itself was surprisingly wooded (I’m not sure what I was expecting, really), and after all the desert views it was rather pleasant to spend a little time driving through the trees. Piling out of the bus, we all hot-footed it up along the trail from the carpark, eager to catch our first sight of the canyon; it certainly did not disappoint.
I’m still struggling to find adequate words to describe it – it’s just so big! There were only a couple of places where the Colorado river was visible, and the lack of any human-sized structures made it even harder to put it’s size into context (not that I’m complaining). We sat down to eat our picnic exactly where this photo is taken from, and contemplating it all over lunch made it a little easier to comprehend. The next couple of hours were spent wandering along the South Rim path, taking photos from a variety of viewpoints and generally enjoying the scenery.
The ever-changing light cast on the rocks by setting sun was beautiful to observe, and if it hadn’t been for the rapidly-falling temperature we could have stayed there a lot longer – if we get the chance to go again I’d love to do a trek down into the canyon itself.
The return journey passed remarkably quickly, with just one break en route (at the truck stop again), and Vegas seemed particularly garish after a day of quiet and fresh air.
As per usual we took a ridiculous number of photos, so if you liked these there are plenty more awaiting you in my Flickr album for the trip.