A Travellerspoint blog

Grand Canyon

sunny 40 °C

Today all became a day full of calamity and errors, rather than a visit to the great Grand Canyon National Park. In fact the day was error strewn, something about Friday 13th maybe, but I managed to correct it just in time.

Well I picked up my car at about 11am and moved over to the Riviera hotel to check it. Checking in took some time and it meant that I didn't get on the road to leave Nevada and get into Arizona until almost 12:30. This was far later than I was hoping for. Why? Well the drive to the Grand Canyon take a minimum of five hours from Las Vegas, so I always knew it would be a long day. Things got to a bad start very early. I stopped off at a Nevada information centre to pick up a road map a mile or so from the Hoover Dam. There, I was told that because of construction works there were delays of at least an hour and a half. An hour and a half! This would really push getting to the Grand Canyon whilst there was still daylight and thus rendering the trip meaningless. I was shown a diversion that would take me quite far south, just skimming California before cutting back up to hit I-40. This in itself would add an hour to the drive. I took the diversion only to be lost getting away from the Hoover Dam and perhaps losing another twenty minutes. Then after sometime heading south and then cutting east I got lost in a town just into Arizona, adding at least another twenty minutes to my journey. This was fast become a disaster and a pretty useless endevour. Eventually I found I-40 and, with time rapidly running out I made my way east. I still had another three hours of driving to the Canyon so I couldn't afford to appreciate the barren scenery, populated only by cacti. After roughly two hours travelling east on I-40 I came to the north turnoff and from that turn off it was another hour to the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park entrance - this pressurised drive was not the most enjoyable! My pressing concern was making it to the south rim whilst there was still light in the day.

I needn't have worried. I got to the rim at Marther Point, after buying some postcard, and found a cliff overhang where I could appreciate the Canyon's majesty in the dying hours of the day. The low sun turned the dark cliffs orange and cast long shadows all over. I took photos and wrote postcard from my perch and watched the dusk come in. All together I had about an hour at the Canyon - although I have to say I think its the best hour of the day to see it as the colours as the sun dies are so varied.

After about half and hour into dusk and the orange and blue hues turned black I climbed out of my spot and got back to my car. Today I had a PT Cruiser. It's probably the worst car I've had so far; it's incredibly ugly, handles like a tank and doesn't have cruise control (this makes covering large distances late in the day substantially more difficult!). I got back on my way; driving south, west and then cutting north more directly to the Hoover Dam as the traffic had gone. I crossed over the Dam at about 1am Mountain Time and back into Nevada at 00:00 Pacific Time. From the Dam I had another hour into Las Vegas. I chose to drive the length of the Strip. Even at 01:00 in the morning the road was rammed with cars and the pavements heaving with humanity. The drive was slow and arduous. I didn't get to my hotel room until about 02:00 and pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep.


Posted by MattOGrady 21:50 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Strip

sunny 42 °C

If you read yesterday's entry, you'll remember that today I planned to visit the Grand Canyon. Well I was all packed for the day, presented myself at the rental desk only to be told that I was ineligible because I was not 25. This was news to me; it had never been a problem before and this could have been mentioned when I made the reservation. This left me stumped. I really want to see the Grand Canyon and I don't really want the extra day in Vegas if I can help it. I went to the rental desk next door; they'd rent to me, but had no cars. I went to the one next to that and got some success. The only problem was that they had nothing for today. Hmm this would mean a plan change. So I've made a reservation for tomorrow and will switch my plans and spend today down at The Strip. Before I would go down there I caught a few free table game lessons and was set for the day.

I jumped on the bus to The Strip. It was about a twenty minute bus journey on busy roads. I got off at the Belagio, if not famous already made more so my the strip of Ocean's movies set here. After a look around I headed over to Caesar's Palace, also made famous by cinema, most recently The Hangover. I didn't find Caesar, but I sent some postcards. I had heard that the casinos were disorientating places, but I didn't think I would be fooled by them. How wrong I was. There are no exit signs posted anyway and time is easily thrown away pursuing a particular route out. I'd have been far better had I left a trail of bread crums. From Caesar's Palace I went to the Venetian, where the outdoors comes indoors in the form of a sized down Grand Canal and finally to the Palazzo. I was absolutely exhausted. It is incredibly hot outside and there are few connecting tunnels or walkways between the hotels.

I grabbed a bite to eat back Downtown near the Nugget. Now was the time to hit the tables. I found myself a $5 minimum Texas Hold'em table and got gambling. Shortly after I sat down the free drinks came in; gin and tonics, South Comfort and leomanades. By the time I had finished I had doubled my money and made up for my previous losses at the slots, with a little bit of money left over. I had therefore conquered the big Vegas dilema - when to stop. Knowing when to stop is crucial in this city and I think I pitched it just right. I cashed my winnings and again jumped on a bus, this time to explore The Strip at night. I wish I could say it was a different place at night, but it isn't. The place is as noisy at midnight and as heeming with people as it is at midday. I walked around the Excalibur and the pryamid shaped Luxor (which is actually a very disappointing hotel inside). My highlight of that evening was standing opposite the Belagio at about 11:00pm. On the hour the PA system struck up with Elvis' Viva Las Vegas and as it did so the Belagio fountains erupted to the music. The fountains towered scores of feet in the air and the noise of the water being fired in the air resembled fireworks. Now, whenever I hear that song, I can't help but think of that moment outside the Belagio.

My last day proper in Vegas was pretty much up. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon. It will be a long day. The drive is five hours each way, so I won't get back until the early hours. Time to rest and recover.

Posted by MattOGrady 22:55 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas!

42 °C

I returned my car at Denver airport this morning. It wasn't an emotional goodbye, but the car had been my main companion for the last three weeks. It got me from A to B, took me to some incredible vistas and dangerous cliff edge roads, it was even my shelter for some nights. The last few weeks have certainly been a good advertisment for Hyundai Accents as far as I'm concerned. For the record mine was Colorado plates 798-WBK.

I jumped on a Frontier Airlines flight to Las Vegas. My immediate impressions upon landing? Firstly, it is HOT! It's 42 degrees celsius in Las Vegas at the moment. Secondly, I can't help but think that this city is best described as an adult Disneyland. I'm only on the shuttle to the hotel, but I've passed extravagent castles, the Empire State Building, the Statute of Liberty, a pryamid, the Eifle Tower, ancient Rome, a pirate ship, Venice and a sky tower. I can't think of any other city like this. It's just mind blowing.

So here's my plan for the next few days. I'm spending two nights at the Golden Nugget Hotel and then I move onto the Riviera for athird night. I inted to spend today downtown at the Golden Nugget in the old part of Vegas where the first casinos were, tomorrow I want to drive to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and I want to spend my last day and night on The Strip.

As I've just said I'm not staying on The Strip tonight, but north of it in the more classic part of Las Vegas. It is by no means shabby. I've got a 4* hotel room for two nights for £27 per night. The room is lavish. The bed is enormous. I took myself on a little tour of the hotel. Well between the 'tower' in which I'm housed and the casino floor is an outdoor pool. What's so special about that I hear you ask? Well this pool has a slide ... that passes through a shark tank! Only in Vegas would they have a water slide that passes through a shark tank. A quick inspection of the casino floor reveals everything you'd expect; slots, craps, roulette, poker, blackjack, the high rollers and the low rollers. I've got my eye on free poker and craps lessons before I hit the floor in a 'serious' way.

I've set aside $100 to gamble. As I see it, I'd spend that in other cities going on tours and visiting museums. Plus, who says I'm actually going to lose any of it?! I first hit the penny (one cent) slots. You literally just spend a penny everytime you pull the lever. There is almost no hope of you winning anything, but because you are gambling you'll get free alcoholic drinks, so you're not really losing. Slots are fine, but they are boring and a deadly way to lose money. I broke from my high-stakes slot play and went up to the hotel buffet for dinner - an all you can eat job for about £13. Things were going great at the buffet until I misplaced the envelope I had put my gambling money (I had forgotten at the time, but it also had my drivers license in it). I couldn't find it anywhere and nor could the staff. Great, I had lost $95 in Vegas far sooner than I had intened. However, just as I was leaving someone approached me with my envelope! Now I really did feel as though I had won money in Vegas!

I was in a very good mood now, which is partly why I was so disappointed with what followed. I have been sharp to criticise others over the last few months and I should be equally sharp to criticise myself. After I ate I went out to Freemont Street to explore the Freemont Street Experience. The Experience is several blocks of a pedestrianised road that are enclosed above by a digital roof. The roof lights up everything below and is pretty mesmerising. All around the Freemont Street Experience are people who have stuck on fancy dress and take $1 off people to have their photographs taken. I found what I thought was an unobstructed part of the Experience where I could set up my camera and tripod and photograph it. As I was taking some slow shutter shots a rather large woman started walking inching in front of my camera. I know she knew I was there; firstly, because she bumped into me and asked me to excuse her, and secondly, because as she started moving in front I asked her if she would excuse me whilst I was clearly set up taking my photos. I asked her again if she could move and what I got back was, "You don't own this street! I'm just paid for a photo." She clearly didn't appreciate the juxtoposition of her statements as quickly as I did. My camera still clicking away she kept moving around in front of me and standing in front of me regardless and pretty inconsiderately. I had asked her if she could excuse me, which she didn't, so I moved, tripod and all in front of her shot. "Perhaps we could both move out of each others' ways?" I asked really hoping to resolve the matter. "Get lost!" So I decided I'd just stay there and she started flashing her camera in my face. We must have looked quite a sight. After perhaps twenty or thirty seconds we both decided we had had enough and we parted, exchanging our opinions of each other as we did so. I really did immediately regret this incident. My reaction to her initial lack of consideration was imature and as similarly inconsiderate - the incident would have resolved itself far quicker had I let her just get on with it. My jibes at her as she walked away were petty, offensive and really not becoming of me when I haven't been prone to rise to such things in the past. In future I will make a better effort to stay cool and avoid the confrontation.

I got on with my night walking along Freemont Street and went back to the casino to have a go on the Wheel of Fortune, which I had heard paid pretty well, especially when you played with a $100 note. Sure enough I made up what I had made up what I lost on the slots and, after a long day, went back to lie in luxury.


Posted by MattOGrady 21:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Old Friend

sunny 23 °C

I got a deserved lie in this morning and didn't leave my motel until midday - right at that moment I really was glad to be have covered so much ground yesterday. I spent the morning catching up on the internet, watching movies and deciding what I needed and could afford to throw away (I don't intend to go camping for a while now that I've had three weeks of it!).

The roads, as ever, were clear and I crossed into Colorado in no time. I spending tonight in Boulder, where my Rocky Mountain adventure started, as Denver isn't really a place to visit. It was odd being back in Boulder, driving past the same frat houses I had seen three weeks ago, parking up in the same spot as before and popping into the same geleto shop. It as if I'm living a dejavu. Being back here in Boulder had made me appreciate how much I enjoy this city; its youth, energy and diversity. Being back here is like meeting up with an old friend who you haven't seen for some time. The intervening period since you last saw each other fades into an irrelevance, as if it never happened, but exists in some distant memory, and you continue your friendship where it left off as if nothing had happened. That's how being in Boulder makes me feel about being in this city and the what I have experienced in the last three weeks since being here.

I spent the evening with a group of six medicine students from Sheffield who are spending six weeks driving around the USA - it made a cotrast to the early night zipped up in my sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere!


Posted by MattOGrady 21:17 Archived in USA Comments (0)

2,479 to 3,259

sunny 26 °C

The numbers above were my odometer readings at 6am today and about 8.30pm this evening. That's right, today I covered an epic 800 miles in my Hyundai Accent - easily the most I have ever driven straight.

I set off, at about 6am intending to make serious headway in the first three hours. Well that plan soon went down the drain. As I was driving toward the St Mary, eastern exit, of Glacier National Park and away from my campsite I looked in the rearview mirror . The sunrise onto the mountains behind me was the most spectacular I have seen on my trip so far. The sun rising over the lake to my right, the mountains and clouds behind me were illuminated pink and purple. I wasn't going to see this again for sometime so I pulled on to the 'soft shoulder', jumped out and started snapping away. Soon enough my tripod was needed so I turned back to the car, opened the boot and got my tripod out. Then I slammed the boot shut - and saw it.

Thirty metres from the left side of my car, just past the other side of the road, was a black bear forraging in the meadow adjacent to the route east. I didn't freeze, probably my conditioning to so many warnings about bears. I moved to the right (passenger) side of the car, reached in and took my bear spray. I really didn't think I would see any bears this close to the campsite, hence my complacency in not picking it up as soon as I got out the car as I would normally do. So I had to do some thinking; either he hadn't seen me because if he had he would have killed me already (he certainly had more than an opportunity when I was stood in the middle of the road taking photos), or he had seen me and thought me too scrawny for breakfast. After not showering for a while I would certainly be surprised if he couldn't smell me - even being down wind from him (you think about all these things when you have bears for neighbours). I grabbed a few more photos of the sunset, but decided that I definitely would never have this moment again, so bear spray and camera in hand I jumped on the roof of my car and began snapping the bear. As I was there on the roof taking my photos I started to sing a few songs, just to make sure he knew I was there and wasn't surprised to see me. Sure enough he started to move off - in the direction of the campsite (good thing I wasn't going to be staying there any longer)! Bears are a big deal out here; they are after all human killers, so once I reached the east entrance (now about 7pm) I called 911 to make sure the US Rangers were aware that there was a black bear (the kind of bear that attack just to kill not to defend themselves) moving very close to a lot of defenceless people in tents. As I was leaving I was passed by a couple of siren blaring Rangers heading in the bear's direction, this clearly was a big deal.

Well it was time for me to get on. I was now one hour behind schedule, costing me roughly fifty miles. This journey was always going to be long and take time. There are no 'A to B' routes across Montana. If you want to get from Montana's north western corner to its south eastern corner, you have to go east, then south west and finally east. In the first few hours of my trip I started to get 'Big Sky Country'. Early in this morning the bright blue sky was so heavy and cloudless and seemed to endlessly continue into the horizon that it sank the earth into itself. As I was making my 75mph journey I occasionally looked at my Montana and Wyoming roadmaps to judge how far I had travelled in how long and how far I had left. This made me very aware if I wasn't already that I really did have a long way to cover in two days; fully cross two states and cross halfway into another. I committed myself to driving as far as I was capable today and get as many miles under my belt as I could - the plan to drive until sunset.

At about 12:30 I arrived at Bozeman, completing the significant southern drive in Montana. I stopped for an hour's lunch and called my Aunt (the rest of the family are on holiday). I guessed that the journey to the Wyoming border just after Billings would take roughly six hours, and I was just about right in that guess. As I looked at the map once I was at Billings, I was very aware that, even though it was about 6:00pm, I still had to get across Wyoming - by no means a small state. Before I set off I had thought about spening the night at Buffalo, Wyoming, but staying there would have left me with maybe four to six hours of driving tomorrow, which I really didn't want. I fixed my sights on a place called Casper, just south of central Wyoming and would leave me two hours north of Denver, Colorado. I stopped for petrol about half and hour into Wyoming and causually asked how long to Evansville (that's what Casper was called on the map) - "Ten hours," was the reply. "What?!" "Oh, you mean Casper! Two to three."

I hit the road for the last push south of the day. The sunset in Casper was mesmerising and I really regretted that I was seeing it from the car. I found my now frequent chain of motel, dumped all my stuff in my room and head out to find pizza. Perhaps it was subliminal messaging through the country music I'd been listening to, but after nearly three weeks of soup, bread, sweetcorn and chili, I had the most incredible craving for Pizza Hut. Of course I found one, and settled in for the night. What luxury it was in comparison to my nights under the stars!


Posted by MattOGrady 20:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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