Week of September 26, 1999 - Viva Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Historic Route 66
"Viva Las Vegas"
Next we moved on to Las Vegas, Nevada, the city that never
sleeps. The bright lights of Vegas were a BIG change
from the national parks we had been exploring for months. What you will do for a campsite
Internet connection! The first night we walked down part of the strip and ate at one of
the casino buffets. The blocks are very long with casinos filling every nook and cranny.
The next afternoon we went to a timeshare presentation in exchange for free tickets to the
Legends In Concert show at the Imperial Palace. We went to another buffet at Harrahs which
was very good. We then went to the Legends In Concert show. It is the longest running
impersonator show in Vegas, and for good reason. All of the singers use their own voices.
We saw Tina Turner, Richie Valens, Prince, Liberace, The Four Tops, and Elvis. They were
all very good. The women in the crowd went crazy over Elvis. He is supposedly the best
Elvis impersonator in Vegas. They even have Elvis slot machines. There were several new
casinos that were very impressive. The Paris casino just opened in September. It has a ½
size replica of the Eiffel Tower out front along with a huge hot air balloon. The New York
New York casino was impressive with a replica of the Statue of Liberty out front and
skyscrapers behind the statue. There is a roller coaster that weaves between the statue
and the buildings. The Luxor is shaped like a giant pyramid beside a giant sphynx.
Excalibur is designed like a huge ancient castle with colorful turrets. We saw several
free shows in front of casinos. We saw a pirate battle in the lagoon in front of Treasure
Island. There was a ship of pirates that spotted a British ship. They both began firing
cannons at each other with the British ship eventually sinking. We could feel the hot
blast of the flames as we watched. In front of the Mirage we saw a volcano explode,
spewing flames many feet in the air. At the Bellagio we watched a huge fountain where
streams of water shot many feet in the air and danced to the beat of music. We went inside
the Mirage to see the white tigers of Siegfried and Roy and the dolphins there but they
were all on vacation. We walked through several fabulous malls. One at Caesar's Palace and
one at the Venetian. We were looking for a bookstore but were told "no one comes to
Vegas to read!" The Venetian mall was gorgeous. The ceilings were painted with clouds
and blue sky, and each store had a building front to make it seem like a separate
building. There was a river canal running through the middle of the mall with men in
striped shirts and berets giving boat rides.
The next night we beamed aboard to see Star Trek: The Experience at the Hilton. As a BIG fan, this was a real treat. It contains a 24th century museum with artifacts from all of the TV shows and a timeline of events that have taken place in Star Trek. We first ate at Quark's Restaurant, which had replicas of the ships overhead and scenes from the tv shows on a huge screen. I had a Borg burger ("resistance is futile") and Rhonda had some type of alien salad. When the burger appeared, it was triangle shaped ("fascinating") and quite good. We then headed through the museum. It contained uniforms used in the show, tricorders, weapons, and assorted memorabilia. We then were beamed aboard the bridge of the Enterprise and then took a voyage in a motion simulator shuttlecraft and battled the Klingons. The crew of Star Trek the Next Generation, spoke to us during the mission to enhance the overall expericence. On the Deep Space Nine Promenade, we looked through the Star Trek store containing everything from shirts, coins, paintings to Tribbles. I had to be dragged out by Rhonda before I lost all of my senses. As we headed out of town, we sang "Viva Las Vegas", along with the real Elvis on the CD, and looked forward to seeing the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park
On the way to the Grand Canyon we drove past Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. The Dam is an engineering feat. There are several hairpin curves in the mountains to get to it...and watch out for 18-wheelers! We passed several big horn sheep on the side of the highway near the Hoover Dam.
The Grand Canyon was first explored in 1853 as "valueless". Today, this national park now attracts over 5 million visitors a year. This will make the third time in eleven years for me to journey to the king of the national parks, and my wife's first time. The park contains several layers of the oldest exposed rock on earth, and is part of the "Grand Staircase" formation which reaches into Utah and Arizona. Formed several million years by the deep flowing waters of the Colorado River, the canyon is a mile deep and over 190 miles wide covering over 1.2 million acres.
To the west of the Grand Canyon is the Havasu Canyon, with extraordinary waterfalls and side canyons. Arrangements to visit here have to be made through the Havasupai Indian Reservation, also well in advance. Further north above the North Rim is Lake Powell where you can explore side canyons by boat. We decided to go to the South Rim to explore the scenic views along the rim.
At the South Rim, we drove the full extent of the East Rim Drive. Be sure to stop first at the Visitor Center and then the Grand Canyon Village store. If you plan to visit several national parks like us, save money and get a Golden Eagle Passport. It is only fifty dollars for a full year's entry to any national park or monument. Compare that to twenty dollars per visit per park.
In venturing east on East Rim Drive, we stopped at Grandview Point and Moran Point (named after the painter Thomas Moran). From these points you can see into the Horseshoe Mesa area and distant peaks such as Solomon Temple and Vishnu Temple. At the Tusayan Ruins, you can see remnants of Pueblo Indians who villaged here in the late AD 1100s. A museum here explains more of their culture, which thrived here for 1,300 years. At Lipan Point, you can see a good view into the Colorado River gorge. At Desert View, we could see more of the Colorado River's rapids and views of Cedar Mountain to the east. It is also the location of the Watchtower, which is a castle-like stone structure built on the cliff in the 1930s and an area campground and store. You can camp overnight below the Rim with an approved backcountry permit from the Backcountry Office. It is usually recommended to spend the night when hiking into the canyon all the way to the Colorado River. There are designated campsites below the rim and also Phantom Ranch which houses a lodge and dormitory rooms (reservations are required well in advance of your scheduled stay). The two maintained hiking routes from the South Rim are the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. The South Kaibab Trail provides more scenic views and is shorter, but does not provide any water source or campsites along the way as the Bright Angel Trail does. We didn't have time to do an overnight hike this time, maybe the next trip... There are also RV and tent campgrounds and lodging available above the rim.
The next day, we went on a ranger hike along the Rim Trail (we highly recommend it). She talked about all the wildlife and plants that you typically find along the trail, and how inter-connected nature is. We learned about pine (or Pinon nuts) and Juniper seeds and how animals rely on them. The pine nuts (quite tasty) are expensive in the local stores due to the difficulty of getting a large amount without getting sticky pine sap on you. We saw several mule deer meandering around the Grand Canyon train station and a grey fox near the exit of the park. If visiting along the North Rim, you may see the long-eared Kaibab squirrel, which is the only place in the world to find it. We spent some time touring the West Rim Road. This is done by free shuttle buses that the park service provides. Vehicles are not allowed in this section. We stopped at several points including Hopi Point to view the sunset. Due to the problem of pollution (which drifts from surrounding metropolitan cities) and a scheduled forest fire taking place, it was a bit hazy. Be sure to visit The Grand Canyon web site for detailed information.
We spent an afternoon exploring Meteor Crater where the force of a meteor about 49,000 years ago created a hole 570 feet deep and over 4,000 feet wide. The bottom of the crater is big enough to hold 20 football fields. The crater is deep enough to engulf a 60-story building. The museum contains numerous facts on meteors, with fragments from all over the world, along with memorabilia from various space missions. Astronauts used to train here at the bottom of the crater to simulate conditions on the moon. You can also view the remnants of old mine shafts here from the early 1900s. An RV park is nearby for campers and remnants of old Route 66 (mostly a rancher road here) can be seen. The area is about 25 minutes from Winslow.
We next drove the next day to nearby Walnut Canyon National Monument (close to Flagstaff) which contains numerous cliff dwellings left by an ancient Indian tribe (the Sinagua Indians). The trail takes about an hour to hike through. Be sure to visit before the late afternoon. The trail closes at 4 p.m. Remains of buildings are also located here next to a museum (and another ruin is one mile north of the Flagstaff Mall on Highway 89). About 15 minutes north from this Monument on Highway 89 is the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. You can see the result of dramatic lava flows here from a volcano that erupted around 1100 A.D. and some ancient Indian ruins. Further north, see the Wupatki National Monument, with Indian masonry pueblo ruins.
"The Main Street of America" - Route 66
Route 66 was originally the only route to take going west when it was named in 1926, and ran from Santa Monica, Ca. to Chicago (over 2,448 miles of road). It is said that the Spanish explorers followed this same "Glory Road" route. By 1938, it was completely paved, the first highway of this kind in the country. Businesses and tourism flourished along the route during the 1950s. It was further made famous by a TV series of the same name, numerous songs, and the book The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (who also penned the nickname "The Mother Road"). The majority of the road is said to be still driveable within the town sections (we haven't driven it all...yet).
Within Arizona is a nostalgic two-lane stretch of "America's Main Street" which can still be driven within the towns, although it was officially retired as a highway in 1985. There are at least twenty RV parks and campgrounds which are directly on Route 66 in the area. On the stretch going west to east along Route 66 (roughly parallel with Interstate 40) in the state are several interesting towns to explore (we also traveled on Route 66 in Oklahoma - see notes). Kingman (where the Route 66 Association offices are located) still has many early businesses and shops on the road. At Valle Vista, is the longest continuing curve of any highway in the country - seven miles. Check out the homemade pies at the Truxton Cafe and Motel in Truxton. In Peach Springs is a Shell service station dating back to the 1920s. Nearby is Grand Canyon Caverns, which is the largest dry cavern in the country, located nearly a mile underground. Be sure to explore the Seligman shops, and taste the burgers, ice cream, and ready humor ("Eat here, get gas") of Juan Delgadillo at the famous Snow Cap Drive In. Ask about their special on dead chicken. At Ash Fork, there is an old west graveyard and several businesses which date to the 1920s.
At Williams, where we stayed at the RV Railside Ranch Campground (an excellent and affordable campground, with local modem connections at your site!), are numerous old motels, businesses and an historic downtown area. In earlier days, Williams was referred to as the "Little Las Vegas" due to the many motel neon signs in town, and is the entranceway to the Grand Canyon (about 60 miles north) from Interstate 40. We visited the Route 66 Magazine headquarters here. The Jeff Gordon National Fan Club is located in town. Several good restaurants along the "strip" include Cruisers (full of memorabilia) and Rod's Steak House (tasty and affordable, as it has been for over 50 years). The Grand Canyon Railroad operates here and provides rides to the Grand Canyon. We explored the local city of Flagstaff which lies next to the San Francisco Peaks. We enjoyed seeing all the lights of the old motels along the route. Within the historic section of town, the old Monte Verde Hotel is said to contain a ghost. In room 305, workers continually report that a rocking chair is mysteriously moved each night... We ate in town at the Galaxy Diner, a 50's style diner along Route 66. An hour east of Flagstaff is Winslow (made famous by an Eagles' song in the 1970s). In Holbrook, is the Old West Museum which is in the old courthouse.