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Grand Canyon, Arizona and the Nevada desert

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Trip in April 2006. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

These are the things you can do if you're staying in Las Vegas and fancy a break from the neon, hotels and so on. None of them are too far. The desert, Lake Mead and the Hoover dam are easy to do all in one day, and the Grand Canyon is only a bus and helicopter/plane ride away.

Grand Canyon

I was determined to see the Grand Canyon whilst visiting Las Vegas. The choices were plane, or helicopter. The helicopter gives a better view, but the plane gives you more time on the ground. I really don't like small planes and I've always wanted to go in a helicopter, so I chose that method. There are various companies and the one I chose, Papillon, fly from Boulder Airport so there is a 40ish minute minibus ride out there first. This gave me ample time to soak the view of miles of strip malls on the way out of Las Vegas. Once at the airport, I and everyone else was weighed, given a short safety DVD on the helicopters and then you are divided up into groups of 6, this being the number of passengers that will fit in one helicopter along with the lone pilot. There are many helicopters, this company is the largest helicopter tour agency in that location. I was lucky and got a front seat for my first helicopter trip. The ride to the canyon is about 45 minutes and it's very smooth and a lot like floating in a dream - being in a helicopter is not at all like flying in an aeroplane. On the outward trip there is also a very quick view of the Hoover dam. The company supply headphones so they can play classical music on the outward trip and Sweet Home Alabama and Hotel California on the way back. Very nice. The canyon itself is spectacular. It is only a pity that you don't get more than about 20 minutes on the canyon floor when you are down there. It's long enough to get some nice photographs however and marvel at the view. On the way back the helicopter ascends the height of the canyon very quickly and this is probably the best part, when it is close to either the walls or to the ground. This way I could feel the speed of the helicopter much better. High up and the view is better but the speed feels pedestrian. At the end of the trip the pilot kind of implies that he'd like a tip. He wasn't especially friendly on the trip, so I didn't. The trip is $299 per person as it is, and I'd hope they'd pay him enough from that. What's more, I'd hope that pilot is somewhere above waiter or bus boy as a career choice. I didn't tip the Virgin Atlantic pilot that brought me to Vegas from London for that matter.

The desert and the rest

Since I'd gone to Vegas with a mate who was mad on Ford Mustangs, it was his wish to rent one of those instead of the more mundane offerings such as a Hyundai Accent. The Mustang is available from several rental agencies along the strip, and is one of the cheaper vehicles to rent. ($65/day compared to a Ferrari of $650/day) Why go the USA to rent an Italian car anyway? Unlike some of the other cars, such as classic 60s/70s Pontiacs and Camaros, there are no classic Mustangs we could find, however the 2005 model has both air conditioning and a CD player, so it's perfectly acceptable. It's also available in soft top form, perfect for those sunny 37 degree days. During one day we could easily reach Red Rock Canyon (on the west side of Las Vegas and only 20 mins drive from the strip) and then back across Las Vegas to the south-east, to see the Hoover dam and Lake Mead. There's plenty of spare time to look around all these places and stop at a strip mall for a Taco Bell too. Red Rock Canyon looks exactly like a cowboy movie, and the rocks really are a deep rusty red colour. There's a scenic one way drive around the best part of the rocks and the entrance per car is only about $5. We frequently swapped over the driving to get the most enjoyment from the Mustang, which is a basic feeling but fun to drive car. It looks quite nice too, for an American car. On the way to the Hoover dam I happened to be in the driving seat so I got to drive over the dam and park up near to the "Welcome to Arizona" sign. The Hoover Dam (named for some President, not J. Edgar Hoover as I had mistakenly thought) is a weird place to drive up to, the rocks and the sideways electricity pylons are rather other worldly. The dam itself is a very impressive pice of civil engineering but does not photograph particularly well, no photo I took adequatly expresses the sheer scale of the dam. The nearby lake Mead is also a nice view but despite how it might look from a distance, is not really that suitable for a swim or a paddle. That stuff that looks like sand... it's more like mud. We returned to las Vegas during a fantastic sunset and then got to cruise the strip at night to return to the hotel. Well... it would have been more of a cruise if the traffic was not so stop-start. Neither pedestrians nor cars rule at night in Las Vegas, it's a free-for-all war.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2006

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