This is the third post of my “Trip to the USA” series.
Let’s skip forward and don’t mention Las Vegas at the moment, after all it goes without saying that what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas, right? Right, jokes aside, I will talk about the Las Vegas experience on my way back, since we stopped again there during the driving from Page to Death Valley.
And so it’s morning, time to leave Las Vegas for the Grand Canyon. Other four hours of driving were ahead of us. See you soon Nevada, with your casinos built where nothing else grows, and hello Arizona!
We left as early as possible, as we wanted to spend most of the day at the Grand Canyon. We also planned to stay the next day long enough to be able to reach our next destination by sunset. All the hotels around the Grand Canyon are quite expensive, so we decided to stay just one night. Is one night enough? The Grand Canyon deserves at least two nights and more are not necessary, unless you want to experience a fully immersive nature adventure.
On our way to Grand Canyon we stopped only twice. First stop to the Hoover Dam, just because, really, no detour was needed. I have seen enough dams in my life and this didn’t impress me more than others.
following that, this was the sight for the next four hours:
but, hey, I guess that, if half way through the desert you crave for some pizza, you surely can get some!
And surprisingly enough, you can find nice folk in the middle of nowhere!
One last stop to fill up the tank, buy a nice cowboy (cowgirl!) hat, buy some snacks and wash the windshield. You will do that a lot!
And finally at the destination.
While there are lodges right inside the Grand Canyon, outside it the hotels are half the price (still 200$ per night in high season). Our hotel, Red Feather Lodge, was in fact in Tusayan, just 2 miles from the Grand Canyon South Entrance.
Before to continue, some notes: the Grand Canyon is huge and as such, it has several points of interest and entrances. The two main entrances are the South Rim and the North Rim. From Las Vegas you can reach both, more or less with the same amount of hours of driving. However once you choose one side, to reach the other one you need to drive many more hours. I don’t know exactly what there is at the north side, but all the lodges and restaurants are at the south entrance. There is obviously something at the North Rim, probably much quieter and less touristy. You can’t reach the South Rim from the North Rim, unless you want to face a couple of days of hiking (31.6 miles, passing through the Kaibab suspension bridge over the River). Going down to the Colorado River, which is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, is certainly possible, so if you are a hiking lover, it is surely worth it. There are even toilets and dormitories along the most well known paths. If you decide to walk any of the numerous trails at the grand canyon two advice: first don’t go in July/August/September, second plan it properly.
Another note is about the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This touristic attraction is far away from the official Grand Canyon entrances. Many people warned me to no go, so I didn’t, but if you have plenty of money and time, I don’t see why not.
Last note is about the Grand Canyon entrance fee. We realised too late that most of the National Parks in the USA are managed by the same federal agency and if you visit three or more parks in one year, you can buy a yearly pass that will cost less than the sum of all the tickets. If you don’t buy the pass, be aware that some single tickets can last between one day to one week. For example the Grand Canyon ticket allows you to visit the park for one whole week. By the way, KEEP THE TICKET. On our way back from Page we somehow entered inside the park again (north side) and unexpectedly we had to show the ticket again even if we didn’t plan to stay in the park.
If you are a photographer you have plenty of occasions to take great photos, but they must be properly planned, so I guess my advice are:
There is a lot to see at the grand canyon so wander around during the worst time of the day, which is between 10am and 4pm, the rest of the day should be dedicated to photography. The golden hour and the blue hour before sunrise and after sunset are the best moments of the day for the grand canyon, however don’t do the usual novice photographer mistake, you are not there to take a photo of a globe on fire; you are there for the hour right after the sunset or right before the sunrise. Absolutely don’t go away once the sun disappears, that’s where the real sunset colours start to show and the Grand Canyon becomes incredible!
Do less of this:
and more of this:
Spending two nights at the grand canyon can be useful also to get over the initial shock that the first time visitor feels looking at the awesome (in the literal sense) and unimaginable (can’t be properly understood from photos) views that the immense “Grand Canyon” offers.
There are some organised activities that can be done during the day too. One that piqued my curiosity was the hike on mules. Yes you can get to the Colorado River on a mule, are you brave enough for it?
What I am writing here is not even half of what we experienced in twelve hours at the Grand Canyon. The whole trip was just too much to be processed, concentrating the Grand Canyon in few hours was overwhelming. It wasn’t a mindful experience, we didn’t have the time to stop and interiorise what we were looking at. We were just consuming it without fully appreciate it. This is what you get when you want to see too much stuff at once, this what we get in the times of consumerism and planned holidays.
Everyone told me that I shouldn’t leave the Grand Canyon without experiencing it from the above. Right, but no thanks, those freaking helicopters tours were incredibly expensive. Of course there will be someone telling you that it’s a once in a lifetime experience, but that’s how they rip you off. However we decided to go for the plane tour, that costs half the price. We didn’t regret it, it was a good and fun experience.
We didn’t walk much, we didn’t have the time to do so, but among the curiosities we noticed, these are the ones I remember better: there are too many people to see much wildlife, but I was impressed by the Stellar Jay. Nice little blue bird. It looks like this (the photo is not mine)
Going around with the car, we also found out that there is a little village inside the grand canyon, with even a school! Can you image living inside the grand canyon? I would feel extremely lucky.
And this is it. Last thing to mention is that the night at the grand canyon is spectacular, so don’t miss it! We got back on purpose during the night to see the stars and take photos of the milky way. Night photography is very hard and while I know the tricks, the on holiday effect took its toll on this photo that could have been much better.
What would have I done differently? If I’d go back to the USA west side, I would start from Las Vegas this time and spend more days in the nature. I would spend an extra day in the grand canyon and walk one trail to the Colorado River (unless I am not fit enough and in that case I’d go on the mule 🙂 ). By the way, this is the Bright Angel Trail, probably the most famous one:
That’s it then. Next stop Page!