Day 2 – Vegas / The Grand Canyon
This morning, Christina and I headed downstairs for a buffet breakfast. The waiter who brought us our drinks was super paranoid that we had somehow snuck into the buffet since we didn’t have our receipts (the hostess took them when she seated us). Not sure why, since we literally only had an omelet and fruit, not at all filling our plates to the $20 worth of the voucher. After getting out of there we decided to grab some Starbucks for the road, looking like stereotypical Seattlites as we boarded the bus with pale skin and our signature coffee cups.
We began our journey to the Grand Canyon while Sven fed us interesting facts about Las Vegas, Lake Mead, and the flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert. For example, Las Vegas has more hotel rooms than all of Canada, and you have better odds at the slot machines in downtown Las Vegas since the owners have paid off their mortgages, unlike owners of the new, gargantuan hotels on the strip. As for Lake Mead, it is America’s largest man-made lake. In the Mojave Desert, we are able to spot prickly pear cactus (a common flavor of many items in the area, including dessert toppings and chapstick), mesquite trees, and other plants that I usually wouldn’t think of as beautiful, but now that I look up close…
Prickly Pear Cactus (not my photo)
Sven also introduced the Colorado River, and how it is supplying six major cities with all of their water, including Las Vegas, Las Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix. I remember watching Life After People that showed what would happen if all the water was used up, and how long it would take for Las Vegas to decompose. It is a haunting to think of such a bustling city, where over 30 million visitors come every year, to become silent, dark, and abandoned. Sort of I Am Legendesque.
To add to that feeling, we drove past one of Nevada’s airplane graveyards, where out of service planes go to be kept until they can be re-bought, disassembled for parts, or completely scrapped.
We also drove parallel to Route 66, the famous road that many traveled to move out west. However, Sven was telling us that, since I-40 was constructed with 70 MPH instead of 60, Route 66 became abandoned. Many of the towns along the way that once flourished with all the traffic completely shut down, and have been abandoned into ghost towns. I am just DYING to find some to explore!
We stopped for a short break in the Kingman Walmart for some last minute sundries, and then again in Williams for lunch. There were about five fast food restaurants to choose from. I was a little disappointed, as we could have gone to a cool diner or something on Route 66, which was only a short drive away. We drove through it on the way to the Canyon, and it would have been cool to get milkshake at a soda fountain or something corny/awesome like that.
Once we got to the Grand Canyon, I was extremely excited to see what all the fuss is about. I have to be honest — with all of our programs in Europe, South America, specialty cruises in Alaska, Asia, and even our program in Churchill to see the Polar Bears, I was a little disappointed that I was being sent to the Southwest, somewhere that was so close that I could drive there myself. But that’s just it. I realized that, if I weren’t forced, I would choose to go outside the states to get my travel fix when I’ve barely even seen my own country. I realized that this was a great opportunity to see these parks without the whole “cramped-road-trip-with-your-family-while-singing-campy-songs-and-playing-the-alphabet-game” scenario. After all, I’ll be doing that this September when I go to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore with Mom, Dad, and Megan 🙂 And hey, the program starts and ends in Vegas, right?
I also realized that I really shouldn’t complain about a paid tour to anywhere.
So anyway, back to the first time I laid eyes on the Grand Canyon. Christina and I walked through the Bright Angel Lodge, stepped out the doors, and slowly made our way to the edge, completely in awe of what was in front of us. There are no words for it, and your breath is taken away every time you glance back. This huge hole in the ground took six million years to form. It reaches as far as you can see. The bottom sinks into the abyss. You suddenly feel like you are the most insignificant thing in the desert. You are just a tiny dot in this landscape that has seen more than any of us can imagine. It’s the most humbling experience I’ve ever had. You see it in movies and postcards and geology books and photos, but none of these things can capture what it is. I didn’t really have a desire to see it, but now I can’t imagine going my whole life, living so close, and not. People from France, Russia, and Portugal were all there to witness this wonder of the world, and I realized I almost passed it over like it was no big deal.
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim
Christina and I, SO happy to be there!
So, we gazed at it, photographed it, and came back to the Arizona Room for dinner in the best seat in the house, where we could look out while devouring our amazing steaks. We even spotted a California Condor, which I also have never had a desire to see. However, Sven kept bringing them up throughout the day, talking about how lucky we would be if we could see one. Only 21 left by the 1990s, some scientists gathered as many up as they could find in the wild and bread them, releasing them back in the area in 1997. Now there are 180 in the world, and 75 in Arizona. They have an 8-10 foot wingspan and the ugliest heads I have ever seen. We saw one fly by our window, and at that moment, my night at the canyon felt complete.
Look at that Gnarly Head! (not my photo)
Note to self (and to the rest of you who like or at least tolerate tequila): find Kevin-the-Waiter-with-a-Beard’s prickly pear tequila.