We had eaten briefly and quite late at one of the hotel food outlets and retired without heading for the tables or the strip so as to be at the car hire desk sharp at nine. Oh dear! Wherever we go we pick the best rate on offer on comparison sites for car rental. Sadly so does everyone else. The queue at the Dollar desk at the airport was huge and moved precious slow. Why, when it’s all pre-booked, do they have to go through the whole rigmarole of offering you upgrades, extra insurance, child seats, SatNav? Yes we booked SatNav already, thanks. So each transaction takes four or five times as long as it needs. Then unlike most places where you go to a specific car in a numbered bay, at Dollar Las Vegas you walk into a large parking garage and select your own car from Row E where all the cars in your category are parked. Yet more time wasted as we agonise over colour, number of scratches, petrol or diesel and so on. Eventually we are installed and on our way south out of Vegas. At least the SatNav worked OK.
We roll through undulating scrubby hills stopping at one out-turn to admire a finger of blue water amid the arid surroundings. Our route meant we would miss the Hoover Dam but this was part of another related irrigation project which had had a profound effect on local environment and wildlife if the helpful display panels were to be believed.
We stopped off for a coffee at Rosie’s Den Café in White Hills, Arizona – we’d crossed out of Nevada by now. It’s a great place right on Route 93 and what amazed us was the number of people buying Arizona State Lottery tickets. We couldn’t quite see the attraction what with all the gambling opportunities you could possibly want just a short drive back into Las Vegas. However we later saw that the prizes on offer were six $25 million payouts every month, one game with a jackpot of $171 million and so on. The odds are probably no worse than in Las Vegas either.
Refreshed we speed (within limits of course) on down to Kingman then across to a left turn a few miles before Flagstaff onto the 64 signposted Grand Canyon National Park. The road from here on into the south rim is remarkably flat. We’ve obviously all seen pictures of the canyon itself but I for one had not appreciated that it was carved out of a billiard table flat plateau. We arrive at half past one at the Grand Hotel at Tusayan also known as Grand Canyon Village. It had taken us, with stops, just over four hours to drive from Vegas. The Grand is a modern hotel – self-styled upscale – and was very pleasant indeed. We had booked a helicopter flight for five o’clock and needed to check in half an hour beforehand so we hung out at the hotel, had a beer or two and some fries in readiness for my selfie birthday present of the helicopter trip.
With safety briefing completed we board the helicopter and set off over the Kaibab National Forest to the south rim. As you first glimpse the canyon, your breath is literally taken away. None of photographs, travelogues, documentaries and adventure programmes have prepared you for the immensity of the cleft in the earth, the scale of the whole thing and the incredible variety of rock colours and formations.
We flew south to north, turned and returned southwards with great views of the Colorado River twisting through its grand creation. I think for once the “a” word is in order. It was truly awesome. So much so that on return to dry land the ground crew rushed to provide Dee with a box of tissues so overcome was she with the whole experience. It happens quite often they said which is why they were so well prepared. The only mild downside of the flight was that the weather was not great and we had a light spattering of rain on the windscreen as we came back over the forest.However it seemed to be brightening up so we drove back to the south rim and walked along the edge to find a good sunset viewpoint, just in case.
We got lucky and a few rays shone through lighting the rock formations with that magic hour evening light.
We returned to the hotel had a shower and went down for dinner which was an amusing affair since our very attentive server who looked a bit like a cowboy film extra, was behaving a little nervously and confided that he was going into Las Vegas after his shift. We wondered if he had a habit but it transpired that his nerves were caused by anticipation of a different kind. He was getting married in the morning to his fiancée who was flying in from Thailand tonight. We wondered whether they had ever met before but were too polite to ask and wished them both well.