More Canyon and kicks on Route 66

Grand Canyon Post cardSunday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to go back and see more of the Grand Canyon in full sunlight. And what a difference! Colours were brighter, shadows more intense and it seemed even further and deeper down that we spied a wiggle of the Colorado. We bought some Junior Ranger gifts for the grandchildren in the visitor centre which doubles as a small museum of the history of the Grand Canyon village.

Kolb Studio




We then walked down to the Kolb Studio a tribute to two brothers who made a small fortune out of filming and photographing pioneer activity in the canyon and selling prints to the prospectors. The lengths they went to in order to get their footage would make a modern day risk assessor apoplectic – but then we’d never have had this amazing archive so sometimes you do just have to forget the rules.

We set off along the rim footpath which announced itself as “easy walking” rather than taking the Bright Angel Trail which descended into the canyon but was described as a day-long trip for experienced hikers. We didn’t have a day and we’re not in that good shape. As it transpired the easy walk needed quite a lot of puff as there were some sharp inclines that required people younger than us to pause by the side of the track to get their second wind. It was well worth it though and took us to the memorial to John Wesley Powell claimed as the first explorer of the Grand Canyon. Well he might have been the first white American explorer but the Havasupai and Hualapai have lived in and around the canyon for some 800 years. Each time you reach one of these strategically located lookouts you see different aspects of the gorge with informative explanatory plaques.Grand Canyon 2

Proposed-GC-hotel_thumbWho knew there was an abandoned uranium mine called the Orphan Mine? I then learned thanks to The Guardian that there are proposals to reopen it which have brought howls of protests from environmentalists about the effects of uranium mining on the scarce water supply in the canyon area and on wildlife. Nor did I know that when it first closed there was a proposal to build a multi-storey hotel actually inside the rim – artist’s impression on the right.

Hopi danceOn our return via the shuttle bus to Grand Canyon Village we were presented with a display of dancing from the Hualapai outside the Hopi House one of the main attractions of the village. They were energetic and slightly threatening and reminded us of the Ainu dances we’d seen in Hokkaido.

We then set off back towards Vegas early in the afternoon and as we approached the interstate opted instead for a drive along self-proclaimed with monotonous regularity “historic” Route 66.

Route 66The road itself was great – empty of traffic except for a Havasupai Reservation Police jeep at one point – surrounded by rolling hills and agriculture and then we came to the sign “Entering Seligman”. Obviously you’d have to be a hermit not to have heard “Get your kicks on Route 66”. I think I first remember the Chuck Berry version but Nat King Cole did it first and the Rolling Stones and many others followed. In a fabulous piece of municipal self-promotion Seligman claims to be the heart of Route 66. It’s fabulous – low buildings line a broad street. There are Harley Davidson outlets and repairs shops, lots of them. There are hotels, motels and roadhouses. There is the famous Road Kill Diner: motto “You Kill It, We Grill It”.

Seligman sign  Seligman sundriesRoad Kill Road Kill interior

Dee waiting on 66 After waiting in vain for some fresh road kill and having a beer in its dollar bill papered interior we chose a German themed diner opposite with good craft beer – Dogfish Head IPA – where do they get these names? We had lunch served by a lady with such exquisitely coiffed hair that she would not have been out of place in a 1950s movie.

Dogfish Head beer

The Canyon Calls

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.

IMG_5574IMG_5577We 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.

Canyon signRefreshed 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.

Approaching the Canyon

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.

IMG_5680  IMG_5683

Colorado in canyonWe 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.IMG_5670However 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.

Grand Hotel Tusayan
Grand Canyon Village (Tusayan) from the helicopter


SFO to LAS with hearts left behind

Our second hotel was a pleasant boutique hotel with otherwise great staff (see yesterday) who recommended a breakfast location not too far away. However they weren’t serving breakfast any more so we took ourselves quite by chance to a San Francisco classic diner Sear’s Fine Food which was great. Lots of antique paraphernalia and photographs and a splendid old world atmosphere and great bacon, eggs and pancakes. When we left it we went back to the building where the car was garaged and noted a fabulous art deco exterior on 450 Sutter. The lobby was amazing all marble, gilt and mirrors. Don’t miss it if you’re ever in that area.

Union SquareWe wandered around Union Square taking in its historical significance as a place of meetings and protests, admired the Dewey Monument statue of the Goddess of Victory high above us and thought idly about taking a cable car ride – one of the musts in San Francisco which we had failed to do in our previous days here. We had seen the lengthy queues down by Pier 42 and in Market Street and thought we’d have to wait for ever.


But at the stop in Union Square we managed to board the second car that pulled in. It is quite an experience and one we’re glad we did. As transport it is comfortable enough and a historic reminder of the early days of the city. It gives you the clearest impression of the vertiginous nature of many San Francisco streets and the utter chaos that seems to await the cable car after cresting every hill. The guards are also characters determined to maintain the sense of fun in taking this iconic ride – cable cars are not included in our three day travel card.

Cable car stop  Cable car RideCable car chaos  Hoppin off

By then it was time to make our way back to the hotel pick up our luggage and make for the airport. We had a rather slowly served lunch at the normally excellent Blue Mermaid and had to get a taxi back to Union Square. The driver told us he’d tried having a London taxi as a tourist attraction in The City but it couldn’t manage the hills and was knackered in two years.

I failed to take the correct exit on the way to the airport and SatNav again took us on a fine tour of the suburbs before delivering us to the car rental return area. San Francisco airport was great – the Air Train ride from the car rental centre to the international terminal was easy and the terminal had some very interesting displays on the history and development of San Francisco. We boarded quickly and easily with our “pre” status accorded by Virgin America in Boston and made the short trip to Las Vegas a destination included in our trip not because of any burning desire to visit Sin City but because it was convenient for the drive to the Grand Canyon, the next real item on the agenda.

We got a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel a recommendation from seasoned Vegas visitors as being a little bit off the strip and preferable to many. I’m no prude and have travelled extensively but I have to confess to a feeling of shock on walking in to the reception area of the hotel to find a pair of pole dancers strutting their scanty stuff at either side of the bar area that bordered reception. On a closer examination – well you have to don’t you – they were both so disinterested and disinclined to perform that the experience was neither erotic nor truly sleazy given their location. Impression number two wasn’t good either. Despite checking no-smoking on the booking form we were allocated a smoking room. To be fair it didn’t smell too obviously but there’s a principle at stake. We were asked if we could bear with it tonight and they’d fix it for us while we were away at the Grand Canyon. The basic room rates are so low as the resorts make their money in other ways that it was cheaper for us to pay for four nights rather than one and then two, and it meant we only had to take an overnight bag on our trip next day.

IMG_0723We wandered around the huge hotel/casino me resisting the temptation to purchase some really awful Beatles dolls – well Dee is a big fan! We then ate an acceptable dinner in one of the few eateries that remained open and retired to our not-too-smoky room.