I’m lost trying to think of a superlative that will go anywhere near to giving the national and tribal parks of Utah and Arizona any kind of justice. You’ll leave each park thinking “nothing could possibly top that”… until you get to the next park. Trust me, each park so stunningly magnificent, yet unique in it’s magnificence, that trying to decide on “top” park is an utterly futile exercise.
A road trip around Utah and Arizona would undoubtedly be a highlight of anybody’s lifetime. Today I chronicle my 11 day road trip, starting today with part 1 from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon…
Day 1 – Arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada
I know that this is a “Utah/Arizona” road trip but Las Vegas, Nevada is a great place to start and end your trip. Visitors on a budget do not need to blow a hole in their wallet on the roulette table. In fact, Vegas is a pretty incredible place to go even if you don’t want to gamble. “Disneyland for adults” and “excessively excess” are two ways one could describe this place. Las Vegas Boulevard or “The Strip” is a bizarre and wonderful place. Hotels replicating Venice, New York and Paris, epic battles between two life-size pirate ships, erupting volcanoes, dazzling musical water shows and roller coasters atop the tallest building west of the Mississippi – this place is as crazy as it comes. And I haven’t even got on to the plethora of little white wedding chapels and troops of Elvis impersonators that wander the streets.
Your Vegas experience will provide a fascinating contrast to your road trip around the national parks so soak it in. Tomorrow is a long day so don’t go too crazy though. I’d recommend walking the strip and taking in some of the free shows. My top picks are the choreographed fountain show at the Bellagio, the fiery volcano at the Mirage, the pirate show at Treasure Island and the many circus acts at Circus Circus.
Day 2 – Las Vegas, Nevada to Grand Canyon, Arizona
Try and get an early start today because there is a lot to pack in. It won’t be long though until you reach the first sight of significance: the Hoover Dam. It’s an impressive structure and you’ll want to stop and take photos to capture the contrast of the man-made but polished concrete grey against the red rock and the blue Lake Mead, for which it was built to imprison. You can take a guided tour down to the generators and there is also a museum (which I didn’t explore but I am told is a worthwhile a visit).
When you’re ready, continue down Highway 93 to Kingman where you will join the historic Route 66. I’ll be honest, Route 66 by no means offers the most spectacular views you’ll come across, nor is it the most fun road to drive, but you’ll feel a certain sense of nostalgia as you drive one of the world’s most famous roads. Wind-propelled tumbleweed, rusty trailers and roadside greasy diners will contribute to that acute awareness that you’re driving right through the heart of America.
The stretch of Route 66 to Seligman is the longest stretch that still remains. At Seligman you’ll join the freeway 40 where you’ll make a short trip to Williams – you’re turn-off towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. At the entrance to the park I’d highly recommend buying the $80 annual pass. It will give you access for a year to all of the United State’s national parks including those you’ll visit on this road trip and it will save you money. Otherwise you can purchase a pass for your car for $25.
By this point you’ll probably arrive late in day so use the time to familarise yourself with the village and find a camping bay (or check-in to your lodgings) before heading to get a peek down the canyon from one of the many vantage points along the South Rim trail. The moment you approach the canyon will undoubtedly bring tingles to your spine. You’re about to view one of the highly regarded “natural wonders of the world” and the sheer vastness of it will threaten to blow your mind. The intensity of the colours changes by the light of the sun so sit back and watch the way the sunset paints the canyon through light and shadow.
When the sun is set and you’re well fed make a bee-line for bed. Today has been a long day of driving while tomorrow promises a day of rewarding hikes.