An account of a trip around the 'Grand Circle' in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
12th May 1999 Vancouver - Seattle - Las Vegas
Got up at the ridiculously early time of 5:00 am, so that we could get the plane at the equally ridiculous time of 7:00. Called a taxi and went around to collect Mark and Dave and then proceeded to the airport. Waited around at the airport for quite some time before boarding an aircraft that seemed much too small and even had propellers. This succeeded in taking us to Seattle, even though the flight attendant didn't smile at any time during the flight, and their idea of breakfast was a stale biscuit. Waited around at Seattle airport for even longer before catching a sensible aircraft for Las Vegas. This time the idea of breakfast was a packet of peanuts.
Arrived in Las Vegas at about 12:00, and got a taxi to our hotel, the Imperial Palace, which is in the middle of the strip. Checked in and went up to the room which seemed reasonable. Then left again to go down to the buffet since the meals served on the flights were not designed for continued sustenance. The buffet was acceptable and there weren't any queues to get it. In fact there were very few other people in the buffet at all.
After consuming sufficient food we set off to explore the Strip. Walking south we checked out hotels/casinos which are supposed to resemble ancient Rome (Caesars Palace), Paris (although this isn't open yet), Monte Carlo, New York, a medieval castle (Excalibur) and Egypt (Luxor). However no matter what they looked like from outside they were all pretty much the same inside. Lots and lots of slot machines and a smaller number of Blackjack and Roulette tables.
New York New York was a slight exception because it has a roller coaster, which takes you through the streets of 'Manhatten'. This is actually quite good if a little expensive for a 2-minute ride ($8). After this went over to the MGM Grand where we failed to find the way out for sometime before finally emerging where we entered. Since it was pretty hot and the Strip is actually quite long we got a bus back to the hotel.
Went for a swim in the pool which for some reason closes very early (6:00 p.m.). Having checked out a number of pools during our tour of the hotels, I think that I can safely say that the Luxor has the best one. Then back to the room to watch the television program which tells you how to play the casino games. This explained the rules but not the tactics so was not actually much use.
After some much needed rest we went next door to Harrahs for dinner - a Steak and Shrimp combo for $9.99 which wasn't at all bad. It was now time for a bit of gambling, bet first I had to meet Andy who was due in from England. Therefore Mark and Dave set off in search of high limit tables (for example 50c roulette) while I chilled out at the hotel. Andy arrived at about the time that I had expected, we dumped his stuff in the room and went down to the Barbary Coast where the others were attempting to lose there money very slowly.
I decided that we should go and see the volcano at the Mirage explode but when we got there not much was happening but it was very windy. After hanging around for a while we gave up and headed off. I have since learned that if the red light is flashing then the volcano will not explode due to 'inclement weather'. Unfortunately there is only one sign saying this. Checked out the Casino Royale before returning to the Barbary Coast for some more high roller action. After 30 minutes or so of play, I was only $4 down so decided to give Roulette up for a bit. Since there were no low stakes blackjack tables available here we went back to the Imperial Palace for a few hands on the $3 tables. I quickly succeeded in losing $20 here but did get a beer in return. Not a very good investment in my mind.
13th May 1999 Las Vegas
Got up not particularly early and had breakfast in the coffee shop. No man can possibly stand 3 buffet meals in one day. Decided to explore downtown and the North Strip today and therefore got the bus to Fremont Street. I don't know what the Fremont Street Experience is like at night but during the day it is not very exciting - just another set of casinos and a few shops. Stopped in the Horseshoe and Golden Nuggat casinos and both Mark and I managed to get big wins on the 5c slot machines (about $15 each). 300 5-cent coins make a really good sound as they pour out of the machine. It is just a shame that we weren't playing the dollar machines.
After we had finished with downtown we got the bus back to Stratosphere - the big tower. The lower levels are just like all the other casinos, but we bought out tickets to go up the tower and for Andy and I to do the Big Drop ride at the top. Mark and Dave were not hard enough for this. The view from the top of the tour is of Las Vegas, the desert and a few mountains. Mark tried to load a film into his camera and found out that it was broken. He then proceeded to spend the rest of holiday moaning whenever the rest us stopped take pictures. The ride is pretty special. It claims to be the highest thrill ride in the world. It just shoots you up the air and then drops you before going back up again.
The ride over, we returned to ground level for the lunch buffet in the Stratosphere (it only costs $4 extra if you go up the tower). This was better than yesterday's at the Imperial Palace. After lunch it was time for Circus Circus - Las Vegas' top family hotel according to the adverts. They did indeed have more attractions outside the casino than most of the others. Mark and Dave showed us how bad they are at video games for a while and then we got a taxi ride back to the hotel. Mark was on a mission to find the true nature of the relationship between Siegfried and Roy, and as our taxi driver put it 'They f**k each other'. However he also claimed that Roy was dead and that he had been replaced by his cousin so who really knows.
Mark with his Heroes
We decided to go a show and chose the Tournament of Kings at Excalibur. I wasn't overly impressed by the show, it advertises itself as a jousting contest, but the jousting was so obviously faked that it looked silly. Some of the hand to hand sword fighting was a bit better though. You do get provided with a meal as part of during the show and if you pound hard enough on the table you can make your drink fall all over the guy in front.
Ali, Dave's girl, had recommended a club called The Beach so we got the bus up the Strip and then walked there. It was pretty empty when we arrived but there were a few nice servers wearing bikinis. It livened up a bit later but we didn't stay too long before heading back to the general area of the Imperial Palace to play some more low stakes games before going to bed. Mark is claiming that he has made $15 while he has been here. He can expect to be banned from all of the casinos soon. Dave on the other hand will be welcomed back with open arms since he loses wherever he goes.
14th May 1999 Las Vegas - Grand Canyon
Time to leave Las Vegas, got up, ate breakfast, checked out and waited for the shuttle bus to take us to the car hire place. I had arranged the car hire other the Internet and had chosen the cheapest company (US Rent A Car / Affinity) and was therefore a little apprehensive about what we might be getting. However there was no need to worry, the car was a Buick Century, plenty big enough for 4 people. After signing all of the papers (and not letting Andy drive because he still lives in England and would probably drive on the wrong side of the road) we exited Las Vegas with 'Viva Las Vegas' blaring out on the stereo.
We quickly found out that the CD power adapter that Dave had bought was incompatible with Mark's CD player and that his output lead was temperamental. Anyone we drove over the Hoover Dam (without stopping) and on through the desert towards Kingman. A left here onto Interstate 40 and an hour later we were in Seligman where we had lunch. The diner was a little too nice for our liking since it is on 'historic route 66'. For some reason people from all over the world come to follow this road, but that's up to them. Another left turn at Williams, and we were soon approaching the Grand Canyon, which is one big hole in the ground. We stopped at Mather Point for our first view and then proceeded to Yavapai Point. From here we walked the Rim Trail around to the village and the looked at the start of the Bright Angel Trail, one of our possible hikes for the morrow. Had a chat with a guy selling pictures outside one of the lodges about the trails. He reckoned that it was possible to get to the river and back in a day, no matter what the official information said. But we weren't so sure that we wanted to. Since it was getting a bit late, we got the free shuttle bus kindly provided by the National Park Service back to the car. We checked in to our hotel for the night (Yavapai Lodge which is inside the National Park). Immediatley went back to the rim to watch the sunset.
Dave made the amazing discovery that no matter how long you spend framing a photograph it doesn't come out too good if you fail to put any film in the camera. This made him feel particularly good when he found it out the next day. Then went to the Maswik Lodge for a very disappointing dinner. The Maswik Lodge does have a bar however and thus I was able to consume some very fizzy beer. Went back to the hotel and after some discussion decided that we were not going to try to hike to the bottom the next day.
15th May 1999 Grand Canyon - Navajo National Monument - Tsegi (Kayenta)
Got up early and went for another bland meal at the cafeteria in the hotel. The idea was to try and be hiking by 8:00 so that we wouldn't be out in the middle of the day. However we managed to miss the bus to the start of the South Kaibab Trail and then missed another one while looking around the shop. Anyway we eventually caught the bus to the trailhead (no cars are allowed to go there) and started our hike. The plan was to hike down for about an hour, and then turn around and come back - which should give a 3-hour hike. Although there were other people on the trail, including two German girls that Mark found very attractive, it was no where near as crowded as at the top. A ranger we met said that only 5% of visitors to the canyon go below the rim. We reached Cedar Camp in about 1/2 hour. The NPS brochure claims that this is the day hike limit, which in my opinion is very unadventurous since the continuation that we did to the top of the 'white switchbacks' could easily be done by most people in 4-5 hours and gives a much better feel of the canyon. From the nadir of our hike there was a view of the Colorado River far below and of Phantom Ranch. At this point we were all feeling pretty fit and saying that we could probably have reached the bottom. However since we hadn't come prepared for that, after a photograph session we headed back up.
Mark and Dave were trying to make it back in record time and left Andy and I far behind. It took us about the same time to get back up as it took to go down. We even beat the Mule riders back up. We got the bus back to Yavapai Lodge and went into the Deli at the general store for some lunch. While queuing up to buy the food I suddenly felt very faint - undoubtedly the affects of the hike and/or drinking insufficient water. Perhaps it was lucky that we didn't go the bottom. Mark tries to claim that I collapsed, but in reality after a few minutes of sitting down, some food and Powerade I was all right.
Drove along the East Rime drive to Desert View for one last look at the canyon and then heading off out of the park towards 'Injun country'. Heading east we were in the Navajo Indian Reservation, but native Americans on horses shooting arrows were conspicuous by their absence. We went up the Navajo National Monument and hiked down to the overview of the Betatakin Ruins - an Anasazi cliff village from about 1300.
This was a very easy hike compared to the morning's endeavors. Returned to the car and continued to our motel for the night in Tsegi (the Anasazi Inn). To be more exact it was Tsegi. When booking the room I had been informed numerous times that they had a 24 hour restaurant, but not fancying eating there we headed into Kayenta where we ate in the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in the Holiday Inn. The food here was much better that the previous night even if a little expensive - I think that we have become used to eating out cheaply living in Canada. And it's always worth remembering that you can't buy or drink alcohol on Navajo land.
Returned to the hotel and went to bed.
16th May 1999 - Tsegi - Monument Valley - Natural Bridges N.M. - Moab (Arches N.P.)
Had breakfast in the 24 hour restaurant at the motel (and yes it was open) and then headed off for Monument Valley, the scene of numerous westerns. This was pretty impressive with lots of Mesas, Points and Buttes. Dave thought that he was on safari so insisted on sitting on top of the car. It took a couple of hours and numerous photographs to go around the Tribal Park. We had a quick bite to eat in the visitor's centre before continuing on with our drive.
The route to Natural Bridges National Monument takes you off the main road on to Hwy-261 that for most of its route is paved, but for the climb up the cliffs of Cedar Mesa it is unpaved, steep and has sharp switchbacks. According to Andy it is particularly scary, if the driver insists on only having one hand on the steering wheel, and admiring the view at every bend. But I know that I had the car under control at all times. There were some complaints about my driving technique but we safely reached the top from where there is a splendid view looking back into the San Juan Valley and the desert beyond. As we drove on, we realized that we had probably made a mistake by not buying any petrol in Mexican Hat, because the mileage that could be traveled using amount left in the tank and the distance to the next town were looking uncomfortably close. Anyway we went into Natural Bridges N.M. and hiked down to the Sipapu Bridge that is really quite big as far as natural bridges go (not as big as Rainbow Bridge, but we didn't go there).
We drove around the remainder of the scenic drive and looked at the other two bridges (Kachina and Owachomo) from the road. We left the park heading for Blanding wondering what it would be like to be stuck out on the lonely road if we did run of the fuel. Luckily we reached the petrol without any pushing but with plenty of 'low fuel' warning beeps. However judging by the amount fuel that we managed to fit in, either we had plenty left or the tank is smaller the book implies.
By this time it was nearly 3:00 and therefore way past time for lunch. Our dreams of a true American roadside diner were satisfied by Kenny's in Blanding where we all had some nice greasy burgers. The road to Moab is quite picturesque with the La Sal Mountains in the distance and desert in the foreground. We reached our first arch (Wilson Arch)
20 miles or so South of Moab and climbed up the slick rock to see it from close-up. As we all know, an Arch differs from a Natural Bridge in that it wasn't formed by flowing water. Proceeding on into Moab, Mark was given the responsibility of finding a nice hotel. After our first choice of the Red Stone Inn had no vacancies we chose the Landmark Inn in the centre of town. I decided that we need to see the sunset in Arches National Park, so we headed up there about 6:00. Dave and Mark hiked through Park Avenue while Andy and I drove around. Then we went to the Windows area. This contains a number of arches such as North Window, South Window, Turret Arch and Double Arch.
We walked around the arches for a while. Initially there were a lot of people around but after a while they disappeared, so we were able to go photos containing no human forms.
Returned to the car and watched the sun set over the park and then went back to Moab.
Dinner was in Poplar Place where the food was adequate but the staff decidedly unfriendly and unhelpful.
17th May 1999 Moab
Today was set aside as the mountain biking day on the schedule. As you may or may not know, Moab is a renowned mountain biking area and the most famous ride of all is the Slickrock Trail. Therefore we decided to do this ride. After breakfast (which took a long time to get) we headed off to Chile Pepper bike shop to hire bikes for the day. I decided to give full suspension a try, while the others stayed with front suspension. The trail starts about 3 miles outside town - this doesn't sound very far but is up a very big hill. We made the mistake of deciding to cycle up instead of somehow getting the bikes in the car. Anyway after 1/2 hour or so of climbing we reached the start of the trail. The designers of the trail very kindly provide a 'practice loop' so that you can make sure that you are up to riding before starting on the main trail. We all successfully accomplished this so carried on to do the real hard stuff. The Slickrock enables you to go up, down and across hills that would normally be difficult or impossible. As well as the rock there are periodic sand patches that seem designed to make you fall off your bike (as Mark found out on a number of occasions). The trail is a loop which we decided to do clockwise since that is supposed to the easier way, though I am not sure exactly makes it easier. At a suitable point with the mountains in the background we stopped for a photo session and then continued riding up and down.
Dave and I were able to demonstrate to Andy our downhill skills learned on the North Shore (of Vancouver) but he was a real mountain goat going up. About half way we went to the viewpoint over the Colorado River, and after that the going seemed easier - not sure whether it actually was or whether we were getting better. Presently we completed the loop and headed back towards the car park. This return leg involved a wicked hill which I totally failed to get up - perhaps one day after lots of training I will be able keep going up the hills.
The cruise back down to the town possibly made it worthwhile to have cycled up in the first place. The full suspension bike certainly made the ride more comfortable since there are a lot of bumps on the main trail, but I am not sure that I am ready to splash out on one yet.
After returning the bikes we had lunch (nearer 4:00 today, since the ride took as about 4.5 hours) we went back to the hotel to relax by the pool (which was too cold) and the hot tub (which was much too hot). We had originally intended to go back to Arches tonight but no one felt up to that. Dave and I went for a walk around town and managed to buy some real beer (i.e. stronger than 3%) in the liquor store. However beer from the liquor store is not cold, so you basically get a choice of nice beer or cold beer. Now since you can make good beer cold, but not cold beer nice we chose the good stuff.
We were rather late having dinner tonight (about 9:30) and our first two choices of restaurants were closed. Eventually a pasta place decided to let us in - jolly nice people that they were.
18th May 1999 Moab - Capitol Reef N.P. - Tropic
Since we hadn't seen the remainder of Arches N.P. the night before, we headed up to the park after breakfast. The first aim for the day was the walk to Delicate Arch (about 1.5 miles each way). This was other more slick rock and Mark was moaning the whole way about his leg, which he claimed to have hurt when he fell off while cycling. The arch itself is well worth the effort. It is a freestanding arch and sets as a nice frame for the La Sal Mountains behind.
After walking back to the car, we drove up the trailhead for the walk to Landscape Arch, the biggest arch in the park. This was a shorter walk (about 1 mile each way) and takes you too another good view. A big chunk of this arch fell off in 1995, and it is now so thin that the next fall must surely make the arch collapse all together.
The one bit of the park that we did not get to see was the walk through the Fiery Furnace, a maze of eroded canyons. Possibly another visit will be called for one day.
We still had a long drive ahead of us, so off we set for Green River and lunch (nothing particularly enthralling) and then onwards to Capitol Reef National Park. We decided to drive the back way through the park along the Notom - Bullfrog and Burr Trail roads. The first of these is an unpaved dirt road that provided no real problems, but the climb up the Waterpocket Fold on the Burr Trail road was interesting to say the least. This was a very steep dirt road with rocks thrown in to increase the excitement. The views from the road both east and west are pretty good. At the top the road becomes paved after you leave the National Park. Along this road, Dave thought that he had run other a snake but since it managed to get off the road and crawl into the undergrowth it couldn't have been that badly hurt. Don't what kind of snake it was, but definitely not a rattlesnake.
The road from Boulder to Tropic (Highway 12) has a reputation as one of the most scenic in Utah and it definitely deserves to be. At one point we were driving along a fairly narrow ridge with long steep drops on either side. After a brief stop in Escalante and a fruitless trip up to the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park to find a hotel, we finally settled on the Bryce Pioneer Village Motel in Tropic. This is so called because the cabin built by Ebenezeer Bryce himself lies in the grounds. Tropic contains two restaurants and we were unable to pry out of the woman at the hotel which the best one was. But after trying both I think that I can safely say that Doug's Place outperformed the Hungry Coyote in the culinary department. This first night we ate at Doug's Place, a meal only ruined by a very loud coach driver trying to impress the foreign tourists who were on here coach trip.
Obviously in deep Mormon country like this, there were no bars in town, so we bought some beer in the shop and went to the room to drink it.
19th May 1999 Tropic - Bryce Canyon N.P. - Tropic
Today was a fairly easy day, Bryce Canyon is only 10 miles from Tropic and can be easily seen in a day. So after a slow start we went up to the Sunset Point parking lot for our first view of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. And indeed there are a lot of them. Geologists will tell you that Bryce Canyon is in fact not a canyon at all, but a series of amphitheaters along the edge of the Pink Cliffs at the top of the Grand Staircase of the Colorado plateau (Zion N.P. and Grand Canyon N.P. are also part of this staircase). And as the original Mr Bryce said 'it's a helluva place to lose a cow' (all the books about the park have that phrase so I thought that I needed it as well). Since no National Park would be complete without a hike, we went down the Navajo Loop Trail, through an area called Wall Street where the hoodoos form a very narrow canyon with pine trees growing in the bottom and around to the Queens Garden area.
We then followed the Queens Garden Trail back to the top of the canyon rim and back to our car.
We had been super organized today and had bought stuff to make lunch with. Therefore we headed down to Rainbow Point (no rainbow but more hoodoos) at the end of the road to make and eat our sandwiches. After lunch we drove back up the road stopping at most of the viewpoints and seeing a very similar view from each one. Except of course for the Natural Bridge viewpoint where you could see a Natural Bridge as well as hoodoos.
We popped into the Visitor Centre for a detailed explanation of the Grand Staircase before returning to the hotel.
The hot tub at this hotel was a much more sensible temperature than the one in Moab so we lounged around in there for a long time. Dinner tonight was in the Hungry Coyote that as I have already said was not as good as the other place. Went back to the room and Star Wars was on television which the others insisted on watching.
20th May 1999 Tropic - Zion Ponderosa Resort
Again got up fairly slowly and had breakfast at Doug's Place. Drove off towards Zion National Park. For the next two nights we stayed at an adventure resort (Zion Ponderosa Resort) which I found on the Internet. We arrived about 12:00, had lunch and then started to plan our activities. It is an 'all-inclusive resort' where the food and the activities are all included in the cost. First we went on the intermediate ATV ride which left us wanting more so we signed up for the advance ride for the next day. Then we went shooting. This was my first go at clay pigeon shooting and I was very pleased to get 1 (out of 10 or so). The others did slightly (but not much) better. After this we had a go on the climbing / rappelling wall. The climbing was by no means easy and none of us reached the top, but I got highest. Following this we decided to try the mountain bike course that had been used for a race a couple of weekends before. Unfortunately the bikes were not in tip-top condition but the ride itself was quite interesting, with a lovely single-track descent from the top back to the resort centre. We did the second loop of the course and decided to give the third loop a miss since it was time for dinner.
After dinner we tried to plan the next day's fun. The only Paintball that was available was at 8:00 but we (well Mark) decided that that was much too early so decided to give it a miss. Played volleyball, pool and table tennis for a while and then went and sat in the hot tub. The sky was very clear so we were able to see lots of stars, but had no idea which ones were which.
21st May 1999 Zion Ponderosa Resort
The first activity of the day wasn't scheduled until 10:30 so we had breakfast and then hung around the 'recreation room' and played table tennis and pool. At 10:30 we had a go at archery and I was a little better at this than I was at shooting, but I am still not sure that I would have been eating if I had been a hunter. Dave managed to get a perfect bullseye but was otherwise not much good and Mark was just no good at all.
After the archery, Dave went for another bike ride while Mark, Andy and I played tennis. Then it was time for lunch.
After lunch we went for a horseback ride. All I can say is that the geometry of my body and the horse's obviously don't blend very well because it was very uncomfortable and my knee hurt the whole time. Anyway we plodded along the path to a lookout over the Checkerboard Mesa and then plodded back. I've decided that I am not cut out to be a cowboy either. I then had another go on the climbing wall but still didn't get to the top although I did get further than yesterday.
Our final activity of the day was also the best. This was the advanced ATV ride. We went up the same hill that we had cycled up the previous day but via a different route - and it was also much easier. Then we had a lovely spin around some narrow winding trails where you got a chance to really slide the vehicle round the corners.
Had dinner, looked at the barn dance and decided that it didn't look much good and went to bed
22nd May 1999 Zion Ponderosa Resort - Zion N.P. - Las Vegas
The last day of our holiday. We decided to leave the resort straight after breakfast so that we would have a chance to have a quick look at Zion National Park. So packed up and drove through the park and Mount Carmel tunnel to the scenic drive. Went to the end of the scenic drive, viewing the lunatic rock climbers on the way and then walked the Riverside Walk. This walk ends at the start of the Zion Narrows walk - which involves walking up the middle of the stream through the Virgin River canyon. This was an opportunity too good to miss, so we did the first few hundred metres of the walk. The water was very cold. However after a while your feet became so numb that you didn't notice. The people who were attempting more of the hike were all dressed up in waterproof clothing but I think that our way proves how hard we are. The deepest point that we went through was about thigh deep, but it generally gets to be about 4 feet deep.
The entire hike is about 16 miles long and our pace would have taken a very long time. We went back to the car and headed for the Las Vegas, stopping for lunch in Hurricane.
We reentered Vegas with 'Viva Las Vegas' on the stereo and cruised the Strip to take Andy to the airport since he had an earlier flight than the rest of us. We returned to the Strip, parked the car and tried to get tickets for the Cirque de Soleil show in Treasure Island but they were sold out. Went back into Imperial Palace since Dave had $20 of chips to lose. He lost them in one spin on roulette (he bet red and it came up black), and then went across Caesars Palace. While here had some 'photos' taken of my face superimposed on another body. We then returned to Treasure Island to try and get cancellation tickets for the show. Succeeded in doing so but by this time it was too late to go and eat a proper meal before the show. The Cirque de Soleil show (Mystere) was much better than the Tournament of Kings (but it did cost twice as much). Mark's favourite point was the scantily clad drummers being lowered from ceiling but I personally thought that the trapeze artists were the best bit.
After the show ended we had to take the hire car back (they failed to find any excuses to increase the rental cost) and then got taken to the airport. Checked in and got a pizza before finally boarding the plane at 11:45 with loads of pool players who had been taken part in a tournament in Vegas. Unfortunately for Dave and Mark, a drunk female pool player decided to enlighten them with her views on life. I slept the whole flight. We landed at Vancouver at 2:30 and I finally got home at 3:30 a.m. at the end of a superb holiday.