Here's the first part of my SW trip; I'm still trying to condense the second half!
Facts first! Stop here for the nitty-gritty, or skip forward if you have no need of information.
Background: I’m a mid-50s Canadian woman, a rural high school principal, who has gotten old enough that if none of my friends/family want to go to the place I’m dreaming of, I go it alone.
Route: I flew into and out of Las Vegas, the cheapest airfare available from Newfoundland, and the cheapest source of rental cars. You may now suspect that I have a limited budget? From there I drove to Zion National Park (1 night), the Grand Canyon (2 nights) and Sedona (2 nights) before returning to LV and flying home.
Hotels: My Las Vegas hotels were Hotwire purchases, which was the cheapest way of getting a nice hotel that I found. I stayed at the Tropicana on arrival, was quite pleased. For under $100 I had a comfortable bed, lovely bathroom, spacious and clean room. I didn’t care for the long trek from the entry, through the casino, to the Club Tower, but I soon found that this is a Vegas standard. The night before my return I stayed at the Trump; that was really a superior hotel, fabulous bathroom, great heated pool, friendly staff, and no casino.
At ZNP I stayed in Springdale at the Montclair Quality Inn. It was dark and dated, but clean, cheap, and on the shuttle route. It also provided a decent free breakfast; they called it continental, but there were eggs as well as the usual offerings. The “splurge” of my trip was the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. Ideally it would have been Maswik, which is closer to the rim, but I was hardly in the room during daylight, so the view was not a big deal. I was paying (this was the most expensive room of the trip) to be able to see the sunset/sunrise without a drive in the dark, and it worked very well for that goal. However, what you read about the rooms is true: the quality was on par with the Montclair, which charged just over half the price of Xanterra. In Sedona, I stayed at The Views in the Village of Oak Creek. This was a good deal: the room was spotless, large, included a fridge & microwave, red rock views from the window, and the price was great. There were several restaurants in the neighbourhood, although the highly recommended spots were further afield.
And, there are pictures here: http://s560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/American%20Southwest/
April 6: Arrived a bit late and tired after 16-hr. trip, but since I had never seen Las Vegas, I decided to wash up and go have a look. Discovery: walking the Strip is the reverse of relaxing, especially with swollen “airplane” legs, since it involves a series of two-storey overhead walkways to cross the streets. However, I checked out the Miracle Mile shops, including the hourly indoor rainstorm, and the Bellagio fountains and conservatory. The fountain show is quite cool and impressive. I marveled at the strolling girls in “showgirl” outfits carrying quart-sized cocktails in plastic containers—I guess maybe this is the latest in stagette ideas?? I marveled a bit more at the people with 10-year-olds—or babies—in tow. Anyway, by that point I gave in to exhaustion.
April 7: Trusty GPS in hand, I headed north about 8:30. It was startling how quickly and totally the glitzy city was replaced by brown desert, with a view of distant mountains. I drove until I saw the signs for St. George, Utah. Needing a break, I decided to take a look at the 19th century Mormon tabernacle I had read about in guidebooks. Although St. George is not a large town, I encountered heavy traffic as I approached the historic town centre. My timing was (unintentionally) superb! St. George was hosting an annual Art Fair. There were displays of professional art from a wide area, plenty of people-watching, and a local taco stand to support while I strolled. I only got a glimpse of the inside of the tabernacle, since a concert was starting there shortly. I stopped to take a picture of the current Mormon temple (very photogenic in gleaming white against the blue sky), then headed off again.
The road narrowed and wound its way into the small town of Springdale, now a tourist gateway, with numerous motel. Its setting is marvelous, with the rust and beige canyon walls soaring up all around. I checked in to my room, and jumped on one of the shuttle buses which come every 15 minutes in peak season, and the drivers I encountered were friendly and informative. It was Easter weekend, so the parking lots were full, and driving into the park wasn’t an option. After changing from the town to the park shuttle at the visitor centre, I dismounted at the Grotto picnic stop and headed up the Angel’s Landing Trail. I knew I would not make it to the top, as I have a fear of heights and had read the descriptions of the last half mile. There were also large signs advising that children and those with a fear of heights should NOT go to the top. I stopped after 1 ¼ hours uphill, (just past Refrigerator Canyon, for the knowledgeable) as I began to doubt that my knees would hold up to the downhill grind. In fact, they were fine (either the dryness or the altitude is great for arthritis, btw), and I love looking at my photos of the views and the frolicking chipmunks. After a short rest, I rejoined the shuttle bus, stopped for a look at the Court of the Patriarchs, and walked the Pa’rus Trail from Canyon Junction to the Visitor Centre, checking out the campsite (filled for the weekend) as I passed it. I ate at the often-mentioned Zion Pizza and Noodle; the pizza looked decent, but only came in 12” size, so I had some rather bland chicken and pasta. However, the Jamaican lager was delicious.
April 8: After breakfast, I took an early shuttle to the Weeping Rock Trail. I really enjoyed this geological feature, up a short paved trail, but my pictures of it are totally uninspiring. There were wonderful views of the morning sun hitting the canyon walls, and several wild turkey sitings. Back on the shuttle, I rode to the Temple of Shinwava at the top of the canyon, and walked the Riverside Trail to the beginning of the Narrows. It was not at all busy, so I appreciated the quiet, admired a preening duck, and stretched my legs on the hour-long, level trail.
Back at the hotel by 11, I checked out and drove east onto Hwy 89. This is an amazing piece of road-making, and not just for the 1-mile tunnel built in the ‘30s. My GPS route resembled a skein of yarn—in fact, I even took a picture of the screen. When stopped for some oversize vehicles to pass through the tunnel, I saw my second rock climber of the day: amazing hobby! The Canyon Overlook Trail, my last hike in the park (fortunately I had read about the parking lot IMMEDIATELY after the tunnel exit) was perfect: 1-hr. long, steep at the beginning but not exhausting, and an absolutely stunning view at the top. It was fairly busy—I heard Japanese, French, and German (or maybe Dutch?) at the top. When driving out of the park, the Checkerboard Mesa is a jaw-dropping geological sight with a well-marked viewpoint. For an easterner like me, a buffalo ranch was also a photo op.
It was nearly 2 p.m. when I reached tiny Mt. Carmel Junction, and the largest restaurant was filled by a bus tour, so I ventured on the salad at a seedy spot across the road (an error) and drove south towards Kanab.
I had decided on the 89Alt route to the Grand Canyon. I had read many raves about Page, but lakes are not a rarity for me; deserts are. So I drove through Freedonia (a very rusted and desolate-looking town) and was rewarded with the amazing expanse of the Vermillion Cliffs. I stopped at the Cliff Dwellers (which is not a native village but a location of early settlers), and walked across the Navajo Bridge for a view of the Colorado River—a bright, bilious, and unbelievable green at this point. Once I rejoined 89S, I found myself passing dozens of Navajo homesteads, each well separated from the others. I have to reread Tony Hillerman—I had thought of Navajo lands as being further east. Around 6 p.m. I reached the entrance to GCNP. I intended to drive on in, but couldn’t resist the “first sight of the Canyon” sign, so stopped to goggle at Desert View Overlook.
Drove on, passing a fair-sized elk, and eventually found my room (the signage for Yavapai is pathetic). I took a short walk along the rim near the visitor centre (by this time the sun was down), and survived a cafeteria supper at Yavapai. That was the main disadvantage of the Yavapai, actually—away from the rim, with the limited parking and shuttles that stop one hour after sunset, it’s tricky to dine elsewhere.
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Here's the first part of my SW trip; I'm still trying to condense the second half!