Westward Ho! Sept. 21 – 29, 2002
Las Vegas, Nevada; Zion National Park, Utah;
Grand Canyon, Arizona; and Sedona, Arizona
This was Carol's first trip to this area of the United States, so this review is written through her eyes.
On Saturday 9/21/02, Mike and I flew to Las Vegas, NV for a two night stay at the Luxor Hotel and Casino. The Luxor is a beautiful but unusual hotel. Its pyramid shape does not allow for the use of elevators. Instead, they have what they call inclinators. They are enclosed like an elevator, but they move up at an angle like an escalator. Inside, it looks just like you are standing in a regular elevator; but when it moves, you can feel the difference. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, just different.
Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, we drove around and went into some of the other hotels to see what they were like. The Mirage has a lobby that is absolutely “rich” looking. There are huge crystal chandeliers and the effect is very elegant. There is also a lovely garden where you can stroll among live trees and exotic plants.
Caesar’s Palace has a really neat shopping mall that is under a huge dome that is painted like the sky. It makes you feel as if you are outside. All of the storefronts of the shops are constructed like the exteriors of buildings. There’s a huge fountain in the square, and you really do feel like you’re strolling down a street in ancient Rome. We ate lunch there at the Palms of New York Restaurant.
The Venetian Hotel replicated St. Mark’s Square in Venice. They also have the dome painted like the sky with buildings for storefronts. But, at the Venetian they built the Grand Canal as the focal point. It winds around through the hotel and the shopping area, and they have full sized gondolas that you can ride in with gondoliers dressed in the traditional striped shirts. It was very picturesque, if not completely accurate, and brought back memories of our trip to the real Venice.
I personally liked the Bellagio the best. The ceiling of the lobby has what looks like big acrylic flowers all clustered together. They don’t have petals like real flowers, but are more abstract. They form a multitude of bright colors, and the effect is quite nice. Unfortunately, that picture didn't turn out. Next to the main lobby is a garden area. There are trees that are planted, and around them are pots of plants that are in the ground but can be changed out seasonally. At one end of the area, is a huge cornucopia. It is filled with artificial fruit and live flowers. On the left side of the garden is a sweeping staircase. While we were there, a bride was having pictures taken on the stairs.
We went to the lounge at the Bellagio to watch the fountain show. We had been told that the best view was from the lounge terrace, so we got there early and got a table outside. It was well worth the wait. They played Celine Dion’s “The Heart Will Go On”, the theme from the movie Titanic; and the fountains “danced” to the music. It was very lovely.
On Saturday night we had tickets to The Blue Man Group. There is no way I can describe that show except to say WOW! When Mike first talked about going, I was skeptical because I didn’t think I would like it. To me, it was three guys who had painted themselves blue, beating on pipes and making a lot of noise. Boy, was I surprised! I still don’t know how they did what they did, nor how to explain it; but whatever it was, it was great. There was a good deal of audience participation and I really laughed a lot.
On Sunday night we went to see “O” at the Bellagio. It is supposed to be one of the best shows in town, but I was not overly impressed. Circi du Soli is just not my cup of tea. I can definitely appreciate the talent involved. The actual trapeze artists and the synchronized swimmers were fantastic; but there’s too much other stuff going on. There is too much weird junk and strange costumes. I realize that this is what makes it what it is; but it’s just too unusual for my taste.
Since Mike and I are not big gamblers, I went to Vegas primarily to see the lights. All in all, Las Vegas was just about what I expected – loads of glitz, but very little glamour. Everybody should go there at least once; but for me, once was enough.
Zion National Park, Utah
On Monday morning we headed for Utah and the Zion National Park. Oh my gosh!! It is breath taking. I could never have imagined that rocks could be so beautiful. Pictures just can’t capture the majesty of these mountains.
They are mostly red because of a high iron content. Some of them look like someone poured chocolate syrup over them, streaking them a blackish color. Actually, that is where the exposure on the surface has rusted the iron that is in the rock. The size of the mountains is what astounded me. I think that is what can’t be perceived from a picture. Even the A&E shows we had watched on T.V. just can’t convey the enormity.
We stayed two nights in the Zion Lodge that is within the park. We were on the second floor, and our balcony looked out upon a huge mountain. It was a gorgeous view.
There were wild mule deer roaming around right below our room. At one time I counted eight. One of the bucks was a ten point. They were so used to people, that they didn’t run away, even when we walked along the sidewalk within three or four feet of them. They were not tame by any means, and we were warned not to try to touch them or to feed them. On another morning there were six wild turkeys foraging around.
On Tuesday morning, we got up early and hiked to Emerald Pools. There is a natural spring that trickles down over the rocks and forms three pools. During the wet season, it becomes waterfalls before joining the Virgin River. We only hiked to the lower pool, and that was strenuous enough for me. It was a beautiful climb, and that morning I got one of the prettiest pictures that I have ever taken.
After the hike, we drove to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was about two hours away, but well worth the trip. Zion and Bryce are totally different. At Zion you are in the valley looking up at the sights. At Bryce you are on the rim looking down into the canyon. In the picture on the right, those two little specks are actually people hiking at the bottom.
Bryce has these really unusual formations called hoodoos. It looks kind of like someone piled one rock on top of the other until you have a column, but it’s not really individual rocks. It was originally a single rock that was worn down into a column. It’s difficult to describe.
In an area called the amphitheater, they’re all bunched together like a zillion spikes sticking up out of the ground.
On the way back from Bryce, we stopped at a place called Ruby’s Rock House. Mike bought a big slab of petrified wood. It is estimated to be about 150 million years old and came from the Escalante National Forest in Utah.
On Wednesday morning we left very early and headed for the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive from Zion heading toward Arizona was amazing. Right after you leave Zion on Hwy 89, there are about 30 miles of hairpin turns as you weave your way through the mountains. The views are incredible. One of the things that Mike and I both commented upon was how suddenly and dramatically the landscape kept changing. Around Zion, the mountains are mostly red, with some being white; but they all have a more or less smooth appearance. They are sheer and straight up.
Then we went through an area where the mountains were almost cocoa colored with white layers interspersed. They weren’t sheer or smooth. That area appeared to be more porous.
The next thing we knew we were in the desert again, and the land was almost flat. Bam, we were back into red mountains. It just kept changing back and forth, but it was the suddenness that was so surprising. There was no gradual change. It was as if you went through a door into a totally separate room that was just the opposite of the one you had just come from.
Before leaving Utah, we took a little side trip to see Glen Canyon and the dam there that blocks the upper Colorado River and forms Lake Powell. The lake that the dam formed is the second largest man-made lake in the continental United States. It has a surface area of 161,390 acres and is second only to Lake Mead. At the dam there is a bridge across the river that is quite a beautiful sight itself. We didn’t stay very long, but we were glad we stopped. To give you an idea of the size of the bridge in the picture on the right, look very closely about 1/3 of the way across from the left. That little white spot right below "car" is just that, a car!
Grand Canyon, Arizona
We first saw the actual Grand Canyon at a spot called Desert View. We were riding along the highway in an area that was more or less flatlands. Then we got into a forest of pine trees – big ones. All of a sudden, with no warning whatsoever, we rounded a curve and WOW! There it was! We knew from the map that we were getting close, but it is just so unexpected.
It was so impressive. No matter how many pictures you see, no matter how many times people say it, the size of the thing takes you by surprise. It is huge!!! And the colors are so varied that it leaves you speechless. There are just no words that can convey what you feel as you peer down into God’s creation. We stopped at every scenic overlook, all the way into Grand Canyon Village.
The El Tovar Lodge looked just like the pictures, but I was a little disappointed in the view. Trees, bushes, and brush blocked a good clear view of the canyon from the Lodge. The building itself looked like something out of a movie. The lobby was done like what you would expect of an upscale hunting lodge. There were the usual moose and deer heads hanging on the walls. It had open beam construction with a big fireplace. The desk clerk was really on the ball and very helpful. We were a couple of hours early and the room wasn’t ready yet, so he kept our luggage for us while we went to get some lunch. We walked along the rim sidewalk down to the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant and had a long delightful meal.
We knew that the room at the El Tovar would be small, with only one double bed; but it was tiny. I had to turn sideways to walk between the end of the bed and the TV cabinet to get to the bathroom! It was adequate for one night, but that’s about all. From there, things went downhill.
We had dinner reservations there in the hotel at 7:15. When we went down there, the girl said that it would be a few minutes that they were running a little behind. Okay, that happens sometimes, no big deal; so we went to sit in the lobby to wait. We began talking to another couple who said that their reservation was for 7:30. At 7:30, Mike walked up to check with the girl; and she said that we were next. About the time that Mike sat down in the lobby, they buzzed the other couple! Since their reservation was after ours, Mike very politely complained to the girl. The manager was standing there and in a very snippy voice she told the girl, “Oh, just seat them! Put them at table six or anywhere!” She was very sarcastic, and I didn’t appreciate her attitude. So, we were finally seated at 7:35.
Okay, only 20 minutes late. We certainly weren’t going to let a bad start ruin our dinner. We both ordered French Onion soup, and veal chops as our entrée. We waited, and we waited. It was well after 8:00 before we got the soup! I had to ask two different people before I could get anyone to refill my glass of tea. By then I was getting aggravated. Finally, we got our entrée at 8:45 P.M., one and a half hours after our reservation time!! The food was good; but for the price we paid, the service was lousy.
The trip to Sedona, AZ was another awesome drive. We were up in the mountains, sometimes as high as 7,500 ft. Although it was still rocky, the hillsides were covered with trees; and there were many hairpin curves. It was a beautiful drive. In fact it is supposed to be one of the top ten scenic drives in the country. But, we were wondering where the red rocks were. As we had already found out, the landscape in this part of the U.S. changes dramatically very quickly and with little warning. One minute we were in forest covered tan and gray colored mountains. Bam! We rounded a curve to the red rocks of Sedona! This area was much redder than any previous red rocks we had seen.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, we had talked to before we left home, had raved about Sedona. Now we know why. It is an extraordinary town. The actual population is only about 14,000 people, but they get about 4 million visitors each year. Needless to say, tourism is the only real business in town. We stayed at the Sedona Real Inn, and the accommodations were excellent. Even though Sedona has grown to accommodate its popularity, it still remains a small town where everybody is friendly and more than anxious to please. I think that is one of the things that makes it special.
We took a trolley tour which was not great, but it was informative as far as learning our way around, and therefore worth it. Plus, the driver told us where to eat dinner. We took her advice and ate at Shugru’s, which is located up on a hillside. We had a wonderful view of a really great sunset.
Friday morning Red Rock Balloons picked us up at 5:45 A.M. for our hot air balloon ride. We headed out to one of their two launch sites, but the pilot Mark decided that he didn’t like the way the wind was blowing from there. So, off we went to their alternate launch site. It was fascinating to watch them blow up the balloon. First they stretched it all out on the ground.
Then they blew air into the balloon using a huge fan. Periodically, they zapped the air inside the balloon with a blowtorch to heat it.
As the balloon rose, it turned the basket over to the correct upright position. Mike shot a great video of the whole process.
I was a little leery about the ride in the first place; and even more so when I saw that it really was an actual basket. Reinforced, but still a basket! I think I was expecting something metal and enclosed. Not only was it a basket, it wasn’t a particularly big one at that! It was divided into sections. The center 1/3 of the basket held the pilot and the gas tanks. The two outside thirds were each divided into two sections. Three people could stand in each of the four areas.
Since we only had eleven people, Mike and I got a section to ourselves. I was glad of that because with a third person, we wouldn’t have had much wiggle room. We had to stand for the whole trip, which I was not looking forward to doing. I had envisioned being able to squat down and hide my face if it was too scary. The basket sides were waist high on me, so there was no way a person could fall out. I kept telling myself, “Okay, I can do this.” That was before they told me to climb in. Yep, we had to actually climb over into the thing --- no little folding ladder or anything that sensible. I made Mike go first because I didn’t want him video taping my fat posterior going over the side! I don’t even want to think about the view the other passengers and crew had. I don’t know how, but I did make it into the basket.
The actual operation was so interesting that I was watching how the ground crew prepared for the take off. All of a sudden I realized that we had already lifted off!
It was so smooth as to be unnoticeable. I was shocked that it was absolutely not scary at all! I mean nada – nothing! It was okay to look down even. To put this into perspective, I am a person who won’t even ride the Ferris wheel, much less a roller coaster. I am a genuine, first class chicken! But this ---- I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is so smooth and so slow moving that it just glides. It’s wonderful.
The whole 1½-hour ride was fantastic. Mark could take the balloon up or down at will. The winds were not right for us to go over the high hills, but that was fine with me. We got close to them, and we went up about 2,000 feet. Mark said that when the winds are good, they could go up to 3,000 feet. He took us down low and we skimmed along the treetops looking for animals, but we didn’t see anything but three cows.
Our landing was totally uneventful. Mark put it down exactly where he intended. After repacking the balloon and basket into the trailer, the crew set up a table and served us Mimosas, muffins, and fruit. Mark recited the “Balloonist’s Prayer” and we chowed down. It tasted delicious.
We each received a diploma for completing our first balloon ride. I can now say that I have toured Hawaii in a helicopter, been down in a submarine in Barbados, and flown over Arizona in a hot air balloon. Not bad for an old broad like me!
As if I hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, that afternoon we decided to go to the Palatki Indian Ruins. Mike said that Mark (the balloon pilot) had told him how to get there. I should have backed out right then and there! Actually, Mark’s directions for getting there were okay, it was the details he left out about the road conditions. Now, folks, I have lived on some of the worse dirt roads in Alabama; but this was the roughest, washboard road I had ever been on. We were out in the middle of the most God forsaken looking desert terrain with not another car, house, or even a warm body in sight. We had no idea where we were going, or at least I didn’t. Mike claims he knew exactly where we were. He was swerving from one side of the dirt road to the other to avoid bottomless pits in our path. Top it off with the fact that about that time I remembered that we had left the cell phone in the motel room. I was a little nervous to say the least.
We kept going and going and going. Finally, we saw another car heading the same way; of course, they looked as lost as we did. Then, like everything else in this part of the country, we rounded a curve and there it was. We were in the mountains again.
When we reached the site, the sign showed three different paths to hike up to the ruins. The “Medium” one went to the cave paintings. I would have liked to see that, but considered it probably too hard for my limited hiking abilities. The “Difficult” route led up to the actual ruins. It stated: Trail Length – 1/10th mile; Trail Grade – max. 20%. Well, a 20% grade sounded entirely too steep for these old bones. The “Easy” path was ½ mile in length, but only a 5% grade. That sounded like a big enough challenge for me. What I failed to notice was that it said that the “Easy” path was a Ruins Vista. Anyway, off we went.
Thank goodness we had brought along a bottle of water. Trail? What trail! There was a narrow pathway at most points, but a lot of it was just climbing over these huge rocks as best you could.
As for their so called 5% grade? Not hardly! It felt like it was straight up, especially the last 500 or so feet.
I thought I was going to absolutely die. I made it though, and I’ve got pictures of me standing by the ruins to prove it!
After we finally got back down to the parking lot, I looked at the sign again. Well, that explained it! We had gone all the way! I had made it up the “Difficult” trail! We had not realized that the “Difficult” trail was an extension of the “Easy” trail. We should have stopped before those last 528 feet. I felt empowered! We had climbed Mt. Everest --- well, it may as well have been as far as I was concerned!
Okay, to change the subject and wrap this “story” up. One weird thing that they have in the Sedona area is called verga. We had noticed how some clouds had wispy looking tails. It looked like heavy rain coming down in the distance, but not straight down. We were told that it actually was rain; but because the air is so dry, the moisture evaporated before it hit the ground.
Our last night in Sedona we ate at a Mexican restaurant called Javelina Cantina. From there Mike took some amazing shots of the sunset. It was cloudy, and the sun shining on the red rocks reflected into the clouds turning them blood red. That will be one of my many cherished memories of Sedona, Arizona.
The next morning we headed back to Las Vegas and a one-night stay at the Stratosphere. We had dinner reservations at the Top of the World restaurant in the Stratosphere needle. The view was awesome as the whole restaurant rotated 360 degrees, giving a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Vegas lights. It was a fitting end to a wonderful vacation.
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
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