Day 13, Las Vegas, NV to Moab, UT:
It was another early start for Beth and me. It was especially early considering how late we got to bed. Las Vegas is a city meant to be experienced at night (the scorching sun makes it less desirable during the day anyway). Our complimentary continental breakfast was somewhat helpful at reviving us. We were staying at the La Quinta just off the Strip because they allow dogs for no additional charge. This place was huge and we were in the back of the building. It took a considerable walk through really long and complicated hallways to get to the breakfast area. I got lost at least once but made it back with food for two. Maeby had her breakfast and was ready for a potty break when I got back. There was only one little patch of grass on the opposite side of the hotel. She was apprehensive to begin with and I had to distract her long enough to miss the German Shepherd approaching. Another twelve seconds and I was toast. I had to bring her to the other side of a car to keep the neighborhood peaceful at 8am. That’s a huge faux-pas anywhere much less in Vegas.
Before we left town, Beth found a Costco where we saved a boat-load of money on gas. Prices in the Southwest were ridiculous and we tried to save whenever possible. Our trip to the Sin City was short but sweet. If I had more time to gamble I probably would have lost a ton of money. My winning night at the roulette table was one of short-lived luck and I was fortunate to get out when I did. I would have ended up next to Beth in a Keno area hoping to win it all back on one last ticket a la Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation. Speaking of Chevy Chase, our first sightseeing stop of the day was only an hour away, the Hoover Dam.
Unlike the Griswolds, we didn’t have the time to take the Dam Tour. Maeby couldn’t go along even if we did have time. What we could fit into my itinerary, however, was driving over the dam. The two lane road used to be the primary crossing point on that highway until 2010 when they finally finished building a new bridge downstream. We had to make it through a loose security check before we could descend into the canyon created by the Colorado River. I was pretty excited to see the dam I had seen in so many movies over the years. Next time I hope to go inside but the views were still cool up top. A clock on each side of the dam shows the local time. Arizona doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time so during our visit they both read the same thing. I saw an episode of How the States Got Their Shapes once that said workers at the hydroelectric power plant always go by Arizona time to avoid confusion. Neat!
On the other side of the dam the road zig-zags up the hill to an overlook. I parked and got a chance to explore a small gift shop. The tiny building was surprisingly packed. I got my mom a funny t-shirt that says “This is my Dam T-Shirt” because I’m an awesome son. There was also a squished penny machine that I couldn’t resist. I paid $0.51 to get a squished piece of zinc with the Hoover Dam on it because I know how to party. It may or may not have been my fifth or sixth one of the trip. The machine in Yellowstone had four options I couldn’t resist. I needed both the bear and moose. I have a problem.
We had to cross back into Nevada to get back to Highway 93. The new bridge was certainly nice, although you cannot see the dam from it because it’s too high. The bridge is named for Mike O’Callaghnan and Pat Tillman, a former Nevada Governor and Arizona Army Ranger/Pro Football Player. It crosses between both states so that’s pretty great. The highway from there turns Southwest for 77 miles towards Kingman, AZ. The scenery was gorgeous. There were big orange rocks, green trees, and the occasional cactus. There was some construction on parts of Interstate 40 but thankfully it was limited. I drove for three hours or so until we turned North towards Grand Canyon National Park.
Beth took over driving duties at a gas station filled with Native American souvenirs. The gas wasn’t the cheapest ever but we needed to stop and clean the windshield so I could take pictures effectively. I was really excited to be visiting the Grand Canyon, hence Beth driving. This was my first visit to the Grand Canyon (but technically our second Grand Canyon on the trip, the first being the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone). My family never visited the Southwest when I was a kid and the anticipation of seeing one of the seven natural wonders of the world had grown for two decades. There is a small town just before the park called Tusayan where we stopped briefly to buy stuff (they did not have a penny machine that I saw). My sunglasses had broken but I decided to just tape them together instead of wasting money on another pair. I did add another lapel pin to my collection but it took four laps of the shop to find them.
The entry fee to Grand Canyon National Park is $30 per vehicle for up to seven days. That seemed like a lot for the couple hours time we had but what choice did we have? Next time we’ll have to stay longer. We arrived in the parking lot of the Visitor Center around 1:30pm. Right away it was obvious I had not planned enough time there. We needed way more than the hour I allotted. I didn’t realize just how far we could/would walk along the canyon. Fortunately for Maeby, she was allowed to go with us! Having to leave her in the car throughout Yellowstone was not only a huge pain in the
ass burro, it was hard to leave her behind when we knew she just wants to be near us. Pets cannot go in the canyon for their own safety but we were able to walk her along the South Rim. There was no one more excited than her.
The three of us walked briskly to the edge of the canyon. Everything you’ve ever heard about this majestic location is true but it’s not easy to describe. The orange and red cliffs stretched out to the horizon under a wonderful blue, partly cloudy sky. We walked along the rim where there are several great places to look out. The rim juts out into the canyon a couple times providing different angles of the cliffs on either side. I was surprised, honestly, that some of the paths were passable by hundreds of people at once. The main jut, called Mather Point, is rather narrow and uneven. I took deliberate steps to avoid being tripped/murdered by some careless person. The railings weren’t that tall to not block the views. They also wouldn’t stop anyone taller than 5’8″ from falling to their death if they hit it with minimal momentum.
Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? You could probably tell. There were a couple points off the designated path where morons were climbing beyond the sidewalk. The railings disappeared, sure, but a sane person would not be out that far taking idiotic selfies with their backs turned to potential death. I took pictures of them just in case they fell in and the police needed help identifying the mangled bodies. Beth and I left the safety of the sidewalk for the safety of the Visitor Center. There were two big maps of the park, the canyon, and the Colorado River but not much else. I’d give it a 10/10 for maps but 2/10 overall. A good Visitor Center should have enough content to keep people busy for more than five minutes (I only stayed for two). The separate bookstore across the way was alright.
We walked at least two miles in total and we were definitely behind schedule. I did not plan enough time to see the Grand Canyon. Since we were just passing through anyway I knew we’d never see much of it but now we were really behind schedule. We continued around the South Rim where there were a few great vistas. Beth got stuck behind the slowest driver ever (barely an exaggeration) in one area where there was nothing to see except trees. They were nice trees, sure, but it’s not like they were slowing down to view the canyon. It was dinner time and we never really ate lunch. Being in the car so long we tended to just snack on granola bars, fruit snacks, jerky, chips and Maeby’s favorite, popcorn. We didn’t have time to stop for a meal (nor was there a place to buy one) so I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on my lap using the lid from our food container as a tray.
The views on the road out of the park were surprising. The Grand Canyon is the biggest draw but the peaks, canyons, and cliffs of the surrounding area were also awesome. Several smaller, slightly less grand canyons along the road East were exceptional. These smaller canyons were carved by the Little Colorado River. There was one place to pull off and view them where a Native American tribe was selling homemade art pieces. I took my sandwich with to take pictures quick and Maeby predictably stole my seat while I was gone. Once we were outside the National Park there were some small Native American settlements. We crossed the river on a regular bridge but next to it the inhabitants had built their own suspension bridge out of wood and rope. It was pretty wild. It looked like more of a cultural project than an actual everyday-use bridge.
The sun was setting over the desert behind us. The scenery was much harder to see in the dark so I tried to take a cat nap. Beth woke me up for the Utah border. Shortly after I had her pull off at the nearest sign of life so I could use the bathroom. A lodge hotel in Bluff, UT fortunately gave me the opportunity. They had a super nice bathroom too! I took over driving duties for the last two hours. Beth fell asleep leaving me to fend for myself against the mysteries of the road ahead. I saw many signs warning of high deer populations in the area. I only saw one but it was six feet off the road and extremely lucky. I also crossed a large slick of red further down the road. Scary.
The rest of the drive I played the part of Speed Racer trying to make it to our campground. I do not speed much anymore (because a cop in Indiana gave me good incentive not to) but we were really behind schedule. There were few towns on the way and I only passed a couple cars. I woke Beth when we finally reached Moab, UT. It was 11pm but the absolute perfect temperature. The KOA office was long closed but the staff set out a map for us so we could find our site. It wasn’t too far away and we set up our tent by lantern light. The ground was more level than our spot in Yellowstone and it was all sand. The tent stakes sure went in easily but I couldn’t get the mattress to fully inflate whatever I tried. End of day thirteen.