We were headquartered at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but that was the “side trip” part of the voyage as far as we were concerned. (Ah the Bellagio. That warrants its own post which I will write another time.) The reason for our trip was one of my life’s dreams – a visit to the Grand Canyon. That was why we made the trip. I’d had a difficult time with some minor but draining health issues which were finally resolved at the beginning of this year. I had made myself and the family a promise that if all went well we would visit the canyon, and so mid-February we did just that.
There are many ways to visit the Grand Canyon. I learned this as we did our research prior to making the trip. In truth, the only limitations – considerable limitations – are how much money you are willing to spend and how much time you have. You can take a tour bus, a helicopter, a private tour guide with a tricked out vehicle… the sky is, well, not even the sky is a limit. But we wanted to do it our way. Taking a tour bus or even being with a private tour guide seemed a little stifling. I like to stop every three seconds to take photos and this can annoy even the best chauffeur. Plus, having three girls, two under the age of 10 still with somewhat small bladders, we need to make the occasional stop or two, if you get my drift. Bearing all this in mind we decided to drive ourselves in our own rental car to the western rim of the Grand Canyon. We decided to visit the Grand Canyon West at the Skywalk managed by the Hualapai nation. In essence, we were leaving the United States of America and traveling to a surreal series of viewing platforms, built by interestingly enough a Chinese company, and managed by this famous Native American tribe. Yes, it was surreal and very worth the trip.
It took a while to get to the turnoff for the final road to the Grand Canyon West (GCW). We’d read that from this point on it was approximately a 20 mile off road drive. Easy peasy. “Nice flat roads with no pavement”, I thought. <Insert hysterical laughter here.> About the only true part of that statement is “roads” and “no pavement”.
It wasn’t a bad drive by any means, but it was a tiring drive. The road was composed of dirt, small rocks, and dirt, with many, many turns and dirt - uphill all the way. The GCW is at an elevation of about 4,800 feet so by the time you travel from Las Vegas to the rim you will have gone up approximately 2,600 feet in elevation. It is a 3.5 hour drive approximately from LV to GCW, but about the last 45 minutes of it you are traveling at 15 mph on a winding, uphill, dirt road. 15 MPH! And heaven forbid you get stuck behind a truck, a slow moving vehicle or a line of cars. The road is barely one way in each direction, dirt (did I mention that?) and full of blind turns. By far the most tiring part of the drive are those last 20 miles. But once you are there…
Tears literally came to my eyes as we turned out of the last ravine where the canyon started to unfold before us. I can’t explain what it looks like. It is impossible in its enormity. It was foreign to my East Coast, European and Caribbean trained eyes. I couldn’t fit it into any corner of my brain. It couldn’t even join the place where all the mountains I had seen where filed away. I’d crossed the Alps in a plane and summited Pike’s Peak, but this was breathtaking. It was also very dry. By the time we had been directed where to park the car (the Hualapai run the GCW viewing areas diligently and you are not able to just wander around) our car was literally covered in red dirt and our skin was so dry that we could feel our hands stretching when we bent our fingers. I could feel my skin! We had brought water with us, quite a number of bottles, but were still feeling dry.
The way the GCW “works” is like this. First you pull up to the main compound. This is where you park and decide how you will see the Canyon. Will you take a helicopter? Not for us, no thanks. Will you go to the Skywalk at the second set of buildings? Yes, please. And if you would like lunch you will need to pay extra to go to the third stop where the cafe is located. Yes, the Hualapai are wise because once you are up there you want to stay… and to stay you will pay. (Heh.) But is it worth it? YES!
So if you have decided to visit the viewing areas and cafe, including the Skywalk, you board a bus.
You don’t drive yourself. This was a little disappointing to me since I like to make my own decisions. But when you get up there and you see how close you are to the rim, you don’t really want to drive yourself. At least I would not. And you hope and pray that your bus driver is safe and careful.
The Skywalk itself defies explanation. If you look at the image above you will see a building with a large terrace protruding from it. This is a horse shoe shaped terrace which extends over the Grand Canyon. The floor is see through. When you walk out on it and look down, you see the Canyon floor. It is frightening and amazing all at once. And before you walk out on it you must place cloth booties over your shoes (like in an operating room) to preserve and keep the surface from scratching. You are not allowed to take photos out on the Skywalk… but you can purchase photos taken by their photographers. Did I mention the Hualapai are very intelligent?
If you would like to spend some time at the GCW there is a lot to see and learn. There are demonstrations and Hualapai tour guides who will teach you all about their culture and the land.
But seeing the canyon is what it is all about and makes all the driving and time spent getting there and back well worth it. While I was there all I could hear in my head was the music of Aaron Copland. Something about the music he composed captures the landscape so vividly. But it was not his “Rodeo”, “Billy the Kid”, “Salón México¨ or ¨Tender Land¨ that resounded in my ears as I looked out on it. Oddly it was his “Fanfare for the Common Man”. The Grand Canyon is so majestic and so humbling that only the grandest and most melancholy of orchestral compositions can do it justice. Visit it, if you can. Make it happen. You will realize how beautiful this country is and how blessed we all are. And listen…