Last week I finally managed to make my first real trip as a tourist here in the US. Actually it was not too long (three full days, basically), but I was very satisfied because I could see some of the places that I had highlighted in my agenda. After all, the timing was favorable: on the one hand on May 19 it was my birthday, and I really wanted to gift me something special; on the other hand, my Italian friend Sara had planned to make a trip in California during the two free weeks that she had between the end of her previous job and the beginning of the new one, which precisely fell in this period. Therefore, spending a nice weekend with an Italian friend of mine, on the road, sightseeing in some of the most attractive places in the US and the world, well, was really mandatory!
As said, our trip was not too long (in time!), nevertheless we managed to see a lot of things. Here I will have to be quite concise, though, otherwise this post should be infinite, concerning both the story and the photos 🙂
Our trip starts on Thursday afternoon. Destination: Las Vegas! It is true that this is not exactly the most recommended place for a “culture-addicted” like me, but I do think that spending even just one or two nights in Las Vegas is a must for those who happen to be in the Western United States. Additionally, Las Vegas was the most comfortable base for our following days.
Thanks to the special prices guaranteed during last week’s workdays, we afforded to book one room at the Caesars Palace! Obviously, as an Italian, I am used to the original masterpieces whose copies are shown here, but maybe because you expect it almost by definition, or maybe because it is really so funnily kitsch, in the end everything appears even nice and enjoyable. The same applies to the Strip, which is the main road with the most famous hotels/casinos: it is all so huge, crazy and shining!
Our plan here is quite soft: we pop over the casino, where we invest some dollars (obviously without any positive return!), we have dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s, we have a walk along the Strip and we finally go sleeping, as the following day’s schedule is very tight.
Due to a hitch with the car rental, our actual departure is a bit later than expected. In any case, for the moment we do not think too much about it and we can leave. Our first destination is the Hoover Dam. Before leaving Las Vegas, though, we take some more pictures of the really sober (!) hotels and of the famous signpost located at the entrance of the city. After this, we can finally enter the desert!
The Hoover Dam was built in the 30s on the Colorado river, at the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was built to supply electricity and water to the nearby states (even to Los Angeles, which is pretty far from here) through the reservoir which is called Mead Lake. By the way, it is the dam that appears in rotation in the top part of this website 🙂 The Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which passes right in front of the dam, allows an exceptional view, 270 m above the Colorado river.
Having seen the dam, we can leave to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The journey will require – including the lunch break – about 4h30′: the original plan was to get there by mid-afternoon… but it is already 2 pm! Luckily, Arizona does not follow the daylight saving time (apart from the Navajo Nation), so we do not have to set our watches ahead. The sun will not care too much about it, though 🙂
The road that we have to follow passes by diverse landscapes: we leave from a desert area, then we start moving upwards and the environment becomes greener, and when we get to the Grand Canyon we are as a matter of fact in a mountain park. Indeed, one often thinks that the Grand Canyon is in a desert or something like that, but if we consider that in certain points it is 1600 meters deep, it is not surpising that its altitude is around 2000 m above the sea level! However, the roads are exactly as one can imagine: sorts of cuts in the middle of infinite spaces.
Unfortunately when we finally get there, it is already quite late, so we cannot make many stops at the different viewpoints located along the Rim. However, we are perfectly in time for sunset, which maybe is the best moment to enjoy the view, after all. I do not know if my photos are effective, but the view is really magnificent.
It has now gotten dark and Kayenta, the village near the Monument Valley where we booked our room for the night, is 150 miles away: we’d better leave! The interesting thing is that, apart from the tiny towns that we find on our route (in one of which we stop for dinner, precisely in a motel/restaurant managed by indians where we eat very well), the journey obviously takes place in a complete darkness, so we cannot be aware of the landscape around us. The following day, we solve the doubt: the itinerary from Kayenta to the Monument Valley is quite short, but really evocative.
The Monument Valley is really breathtaking, probably more than the Grand Canyon.
The Monument Valley can be visited using one’s own car: there is a 17-mile route which passes by the most evocative points, taking about a couple of hours. I had also promised Sara that we would have a horse ride along the journey and naturally I had to keep my word: at the beginning I was quite doubtful, to say the least, but in the end I enjoyed the thing! Please note the photo showing two different seasons 🙂 After all, the sun was shining, but the weather was a bit coolish, due to the wind and to the altitude of the Monument Valley, which is not low (1500 m above the sea level). Bottom line, I was very happy with my jacket 🙂
Having left the Monument Valley, we move back to Kayenta where we have lunch (at 4 pm…), after which we are finally ready to leave to Las Vegas. On our route – that this time is on the north side of the Grand Canyon – we find the last landmark of our trip, that is the Horseshoe Bend. This is a meander created by the Colorado river whose shape is… well, you got it 🙂 The place is really evocative and really…. scary! In fact there are no fences and one can look out directly onto the valley: you’d better pay attention otherwise it is a 300-meter jump! Taking good pictures is obviously quite complicated, but, again, the view is really great.
As you can see, the sun is setting… and Las Vegas is “only” 270 miles away! Indeed we had planned to have dinner and enjoy the evening there… Well, our evening will be again on the road, and our dinner will eventually be in Hurricane, Utah, where we find a more than decent Mexican restaurant.
Finally, after hours and hours, the lights of Las Vegas appear on the horizon!
The following day we do not have any plans in our agenda: relax in the morning and then we move to the airport to get the plane back to San Francisco. Indeed, Virgin America understands that we like Las Vegas airport very much, and so it cordially decides to postpone our departure by two hours! But never mind, the weekend was great all the same!