The closest reasonable hotel was far enough from the north rim of the Grand Canyon that after we woke, we were in for a three hour drive. Sarah and I had been to the south rim, and I didn’t have wildly high hopes for the Grand Canyon compared to Zion Canyon. Boy, was I wrong.
The first thing that we noticed on the way in was the distance from the time we entered the park until the time we got to the Canyon. No wonder we hadn’t been able to find lodging close to the Canyon. We arrived around noon and went to the visitor’s center to use the bathroom and fill up water, and soon we were off to explore.
The first walk we took was across Bright Angel Point Trail. This was incredible. Leave it to the U.S. National Park Service to take something that was navigable to only the most athletic enthusiasts and make it so that even children can have the experience of a lifetime. It looked like it had previously been a ridge with some dips and peaks, but of mostly similar elevation. Where there had been a dip, a little more concrete fill would have had to been used, and where there was a peak, the trail was built to wind around it. The effect was a path that was paved that alternated between sharp drops at each side, and a sharp drop on one side with a rock jutting out the other.
There were no railings anywhere. The rocks were not cordoned off and there no warning signs so we took the opportunity to do a little amateur climbing and get an even better view. This trail was the best canyon trail that I could imagine, and we all really enjoyed ourselves. It was a full three quarters of a mile, an amazing length considering the uniform altitude of the ridge that they found to build around and the amount of dangerous work that must have been required.
One we got to the end, we were pleased to see a large platform (this one had railings) where we had maybe a three hundred degree view of the canyon, with the other sixty degrees taken up by the narrow path that we had just traversed. What a view. Even before this, I knew that no trail for the rest of the day could best this trail.
This may have been the single best view I have ever seen. If you have the opportunity, go to the north ridge of the Grand Canyon and see this. Do the trail three times throughout the day between other trails. Oh, and keep in mind that the north rim is closed in the winter (the south rim is open), as Sarah and I found out our senior year.
Our next stop was the North Kaibab Trail. This trail is over fourteen miles, but Coconino overlook is three quarters of a mile down. This is the only maintained trail into the Grand Canyon and NPS.gov warns that it can not be done in one day due to the steep grade. The steep grade and sandy porous dirt on the donkey dung ridden trail were more than I signed up for.
About half way down I decided to stop trying to keep up and take pictures of the trees and opposite canyon wall. Tom and Sarah continued down. Tom says the view was great, but almost not worth the sandaled walk through dusty manure. We met back up at the top and continued on.
We continued driving. We went to Walhalla Overlook and parked. The trail was closed. A fire had recently burned through, and the trees were judged to be a danger. We could clearly see that no fire was present and figured that as long as we didn’t tempt fate by disturbing or walking near the trees, we could consider it safe to check out the area. The area was unique and very interesting. It was informative to see what burned, how it burned, and what was still standing. Across the canyon, we could see smoke rising, we looked around for about a half hour and then continued to Cape Royal.
It was another breathtaking view, and a short paved walk. We got an opportunity to see the rushing Colorado River below. We had originally tried to set up a one day whitewater trip down the river, but the canyon is so steep in so many places that the shortest trips are about a week long. One company does a day trip, but it involves an airlift. Too ritzy for us, thank you.
We rounded out the day at Roosevelt Point. It was another great view of the Grand Canyon. What more can I say?
We got back on the road and started trucking towards Vegas. The drive presented us with several stages of burnt forest, new growth, and old growth. It was mostly uneventful. The car was overheating (it had been since Garden of the Gods a week or so earlier.) It was fine as long as we were on the highway and the air was blowing.
Tommy and Sharon, my step-uncle and step-aunt, had incredible food waiting for us when we got to their house. We started with spicy Mexican chicken soup and choice of Margaritas or Heineken: incredible. Next were enchiladas which matched the soup. Sharon informed us that this was her “entertaining dinner” because everyone enjoyed it so much. No one could argue.
Sarah stayed sober to drive us to the strip about a half hour away. Once on the strip, we attempted to park at the Bellagio. We got on the strip and traffic was at a standstill. We were so close, but so far for so long. It was excruciating. Tom and I thanked Sarah for driving and joked about getting out and walking to the casinos. An hour and a half later we had successfully made it two miles to a parking lot. We went in to the Bellagio and each took twenty bucks to gamble.
We arrived in the Bellagio and walked through the lobby. The Grand Canyon had been the height of natural beauty, and we had found its manmade equal. The roof of one area was covered in glass flowers, sparing no expense, we walked around and checked out the different areas and then headed for the casino.
The trick to cheap gambling in Las Vegas is to hit the cheap slot machines and wait for the waitress. It is the only way to turn the odds so they are in your favor. The casino tries to counter this strategy by feeding you drinks and allowing you to spend many times the base bet on a slot machine. On some machines you can win thirty different ways (across, diagonal, with zig-zag lines, etc) on one pull and you can bet up to twenty credits on each. As a result, you can spend five bucks on a single pull on a penny machine if you’re not careful or are feeling like taking a chance. So accept their libations, but do so with willpower. Remember, once you are out of cash and not playing anymore, the drinks are cut off.
After making the mistake of paying for our first round, well over twenty dollars, we sat in the barstool-like chair in front of some slot machines and played. It was fun and we followed the above guidelines somewhat. After we had stopped following them and spent our twenty dollars, we headed to Paris and Bally. Tom and I laughed as we collected suggestive cards advertising “escorts” from the men handing them out. They had a method to get your attention without being pushy: they would flick the cards against themselves as they drew a short stack form the pile to pass to tourists. We saw one guy instructing a rookie card-hander-outer on the process.
Paris and Bally's were equally extravagant and we walked through each, making sure to see every corner. Afterwards, we headed to a slightly less incredible casino that was selling one dollar beers to get people in the door. Sarah and I had a few and, afterwards, Tom drove us back. It had been a long and varied day, and none of us had any trouble sleeping.