Las Vegas -> Grand Canyon
As a change up to the norm, Emma has written this post to prove that Luke isn’t the cool James Bond traveller he makes out to be.
It was a far shout from the MGM suite we had been enjoying. The constant hum of the air con, random smashing glass and police sirens coming from the outside made for a broken sleep. The hotel smelled of wet dog as though a Labrador had run through a muddy puddle, stood on our bed and shaken it all off. That would explain the weird stains on carpets and walls. I don’t think either of us dared go barefoot. It had a spa bath but you would have had to pay me all the chips in Vegas in persuade me to actually use it.
Luke was driving around 300 miles today and was eager to eat and leave. The breakfast canteen was full of people chowing down on their paid for breakfast. The disappointment soon washed over us. It was possibly the worst breakfast I had ever seen. There was bread but no butter, cornflakes and Frosties. That was it. There was a waffle machine if you wanted to make your own waffles. You wouldn’t have anything to put on them but the option was there. Luke obviously didn’t know what a waffle machine looked like. He was on the verge of a tantrum looking in and under every object hoping desperately to find hot sausages and eggs. He opened the waffle machine up and four half cooked sloppy waffles fell out. Four waffles that were obviously cooking for some other hungry guests. Realising what he had done he slammed it shut looked around worryingly and went “f**k this!” and stormed out.
He was at the end of the hallway stomping his feet by time I got to the door. It would appear Bertha would be providing breakfast today. The poor breakfast show at La Quinta of dry toast or cornflakes reminded me of school trips and grotty hostels. A smell of desperation and panic as people clambered to get their hands on something vaguely edible before it was snatched up by someone else.
I made the hungry beast driving the RV a sammy (sandwich) and he was contained. We rolled down Highway 89 past the endless line of casinos and through Boulder City. The state line between Nevada and Arizona is the Colorado River and we were about to pass it at the Hoover Dam.
The Colorado River is still a lifeline for the American South West. As ‘old as the hills’ it is the river that carved the Grand Canyon as we know it. Unsurprisingly the river starts 10,000ft up in the Colorado area of the Rocky Mountains before slicing its way south west through Utah, Arizona, California and finally a small part of Mexico before spilling into the Gulf Of California. In 1900 this area was identified as somewhere a dam could be built to stop flooding further down the river, provide a source of irrigation water and hydroelectricity. They started building in 1931 and eventually in 1936 they finished what is know today as the Hoover Dam. We made it through the security checks only after Luke had to work out how to open all the compartments to prove we had no malicious intent. In the end the ranger was telling him which key opened which compartment. The guy had seen more RVs than hot dinners, Luke was clueless.
Considering the place is just a big dam it was full of people. No beavers, but a lot of humans. The discolouration in the rocks in the photo above is called the ‘bathtub ring’. This occurs when low levels of water drop the waterline revealing untouched, unweathered previously preserved rocks. The white rock comes from the minerals deposited when submerged. This drop in water is so severe the Hoover Dam may actually be useless in as little as 10 years. As it stands the water is only 100 feet above this critical level. Long term predictions are wild but not promising. The water in Lake Mead comes from snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Less snowfall means less water running down the Colorado and a lower waterline in the Lake meaning a lack of power and irrigation for the dry states. So I am glad we saw it while it was still full.
The dam itself is an impressive feat of engineering and I can barely believe it is nearly 100 years old. The scale of the construction would have been enormous. They had to dig huge tunnels and trenches to divert this large river before building the dam and once complete they made concrete plugs to close off those diversion tunnels. Such a simple but effective way of doing it. One advantage of the low waterline is that you could see underground structures from its construction. Stairs that fall away into the dark water, and walls that serve no purpose. Luke wondered aloud if Jimmy Hoffa was down there somewhere.
Crossing into Arizona we also moved into a new time timezone, Mountain Time. We didn’t realise this when planning the trip and it would turn out to be a problem later in the day. Time in Arizona is also complicated by the fact they are the only mainland state (Hawaii being the other) that doesn’t abide by daylight savings time which means they switch between Pacific and Mountain times. Confusing.
Santa Land, Arizona
75 miles down the road was Kingman. There wasn’t anywhere else we could go really. We were back in the desert with the option of highway or dirt track. Before Kingman we reached Santa Land, a kids theme park in the desert. Santa Land has also been shut for a very long time and is the sort of place horror films happen. Luke had seen this place on some weird website which pointed out unusual things on the US highways. When they visited the rides had gone all rusty and were happy reindeer train carts were then rusty demented eat your soul machines. Again Luke was disappointed, they’d taken the rusty creepy ride away. The first thing we noticed when parking up was a large sign saying ‘Beware of the Snakes’. I took one look then locked the doors of the van and peered out through the window. Eventually I stepped gingerly out in a pair of flip flops for a slow wander, constantly scanning the ground. I think the scariest thing we saw was a large caterpillar that sort of wiggled at us. To be fair it was a huge caterpillar with hair and a flick knife.Most disappointing but while I was on snake watch Luke got some pretty good pictures.
Kingman looked a pretty nice town. Just the sort of place you would expect normal folk to live in a desert. Luke has a bit of a reputation for wearing crappy cowboy hats, so while in the US we wanted to get proper ones. I wanted to get a hat that would make me look like Jessie from Toy Story. Boot Barn was a large outfitter that had been recommended to us and they had a wide range of hats including Stetsons the blue chip of the hat world. But like with most clothing items, they didn’t have his size. His head is abnormally large, he obviously needs somewhere to store all the rubbish so we moved on Luke sulking onto Route 66.
Route 66 was actually a detour from our drive but this part of it is meant to be very well preserved; a real taste of what driving across the USA was like all those years ago. It was a two lane highway that was pretty well kept. We had a note to watch out for the Hackberry General Store. It was one of these places that we had to see according to a friend but didn’t know much about it. The road shadowed the railway line for miles on end and we raced huge freight trains some of these trains were over a mile long travelling at no more than 20mph. It probably takes miles to stop carrying all that mass of burgers and nachos.
We couldn’t miss the Hackberry General Store, it was an island of nostalgia in the desert. The place was bursting with history both inside and out. There were fuel pumps from all eras of the station’s history sitting idle next to a 60 year old Corvette. There was a line of cars left to rust away to the side of the store, posters, stickers and other memorabilia adorning any surface that could take it. Inside the place was top to bottom in either nostalgia or items for sale, sometimes both. Luke asked to use the toilet then came to get me saying it was something I needed to see. After protesting I did not want to see what he had done to their loo I followed him. The men’s toilet walls were covered in vintage porn. Girls bent over cars, skimpily dressed with bits on show it was a truckers heaven. The women’s toilets by contrast were bland, with general pictures and no hot guys with six packs on show sponging away at a car bonnet. Obviously the majority of its visitors were male. The store nowadays serves as museum to the old Route 66 which opened as one of America’s first highways in 1926. It was removed from the highways system in 1985 and left to die. The majority of the system was replaced with motorways like the Interstate 40 we had deviated from in Arizona. Pixar made a film called ‘Cars’ based around the premise of Route 66 and the people/cars that struggle to make a living now it is no longer used. For a good read on the subject have a look here: http://route66news.com/2006/06/09/a-route-66-guide-to-the-cars-movie/
Luke made friends with the resident dog as normal while I looked around the vintage cars rusting in the sun. On the wall inside the door was a world map covered in pins and money. It appeared there were a lot of people who wanted to leave their mark on Route 66. All around the store there were number plates, biker patches, stickers, letters, photos and signed money. This place was a homage to Route 66 and until we walked inside we didn’t quite realise. The store itself had been there trading constantly since 1934. Outside the mile long trains rolled by slowly and you really got a feel for the area. It was quite hot here as the sun was high in the sky and we were a lot lower in altitude than we had been the previous week.
Luke had a long chat with the owner and asked a lot of questions about the store and the type of people who visited it. I got my dad a couple of small presents and we were on our way, we only had a few hours to get to the Grand Canyon before sunset. It was then we realised the timezone change had put our plans into disarray. Luke uses a strange technique he saw on Bear Grylls TV show where you can tell the time to sunset by holding your hand up at the sun. By this technique he reckoned we had less than 3 hours to sunset and the satnav said we were more than 3 hours away.
Not Seeing The Grand Canyon
Driving north on the highway to the Grand Canyon we kept getting caught behind lorries and the sun was sinking quickly. The traffic coming in the other direction was a constant stream of tourist in RVs and buses that had already had their fill of the canyon. The mood was quiet in Bertha as it dawned on us we were not going to see the Grand Canyon. Tomorrow was one of 4 risk days where we had something booked along with a lot of miles to cover. Our campsite for the night was 3 hours north near the Arizona/Utah border. We entered the Grand Canyon park around 45 minutes after sunset. We were pretty desperate now and drove past the huge visitor centre at Mather Point and turned right into Yavapai Point. It was completely dark, there were no other vehicles there and the only point of light was the toilets at the other end of the car park. Hastily we secured Bertha and donned head torches. It was dark enough we needed head torches, we were not going to see anything. But Luke insisted and not knowing where we were going we set off onto the trail to the point. Of course in true rushed spirit we went in the wrong direction and after a few minutes still behind the trees, we turned back and headed to Bertha. On consulting a map back in England there were four places we could have gone, three of them would have offered some sort of dark view of the canyon, we picked the one that didn’t.
Back at Bertha still wearing the head torches we desperately tried to come up with a ‘Plan B’ to see the canyon and still make tomorrows agenda. We didn’t know the area at all and could not see any campgrounds or access points apart from where we were heading north that night. Luke was getting quite upset by this point, exclaiming that ‘he hadn’t come this far to f**king miss the Grand Canyon’.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an orange glow getting closer. Slowly a face appeared at Luke’s window. An old man in a cowboy hat, thick mustache and a leathery face smoking a cigarette. His eyes had seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire….. (ignore that) It was a park ranger. He spoke with a thick accent
“You folks lost?”
“Yes, we need somewhere to park the night and see the canyon in the morning. However we have to be at Antelope Canyon and need to be there quite early.”
“I know there, I go fishing near Page, that’s a long way.”
He thought about it for a minute. The pointed at a spot barely legible on our map.
“You want to take this road east until you reach Desert View. Camp there and you’ll see a good sunrise. But take the road slow, the Elk in rut and they do not stop for traffic”
“Wow thank you very much for your help.”
We looked at each other then back at the stranger. He was gone, except for a distance orange glow of a cigarette.
So we set off for Desert View, terrified Bertha would have a fight with an elk but mercifully we didn’t see any. We arrived at the campsite to see it shut but saw some RVs parked in another car park across the road. It was our first night in Bertha without hookups to water and electricity, where we had time to cook and relax. I read the manual on how to use the generator and gas so we could eat, Luke typed up the days events and kept talking about how cool Fred was. I think he wants to be a ranger when he grows up.