From Heaven to Hell in One Day’s Drive – Day 4
We woke up just outside the Grand Canyon in an overpriced hotel that didn’t provide a free breakfast. Dani had been up early doing a final paper that was due that afternoon, and she was still struggling with bad Wi-Fi. She was impatient about the internet, and I was irritated because the Grand Canyon was right THERE and we couldn’t go see it until she was done. Finally, she gave up and downloaded what she could to try to do the paper on the road after we were done seeing the Grand Canyon. I was chomping at the bit to get going and I wasn’t very nice about it, especially being a little impatient when she wanted to stop and get breakfast at a Wendy’s drive-through before finally getting there.
We paid the $25 fee necessary to get into the park, drove about a half mile and saw three little deer on the side of the road. The drive to the Visitor’s Center was all forest and blue skies with winding mountain roads that were exquisitely beautiful. We walked the brick sidewalk to the national park gift shop and got lost in all the pretty things from coffee mugs, jackets, T-shirts, books, calendars, etc. I was still in a hurry to actually see the Canyon. It was freezing cold and windy, but we made the five-minute walk to the Canyon rim.
Once there, we were breathless at the amazing view. We took it all in–in complete silence with occasional unconscious “oohs” and “aaahs” that are generally heard during fireworks. The mammoth chasm before us stole not only our breath and our words, but it brought forth tears and a fathomless sense of, “Thank you, God.” Seriously. The layers of stone with different colors from thousands of years and the sheer immensity in size with jutting rock structures with varying crevasses and fissures with descending ravines was something that is indescribable with mere words. The only view as far as the eye could see was the beautiful, endless hole in the earth and sky above. We snapped pictures of every angle we could. I couldn’t wait to Facetime via phone with Mike so I could share this beautiful wonder with him, knowing that the tiny screen I showed him could not even come close to experiencing the Canyon, and it was an experience, not just a view. It was a stirring deep in my soul, another proof of faith—something that could actually be seen.
We talked with other tourists and helped them take pictures so all of their family members could be included. A bunch of bikers were there with their chaps and skullcaps, and we had a great time exchanging pictures with their group and they, in turn, took pictures for Dani and me. We found a couple of squirrel friends along the way, and the friendly little things even posed for us.
We hated to leave, but we had to get back on the road. On the way back to the Visitor’s Center, we ran into some wild elk that let us take snapshots at a distance. We stopped to admire the memorial of all the Native American tribes that have called the canyon home, and Dani filled her water bottle with fresh canyon water to have on the trip. We reluctantly walked to the parking lot to find our car.
On our way out of the park, we drove by the Canyon Village where we sent post cards and found a grocery store for travel snacks and some much-needed coffee. On our drive out, we saw more elk grazing on the mountain side.
Once out of the canyon and onto the highway, I drove and Dani attempted to do her paper while cell service faded in and out. The landscape became more sparse and flat with nothing but desert with cacti, scrub bushes, and gritty earth. We were still dodging the occasional tumbleweed. Soon, more mountains began to appear and we came across the exit for the Hoover Dam. It wasn’t one of our planned stops, but on a last minute whim, we pulled in and drove the winding mountain road to the view point where we could see the dam. Dani took a break from her paper so we could walk the steps and take a few pictures of the historic dam. It was a nice interlude in the drive, but we didn’t have much time and were soon back in the car.
Without fanfare or a welcome center, we were in Nevada. Boring, flat, icky-for-mile-after-mile Nevada. Dani was getting frantic about her paper and cell service was not cooperating. When we got to Boulder City, we found a Starbucks where she could hook up to Wi-Fi and work on her paper. I entertained myself by reading and checking Facebook and tried to find a hotel for the night. Two hours later, paper completed, we headed for Las Vegas.
The drive was on a highway, much like I-40 through Tennessee. Winding roads through the mountains, but it was dark as pitch. Driving over a rising hill, Las Vegas appeared before us in all it’s glittering glory. The lights of the city were so bright and intense that it literally looked like a dome of daylight over the entire town. If we weren’t on a winding highway in the dark–and if the windshield wasn’t splattered with smashed bugs and birdie doodoo, we would have had a good photograph of that moment.
Having no desire to make it into the heart of the city after the long drive, we made plans to visit the Vegas Strip in the morning, even though it was another nonscheduled stop. First priority was to find a quiet, relaxing hotel to spend our first night in Sin City.