Vegas to Grand Canyon:
There aren’t as many Kitschy tourist attractions on this route as there are on East to West Coast U.S. road-trips i.e. the world’s largest ball of twine, but there is a quasi life-size replica of Ponte Vecchio in the middle of the desert in Henderson just outside Vegas, and it’s pretty much as surreal as you’d expect. (I’m noticing a theme about this trip).
After Henderson the route from Vegas to the South rim of the Grand Canyon takes you through Lake Mead National Park. I love driving through National parks in the US – you pay a small fee to drive past amazing views on immaculately kept roads. You also usually get a pamphlet upon entering explaining the surroundings, which is good for passengers to enlighten/bore their drivers with trivia. We got to the Canyon later than I’d have liked but we did manage to catch an incredible sunset. There’s not much I can say that does justice to seeing the Canyon for the first time. The best I can say is that if like me you’ve wondered whether it might be anticlimactic given just how famous it is, it definitely isn’t!
Doing it again I’d try to spend at least a couple of days at the Canyon to take in the breathtaking views from all four rims. I’d particularly like to try the skywalk, which is not technically in the National Park but on Hualapai tribe land on the West rim. We vowed to return to go white-water rafting on the Colorado river one day among the stunning, iconic crevices of the West-rim canyons.
Where to stay – There are various different bases for the Canyon but for the South rim I would suggest Flagstaff, which is a charming college town that was originally part of historic route 66. This was actually the only part of the trip where we got to drive the route for a few exciting minutes! Because it’s a popular base for visiting the Canyon, there are a lot of generic hotels like Comfort Inns etc in the area. We chose to stay at the Weatherford hotel – a really characteristic, quaint, and creaky old hotel with an interesting history. They have frequent live music events in the bar and you can have meals on their balcony overlooking the town.
Canyon to Mount zion
We weren’t sure what to expect from Zion National Park as we hadn’t heard as much about it as the more famous landmarks on our trip, but it ended up being one of the highlights. Driving into the park you’re immediately struck by the strange and dramatic sandstone cliffs and their unique, burnt red colour. Even the park roads that tunnel through and weave around the rocks are a dark burgundy. It is a dramatic entrance and a fitting introduction to the Park.
Trails – We did Angel’s landing (5 miles), Lower Emerald Pools (1.2 miles) middle Emerald Pools (2 miles), upper Emerald pools (3 miles) and the Riverside Walk (2 miles). Angel’s Landing is probably the most famous and most strenuous of the trails. Hugging the Virgin river, it starts as a serene riverside walk among the pines and then slowly and steadily begins to gain elevation through steep switchbacks up to the summit, where you get amazing, precipitous views of the cliffs and valley down below.
Emerald Pools is actually three different parts of one longer trail – each part ending in a clear-water pool formed by waterfalls cascading from the top of the cliffs. There are parts of the trail where you walk behind the waterfall itself.
Riverside walk is by far the easiest of the three trails. Completely flat and paved, the trail goes through a valley by the river with bubbling brooks and waterfalls along the way. We saw a lot of mountain deer on this trail.
Where to stay: Zion Park Motel. Not only is this the closest accommodation to the park but because it’s nestled at the base of Zion’s cliffs it has spectacular views. I loved the out-dated, 60’s motel charm of the rooms. I tried to do an artsy shoot but I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job anytime soon.
Where to eat: Cliff Dwellers. Just after the Navajo bridge on our long drive from the Canyon to Utah, we stumbled upon this cute but inconspicuous restaurant/lodge. We weren’t expecting much in the way of food from the middle of nowhere the menu turned out to be amazingly varied with options like seared Ahi Tuna and Sauteed Bree with home-made ciabatta. We asked the owner how he managed to make such food in the middle of the desert and he said he gets fresh deliveries every day by truck all the way from Vegas. He had some really good craft beers too. Oscar’s Cafe’ is right by Zion Park motel and is well-known for its good Mexican-style breakfasts.