“Wow, Vegas for the weekend! Amazing!” This was the typical reaction I got when gushing to friends, family, and random strangers on the street about my planned girl’s getaway to The Cosmopolitan. But then I’d continue, “Actually, I’m staying on for a few days by myself in a hostel so I can do a day trip to The Grand Canyon!” This was usually met with silence. People seemed to shuffle which to process first — being solo in Vegas, staying at a hostel in Vegas, or getting up at five in the morning in Vegas to get on a bus to another state entirely.
I stumbled onto the bus for my Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam Day Trip from Las Vegas with my eyes half open, reminding myself that I was about to go visit one of the wonders of the natural world and that I could catch up on my sleep next week, or perhaps next month, or maybe when I was dead. After a short nap I woke up to our driver extolling the virtues of the Hoover Dam.
So yes, the Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel and all that, but I admit that I was much more impressed with our driver Dwayne’s ability to keep everyone laughing and listening. “I just came back here so ya’ll can see what a good lookin’ bus driver look like!” he exclaimed while counting heads after our photo stop at the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. Later, he tackled the subject of snake safety in the desert – “Don’t be all, ‘What’s under that rock?’ That might be the last rock you ever look under!” I wish I had taken video. Dwayne could be a Youtube sensation.
As we pulled into park boundaries and the road turned really rough, we switched out of our Luxury 2.0 vehicle into something a bit more rustic. After a morning of dozing in and out, I was finally wide awake, ready for my first glimpse of the canyon. “Free backside massages for the next hour!” Dwayne called out.
I admit I was pretty skeptical of this whole tour situation. Twelve hours, much of it on the road, with a group of total strangers? But I didn’t have many options. At my age, renting a car is impossible — most car rental agencies won’t hire to anyone under 25, and those that do tack on fees of around $30 per day. Factoring in rental fees, gas, admission and the Skywalk, and the emotional toll of not being able to nap and getting lost (guaranteed), the tour actually becomes a very financially sound move. And then there’s the whole group thing. True, I didn’t have much in common with the middle-aged middle-Americans that made up most of my tour group. But when we caught that first glimpse over the Canyon Rim, or when I handed my camera over to a seatmate to snap my photo, we caught each others’ eyes and smiled, and instantly we were connected, just by experiencing this amazing thing all together.
Six hours after pulling away from glittering Las Vegas, we arrived at beautiful Grand Canyon West. Here, we had four hours to experience the three different stops on a hop-on, hop-off bus route providing the full Canyon experience, courtesy of the Native American Hualapai Nation.
First up was Eagle Point, home to the Grand Canyon Skywalk and a replica Native American village. But before hitting either of those attractions, nearly everyone went straight for the rim of the edge of the earth. Safety warnings ringing in the back of my mind, I was surprised — pleasantly so — to see no guardrails or fencing between us and the famous chasm stretching 18 miles wide.
The highlight of the West Rim is generally acknowledged to be The Skywalk, an optional add-on to the tour. The U-shaped walkway, jutting a breathtaking 4,000 feet above the canyon floor, is enough to inspire fear of heights in even the bravest visitor. Though we were continuously reassured the of the safety testing of the glass and engineering, it does blow the mind a bit to walk along the transparent walkway and see no reinforcements below you.
While certainly the source of the biggest oohs and aahs of the day, this was also the source of the biggest argghs! “In the interest of preserving the Grand Canyon and the glass of the Skywalk,” there is a ban on cameras, phones and any other personal effects. Don’t think you can sneak things through either — you go through a metal detector. And I don’t buy their excuses for a second — the only reason for the ban is so they can sell you their professionally-snapped photos at $30 a pop.
Also at this location is Eagle Point Indian Village, a walkable circuit with replicas of various Native American dwellings. Apparently they also do performances with traditional dance and costume, though none were on when I passed through.
Next up off the bus route was Guano Point. Here, many of the proud Hualapai tribe boast of the best West Rim view around via the famous “Highpoint Hike” out onto a jutting peninsula. But before I got my hike on, this girl had to eat. And while the BBQ grub itself was pretty memorable, what I’ll really never forget was the view I had while eating it.
The summit of the easy-peasy Highpoint Hike offers panoramic views around the Canyon, accompanied by a soundtrack of helicopters swooping into the deep trenches left by the Colorado River. Along the way lies remnants of a historic tram that once reached 8,800 feet into the guano mine that the point is named for.
Looking back towards the tent I had sat under eating my lunch, it all finally hit me — the scale, the shapes, the colors — and I understood exactly what was so Grand about this place.
The final stop of the day was at Hualapai Ranch. Things didn’t seem to be in full swing when I was there but I wasn’t bothered. However, I can imagine kids going wild for the horse and wagon rides, roping and archery lessons, and all kinds of other cowboy entertainment.
So how did this group tour skeptic feel at the end of the day? In a lot of ways, this tour confirmed for me what an active traveler I’ve become — I was itching to raft, hike or climb around that canyon! But realistically, I didn’t have the time or the mental energy to arrange that. Considering my time constraints and the value this tour offers, it was a great introduction to The Grand Canyon, a place I look forward to getting to know better someday.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon’s West Rim? What did you think — worth the hype?
I am a freelancer for Viator and participated in this tour in order to write a review for their site. They did not request a favorable view on either their site or my own. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, mine.