The Grandest Canyon
“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.
Alex, you did the same tour as me three years ago (on my first trip outside of Europe). I had Dwayne (or at least your description of him suggests we had the same person).
When we went past the Hoover Dam, he went “oh no, it’s the dam police” with such a stereotypical, black american accent that everyone laughed at the play on words.
He made it memorable. Oh, and that little hole in the ground. I’d recommend the tour to anyone (though, getting up at 4am / not going to bed) was certainly a test, even at the age of 21 when I visited.
I’m a huge fan of Viator – if you’re doing anything stateside, I’d recommend using them. I don’t work for them, I just think their service is great.
Isn’t Dwayne (or perhaps his tour guide twin that you may have had!) great? I love people that love their jobs… or at least maintain the illusion that they do 🙂 And yes, I love Viator as well…. they have international tours as well, and I’m looking forward to trying some of them out here in Thailand!
You. Me. Hiking/Rafting the Grand Canyon before I reach the next birthday having a zero at the end.
Let’s do it! Next mommy/daughter trip!
I still can’t believe I lived in Arizona and never went to see the Grand Canyon! Looks amazing.
Sometimes its easy to take advantage of the opportunities that are closest to us! Gives you an excuse to go back though 🙂
Love your photos! Unfortunately when I went there in August 2005 it was raining cats and dogs and a thunderstorm rolled in. But I still loved it and would love to go back one day. I went from LA with a chinese tour company and I only paid 100$ for a 3day tour to some hotel in Arizona, Las Vegas (we even stayed in a nice hotel) and the grand canyon. But we only had an hour at the canyon because we had to be back for the all you can eat chinese buffet at the hotel that night. =) Anyway I am really happy I went and got to see it.Next time I will definitely try to stay longer though.
Caty that sounds like a GREAT story to tell your grandkids about your adventurous and fun traveling youth 🙂 I agree, next time I go to the Grand Canyon it will be a longer trip.
Alex, I took a helicopter tour from Vegas and visited the same area of the canyon that you describe. However on three other occasions I was lucky enough to travel north from Flagstaff, AZ to a much wider and much more astounding part of the canyon. I would definitely plan to hike in from that area. Ask your mom to hook you up with our mutual friend Colleen who backpacked in for a week several year ago. Margy
My mom has been trying to drag me to the Grand Canyon for years, but I was too much of a brat to realize how cool it is. Now I’m much wiser and hopefully the offer is still good 🙂
Nicely done calling them out on camera ban on the Skywalk. I was all set for YOUR snap through the feet on the glass and the look down down down … doooown to the Canyon floor.
I was all set to go all vertigoid!
I was all set to sneak my pocket cam through when I saw those darn metal detectors! Truly, the professional photos they were taking WERE great and I’m sure some families would still want them as a great memento. They should be confident in their product rather than trying to force people to buy it.
Nice photos Alex. I loved the Grand Canyon! The size of it and time it has been forming just blows my mind. If you are in the area again you must try to get to Horseshoe Bend and in to the National Parks of Utah!
I have so much more exploring of my own backyard (as in the USA!) to do that it really blows my mind. At least I have a whole lifetime ahead of me!
I’ve heard some disappointment about the whole Skywalk thing. And that far west you didn’t really get a taste of the Grandness of the canyon. You definitely need to hike to the bottom to really appreciate it. Think about a fall or spring trip for that with a lot of pre-planning for the permits. I’ll be on the North Rim from May thru Oct.
Yeah, this was definitely a great taster of what there is to offer, but believe me…. me and this Canyon have a lot more ahead of us 🙂 I don’t know if I’ll get back so soon, but when I do I definitely would love to pick your brain for advice!
They ban cameras on the thing seemingly built to get great views and great pictures?!? I’m skeptical that policy is even profitable–it would keep me from paying for the skywalk and I’m guessing others as well.
And even if they allowed cameras, I think many people would still gladly pay for a professional photo. In fact, I’d be more likely to pay if they gave me the chance to try and get a good photo on my own first. Then when I failed (as I likely would), they might make a sale.
I totally agree Daniel. I looked at the photos that their professional photographers were taking and they really were great — I think they should be confident in that. If I was with a big group I probably would buy one of their photos even if they allowed cameras (you know how successful handing your camera to strangers usually turns out to be, ha). But because of the ban I’d be way too bitter to turn over more cash.
This brings back so many great memories of our trip to the Grand Canyon! We were tempted to visit the West Rim from Vegas, but since we had planned a road trip around Northern Arizona two months later, we decided to wait. We visited the South Rim and loved every minute of it – we hiked along the rim for hours. We kept seeing hikers on the long trail down to the bottom and I just wanted to join them. We’ll have to go back one day to hike down to the bottom.
I have heard that The South Rim is really where it’s at. But if you have to go from Vegas… I don’t think the travel time could be worth it! This tour was about 12 hours… imagine tacking on four more!
I would feel the exact same way. Just begging for a hike, a raft or some camping.
I guess if I’m going to be this crazy outdoorsy girl now I better start getting in line with the whole camping idea!
Getting to this very long after you posted it but WOW… I have never been there but will make the effort next time I am anywhere nearby.
I can’t wait to go back! Family trip?!