Friday, 19 August 2011
Viva Las Vegas! Part 3 - How Grand Is That Canyon?
Before we left London for Vegas (don't get to say that a lot, so I'll say it a lot here), we did our research as to what the top attractions were around the place. The little crater in the ground called The Grand Canyon was one of them, so the next logical modern step was to find out which tour group to go with.
There are quite a few to choose from, but as we use TripAdvisor quite a lot, and trust it too, we decided to go with Grand Adventures and booked the Walking Tour (US$150pp). One of the influencing factors was this ...
Unlimited McD's breakfast. How can anyone ever say no to that?
But, a quick summary of how it started off, as I feel Grand Adventures are good enough to deserve that. We were picked up at 6.15am outside our hotel, as stated in the booking conditions. Prompt, efficient, that was our tour guide Alex. He then took us to the other hotel to pick up the other members of the tour, which, to our delight, turned out to be just another 4 people so the 6 of us shared the 10 seater van comfortably.
On the way to McD's, I asked Alex the question I'd been wanting to ask an American for a long time.
'What are biscuits and gravy?'
Turns out, it's not what English people think it is. Nope. Not your usual rich tea biscuit with some ahhh Bisto.
It's actually what we think (in England) as scones with ... wait for it ... drippings of cooked pork sausage. Yum. But wait, there's more. Add to that dripping some white flour, milk, and maybe pepper, and it now resembles what I know as 'white sauce'. But with attitude.
Anyhow, Alex suggested we try it out at McD's. Now, we've come all this way to the US, and I've been pondering this biscooit and gravy question for so long so how could I not?
Alas, McD's do not serve biscuit and gravy, I repeat, do NOT serve biscuit and gravy.
Never one to run out of options at McD's, I quickly decided on the Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle meal, and the Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit meal. If only we had this in England!
How could we not have thought of this amazing combination? Pancakes with sausages? Check. Cheese also? Check. Throw in some eggs. Check. Fab fab fab (and also maybe fat, but never mind).
Picture on the right is the famed biscuit - kinda like eating scone with your bacon. Innovative and slightly out there. Throw in some cheese and you've got All Out Wild Eating.
Picture in the middle depicts what you get when you run out of ketchup, can't be bothered going 2 steps to the ketchup counter, and so settle for dipping your hash brown in some strawberry jam that came along with the meal.
Some gut-rubbing 20 minutes later, we trooped back to the van, and it sank 2 inches closer to the ground with all that satisfying calorie-laden weight. As the (now) tired out tour group napped soundly (20 minutes into the tour), Alex trooped on, and continued making his and our way towards The Grand Canyon.
We were told on the brochure that the scenery wouldn't change too much along the way, so we'd better bring a book or something to amuse ourselves with along the way. They didn't mention how amusing a McD's breakfast was, and by the time we slapped ourselves awake from slumber, we were already at the Hoover Dam.
See how dry and rocky that looks? Welcome to the desert. My contact lenses were shrivelling up with each windy blow and I'm sure, somewhere along all that stretch of sand, was quite a few bits of my flaky skin flying with the wind.
Just in case you thought desert and bridge were places of fun and frisk.
The Hoover Dam from atop a bridge that goes along it. And just in case the picture doesn't quite get across how very high it is (like each inch was like a mile long or something) ...
It's really quite high. Alex mentioned lots of interesting facts about the Dam, something to do with cement, construction of the dam, etc. but I was really just trying to stay hydrated and keep my contact lenses firmly in place, so please Wikipedia it or something if you're interested.
We then continued our way - journey time elapsed: 1 hour or so. Journey time to go: 3.5 hours or so.
Having watched lots and lots of American TV programmes, there is some fascination I hold with gas stations (petrol stations), and even being there for a refuel made me feel like I was in a film set. Easily amused.
Guess petrol stations look the same everywhere, huh?
This one sold lots of stuff you wouldn't find in the UK petrol stations, though. Leather jackets and furry hats, for example.
Our nibbles from the gas station
I bought the 2 cans of tea because the colours were nice. The chocolates were purchased for comparison to the Mars bar version in the UK (conclusion: they are probably one and the same bars), and the Orbit chewing gum was bought because I needed to chew on something.
Route 66 was part of the tour but because there are SO many pictures of stuff there, I'm going to save that for another post.
The changing scenery on the way to the Grand Canyon. We were told that the landscape represented what the Grand Canyon was years and years ago.
One of the stops on the way of the hike trail
Alex, and a yucca plant
Our tour guide, Alex was a trooper of the friendliest sort. I don't mean he was in the army or anything, I don't really know him that well. What I meant was that for someone who's only done this for a month, he was probably one of the most professional tour guides we've had.
Before we left the van and started the hike, he said, quite wisely, as the dark rain clouds loomed above, 'Hey guys, maybe you should take these waterproofs with you. Just a suggestion.'
Of course, being the brave, experienced hotel-dwellers that we were, we looked at him as though he suggested we split the atom for a laugh, and said 'Don't be silly, it won't rain.'
Minutes later, with the sound of thunder in the background, and mood lightning above, we sat miserably under the tree (smart, huh), slowly chomping on our sandwiches which were getting wetter and wetter by the minute.
Alex, being the nice guy that he is, didn't say 'I told you so' (I would've), but instead, went all the way back to the carpark, and brought us back some waterproofs. Tip to selves: Do not doubt your tour guide. Do not try to be big, or clever.
Along the hike, there were lots of these little markers - almost one for every step. Alex explained that these were to represent one million years, for each little circle. So, if you completed the whole trail (which we didn't, because I think we only did part of it), you would've effectively walked about 4,000 million years or something like that, in the 45 minutes it took you to complete it.
What a view. When I first walked out of the Gift Shop (yes, one of those everywhere, even at Grand Canyons), the first thing I saw was a large area of cemented ground, with people sitting by the ledge, having their ice-creams and sandwiches. Didn't look like much, but when I walked closer to the ledge where everyone was, I gave a gasp when I saw the full 180 degree panoramic view of the canyon. It really is huge, it is very clever, and it definitely beats any view I've been told was 'scenic' before.
Smaller pics so I don't bore you with too many pictures, but if you're interested in the full Vegas pictorial experience, check out my Vegas Flickr photoset here.
It's a stunning view, no matter how many times you see it.
Sandwich with a view,
Crackers, grapes and cheese too
Lunch was provided by Grand Adventures as part of the package. BTW, might I mention they don't have any hidden charges either. Just something that occured to me as I was typing this, because we'd read from TripAdvisor that many other tour companies sprung surprise costs on the customers, but we didn't have any other costs aside from the ones we paid upfront with these guys. (Obviously, I don't mean the tip is included because it's not.)
The sandwiches were advertised on the brochure as being home-made, and substantial in terms of portion size. I must say I agree with that. We had 2 sandwiches, and we chose one beef, and one ham option. As I'd kinda huffed my way to the lunch point, I wasn't in the mood for adding more weight to the hike, so decided to keep one of the sandwiches for the journey back. The one sandwich we shared between the 2 of us was more than enough to keep us full for the 45 mins trek (including sit down time), and those delicious crackers, cheese and grapes made for a satisfying end to the meal with a view.
After we'd made our way to the Southern Rim point where we took lots and lots of pics, we waited for the free bus that took us to the carpark. All tired out and feeling as fresh as you could feel in a desert, we sat down thankfully in the van, and continued our pre-lunch snooze while Alex took us all back to our hotels.
I've already written to the company telling them what a fab time we had and how professional Alex was, and I've said it here again, so if anyone is considering a Grand Canyon tour, do consider these guys! (I am not on commission, but if you feel like this review has helped you, please send me your leftover sandwiches.)
Back to the Bellagio.