Monday - 05.07.01
Kurt and I awoke with a mission to get out of Dodge – I mean Vegas. We were ready for a change of scenery and a different pace; we were both a little ‘gambled’ out even though we didn’t gamble more than $50 or so the entire time.
We packed our stuff and headed to the lobby to check out. After turning in the key and resisting the temptation to lose a few more quarters, we caught a taxi to the airport. Our driver was very friendly and actually seemed halfway knowledgeable. We asked him about the ‘funny’ looking Desert Inn and whether or not it had burned. It turns out, actually, that it was all done intentionally. Jackie Chan filmed a good portion of his new movie – Rush Hour 2, due to release sometime this summer maybe – in the hotel.
The cabbie also told us that the majority of the largest hotels on the strip are actually owned by 3 major corporations. Kurt and I had surmised that the hotels connected by trams must be owned by the same entity and we were right. If we remember correctly, Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, the Excalibur, Circus Circus, and the Monte Carlo are all owned by Mandalay Resort Group. MGM-Mirage owns the MGM, the Mirage (gasp!), the Bellagio, New York New York, Treasure Island, and the Golden Nugget. Lastly, Park Place Entertainment owns Caesar’s Palace, Bally’s, Paris Las Vegas, and the Flamingo. The cabbie was very informative – it was good to get a private tour of Vegas.
The taxi driver dropped us off at the car rental around 11:30am. The line was outrageously long and took us close to 45 minutes to get through. Finally, we got our car – a Pontiac Sunfire. We build excitement… or something.
Kurt and I packed all our stuff in the trunk and back seat, broke out the map and headed out of Vegas. Actually we didn’t get too far before we spotted a Wal-Mart and decided to stop for more film. The store was Stucco - I think that’s the first Stucco Wal-Mart I’ve ever seen. After making our purchases, we headed across the parking lot to a Del Taco for lunch. It was a Taco Bell-wanna-be, with one weird twist; they sell french fries with the combo meals! Something’s just not quite right about that. Needless to say, neither Kurt nor I got fries.
The drive to Hoover Dam didn’t take as long as we had anticipated. We knew we were almost there when we spied Lake Mead. These first views of Lake Mead from the town of Boulder City were impressive. We wound our way down to the dam itself and drove across it to Arizona, where we found a place to park the car and proceeded to walk back across the dam to Nevada where the tourist center was located. We had about and hour and ˝ to kill before our tour, so we took a few pictures of the lake above the dam and the river below. We also walked through a museum detailing the history of the dam.
Finally it was time to work our way to the visitor’s center and check in for our tour. An escalator led us down below lake level, where we had to walk underneath the highway to enter the visitor’s center. We checked in and received our hard hats and a set of earplugs apiece. The hard hats were required attire, as this tour would take us behind the scenes to the actual work areas. Occasionally, rocks had been known to fall from above, so we couldn’t go on the tour without wearing the hats. We were also required to wear protective shoes. We could only imagine what the earplugs were for. The tour didn’t leave for a few minutes, so we decided to watch a portion of the ‘Building of the Hoover Dam’ movie. At last, the tour operators announced it was time for our tour to meet so Kurt and I headed to the proper area. Our tour guide was an older gentleman whose ‘real’ job was as a professor at a nearby community college. He was extremely informative and definitely had a passion for the dam. The tour began as we descended in an elevator to an access tunnel at river level. The access tunnel was very primitive, complete with rock walls and dated lighting. Our first stop was on the generator floor where our guide informed us that over 4 million kilowatts of electricity are produced from Hoover Dam every year. The tour continued out to the access road running alongside the river. The ‘normal’ tour stops at a line about 30 yards down the road. However, we got to continue past this line to an old tunnel opening that led us to a room inside the canyon wall itself. Inside this room, we walked over grating above an outlet pipe, from which we could hear water running. We knew we were getting the real ‘inside’ tour because all the workers around us were also wearing hard hats and seemed undisturbed from their daily routine by our group’s tour. The group was led back to the access road beside the river once again, where our guide showed us an air vent about half way up the dam. This vent looked only a few inches in size, and the guide told us to remember that. Next, we headed back inside the generator floor and through a locked gate, which led to a key-operated elevator. (Yes!) When we emerged from the elevator, we were standing next to the turbines, directly beneath the generator floor. This is why we were given the earplugs!
The guide took us a good distance down one of these tunnels and then turned down a small vein shooting off from the tunnel. At the end of this smaller tunnel was the air vent we had originally viewed from river level. Only it wasn’t just a few inches high – it was a good six feet high! We actually got to look out of it and snap a few pictures of the river and access road below. After leaving the air vent tunnel, we continued down the inspection tunnel to a staircase that went down as far as we could see, and also up as far as we could see. Thankfully, we were able to get back on the elevator instead of taking the steps!
The tour lasted slightly over an hour. When it was finished, we found our way up to the observation deck at lake level overlooking the river. Here Kurt and I snapped a few pictures, then headed back to the car in Arizona to drive on towards the Grand Canyon.
The drive through the desert was beautiful. Kurt and I discovered first hand how easy it is to be disillusioned by distances in such an environment. Things looked so close, yet when we measured them they were 2 or 3 times farther than we had anticipated. We drove for a couple of hours, and when the sunset behind us was captured just right by the mountains, we stopped for a roadside picture. We were amazed at how much cooler it was when we got out of the car. In fact, it was almost chilly. We knew we’d been gaining elevation, but we didn’t know just how much effect that change had on the climate. Finally, we reached Williams, AZ, about 15 miles west of Flagstaff, and decided we had better eat dinner before turning north. We didn’t know what kind of restaurants would be open late in Tusayan, where we had made reservations for the night. We drove through the small downtown area of Williams and found a Mexican restaurant. I convinced Kurt that our ‘last’ meal might as well be Mexican, so we parked and went inside. We both partook in delicious food and a few drinks. Then we proceeded north to Tusayan. We checked into the Red Feather Roadway Inn, and began the task of organizing our backpacks for the next morning.
It was strange – there was no one around. We didn’t pass a single car, no one was parked in the parking lot, and we didn’t see a sign of life anywhere. We parked and got out of the car, walking to the overlook. We were lucky – there was a full moon that night and it lit the Canyon beautifully. The view was astonishing. It felt like the Canyon was ours and ours alone. I wondered how many people in this day and age ever got to stand on the edge and look down into the Canyon, feeling that way. I’d bet not many. We were very lucky. It was amazing how much warmer it was beside the Canyon than back at the motel. You could feel the warm air rising out of the Canyon, in fact. It was also completely quiet – no breeze, no noise. It was almost as if the Canyon wasn’t real. In the full moonlight, the shadows on the rocks were stark and the detail was breathtaking. It was the perfect introduction to the Canyon.
After stopping at several more lookouts, we decided to go back to the motel and rest up for the next day. On our way back, we saw a deer to the side of the road. We stopped and attempted to take a picture and in the process discovered that there were at least a dozen deer in the field beside the road. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the pictures turned out.
We made it back to the motel and snoozed the night away, breathless with anticipation for the next morning. (Day 5)