Our first destination in Nevada was to visit Red Rock Canyon National Park which is a few miles outside of Las Vegas. The strata of red rock colour contrasts starkly with the more yellow sandstone and looked quite stunning, especially as the sun was hitting the rock face when we were viewing it. The park itself had an 8 mile drive loop which allowed us to drive through the canyon to see the amazing mountains and cliff faces.
We then arrived in Las Vegas, for a few days and based ourselves in Downtown which is situated a few blocks north of the Strip and where the older casinos are based. That evening we wandered down the road to the Freemont Experience which is a four block covered arcade of shops and casinos, that puts on light shows on the arched ceiling, five times a night. That evening we caught the 8pm & 10pm light shows which were themed as The Beatles & Queen, we also managed to trip over a micro brewery and enjoyed a couple of pints with our dinner.
The next day we caught the bus to the Strip and were dazzled by lots of the different casinos including the Luxor, New York New York, The Excalibur, The Bellagio (including the water fountain display) and Paris Las Vegas.
Due to the sheer vastness of the Strip, we decided to go back again the next day and saw The Venetian, Caesars Palace, The Sahara, Treasure Island, The Mirage and Circus Circus. Paul also went to the Imperial Palace where they had on show a number of classic cars, luxury cars and race cars as well as a car once owned by Elvis Presley and also a car owned by Johnny Carson. Some of the vehicles are actualy for sale and go from a US$40,000 to US$500,000, unfortunately I didn't have any spare change to buy any! We also visited the Stratosphere Tower which is 109 stories tall and provided some panoramic views of Vegas. You could jump off the tower via a harnessed line to arrive safely down the bottom and whilst we were on the viewing platform, taking in the fantastic views of Las Vegas, we saw a guy actually jump off.
The Tower also had three thrill rides at the top, ‘Insanity’ (which Clare chickened out of) which takes seated riders out over the side of the tower on a huge crane and spins them round in mid air with absolutely nothing between them and the ground! We both rode ‘xScream’ which slides seated riders along a ‘see-saw’ which drops them forwards out over the edge of the tower (oh yes we managed to get front seats!), we then rode the ‘Big Shot’ which was very tame in comparison as it only shoots you upwards very quickly up the central pinnacle at the top (the views were even better if you could keep your eyes open!). The operator did try to wind Clare up as he thought she was too calm by telling her that her belt was undone, just at the point we shot upwards!
We went back to the Strip that evening as we wanted to watch The Bellagio fountain show by night which was very impressive and was set to music. Also as we hadn’t had enough thrills for one day and we wanted to ride the New York, New York rollercoaster by night. This coaster is built around the casino itself and it was fun to see some of the Strip whilst upside down! Again we got front row seats and as it was one ‘helluva of a ride’ so we just had to do it again!!
The following day we decided to visit a few places around Vegas and started by heading to the Neon Museum which we found out when we got there was only open by appointment. (Oh well on to the next), Star Trek experience – closed down, Liberace museum – ah, recently closed down, oh well on to Pin Ball Alley, we looked and looked and couldn’t find it!! It was turning out to be “one of those days” so totally frustrated Paul decided to get his hair cut, at least it wasn’t a completely wasted day.
That evening we went back to the Freemont Experience (we needed more thrills) and rode the Zip Line which is 67 feet high and 360 feet long, you whizz down the line through the covered arcade over people’s heads at over 30mph which was great fun. The workers at the end of the line are supposed to catch each riders harness as they come in to land on the platform, however, Clare’s missed her completely and she hit the back netting before he finally caught her! It all added to the excitement I guess!
We then decided that as we were in Vegas it would be rude not to try our luck at one of the casinos, so we wandered in to the Golden Nugget and headed for the roulette tables. After Paul had finally managed to prise the chips from Clare’s hands and get her to actually start betting (she is an accountant after all) we were on a roll. We walked out of the casino having made a 50% profit!!! Wow I hear you say, not bad. Ok, ok, we confess we did only ever start with $10, but we did walk out with $15, having had a fun time.
Thrilled out we headed away from Vegas the next day and visited the Hoover Dam which is a very impressive piece of engineering, we then rolled into Arizona and got ‘our kicks on part of Route 66’ from Kingman to Williams. Just north of Williams is the South Rim of the Grand Canyon which is “absolutely awesome” as the Americans would say. We walked part of the Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon as well as part of the Rim Trail along the top. The place is vast and offers some of the most magnificent views we have seen so far on our travels. We also drove along the Southern Rim to Desert View and climbed the Watchtower to see the views to the entrance of the canyon which is the highest point of the rim and over 7000 feet above sea level.
After leaving the Grand Canyon we headed east on a scenic route to Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon and Red Rock, which again offered some stunning scenery. We then continued on over and arrived in Wickenburg which was a pretty little town and a convenient place for a stopover. The next day we continued south east to a small town called Benson, it was pretty hot and the hotel had a pool and a hot tub, so we just had to make use of them.
The following day we went to Biosphere 2 (apparently Earth is Biosphere 1) which is a complex of buildings which were used in the 1980s to replicate earth. They contained five different sealed environments including a South American rain forest, a desert, and an ocean.
During the 1990’s they conducted an experiment of eight scientists being completely sealed from the outside world, with the task of trying to be self sufficient and to run various experiments on plants inside the Bioshpere 2 over a period of two years. The dome buildings were mainly made of glass to provide as much sunlight as possible and various trees, plant, animals and insects were also sealed in the domes as well. Interestingly the bees that had been sealed in died off early on in the experiment, as they kept flying into the glass walls and ceiling and it was discovered that bees use UVF rays to navigate by, however the glass kept the UVF rays out and thus caused problems for the bees.
The experiments were a success and the results from the experience have helped scientists understand plant and animal behaviour. Two problems did occur during the sealed experiment though, one being that those sealed in Biosphere 2 couldn’t grow enough food and therefore their calorie intake was very low, also the plants in the dome didn’t produce enough oxygen for them to survive on so some had to be pumped in. The complex currently belongs to the University of Arizona and although it is now not sealed, it continues to be used in various experiments.
Later on that day we visited Saguaro National Park which contains 25 different species of cacti. The Saguaro green giant grows slowly and those that live 150 years or more can grow to a towering 50 feet and weigh 16,000 pounds or more.
The following day we toured the Kartchner Caverns and did the Throne Room tour, after being warned that touching any of the rock formations was a federal offense! We entered the cavern which was very hot and humid, we saw lots of stalagmites, stalactites, ribbons of rock which looked like bacon and various columns (stalagmites and stalactites that have met in the middle after many hundreds of years). One column was extremely large and had taken an enormous number of years to form and was nicknamed the Kubla Khan. The caves had originally been discovered in 1974 by two men Gary and Randy who tried to buy the land from the Kartchner Family but couldn’t, the caves were kept secret and the State Parks became involved and finally purchased the caves which were finally opened to the public in 1999.
We ‘donned our spurs’ and drove further south to the town of Tombstone which is famous for the gun fight at the OK Corral between Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan along with ’Doc’ Holliday against the outlaw cowboys Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers Tom and Frank. The town was founded during the gold rush and many stories exist about hard drinking miners, gambling desperados, shady ladies and quick-to-draw cowboys and have been the inspiration for many a western movie. Part of the town has kept its 1880 western heritage with the Courthouse (which is now a museum), saloons, stage coaches and stores retaining the ‘Wild West’ look. After visiting Tombstone we went to Boothill Cemetery and saw the graves of those that died at the OK Corral along with outlaws that had been hanged, shot and killed by Indians and even one of two that had actually died of old age! One tombstone for George Johnson hanged by mistake in 1882 amusingly reads ‘He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up, and now he’s gone’.
The next day Paul visited the Pima Air and Space Museum (Clare decided to give the planes a miss). The museum housed over 270 planes and helicopters, some of the better restored exhibits were displayed in the five hangers on the site. Planes included bombers and fighter aircraft that had served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. However, there were also commercial aircraft including John F Kennedy’s ‘Air Force One’, NASA transport aircraft, huge bombers and helicopters that were outside. There were also some oddities such as ‘The Bumblebee’ which is the smallest flying aircraft ever built, a helicopter flying suit and a BD-5 Microjet which appeared at the opening scenes in the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’.
The next day it was time to continue eastwards and onto New Mexico, but that is for the next instalment!