Las Vegas – The Grand Canyon

It’s taken some time to commit my thoughts to WordPress on this particular day. I’ve read other blogs on the Canyon which give useful advice and many stunning pictures, But the great challenge of any Grand Canyon adventure is probably shared, it’s one of those experiences which is perhaps best unaccompanied by a camera or thought.

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Keeping it practical I can tell you a little about the various options. The SkyWalk, as it was explained to me is a lot of money for not very much, however it is a once in a lifetime experience… of this I would advise only the die-hard returners. Unlike the pamphlet pictures the arc doesn’t exactly overhang the dizzy heights of the Canyon’s depths, rather the beginnings of the slippery slope down. From what I understand it does overlook the part of the Canyon that Evil Kenevil used in a dare-devil stunt, but with the lack of bikage I could just be relaying the words of a gullable tourist 🙂

Many people choose to drive down by bike or more substantial vehicle, I imagine the huge expanse of open road is utterly exhilarating for bikers. For drivers of all types there is plenty of on-line guidance, even a browse through writers I follow should provide some inspiration. I’d recommend a blog I follow (not that I bike) – for more information/tips.

Alternatively is the helicopter ride, a particularly easy and formidable method of being transported to and over the worldly wonder. I’d never have been forgiven for not arranging this particular trip, however with three to pay for I had to plan with some care. It is possible to book these trips online, although for those well organised  day trippers who like to have everything booked well in advance make sure it is exactly that as some sites take time to acknowledge booking. I had been recommended a firm called Maverick, however having had many conversations with different traders it transpires that there are the ‘Original’ Maverick and a – well, maverick Maverick. These are the ones who do cheap deals, minus the good reputation. Other intricacies in booking include negotiating a landing, if you want time inside the Canyon ensure your trip explicitly includes this as many stop only on the south rim. The south rim landing isn’t technically called a landing and is arranged as part of an agreement with the American Indians. Don’t get too excited by that, they are modern American Indians with a big shop and no views across the Canyon…

So negatives and obstacles aside I will tell you about the company we used. Having only been set up for a week we were able to get a reasonable deal with 5 Star Helicopter Trips and were assured (after some negotiating over weight) that these were some of the nicest helicopters in the air. This is no fabrication, the interiors of these airborne explorers comprise lovingly hand-sanded woodwork, laminate flooring and Kangaroo coverings on the seats. From the moment we were picked up with a warm welcome, donuts and water we were engaged in lively conversation and given the option of a tour-guide journey or one of silence. The memo that all laughs should be hearty hadn’t quite reached us as we excused our polite giggles with Englishness, however upon arrival at the heliport the hospitable beers facilitated our more amenable nature.  Awaiting our copter we had the comfort of leather seats and chill-out music… the later is not usually a preference of mine however the selection was somewhat mind-changing as I discovered ‘Icarus’ by Mythos. Wow. I love that tune, since this trip it has become my first thought when I wake up and eases me into the harsh reality of London life each morning.

Reverting to the point of the expedition we were shown a safety video and then met by our uber-American pilot, a sharp contrast from our Mancunian host and owner of the company! True to the word of the sales person, the helicopters were gorgeous and comfy. Passengers are arranged according to weight and hooked up to headphones and speakers where we were fed information about the sprawling landscape and the Hooverdam as we snaked overhead. The stories came in thick and fast as did the explanation of pilot training and ad-hoc snippets of local history. I say ‘ad-hoc’, in reality everything was meticulously choreographed to the sound-track as we swooped and hovered. As ever I made the mistake of trying to capture the detail on camera, the results are great however there really is no comparison to the actual experience.

Surprisingly, the trip was smooth to the point that I took off my ear protectors to land just so as I could get the experience of the thundering clatter of the propeller.We glided low through the Canyon before our stop at the native American landing point for a (very) quick spin around the shop where we were faced with the choice of a toilet break or to pick up souvenirs. Not quite the cafe stop that we had been advised, however between the Joshua Trees, Dream Catcher and chocolate goodies I was able to source I felt fairly satisfied at the short sharp stop. This may have been aided by the fact I am a thoroughly seasoned shopper 😐

Suspecting the return journey would be a sharp return to the heliport I was pleasantly surprised that there were plenty more stories awaiting, including the man who bough a serious amount of land to build a town and ran out of money. The evidence remains in the marked out plots of land still bursting with promise for no reward. Landing at the heliport held equal delight as it is home to a number of rather old, attractive small planes. These I am no expert in, I just find them shamelessly aesthetically pleasing.

On reflection, it seems that whilst we all traveled happily and in comfort, the extra two people that the copter could have held would have made for a very tight and cosey trip with questionable viewing ability for those in the rear middle seats. That said, this is probably a risk regardless of which company you choose to go with and if nothing else can be said, this firm work hard to accommodate their guests.


Las Vegas, Baby! Day 1 (evening)

Galavanting around the North Mall didn’t quite cut it for us, the highlight was travelling by the Duce bus ($7 per person all day) and venturing out past the new strip. Along the way are numerous building sites and a real taste for Old-skool Vegas where Casinos are staggered along the desert highway. A glimpse of the residential area hints at a life less glamourous and the 6 ft bill boards that loom down promise bail bond get-outs and immigration lawyer assistance are a far cry from the high polish of the main strip. Still, this is clearly another area where the money spins as monster trucks advertise Pawn Brokers like a desirable commodity. Interrupting my wild imagination, the Stratosphere Hotel interjects the spanse of desert, it’s tip out of sight from the bus-window view. As much as myself and Jon are keen to get up onto the roller-coster, my parent’s reluctance is a welcome excuse to give it a miss – this time.

The architecture is astonishing and random. This photo does no justice to this surrealist style structure, but it’s still worth sharing:


I hope that can be seen clearly enough to get the gist…

The malls themselves are the most popular in Vegas and largely consist of Designer discount outlets. If you’re not so taken by designer wear it’s essentially just a large American shopping centre – of which there is no shortage on the main strip. Among the favourites I was directed to were the Fashion Mall (home to Macy’s) and the centre in Planet Hollywood. Which brings me to our next destination – housing two theatres, many show-hunters are very likely to end up here.

Checking out which theatre you are headed for is a good start as the distance between the two is the equivalent to walking across a small town during rush hour. We were in the ‘Sax’, located behind the pool (which was very large and much more geared towards their own residents than found at the Hard Rock Hotel). The American theatre culture is very different from British and again a military style operation took place. Having been advised to queue at 6 to ensure good seats we were ushered into the VIP bar where the expensive drinks were counteracted by the novelty of flashing glasses that we could keep. Easily pleased we made the mistake of drinking a full hours worth of beverages before the show. (There is no interval, although re-admittance is permitted).

The indicator that we would need to be seated was brought about by mass confusion of a fully packed bar charging about in all directions, no-one quite sure what should be happening. Finally assembled in a parade around the bar we were gently coaxed through – ‘get moving, we have 500 to get through for this show!’ before piling into our seats. We needn’t have worried, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

Sadly I can’t bring you pictures of the show, but it was wildly varied with fantastic tap-dancers, a full history of the casinos from the viewpoint of the staff who make the cogs turn in the city of vice. The best I can do is a snapshot of a display whilst in the herd being led up the stairs to the arena:


Tribute acts to vocal stars of the ages were mixed with magic shows (Where did that parrot come from?) and some of the main dances that made Vegas what it is,from the Can-can to the Mambo and a whole host of others I have been left with a new love for ‘Mambo Italiano’. Of all the videos I can find on-line nothing comes close to the engrossingly abstract choreography of the stage.

What I did find, however was a brilliant YouTube clip of ‘Over the Rainbow’ where the song features:

Danielle – Over the Rainbow (Mambo Italiano)

And even better (although much worse for my health, this has lead to me falling over my feet in my bedroom trying to copy the steps:

They also teach Rhumba and Boogie…

So aside from my new obsession I was also satisfied with the appearance of fully feathered showgirls, the wedding stories (One man married 7 times in Vegas!) and the short movie where the history of the Vegas Craze of blowing up multi-million $$ buildings is brought into one mind-blowing five-minute show. The Aladdin was a pretty emotional one for me – I remember talking to a London Clubs manager when it was first being launched and feeling the excitement of it. Several years laters, immersed in my Gambling Economics degree the news came that the Aladdin wasn’t doing so well. To see it collapse like a match-stick toy that’s done its time on the big screen was car-crash TV, hell, I’m only 28, how has all this happened in my lifetime already?! Oh yeah, this is Vegas.

Stepping out into the hot night we were only across the street from the Bellagio (Featured in Oceans 11). I knew we had to catch some of the hotel shows but persuading the parents this was a good idea wasn’t so easy, particularly when ‘across the road’ transpired to be another 10 minute walk! Still,it was absolutely worth it as water came alive in a cheeky tittilating display of height and power to ‘Hey Big Spender’ – Yes, you can choreograph water! :


I will also attempt to link in a video when I work out this thing a little better.


It took some time to cross the front of the hotel and as we passed the mid-way point another show was already on, dispelling our belief this is a once hourly show. Having indulged in a final peek we made good our leave determined to reach Treasure Island (Miss Congeniality) – I just wanted to see that boat go down! We good side-tracked at the Mirage where the acoustics of unsettled rainforest wildlife began to trill and puffs of smoke lifted into the sky. Heavy drum rolls shook the usually peaceful lake, lighting up the scenery with burning orange as glowing water sparked around billowing flames – utterly transfixing and worryingly addictive. I selfishly only got these images on Camera so as with the videos will attempt to get them to you in good time 🙂

We did catch the end of Treasure Island, a raucous party where with high danger in the air – clinging onto the edge of the bridge we got the last five minutes of dance and drama, with sailors sliding down the ship’s ropes and a display of fireworks to boot. From that moment on I remember very little, such was the exhaustion that gripped me. And they say London is chaotic!