Talk about going out with a bang. We ended 2013 and our US road trip, with a huge adventure in every sense of the word!
It must be said that if our travel adventures were left solely up to Michael to organise, this incredible experience would have slipped right by us. We were headed to the Grand Canyon and only 10 days beforehand I was informed by a fellow traveller type, that we could actually hike right down to the bottom where there is accommodation for overnight stays. Well that was it! Despite the fact that Michael was well aware of this and purposely kept the information from me, I was determined for us to have THE FULL Grand Canyon experience and the lack of vacant accommodation wasn’t going to stop me.
Every day, sometimes twice, I rang to see if any cancellations had come up at the one and only Phantom Ranch, located in the depths of the canyon. Sure enough with 3 days to spare, some did. I was SO excited whilst Michael was filled with a sense of doom. So long as it doesn’t happen too early in the morning, I’m far more hard core than he :).
Experiencing the Grand Canyon’s powerful and immense landscape from the rim is nothing short of breathtaking but hiking down into it takes things to a whole new level.
We decided to make our descent on the far steeper, shorter and more scenic Kaibib Trail. It makes for a dramatic hike down as it follows a ridge line, therefore giving one an overwhelming sense of exposure to the vastness of the canyon.
I’ll preface this with the fact that I’m not really into geology but…wow! I was into it! As we made our way down, moving away from the modern world and deep into the geology of the earth we were essentially walking back in time. Layers of the planets’ crust were revealed and upon reaching the bottom we had walked back 1.8 million years in time. Just think about that for a moment….! I’m still finding it difficult to truly comprehend.
Each layer of this immense rock became more and more beautiful and for me (possibly it was the pink) the most stunning layer was the oldest, at the very bottom called the Vishnu Basement Rocks. Down here, the aqua coloured Colorado River which looks minuscule from the rim, is encased in these immense walls of the inner gorge and is truly enormous. As we walked into this spectacular, pink Vishnu layer with the river beside us, we were stopped in our tracks. Transfixed by this Avatar like world that we were walking into and surrounded by – magical!
So I mentioned my fight for accommodation at Phantom Ranch but didn’t mention the only availability was in separate male and female dormitories. This was a first and didn’t make for the most wonderful nights sleep but certainly was an experience.
It sounds like it possibly might be an intrusion on nature but there’s no need to worry as Phantom Ranch blends seamlessly into the surroundings of the canyon. Built in 1922 from wood and native stone the Ranch is very rustic and their ethos is all about respect and preservation of the canyon.
Remaining in the ‘step back in time’ spirit, guests are alerted of the evening and morning meals via the ranch bell. Everyone then gathers in the canteen to feast on old style stew and cornbread, exchanging stories and experiences. There was a great comradery amongst these people from all walks of life – probably nurtured by the lack of phone or wifi reception.
We made our ascent on the park’s premiere hiking trail – The Bright Angel Trail. Though 2km longer than the Kaibib Trail, it’s far more forgiving as far as steepness is concerned – which we appreciated on the 13km climb!
We were actually fortunate to visit the park in winter as it was a lot quieter for one and the big bonus for hiking is that it was far from being too hot which is a major concern when hiking these trails in the summer. Though I dare say the summer visitors don’t have to put on their shoe crampons and deal with ice skating up the last 2km of the trail – that really did feel a tad hairy!
The following day was New Years Eve and what better place to head to than Vegas again – my spiritual home ;). An evening on The Strip is how we chose to farewell 2013 and welcome in 2014 which was fun. A spectacularly coordinated set of fireworks went off from all the major casinos – talk about a Big Bang!
A visit to Vegas will never be complete for us without visiting a buffet. It was a very decadent start to 2014 with the buffet at Caesar’s Palace for New Years Day and the following evening we were off to see our good friend in his new show at the oh so fabulous Cosmopolitan. Treated like VIP’s it was an evening of food delicacies that included black truffle ice-cream and a cabaret show like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. It had our heads spinning and felt like a true ‘only in Vegas’ evening!
Our last week in the US was spent driving back to LA and getting stocked up on all the western world necessities in preparation for Mexico.