Friday, March 1, 2013

US tour II -- Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam



If you come up to Las Vegas, then you must take a day out to go to Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Most tour operators ply trips to the two destinations on two days. And I just couldn't decide which of the two I should go for, which I should forgo. While discussing the tour plans with the concierge of Caesars Palace, I chanced upon the Classic Combo package of Pink Jeep Tours, that combines both destinations in one single day. I wanted to see the famous Skywalk; and luckily this package includes the West Rim where it is built. It cost me $304. But it was totally worth it.

There were three couples along with me on the tour in the jeep. Surprisingly one of them was expatriate Indians from Kerala. They migrated to Canada in 1970 and were on a tour of Las Vegas. One couple was from Manchester, UK, and the other from the US. We had an excellent tour guide Mike, very well informed and articulate. Started from Vegas at 7 pm. Mike gave us a running commentary, enlightening us about various interesting facets of those historic places on the way, always peppering with anecdotes and humor.
The Boulder Theater on way to The Grand Canyon
It takes about 3 hours drive from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon. Soon after leaving The Strip, all that we kept seeing was the arid land that forms part of the Mojave desert: quite a contrast from the glitter and buzz of  Vegas. We passed through Boulder City. The city was constructed for the thousands of workers of Boulder Dam (that was later named as Hoover Dam). The dam was constructed on Colorado River for flood control and electricity generation.

We also got a glimpse of Lake Mead, formed by the dam. This is the largest reservoir in the US. As much as 90 percent of water in Vegas comes from this lake. All traffic to Arizona used to go over the Hoover Dam. But after 9/11, the dam was declared a sensitive location and traffic banned. A 90-mile long highway was specially constructed as a detour. On the way, we saw a number of Joshua trees, which are typical of the Mojave desert. There is a Joshua Tree National Park in southeast California.

I couldn't find any street lights on the highway that looked very deserted. Night traffic does happen on the stretch, though. Mike told us that many people do come on the highway from Vegas to see the clear night sky bereft of light pollution. One can even see the spectacular meteor showers.

Around 10 am we reached the border of Hualapai Nation. The people of the Hualapai or Walapai tribe, one of the 14 tribes in the region, were the original inhabitants of northwest Arizona. They live in the mountains. The entire Grand Canyon West area is owned by them. The area is virtually an autonomous region. Private vehicles are not allowed. The tribals are exempted from a number of Arizona state taxes. They have a separate constitution, administration and courts.

From the border, we boarded a bus to the Eagle Point. That's where the Skywalk is. The entire area is an amazing visual delight. The huge precipice and the deep gorges through which the Colorado river runs is as much frightening as enchanting. You need to be extremely careful, because there are no railings. No signboards warning tourists to be careful either. Being curious and going to the edge to get a beautiful photo could end in a fall to nowhere. It's very dangerous. You need to particularly cautious if you have children who tend to run around.
The Grand Canyon
Just be wise, stand at a safe distance and soak in the beauty of nature. Definitely this is among the most beautiful creations of nature. We need to pay separately to get to the Skywalk. It came to $32 including taxes. Skywalk is an engineering marvel. It's a semi-circular projection 70 feet from cliff at a height of around 250 metres. A part of the floor of the skywalk is made of glass.

A look down from the Skywalk can just be mind-boggling
The view from Skywalk through the glass right down is an unparalleled experience. Cameras are prohibited, and you need to engage the services of a professional photographer to click your pictures; and buy them. You can pose at will and get many photos clicked. They will put it all in a pen-drive and hand it over to you for $70. If you want three of them printed out, you need to pay $110. Very few will get on to the Skywalk and come away without a few photos being clicked.  It is one way of gaining revenue from tourism.
The view of Grand Canyon from Skywalk is breathtaking
From Eagle Point we went to Guano Point. There is a small peak from where we can get a 360 degree view of the Grand Canyon. That's a breathtaking view. Guano in Spanish means droppings of cave-dwelling animals like bats. It has high contents of nitrogen and phospherous. It has applications not only as fertilizer but also in the making of gunpowder. There was an entire industry involved in the mining and harvest of guano.

Around 1 pm we headed to the Hoover Dam, built in early 1930s. We reached there around 3 pm. Never before has such a huge concrete structure been built that too in such a remote area. A whole new city was built for the workers, who laboured 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while America reeled under severe recession. The workers had just two holidays, on Independence Day and Christmas Day. Many worked on those two days as well. The project was finished two years ahead of schedule.

View from the Hoover Dam
Two tunnels were built to divert the Colorado River, and powerful grenades were used to blast the rocks. The story of dam construction is worth reading. At the site there is a memorial for lives lost. There was a dog that stayed along with the engineers and workers. Most tragically, he was run over when one of the engineers backed up his truck. The US government gave special permission for the place where the dog was buried to be turned into a memorial. We went down and saw the turbines and generators.
The turbines and generators of Hoover Dam
We were back at Vegas Strip around 6 pm. On Feb 28th I was off to Detroit.

4 comments:

  1. Grand Canyon Tours from Las Vegas - Visit the Grand Canyon National Park, Las Vegas or the Hoover Dam Tours with a Sightseeing tour from Las Vegas' best tour operator.

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  2. If you plan to start your las vegas tours , you will go to the West Rim and descend to the canyon floor in a chopper. Then you are given a half an hour to explore the region by foot. After that, you get on board a bus and ride over to Hoover Dam, once there, you get on a raft and float about eleven miles down the river until you get to Willow Beach.

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  3. Interesting blog.Existing information about the Las Vegas tours and travels.Good explanation and useful instructions.wonderful pictures. Grand Canyon Tours from Las Vegas

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  4. Drive to Hoover Dam in the morning, sightsee this largest and tallest concrete structure of it’s time. Visit the dam and overlook North America's largest artificial lake - Lake Mead. Then, travel to one of the most famous 7 natural wonders in the world - the Grand Canyon! Over eons, the Colorado River and erosion have sculpted this amazing landscape.
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