By Rohini Mohan
The Grand Canyon, painstakingly chiseled out over millions of years is testimony to the relentless power of nature. When you stand atop its great rim and peer down at the Colorado River, centuries of natural, geological and human history silently stare back at you. It humbles, you, yes, but it also provides you with a feeling of intense gratification, that you are part of its sheer magnificence, that it is a part of you.
Our family from India visited the West Coast for the first time last month and a trip to the Grand Canyon was the unanimous choice. For me, doing the research was half the fun, and in this case, most of the challenge. Our vegetarian party of 9 included 2 moms and three kids. The easiest option would have been to fly to Phoenix (flights from Oakland to Phoenix can cost as little as $49 on Southwest Airlines and you also have the opportunity of staying in picturesque Sedona) but we preferred to weave a road trip into the itinerary. If you don’t want to be barraged with the lethal “Are we there yet” question, you may not want to attempt to drive to Arizona which is a good 12-14 hours from the Bay Area. The best alternative is to drive to Vegas which is not too far from the West Rim of the Canyon. Via Routes I-5 and CA-58 it is an easy 8 1/2 hour road trip. The landscape changes dramatically every few hours and makes for very interesting viewing.
Given the size of our party and the fact that we all wanted to stay together, we did not really want to check into a Las Vegas hotel. In the course of my research I stumbled onto the Vacation Rentals by Owner site which provides an excellent solution. We settled on the Pima Point Villa, a completely equipped luxury home, 4 bedrooms, a big screen TV and a billiards table and for all the little and big kids out there – a lovely large swimming pool. At $225 per night (plus tax and $100 cleaning fee) it is a pretty good deal. About a 2 minute drive from groceries and pharmacies and 15 minutes from shopping, there are great restaurant options in the vicinity and even an Indian Store 5 minutes away! It’s just about 15 minutes from the strip and a short drive from Red Rock Canyon and the Hoover Dam. The only drawback is that if you plan too many activities, you may never get to them since the house itself is so inviting! We arrived on a Tuesday and the kids jumped into the pool right away which sort of canned all our evening plans…
Day 2 was the day of our big adventure. With the seniors and kids in the party, a comprehensive but compact itinerary was the objective. The Grand Canyon tour company offers up a pretty good option. At $300 per person all told, you get to take a 35 minute Vision Air flight from the North Las Vegas airport straight to the Grand Canyon West Rim. It is a small 12- 14 passenger aircraft which provides headsets and running commentary especially when flying low over the Hoover dam and Lake Mead. The ride is choppy but short. Your Copter is waiting for you at the other end to whisk you away on a totally exhilarating 8 minute flight down to the bottom of the Canyon and it lands literally on the banks of the Colorado River. The next adventure is on a 20 minute pontoon boat ride on the river, a teaser of a trip that leaves you longing to experience the rapids that the area is famous for. Back on the helicopter and onto terra firma on the rim, you get on a tourist bus that drives you to two breathtaking scenic vistas- Eagle point and Guano point. Eagle Point is named for the natural Eagle Shaped form that the rocks have sculpted themselves into and is quite incredible. The canyon can be viewed from the Skywalk which is at Eagle Point, a structure that juts out of the Canyon rim, with a 4000 ft view of the floor. (The cost of the Skywalk excursion is not included in the tour price).
Guano Point is the next stop and this is where you break for “lunch” – a Native American meat heavy buffet which was the cue for the lime rice and pickle that we packed to make an appearance. You can also shop for Hualapai jewellery which is on sale in makeshift tents, in lieu of the ubiquitous gift shop.
The tourist bus takes you back to the airport but we chose to make a side trip (included in the price) to the Hualapai ranch about 5 minutes away by a free shuttle bus. Especially good for those vegetarians who forgot their aloo parathas at home and are fighting hunger pangs after the Cole slaw and corn bread fiasco at Guano Point; the ranch provides bland but edible Mac and cheese and some other South Western Veggie specialties. The ranch is a nice experience for visitors to check out a trading post and a Wild West jail and there are even some impromptu cowboy type shows during the day. The tour ticket also entitles you to a free wagon ride. With the waivers you sign for all the dangers ranging from serious brain damage to heart attack you get on bracing yourself for a whirlwind, high speed adventure but trust me, this is one wagon you will not fall off of. The ride did provide us with another opportunity to admire the enchanting perfection and rich colors of the Canyon Mesas though. The cowboy driving the wagon also made sure that we were properly educated about rattlesnake bite antidotes and the exact point where the Thelma and Louise convertible took off over the canyon (this is where the final scene was shot). A short plane ride later we were safely back home.
We had one more day in Vegas which we spent in the pool and shopping. The evening was reserved for walking around the strip gawking at the Eiffel Tower and the obligatory Bellagio fountain; and of course trying our luck at the casinos. We also were able to take in a magic show performed by Steve Wyrick which was quite cool. It took us a lot of searching to come up with a mostly kid friendly show and this one was quite passable in that category.
We spent Day 4 driving back home to the Bay Area. I speak for everyone in our group when I say that it was a great trip. It satisfied our every desire; a trip to the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, especially if they live halfway across the world, and this is a great way to take in all that the Canyon has to offer. Since we started our day at 10.30 in the morning and got back by 7.00 there was never a boring moment. Being fun
filled and not very exhausting it was very conducive to the seniors and kids. All in all, a nice, relaxing four day vacation, with good value for money.
Photos by Pranav Mohan