Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Red Rocks

A weekend in Vegas - the glitz, the glamor, the spectacular shows, the never ending buffets, the incessant slot machines, the drunken bachelorettes... the music, the neon, the traffic, Barry Manilow watching over your every move... Two days is really all you need in Vegas. I was trying to recount, and this was about my seventh or eighth time here, and I had yet to spent more than three days in this Desert Oasis on any single trip. No reason to change now, so on Day 3, Erica and I picked up our rental car and headed out of the city, aiming towards the Valley of Fire.

The name 'Valley of Fire' doesn't exactly exude calm and tranquility, but after just over 48 hours on the Strip, it seemed the most peaceful place on Earth. Well, that may be an exaggeration - I actually found the place to be spectacularly wild and jagged, but it is amazing how a mere 45 minute drive out of the Neon lights of Las Vegas, you end up in what appears to be a remote and quiet nature reserve - the Valley of Fire State Park.

As the name might imply, the park is filled with a variety of rocks, fiery red in color, forming a crazy assortment of jagged and angular shapes, seemingly defying the laws of gravity and the incessant forces of erosion along the way. Highlights of the day:

Erica and I in front of the fiery rocks and blue skies.

Our rental car dominating over the highway, as the asphalt pierces through the rock formations

The Balancing Rock

The Elephant Rock. Can be a little hard to tell in the picture, but it looks an awful lot like a big, thick elephant trunk when you get close

This isn't a named formation. I think it looks an awful lot like the guardian aliens early on in the 'Fifth Element'

The Valley of Fire seemed a good start... time to step up the spectacular though - enter Arizona: specifically, enter the Grand Canyon. In order to catch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon (and come on, you gotta!), we needed to get to the South, more spectacular, rim by about 6 in the morning. Given a little more time, or a little more common sense, one might choose to just come down during the day and stay the night - we left Vegas at midnight and were at the Canyon by 5AM. What did you expect? Safety Third: Go Hard or go Home!

On the way out of Vegas: Erica at the Cathouse in Luxor... Don't ask!

Cat, a friend we'd be staying with in Prescott the following day (ahh, Cat ... Cathouse ... I'm such a genius...) had warned, somewhat cryptically, to expect snow at the Canyon(!) - I chose not to make much of it... We're way down South in Arizona, and it's late March already anyway - what snow can there possibly be to talk about!? The tops of the nearby mountains must've gotten a light sprinkling, and everyone's just freaked out, right!? Not so much...

As we drove through the night, the scenes outside my window evolved from 'light sprinkling' to 'there's several inches of snow on the road now' to 'Holy Crap, are we in a blizzard!?' Good news: if you want to save your $25 park admission fee, arrive at the gates at 4:30 in the morning in the middle of a blizzard. Bad news: Temperature at sunrise: 11 degrees! (yes, Fahrenheit) Making it all worthwhile, the pictures:

The first glimpses of the sun washing over the Western slopes of the Canyon just after 6AM!

The views becoming clearer as the clouds thin out

The Grand Canyon Panorama spectacular!

So, yeah, it was a bit more than a 'light sprinkling in the mountain tops.' Several inches at the Southern Rim was more like it, and that brings us to the view ... which was incomparably spectacular as the first rays of Sun broke through the clouds!

The last time I'd seen the Canyon was on a stiflingly hot day in the middle of June. No snow, no sunrise, no hiking (not even any digital pictures!)... still quite awesome, but the big ol' hole in the ground improved on all counts this time through:

Looking out into the Canyon, snow covering the upper reaches of the walls

Erica, pleased to be here (and happy that it's warmed up since sunrise!)

Merely an optical illusion - I'm not really hanging over the abyss... even if I'd been told it looked a lot like I was.

The South Kaibab Trail took us about halfway down towards the bottom of the Canyon, making me really regret not having done any hiking the last trip! And wanting to come back for even more...

And this brought us to lunch time. The restaurant selection was surprisingly sparse - the quality did not disappoint though, as we headed back to El Tovar, the same lodge where we had had a delicious breakfast at 7 that morning. What was a concern ... was the 170 miles worth of highway that still still lay between us and Prescott. A drive through the night, an hour of [blissful] sleep in the car, a couple of hours of hiking in the fresh mountainous air, followed by a wholly rewarding Beef Stroganoff for lunch ... a good recipe for a four hour drive this does not make. We set off anyway - Erica left firmly in charge of making sure I stayed awake. Geography - good choice, Erica! In fact, we were sufficiently certain of my awakedness to feel compelled to make one last little detour on the way down and catch a glimpse of Sedona - a magical, spiritual, hippie tourism center in the center of the state, renowned for its mystical energy vortexes and [deservedly] famous for the giant rock formations invading the town from all sides:

The Courthouse Butte, presiding over its surroundings. All the biggest rocks have been named around here

Chapel of the Holy Cross, spectacularly nestling itself in amongst the giant rocks

This shot was particularly indicative - Sedona isn't a park, a preserve, not even some remote, inaccessible area - the rocks are just right all over town. At times, simply flanking the highway.

And finally, later that evening we reached Prescott, caught up with Cat, sharing a bottle of wine, and were rewarded with a full night's sleep. Next day's adventures in a post to follow!

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