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A road trip from Sin City through the desert plains of the south west and to the Grand Canyon delivers some diverse experiences. By Rebecca Kent.

It almost defies belief, as we hover in 
a helicopter over the neon-lit Las Vegas strip, that a beam of light directed skywards from the pyramid-shaped Luxor casino can be seen from space.

The giant laser, like a stairway to heaven, joins the Great Barrier Reef and The Great Wall of China as wonders on the Earth’s surface that can be seen from the stars.

The most bizarre thing is that it emanates from a colossal temple dedicated to high-rolling and hedonistic fervor, where surrendering to your vices is a given.

The helicopter flight is just a taste of what's to come, a dangling carrot at the end of 
a four-day, 1600km odyssey from Nevada's Sin City to the windy wastelands of Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, via an Indian reservation and a cowboy ranch.

"Come in for breaststroke and not just for swimmers," beseeches a billboard that is typical of Las Vegas’ tawdriness.

It shrinks out of sight as the burnished surfaces of Las Vegas fade into the distance as we drive under Nevada's hot sun, along miles of vast desert.

I watch as swathes of nothingness, broken intermittently by low-lying mountains whizzing by, contemplating that the word 'big' really is a byword for America. There are the sandy plains straddling endlessly long roads as well as the mountains with giant letters etched into the side: ‘F’ for Fredonia, ‘H’ for Hurricane. You’ll never get lost.

Then there are the titan-sized dams. The Glen Canyon Dam marks our entry into Arizona. A colossal convex concrete wall, rising 216 metres out of Lake Powell, it is a feat of human engineering.

Built during the decade from 1956, the dam, wedged into the Glen Canyon, took 17 years to fill and now supplies water and electricity to millions of people. However, they don’t all appreciate it. The site has been the subject of bomb plots from environmentalists for many years. But, politics aside, its size and surroundings are sights to behold.

The dam interrupts the Glen Canyon, a jewel in the crown of the 2300km mighty Colorado River, and where climber Aron Ralston cut off his arm after becoming trapped by a boulder, as documented in the film 127 Hours.
The canyon's sweeping walls swirl with a rainbow of earthy hues, dwarfing rafting groups that appear as colourful specks below. I could marvel all day, but my American adventure promised cowboys and horses and I'm off to find them.

Paria Canyon Ranch sticks out like a raw hind along a desolate stretch of Route 89 in the south of Utah. We are greeted by a tall, broad man with a bushy grey beard that shrouds a warm smile.

His substantial paunch bursts over a statement belt-buckle and his white cowboy hat completes the look. He is the handyman about the ranch and, as I discover, he makes mean work of a T-bone on a four-burner.

As my group and I survey the dusty campground and shallow foothills of the Grand Canyon around us, we are beckoned on to the back of a truck by ranch owner Eastan Tully. He rip-roars us, doors wide open, Bon Jovi blasting, the few yards to the stables. At his insistence, I jump-roll through the saloon-style doors, lost for a moment in what could be a scene from a Western movie. It hurts a little, but ‘stirrup’ I tell myself. A chance to come this close to an American cliché is rare.

Eastan is a rogue cowboy. He's like a flirtatious ranch kid that revels in attention. His cowboy hat shading his weather-beaten face, he thrusts his pelvis back and forth, back and forth, for longer than necessary, demonstrating how to ride a horse. "You gotta ride with your hips," he instructs in his southern drawl.

Saddled up, we circumnavigate large rocky mounds through an arid wilderness, petite desert flowers dancing in the breeze and tumbleweed blowing by. There's a decrepit hut where Mormon horse-owners used to stay to feed their wandering herds. It seems they moved on a long time ago.

After watching the sun, a perfect orb, melt into the horizon, it's time to quit horsing around and move on to our next adventure. Where there are cowboys there are Indians – and we discover them 236km further south along Route 89 at Monument Valley. It’s a spellbinding 3218-sq-km desert valley characterised by giant red sandstone structures known as 'buttes' and 'mesas'.

On the approach, through the 'Painted Desert' – a landscape of pastel pinks, browns and streaks of brilliant vermilion – a white population gives way to that of a darker skin. We are in Navajo Nation, the largest area of land in the US owned by American natives. Indian markets and traditional dwellings called hogans dot the approach to the sacred site.

Some Navajos still reside in hogans. The modern version is 
a six-sided log hut that has a smoke hole in the centre of the roof with a doorway facing east to receive the blessing of the day's first rays of sun.

Susie, a feeble 96-year-old Navajo matriarch to seven generations, invites us into her home. Dressed in traditional garb, she painstakingly demonstrates how to make a rug from raw wool, her face contorting into a squinted smile for photos. In return, she asks for $2 (60p) from each of us. It's a good way to earn a living – unemployment is rife among Navajos.

For the rest of the day, we're chauffeured around the valley by a Navajo guide, taking in ancient ruins, petroglyphs and 1000-metre-high rock formations that, if you squint and tilt your head, resemble all manner of animal life.
At twilight, we retire to the foot of what looks like an elephant, for a hearty Navajo taco.

Then, by the eerie light of 
a campfire, we gather to listen to the ancient stories told by 
a heavily decorated, dancing Navajo Indian. It's only now I can begin to appreciate this is a culture built around the elements of the Earth and fascinating mythology.


We're on our way again – it's finally time to meet the Grand Canyon – the Grand snow-covered Canyon, that is – and in spring! We detour off Route 89, south of Page, to take in Horse Shoe Bend, one of Mother Nature's little tricks in a world of sandstone and slick rock.

It's a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River and worth the hot, hilly trudge through thick sand for what is an unmissable photo opportunity.
Back in the canyon; it's clear Mother Nature has had a field day. The woodlands on the south rim are festooned with fluffy, falling snow and, as we undulate, it disappears and reappears again – a thick fog offers brief moments of reprieve.

As we stop, hoping to clap eyes on this fabled natural wonder, there is nothing but a disappointing heavy, hazy mist that fills a vast abyss. Luckily, it lifts momentarily to reveal the most spectacular scene I have ever seen; the Grand Canyon is so big, it's almost as though it goes on forever.

Despite the fact it's snowing and the area is prone to blizzard conditions, I decide to delve into it – it's likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I don't want to miss.

A 2.9km return route from the South Kaibab Trailhead takes us into the shallow depths of the canyon to a vertiginous viewing spot called Ooh Ahh Point, 2029m above the Colorado River. There were ‘ooh aahs’ aplenty as we take in the glorious vista before us.

However, no sooner have our appreciative noises faded, the peaceful landscape is shattered by our screams as we're encompassed by an icy blizzard. We make a run for it, back uphill. Back in the safety of our vehicle, I feel as though I have truly earned my stripes in the south-west American wilderness.

Now, Vegas, a Disneyland for the rampant and the reckless, is calling. En route, we stop in Seligman, a town on the old Route 66. It's cluttered with decorated, clapped-out cars and trucks, roadside cafes and all the tat, kitsch and memorabilia you'd expect to see along the mythologised Mother Road.

No visit here is complete without visiting Delgadillo's Snow Cap, a comedy cafe, where the door handle is on the hinge side, guests get fake mustard squirted in their faces, and, if you ask for a small drink, you'll get one the size of your fingernail.

At last, we're on our way to Vegas. The very idea of this Sin City – a land of hotels, casinos and shopping centres in the middle of the Nevada desert also seems like a joke. I have just 20 hours to make the most – and that's exactly what I intended to do. In true Hangover style, the bender's a blur.

But I remember it going something like this: drinking a smoky bacon martini in the Double Down Saloon – a dim and seedy little bar off the strip. Champagne. Piling into a limousine and tearing along the strip past the gondolas and canals of the Venetian hotel and the Bellagio Hotel’s musical fountains. Champagne.

Alighting in Downtown Vegas to witness the Fremont Street lights projection show, which brightens up this grimier part of the city every half an hour. Champagne. Rubbing shoulders with Elvises under the 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign and congratulating newlyweds. Champagne. Then the night culminates with excesses by the pool and waterfall at Tryst nightclub in the Wynn Hotel.

When morning breaks we jolt ourselves out of a haze with some indoor skydiving (vegasindoorskydiving.com). Despite every nerve in my body protesting, I'm propelled into the ceiling of a sealed chamber by a powerful blast of air.

It's not the most glamorous way to wrap up a trip to Vegas, but this is a place where everyone has seen it all anyway. And now, I have, too.

Need to know

When to go: Crowds flock to the south west during spring (Mar-June), summer (June-Sep) and fall (Sep-Dec) when the weather is mostly pleasant. Keep in mind that the Grand Canyon North Rim closes from late October to mid May each year. Las Vegas never sleeps.

Currency: US Dollar. 1 GBP =  1.63 USD

Accomodation: 
A double room at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas costs $55 (£33.64) and 
it's $119 (£73) at the Red Feather Lodge, 
near the Grand Canyon.

See: 
visitlasvegas.co.uk and nps.gov


Rebecca Kent travelled on Trek America's Las Vegas Mini Adventure.Prices start from £399 for four days land only, including accommodation (1 night camping + 1 night hogan + 1 night bunkhouse), three breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners, all internal transport by private adventure vehicle, a Navajo jeep tour and a tour leader.
trekamerica.co.uk


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Road trip! Travel through Nevada and Arizona, US, for a wild adventure
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