Travels Without Miranda, #3: Flying from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

My first morning in Las Vegas had me being driven down the Strip to McCarran airport in a stretch limo.

There, I climbed into a tiny helicopter that took me over the Mojave desert, within view of Mead Lake and the Hoover dam, all the way to the Grand Canyon. We landed within it and were given time to explore and enjoy a champagne brunch.

Let’s just say this was a more luxe experience than I normally go for. I was until then a backpacker, a camper, a youth hosteler, not someone who stays at a nice hotel and drinks fancy drinks by a pool lined with palm trees! And I most certainly was a frugal traveler, not one who would do such extravagant things as take a half-day helicopter ride from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. Nope!

I’m not sure what came over me during my planning of my southwest road trip. I’ll plead mental exhaustion, what with the stress of having lost my dad earlier that year. I needed to be pampered and catered-to, to do things just for fun to reawaken my zest for life. I didn’t know if I’d ever come back to that part of the US and I was so close to the Grand Canyon. The helicopter jaunt sounded like the perfect way to see the Canyon with the time I had available to me. It just about broke my budget, but it is now one of my most cherished memories.

Rather than taking photos during this jaunt, I made full use of the video setting on my camera, so the following images are stills from my movies, explaining the poor quality. Unfortunately, the second half of my Grand Canyon recordings have been lost due to reshuffling between several computers. I have managed to save a picture of me at the bottom of the canyon, proof enough that I was there even if someone did tell me that the image seems to be photoshopped. 😀

a glimpse of the Strip

a glimpse of the Strip

Lake Mead

Lake Mead

Mojave desert

Mojave desert

Colorado River and the Grand Canyon

Colorado River and the Grand Canyon

a non-photoshopped picture of me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

a non-photoshopped picture of me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Sometimes you end up in a place where you get the chance to experience an incredible adventure. Do it and @%@$ the budget. I applied this lesson when I decided to hike the Chilkoot Pass at a time when I financially had no business doing so.

Sunday through Wednesday

It is as though I have lived a thousand lifetimes since my last post.

I have pictures through to Monday night. Tuesday night, I discovered that my camera was malfunctioning and I lost all of my Tuesday pics. *sobs* This is why I stopped traveling with a camera and will never again travel with one.

So, here is a very short recap of the last four days.


I waved goodbye to the Pacific Ocean, left my heart in San Francisco, drove across the whole width of California through the Sierra Nevadas and the Mojave desert to a glittering oasis dedicated to grown-up hedonism.

(Gee, not something I ever thought I’d write….)

I have a ton of pics and .avi files of this trek, but this ancient IE browser won’t let me upload pics to Blogger, so they’ll have to wait. Sorry! 🙂

I was staying at the Gold Coast, conveniently located on Flamingo just past the I-15 off ramp, so I got into Vegas very easily. The hotel is fantastic–not too big (compared to other Vegas hotels), very clean, very friendly, and very well located with a free shuttle to the Strip (5 minute drive).


I was picked up bright and early at my hotel and was driven down the Strip to McCarran airport in… a black stretch limo. I kid you not. My first view of the Las Vegas Strip was from the back seat of a limo. You have to do that once in your life!

At McCarran, we were quickly loaded (crammed) into an itsy bitsy helicopter.

The flight to our landing site in the Grand Canyon was something I cannot describe in words. We saw Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam and the Colorado River and beautifully planned communities and the site of filming of the end of ‘Thelma and Louise’…. Even though I felt very queasy, the 45 minute flight was the stuff of dreams.

The Grand Canyon is something grander than pictures and film can convey. It is an archaeological layer cake with a river running at the bottom, a place where rusty red is cut only by pure blue sky. I actually have two pictures of me there.

Our tour included a small breakfast, which included champagne. I imbibed, even though it was only about 9:30. I mean, how many times in your life will you get to drink champagne at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?!

The flight back was just as spectacular and finished off with a flyover of the Strip. Again, something that needs to be experienced!

The limo was waiting at McCarran to whisk me back to my hotel, where I arrived at 11! I had done a full day’s excitement in just three hours and I was beat! Still, I took off for the Strip using the shuttle.

There, I explored the south Strip and crossed a few things off my Vegas to-do list,like visit the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, King Tut’s tomb at the Luxor (SO worth it!!!!!), and stroll through Excalibur and New York, New York. It was HOT but not a sticky hot. With plenty of water, I came to discover that arid hot is extremely tolerable. That said, I wonder how anyone living in that sort of climate can be obese. I lose my appetite until I’ve been back in air conditioning for several hours!

Let me pause here to add that I was only planning to stay two nights in Vegas, but I was so tired when I arrived on Sunday that I decided to extend my stay by one night.

I’m so glad I did.

I absolutely LOVED Vegas. It wasn’t until I let myself succumb to its excesses that I realised that I’ve been very cold for a very long time. Sin City warmed up a place deep inside me that I’d forgotten even existed.

(Of course, palm tree lined pools with cute Latino cabana boys in tight red shorts and white tank tops showing off their rippling muscles as they adjust your lawn chair probably added to this feeling….).

I headed back to the hotel pretty early since I was famished and had a free buffet dinner coupon for there. I was planning to turn in early after a delightful swim, but realised that, hey, I was in Vegas! When else would I get to see the Strip at night?!

So, I did something completely out of character and went back to the Strip for a couple of hours, visiting Bally’s and Paris and Caesar’s Palace and watching the fountains dance at the Bellagio.

When I did finally return to the hotel for the night, it was LATE. I prevailed myself of a free cocktail as a nightcap, went up to my room, and just about passed out. Talk about a full day!


Warning: MAJOR geekiness ahead. Really. This will probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about me.

First, the slightly non-geeky part.

I spent the early part of the morning at Circus Circus where I played at the arcade and won some useful and not so useful stuff like a Vegas mug and a lollipop. Then, it was off to the Hilton to use up a ticket I’d blessedly gotten for a half-price to attend… The Star Trek Experience.

(this is your final warning about the geekiness ahead)

I spent about five hours doing the whole Star Trek schtick there and it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time doing something silly with just about no redeeming value at all.

I got growled at by a Klingon, was accosted by a Ferengi who liked my head scarf, ate Moogie’s pasta and Changeling cheesecake at Quark’s bar and restaurant with an Andorian sitting next to me, was almost assimilated by the Borg, rode down the Strip in an Enterprise shuttle (now THAT has to be experienced!) with Klingons firing full phasers at us until we were rescued by the Enterprise, sat in the Captain’s chair on a perfect replica of the TNG era Enterprise bridge, saw more original props and costumes from the movies and shows than I could have ever dreamt, and fondled the very torpedo that was used in the movies and was touched by the likes of Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley. FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL

I spent the rest of the day exploring as many more casinos as I had the energy for, including the Wynn, the Venetian (Mme Tussaud’s Wax Museum, where I HAD a picture of myself with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, *sobs*), the Mirage (dolphin habitat and the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden with beautiful white tigers, lions, and panthers), and the Treasure Island.

One loses most sense of time in Las Vegas. Things open late in the morning, but once they’re open, they are until very late and there are no clocks anywhere. Imagine my shock when it was going on eight when I finally decided that I should hike back to the Wynn where I’d left my car and I hadn’t even had dinner yet!

I got in, had a small dinner (still full from the delicious offerings at Quark’s, which was surprising value, incidently, serving quality food at reasonable prices), prevailed myself of a free sorbet scoop, gambled a bit (a dollar can go a LONG way in Vegas!), got another free margarita, and then went back to my room to look at the day’s pictures….

Which brings me to today, WEDNESDAY:

I didn’t waste much time this morning and was back on the I-15 for by 10:30. Except for a stretch of construction at Victorville my drive to my current location was very easy.

I am currently in Hollywood. On Sunset Boulevard, to be more exact.

As soon as the LA skyline came into view for the first time, I found myself thinking: “Raven, what the FUCK are you doing here?”

LA scares the crap out of me. I didn’t even want to get off the interstate until my exit even though I badly needed gas in case I wound up in a bad part of town (have any of you seen ‘Judgement Night’ or ‘Grand Canyon’?).

I found my hotel very easily and it’s perfectly fine, to my surprise. I booked in a huge hurry yesterday from the Wynn, picking the cheapest thing I could find on Orbitz that had a decent rating and it’s very good, with a freshly renovated bathroom and free wi-fi. For 71$ (including tax) I was pretty nervous about what I’d find!

At any rate, I have no intention of staying more than another day in this city. The only way to get around is by car and I’m not comfortable driving here. I saw two of my CityPass attractions tonight and will do the last two tomorrow morning, then I’m leaving.

The first thing I did tonight was hike down to quintessential Hollywood, that is the Grauman Chinese Theatre and Kodak Theatre area. I saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame, all the stars on the sidewalk, and let me say that like with everything else in Hollywood, it’s pretty pathetic, very worn and unkempt. At the Chinese theatre, I oggled some handprints in cement (including Mr. Gregory Peck’s) and signed up for my two hour tour of the movie star homes. This alone was the reason I bought the CityPass tour booklet.

The two hour tour was absolutely fabulous and took us through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We went up into the Hollywood Hills and saw some star mansions like Penny Marshall’s, Brad Pitt’s old place (now Sean and Robin Wright Penn’s), Harrison Ford’s (!!!), Rebecca DeMornay’s, Charlize Theron’s, and Ben Stiller’s. We then headed up Mullholland Drive to a little observatory place to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and the whole of LA down below. Breathtaking view!

The most memorable places I then saw in Beverly Hills were the Osbourne residence, the Lopez-Anthony home (very cozy, by McMansion standards), the Cruise-Holmes service gate, and Ringo Starr’s home… where someone was arriving in a very fancy car. Anyone know if Ringo Starr is home these days?! LOL We also saw Rodeo Drive from where it starts as a residential street with ‘starter homes’ (going for, oh, 6 million or so) to the famous shopping strip.

In Hollywood per se, we saw the place where Lindsay Lohan had her DUI (oookay), the Viper Room, Sunset Plaza, the temple where Elizabeth Taylor married one of her husbands, and more.

What I took away from this tour is that stars are insane to live here. The Hollywood Hills area has nice homes, yes, but they’re on narrow poorly maintained roads and many have no driveways. Kevin Smith now owns the house Ben Affleck shared with Jennifer Lopez and his Escalade was parked on the street. Same thing at Rebecca DeMornay’s where we almost clipped her Lexus. Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd are not even remotely glamourous, but rather dirty streets reeking of urine with dilapidated shop fronts. I have to say that it’s exactly what I was expecting, unfortunately enough. Beverly Hills, though, was post card perfect.

After the tour, I went to the Hollywood Wax museum which was okay, but nothing compared to Mme. Tussaud’s (where you were actually encouraged to touch the figures). I found that the figures weren’t particularly life like, but the horror gallery was much better than at Tussaud’s (for one thing, no one jumped out at me!). My CityPass gave me 5$ off admission to the Guiness World Records Museum, so I went in. Like the Wax Museum, it is very tired, dirty, and its exhibits need to be updated.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a walking tour of Hollywood, then visiting the Kodak theatre and possibly the Hollywood Museum in the Max Factor building. Then, if I can find it, I’ll go stroll around the Griffith Park Observatory (giving in to my MacGyver geekiness here), then I’m heading for San Diego. I’ll be spending the night there, visiting Mexico Friday morning, then heading back towards San Francisco via highway one, stopping somewhere past LA to sleep so I can have an easy drive to SF on Saturday.

I never thought I’d ever say this on vacation, but I actually think I’m ready to go home. I’ve done so much this past week that it feels I’ve been gone a lot longer than I have.

The Plan

I am about to embark on the most structured trip I’ve ever taken, even more so than my month in Scotland in that I have actually made reservations. My fixed itinerary is such:

June 19th: depart Ottawa in early AM to arrive in San Francisco by dinnertime, with a four hour layover in Vancouver
June 20th to June 23rd (inclusive): explore San Francisco, with a trip to Alcatraz booked for the 23rd
June 24th: drive to Las Vegas by way of Sacramento and Reno, to arrive sometime in the early evening at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino
June 25th: spending the morning on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, with a flyover the Strip upon returning to Vegas

Then things get fuzzy. I’m not sure if I’m leaving Las Vegas the 26th or 27th, but I’ll spend the second half of the week in Los Angeles, concentrating on Hollywood. Depending on how late in the week I arrive there, I’m hoping to have time for a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. Whatever I do, I must be back in San Francisco by June 30th.

July 1st: depart SF mid-day to arrive in Ottawa very late after a 1.75 hour layover in Calgary.