If you’re travelling to Las Vegas you must try and squeeze in a trip to the Grand Canyon. Yes, Vegas offers amazing sights, and the city’s casino designers have created unbelievable experiences, including a volcano erupting on the hour and incredible rainstorms in shopping malls. But nothing can match the spectacular sight that awaits you around two hours away from Vegas.
It’s awe-inspiring. You’ll be stunned into silence when you first survey its vibrant colour and scale. Bill Cavenagh of Big Horn Wild West Tours can take you from Las Vegas. His trips pass through the ancient Joshua tree forest. You’ll travel in a massive 4×4 Hummer vehicle and he promises you’ll go off-road for an experience that the coaches can’t offer.
So what is a Joshua tree forest? I felt a little foolish as I asked Bill because he spoke about it as if I should immediately understand. The only time I’ve came across the term was back in the 80s when I bought a U2 album! Bill says it’s a very dense forest but nothing like your normal perception of one and certainly not a rainforest. You are, of course, in the Mojave Desert. It’s a very odd looking tree but really interesting up close, especially when you get to the flowering season in the springtime which happens every two years. Maybe you want to call ahead to make sure you’ve picked the right year!
Once you arrive at the Canyon everybody travels onto the shuttle bus, which is operated by the Hualapai Native Americans who own the rights to tour parties in the Western Grand Canyon. The buses take you around to the viewpoint and it’s there where you will experience the might of the canyon for the first time. Bill says its size is put into scale when you see the tour helicopters pass through the canyon. They look like toys as they descend to the bottom of the valley floor past the mighty rock walls – in places it is 4,000 feet from the rim down to the Colorado River. Incredible isn’t it?
Now I don’t know whether you have a head for heights or whether you’re travelling there with friends and want to claim bragging rights. But this could be for you – the Skywalk! Bill offers a chance to walk on the horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that juts out 75 feet over the edge. He says it’s a, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience and words can’t describe what you feel as you look down and see the canyon beneath the glass under your feet. I can think of the words that describe how I would feel and sadly I can’t print them here!
“It’s not for the feint of heart,” Bill laughs. So what do people say to Bill when they see the canyon for the first time? Believe it or not some people start crying. He told me it’s such an emotionally charged experience that it can reduce the toughest man to tears.
As you might imagine the Las Vegas area is very hot so when I spoke to Bill in July temperatures were topping 110°F. Too hot for Brits! A knotted handkerchief on your head won’t save you. Bill suggests visiting in September through until March, although he does advise that the canyon’s elevation a few thousand feet higher than Las Vegas means it will be a little cooler and, of course, as this is America, all vehicles offer icy air conditioning.
The tour has been designed to enhance visitors’ Las Vegas experience. They pick up at around 6am and that helps them stay ahead of the influx of sightseers with the bus tours. Bill says they aim to have you back at your accommodation between 2.30pm and 4pm, so you’re ready for an evening on the strip or playing the slots.
If you’re spending time in Las Vegas I’d recommend seeing the Grand Canyon. After 48 hours in the incredible, but artificial, environments of Vegas you might want a reality check. But then again, the Canyon is such a mind-blowing experience it almost seems unreal. Book Bill’s tours at bighornwildwesttours.com.