The Southwest United States is truly beautiful any time, but in the winter, the serenity seems to be compounded. There are fewer people, the temperatures are more bearable and the snow adds a beautiful dimension.
We planned a 5-day trip to start and end up in Las Vegas, NV. I had to be in Vegas for a tradeshow, Digital Signage Expo 2010. Make good use of National Park Service website www.nps.gov and also be sure to get the $80 NPS Passport for the whole year (otherwise each NPS visit is $25 per car).
Day 1: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon via Hoover Dam. Total time: 6 hours with 1 hour at Hoover Dam.
View from Hoover Dam, construction of new bridge
The last time was in Hoover Dam was in 1988 and 1989, in 2 of my 3 cross-country drives. In those days, you just parked on the bridge and peered down. Now there is a fancy visitor center, indoor parking garage and several parking lots. The 1950s bridge and the structures built on the bridge including public restrooms were truly artful and depicting that era.
The grandeur of Grand Canyon in evening light
The drive was peaceful and characteristic of any southwest drive: lots of mesas in the distance, red clay, shrubs and small trees in the desert plateau, and a highway that is very sparse and tranquil.
Snow on south rim below El Tovar & Bright Angel Lodge
Clearly, they are planning for more traffic as the road from Las Vegas to Kingman, AZ is being widened and a new bridge over the Colorado river (parallel to Hoover Dam) is being built. This might also be a security measure to protect Hoover Dam, a vital power resource for Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the southwest, and an important dam, and also serves as the bridge over Colorado river. Such a vital resource could easily be a target if it is easily accessed by vehicular traffic.
When I was a student, traveling in my hatchback, I camped when I got to Grand Canyon. This time we got a room facing the South Rim in Bright Angel Lodge. The changing light provided so much beauty and grandeur to this vast and beautiful canyon.
Day 2: Grand Canyon to Page, AZ. Total time: 3h30 mins, including 30 mins at various lookout areas.
You cannot get too much of Grand Canyon, so we toured west from Bright Angel Lodge to Hermit’s Point.
NOTE: There is excellent shuttle transportation, which is the ONLY way to get around in the summer months (starting May 1), but in the winter, you are allowed to drive around in your own car.
Walk into Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona
After more visits to the panoramic Yavapai Observation Point and Desert View on the west entrance of the park, we made our way out of the Park to Page, AZ, via Rt 64, a very, very quiet and picturesque Arizona highway, and then hitting Rt 89, which was a fast north-south thoroughfare.
Dinner at the Fiesta Mexicana Family Restaurant was very cozy, full of art and sculptures and great Mexican food!
We were all ready for guided tour to the slot canyon in Navajo country called Upper Antelope canyon. You go in 4-wheel drive vehicles with Navajo guides (about 15 to a vehicle), about 20 minutes, mostly through sand dunes and backcountry to arrive at the beautiful slot canyon. You walk right through it–the entire tour through the canyon (about 5 feet it its narrowest point, but up to about 15 feet across mostly) has all shades of light coming in–takes about 30 minutes to get through to the other side.
Lower Antelope Canyon (we did not go there) is accessed from the top, not the bottom and is run by another Navajo family. Clearly the two families have some kind of dispute going on (it would make their business much more lucrative if they cooperated provide a package deal).
Day 3: Page to Zion National Park, UT: 2h30 mins, including 30 mins at various lookout areas.
On Zion Mt Carmel Highway
We loved Page and Antelope Canyon and the beauty all around. In the summer Page is famous for the watersport on Lake Powell, but in the winter, it was pure serenity.
One of the hazards of winter travel is snow.
Beautiful mountain in Zion National Park in Winter
We were meant to go to Bryce Canyon at stay the night at Best Western Ruby’s Inn (and looking forward to the heated pool–most hotels in the Southwest have outdoor pools that are used only in 3 season), but we got word that there were several feet of snow in and around Bryce Canyon National Park.
We, therefore, decided to go straight to Zion National Park, which did not disappoint.
Red mountains and red earth everywhere with melange of fresh white snow.
Zion Lodge, built in the 1920s is right in the park and there was availability, but we instead decided to stay at the Best Western right outside the park’s south entrance. Unlike the famous Ruby’s in Bryce NP, the Best Western in Zion is nothing special, although the view from the back of gigantic spectacular mountains (and the setting sun) was truly memorable. Dinner at the mile-long, western town–simple oven-baked pizza + beer–was conclusion to a spectacular day. And snow had stopped!
Day 4: Zion NP to Las Vegas, NV: 3h30 mins, including 30 mins at various lookout points.
Guess what! It was snowing and about 4 inches had accumulated–hiking was going to be a tough (or fun!).
We decided to go up canyon on Zion Canyon Scenic drive, to Temple of Sinawava (last 2 miles is walking along the Virgin River)
up to The Narrows. Then a short hike to Weeping Rock, pictures with the famous Three Patriarchs, and it drive out of Zion National Park on Rt 9 to Las Vegas.
Day 5: Las Vegas.
Paris in Las Vegas is a good resting spot
Live Opera at an indoor Venetian Square in Las Vegas (the sky is not real!)
In little over 3 hours from Zion NP, we were in the heart of Las Vegas strip. The serenity was gone, but there was the Vegas energy and crowds.
Paris Hotel was a good resting spot after a few days of US South West trip. Never ceases to amaze me how Vegas mimics some of the greatest landmarks and does a fairly good job of it, such as Eiffel Tower at 50% size of the original in Paris, France. This time I went inside the Venetian Hotel, with the canals, gondola, opera singers and sky that looks life-like, but its a lot of artful painting and lighting.
We will remember this beautiful US southwest trip for a long time…