– Flagstaff, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada-

So as you might imagine, I’m writing this post from the morning of New Year’s Day, rather than last night, even though this is the post for New Year’s Eve. It would’ve been pretty hard to write it last night after we got back to our hotel around 1:15am.

Yesterday morning, we got out of bed around 6, a little worried that we’d be waking up to a winter wonderland, and our trip to the Grand Canyon would be put on hold. Luckily, it turned out that it never quite made it to freezing over night, so our potential 3 inches of snow turned into a bit of cold rain instead. The parking lot of our hotel was still a little icy, but it was icy when we got there, too, so it didn’t change much.

Snow in the Grand Canyon

Mom was really disappointed with the hotel when she went down to get her morning coffee. The La Quinta didn’t have a working coffee or juice machine. They didn’t even have any replacements made. They just put out a pitcher of water, like that made it better. On top of that, all of the bananas were bruised and they didn’t have much else in the way of decent breakfast offerings. It was a relatively nice La Quinta, too. Perhaps we should blame it on the snow from earlier in the week? Maybe they were poorly supplied.

In any event, we made it out of the hotel before 8am, and we were on the road to the Grand Canyon. We were a little worried about the weather conditions up there, especially when we got to the base of the road that led up into the park. The road had two signs: one that said it was closed in 35 miles, and one that said the Grand Canyon was in 27 miles. Since we’d planned to continue down that road once we finished at the Grand Canyon, that wouldn’t have been ideal, but we definitely wanted to see the canyon, so we forged ahead.

The Watchtower in the fog

As we followed the road to the park, the sides of the highway kept getting snowier and snowier, and the air became dense with fog. Who knew the Grand Canyon was ever socked in? When we finally made it to the park entrance, Mark bought our Annual National Park Pass for next year. It was December 31, but instead of stamping the card for January, the ranger stamped it for December. It will expire at the end of December next year, instead of the end of January, which makes me a little sad. We only had one day left in December!

The ranger told us that visibility was low, but that he was pretty sure the road past the park was open. Inside the park, the trees and ground were covered in snow, and the roads were even a little slick in places. We were totally surprised. The weather changed from dry to snowy in about a half mile! In fact, the wind was still peppering our car with tiny snowflakes as we drove ahead to our first lookout.

Grand Canyon in the clouds

We pulled into the parking lot for the Desert View Watchtower, which was half-covered in snow, to find that at 9am, we were one of only 3 vehicles in the whole massive lot. And when we got out of the car, we discovered in was also freezing cold. The path to the visitor center and the watchtower was covered in slushy snow and ice, so we had to duck walk back to the tower.

Visibility was very low. We could barely see the watchtower as we approached it, let alone the canyon. It’s hard to imagine that there’s this massive canyon just feet away, and yet you can’t see a thing, even though the fog was only over it, not really down inside of it. Still, we dutifully climbed the tower, which was neat to see all by itself. They had a few demonstrations going on on the ground floor, and from the windows, we could see tiny glimpses of the canyon below.

Snow on the cliffs

It’s worth mentioning here that while Mark and I have visited the Grand Canyon before, my parents have never seen it. This was their first visit, and we were really disappointed to miss seeing it entirely. Luckily, we still had at least another hour to drive through the park, so we hoped the fog would clear off a bit to give us a look at the canyon. When we left the tower, we stopped by the little cafe off to the side and bought hot chocolates to warm up (especially our hands). We resolved then and there to all find our gloves before the next time we ventured outside.

Our next stop was not at the first lookout, but the second: Lipan Point. We almost missed it, thinking the canyon was still completely covered in fog, but as we drove past the first entrance, we realized we could actually see a reasonable portion of the canyon. We were thrilled, and luckily, there was a second entrance to the viewpoint a little further down the road. We scrambled out of the car like little kids to go look at the snowy GranD Canyon. The view was fantastic, despite the fact that part of the canyon was still shrouded in the fog.

So much more of the Canyon is visible

Normally, when you visit the canyon in the summer (when Mark and I last went) the air is so painfully clear and dry that the far rim is hazy and indistinct. I felt like in some ways, the fog added to the view, because it concealed parts of the canyon, but it made other places seem brighter and more interesting. It was great. I loved seeing it in the snow.

Since our first stop was so successful, we stopped again at Moran Point, where we took more photographs and enjoyed the snow. There was a guy out past the fencing, climbing a little rocky point out over the canyon. My parents took to referring to him as “the idiot.” One of the other visitors, who mentioned she’d been doing search and rescue work over the summer, said he was the sort of fellow she would get called out to help. The park was becoming more lively by this point, now that it was later in the morning.

The Idiot

Grandview Point, our next stop, was not a particularly grand view. Whether it was only from the fog, or just from the view itself, this particular spot was quite a bit less impressive. Still, we had fun stomping through the snow and looking around.

The major stop in the Grand Canyon is at the big visitor center and Grand Canyon Village, which is on the far end of the park just before you turn south to head out. By the time we got there, the fog had descended once more, and visibility was back to nothing.

The view lost in the fog

We made a tour of the visitor center and bought a few odds and ends at the gift shop across the way before heading out to the viewpoint. It wasn’t much of a view, but this time I know it was just the fog. The views from this spot the last time we were there were spectacular. On our way out, we grabbed sandwiches from the little cafe and headed back to the car to head down out of the park and off toward Nevada.

Once again, it only took a mile or so to totally leave the snow. Perhaps an hour later, when we stopped for gas, we didn’t see any snow at all. In fact, the weather was so pleasant that we didn’t even need jackets anymore. The rain had even stopped.

Ripley is a weird dog

I can’t say that we did much that was interesting between the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. We ate our lunch in the car and stopped for gas, and that’s about the long and short of it. we didn’t technically go down to Hoover Dam, either, though we did drive through the entrance station. There’s a new-ish bridge that looks down on the dam from the far side, next to the road, and Mark wanted to walk across it. The parking lot for it is part the security checkpoint, but not all the way down at the dam.

My parents weren’t interested in another long trek out just to take more photos, so Mark and I practically jogged up all of the stairs to the top of the little hill and across the saddle to the bridge on the other side. He took some pretty cool photos. It is interesting how much less impressive Hoover Dam looks from so high up and far away. It really loses its immensity when you aren’t right on top of it.

Hoover Dam

We also pulled off to look at Lake Meade, just back outside security. The lake is… depressing… for lack of a better word. It’s so much worse than the lake we saw the other day, where the water was so low. Lake Meade’s water goes to Vegas and off somewhere into California, and my god, they are sucking it dry. It’s probably a half mile down from its previous shoreline, maybe more. You can see the stark lines on the rocky islands where the water used to cover them.

After our sad litle look at Lake Meade, we were only about a half hour from Vegas. We rolled in to our hotel around 4:00pm, I believe, after the time changed at the Nevada border. Pacific Time, now. Our hotel was a Motel 6. Under normal circumstances, you can get a room at the Vegas Motel 6 for about $60 bucks a night. On New Year’s Eve, the room costs $230. Unfortunately, it was all they had when we were booking, and it was several miles from the Strip. They were even late with cleaning our room, so they told us to wait outside about 20 minutes until it was clean. When 20 minutes had passed with no sign of cleaning, Mark checked the room, and it was already clean. Jerks.

Lake Meade. See the parking lot back from the lake?

Just beside our hotel was an older, smaller casino called the Boulder Station. Boulder Station had a dinner buffet, and since Mom was really interested in having a Vegas buffet dinner, we decided to visit it. It wasn’t actually our first choice, since we wanted some of the other places more, but it cost the least. According to their website, it was $10.99 a person, but I guess we got the special New Year’s rate, because it was nearly $25, even when you signed up for their stupid casino points card and got the discount.

It also took us more than 1.5 hours to get a table. That’s right, we waited in line for that long for buffet food. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was great if you liked crab legs and prime rib, but it wasn’t spectacular for vegetarian food. The salad bar was really lame, but we endured. The mashed potatoes and baby bok choy were fantastic. While we were waiting in line, the cashier answered a phone call and told someone on the line that the wait for the buffet was 3 hours by then. Luckily, we were finally at the front, so we weren’t concerned. I don’t think I’d wait that long for food again. I’d rather have a $5 sandwich, thank you. It was an experience though, I’ll give it that.

Mark’s plate at The Feast Buffet at Boulder Station Casino

We stopped just before we left for Dad to play a couple of games on one of the slot machines. While we sat around watching him, someone came over and asked for my ID. Apparently I don’t look old enough to be on the casino floor. I wasn’t drinking or anything, they were apparently just concerned that the gambling was damaging my (teenage?) psyche. I don’t actually know how old you have to be to be gambling. I thought it was 18, which must make me look pretty young indeed.

From our buffet, we walked back over to our hotel to check on our four-legged kids and give them a bit of dinner. It was already nearly 9pm, since the buffet took so long, so we had to stuff our poor critters back in their cages and hurry off to catch the bus down to the Strip.

The Palazzo on the Strip

Why the bus, you might be wondering? Well, parking downtown when you aren’t staying there and they’ve closed the entire Strip to vehicles on New Year’s Eve sounded pretty difficult, so we decided not to even try it. We just took the bus, which stopped pretty close to our hotel and went all the way down to the very end of the Strip. It wasn’t in the thick of things, really, but it was good enough for what we wanted.

Our bus ride took about 45 minutes, and since it was free for New Year’s and the route had changed with the Strip’s closure, there was a lot of confusion on the bus. I bet the bus driver was really sick of people by the end of the night. Everyone wanted to know how to get to various places, and the driver only knew his own route. People were frustrated. Regardless, we made it.

Mark and Kristy waiting for the fireworks

We ended up walking a little ways to Treasure Island, where we spent about an hour and a half while Mom and Dad played video poker. Mark and I mostly watched. We played a few games, but mostly we wandered around and people-watched. Gambling isn’t really our thing. We bought tea and coffee at the little CVS inside the casino, which was interesting, I thought, and got change for my parents when they wanted a few more ones.

They aren’t really real gamblers either. My mom took $50 dollars to play with, and they played machines that cost $0.25 per bet. At the end of the night, even with buying a couple of margaritas, Mom came away with $45 of her $50. Dad won it all back for her.

Midnight Fireworks on the Strip

Just before midnight, we walked back out onto our little end of the Strip to watch the fireworks. It was much colder by then, and Mark was forced to serve as a Kristy-warmer while we waited for the show. He didn’t seem to mind too much.

The fireworks lasted about 8 minutes. I don’t really like the way they did them, though I know it makes more sense for the circumstances. I really enjoy the longer, drawn out fireworks you see on the 4th of July rather than the overwhelming, rapid-fire ones we saw last night, but I think they used the same amount of fireworks, they just crammed them into a much shorter period. Regardless, they were lovely.

Waiting at the temporary bus stop

After the fireworks, people rushed out of the area like stampeding wildebeasts. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go back to catch our bus, and most of the crowd was moving back into the nearby casinos. Our bus picked us up just after 12:30am, so we made it back to our hotel around 1:15. After walking the dogs and brushing our teeth, everyone immediately crashed for the night.

For New Year’s Day, we’re heading to Death Valley, and we will be there for two nights. It should be a lot of fun. I’m not sure if it can top the Grand Canyon, but we’ll certainly give it the chance.

– Trip Total : 1,486 miles

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