We left Page after breakfast and headed on into Nevada. We seemed to have recovered some time on our schedule, so we've decided to detour slightly so that we can see the Grand Canyon. The journey takes us through the rugged lands of the Navajo Territories - it's pretty barren here, with dust being thrown relentlessly across open orange plains, although the sun is a beautiful cloudless blue for the whole day.
The roadside is also scattered with strange, three-sided shacks, like abandoned sheds - these turn out to be trading posts for the local Navajo to sell their jewellery and craftwork including tomahawks, pottery and dreamcatchers. There's the definite air of the tourist trap about the merchandise, but we buy some bits and pieces any way - the lady we buy from looks to be in her sixties, wrapped in a heavy shawl against the cold and shade of the trading post. She's definitely Native American, so it at least feels like we're supporting local industry, even if the materials might have come from China.
We stop at a viewpoint that gives us our first view of the system of canyons that criss-crosses this part of the state. After passing a sign forewarning of the various things that can kill you around here (rattlesnakes, lizards, spiders, centipedes, scorpions and, presumably, heights), a short walk brings us to a hole in the ground that truly warrants the use of the word epic. The scale of the geography is hard to grasp, with a thrown rock failing to elicit a single sound as it presumably hit the ground hundreds (?) of metres below.
As we get back on the road, we start a slow but steady ascent. Snow creeps back onto the surrounding trees and the temperature drops through the floor. The plains we'd passed through previously were surprisingly warm, given the clear skies and high sun, but it's back to freezing as we head up towards the Grand Canyon National Park. We pull up into a well ordered car park - this place must be swarmed in the summer, so we're starting to see Disney-like levels of presentation - and walk towards the mock-Navajo tower that marks the viewpoint.
Well, if the scale of the previous canyon was hard to grasp, then the Grand Canyon is impossible to fathom. Seeing it in photos and movies, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Grand Canyon is a sort of impressively deep gorge, big for sure, but still hemmed in by cliffs on either side. The reality is that the canyon system is more like a deeply scoured gouge, like some interstellar giant has decided to take a shovel to the Earth and has had a bloody good go at digging the biggest hole they could. It's astounding, but I couldn't really register too much wonder - it's just too big to comprehend.
We try another viewpoint, at the main visitors centre, a little further into the park, but this is packed with tourists on coach tours from Las Vegas and we don't hang around for long. It's a bit jarring, especially for me, to move from the relative isolation Nick and I have experienced over the past couple of weeks, seeing people in handfuls in small towns, if at all, to being surrounded by hundreds of them, all at once. Needless to say, we don't hang around for long. We drive out through beautifully snow-frosted forests, branches heavy with fresh powder and sun lancing through the trees, and get back on the highway that will take us to Las Vegas.
If the few hundred people at the Grand Canyon was the cause of some culture-shock, then Vegas blew my mind wide open. Some of you might know that I grew up around hotels and have seen a pretty good cross section of the typology - but the Vegas hotels are something else entirely. We are staying in the Mirage, one of the Strip's classics, and I have never seen anything like it - it's like it's own city. We passed about ten restaurants, ranging from Michelin starred steak grills to New England bistros, a shopping mall's worth of shops and, of course, uncountable opportunities to hand over vast wads of cash to sense-destroying machines and surprisingly disinterested croupiers. There's even a dolphin encounter and white tiger enclosure, and that's just at the Mirage - all of the other big hotels offer similar attractions - it's bonkers.
We got to our room and, after a quick costume change (I'm still cutting a sharp figure in my hiking gear and dust covered boots), we head out onto the strip. A brief walk, and is brief as the strip is only a mile long, sees us in a bar that sells over 140 beers on tap, for $8 a pint, but has the soul of a Wetherspoons - and I don't mean that in a good way. Just as our night looks like being a bit of a wash, the internet tells us to head to Freemont Street if we're after a little less glitz and glamour in our life and would prefer the company of hipsters, which we obviously would. This proves to be good advice, as although it's not exactly Shoreditch, Freemont Street seems to be a slightly older version of the Strip (and actually much more like I'd imagined Vegas) and we find a couple of really nice bars and start making friends. I'm going to fall back on the 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' maxim here, but I can say that a night that looked like a bust at 8PM didn't see us back in our room until 5.30AM.
Of all the places so we've visited, Las Vegas seems the most divisive amongst the people we've spoken to. Some have had nights of legend, filled with wild debauchery, intimate affairs with Lady Luck and, presumably encounters with dolphins. Others tell of seedy hotels attempting to hide their true nature with a veneer of gold leaf and fake marble, full of a thousand ways to lose your shirt - both figuratively and literally. I have to say, I'm siding more with the latter opinion, but don't let that put you off visiting - there's a lot of fun to be had here, if you know where to look.
Four hours sleep will see us on the way to Death Valley - send us your thoughts and prayers. G'night (morning, but you get it).