On the road againPublished 12:06am Saturday, July 19, 2014
JOURNEY TO THE SOUTHWEST
By Angie Sasser
Our amazing trip out west began May 25, 2014. Our primary destination is southern Utah with camping reservations near St. George, a popular community in southwest Utah on I-15 in the proximity of the Grand Circle of national parks and monuments and close to the magical city of Las Vegas, N.V. We make good time and travel hard until Wednesday around noon at which time we approach Flagstaff, Ariz.
We take scenic Hwy. 89 north, first passing through the dry taiga biome of cedars and Ponderosa pine, but soon it flattens out into the southern portion of the Colorado Plateau identified as part of the Wupatki National Monument. To the west we see the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. The grass is off-white and appears almost as snow as we approach from afar.
However, upon reaching this grassy area we see that it is very dry due to prolonged drought conditions of this area. We soon get to Page, Ariz. which hosts the Glen Canyon Dam area.
We tour the visitor center and take many pictures of the backwaters of Lake Powell and the Walweap Marina in the distance. This dam rises 583 feet above the river level and took nearly ten years to build. It required 5.4 million cubic yards of concrete to build.
Heading toward Kanab, Utah, we travel through the southern portion of the Grand Escalante Staircase, a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. Dipping down into Arizona once more to avoid the one way tunnel of Zion NP, we reenter Utah and travel to Hurricane, Utah, just outside St. George. We stay at a delightful RV park called WillowWind, complete with WIFI and irrigation for trees and grassy lots.
Thursday is designated our day for exploring Zion National Park, a short drive away. We use the bus system of the park which eliminates heavy traffic within its confines. Highlights of the day are the visitor’s center, a short hike to Weeping Rock, views of The Great White Throne, and a mile long hike along the Narrows of the Virgin River at the Temple of Sinawava.
Friday takes us to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, elevation approximately 8,000 feet. The taiga biome of Ponderosa pine and aspens were a joy as we approached the North Rim area. Buffalo were seen grazing in a large meadow close to the rim.
We walked along the edge, taking pictures and video with our IPhones like all the other tourists. Lunch at the North Rim Lodge restaurant was delicious and reasonably priced. Service was excellent and polite. The visitor’s center gift shop provided my usual magnet and t-shirts. I am always amazed at the risks that many visitors take by walking out to the edge without railing for pictures. The bookstore contains an inch thick book of stories of people who have fallen or have died due to dangers at the Grand Canyon. I do not wish to become a listing in the author’s next updated version!
On Saturday we left for Las Vegas, a short drive from St. George area. I noticed the lack of green in the medians that we had seen about 15 years ago on our last visit. Looks like the city is no longer irrigating and using a desert motif to conserve now. We find the Oasis RV resort in south Las Vegas and settle in for a few days.
A short drive south takes us to the Hoover Dam. We have not seen the new Hwy. 93 bridge that crosses the Colorado River south of the dam and our expectations are rewarded with its engineering and beauty. We walk along the pedestrian walk and take pictures of the south face of the dam. A trip through the dam visitor’s center and a walk along the dam highway highlights this visit.
I can’t help but think of the movie “Fools Rush In” in which the lead actress Salma Hayek supposedly delivered Matthew Perry’s baby on top of the dam. We decide not to tour the dam this time since we have done so previously.
Renovations have been made in the visitor’s center and the old road across the dam has been closed soon after crossing to the Arizona side by car.
Saturday evening finds us walking the Las Vegas strip, people watching and enjoying the sights and sounds of this interesting city. A trip down The Strip is never complete without stopping to view the choreography of the Bellagio Fountains. Routines are played every 15 minutes and my favorite this trip was “All That Jazz”. How they get water to look like dancers is beyond my imagination!
Walking through the Cosmopolitan, the Aria, the Bellagio, the Monte Carlo, and Caesar’s Palace takes about three hours and we are tired with throbbing feet! Showgirls, street musicians, and cross-dressers were some of the more colorful people we observed. It’s an inexpensive way to entertain oneself in Vegas. We don’t gamble but Las Vegas didn’t miss our money—there are plenty of people that do!
Sunday we do some errands and buy two tickets to a comedy show in Planet Hollywood at one of the 11 Vegas locations for cut-price tickets. We dress early afternoon and visit the many shops of Planet Hollywood before dinner at the Planet Dailies restaurant. The show was funny but very risqué in humor. So much for telling the ticket office we were conservative Presbyterians from Alabama!
On Monday, we begin to head east again, due in Birmingham the following Saturday. We camp at the Meteor Crater RV Park between Flagstaff and Winslow, Ariz. We pack a picnic lunch and drive back to Flagstaff and take Hwy. 180 north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
We use the air conditioned tourist bus lines to see as many stops along the canyon rim as possible. We meet an interesting couple from the U.K. who were celebrating their 50th birthdays traveling the United States. The men talked sports for the last 15 minutes of course! Last stop along the west side of the South Rim is Hermit’s Rest with refreshments and gift shop.
It’s a small world that we live in. The cashier at the gift shop was from Pensacola and his father grew up in Opp.
Several visitors there had on Alabama caps and clothing so we spoke to them as kindly Auburn fans do. We met a young college friend of Nico Johnson and enjoyed pleasant conversation on the way back to the visitor’s center. I contacted Nico by FB and he was interested to hear about our meet and greet with his friend. We have dinner at the Bright Angel Restaurant where we meet and talk briefly to a couple vacationing from Mobile. Nearly dark, we make our way back to Mather Point and the colors of sunset. We enjoy the view and get a picture worth framing according to Dr. Steve Hubbard.
The ride back to our camp site was a bit unnerving for me. The hour’s drive was very dark and signs everywhere warned of elk. Sure enough, a large elk was seen grazing right next to the roadway and Wayne was informed that he’d slow down considerably or I was walking back!
Tuesday morning was our time to visit the Giant Meteor Crater of Arizona. A short 5-mile drive took us to the privately owned exhibit’s visitor’s center. It really is a Big Hole.
Over 500 feet deep, 2.4 miles in circumference, and 0.7 mile wide, it is the excellently preserved remnant of a meteor that crashed 50,000 years ago. Hurtling at about 26,000 mph and made of nickel and iron, it is estimated to have been about 150 feet across and weighing several hundred thousand tons. It struck the plains of Arizona with an explosive force greater than 20 million tons of TNT. One of the larger fragments found about two miles away is on display. The Smithsonian has another. The depth of the crater is equivalent to a 60 story building, the height of the Washington Monument. Designated a national landmark in 1968, NASA and other scientific communities have made extensive studies of this area.
We continued our vacation Tuesday by riding through the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert which are easily accessed off Interstate 40. The petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, the Tepees Area, the yellow and teal green collared lizard of the Crystal Forest, and the Blue Mesa region were the most interesting parts of the visit to me. Security seemed to be higher this trip than in 1993 upon our first visit. There was an inspection point upon exiting to ensure that petrified wood was not being taken out of the national park.
Well, all good things come to an end. We travel hard toward Alabama until finally reaching Oak Mountain State Park Saturday morning and set up camp to prepare for the Miss Alabama Pageant that evening of June 7. Our niece, Shea Summerlin, Miss Samford University, was a contestant, and although she didn’t place, the pride in her accomplishments and stage presence was a delight to her friends and family.
America is a land of diversity and great beauty. It is always an adventure to pack up our motorhome and head out to see God’s handiwork. How does the atheist explain the wonder that makes up our world?