1100 kilometres is roughly the round trip distance from Zurich to Venice. It also corresponds to the distance travelled by the blogger duo of “Newly Swissed” on their one-week tour through the natural wonders of the Southwestern United Sates. The couple returned to Switzerland armed with many new impressions – and as newly-weds, so to speak.
Our adventure starts the moment when Edelweiss flight from Zürich begins its final descent to Las Vegas. Our window reveals a vast, deserted landscape painted in more than fifty shades of brown. Between deep wrinkles runs the Colorado River that generates the power needed to lure millions of tourists into Sin City every year.
In Las Vegas, anything and everything is man-made. One block from Caesar’s Palace and a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower, visitors can cross the Rialto Bridge on an escalator. There, at the Venetian Hotel, charming hotel employees dressed as Venetian boatmen will sing for you on gondolas that run on cruise control. Whether you are into gambling or not, hotel hopping on the Las Vegas Strip is fascinating any time of the day. But unless you order an Uber taxi once in a while, what started as a walk will soon turn into a hike.
Day 1: From Las Vegas to Bearizona and the Grand Canyon (4:10 hrs)
Thanks to the jet lag, we are up and running before sunrise. Perfect to beat the traffic - and the crowds. At 8 AM, we are the first car to park at the famous “Las Vegas” sign on the south end of the Strip. These early birds get a nice picture taken by Dean, one of the volunteer photographers who work for tips.
Leaving Las Vegas behind in the rear-view mirror, we follow US-93 South. Before passing the Hoover Dam, we cannot resist to swing by the overlook point at Lake Mead. We later pass by Rattlesnake Wash and Peacock Wash, and the ever-changing landscape invites us to slow down. A quick break on historical Route 66 later, we marvel at the geological layers as our rental car slowly climbs more than 1000 meters into a pine forest. As we exit US-40 East for the Grand Canyon, our eyes are fixed on a huge sign: “Bearizona”. We do not regret the unplanned turn and subsequent safari drive-thru. This late afternoon, the black bears, white wolves, bison and mule deer are especially active, quickly filling up our camera’s memory card.
Another hour’s drive and we reach Yavapai Lodge at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We are just in time for the sunset, so we rush to Mather Point where we witness the glowing cliffs a mile deep with dozens of other lucky ones.
A one-time admission to the park is valid for seven days and includes both the North and South Rims. We recommend purchasing the annual key to all of America’s 58 National Parks for just 80 dollars.
Day 2: The Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon
We dedicate an entire day to the Grand Canyon. Given the park’s sheer size, we have to decide: To walk along the rim or to hike into the depths of the canyon? “Going down is optional, but coming back up is mandatory,” says the park ranger. Gauging our fitness level and the fact that we have a long trip still ahead of us, we opt for a hike on the Rim Trail.
Every step vows us with a different angle of the 1600 m deep canyon. (At times, we feel like California condors hovering above it all.) The Rim Trail stretches 21 km from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. Most of the path is paved, and its major viewpoints are connected by the free park shuttle.
Being the hikers that we are, we prefer the unpaved section between Monument Creek Vista and Mohave Point. In retrospect, we could have hopped on a shuttle to skip the Greenway Trail between Monument Creek Vista and Pima Point. It is a 2.7 km mostly paved stretch for wheelchairs and bicycles with very limited canyon view.
A highlight was the “Trail of Time” between Yavapai Geology Museum and Verkamp’s Visitor Center, where each meter equals one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. Along this 4.5 km trail, 50 samples of Grand Canyon rocks are placed at their “birthdays” - such as a 270 million year old fossil and 1.7 billion year old folds.