Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, and the Parks of Utah

Fall, 2004

 

This is the trip we'd been talking about for a long time to one of the few places in the United States we hadn't visited together Las Vegas and the "Grand Circle".  The grand circle is the geographic area primarily in northern Arizona and southern Utah which geologically is known as the Colorado plateau and includes the most famous of the southwest's national parks.  The approximate center of this circle is Page, Arizona and the Lake Powell National recreation area.  Here's a link to the Lake Powell Visitor's Guide with a map which shows Page in the center of this incredibly beautiful area.  The parks we visited in this grand circle, were the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion.  There's so much to see and never enough time.

 

Our trip began and ended in Las Vegas and lasted 2 weeks. Las Vegas is a great counterpoint to all the beautiful natural beauty we saw in the parks we visited.  We spent 2 nights at the beginning and one night at the end in Las Vegas where our flights arrived and departed.  Las Vegas was great fun. 

 

One of the biggest dilemmas on a trip to this area is how much time to spend in each park and in which order to see them.  I had lots of help from my friends on the Fodors travel forum, and here is the itinerary

 

Day 1-2 Arrive in Las Vegas   2 nights in Las Vegas
Day 3-4 Drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon 2 nights in Grand Canyon 
Day 5 Drive to Page, Arizona    1 night in Page
Day 6-8

Drive to Moab, Utah with a visit to   Monument Valley on the way

3 nights in Moab
Day 9

Drive to Torrey, Utah and visit Capitol Reef National Park

1 night in Torrey
Day 10 Drive to Bryce National Park 1 night in Tropic, Utah
Day 11-13 Drive to Zion National Park 3 nights in Springdale, Utah
Day 14 Drive to Las Vegas for last night Morning flight out of Vegas

 

 

Below is a description of what we saw, what we did, and where we stayed.

 

ABOVE, ALISA CHATTING WITH THE CAMELS AND BELOW WITH THE MUMMIES IN THE LUXOR HOTEL. AS YOU CAN SEE, WE ENJOYED VISITING THE LUXOR. IT MADE US FEEL RIGHT AT HOME.

On our first stay in Las Vegas, we stayed at Bally's.  Bally's is not the most prestigious hotel on the strip, but it is reasonably priced, has very nice large rooms, and is excellently located in the center of the strip, right across from the Bellagio Hotel and its incredible fountains, and connected directly to the Paris Hotel. All in all, we had a great time there.    On our return visit to Vegas, we stayed at Excalibur, which is located at the southern end of the strip. This gave us the opportunity to conveniently visit this end of the strip which includes the hotels "New York, New York", Luxor, and MGM.  This area is also the closest to the airport, and we had an early flight in the morning.  I had heard that checking out of a large hotel in Las Vegas can be a time consuming process, but Excalibur has a simple express checkout (we paid our bill the night before) and the parking lot is very conveniently located near the exit of "tower 2", where our room was.  I would say that it only took about 10 minutes to get from our room to the airport.

 

As for the Excalibur as a hotel, the highlight was the spa, which was the best and most luxurious spa I've ever been in.  It was great to relax in the sauna and jacuzzi and pamper ourselves after  all the hiking we had done during the previous 2 weeks.

 

 

What to see in Las Vegas???  The biggest attractions are the hotels themselves, with all the newer ones (those built in the last 10 years or so) boasting incredible themes. 

Here's a quick summary of the major attractions:

The Bellagio

luxurious hotel with dancing fountains set to music which erupt on a regular basis during the day;  there's also a botanical garden with real flowers (a rarity in Las Vegas), but while we were there, it was closed due to renovations.

The Paris

Parisian streets, stores, restaurants.  We ate at the Paris buffet, reputed to be one of the best buffets on the strip. Buffet restaurants are very popular in LV.

The Venetian Modeled after Venice, including San Marco Square, canals, gondolas and singing gondoliers
The Mirage See the volcano erupt periodically during the day and evening
Treasure      Island 

The pirates usually do battle every evening but due to high winds on the day we were there, the pirates turned wimped out and stayed in their caves.

The Luxor

Modeled after ancient Egypt, with a museum like display of replicas of King Tutenkhamen's treasures. The main area of the hotel is a giant pyramid.

New York,    New York

Stroll through the streets of New York, eat a Nathan's hot dog and ride a real roller coaster

MGM

movie themes, and lions in the lobby (think of the roaring lion which opens all MGM movies.)

The Fremont Experience

This is located in the downtown area and is impossible to describe.  You'll have to go there and "experience" it for yourselves.

Day trips Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, and Hoover Dam, the only one which we actually visited.

Here are some useful links for Las Vegas.

CHEAPOVEGAS

humorous and useful

LasVegas.Com best and simplest map of the strip that I found 
Show Guide a complete guide to Las Vegas entertainment
Photo.net an interesting site with some good advice and some nice pictures of Las Vegas

 

Many of the hotels have a large attached shopping center (several with over 100 stores) which usually provides an off-street passage to the neighboring hotel. Most of the stores seemed pretty empty and most people spend their time in the casinos.  The stores were pretty much window dressing and a pleasant way to get from one hotel to another without stepping outside into the heat.  These passageways are designed so that you don't know what time it is and you feel like you are outdoors on a sunny comfortable afternoon even if it's 3 in the morning or 110 degrees outside.

 

The best restaurant we ate at while in Las Vegas was "The Sacred Sea Room" located in the Luxor.  The food and service were excellent and the price for the meal for 2 (without wine) was about $110.

That's enough for Las Vegas!
On to the natural beauty of the "
Grand Circle".

 

HERE'S ALISA AT MATHER LOOKOUT AT THE GRAND CANYON

SUNRISE AT YAVAPAI POINT

A RAY OF SUNLIGHT AT NOON IN THE UPPER ANTELOPE SLOT CANYON

A VIEW OF LAKE POWELL. THE WATER LEVEL IS VERY LOW DUE TO 5 YEARS OF DROUGHT, BUT IT'S STILL A BEAUTIFUL PLACE AND WELL WORTH A VISIT.

THE GRAND CANYON

I don't know where to start.  The Grand Canyon is as grand as its name and is certainly overwhelming for the first time visitor.  We stayed at the Yavapai Lodge, which is nothing special, but was the only hotel available when we started looking.  its one advantage is its nearness to the canyon village. We spent a day and a half here, and I think that was ideal.  We managed to see every sunrise (Yavapai Point and Yaki Point) and sunset (Yaki Point and Mather Point) while we were there.   We also hiked about a third of the way down Bright Angel Trail, which we found to be a disappointing hike as the scenery never changed, and most of the route we were busy avoiding the donkey chips.

Something we did which we didn't expect to do in the Grand Canyon was go to a concert.  We attended a jazz concert at the "Chapel of the Ages", which is near the grand canyon village.  The concert was part of a the "Grand Canyon Music Festival" and is now in its 21st season.  The concert we attended featured the "Bonfiglio Group" with extraordinary harmonica player Robert Bonfiglio.

 

LAKE POWELL

We stayed overnight at the Lake Powell Resort, which is the only hotel located right on Lake Powell.  As reported, the level of Lake Powell is very low due to 5 years of drought, but it is still beautiful. We went on the guided Navaho visit to the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon which is truly incredible.  We went with "Antelope Canyon Tours" which is located in the center of Page.  There are several different companies. They take you in an open desert transporter from Page to the canyon entrance, (about a 15 minute drive) and there give you about an hour to tour the slot canyon, most of it accompanied by a Navaho guide. This canyon is truly amazing.  I can't take credit for the picture of the canyon to the upper left. Successful photography inside the canyon is difficult.  It's a lot easier to buy a good photo, which is what I did. This one and others like it cost $2 at the Antelope Canyon Tours headquarters in Page.
If you want any information about Page, including making reservations for most attractions, check out the John Wesley Powell Museum.

 

MONUMENT VALLEY  

MONUMENT VALLEY

On the way to Moab, Utah, we stopped off at Monument Valley, site of the most amazing scenery.  Many of these unusual rock formations can be seen in many Hollywood westerns.  The visit takes about 2 hours including the 17 mile scenic drive.  To the left is one of the most famous views of Monument Valley - the view of the "mitten mountains".

THE GOOSENECK OF THE COLORADO RIVER IN DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK

THAT'S ALISA BALANCING HERSELF UNDER THE ARCH. IT'S MUCH MUCH BIGGER THAN IT LOOKS IN PICTURES WHEN SEEN BY ITSELF.

HERE'S PART OF THE CROWD WHO HIKED UP THE MOUNTAIN TO SIT FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS AND TAKE PICTURES OF  THE SUNSET.

THE WHITE RIM ROAD IN CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

MOAB, ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS

Moab is conveniently located right between Arches and Canyonland National Parks. It's a delightful little western town and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.  We stayed at the Dreamkeeper B&B and ate at  several local restaurants, the most surprising of which was the Central Café.  This restaurant was a real gourmet delight and is one of the best restaurants in Utah.

I mentioned 2 parks near Moab, but there's actually a third - Dead Horse Point State Park. This is a Utah State park with its own entry fee ($7), but really doesn't have much to offer that you can't see in Canyonlands Park.  It's small and it's main attraction is views of the canyons of its larger neighbor.  If you don't have a lot of time, skip it.  To the upper left is a viewpoint of the gooseneck bends in the green river which is in Dead Hose.

On the way to Moab, we drove the 22 miles out of the way in order to go see Needles Overlook.  Needles is the wild and largely inaccessible part of Canyonlands Park, and the lookout is magnificent.  It was well worth the extra 44 miles.

Arches park is absolutely incredible.  The different shapes, the landscape, the incredible array of arches (over 2000) all make it an amazing experience.  We hiked to the landscape arch, and beyond it to wall, Navaho, and partition arches. We also did the hike to  Delicate Arch at sunset.  This is a long hard uphill hike takes about an hour.  The experience is incredible, and well worth the effort to join about 100 other hikers who sit transfixed by the beautiful and changing colors of the arch as the sun sets.  To the left is a picture of the arch, with a person in the picture to give some perspective, and below it a picture of the "gallery" of photographers. 

Canyonlands is also beautiful. The park is divided into three distinct parts, only one of which is readily accessible which is called the  "Island in the Sky".  For us the most striking geological feature in the park was the absolutely incredible "white rim road". It's difficult to capture such a place on film, but to the left is my humble effort.   Around this gigantic depression in the earth is a 4 wheel drive road whose length is 200 miles.  The edge of the crevice is white due to the particular limestone in the area.  In Canyonlands, we also hiked to "Grandview Viewpoint", and to the "upheaval dome", which may be the remnants of a meteor landing site.

CAPITOL REEF

THE VIEW FROM SUNSET POINT IN CAPITOL REEF PARK

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

We had heard that this park was the "hidden jewel of the national park system".  It was certainly impressive and far more beautiful than we had expected.  We hiked to Hickman bridge, and several viewpoints including sunset point and drove the 17 mile scenic drive.  To the left is a picture of the stunning landscape typical to this park.  You can zip right through Capitol Reef on the way from Moab to Bryce and spend just an hour or two, but we spent almost a full day here and really enjoyed it. 

There are several motels in the area, and the closest town is Torrey.  Don't expect much from Torrey.  There's a book store / coffee shop combo called "Robber's Roost, a couple of groceries, 5 or 6 motels, and 4 or 5 restaurants.  One of the leading motels in town is Austin's Chuckwagon Motel which includes what is probably the largest grocery in town.  We stayed, at The Boulder View Inn.  The Boulder View Inn is a ten room motel which is immaculately clean, very well maintained, and has a very nice complimentary buffet breakfast. Right across the street from The Boulder View Inn is  the Capitol Reef Inn, where we were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the food and the original menu (very health and environmentally conscious).

BRYCE NATIONAL PARK

THAT'S ME (STEVE) WALKING DOWN THE QUEEN'S GARDEN PATH DOWN DOWN DOWN AMONG THE HOODOOS.

TYPICAL BRYCE SCENERY

Utah highway 12 has been designated a "National Scenic Byway" and an "All-American Road".  It is 124 miles of beautiful scenery and runs from the Capitol Reef area to the Bryce area.   A section of it is called "hogback" which is part of the Escalante National Monument. It rides on top of a crest and there's a dropoff in both directions.  Most of the route runs through the Dixieland National Forest, and passes through several parks and recreation areas. There are many lookout points along the way as well as hiking trails and 4 wheel drive routes. It's even got its own web page entitled "Scenic Byway 12".

Bryce is of course one of the most visited parks in Utah.  It can be done in a few hours if you want, or you can stay for a while and absorb the fabulous scenery.  The day we got to Bryce was the only rainy day we had our entire trip.  Rainbow Point on a clear day has a view of 100 miles into Arizona, but on this day it rained and hailed and visibility was zero.  In the morning, things cleared up and we had great views of everything.  Not much hiking here, just running from viewpoint to viewpoint.  There are some walks down among the hoodoos, and in the picture on the upper left, that's me walking down  the "Queen's Garden Trail".

Bryce canyon is noted for the colorful landscape filled with , red and yellow colored sandstone "hoodoos" shaped by the wind and water over the years.  The amazing thing about Bryce is that it's still changing at a rapid pace.  To the left is a shot of sunset at some point in Bryce.

While visiting Bryce, we stayed at the Bryce Valley Inn in Tropic.  Tropic is the nearest town to the entrance to Bryce (about 10 miles) although it's even less of a town than Torrey.  The closest thing to a town in the area is Ruby's "complex" right at the entrance to the park.  Ruby's is a real empire - motel, restaurants, stores, gas station, campground, everything besides a town hall. We enjoyed the lunch buffet at Ruby's. As for the Bryce Valley Inn, it's a standard, somewhat rundown motel, adequate and cheap enough for a one night stay. 

 

HERE WE ARE AT THE CANYON OVERLOOK VIEWPOINT, ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOTS WE VISITED.  THIS IS ONE OF THE FEW SPOTS IN ZION WHERE YOU ARE LOOKING DOWN INSTEAD OF UP.

THIS IS THE MIDDLE EMERALD POOL IN ZION, WHICH IS PART OF ONE OF THE NICEST HIKES WE DID.

AFTER ALL THAT HIKING, WHAT'S THE BEST THING TO DO?  SOAK YOUR FEET IN THE COLD WATERS OF THE VIRGIN RIVER!!!

ZION NATIONAL PARK

 

 

This was really saving the best for last. We fell in love with Zion.  The landscape is so beautiful, and so varied, we were glad we had 2 and a half days here.  We hiked the overlook trail to the canyon overlook, and also hiked to the Upper Emerald Pool.  Both were spectacular in the in their own way.   The canyon overlook provides a spectacular vista into the canyon, and the upper emerald pool is situated in a blind canyon with walls straight up to a height of 300 feet.  We also did the riverside walk to the Zion Narrows and visited every other spot  we could.  We also visited the Kolob Canyon area which is located in the northwest corner of the park and is about a 45 minute drive from the main visitor center.  The Kolob Canyon area is also beautiful, but should be visited only if you've exhausted all the possibilities in the main area and have a few hours to spare.  We ended our visit to Zion by starting on the watchman trail but turning back midway.  We started out too early in the day and it was too hot.  We finished on the banks or the Virgin River with our feet in the cold water.  It was a great ending to a great trip! Check it out in the picture to the left.

 

We stayed at the in Desert Pearl Inn Springdale and which is truly a beautiful motel.  Every evening we spent an hour in the outdoor jacuzzi recuperating from the day's hikes.  We ate at 2 different restaurants but returned twice to the Spotted Dog Café located at Flannigan's Inn.

 

Springdale is a beautiful little town which has quite a few nice motels, some good restaurants and many galleries with amazing art and photography.  If you visit  Springdale, check out the gallery of one of the more amazing photographers who specializes in the southwest desert scenery.  His name is Michael Fatali and his work is really amazing.  We also visited the Plateau Light Gallery which had incredible desert photography.  Actually, there are quite a few galleries in Springdale with lots of beautiful work and I guess that they are all worth visiting. 

 

 

    

 

Here are some useful links which helped us plan this part of the trip.

THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST

An extraordinary site built by a private individual, John Crossley with incredibly detailed information and pictures about all the parks in the American southwest.  I printed out all the pages about the parks we visited and took them with us.  It was better than any guidebook.

THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE The official site of the government agency in charge of the national park system.  Well organized and the place to start when visiting any national park.
THE GRAND CIRCLE A very comprehensive site with lots of information, including maps and route planning. 
MAX BERTOLI'S SOUTHERN UTAH Another private citizen in love with the American Southwest, and in particular, Utah.  He provides lots of information, pictures, and free travel planning. 
MOAB TOURIST INFORMATION This is the best site for finding anything in Moab - restaurants, motels, campgrounds, weather, hiking, jeeps, etc. etc.
GRAND CANYON EXPLORER  This is an excellent site dedicated to visiting the grand Canyon
GRAND CIRCLE IMAGES A wonderful collection of pictures of the grand circle parks
XANTERRA The only site for reserving rooms inside the national parks

 

 

 

 

               

This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

LAST UPDATED: FEBRUARY 17, 2008