For years visiting the Grand Canyon has languished in the bucket list of most everyone I know, including me. The choices to be made in planning such a trip for myself and four children are intimidating enough to quash the whole idea. Visit North Rim or South? Or West? Fly into Vegas or Phoenix? Or Flagstaff? Rent a car or book a tour? Would that be a bus tour or plane? Or helicopter? Let’s call the whole thing off! Suddenly, five days of freedom for all of us become available. We have a Sunday thru Thursday in late July to make it happen. And just as suddenly the choices become clearer.
North Rim vs. South Rim. The North Rim is higher, cooler, and less crowded than the South Rim. It is also more isolated from niceties like airports and hotels. The crowds flock to the South Rim, true, but there’s a reason for that. They can find a steak and a shower and a bed reasonably close by. South Rim wins. The West Rim and its Skywalk seem like a nice way to spend an extra half-day if you have the time. We do not.
Airports: Vegas, Phoenix or Flagstaff. The Flagstaff Airport is closest to the South Rim Grand Canyon Visitors Center at only about an hour-and-a-half away. It is also about $100 and three hours more to fly there than to fly to Vegas. Phoenix is a little better cost-wise, but still requires connections on most flights. Vegas wins.
Rent a car or book a tour. With less than two full days of canyon time at our disposal, it seems a mistake to trust a tour-operator with any portion of our precious minutes. We need to control our destiny. Rental car wins.
Our itinerary comes together. Sunday fly to Vegas and spend the night. Monday drive to Hoover Dam, and then continue on to the Grand Canyon. Stay Monday and Tuesday night. Wednesday drive to Vegas and spend the night, and then fly home Thursday afternoon. It is a whirlwind tour. But our plan yields some unexpected benefits.
The drive from Hoover Dam to Kingman, Arizona is empty, desolate and fascinating. For two-and-a-half hours you drive through the sparsest landscape imaginable. There is nothing there in the desert but scrub grass and a few craggy hills. It is eye-poppingly beautiful.
Approaching the South Rim you pass through several small towns, Williams being the largest. Terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway, champion of Route 66 heritage and paraphernalia, and home of numerous traveler amenities, we love the town. Our gang is convinced Williams was the model for Radiator Springs from the movie “Cars.”
Our time in Vegas is limited, but our driving tour reveals the pleasures of downtown and Fremont Street. The Strip might be better known and more glamorous, but for street-level energy downtown is the place to be. To use an Ocean City, Maryland analogy, The Strip is to the boardwalk as downtown Vegas is to The Inlet.
A couple of noteworthy finds in Vegas. Looking for a midday magic show we stumble upon The Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah’s. It is a gem. Mac King creates a laid-back atmosphere and spends a lot of time poking fun at the audience and himself, and as a result the high-quality magic tricks are that much more shocking.
Coming back into Vegas on our last night we stop at a place for dinner because we like the name: El Fish. Good decision. The proprietor is gracious and welcoming. We order an assortment of tacos, average price $3.99. Grilled fish, fried fish, beef, chicken, and shrimp tacos all come to us, and they’re beautiful. We pass around the tacos, sample the salsas, and discover flavors as they were meant to be. Could I have a bite of that? Did you try this one? It is amazingly good, and El Fish Taco is worth a trip out of your way.
Even to Las Vegas.