Add the GRAND CANYON to your bucket list

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Some places defy description and really do have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

The Grand Canyon is one such place.

Last year when I visited Las Vegas, I wavered on whether it would be worth my time for a full-day tour of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam.

The daylong bus trip—which began around 7 a.m. and wrapped up at 7 p.m.—turned out to be the standout adventure of the trip.

Simply put, the canyon is so vast and naturally breathtaking that it left me in awe. The Hoover Dam, a manmade wonder, renewed my faith in man’s ability to build a massive and amazing structure in such harsh terrain. The mammoth structure (726 feet tall from foundation to roadway) took five years to build and 21,000 men to complete it. It was finished in 1936. The U-shaped structure generates hydroelectric power each year for 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California.

The west rim of the Grand Canyon attracts 80 percent of visitors to this natural wonder. Photos by Gale Horton Gay
The west rim of the Grand Canyon attracts 80 percent of visitors to this natural wonder. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

As for the Grand Canyon, it’s one of those places that reminds us of just how small we humans are in comparison to our environment and just how incredible nature is in ways that are, at times, difficult to comprehend. The width and depth of the canyon, the array of shades and colors in the rock and earth and the fact that it stretches for miles and miles are just a few of what boggles the mind. The canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep.

The only part of the Grand Canyon experience that I didn’t appreciate is that visitors are not allowed to take cameras and cellphones onto the Canyon Skywalk—a glass walkway suspended high above the canyon floor. The Skywalk, which is actually located outside of Grand Canyon National Park and on an Indian reservation, is operated by the Hualapai tribe. These Native Americans have lived in the Southwest for generations. (Traditionally their homelands stretched from Grand Canyon to the Bill Williams River in west-central Arizona and from the Black Mountains bordering the Colorado River to the San Francisco Peaks.) The tribe has its photographers on the walkway who take visitors photos and charges for the pictures. No personal cameras are allowed.

The Hoover Dam is 726 feet high and took five years to build.
The Hoover Dam is 726 feet high and took five years to build.

On the tour of the west rim of the canyon, there are three spotting points: Guano Point and Eagle Point, which offer panoramic views of the canyon and the Colorado River as well as a Native American village where replica dwellings can be explored. The tour includes three lunch options at the canyon including a barbecue cowboy cookout that I found to be pretty darn tasty.

I do highly recommend the tour by Viator (www.viator.com), which has numerous pickup points at various Vegas hotels. The bus was air-conditioned and comfortable with an engaging driver who intermittently noted points of interest, historical facts and quirky bits of information. Passengers eagerly jostled from one side of the bus to the other to get pictures when the driver noted something of interest.

Viator’s Grand Canyon/Hoover Dam tour is $110 per person, add the Skywalk and the price rises to $145 per person. There are also boat rides and helicopter options that can be included (which bumps the cost to $279 and $314 per person, respectively).

For more information on the Grand Canyon, go to www.nps.gov/grca. For the Hoover Dam, visit www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam. Contact Viator at www.viator.com for more details about their Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam tours.

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