UNITED STATES: WEST COAST

Road trip from Los Angeles to Grand Canyon and Las Vegas
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      I have to admit that Los Angeles was not added to the itinerary of my round-the-world trip by choice per se. Well, there was actually no choice at all if I wanted to keep the islands of Oceania as the pinnacle of the trip, which I did. So when my travel agent told me I would have to fly to Los Angeles just in order to make to Tahiti, I had a few mixed feelings: on one hand, I have been to the States numerous times, so going there again on a rather extravagant trip like this seemed kind of unappealing. What a tough life, you must be thinking. On the other hand, having some good friends in the area promised to make it a nice "chillaxing" break in comparison with the hectic routine of other places on the list.  The latter happened to be the case: the first 3 days my friends and I did very little other than just hanging around the area of Long Beach, occasionally going to Huntington Beach and San Pedro, indulging in good food, and brainstorming our road trip to Arizona and Nevada. Not to mention that it was just amazing to finally catch up with one of my closest friends from home after almost 2 years apart! Mind you though, we, like most Russians, celebrate Christmas on January 7th in accordance with the Orthodox calendar (read more about it here), so while the locals were all gearing up for their biggest festivities of the year, we were hunting for spare contact lenses for me... because naturally, I had left mine at home. 

 

 

December 2014
 
TYPE OF TRIP

- Backpacking

- Round-the-world

- Travelling with friends

- Road trip

ROUTE

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Long Beach, CA - Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ - Williams, AZ - Boulder, NV - Las Vegas, NV - Long Beach, CA - Santa Monica, CA - Pape'ete, French Polynesia 

USEFUL LINKS

       - Arizona

       - California

       - Nevada

 

      We took off on the afternoon of December 25th. Despite our multiple attempts to come up with any kind of plan and route, we ended up improvising throughout the whole trip for a few reasons. The main problem was the weather with an almost 30-degree difference in temperatures in Los Angeles and Grand Canyon's south rim (+20°C and -8°C with snow showers respectively), as it made driving without wheel chains or winter tires potentially dangerous. We decided to take the risk anyway and head straight to Arizona - that's a mere 820 km/510 mi - realising that we could end up turning back for an overnight stay before reaching the final destination. Luckily for us, the road was barely icy, and we made to the Canyon by midnight having no booked accommodation and not being entirely sure we would find some. In the morning of there were only 6 rooms left in the whole village! Frankly speaking, I did not expect Grand Canyon to be that popular of a destination for geology enthusiasts on Christmas evening, so imagine how busy it gets right after when American kids are on school holidays. Since lodging inside the park and in the nearest town of Tusayan cost about the same, we opted for the option that would give us more sleep before getting up to watch the sunrise.

 

 

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      I am not sure if this is a common misconception or just me, but I had no idea the Canyon so vast! When doing research beforehand, I read that very few people manage to make it to both south and north rims as they are about 33 km/21 mi apart if you hike or 354 km/220 mi apart if you drive. Yet it did not quite kick in until I saw it with my very own eyes - and oh what an impressive landscape it is! It was one crisp morning, the wind was blowing like crazy, but despite not the friendliest weather for such an awe-inspiring moment, it was absolutely worth it. If you are interested in some nitty-gritty info on how the Canyon was formed (apparently it was due to erosion), as well as how researchers investigated the record of Earth's history contained in sedimentary rocks that are some 230 million years old, I recommend checking out the IMAX movie Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets at the Visitor's centre. 

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      We decided to skip the sunset and go straight to Las Vegas. It was a shame to have seen only this much of the Canyon, but as the hiking trails were closed due to the snow and cold we did not have many other options. So we set off to Vegas, which, knowing my gambling and impulsive nature, I expected to leave either broke or married or both. Neither happened, although the following leg of the journey, French Polynesia, sure could have made a lovely honeymoon... I did gamble though and even managed to first win some $$ at the roulette and slot machines, but then successfully lost it. Pretty happy it did not go much further than this, but if I am ever to come back to this place I will be sure to have a poker stash. Don't tell my parents.