Friday, June 1, 2012

Wondrous Sights and Flashing Lights

You notice the difference in your ears immediately.  The soothing sound of the canyon--the sound of open air, buzzing insects, footsteps, and breath--quickly fades in the oppressive Las Vegas cacophony of people and action...

We began the day at the Grand Canyon, jumping between three prominent viewpoints that overlook the epic gorge: Mather Point, Grandview Point, and Desert View.  We spent the first hour wandering the trail along Mather Point and getting used to the shocking height of the overlooks and the majestic beauty of rock walls, dirt valleys, and patches of green.  

We made our way to Grandview Point immediately after Mather Point, and we took advantage of the railing-less photo opportunities.  My inner Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones called to me while on the edge of the steep cliffs, and despite dad's protests, I skidded down rock embankments, shimmied around ledges, and jumped from rock pillar to rock pillar in reckless abandon.  Along the way, I met an avid hiker who recommended the 10-mile trail deep down into the canyon.  Our schedule didn't permit such a detour, but it's now officially on my bucket list for future trips west.  

Don't forget to look for me in this one!

We finished our Grand Canyon adventure at Desert View, a scenic overlook featuring a famous watchtower designed by Mary Colter in 1932.  Her goal was to create an architectural space that presented 360 degree views of the canyon.  The interior of the structure is equally impressive, for the walls are covered in vivid Hopi murals.   

The Hoover Dam was our next destination, and while it is certainly one of the most impressive architectural feats I have ever seen, the brutal heat (107 degress at this point) distracted from the experience.  The kid in me loved the interactive games in the air conditioning, however.  I now know I can spin a wheel fast enough to keep all the electronics in a regular bedroom running...I think.

I suppose the main event of the day was Las Vegas, the spectacular gambling city squeezed between mountains and arid wasteland.  We stayed at the Cosmopolitan on South Las Vegas Boulevard, and our trek from the parking lot to the hotel lobby was enough to make me want to turn around and return to the calm of the canyon.  It's simply the most extravagant, uproarious, bewildering atmosphere I've ever experienced; it's a virtual explosion of brilliant color and unfettered personality.  It also attracts its share of equally outrageous characters.  Row upon row of slot machines and poker tables forced us to weave in and out of gambler's paradise; then, we narrowly avoided the lethal high-heels of fake-baked Amazons sauntering around on the arms of older hairy men; finally, we ducked under the high-fives exchanged between giddy college bros headed to the strip.  I either needed a nap or a strong drink to make it through the night.   

Once we got beyond the horrific and magical tableau of people and pandemonium, we hunted for our hotel room, which turned out to be a contemporary palace.  Besides the see-through wall that exposed the tiled shower (don’t worry, we fortunately found a divider to conceal the shower), the room was by far the coolest, most extravagant hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.  I mean, you walk in and press a button labeled “Hello” and then all the lights turn on in the room and soothing music begins playing; you leave and press “Goodbye” and the room shuts down once more.  I felt like the room belonged in Architectural Digest, and I snapped pictures of the walls in the ballroom and the bedroom for future reference.  I see a contemporary office in my future if I can ever afford a bigger home (here’s looking at you, Douglas).

The afternoon was quickly passing by, so we showered, attempted to look nice for the Las Vegas strip, and made our way to Sugar Factory. 

Sugar Factory, aptly known for its wealth of delicious desserts, was bursting with life and energy.  We were seated at a tiny metal table adjacent to a massive party littered with elaborate alcohol goblets; the Swedish fish drink looked particularly refreshing (who doesn’t want to finish a drink by munching on rum-laced Swedish fish?).  We played it decidedly safe for the evening with our meals, though, for we both needed a return to normalcy.  I enjoyed a tomato-basil pizza and Dad savored the steak and potatoes, while we people-watched and chatted about the crazy outfits and crazier behaviors.  

After dinner, we explored all the necessary sights we could fit into our brief stop: Caesar’s Palace (which demonstrated a startling lack of necessary apostrophes), the Bellagio, and the Bellagio’s outdoor water fountain orchestra.  Watching the jet streams of water intersect and mingle with the buildings and lights beyond the fountain was truly hypnotizing. 

We finished the night back at the Cosmopolitan’s elegantly kitschy casino where we played the slots.  I made ten dollars; I’m a real wheeler and dealer.  While the slots were a mixture of fun and aggravation, the incredible surroundings: the gaudy chandeliers, flowing fabric ceiling ornaments, stupefying animated columns, and distinctive architecture were a true feast for the eyes and arguably worth every penny lost, spent, and occasionally won.  

It’s hard to offer a tidy conclusion at the end of a busy day filled to the brim with unique experiences.  I want to say that I loved everything equally, but I would be lying.  The outdoorsmen in me felt most at home climbing canyon rocks and basking in natural beauty and wonder.  Of course, both the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas present inspiring triumphs of manmade spectacle, but the Grand Canyon will always overshadow them for me.   There’s something so wonderful, humbling, and even self-erasing about witnessing the untouched, pristine world that still exists despite centuries of development.  I may love browsing the artwork of naturalists, or bask in the glory of profound architectural designs, or sit back in astonishment as I toy with the latest Apple product, but I will always favor what the earth made.  


  1. Awesome, Matth!

  2. I was having "blog" withdraw! The pictures of you on the grand canyon were amazing! I felt queasy looking at the one with you on the edge!
    Wow! That hotel room is amazing! I will have to remember that place. Never heard of the Sugar Factory but looks great as well. I will have to get the scoop. I must say the photos of Las Vegas that you took are that of a professional! I love the Eiffel Tower looking up from below. I am telling you it could be a postcard! You are right, there is no other city quite like it! I should have warned you about the heat at the dam. Last time I was there, it was 131 degrees!! I am certain that the temperature there will be the hottest I ever experience in my life!! The city is outrageous to say the least! Until your next stop!! oxoxo

  3. My sentiments exactly Matt. Being in nature is akin to being in a cathedral, temple, mosque. No matter how spectacular the architecture, God does it best.