Friday 19th June (Part 2)
Having said goodbye to The Vdara, our taxi dropped us off at McCarron International Airport’s dedicated “Car Rental Plaza” i.e. a big building with every possible car-hire company you could think of inside. Our vehicle was being hired through National, so it was to their desk that we headed. After a few minutes signing paperwork and flashing credit cards we were pointed up the stairs to the attached multi-story car park. It seemed the car I’d selected was not available so we got a free upgrade to something bigger, which was nice. The attendant just pointed to a row of cars and said to take our pick. We briefly swithered between two before going for a Hyundai Sonata. I clearly have a soft spot for Hyundai having just bought one of my own in March. This one was a bit bigger than mine, and it was also an automatic!
After working out how to take the handbrake off and then how to move the car from Park into Reverse, Drive etc (you put your foot on the brake) we were off. First lesson learned in the opening few yards was to give the left foot a holiday. In a manual the left foot does the clutch, the right, the brake and accelerator. In an automatic there is no clutch pedal so leave it all to the right. Have to admit there was slight trepidation about driving in the US (automatic and being on the other side of the road) but it wasn’t a big deal. You very quickly get used to both the car and the driving conditions. Having safely negotiated our way out of the car park, and then Las Vegas, we set the Sat Nav for Hoover Dam.
On leaving Las Vegas, we soon also left Nevada. To me this meant a change of time from Pacific to Mountain time. However, it turned out that even within Mountain time zones there is an hour difference. Think it had something to do with Navajo Indian areas – they remained in line with Pacific while the rest were forward an hour. We didn’t know this so spent most of the rest of the day an hour ahead!
Hoover Dam was only 30 miles or so from Vegas, and due to the distance we had to cover to our next hotel, this was just going to be a quick stop. However, it was enough to get some stunning views from the bridge overlooking the dam. Soon we were back on the road and heading for Tusayan, which is the nearest place you can get to the Grand Canyon (without being inside the grounds of the park).
The last 50 miles up to Tusayan was a long, straight road. We arrived at the Best Western at 7:30, or as it turned out 6:30! Temperature was cooler than Las Vegas, which was quite refreshing. Still 90+ but not 110+. Meal was had at the hotel’s restaurant. Also bought our pass for the Grand Canyon National Park at reception. After that it was time to chill out in our room. All in all a successful first day driving Stateside.
Saturday 20th June
Best way to get from Tusayan to the National Park is to get the “Purple Route” bus. This bus had a stop right outside the hotel, runs every 20 minutes and was free. It had the advantage of being able to take its own private road past cars queueing to get into the park. Highly recommended if visiting the Grand Canyon. Once in the Park we firstly got coffee and a bagel to quell our rumbling stomachs. It was then onto the Southern Rim. All you really do is walk along the rim and look out over the Canyon. Believe you me, that is more than enough to keep you occupied. Rather than me describing what we saw, here are some pictures instead.
We stayed in the Park from 9:30 until about 1:30, and could easily have stared at the view for another few hours. Perhaps, next time. Tonight’s stop was roughly 160 miles away so after catching the bus back to Tusayan it was into our hire car and off to Holbrook.
Holbrook was a small town in the middle of nowhere, but you really felt like you were in “off the beaten track” America. We were staying at a Travelodge which for £45 was just about the best value we had in the whole trip. Room was clean, reception staff very friendly and helpful, the pool open and empty and a complimentary hot breakfast awaited us in the morning. For our evening meal we indulged in some Pizza Hut. Wasn’t great but it filled us up. It was then time for lights out.
Sunday 21st June
Hot breakfast at the Holbrook Travelodge gave us our first experience of a pancake maker. All you had to do was push a button and 30 seconds later a perfectly formed pancake flopped onto your plate, and very nice they were too. After breakfast we checked out and made for the Petrified Forest.
We had quite a long drive to Albuquerque so we didn’t plan on spending too long in the Forest, really just a couple of stops before hitting the interstate. A quick wander round a shop outside the park was followed by a longer interlude at the official tourist place inside the park. Here there was basically a loop around a relatively small area which gave you a good overview of what was meant by ‘Petrified’ – trees turned to stone. It was about a 20 mile drive through the park which, including stops, and took us just over an hour or so.
On reaching Albuquerque we headed straight for the Sandia Peak Tramway. The ride up was spectacular. The cabin seems tiny and you appear to be miles from the ground. If you’re scared of heights I wouldn’t recommend it. Once at the top there wasn’t much to do other than look at the views over all of Albuquerque. Again, we could have stayed longer, perhaps even eaten at the restaurant, but we wanted to get to our hotel so headed back down after 30 minutes or so.
Our hotel was in the old part of town. It had a really nice pool, the room was very impressive, but star of the show was a tremendous Mexican restaurant. Probably fair to say the meal and service we had in here was amongst the best of our trip.
Monday 22nd June
Having checked out we had a walk into the hotel shop. What we found was a cracking selection of “Breaking Bad” goodies. I bought myself a t-shirt and very smart it looks to. Soon we were back on the road once more, this time heading into Texas and the city of Amarillo.
It was about 3pm when we reached our next sleep over point. It was the first of two Holiday Inn Express & Suites in a row. It had the added bonus of being only a few hundred yards from the world famous Big Texan Steak Ranch (well famous if you’ve watched Man v Food).
In truth the Steak Ranch was a bit of a let down. Steak wasn’t brilliant and the decor and atmosphere was a bit naff, almost tacky. However, I’ve had worse meals and it certainly filled a hole. Back at the hotel we had a swim before Mrs C did a wash while I caught up on my blogging i.e. writing notes for this thing. Fairly uneventful day as we got one step closer to reaching Dallas.
Tuesday 23rd June
Another hot breakfast, but this time the pancake maker was broken! Not to worry, there was plenty of other bits and pieces to fill us up for the long drive ahead. Our last stop before Dallas was in a place called Denton, which was a suburb of the famous oil city. Our hotel was about 30 miles short of where we had to drop the hire car before noon the following day. Therefore it was close enough to allow us plenty of time if the local traffic was bad.
Drive to Denton was over 300 miles and for 100 of those Deena took over at he helm. She did a good job, but at the first sign of something complicated ahead on the Sat Nav it was back to me behind the wheel! Weather in Texas was milder than where we’d been previously (maybe 95/96f) but more humid. The drive from Amarillo to Denton was enjoyable and completed within four and a bit hours. The second Holiday Inn Express & Suites was a better experience than the first. Everything just felt a bit more professional and cared for. For tea we headed out to a local retail park and partook of some delicious, freshly cooked Panda Express Chinese buffet food.
Once back at the hotel it was soon time for lights out. The end of our road trip was in sight.
Wednesday 24th June (Part 1)
This morning’s hot breakfast featured a working pancake maker! After loading food on board we checked out and made the short, 30 mile trip to Love Field Airport. Felt sad saying goodbye to our car. Fair to say we both really enjoyed having the freedom the car gave us. Next time we return to the States a hire car will feature heavily. Having dropped the car off we searched out a taxi to get us to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas. More of that in the third and final part of our holiday blog.
Thanks for reading.