A convertible red Mustang speeding along Route 66: sunlight glinting off your aviators, wind in your hair, rock on the radio, desert dust in your wake. This long-held American Dream of ours became a reality as we drove from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon on the first leg of our south-west US road trip.
Our journey necessarily began with a taxi ride from our hotel in Vegas, the Flamingo, to the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center by the airport. Like everything in Vegas, the car hire building was exceptionally large, shiny and slot-machine-filled. We’d pre-booked a rental car through Alamo, so after checking in with them all we had to do was pick our car from a line-up in the attached multi-storey car park. We’d already booked a convertible, and we both agreed the Mustangs had the nicest shape. That decided, it took Steve just seconds to pick the bright red one. It was definitely a ‘louder’ choice than what I would’ve picked, but it’s safe to say I came to love it!
After 10 minutes sat in the car park playing with our new toy’s crazy array of buttons and switches, Steve drove us into the open air. And just like that, we were driving down a massive multi-lane road out of Vegas, in a bright red sports car.
As the Strip’s distinctive hotels shrunk out of view, the mountain ridges lining the horizon grew. The vast flat landscape surrounding the city began to transform into spiked peaks and troughs, steep walls and chasms of terracotta rock on every side. Ten minutes into our journey and it already felt like we’d entered another world.
We followed signs to Hoover Dam along a dusty winding road. Eventually we emerged on a ridge above Colorado River and beneath the stunning Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Spotting the dam, we followed further road signs into a multi-storey car park beside it.
The dam itself isn’t much to look at, but it provides a fantastic viewpoint for admiring the river valley and bridge. It also provides a crossing from Nevada into Arizona, which is illustrated by two side-by-side, dalek-like towers displaying the different time for each state. We crossed the dam, pausing to admire the striking golden doors to the lifts and the views across to the bridge.
The shallower sections of water below were green, and teeming with tiny black fish nibbling at the white rocks. We walked up the hill on the Arizona side to a viewpoint over Colorado River, and marveled at the scene behind the dam: exceptionally still and blue water, and brown cliffs with white waterlines so straight and distinct you’d think they were drawn with a ruler. We bought lunch (delicious chicken salad wraps, crisps and Snapple) from the cafe on the Nevada side before returning to the car.
All that stood between us and the Grand Canyon now was a four-hour drive. Retracing our winding route out of the Colorado River valley, we rejoined Route 93 and proceeded to the small city of Kingman. It was at this point that the roof came down, the sat-nav went off, and we diverted onto the historic Route 66.
Though no more scenic than any other road in the region – in fact, it was one of the flattest and least distinctive we saw – driving one of America’s oldest and most famous roads was an experience in itself. Especially where the road opened up, straight and empty, and the engine roared as we accelerated toward the far horizon with wind gushing and dust flying. Some twiddling with the digital radio found a station playing classic American rock, and it just couldn’t have been more perfect. About two-thirds of the way we stopped by a sign at the roadside to get the obligatory souvenir photos.
The hours flew by as fast as the scenery around us, and it was dark by the time we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park. At the entry gates we bought the $80 agency pass that would get us into every US National Park we wanted, then proceeded down dark, winding roads through dense forest in search of our accommodation. Read on >
All photos and text (c) Juliet Langton, 2016. All rights reserved.