This is part 2 of Bob "Woody" Woodward's great American road trip story. It's like On the Road, but with granddaughters in tow.
Following a family caucus, a unanimous decision is made to stay in Las Vegas for one more day. Weighing heavily in the decision is the fact that the hotel swimming pool is too great not to enjoy some more and also the girls are hoping to ride the famous New York-New York roller coaster. That, and see the real honest to goodness, albeit caged, lions at the MGM Grand.
We join what seems like the entire population of America traipsing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction. First stop for us is the Hard Rock Casino with its exhibitions of rocker performance outfits and other memorabilia.
Britney Spears' nearly see-through G-string and bra outfit rates an "ugh" from the girls. Katy Perry's high red boots and black mini skirt, however, receives an enthusiastic "way cool."
Next to The Strip, where it's apparent being in the digital camera or camcorder business has to be the best business in America. Every single moment of every tourist's time in Las Vegas is being judiciously recorded and will probably playing ad nauseum when back home.
As we walk along we run into way too many people acting out. These are the victims of thinking that their attempts to relive The Hangover makes them really cool. Four noisy drunks come roaring shirtless into New York-New York and are quickly ejected. A team of dumpy guys wearing the same color rugby shirt try to look cool and fail miserably. Even the girls sense their dorkiness despite their attempts to talk Vegas cool. "Texas hold 'em or some broads?" yells one.
To get to the roller coaster inside New York-New York, you have to first pass through the deafening noise of the arcade. The girld get their money out and make the rollercoaster ride, arriving back with these takes: The younger one says: "That was awesome scary." The older one about to enter her teens says: "Is my face red? I've never been so scared."
As for granddad, he's glad the scary part is over and goes in search of a real New Yorker in the mélange of people. He finds a guy from the Bronx who says, "this place is a freaking joke, maybe Coney Island but not New York. Come on."
The joke is on us as across the street at the MGM where the lions don't appear but twice daily and their next appearance is hours away. Time to move on.
And so the grandparental/granddaughter road trip heads north and east toward Zion National Park. At last clean air, pines, cottonwoods, rushing river waters, red rocks and solitude. Oh, and 50 inner-city L.A. kids on their first trip to a National Park camped all around us.
To their everlasting credit, the inner-city kids are having the time of their life and when a deer walks through the campground, 50 digital point-and-shoot cameras come out and several thousand images are taken.
Zion these days is more special than ever because of the fact that cars have been virtually eliminated from the Park's roads. We use the five-mile long bike path to get to some of the park's more notable sights or ride the shuttle buses that run up and down the canyon all day.
Hikers are everywhere and some of the shorter trails have traffic jams. Bunched in with the hikers, there are literally thousands of budding Ansel Adams. A couple loaded down with a gazillion dollars in expensive digital camera gear walks past grousing because they've forgotten their split neutral density filters back in camp.
Just as the point-and shoot business is the one to be in Las Vegas, in Zion selling digital SLR gear and accessories must be a goldmine. For us, the mother lode is swimming in the Virgin River. It proves not too cold, not too warm, but just right. And what a view from a small sandy beach with red towers soaring towards a cobalt blue sky.
Traveling on, we drive through tunnel at the east end of Zion emerging onto a classic Southwest landscape cut with canyons, topped by broad mesas and dotted with Pinon pine forests. Our route rises up onto the Colorado Plateau with its pine and aspen forests and lush green high valleys known in these parts as "parks".
In one park a herd of buffalo roams. The girls, ever electronically engaged during the long drives, look up, declare that they've never seen a buffalo before and then get back to their electronic world.
Arriving at the north rim of the Grand Canyon we learn that our campsite is about 100 feet from where you can peer down into the abyss. But the best canyon views are from the aged North Rim Lodge. From the Lodge's expansive living room with its huge bay windows you can look south out over the canyon. Dozens of weary hikers doze in easy chairs while others sit enthralled by the spectacular site before them.
Outdoors, to either side of the living room, are large decks where people gather to watch the sun set. We feast on the view and then on a dinner of beans and franks in camp and call it a night as the winds pick up gusting to 50 miles-per-hour. The girls sleep restlessly. Their weary elders snooze happily.
The next morning the wind persists now blowing steadily in the 30s. By the time we head across Arizona, the average wind speed has risen into the 40s. Dust is in the air, first a bit and then a dark red cloud before us worthy of a storm scene from Lawrence of Arabia. The storage box on top of the car migrates from one side of the roof rack to the other under pressure from the wind and gets an added load of red sand that mixes in with the camping gear.
On we charge past Antelope Canyon where the Ansel Adams wannabees eventually migrate to take a photo of a deep slot canyon bathed in warm sunlight. Antelope Canyon used to be free and a place for those who had the desire and stamina to get there. Now it's just another expensive roadside attraction.
At Four Corners the girls join the flock of tourists to straddle four states. In Cortez, Colorado there's the prospect of getting out of the wind, swim, a de-dusting and thoughts of Mesa Verde on our minds.