Yesterday, we drove south-west from the Grand Canyon back to Las Vegas on the last day of our trip. It was mostly dry desert country – a bit similar to the vegetation around Central NSW. We drove nearly 300 miles but most of the trip was on a dual-lane highway with a speed limit of 75 mph. If you travelled at the speed limit (like us), you were the slowest car on the road!
The first town that we came to was Williams, about 90 km south of the Grand Canyon. It was the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by Highway I40 and like similar towns, it milks its heritage as hard as it can. We found a streetscape of old buildings with many of then selling Rout 66 paraphernalia.
This town is also the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Railway. It began in 1901 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway completed a branch line from Williams to Grand Canyon Village. Its a 103 Kilometre long trip. Competition with the motor car forced the line to close in 1968. Now, a modern tourist train leaves Williams every morning and returns late in the afternoon. It connects with tours around the canyon rim and combines travel, meals and accommodation into a package. One of the old steam locomotives is preserved at the Williams train depot.
A little further on, we came across another town connected to Route 66 – Seligman. We found that the museum there had a coffee machine and a restroom, so we stopped for a while. One of the owners had been to Australia (Dubbo of all funny places to visit) in the 1980’s and he beguiled us with stories of his visit and experiences.
Outside, another man had rescued two horses from some unknown ending that he didn’t explain to us and was offering rides to children along the main street of the town. He was quite a character and allowed me to take his photo. I’m not sure that his horses were too cooperative, as every time he turned his back on them, they would retreat back into his horse float and he would have to drag them out again by their tails.
Not far from Las Vegas, we crossed the state border into Nevada, out of Arizona. Just near the border is the giant Hoover Dam. We made a detour off the main road to the visitors centre and found that we had to go through a security check point to enter. For some reason the American Government perceives that the dam and its accompanying power station are a potential terrorist target, so we had to stop and open the windows of our car for a visual inspection before we could go on. We drove across the dam wall and up to an observation point where we could get a good look at this quite remarkable engineering feat.
The dam is constructed as a concrete arch in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was opened on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933, it was officially renamed Hoover Dam by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947. During its construction, thousands of workers toiled on the construction site and over one hundred died during the building process.
The dam has created Lake Mead which is the largest reservoir in the United States. It provides water to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. At maximum capacity, it is 180 km long, 162 metres deep and has a surface area of 640 square kilometres. The local region has been in severe drought for some years and we were told that the water level is expected to drop another 3 metres by the end of the year.. This will place it just 1/2 metre above the critical level when water restrictions will be required..
Our last night in Las Vegas was unremarkable. We stayed at a hotel near the airport (although the airport here is virtually in the centre of town). We arranged a late check out this morning so we could do some shopping and then caught a late afternoon flight to Los Angeles were we have a five hour layover before we catch our flight home to Melbourne.
We have driven just on 3000 miles during this trip and enjoyed every one of them. The scenery has been wonderful and we have met many friendly people who have given us their time, shared information with us and were interested in hearing the story of our travels. America, we will see some more of you on another occasion!