In the morning, we woke up - beers still in hand and telly on - at our hotel in Tuba City; a place we chose to stop at partly because it was directly on our route, but mainly because of it's name. We began the well-rehearsed procedure of clearing the room, packing the car and having breakfast, all now narrowed down to within a 3 hour time period.
In Denny's, we ordered 'the usual' and decided on our route for the day. Heading to Las Vegas the following morning, we had given ourselves the whole day to explore the Grand Canyon before hopefully finding a campsite in the desert for 'Camping: Take 2'.
Leaving Tuba City, we drove to find some Dinosaur fossils that Seb had read about over breakfast. After 20 days of travelling, Barney and I really should have been more wary of Seb's directions of 'Sure, It's just down there on the right', but for some reason we went along with it. We eventually decided that none of the driveways or ranches we drove into looked like ancient Dinosaur hubs and that we were wasting valuable daylight for putting up our tent up later, so we turned around and headed back towards the canyon.
It was about 1.5 miles after we had passed our initial starting point that we saw a 'Dinosaur Footprints: Next Right' sign, so we turned off to take a look.
It was almost 100F outside, as our guide walked us around the plain, showing us snakes, eggs, dinosaur poo and even human footprints from over 200 million years ago, highlighting them by squirting water around their outlines. It was both inspiring and grounding to see such ancient artefacts first hand and so close - I just hope she didn't think we were being disrespectful as we giggled every time she drew what was essentially a huge cock and balls on the desert floor whilst outlining a 5ft T-Rex foot.
Whilst planning our trip to the States we always knew we'd see a lot of change through types of people, culture, terrain and weather. We'd seen a culture change pretty quickly just leaving New York City and sleeping in Maryland that evening. Culture had changed almost daily and the terrain had changed dramatically in just Texas alone. Now it was weather's chance to show off. Having visited the south coast and New Orleans, we'd heard first hand how cruel the weather could be and although it was not nearly on that level, it was certainly giving us a run for our money.
Half an hour after leaving the Dinosaurs we were climbing into the mountains with the temperature having now almost halved to 55F. Our ears popped as we climbed higher and higher into the clouds. The rain started to spit then started to pour. Lightening begun and thunder boomed quickly after. When we got even higher, hail began with such big stones that we were suddenly driving through a bed of white.
On the brink of turning back, we thankfully found a break in the clouds which allowed to us to don some waterproofs, double-sock and leave the car to get some pictures taken. Generally, I think we've been quite good at staying out of tourist traps and hotspots along our route and have at least tried to fit in a little, but standing on the top of the Grand Canyon, Barney with a cup of tea, Seb in his leather jacket and I, with a plastic bowl of porridge, we probably didn't look too local at all.
The Canyon is one of two places on this trip that I've visited previously - the other being Las Vegas. My previous visit was by helicopter on a scorching day in June, 2007, and although vastly different in the rain, it was no less breathtaking. Through flashes of lightening in the clouds, the canyon and it's trickle of Colorado River disappeared eerily into the distance, leaving a haunting silhouette of mountains in the distance. The moisture made the deep green trees jump out against the wet red sand. But as the rain began again and visibility became even poorer, it became quickly apparent that driving up here in the pitch black - not to mention camping - was out of the question.
We sat in the car racking our brains, not having much luck.
"If only we could go to Vegas now", Seb mused.
It probably took only a second or two but it seemed like ten times that for the penny to drop that this was probably manageable. We unfolded the map and worked out that Vegas was approx. 6 thumbs widths away (around 275 miles in layman's terms) so we were actually only around 4 hours away. With Camping: Take 2 now indefinitely postponed, we switched drivers, wound our way down the mountains and headed south as quickly as we (legally) could, rejuvenated after our impromptu decision.
The total mileage of our trip will eventually be close to 5500 miles, but the 275 that we drove that night transported us between two incomparable worlds: from desert to city, from silence to noise, from
darkness to light - from Canyon to Casino. As we descended from the mountains and crossed the Hoover Dam into our penultimate state, Las Vegas was laid out before us. The lights of the city amalgamated into one big blazing light in the desert. We could see the epicentre, The Strip, right in the middle. We put down the map and headed straight for it.
An hour later, we'd checked in, had a beer, been on a roller-coaster, had dinner, watched the fountains at The Bellagio, headed into our first casino and bowled at the (not as good) branch of the Brooklyn Bowl. I suppose we were spoilt visiting the real thing only a few weeks previously but we still ate chicken and played bowling, Barney desperate to win his first game. It wasn't to be his night.
The second night in Vegas was more of the same but we were aware of our early journey to California in the morning. We headed back down The Strip towards our beds a bit earlier, our wallets now firmly secured in our pockets.