The itinerary begins with a bang at Bryce Canyon. It’s undeniably one of the most staggering sights on Earth, though it’s not technically a canyon at all. It’s actually a quirk of erosion, with the elements carving vast natural amphitheatres into the landscape. The forces of frost, water and wind have left towering hoodoos – craggy pillars of red and orange rock forming a vast silent geological forest which looks like something you’d see on some particularly psychedelic episode of Star Trek.
Whether you take a scenic drive through this magical realm, or go on a leisurely hike across one of the clearly marked trails, you’ll be met with more photo-worthy vistas than your Facebook or Instagram can cope with. There are various well-known vantage points to seek out as well, with Sunset Point being perfect to see the intense light show created by coming twilight. And don’t miss the distinctive rock formation known colourfully as “Thor’s Hammer”…
After a day at Bryce Canyon, you’ll want to get up early the next day for the 5-hour drive south to an even more iconic natural attraction: the Grand Canyon. Slowly carved into the landscape by the mighty Colorado River, it’s a sight that leaves people spellbound, with its craggy, meandering, layered rock faces telling the story of the Earth itself. And the canyon is so deep that it creates its very own disparate microclimates within.
It’s easy to feel daunted by the sheer size and spectacle of the Grand Canyon, but don’t worry. You can go on a ranger tour to learn the history and science of this vast crevasse, and you can easily take a day hike to experience the majesty of the canyon, close-up. You should also make time to wander the Grand Canyon Historic Village, where you’ll find the Hopi House, the early 20th-century landmark designed by Mary Colter, and the Lookout, which lives up to its name with jaw-dropping views over the Grand Canyon.
No time to rest the next day, because there’s another spectacular sight on the agenda. This time, it’s one created by human hands: the Hoover Dam. Located under 4 hours west of the Grand Canyon, the dam was built during the 1930s, in the darkest years of the Great Depression, and attracted a small army of workers eager to be part of this epic construction project. They toiled in hellish conditions, and many died. But the result is a looming, sleek marvel of engineering that looks almost surreal against the landscape.
You can take its grandeur in from a nearby vantage point: the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which was built relatively recently. Its walkway is an ideal spot to admire the dam and take some memorable snaps. Then, you can head within the Hoover Dam itself, on an intimate guided tour of the power plant within, with its formidable machinery. It almost feels like you’re entering the lair of a James Bond villain, and will give you an insight into a landmark that changed this region forever.
A relatively short drive west will take you from the Hoover Dam to the razzle-dazzle of Las Vegas. You’ll probably want to spend at least a night here, to really soak up the atmosphere and have a taste of the legendary resort hotels like the Bellagio and Caesars Palace. The unstoppable energy of the casinos is just one aspect of this destination – it’s also renowned for its fine dining, attracting some of the planet’s finest chefs, and of course the star-studded live shows that make the perfect night out.
During your time in Vegas, you may want to pencil in a day trip to Rhyolite, an engrossingly atmospheric ghost town on the cusp of Death Valley. Formed in the early 20th century after gold was found in the area, Rhyolite went into overdrive for a number of years as miners and fortune-seekers charged into the area. But the bust came as swiftly as the boom, and now only some eerie structure remain – fossils from a bygone time. Look out for the Bottle House, which was built by a local, literally from 50,000 booze bottles.
The week continues with a 90-minute drive south of Las Vegas, to another Nevada gem: Laughlin. It’s proof that Vegas doesn’t have the monopoly on glitzy hangouts, as Laughlin has its very own casino strip where you can spend an enjoyable evening hopping from venue to venue. But the real perk of this city is the River Walk, which has a buzzing atmosphere day and night, and will allow you to wander by the waters of the Colorado River.
If you really want to make the most of the river, you can even opt for a languid dinner cruise. Or, if golf is your thing, you have to head to Laughlin Ranch, a public course on the foothills of the Black Mountains, offering sumptuous greens and views of the casinos and the ever-present river.
What better place to end your road trip than Palm Springs? Located southwest of Laughlin, its very name has an air of romance and luxury to it. That’s probably because it’s long been synonymous with Hollywood royalty, with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe having come here to rest and play. Its elegant boutiques and up-scale restaurants still make it a holiday hotspot today, while the famous spas are where you go to get pampered in true A-list fashion.
One must-do while in Palm Springs is taking a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This is the world’s biggest rotating tram car, and carries visitors over Chino Canyon to the wilds of Mount San Jacinto State Park. The rotation will give you unparalleled views of the region, so have that camera handy.
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