308 Negra Arroyo Lane

Last week, the Voyager survived the Mexican border, Death Valley and even Hollywood as the minivans ended the week rolling down The Strip. In week six the journey temporarily halts in Vegas before continuing East through the home of Heisenberg, Pinkman & Fring towards Santa Fe.

Day 36 – Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas Sign

It was the morning after the night before which meant another dawn in our poorly lit, foul-odoured, badly air-conditioned, dingy motel paradise. If I am being honest, it was not that bad, plus every last nanosecond I spent on top of a real bed was paradise.

That was until I got up and realised my throat felt like a cheese grater was running up and down my tonsils and I had all the energy of a narcotised sloth. Either I caught something from the grimy air-conditioning unit or I am showing the first signs of bubonic plague – undoubtedly picked up at Yosemite. Seeing as we are in Vegas, I will place a bet on the plague.

Today we soldiered on towards the ‘historic’ side of Las Vegas. Just under a mile from the lavish and opulent Strip lies Fremont Street – a street which has more in common with Barry Island than the Bellagio.

Fremont Street

The entire street is covered by an arched big screen and is home to the oldest casinos in Vegas built by the mob at the start of the twentieth century. They were cramped, the slot machines had seen far better days – as had the servers – and it was hard to see your own hand in front of your face for cigar smoke. Actually, it was all a welcome change.

Fremont Street

Fremont Street

Day 37 – Las Vegas, NV

Day tripping to Utah! As we decided that, at a later date, we would view the Grand Canyon from the Southern rim instead of the North, a special visit to Utah became necessary – and you don’t hear that said too often. It will be one of the few times that we will flagpole a state – effectively jump in and out – in order to tick it off the bucket list. Saint George was to be Shu and I’s chosen Utahn town and it perfectly fulfilled every stereotype of the ‘Life Elevated’ state.

It was parched, humid, craggy and blindingly red. The surrounding mountains were made of a burnt crimson one would associate with the nearby Grand Canyon and the townsfolk had obviously used this abundant material to build everything within it.

Utah

With the exception of the dazzlingly white church – which I would presume could be seen from space – the entire town, including the rotund people living there, were the same shade of red. In fact, it is partially true that Utahn children grow up colour blind until they are exposed to their first rainbow – which with the lack of rain in Utah certainly would not be there, unless you count McDonald’s.

On our return to Vegas we discovered that whilst we were away Aaron and Jess had come within seconds of buying a time share, won a Caribbean Cruise, had a complimentary lunch and got us all free tickets to see a highly entertaining Variety Show that evening. Time did go by slower in Saint George but I didn’t realise we were there for two years.

Day 38 – Still Las Vegas, NV to Boulder City, NV

The Venetian

Once Sin City grabs you it does not let go easily. Day three in Vega… maybe fou… possibly five and we still had the whole Northern end of the Strip – from The Venetian to Stratosphere – to lose our two cents at. The dead weight in my backpack from all the poker chips I had collected from nearly every casino in Vegas was starting to adjust my spine, thirty-two at the last count, so we thought enough was enough. We had to leave the city.

Wynn's

Chip Collection

Not before Shu and Jess span around the top of the five-hundred foot Stratosphere tower in a metal claw – Aaron and I had more important things to do – and we had visited the Amazon room at the Rio Casino, our last. I consider this room sacred and hallowed ground as it is where the World Series of Poker takes place each year in July, which being a part of is on a future bucket list.

Stratosphere

Stratosphere

We thought our day had ended as we entered the parking lot of the same Walmart we had stayed at the night before without issue. Two or three police cars guarded the entrance of the supermarket as we circled around the outside to find a camping spot before I was to go shopping for beef jerky and Cheetos.

Once parked, police cars arrived at one minute intervals in a blaze of lights and sirens until they completely surrounded the building. Unmarked law enforcement vehicles shot up and down the lot and a police helicopter – with glaring spotlight – joined in the commotion.

A moustachioed man in a blue boiler suit and black boots walked carefully away from the scene, in the opposite direction to everybody else, towards our parked minivans. As he came closer we saw his right hand was clutching a holster attached to his waist. His gait was odd, his demeanour more so and his face will be imprinted in our heads for a while to come. As Shu locked the door he shifted past the back of our vans and off into the shadows.

Walmart Shoot-Out

As the hubbub died down, and the evacuees were allowed back to their cars, I went towards the entrance to ask an officer what had happened. He hurriedly explained that someone had been shot at in the car park not ten minutes ago. Mercifully, nobody was hurt but they had not managed to catch the shooter.

As I paced back to the car I was struck by two thoughts. One: none of the locals batted an eyelid at the whole affair and two: where could I now buy beef jerky and Cheetos at one in the morning? Safe to say we headed out of the city limits in the general direction of Lake Mead.

Day 39 – Boulder City, NV to Williams, AZ

Lake Mead

After last nights antics it was a welcome relief to wake up once again in rurality, this time beside Lake Mead. It was a short drive alongside the lake until we reached Hoover Dam – as American as American structures come.

Hoover Dam

Ten dollars for parking and ten dollars to enter the visitors centre nearly gave the dam no hope of pleasing us four. Judging by the colourful license plates, people from every corner of the continent were more than happy to spend a small fortune on their Sunday’s off in the searing heat atop a large beige concrete obstruction.

Hoover Dam

Yes we were some of those people but we did not know any better. I imagine many of the families we witnessed there adorned in full Hoover Dam tourist attire made annual – if not bi-annual – visits. Yes the dam is large, bold and seventy years old but so is Donald Trump – and he’s worth even less of our time. Although I am sure he had many a supporter at Hoover Dam today.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Post-dam we headed South into Arizona, state number ten, to link up once again with Route 66 on our way through Navajo Native American country. This section of the Mother Road is slumberous and only now used by those going out of their way to find it.

We discovered a fantastic old gas-station turned shrine which was full of historic memorabilia and trinkets – license plates, bits of the road e.t.c. Having ‘got our kicks’ we continued along the route and ended our day at another town made famous by the road – Williams, Arizona.

Hackberry

Hackberry

Day 40 – Williams, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ

We briefly adjourned our Eastbound passage on Route 66 to visit the most popular National Park in America – The Grand Canyon. We climbed a small incline towards its lip and got our first glimpse of one of the world’s natural wonders. I thought the gorge in Ystradgynlais was big but this was something else.

Grand Canyon

It is breathtakingly large and almost impossible to focalise or measure with eyesight alone. Actually, the first thing you appreciate is silence. One would think something so vast would emit thunderous groans or the sounds of whirling winds or gushing rapids from the Colorado river far below. However, apart from the tourist gasps and camera clicks it was as quiet as a MENSA meeting in Saint George, Utah.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Whilst hiking the Southern rim we overheard stories of couples who had had their photos taken on the edge of the canyon only to slip backwards, never to be seen again. Despite the fact these tales were incredibly tall we decided we had gathered enough precarious photos to last all our lifetimes. Following one last spectacular view from an abandoned watch tower on the Eastern border of the park, we rejoined Route 66 towards Flagstaff.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Day 41 – Flagstaff, AZ to Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

Today we headed South to Sedona for a few hours of spiritual healing and vortex appreciation. I had no idea that parts of Arizona were a hub of free-spiritism and new-age thinking but here was the evidence. Although it is not so surprising given the almost supernatural appearance of some of the geological formations that exist in and around Sedona – from Cathedral Rock to Bell Rock.

Sedona

Sedona

On our way back to the Mother Road we encountered an all-mighty thunder storm that threatened the permeability of the Voyager as well as the integrity of my underwear. Lightning, which was now becoming a daily occurrence, blasted the vicinity in and around our minivans until we found a clear passage through the storm and back on to Route 66. A change of clothing was not required.

Sedona

Sedona

We passed through several more towns dependant on Route 66 tourism that had obviously seen far better days; Joseph City, Holbrook, Winslow. The latter was obviously the most prosperous and offered the best opportunity to pick up some essential Route 66 merchandise. Who could be without a Route 66 inscribed loofah or hand-made Mother Road moccasins?

Winslow

With the night closing in, and storm clouds still looming, we decided to save the Petrified Forest for tomorrow and camped just outside its isolated gates. A game of Risk along with a few gulps of Yellowstone Whiskey was enough to divert our attention from the dark skies above.

Day 42 – Petrified Forest National Park, AZ to Santa Fe, NM

Petrified Forest National Park

A few gulps of Yellowstone Whiskey turned into a few beers and a bottle of Sangria, I was not feeling well this morn. We crawled into the Petrified Forest and began our tour around some extremely bizarre and beautiful pieces of wood/stone – not quite sure what they are classed as.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

The National Park has some impressive viewpoints of the surrounding wilderness, which I had to sleep between in order to survive, as well as an original section of Route 66 running through it. This section of the road would have been impossible to visualise but for the old burnt-out vehicles used to mark out its path through the anonymous desert.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

We exited the park by its North entrance and headed East, out of Arizona, towards state eleven, New Mexico. Our first stop, Albuquerque, was part of our plans for two reasons and two reasons alone. Route 66 runs through it and Breaking Bad was filmed there.

Albuquerque

The film locations are dotted around the city awaiting set-jetters to find them and pose as Heisenberg standing next to them – as witnessed outside Walt and Skyler’s house. We finished the week making the short fifty mile trip North to the state capital, Santa Fe, full of chicken and fries from Gus Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t show his face.

Albuquerque

Next week the temperature plummets and the group splits once more as the journey reaches ten-thousand kilometres whilst heading North through snow-deprived ski resorts and oxygen-deprived cities in the clouds.

Total kilometres: 9,813

J

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