Friday, 15 May 2015

Day 1 – Tuesday 14th April

Las Vegas was certainly not what I had expected, nor what I had packed for. TV programmes and films had let me presume that Vegas was this hot, dry place. Instead, we’ve landed in the middle of an extremely windy and dusty place, in the midst of a sandstorm. The sandstorm had certainly made the final moments of our long travel very interesting, and nauseating for that matter, yet it was an apparent reminder of just how different and harsh the environment can be ‘out west’.
(Photo courtesy of Alasdair Spark - This is the sandstorm we arrived in, the view is from the airport over 'The Strip'.)
The second of our two flights allowed me to see the mixed scenery below. We left the metropolitan surrounding of New York City to fly over field after empty field, with nothing but unoccupied land stretching for miles. Dry and dusty landscapes topped with snow-capped mountains passed below us, before we were finally able to set our eyes upon Las Vegas. It surprised me desolate the city looks, a cluster of buildings in the middle of nowhere. Las Vegas is in close proximity to nothing else of interest, allowing for the idea of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” to become a reality.
(The view from the plane window was fly from New York City to Las Vegas - field after field)
Even in my half-asleep state, I am fully aware of how small I feel in comparison to the glory of Las Vegas. Driving into the city felt like driving into another world, everything is here for your convenience, food, entertainment and designer goods galore - and it’s yours for the taking if you have the money for it. I’m apprehensive about what Vegas is about to throw at me, and slightly afraid that I won’t be able to keep up with the type of lifestyle Vegas expects you to have to belong here.

Day 2 – Wednesday 15th April

When you drive out to the edge of the city, and the road literally runs out. The houses grow in size and vary in style, thanks to the freedom of planning here, but then they too eventually disappear. The landscape reaches the edge of the desert, gone are the palm trees, and only mountains remain. Las Vegas looks alone in the landscape. The hotels reminded me of trees in a forest, each sprouting up towards the sun, to shadow the others and be the tallest building for miles around. It’s survival of the fittest in architectural form.
(The view of Las Vegas from the edge of the city)
I can’t help but feel as if Las Vegas is a city of simulation, a spectacle. Many of the hotels are themed on places around the world, only smaller and tackier, and certainly not as good as the real thing. None-the-less, we all stop to take pictures and marvel in the wonder of a scaled down Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty. A. Fuat Firat’s idea of a ‘thematization’[1] is certainly prevalent in the casino’s in Vegas, and this sense of hyper-reality creates a themed world, much like Disneyland, and sometimes it’s hard to shake the comparison between the two. Both play on what we already know, and both still draw us in because, deep down, we don’t really care that we’re not really in Paris, it’s all just a bit of fun. In fact, maybe it’s easier to enjoy because it’s so detached from history and culture. It’s fun to enjoy New York New York without thinking too much of 9/11. It’s easier to enjoy Caesar’s Place without being reminded of the horrors of gladiator rings. At the end of the day, Las Vegas is here to entertain, not to serve as a monument to bloodshed of days gone by.
(An example of the 'thematization' of Las Vegas - The Venetian - A hotel with an Italian theme. Remarkably, the replica Rialto Bridge is to scale with the real thing, however this one comes complete with travellators!)
Upon walking down Las Vegas Boulevard, I begin to realise this is a city of oppositions. It prides itself as being a rich and luxurious place, yet the streets are lined with beggars. The shops all sell a lifestyle I certainly cannot afford, whilst outside the pavements are full of people begging for change. This harsh reality of poverty is one Vegas is desperately trying to hide, but you can’t not notice it. There is no safety net for the people who cannot afford to live here, and the volume of people in this situation is shocking. It's no wonder that often these 'beggars' get moved along by hotel security, as they highlight all the problems associated with this way of life in Vegas.


[1] A. Fuat Firat, “Las Vegas and the Postmodern” from The Meanings and Messages of Las Vegas: The Present of our Future, 2001

Day 3 – Thursday 16th April

Consumerism lies at the heart of the American way of life, especially the outlet mall which is the epitome of American shopping, but to me it felt worn and sad. Once the pride of America, malls have become vintage, and based upon experiences in malls in England such as West Quay in Southampton, it seems as if other places are simply better at being ‘American’. Many instead now choose to shop online, or in places such as Town Square. Town Square couldn’t have been more different from the outlet mall if it tried. Everything about it felt fake, although in reality it is somewhere people actually go, the very name of the place itself oozing a sense of community. Town Square didn’t feel American to me, there was an odd European charm to the place, yet I felt like I’d landed on the set for The Stepford Wives.
(A photo by Alasdair Spark, showing the AstroTurf park in Town Square)
Each of the casinos along “The Strip” all compete to draw in anyone with a dime to their name. They all boast something different, from the entertainment of New York New York, to the more upmarket and classy MGM. Venturing into NYNY felt like an assault on the senses. There was so much going on, from the rollercoaster, to the many food stands, and all the shops selling a fabricated New York experience. The cliental seemed younger here compared to other hotels, perhaps due to the emphasis of entertainment over gambling. The Excalibur couldn’t have been more different in comparison, with the medieval theme feeling a bit past-it. It almost went a bit too far into the ‘novelty’ category, making it look a bit lost in the glory of The Strip. It felt much emptier, forgotten and overshadowed by all the much more exciting casinos on The Strip. But in each of the hotels, there is a sure feeling that there is so much more to do than just the casino, and that gambling is just a small portion of what is on offer. This changing nature of entertainment in Las Vegas keeps guests coming back for more, and keeps it always current and relevant in contemporary America.
(Right: The outside of New York New York, showing many iconic sights of New York City.
Left: A themed souvenir shop in New York New York playing on the iconic I Love New York brand.)
Freemont Street felt a lot more like the Vegas I had initially expected. Here, it felt like the rule book had been chucked out the window, and that anything goes. So many things surprised me here, from the relaxed attitude to nudity on the street, the sheer volume of smokers in the casinos, and how the dealers and tellers were all pretty young women, whereas on Las Vegas Boulevard they were all trusty old men. Freemont Street has all the makings of a cultural hub, a multi-cultural place with people from all walks of life gathering here to let their hair down. Is Freemont Street old Vegas? Or perhaps, is Freemont Street a poor man’s Vegas? One thing seems very certain to me though, here  everything is designed to make you feel like you’re in Vegas, while only spending a fraction of the cost.

(A 'Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas' sign at Freemont Street, playing off the iconic imagery of the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign on Las Vegas Boulevard)
(Large neon signs at Freemont Street, showing how bright and bold the area was, although to me this felt a lot tackier than Las Vegas Boulevard.)


Day 4 – Friday 17th April

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is the right to keep and bear arms, and many Americans feel strongly and passionately in favour of this. Being British, I’ve always struggled to understand why anyone would feel this right to be necessary, but now that I’ve fired a handgun, I’ve found it to be quite liberating – if incredibly unnatural. I remembered how during my first year I was asked my reaction to seeing a picture of two children holding guns, and my response was that it felt cruel and shocking, and my opinion has not changed. The men we met and spoke to within the gun store felt that gun ownership was a way of life for them, the man looking after us on the range even had a gun and a knife on his persons. I also couldn’t help but notice that you could buy a handgun for as little as $50 in the store, which makes them accessible even for those who can’t afford a top of the range gun. I’ll never understand completely why gun ownership is a right people need in their lives, I feel guns are extremely dangerous and that too often they fall into the wrong hands, but luckily for me, I live in a country where guns aren’t such a big deal.

(Top: A picture of me shooting a handgun, an experience which felt completely out of my comfort zone.
Bottom: A list of all the shooting packages which are available in the Gun Store's shooting ranch, varying from handguns, to machine guns.)
Las Vegas is completely surrounded by conservation land, and Red Rock Canyon lies at the heart of this. It offers an interesting juxtaposition of nature and city within one sweeping view, a phenomenon which I’m sure I’ll be pushed to find anywhere else on quite this scale. It’s a wonder that the city hasn’t encroached into Red Rock, and that such a beautiful place can coexist with such a hectic city. Perhaps because the nature of the land at Red Rock is so uninhabitable that the city has no choice but to avoid the area altogether, or perhaps it is preserved to become the playground for those who come to the city, but still yearn for nature and space.

(The view of Las Vegas from the top of the Calico Tanks trail at Red Rock Canyon.)
I thought I wouldn’t enjoy the hiking elements of this trip, but I’ve surprised myself with how ‘fit’ I am, and how since my arrival, this is the most clear my head has been.  It’s such a beautiful thing to have lungs that allow you to breathe this fresh air, and legs which allow you to climb mountains, and it’s a shame that sometimes we don’t realise that is all we need in life. I feel privileged to have hiked Red Rock Canyon, and experience the freedom of nature alongside the crazy confinement of Las Vegas.

(Hiking back down from Calico Tanks at Red Rock Canyon, showing the rocky terrain.)

Day 5 – Saturday 18th April

Today we left Las Vegas, which comes as a relief. I’ve found that I cannot keep up with the lifestyle of Vegas, it’s too expensive, elaborate, and rushed. I miss my steady pace of life, and the space to allow my thoughts to flourish. It’s safe to say Las Vegas has left my mind boggled. 
The open road here is unlike any other driving experience I’ve had. The scenery extends into long, straight open roads, with only the odd occasional small town approaching, then fading into view. It’s been exhilarating to escape the city and be surrounded by fresh air and open spaces again, just like home. At one point, Fran remarked how it had been seven miles since he had last turned the steering wheel, something which seems to be the norm whilst driving here. The drive allowed me to ponder many thoughts about America, such as how without cars, travelling across the USA would be incredibly difficult. This may be why for many, the car and the highway have become a way of life, as for some, it’s the only connection they have to shops, other people, and amenities.

(The view from the car as we drive from Las Vegas towards Kanab, showing empty land as far as the eye can see.)
On the drive we passed by a small Mormon community, Colorado City. All the women were dressed similarly, with the same hair style, whilst the mend were also plainly dressed. I noticed the houses were fairly large, some with noticeable extensions. Perhaps this was accommodate larger families with many children, and maybe even multiple wives. I got the sense that I definitely didn’t belong here whilst we were driving through, I was in a territory I definitely didn’t feel comfortable being in.
Our first taste of history comes from a visit to Pipe Spring National Monument. This is an area of land on the reservation of the Kaibab Pauite, where water has made it possible to survive in the dry desert. We are told how Mormons moved into the area, building a fort, and how hospitable they are, however I cannot shake the thought out of my head that they stole the land. It’s all very well that they were hospitable, but the land wasn’t theirs in the first place, and I’m surprised as to how relaxed the attitudes towards this idea are. If this was me, I’d be pretty annoyed, even to this day, about my land being inhabited by others against my will. There has been obvious conflict over the land use and ownership between the Mormons and the Kaibab Paiutes, but is this an issue still ongoing today? There doesn’t seem to be much tension about this issue during our visit, perhaps suggesting that it is a common feeling that this is how it is now, and that the only way to move past it is to get over it.
(An old wagon at Pipe Spring, showing how the Mormons used to travel around the land.)
(Inside Windsor Castle at Pipe Spring, showing how modern the Mormon building was, it even had a telegraph wire installed.)

Day 6 – Sunday 19th April

Being in a small town after being in the hectic city of Las Vegas is a strange sensation. Suddenly the streets are empty, the sidewalks are narrower and there is no music playing, and the shops disappear. Kanab on a Sunday has been challenging to explore, considering that the majority of the population has been packing out the local Mormon Church just down from our hotel. The churches car park is overflowing, suggesting a strong faith within the local community. The town seems mainly local, with many travellers passing through, and the few businesses offering multiple things such as food and gifts in order to draw them in.
(Outside of the Mormon Church on the main road in Kanab.)
Lifestyle is much more relaxed here, much less chaotic than Vegas. I’m not sure I can live here because it feels too claustrophobic. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and there is a lack of things to do which excite me. I always thought I was more of a rural girl due to my upbringing, but here I’m starting to long for city life once again.
(A view up the main road in Kanab, showing how much quieter it is than Las Vegas.)
Finding sand dunes not too far from Kanab was bizarre. It was so strange to have a sandy desert area surrounding trees and mountains. It was incredibly peaceful, serene and relaxing to sit on top of a sand dune, catch my breath, and reflect on all the travelling so far. Although we were not too far from the main road, there was no sound except the howling of the wind, and the sound of sand being carried along with it. Was this true wilderness? This was much less of a tourist attraction, with no large information centre, only a few pathways and one viewing platform present. The land felt untouched and natural, and I felt I was heavily intruding on the land, making footprints where the land deserved to be left alone.
(The sand dunes, which are clearly enormous in comparison to the people in the image. This picture also shows the varying landscape around the sand dunes, from sand to trees and mountains in the background.)

Day 7 - Monday 20th April

(The view from the top of our first hike at Zion National Park, looking over the incredible landscape.)
Zion, what a gorgeous name for such an amazing place. There are many different meanings to the word ‘Zion’, but one of the most common is ‘dry place’, however, Zion National Park is more like an oasis in the desert. The National Park is made up of 229 sq. miles of land in Utah, made up of mixed landscapes, from forests and mountains, to waterfalls and rivers. The views are breath-taking and beautiful, and it seemed to be a very family friendly location. Zion seems to be ideal for ‘city families’ to escape to, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and get back to nature. Because of this, the park is very user friendly, with handrails, footpaths, roads and a shuttle bus to allow easy access. Does this indicate this isn’t wilderness anymore? Zion seems to be a fabricated, accessible wilderness. In some ways, it verges of becoming a themepark, with shuttlebuses which call out things to look for, creating a fake experience.
(Driving around Zion, the roads make the experience much more accessible.)
 I noticed that the majority of people tended to be around the Zion Lodge, nearer to civilization and ‘necessities’. This however takes away from the idea of being at one with and fully immersing into nature, meaning that people actually have a much less authentic experience of the wilderness. The only way you’d be able to have a genuine experience at Zion is to venture further into the park, off the beaten track, and go on the hikes less walked.
(The lawn around Zion Lodge, where a large number of visitors seem to stay close to.)

Zion has challenged what I believed to be true wilderness, an area of isolation, as it was too busy. Perhaps the idea of wilderness has changed from this, to be something which is created for people to go to pretend they are at one with nature, when deep down they are passing the time before they can escape back to the towns and cities.
(One of the trails we walked, showing how beautiful and natural the area is.)

Day 8 – Tuesday 21st April

Marble Canyon is in every sense the most isolated place I’ve ever stayed. Essentially, all we have is a place to eat, a place to sleep, and each other. There’s no phone signal, there’s no wifi. We are completely alone. I’m actually enjoying this peace and quiet, it makes a refreshing change from the intense week we’ve had so far. Marble Canyon is the most remote place we will be visiting during our travels, and we’ve been told we may even double the population whilst we visit; which seemed certainly true whilst dining in the local restaurant, when we accounted for nearly half of the customers. The sky here is incredibly clear, with no light pollution. The stars look so bright at night, brighter than I’ve seen them anywhere else in all my life. This lack of pollution from other humans makes it so much clearer that we are isolated from the world out here.
(Picture courtesy of Marija Serafinas - The view from our room at Marble Canyon, showing the majority of what was available there, such as the gas station, the convenience store and a post office.)
However, Marble Canyon is not for the faint hearted. Laying between the beautiful backdrop of mountains on one side, and canyons and the Colorado River on the other, I feel as if I couldn’t live here. It’s too far away from the rest of the world, from all the basics you’d need to survive, and the only way you’d be able to reach any amenities is to drive. For many, Marble Canyon seems to be a stopover. Everywhere we’ve gone there are people with RVs who want to experience life on the open road, travel and nature. I can’t help but see the irony within this, as although lifestyles have adapted due to technological advancements, people are wanting to get back to nature and a simpler way of life. Maybe they are finding that life was better before it became too technological.
(The roads around Marble Canyon were so incredibly quiet, that it was possible to lay in the middle of the road for a while without the risk of being run over!)
This simpler way of life was summarised by our visit to Lonely Dell Ranch today, a ranch owned by many different settlers and owners since the 1800’s. Situated at Lees Ferry by the Pariah River, on the only flat part of the river making it accessible for transport. The ranch symbolises how settlers made a living out in the west, growing fruits such as peaches and apples. It feels like such a bizarre and old-fashioned way of life, similar to how we saw the Mormon community lived at Pipe Springs.
(Left: The sign post into Lonely Dell Ranch, showing the dramatic landscape around it.
Right: One of the small houses on the ranch, where people who worked here would have lived.)

Day 9 – Wednesday 22nd April

The hike down Cathedral Wash to the Colorado River has been one of the most ethereal experiences of my life so far. Despite my previous experiences at Zion and Red Rock, this felt like the closest to nature I’ve been on this trip, and among the most isolated I’ve felt in life. On the couple of hours round trip, we only encountered three women towards the end as we were emerging back out the canyon. This means to say we had been alone for the majority of the experience, something which didn’t actually freak me out until later when I was reflecting on the experience. If something was to have gone horribly wrong, we would’ve been a long way from help, a situation I’ve never been in before in my life.
(Hiking down Cathedral Wash towards the Colorado River, and the challenging terrain we faced on the way down.)
Personally, I’ll always remember this hike as a metaphor for life. Although it may be a struggle and hard work getting there, you can be sure that there is always something beautiful at the end. The view was breath-taking, absolutely phenomenal. Untouched and uninterrupted views of the Colorado River from the water’s edge was our reward for making our way carefully down the canyon, and it was simply stunning.
(The view at the bottom of the hike as we made it to the Colorado River.)
I took some time to sit at the water’s edge, meditate briefly, and take in the wonder of world around me. It was a really rewarding and unforgettable moment of my life, I felt like my mind was finally at peace.
(Sitting at the water's edge by the little beach on the side of the Colorado River.)
Later on in the day we travelled out to Glen Canyon Dam, and the town of Page. Page was established in response to the dam’s creation, as a place for the workers and their families to live. It’s amazing to see how such a powerful river can be controlled by such a simple structure, and how it filters the silt from the river changing it from the natural yellow and red to a clear stream. Although it’s a large dam, I’ve discovered that there are even bigger ones in California. Perhaps this is to do with the fact that California has a much larger population, and a much bigger drought to deal with.
(Glen Canyon Dam, and the sheer volume of water it holds back.)

Day 10 – Thursday 23rd April

I’ve never given much thought to American history beyond what I’ve been taught, which is why I was surprised to see dinosaur footprints on the Navajo Reservation. Obviously there was life before the Navajo on the land, but it was one of the things I'd least expected to see on this trip. Our Navajo guide showed us around, making references to popular culture, reminding me that although we have a romantic idea of native people, they are modern too. Our guide told us about how people would just come along and take the fossils from the land, and he seemed fairly relaxed and casual towards this. This shocked me, as it seemed that they were just used to people coming along and taking away what rightfully belonged to them, which seemed wrong on every level to me.

(Some of the dinosaur footprints we saw on the Navajo reservation, which were preserved for millions of years, only to run the risk of being chiselled out and stolen today.)
Being on the Navajo Reservation didn’t feel much different to being on the road anywhere else. There were the tell-tale signs that we were in a different territory, such as the dominance of native people, the Navajo tax on items in shops, and the Navajo flag waving proudly in the wind along the sides of the roads.

(The Navajo Nation seal which could often be seen around the Navajo Nation.)
One of the ‘selling-points’ of this trip was a chance to see Monument Valley, and I have to admit I was hugely disappointed. Although it is an iconic symbol of the American West, I fear I’ve seen so much mountainous landscape on my travels that this failed to make any sort of impression on me at all. Because there was no tour or museum, I feel like I didn’t learn anything, and ultimately when we drove away, I was just as clueless about Monument Valley as when I’d arrived. Why is it such a symbolic place? What does it mean to the Navajo who live there?

(This picture is actually from the following day, but due to bad weather on our first visit to Monument Valley, most of my pictures were rendered useless. In contrast to my point, viewing Monument Valley the following day from a different angle was actually more impressive. Perhaps the weather helped, or maybe it's just that this is the iconic image I'm used to seeing in films such as Forrest Gump.)
I was surprised to see that people actually live at Monument Valley, and that there is a town across the road from it, full of all the things you’d expect a town to have. This is the side to Monument Valley they leave off the postcards, the part you only see if you bother to cross the road and have a look around. Immediately I can see a striking resemblance between here and the Pyramids of Egypt, where people are actually living among them, but in pictures you only ever see the landmark. In both instances, if the camera was to turn around, you would see the reality of the area, and how it is much more than a tourist attract, it is a part of the town.
(A view of Monument Valley from the small town where locals live, showing some buildings and signs of life around the iconic area.)

San Jaun Inn creates a different kind of isolation to the one I’d experienced at Marble Canyon. There’s a much bigger divide in culture here, with the local restaurant offering a Navajo section of the menu. One of the staples on the menu is fried bread, a food which is part of the diet and culture of many Navajo people. I can’t help but wonder why the Navajo would eat this, as it was introduced into their diets during the Long Walk and imprisonment. It’s like Jewish people eating the foods given to them in concentration camps. The cruel irony of this haunts me a little, as it’s just another horrible reminder of the reality of these people, and how they’ve come to be pushed onto reservations after all the hardships they’ve already endured in American history.


Day 11 – Friday 24th April

It’s often forgotten that the Native Americans are actually civilised people, and this has been made very clear today. Wupatki National Monument was a very spiritual area, an area where you can clearly see how developed life was for Natives in the area. The key part which stood out for me, is how they lived in buildings. I’ve previously spoken about the romantic view we often have of Native’s, and the idea of them living in mud huts or tepee’s is one which is often quickly conjured, but this is not the case. The buildings here were quite sophisticated, with multiple floors, and promoting a communal way of living. Was this the Native answer to Pipe Spring? Both have a welcoming feel to them, with everyone accepted as long as they work as part of the community.
(Ruins of a building at Wupatki National Monument, where natives would've lived communally.)

Flagstaff is a place I feel I could definitely settle into. Driving through the town, especially in the rain, it feels slightly familiar, European even. The population feels much more familiar, it’s a university town, and there’s evidence of this everywhere. There are students working in all the shops and diners, as well as shops selling college merchandise and supplies. In some ways, I can see this as America’s version of Winchester, which is probably why I feel strangely at home here.
(The view from the hotel room at Flagstaff, I'll confess this is the only picture I have of Flagstaff, but in my defence it was mostly raining or snowing for the duration of our stay here. But as you can see, the landscape of the town seems familiar to home, or at least it does to me - minus the mountains in the background.)
Flagstaff is very spread out, with no city centre unlike English towns. This small American town boasts many middle-class amenities and shops, such as Target. I got to experience Walmart here in Flagstaff, which surprised me. I found there was less of a focus on food, with food being pushed to the far back corner of the store. Instead, Walmart seemed to be selling a lifestyle to their customers, with media, clothes and makeup dominating the store. Another thing which stood out about my Walmart experience was the greeter at the door. This is not something we have in supermarkets in England, but this wasn’t the only thing about this which stood out. The greeter was an elderly lady on a mobility scooter, who had an oxygen tank. I’ll confess, at first I thought she was there on behalf of a charity, but she actually worked there. I was shocked that she had to work, because there is no welfare or safety net in place for people in her situation. It made me feel quite glad to be living in England, and to never take our welfare system for granted ever again.

Day 12 – Saturday 25th April

The Grand Canyon is certainly that, grand. Despite the rain and the fog, the Grand Canyon is a truly majestic sight to behold. I arrived preloaded with many questions. Is it anything more than a giant crack in the earth? Why do people come from all over the world to see it? Is it merely a photo opportunity? I’m not sure I got many answers to my questions, if the weather had been better I’m sure I would’ve explored a lot more about the Grand Canyon, but my time here was not wasted.
(A quick break in the rain, the magnificent views down into the Grand Canyon.)
Even though the weather was appalling, I noticed that there was still many people visiting for the day. We struggled to find a space in the carpark, indicating that even on the worst of days, the Grand Canyon still manages to pull in a huge tourist crowd. There was a wide variety of people there too, from coaches of foreign tourists, to families and even the elderly. Anyone and everyone wanted a chance to have their photos taken at the Grand Canyon. Maybe it was the weather, but a large volume of people seemed to only go to view the canyon to take their pictures, and only a small few actually physically participated in walking and venturing into the canyon. It seemed that the World Heritage site seemed to be made into a holiday site, much like Monument Valley, where you had to pay to gain close proximity to it. Another way this was evident was by the huge number of gift shops. They were everywhere, and they were all selling the same expensive generic gift shop rubbish, yet everyone was happy to pay out for it because it was ‘genuine Grand Canyon gift shop rubbish’.
(Joining the masses and having my picture taken at the Grand Canyon, it was virtually impossible to get one at the point where we were without having someone else in the edge of the shot, because of how incredibly packed the area was.)
Whilst at the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t help but notice how much they pushed the native theme. Designed by Mary Colter in the early 1900’s, the Hopi House is at the heart of this. It sells many Native American crafts, often made by the Hopi who still inhabit the land. It is easily forgotten that the Grand Canyon is part of Hopi land, and that they do still in fact live there, mainly because most people only see what is portrayed in films and on television, and often this leaves out the history of the Hopi tribe. The native influence carried on into artwork all around the visitor buildings at the Grand Canyon, be it paintings on doors, or woven rugs in the lodges.
(Native style paintings on doors and walls like this were very common to spot when walking around the Grand Canyon visitor centres.)
The Grand Canyon, despite the weather, has been a firm highlight of my time here in America. It’s such an iconic place, and to say I’ve travelled all this way, hiked slightly down into it, and learnt about the history of the site and the people here, makes me very proud. I remember commenting to Fran earlier in the week about how we’d already experienced canyons, and remarked what was so special about the Grand Canyon. Now I’ve been, I can see exactly what is special about the Grand Canyon. There is nowhere else on this planet that can rival it in terms of geological impact. Its size is astonishing, terrifying, and a reminder of just how small you are as a person on this ginormous earth.
(Photo courtesy of Claudia Colborn -  Little me feeling very small in an arch on a walk down slightly into the Canyon.)

Day 13 – Sunday 26th April

It’s with a heavy heart that we leave life on the open road to return back to Las Vegas. The freedom of the open road is exhilarating, and I’m not ready to be squeezed back into Las Vegas, with people walking into me with every step I take.
We stopped off at two towns en route. The first was Seligman, a town famous for being a part of old Route 66. Route 66 became famous for being the main road between Chicago and California, and being used during the Dust Bowl Migration of the 1930’s. However, this is not how Route 66 is remembered. In Seligman, the idea of a 1950’s America is being sold, using figures such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, who have nothing to do with Route 66. So why are they being used? Is it because the 1950s are the golden age of American motoring? I guess it would be pretty hard to sell the idea of a depression era and migration, which is why this idea is one which is alternatively sold. I got fairly bored in Seligman. Although there are many, many gift shops, it was a case of once you’d been in one, you’d been in them all. Nothing stood out as eye-catching or different, it was simply a much tackier version of what I’d envisioned before visiting.
(Top: Signs saying 'Route 66' were everywhere in different styles, on shops, on the road, and on all gifts for sale.
Bottom: A sign for a gift shop selling the 1950's theme of Route 66.)
Chloride, the second of our stops, was very different. The town seemed deserted, with little to no claims to fame, minus the local bar, ‘Digger Dave’s’, which was full of memorabilia, including a Tom Jones poster in the toilet. Here there seemed to be the space for freedom for creativity and expression, even though it felt like a ghost town.
(One of the highlights from Chloride, an old structure, symbolising how old and derelict the town was.)
I’ve only really come across the Hoover Dam in the Superman film, but it was every bit as impressive as I’d expected. Spanning across the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada, it provides power and water to many places in the West, such as Las Vegas. Whoever decided to build such a large city in the middle of the desert obviously didn’t consider the issues with maintaining a healthy water supply, which baffles me completely. Therefore it’s no wonder that you can easily tell that the water in the reservoir is dropping each year, due to the water marks which are visible. Michael Hiltzik summarises this simply as “…there will always be more demand for the water than there is water.”[1] He is right, and this is why places such as California have been on a drought for the last few years, and the way that’s looking seems as if the drought may just be a way of life from now onwards.
(This picture just shows how wide Hoover Dam is, and just how much water it holds back. It truly is an impressive structure.)

[1] Michael Hiltzik, “The False Promise of the Hoover Dam”, Los Angeles Times, July 5th, 2010

Day 14 – Monday 27th April

I have to admit, in the final moments of my American adventure, Las Vegas has won me over. It got me. I’m officially converted to city life, although my bank account is screaming at me not to. I feel pretty bad to admit that I was relieved to be back in the city after my time on the road. Maybe because I’m from a small town, it made such an exciting change to be in such an unfamiliar, large place.
However, I can’t help but look at Vegas quite critically now. After all the places I have seen on this trip, Las Vegas feels less personal, as if there is a lack of connection between the place and the people which visit it. Vegas is all about money and selling a lifestyle to its visitors, which is vastly different to places such as Kanab or Marble Canyon. In a sense, I can see through Las Vegas now, past the glitz and the glamour, to see how tacky it really is. This doesn’t mean to suggest I don’t love being in Las Vegas though, but I don’t think I could ever live here. I’m happy to be a passing visitor through the city. Moehringer suggests that “Thought people enjoy coming to Vegas, what they really love is leaving”[1] Maybe this is why I’m suddenly so fond of Vegas now, because I know I’m leaving, and I’ve gained a whole side of appreciation towards the city. Or maybe I simply just prefer it to many of the other places we’ve visited. Either way, I will be happy to go home, despite how much I’ve completely loved every single experience in America.
(The reverse of the famous 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign, saying goodbye to each visitor.)
Something Alasdair Spark said in our final seminar in the city resonates in my mind whilst considering all of this. “Why do some people live in places you wouldn’t? What does that say about them? What does that say about you?” On reflection, I’d be pretty happy to live in Flagstaff or the outskirts of Vegas. Why? Because I feel they each reflect a part of me, the small town girl full of creative ideas and dreams of bigger cities. I don’t think I’d suit places such as Kanab and Marble Canyon, they were too quiet and dissociated with modern living, I felt too much like an outsider there. Maybe this says a lot about me as a person, but ultimately, my views of America are really positive, and I can’t wait to come back to the States.

[1] J.R. Moehringer. “Las Vegas: An American Paradox”, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2010