Leaving behind the dazzling lights of Las Vegas, the blazing heat brings you smack down to the reality of the harsh desert that this land really is. The sudden stillness can be jarring after the constant whirring and pinging of slot machines. After all the thrills and indulgences on offer in Vegas, I can’t wait to begin a very different sort of holiday in the grandiose wilderness.
On the way, we stop for a look at the last of manmade landmarks on this route—Hoover Dam. This massive concrete curvature, appearing to rise from beneath the blue waters of Lake Mead and against the red rock face that surrounds it, remains a construction marvel even 70 years after its creation. Looking over its precipitous edge, down the slippery slope of the dam can set a slight flutter in the bravest of hearts.
Paid tours of the dam take you down a 500-foot elevator ride to the power plant generators. Other interesting stops along the tour are the 30-foot pipe where you can feel the rumbling Colorado River water gushing through, as well as the observation deck above the dam with panoramic views. Moving on from Hoover Dam, on show will be nature’s prowess—earth, wind and water—working together to create majestic landmarks, that belittle even the greatest of man’s creations.
The road leading out of the Grand Canyon National Park towards Page, for most part follows the Colorado River—the canyon gets narrower, now looking like a chasm in the earth. The fall from its narrow edges feels even more dramatic—appearing like a wound from a colossal earthquake, rather than the slow erosion by water. Here, the mighty Colorado River has been curbed in its path, filling the Glen Canyon up to form the second-largest man-made lake in USA. From its azure waters the towering cliffs of Glen Canyon rise above, and the best way to explore the region is from the water—either renting a houseboat, or a half day cruise to the region’s most well-known site, The Rainbow Bridge.
The 7 am cruise from Wahweap Marina sails through 50 miles of the lake to get to Rainbow Bridge, and on the way, the sights constantly shift from one surreal landscape to another. Some rock formations appear finely chiselled to perfection, others more like lumps of clay left over after a child has finished playing. Looking at the weird shapes protruding out of the water, it isn’t hard to imagine why the early scenes of the film Planet of the Apes, where the space ship crash lands into a lake, were shot here. Soon, the cruise turns into the narrow inlet leading to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Here, the rocky outcrops of the canyon that appeared massive from afar appear absolutely monolithic up-close. Tucked amongst these rugged and isolated canyons, the sandstone marvel, Rainbow Bridge, is the largest natural bridge in the world—the statue of liberty would just about sneak under it.
Due to lowering water levels, you now have to walk a short distance to the Rainbow Bridge. The site itself is sacred to the Native Americans, and so you can’t walk under the bridge – you only marvel at it from a respectful distance. The excellent rangers present a brief history of the landscape—it was once a tropical forest and home to dinosaurs, and they even have a dinosaur footprint to prove it!
However, as spectacular as the scenery above is, it is the stories of the lands drowned under the water that made the place poignant for me. The Native Americans have known, and held sacred the Rainbow Bridge for centuries. Yet, in the late 1880s, in an attempted ethnic cleansing, the local Navajos were held at gunpoint and made to march a gruelling 300 miles to a place they call Hweeldi, or ‘the land of suffering’. This journey has come to be known as the ‘Long Walk’. Younger generations narrate their memories and those of their grandparents in moving audio recordings, which are part of the on-board cruise commentary, revealing a very dark side to the beauty of this landscape.