USA Fly-Drive: Las Vegas and The Grand Canyon
Few places shout their presence as loudly as Las Vegas – whose voice booms across the deserts of south-east Nevada. The city is, of course, huge fun – and, contrary to reputation, great for families. It is also a prime start-point for a road trip in search of two American natural wonders, the Grand Canyon (in Arizona) and Monument Valley (partly in Utah). However, with many miles involved, this is not a jaunt for very young children. Further information: lasvegas.com; travelnevada.com; visitarizona.com; utah.com
Popular perception has Las Vegas as a gaudy hotspot of bars and casinos. And while there is a truth to this, Nevada’s biggest city knows how to throw a children’s party. The Discovery Children’s Museum (discoverykidslv.org; general entry £9.50), for example, is a feast of activity spaces– including Young At Art (where kids explore their favourite colours and shapes), Patents Pending (a laboratory for junior inventions) and Water World (where water is used to run balls down tracks, and boats along mini rivers).
Elsewhere, the Stratosphere (stratosphere hotel.com) caters to daredevils with thrill rides. A casino-hotel, its appeal is the tower, which rears to 1,149ft, its pinnacle (general entry £11.50) crowned by the likes of Insanity (where riders are spun over the edge of the building) and Big Shot (which shoots them into the air). On the same note, Circus Circus (circuscircus.com), while one of Vegas’s older hotels, is a quirky oasis – where the Adventuredome (adventuredome.com; all-day adult wristbands £20, all-day child wristbands £11.50) boasts 25 (indoor) rides, such as the Canyon Blaster rollercoaster.
STAY The Bellagio (bellagio.com) is a treat for parents and children – home to the choreographed theatrics of Cirque Du Soleil, as well as the famous fountains which ‘dance’ to music outside the main entrance. Family-sized rooms from £180.
The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is a lengthy one. Cross the state line into Arizona on the 93, forge east on Interstate 40, then turn north onto the 64 beyond Ash Fork – following this, and the 180, all the way to Tusayan. This will bring you to the more accessible South Rim of this incredible geological scar. Expect the journey to last at least four hours, so take plenty of water and supplies with you to ease your progress through this extremely dry and dusty landscape.
STAY You can sleep soundly within Grand Canyon National Park (nps.gov/ grca; £19 per vehicle and all passengers, permit valid for seven days).
El Tovar Hotel (grandcanyon lodges.com) has occupied its site on the very lip of the chasm since 1905. Spectacular views come as standard, while family-sized rooms start at £207.
Distance in the day: 275 miles.
At 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep in parts, the Grand Canyon is Arizona – and America – at its craggiest. But it can still be the setting for family escapades. Children can become ‘Junior Rangers’ via a free programme (in three age groups – four to seven, eight to 10 and 11 and over) where they learn about the ecosystem around them courtesy of the national park staff. Days of hiking can also be enjoyed without any need to start climbing down cliff faces. The fabled Rim Trail traces the abyss for 13 miles, but is flat, mostly paved, easy to follow – and shuttle buses are on hand to help the tired of feet.
Depart early, as the drive to Monument Valley is another epic undertaking. Leave Grand Canyon National Park via the 64, which traces the South Rim east. Turn north onto the 89 at Cameron, then east onto the 160 just before Tuba City. Follow this to Kayenta – where you cut north on the 163 for Monument Valley. This is a long dusty drive through barren scenery, across the top of Arizona – so, as before, be sure to pack plenty of drinks and snacks.
STAY Goulding’s Lodge (gouldings.com) is a Monument Valley icon, which has held its ground since 1920, a trading post as well as a hotel. Lying due north of the Utah line, it does family-sized rooms for £159. Children under eight stay free. Distance in the day: 150 miles.
Monument Valley is partially protected as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (navajonationparks.org). Goulding’s Lodge offers tours of the area with Native American guides (adults from £34.50, children from £24.50) – 2.5-hour excursions which wrap the valley’s grand rock formations in a wealth of local knowledge. Left Mitten, Right Mitten,Big Indian, Totem Pole, Sentinel Mesa, Merrick Butte, Big Hogan – each of these giants will look somehow familiar, such is the fame of a place that has featured in movies from John Wayne’s The Searchers to Back To The Future III.
The most convenient end to the road trip, in terms of international flights, is the Arizona capital Phoenix. This lurks 316 miles to the south-west – reached via a return to Tuba City, then a foray south on the 89 and Interstate 17. Split the journey into feasible halves by stopping for the night at Flagstaff, a popular town awash with bars and eateries.
STAY The Hampton Inn Flagstaff (hamptoninn.com) is a convenient pit-stop, with swimming pool. Family-sized rooms start from £96 a night.
Distance in the day: 172 miles (plus a further 144 to Phoenix on Day 12).
Your Hertz Car Hire
12 day car hire with Hertz starts from £513. Pick up at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport nd drop off at Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport. hertz.co.uk