1. I spent last weekend in Las Vegas for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, the details of which I will entertain (bore?) you with in a different post. For now, let’s chat about everything else I did in that magical land of sunshine and 75 degrees!
2. The highlight of the trip, far and away, was visiting the Grand Canyon. I’ve wanted to see the Grand Canyon since I was really young, but I had no idea that Grand Canyon tours from Vegas were a thing until last year (I assumed you’d go to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, not make a day trip out of it from Las Vegas. I also didn’t realize how close Vegas is to the Grand Canyon until last year, though.) Last year’s trip was packed, so there was no chance to go to the Grand Canyon. This year, however, part of the group left Chicago on Thursday night instead of Friday morning and spent all day Friday on a tour to the Grand Canyon!
We booked a Canyon Tour South Rim Tour, which I would definitely recommend with one small caveat. The South Rim is not close to Vegas (at least compared to the West Rim), so you are on the bus a LONG time. There’s really no avoiding that no matter which tour company you use, however, so if you want to see the South Rim, that’s just the reality of the situation. Even though the trip involved somewhere in the neighborhood of six and a half hours on a bus, I still thought it was worth it to see the South Rim.
The drive out involved a stop at the Hoover Dam. The bus tour was narrated (not for the full six and a half hours), and most of the drive from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam included a lot of narration about the construction of the dam, from the inception of the idea to the actual building. It was super fascinating!
This wasn’t the original plan, but we ended up booking a Pink Jeep tour upgrade, which I would recommend without any caveats whatsoever. Instead of making two stops on the bus and wandering around without any guidance, we were in a Jeep with four other people and Rich, our tour guide, whose love for and knowledge about the Grand Canyon were incredible. We stopped at four different locations during the two hours we had in the park, which provided plenty of opportunities for photos.
In what should come as a surprise to no one, seeing new-to-me birds at the Grand Canyon was probably the highlight of the experience for me (still can’t make it through a Thursday Things post without bird talk…). While at the Grand Canyon, I saw several Common Ravens soaring over the canyon:
a Red-Breasted Nuthatch:
a Mountain Chickadee, who was not very accommodating to my photography desires but was MORE than accommodating to my interest in hearing a Mountain Chickadee call. That, honestly, was probably my favorite part of everything (#nerdalert). The Mountain Chickadee’s call is just the tiniest bit different than the Black-Capped Chickadee’s call (you can find the Mountain Chickadee’s call here [click the “Chicka-dee Call” one] and the Black-Capped Chickadee’s call here [click the “Calls” one]. There’s barely a difference, but it is there, especially if you listen to them back to back.)
a few Clark’s Nutcrackers:
and a whole collection of Bushtits (SERIOUSLY. WHO NAMES THESE BIRDS?) at the Grand Canyon Village.
The canyon itself, of course, was just stunning. We definitely picked the right time of year to go, too. Sunset on Friday was around 5:25 p.m., and since we didn’t get to the park itself until after 3:00, that meant we got to enjoy the canyon at sunset. Obviously if you took this same tour during the summer, that wouldn’t be the case, with sunset being much later in the day. Whoever thought I’d be happy for such an early sunset!
We got back to Vegas a little before 10 p.m., and thus commenced our Vegas-ing portion of the trip.
3. The whole group (including me this year) stayed at Excalibur, though the craps-loving people in the group were EXTREMELY disappointed to find out that Excalibur no longer has $5 tables on the weekends. Since I’d say three of the five people in the group go to Vegas almost exclusively to play craps, that meant we had to take a bit of an adventure to find $5 craps tables. That adventure brought us all the way up to Fremont Street–to the Fremont itself, actually. Even though I have very little interest in gambling, I really didn’t enjoy sitting around and watching everyone else gamble last year while I just stood there, so I brought $40 to gamble–$20 on craps and $20 on a slot machine–with the rule that I wouldn’t let myself get below $15 (so lose more than $10 total). I ended up winning $20 on craps, losing $5 on the slot machine, and then losing an additional $10 of my $20 winnings from craps on roulette, so I walked away with $5 total. Last year, I walked away with $5.12, so clearly this is a major money-making venture for me 😛
We went to the buffet at MGM on Saturday before heading to the race expo (since we couldn’t go on Friday this year due to being at the Grand Canyon). It was super crowded, unsurprisingly. I didn’t get anything, through I did come really close to buying a sweatshirt. I don’t know if this is because Ironman owns Rock ‘n’ Roll now or if it was just a coincidence, but the race did the same thing Ironman does at all of its races where it makes a shirt with all the participant names on the back (except your average Ironman has like maybe 3000 participants, whereas Rock ‘n’ Roll has like 40,000, so they had to split it up into men’s 10K participants, men’s half marathon participants with last names A-K, men’s half marathon participants with last names L-Z, men’s marathon participants, women’s 10K participants, women’s half marathon participants with last names A-K, women’s half marathon participants with last names L-Z, and women’s marathon participants.) I loved the design and the color, but I did not love the price ($60) or the thought of trying to make space in my already-full suitcase for it, so I ended up walking away empty handed. Oh well.
We relaxed for a bit Saturday afternoon, then headed back up to Fremont Street to Hugo’s Cellar, where we once again had another indulgent dinner. We hung around Fremont Street for a little bit after that before heading back to the Strip for some sightseeing. This trip involved a lot less casino-wandering than last year, but we did walk a bit through the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and saw this year’s fall display at the Bellagio.
We also saw the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds show at the Bellagio fountains. I could spend all night at the Bellagio watching the fountain shows every 15 minutes.
We had breakfast Sunday at the Pyramid Cafe in the Luxor and then wandered around there a bit before hitting up my #1 requirement for every Vegas trip: M&Ms World.
Sunday afternoon/evening/night was consumed with half marathon-related activities, which I’ll get to in my race recap. We flew back to Chicago Monday afternoon, but not before having breakfast at the SeaBreeze Cafe in Mandalay Bay and wandering around the pool area.
Overall, another enjoyable trip to Vegas 🙂
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?