Location: Las Vegas, Nevada; Grand Canyon National Park and Payson, Arizona
We never thought Las Vegas would be our cup of tea. We’re not night owls, and we don’t gamble. We hardly live that Hunter S. Thompson lifestyle (anymore). Why on earth would we want to go to this pseudo-oasis in the desert?
It seemed ostentatious and gaudy, like everything was dripping with excessive tasteless ornamentation. But when you get that French Revolution aesthetic underneath bright lights, the place looked fake. You can see the makeup on the Elvis impersonator, the grease on the used car salesman. The neon sign flickers and fades out.
My cousin Tony was getting married, and we didn’t know what to expect for the nuptials. We heard we were supposed to dress casually and that the King would be involved somehow, but we weren’t sure how. They were married at the historic Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel and had a cocktail reception atop the Mandalay Bay Resort overlooking the city. It was one of the most fun and unique weddings we had ever been to.
It turned the idea of a traditional ceremony on its ear when Elvis started singing, dancing, and the fog machines started going. It was a spectacle. There’s something adorable about non-ironic Elvis impersonators busting into your church with a pink cadillac, and then officiating your ceremony.
If you can get past the consumerism (and the slot machines at the airport), there is a hidden layer of old-time charm and old West traditions. Namely, the 1950’s picture of love and wholesomeness that pervade the palatial casinos. The kitschiness of the palm trees, motels and flamingos have just the right amount of vintage nostalgia.
Two days was just the right amount of time. Well, okay, maybe three. We managed to drink oversized Bloody Marys, try our hands at blackjack (paid for breakfast with the winnings!!), see a Cirque du Soleil show and walk the strip to V’s favorite hotel (the Pink Flamingo). I wanted to eat a lab-grown burger, my sister wanted to zipline and V wanted to check out the Neon Museum. If we had one day spare we totally could have done all of those things and knocked out our Vegas bucket list.
But when we were done there, we were done. There were other adventures in store this trip. Namely, the Grand Canyon.
It was V’s first time visiting the Grand Canyon. I had been when I was little, and we spent several hours there. We drove all day, straight from Las Vegas, to check it out. This time, we wanted to hike past the selfie stick spots and down to places that were truly unexpected and incredible.
Sadly, we got to the South Rim just as the sun was going down–I think, all told, we had 10 minutes of full light. Although I recommend spending more time than that, it was a magical first 10 minutes. It was still as breathtaking and awe-striking as I remember. It was elegant seeing the sun go down over the rim, and not having to fight through massive crowds to get a good view.
But that was hardly the best part. After some hijinks, getting lost, and driving through the night, we eventually got to Payson, AZ. Home of a beautiful cedar lodge where we made our beds for the weekend. And also home to my nana!
I hadn’t seen this lady in several years, probably since I was last at the Grand Canyon. Though she had a major health scare a couple of years ago, she’s still spritely and strong. She’s the life of the party at her retirement community. We got a guided tour of the community gardens, where my mom picked up tips about low-water irrigation.
Then we chatted for several hours. Since she’s the matriarch of the family, nana is preoccupied with telling the story of everyone who’s already left. She went into history mode, telling us about our General Mills heritage, about my great-grandmother the painter, and some secret family feuds. Hopefully she will get her oral history completed soon, and we can help her out!
Even though the trip was rapid fire, and we only had a few days to explore two different cities, we still managed to stay present and enjoy everything. Catch us next time, after some much needed unwinding, and we’ll tell you about our time in Cuba and our train trip across the U.S.A.