Looking for kicks on Route 66
I had two nights in Flagstaff (or Flag, as the cool kids and the locals call it). After visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon earlier in the trip, I wanted to see the southern side. It was equally mind-boggling: vast in a way that I don't think can be comprehended until you're standing on the edge with your mouth open, trying to work out how many times you could pack Wembley Stadium into it (by my calculations... a lot).
To get to the extreme western end of the National Park, a point called Hermit's Rest, I had to park the bike and take one of the regular buses - which stopped off at other vista points along the way. When the bus driver announced that the walk between Mojave Point and the Abyss had great views but wasn't for the feint-hearted, I decided it was time to get some exercise. It was blast-furnace hot, I had no drink or sun-cream, never mind a hat, it was midday... I couldn't have looked more like an idiot Englishman if I'd tried. But it was a great walk, I have only second-degree sunburn and the trail divided sufficiently that strolling along the edge of the precipice was optional (but the views were better). I took the bus for the rest of the way, though.
Next day I got up and left Flag, turning out of my motel directly onto Route 66. Of course, once it had cut across the city it was absorbed into the I-40 interstate. I'd already established that there were a few Route-66-themed things in the towns along the way, but I waited until just past Ash Fork to peel off on the original road, as this was where it seemed to separate from the motorway for the first time.
I have to say, it wasn't a vintage road. Or rather, it's the vintage American road-trip road: long, straight, undulating gently between vast fields, without too much in the way of bothersome corners to break it up. Or indeed towns. The first one I reached was Seligman, which is as close to a Route 66 theme park as it's probably necessary to get. The businesses on the main street clearly know what butters their bread, with Route 66 this and Route 66 that plastered pretty much everywhere you look. It's actually almost glorious, in its own kitsch way... though they do know how to put a price tag on things...
From Seligman I headed west as Route 66 curved like a bow, arcing towards Kingman. Rather than follow it into the large town, I hopped back on I-40 for two junctions, turning off to rejoin 66 as it made for Oatman. This was the stretch I was looking forward to most as checking the maps had already revealed that, after an initial straight that would have done the Romans proud, this became quite a wiggly road. It looked a lot more fun that the riding I'd had so far. Except, as I headed down the long, long straight, the road ahead looked to be sand coloured. Almost as if it wasn't tarmac at all. Probably because it wasn't: hardcore roadworks were taking place, so the road was closed. The detour pushed me so far past it, I just carried on, having got no kicks from Route 66.
My next stop was at another American icon - but this one didn't disappoint. Even the road into the Hoover Dam was good: race-track-grade tarmac, a couple of nice corners and a spectacular view of the elegant bridge carrying the freeway past the dam. I started by riding across the top of it and the wind was unbelievable. When I stopped to let some of the many tourists go over one of the many crossings, it felt as if the wind might blow me over when I went to pull away again.
I could have spent all day at the Hoover Dam - though the $30 guided tour lasts only about an hour. So from the dam, I went to admire the lake it created. Lake Mead is massive - though the water seemed low when I was there. I went down for a closer look - thanking my annual pass to National Parks again, as Lakeshore Road, which runs around it, is a toll road. One flash of the pass, though, and I was in.
Lakeshore Road definitely makes a better way to get to Las Vegas than the interstate, but before long I was edging my way through the traffic on the outskirts of the city. I was itching to filter through it at every congested set of traffic lights, but had to keep reminding myself: this in Nevada, not California... one of the many police cars I saw would definitely get upset if they saw me filtering. I arrived at my motel just in time to see Elvis emerge from the wedding chapel next door...
I found Vegas huge and a bit overwhelming, to be honest. I started with Fremont Street, as recommended by Jay who I'd met at Joshua Tree National Park. It felt almost as if I'd fallen into Willy Wonka's Gambling Factory as I stumbled around, trying to take it all in. It was amazing - but so bright and glitzy and strange after 16 years living in a sleepy Lincolnshire village...
From Fremont I headed down to the famous Strip – along with half the city, it seemed. The further I went, the busier the streets became. I realised that Vegas is very different to the other touristy places I've visited so far on this trip. At most of the National Parks, overseas visitors - French, German, Chinese - seem to outnumber Americans by about four to one, if not more. Not so in Vegas: I'm one of the foreigners, but we're outnumbered heavily by Americans. Clearly, Las Vegas is where America goes on holiday.
It's easy to see why. Everything is so easy. You don't actually have to spend any money to be entertained, with the big casinos putting on shows with lights and fire and fountains. There are street performers and music everywhere. I don't go in to the big casino gambling halls - I turn back at the slots - but even the antechambers are astonishing. Even so, I can't help wondering about any city where even the petrol stations have banks of slot machines. It's very odd.
I stumble around until it's properly dark, grabbing some food and watching the singer-guitarist doing his loop-pedal-powered thing (like Ed Sheeran) before making a break for it. I get back to my hotel, put my head down and sleep the sleep like a baby.