I'm sure the writing up of a holiday isn't supposed to take longer than the holiday itself...
Day Six: Flagstaff to Las Vegas
From the relaxed to the frenetic, woodland charm to Sin City and other such clichés. In some ways this was the part of the trip I was least looking forward to - I'm not a gambler and while I love a fantastic building and a bit of hustle and bustle I'd rather see the real thing than a fake in the desert. But, it is an experience to see the place and I'm always happy to be proved wrong by such a visit.
To start the day off we called in at Williams, just down the road from Flagstaff and the start of the Grand Canyon Railway. Not for us to board the train, but to see the short "wild west" show put on before departure. And for a 20 minute bit of fun it did what it said on the tin, so to speak. Back in 2006 we had a whole evening at a wild west theme village with a meal, shoot outs in the street and so forth which was several orders of magnitude better than this, but you can't really argue with a bit of free entertainment. The cowboys then went off to hold up the train on its way to the Canyon while we headed west.
Next stop was Seligman, which unexpectedly turned out to be the most depressing part of the whole trip for me. When you are in the area you have to do a bit of the Route 66 experience, and this was ours (if you don't count the night before in Flagstaff). But this part of the route is slowly dying. I know the whole route has been in decline since the opening of Interstate 40 alongside it, and much of it now survives on the tourist dollar rather than being alongside a major east-west link. This was certainly the case in Seligman – a few empty buildings but a lot of gift shop junk to replace them. And cars. The whole lot centred on a single barber’s chair operated for the last 60 or so years by a guy named Angel Delgadillo. But what was once a novelty place to get a trim when you were driving the route is now the sole reason for visiting the place, and it just struck me as a grim way of hanging on to the glory days and trying to sell a bit of branded tat to anyone who happens to stop. And stop they do, I counted at least five coaches arriving and departing in the time we were there which must add up to a hundred or more, so maybe 500 people plus those who arrive under their own steam per day in the peak tourist times. All buying t-shirts and fridge magnets and getting the occasional trim or burger. And looking at the cars.
Anyone who has seen the eponymous Disney film and its surrounding details will know the idea came to Pixar head John Lasseter when he took his family on a route 66 road trip. This was one of the places he stopped, and there is a cartoon he drew on the wall if the gift shop to prove it. And in the way ideas go full circle, the Seligmanites have taken the Cars concept to heart and filled the place with American classics. They may have been there before of course (a cursory look on-line has not answered this for me either way) but the majority of the ones parked around the various buildings now have eyes painted on the wind shields and smiles across the radiators to mimic the cartoon versions. But not particularly well and a few years back and showing signs of decay and neglect already. Add that to the also faded dummies on top of a road house and a general air of desperation about the place I was left feeling thoroughly downhearted by the time we left.
This was not helped by the lunchtime stop at some outlet malls where I didn't find anything I fancied in the right sizes. I know, material concerns and all that! But even though crossing into Nevada brought us up to 7/50 states visited by the time we got to Vegas I was definitely at my lowest point of the entire journey. This was not helped by Alex having given us a spiel about pickpockets and vice while we were still on the road – not the best way to get people to look forward to seeing the place!
We spent our two nights at the Tropicana, which is down the southern end of the strip on one side of a crossroads - also home to the MGM Grand, New York New York and Excalibur. Quite dramatic views from the hotel and helped by us being up on the 11th floor – our highest room of the stay. Of course you have to walk through the Casino to get to the rooms, which was further off-putting as they still allow smoking while you fritter your money away on the slots. But the room was very nice and a chance to relax before heading out again and a quick croissant helped to calm my nerves somewhat.
So that just left the evening tour to round off the day. This (and indeed a similar evening tour of San Francisco, which we will get to in due course) proved to be another slight bone of contention for some of the company again as they were optional rather than included, meaning an extra charge for something done using the bus, driver and guide we already had with us. We weren't too fussed as we wanted to see the place for the first time in company anyway…
And what a place! The sheer over-the-top-ness won me over big time and while I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to go back there I’d not dismiss a return visit out of hand. Starting right down at the south end of the strip by the famous “welcome” sign we headed up to Fremont Street at the far end and back again. We only made two stops after the obligatory sign photo-shoot but they were both pretty spectacular. First the Bellagio for the delightful floral conservatory and fountain show and then the Fremont Street experience. Click on the links there for a few images that do more justice than I could with words. Between these we saw most of the big casinos and shops, the wedding chapels, the neon and glitz and most of all the people. Everywhere the people. Dressed in all manner of costumes from full on to practically naked and trying to get you to part with a few bucks to have your photo taken with them. Been a while since I saw so many buttocks in one place! I would have liked to have seen inside the Venezian, and maybe Paris too but we were out over four hours on the tour as it was.