Route 66 travelogue #10
The Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
After retrieving our flight refund from Grand Canyon airways, we fuelled up with a breakfast sandwich & coffee from RF’s Stage Stop and hit the road forVegas.
It was my driving shift and the first leg was a straight run out of town past RF’s on the right (good food!) and Big E’s on the left (freaks!), straight out of town and onwards.
After a while the skies darkened and a black storm cell loomed over the mountains ahead. The road swung around the mountain to the left and gave us a view of the train track which runs parallel with the road in the shadow of the mountain, a trio of headlamps announcing the arrival of a freight train rounding a smaller hill coming towards us. A dense thunderhead loomed over the mountain in the shape of a great flying saucer, lightning bolts occasionally anchoring the great ship to the horizon. With the canyon road in the rear view mirror and the mountain looming ahead, I had the distinct feeling Natures display wasn’t finished yet… And then the rain came. Spitting at first but gaining steadily in ferocity as we climbed the hill.
By half way up the hill the wipers were at full speed and were almost useless, so heavy was the downpour. The trucks coming down the hill were kicking up rooster tails of spray at the back and ploughing waves of water at the front. I’ve seen deep standing water before but not on hill of this gradient.
I slowed to 50, then 40, then 30 hoping the slower speeds would give the wipers a hand. When I got down to 20 I pulled over. Visibility was so bad I felt I was putting our safety in jeopardy continuing so I’d wait and see if the storm cell would pass. It did not! The rain eased a little so I decided to press on, it looked like the only way out of this was to motor through it.
I’ve never seen lightning this close or frequent, usually, by the time you’ve seen the flash the show is all over but this was next level. At one point a barrage of strikes struck a distant hill to the left of the car.
We were nearing the stop of the hill and I was keeping a consistent speed, the cruise control abandoned in favour of a more manual approach. As we crested the hill the road undulated ahead of us and one of the rises brought with it a surprise.
Rising over a swell I saw it ahead, a brown river cutting diagonally across the highway. A flash flood had broken through the natural levy of the farmland on the high side of the road creating a temporary river. The fast moving sandy water was cutting its own path down the mountainside, a speeding torrent of silt and debris, and we were speeding towards it! I hit the brakes as hard as I dared in the downpour, easing up just before we hit the river. It’s best to hit standing water at constant speed, hit it while decelerating and you could skid, hit it accelerating and you might lose traction and spin.
The front wheels hit the river and the car slowed even more throwing up two plumes of water that came crashing down on the windshield, the wipers now overloaded threw the murky wave aside and as the car pushed through the river the spray continued, unabated.
Once through the flood, the ripping sound of tyres on water was replaced by the sound of the road as we pressed up the climb.
Soon enough we were up over the top and on a much flatter surface. The rain eased a little as the road levelled out. We passed a place called ‘Mike’s truck stop’ where some Harley riders had taken refuge. Despite being ready for a break I pressed on wanting to put as much distance between us and the storm at our backs as possible.
The dark clouds began clearing and as the blue skies were revealed and the standing water on the road reflected the clearing blue overhead, it struck me that most of the roads we had seen on this journey had appear wet from heat haze creating a mirage on the road ahead, but this was no mirage, this was genuine Old Testament weather of the highest order!
And then the hail came.
Great, clanking pebbles bouncing of the car like enemy gunfire. Fortunately the hail storm was short and driving past another massive freight train on the left we headed into the town of Kingman in desperate search of coffee and pie!
The main streets were flooded, the cars kicking up spay while the slower drivers pushed great waves of rainwater towards the sidewalk
The only likely looking restaurant appeared on our left so I spun the car around and parked up, the three of us running through the rain, chased by the thunder to the sanctuary of the restaurants doorway.
We all ordered apple pie and coffee and In short, the pie was lukewarm and frozen in the middle and the coffee might as well have been made with the muddy, silt water from the earlier flood. We left as soon as we could, running back to the car through the downpour, and started leg 2 with Mike at the helm.
The driving was still epic but after another hour, though we’d passed the worst of the storm the weather was still grim, we could see the storm cells flanking the car on the horizon. Another hour on the road and we could see the sky clearing and the temperature rising.
Mick requested a stop at the Hoover dam so we parked up and checked out this man made work of wonder. Getting out of the car the temperature difference was amazing. We had truly seen four seasons in one day, perhaps even one hour!
To tame the river with a sea of concrete is an amazing achievement, security around the dam is tight and there’s a lot of it.
The Hoover Dam is a truly iconic spectacle and having seen it in countless films I was buzzing with excitement. To be honest, had I seen the Hoover dam before the Grand Canyon I’d have been more wowed. It’s still awesome, it’s just following the biggest thing I’ve ever seen, kind of like putting the support band on after the headliner.
I got plenty of pics and after a wander round the top of the dam we headed back to the car on the road to Vegas which only lay 30 miles or so away.
The ride into Vegas by day is nothing to write home about, entering through the suburbs it could be any town in middle America, until you start catching sight of the bigger hotels, then the scenery gets familiar.
We were staying at the Tropicana which has an entrance lobby like a bar from a sci-fi movie. All white floors and walls illuminated by concealed multi coloured lighting.
We checked in and walked through the casino to our suite which was to the high standard we’ve become accustomed and our Vegas adventure began.
J W ‘Stormchaser’ Doyle
(Since writing this I’ve learned that these floods are the worst Colorado has seen in years and have taken the lives of eight people. If you would like to help there is a Relief Project underway and you can make a donation through paypal. I’m sure they would appreciate anything you could spare.)