Rock and high rollers in Las Vegas

by Ella.Buchan

One’s a breathtaking natural rock formation and the other is a giant playground in the middle of the desert. But including the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas in the same trip makes perfect sense

It’s big, meaty, extravagant and flashy. Guilt and moderation have no place here – excess is its middle name and waste is its first. And that’s just the buffets. Like Las Vegas as a whole, supplies are endless, greed is a virtue and the lights are always on. Everything’s so fast and vast, it’s hard to know where to start. So, if you are pushed for time, here’s how to do Vegas in a day.
First, head to the nearest shop selling gold baseball caps, rhinestone waistcoats and torso lighters with flashing boobs. Grab the nearest Elvis impersonator for a photograph, before parking illegally (everyone does it) near the iconic ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ sign for another snap.
Head to one of those buffets at The Wynn or The Bellagio, and eat as much as humanly possible for around $30. Much better value than some of the pricey restaurants dotted along the strip. Squeeze in an all-dancing, all-singing show, whether it’s Cher or one of the many Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas. Make time for a few rounds of blackjack – easy to play even if you’re a gambling virgin and, unlike poker, smiling is not a sign of weakness.
Hit a flashy bar like Ghost or Moon, at Palms Hotel, for a vertiginous view of the Strip, a few cocktails and a spot of flirting – there are so many conferences in Vegas that, especially if you’re female, you’re bound to strike it lucky.
While Vegas itself is synonymous with glamour, most of the tourists languish in tracksuit bottoms and Disneyland T-shirts. Which makes it all the more fun if, as my friends and I did, you strut out in your best dresses and heels like you’re in an episode of Sex and the City.
Then you’ve pretty much done it all – but the real fun is in doing it again and again.
We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, a monument of rocking, laid-back cool just off the main strip. The pool is a series of interconnecting circles and rectangles of water, spanned with bridges and surrounded by cabanas, palm trees and a constant stream of rock music.
If you want a contrast to the bright lights and unnatural attractions of Vegas, it’s easy to combine a holiday here with an overnight trip to one of the world’s greatest natural beauties – and one of those places to tick off your ‘things to do before you die’ list. The Grand Canyon is only four hours’ drive from the strip. With the manmade magnificence and clean lines of Hoover Dam along the way, it’s like a sliding scale from artifice to nature.
We dropped our bags at the Best Western Squire Inn, just outside the gates of the national park, and set off for the south entrance. I was fully expecting to be blown away by the canyon, but nothing really prepares you for that first tantalising glimpse of the rock behind the trees.
We managed to drag ourselves out of bed the next day at 4.30am, cold and pasty-faced, to watch the sunrise. The shroud of mist was penetrated by red and gold light, bathing the rocks in a beautiful glow. There are few things worth missing sleep for, but this is one of them. A half-hour helicopter ride, dipping down from the south rim to the more rugged north and skirting over the Colorado River, gave us another perspective of this beautiful, unforgiving landscape.
The Canyon is other-wordly, a place to remind you how small and insignificant you are. Vegas is the opposite, quickly reminding you that you are important and fabulous after all – and worth a little luxury. Each is the perfect antidote to the other.
One thing both places do have in common is size – everything in Vegas is huge. For a pre-blackjack snack, we went to Pink Taco in our hotel, ordering a couple of plates to share and margaritas. We were presented with enough food to satisfy five Johnny Vegases for a week and three bowls of booze so big they rivalled the Hoover Dam. There’s nothing understated or natural about Vegas, but that’s its real beauty. All you need to do is jump headfirst into this rectangle of twinkling lights, and enjoy.


Where to stay
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas: rooms start at $199.
The Best Western Squire Inn, Tusayan: rooms start at c$136 plus tax.
Getting around
Ella drove a Toyota Rav4 from auto-europe, with LA car hire from £13 per day.
The Las Vegas Monorail runs between various hotels along the strip, with a one-day pass costing $9. 
Grand Canyon tours
Papillon offers helicopter tours from the south rim of the Grand Canyon or from Las Vegas. The half-hour North Canyon Tour costs $160 per person