Travel Stories: Hidden Gems in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon Skywalk

My journey through the unique side of Las Vegas you don't see, plus a breathtaking trip to Grand Canyon West's legendary Skywalk on the Hualapai reservation. An off the beaten path travel story.

Travel Stories: Hidden Gems in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon Skywalk

When someone says to you “I’ve been to the Grand Canyon”, you will have to ask “which part”? This iconic natural wonder spans an impressive length of 277 miles, reaches depths of over 6,000 feet, and stretches 18 miles wide. When exploring the Grand Canyon, you are only able to visit a small portion of it from the rim, and it is highly unlikely that you will be able to see it in its entirety. Many individuals have had the opportunity to visit Grand Canyon National Park, which is recognized as one of the Wonders of the World and holds the distinction of being one of the earliest National Parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt first visited in 1903 and wrote:

The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But you can keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

There are numerous sections of the Grand Canyon, with one part located exclusively on the Hualapai Reservation known as "Grand Canyon West". Situated in the northwest region of Arizona, approximately 2 hours east of Las Vegas, this area features the breathtaking Grand Canyon Skywalk. In April 2021, amidst the global pandemic and as I reached a significant age milestone, I embarked on a solo journey to this destination. The grandeur of the canyon left me in awe, not to mention the impressive skywalk!

Viva Las Vegas

Before we get to the Grand Canyon, I have to tell you about my experience during the pandemic in Las Vegas as a solo traveler. Las Vegas is a great city to visit, especially if you have don’t have a lot of money to spend. Most casino-hotels have casinos on the ground floor, along with fantastic bars, restaurants, buffets, and various entertainment options. While gambling is a popular activity, it is not necessary to have a great time. Although this was my first solo trip to Vegas, I had previously visited with a friend and had a wonderful time. We watched incredible shows like Penn and Teller, Terry Fator, and Beatles Love Cirque Du Soleil (I highly recommend this show!). As a solo traveler, you can also enjoy these shows. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, all shows were canceled during my visit. I decided to venture off the beaten path that is the Vegas Strip, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Fremont Street Experience: This area is often referred to as "old Vegas" and it has a charming vintage feel with its neon Cowboys and the dazzling lights and glamour that are synonymous with Vegas. It's a compact area with casino-hotels, bars, and restaurants all within walking distance. You'll come across iconic names like the Golden Nugget, the Golden Gate, the Fremont, the California, and other casino-hotels. While many of them are older, there's also a newer casino-hotel called Circa that recently opened. There's a lively music stage, the thrilling Slotzilla zipline, and captivating light shows. It's a vibrant and exciting place that you should definitely explore when you're in town. Although my visit during the pandemic made it feel a bit quieter, I'm certain it will regain its lively atmosphere, and I would absolutely visit again.
  • The Mob Museum: As you probably know by now, i’m a history buff and I love history museums. I also love movies, and one of my all time favorite movies is Goodfellas. It’s brutally violent and difficult to watch at times, but is incredibly compelling and fascinating. Located at the restored U.S. Post Office and Courthouse building in Downtown Las Vegas near the Fremont Street District, I like to think of this museum as a Las Vegas history museum mostly because the mafia’s connection in building Las Vegas. There’s four floors of curated exhibits, and interactive hands-on exhibits including a crime lab, basement speakeasy and distillery, and a firearm training simulator. There’s guided tours as well. Even if you decide to do the base level self-guided tour as I did, it’s still worth visiting for the rich, complicated and nuanced history it presents of organized crime, and its relationship with law enforcement. Another place I would absolutely visit again and again.

Las Vegas Area Breweries: As you probably know by now, I love to visit local breweries whenever I travel. I love interacting with locals and sampling their culture. In this case, as many of the tourists stay on the Vegas Strip, these are the places where the locals congregate, and for good reason. In neighboring Henderson, I stopped at Bad Beat Brewery one evening and I remember at the time, it was quiet with a handful of patrons. There was also a terrific selection of tasty beers! One other evening, I ventured to the Las Vegas Arts District, and stopped at Hop Nuts Brewing. I recall this place looked like a typical “dive bar” and I remember having a nice conversation with the bartender at the time. One major takeaway for me was that the Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL hockey team is beloved in that city. In both instances, the team’s games were on TV and there were a handful of patrons that were engaged in the action of the game.

Leaving Las Vegas

Some destinations are best explored with a group of fellow travelers, not only for safety but also for logistical reasons. I firmly believe that when you're traveling solo, time is precious and you want to savor the moments while ensuring a memorable experience. I highly recommend including group tours in your solo travel itinerary, and my trip to Grand Canyon West was a perfect example. Through my AAA membership, I had arranged this tour a few weeks beforehand, specifically choosing my birthday for the occasion. The group tour included pick-ups from various Las Vegas Strip hotels, transportation on a comfortable air-conditioned bus, a breakfast voucher for a local diner on the way (which wasn't too bad), and brief stops at the Tillman Bridge overlook at the Hoover Dam and the Joshua Tree Forest en route to Grand Canyon West. Our tour guide was actually a local comedian who used this as his day job between gigs (I didn’t actually get his name, but hopefully he hit it big!), and he was funny and engaging with the crowd on the bus.

The Arrival

After the 2 hour bus ride, we finally arrived, and we were able to stretch our legs and explore the west rim. I was astounded at how serene and peaceful it was. It was a beautiful day, dry and relatively warm but incredibly windy.

I was amazed by the sheer beauty of this in person. The pictures and video simply don't capture its true magnificence.

Walking On A Cloud

I have a confession to make. I have a huge fear of heights. So much so, that when I was at the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago several years ago, there were glass cubes that stuck out from the building where you could sit inside the cube and see the street beneath you, and I would not go near it. However, on that very same observation deck, I had no issue standing at the glass and staring down at the pavement and the streets below, or the horizon of buildings and sky ahead. I’ve concluded that my fear with heights is all about security. If I don’t feel almost 100% secure, I won’t go near it. If I feel safe at a height, i’m fine. The same principle applies to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which is a major attraction at Grand Canyon West. The website emphasizes that the skywalk was designed with safety as a top priority, considering it's built right into the rock:

Construction began on this one-of-a-kind glass-bottom bridge in 2004. Engineers employed the same rod and plate method used on the Egyptian pyramids to roll Skywalk out over the Grand Canyon’s edge, creating an unencumbered view from the bridge. Support beams formed the foundation by anchoring deep within the red limestone bedrock of the site, acting as counterweight rods. This allows Skywalk to extend over the canyon’s edge with no direct support from underneath.
Highly skilled craftsman used 1.2 million pounds of steel and glass to build the Skywalk, using glass units that can hold up to 800 people at any given time. The glass bridge can withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, wind speeds up to 100 miles per hour, and can support the weight of seventy-one 747 airplanes. Since its opening, the world-famous structure has welcomed more than 10 million visitors to experience a bird’s eye view of the Grand Canyon.

I decided to challenge my fears by walking on the Skywalk. After all, when will get this opportunity again? At the worst, I can step out and step back in. After waiting in line, I proceeded to the entrance area where you have to place your hat, wallet, keys and even your phone in a cup to be placed in a locker, so all you have on you is a locker key. Given how windy it is, it makes perfect sense and is quite responsible to maintaining the canyon. I finally set foot on the skywalk and felt…..really good and perfectly fine. Then I walked some more, and felt just as good. With each step, I felt more secure. The winds were swirling all around me, yet I didn't have a single worry or concern. It felt amazing and exhilarating. There was a photographer stationed on the Skywalk to capture people's experiences, and although I'm not usually comfortable with it, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and have some fun with it since I couldn't document the moment on my own.

Closing Thoughts

I like to look at this trip as a great metaphor on the concept on traveling on your own, and it helped to establish the foundation for me to encourage others to do the same. I’ve said before that more and more people are doing it, and you’re not alone if you’re considering it. Stepping onto the Grand Canyon Skywalk with only my shoes on, gazing down at the Canyon floor beneath me, and yet feeling completely secure and safe, allowed me to confront my fear of heights head-on. Although I still have some apprehension, it has significantly diminished because of this pivotal moment during my trip. These are the kind of moments you can encounter when you travel solo. Moments that enable you to confront your fears or embrace new experiences can only occur when you take that leap of faith. It all begins with you.