Hope you don't mind me posting this trip report here, I received some good advice from here and want to repay the favour. We decided to go to the South Rim and also to Monument Valley from Las Vegas which is why I posted it here in case anyone else felt like doing this awesome trip!
We arrived in Las Vegas after a short flight from Vancouver at around 9pm, after a delay in customs and waiting over an hour to pick up our pre-paid rental car, we finally left McCarran airport and headed to Henderson, our quick stop-over for the night. Henderson was a good choice, I had considered driving to Boulder City or even as far as Kingman just so we had a few hours "in the bag" before the long drive the next day, but I was concerned about flight delays and driving in the dark, so decided to plump for Henderson. It proved an excellent choice the next day when the rental car had problems just one mile into our seven hour journey to Monument Valley, we were able to go back and exchange it relatively quickly and be on our way, only an hour and a half after we had planned. We finally exited Henderson at 8am. We stayed in the Hilton Garden Hotel which was the cheapest of our month long trip at £46 for the night and far exceeded my expectations, I can highly recommend it and plan to write a review very soon.
We decided to do the longest drive on the first day and the seven hours to monument valley went relatively quickly. We took advice from people on here, bought a cheap cool bag, some ice and a tray of water which cost us less than $15 from the amazing Seven Eleven (love that place!) and started our desert adventure. Except, it wasn't really as much of a desert as we had imagined. Sure, it was sandy, we knew it wouldn't be a proper desert as is arid land rather than semi-arid but I'd imagined narrow roads elevated above sandy shoulders, and we didn't get that at all! It is by no means a complaint, in fact, we both found it more reassuring that the roads were busier than we expected (but by no means busy by UK standards) and that the entire 7 hour journey was not the delightful 100 degrees heat that the car had started in in Las Vegas at 8am. Members on here had told me that the roads weren't desert roads, they told me it got cooler at high elevations, but I couldn't figure that out until we actually got there and saw it for ourselves!
We had also been seriously concerned about places to stop for petrol and restrooms but despite there being no actual dwellings between places, there were plenty of petrol stations with restrooms on the way. Having just been to Canada for two weeks, we expected the dwellings on the map to be small and remote places. I expected Tuba City to be a small town with a few houses, I did not expect to see a McDonalds and Taco Bell, but I did see it and I was surprised at how much settlement there was in these areas.
Flagstaff en route was another surprise. Torrential rain and 61 degrees Fareneheit had not been on my list of things to experience in Arizona, but the high elevations (6000-7000ft) made sure we experienced it. Sure, it cleared up soon enough but I had not expected it!
After six hours which had gone reasonably quickly, we headed down the final road to Monument Valley and oh wow!!! It was like a scene from the movies, there was my long desert road with amazing monoliths on either side. We filmed the entire drive down into the valley and that was before we had even turned off for the most impressive part of the park. We stayed at The View hotel for one night which was AMAZING, it was like having a giant postcard outside your window. The view of the Mittens and Mesa Butte were awesome. We had to pay $5 each to get into the park which is run by the Navajo tribe and the park was pretty busy when we got there at 3pm, of course we had lost an hour as we moved into a different time zone so it was actually 4pm in Monument Valley time.
We planned to drive the 17 mile loop around the monoliths, but we didn't realise it was unpaved and very bumpy, so decided to give that a miss in our sporty rental car and jumped in a private tour with Homeland Navajo Tours. The ride down to the Mittens (about five minutes) was sooooooooooooooooooooo bumpy, we were jerked around everywhere in the jeep and I felt ridiculously sick. The thought of another 2 hours sitting in that vehicle made me feel awful, so I asked if it was possible to get a refund and asked to walk back to the hotel. The guide was really kind (although I do think they all found me hilarious!) and said he would get a driver to pick me up and he insisted on waiting with me despite my insistence that they should proceed with the tour. He gave me a full refund and another guide picked me up in a 4x4. It didn't feel half as bumpy in that and I told him so. When we got back to the hotel, the boss man could see I was upset about missing the tour and offered to take me out in the 4 x 4 and pick up my husband on the way (who was still on the original jeep).
We paid $60 each for the tour, I have no idea if this is good or bad (anyone know I'd be interested to find out), but for the fact I could go out in the 4 x 4 made it worth every penny. The ride was still bumpy but I didn't feel sick at all and really enjoyed the trip. We were out for 2.5 hours with plenty of time for photographs and OH WOW the monoliths were amazing! The view from "the north window" was incredible. Being able to drive around the loop felt so special, there were tribal elders living in shacks with no running water or electricity, the thing I couldn't get over was how quiet it was. The peace and serenity and quiet, well, I doubt if I will ever be able to match that ever again in my life. The view from the hotel was stunning, we watched the sunset whilst eating in the restaurant (which by the way is excellent service for good food at a reasonable price, $10-$15 for main meals - we had expected to be fleeced given that there are hardly any places to eat around there). The hotel played a John Wayne film (set in Monument Valley) which people could watch outside, that was very surreal watching the Mittens on the screen and seeing them out for real out of the corner of your eye.
We bidded farewell to Monument Valley, probably my favourite place in our entire month-long trip and headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim. We headed in through the East entrance and it took us around 3 hours to get to the pay stations. It cost us $25 to get in which I felt was a bit steep - this was a 7 day pass (which is great value), but really they should offer day passes for $15 or so. As we passed through the pay station, the heavens opened and I mean torrential rain. It was bouncing off the road. We stopped earnestly at the first view point for the "first glimpse of the Grand Canyon" and could see nothing but cloud and a faint outline of rock. It kind of spoiled that "wow" moment for us as we could see the scale but not the detail, so when the clouds finally cleared an hour later (by which time we had checked into Bright Angel) and we could see the detail, it was still "wow" but much less "wow" than I had anticipated. Monument Valley completely eclipsed the Grand Canyon. That is a sentence I never thought I'd write in a million years. The canyon just can't be appreciated from the rim in my opinion. As it was July, we were inexperienced hikers, we didn't fancy a trip into the rim-oven on foot, the mule rides were booked up so far in advance. In hindsight I wish we had taken a helicopter ride or rafting trip, I think that would have helped a lot. The view points were great but all very similar. By no means am I saying "its not worth the trip" - it was well worth the five hour trip out there and we would do it again, I just don't feel we got the best of the Canyon. We saw the sunset at Yavapai which was nice, but the sunrise at 5.20am (yawwwwwwn) was poor due to too much cloud. After the sunset we drove down to Tusayan to watch the Grand Canyon movie in the IMAX. I felt without this, I would have experienced even less of the Canyon. The show was well worth seeing, it is open until around 8pm (but the Condor show stops at 7pm which is annoying!) and if you book online you can save 25%.
We left early after the sunrise as we didn't have anything else to do in the Canyon. We dropped off the rental car and caught a taxi to Las Vegas strip. I will be back later with some momentum to finish the Las Vegas report!