My visit to South West USA with Bedford Modern School

Nov 17, 2017


As a geographer, visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. This was finally fulfilled in October as I was lucky enough to accompany Bedford Modern School on their trip to South West USA. Here’s my day to day account of a brilliant tour…

Day 1 – Sunday

As the cold weather started to arrive in the UK, I was busy packing my shorts and t-shirts for the 30°c heat in Nevada! I met with the group early on a Sunday morning at London Gatwick, prior to our 10 hour flight to Las Vegas and we made our way to departures. After a quick check-in with Virgin Atlantic, we grabbed some breakfast and headed for the plane!

Arriving in Las Vegas at 3pm, we made our way through customs, collected our bags and met with our brilliant coach driver, Layne, and also the wall of heat as we exited the airport. Along with a very excited group, the coach departed the airport, arriving at the Circus Circus Hotel after around 30 minutes. We checked into the hotel and then returned to the coach – Layne dropped us just round the corner from the Bellagio Hotel for our first taste of the Las Vegas Strip.

Fortunately, as we approached the Bellagio, we were just in time for the Fountain Show which occurs ever half an hour. The extraordinary fountains performed to the music and we watched in amazement! We then took a slow walk along the Strip, towards our hotel where we had a typical buffet-style dinner with every sort of food you could wish for.

After being awake for 24 hours, it was no surprise to see tired students wanting to head to their rooms at 8pm ready for their first full day in America.

Day 2 – Monday

Waking up in Las Vegas, we were treated to another buffet. Ice-cream for breakfast – why not?

We met back up with Layne and departed on a short journey to the Alan Bible Visitor Centre which overlooks the amazing Lake Mead. Here we had a talk from one of the Rangers, who explained in more detail about the surrounding Mojave Desert as we as giving an introduction of the nearby Hoover Dam and its impacts on the surrounding states. After our talk with the ranger and a short film, the group went off to actually see the Hoover Dam whilst I waited for them at the Visitor Centre.

As the group returned to the Visitor Centre, they were so excited to tell me about their visit to the Hoover Dam and how amazing it was! We then got back on the coach towards Flagstaff where we would spend the night. En-route to the hotel, we had a couple of short stops, the first at the group’s favourite shop, Walmart where they purchased a range of items from food to onesies! The second, in Seligman along the famous Route 66 (which runs from Illinois to California). This was a perfect opportunity for the group to see Route 66 and also purchase a few souvenirs.

After arriving in Flagstaff at the hotel, we walked over to a local diner for some delicious burgers before getting some rest before the Grand Canyon visit!

Day 3 – Tuesday

After a breakfast of waffles and bacon, we loaded our belongings back onto the coach and made a quick stop in Flagstaff. We then headed straight to Tusayan, just outside the Grand Canyon National Park to visit the IMAX theatre to watch ‘Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets’. Once we had finished flying through the Grand Canyon (well, what felt like flying through the Canyon!), we had a bit of time to explore the National Geographic store!

The 10 minute journey from Tusayan to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon felt like Christmas Eve, we were all so excited! Nothing could have prepared us for the views which we were about to see. As we approached the Rim, there was a stunned silence from the group as they appreciated just exactly where we were, it felt unreal and like a movie back-drop! Before we headed along the South Rim, we spent some time looking around the Visitor Centre and taking hundreds of photos; we were even graced with the presence of an elk.

We were then led by the Field Study Tutor, Katy, along the South Rim whilst learning more about the geography and geology of the Grand Canyon – stopping every now and then to appreciate the stunning views on offer, it was incredible. There is a Geology Museum along the walk which gives in depth information about the rock formation of the Grand Canyon and the types of rocks which can be found – a treat for those who have a passion for geology! We didn’t even realise that we had spent around 3 hours walking along the South Rim as you get completely taken away with your surroundings.

As evening was approaching, we jumped on the free public shuttle bus back to the Visitor Centre to meet our coach and we departed for our next hotel in Page. As the sun was setting, our driver had the brilliant suggestion to take a quick stop not far from the Desert View Watchtower at Navajo Point. From here, we could see the Colorado River and watch the sun set over the Grand Canyon, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a view like it before!

Once we arrived at the hotel in Page, we had a quick check-in before heading over to a local restaurant for some more American food. This time, our meal was accompanied with a live country band and it definitely felt like the real South West! The group joined in with the locals who were dancing and some even got up on stage with the band. It was a great end to a tiring but fantastic day.

Day 4 – Wednesday

After seeing the sun set the day before, it was only fitting that we were up early to see the sun rise, and also for today’s boat trip along Lake Powell. We arrived at the marina with plenty of time and managed to sit and eat our breakfasts next to Lake Powell and watch the sunrise before boarding the boat for our trip.

We set off from the marina and were instantly greeted with incredible rocks surrounding us, all varying in colour and shape. The destination of the boat trip was Rainbow Bridge National Monument. After a couple of hours on the boat taking in the scenery, we welcomed a chance to stretch our legs along the 1 mile walkway which led to Rainbow Bridge. As you walk along the path, you catch a glimpse of what you are there to see, one of the world’s largest known natural bridges – it was a surreal sight. You are able to walk right up to the bottom of the Bridge and appreciate it for how impressive it is.

As we walked back to the boat, we could feel the heat from the sun rising, perfect for the top deck as we travelled back to the marina! We arrived back at the marina, not long after lunch, with enough time for a couple of afternoon visits, before everyone fell asleep after the early start.

Our first stop after the boat trip was to the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Centre which is a good short stop to learn about the history of the Dam. There are short videos on at regular intervals so there is always something to watch as well!

As we were starting to feel tired, we arrived at our final stop of the day and as soon as we got off the coach, everyone woke up and was extremely enthusiastic! We knew that once we had walked over the small hill, we would see the view that everyone wants to see, Horseshoe Bend. Pictures do not do this sight justice as it is just unbelievable – to stand and look down to the Colorado River and see the amazing geology with the sunlight hitting it was breath-taking. It’s hard to conceive a more impressive sight than the Grand Canyon but many of the group stated that this stop was their favourite of the whole week!

After many photos, we joined the coach to head back to the hotel and had a couple of hours before dinner. Many of the group visited Walmart, to purchase some more snacks and onesies! Our evening meal for this evening was at a local pizzeria where we had delicious fresh pizzas and ice cream for dessert. After a very busy day, we returned to the hotel ready for another full day!

Day 5 – Thursday

As we checked out of our hotel and set off for Bryce, the group were still talking about the trip to Horseshoe Bend! We made a quick stop off in Kanab which is famously known as ‘Little Hollywood’ as it was the setting for many classic Western films. We had some free time to grab some lunch and there was also a small museum that you can have a look around.

We continued on the road to Bryce for our afternoon visit to Bryce Canyon. We started with a quick stop at the Visitor Centre before heading to the start of our walk into the canyon where we were greeted by a deer sat within the trees! As we approached the top of the canyon, our Field Study Tutor, Katy, explained the rock formations which could be seen know as hoodoos and how Bryce Canyon was home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. From here, we then took the descent into the canyon where we could see more amazing views and even more impressive rock formations!

After being distracted by our surroundings, we then realised that walking down into the canyon means that we had to walk back up to the top of the canyon. It was a refreshing walk up the zig-zag pathway but it was most definitely worth it. It just clicked to 5pm which meant it was midnight in the UK and the birthday of one of the group; passers-by seemed to enjoy the rendition of Happy Birthday as a group of 36 students and adults walked up the canyon!

We arrived at the top (only slightly out of breath) and looked over where we had just been. It seemed like we had been in a completely different place in the world when we were down in the canyon compared to the top!
After a nice long walk, it was a welcomed 10 minute drive to our penultimate hotel where we were greeted with another amazing buffet-style dinner followed by some souvenir shopping.

Day 6 – Friday

As we woke on our final full day in Southwest USA, we filled up on more buffet food and packed our bags for a journey back to Las Vegas. We stopped a few times along the way, picking up snacks and souvenirs and had some birthday cake which made the journey pass quite quickly. As we arrived in Vegas in the early afternoon, we decided to stop off at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign before heading to the hotel.

Our visit to Las Vegas was just over a week after the tragic event which occurred at Mandalay Bay. At the sign, there is a reflective memorial to those who lost their lives whilst at the country music concert. The group spent some time here so they could reflect on the event and show their respect to those who lost their lives.

We then travelled to our hotel to check-in for the final night in Las Vegas! We didn’t want to waste any of the time which we had left, so we got straight back on the coach and Layne drove us around Vegas so we could see more! We drove past the wedding chapels, the Stratosphere and Fremont Street before driving down the Las Vegas Strip and seeing it lit up at night, it is completely different to when we had walked down on our first afternoon.

As we had our final dinner of the week (buffet!), the group reflected on how much they had seen over the past 6 days and what an amazing experience it had been. I asked around at what the highlights were and to no surprise, the answers were the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Bryce Canyon, the boat trip and even Walmart (this was a surprise)!

Day 7 – Saturday

Unfortunately, we did have to leave Southwest USA at some point, but we weren’t going to leave without a bit of last minute shopping. We were dropped off outside Caesar’s Palace and got the chance to walk through this amazing hotel and see the (very) expensive shops, intricate decoration and also the casino! We then ventured over to the Bellagio which was just as impressive as you walked through and admired the autumnal decoration. We finished off with a quick walk around Miracle Mile shopping centre where there were more affordable shops.

Layne picked us up back at Caesar’s Palace and we then had to bid him a fond farewell, he was a brilliant driver and made the trip for the group! Only last week, we had walked through departures at Gatwick with such excitement and now we were having to return home.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I was planning for this trip but I can say, it has been one of the most incredible experiences. The sights I saw over the week and the experiences were second to none and it was a truly fantastic week with a fantastic group.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I was planning for this trip but I can say, it has been one of the most incredible experiences. The sights I saw over the week and the experiences were second to none and it was a truly fantastic week with a fantastic group.

Find out more about our art trips to South West USA