We went full throttle into the desert, the heat emanating from the road, sand and hills surrounding us. The sun’s rays beat onto the road, which the tarmac bounced back to us. We were forced to do something I couldn’t dream about in months of a New England winter – turn on the air conditioning.
Desert driving is it’s own peril.
Road Trippin’ Through Sand
Mirages spew forth from the ground in every direction, but especially upon the roadway that you’re driving. This was more like a stereotypical desert, sand as far as I could see. Even the occasional picturesque sand dunes. After crossing into Arizona, we started coming across cacti the height of a man. Their prickly arms outstretched, pointing the way and urging you on through the desert.
Dance in the Capital
Arriving in Phoenix around sunset, we quickly found what we were looking for, Hance Park, a decent sized park in the middle of the city, that on this particular weekend was housing the McDowell Mountain Music Festival. One of my favorite bands, the Disco Biscuits, were headlining on that Saturday night. With the setting sun came the cooling of the temperature down to a perfect 75°F. After a couple weeks of driving through the cold, snow, rain and occasional warmth, I had discovered the optimum climate for some outside music.
The music festival was a three day long event, but we were there for just one night. In my book there’s not much better than dancing in desert to the music of the Disco Biscuits. A cross between electronic music and rock and roll, it doesn’t take the beats humming out of their instruments long to get the crowd moving. Once the tunes are rolling it’s easy to get lost in the music and zone out everyone else around you. I would have danced all night in the city’s heart, the notes emanating from the band like a steady heartbeat pumping blood to the festivals limbs and creating a lively party. Unfortunately, there must have been a city curfew, because it was over by 11 o’clock that night.
Moving onto Flagstaff
Staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Phoenix, we got up the next morning and headed north past Flagstaff and towards our destination, a not so small little area carved out of the earth by the mighty Colorado River over millennia; the Grand Canyon. Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff, I-40 west and then about 50 miles up route 180. It was cold up here, nothing like the heat of the Phoenix, the wind blew fiercely sending sand and tumbleweeds across the road. Not having eaten yet that day, we stopped at a aged looking diner and gift shop called Bedrock City, yup, a Flintstones themed park sat behind it. It being on the chilly side and in our rush to get to our final destination we did not explore the park, which I will probably regret forever, roadside Americana at its finest. I did get some tasty chicken fingers and a 5 cent cup of coffee though and you can’t go wrong with that. Back in the car for another half-hour ride put us through the gates of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Setting Sites on the Canyon
My first view of the Grand Canyon stole my gaze for time eternal – well, actually a few exhilarating minutes. But it felt like years before I could attempt to withdraw my eyes from the landscape. Parking at the visitors center and walking to the first vista we could find, the beauty of the canyon is almost overwhelming. For thousands of years, the Colorado river carved rock and sand out of the desert and left one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen.
It’s heartbreaking in a way, almost making you feel somewhat insignificant to something so massive and incredible, that forces of nature strong and ancient have created a place of eternal beauty, that has lasted long before us and at the same time it is reassuring knowing that it will be there long after I have dissapeared from this earth.
I watched the sunset that evening from a cliff, with a very long drop beneath me, the orange glow gradually fading into the west and making the rocks of the canyon glow in an ethereal light.
That night we stayed in a hotel in the nearest town and the Grand Canyon. The Red Feather Hotel was our abode for the night. It was more than suited for our needs, clean and comfortable with endless coffee in the lobby, a non stop caffeine supply and with that you know I was OK. After a decent nights rest, we headed back to the canyon in the morning with plans to hike as far as we could in the daylight hours.
Venture Into Another World
The difference between hiking the Grand Canyon and hiking a mountain, is you do the easier part first.
Starting at the top, you push out of your mind the thought that the further you hike down, means the further you have to hike back up once you decide to turn around. Taking the free shuttle bus from the visitors center we arrived at a trailhead that would allow us to hike for a relatively short distance and enjoy some marvelous views along the way. The trail was described as difficult, but there was no shortage of fellow hikers on that day and as we started out we had to hug the cliffs to allow donkey trains to pass us on their way back up the canyon. Brilliant views, scary yet thrilling cliffs and treacherous paths took us downward.
Hiking to the bottom of the canyon and the Colorado River would have been an amazing hike, but it was suited for extremely experienced hikers, of which I am not. We agreed with the warning signs the park service posted saying that no one should make that hike in one day. As it was I got enthusiastic about going ever further down the trail, pushing the thought of having to make the return climb out of my head, all the while saying let’s just go around one more bend, just a little further. The lower you got in the canyon, the warmer it got and the dryness of the air as well as physical exertion made me glad I had more than enough water in my backpack. At some point we made the intelligent decision to go no farther and start the steep climb up, quickly getting winded at the upward climb. Making good time nevertheless, I was exhausted when we made it back to the car and said our goodbyes to the amazing spectacle of the Grand Canyon.
Sad Arizona Farewell
Since I was not driving, I quickly fell asleep and let the day’s exercise take over my weary body. By this time it was late in the afternoon and we had plans to make the 8 hour drive back to LA. When I awoke in the passenger seat an hour or so later the sun had gone down and with it we had left the Grand Canyon and all its natural splendor in the desert dust. At some point in the early hours of the next morning we made it back to the coastal area and a few days of rest and charging my inner battery before the winds would start blowing me north, along the Pacific coast and the next adventure.