Part 14: Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon

The end of the last post saw us “aka Team Richardson Pro Fishing” making haste from Vegas, having been exposed to enough of city life to be reminded why we had left our life in Toronto in the first place. As such, the wide open spaces of northern Arizona seemed very pleasant indeed. Admittedly, they were just as hot and dry as Vegas, but for the most part they weren’t filled with seething masses of people and they didn’t smell of fecal matter. That was something.

First stop in the next leg was the Hoover Dam, not far east of Vegas. I had studied the follies of the Hoover Dam during my environmental courses at university, and while the environmentalist in me mentally shook his fist at this “fuck you” to nature, the tourist in me was suitably impressed. In order to gain access to the dam, we had to go through some fairly stringent security checks (somewhat unsurprisingly, considering this was America, after all), in which I was asked to climb on the roof and open the storage hatch so the guy could check inside it with his mirror on a pole (presumably for devices which would be utilised for blowing up the dam, or something similarly terrorist-esque). Once through security, we took a stroll up the hill to admire the rather borishly named Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Despite the ridiculous name, this was certainly a feat of engineering, and offered excellent views of the dam below.

O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge

After being suitably wowed from afar, we took the meandering drive down to the dam itself. Up close, the Hoover Dam was even more impressive, with a sheer dropoff to one side and cool giant turbines (half apparently owned by Nevada, and half owned by Arizona) on the other. Of particular interest was the cool brass elevator at the top of the dam with President Roosevelt’s name above (presumably so he could ride down into the belly of the beast in style) and the fact that hydroelectric facilities are apparently no place for pets.

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In the hopes of going for a swim and washing off some of the filth of Nevada, we trundled down to Lake Mead, a huge body of water created by the imprisonment of the Colorado River via the very un-environmental Hoover Dam. After talking to the park ranger at the gates to Lake Mead, these hopes were somewhat dampened (excuse the pun, folks) as he explained that they had been receiving reports of toxic blue-green algae in the lake and that we should exercise caution. I remained determined, but as we drove up to the shore even I had to admit that the “beach” was a bit sad. Regretfully calling off the swim, we soaked in the view instead and then continued east.Lake Mead

Despite the money we hard forked out in Vegas to get the RV into ship shape, it was still running seriously hot and making some rather alarming clanking sounds. Thus we were relieved to arrive, hot and bothered, at our overnight boondocking site, just west of the town of Kingman.

Next morning, we jumped up at the crack of dawn to (vainly) try and beat the heat, and continued on to our next destination near the town of Williams. Aside from having an awesome name, Williams is a moderately interesting town on historic Route 66, and had an interesting array of oldschool gas stations-turned diners. We dallied for a while in town before making the 4 mile drive up the hill to our boondocking site in the Kaibab National Forest. This was a very pleasant area indeed, offering plenty of dispersed camping amongst the trees and with miles of forest trails just itching to be explored. Being once again at high elevation, the temperatures were much more reasonable, and we slept well that night after traipsing through the forest and hanging off trees.

Kaibab National Forest boondockingWilliams, Arizona

a teenie tiny woodpecker!

a teenie tiny woodpecker!

Having regained a connection with nature in our glorious isolated campsite, we drove north towards more hordes of people, drawn by the touristational pull of the Grand Canyon. Arriving in mid afternoon and finding that all the campgrounds within the park were full, we backtracked to the nearby town of Tusayan and paid way too much for a partial hookup site at the Grand Canyon Camper Village. While the place was horribly overpriced and STILL had the gall to charge extra for showers, it wasn’t all that bad, and we made the most of it by charging the crap out of all our electronic devices.

The next day, we broke camp and headed into the park. As expected, the Grand Canyon was teeming with people, but luckily it was the end of the busy season and so we could still get the odd glimpse of the canyon through the masses.

The Grand Canyon was indeed grand, however we had a hard time being as enthralled by it’s immensity as the rest of the tourist crowd, on account of the fact that we had just spent the past 3 weeks in some of the most spectacular canyon country on earth. Nonetheless, we endeavored to pay the canyon it’s due, and spent the next couple of days exploring the more notable aspects of the South Rim.

Day one:

  • gathered our bearings at the well-provisioned Grand Canyon Visitor Centre, then strolled across to nearby Mather Point for our first glimpse of the canyon. Grand Canyon Mather Point
  • next, we dusted off our bikes and meandered along the Greenway Trail to Bright Angel Lodge and the Hermits Rest shuttle bus transfer. The bike trail was pleasant, however it didn’t take us anywhere near the rim of the canyon, as we had thought. It did, however, take us right through the middle of a small herd of chilled out mule deer, who blinked owlishly at us as we careened by. Grand Canyon Greenway
  • once at the transfer, we took in the views overlooking the famous Bright Angel Trail, then threw our bikes on the front of the next shuttle bus and jumped on. We took the shuttle to the end of the line at Hermits Rest, then dismounted and began biking back along the rim of the Canyon.

    A cool architecturally designed historic building at Hermits Rest

    A cool architecturally designed historic building at Hermits Rest

  • Cruising back along the canyon rim, we stopped off at various notable locations, including Pima Point, Monument Creek Vista, The Abyss, Mohave Point, Hopi Point and Powell Point. As recommended, we dallied at Hopi Point to watch the sunset over the canyon (very pleasant indeed, with the rays of the setting sun working slowly up the canyon), then made haste back down the road before it got fully dark and some buffoon hit us with their car. The going was slow, however, as both my bike tires had decided to develop punctures, and I had to stop and pump the damn things up every 5 minutes. Grand Canyon Grand CanyonGrand Canyon sunset at hopi pointsunset at hopi point

Collapsing  back at the RV well after dark, we had biked well over 30 km in some seriously steep terrain with 2 flat tyres, but it was nonetheless an excellent way to experience the canyon.

Day 2:

  • Feeling a bit stiff and sore from our exertions the day before, we psyched ourselves up for an even more gruelling day ahead – walking down the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point, 3 miles below the canyon rim. This trail came highly recommended but with a whole spat of warnings, including the fact that it was an “extremely difficult” walk, with unstable footing, sheer dropoffs, and elevation losses and gains of 4000 feet. Nonetheless, it was one of the best ways of truly experiencing the canyon, and we were not deterred.
  • The trail took us down through some interesting terrain, with constant views all around of the canyon interior. Notable occurrances included stepping aside to let a train of sweaty pack mules go by and being passed a couple of times by some truly insane runners.South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail
  • Arriving at Skeleton Point, we made suitable “ooh ahh” noises at the view, then found a shady spot for lunch. Our bellies filled, we began the slow 3 mile long, 2000 foot high walk back to the top. Surprisingly, we made good time, and completed the walk in less than 4 hours. Grand Canyon = conquered! Skeleton Point Skeleton Point South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trail

Our legs a little shaky, we climbed back into the RV and drove east along Desert View Drive, stopping off occasionally to admire the views, but by this time our eyes had almost become blind to canyons. Our final stop was at the Desert View Watchtower, then we were hoofing it down the road to our next destination.

The state of our feet after the walk. The orangey areas are an accumulation of red canyon dust

The state of our feet after the walk. The orangey areas are an accumulation of red canyon dust

An apparently literate elk, who was enjoying the potable water and who I had to ask to kindly move aside so I could get some

An apparently literate elk, who was enjoying the potable water and who I had to ask to kindly move aside so I could get some

Desetr View Watchtower Desert View Watchtower064

One thing we had both found interesting about the Grand Canyon was that it wasn’t at all what we had imagined. In our minds eye, it had been far more definitive, with clearly demarcated canyon rims and a sharp drop downwards to the Colorado River far below. While the sharp drops were certainly present, in actuality the canyon was more open, and for some reason we found this vaguely disappointing. As we drove away from the park, however, we were able to enjoy a brief glimpse of our imagined canyon as the light died away – this was the Little Colorado River Canyon, and quite impressive to behold, despite being overshadowed by its greedy older brother. Unfortunately, due to the low light, the below photos don’t really do it justice, but you get the idea.

Little Colorado River

All these musings aside, we had a long drive ahead of us to Page, Arizona, and the RV wasn’t driving itself. With nary a backward glance, we roared down the road to our next adventure.

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