The One and Only
Arizona is so dry that any amount of rain immediately disappears into the landscape without a trace. The only chance for moisture is to shed a tear while visiting the vast and beautiful hole in the ground called the Grand Canyon.
Whether or not we would visit the Grand Canyon had been the topic of much debate since we started our trip. On the minus side, I had already seen it. And another stinker was we typically don’t enjoy tourist attractions with massive lineups of Americans following obligatory rites of passages snapping mindless photos to brag about to their friends and family. The heavily scripted “ooh’s” and “aah’s” always felt forced to me. I would much rather prefer to go against the grain, a pattern of behavior I established as a kid who would request root beer when all my friends wanted Coca-Cola.
The other minus was that the Grand Canyon would require a bit of back tracking, and we would need to climb into the mountains, returning to the cold whether. I had gotten used to the warmth and stability of sitting by the pool in Tucson and wasn’t quite over the bit of travel fatigue that had set in a bit. So of course we were in no mood to fight the look-y-loos crawling all over the canyon amidst pack mules and park rangers barking out rules to protect the natural wonder. Despite the negatives, we pushed forward and quietly agreed to make the trip, which would be a great chance to test out John’s new camera.
On the previous day, we had tried to visit Roden Crater near Flagstaff where the the artist James Turrell was in the process of constructing what he calls “a gateway to observe light, time, and space.” Perfect. We remembered learning about the large scale artwork in art school some 21 years ago so we were very excited to be so close to it. John routed the trip and we made the 45 minute trek in our four wheel drive van only to be met with a closed gate with a sign that read, “Private Property. No Trespassing.” Apparently, unless you happen to be in town when a private event is hosted, the project is only viewable by forking over $6,500 or by viewing the other 83 earth works he has completed, thereby proving you are enough of to be worthy of viewing his magnum opus. Defeated, we looked up to the sky for a moment and created our own celestial vaulting experience with our God given eyes and returned home to reconsider our visit to the Grand Canyon.
Our plan was to get an early start, but the following morning we noticed that the change of elevation and continued dryness of the desert had started to take a toll on us. We both woke up complaining, me with a mild case case of positional vertigo, and John with the beginning signs of a migraine. After a bit of whining, we quietly got dressed, packed a lunch, hopped in the van and drove off, only to turn back because we almost forgot to load our bikes into the van.
The one hour drive from Williams to the Grand Canyon is long and straight, and the anticipation of the big crevice played a huge role in the journey. After passing the Flintstone’s campground, we tuned in to the park’s radio station where we were notified that the parking lot was likely full and we should park in the nearby town of Tuyasan and take the free shuttle bus in to the park. F*** that, we had our bikes.
There are several very well maintained but hardly traversed bike trails in and around the park, and it took some time before we even saw another person on the trail. The entrance to the park was some 5 miles from our van, but at about 6500 feet of elevation, the steady climb to the rim was surprisingly slow and arduous. The bike path loops around adjacent to the main road in, bypassing the pay station and leading right to the Main Visitor Center. Roughly translated, we got to see the Grand Canyon for free! Even though we would happily pay the $18 per person entrance fee since it is money well spent, we had decided early on in our travels, “if an opportunity presents itself, we have to go with it.” So we kept our little secret quiet, until now.
The great thing about seeing the Grand Canyon by bicycle is that you can ride along the rim and stop anywhere along the way to see the canyon from multiple perspectives. Also, you are liberated from the boredom of waiting for the shuttle bus. We arrived at Hermit’s Rest at the West most point of the rim and had our chicken salad wraps, which used up the last bit of the grocery store chicken we got for $5. in Tucson, making a grand total of 6 meals. The descent into the canyon was actually quite challenging with steep rocky steps. Because we had heard it took about three times the time to climb out of the canyon, we decided to only drop down about 1000 feet before turning around to began our ascent up the giant staircase. To our surprise, and probably because of the challenging descent, we actually reached the top in about the same amount of time. However, my calves are still disagreeing with our decision of a fast ascent.
At the top, we busted open one of our precious grapefruits picked from the RV park in Tucson, and refilled our water bottles with a water spout filtered by 430 million years of rock. We then rode our bikes 15 miles back to the van as the temperatures dropped to freezing and I practiced not reacting to the fact that I was still wearing shorts.
You really can’t describe in words or pictures the sense of scale of the Grand Canyon. Once we rode past the smell of overpriced hot dogs and stopped to gaze over the rim, it became overwhelmingly clear why people make the trek; that we are just tiny creatures on this planet, existing alone for just a moment in space and time. And although I kick and scream against the flow of people funneling into the park, I am thankful for the surprising gift of perspective the Grand Canyon has added to the trip.