I had decided long before the trek began I would take the more direct route from Cortez to Flagstaff as to have more time to piddle around in the city before I went to camp. Now, let me just give you a small piece of advice before you make a decision like this yourself. Take the longer road. Go through Monument valley. It may take a little longer, but oh my, it’s the better decision.
There is no intention by me to point the blame at the people who live along 160 in Arizona of anyone in the tribes who live on the reservation. They don’t control the state or national highways and have no part in maintaining it. It seems, however, no one at all has the motivation to maintain this road.
65 mph down hundreds of miles of flat road seems pretty sweet if you’re cruisin’. Not a lot of traffic, beautiful views, one might think this was the fucking kings road from just those facts. They would be wrong. I have never driven a more uneven highway in my life. At more than one point I’m pretty sure tires left ground, if only momentary. I hit my head many times as we passed over the warped road, clearly the victim of the desert heat. This coupled with terrible driving by my fellow passengers I’m happy I made it to my destination at all.
Not once, but twice, along this route, a slow passer decided that they just had to pass the car that was barely driving slower than them on a 2 lane highway. Don’t get it wrong, passing on a 2 lane highway is a specialty of mine, however I’ve never once been in danger of smashing into oncoming traffic as I make sure I can power past the person I’m overtaking. Sorry dude in your old pickup truck towing a mobile apartment nicer than most of the houses I’ve lived in. You don’t have the pickup to pass out here. Just be patient. Between that and the psychopaths who loved to speed up in areas clear to pass, by the time I reached Flagstaff I was quite on edge.
I made my way directly into the historic district to what seemed to be a high concentration of breweries. A nice craft beer and some fancy bar food sounded like just what the doctor ordered, except a real doctor would have put me on lithium i’m sure. Historic Brewing in Flagstaff had a fine selection on tap for a wide range of tastes. The sea salt and lime infused beer was particularly good. The fancy mac and cheese hit the spot as well and I made my way around to a couple more local breweries before I felt like I could move on.
Hours after arriving in town I finally made it back to my truck and took a quick breath before finishing the final leg. Perhaps I had taken too long but at this point I wasn’t too concerned, my camping spot was pre-picked and waiting for me so there would be no fight for best spot. The sunset was gorgeous as I drove down gently rolling forest roads to the forest outside the grand canyon. A procession of tourists ending their labour day weekend flooded out of the park down the road past me. It seemed like I was the only one coming in, which was partially my goal.
The camp was dark and I narrowly found my spot. Setting up camp in the dark was no problem as by now I had become a pro. A few more beers without a campfire in the warm evening and I was ready for a good night’s sleep. It looked like I wouldn’t be fighting off wasps in the morning, which was already a relief.
The morning came earlier than expected. The one thing worse than a hornet nest to have as a neighbor was what stayed next to me. They were rude humans. Fucking rude as shit humans. Do you really need to start the generator and deflate your Fucking air mattress before the sun? You’re coming back! I saw your reservation! Are you really going to inflate and deflate your bitch pads every night and morning? Dammit just go to the tourist traps and leave the mattresses full.
I apologize for that outbreak. I’ve stayed in the worst of paid camping grounds and never have I ever been woken up so early to something as disruptive as a generator. Literally the Subaru would have been less asinine. We all have to live together jerks, thinks about your neighbors.
Ok so. I was up early. I reheated the leftovers from the day before for breakfast and packed up the 4runner. Streamlined and efficient, I’m the master of my quick camp vehicle. When planning this long adventure I wish I would have known how quick I am at tearing down and setting up. The trip would have been more packed with camps instead of city rests, but you live and you learn.
I made my way through the tourist hell before the grand canyon. Kitschy restaurants, overpriced gas, souvenirs, rubberneckers, they all did their best to slow my intrusion into one of the most popular national parks in the world. The world importance was apparent as this park, more than anywhere I have ever been, had the most diverse spoken language I had heard in my life. In the park I counted 10 different languages at least, though being no linguist, that number is probably more.
I’ve seen this big hole in the ground hundreds of times. Between pictures, movies and first person accounts I really believed that I knew what was coming to my first visit to this incredible place. I’ll tell you now, and you better fucking not repeat it, I was not.
I took a right up Desert View Drive instead of heading into the main park. Wow, I do not regret this knee jerk decision. Desert View Drive has some incredible views that even the most nature opposed, flat land lover would coo over. I’ve seen many great canyons but this is truly special.
As I drove down the slowest road in the park I passed the first available overlook. Loose jawed and dumb struck, I’ll admit unapologetic that I nearly caused a wreck at my first view. My first thought was, “how is this place possible?” I’ve never seen a more incredible place.
Don’t get me wrong, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Arches were both breathtakingly beautiful. They also both had incredible staying power in their beauty and if you havent been, just go, maybe now. Neither have the initial effect of this gigantic expanse we call the Grand Canyon.
My guide in Mesa Verde said that it was a link to the afterlife for the native people in the south west. When I heard this I thought it was a fun fact, a good anecdote for the creation story he recounted on his tour. I now felt that connection as I stood over the edge looking into the deep crevice before me.
After driving the east road I made my way back to the center so I could catch the bus through the west end of the park. Despite pushy children and clueless tourists, the sights along this bus route were incredible. High peaking buttes dominated the deep cuts of the Colorado River. Even at its most narrow points, rock layers and steep faces would impress the greatest cynics.
It was difficult to remain calm on times along the western bus trip. Unruly tweens and older children pushed past me like I was an exhibit of the park. Fellow travelers, young and old, took up space like they owned the park. The energy was apparent and honestly I couldn’t blame them. This giant crack revealed centuries of earthly existence we can now only speculate about.
At a place called the abyss the full experience hit me. The depth and width of this natural phenomenon couldn’t be more apparent. I knew now why my fellow tourists were so diverse. The world heritage tag seemed not only necessary, but pinnacle to this land. I drove away with a new sense of wonder for the journey ahead. I made my way out of the park and headed for Vegas to escape all reality in an entirely imaginary place. Who knew if I would come out alive.
Part III coming soon…