Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grand Canyon

They didn't call it Grand Canyon for nothing. It's huge! Just the numbers alone, 446 km long, 29 km wide and 1.6 km deep, make for one very big hole. I have been lucky enough to have looked at this enormous landmark twice before, the first time with my parents, the second time was 13 years ago. The third time wasn't going to happen as it was closed. We had read that the police and even the National Guard had been called in to make sure no-one could go in. In Capitol Reef and Bryce we had been lucky. Zion can't be closed completely, but the Grand Canyon seemed properly shut. Seemed…

I've said it before; 'how lucky are we?' and today I can say it again. We were camping behind a trading post at the crossing with the road that leads into the Grand Canyon from the east. Yesterday evening when we arrived it was closed, this morning it had just been opened for 7 days! Guess where we went next? I couldn't believe our luck. More than 18.000 people were send away every day since the closure and now, on the day that we arrived, they temporarily opened it up…! We drove straight down there, didn't stop anywhere, but went straight to the campground to ensure we had a spot. We expected a madhouse of traffic and campers and thus tried to get there before the campground was full. 

The booking office had only just opened. They didn't know yet who had booked, who had since cancelled and who would still arrive. The info trickled through the computer system with places opening up by the minute as National Parks rangers were going through the reservation list by hand… We found a spot, pitched the tents and offloaded part of the luggage, before we went back to the entrance and had a proper look at the Grand Canyon.

On the way we passed two cyclists. One of them, a busty woman in bright coloured Spandex, no bra… was struggling up the hill. As Spandex is known for it's elasticity, her Dolly Parton sized front was swinging between the handlebars and saddle like an out of sync cuckoo clock; or as a Canadian friend of ours said it poetically 'they were hanging loose like the balls on a moose'. Why would anyone with such an overweight front wear nothing but thin Spandex? Spandex is after all an anagram for expands… Jeanette stopped to take a photo of a mountain lion sign, while I found a wolf spider crossing the road! Funny creatures. When something gets too close, he/she stood up and took a 'ready to fight pose'… even if the alleged offender is a full size car :-) As the park had only just been opened, it was relatively quiet. The usual 18.000 visitors a day weren't there yet, so we could enjoy it without fighting our way through the crowds.

Still, the day wasn't without it's events and the number of strange people around us was alarming… hearing a scream behind me I turned around and looked straight into the face of an Italian 'powder box', wearing two toilet seats as sunglasses and a set of teeth that would scare a Piranha. She was taking pictures of her boyfriend… also a weirdo, a perfumed weirdo. A family from India was eating, just by the side of the road. Somehow people from India always seem to eat, no matter where they are. Opposite to them was a family of 'hippos' that could have blocked the Colorado River if they wanted to and straight ahead of me was a woman wearing a pink(!) motocross outfit… while she was riding a... scooter (according to Mike it was a BMW tourer?) Welcome to the Grand Canyon, everything is bigger here, including the madness. As we were early and there weren't many visitors, we managed to see everything we wanted to easily. Despite being against compulsory bus rides, which is ironic as I was for a time a schoolbus driver in Tasmania, we stayed another day though to see the parts you're only allowed to visit by bus. 

In the evening a motorcyclist approached from a couple of campsites further on. One look told me I don't like him, but being the polite person that I am :-) we're having a chat. He boasted about all the dirt roads he's been on with his cruiser and how hard that was. It's one of those types that you find on the various forums, pretending to be 'the expert' while unhindered by any form of knowledge on the subject he's commenting about. On the internet you can switch him off… in real life you can't…  'Ah well, at least you don't have a chain to lube' I replied. With a strange look in his eyes he said 'you know, I don't know if I have a chain or shaft drive…' Sometimes words fail, this guy claims he's come from the other side of the US and doesn't know if he has a chain drive or not…? 'Seems to me you've lubed your chain or not' I replied half bored, again I see that puzzled look… luckily he disappeared soon after.

Grand Canyon National Park must be expensive to maintain. The maze of totally unnecessary roads around the visitor centre alone must be horrendously expensive. The visitor centre itself is another example of totally over the top extravagance, as is the elaborate system of buses and interchanges. The buses themselves are operated by retirees making a little travel money.
Going somewhere on a bus is fine by me. City travel is often better by bus than taking your own vehicle. To make it compulsory however is a step too far. Quite soon we found that despite the visitor numbers being down from normal, the buses resembled corned beef cans, and I was feeling more and more like cornered beef as the day progressed. It's compulsory to wear seat belts in automobiles, but in buses it's still acceptable having to stand in an isle surrounded by metal bars without any restraint. Despite the beautiful viewpoints, I'm glad when the bus rides are over. At the end of the day we took a look at Mather Point, but the clouds had settled in and were obstructing the colours we had hoped for with the sunset.

The next morning it was freezing cold again but… no clouds! First stop was, of course, Mather Point. Sunrise colours are good too! After a couple of photos I switched the camera off and just enjoyed and absorbed the views. A little later, while we were having a late breakfast at the local shop, the radiation alarm on my iPod sounded… a Japanese guy with the most radioactive orange hair I've ever seen, approached us. Sign-language made clear he wanted to take a photo of the bikes, of course he was only interested in Mike's Yamaha. His English is limited to 3 words and after each word there's a hysterical giggle. Mike is the same generation so we let him take care of the communication with the Japanese guy, frequently interrupted by ultrasonic giggles. Japa-san tried to find out where the bikes where shipped to, 'Canada' said Mike. Japa-san didn't understand, the word Canada was apparently not in his vocabulary. After several tries they settled for… Chicago…! After 20 minutes, 70 squeals and 7 words Japa-san is out of words and goes. My ears are still ringing 10 minutes later.

Leaving the Grand Canyon we should have been on a beautiful road towards Flagstaff… the first part was rather boring. The Coconino National Forest, just before Flagstaff, was luckily already much better! Flagstaff was, to me, another city. Leaving Flagstaff we took the 89A and found ourselves on a beautiful winding road through the Slide Rock State Park, followed by an evenly great ride through the Red Rock State Park.
We couldn't stop much as everything was closed, partly because we were getting close to the end of the season but mostly because of the National Parks being closed. Grand Canyon had been opened up temporarily, the rest was still very much under lock and key. It was going on for two weeks now. Anyone not showing up for work for two weeks will be sacked, I wish someone would have sacked the US Government… all of them, not just the ones in power or the ones in the opposition, but the whole bloody lot: senators, governors... everyone. Even a private campground we found along the way was closed as the short access road to it is on National Park land… At the end of the day we did find a campground, at Deadhorse Ranch in Cottonwood, and camped with a big group of boy scouts on the overflow area. Nice campground though!
The next day we went further west through beautiful Jerome; a steep climb into the mountains and a beautiful winding road again! Mike and I made the most of the beautiful road in front of us :-)