Wild is the apt word for our journey across Arizona. Most of the old road thus far through our penultimate 66 state has been buried by the interstate and so we’ve spent large part of the drive on faster roads through flat desert landscape. Away from Route 66, Arizona is also home to some particularly amazing landscapes. Just when you think it can’t get any more awe inspiring it does!
For the first time in 10 days we left our EZ66 guidebook in the glove compartment and headed off “America’s Main Street” in search of a Wild West icon, Monument Valley. A 3 hour drive north of Chambers took us to the Utah/Arizona boarder and the most incredible landscape I’ve ever seen. Hot red desert soil punctuated by giant, towering rock formations that I was struggling to work out if they had been pushed up from the ground of the ground had been eroaded down around them! Pleasingly, the whole area remains relatively untouched so there are very view (if any lodgings). As we wanted to stay and take in the view for a bit longer than just an hour we booked into a camp site opposite the boarder of what is Monument Valley National Park. We were greeted with an already put up tent and a proper bed. Perfect. To make it even better we were afforded unbroken views of the rock formations from the entrance of our tent and the benches surrounding our fire pit! The campsite was a fantastic mix of modern and basic. No running water or mains electricity but the owners, using a combination of solar and wind power, had a warm shower and wifi installed and we were given a lantern that had a USB charging point.
After a very fun night playing with and cooking on an open fire and “glamping” it up in our real bed within the tent (well I had fun, Suzanne wasn’t so thrilled with the 20 plus degree drop in temperature and had to sleep in thermals and a woolly hat, she’s supposed to be the country bumpkin used to the outdoors, not me!) We took our loyal Hyundai hatchback for a ride around the dirt roads of Monument Valley. Not checking whether our rental agreement said anything about off road driving we were told by park staff that the road would be ok for our vehicle and so we went slow over the rocks and potholes on a 17 mile loop around the valley floor. The views were even more spectacular from down there than they were from our tent or the parks view points. The rocks towered over us as we weaved between cacti and tumble weed trying to soak in as much of the surreal views as possible. After about two hours the car dragged itself up the couple of switch backs, with only a few wheel spins, back to the park entrance and the paved road covered in orange sand but I’d imagine quite pleased with its self. Who needs a four wheel drive!
After a very enjoyable 24 hours in the complete American wilderness, we were again heading south, back to Route 66 (or interstate 40 at least) and the town of Holbrook. An overnight stop in a lovely motel run by an Austrian family was only overshadowed by our excitement of finding an eatery named “Tom and Suzie’s Diner”. Fate. It had to be! I bet there aren’t many other Route 66 cruising couples who have a namesake along this road! I thought they might have given us a free meal or at least a discount, but we had to pay full price for our burger, fajitas and peanut butter pie. Oh well, we still enjoyed eating at our own diner (we could pretend/dream at least!)
The next day we were heading for Williams: “the gateway to the Grand Canyon” but not before we passed by the famous corner in Winslow, Arizona and another natural wonder; not one created by the earth itself this time but with some extra terrestrial help! Meteor Crater, one of the most intact impact sites on earth. A near perfect hole of 2 square miles! If it were a football stadium (“soccer” or American Football) it could House 25 pitches and 2 million spectators. You weren’t allowed to go down into it but you could walk around the rim and take the sheer size of it. They have worked out that the meteor hit the earth at 26,000 miles an hour, wouldn’t give you much chance to get out of the way would it! We ended up spending about 2 hours at the site with their tour guide led walk and accompanying museum it was more than just the park, look and leave experience we were expecting. Which was good because it gave us something to do rather than twiddling our thumbs when we got to Williams.
The next morning, in Williams, we were up bright and early for the hour drive up to the Grand Canyon! Luckily we left quite early; it’s spring break in Arizona and the weather is phonomenal so understandably the National Park was expecting to be busy. As we arrived there were already signs warning that car parks were full, but we found a space quite easily and so we avoided the stress of driving round and round looking for a parking space. We had decided to do a hike below the rim and had done a little research and found the hike we wanted. We heeded all the warnings about not walking to the bottom and back in one day, so we were just heading half way down and back up. We crammed onto a shuttle bus at the visitor centre with some people carrying camping gear who were evidently staying in the canyon overnight, I have to admit I was pretty envious and suddenly wished I’d done a bit more research on the canyon. I thought you just went up to the edge for a look, I didn’t know you could walk down into it, luckily Suzanne was a bit more switched on to it than me! The bus took us right up to the trail head, and we got our first glimpse into the canyon. Incredible, it was almost too big to comprehend, the distant parts of it just looked like they were on a green screen and not really infront of you! I got a good chance to test out my vertigo and kept my legs from buckling while we walked up to the edge for some photos.
We set off down the trail, which was surprisingly busy given the stat that only 10% of visitors hike into the Grand Canyon, aiming for Skeleton point (just above the halfway mark between top and bottom at 3.4 miles on the trail). As we descended taking in the ridiculous views the trail slowly got quieter as people stopped at various rest points and presumably headed back up. We arrived at skeleton point 2 hours after we started just before 1pm and we decided to go a little further and stop for lunch at 1 before heading back. All the advice given is that it takes double the time to walk up as it does to go down, hence he advice that you shouldn’t do top to bottom and back in one day. By the time we stopped for lunch we’d done just under 2 and a half hours to come down so we had left about 5 hours before sun set as we set off back up after lunch. We managed to get up a little quicker than we took going down as we didn’t stop so often to take in the views. A little frustrating, hindsight is a wonderful thing but we agreed if we’d known what it was like going back up we would have set off for the bottom. We probably would have needed an extra hour, but we would have managed it quite comfortably. Better safe than sorry I guess. Also better than the embarrassment of being rescued by a mule!
Back at the top there was quite a long line waiting for the shuttle bus back and we had a few more hours to kill before sunset so we decided to walk the rim trail back to the visitors centre. It was very peaceful with more breathtaking views of the canyon as well as the obligatory photo opp with the views! We also encountered a few wild elk, who were actually quite tame, but weird looking creatures up close; there must have been cross pollination of donkeys and deer some where! The serenity of the walk was only punctuated by some distant sirens, probably a fire engine for some forrest fires I thought, and a helicopter chopping by, tourists getting a birds eye view I assumed. I was wrong: when we got back to the visitors centre and the main viewing point we noticed a few mountain rescue teams scoping an opposite rock head with binoculars with quite a few Joe public also paying close attention to the same rock. When we got a bit closer we learned the some poor bloke had tripped or slipped and fallen to his death. Apparently it happens around 10 times a year, people get just that little bit too close and go over! Spine chilling. Especially as we hadn’t exactly kept a fair distance from the edge. Safe to say we spent the next hour well behind barriers waiting for the sun to set!
Funnily enough, we were both pretty whacked the next day, we only drove a short way to the town of Kingman (where we will head to Las Vegas from) perhaps a good job we only went half way down the canyon otherwise we might have needed a day to recover! With only 350 miles left of Route 66, plus a 200 mile round trip to Vegas, the end of our incredible cross country journey is almost over. Boo!