013 - arizona and sweet tea
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
We only had a few destinations in Arizona that we did not want to miss, the main one I am sure you can guess yourself. And because we were coming from Santa Fe, our route kind of resolved itself according to the main attraction.
Since we were headed to Flagstaff, and the Petrified Forest was on our way, we decided to check out this very underrated National Park as well. We weren't quite sure what to expect, probably due to our lack of research, but thanks to this we were equally surprised and impressed. The painted desert looks like a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie with colors matching Henry's stripes and the colorful petrified wood is really astounding and unbelievable. We had never seen anything like it before. We took our time driving through the park from north to south, hitting almost every pull-out or overlook. And because we still had a ways to go to Flagstaff, we decided to overnight right at the south entrance where it was okayed by the lady in the souvenir rock shop, from whom we bough a Fanta and a flat Coke in return.
The next day we continued our drive to Flagstaff, with a detour to a well advertised meteor crash site that had Mattia convinced. With the wind almost blowing us away, we stumbled into the huge and overdone visitor center, only to realize they were charging a proud 18 bucks per person just to see this dent in the earth. We both looked at each other with wide open eyes and turned around. Instead we continued our drive with another detour on the original Route 66 before finally making it to Flagstaff. After yet another successful Goodwill haul on the second try [note to self: Goodwill Outlet is NOT quite the same] and stocking up on food and Arizona iced tea at Walmart where overnight parking was not allowed for once, (though about 5 RVs must have missed those signs) we made our way to Cracker Barrel, where it was allowed. We treated ourselves to an afternoon coffee and sweet tea and later a very delicious soul food, carb heavy, dinner as a thank you for the free overnight. We couldn't believe it when our waitress, about our age, told us she had never been to the Grand Canyon, even though she had lived in Flagstaff all her life. The next morning, a very very cold and early morning, we filled up on gas and made a use of the free dump station at the gas station before heading to the south rim of the long awaited Grand Canyon. With our early start, we arrived at the first come first served campground at 9:30, and thankfully still had multiple sites to chose from. After getting settled in, we walked up to the desert view lookout, where Mattia (it wasn't his first time here) forced me to close my eyes, until we were standing right at the edge, in order to get the full effect. I am very glad he did. Upon opening my eyes, I stopped breathing for a second before swallowing deeply. Holy Grand Canyon. I was overwhelmed. You can look at pictures of this place all you want, and people can tell you all about it, but you will never quite believe and see the vastness of this canyon until you experience it for yourself. Wow.
After taking my first impression all in, we stopped at the visitor center before making our way to the Grand Canyon Village with a few stops in between to admire the canyon from new perspectives. The closer we got to the Village, the more tourists filled the overlooks. Upon getting our needed info on the different hikes into the canyon, we returned to our campground where we crossed paths with a determined elk who made his way slowly across the road with a very smug look on his face. It almost seemed like he was walking slow on purpose. By the time we got back, even the overflow site right at the entrance of the campground was occupied. We soaked up the rest of the afternoon sun, before heading back to the desert view lookout for a beautiful canyon sunset. The following day, we decided to take on the South Kaibab Trail into the canyon and unfortunately so did about a hundred other tourists. Some with not even one water bottle, others dressed like they were going out for a drink. Thankfully, the further down we hiked, the less crowded it got and only the hikers that looked like hikers remained. And by the time we hit the Cedar Ridge Point, the second one down, most people returned to the top. We decided to continue to Skeleton Point, going downhill was a piece of cake after all, and we were very keen on seeing just a little bit more. By the time we got there, we knew we shouldn't go any further. But the views from that point were absolutely breathtaking. We were about half way in the canyon (3000 feet elevation loss), and the feeling of sitting there on the edge of that rock, overlooking the grandness, was absolutely perfect. At the very least, I can say, I felt completely and utterly free.
Going back up on the other hand, started getting difficult very fast. Although we got passed by multiple mules carrying either cargo or lazy tourists and a Swiss couple our age who made it look so easy, with enough water breaks mostly for me, we managed quite well too. And thanks to this spectacular hike, we even have a new addition on our to do list: come back here one day and take our time to go all the way down to the base and include an overnight at the bottom or even canoe or kayak the Colorado river.
The next day, we made our way to our next destination, Page, Arizona. Now, although almost nobody knows this little town, everybody knows about the treasures that surround it, the iconic horseshoe bend and the famous antelope canyon. Horseshoe bend, is exactly like the pictures you see everywhere, but in real life, its about ten times as beautiful. The Colorado river has the most mesmerizing emerald color here, which we hadn’t seen anywhere else. What the pictures don't show however are the crowds of people that come here everyday to admire (or just to photograph) it. The edges overlooking it are filled with very amusing and unfortunately also irresponsible tourists. So of course, Mattia and I took the opportunity and sat down a little further over to people watch. It was insanely windy here, so a lot of times we would see people stopping in their tracks to cover their faces from the sand blowing around them or others catching their balance after being thrown off. Some, too close to the edge, just to take that awkward selfie, others climbing on rocks and taking pictures of themselves with nothing but the blue sky behind them. One guy we watched, tried to, what looked like, rock climb the side of a boulder to get to where others were. The thing is, he was wearing normal clothes, a backpack, and had a camera. Other people climbed that same boulder, but from other sides without any trouble. But he was so determined, that he was basically standing in the same spot for about ten minutes, trying different holes to hold on to. He never once, got further.
That night we decided to join the fifty other RV's and Vans on the very overfilled Walmart parking lot. And after a little research, we booked a tour into the lower antelope canyon the following morning. Unfortunately we did not check the weather forecast. By the time we got up, it was pouring outside. It hadn't rained in what seemed like weeks, so of course we hadn't thought about that. Since we did not want this expensive (53$ per person) experience to be ruined by the weather, we decided to stay another day longer and reschedule for the following morning. Instead, we enjoyed a crepe for breakfast at a very busy cafe and made a good use of their power outlets. We had booked the first tour of the morning, with the hopes that maybe it wouldn't be as crowded. Little did we know, we were two out of a group of 15, with about 10 other groups of 15 in the same time slot. And that's in every time slot of the day, not to mention the second touring company that offers these tours (unfortunately the only way to see the canyons nowadays, is by private tours). But, it was well worth it anyway. Once in the slot canyon, about 100 feet below the ground, you don't even notice the amount of people anymore, due to the winding canyon walls. What an incredible and once in a lifetime experience. Luckily we had plenty of time to photograph, also without any others in the pictures, and were told about the Navajo legends and stories that surround this canyon while we waited for others to funnel through. Back at the top, we were amazed at what little you see of this stunning act of nature below the ground.
After a little more than an hour we were all canyoned out, tired, and anxious to continue. We stocked up on food, drove about 15 minutes to cross the boarder to Utah and made an immediate right turn after the state line down to Lake Powell. Not sure whether we were still in Arizona we set up camp, aka parked in a spot we thought adequate, and chuckled while numerous others got stuck in the sand, some even more than once. We enjoyed watching our German neighbors little toddler, who was incredibly sophisticated for his age, and cooked kebabs for dinner on our portable grill. With a beautiful sunset that colored the lake a soft pink, our night took an end and our, though not long but dense, time in the Grand Canyon state with it.
Thanks Arizona for all the great iced tea and for being so sweet.