After Sedona I set out on pretty HWY 89, past Flagstaff and into Williams. This is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, although it’s a long (and very straight) hour’s drive to the canyon itself. Williams is a small town on Route 66, surrounded by pine trees. It has one main street which looks like it’s straight out of a ‘60’s James Dean movie, complete with pick-up trucks, cowboys, road-trains, a Dairy Queen and motels. THE place to go in Williams is Cruisers, a cool diner (complete with a car on the roof and Marlon Brando painted on the wall) on the high street which has its own brewery attached. Grand Canyon Brewery is making a name for itself and I don’t mind giving these guys a plug here because their beer is excellent, the staff looked after me like I was one of their own, and I had a great couple of nights in there having beers and giggles. It’s a must-do if you are staying in this neck of the woods.
I’ve been to the Grand Canyon before – 20 years ago - but now it’s a lot more swish and organized. For one thing you can park and catch buses everywhere. It’s not possible to drive to parts of the canyon that you used to be able to. My aim this time was to hike down into the canyon and back out in one day. All the websites say not to do it – stuff ‘em I say. Feeling fighting fit after my hiking in Nepal and Sedona I was ready for the challenge.
I got there early and caught the bus to the South Kaibab trail. Within minutes I had met Steve and Kassie – a father/daughter combo that walked about the same pace as me and we kept each other company on the hike. It took us 3 hours to get down to the Colorado River. The trail is fairly easy – a little steep in some places and you have to watch your step not to fall on your arse on the shale, but it winds down through some stunning vistas of the Eastern part of the Canyon, including O’Neil’s Butte (pronounced ‘boot’ not ‘butt’ as I’d been calling it) and the Colorado River.
It’s possible to cross over to the North side of the Colorado at Bright Angel campsite via a beautiful suspension bridge, and then back again on another impressive bridge a bit further down which takes you onto the Bright Angel trail. We stopped at the river to have some lunch and stick our feet in the river – it was bloody freezing but you can’t go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and NOT stick your feet in the Colorado River can you really?! – and then about midday we set off up the Bright Angel trail. The Grand Canyon is a mile deep (or 1.6km), and Bright Angel trail switchbacks steeply up with steps made of logs so it’s like walking up a massive, dusty staircase. It’s supposed to be the easiest way up, with shade and water points, but we found this not to be the case and it was so hot we were powering through our water supplies. Indian Gardens is pretty much the next refueling point, although there are lots of mountain streams that you can drink from. Hey, I brushed my teeth with Indian water, so beautiful clear mountain water was a delight.
We absolutely smashed it on the way up too – 4.5 hours, arriving at the top at 5pm. One chap who had plodded along with walking sticks, Steve nicknamed him Steady Eddie, had spent 18 hours going from the South Rim to the North Rim and back again! We kept passing him as he didn’t stop for breaks. We’d stop, he’d go past, we’d catch up, overtake etc etc. However the 4 of us made the last few hundred metres climb together (turns out his name was Brad) to much happiness and aching bones. The buzz on the trail was amazing, and people were friendly and stopped to chat and/or encourage other walkers.
As a little disclaimer, nobody should attempt moderate hiking unless they are incredibly fit. The reason the National Parks don’t advise the one day hike is because so many people have to be evacuated out with extreme exhaustion/dehydration. But it IS possible to do in one day, but my advice would be to start very early in the morning, and only attempt it in Spring and Autumn.
There was one last thing to do in Arizona… and that’s Bearizona! www.bearizona.com. This is a wildlife park just outside Williams and on the junction of I-40, where tourists drive though a serious of enclosures complete with timber wolves, bears, white and brown bison, and sheep. They currently have 5 bear cubs in an enclosure who I could have watched for hours. I was stupid enough to wind my window down in the timber wolf enclosure to take a photo and all of a sudden a massive wolf popped his head up at my window causing me minor heart failure, and making me realize why they say in ‘no circumstances lower your window down to take photos’. The animals are just as curious about the people peering out at them from their cars as we are. After I’d recovered (and quickly wound my window up) they gathered round my car and started biting the plastic step, like 3 naughty dogs. Unfortunately they weren’t as obedient as my Labradors and gave me a ‘whatcha gonna do about it?’ look when I yelled at them to stop, then carried on doing it. I’m not sure that the insurance has a clause which covers my car being used as a timber wolf chew toy, but somehow doubt it. A big seller for the park is that they are getting grizzlies this month, so if I’m ever in that area again I’m going back!
I’ve always wanted to visit Monument Valley and horse-ride through it like a cowgirl (no sniggering please). I found an outfit online that runs horse-riding out of the visitor’s centre, and they have a 3.5 hr sunset ride which is one of the coolest things I have ever done. And let’s face it, I’ve done a lot of cool things! Now, I’m a fairly experienced rider in both English and Western styles. I’ve been riding on and off since I was 4 years old, and have rosettes to prove it (I’m sure some of you are in hysterics –stop it). I always try to get in at least one horse-riding trek on a holiday, and this was the doozy. If you’ve never been to Monument Valley, then you can’t understand the almost alien quality about the towering red monoliths that dominate the landscape. Backdrop to many famous Westerns, The Searchers being the most well-known, they are jaw-dropping. You can drive amongst them, however to be out on horseback, in the desert, gazing over them in the golden glow of a sunset is a once in a lifetime experience.
The bloody horse was a once in a lifetime pain in the arse. Called Geronimo, he didn’t live up to his namesake as there was nothing noble about this steed. I clicked my tongue, kicked, urged nicely, urged forcibly, flicked him with the rains… all to no avail as the most I could get him to do was go backwards and/or buck. He was fine being behind another horse to the point that his nose was up the lead horse’s arse, but would not move in front. After my smug ‘I’m an experienced horsewoman’ claim, it amused the hell out of our guide who let me struggle with the damn nag for half an hour then eventually told me that I was too light which was why Geronimo was playing up, and I switched for his horse, who was more my make and model. Finally, we got to do a bit of galloping along the dusty trails! I didn’t have a cowboy hat, but I think John Wayne would have been proud.