03.08.2010 - 10.08.2010 35 °C
The one thing I knew I wanted to see in my time in the US was the Grand Canyon. I knew before I even booked my Greyhound ticket that it would be worth the 15 hour bus ride from San Diego to Flagstaff. This didn't make the drive any easier however. After this trip I knew I would be happy if I never had to board a Greyhound again. I thought they were bad in Canada, but the US Greyhound services managed to prove just how bad a bus journey can be. The buses are old and dingy with an air con system that blows from around the base of the window (your probably thinking I sound like I'm just having a good old whinge, and yeah your probably right, but hey, this is my blog). The air con becomes really annoying when you are on long trips because if you try to lean against the window you freeze. I learnt quickly to take a second jumper on the bus to block up the air con vent. I also learnt quickly that if you lie down over two seats each time you get to a pick up/drop off stop and pretend to be asleep people will not try to sit next to you. This means you get two seats to yourself. (Clever or evil? Clever, but with an evil laugh. haha!!)
My experience on the Greyhound however was not as bad as it was for one poor guy who got off at two am for a ciggie. We had been told by the driver that this stop was for drop-offs only (so no passenger break). He still got of for a ciggie. This obviously annoyed the driver as he drove off without him (a pretty clear cut sign your annoyed really). The guy ran after the bus for quite some time banging on the side loudly while passengers yelled out for the driver to stop. The driver just said once again it had not been a designated stop and continued driving. So the cigarette smoking guy was basically left in a tiny little town somewhere in Arizona at 2am in the morning with only the clothes he was wearing. His luggage would have made it to the final destination but he did not. A first for the Greyhound service? Greyhound, we guarantee your luggage will get there; even if you don't.
For my first main day in Flagstaff I did a tour out to the Canyon. The best part of this tour was when the guide brought us to the edge of the Canyon with our eyes covered so that he could see all of our reactions when we all saw the Canyon for the first time. I went along with it thinking it was just a bit of fun. But when I did uncover my eyes it literally took my breath away. I now know that this line is not just a corny figure of speech used to sell more Hallmark cards. I barely got out the words 'oh wow'. I love thinking back to that moment. What an incredible site. There is absolutely now way to describe what an amazing site that is, words and photos can not do it justice. And people had told me I should have stuck with Vegas rather than spending my time getting to the Canyon. Idiots! Almost bigger idiots than the family of five who ventured down one of the hiking trails with no water. In the middle of summer on a 38 degree day. What clever coookies.
As a group we got to do a few little hikes and then one longer one. This last long hike cut our tour short because one of the girls tried to walk for two hours after eating no breakfast and only a small lunch. She virtually collapsed and almost passed out. Who would have thought food and water were vital when walking down into a Canyon in a desert area? I have always looked at warning signs in areas like this and wondered who they are there for. Now I know.
It was an incredible trip though. I had not expected to fall in love with the area so quickly and to such a degree. While I was in California I had not been anywhere that had made me feel like I needed to return to the US in the future to see more (given I did not make it to any of the national parks) but Arizona defiantly has me feeling that way. I had finally found that part of the USA that appealed to me.
This was not my only trip to the Grand Canyon. While I was staying at the hostel I met two American girls who were at the end of a two month camping trip (and were stopping to enjoy the luxury of a hot shower, bed and more than likely, an actual toilet) and a guy from Melbourne who was in the middle of a road trip across the US. We all got along pretty much immediately and the girls even lengthened their stay when I suggested it so we could all do a day trip together back to the Canyon. We had fun freaking out a lady who was scared of heights and started grabbing her husbands arm every time someone went near the edge and telling him to make them get back. I found a spot we could climb down onto a ledge that went out over the canyon and we decided it was great for photos until about another 20 people tried to follow us down there. When we came back up the lady was still freaking out. I wonder what she had expected the canyon to be like? Much like a canyon I would have through, a rather large grand one.
During our trip we headed back to the car to make sandwiches to take to a picnic area. The girls were amazed I had never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and insisted I try one that day. While we were making our sandwiches it started to rain so we tried to get into the car thinking we would just eat them there. But when the rain stopped we somehow decided the best place to sit and eat was the car park. Not sure how five minutes of rain makes you forget you were originally going to have lunch overlooking the Grand Canyon. So I had my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a car park. I had always thought this sounded like a food that would only appeal to pregnant women. But I have to admit it is pretty good. Still sound as appealing as olives in ice cream when I hear it said out loud, but I would eat one again.
My second and last stop in Arizona was in Phoenix. When I had changed my flights in the US so I would have time to go to the Calgary Stampede I told the lady who re-booked everything I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon before heading to New York. She said I should fly out from Phoenix. After hanging up the phone after my new flights were confirmed I regretted it. Las Vegas seemed more logical. But this was until I found out about Camelback Mountain and the Echo Canyon trial that was listed everywhere as being for experienced hikers only. Of which I am not, but it sounded like an incredible challenge. Being that it was the middle of summer in Phoenix and a slightly warm 40 degrees Celsius every day I needed to get to the mountain early. And with a one and a half hour bus ride from where I was staying to get to the Mountain this meant being up around half five in the morning for an eight am start. The hike was meant to take an hour and a half according to most things I read about it. It took me half as long. The reviews of the trail made it sound as if you were luckily to make it to the top alive even in the cooler months. It was a great trail and I loved the last 1/4 where I had to start climbing up some of the rocks, but after reading the hike required four points of contact for 80% of the trail, I was a little disappointed. I was looking for that real challenge!! When I did use my hands it was more to keep my balance rather than to pull myself up. It was worth the early start though. It was different to anything I have done and now I know if a hiking guide says the level of difficulty on a particular trail is high, there is a good chance I will be able to complete it.
The only other outing I made in Phoenix was the the Botanical Gardens. I was staying with a friend I had met in Calgary who just happened to be in Phoenix at the same time as me. This was great as there were no hostels open at this time of the year (as no one in their right mind would visit a desert in summer) and it meant the two of us could split the cost of a cheap hotel room. We decided we had to do at least one touristy thing together here. Public transport only went so far to the Gardens so we had to walk the last 30-45 minutes. When we got to the gardens one of the rangers met us near the entrance on a little cart and gave us water, told us we were nuts and to come and see her about getting a lift back to the bus stop afterwards. It was pretty damn hot. Even for me. I had never until that day thought of walking around with my umbrella in order to shield myself from the sun. But it really helped.
We checked out the gardens really quickly but still managed to see it all. A few stops to the gift shop to take advantage of the free air con helped. The cacti were cool. They were huge and they were everywhere. I would recommend going out to the gardens for anyone, just maybe at a slightly cooler time of year. Luckily we finished our tour just before the ranger finished her shift so she drove us all the way back to our hostel in her wonderful air conditioned car. No bus for us thanks, we're too posh.
Most of my time in Phoenix was spent sitting inside the hotel room with the air con on because when you did walk outside the heat just hit you like a wall. I guess that's what you get if you are staying in a desert area. Who knew? The evenings were spent swimming in the pool followed by more time sitting in the air con. But on the day of the hike I was able to sit in my bed for several hours enjoying the time spent doing not much as I felt I had already achieved something that day. Who knew how long it would be before I got the chance to sit in a big comfy double bed in a private room and just enjoy the freedom of doing sweet FA? I love that travelling has made me appreciate the slow times again (no hang over required). Embrace the boredom