Sunday, August 12, 2012

Road Trip Part 4 - The Desert

May 2012

Leaving Vegas we headed east towards the Grand Canyon. With Wahid driving (Barney and I were feeling a bit too delicate) it was a hot and sticky drive, going via the Hoover Dam. As we approached the Hoover Dam we were stopped at a security checkpoint (I’m assuming for terrorists) and an incredibly hot and sweaty state trooper entered the RV, looked in the bathroom, refused to have a photo taken and made very small talk before leaving. Not exactly a great defence against a terror threat there… The heat out in the desert really hit us hard, and no matter what level the air-conditioning was on in the RV, it did little to provide relief for us. 

The Hoover Dam is an impressive sight – this huge man made structure out in the middle of the desert. I was however really surprised at how touristy the place was though – people swarming all over the place and tours being offered at rather extortionate prices. We stopped off slightly away from the dam for some pictures, and then it was back into the sweat box to continue on our way. I tried to have a nap in the back of the RV – not particularly easy on the bumpy, twisty highways, of the Nevada desert. Coupled with the plastic mattress becoming slippy from my sweat it meant that more often than not I found myself flying off the sides of the bed – bit alarming to say the least!!

Pissing off security

Back of the dam

The reservoir. Surprisingly low of water as well...

Being typical tourists!

The journey was a long one, requiring a few gas stops along the way. We came across one gas station which was unique to say the least. Calling itself “The Last Stop”, we weren’t sure what it meant by that and a little worried it was a literal name before the wilderness of the proper desert we stopped for gas to be safe (sods law we later found a Texaco garage less than ½ a mile down the road with much cheaper gas…). I’m glad we stopped there though as it really was an interesting place. Every square inch of outside wall were covered in murals and paintings depicting all elements of the US desert – from Area 51 (not that far from where we were) to classic Wild West images and classic American cars. And it was in the middle of nowhere. Amazing… Ive mentioned it before, but really does astound me at how spread out the USA is, and how un-developed of much of it is too. We would go for hours and hours through the desert without seeing anything and then a small habitation of a few buildings would fast appear and then we would be back to seeing literally nothing but wilderness for miles again. It fascinates me how people live in areas like that, and really bugged be how these places were dismissed by some in the RV as “shit” having no knowledge about them or even taken the time to have a polite look. I guess my reaction to people’s attitudes with a semi-conscious surprise and almost pity at their apparent closed-mindedness (in my opinion at least) at simply writing places off without more than a brief glance through the window.

The 'Last Stop'

 That night we stayed at a very random and isolated RV park off the highway, right in the desert complete with blowing sand and tumble weed (no, seriously!). We evening was one of the most content evening of the trip so far – sat on the hood of the RV with beer in hand and Antonia’s awesome music playing through the windows. Michael and I got chatting to a girl in the RV spot next to ours who lived their permanently with her boyfriend. It really shocked me at how real it actually is in the USA to actually live in an RV, and driving the routes we are it is surprisingly common for rural people to live in RV’s more than actual buildings. I’m not sure if it’s a commentary on the poverty that can be witnessed in the USA, or simply a life choice, but it was incredibly interesting to hear about something I’ve never come across in the UK. Except for gypsies. Which aren’t particularly popular…

The right way to travel!
Candid RV shot

The next morning was again a slow one – Facebook playing a large part in this yet again and yet again me getting frustrated at certain people’s complete lack of ability to do anything for the group. When we eventually got going I drove to the Grand Canyon itself, and with a $25 for a seven day pass, it was one of the cheapest national parks I’ve had been in all year. The actual park itself is huge, with its own village and everything – very geared towards tourists but nowhere near as bad as I feared. After getting lost a few times (due to SatNav issues and people putting in their 5 cents worth from the back), leading to numerous U-turns (and a wrong turn down a road prohibited to RV’s longer than 25ft), and me getting incredibly pissed off people moaning about the to-ing and fro-ing,  whilst trying to drive the RV, be aware of other traffic and find a parking spot that we could actually fit in. It’s hard enough to drive a 30ft beast on the other side of the road without everyone getting hysterical at missing a parking spot or making another U-turn. Something I really don’t think the other non-drivers don’t realise and totally take for granted – I guarantee they would have been thinking differently if they were trying to do what the drivers have to do. On top of taking turns to sleep on the floor (which has to be done with the limited bed space in the RV), which isn’t a great night’s sleep whatsoever (all the lads have taken their turns, some of whom three times while certain girls have yet to do so. Or even offer), as well as contributing to other aspects of RV life such as emptying sewage (not a particularly pleasant experience I will say) whilst others just sit there – very few of the group actually seem to actually think of the group dynamic and not simply about themselves and ‘their’ holiday. Anyways, after parking up the RV I took a few minutes to myself to calm down, climbing down a short way down the canyon sides to an isolated overhang and watching the sunset. Which was pretty impressive. We stayed there for the night, overlooking the canyon, and the next morning I really pushed for what I wanted to do for a long time – hike the Grand Canyon.

Posing. Like professional posers

The Grand Canyon in the sunset. Simply stunning.
The ladies of the Canyon
Feeling in awe

Unfortunately this wasn’t as simple as I was hoping. My idea was to walk through the Canyon to the other side – no way was that happening: far too far a distance. The next best idea was to walk to the river and back again. Again, not possible as it would take 2 days. So I had to settle for the Rim Trail walk, which is an incredibly touristy route along the edge of the Canyon. Ah well, at least it was something I guess. I wanted to get going around 10:30am-giving everyone an hour and a half warning. Typically people were still not ready to go by then… However eventually we got going and almost instantly there were mutterings about the route I had chosen (which incidentally was a short cut to the main trail). I was so fed up at this point that I just kept pushing not wanting to waste any more time. Wahid, Barney and Michael saw a bus and ran for it. Whatever – I’d have rather they said they weren’t interested in walking than just buggering off but its they day to do what they want as much as mine. After some deliberation of the route and re-thinking of the feasibility of getting part way down to the river, as well as stocking up on some food we hit the Rim Trail. Only a mere 2.5 hours after I had wanted to.

Hiking the Grand Canyon

Despite the Rim Trail being very touristy – all nicely paved and sign posted – there weren’t as many people on it as I expected. It was a great walk and nice to have a slightly smaller group of us who actually wanted to walk. We only ended up achieving roughly 5 of the planned 8 miles – taking our time and occasionally scrambling down the sides of the Canyon. Oh and an amazing 1.5 hour lunch break right on the edge of a lip in the side of the Canyon wall with our feet hanging off the edge. There is one word for the Grand Canyon. No actually a few: stunning, majestic and bloody huge! It was just amazing how every corner we went around the trail offered new perspectives onto the Canyon below. I really wasn’t prepared for how huge the canyon was – in a lot of places you couldn’t even see the Colorado river running through the bottom of it, let alone the hikers on the bottom paths. It was simply breathtakingly beautiful.

Me. On a rock.

Running out of time we got the bus back along the trail – something I didn’t really want to do but group dynamics and compromise came into play (not that im complaining here I hasten to add!) – Via hermit’s Rest at the end of the ‘touristy’ part of the Southern Rim. Returning to where we had left the RV, the blow of finding it gone hit us hard – just what we needed after a long day! However it transpired that the others had gone to get gas in the hope of returning before we did, and so feeling grateful we didn’t have to worry about that for a while now we hit the road towards Monument Valley.
Cameron 'Town'
On the Utah border

We spent the night in a tiny town (by tiny I mean all of a post office, gas station, small hotel and the pride of the place – a bridge!), called Cameron which was an old trading post with a sizable Native American population. To be honest, in reality it was a huuuge tourist trap with a huge ‘souvenir’ shop in which coach-full’s of people rocked up in all through the next morning. After the usual morning ritual palaver (which I admit I did contribute to as I had to Skype home to wish a happy birthday), we hit the desert highway again on our route towards monument valley. On route we passed through the Navajo Nation, which is almost like its own separate state, with a population of almost entirely Native Americans with its own police force and native language set out in the desert. I was really keen to get out and have a poke around, but yet again I was at odds with the group with the question of “but what is there to look at?” being posed from the card players. So I had to settle on looking out of the window as we rushed through it, realising I was very much at odds with others in the group in what I wanted to get out of the trip. We stopped on the Arizona-Utah border and I was determined to get out and have a look round, and I was glad I did so as I found a tiny little cafĂ© selling ‘traditional’ Native American food, including 'Fry-Bread' which is exactly as it sounds – fried bread covered in sugar and honey. Absolutely delicious! 

Passing through Monument Valley I was struck at the pure bizarre-ness of it. The desert is somewhere I have never been before, and coupled with these bizarre, naturally formed structures seemingly just plonked into place I was fascinated with the place. However, this again was at odds with some people in the group, including a certain person who was adamant they wanted to go there, but couldn’t actually be bothered to look up from the card game at hand beyond stating that the place “looked shit”. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Whilst I agree the desert may not be the most interesting or comfortable place to be in for some, to disregard it in such a manner when you haven’t even bothered to get out the RV and have a look around just shocked me. As I have said before, I loved the desert and its complete difference to anywhere I have been previously. I guess in that respects I really am quite at odds with the majority of the group.

Monument Valley

Anyways, as Monument Valley was so “shit”, we passed through quickly and crossed the state line into Colorado, stopping in the city of Cortez. Via another Walmart stop and the realisation that Colorado alcohol laws were as ridiculous as North Carolina’s (a grocery store cannot sell liquor, nor can it sell wine and beer in the same place. I.e. only one or the other can be sold in a Walmart store. Everything else has to be purchased in an independently run liquor store), meaning a further stop had to be made at a costlier liquor store. Great… It was then a rock up job to an RV park on the main street through the place, which thankfully had much needed laundry facilities, get a BBQ going and attract complaints at the level of our merriment. Oops!

(map from Google Maps) 
(additional photos from Amy, Eshe and Kimberly)

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