Arizona – Days 1-6: Two Canyons, A Gorge, and Some Cacti

Brittany Swanson   March 5, 2016   Comments Off on Arizona – Days 1-6: Two Canyons, A Gorge, and Some Cacti

Why?! I had no idea it got so cold in Arizona. I literally thought it was always at least 70 degrees. Yeah, apparently that is completely false. My first day in Arizona it was hovering around 30 degrees. No, thank you!

I started the day with a trip to Four Corners Monument. And just to be clear, even though the original border of the states was about a thousand feet from where the monument was erected due to lacking technology back in the day, the monument is now the legally recognized border between the states. So, for all the haters who want to say that the monument is not really the four corners point, it wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s official now, so there.

Four Corners Monument, the point where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet.

Four Corners Monument, the point where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet.

My main plan for my first day was a trip into Antelope Canyon. All the pictures I’ve ever seen have always looked amazing. While I did get a couple cool pictures I learned that it’s definitely better to go in summer when the sun enters the canyon more directly, which totally makes sense. Even if I had been there in the summer, I’m still not convinced it’d be worth it. It was $48, for the cheap tour, and you have to take a tour to go Antelope Canyon at all. I mean, it’s cool. I mean, maybe I’d pay like $20 to do it, but nearly $50? Yeah, no, it’s definitely not that worth that much.

Antelope Canyon is between 120-160 feet deep and was carved by rainwater. The Canyon expands outward about 1/4” every ten years and the ground level can change by as much as 9’ in a year. Though parts of it were pretty cool, again, it was just a bummer I had to spend so much to see it.

Antelope Canyon (with a filter so it looks cooler), Page, AZ.

Antelope Canyon (with a filter so it looks cooler), Page, AZ.

That night I didn’t have a host because I was out in the middle of nowhere, so I spent the night in a Walmart parking lot. Brushing my teeth in the Walmart bathroom at night and again in the morning is always awkward. Inevitably someone walks in before I finish. Oh well, I totally own it.

The following day it was time to see the Grand Canyon…finally! People have been asking me what I’m most excited to see on my trip and that’s definitely been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most.

On the drive to the Grand Canyon somehow my phone fell between the driver seat and the cup holder and slid all the way under my seat. Try as I might I could not get it it out. Seriously, I tried for like fifteen minutes to fish it out. I couldn’t get it. Of course when it happened I was on this two-lane road with no stop off points. I was starting to worry my phone was legitimately going to be stuck there forever. Like, oh yeah, I have a phone, it’s just stuck under my car seat so I can’t use it… How lame would that be?

Eventually, there was a scenic view stop off, so I pulled over and, thankfully, with the combined efforts of both my hands, I was able to rescue my phone from under the seat. The scenic view was of the Little Colorado River Gorge. Whoa.

Little Colorado River Gorge,  AZ.

Little Colorado River Gorge, AZ.

I remember thinking, and this isn’t the Grand Canyon? It seemed pretty grand to me. I clearly had no concept of what the Grand Canyon would actually be like…

Near the Little Colorado River Gorge there were a bunch of stalls set up and Navajo people were selling their jewelry and art so I wandered through and looked at all the cool stuff and bought a couple bracelets before continuing the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.

Since I have an Interagency National Park Pass I didn’t have to pay the $30 admission to get into Grand Canyon National Park. Whew. Awesome sauce. As soon as I got through the gate I was STOKED! I remember thinking I hadn’t been this excited for something in a while, and then I remembered that I was probably equally excited the day I went to the Space Center in Houston, which was only like a few weeks ago, but still… I really love how happy this trip makes me.

I had planned to go to a specific part of the park and do this hike that I’d read about. One of the hostels in Flagstaff takes people on guided tours on the hike for $70. I figured I’d see if I could find it and do it myself the first day and if I couldn’t find it or something I’d pay to go with the group my second day in the area. When I saw the sign for Desert View Watch Tower saying it was the first view of the Grand Canyon I couldn’t resist. The hike was still another thirty minute drive away. I’d waited long enough. I wanted to see the Grand Canyon NOW.

Yeah, it’s definitely more grand than the Little Colorado River Gorge… There were a bunch of people at this point since it was the first stop so once I’d been awed enough I decided to keep driving toward the hike trailhead.

First View of the Grand Canyon, AZ.

First View of the Grand Canyon from Desert View Watch Tower, AZ.

At the gate they’d given me a map and after looking at it I decided to stop at every single point until I made it to where the hike started. At Lipan Point someone was giving a tour. I was conveniently sitting behind a bush when they started talking and heard the whole thing without having to pay for the tour. Huzzah!

Here’s what I learned: We were at 7,000 feet above sea level and the ground we were on used to be at sea level. The shift in tectonic plates is what caused the plateau to rise up. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 10 miles wide at certain points, and a mile deep. The North Rim is only open in the summer and there are only a couple view points on that side, which apparently makes it much less touristy, so I assume it’s probably better because of that…

When I finally made it to the Visitor Center I was overwhelmed by how many people were at the Mather View Point. It was like I went from being in a semi-secluded wilderness with a few handfuls of other people around to suddenly being in Times Square at like 2 p.m. on a Thursday. There were so many people. I walked down to the view just to see it, decided there were probably better views, and turned around and left.

Eventually, I made it to my hiking point at Bright Angel Trail. I didn’t find parking right away and the driving loop back around took like ten minutes because the people in front of me had no idea where they were trying to go so they were driving extremely slowly. When I finally parked I somehow managed to walk right by the trailhead and had to double back. Before I started I’d decided to only hike down for like a half and hour and then come back up. There were still a handful of view points I wanted to check out after the hike so since it had taken me so long to get started I decided to just hike until I felt I’d gone far enough and then come back.

I made it maybe fifteen minutes down the trail before the rest of the trail became all ice. A down hill trail completely covered in ice right on the edge of a cliff… Yeah, I thought, I’m out here alone, and if I hurt myself falling on the ice I’m totally screwed. So I decided I was content with having gone below the rim even a little bit and hoped I’d be able to come back during the summer sometime and do more of the hike. Maybe I’d even make it all the way down to the river… That’d be sweet.

Right before the whole trail turned to ice...Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ.

Right before the whole trail turned to ice…Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ.

Hermit Road is only open to private vehicles in the winter. At all other times you have to take a free shuttle to get to any/all of those points, or walk along the Rim Trail. I decided to take advantage of the fact that it was still winter and drive to see all of the view points on Hermit Road before heading to Flagstaff to meet my host for the night.

Here were the highlights from the Hermit Road view points: Marcopia Point had really nice shadows (at least in the early evening in winter). Hopi Point had a nice wide view. Mojave Point had a sweet drop off and was really wide across. Mojave was my favorite because there were layers of sheer cliffs visible from there. I only wish I’d made it a little earlier in the day so the cliffs were lit up more by the sun instead of in shadow because the sun was getting ready to set. Not many people were out at Mojave when I was there so it was incredibly peaceful. Pima Point also had cool views that would’ve been better earlier in the day. Then there was The Abyss which would probably be best at noon.

Overall, the Grand Canyon was simultaneously more awesome than I could have imagined and so-awesome-it-was-unreal. I could’ve stayed there for days and just marveled at it and explored until I found all the best view points. More than once I thought, if I die today, I’d be ok with that…what a beautiful place to die.

If only I'd gotten there a little earlier so the sun could've lit up the left side, Mojave Point, Grand Canyon, AZ.

If only I’d gotten there a little earlier so the sun could’ve lit up the left side, Mojave Point, Grand Canyon, AZ.

I planned to possibly go back to the Grand Canyon again the following day. However, after the first day I felt I’d seen all I could. So, rather than spend four hours driving there and back just to see mostly the same things I decided to spend the day in Flagstaff blogging like a mad woman instead. And blog I did. I posted all five Texas posts that day and was hella productive. By the end of the day I had a crook in my neck because I’d been staring down at my computer for so long…whoops.

My first day in Phoenix I ran errands and went shopping. I managed to find a new swimsuit – you know, in preparation for Hawaii… Yay! After running errands I met up with my host and just chilled at their house for a bit to unwind. Later we went on a bike ride to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I hadn’t been on a bike ride in a while and had forgotten how fun it is.

The next day I met up with a friend from college, Mike, and met his wife and daughter. We hung out for most of the morning and part of the early afternoon. Then I was in the mood to work on the blog again so I went to a library. Unfortunately, once I got there I was no longer in the mood to blog, so instead I did Couchsurfing requests and other productive things. Mike had recommended I drive up to Dobbins Lookout and watch the sunset and see the Phoenix skyline. So I did. It was amazing. I’m so glad I did that.

Sunset from Dobbins Lookout in Phoenix, AZ.

Sunset from Dobbins Lookout in Phoenix, AZ.

The following morning I worked at Starbucks again to get some stuff done and then drove to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This may sound dumb, but, wow, it’s really hot in the desert. Especially since it was only February… I was so hot I had to take my shirt off in the middle of the mini hike I went on. (Don’t worry, I was wearing a tank top underneath my shirt…) The hike was fun though; the scenery was really beautiful.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ.