A few weeks ago my dad had a business meeting in Phoenix, AZ and was planning on flying out on a Wednesday, then flying back home on a Friday. I am not too far away in San Francisco, so I suggested we meet up and go to the Grand Canyon instead of him flying home. Naturally, he jumped at the idea and we met up that Thursday night.
I flew in on Thursday afternoon and was picked up at the airport by Chris Elliott, a childhood friend I have not seen in years. We spent the car ride back to his parent’s house (also estranged but close friends of the family) catching up on what had happened in the past decade since we had seen each other and getting past that awkward “Hey, I haven’t seen you in 10 years but I guess we are still friends” thing. Turns out we still get along fine.
After a good dinner with his mother, sister, sisters boyfriend, and at the end, his roommate, we went to the fake lake in the area. It is actually really nice at night, and we just walked along talking about randomness.
My dad got done with his conference around 10pm and showed up to chat for a while. We retired for the night after Mr. Elliott helped us plan our trip to the canyon. We were not sure about getting a permit because you generally have to apply months ahead of time, but banking on good luck and with an adaptable attitude, we woke up early and headed out. Our rental car was a Dodge Charger because they didn’t have the small car we had asked for. We were concerned about gas cost, but they gave us the car for the lower rate and a free half tank of gas, which was about the difference. I was glad, because I hate renting a car and having it be a small, weak machine that protests you trying to drive it like a destruction derby contestant – which as everyone knows is what you do with rental cars.
The drive north from Phoenix was beautiful. The change from flat desert to sharp hills was anything but gradual. After an hour or so of no turns and flat land several massive mesas suddenly appeared on the horizon and we wound our way into them. Still unsure of our final plans, we stopped at the state park near Flagstaff and got some more information from the park rangers there on places to go. They recommended that we take a secondary road to the canyon as the main one was busy and not as pretty. Both of us liked that idea, so we headed out again.
Surprisingly, we ended up on Route 66 for a while. To my knowledge it was my first time on the legendary dust bowl highway and it was fun to be a part of the legend, even if only for a moment. Our path led us through alpine forests, flat prairies, dusty deserts and then up, up, up into the elevated region that houses this massive hole in the ground we wanted so badly to climb into.
Mr. Elliott had told us that sometimes people put their tickets with extra days remaining on the back of the entrance sign, but when we checked we had no such luck. We paid our $25 and entered the park. We followed the roads out to the edge of the canyon and took some photos, trying hard to crop out the massive amount of tourists that were on the observation platform. I always feel that somehow I perceive locations differently than everyone else who is there. Even though I was gawking at the canyon with a giant camera around my neck, I looked with mild disgust at everyone else who was there doing the same thing. Maybe because I knew that my involvement with the canyon would not stop at simply looking at it, rather I would soon be attempting to climb down in it and challenge it to physical battle. It would cease being a sight, and become a place I have lived in and experienced.
We left the observation platform and found our way to the backcountry office. We needed a pass to go into the canyon, and had been told by everyone we talked to that our chances were slim to none. We asked, and the ranger said, no, sorry they were out (it was 3:00pm). Right when he said this, a lady behind him spoke up and said someone just canceled five minutes ago! We were in. In order to get to the bottom before dark we needed to leave ASAP. We called a cab to take us to the top of the trail, and rapidly packed our bags.
Seven miles to go down, then ten back up. The journey had begun.
[The actual trip in and out next, followed by my weekend in Mexico]