Day 27 – The Grand Canyon

Holbrook, AZ – Kingman, AZ

460 miles

The rising sunlight always wakes you up early when you’re camping, so I was able to get a good start on my westward journey to meet my friend Jonathan in Santa Barbara. Because of the distance and timing involved, I made the decision to veer off my mission to explore small roads (after Shadow of the Rockies in New Mexico, I’d had my fill of dusty desert) and headed onto I-40 to get some fast miles under my belt.

As I mentioned, at this point the desert was beginning to get a bit monotonous. Obviously, driving on a big interstate makes it more so, but after a few hours, a beautiful oasis appeared in the distance.

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Flagstaff.

A giant mountain erupted out of the desert far off in the distance, and as I looked at my GPS, I could see my elevation steadily climbing. What makes Flagstaff so wonderful is that it sits at 6,900 feet. Not only does that provide a welcome cooling effect, but it also gives rise to extraordinary pine forests which create illustrious carpets of green that contrast off the red clay of the desert I’ve been staring at for weeks now.

I pulled into Flagstaff around lunchtime and was looking for a bite to eat. I whipped out my new favorite handy-dandy web app called famousfoods.us which was recommended to me by someone on the Adventure Rider Motorcycle Forum. What it does is cross reference your current location with all the dining spots mentioned on the Food Network and Travel Channel. So awesome! All the places from Diner, Drive-Ins & Dives and Best Thing I Ever Ate are all featured in this app.

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The app told me that there was a place a half-mile away called Salsa Brava that sounded like a bad strip joint in Tijuana, but was actually a well-regarded restaurant known for its fresh salsa bar. Lunch was delicious and the salsa bar had 9 different blends with varying ranges of heat (I went for the pineapple-habanero). You could pretty much spend all day there drinking beer and eating chips. But sadly, I had to push on to make some miles. But before I left, I spent sometime looking at my map that showed me I was really only 2 hours away from the Grand Canyon. The Grand Frickin’ Canyon!!

Miles be damned, I knew I had to see this iconic American natural monument. After all, when else was I going to be back in this neck of the woods again? I drove due north of Flagstaff and soon began to see signs for the National Park.

The weird thing is…the Grand Canyon is a big hole, right? So as you approach from the road, your visible horizon rises above the Canyon itself. Bottom line, I’m getting within 10 miles of this massive, spanning natural wonder and I still don’t see squat! I’m figuring I got hookie-dooked by the Park Service and that song America, The Beautiful, and just lost 5 hours of driving time. But as you get really close to the Park, your breath is stolen from you by the intense, otherworldly majesty of the Grand Canyon.

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Once you enter the Park proper, the road quality instantly improves to that beautiful crystal smooth blacktop asphalt that motorcyclists dream of when they sleep. I was technically travelling on the South Rim Road, but was told my Park Entrance fee would cover me for all entrances to the Park of which there were countless spread out over its thousand miles perimeter.

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Every few miles or so, there would be another stunning turn off where you could park your vehicle and soak in the view. In some ways, this was similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway but you really can’t compare the two. Where Blue Ridge was picturesque and romantic with its rolling, misty hills covered in lush foliage, the Grand Canyon is more awe inspiring, forcing you to feel insignificant in size against its magnificent stature.

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Your mind can’t help but imagine what the first American settlers thought when they crossed the desert and were confronted with the grandeur of this incredible display of nature spanning as far as the eye can see.

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Of course, I wanted to hike down to the bottom to the Colorado River which was truly a squint worthy distance away. But for the life of me, I could not discern even a remotely approachable pathway to take a person from the top to the bottom. The Grand Canyon looks unconquerable at first glance and I think that’s what makes people’s soul stir when they see it for the first time.

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I was skeptical, but this is truly one of America’s greatest treasures, and is absolutely worth the trip. Go there. See it. It makes you want to eat apple pie, shed a tear when someone drops a piece of garbage, and shoot a rifle in the sky for no discernable reason. Seriously, try to see it if you remotely can.

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The one side story to my Grand Canyon adventure occurred as I approached the National Park Entrance, I saw many signs beforehand for scenic overlooks. Bear in mind, I’ve never been to this area or this Park before. So when I see these signs for overlooks, I think they are the OFFICIAL overlooks. As I pulled into the first one, I am confronted by a Havasupai Indian sitting in a tiny booth demanding $2.00 to park my bike at the overlook. Guess this isn’t the National Park, I thought. But I didn’t want to risk a vengeful spirit hex on my motorcycle by telling this guy to piss off and turn my bike around. So I pay the $2.00 and park in the designated lot. The viewing area of the Canyon is 100 yards away, but to get to that area, visitors are forced to walk through a series of vending stalls of Indian jewelry (some quite beautiful) and cheap tourist trinkets.

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And then, when you actually get to the viewing area, it looks…nice. Not amazing, take-your-breath-away amazing, but, very very nice.

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After this, I keep driving and realize that I haven’t entered the formal Park yet, and when I do, I am utterly spellbound. But here’s my beef:

After seeing it all, it was abundant clear that the U.S. kept all the “good views” for itself, and gave the Indian tribes all the lesser and secondary locations. Pretty crappy deal.

But on the other hand, I thought it was really pushy the way the tribe turned a natural exhibit of beauty into a gaudy commercial opportunity that didn’t really deliver very much or give you a sense of the Grand Canyon.

But then again, the tribe has every right to make whatever money they can given how terrible our government has treated them historically, and it’s their land to do as they please. No one forced me to pay a very modest fee and enter their land.

Just feeling a little weird about the whole thing.

The good news is I spent so much time admiring the view and detouring from Flagstaff that the sun was now setting over the Canyon. I can’t even begin to describe the colors and  beauty that sun’s long rays cast over the Canyon. I know I only grazed the surface of the Grand Canyon, but it was really a once in a lifetime experience. Again, another unexpected detour on the trip that rewarded me with a glorious bit of serendipity.

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As the sun went down, I was confronted by the fact that I still had a lot of miles to cover, and I would have to do some riding at night which was something I’ve really been trying to avoid this trip. The relatively flat topography of the desert west of Flagstaff allowed residual slivers of daylight to extend dusk until a bit after 9pm.

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After driving in the dark for an hour, I pulled into the town of Kingman, AZ that seemed to be pretty big, although I have no idea why. I found a Holiday Inn Express and didn’t argue when they told me the last room left was smoking. I still slept like a log that night.

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