USA – Southwest 2

Enormous Grand Canyon and nostalgia along Route 66.

29 February – 9 March 2020

Impressive nature

We get a sneak peek of the area of the Grand Canyon as we drive along the road to the Grand Canyon. The Little Colorado River Gorge is located in Navajo land and these formations are quite impressive. Navajo art can be purchased along the road and at the two viewpoints.

Finally, we are approaching our destination, the Grand Canyon National Park! On the east side of the park we stop at the first attraction, the Desert View Watchtower. The observation tower is about 21m high and was built by Mary Colter. She was one of the few female architects of her time and is responsible for the first buildings in the national park. The walls and ceilings inside the tower are decorated with paintings from the Hopi culture and are by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

The first view of the Grand Canyon is just terrific! We can hardly get enough of the view. On the way to Grand Canyon Village we are headed for further viewpoints. Incredible, how the view, colors and shapes change again and again! Amazing, what nature does! It is hard to put into words how impressive the landscape is here. However, it is much more difficult to capture it photographically. We try it anyway and capture the atmosphere at different times of the day from almost all viewpoints on the rim of the canyon.

We take our time in the Grand Canyon. Depending on the time of day, we walk along the so-called Rim (edge) or take the shuttle bus to those viewpoints that cannot be reached by your own vehicle. The national park has introduced a shuttle bus system to curb traffic during the high season. Very useful considering that at peak times there are 16,164 visitors a day in the park. In our opinion, the place with the most beautiful view of the Grand Canyon is Shoshone Point. It can be reached with a short walk through a good forest path. If you are lucky, you will also see deer on the way. Shoshone Point is not listed on the normal park map one gets at the visitor center. You have to ask specifically for it.

The Phantom Ranch

We are considering going down into the canyon to the Colorado River and walking back on the same day. As real Swiss who are used to hiking, this should not be a problem! The ranger in the main visitor center says this is possible at this time of year because it’s not so hot. In the summer, this would be absolutely impossible. She explains that there are two ways: the South Kaibab Trail, which is a bit steeper, but a bit shorter, and the Bright Angel Tail. If you only want to walk one way, there would also be the possibility to do the other with a mule. The ranger goes on to explain that you can also camp down there, but you need a backcountry permit from the appropriate office. There we talk to another visitor. We also ask him about our project. In his opinion, it is good doable in one day. However, he runs the Tour de Geants, a race in the Aosta Valley. So not really a reference… The ranger there advises us not to go on a day hike. Still other people say it’s easy to do. And if not, you can camp at the bottom and who needs a tent at these temperatures anyway, which are above zero (it just snowed up here on top!). Ahhh, too much different information! Not a bit smarter than before, we ask the only ones we know who have been at the bottom, Gaby and Cornel. They give us the tip to ask for a room at the Phantom Ranch, as a day trip is probably extremely exhausting. So we go to the backcountry office and ask a ranger about our situation. She is very competent and advises us to stay overnight below. Because how cool is it to stay in the Grand Canyon? There she’s right… The ranger tells us that there is no need for a backcountry permit to stay at Phantom Ranch, we need to contact Bright Angel Lodge instead, as they make reservations for the ranch there. No sooner said than done and we’ll be put on the waiting list for a place to stay at Phantom Ranch. We are lucky and get a place in a Dorm for our desired date. So we’re actually hiking into the Grand Canyon! 😁

We start after noon from the South Kaibab Trail and the descent into the canyon can start! We just have to be down at 6:30 p.m., because then we’re on with dinner. The weather is perfect. Bright blue skies and crisp temperatures. The views and the play of colours are amazing! Breathtaking is still understated! The landscape changes constantly as we descend. On the way, two mule caravans meet us. After a good 4 hours 15 minutes we arrive (more or less exhausted) at the Colorado River. Yieepiee! The view of the river is unique. Down here it is also significantly warmer than at the Rim. Just before the bridge that spans the Colorado River, we meet a woman with a huge backpack who looks even more exhausted than we feel. She is from Alaska and is travelling with three girlfriends. After she assures us that she will get along, we move on. Over the bridge through greenery and along a clear stream (Bright Angel Creek) we reach the Phantom Ranch.

The ranch consists of about 14 buildings and a paddock for the mules. All cottages were built in 1922 and are built of stone, with wooden verandas or wooden benches. The area is surrounded by greenery, nestled between the immense rock walls. Very idyllic. There are also small deer running through the camp… Mary Colter was also responsible for the design of the Phantom Ranch. The ranch can accommodate 92 guests, who can stay either in mass camps of 10 people (male and female separated) or cabins (something like chalets for 2-4 people). The Grand Canyon has several million visitors a year, but only about 1% of it stays at the Phantom Ranch. So now we are also part of the proud “One-Percenter’s Club”! In the main building we eat and meet. The employees live in apartments in separate cottages. The dorms are each equipped with 5 bunk beds, a toilet and a shower. Bedding and bath towels are provided by Phantom Ranch.

Our beds are quickly made and there is not much time left until dinner. It is eaten in two shifts, the steak eaters were at 5:00 p.m. and the stew and veggiee eaters at 6:30 p.m. We belong to the latter. The dinner call sounds by means of a triangle, like in the Wild West. The food tastes great! We sit at long tables and the food is served in huge pots. Here we see the woman from Alaska with her friends again. They are staying at the nearby campsite. We saw her huge backpack. All four have such a big one. They’ve been told it’s really cold in the Grand Canyon, so they’ve not only packed down stuff, but also lighter clothes and sleeping bags. You’re from Alaska, women! It’s cold there, not here! That is exactly what they have realized too. One of the ladies has even carried mixed gin and tonic with her… We all laugh our heads off. The women are really cool…

We are told that not only tourists and/or their luggage are transported with mules in and out of the canyon, but also the entire supply of the ranch is done with the animals. Impressive performance! The staff works 10 days at a time and then has 4 days off. In order to get on top, however, they have to climb the mountain for at least 4 hours! No walk in the park after a hard shift…

The Ranger program starts at 8:30 p.m. The ranger gives a super lecture about rattlesnakes (they still sleep down here, puh! 😊). It gets cooler and we have a beer in the main house with another couple until the general night’s sleep is finally called out at 10:00 p.m. It’s time for bed, we are tired enough 😊. A beautiful day comes to an end.

Thank you girls for not snoring! At 05:00 it knocks on the door with the announcement that the first breakfast will be served soon. No one gets up. Shortly before half past seven we get ready in the dorm to be ready for the second breakfast at 07:00. There is everything you need for a strenuous hike: scrambled eggs, bacon, mini pancakes with maple syrup, fruits, orange juice and of course coffee.

We quickly write postcards, which are brought up to the post office by mule, and then we are ready to leave. The weather is fantastic! The path leads us at first through a river valley that is very green. Slowly, the path winds up (about 1,500 meters of altitude are to be mastered!) and gives the view of beautiful rock formations and the valley below us. 8 hours later (with a pure walking time of six and a half hours) we made it: We got back up! Now we have really earned the summit schnapps 😊! Pretty exhausted and very proud and satisfied we drive back to the campsite and Fabian cooks us a rich dinner. Not long, and the bed calls.

The Grand Canyon, the nature there and especially the hike down to the Colorado River were immensely impressive and unparalleled. A beautiful national park, with breathtaking views (you just can’t describe it any other way) that is definitely worth visiting.

Get your Kicks on Route 66!

We are ready to travel further west. The legendary Route 66 awaits us! We drive from the Grand Canyon area to Williams, the city that was last to be bypassed by Highway I-40 in October 1984. Williams (by its own description also the gateway to the Grand Canyon) is a small place with some restaurants and pretty shops that also offer real Navajo art. At the side of the road we see a 110 Defender, which we look at of course. Suddenly the owner appears and we come into conversation. He’s a really cool guy and we’re allowed to stay with him. We continue via Ash Fork to Seligman to Kingman. On the route there are quirky and touristy places that fully exploit the nostalgia of Route 66, but also those that have somehow been completely forgotten after the construction of the highway and where is not even a cafe. We see old gas stations from the time and even the one that served as inspiration to the one from the Disney movie “Cars”. Also funny are the signs on the side of the road, on which there are parts of a rhyme that can be read while driving.

We take advantage of the opportunity to spend the night in Peach Springs on the Colorado River. Since this is Hualapai territory, a permit must be purchased. Not easy when the respective office is closed. We are told that it then will be free. Aha… So we drive along the track past huge Ocotillos and large cacti until a ranger stops us. After we explain the situation to him, he sells us a permit. For USD 33.00 we are allowed to drive on. Camping costs extra. Since he issues us the permit (probably unconsciously) for the next day, we want to decide later whether we want to stay or not. The track is in good shape and quite curvy. One last bend and we stand directly at the Colorado on a small beach, called Diamond Creek Beach. Here we stay!

From Kingman we drive through the Black Mountains, a beautiful wild mountain landscape with blooming yellow flowers, to Oatman. Oatman is actually a western ghost town. However, it is so touristy that there is no question of ghosts. Twice a day there is a “bank robbery” with a shoot out. The proceeds of the donations will be used for a good cause. We stroll through the village and treat ourselves to an ice cream. Afterwards we continue to Arizona Village, where we want to stay at the Colorado again. The places there are not so nice and so we decide to go to the other side, along an ATV track. In search of a suitable place, the sandy ground becomes quite soft and Fabian has to step on the gas properly so that we don’t get stuck. Finally we find a place and are looking forward to our next station, Las Vegas!

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