April, 2011. It has been a year of big changes in my life, some good, some not so good. But, somewhere toward the beginning of April, I decided it was time to pack up and drive off into the desert. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, just west, where there are wide open spaces, greasy diners, and cowboys.
I don’t know when my fascination with cowboys began, but its seems to be a typical trait of people born in Europe. Somehow, we have this image of the wild west in our minds, and associate anything American with wild horses, gallon hats and cowboy boots. And now that my life had turned 180 degrees on me, I felt like being alone and just riding off into the sunset.
I have traveled to every continent in the world, and have seen practically everything I wanted to see. But I am embarrassed to say, I have missed out on seeing America. Ever since I arrived here, I figured I would save America for when I am retired, and eager to traverse the country in my luxury RV, or tour bus 🙂
I didn’t know what to expect from the Grand Canyon. I had seen movies like Thelma and Louise, and imagined the entire area surrounding it to be a dusty string of sleepy towns, where city slickers stick out like a sore thumb, and in most saloons strangers are not welcome. Planning the trip was quite a challenge. You might think that traveling in the land of everything, visiting a national treasure would be easy. But information is outdated, luxury accommodations are scarce, and pretty much everything you want to do there is either touristy or requires months in advance to book. So rather than put too much work into it, I thought I’d just wing it. Luckily, I was traveling to Nevada and Arizona with a friend who is as spontaneous as I am, so reservations were not necessary.
The easiest way to reach the Grand Canyon is via Las Vegas. From there, it is still a four hour drive to the North Rim, but even though the road is long, there are plenty of charming things along the way. That’s not to say that those things are actual sights worth a long stop over, but the road is surrounded by little ghost towns, rusty gas stations, wide open spaces and, you guessed it, strip malls! One thing I couldn’t get over is how much vast emptiness there is. If you ran out of gas, there would be no one to help.
Also, these little towns are very remote. Having stopped at a couple of restaurants here, I noticed that the locals are not that interested in tourists. They are friendly and accommodating, but take no interest at all. It is almost as if they would rather be left to themselves. So for the most part, you will have a long, lonely trip to the see the Grand Canyon unless you bring a friend.
Also, there is very little in terms of accommodations. The closer you get to the actual canyon, the more deserted the area is. There are a few scattered 3 star hotels and inns, but absolutely nothing near the national park. As a matter of fact, if you wanted to buy a bottle of water, you wouldn’t find one here. After hours of searching, we finally came across the visitor’s center and bought the last 2 bottles out of an old, rusty vending machine.
I guess it is nice to see that one of America’s most beautiful natural treasures is so well protected from tourists. You will see little in terms of fast food chains, trinket vendors or the customary junk shops. If you wanted to stop for directions, you won’t get them because you won’t see a soul for miles around. And don’t even inquire about wi-fi, not even 3G works here.
At night, you will find just a few restaurants that are open. They are so low key, that none have signs outside the door, you can only recognize them by the parking lots full of pick up trucks and trailers. In terms of choices, there is steak, hamburgers and steak. Luckily the steakhouse we chose had something other than beef. Being one to always try the strangest thing on the menu, I ordered fried rattle snake with a side of french fries.
And no, it didn’t taste like chicken. It tasted very much like chewy, rubbery snake you get at the local toy store. As for the other guests, they were covered elbow deep in rib grease, and not too interested in dinner conversation. So, it was a very lonely night. With not much in terms of nightlife, wine bars or lounges, we went back to our spartan hotel room.
One thing I would suggest is to give yourself plenty of time at the Grand Canyon. You will want to see it at sunset, and again at sunrise. The views are absolutely spectacular, and if you are a good photographer, you’ll want to take your time. Bring lots of bottled water, as there are no convenience stores and the visitor center is usually out of stock. Also, bring plenty of books and magazines, as this truly is a ghost town, and aside from the park rangers, the rest of the locals aren’t eager to make new friends.