Grand Canyon and Death Valley Feb '02
Another road trip?  Yes.  And no, I can't stay in one place too long without going on a little exploration excursion...  This time I decided to go to the Grand Canyon.  I haven't been there since I was travelling across the country in the Edwards Family Green Conversion Van en route to Phoenix a long, long time ago.  Somehow, I just wanted to go back.  I thought it would be a nice place to camp, since desert temperatures in winter are a balmy 40-50 degrees.  Good for camping, ecept maybe at night, when it drops to 20, but I was feeling adventurous.

I set out over the bay bridge on a bright Wednesday morning ready to haul all the way to the canyon in one day- an ambitious 12 hours of driving...
Most of California was the southern, mid-state route, through Fresno and then Bakersfield, then East through the Mojave desert for a long ride of rocks and nothing.  I stopped on the way in the Mojave, and walked around outside the rest stop to stretch my legs, and flip over a few rocks, hoping to find a scorpion or rattlesnake under there.  No such luck, however.  Just rocks and dust.
At the Eastern edge of the Mojave, there mountains really start to creep up on both sodes of you, adding some variety and a kind of magnificence to a barren landscape.  The roads were practically bare- just me and a handful of trucks, and some motorhomes every now and then.  I decided to give the old Carolla a piece of the road and see how fast she can go.  I was doing 90 most of the way in the daytime, but I actually got my little 4 cylinder up to 107.  not bad for a toyota :)  About sunset, I saw a sagebrush actually blow across the highway, and that old Western gun show-down music went through my brain- drum beats- high pitched, 'dooodle-ooo' and the wind blowing...
I stopped arounf 6pm at the very boarder between Arizona and California- Needles.  I was tired and ready to call it quits, finish the last leg to the canyon in the morning, but changed my mind rather quickly when i stopped for gas.  In this gas station, mine was the only car that was post 1975, there were a bunch of grungy hispanics in do-rags in the corner "Hey, chiquita, you want some action?"  Riiiight, scumbag- get a dentist and maybe you could actually qualify to ask that question...  i pay, and notice there are 2 "saloons" on either side of me, very run-down looking, and they offer food, and topless waitress service.  I was hungry, but not hungry enough for more toothless, homeless, showerless grungy men who are even gorser dunk and horny.  ugh.  Just as I was about to finish filling, the owner of the 1971 ford pickup, beat to high heavan, with a dump-quality trailer bolted to the bed came out to fill his "vehicle" up- this man was a double for Charlie Manson if I everr saw one.  Scary.  White scraggly hair with matching beard, beer gut and dirt.  Ohh, boy he looked scary.
I drove right back to the freeway, ignoring my bladder and stomach and drove very fast away from Needles, vowing never again to return.  It was the kind of place where I bet the whole town is really the living dead, and i would be this innocent, unsuspecting traveller, come to stop for the night- in an easy-access tent- and the smell of fresh blood would rouse them all for miles to come looking for food...
50 miles from Needles was another backwater town in Arizona.  Fortunately, it was a nice backwater town, with a big safeway where i got some beer and a can of soup.  I checked in to the KOA after hours, and as I was registering, the proprietor, a really sweet older man came over with his poodle in the golf cart.  "Tent site?  Huny, you're going to freeze!  We got cabins, you want a cabin?"  I explained that I was from Buffalo, and we're actually composed of permafrost, impervious to the blistering freeze of 40 degrees at night... ha, ha.
He came by antoher two times, make sure I was set up okay, showed me where the water was, showed me that I had electricity in that tent site- he was a sweetheart.  "I come around at night, honey, so dont' feel unsafe."
It was a beautiful night, actually.  I put the little propane heater in the tent, showered, ate my soup, and sat back on the chair under the big Arizona sky with a beer and my computer for a while.  What a nice night.
I had a romantic notion of getting to the canyon before sunrise, so I could watch this magnificent thing slowly emerge out of the darkness, but I got off too late, and misjudged my distance a bit.
As I got closer to the canyon, it was getting colder and colder, probably due to the elevation.  There were patches of snow on the ground in places- I even saw one car pulled over with a mother taking a toddler on a little walk through the snow.  It was funny.
I decided to look for lodging in the canyon instead of camping in lieu of the weather- and found myself checking in to a very comfortable room in the Bright Angel Lodge at 9am.  I got to unload my stuff, and look for some hiking.  I tried the rim trail first, I went about 4 miles and realized there was no bus service in February, so I would have to actually walk back as far as I came.  I went to Hopi Point, which is probably the nicest view of the canyon before turning around there.  The weather was absolutely beautiful for hiking- breezy and cool, sunny and just perfect.  The best part was that I was mostly alone!  No bussloads of Japanese tourists swarming the sidwealks en masse, cameras clicking away.

my room at the Bright Angel.                                next