We drove into Arizona on famous Route 66 just as the sun was setting. The sky was pink like cotton candy and the San Francisco Mountain Peaks stood tall like gentle giants in the distance. We were headed to Flagstaff for the next few days to recharge our batteries and finally do some laundry (yes, no more sand!).
Flagstaff is an interesting little city. Located amongst the beautiful Ponderosa Pines, it’s home to Northern Arizona University and thousands of students. A lot of coffee shops, quaint little restaurants, and breweries line its small streets. It has also been one of the most unique towns with regards to roadside signage. At night, classic neon signs bring you back to the 60s or 70s, as they illuminate the names of diners and motels.
The next morning began with the usual breakfast at a local greasy spoon and then on to the laundromat for a load or two. Believe it or not, The White Flag Coin-Op was a great place to hang out and was nothing like my university laundry days. The attendant was an older hippie man who was hard of hearing, which resulted in him blasting the classic rock station. Aside from being able to fold our clothes to the tunes of CCR, Hendrix, and The Doors, they also had an old school Pac-Man arcade which brought out our competitive sides. After laundry and getting some work done, we hit the local brewery for its $3 happy hour, finishing off the evening with a couple of pints.
The next day, we impatiently made our way north to the Grand Canyon. I know it’s a cliché, but pictures and words do it no justice. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and over one-mile-deep, the Grand Canyon owes it’s life to the Colorado River eroding the earth’s crust over 6-million years ago, and creating this magnificent gorge. Knowing its epic size, we made sure to be well-prepared for our hike into the canyon. Originally, we wanted to backcountry camp down by the river, but its easier to untangle 3 boxes full of Christmas lights, than to be assigned a permit. So, we settled with camping on the South Rim. After setting up camp amongst the pines, we packed our bags and began our trek into the gorge.
The trail took us on a steep decline into this geological wonder. Every so often we would stop and stare out in amazement. Nobody does it like nature; from the layers of aged limestone red as a potters’ clay, down to the detailed color of a lizard’s skin or a wildflower’s petals. (On a very weird side note, why is it that National Parks seem to choose horrifying names for their sites? For example, Skeleton Point or Devils Playground aren’t exactly places I would “die” to see, but they almost always have some of the most incredible scenery. But I digress..) After 2-hours of hiking down, we had barely scratched the surface. We couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the powerful Colorado River, but we had to force ourselves to start making our way back up. The air was thin and the trail was very strenuous. My legs grew weaker with every step I took and I cursed the times I had ever smoked cigarettes. Three hours later, we were finally back at the top of the rim. Exhausted and hungry, we headed back to our campground.
The campsite had filled up and our neighbors happened to be some well-seasoned campers. Some were grilling pizza on their pits and others were chopping up firewood with an ax. Inspired, I was determined to light a fire using brush and one old piece of fire wood left behind from the previous campers in our pit. After thirty minutes of persistence and gentle blows, I managed to get one little flame going. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway - “look what I have created! I’ve made fiiire!” Sadly, it only lasted for 10 minutes.
The following morning, we were off to the North Rim to get another view of the canyon, this time straight above from a glass skywalk, which ended up being a complete tourist trap. The two-hour detour to get there was not completely wasted though. We had decided to stop and snap some photos of a cacti forest when a man with a Balkan accent approached us and asked if we could take him to the next town to buy some gas. Of course we could! And so he left his three friends behind to watch the car and off we went looking for the next town. On the way we began making the usual awkward small talk and found out that he is the head coach of the Slovenian swim team and his three friends he left behind are the Olympic swimmers. They had made their way to Flagstaff, Arizona to train in high elevation for the Olympics in Rio and wanted to spend their day off visiting the Grand Canyon. We made sure he got his gas and wished them luck. We will definitely be cheering for them this summer!