Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Great Southwest Canyon Road Trip - Cedar City to the Grand Canyon

[Oh dear, it's April and I still haven't finished my tales of last year's road trip. Apologies if this post is a little rushed, but I can't really tell you about this year's plans until last year is done and dusted. To remind you, a 'clerical error' (I booked the wrong hotel) meant we didn't end up staying in Bryce, as planned, but in Cedar City instead ...]

[Out of the clouds on Hwy 14]
It's telling that I don't have a single photo of Cedar City (the place we never planned to visit). It's a charming enough Mormon town, neat and tidy.

I can recommend the craft beers and pizza at the Centro Pizzeria without hesitation. But it never inspired me to take a picture.

We drove out of town on Hwy 14, along another scenic route that's only open half the year.

As it wound up back onto the plateau, to record breaking altitudes, my passengers were strangely quiet - was it perhaps they're now used to narrow winding roads with sheer drops on one side, and almost zero visibility as we climbed into the clouds? Or perhaps sheer terror had rendered them numb?

The highway takes you through high plateaus and ancient lava flows to join US-89, and then on to Kanab - once known as the most remote town in the USA, until US-89 reached it. Now it's a collection of little cafes and camping shops, and quite charming.

[Navajo Bridges]
From Kanab, there's two routes - US-89 and US-89a, and the windier roads and the promise of the Navajo Bridge made 89a the obvious choice. This is beautiful but desolate country, with the Vermillion cliffs towering over us on the left for miles and miles. Imagine the surface of Mars, but with the occasional glint of metal in the distance from the roofs of the Indian trailers. The poverty of the Indians in these inhospitable places is shocking - but I'll save my thoughts on that for another post.

We got to see another side of the Indians at the Cameron Trading Post, a popular stop just outside the east entrance to the Grand Canyon's South Rim. This place is a slightly tacky emporium for all things Indian - dream catchers, Navajo rugs - but after seeing their living conditions out in the desert, it's hard to begrudge their desire to make a quick buck from the tourists.

How we didn't crash on the approach to the Canyon, I do not know, as it's hard to drive safely while always looking out the right for glimpses of the world's largest hole in the ground. And when the clouds cleared and we had a chance to stop, woah, what a vast hole it is.

The next three days were spent taking photos that failed to capture the awe and majesty of the Canyon - but that didn't stop us, and thousands of selfie-stick waving tourists, from trying.

[A Very Big Hole]
The Grand Canyon South Rim is not a place to escape the masses, but the village has a strange charm.

This is where American mass tourism was born - with the Bright Angel Lodge and El Tovar Hotel complexes catering for the USA's first major tourist attraction in the early 20th century. The newly completed railroad brought thousands of tourists from the east and west coasts to gawp at the Canyon, much like we did.

Catering at the Bright Angel Lodge was enthusiastic, robust and a bit amateur - school dinners with a smile. The waiters were particularly sweet - each was a foreign student, with their name and country of origin on their badge. Alas, poor Svetlana from Sweden had no idea how idea how to open a bottle of wine and Rudy from Romania forgot our order, but you couldn't help but forgive them.

From the Canyon, we drove down to Flagstaff, for a little bit of Route 66. I've travelled the Mother Road before, and was hoping that Flagstaff would be as lovely as I remembered it - and of course it was. There's two historic hotels in the centre - last time I stayed in the Weatherford, and this time we stayed in the Monte Vista. I would recommend either!

After Flagstaff, we wound down the windows, pumped up the American rock classics, and powered down Route 66 towards Seligman. Well, we did for a bit, until I was told to turn off the 'old man music'. Seligman is the home of Route 66 kitsch, and always worth a stop for '66 t-shirts, coasters, bottle openers, badges and all the other paraphernalia you need for your friends back home.

[I can't have one, apparently]
I got a double fix of Route 66 in Kingman, as the town was the host to this year's Route 66 festival (I was lucky enough to catch it in Galena, Kansas, the year before).

This gave me a chance to coo over some shiny American classic cars, before the final haul across the desert back to Las Vegas - including the obligatory stop for a vertigo inducing view of the Hoover Dam.

So that was it, Road Trip 2015 had come to end. I gave back the keys to the trusty Mazda CX-5 - we'd done 1,163 miles together - 2,410 if we include my Texas trip.

Time to start planning 2015 - oh, who am I kidding, it's already booked. I'll tell more later.


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