Saturday, May 13th, 2006 – Distance travelled 674 miles
As I had gone to bed early, I woke up extra early and, to borrow a phrase, I was “Leaving Las Vegas” before seven in the morning. The City Center Motel did offer complementary coffee, but it would, in all honesty been better in the Harley’s oil tank. Not that the bike had so far used any oil, I was checking periodically as instructed by EagleRiders and the level was remaining reassuringly static.
My destination of the day was the Grand Canyon. Being of a contrary nature, I had mapped out a rough route in my head to the Northern Rim of the canyon, because everybody goes to the far more easily accessible Southern Rim.
I had a breakfast of bacon and “sunny side up” eggs that would have fed a hungry family of four at a small, anonymous, road-side diner and took Interstate 15 northwards towards the pleasingly named (for a Englishman, anyway) St George. Just to the north of there, I would branch off and head for the rim after a deviation to the reputedly picturesque Bryce Canyon .
The road was long, straight and gleamed darkly in the already bright sun. Like everywhere in those parts, there was nothing of any significance really visible anywhere on either side of the road. Only the occasional faint line of some distant range of hills broke the scrubby monotony. What did surprise me was the steady stream of traffic heading towards Las Vegas. It was not just a few cars, it was a long line, all proceeding at that stately pace which would not excite the State Troopers who could be seen lurking behind the occasional billboard. At first, I thought these must be potential gamblers, but from time to time I passed some neat little collections of houses and I realised these drivers were, in fact, commuters that were going to work in the big city from these scattered “dormitory” towns. Some of these enclaves were over 100 miles outside Las Vegas. I cannot imagine driving that same drab route twice a day, five days a week.
The I-15 cut briefly across the north west corner of Arizona, a State I had already been in on my trip, before entering Utah, one I had not and the ninth up to that point. I came to and passed by St George and, just north of the next small town, Washington, I branched off onto the Route 9 eastwards towards the scarily named town of Hurricane. Between St George and the turnoff, the Interstate skirted the Red Cliffs National Park and the scenery to the west was indeed a series of imposing and very red cliffs.
From Hurricane I followed the Route 59 towards Colorado City which was the kind of place which calls into question the definition of “city”, but there we are. What appeared to be exactly the same road then became Route 389 and I followed that to the next town, Fredonia, that seemed to be far more of a “city” than Colorado City had been. In Fredonia, I headed north towards Bryce on first the Route 89A, which shortly joined the real Route 89 coming from the east and lost its “A”. I followed the 89 for a bit over sixty miles until Bryce appeared on the signposts and I followed Route 12 and then finally Route 63 into Bryce itself. I was now in a much higher part of the country and although very sunny, it was quite cool. The whole route from Hurricane to Bryce was wonderfully surfaced, two-lane blacktop winding through canyons and pine forests. It was a wonderful ride and a huge contrast to the arid scenery of Nevada. Bryce canyon itself was beautiful beyond description and well worth the one hundred and fifty mile diversion just to see it.
I rode back down towards Fredonia, rejoined Route 89A and followed that towards the town of Jacobs Lake where the road to the North Rim began. Sadly, when I arrived in Jacobs Lake, the road to the rim was gated and locked. I big sign stated that, until May 15th, the road was closed because of SNOW. In temperatures that were over seventy degrees Fahrenheit, this seemed difficult to believe, but I had once seen a brief blizzard at Lake Tahoe in California in July. I could not hang around for two days so I guessed it would have to be the South Rim after all.
I continued on around the Route 89A through the area known as the Vermillion Cliffs. I have to say this was also truly spectacular and I wished with all my heart that I had a better camera because some of the most wonderful stuff was a little bit distant and hazy in the heat.
Sadly, the extra mileage I would now need to ride meant I could not really linger – but the trees had disappeared again and the sun was very hot anyway. The 89A eventually morphed back into the 89 again (the original Route 89 takes a more northerly and convoluted route) as I effectively travelled down the eastern extremity of the Grand Canyon. I passed my originally planned turnoff to Monument Valley and, instead, continued on to Cameron. I crossed a deep gorge over the Little Colorado River on the outskirts of the town before again turning westward toward the viewing point on the Canyon’s South Rim on Route 64.
Route 64 was called the “Desert View Drive” and that was about right. It initially followed the dry, dusty top of the gorge, with the Little Colorado river winding through quite verdant greenery, far below. Then, as it came to the eastern extremity of the Grand Canyon itself, it wound, quite tortuously in places, along the rim of the gigantic depression. So deep was the canyon, that the Colorado River, which had, by then, been augmented by the Little Colorado, was scarcely visible. Every view point was absolutely crammed with people and vehicles. I had to wonder how some of the huge recreational vehicles had made some of the turns on the road.
Having abandoned my attempts at individuality that watching from the North Rim would have underlined, I chose to go totally mainstream and take my photographs from the Grand View Point which is close to the Grand Canyon Village. When you actually stand there, words sort of fail you. No clever arrangement of adjectives can adequately describe the sheer magnificence of what you can see. We have all seen it on documentaries – but a camera cannot really capture it either. In those days, memory card technology was not what it is now and I had always been aware that I could only take about 400 pictures during my whole trip. For that reason I had “husbanded” my snapping a bit, but on that rim, I went a bit crazy. Some of the pictures I took are quite good photographs, but they do not even begin to show it as it is. They cannot convey the dizzying drops, the heat, the dry, gritty wind, the faint smell of the pines or any of the true reality. Go there and see it for yourself.
On the opposite rim of the canyon, it was just possible to make out the shape of the North Rim visitor Centre, where I had originally wanted to go. I supposed it to be about six or maybe seven miles away from where I was standing. Such was the harshness of the unforgiving terrain, to drive there would have been a trip of 210 miles. I could see no evidence of snow ……
I drove along to the village where I payed a fairly outrageous amount for a coke. Everywhere there were little stalls selling “authentic” Navajo trinkets, but a cursory glance was enough to convince me this was principally mass produced rubbish for the enthusiastic tourists who thronged the whole place. I passed on the opportunity to cram the saddlebags with beads and dream-catchers and rode slowly back to Cameron. Behind me, the sun was starting to give serious consideration to setting and the low angle of its rays gave some fascinating illumination to the craggy rocks.
At Cameron, I turned north again and rode up to the junction with Route 160 where Monument Valley was signposted. I turned east onto the “Navajo Trail” and, after only a few miles in the gathering dusk I came to Tuba City. I spotted a nice place to stay and was soon checked in at the Quality Inn Navajo Nation (10 N Main St, Tuba City, AZ 86045). It was very pleasant and spotlessly clean, but not cheap as its proximity to both the Grand canyon and Monument Valley rendered it a bit of a prime location.
When I enquired, I was directed to the Hogan Family Restaurant (Main St, Tuba City, AZ 86045), which was essentially next door. It was very “ethnic” and decorated with Navajo trinkets of all descriptions. I had yet another steak (I figured that I had earned it with an almost seven hundred mile day), but a beer could not be had as there is no alcohol sold on Navajo Reservation land.
I returned to my room and found, very quickly, that I did not need a beer to make me fall quickly off to sleep.