Saturday, July 23, 2011

Arizona - Day 5

Since Thursday marked the end of my training and testing, I had Friday and Saturday to do with as I pleased. I was flying back to Nashville on Sunday morning, but I planned to make the best of my two days here.

I got out a little later than I planned initially, but I was well rested and good to go. I was now on my own dime, so I hit up a Fry's Signature grocery store. It was sort of surreal. Fry's was apparently bought out by Kroger a while back, so it was like a very upscale Kroger in many ways. The layout was similar, they carried Kroger brand products and it just had this feel like a nicer Kroger. It had a ton of fruit and vegetables that we don't get back home, partially due to the fact that it was an upscale place, partially due to the local natives fruits. Very cool stuff!

I bought a few pieces of fruit (apple, peach, donut peach, avocado, etc), some bread, a tomato, and a mozzarella cheese ball. This was to be my breakfast for the next two days and lunch for today. If I had a way of keeping it cool, I could have made it two days lunch, but the cheese got really hot that day, so I opted to not make my tomato sandwich the next day. I ate some bread, a pluot and an apple and hit the road.

I made much faster time than I expected to on the way to the Grand Canyon. The drive up was very neat, passing signs that indicated the elevation every 1000 feet in upward movement was very cool. I started the morning off at just about 1000 feet and crossed 7000 feet a few times throughout the day. Driving north, out of the desert, was very revealing as the brown slowly shrunk away, taking cactii and sand with it, slowly replacing rocky open expanses with scrub brush and then small trees, ultimately seeing large tall pines as I reached Flagstaff. The brownness of Arizona landscapes was still there, but much more muted, showing through in the ground cover beneath the trees instead of being the dominant trait of the land. It was all very neat to witness the change from lowland Northern Sedona desert to mountainous Ponderosa Pine forest.

Flagstaff seemed like an interesting area, but I didn't slow as I passed through here, my goal being the Eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon. I made my way North on AZ-89 toward Cameron. I passed the Sunset Crater National Monument on the way, a place recommend to me by two friends. I intended to visit, but decided to go the next day. I didn't. I guess I have something to look forward to on my return! I passed through Cameron, and then into the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation has a cool park at Little Colorado River that was only a few dollars to visit, so I swung in. It was a great primer to the Grand Canyon. There were artisans selling their wares here, and some very nice views of this smaller canyon that is still very impressive.


I then made my way to the GC National Park itself. After paying my $25 for a 7 day pass (the minimum) I stopped at the Desert View overlook, the "first look of the Grand Canyon" in the park. It was really quite busy, and apparently it's much busier on Weekends. I made my way down the vantage point, snapped a few pictures, and then attempted to take it all in. The Grand Canyon.... hum... it's HUGE. It's so big, and there is so much going on, it's just difficult to even process everything there. I looked at a ton of the rock structures, ideas from my geology classes coming to life in the field, noticed the large groups of people filtering in and out at a fast clip, and debated whether I wanted to brave the long lines to get an even better view from the tower on site. I passed on the tower.


I continued West on Desert View Drive, stopping 4-5 times at various overlooks to try to soak in some more of the canyon, take some photos, and try to catch glimpses of the Colorado River. I made it to the Tusayan Ruin and Museum and jumped up to experience this glimpse into the lives of the people that once inhabited the canyon lands. A brief, but very neat, look into a structure built over a thousand years ago, and a quick overview of the different people that called this area home.


I eventually reached the town of Grand Canyon, where the large visitor's center, camping, resort, train station, etc, are all located. I quickly got out of that area, after attempting to find the Geology museum which apparently does not exist (?!?! I found the parking lot and a cool vista, but no building other than a bathroom). a quick look at one of the maps I had indicated a Forest Service dirt road went 15 miles out of this area and back to the main connector between Williams (my destination for the night) and the park. I found the dirt road and cruised out, taking my time and not passing another soul for the 30 minutes or so I was on the road. I considered trying to find more roads, but my GPS was not cooperating completely, and I didn't want to chance tearing up the rental car. It was about this time that I really wished I had my motorcycle.


When I reached blacktop again in Tusayan, I stopped at a gift shop and got some shirts, and then made my way to Williams for the night. I found my hotel, the Grand Canyon Hotel, and discovered that it was the older hotel in Arizona. I had booked through and secured a single room with shared bath for less than $40 for the night. Nice, basic room, no TV (a good thing by this point in the trip) and close to several food options. I was also pleased to notice that Williams was significantly cooler than much of the rest of Arizona. My room had no A/C, but it was not needed. The ceiling and window fans were more than adequate. I checked in, and crashed for an hour long nap; it was nice!


When I woke up a while later and was catching up on email and talking to Karen, I heard a lot of noise outside my window and took a peek out. There was some sort of show involving cowboys, so I ran down to check it out. There was a group of four actors doing a play about cowboys, shooting blanks, and having a good time, apparently. It was a pretty funny show, and I was glad to place a few bucks in their collection chest.


After the street cleared, I set out to find somewhere to eat. I walked around for a while, noticing that Williams is apparently obsessed with steak. This town of less than 3,000 has at least six steak houses. Not what I was in the mood for. I settled on DaraThai which has some affiliation with the hotel I was in, and it was the best choice. I had the Dara Tofu, which is spinach, potatoes and tofu in a red curry and peanut sauce. I didn't think I wanted Thai initially, but it definitely hit the spot. I love Southeast Asian food!

After dinner, I walked around the town some, checking out the Route 66 memorabilia, various gift shops, dinners, etc. I perused a few stores, nothing jumping out at me as a must have, but I did like the little town. It's obvious that tourism is a big force here, the place was hopping well into the night, lots of people on the street, live music at several bars. I ended up walking the length of the strip of the town (maybe a mile walking from end to end and back) and stopping to get a strawberry malt at Twisters 50's Soda Fountain. It was pretty good, and a nice treat on the walk back to the hotel.

Once the music quieted down across the street from the hotel, I fell out for the night. It was a long, hot, and bright day, but totally worth it!

Here are some more photos from today.

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