Wed. Feb. 22, 2012- Grand Canyon & Driving to Lake Havasu City
Waking up at 6:30 in the morning when you clambered into bed late the previous night is no picnic. It took a lot of energy to drag myself out of bed, put on all those layers (yes, layers, as in winter coat etc…) grab my tripod and head out. Mike seemed to have no trouble with it. I blame the tripod. Why all the winter clothes you ask? Was I not in Arizona? As in down south where it is warm? Yes I was, but we were at such a high elevation (at least 7000ft, I stopped checking at some point) that it was in fact cold. Not unbearably cold, just cold enough to make my hands turn all red and for the tiny bits of snow to not melt. The view was astounding and amazing and too much for words. I may have been exhausted, cold and hungry (moving a cold tripod around did not help) but it was well worth it and I would do it again. Mike climbed up on the wall to pose for photos, resulting in me shouting “You’d better not fall into the canyon” which is how we met some cool people, also there to see the sunrise. I think we made their day with our antics, they were laughing at us. The sunrise did not last very long; it was maybe half an hour before the sun was up and it was daylight. And the daylight would still be there when we went on the tour later… back to bed I went!
We had our tour switched from the noon hour one to the 9am so we would have more time for a surprise that Mike’s mom had planned for us, but more on that later. the way the tour worked was that we drove to a point and stayed there for 20 minutes, then back on the bus and off to the next. The last one we had more time because there was more to see. The first stop on our tour was Yaki Point, the driver made a terrible joke that it is called that because the person who discovered it had stepped in donkey poo, looked down at his shoe and said “yucky”, just terrible. There was a bluebird sitting in a bush and as I was photographing it, a second one flew out! I had no idea it was even in there. I know I will probably say this about a million times still, but the views were unbelievable, you could see for miles out to the horizon and down into the canyon.
En route to the next stop I saw a woodpecker flying in the forest. I am pretty sure the second stop was at Moran Point (I am unsure as I had left my book back at the lodge because I did not feel like carrying it and I assumed I would remember everything). From this viewpoint you could see bits of the Colorado River down below and well as some Class 5 rapids. The rapids looked frozen; they did not look like they were moving at all. Apparently I was not the only one who thought so, but we were assured by the driver that they were in fact moving, very fast; they just appeared frozen because we were so high up. While driving to what I think was Lipan Point an elk crossed in front of our bus, resulting in lots of excited shouting. As we got off the bus I spotted a giant black bird sitting in a tree, the photographer in me insisted on getting as close as possible to get a good photo. The movie fan in me was terrified. I have watched Hitchcock’s The Birds a few too many times to be comfortable getting that close to a giant black bird that keeps making scary noises. I asked the tour guide what kind of bird it was, given it was not on the info board about other birds. He said it was a raven. That raven and another one work the area looking for food from the tourists.
At this point in the trip I was starting to really feel like a stalker. I had been photographing people for my project. And I think some of them were starting to catch on. As soon as I saw a family posing for a photograph, I was there off to the side, zoomed in on them.
Stop four was at the Watch Tower. Here we were given an hour. There was a tower you could climb up to get an even higher view of the canyon, or you know, buy crap from the gift shop downstairs. The view from this lookout included the Painted Desert across the canyon. Here was where I filled my memory card and had to awkwardly put in the new one while Mike made jokes about me dropping the full one into the canyon. One of the lookouts here was shaped like the front of a ship and Mike wanted to do the Titanic pose. His question combined with terrified yelp that kind of sounded like “no” garnered a lot of laughs. The view from the Watch Tower was well worth the stair-climbing it necessitated.
Lunch consisted of a bowl of soup and some coffee, so fancy. I ended up sitting outside and watching a raven scrounge for food (it could have been the same one from earlier, or his buddy), unafraid of all the people passing by. All that walking and stalking tired me out, I fell asleep on the bus. As had most of the other passengers. On the way back to the car I spotted a giant bird flying overhead, but because of the glean of the sun off the bird’s feathers I could not be sure if it was black or brown. I like to think it was something other than a raven.
Driving to Lake Havasu City I could see Mt. Humphrey’s off in the distance in Flagstaff, AZ with its snowy mountain top. It was kind of unreal given how much desert landscape I had seen so far. It also meant I got to add another mountain range to add to my list of mountains I’ve seen (Appalachians, Adirondacks and now Sierra-Nevada). As we drove the excitement mounted, Mike’s mom had a surprise in store for us! And then I saw some white sheep with black ears and hooves! Oh the excitement! I saw a swarm of 10-20 birds circling around, something dead over there I assumed. When I tried to tell them about it the confusion of my pointing and saying “there” ensued yet again. And then it hit me. I saw another swarm, twice as big this time, just kind of floating about like bubbles in a tank, and instead said that there was a swarm at 10 o’clock. New system for pointing stuff out! Staring out the window at the landscape passing by it was forest, forest, forest… weird dead-looking shrugging tree, more forest, and some more forest. It was so weird.
The descent from the “top of the world” began. We watched as the elevation went down and the temperature went up. I fell asleep and woke up to being back in the desert. We stopped for gas and I ran inside because there was a Dunkin’ Donuts. The guy there was weird. First of all, he was maybe 70 years old? He also said “be careful out there” to us as he handed me my coffee. Across the street there were some pigeons hanging out with ravens. Then I saw the greatest sight my eyes had ever beholden: Plaza Bonita! We could not believe it, there was a place called that! It was Bonita! We turned off the I-40 and what did my eyes behold? Why it was a sign stating Historic Route 66! I was so excited!! And this was not even the surprise; it was just an added bonus. What was the surprise? We were headed to an abandoned mining town turned into a tourist attraction! I have had some great days in my life, but oh man, this was awesome. The road started out fine, slow gentle curves. As we climbed in elevation they became a bit tighter. We passed by a very sketchy looking gas station where there were some scary bikers hanging out. Then we almost got rammed off the road by a UPS truck. Who are they delivering to?! Hardly a soul lives out here! We passed by maybe two homesteads? And they did not seem very welcoming. They were surrounded by barbed wire and NO TRESPASSING signs. As the elevation increased, the turns got tighter, giving way to switchbacks. It was so scary, on one side it was a cliff edge, on the other you could fall down into the valley. As if it was not nerve-wracking (and cool) enough, not being able to see the road in front, dangerous curves, driving almost in the other lane to avoid being on the precipice of the cliff: there was an old wrecked car above us in the cliff-side! The car was at least 20 years old in terms of the model. And it had been there for a long time, it was rusty and pale. And just destroyed, like a crushed tin can. It was the epitome of what I think of Route 66. At one point the curves were so narrow and sharp that there was a bit of extra shoulder for people who could not make the tight turn. We stopped there for a breather and stared down into the valley. As we headed back to the car, a FedEx car sped up the hill and we just laughed. Where could they be going?! As we drove we passed by a guy who was driving with one hand and taking pictures out the window with the other. The guy was nuts. There were also some people who pulled over to the shoulder (blocking part of our lane) to take photographs.
And then I saw it, a sign saying Oatman, Arizona! And just as quickly my attention was taken away… by a burro (donkey) crossing the street. I followed it to see where it was going, it disappeared behind the post office (why a tourist attraction has a post office, I will never know). The burro emerged on the other side of the post office, trying to eat from a bowl of food left out for a car. Only his neck was too short to reach through the fence. Oatman is amazing. It is overrun by burros that were abandoned by the miners when the mines dried up. Now they just roam freely, walking up to people and cars, looking for food. And the shops sell food, so you can feed them! They will slobber all over your hand. As Mike fed one of the burros it would pick up the food and place it on the hood of fancy Camaro parked outside a shop and eat off the shiny hood. I tried to take pictures without it looking like I had put the food there. The burros kept following Mike around so we took to calling him “burro whisperer”. We also got to climb into an old mining shaft that had been closed off, so you can’t climb too far into it. The shops all sold really tacky Route 66 souvenirs from ash trays to shirts. We met a couple from Ontario and shared our food with her. We told her to feed with a flat hand. Her husband told her to feed with a flat hand. She did not, and then complained that she got nibbled. Mike had wanted to buy a shirt and when he asked how much it was the guy tried to rip him off, but his mom called the keeper on it and we got free burro food out of it.
As we drove to Lake Havasu City we passed by some really weird bushes that were covered in ribbons. Then there were some funny looking palm trees that looked like they were wearing hula skirts. There was a sign on the highway warning of burro crossings; alas we did not see any. We did get to see the Colorado River again. For dinner we had In N Out Burger. It was so good; I had forgotten just how good In N Out is. I had the double burger and fries. What I had forgotten to do was to look up the secret menu. We passed another Plaza Bonita, I guess it is a southern thing? We drove over the original London Bridge which had been bought by a wealthy chainsaw guy. They brought it over brick by brick and rebuilt it to bring tourists to Lake Havasu City. I guess they wanted more than scantily clad girls on Spring Break and Canadian snowbirds? The rest of the evening was spent catching up, finally having access to the internet.