Archive for April, 2011

Our early night last night turned out to be a good idea since we were up at half past 6 in order to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead for 8am to join the ranger led hike down to Cedar Ridge. This trail, described as “steep with expansive views”, would take us down 1.5 miles into the canyon, with an elevation change of 1,140 feet.

Cedar Ridge - as far down as we went on the South Kaibab Trail.

Missing the first bus by about a minute, we thought we were going to be late and miss the hike, but got there in plenty of time. The ranger introduced himself and talked to the group while we all stood shivering in the cold morning. He explained how the South Kaibab Trail was built by the park service after several years of unsuccessfully trying to remove the toll on the then privately owned Bright Angel Trail. Once the South Kaibab Trail was complete, access to the river and the inner canyon became free again. He took us slowly down the trail, stopping to point out interesting things or to chat to us about the canyon. He told us that by hiking below the rim, we were part of an elite 5% of the 5,000,000 yearly visitors, 95% of whom do not venture into the canyon itself. He also mentioned that those who hike down to the river and stay overnight account for only 1% of the yearly visitors. To be honest, we were both a bit shocked at these figures, especially that only 5% of visitors hike any distance down into the canyon. We reached the first rest point after about 45 minutes, which we probably could have done faster on our own, but without all the interesting things that the ranger was stopping to tell us. This point was called Ooh Aah Point, but is unsigned after 4 signs disappeared in as many days and it was too expensive to keep replacing them. It would never have happened if they had given it a less amusing name… Continuing down to Cedar Ridge the trail got quite steep and gravelly in places, the guide had said that at some point someone would fall over, and I was determined that it wasn’t going to be me. It was very nearly the lady in front of Liz on several occasions, since she insisted on viewing the world through her camera, even after almost falling twice… idiot.

Posing at Ooh Aah Point on the way back up.

We reached Cedar Ridge, and the end of the hike at about 9.20am, which is where the ranger left us, well, he waited to answer questions for about 20 minutes before leaving us to hike up at our own pace. After a brief sit down for snacks and water, admiring the view and photos, we began the steep ascent back to the canyon rim. Although the sun was now out, it was still pretty cold, but we soon warmed up once we started hiking uphill. The return trip took the same time as the descent, with frequent stops for photos and to make friends with the local wildlife. We reached the rim at about 11am and ran to catch the bus that had just arrived. Back at the campsite we sat in the car for a while to warm up while we waited for the showers to reopen (closed for cleaning), after more coin operated showers we spent a large portion of the afternoon drinking gin in the sunshine. Late afternoon, we caught a succession of buses back towards Hermit’s Rest trying to recreate a photo from our first day. The weather wasn’t as nice, and the sun was in a different place, so it didn’t go too well, but we found the spot. We then caught another bus headed back towards the village and watched the sunset from Mohave Point over the canyon.

Final Grand Canyon sunset.

It was one of the clearer sunsets that we saw, but my camera chose this point to decide that it was nearly dead, which was less than helpful. After catching the bus back to the village we headed back to El Tovar in search of dinner (we had spotted some delicious looking chilli on the bar menu) and more cocktails. There were no tables when we arrived so we sat at the bar, and ordered our Cactus Lemonades (made with vodka, Limoncello, prickly pear syrup and a little lemonade). The two older guys next to us immediately offered to pay for them, we thanked them but said that this wasn’t necessary. As the evening progressed they talked to us more and more, particularly Steven, the one closest to us. He wanted to hear all about our trip and offered to put us in touch with his kids (around our age) for places to stay in Seattle and New York as well as recommending places all along the way. When it was time for us to head back to the campsite, he insisted on picking up our entire tab, dinner and all, and got the barmaid in on the act when we tried to at least pay for the food… “Your tab is $0.” Eventually, we accepted defeat, and thanking Steven and leaving a tip for the bar staff, Robby in particular had given us lots of advice about places to go and things to see in Vegas. Slightly tipsy after a few Cactus Lemonades we ended up running to catch the bus, rather than wait half an hour in the cold for the next one. Back at the campsite, we put on all our layers for the final time, activated our “hand warmers” that we had found in the general store and went to sleep. (It turns out, that while the hand warmers were very warm, we both got a little freaked out by the warnings about them causing burns or possibly catching fire and threw them out halfway through the night!)


Grand Canyon: quiet day

After our busy day yesterday, today was earmarked as a quiet day, where we could have a lie in, spend some time exploring the “historic village” and drive out to the Desert View Watchtower 30 miles east of Grand Canyon Village.It was around 10am by the time we emerged from the tent into the sunshine. After getting ready and having breakfast we headed towards the “historic village”, which all the bus drivers had talked about.

The Kolb Studio, perched precariously on the cliff, the only place they were given permission to build

We were somewhat disappointed to find that there was one visitor centre/gift shop which talked about the history of Grand Canyon village, and one shop housed in historic Hopi House. The visitor centre was interesting, but small, and we were done pretty quickly and although there is apparently lots of history associated with Hopi House, the whole place is occupied by a large gift shop, so there wasn’t much to see there either. Our final stop in the historic village was the Kolb Photography Studio, opened by the Kolb Brothers in 1904. Disappointingly, the main exhibition area was closed for renovations, something we only found out when we got there. There was a tiny room where some photographs and an old movie projector were displayed, but that was it. Having done everything that the historic village had to offer, we headed back to the campsite to chill out for a few hours before heading over to Desert View for the sunset. At about 5ish, we sorted out the car and headed out towards Desert View. We had planned to stay for sunset, but discovered small print in the visitor guide that said that it closed at 6pm. This changed our plans to stop at the overlooks along the way to take pictures and then to arrive at Desert View for sunset, with the 45 mph speed limit, we would make it just in time to take a few pictures before the watchtower closed for the night.

Somewhat hazy sunset from Lipan Point.

Getting out of the car, we were hit by a powerful gust of wind, and quickly headed towards the shelter of the watchtower, which didn’t actually close until 6.30pm. Unfortunately, the day had become somewhat hazy so the apparently stunning view from the watchtower was not as impressive as it could have been, although there was a pretty good view of the Colorado River. The sun was also in exactly the wrong place for good pictures of the canyon, so all in all it was a bit of a disappointing trip. The watchtower itself was impressive though, built by architect Mary Coulter, responsible for a number of buildings in Grand Canyonvillage as well, it did offer 360 degree views of the canyon, despite the haze. Done with our exploring, we headed back towards Grand Canyon village, in search of a good overlook point for the sunset. We decided on Lipan Point, as did a number of others, and settled down to play Trivial Pursuit on the iPhone until it was time to get out and take pictures. After a few minutes outside we decided it was too cold, especially since all the photos were coming out really badly due to the haze and returned to the car. In the end we opened the sun roof and watched the sunset standing on our seats, looking out of the sunroof to take pictures… at least our legs were warm. After the sun had disappeared completely, we headed back to the campsite and with little else to do in the dark and the cold, we went to bed early.

Despite the addition of several more layers, it was another cold night in the tent, and thus we were awake pretty early. We started our day with coin operated showers ($2 for 8 minutes) and a trip to Park HQ to use their electricity to charge my camera and download the photos from Lizzie’s. Once we had done that, there was time for a brief caffeine stop before returning the laptop to the car and making ourselves packed lunches before catching the bus to the Bright Angel Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail

We got off at the wrong stop (my fault entirely) but it was a short walk from there to the trailhead. The Bright Angel Trail is described as “steep, but popular” and descends from the rim right down 4,350 feet to the Colorado River. The hike to the river and back is a 15.6 mile round trip and is not recommended as a day hike, so that was out of the question. We thought that the trip to the 3 mile resthouse (6 miles in total) descending 2,102 feet sounded about right for the day, and that we could continue the further 1.5 miles down to Indian Garden if we felt up to it when we got there. The descent, although steep, was quite easy, and the trail was quite wide and well used. We passed a number of exhausted looking people heading back up towards the rim, which concerned me for our ascent later (if all the fit and healthy looking people look exhausted, what is an asthmatic at 5000+ feet elevation going to look like doing the same trip? – A tomato with blonde hair, luckily there are no pictures!).

The somewhat daunting view of the trail back up to the rim.

As we approached the 1.5 mile resthouse (1,121 feet below the rim) the path under our feet changed from the light sandy colour of the upper rock layers, to the rich rust colour that stands out throughout the canyon. We stopped for a break at the resthouse, eating our salty snacks to avoid Hyponatremia (one of a list of heat/exertion related health hazards that hikers are made aware of in the canyon, this one caused by low sodium and over hydration) and refilling our water bottles. After waiting for the group ascending from the river on mules to pass (this looks and sounds cool, but is expensive and has to be booked 12 months in advance) we continued our downhill hike. The further into the canyon we got, the more exhausted the people hiking uphill looked, especially those carrying camping equipment, who had clearly camped overnight in the canyon. By this stage the sun was high overhead and it was getting uncomfortably warm. The 3 mile resthouse became visible several hundred feet below us quite soon after leaving the previous one, but the walk down took us about 40 minutes. Once there it was time for lunch and a much needed sit down in the shade. Over lunch we discussed whether or not we wanted to continue down to Indian Garden. Lizzie was keen to do so, but I was wary of my ability to deal with 4.5 miles of uphill hiking on the way back, having seen several signs telling me that while down was optional, up was mandatory! We decided at this point to split up, Lizzie would head down to Indian Garden, and I would start hiking back towards the rim.

more views over the canyon

I would, however, take it very slowly and wait for a while before leaving for my uphill trek, so that Lizzie might have a chance to catch me up along the way, if not, we would meet back at the campsite later. After putting her boots back on and filling up her water she was on her way, I waited perhaps another 15 minutes or so, enjoying the view while sitting in the shade. The view back up towards the rim from over 2,000 feet below is stunning, but somewhat daunting when you know that you are about to start hiking back up the trail. After refilling my water, it was time to start the uphill climb. It was just after 2pm and the hottest part of the afternoon, clearly the best time to be hiking uphill! Because of this I took quite a few breaks, ostensibly to admire the view and to take pictures. Lots of people passed me going both up and down hill, but this didn’t bother me, “slow and steady wins the race” and all that. After about 2 hours of hiking uphill in the sun I finally reached the 1.5 mile marker.

...made it!

I refilled my water, and copying what I had seen several others do earlier in the day, ran my bandana under the tap before putting it back on my head in an attempt to stay cool, which worked really well. I climbed up the steep steps to the resthouse and sat there for a while, glad to be out of the hot sun. I chatted with a few people there, who were surprised that I was hiking alone, before I explained that Liz had continued down to Indian Garden, but that I hadn’t quite felt up to it. After my rest here, I continued up the side of the canyon towards the rim, grateful that at least some of the trail was now in the shade, something that increased the further up the trail I got. Once again I was passed by quite a few people, but I stuck to my slow and steady pace, looking back every so often in an attempt to catch a glimpse of Liz coming up the trail behind me. Just before I reached the rim the wind, which I had been sheltered from in the canyon hit me and I started to get quite cold. I eventually reached the trailhead at exactly 5.30pm, but there was still no sign of Liz. There was still plenty of daylight left, and it had crossed my mind that she might have continued down to Plateau Point at 6 miles below the rim to see the view of the river below, so I wasn’t too worried. Arriving at the rim, the wind hit me full force and after several hours of being too warm I was now freezing. On level ground for the first time in hours, my feet complained loudly and I staggered off to find a bus back to the campsite. Back at the campsite all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap, with washing up to do, and nothing but cold water, I knew I had to do it then or be miserable and cold when I did it after sunset. Washing up done, I finally took of my boots to give my aching feet a break and curled up in the relatively warm car to make notes for my blog. As sunset approached, I started to get increasingly worried about where Liz had got to; surely it wouldn’t have taken her this long to catch me up? Just as I was about to head over to the bus stop with her coat and a torch (there is no lighting in the campsite at all) she appeared at the car window. It turned out that she had gone all the way down to Plateau Point, which was why the return trip had taken her quite so long; she had done 9 miles since I last saw her. After a tin of pears in the car, and a pear juice related clothing disaster, we headed towards the Canyon Café because I really needed some hot food. The queue for “real food” was enormous, and I was too hungry to wait, so ordered a hamburger, which certainly fulfilled the hot food and meat cravings that I was having. Once I was done, we caught the bus over to El Tovar, the most exclusive of all the Grand Canyon lodges, to sample the Prickly Pear Margaritas recommended in our 99 Best Trips book.

Prickly Pear Margarita . . . yum!

Although expensive, they were delicious and just what we needed after a long day. We could have happily stayed for another, but the bus schedule dictated that we head home, so catching the last bus, we returned to the campsite where we layered up and climbed into the tent, falling straight asleep after a tiring day.

Grand Canyon: The Rim Trail

After a cold night with not very much sleep, I awoke to Lizzie’s iPhone alarm, which she then turned off. I felt very guilty later that having woken her up to turn it off, she didn’t get back to sleep again. Now that the sun was up and it was not quite so bitterly cold, I got the the best sleep I’d had all night in the two hours that followed. At about 9am Lizzie woke me up and after getting dressed, having breakfast and making our picnic lunch, we headed off in search of the Red Route bus.

Our First View of the Canyon

Our plan for the day was to walk the 13 mile rim trail, visiting the Visitor Centre along the way and finishing with a sunset at Yaki Point. Arriving at the Red Route transfer point, we were met with a large queue, but more importantly, with our first view of the canyon. I must take the time at this point to make you all aware, that in response to a challenge from Mr Oli Walker, Lizzie and I are not allowed to use the word “big” in any of our blog posts relating to the Grand Canyon… so here it goes. Our first view of the canyon, in the late morning sun was quite impressive, it wasn’t a major overlook point, so we could not see very far, but the scale was still breathtaking. The bus soon arrived, but did not have enough room for everyone, so another 10 minutes later we were finally on our way to Hermit’s Rest. The bus ride took about 25 minutes, since it stops at every overlook as it heads westbound (but only at a select 3 on the way back). At Hermit’s Rest, as everyone else rushed immediately to look at the view, we took a more practical stance, visiting the pit toilets and refilling our water bottles. After a quick visit to the shop, and a few photos at Hermit’s Rest, we began our walk along the first few miles of the rim trail.

From the Rim Trail

The first 2.8 miles from Hermit’s rest were paved and were also open to cyclists (or bicyclists according to the sign) and to be honest, it was only really cyclists that we saw, we seemed to be the only ones walking any distance along the trail at this point. It seems that the majority of visitors take the bus to each of the overlook points and then get back on it again to go to the next one. The trail wound close to the edge of the canyon for the most part, offering us stunning views through the trees as well as terrifyingly steep drops just a few feet from where we were walking. After the 2.8 miles of paved trail, these drops became a little scarier, since the unpaved trail was rocky and uneven in places. Liz, being considerably braver than I am, ventured closer to the edge for photos on a few occasions, while I stuck to the trail. We reached “The Abyss” at around 1.30pm and settled down to eat our packed lunches before continuing on to Mohave Point.

The Abyss

The time spent waiting for the buses earlier that morning was beginning to take its toll on our schedule. There was no way that we were going to manage at least 5 or 6 more miles to the visitor centre before it closed at 5pm… time for a rethink. We would continue a further 2.3 miles to Powell Point, where we would catch the bus to the visitor centre and then return by bus to complete the trail when we were done. The various overlooks offered expansive views up and down the canyon, but I think I preferred the views from the trail in between these points, which were not so crowded with other tourists. By the time we reached Powell Point it was getting on for half 3, confirming our worries that we would not be able to walk to the visitor centre before closing. At the visitor centre we spoke to a ranger called Chris, who clearly thought Lizzie was the more attractive one since as we approached he said that he would help her and I could go talk to “him” (indicating his colleague)… charming! While inwardly laughing at us, he gave us the workbooks to complete to be Junior Rangers and talked to us a little about what there was to do in five days in the Canyon. It was then time to watch the ubiquitous introductory film, which was interesting and made me want to take lots of impressive photos. By this point, my disturbed sleep of the night before was beginning to take its toll and the prospect of hiking several more miles was not overly appealing, sunset was also fast approaching. Instead of waiting for the bus at the village we decided to hike back towards Powell Point and then wait there for the sunset. Having looked forward to the trail being all downhill from Hopi Point earlier in the day, this decision meant that it was mostly uphill, but we just about coped. There wasn’t an amazing westward view from Powell Point, but the play of colours and shadows over the canyon was fascinating to watch, so we decided to stay. There were several other people there for the sunset, so there was a little competition for the best place to stand, but the photos turned out ok. Once the sun had set, the temperature dropped considerably and we were shivering while we waited for the bus. By the time we got back to the campsite, eating dinner outside wasn’t an option, so we piled into the car to eat a somewhat makeshift meal of salsa, cheese and tortilla chips with the heating on. A little warmer, we got ready for bed and were in our sleeping bags pretty early, there really isn’t much to do when you are camping when it is cold.

Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Determined to get up to date with our blogs before hitting the Grand Canyon for five days, we were up pretty early and taking turns on the laptop. Lizzie ventured across the road to the supermarket and brought back a feast of croissants and chocolate milk for breakfast. Once we were showered and packed, there was enough time for one more episode of Roswell High before hitting the road. Route 66 to Flagstaff wasn’t too exciting, and once there we detoured slightly to find a Starbucks. Due to the lack of internet the night before, we needed to finish our planning of the final few weeks, assure family and friends that although we were going to be incommunicado for a few days, that we were still alive, and to book somewhere to stay in Las Vegas after our 5 day stay in the Grand Canyon. After thoroughly outstaying our welcome (or so we felt anyway) at Starbucks, it was back to the car, for a final hour or so of Route 66 before heading north to the Grand Canyon. Arriving in Williams, we eventually found the supermarket and stocked up on food for the next few days, non perishable and edible without cooking being vital, since we assumed that there was a burn ban in place (as there has been elsewhere). It turned out that there wasn’t a burn ban, but buying charcoal and wood does end up pretty expensive, so we didn’t bother. The 60 or so miles north to the Grand Canyon was on a straight and boring road, much like the ones we have been driving on for a while now. Arriving at the entrance station, we presented our “America the Beautiful” pass, thus avoiding the $25 fee, and proceeded to the campsite. Lizzie’s navigation skills brought us to the entrance to the campsite in no time, where we parked the car and joined the queue to register. We both had to return to the car for jumpers as it was so cold. Although the queue was short, the Swiss girls in front of us had not noticed the “No RV sites available” sign and were asking lots of questions, we spent the time looking in apprehension at the forecast temperatures for the next few days. Eventually it was our turn, and after commenting that we were staying for a long time, the lady behind the desk gave us our car park pass and directed us to our site. As practiced as we are by now, putting the tent up was a quick affair, but anchoring proved slightly more difficult, why do they insist on making people camp on rock? After repositioning the tent several times, we got most of the pegs in, and secured the final troublesome line with a large rock, done! With everything set up, we ate a quick dinner at the campsite before heading over to the (now closed) visitor centre to find out what the “Ranger Led Program” was for the evening. It turned out that they had a guest speaker (a rare occurrence, or so we were told) who was giving a talk about astronomy. This sounded good, so we caught another shuttle bus (they run all around the main visitor area and to the trailheads, very useful) to Shrine of the Ages for the talk. It was really interesting and focused on how the National Parks are some of the best places to see the stars because there is so little light pollution. We were all given a star chart and the talk concluded with telescopes being put up in the car park for us to look at Saturn. They took some time to set up, but as we waited in the cold, a ranger and some of the lecturers students used laser pointers to show us different constellations. Eventually the telescopes were ready, and it was amazing to be able to see Saturn, however small and fuzzy it was in the view finder. After a short wait at the bus stop it was back to the campsite to get ready for bed. Several layers later, we were tucked into our freezing tent, for a very cold night.

Once we had repacked the car, we left Rabi’s at about 10am after a fantastic weekend. The drive back to join Route 66 at Gallup was boring and extremely slow in places, as it had been on the way up. After a brief supermarket stop to buy some lunch and switch over, we continued along Route 66 (still mostly interstate) towards the Petrified Forest National Park. Crossing the state line into Arizona the time changed again, since Arizona is the only state that doesn’t observe daylight savings time. (We are now 8 hours behind the UK and will be for about the next month.)

The Painted Desert

We arrived at the Petrified Forest and were warned not to collect any petrified wood, since it is illegal. We drove the main road through the park, stopping at various overlooks to take pictures of the unusual rock formations and of various petrified wood sites. After the first couple of stops we both somewhat sheepishly admitted that we were expecting an actual forest… not a desert with scattered bits of petrified wood. At the Crystal Forest overlook, we decided to take the trail, which was 0.75 miles of winding paved path which took us past lots of pieces of petrified wood. This was interesting, and we saw lots of different types of petrified wood, but we were definitely done with petrified wood by the end of it, so decided against doing anymore trails and continued on to our motel for the night. Deciding that it would be a waste of time to double back on ourselves only to join the interstate for the rest of the trip, we took the back way from the South entrance to Holbrook.

Some Petrified Wood

Our home for the night was the Wigwam Motel, where, as the name suggests, you stay in Wigwams. There are perhaps 15 wigwams arranged around a central courtyard, and a nice touch is that vintage cars are parked outside each one, although as the afternoon turns into evening these are interspersed with the more modern cars of the guests. After unloading our stuff, we settled down to watch some Roswell High for a bit before taking turns to get our blogs as up to date as possible before going to the Grand Canyon for 5 nights. This was interspersed with more Roswell and a trip to the supermarket across the road for Ben & Jerry’s. We went to bed at the somewhat early time of 10pm, which to us felt like 11pm due to the time change.

Wigwams - the old cars outside each one were a nice touch.

After our exhausting day yesterday we all had a lie in this morning and it was late morning by the time we were ready to do much at all. Today was planned as a catch up day, for us to chill out and relax before getting back on the road tomorrow. Rabi and I were also planning to do some baking. Once I had Skyped my dad and we were both showered, Rabi and I headed out to buy baking and lunch supplies. We had originally settled on risotto, but given the lack of necessary ingredients in Walmart we decided to cook a Mexican feast instead, an idea which was mostly fuelled by my discovery of vegetarian refried beans for Liz. Having bought everything that we could possibly need, we headed back and started to prepare lunch. Our Mexican feast was delicious, but unsurprisingly we over catered by quite a lot, so there was plenty left for later on. Completely stuffed after lunch we all had that post-Christmas lunch feeling, but Liz and I decided that we needed to power through and really get on with planning the next leg of our trip. We planned the next month (still subject to change) before stopping for a break. Once Rabi and I had baked our carrot cake cupcakes and were waiting for them to cool we put another film on and she helped me to sew up the enormous holes in the lining of my sleeping bag while we watched it. (The sleeping bags, although warm and comfortable are not particularly well made as moving in your sleep causes the seams to come apart, which isn’t ideal.) Once the film was finished we iced the cakes, which wasn’t the easiest task since they were very crumbly. The rest of the evening was spent playing games, blogging and snacking on leftovers from lunch, cupcakes and ice cream.

I awoke to someone shaking my leg, it was Rabi, I had slept through my alarm and it was my turn to shower. By the time we were all showered and on the road it was 7.18am, a little later than planned, but not too bad. We arrived at Four Corners Monument at about 8.30am and paid the $3 each to get in. The monument marks the only place in the USA where four states meet at one point. The point itself is marked on the ground and surrounded by a large courtyard with stalls on each of the fours sides. We only stayed for about half an hour, but that was plenty of time to pose for several silly photos with a limb in each state.

In four places at once. . . Four Corners National Monument

We were quite glad that we got there quite early since it gave us the chance to get lots of photos. We then continued north towards the Arches National Parkwhich is in Utah. It was about a 3 hour drive from Four Corners and we arrived there at around midday. Just before reaching the park we stopped in Moab, the nearest town to buy a quick lunch from the supermarket before an afternoon of hiking. After handing over our National Park Pass at the entrance station we got a map, but thought it best to go into the Visitor Centre as well to plan our day. After a brief battle with the interactive “plan your visit” station, we went to ask one of the rangers. He was really helpful and we ended up doing most of the trails that he had recommended. Our first stop, for the first of our easy warm up hikes was the balancing rock, which, as its name suggests, is a rock, balancing on another rock. We walked (I hesitate to say hiked since it was a very easy trail.) around the balancing rock, taking various photos, including several silly ones. On the way round we met Alex, from Bristol, who is doing a similar, but shorter trip on his own before starting a new job in August. We chatted with him for a while and said that we would probably see him at a later point in the day since we had planned to do similar trails. Our next stop was another easyish warm up trail, to the North and South Windows. Both were visible from the car park, and just as we reached the start of the trail Alex pulled up in his car. Feeling a bit sorry for him spending all day on his own, we asked him to join us. The walk up towards the north window was a little more strenuous than the Balancing Arch, but not by much, there were quite a few people there and we all posed for various pictures under the arch. They weren’t the best arch photos since the top part of the arch is very thick and they mostly just look like we are standing by a hole in the rock rather than under an arch.

An arch under the Delicate Arch

The south window was more of the same, so we took the path over to the turret arch. To get inside this one required a little more climbing, so, leaving Lizzie with the cameras, Rabi, Alex and I climbed up to it. It was a larger arch with a small window higher up on one side. After more photos there Rabi and I returned to Lizzie to let her go up. She had been gone for some time and we thought that she might be trying to climb up to the smaller window. Eventually she reappeared in the large arch, but admitted when she rejoined us that she had tried to climb up to the small window, but had to give up due to lack of handholds. On the way back to the car she also found a small horizontal gap between two rocks, which she climbed into for a picture and then struggled slightly to get out. We waved goodbye to Alex for a while at this point, since he was climbing up to another arch accessible from the car park, but conscious of time, we decided to get on with the Delicate Arch, which involved a 1.5 mile hike each way and would probably take us a couple of hours. The climb up to the delicate arch was pretty tiring, since it was mostly uphill and quite steep in places, and I was beginning to feel the fact that we were more than a mile high. (You don’t really notice that there is less oxygen, you just feel really out of shape!) It was well worth the climb though, the scenery was stunning and it was definitely one of the better arches. It is in fact, the arch that is depicted on the “Welcome to Utah” signs and on some of the Utah licence plates. There was a curving downward slope with steep drops on either side to get down to it, and people had formed an orderly queue to take pictures underneath. We joined the queue, and were very pleased when the huge family group in front of us decided to just do one big group picture rather than the collection of shots that we had heard them planning. Finally it was our turn; Lizzie took the cameras while Rabi went down for an individual picture. I then joined her and we made an arch under the arch, while one of the onlookers shouted “Best photo ever!” I then stayed to have a picture just of me. While we had been posing under the arch, guess who had arrived… Alex! He then went to pose under the arch and more and more people kept asking Liz to take their picture, eventually, we took all the cameras from her to allow her to rejoin the queue. To the disbelief of everyone watching, she did a cartwheel under the arch, which we captured quite well. With all our photos taken, we headed back down towards the car with a brief stop off for Lizzie to make an arch in one of the arches along the way. The walk down was so much easier than the walk up, no wonder the ranger said that it would take us about 15-20 minutes less. Reaching the car, we waved goodbye to Alex for what we thought was the final time, since he had somewhere that he wanted to be for sunset and headed for our final stop at the Landscape Arch. Time was getting on, but given that the Landscape Arch is the largest in the park, we didn’t feel that we could really miss it, and with only a 1.6 mile round trip it shouldn’t take us too long. The hike was much easier than the one to the Delicate Arch, so didn’t take us too long and there were things to look at along the way, like the creepy devil child playing in a sandbank and a tree that looked like some sort of animal.

Us at the Landscape Arch

As we were approaching the arch, guess who came running up behind us, Alex, he continued running to the arch, in an attempt to finish the trip more swiftly, but we met him there. The arch was stunning, but we couldn’t get too close, since it is closed for safety after a massive rock fall several years ago. Unfortunately, the sun chose this moment to come out, and rather that improving our pictures, was right behind the arch so ruined them slightly. Once we were finished at the arch, we headed back to the car. After bidding us goodbye for a final time, Alex left at a run, still hoping to get to wherever he was going by sunset, we all had a vague suspicion that we would see him in the car park, but he was long gone by the time we got there. It was about quarter past six when we got back to the car, and Liz volunteered to drive the first leg of the trip. Driving back to the park entrance station took about 20 minutes and we also stopped off in Moab again to buy gas and some food. The rain that had been forecast and that we had only seen a few spots of arrived in full force on the way home. The drive was pretty scary in places, with the rain reflecting off the road and making it difficult to see the lane markings. We eventually got back to Rabi’s at about 11ish and went almost straight to bed after a fantastic, but exhausting day.

To Rabi’s for Easter!

We were out of the somewhat dodgy Super 8 in Albuquerque just after 10, but it took over an hour of driving and an expensive phone call to Alamo to eventually find their rental location. It seems that the “SE” that they missed off their address in the online directory was vital. Amy at the Alamo desk was very helpful and after phoning through to Boston assured us that they would update our hire and that since they had seen us, we didn’t need to worry that we would be in the Grand Canyon on our next check in day. Unfortunately we will have to phone roadside assistance to tell them about the cracked plastic casing on the underside of the car… joy! The last time we phoned them was a complete waste of time and they didn’t seem to have a clue what they were talking about. Getting out of the car park was another challenge, the guy at the gate wanted to see our contract and then our driving licences, and then proceeded to explain to us what we needed to do next. He didn’t seem to understand that we knew what we needed to do, and all we wanted from him was to open the barrier. Eventually, just after 11.30, we were finally on the road and managed to track down Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque. We followed the route as it criss-crossed back and forth over the interstate to Gallup. After a supermarket stop at Gallup, it was onwards to Farmington to stay with Rabi for Easter weekend. The drive was a little longer than Google maps had suggested, but that could have been due to ridiculous amounts of road works along the way. We arrived at Rabi’s at around 6ish and after a brief tour of the house, headed out for some dinner. We had confessed our cravings for Mexican food to Rabi so she took us to a place not far from her house, which she had never been to but had heard good things about. The food was good, not quite as spicy as the place in Roswell, but still really tasty. Dinner over, we headed to Walmart to get breakfast supplies and the ubiquitous Ben & Jerry’s. Back at Rabi’s, after bringing our stuff in out of the car, we settled down to watch a film with a pint of ice cream. We watched Pan’s Labyrinth which was good, but requiring concentration to read subtitles for those who aren’t fluent in Spanish. We then discussed what we wanted to do over the weekend; there were several options, all of which were a few hours away. After a brief discussion, we decided to go to the Four Corners Monument followed by the Arches National Park on Saturday, and then to have a quiet day on Easter Sunday to allow us to catch up a bit. With 8 hours of driving as well as hiking on the agenda for tomorrow, we then went almost straight to bed with a plan to leave the house at around 7am for a day of adventuring.

Having packed up the car, we took a couple of brief photo stops before leaving Roswell. The drive back up to Route 66 was as long and boring as it had been on the way down. From Santa Rosa we had two choices; to follow post 1937 ’66, which is now completely paved over by the I-40 or to take the longer, but much more interesting “Santa Fe Loop”, you can guess which one we chose. After a quick stop for lunch we headed north along country roads towards Santa Fe.

Back on the Route

Looking at the map of the town in our Route 66 guide we were both a little daunted, it was a maze of one way streets, with the route winding several times around it. However, when we got there, we discovered that it was a historic rather than a modern city, with narrow roads and historic buildings. It was far too nice to just drive through, so parking the car for a couple of hours we got out to have a wander round. Our guide book told us that Santa Fe was one big “Gift Shop Alert”, and it wasn’t wrong, the whole town was lined with shops selling various gifts, from jewellery to cook books. We wandered through various shops, where I was a little disappointed by the astronomical price of some of the jewellery and Liz bought the hottest hot sauce available in New Mexico. Our two hours of parking time ran out all to quickly, but we were aware that we still needed to drive on to Albuquerquebefore we could crash for the day.

Santa Fe

The drive back from Santa Fe was much the same as the trip there, winding through small non-descript towns and rugged countryside. As we approached Albuquerque more and more buildings lined the sides of the road, and when we reached the interstate it was time to follow the GPS back east for a few miles to find our motel for the night. This motel had been the best out of a bad bunch, with slightly better reviews than the others, and this was confirmed when we were advised to park our car at the front since there had been a number of break ins… wonderful! We then settled in for a quiet evening; to continue planning the next leg of the trip and to catch up on emails and blogs.