Newly-minted Road Trip Warrior

Introducing the newly-minted Road Trip Warrior…

(mini drumrolls please!)

Yup, that would be moi!

I even have the swing top to prove it.

Yeah, so this has officially been the Year of Road Trips for me, the person who hasn’t been back to her original hometown in close to 2 decades. Well, okay, I now have a beloved adopted hometown so that explains it. When I’m there, I’m just raring to go every chance I got – road trips to Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon (all of which are in California) as well as our usual shopping pilgrimages to Los Angeles and San Francisco/Bay Area.

This year, we ventured out into Arizona to the city of Flagstaff, the Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon (read about Day 1 and the surprise Day 2 here) and Walnut Canyon. Yeah, I know, I haven’t blogged about some of these trips. I might, one of these days, when I feel like I can go through my photo folders without bursting into tears, duh.

So then, from the number of times you’re seeing the words “national park” and “canyon”, you can pretty much guess that all of these road trips had to do with hiking, winding roads and getting back to nature which, on an ordinary day, isn’t something I’m particularly crazy about. Admittedly, there are only so many places on Planet Earth where you’d find me doing nature or road trips without a long face and fake smile which I don’t even bother to fake so it’s a real fake smile, get it? Hmm.

Yeah, I mean concrete jungles are great and the only kind of vacations I’ve done have always involved shopping and food, in that order. So for me, these back-to-nature kind of road trips are truly eye-openers. No retail therapy involved, only lots of hiking against breathtaking backdrops and that’s my newfound therapy for the soul.

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

After spending the day seeing the canyon from different angles and going on a self-tour at the Tusayan Museum hiking through the adjacent Tusayan Ruin to learn about how ancient American Indians lived in the Grand Canyon, it was time to bid the Grand Canyon goodbye.

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

On the drive back to Flagstaff, I was brimming with excitement about everything I’d seen and experienced that day but sad that we were leaving. Glad though that I’d had a chance to visit, there really is no easy way to say goodbye to a place like this. One day is honestly not enough. A part of me was crying inside. I wish we could’ve stay a little longer.

Over a delicious dinner at a Thai fusion restaurant in Flagstaff, we couldn’t stop talking about our day. Back at the hotel room while getting ready to pack and check out the next day, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, we have to go back there tomorrow, we didn’t drive aa-all this way to spend just one day there, we must stay one more night!!

But how? Our hotel was fully booked and couldn’t extend our room. So began the frantic phone calls to look for another hotel. Last-minute rooms are notoriously hard to find especially at the peak of summer and the rates are much higher. At some point, I said, to heck with the rates, let’s take what we can get. And that’s how we ended up moving to a very modest suite at the Marriott next door ahahahaha!

Completely energized and with a spring in my step, it was – Grand Canyon, here we come again!! – after a fashionably healthy hotel breakfast the next morning. This time, we rode the free guided bus tours taking us to various stops with even more exciting views of the canyon which we hadn’t seen the day before. We hopped on and off the bus, hiked on foot, had our lunch…

Okay, let me stop here and talk about a lunch that truly takes the cake! Sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that the most expensive meals at the most exclusive restaurants are always the best meals. I say, far from it. I say nothing can beat this lunch – munching on simple sandwiches perched on rocks with the Grand Canyon spread out before you in full view. This is the ambiance you can’t get anywhere else. This is what I’m talking about!!

The other thing that’s truly mesmerizing about this place is its stillness and tranquility. You stand there and it strikes you that the air’s so still and quiet your ears are completely at peace. There’s complete silence. The air is completely still. Nothing is moving. Everything is still. It’s so peaceful, so tranquil, so calming. And that’s a strange feeling for me.

I can’t think of any single instance when my ears aren’t being besieged by the jarring sound of a vehicle going by, the voices of people calling out to their kids/pets, the persistent whirring of the fan or AC… Take all that away and there’s this silence, this stillness. If only I could sit there all day listening to the sounds of nothing! Wouldn’t that be grand!?!

Well, we’d spent the better part of the day hopping on and off those tour buses, hiking long distances on relatively safe trails and enjoying every bit of it. Peering down the side of the canyon all day, we’d been fascinated by the lines of teeny tiny people weaving along the narrow ledges like ants and we wanted to see what all that was about.

So we made our way to the Bright Angel Trailhead and mind you, we weren’t even going to be overly ambitious. All we wanted to do was walk a little ways down the first part of the sandy trail (which is pretty wide and safe) to where there’s a poster map, take a peek at where the trail leads and come straight back up.

But guess what happened?

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

We ended up hiking quite a lo-oong way down the narrow ledge sometimes coming a little too dangerously close for comfort. Yeah, it was scary because there were no rails, no bars, nothing, yeeow! I know, jelly legs, right!! We tried to keep close to the canyon wall and stopped for selfies and wefies only where the path was a little wider and safer.

Now that was kinda fun and exciting. Now I can say I’ve not only been to the Grand Canyon but hiked a little ways down into the canyon itself too and that, I consider, to be quite an accomplishment! So yes, Grand Canyon, it was great, you were great and so was I lol! Merry Christmas!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

So after spending an entire afternoon at a 50,000-year-old meteor crater, we’re up and out the hotel first thing the next morning making the 1.5-hour-long drive from Flagstaff to an, oh 70 to 80-million-year-old canyon whose name can only be the Grand Canyon.

Meandering through the Kaibab National Forest and Tusayan, we let out gasps of wonder as each canyon came into view. Each canyon is breathtaking in its own way but what we didn’t know then was that these early canyons were merely a taste of what was to come.

When your heart’s pounding with excitement and you’re craning your neck out for the next amazing canyon to grace your windscreen, you don’t notice the many twists and turns, and then you’re right up there on the South Rim and the first of the Desert Views opens up before you like a page straight out of a geology textbook.

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

Now, if I were a character in a movie, this is the part where my jaw would drop and I’d be standing there in the wind holding on to my hat, eyes scanning and transmitting these images to my brain for processing (surely you can tell a geek wrote this pffft!) and all the time, my heart is racing and I’m speechless!

This is a view that’s impossible to see only with your eyes. It’s a view you inhale with your entire being. With each breath you take, with each quickened heartbeat, the enormity and complexity of this work of art sinks a little deeper into your soul and leaves you in awe and disbelief. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

Some of you may say what’s the big deal? it’s only rocks, and some of you may think I’m over-dramatizing, and that’s okay. You can’t know how it feels unless you’re right there yourself. But trust me, it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring when you’re standing on the edge of this boundless beauty gazing at it, into it, and wondering how this place came to be.

When my university professor told the class about his hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I certainly didn’t imagine it to look like this. Sure I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon even then but nothing can compare to soaking it all in with your own eyes. You look this way and that and still you can’t find where it starts and where it ends. Heck, this is only the South Rim. Maybe this canyon actually stretches into eternity.

We spend the day driving along the South Rim stopping at every viewing point to take in pieces of the canyon from fresh new angles. It’s truly amazing all these formations, shapes, layers, textures and colors Mother Nature has chiseled out and molded together over millions of years! How the heck did she pull this off?

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Right after we drop our bags off at the hotel, we’re heading down the famed Route 66 towards Winslow to see a giant crater created by a meteor crashing down to Earth at over 25,000 miles an hour some 50,000 years ago. Hmm, let me see, where was I when this happened? Never mind, to even see the outcome of this in this lifetime is a bonus in and of itself and enough to set my imagination ablaze (literally!).

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Just off Interstate 40, we turn off the main highway onto a desert road that seems to stretch on for miles. The wind is SO strong up there that the minute we open the car door, the wind grabs it and tears it open, seeming to almost bend the door hinges backwards. How rude!!

So then, it comes as no surprise that a wind this strong would lend wings, and the permission, to my hat to go skimming down the parking lot and me sprinting after it. Think what would happen to some unfortunate person wearing a toupee, seriously!

Okay, so the crater is like this giant stadium – one mile (1.6km) across, 2.4 miles (3.82km) all the way around and 550 feet (167m) deep. Conversions drive me nuts! No idea how to gauge anything using metrics, pffft! Anyways, as you can see, this picture shows only a small part of it. This is the stuff of sci-fi movies!!

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

When we get out to the viewing platform fringing a section of the crater close to the admin building, we’re literally blown away again, turning our knuckles blue clutching our cellphones, hats and cameras in one hand, and clinging on for dear life to the railings with the other.

Basically it doesn’t matter what you’re holding or wearing, it’s in dire danger of flying off. We couldn’t even steady ourselves to get as many good pictures as we would’ve liked. And frankly, I have no idea why people would wear billowing maxi skirts and flip-flops when traveling and/or visiting unfamiliar places but yeah!

The wind gets even crazier as we ascend the steps to another viewing platform on a higher tier. Wow, that wind! and to think that’s only like 50 miles an hour. Now when I read about the recent hurricanes whipping up wind speeds of 150+ miles an hour, I can only shake my head and be totally mind-blown!!!

Flagstaff and the meaning of blown away

Flagstaff and the meaning of blown away

The first thing I notice on the drive into Flagstaff, Arizona are the very tall trees reaching for the sky on both sides of the highway. There are trees everywhere – along the middle of the highway, on the distant hillsides and every way you turn. I can even smell the trees with all the car windows wound up. So beautiful!

Stepping out of our car, I’m literally blown away by the strong gusts of cold wind. Whoosh, there’s nothing more amazing than feeling the brush of cold wind against your face, I tell ya! And if you’ve ever inhaled a lungful of cold fresh air, you’ll know it, how it instantly awakens every cell and artery in your anatomy and brings your insides to life. Now that feeling is like no other!!

I’m standing there soaking it all in and then I hear this voice (could it be mine?) saying, omg, I wanna move here to Flagstaff. If the air tastes this crisply cold and fresh in the middle of summer at 7,000+ feet elevation, there’s gotta be something right about this place.

But first, the ‘treeful’ view from the window of our hotel room in Flagstaff…

Flagstaff and the meaning of blown away

On the high road to Arizona

On the high road to Arizona

Right, so with first the Yosemite and then the Sequoia National Park mountain adventures tucked tightly under our belts, we’re ready to embark on our third road trip, one that would involve crossing the state line into Arizona, no less.

This trip would be super-exciting for several reasons: first off, we’ve never been to Arizona, and to get there from California, we’re looking at, oh, a 10-12 hour drive *faints*, and of course, the very thought of seeing the Grand Canyon is enough to send tingles of sheer excitement down anyone’s spine, right!?!

Obviously you can’t embark on a trip like this without a whole lot of planning and logistics. The North American continent is yuge so even if a place looks like it’s a fingernail away on the map, it could, in actual fact, be one lo-ong, back-breaking drive away. To train for the drive, we may or may not have run 10 miles and done 100 pushups daily lol, just sayin’. So then our plan was to see as much of the landscape as possible and have fun doing it all within the confines of time and economics.

The common route for getting to the Grand Canyon from California would be, and I’m guessing here, by way of Barstow and Las Vegas. While many swear by Las Vegas because of its casinos and razzmatazz, for me personally, it’s a case of been there, done that and quite frankly, gambling and glitz ain’t exactly my cup of tea. I mean, if you’ve been to Vegas once or twice (or more, as I have), I think that’s plenty. So we decided to take the route less traveled from Barstow to Needles (the sleepy border town where Snoopy was born) and Flagstaff instead.

Once again, the morning sees us sneaking out of town with the rising sun – you know it – driving endlessly through hills, valleys and desert (yes, the Mojave) on to Needles on the Californian border crossing over to Arizona to Kingman and finally arriving in Flagstaff after two days of driving. Did we break into loud raucous cheers of victory as we crossed the border into Arizona? Ya betcha!!! That sure was a big achievement and a very lo-ong drive indeed for the uninitiated!!

On the high road to Arizona

Next up, fun stuff in Arizona!

An early morning drive to Yosemite

An early morning drive to Yosemite

There’s good reason why summer is the best time for traveling. I mean, what else would you do when such wonderfully long days of sunshine are calling out to you, right ? So we did the only thing there was to do. Taking advantage of the 5am sunrise, we got up early one morning, threw a few peanut butter and jam sandwiches into a Ziploc bag and soon we were on our merry way to the Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is in the Sierra Nevada mountains which means it’s literally in our backyard. Apart from the fact that the mountain road is winding for most of the way, it’s not too long a drive. Still it’s wise you want to get an early start to beat the tourist build-up because believe you me, as the day wears on, you’d be hard-pressed to find a parking spot.

I’ve been to Yosemite many times since college and in recent years but this time, a strange thing happened. As I sat in the back seat watching the endless blur of trees whiz by, I began to notice how beautiful the trees were. It’s funny how we see trees everywhere all the time and I’ve never thought of them as anything more than just plants that stick out of the ground and reach for the sky.

But now as I gazed out of the car window, I started to develop a brand new realization of the sheer number and beauty of all these trees rising high up above us. You know, there’s a saying about not seeing the forest for the trees but for me, all I could see were the trees (literally, of course *lol*) and how beautiful they are and just like that, I’m in love.

An early morning drive to Yosemite

At some point, we left the blur of the trees behind and entered a long, dark tunnel and just like the proverbial tunnel, this one opened up to an unbelievable view of hills, rocks and waterfalls. Yosemite is, of course, the land of picturesque waterfalls – big ones, little ones but every which way you turn, there’s one waiting to take your breath away.

An early morning drive to Yosemite

The waterfalls are exceptionally beautiful because of the snow melt from the substantial rain that California’s been getting this year. Seeing the deluge of water as it cascades down from a great height creating billowing clouds of mist as thick as the water itself coupled with hearing the thunderous roar as the water hits base makes this a truly amazing experience.

A word of warning though if you’re planning a trip to Yosemite this summer – the rivers are full and very fast-flowing, the slopes are slippery when wet, and many accidents have been reported this year where people have fallen into the water and gotten swept away. So be very, very careful out there!!

Of all the waterfalls we saw, the one we most wanted to see was the Bridal Veil Fall. It took us a while to find a parking spot at the trail to this amazing sight. The hike to the base of the Bridal Veil Fall is a short one along a tree-lined trail beside the rushing river that this waterfall drains into.

An early morning drive to Yosemite

As we got closer, we could feel the mist raining on us. We did get a little wet but we didn’t mind. It was a welcome shower on a hot day. Actually it felt more like we were getting a generous sprinkling of holy water and we were quite happy about that lol!

If we’d wanted to go further up the trail, we would’ve needed raincoats which we didn’t have but which many folks seemed to have come prepared with. We had umbrellas in the car but we wouldn’t have been able to use them because of how narrow and crowded the trail was. Still it was amazing that we not only got to see and hear this mighty waterfall but to actually feel it too!

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