Day Twenty Six: Life on the Edge : Grand Canyon

(Events of Friday April 10th blogged Tuesday April 14th) Another super chilly morning up on the South Rim. It’s really hard to drag one’s self out of… van when you’re all cuddled up with a snoring bundle of furry warmth. In fact, I would likely sleep the day away if the snoring bundle didn’t quickly stop snoozing and start grumbling to empty her bladder and fill her belly.

I did, however, take a few minutes to get the van organized so I could show off my sleeping and eating compartments for the curious.That drawer on the bottom right is my “refrigerator”.

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After waiting in line behind a pack of giggly teenage girls at the $2 shower (which allegedly lasts eight minutes, but seemed much longer), Annie and I decided to hike a four mile section of the rim trail which involved turning right at the main observation point, when most of the tourists were turning left. We quickly left the bulk of them behind, but Annie still found a few admirers.

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In fact, at one point we were waiting behind an Asian family to use the facilities, and the small boy and girl took quite an interest, asking loads of questions about Annie and petting her and complimenting her. They seemed so taken with her, that I asked the little girl if she would like to hold the leash while I went in the loo. Up until this point, Annie had been calm, cool, and collected. The moment I stepped two feet away, she lurched toward me BARKING up a storm and nearly pulling the girl off her feet. I offered to take the leash back, but the mom stepped in to hold it. Annie then proceeded to BARKBARK like the world was on fire the entire 3 minutes I was out of her vision, despite seeing exactly where I went and receiving plenty of reassurances. She can’t let me out of her sight, but she’s more than willing to tiptoe up to the very edge of danger when she’s exploring.

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Of course, most of the time she’d rather have her snout snuffling down a much smaller hole.

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We hiked all the way to one of the main trailheads for folks who actually have the lung power to hike DOWN into the canyon (and more importantly, back UP). As per usual, loads of folks who seemed far less fit than I,, and frequently in inappropriate clothing and footwear, chugged up and down with no problem. At one point I started to take Annie down just a tiny bit of the trail (which she wasn’t technically allowed on), when we saw mules coming back up! Discretion seemed to prove the better part of valor, and we beat a hasty retreat.

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And that wasn’t the only animal meandering about. We also encountered a small herd of elk on our hike. (Trying to keep Annie from noticing while simultaneously trying to snap a photo was a feat in itself.)

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After all that excitement, one of us was so tuckered out she fell asleep on her water bowl.

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I was fairly worn out as well, but decided to take advantage of  her snooze to ride the free shuttle to points of interest to the westward side of the park that weren’t accessible via car. Every time you hop on and off the shuttle to view different overlooks, you get a different driver when you get back on. And they were a mixed bag for sure. Some were fonts of fascinating information about what lie ahead at the next stop, and some just played their pre-recorded tapes about proper exit etiquette. Lacking info from the drivers, these “cell phone guides” would have been a great help. Provided there was working cell service at any point on the rim. Ah well.

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Same canyon, different day. You can tell because I’m in a different shirt. Also it was warm and sunny and lovely. I only remember this because I’m wearing my short sleeved Bluebird Cafe T I got in Nashville.

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I did see a California Condor perched on a rock which I thought was super cool until I learned later this was most likely because he had a broken wing or some other malady.

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These two were doing synchronized selfie stick shots. They were embarrassed when they caught me watching until I explained I was a proud member of the club as well.

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This is just a cool pic of one of the trails going down into the canyon. It’s just so freaking vast!

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I had planned to travel all the way to Hermit’s Rest at the end of the line, but I was rapidly growing cold, tired, and worried about leaving Annie alone for so long. What I had anticipated to be a ninety minute jaunt was turning in to closer to three hours. Even though I knew she was safe in Marigold, and she had water and pillows, and it wasn’t near warm enough to be concerned about overheating, I was nearly frantic by the time I got back to the parking lot. I don’t know if it was having my ability to get back to her basically out of my hands, or the fact that I was at the point of exhaustion, but I was convinced I was going to find her in a terrible state. Of course, she was contentedly snoozing away.

I was running on fumes, so we swung by the Grand Canyon grocery for some grub and were soon back at our campsite, nestled in our bed, awaiting another freezing night ahead.

Day Twenty Five: The Alpha and The Omega: Arizona (Grand Canyon)

(Thursday April 9th, written Tuesday April 14th)

We finally made it to the Grand Canyon! We snuck in under cover of darkness, and it’s about a 30 mile road from the turnoff to the entrance, and then another 30 miles to get to where the campgrounds are. All in pitch black, unable to see one of the most jaw dropping sites in the world. We were in the park a good twelve hours before we ever actually saw the darn thing! First we had a filling breakfast in the forested campsite. Much needed as it had been literally below freezing the previous night and I we both spent it buried in all the blankets and sleeping bags we could find …

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Then I got pulled over by a cop. Yeah, that’s right, I managed to commit a traffic violation in the middle of the Grand Canyon, with only one other car around! And the guy was a total asshole! So I’m driving along, trying to find the Visitor’s Center, because even just the complex of the Grand Canyon is massive and overwhelming before you even get to the actual hole in the ground. And I’m following behind another car, and not going very fast, and all of a sudden there are flashing lights behind me and the Ranger Fuzz are on my tail! Whaatttt?!?! So he immediately demands my license and registration. OK. Then he says I “blew through” two stop signs. Well, I was going about 25mph, so I HIGHLY doubt I blew through anything, AND I was following another car which means he “blew through” them too, AND there’s not another car on these roads. But OK. So I apologize. Then he orders me to take my keys out of the ignition. Like Marigold and I are gonna go all Bo and Luke Duke (or mayber Thelma and Louise considering the location) on him! I have NEVER been asked that by a cop before in all my (multitudinous) traffic stops. THEN he demands to know if I have guns, or drugs, or illegal items in the vehicle! I actually chuckled. And thanked my lucky stars I had ignored friends who suggested I bring a weapon for protection, or pick up some pot in Colorado. Or smuggle jewels (OK not that one.) He was just mean and rude all out of proportion to the offense, he could have just said-hey you missed some stop signs-pay attention out there. He did, smugly, let me off with a warning, so I guess there’s that, but it put me on guard for him the rest of the visit.

But once we finally arrived, what a sight it was to behold…

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For some reason The Grand Canyon has always been sort of the lynchpin of this trip for me. Yes, I’ve always wanted to see it, but more for the fact of it being a bucket list item, a must do, a classic piece of Americana, than any real desire or curiosity. It’s just so iconic. Whenever I would talk about the trip, I would use it as a reference: “I don’t want to be worrying about an Air B&B guest losing the key when I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.” “I’m not going to pick up that phone call when I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.” “The worst time for Annie to pull a runner would be standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.” That sort of thing.

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And it IS cool. And HUGE. So huge you can’t really take it all in. It’s more than the mind can comprehend. And more than even a Selfie Stick photo can properly capture.

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It was also cold. And CROWDED! Oh my goodness, so crowded! An estimated five million visitors pass through each year, and even though it isn’t yet prime tourist season, they were ALL at the main Visitor Center and overlook area. I guess that’s why there had been none on the roads. It was a mob scene, and claustrophobic (On the edge of a gaping chasm) and I constantly felt like we were in the way of someone’s photograph. Annie, on the other hand, was making friends left and right. It was funny how so many people would rather take a moment to scratch her ears or tell her how cute she was than look at one of the Wonders of the World.

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But who can really blame them-I’m just as smitten.

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In an attempt to get as far from the madding crowds as possible, we drove Desert View Drive (which is basically the 30 mile road we took to get into the park, just with the added bonus of daylight, stopping at many lovely overlooks, enjoying a picnic in some pines, and finally ending up at The Watchtower. I had never heard of The Watchtower before, and at first glance it appeared to be another cool “Anasazi” dwelling like the ones at Hoven WEEEEEEP (as I like to say it). Alas, it was built in the 1930s a sort of a tribute to all of the different Native American groups that used to populate this area, and it was nice and all, but kind of inauthentic after seeing all the real things.

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The other problem, which I really had to work not to show in these pictures, is it was MEGA crowded. Take all those folks spread out along the rim, and condense them into one rather narrow space and I just wanted to run screaming. And many of them were kids. Bored kids. Noisy kids. Always in my way kids. The problem with tourist attractions is there are just too darn many tourists!

So we went back to the campground and took a nap, and did some laundry, and tried to avoid the weird hiccuping dude who wanted to stand over me the whole time I was folding my underwear incessantly apologizing for his hiccups when what he really needed to apologize for was HOVERING OVER MY UNDERWEAR!

Another freezing cold night lay ahead of us…

Day Twenty Four: Monumental Discoveries : Colorado, Arizona

A bit of clarification. Due to WiFi challenges the last week, the blog is lagging about five days behind real time, (Dear lord I didn’t realize it was THAT bad!) This blog post will deal with the events of Wednesday April 8th, but is being written on the evening of Monday April 13th. If you follow me on FaceBook-that will contain more up to date information. I apologize for the confusion and do hope to eventually be caught up. Just typing that has left me totally discouraged.

*takes deep breath* OK-shake it off. I can do this…

To answer a few other questions regarding the 57 Chevy school bus:yes, I made the decidedly odd move of swapping a van for a bus. Primarily because I learned the campground at Mesa Verde wasn’t open yet for the season, partially because it seemed random and cool, and partially because it had a shower.

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Yes,  it had/has electricity and a solidly functioning space heater. There was a sink… but no tap… but I could use water from the water cooler (like an office style one) in the opposite corner? I don’t know, I didn’t try. There was a fridge. Down the “road” a bit there was a workshop that had a bathroom with shower and composting toilet. This one had cedar shavings that you scooped over your leavings-it wasn’t all space age like the one in the Nashville Tiny House.

It also allegedly had “lovely hiking trails” steps from the front door, and they were scenic, but also weird, and rocky and full of random computer graveyards and…. art??

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But we did sleep quite soundly, and managed to find some nice spots to walk amongst the crap.

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Oh, and about that “road”. Sooo-unbeknownst to me, to access this hidden gem, one had to go uphill along a rickety, stone bedecked dirt road. And then there wasn’t a driveway or parking space per se, one just… stopped. In the middle of the “road”. Which I didn’t really think about until an hour later when I decided to go into town for pizza. And realized there was no real easy way to turn Marigold around. There were a lot of fits and starts, and I MAY have cracked a paving stone leading up to the bus, (because what that whole area needed was more random rocks strewn about), and I MAY have knocked over a few of those little solar powered garden lights you stick in the ground.

Returning that evening, I thought I had found a better spot to park, but upon leaving that morning, it was a total nightmare! I had parked by some trees and the branches were scratching all over the top, and every time I tried to make a turn I ran up on a rock, or got stuck in a rut, and it was going from bad to worse and I was freaking out because technically I’m not supposed to be driving the van on dirt roads, and ohmigod I didn’t want to be stuck or have to call the bus lady for help. So I got out to assess the situation, and there was this, well, car part looking thing on the ground? Like a roughly 3.5 foot twisted metal pipe type thing? And I didn’t know if it had come off Marigold or was just lying there anyway, either of which possibility seemed equally likely. But it was a bit to the side, not right under the van, and it wasn’t hot to the touch which it seemed like it should have been, and I thought about bringing it along with me in case I needed it, but it was big and awkward, and I wasn’t going to sleep with a mammoth metal pipe. So I got back in the van, said a little prayer, gunned it, and got the hell out of there.

And immediately stopped for breakfast (all that stress works up an appetite!) I went to the Absolute Bakery, which had been HIGHLY recommended by both Yelp and my hostess for the previous night. It was a super cute place full of charm, not to mention a totem pole of Post-It comments, and a miniature replica of itself on the counter…

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And yet… the breakfast burrito was kind of crap, and doesn’t have a PATCH on Anita’s.

The cookies were decent enough though, so I grabbed a to go bag and we were off again! And this time I decided to take a little detour, based entirely on a postcard I ad seen for a place with a cool sounding name… Hovenweep. Tell me that name doesn’t rock! I had first stumbled across reference to it in the gift shop at Dead Horse Point State Park. When I asked the ranger lady about it, she kind of waved it off as a poor man’s Mesa Verde. But I was not going to let that deter me from heading 45 miles out of my way!

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So this place was basically more ancient cliff dweller stuff, except this time they built TOWERS! It was all very Game of Thrones.

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And there was a MUCH easier and more scenic hike to tour the dwellings, AND Annie was allowed to go on it with me!

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All in all it was a far superior experience to Mesa Verde in my book. But time was ticking and we had miles to go before we slept.

Miles like this…

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Annie was less than impressed…

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But that feeling was not to last for long, because soon, very soon, we’d be at Four Corners National Monument where she would set a personal best of barking in FOUR states at once!

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That’s Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona for those keeping score at home. I will say, the visit got off to an inauspicious start when we were greeted with this…

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But, I mean, that just applies to REGULAR dogs right? Well I for one had not driven an hour out of my way to be deterred by that nonsense! Now I can understand and respect (for the most part) many of the restrictions the bigger parks have placed on dogs. But this was a concrete plaza. No different than walking down the street. Nothing for her to harm or upset. And we certainly weren’t any more of a nuisance that the brats who had to take multiple spread eagle shots while a kid in a wheelchair sat waiting. As I was approaching the plaza, I saw another couple with a dog, who were reading the sign. I said: “I’m willing to ignore that sign if you will. What’s the worst that can happen? They ask us to remove the dogs?” But, alas, this was no BAWOTD, and she tied her dog up to a post, while Annie and I forged confidently ahead.

First attempts at record setting were half hearted, but she soon found her stride.

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No time to rest on her laurels, as we had one more monument to check off… sunset at Monument Valley…

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And where did we finally lay our weary heads that evening? Tune in tomorrow to find out!