Vegas, Baby, in the morning is a mess. I get gas and have to wander down some streets alongside the interstate before finding the entrance ramp. Everywhere there are stores where the people are carrying furniture out to the street and pushing mud out of the stores. The streets are covered with debris. As I head out of town I pass a brand new subdivision in which several houses have sustained severe roof damage.
I reach the Hoover Dam around noon, and stop for a tour. It is both bigger and smaller than I imagined. Again, it is a question of scale and how to compare it with something else. It is a technological wonder, a monument to the efforts of humans to utilize nature to bring up the standard of living for everyone. I fail to find the automatic flushing toilets portrayed in Beavis And Butthead: The Movie, however.
The stretch from the Hoover Dam to Kingman is long, too long. I keep looking for gas stations but they are not to be found. I realize I will not make it to Kingman, but I also know there are no towns along the way. I slow, cruising along at 55, hoping to get a few more miles out of the tank. I also try to draft behind some tractor-trailers, letting them pull me along, but they are too fast and I lose the draft. I pass a gas station, but it is closed, out of business. The needle is dropping lower, and I slow to 45, barely crawly along in top gear. I squeeze out everything I can, but the engine sputters and I have to switch to reserve. I have more confidence in the reserve, but I can not rely on it too often. I continue to slow, pulling in behind a highway maintenence truck, but even he is too fast. Eight miles from Kingman the reserve starts to sputter, but there is a town off to the right in the distance. I gently coax the bike up the hill to the exit, and then turn down the long hill into town. More coasting than under power, I ride the mile into town and stall as I pull into the first gas station I find. Too close.
The last 45 miles have taken almost two hours to traverse. I stop in Kingman at a Dairy Queen for some lunch, but it is getting late. With a full tank I open the throttle more than usual in order to reach the Grand Canyon at a reasonable time. Monsoon season raises its head again, and I stop for gas at Seligman and an assessment of the growing thunderheads in front of me. Clearly there is large amounts of rain coming out of the sky to the left and to the right, but unclear in between. The gas station attendent asks me which way am I going, and when I reply east, he says there is a short stretch of the original Route 66 just outside of town, and that he thinks it just might thread the needle between the two downbursts. I chat briefly with another motorcyclist and passenger, and debate continuing on. I put on my rainsuit, and when the wind kicks up and I see that if I sit I'll be in rain, I decide to press on. The limited experience that I have with monsoons is that they tend to run north-south and aren't very thick east-west. I hope for the best, and find the Route 66 turnoff. A mile later I am wondering about the sanity of my decision. The wind is knocking from side to side and the rain is pounding me. I continue on, in for an inch, in for a mile, and amazingly enough the sky quits its temper tantrum and the way is clear. To my immediate left is heavy rain and vicious lightning. To my right, where I-40 is and where I would have been riding, it too is experiencing very difficult conditions. In contrast, Route 66 is calm and quiet, and I regain I-40 after the monsoon. It may not be much, but I now have a Route 66 story of my own.
The stretch into the Canyon is longer than I expected, and I pull into the park only a short time before sunset. I stop at Mather Point, and immediately get more of the Canyon than I did the last time I was here, 20 years ago in late November when it was snowing and all I could see was white clouds. I continue on to the main Village area and watch the sun set over the Canyon wall. Very beautiful, but now it is getting dark and I have not secured logging for the night. Because I am so late, I miss my contact here at the Canyon, and can not get the room would have been available had I been earlier. A couple quick calls to the motels at the rim and I see I will be staying at a campground outside of the park. The conditions at the site are not good, and I am forced to put up my tent by headlight. The ground is very hard, and I have to use a rock to drive my tent stakes into it. All in all, at least I am settled in for the night.July 21, 1998
In the morning I know I can not stay at this campsite. Nearby there is a nightclub that played music loudly well past midnight, and at six the construction site next door started doing more leveling. I ride into the park to see if I can get a campsite at Mather Campground, but while there are sites available, they are not up for grabs until noon, some four hours away. On the way back to my campground, I see the entrance to Khaibab National Forest and remember that camping in the Forest is free. The downside, of course, is that there is no running water. A bit of a problem, but one that can be overcome. I pick a good spot, rush back to my original site, and move everything to my new site. Then I spend the day sleeping. After a few hours of napping, I sneak into the campsite I stayed the night before and use their pay showers. A tip: put the minimum amount in and get good and wet, lather up when the water runs out, and put the minimum amount in again and wash off. Later, I meet with my contact and get some good tips about where to go for any hiking.July 22, 1998
The trail to Maricopa is paved and fairly flat, a gentle walk occasionally interrupted by a short steep climb. The view is pleasant, and the course mildly crowded. I reach Maricopa Pt without much labor, and feel confident I can manage the next stage. This stage is not paved, but travelled enough that the dirt has become fairly hard, and the path is easily discerned. It is steeper, however, and the travelers become more often winded. The elevation is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level along the rim, and between the reduced oxygen and the general softness, many find the going laborious.
I reach the next shuttle stop and wander out to the plateau which warrants the attention of a stop. I hang over the railing and can see a hole where miners climbed down into to work for the day. Leading up to the rim is the remains of the cable lift that hauled the workers and their efforts to the top. At the edge of the plateau I can see the Canyon below, and across to the North Rim, but the view to the East is obscured by Maricopa Point, and to the West is another point. Below are cuts and crevices, deep slashes into the earth. The Colorado River apparently was fickle in her path, as several different routes lead to the same place, only to split off in multiple directions. Above, the clouds are small but appear to be building, reminding yet again this is monsoon season.
I head out westward to the next point, the one blocking my view. In between points and promenades are deep bays. I reach the inner turn of the bay and look back along the Canyon wall. Switching back and forth along the wall are mule trails, and I can see tours heading down. The Canyon wall along the turn is sheer drop off, and I climb out onto a rock jutting out, removing my hat and lying on my stomach before sticking my head out over the edge. The rock drops away quickly under me, leaving me hanging out over the rim, and it's at least 500 feet below to the nearest ground. The wind blows over my back and I briefly have a vision of a strong gust sweeping me out to where the eagles soar. Even after I step away from the edge I feel the spinning twinges of vertigo. The path grows steeper, and my breathing begins to increase. I reach the outer edge of the point and step out from behind the trees to find the Canyon spread out before me, to the east and to the west, for miles longer than can be seen from the tourist stops. Below, in the Canyon floor, is just a hint of The Colorado, a small tease of the powerful force that shaped the land around me. To the east clouds are building, and I hear the low purring of thunder. To west the sun shines and the Canyon calls to me to hike to the next westward point, which I can see. I've been hiking for over an hour, and I believe the next point to be Hermit's Rest. From point to point, it seems to take an hour.
Along the inner turn between the last and next point I see a plateau of rock reaching out from the rim edge. I am enticed by this new treat, and I scramble down to investigate. It takes a try or two to find the right spot, but soon I am along a trail bringing me out to the plateau. Under the edge of it I see a small cave, but I can't see how to get to this small fold. I go to the edge of the outcropping and look out. This small aside rewards me with a better view of the Colorado River, with two different torrents showing as she teases me still. Show me more, I demand, show me all your glory. I try again to find a passage to the underside, but again I am unsuccessful.
Westward I go, toward the beckoning point. Upward I climb, higher and higher. Suddenly, almost without warning, I have reached the crest and the edge at the same time. The Canyon opens before me, the Colorado churning white water through red and pink rims and ridges. I stumble back and rest against a tree, panting. Still, I know have not reached Hermit's Rest, but I must be close.
Past this point the Canyon opens inward greatly. Across the way is the largest outreach I have yet seen, and it must be my destination. The path is gentle, easy,a nd the wind is a soft caress drying my sweat. Storms are building behind me, and I can only linger briefly. I walk on, drawn by a sigh, a slow exhalation. When I reach the turn of this inlet, I understand. As I hang my legs over the 1000 foot drop, the upward rush of air along the Canyon wall blows past and whispers in my ears, my earthly seductress expressing delight and encouraging more from me. I rise and see a shuttle bus stop landing. With dismay and determination, I discover that I have only now reached The Abyss, and that I have four more miles to go. I have misread the map, and what I thought was a three mile hike is actually an eight mile excursion. However, I can not stop now, I can not disappoint.
I press on westward evermore, toward the apex of the outlying point. The course is not so clear and I lose my way entirely until I hear the familiar rumble of the shuttle bus directing me, and I see the way is up, up, not down. I find an old service road that I follow, relying on the tried and true. Soon I spot the path and eagerly join again. The way twists and turns beneath me, my legs ache and my breath ragged, but I dare not stop. Over and down, tighter and tighter grows the grip of th path as the rocks press in. Onward, onward I go, my knees banging the rim wall and rocks as I push through the constrictions relentlessly. And then I am through, the Canyon explodes into a vast expanse in all directions before me, and I exhale violently at the overwhelming sensation I experience.
But nature is becoming unyieldingly insistent and it begins to rain. Lightning is almost overhead, thunder pounding at my back as I stop only briefly. One more ridge, one more. The rain is heavy, running off the brims of my hat, down my back and in front of me, the wind blowing it back in my face, and the weight of the water causing the leather to drop and soften. In between stretches of trees at the edge, I get quick jolts of the view into the Canyon. The Colorado is uninhibited now, showing me turn and after turn, white water rapids and slow leasurely passages. The way is slippery, and I have to reach out for handholds. My foot slips and I stumble, as much from exhaustion as the loss of footing. Thunder, thunder, thunder, I'm sure to be struck dead. I'm desperate now, thrusting through the woods. Interminable, endless, I must be close, I must be. A glimpse ahead, a murmur of voice, a slight change in the elevation, and I have done it. Oh, the reward, the glory, the fog of exhaustion and moisture, the view heightened by the effort. Slowly, against my desire, the euphoria fades and I know my journey is over. The Colorado is distant, shy, only a small sliver showing underneath me.
I lean back against the shuttle bus seat, my head against the window. I alternate between watcing the passage in reverse and closing my eyes, silently reliving the moments shared all too briefly. In all, I hiked for four hours, but as with all things meant to be savored, it is over too soon.
The passion and the sensuousness of the Canyon is there for all to experience, but too many decide to see it from behind the glass of a tour bus window, ferried from stop to stop as if this could convey any of the pleasure derived from the sweating, the uncertainty, the effort of traversing the path oneself.Email me gtkelly domain dialectronics.com