In the Land of Kokopelli: A Journey to Northern Arizona (Part 1)
"Is he friendly?" I ask of the woman sitting at the picnic table adjacent to mine. She is handing a sandwich to her son with one hand, and holding the leash of a fidgety golden retriever with the other. The dog immediately starts barking at a passerby, a male wearing a bright green running shirt.
"Oh yes he is, he just hates men."
I lean over and start petting him. "I photograph pets back in Boston." I say by way of conversation, and immediately feel silly.
"Oh that's a nice way to make a living." She responds disinterestedly.
"So it's nice for me to meet a pup on my travels." After a moment of silence I go on. "What's his name?"
"Eyesore." She responds. She hands her son the water bottle. "We tried to call him Biscuit but my boyfriend didn't like it."
"Ah." I say, hoping that Elle will return from her run soon. After a few moments I get up and walk into the garden of cacti of Papago Park.
I de-planed at the Phoenix airport, my knees knocking together after the cramped 6 hour flight. We had been delayed 2 hours and i was desperate to be on solid ground away from the smell of airports and suitcases and even farther from the BEEP BEEP BEEP of the airport hallway vehicles.
En route to baggage claim, I searched for a sign I could take a selfie in front of, something clever to announce my safe arrival. Ideally there would be something that said, you know, PHOENIX, on it. Because, yes, Phoenix in Phoenix! It had to be done.
Except it couldn't be done. The airport was covered in March Madness promotional signage. The most prominent being "the road stops here." Flustered by this realization, I headed out of the terminal to meet with my traveling companions.
After acquiring our luggage and sorting out the rental car situation, we drove to the hotel – the Airport Hampton. Starving, we asked the concierge about food options. She pulled out a map.
"Um, there's like an Applebees up here and a Ruby Tuesday down this way..." We thanked her and went to our rooms. My companions noted that, contrary to hotel promises, there were no cookies in the lobby. They felt betrayed.
A quick Yelp search provided me with additional, more palatable dinner options, one of which was the The Welcome Diner – a trendy scratch kitchen in the Garfield neighborhood of Phoenix with oodles of vegan delights, including the jackfruit fries which BLEW my mind.
If you are jet-lagged and fresh off a plane, this dish and a PBR will set you right.
North to the Grand Canyon
Dead to the world, I slept 8 hard hours and woke up to sunlight creeping through the window. There's a 3 hour time difference during Daylight Savings (because clever Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings) so what felt like 9:30 to me was actually 6, and the sun was peeking up over the horizon.
There were two palm trees directly outside the window, which weren't all that significant, except they were framing rock formations unlike anything I'd seen before: the Big Butte and Little Butte of Papago Park. Thus, when Elle mentioned that she was planning to go for a run, I volunteered to go with her – except I wouldn't be running. I would be gaping.
Afterwards, we piled into the car and headed off in the direction of South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Saguaro Cacti lined 1-17 in astounding numbers. They were a standing militia, their arms reaching high towards the blue sky. Their huge saguaro heads were bulbous, their bases cracked and withered.
We stopped briefly at the Sunset Point rest area, where I leapt out of the car and ran to the overlook. The San Francisco Mountains were in view. So were signs warning pedestrians of the presence of wildlife, particularly those of the poisonous variety.
I saw nothing but Prickly Pear Cacti and sunburnt travelers.
For lunch we paused in Flagstaff, the final true outpost before entering the wilderness that is Grand Canyon National Park. Our destination was another tasty establishment called The Toasted Owl. Located in the southside historic district of Flagstaff, the Toasted Owl not only caters to the vegans and gluten-haters in our midst, but they also serve breakfast all day.
Heck to the yes.
I ordered the vegan breakfast tacos – a medley of toasted veggies and tepa on corn tortillas served with salsa, guacamole, and breakfast potatoes. Prior to this dish, I had never before tasted Tepa, which is a meat-substitute created in Flagstaff. It's made from a combination of Arizona Tepary beans, High Mountain Sweet Kale, and fire-roasted sugar chiles. Super delish.
Grand Canyon National Park is about an hour and a half Northwest of Flagstaff, and it costs $30 per vehicle to enter. Fortunately, one of the people I was with had an annual pass, so we didn't have to pay anything. Considering the pass for entrance to all national parks in a 12 month period costs just $80, if you're planning on going to more than 1, getting the pass will save you SO MUCH MONEY. Because before we drove up to the entrance gates, I had no idea entrance costed anything. But now I do, and now you do too.
So buy an annual pass, mmk?
We pulled into the Visitors Center around 4pm, which gave us roughly 2 hours until sundown. We immediately strolled out to Mather Point, the overlook situated directly behind the Visitor's center. I held my breath. I closed my eyes. I opened them again.
My world was filled with endless depth. My feet started to drift off the concrete. I felt my heart fluttering up into my throat. It went on for days. It went on forever.
Then a kid started screaming and a rush of 30 people sped by me, and I was snapped out my reverie.
If you choose to go to the Grand Canyon during Spring Break, don't expect isolation, because you won't get any.
From Mather my companions spent a while discussing the merits of taking the shuttle bus West to Hermit's Nest and weighed them against the benefits of taking the shuttle bus East to Yaki Point. I, having no prior experience with any of this, sat on the bench and waited. Yaki Point won the day.
The shuttle bus system seems fairly confusing at the outset until you take a moment to look at it.
- The Village (Blue) Route Shuttle takes you from the Visitors Center to the Hermit's Rest Route Transfer and to many lodges and campgrounds in between.
- The Kaibab Rim (Orange) Route Shuttle is a figure eight route which takes visitors from the Visitor's Center to Yavapai Lodge and Yaki Point. Both Eastbound and Westbound shuttles leave from the Visitor's Center.
- The Hermit's Road (Red) Shuttle is not accessible from the Visitor's Center. It's point of embarkment is the Hermit's Rest Route Transfer, which you need the blue route to get to. It stops at nine overlooks on the western side of the South Rim.
- The Tusayan (Purple) Shuttle ferries visitors from outside the park into the park, which is useful if you don't want to actually park inside, but you still need to buy a pass.
- The Hiker's Express (colorless and therefore lame) takes early birds to the South Kaibab trailhead from Bright Angel Lodge.
See? Easy peasy. We took the Orange Shuttle eastbound to Yaki Point. There were loads of Elk along the road, I was worried that they would get hit by the shuttle buses. Apparently they do. Cougars also get hit by shuttle buses. Such is the nature of things.
For dinner we ate bread and hummus and granola bars and drank beer and cider from the market. Our original idea was to get frozen dinners and heat them in the microwave, but Mazwik Lodge doesn't allow in-room cooking. Mazwick Lodge is, otherwise, fine. The beds are rock hard, the art on the walls is boring. But who cares! You get to stay in the Grand Canyon and you don't have to camp.
The next morning we obviously got up way too early so that we could watch the sunrise. Considering that the night before was one of the more mystical experiences of my life, I could not fathom what seeing the sun peeking over the horizon would do to me. So, naturally, I had to find out.
When I was a little girl I made a list of the things I wanted to do in my life: write a book, go scuba diving, sing karaoke (I know). One of the things on it was "see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon." This, I imagine, was largely due to the fact that I had recently seen the movie Paulie. Namely, this scene:
Ivy (to Paulie): We always used to talk about going to The Grand Canyon, but we just never got that far. You know, Earl said that if you stand right at the edge just when the sun comes up, it's like seeing the first sunrise in the whole world.
When I saw the first sunrise in the whole world, I giggled to myself. I froze. Tears fell out of the holes where my eyes would've been had they still been in my head. They gave up after spending too much time taking in the ravishing beauty of it all. My inner 12 year old was bouncing up and down. My eyeballs have since returned to me, thankfully.
I spent the rest of that day wandering through the South Rim Historic Village, nibbling prickly pear cactus candy (it's vegan), and reading Terry Pratchett's the Light Fantastic. The press of crowds, the dust, and the screaming children had no effect on me. I felt brand new.
© 2017 Joey Phoenix
Stay tuned for Part 2!