Mind blown

Published: February 21st 2016
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When considering a road trip across the states, one of the 2 most popular images that may well come up on a search engine is photos of a 2 lane road that travel across beautiful landscapes (Route 66) with beautiful images of dusty red rocky terrain. Tall mountains, deep valleys and the draw dropping pictures of people standing at the edge of a collection of rocks with a huge drop beneath them. The Grand Canyon.

We decided very early on that we would only visit mainly cities we had always wanted to visit and catch the buses to save a bit of money.

Even so, we still wanted a taste of a possible future trip - road tripping across the states visiting national parks, staying in a tent under the stars. You get the picture.

We wanted a taste of the Grand Canyon. Looking up the best way to get there, we were pleasantly surprised to find that some of the route from Las Vegas covered Route 66. No brainer really; we hire a car and get to drive a section of it. Winning.

Most of our time in the States was spent enjoying the cities we visited and that meant getting out of bed in the early hours, returning home in the later hours then falling straight asleep.

We were running at full steam. Luckily wearing trainers (or sneakers for all you americans) we avoided sore feet which is sort of inevitable when you travel like this.

Anyway my point is, is that we were not able to plan ahead a lot as we were always busy, yet alone catch up with blogs. This affected us in 2 ways. Missing out on securing accommodation in the grand canyon itself and over paying for car hire due to the lack of an advanced booking.

In the end we went to the airport in Las Vegas (where many hire car companies compete for business) and hired a car with Thrifty. After agreeing it all, the customer service representative at Thifty informed us he had good news for us. He upgraded our deal for a 'bigger better car'. We both looked at each other then replied "no thanks, that's alright a small car is good for us"
The guy looked at us slightly confused seemingly thinking "who drives small cars?" Us!!

It took a few back and forths to realise there were no such thing as small cars in the US. Dammit. First time riding on the right side of the road (wrong side for us) we would be in a long car. We had a silver Nissan Sentra. Yes thats long in our books.

We got off to a late start and so that cancelled out the option for a drive down route 66. Driving in the states was certainly an experience, road manners did not seem to apply and people were ruthless. Cutting in front of us; left, right and centre, huge trucks speeding past us at an unthinkable speed and people nearly touching our back bumper in an attempt to bully us out of a lane we were driving in at the speed limit.

It took a while for us to get used to driving in general. We found ourselves slowly veering to the right when oncoming traffic approached. Thankfully we made it to Flagstaff without incident despite it starting to rain and us not knowing where the windscreen wiper switch was.

The journey to Flagstaff took around 5.5 hours and we arrived at our motel after nightfall. We intended to stay here for 2 nights.

We were tired, so quickly grabbed a bite to eat and went to bed. What we never realised straight away was how badly our room smelt. The carpet or fridge smelt so old and funky we had to sleep with our scarfs around our faces. In the morning (yes we made the night despite it being uncomfortable) we quickly changed rooms and made our way to the South Rim of the national park (around 1.5 hours from flagstaff).

First stop was the highly photographed viewing point of 'Mather Point'. Standing at the long stretch of a viewing platform, we got a first real glimpse of the grand canyon. In fact from this viewpoint we were able to see half of the grand canyon and the views were spectactular. Mind blowing in fact. Witnessing it first hand, not on a blog, facebook image, magazine or webpage but we were really there. Great feeling.

The area of land the canyon covered was immense and stretched much further than we expected. To think we could only see half!!

A huge rocky landscape that was scaled with jagged horizontal lines broken up by different shades of deep orange and red. No signs of life or vegitariation amongst the dusty rocky terrain. There was barely an inch of greenery just varying shades of rocky orange.

We agreed that we had picked the perfect day to visit. Vibrant blue skies and a good amount of clouds here all decorating the sky and providing a good source of shade. As the day grew on however the clouds disapeared and the intensity of the sun really took over.

The experience of first gazing out onto this canyon was incredible. The stuff dreams are made of. Yet somehow we felt somewhat restricted. I am not sure whether it was down to the crowds of people lining the barriers, the many people vying for the best spot, the crowd noise, the visual noise of everyone or whether it was the hard barriers and fencing. Because of this all we soon started to feel somewhat removed. Disconnected from the Grand Canyon. We needed to find a quieter less restrictive platform.

From our reseach the main trails from the South Rim that had popped up were the following: The challenging 'Grand View trail' with unmaintained, steep and hard to navigate trails, the 'Bright Angel trail' a popular and shaded trail into the canyon, 'The South Kaibab Rim trail' arguably more beautiful but little shade from the sun n steeper trails and finally 'the Rim trail' the busiest, easiest and most levelled trail around the top rim not entering the canyon but with varying views of the canyon.

It was a hard choice, we only decided upon arriving at the park and although we have no comparison we can tell you that the trail we took and the views we experienced were incredible. Every few minutes the views continually stole our breath away.

We opted for the South Kaibab Rim trail. We chose this to get away from the crowds but at the same time to avoid a repeat of the 'Great Wall experience'. We wanted something challenging but within our ability. No more playing with fire or in our case mountains... we wanted to live to share our experience.

We caught a shuttle bus to the start of this trail and were dropped at the edge of a cliff with stunning views of the canyon below and stunning rocky terrain around. No platforms or barriers just us and the canyon. This is what we were after. We were beginning to feel more connected to it.

Before the trail started there was a particular rock edge that dangerously jutted out across the edge. Do we walk onto it for a picture?? Of course we do. Well, seeing the steep drop into the canyon below and slightly nervous of the danger we both crawled... well half way for that grand ganyon shot.

The trail itself was a dug up dirt path, the rocky mountain wall to one side, with broken rocks lining the cliff edge. The first part of the trail was a shaded steep descent with constant switchbacks descending into the valley. Off we went zig zagging our way down. After this the path levelled out for a short while with immense drops on one side of trail and the rock valley walls that we clung onto on our right.

Despite the potiential danger of it all, the trail was well marked and as long as you stuck to it and did not take a wrong step, you were fine. Saying this the number of people on this trail did surprise us as you had to be in decent shape to trek it and certainly not afraid of heights or potential falls.

We passed dozens of people coming up as we descended (some even running). It was not as crowded as the viewing platform at the top and neither was anyone immediately in front or behind us. Still we were not alone.

Every so often we would pass someone or a small group making the return up mainly panting heavily, sweat gleaming off their faces. The american hospitality was still in full effect, never failing to welcome us with a "hello" or a "how yall doing?"
We love this about the states. People can be so friendly.

During our research we came across one blog whereby the trekker decided to walk halfway down the grand canyon without stopping and instead took pictures on his way back up so he could stop for a breather in the process. In theory this was a good idea as the climb was steep but seeing how sweaty people were, we decided to save ourselves the embarrassment of sweaty face photos. Instead we took our time going down, stopping to take pictures with a plan of tackling the uphill climb back up with as much strength and determination by doing it in one go.

Plus we had to stop every so often going down. This place was beautiful. Un-uniformed rock sides crawled their way up to the top of the valley, changing in colour and tones from a dull red to a deep dusty orange to a pale sandy colour.

Sometimes a random tree jutted out the side of this rocky terrain telling us that life can exist anywhere. To our left were the beautiful rock formations within the distance that we could not help but be amazed by.

The beautiful blue skies created such a contrast to the rocks and brought out the colours, shades and textures of the rocks in ways that was only possible with clear skies.

We never actually got a glimpse into the bottom of the valley or the river in the end. We took heed from all the warning signs telling us that it would be too dangerous to descend to the bottom of the valley and climb back up in one day. Various warning signs noted that people had attempted this and ended up running into trouble because of exuastion. We had already had our fair share of danger. Not today.

Instead we stopped at various viewpoints along the way. Namely the 'Ooh Aah point' and the 'Creek Ridge viewpoints' neither signed well but a place you would naturally stop for a rest and to admire the scenery.

Ooh Ahh Point was located at the bend of a path with some large rocks hanging over the edge creating a platform offering incredible panoramic views of this breathtaking canyon. We sat there for a while smiling to each other, realising how special this place was.

After the urge to get away from the people stopping here (as this platform was very small) we continued on with the wide switchbacks that steeply plunged its way into this canyon. We passed a line of mules with their owner on the trail that must make this journey several times a day.

Half an hour later we had decended to the 'Creek Ridge point' which was more barren and unreal. Were we still on earth we asked!

Unlike the other people here we took advantage of being able to get close to the edge, taking snaps right on a edge that was tricky to navigate but rewarded us with unparallelled views as our legs swung over the edge.

We stopped here to eat lunch, admire the views some more and had alot of fun trying to take the iconic sort of pictures you would expect to see at the grand granyon.

We were overwhelemed by it all and never knew America had such incredible landscapes like this. Something we were only beginning to understand and witness on this trip. In some ways this scenery reminded us of Tiger leaping Gorge in China, in the same breataking sort of way. We were were blown away with how awesome it was and regretted not being able to stay in the basin of the canyon itself due to not booking ahead. We were set on coming back here on another trip here. Goodness where does our future trip list end.

Making our way back up was indeed double the effort but we did so in little time with little stops. Surpirisngly we did not sweat or pant as much as we thought we would like the many people we saw. Travelling like we have been doing has really improved our fitness levels and it felt good.

After questioning whether we should stay for sunset, the urge to avoid driving in the dark on the highways here got the best of us and we left at 4pm. We left overwhelmed and saddened by our limited time here and promised to return again.

After another night in Flagstaff, a nice built up town with plenty of eateries and places to stay (this time in a more comfortable room) we set off on our journey back to Vegas in the morning, this time on Route 66.

Route 66 was what we expected and was a calming, relaxing experience away from the highways. A 2 lane road that we were able to cruise down, windows down, sunglasses on. We travelled through unspoiled landscapes from rocky areas that reminded us of Hampi (India) to areas where we surrounded by immense yellow fields with the road thinning until the horizon. I say cruise, we could only imagine what it would feel like to cruise down in a classic car maybe a convertible. We passed many rustic memorabilia shops and classic cars including police cars and vans parked up on sections of this road.

We drove through really small towns, some native indian reserves that really intrigued us but unaware of the laws governing us to enter this area, we could only look on with intrigue imagining what life was like there. Other small towns/villages were really remote that had no more than 50 people but rather than a small cottage based villages you are likely to find in England but it was more rustic and hard around the edges with a trailer park edge to them.

We passed many roadside adverts and started to look forward to the next set. They were an advertisement for Burma shave; a rhyming quadruplet split into four separate signs. Some of which made no sense at all. We slowed slighlty as we passed them reading each individual one out aloud.
Here's a couple we spotted:

Big mistake
People make
Rely on Horn
Instead of break
Burma shave


He tried to cross
As fast train neared
Death didn't draft him
He volunteered
Burma shave

Some very funny, sexual in nature, rhyming and always had us guessing what was next. Never would this sort of advertisement be permitted in the uk. We loved it.

Unfortunately before we knew it we were back off route 66 and on the highway driving back towards Vegas. We had one more site to visit beforehand however, the Hoover dam a great concrete marvel of engineering built to ease traffic, control flooding and generate hydro electric power.

Before we knew it, we had returned our hire car, were back in Vegas once again and had completed our mini road trip adventure. We left wanting more...

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 31


21st February 2016
Dusty, dry and extremely hot

My pick
That was a nice photo. Well caught. By the way, in Pennsylvania I once rode a car on Route 666... Well, I thought that was funny... /Ake
21st February 2016
Finding our own viewpoints

Roadtrip USA
One does not know how good a roadtrip is in USA until you try one. Our reason to return to USA will be to do number 3, 4, 5. SW USA...couldn't think of a better part to start.
22nd February 2016
Finding our own viewpoints

Completely agree with you there, we breifly considered it beforehand but was happy to give it a miss. We didn't realise how much fulfillment we would have with hiring a car. Especially because of the freedom and flexibility it offered. Buses were perfect for this trip given we are travelling for over a year but a big road trip in the states still awaits us.
22nd February 2016

Road trippin'
Wow, your photos are spectacular! I chuckled about you wanting a small car and that you hadn't yet embraced the ideology that 'bigger is better' ;)
22nd February 2016

Road trippin
Big American cars are too bulky for us we have no need for them. Can see why people like them but I think we'll stick to our 5 door compact cars 😌
22nd February 2016
Getting close to the edge

Oh no...!
I scanned your photos before I read the blog, and when I saw this pic I thought 'oh no, they've ended up on another walk like their Great Wall of China walking adventure' :D
22nd February 2016
Getting close to the edge

Oh no
Ha. Doubt we'll be rushing for a trek like that again. Think my nerves would give in before anything else!!
23rd February 2016

Lure of the open road
Beautiful blog of a fantastic place. Glad you got to experience the American road trip, if only for a few days. Be warned: they are addictive! Hope you get to do the National Parks trip some day, it will be amazing. (yes, a convertible is well worth it if the weather cooperates) About those Burma Shave signs: they were a famous advertising campaign from the 1940s and 50s. So many people remember them that they became a part of Route 66 history and were resurrected. The shaving cream itself is long gone.
27th February 2016

The Lure of the open road
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. We really enjoyed our trip here and hope our next road trip materialises sooner than later. A real great addition, those Burma Shave adverts!!
23rd February 2016

Road trip in the US is a dream! Everything is big in the States! When we were there we were so surprised by the size of everything: from cars to houses, from food to... people! We love the States and we can't wait to go back there.
27th February 2016

Bigger than life
Yes, completely agree, everything in the states is much bigger, if not n appearance then in Character and we also cannot wait to experience it some more.
24th February 2016

America the Beautiful
We have a large, diverse country with much to offer. You've mastered getting around on a budget. Good for you. When I read your blogs I am happy to see my country through your eyes. So glad you are having a good trip. So many adventures, so little time.
27th February 2016

America the Beautiful
Its great to hear you can read our blogs and enjoy them. We try to share the many impressions we formed in the states, both the good and the bad. It was such a diverse place and we had the most incredible experience backpacking across it.

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