Before we reached the Grand Canyon, I badly wanted to see some cliff dwellings; this is something I’ve wanted to see all my life. We also had promised ourselves that, once we got out West where so much of the land is in the ownership of the Federal Government, and much of that is open to free camping, we would spend some time doing just that. So, when we saw that Walnut Canyon National Park had cliff dwellings and nearby dispersed camping, we figured this was our chance!
We followed the Allstays directions to the dispersed camping area and found a nice clearing to set up in, with a fire ring already built. Since we were “dry camping” (no hookups), setup was a little more exertion than usual, and my hands and feet got icy in the cold wind. That night, I discovered that my altitude issues had not left me. Our campsite was at over 7,000 feet. I began to pant and cramp with diarrhea, my heart fluttering and pounding, and my hands and feet were like ice and wouldn’t warm up. I slept on the floor next to the heater vent, shivering. In the morning I felt somewhat better, so we decided to drive over to Walnut Canyon (it was a short bike ride away, but I knew bike riding was out at this point). We went to the visitors’ center and learned that the only way to see the cliff dwellings was to hike down a moderately steep trail into the canyon itself. I was panting and my vision was greying out, so we just took some photos and headed down to Sedona, where the 4,500-foot elevation made me feel instantly well. We poked around the charming tourist town and then headed back uphill, and the next day it was time to move on to the Grand Canyon.
Many people had recommended the Grand Canyon Railway as the best method for visiting the Canyon, so I’d secured us a reservation at the RV park in Williams, Arizona, near Flagstaff, where the rail trip begins, round-trip train tickets, and an overnight stay at the Railway hotel. When we got there, I discovered that the Railway hotel I’d booked was NOT at the Grand Canyon end of the rail trip, as I’d thought, but rather at the Williams end! My careful plan was ruined–and the reservations were marked non-refundable! Fortunately, I got a sympathetic supervisor at the GC Railway’s ticket office and they made me a reservation at the Canyon itself, and applied my prepaid hotel to the cost. Yay, Grand Canyon Railway! Great customer service!
We took the premium dome car to the Canyon from Williams. The view of the surrounding desert was gorgeous. They had a costumed actor come through playing banjo tunes, which was fun as well. The whole trip was almost two hours, but that’s because the train moves at a very slow pace the entire way; it’s only about 60 miles. They transfer your baggage to and from the hotel for you, so you can immediately get off the train and start enjoying your visit to the Canyon. We hopped on a bus tour which brought us to several amazing viewing points.
When I say amazing, please be aware that I am only using that word because there is really not a word that conveys the majesty of the Grand Canyon itself. The experience of looking across the canyon and picking out things like trees, or the mule barn on the flat below the park, and the way your visual awareness is constantly shifting to try to encompass the magnitude of what you’re seeing is something that can only be experienced in person. I’m including some of the better photos I managed to take, but the entire experience is one of bigness. Placing it in a little rectangle on a computer monitor, is, well, the opposite. The sense of looking at something you can’t contain or circumscribe, something vast and wild, is only experienced with the eyes and the wind on your skin and the echo in your ears and the vertigo when you look down.
The wildlife at Grand Canyon National Park is unbelievably tame. The huge elk grazing around the grounds basically disregard humans completely,
and there are signs and announcements everywhere telling tourists to keep their distance. Sometimes you have to walk a good ways out of your way to avoid them! The most dangerous animal in the park, in terms of number of bites, is…the squirrel! Apparently, people try to feed them and get bitten on a regular basis. I did my part by waving my cane at the little buggers and rawring when they begged, but at one point I saw a little old Japanese lady sitting with one of them in her lap like a cat!
Another Asian tourist was a cute little old man who came up next to me at the stone railing. “Saaaaauuuunnn. Sayt!” He exclaimed.
It took me a moment to figure out what he’d said, but then I realized:
“Yes! Sunset! Beautiful!” I nodded.
“Nay-nay,” he said, “A-number one! Nay-nay!” (Vietnamese?) We both grinned and nodded furiously at one another. It was a lovely moment among all the moments of hearing German, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and French, among other languages I didn’t recognize, spoken. Very cool to realize that people from all over the world come to see this global treasure!
We took the Pullman car back to Williams the next day (the hotel room was quite acceptable, nothing amazing, nothing horrible). Williams itself is a little tourism town with shops selling Route 66 memorabilia and Indian jewelry and art. It’s nice and flat, and my altitude sickness had abated, so we coasted over on our bikes. We had a couple of greasy burgers and listened to a one-man act strum and play the harmonica through a late-50s/early-60s top-40 repertoire, which was fun.
The next day, it was time to move on. We had planned the rest of our route based on campgrounds located at 5,000 feet or below (An altitude search function included in the Allstays app. Have I mentioned I love that app?)