The Grand Canyon

Trek Diary: Day Seventeen (12th July)

I awoke just before dawn and was surprised to see that people were already up and ready to go. I was excited to see my first sunrise, although half of me wanted to crawl back into my sleeping bag. I did manage to haul myself out as i was not going to miss this opportunity! After all, how many people get to see the sunrise in Monument Valley after a night sleeping under the stars? Not many. Our camp and sleeping bags also seemed scorpion free, and as i roused the rest of the girls i spotted a rodent running past our feet – maybe Willie was joking after all.

The sunrise was absolutely incredible. Ryan, one of our trek leaders, had seen it before on previous trips but commented that with the clouds in the sky, it was the best sunrise so far. It certainly was an incredible sight. Definitely worth the early wake up call.

Back at camp we had an all American breakfast of sugary cereals and coffee. As i sat on the table munching my way through some Fruit Loops, i heard the familiar tone of my text message alert from my bag. A sound i was definitely not expecting! Here i was in one of America’s most scenic parks, miles from anywhere, but with full mobile signal! Not very Wild West.

We were not very good at the jumping photos

Tonight was to be my group’s turn to cook. We were over half way on our trip and our meal ideas were starting to dwindle and repeats were starting to appear. We had planned to have marinated chicken but for some reason there is a lack of poultry in the supermarkets of the Navajo areas. We would have been fine if we wanted Spam – something they had plenty of. We went through a whole list of recipes in an attempt to find something that everyone likes (and that we could purchase!) In the end we went for chilli-con carne, a decision which was met with much stroppyness about having Mexican again. Some people were very close to getting pushed into a canyon that day.

The drive to the Grand Canyon National Park was broken up by a stop at the Betatakin Ruins, which were constructed between 1250 and 1300AD. It was only a short walk down to the scenic viewing platform. The ruins were quite a distance away but i could make out the outlines of man made structures. Nonetheless, the canyon was impressive but we knew it was nothing compared to what we were going to see! We entered the National Park area from the east and got to see the Colorado river outside of the Grand Canyon area, which was grand enough! The road turns away from the canyon after this point, which prevented us from sneaking a glimpse as we were driving. We stopped off at the first viewing area called Desert View and were ordered by Steve to look down at our feet until we reached the edge of the cliff face – apparently other groups were forced to wear paper bags on their heads. Your first sight of the Grand Canyon is something you will never forget. It is too much to take in at once! It almost looks like a painting or an optical illusion, and no photos will ever do it justice.

Our campsite was just outside of the park and was surrounded by shops, restaurants, cafes and the Grand Canyon IMAX was just across the road. No woodland or dirt to camp on today – we had grass! We were also staying here two nights and there was a very relaxed atmosphere within the group. We had a lovely breeze (with intermittent strong gusts!), bearable sun and an ice cream store just round the corner. Perfect! There were also lots of other Trek America groups camping here as the canyon is a stop on a lot of different routes.

Some of our group were scheduled to go on the canyon helicopter ride that afternoon. Although i wanted to do it, i couldnt bear to part with nearly £200, especially when i wasn’t sure if i was going to get my travellers card sent out to me. Whilst the lucky things were soaring hundreds of feet over cliff edges, we started on dinner. Cooking was eventful as usual; Natalie nearly lost her eyebrows when the stove tried to set her alight and everyone found out what a control freak i am when it comes to domestic activities (people meddling in my kitchen area tends to stress me out!) I also spent about 15 minutes trying to work out why the chilli powder was having little effect on the spice levels. Turns out it was paprika…not chilli powder! We also got some more corn bread from the store and I ended up eating most of it myself. People did not agree with the corn bread and chilli combination. Its corn bread – it goes with anything!

The local wildlife

We were to see another sunrise the following morning but this time from the Grand Canyon. This was also our day of hiking and i will admit, i was not really looking forward to it. My reasons for this is that, 1. i am not great with cliff edges and 2. i do not like hiking (or so i thought.) Because we were going to be gone for a few hours, Steve suggested we took snacks along with us. He bought us brown paper bags to put our lunches in and inside each one he wrote an inspirational letter to be read before hiking back up the canyon. I knew i would need as much inspiration as possible for that activity.

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A Night With the Navajo in Monument Valley

A Night With the Navajo in Monument Valley

Trek Diary: Day Sixteen (12th July)

As i may have mentioned, i had been waking up during the night, usually in a panic that a bug was crawling on my face. On this night i woke up because i thought the ground was moving and was convinced that Santa Fe was experiencing an earthquake. I’m not sure if it actually did, i highly doubt it and nobody mentioned anything. I must have some really vivid dreams! Too many Bud Lights before bed maybe? I spent the morning continuing the battle in the oestrogen filled bathroom and rearranging the electrical point, so i could charge my camera among all the others hanging of the extension lead.

Pervy messiah

Just after the photo oppurtunity of some amazing billboard placement, we stopped and had lunch by a river. I ate my bagel sat on the edge of  a wall, watching a group of people kayak downstream. The weather had continued from yesterdays trip into Santa Fe and it started to rain as we were packing up. As we were doing so, a group of guys i had spotted earlier came up to me and said, “Dont worry about the rain, it will pass in a few moments. I live here, i know!” He shook my hand and introduced himself, explaining that him and his buds were all of Navajo descendant. I forgot his name, we shall name him Navajo Gangster Guy. He was trying to strike up a conversation with me as my group began climbing into the van. He told me i was cute, i mumbled a thanks and jumped into the van after everyone else. As i turned to close the door, the gangster…gang…were still there blabbing on about my English accent. At this point i was mentally shouting at Steve to drive. I cant handle these situations! I pretty much slammed the door in the guy’s face and we drove off. Although, we did have to to stop a few meters away because we realised Beom was missing!

Four Corners - Photo Op!

After an hours drive in rocky desert country we arrived at Four Courners – a renound tourist trap. It was pretty quiet but was full of local people selling Navajo crafts and jewellery. Four Corners is where four states meet, these are; Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. These are marked out on the ground by a series of tiles and plaques. A typical tourist activity is to jump in each one in turn, or you can put a limb in each state for a lovely (rather unflattering) photo opportunity. I tried to mix it up a bit by doing “the crab” bent over the plaques but this just ended with me nearly doing my back in. Instead, we opted for a cheesy group pyramid photo which seemed to entertain everyone else around us. Luckily i was on top and got to squish everyone.

We arrived in the town of Kayenta and headed to the supermarket to grab a few things for our overnight stay. This town also had a Burger King with a Navajo Code Talker museum in it – probably should have checked that one out! Apparently, the local community have a thing for canned “meat” as we saw a whole wall of Spam in the supermarket. We were told that we were going to be having a traditional Navajo dinner of tacos in the park. Being fuss-pots and/or hungry things, many of our group opted for some junk food to keep them going. I had learnt by now that if Natalie bought fried food from the deli, there would usually be some left over. I was right again and scored some chicken! Well played Amy…well played.

The terrain on our journey had gradually become rockier and we eventually spotted the red rocks made famous from Western films. We arrived at the visitor centre where we had a look around and took photos from the viewing deck. We then met our tour guide and jumped into the vehicle that we would be spending the next few hours bouncing around in the back of. I am just glad that the seats were cushioned. Along our drive we stopped at various points in the park to take photos and enjoy the view. After seeing Monument Valley in so many western films and riding around “Diez Coronas” in the game Red Dead Redemption (based on the Monument area) it was exciting to finally be there. It may be very famous but i’m not sure how many people will actually get to see it, as it is situated a bit far from the main American tourist cities. I guess people want to see the Grand Canyon more than Monument Valley, which is a shame because it is absolutely breath taking. Willy, our guide, would speak to us over the megaphone to tell us information about the area or to teach us Navajo songs to sing along to. Willy also had a bit of a catch phrase, “Ooh la la!” which we adopted for the remainder of our trek.

Double pyramid
Our Trek leaders (and photographers!)

One of our stops was a famous area called “Big Hogan Rock”. The Navajo never used to use names to refer to these rocks, but now they all have titles to distinguish them by. These are usually pretty simple and descriptive, including “Elephant rock” and “The Three Sisters”. The Big Hogan has markings which look like two Indian faces and above this the rock forms an eagles head, complete with an eye hole. We laid against the back wall as our tour guides sang Navajo songs and played traditional instruments which echoed in the natural amphitheatre.

This was to be our last stop before dinner which was just a short drive to another area in the park. The Navajo tacos were not what i was expecting! instead of a hard crisp shell, they were more like a pancake or yorkshire pudding. It was fried dough and tasted amazing! I will definitely be making these at home. They were filled with the normal taco fillings; mince, cheese, salad, sour cream, salsa…so good!

The Eagle head
Navajo taco

Feeling pretty sick from stuffing my face, we all climbed back into the vans and set off back to our camp. During the journey, the light was fading and the valley almost seemed to glow in the setting sun. A campfire was lit soon after we arrived, where we made smores and listened to the stories and history of the Navajo nation. There were many surreal moments on this trip and this was definitely one of them.

Despite being in the middle of a valley, miles from any artificial light, it was surprising how well you could actually see. The sky still seemed to have a light hue and we were surrounded by the shadowy outlines of the rock formations.  As i listened to the colourful storytelling, i glanced around at everyone, who all seemed transfixed by the fire in front of them. Every now and then i would look behind at the valley and felt the urge to pinch myself. I felt extremely lucky to be here. A lot of reflecting happened in that valley.

Between getting lost in the beauty of the place, there was a reality check in the avoidance of a certain drop toilet. Being miles away from any plumbing, we knew our facilities were going to be particularly limited, but i was looking forward to roughing it for the night. The drop loo was situated a good distance away from the edge of camp. I refused to go on my own and bullied Lisa into keeping guard. Drop toilets are never pleasant but the view definitely made up for this one, as I had the entire moon lit valley in front of me. I have a feeling it will be the most scenic wee that i will ever have.

The girls had been planning to sleep inside one of the Hogans for the night but we joined the other group outside where we made a little camp (I planned ahead and got an inside spot!). The boys however, had set up their sleeping arrangements on the furthest edge of the campsite. where we were told all the (scary) wildlife lives. It was obviously a test of their masculinity. As everyone begun to settle down, we were all snuggled up in our sleeping bags when our guide walked by. I took the chance to ask him about the holes in the ground that i had spotted. My face was about a foot away from one – what a stupid question to ask!

Willy: “Those holes? Oh, there are these little rodents that live around here…”

Me (Thinking): Rodents? I can handle that.

Willy “…that like to eat the scorpions that come out of those holes! Why do you think we sleep in tents? Do not worry, you will be fine. Just dont put your hand on one in your sleep.”

We all looked at each other as he wandered of. I did wonder whether he was just having us on, but he looked pretty serious about it all. We then started squealing about how they would be crawling over our faces during the night, which started of a series of giggling fits that were induced by sheer fear. This ended abruptly after getting shouted at by the other group for being too noisy. Being told off worked and we went straight to sleep after that.

During the middle of the night i woke up suddenly and sat bolt upright (again) and i am glad that i did. The clouds from earlier had gone and i now had the entire milky way above me. I had never seen so many stars before, it was absolutely awe inspiring! I lay there for a while trying to take it all in before drifting off to sleep. It is an experience i will never forget.

Roswell, Santa Fe and Endless Roads

Roswell, Santa Fe and Endless Roads

Trek Diary: Day Fifteen (11th July) 

Although i miss Trek more than anything in the world, i do not miss waking up in a tent in the middle of desert country. I did enjoy the early morning starts but it was very unpleasant waking up covered in sweat, before you had even unzipped your tent. By the time the sun had risen it had already reached an uncomfortable temperature.

I was pretty excited about this day as we were to visit Roswell on our way to Santa Fe. Roswell had been on the preliminary USA road trip itinery that me and my Ex had created when we were still together. It was also promptly taken off the route once he realised what the place actually was. HA! Totally made it though! I have always been interested in the weird and unusual, so going to Roswell was secretly a bit of a pilgrimage for me. I have so far seen 3 unexplainable “lights” in the sky, two of which were also witnessed by other people. I’m not saying they were actual space craft piloted by green men…but they were very unusual. It could well be that they are a natural phenomena that we haven’t been able to explain yet. What people don’t realise is that they are seen on a daily basis and by people of sound mind. They are also spotted across the world and seem to have similar appearances and behaviours. However, 99% of the time the “ufos” do end up being a satellite or a Chinese lantern. Although the group were pretty much family by this point, i did hold back on the UFO talk more than usual. They already knew i was a paranormal investigator…i didn’t want them to think i had completely lost it!

We were occupied on the way to Roswell by the craft materials that Natalie had got from Walmart. Green paper plates, marker pens and tinfoil make for good alien masks. The main street in Roswell is devoted to extra-terrestrials and you cant pass one shop without spotting some sort of alien paraphanalia. The walls of buildings were painted with images of little green men and flying saucers and even the local bakery had blow up aliens in the window, complete with chef hats. I didnt actually buy anything despite my love for this sort of thing. Ingrid on the other hand, bought a blow up alien which we later named Elvis Travis (E.T) He became our van mascot and is in the majority of our trip photos. He even hiked down into the Grand Canyon with us.

After browsing through X-files collectibles and many questionable research books, we visited the UFO Museum and Research Centre.  Roswell was made famous from a flying saucer that supposedly crashed landed nearby, during the summer of 1947. It is said that the aliens on board were captured by the military who then issued a major cover up of the event. The incident is still largely debated and after visiting the museum, i am still on the fence about it all. They had official documents, newspaper cuttings and affidavits from witnesses and some things just do not add up. I guess we will probably never know what really happened. There was also a cheesy UFO smoke and light show that went off every 10 minutes or so. Not exactly the best method to get people to take you seriously.

UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico
Elvis Travis with us girls. And that looks like another pringle tube too.

With the temperature exceeding 40c, i tried to stay hydrated as best as i could. I deeply regretted this act when we drove about 90miles through open desert. As i look at googlemaps, i realise that that was a long time to hold in a wee. We arrived in the town of Vaughn at around 3pm and stopped at a Penny’s diner for a milkshake. Wikipedia tells me that Vaughn has a population of about 539 (as of 2005) and has a total area of 5.6 square miles which appeared to be mostly abandoned buildings. The milkshakes took forever to make but they were definitely worth the wait! I also got to see my first cowboy (outside of the cowboy dance hall that is) who was sat at the bar. I was told that as we entered the diner, he glanced at us and then the girl next to him proceeded to slap him round the face, i presume they were dating. I really wish i had witnessed this!

We arrived in Santa Fe in the late afternoon and were met by a change in weather – cold and wet. This would have been a nice thing if it wasnt for our desert attire. We looked pretty ridiculous as we walked around, shivering in shorts and t-shirts. Santa Fe is a stunning city, full of art galleries and shops selling beautiful jewellery and crafts. I wish i had had more money with me, i would have bought so much! As we explored the little shopping mall, we passed a shop of Beanie Babies and made friends with the shop owner. If you don’t know what these are, then you were obviously on another planet during the 90s. They are collectible stuffed animals that were a major craze during my primary school years. My family were obsessed and we now have over 300 stored away in the attic. I even paid £75 for a rare one once with the money from my tenth birthday. Mental. He didn’t get a sale from me though, i don’t think i need anymore of the bloody things. After getting drenched in the rain, we found a cafe and had pastries and a white chocolate mocha to warm us up.

Oldest house in America, 1640 something.

Tonights campsite was a bit of a drive out of Santa Fe near the town of “Las Vegas” (not the gambling one!) Again, we were placed at the back of the campsite and this time with a group of Norweigan girls. The extra 15 or so females made shower time very frustrating. It was a battle to even reach the sinks, past the mass of hair straighteners and glittery iPhones left to charge. The area was sandy, full of cacti and other spikey bushes and had very suspicious looking holes in the ground. The ones nearest our tent, i blocked up with various items to try and prevent anything getting out. There was also a bit of a race to find the best spot; as far away to these holes and web filled bushes as possible. As night fell, it got pretty cold and i was so glad i had packed extra layers! The girls had an early night and we fell asleep to the sound of wolves howling in the distance. It was very surreal.

State Lines, Abandoned Rodeos and Carlsbad Caverns

Trek Diary: Day Fourteen (10th July)

By 6:30am we had all flopped out of our tents and were eager to get going again. This was one of the days where we packed up camp with almost military precision, with everyone in silence from the lack of sleep and/or incoming hangovers.

There was to be no Walmart stop today, just a visit to a small chain store in Fort Stockton. Sausage pasta was on the menu for dinner and the only ones we could find were the of the frankfurter/hot dog variety. This lovely brand consisted of beef hearts, mechanically recovered chicken and some other horrid item. Not thinking, i read the list out loud to the group and was met with cries of “Oh my god, i am NOT eating that”. Everybody did though and with no complaints. I am ashamed to report that they actually tasted pretty damn good too. Ugh.

Although our group had quite…selective tastes when it came to meals, none of us were vegetarians which made life a lot easier! Although don’t believe for a second that dinner was a peaceful affair. With the majority of individuals being male, i already knew our culinary skills would be limited (no offence guys!) It turned out that the girls were also slightly challenged in this domestic area. Lisa was the only girl in her cooking group so i ended up helping her out on those days too. We may have had a few meal repeats and frustrated outbursts, but nobody got food poisoning – success!  I did end up taking on the role of “mum” at times and not just at dinner. For example, the boys would get told off for running near canyon edges and i would administer painkillers and strepsils to anyone who was injured or feeling under the weather. I am actually turning into my mother and it is terrifying me.

We were messy individuals...actually, that is mostly my stuff.

Snacks of poor nutritional value were also purchased at this store, including a variety of pringles. We have some odd pringle flavours over here in the UK, but today we found some new ones. We had “loaded baked potato” which was…uninspiring at best, and “honey and mustard” which i am now suddenly craving! With so many tubes, we had a Pringle obstacle course between our feet during the majority of the trip.

About halfway in our journey, we stopped at the border or Texas and New Mexico on US Highway 285. We took photos of the state signs, complete with bullet holes from the drive by shootings – a compulsory task for an American road trip! Between the signs there was also an abandoned rodeo and we spent some time exploring the trailer and outbuildings.


Exploring

We stopped for lunch just outside Carlsbad National park, where i used a weird toilet that had a shower curtain instead of a door. Well, at least it wasn’t a drop toilet – we had yet to come across these. Due to the summer heat, the park and surrounding area had recently suffered from fires and a lot of the scrub land had been burnt. This was the same for a lot of the neighboring states and during the trip i saw quite a few small fires on the sides of the highways. After filling up our water bottles, we headed down to the entrance of the caverns where we were met by one of the park rangers that gave us the low down on the trek ahead. Basically, do not go if you have knee problems…and i can understand this warning now. The first mile was a twisting downhill slope that was sometimes slippery in places. The whole way down we were walking in and out of different cavernous halls, through rock formations and stunning chambers.

Despite the beautiful surroundings, i was relieved to reach the bottom and walk along a flat path again! I had wobbly “Bambi” legs the whole time and had been tripping up every few minutes. We also walked around “The Big Room”, a limestone chamber that spans 30,000 square yards, hosts a “bottomless pit” and stalactites and stalagmites of various shapes and sizes. It was noted by a few that everything was very phallic shaped in these caverns. A boob rock was also spotted.

I have never seen so much open space before!


Downhill for the next mile or so...



After our scenic workout, we arrived at our campsite on the outskirts of Carlsbad. With each camp arrival, Steve would hop out of the van and go and sign us in, often returning with leaflets about camp rules and regulations. This particular sheet had the usual content but also gave warnings about the local wildlife. Such critters to watch out for included; tarantulas, scorpions, rattlesnakes and skunks(?!) Luckily all we spotted were a load of ants that we fed scraps of food too and watched them haul it all away – true campsite entertainment. Besides the variety of dangerous animals, there was also a play park and a cold indoor pool. We were also sharing this camp with TrekAmerica rivals, “Suntrek” *hiss!* which is mostly used by old people and families.

The feeding of the ants was not going to occupy us all evening, so we all got taken to a place up the road called “Pat’s Fun City” or “fun citaaaaaay” as we liked to call it. Here they have Go Karts, batting cages and a mini golf course. Not feeling particularly adventurous or wanting to spend too much dollar, the girls opted for the mini golf. None of us paid attention to the score, we just lazily hit the ball around the course, chatting as we went. We also had ice pops and found the scenery rather…distracting! (Inside joke – sorry!)