Day 1 - 28th Oct.(15 miles) Our weather reports had told us that overnight and morning would be the worst storms in the UK for 25 yrs. Got to be true as they had been forecasting it for days and days before. Obviously this had a bearing on my 11 am flight. Was initially panicking that the flight would be cancelled, but come the day, it was just a bit windy and flight left London on time.
End up being seated next to one of eight cheerleaders from the US who had come over to London for a month to promote the NFL which now play a couple of games at Wembley each year. As well as being stunning, she was very down to earth and very chatty for the duration and made for a good flight in. By the way, did i say she was stunning. Very pretty, like the type where you find yourself awkwardly staring.......anyway.
Immigration at LAX was long and even then my bag arrived late. Ended up being pulled aside to have my bags checked. Once finished, the whole place was deserted. The bag checker must have been a part time worker for the Arizona tourist board as once he knew of my intentions, never stopped talking about some caves in southern AZ (forgotten them).
Alamo went smoothly and straight to my line of SUV's. Was expecting an Escape but only about 3 to choose from, none an Escape, one of which was a 4x4 Jeep, so took it thinking it would suit me to the ground. Had planned a quick detour to Playa Del Rey for a few photos of the ocean before heading to my hotel in Inglewood. Good job i'd drove a few miles as i soon noticed a wobble in the steering at 40mph so promptly took it back. I did the quick paperwork and this time the lane was full. Picked out a GMC Terrain AWD which i must say fortuned me well as it proved fantastic for my trip. Overnight at Inglewood.
Day 2 - 29th Oct. (512miles). Well....i say overnight. I was asleep by 7pm having been awake since 3am UK time. Woke at 11pm and was soon on my way out of L.A. Barstow arrived in 2 hrs and i parked up a bit further at a rest stop for a 1hr power nap.
Destination was Amboy which i was there for about 5am so really dark and quite spooky, with only the faint lights of Roys to keep me company. Really busy railroad tracks with huge train length of carriages, even double deckers. Waited for the horizon to lighten up then did the trail up the crator which took about an hr r/trip. Caught sunrise at the top of the crator. Nice. A great hike that would be ideal for kids.
At Needles took the Oatman Rd and via Oatman and Sitgreaves Pass which was a great start. Got too close to some cacti and soon found my boots punctured with dozens of spines...ouch. Good job i had my multi-tool and used the pliers to pull the spines out. Wow, they even sunk into the soles of my walking boots. Too early for the burros.
Got some shopping sorted at Kingman including another Tracphone for my trip as the old one id brought back was deemed void (since it had been turned off too long apparently).
Started to flurry a bit with snow at Williams and got real cold when stopping briefly at the gas pump museum.
Checked in at Tusayan (boo/hiss i hear you say) which i quite like, and got my America the Beautiful Pass for my duration. Mather point for a quick stop before sunset at a big snow storm again but only lasted a few minutes. Actually, the brilliant sunshine came back out for a fantastic sight of which i could still see the snow cloud hovering over as it passed leaving a rainbow behind.
Day 3 - 30th Oct. (32 miles) Woke at 2am but had to force myself to stay in bed. Left at 6am to the rim, again under some snow flurries. Got to Bright Angel trail and it was quite icy with a snow covering on the trail. So got my cheapo crampons (eBay arrived the day before i left) onto my boots and made my way down. Plateau Point was the destination. Some how one of my crampons must have popped off and i couldn't find it, but thankfully the snow covering was shortlived and had disappeared well before 1.5 resthouse. I made no stops on the way down but did do videoing, leaving photo stops for the way back up. Going down was quite uneventful and lonely as i saw noone else, but after 3.0 resthouse saw some campers on their way back up. Great vista point of Plateau Point before Indian Gdns. In fact you can see P.P nearly all the way through the trail so you always know how near/far you are. Indian Gdns is a pleasant oasis. The final 1.5 miles to Plateau Point seemed longer and was quite tedious....until you actually reach there. Wow. Again i was the only one there so a few stategically placed stones propping up my camera for timer shots. I was hoping someone might be there also, but actually preferred the isolation this time. It took me exactly 2hrs to get to P.P. I spent 1hr at the point of which i saw some rafts getting ready and finally setting off down the river. Had my breakfast and filled my tummy. Hey, water and salty snacks are the order of the day. A couple of cereal bars help too.
No stops for the first 3 miles up to 3.0 resthouse except for photo stops. I did have breaks at 3.0 and 1.5 resthouses. Nevertheless, it still only took me 2.75 hrs getting back up to the rim. I like to get into a rhythm when hiking up or down and seems to work well. So 4.75hrs return hike plus 1hr at the bottom. I did pass the mules (twice) on the way up as well as many hikers, yay - people! Going back was ok, but i really suffered in the last mile. I think my pace had finally caught up with me. Kept an eye out for my rogue crampon, but never found it.
When i had climb Mt Snowdon in the UK with my family, we has a budget altimeter which i brought along with me here just for fun, i suppose. But i was surprised how accurate it was when tallied up to the elevations at resthouses, rim, P.P, never more that 30ft out.
Back to Tusayan for lunch and a 2hr nap. Came back out to Yavapai Point for a great sunset.
Day 4 - 31st Oct. (232 miles). Woke at 4am (still not got this waking up thing sorted but getting better). Checked out at 5.30am was waiting at Desert View for sunrise. Loved stopping at L.Colorado Gorge again.
Done the loop and all the stops at Wupatki and Sunset crator, including the lava trail. If im honest, i now know why ive never really bothered with these two in the past as they were just ok. Went on to Walnut Canyon which i really enjoyed (which proved to be the start of 3-4 continuous days of cave dwellings and ruins). Part of the island loop was closed so you had to return the way you came.
Carried on to my overnight at Holbrook which included the mandatory stops/photos of the Wigwams/classic cars.
Day 5 - 1st Nov. (359 miles). Took the short drive to the southern entrance of Petrified Forest. Got there and waited for the 7am opening of the sliding gates. Now, being honest, in the Holbrook area i already got to see almost nothing but petrified logs everywhere so by the time i had driven through the park, it was not so appealling. I visited as it was en-route to other destinations. If i came specifically, then the park in general was quite bland. Painted Desert, on the other hand was amazing. As you go over the I40 and over the brow of the hill, the sight that you see is just spectacular. Im so happy i did this combo coming from south to north. If doing the other way, will leave you flat. Plenty of photos taken here at all the vistas which were all great, but definately Pintado Point was the best. Beautiful. The Pet Forest/Painted Desert combo took me 2hrs for the drive and overlook stops.
Roadworks at the Chambers bridge made for a 20 mile detour, but nevertheless got to the Hubbel Trading Post for a brief stop.
Onto Canyon de Chelly for my long awaited visit. Waited 30yrs for this. Ive done a T.R seperately but since arriving at 11am, finished the S.Rim at 2pm. This included all the viewpoints as well as the hike down to White House Ruins which took me 1.25hrs inc about 20 mins at the bottom. Its a great hike which would suit families. I'll definately take my boys when i return. Been told off by Redrox for not taking a tour, but will definately do so next time, but i was blessed with 20 mins with a vendor explaining his house at the bottom which i had just taken pics of. The park was near empty and only saw 3 people throughout W.H ruins hike. Bought a hand carved plaque from him which he personalised which was appreciated. The first 2 stops on the S. Rim are stupendously beautiful, even more so (for me surprisingly) than Spider Rock.
Did all the viewpoints on N.Rim but were not as as appealing as the S.Rim, so of you are short on time, definately do S.Rim first.
Now, as per Tet, i wanted to get to Cortez via Shiprock (peak) which meant going via Indian Routes (which i now understand). North Rim route to Tsaile was easy enough, but i hadn't printed out the map for the rest, thinking i could remember. I missed the turn for IR13 by 10 miles so had to turn back round. I soon realised, because the sign had been knock down by a vehicle. Anyway IR13 is spectacular (even if the 1st sign is shot through with bullet holes) with the most amazingly steep, icy, snowy, switchbacks that proved a great drive. Its a good job that im a solo traveller as the driving on these bendy roads is a pure pleasure for a driver, but not for passengers. Incredible sights throughout to Shiprock include a knob of a rock before the Shiprock peak, speaking of which you can see for miles and ages before actually reaching. Even more amazing is the weird and undescribable thin, long strip of rock formation leading up to Shiprock Peak on both sides of the road. It looks like a man made wall but is defo a natural feature. Google streetview just does not do it justice, you need to see it. Again great scenery from Shiprock to Cortez, especially on RHS including a Monument Valley effect buttes and chimney rocks. Event better with the sunset shining down on them. Finally get to Cortez after a long day.
Day 6 - 2nd Nov. (83 miles). Mesa Verde day. Cold day and i had the makings of a cold too, but i was brave and persevered. Now, lazily i'd forgotten to change my clocks, forwards/backward/daylight saving? .... i don't know!
Got to the visitor centre about 7.30am to get my ticket for Cliff Palace (last day of season for tours...good timing eh!). Was waiting in the car as it says it opened at 8am, but noticed a couple coming out with some maps/papers. So i went in and thought, thats nice, they've opened earlier than the specified time. It had still not clicked in my head. Anyway got the first available tour at 10am. That proved enough time to do all the overlook stops en-route to Chapin Mesa, Spruce Tree House mini hike, as well as the 6 mile scenic loop stops. Plenty of time i thought as i got to the Cliff Palace overlook for 9.30am. However the car that was at the visitor centre was parked up and empty and it was only then i realised. As a car pulled in to the parking lot, i meekly asked him what the time was and he said 10.30am! Arghh! I went down to the overlook anyway and took my obligatory photos/videos of Cliff Palace. I could see MY tour group of only 10 people down below, earlier ones are usually the best ones to nab.
Many people were now turning up so i had to swallow my pride and made my way up. As i was doing so, the Ranger for the 11am tour was walking down. I explained the errors of my ways and she said that she should be able to get me in if there was less than 50 people. With 10 mins or so to go, people just kept flooding in. Secretly i was counting them one by one with a frown on my face. As she collected the tickets, i reminded her of our chat, and she thankfully said she would have let me join anyway as she liked my English accent even with my blocked dose (get it!).
Tour was great and very informative. The Ranger genuinely took pride in the words she was speaking about a place she obviously admired alot.
Went back to the Museum area as i wanted to do a hike. Chose the petroglyph one which was a 2.4 mile loop. Again a great fun hike which would be great for kids as the loop out goes over and under, up and down alcoves and allsorts. Brilliant. I did see bear poop at the beginning which spooked me a bit as again, no one about on the trail. Got to the petroglyphs which were smaller than i expected, but nice. The return loop has some fun inclines before the mainly easy flat walk back to the museum. Loop to 1hr and highly recommended.
Again lovely roads to drive back down on, and my altimeter was reliable again.
Relaxing end of the day back at hotel where i had most of pm free.
To be continued.................