After a solid nights sleep, helped along by super dark skies and absolute silence, we were woken by a 6:30 alarm (which turned out to actually be 5:30…Navajo Reservation is on a different timezone to the rest of Arizona…mental note, always make sure you turn airplane mode off when crossing a timezone!). The alarm was quickly followed by the sound of a pack of wild coyotes howling and yapping close enough to make a trip to the pit toilet 15m away a little daunting, and almost making you just want to pee in your pants.
Coffee brewed and breakfast made, we spotted a family of five mule deer crossing the road right in front of us. They hung around for some time but weren’t too keen on the sound of a 1980 Dodge van starting up, making their way hastily into the forest.
This was only the start of what turned out to be a wildlife extravaganza. As we drove up to the park Visitor Centre and boarded the free shuttle bus to the start of the South Kaibab trail, a coyote came strolling up the road, two bobcats dashed across silhoutted by the sun, another family of mule deer were taking a stroll, a mother and baby elk basked in the shade of the trees by the roadside and a couple of red squirrels pranced across and up a tree. All from the comfort and security of the complimentary shuttle bus!
The Grand Canyon, like Zion, limits the amount of personal traffic into popular areas by shuffling the hoards of tourists along in regular shuttle buses from April through to November, therefore limiting the ‘bear jams’ you find in other places. During the bus drivers narratives, they’re quite quick to infuse the park commentary with wildlife sightings and are usually pretty quick to spot them. What you don’t get is the dumb tourists stopping in the middle of the road around a bend, an accident waiting to happen, while taking a million pictures of a squirrel up a tree.
The bus dropped us at the South Kaibab trailhead, and having missed out on a permit to hike down to the Colorado River and camp on the canyon floor (which we applied for four months ago while in London), we were limited to doing a day hike only, opting for a short, punchy, yet strenuous hike down to Cedar Ridge. For those interested in taking the hike to the the canyon bottom, we overheard many others talking about booking a year in advance, yet we could only attempt four months prior, go figure!! Anyhow, we thoroughly enjoyed the trek down to Cedar Ridge and the views it afforded. The way back was another story.
Going down the path is steep, so take this into consideration when going down too far, as the sun only gets higher and hellishly hot. The National Park services advises you it will take hikers up to three times as long to get back up as it does to get down, and people have died from heat exhaustion attempting to hike to the canyon floor and back in a day. We found starting early the easiest way to beat the heat, and managed to stay in the shade almost the entire hike down and back.
Taking a well needed $2 eight minute shower in the Mather Campground (yep free camping makes life’s simple pleasures bliss), doing some cheap laundry at the same time, our wildlife encounters for the day weren’t over. As Sarah left the laundry with an armful of clean clothes, she ran straight into a family of five mule deer just hanging by the door.
Capturing some shots, life back on the road recommenced, though only down to the town of Williams, 60 miles directly south of the Grand Canyon village. On the way you can stop off at Bedrock City to try a Bronto Burger or some Gravelberry pie, before taking a slide down the tail of the brontosaurus statue just like Fred Flintstone. The $5 entry put us off but if you had kids I’m sure it’d be fun. We did spot this perfect little sign in the front carpark though…
Williams, the last town bypassed by another mind numbing interstate, still retains a small amount of Americana of the famous yet fabled Route 66 era. Every winter the town is famous for running the Polar Express, a train which shuttles desert dwelling tourists and families into the Arizona night, eventually arriving at the North Pole, complete with Santa and his reindeer.
Matt had been giving the Sarah the absolute irrits, barking about ‘investing’ in a pair of cowboy boots. Finally getting some respite from his constant pestering, our first stop was Western Outfitters – he is finally the owner of a sweet arse pair of ’em (Matt’s words), check em out! Cool huh? Thought you’d agree.
Boots in hand and Matt a happy camper, we made our way across the road to ‘Cruiser’s Cafe 66’ for some Grand Canyon Brewery thirst quenching, with the likes of White Water Wheat and Coffee Bean Porter. Being sat outside we were afforded the chance to listen to some live music, with musician John Carpino strumming cover songs to the like of Crowded House, ACDC, Bob Marley and the Little River Band. With the temperature dropping, we were eventually the only people left outside. We gave John a big round of applause when he finished with Green Days ‘Time of your life’, then invited him to join us for a beer, which he did.
Turns out we’d arrived on one of the quietest nights of the week, with John telling us the place was heaving only a few nights ago. It seems they get the backpacking crowd arriving by train from the Grand Canyon, who come along and join John in some drunken singalongs to that old favourite ‘Hey Jude’…you know, the one all the backpackers know, no matter which country they’re from? John was nice enough to show us some video of it going off and sent us this photo of the crowd getting involved, tambourines and maracas included!
Not ready to call it a night just yet, we wandered a little down the street to the ‘World Famous Sultana Bar‘, claimed to have the longest operating liquor license in the state of Arizona and supposedly hiding loads of prohibition era tunnels and gambling dens. We love a bar with a bit of a dive bar locals vibe (as you probably already know) and this place fit the bill perfectly. Pulling up a couple of seats at the bar we soon got talking to some locals, and spent the night being fed free tacos and Fireball jelly shots (uhhh where have they been all our lives??).
Leaving before things got out of hand, we cut through the nearby Circle K gas station to get to Porkchop, and got talking to some chunky local lads in their truck. When they found out we were Australian they told us they were surfers (doubtful there’s a board on the planet could hold those guys weight), but they didn’t like the sharks in Australia. When the conversation turned to our saltwater crocodiles, one guy whipped out his platinum handgun and starts waving it around, telling us this is how he’d take care of those f*%kers. Needless to say we didn’t stick around much longer.