November 7, 2011
Today was another long day and as a result of my sidetracking us to Phoenix for the football we were heading back in the direction we’d come from yesterday. We weren’t entirely doubling back but we were heading to Flagstaff which was about a three hour drive from Phoenix but wouldn’t have been much more if we’d gone direct from Vegas! Elizabeth was still feeling quite tired and so I drove. We were still a bit annoyed with each other so we didn’t talk much in the car and I drove straight into Flagstaff with just a single stop for petrol and lunch. We arrived in Flagstaff early afternoon and as I didn’t want to just go straight to the hostel I decided to go to a couple of the smaller national parks which were nearby, the almost-joined Sunset Crater and Wupatki. On the drive in we’d ascended higher in altitude and we’d seen plenty of snow as we’d driven along, including one section just before lunch where I could barely see the road because of the snowfall. Even the town we’d stopped in for lunch looked like it was in need of a good snow plough and I was beginning to think we’d come out the back of the wardrobe into Narnia.
When we reached the higher altitude of Sunset Crater, Elizabeth started to feel light-headed and sick. I was still annoyed with her and got even more annoyed when I tried to get her to tell me what was wrong and she just mumbled. I hate it when she doesn’t talk to me or tell me what she’s feeling or what she wants to do or where she wants to go as it feels like she is constantly shutting me out and today I had a real go at her and just left her in the car while I went and had a look around. Sunset Crater is an area surrounded on all sides by volcanoes and the lava flows here were covered in snow and looked quite surreal. It was hard to enjoy the site though knowing that Elizabeth and I weren’t talking and that she was in the car not feeling well, despite the fact she hadn’t told me she wasn’t feeling well or what was wrong!
I was going to head back into Flagstaff but Elizabeth told me I might as well continue. The two sights were connected by a 30 or so mile loop road which started and finished just outside Flagstaff. I continued on to the second area, Wupatki. This area has some amazing Native American ruins scattered around the site and like many of the national parks, they are located within easy walking distance of the road. I took the opportunity to visit a couple of these and they were really impressive. Again, I didn’t spend too much time looking around as Elizabeth was all the while sat in the car waiting for me.
We eventually got into Flagstaff and before we went into the hostel we had a chat and resolved some of our differences. I didn’t want to have a massive row in the hostel so it was better we did this before going in! We got checked in and went up to our private room, carefully maneuvering our bags around the icy parking lot. It was still fairly early and I decided to get the laundry done as it had been piling up a bit in the car – we had three loads worth in the end and were running out of clean stuff!
By the time we were done with the laundry we were both hungry and I wanted to go to the nearby brewery and watch the football and try the beer. We went to a large brewery on the corner of our road called the Lumberyard Brewery, housed in one of the old lumberyard buildings, right on the railway tracks. I was determined to try and forget the arguments of today and have a good evening so I started with a sample tray of some of the beers. These included a Red, IPA, Hefeweizen, Gold, Imperial Red and one other! Elizabeth only had a soft drink to start with but she tried a bit of all of mine and when I decided to get a larger version of the Imperial Red, she got a Red beer. In the end, I wasn’t too bothered about watching the football but the beers and food were both good and we were soon heading back to the hostel.
November 8, 2011
Today we got up and out early and headed to the Grand Canyon, the main reason we had come to Flagstaff. We weren’t that close and still had over an hours drive so after breakfast at the hostel we got on the road and headed north. As we climbed in elevation we were greeted with more snow and as we entered the national park we were completely surrounded by snow. The roads had been well cleared so driving was easy enough but it was wise to be cautious although some drivers were taking this to an extreme, driving slower than I can walk!
We started at the Grand Canyon visitor centre which is a large building along the South Rim of the canyon. We were only able to visit the south rim as the north rim is slightly higher in elevation and gets a lot more snow, meaning they close the area during the winter. Also, it is a 4 or 5 hour drive from the north to south rims, despite them being only a few miles apart as the crow flies. The visitor centre here was exactly how I remembered it – empty. The space is really large and they have ranger desks at one end but most of the central floor space was bare and it was a shame as there must surely have been more they could’ve told you about the canyon. We grabbed a canyon map and headed out to one of the trails. Directly behind the visitor centre is one of the easiest trails in the park and it just follows the south rim from the visitor centre and stretches miles in either direction. We decided to walk along a bit of it to get some different views of the canyon.
The view is truly breathtaking here and the sight was much different from my previous visit. Despite my trip about 5 years ago being only about a month earlier, maybe less, the landscape couldn’t have been more contrasting. Not only was the area surrounding us snow covered, but across the canyon you could see the snow lying heavily on the north rim, too. You don’t think of Arizona as being anything other than desert but this gave it a whole new perspective and it was every bit as pretty. The main viewing points we stopped at, or walked between, were Mather Point and Yaki Point. These viewpoints are both over 7,000 feet. The vibrant colours along the canyon walls were still visible, as was the raging Colorado River at certain points. It was just such an amazing contrast. It was lovely to walk around and get some fresh air, even if the temperatures were a little brisk.
From there we wanted to drive out to the small watchtower. Along the way we paused at the roadside a number of times for some more amazing views across the canyon. Even though it wasn’t my first visit here, nor Elizabeth’s, and we stopped numerous times, the views never cease to amaze. We reached an area of the park called Desert View and at the end of a short walkway was the Desert Viewpoint itself and the quaint little watchtower, which seemed dwarfed by the massive rock structures surrounding it. The watchtower had been built in 1932 primarily as an observation station and a stop for visitors, intending to teach them more about the American Indians past and present. We decided not to climb up the watchtower as there were plenty of ignorant people pushing around as it was and we didn’t fancy being in a confined, enclosed space when we had all this space and fresh air to walk around outside in. We strolled around the area for a while and got off some of the trails to take some pictures nearer the edge of the canyon.
Driving to Desert View created a loop for us around the park and the eastern entrance road joined up with the highway back to Flagstaff. Along the way we decided we would stop at Walnut Canyon, the third of the three national parks surrounding Flagstaff. We arrived quite late and only one trail was open and it was a short, loop trail to the edge of the rim. The canyon here was not quite so impressive but what the sight was known for was the dwellings which have been built into the cliff faces and from where we were we could see one of these, a Singagua cliff home. It took a while to spot it as it blended into the rocks but when we did it seemed silly it took so long to spot it!
Back at the visitor centre Elizabeth got her national park stamp and we were on our way again. As we left the park we saw a couple of deer crossing the road ahead of us. We slowed down and got some pictures of them after they had crossed but as we edged down the road we saw a much larger group looking like they were going to follow them. These deer were enclosed behind a fence and we watched them as, one by one, the jumped the fence and trotted over the road. The group included some larger stags but also some smaller deer who had trouble jumping the fence and timing their leaps!
Back at the hostel we warmed up and decided to eat in tonight. We had bought some soups at the supermarket previously and we had some beers so we settled in for a nice quiet night and getting ready to head out and onwards again tomorrow.