Thursday, October 26, 2006

Holbrook, Arizona to Kanab, Utah

At 4:30 this morning, even though I was in a motel, I couldn’t sleep any longer. The novel idea occurred "why not start the day like so many other people - early!"

Went out into the dark and still morning, walking along the empty highway. (No accommodation for pedestrians out here. What conceivable reason is there for anyone to walk?) Without a trace of concern for traffic, casually crossed the broad expanse of asphalt to a nearby “Denny’s”. Around 30 degrees outside, with a brisk wind.

Inside the restaurant, two men were having breakfast together - Navajo speakers.

Other diners soon joined the three of us. Ordered a strawberry waffle, of course.

After breakfast, returned to the motel to work on the blog and address e-mails. A good wireless connection for a change. And Blogger finally took the word identification "security feature" off my site, making it much easier to work.

It should be nice today, if chilly. I'm thinking of the Grand Canyon. The South Rim at least, perhaps both. Highway 50 across Nevada ("the loneliest highway in America") will have to wait until some future ride. But I think a trip back to California's Carrizo Plain is in order. News of warmer weather in California is alluring.

***

LATER

Across the nation, elevation signs greet visitors on the outskirts of towns. Why is this considered the most significant piece of data next to the name and perhaps population?

It was such a clear day that from over 100 miles away, Humphreys Peak outside of Flagstaff was visible on the northwest horizon. Perfect weather for a visit to the Grand Canyon. "But is the North Rim open?"

Kept my eye on some high clouds swirling over the eastern horizon. I'm not quite ready for a repeat performance from Mother Nature.

There's a "Cracker Barrel" in Flagstaff! (They're slowly making their way to the West Coast.) Amazingly, I was content to pass it by. Followed U.S. 89 north out of Flagstaff.

At Cameron, where highway 64 turns off for the South Rim, I had expected to find information on the North Rim status, that would guide my decision on a path from here. But the information kiosk was closed. I inquired at a nearby gift shop if they have heard any news about the North Rim. They had not. I decided to take a chance on the North Rim anyway. (I quickly realized trying to visit both Rims in one day would be out of the question.)

Cold – especially in those areas around Flagstaff where the highway climbs to over 8,000 feet. A long day riding in the cold really saps the energy. Sometimes it’s so frigid you can’t even tell the heated grips and electric vest are operating. But without them, I would have stopped long ago.

Near the Vermilion Cliffs, I pulled off the road for a stop to soak up some warmth before heading to the high country again. I could see there's snow up on the Kaibab Plateau. (Passed an interesting little motel at Vermilion Cliffs, back up the road a ways.)

Watching the stream of motor homes, fifth wheels and four wheelers passing me by on U.S. 89, I began to feel there is no hope for us. We just "need" so much stuff! And little do we realize the consequences.

Few police seen in Arizona. Today I saw one patrol car. Funny how it varies so much from state to state. I imagine human behavior is pretty consistent across this country, yet the approach to law enforcement is not. Taxes seem high in Arizona. Is it to help pay for the large population in poverty?

In Jacob's Lake, I learned that the North Rim is still open to vehicles, though all services have been shut down for the winter. At the National Park entrance, the booth was unattended. There was no fee to enter the park at this time. Forests on the Kaibab Plateau have been devastated by fires, a largely natural phenomena arising from lightning strikes (though compounded by careless humans.)

I drove out to The Grand Canyon Lodge near Bright Angel Point. Only a few visitors to this normally teeming attraction. The Lodge was closed, but paths that trace the rim are open. I found it incredibly peaceful, and felt honored to be able to share the solitude with just a few fellow travelers, who spoke in hushed, almost solemn tones. It is a spiritual place. I took the short hike out to Bright Angel Point, a narrow promontory offering unparalleled views of the canyon.



What a difference a day makes! Looking east from Grand Canyon's North Rim, on a clear blue day.



Cabins at the "Grand Canyon Lodge", on the North Rim


At the sprawling, but completely vacant North Rim Campground, I found a pay phone and called Janie. I told her I would be camping on the North Rim. Rather than staying in the developed area around the Lodge, I wanted to camp at the more remote Cape Royale, where I had once camped long ago.

The North Rim is nothing like I remember. (I think my last visit was 35 years ago.) The forests are not nearly as dense as I recall. There is nowhere to hide amidst the trees, no brush to conceal a campsite. (Has all the brush been intentionally cleared?) I was quite confused when I reached Cape Royale. It is just a narrow spit of rock, rather than the edge of plateau as I had remembered. Had I actually camped out here on the edge last time? (I recall laying out my sleeping bag on the rim, with a panorama of the canyon from the campsite.) Everything is now carefully developed to control access and minimize the impact from the hordes of visitors.



Grand Canyon from the North Rim's Cape Royale lookout



Looking across to the South Rim, and in the far distance, the 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, just outside of Flagstaff.


Despite the near-perfect day, looking south and west in the afternoon light, the canyon was hazy. Too hazy, and I didn't expect it to be much better in the morning. The ice encountered on the roads out to Cape Royale was a big concern. If I stayed overnight, it might be well into afternoon tomorrow before the ice thawed again, making it relatively safe to ride out. I decided to get off the plateau tonight, before the air temperature again dropped to freezing.

It turned into a race against the setting sun to reach the northern edge of the Kaibab, about 75 miles away. It was an exciting, anxious ride, as I was on guard for ice, gravel and deer.



Much of the forest on Arizona's Kaibab Plateau has burned in recent years. Lightning-caused fires are a natural occurrence up here.


I was relieved as, in twilight, the road began its descent toward Fredonia and Kanab. A gradual drop in elevation brought a welcome warming of the air.

My plan changed from camping to possibly finding a motel. In Kanab, there were a number of choices. On the east side of town, I thought I'd check the rates at a brand new "Holiday Inn Express". Several buses were lined up out front - not a good sign. “We have 165 7th graders staying here,” I was told at the registration desk. They’re from a “private school in San Jose, California”. Their study involves traveling around the country. (Apparently, there’s lots of money behind that school!) They were booked up. At $89 plus taxes though, I wasn't too disappointed. I didn’t want to spend quite that much tonight.

On the north side of town, I found the "Quail Park Lodge", a tiny motel that advertises “low rates, very clean." It looks like it was built in the 30s or 40s. And the parking lot appeared full – a good sign. The proprietor said he had one room left, and with a total price of $39.86, it was perfect for me. (Only after I checked into my room did it occur to me "how could you prefer a corporate chain motel to this? This place has character and personality!")

Often, until I stop riding, I don’t realize how chilled I had become. Then my body starts to shake. Such was the case this evening. But you let the body "do its thing," generate energy through muscle spasms, and slowly it has warmed again. Amazing.

"Amici’s Family Restaurant" across the street was recommended as a good spot for dinner. And having avoided the expense of a "Holiday Inn", I felt I could live it up a bit. Had a “Squatter’s American Wheat Hefeweizen” beer and their "Totto" pizza, which impressed me with its excellent crust. Remarked to a tall, slender woman server how good their food is. I met "Heike". She’s the co-owner (dressed the same as the waitresses.) She and her boyfriend, Doug came from Miami, where they waited tables and later managed restaurants. Originally she’s from Hamburg/Hanover, Germany. March 2008 update: Sadly, I see "Amici's" has closed. But Doug and Heike are spending more time with their films ("Rock Ledge Films") and photography.

1 comment:

Doug & Heike said...

Happened across your Blog and appreciate the comments about Amicis! We had a great time there but could not keep enough staff. We're still in Utah and enjoying our photography...Our new site is www.rockledgefilms.com
Safe travels!
Doug & Heike