Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Coloring the sunshine hours, they are the ladies of the Canyon."

Grand Canyon, Part I

Chelsea: We awoke and packed up early at Zion so we could make it to the Grand Canyon before sunset. That morning, we finally started slipping into a routine packing up Prudence, each claiming our own tasks, without discussing who’d do what. Being with a person who can read you without speaking certainly makes everything a lot easier and more time-efficient. Not to mention more fun. By the time we packed, cleaned up, took showers in Springdale (the nearby town) and got gas, it was about 9:30 A.M. Time to say goodbye to Zion. As I drove through the winding mountains, I tried to memorize the beautiful landscape that I will miss dearly until the day I meet it again. We crossed through Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is an impressive 1.1 miles long (apparently in its day, in 1930, it was the longest of its kind in the USA) to get through to the other side of the park. Leaving the tunnel, we were faced with the other less-used part of Zion. It was just so insanely gorgeous, we couldn’t stop taking pictures and marveling at the sights.

Zion's "backside"

Entering the Mt. Carmel Tunnel

As a side note, I should also mention that if you’re driving through the country, and you’re intent on taking back roads or smaller highways, you should get quite comfortable with the idea of  having no radio or cell phone service. I know it can sometimes feel like there is no such thing as the “middle of nowhere” in our super-developed, sprawling nation, but trust me, there is quite a bit of undeveloped nothing out there. As refreshing as this is conceptually, it can also be never-ending, and quite frankly, a little boring. Bring CDs, tapes, or an ipod to rock out to (Shout out to the Saw Doctors, our ONLY cassette tape on hand, which has gotten more than its fair share of play on this leg of the trip! Hayyy!). Or, you know, you could connect to your surroundings, if that’s your thing. ;-)

See? Miles of Nothing!

So, we’re chugging along, and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we came upon a small town called Kenab, Utah (which apparently is where a bunch of old movies and TV shows have been filmed). Worried we wouldn’t see another sign of civilization for hours, we stopped in for gas and lunch. We happened upon a little restaurant called Nedra’s Cafe, which promised the best Mexican cuisine around. And we were NOT disappointed. The food was glorious and plentiful, and the waitstaff was so incredibly sweet and helpful. We’d only been sitting there for a couple of minutes before one of the waitresses complimented ol’ Prudence. We talked a bit about our journey, and she shyly told us “please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you on your journey.” I mean, I keep hearing about this American politeness and eagerness to help, but I haven’t experienced it in the volume the Southwest is doling it out. Coming from NYC, I sure don’t see much of it. In our corner of the country, most people are incredibly self-consumed and only willing to help if you pin them down, ask directly for assistance, and then follow-up. Sometimes repeatedly. Because you know, nothing in New York City EVER gets done without a forced, polite follow-up.

Anyway, the waitstaff at Nedra’s brought us extra chips and their famous homemade salsa to take with us. They also just took generally great care of us and even sent Nedra herself out to check on us and talk to us about our trip. Apparently, she too has crossed the country in a Volkswagen bus, and remembered the whole ordeal fondly (duh!). We had a delicious lunch (Bonnie ordered the Philly Burger and I was all over the Southwestern Eggs Benedict, both of which were fantastic and huge!) and said farewell to our new friends. We even got a pic with Nedra in front of Prudence - check it!

Me (Chelsea), Nedra, Bonnie outside of Nedra's Cafe

The road to the Canyon was long, dry and deserted. Nothing seemed to be open or operating. We were consistently lured in with promises of post offices (Nope - good try! Their operating hours are only from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM... EVERY DAY) and roadside beef jerky (No again - apparently the woman who makes it was “too lazy to prepare it” that day. Humph!), but nothing seemed to come through for us. We decided to just plug away to the Canyon, so we could see the vista before sunset.

Jerky LIES! 

Entering the Canyonlands

Prudy chillin' in the Canyonlands

We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park at about 6:30 PM, and as we rolled in, the Park Ranger said to us, “Is that a Volkswagen Bus or a time machine?” He chuckled at his joke in a way which indicated to me that either a) he has made this crack multiple times AKA every time he sees a VW bus or b) he thought of it immediately after a bus passed once, and has been waiting to unleash that beast for ages. In any case, we threw him a little laughter, some quick flirting, and got out of there. We drove through the twenty-something miles of the park, stopping off at Yaki point to marvel at the Canyon and take some pictures. I can’t even front like we didn’t each tear up a little bit, staring off into its vast beauty. My heart swelled with so much pride for the unique splendor of my own homeland (something that, unfortunately, does not happen often enough to my Europe-loving self). We stood for awhile, just staring off, and then forced ourselves to move on to find somewhere to stay.

If you don't feel love for the USA at this moment, you can GTFO of our blog!

We ended up finding free camping in the town of Tusayan, which is right outside the Canyon. There is a loop of well-worn campsites on N. Long Jim Loop Rd, just outside the park entrance. It is safe, clean, and has fire pits and campsites already built in. We found ourselves a good little spot, and settled in. Soon, our appetites for both food and booze set in, and we collectively decided to get into town and cause trouble.

Bonnie: I'll take over from here. Just like with driving Prudence, Chelsea and I like to take turns blogging. So, upon laying eyes on the roughly quarter-mile stretch of town, we figured this was the perfect place for an impromptu pub crawl. We thought it wise to start at the far end of the "strip" and work our way closer to our campsite. Excluding fast food restraurants and budget hotels, we were left with about 5 potential hot spots. After striking out on the first 3 (which were actually all the same place), we landed at Sophie's Mexican restaurant where we enjoyed a Grand Canyon Rattlesnake lager. Unfortunately the ice cold mug it came with caused the beer to foam and spill over and took a good ten minutes to recover. A little tip: just drink it out of the bottle like a real man.

"The strip." If you look closely, you'll notice "We Cook Pasta and Pizza"

After getting a little creeped out by the vibe there, we moved on to the promising "We Cook Pizza and Pasta" restaurant in the plot next door. Upon entrance, we wished we had steered clear and preserved our enchantment with an establishment that would be so to-the-point  and frills-less in naming their restaurant. What we found instead was a crowded fast-food style "restaurant" with children all over the place. UGH. We stepped back outside and sat on the curb to contemplate our options. A few minutes of that led to the realization that we didn't really have any. Our naive little hearts lifted when we heard a voice on a microphone from inside the restaurant. We looked at each other, false hope in our eyes, and voiced our mutual thought: "Live music?!". The sound was hard to make out but we dared to believe it could be a "testing, testing, 123".  We were partly right. With another moment of hesitation we heard it more clearly: "Order number 123".

Rock bottom.

Not thrilled at the thought of retreating back to our campsite in defeat, we decided to just go inside and get a beer. Twenty minutes later, we reached the ordering counter and the nice tye-dye shirt wearing order-taker explained the different size and price options for their draft beer and I blurted out, "Pitcher. I need to get drunk." Lucky for me, Chelsea was right on board. We found a free picnic table and got to it. Our conversation lagged for a bit was our fatigue from many long days of driving set in and we wondered if we could finish the pitcher. Then that beautiful Fat Tire started working its magic. A family sat down next to us and the father made a comment on how hot the wings were. Anyone who knows Chelsea, knows her obsession with buffalo wings. For those that don't, I will provide you with a short anecdote so that you can get to know us a little better. On December 3, 2008, Chelsea's 23rd birthday and the day I left Washington, D.C. for Ethiopia, I spent most of our "Staging Day" on the phone with various Upper West Side restaurants trying to get buffalo wings sent to Chelsea's apartment for her birthday. I failed at my cause as restaurants don't like taking credit card numbers over the phone but what I did accomplish was a lasting reputation in my Peace Corps group as the girl who spent a day trying to send her best friend buffalo wings for her birthday (I succeeded 1 year later with the help of Kelly Davis - thanks again, girl!). Told you you'd understand us better.

Back to the point, Chelsea couldn't resist taking this moment of eavesdropping to ask the man about the wings. To her delight, this wonderful man not only restated how hot they were, but pushed them towards us and told us to try them ourselves. At this point in the evening, we had been eying everyone around us, trying to use Jedi mind tricks to convince them that they no longer wanted that pizza and should give it to us instead. We're on a budget, people. Don't judge. I'd like to say that this offer of wings was a result of our highly effective mind tricks but I think more realistically, this was just a very kind man. We made introductions and had some great conversation (over free wings and Fat Tire beer). Brian, Megan, and their daughter Hailey were traveling from Orange County, CA. When we asked Hailey how she liked the Canyon, she expressed some interest but informed us she preferred Avi, the nearby casino they had recently visited. How adorable. This was such a lovely family and we already felt our night had improved and were quite happy with our decision to stay.

Soon this jam-packed restaurant was nearly empty and we all decided to call it a night and let the nice people close up.  I shook Brian's hand then moved on to say my farewell to Megan and Hailey. SUddenly Brian put his hand out again for a second hand shake. This struck me as odd, but I'm not one to turn down a solid handshake. I thought he might be feeling a little sentimental and, truthfully, I was feeling a little sad to see them go myself. As our hands made contact, I detected a paper-like barrier between us. My senses proved to be right when I looked down to see some cash in my hand. WHAT?!?! I instinctively threw the money on the table and pleaded with him to take it back. Hey, we may talk up our self-imposed poverty a bit to a get a free beer or some wings, but we're not trying to get people to just give us money. Well, kinda. This wonderful man would not take no for an answer and adorably suggested that we use it for gas. Finally, I relented, so inspired by the incomparable generosity of Americans. I have to echo Chelsea's sentiments of being a Europe-lover and I have my criticisms of the US, but I have been continually amazed and heartened by the regular American folks we have met and their incredible friendliness and generosity. So, once again, Chelsea and I would like to express our sincere thanks to Brian, Megan and Hailey, not just for their amazing generosity but also for their company that April night. You are already a lasting memory in this trip. I'll hand it back to Chelsea now.

Thanks, girl. So, we returned to our campsite from our adorable little “pub crawl,” happy and buzzed but slightly defeated by the general lameness of our campground. Where are all the people? The campfires? The outdorrsy 20-something mens we had built up in our heads to be flocking these Canyon lands? As we walked down the dark path to Prudence, we noticed firelight up the hill, where few cars would likely venture.

“Party!” Bonnie exclaimed, pointing upwards.

“Uh, how do you know it’s a party? Could be a family.” I responded reasonably, not wanting to get excited after the letdown in “town.”

“At this hour? I’m hiking up.” She said, changing directions to walk towards the fire.

“Uh... what are you going to do when you get up there?” I asked, internally panicking at the impending awkwardness.

“I don’t know, but I’m going.”

Anybody would have to admit that it was a ballsy move. I certainly wouldn’t have led the expedition, as we’d been previously been confronted exclusively with families and young couples. The last thing I wanted was to be dragged into a conversation on the merits of dog co-ownership, or worse . . . a little thing I like to call “couple bragfest.” That’s where two people in a relationship feel the inexplicable need to brag about everything they’ve done together, which is always a ton of stuff, very little of which I care about. It’s a variation on my hatred for facebook status abusing couples (“making dinner with my babe, then watching the office with my babe, then cuddlefest with my babe!!!). Contrary to facebook status abusing couples, “bragfest” couples are a product of super two super ambitious people who would prefer to bike ride across the country together rather than make dinner and watch the office (consequently, they look down on facebook and especially on status-abusing couples, which is hilariously ironic). Anyway, either kind of couple is absurdly annoying, and I try to avoid these types of conversations in every way possible.

Alas, and as per usual, I digress.

I trudged behind Bonnie, being the reluctant Chuckie to her fearless Tommy (Rugrats reference anybody?!) “What are you going to say to these people!?” “You better come up with a good excuse as to why we hiked up here if these aren’t boys!” “I don’t like this idea Tommy, wahhhhhh!!!!”

As we approached the top of the hill, I fell into a giggle-fit, absurd scenarios dancing around in my head. I could see a young guy’s face perk up, as I tried to keep my ish together. But, you all know me, I can’t keep it together for all the dirty, unemployed boys in the world. As we approached, I could see three guys, about our age, sitting around the fire, trying to figure out what wild animal was about to attack them slash who the hell would randomly hike up a big ass hill to crash their campfire.

Bonnie spoke up.

“Hi, we noticed your fire and wanted to see what the deal was.”

THAT was her big excuse? Way to make us look like loser stalkers, Bonnie!!!!

“Uh, we’re just hanging out, drinking some beers.” One of them said. They looked stunned. Appalled and stunned. Clearly, they were not ready for our presence, but then who ever is?

One of the boys stood up politely and shook our hands. “I’m Brian. This is Alex and Vaughn. What are your names?”

Oh good, a guy with manners. We probably won’t get chopped up and thrown in this fire.

We chatted for a minute, until Bonnie struck again and invited the both of us to crash their party, with me chiming in half-heartedly promising to return with hookah and PBRs (this is an AMURRICAN camping trip, what do you expect us to drink? You best believe we are rocking the best beer in these United States of America, according to THE WORLD FAIR circa 1892!!!!). The boys agreed, seeming somewhat game, but mostly confused and frightened.

And we descending, excited for the turn of events, having no idea where the rest of this night could possibly take us.

...Anddd now that we've reeled you in, we're exhausted and need to leave this Starbucks before the teenage boy behind the counter weirds out on us more than he already has. Stay tuned for Part II! 

1 comment:

  1. I saw the Grand Canyon last year and though I was there I still can't believe the beauty. It was soo real that it seemed unreal if that makes any sense.