Arizona & Nevada

After an amazing month in Utah, we got off to a false start in Arizona. Just a couple of miles into the state of Arizona is ‘Horseshoe bend’ where the Colorado river  makes a strange bend in the shape of, you guessed it, a horseshoe. It’s one of those classic ‘South West USA images’ that appears in all travel guides and other publications. But it feels a bit like a ‘tourist trap’. There is an expensive parking lot and hundreds of visitors at all time of day.  The view is nice but it really is just that: one view, one image. After all the amazing things we saw in Utah, we were a bit disappointed and started to wonder if that other classic the ‘Grand Canyon’ would be as ‘over hyped’ as this site.

We drove into Grand Canyon National Park while the sun was setting. We still had to find a sleeping spot as we did not have campground reservations, but we did take the time to go to a couple of look outs and it became clear that unlike Horsehoe Bend, this park would live up to its reputation. While driving to our camp spot we even spotted a big bull elk right next to the road. We never expected to cross these animals again this far south, but it seems that a healthy elk population lives next to the canyon.

The next morning, we wanted to go have a closer look at the canyon and decided to descend down into it, on a hike. There are several options on how far down you can go: easy, hard, very hard or a 2 day hike (all the way to the Colorado river and back up). That last option was unfortunately not possible for us, as a camp spot needs to be reserved a year in advance. The first option was ‘recommended for children’ but only descended to a viewpoint a couple of hundred meters down. We decided for the ‘very hard’ option and wanted to get down to ‘Skeleton point’. Walking down was hard on the knees but that was quickly forgotten by all the amazing views. We were down before we knew it. But of course we also had to go back up. And here something happened that we knew was going to happen someday, but we did not expect it to happen so fast. While the three of us were slowly walking back up, Leon started to accelerate and just walked/ran away from us. We thought he would run ‘out of fuel’ at some point. But he just kept putting distance between him and us. As the path is a bit tricky at some point, I decided to try to catch up but although I went ‘all out’, I had no chance. He was just running away. If a ranger had not stopped him, he would have been at the top maybe 20 minutes before us. Until that hike we always said to people that our kids hiking capabilities were ‘at par’ with our own. We now realised that this was no longer true.

Our second day in the canyon, after a beautiful sunrise (in pyjamas), we were a bit more lazy and took the shuttles to a couple of viewpoints. And even though these views are truly spectacular, we felt that the canyons that we saw in ‘Canyonlands NP’ in Utah were probably more impressive and grander than the Grand Canyon. But maybe that also had something to do with the fact that it was the first canyon that we saw…

For our next stop we drove away from the ‘traditional South West USA road trip’ that would go straight to Las Vegas. Instead we drove further south to a region that we only knew from some cool images from Instagram: Sedona. We expected to be a bit away from the crowds on this ‘side trip’. We could not have been more wrong! All though Sedona is not that popular yet with international travelers, it is a major attraction for US travelers. The fact that we arrived during ‘Memorial Day’ weekend did not help! For the first time, finding a sleeping spot was a bit of quest, as a lot of the public land was closed for camping.

After reading up a bit, we learned that the hikes that we wanted to do, were also extremely popular so the next morning we left for the trailhead before sunrise and we only just got the last parking spot. We did two hikes to some caves: the ‘Subway cave’ and the ‘Birthing Cave’. The former is not an official hike but a diversion of an existing hike to a spectacular viewpoint in a cave that looks like a ‘Subway station’. The place became famous on Instagram and now hardly anyone finishes the official hike. Thanks to our early start we still had the place to ourselves and did not have to queue for the famous Instagram picture. On our way back, however we crossed busloads of people all wanting that one really cool picture. The second cave is a bit less famous but also really nice. And the people watching was great. It is rather slippery and observing people trying to take the perfect selfie was a bit like watching ‘America’s funniest home videos’ (or ‘fail movies’ as they are called today apparently).  

From Sedona, we continued driving a bit further south on a bit of a pilgrimage to Jerome. This abandoned mining town has been transformed into a tourist attraction by just one man. Maynard James Keenan, singer of ‘Tool’ (one of my all time favorite bands), started producing wine in this region and invested heavily in restauration of the town. His Caduceus cellars tasting room and Puscifer store attract rock fans from all over the world. But the quality of the wine from this region also put it on the map with wine lovers that have no affinity with the man or his music. Meeting Maynard was not really an objective (he was on tour anyway), but it was still great to witness his other works ‘in real life’ and ofcourse we did not leave without buying some of his wine.

Driving back north, we drove on a part of the ‘mother road’. The Route 66, the mother of all US road trips, has mostly been replaced by other bigger, faster roads but here and there across the USA between Santa Monica and Chicago some parts still exist. Some little towns that used to be really busy now just (barely) survive thanks to melancholic tourists on road trips back in time to the golden age of the automobile and birth of tourism and road tripping across the USA.  

Back on the trail of ‘classics’ of the South West our next stop is Las Vegas. Many people rave about it but we were really unsure about what to expect. Driving into town was special, from a distance this big city suddenly appears in the middle of the desert. It feels completely out of place. we skipped the gambling and went for a walk along the strip passing through Rome, Venice, Paris and New York (we did not make it to Egypt and whatever other places they imitate). It was fun to see some of this crazy (free) entertainment but it is also a sad place if you observe all the people gambling away their holiday money while hoping to get rich fast… Or the celebrities from days gone by, now performing daily shows in some casino to cash in some extra cash before retirement.

The highlight of the evening was however (by total coincidence) running into Alessio, a guy I had been hiking with a year earlier in Nepal and who is now travelling around the US in his car. We (secretly) parked for the night in the parking lot of a Casino and the next morning swap travel stories over coffee.

On our way out of Vegas and after a nice shower (and swim) in a local public pool, we meet up with the nice folks from Roaming Nomads, a nice family from Germany who have been travelling through the USA and Canada for 9 years in a campervan with their two kids. Today there are a lot of people calling themselves ‘modern nomads’ but these are the first we meet that have truly earned that label/badge.

It becomes a week full of meet ups because the next day we also have a final meet up with Suzanne & Tommy (aka ‘the other Belgians). We met them a couple of times in Canada in summer and have had similar routes but now our ways are splitting. They will go to the East of the US while we go south towards Mexico. Over a campfire we catch up on our adventures. Leon and Lucie, having found someone to speak dutch with, subject Tommy and Suzanne to a thousand stories and just as many questions.

Together we visit the Valley of Fire. After two months of travelling through canyons and seeing the most amazing rock formations, we didn’t really expect to be really surprised by this small Nevada state park. We could not have been more wrong because we are really blown off our socks by the crazy colors in the rocks in this park. It feels a lot like a hallucination. Or as the girl from the German family had described it: “like a unicorn has peed all over the rocks”. 

After a goodbye and see you later in Belgium, we drive back through Las Vegas on our way to our final US state of this trip.

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One thought on “Arizona & Nevada

  1. Drove past Las Vegas at night, and it was literally the black of night, the blip of Vegas neon, then utter darkness again. So weird.
    Future Grand Canyon tip- go to the north rim. It’s far less crowded. And, that year out reservation is no joke. It’s been like that since before I went in college back in ’91.

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