July 27: Canyons, Cacti and Cruise Control

Grand Canyon View

I just spent a long time on this post and then, through a technological foible, all was lost and I am back at square one.  Were this a different post I might be tempted to ditch it and hold off until the next time but I really want to cover the last few days of the trip, for a few reasons: 1.  I saw and experienced so many cool things, and 2.  I feel like I can’t move on to other posts until I knock this one out.  So, I proceed to the knocking out of said post.

As I traveled south from Canada I noticed many marked changes:  less hours of light, less bugs, more intense sunlight, more humidity, less trees, more sand, more vibrant colors, and more cars, just to name a few.  Having less sunlight means traveling in the dark at times and, while I’m not a big fan of riding at night, sometimes it’s necessary.  I arrived in Page at night with only the city lights and broad lightning strikes in the distance to illuminate the landscape and didn’t get much of an appreciation for the desert surrounding the city, nor Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam at the city’s edge.  Glen Canyon DamWhen I woke up on the morning of July 25th I was startled by the amount of color, the bright reds, pinks, oranges, corals and every mixture in between.  I had a very standard complimentary Continental breakfast while enjoying the very non-standard view through the window, loaded up my bike and hit the road like so many other mornings before.  I road back over the bridge to get a good daytime view and was amazed at how much I had missed in the night.  Lake Powell is beautiful and would make for a great weekend vacation spot.  I turned back around on US-89 South and made my way towards the Grand Canyon, some 130 miles to the southwest, as the motorcycle flies.

The Colorado Plateau is home to the most National Parks in the nation and each one is beautiful and majestic in its own right, but the Grand Canyon is truly the brightest diamond in a big bag o’ beauties.  In some ways it was a fitting end to my travels, being the vastest and most majestic sight my motorcycle put me in front of throughout the entire six-week journey.  The sheer size of it is overwhelming, but couple that with the beauty of the river, rocks, plateaus, etc., and it becomes a spectacular creation which no human should miss in their brief stay on this planet.  Amazing.  I started on the east side of the South Rim which turned out to be not nearly as crowded as the western side, which is near the visitor’s center, and slowly worked my way west.  The great (and somewhat frightening) thing about the Grand Canyon is that they don’t try to restrict your enjoyment of it.  The signs say “Your safety is your own responsibility.  Don’t underestimate the Canyon.”  Translation: “If ya get hurt it’s yer own fault cuz we already done told you to be careful.”  I didn’t underestimate the Canyon.  I climbed around on some of the rocks and made my way out to a small formation for some pictures, but didn’t get too crazy.  Grand CanyonI would love to make a return trip to hike down into the canyon, possibly across to the North Rim.  The age and color of the rock the Colorado River has cut its way through over the years varies greatly throughout the park and yields a dynamic display of multi-hued formations.  The rock the river is currently working on is extremely old and hard and has given up only the bare minimum that time has required of it, making for a very steep inner canyon.  They call it the “Canyon within the Canyon” and it would dwarf many of the world’s other canyon’s on its own, apart from the expansive soft rock sections towering above it.  It was difficult to wrapmy mind around how large the Canyon was while seeing it in person, so let me throw out some numbers to help myself and maybe you, too:  The average distance between the North and South Rims is 10 miles…15 miles at it’s widest.  The average depth is 4000 feet over its 277 mile length (nearly 6 times the length of Rhode Island and longer than California is wide), and is over 6000 feet at its deepest section…over three and a half times the height of the tallest building in the world.  Don’t underestimate the Canyon…

I spent about three hours at the Canyon, taking in the sights and wondering at the largeness of everything, before the lateness of the day required myAZ departure.  I knew that I was leaving my last real destination of the trip and it was difficult.  From then on out it was only going to be driving and I would be home before I knew it…the trip was coming to an end.  I got on the bike and turned south towards the Prescott, AZ, area to spend the night with some friends.  The driving at this point in the journey was all long, flat, open roads requiring little technical skill and constant pressure on the throttle…an activity which can tire the right forearm when done for hours at a time.  Thankfully, I had purchased a cruise control-like accessory for the bike before I had left on the trip and it came in rather handy throughout this stretch of my travels.  I dodged thunderstorms on my way down to I-40 and enjoyed the smell of the recent rain on the thick pine needle bed which coated the forest floor.  The road teased me all day, alternately turning towards and away from the large storms in the distance.  I didn’t get much in the way of rain until I came close to Prescott at which point the skies grew incredibly dark and the rain and lightning came down fast and furious.  It wasn’t too bad, though, and I pulled up to the house with a pair of wet jeans as the day’s only casualty.  It was great to see familiar faces and I was again spoiled by good food, a good internet connection, and, most importantly, great conversation.

I planned on getting on the road at about 9 the next morning but didn’t leave until close to 11…now a familiar routine.  The waffles were worth it, though, and I hit the road with a full stomach, a rare occurrence throughout the previous month and a half of riding.  I jumped on US-89 South which turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable section of road full of sharp turns and well-maintained roads, something I’ve learned to not take for granted after seeing every version of “poorly maintained” possible.  Video below…all sorts of fun.  My time on the 89 came to an end, as did the enjoyable, comfortable riding, and I spent the rest of the day riding west in stifling heat and oppressive humidity.  This truly was the most miserable riding weather I had encountered in the 39 days I had been away from home.  If it’s cold, you put on more clothes.  If it’s hot, you put on the mesh jacket and take off the waterproof pants.  If it’s raining, you make sure you’re wearing the waterproof pants and anything other than the mesh jacket.  If it’s hot and muggy, you…suffer.  No fun.  I think the low point came as I descended down the hill into the Coachella valley…man, it was nasty.  I pulled up to my parents’ house in Escondido wanting to get off of the bike and jump straight into the swimming pool.

It was great to see my parents.  They were such a help and encouragement to me on this trip and it was really fun to see how they had been following me on the map, circling the different places I had been.  My dad grilled some steaks and my mom made some veggies and salad…so good.  The pool erased the day’s discomfort within seconds (video below) and the comfortable bed in my old bedroom was extremely welcome.  My dad made pancakes and bacon the next morning and I got on the road for the final time.  I was only 30 miles from my house, which I could have easily done the night before, but the evening with my parents was a true highlight of the trip…and for some silly reason I wanted to stick to my original arrival date of July 27.  I was surrounded by more cars than I was used to, traveling south on the 4-plus lanes of I-15 towards San Diego, and although the streets were all familiar to me I still felt like I was in the middle of my trip.  I think I felt that way until I pulled into my driveway, got off of my bike and saw the cat lounging at the door.  Home.  What a weird feeling…it took a while to set in.  I think it still is.

A few more posts to come…thanks again for all of your comments.  I’m glad you all have been enjoying this as much as I have.  I hope you will each have, or have had, the opportunity to experience this continent in a way similar to this trip.  It’s so incredibly worth it.  Ok, all for now.  GPS files here, here, here, here, and here.  More pictures on Flickr.

Rain on the North Rim Grand Canyon Grand Canyon Cloud Got my Kicks

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