Someone once wrote that to travel expectantly is better than to arrive. Getting to Grand Canyon, Curtis and I had more than enough time today to travel expectantly.
Today, we are traveling expectantly even though we don’t know what to expect when we hit the ground in Phoenix. There is snow in the forecast for Grand Canyon, but it doesn’t look like a lot. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Our trip began with an early-morning flight out of Madison. (Thanks to my dad for the ride, before the sun came up.) We went the wrong direction to Detroit and then finally towards Phoenix. It’s a long flight from Detroit to Phoenix. It seems a lot longer when one is traveling expectantly.
Now, noting left to do but head north and go to the Grand Canyon! The game plan is to get to our hotel in Tusayan, collect our thoughts and head up the last six miles to see the Grand Canyon at sunset. The folks at the rental car counter said Interstate 17 had been closed earlier in the day, but had reopened. “Great,” I thought. “The winter weather has passed through and we’ll have no trouble getting to Tusayan.” I mentioned snow to the rental car agent, and she said, “Oh, no. We have sand storms and thunderstorms here. Just be careful.” All right! Let’s go.
About an hour outside of Phoenix, it starts to snow. I recall seeing a green sign along the roadside marking our elevation at 3,000 feet. It’s pretty snow, as seen with a background of saguaro cacti, and it’s not sticking to the road. Once we start downhill again, it stops and a weak sun emerges. All right! We’ve had our snow.
As we continue to climb, the snow comes back. At the 5,000-foot marker, it’s getting pretty bad. We’re down to 35MPH, slowly passing signs that say “Speed Limit 75MPH.” The usual collection of yahoos is passing us at 50MPH. At around 6,000 feet, we see many of the same yahoos off the road on both sides. At 7,000 feet, there is a car on its side. I’ve been keeping calm for Curtis’s sake, but as we passed the flipped car, I said, “This is pretty bad.”
Things get a little worse before they start to get better. Luckily the yahoos have all slid off the road or have slowed down, and there are no more slippery sections. On into Flagstaff, the sky clears and the weak sun returns. Snow squalls continue. We stop to get snacks and for my hands to stop shaking.
We call the hotel in Tusayan to see how the roads are between Flagstaff and there. Another guest has just arrived from Flagstaff, and she tells the front desk that it’s about the same all the way: weak sun, occasional snow squalls, but not bad. Reassured, we set off.
There are several ways to get out of Flagstaff towards Grand Canyon. Only one is open due to slide-offs, so that’s the route we take. The roads are relatively clear, and the scenery is tremendous. Finally making good time, we settle in and enjoy the vistas in the fading sunlight.
Alas, the one route open to Grand Canyon takes us to the East Gate, which is not where the hotels are. We buy our entry pass for the park, and proceed to drive the Desert View Drive through the park, along the rim of Grand Canyon, for 26 miles to the South Gate. This sounds like fun, actually. I’m sure it would be fun if we hadn’t just white-knuckled our way up from Phoenix.
We jump off Desert View Drive at Lipan Point to get our first view of the Grand Canyon. (It is sunset, so we’re mostly on track with our original plan!) It’s about 20 degrees, icy, and very windy at Lipan Point. We jump out of the car, skate to the promontory, snap a picture (trying to keep the camera steady while shivering), and get back in the car. We’ll have other days to enjoy the view.
I have to take a minute here to say that the Grand Canyon is spectacular. There were clouds inside the canyon and the colors are unbelievable. I look forward to having a bit more time to reflect on this beauty when I am not holding onto my hair to prevent it from being ripped of my head by the icy wind.
Back in the car, it starts to snow again. Hard. It’s getting dark, and there is literally no one in the Grand Canyon except us. And a coyote we see walking the road. We crawl the 26 miles from one gate to the other, finally turn south again and arrive in Tusayan.
Big sigh, check into our hotel, it’s 8pm. That’s nearly seven hours to do a drive that’s supposed to take four and a half. The only thing open for dinner is a sports bar next door. Quick pizza and collapse in our room. It’s 9pm local time; 11pm in Madison, and we’ve been up since before dawn. A long day. We have traveled expectantly. We have traveled nervously. We have traveled with great anticipation. We have arrived.