Saturday, April 07, 2007


Friday morning, we woke up early and quickly showered, expecting to take off early on our trip to the Grand Canyon. It was at least a four hour drive to Flagstaff alone, so I wanted to be on the road early, with the hope we would get to the Canyon that day and head back to Tucson the next day.

While we had planned to get up and going early, figuring to eat at yet another fast food place or horrors a gas station, my aunt had planned that we would have breakfast with her, and when I finished showering, I noticed she already had the table set for breakfast, and a pot of coffee made. How could we refuse to stay and eat then??

It was nice having breakfast with her and talking about some family matters we hadn't covered the night before. So by the time we got on the road, it was about 8:30 am., and probably better that way, as we missed all the early morning traffic.

The route we would take to Flagstaff was part of the same route we took to Sedona the year before, Highway 17. Highway 17 is a winding, mountainous road, with continuous elevation increases along the way. As in the plane, my ears continually plugged and popped on this road. Some of it was familiar to me, but I kept wondering why we were going north to Flagstaff, since my Internet directions to the Skywalk distinctly routed us northwest, towards Las Vegas. But I didn't speak up, figuring it wasn't worth arguing about. Once we reached Flagstaff, I wish I had said something!

Its a beautiful drive, but lots of traffic, and today we were forewarned of an accident "17 miles ahead. Expect delays." What else was new?? At that point, however, there was no sign of any traffic backup. But soon, we were in the midst of it. From what I remember, it took about 45 minutes to go 3 miles. There was no other way out--no crossovers to go the other way, only one exit we didn't need, and just a long, winding road going up to the sky it seemed. Still, that 45 minutes beat another trip I was on where it took 3 hours to go 3 miles (in Tennessee on highway 75).
As we approached Flagstaff, we started seeing snow on the ground. Not covering it like we had seen on the weather the day before, but patches here and there, and this:

Arriving in Flagstaff, we were "greeted" by unbelievable traffic. Both sides of the main street were lined with hotels and restaurants, and as far as you could see there were lines of cars going every direction. We attempted to find the Visotor's Center, since we saw the sign entering the city, but couldn't find it. The sign had indicated it was "2 miles" ahead, but I guess it took so long to go the 2 miles that we lost track of where it might be.
We were confused as to where to go. Signs pointed north to the Grand Canyon and west to Los Angeles. Some choices! We were in the wrong lane to turn north, which was also the old Route 66. I did not realize Route 66 went that far south (meaning "south" in Arizona as opposed to "north" in Colorado or somewhere. I really had no idea.). So we had to loop around town, and this proved to be quite an ordeal. Like I said, the traffic was bumper to bumper, and because of this I was dreading the Grand Canyon adventure, which by this time of day we had decided would be early the next morning.
We really wanted to stay closer to the Canyon, and since it was 75 miles north of Flagstaff, we decided to try to drive closer that day. Once we got outside of town, it became obvious there were no more hotels, so fortunately we stopped sooner rather than later to verify directions and information from, once again, a gas station, since we had not been able to find that elusive Visitors Center. And we were informed then to either turn back to Flagstaff now or go on ahead to a resort where the rates were around $300 a night. Otherwise, there were no other hotels between there and the Grand Canyon. So we turned back, found a reasonably priced hotel, and then set out--on foot--to get something to eat.
We decided to eat at Bun Huggers, a build-your-own-burger place, where they have a huge grill where they cook your food (burgers, chicken, steaks, etc.) and then you put your own condiments or whatever on it. We were both very hungry at this point, and I pretty much gobbled my food. I wasn't sure we would get another meal that day, since Don tends to like to eat a lot of food early in the day and then snack the rest of the day. Me? I prefer to eat meals steadily and avoid all that snacking. So I was stocking up.
The weather in Flagstaff that day was cold and windy, but sunny. We were used to the cold and wind, but to have sunshine all day? Bonus. We decided to walk through town and check things out. We stopped at yet another gas station, after Don decided we should play some cards and drink some wine to pass the time that day. :) At the gas station, he asked where the Visitors Center was, and we found out it was still several blocks away at the train depot, which we had seen on our first drive through of the town but had not passed. So we had missed the Visitors Center sign because of that.
We decided to walk up there and get some more information on the Grand Canyon and Skywalk so we would be ready the next day. Just in our walk a few blocks away, two trains passed through town, and we would realize during the night that trains went through every hour.
At the Visitors Center, we got a rude awakening: the Skywalk was at the West Grand Canyon (we were close to the North and South Rims), 4 hours west of Flagstaff. Four more hours! It was early in the afternoon, and four hours would have gotten us there by evening, but after having already checked into a hotel, and paid up front, I knew there was no way we would be driving there today. I wanted to get up early the next day then and avoid the crowds, both on the roads and at the Skywalk, if possible.
That meant getting up at 4:30 am and heading out. My eyes protested the early wakeup call, but we did get up and out on the road by 5:15. We had noticed the sun usually came up in Arizona by 6 am, so we only had a short ride in the dark. Since we were heading west, we didn't see the sun rise, but it was still a beautiful view. We were both surprised that not only were we able to get in some decent radio stations, but that our cell phones still worked! Either there are way more towers in Arizona than there were in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming (that's probably a given), or switching carriers actually paid off.
Our destination was Kingman, the closest town to the West Grand Canyon, and it was about 4 hours from Flagstaff. And the adventure continued.


Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

As I was reading this, I was wondering why you were going to Grand Canyon from Tuscon via Flagstaff. I suppose looking back on it, you are now wondering the same thing!!

Sounds like you took the 'scenic' route!

Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

I may stand corrected on the Tuscon to Grand Canyon via Flagstaff thing

My memory must be worst than I thought. :)