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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Arizona - The Grand Canyon

Williams and the Grand Canyon

Williams is a tiny little hamlet which has two distinguishing features. First, it is the start of the Grand Canyon Railway and second, it is on the historic Route 66 and has a well-preserved city center.

As you might have guessed, I took the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon. That was a very nice trip, both because we could enjoy nice views of the landscape and we received a lot of information about the railway as well as on-board entertainment.

The Grand Canyon was truly impressive and a little bit frightening. After all there were many places where it went straight down and there was nothing to keep you from falling off!

On the way back our train was stopped by train robbers! Fortunately, the Marshal was tight in pursuit and guaranteed us that justice will be done ;).

Grand Canyon National Park

Sunset Crater

The next day I backtracked to Flagstaff to visit Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater is a volcano which erupted around 1100AD (in geological terms: yesterday) and around it are magnificent lava flows and semi-barren landscapes.

Lava Flow in front of Sunset Crater

Just next doors is the Wupatki National Monument. This area contains multiple well-preserved ruins from the Sinagua Native Americans. They built their homes out of clay and often leveraged natural rock formations as walls for parts of their buildings. A very impressive sight.

Wupatki National Monument

Route 66 and Grand Canyon Caverns

On my way back West I followed the historic Route 66 for a while. The funny thing was that the route was even adorned with the old-school Burma-Shave Rhyming Ads.

The highlight, besides the road that is, on this stretch of Route 66 is Grand Canyon Caverns. A natural dry cavern system that is connected to the Grand Canyon, which is 40 miles away. When the caverns were discovered by Walter Peck in 1927 he though he found the first combination Gold, Silver and Diamond Mine! After the core samples were analyzed though, it was revealed that it was just iron oxide and selenite (a completely worthless mineral). So Peck decided to earn money by letting tourists into the caverns. And that's what survived till today, even though the infrastructure has been drastically improved since 1927. Another fun fact is that the US Government stored emergency rations and water in the caves during the Cuban Missile Crises to last 2,000 people for 2 weeks. These rations are still present in the caves today and would still be edible!

Grand Canyon Caverns

Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk

On my way to the Grand Canyon National Park, I first heard about the Skywalk, a huge glass platform which allows visitors to walk on top of the Grand Canyon, at Grand Canyon West. It was immediately clear that I had to see this ;). And so that was my next stop.

If you check reviews online you find a lot of people bitching about the terrible road leading to the spot and the high prices. Granted the road was rather bad and uneven, but they were doing major roadwork so this should improve in the future, and I was able to drive the whole way with my Ford Focus without problems. As for the price issue, everyone has to decide this for themselves. In my book it was totally worth the price of admission.

The first stop at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk at Eagle Point, a rock formation which does look like an Eagle. For safety reasons cameras were not allowed on the Skywalk itself. In a way that was good. Because it allowed me to completely absorb the experience, the view and the other people. It was so much fun watching the other people holding on to the railing for dear life or avoiding the clear glass part at all costs! There is also no time limit on the Skywalk itself, and so I spent a good 45 minutes enjoying it.

The Skywalk

Next stop was Guano Point. This section offered a terrific view of Colorado River and had a short but neat hiking path leading up to the top of a small hill. The only problem I had, was that it was an extremely windy day. First this was bad because my hair always covered my eyes, and second because I'm not too firm when it comes to unprotected heights and then feeling the wind trying to push me over the edge was not very comforting...

David with hair all over ;)

From this I learned that I have a rational fear of heights. If there is anything between me and the abyss, even a glass window, I'm fine. If there is nothing in between I start getting uncomfortable.

All pictures from my road trip through Arizona can be found on Picasa.

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