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Day 5 (Friday, 2/19/2010)

We left Flagstaff early, taking the famous Highway 89A south to Sedona. The road winds through forest and between towering red rocks. Sedona is nestled right at the center of the most prominent rock formations.

From above Sedona.

After a few hours on this road and exploring Sedona, we decided to make our way to some nearby hot springs. These springs were supposedly down a remote back-country road and were not very well known, except by locals. In the early 1900s a resort had been built around the hot springs, but it had burned down in the 1940s, thus leaving only ruins.

We drove southeast from Sedona and found, near Camp Verde, the dirt road that would take us to the Springs. 13 miles, then a right turn, then 6 miles: that was the directions we had received. The road turned out to be a brutal ride winding through remote canyons as the road continually narrowed and worsened in condition. It was clearly meant for 4x4s and not small Mazda Proteges. For about 20 minutes we were stuck on a narrow switchback behind a cowboy (leather pants, well-trained horse, lasso, and all other stereotypically cowboy features included) guiding his cattle across the pass. A large, controlled brush fire served as the backdrop to this scene.

Cowboy.

After over an hour on this road we finally made it the 19 miles to the hot springs trailhead. The first site on pulling into the trailhead was an old beat-up white van. It had bikes attached to the front and beside it in the gravel sat a couple coolers, a propane stove, and several guitar cases. Out of the van immediately jumped a guy and a girl about our own age, both well-dressed and with long hair. They were musicians, we learned, who were from “all over” and had just finished a “jam session” somewhere nearby; they had come down here to just “chill” for a few days after the jam session. They had been living down there in the van for 3 days now, and they quickly became our mythical guides to this remote and strange place. They told us about the hike to the springs: how we should ignore the signs and just head under that fence and down that path until we see the washcloths, then how we should follow the washcloths, watching for them hanging from the trees above, then how we should look for the small socks, which would be hanging at the spot where we could cross the river. Then, they said, we would have to be careful because the extremely cold river was running fast and high, at about 5 ft. in height at the crossing. The couple had made the journey the previous day; it had been “intense,” but well worth it, and they planned to go again later that afternoon.

Home of a Nomad.

Sadly, we still had a long drive to Lake Havasu City ahead of us, and we wanted to get there by dinner, so we couldn’t wait to go later with these intriguing musicians. In fact, after the hour-long journey down to the trailhead, we weren’t even left with enough time to make the river-crossing at all. It was a big blow to have to pass on this ultimate adventure, but in the end we made the hard choice of family over impulse. We walked to the river where we could see the ruins and observe the hot springs from afar, then we hit the road again with the one-hour trip back to pavement ahead of us, followed by the 4-hour drive from there to Lake Havasu City, where we were warmly welcomed to a delicious meal, a comfortable home, and a cozy bed.

Us in Sedona.

Trail to the hot springs.

Another view of the musicians' home.

Dissatisfied readers felt words (and articles of clothing) needed to be added to this sign.

Day 4 (Thursday, 2/18/2010)

After a comfortable night in the car at Bryce Canyon (elevation: 8300 ft.), we got up and made our way to Sunrise Point, overlooking the Canyon, where we, of course, watched the sun rise. The red fingerlike rock formations glowed as the early morning light poured into the snowy canyon. We hiked down into the canyon for a while, being careful not to lose our footing on the icy path.

After several hours in Bryce, we began our long drive for the Grand Canyon, which we finally reached sometime in early afternoon. Since the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed all winter we were forced to circle around and enter from the east side of the South Rim, at Desert View. We then made our way all the way across the South Rim, enjoying viewpoints all along the way. We were even able to drive through regions that are only accessible by public shuttle during later, busier times of the year. There was a fair amount of snow at the Grand Canyon, but not nearly as much as had been in Bryce.

I will not try to describe the Grand Canyon, except to say that “Grand” just doesn’t quite do it justice. We mightiest well call it Understatement Canyon.

We headed south again but couldn’t quite make it to Sedona, our intended destination, so we pulled over in Flagstaff, found wireless internet, watched the latest episode of LOST on Hulu, and slept in the car again.

Bryce Canyon, UT: at sunrise

Bryce Canyon

Textures

Our shadows on the canyon wall.

View on the trail down.

Us in Bryce Canyon.

snow-covered log

The Watchtower at Grand Canyon "Desert View"

In the Watchtower

Understatement Canyon

Understatement Canyon, part 2

The road to Flagstaff.

Day 3 (Wednesday, 2/17/2010)

Again we were up by sunrise, this time watching the sun light up that city of the night: Las Vegas. We took the morning slow, soaking in the luxury of this fancy hotel that had somehow only cost $40 total. We knew a place like this was a rare stop on a trip like ours, so we embraced it.

After the slow-paced morning we finally hit the road around mid-day and headed for Zion National Park.

ZION: the name is fitting. We could easily imagine Zeus and the other Greek gods making this place their divine playground. The walls are tall and glowing red: sheer menacing rock-face. One of the most beautiful roads we’ve ever seen winds through Zion, connecting West to East. The road is beautiful, but it is also frightening as it winds up a sheer cliff, getting higher and higher with little to no guard rail. At this top the road then disappears into the red wall. It is a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930: an incredible engineering feat, especially for that time. After the tunnel, the road, on which we were traveling east toward Bryce Canyon (a last minute addition to the day’s agenda), continued to wind through gorgeous formations of rock which were often glazed with snow.

We barely made it to Bryce Canyon by sunset. The air was cold and the snow was piled more than 3 feet high.

Though we caught only a brief glimpse of the canyon before dark, it was enough to blow us away. Tall, orange, finger-like rock formations from all around shoot hundreds of feet up from the canyon floor. We had expected this place to be similar to Zion, but it was totally its own creature, and was like nothing we had seen before.

It was too late to set up camp in this deep snow-coated world, so we opted for sleeping in our car.

The road into Zion

Road through Zion
More of Zion
At a waterfall in Zion
Leaving Zion

The road to Bryce Canyon, UT
Nearing Bryce Canyon

View from our Campsite

[Pictures of Bryce Canyon to come with Day 4’s post]

By the end of Day 2 we had already driven over 1500 miles and spent at least 30 hours in the car. This means that we have listened to a great deal of music. Here are the main artists who have kept us company:

Noah and the Whale

Ben Lee

She & Him

Cat Stevens

David Mead

Regina Spektor

Alexi Murdoch

Coldplay

Joshua Radin

Day 2  (Tuesday, 2/16/2010)

After a good, well-bundled sleep, we woke early Tuesday morning to find a glittering layer of frost on the inside of our tent and a layer of hard ice on the outside. We packed up camp as the sun rose.

Our first stop was a large rock formation, which we took some time to explore. The view was spectacular as we stood on an escarpment overlooking the shrub-ridden plains, blackened and rocky from the lava flows that filled the valley millennia ago.

We took our time heading out of El Malpais, exploring side roads and taking in the beautiful scenery. We followed one sign leading us to a small snow-covered caldera. Such an interesting place of history; we imagined the lava flow slowly turning into cold black rock.

As much as we hated to leave New Mexico, we had to move on. After passing through several more “Indian Reservations” we entered Arizona and immediately headed into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. The desert was beautiful and, in its vast expanses, had an interesting way of deceiving our sense of sight, making the dimensions of the hills below quite difficult to discern. The Petrified Forest was likewise fascinating. The highlight, however, came in the form of… you guessed it: petroglyphs. Travis has always wanted to see petroglyphs, especially up close, and today he finally was able to. As a result much of the conversation for the remainder of the day continued to return to how badly Travis wants a time machine.

From there we quickly headed west across Arizona and toward Las Vegas. Flagstaff area was the most scenic and stood in stark contrast to the rest of the state. Around here was the Kaibab National Forest, a place where the trees mimic those of old Yogi Bear cartoons.

We arrived at Hoover Dam right at sunset. “What’s so cool about a dam?” you might ask. We did. But this, this is more than a dam, this is ridiculous. Enormous in breadth, height, and ambition, a modern marvel shoved between towering red cliffs. It is too huge to describe; too absurd to be imagined. And now to top it all a monstrosity of a bridge is being built high above the dam. Just to look at it caused our knees to knock for fear of heights.

In Las Vegas we immediately headed for our hotel, the Orleans, on Tropicana West. After settling in and getting cleaned up (we hadn’t bathed for several days now), we took the free shuttle to the main Strip. Here we explored Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, Planet Hollywood, and the Flamingo. We watched the volcano erupt at the Mirage and then headed to the Bellagio where we watched the Fountain show, very likely one of the most spectacular exhibits of this sort we have ever seen. We then rushed to catch the last free shuttle back to the Orleans where we could fall into bed and enjoy our warm room for the night.

Morning at our campsite in El Malpais

Overlooking the dried-up lava fields of El Malpais.

Overlooking El Malpais

Painted Desert, AZ

Petroglyphs!!!

Sunset on the the drive toward Las Vegas

Hoover Dam

Las Vegas

The fountains at the Bellagio

Day 1 (02/15/2010)

A secret side-agenda on this trip will be for us to take some opportunities to be more impulsive and fearless, less cautious. Thus, we began our trip appropriately: with an impulsive decision. It was 11:30pm Sunday night, and we were almost finished packing, just in time to get 4 hours sleep before our planned departure time of 4am. Instead of heading to bed, however, we made an abrupt decision, threw everything in the car, and headed west, straight for western New Mexico.

Around 2am we took a two hour nap at a rest stop in Western Arkansas, then by 4 we were on the road again, nicely ahead of schedule. For the next 13 or so hours we watched the country shift and morph around us. Oklahoma was long and flat. At times I-40 was surrounded by legions of towering giants, as Don Quixote would have seen them.

In Texas we saw an oddly tilting water tower and “America’s largest cross.” Perhaps things are too big in Texas at times.

New Mexico quickly, to our surprise, became one of our new favorite states. We traveled alongside (and at times on) the historic Route 66, the classic American highway. Dilapidating motels and gas stations cover much of the route, but also several entirely abandoned towns. West of Albuquerque we left I-40 and headed south to see the Enchanted Mesa, a towering rock mesa which is home to several mysterious legends: including one about an abandoned Native American settlement and several others about UFO sightings. Here we explored a bit, putting the Protege to the test down some desert roads. Rock formations were abundant, a climbers playground; but it was too late in the day. The sun was setting. Past Enchanted Mesa the Reservation became more private as signs were posted announcing “no visitors beyond this point”. We drove on, observing local settlements and discussing curiously what it might be like to live in this interesting area.

We drove mostly back roads from there to El Mapais, a rolling wilderness of shrubbery-coated, black lava rock. Here we set up camp, cooked over our gas stove (there’s very little wood to burn out there), and headed to bed.

Oklahoma

Windmill Giants

Leaning Water Tower, near Amarillo, TX

"World's Largest Cross," also near Amarillo

Entering New Mexico

The Enchanted Mesa

Camping in El Malpais

Making Dinner

As our move to Tanzania (in September) approaches quickly we do our best to spend our remaining time in the states wisely. This is especially the case since it is likely that (with the exception of our planned 3-4 month visits every 2-3 years) we plan to live “abroad” for at least 10 years, but potentially for the majority of the rest of our lives. With that in mind, we really want to make sure we see a good bit of the U.S. before we leave it. More importantly, we want to ensure as much time with family as possible before we move so far from them. So those are the two main purposes of our upcoming one month expedition across the U.S. Our main stops will be to see Grandparents and relatives in Texas, Arizona, and California, as well as good friends in Oregon and (possibly) Idaho. Along the way we will take chances to see as much of the country as we can fit into our limited time.

While in order to do this we have quit our jobs one month earlier than originally planned, we at least go into it knowing that we will have our 6 month internship with Downtown (the community sending us to Tanzania) waiting for us on return.

So we’re still figuring out all the logistics of our trip, but here’s what we think we’re looking at so far:

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