Middlerun Does America, Day 16: The Grand Canyon
I got up after not quite enough sleep to give myself lots of quality Grand Canyon time. While eating breakfast I got talking to some of the other people at the hostel. There was a nice couple from Israel who were trying to get a ride out to the canyon so I offered to take them. After packing everything up we went out to the car and spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to open the boot to put their bags in. Eventually I gave up and consulted the manual.
The weird thing about the Prius is that there's no actual key, it's all wireless. After pressing the unlock button on the remote to no avail, I found in the manual that I had to press another unlock button in the car door. Finally we loaded in the bags and set off. The next challenge was to buy some petrol. At some (most?) petrol stations in America you have to pre-buy petrol to stop people doing a gas and dash. So that took some figuring out.
Finally we left Flagstaff and made the hour-and-a-half drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. By an amazing stroke of luck, entry to the Grand Canyon National Park was free that day (usually $25 for a car) because of National Public Lands Day, so that saved a bit of cash. We found a parking spot and I said goodbye to my passengers, who were planning to stay for the night in one of the hotels near the canyon. I hope they managed to find something.
The Grand Canyon really is a breathtaking sight. It's not something that can be fully conveyed by photos. Although, it's so staggeringly huge that your eyes can't really get any depth perception on most of it so it ends up looking a bit like a giant painting.
There was a few good lookout spots near the carpark and a trail which led along the rim of the canyon. I walked along the trail for a while getting some good photos, but trying to walk any appreciable distance along the Grand Canyon is like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean with a thimble so I ended up going back to the car to drive to some other viewing spots. Desert View Road runs through the trees near the rim, and goes by various viewing areas, each of which give a slightly different view of the canyon.
Yaki Point is on this road. Back in the day people used to take a 12-hour stagecoach ride from Flagstaff to Yaki Point to see the Grand Canyon and stay in the hotel there, which is gone now. It was near there that there used to be a silver mine. It's still possible to go into the canyon and walk right into the mines, although it's not safe. There are hiking tracks that go from Yaki Point down into the canyon, which would have been great to do but I wasn't really prepared for hiking and didn't have the time. I did go down one track just for a few minutes which gave a pretty great view, and by the time I got back up the steep trail I was already sweating and thirsty.
The last stop along the road before you leave the park is Desert View, which is home to a watchtower decorated with Native American paintings and doubling as a gift shop, and another store selling food, drinks and more souvenirs. The watchtower doesn't really give a much better view - the canyon's so big that going up by ten metres means approximately nothing.
By about four in the afternoon I'd seen what I wanted to, and figured I should get back to Vegas to return the car and catch my flight to Austin. I hit the road and kept going for four hours, which is unusual for me as I tend to stop every couple of hours for drinks and stuff. But I was in the zone. I set the air conditioning just right, found a good radio station, figured out how to use the cruise control and just sat on the speed limit the whole time. With the straight roads, the cruise control and the automatic transmission I barely had to do anything except overtake the occasional truck and turn on the windscreen wipers at one point when it started to rain a bit. Before I knew it I was driving through Boulder City, Nevada, and getting hungry. I pulled into Taco Bell and got some weird thing called a crunchwrap. That was pretty good. Then I pressed on to Vegas, filled the petrol tank and let the GPS guide me back to the rental agency.
After dropping off the car I caught the shuttle from the Rent-A-Car Center to the main part of the airport and checked in for my 1 am flight to Austin. I went through the TSA security theatre stuff, which was a bit of an ordeal as I'd been led to believe, but only took five minutes or so. When you go into that pornoscanner thing, you have to raise your hands above your head like you're being arrested. I'm not convinced that is entirely necessary. I also had to throw away some perfectly good shampoo and conditioner, but I was expecting that. After all, shampoo is a crucial ingredient in all sorts of explosive devices. After this was done and they were convinced that the empty water bottle in my bag was not, in fact, a threat to national security, I caught the tram that goes to the terminal.
Where the inner sanctum (as I like to call it) of the Sydney airport was a giant shopping centre, the inner sanctum of the Las Vegas airport is just another bloody casino. Row after row of poker machines stretch the length of the terminal. I shoved a dollar in one for old time's sake and after a few spins I hit one of the mystical combinations of cherries or whatever, and my credit went up to $2.14. I printed a ticket and took it to the cashier to claim my newly acquired fortune.
After an hour or so it was time to board. I was going to take my backpack as carry-on, but they were concerned about running out of overhead storage space so they offered to check bags for free, which usually costs $25. I hurried over to the desk and gave them my enormous bag. That's twice in one day I saved $25! Plus the couple I gave a ride to the Grand Canyon gave me $20 for petrol, so that's $70 made/saved in one day, just by sheer luck. No, wait. $71.14. Good old poker machines. Who says you can't get lucky in Vegas?