To the Desert

I am currently sitting in McCarran Airport- Las Vegas- waiting for my flight back to the east coast. A lot has happened since my last blog post/travels. I started working full time in September 2015, moved to CT, got a new role, moved to RI and I found myself booking a business trip flight to Vegas for a conference.

Looking back on the past 1.5 years, I’ve traveled a fair amount in New England. I’ve been around most of CT, explored Boston more than ever, visited Acadia National Park and moved to Providence, RI. I’ve also been to Wisconsin (work perks), Chicago,  NYC, several cities in Maine, Columbus, and Orlando.

I plan to take full advantage of the rest of summer 2017 to see more of New England… but that’s for another post. I’ve spent the past week in the desert and want to remember it! Monday-Friday were spent in Vegas on work business. I attended a conference with 2 of my work friends but we also had a great time making our way around The Strip. It was my first time in Las Vegas, but I think I made the most of it considering we not only attended the conference, but went to several restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, shows. A good time had by all.

The best part of this trip, though, was that I was able to extend my flight to Sunday and planned a road trip! My initial plans were to drive out to AZ to do Horseshoe Bend and the Grand Canyon. As much of a planner as I am, I should have expected that I would find unexpected sights, make wrong turns and end up looking back at a weekend that I could’ve never fully planned in advance.

I picked up my rental car on Friday afternoon (splurged on the “intermediate SUV” and ended up in a white Jeep Liberty!) After picking up necessary road trip snacks and supplies, I was on my way towards Page, AZ. Open highway, surrounded by desert mountains, music loud… the first of several times I choked up this weekend. Traveling (and solo) is so fulfilling!! There is nothing like the unknown road ahead of you and anticipation of the sights you will see along the way. As I made my way towards Page, I noticed signs for Zion National Park. I know that there are a ton of National Parks out in this area of the country, but my understanding is that they are all still pretty far apart. A quick look at maps, though, showed that it would only be about a 30 minute detour on the route for me to redirect towards Zion. Next thing I knew, I found myself passing through the adorable desert town of Springdale and approaching the park entrance. Unfortunately, it was already about 5:00 by the time I entered the park, so I didn’t have enough time, or daylight, to do much more than drive through the main road and tunnels. This park is incredible. I had no expectations, but I definitely want to return to camp and hike. The park is small-ish and charming; it seemed to me like a hidden gem. The desert landscape is so foreign to me, but the amount and combination of rivers, red rocks, mountains and sand is fascinating. I stopped a few times to enjoy the views but was quickly back on my way. Shoutout to the 2 Boston girls who took my picture in front of “Checkerboard Mesa”! The world is small, but so so big. The 2 lane highway towards Page was quiet and serene. I watched the sun set in my rear view mirror and audibly gasped (literally) when I noticed the HUGE full moon begin to rise over the peaks in front of me (cue the tears round 2). I arrived to Page city limits as it became fully dark but noticed I was passing a very large lake off the side of the highway, which I decided to circle back to in the morning.

6:00 AM came quick, but I was fully energized to start my day. I returned to Lake Powell which looked really awesome. There was a marina off in the distance and tons of cars pulling boats headed towards the entrance. Back on the road, it was a 10 minute drive to Horseshoe Bend, my first official stop of the day. I beat the crowds, and the heat, which was key. My anticipation during the 15 minute walk to the view was at an all time high and it did not disappoint. I’ve seen Horseshoe Bend so many times in pictures and there is always the thought that maybe it isn’t as grand.. but in my opinion it definitely is. I walked the rim back and forth a few times to take in the sights. I noticed boats and small speks of campers down near the water. It was beautiful and I was so excited to check it off the bucket list.

I had also heard that the Antelope Canyons were a “must-do” in the area, so I drove another 15 minutes to the site but was told that the only way to see the canyon was on a tour. Time was of the essence, so I decided to cut my losses on that one. In compromise, I typed Marble Canyon into my maps, which I had also heard was a nice sightseeing area. The idea was that I would hit Marble Canyon and then get to Grand Canyon National Park. The route I took was spectacular. I drove through the red canyons, crossed the Navajo Bridge, and finally approached the Kaibab National Forest, which basically surrounds the park. Leading up to the forest, it was hot, straight roads cutting right through the desert and I was surrounded by the tall red mountains/canyons (not sure of what they’re really called?!) on either side. I stopped for the views a few times and talked to 2 older motorcyclists who were from Washington state. They were just cruising around! People are so cool. Suddenly, I found myself in a literal forest, which was shocking. Tall trees, meadows, rolling hills. I cut through here for probably an hour before I finally reached the park entrance. I had arrived at the North Rim, which my impression now is that it is the smaller side of the two rims and less of a full “park” area. (I definitely hadn’t done my research on this park, and really didn’t know what I was getting into, I kind of just expected to see the canyon and hike/walk around to my heart’s content). I drove to the end of the road and reached the Grand Canyon Lodge at the rim’s edge around 12:15. Walking out to Bright Angel Point was my first full view of the Grand Canyon and I do not have any words to even describe my thoughts or feelings. It is simply the most miraculous view and work of nature. Genuine awe. How the hell did a river create that???? Anyways, I took in the view with some strangers and contemplated my next move.

I had originally printed out a mapped route of my trip which would have been 4.5 hours to Page, 1.5 hours south to the Grand Canyon (South Rim, though I failed to notice this), and then the 4.5 hours back to Las Vegas. Basically a big circle. Since I had inadvertently gone to the North Rim, I found that my 4.5 hour return would have to be the exact same route I took to get there. Snoooooze.

After a quick look online which told me that the South Rim had more expansive views of the canyon, I called brother Cam to get some wisdom. Shoutout to my little brother for keeping me young;  with some encouragement I decided to turn around and make the 4 hour drive back out of the North Rim to the South Rim. From South Rim, I would then return 4 hours back to Vegas. Whewwww!

I actually cruised through the drive to South Rim. The first half was a repeat of how I arrived, but then the second half was still really enjoyable since the landscape is so interesting and I was on back roads. I arrived to the South Rim entrance around 4:30 PM, grabbed my map and found the canyon. I stopped at a few different pull-offs to enjoy the view. At one stop I went down the trail a bit further than the rest of the crowd and was able to just sit in pure silence and drink in the view. Moments like that give me perspective on how big and intricate our planet is and it’s hard to describe the overwhelming/intimidating yet inspiring feeling it invokes. I am so glad that I decided to go to that side as well; it’s hard to admit that one side was “not enough” because it’s literally the Grand Canyon… but I don’t know if I’ll ever be back and I knew I wouldn’t be completely satisfied with my trip without the full picture. Turns out that the South Rim did have a more expansive view… and it was truly breathtaking. I drove into the park as far as the first visitor center area where there is a fenced off “rim trail” that allows you to walk a pretty decent distance alongside the Canyon. I enjoyed meandering in and out of the fenced areas. On my last stop I walked out to a ledge where people were gathering to take pictures and ended up talking with a guy from North Dakota who was just verbally expressing his awe to anyone who would listen. We agreed to take each other’s pictures and he took my favorite shots of the day for me.

Some general observations:

– People are CRAZY. I have never seen so many people (young and old) seemingly recklessly approaching the edge of the canyon to get the best picture possible. My stomach was turning the entire time I watched people venture closer and closer and I am not even afraid of heights!!

– I surprise myself in the level that I am comfortable carrying casual conversation with strangers around me (and asking them to take my picture). Normally, I don’t love approaching people, but there is something about the solo travel to such a monumental place that makes it easier and makes me want to hear their story, i.e. Boston girls in Zion, motorcycle dudes on the road, North Dakota guy at the park. I also saw an elderly woman enjoying the view and she turned to me and said that I am lucky to experience this while I am still so young. Perspective !!!!!!

– I also saw some wildlife while driving through South Rim! Multiple elk (I think) one with horns, and multiple females. I also saw what I think may have been a wolf (???) run across the road ahead of me. It’s a good reminder that we are in their home when traveling to the parks.

I grabbed some snacks from the visitor center and headed back to the car for the final leg back to Vegas. It was about 7:15 as I took the 2 lane road out of the park towards the interstate. Mother Nature decided to put on a show and I was captivated by the cotton candy sunset all around me as I cut through the desert.

And now I find myself en route back to Providence, an empty schedule for the remainder of the summer. I’m excited to spend the time in New England. This trip has definitely given me energy and inspiration to keep wandering around wherever I may find myself. I know that there are some hidden gems in my own backyard and I’m excited to find them. ‘Til next time 🙂

 

 

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