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The Grand Canyon

Big Ride 22

Day 11

Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Needles

This post begins back in Flagstaff. It’s a pretty little town, very young and outdoorsy and very alive. It’s been here a while but it has a very modern vibe. It seems everyone is dressed in Columbia, LL Bean, or North Face.

On Saturday morning it was quiet and cool, and the weather was going to be great for riding. So were the roads.

I headed north on 180 and enjoyed the natural beauty of the national forests that were between the Grand Canyon and me.

As I rode, I saw my first family of elk grazing along the side of the road. I have seen a lot of wildlife on this run: deer, coyotes, buffalo, antelope (big ones), and now elk. This country is amazing.

When I got to the gate of the Grand Canyon, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that since I was a veteran, I could skip the $30.00 fee and not only got in the park for free, but got a year-long park pass as well. I guess those 32 years I spent in uniform weren’t wasted after all!

I got to the visitor center and after a short walk was at the rim of the canyon.

It is beyond words. I have seen a lot of beautiful places in my travels – like the Monarch Pass in the Rockies, or the Pacific Coast on the PCH in California near Carmel-by-the-Sea, or Cane Garden Bay in the British Virgin Islands. All of these were a surprise to me and I didn’t see any of them coming.

I knew that I would be seeing the Grand Canyon, so it wasn’t a surprise, but I have to tell you that I was nonetheless impressed. We use the word “awesome” way too casually these days, so let me leave that word out and just say that the Grand Canyon was mammoth, colossal, stunning, and none of those words do it justice.

One cannot see it from a single vantage point. It takes a twenty-minute helicopter ride to see the whole thing. That’s how grand the Grand Canyon is.

Sometimes when I see these kinds of wondrous things, it aggravates me that so many folks discount them to being created by virtue of some kind of “big bang” event. That’s like saying a tornado blew through a junkyard and built me a corvette.

These wonders are the handiwork of a master artist, as are we.

As I rode through the coolness of the morning, I was able to enjoy the smells of the countryside – the sage and the pine. One doesn’t experience all the smells traveling in a car. I have smelled everything from freshly-cut grass to bacon cooking as I have motored across the country.

It was a relief to ride the rolling hills toward the canyon and as I did, I passed a lot of bikers, out on a Saturday. It was so nice to get away from the monotony of flat, straight-line riding for hours on end.

Williams calls itself “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon” and it is a beautiful little railway town. After having visited the canyon, I stopped there for breakfast, at the Pineland Restaurant.

After a MONSTER breakfast there, I walked around, looking at the town.

In my research, I had been made to understand that the Canyon Club was a must-see, so I ducked in to look the place over. In was not yet noon but the clientele there were already hard at it. As I walked in to the place, the jukebox had that song about being 21 in prison doing life without parole on. It was my kind of place.

From Williams it was on to Seligman, where the whole Historic Route 66 thing came together, in a barber shop, of all places.

From Seligman I rode west and the ride was the best of the trip, as the monotonous straight line riding for miles and miles was broken up with rolling hills and gentle curves.

As I approached Kingman, I could look below me and see for miles and miles. At one point, I looked below toward the desert floor and saw what the Egyptians call a “ghibli” and what the Arabs call a “khamsin.” We just call them sandstorms. This one, in the valley far below me, was small compared to some I have endured, in other deserts.

I stopped at the Hackberry General Store between Seligman and Kingman. It was a good place to take a break.

Then it was on to Oatman, a little village that is a kind of ghost-town. It is famous for its donkeys, who wander unmolested, all over town. To get to Oatman, one has to climb the mountain via the “Oatman Highway” which is a kind of sick joke. It is a winding mountain road or, (really a goat trail) full of challenges. The pavement is in and out. There are no guard-rails. If one makes a mistake, well, the drop-offs are steep, and one is just…dead. I have ridden a lot of mountain roads up and down the east coast and in the Rockies out west, but I have never seen anything like the “Oatman Highway.”

But I got there, and learned that they call the road “The Arizona Sidewinder.” Eight miles and 191 curves.

Afterward, It was downhill and across the Columbia River into California – the land of the eight-dollar gallon of high-test.

On to Santa Monica tomorrow.

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