Monday, July 19, 2010

the Grand Canyon and other nature monuments

The first time we went to Las Vegas we just stayed at the house of Justin, so we did not actually visit anything. We spent here one night and the next morning we started driving towards the national parks of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. While being at his place, Justin commented to me something very interesting, that after being in Romania for 2 years and a half as Peace Corps volunteers , he and Heather did not want to be Americans anymore, they felt that in the US there are no traditions and that people do not bond anymore, that it is difficult to make friends. Las Vegas was hot , but I was hoping that on the way to the parks, the climate will become a bit more temperate but actually the more we were driving, the worst heat was coming. We even reached 46•C and that was like boiling everything inside you and outside. I was in a state that probably I cannot even describe very clearly, you have to live it. The heat annihilated my brain so I had no energy to move or to talk, it was exhausting. Of course this kind of heat is more or less bearable compared to humid heat. After a few hundred kms through deserted plains, with sand and stones and cactuses, we finally start to see some hills and then continuing the road we begin to see the Zion Canyon, the first national park on our route. The heat decreased 10•C and so we were boiling at only 37•C, but the views were breathtaking. Because we arrived late in the afternoon and in all the parks you have to pay for camping 15-20$, we have decided to leave the main road of the park and take a side road, through the mountains. It was a good decision, because we found a nice place where to park and the temperature decreased to 27•C in the evening and to 20•C in the morning.
We have been travelling for about 4 years with a camper van so sleeping in a car is not such a strange thing for us, and our Chevy van is very spacious and it feels good to sleep on the bed that we improvised with mattress and cushions. The only thing that is different is that there is no toilet (we go in the nature) and no kitchen (cold food always). In the morning we woke up pretty early and we drove to the lake on the top of the mountain range. The lake was not that impressive but there were some nice views over the canyon. The temperature up here did not go beyond 24•C and I was feeling like in heaven, but as soon as we arrived in the Zion Canyon, the heat went back up to 37•C. The nice thing about Zion is that there is a free shuttle bus that goes every 15minutes and stops in several stations from where you can start walking or doing trails. I did 2 trails (one to the Weeping Rock and the other one at the end of the Canyon) and after I returned to the car and waited Jan on the grass, reading a book and relaxing. Later, when Jan arrived, we decided that we still have time to drive towards Bryce Canyon, and so we began the ascension through the canyon with amazing views of the cliffs. Before getting dark we started looking for a place to park for the night. This time the weather was perfect. 26•C in the evening and 18•C in the morning. It was our second night out and as Jan was feeling dirty after walking through the heat, he decided to take a shower in the wood close to where we were parked and he used the water bottles that we had in case of emergency. It was funny to watch him naked through the trees but the place was ok and no one came to bother us during the night. I did not try the open shower but instead I took my shower with wet tissues. At that moment I felt that taking a shower outside, naked is my limit and I cant get to that point, it would be too embarrassing. Next day was a very big and good surprise. The weather continued to be fresh (no more than 27•C during the day because we maintained the altitude of about 2000m.

I did not expect to have so many pleasant days. Bryce Canyon is probably one of the nicest canyons where we have been. It is colorful and it has amazing views of a valley with lots of carved in rock figures. It was also our third day and I started to feel dusty and dirty so after we looked for a place where to park the van, I took my first naked shower. This part of the travel seems to have many first things situations, but anyway the shower was not very pleasant, but not because I was taking it outside, in the wood, but because the place that we chose was next to a small lake and it was full with huge mosquitoes that were trying to bite me insistently. After I took the shower we decided it was really a bad place to park and so we changed to another place, half mile away, next to another caravan. Jan took his shower in the woods behind the parking lot and after eating two slices of bread with nutella we went to bed feeling quite happy that we had a car and that we did not have to sleep in a tent, which I found even more difficult. At least by sleeping in our van we could start driving faster in case some sort of problem might appear. (We saw some other Europeans sleeping like us in their vans). Only the Americans are more repaired or have more money and they sleep in caravans in camping grounds.

Finally we arrived to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the most important destinations in our travel. Some people told us that they liked or preferred this side of the Canyon and other commented that it was nicer the South Rim. The weather here in the North Rim was perfect 20-24•C all day long and cool nights. The views were spectacular and we even witnessed a storm in the South Rim. The altitude of the North Rim arrives somewhere close to 10000feet, that would be about 2900m, the sunsets are amazing , the route and the trails that you can do are longer, and the land inside ( not on the cliffs) is very green…looks like Switzerland. We spent the whole day here and in the afternoon we started descending towards south but Jan did not want to go directly to the other part of the Canyon that b road is 3 hours away, he wanted to continue visiting some other places more to the east ( Vermillion Cliffs, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon). The Native Americans also called the Indians, live in reservation. Between Arizona, Utah and Nevada it is found one of the biggest Native American reserve, called the Navajo country. You can see Indians almost anywhere in this region, following their lifestyle, almost all though very Americanized but with their clear physical characteristics. In Navajo country they speak Navajo, which on the radio sounded to me a bit Asian, historically they proved that the Indians of America came time ago from Asia. When you cross their villages or towns you feel like you are in a different country. Very few white people seem to be living here. When we wanted to visit some of the local attractions of the regions we discovered that they were administrated by the Navajo people and the cost of entry to canyons was much higher than our budget allowed us. Anyway we could see some interesting things for free and then drove to an information office up north in Utah where next morning we were supposed to participate to a lottery in order to win access and permit for Vermillion Cliffs a place recommended to us By Eduard, Jan’s uncle.

This place looked amazing on the photos so even if I am not a big fan of walking in the desert with the heat, next morning I felt very excited when at 9 o’clock we participated in a lottery and we won 2 of the 10 places available. At this lottery came 30 people and 2 thirds of them left quite sad. The only thing that was bad for us is that we had to wait 24 hours until we could use our permit, so that whole day we spent it between a car workshop( we finally installed the gas for the AC) , Wal-Mart( food), a park (picnic), me driving for the first time an automatic car(I love it) and some other canyon where I could drive in the middle of nowhere with no problem. We spent the night close to the entrance of the wilderness, I forgot to mention that Vermillion cliffs is a national reserve considered wilderness, which means you have to trek through desert, hills and rocks without any clue on which is the right direction that you had to take because the statute of the park does not allow to make any modification or alteration to the status of the nature.
We woke up very early that morning (about 5 am) when the sun was not out yet and we saw that in the night there were more cars parked close to us and some people were sleeping outside on the ground in their sleeping bags. Anyway, we took some food and water and helped by some photos that the information office provided us we started the supposedly 1,30h trek to the Wave. Walking in the morning was very good because the sun did not catch enough intensity until noon so we could enjoy 4-5 hours of nice cool windy weather. We arrive to the cliffs in about 2 hours and I have to say it is one of the most amazing places on earth. We were walking all the time in the middle of no where through selenary landscape, deserted, lonely and that seemed painted on canvas with amazing red and yellow sand stones. Vermillion Cliffs and especcialy the Wave is just breathtaking and honestly in words I probably cannot describe it so I will just let the photos do the job although they cannot entirely represent that place. After spending about 2 hours making photos and relaxing in the shadow and quietness of the cliffs, we started the road back, this time under the force of the sun reflected on rocks. Sometime I had the feeling that I am loosing consciousness because of the reflexion of the light on the stones. It has been very tiring coming back to the car and after we made it there we relaxed a bit and we felt that all this time spent camping outside, disconnected from the world was actually very rewarding. The whole 6 hours that we spent walking we just saw 7 people walking towards the cliffs when we were already walking back home( bad decision to walk there at noon for sure).
Our next and last destination was the Grand Canyon South Rim. We arrived there in the evening, saw the sunset (unfortunately with few good photographic occasions) and in a way we felt sure in that moment that the North Rim is much better. Here, on this side there are much more tourists, its dryer and hotter and smaller. Anyway, next day we spent most of the time trying to walk around but because it was 3rd of July we soon realized that we will not be able to enjoy due to the huge quantity of people that seemed to overflow the place.
That same afternoon we drove the last 300km to Las Vegas, joining Justin again at his place and recovering our energy and also preparing 4th of July.

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