“See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out”
~”Beautiful Day” — U2
After a nice day of relaxation, it was back on the road again. We headed west on I-40 (makes me feel like I’m back at home) and then up some state highways to get to the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. It took about five hours to get up there, driving through a lot of empty land and forests. Except for a couple of very small towns, I saw maybe four houses on U.S. 180 and state highway 64. I couldn’t imagine living up there, not just because there’s nothing to do, but because there also is no one up there to do it with.
We drove up into the Grand Canyon National Park and went up to the visitor’s center and an overlook on the South Rim. We walked up to one of the points on the canyon and the view was breathtaking. Red clay and rocks, in all formations, stretched out in front of us for miles. Brave pine trees grew out of the side of the rocks. The Colorado River charged through a deep trough in the middle of the canyon. The other side of the canyon was just a small line along the horizon. Seeing this wonder for the first time is something hard to explain.
We stood out there for a while, just enjoying the view. You could look for hours and still find something new to see. We decided that the easiest and fastest way to get the full effect of the canyon was from the air. So that’s exactly what we did.
Back at the Grand Canyon Airport, just outside of the park gates, we signed up for a helicopter tour of the canyon. Just before four p.m. we climbed into a six-seater helicopter, strapped on our headphones and lifted off. Madison was lucky enough to get the front seat beside the pilot. She had by far the best view, with a full window in front of her and even glass at her feet so that she could look down and see the canyon. Paw-Paw and I were in the back facing forward, while a German couple (one of them was a foreign exchange student studying in L.A.) sat facing us.
As we took off and flew toward the canyon, the pilot played some music through the headphones, songs that seemed very fitting at the moment. It started off with U2’s “Beautiful Day,” then switched to Lenny Kravitz “Fly Away.” A minute later, as we soared over trees on the way to the canyon, we heard “Clocks” by Coldplay (the line “And nothing else compares” fittingly came right as the canyon came into view on my right). Finally, right as we got to the edge of the canyon, the pilot started to play Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” (the main theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey”). It was awesomely cliche.
The pilot took us over a large part of the canyon while an automated voice told us about the canyon and how it was formed. One of the most interesting things is that they believe over 2 billion years of geologic history can be seen using the different rock layers that have been exposed.
After going through the recording once in English, we got to hear it again in German. Even though I don’t know a single word of German, it was actually pretty interesting to listen to. It’s a very cool language, sounding like someone mumbling in English. At one point I was convinced that it was English being spoken very quickly and with a weird accent, but not so.
As the recording said, the canyon is a very peaceful place for introspection and reflection, as is most of this country out here. It is so open and so beautiful. I could be happy just sitting on the edge of a rock out here and watching the sunset splash purples, oranges, golds and browns onto the landscape all around me. The natural beauty out here really just puts you at peace.
After about 20 minutes of flying around the helicopter made a sharp U-turn and headed back to the airport. On the way back we got to hear — scratch that, we were forced to hear — two Train songs (“Calling All Angels,” and “Drops of Jupiter”). We made a soft safe landing and bought a souvenir picture of us standing in front of the chopper.
We tried to find a hotel right outside of the park, but they were all booked full. Paw-Paw seems determined to continue moving quickly to the west coast, so we decided to leave the canyon behind and went 70 miles back down highway 64 to this little town on old Route 66 called Williams.(Route 66, by the way, is no longer an official highway. We’ve traveled on and off on parts of this historic road over the last few days. It runs right down the middle of Albuquerque and follows I-40 west for a while. You can still follow most of the old route by using other roads, which are well marked as “Historic Route 66,” but there is no way to ride the length of it anymore, from Chicago to L.A.)
Williams is a cute and awesome little town tucked up in the mountains. All the people we met were extremely friendly. It had a nice little downtown area that was set right on old Route 66. We decided to eat at this little restaurant called the Pine Country Restaurant. We were greeted at the front by a brass band made up of mostly young kids dressed up in old Civil War uniforms. They played a song and then, thankfully, left the restaurant. Not that they weren’t good, but a full brass band blasting in a small restaurant can be a bit much. When we left we saw them walking down the street.
We have a hotel here for the night and plan on heading out tomorrow to go to Las Vegas, Nevada. We figured the helicopter tour let us see more of the canyon than anything else we could do and it was time to move on.
We’ll be hitting the Hoover Dam first, then hopefully getting to the strip in the afternoon/evening. We gained another hour today, so I’m officially in the Pacific Time Zone. It’s pretty strange how one hour can really mess with your day.
Pictures will come soon, but, as usual, Madison and Paw-Paw are already asleep as I’m writing this. I guess they’ll go up tomorrow.