Week 40 – Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and San Antonio

Week 9 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 15,481kms so far (totalling 2,840kms this week). After our very relaxing 4 nights in Las Vegas we thought we better start picking up the pace, otherwise we won’t make it back to Waterloo for Christmas. When you look at the map below you’ll see that we’re now about halfway across USA, so we’ve got 4 weeks to make it to Florida and then back up to Canada. It should be easy.

Map 9
Our drive this week (week 9)

We had big plans for our first day out of Vegas but we didn’t quite make it to all of them. I’d love to blame the lackluster Motel 6 for our sleep deprivation but another contributing factor may have been staying out until 2am. It was mostly so we could take night shots, but I wanted to explore the casinos down the southern end of the strip. Due to my lack of discipline the night before we had to scrap the scenic drive through the Valley of Fire state park. I haven’t dared to Google photos because I don’t want to know what we missed out on. I didn’t dwell on it too long once we arrived at Zion National Park though. We hadn’t heard of the park before, but we have the NP annual pass and it was suggested in the Lonely Planet driving guide so we pulled in. I’m so pleased we did because Zion Canyon, in particular Touchstone Wall, is so beautiful. This was definitely my favourite place of the whole week, and yes, that does mean that I rate it higher than the Grand Canyon. Although come to think of it maybe it was second favourite… see Antelope Canyon below. Zion NP is a very popular place so they block the road and run shuttle buses to reduce congestion in the park. Whilst it’s a tad annoying that you have to find a park near the visitor’s centre and then catch the bus to get around, it makes the experience far better once you’re in the park. There was hardly any traffic noise and you were able to enjoy the scenery. Zion is very popular for rock climbing and difficult hikes. We were those people who turned up for the afternoon, did a couple of short walks and took some pictures. The park was also popular with artists and we found quite a few with their easels set up. The pictures show you why…

Our next stop was Grand Canyon National Park, specifically the North Rim. We didn’t realise it when we were planning our itinerary but the South Rim is the most popular vantage point and operates year-round, as opposed to the North Rim where the visitor’s centre shuts down in October and then the road is closed mid-November. Our timing was very fortunate because we were able to visit the various lookouts with hardly anyone around. It was almost eerie in a way because if we fell down into the canyon who would notice. With this in mind Anna was very insistent that I don’t go to close to the edge. The Grand Canyon is infamous for good reason, the size and age of the canyon are surreal, but as far as a scenery goes I prefer the King’s Canyon and Zion Canyon. Regardless, we still took a stack of photos and the odd selfie.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona was next on our list. Also a feature of the Colorado River (along with Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam…) this is a perfect U-shaped bend just near the town of Page. After the 1.2km walk from the car park you’re then faced with several warning signs about the edge of the cliff, in particular how the edge may not be stable. Yeah yeah we thought as we proceeded to the lookout. Once we reached the lookout we soon understood. First of all the drop is 300m straight down and there are no guardrails, safety barriers etc. But then when you look sideways along the edge of the cliff some of the rocks sticking out aren’t supported underneath and it’s only a matter of time before they drop. Some people didn’t care and walked out to the edge of the overhanging rocks. Not us… I essentially completed a quasi engineer’s assessment on each cliff edge we stopped at. Fortunately Anna was perfectly happy with my safety first approach.

We stayed the night in Page and whilst Anna was looking at a map she recognised the name of a nearby attraction, Antelope Canyon, so she Googled it. Well from the moment the first photo popped up she wanted to go. I didn’t realise it but I knew the canyon too, it featured as the default wallpaper in Windows 7. After some searching online we found 2 types of tours. A photography tour that lasted 2 hours and a hiking tour for 1 hour 15 minutes. We were both going to do the photography tour but each attendee needed to have their own DSLR and full size tripod. My little compact Sony and 10cm flexi-leg tripod didn’t meet their elitist standards, so I did the hike tour and Anna did the photography tour. Anna took some great shots of the canyon and she really enjoyed the experience. She was grinning ear to ear at the end of the tour. I think she enjoyed the challenge of shooting something completely different in difficult lighting.

From here we headed to Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. Driving through these desert states has been really interesting from a scenic perspective, particularly the mountain formations and earth colours. Once we reached Monument Valley we were faced with the iconic mountain formations that you see on TV. They remind me of the backgrounds in the Looney Tunes Road Runner cartoons (yep, I’m a child). There’s a 17 mile drive you can do but you need a 4WD or at least a regular car with above average clearance. The BRZ does not come close to that criteria. We enquired about guided tours but that was going to cost around AU$250 for a 2 hour tour. In true backpacker form we decided to pass on the tour since we could already see the formations from the highway.

The next 3 days were all about transit. As mentioned earlier we needed to cover some ground so we made our way from Utah through New Mexico and into Texas. On the way we stopped at the Four Corners Monument which is the only place in USA where 4 states all meet at one point. We were there for probably 10 minutes to take some cheesy pictures of us with our hands and feet in different states, a few selfies and then off we went. The best accent I’ve heard so far was the guy at the Albuquerque hotel desk. It may have been caused by the few teeth he was missing but the closest thing I can think of is Cletus the slack jawed yokel from The Simpsons. He was very friendly though.

So now we’re in San Antonio. Yesterday we caught the bus into town for a look around. One thing I’ve learned about USA is that people who can afford to have a car drive them, which leaves people who can’t afford a car catching the bus. This results in a good collection of weirdos which makes for entertaining transport. Like yesterday we saw a guy who was dressed up like Elvis with a bicycle with lights and horns all over it. Oh and he was wearing a crown. He looked like a cross between Elvis and Peewee Herman. Downtown San Antonio is different from most cities because it’s mostly filled with tourists. It seems that the majority of locals work in commercial hubs in the suburbs. The most famous attraction is The Alamo which originally started as a missionary and then became a military fortress as the location became strategically important due to its close proximity to Mexico. Several battles occurred at The Alamo and played an important role in the formation of the Republic of Texas and then the inclusion of Texas in the United States. Most of the fortress has been demolished but the church and barracks museum are open to look through.

The other attraction for downtown is the Riverwalk. I must admit I didn’t really look into this because I thought it would be like the riverside walkways in other USA cities. From what we’ve found they normally aren’t too special and can attract homeless people. San Antonio’s is completely different however. Once you’re down on the Riverwalk it’s totally removed from the city and traffic noise. It kind of feels like you’ve entered a theme park with manicured gardens and waterfeatures lining the neat pathways. There are scenic boats that take you on a guided tour of the river. There’s one section that’s lined with restaurants and bars, and there’s another part of the river that flows to a large shopping centre. We spent a few hours walking around and we went on the boat tour. It doesn’t feel 100% authentic (like the themed sections of Vegas casinos) but it was a nice change to typical downtown areas.

Today has been wonderfully relaxing. We decided to have an alarm-free day today and we woke up at 10am. Then Anna surprised me by organising 1 hour massages for us as my early birthday present. She knows me so well though because she paid extra for us to have an additional 15 minutes of foot massage. It was very enjoyable and the masseuse did the best neck massage I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if I deserve to be so spoiled but let’s hope I remember when my birthday rolls around in 4 weeks. I might want another present by then.

Over the next week we’ll head through Texas via Austin and Houston, then end up in New Orleans, Louisiana.



Fail of the Week 
Anna was quick to suggest the time that we almost ran out of fuel. Anna was driving and the light came on about 35kms before the town we planned to fill up and switch drivers. Considering it wasn’t that far I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem. Anna was worried because we were starting to go up and down rolling hills, so she proceeded to give me 5 minute updates on the fuel gauge’s movements. When we were 10kms to town she exclaimed that the needle had almost reached the red line and said that I’m walking for fuel if we ran out. When we refuelled she noted that there was another 5 litres left but at the time she insisted we were running on fumes.

Meal of the Week
Perhaps we’re biased since we only just ate this meal, but tonight we went to a Texas BBQ joint called The Big Bib. We had the Rib Tip plate with sweet potato casserole and coleslaw, and the pulled pork sandwich. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and the sweet potato casserole was the bomb with candied pecans in it. Yum Yum Yum.


More photos


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