Righto, let’s get this show back on the road. Specifically, the I-40 in Arizona, en route to the Grand Canyon.
Despite annihilating ourselves on vodka at the MGM pool party the day before, Nikki and I were only moderately seedy when we rolled up to Thrifty to collect our rental car. Now at Australian car hire establishments, they have your car already booked and waiting for you in the loading bay, and you make do with whichever one you’re given. So when the Thrifty lady presented us with a row of glistening Mustangs of varying colours and conditions and told us we could choose any of them, this was our reaction:
It took us about twenty minutes to finally decide on the gun metal grey (even though in my head I could hear a disembodied GOF ranting about the virtual invisibility of vehicles that match the colour of the road surface. Luckily I’m getting good at ignoring him). Then came the real challenge: driving the damn thing.
I was in the driver’s seat, but it seemed imperative that Nik play co-pilot and confirm every single manoeuvre.
“So I’m turning left, but I’m aiming for the right side of the road?”
“Does ‘yield’ mean I’m meant to give way?”
“Who gives way here?”
“I don’t know, just floor it.”
Yes, driving on the opposite side of the road requires two brains – especially when both brains have been pickling for five days in fluorescent cocktails and desert heat. Even after two days of driving, I had no idea which direction to look at intersections, so I ended up doing virtually a 360 degree scan at every stop sign, like a paranoid psychopath.
After five hours of desert-threading freeway, badass road trip songs and a surprising absence of cactus, we arrived at the biggest damn hole I’ve ever seen in my life.
I won’t post too many pics – y’all have seen this place before.
Being such an iconic and indelible feature of Earth’s topography, you really don’t expect the Grand Canyon to sneak up on you. But it does. We assumed we’d spot it from miles away, though what our reasoning was I’m not sure, considering it’s a chasm not a mountain. I was half expecting to hear it, or feel a change in the wind, or simply sense its grandeur in my bones. Instead, we pulled into the carpark and had no idea where it was. The whole area looks like any other arid, scrubby part of Arizona. You wander past some informational noticeboards and a few patches of thirsty-looking vegetation, then BAM:
It was magnificent to look at, but at the same time it didn’t feel real. It was like looking at a painting; it’s so hard to wrap your brain around the scale of the damn thing, and as a result I was left feeling like I hadn’t experienced anything. The hordes of tourists, unholy dry heat and lingering hangover didn’t help much either. Next time, I’m going to take the time to do some hiking and get away from the crowds. And I won’t get blackout drunk on vodka the previous day.
We stayed overnight in Williams, which is one of those tiny towns that would have nothing going for it were it not situated on the old Route 66. It’s 50% accommodation with trading names that incorporate the word ‘canyon’, and 50% Native American tourist candy. I liked it though. A very large part of my heart was glowing as we drove our topless Mustang down its short scrap of Route 66 – it was everything I’d imagined America to be.
We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the stores and chatting to the locals, and eventually wandered into a ‘trading post’ store that was clearly a badly disguised marijuana den. The generously proportioned stoner guy behind the counter seemed alternately dismayed and delighted by our banter, and when I pulled a Big Papa pickle off the shelf and demanded an explanation, he seemed genuinely astonished that I’d never seen a pickle the size of a black dildo in a single serve package before. When I got back to Australia, I sent a ‘Thank you for the disgusting pickle’ card to the shop address, with a photo of us enclosed. I liked him too.
Our accommodation was the historic and enterprisingly-named Grand Canyon Hotel, opened in 1891. It was eerie as shit, but again I liked it. Nikki was less than impressed, but she’s accustomed to my strange tastes and she submitted with good grace to the wash stand, creepy décor and jet turbine air conditioner. I had weird dreams that night, and when I woke up I swore my bed had moved a few inches away from the wall.
It was nice to return ‘home’ to the Flamingo Hotel the next day, but I still have the strong feeling I haven’t seen the last of Arizona.