Route 66 travelogue #9
The Grand Canyon
Or “Clouds, Canyons and Twin Peaks!”
This morning we headed off to to the Grand Canyon Airport for our canyon tour, after a bright early start. There’s a very small ‘town’ called Tusayan the centre of which is a short strip on a slight hill with a roundabout at each end. The Airport is just across the round about at the bottom of the hill. Mikes keen pilot eye clocked the weather wasn’t great upon opening the curtains in the morning. Things hadn’t improve by the time we got to the airfield so we sat and waited. Our flight, the 10am, was cancelled, there was zero visibility of the canyon from the air, then the 11am was cancelled too so we rescheduled for 9am the following morning and headed off for some breakfast.
We found a great little place up the strip called RP’s Stage Stop where you can get a toasted breakfast sandwich and a coffee for 5 or 6 bucks.
Next door to this is the tourist information center inside of which we found a tourist information officer who really loved the sound of his own voice and had great difficulty shutting up BUT did manage to tell us about the free bus tour of the canyon rim and put us off the skywalk attraction so off we went. The weather was cycling between gloomy, raining and the kind of cloud cover bomber command could have done with back in 1943, but chances are we’d only be here once so we boarded the bus to see what we could make of this canyon.
Richard Dawkins has said on occasion that we live in a “middle” sized word, we are too big to comprehend things as tiny as individual atoms 1st hand and at the same time too small to comprehend entire continents. The Grand Canyon, in my opinion, is right on the fringe of what we can comprehend. I could feel my mind wrestling with it. You are looking out and down over a vista which in terms of scale you have no reference, rock looks the same close up as it does from afar. I know that the canyon is 6000 feet deep (over a mile), i know that it’s nearly 15 miles wide but again without a sense of scale all I had was this uneasy feeling that my brain was working overtime trying to make sense of what it was seeing. Then I caught sight of some walkers on the ridge and my mind melted. They were tiny, like blades of grass against the skyline and I felt the gears of my mind snap into place as now it a reference point and could start crunching the numbers and work out exactly how big this thing is, and my mouth fell open!
When someone says “it’s as big as…” They usually follow it up with some man made structure (a London bus, the Eiffel Tower, Sydney opera house, Big Ben etc) because we can comprehend those things but you could drop any one of those in the canyon and it would be swallowed up and forgotten! The colours of the rock as the sun hits them are echoed in classic Native American artwork and I could begin to see where they get there colour schemes and designs from.
Working our way up the canyon we stopped at most of the 8 or so viewpoints. One of these is called ‘The Abyss’ but was completely whited out with cloud and mist, zero visibility. The busses run every 20 mins and the weather can change quickly up there so I suggested we wait around to see if the weather would clear. 10 minutes later we were still sitting above the cloud line observing absolutely nothing. I was feeling like my plan hadn’t panned out when I realised I could see a part of the ridge which was previously hidden. Maybe it was clearing after all. Within a couple of minutes more of the view was being revealed. The canyon wall, the ridge, the immense drop all started popping into view and i got snapping with my camera. The cloud blew down the valley to our right leaving whisps of straggling mist rolling over the ridges and hugging the contours of the ground beneath. The rain was relentless, soaking us thoroughly (Mick was the only one of us with a coat and hood) but we pressed on.
The last stop on the trail is Hermit Lodge where you can get refreshments and another view before getting the bus back to the start of the tour. Hot chocolate and shelter was in order as we reflected on the Grand Scale of what we were witnessing.
I’ve heard it said that looking at such things can make one feel insignificant. I didn’t feel this. I felt what anyone who is aware that we live on the shifting crust of a young, cooling planet should feel. I felt impotent against natures forces, at the mercy of the elements and in awe of the sheer power of our spinning spherical home, cutting an arcing orbit around our mother sun. I felt, and still feel very fortunate to have witnessed this natural spectacle.
Though I’m rarely stuck for words, the pictures tell a better story than I can this time. There’s one shot which is about number 72 in the album where you can see the walkers on the ridge in the top right hand corner of the shot and hopefully get the same impression of the gargantuan scale of this place that i did.
By the time we were on the bus back down they were clearing the canyon, visibility had diminished further and no more visitors were to be admitted.
After a quick shower and chill at the lodge it was time to venture out for some food.
Driving up and down the strip twice we spotted a sign for the The Grand Hotel, this seemed like a good place to end up as long as it wasn’t empty, cold and bare. The menu favoured a carnivorous diet and the entertainment for the evening appeared to be a left handed Bilko lookalike who was making a very nice Taylor acoustic guitar sound like a cheap aldi egg slicer so we got a beer at the hotels bar, The Canyon Star Saloon, Mike seating himself on a saddle/barstool and ordering a Black Butte porter, Mick having a Grand Canyon Amber Ale. I spotted a Japanese beer called Sapporo with the the pump in the shape of a samurai sword handle (yes I’m that juvenile) which turned out to be yummy. Our bar maid was the most down to earth character we’ve met in the Canyon. Laura was in her 50s, sassy, funny and quick with the banter.
Finishing our beers we went in search of a more varied menu and appeared to have found one at The Big E Stake House, a large stand alone building on the strip. We were told there would be a 20 minute wait for a table so we pulled up a chesterfield and ordered some drinks while we were waiting. Being the designated driver I got a coffee and Mike got quite possibly the campest Margarita since Liberachi’s last cocktail party, it came in a glass cowboy boot!
We were shortly seated at our table. The dining room was kitted out to resemble a spaghetti western town street with couple of shop fronts running down the 2 long walls of the room and a stage complete with red velvet curtain on the short wall which was to our left as we walked in. This looked quite promising and as we were seated on the front row meant we would have a good view of the evenings entertainment. We were already in high spirits due to some earlier japes and tomfoolery so were ready for a laugh. The waiter dropped us some menus and we awaited the entertainment.
What happened next we didn’t expect. The curtains flew open revealing an empty stage. The back of the stage was a wall of 30 rectangular tv screens which suddenly lit up as one showing an old black & white silent film of acrobatic performing circus ladies. A few minutes later the film ended and some quite cheesy country music began. The stage lights went up and a couple of dancers appeared from the back corner of the stage. Both were wearing headset mics, the young man dressed as cowboy and the young lady as his girl complete with checked dress, both waring tap shoes, she started dancing and clickety clacking around the stage while ‘Woody’ hooked his thumbs in his jean pockets and stared line dancing. It was precisely at this moment that Mike lost his shit.
I honestly thought that girl had reminded him of a lost loved one and he’d emotionally broken down. The facts were that the spectacle had drop kicked Mike in his funny bone, and Mick was hot on his heels. An impromptu, and incorrect key change from our dancing songstress pushed the boys over the edge! The blubbering pair sat opposite each other with me sat beside them facing the stage, desperately trying to keep my own ship anchored.
The waiter, with immaculate comic timing, chose this very moment to swoop in and take our order. Mick’s gave his order through gritted teeth (Prime Rib, peppercorn & blue cheese sauce and mashed potato), I ordered the Veggie Lasagne and Mike had a breakdown, then ordered the same as Mick but with a baked potato instead of mash.
Mercifully the dancing pair exited stage left to a swish of the curtains and a ripple of sympathetic applause… and then the magician walked on! Think of a chunky, narcissistic John Travolta who’s idea of humour was complete disdain for the audience and human kind in general! Upon selecting an unwitting assistant from the audience he began his metal hoop routine. In fairness to the boys they held it together, right up until the magician asked his assistant to “hold my ring” and shortly after proclaimed “oops, I’ve dropped one!”
Then, the second wave of giggles hit.
After the terrible magician disappeared (no, not like that, he wasn’t that good!) the food showed up just as the curtains flew open to another film and some more dancing. I spent the duration of my meal wondering how anyone could make such a complete cock up of veggie lasagne! This was dreadful and clearly won the worst thing I’d eaten in America award. However, after a day of walking around the Grand Canyon I was bloody hungry though so got through most of it.
When M&M’s food appeared, both meals were identical, lacking in peppercorns and Mike’s baked potato absent with mash in its place. Upon enquiring on the last known whereabouts of the baked potato, the waiter offered “we have run out of baked potatoes so we have given you mashed potatoes instead”, after contemplating explaining that potatoes can be either baked or mashed, and then thinking better of it, we all pressed on through our food.
Then the magician returned armed with one of the classic props employed by the finest magical performers on Vegas stages for decades … a fecking Yo-Yo!
The size of the large stage seemed to make the tiny Yo-Yo even smaller.
As Travolta hacked his way through some terrible puns, humour of the worst taste given the audience and spun his yo-yo around the place it struck me that this might just be the weirdest evening I’ve ever experienced, and bearing in mind the colourful tapestry of a life I’ve led so far, that’s quite a declaration.
As we were ready to leave, ‘Jimmy Fingers‘ returned to the stage for his big finale….. LEVITATION!
In fairness he nearly pulled it off, the stage had a hydraulic lift* which came up through a trap door. ‘Fingers’ had a black silk sheet obscuring view of said lift and might have got away with it too but he was struggling to balance on the platform, his leg was shaking like a dog having its belly scratched while he kept his smug grin fixed on the audience.
The show finished to a swish of the curtains, we paid the bill and left. Back in the car we drove in silence. What had just happened? What had we witnessed?
The whole experience was a dancing midget (talking backwards) short of an episode of Twin Peaks. David Lynch, if you ever read this, go there, check it out, you might have another series in you yet! This night will go down as one of the highlights of the road trip so far though if the venue keeps employing those ‘entertainers’ they really should consider buying a defibrillator!
Physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, we turned in for the night, the occasional giggle echoing around the lodge as the last embers of the surreal evenings fire glowed hot in our minds for a second before burning out to leave only the black bliss of sleep..
Waking bright and early we checked out of the lodge and headed once more for the airport for our canyon flight but it was not meant to be. The cloud cover was as bad as the previous day so we retrieved our refund and hit the road bound for Vegas.
Perhaps we will have more luck there..
J W ‘Fingers’ Doyle
*I feel it only fair to add that after further research Jimmy Fingers Levitation routine is actually very good and not performed using a hydraulic lift like i suspected. I have since seen video of him performing and it was a far better performance than we witnessed.