We wake up to a clear blue sky as the sun is hitting Blythe squarely. After a quick dip in the motel’s pool, we pack and hit the road—we expect to be in Grand Canyon this afternoon!
The morning slips away through the straight Arizonian desert roads. The landscape hammers in the reality of our roadtrip: well-revisited shots from movies and books roll through our heads as cacti come at us from the flat horizon.
At noon we make a lunch stop at the seemingly only road-side diner in Congress, next to a huge, walled cactus and the Good Shepherd of the Desert Catholic Church. We park under the shade of an isolated tree and step out into a temperature well over the 40s [100s]. A sign at the diner’s door asks customers not to use sleeveless shirts inside, and a friendly bartender pours us lemonades. Spot-on first contact with Arizona.
Soon after exiting Congress, the road switches to a mountain landscape. We will remember the stretch from here to Yarnell as one of the funniest roads to drive in the whole trip! The sudden change in altitude substitutes cacti with pine trees, shaping up for the reveal at the end of the road: Grand Canyon.
Right before the park entrance lies Tusayan, where permits can be bought to bypass the queue at the entrance station. The town looks very much like a theme park already, but can be convenient for buying any last-minute supplies at inflated prices (which will be even more so inside the park).
We finally arrive in Grand Canyon Village, a bit later than anticipated. We have reserved a night in the Mather Campground, so we check in and drive to our spot. Despite its being full, the campground doesn’t feel crowded or noisy, which is a pleasant surprise. A compliment is due here to the park management: crowding is very much real in the summertime (there were over 700 000 visitors this month alone), so rubbing elbows with fellow camera-bearing, khaki shorts-wearing visitors is unavoidable anywhere from the restaurants to the shuttles to the trails; the park staff, however, does a wonderful job of making these situations easier for everyone. They are just so nice.
We pitch our tent and head quickly to Hopi Point to watch the sunset. It would be foolish to try and describe the colors switching in the canyon at sunset. Few times in our trip would we have such a fulfilling payoff after a day on the road. We stay there until the last shuttle to the Village, and by that time most of the people have left. The rim gets silent and engulfed by darkness while the (almost) full moon creeps in from the East.
We would have liked to build a fire on our camping spot, but the shop selling firewood (no collecting wood allowed in the campground) closes its doors on our faces, so we wrap up the day having dinner at one of the park’s restaurants.