Just Go With It: My Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

I make pilgrimages to Sedona at least every few months. I am almost always under stress (mostly because I’m still not very good with dealing with it), and Sedona is a great place for me to go rid my head of unnecessary clutter. And yesterday morning, I woke up and initially decided that since all kinds of holiday hell are going to break loose soon, it might be a good time for me to go again.

A lot of the excitement was gone, though. It almost felt like I was going out of some obligation. But I love to drive, and I wanted to drive somewhere, anywhere. Anything to get me out of the apartment so I didn’t have to be an adult clean or do laundry or pay bills.

So I bundled up, got in my car, filled the tank, and drove north.

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Sunset Point rest area

I’ve memorized the entire drive to Sedona. Every tree, every rock, every rest stop, every mountain pass and little forest… I’ve got them down. And halfway through the drive it occurred to me that I didn’t have to go to Sedona if I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, I could just keep driving north. Who would stop me?

Where else can I go? I wondered. Immediately I thought of Monument Valley. I’ve never been there, and I’ve been dying to see it for a long time. But one quick maps search quickly cut that choice out when I saw it was four hours away (and I was halfway to Sedona!). Just a little too far for a day trip.

Then I thought of the Grand Canyon. As is typical for most native Arizonans, I had still never seen it. Well, I probably did when I was really little, since I think my parents took me up there with my grandparents long ago. But I didn’t actually remember it.

I looked up the distance from where I was on the I17 at that point: Under three hours from where I was. Okay, so there would be a lot of driving. But I was tired of the same old trips to Sedona.

And besides, I got a new phone on Wednesday, the iPhone 6. I had to test out the GPS and the better-quality camera, right? Right?

So I found myself passing the Sedona exit and continuing my drive on the I17. And while everything up to that point had been safe and familiar, the road and the surroundings suddenly became unknown territory.

I drove through so. many. trees. The Sonoran Desert doesn’t stretch all the way through Arizona.

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Then came this weird white stuff on the ground.

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I was so tempted to pull over and play in the snow, but I kept driving.

And driving.

I got onto the I40 West and kept driving.

And driving.

Seriously, after a while I started to question what I was doing. Who goes to the Grand Canyon on a whim? Me, apparently. I laughed about it as I turned up Kenny Loggins and kept driving.

When I got to the end of my drive on the I40 and saw I had another interstate to drive (AZ64) that would take another hour at least, I made a pit stop in the tiny town of Williams for food.

Now, I don’t like to think of myself as completely paranoid, but whenever I go anywhere unfamiliar, I am always constantly, incredibly aware of the fact that I am a young woman traveling alone. It comes from working with horses, too. I am constantly using all of my senses to stay out of danger. I carry mace in my car at all times, and I usually bring my knife with me wherever I go too, but yesterday I forgot it on my night stand.

My first thought as I entered this town was that it was a great place to get abducted.

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My second thought was that it looked an awful lot like Radiator Springs, the little town in Disney Pixar’s Cars (my favorite Pixar movie). And it was no wonder – as I kept driving I was pleasantly surprised to remember that the town sits on Route 66! (In the movie Cars, Radiator Springs is a town that sits on Route 66 but was bypassed after the construction of the interstate.)

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Looking back, I wish I’d explored a little bit. Or that I’d brought someone with me so I would feel safe exploring. There were old train cars and buildings that looked like they’d seen Civil War days. I relaxed a bit when I saw families and couples wandering around the old buildings, since Williams is a tourist town above all.

I got food from a Safeway then it was back on the road. More driving.

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And more driving.

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There was a stretch somewhere in there where I was the only one on the road for miles around. The area was flat (I thought I could see the drop off where the canyon started waaaaaay up ahead, but it was probably my imagination) except for small trees scattered here and there, and I had a couple of worrying thoughts about what I’d do if my car broke down or if I blew a tire.

Keep going, the little voice in my head said. And I did.

I passed cows, the Planes of Fame Museum, Bedrock City, and only one or two gas stations, one of which I stopped in to get my Grand Canyon park pass.

More driving.

I finally got to Tusayan, where the entrance to the Grand Canyon is.

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Then – yep, you guessed it – more driving. But at least now I was close, with a bunch of tourists driving along with me.

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Finally I parked around the visitor center, put on every coat I’d brought with me (it was cold!), and went on my merry way up the little walkway. It was a little after 1pm at this point, and it occurred to me that I was probably going to be home much later than I’d originally told my boyfriend. So I shot him a text: “So um, I accidentally drove past Sedona.” (Later, in explanation, I sent him a selfie of me with the Grand Canyon behind me to the response of, “Wha….?”)

I kept walking, happy to be up and out of the car after driving for so many hours. There was a cool engraving in the walkway up to Mather Point (the lookout for the South Rim) that paid tribute to the Native American tribes that lived in the canyon. Whether or not they’re still there, I don’t know. I hope so.

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Then, at the end of the walkway, came this. At last.

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All that driving became worth it. My spur-of-the-moment decision to go on past Sedona made sense. I was meant all along to see this indescribable wonder.

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Selfies, because why not?
Selfies, because why not?
I wish I had thought to take off my hat!

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When I was walking along the rim I overheard an elderly couple talking to their kids and grandkids about their incredulity over the canyon. Someone said it looked more like a painting than it did real. The grandpa said, “It really puts into perspective how insignificant we are.”

Oh, it really, really does.

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I walked along the edge a bit and read some of the fact bulletins.

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I can’t even fathom how I barely saw any of it, compared to how huge it actually is.

It goes on for miles. Ages. Forever.

Looking down was insane. I didn’t even feel any fear. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how deep the canyon is, how many millions of years it must have taken for the Colorado River to slowly work its way through the rock.

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After I had done all my picture taking I just stood and looked at the Grand Canyon for a long time.

I kept trying to think of one word to describe it. I finally settled on vast, not just because of the canyon itself, but because the words there are to describe it are endless.

How must it have been, to be walking or riding and running along hundreds and thousands of years ago, to suddenly stop short and feast your eyes on this? How must it have been to have no idea about this only to stumble upon it unawares?

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When I finally made my way back down the pathway, I grabbed a coffee from the visitor center then got back on the road. When I had cell service I called my boyfriend and reassure him I was still alive and that I hadn’t completely lost my mind.

I made another fast decision later on when I randomly decided to take the 89A south rather than the I17 right away. It would be different than just coming back all the way I came, and I knew that it went through Sedona.

What I didn’t know was that parts of the road consisted of winding, twisting turns all the way down huge cliffs.
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I had a blast all the way down.

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At one point a car behind me started tailgating even though I was going over the speed limit, but not too much over since, you know, I was winding my way down cliffs on a narrow road. My typical response to that kind of behavior, in true Arizona driver fashion, is to do a break check. Yesterday, I just ignored him. Other people’s anxiety or anger has nothing to do with me, and I had a right to drive the speed I wanted.

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Asshole (silver car) eventually passed me and tailgated my Jeep friend who I’d followed all the way down the cliffs until Jeep got pissed off and pulled over just so Asshole could blaze in front of him.

In the end, I did end up going to Sedona.

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I only made one stop, though, to a place I’d never been before. I’ve always been vaguely aware that my parents were married in Sedona, but it wasn’t until recently that I asked my mom where.

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Unity of Sedona is such a cool little place. I didn’t go inside nor did I wander very much – it was just cool to be there.

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I took away a few things from this little day trip:

People are nicer than they seem. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to err on the deep side of caution whenever I am traveling alone. I passed by several potential bathroom stops or gas stations based purely on how many men were gathered outside of them, preferring to enter places that seemed to be serving couples or families with children. (That’s pretty messed up that our minds work that way as women, but that’s a whole other post for another day.) But while it’s a good thing to be cautious, so is letting friendly people in. Everyone I spoke with at gas stations or stores and even the guy who made me my coffee at the visitor center in the Grand Canyon was incredibly kind and well-meaning (and I most certainly did not get abducted).

And finally, I think – no, I know it’s easy to go through life with a plan. As I talked about in another post, I’ve lately started to live without a set-in-stone plan. And don’t get me wrong – it’s good to have an outline of sorts, so there is something for which you are striving. But sometimes the plan needs to be adjusted or thrown out all together. And sometimes when you just go with it and keep pushing the edges of your comfort zone and journeying on, you make some pretty incredible discoveries along the way.

Next trip? Monument Valley, for sure. And this time, I’ll be leaving at dawn.

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