Grand Canyon 2016: The Randall Murphy Experience
Friday, September 02, 2016
It was an uneventful flight, which are the best kind! Well except the gate change in Houston which I only knew about because Google Now (Big Brother) showed on my phone a different gate than the boarding pass. I was at gate E9 the original gate, 45 minutes before boarding time and heard no announcements. A gentleman sat down next to me and asked if I was going Phoenix, I said yes and if I was wrong we were both wrong. I looked at my phone a few minutes later and saw the gate had been updated. I walk up to the counter, ask the guy there and he said my flight had indeed been changed to gate C45. It was only ten minutes before boarding time so I hastily started walking, and let the guy who asked me know we needed to move. Fortunately, it was only a five-minute walk.
After landing, getting bags, and getting the rental car I made it to the Motel 6 close to PHX at 11:30PM Mountain standard time (no DST, Arizona doesn’t participate) which is Pacific time right now.
The neighborhood of the Motel 6 seemed a little shady, go figure! Besides some loud neighbors upstairs, I am writing this and obviously survived.
Saturday, September 03, 2016
PHX, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ, Big Water, UT
I left Motel 6 about 6:30AM after sitting in the parking lot for 20 minutes trying to figure out all the features of the Chevy Malibu rental. I was trying to pair my phone with the Bluetooth, it would not let me add it as there were five devices already paired and it would not delete any of them. I finally gave up and started driving.
(Later in the day I googled on my phone and found a thread on reddit about the issue. You have to turn the car off, leave the driver’s door open for five minutes with nothing plugged in to the usb port. When you start back up it has reset the Bluetooth and you can delete devices and add yours. If this wasn’t in the owner’s manual, I am at a loss how someone figured that out, but hey it worked! One last thing about the rental, Chevy seems to pride themselves on making as many blind spots as possible.)
It was a five-hour drive to Monument Valley, originally I had planned to keep going past there another hour on the same road to Valley of the Gods, but from what I have read, it is a dirt road that is well maintained except it can be hard for low profile vehicles to get through when sloshy. It had stormed some on Friday and was raining a little on my way out there, so I decided to save Valley of the Gods for another time, and stopped not too far where Forrest Gump stopped running and said “I’m tired, I think I’ll go home now.” I spent an hour or so stopping along the Monument Valley. You can take a guided jeep tour which takes you off road and up close to monuments, but from researching you typically had to be with a group. I didn’t want to wait around hoping someone would let me tag along. I’ve spent too much of my life on that type of scenario as it is.
Monument Valley, UT
I headed to the High Desert Lodge in Big Water, UT which is about twenty miles from Page, AZ where I would be doing a raft trip on Sunday. When I started looking at lodging in Page, you couldn’t touch anything under $170, even Motel 6. I’m not above staying at Motel 6 obviously; I am above paying $170 to stay at Motel 6. The High Desert Lodge is a Mom and Pop motel, they had rooms for $100 plus tax, driving 20 miles saved me $55. I checked in around 4:30pm, after getting my gear all situated in the room, I drove back to Page to see if I could knock Horseshoe Bend off my list. When I arrived out there, people were parking a mile away from the entrance. It was nuts, so I turned around and drove back out and stopped and took some pictures of Lake Powell at sunset.
High Desert Lodge
Big Water, UT
Sunday, September 04, 2016
Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River Discovery, Kanab, UT
After going to bed early and getting up at 4:00 AM, I drove out to Horseshoe Bend to see about taking sunrise picture as my brother Brad suggested. Here’s where I confess that being fat and overweight kept me from doing something I wanted to do. I drove out to the parking lot, got out and started walking up the hill. I made it about 20 feet and a nagging lower back started telling me we might be in trouble if we actually made it up there. I could have pushed myself, but it was still dark, I decided to save some will power for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the Horseshoe Bend overlook, I am disappointed in my conditioning and health that kept me from doing it, but there has been a lot of gorgeous things I have seen in this trip. The disappointment is really more on a personal level, than feeling like I missed seeing something.
I went to the Glen Canyon Dam and took some pictures and enjoyed being the only one there, besides the armed guards coming and leaving their shifts guarding the dam.
Then I had breakfast with a view at Denny’s.
Glen Canyon Dam
I made my way over to Colorado River Discovery for the 10AM all day motor raft trip on the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, which is where the Grand Canyon begins. I was on a raft with 22 others including the guide John. John is probably in his mid-50’s, and does is a river guide 8 months out of the year, in the off season he goes back home to South Dakota. He was very knowledgeable about the dam history, wildlife, geological info about Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. The group of people on our boat were all very friendly, some from Los Angeles, Boston, Michigan, El Paso, and Mesa, AZ. It was a great experience and lived up to the hype I created in my head. I took a brief dip in the 47-degree water, saw some wild horses, and gorgeous scenery the whole time. A sack lunch was included with the trip, and there were two water jugs on the boat. After the first stop, John offered cans of lemonade which was river cooled in a bag hanging off the boat.
Here’s a piece of irony related to the whole electric motor craze. John said that $250,000.00 was spent on an electric boat project to cut out using gas powered engines. The electric boat recently took its first trip down river, but has to be towed back upstream as it doesn’t have enough power to make it back, and it is now broken as the power cord that cost $700 is broke and needs to be replaced. So $250,000.00 has provided one trip downstream, meanwhile the gas powered boats keep doing what they are meant to do. Saving the planet, Man!
A bus picked us up at Lee’s Ferry and drove us the hour back to Page. We arrived there about 3:30PM.
Colorado River Discovery Raft Trip
I took my brother Brad and his wife Angela’s advice and tried a restaurant called Stromboli’s. They advertise having a calzone as big as your head, and they aren’t kidding! I had the Hawaiian Calzone, but could only eat half. I took the other half with me.
The night’s lodging was in Kanab, UT at the Rodeway Inn. Which is about an hour and a half from Page. The drive from Page to Kanab, is beautiful. You pass through the Grand Staircase-Escalante. I didn’t stop and take any pictures, but it’s definitely worthy of a lot of stops. In some places, you would be stopping every few miles to take pictures. I think Utah is definitely worth a future trip on its own, I just couldn’t fit much more into this trip.
The manager at Rodeway Inn had called and left a voicemail while I was on the river trip. On my voicemail, I advertise my RandallMurphy.com, and that I can’t take the call because I’m out living my life and being awesome. The manager had her husband call back and listen to the voicemail, he then went to my website. He gave me dinner recommendations based on my Amarillo trip review. I later met his wife while I was getting ice. I drove around Kanab a little bit for sundown and checked the town out, it’s a nice place.
Monday, September 05, 2016
Kanab, UT to Grand Canyon North Rim
Murphy’s Law visited one its favorite sons on Monday morning. I tried to leave at 6:30am to eat breakfast, so I would have time to do some exploring around Kanab and hopefully hit up the Little Hollywood Museum which has some old movie sets from The Outlaw Josie Wales, and several other westerns. Brad had told me about the place and I wanted to check it out. Well the Chevy Impala would not start, it wouldn’t even turn over. I didn’t leave any lights on. After calling the emergency number for Enterprise Rent A Car, a very apathetic representative who took five minutes to even ask for my name or rental agreement, informed me that I probably just needed a jump and that would be a $56 roadside assistance charge. I declined the roadside assistance with Enterprise because I have AAA. However, I thought that would be if someone needed to come change a flat for you. I had a feeling a jump was not going to fix this because the key would not come out of the ignition and when you turned it on long enough it would say the theft deterrent system needed to be reset. I consented to have Ms. Apathy send out someone, explaining that I will file a chargeback on the $56 as it’s not my fault their car had mechanical issues. A guy named Dakota from a local shop showed up within 30 minutes, I was thankful it being Labor Day. He was real nice and exactly how you think a guy named Dakota would look, brawny, with a lumberjack beard. He tried giving the battery a boost with one of those portable jumpers, but it would not turn over, nothing. He called his boss for help who showed up in about ten minutes. They tried everything they could think of, fuses, connections. Then they took the negative wire looks to reset everything. That worked! Hopefully, I don’t have the same issue again before turning the car in, but at least I know what to do. I just don’t have any tools and haven’t passed anywhere to buy any between Kanab and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
My worst case scenario thinking made me decide to leave Kanab instead of risking the car acting up again. I even considered driving back to Phoenix and trading it for another car, but that would have been 12 hours of driving to go to Phoenix, and then back to the North Rim. I headed for the North Rim stopping a few times along the way outside of Kanab in nearby Fredonia, AZ. You pass these huge rock formations that have no doubt been in tons of movies. I also stopped at a scenic overlook in the Kaibab National Forest which is on the way to the North Rim. The first few stops I left the car running, then became a little braver. Thankfully the car hasn’t acted up since/yet.
I made it to the Grand Canyon North Rim entrance around 10:30am, instead of going straight to the North Rim visitor center and Grand Canyon Lodge, I took a drive up to Point Imperial, which I believe is the highest point on Grand Canyon at 8803 feet above sea level. I spent an hour or so up there taking pictures and just taking it all in.
On the solo trips I’ve taken, sometimes melancholy emotions start sinking in when I am in a quiet place. I wish family or friends were there to share the experience, thoughts of Mom always pop up on radar. I remember watching a Dallas Cowboys game one time with Dad and it wasn’t a great day for the Cowboys. I made the remark how they would be winning if they had certain players available that were hurt. He said something that he may not even realize has stuck with me, “Son, you can’t play with what you don’t have.” I’m not even sure meant for it to be anything other than a statement of the obvious, but I have long remembered it and apply it to life. Yes, it would be awesome to load the whole family up on a bus and go road tripping across America. Since I don’t have a significant other (travel fits the bill right now, I only get to see her a few times a year), it doesn’t do any good to pout and hope one is going to fall out of the sky. In the moments of melancholy emotions, I try snap out focus on enjoying the experience at hand. If I wait on everyone else to do the things I want to see and do, I may never do them. At least I can come back from these trips and tell them about it, and share a few pictures.
Well now that that detour is out of the way, I made my way from Point Imperial to the Grand Canyon Lodge. I had neglected to eat anything as I was concerned with the whole car thing and wanted to make some tracks. The Rough Rider Saloon had pizza (which was brought over from the Deli in the Pines). I sat at the bar and had a couple of slices while getting the notion my mere presence was a nuisance to the bartender. You think he would have been a little more friend with three tip carafes spread out across the bar.
After lunch I finally went out and took in the Grand Canyon behind the Grand Canyon Lodge. I moved from side to side and even spent some time inside the veranda on one of the really comfy couches looking out at the canyon with a nice breeze blowing through. Everyone sitting in there dozed off at some point, and I was no different. After sitting inside for a while, I went out and did some hiking on the Bright Angel Point Trail. The brochures all say that your body will not be used to the high altitude, and it will be harder to breathe. That snuck up on me and I didn’t even realize it, I was breathing so hard coming back up the trail that I sounded like I had been running gassers back in high school football. I wasn’t the only one though, I heard a lot of people around me all breathing hard too. So while I am fat and out of shape, I wasn’t the only heavy breather out there.
I still had a few hours to spend before checking into the motel room on the North Rim. A few new stickers have been added to the collection, although my laptop lid is out of space. I have a wooden lap desk I use at the leased living space; I think I might start putting stickers on it.
At 4PM I checked in, but I had reservations at the Grand Canyon Lodge restaurant for 4:30, so I spent some more time in the veranda and tried to make out which languages were being spoken by the wide array of foreign visitors. European countries sure do produce a lot of beautiful women!
For dinner I had venison meatloaf, which was a first for me. It was ok, too bad they don’t have some really great Tex-Mex available. I would have enjoyed that. I don’t look forward to the trip being over, but the one consolation will be having some fajitas when I get back. The waiter was probably my Dad’s age and didn’t seem real enthusiastic about his job, somehow I always end up with the servers who hate their job. I can relate, but sometimes you have to put on that fake smile despite how soul crushing it is, or get one that doesn’t crush your soul. I’m still working on that. The girl helping him with drink refills and bread disbursement was really nice.
After dinner I went back to the car, it started, and drove to the parking lot for the motel (which is away from everything), a cabin would be preferred for the next stay here, but the motel room was hard enough to get. I checked for months and finally was able to get a room. I thought the crowd would thin out a little more, but the view decks around the lodge still have quite a few people out there. I am kind of toasty from a day on the river yesterday, and the time out today. As of now I am sitting in the room with a cool breeze coming through the window (no ac, not needed) and writing this out. I’ve organized all the pics so far into folders on the laptop, and about to chill out for a few hours in the room and will be up early for the sunrise tomorrow. Good night.
Rough Rider Saloon
Near Bright Angel Point
Tuesday, September 06, 2016
Grand Canyon North Rim to Grand Canyon South Rim
I woke up at 4 am so I would be up and ready in plenty of time to catch the twilight at 5:40, then sunrise at 6:07. My plan was to load my gear and drive to a closer spot by the lodge as it is a bit of a haul from the motel rooms to the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Guess what didn’t start this morning due to the same issue as yesterday? If you guessed the 2016 Chevy Impala rental from Enterprise Rent a Car would not start because the theft deterrent system trigged when using the trunk button on the key fob, you are correct and win a tip if the same thing happens to you at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where mobile service is very limited. I’ll give you that in a bit. Since my goal was to catch the sunrise and it was really early, so early that no one having access to a wrench (which is what I needed to take the negative cable off of the battery) would be available. I put my stuff in the car, and headed to the lodge with my cameras. I was able to get there by 5:50, and joined a couple of older gentlemen who were setup with their cameras. One of them remarked that he was surprised there were only three of us out there, I agreed as I thought I’d be out there fighting for a spot. A few more people came and went, but it never filled up. From the lodge the sun comes up behind it and shines into the canyon, it is an awesome sight to take in as the first light starts illuminating the canyon. What can you say to describe such a thing and give it proper explanation, you really can’t, adjectives fail, you just need to see it for yourself.
After spending an hour or so out there, I went inside and took up a spot on one of the comfy couches and took in the view again. It was one of the few places that sporadic mobile service was available, if you were following along on Instagram or fake book when I was posting or replying on the north rim, it was usually from this spot.
The gift shop opened at 8 am. I looked around in there to see if they had any tools. They did not. I had a couple of backup plans, worst case call AAA and wait for a few hours for someone to be able to make it out there. There was also a general store and service station two miles from the lodge. I could see if they had a wrench I could buy or borrow, but first I checked with the visitor center that opened at 8:30 which was a lot closer to the car. As soon as they opened I asked the two rangers if they happened to have a wrench I could borrow. Thankfully, they had a crescent wrench! I walked to the car used the wrench to take the negative post off and back on. That did the trick. I drove back to the visitor center, left the car running, thanked them profusely. I picked up a couple of souvenirs (stickers and patches) in their little shop that weren’t available in the big shop. If the same thing happens to you, go to the visitor center, they have a nice tool set which they will let you borrow from.
Then I headed out towards the south rim, on the way out a herd of buffalo were crossing the road about a mile before the park exit. I was able to get some decent pictures.
The drive from the north to south rim is about 4 hours. AZ 89A is a sight to see in itself, it ranges from mountainous terrain to desert views with rock formations that could have been featured in a number of movies. I passed by Lee’s Fairy and over the Marble Canyon bridge which is where the Grand Canyon begins. 20 miles or so was the same route the bus from the raft trip had taken. I stopped a few times along the way and took some pictures. I was on constant lookout for an auto parts store or any place I could get a wrench. There were a few Indian reservation stores along the way, I supposed one of them could have had a wrench, but none really looked the part.
The drive from the North to South Rim.
I kept thinking some kind of city would pop up before getting to the south rim from the east. There was not! Before I knew it I was at the entrance to the south rim. Most of the viewpoints were pretty crowded, since I wanted to get to the Grand Canyon Village before shutting the car off, I kept going. The parking lots around the visitor center and the village were pretty packed. I was able to find a spot behind in the Bright Angel Lodge parking lot. I expected it to be a little thinner after the Labor Day holiday, but I guess everyone else thought that too, and there are tons of tour buses and foreign visitors. My guess is I probably brushed shoulders with more foreigners than Americans. A lot of Australians, who are very friendly people. Before venturing out and about I ate lunch at the Bright Angel restaurant. After lunch I still had a few hours before check-in time. I took the shuttle around the blue loop which goes from the village all the way to the visitor center and back with a lot of stops in between at the lodges, parking lots, trails. The loop is several miles. There are actually three of four different shuttle routes, so you can park and not need a car as long as you have patience with some of the crowded stops and buses. One of the stops on the blue route was The Market Place which has a bank, post office, restaurants, and a general store that has groceries, camping supplies, souvenirs and a leather man tool for $15. It’s very cheaply made; they did have some nice ones in a glass case for $90-$120. However, I was never so glad to pay $15 for a cheaply made tool that allowed me to continue my trip without having to borrow a tool or call roadside assistance. While this may never happen to me again with a rental car, I will never take a trip again without some kind of basic tools, even if I am flying.
After taking the shuttle back to Bright Angel Lodge, I finally walked out to the rim and took it all in. It was nice to be able to relax without worrying about the car. It was pretty crowded, again a lot of tour groups. At 4pm I checked in and received my room key for 6142 in the Powell Lodge, which is a separate building but part of Bright Angel Lodge. The rooms in Powell Lodge have a toilet and sink in the room, but no shower. There are shared private showers in the center of the lodge. You have to use your key card to get in the building. I’m not sure when the Powell Lodge was built, I am guessing at least as far back as the 40’s. I think one or two of the rooms has a partial view of the canyon, mine did not as I was on the other side. Once I was settled in, I rested for an hour or so then went out to watch the sunlight fade in the canyon as the sun was behind me again.
Once it started getting dark I went into the Bright Angel Lodge and bought myself a Grand Canyon hat at the gift shop, then went across the hall to the Harvey House Tavern. They have a limited appetizer menu, most people are in there to imbibe, not eat. Kevin Danzig was playing original and cover songs, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. He has a great voice and I enjoyed listening to him sing and play. The place was mostly filled with couples and groups having drinks and swapping stories. I represented the solo traveler in a corner of the room while enjoying an iced tea and tasty quesadilla from the appetizers menu. When Kevin Danzig came back from break, I dropped a few bucks in the tip jar and asked if he knew any Mumford and Sons or Avett Brothers. He said he knew both, and when he started playing again his first song was “I will wait” by Mumford and Sons. A few people were singing along. The place was getting crowded, I didn’t want to hold up a table. I left after he sang my request. Back out to the rim to do star gazing, it was an amazing view. I tried to get some pictures, but there was some light pollution coming from the nearby buildings. Apparently if you go about a mile away, it’s optimal for star photography. I’d like to learn how to take those kind of pictures. My guess is I would have to get some pretty expensive lenses for that. Maybe one day when I have a few grand just laying around unaccounted for, I’ll buy one or two of those. I turned in about 10pm.
Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
The Powell Lodge
Bright Angel Lodge
24 minutes of the the South Rim view
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Grand Canyon South Rim, Superstition Mountain, Mesa
I was out on the rim by 5:40am for twilight and sunrise at 6:06. It was cloudy and the viewpoint from Bright Angel Lodge is not the best, but it’s the Grand Canyon at sunrise so it’s beautiful none the less. I learned from talking to a lady that Hopi Point is one the best spots for sunrise. If I ever make it back, it is noted for future reference.
Grand Canyon South Rim Sunrise
If you show up with a camera and a tripod, people assume you know what you’re doing and ask for the best place to watch the sunrise.
I just pointed east…
As much as I hated to leave the Grand Canyon, I wanted to get the drive back to Phoenix out of the way. After using my $15 tool to take the negative cable loose and reattach, I was able to start the car with minimal delay. The car starts fine all day, just mornings are the issues. I was afraid that theory would prove me wrong yesterday which is why I didn’t turn it off until getting where I needed to be. The conversation with Enterprise is going to be interesting when I turn it in tomorrow morning. Hopefully they’ll have it checked out and not leave some other poor sap to figure the same thing out. I thought about taping a note to the battery compartment in case they don’t. At least it will give the next roadside assistance guy a head start on Dakota and his boss’ discovery.
I took the south route out to Williams, AZ and drove through the Route 66 corridor in downtown Williams. The Grand Canyon Train leaves from Williams and take day trips to the Grand Canyon, I was originally going to take the train for a day trip today, but canceled once I was able to get the room on the south rim. Part of me still wanted to do it, but I was also relieved that I wasn’t on any kind of a schedule today. For lunch I stopped about 30 miles north of Phoenix and had In-N-Out Burger. It was tasty, and not too crowded at 10:45am.
Along the drive from the south rim to Mesa, AZ
From there I drove to the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction, AZ which is on the east side of Phoenix. Superstition Mountain provides a magnificent back drop to the museum grounds which has a barn and church from Apacheland movie ranch which was nearby and used in a lot of westerns. Elvis filmed Charro (a western) there, the only movie he didn’t sing in. The church was featured in the movie. A fire struck Apacheland twice and they were able to salvage the barn and church. The church has been renamed the Elvis Presley Memorial Wedding Chapel. It cost $5 to go through the little museum which tells the geologic history of the mountain, as well as the local history of ranches that were around the area. I visited a few minutes with the two docents stationed in the barn. I bought the Charro DVD from their little gift shop. As much as I am an Elvis fan, the Elvis guitar playing mannequin inside the church behind the altar was pretty funny. It was like a scene from a comedy, except there wasn’t anyone in there but me.
Elvis Memorial Chapel
Originally I planned to make another stop at the Gold Field Ghost Town which was a mile away, but one of the docents clued me in that the stuff had all been built in the last 40 years, was not authentic, and just a tourist trap. I passed on that.
It was a thirty-minute drive to the LaQuinta Inn in Mesa my lodging for the night. They let me check in at 2pm, I had received a text message that my room was ready. I thought that was pretty helpful. They are in the middle of remodeling, the front lobby had a whole work crew, and the front desk was basically a little desk in the hallway. The building is really nice though, I was surprised how nice. I’m on the 7th floor which was recently remodeled and everything in my room is nice and new.
There is a Hooters about a mile away from here, so I did market research and had dinner there. The service was really good, and I like how the place is setup. It would be nice if the ones back where I reside where ran as efficiently.
Thursday, September 08, 2016
It took about 40 minutes to get from the La Quinta in Mesa to the car rental return center at PHX. I told the Enterprise about the car trouble. Ironic enough the car started without issue this morning, although I tried using the remote start first. They said they will have the car checked out. Without me asking he waived the pre-paid fuel charge which was $36. So essentially I was out an extra $20 since there was a $56 road service charge. I was just ready to put it behind me, lesson learned I’ll use my own AAA for roadside stuff on rental cars.
The Chevy Maliby that couldn’t.
The flight from PHX-IAH was delayed 20 minutes because the crew came in late Wednesday night, but the flight was smooth. My bags were first down the chute, and I was able to grab a shuttle as soon as I walked outside, and was in my ride within 30 minutes of landing.
This was a great trip; the car hiccup could have been a lot worse. Other than making me worry it didn’t stop me from seeing terrific places of God’s handiwork. The people of Arizona and Utah are really friendly. Before visiting here, the Grand Canyon was more of a check list item to say “Oh I did that one time.” Now I really want to come back visit Arizona and Utah more. Visiting the marquee national parks like Yosemite last year, and now the Grand Canyon stays with you and provides a sense of awe and respect. I am really blessed to have seen them.
I work so I can travel, I travel so I can live.