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Category Archives: USA
On a glorious day, we opened the season on Fire Island. Without the summer vacationing kids the atmosphere was quaint, few people walking or biking and all happily saluting each other like connoisseurs and participants in a hidden rite. As usual, the outside tables of Kismet Inn were full but for the first time, I saw them without umbrellas, everybody enjoying the rays of the spring sun.
As usual, in spring you could see lots of Mexican workers streaming out of the island on bikes after the work they did renovating the houses. Lot of work was done during the winter on the main roads replacing parts of the pavement with a wooden boardwalk still covered on places by the sand blown by the winter winds. But beaches are still empty, only places for a quaint stroll in the sea breeze.
America may be new but for sure, the Americans know how to capitalize on everything that is somewhat older and has an appeal. Route 66 is such a place, a collection of old towns that were circumvented by the construction of the interstate just to be revigorated as touristic destinations later on.
Williams, the closest city to Grand Canyon, is such a town, the last town on Route 66 that was bypassed by I-40. But the stores on the main street remind you of a time when Route 66 was the blood vessel of America, the road taken by Jack Kerouac in his famous book “On the road”.
East of Willimas are Flagstaff, Winslow with its pick up truck from the Eagles song and Holbrook with its motel made out of wigwams that inspired the guys who made the movie “Cars”. Now I decided to drive west toward Kingman, and stopped in Ash Fork, a dilapidated town that still has some signs of the old route.
Seligman is full of tour buses that stop in front of shops that probably did not exist at the heyday of Route 66 but were built to look like some. But the motels still carry the old signs and the Burger Place, full of dollar bills stuck to the inside wall, has in its yard several of the cars from the movie: Mather and Doc with lots of pictures of Lighting McQueen.
Between these towns, the two-lane road is practically empty, except some cars that drive here to visit the route. On the roadsides, from time to time, there are 5 consecutive panels, an advertisement for Burma Shave, a currently defunct company, who wrote on them some 4 verses haikus to keep the drivers awake. It is no gas on the road but still several places to eat. At Roadkill Cafe, it is a sign inside that says “You killed it, we grill it” referring to the animals you may have killed on the road.
In Hackberry the store sells everything touristy, mugs, car plates, T-shirts and all else in a garage landscape full of old scrapped cars that one day may be repainted to their old glory.
The gas station in front is as old as the bar inside with Elvis and Marlyn on top of the bar. Elvis actually is a constant presence on the road, waving to pedestrians from parked cars along the road in several towns.
And if you did not have enough, right before Kingman, you can get a stylized Easter Island head, Giganticus Headicus, in Antares Point, AZ created a by a local artist.
No matter when you start driving into Grand Canyon you will end up your tour at sunset. The road is so long and there are so many places to stop, look and be stunned by the huge hole in front of you. No matter if you visited before, you will not be able to cover the park in one day, except if you sleep inside the park and start your exploration early. There are about three routes to hike inside the canyon and many others on the rim. We have been visited Grand Canyon several times before but each time we were as impressed as we were the first time. You look at that sliver of the river, mighty as it is but still a trickle when you look from above, and you cannot but be mesmerized by its power in cutting the rock under you.
Now almost the entire South Rim of the canyon from the village to Hermits’ Rest has a paved trail that can be accessed by the newly rentable bikes from the village. But the entire park affair of the canyon is stunning, with several visitors centers, a train, huge parking lots that are all packed, stores, roaming elan-deer, markets, lots of gift shops, rangers at every corner, campgrounds, restaurants, and several bus routes, all running every ten minutes on most of the important roads.
While in Kanab you need always a number of “Plan B”s in case you do not win the “Lottery”. And House Rock Valley Road is offering several options, the classical one being the Wirepass, a short slot, connecting to the Buckskin Gulch, a slot on steroids, two canyons that may keep you occupied at least for a day. Unfortunately, after we got into the Wirepass, clouds started to accumulate so knowing better we turned swiftly and after a short detour to the petroglyphs, all marked now with fancy signs, we hit the road toward Page just to be caught by drops of rain on Route 89.
But the rain was slower than us when we reached Toadstool, a collection of tall formations at the base of white hills that inspire you to scramble them, even knowing that when you get on top you may see more of the same on the other side. The wind was blowing over the mirific landscape of shapes covered in white flowers.
Several miles away, very close to Page, there are some campgrounds on the shores of Lake Powell, where there is also a resort and a large marina, with views overlooking the dam in Page on Colorado River and the coal power plant built near the Antelope Canyon. However Page, AZ became a sort of travel hub for the region more even than Moab, UT. I remember both these as sleepy towns with cheap motels for hikers and rock climbers and barely enough places to eat that all closed way too early. Now the main street in Page, AZ is packed with international tourists from all over the world and if you wait one hour (!!) in line at Joe’s Texas BBQ listening to the Texas cowboys band with a great rock and roll repertoire, you may feel that you are the only one speaking English. So to be in tune with everybody else, we decided to speak Romanian.
I wrote several times in the past about a part of America that is fascinating and about which so few Americans heard about. It’s an area of no services whatsoever, no rangers able to help in case of emergency, no paved roads that are full of ruts in their middle, no phone reception and, surprisingly probably, spotty GPS reception that makes its use totally unreliable. But this area that stretches between two states, Utah and Arizona, contains two fabulous national monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Vermilion Cliffs, the first under recent attacks by fat cats’ interests helped by an incompetent president.
I spent enough time in both of these areas and I consider them to be two of the most beautiful, fascinating and somehow mysterious areas of the entire Lower 48. Each time I stayed in Kanab, I came motivated to play the permit “lottery” to access some of their more secluded areas and I planned from the beginning the entire trip around the “lottery.” Persistence helped and I was fortunate to be able to access these off-limits treasures of the two Coyote Buttes areas. About six years ago I was able to get into Coyote Butte North at “The Wave”, and couple of years later I was for the first time in Coyote Butte South at Paw Hole.
Everybody who comes for the lottery in Kanab comes mainly to participate in the Coyote Butte North lottery, in order to get to see “The Wave”. The Coyote Butte South Lottery was always advertised but nobody was interested to participate in the past, so first time when I asked about it, the rangers from BLM just handed me a permit for the same day and wished me good luck, because I was the only one interested to go there. But the yesterday Coyote Butte South lottery happened with quite a sizable participation, however way less than the almost 400 participants that crowded the BLM room for “The Wave” lottery, and this time the lucky number 1 gave me the permit for the following day.
But if you may be able to access Coyote Butte South at Paw Hole by walking one hour in the sandy path into the scorching sun from the House Rock Valley Road – where you park your car at the Lone Tree – this is not an option for Cottonwood Cove, the other entry in Coyote Butte South that is further away from the road. And because the roads inside the national monuments are all sand roads, I thought better than driving my rented SUV and get it stuck there in the sand. In New York we usually do not drive in sand but on highways…
Accessing this further point was almost impossible without a proper 4X4 rented vehicle, but about two years ago the BLM in Kanab started to work closely with the local tour providers and in taking advantage of a list of names, we made some calls and spoke with Mike from Kanab Western Adventure (ph: 435-690-0220) who came with his 4X4 GMC truck to get us to Cottonwood Cove and guide us through this amazing landscape of whimsical shapes. Guiding rate in Kanab is about $200/person/day that includes lunch and lots of water that you will need dearly.
Driving with him proved to be a confirmation of what the rangers were advising everybody: do not drive anything else than a 4X4 especially if you are not familiar driving in sand. Even if Mike did not have to employ the 4X4 gear during his entire drive, his fat tires and knowledge of the road helped. After seeing the road, for sure I would have not been comfortable to drive in that deep sand.
Coyote Butte South is a completely isolated area and you hardly meet anybody for the entire day. For the entire day we met just another girl with a guide and I saw from far away a couple with a dog whom we all tried to figure out where they were coming from. But for sure way more than when I visited Paw Hole, 4 years ago, when I was the only hiker for the entire day in the entire Coyote Butte South.
Coyote Butte South is a magical land. Besides the amazing whimsical shapes that abound, there are dinosaur tracks, lots of them, two “waves” and spectacularly shaped domes that are seated on bedrock marked by perfectly straight colored lines that follow the bedrock for hundreds of feet.
There are two main groups of formations and each of them has impressive twisted shapes like a giant came and squeezed them. Incredible long thin tongues of hard sand are popping out of rocks, like the breath of a dragon, all so brittle that you are afraid to be too close to them not to break them by mistake. Or domes full of moki marbles.
If time permits you may be able to swing by White Pockets – does not require a permit to get there – another 40 minutes drive away and another 40 minute back. But it is worth spending the entire day in Coyote Butte South that personally I found to be, at its Cottonwood Cove entry, way more interesting and fascinating that the “The Wave.”
Besides, while at Coyote Butte South you may be almost by yourself all day, at “The Wave” you would be surrounded by all 20 people and/or dogs, each dog counting as one person (one permit) even it may not appreciate enough the surrounding landscape. There are two sets of permits, 10 online and 10 off-line, awarded daily, and all people carring them would aggregate right on “The Wave”, in spite that there are many other interesting sites around.
The tour in South Coyote Butte took the entire day. Mike picked us up right after “The Wave” lottery – of course, we had to play each day while we were in Kanab – around 9:15 AM and we returned in Kanab around 6:15 PM, staying on site about 4.5 hours. Mike is a funny guy who offered a great tour that we enjoyed a lot and I highly recommend, in spite that I always avoid having guides around while wandering when shooting around the world.
When you get into Kanab, the morning routine is to join the large crowds that started packing the town’s hotels and be part of “the lottery”. It’s not about money but about some permits, unknown for most of the Americans. If you don’t win “The Wave” lottery you have a second chance for Coyote Butte South lottery that happens one hour later, exactly at 10:00 am. We did not win a permit for “The Wave” this time but we had better luck for the second one so we spend an hour in a training of how not to get killed in the visiting process. But more about it, tomorrow.
About 90 minutes from Kanab, crossing the Kaibab Forest, is located a stretch of magnificent reddish cliffs that go from the Coxcomb Mountains all the way towards Colorado River. These are the Vermilion Cliffs, whose part protected under a national monument status, is located close to Page, AZ in Marble Canyon. In its middle is a beautiful walk on the Cathedral Wash, that goes in both direction from the main park road, north towards the Vermilion Cliffs in a tall canyon, and south for about 75 minutes towards the Colorado River.
At Lee’s Ferry, the end of the inside road of the park, boats are launched on Colorado River for several-days-trip with stop for overnight camping, a river that would grow impressively and cut through Glen Canyon spanned by the Navajo Bridge just outside of the park’s entrance.