Leading up to and throughout this road trip, I told myself and others that I was going to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. Well, I woke up just shy of 6:30am and I looked at my weather app just to discover that it was 30-something degrees outside. I cleared my throat, pulled my weighted blanket (that I traveled with) up over my shoulders, and watched the sun rise through my daggum hotel window. Yep, I wasn’t having it. No way no how. I hadn’t packed cold weather gear so I was definitely not about to try and freeze the last bit of sense I had left in my brain.

Uncle Michael told me that he was going to get himself some breakfast. I continued relaxing a bit and after I showered and dressed, I made my way down to grub on some hotel food. As we were passing each other, my uncle said, “heads up” and I remember him telling me that the eggs on one side was hotter than the other, but I had forgotten which side by the time I got out of the elevator. I just wanted food.

I spent some quality time eating and people watching, enjoying the amazing energy of one of the hotel workers who went above and beyond to help guests (and reduce the amount of people crammed together trying to get certain food items). It was awesome seeing so many people there, clearly visiting for the same reason I was there, to take in as much of that majestic energy that the Grand Canyon harnessed. There were families visiting, casual hikers, and extreme hikers (or at least they had extreme gear strapped to them). Once I was done eating and taking in all of the busyness, I went to my room, gathered my stuff and headed to the front desk to check out.

Grand Canyon

My uncle and I drove the short one mile to the entry gate and was pleasantly surprised that not only would we receive a discount to enter, thanks to his Veteran’s status, but he got a free pass to all of the National Parks for an entire year. Isn’t that awesome?!? I asked him if he would be ready for some road trips come spring time.

After parking and wondering why people brought their small dogs with them—ummm can you say wild animal snacks?— we decided on the route we wanted to take.

I called my mom and she said, “Oh you guys are actually at the Grand Canyon? I thought you were just driving by”. I looked at my phone and I was like, “ummm how do you just drive by?” and then quickly pivoted the conversation before she went off on me. After a few laughs I got off of the phone and uncle Michael and I hopped on the orange shuttle, and oh my goodness, only God could have created something as beautiful as what we took in that day. It’s one thing to see pictures and videos of the Grand Canyon, it’s something totally different, soul-stirring, a song to your spirit, when you see it in person.

Oh and for clarification, all of those jaw-dropping images you see online and in books, are of the south part of the Grand Canyon, the South Rim, which is in Arizona. Not the Nevada side. No knock to Nevada, it’s just a different topography up that-a-which-away. The North Rim is less accessible because it’s like 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim. It’s also not open year-round like the South Rim, and that’s because it snows like crazy in the North Rim.You can access it if you’re a hiker or cross country skier, and have a backcountry permit.

We took a shuttle to see South Kaibab Trail. It begins with a series of switchbacks called “the chimney”. During the winter months you can find ice in this area. What I didn’t know, until after I had made it home with my postcard that I had purchased is that there are Zoroaster and Brama temples perched majestically across from the Mormon Flats on the South Kaibab Trail. The Grand Canyon is hundreds of millions of years old with just as many mysteries nestled in those nooks and crannies.

After spending some quality time at South Kaibab Trail, we hopped on another shuttle and went to Yaki Point.

Now, if I had been there for a hiking trip, I would have hiked to all of these stops. Oh and if I was traveling with someone other than my uncle. He’s not the hiking type. Take him fishing or camping in a controlled-environment (not something as open and wild as the Grand Canyon, for instance) and he’s in his element. He wasn’t playing with these wild animals. Arizona has mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, bats, elk (as I mentioned yesterday), bison, condors, deer, and big horn sheep.

And the most dangerous animals happen to be some of the smallest, those rock squirrels will take you out. You can think they’re cute all you want, you might find yourself cliff-diving without a parachute or in a social media video that’s gone viral because you’re battling Rocky from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Uncle Michael and I were looking at people like they had a death wish. One woman kept trying to get as close to the edge of the cliff and the other women that were with her kept saying, “Okay stop you have gone far enough” and she kept saying, “I’m fine it’s okay, I’ve got this”. My uncle and I turned around and walked away, both agreeing that if her silly butt got snatched by a gust of wind, we didn’t want to be there to witness the horror.

Epic Fail Falling GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

We rolled our eyes when we saw people with their cameras say, “Ooh look at that” and they were trying to get close enough to take photos of animals. I just knew that one of them was going to say “Ooh I wonder if it will let me pet it”. It never fails. There’s always one who wants to take things to the extreme, like they’re gonna get a show with National Geographic or something.

Uncle Michael and I took plenty of pictures and he even had his fancy camera, snapping away and capturing some beautiful images. The photos you see here are all taken by me with my iPhone. I recorded videos and even tried to FaceTime and WhatsApp video call with my mom and sister, so they could get a sneak peek, but no can do. It was as though the canyon said, “Naw sista, not here”. When I was able to call them later, my mom said, “They probably block service so folks can’t see the Grand Canyon for free”. Haaa my mom is hilarious.

We took one more shuttle and visited Pipecreek Vista. I did want to make two more stops but being mindful of the time and how long we still had left of our road trip, we caught another shuttle back to the visitor’s center. Then we went to the conservatory gift shop.

There I bought a postcard (that I mentioned earlier) and a National Parks passport book. I felt like a big kid when my passport got stamped, marking my visit. My uncle purchased these cool wooden walking sticks for my mom and my aunt Valerie (their sister). The sticks disassemble into three pieces that simply attach my screwing them together. So it made it possible to travel with them. Pretty cool! He also purchased my sister something and got me the Adventure Edition of the Road Atlas. It has all of the state and national parks, and national monuments highlighted. I can’t wait for my next adventure. Oh yeah!

Leaving the Grand Canyon

I won’t lie, I wish I could have stayed there the entire day. Before leaving I had already planned in my mind a return trip next year. I’m thinking that three or four days would do the trick.

I have one other place in Flagstaff I want to spend several hours visiting, so I want to spread my trip out so that it’s not rushed. It’s roughly a seven-hour drive from southern California.

Even if I flew into Flagstaff that would still require renting a car and driving 81 miles. That’s the closest option because I don’t think there is an airport in Williams, which is 60 miles away. The Flagstaff flight could work if I wanted to spend more time at the Grand Canyon and in Arizona, and I wasn’t doing an all-out multi-state road trip. Hmmm…this travel option is sounding better and better the more I think about it.

Cali-bound

I hopped behind the wheel of my SUV and we moseyed down the road, hopped on the highway, refueled at a trucker’s stop, and grabbed something to eat. We were slated to reach sunny southern California later that evening. My uncle took some awesome photos as I drove through Arizona and into California.

Once we crossed that California border we had 346 miles until we reached our destination. I got excited when when hit I-15 South because I knew we were roughly two hours away home. We pulled in around 8:45pm, tired and hungry, Thankfully, my sister had prepared us a meal that had me salivating like crazy.

Reflection

I enjoyed this road trip. Even the rough parts that had me nervous and at times scared of becoming a road bump for a big rig. Would I do it again? Yes. I’m not sure what has changed within me, but I went from declaring in 2012 “No more road trips longer than eight hours” to saying in 2021, “Okay let’s do this!” So here’s to my next road trip. Stay tuned, one’s coming soon. You will never believe where I’m headed to next!

~Natasha

Copyright 2021. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.

Okay so picking up on where we left off on this cross-country road trip from Georgia to California, I left Georgia listening to my Sirius XM channel 50, and I was doing great on time. I was hitting my miles and reaching my state targets right on time. I kept my weather app accessible and I ensured I had written directions, in case I hit a dead zone with my cell phone. I was glad that I waited to leave Atlanta at 7:30am because Alabama did have some high winds and I wouldn’t have been able to see debris on the roads and highways in the darkness.

I hit Birmingham right on time, snapped a photo of the rain hitting my windshield in Winfield, the highway signs below the dark clouds in Tupelo, and it was soon after that photo that one of my jams came cranking through my car speakers. It’s interesting how many cities and towns throughout the US are named after Biblical places, such as Corinth.

About an hour later I was in Byhalia, never heard of it, but I knew that keeping straight was leading me to Memphis.

Memphis

I thought that I would stop and have lunch at a restaurant on Beale Street. So I hopped off the highway and cruised over to Beale Street. I snapped some photos because you never know what changes can take place in a short period of time. What I didn’t factor into this great detour idea of mine, was the yucky weather and having to park my car and walk in the rain, in pursuit of some yummy food that this newly-converted vegetarian would have to track down. It was just too much going on so I scrapped the idea and convinced myself to grab something in Arkansas. So I hopped back on the highway. drove over the Mississippi River and crossed into Arkansas. I knew that I had 123 miles to get to Little Rock.

Arkansas

I’m really not sure what I thought I was going to find in Arkansas. What are they known for, food-wise? Heck if I know, and guess what? Once you leave Memphis, the next McDonald’s isn’t along that route for another whopping 25+ miles. I knew I wasn’t going to stop at Subway and soon I realized I done messed up now. But I kept driving and kept singing with channel 50. I arrived in Forrest City and saw the Mc D’s on N. Washington Street, across the street from the gas station I had eyeballed.

What in the world??? That’s all I can really say. They didn’t even put a full slice of cheese on my sandwich. I mean it’s not like they had to rush or anything. There was only one car in front of me when I pulled up and no cars behind me when I ordered, paid at the first window, and collected my food at the second window. It was 3:30 pm local time and my sandwich said to me, “Howdy, I’ve been waiting for you!” because that is exactly what it tasted like. My fries were okay. I decided to do something I rarely do, I completed one of their online surveys, explaining my disappointment.

After leaving there and filling up my tank, sticking to my routine of not letting the gas level drop below half a tank, I got back on the highway. I noticed that I lost some time with my shenanigans. Now it was no longer saying that I would arrive in Oklahoma City by 8pm local time. The clock was inching up and now saying 10pm. Yikes, how in the world did I lose two hours? I hadn’t been sitting there for that long. Uugh, the Beale Street loop-da-loop coupled with this stop, and it factored in something I didn’t see coming.

Traffic Jam Parking Lot

Thank goodness for my Waze app for alerting me to a major traffic jam on I-40. I guess there was construction and looky-loos, and a bunch of fools on the highway, because the re-route that Waze provided was roughly 12 miles long. It wasn’t a quick re-route, but thankfully it took me through a really beautiful community in Arkansas. I was too busy chatting it up on the phone with my aunt Valerie to remember to take some photos, or note my location. Just know that it was the perfect detour. At first it had me and my aunt nervous, thinking that I was about to take a scenic drive through no-man’s land. If I hadn’t paid attention to the detour alert I would have been stuck in that traffic jam (that looked like a parking lot on Black Friday) for a long time. It was over 10 miles deep according to the alerts on Waze. I felt sorry for anyone stuck in the middle and running low on fuel or in need of a restroom.

Crazy Weather

The weather in Arkansas had gotten rough at times, the winds were intense, and anyone who has driven a high profile vehicle, you know the more exposed surface you have the more you’re risking with crosswinds, etc. Those little cars were just zooming by and I knew why. They have a lower center of gravity and a smaller surface area. I was watching huge trucks, big rigs and other high profile vehicles swaying and drifting across lanes, and that meant I was going to have to slow myself down big time to keep a safe distance from them. When the sun set things really started to get intense and I found myself dropping my speed down to 40 mph in some areas.

Ft. Smith

After passing Little Rock Arkansas I had 313 miles to Ft. Smith. I knew that the closer I got to Ft. Smith that I was closer to Oklahoma City, because Ft. Smith is near the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma

I started driving past highway exits with names I recognized, and when I saw the Indian Nation Turnpike, I knew that I was near the towns my maternal grandparents were born and raised. I knew I only had 1.5 hours to get to my aunt’s house. You would think that once I reached that point that it would be smooth sailing into Oklahoma City. But it wasn’t. It was dark. I mean real dark. And the wind and rain decided to play tag with me. All while I’m navigating the construction zones that they don’t ever seem done improving. It started feeling like I was in an old school pinball machine, just zigging left and right, on pavement then off, with the blinding headlights of vehicles and big rigs zooming by on the other side of the highway.

It also didn’t help that I got on the phone with my maternal grand aunt, Mary, and told her that although I planned to surprise her that day, I was now four hours behind my initial planned arrival time. It would be too late to swing by her house and even if I did, I knew I wouldn’t have enough energy to then backtrack to my aunt Valerie’s house. It wasn’t telling aunt Mary this that made this final stretch of the trip difficult. It was the fact that my aunt Mary has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, and after an hour of chatting with her on the phone, I found myself getting too relaxed and I thought I would fall asleep. I had to tell my beloved aunt that I had to get off of the phone. As soon as I did, I cranked up the music and told my body to get it together. I pulled up to my aunt Valerie’s at 11:55pm.

Day 2

The next day I had a companion. My maternal uncle, Michael. Yep, he was riding with me the rest of the way to California and was down for whatever. So after a stop at Dunkin Donuts and then the gas station to refuel, we hit I-40 heading for Amarillo, Texas. I no longer eat steak, but I had to snap a photo of “The Big Texan Steak Ranch” that had a full parking lot at almost 3pm. My uncle Michael drove and I rode shotgun.

New Mexico

We crossed the Texas-New Mexico border, entering Hereford. Did you know that New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment”? I know one thing, it’s a heck of a drive, because you’re going across the entire width of the state. That’s what zapped me when driving through Arkansas. It’s different when you’re clipping parts of state. Cutting straight across or down, depending on the side of the state, can feel brutal. Once you enter New Mexico it’s 529 miles of desert. 

After my uncle had made it a “good ways” into Albuquerque, I convinced him that I knew how to drive, and that he could pull off and switch places. He had driven all day and I wanted to ensure he wasn’t taking his road warrior status too far. He clearly still saw me as a young teenager, because not only did he pass up several nearby gas stations and parking lots to pull over, he drove one mile off the highway, and turned into the parking lot of a mall, then positioned my SUV so that it was pointing in the direction of the highway, and then proceeded to tell me how to leave the parking lot. Like we were out there doing a behind-the-wheel driving session. I had to remind him that I had been driving for decades. Hilarious!

Arizona

Once entering Arizona I knew I had 348 miles before I would reach the exit that I needed to head to our hotel at the Grand Canyon. In your mind, you see the signs and you tell yourself, “I will be there soon” but boy howdy, if you have never driven to the Grand Canyon, let me tell you, oooh wee, do it during the daytime because at night it was cuh-razy!

I took SR-64 drove 28 miles then another 22 miles on US-180. Ummm yeah, so several miles before reaching the Grand Canyon village, you forget that you’re out there with some real animals, I mean like more than snakes and coyotes. We drove by something that was grazing by the roadside. At first my uncle said it was a moose and then he was like, wait that couldn’t have been a moose. Then it was like one minute later and why did we see a huge elk? I mean huge. I mean, it was so huge that if it had changed it’s mind about hopping up the side of the embankment, and instead decided to turn around and charge at my SUV for being a nuisance, it could have knocked us clear off the road. It’s antlers looked to be as wide as the front of my car. And before you ask, heck no we didn’t stop to take a photo. I will say, the elk in Arizona are eating well and living good.

We pulled up to our hotel at 11:55pm beating the 12am cut-off which would have been a late check-in headache of sorts. Not sure what exactly, I’m just glad that I didn’t have to deal with it. I’m also glad that they honored my uncle’s Veteran status and gave us a discounted rate. Hey now!

Tomorrow I will share photos from the Grand Canyon, and then my reflection of the final leg of this three-day trip.

~Natasha

Copyright 2021. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.