Real Tourism . . . and Near Disaster
“What a fine day to go to the Grand Canyon.”
So I said when I awoke in my hostel bedroom, to no one in particular. The weather forecast called for temperatures in the eighties and a ten percent chance of rain. My ninety-minute drive north to visitor entrance involved light traffic and a fantastic American West vibe. Perfectly-smooth roads took me past scenery full of mountains, pine trees, wildflowers, and long-distance views. I cranked up “Eagles – Their Greatest Hits,” which proved to be a superb soundtrack. Perfect songs for a perfect ride.
My money-saving strategy was to park outside the entrance gate and go the rest of the way with Scooter. I parked at a little rest stop and zipped up to the gate so fast the attendants shouted: “HEY, STOP!” They correctly thought my entitled scooter mentality intended to blow right by.
Categorizing Scooter for entrance fee purposes seemed to be a gray area. “Is that thing electric?” asked an affable female attendant.
“Yes, so he’s basically a bicycle. No emissions.”
“Okay. I could charge it as a motorcycle, which is thirty dollars,” she said. “But I’ll go ahead and make it twenty.”
“Great. But for future reference, please use the proper pronoun when referring to Scooter. It’s ‘him,’ not ‘it.'”
She gave me a weird look.
“I mean, he’s right here!” I explained.
Just kidding. Contrary to popular opinion I haven’t lost my mind. I just paid the twenty dollars and thanked her, happy that Scooter saved me fifteen bucks compared to the car fee.
I planned to ride Scooter to the rim and back, and possibly up and down paths. This looked good on paper. The ride in was only four scenic miles. Except for hills. Scooter blew nearly three bars on his power indicator gauge just getting us there. (His range has dropped noticeably since I hacked his governor away.)
Once near the rim, I pushed Scooter. Not to save juice, but to follow the rules and not terrorize the light number of pedestrians on hand. No bicycle, skateboard, or scooter riding permitted on the paved walking paths.
Minutes later Scooter zipped me away from other people on nearly empty paths. I soon found myself alone, with an incredible view. Absorbing it made me laugh at the absurdity of the greatness. Like a Phish concert, or watching Roger Federer playing tennis. Oddly, taking pics seemed almost pointless. There’s no way to accurately depict the magnificence.
Many words have been written and spoken about the Grand Canyon. My favorite description came from my pal Brad: Seeing it is all-consuming. When you look at it no thoughts of anything else occupy your mind. Not the past or the future.
The Canyon leaves you no choice but to be in the moment. One could sit there for six hours and still not process all of the details and subtleties. So that’s what I did. Or at least intended to do.
Then raindrops. I didn’t take them seriously at first. One dark cloud hovered, surrounded by bright sky. In the American South, a shower like this would be gone in ten minutes, tops. Instead, the rain came harder and stuck around. I moved Scooter under a solid tree and cursed myself for failing to bring my rain hoodie. Brilliant.
[ed note: the following text was written in a Facebook update several days ago.]
Not following rules can lead to consequences. Failure to bring a jacket to a place where the weather is unfamiliar to you may cause problems. Assuming weather activity will resemble that of a region two thousand miles away, where you’ve lived for thirty-five years, is stupid. Finally, scootering almost exclusively on seaside terrain can lend one a false sense of confidence. Such a convergence of factors.
When I departed from Flagstaff for the Grand Canyon’s South Rim the sun shone brightly, and the chance of rain stood at ten percent. So no need to bring a rain hoodie that weighs about ten ounces. Who needs that kind of burden?
After a blissful hour of checking out the Canyon — a truly breathtaking spectacle — a light rain began to fall. Bright skies surrounded the cloud producing the precipitation, so it seemed innocuous. In the American South, the rain would’ve cleared out in about ten minutes. A Grand Canyon cloud, however, sticks around as long as it feels like it. As if it didn’t care that I’d almost achieved total enlightenment while gazing at the natural wonder.
I set up Scooter under a tree with little worry. Then came a temperature drop and strong wind. My ears began to burn from the cold. I found a spot to break the wind while I waited and cursed my rain hoodie error. Had I brought it the silly rain might’ve enhanced the day instead of disrupted it.
The rain started falling harder about thirty minutes into this. My patience wore thin. Shelter at the visitor center stood a short Scooter ride away, on a path for walking only. But better scootering cannot exist anywhere in the world. The smooth path extended forever, leading to changing, amazing views.
Anyway, I decided to scoot to the shelter. As I whipped by a young couple walking back, I expressed my frustration. “Whatever happened to rain showers blowing over?” They laughed. “I know, right?”
I scooted fast, in slight disgust. I failed to gauge the walking path’s downhill slope grade properly. Scooter picks up speed quickly on descending slopes. Next thing I knew I careened out of the apex of a turn towards a small enclave of benches. At least I had the wits to bail off Scooter and onto the asphalt before I hit the benches or big rocks. Scooter fell flat and slid under a bench, suffering only scrapes.
None of my bones broke, which is all that really matters. My left side sustained scrapes, and my elbow and right thumb ended up bruised. The heels of both hands were the worst of the casualties. The rough asphalt shredded them but good. Bye-bye Sunday golf plans.
The young chap I’d just passed came running to my aid. I popped right up and assured him my injuries were superficial. I scooted the remaining distance to civilization, bleeding all over the white shopping bag attached to Scooter’s hook. People that noticed me probably wondered if a murderer on-the-loose story in the area had eluded them. I hit a restroom to wash, after which the blood really flowed due to the water.
My hatred for hand blowers reached a new level. No paper towels on hand. Toilet paper would stick and exacerbate the problem. Fuck air hand dryers, for more than just the auditory rape.
I dipped into a coffee shop for napkins, but both dispensers sat empty. I alerted an employee who took seemingly five minutes to find the backup stock. I stood there like a demented Allstate insurance ad, holding my hands together with palms up to keep blood from dripping on the floor. A group of people also waiting for napkins assembled. One little kid made a scene about my hands. I kicked him in the ass and he shut up. Just kidding. No one seemed to notice, thank god.
Backup napkins finally arrived as a stopgap measure for bandages. A happy employee led me to a well-stocked first aid kit, in “the back” next to where they repair rental bikes. The nice people let me stand there for fifteen minutes as I cleaned my wounds and applied ointment and bandages. Eight different pleasant people happened by during this time, all with time to chat. Apparently, a slow day of visitors didn’t mean anyone’s hours were cut.
Scooter and I tepidly returned to the path, but the day’s good vibe did not. The pesky rain cloud stuck around and the views became obstructed by clouds. And my hands were shredded, of course. Bandages covered the damage effectively and the hard wind subsided. The temperature recovered.
No way Scooter would make it back to the car given his power level. We hopped on a shuttle bus heading outside the gate, to hotels and an IMAX theatre, and much closer to the car. The rain picked up after I exited the bus, so I decided to check out the movie while it blew over. A power failure had knocked out their computer system, so they waived the ticket charge for about thirty of us. We scattered into a theatre that seated at least three hundred. Good thing the Grand Canyon movie feature was free because it kind of sucked. Much of it wasn’t even in HD.
The rain had stopped once the movie ended, but so did Scooter. Not right away, but halfway up a big ass hill and about a quarter-mile from the car. I pushed to the hillcrest and glided the rest of the way. Guess I should’ve topped off Scooter’s juice level the previous night after all. But that’s what a smart person would do.
Enter Epp, so to speak
Fate didn’t allow me to wallow in sorrow over my fresh wounds. The aforementioned Epp took care of that. She and I enjoyed Flagstaff’s “First Friday” art gallery walk, which I didn’t know was taking place. We capped that off with a wonderful dinner at a place near our hostel, aptly called Nomad’s Global Lounge.
The two of us got on famously. Plans were made for her to join me, the Worlds Best Driver, for a trip to Sedona the following day. We both planned to go there anyway.
Epp exudes confidence and wears hardly any makeup. I guess the two go hand-in-hand. The spirit moved me to suggest hanky panky at one point in the evening, but logic intervened. No woman wishes for two heavily-bandaged hands on their skin. And irritating my fresh wounds would be stupid. My exhaustion factored in, too. This is what happens when aging kicks in — practical concerns trump monkey business. I felt like that may be on tap anyway, later. No need to force it.
Thanks to Epp we started the next day relatively early. My way would’ve involved two more hours of sleep. Her way turned out to be perfect. She convinced me to go on a hike. [ed note: Garrett never hikes.]
An amazingly scenic drive landed us at the Four Forks Trailhead, about thirty minutes southwest of Flagstaff. (Get there early, because parking is limited.) The closest I normally come to hiking is looking for my golf ball in the woods. I sweat too much. Here in the dry heat, perspiring is no problem.
Epp and I strolled along a comfortable, well-marked path and encountered other hikers only occasionally. Relatively simple creek crossings were required perhaps a dozen times. Soaring, rocky cliffs and interesting rock formations carved by the water made for captivating scenery. I’d recommend this walk to anyone.
* HIKING PHOTO BREAK *
* END HIKING PHOTO BREAK *
Once back in the car I could hear Scooter in the trunk, complaining. We needed to get to the paved roads of Sedona soon. Once there Epp and I enjoyed a great meal at a half-full restaurant before splitting up. No rift had emerged, just different interests and we don’t mind rolling solo. (Epp was doing a month-long tour of the US by herself.)
Scooter and I took to the nearby hills of Sedona for grade A scooting on a fresh charge. Steep hills proved to be no problem. “PRIVATE ROAD. HOMEOWNERS AND GUESTS ONLY” signs were gleefully ignored. Prime photo ops abounded. What a place. I even saw two roadrunners, side by side on — the road. I tried to snap a pic but — they ran.
Epp and I met back at the car and headed for the famous rock formations that highlighted her travel plan. Less than a mile down Hwy 179 out of town we stopped at a lovely place called the Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village. Some guy dressed as a 19th-century merchant recommended it to me while we chatted during his smoke break. The place provides a concentration of galleries to make any art lover smile.
Next stop: the site of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Both are remarkable rock formations and easily hikable, at least along their bases. Hell, even Scooter got some action in, ascending a little rise until the trail turned rocky. We spent at least ninety minutes in this area as the sun illuminated different areas on its way down. I nominate this place as the best place for a 360 video anywhere, even in sub-optimal light.
I sat on my ass and gazed in wonder, mostly. Epp, the youngster, still had the energy to hike all the way around Bell Rock. She reported some scary passages once she’d returned. I regretted not taking the walk myself after talking to her, but I’ll catch it next time. Cathedral Rock still awaits anyway. Daylight expired before we made it there.
An awkwardness arose for me regarding Epp at this point. On the surface, our surroundings required a makeout session. But the place felt deeply spiritual, and messing around with someone I’d known a mere day would sully it. She turned me on, but kissing her made no sense. Especially since she showed no sign of wishing to be kissed.
We exchanged no words on the topic but kept many yards apart during this period. No stress or consternation lingered; it felt like a natural choice. I relished my thoughts about the natural beauty surrounding me, undistracted. Chief among them: just how in the fuck!? Anyway, maturity wins again. Oh to have known in my youth what I know now.
On the way home I stopped at Chick-Fil-A to show this foreign bird what the fuss is all about. “I doubt I’ll eat much” Epp claimed. She devoured her sandwich in half the time it took me. “I would’ve asked how you liked it, but that was clear enough,” I quipped.
Once back at the hostel we enjoyed a wine nightcap. My heart wanted to make out with her, but my body wanted to go the fuck to sleep. The highly-active past three days — on top of the previous five weeks — had me tuckered out. Staying up later and doing anything physical couldn’t happen. I’d been friend-zoned a long time ago anyway for all I knew. And how could I get handsy with shredded hands, anyway?
Epp and I shared a warm hug goodbye before she headed up to her room. She was headed way up north to Antelope Canyon early the next morning, and I intended to drive south to Prescott. Epp will go down as my favorite platonic coulda-been fling in quite some time. Intelligent, confident, sexy women slay me.
My Stretch Run
I planned to drive back to L.A. that night after checking out Prescott. My muse requires my fantasy life to end. Needless to say, a better option emerged so I extended the trip one more day.
Prescott is home to natural delights of its own — and it’s big enough for a Costco. I stopped first at the highly-recommended Canyon Gardens Trail, home to wonderful hiking. In my case, it should be called Canyon Scootering Trail. One day of hiking per decade is good enough for me, and that was the previous day. The 360 video recorded here is not too bad either . . .
Smooth roads, no traffic, and a fascinating array of rocks, well, rocked. Turns out modest stylish homes can be built amid stunning natural surroundings too. I enjoyed seeing several of them on another perfect weather day.
Scooter devoured smooth pavement while dealing with practically no traffic.
Heaven for Scooter was also found downtown, a short drive from the natural wonders. We zipped around smooth, lightly-traveled roads on a Sunday afternoon..
The lively town square was among the most charming I’ve seen. Famous Whiskey Row featured saloons, shops, and several excellent art galleries. A stop here to absorb a laid back Western vibe is highly recommended.
Following this, I expected Watson Lake to be the crown jewel of the stop but found it underwhelming. The little lake was cute and scenic, but nothi
ng worth driving a long distance for. I’m glad this trip just fit into a fresh route back to LA. Prescott is sweet though, don’t get me wrong. But leaving it was fucking awesome.
* * * * PRESCOTT PHOTO BREAK * * * *
I aimed to take Interstate 10 home, so the navigator lady in my phone took me on US 89 South to get there. Best happenstance ever. The route first toured me through charming old Prescott neighborhoods. Next, I found myself in upscale areas in the hills overlooking the city — like a mini Mulholland Drive. Then shit got real. I would’ve given my left testicle to be driving a car that ate up curves. A rig not weighed down with luggage, golf clubs, and Costco supplies.
The next one hundred miles or so featured the kind of roads you see in car commercials. Perfectly-smooth pavement on both the southbound and northbound lanes, which are separated.
Vistas to die for — as the sun set, no less. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. The valleys between mountains featured picturesque and real, working ranches that I was too stupid to stop and take pics of. Just a phenomenal ride.
I ended up on flat road off of US 71 just before dark, whereupon I got some pics of my 2011 Ford Fusion. He’s the unsung hero of all this. Runs perfectly and cruises smoothly with the best of them. It’s not his fault he isn’t built for cornering. It’s also not his fault he doesn’t have a name. (For some reason I rarely name my cars.)
The sky seemed purple, which lent an eerie feel to the scene. Approximately one car passed every two minutes — in either direction. A feeling of slight danger lingered, which somehow felt glorious.
Once I reached I-10 my plan for the day changed. I remembered Joshua Tree National Park lied along the way. Why not cap off this little journey with that highly-acclaimed attraction? Temperatures in this part of the world normally exceed 110 degrees at this time of year, but the next day’s forecast called for only in the mid-’90s. Hotel rooms in Palm Springs, the closest real city to Joshua Tree, were priced to move. Count me in!
A night in a luxury hotel hit the spot after my exhausting run of hostel accommodations. Sixty bucks.
After delightful sleep I greeted the morning with renewed vigor and scooted out to sample a bit of Palm Springs, starting with the Museum of Art. I decided to go even though it featured mostly modern art because it was free. Except I learned that’s only for four hours a week. It’s $14 for the rest of the time. No thanks. I dislike most modern “art.”
This freed up Scooter and me to really take in the town. Traffic was extremely light since the majority snowbird population doesn’t start returning for a couple weeks. Some retail businesses weren’t even open for the season yet. Many roads offered four lanes, rendering wide bike lanes superfluous. And Palm Springs is so affluent I think bumps in the road are repaired within an hour. No other paths, including in Manhattan Beach and Beverly Hills, proved as smooth.
Incredible architecture and fauna made the scootering sights second only to the Grand Canyon. The marriage of plant colors and textures with home exterior colors and features left me standing in awe several times, like in a museum. I must’ve taken fifty pictures.
What a remarkable place. I scrapped my Joshua Tree plan to see more of it. I’d seen enough natural wonders for one trip — and I needed to be near air conditioning and water.
I got carried away checking out all the B&B’s and housing enclaves. The relentless sun, and eventually the heat, finally drained me by mid-afternoon. If not for a twenty-minute break in a chilled library with a ton of water I might have succumbed to heat exhaustion.
I pried myself away from paradise and headed back to LA mid-afternoon to meet my old friend Jim Thornmartin for dinner on the way in (he lives in Alhambra). Traffic kicked in practically right way, even one-hundred miles out. Not stop-and-go yet, but that came soon enough, going opposite of rush hour traffic. God help me deal with reality after this odyssey.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Palm Springs pics as an outro, because too many need to be shared . . .
May I find the energy to repeat an adventure like this again!