A snowy trip to the Grand Canyon

I woke from the strangest dream. It was Christmas Day, and we were in Vegas with Willow’s parents. There were rollercoasters, the Statue of Liberty and even the Eiffel Tower. Upon opening the curtains, the sight of Willow’s Parents Vegas hotel confirmed that it wasn’t a dream. Our little VW had somehow dragged us across the United States to Vegas!

As it was Boxing Day, and the area around our disused car park was quiet, we let Aimee out to explore off of her lead. This way she is able to curiously explore her surroundings without the need for me or Willow having to untangle her every five minutes.

Not very busy

We would soon be heading to Flagstaff, where we would then head to the Grand Canyon for our helicopter ride, but first Willow had some urgent maintenance to do on the engine.

Whilst Willow set about replacing the damaged bolt and drive belt, I kept an eye on Aimee, who had spotted a bird and was stalking it in a tree.

Still new to the idea of hunting, Aimee climbed higher up the tree, trying to get a better view of the bird. The tree had thin bend branches, and so she was having difficulty finding a suitable spot. Realising she had navigated herself into a dangerous position, on a branch that could barely support her weight; you could see her weigh up in her mind whether she should return to a safe level or continue pursuing the bird.

I watched on with concern as she chose the latter, trying to encourage her down. But it was no good. And inevitably, the weak branch gave way to her wriggling and she fell, cushioned by the branches below her, hitting the ground in an undignified manner.

Your going to get stuck

Concerned, I rushed to her to make sure she wasn’t injured, but before I could get near her, she was up and darting into a nearby bush, ears pinned back with excitement. It’s a good thing cats have nine lives!

With the alternator running again, we were ready to set off, and noticed that we were now getting a better charge off of the alternator. This must have been a problem that had been building for sometime.

All sorted

Carole planned for us to stop off at Hoover Dam along the way, and so we made the hour and a half drive along the interstate, out of Vegas. We had ordered samples of our new clothing range to the hotel, but because of high Christmas demand, the supplier was unable to finish our items in time, meaning we would have to return at some point to collect them.

It was reassuring to be able to drive without thinking about a spot to stop and run the generator.

We turned off the interstate and followed the signs towards Hoover Dam and were surprised to find a check point with armed guards and sniffer dogs. I suppose the State was worried about terrorist attacks to the dam.

We were flagged down and instructed to pull over. The guard asked us what the purpose of our visit was and if we were carrying anything that could be of an explosive nature. They then instructed us to get out of the vehicle. We told them that we had a kitten on board, and upon seeing Aimee, the guards steely resolve melted away and was replaced with mushy excitement.

Deciding that we were not a threat, she let us pass and we drove on to try and find Antony and a Carole.

The dam was incredibly busy, so we stopped at a higher view point for pictures and a quick snack.

Viewing point

Aimee was very excited by the crowds of people outside, and whilst Willow and I decided to swap drivers while stuck in traffic, she bounded out the door, running along the top of the dam, Willow in hot pursuit. Fortunately, with everything going on around her, she managed to only get s couple of metre away. Willow returned her to the van. Aimee confused to as why Willow was so flustered.

We managed to drive about five minutes away from the crowded dam, and was about to return to the interstate when I heard a noise I’ve heard once before, in a small French town named Marsilly.

Our clutch cable had snapped. For some reason, bad things only ever happen to Ruby whilst I am driving.

The Marsilly experience taught us to carry a spare cable, and so I pulled over onto the side of the road, and we jumped out into the cold drizzle to replace it. Willow doing the majority of the work, whilst I helped when needed and then put the kettle on to make us a warming cup of coffee.

‘Willow’s one lucky girl!’ I hear you say.

Just under an hour later, the cable was replaced and we were both soggy and cold. We still had a long drive ahead of us and we would soon be losing the light.

About half way to Flagstaff, the weather dramatically turned, and we were hit by a bad snow storm. This made things tricky as –

1) Our headlights offered us little in the way of illuminating the road in front of us.

2) The windscreen wipers partly froze. So offered little in the way of clearing snow off of the windscreen.

3) The warm air blowers inside the van offered little in the way of warm air, so we spent the entire drive wiping mist and frost off of the window, so that I could see.

As a result, we were not able to drive very fast. But due to the terrible conditions, we weren’t the only ones. To make matters worse, the radiator scoop had filled with icy snow, causing the engine to run hotter than usual. I am sure you can imagine, we were not in the best of moods by this point.

Somehow, we managed to make it past all of the hurdles and arrived later than planned at Flagstaff. Once Willow’s parents had checks in, we walked to a local Denny’s for a boring, yet convenient meal.

It was snowing rather heavily, so much in fact, that we could get the pop up roof to stay open without tying it up. The weight from the snow on the roof was too much for the gas struts to handle. That night would definitely be a night for the Wallas and extra layers.

When we woke in the morning, the car park was covered in a thick blanket of snow. Which would have been lovely, if not for the extremely loud plough, clearing the hotel car park from about 5am!

Fortunately, we had to be up early to phone ahead to confirm the helicopter flight, not wanting to drive almost 2 hours to find out that it had been cancelled… which it had.

The hotel had agreed to Antony’s request to let us come inside for breakfast, so we stuffed our faces with freshly cooked hot food. Willow taking a particular shine to the automatic pancake maker.

We had managed to rebook the flight for the next day, so we now had some free time on our hands, making the most of it by having using the shower in Willow’s parents room.

Cleaned up, we took a drive, scouting out some of the route we would have to take in the morning. Now I’ve got to give it to the yanks, they don’t half know how to maintain their roads. If we had that much snow in England, everyone would be acting like it was Armageddon!

With the route clear, parked up in the main town and had a bit of a wander. Checking out the historic town buildings (and a local brewery bar!)

As it was getting late, we headed back to the hotel, and moved Ruby to a different location. One where we hoped the hotel WiF would reach us.

The ladies offered to cook, leaving me and Antony to enjoy a beer (or two) in the hotel room.

We were just about to sit down to eat, when Antony popped out to stick our wipers up so they would freeze to the window. The snow that had been cleared had left a thick blanket of ice and so jokingly we told Antony not to fall over.

When we initially heard a loud bang from the front of the van, we automatically assumed that he was winding us up. But when he failed to respond, we dashed out to find him sprawled on the floor, holding his head. At least the bumper was metal, so he didn’t damage Ruby. Antony’s head definitely coming off worse! Fortunately, Antony was conscious, just now suffering with a lot of pain.

After we’d finished eating, Willow’s parents retreated to their room, so Carole, who is a very skilful osteopath, could have ago mending Antony.

As we had been up early, we had an early night, as we would need to be up in time to call ahead and check that the helicopter flight was going ahead.

Happily, the snow had stopped during the night, and so there was no early morning car park ploughing to disturb us. Better yet, we had received confirmation that the conditions we safe to fly, and so after breakfast we set off towards the Grand Canyon.

We took both vehicles, as we would be moving on from Flagstone, stopping at Page. Antony was still feeling sore, so Carole took over driving duties for a while.

The road conditions were fine and we made it to the airport located just outside the canyon in excellent time.

Once inside, we were weighed, so the pilot could distribute weight evenly. After that, we watched a quick safety video and then before we knew it, we were being lined up, ready to board the copter.

As we up took our positions, I could help feel giddy as we prepared to take off. I had never been in a helicopter. I had flown a small aeroplane near Brighton a couple of years earlier, so this would certainly be a new flying experience.

We swiftly took off and made our way to the canyon, watching Ruby fade into the background as we picked up speed. The most noticeable difference flying in a helicopter is the smoothness of the ride. You can feel the pilot wrestling to keep it going in a straight line. It felt more like a rollercoaster ride, and I was loving it.

As we passed over the local woodlands, you could see all the fresh animal tracks left in the snow. Sadly, we didn’t spot any deer or elks though. We also got our first glimpse of the insane traffic forming to get into the main south rim viewing point.

Before long, we were finally at the canyon edge, and the ground just seemed to disappear, replaced by one of the most impressive sights I had ever witnessed.

We had timed the trip perfectly, as the canyon had a light dusting of snow, adding to the amazing colourings of the rocks themselves.

Flying over the north rim, it was easy to see why this was shut during winter months. Denser snow covering the ground around the canyon. We swung around, offering views down the other side of the canyon. You could see all of the intricate rivers that had carved through the rocks to make the most impressive canyon in America, and probably the world.

As much as I would have loved to hover over the canyon all day, our trip was soon over and we were soon making our way back to the airport.

As we descended, plums of snow were lifted into the air by the powerful blades keeping us in the air. Back on the ground, we had our picture taken and then headed back inside. Although the sun was out, it was absolutely freezing, so we were all desperate to warm ourselves back up.

From the air port, we made our way to the entrance to the main viewing point. Our sat nav warning us that there was heavier than usual traffic and delays of over an hour. And so we joined the end of the queue and waited. Then waited some more. Creeping slowly forward every couple of minutes.

Along the way, the single line split into two lanes, I made the terrible mistake of choosing the left hand lane, which seemed to go ten times slowly than the right hand one. So we watched cars pass us and move there way further along than ourselves, all the while too stubborn to actually change lanes, so we sat and grumbled. After all… wallowing in misery is what us Brits do best!

At some point, we eventually passed the toll booths and made our way to the car park. We had gotten separated from Willow’s parents, so Willow got out and waited for them by the side of the road, hopping in with them when they arrived.

The car park was heaving , so we went separate ways in search of available spots, with the idea of meeting up afterwards.

Once I had parked up, I went to the loo and waited near the car park hoping to meet up with the rest of the group. Only I couldn’t find them! To make matters worse, I had no phone signal, so was unable to send a message out to them.

After waiting around for five minutes, I moved on to the visitor centre, in case they were waiting there. They weren’t.

Slightly frustrated, I bought myself a hot drink, and walked in circles hoping to spot them. I didn’t. The park was rammed, and so after thirty minutes I decided to follow the single trail to the main viewing point. Still unable to locate them, I took some pictures and made my way back to the visitor centre.

I decided it would be better to wait in Ruby, as at least she was easy to spot and after about ten minutes, I decided to drive around the car park looking for their hire car. Finding a space and parking nearby. This way, they would at least see me when they eventually returned to the car.

I didn’t have to wait long to hear Willow point out the van and make her way towards me. Reunited, we discussed the similar tactics we had done in our searches to find one another.

Content with what we could see from the view point, we had a large drive and so didn’t have time to complete the 8 mile hike down into the canyon, giving us more reasons to come back to the States after we’d visited Canada.

Trying to take the main direct road that led tonPage, we soon hit stand still traffic. The roads were ‘caked’ in ice, and people were having difficulty getting up the inclines.

Unsure if either of our vehicles would manage if we waited, we turned around and drove a longer route, heading back through Flagstaff.

Along the way, Willow’s parents went their own way, believing it to be quicker.

The drive was long and tedious and took over four hours to get to Page, where we were later reunited by Willow’s parents half an hour later. We warmed up in the room, whilst planning what to do about food.

Tired and not relishing the thought of cooking, we drove a couple of minutes down the road to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. We made it shortly before they were due to close, but they kindly allowed us to go in and order, albeit slightly rushed.

The food was prepared and served in lightning speed, and although not the most exciting Vietnamese dish I have eaten, it once again served it’s purpose.

We then returned to Antony and Carole’s new hotel and joined them in their room to warm up. The car park was busy, so I located a free camp spot five minutes down the road which overlooked Lake Powell.

We pulled into the Beehive campground to find three other vehicles pulled up. Finding a spot, we allowed ourselves on drive, whilst I gave Aimee a walk outside on her lead. In the morning we would let her out properly.

Physically and emotionally drained, we ‘hit the sack’, hoping for a peaceful night to recharge our batteries.

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