The most amazing place: A grand adventure
I've always longed to get lost in the Grand Canyon. But in a search for solitude I discovered a wild adventure in America's west.
After a hedonistic four days in Vegas I was in need of a soul injection and a chance to wind down. What better way to do that than to drop off the radar with the Green Tortoise Adventure Bus Company, and what better place to disappear than some of the largest trenches on Earth.
I've enjoyed group trips that veer off the beaten path, but some bus tours have been known to get a little out of control.
I was still looking for something different and my newfound family didn't disappoint. With a nutty Norwegian, a sleep-talking Yank and a hilarious Aussie duo among my like-minded backpackers, I was in for an entertaining experience.
A 7am pickup in Sin City took us to Zion National Park in Utah, the undiscovered gem amongst the Canyons of the west.
The four-hour Angel's Landing Trail was tough going in sweltering 35C heat, but time passed a little easier as you got to know people. One of the Aussies was living the dream: he'd left his IT job and had been traveling the world for the last year.
Accessing the peak is not for the fainthearted, there's a long, narrow ridge with chains (and few steps) to help get you up. Just don't look down.
Your hard toil though is rewarded with breathtaking views. We took the obligatory edge-of-the-cliff star jump photos and made our way down to some well deserved, and massive, ice creams.
Our first meal together was an introduction to GT's communal approach to bus touring. You're expected to pitch in and help set up/cook/ clean up breakfast and dinner. Don't be alarmed, but it's mostly delicious vegetarian meals too.
That night was a choice of two hearty curries followed by a sneaky late night dip in the river.
While camping, with all the snorers and general noise, I'm happy with 4 to 5 hours sleep. But on this night I experienced something for the first time, sleep-shouting.
People first thought the Yank was fighting with his girlfriend on the phone, but no, just with himself. He got some odd looks in the morning.
Our second stop, Bryce Canyon, is famous for it's hoodoo rocks and after Zion it was a more sedate, but equally stunning, walk on the Navajo Loop Trail. A hailstorm came thundering through as we approached the end.
Though we got pounded a little as we dashed for cover, watching it from an old log cabin’s porch was pretty cool.
Later that day we arrived at Mystic Hot Pools, a former hippie nudist retreat that had seen better days. But that was half the charm, especially with the grand old cast iron tubs fitted into the rock.
The long legged and tanned German girls put on a yoga show by balancing on said rocks, and guys being guys we tried to impress them with a holding-your-breath competition.
What was even more entertaining was the overnight bus ride to Arches Canyon. The bus put Optimus Prime to shame, with all the seats and tables transforming to beds for the night.
I ended up next to our sleep-shouter, who must have been having odd dreams as "trigonometry" and "take it off" were heard. But nothing a few (gentle) nudges didn’t fix.
Next morning we investigated the curious natural structures that littered Arches, the highlight being the massive double arch. An adventurous (and precarious) climb to the top provided amazing views and some funny Lion King "circle of life" re-inactions.
Camping beside the majestic Colorado River that night, we cooked up some tasty tortillas and enjoyed cold beverages. Marveling at a thunderstorm in the distance we then obliviously settled in.
Soon enough it was "wake up Jeff" (literally as the Aussie next to me was named Jeff) as the wind and rain howled through our camp. Some of us found refugee and witnessed nature's wild night.
It was history in the making that morning, my very first horse ride was to take place in the home of John Ford westerns: Monument Valley.
Once I got my gallop on, I was hoofing it in the footsteps of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and even Michael J Fox in Back to the Future 3. Sheer exhilaration.
We stopped at Gooseneck Point that night. There's nothing like sitting on the edge of a canyon while the sun sits with a beer and a mix of butter and corn all over your fingers.
Though we all waited for our sleep shouter to pitch his tent first, and then pitched ours away from his. Still heard a shout of "bulls**t" in the distance, which made us laugh.
Being in cowboy country, we finally stepped in time with some line dancing at the Texas BBQ in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Billy Ray Cyrus it was off to Karaoke. A young Asian girl in our group went first, and against the country and western songbook, belted out the Pussycat Dolls.
I followed, with the Norwegian who picked "Leaving on a jet plane". Cats in the neighbourhood might not have enjoyed it but our group all had imaginary lighters in the air.
Now the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list, but after stunning sights at Zion, I was almost underwhelmed.
The GC is surprisingly green and vegetated, not the striking red exposed rock of Bryce or Arches. But once you got hiking, you soon appreciated the sheer immensity of the place.
We hiked out early and arrived at halfway at Indian Gardens, a great spot for lunch and an afternoon nap.
An overcast afternoon made for a comfortable hike and it wasn’t long before we hit the Colorado River and reached our home for the night, Phantom Ranch.
Their canteen is great for having a beer and sending a mule-assisted postcard back home.
Before I knew it though I was woken up at 4am for our early departure. With no breeze it was pretty hot and almost more tiring than our decent in the afternoon.
Though without having to stop for any photos in the dark we were back at the top by 10am. We even had the energy for a burpee challenge from our crazy Norwegian. Odd looks indeed.
Our last night was a campfire get-together, reminiscing crazy antics over some cold drinks and scrumptious "smores".
These are an American tradition consisting of chocolate and a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two digestive-like biscuits. A delicious and very funny end to a great trip.
America's west is more than just the Grand Canyon. It's a wild adventure best shared with like-minded wanderers.
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