Monday, January 14, 2013

The Arizona Diaries: 13-21 October 2012, Part I

In October of 2012, I spent ten days on a road trip that traced a loop. Starting in Los Angeles, I went through Tucson, Arizona to the Grand Canyon and back to Los Angeles through the Mojave Desert.

When Lucy told me her wedding party would take place in Tucson over an October weekend, I knew that I would want to spend more than just a couple of days in Arizona. I had been so close to the Grand Canyon a number of times but had yet to go there. I started looking into camping and hiking in and around the area. That's when I learned about walking from the South Rim to the North Rim (or vice versa) in a day, or "R2R", as the trek is sometimes known. I became so preoccupied with the idea of taking this walk that I noticed myself mentioning it in conversations that were otherwise unrelated to hiking and frequently found myself searching the internet for walkers' and runners' accounts of making the trip. As a beginning long-distance walker who hadn't even yet taken a backpacking trip at that point, my heart raced at the thought of doing the R2R: Was I strong enough? What if I sprained my ankle? Would I run out of water? But my visceral reaction to the very idea of this walk wasn't fueled by fear or doubt alone; it was springing from the thrill of a challenge and the excitement derived from knowing that I would surely do it some day.

As October drew nearer, my obsession with the R2R receded. The more I read about the Grand Canyon, the more I thought that I would be putting myself in danger by attempting the R2R. I finally took my first backpacking trip in September, but I thought it unwise to do any backpacking or even any really long walks alone in the canyon. I read and re-read the National Park Service website pages on the park. The cautionary language of the NPS literature is extreme. Books published by the Sierra Club and various other travel guides I consulted concurred. Even though I had read numerous trip reports written by ordinary hikers and runners doing the R2R, the official publications played on my fear. Using facts and figures and true stories of fatal mistakes, they all warned of the intense heat, the lack of water, and the elevation. Rather than make a long day trek or go backpacking in the wilderness, I resolved to make it a road trip. I would spend my time at the Grand Canyon like most of the rest of the five million visitors to the canyon each year: gazing out over the canyon from scenic overlooks, enjoying the sunset from the porch at the El Tovar, and car camping on the South Rim. And I would do reconnaissance for another trip down the line, talk to rangers, and get the lay of the land so that I could come back again to make an R2R attempt or take a long backpack.

Starting in Los Angeles, I would drive to Tucson for Lucy's and Alex's wedding. From Tucson, I would visit Scottsdale, were I would tour Taliesin West. Then I would head farther north and spend a couple of days at Arcosanti. At the Grand Canyon, I would spend one night on the South Rim and one night on the North Rim. I'd start back west, passing through Las Vegas for one night before arriving back home. I booked two nights at the Hotel Congress in Tucson. I booked a night at Arcosanti followed by a night at Mather Campground on the South Rim. I had no plans for the night before my arrival at Arcosanti and no reservations after my departure from Mather. My intention was to fill in the blanks as I went along, assuming that I would gather suggestions from locals met along the way. I packed my car with some nice clothes for the wedding parties and all of my car camping gear. And at the last minute, I tossed in my backpacking gear, just in case...

To be continued.

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