Recovering from our impromptu pool party, we pressed on deeper into Arizona with plans to make the big ditch by nightfall, but as with all best laid plans it’s best to scrap them at the beginning.
As with many parts of the Mid West, Native American Indians once roamed freely across the country. Yet they were not all like the Indians of John Wayne fandom. Montezuma’s Castle is a huge complex built into the side of the Red Rocks; home to at least 30 people, the complex was reached by a series of ladders. Unusually for the desert, these tribes people, ancestors of today’s Hopi tribe, were able to channel water all year round from a local aquifer, enabling them to grow food most the year. The castle was abandoned long before the Conquistadors arrived believing it to be the lost city of gold and Montezuma name stuck.
The Red Rocks of Arizona dominate the local landscape, surrounding Sedona, a country and western town reliant on the cowboy and spiritual tourist trade (a hot spot for many mystical vortexes) and famed for an Elvis film shot on the high street. It was at this point that well laid plans went array.
Slide Rock State Park earned its name from an unusual geological formation which formed a long smooth natural limestone slide. Families and children frolic like nymphs and cherubs in the babbling waves whilst the more adventurous entertain crowds by jumping from the 10 ft banks into the freezing depths below. Not being spectacular with heights, I climbed the bank and after a brief reconnaissance and amid warnings of ‘don’t forget to avoid the shallow end’, was the first to make the leap before I started having second doubts. ‘How shallow can it be?’ you may ask, we’ll quite shallow as the lovely Belgian Josefin found out and who was quickly carted off for stitches in her knee.
After issues with the US medical care system, several trips to various pharmaceutical outlets, a rather stressful shopping trip for our intrepid team leader thanks to my rather slap dash shopping list and an unfortunate petrol pump (who is now without it’s petrol hose), we pressed on to camp. Greeted by an Elk, we just about pitched tents before the heavens opened. Weary travellers and poor hop- along were rewarded by Tusayan’s finest pizza joint.
And now, we reach the main event… Drum roll, please…. The Big Ditch aka Grand Canyon, puts our own Cheddar Gorge to shame (although it does produce far superior cheese, they don’t really get cheese here!) Unlike some of our fellow Trekkers, the kiwi, Pom and the dynamic duo which is the Pryke brothers (Pryke as in Hike), who decide to recreate John Wesley Powell’s original expedition through the length of the Canyon in 1869, Luke and I went for distance over depth, hiking five kilometres along the Canyon’s South Rim.
A whole series of geological processes carved the Grand Canyon, but most are linked with the Colorado river which has sliced through rock like a knife in butter, exposing a geologists’ orgasm of stratified rock layers. Of all the places I have visited on this trip, it has been the US state and national parks which have been most impressive. Despite budget cuts to parks by the federal government, born and bred Wardens are always on hand to tell you about the places they love, and the home patriotism is infectious.
Trying to describe the Canyon’s vastness is futile, but at over 6000 ft above sea level, it made for a magnificent sunset as the sky lit up in warm shades of hot pink, streaked across with rain showers in the far off distance. It was a good end for a tiring day for many. Our last night at camp was celebrated with such great success that the Park Warden felt the need to warn us that other guests were getting jealous.