The Grand Canyon (And Other Canyons)

An oversized Kia passes me, wide and slow – “That’s nice” I think. A blonde bird hangs herself half out the Kia’s window, waving a camera and shouting “Yeeee haaaaw!’ “What the…? Oh… Hi Mum.”

Yes, this week I’ve had a parent-entourage. A Batman and a Robin, a Bonny and a Clyde, an R2-D2 and a C-3PO. So what does one get with the ‘deluxe entourage package?’ It includes a few dinners (nutrition is important, afterall) and a couple of nights in a motel between camping (beauty sleep is a must). It also comes with extra days to explore National Parks that you might otherwise have just wheeled on by. But the real value is that at any given moment, on any given day the McNuff Massive can appear, completely unannounced, reenacting scenes from ‘Bring it on’ out of the car window.

Now, If you don’t like geology, or you’re not too jazzed by Planet Earth – you should switch off here. Go and make yourself a cuppa (dunk the Hobnob) and come back in 10 minutes. We’re going on a journey through uber-ville….

THE GRAND STAIRCASE – a version for those with ADHD

So here’s the deal. 2000 Million years ago layers of sediment were deposited on the Earth, one on top of the other, sort of like a Big Mac. You’ve got your beef, special sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickle and a sesame bun. In reality these are the Pink, Grey, White, Vermillion and Chocolate cliffs of The Grand Staircase. The Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce National Parks reveal these cliff layers to varying extents. Bosh. Job done. Onwards…

ZION – THE LITTLE CANYON

How to describe cycling into Zion? There’s only one comparison that will suffice – Star Trek. It is – Out. Of. This. World. Wheeling round the bend, looking up and across at the swathes of intricate, brightly coloured, jagged rock formations, I honestly found it hard to believe I was on the same planet I’ve lived on my whole life. I’m not being dramatic when I say – it’s like nothing I have ever seen before. I imagined Captain Kirk (we’re talking Shatner here) beaming down infront of me. Followed closely by Bones (Bones is always in on the action). “Kirk to the bridge. Checking air content. Oxygen levels sustainable.”

More than just the sheer beauty and scale of Zion, I was intrigued and heartened by the way people live in and around it. Springdale, the town at the park gateway, seemed to me a perfect example of how to exist in the shadow of Nature. It was was tidy but relaxed, bustling but not overrun, and it offered up free transport into the park. Yep, Springdale was like Sweden – everything just worked.

BRYCE CANYON – NOT ACTUALLY A CANYON

I hadn’t originally intended to visit Bryce. But following a breakfast bump-in to Lycra Cowboy, I just had to go. It was only 80 miles North of Zion, so I decided to cash in my entourage chauffeur service coupon, and get a ride. Having not been off the bike for 9 days – an extra 24 hours rest was wise (when I say rest I mean hiking, of course.)

Bryce is the closest you’ll ever get to actually being Alice in Wonderland – fact (It doesn’t matter if you’re a bloke – you can be Alice too). The spires of weather shaped, layered rock, or ‘Hoodoos’ to give them an official name, are a sight to behold. You cant help but gaze at the Hoodoo-heavy horizon and think “Oh come on world. Are you having a Giraffe? Am I supposed to believe these were created naturally?”

Equally as fascinating as the Hoodoos, were the weather warnings dutifully delivered by Claudia the park ranger. In her afternoon ‘Geology chat’, Claudia went firmly off piste and a little OTT on the lightning information. The was lots of ‘you will die’ and ‘your family will be very upset when you die’ and ‘people die here’ – all of which somewhat dampened the chipper mood of the awaiting audience. She did then attempt to lift spirits it by telling us a story about a coyote who turned people to stone. I concluded that there was at least ½ an ounce of crack stashed under Claudia’s hat. To her credit, we were up at almost 9,000ft on the edge of a rim, surrounded by many a tree that’d clearly been singed by lightning. It did pay to learn what to do, and where to be should shiz get heavy in the skies above. I’m just not sure if Claudia should have been allowed out of rehab to do it.

THE GRAND CANYON – GRAND. AND A CANYON

After 2 days of walking, my legs were craving the monotony of circular motion once more. The North Rim was 90 mile off-route detour, but I had an inkling it would be worth every turn of the pedals. At 8,500 ft, it sits 1000 ft higher than the South rim, and gets just a quarter of the number of visitors each year. If there were a rim vs rim death-match – I’d buy tickets to watch the North Rim kick the South Rim’s ass. Sure the South is great contender, but The North is a champion. It’s rugged, beautiful, a thousand times more tranquil and unbelievably accessible.

I turned onto the road leading to the canyon just as thunder and lightning began, with Claudia’s warnings ringing in my ears “You will die”. I headed for a place called the ‘North Rim campsite’ – of course it’s not actually going to be on the rim, I resolved.

It was still tipping with rain as I made my way to the hiker/biker area.I spotted an edge, but assumed it went down a little, then along to the rim in the distance. Within 30 minutes the rain stopped, and the cloud around the edge began to clear. I glanced up, muddy and drenched from tent-wrestling, and realised it was THE edge. I was about 20ft from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Holy. Mother. Hubbard. All for the princely sum of $6.

There just aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe the feeling you get looking out over the canyon. I’m actually going to select ‘ridiculous’ because that’s what it is. It’s just ridiculous. I guarantee it’d bring the most macho man to the verge of tears. And, at the risk of sounding crude (why stop now?), it just has to be seen before you peg it.

The following morning, as I cycled away from my ‘Rim with a view’ (snort, sorry) I got the full benefit of it. That is, 45 miles of steady, beautifully paved gradual downhill – to the remaining Colorado river. The once raging beast that carved a mile deep canyon, and I’d found the trickliest little part of it. What a difference 2000 million years makes, eh?

Well, I’ve run out of time – those Earth haters are probably back from making their cuppa by now…

It’s been a whack of fun having my folks along, sharing in my adventure, and having adventures of their own in between. They leave me solo again to start a journey up The Rockies. Colorado is a state I’ve had high hopes for from the start – it best be bringing its A-Game, for I’m very excited and will definitely be bringing mine.

Until next week – adieu 🙂

This week’s photos are up on Flickr – deffo worth a squiz

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