The Grand Canyon: By Land

Lister woke me up early Saturday morning. But it was okay this time. I wanted to be up early to get through the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park before the crowds arrived. I’m camped just one mile outside the park, so I didn’t need a super early start to be among the first to arrive, with no lines and no waiting.

As I started to fish my annual pass and driver’s license out of my jacket pocket, the ranger told me that admission was free this weekend, then gave me a park map. I pulled forward, failed to stuff the map into my jacket pocket, put it in my top trunk instead, then headed down the road. My first stop was the visitor’s center and Mather Point, the closest places where I could see the Grand Canyon. Once again, my goal was to beat the crowds.

After parking, I went to put my annual park pass and driver’s license back into my wallet. My pass was there, but my license was gone. I panicked a little but not much, managing to keep a clear head and think through this rationally. Maybe it flew out of my pocket when I put my jacket on back at camp. It may even have flown out when I tried and failed to put the maps in the same pocket. At any rate, I was already parked, so I might as well do what I came here to do before rushing off to search for it. Otherwise, my efforts to arrive early would be in vain, and that short time wouldn’t really make a difference when it came to finding my license again.

The view was, as expected, spectacular. Photos can never do this place justice, capture the colors adequately, or convey the massive scale of this place. The canyon behind me is literally miles away, but you’d never know from the picture. I don’t know how Evel Knievel ever thought he could jump a motorcycle across it.

The visitor’s center was much smaller than I expected for such a popular National Park. I studied the map on the wall to see just how much of a drive it would be to get to the North Rim if I felt like it. I also watched a short movie about how the canyon was formed and who lived here at various points in history. It didn’t take long to see what I’d come to see, though.

Plus, there was my missing license to worry about. I wasn’t going to be able to fully enjoy my visit until I figured out what had happened to it. So I went back to my bike and made my way back to the south gate. I couldn’t get all the way to where I’d pulled over because it was a one-way area, so I parked the bike as close as I could and walked back. If any ranger asked what I was doing, I’d tell them the truth, and they’d most likely help me. But it didn’t come to that. Sure enough, my license was sitting there on the ground, right where it had fallen. I put it in my wallet, breathed a big sigh of relief, and walked back to my bike. Now I could relax and enjoy the Grand Canyon.

I’d taken my annual pass and license out of my wallet and put them into my jacket pocket for easier access at the gate. It’s bad enough that I have to turn off the engine and take off my gloves to reach into my pockets to get them out, without the extra steps of fishing through my wallet for them. After this experience, though, I’m just going to leave them in my wallet until I need them. The people behind me can wait, and the rangers understand. In fact, they’ve sometimes waved me through without having me actually show them my pass because they know how much trouble it is to go through all that on a motorcycle.

I went back north, then turned right to stay on Route 64. This would roughly follow the South Rim for more than 20 miles to the eastern edge of the park. In fact, I’d flown right over it the previous day. I intended to stop at all of the pull-offs and overlooks along the way to see different perspectives of the canyon.

Needless to say, I succeeded. It was an easy street ride, with good quality pavement and a couple of twisty bits, but nothing too technical as far as the riding was concerned. That’s okay. Today I was here for the Grand Canyon, not for the riding.

I rode all the way to the Desert View Watchtower, just inside the east entrance to the park. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go up the tower, only inside to a gift shop. It was still worth looking around, though. From here I could see the Painted Desert once again, as this was just about where the Colorado River made its big turn to the west from the north.

After I’d seen enough, I hopped back on the bike and rode back to camp for lunch. I spent the afternoon relaxing, including a snooze in my hammock.

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