Tag Archives: Arizona

Mexico? No thanks.

Arizona morning

The sun shone through the clouds as we made our way out of the campground and to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Arizona, along with most of the Southwest, had some pretty interesting landscapes. There were always mountains in the distance, but not a mountain range. Just randomly placed mountains. And not really any grass either. Just dirt and shrubs.

And giant cacti. And no people. And no water. And a lot of sun. And misery.

To be honest, I liked it. I wouldn’t live there, but it was a cool place to see and visit again. If it was between there and Toledo.

Because it’s so flat in the Southwest, it makes rain very deceiving. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a rainy season in the Southwest. No winter, spring, summer or fall – just the dry season and the rainy season. We were there during the rainy season. This means that it normally rains once a day or so in quick spurts – not miserably pee on you for  6 days straight like it does up north. So as we drove along the highway, we could see rain clouds dotting the landscape. We could see for miles and miles, so we’d see rain that never even got close to us but drenched a large area of land.

It’s not like here in Pennsylvania where the weather is pretty much the same across the entire state. It took me a while to realize this, just long enough for my aversion to driving in thunderstorms kicked in.

When I was done silently weeping at the thought of driving in a thunderstorm I realized we had a strange route ahead of us. We entered New Mexico from the west, and were going across the state. But the fastest way to get there was to go down south into Texas and then back up north into New Mexico. As we entered Texas, we drove through El Paso. For those who are unaware, El Paso is on the border of Texas and Mexico. The city across the fence in Mexico is called Ciudad Juarez, and we had a perfect view.

It looked dirty and scary.

That was the closest I’d ever gotten to Mexico. To this day I pray I never have to get that close again. I saw one murder and three stabbings in 12 minutes. And somehow got high.

Screaming in terror from the sight of Mexico, we got off the highway for a less traveled state route back up to New Mexico. We barreled down the road until we came to an odd structure where we had to stop. As we got closer, we realized it was a Border Patrol station. Which was weird, because we were about 50 miles from the border. My guess is that if someone is sneaking into the USA, they’re not going to wait 50 miles to get off of the main road. Just a thought, border patrol.

So for the second time in three days, my car was searched for weapons and drugs. The dog didn’t find any drugs, and luckily, Carlos – who we had hidden in the backseat – kept quiet, so we were free to go.

We stopped at a rest stop to eat and let Carlos run like the wind. Here’s our view – it’s like where we stopped in Iowa but hotter and no corn or water and with dirt, shrubs and a mountain in the distance. So basically the same.

TexasBetz peed on the pavement like a dog and we made the final leg to Carlsbad Caverns. About 30 or 40 miles from the Caverns, the landscape had FINALLY changed. We were going through a mountainous area with great views of the land around us. As I gaped at how far we could see, I turned to see Betz asleep. Poor guy missed the one and only exciting part of the drive.

His loss.

We got the Caverns, parked, and made our way into the Visitor’s Center. After seeing rock and dirt all day, we made our way to mouth of the cave to hike through more rock and dirt. But this time it was dark.

And with lots of fat people.


People from Tucson are called Tucsonans.

When we were done eating our sandwiches and newly melted block of cheese, we continued on our death march through Arizona. We had about two hours left until we made it to our destination – Saguaro National Park. The park is in Tucson (which is such a stupid way to spell that name – I think Brett Favre had something to do with it), however we were staying at a campground about an hour outside of Tucson, so we still had a good chunk of driving time left.

As we approached Tucson, I decided to look up some facts about it. Turns out, the rainy season here gets REALLY rainy and flash flooding is very common. So much so that underpasses and low lying areas get a ton of water sitting in them. But here’s the kicker – the people of Tucson don’t care. They just drive right through the puddles. Then they get stuck, and the authorities have to come get them out. This became such a problem that the city had to put markings on the corresponding overpasses with height measurements so that residents can see how deep it the water is before attempting to drive through it.

Here’s a thought – when it rains, don’t drive through the massive 20 ft long puddle. It’s like living in the desert fried the common sense out of their brains. I’m 80% certain this is where Amy Poehler got the concept for the citizens of Pawnee.

Eventually, we made it to the park. This park isn’t exactly the most famous park in the National Park system, but it is conveniently placed between Vegas and Carlsbad Caverns (our next stop), so we sucked it up and went. It was nearing sunset when we arrived, so we quickly found our way to a trail to get a hike in before the sun went down.

Fittingly, the park (and trail) had saguaro cacti all over the place. For the horticulturally unsound, this is one of (if not the) largest species of cacti in the world. Hence the reason there’s a park named after it. To truly grasp the height of these things, see the picture below. For reference, I’m 6’2″ and standing as close to directly beside it as possible without getting a needle in my face. Huge cactus. As you can clearly see, that’s cactus is huge. Maybe they should put them by underpasses.

They get really old, too. They don’t even begin to sprout arms until they’re 75 years old or so. But when they do, you get really funny ones that look like they have a boner: lol THEN, after I made Betz take pictures of me with the cactus, we saw this little guy. TERRY Name: Terry. Mood: Chronically grumpy.

After chasing – well, moseying – after the turtle for a while we finished our hike. By then the sun was down, so we headed to our campsite. Upon arrival, we got the pleasure of setting up our tent mansion in the pitch dark. 75 minutes later we decided to cook up hot dogs and beans on the little grill I bought for the trip. The wind was blowing nice and steady, so we could barely light it, and when we did, we had about 30 seconds to cook our hot dogs.

We decided to cut up our dogs into the beans in order to eat like a child. But then a crushing realization set in. We had no can opener. The best we could do was a mediocre, at best, steak knife. We took turns sawing away at it like rabid cavemen. It took approximately 7 hours to get the can open to a point that we could pour the beans out. And after we did, we ate them to find that some beans were only lukewarm. The rest were cold. Yum.

We were one of three parties at the entire campground. Which was nice, but also creepy. There were no babies crying or music playing. However, as the cold beans and uncooked hot dog settled in my stomach, the possibility of brutal double homicide going unnoticed lingered in the air.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Feelin’ hot hot hot (seriously)


We made sure to grab our winnings before hitting the road to Tucson at 11:30 that morning. The sun was really beating down on us as we zoomed across the God forsaken Nevada landscape. About 30 minutes or so outside of Las Vegas we started seeing signs for the Hoover Dam. I checked the map and our route took us right by it, so we decided to make a quick stop to check it out.

It was enormous. Before being allowed to drive up to it, you have to go through a security checkpoint that seemed way more intense than it should be. And our car full of junk didn’t exactly scream “let me through”. After the guard mistook my (unused) pull up bar covered by a towel as a machine gun (because of all people to own a machine gun it’s me), we got through and walked out onto the dam.

DAMPictures don’t really do it justice – that thing was huge. There’s a really cool bridge you can see if you stand between those gray nipples in the middle.

Nipple BridgeIn my attempt to capture the steepness of the dam, I put my phone’s life (my life) in danger to get this anticlimactic photo.

Do not fall you will dieWe stayed long enough for me to get a sunburn (4 minutes) then hit the road. It’s one of those things that once you see it you’re like “cool” but then try to make it seem cooler to other people when you talk about it. But really you know that, in the end, it’s just a dam.

The dam is on the border of Arizona and Nevada, and we parked on the Nevada side. Which is lucky for me, because it allowed me to get sweet revenge on the Nevada State sign.

YEA TAKE THATWe crossed into Arizona and went straight for approximately seventeen thousand miles. I was surprised not to see the Coyote getting crushed by an ACME anvil along the way. We were getting low on gas, so we stopped at a small town along the road. While we were there, I realized that I meant to put air in my tires when we left California but never did, so we drifted over to the mechanic to have him check the air pressure. He told us all was well, but that my driver’s side rear tire was 10 years old and showed signs of dry rot. Using my extensive knowledge of automobiles, I informed him that my car was 10 years old so “it probably is the original tire” (surprisingly I have no technical training). His response was “that thing could come off in 100 miles or 400 miles, I can’t really tell – especially in this heat.” Well guess what mechanic. 3000 miles later it was still on my car. Sucker.

We decided to risk it and made our way southeast toward Tucson. As we drove further into the desert, the scenery began to change a bit. We started seeing many more types of cacti and rock formations. It was very… brown.

About 15 minutes outside Phoenix, I realized I hadn’t been outside for hours and that it was incredibly sunny. So I checked the weather. This happened:

YUPYES. THAT SAYS 113 DEGREES. And to make things worse, my phone was in Celsius.

Just kidding that would be 235 degrees Fahrenheit and the car would literally melt to the ground. But still, that was the hottest weather I have ever been in in my 22 years of living. Also note the city we were in. Fitting. (Also that was my Dad’s birthday HAPPY BIRTHDAY FATHER).

We got to Phoenix and luckily the temperature dropped to 111 so we decided going outside was bearable. We parked in the shade of an abandoned gas station parking lot to make sandwiches and stretch our legs. As Betz laid the lunchmeat and cheese on top of the car, I rummaged for the bread. He passed me the cheese and when I went to grab a slice, I noticed it felt weird. I looked in and realized that for the less than 30 seconds the cheese was sitting on top of the car (in the shade, remember), the entire block had melted together into one clump. I don’t know how people live in Arizona.

Then, as we ate our sandwiches, we witnessed a drug deal. I never want to go to Phoenix again.

“A cowboy dies every night in Williams.”

About an hour down the road we found Williams, Arizona. Our campsite was just outside of town, so we went “downtown” to get some food. I put that word in quotation marks because there are just over 3,000 total people living in Williams, so downtown was smaller than my high school.

And there was a lot of weird shit happening in downtown Williams.

Apparently it’s a pretty big tourist town, especially in the summer, as it’s the closest town to the Grand Canyon that has hotels and restaurants. When we got there, a huge group of people was standing in the street circled around something. We couldn’t see what was going on, but there were cheers, “oohs”, “aahs”, and other odd sounds being produced. We had no idea what was going on and we steered very, very clear of it.

We got to the Red Raven restaurant (I never spell the word restaurant correctly on the first try). It was a little place with good reviews. The minute we stepped inside we asked the hostess what was happening in the street. “A cowboy dies every night in Williams” was her response. What.

Ignoring the potential homicide occurring a block away, we sat across from each other and checked out the menu. Our server was very friendly and was being followed by a bus boy who spoke about 3 words of English. We ordered – I got spicy shrimp with pasta that was really good. I can’t remember what Justin got, but he liked his food as well. We ate a ton of bread too. The restaurant (messed it up) was great – I’d definitely recommend it.

However, as I mentioned, weird shit was happening in Williams, and the restaurant (messed it up) was no exception. I finished my food and the busboy came by to grab my plate. He reached for Justin’s butter knife, but Justin waved him off because he wasn’t done. He looked at Justin, nodded as if he understood, but then looked a little confused (with the no English speaking and all). He began to reach for the knife again. Justin put his hand out and repeated that he wasn’t done eating yet. The busboy nodded his head in understanding again and started walking away.

Then it was as if the world went into slow motion, because I remember this moment so vividly. After a short chuckle about the miscommunication, I looked up to see that the busboy had only taken two steps away. He was still facing us, dish in hand, confused look on his face. He took one step towards us and was now directly behind Justin’s right arm, out of Justin’s view.

Then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the busboy reaches around Justin’s elbow and, in one swift pinching motion, takes one more stab at the butter knife. His pincers grab hold and he manages to lift it in the air before Justin notices and turns towards him. Holding back laughter, he tells him for the third time that he still needs the knife and grabs it from the busboy’s grip. At this point I’m failing so badly at stifling my laughter that I almost pee myself. The busboy smiles, nods in understanding, again, and walks away.

I laughed so hard I cried. It was one of those times that you think you’re done laughing and then it all starts over again completely. We laughed like schoolgirls for what seemed like an hour. This is exactly how we sounded:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYl-2Wsvfrc&w=560&h=315]

Three minutes later, when we finally got our act together, we paid and went to our campsite for the night. All the excitement from Williams wore us out, not to mention the hiking we had done in the Grand Canyon all day.

We hit the sack. One short 8 hour drive and we would be in Los Angeles.

It looks just like the pictures.

Driving through Arizona was flat and hot. We could see for miles, made two turns, and at one point a slight right. I fell asleep driving for 20 minutes and when I woke up we were still alive and going the right way.

I didn’t actually fall asleep because of the adrenaline that was running through my body. The road we took was two lanes but passing was allowed which is fun and pants-shitting scary at the same time. After a while I was getting pretty bold and managed to pass not one but two busses. BALLSY.

We got to the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon. We visited the South Rim which is kind of like Disneyland because it’s crowded with little children and fat people. The North Rim is supposed to be much more woodsy and give you that one with nature feeling but it was too far away from our campsite to be reasonable. So we joined the masses and went to some lookouts.

What we discovered is that we were very underwhelmed. Here is the first view we got:

Sure it’s pretty, but it’s just like every picture we’d ever seen of the canyon. It actually looked like there was a canvas in the distance with it painted on. From that high up and that far away you lose any point of reference and can’t appreciate it as much as it should be appreciated.

So we left.

Just kidding. We went to the visitor’s center and got the low down on what to do. The area is so big that there is a bus system that runs to different parts of the canyon. Since we only had one afternoon and evening there we picked out a couple things to do before the sun went down. By now it was late afternoon and exactly the time that they recommend hiking down into the canyon, so we made that a priority.

All over the place were signs warning you about hiking into the canyon. The rule of thumb is one step down equals two steps up, meaning that however far you go down into the canyon, it’s going to feel like double the length to get back because of the steep incline you have to climb. So you may not feel tired going down, but going up is going to be a bitch. Also they warn about getting dehydrated, lost, and dying. No lie. Apparently temperatures down in the canyon can get up to 120 degrees, hikers don’t bring enough water or food, and they overestimate how in shape they are. They basically try to scare you into not hiking.

But we said “nah bro” and  went down with no water or shoes.

We took a trail that’s a mile and a half long and went down about 700 feet or so into the canyon. The hike began by turning back and forth down a cliff wall. There was mule poop everywhere which made me think how scary it would be to ride a mule down into the canyon. I’ll use my feet thank you.

The hike was one of the best parts of the trip. It really made us appreciate the canyon way more than just looking at it from above. After the turning back and forth, the trail started snaking around the canyon and gave us some beautiful views:

It no longer felt like a picture but more like what we were expecting. After being underwhelmed, we were now overwhelmed with the enormity of the canyon.

Here’s a view from inside:

When we got to the bottom of our trail we read a sign that said we just walked through several hundred million years of erosion and rock. Nuts right? I grabbed a rock that was like 945 million years old.

The turnaround point jutted out over more of the canyon like so:

I gazed out, grabbed my lion cub and this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwSKkKrUzUk&t=3m1s

After putting my child king to sleep, Justin and I hiked back up the canyon. They weren’t kidding when they said it was like doing double time. We had to take several breaks and drank a ton of water until we reached the top. It was worth it though. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

You’re allowed to hike all the way down to the Colorado River and camp there for a night or two. It’s a day long trip one way, so we couldn’t do it. However it’s now on my bucket list.

We walked a short path along the rim of the canyon and called it a day but only after meeting two guys that were also from Pittsburgh. Small world.

We hopped in the car and headed to Williams, AZ where our campsite was. Little did we know we had quite the evening ahead of us.