Camping so close to the mighty Colorado river, in a dry desert environment with +30º C during the day and at night around zero C, under a vast starry heaven is different from the pine tree environment of the North Rim.
You really feel that we have descended 1.500m. As this can be one of the most windy and sunny places in the area, the campground even provides shelter against the elements. On Sunday we first hike to Lees Ferry. Again it was the Mormon Society that took the initiative to establish the ferry, crossing the Colorado from Utah into Arizona to claim land.
A ranch in the middle of nowhere would support the family that would take care of the ferry. If you want to read about the history of the ferry, click here. Different ferryboats and pioneers, miners, Indians, and tourists crossed here from 1872 until 1928, when the Navajo bridge was put into use. What a hardship it must have been to turn desert into a space which would provide people with enough food.
What a challenge it must have been to travel though canyon land and cross with the ferry, unsure if you would make it to the other side. The last accident involved a number of people with their Fords Model T that disappeared into the Colorado River.
We ride the bikes to the start of the Cathedral Wash trail. A wash is always dry except when there is rain (could be miles uphill) and then it washes out everything! As the ground is not covered with a thick layer of soil, rock is at the surface and rain can not soak into the ground; hence it runs off in huge floods.
As the Colorado plateau mainly exist of sediment layers which have been pushed up, and the force of sudden rainfall will take sand and stones down to the Colorado river, the wash is a great place to see what the force of water does when carving out the canyon. We made it all the way to the Colorado river and back. A hike we would really recommend!
We do have GSM reception and see that the lens we ordered already left for Cameron, so we estimate latest arrival on Tuesday. Hence we decide to not go to Paige, also because it would be a detour of 120km. Next day we make a stop at the Navajo bridge, as the one constructed in 1927 was not designed for heavy truckloads a second bridge was constructed but as a mirror image of the first one. Second bridge opened only in 1995.
The area is a rough and empty space with a few Navajo settlements.
Seems that the area provided to the Navajo still is the same but population has multiplied by 10, resulted in overgrazing and poverty.
As we started quite late the full stretch to Cameron is too far. In the grocery store of the very small village of Gap they say we could put our tent up next to the building but we decide to bike further. We start looking for a spot for our tent but all side roads go to small settlements. At 17:00 we set-up just before dark behind the guard rail of the highway and cook a quick dinner. The whole night the highway stayed busy, with quite a lot of trucks.Wild camping 2.0. Less than 50km to Cameron gives the possibility to stop with a few small native road shops and arrive in Cameron for lunch. Even the two fat tires did not delay things too much.
Cameron (the village that is not a village).
Cameron is not more than a Trading Post, post office, gas station, RV park and motel. No tent possibilities so forced to take the motel. Hoping the package will arrive today. The Trading Post with restaurant is the stop-over of all tourist busses going North or South.
Gallery has remarkable but very expensive native art. In the trading post there is so much you don’t find anything. Very weird place. Arizona does not have daylight saving time but some buildings do: Post office: yes; next doors restaurant no…As lunch was not a success I cook dinner outside of the motel 😉. Returning to the room our neighbour is changing rooms as water in the bathtub was rising and toilet was no longer flushing. We also have to change. Next day package has not yet arrived and we have to change rooms again as our ground level room is reserved for a group of elderly people, I manage to get a discount on the two nights for the inconvenience. As we stay another night we can post two blogs within a time span of 3 days. Each negative has something positive (Jacinta’s interpretation of a Johan Cruijff saying). Good feeling to catch up with the blogs. As we have now a balcony we decide to cook on our balcony, the benefit of carrying everything with you!
On the 26th the lens arrives, after a journey from Phoenix to New-York to Flagstaff and now here. No wonder it took much longer than we first expected. Stocking up at the grocery store of the gas station we meet Vivien & family, a young couple from Argentina with 2-year-old son, who bought this camper van in Florida and travelled following the East coast to Canada, crossed Canada to Alaska and now are travelling South. You can find them on Facebook viviendoel tiempo.
They recommend iOverlander as the app to find best wild-camp spots. At Burger King we download the app and have the first fast-food in a very long time and regret it as it gives you a bloated feeling while biking.
Camping on the edge.
We try the wild spot recommended not so far from Cameron in the direction of the Grand Canyon South Rim. One of the best wild camp spots we have had during a very long time. Tent next to one of the few trees in the whole area, 10 meters away from 300 meter drop-off to the canyon of the Little Colorado river. Incredible. As this is the dead-end of a dirt road and 700m away of the highway it is a very quiet night.
Morning has no glory, as my bike belt breaks, lucky Frank is carrying two spares and has it changed within 30 minutes.
Biking up to Grand Canyon can start! Meeting with a tarantula on the highway, something you would not see when driving a car. Great shoulder just to the entrance of the park.
Grand Canyon South Rim
Then the shoulder disappears completely and people are sometimes not too patient with bikers. At Desert view we have our first South Rim Grand Canyon View.
Different, steeper, wider than North Rim. But with way more people, several approached us asking where we came from and where we go, as they have passed us coming up. So funny! Final stretch to the campground is racing against sunset. Still stopping at some of the viewpoints. The closer we get to the South Rim village the more the canyon is covered in smog from the prescribed fires of the North Rim. Will this affect our stay?
We made it before dark and find a spot at the hiker-biker site. South Rim Campground is open all year round and provides showers and laundry! Base 12$ per night and 2$ per shower, bus stop 10 minutes walk. What a bargain. First day at the rim we do the “must see” overview at the visitor centre and walk the rim to the village. What a view. What a crowd. It is “Industrial Tourism” as Edward Abbey has called it in his magnificent book “Desert Sollitaire”. Read that book if you can find it!
We take the red shuttle till the farthest point and visit one of the buildings of Mary Colter. Integrating the buildings in the surrounding, using local materials and history, was one of her strongest points. Still considering how far we will walk down the canyon tomorrow. Will we make it to the bottom or will the smog be too heavy? More in next week blog.