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Did I mention that my road trip to the Southwest last month was excellent? I wore shorts and short sleeves every day. Never needed a jacket, rain gear, or umbrella.

Had zero trouble finding decent lodging. Had very few so-so meals. Never got tired from driving. Came home with souvenir t-shirts from Hatch, Gallup, Flagstaff, Sedona, and Grand Canyon.

Furthermore, thanks to the record so helpfully provided by Google Timeline, I can elaborate on how the trip went down…

After dropping off Jake at the kennel, I drove south to Atlanta, then west on I-20 across Alabama and into Mississippi. I spent the first night in Jackson. Supper was an insanely delicious brisket plate at the Pig & Pint. Rating: A+

On Day Two, I continued west on I-20, crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, drove across Louisiana to Shreveport, and into Texas. There, being an intelligent person, I abandoned I-20 and picked up US 84, which goes through neither Dallas nor Houston. I stopped for the night in Waco and dined at La Fiesta Restaurant & Cantina. Rating: B.

On Day Three, I followed US 87 northwest from San Angelo back to I-20, then west through Midland and Odessa. I stopped for the night in Pecos, where I enjoyed a fine meal and beverage at Javelinas Draft House. Rating: A-.

On Day Four, I picked up I-10 to El Paso, then I-25 north through Las Cruces, New Mexico. I stopped for a few hours in Hatch, New Mexico, the famous “Chile Capital of the World.” Hatch is a fun place. The smell of roasting chiles is delightful, and the gift shops carry an amazing selection of chiles — fresh, dried, cooked, candied, and pickled — and Talavera pottery.

After Hatch, I continued north on I-25 and stayed the night in Los Lunas, following dinner and a brew at Buffalo Wild Wings. Rating: B.

On Day Five, I drove north to Albuquerque and west on I-40 past the pueblos, stopping for the night in Gallup — after making the rounds of the numerous shops and trading posts. Supper was at Anthony’s A Taste of the Southwest Mexican Restaurant. Rating: B-.

On Day Six, I continued west on I-40 into Arizona. After a stop at Petrified Forest National Park, I continued to Holbrook, then Winslow, where I visited the very cool gift shop at La Posada Hotel and the “Standin’ on the Corner” statue downtown.

That night, I stayed in Flagstaff and, as is my tradition, enjoyed a draft and a brewer’s platter at Beaver Street Brewery. Rating: sadly, a C. Usually a solid A, but that’s life.

On Day Seven, after a morning of strolling around downtown Flagstaff, I drove south on US 89A through fabulous Oak Creek Canyon to the ultra-touristy, but still enjoyable Sedona. Lunch was a massive cheeseburger and a cold one at the Cowboy Club. Rating: B+.

After wandering around Sedona for a bit, I returned to Flagstaff for the night, where I enjoyed a dinner of soup, salad, and a tall draft at Lumberyard Brewing Company. Rating: A, no question.

On Day Eight, I headed north on US 89 to Cameron Trading Post, detoured over to Desert View Watchtower at the east end of Grand Canyon National Park, then went north to Page. At Glen Canyon Dam, I took photos of sad, receding Lake Powell and found lodging in Page for the night. Dinner was pizza at Strombolli’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. Rating: B.

On Day Nine, I left Page and proceeded to Marble Canyon Lodge and Lees Ferry, then back through Flagstaff and west to Williams. Back in good old Flagstaff for the night, I had fish tacos, homemade chicharróns, and a nice draft at Mother Road Brewing Company. Rating: A-.

On Day 10, I drove north to South Rim Village at Grand Canyon National Park, where I had booked a cabin for two nights at Bright Angel Lodge. That day, I wandered along the rim taking photos of the Big Ditch — the same photos I’ve taken again and again over the years — and paid the obligatory visits to the village gift shops.


My cabin at Bright Angel Lodge.

I planned to have dinner at the Arizona Steakhouse, my favorite GCNP eaterie, but alas, it was open for lunch only. The other main option, the dining room at El Tovar Hotel, requires reservations, and I’m not impressed by El Tovar anyway, so I went to the Maswik Lodge Pizza Pub for a beer and a slice. Rating: maybe a C.

An hour later, unsatisfied by the puny slice, I proceeded to the Bright Angel Tavern and ordered some hot wings and another beer. Rating: B+. I ended the evening happy.

But not for long; the weather, alas, finally turned on me. The forecast for the next few days was for rain at South Rim. The prospect of a day of taking photos in the rain had no appeal, so I went to the front desk and canceled my second night in the cabin. Let some other tourist score a last-minute cancellation.

Later, back at the rim, I was rewarded by my first-ever rainbow at Grand Canyon. This is when you trot out the word awesome, people.

Okay, it was time to head back east. On Day 11, I left the rain behind at Flagstaff and returned east on I-40, back through Winslow, Holbrook, and Gallup, and stopped for the night in Grants, New Mexico. Dinner was a sirloin steak smothered in mushrooms and onions at La Ventana Steaks and Spirits. Rating: A.

On Day 12, I rolled through Albuquerque on I-40 and continued east. The truck traffic soon became too much, so I exited I-40 at Clines Corners and drove south to US 60, which I followed through Encino, Vaughn, Fort Sumner (where I stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum), and Clovis.

I then crossed into Texas and proceeded to Lubbock for the night. Supper was tacos and a draft at the Copper Caboose Restaurant and Sports Grill. Rating: B+.

On Day 13, I continued east on US 82 through Wichita Falls, and on to Paris, Texas, for the night. Dinner was a chopped pork plate at Phat Phil’s BBQ. Rating: A.

On Day 14, I passed through Texarkana and continued east on US 82 across southern Arkansas, crossing the Mississippi River at Greenville. I stopped for the night in Winona, Mississippi, and for supper had a quesadilla at Tequila’s Restaurant. Rating: B+.

On Day 15, I followed US 82 east into Alabama and picked up I-20 in Tuscaloosa. I stayed on I-20 through Birmingham, back into Georgia, on to Atlanta, and north on I-85 to Jefferson. I was home by late afternoon. Supper was a bowl of Nongshim Bowl Noodle Soup, Spicy Shrimp flavor. Always an A.

That final day of the trip was a Saturday, which was nice because weekend traffic in Atlanta usually is less awful than on workdays.

But, no, a wreck on the northern perimeter, I-285, left me trapped in a monumental traffic jam. This was my view of things for, oh, 90 minutes.

Two points in closing:

First, my hat is off to Google for shadowing me 24-7 and documenting my every move so I could reconstruct the trip via the Timeline feature.

Second, Jefferson is a pleasant, peaceful little town. We have just five traffic signals, not counting the four at the loathsome I-85 interchange. Traffic jams around here are rare and brief.

I like Jefferson. Atlanta can go scratch.

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A road trip, one could say, is like a box of chocolates.

I just got home from a two-week road trip to the Southwest, and it was supremely satisfying. All went well. I wandered far, experienced much, and dined lavishly.

Owing to the lavish dining, I returned home five pounds heavier. But I’ve since shed four of the pounds, so…

Looking back on the said box of chocolates, certain memories stand out.

The Coyote

On the morning of Day Eight, I drove north from Flagstaff on US 89 on my way to Page, Arizona. In the community of Bitter Springs on the Navajo Nation, I turned left onto US 89A, which leads north to Marble Canyon, where Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River.

As I made the turn, I noticed a large sheep pen beside the highway on the right. The pen was about the size of a tennis court, maybe larger. Inside were 50 to 75 sheep, grazing peacefully.

The enclosure was extra substantial. It was about six feet high, constructed of chain link, and rimmed with barbed wire. This was a serious sheep pen.

And next to the fence, stoically observing the sheep mere feet away, was a coyote.

I slowed down to get a good look. The sheep grazed peacefully, apparently unperturbed. Maybe they were accustomed to the presence of a coyote at the fence line. Or multiple coyotes.

The coyote watched the sheep quietly and never moved. How long he remained there, and whether this was a regular scenario, I can’t say.

But two hours later, when I passed through Bitter Springs again on my way to Page, the coyote had not moved one inch from his post.

Twilight Chat

Usually, when you see a uniformed ranger at a national park, he or she is surrounded by tourists and either answering questions or delivering a lecture.

But late in the evening of Day 10 of my trip, as I strolled along the rim of Grand Canyon at South Rim Village taking photos of a glorious sundown, I came upon a “lone” ranger seated on the retaining wall, quietly taking in the scenery.

She was young and either Hispanic or Native American. As I paused a few steps away to take photos, she said, “I have SO many photos of this place, and I keep taking more.”

“Me, too,” I said. “But I gave up fighting it long ago.”

“Oh, you’re a repeat visitor,” she said. “Are you familiar with some of the landforms out there — Brahma Temple, Zoroaster?”

And that started a 10-minute conversation in which we shared Grand Canyon stories.

I told her about the enlarged photo on my living room wall, taken on the Clear Creek Trail, looking up at Zoro between those massive arms. And about my hike with my sons Britt and Dustin up the “Banzai Route” to Utah Flats on top of Cheops Pyramid.

And about my raft trips and mule trips and backcountry hikes and trips to Phantom Ranch. I told her I’ve now been to Grand Canyon 29 times.

She had done all that and more. Even worked at Phantom for a time.

It’s so gratifying to meet someone who really knows Grand Canyon. Who gets it.

Zoroaster Temple as seen from the Clear Creek Trail.

Two of my favorite observations about life come from Buzz Holmstrom, a filling station attendant from Oregon who, in 1937, built his own boat and rowed it down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. He is thought to be the first person to run the river solo.

Buzz wrote in his journal that he gained nothing tangible from the trip. His reward was simply in “the doing of the thing.”

Buzz also praised traveling solo. “I know I have got more out of this trip by being alone than if a party was along, as I have more time — especially at nite — to listen & look & think & wonder about the natural wonders, rather than listen to talk of war, politics & football scores.”

A wise man, that Buzz.

This post I wrote some years ago tells more about Holmstrom and his grand adventure. And the journal of his trip is well worth reading.

In my next post, more details about my route and adventures.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Several decades ago, I met a man in Buford, Georgia, born and raised there, who had never been to Atlanta. Atlanta is a mere 35 miles from Buford via Interstate 85.

In fairness, he avoided Atlanta because he considered it an evil place full of crime and villainy.

But in addition, he had never set foot out of Georgia. He was in his 40s, an auto mechanic, married with kids. He was content and saw nothing unusual about his situation.

I, on the other hand, found it mind-boggling. Having been to, and lived in, so many different places in my life, I simply was astounded.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. Very often. Growing up, I lived in Macon, Jacksonville, Savannah, Japan, Virginia, Florida, France, and Germany, in that order.

During our two years in Japan, we traveled the islands regularly. During our three years in Europe, we visited Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When we returned to the US in 1960, I spent the next four years at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was the longest I’d lived in one place in my life.

On the About Mr. Write page on this blog, I describe myself as a frequent road-tripper. I mean that literally.

Since 1992, when I finally began documenting my travels, I have taken 134 multiple-day trips somewhere around the country. That’s about four trips annually. In other words, for the last 30 years, I’ve hit the road every three months.

I have visited every state in the US except Alaska. Especially after my divorce, I made it a point to seek out new places, just to see, explore, and experience.

As you may know, I have a special affinity for the Southwest, and Grand Canyon is my go-to vacation spot. As I am quick to note, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 28 times in the last 28 years.

I’ve probably driven every paved road in Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern halves of Utah and Colorado.

At some point, I began taking trips to fill in the blanks, going to New England, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf coast, the Appalachians, Montana, and so on.

Lately, COVID has cramped my style a bit. Age and arthritis have slowed me down, too. I don’t think my traveling days are over quite yet, but when they are, I’ll be content because of the memories.

Stored in my head are decades of superlative memories, many of them documented by the thousands of transparencies, prints, and digital images I’ve amassed — and which, I assure you, are carefully preserved and organized.

Like all of us, I am a walking memory vault of my unique experiences.

I am blessed to be a son, brother, nephew, cousin, father, and grandfather. Family memories will mean the most, always. But the memories of my travels and adventures on the road are in a special category.

I thank God I’m not the Buford mechanic.

Recently, on a travel website, I read an article entitled, “The 16 Most Beautiful Places in the US.”

Listed were Acadia, Antelope Canyon, Badlands, Everglades, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Cave, Monument Valley, Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion.

A fine selection. But they should have made it 17 and included Yosemite. For the record, I’ve visited all 17.

Okay, that said, I am compelled to include some photos…


The trail to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, follows that ridge.

A black bear and her cub, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
In the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, few dogs are house pets. Most live free-range and are cared for informally by the community.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.

A boy swimming nose to nose with a manatee in the city of Crystal River, Florida. Up to 1,000 manatees winter there because the water in the bay is warmer than the Gulf.

A nice Monet in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
A row of seastacks on the Pacific coast.

Native Americans sell their art daily at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hermit Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. When the sediment levels from upstream tributaries are low, the water is emerald green.

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The Confluence

It’s June 1994, and I’m on my first-ever raft trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. On the morning of the second day of the trip, we arrive at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. In contrast to the green water of the Colorado, the water of the Little C is a beautiful deep aquamarine, due to dissolved limestone and travertine.

The trip leaders take the passengers upstream along the north bank of the Little C to a point above a shallow set of rapids. Curiously, we are told to put on our life jackets upside down — to wear them like pants so the padding protects our butts. Just do it, the guides say.

We enter the river and form a chain, single file, 15 people long, each of us holding the legs of the person behind us. The guides steer the chain into the current, and we embark on an exhilarating 60-second ride back downstream to the confluence.

Over the next hour, we reform the chain and ride the Little C a dozen times, whooping and hollering like children. The experience is magical.

And I think to myself, this is the life.

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Along the Delaware Shore

It’s a sunny spring day in 2010, and I’m on a road trip to New England in my Toyota MR2 Spyder convertible, a recent retirement gift to myself. I’ve just stopped somewhere along the Delaware shore where a man has erected a canopy and is cooking shrimp in a large black kettle.

Having made my purchase and staked out a spot on a nearby dock, I watch as the seagulls play overhead and the shrimp boats go about their business on Delaware Bay. Beside me are a cold bottle of beer, a pint of freshly-steamed shrimp, and a cup of tartar sauce.

I take a sip of my beer, select a shrimp to peel, and think to myself, this is the life.

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Final report on my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Mansfield, Louisiana

Half the trip from Georgia to Arizona is crossing Texas, which takes a good two days. On April 5, returning eastbound, I finally left Texas behind and stopped for the night in Mansfield, a forgettable little town in the middle of Louisiana. As usual, no campgrounds were nearby, but Mansfield had a Super 8.

Super 8 is owned by Wyndham now, so the chain is a bit nicer these days. The place actually was clean and comfortable.

After a decent supper at a Chinese place across the street, I retired to my room to watch a DVD movie on my laptop.

At some point, I opened the nightstand drawer and took out the phone book, the idea being to find a map and get oriented.

As I flipped through the pages of the phone book, a small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. The notepad-size sheet had a Super 8 logo at the top and was covered with writing in longhand. I picked it up and read it.

It was a heart-breaking message written by someone in great emotional distress. And it was dated five years ago. Chances are, it had remained undetected in the phone book until I found it.

This is what the person wrote:

———

Tuesday

July 25, 2016

The Pain???????

Why do I always get hurt. I try and try to do my best. People just [want] me to do things for them

Lord I’m tired I cant keep Putting myself Down like dis Im hurting and hurting I feel like Im going to hurt myself if I Dont get sum help.

———

The slang usage — “like dis” and “get sum help” — suggests that the writer was young. The rest is a mystery.

The incident was especially distressing because, frankly, I can’t relate to inner pain and turmoil on this scale.

The fact is, I’ve been fortunate. I’m a stable, grounded person. Life is good. Other than being in my waning years and having to put up with arthritis and other annoyances, I have no real complaints.

Not so for the anonymous note-writer who stayed in room 104 of the Mansfield Super 8 in 2016.

I hope he or she is in a better place today.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Abilene, Texas

Chili’s Grill & Bar is not one of my favorite eateries. In fact, until the first week in April, I hadn’t eaten at a Chili’s in a good 10 years. But it was getting late, and fatigue and circumstances led me to pull into the parking lot of the Chili’s in Abilene.

I grabbed a face mask, locked up the RV, and headed toward the entrance. Visions of quesadillas and burritos danced in my head.

As I approached the front door, a derelict lurched past me, mumbling to himself.

Derelict is the word that came immediately to mind when I saw him. He was probably in his 60s, rail-thin, with long, unruly white hair and a long, unruly white beard. He was clutching three or four white plastic bags that bulged with unknown possessions.

His clothes and shoes were shabby, and he wore neither hat nor socks. He looked like Gandalf, if Gandalf were dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

Clearly, the old man occupied a world of his own. He didn’t look up, even though I had to step aside to let him pass.

My conclusion: he probably was mentally ill and homeless. I wondered how he survived from day to day.

Inside, perusing the menu, I abandoned thoughts of Mexican food and chose the Smokehouse Combo, featuring pulled pork BBQ, beef ribs, and corn on the cob. To be honest, every item on the plate turned out to be bland and disappointing. Which is why I am not a Chili’s person.

About halfway through the meal, a waitress appeared at a booth near me and ushered in — you guessed it — the derelict.

The old guy struggled to maneuver his plastic bags onto the table in front of him. He was a sad study in fumbling and wasted motion.

Moments later, the waitress appeared again and delivered a steaming cup of coffee. For the first time, the old man sat quietly and sipped his coffee.

Before long, he got up, collected his belongings, and shuffled off toward the men’s room. Five minutes later, he returned to the booth, stashed his stuff, and sat down again to sip his coffee.

Then the waitress returned and said something to him. The man immediately stood up and began collected his bags, this time with more urgency.

At that moment, my waiter walked by, and I flagged him down. “Are you throwing the old guy out?” I asked.

“Not at all,” the waiter told me. “He said he has to leave — has someplace he needs to be immediately.”

“Look,” I said, “Get the poor guy a hamburger or something. I’ll pay for it.”

“Oh, we already collected money and offered to buy his supper. But he insists he can’t stay.”

Meanwhile, the man had gathered his stuff and was making his way to the front door.

My original thoughts returned: the poor fellow no doubt was mentally ill and maybe homeless. I couldn’t imagine how he survives from day to day.

Dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve rarely had vehicle problems on the road, but, well, life is like a box of chocolates.

The last time I drove west in the RV was in September 2019. On that trip, before heading east again, I had the RV checked out at the Pep Boys in Flagstaff. They changed the oil, looked for problems, and pronounced it good to go.

This spring, I stopped at Pep Boys again — but not for a routine once-over. Somewhere back in Texas, I discovered that I had no headlights or tail lights. The turn signals and brake lights worked, but that was it.

The mechanic found a burned-out headlight switch, replaced it, declared my battery on its last legs, replaced it, checked for other issues, and sent me on my way.

That was the morning of March 31. The rest of that day was spent as described in my previous post: driving to Tusayan, finding a massive traffic jam courtesy of the spring-break hordes, and retreating to Flagstaff.

I found a motel, proceeded to Beaver Street Brewery for supper (three-sausage pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, plus two pints of their very excellent Midnight Black IPA), and slept soundly.

The next morning, I was on the road early, eastbound on I-40. I planned to pick up I-25 south and drive down the Rio Grand Valley to Hatch, the “chile capital of the world.”

Over the next couple of hours, cruising at 75, I began to notice that the engine occasionally was skipping. Running slightly and uncharacteristically rough. It wasn’t extreme, but it was noticeable.

I had thoughts of the engine dying and leaving me stranded in the desert 50 miles from the nearest town.

But the engine didn’t die. I drove on with my fingers crossed.

Then, about 40 miles west of Gallup, my check engine light came on.

Oh, hell.

Stopping made no sense. I needed to reach Gallup and find a mechanic. Gallup probably had a Pep Boys, right?

So I slowed to 65 mph and drove on to Gallup, the check-engine light shining brightly, the engine still ominously sputtering every few seconds. On the way, I Googled Pep Boys, and the nearest shop was, thank God, at the first Gallup exit.

The store manager said he would take a look when time permitted, although repairs might take a day or so. I asked if any motels were within walking distance.

He pointed across the street to a handsome SpringHill Suites. “Newest in town,” he said.

Thus, instead of being marooned in the desert with a blown engine, I checked into a SpringHill Suites and took a nap while Pep Boys tended to my RV.

At about 3:00 pm, the Pep Boys manager called. He said the spark plug wiring harness was old, brittle, and in the process of self-destructing. They replaced the harness, and all was well again.

The next morning, I was on the road to Hatch and points east. That afternoon, I picked up a non-Interstate route that took me through a succession of smaller cities and towns and avoided all that nasty Interstate truck traffic.

The good news: the RV ran smooth as silk, all the way home. The bad news: between the repairs, the motels, and the price of gas, my wallet took a serious hit.

The view from behind the wheel. In springtime, the bugs are as troublesome as the college students.

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I just got back from a road trip to the Southwest in my RV. It was my first time out of Georgia in over a year.

It felt good to get away, see the outside world, and have some new experiences. But the trip was something of a mixed bag.

For one thing, COVID restrictions are in effect to some degree everywhere. Most businesses, if they are open, limit occupancy and require masks. In New Mexico, restaurants wisely record your name and phone number, in case the virus is later detected and they need to contact you.

For another thing, RV camping was a constant problem. Many private campgrounds were closed, and the rest were full. My personal choice, state park campgrounds, were either closed or operating under new rules — such as requiring reservations or only serving state residents. Most nights, I had no choice but to check into a motel.

Also, my RV had mechanical troubles that required two stops for repairs. More about that later.

Let me begin by describing how, to my dismay, I was unable to visit Grand Canyon…

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Tusayan, Arizona

On March 31, I learned that spring break is a thing at Grand Canyon National Park.

Silly me, I always thought spring break happened at the beaches in Florida and California and wherever. I had no idea that the south rim of Grand Canyon also gets swarmed each spring by hedonistic college students. Vast mobs of them.

I saw them in person when I arrived in Tusayan, a resort town near the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Before me, northbound traffic on Arizona Route 64 was at a literal standstill.

I was stunned. Was it a traffic accident? A fuel spill? A helicopter crash?

The traffic jam was three lanes wide. It continued north through Tusayan, over a distant hill, and out of sight. I knew from previous trips that Route 64 becomes a two-lane highway north of town, and the Park entrance is two miles away.

Two miles of traffic that appeared to be at a dead stop.

Before I got trapped in the jam, I turned around and headed back south. I stopped at the airport to ask what the bloody hell was going on.

The woman at the counter rolled her eyes and replied that spring break was in progress. My wait time to get into the Park, she said, would be about three hours.

I turned around and drove back to Flagstaff.

The thing is, I made the trip to Arizona specifically to visit Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon, you see, is my favorite place anywhere.

But this trip, I was traveling without reservations. Clearly, no lodging or camping would be available at South Rim Village or in Tusayan. And frankly, with the Park overflowing with spring-breakers, I couldn’t imagine having a very pleasant visit anyway.

Nor did I have options. The North Rim was still closed for the winter. The east entrance near Cameron had been closed for months because of a surge in COVID cases on the Navajo reservation.

Thus, sadly, my eagerly anticipated visit to Grand Canyon — it would have been my 28th — didn’t happen.

But it will. I just made reservations at Bright Angel Lodge for early September.


Spring-breakers queued up to enter Grand Canyon National Park on March 28.

Masks and social distancing not much in evidence at the overlook behind Bright Angel Lodge.

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