Arizona is only America’s sixth largest state. Bet you can’t guess which are the five that are larger?….oh wait, you will probably just google it. Actually
it’s 1.2 times the size of the UK but has a population of only 6.9 million, so only around 10% of that of the UK. That means that (a) There are very few people around, and (b) Very few roads. So as you travel between the main centers it’s likely that you will meet very few people and as there are very few roads it’s difficult to get lost (if you just kind of aim for North, South, East or West then you will likely find the right direction.
The net effect of that introduction is that you will feel quite isolated especially as you drive across some of the lesser populated desert areas and your mind will inevitably wonder what would happen if you got a flat tire or had a breakdown. And then you get to thinking that you wish you had heeded the advice you read in several places about making sure you had plenty of water with you. Anyway, so far so good.
Grand Canyon east rim
We’ve chosen a ‘loop’ tour that takes in a number of national parks (and will eventually bring us back within a whisker of Vegas). That means we started today heading east out of the Grand Canyon National Park and picking up some of the remaining Canyon views along the eastern rim. There are several well-marked stop offs and if I was being picky I would say that the views are better than they were along the South. Why? Well, it feels like you can see more of the canyon itself and the views seem to be from higher up. The Eastern Rim culminates with the Deserts View Visitor Centre which includes the Desert View Watchtower. Not sure why it has that name because the views are still mainly of the canyon although you can also see beyond to the (less interesting) desert. In any event well worth a visit for the views, the tower being not that impressive.
Continuing along that same road we were advised to stop at the Little Colorado River Overlook which is a seldom visited point along the road to Cameron (which is the major crossroads between north and south). Overall the lookout is quite impressive with one small problem: the river bed was completely dry although, following on from our look at the Hoover Dam, it reinforces the well-documented water shortage problems that the region ……….. However, the authorities have at least acknowledged those problems and are doing something about it.
Cameron to Page
I had expected (without any research or foundation) that Cameron, our next ‘stop off’ would be a small thriving town but actually, it appears to be little more than a roundabout with a few shops and apparently a population of less than 1,000. We made a brief pit stop at the Cameron Trading Post a very busy and well-stocked center for local arts and crafts which, whilst quite expensive, seemed at least authentic. For my own personal amusement, we briefly got our north and south mixed up but soon righted ourselves and continued the journey north.
The road from Cameron to Page (our stop for the evening) was almost everything we had previously expected a road would look like on this stretch of our trip i.e. long straight stretches, desert and often distant vertical cliff faces. All in all, it feels very “Western” although nowadays it seems that the settlements we’re seeing at the side of the road are both shabby and extremely remote. Although there is only one main road you should note that the cell phone signal is intermittent so if you are relying on google maps to guide you (and your cell phone to comfort you in the event of a breakdown) then you might be disappointed.
We chose to stay at Page as it has some attractions in its own right but also it’s a nice break in an otherwise quite long journey. The first of those attractions which is shortly before Page is the well-known Horseshoe Bend. Given the somewhat featureless surroundings, it is indeed an incredibly beautiful place (pictures do not do it justice). What fascinates me though in the modern age is how many people are getting incredibly close to sheer drops in order to get the perfect selfie and (seemingly) how few have actually fallen in (I googled it in the evening out of morbid curiosity). Of course, there is the occasional news story but I am surprised to read that despite there being no guard rails (as there are at the Grand Canyon) there are not at least 2-3 deaths per day.
Besides Horseshoe Bend, the major attractions in Page are Lake Powell which is a man-made lake sitting behind the Glen Canyon Dam and Antelope Canyon which we’re visiting tomorrow. Apparently, the lake receives over three million visitors a year which you might find surprising given that it feels very much how a lake on Mars might feel (if Mars had any water). I can only imagine this is down to the fact that (a) Arizona is a long way from the sea, and therefore (b) any port in a storm. It’s not that it’s not a nice place as such but coming from Europe it just a little underwhelming.
As for Page itself, it is a nice little town with a population around 8,000, a bit like one of the new towns in the UK (but with much warmer weather!), which was only founded in 1957 to house workers for the nearby Glen Canyon Dam. However, nowadays, other than the two local power plants, it is more of a tourist destination as the raft of chain motels on the outskirts will attest to. The town will become even more dependent on tourism as a source of revenue once one of the major employers in the area closes which is planned for 2019 so go there and help their economy! We’re eschewing the blandness of those motel chains and staying at the Bears Den. A good choice, spacious, modern and well-appointed although a little culture shock as you drive through the largely ramshackle estate that surrounds it.