We arrived at the gate, Allan paid the entrance fee and we parked the car in an almost deserted car park and walked the short distance to the rim of the canyon, which has been created over a period of six million years by the erosive action of the Colorado River slicing down through the plateau.
Someone reminded me just recently that geologically the Canyon isn’t a canyon but a gorge but Grand Gorge doesn’t sound so – well, Grand.
The canyon/gorge is four hundred and fifty kilometres long, up to thirty kilometres wide and reaches a depth of more than one and half kilometres and is one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the World. This is a very big canyon/gorge indeed and it is almost impossible to get a true sense of scale as you stand and look down into the abyss below.
I had been here barely twelve months before but it was different now, it was a little later in the year and there were fewer people and there was a lot of snow on the ground.
After we had had our fill of the natural wonders of the Canyon we eventually made our way to Grand Canyon Village which is located on the south rim of the gorge, right in the national park, and whose only real function is to accommodate visiting tourists and it seemed to consist mostly of motels and helicopter landing pads. The origins of the village trace back to the railroad built to the canyon in 1901 and many of the buildings in use today date from that period. As we drove through Dave spotted a MacDonalds and as it was sometime to go before lunch he insisted that Allan make a high risk manoeuvre across a busy six lane highway to negotiate our way to the drive thru window to get his midday burger fix.
Two hundred miles was a long way to drive but it really was worth it and now it was time to turn round and go all the way back. There was no real alternative but to follow the same route and so for the first fifty miles we headed south east back along Highway 180 and through the volcanic Red Mountains. The road snaked through what is part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field on its way towards Flagstaff and about half way to the city we stopped off at the visitor centre and took some photographs of the mountain brightly illuminated by the late afternoon sun. Later along the route in the Navajo reservation and Allan insisted in stopping several times to get ripped off at roadside Indian souvenir shops to purchase various bits of junk jewellery to take back home as gifts for his family.
From Flagstaff we picked up the Interstate and returned directly through the pine forests to Phoenix in an uneventful journey except that Allan had a habit of driving very close to the gravel verge that made the hire car shake uncontrollably and Ben complained about that constantly. Somewhere along the route as we dropped down from the mountains the snow disappeared and sometime before we got back to the city it had completely gone.
Time was getting on so there was only time for a quick change and a drink in the bar before we were collected by the sales team from Heil Engineering, who were partners of Jack Allen and manufacturers of the vehicle that we had come to see and assess. A man called Mike found us in the bar and collected us up and drove us away for dinner at an out of town restaurant.
It was dark and so we had no idea where we were heading but fairly soon we were out of the city and into a wilderness area with not a lot of promising activity until suddenly Mike swung into a car park and there was a wooden shack with bright lights in front of us. Outside there was a hitching rail with horses tethered and drinking from a trough and as we walked across the car park two dusty cowboys approached on horseback from out of the gloom and tied up their horses in a lazy, end of the day sort of way, dusted themselves down as best they could and after the cloud of prairie dirt had subsided and returned to the ground went inside just ahead of us with chaps flapping and spurs jingling just as though we were back in the old west.
Inside it was traditional and functional with bench seats and frontier tables with red checkered table cloths and western memorabilia on the walls. Mike introduced us to the rest of the Heil team who had arrived earlier and immediately ordered pitchers of beer for the table. I liked that!
This was an authentic western cowboy restaurant and the waitress supplied us with a menu that consisted of very little choice except steaks and boiled potatoes. No french fries and no salad and no vegetables either, this wasn’t the place for vegetarians let me tell you. So we ordered our steaks and when they arrived they were so huge that I had no idea where to begin. To be honest there was far too much for me and I was only about a quarter way through before I had had enough. I kept going as best as I could but I’m sure that I left at least half of it, still, I suppose they had a dog around the back who enjoyed the other half later!
We had an excellent night at the cowboy restaurant and at the end of the evening Mike drove us back to the motel at the end of a very long day. Allan and Keith were too tired for last drinks but I was up for last orders with Dave and Ben and we stayed far longer than we planned largely on account of an exceptionally attractive and persuasive barmaid and a seductive bottle of Bombay Sapphire.