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…finally in the land of unlimited possibilities!
After the seven months of group travel through South and Central America, we had our usual freedom from Tombstone and could do whatever we wanted. No roadbook dictated the pace or direction of the journey. For Chantal it was a relief, for me (Tom) rather a farewell to great encounters and evenings. Well, that’s how it is; everything has an end, only the sausage has two.
The USA, and especially the farewell town of Tombstone, was a “déjà vue” for us. We had already experienced Tombstone 4 years ago with snow and muddy roads. This time everything was dry as dust and the place was preparing for some national festival. We skipped the festivities, but enjoyed the drive through Arizona towards Flagstaff, where we wanted to visit an acquaintance from the first trip.
Unfortunately, during our travel preparations at home, we forgot all the literature about the northern part of the American continent, which was almost like flying blind on the American highways. We immediately ordered them to our friend in Flagstaff. We also ordered the necessary spare parts for our jeep; even the original off-road vehicle needs certain new parts from time to time; South America also left certain marks on our Jeep.
So we moved north at a leisurely pace and explored the south and central parts of Arizona extensively. The first camps in the national or state forests were again highlights for us, where we cooked on the fire every time. The first days through this early summer landscape were almost like a balm for our souls and really a different way of travelling.
But our light-heartedness was curbed in full force by the cancellation of our car insurance by the insurer. The vehicle insurance for North America (USA + Canada) that we took out online in Mexico gave us wings, and compared to the official offer from the travel organisation, it was a real bargain financially. But things turned out differently and there were only a few days left until the last day of insurance coverage.
In Flagstaff we went to see an insurance marketer who negotiated with the insurance company on the phone. Unfortunately, he did not achieve much for us either, as our car would not fit into their vehicle scheme and thus no insurance cover could be guaranteed. We also received only negative notices from other insurance companies. Soon we couldn’t hear the sorry anymore, neither from the telephone assistants nor from any insurance marketers. The lifeline finally came from Thum, the travel organisation that offers six-month cover for our car for a lot of money. But even with this insurance, our Jeep doesn’t quite fit into their vehicle picture and this is only valid in the USA; Canada is excluded. What was that about the land of opportunity?
Because of this insurance story, we had to rearrange our travel plans and eliminate certain ideas from our wish list altogether. So until the end of November we will concentrate entirely on the USA, i.e. the Rocky’s and the West, and venture more into the backcountry. In the end, we will be in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – scenically speaking – which really has everything to offer where you look for it in vain elsewhere.
It goes without saying that the books we ordered in Europe were not delivered on the next working day. We postponed our visit and took a short trip west. The fact that not everything always worked out during our excursions on the back roads and that we suddenly found ourselves on private land could not always end well in the southern countries of the USA. We had this experience one Saturday afternoon when we drove regardless over a downed chain with the sign “private – non trespassing” and suddenly found ourselves in front of a house. The owner urgently warned us to refrain from such adventures, as there were plenty of weapons lying around in every house and car and certain landowners would shoot first and only afterwards ask why we were there. These words of warning went deep under both our skins and, somewhat frightened, we found the right way back onto legal paths and roads.
We did not skip the trip to the Skywalk because of the shooting irons: We would have grudgingly paid the price, but when the nice lady at the cash desk pointed out to us the exact procedure that we were not allowed to take cameras onto the Skywalk, we immediately turned around and left the shop, where tons of tourists were booking some ultimate adventure. Actually, we would have liked to look down through the glass floor onto the Colorado River a thousand metres below.
Las Vegas was only a few kilometres west of us and why not spend a night in this glittering world. Hardly thought, already booked! We drove through dry stone deserts to this oasis, where apparently everything is possible, provided you have enough dollars in your pocket. In this city, everything is oversized and even the hotels outdo each other. We were no longer surprised that an ice hockey final was being played in the middle of this desert; when it’s hot, they just cool it down until the power lines glow.
We found no real warmth in this world where everything glittered and shone and the 24-hour hustle and bustle on the “Strip” did not appeal to us at all. We skipped the luck at the one-armed bandits or the blackjack table as well as the lucky ball at roulette; no, Las Vegas was not our thing! So we packed our things again and were glad to have booked only one night in this fairytale hotel.
After the surreal world in the Las Vegas valley, we followed the highway further west out into the vast countryside. As our delivery from Europe was delayed even further, we made our way further west. Why not drive through the Dead Valley, where it can get up to 54°C? Thought – done, and there we were on the pass that took us down to 80 metres below sea level. Yes, it was hot, but we didn’t experience the deadly temperatures during our stay. Instead, perhaps this is the sensation, we experienced a thunderstorm and rain in the evening.
Unfortunately, the Hunter Pass into the northern part of the national park was still closed due to the snow closure (!) and we already thought that we would have to drive eastwards again towards Arizona. A sheriff recommended, by the way, that we drive our jeep a little further south over the Mengel Pass, where we would find our absolute solitude. This tip was really spot on, and this pass led us back into “Death Valley” from the west. It’s crazy what you’re allowed to drive in the USA, and it’s all legal.
Since large areas in the southern part of Utah are closed off by the military, we inevitably had to pass through Las Vegas again, but this time we drove with our jeep from south to north through the entire “Strip”. Again amazement at the hustle and bustle on the pavements and the “see and be seen” on the streets. Really, a crazy city, where already in the afternoon they advertise for the big evening business with all kinds of methods. We didn’t succumb to these temptations and steered our jeep nicely out into the wide and lonely landscape north of the Colorado River.
Our next destination was the north side of the Grand Canyon, which we could not visit 4 years ago due to snow. Almost by chance we met a couple of the Panamericana travel group. Yes, there was already a lot to talk about and further plans were diligently exchanged. We were almost a little disappointed by the visit to the North Rim; or were we already too saturated with the endless impressions? Although the north side doesn’t come close to the views of the south side at Grand Canyon Village, it was still impressive and memories of Copper Canyon in Mexico came back.
To get to Flagstaff, you have to take a long diversions around the Grand Canyon, which is almost normal by American standards, but can be an incredibly long distance for our European sensibilities. In return, the landscape always has big surprises in store. From forest fires, sleet and hail to scenic highlights where not every tourist goes.
Despite the abundance of impressions, we decided to drive to the South-Rim of the Grand Canyon again. The crowds on the panorama road were enormous, many people wanted to look into the depths of the canyon. And yet, it was once again a wonderful experience to look down into the Colorado River, which lies about a thousand metres below. Grand Canyon Village was very busy on this beautiful weekend and we had no chance to find a free parking space in the local campground; everything was completely booked. The nearby National Forest was our salvation and a wonderful spot gave us a very quiet night under the twinkling stars.
Until we reached Flagstaff, we chose the most direct route across the vast landscape, where probably no normal American traveller would ever drive. But here are the landscapes that the pioneers used to experience. Today, the locals drive their ATVs and off-road vehicles over these old trails and enjoy the touch of the earlier immigrants with their covered wagons. We also count ourselves among them and dusted through the vast steppe landscape!
In Flagstaff, our visit and the collection of the ordered goods from Europe finally worked out. The last minor repairs were also done and we waited for more spare parts. But already our wanderlust urged us to continue our journey into the lonely wilderness of the southern states. Yes, we could stay in each state for several weeks and still not have seen and experienced everything!
We set our compass once in the direction of Monument Valley, but there will certainly be many more crazy things to experience until then.
Chantal and Tom/June 2023
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