The plan was pretty simple in the beginning: fly into Las Vegas, grab a room, and get a few hours of rest, before heading out to see the wonders of southern Utah. It was a good plan, but it didn’t happen, and it’s all because I’m kinda cheap.
For several days, I desperately searched for a decent hotel room that wouldn’t be terribly expensive. When I booked my ticket, I didn’t think about my arrival being on a Friday night, one of the most expensive nights of the week to stay in Vegas. Everything was more than $100, a lot of money for just a little sleep. When I finally gave up on the bargain hunt, I looked at the map, and came up with another plan.
“Why not,” I thought, “drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for sunrise?”
I had been to the south rim a couple of times, but never visited the north side. Now, I had the chance to use those wasted nighttime hours to cover hundreds of miles, and start the first day of my trip in a place I had never seen before. It was a great plan.
So, I grabbed a burger at In-N-Out (one of two places I always try to eat when in Vegas–Garduno’s at the Palms is the other) …
… and headed out. Okay, I didn’t really drive by the famous Las Vegas sign. It’s on the south end of the strip, and I was headed north up I-15. I just thought I’d throw it in here. At any rate, within minutes, I was on my way into the southern Nevada desert, and the lights of the big city disappeared behind me.
The next few hours are kinda a blur. I know I stopped for gas in St. George (the tank was still 3/4 full, but I knew there wouldn’t be many other stations out there). As I bought a few snacks for the drive, I told the clerk I was headed for the North Rim. To my amazement, she askedme, “How far is it from here?” I wanted to respond, “You mean the greatest natural wonder in America is nearby, and you don’t even know how far away it is?” Instead, I just said, “I think about 3 more hours.”
For the next 160 miles, there was a lot of darkness, and not many cars. Beyond Hurricane, there were only a couple of towns, including the somewhat creepy Colorado City, Arizona, home to a breakaway sect of the Mormon church (which still believes, quite strongly, in polygamy, and recently provided a home to one of the FBI’s ten most wanted, Warren Jeffs). I kept a close eye on the speedometer, and didn’t dare stop for a picture. I’ve heard they don’t like outsiders, and I had no desire to get to know them, either.
At Fredonia, I turned onto US Alt-89, and not far afterwards, I saw the last car of the night. Once I turned onto the park entrance road, I was really all alone. No one was manning the park entrance gate at 4 a.m. I drove on through. The park speed limit, 45 mph, seemed a bit slow, until I started seeing tiny dots of light, reflecting off the eyes of deer, at the side of the road. I took it slow.
I rolled into the Cape Royal parking lot around 5 a.m., still all alone. I had hoped for a brief nap before the sun came up, but there was already a glow on the horizon. Sunrise wouldn’t wait for me. I unpacked some warm clothes, and headed down a nearly-dark trail.
And that’s where Day 1 begins…
Note: This trip was first published in 2007.