James’s Birthday in the Grand Canyon & how one man saved Route 66

We had no idea that the world famous Route 66 ran parallel to the main highway connecting Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon National Park.

We also had no idea that the motel we’d booked in to before heading to the canyon was in the town credited with revitalising the so-called Mother Road.

IMG_9298Seligman was also reportedly the inspiration for the Disney/Pixar film Cars, thanks to the rusty classics dotted around town.

This all meant our trip to one of the wonders of the world came with a two-for-one bonus; a slice of old school Americana on the historic Mother Road.

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Seligman feels crystallised in the some bygone American era, where men drive Harleys, women serve coffee in diners and Elvis plays on the jukebox.  It’s literally a one-road town, and that road happens to be Route 66.

It thrived until the 1980s, when the new Interstate 40 literally cut the town off from through traffic. Traffic virtually disappeared overnight.

IMG_9278Fed up of his neighbours starving, local barber Angel Delgadillo set up the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona to revive his town’s fortunes.

He campaigned for “Historic Route 66” signage on the road, and gradually tourists began returning to his sleepy town.

IMG_9330Today, the town’s been turned in to a theme-park pastiche of its former self, full of souvenir shops selling metal Route 66 signs, coasters, t-shirts and shot glasses, ironically most of it made in China or Canada.

Coach loads of tourists turn up each day to check out its spit and sawdust bars, classic diners and thrift shops.

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Angel Delgadillo’s barbers is the focal point. Many of the classic cars dotted around town have been given painted on eyes in tribute to Cars.

We had no idea about any of this until we turned up to our motel in Seligman and caught the neon-glow of the Route 66 signs against the setting sun.

DSCN3410 2It was a wonderful surprise and we’re glad we spent some time exploring an America we thought only existed in fiction.

Seligman was also a great jumping off point for the Grand Canyon, which was around 2 hours away (a hop, skip and a jump in American terms).

IMG_9126The 100 degree heat in Las Vegas didn’t fill us with hope that trekking the canyon would be very pleasant, but thankfully temperatures were more like 85 out in the sticks.

We started early, packed six litres of water and slathered ourselves in sun cream, ready to trek down in to the Canyon as far as we could go without passing out. Google suggested the South Kaibab trail was best for one-day trails.

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We took 1.5 mile trail along the rim from the Visitors Centre towards South Kaibab, where you’ll be surrounded by tour groups and click-and-go coach loads.

The Canyon is mind-blowing from this vantage, but only by hiking down in to its depths can you appreciate its full majesty, and escape the crowds.

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South Kaibab descends quickly, and you soon lose groups who only want to trek half an hour in to the canyon.

We spent 90 minutes or so getting to Cedar Ridge, where you really do feel engulfed by the sheer size of the rock formations around you.

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We shared the trail with urinating mules and the more hardcore walkers, two of whom suggested we head down even further to the ominously named Skeleton Point.

It was against the advice of a ranger we’d encountered on the way down who reckoned that, with the heat and time of day, Cedar Ridge was about as far as we should go.

But the two walkers who told us to carry on had got there and back in two hours, and it was still only 1pm, so we went for it.

We’re so glad we did. We were told we’d feel fully immersed in the canyon if we kept going, and even see the Colorado River, which was an awesome sight.

 

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From the top, the canyon can feel overwhelming and vast, but from further down you can appreciate the small bits of beauty you’d miss from above.

We trekked about half of the 5000 feet descent to the canyon floor. Only overnight campers get all the way down in one day. It felt like a real achievement. We still had to get back to the top, of course.

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We took it easy, gulped plenty of water and stopped to admire the once in a lifetime views, and still made it back to the top in around 2 hours.

We’ve failed to mention thus far that this was also James’s birthday, so we had to end the day in style. And nothing says style than cheap red wine from a paper cup whilst watching the sun set.

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It might not have been classy, but it was unforgettable. We picked a great spot on the cliff edge at Hopi Point, one of the most popular for sunsets, Chris set up his Go Pro for the inevitable time lapse video, and we watched as the setting sun cast amazing shadows over the rocks below.

P1110163It was not only one of the best sunsets of this or any trip, but the best way to spend James’s 30-something birthday!

We got back to our car in darkness and headed back to our Route 66 motel, capping off perhaps the most American of weekends.

A quick drive back to Vegas beckoned for a flight on to our next destination, the Windy City!

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