Last Stop Before California...

The Grand Canyon is not what you think. Yes, it is a canyon. Yes, it is grand. However, you cannot even imagine it. You cannot process it. It is grander and more unbelievable than probably anything you've seen before. I still don't think I am convinced of what I saw. I still don't really believe that nature is capable of creating something so complex and beautiful and complicated. I was standing right on the rim, staring into it, and I still didn't believe my eyes.

Because I wasn't totally sure how to approach the Grand Canyon (ha), I decided to take

the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, AZ. My campground was in Williams and it seemed like a nice idea as well as an interesting way to get up there. The Grand Canyon Railways runs twice a day in the off-season (which is right now) at 9:30 am and again at 3:30 pm. Riders are treated to complimentary food and drinks, an entertaining conductor, and - on the way home - a dramatized train robbery. It's fun and hokey and definitely of a bygone era. I enjoyed the train ride because it was pretty relaxing and I didn't have to worry about driving my van and finding a place to park it.

Once inside the park, I had opted to take a bus tour of the rim. The driver was an interesting old guy who had some pretty great stories to tell about the Grand Canyon.

He took us to interesting vantage points along the rim and explained some of what we saw. Unfortunately, it was a gray day and I couldn't help feeling that the views would be even 100x more spectacular in the sunshine. Still, as I said before, I was having some trouble processing it all. A combination of water, wind, and shifting tectonic plates somehow came together to create this massive, surreal landscape? What series of serendipitous circumstances had to occur? And how? And why? I think that when I visit next time, I'll be more prepared. This time, though, it was really too much for me. Regardless, I loved it. It was an awe-inspiring experience.

The following day, I didn't really have any plans and I'd debated about returning to the GC to explore some more. After my brain explosion, though, I decided to try something a little more accessible. So, I made a reservation to tour the nearby Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ. Antelope is a well-documented canyon because it is so beautiful. Tours run all the time and I felt I had to see it for myself.

Pictures of the canyon do it justice, but standing within it is something else entirely. Antelope is a “slot” canyon, which means that it is formed by both wind and water and has only a narrow opening in the top to allow in sunlight. The walls feel loosely sandy. Each mark is evidence of the wind and water that formed the space. It almost swirls around you like the sea. The further inside you go, the chillier the air, less light. And the quality of the light and air seems to grow more tender. There is something almost cozy about the deep interior. And it’s only a quarter mile from end to end, anyway.

The guide pointed out specific places to get the perfect photo: here, the light is shaped like a heart; here, it looks like a candlestick; here, a column of flames. She explained that the most recent flash flood had lifted the sandy floor almost five feet. Soft whispers of

breeze moved around us. Several tours were going at once and some passages were too tight for two people to pass comfortably. I wanted to imagine what it might be like to stand in the dim stillness by myself.

I was lucky enough to meet a pair of sisters on my tour and we had dinner together afterward. It was a nice cap on the day and I was so glad I decided to see Antelope. I don't feel like I've seen enough of the Grand Canyon, but I plan to return and experience it in a way that, hopefully, I can truly enjoy next time!

The next day, I got up early and headed out of Arizona for Nevada. I'd booked myself two nights in Las Vegas. The KOA campground there was located west of the Strip next to Sam's Town Casino. Despite being away from the Strip, the campground felt no less Vegas-y. Outside, at night, neon buzzed and bulbs flashed. Nearby, a hotel was lighted in rainbow colors.

I had long wanted to see the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. It's a boneyard, of sorts, for

discarded signs from defunct casinos, hotels, and restaurants. Up close, these signs are pretty incredible and reflect the long, fascinating history of the city. I loved seeing The Stardust's old sign and, as I toured, the Hard Rock Cafe's enormous guitar was being installed (the casino remains open, it seems, but the restaurant has closed). I love anything that reflects the midcentury and its modern style and this place was a mecca for that. I loved it!

Afterward, I made my way to Frankie's Tiki Room, a Vegas institution that has been there since the 1950s. The interior is dark and, as I remembered the moment I stepped inside, quite smoky thanks to Vegas's rules about indoor smoking (there are none). I enjoyed a classic mai tai, admired the decor, and scooted outta there before I could absorb too much smoke.

Honestly, I was a little sad to leave Arizona. It proved to be so much more interesting than I'd ever have guessed. I think, though, I'm just a little anxious about finally arriving in California. It's officially the west coast and officially the start of a truly unknown part of the journey for me. I can't wait to see it, but I also have some anxiety about it.

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