Tag Archives: Grand Canyon

Are You Sure About That?

“Oh, no!”

“What?” I asked in the alarm voice that blurts out whenever himself takes a certain tone.

“The weather in Oregon! 30° tonight.”

“Well that’s nothin’ for us,” I replied, relieved. “We’re veterans of 5° nights.” Not that I’d ever want to do that again.

“High of 35° tomorrow with snow showers, 20° tomorrow night, then more snow and it won’t get above freezing the next day,” Jimmy read off the computer screen, as a gnawing dread crept back into my stomach. Three hundred miles of Oregon lay between us and Washington State.

“Maybe we should leave California right now.”

We’d had a good run of pretending it was summer right through the winter with October in Tennessee,

The Smoky Mountains living up to their name.
The Smoky Mountains living up to their name.

November in Myrtle Beach,

Not bathing suit weather but look at that blue sky. The shadows are on purpose, by the way, not photographer ineptitude.
Not bathing suit weather but look at that blue sky. The shadows are on purpose, by the way, not photographer ineptitude.

December in Florida,

January in Texas,

Casa Rio Restaurant on the San Antonio River Walk (Paseo del Río)
Casa Rio Restaurant on the San Antonio River Walk (Paseo del Río)

February in New Mexico and southern Arizona

and only coming a little unstuck at the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona with killer colds nights and ankle deep snow.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon in February and just a little colder than southern Arizona
South Rim of the Grand Canyon in February and just a little colder than southern Arizona

As we’d traveled east and then west, south and then north, sea level to high altitudes and back, we’d vacillated between using the furnace and the air conditioning, wearing swimsuits and shorts and then hauling out our thickest fleeces. But there were always blue skies.

We were prevaricating in California, unwilling to head back to Seattle for booked flights to England. Out of a sense of puerile self-satisfaction, we frequently checked the weather back in Olympia where we lived for one and a half years. As we (mostly) basked in sun and warmth, Jimmy would look it up and say, “Guess what the weather is in Olympia? Showers today, showers tomorrow, rain on Thursday and cloudy with rain later on Friday.” We took pleasure in our good fortune.

Our plan to hang out in the good weather for as long as possible and then tow the trailer 600 miles in two days needed revising. Roller-coaster-ride roads frosted with snow and ice were ahead of us. Jimmy is the wagon master so showing great camaraderie under duress, I locked myself in the bathroom with a cup of tea and my makeup box to let him figure it out.

“We dmff hv wo!!”


“We dun ho wor!! Hahaha!!” and he giggled. Jimmy never giggles. Odd.

The fan heater and radio were both on and I couldn’t make out what he was saying through the closed door. “I can’t hear you!” I bellowed, too idle to turn and open the door as I was in the middle of the delicate process of matching one eye to the other with a rainbow assortment of eye shadow.

The whole trailer then wobbled as Jimmy trotted from the dinette to the bathroom door (all of three steps) to shout through the door, “We don’t have to worry! I thought I looked up the weather in Salem, Oregon, but I looked up Salem, Sweden.” Then we both giggled.  “There’s no snow or freezing weather in Oregon.”

He’s usually quite precise but sometimes I feel like a mum who should be checking Jimmy’s homework.

Poems for Boys (and Girls) Cold! Hungry!

Even the crows were shivering at the Grand Canyon. The poor fellow was reduced to begging. We met them at every turnout. Or was it the same one every time?

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You can’t see Jimmy in there but the crow is staring imploringly at him.

Frozen in Place, Help!

5°F? Surely not.  Our last night at Williams where we camped in order to drive up to the Grand Canyon I slept until about 3:00 a.m. when the cold started to ooze through the walls of the trailer. My freezing nose, all that was exposed, kept me awake. When I could stand it no longer, I leapt out of bed to turn up our blast furnace, put the kettle on for tea and retrieve a thermometer from the outside step. It said 5°.

View from our campsite. Tell me that doesn't look cold!
View from our campsite. Tell me that doesn’t look cold! Those are straw bales insulating the water hookups.

I blinked and looked again certain I’d read it wrong and watched the mercury quickly rise through 10° and 15° in the relative warmth of the trailer. The cold outside didn’t seem to matter at the time as the few cubic yards of the trailer soon cozied up with the fire breathing dragon that is our forced air furnace.

As it happened the cold outside did matter. We soon discovered that the trailer was frozen into place.

We’d pictured in our naïve European minds the whole of Arizona as a sunshine capital, warm and bright in the winter and blazing in the summer. Parts of it are like that. If I’d read Wikipedia beforehand I would have discovered that “the northern third of Arizona is a plateau at significantly higher altitudes than the lower desert” and “extreme cold temperatures are not unknown.” Well I know that now.

Ok you guys from the north, I know that doesn’t look like much snow to you.
Ok you guys from the north, I know that doesn’t look like much snow to you.

Let’s be clear about this. We are tourists traveling in a trailer, not campers who enjoy roughing it. We don’t, and never will, own hiking boots. Any trail requiring more equipment than a pair of trainers is off limits to us. Many people around the world tolerate and cope with frigid temperatures every winter and in considerably less comfort than we are able to afford. Some hardy souls sleep in tents in this weather. For fun. We hate the very idea of it.

I know I'm smiling at the camera but Crikey! it was cold.
I know I’m smiling at the camera but Crikey! it was cold.

The day before, I’d seen an earnest young man, his narrow back heaped with camping gear, stride off from the trailhead at Grandview Point – a viewpoint for sissies and inappropriately shod tourists at the Grand Canyon – and disappear from view at three o’clock in the afternoon. It would soon be dark . . . and cold . . . very, very cold. We stood on the rim and admired the canyon from the chilly height of 7,000 feet. As the backpacker descended from us he would get warmer, even snug on the canyon floor, but I’d visions of the poor fellow sinking into the bowels of hell, at least my version of it.

The plumbing on trailers is vulnerable to freezing weather so we always take precautions when freezing temperatures are predicted, disconnecting hoses, draining tanks and bringing inside the trailer gallon bottles of water for bathing and washing dishes. It was laborious to heat our washing water on the stove but that day it was a way to procrastinate going outside.

When we could put it off no longer and forced ourselves out to begin the hitching process by winding up the corner jacks, our steadying supports, we found they were concreted into the ground. Successive thaws and freezes had done the work. Forcing the mechanisms would break them and little kicks rewarded us with stubbed toes and jarred ankles. Jimmy gave the base of one of the jacks an angry jab with the jack winder and impaled it into his palm, drawing blood and bad words.

Within moments of stepping outside of the trailer we had become numb in the frigid air. We were frantic to leave Williams before having to suffer another arctic night. How could we possibly get out of this predicament?

The Grand Canyon train arriving into our bleak landscape just before dark.
The Grand Canyon train arriving into our bleak landscape just before dark.

You Can’t Get There From Here

“Were you bored out of your mind?”

“No. I enjoyed it. The fellow across the aisle was bored. He woke himself up twice snoring.”

We were killing time and had just been to the cinema to see a film chosen for my sensibilities, not the blood and guts, mumbling gangster type of movie Jimmy prefers.

It seemed that the only purpose of our “world” tour was to see the Grand Canyon and we just couldn’t get there.

We had a deadline for the end of March for flights booked from Seattle and as it would be a 2,200 mile detour added on to the next leg of the tour, it seemed sensible to bide our time for a day or two.

Each of the last three campsites on this leg – Hope, Cottonwood and Prescott, all in Arizona – was a staging post to get us to Williams, Arizona, the nearest practical campsite for us to drive to the Grand Canyon. Now here’s the rub. Williams was snowed in.

Click pic to enlarge.

Waiting for it to become passable and campable (yes, spellcheck, I know that’s not a word. I’m American. I make up words) we’d been for coffee, for lunch, toured the local area including Tuzigoot and Jerome, done laundry, washed the car, made soup, baked a cake, surfed the web, dawdled at the local discount store, hired DVDs, cleaned the trailer inside and out, caught up with correspondence and still couldn’t get near Williams.

After a daytrip to Flagstaff three feet of snow blanketed the entire area and the weather was coming towards us so we retreated further south from Cottonwood to Prescott only to find that it was colder there. I was hoping we’d flee further to Hope, or better still evacuate to Yuma with all the wrinklies baking in the hot Arizona sun for the winter.

090216G'Canyon 001
A little bare patch for us. Looks innocuous doesn’t it?

A good internet signal allowed us to watch the weather and when a day came with no snowflakes falling from the cartoon cloud picture for Williams we made a run for it. It was very beautiful when we arrived. And very white. We hadn’t taken into account that although it wasn’t snowing that day it had already snowed – a lot. What is obvious to normal people isn’t always apparent to us.

We successfully pitched our camp in the sunshine and twinkling snow – someone had occupied and vacated a campsite and left a handy bare spot for us – and the following day we had our first experience of the Grand Canyon from the south rim. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know that it has to be seen to be believed. If you haven’t, words (and pictures) can never do it justice. The vast splendor of the canyon can barely be taken in whilst there.

The weatherman had a little game with us and promised snow for two days and so we hurtled along the rim of the canyon where the National Park Service has made the rugged landscape accessible to tourists, stopping at every viewpoint and snapping hundreds of pictures to get that last perfect shot just before the weather closed in.

Defying the meteorological experts, the vistas became brighter and clearer. Though treacherous underfoot with hard packed snow and ice, even the coach parties dressed in their capris and canvas shoes were able to make the most of the winter viewing. That was in the daytime. The daytime weather was good.

I’m too cold to continue. I’ll see you same time, same place on Friday.