Arizona Days 8 & 9 – Going Home

The end of the adventure was finally upon us, and after so many hectic days we actually had a day with nothing planned. I got up at 07:00 and went running, but after just half a mile a lightning bolt came down in front of me – after another half mile I decided to cut my run short and turn back having only completed two miles.

After breakfast we packed ready for the flight in the afternoon and we said goodbye to my friend who would be flying to Canada long before we left for England. Me and my sister then headed out into the heat of Phoenix to explore a little. We soon found that the dry heat, although only in the 30s (centigrade) was still warm enough to make us want to keep out of the direct sunlight as much as possible.

We wandered for quite some time but never really found anything worth seeing – though I did take a photograph of Coopertown which is a bar run by the singer Alice Cooper. It appeared that the part of Phoenix we were in was mostly businesses and restaurants so was pretty limited.

By midday we’d given up on looking for anywhere to look around, and so decided we’d eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. I had one of their burgers, but it was difficult to eat as by this point my lips had become so cracked, and bloody from the dry heat that they were too sore to move. I then had an Apple Cobbler for dessert which was quite nice, and was filling enough to know that I could then last until late evening before any more food.

For a while we continued to wander around Phoenix, taking breaks in the shade where we could, but eventually decided we’d get to the airport early and so took the shuttle bus from the hotel – arriving 5 hours early.

Getting through security was relatively quick – my sister again didn’t have any problem getting her medication through though they did have a good look at the amount of candy she was carrying in her backpack. Whilst sitting around waiting I was able to sort through some of my photographs from the trip, and also heard from my friend who had arrived back in Canada before we’d even left.

Over the PA system we also heard that they’d banned the use of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones due to the risk of explosions and were requesting that passengers turn them off and cannot charge them on aircrafts or in the airport. For an airport to specifically name a make and model of a device shows how bad the situation with them must be, especially when the company has recalled all of the devices.

Hours passed and eventually we boarded the flight. It was a bit of organised chaos though as they were trying to get enough people to completely fill a Boeing 747-400 onboard in the space of 20 minutes; but had no space at the gate at all as it was one without a seating area. This was causing confusion from people on where they should queue but eventually we were able to board and take our seats.

Time on the plane home passed quickly as I watched the classic film “Chariots of Fire”, and also an episode of “Blackadder The Third”. For the first of the meals on the plane there was dinner shortly after reaching cruising altitude – I had chicken arabiatta with cheesecake.

I was in dire need of sleep, but couldn’t. If I was lucky I may have had the odd few minutes of sleep here and there when I closed my eyes, but for the most part I was awake. About an hour before we were due to land they served a full English breakfast – the first meal across the flights that hadn’t been too good.

The plane landed almost 30 minutes early, before they’d had chance to hand out the immigration cards to those that would need them. As a result passengers were told that they couldn’t put their tray tables down for leaning on as we were too close to landing.

Fortunately immigration and baggage collection didn’t take too long and I could travel the remaining (just over) 2 hours home by car. After almost 33 hours awake, I could finally sleep.

It had been a busy week travelling around the state of Arizona and had seen so much. We’d driven 1,962 miles, and on top of that, although not much, I’d run or walked for 41.28 miles across the week meaning I’d covered over 2,000 miles. There’s definitely places where we could have spent more time, but I’m glad the itinerary I’d planned worked out as well as it did. Hopefully next time I visit the US it will be at least as successful as this grand adventure.

Arizona Day 7 – Grand Canyon

Breakfast at the B&B we were staying at was to be served precisely at 08:00, leaving us just enough time for us to get ready for our mornings activity. The owner of this place had prepared a buffet of bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast, and bagels though with the flight ahead we decided to eat lightly. She also recommended to us some directions to where we could hike to the Canyon rim and get a view of it that most tourists don’t get to see.

We got to the Grand Canyon airport at around 09:15 and after eventually finding the Papillion terminal, we found that our tour was being operated from a different building. They did however provide a shuttle bus to take us to the correct location which was just down the road.

Upon arrival at the airport they took our weights and then we had to wait. This took even longer than anticipated though as their computer systems failed which meant they couldn’t calculate the weight distributions for the flight. My friend commented that they should be able to work this out on paper, but perhaps this was something the staff weren’t used to doing.

After 40 minutes of grounded helicopters they got this sorted and we boarded the Airbus EC-130 helicopter for our aerial tour of the Grand Canyon. Myself and my friend had paid the extra $50 each to get the front seats of the helicopter as it meant for better photography opportunities. Before take off they even clean the front windows to make sure they’re as clean as possible. As we boarded the helicopter we were helped with fitting the safety harnesses, and then put on the headsets to block out most of the rotor noise, and to allow for communication onboard.

The flight started by going fast over the trees so that when we finally crossed over the canyon rim the helicopter could slow down and let us take in the view below us. The tour took us over quite a large portion of the canyon, including the north rim and a convergence where the Colorado River meets the Little Colorado River causing a mixture of brown and green water.

The pilot’s music selection was fairly good too, starting with “Three Little Birds” as we took off, followed by “Beautiful Day”, “Danger Zone” (from Top Gun), and at the time we crossed into the canyon it was the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” that played. She also knew a lot about the Canyon, and the efforts in the area to restore the number of Californian Condors.

The Grand Canyon is a place of importance to the different native American tribes that live around the area, and each group has a different name for it. During the time of the Spanish Conquistador’s the European explorers tried to find a point to cross it but were told that none existed. Despite this though they were able to eventually find a crossing along this 277 mile long, 18 mile wide, and 1 mile deep chasm in the land.

It has taken between 5 to 40 million years (depending on which scientific studies you follow) for the Grand Canyon to become what we could see from the helicopter. Although the canyon was carved by the Colorado River, it has also been a product of uplift which has brought 2 billion year old rocks to the surface.

By the time the tour was over and we’d left the visitor centre it was already 11:30 so we had limited time left in the park before we’d need to start our journey home. To start with we stopped off at the visitor centre to buy some lunch to take with us, and then drove north-east until we reached Desert View Point.

At this stop we sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon and had lunch in the sun next to an old lookout tower. Once we’d finished eating we had a look inside the tower as well, but due to conservation efforts we couldn’t go up to the top. We didn’t really need to though as we’d already been able to look down into the canyon.

On the drive back to the visitor centre we stopped at each viewpoint to take more photographs of the canyon. This took a couple of hours and by the time we left the national park it was already 15:00. To make sure we could get back to Phoenix okay we filled up with more fuel at the gas station in Valle and then drove on for a couple of hours before changing over driver again.

I took over the driving for the last 100 miles that started just before sunset and continued on into the evening. This bit reminded me a little of some of the driving I did in California when driving back to San Jose as they were similar conditions and scenery. Before we made it all the way back we stopped just outside Phoenix in Happy Valley for an evening meal.

For food we went in TGI Fridays where I had chicken, a jacket potato and vegetables. The service there was really good, and it was one of the best meals of the holiday. After a brief visit to Walmart we were back on the road and just 30 minutes from the hotel.

Once we’d checked back into the Marriott we emptied the car as quickly as we could and then left my sister at the hotel as me and my friend headed to the airport to drop the car off. It took a while to find a fuel station at the airport, but fortunately I spotted one on the satnav so that when we dropped the car off it’d have a full tank.

Having dropped off the car it was then a bit of a mission to get back to the hotel. We had to take a shuttle bus from the car rental place to Terminal 4, then find our way across the terminal to the domestic arrivals where we waited to be picked up by the hotel shuttle bus. Eventually we got back to the hotel just before 22:00 so we could begin the task of packing for the flights ahead of us.

Arizona Day 6 – Monument Valley

I had hoped to go for a morning run whilst in Kayenta, but at the time I’d need to go out, even for a short 5K run, it would have been in complete darkness. As I didn’t have my head-torch on me I had no choice but to miss another run.

We went for breakfast at 06:30 so that we could get to the Monument Valley visitor centre around the opening time. The problem though is that the restaurant didn’t open on time, and then it took almost 30 minutes to get our blueberry pancakes. Me and my friend received our juices a good 10 minutes before my sister was given hers as well. We did however also order some packed lunch to take with us, though this took quite some effort as the waitress couldn’t remember what they had.

When we finally left the hotel it was about 30 minutes later than we’d hoped, but we still arrived at the visitor centre not too long after it had opened. We found that the “Wildcat” trail which was a 5K hike was closed indefinitely which meant all we could do was the 17 mile drive around the valley. This really disappointed my sister who was looking forward to the walk, but at least we were still going to get to see the valley.

Monument Valley is on Navajo land and is run by them as a popular tourist attraction. It was created during the Paleozoic era when the ground here which was once beneath the sea was forced up, and by the time of the Jurassic era had hardened into rock creating the formations we see today.

The drive around monument valley is on unpaved road, and wouldn’t really be suitable for anything other than 4×4; but we did see smaller cars struggle around (including an Aston Martin). Along the valley drive there are 11 official stops, but there’s also various other places where it’s safe to pull off the road and take photos. We did of course make sure we stopped at every one and this took around 3 hours to complete.

At John Fords Point Overlook there was also the opportunity to have your photograph taken on a horse for $5, though this is something we didn’t really have time to wait for as they were still setting up. At the stop for “The Thumb” there is also a drive further out to “North Window Overlook” where you can hike along a short trail. The loop eventually ends with it overlapping some of the road travelled along previously so that it finishes back at the visitor centre.

We sat outside, looking at the landscape around us and ate our packed lunch before starting the drive back to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. My sister had been feeling a little off so it wasn’t a pleasant drive for her, but by the time we made a stop in Cameron, an old trading post, she had been feeling considerably better.

More time passed and eventually we crossed into the Grand Canyon National Park though it was some time before we reached the actual entrance. Before entering we made a stop at a viewpoint where we could go for a walk along the canyon edge and look down. This offered what I thought at the time to be great views of the canyon.

Once we’d finished at the viewpoint we drove straight through the park and onward to the Dumplin Patch bed and breakfast where we’d be staying at in Valle. The check-in here was simple – I just confirmed my name and was then shown to a room as this one had been pre-paid for. Having dropped off our luggage we then drove back into the Grand Canyon National Park.

Our first stop was the visitor centre, but we arrived at it’s door at 17:00 – the exact time it closed. Instead we walked around to the back of it to where Mather Point is located. It was difficult taking photographs however due to the long shadows from the setting sun, but it was an impressive sight. It looked far more amazing that the viewpoint we’d seen earlier.

When we moved on we drove around to another viewpoint and walked along some of the edge until it was almost time for sunset. This one allowed us to get pretty close to the edge, and to take photographs without a railing or other tourists in the way.

Before the sun had set we were on our way back through Tusayan and looking for somewhere to eat. We went with the Yippee-ei-o Steakhouse that did amazingly big meals for very reasonable prices. We all went for the chicken option that came with a jacket potato, corn on the cob, beans, salad, and a scone (which they refer to as biscuit).

We were then back in Valle before 20:00 so we could relax before the final day.

Arizona Day 5 – Mesa Verde

This was the only day that didn’t have breakfast included so we needed to drive into town to find somewhere. My friend decided we weren’t heading out for breakfast until after 08:00 though so it was a slow morning getting ready so that we’d be at the Mesa Verde visitor centre just after 09:00. If we didn’t want a repeat of yesterday then we’d need to leave Mesa Verde by 16:00 MDT in order to get into Kayenta (back in Arizona) for a reasonable time.

For breakfast we drove into Cortez proper and drove down the Main Street. We had decided to eat at Beny’s Diner as it was the first we found on Google and was also recommended to us by the motel owner. I went with an egg dish that came with potato, two slices of bacon, two small sausages and 2 rounds of toast – but I asked for the egg dish without the egg. I also had an apple juice and a cup of tea, but the timing of them being delivered meant some of it had to be consumed cold.

Once we’d finished we made one short stop at Walmart before continuing on to the Mesa Verde visitor centre. When we got there we found the only guided tour we could do would be the Balcony House one which had a 32 foot ladder climb to do. My friend wasn’t too keen on the idea of this, but as guided tours are the only way of seeing the cave dwellings up close we didn’t really have a choice.

The guided tour cost $12 for the three of us, and once we’d driven up to the park entrance this was a further $10. Up until now my friend had been driving, but after doing the first part of the drive up onto the mesa my friend found the vertigo was too much so at the first viewpoint I took over the driving.

We stopped at a few more viewpoints that gave some good views, but there were also a number we didn’t bother with as they’d have given us similar views to what we’d already seen. When we reached a large crossroads we drove along another long loop, but decided we wouldn’t have time to get out of the car at the end so drove back to the main road and onwards in the direction of the museum stop.

By the time we got to the museum it was after midday so we stopped for some food – I had a turkey and cheese roll that came with a packet of barbecue crisps. Whilst there I saw another tarantula crawling along the wall, but didn’t have the right camera on me for photographing it properly.

When we left the museum stop we headed straight for the loop that included the Balcony House stop, but as we had a tour booked for 14:00 we missed out some of the stops. We did however get in one stop where we could look down onto one of the cave dwellings but we couldn’t get that close.

At the Balcony House stop we stood around waiting for the guide, and found that when he arrived he talked a lot – but was in fact a good guide. He started off by describing the route we’d be taking and then after giving a safety briefing took our tickets and led us down to the start of the actual tour. He stopped quite a few times to talk about various things which meant by the time we got to the 32 foot ladder climb at the start it was already 14:30.

My sister had hoped to look around these dwellings, but despite my best efforts to help her climb them she had to get back down and walk back to the start to wait for me. I was already passed the “point of no return” so wasn’t able to go back to join her. The guide though shook my hand for my attempt at talking her up the ladder. My friend however, despite his vertigo, was able push on and climb up.

The proper tour started with the guide talking about the courtyard we were in, and then moved onto a middle section with two large pits, and then finally onto another area where there were three rooms. This was a pretty big group which made taking photographs very difficult, but by holding back I was able to take some photographs as people moved on.

This UNESCO World Heritage site was inhabited by Paleo-Indians as long ago as approximately 7500 BCE. The cliff dwellings we were now there to see weren’t built until the 12th Century however. This culture abandoned the site a few generations after it’s completion due to droughts in the area. The Navajo considered these peoples to be enemies and referred to them as Anasazi, but the correct name for them are the Puebloans. Centuries later the Ute mountain people believed these dwellings to be the sacred homes of their ancestors, though they still weren’t “discovered” by Western explorers until the late 1800s after which they eventually became protected as a national park.

At the end of the tour we had to crawl on hands and knees through a tight crawl space into a sort of room, which we could then walk forward a couple of steps in, and then had to crawl on hands and knees out the other side. This was then followed by another short ladder climb, and then a precarious walk up the side of a cliff face to another ladder that took us back up to the level of the road.

We met back up with my sister who was disappointed with herself for not having been able to make it around, but she was in good spirits. The tour had overrun by about 30 minutes which meant we were now behind schedule and still had a little over an hour of driving to get out the park. We did slow down briefly though to photograph a stag that was grazing near a T-junction.

Once off the cliffs my friend took over the driving again once we reached the visitor centre and from there drove us back through Cortez and onwards to the Four Corners Monument. This drive took about 75 minutes but we got there just before they were due to close. Instead of the entrance fee being per vehicle it was $5 per person.

Inside they have a sign up saying “Limit of 3 photos per person”. I assume that’s to stop people hogging the point where the four states meet so that others can have their photos taken too, though regardless I still took as many photographs as I wanted as it seems wrong to not inform people of a limit until after they’ve paid. We each had our photo taken where we were standing in all 4 states. There wasn’t really much to see there though so we were soon on our way again.

The road from there was long and straight – you could see it reaching for miles in front of us with nothing in sight. To be on the safe side, when we passed a gas station we filled up again – at least it’d mean we could do Monument Valley on the following day without needing to fill up first.

As we arrived in Kayenta the sun had just finished setting. This was the first time we had to join a long queue for checking in as it appears a large tour group had arrived just ahead of us. We did find out however that as Kayenta is so close to the border that it observes daylight savings time, so we were still on the same time as when we’d been in Colorado and New Mexico. Both of the keycards for one of the rooms were faulty, the first time we’d encountered it on this trip, so I had to get that sorted before we could go for food.

As it had been 8 hours since we’d had lunch we decided we’d eat in the hotel’s restaurant instead of going out to find somewhere else. I had a New York steak with carrots, broccoli, mashed potato, and a bread roll. It was quite a sizeable steak and the food was actually some of the best we’d had on this trip. Though considering some of the places we’ve had to resort to, it’s hardly surprising.

Arizona Day 4 – Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest

Before the sun had started to rise I was out running around the streets of Flagstaff. It was cold out there though – I was in brief shorts and a t-shirt which was not ideal for sub-zero temperatures. I kept the run short and slow as at 7,000 feet above sea level I decided it would probably become hard work. As I got back to the Super 8 motel, the sun was rising on another day of adventure.

Today’s journey would have us stop along various parts of Route 66, the historical road which runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, and drive almost 200 miles of the road before leaving it to travel through New Mexico into Colorado. First though we had breakfast – a very basic breakfast where the choices were oatmeal, cinnamon roll, toast, apple or orange juice, and tea or coffee. There wasn’t even enough seating for everyone as it was in the lobby.

Our first stop along historic Route 66 was the Meteor Crater – a meteorite impact site which is more formerly known as the Barringer crater. Although it’s far from unique, this 1 mile wide crater dates back 50,000 years meaning it’s one of the youngest known impact sites.

The entry here was $18 but does have an optional guided tour available. We didn’t bother with this but didn’t realise that this would be the only way to go out on one side of the rim. Our reasoning for not bothering with it was that we were short on time so quickly looked around the museum area and went outside onto the part of the rim that didn’t require a guide.

There’re various viewing points along this that let you look down into the crater. In the centre of the crater you can also see where previously there had been mineshafts sunk into the crater for mining precious rocks. This was an unsuccessful mine however as Barringer never found the iron ore that Roosevelt had allowed his company to dig for. Unlike some craters such as Ngorongoro, this one has no wildlife and no trees inside giving this a very different look and feel.

We spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop there – I bought an amethyst and quartz sphere, a goniatite fossil, and a Kachina figure. The kachina figure is a replica of the sort of doll that the Pueblo cultures would give to children and were the personifications of spirits. The one I bought represented a Zuni rain priest.

As we left here I took over the driving and got us to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert visitor centre. There we picked up a map of the trails and paid the $20 entrance fee – this was a per-vehicle charge, rather than per-person as other places had been.

The first part of the drive is for the painted desert – there’s quite a few stops, but we stopped at all of them. At one we left the car behind and walked for about a mile along the cliff face, looking down at the different shades of the painted desert. We could see someone walking along a trail down there when we reached the end of the trail, but we decided we didn’t have time to go down there ourselves.

After we’d done all of the stops for the painted desert we headed back to the visitor centre to get some lunch. There was a massive queue there though and my friend decided the food wasn’t very good so after I’d bought a piece of petrified wood we moved on. From there I drove 15 miles down the road to Navajo where they’d got a Subway at the services. I got a 6” steak and cheese sub on Italian bread, and two cookies. Though it didn’t seem the best of subways as they managed to get the orders wrong too. We also took the opportunity to (almost) fill up the gas tank as well.

After eating we drove back to the visitor centre and this time drove straight through the painted desert drive until we’d crossed Route 66 and had reached the first of the Petrified Forest view points. The first couple of stops offered us views of petroglyphs from 650 to 2,000 years ago, some of which at Puerco Pueblo are near to some ruins.

A couple of the places need you to do a couple of miles driving off the main road, and some offer long walks. We didn’t have time to do the walks, and in all honesty we didn’t really have time to do all of the viewpoints either – but we still stopped at every one. One of these, Crystal Forest, also allowed us to walk up close to the petrified wood so we could get some photographs.

After a quick stop at the museum to use it’s facilities, we swapped over drivers and left the Petrified Forest at round 16:30. We were two hours behind schedule by this point so we knew we’d be getting into Colorado long after sunset.

Eventually we made it back onto the interstate and drove along it until we’d crossed the border into New Mexico and reached the city of Gallup. As we’d crossed the border the sun had set and it had started to get dark – we’d also changed time zones so we were now an hour later than before. By the time we left civilisation behind and started travelling north it was completely dark – there weren’t even any street lights.

Time passed, and we hit 22 miles of roadworks where the speed limit varied between 45 mph and just 25 mph. It was slow progress, but my friend did well to stay focussed on the drive. With about 2 hours left to go we made a stop at a gas station to top back up and to see if they knew where the nearest food place was. Apparently the nearest food place was in Shiprock which was just over an hour’s drive away. It was almost 20:00 in Mountain time, so we were weary that a lot of food places might be starting to close by the time we got there.

When we reached Shiprock we soon found a place to eat – McDonalds. I’ve not eaten there for around 7 years, if not more, as I’m not particularly fond of their food. By this point though it had just turned 21:00 so we didn’t really have a choice. We found that the White Eagle Inn we’d be staying in overnight had called us during the drive so we had to call them back to let them know we were running late and wouldn’t be getting in until about 22:30.

In McDonalds I had some fries and 10 pieces of chicken nuggets – enough to keep me going until morning. It wasn’t long after leaving here that we crossed the border into Colorado and soon found ourselves arriving at the hotel in Cortez – by this time it was 22:15 and we were exhausted.

Arizona Day 3 – On The Road To Route 66

Finally I’d been able to get some sleep and was ready for another early start. My sister had been out early at the gym and we all met back up for breakfast. This wasn’t quite as good as yesterday’s, but was still okay.

Our first stop of the day was at the Mission San Xavier del Bac which was only a short drive away. This Spanish Catholic mission is open to the public and is free to enter. There is the main part of the building with the altar (which we couldn’t see due to scaffolding), a small chapel in a separate building with many lit candles inside (making it incredibly warm in there), and a gift shop. There are a couple of rooms considered to be a museum as well, but there’s not much there due to conservation work. You can however see into the courtyard from there, even though you’re not allowed to enter it.

It didn’t take us very long to look around the Mission however which meant that we got to the Titan Missile Museum almost 45 minutes before they were due to open. We sat in the car for a while to stay out of the sun, and the place opened exactly on time. The tour cost $9.50 per person and lasted a little over an hour. Each tour is run on the hour, every hour, and is guided tours only. This starts with a short orientation video telling you about the sight, and some of it’s history.

The Titan Missile Museum is one of many missile silos around the Tucson area that were built in the space of a few months during the cold war as a nuclear deterrent. This was the United States’ reaction to their belief the USSR wanted world domination, just as the USSR thought the same of the US. This of course meant that both sides were building arms they claim they didn’t want to use and caused the creation of a massive stockpile that were later mostly decommissioned. This museum was one of these places, but the missile was not the original – the one here had never been fuelled.

The tour then continued outside where you could see the large concrete structure which was the silo entrance, and also some stairs which would take you down into the silo complex. Once underground there are then four blast doors which were made from concrete and steel and would protect the people inside the base from a nuclear attack. Everything of importance was fixed on springs also so that they could survive the shock of an attack.

The first room inside the base was the important one – it was where two of the four man staff would wait for the launch order. If they received this the two officers would then verify the order and with the launch codes would prepare the missile for launch. They had a “rule of two” on the base so that nobody could ever be alone, unless they were in the “downtime” room. This was due to the paranoia of the time and making sure that everybody was always watched.

Each of these silos would house one missile that could respond to a call to arms within 58 seconds. The Titan II predecessor however would take around 40 minutes due to the need to fuel them before launch. In the case of these missiles, the Titan II, they were already fuelled with a butterfly valve separating the two parts. When the officers turned their keys this was the point of no return – the missiles would mix the fuel and once the concrete blocks at it’s base were blasted away the missile would launch.

We then got taken down a long corridor where we could see into the launch silo and the Titan II missile that was sitting in there. We were told a little more about it’s launch and the damage control following it’s launch (there’d be fires to put out in the silo).

Back on the surface we had a look down the silo opening to see the massive missile, and also walked over to a shed like structure where it’s rocket engines were located. We had to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes though as apparently they’re a problem here. There were also a number of peculiar looking devices surrounding the area which were used as radar, which when crossed would trigger an alarm on the base. If set off, the people on the base wouldn’t respond though, instead it would be a security team from offsite.

Once back on the road we started the long drive up to Flagstaff. After quite some time we stopped before we reached Phoenix and had lunch at the IHOP in Casa Grande. This wasn’t too bad I guess, but was a little too filling for a lunch. I had a sweet chicken sandwich that came with fries. We didn’t stop again after that until we stopped for the restroom and to top up the fuel at Cordes Junction. By this point we didn’t have long until our next stop – Red Rock State Park.

By the time we reached the entrance to the state park it was 16:30, and although they didn’t close until 17:00 it was already too late – they’d closed the gates. Instead we drove along a road until we found a place to park up and walked out across the landscape until we found a good spot for photographing the red rocks around us.

We stopped a few more times before leaving the area, and then continued our journey to Sedona and straight through to the Oak Creek scenic drive. By this time the sun was starting to set which meant some of the colours on the red rocks looked really good and so had to make a few more stops to make sure we got some photographs. One of these viewpoints was on the other side of a high bridge which reminded me of one along Big Sur in California.

From there the road ascends higher into the mountains as it winds around, and for every mile we did it got darker. Eventually it levelled off and around the same time it got completely dark – but we weren’t that far from Flagstaff now.

The Super 8 motel wasn’t too hard to find and was directly on Route 66 – the famous road that runs across America. Next door to this was a restaurant called the Village Inn; both me and my sister had the same there – the turkey meal that came with stuffing, gravy, mashed potato and a scone. My sister didn’t eat much of hers though as she didn’t like the potato being cold, but she wouldn’t complain about it either. As all three of us hadn’t had a great meal we also had a dessert, so I had a slice of apple pie.

Once again it’d been another long day, and by the time we were back in the hotel it was around 20:30.

Arizona Day 2 – The OK Corral

Although I’d been tired, I hadn’t slept that well. An alarm outside somewhere had gone off frequently, and I just couldn’t sleep. I got up at 06:15 and started getting ready for the long day ahead. At the Springhill Suites we were staying at the breakfast starts at 07:00 on a Sunday so we wanted to be ready to have breakfast then so that we could be on the road as early as possible.

As we left the hotel it started to rain, and by the time we were in the car and on the road it had intensified considerably. Our first stop though was at the local Walmart so we could buy some water – this was incredibly cheap at $2.98 for 32 bottles. After this though we could start our journey in earnest.

The rain did stop eventually, but it also started again a number of times as rain clouds passed over us. By the time we reached Tombstone it had been dry for some time and was starting to get warmer. It took a while for us to find some parking, but we eventually found some near the old Court House which had an honesty box to put $3 into.

To start with we wandered down part of the main street before walking into the OK Corral shop where we bought tickets for the show at 11:00 for $10 per person. As we’d got some time to wait we headed back out wand looked around the rest of the town and also spotted a sandwich diner we could eat at later.

The reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral started off with introducing us to some of the backstory. Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury were cowboys (the villains of the story) who had been antagonising and threatening the Earp family – all of which were lawmen in Tombstone. Eventually this got to a point where the Earps (Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt) and Doc Holliday confronted these outlaws outside the CS Fly photography store (not the OK Corral) and shots were fired killing three of the outlaws. One of the surviving outlaws, Ike Clanton, filed murder charges against the lawmen, though these were eventually dropped.

The show lasted for almost half an hour, and following this we looked around the museum area before going to the diner near 6th street for lunch. I had a turkey sandwich on wholegrain bread, and this came with plain crisps for $8.95. After we’d finished eating we headed over to the Tombstone Epitaph where we each got a free copy of the paper that had been published the day after the showdown, and photographed some of the classic printing equipment there.

Our plan for the afternoon was to visit the Madera Canyon, a recommendation from our Grandad due to the number of wild birds he’d seen whilst there. This was going to take some finding though as the satnav didn’t have the location for it. To start with I looked at Google Maps and decided that we would need to get to Sonoita first and then get onto Highway 83.

This went according to plan and eventually we saw a turn on the left we turned off onto. This road quickly deteriorated into an unmaintained gravel path that meant progress was slow. We had no idea how far along this we’d need to go either, it was just a guess based upon the map I’d been looking at.

The winding trail continued for quite some time, with numerous bumps in the road. Eventually we stopped at a clearing where they had a map marked as “OVH” and it indicated that we were on the right path to Madera Canyon, but was nowhere near it yet. Whilst here I saw some large black insects that looked a little like grasshoppers, but they could cover massive distances and flashed with red as they jumped.

More time passed, and we even had to make a couple of ford crossings – one of which after the Apache reservation was partly blocked by a fallen tree. I tried to move it but couldn’t do it alone. Instead we decided we might be able to drive between the tree and the embankment so me and my sister guided my friend through the small gap.

Not long after this though we had to turn back. We’d reached a dead end as the road reached a fence across the path where it could no longer be followed by vehicle. The map hadn’t indicated this, so disappointingly we turned back and headed back to the main road faster than what we’d gotten there originally.

Back on the main road it wasn’t long before we saw a signpost for Madera Canyon, and another turning. It turned out that the road we’d travelled down had been the wrong one! This one was a proper road for the first few miles but then changed to a dirt track which the sign posts referred to as a mountain pass. The road twisted around as it climbed through the mountains and at one point we decided it’d be good to stop to take photos of the scenery. We also noticed that by now the car was an absolute mess – coated in the reddish powdery sand that had coated the trails.

Eventually we were back on tarmac road for the remainder of the journey to Madera Canyon. The visitor centre was closed and said to use the honesty boxes to pay for parking wherever we parked up. We decided to travel to the end of the road before parking up, and here it was $5 along with a form to fill in. Whilst my friend did this, he noticed a tarantula crawling across the floor so called me over.

After a few photos we joined my sister and went for a walk off the trail and down to a very weak waterfall. We didn’t stay long and soon headed back to the car, where the tarantula had by this time moved to in front of ready for a few more close-up pictures.

Down the road we stopped again at a place where they had a number of feeders set-up for hummingbirds. Although it was getting dark, there were still plenty about so we sat and watched them for some time, including both male and female Arizona woodpeckers that we could see on a tree in the distance.

We left the canyon before it got dark and was only 20 minutes outside of Tucson when the sun finally set. We turned off at the junction for the Titan Missile Museum looking for some gas to fill up with before continuing the rest of the way to the Comfort Suites hotel we’d be staying in overnight.

It was about 19:00 by the time we checked in, so quickly got ourselves sorted (including making up the sofa bed I’d be sleeping on) and headed out looking for food. Just minutes after leaving out we found ourselves at a place called Dave’s Famous Barbecue where I decided to go for the tender chicken pieces with potato wedges, barbecue beans, and a muffin.

Once we’d eaten I was exhausted from the lack of sleep and so was asleep a little after 21:00.

Arizona Day 1 – London to Phoenix

Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we were able to have an easy morning to make sure we were completely ready before being driven down to Heathrow airport. This later flight also meant that I could go for a short run in the morning before breakfast and still have time to get to the airport.

At the check-in desk at Heathrow we were told we were lucky that we’d checked in the day before as the flight was full. This made it sound like it was an overbooked flight and so if we hadn’t have done, we may not have got on the flight. Not great when we’d paid for the only direct flight from Heathrow to Phoenix for the day, but fortunately that wasn’t the case – as always I’d checked in online the day before. Security was then the fastest I’ve been through at an international airport – from arriving at the terminal to going through security was only a little over 10 minutes!

After some food from Pret we went looking for an airport employee to talk to. This was because as a side effect from when my sister was ill last year, she needed to have a Dalteparin injection two hours before the flight but needed to know where we could dispose of the needle afterwards.

The time in the airport passed quickly and it was soon time to make our way to the gate ready for our flight to Phoenix. I did see before we boarded though that although we were boarding on time we’d be landing 29 minutes late the other end. This wasn’t helped by us leaving the gate 20 minutes late – but we were in the air at 15:20.

Not long after taking off I started watching “Allegiant” and ate dinner whilst watching this – chicken and rice followed by malted chocolate. Over the hours that followed I also watched “Bad Neighbours 2”, and “The Nice Guys”. We were also served a breakfast about half way into the flight which consisted of a cereal bar, fruit cake, nachos with salsa dip, and a chocolate sweet. A couple of hours before landing they also served a folded pizza – which we could choose between a Mozarella one, or a Chicken and pesto one.

After more than 10 hours we finally landed in Phoenix, though it took 20 minutes from touchdown to getting off the plane and then an hour to get through immigration. This did mean that baggage collection was pretty quick and we soon met up with my friend James. The airport terminal doesn’t have the car hire in the same building so it was a 10 minute shuttle ride to where we could pick-up the car.

Although we’d booked a fairly large car anyway we instead upgraded to a large SUV – a Toyota 4Runner. By large, I do mean massive – my friend commented it was like a tank. The sun had already set by this point, but my friend drove us the 3.3 miles to the hotel where we dropped off our suitcases before heading out for food. Even though it had been dark for a while it was still quite warm out, but we were heading to the nearby Hard Rock Cafe.

This took some finding as my friend couldn’t quite remember precisely where he’d seen it earlier. As my sister wasn’t wearing comfortable shoes, my friend ran off looking for it so it’d be easier on her feet. It was noticeable how empty the streets were on a Saturday night – most cities would be bustling with activity.

As we’d eaten a fair bit on the plane my sister just had a few fries, and I had an Oreo cheesecake, whilst my friend had a pulled chicken sandwich. It wasn’t too pricey, but we were now sufficiently fed to last until morning.

By the time we were back at the hotel it was 22:00 local time, so both me and my sister had been awake for 24.5 hours. At last though, we could sleep.

Arizona Road Trip Preparation

After going with my sister to New York City in 2014 we agreed that we’d have another trip to the states the following year. To start with this plan was for a short trip to Florida so we could go to Disney World, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center. With news that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and would be creating a new “Star Wars Land” there we decide we’d delay the trip and instead go to Arizona.

This plan was short-lived though when my sister went into hospital and took months to recover – causing me to instead go to California with a friend. The following year we decided we’d finally get to visit Arizona and invited my friend along with us – after all it’d be an extra person to split the driving across and would give him chance to see these places too.

From our previous plans we already had a rough idea of what we wanted to see – it was just a case of figuring out the best route and how to fit in as much of it as we could. With some of the places being big hiking places it meant we’d have to try and find the best parts of these to see on limited time. Getting things booked wasn’t straight forward though – me and my sister wanted to get the hotels booked as we knew large rooms would be in short supply, but it was insisted that we looked at car hire first. Eventually there was some compromise and we went ahead and booked all but the hotels for the first and last night – as these could be dependent upon where we hired the car from.

With just two months to go before the trip we still hadn’t booked a car or the hotels for the first and last night. It was becoming a struggle. With the car it seemed my friend didn’t want the largest of the cars that was available because he didn’t think it was big enough, however the next size up was a 4×4 (i.e. an SUV) and he didn’t want to drive anything that big which left us a little unsure what to do. My preference was that we hired a large car and we just tried to fit suitcases in the best we could – you never know what car you’re actually going to get until you’ve got it anyway.

For the hotels my original suggestion had been to find somewhere as far south as possible for the first night to reduce the length of the drive the following morning, and to stay somewhere downtown for the last night to make the trip to the airport shorter and to be around restaurants, and shops. What I hadn’t figured though was my friend would be getting in 7 hours before us and was keen to get a hotel close to the airport to make the taxi fares cheaper whilst he waited.

Eventually we had everything booked, including a flight over the Grand Canyon. Now we just had to wait for the road trip to begin…

Ikano Robin Hood Marathon 2016

My attempt at this marathon last year did not go well, mostly due to lack of training over the summer, too many races, and my inability to train well in the warmer weather. This year I wanted it to be different, I wanted to beat last year’s time at the very least and if possible run much more of it. Things didn’t go to plan though, and as I’ve mentioned in a few previous blog posts (okay, maybe several) I got an ankle injury whilst in Moscow that resulted in a couple of weeks off running, and a slow recovery with fewer and shorter runs to start with. Just over a month before race day I’d only built back up to 8.5 miles at a slower pace than before and even with walking breaks I’d yet to run for more than 15 miles – even that was with so much walking it was over a minute slower than my marathon PB pace.

Things weren’t looking good. I know it takes time coming back from an injury and I’m always too impatient anyway, but it can take a toll on you mentally. Sometimes all you need is a good run to start clawing your way back and I was lucky to have a “good” 8.5 mile run and would then have 4 weekends to build up miles from that to something reasonable before the Great North Run meant that I needed to drop the mileage again which then led straight into this. Hopefully this marathon would be the last race to be affected by the ankle.

I was fortunate enough that by the time I did my 22 mile run the weekend before the Great North Run, I was able to run for 17 miles of it at a push, a massive improvement over the previous weeks. It felt like I was miles (excuse the pun) behind where I was this time last year. In truth though, when I looked at where my PBs stood as of September 2015 I was back to being capable of matching the 5K and 10K times and had in fact beat that 5K time by over a minute in the first 5K of the Great North Run. I wasn’t quite capable of my Half Marathon time as it stood back in September 2015. It didn’t seem quite as bad, but for all these times I was still quite some way off my current PBs.


Race Day

It was now three years, almost to the day, since I started couch to 5K. I knew a few people doing this one so I hoped for a good #ukrunchat meet-up before the race start. However, due to unforeseen circumstances a few of them had dropped out of the race so when I got to the race start at 07:10 I’d got quite a wait until there was anyone to talk to. Fortunately I knew @Roddis22, a good friend I’ve seen at races before was going to turn up around 08:30 and that soon passed the time. So much time in fact that by the time I was in my starting pen the warm-up was over, not that I’d have bothered with it anyway!

On my drive to Nottingham it had been raining, but had been fortunate that by 08:00 it had stopped so that when the race started just after 09:30 it was dry out. This year’s course was different to both the previous times I’ve done it – three different courses in three consecutive years makes you wonder the reason for the changes, but this seemed okay as I knew it’d be missing out an epic hill that had previously been there at mile 22(ish).

It was a slow start as the pen was over crowded with not just others that were supposed to be in there, but also a few blues, greens, and oranges had somehow moved forward into the pen as well which made it difficult to find any space in the first mile. Instead there was a lot of hill climbing in the first three miles as it passed Nottingham Castle. It was tiring and I really, really wanted to walk, but I wasn’t willing to walk so soon into the race. My training has excluded hills for the past 4 months due to the injury meaning I wasn’t supposed to run on uneven surfaces or inclines, and the only time I’ve run up hills recently was in Newcastle, so I was quite happy to overcome them – even if my pace was slower than I’d normally like to tackle a hill in!

At the end of the first three miles my watch seemed a little under what was expected, though it could be down to a bad GPS signal as it had taken quite some time to get one at the start (which is odd as usually the 235 gets one within seconds) and kept losing it. This was also the point for the first water station but I ran straight through deciding it was too early to bother. For the fourth mile there was a good portion down hill, a section that has been in the course for the past 2 years at least so this was at least familiar. It was sometime around here that I first saw the race leader heading in the opposite direction – there was then quite a gap until the next runner, though even then the next was a half marathon runner and not a marathoner. This means he’d taken quite an early lead in this race!

I’d say I found the first 4-5 miles challenging, but by 6 I’d briefly settled into a rhythm that kept me going for a little longer as the course entered Wollaton Park – another familiar part of Nottingham. The bit through the park didn’t feel too bad, maybe because it was in the shade, but I did feel like I needed a loo break, but I really didn’t want to have to stop until mile 19 at least! This kept me going, and to be honest I didn’t spot them at mile 6 anyway.

As we left the park, instead of going through the University grounds as it has done in previous years the course then headed back to a junction we’d passed in mile 5 and turned back towards the direction of the embankment. As I approached mile 8 I then passed Nic Roddis heading in the opposite direction so waved as I passed, and was at least glad I’d made it that far without walking. Every thought I had now was about keeping going – I really didn’t want to walk in the first half if I could help it. Over the next few miles there were two hairpin bends where I had to slow to go around them, though I took them wide enough to not need to slow too much. I figured this might at least make up for my watch being off slightly. Shortly after I even saw an athlete dressed as a Stormtrooper, and wearing a dress heading towards mile 4 as I was on my way towards mile 9.

For the remainder of the first half I think it was fairly similar to what it had been in previous years, though I think the marathon course splits away from the half marathoners slightly earlier than it had done previously, but once again mile 13 was just before an alleyway through a housing estate. This entire mile I was on my own for, with only marshals being around to indicate that I was at least going the right way. There was nobody about watching the race – just like last year, but at least this year there were a few supporters in the miles that followed (something which didn’t happen last year).

By mile 13.5 I’d caught up with more runners, but I was starting to struggle to keep running and needed water. Fortunately after walking for what was probably only 10-20 seconds a marshal let me know that there was water in the direction of the drumming. That had suddenly reminded me that unlike previous years there wasn’t really much music on the course!

This time I grabbed some water and tried to drink from it, though no matter how hard I squeezed water just wasn’t coming out! It felt like this was going to be a repeat of last year, but then I spotted another runner drinking from one and they’d held it like a cup and not tipped up. It seemed these water pouches were designed not to leak when upside down which explained why I wasn’t getting any out of, so I turned it around and squeezed – getting a face full of water. Around this time I saw the race leader pass in the opposite direction again – he was just approaching mile 18 as I was coming up to mile 14.

I wanted to keep running until mile 15 after having walked briefly at mile 13.5, but I did succumb to the need to walk just before I reached the mile marker. I then started running again and was fairly determined to run until mile 16, and once I could see the mile marker in the distance, across Colwick Lake I was even more determined. It was a constant struggle to try and get to mile 16, and with probably 0.3 miles to go some cheerleaders started cheering me on and then started shouting “Give me a D, give me an A, give me a V…” though I’d passed them completely before they finished and I knew the mile marker was just coming up. Their cheers and this knowledge made me push harder and I managed to reach it… though I started walking more or less as soon as I crossed it! Though even then the last mile had not been particularly fast at 08:19 minutes.

Miles 17 and 18 passed by with frequent walking breaks but also the hope that I could keep my mile splits to sub-10 if not better. Literally seconds after passing the mile 18 marker though I slipped over on a lucozade bottle I hadn’t spotted until I’d already trodden on it. After the initial discomfort I carried on running up over the bridge that crosses the River Trent. Just as I reached Lady Bay I started to walk yet again, but this point I’d lost track of how much walking I’d done as there’d been so much of it. Another runner insisted I kept on running though I didn’t really want to, I kept going at a slower pace from there, passed the mile 19 marker and into the grounds of Holme Pierrepont water sports centre.

After running alongside the Regatta Lake for a while the route then veered off up a winding hill and onto a gravel path that ran alongside the River Trent. I’m not a fan on gravel paths as I seem to always get some in at least one shoe. Sure enough I did, and I found myself stopping completely at the mile 21 marker to take my shoes off, empty them, and put them back on before continuing off again. The complete stop hadn’t done me any favours though, even if it did mean my feet weren’t in pain anymore I was struggling to get running again. At this point the 3:30 pacer finally overtook me, but I could still see him not too far ahead – enough to catch up with if I could keep going. I’d wanted water at mile 21, but even though I could see they had some water in boxes they were only handing out gels.

By mile 22 I’d lost the pacer completely after having to walk a couple more times, but I saw the Nottingham Forest football ground and with it was a stream of people who had finished the half marathon and were cheering on the marathon runners as they passed. I was really lucky at this point though as walking briefly I was passed by one of the officials on a motorbike who passed me some more water. I didn’t bother trying to get into this and just sunk my teeth into it and guzzled the water like some sort of vampire with a blood bag.

This kept me going for a while, but I started to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn as there was a split in the path, and I couldn’t see a marshal to know which way to go so took the longer of the two paths – I did then pass what I think was a marshal (though wasn’t in the bright yellow jackets the others had – this was a blue one). When it started to go down an alleyway behind some houses I was sure I’d gone wrong, it just didn’t feel right – I kept slowing down and looking behind me to see if I could see anyone else come this way, but I couldn’t see anyone!

Fortunately after rounding another corner I could then see mile 23 ahead of me – a relief! This was then followed by a few more runners overtaking me as I started to walk again, and I walked quite a bit of this mile alongside the tramline as by this point I was just too tired. I’d not had any jelly babies for the past few miles as I’d started to feel sick after having drunk too much water in one go. A bad mistake and one which caused me to walk the majority of the last two miles – one of which I’m not entirely sure I ran any of.

I think by this point it’d be useful to paraphrase REM’s “Everybody Hurts”:

When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this race, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

It had been a tough race, and seeing the bridge to cross the River Trent for the last time was a relief – and around the time I crossed it I finally started to run once more.

The final part of the route took me along the Victoria Embankment one last time, and this bit was an incredible struggle, but I didn’t want to walk when the finish line was so close. I did walk a couple of steps, but pushed on with running, unwilling to succumb to it. I then crossed over onto the grass and felt my pace start to pick up as people were cheering us on. I then heard my name called out on the speakers as I got near to the commentary box and I switched to a faster paced run to finish. Not the usual sprint finish, but it was enough.

At last this difficult race was over. My sixth marathon, and the 9th time I’ve reached or passed 26.2 miles when running.

Looking at my watch I saw 3:43 – 4 minutes slower than last year. I’d completely failed not only in my original goal (which was to be expected), but even with the adjusted goal I’d set post-injury. I was slower than this time last year, so at this point it wasn’t looking good that I’d be able to meet my Half Marathon and 10K target times in October and November.

No matter how hard I work between now and then I know the next two weeks will be almost throwaway between marathon recovery and being in Arizona (35-45C temperatures). I’m not going to give in though – I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll put in as much work as I can to at least try and meet my times from last year for these upcoming races.

Once the official results were out I found I’d finished with a time of 03:43:42 in position 242 out of 1192 marathon finishers (first 20% approximately). To be honest I’m quite surprised I wasn’t further behind than that, but at least I did it. I guess now I’ll be back next year to have one last attempt at doing a better job of this.