Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Somewhat Fun Thing that I'll Probably Do Again: Camping at the Grand Canyon

I've made a huge mistake.

As I sat beneath my sleeping bag in the passenger seat of my car, I couldn't escape from the words immortalized by Gob Bluth. The temperature outside my car was in the mid 20s, if that, and the sleeping bag, along with a fleece vest, a sweatshirt, a jacket, and my coat were barely keeping me from freezing. I checked my iPod for the time.

Well shit. It's only 1:15

It had been all of thirty minutes since I gave up on getting any sleep in my tent. I figured 5:00 was good enough to call it. Besides, the sun would rise early and that would be a good time to see it. Still, those three hours and forty five minutes figured to be long. Erin, a braver person than I, continued to fight it out in her tent. I, however, took the coward's way out, although it wasn't all that much warmer in the car.

How did we get in this mess?

It all started when I decided to take a trip out west in a spontaneous burst of desperation. I was out of work at the time, I had a few bucks in the bank, and I just felt the need to go to Yosemite. As my sister Erin was in a similar situation, she would join me on the expedition. Since we had camping equipment that had yet to be tried out, and because camping was several times cheaper than a hotel, we decided to camp as much as possible. Since it was (almost) on the way to Yosemite along I-40, we thought a quick jaunt to the Grand Canyon was in order. Hell, why not try our tents out there? I made the reservation a few days before we left and we were set. I made the reservations for Yosemite that same night, making sure to check the weather as we would be staying in an unheated tent cabin at Curry Village. Strange thing is I didn't check the weather at the Grand Canyon. We had been there before, and it was warm, so I'm sure we wouldn't have any issues. It was mid-April, after all.

Our reservation at the Grand Canyon was on Sunday evening. We left late Friday afternoon, about six hours early so we head south through Arkansas around the storm system traveling across the Great Plains. After a late arrival and early departure from Blytheville, AR we headed on towards Amarillo, TX, our stop for Saturday night.

It was here that I finally checked the weather and found out what awaited us. Turns out that the storm system that was causing problems across the Midwest also brought snow and cold temperatures to places to the west, including northern Arizona. Turns out that Sunday night, while not as cold as Saturday night, would be well below freezing. Despite being a rather warm winter and spring for most of the country, we picked one of the few nights that were the opposite to camp.

This wouldn't have been an issue if we were better equipped. Neither of us had a sleeping bag rated below 35 degrees. I had a sleeping pad and a blanket with me, but Erin had only a yoga pad with her. In retrospect, it was rather reckless of us, as we were heading into higher elevations at a time of year when they still can be rather cool. Nonetheless, we thought we'd be dealing with 40 degrees, not 20 degrees.

Erin was really reluctant to continue, wondering if we should do it. I said it would be a interesting experience, which didn't satisfy her at all. It turns out she thought I made the reservation that night after I had checked the weather. Looking back, her level of contempt towards the enterprise made more sense after that revelation. I wasn't too keen on losing the $18, and even less keen on finding somewhere else to stay that night, which would be at best $120.

Despite her sane reasoning, she assented, and we set off early Sunday morning on our long journey to the Mather Campgrounds. We made a quick stop at Petrified Forest National Park, but only got a few pictures of the actual petrified logs, as we had to dash away towards the Grand Canyon before sundown.

About an hour before dark we arrived at the registration building at the campgrounds. We retrieved our parking pass and our assigned camping spot, and headed to the campground. Our spot was the first one on the left of the loop, with nothing but trees to our north. We set up our tents and I set up my sleeping pad, taking advantage of the little remaining daylight. It was already chilly out, and it was just now getting dark. Practicality trumped tourism, as we knew we had to get food before we could see the canyon.

Therefore we set out to the village market. I have to say I was surprised at the market, as it was more of a supermarket than a camp store. We were able to find plenty of food, including canned beans, peanut bars, hot cereal, firewood, and other supplies. The main course of our evening meal would be two baked potatoes, wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked in the fire. We had our food, and now it was time to see in the Grand Canyon. Even if it was dark out.

To be continued...

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