Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Grand Canyon and the case of the Inadequate Superlatives

After our visit to Williams we headed north for our first look at the Grand Canyon and I have to say that words can not adequately describe it or do it any justice. It is nothing less than utterly breathtaking. In fact the Canyon is so big, so impressive and so beautiful that it really defies belief, and it almost seems as though the massive scenery is a painted backdrop and not real at all. Yes, I'm gushing but if you've seen it for yourself you will know what I mean.

We did a sunset bus tour with a totally insane tour guide who drove like a maniac. He was dressed in cowboy attire and every statement was punctuated with a loud, "Yee Haww!". The highlight of the tour of course being seeing the colours of the Canyon change with the setting sun, fantastic. Many, many "Kodak moments". The definite low-light being the guide attempting to turn our bus around on a narrow stretch of road, at dusk, with a sheer cliff (and no guard rail) behind us - he told us it was 6000 feet to the bottom of the Canyon - "It's OK, I used to drive semis" he told us - I wonder why he isn't driving them anymore. One of the other passengers told us afterwards just how close the end of the bus had been to the edge of the cliff and I'm really glad I didn't know that at the time!

The next morning we treated ourselves to a helicopter flight over the Canyon which was nothing less than unforgettable. N was very excited and went into his "quiet mode" but afterwards he was even telling complete strangers, "It's very exciting to fly in a helicopter". We flew from the South Rim, up the Canyon, over the North Rim and back across the Kaibab Forest. Flying into the Canyon and seeing the ground almost open up beneath you into such a spectacular and truly massive vista (plus the dramatic music playing in the headphones) was totally amazing. We loved every minute. The Grand Canyon is about 4 hours from Bagdad so we will definitely try to get back there again before the end of the summer.

Getting our Kicks at Williams on Route 66

I know it's corny, but hey, this is the US - they invented "corn".

"America's Mother Road", Route 66, passes through downtown Williams and it's a fact not lost on the locals. Almost every signpost, banner and shop front has either the Route 66 highway emblem (the shield) or some less-than-subtle reference to American "pop" culture. You can buy truckloads of Route 66 memorabilia/souvenirs, Native American Indian jewellery and artsy craftsy stuff (not all of which is made by Native American Indians, by the way), bike leathers, cowboy hats and Western-themed gear of all kinds, and of course, guns. It's a real melting pot of all things American, and of course is milking the mystique and appeal of Route 66 for all it's worth. Most of the town buildings have been preserved in their original condition and although it's a little corny it's still pretty cool.

Amusing Questions we have been Asked - Part 1 in an Occasional Series

"Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia?" (sometimes followed by "Do you celebrate Easter in Australia?")

"Do people really say Mate?"

"Have you met Steve Irwin?"

"Are you from England?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day Out With Thomas

Last Saturday we spent a fantastic day at Williams enjoying the annual Day Out with Thomas (the Tank Engine), hosted by the Grand Canyon Railway.

Thomas took passengers on a 25-minute train ride and was helped by a beautiful shiny black steam engine which was just fantastic. When N is very excited he goes very quiet and as soon as he saw Thomas arriving at the station he really looked awe-struck. He barely said a word during the entire train ride but afterwards he was a chatterbox again so we know he had a good time! There were a lot of other activities for children (jumping castle, Thomas trains to play with, a magic show, etc) and we all had a lot of fun there.

At Christmas time there is a special train at Williams called The Polar Express (named after the childrens' story book) that takes children on a special train ride to see Santa at "The North Pole". Santa comes onto the train and gives all the children presents. We will try to come back to Williams again in winter for that special train - it would be quite something to take the train through the snow to see Santa.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Safford and so on

We had a nice couple of days at Safford (about 6 hours drive east of Bagdad) last month as P had a work meeting there. The scenery on the way to Globe (where we stayed) and Safford was a geologist's delight: lots of amazing rock formations, mountains and narrow passes. For me the trip was worth it just for the scenery, but of course the opportunity for some big-city retail therapy (anything bigger than about 5000 people now rates as the Big Smoke for us) was not to be missed. At that stage I was still on an almost fruitless quest for something resembling Weetbix for N and came home empty handed but I'm happy to say that thanks to UK brand Weetabix we now have breakfast-time harmony at home (plus we avoid the super sugar-coated American cereal that seems to be virtually everywhere). Trying to avoid sugar (or fries!) in everything has also led to us buying a bread maker and it is certainly getting a workout. The really sweet American bread just doesn't taste right. It's nice enough if you're eating a jam sandwich but ham and cheese plus really sweet bread still seems just a bit weird.

N has been putting us through the wringer with his night time antics which we suspect are some sort of expression of homesickness or shock at the massive change we have made to our daily lives by moving here. He talks a lot about his little friends and his former day care and I know he misses them a lot. Hopefully in time new friends will fill the void and he will feel more settled and content in himself. He is happy enough during the day but at night it's on for young and old. He has started gymnastics but we are holding off on the Texas Hold 'Em and six shooter classes for now.

I see some funny things at times here and not always funny ha-ha. Funny peculiar. Motorbike helmets are definitely optional extras - I don't know if they are a legal requirement but we see at least 3 or 4 without them for every one rider we see with a helmet on. A red bandanna appears to be an adequate substitute if you want to keep the biker 'tude. This must be good biking country as we often see groups of motorbikes passing in and out of town, touring bikes rather than just the regular running around kind. You are dressed for biking if you have the muscle shirt, the bandanna, the shades, the tats.

Kids (and adults) ride around on the back of utes. Kids loose in the back of cars with no seatbelts or car seats. Something I didn't mention in my last post: cars here don't have to have a front licence plate as there are very few speed cameras (the Navajo Reservation on the way to Safford apparently has one but we didn't see it) and you aren't really driving unless you are doing at least 10 miles over the posted limit. You can talk on the phone while driving as much as you want, as long as you don't get too distracted - it isn't illegal here.

This weekend we are off on our first recreational adventure: we are taking N to something called "Day Out With Thomas" (the Tank Engine) at Williams, which is about 3 hours NE of Bagdad, on the Grand Canyon Railway. Thereafter we will drive north and overnight at the Grand Canyon Village which I am very excited about. I can't wait to see the Canyon at long last. Stay tuned for pictures and report.