Start here if you’re just joining the Arizona story!
The roads were mostly empty. I drove with the windows down and music loud. At one point I came up behind another Mustang convertible, this one silver. We rode as if in a caravan for over an hour, the only two vehicles traveling north at that time. I was glad for the relative company and it almost felt like we were working as a team – he would slow every time he approached a vehicle that could have been police. I hadn’t seen a single police car during my drive and I’d sort of forgotten that even barren deserts like Arizona still had police. His vigilance paid off when, during our final approach into Page, we did pass a police officer but we were going a relatively normal speed.
I watched the clock and the sun to judge my plan. I wanted to see Horseshoe at sunset but I wanted to check in while the camp office was open too. It looked like they were about fifteen minutes apart so I took a gamble and went to my campsite first. It’s a good thing I’m not a betting man, because I would have lost. The camp office closed at 5pm and it was 615pm. I saw a note on the door with a site number next to my name and I sped back out to get to Horseshoe on time. I saw beautiful sunset images over Lake Powell and the surrounding plateaus but I was on a mission. I’d missed having a beer on the rim once already.
At Horseshoe I put my hiking boots on, strapped my Camelback on my back, and hiked up the red sand of the first hill. I could see the sun breaking through the clouds but the cloud cover had thickened in the few minutes it had taken me to get there. I started jogging down the hill, water and beer sloshing in my pack, feet unsteady in the sandy ground. I approached the sandstone outcroppings and found a small spot where I could walk out alone. Sadly, the clouds remained over the sun for the duration of my time there, but I got my beer on the rim.
I had been on a mule for about 13 hours, I hadn’t showered in three days, I had driven about six hours total, plus all the time spent waiting for my tow. I couldn’t find my comb and I’d been in a convertible. In short, I was a mess, but I asked a small group of Spanish-speaking young men next to me to “por favor, puedes tomar una foto de mi?” to commemorate the event. This led to a conversation entirely in Spanish with them – they were construction workers originally from Mexico who lived in Colorado with their company. Their boss liked them so much he’d asked a small group to come out to his second home in Utah and do some work for him there and they were a month into a three-month assignment. This was their first time seeing Horseshoe Bend as well.
I finished my beer and hiked back out to the Mustang to drive back to my next temporary home. Upon my arrival at Lake Powell I wanted to get a real restaurant meal and I’d seen there were a few restaurants at the resort portion. I followed the signs I saw and ended up in a hotel lobby with a restaurant. It wasn’t the grill I was expecting but instead a white-tablecloth restaurant. I was still in hiking pants, hiking sandals, braids, and a sweaty overshirt, but I got a table nonetheless. I ordered a beer and a vegetable plate that looked hearty. I again gambled wrong: the plate was tiny and although delicious, it didn’t satisfy my ravenous body. I ordered dessert as well, eavesdropping on the conversations behind me. One table was French and complaining to the waiter that I got my food before they did, despite the fact they ordered steaks and other food that needed to be cooked a certain length of time. The other table was occupied by people I hope never to become. The mother, while fairly young and attractive, had a very superior attitude and was saying how this was her first time staying in the resort side instead of the camping side, and she’d never go back. She treated her middle-school-aged son more like a friend than a child and reminded me why today’s young people feel so privileged and don’t understand responsibility. I apologized to the waiter for making him look bad for bringing my food out quickly and he rolled his eyes in response. I had waited tables for a long time too and he knew it wasn’t my fault at all, but the clientele of this type of restaurant was going to have a fit about anything.
My food for that one meal cost more than any other food I’d purchased for three days and filled me up considerably less. Lesson learned. I’d eaten at expensive places in NYC before – including the dinner with Graham last summer that came with flakes of actual gold in our desserts – but that had been worth it. Northern Arizona is not, in fact, a restaurant fanatic’s destination of choice.
With my wallet sufficiently lightened, I went to the campsite registration building and I took a closer look at my campsite number and drove to the appropriate loop, but I couldn’t find it. After circling three times in the now-darkness, I saw a young woman and asked if she knew where it was. She got a map and pointed diagonally across. “That’s yours, or at least it should be.”
There was an RV parked in it, in front of the sign, which was why I hadn’t been able to find it. Nobody was around so I put the Mustang in reverse and drove back to my site. I pulled in directly behind the RV and left my lights and music on, slamming the driver-side door. I didn’t have time for this.
“Can we help you?” A lady probably in her 60s partially opened the RV door.
“Yes, this is my campsite.”
“Well nobody was here so we took it.” Her argument was weak.
“That’s because I checked in late. My reservation was listed on the door of the registration building. Did you reserve a site?” Apparently, despite my disheveled appearance, I’d learned something about how to be assertive on this trip.
“No, but can’t we just sleep here and pay for the site in the morning?” her tone was indignant and bordering on whiny.
“I’d really rather you didn’t. I’m alone, I reserved this site for myself alone, I don’t know who you are, and I paid for this site. Please leave.”
“You really won’t let us just sleep here? This is the second time this has happened tonight.”
“Well maybe you should go look at the list of reserved sites and choose an unoccupied one for the remainder of your evening. Please leave.” I replied, more sternly than I expected. She huffed and closed the door. I walked back to the Mustang and waited for them to leave before pulling fully into the site. I set up my tent in the darkness and decided to go to the registration building and take a shower. The coin-operated showers were 24hr and I didn’t want to get on a plane smelling like a mule the following day.
I had exactly enough quarters for the shower, and despite my initial apprehension at showering alone in the middle of the night, it was hot, fresh water, and I was completely undisturbed. I rinsed some of my clothes too, knowing they’d dry quickly in the desert heat.
Back at my site I started a fire and ate some pretzels and peanuts. I didn’t have the energy to sit and watch this fire burn, so within an hour I poured water over it and climbed into my tent. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open long enough to read, so I turned off my headlamp and rolled over to sleep. I could hear teenagers loudly discussing their relationships or lack thereof, and it was generally not as respectful a campground as the South Rim had been. I also had WiFi on my phone and that sealed the deal I’d never come back to this particular campground. Next time I’ll rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and do backcountry camping. But it was good enough for one night, I was in my tent, and exhausted. Another day behind me.