WILD WILD WEST

UTAH – ARIZONA | USA

JUNE 2012

Don’t worry, this isn’t a review of the Will Smith movie. While I like torturing others as much as the next person even I have my limits. No, this is a story about my trip to America’s south west in May 2012, and even then it’s not the whole story because for some reason I’m too lazy to write about my time in Texas and New Mexico. Maybe another day. Or later on today. Who knows.

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Look. It’s a rock that looks like a penis. Welcome to Utah.

So myself and the gang crossed over from Colorado into a small town called Moab, gateway to the Arches National Park. Arches is a place of staggering beauty, and as the name suggests is home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. And penis’s, and other bizarre and erotic shaped formations. One is called The Organ. It’s a bit like an Anne Summers shop for trolls. After a drive through the park we decided that a hike to the famous Delicate Arch would be a good idea in 30+ heat. The sign described the hike as “mildly strenuous”. I didn’t really like the word “strenuous”, so I decided to focus on the word “mildly” when pitching this idea to the others. It worked and we set off.

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“Don’t worry, we’re only mildly lost”

I’m not gonna lie, as someone who wasn’t used to hiking – or any sort of physical movement – I found it quite tough. So did Jimmy who actually died. I’ve lost track of how many Jimmys have died on us so far on this trip. I think we were up to Jimmy 14. Thankfully we usually find a replacement Jimmy in the next town so we’re never too worried. So, one Jimmy down we reached the summit and behold – Delicate Arch! We made it! Most of us anyway.

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It WAS fun to stay at the YMCA

Now that the jeep was a lot lighter with the passing of our former friend we headed south towards Williams, Arizona. But no route south would be complete without a pit stop at arguably America’s best known landmarks – the magnificent canyons and buttes of Monument Valley, it’s five square miles symbolise what a lot of people recognise as the wild west. Most famous for being the setting of a gazillion John Wayne movies, the valley itself is Navajo land that straddles the Utah / Arizona state line on Route 163. The iconic mittens are visible straight away from the visitors centre, which is also a good place to stock up on all things native american – from tomahawks to arrows and dream catchers. And mugs and fridge magnets, traditional gifts of the Navajo.

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Route 163 heading into Monument Valley. Also pictured : one million bugs on the windscreen

I felt confident our little donkey of a jeep could handle the rough terrain of the valley floor even though it was only two wheel drive. And I was right. Right up until I was proven wrong. The jeep pulled a Jimmy and died on us. I wasn’t too impressed that the donkey was stealing Jimmy no. 15’s thunder so after filling up the radiator we were quickly off again. until we got stuck in a sand trap. After helping to pull out the french family that were also stuck and freeing ourselves we decided to make a hasty retreat before we lost the jeep altogether and would have to face the wrath of National car rentals. It doesn’t help when a truck load of chinese tourists bounce by, laughing at you through their face masks.

After licking our wounds we continued on our way towards Williams, arriving there late in the evening. Williams is a cool little town perched right on Route 66, and what better way to celebrate classic americana then going for a pizza. The Pizza Factory, despite it’s name, is a restaurant and not a food processing plant. They serve a meat feast pizza there called the “Viking” on which a small zoo has been slaughtered and piled into a pyramid on top. I had visions of the Ancient Aliens guy explaining how the pyramid of meat was too large to have been constructed by human hands. It proved too much for Jimmy 15 who, after putting up a valiant fight, succumbed to what I can only describe as meat poisoning.

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It’s that car that I meant to steal but forgot to.

The next day we headed north into Grand Canyon National Park. What can be said about the Grand Canyon that hasn’t already been said? I don’t know, probably some personal anecdotes. I had been to the canyon before, visiting the Haulapai Indians at Grand Canyon West. The west rim is also the home of the Skywalk. The Skywalk is a glass viewing platform spanning a drop of almost a mile down to the canyon floor. That was worth it purely to see my brother walk around it like an arthritic crab. See phobias can be funny! And it’s cool to laugh because I didn’t do anything genuinely mean like push him off it.

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The Big Hole. South Hole.

As great as the West rim is, the views from the south rim are much more expansive. You should probably do both, especially if you love huge holes in the ground, and let’s face it who doesn’t? Did you know that the words “Grand Canyon” are spanish for Big Hole? Probably not because that may or may not be true. The south rim is also quite easy to get around, once you spend an hour trying to find the right car park that is. Free buses ply the route along both directions of the canyon, stopping at each viewpoint. Or you can just walk if pressed for time.

So having witnessed the grandeur of Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, Arizona couldn’t possibly get any better right? Well I got two words for you :

Tombstone.

Actually that’s just one word. One word that was made of two words.

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Gunfight at the OK Corral. No prize for second place.

Tombstone is a small, sleepy town thirty miles from the Mexican border, it’s story is as follows. In 1993 Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer shot Billy Zane and his friends in the face for killing Bill Paxton. This historical event was inspired by a previous historical event occurring in 1881. Because of it’s proximity to the border, cattle rustling was a popular past time for anyone not dying of dysentery or tuberculosis. A rivalry soon formed between the lawmen led by the Earp brothers and the cowboys led by the Clantons. As with all good rivalries worth reading about it ended in fatalities. After refusing to surrender their guns at the OK Corral (it was law that you needed to do this before entering the town) Wyatt Earp and his brothers, aided by local gunslinger and serial womaniser Doc Holliday, decided to teach them a lesson about the importance of gun safety. When the smoke settled three members of the Clanton / McLaury gang were dead and Wyatt Earp was probably out of breath. The dead cowboys were buried in the nearby Boothill Cemetery.

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The greyhound pulling into the depot

Any fans of the TV show Ghost Adventures? If not you should watch it, it’s incredible. In summary it’s an ego trip for wannabe goth wrestler Zak Bagans as he and his crew “investigate” famous haunted locations. One of my favourite episodes surrounds the Bird Cage Theatre, home of twenty six gunfight deaths. The building is supposedly home to a number of ghosts, including that of Wyatt Earp himself. It’s a fascinating place, preserved exactly as it was when it closed down as a saloon / brothel even down to the bullet holes in the walls. The Birdcage was a place of notoriety, known as the “wickedest night spot from Basin Street to the Barbary Coast”, they’d obviously never heard of Dun na RĂ­.

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The Birdcage. Lose your wits. And your money.

The theatre is situated on Tombstone’s main drag – Allen Street. The street is also home to another well known building, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Big Nose Kate was one of Doc Holliday’s many girlfriends, and was given that moniker probably because she was known to be stuck up in everyone’s business and not because she was some sort of western elephant man. It’s a fun place to be, complete with swinging saloon doors, corrals and that staple of the wild west : karaoke night. Follow in the footsteps of Wyatt and Virgil Earp by blasting out classic hits from the seventies till present day. Oh, and there’s always a drunk guy asleep in a flower pot outside. Who said the west isn’t wild anymore?!

With the ghostly neighing of old Indian horses and the ringing of gunshots from centuries past well behind us, it was with a heavy heart we left Arizona on the road for Vegas. We may have left Tombstone in the rear view mirror but the tumbleweed still rolls across the dusty streets, waiting for the next traveler to ride into town.

Vegas was ok too.

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