Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

angels in Seligman and bikers in the canyon

Monday, October 26th, 2009

beavertail cactus en route to the bottom of the Grand Canyon

beavertail cactus in the Grand Canyon

Anyone who has done any research at all on Route 66 will have heard of Angel Delgadillo.  He is a legend along the Route and has been called the Guardian Angel of Route 66, the Mayor of Route 66, and other lofty titles.  He is, among other things, the force behind the creation of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, which set in motion the founding of the other seven states’ associations along the Route.

Alas, when I visited his Route 66 gift shop/ visitor center in Seligman AZ, Angel was not around.  That’s OK – as disappointed as I was not to meet the man himself, lots has been written about the guy so it’s not like you’re going to miss out.  Just do a google search if you’re curious about Angel Delgadillo.

I did meet, however, another angel of Seligman.  I was gassing up before making the trek on to Peach Springs, when the young man working at the gas station / general store came out and said the thing I hoped I would never hear during this trip: “you know you’ve got a flat, right?”


Seligman's angel Dylan Young at the General Store

Seligman's angel Dylan Young at the General Store

No, no I did not know I had a flat.  Thankfully dude saw it and told me, because in my rush I wouldn’t have noticed.  The trailer had sprung a leak on the sidewall of one of its tires and yep, it was pretty flat.  I looked at the miserable thing and said “Now what do I do?”  Although I’ve been shown how to change a tire, I’ve been lucky enough to never have to do it myself.  Well, that pattern still hasn’t broken because kind Dylan here went ahead and changed it for me.  Such a nice young man!  I made sure to tip him and gave him a couple of nice prints as a thank you for his efforts.

Later, I got to play angel, too!   Check it out:

I just drove to the bottom of the Grand-frikken-Canyon!

Hey! I just drove to the bottom of the Grand-frikken-Canyon!

Yesterday, it was just another Sunday afternoon drive… to the BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON!!  Seriously, in Peach Springs, which is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, you can drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!  It’s on Hualapai land so you need a permit, but it is well worth it.  What a humbling, spectacular, incredible experience it was for me.  I know I am pressed for time, but when is the next time I will be next to the Grand Canyon with a high-clearance vehicle that will get me through the streams you need to drive through to reach the mighty Colorado River at the bottom?  No way was I going to pass up this opportunity.  It was time to unhitch!

Neither words nor photos can do justice to the Grand Canyon.  This is the third time I’ve visited the place, but the previous times were just me peering over the edge at the famous South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park with the throngs of other tourists.  Looking at it like that, I found there was always a yearning to connect with it – to get INTO the thing – but it’s difficult and time consuming, and was never feasible.  So, to be able to get in my own vehicle and just drive down into the canyon, all the way to the river, with no tourists or tour guides or anyone else on the road… wow.  Just, wow.

small rapids on the Colorado River

small rapids on the Colorado River

So after a couple of hours of bouncing through dust and gravel and water, and gaping at the immense and beautiful cliffs towering higher and higher on either side of me, I finally arrived at the bottom and the clear green waters of the Colorado River.  Nothing for miles but me, the Jeep and… two bikes by the water.  Bikes?!  I just drove 22 miles through treacherous terrain and dropped thousands of feet into the Grand Canyon, and someone BIKED down here??

Two young men who live on the reservation had, sure enough, ridden their bikes down here.  The big question of course was: how will they get back out?  Coming DOWN is okay, but UP?  Not so much.

Brad and Tyrone, waiting for a ride back up

Brad and Tyrone, waiting for a ride back up

Brad, the Vegas transplant, told me no worries: Tyrone’s mom is a ranger here, and she is coming down to get them.   …pause… but, they don’t know where she is… she should have been here awhile ago… in fact, she passed them earlier in the day and didn’t see them, so they are hoping she will come back down… but she should have been here by now…

In the meantime, I figured the guys must be hungry, so I gave them some chips and salsa and granola bars I had packed for the journey.  It was odd:

in the Colorado River

in the Colorado River

apart from these two guys sitting around waiting for a ride, I was all alone at the bottom of the canyon on the banks of the river.  And that river was looking mighty inviting.  Dudes gave me a lot of space to commune with the place, so I sneakily changed into another set of clothes and jumped into the cold, clear water.  It was awesome.

Eventually the sun dipped below the north side of the canyon walls and it was clear I needed to get these guys out of there.  The Jeep was packed with stuff, but after some careful rearranging on my part and their stashing their bikes somewhere safe for the night, we squeezed the three of us into the Jeep and started our return to the top.  On the way out, we came across a group of gorgeous bighorn sheep, and a couple of curious wild burros who made it clear that they wanted food by sticking their heads right into the Jeep.

burro wants food

burro wants food

It was dark and cold by the time we got up and out of the canyon.  Turns out, Tyrone’s grandma had to make a last-minute run up to Lake Mead and wasn’t going to be back until later.  They would have been waiting down there for some time before she got back to them, so they were pretty thankful for the ride.   And I was pretty thankful, too – to be able to pay back just a bit of the incredible good fortune I have experienced on this amazing journey so far.


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