Although shorter, more modest, and less pack-your-bags kind than the 17-day epic road-trip, this 9-day road trip in March 2008 was special, as it was my first in U.S.
This road trip started and finished at Las Vegas, covering Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Sedona in between.
Here are the two key lessons I learnt in this trip:
1. Persistence pays off
After two nights at Las Vegas, we reached Grand Canyon late in the night.
We had no specific plans for the place; we hadn’t even decided the number of days we would stay here.
Next morning, we roamed around Grand Canyon National Park, marvelling at Grand Canyon from several vantage points in the park. Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and up to a mile (1,857 meters) deep, revealing two billion years of Earth’s geological history. At the bottom of the canyon, flows river Colorado, which seems just a rivulet when looked down from the top of the canyon (remember, the canyon is up to a mile deep).
It’s majestic. It’s breath-taking. It’s one of the very best creations of nature. And it’s rightly regarded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
While driving around the park, and occasionally stopping, we saw hikers trekking down the canyon, which kindled our buried adventure instinct. And when we returned to our lodge in the afternoon, we headed straight to the reception desk and enquired about the logistics of hiking in the canyon.
The information muzzled our adventure spirit, at least for now.
There was only one lodge, Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon, and, naturally, reservations there were too competitive. The lodge starts accepting reservations 13 months in advance. On the first day of each month, they open bookings for the entire (same) month of the following year. For example, on April 01, 2016, they will open reservations for period up to April 30, 2017. On May 01, 2016, for period up to May 31, 2017, and so on.
Theoretically, you can book a cabin or dorm on any day right up to the day of stay, but practically, because of extreme mismatch in demand and supply, bookings for the entire month a year ahead (April or May, 2017 as in examples mentioned above) are closed within few hours of opening of bookings.
As a result, only less than one percent of nearly 5 million annual visitors to Grand Canyon get the bragging rights for having stayed at Phantom Ranch. No wonder, Phantom Ranch is often described as the most difficult reservation in the U.S.
There was no way we could’ve got accommodation down there, without which we the hike wasn’t possible. (Completing the 30+ km hike – going down and coming back up – in a single day was way beyond our physical limits that time, and we had no option but to spend a night at Phantom Ranch.)
We were also told by the lady at the reception desk that sometimes people cancel their reservations at the last moment and in that case if we’re the first caller to the reservations office, which starts taking calls at 7 AM, we may get lucky. But, the probability of both the events – cancellation and we being the first caller – happening together was extremely remote.
Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try.
Next day, I got up early, and started dialling the number few minutes before 7. The line, expectedly, was busy.
Busy. Busy. Busy.
So many desperate people were dialling and redialling the number simultaneously.
Finally, I got through after 10-odd minutes.
I knew what 10-minute lag meant. Nevertheless, I asked politely, “Is there a reservation available for tonight?”
“I’m sorry Sir, there have been no cancellations for today.”
Even if I had connected the call at 7 AM sharp, the result would have been the same.
I tried again the next morning. This time, connecting the call within 2-3 minutes, but the rooms were all booked.
This was our third morning at Grand Canyon, and we had a day more, max, to seal the booking, after which we would have had to compromise the remainder of the itinerary.
Next morning, I started the drill again.
The phone, this time, got connected in the first attempt itself, and, guess what, everything came together – I was the first caller and there was a cancellation.
We got ready quickly, rented equipment, had breakfast, and reached the starting point of South Kaibab trail, all in one hour.
Persistence pays off.
2. There is always something to learn in the down time
The first two failed attempts at getting a reservation, no doubt, disappointed us, but we made use of one of those days to explore the culture of Native Americans (this region has high concentration of Native Americans, which otherwise constitute less than 2% of U.S. population), which had always intrigued us.
We drove down more than 100 miles to one of their habitats, spoke to few of them, and spent some time there. We also stopped few times on the makeshift road-side shops run by Native Americans, chatted with them, and bought few of their products.
But for the two failed attempts at getting the reservation, we would have missed this interaction with the original inhabitants of America.
A missed opportunity, you never know, may open the door for something else. We only need to approach the situation with an open mind.
Image credit: texture